Title: Nilda Author: Edwin Doidge * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1501041h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2015 Most recent update: September 2015 This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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CHAPTER II.—THE COMING OF NILDA.
CHAPTER III.—ENGLAND AWAKE.
CHAPTER IV.—THE GENESIS OF NILDA.
CHAPTER VI.—WHEN THE GUNS BEGIN TO SHOOT!
CHAPTER IX.—"I DO NOT WANT HIM."
CHAPTER X.—WHAT OF THE HOST FROM EMDEN?
CHAPTER XI.—-COMING NEARER HOME.
CHAPTER XII.—BEARDING THE LION IN HIS DEN.
CHAPTER XIII.—ENTER, A NEW CHARACTER.
CHAPTER XIV.—THE PLOT THICKENS.
CHAPTER XV.—A GREAT BATTLE.
CHAPTER XVI.—NILDA MADE PRISONER.
CHAPTER XVII.—"WHERE IS NILDA?"
CHAPTER XVIII.—WAR AT OUR DOORS.
CHAPTER XIX.—IN GERMAN HANDS.
CHAPTER XX.—FROM TERROR TO TERROR.—A SURPRISE!
CHAPTER XXI.—BROUGHT UP IN PARLIAMENT.
CHAPTER XXII.—THE WAR—HERE AND AT HOME.
CHAPTER XXIII.—THE SEARCH.
CHAPTER XXIV.—THE BATTLE OF WOOLER.
CHAPTER XXV.—NILDA'S ALTERNATIVE.—"OUT INTO THE DARK."
CHAPTER XXVI.—THE BOMBARDMENT OF SYDNEY.
CHAPTER XXVII.—VIEWED FROM THE PALACE.—THE PRICE OF NILDA.
CHAPTER XXVIII.—THE WAR IN ENGLAND MOVES TO A SUDDEN CONCLUSION.
"Where is Ester?"
"Always reading—tiresome girl! Where is Glad?"
"Playing in the garden—or was a few minutes ago."
"Tom, you will have to run to the store and get a dozen of matches; quite forgot them in the order to-day, and your father will 'perform' if there are no matches."
Tom took his hat, and, with some sort of muttered complaint that he had passed the age for running messages, went out into the garden to look for Gladys, intent upon transferring the order.
"Glad, you've got to run down to Pridham's for a box of matches."
Tom had acquired quite recently certain big-boy forms of expressing himself; he had not long since attained to long pants, and was actually in service in a bank. Hence the indisposition to run messages.
"I don't believe it. Mother sent you. You've got your hat on."
"You can go without your hat, and the sooner the better. Cut now."
"I'm busy. I was put to weed this bed, and it isn't half done yet."
A few weeds on the gravelled path attested the fact that some half-hearted attempt had been made to rid a bed of mixed flowers of the everlasting curse that fell upon the earth some time after Adam was a boy, and about the time Eve spoiled the unparalleled beauties of Eden.
"And it won't be half-done in a week,—you wouldn't earn your salt at it."
"They are so hard to pull up."
"Go on, Gladdy, and I'll weed till you come back."
"I don't want to go."
"I'll give you a copper if you do," and Master Tom jingled some coins in his trouser pocket, as befitted the big brother, dealing with a junior sister.
"Now, I know you were told to go, and you can go, so there."
Grumblingly Tom proceeded on his errand, carelessly whistling, hands in pocket. Crossing a vacant corner allotment, he encountered Dick Conton. "Hullo, Dick, who won the match?"
"Oh, the Pads, easy. Our boys weren't in it. Too light by hundred-weights."
"I ought to have been in it."
"Go on, you're a 9-stoner, and they wouldn't see yer. 'Sides, you can't run."
"Give you a spin to the corner of Pridham's—bet you a tanner I lick you."
The contest did not ensue, nor the rest of the journey to Pridham's. Just at that moment came the startling cry of the newsboy, and more than a dozen papers were already unfurled and being read in the open further down the street.
"War declared between England and Germany! Seizure by Germany of New Guinea and other Highlands of the Pacific! Australia to be taken. The British Harmy—'ere yer are, sir, latest 'Star!' Full particulars!"
Tom Horton jumped for the paper boy, and parted with the copper he had just proffered Gladys, and became possessed of the extra special 3.45 p.m. edition. Glancing at the heavily-headed cables, there it was in black and white.
"War Declared by Germany Against England!
"Consternation in Every Capital of Europe.
"A Sudden and Unexpected Rupture in Diplomatic Relations.
"The Peace Party in England Outwitted.
"Heavy Falls of Stock on all the Continental Bourses.
"The German Embassy in London Closed, and Ambassador Recalled.
"Diplomatic intercourse of last 10 weeks between London and Berlin, which were confidently believed to be about to end satisfactorily to both parties, were suddenly terminated last evening, when, acting on a message from the Emperor of Germany, the Reichstag resolved to terminate further parleys with the British Government, and recall its ambassador from London. Any moment it is expected that the formal declaration of war will be made. There is unprecedented consternation in every capital of Europe. Both in England and the Continent it was generally believed that the German claim in the Pacific would be satisfactorily arranged. The immediate cause of failure in negotiations has not transpired; but it is believed that England would not go beyond the terms offered, which were considered generous by every nation outside Germany and Austria, and which were only secured in the British Parliament as the last concession to the Peace Party."
"Great scott, here's news for Dad!" broke from Tom as he hastened his steps up the street, folding the paper the better to increase his speed.
"Hullo, Tom," broke from a boy-mate across the street, "what's your hurry? How'd the match come off to-day?"
"Blow the match—there's a mighty big match on for Australia and the Empire. See this?" holding up the paper.
But Tom, not now thinking it undignified to run in the street, did not longer stop to explain, and was round the corner in no time.
"Has Dad come home?" he enquired of Gladys.
"You'll get Dad if you slam that gate off its hinges like that—you know it's against the rules, Tom."
"Rules be hanged—there's going to be war!"
"War, Tom! What war?" But Tom, realising the importance of his message, must break the burden of it to a more important audience, and quickly ran up the steps of the house.
"Mother, listen to this," and Tom, breathless from running, as from the unparalleled importance of the message, gasped out its contents. By which time the whole household were assembled around him and the half-laid tea-table; Mrs. Horton subsided into the nearest chair; Ester, who was next in the order of the family to Gladys, listened open-mouthed and wondering, to the message of long words, and, to her, difficult terminology.
"Germany declared war against England!" came gaspingly from Mrs. Horton, as she sank back to take in the dreadful news. "But what for? What's it all about, Tom?"
"What's every war all about," frowned Tom, to cover any shortcoming as to his knowledge of the situation. But wiser heads than his were asking that same question, or, like him, failing to answer it. "Haven't you been reading the papers? Something to do with New Guinea, I believe."
"Where's New Guinea?" came in a piping, scared voice from Ester.
"Where's your geography?" came snappingly from Tom. "What do you learn at school, any way, if you don't know the names of the big islands lying round?"
Albert, the youngster of this family group chipped in with a merry remark. "We'll get another holiday when their big ships come to the harbour."
"Little idiot," cried Tom, scathingly, "you are more likely to be blown into the harbour in little bits by one of the shells."
"What's a shell—I ain't afraid of shells!"
"Oh, Tom, this is dreadful news, really," Mrs. Horton collected her wits to say. "There may be some mistake. Those newspapers are so fond of making sensations."
"This is not a sensation they are making—not at this end of the world, anyway," came sagely from Master Tom. "I wonder what is keeping your father?"
"Perhaps this scare news," Tom suggested.
Reginald Horton was employed in the city of Sydney—"something in connection with the Exchange," people said, and at that we will in the meantime let it go. He was a man who had plodded his way through many winding paths of colonial life. At one time he had been a banker, and quitted that for something promising more lucrative returns; and ultimately became "something on the Stock Exchange." As something on the Stock Exchange, he was in touch, and had some degree of intimacy, with the causes of those fluctuations which occasionally cause panic in the great Stock Exchanges of the world.
It was the sudden news from Europe which had detained Mr. Horton later than usual in and about his office, and also on the way home. For now in every man's mouth was the word of war between the two great Powers of Europe, whose friendliness had never seriously been disturbed in all the long course of European history.
In many cases there were flippant remarks as to what would happen the Germans when they faced the British Bulldogs in their—the Britons'—own pet province, the rolling waters, on which supremacy had so long been conceded to them. But in wiser and more prudent minds, there was wide regret—nay, profound sorrow—that so mad a thing, so gigantic a misfortune, had occurred. Among these, certainly, was Reginald Horton. Eminently a man of peace, and schooled in its arts, educated in the arena where the pulses of great financial houses were felt beating with national and international undertakings, and where Credit was the giant, who lifted his little finger and pressed a button that had greater power than any archimedian lever, while Peace held sway, among the great nations of the world.
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye as it were, the intricate and delicate clock-work of a mighty mechanism which had been built up between millions of people here, and millions of people there, under the egis of the Angel of Peace and the beneficent Reign of Security, could break and tumble into fragments in a thousand different centres where the tentacles of the Goddess Commerce had reached out as life-wires of a mighty living organism that worked in a myriad wheels and wheels within wheels. Only war, the blind, insensate, unreasoning Brute, had but to sound his first Tocsin note, and this sublime machine, reared with such infinite pains, built up by many patient hands and master minds, trembles and breaks.
Reginald Horton knew himself to be no more than a very small cog in one of the minor wheels of the Chariot of Commerce, but he knew already that the jarring note had come—had come in that dread cable, and was even at that moment affecting, nay shaking, every great financial centre in the world; for the British nation was, in relation to the finances of the world, almost in the position of the keystone of the arch built to withstand every shock of a normal nature, but not a world-cataclysm. . . . No device or structure of man could withstand Messianic violence in eruption; no triumph of Peace and long-established security could stand, and withstand, the collision of two such mighty forces as the British and German Powers.
Hence it was that fear and anxiety sat upon the brow of Reginald Horton as he returned to his home that evening.
He was met with a fire of questions, in which there was no marked note of anxiety save in that of Mrs. Horton.
"Is it true, do you think, Dad?" was Tom's first enquiry.
"I fear it is too true."
"Did any one expect anything of the sort?" asked his wife.
"Not immediately. It is the suddenness of it that makes one jump. But I'm afraid that is characteristic of Germany. You will remember they were pretty sudden when they jumped at France, when few people supposed them ready."
"What exactly does 'fastidious' mean, Popp?" asked Gladys of her father at the breakfast table next morning. Where she acquired the colloquialism of "Poppa," which is something more American than Australian, never transpired.
Poppa's reply was slowly, but reflectively given, as he raised his eyes for a moment from his morning paper: "Means generally scrupulously particular—or, say, over-particular, why do you ask?"
It was Mrs. Horton who answered.
"Oh, Glad has been reading the note we got from Mr. Summers about the young person who is willing to come as lady-help."
"Oh," and Mr. Horton was willing at that to return to his newspaper, for there was much in it that was of more absorbing interest than the engaging of a help in the running of the Horton household. But however much that might be the case, the family interest in this domestic affair was dominant for the moment.
The Horton household had of necessity to be run on lines of reasonable economy. But quite lately the council of economy had decided that a departure should be made, and a lady-help installed. Prudential motives had suggested that if a young lady of good address and some accomplishments could be found who would give some slight assistance in the lighter work of the house, and at the same time take the education of the two girls in hand, with especial regard to music lessons, it would be money well-spent. And so Mrs. Horton had been on the look-out for a young person having such qualifications.
Under the remarkable ramifications of "domestic service" in Australia, one of the strangest developments is surely found in this connection. Barred from domestic service in the ordinary sense of the word, by some sense of family pride, rendered unfit in a manner by comparatively gentle upbringing, and really in many cases qualified for better things, the "superior young person" is willing to go out to service as "lady-help," who shrinks from service under any other name; though often she does the work of the maid—a homely English phrase that has found its vogue, very fittingly, at last in our own domestic nomenclature.
"Her one foible is fastidiousness."
"Why does not Mr. Summers write plain English?" queried Gladys.
"It is plain English—do you take it for German?" snapped Tom, whose "big brother" proclivities, it will already have been noticed, were much in evidence.
"Well, then, tell us the exact meaning of 'foible,' if you know," protested Gladys.
The keenness of the discussion got Mr. Horton's attention off the paper.
"I'd better see this much-discussed epistle," he rather playfully suggested, and held out his hand for it. This is how the brief note read:—
"My Dear Mrs. Horton.
You have asked me can I recommend Miss Chester to your service. I am glad to reply that I think I can do so with confidence. I have known Nilda since a baby. She is the daughter of one whom I used to see a good deal of. Her general ability to fill the position of lady-help is, to the best of my knowledge, assured. In addition she is a young lady of very prepossessing appearance, and in disposition very winning, not to say charming. Those who know her best say she ought to have been born a great lady. Perhaps her one foible is fastidiousness.
"Yours very sincerely,
"Well," said Mr. Horton, "that seems an excellent recommendation in its way, and, coming from an old friend, leaves nothing to be desired, I should say."
"But, Poppa," broke in Gladys, "please, do tell us just what are we to expect from a governess whose 'foible is fastidiousness?'"
"That she will be mighty particular with you, Miss,"—brother Tom was in a hurry to say—"and keep you in your place."
"That is easy—I wish you had some one to keep you in your place," was Gladys' sufficiently apt reply, and she still looked toward her father for enlightenment.
"We shall have to find the meaning by experience, I expect. It may mean a great many things—she may be over-particular—too scrupulous, perhaps, in regard to her dress, her appearance, her diet, her friends, her conversation, her books, her boots—oh, or 50 other things."
"Especially about the lessons, I expect," added the ever-ready Tom, who was not always noted for acerbity, but that was particularly noticeable in his contribution to the breakfast table talk this morning.
Mrs. Horton said that would be an excellent trait, for she never could bear the slipshod and unexacting, and if Miss Chester was very particular, it was a promising feature in any one undertaking the education of her daughters, and lending a hand in the more agreeable work of the house.
"Then you think, dear, that I should write to engage Miss Chester?" she finally said to her husband.
"By all means. I see no reason why you should not. Offer her the sum we agreed upon, and a three months' engagement for a start."
The offer went out by the first post. It promised Miss Chester a comfortable home, as a member of the family. She was to have a small room to herself, cosily furnished. In a full and fair way, Mrs. Horton stated as near as possible what duties were expected of her. She was to rise at 7 o'clock in winter and 6.30 o'clock in summer; dust breakfast-room and lay table for breakfast, assist to clear the things after breakfast, and keep the drawing-room presentable. At 10 o'clock commence teaching the two girls, and continue lessons till 12—five days per week. In the afternoons the duties read light. Three times every week she was to be at liberty to go out for a walk with the Horton girls; but always to return in good time to lend some assistance toward the evening meal, which was the principal one of the day. The reference to the evenings read invitingly. It was hoped Miss Chester's recommended musical ability would be an added cheerfulness to the house, and tend to promote the family happiness. There were some other details which need not be noted; but, generally speaking, Mrs. Horton's remarks, outside the specification of duties, were such as one lady might write to another, and presumably had their effect on the "young person" whose "one foible was fastidiousness."
Generally speaking, the Horton family were unusually moved about the coming of the new governess cum-lady-help. They were making a departure in their domestic economy. And Mr. Summers' letter of recommendation had somehow raised expectations of quite an unusual character.
If Miss Chester had not been an unusual character this story could hardly have been written.
It was a week from the family discussion above recorded that the stranger was to arrive. In the meantime a letter had been received from Miss Chester concluding the engagement, and it was couched in these terms:—
April 2nd, 19—.
"My Dear Mrs. Horton,
I am delighted in the prospect of coming to live with you in Sydney. It will all be a very new and strange experience for me, as I have never seen your great city, and am full of curiosity as to what it is like. I hope you will like me, and that your daughters and I shall be great friends. I shall try very hard to please you, and be of service to you in every way I can. Will you be so kind as to meet me by the mail train on Monday morning, as I shall, I am sure, be frightened out of my wits if I am alone at Redfern station.
"Believe me, sincerely yours,
"NILDA CONSTANCE CHESTER.
"P.S.—I accept terms offered with thanks, and have carefully noted the duties mentioned in your kind letter."
"Nilda Constance Chester. Dear me, what an uncommon name," came from Mrs. Horton, as she now, for the first time, noted the full signature.
"Hilda is common enough," commented Tom.
"Not Hilda, but Nilda," corrected his mother.
It's quite a grand sounding name the gentle Ester thought.
Gladys, protesting that it must be Hilda surely, requested to see the letter. It was plainly written. "Poppa, have ever you heard of Nilda?"
"Don't remember ever coming across it."
"We must ask her how she came by that name;" a remark that called forth another snap from Tom to the effect that he supposed Miss Gladys would want to know where Miss Chester bought her boots before she was five minutes in the house.
Mr. Horton brought this small talk to a conclusion by issuing an edict that he would have no impertinent questions asked of Miss Chester, who was to be treated with every consideration and courtesy by the junior members of the family, who were to expect as much in return. And there was an especial word for Master Tom, who was told that he was not to be flippant. That not only in regard to Miss Chester was it desirable that he observe a little more decorum in speech and manner, but toward his sisters, also; as the language and style of the street or the football field was not edifying, it should not be cultivated in the home circle.
Tom listened in silence, with a half-offended air. Nor did he say "Yes, sir." Australian boys seldom do. It is one of the pronounced deficiencies in young Australia. It must be that young Australia's education, in the matter of manner, style, filial obedience and respect has been neglected. Only in isolated cases—rendered conspicuous by their singularity in the Commonwealth does one hear the good old-time "Yes, sir," or "No, sir," as from son to father. And in these few cases, the probability is that it is more often heard in gentle Irish families than in representatives of either English or Scotch. Whether it comes from the relaxed parental control, or is somehow part and parcel of those free institutions on which we boast ourselves so complacently, the fact remains, and it is particularly noticeable to visitors from the homeland and from foreign countries. What wonder that they tell us that freedom is in itself very fine; but freedom run to license—in manners as in morals—is very bad.
Is it not recorded in English history that the time of the Spanish invasion—when they actually hove in sight—Drake, Hawkins and Raleigh were playing bowls? In the chambers of memory there lurks some indistinct picture of England's heroes thus merrily engaged in a most healthy and engrossing pastime, scarcely exceeded save by the more exhilarating, kingly game of golf; for to hole a ball in 2 is more thrillingly exciting than to knock your keenest opponent's ball out of place, and find your ball lying comfortably nearest to the jack.
When the worst comes—and Heaven forfend the worst in this most stupendous struggle in which we are how commencing in deadly earnest to uphold the honor, credit and stability of Great Britain as one of the great world Powers, and the first sea Power—when the worst comes there will surely still be Drakes, Hawkins and Raleighs who will loiter a little in proud disregard of those who would dare to emulate the "invincible Armada" of ever-memorable derision.
The cry of the noble Roberts. "Make ready," uttered with such vehemence from the hour almost of Edward VII.'s accession to the end of 1909, as in the stress of his soul, and with the war-like seer's vision, he saw that England was keeping pace with the leading nations of Europe—one or other of which would sooner or later find cause of action against his country—came now to mind. "England the Unready!" Yet, in its very unreadiness, striking the world again with its Leonine characteristic: The Lion of Judah is not readily scared. The giant may have slumbered when lesser mortals would have remained awake, and spent their strength in watching and waiting. Look, he rouses him now. He is rampant, for an unprovoked assault is made upon him. A thousand mighty Eagles seek the Lion's lair, who had not hurt them, nor sought them harm, though his roar had been heard when sundry of these same eagles had made excursion into the nests of doves and pigeons, and would have torn them had no power stayed.
It took a second, a third, nay a fourth, cable before the Commonwealth would believe the dread thing had come to pass. "Germany had declared war against England. The ultimatum was that England must, within 48 hours, signify her willingness to surrender the whole of her interests in New Guinea to the German Government; and, further, that the Imperial Government should name a day and date when she would put a period to her occupation of Egypt, and entirely withdraw her troops, her civil and military authorities, from that country, or other of the Sultan's dominions."
New Guinea might be a small thing, Imperially considered; to Australians it loomed as large as life—the life of the Commonwealth. In the world's eye the possession of the near neighbour to the Commonwealth, was neither here nor there; but that England, which had remade Egypt, which had brought up out of the ashes, the mire and the clay, a new and re-invigorated haven of the Pharaohs; that England should be ordered to pack up and clear, at a moment's notice, at the behest of Germany, who had no hand or part in the re-making of the worse than desert of the stricken Egypt—the world stood still and wondered at the incredible thing that was proposed.
The world knew that England would fight to the last man, and the last dollar, rather than submit to the extreme demands of Germany.
About the time of the beginning of the trouble, some publicist of note had written his hope that England would never place herself "in the wrong" in regard to any difficulty with Germany. By common consent now, it was admitted that England had not placed herself in the wrong, and "thrice is he armed who hath his quarrel just."
* * * *
The cable messages? They came tumbling over each other in mad confusion!
The hour of the ultimatum had passed.
All Britain was astir and aflame.
The Mediterranean Squadron had been recalled, and was full steam for the Channel.
Every officer of the British Navy was summoned to his post, ready for immediate action—aye, ready.
Lord Charles Beresford, who had retired for the second time, had been given another command, and he and Admiral Fisher had made it up, for England now needed all her strong sons of the sea—her bull-dogs of true British breed.
Contrary to expectations, there was no immediate evidence of invasion of England at the expiration of the short mandatory ultimatum.
But that Germany was ready and determined to "smash the British Navy," and invade England with an immense army, was made clear on every hand.
Twenty great battleships of the Dreadnought, and better than the Dreadnought class were ready for action, and these were supported by a huge flotilla of destroyers and not less than 100 torpedo boats. True, all these combined would not make up a combination equal to Britain's fighting strength, inasmuch as the latter's lines of cruisers and second and third rate ships were far more numerous than Germany (400 in all). Of Dreadnoughts England now had 19, and experts held that, other things being equal, England's Navy must conquer within a week if the whole forces could be brought face to face, and have it out in a business-like way.
But there was one terrible and unknown factor that no naval, or other authority, could pretend to reckon with, seeing it was practically a new and unknown quantity in naval warfare. This was the "Demons de l'Aviation."
Was it not Napoleon who once said, in discussing the possibility of an attack on England, that he saw more than one way of getting an army of invasion into England, but he saw no way of getting them out again. If it was not Napoleon it was Bismarck; if it was not Bismarck it was the great German General, Moltke. But that was before the 20th century brought the crowning horror of war,—the possibility to drop fire, shot and shell and destruction from the very clouds of heaven, and add new terrors to the dark night of barbarous war. For be it understood always the difficulty presented itself that supposing 200,000 foreign troops could be landed on one of the unprotected, or insufficiently protected, shores of England, the imperishable British Navy, outwitted possibly in the first or main advance, would be on hand to cut off retreat, and prevent reinforcements. But, with a cloud of air-ships, matters might be very different.
That is what Germany has carefully prepared for; she does not mean to take any chances of the Napoleonic kind. Since three to five years ago the progress of æronautical science in Germany has been marvellous. Well it is remembered how the Emperor greeted Count von Zeppelin as the greatest hero of his country in 1908; and also it may be remembered how the nation loaded him with compliments and capital when his first and second great air-ships were destroyed.
While at first it seemed that France would lead the way in designing and successfully floating air-warships, it has been proved that France's efforts and accomplishments in this direction have been as playthings compared to Germany's airships. The stories of what has been done by German dirigibles have been read as colored by fear or inflated by too ready imagination; but as early as 1909 Paris correspondents saw with their own eyes—notwithstanding organised and official efforts to keep successful flights as secret as possible—enough to impress them with the gravest cause for uneasiness in this direction.
While marked attention began to be paid to Germany's war expenditure and battleship-building by the eyes and ears of Britain (meaning in particular her Press and public men), comparatively little attention was paid to her developments in other directions. Yet, in April of 1909, it had leaked out that Germany had started systematic airship building.
"Mr. Haldane, Secretary of State for War, stated that Germany had constructed six dirigible air-ships, and is constructing six more." Incidentally it was worthy of note that in the same day's cables "Germans declare that what the British Overseas Dominions are doing for the British Empire Austria-Hungary is doing for Germany," (so strong did they then count the triple-alliance; but they reckoned without their hosts in regard to Italy).
At that same time the proposal was made by a responsible British officer that England should commence the construction of air-ships on the two-to-one basis, but it was not adopted. Many writers, like M. Larrison, were inclined to scoff at the idea of invasion by air-ships, and more especially by Zeppelin balloons. But Larrison was a Frenchman, and believed no good thing could come out of any German Nazareth. True, it is not the primitive and cumbersome Zeppelin that is now ready to fill the air in support of the German Emperor's "imperishable navy"—it is rather a compromise between it and the French dirigible—but there they are, waiting on the German coasts, in every fortified town, a thousand air-ships, built as we now know at a cost of £3,000,000, worked on day and night, secretly and insidiously, in preparation for this long-premeditated invasion of the impregnable island home of John Bull. . . . What the nations from time immemorial had regarded as impossible of accomplishment, Emperor William has essayed to do, and is determined to do. . . . The madness and lust of conquest—to do the impossible—to become the New Lord of the Seas—to wear in his Imperial diadem the exalted legend, "Conqueror of Britannia"—"the monarch who humbled England!"
That is the brave, proud, bloody task the German Emperor, and presumably the German people, have set themselves to accomplish, and the wide world at this moment stands gaping and appalled, listening, trembling for the first shock and counter-shock, for the blast and counter-blast of the two mightiest navies which the earth has ever produced. The sublime summit of mechanical, engineering skill, scientific appliances, and rare ingenuity are summed up in the word "Dreadnought." . . . Perchance, that was an unhappy name to choose. Who knows but the very name inflamed the warlike passion of "England's nephew," who could shake the "mailed fist" in every face but that of England, because of that same navy; who could summon the Government of a people, in numbers twice his own, to "volte face" on a great European question in which they had ventured to take the side of the weak against the strong, and, on threat of mobilization, make them bond to Emperor William's will,—"because this is Our wish for our dear friend and Brother Austria." . . . Despotic power is indeed a fearful thing in the hands of an ambitious man. . . . England had not thought it possible—especially the Quakers of England, and there are more Quakers than wear broad grey cloth—had not believed that the sane German nation would ever catch the madness of its "mailed fist." . . . Yet, we might have known when left and right and centre of the Reichstag voted the unprecedented millions, "all of a sudden," as it were, that some new and enlarged ambition had seized the nation. . . We now know beyond question, or doubt, that that new and enlarged ambition was nothing less than to wrest from England the supremacy of the seas.
What time the world believed in angel visits—however rare—that time might Nilda Constance Chester have been born among men. I who have seen her often with mine own eyes, have eaten and drunk with her, conversed often with her, danced with her, aye, and sorrowed with—for to such a gentle creature in distress sympathy flowed out as to a motherless lamb stricken in the cold, or fallen by the way-side—flowed as of necessity, and in a manner without merit. For, somehow, she was more alone than any maiden I have met from side to side of wide Australia.
And if here I transgress the rules of first-class literature, and write for a space in the first personal singular, let it be forgiven me. The intimacy here is genuine and not feigned. Nilda is real and alive. Her portrait? All heroines are portrayed. And here I know I shall fail, for it is not my gift to adequately or eloquently depict female beauty. Character, and shades of character, slip readily from my pen; but beauty!—I had much rather present you with her photo, and, letting that speak, pass on; yet something is required beside the picture I have so often gazed upon, and, good as it is, does not represent her faithfully, save in just one immobile attitude which does not best become her. This part would I certainly skip, if it were proper. Yet here, as best I may, I will briefly limn the face and expression of one who has much to do with this story, improbable as that may at this juncture appear, having regard to the large and national issues involved, and which, up to the present moment, seem so remote to the career of any gentle maiden who, so far as seen, is destined for no higher place in life than governess and lady-help to a respectable Sydney family.
Nilda Chester, at 20, was of medium height, and slender as a poplar, her carriage graceful. Neither fair nor dark, she struck the happy medium in complexion. Coils of thick, nut-brown hair clustered about her head, which tresses she ever dressed so cunningly and becomingly that any Parisian milliner might have wished to engage her, for no matter what vogue was the hat, from the crimpy thing that a bird might fly away with to the enormous proportions of a monster "Merry Widow" creation 8 feet in circumference, heavily feathered, it sat upon her with apparently equal felicity. Her eyes were large and of the softest brown; arched her eye-brows, that are not so common now as a hundred or two hundred years ago, judging by the master painters, who invariably paint the grand dames and beauty damsels of the Georgian periods with highly-arched brows. The nose, most truly Grecian. How anyone can be described as beautiful who possesses an aquiline nasal organ, I cannot conceive. The Roman shape of nose may be associated with genius, heroism, great powers of daring, invention, statesmanship or generalship, but I can not admit their association with beauty, where regular lines are indispensable. . . . Certainly, there are varied and distinct types of beauty. I think Mrs. Patrick Campbell very beautiful, and her daughter, Stella, no less so. I mention these, because they approximate to the type I am trying to describe in Nilda Chester. . . But it was the expression that captivated more than the classic features. Always there were—nay, are—for why should I rob the present tense of its due?—the gentleness, the sweetness, the light that Edwin Arnold might here have apostrophised. . . . Think of the shrew who might be beautiful but for the vexed spirit that is within her, that sooner or later wizens, cripples, destroys, every line of the facially beautiful. All that the shrew is, Nilda Chester—is not.
From whence sprang so fair a lily?
I would not tell you, were it not incidental to the story. And even in the telling, you shall read between the lines more than I shall write down in black and white. For it is in itself a story of blackness and whiteness, the which has lain in my desk these years, an unused secret. Now opened only to be re-written in epitome; else you had not known how Nilda came to enter into questions and matters that can only be described as "national."
* * * *
Full 20 years ago there came to Sydney town a distinguished young foreigner, who was then barely out of his teens, it is said. I am not able to determine whether it was in a warship or a private yacht. The leisureliness and unconstrainedness of his movements would appear to indicate the latter. On shore, at all events, he did pretty much as he liked, and emulated the ways of Jack ashore to his heart's content.
His name was Count von Salleberg. Perchance he had other names. Later on he certainly had. He was thought sufficiently distinguished to be invited to Government House; perchance he accepted a formal invitation and never acted on it. . . . In any case he was one of a roystering party who spent a full fortnight down the South Coast. They drank, and they shot, and they feasted. Perhaps it was at Kiama, or mayhap while the party painted the old coach-town of Nowra red, that something happened. . . . A Count for lover! Why not? The days of romance are not o'er. And love's young dream seemed possible of realisation, though more than an ocean separated the social lives of these two. . . . I never saw her; she died many years ago. But I am ready to believe that she, too, was good to look upon. That she innocently listened to fairy tales, and believed that fiction was fact; that love at first sight could not be mistaken; that he, the gay Lothair, would bear her far away in his fine ship to his grand home, and she would be a grand lady—all true and square. . . . How much he meant, I know not. How much he lied, I know not. How much he loved, I know not. How much he broke a heart—ah, of this I know somewhat. And this: that young Count von Salleberg said he must go to his ship and would return in two days for his love. . . . That he never returned. . . .
That she never saw him again.
That is an old, old story, told a thousand times, witnessed times without number; occurring and re-occurring so oft in every city, town and hamlet that it becomes one of the most prosaic tragedies of life. . . . Poor human nature. . . . and the woman, as usual, was left to suffer. . . . The after years? It may not be told. . . . Only this, that the betrayed one married while yet her honor was not called in question. Perhaps that was her greater sin; yet would I cast no stone of severity. Deserted, distracted, torn by fear, what else remained to her? Be that as it may, it is said she died of a broken-heart, while yet in the years that should have been in the prime of her womanhood. . . . He, Donald Chester, was just an ordinary man on the land, described as an easy going yeoman, practical, unpoetical, phlegmatic.
So much for the part, which will suffice to explain much that follows.
* * * *
At the garden-gate two girls on the tip-toe of expectation, greatly excited. For this change in the domestic economy of "Linden" meant so much for them. For now they were no longer to be ordinary school-girls, but were to have a teacher of their very own—a young lady who was to be their especial guide, philosopher and friend. . . . There they had been posted for well nigh half-an-hour; and at last she came. Mrs. Horton had herself gone to Redfern station to meet her, so that she should not feel lonely; had gone because there was really no one else really she could send; had gone as an act of grace, but without a thought of any condescension, for she had reason to believe that Miss Chester was as represented—a very gentle and superior young person; and, as will have been gathered, it was so intended to receive and treat her.
The sprightly Gladys caught the gentle Esther by the hand, and together they ran out into the street as the cab pulled up, and, before Mrs. Horton could say a word of introduction, the impulsive Gladys had seized Miss Chester by the hand, and, with a warmth of exclamation which could not be mistaken, cried, "I'm so glad you have come at last. We thought the cab would never get here." . . . Then, turning to her sister, "This is Esther."
"Yes, so glad to meet you both. You are Gladys, of course?" They were for pulling her within the gate, but the new-comer turning, said, "I must pay the cabman."
"No, Mamma is doing that, and giving directions as to the luggage. Is this all you have?" asked Gladys.
"Not quite all; my luggage is not extensive, but there is a box left at the station, as it was too heavy to bring along in the cab."
"Now, come along, dears," said Mrs. Horton. "I'm sure Miss Chester must be famished. I myself feel hungry."
"You got up so early; it was very kind of you to come yourself to meet me," came gratefully from Miss Chester, cut short by Gladys, who protested that she had offered to go, but Mamma would not hear of it.
"Have you laid the breakfast things?" Mrs. Horton questioned, as they made up the steps into the house.
"Quite an hour ago, Mamma."
"Then tell Maggie to let us have some breakfast in ten minutes;" and Esther was deputed to show the new-comer up to her room. This she did with shyness, which meant that she found not a word to say, and could make no conversation, just answering in little more than yes or no to the questions the new governess asked. So unlike Gladys, who needed no questioning to make her tongue go.
"Oh, what a cosy, delightful little room!" was the new-comer's pleased explanation, as she stood for a moment surveying the comfortable apartment prepared for her.
"It was Tom's," was all that Esther found to say.
"I'm afraid Master Tom will not thank me for robbing him of his room."
"He has the lumber-room, downstairs."
"The lumber-room! Poor Tom."
"Oh, but it's larger than this, and has been cleaned out."
"And where is your room?"
"Just opposite this—come and see it."
But that was postponed, for, before many minutes, Gladys came running up with sundry of the lighter boxes, and with a word to hurry, please, for breakfast. Then, catching sight of the hat Miss Chester had just taken off and placed on the bed, Gladys broke out with a note of exclamation, "Your hat is just a picture, Miss Chester. Do let me try it on." Then, with her mob of hair flying about her shoulders, she tried on the hat, which was adorned with two large feathers, one black and one white, and making her way to the glass coquettishly fixed it, and laughed at the effect, protesting she would have one just like that when she was grown up.
"Oh, you'll have a much better one, I am sure," said Miss Chester.
"It is quite the latest style, and will knock Tom," protested Gladys.
"Knock Tom! How will it do that?"
"Oh, he says you are from the way-back among the gums, and will want 'civilising.' He is such a tease. But you won't mind him. Miss Chester, will you?"
"Oh, that will be all right. I'm sure to like Tom, since he is one of you."
"Listen to this, please, Dad—'Germany's power. We know that the German's have a law, which, when all the ships under it have been completed, will have their navy more powerful than any at present in existence. We know that, but we do not know the rate at which the provisions of this Act are to be carried into execution. We now expect that four German ships of the 1908-9 programme will be completed, not in February, 1911, but in the autumn of 1910. I am informed, moreover, that the construction of——'"
"Who said that?" demanded Mr. Horton across the tea-table, to which they had just sat down, a comparatively happy family, just after the arrival of Miss Chester.
"One of the members of the Imperial Government."
"How long ago was that?"
"In the early part of 1909," Tom discovered upon reading the introduction to the above lines; and it was under the heading, "Did England have fair warning to be ready for such an ordeal as a war with the German Empire?"
Tom, full of the subject, was for reading further, but his mother, moving at the moment at the back of his chair, quietly laid hold of the paper, folded it, and placed it upon the couch, with a gentle reminder that there was a time for all things; and then, addressing her remarks particularly to Miss Chester, said, "Isn't this dreadful, this awful war? I suppose we shall hear and talk of nothing else till the matter is settled."
"Till the matter is settled," re-echoed Mr. Horton, contemplatively. "I am afraid, mother, there will be vast accounts to settle before that happens. There will be many vacant chairs, many desolate homes, much blood and treasure spilled before we reach the end."
"It is too terrible to think of." It was Nilda who spoke, and then she added, "I used to like the Germans, but now I am afraid I hate them. Is there, Mr. Horton, any justification, really, for declaring war against England?"
"Most Britishers say there is not," Mr. Horton made answer, "and, happily for us, the independent Press of the world declare as much."
"By-the-by," said the head of the family, "it is by way of being a rather queer coincidence, but Mr. Summers is to be with us for an hour this evening, and he spoke of bringing a young German along with him. So, Miss Chester," he continued with a meaning glance, remembering what she had just remarked concerning Germans in general, "you will perhaps relax a little to this particular German, as becomes one of the hostesses."
"Since you put it that way, Mr. Horton, I will remember my duty to a guest, if permitted to meet Mr.——"
"Mr. Gunsler, I think Mr. Summers called him."
* * * *
It was later in the evening when the guests arrived. Mr. Summers introduced young Mr. Gunsler as a young gentleman recently from Germany, with some idea of making his home in Australia, but immediately for the purpose of introducing into the Commonwealth certain new styles of machines.
* * * *
Even as the streets rang with war cries, and groups of idlers at every corner had one thing in common to debate or discuss, so in every drawing-room, bar, and cottage in the country was the all-dominant theme on men's tongues the same—war between two nations which had never yet sprang at each other's throats.
Strangest thing of all, that the German in our midst, even the non-naturalised, was not yet ostracised or refused social recognition. Here was a phase of the magnanimity which marked the Briton abroad. The war was the act of the Emperor, or of the Reichstag, or the Government; it was surely not the commoners' war. To some extent that was the impression left by Mr. Gunsler.
In quite an impersonal—almost impartial—manner he discussed the situation, yet fearlessly. He could talk, too, and though his English was not perfect, and he paused at times for a word, ere twenty minutes, he was the centre of the circle of listeners.
"You say, Mr. Horton, this war is unnatural, undefendable—ah, indefensible (I thank you)? You look at it only from the Englishman's standpoint. Let me speak to you of the German aspect—from a point of view you may not have considered. It is unnatural, you say, for a son of an English Princess to attack his mother's homeland. WHAT IF OUR EMPEROR REGARDS HIMSELF AS ENGLAND'S LAWFUL SOVEREIGN? . . . You protest; yes, yes; but listen: Was he not the eldest child of the eldest of Queen Victoria's children? Yes."
Mr. Horton: "But that does not entitle him to succession! The daughter of a Sovereign does not succeed where there are sons."
"Did not Queen Victoria succeed when there were possible male aspirants to the Throne of England?"
Mr. Horton: "In any case, the claim, all claims, of the Princess Royal were surrendered by her to succeed to the British Throne when she married your Prince Frederick; and that applies also to her issue."
"Ah, you are speaking from the English side again. That does not disturb my contention. You are not under the Salic law, which was the fundamental law of the French monarchy, excluding females from the monarchy. Therefore, in German eyes, the right of Emperor William, Queen Victoria's eldest grandson, is good and valid."
Mr. Horton: "Make your mind easy then on that score. Britishers will never consent to having a German monarch rule over them while they have a Prince of their own to place upon the Throne."
But Mr. Gunsler was not to be put off. "An English Prince?" he queried.
"Yes, an English Prince!"
"Do you forget that after all they are German Princes? Think of the Georges during the past 200 years. Did you not send for Sophia's son to be your King, because he had in him a strain of James I.; but his right and title was through his mother and his grandmother, Elizabeth of Palatine? Think how German was George; likewise how utterly German his son, who was your George II. Do you remember when Sir Robert Walpole hastened to announce the death of his father? He said, 'I have the honor to announce to your Majesty that your Royal father, King George I., died at Osnaburg on Saturday last, the 10th inst.' He replied, 'Dat is one big lie!'"
"Oh, that is right enough; we do not dispute the German blood in the House of Guelph; but that does not make them the less rightful occupants of the English Throne." At the same moment he shifted uneasily in his chair, and looked to the others, as if for help, for he did not pride himself particularly on his intimacy with English history, which this sprig of a German seemed to have at his finger-ends.
Tom, who had listened intently, thought he saw an opportunity for a remark; but it did not help his father's argument somehow. He ventured to think that perhaps the disturbed and trying time of the Charleses, of Mary, of Pretender and Protector, combined to make such an unhappy condition of affairs as to justify the introduction of the House of Hanover to rule over the destinies of England.
"Quite so," smiled Mr. Gunsler. "It all seemed inevitable. But a greater House than that of Hanover is willing to take up the government of your country, which, though not reduced to the sorry condition of 200 years ago, has, may I venture to say, still much left to be desired in order to get stable, settled government. Your system of party government—is it not ever a state of flux? Your Lords and Commons—are they quite satisfactory? Has not the country these two, three years been torn, disturbed, distressed by the dissensions between them?"
"You are quite mistaken, sir," broke in Mr. Horton, with some heat. "The British form of government—which is the people's government, of the people, by the people, for the people—is the highest and best exemplification of democratic government which the world has produced; as the British Parliament, which is the mother of all Parliaments, has been the admiration of the modern civilised world."
Mr. Gunsler noted the warmth of feeling which accompanied this patriotic outburst. He slightly shifted his ground. "Consider," he said, "the place of power and authority in the world the Teuton and the Briton combined as one Power would occupy; under one head and authority, it could dictate its will to the world."
"Precisely," replied Mr. Horton, again in his even terms. "That appears to be the German ambition. It was never England's."
"Yet England and her Dominions in every sea has come to be called 'a world Power.'"
"Granted; that distinction came to it, not so much that it was desired as deserved; and no British Sovereign has strutted about shaking a mailed fist!"
Mr. Gunsler took no offence, apparently; rather there was an amused smile as he meditatively observed, "William ('of immortal memory to be') is half John Bull, and the world at large counts J.B. to be pugnacious!"
"As you will see before this war is ended! This war on which your people have entered as of malice prepense. This war, planned and prepared for in cold-blood—with a coolness almost diabolic—without immediate just cause or incentive; surely it is a thing unheard of: to so strenuously prepare for war during several years, and then fasten on to a nominal casus belli! . . . Oh, it makes my blood boil!"
It was clear that the atmosphere was becoming sulphurous.
Mr. Summers, who had been reclining a little apart, content to be a listener, drew a little nearer, and, in a momentary pause which ensued, had a mind to divert conversation into another channel; but his host had no mind to be diverted. "I say it makes my blood boil," he reiterated, and it was pointedly said to the young German.
"I am in the house of an Australian and a loyal subject of King George. I am aware that it is only by your courtesy we can rationally discuss this matter."
"Of course, of course, sir. Don't suppose I am angry with you, or riled with anything you have said. Come now, since you have mentioned King George, will you join us in drinking his good health?" saying which Mr. Horton moved to the sideboard and produced glasses and decanter, for they had not yet moved from the dining-room. "His good health," said Mr. Gunsler, as his host named the King.
"That reminds me," remarked Mr. Horton, as he set down the glass, "that about two years ago, just about the very time Edward the Great died in fact, I heard an expression of opinion to the effect that the German Emperor would not make war on England while his uncle Edward lived, because of a real affection he entertained for him, as for his grandmother. The upshot of events goes to indicate the truth of the observation."
"I do not know as to that," was Mr. Gunsler's reply.
"Would you mind telling me this—when you left Germany recently, did you gather anything which would enable you to say, or, shall I put it, which would justify you to say, if there were German designs on Australia?"
"I have lived in England since being in Germany," came evasively from Mr. Gunsler, and Mr. Horton did not press the question, since a moment's consideration told him he was not likely to get a candid answer.
They were still standing, the three men, gathered by the table, when Mr. Summers, lifting as by accident a book from a shelf hard-by, drew attention to its cover. "Look here, Gunsler, at these flags—entwined." It was marked 'Souvenir of the American Fleet's visit to the Commonwealth of Australia, 1908.' "Look at those flags, standing for one hundred and fifty million white men, speaking the same language—English; having the closest bonds of commercial relationship; the same ideals very largely, notwithstanding one is Monarchical the other Republican. I tell you these flags bound here in peace, with Edward on one side and Roosevelt on the other, will yet be found together, and that before long, should circumstances warrant, firmly welded in that blood and iron of which your noble Bismarck spoke. Numerically, all the world knows that Britain is not a match for Germany as matters stand at the moment. But take it from me, Emperor William will never rule in England, even if the worst happens."
"What will be the worst?"
"The smashing of the British Navy, and with it the removal of the policemen of the highway of the seas; then confusion—chaos—heaven knows what!"
"Even yet, if England concedes what is demanded, the worst may be avoided," said the German.
"Never," said Mr. Horton. "What do you take us for?"
"There are many in Germany, some in England, who believed England would give in at the last moment and not fight."
"Some in England! I do not believe it! They are not Englishmen, I'll bet. Can you name one?"
Deliberately—and it showed something of the man this German was, something, too, of the marvellous methodical ways of his class and people—Mr. Gunsler produced a pocket-book, and, under date of May 1st, 1910, were these words, taken from a printed paper:—"You are in no position to resist us. . . . Mr. Villiers went on to point out that Germany's available forces would be so much greater than those of Britain that the latter would give in without entering upon a hopeless struggle."
"Villiers! Who, then, is Villiers? Ah, but I remember, a war correspondent."
"Yes, a very noted war correspondent," continued Mr. Gunsler.
"If he really made use of those words he ought to be tied to a cart-tail," came bitterly from Mr. Horton. "But I should like to know the context; I fancy we should have quite a different complexion to that picture."
"I happen to remember the circumstances," Mr. Gunsler went on. "Mr. Villiers was speaking at a reception tendered to him by the Canadian Club, and said, with reference to the international outlook, that the prospect was that Germany might attain dominance without having to go to war. She would strengthen her armaments until she could say to Britain, 'You are in no position to resist us!'"
"Then he ought to be shot on sight! No position to resist, eh? That shows all Villiers knew of Britain's history and Britain's sons. When did the boys of the bull-dog breed ever funk a fight that was forced on them? I tell you that is just the time they can and will fight. Then the devil in them is roused. You fellows think of the fight the British made a few years ago in South Africa. It was no war in the ordinary sense of the word. For one reason the enemy, gallant and plucky as they were, would not stand up, but were ever on the move. Another thing—and greater—the heart of England's fighting machine was never in the war! You know it. But now—wait and you will see how England will fight with her back to the wall! Great Cæsar, but it will be terrible! Blood will flow like water on land and sea. For your people and ours are of the same stock, practically, and almost of the same calibre. Grim determination sits upon the brow of the German Eagle, and they will never know when they are beaten; will not admit it till bruised and blackened and battered almost out of recognition!"
"Have you not considered how impossible that is in regard to any war between Germany and England?" quietly commented Mr. Gunsler. "All that might happen if it were possible for British forces to invade German territory in, say, equal numbers; but, as your troops are in the proportion of one to 15, what chance is there?"
Mr. Horton sank back in a chair with an angry frown. It was Mr. Summers who took up the running with this observation: "Upon my word, Gunsler, hearing it put that way sounds very like the bully's attack on the little fellow! But, depend upon this, there is no bully big enough to intimidate the British Empire. The world's sympathy—save in narrow circles where hate pre-occupies—will range on the side of the British in this war. Your national pride will make you go through with it, I'm afraid; but mark this, the day has gone by for ever, I believe, when the principle 'Might is right' can any longer hold the field, or justify the attempted sticking up of a nation, or the wholesale murder of that nation."
"Very good, my friend," (from the German); "very good philosophy for the nation that has collared all the picked spots of the earth's surface, and then, being satiated, preaches 'Right is might.' But the time has come when the German Empire must expand, as your Empire has expanded; she has formulated her programme, and England must not stand in the way."
"But by heaven she will, she must, stand in the way!" cried Mr. Horton, once more rushing into the breach. "Your Government think to repeat the humiliation of France during the Morocco trouble, when Germany threatened to invade France unless M. Delcassie were compelled to resign. He was shunted. You scored equally in the humiliation of Russia during the squabble re the Balkans. In both those cases the mere presentation of the 'mailed fist' answered the purpose. But it won't work with John Bull, and you ought to know it."
"Perhaps we do know it, Mr. Horton, and yet must pursue."
Here the discussion was broken in upon by Master Tom, who said the Mater wished to know when the gentlemen were coming into the drawing-room?
"Certainly, now—with your permission, Mr. Horton,"—and Mr. Gunsler accompanied Tom to an adjoining room.
The other two remained for a time where they were.
"Let us have a pipe," suggested Mr. Horton to his friend; "we'll smoke the calumet of peace—at least we two can do that," agreed Mr. Summers.
"Yes, by the way, Summers, why did you bring this German fellow here?"
"He wished to come."
"Why should he wish to come here?"
"Strange to say, he wished to meet Nilda."
"He wished to meet Miss Chester! And, again, why?"
"As to that I am not quite clear. Somehow he has heard about her, and—well, Nilda may have struck him as a fine-looking girl, which she is, you know."
"But, she has been no length of time with us, and I fail to see how——But it does not signify. I happen to know that Miss Chester does not like Germans, and I like her the better for that." . . . Then, after a pause—for Mr. Summers never rushed conversation, and was so much at home with the Hortons that he did not need to 'make conversation' for conversation's sake—"do I understand, Summers, there is some mystery about our new governess?"
"Well, to be frank, there is. We say little about it; partly for her sake. She hates to be the subject of any discussion on the matter. I beg you will remember this. Do you remember that years ago I told you something of her history? . . . No? . . . But I did. You were one of a very few to whom I did mention the matter. Her mother was a distant relative of mine; and that was how I became her ward. There was just a trifle of property left, the interest on which was to keep Nilda, but it has not been drawn; it accrues, and will be a dot—a small one, certainly—when she needs it. That is also a secret—which, no doubt, you will likewise discreetly forget that I ever mentioned. But since you have asked, and have some right to know, there is a far deeper secret; it concerns her birth. She passes under the name of Chester, her mother's married name; but I have reason to believe it is not her right name."
"Then Miss Chester is a come-by-chance!"
"It may be so. I am trusting you, you see; I will trust you all the way, because I know you are not the man to turn dog on any young lady who is the mere child of circumstance, or, say, of misfortune. The story is altogether a romantic one. The real facts may never be known. But as presented to me by Nilda's mother herself, when very near her end, and with absolutely no purpose to serve in deceiving me, the father of Nilda actually went through some kind of marriage service with her mother. They lived together for a short time; then he left, never to return. I do not know that he was ever even heard of again; but he left some little thing behind him which seems to have indicated that he was no ordinary kind of wayfarer, traveller, or adventurer. In fact, that he was a young German of very high standing, 'a scion of a noble house,' as we say of English lordlings. When I asked Mrs. Chester what proof she had of this—pointing out the future of her child might largely depend on this—for some reason she would not speak further on the matter. It was better, she said, to leave it so. Now, whether or not Nilda has some knowledge of this beyond what I possess, I cannot say. I once thought she had; but, as I have said, she is so reluctant to speak of it."
"Hum," speculated Mr. Horton. "It looks bad for the father, noble or ignoble, whatever he was. You think the mother never made known to him what had happened?"
"Again, as to that I cannot say. There were reasons, I fancy, why she would keep silent about it. Once, long ago, there was a whispered word that Mrs. Chester had received, through a Continental bank, a fairly substantial amount of money. Whether she did or not, or whether she kept it or returned it, I am unable to say. There you have the history of Miss Chester, so far as I know it."
"It is a queer story," commented Mr. Horton. "And you, I understand, have reared the girl as your own?"
"Since quite a little thing Nilda has been with us, and always regarded as one of the family. She need never have sought another home; but somehow she grew restless and desired a change. I really believe it was the independent spirit of the girl which made her wish to be in a way of earning her own living. Say, friend, you will not mention her secret, even to Mrs. Horton?"
"That is safe enough, never fear."
It was but a moment or two later that the subject of this conversation came quickly into the room, with just the most perfunctory kind of tap upon the door.
"Uncle!" (he was not really uncle, but it was a time-honored privilege between them), "really you must come and take that German off my hands, or I shall have to go to my room, instanta!" This was half in play, but apparently quite as much in earnest.
"Off your hands, Nilly? Why off your hands, which, by the way, don't seem crushed, or reddened, or anything out of the common." This he said as he took her hand in his over the back of his chair and held it.
"He would have me play a German piece, though I declared I did not know it. Then he talked and talked at me—to me; and I'm sure I don't want to monopolise either him or his conversation. . . . So I simply had to break away. And I made an excuse that I did not know if it would be agreeable to Mr. Horton that he should sing a German song the way, the way things are going!" faltered Miss Chester.
"Quite right, girly; your good taste was always in evidence, I remember."
"What does he want to sing?" demanded Mr. Horton.
"Well, he did not exactly want to sing, Mr. Horton; but Mrs. Horton proposed it; and in looking over the music Mr. Gunsler came across 'Good Rhine Wine,' and seemed so pleased; he said if I would play it, he would try to sing it."
"A jolly good song, too, confound him," broke enigmatically from the master of the house, who, in years gone by had, in a rather good baritone, given voice to this semi-bacchanalian song of the land of the Kaisers.
"What say you, Summers, shall we have the evening pipe while he lutes to us?"
"As you please—nay, but for Nilly's sake if you please—seeing she does not seem anxious for any further tete-a-tete with this good-looking follow I brought along.". . . Then, "he is rather fine looking, don't you think, Nilly?"
"I do not think him fine at all. But I daresay he is of that opinion himself, and I cannot bear men who think they are perfectly charming."
"Well said, Miss Chester, well said," cried Mr. Horton; "and if you will permit to say it, I think we shall be good friends, Miss Chester. Come along, then, let us test the vocal chords of this son of Rhineland. Perchance I shall like his singing better than his talking."
As the three walked from the room together, Mr. Summers whispered, "Shall we say a truce to war-talk?"
"That is also well said," agreed Mr. Horton.
And, to do him justice, Mr. Gunsler sang the 'Rhine Wine' song very well, and another, and, before he left, had rather established himself in the good graces of the family, especially, perhaps, with Mrs. Horton, who said she thought Mr. Gunsler a very accomplished and gentlemanly young man.
"And what does Miss Constance think of him," playfully questioned Mr. Horton, very directly, to that young lady.
"He doesn't impress me," was the answer laconic.
It was but two days later when news arrived of the bursting of the war-storm in real earnest. Like a clap of thunder came the word by cable, that the German Navy, in force, had left Kiel two days gone, and within 30 hours were expected to meet the British Navy in the North Sea, in the first deadly conflict of big guns and clash of arms. It was stated that the Fleet, comprised 14 Dreadnoughts and super-Dreadnoughts, 18 cruisers, 40 torpedo boats, 20 submarines, and a number of other vessels. One hundred mighty vessels had been counted as the procession steamed down the Little Belt of Denmark, prior to emerging into the sea where was to be fought the initial, and probably bloodiest, naval battle ever waged upon the bosom of the ocean.
The morning papers, in large double column headlines, flared forth the news of the first move of the giants in the impending struggle. In every capital of the Commonwealth, men's minds could hold no other thought—the war was commencing! Every editorial pen wrote war; every linotype, typograph and monoline was running on war articles. Every tongue talked war!
The man in the street vented every imaginable opinion.
The optimist said, "The Germans will be potted before they know where they are! They'll be blown out of the water inside of half-a-day!"
The pessimist: "There'll be a dreadful time, and who can tell how it will end?"
The street wit, "They'll fight, the devils, like the Kilkenny cats—till there's nothing left of them!"
Eagerly they watched for the mid-day editions of the papers, but they only brought confirmation of the first despatches. Later on in the day appeared cables that the British Navy was steaming north to meet the German Fleet. With these messages were conflicting accounts, probably "made up" to some extent in the paper offices, of the exact strength of the Imperial Fleet. It was gathered, however, that the Channel Squadron was moving in a concentrated body to the attack; that with the auxiliaries it was nearly as strong as the German Navy; though in point of numbers fewer in the aggregate. They were placed at 12 Dreadnoughts, 20 cruisers, 33 torpedo boats, 14 submarines—79 in all.
"Twenty vessels short!" the shaky critics cried.
"All the greater the worth of the victory!" was the rejoinder of the sanguine.
It was gathered also from the evening papers that, though the Germans meant to meet the strength of the English Navy, it was evident they were holding many ships in reserve. The destination of these, and where they were moving, were left matters of conjecture. And in all conscience conjecture was rife. Programmes of the general German plan of attack was outlined in diagram, map, chart, etc. The most alarming of these, as also one calling most attention, seemed to have some basis of fact—it represented that 100,000 German troops were posted at Heligoland and various of the handy ports along the German coast, where were hundreds of transports awaiting word for departure, for their embarkation was already complete.
This fact being known, it became apparent why the whole British Fleet could not move north, however great the attacking force there might be.
It was announced that seven of the grey-hounds of the Fleet—vessels which could steam 30 knots an hour—were patrolling the Channel, each with "wireless" on board, and that no surprise party in force could attempt the Channel unknown.
The Mediterranean Squadron had left Gibraltar, and would take up the policing of the whole Channel to the North Sea, to make it impossible for the Armada to touch the English coast, along where in the meantime were placed, under easy steam, a swarm of the lesser vessels, including not less than 30 of the pre-Dreadnought type.
Latest editions of the papers that night—which were issued up to 12 o'clock—contained statements that the German Fleet were emerging out of the Kattegat into the North Sea.
On the morrow morning early people awoke with but one thought in common, "What will the day bring forth?" In thousands of cases, where the dailies were wont to be thrown over the garden wall or put upon the door-step, the impatient house-keeper looked in vain for his morning paper. Soon the streets were alive with men in slippers, and lads sans cap, sans coats, chasing the paper boys, who were selling their sheets at double price, and giving no change.
"Expected Encounter of the Rival Fleets at Noon To-day!
"Every British Gunboat Under Steam.
"350 War Vessels Afloat.
"Every Fortress Manned.
"Every Man at His Post.
"England is Ready."
Such were some of the poster headlines which struck the eye on opening the broad-sheet which was filled with messages, amplified into columns. The burden of the broad sheets may be thus epitomised:—
It was believed that the reason why the enemy's fleet had taken the comparatively long run round Denmark, instead of taking the short-cut by the new canal from Kiel (on the Baltic) to Brünsbuttal (only 400 miles, or 20 hours' steam to London) opening on to the North Sea, was to not give any opening to the British Fleet for attack at once, but to draw said Fleet away to the north as far as possible. That an attack in force would be imperative, to intercept an attack on Edinburgh, or even Newcastle. . . . That information of a reliable character was to hand that a second German Fleet was on the point of leaving Wilhelmshaven, accompanied by a huge flotilla of destroyers, submarines, and—fearful to contemplate—overshadowed and protected by 90 ærial war-ships of various designs, but all capable and calculated to spread death and disaster on a universal and unprecedented scale!
That London was excited, but not agitated; all the United Kingdom alert, anxious, but not fearful. That King George had sent a message to his people which had touched and roused every man in the nation—"Our Cousin Germany, without formal declaration of war, threatens invasion of our Empire. Britannia will know what reply to make. England is ready! And I know every man will do his duty. The hour to strike has come. Let us strike hard, fearing none—save only God!"
Mobilisation of British army complete.
The total number of men ready for home defence, under arms and fully equipped, was given at 290,000 men. The artillery batteries of Salisbury, Aldershot, and elsewhere were moving to the coastlines; the cavalry regiments were so posted as to move quickly to any spot indicated for the landing of the enemy. Every fortification was alive with men at the great guns: Newcastle, Hartlepool, Hull, Colchester, and all the forts about London to Chatham and Dover were ready to shoot; Portsmouth to Weymouth presented one long line of fortifications; likewise Plymouth to Devonport.
Every line of railway in the Kingdom would be at the disposal of the authorities. It was noted with satisfaction that one message stated that beside the Regulars, the Territorials throughout the land were hastening to place themselves at the disposal of the authorities for the defence of the homeland.
The evening editions of the papers had it that hostilities had commenced—that a flying scout in the Channel, between Helder and Yarmouth, had been chased and partially disabled, but had escaped in the direction of Borhum; that an immense fleet of mercantile ships and vessels of every possible tonnage had been sighted off Heligoland, outside of which lay a protecting fleet of battleships and cruisers. This was in part accepted as confirmation of the rumour previously circulated that the German Government had commandeered all available commercial ships of great carrying capacity to convey the German legions in the dash across the English Channel, to storm and break the power of mighty Britain!
* * * *
How long the hours seemed till yet another morn should break upon another day that must surely be yet more full of incident! Almost this day might settle the fate of a nation! The suspense now approached an agony. Judging by the popular feeling in every one of the Australian capitals, the day could not pass without the most momentous issues being, if not actually decided, so colored and balanced as to leave its mark upon the future, for good or ill, to the British Navy and the British Empire.
So intense had the public feeling now become that business was practically at a standstill. Even men on large contracts, buildings, etc., were seen to come down from their work, to scan the morning papers, and to exchange comments and opinions on what the day would bring forth and what the issues might be.
This eventful day was Thursday, the——day of May, 1912. The month of May, was ever marked by great, notable, and even tragic events in the history of the English Crown. In this case it is likely to be long-remembered as:—
"BLACK THURSDAY, OF 1912."
As was afterwards ascertained, the morn was grey with mist and fog, which, for four or five hours, hung thick upon the waters of the Channel, particularly between Sheerness and Flushing. It was under cover of this friendly fog that no fewer than nine Dreadnoughts, as many cruisers, 12 destroyers, and a number of submarines broke into sight in the sea, where but 100 miles of water separate England from Holland. By keeping to the Continental coast as far as possible, they had evaded the British scouts. Their object was now manifest—to draw away from the central passage of crossing the British gun-boats that remained in or about the estuary of the Thames, as the main fleet was destined to draw the superior vessels of the navy north.
It was this second-rate fleet which got in the first destructive work—more destructive than the first message of "Black Thursday" gave utterance to. That message simply stated: "Surprise attack in the morning ere the mists had cleared on three British ships of the line off Dover. British vessels in distress after the first hour's cannonading; overwhelmed in numbers. Rear Admiral——wired for support. Feared those will not arrive in time. Rumoured that one ship disabled, one run ashore, and, one captured by the enemy."
Three ships of the line put out of action in the first onset! That was indeed disconcerting news!
The next was no less so. To meet this early repulse, a portion of the mid-Channel Fleet was ordered south. This was exactly what the enemy intended should take place.
The host from Emden was then put in motion. A slight breeze from the north-east helped the flotilla—the silent armada which joined the legion lying ready at Heligoland, which altogether numbered not a mere 100,000 men, but 160,000 men. These were to comprise the landing force, irrespective of the escorts, which now formed up in two formidable lines, one on either side the transports conveying the invading army.
The last message on that eventful Thursday was to the effect that the German Armada was advancing, and would be met on the morrow by what ships were left. . . . That a wireless from the Admiral in the North Sea stated that the great sea fight had commenced, at a general range of from 17 to 18 miles.
All that night every newspaper (daily) was kept open all night, so keen and imperative was the demand for news that "war-sheets" were issued almost every hour. One of the earliest of them told how the first disaster to the British ships had come about. They were not met together, but seriatim, and so over-powered. These battleships were the Prince of Wales, The Implacable and Albemarle. The Prince of Wales was the ship that ran ashore (near Dover).
2 p.m.—The battleships which had hastened out to strike vengeance for this cowardly attack in the dark were Cornwallis, Queen, Albion, Formidable, and Russell. These five ships were followed by several destroyers and submarines. In the evening, an hour before dusk, these ships encountered the enemy in the vicinity of where the morning disaster occurred. They were waiting in anticipation of a return attack. Firing began at from 13 to 15 miles. The sea was choppy. But the marksmanship of the Germans was so faulty at the distance that no damage was done. Better results followed from the British guns; at least 19 or 20 shots had been placed, as proved by observations. Finding they were still in majority, however, the German Fleet put on steam, and were sending out their submarines when the order was given for the British boats to slowly return, while firing, to the mouth of the Thames.
Now, for the first time was given the names of the chief battleships which had steamed north for the "battle royal." They were at once the flower and pride of the British Navy:—
The Admiral had chosen to fly his flag from the mighty and splendid ship Superb, improved Dreadnought, whose displacement was 18,600 tons; speed, 21 knots.
Following the battleships were 20 cruisers, several of which were themselves giant Dreadnoughts, among them being the Invincible, Inflexible, Indomitable, Minotaur, Good Hope, Black Prince and Donegal.
This encounter, destined to become an historic as Trafalgar, took place on a line of the North Sea which might roughly be drawn between Edinburgh and mid-Denmark.
The main line of the German Fleet, extending over one mile and a half, was encountered by the British Fleet on the right-hand of the latter, the procession of the enemy heading down Channel.
As the rival fleets approached they slowly converged to a nearer parallel line, so that the heavy guns became more deadly as they passed. Heading the British vessel was the Admiral's Flagship Superb. The order of battle, judging by the hastily-despatched cables was, on the British side, that, the 12 first-class battleships took the inner running; on the lee-side of every battleship steamed a torpedo-boat, as companion, awaiting directions as to when to begin to play out the torpedoes. Likewise, with each cruiser was an accompanying torpedo-boat; while the submarines and destroyers were again outside of the double line. The procession is said to have been imposing and orderly to a degree. In the first despatches, mention was made of only one German ship, by name The Kaiser Wilhelm, which was reported to have Prince Henry of Prussia on board. As to the German lines, the Flagship, in their case, was not first it seems, but midway in the procession, which steamed in more compact order than the British Squadrons, as the whole hundred ships seem to have occupied less length of sea-space than the 80 ships of the British line; while in place of being covered by their big ships the smaller craft followed in and out almost consecutively, but three torpedo-boats were noticed, following immediately behind the Flagship.
The weather was reported fine, but heavy clouds obscured the sun. The wind, which was moderate, was down Channel; the battle began at 1 o'clock on the Friday following Black Thursday.
What time those charming, chiming bells of St. Mary's called to earlier Mass, and drowsy citizens, turning on the pillow, bunched it up, with the complacent half-awake reflection, "It is Sunday morning—good!—I can dose yet an hour!"—there called at the front door of the Horton residence a boy who had been given 6d to leave a bunch of flowers addressed to one of the inmates. They were roses, red and white, plucked from Mosman garden. Gathered that same morning for sure, they were so fresh, with the dew, or maybe a spray, still resting upon the leaves.
"Consy," called an impatient voice at her door. "Something for you! Something good! Consy! Will you open the door? Can you guess? Oh, it's beautiful!"
"For me? What can it be?"
"Yes, for you; it is marked 'Miss Constance Chester, Linden.'"
"Well, come right in, dear; the door is not locked," upon which the so-called baby of Linden house broke in upon Miss Chester with the beautiful bunch of roses. "Aren't they just lovely?"
"Very, where did you get them?—so early too!"
"A boy rang at the front door, and just left them without saying anything; but look," and she directed attention to the neat card with the inscription referred to.
"I wonder who sent them, so does Mamma—'Twas she who noticed the card, and sent me straight up to you," was Ester's way of interrogation.
"I wonder," came almost simultaneously from the recipient; but, as a matter of fact, she did not wonder long, for she spied, even as she looked, the small initials in the corner of the card—H.G. She had not risen; but, putting the flowers aside, gazed up at the ceiling.
"You don't seem very pleased with them," speculated Ester.
"Oh, yes, they're very nice, but——"
"Shall I place them in a vase for you?"
"Very well, dear; or you may keep them if you wish."
"Oh, thank you, Miss Chester. I'll keep them if Mamma lets me!"
On second thought Miss Chester decided it would be better not to have this small matter debated down below, and compromised by pulling from the bunch quite a third of the blossoms, and thus making little Ester happy.
"Why should he pay this attention to me?" was Nilda's reflection as she dressed that Sunday morning; and two things became apparent: that Mr. Gunsler was a good deal taken with Miss Chester; that if it was a case of "love at first sight," there was no indication of any reciprocity.
And this was the beginning of a vast amount of attention from the same quarter, with which the narrative will necessarily have to deal.
"Are you coming with us to church this morning, Miss Chester?" kindly enquired Mrs. Horton.
The Hortons were Anglicans, and for a generation, it is said, there had been a Horton pew in St. James', the historic church of King-street—noted externally for its gray shabbiness, internally for much that is artistically beautiful; further noted for its High Church practices in tone and ritual; and yet more noted for the long chapter of dissensions, which marked the departure of its one-time popular rector and devout pastor, and the coming of the Archdeacon who had been made Archbishop, and would not let a kite fly into its pulpit as fully "rubrically adorned" as some would have him be. Miss Chester had not time to make reply before Gladys broke in with, "Oh, Mamma, do let us go for a walk in the Gardens—it is such a lovely morning, and I'm sure Miss Chester would rather!"
"You little heathen," chided her mother, "you mean that you would rather. It is a beautiful morning, as you say; but only the plebeian, the nurse-girl, thinks of going for a walk through the parks on Sunday morning. Miss Chester has more respect for the day and her duty, I'm sure."
Gladys, like her mother, looked to Miss Chester, whose mantling color, but not confusion, was noticeable as she said, "I must plead guilty—the suggestion was really mine; the Gardens, I think, are never so delightful as in the morning hours. Since being down, I have been there three or four times, and feel that I shall never see too much of them. That is how I felt when I spoke to Ester of the pleasure of a walk through the Gardens such a morning as this."
"You are right as to the attractiveness of Sydney's Botanic Gardens, Miss Chester, but all things in their time and place. A Christian's duty is to go to a place of worship on Sunday morning."
"Why Sunday morning; rather than Sunday evening, Mater?" inquired Master Tom, who, in the absence of his paternal parent from the breakfast-table, sort of took on an air of masculine independence of thought and expression.
"If your teacher never explained that to you," said Mrs. Horton, "it is high time he did. Both morning and evening services are good; but I have always felt that the morning service has its special claims upon us, as well as its peculiar blessings. Begin the day right, and it is likely to continue right. Ought we not to give the best to God, always? Is it not almost inconceivable that so many reputable Christians seem in no hurry to give God praise? How little enthusiasm in some quarters there appears to be in this particular respect. Have we so little to thank Him for that we must leave it to the closing hours of the day set apart for his worship? Forget not to assemble yourselves together; and from the beginning, surely, it was ever the early service of the Church which found the zealous worshipper—as it imparted the greater blessing."
"I confess I had not looked upon it in just that way," admitted Nilda.
"Bet you anything," said Tom, without addressing the challenge to anyone in particular, "that half of 'em go to show off their new gowns and hats, and see how others are togged out."
"Silence Tom," commanded his mother, "I cannot allow you to say such scandalous things. You ought to know better." . . . Then, to Nilda, "Whatever may be the case in other churches—I do not wish to form uncharitable opinions—but you will find at St. James' that it is not so (this apropos of Master Tom's irreverent speech). There we are taught the first essentials of reverent worship; and I feel sure that, thanks in a large measure to the noble teachers we have had, many, very many of the worshippers have caught up that ancient sublime spirit of the apostolic church. 'The zeal of Thine House consumeth me.'"
"Do you not think it possible, Mrs. Horton, that some people have greater zeal for a church, for its forms and ceremonies, its peculiar usages, in a word its ritual, than for that practical manifestation of Christianity which is supposed to constitute the real test of one's religion?"
"Good enough, governess," cried Tom. "I'm with you all the way there. Give me the real thing outside, every-day sort; and why do they set up an Archbishop and make him Primate, and then disobey him first pop over the matter of the clothes the parson wears? My word, I wish I was Archbishop of Sydney!"
"A most ambitious desire, boy;" it was Mr. Horton's voice this time as he entered the breakfast-room and was told the coffee was getting cold. "And what would you do, Tom?"
"I'd make those beggars sit up who 'talked back' at the Bishop until he got sick."
"Hum. And what, may I ask, is the edifying topic of conversation this morning?" enquired the head of the house, the while he looked across at Miss Chester.
"We were speaking of St. James' and its service, and Mrs. Horton—I think I may venture to say—grew quite eloquent as to the beauties of its service; but upon Master Tom, I'm afraid, these testimonies were lost, as he seems not only low church, but rather rebellious."
"Young rebel; but what is bred in the bones; you know the quotation; inherited instinct, I expect. Mrs. Horton hasn't told you yet, perhaps, but it is bound to come out—I believe I was born possessed with an anti-sacerdotal spirit. Anyway, as long as I can remember, I have fought in my own little way against sacerdotal pretensions; and lo, I find them now bubbling out of the mouth of the babe and suckling! Comical, isn't it?"
"You have much to answer for, Reginald," came half-sadly from Mrs. Horton.
"Perhaps. What do you think, Miss Constance?"
"Oh, please don't ask me about a father's responsibilities in such very important matters," laughed Constance. "But generally speaking, I fear Master Tom is only too typical in this respect of young Australia generally. I mean that it seems somehow inherent in the young people of the colonies to forget, or ignore, reverence for things spiritual."
"It is part of the upheaval, I take it. The upheaval of modern society; its way of thought and living; its beliefs, convictions, or want of convictions."
"Yes, want of conviction, certainly," assented Mrs. Horton. "And who is responsible for this want of convictions?"
"Oh, that is a very large order, indeed; almost too large to take on at breakfast time. I rather fancy it involves the whole range of modern philosophy, astronomy, geology, biology—and many other ologies."
"But the immediate question, Dadda," broke in Gladys, "is whether it would not do us more good to take a nice walk in the Gardens this morning and study biology——"
A very rude laugh from Tom prevented Miss Gladys completing her sentence. "You certainly could do with a lesson in biology, I believe," came playfully from her father.
"But Glad doesn't know the difference between biology and botany," taunted Tom. Then, to Miss Constance, "Are they included in your curriculum?" By which he probably meant the things Miss Chester was to teach the Horton girls.
Perhaps it was in order to cover the situation that Mrs. Horton prevented an immediate reply from the governess by strenuously remarking—not for the first time—that it grieved her that Tom's manner of speech left so much to be desired.
"Well, what is the difference?" demanded Gladys, not greatly distressed by Tom's challenge. "Since you are so clever you had better tell us yourself."
"No; Miss Chester will tell us," replied Tom.
"I will try——"
"I think it must be Tom," said Mr. Horton; "he raised the point; let us hear your definition, boy."
"Easy," came from that confident youth. "Any fifth boy knows: botany, the science of plants; biology, the science of life."
"Pretty good," assented the head of the house; "better put, perhaps, to say that biology—having regard to the later developments of physiology—centres its interest, for most of us at all events, in the origins of life. And so, Gladdy, if you should walk in the Gardens this fine morning, let us know in due course what you may find that is biologically interesting. You will see the flowers in bloom, their period of fruition, some drooping to decay, some seeding, some plants just breaking through the earth; plant life in all stages; tell us if, perchance, you see anything suggestive of spontaneous generation."
"Now you are joking, Dad. How should I know anything of spontaneous generation? Do you, Miss Chester?"
"I had better make a clean breast of it, I see," said the governess. "I'm afraid my education in science has been neglected. I really am not much interested in science; but, by merest chance I think, I seem to have read somewhere, or heard some person say, perhaps, that spontaneous generation was an exploded theory."
"Good for you, governess—that is up-to-date science; isn't that so, Dad?" almost shouted Tom.
"Practically so," assented his father. "They tried the hermetically sealed bottle and other tests, and the best dictum of scientists to-day, I believe, is—'life only from life.'"
"Which takes them back to God, doesn't it?" from Mrs. Horton.
"Some of them, perhaps: He is the Ultimate, the great First Cause. That stands till disproved, so the believers say; as for the rest, the agnostic still holds the field with the unsatisfying, yet very persistent, 'I don't know.'"
How long this turn in the conversation might have lasted may not be conjectured had not Mrs. Horton risen with the words, "I hope you will accompany us to church, Miss Chester?"
"Certainly, I will come with you," was the ready response.
"Good-bye Gardens," chuckled Tom, as he made to leave the room.
His mother paused to say to her husband, "You should insist on Tom coming too."
"What's the good, if he doesn't want to go?"
"Ah," sighed the mother, "that is how young Australia is losing its convictions."
* * * *
The surprising thing of the morning was that on coming out of church, directly they turned into King-street, who should they meet but Mr. Gunsler.
"No; he had not been at the service," he replied; but it occurred to him a few moments before that he might have the pleasure of a walk home with the party, as he rather counted on meeting them. Mrs. Horton was civil and sympathetic; nevertheless, she seemed to divine his wishes, and, before they had gone many paces, she and the children were walking a few paces ahead, followed by Mr. Gunsler walking beside Miss Chester.
In a way, it was what the world had been looking for—in some cases longing for—this signal clash of two mighty modern navies. True, the modern war-ship, fighting "with miles of water between," was at the beginning of the century seen off the coast of Korea, when Japan engaged the navy of Russia, and made a sudden end of it; but all the world recognised that it was an exceedingly one-sided contest. Up-to-date ships met the effete, rotten ships of a navy whose generalship, or "admiralship," was equally rotten. With the inevitable result.
But here were conditions of opposing forces vitally different. In each were to be found the very acme of perfection in great fighting machines of the mighty deep. On the one hand the navy of Britannia, whose fleets for a hundred years had been the acknowledged masters of the seas; on the other hand, the new-born fleet of the foremost Empire of Europe, whose mission it was to wrest the proud distinction so long held by Britannia.
Alas! The cruel madness of it! The fury and the blast of it!
By 2 o'clock on that eventful Friday, the roar of mighty cannon almost shook the shores afar off; the flare of fire, the columns of dense smoke, created a scene and circumstance akin only to pandemonium upon the waters of the North Sea.
The gist of the cables on Friday night may be thus summed up: The cannonading began, and was sustained for two hours, by only the larger first-class battleships of the line, as, under easy steam, they relatively proceeded north and south. It was practically a trial of long shooting between the rival navies. British marksmanship sustained its laurels. At the great distance of 15 to 17 miles effective shots were placed on several of the German ships, which showed a tendency to converge on an outward line as they steamed south.
It is believed that in this initial encounter only six or seven shots from the enemy's guns had got home on the entire procession of the British Fleet, and in no case had it been disastrous, and no ship was disabled.
In the return journey, Admiral Wilson was the first to wheel to the right, his command doing likewise, and maintaining same order as in the original onset, but with a course set south, which must bring the contending fleet into much nearer action if the German ships followed in line in retracing their course. This was practically the case, with the exception of the German Flagship, under command, it transpires, of Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, Admiral von Holtzendorff. Instead of maintaining a mid-position in the heart of his fleet, he stood till his rear ships passed, signalling orders to each, and, in this position, head on to the re-passing British line, awaited the return of the British Admiral's Superb. And these were among the German ships which did heroic duty on that day of fiercest battle that ever the British bull-dog waged upon the sea:—
Dreadnoughts—Nassau, Wisphalen, Rheinland, Posen (cruiser), Blucher (14,750 tons), Schliesen (13,200 tons), Wettin (11,830 tons), Hanover (13,200 tons), Zaringen (11,830 tons), Dresden (cruiser), Mecklenburg (11,830 tons), Konigsburg (cruiser), Witlessbach, Gneisenau (11,800 tons), and Mainz.
These 16 ships were evidently in the first line of battle, and came more immediately within the cognizance of the British line, for only of these ships did the cables make particular mention when the first actual smash was reported.
Mecklenburg, blown up.
Blucher, put out of action.
Dresden, removed out of action, on fire.
Thus were seven vessels of the German line accounted for; but what of the British casualties?
Briefly, the conclusion of that day's messages ran:—
The British have lost three ships and two disabled; others more or less damaged. The Blenheim sunk (with loss of 600); Drake, captured (the only capture); cruiser Berwick, blown up (loss of 500); armored cruisers, Black Prince and Donegal, disabled.
It appeared, from Saturday morning's cables, that this meeting of the Admirals' was really the beginning of the intense part of the battle; it was then that ship laid into ship; nearer and nearer they drew together, to the end that one or other might be destroyed.
It was recorded that the handling of the Superb at this eventful hour by the Lord High Admiral was a magnificent display on a magnificent occasion. His ship, with one exception, represented the most modern and powerful battleship in the British Navy—an improved Dreadnought of 18,600 tons, 21 knots speed. Her armor-belt runs from end to end of the water-line, made of the finest Krupp steel, hardened by special process; 11 inches thick over the central body, six inches thick at the bows, 4 inches at the stern, (11in. K. steel is equal in resisting power to 30in. thickness of wrought iron). The Superb carried 10 12-inch 58-ton guns, with an anti-torpedo armament of 16 4-inch 25-pounders, mounted on the turrets and at various points on deck, said to be much superior to 27 12-pounders on other Dreadnoughts. She also carried ten searchlights for torpedo service and defence.
Observing the action of the German Admiral, in pulling out of the line of the German ships, as if to give him battle, Admiral Wilson accepted the challenge, and thus it was that the Superb and Kaiser Wilhelm met as giant to giant in an almost personal encounter.
Head to head they approached to within seven miles, belching forth their shots from the front turrets and foremost side guns. As if by common consent, these ships were practically left detached, the main lines, on either side, keeping up the general outline of battle as described.
To Rear-Admiral Sir Colin Keppel seems to have been deputed, as second in command, the general order of battle.
When within six miles the Superb and Kaiser Wilhelm, under easy steam, took parallel courses, and belched forth their broadsides. After an hour's fearful cannonading at this comparatively easy distance, midst the clouds of smoke it was made out that the after funnel of the Kaiser's Flagship had been swept away, and the smoke scattered widely from the after-deck, while two big holes were plainly discernible on the port bow by the officers' quarters; also, it was believed the great ship showed a distinct list to port; but every gun seemed to remain intact, and its roar of fire undiminished.
On the Superb the damage, so far, was not serious. Two close shaves of disaster had been missed. A heavy shot had struck the foremast just below the lookout and search-light platform, almost severing it, but it was held in position by the hollow-steel tripod; because of this it looked as though the central fire control station might collapse at any moment, and Commander Roper (who had charge of the ship) had to make other arrangements for the central control. The other narrow escape from serious damage was from torpedo attacks; two had exploded within a few feet of the stern of the vessel, and others had been intercepted which had been aimed with deadly precision. It was as the sun sank in a western sky among a mountain of clouds, and the rain and wind ceased, that Admiral Wilson ordered a course direct on to the Kaiser Wilhelm.
Here the cable news broke away from this most exciting naval duel, to epitomise the general trend of the battle.
"Hell let loose, and all the dogs of war a-barking," seemed the tragic note of that evening of fire and fury, when well nigh 200 battleships thundered and roared, and swarms of smaller death-dealing engines of war fumed and smoked in the tornado of man-made thunder. After fighting in line for some time, a period of wild disorder seems to have been brought about towards evening, when, for the most part, ship met ship in comparatively close contact, while others sailed round about each other.
'Beresford on the Bellerophin' provided one of the notable features of the great fight. He had been re-called from retirement, and from the floor of the House to the deck of this great warship, one of the finest of the Dreadnoughts. And finely he upheld the traditions of the British bull-dog. It was a splendid finish to a career and a character that had but one temporary eclipse. The Bellerophin had been set upon by two of the enemy's ships, one a medium cruiser and the other of not much inferior calibre to Lord Beresford's boat. The contest was thus unequal; and after three to four hours' furious fighting the Bellerophin—a name far-famed in England's naval annals—became a badly used boat. Caught between two fires she fought right and left, pouring out a torrent of shot and shell; so, as the evening shadows fell, she had not a flag left to fly; her masts were blown away; only one funnel remained; her decks were strewn with dead and dying and slippery with blood; more than a third of her 900 fighting men were killed, and two-thirds of her guns were silenced. Seeing that this was the case, the commander of the larger vessel, which, it transpired, bore the flag and the presence of the second in command of the German Fleet, Prince Henry (brother of the Kaiser), signalled instructions to the commander of the other vessel which had played upon the Bellerophin to leave the conclusion of the matter to him, so sure was he that he had the prize at his mercy. But the sequence proved he counted without his host—sans Beresford and the British bull-dogs of the still unconquered Bellerophin. . . . From the cockpit came the word—"Not more than 40 big canon shot left in the lockers!"
"Enough and to spare!" cried the 'never-say-die' commander. "At least our engines are left to us! Put her straight on to the enemy, and fire only from the foremost 12-inch,"—one of the pair had been put out of action. The distance of the vessels when this order was given was not more than three miles, and as the Bellerophin bore down upon the 13,000 ton Schleisen, broadsides were poured out upon her, but straight on she steamed; on as if courting certain death, for her fire was as the last dying spurting of a monster whose strength was spent. . . What would Beresford do? If he went down, he would not go alone! If his ship and guns were disabled, he and his men that were left alive were yet full of fight; and he would put Prince Henry and his men to the supreme test. The Prince stood his ground. He must have perceived the daring attempt, and been amazed; but he did not run. One thing he did not know that Beresford purposed doing—if the possibility offered. On came the externally broken and disfigured Bellerophin. Flash-lights from the Schleisen flamed over the path of the British vessel as darkness fell; a mile—a half-mile—of choppy sea alone divided them; the 12-pounder steadily replied still to the belching of the German guns, and the water about the Bellerophin showed like a molten inferno, ploughed up and splashed by torpedo explosions and shot and shell. Still on came the Bellerophin, till the yells of the rival crews were heard midst the yell of the big guns. . . . Ah, then! The daring of it! Full-speed ahead! . . . It was the psychological moment—the supreme dash and nerve, that did it; with the nicest calculation and finest seamanship and cunning, under cover of the darkness, 'tween the intermittent flashes, the Bellerophin had rammed the Schleisen—rammed her amidships—and with such impact that the two vessels for quite the space of 15 minutes hung together. . . . Fifteen fatal minutes for the Schleisen!
For the sequel was thus written:—"In twenty minutes after the crash, the flag of Rear-Admiral Prince Henry of Prussia was razed, and the proud Schleisen was a captive to the prodigious valor of a British commander who had made the desperate onslaught, when every indication was that he was beaten out of all hope of recovery!"
The cry of 'a Beresford—a Beresford!' rang through the lines, and to London, ere the broken Bellerophin could tow her prize to port.
But what of the fight all along the line? It was not until Sunday morning that decisive news came to hand. The posters were headed in massive type, "Victory, Victory, for the British Navy!" It was a glorious victory, truly, but hardly won. Not absolutely decisive, for a slight majority of vessels of the enemy had escaped, and bore away with them 13 of the British ships; but they had cleared with these while yet the British were uncertain of victory; they had run away, perchance, for fear they might lose all. Sooner than expected they must have realised defeat was facing them. Far into the night the struggle raged; but about mid-night the British ships ranged together and awaited the dawn of the next morning. Then it was found that no less than 43 of the 79 British vessels had disappeared. Those comprised five of the great Dreadnoughts; seven armored cruisers out of 20; 13 out of 33 torpedo boats and half of the submarines (7) had sunk never to rise again.
Surely it was victory at a terrible cost?
But these figures included the prizes, of which, in big and little, it was reported there were supposed to be 19.
The German losses were believed to be a total of 46. Six out of 14 Dreadnoughts, eight out of 18 cruisers, 20 out of 40 torpedo boats, 12 of the 22 submarines (which were responsible for many of the greatest fatalities of the battle). As against 11 ships taken as prizes by the enemy, the British had secured 15.
And of the slain?
The mere statement of the killed and wounded told of the desperate severity of the North Sea fight. No less than 4,100 British seamen and officers failed to be accounted for when the rolls were called. Whole ships and their crews had simply disappeared. But, because of the captures effected by the Germans, the total slain could not then be stated.
The Germans were reported to have totalled between 5,000 and 6,000 men.
So much for the immediate results of the great North Sea fight.
What of the hostilities which were raging down the Channel, and nearer the heart of the Empire?
What followed "Black Thursday?" What of the host from Emden?
Have patience, reader, for yet a little breathing space.
"You will come in, Mr. Gunsler?" It was like the motherly, kind-hearted Mrs. Horton, to invite the courteous semi-stranger to lunch with them; but much as he would have preferred to accept, he made his excuses, profusely offering his thanks.
"Then perhaps you will look in this evening for an hour; I am sure Mr. Horton will be glad to see you."
"I shall be delighted, Mrs. Horton. Yes, certainly, I will call this evening," and he left them at the gate.
"Did you like the service, Miss Chester?" said Mrs. Horton as they entered. It was the first opportunity she had.
"Very much; shall we go again this evening?"
"Do you really wish to? I thought, perhaps, as Mr. Gunsler was coming——?"
"Perhaps on that account," faltered Nilda, laughingly.
"Yet, surely, you do not dislike Mr. Gunsler?"
"There is a gulf, is there not, between liking and disliking; he occupies some place in the gulf, and I am not curious to decide where."
"I wish someone would send me lovely bunches of morning roses," shyly muttered Gladys. (Not letting her mother hear her, or it had brought rebuke).
"Pardon me, dear, but he seems to be much drawn to you," observed Mrs. Horton.
"I'm sure I do not want him, then," broke from Nilda.
"That sounds a little less gracious than yourself," said the elder lady, who added, "In my young days that sort of attention was always regarded as a compliment, even if one did not seriously regard them."
"I will always try to be civil to your guests, Mrs. Horton, provided they do not pester me; when, of course, I must assert my—individuality."
"Very well, dear; I am inclined to think you are not wanting in that quality. Mr. Gunsler strikes me as being a very prepossessing young gentleman."
"And he strikes me as being a very persistent German," retorted Nilda, as she put her foot on the first step of the staircase, just as she said which Master Tom bumped round the passage-way, breaking out with "Hullo, I say, still the talk is German! Couldn't help hearing you, Miss Chester! Dad and I have just been revelling in this morning's full news of the war-sheets. . . . Glad you don't like that German spy. I'd like to make a gun-powder plot of him, hanged if I wouldn't!"
"Silence, Tom," commanded his mother; "that is the charitable sort of thought and expression which comes of reading war news instead of going to church."
Then, as Nilda was half-way up the stair, he called, "Dad has some news for you, governess,—he'll tell you when you come down."
As they met for lunch, Mr. Horton, in answer to a look of enquiry from Nilda, said, "Oh, I got a letter this morning from your uncle (Mr. Summers was sometimes so referred to by Miss Chester) stating that he had sold his place in the country, and was intending in future to reside somewhere in the city. Glad, are you not?"
"Very pleased, indeed, Mr. Horton. That is the best news I have heard to-day."
"Hope it does not mean that we shall lose you, governess?"
"Not by any means, thank you; I am quite comfortable with you, and only hope I shall be able to stay."
"Then I, too, am pleased; for I trust we shall often see Mr. Summers. He has promised to look us up first opportunity—perhaps to-morrow evening. . . And, by the way, he seems rather anxious to know do we see much of Mr. Gunsler. I shall have to tell him we have not seen him for—what is it, a week or a fortnight?"
"Neither," called Tom, who just entered the dining-room; "for some, at least, of the family have seen him this morning—in fact, it was only 20 minutes or so since he left our front gate."
"At church with the family, was he?"
"No, not at the service; but we met Mr. Gunsler outside St. James," explained Mrs. Horton, "and he walked home with us."
"Or, begging your pardon, Mamma, to be more exact, he walked home with Miss Chester," supplemented Gladys.
"I see," meditated Mr. Horton; "I had a notion the wind was setting in that direction; but let us hope we shall neither lose our country or our governess to the Germans."
"Amen," said Tom. And the conversation was successfully turned by Mrs. Horton. "I wonder where your uncle Summers will live in Sydney? Did he say?" she inquired of her husband.
"He mentioned that he was negotiating for a place at Hunter's Hill. That is what he is anxious to consult me about. It happens I know the property pretty well. It belonged to my old friend George D——, the man who set more figures right in this city than any other I know, and left as pretty little an estate as one could wish to find on the better portions of the Parramatta."
"Is that where we got the nice oranges years ago, and other fruits?" enquired Mrs. Horton.
"That's it. Such orange trees! D. assured me before he died that they were much older than he was; he reckoned that some of them were at least 80 years old; and their roots—showing the marvellous power roots of even moderate sized fruit trees possess—were actually lifting big boulders of rock, 5 to 7 tons in weight, out of place. Oh, yes," seeing a look of incredulity on Miss Chester's face, "it's a fact. D. showed me the boulders. I must tell Summers about those trees; I should like to see him the owner; they are almost historical among the trees of Sydney, and themselves reminiscent of the penal days. I must also tell him that if he keeps as good a cellar as D. he need not be surprised if I take a trip up the Parramatta oftener than he expects."
"I thought your friend D. belonged rather to the blue-ribboners," speculated Mrs. Horton, "and that he was a very strict and good man."
"So he was, a perfect martinet as to manners and morals—'strict' was hardly the word for it; and morally as perfect a man as I ever knew; but all that did not, and should not, prevent him keeping a good cellar. . . . Still, now I come to think of it, I was surprised when he took me down into it, and quenched my summer thirst with ambrosial nectar fit for the immortals."
"Though the cellar be there, the nectar will have evaporated, I suppose," conjectured Nilda.
"No doubt. . . . Say, I have a brilliant joke—just occurred to me—to play off on Summers about that cellar. Remind me, somebody, when he is here."
"Mrs. Horton, would you mind very much if I went to church this evening?" It was Nilda who spoke, just after the evening meal had been concluded; and, forgetting for a moment a third person who would naturally like to have been remembered and considered under the circumstances, freely gave assent; but a moment afterwards added—"Do you forget that Mr. Gunsler is coming?"
"I did not forget," gently replied the girl.
"Very well, dear; but you will be home immediately after service?"
To which Miss Chester replied, "Without any delay."
She kept the compact faithfully enough as to the letter of it, if not the spirit. Going out alone, some 20 minutes before it was necessary to start for the King-street sanctuary, Nilda made her way to a George-street tram, and took it for one of the remotest churches in the suburbs of the city, so that it was 25 minutes to 10 o'clock ere she returned home.
"Ah, truant," exclaimed Mr. Horton, "we were just holding a conference in regard to you, and opinion was divided as to whether we should sally forth in search of you, or wait till 10 o'clock. Now, what have you got to say for yourself?"
"That is was very kind of you to think of me; but there was no occasion for alarm; I am beginning to know my way about the city; and really, with so many trams running in every direction nearly all marked Circular Quay on return, I do not think one could easily get lost. Could they?"
"Trams, dear," exclaimed Mrs. Horton, "but did you need to take a tram to St. James'?"
"I did not go there to-night; I went to the Enmore Tabernacle."
There was a chorus of surprise at this confession, and a question in every pair of eyes.
"A friend made me promise quite a while ago that some time when opportunity offered I would go to Enmore Tabernacle to hear Mr. W., and I found the opportunity this evening. I quite enjoyed the run there and back, also the service."
"I should have deemed it much pleasure to lave gone with you, Miss Chester," came courteously from Mr. Gunsler, who had risen as she entered the room to place a chair for her.
Before she could make reply to this, Mr. Horton cut in with "Tabernacle! Is it a Hebrew Synagogue, a Quaker's meeting place, or a hall of Theosophy?"
Taking the proffered seat, not near the piano, where Mr. Gunsler would have wished her to sit, almost beside him, she lifted it a little way toward Mr. Horton, and gave him her attention.
"Have you been so long a time here, sir, and ask this question of a stranger?" she playfully answered.
"Truly, it is so; I am in little ignorance of the matter, and curious to know about this Tabernacle that drew you from the family circle—all alone too—a distance of, let me see, 3, 4 or possibly five miles. Really, an explanation is due, I think, Miss Chester?"
Even Tom, who had been yawning the last half-hour, and had been very cross because his mother had insisted on taking from him a yellow-back, and replacing it with a heavy tome of the Pilgrim Fathers—for the seventh time in more than as many Sabbaths—now looked up with new interest, and, turning down a page no further on than the 3rd chapter of the P.F., put it on the book-shelf as he remarked, "I know a fellow who attends there, and he's a jolly decent chap."
"Never mind your chaps; we want to hear Miss Chester—if you please (turning again to her)."
"Certainly; I believe Tom has some doubt that I have been where I say; so I will 'make good' if I can. But what am I to tell you; about the church, or the pastor, or the people, or the choir, or the kind of service?"
"Just all about it: begin where you like."
"Very well. Enmore Tabernacle is at Enmore, a few paces to the left as you get out of the tram—it is quite handy; the preacher is Mr. W——, M.A.; the edifice is so large (thrice enlarged, they tell me) that almost a thousand people can meet there; the organ is one of the largest, and I think finest, in any of the Sydney churches; and the choir, under a capable conductor, leaves very little to be desired."
"How do they call themselves?" enquired Mr. Horton.
"Just Christians, I understand; you may see their services announced under the headline 'Church of Christ.'"
"The followers of Christ were first called Christians at Antioch," remarked Mrs. Horton; "but in these days of many divisions it seems—what shall I say?—almost egotistical for any section of the Christian Church to, in a way, monopolise the title; don't you think so, Miss Chester?"
"It did not so occur to me. Was there not in the days of Paul so many divisions arising—some calling themselves by Apollos, others by Cephas, that the great apostle corrected them, and probably counselled them to be known by no other name than Christian."
"I rather agree with you, Miss Chester," said Mr. Horton. "Now tell us about the service; perhaps you can give us an idea of the sermon."
"Do you really wish it?"
"I do, honestly. It is Sunday evening, and you have interested me in the Tabernacle of these Enmore Christians."
"I will try," modestly consented Nilda; "I think the whole service was what you would call evangelical; the sermon likewise. I confess to forgetting the text; yet, stay, 'If ye believe Me ye will keep My commandments.' It seemed to me that the speaker's source of power was that he spoke from the heart—and as if to hearts that responded; he preached as of things he had proved. I, of course, never heard Spurgeon, but I can imagine that so he spoke to thousands of souls to whom he had opened 'the vision glorious' of the unseen. There was no half-suppressed doubt. Granting there was an 'if' in his text, there were none in his discourse; nor in his heart or mind. Only the real and living Christ, as if for the moment he had lifted the veil of that other country, investing all the facts of the Christian redemption with new and entrancing certainty."
Nilda paused; she had been looking absent-mindedly at the clock as she spoke, and perhaps was feeling out for more of the discourse, when Mr. Horton broke in with, "Well done, Miss Chester. That discourse was not wasted on you, evidently. Tom have you any lingering doubt that Miss Chester was at the Tabernacle?"
"And you, Gladys, make a note of it, for future guidance, so that when I ask you to tell me what the sermon was about, you may be able to bring me some faithful reflex of it—after this manner."
Gladys said she found sermons usually so dull that it was hard to remember what they were about an hour afterwards.
It was Mr. Gunsler who begged Miss Chester to tell them more of the discourse, declaring again his regret that he had not been there also.
"There is only one other thing I need mention. The preacher, pausing to look over the great congregation, said they heard in these days a good deal about 'why men don't go to church.' That, he said, had no application to the Tabernacle; which was a fact, for, if anything, I really believe the men were in the majority."
"That," said Mr. Horton, "is fairly conclusive evidence that Mr. W. is a man of parts. As for the rest, governess, I think you stand absolved and justified." (But he did not surmise, as his better-half did, the real reason which prompted the governess to cut out so large a part of the evening away from the family circle).
"You are not retiring so early, surely, Miss Chester?" came from Mr. Gunsler, when Nilda rose to say good-night.
"We keep good hours, you see," and she was gone without any leave-taking at the door or the gate, as would have been excused her, had she so desired; but at least Mrs. Horton understood: "I do not want him."
With consummate calculation of all the great elements, as of the smallest details in this mighty invasion of England and the capture of the heart of the British Empire, Germany had so planned that, win or lose with the North Sea fight, she must and would win success in the middle and main attack. With London at her mercy—London capitulating—what matter which Power had suffered most from the clash of guns elsewhere?
Acting on that principle, the invasion of England was deemed a foregone certainty of success.
It is true that the bulk of her big ships were not here to protect the main body in their brief passage from Emden to the English coast between Sheerness and Holliwell Point. But the surprise of the attack was the huge flotilla of destroyers and submarines. Germany might not well succeed in constructing big Dreadnoughts in the dark, but in the matter of all smaller engines of destruction she had 'gone the pace' without detection. It is true that in the middle of 1910 an alarming word to this effect was noised abroad. Here, for instance, is a reprint of a message sent from London to Australia on July 15:—
Is there a huge secret fleet?
The Berlin correspondent of the 'Standard' reiterates the story told some time ago to the effect that Germany, under a veil of secrecy, is creating a huge fleet of submarines.'
Not any sea-space of 12 ship lengths but hold a submarine in that passage-way protecting the army of invasion. It was to this almost invisible double line of 'sea-serpents' that the greatest disaster of the invasion was attributed; aided, in a most critical hour, by 'a flying squadron of winged demons.' But more of that in its place. It was the morning following the sea fight. Early in the morning the advance was perceived; the approach was headed by the German Dreadnoughts (eight of the nine which had formed the southern division) and other eight, accompanied by as many cruisers and lesser war-boats. The British, so soon as the numbers went up, felt safe by the overwhelmingly superior fleet of war-ships which awaited the attack at the mouth of the Thames, and in wings extending north and south. In round numbers 126 British ships were ready and waiting to give battle to 90 Germans. The odds looked promising.
To Vice-Admiral Scott, of H.M.S. Colossus, of the very latest George V. marvels of construction in battleships, had been accorded the responsible task of directing the mid-Channel squadron and principal line of home-defence. His management in repulse and attack was said to be supreme. Fair weather and a comparatively even sea made good conditions for the battle which was waged with the deadliest determination on both sides. Rear-Admiral Scholhem, in H.I.M. Empire, a monster Dreadnought, which was deemed to be unsinkable, took command for the Germans. That evening's cables stated that the firing commenced at 10 o'clock, and at once grew desperate, as there was little attempt or desire for wide sparring or distant shooting. At all costs the Germans were going straight through the cordon of British gun-boats, and so shaped their course that they dashed into the heart of the British lines within an hour of the commencement of the heavy gun-practice. One of the preliminary cables stated that so terrific was the firing that no ship manned by mortals could possibly live in the tornado of shot and shell for many hours. A little later—not more than six to seven hours—word came on the trembling wing of electricity that victory was with the British. That though more German battleships had come up to reinforce the advanced German lines, their defeat was certain. That British marksmanship, British seamanship, and British grit were winning all along the lines, and that London, while thrilling with excitement and some measure of apprehension, felt sure that there would be no landing of the German Armada. . . . After that there was an ominous pause in the cableistic voice.
Alas, and alas, that it should ever have to be written, that in the hour when victory seemed assured—victory that was assured under ordinary circumstances, victory unquestionable, in so far as the fate of the day rested between the contending navies of Britain and Germany—was converted into failure and defeat, in the very hour when it seemed that no mortal power could save the situation for the invader.
It was slightly before 3 o'clock when the shattered remnants of the German ships were being smitten to death by the overwhelming power and accuracy of the British guns concentrating in force upon, and beating them back upon the Armada—the sea beyond was black with the number of them—when the fatal turn of the day eventuated. It will have been noted that no mention was made of the torpedo-boats and submarines having been called into prominent action. For some reason those had remained for the most part with the fleet of transports; but not alone for their protection. It transpired that their orders were to await the critical moment, and this moment was when the flight of air-warships hove in sight. . . . The calmness of the day favoured their flight. A hundred Zeppelins—none carrying less than a crew of 10 (officers and men) and many others, came floating high over the waters of the Channel; floating like great birds of evil chance—fearful hawks seeking their prey. Concurrent with their advent, the sea in front of the conquering British navy now seethed with sea-serpents. The British destroyers were put forward, and for a space these took precedence in the battle; and what guns were available, or suitable, were got in readiness for training upon the aerial monsters. But England had never fought against the sky! In an hour black death was pouring from the very heavens! Good life, but it was frightful! No tongue nor pen may adequately describe the deluge of destruction rained down by the host of dirigibles. Many of these monsters were 390 feet long, having a gas-carrying capacity of 14,300 cubic metres. In many of these air-vessels there were three balloons, linked together, but capable of being separated in mid-air, thus forming three independent balloons.
It should be mentioned that after a huge cordon had surrounded the fleet of the enemy, the battle broke into absolute confusion; and proof of the defeat remained in possession of the British in the shape of 16 battleships, and as many cruisers and destroyers as had come within reach of the British lines, which had not pushed out to sea for the reason given—that it was determined to concentrate and make it humanly impossible for the enemy to break through. This very concentration now played into the hands of the enemy, with a result unprecedented in the annals of naval engagements. So sudden, so swift, so deadly the dirigible attack, that even the greater number of the captured battleships (16) were themselves engulfed in the cataclysm; apparently this was inevitable, because to each was linked a British vessel, in readiness to be towed to the mouth of the Thames.
Nothing that has ever been written or ever feared with regard to explosive-dropping air-machines approached the reality now experienced. With deadly precision these explosives rained down upon the victorious British fleet. Noble ships, built at a cost of over £2,000,000 of money were, in a few fearful, fatal minutes smashed and foundered. In several cases they were sent to the bottom when the explosive itself did not actually touch them; dropping near them a mountain of water shot into the air—a chasm yawned in the sea; the monster ship, which no hurricane could displace, would fall over, and so suddenly disappear that not a man would be left to tell the tale.
Before the sun set on that awful afternoon, the most decisive victory was converted into the most awful disaster. Out of the impregnable line of 126 British ships no less than 35 had gone down, and 40 so utterly disabled as to be barely able to reach the shore; and of the 35 never more to be seen, 11 were of the most formidable ships in the British Navy. But worse still, 22,500 men had gone down with their ships. It was the blackest disaster ever sustained by British marines.
One of the shattered 40 was Vice Admiral Scott's ship, the mighty Colossus, bearing with him one of the captured Dreadnoughts, with its crew of 700 men (the rest had been slain in fight). Had the whole of the captives survived the attack by their own people, there would have been a proud landing of over 15,000 Germans; as it was, no more than 3,780 men and officers were landed at Tilbury.
London was struck dumb; England was terrified; all the Empire was thunder-struck and troubled.
Alarmist rumours spread in every quarter; the dread aerial warships were expected every hour of that same night to appear over the great city of London, and pour out death and destruction in wholesale manner. There was a mad rush for every train that would take people out of the city.
But no airship appeared that night. By the morrow the first shock had passed, and the flame of public indignation was dominant. This feeing was enhanced when the late morning papers made it widely known that an ultimatum had been issued by the German Emperor that unless the city of London yielded to the German forces within 24 hours, the city would be destroyed! By this time it was known that the Germans claimed a victory in the engagement in which they had been utterly routed, for not a single British vessel had fallen captive to them; and London breathed only one huge word of defiance.
But the most serious part yet remains to be told.
Taking full advantage of the break-up of the chief British line of defence, and before the rally could be effected, the transports conveying the German hosts shot through the darkness and the turmoil, and landed every regiment—probably every man of the 200,000 troops—on British soil!
The landing was effected between the River Crouch and the Thames.
The next series of cables told of what happened immediately after this. Soon as the morning broke the North Sea fleet, returning as victors of the great sea fight, fell upon the German ships that remained off the mouth of the Thames.
The delay had been caused in part by the slow progress made with the captive vessels (15 German battleships) and their prisoners, which, acting under instructions received by wireless, Admiral Wilson had been instructed on no account to lose or risk. He had also been made aware of Scott's victory, and had deemed it unnecessary to rush matters; only in the deep hour of darkness before the dawn had he learned, out of the same mysterious void, of the calamity which had thrown the nation into consternation and mourning; but he failed not to attend to his final instructions:—'Haste, make an end of the German fleet.'
That is precisely what he was doing before the sun was an hour high over Europe on the morning after the winged invasion; and when that same day was over England's heart beat high once again, for Admiral Wilson held the command of the English Channel.
But 200,000 German soldiers, with bag and baggage, were on British soil!
A high wind from the west was now blowing, and it meant something for the safety of London.
"So it is all settled, uncle; you are really to live in Sydney, and we shall see you often—how pleasant that will be." It was Nilda who spoke, as she greeted Mr. Summers at the door, on his first visit to the Hortons, after disposing of his country property.
"Yes, girlie, I am looking forward to a real good time; like so many who have borne the heat and burden of the day in the back-blocks, I am about to realise the dream of a quarter of a century—spend the rest of my days by the lisping waters of the harbour; listen no longer to the caw of the crow or the clatter of the magpies, but to the soothing ripple of the sea, filling my sea-thirsty lungs every day with life-giving ozone; and, generally speaking, earn that well-earned rest, which—so they say—such an old pioneer, as I am, fully deserves (ahem)."
"And you need not joke about it, uncle; you do deserve it all, and so does aunt. How is she?"
"As well as can be expected under the circumstances."
"She is not ill?"
"Not at all, but declares that never again will she break up house, pack and unpack, etc. etc. After 28 years it was perfectly amazing how much the old place held. There was a sale of furniture and effects, of course; but the 'few things we had reserved' fill 12 packing cases, and they are now at the station, and the wife is at the Grand Central; and I am now to see friend Horton previous to concluding about that miniature paradise, that haven of rest, at Hunter's Hill. Has he told you about it?"
"Oh, yes; and we tripped up that way on Sunday afternoon, just to view it from the river, to get an idea of it. It does look a charming home."
"I am glad you like it. Is Mr. Horton in?"
"He will be in a few minutes. His usual time of returning is 4.30. Do you intend going up the river this afternoon?"
"No. I was there this morning; but we are to see the agent, and finally settle. But I must see Mr. Horton before we do that." Then, turning from his own affairs, he asked Nilda about herself.
"Oh, yes, uncle, I am perfectly at home here; and they are all very kind to me; I should think it must be on your account."
"Not at all. It is on your own account. I thought they would be pleased to have you. But what is this I hear, that you are not very kind to Mr. Gunsler?" (This jokingly).
"Uncle, why should I be? If I were kind to him, he would become a nuisance, I'm afraid."
"Is there anyone else, Nilda?"
"Not at present—not seriously. . . But in any case, uncle, you would never wish me to marry a German, would you?"
"Not if you did not care for him, girlie, certainly; but I confess I rather wished you would like Mr. Gunsler."
"Why? Please tell me why?"
"He is so genuinely interested in you; he was extremely interested in your history——"
"My history, uncle; what is there in my history to interest a stranger? But you have never told me my history. What history have I? Really, you surprise me."
"Yes, but do you not remember how often you have said: 'No; better not tell me of those too unhappy days.'"
Just then Mr. Horton arrived, and immediately, as they had an appointment in the city at 5 o'clock, they left; and Nilda did not see her guardian again till evening. But when Mr. Horton returned, he informed them that Mr. Summers was the purchaser of 'The Bowery' at what he thought was a satisfactory figure. It was, for cash, secured at £100 less than it had been offered at.
And when evening came there was quite a party at Linden, for Mr. Horton, as it happened, had invited a couple of intimate friends to dinner, which was meant also for Mr. and Mrs. Summers and Mr. Gunsler, but it was later on that they came; and, concurrent with their arrival, came in Master Tom, breathless and excited; and well he might be, for he brought news later than anything preceding pages of war news contained. It had the effect of making Australia sit up. The latest edition of the evening papers, which were published till mid-night, contained the startling announcement that a small fleet of German warships, which once and again had been obscurely referred to as 'cruising in Eastern waters,' had now, it was confidently reported, swooped down upon New Guinea, pulled down the British flag at Port Moresby, hoisted in its place the German eagle, imprisoned all British officials, and declared the whole island a German Protectorate! . . . Further—but these were rather matters of conjecture than statements of fact—it was believed the same squadron were under orders to attack Australia, without further delay. Brisbane was reported to be in a condition of utmost dread and apprehension, as it was realised that within eight or ten days the Germans might be bombarding the city. . . Brisbane authorities were wiring impatiently for the immediate dispatch north of the Australian torpedo boats and destroyers.
This latest development was eagerly and anxiously discussed until late that night at Linden.
"And what does our friend, Mr. Gunsler think of it now?" asked Mr. Horton. "Did you not tell us, quite recently, that you thought no harm would ever come to Australia, though England and Germany were at war?"
"I scarcely think I could have expressed that opinion, Mr. Horton," he made answer; "though I had certainly hoped that actual hostilities would never extend to this country—and may, possibly, have said so."
"Well, Australia is going to give your people a warm reception, if I know anything. Tell me, honestly, now, if you can, what is their game? Do they covet this Commonwealth? Are they also going to pull down our flags, and hoist those of the German Emperor?"
"I assure you, Mr. Horton, I am not in the confidence of his Imperial Majesty or his Ministers—you honor me quite too much, sir, in the form of your questions; I know absolutely no more than you do of what is, or is not, intended."
"Quite likely; it was business brought you out, if I understand?"
"Business strictly; I am here as the servant of a company whose interests are entirely commercial, and those interests, I need hardly assure you, are not likely to be improved, or helped, by this most unfortunate war, especially if Australia is brought into actual conflict."
To which reasonable line of argument Mr. Morton raised no demur. But turned to his friend Summers, as for his opinion.
"My opinion is, and has been for some time, that Australia is the prize which Germany is fighting for, and intends to have."
"Good Lord! If that were really so!" broke out Mr. Horton; "and here they are knocking at our doors, with their big guns about to be trained upon us, and all the while we have been fondly imagining that Germany would not have a ship to sail the seas after the British fleet had got at them." He was now marching up and down the drawing-room, as if too impatient to sit in a chair and quietly discuss the matter. In a lull of the war talk, Mr. Horton turned to Tom, who, in a corner of the room, was still devouring the newspaper articles on the latest turn in affairs. "Go out and see if there is not a later edition on the streets."
Meantime, Mr. Gunsler sought, unsuccessfully, to engage Miss Chester in something like a tete-a-tete conversation. But she, too, was restless, like the master of the house, and could not be induced to sit still, either at the piano or elsewhere, for five minutes. When asked would she play or sing something, she was almost cutting in her reply—"Can you seriously ask it, Mr. Gunsler, when there seems to be tragedy in the very air—the tragedy of war! Think of what might happen to this country in a few days. Our fair cities at the mercy of an unscrupulous foe! What have we ever done to Germany that we should have their battleships sent to destroy us? What have we ever done but freely accept their 'made in Germany' goods—why, look, this very piano is by a German maker (a Steinway); half our toys are made by your countrymen; and your own agency promotes further importations; while, as for your countrymen, are there not thousands scattered over Australia who have been made welcome to our lands, our mines, to all our resources, equally with British people themselves!"
"Bravo, governess, bravo!" cried Mr. Horton. "There's a speech for you, by an Australian girl! There is not a word in it that is not true—even Gunsler must admit as much," turning to him.
"Save one word, with all due respect," replied the young foreigner, with a noticeably heightened color.
"And what word is that?" demanded Mr. Horton.
"Unscrupulous," replied Mr. Gunsler.
"We will stand by it—it is unscrupulous."
"All war, all the ways of war, I'm afraid, are unscrupulous, if it comes to that, friend," interposed Mr. Summers.
"Will you allow me to speak freely, as though I was no German, but quite a disinterested, impartial critic?" asked Mr. Gunsler of his host.
"Certainly, you shall speak freely, sir; this is still a free country, thank God, and every man in it may yet speak his mind without fear of being apprehended on a charge of les majestie," said Mr. Horton.
"I thank you. Now, I respectfully submit to you that in all the vast world possessions of Great Britain, in the acquisition of them there has been apparent more or less of this very element of unscrupulousness. Look at South Africa, how you dispossessed the Dutch. Who invited you to possess India? Did the Egyptians ever ask Britain to possess Egypt; Did the Maoris desire the British to take possession? Then, your Commonwealth, it is true, was open for any white race to come and occupy; but, I say, the rule of conquest has been largely one of unscrupulous conquest, in the sense which I will presume you are now using the word." He looked for some word of answer from Mr. Horton.
"England has justified her intervention and occupation in every case you have cited. India is a standing proof of better progress, material advancement, and better conditions of life for many millions of down-trodden ryots, less grinding taxation, more liberty, more security, less starvation. Africa—South Africa to-day—admits alike in Dutch and British centres, that the hand that conquered is the hand that gives a wider freedom, a more generous constitution than ever before. New Zealand—well, go over there and see the Maori Chief lording it over the white pakeha. I have myself paid tribute to the Maori Caesar—the Chief who had the finest house in the place; he was the wealthiest landlord, and drew a princely revenue from his ground rents. Would Germany, think you, have established a reputation for such even-handed justice and regard for the right of conquered races?"
"That remains to be seen. Germany's field is narrow in this respect. Have you tried to conceive that Germany, say here in occupation of Australia——"
"No, by Cæsar's ghost, I have not tried to conceive of so monstrous a proposition——"
"Keep cool," said Mr. Summers, laying his hand on the arm of his friend; "you agreed to hear Gunsler out; let him go on."
"I was about to say," resumed Gunsler, with the pleasantest insinuation of voice and manner at his command, "that if this great new country was governed by Germany, it is quite possible, I think, in a few years, for an admission, quite as complimentary as that Mr. Horton has now made regarding British rule, to be made as regards German rule. Is it not too true that this vast country is now practically ruled by the mob? You call it Labor, or Democracy, or Socialism; call it what you like, it is surrounding and curtailing every department of business and commerce by restrictions that are most irksome and crippling. Your boasted freedom and liberty are surely here in jeopardy, if not already jettisoned; 'freedom of contract'—is it not even now among you an obsolete expression? Has any man, outside unionism, freedom to work and develop a career where and how he pleases? Believe me, it is my honest conviction that if Germany ruled this country, you would not recognise it in one decade from now. It is the one distinctly unpeopled part of the world; your restrictions, their professions to the contrary, seem determined to leave it so. Your four or five million inhabitants fail to recognise the anomaly; they are in possession of the thinnest-peopled part of the earth, in almost juxta-position to the great Asiatic East, where are to be found the most densely populated portions of the globe. With an awakening Asia, how can a mere handful expect to hold Australia very much longer?"
"Hold just there!" broke in Mr. Horton. "As to that latter contention, it is England's problem, not Germany's. Make your mind easy as to that. England will hold what she has got, without asking or seeking Germany's interference. . . . Hulloa, Tom, what news now?". . . . And he took the latest sheet from the boy's hand to skim the war news.
There was a movement among the ladies as if they would retire. "This warlike talk, I fear, has been an infliction upon you," came apologetically from Mr. Gunsler to the gentle ones in general. It was Mrs. Horton who made answer for them: "Would that it were the only infliction, Mr. Gunsler; but, alas, it is like the echo of the deadly thing that has come to our peaceful country, which has hitherto known no bloodshed or tumult of war."
"That, dear Madam, I lament equally with you; yet, if I may be permitted the thought, great writers, historians and others, hold that there is another side to war—the reverse of its inevitable chapter of horrors—which means that there is a national elevation, a strengthening of the national sinews, the whole fibre of the body politic by the dread happenings of war. I do fear I express it badly; but so it is held."
"I do not believe war can have any side that is good," replied Mrs. Horton. "God send us a peaceful issue soon."
A note of surprise here escaped Mrs. Horton, as her husband hurriedly rose, put down the paper he was reading, and declared he must go into the city.
"At this time of night!" she exclaimed.
"I shall be absent perhaps two hours—do not wait for me." And with that he left.
The little party broke up.
Somehow, Mr. Gunsler managed to have a few words with Nilda in the hall, and for once she accompanied him to the front gate. He was pleading with her to do him the honor of accompanying him to a Shakespearian play on the following evening, and apparently won his point, for he left Linden that night a happier man than he had been, for Miss Chester, for the first time, had promised to accompany him—alone.
That blessed wind that veered to the north and blew gustily; that more than friendly storm that followed the explosion of many hundred tons of cordite and other deadly explosive; that splendid downpour of rain, intermittent thunder and lightning, following the fearful scenes of carnage and destruction such as the English Channel had never before in all history recorded, gave glad respite to a nation thunder-struck and aghast. For while in one day victory had been sounded over every telegraph wire of the United Kingdom, and all too rapidly followed by astounding messages—sometimes too exaggerated—of disaster to the British Navy, the sullen night vibrated with every kind of rumour of further impending disaster. In the earlier hours of the night fears were rampant of the aerial invasion of London. With the German army actually on British soil; and the apparently unassailable air-ships threatening speedy doom to the great city, it seemed no idle threat of the German Emperor that he would destroy London if it did not capitulate. Yet once again man proposes, and God disposes. In the most evil hour there were not wanting the prayers of the faithful, to Him whom the winds and the waves obey; and early in the morning it was told—before ever the wires and the printing presses could record—that something fateful had occurred to the flying-demons of Germany. How had the wild north winds sobbed the word, or was it conjecture?
What mystic 'second sight' had informed the public conscience that the aerial monsters would not, in the immediate present, return to their mission of destruction over London? And this respite recalled yet once again the work of Providence in the instruction of that far off Armada, when air-ships were undreamed of; and England thanked God, and took fresh courage.
The rally of the fleet on the day following showed that notwithstanding the magnitude of the disaster which had happened, Britain could still claim to be master of the situation—on the water. Enough battleships mustered to make it plain that—barring like accidents as had happened—Germany could not force her way through, nor succour the expeditionary force which had landed. In fact, Europe cried out—the French papers especially—that the grand crisis had happened, the thing often predicted—the invading army were in, and could not get out! They were entrapped! But 200,000 fully-equipped Germans, probably the best troops in the world, are not easily entrapped. They were awaiting orders, it was stated, before marching upon the metropolis; also, it was reported, they were throwing up solid defence works as if by magic. Ten miles of coast-line was in their keeping. . . . It was matter for general surprise that they paused for a day in their attack on the heart of the Kingdom. But soon it was ascertained that they were waiting for the support, or rather concurrent attack, of the airships. They waited. Then news reached London and the oversea dominions, that rather more than half of the entire air fleet had been wrecked ere the friendly shores of the Fatherland were reached, and these included the greater portion of the mighty Zeppelins. A wondrous wave of exultation ran round the world; for even outsiders felt the horror of the uncanny element which had turned honest victory into disaster.
Yet, having seen what splendid service, unparalleledly splendid service, the fleet of air-ships had rendered the cause of Germany at the critical moment, it was not to be expected, despite the havoc wrought by the elements, that another raid would not be made by the balance of the Zeppelins and smaller air-craft.
Thus it was announced, and threatened, two days after the great disaster, that London would be put in flames and reduced to ashes if it hesitated any longer to surrender. Then, a few hours later, came word that 12 hours' respite alone was allowed for the answer. . . The answer was such that William and his Ministers could little have anticipated. In effect it was this: Unless the German Government, within 24 hours, recalled its army then on British soil, surrendering all the leading officers as hostages of good faith on the part of Germany, not one of them should return to Germany; that they were already surrounded on every side by superior numbers; that they were hopelessly cut off from a return by sea; that the Lord High Admiral was ready at a moment's notice to advance upon the coasts of Germany on the offensive, and would have orders to make an end of the German Navy and cut off the whole of the German commerce; and, lastly, a forceful reminder to the Emperor himself that his brother was a prisoner in London, together with thousands of German officers and sailors captured in the great mid-Channel engagement. It was significantly added that these were judiciously dispersed in various centres about London!
The meaning of this great stroke was easily discovered by the man in the street. It was a great device; if Germany was bent on raining down fire and death on the great city, it would be dealing death to its own—and possibly to the brother of the Emperor!
Whether or not this gave pause to the invader, it was not at that moment possible to determine, but the fact remained that for a space of three days there was an absolute lull in the war which had begun with such unparalleled fury. These three days were priceless days for England; for the interval enabled the authorities to concentrate their forces in and about London, and to make such preparations for the defence of the city as would have been impossible had the invaders stormed the capital on the day after the landing.
From Southend to Rochford, Rochford to Rayleigh, on to Wickford, on to Shenfield, and away to Epping Forest earthworks had been thrown up over all these miles in record time. The pick and shovel men—the sappers of the army had been reinforced by tens of thousands of willing volunteers, from members of Parliament, lawyers, doctors, to dray and lorry men, waiters and drapers. . . . London breathed once more freely as it read of these things, and how at every road, along which the invading army might advance upon London, heavy artillery had been placed; and battalions were in readiness for the approach of the German legions, which approach was every hour expected.
But when the fifth day had come and gone, and the Germans did no more than scour the immediate country around their entrenchments, principally for the purpose of driving in stock, and commandeering whatever food supplies they could lay ready hands upon, the British Lion began to roar its impatience. "Up and at them," was the cry of the man in the street; the provincial Press questioned the Government as to the delay in removing the invaders, while the towns that lay exposed to the northward clamoured for immediate hostilities.
On the morning of the sixth day after the landing, it transpired that negotiations had been pending which, had they been successful, would have meant a peaceful evacuation; at the same time it would have meant an unquestioned back-down for the Germans. This they refused, and the consequences was the order went forth for an immediate attack on the Germans.
The mobilization of the British army was admirable. Within 24 hours of the order the greatest British army which had ever moved at one moment, with one object, set out to do or die;—17 brigades of Infantry, many battalions of the flower of British troops, scores of corps, in the pink of condition, well-drilled, fresh and eager for the fray; swarms of militia—in all, an army of 190,000 regulars and 20,000 volunteers, mostly called in from the counties. They were under command of Lords Roberts and Kitchener (the latter of whom had been recently recalled from a command which he had assumed after his retirement in 1910). The challenge had gone forth to the German army "to come out and fight in the open, or surrender while yet there was time." . . . Always there is a larger element of heroism, of possible kudos, in attack than in defence; and while it is true that the attacked were the attackers, Britons would ever rather be the attackers than the attacked. . . . Here was a case in which the Germans had their backs to the wall—or, literally, the sea. Without being told, it was known that the invaders would fight with the grimmest determination. Then entrenchments were sufficiently outstanding to leave a wide margin of movement within their ground; while their headquarters were so placed as to be screened from view, and also from effective heavy gun attack from without the entrenchments. At the same time, it was known that a large number of heavy guns had been unshipped and placed in position. It was reported there were not less than 200 large field-pieces, hundreds of maxims, and for a space of not less than 7½ miles above the trenches were lines of bayonets and rifles, calculated to do most deadly execution to any army who would seek to dislodge them.
Hostilities began at long distances on the afternoon of the day mentioned. Posting guns on every eminence commanding the German lines, at distances ranging from 4 to 8 miles, the British Long Toms began pouring heavy charges into and beyond the German trenches. It was seen that in many trenches, earth, guns and men were blown to pieces. The power of the explosives, the precision of the firing, the comparative weakness of the effective fire in reply, caused enthusiasm throughout the British lines.
This was practically the gist of the first day's cable information.
Ere the sun had risen on the morrow, it transpired that a daring British aeroplanist had sailed high over the German encampments, and, without mishap, roughly located their concentrations, duly reporting to the Commanders-in-Chiefs this valuable information, which was at once made use of. The second day witnessed a flank movement, and concentration of the long-distance guns, on what proved to be the headquarters of the army in one of the shielded positions. For, without sight even of the position, the locality and range had been so well ascertained that fearful havoc was wrought, culminating in a terrific explosion—one of the temporary German magazine storehouses had been exploded—with the immediate effect of arousing a wild sortie of fully half the German army on the British position which had shelled with such disastrous effect. This was rising ground, terminating in an elevation of some 120 feet, a mile or two north of Hockley. While something in the nature of a surprise, it had not been altogether out of British reckoning that this might be the result of a successful shelling of the German position. Hence it was that at the moment when the enemy's advance was reported, 22,000 of the regulars were ready behind the British artillery, with the advantage of ground and guns; while, within an hour of the opening of the battle which ensued, as many more troops were hurried up, the whole under command of Field Marshall Lord Kitchener. And thus began the first pitched battle on British soil between German and Briton, a battle which for fierceness and bloodshed must live long in the annals of 'civilised' warfare.
"Yes, Mrs. Horton."
"Mr. Horton wished me to tell you that he is bringing with him to dinner this evening a stranger—I think I have met him, but it was some time ago—named Mr. Gresham. Have you heard of him?"
"I do not think so."
"Horace Gresham, he is called, and they say he is very clever. He won a seat in the Assembly last election. I think you will like him. Mr. Horton says he is a coming man."
"I shall be pleased to know him; but why, I wonder, should Mr. Horton wish me to know him?"
"Perhaps because he wishes to know you—who can say?"
"Surely that is unlikely; who am I that a member of Parliament should wish to know me?"
"Even members of Parliament get married, you know."
"Oh, is he a bachelor—really? I thought all members of Parliament were middle-aged or old men—mostly bald, as befits grave and reverend seigniors."
"Oh, yes, I daresay that applies generally, but Mr. Gresham is one of the exceptions. Now, if he is heart-whole—and you likewise—who can tell what might happen."
"Who, indeed? I am sure it is very kind of Mr. Horton, and you, too, to take this interest in a poor country girl." . . . Then, as an after-thought, "and one who is heart-whole."
"Ah, then, I have failed, I see," Mrs. Horton smiled, as she said this. "I suppose nearly all mothers get to be matchmakers. My 'prentice-hand has failed; perhaps Mr. Horton may be more successful. Which is amusing, because I never knew my husband to attempt anything of the kind, and I am sure he would repudiate the idea of such a thing now; but the fact remains that he is genuinely interested in you, Nilda, and I have heard him say you deserve a good husband."
"It is more than kind of Mr. Horton. I shall endeavour to be worthy of his good opinion of me."
And it was noticeable that Miss Nilda that evening took rather longer before her looking-glass than usual. A message, indeed, was sent to her telling her dinner was served. So that the governess was the last at table, and at least one member of the family recalled her one weakness with her recommendation: "Miss Chester is fastidious."
The place reserved for her at table was exactly opposite the seat occupied by Mr. Gresham.
Glad, scarcely waiting till the introduction was over, exclaimed, "I rang twice for your benefit, Nilda, and you did not hear."
"Perhaps it is with Miss Chester as with members in the House—the bell often rings, and we do not hear; sometimes, I fear, we do not want to hear."
"Do they ring you up for lunch or dinner?" enquired Gladys.
"No, when they require members in the House, and we are in the lobbies or some other part of the ramshackle structure."
"Yes; when are you going to construct a Parliament House worthy of the parent State?" asked Mr. Horton. "The House in Macquarie-street is the amazement of all visitors, especially if they have seen Parliament House in Melbourne."
"I know," replied Mr. Gresham. "Compared with that Temple of Politics, ours is a barn—with many stables—yet it is historical, you know; and we boast so few places that we can call historical, that I fancy that sentiment has something to do with the inclination to hang on to the old House. Within those unpretentious walls, since 1856—I think that was the year of the introduction of responsible government in New South Wales—it may be said three generations of politicians, including a few statesmen, have shaped the political destinies of this State. We have few political heroes, yet as Father Time washes out the personal blemishes of character, I fancy we are lifting into places of enduring memory the names of such men as Wentworth, Cowper, Forster, Parkes, Dalley, Robertson, and lesser lights who in those halls have lived and breathed and left their footprints on our sands. Don't you think so?"
"Yes," agreed the host, "there's something in sentiment not unworthy of guarding. There is also, to some extent, at least, an answer to those who cry out that everything goes to the city of Sydney. Politicians are frequently blamed for expending so much money in the metropolis; yet, the fact that, for over half a century, they house themselves so humbly, must tell in their favour. The visitor from other parts gets rather a striking contrast—what say they? They say, looking at the two structures, 'You provide a far more noble-looking edifice for your sick and suffering than for your legislators!'"
"Yes." Then, turning to Miss Chester, he asked, "Do you take any interest in politics?"
"I am afraid not too keen an interest. But please tell me, should not the name of Sir George Dibbs be told among the 'roll of honor' you have mentioned?"
"Possibly so. He certainly filled a good big place in the politics of this State for a number of years. Yet he is of perhaps too recent a date to be—what shall I say?—'canonised' among the great. He was a man of exceptionally good intentions and few blemishes of character, but without that power of leading and controlling men which places politicians in the front rank. He was never a power on the platform."
"I can imagine that to be the case," said Nilda; "for once, when he was Premier, I heard him speak, and he spoke very haltingly. Don't you get very tired of listening to poor speeches in the House, Mr. Gresham?"
"That is when we make for the lobbies, the library, almost anywhere—and the bell rings."
"So it is not all a bed of roses being a member of Parliament?" suggested Mrs. Horton.
"There are many thorns among the roses."
"Particularly when you sit in the shades of Opposition," added Mr. Horton.
"Are you an Oppositionist?" asked Nilda.
"I have the honor of belonging to the party in Opposition," he replied.
"Not for long, I trust," said Mr. Horton. "The Labor party, having come into their own, after so long a wait, are failing to realise expectations, and their following—I mean the public—are getting uneasy, don't you think so?"
"With some cause. The policy of nationalising every industry is under test. The two or three large concerns which have been forced to surrender to Labor's dream, are not panning out according to predictions. They tell us it is too early yet to judge the new system by what has been seen of it. But the public are not impressed. Tobacco, for instance, is not cheaper than under the old system, and many say it is distinctly of worse general quality. Sugar—taken over by debentures at such immense cost to Australia—is not cheaper, and no better in quality; it is going to be dearer, they say, as the price must go up, because the first balance-sheet of the national concern in sugar shows that the present wages cannot be paid at the price."
"And I fancy," said Mr. Horton, "that that holds good in regard to every industry where Labor agitation has affected the cost of production. Whether, it is the boot trade or the butchering business, if cost of production and of supply are increased, as naturally as day follows night prices must go up. And who pays? The working classes, who will eat meat and must wear boots, must pay; so, when all is said and done—though there is no end to the pother—things are about as they were."
"But we weary the ladies, I'm afraid," said Mr. Gresham, "with these stale reflections on politics."
"No, on the contrary, we find it most interesting," assured Mrs. Horton. "It is a relief these days to turn from the theme of war to matters of home legislation."
During the week that followed, Nilda saw much of Mr. Gresham.
When Mr. Horton hurriedly left home at a late hour, without explanation, to visit the city, it was supposed it had something to do with office business. That was not so. There was a mystery about the communication which reached him, which was not cleared up for many days. It was not less than a message from the commander of the Powerful, very briefly requesting his presence on the flagship, concerning a private matter which probably interested him. Mr. Horton was at a loss to understand what possible reason the commander of the Powerful had to ask an interview with him; hence the secrecy he maintained till the matter was explained. He was not very much wiser when he had boarded the man-of-war at 11 o'clock that night, being rowed by a waterman to the side of the great cruiser, as she lay opposite Lady Macquarie's seat. He found no difficulty in boarding the ship, and was at once taken to the Admiral's room. That gallant seaman quickly explained the reason for the call.
"You are Mr. Horton, connected with the Chamber of Commerce?"
"In that case nothing more remains to be said," and the Admiral here intimated, as he was under instructions to almost immediately leave the harbour, his time was fully engaged; and before daylight next morning, the Powerful, as Mr. Horton learnt by the morning papers, was proceeding northward—as believed to engage, with other of the Australian squadron, the enemy upon Brisbane.
It was only when on his way home from this strange interview, as he cogitated over the problem, that he suddenly thought of Miss Chester. "Can it be possible," he muttered to himself; but so little did he think it possible, that he did not formulate any theory in regard to the governess connecting her with the matter; and, as secrecy had been enjoined, he did not mention the matter to Mrs. Horton on his return home, intending, however, to do so on the morrow. Opportunity did not seem to offer in the morning, and there seemed no immediate reason for haste. He would quietly talk it over with his wife in the evening.
It was about 8.30 that evening when Mr. Horton, suddenly remembering the enigma of the previous night, asked where Miss Chester was.
"She has gone to the play with Mr. Gunsler," replied Mrs. Horton.
"Gone with Gunsler. I thought Nilda would have nothing to do with Gunsler. You surprise me; when was it arranged?"
"The last evening he was here. I, too, was surprised; but he seems to have prevailed upon her to accompany him, and when she asked my consent I readily consented. You do not mind, dear?"
Then Mr. Horton (having the room to themselves) told his wife the strange story of his visit to the Admiral's ship, and the purport of the message received.
"What an extraordinary thing! A hostage in our household! What can it mean? And you think it means Nilda?"
"I did not say so; but who else can it mean?"
"Who else?" echoed Mrs. Horton.
"I must have had only half my wits about me," he continued, "not to have thought of Nilda, and told the Admiral about her."
"And yet, dear, what could you have said about Nilda, except that she is our governess, and that a promising young gentleman of the city—who happens to be a German is desirous of paying his addresses to her?"
"Which would have been of no interest to the Admiral, I expect," he commented, "who has far weightier matters on his mind just now. They were getting up steam, then, and are at this moment on the way north, as the papers have it, to engage that rascally German squadron, who threaten the peaceful shores of Australia with bombardment, robbery, and heaven knows what. . . . I do not understand it at all . . . . but I wish Nilda had not gone."
"She is quite safe, never fear, with Mr. Gunsler."
"You think so? Do you know I never felt quite sure of that German. But for Summers I would not have him come to the house."
Then he read the papers; but it was only fitful reading. . . . His mind did not concentrate. . . . About 9 o'clock he remarked, laying down the sheet, "I think I will go to the theatre; did you say it was the Royal?"
"No, I think it is Her Majesty's; but, indeed, Reg., you need do nothing of the kind; you would not find a seat vacant, I expect."
"I could wait outside."
"Did you see the latest, Dad?" asked Tom, coming into the room with the very latest edition (published 7.30 p.m.).
"What is the latest?" as he again became seated with uneasy apprehension, due not altogether to general war matters.
"The war is at our doors!" cried Tom. "We shall almost hear the guns speak to-morrow. The German fleet have been sighted within a day's steam of Brisbane; and the Australian squadron are full steam ahead, to encounter them before they blow up Brisbane!"
"Let me see it, lad. Yes, here it is: 'Movements of the Fleet. H.M. ships Powerful, Pegasus, Prometheus, Encounter, Pioneer and Challenger, which had been preceded by two destroyers and several torpedo boats, will meet the German fleet, it is anticipated, within 48 hours. The first mentioned vessels, save the Powerful, were ordered north two days ago in readiness for the attack; and the Admiral, who was delayed in our harbour by conflicting information as to the first attack being on Sydney, is now hastening full-speed for the northern capital. Authoritative information—which, it is alleged, has been confirmed by intercepted 'wireless'—goes to show that Brisbane will first be attacked. The German fleet consists of the Scharnhorst, the flagship of the East Asiatic squadron, the cruisers Nuernberg, Lepsig, Emden and Connoran, and it is believed these are accompanied by two or more torpedo boats. The Scharnhorst is larger than the Powerful, being 11,600 tons, and is believed to carry more guns; but it is stated, on good authority, that the Australian squadron will not hesitate to engage the invading squadron at the first possible opportunity, if possible on the high seas, and, it is believed, with good prospects of a successful issue. Having regard to general tonnage, weight and calibre of guns, the opposing fleets are believed to be as near as possible about equal.'"
"Yes," said Mr. Horton, "things are coming to a climax, certainly. There will be things to talk about now in a few hours. . . . I wish Nilda was here. . . ."
"Wonder who is in command of the German rag-tag," speculated Tom.
"It is mentioned, I think. . . Yes, here it is:—'The principal officers are Chief of the fleet, Rear-Admiral———; chief of the staff, Commander———; Admiral's staff officers, Senior Lieutenants———and———; flag lieutenant, Lieutenant———. The stea——'"
Mr. Horton did not finish the par. He threw down the paper. "Say, Tom, put on your hat and overcoat. I am too anxious to stand this any longer!"
"What, Dad, must you away to the war, too?" cried the boy.
"Not to the war, but to the theatre. You shall stand by one entrance door, and I will see to the other. I shall not be satisfied till we have Miss Chester home again."
* * * *
They did not see Miss Chester home again till many things had happened.
How it happened that Mr. Horton's suddenly awakened fears were realised, must be placed among the telepathic incidents not uncommon in many actual experiences. You are thinking of a person, and he or she suddenly appears. You have an apprehension that something is about to happen, and you are joked by your familiars as to the state of your liver. . . . Full half-an-hour before Her Majesty's began to empty, Mr. Horton awaited upon the open space, that palatially tiled and marbled entranceway to the stalls and the dress circle; and took more note, strange to say, of the beauties of Australian specimens of marble than he had ever hitherto done, though in years gone by he had walked that way many a time before. . . Master Tom was commissioned to keep a keen look-out upon the side exit.
* * * *
Let us look within.
It was a full house, and the play was "The Merchant of Venice." In the dress circle, 'midst the crowd of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen in evening attire, sat side by side Mr. Gunsler and Nilda Chester. She was dressed in an evening gown of soft cream silk that fitted her graceful figure extremely well; but it was the head of the girl that caught and held the eye; her hair was done in simple Grecian style, and caught with a band about her head, which gave the finishing touch to a toilette at once most simple and most beautiful. There was no display of jewellery, but a simple, half-opened pale pink rose was stuck in the band at one side. If a vote had been taken of the house as to the most beautiful girl present, it surely would have given its vote for Nilda Chester.
They arrived but a few minutes before the orchestra struck up; and many were the eyes which turned to the young couple as they entered, and with some little difficulty—and the temporary rising of three or four gentlemen to make way—they found their reserved seats. . . . It must not be thought that Miss Chester was unusually self-conscious; but on the authority of one versed in feminine weaknesses, it seems that three out of four young ladies, of the most "impressionable age" are self-conscious; and it would not be untrue to say of Nilda at that hour that she was quite aware that many eyes—of both sexes—were upon her, and again and again reverted toward her. . . . She was also conscious that not many times had she figured in the dress circle of a fashionable theatre, and hoped, secretly within herself, that she would not disclose to any onlooker that she was something of a novice in that role; so she kept watch of herself. . . . Ever she was quick to learn of others; and had besides that native latent for lady-like conduct in the smallest details. . . . And so while her companion, proud of the place he occupied by her side—and looking every inch the gentleman in his modishly cut evening clothes—did most of the talking, while waiting for the rise of the curtain.
"How divinely the orchestra play."
"What a fine house, and fashionable."
"I suppose so."
"I do hope you will thoroughly enjoy the play."
"Is this piece your favourite?"
"I have not decided yet."
"Look, I really believe that old dowager in the upper box is focussing her glass on you."
"On me? Nonsense!" And more small talk of the kind, very gently spoken, which small talk Mr. Gunsler seemed inclined to keep up after the play commenced; but in this he was very decidedly checked.
"Do you really wish me to enjoy the play?"
"Most certainly, Miss Chester."
"Then please not to talk to me."
"Oh, I'm sorry; but to do that, you know, is better than to listen to old Shakespeare, even."
"It is to hear and see the dead Shakespeare in living characters we are here, you know."
"I will try to be good; but let us exchange a word sometimes, please, Miss Chester."
"Well, just a word, then."
More than once a word was spoken which brought no response, nor a turn of the head. Nilda got more and more absorbed in the strange old medieval merchant whose gold was his god, and in his daughter Jessica, with her hard and loveless life, and in the score of other characters with which the incomparable dramatist has built this exceedingly human and powerful play.
Not till the first act was through did Nilda condescend to talk to her companion, and then only of the play.
"I had not thought to see Shylock with anything but black hair," she remarked.
"And why black?" asked her companion.
"Think, did you ever see a Jew with red hair?"
"Ah, that is true. How observant you are. Now, that did not occur to me; you are properly critical; but I confess your hair has much more interest for me than old Shylock's make-up."
Then the lights were down again, and the curtain up in the second act. Nilda's white hand lightly rested on the arm of her chair. Why was it he should for a moment cover her hand with his, as the Prince declaimed, "Bring me the fairest creature northward born." And so it rested, to his amazement, till "I tell thee lady, by my love,"—then, as if only alive to the contact, Nilda hastily withdrew her hand, and used her fan with that left hand, if as to keep it better employed, or out of danger.
He wished she would speak, or even look at him. But not until Gratiano's trifles in the 6th scene did she so much as speak a syllable. Then there slipped from her a half-conscious speculation: "I wonder is that true?"
"What was it?"
"All things that are,
Are with more pleasure chased than enjoyed."
"Youth never believes that," he rejoined.
"And Shakespeare replies—did you miss that too?—'How like a younger or a prodigal.'"
"Oh, freely I plead guilty—there you are concerned I am indeed a youngster, and would be very prodigal of love did you permit." This very earnestly, as he leaned his head toward her. For his pains he got a smart tap on the head with the fan, and was thus made to "sit up."
And as he listened now he marvelled, for truth to tell, though a theatre-goer and not unacquainted with the great masters, there were lines and thoughts in this play which struck him in the face.
"When you shall please to play the thieves for wives,
I'll watch as long for you then."
(And he knew not that someone was watching for him.)
"Ah" (from Nilda).
"What is it?" he whispered.
"I had forgotten that that most common saying was Shakespeare's:—
"Love is blind, and lovers cannot see,
The pretty follies that themselves commit."
"It passes for wisdom; but for myself I am not blind, for my sight is excellent; while as to follies, you have never given me a chance to commit any, have you, Nilda?"
"Oh, please, do not be so personal."
"I wish you were Jessica and I Lorenzo."
"I have no ducals with which to guild myself."
"Believe me, I do not seek them."
"Are you, then, so unlike your fellows? But listen."
(It was the concluding words of Gratiano before the 7th scene):
"I desire no more delight,
Than to be under sail and gone to-night."
"And now I wish I was Gratiano," protested Gunsler.
"You are too inconstant, sir. (This with well-feigned dignity and censure). A few moments since you wished you were Lorenzo. I cannot abide inconstancy."
"Nor would I have you other. I thought you smiled when Lorenzo pleaded:
'So are you sweet. . . But come at once;
For the close night doth play the runaway!'
Would that you could so smile on me as Jessica upon Lorenzo. And he prepared to run away."
"What, must I hold a candle to my shame?" she playfully retorted, quoting Jessica.
"No need of lights; the friendly night would aid us."
"My, but you are oddly dramatic to-night; don't you think you ought to try the stage?"
"Where they do but play at love? I had much rather be in earnest;" and once again she felt the pressure of his hand.
These words were breathed softly in her ear, but she was paying more heed to the play than to the would-be lover. "Listen," she bade him; "Arragon is speaking for you:"
"Still more fool I shall appear by the time I linger here."
It went to show he was not devoid of repartee when he replied:
"And Portia for you——"
Por.: "Thus hath the candle singed the moth."
Nilda: "Then flutter no more in its dangerous illumination."
Gunsler: "'Tis not a candle, but Venus bright; and I long for ever to enjoy the light."
Nilda received this eulogium in silence; nor would she speak while those lines of the play were running which dealt with the examination of the mysterious caskets. It was while the critical examination of the heiress's three mysterious treasure-troves were being continued that she gave speech for a moment, by asking her companion which of the three was the lucky one.
"Truth to say, I forget. But this is the fellow who scores—that I remember—he wins sweet Portia; and now, most of all, I would be Bassanio!"
"And would you bear to lose the pound of flesh?"
"For you, Nilda," (and his tone was of the softest and most winning, gracious and pleading).
For answer, she (after a pause) once again said, "Listen to Bassanio":
"So may the outward shows be least themselves;
The world is still deceived with ornament.
In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt
But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,
Obscures the show of evil? In religion,
What damned error, but some sober brow
Will bless it, and approve it with a text,
Hiding the grossness with fair ornament?"
"Let us not listen to that fellow's bad language," pleaded Gunsler; "but make a better play ourselves."
"It would be poor comedy," suggested Nilda.
"Not by a world's length!" murmured Gunsler.
"Or, mayhap, tragedy?"
"Ah, Nilda, do not jest."
". . . . Ah, yes. 'Tis Bassanio! He has chosen the right box—the leaden one—and finds 'the continent and summary of his fortune'—and Portia!" This broke from Nilda in a happy little burst of pleasure.
"And Portia yields—see how readily. 'You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand . . . . to wish myself much better; yet for you I would be trebled twenty times myself!"
"Yes; it is surprising how soon she recognised her affinity."
"No sooner than I recognised. . . . Ah, me!"
"You do but tease me;" and, saying which, Gunsler, for a brief space, fell to listening to the play. And ever the play ran with his thoughts; gave speech to passion; chimed in odd fashion to things that were sinister, for he was playing a far more desperate game; and it was like the cool iron of the man that, in these apparently idle thoughts and idle moments, he was consummating a project, an adventure, which might well have told a different tale upon a 'nervy' man.
Nilda suspected not—scarcely the reader suspects—the desperate play that was on hand.
"I have engaged myself to a dear friend," quoth the actor. "Say that to me, dear one."
'Twas thus the play proceeded to the end.
As they walked out upon the landing, Nilda was handed her cloak—it had a hood—and Gunsler put on his overcoat; they were told it was raining.
"It is raining hard," he declared, as they descended the spacious vestibule in a crowd of people. He insisted on raising the hood.
"Do not mind, thank you," spoke Nilda. "This thing is somewhat out of fashion. I do not need my head covered—not yet."
But he was insistent. "You must not catch cold, Miss Chester; I shall take you straight to a cab."
"But you may find it difficult to get a cab."
"I had the sense to order one; come this way."
"Oh, Mr. Horton!" exclaimed Nilda, half concealed, and actually passing without being recognised. "I did not know you were at the play—was it not delightful?"
"I was not at the play, but came to see you home, Nilda. I was anxious."
"Thank you, but really that was not necessary. Mrs. Horton told you I came with Mr. Gunsler, did she not?"
"Yes; nevertheless, I came. I will explain later on." Then, pausing for a moment as they entered upon the footpath, he turned to speak to Mr. Gunsler, but he was gone. . . . "That's strange; wait just here for one minute, Nilda, while I call Tom."
Nilda, bewildered by the most curious turn of events, was not left alone one full minute, when Mr. Gunsler returned, smiling, and with the remark, "It's all right; come this way." And, before she realised it, Gunsler jumped into the cab also, closed the door, and they were off.
"But," protested Nilda, "Mr. Horton asked us to wait a moment."
"What was the use of waiting; we could not ride three or four in a cab, you know."
Not since Waterloo was such a terrible, strenuous, sanguinary battle fought in Europe.
Germany had shipped the flower of her army. Every man of the 200,000 invaders was a highly-trained soldier. Every man of them was a German egotist. Every man of them prepared to lose his life, rather than return to the Fatherland disgraced or defeated.
For the space of ten days negotiations and parleys had continued. These were days of respite, and of great value to the invaded. Was England ready? It is true, in a sense, that England is never ready; never ready for a great war in the sense that Germany is ready.
It is related of Von Roon, the Prussian War Minister, that when war was declared with France he went home to take a few days' rest. His work was done. The army was ready. The War Minister had nothing to worry about. "Imagine," wrote Robert Blatchford in 1910, "the British Minister of War's condition of mind if war were declared against us by Germany to-day!"
And here, two years later, was the thing imagined—converted into solemn reality.
The 'little Englanders' quailed in the presence of the enemy. The great Englanders did not pause to shout "I told you so," but called loudly to the Government to brook no further delay; to arise and strike terribly while yet there was but a twentieth part of the German army to deal with. To strike hard and relentlessly; for what quarter should be shown to any enemy that had dared to wantonly pick a quarrel and invade the realm of England?
And England struck with England's might. The forces for this supreme battle were almost even, but the advantages, on the face of it, were with the army fighting for hearth and home. It has been narrated how the respective armies were situated; how the great guns began to play; and, after these had done much execution and cleared the way, the close encounter followed.
It was on the morning of the eleventh day of the German occupation. The sun had not risen ere the battle began. Lord Roberts commanded the right wing, Lord Kitchener the left. Under heavy cannon-fire from every eminence which commanded the German position, the British troops advanced. The artillery squads did splendid execution; the cavalry forces appear to have been held in abeyance till comparatively late in the day. These were posted between the right and left wing of the advancing army. From the water-way by Rockford, right across country to the Crouch River, the British lines extended, contracting as they marched and fought. It had been intended by Lord Roberts that the outer and northern wing should drive the main body of the enemy back toward his (Roberts') division, but events upset this plan. The Germans, concentrating on that wing, gave Lord Kitchener a terrible repulse. By mid-day it was reported that 17,000 to 20,000 men lay dead or dying on the battlefield. Only the onrush of the cavalry in a fierce hand-to-hand encounter, averted a disaster. The day and the battle had been all German but for a magnificent and masterly piece of strategy on the part of Lord Roberts, conceived at the psychological moment, when the great battle was turning in favour of the invader.
At 2 o'clock, when repulse on the other wing, had been confirmed, Roberts ordered an immediate advance from his centre; at the same time ordering that none of the heavy armaments remove from the points of advantage already indicated; only the lightest field-guns were put forward for the dash. This attack in force being perceived by the Germans, they deflected from the northern positions, and placed their main body and reserves in a line of battle to receive the old war hero. A short and sharp encounter, when, lo, the order was given to retreat!! . . . It goes to show the splendid discipline—and the value of discipline—that though 90,000 men turned their backs on the enemy—turned their backs who had rather been shot—turn they did—nor questioned the reason why. . . . But not long were they left in doubt. . . . By 3.30 of the clock, they knew who had done the thinking for them, and sealed for ever the right and title to supreme generalship. . . . "They flee! They run! . . . See how they run! . . . They cannot fight to defend their own land, on their own land! . . . After them! Down with them! The day is ours! . . . Turned and beaten on the right, now we smash their left, and the day—and England!—is ours." It was all so sudden, and without apparent preconception, that German caution was lost, for that hour, in hot anticipation of victory.
This is exactly what happened. Leaving no more than 100 men to pay the penalty of the feint, Roberts drew the Germans to the ground he had chosen to fight upon; the ground upon which he saw them swarming in exulting egotism and wildest fury, that ground should be the ground of their defeat and dismay. . . Suddenly, and, lo, the British did not run; but forming, as if by magic, into solid squares, they were pouring destructive fire at short ranges, with deadly effect, upon the on-rushing German legions. . . . It was all in the space of 170 acres that the carnage was wrought.
Was ever such execution accomplished in so restricted a space? . . . In the mad rush of supposed victory, the invaders had stormed into a position beyond their entrenchments, and beyond reach of their heavy armaments, but well within reach of the splendidly-posted British artillery. These, from 10 different vantage points, rained shot and shell upon the concentrated German troops. . . . Splendid marksmanship—unparalleled generalship—the work of the afternoon was completely effacing the terror of the morning.
* * * *
Imagine the condition of the British mind at this critical moment. The fate of the British Empire hung suspended in the balance.
Scarcely less excitement was felt throughout Europe; almost it might be written that the whole wide world was gripped with but a single thought: Will England go down to-day, or shall it be to-morrow? . . . Is it indeed possible that in a few hours the German Eagle will proudly float where for a thousand years the Royal Standard of England has flown supreme?
* * * *
In the tumult of this world-shaking contest, the writer has paused but little to take stock of what the world said, or did in regard to the deadly struggle. Without exaggeration, it might be truthfully said that a dozen Empires were quaking for fear of the issue. Not once, nor twice, nor thrice, but many times in as many weeks the war-cloud had gathered with such impending density over all Europe that but an accidental shot—the proverbial accidental spark—was needed to explode every magazine of the Continent. . . . What mighty arm held off the long-threatened Armageddon? . . Was it that England's King and Government—still true to the traditions and stamina of an unconquered race—practically said to every overture for intervention or assistance, "Not yet."
In brief the international situation was this: The French Ministry having taken a vote of its Parliament, decided that the cause of England was the cause of France. If the British Government called for assistance, the whole of the French army and the whole navy of the Republic would be placed at the disposal of the British nation. In words so noble was this done as to transcend any offer of the kind that had ever been made by one European Power to another. These were the concluding words of France: "We shall stand or fall together."
Knowing well what the offer meant—the most terrible war of modern times—England's heart was moved to its core; but in effect the answer was, "Not yet." In its amplification it meant a great deal more: that the British, sorely pushed as it was, yet shrank from the general conflagration. It was made clear that if Germany pursued the war single-handed, England asked no assistance. If, as rumour had it, Germany was urging the Austrian Government to come into the fray, and Austria sent her fleet—now reported to number nine first-class battleships, besides many others—then the conditions would become so severe that Britain would be justified in also getting assistance. . . . But, so far, Austria hesitated and held her hand. . . . Italy, with splendid courage, had broken from the Triple Alliance soon after the declaration of war. . . . Ominous and hopeful, and helpful, rumours issued daily from many American sources. The gist of them was: America would not see the ruin of the peace-preserving British Empire. But Washington itself spoke no definite word beyond a veiled intimation that if any other Power was brought into the field against Britain, the American fleet would "also begin to talk."
The Press of both Holland and Belgium were strangely muzzled. The "mailed fist" was very near them. With all but unanimous voice the newspapers of Spain and Portugal were all for England.
Japan was not called upon, so far as the treaty went, to enlist in hostilities against Germany, but evidence was not wanted that her sympathies were all with England, and it was interesting, as a diplomatic problem, that England herself was asked to determine "was Japan under moral obligation to render assistance other than in any theatre of the East?"
The night was dark, and the rain fell.
For the first few minutes Mr. Gunsler kept up a lively talk on the play, the weather, his delight that Nilda was with him, and that she had been pleased with the play. But Nilda did not converse. Constantly her thought recurred to Mr. Horton: "How strange that he should think it necessary to come to take me home! I do not understand?"
"It was quite unnecessary, of course," commented her companion. But ever he tried to divert her attention from that direction.
"I am afraid he will think it very rude the way we drove off when he asked us to stay a few moments."
"When I see Mr. Horton I will explain; he will then be quite satisfied we did not mean to be rude, but did the proper thing."
Now Nilda was glancing through the cab window. "I do not seem to realise the route; are you sure cabby knows the way?"
"I am sure he does. I most carefully explained it to him."
"When I engaged him."
Down Pitt-street, along Circular Quay, they ran, and Mr. Gunsler attempted to hold her hand and tell her how beautiful she was. "There was no one at Her Majesty's to compare with you," he declared.
"But that is a silly thing to say; perhaps you did not look."
"I had eyes for only you." He was strangely excited, it now occurred to Nilda, who could not, however, note his heightened color; but she was awakened to a flood of apprehension when, in a few moments, the cab came to a stand, and, peering out; she cried, "Mr. Gunsler, what does this mean? We are by the water! Oh, tell me, what does it mean?"
"By the water!" (in well-affected surprise). He leaned out; then he jumped out; he appeared to speak sharply to the cabby, who moved a few paces further to the right. . . . They were in the vicinity of the wharf where watermen ply, and where men of the warships land and embark. . . . All in a minute it occurred. Two men, muffled in great coats and wearing disguises, appeared alongside the cab. One of them addressed Nilda: "Young lady, better not make any fuss; we won't hurt you, but we're under engagement to row you to the other side. Come along, please."
"How dare you? I will not come along."
"Oh, yes, you will, Miss."
"Where is Mr. Gunsler?"
"Is he the gent, as is taking care of you? He is in the boat, Missy."
Nilda was now thoroughly terrified, and, though she was no coward, she quaked in every limb, and a great fear was upon her. As one of the men caught hold of her hand she cried out, but it was instantly smothered by a handkerchief which must have contained chloroform, for only an insensible form it was they bore to the boat, in which Gunsler awaited them.
The water was comparatively smooth; they had no light, and they rowed quickly.
A little to the side of Lavender Bay stands a rather commodious and substantially built house, which commands a fine view of the harbour and city. It is close by the water's edge, and the garden grounds extend to the water, where a little improvised jetty of stonework facilitates a landing. As they approached thereto, an onlooker might have seen a young man tenderly supporting a female figure; and, could his expression have been made out, it would certainly have been seen that he wore an anxious look. He would that she might rouse from the swoon-like stupor, and yet he did not greatly try to arouse her. He breathed her name gently, but there was no response. He wiped the damp perspiration from her brow, and then, dipping his hand into the sea water, he would sprinkle it gentry upon her face. Perchance he feared that over-much anaesthetic had been applied; and yet he was not desirous that she should awaken before the destination was reached. . . . With the help of the men, the unconscious form was lifted from the boat to the landing.
"Pay up now, and let us begone," demanded one of the fellows, who appeared to be of a different stamp—and a better one—than the other whose words have been noted.
"Certainly, you have done your work neatly, and here is your money," handing what appeared to be a roll of several notes. "Remember," laying his hand on the shoulder of this man as he drew him a little apart, "this is no outrage, but has been done in the cause of the Fatherland, and for the safety of this young lady. Remember, still more, what you have sworn."
"Never fear," looking round, "I would be willing to land a few dozen more in these comfortable quarters at the same price. Let me know when you have another like job."
And, silently as they came, the two men rowed back into the night.
At least one of them believed what he had been shown—something emanating from a very high source; and this confidence betokened that he was one of the trusted. As for the other, he troubled not whether it was a romantic love episode, or a baser exploit; he had been well paid, and solemnly declared wild 'orses would not draw a word of the affair from him.
Gently, but speedily, Gunsler lifted the almost inanimate form of the kidnapped one from the sward where for the moment she lay, and bore her to the house. . . Very tenderly he glanced into the fair, expressionless face; and his own expression—at least it was not that of a ruffian; nor would he take the slightest advantage of opportunity, not by so much as a stolen kiss. . . . He approached at a door on an unfrequented side of the house, fairly hidden in foliage, which grew between the house and the high fence. He knocked gently, and it was opened by an old woman with a not unkind face and a motherly appearance generally.
Evidently, they were expected. No surprise was shown; no fuss made. The room into which Nilda was introduced must at one time have been used as a cellar, but its walls were not damp nor its brick floor. It was dry, and, apparently, not unhealthy. For furniture there was a narrow bed, comfortably fitted, a washstand, toilette table, a wardrobe, a decent piece of carpet on the floor, and a couple of chairs. There was, with these, still a fair space to move about, as the room was not less than 20ft. long by 12 or 13 feet in width. The one feature in the apartment which was the least satisfactory, perhaps, was its limited lighting arrangements. High up toward the ceiling was a small window, containing but a few pains of glass, and these had not been cleaned for many a day; the fact that bars of iron ran across the opening gave a prison-like effect to the room.
It was 'mid such surroundings that, twenty minutes after being so surreptitiously taken into it, Nilda opened her eyes—at first dreamily, vaguely, wonderingly; seeing only the bending form, the not unkindly face of Frau Heckler.
"Who are you?" she questioned, very quietly, as the German woman gently mopped her forehead with vinegar, and in one hand she held a bottle of smelling salts.
"I am Frau Heckler, my lady."
"I do not know you."
"Of course not; how could you? We have never met before."
Then, drawing a hand sharply across her brow, as if to clear away from her numbed brain the cobweb left by the powerful drug, Nilda asked, "Why are you here . . . or, rather, why am I here? . . . This is not my home."
"If you will be pleased to allow it to be your home for a little time, I shall do everything to make it as comfortable as I can for you, my lady."
"Oh . . . am I in a trance? Have I met with some accident? . . Why do you call me 'My lady?'"
"You are a lady; you are a great lady."
"Oh, this is nonsense; I must be going!" and Nilda made as if to rise from the couch.
"Pardon, my lady—a thousand pardons, but you cannot; you must lie still," . . . pressing her gently back. "You have been upset; you must rest. See, here is wine—good wine from the dear Rhineland—you will condescend to take a little, a very little?"
"No, no; I do not want it." . . . Then, suddenly remembering, with frightened fuller consciousness: "Tell me, do I dream; or was it true? I was at a play, was I not? Of course I was, with Mr. Gunsler. We were driving home—home to Mr. Horton's, and were driven to the water, somewhere, and two dreadful men seized me! They dragged me out of the cab! . . . And I think I fainted; I remember no more! . . . And I am here now in this strange place. What does it mean? Please tell me what does it mean? . . . Where is Mr. Gunsler?"
"My lady, do not alarm yourself; you are quite safe."
"Will you answer my questions? Where is Mr. Gunsler?"
"I do not know."
"Where is this place? And what is it?"
"I cannot tell you, my lady."
"You mean you will not tell me? . . . I shall get up and cry aloud till I am heard. Move aside, woman! I shall awake the neighbourhood! . . . What! do you imagine that in our free great city of Sydney a young woman can thus be seized by roughs and hidden away with impunity? How dare you—how dare they? It is monstrous. They shall suffer for this!" . . . And she moved to the door; but the door was bolted. . . . "I am in prison."
Nilda was still attired just as she left Her Majesty's, save that her cloak had been removed, and her rich abundant hair had been loosened from its folds, and fell in some disorder, but still gracefully, about her shoulders. And though fear—fear as she knew not what—paled her cheek, and lent a tremor to her voice, she made still a striking figure with head thrown back and figure dilating with indignation.
"What time is it, woman?"
"It has turned the hour of mid-night, my lady." Then, pleadingly, "Please, my lady, do not make this task harder for me to bear than it is. I am but your servant to obey in every matter—within these walls——"
Nilda: "It is a prison. Who brought me here?"
"I do not know."
"Did Mr. Gunsler bring me here?"
"Who is Mr. Gunsler?"
"You do not know him? You do not think he brought me here? I hope he did not. . . . And yet, and yet. . . . Oh, let me think." And she moved to the side of the couch, and was constrained to sit down. "I think it was Mr. Gunsler. It must have been he. Who else would do this terrible, this wicked thing? I remember now. My friend Mr. Horton came for me; he was anxious. Something had occurred or he would not have done that; and he asked us to wait a moment while he looked for his son. Yes, Tom was there also, perhaps watching for me at another door; and, before he could rejoin us, I was hurriedly placed in the cab, and we drove off. The mystery is clearing. It was all pre-arranged, and Mr. Horton had heard something. I am sure he must have heard something. Don't you see it must have been so? And this man, who was permitted to come to the house as a friend, has contrived it all—this outrage—to spirit me away. . . . Oh, is it not terrible? I never liked him. I never trusted him; but I never supposed him capable of this vile thing. He is a wicked, deceitful German."
"My dear lady, be calm; there is an explanation that will make all that has been done honorable, let me assure you of that."
"Honorable," expostulated Nilda; "impossible. Tell me, are you also German?"
"I am of the dear Fatherland, my lady."
"Hateful land of spies, intrigues and kidnappers," cried Nilda. "If you are German, you also are in the plot. You knew I was to be stolen, did you? You expected me?"
"I was told to be in readiness to receive my lady—it was enough. Now, let me, I beg of you, assist you to disrobe, that you may rest."
"Rest! Oh, do not mock me! Think, my friends are at this moment searching for me. They will not know what has happened me. They will communicate with the police to help find me. They will not rest till they find me; and you ask me to rest!"
"My lady, others search for you who have a far greater right to find you."
"Why speak these enigmas to me? What is it you know? Who are these you speak of? I am unknown outside my beloved Australia!"
Womanlike it was to ask three questions as it were in one; but so mystified was she; so reluctant her strange companion to answer any question.
"Madam is far too excited now. Another time we will talk; my first and great command is to take such care of you, and show every consideration for you. Let me, now, I beg you, assist you to retire." . . . Nilda waved her off . . . "Think how much worse it might have been, dear lady."
"How much worse did you say? . . Yes, yes; if those dreadful men had not released me; at least you are a woman, and you seem kind; but how do I know that I can trust you? You are a German, and you have lent yourself to this outrage. . . . How do I know who may enter here? . . . Shall you stay to guard me?"
"I had not thought it necessary, my lady."
"Oh, I shall be terrified if you leave me."
"Are you afraid of the dark—of the loneliness?"
"Not of these; but rather of wicked creatures who chose the darkness for their deeds of horror—as to-night," and her eyes held a terror in them as she looked toward the door.
"No one can possibly enter there, my lady; it is no common lock; and no one can scale the wall that is without."
"Still, I am afraid," Nilda protested, for the shock of the thing that had happened was upon her nerves. "I will treat with you; if you will stay in this room with me to-night, I shall do whatever you wish."
"Certainly, my lady; it is too great an honor that I should sleep at your feet; but that will I do right gladly;" and such was the ring of truth in her voice and manner that Nilda believed her—though she was a German.
"You are very beautiful, my lady," as she brushed her hair and bathed her face and hands in tepid water, and beheld the supple limbs and soft white skin of the maiden as she disrobed.
But Nilda was unheeding of compliments. She suffered herself to be undressed; and so greatly, so mindful of her comfort was her strange companion that in less time than might have been expected under the circumstances, Nilda slept.
"Where is Nilda?"
The question almost simultaneously escaped from two pairs of lips at the one moment, when the door opened to admit Mr. Horton, and Mrs. Horton realised that he was alone.
"Is she not here? Has she not arrived?" questioned Mr. Horton, anxiously.
"No; I fully expected to see her with you."
"Come inside," he said, and he led the way into the sitting-room, and there told of what had occurred.
"She will certainly be here in a few minutes," concluded Mrs. Horton. "They could not have driven so fast as your cab; still, it was strange that he disappeared so suddenly."
When twenty minutes had elapsed, and there was no sign of the return of Nilda and Gunsler, the worst fears of what had happened took possession of Mr. Horton. "It is no use your sitting up, wife," he said. "You will not see Nilda to-night, or I am much mistaken; nor Gunsler. It was cleverly, impudently done, but he has simply run off with the girl."
"He would not dare to do such a thing," cried Mrs. Horton.
"There are others in this besides Gunsler," said her husband, "and it is something more than a mere love affair. You had better go to bed now, and I shall go out to acquaint the police. There is no time to be lost."
It was now about mid-night, but always the police can be found, wide-awake and alert; and in little more than an hour half-a-dozen police, and at least one or two detectives, were moving in different parts of the city in search of Miss Chester.
One of the morning papers, "The Daily Telegraph," had this more or less accurate account of the incident:—
Information reached the police at an early hour this morning of the mysterious disappearance of Miss N. C. Chester, under most extraordinary circumstances. Miss Chester, who is resident governess in the family of a well known city gentleman, Mr. R. Horton, of the Royal Exchange, is stated to have accompanied a gentleman friend to the Shakespearian performance at Her Majesty's Theatre last night. It is known that they waited till the conclusion of the performance, as Miss Chester was actually seen leaving in the company of her friend—whose name is withheld at the suggestion of the police authorities. They are believed to have entered a cab waiting at or near the entrance to the theatre, since which nothing has been seen or heard of the young lady, and her friends are naturally very anxious concerning her. It is not likely that this 'mystery of a hansom cab' will remain long unsolved. A remarkable feature of the incident—though we cannot vouch for the truth of the rumour—is that some kind of international significance attaches to, and explains, the adventure; but this may be simply one of the canards incidental to the troubled and excited state of the public mind during the present crisis.
* * * *
"Can you 'phone Mr. Summers?" anxiously asked Mrs. Horton of her husband. "He should know at once."
"Yes, I will do so, but I expect he will see this paragraph," as he laid down the paper containing the item which the reader has just perused.
It was, however, late that afternoon before Mr. Summers presented himself at Lindon.
"I was away," he explained, "and it was only after lunch I got the news. This is alarming. What do you make of it?" addressing Mr. Horton; who enlightened him as to his call to the warship, and his belief that Nilda had been abducted by Gunsler.
"It seems incredible; and yet," confessed the girl's guardian, "I have possibly more reason to suspect it than you have."
"I have never questioned you closely as to Nilda's antecedents; there did not seem much occasion," said Mr. Horton; "but seeing the remarkable developments that have taken place, I think, perhaps, you had better tell me all you know, or suspect, about the affair."
"You shall hear everything, friend; I have no reason to hide anything from you."
"Tell me, did you hear, or see, anything in this man Gunsler to make you suspect that he was interested in Miss Chester, other than as a friend, or, let us say, admirer?"
"It was as a possible suitor that I regarded Gunsler. From the first day he saw Nilda, he was enamoured of her; at all events he so protested; and I think it likely. You know, I liked him. But perhaps I was blind. I very much suspect that I was duped. Since things have taken such a turn, I begin to suspect that I was very much duped."
"Not you alone, I fear," said Mrs. Horton, who had joined them, just as they were waiting in the smoking-room before the evening meal. "We have all been terribly deceived, I fear."
"How was it you first became, acquainted with the man?" asked Horton.
"It was very odd," replied Summers, "the way we became acquainted. Some months ago I called at the Crown Studios for a dozen cabinet photos of Nilda; they had been taken a little time previously; in the approach to the gallery was an enlarged picture of Nilda—it was really very well done, and I was admiring this when the man in charge said, 'Ah, that reminds me; I promised a gentleman who gave us a sitting one day this week to make bold to present you, or whoever called for the young lady's photos, with his card—it is in this envelope. I shouldn't wonder but he fell in love with the picture; she is very charming, I'm sure.' . . . It was very irregular, I know, but the upshot of it was I met Mr. Gunsler, and he very shortly, as you know, met Nilda here."
"Tell me," broke in Mr. Horton, "did he ever hint that he knew, or supposed he knew, anything of Miss Chester's antecedents, or of her people?"
"Not in so many words; but on one occasion he remarked that Nilda was very like a German lady he knew; and as I expressed a wish to see a picture of that lady, which he said he had in his possession, when next I saw him he produced the picture, and, in very truth, I saw what might be said to be a family likeness."
"Did he mention any names?"
"Or give any particulars of the family?"
"No; I did not think of asking."
"You had a good look at that photo?"
"Anything unusual or distinctive about it?"
"Not on the face of it. But on the mounting of it there was evidence of a partly obscured crest. The lady was taken in what was probably Court dress, and altogether was very distinguished-looking."
"Did not that arouse any curiosity in your mind as to possible connections that Gunsler might wish to establish, in regard to your ward's people? You had told me, you remember, something of the romance of Nilda's birth?"
"I certainly ought to have pursued the subject, but somehow did not; perhaps in part because Nilda herself always showed a marked disinclination to have anything said, especially to strangers, about her parentage."
"I can understand that in Nilda s case," remarked Horton. "She is sensitive about it."
They sat mutely pondering for a few minutes.
"Putting one thing with another," said Mr. Summers, "what do you make of the whole mystery?"
"This," answered Mr. Horton: "Gunsler came out to this country—was sent out, in fact—to find, and at any cost secure, Miss Chester."
"That thought has been in my mind, too—I believe you are about right."
"Now, the question is, why?" continued Mr. Horton. "Foolish as it may seem on the face of it, Nilda's disappearance takes on an international aspect as the 'D.T.' says. Assuming our suppositions to be right, Miss Chester is a person of such importance that the German authorities have been prevailed upon by some person or persons, of such importance in the Empire, that before hostilities were commenced here—that is to say, before Sydney was attacked by the German gun-boats—Miss Chester had to be removed, or secured, in some position of safety."
"I believe your conjectures to be just about correct," agreed Mr. Summers; "that is a feasible supposition; the only one that seems to fit the case. Now, the question is, where have they taken her? Do you think it possible they have taken her away by boat, or that a railway flight has been effected?"
"There I am at a loss to conjecture. One thing seems clear: if Nilda is still about the city, Gunsler must keep about as close as their captive. I only hope she is not molested or cruelly used."
"I think," said Mr. Summers, "you may make your mind easy on that score. I feel whatever his reason may be for this extraordinary conduct that Gunsler will behave like a gentleman toward Nilda, and will take scrupulous care of her."
"That just reminds me," interposed Mrs. Horton, who had listened to the conversation so far without expressing an opinion, "that I remember on one occasion Mr. Gunsler remarked to me his fear for Nilda if hostilities occurred here in Sydney. He seemed more concerned over Nilda than anybody else."
"No doubt," agreed her husband; "we begin to understand now the nature of his anxiety."
That evening the Hortons and Mr. Summers were joined for an hour before the evening session of the House by Mr. Horace Gresham, who showed the greatest concern about the disappearance of Miss Chester. It was on his suggestion that messages were sent to the police of every port to watch embarkations. He had, earlier in the day, volunteered to personally assist in the search; but Mr. Horton's advice was that the police and detectives wished for the present to be left with the matter in their hands, and believed they had a certain clue as to the direction which the fugitives had taken, and had reason to believe that Miss Chester had not left the environs of the city.
By this time all Australia was aflame with the war feeling. In every city, every town and hamlet in the Commonwealth, there was a rallying to the standard. The peaceful Commonwealth was attacked. The Queensland Rough Riders, the N.S. Wales Rifle Rangers, the bold Victorian Mounted Brigade wanted to be sent to the front to do battle for the Commonwealth. But where was the point of attack, and what could land forces do against a naval attack?
In each of the great capitals there was now the most acute apprehension, especially in view of the departure of the fleet north. Melbourne, for instance, clamored for more protection; only the destroyer Warrego, with a comparatively out-of-date armored gun-boat, was left to second the efforts of the harbour fortifications. Fitful messages were cabled to London that the Commonwealth was in danger of being seized by the enemy. Demands were made for immediate assistance! But what could be done? Since the British squadron in Eastern waters had been recalled—due to the compact with Japan—there was no British gun-boat nearer than the Cape of Good Hope; and every other vessel, within call of Home waters, had been requisitioned for the defence of the stricken heart of the Empire.
Was this the day so long forseen—the hour of England's sorest need?
Well may it be written down a crisis. War had come to the doors of the Commonwealth. The boom of big guns, the terror of actual invasion, the cry of the seagull along the coast seemed to echo the cry of warning that war—dread war—was come to Australia Felix.
Developments had occurred. It was now known for certain that it had been the intention of the invading German squadron to make the first attack upon Sydney, but at the eleventh hour it was decided that Brisbane should be the first port assailed. It has been explained that on this account the flagship had been delayed in Sydney harbour longer than would otherwise have been the case. That delay cost Australia dearly. It was said—and believed by the public—that unpardonable bungling had occurred in the ordering of the movements of the Australian squadron in the initial act of defence. It was said to be incredible that the Commander-in-Chief or the Vice-Admiral could be misled by messages "caught from the air" as to the movements of the invaders.
Anyway, in the event this is what occurred:
Before the Powerful could join the Commonwealth squadron, the battle had been fought—and lost!! Just a few miles outside that long promontory which shields the harbour of Brisbane, the opposing fleets had come into firing line. Without hesitation, without circumlocution, with the devil-daring precipitancy of the young tiger who had been taunted, of the lion's cub which had been assailed, the Australian fleet took on the enemy without the main fighting machine, and minus the Vice-Admiral, whose place it was to lead and direct the encounter.
In addition to the vessels mentioned, which had hurried from the south as described, H.M.S. Cambria and one of the Australian destroyers, the Yarra, had hastened out of Brisbane harbour to join the Australian squadron. The Parramatta (destroyer) remained in Sydney harbour. The sea fight was practically over in three hours. The range of at least one of the German boats proved superior to either of the Australian vessels; and though, as it transpired, only two heavy guns on the German flagship were used for the first 40 minutes of the encounter, much execution was done before the home fleet could get into effective action.
The utmost consternation was caused in Sydney and throughout the Commonwealth, when the news was flashed down that the home fleet had been worsted in the encounter off Brisbane waters; that one ship had been entirely disabled, and was believed to have been captured by the Germans, while as to the remainder, they were then seeking refuge in Brisbane harbour, fighting while retiring before the enemy; and that the gravest apprehensions were then felt in the northern capital as to what next would happen.
Now, for the first time, it may be said, fear swept across the horizon of the Australians. As with the United Kingdom itself, if our "first line of defence" were already broken, what might happen? What might not happen? A frenzy seized the people. Too impatient now to wait for the news through the ordinary, and extraordinary, issues of the newspapers, thousands and thousands crowded round the front doors of the great newspaper offices. King-street was never found to be so narrow; Pitt-street and its confluents by the "S.M. Herald" office saw masses of impatient citizens devouring summaries of items posted as they came to hand. . . . Ever it was the same kindly crowd that always characterised the metropolis of New South Wales. Though the war fever was in their veins, yet that courtesy and consideration for others which ever marks the Sydney man and woman was still there (If one must be in a crowd, it is better to be in a Sydney crowd than any crowd I know in any quarter of the world. "Pardon me pushing your, sir." "Yes, I know the other fellow is pushing you; it's all right.")
But what said the wires?
"The mines laid in and across the harbour, and the inner fortification, with the half-crippled vessels of the fleet, alone lay between the advancing German squadron and the destruction of the city of Brisbane."
The Powerful, having arrived near enough to apprehend the situation, made a gallant attempt to turn and retrieve the fortunes of the day. Thousands and tens of thousands of spectators drove out to the headlands and prominences of the coast, many of them carrying telescopes and field-glasses, to view the fray. It was seen that the Commonwealth flagship made a determined attempt to run the blockade, and rejoin the other members of the home fleet. But this brave attempt was thwarted by over-powering forces.
She practically ran into easy zone fire by two of the larger German boats, which had disengaged themselves from the squadron, and showed their determination to thwart the obvious purpose of the Australian Admiral. The latter engaged both the German men-of-war for upwards of three-quarters of an hour, one on either hand. What execution was done could not be definitely ascertained; but what looked like a short-lived explosion on one of the German boats had been noted, and, it is believed, one or two of her guns were put out of action. They continued, however, to close in on the Powerful, which—caught between two fires—seemed to be doomed, when it was noticed that the flagship put astern once again south, either to induce the German ships to withdraw from their fellows, and thus make the contest more favourable to the defending boats, or because it was once again made manifest that "discretion is the better part of valor," was not known. Anyway, the latest news in this connection indicated that the Powerful had shown superior steaming capacity to the German ships, and had escaped them. This was reckoned very good business.
The cables of the next morning gave startling information. It had been believed, and fondly hoped, that the mines and fortifications—though realised to be weak and at best second-rate—would, with the defending ships, be equal to the attack and repulse of the enemy.
What was the mortification on finding, in the hour of direct need, that three of the best and biggest guns in the forts had been hopelessly spiked, and that communications with the mines had somewhere been cut. This diabolical act, or acts, were only discovered when the enemy advanced over this dangerous seaway, without apparently a misgiving that anything untoward could possibly happen. The home fleet had retired within the danger zone, and there hauled up to face the enemy for a last determined stand. This inner encounter was not resumed till comparatively late in the day, when the two superior ships of the Germans, on one of which was the Admiral, had time to join the others. Then it transpired that only one of the series of mines which had been looked to with such effect exploded, and that without effect, as the upheaval was a moment late for one of the passing ships, and too early for the succeeding boat.
Surprise and indignation stirred the whole public of Brisbane and the State when the news spread forth that the mines and guns of the forts had certainly been tampered with at the last moment; and, in something like a panic, a court martial was held, and elicited what appeared to be correct information, that an important office had been held by a gunner who was a recent importation of unknown nationality (but reputedly not German), and that he, together with an electrician, had disappeared from their respective posts of duty at the last moment before the German invasion.
A cry now went up all over the Commonwealth, "Beware of the traitor in the camp!" What place could be held safe, or reasonably defended, which was not absolutely free from the enemy within our gates, or from the mercenary who, for dollars, would sell his honor and the lives of an innocent and confiding people?
Later.—Brisbane is being shelled by six of the German warships! Many of the shells fall short, as the defending vessels are still keeping the enemy from as near an approach as would prove disastrous.
Still Later.—A truce for 12 hours was effected, to consider an offer of the German Commandant, to spare the city of Brisbane from destruction on payment of an indemnity of £5,000,000!
It was morning an hour earlier; but she had fallen asleep late, and was late in awakening. And so soon as she opened her eyes there bent over her the benevolent face of Frau Heckler.
"'Tis the brightest of morning sunrises, and I hope it finds you rested, sweet lady."
"But how little you see of it here—here in this strange prison—it is a prison, is it not?"
"Oh, do not call it so, good lady—not a prison, but,"—hesitating for a word—"what do you call it?—a harbour of refuge till this storm be overpast."
"Yes, this storm, this storm of terror and wrong which your nation is cruelly and unjustly creating. God will judge your nation and your people for this great outrage!"
"Who can tell, my lady, whether this be of God's direction or not. Let us not discuss what we cannot judge."
Nilda sat up and carefully scrutinised for the first time by daylight the face of the woman who was thus made her guardian.
"You are quite German, are you not?"
"Yes, quite German, though my loved mother was from Alsace-Lorraine."
"Then she would not love Germany, surely; for were they not good French provinces—torn from the side of bleeding France as part of the price of victory, or rather, perhaps I should say, of defeat?"
"We were, I think, more German than French, even on my mother's side, for many Germans lived there, you know, before the war of 1870."
"Perhaps," meditated Nilda, "that was all part of the great design. Are you Germans insinuating yourselves everywhere? Tell me, were you for a time in England?"
"I visited England on two occasions with the illustrious family who employed me."
"And so you learned something of our language?"
"Partly so; and in part because all our family were taught—the boys especially."
"Yes, all of deep design. I am sure."
"Let us not talk of deep design, dear lady; so young and fresh the morning, let us bid care take flight. . . Yes, yes, you will take breakfast. . . See, here is a light wrapper—it will suffice; and see here the table. . . ."
This article had been introduced since mention of the furniture was made; upon it a snowy-white cloth and dainty ware, portion, Nilda thought, of a set of Dresden china, was set out most invitingly; and also there was a vase of fresh-cut flowers, roses and others, which gave a pleasant touch of home and comfort to the room.
Catching sight of these, Nilda said, "They are lovely, but——" she did not express the thought of other roses that came to mind; it was that thought—that they might be from the same giver—which made her turn from them with a shudder.
Then, being pressed, she consented to breakfast, and ate a lightly boiled egg and drank a cup of delicious coffee. She said she could not make such coffee. Frau Heckler said there was no need that Nilda should make anything, but if she deigned to learn, it would be her pleasure to instruct her.
It was after Nilda had breakfasted she suffered her guardian to dress her hair. The manner of doing so was revelation to the girl.
For a little space she sat brooding. Then came the unmistakeably soothing effect of the soft brushing by a practiced hand.
Painful as her position, strained her every thought, and outraged her feelings, yet Nilda was of such character she could not long remain churlish, nor requite kindness with complaint.
She caught the hand, as for a moment it rested; "how beautifully you do it; it is the first time, you know, since I was a little girl that anyone has brushed my hair. You do it as one native and to the manner born."
"I am so pleased. I thank you. It is to me a pleasure also. I had hoped I had not forgotten how to do it."
"You are used to it—I am sure you must be; you are so gentle; you do it as one to whom it is a pleasure."
"Even like that—it is a pleasure."
"Tell me, if you will, whose hair you used to brush?"
"There were several in years long ago; then one especially, the Lady L——"
"Yes, the Lady——; will you not complete it?"
"She was beautiful, too; her hair was just one little shade lighter than yours; her skin a little fairer; but her tresses were not so thick as yours, nor quite so long——" as she held out on either hand a specimen of Nilda's, as if to mentally measure them.
"And I suppose she had lovely dresses, jewels, carriages, servants—everything!"
"All those, and many other things, as became a great German lady," replied Frau Heckler.
"And balls and parties, dinners, fetes, receptions, theatres?" queried the girl.
"The box at the grand opera was always at her disposal—the theatres when the patronage or the company were good."
"Was she ever presented at Court?"
"Most certainly; and had the right of private entree to the boudoir of the Empress herself, because her near relation was a lady-in-waiting."
"Oh," sighed Nilda, "how delightful a life! You make me dream; I am sure I am dreaming now—with these poor eyes of mine wide open! . . . Will you not open the door please, and let the fresh air in that I might awaken?"
"So soon as you are dressed, my lady, for fear you might take cold. The breeze from the sea is so fresh this morning."
"Ah, you say 'the sea'—then we are by the shore? I felt it! Do you mean the sea—the ocean—or the harbour?"
"Say, dear lady, do you like your hair dressed in the Grecian mode or in the more common fashion."
"I do not care—what does it matter? Was ever captive so oddly placed? I am a prisoner, and am asked shall my hair be done in Grecian, latest Paris, or Sydney mode! I am captured and caged in four walls, and am called my lady, and waited on as if I really were such! . . Oh, it is too silly! . . . How long, good woman, is this farce to last?"
"Patience, little one," the motherly body replied; "call it by any other name, than that—a marvellous escape; a timely rescue by those whom you will soon come to know, to love, to thank. . . . Yes, yes, it is true; when out of this unhappy embarrassment, then you will understand—oh, yes, you will understand, and be very thankful. . . . And in the present, will you grant me one little favour—my honored one?"
"What in it?"
"You will promise not to be angry that I do not answer some questions—many questions—which you desire to have answered."
"Because you cannot, or will not answer them?"
"Rather say, dear lady, because I may not."
"You are under restraint; do you not see this cannot last? It would be better, surely, to answer all questions freely. If I am to be detained here, think how insufferable to add elements of mystery to it all. If I knew just why I was seized and brought to this place, what it is proposed to do next, where it is proposed to take me, if anywhere, I might—I do not say I would—become better reconciled to what is being done. Do you not see?"
Just then, the dressing having been completed, a slight tapping at the door drew Frau Heckler toward it. Some whispered word from outside caught Nilda's ear. "Who is it?" she demanded.
"It is only Hans."
"Who is Hans?"
"He is my husband, and begs to know when he may be permitted to pay his respects to your ladyship."
"Your husband? Is he my other gaoler, or head gaoler, of this penal establishment, and are there any, or many, others in this extraordinary case with myself."
"None but you, dear lady."
"If he is admitted, there will be at least some fresh air along with him. Oh, yes, please admit."
Hans Heckler entered, having himself unlocked the door, and closed it again as he entered. He bent graciously before Nilda as he advanced; then looked toward his wife for some word, for he was not ready of speech, nor did he speak English so readily as she did. Yet she did not speak, but meeting his eye as if with a question, and half-raising her hand toward Nilda, he looked again more directly. Then exclaimed, "'Tis she, in very truth, and not another! Elfrida from going by 20 years!" . . . Then, recovering himself, "Much pardon, my lady, I did forget in recollecting!"
At which paradoxical speech Nilda laughed for the first time for hours, and prayed to know what he had forgotten in what he had recollected.
"Ah, beautiful lady, the past has many, very many, recollections. Some happy; some not so happy; but let me count this great happiness, that we found—what we sought."
"You have me—is that what you mean, Mr. Heckler?"
"Yes, we have found you, lady, whom we came far to seek."
"Dear me; am I then really a person of such consequence that you should come from Germany to seek me out? When your wife told me almost as much, I did but laugh at her. . . . Now, having told me so much, I beg you tell me more—tell me all!"
Hans Heckler, with a deprecating look, and jerking both hands hastily upward—whatever that might mean—faltered some broken speech which meant to convey that in his recollections of facts there must be much that he had need to forget. . . . And he sought, clumsily enough, poor fellow, to turn conversation by asking Nilda did his flowers please her.
"They were yours—you gathered them, and sent them to me?"
"Then I thank you for them—they are very sweet. Do they grow here—is there a garden near?"
"Without the door; it is grand; for so little a garden, and so sheltered, the flowers do grow most lovely. Some I do not yet know the names of; perhaps you will tell me, lady."
"I shall be glad; please take me at once into the garden. I am tired of this place."
Again Hans moved uneasily. He went to the end of the chamber where his frau was engaged with the breakfast things, and spoke to her in German. He was anxious, almost distressed, when he returned to Nilda.
"Your pardon, lady, but my instructions are to guard you very zealously. For one hour in the day you are to walk in the garden with me; but only—I do crave your pardon—on condition——"
"What is the condition?" demanded Nilda.
"That you give your faithful promise, lady, that you will make no attempt to escape, nor make any call, or any noise to attract attention."
"Do you not see how unreasonable that is?" continued the girl. "There are people in Sydney, my good friends, who will be most anxious, painfully anxious, about me. I am sure they are searching now everywhere for me. Oh, I cannot bear to think of their anxiety. It hurts. It is cruel to leave them in suspense. They may think I am killed—murdered; I know not what! Cannot you understand that it is my duty to let them know, at the earliest possible moment, that I—that I am at least safe?"
"It is very unfortunate, lady, but that is just what they must not know. As you say, you are safe; it is to secure this safety that much trouble has been taken. Greater than you know. Great things have been done for you, lady. Shall I tell you how great, lady?"
"Let it be in the garden, if you please."
"Your promise, lady?"
"If needs be, I promise; I must get out of this room, to breathe—if but for an hour. Yes, I give you my word—for to-day. Sufficient for the day is the promise thereof."
"It is well; a promise from one of your house is as a bond from another."
They they went out of the door into a little garden that might have contained a thousand square yards. A seven feet galvanised iron fence surrounded it. Upon a balcony-verandah running round two sides of the house there was an adequate view over this fence of a secluded nook of water; but from the garden itself no outside view was obtainable. And it was plain at a glance how well-selected the retreat was. The residential portion of the house was high above the room she designated her prison. Thick foliage screened the garden from other residences in the direction opposite the water-way.
And it was here that Nilda walked for an hour in the garden with Hans Heckler, but her thoughts were of many things other than the flowers and the foliage which surrounded her.
It was true that the terror of the morning gave place to rejoicing in the afternoon, with good cause; for a most signal victory had been won by the timely strategy of Field Marshall Lord Roberts. On the height of Hockley, on the fields by Wickford, by the stream of Rochford, the shouts of victory went up; echoing over all the United Kingdom; thence over all the Empire, on which the sun never sets. The Germans were beaten in an open fight—beaten out of their boots! Hurrah for Roberts! Hurrahs—ten thousand hurrahs, for the boys of the bull-dog breed! . . . The slain lay in heaps. In the space of 170 acres, 19,000 dead Germans lay; and, many more thousands, wounded, shattered, maimed. The red-cross heroes and heroines were busy as the westering sun went down steeped in blood; busy were they rendering aid even to those who had come to slay and destroy England!
But Germany—Germany was mad at the news of the fearful repulse of the flower of the Imperial army. A million soldiers clamored to be sent to the front; but the front in this case, was the English Channel. Blessed Channel! More potent for defence purposes—given the guardian navy—than a million men. Yet it could not be that the mighty German Empire, having made the initial dash, having set its hands to the plough—the overthrow of the power of England—should cry halt, or back-down, while yet possibilities of success were unexhausted. . . . Every newspaper in Berlin, in the Empire in fact, save one comparatively insignificant section (that controlled by Labor-Socialism) cried out impatiently that Germany could not withdraw a step; could not withdraw a man; could not lessen a demand! . . . Yet, for five days after the defeat of the German Army, no other advance was attempted. . . . 160,000 German soldiers (approximately reckoned after the battle recorded) entrenched themselves behind higher breast works; 40,000 had been accounted for in killed; wounded, and taken prisoners. The total losses on the British side may now be stated: killed, 4,100, wounded, between 5,000 and 6,000; no prisoners.
Negotiations failed during those five days for the bringing about of peace, which negotiations were largely due to intercession of the European Powers, backed by America. Else the British Government had not waited these five days before beginning action on the offensive side. England's price for peace was offered immediately after the Rochford victory: "A profound apology from the German Emperor for the invasion of the Realm of Britain, and an indemnity of £100,000,000!"
Germany's reply followed:—Her terms of peace: An unequivocal surrender of the whole of New Guinea; the evacuation of Egypt; and the instant payment of £200,000,000!
Truly has it been written, "Neither Briton nor Teuton know when they are beaten."
This, then, was the situation between the belligerents, while yet each Power felt strong and competent to crush the other.
Of the respective damage done, England had been sorely wounded in her strongest arm—her navy.
Of Germany's hurt—so far as it touched her real strength (her army)—the tens of thousands who had fallen would not so much as be missed in the general massing of her battalions—not even if all her legion now on English soil had been obliterated.
Yet, at this same moment, the British navy paraded the Channel with its accustomed confidence and fearlessness. From highest officer to cabin boy and middy, if their language could have been rendered in the vernacular, it would have read—"Come along, sourkrout, and let's finish this thing right out!"
During this brief space of apparent inertia, when it was commonly supposed that Germany was really considering terms of peace, that happened which showed that the interval was really occupied in projecting the most astounding coup of the war. Germany suddenly threw an army of 100,000 men into Denmark; commandeered the few available war vessels, and every transport ship—big and little—that the Danes possessed.
With not so much as "by your leave," or "thank you for the loan," the mailed fist simply "high-wayed" the fleet; cut the wires—cut off, in a word, every means of communication, and, together with a vast fleet of their own merchantmen, made a dash for the Scottish coast! . . . When the world heard of this, it stood aghast at the impudence, and over-bearing arrogancy of a European war-lord in thus trespassing, and treading down a comparatively defenceless neutral power, and, by force of might, seizing that neutral's ships to prosecute its war with great Britain. . . . "The end justifies the means," urged the leading newspapers of Berlin, which goes to show that there are other Jesuits than those of the Roman Hierarchy.
But it was only by reason of the sorest straits that the German Emperor and his Ministers decided on this display of semi-piracy. The relief of the now besieged German army on English soil demanded any measures, however extraordinary, on the part of their country; and, as it was impossible for them to effect a landing as the others had done by the shorter cut across Channel, seeing the British navy was concentrated in force in mid-Channel, the daring plot, as stated, was conceived, and as daringly put into execution. . . . Strange to say, it was from Norway—reputedly from King Haarkon—that the first word came to London that a great, secret, silent armada was stealing out from the shores of Denmark.
This armada was joined by every available fighting vessel which the Emperor could spare from his shattered fleet. The cables had it that 21 or 22 fighting ships certainly accompanied this Scottish descent of the auxiliary army. The rapidity of the whole movement was remarkable. It was true, they were sighted by vessels travelling the northern coasts; these, though not numerous, were again moving in the interests of commerce, though warily, since the few days earlier re-established confidence that the British navy held command of the Channel. But by the time they were actually sighted by these trading vessels, they were so near their destination as to make it certain that nothing would prevent a landing, which took place on the 11th day after the landing of the first invading army of 200,000 men.
For a brief period we must leave them, to record what was being done elsewhere. So soon as the northern invasion was known to be a fact, a resolute forward movement of army and navy took place. Half the warships were ordered to invade the German coast, while 11 of the best ships remaining proceeded north to encounter and smash the fleet escorting the northern invaders. These 11 gun-boats were accompanied by a number of cruisers and a crowd of destroyers and torpedo boats.
Fortunately, the lighter battleships were, under the circumstances, equal to the occasion of invading the German coast, seeing the way was practically clear; also they were the better adapted for the work, for in many places the water-way is comparatively shallow. The first actual bombardment was that on Heligoland, that rock-fortress which England bartered—perhaps foolishly—for some concession in remoter parts. Three hours' bombardment met with fierce reply. The upshot was that every small vessel about the island was destroyed; there was evidence that the citadel had been damaged; many men must have been killed or injured; but the batteries of the solid fortifications were not silenced; these continued to reply with such heat and bravery that the English Admiral commanding decided to discontinue operations for the present, and push on to more effective work. Which was wise enough, for there were many less difficult places to reduce; and the open ocean itself offered prizes which would hurt Germany more, in the immediate present, and offer less hurt and injury to the British men and ships.
Here it should be stated that the German coast line is thoroughly protected by powerful fortifications and an elaborate system of mines, and 350,000 organised troops are told off for its defence on mobilisation. The North Sea Canal, from Brunsbuttel, where two large docks were recently constructed, to the naval base of Kiel, gives the German fleet a means of reaching the Baltic without passing round the Danish coast. (The canal was also lately enlarged to accommodate Dreadnoughts). The main German base in the North Sea is Wilhelmshaven, and, like the advanced positions at Heligoland and Borkum, all strongly fortified.
Contrary to expectations, there was no bombardment of Kiel; but at the port of Emden, in the space of a few hours, such a number of craft of all denominations were sunk in the fair-way as to effectively blockade the water passage. This, for so important a shipping centre, was disastrous to the Germans. Other craft were set on fire by the British attack, and the cables reported that the scene at night, after the bombardment, was one of glory and terror. No hurt had been sustained by the British ships as a result of the fire or the land batteries. Then messages stated that the cruisers of the fleet, leaving the battleships to blockade every important port on the German coast, made a rapid buccaneering run from the vicinity of Heligoland to Flushing with rich results. Seven large freight and passenger steamers had been captured; and a dozen smaller ships of Germany's mercantile fleet were also made prisoners, including several with full cargoes of wheat and meat. . . . Germany was now still more mad; for, hot upon the demand for England's surrender at the command of William, here was evidence that the whole volume of German trade was now at the mercy of hated Britain. . . . Loud and angry were the protests which now went up from the common people. The authorities, it was contended, had greatly erred in leaving the Channel and German ports unprotected in order to effect a landing in Scotland. . . Worse still, for the peace, harmony and unity of the Empire, the fast-growing socialistic element throughout the Kaiser's dominions was turbulent and antagonistic to an alarming degree. Truth to say, from the very inception of the war, the Socialists were opposed to the mad ambitions of the Emperor and Government. No severer diatribes emanated from any quarter of Europe than from this section of the Kaiser's subjects. In every city, town and hamlet there were noisy meetings of Socialists, at first doing no more than condemning the war; but now—concurrent with the practical invasion by the British navy—they clamored for a cessation of hostilities and the conclusion of peace—almost at any price. . . For they were well aware—the poor always are—whose shoes would soonest pinch, for already the price of food was advancing. Germany, with the creation of her great carrying fleets, had also created demands for outside supplies; and with these freight fleets disabled, or removed, there began to yawn before the eyes of all Germany the deep holes which they had dug for others—but into which they were themselves likely to fall!
It was said—with what foundation the writer knows not—that the most pitiable thing—and the most exasperating from some points of German view—was the chafing of the whole mighty German army. Upwards of 3,000,000 highly trained men, yearning to fight for their country's honor—and perhaps her life!—could do no more than look on in idle impotency; and that they cursed the British Channel! . . . While Britons looked to Heaven, and gave thanks.
A whole week had gone by, and no tidings of Nilda Chester had been received. The police admitted they were baffled; admitted with humiliation that it was possible for a young lady of striking appearance to disappear from the entrance of one of Sydney's principal places of amusement, without leaving a trace—just as though the earth had opened and swallowed her. The police had followed supposed clue after clue, but only to be baffled. They confessed they were now unable to determine whether Miss Chester was still in the State, or had been mysteriously conveyed out of the harbour—they did not believe it possible the departure had been by railway, but rather by some waiting boat, which, in the shape of a pinnace, might have conveyed her to a German ship. For now it had somehow got abroad, adding greatly to the public interest in the case, that the missing young lady, though claiming or advancing no pretensions whatever of this character, was being claimed by a German house of princely standing, as a missing member of the family, whose security it was necessary to effect before hostilities should commence against the city of Sydney. . . . Certainly, Mr. Horton had put out no story of that kind, and yet there it was—in its way a remarkable evidence of the way newspapers find out things.
So clamant did the Press now become in this "romance of the siege," as one journal had it, that the matter was introduced into Parliament itself. . . . A young member of the House, it was recorded, whose gallantry was unquestioned (it was Mr. Gresham), suggested to the Premier that it was a case in which the Government might very properly offer a substantial reward for information which might lead to the discovery of the missing young lady. . . . The Premier, Mr. McG——, whom Hansard reporters declared had not smiled for a month, declared that the State coffers were so miserably depleted as not to justify his making any appropriation of the kind suggested, adding, that in any case the young lady's connections were believed to be moneyed people who might very properly charge themselves with such a reward as the hon. member had suggested. . . This brought a somewhat indignant reply from Mr. Gresham—that the missing young lady practically had no near relation, but rather stood in the position of an orphan. Born and bred in this State, a fond and faithful child of it. Was citizenship of the mother State, he asked, fallen to so low and indifferent a status as to make it possible for anyone to be seized, spirited away, and deserted in this un-British fashion? What were things coming to? . . . "To a very bad pass," the Premier admitted, "when the mere disappearance of an individual could scarcely claim the attention of the House, which did not know how many days—how many hours, in fact—were to elapse when the places which knew them to-day might know them no more for ever."
Whereupon almost a scene occurred in the Chamber.
Many cries from the Opposition benches were heard, such as "What pitiable weakness!" "About time we closed up, and let the Germans take the running!" While yet another, who liked not the "secret power behind the Treasury benches," hissed out, "Why don't you say at once that you cannot promise to make any trifling grant for this purpose till you ask the Caucus?"
It was the graceful Demosthenes who came, as was his wont, to the rescue. The slim Attorney-General (the adjective here is not used in the Boeric sense) was plainly grown more slim since he came to the cares of office. Always a light-weight, now his classic features were sharp, even pinched. His wavy hair, already streaked with grey; his full, fair eye, weary as for want of sleep; his pace—even as he walked across the Chamber, robbed of its old-time buoyancy. . . . "Get up, Holly," whispered a partizan sitting at the back of him. . . . . And though he spoke but four minutes, the House cheered, and once again was won by the power of fair words. "Who is there among us, being a father or a brother, whose tenderest sentiments will not awaken, whose chivalry would not be touched, whose choler would not rise in such a case of outrage as this? . . . Are we no longer mindful of our little ones? of our weak ones? Shall it ever be said of this city that its fair daughters, once the pride of this great metropolis of the south, may be kidnapped from under our very eyes, and that we in craven fear, or in fearful pre-occupation, shall tamely sit down under such circumstances, as though we were in such sorry condition, as to tacitly say, 'Every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost!!'" . . . Premier Mac. looked uneasy. . . The House was evidently with the maker of forensic speeches. . . . "The noblest Roman of them all!" cried the stentorian voice of Miller, of Monaro.
"He has just saved the situation!" replied ruddy Donaldson, of Wynyard.
Quick in diplomacy, as apt in debate, the member for Cootamundra, did effectively save the situation by begging the Speaker to allow him to give notice for next evening that, with the consent of the Premier, he would move "that a Government reward of 250 guineas be offered for such information as would lead to the discovery of the missing young lady, Miss C. N. Chester."
And so it came about that early the next evening, the Attorney-General's motion was carried on the voices, the Premier consenting.
* * * * *
All unconscious of what was being done on her behalf—and least of all suspecting, or desiring, such publicity and public excitement concerning her—Nilda ate and drank, and slept, as in a strange dreamland; nevertheless slowly realising, and to some extent unravelling the plot in which she was, in a sense, the central figure.
Little by little, won bit by bit from unwilling lips, she had gathered together and woven into something like an intelligible story—as foundation, if not explanation, of all that had happened to her—the unknown past, with what now immediately concerned her immediate present and future. This being so, she was less embarrassed as to the cause of her detention, yet restless and weary, nay anxious, at her enforced imprisonment, because of the anxiety which she felt assured would be experienced by her friends.
* * * *
Every morning, for at least one hour, Nilda was permitted to walk in the garden, and even to do a little cultivation among the flowers, when she expressed a wish to do so. Her companion was Hans Heckler, who never for a moment left her; so carefully was she guarded, and because she had given her word—yet chafing under it all—she made no attempt to escape.
By this time a certain intimacy had sprung up between the captive and her "guardians"—as they insisted on being termed and regarded.
"Hans, tell me why do you seem specially to honor this flower?" asked Nilda, as she pointed to a rather fine cluster of cornflowers.
"Do you not know, lady?" as he held up a spray, and regarded it lovingly. "It is the national flower of our Fatherland." . . So had they progressed in a week, so had friendship, even after this constrained order, brought them somehow together, that the old man used "our" as applying as equally to Nilda as to himself.
"This,"—exclaimed Nilda—"this common and insignificant little thing, the national flower of your great Empire?"
"Our great Empire, lady," he corrected.
Nilda waived aside the correction. "Then that is why you have so carefully tended them. You surprise me. We think very little of the cornflower in Australia. Have you, then, in Germany so few flowers that you must needs be driven to so poor a little thing to honor so highly?"
"It is little, 'tis true; but not poor, lady. Have you considered it. Look closely into it now. Note how perfect its whiteness, now delicate its centre of pink. Will you pull apart its petals, your fingers are more delicate than mine. . . How, many? Yes, 15, and each is tipped with 10 scallops; so there are 150 points to this one little flower, not to mention the score of points in the centre. . . Oh, no, it is not insignificant. Then, please you, note the variety; in Germany we have greater variety; but ever as I walk and work in this strange garden, I am pleased that the cornflower grows here; it is a bit of Germany in a strange land. See now those bunches," as he led her a few paces further along the path; "here are blue, purple, magenta, wine-colored cornflowers! Dear lady, love them for your homeland's sake."
"Good Hans, pretty as they are, in contrast and variety, they are not to be compared to the roses. Come now and let us pick a few;" and she gathered a fragrant cloth-of-gold, a Maman Cochet from one bed, a common cabbage rose from another, and again from a sunny side of the high garden wall, where climbing roses had been trained by some rose-lover long before the coming of Hans Heckler with his strange mission of peace in the hour of peril, Nilda, with a little scissors supplied by Hans, snipped first a red rambler from a limb high as she could reach, a fragrant Noella-narbonnan, dark crimson, only a dozen leaves to make a flower 10 inches in circumference; then two or three close-set, light-shaded Countess de Bath in pink, for contrast; and, lastly, a full white Rev. T. C. Cole. . . "Tell me now, good Hans Heckler, do not your poor little cornflowers pale into utter insignificance alongside those gems of our garden—of any garden in the world, for that matter? And the rose is England's national flower."
"They are very beautiful, lady."
"And they smell good, too," said Nilda. . . . "Have Germans any sense of smell?" queried Nilda, in the most matter of fact manner, innocent of any suspicion of sarcasm.
"Why not, lady?"
"Why, then, did they choose the cornflower of all others—if there are any others; but you did not answer that question, Hans?"
"Others!" in amazement. "Ah, you shall see, and be surprised. Others? Verily, there are hundreds and thousands." Thereupon he began to enlarge on the flora of Germany, "comprising," he declared, "quite 3,000 species of the phanerogamic family, and about——"
"The phanero—what family, Hans? I never heard of it," interrupted Nilda.
"I think it means, in botany, the plants that have their reproductive organs visible."
"Dear me, how learned you are in those matters, Hans."
"I ought to be, lady, for my life has been lived among plants and flowers. In the glorious gardens of your uncle, the Duke of—— that is to say (he had forgotten his instructions in his interest in botany)—I was 10 years in charge as chief."
"Whom did you say was my uncle?" cried Nilda. "Am I, then, the niece of a Duke?"
"I forget my things, lady. . . . I was about to tell you of the 4,000 cryptogamic plants."
"Four thousand crypto-grandmothers! No, please, no! I want to hear of other things far more. Where are the gardens of the Duke of——"
"Listen, lady; one thing at a time; you did ask me to explain. Permit me. You do not know the cryptogamics?"
"Indeed, no; bother the cryptogamics! What are cryptogamics compared to an uncle who is an Earl—nay, a Duke? Hans! why do you tantalise so? You have mentioned my uncle; tell me of him. At least, tell me his name."
"Dear lady, what if he is not your uncle? Forgive an old fool's bungling. I am a very stupid old man. Forgive it, please."
"You are not stupid, but intensely provoking. There——" and she threw the flowers she held at Hans Heckler's feet, and, pretending greater heat of temper than was really the case, flew to the other side of the garden wall, which faced what she believed to be a thoroughfare, though not a sound of any vehicle was ever heard passing that way. . . . And as she sped along she picked a handful of Hans' choicest cornflowers, as if out of pure cussedness; oh, yes, it was very well acted, for one who had never in her life acted deceitfully. Extracting from her pocket a very tiny scrap of paper already tied with a piece of cotton, she, pretending for a moment to be tying a nosegay of the Fatherland flower, the while Hans was gathering up the roses; and, as he was meekly walking with these in his hands towards Nilda, she as being still angry, looked for a moment at the white, purple and blue of the flowers, and then, in well-affected contempt, threw them high over the garden wall.
Hans Heckler was a very honest, simple, confiding fellow, and suspected nothing; his one idea now was to placate his charge.
"I am truly sorry, lady, that I did offend."
"Oh, 'twas nothing. Don't mention it. I am afraid that this long confinement has told upon my nerves. And all this strange worry, and stranger talk, and dread uncertainty as to what will happen next—as to what may really be happening now, while we do but moon about among the flowers of this little garden, as if we had no larger concerns than the bees and the butterflies! . . . . Cannot you understand, Hans?" Saying which Nilda put her hand to her head, as if it ached.
"Yes, indeed, lady. I do well understand. Will you come in now and rest? I will call the frau, and she shall give you a glass of wine."
"No, Hans. 'Tis hotter here. Rest! I have rested in there—if it be rest—a hundred years! I shall grow old before my time. It is a cruel thing to keep a girl from her friends. . . . I wonder now long?" And so distressed did she seem that Hans was really concerned; and, entreating her to take his arm, led her to a garden seat, and put the roses down beside her.
Then Nilda relaxed into her softest manner, and was very gracious again to Hans, as she replied to a fear he expressed. "Very well, Hans, I will not tell Frau Heckler that you vexed me—indeed, I was in the wrong; I behaved very like a naughty child; now, I will be good. You may tell me of 'phangarics,' or 'cryptogarics,' or what you please; and I—I shall sit as did the student sit at the foot of the august Gamaliel, and, in reverence, listen; for you are really learned in botany, and you have been very patient with me, Hans." . . . Whereupon she touched his rough, brown hand, and, visibly affected, he lifted hers to his lips, and bent over it.
"You are the most gracious lady. It is in your blood. I know it. I know it of old. I am not mistaken."
"Yes, good Hans, pray go on."
"Some day I will tell you all. . . . But now . . . now you would know more of the many flowers of the dear Fatherland and of gardens the most beautiful."
"Have you seen our Botanical Gardens, Hans? They are something to talk about. Yes, truly, they are the most beautiful gardens in the world, I think."
Hans had not seen them.
"Then, before you go back you must see them. It is Sydney's Paradise. The grass is the greenest and softest; the statuary so well placed; the trees so diverse; and, best of all, the walled-walk by the blue water—a crescent shape; divine by nature; perfected by art; and, as you look over the wall, there is a panorama lovely as a scene in Venice or Naples."
"Hans," cried a voice, "the hour is more than up."
How could Brisbane possibly raise five millions to buy off the invader?
That was the cry of all who heard of the terrible demand that had been made on the people of the northern capital, and to which the associated banks made reply that, after consultation, they could not pay so large an amount in cash; but with the aid of all available bullion, and some securities which the Germans might consider good enough to accept, the most they could offer amounted to three and three-quarter millions. . . . The offer was refused; and but a few hours further respite were granted. . . . Urgent messages were sent to Sydney and to the Federal Government for advice, for assistance; but these were not forthcoming. And thus the hour of Brisbane's panic grew to a crisis.
Generally speaking, young Australia cried, "Dare them, and d——n them! Give them battle to the last shot and the last man!" . . . But these cries were for the most part from afar off—away from the din of battle and from the smell of powder. There were Utopian hopes that help would arise from some quarter; but from where? Could magic navies spring up out of enchanted isles? It is true that a forlorn hope was nursed by many that New Zealand would send along what assistance she could. But as it happened at the time of the sudden invasion, there had been a temporary arrangement with the sister Dominion that for a period of six months New Zealand's fleet proper should cruise in Australian waters, while the two cruisers, and several smaller craft, did patrol duty along the coasts of Maoriland, it could not fairly be expected that the New Zealand Government would run the risk of leaving their ports unprotected by gun-boats; more especially as by the implied independence of the Australian Governments—principally the Federal Government—which as good as told the Imperial authorities that the Commonwealth was going to attend to its own defence, the central naval depot was changed from where it had so long remained (Sydney) to Auckland, and the fleet went with it.
The big guns had destructively begun to play upon Brisbane, when the panic on the part of the people actually brought forth the ransom which saved the city. Rich merchants unearthed their treasure, ladies despoiled themselves of their jewels, thousands of people brought offerings rare and grotesque in many instances, and, laden with these, a fast boat, bearing the flag of truce, bore out to the Admiral's vessel, which had belched a whole broadside fair into the city. It is said that when the Admiral saw the additional peace-offerings, he at first swore, then laughed, and ordered the discontinuance of the bombardment of Brisbane.
Thus the first Australian city capitulated to the Germans; to the honor of the remnant of the home-fleet, be it said, they did not surrender; that was the remarkable part of the event—contrary reports to the opposite effect notwithstanding. They lived to fight another day—and they had not run away.
Remarkable as it may seem, the Germans did not remain to do further battle with the still unconquered Australian ships. It was said at the time that the reason for this was that the Germans were not sure of the water; that is, they did not know the harbour sufficiently well to manoeuvre in battle. Be this as it may, having exhausted the last penny in tribute from the city of Brisbane, they left.
* * * *
Now, all kind of rumours flashed south—indeed, from every point of the compass—as to what would happen next. Sydney, it was predicted, would be the next point of attack, and a furore of excitement was evident on every hand.
In the meantime, the reader will want to hear how matters were proceeding at the heart of the Empire.
Goaded by the public demand to remove the enemy from British soil, impelled by every sense of honor and the traditions of England, backed by the individual heroism of the troops, Generals Roberts and Kitchener had thrice stormed the Germans in their entrenched positions—with great loss. For once again it was demonstrated that 10,000 men can hold any reasonably fortified position against 50,000 men storming that position. The heavy artillery, the maxims and quick-firing rifles, behind which was the ablest generalship of the age, went to show that it was almost impossible to dislodge the Germans from the patch of British soil they had dared to take possession of.
Seeing that 22,000 men had fallen in these attempts, the more cautious, the more steady-pulsed of England's public men and writers advised that England ought not thus to sacrifice her sons; for victory must come to them by a mere exercise of tact and patience. Every day was reducing the supplies of the invading legion; it was only a matter of perhaps a week when the Germans must capitulate for want of food, for the consumption of so large an army was enormous.
But the trouble was that it seemed imperative that the British troops must dispose of the invaders who were lodged so near the heart of the Empire, before they could move in force to meet the northern invasion.
Here report confirmed report that the landing of the Germans in the south of Scotland had been effected with comparatively little loss and difficulty. They had at once established a basis, into which were gathered very considerable supplies. Skirmishing parties had raided the immediate country, though not without loss, for quick upon the heels came troops from the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and all military stations and batteries around the coast, so that, while not in a position to storm the invaders, they held the enemy in check till reinforcements were forthcoming.
Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener went north to meet the invader. He took with him 20,000 Territorials, two battalions of infantry, a large proportion of the Horse Guards, and these, with a general mobilization of the Scottish militia, made an army of close on 80,000 men. Besides there were 15,000 Boy Scouts—the senior cadets of the Kingdom—under the command of General Baden-Powell.
And here the narrative may well pause for a moment to dwell with pride and pleasure upon the part taken by the Boy Scouts. For the first time in the history of war, the big boys of England took part—and a very conspicuous part—in defence of their country. Recalling to mind the words of Mrs. Hugh Dixson, of Summer Hill, who had just come back from a year's trip to England (that was in the latter part of 1910). Writing to a Sydney paper regarding the Boy and Girl Scout movement she said: "It has not only spread wonderfully throughout England, but it has invaded the countries of the continent." Mrs. Dixson believes it is most practical. "Why," she said, "the Boy Scouts will be the best help in war-time that England ever had." . . . And this: "Yes, people in England are frightened of Germany. And they have precious good need to be frightened of her, too. The fact is, they were afraid to spend enough money on defence."
"Frightened!" Well, perhaps they needed to be alarmed; for so absolute, so restful, so reassuring was the faith of the British people in their "first line of defence," that all else seemed really not to matter very much. If the foe could never land upon British soil, where was the danger, or where the necessity of crowding the land with soldiers? It was Lord Milner, in the course of a speech at Canterbury about the same date, who declared that with more to lose than the others, Britain had stopped far short of others in the work of self-protection: "She had left the bulk of her manhood without any military training, and relied solely on her navy. This was unfair to the navy, and, in the event of an European struggle, would be unfair to her allies."
However that may be, the British navy in the hour of trial, never uttered a word of complaint. So true beats the heart of the British tar. Complain that too much was being put upon him? Complain because Britain trusted, with sublime confidence, her life, her prestige, her safety, to the man upon the water? Oh, no, he was proud to be so trusted! The word "Failure" never entered the vocabulary of Jack Tar. Little wonder that Britain was proud of and that Britons love their navy.
Touching in the extreme were messages flashed along the ocean beds of the general rally of the Boy Scouts. From ten thousand homes a boy went forth—the loved boy of the house, the hope of the house, the mother's treasure, the father's pride. Went forth to actual battle; not merely to put up records as messengers, or merely to do smart scouting, but to use his gun upon the enemy. And when the bands played these lads out of the towns and villages in old England, and across the borders, the echo of the deep emotions which overcame the mothers of Britain found response in every far-away dependency of the Empire.
* * * *
The enemy lost little time in advancing. Three days after the landing, it was cabled they had begun their march south, ostensibly for the relief of their beleaguered compatriots; and it is believed their instructions were, "No turning back nor aside; but forward, to victory or to death!"
The rival armies were every hour approaching one another; slowly, because of the huge impediments of war, they drew nearer. On the fifth day the conflict began. In men, if the cadets be included, the English were slightly in excess; in fighting capacity, the odds lay with the Germans, seeing that in training, in physique, in equipment, this second German army of invasion, like the first, again stood for the flower of the great military Empire's men-at-arms.
On the fourth day—it was a race for position—the pace increased—it was said to be one of the most rapid marches ever recorded by a considerable army. From Lammermuir, over the Moorfoot Hills, across Yarrow and Ettrick and Teviot, the German army came to the Cheviot Hills, which same mark the confines of England and Scotland; deluged many a time in long-gone years with the blood of Saxon and Celt and the ever-brave sons of the Highlands and Lowland, before they learnt that internecine war was race-suicide. Now a common enemy, the "Mailed Fist" that threatened to dominate Europe, as the First Napoleon had done a hundred years before, was upon them. . . . Had dared forth to brave the Lion in his den!
Not less rapid was the British advance, facilitated, of course, by the great lines of railway, all traffic being suspended to give place to soldiers and baggage. As a matter of fact, three-fourths of the army were two days in advance of their commissariat; for Kitchener had roughly chosen the battle ground ere the armies were within many miles of one another; but so well did the people of the border rally to the succour of the army that they wanted for nothing.
Here the British and the Germans were to meet on even terms, neither seeking nor desiring cover or breast works. Here upon another Flodden was history to repeat itself. Not now a question of the supremacy of Scotland or England—James IV. or Henry VIII.—but a far wider world-wide question: Imperial Britain v. Imperial Germany. . . . Not often has the author turned aside to recall pages of early British history; the temptation to do so here for a brief space is irresistible. Just 400 years ago—in 1513—James, at the head of perhaps the largest army Scotland had assembled, invaded the kingdom of his brother-in-law, the libertine Henry. In a sense, which may not be considered strained, he stood then a champion of a wanton ambition (albeit to further the claims of France), in no more favourable light than these other Continental invaders who were now upon the borders of English soil. . .. . And here a remarkable passage in James Grant's "British Battles" (The Romance of War) obtrudes interestingly: "The Scot came down in five columns, each a bow-shot apart, in perfect silence and order. This absence of sound has been remarked by all historians. They marched like the Germans, without talking or making any noise." . . . What son of Scotland but saddens, even to this day, at memory of Flodden? . . It was the folly of a King that caused the day to be so ruinous. Had James but allowed Berthwick to fire upon the ford, to destroy the bridge. . . . But no, it is not of that, but this. . . . Suffice to say that King James fell mortally wounded, shot in the head and pierced by several arrows, lying within a spear's length of the victorious Earl of Surrey; but his body was nobly defended by his knights and nobles till night and darkness put an end to the carnage. . . . Not now—and, please God, never again—did Scots and English fight save side by side.
Not now do kings ride at the head of the armies, to have their heads riddled by bullets; but that would be the best fate for some of them—more especially when war is largely of their making.
It was inevitable to recall Flodden; but not in the exact field of that memorable battle did Lord Kitchener encounter the German host. It was a little south of Flodden, and nearer Wooler. The enemy were allowed to cross the Tweed; and between the foothills of the Cheviots and the little river Till, there is space and freedom for dashes, for surprises, for ambushes, for squadrons to manoeuvre, for cavalry to play with freedom, for batteries to score. On one side was the river, on the other side the hills; and right back of them was the Tweed; ahead of them was—England. It was a rare place to fight to a finish. . . . And this is what the cables said in substance of the first day's encounter:—
"The northern army of invaders, under General Grantz, was met at 11 a.m. by the British troops. A fierce bombardment by the fixed batteries and companies of artillery marked the first four hours of the conflict. Every hour the cannonading of the British forces is being added to as fresh guns are being brought into position, outnumbering the field pieces of the enemy. Lord Kitchener's position and distribution of forces held to give decided advantage. In all probability the Germans will to-morrow make a supreme dash, when a close and sanguinary struggle is inevitable."
A fortnight, and no news of Nilda.
Her friends, the police, the public were baffled and mystified. Reluctantly the police authorities had to acknowledge that every clue, or supposed clue, had failed to lead them on the right track. A rumour that gained a good deal of credence was to the effect that Miss Chester had been spirited away by a party of Germans who had lately been missed from the city; that she was taken on board a German boat that had been reported as having been sighted near the coast.
During this period one of the most frequent visitors to the home of the Hortons was Mr. Gresham, who, notwithstanding his Parliamentary duties and special and extended sittings of the House in view of the alarming condition of affairs and the peril of the country, made time to call frequently at Linden to enquire, and to formulate new plans of investigation, for they could not sit idly by, nor rest, with the feeling of uncertainty and apprehension as to what fate had overtaken the girl who had so favourably impressed every one who had come to know her.
"No news of Nilda," was daily the 'phoned message from Linden to the Bowery. Mr. Summers, on his own account, had exhausted every possible field of search.
Then something happened. It was in the "Evening News" that a par. appeared to this effect:—
"Touching the strange disappearance of Miss Chester, an unexpected development has occurred. A school girl returning to her home at Mosman a few days ago was given a small bunch of flowers by another child returning from school. It was not until the flowers were being removed from a vase that the mother of the child to whom the flowers had been given—previous to being thrown away—appeared to notice that a small scrap of paper was attached to the stems. This, though water-logged, is said to have contained a message to the effect, 'Nilda Chester a prisoner here.' The message has been handed to the police. Where the 'here' may be is for the smart detective to ascertain; but the pleasing fact remains, supposing the message to be authentic, that the police have now something definite to work upon. Also it will be gratifying to the friends of the missing young lady to feel assured that Miss Chester has not been 'spirited away,' but is somewhere still in our midst, and has thus contrived, in an ingenious manner, to make the fact known."
Post-haste came down Mr. Summers, with the par. in his pocket. Likewise half-a-dozen copies of the paper, from as many interested friends, who had already found their way to Linden.
"At last," cried Nilda's oldest friend, "here is news which will surely enable us to find her."
"Let us hope so," replied Mr. Horton. "Tell me would you be certain to recognise Nilda's writing?"
Mr. Summers thought he would.
"Then I propose we make up a party, with the concurrence of the police officials, to search every likely place about Mosman. By the way, do you know where Gunsler lived over there?"
(It should be mentioned that since the disappearance of Nilda nothing whatever had been seen of Mr. Gunsler. The inference drawn from this fact was conclusive enough).
Mr. Summers thought Gunsler had never definitely mentioned his place of residence.
They at once set off to the office of the Chief of Police, first with the object of seeing, if possible, the slip of paper bearing the alleged message from Miss Chester, and getting the superintendent's concurrence in their proposed search. In regard to the first matter, after some little circumlocution, the insignificant scrap of paper was produced, and the writing upon it, Mr. Summers declared, was sufficiently like his ward's calligraphy to leave no doubt upon his mind that it was genuine; while in the matter of assisting in the search, this was rather discountenanced. The police, declared the officer, were now unquestionably on the right track, and had better be left to work out their plan without outside interference. Mr. Horton was not content to concede to the view. A compromise was effected. That was Friday evening, if, within 24 hours, nothing definite had been discovered, Mr. Horton and his friends were at liberty to follow out the trail as they thought best.
So, forced to possess their souls with what patience was possible, they took no further active steps until the following evening, when it transpired the police had not effected a rescue.
Mr. Horton, Mr. Summers, Tom, and Mr. Gresham met by appointment at quite an early hour on the Sunday morning following, to spend the whole day walking every street, alley and avenue in the pretty and fairly populous marine suburb, which has of recent years grown into such favour, presenting in the mass such rich splashes of color, red and other tints, as seen from the harbour; as viewed on the spot, so many quaint and varied designs in residences, such mossy banks, such evidences of art and industry on the part of the thousand middle-class who had crossed the water to make happy homes for themselves and their little ones.
They were together at the start, but only for a little while. Gresham and Tom took one division, Horton and Summers another. It was in the beat of the latter two, as designed, that they came upon the tenement of the people who had actually found Nilda's little note. "Oh, yes, gentlemen," said the good woman of the house, "it was my little Kate who brought the flowers home—they were, I think, only cornflowers. I did not at the time pay any attention to them. Kate herself put them in a little vase in her room; it was only when I came to throw them out that I chanced to notice the piece of paper tied to the stems. . . . And you really think it was from the missing young lady?"
"We feel quite certain of it," was Mr. Horton's answer.
"Well, how strange it all is," she remarked. "I do wish I could help you. How dreadful for that poor young lady to be made a prisoner, and kept perhaps in some cellar. Is it true them Germans have got her?"
"It is possible," agreed Mr. Summers; "but not for long I trust, as we have great hopes of now coming upon her hiding place." Then he closely questioned the good woman as to the child from whom the flowers had been obtained by her girl Kate. The latter was called and examined, when it transpired that she received the flowers from a little girl not more than 8 or 9 years old, she thought, named Tilly Andrews. She could not say where Tilly lived. This was unsatisfactory, but, convinced they were on the right track, they set off in search of the unknown Tilly. . . . By arrangement, they met at the top of the block, and the four searchers then cut out the task of dividing pretty well the whole of Mosman between them. Only those who essay the task will rightly understand how big Mosman has grown. Again dividing forces, two to a street, one to each side, they breathed the name of Andrews at every tenement, big and little; but no one knew or had heard of Tilly Andrews. From morning till evening the search lasted, till every house in Mosman had been questioned—of course, without result, for Tilly lived in no Mosman house; but Katie's information was nevertheless correct, so far as it went. . . . And in the evening, tired, they began to despair of Tilly's reality.
"Tell you what we shall have to do," concluded Mr. Gresham: "Advertise for Tilly."
"Wonder we did not think of that before," agreed Mr. Horton. . . That evening they wrote out two advertisements, to appear in Monday morning's papers, enquiring for the whereabouts of one Tilly Andrews, supposed to live at Mosman.
* * * *
That same Sunday evening, Nilda, in her silent retreat, caged like a bird, sat writing a letter with an indelible pencil—for she had asked in vain for pen and ink; also, she had pleaded in vain to be allowed to write a letter, ever so short a one to her friends, to let them know that she was safe. Not even her promise to make it undated and without address availed. Firmly, yet not unkindly, it was impressed upon her that this was utterly contrary to their instructions; that to allow Nilda to do this would be to run too great a risk of being taken from them. Representing to their captive that this would be not only a personal blow to themselves—so devoted were they to her and her future interests—but so possibly disastrous as almost to imperil their lives. . . . So strenuously did they talk in this way that it was not to be wondered at if Nilda Chester began to be impressed with the future that might be hers. With a less evenly-balanced mind, with less character, and less devotion to friends who stood to her as relatives, and were dear to her, her head might have been turned. But up to this point, at any rate, it is safe to say she would have broken cover, and willingly fled to her friends, had it been possible. . . . To have word reach them—without breaking her promise—was her present object.
Only half Lord Kitchener's troops were regulars; as for the balance it was largely composed of half-drilled Territorials and volunteers from various of the northern counties and Scotland, and the senior cadets. As against this heterogeneous army was the absolutely homogeneous army of Germans—every man a trained, a highly-trained soldier; every man of them a German egotist; every man of them a fighting machine of the highest type.
When, on the fateful morrow, the sun had scarcely risen over the waters of the North Sea, the German host was in motion, and the English Marshal knew what was meant. It was not to be a question any longer of field-guns and accuracy of fire, but a hot and determined storming of his position, and close fighting to the point of annihilation.
Without swagger, silently as those king's men at Flodden 400 years before had come to their slaughter, so marched the Germans upon the British. As they approached, the solid phalanxes broke into apparent disorder, but it was only apparent; the object was to offer less dangerous targets to the guns of the British. Thus the rush was to a large extent in skirmishing order, firing as they came; losing men every moment as they came; but still onward they came. Then the impact.
The situation had been forced by the enemy, because, it transpired, the heavy guns of the British out-numbered those at the command of the Germans. It was also, no doubt, believed by General Grantz that the longer he delayed the greater force he would have to encounter; while his orders were, no doubt, imperative. He had to clear the way, at all costs, and march to the relief of his beleaguered compatriots near London.
Amid a blaze and roar of cannon, the invading army marched on. As they drew nearer, hundreds fell to the rifles and maxims of the British; but within an hour the conflicting forces met. They were foot forces. It was the fiercest onslaught of bayonet and sword. Not since Lochiel's charge at Killycrankie was ever such a charge seen in Northern Britain. The British lines at first stood strong, then trembled, recovered, gave way, wavered, reconstructed—fought magnificently. But in two hours' time they had lost the ground they had occupied in the early morn. German and Briton were face to face, and face to face thousands of them fell. So intermingled now were the rival forces that the batteries ceased to play. . . . Kitchener, who rode between his companies with hail of bullets playing upon his rear forces from the German reserve battalion, which now occupied his lost ground, and which commanded his right wing, gave orders to his chief of staff to concentrate his troops, and fall back gradually to the left. Still the Germans pressed, as if by dead weight and ruthless determination, they were cutting down his finest troops. All his army were now engaged in deadly combat, save his reserves. . . . Retiring to the rear of his left wing, Kitchener rode with his orderlies to a slight eminence, where his reserves were posted. They consisted of 2,500 cavalry and the Boy Scouts. . . . Again surveying the battle field with his glasses, everywhere he saw the glittering helmet and eagle of the great military Empire. . . . They were gaining ground on the whole front of battle. . . . Every Briton who sat his horse, and gazed in anger at the deadly fray, had been impatient of the enforced inaction. Not a moment too soon for them did the order come to charge. . . So soon as they were in motion a counter charge was noticed upon the German side. They, too, by hook or by crook, had got together cavalry regiments—yet not in the strength of the British. Possibly, this was the reason why they had not been put into action earlier. . . . The German commander, seizing instantly the British Field Marshal's intent of disrupting his advancing line on the left flank, rushed his cavalry to intercept the British charge. . . . Here, at least, he failed; true, it was three to two, but in less than twenty minutes the German cavalry were rendered hors de combat—unhorsed or slain. Now a cheer went up from every officer who saw it, echoed by every man who could hear or see above the din and smoke of battle. The tide was turning. It was but for a little. The German swordsman was beating the British swordsman, man to man, dozen to dozen, hundred to hundred, thousand to thousand, legion to legion. . . . Lord Kitchener knew it. . . . Unless he could, by sheer manoeuvring, by generalship, redeem his position, the day was lost. . . . Alas, he could not advance; he must retire. Fair on his left, unknown to the enemy on rising ground a mile or two distant, had been posted a strong battery on a craggy hill-side. . . It had been put there "in case of the worst"—which was happening. There, too, were the Boy Scouts. . . The order went forth to retreat. Hateful word; but needs must when the devil drives! . . . Abandoning many of the cannon, abandoning wounded and living, the British forces fell back with what haste and order they could. It had certainly been disastrous but for 2200 fresh men of the cavalry, who interposed at the fateful moment and did splendid service, cutting down right and left every advanced German soldier who, flushed with victory, cried in derision at the retreating lines of the British. The horsemen made the retreat possible. Not only possible, but they saved the situation for the moment, and thus enabled a recovery which was at once splendid and surprising. Had the German cavalry been in existence to harry the retreating troops, the day had been lost irrevocably. As it was the British had breathing space, and collected at the foot of the crag on which was the masked battery. . . . Even the Germans were grateful for the respite; six hours had the slaughter lasted, but their lust for blood was not satiated. . . . A pause for a drink, a bite, to many were given, and then the battle of Wooler recommenced. But that happened which turned the tide. Now the British were not fighting on a down grade; they had their backs to a veritable wall, and that wall had voices and power which spoke; shot and shell poured out of it, and 10,000 new rifles, wielded by boyish hands, spoke too; spoke when they had not so much as been seen; spoke as did the sniping rifles of the hidden Boers at Spion Kop; spoke out from the rocks and the bracken; spat out round upon round, 10,000 at a time, upon the advancing Germans, who were hastening to complete their day of victory. The Germans were stunned, alarmed. From 900 yards, they felt it; from 600 yards, they thinned; at 400 yards, the execution was deadly. It was as if a deadly fire poured down upon them from an unseen enemy. Now victory looked possible for the British, but only for a little while. Realising the set-back, the Germans called a halt till the heavy guns were brought up.
It should here be mentioned that early in the day Lord Kitchener had telegraphed for reinforcements. As the hours of this great battle sped on, all England knew, till mid-day, exactly how things were going. The reinforcements asked for were being sent. . . . That was the last message Kitchener received. If he could hold out till these came, he still felt the day would be his. . . . The reinforcements never came. . . . They could not. . . . Once again John Bull was outwitted and undone upon his own native heath.
From Newcastle, and elsewhere, troops were dispatched which ought to have reached the battle-field ere the sun went down; but disastrous cunning was at work to prevent this. The main line was blown up in three separate places, and portion of the troops' train was wrecked and many lives lost. . . . A scene of frightful carnage on the line was at first reported, and all the United Kingdom went wild with fury and indignation. That this should happen at so perilous a crisis! This, in their own land, at the hands of those who had been fostered and fed by easy-going, confiding English people!! The first accounts of the train disaster were certainly exaggerated, but the fact remained that the lines had been blown up in thirteen places converging on to the Wooler district. . . . And England sadly awoke to the fact that it was not only the newly-arrived German legions—there were close upon 400,000 of them now on British soil!—they had to contend with, but heaven alone knew how many spies and traitors to hospitality beside. For the cable messages now represented that crowds of men, young and old—many not recognised as Germans—had sprung up in every neighbourhood of the field of battle, destroying the railroads, cutting telegraph wires, and in many cases seizing horses and all manner of conveyances and goods, and with these were hastening to Wooler, driving before them herds of cattle for the benefit of the "all conquering German army."
Following on this were message's, printed throughout Germany and the Continent, that General Grantz had achieved a great victory over the forces led by General Kitchener. Also it was at this juncture freely published that the German Government had called upon its ally, Austria, to come to its naval assistance on several grounds, but one in particular was harped upon—that Britain was outraging every known treaty by seizing all the mercantile ships trading with Germany. . . . It is true that the British fleet had by this time wrought complete havoc with German commerce; but equally true that no neutral nation had lodged any formal protest in regard to what had been done.
Apparent confirmation of the appeal to Austria was found in a cable message which stated that half-a-dozen Austrian war ships had left the Adriatic—it was believed in pursuance of an agreement in response to the appeal of the Kaiser's Government. . . . The reply from the Governor of Gibraltar was that while the Rock stood no hostile navy would pass that way, and the alternative was a world-tour through Suez, the Red Sea, right round Africa!
But was it true that Kitchener had sustained a crushing defeat? . . . . Not quite; it is true that he was, on the day following the battle of Wooler, beaten back through Hedgeley Moor, passed Alnwick, and also that he fell back by Rothbury to the River Coquet; but there the bridges were burnt and the pursuit arrested, for by now the reinforcements had come up. And the latest was the Germans were on the defensive. . . . Also the wires flashed the news that all the northern counties were up in arms. That even women and mere striplings insisted on bearing arms, so mad were they all with the foul play that had been wrought by the spies and German civilians, who had deserted their posts—their situations—in thousands, to render service to the invading German armies. . . . But of all messages, perhaps the most exciting one—to Australians, at least—was this: "It is reported on good authority that if any other first-class Power enters the war against England, Japan will be heard from!" . . That was news indeed, if it were true. And why should it not be true? Japan is where she is in Manchuria, in Korea, to-day because of the British-Japan alliance.
While Nilda was writing a letter in pencil to her friends, another, of a more sensational character, was speeding its way to her, and its receipt threw her into a spasm of apprehension, alarm, anxiety. Here it is, just as she read, and re-read, its steady and direct lines:—
"Dear and Honored Miss Chester,
"After the lapse of several days, I am called upon to write to you. It is at once my duty and my pleasure to do so. I will not, at this juncture, waste time by dwelling on what has happened to you. Suffice to say, it will all be fully explained—and to your entire satisfaction—when you are really safe. All that has been done was done with regard to this end—your personal safety. This note is to impress upon you that your immediate safety depends on your removal from your present abode. Death and destruction may pour about the spot where you now dwell within three days. Those who are charged with your personal safety have also other pressing reasons for your removal from where you now dwell—not uncomfortably, it is hoped—to another, and better, temporary abode. . . .
"Now, this is the proposal placed before you for your most careful consideration: It is desired of you that you place yourself unreservedly in the hands of your guardians for removal to a place of greater safety, previous to your embarkation to the land of the Empire to which you, by right of birth and parentage, belong. Now, will you give your sacred word, as a member of a most honorable family, that you will do nothing to hinder or make more difficult—perhaps dangerous—the duties of those charged to guard and keep you? Is it not a reasonable request? . . . The alternative may be your unintentional destruction—to the dismay and grief of those who have taken great pains, and not little expense, to secure your happiness and proper position in life. . . . It is begged of you that your reply be forthcoming at once, when, if favourable, arrangements will be made this evening for your removal. (It will be no more than a short journey by water).
"Your respectful and devoted servant,
"CARL von S——."
When Nilda finished reading this letter, she bade the devoted frau call her husband.
"Hans," demanded Nilda, "who is Carl von S——?"
"He is, lady, like ourselves, your devoted servant," replied the humble Hans.
"You know that is unsatisfactory—it is not what I want to know. . . . Who and what is he? Do I know him?"
"I believe you have met him, lady."
"Is he Mr. Gunsler?"
"I do not know Mr. Gunsler—that is, I do not think I know him."
"Not of that name, perhaps, Hans; but I have some reason for believing this was written by the man I know as Gunsler."
"Is he an officer of the Imperial Hussars?" stupidly queried the not altogether guileless Hans.
"How on earth should I know, you silly? Is Carl von S. in that regiment?"
"He was, and a distinguished officer; he was also a trusted friend of Count Salleberg."
"And because of the Count he came to this State as a commercial traveller, but really to spy upon the country, and particularly on me—is it not so?"
"Ah, lady, you will get me in great trouble if you do get me talking of State matters—they are not for me—not for me."
"Hans, are you my friend?"
"Dear lady, I will risk my life for you! The good frau likewise. Are we not close to the cannon's mouth now for your sweet sake? We may die altogether, but we will never leave you nor forsake you. We have been the servants of your house for many, many years; from little children almost; so to the end. . . . How, then, can you doubt that we are your good friends? . . . You will trust us, lady?" . . . And there was that in Han's Heckler's look and speech which told Nilda that he spoke truly.
Yet was Nilda not satisfied. "Do you know," she questioned him earnestly, "what this letter is about—what it proposes?"
"I did not read it, Lady; but if it proposes your flight from here——"
"Then you do know about it? That is just what it does propose. I suppose it is all cut and dried between you."
"You will do it, for your own sweet sake?"
"How do I know but I shall be out of the frying-pan into the fire?"
"It is to avoid the fire, lady?"
"Now, tell me truly, Hans, like my good friend: What is the position? What is about to happen?"
Hans once again threw up his hands—it was his way in distress; but ever it grew harder that he should refuse Nilda's appeals. . . . "You will never betray me, lady; but my instructions are never to talk; only to act. Yet must I tell you this: The German fleet is coming down the coast from Queensland, and will put Sydney into flames unless the demands made upon it are satisfied in full. Therefore, you will see, you must leave here."
"Where is this place, Hans?"
"It is a place of imminent danger."
"And whither would they take me?"
"To a place of greater safety."
"Seeing I am captive, and defenceless, it is for my captors to take me where they will. . . . Yet how superbly, or how absurdly, they keep up this pretence as to consulting me, as if my will mattered one way or other. . . Hans, what are the other reasons mentioned why I should leave this prison?"
"Truly, I do not know, lady."
Then Nilda fell to cogitating. Was it possible they no longer considered it a safe hiding place? Had some trace of her whereabouts been found? . . . From one thing and another she had inferred that she was somewhere about Sydney Harbour, but where she had no idea. . . . If it were contemplated to embark her upon one of the German boats, it appeared to her there was no more convenient place than where she was—so handy to the water. . . . Unable to decide, she talked with Hans and then with Frau Heckler, the while both besought her to agree to do what was asked of her. . . . She was not all unwilling, but least willing to pledge herself to make no attempt to recover her liberty, and join her friends. . . . This much her guardians gleaned from the remark which escaped her, and they were uneasy. But Nilda was not naturally irresolute, and seldom unable to make up her mind.
"I will come," was at length her decision; and the decision also meant that she agreed to do what was demanded of her—in reason.
And so, as night fell, Nilda and her guardians walked out of the "retreat" at Neutral Bay. In a few moments she was aboard a commodious little motor launch, which was worked by two men who were utter strangers to her. . . . Nilda was not well acquainted with Sydney Harbour, but she quite realised that it was such. She recognised the centre-rock where should stand "Australia facing the Dawn;" she knew the fine white building, which some wag had pointed out to her as the "wedding cake," and she resented the stricture upon the architect. "He had the courage of his opinions, and departed from the stereotyped," she declared. "Is it not so? It is variety in design, in coloring, which lends enchantment to the view; and let others say as they will, Charles I. built better than he knew."
"This is most grand!" broke from Frau Heckler, as the launch ran smoothly down the bay.
"Perfectly delightful," assented Nilda, "if other things were right. . . Look back upon the thousand lights of the city; how fair a sight! The ferry boats—what rainbow colors upon the silvery sea! Ah, how joyous life might be here—if one were free and safe from peril! Think, Frau, upon the cruel evil of bringing devastating war—cruel, deadly war—upon a scene so fair; upon a people so unoffending. . . . What have we Australians ever done that battleships should come to pour out death and destruction upon us? . . . Oh, it is shameful! Why do not the world's rulers, the world's people, combine to make such things impossible?"
Hans heard the cry of appeal, of impatience, in the words, and would fain draw Nilda's attention from the sad theme. "Tell me, lady, where are those gardens of paradise you told me of?"
"We have left them behind us, Hans; perhaps I shall never see them again, nor my dear friends." . . . And Nilda looked sadly back toward the city, over which darkness crept. Then, turning her face toward the south, she perceived they were making a course fair for the Heads.
"Hans, are we going outside into the sea?"
"A little way, lady."
"You are taking me to a German ship?"
"I wish it might be so, dear lady; but that is not the case—not yet. We have told you truly; be assured it is to a place of greater safety; and for a little while even a good German ship might not be the safest place."
Soon they were out between the Heads, and their boat—a good little sea-boat—caught the roll of the waters.
"Out into the dark!" Nilda shivered; not with the cold, though a gentle, cool land-breeze stirred the waters. But even a brave girl, who trusted those around her, might well experience qualms of fear. The frau nestled nearer and drew Nilda's hand into her own. It was the womanlike act of sympathy characteristic of her.
"They did not tell me we should put out to sea in this little boat," broke from Nilda, with something very like a little sob.
"Do not fear, dear; they did assure us it was quite safe," urged her companion.
"Where do we go, frau?"
"I know not the name of the place, but it's a bay around the coast, and the weather conditions were said to be all that could be desired."
"I had rather have gone in daylight. The night is so lonesome. The darkness makes me afraid. There is the South Head lighthouse! . . Oh, how rough it is. . . . We are turning south. Out into the dark. . . . If it is a bay, there is Coogee and Bondi, and further on there is Botany, I think. . . I wish I had not come! Frau, I feel so ill. . . . It were as well to be blown up by German cannon as to perish miserably on the dark waters."
Nilda struggled for a time against the mal-de-mer sensation, but it overcame her, as indeed was the case with the poor frau,—as if again in sheer sympathy; and it was not a little pathetic that, in her own distress, she whispered broken words of sympathy to her mistress, who, at the worst moment, declared it would not matter very much if the launch did go down!
"Say not so, dear; God is good, and we shall soon be out of this distress."
It seemed far to Nilda, but it was really a short run, for the launch made good progress, and before 9 o'clock they turned from the sea into other Heads—into Botany Bay—the broad bay so intimately associated with the earliest Australian colonisation.
"Do you recognise it?" queried Frau Heckler, as she observed her charge looking about her at the changed direction of the boat.
"Yes, this must be Botany. I have never been here, but from its general appearance it must be so. Look, can you not see twinkling lights in various directions?"
"I see them—but quite far off. It must be a very large bay; yet, I think the water is less rough. We shall soon be there."
"Where do we go, Frau?"
"I know no more than that it is to a comfortable house. They called it a palace by the sea."
"I suppose it will be all the same to me," suggested Nilda. Then, addressing Hans: "Tell me, am I to be still kept prisoner, Hans, in this palace by the sea?"
"Not prisoner, lady—say not that; but you are to be as carefully guarded from every danger as before. On that point our instructions are implicit." . . . . Then, as an after-thought, Hans added, "Seeing the sacred promise you have given, lady, I trust it will be possible you may enjoy some greater freedom. I am sure it will be so. But above all things, it is imperative that you speak not with strangers."
"I wonder do I know this palace by the sea! What is it called, Hans?"
"I know it by no other name, lady."
"There must be people there," meditated Nilda, looking straight ahead—their course was straight up the bay, speaking her thoughts aloud, as much to herself or the wave and the wind as to her companions: "It certainly promises an agreeable change. I shall see some of my fellow beings—some of my own country men and women; and who knows what may happen, besides the German invasion!"
Now they approached a little wharf, running out into the bay perhaps a hundred feet. Not a soul was to be seen. They moved to the northern side, and in a moment made fast to some steps leading down to the water's edge. Before alighting, the frau produced from her handbag a tiny roll of black material, approximating to the Spanish mantilla, and, opening it, threw it lightly over Nilda's head.
"I do not need it, Frau."
"Permit it, my lady, I beg."
"But why—ah, need I ask? I forgot my role. Of course, I must be disguised! . . . I am to be the mysterious lady of the palace by the sea!" . . . Now, for the first time—seeing they were once more on terra-firma—Nilda's spirits rose. They stepped upon the wharf, high above the water, and Nilda looked about her. "But why disguise, good guardian, when there's not a soul about—not even a policeman?"
"Soon, lady; look, I think above must be the palace."
"Then bear me to my palace—I had almost feared 'twere one of these!" and she pointed to bathing sheds—one on either hand. . . . Arriving at the top of the embankment, Nilda stood for a moment and contemplated a really fine structure on the opposite side. There, behind beautiful ornamental pines, stood a really fine house, possessing architectural pretensions. Not the brilliancy of its lights, but the subdued quiet of the place, struck her as she entered the front gate. A sweet restfulness entered into her first impression of the place. Well-kept lawns, neat borders—an open door. . . . Into which open door these three souls from the sea-foam actually coolly entered . . . Still no one was visible . . . "You will have the grace to knock," suggested Nilda. But Hans, upon occasions, was hard of hearing. For the moment he was stupidly gazing at a page of a pocket-book in his hand; during which several moments Nilda turned her eyes this way and that, and the ejaculations which escaped her were: "This vestibule of the palace is enchanting! This," tapping the marble at her feet, "one might call inlaid mosaic. The colored marble in the pillars is really beautiful; the pictures are impressive, and the hat-racks and flower-stands. . . But, in the name of all that's sane, where are the people of the palace?"
"This way, lady," at length came from Hans, as he pocketed his little book. He spoke in little more than a whisper, and at the same time clutched Nilda's right arm. His wife held the other. Nilda now burst into a laugh. "You have never been in my palace before, yet you would show me my rooms, and take me to supper. Are you mad, Hans, or am I?"
"Go gently, lady; there is a stairway here, somewhere, which we ascend."
"Indeed; surely it would be only common manners if we asked the inmates of the house to show us to our rooms. Are we to enter and take possession, like a set of burglars?"
Now they had advanced to the further end of the hall, Nilda still protesting, when Hans stopped short. "Ah, the carved stairs! Behold the lions' heads." In the dim, religious light shed by the impending gas-jet, Nilda noticed, on either side of the first step of the staircase, handsomely carved lion-heads, reposed in Egyptian sphinx-like rectitude and immobility.
It was only as they wended their way up the flight to the first floor that Nilda recalled her position. It was not for her to ask questions and to make any disturbance, or attract attention. . . . Yet was it only with the greatest difficulty she kept silence. . . . Arriving at the landing, Hans looked about him, and again consulted his note-book.
"Frau," commented Nilda, "was ever anything so droll? Has Hans got a chart of the palace that he is considering? Where is my boudoir? Shall I have a warm bath and go to bed, or shall it be a sponge and supper? The latter, I think. Yes, really, I am hungry."
"Please, lady," and the frau motioned for silence, while Hans preceded them for some 20 paces along the wide landing with rooms along one side, but every door was closed. He made for the east wing.
Again Nilda broke out: "It is all scrupulously clean and wholesome in the atmosphere of it,—as becomes a palace. . . . Nay, good frau, why should I be silent, seeing there is not a soul in the palace; it is tended by sprites of the sea, Egyptian mummies, as silent as the wooden lions below; or mayhap, on second thought, it is worked on the most modern science plan of electricity. Have you read of Dr. B——'s house without servants?"
An impatient exclamation broke from Hans. He had been fumbling in one of his pockets for something, and drew forth a small key; this he tried in a door which would not unlock.
"As I live," said Nilda, "but this passes all! He has the keys of this open-doored palace in his pocket!"
"It will not fit, lady!"
"Did you expect, then, simpleton, that any chance key you happened to bring along would unlock any door of the place?"
"Your pardon, lady; the key was supplied me."
"And the chart? I begin to understand. . . . And was it also arranged that in our procession through the palace no soul was to dare venture in sight, on penalty of instant death by the Germans!"
But Hans was busy trying yet another door along the corridor. Again unsuccessfully.
Now, all this occupied no more than perhaps five minutes, when lo, a maid of the house suddenly opened a door a little further along, and upon sight of three still, more or less, muffled figures in the passage-way, uttered a little cry of alarm—or, possibly, only surprise—"Holy Mother!" (in that pleasant, mother-tongue which unmistakeably disclosed the isle of her birth). . . . "Beg pardon," she also said.
Nilda—still in the happy mood which possessed her on entering the "palace"—emitted a silvery little laugh, ere she cried—"One of the sprites of the palace! Pray do not take wing. We will not hurt you. We have come to stay in your palace, and are very hungry."
"Hungry is it—the Lord deliver us!"
But Nilda had no further opportunity of bantering Bridget. For both guardians pushed to the front, and both tried at once to explain. Hans was not successful. He spoke at best with an unmistakeable German accent, and Biddy at once took fright. "The Lord save us; the Germans have come and taken the house! They will kill us," and she made a spring for another door which gave access on to the landing; but Frau Heckler was just in time to arrest her flight. "Do not be frightened, my good woman; we are only the lodgers who have taken a suite of rooms upstairs; did you not know?"
"Faith, yes; I was just putting the last touch to them this minute. . . . But they did not say it was for Germans! The mistress said it was for an invalid lady, who must be kept very quiet, and her attendants. Where is the invalid lady?"
The frau indicated Nilda.
"Indade, then, but she does not look it, asking her pardon." Then the frau whispered something in the ear of Bridget which seemed to satisfy her. "I see," she said, tapping her head, "the trouble is here; poor young lady!" Whereupon she forgave the reference to sprites and mummies; while, happily, Nilda was quite unconscious of the new game she had to play, as of the new misfortune supposed to have overtaken her.
It was some hours earlier than expected, on the day following the flight of Nilda from Neutral Bay, that the signals rang up that the German boats were approaching Sydney Harbour. Some accounts had it that Sydney was to be bombarded "without the option;" but generally the opinion got about, founded probably on Brisbane's experience, that the "Flying Dutchman" were out after dollars, and speculation was rife as to how many millions would be demanded as the price for Sydney. . . . But would Sydney yield to any such demands? That was the vital, pressing question which had been in every man's mouth for many days. . . . Opinions differed. . . . The daily press had its columns teeming with opinions—opinions of experts and non-experts. Not a few held that Sydney's defences were too weak and badly placed that it hadn't a show of holding out for 24 hours against the invaders. Some were for paying the price, and saving the beautiful city from destruction; but they were in the minority. The bulk of the people—especially the man in the street—was for making such a fight as would show the Germans there were boys of the bull-dog breed right here at the antipodes. . . . As to the Government and its action? . . . A week before the arrival of the enemy, it had been given out that, "every gun was ready, every man in his place; that Sydney would be defended; and (comforting to read) the city would not be destroyed!"
This optimistic view, which did something to prevent panic, was said to be founded on reliable information that the guns of the German boats were not of sufficient range to effectively fire upon the city—save on its outskirts, at any rate. But primarily it was based on the assumption—
(1.) That the enemy would not be able to enter the harbour.
(2.) That the enemy's guns would not carry more than eight miles.
(3.) That the land batteries, assisted by the gun-boats, would survive the attack, and beat the enemy off.
We shall see, in the sequence immediately following, how far these assumptions held good.
As will have been gathered from previous chapters, the only boats left for Sydney's defence were the Powerful and the destroyer Parramatta. The Admiral's ship was posted immediately outside the Heads, and the destroyer lay between the Heads.
The South Head fortification, on which so much depended for the safety of the city, contained two powerful disappearing guns of an effective range or 8,000 yards, and 17 or 18 other guns with a reputed range of 6,000 yards. Middle Harbour mounted 10 guns (including two disappearing guns) with an average range of 6,000 yards.
Experts held that with the guns of the Powerful the forts were able to defend the city—so far as the harbour was concerned—against any attack of such a fleet as were approaching; while, if the worst happened to the forts, the system of mines laid through the harbour were such that no ship could survive.
Further, it was argued, that any attacking boat would have to stand three miles out—or, say, 10 miles from the General Post Office—and at such a distance could do no harm to the city proper.
Now, we shall see what happened, when speculation, and probabilities, and suppositions, and opinions were things of the past; and the actual test—the hard, grim, stern realities—faced the people.
Six German warships, in Indian file, slowly passed in view. At Manly Beach, at 4 p.m. on a fateful Friday, tens of thousands of spectators were gathered for a sight never before witnessed on the shores of peaceful Australia. At the distance they were, they looked insignificant compared with the white majestic monsters of the American fleet that had come to us in peace and good-will. But here was the advance-guard of a nation that was out to lay British supremacy in the dust, or beneath those free waves so long accustomed to own it chief of the great warriors of the waters. . . The fleet, turning inward somewhat, seemed intent on steaming into the Heads, and came within range, as it seemed; but no shot was fired. . . . Then it was made out that a small boat was launched, and got away at once from the large vessels. . . . "That," said every man to his neighbour, "is the Admiral's message to the city to make terms, or stand the consequences!"
It was even so.
The mandate read:—
"By order of H.I.M. William, Emperor of Germany—at the discretion of his representative, the Admiral commanding the German fleet in these waters—it is decreed that the city of Sydney be bombarded to the point of destruction unless these demands be immediately complied with; that your Government, municipal or general, as the case may be, shall, without delay, provide an indemnity of £20,000,000 (twenty millions); upon the payment of which sum the fleet now present in these waters shall retire without doing, or attempting, any mischief to the people or property of your city or your State."
The time allowed was 16 hours; that is, until 10 o'clock on Saturday morning.
It is said that the neat reply, jointly of the Mayor of the city and the Premier of the State, met with the entire approval of the people, and echoed both their temper and their taste.
"Our compliments to the Commandant of the German fleet, whom we would respectfully advise to retire before he is hurt. We are not giving away any twenty million pounds or twenty million pence. We are greatly tempted to lay your envoy by the heels, as befits brigands who would rob us; but seeing you have trusted their lives to us, we spare them—to convey to you this reply of the people of Sydney in answer to your unreasonable, unjust and preposterous demands."
Exactly at 10 o'clock next morning the bombardment of Sydney began.
Two of the enemy's ships—the largest of the fleet, one being that of the Admiral's—lay off South Head; two others moved to a point as near as possible to Coogee; while the other two (the vessels of lighter draught) proceeded to Botany Bay. The first-named began the fusillade—not directed against the city, but against the fort at South Head chiefly. These at once began to fire in reply. It was computed that the German boats were 8000 to 9000 yards from the Heads when hostilities began. The interchange of shots for the first 20 minutes appeared to do no harm on either side, the range not having been accurately enough determined. The Germans were using explosives of the highest grade, and firing in a line which brought the inhabitants of Watson's Bay within range. The shells were dropping with disastrous effects when they missed the mark and over-carried, so that a rapid exodus took place of every resident of that populous marine suburb, where several houses were already damaged.
The rock fortification of South Head looked good to stand and withstand the power of the German guns, for shell after shell hit upon the abutments of solid masonry, and did little more than shatter the surface. . . . Unquestionably the fortress is well placed, and the artillerymen fairly safely screened. . . . But there were master hands and minds at the guns of the attacking fleet. . . And they knew more than they ought to have known of the particular weakness of the South Head fortress. . . . It was not by direct impact of shot or shell that the fort could be destroyed. . . After half-an-hour's firing between fort and ships, during which no particular damage was done, it was noticed that two simultaneous shots of the two disappearing guns had struck one of the German vessels as she paused and was about to turn. (They fought under easy steam). One certainly seemed to pierce the hull of the vessel, and the other carried away part of the bridge which lay just behind the fore-turret gun. . . . Whether in consequence of this or not, both German vessels withdrew further afield—perhaps 1500 yards. It was not solely to be outside of effective fire of the fort that this move was made. The object apparently was to raise their own fire—to so elevate their projectiles as, by careful calculation, to have the explosive shells fall in to the midst of the fort. . . . Behind the guns at South Head is a deep cutting or passage-way. Here, from safely-constructed subterranean vaults, the ammunition is passed up through lifts. Destroy these, and the guns became valueless. . . . For the next 40 minutes there was a fair rain of deadly explosives about the batteries; it seemed incredible that only two gun-boats could drop so many shells. The range had been found. Dust and debris flew high and wide; it could be seen from the higher parts of the city. . . . The upshot was that the fort's fire so slackened that only a few of the weaker guns were in play. For the time being South Head batteries were in such a sorry mess that the two battle ships approached the entrance to the harbour as if intent on entering. It was here that the Powerful was brought into play. The determination of the brave commandant was that no German ship should enter the Heads sufficiently close to pour destructive fire upon Sydney.
Realising what had happened to the guns at South Head, the Powerful, accompanied by the destroyer Parramatta, steamed to a position enabling them to offer battle to the two German ships. These held off somewhat, as if to coax the Powerful out.
But meanwhile what of the trend of events in other quarters? The two ships which were told off to do execution at Coogee began firing at about 11 o'clock, and kept it up with booming regularity for seven hours. An hour later the residents of Botany Bay listened to the thunder of the other two German ships which, entering the bay by the most approved route, steamed into position, as if piloted by an experienced man who was familiar with every foot of the water-way. They approached as near to Botany as possible, and directed their fire city-wards. . . . Could they reach the busy, thronged environs of the city? . . . For answer there was smoke, and panic, and death in many streets, in many private homes, in many business places. Waverley and Woollahra, Bondi Junction and Paddington, right away to Moore Park, the shot and shell of the enemy had wrought execution.
Thousands of inhabitants were fleeing in terror to other parts of the city. The fine Paddington Town Hall was partly demolished, and premises in that vicinity were aflame. Resch's magnificent brewery had been hard hit, and thousands of pounds worth of machinery destroyed, while even private residences about Centennial Park had been damaged.
Whether the most effective fire was from Coogee or Botany Bay could scarcely be determined.
Later in the day one of the two gun-boats from Coogee moved to a position off Bondi, and a new field of destruction was worked. Many of the shots got right home.
Now hurriedly-summoned panic meetings of the portions of the city most affected were held, and many clamoured for an effort at settlement; some cried for capitulation at any price!
Finding they could not coax the Powerful out into the open, the German Admiral manoeuvred somewhat to the south, to a point not remote from the Heads, but practically out of reach of the remaining guns which were still in play at South Head. It should be mentioned that the larger and greater-range guns placed there are fixtures, and command the front, the harbour entrance, and a certain angle each way; but there are no emplacement artillery at South Head capable of sweeping the coast south to Coogee or on to Botany, which two latter places may be said to be undefended, except for two small fortifications, quite obsolete, and unable to stand up against the artillery of the latest type of battleship. These were silenced within a couple of hours. Therefore, the position was becoming a serious one for Sydney.
The enemy, finding they could approach comparatively near the shore, and be out of reach of the guns of the defenders, now began to rake the area of the elite—the fashionable quarters about Rose Bay and the Governor's residence. . . . It was a surprising thing they could place shots at targets they could not see. (This is done by a system unknown to the uninitiated).
There were cries of indignation that the Powerful and the Parramatta were doing nothing while the city was being destroyed. But what could a destroyer do when it was not a case of fighting torpedo boats? While as to the Powerful, the contest in the open sea against two equally powerful ships—and possibly four, if found necessary—prompted caution.
But ere the sun wont down on that eventful day, the flag-ship did venture forth; it was believed primarily with the object of attempting to draw the enemy's ships somewhat into the harbour, where they could be played upon by the guns at Middle Harbour, as well as elsewhere, in addition to the great cruiser's guns. Whatever object was in view, it was frustrated. On sighting the Powerful emerging through the Heads, the two German ships made as if to withdraw a little; then a dash was made, for the encounter. There was a fierce cannonading, and unquestionably the Powerful would have bested either of the German boats, but, caught between two fires, the Powerful was unequal to the contest. With two of her funnels down, a mast in shreds, her foremost turret guns disabled, and many casualties on the fighting deck, she just managed to return to harbour a badly-used vessel. The presence of a few powerful guns at North Head might have saved the situation; but no guns were there. Why?
The Germans did not follow. They knew about the mines, and the presence of two fine pneumatic disappearing guns on Middle Head, the latest things of their kind.
Now darkness fell; it was fondly hoped the bombardment would at least cease until another sun should rise. But, alas, it was not so.
Here mention should be made of other forces. The field artillery, designed for coast defence, co-operating with the forts, and, rapidly mobile from point to point, have a battery of 18-pounders—splendid guns, equal to anything abroad for their class; effective up to, say, 8,000 yards; and we have also a Howitzer battery, reckoned to be a valuable auxiliary in replying to a sea attack along the coast. These had been stationed at points within the harbour, in the belief that the enemy would surely effect an entrance. That they did not, caused an alteration in the plans. It was the best piece of work in the defence, and had it been got in earlier, might have saved vast damage. . . . The early hours of darkness of that eventful Saturday night will never be forgotten by the people of Sydney. The wind now gently blew from the south, and clouds obscured the sky. What south wind that ever blew o'er Sydney's Gardens in cool welcome was ever before charged with the smoke and roar of battle? . . . From distances which were safe, and distances which were not safe, spectators—who could do nought else—watched and waited—helpless, fascinated, furious in many cases. . . . The roar of the cannon, which scarcely made itself heard in the day-time, now became distinct. Thousands declared they could see the course of the shells as they winged their cruel flight up from the edge of the deep on to the environs of the city—arched courses of destruction. Thousands were down about the cliffs, for there was least danger there, and saw the great guns spitting out fire, and smoke. . . . And for a time—and a vexatious time, it was—they worked their will without hurt to themselves. . . . But at length the field artillery got to work. It was the surprise of the night for at least two German boats hugging the coast near Bondi. At between 9 and 10 o'clock that night, at a distance not estimated at much above 5,000 yards, the 18-pounders got to work in such a position that they got some protection, and opened a perfect rain of fire on the enemy, who were caught napping; and, after spasmodic attempts to reply, cleared out.
Now, the palace, in place of being well nigh empty, was full; so soon was it discovered that though a fairly conspicuous target, and within comparatively easy reach, it was immune. Not even Nilda knew just why it was immune. Not for all the wealth of Midas, not for all the tea in China, not for all the gold of this golden Commonwealth would the German guns have been trained upon the restful palace, 'mid the pines, by the shore of Botany—for it was known to all the German ships that the so-called Nilda Chester lodged there . . . till it was deemed safe that she could be placed on board of one of them!
On the broad front balcony of the palace were gathered scores of spectators; many of the leading residents of "Le Sands" were gathered there, and some from the city. But there was another part of the balcony—which practically runs right round the house—that was not crowded. Quite a thousand square feet held but three souls; and they had engaged the whole suite of rooms giving out upon the eastern balcony, and half the frontage overlooking the bay. These, as will be guessed, were Hans, Frau Heckler, and Nilda.
For two, three, nay, five hours they had remained almost in the same position—sometimes sitting, but more often standing against the railing; watching, as they stood, not the gentle play of waves, bearing their fragments of seaweed—the bane of bathers—but the firing of heavy guns upon the fair city of Sydney and its unoffending people. . . Constant, with unhurried, fairly regular precision boomed the guns of the two ships, possibly every shot working death or destruction.
"Oh, I cannot bear it any longer!" This cry broke from Nilda, as, with clasped hands, she turned towards her companion—the frau. "It is too terrible! will they never stop firing?"
What could the poor frau say? More than once she had, of her own accord, suggested many things; they could not have many more shells left; or they were perhaps not doing much damage; people would be sure to remove out of the zone of fire; or—a fond last hope—wise counsels would prevail, and some understanding would be arrived at. . . . But none of those suggestions pacified, or satisfied, Nilda. . . . It was privately she whispered to Hans: "Will they keep up the attack all night, think you? I trust not. Our lady will not rest; she will be disturbed! We hear so plainly."
"I think they will soon stop," was her husband's opinion. "The guns will get too hot. Already they slacken fire."
During these long hours of bombardment, many rushed to and fro into and out of the palace—news from the city, tidings of hurt, and injury, and the meaning of the lurid lights, which were plainly discernible from the other side of the balcony to that which Nilda and her companions occupied. . . . More than once Nilda had requested Hans to go below and gather what information he could, but Hans was not good at getting information, and equally indifferent in capacity to impart it.
Now something happened which no one seems to have counted on. Who it was who had seen and recognised Miss Chester on the balcony of the palace did not immediately transpire. It was no one in the house.
Notwithstanding that the captive had been carefully guarded, and only allowed out upon the balcony as described, information had been conveyed into the city that the supposed young lady was at Brighton-le-Sands.
Just at the moment when Nilda declared she could endure it no longer, and ran into the room which had been assigned to her, she found that some one was within it. Her first impulse was to fly back to her companions, whom she had left conversing together, as stated. But as she turned without a word, other than a murmur of startled surprise, she struck her forehead against the sash—the lower casement of the window (it was that clumsy kind of contrivance which some people persuade themselves are better than the good old French casement), and for a moment stood half-stunned.
"Miss Chester!" It was said in little more than a whisper.
"Do not make any noise. Thank heaven, we have found you at last! Are you ready to fly with us at once?"
"Yes, yes! But who are you? I do not recognise you in the dark."
"I am Mr. Gresham, and Mr. Horton is below. I had provided a rope-ladder, in case we needed to descend from the balcony."
"It is not necessary, I think. They are upon the balcony. Put this window down for me—it works stiffly."
Then Nilda, excited as she was, held out her hand in the darkness, and Mr. Gresham, seizing it, shook hands, but he held it. "Thank heaven! Are you ready at once?"
"I will put on my hat, and trouble about nothing else. Now!" and she herself opened the door on to the passage-way, and much more hurriedly than they had ascended the lion-staircase, they descended. Nilda drew a veil about her face, for many people were still moving about.
"Not that way!" said Gresham, as he arrested her progress out of the main vestibule, and led her through a smoking room on to the side of the building immediately underneath where she had lodged. There, a few paces out on the red-gravelled walk, stood a figure which Nilda recognised in a moment, well-coated and goggled as he was, for Mr. Horton had that night affected the chauffeur garb. . . . Almost Nilda ran to him, and it was as unpremeditated on his part as unexpected and unrepulsed on hers, that he caught her in his arms; and, in a paternal embrace, kissed her on both cheeks. . . . "Quick, now, Nilda!" he cried, "and into the motor."
In rather less than an hour, Nilda was at home with the Hortons, and, in spite of the clock pointing to the small hours of the morning, the whole family, with the exception of the youngest, were gathered round her, rejoicing that she who had been lost was found, plying Nilda with endless questions, who in turn had many to ask. . . . But if rest and sleep seemed foreign to their eyes that night of terror, even so it was with Sydney's 600,000 people. . . . For who could sleep, or even think of sleeping, with great guns knocking at their doors!
Yet, towards morning, the firing ceased.
Nor was it resumed, as everybody expected, when Sunday morning fairly dawned. . . . Would the church bells ring? Would special services—as had been announced—be actually held, whereat the devout would supplicate the Almighty for help and guidance in this dread hour?
There were early Sunday morning editions of the papers—papers which were not wont to publish on Sundays, and for once there seemed no sacrilege in the deed.
The most surprising thing they recorded—amid a deluge of sensational things as a result of the bombardment—was that overtures had been made to the German Admiral for peace. If he would leave the city and the State without further molestation, and accept a much modified amount as indemnity, the authorities would strain every possible nerve to meet the demands of the Germans!
This was a humiliation to thousands. It was a surrender in face of the enemy, while yet they were unbroken! . . . It is true this Sunday morning's newspapers recorded what, in the aggregate, was an alarming catalogue of death and damage. In suburban property alone the estimated damage was £200,000; 78 deaths had been caused, and many were in the hospitals as a result of injuries sustained.
But £20,000,000! If the banks were robbed of anything like that amount, financial disaster would overtake the whole State; for it would be the people who would suffer. . . . But when it came to the minimum, after three hours' negotiations, it was finally made known that twelve millions would buy off the invaders.
It was given out about mid-day that these terms were accepted, and that by 8 o'clock on Monday morning the indemnity would be paid, and Sydney would once again breathe freely.
But now such clamour and discontent rent the city—and in milder degree the State—that almost a revolution was feared. . . . The Premier had to make a speech to the people in front of Parliament House, where the throngs were so dense in Macquarie-street that vehicular traffic was impossible. . . . A special sitting of Parliament was held. The State Premier endeavoured to appease the belligerent section, by explaining that in regard to a moiety of the amount, it was arranged with the enemy that securities would be accepted; that no financial panic would result by reason of the banks parting with so much cash and bullion, as the whole sums advanced by the banks would be covered by bills chargeable to the Government, who would be given them to repay, and the whole amount would be raised by special war taxation!
What other of the speech there was, was lost in the yells of an angry and incensed populace. "Coward! Traitor! Madman!" were among the cries that rent the air, for the majority were aflame with 'fight'—and 'no surrender!'
By this time, so agitated was the public mind, that little attention was paid to a passing reference to the fact (as recorded in one of the Sunday editions) that the missing young lady, Miss N. C. Chester, had been found. Yet, hot upon the heels of this lame announcement, came another, in which Miss Chester was made to figure very large indeed.
* * * *
Within three minutes of Nilda's flight from the palace at Brighton, her guardians discovered they had lost their treasure. Hans and Frau Heckler were thrown into the greatest distress. Yet, half-an-hour later a fisherman's boat might have been seen pulling off the jetty, with two stout rowers at the oars, and Hans at the tiller. They were not Germans, but they were not frightened, and they worked with a will. The power of gold was in the oars; and while Nilda was telling of her "experiences in captivity," Hans was telling the commander of the nearest man-o'-war he reached that his precious charge had escaped him. This information was at once communicated by wireless to the German Admiral. The Admiral in turn was equally prompt in his action and decision, as became a man in his position. . . . That had occurred which would influence him—and perhaps that alone—in reducing the "irreducible minimum." . . So that, to the surprise of the Premier and his Government, and all others to whom the remarkable tidings came, it was made known, "that if the authorities would surrender to the German Admiral an honorable young lady known among them as Nilda Constance Chester, whose life and person were precious in the eyes of many Germans of distinction, the claim of 12 millions would be reduced to 11 millions."
A million pounds sterling for Nilda Chester!
Not for her life, but rather for her safety; lest possible accident happen to her!
Surely, such a thing had never happened exactly so before in the annals of warfare. Was ever so large a price offered for a woman before? When the fact was made public, the papers simply sparkled with the name Chester. . . . It was a crisis for Nilda. How would she meet it?
Public opinion was strangely divided and excited. Whether the majority were for or against the bargain, or the barter, could not be determined. But the dissentient notes seemed the louder, or at least most noticeable. Again the matter was referred to in Parliament, it was said, but on this occasion the House was sitting in camera with closed doors.
What was to be done, must be done quickly. When great guns were speaking, little use for small tongues to be wagging.
But it befits the narrative that the writer should remove the scene from the arena of the public and the general, to the private and particular circle. It was on the Monday following that, at "Linden," the whole group of Nilda's friends were assembled in excited conclave. In a sense Nilda was the least excited. Mr. Horton held out that it was a preposterous demand; Nilda should not be surrendered to the Germans for even two millions; not at any price. The fortune of war had returned her to them; and personally he rejoiced that at the last moment "the enemy had been euchred," as thoroughly and as sincerely as if he had been Nilda's own father.
Mr. Summers looked further afield; he was more than half inclined to surrender his ward; he was apparently convinced of the sincerity of those who had sought and found Nilda, and took as a guarantee of good faith that they were willing to pay so high a price for her whom but yesterday they had regarded as in their safekeeping. . . . He further urged, as evidence of their good intentions and careful regard for Nilda, that while it had been quite possible for them to have secured the presence of Nilda on one or other of the warships, they had refrained from doing so, lest harm befall her while the fight was on.
Strange to say, both ladies—Mrs. Horton and Mrs. Summers—were very much inclined to side with Mr. Summers. The element of romance appealed to them very strongly. It was probably to miss the opportunity of her life to refuse to go. And at such a price! Who would not be bought for a million! When it meant taking her to her rightful home among the great of a great nation.
"Great nation fiddlesticks! Who knows what may happen the girl? Who would trust the word of a German, anyway? And who on earth ever heard of a British community—a British Government—descending to barter one of its daughters to an enemy at its gates, so as to lessen the price of an indemnity? Our Government ought to be ashamed to even discuss such a base proposal. What do you say, Gresham?"
Mr. Gresham had been slow to offer an opinion. It was not talked of, but it was well understood that Mr. Gresham admired Miss Chester, and he had been unfailing in his efforts to recover her. Now, to be suddenly robbed of her, to hand her over to the enemy, was about the last thing in the world he would wish to do. . . . Hence it was his was the only voice which backed up Mr. Horton's.
"Are you at liberty to tell us just what was said by the Government to-day?" asked Mr. Horton of the young member (who had left the House but a few minutes previously).
"Among ourselves, certainly. The general opinion was that the proposal ought to be accepted if Miss Chester could be prevailed upon to give her consent. In her own interests, it was contended, she should do so. You see, they were taking everything for granted; which means that they had no doubt that in this matter the German Admiral was acting with authority and in pursuance of instructions, which, I must confess, seemed only understandable on the assumption that they attached the highest importance to Miss Chester and her safety."
"Were there, then, no objectors—no voice raised in opposition?" demanded Mr. Horton.
"There were a few; and others, greedy for greater concessions, advocated fixing two millions as the price of the hostage."
"Did you speak?"
"What was it?"
"Merely to point out that in such an extraordinary case as this, it was patent that everything depended on the young lady herself. No ransom could be fixed, or even discussed, till it was known whether Miss Chester herself was willing to be thus traded on."
"Which was right. It was, in fact, the only thing to say. Well, and what was the upshot?"
"That I was deputed by the Premier to at once see Miss Chester, consult with her on the matter, and report immediately."
"You are to go back to the House at once?"
It was then that all eyes turned to Nilda.
Was ever an inexperienced maiden, shy of the world, and hitherto uninfluenced by it in any large degree, placed in such a momentous quandary? All present felt for her; none knew just what she would do; but he who knew her best, Mr. Summers, alone guessed what she might do.
It was Mr. Horton who, in these circumstances, asked Nilda, not without emotion showing in his own voice, what she would do?
Nilda rose from her chair, her hands clasped; she turned toward Mr. Horton, but, looking over his head, she gazed for a moment out of the open window, out toward the sea—out over the borders of our own land, towards that unknown far north, whither they would take her, if she made the vital decision.
Then, "Dear Mr. Horton, I deeply appreciate your interest in me; your almost paternal kindness to me. . . . But I must do my duty."
"Yes, Nilda, do your duty—that is the noblest any man or woman can at any time do; but what is your duty here? Is is at all clear?" asked Mr. Horton.
"My duty to my country—this Australia will always be my country—demands of me that I should do this. Since they place so large a value upon poor me—I can hardly realise that it is true—some sacrifice should certainly be undertaken, even danger and risk. But I plead no heroism; I claim none. I am not afraid. . . . On the surface of it all, when first it was opened up to me, by little and little, it seemed a preposterous story; but even you, dear friends, now see that behind it all there lies—there must lie—a basis of fact which cannot reasonably be denied. . . . I am assured I am going to those who have the right to give me protection. True, it was an extraordinary time to assert those rights. . . . I did not seek them; you know that. They sought me; and I am assured that all will be explained. . . . Therefore you will see that duty again, of a personal character, also calls. . . ."
Then, without waiting for further word from her friends, Nilda, turning to Mr. Gresham, who alone of the company had also risen, and stood by her, said, "You are at liberty, Mr. Gresham, to go to the Government, and inform them that I am ready to be surrendered to the German Admiral!"
England was distressed, but never subdued, by the presence of nearly 400,000 German troops upon its territory.
As the narrative in previous chapters has shown, the relieving German army from the north, pressing with might and main for the relief of the first division of the army—practically held up behind entrenchments by the troops under the veteran General of the British army—had on the onset practically repulsed the troops under Lord Kitchener, who had been grievously disappointed in not getting the reinforcements he sorely needed. But at length these came, and a little south of Newcastle another most determined battle was fought, which lasted for nine hours. The limits of this narrative do not permit the details of this last great battle being recounted, but when the day was over there were counted 21,500 dead Germans on the battlefield, while the wounded were estimated at no less than 29,000. On the British side the casualties in dead and wounded were set down at about 30,000. But the great thing was that victory was with the British. Victory now of so unquestioned a character, that not even the most unscrupulous German reporter or paper could possibly say otherwise. The German General, realising the utter helplessness of his position—hemmed in on every side, and cut off from his base—had surrendered his sword, and owned himself and his remaining troops prisoners of the British General!
When these tidings were made known, it was at once apparent that no power on earth could save from starvation or destruction the beleaguered garrisons of the German main army. . . . For days they had, as a matter of fact, been kept alive by eating horses, dogs, and a few fish which they had been able to secure on the bit of coast-line inside of which they had entrenched themselves.
Now was set up an agitation in London, originating chiefly with a body of loyal Germans, but not traitors to England—merchants, wealthy civilians and aristocrats of leisure—which speedily culminated in a huge petition to the German Emperor and Government, to declare the war ended, by accepting such conditions of peace as might be submitted by Great Britain. Only thus, it was contended, could the whole beleaguered army be saved from certain death. . . This petition was signed by Prince Henry (brother of the Kaiser) himself, he being, of course, still a prisoner in the Tower, whose walls had not for many generations echoed to the footsteps of an imprisoned Prince of the blood.
This was said to be the bitterest hour that Emperor William had lived.
The upshot was due not only to the failure of the German legions on British soil, but in a large measure to the vast amount of trouble and intense dissatisfaction and disaffection in the German Empire itself. The Socialists had from the first condemned the war; during its short, sharp progress they had become more dissatisfied, until the whole Empire was stirred with tumult and incipient rebellion; so that it became a question whether the Hohenzollern Dynasty itself was not in danger.
As late as December, 1910, this was cabled from London:—
"Protest by Socialists. The German Socialists strongly protested against the army increases, and declared that the Government did not desire peace, but was preparing for the bloodiest wars. But the future," the Socialists added, "belongs to the League of Nations."
The beggarly, miserable contretemps which dethroned the last of the Napoleons, faced as a white spectre ever the Palace of Potsdam. . . . The disaffected Press broke loose; there was little possibility of putting into execution the law of his Majesty, because of the host who now broke it. . . . The loyalty of the military alone saved the situation for the monarch and Throne. . . .
In the extreme hour William II. knew that Austria, however willing to abide by the Treaty of the Triple Alliance, was powerless to help him. . . . The clamour and threats of his vast number of commercial subjects, who stood face to face with ruin by a prolongation of the war, seeing that ocean trade was entirely cut off, seconded the efforts of those petitioning the Throne for a conclusion of peace.
Then it was that the great War Lord humbled himself. He sent in great haste a special ambassador to sue for peace at the Court of St. James.
These were the terms stipulated by the King and Parliament of Great Britain:—
The payment of an indemnity in cash of £200,000,000. The absolute surrender of all German interests or pretensions in New Guinea. An undertaking not to assert any right or make any manner of interference in Egypt, or in regard to British administration in that country. The forfeiture to England of Heligoland. The return of such prisoners as were in the hands of the Germans.
It was a concise and business-like demand on the part of the British Government, and 24 hours were allowed for the answer.
It was long enough—far too long—for one section of the Germans. Wireless messages rushed one upon another from these, that soldiers were dying daily from sheer starvation within the camps of the Germans; adding also to the terrors of their situation were pitiful reports that disease, due to insanitary conditions, was rife among them, and threatened to decimate the beleaguered German army.
In so tight a place, what, then, was there for the German Emperor or Reichstag to do? It was reported that the latter took the initiative, and, in a mid-night sitting, amidst scenes of anger, wild confusion and recrimination, determined to accede to every condition of peace proposed by Great Britain if the latter would forego the cession of Heligoland.
Ultimately—it meant another few hours' negotiations—Heligoland was struck out of the compact, but at the price of twenty-five millions being added to the amount of the indemnity, with further clauses guaranteeing no further German interference with the buffer States of Denmark, Holland and Belgium. . . .
The world breathed easier when it was made known that the conditions of peace had been signed between Great Britain and Germany.
Throughout the United Kingdom bonfires blazed; it was said a thousand bands played concurrently in different parts of Britain; the churches—Anglican, Roman, and Nonconformist—united in offering thanksgiving to the Almighty.
Britannia had withstood the mighty shock of the long-talked of German invasion, and was still—Great Britain!
While the mighty invader had bitten the dust, and begged to be allowed to pay the price of that peace he had so ruthlessly disturbed.
* * * *
It now but remains to briefly as possible narrate what happened in regard to Australia and the heroine of this war-story.
The German levy upon the city of Sydney had all been paid, and Nilda C. Chester was among the spoils on board the flagship, with the Admiral and his officers doing her reverence. A ship ladened with spoils; how did they boast them of the easy victory and this modern spoiling of the Egyptians. . . . How did they jubilate, for it had been given out that every man, down to the cabin boys, would "stand in" in some measure when the great spoil should be divided; so that already they imagined themselves strutting about the streets of the Fatherland with pockets lined with Australian gold!
Short-lived was their pleasure of anticipation.
With leisurely ease and confidence they moved round to do execution upon Melbourne, now sanguine of uninterrupted success throughout the Australian ports.
Soon as they reached Port Philip they were struck dumb, for a message reached them as they entered the Heads—without a shot being fired at them—breaking the news that terms of peace were being arranged. Further acquainting the Admiral that the German Consul desired his immediate presence at the Consulate, when full directions, as cabled out to the Consul a few hours earlier, would be communicated to the Admiral as to what was desired of him in this new development.
This was no less than an absolute order to disgorge all the millions from Brisbane, all the millions from Sydney! What humiliation! What tantalising renunciation! Who could endure it? The Admiral and his senior officers at first protested. It was impossible; some great mistake had been made; it was a hoax on the part of the enemy. Germany surrendering and paying indemnity to Britain! It could not be! His navy would not believe it. There would be mutiny, rather than be dispossessed of their spoils!
But it had to be. The fullest confirmation, private and otherwise, was soon to hand that satisfied even the German Admiral that his orders were imperative and unmistakable.
He then disgorged.
* * * *
And what of Nilda?
Once again the opportunity was hers to return; but she did not urge it. The special pleaders were by her side, to impress upon her that honor and duty, and even self-interest, called her to stick by the bond she had accepted. The price had been paid, they said, and in honor she was bound to proceed. And now, they urged, they could do so without danger. There were at least three—Nilda, Hans and Frau Heckler—who shook hands and embraced with mutual and undisguised satisfaction that the terrible war was over, and the dreadful guns would be silent. . . . The way was open—the way of peace—and they would soon be in their beloved Fatherland.
* * * *
Some two months later the arrival of the Southern Squadron in German waters was duly announced; and certain society papers, both English and Continental, noted the presence of the young and fascinating Countess Salleberg, about whom, it was alleged, there was a most romantic history and experience. . . . By that name she was at once received into the top ranks of society, and in due course presented, and received, at the Imperial Court of the Kaiser. . . . Suitors came to her, among them a Prince, it was said, and a young politician from a far country. . . . Who won the hand of Countess Nilda eventually it is not for this war-story to set down. . . But in the process of time she came once again to her beloved Sydney, and dwelt for a space with the Hortons and the Summers. . . And so we must leave her.
Would you have me continue the history of Nilda in another land, the land of the Kaiser, whither she went? . . . By my faith, I cannot. Not now, for indeed her career has but commenced; and it would unduly prolong the narrative. Yet would I fain wish it might be so, that you are interested in this Australian girl whom I have attempted to type; which word reminds me for months a veritable Typo. has been chasing me. (In Maori legends there is a word so pronounced which is fearful as any fiend). But this, my "Typo.," is no fiend, but the finest of setters on a linotype—a perfect trump of a man, whose "proofs" were the "cleanest" I have ever had the good fortune to read. Not 20 words were altered in the whole 270 pages of an average of 250 words to the page—a total of 67,500 words—nor did five "literals" appear to the column of set matter. Hence, did it become a pleasure to read the proof-sheets of "Nilda," from an editorial standpoint. This, too, notwithstanding the "chase." The author had a start of about 100 pages; since which the cry for "copy" has come along with regular linotype precision. . . . When it is added that these pages have been penned "after the day's work was done," perhaps no other claim for the reader's consideration may be mentioned. . . . As to the burden of the story, the Invasion—from which may good Heaven defend us!—the author has attempted to visualise, and to realise, how things might go. Since this story commenced publication, the writer has met friends who will not have it that war with Germany is possible. Let us hope they are entirely right. But the "feel of it" is in the air; the portents seem unmistakable; and where there is much smoke there is latent fire. . . . In any case, I trust I have not wearied you, dear reader. Some other day, perchance, we shall meet again. And, in the meantime, good-night.
December 15, 1910.
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