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Chapter XXIII


IT was on the day following the destruction of Dover that the news of the actual landing of the French and German forces had really taken place at the points selected by Castellan reached Whernside. The little house party were at lunch, and the latest papers had just come over from Settle. Naturally what they contained formed the sole topic of conversation.

"Really, Arnold, I think even you must confess that things are a great deal more serious than anyone could have imagined a few days ago. The very idea — an invasion accomplished in forty-eight hours — Portsmouth, Dover, Sheerness and Tilbury destroyed, and French and German and Russian soldiers actually in arms on English soil. The thing would be preposterous if it were not true!

"And what are we to do now, I should like to know? The Fleet doesn't exist — we have no army in the Continental sense of the word, which of course is the real military sense, thanks to a lot of politicians calling themselves statesmen who have been squabbling about what an army ought to be for the last ten years.

"You will be able to put a million trained and half-trained — mostly half-trained-men into the field, to face millions of highly-trained French, German, Russian and Austrian troops, led by officers who have taken their profession seriously, and not by gentlemen who have gone into the army because it was a nice sort of playground, where you could have lots of fun, and a little amateur fighting now and then. I wonder what they will do now against the men who have made war a science instead of sport!

"I should like to know what the good people who have made such a fuss about the 'tyranny of Conscription' will say now, when they find that we haven't trained men enough to defend our homes. Just as if military service was not the first duty a man owes to his country and to his home. A man has no right to a country nor a home if he isn't able to defend them. Kipling was perfectly right when he said:

     'What is your boasting worth
If you grudge a year of service to the lordliest life on earth?'"

This little lecture was delivered with trembling lips, flushed cheeks and flashing eyes by Lady Margaret Holker, Lord Westerham's sister, who had joined the party that morning to help her brother in his recruiting.

She was an almost perfect type of the modern highly-bred Englishwoman, who knows how to be entirely modern without being vulgarly "up-to-date." She was a strong contrast to her brother, in that she was a bright brunette — not beautiful, perhaps not even pretty, but for all that distinctly good-looking. Her hair and eyebrows were black, her eyes a deep pansy-blue. A clear complexion, usually pale but decidedly flushed now, and, for the rest, somewhat irregular features which might have been almost plain, but for that indefinable expression of combined gentleness and strength which only the careful selection of long descent can give.

As for her figure, it was as perfect as absolute health and abundant exercise could make it. She could ride, shoot, throw a fly and steer a yacht better than most women and many men of her class; but for all that she could grill steaks and boil potatoes with as much distinction as she could play the piano and violin, and sing in three or four languages.

She also had a grip, not on politics, for which she had a wholesome contempt, but on the affairs of the nations — the things which really mattered. And yet withal she was just an entirely healthy young Englishwoman, who was quite as much at home in the midst of a good singing waltz as she was in an argument on high affairs of State.

"My dear Madge," said her brother, who had been reading the reports in the second morning edition of the Times aloud, "I am afraid that, after all, you are right. But then, you must not forget that a new enemy has come into the field. I hardly like to say so in Miss Castellan's presence, but it is perfectly clear that, considering what the Fleet did, there would have been no invasion if it had not been for those diabolical contrivances that John Castellan took over to the German Emperor."

"You needn't have any hesitation in saying what you like about him before me, Lord Westerham," said Norah, flushing. "It's no brother he is of mine now, as I told him the day he went aboard the German yacht at Clifden. I'd see him shot to-morrow without a wink of my eyes. The man who does what he has done has no right to the respect of any man nor the love of any woman -no, not even if the woman is his sister. Think of all the good, loyal Irishmen, soldiers and sailors, that he has murdered by this time. No, I have no brother called John Castellan."

"But you have another called Denis," said Auriole, "and I think you may be well content with him!"

"Ah, Denis!" said Norah, flushing again, but for a different reason, "Denis is a good and loyal man; yes, I am proud of him — God bless him!"

"And I should reckon that skipper of his, Captain Erskine, must be a pretty smart sort of man," said Mr Parmenter, who so far had hardly joined in the conversation, and who had seemed curiously indifferent to the terrible exploits of the Flying Fishes and all that had followed them. "That craft of his seems to be just about as business-like as anything that ever got into the water or under it. I wonder what he is doing with the Russian and German ships in the Thames now. I guess he won't let many of them get back out of there. Quite a young man, too, according to the accounts."

"Oh, yes," said Lady Margaret, "he isn't twenty-nine yet. I know him slightly. He is a son of Admiral Erskine, who commanded the China Squadron about eight years ago, and died of fever after a pirate hunt, and he is the nephew of dear old Lady Caroline Anstey, my other mother as I call her. He is really a splendid fellow, and some people say as good-looking as he is clever; although, of course, there was a desperate lot of jealousy when he was promoted Captain straight away from Lieutenant-Commander of a Fishery cruiser, but I should like to know how many of the wiseacres of Whitehall could have designed that Ithuriel of his."

"It's a pity she can't fly, though, like those others," said Mr Parmenter, with a curious note in his voice which no one at the table but Lennard understood. "She's a holy terror in the water, but the other fellow's got all the call on land. If they get a dozen or so of these aerial submarines as you might call them, in front of the invading forces, I can't see what's going to stop a march on London, and right round it. Your men are just as brave as any on earth, and a bit more than some, if their officers are a bit more gentlemen and sportsmen than soldiers; but no man can fight a thing he can't hit back at, and so I reckon the next thing we shall hear of will be the siege of London. What do you think, Lennard?"

Lennard, who had hardly spoken a word during the meal, looked up, and said in a voice which Lady Madge thought curiously unsympathetic:

"I shouldn't think it would take more than a fortnight at the outside, even leaving these airships out of the question. We haven't three hundred thousand men of all sorts to put into the field, who know one end of a gun from another, or who can sit a horse; and now that the sea's clear the enemy can land two or three millions in a fortnight."

"All our merchant shipping will be absolutely at their mercy, and they will simply have to take them over to France and Germany and load them up with men and horses, and bring them over as if they were coming to a picnic. But, of course, with the airships to help them the thing's a foregone conclusion, and to a great extent it is our own fault. I thoroughly agree with what Lady Margaret says about conscription. If we had had it only five years ago, we should now have three million men, instead of three hundred thousand, trained and ready to take the field. Though, after all—"

"After all — what?" said Lady Margaret, looking sharply round at him.

"Oh, nothing of any importance," he said. "At least, not just at present. I daresay Lord Westerham will be able to explain what I might have said better than I could. There's not time for it just now, I've got to get a train to Bolton in an hour's time."

"And I'll have to be in Glasgow to-night," said Mr Parmenter, rising. "I hope you won't think it very inhospitable of us, Lady Margaret: but business is business, you know, and more so than usual in times like these.

"Now, I had better say good-bye. I have a few things to see to before Mr Lennard and I go down to Settle, but I've no doubt Auriole will find some way of entertaining you till you want to start for York."

At half-past two the motor was at the door to take Mr Parmenter and Lennard to Settle. That evening, in Glasgow, Mr Parmenter bought the Minnehaha, a steel turbine yacht of two thousand tons and twenty-five knots speed, from Mr Hendray Chinnock, a brother millionaire, who had laid her up in the Clyde in consequence of the war the day before. He re-engaged her officers and crew at double wages to cover war risks, and started for New York within an hour of the completion of the purchase.

Lennard took the express to Bolton, with letters and a deed of gift from Lord Westerham, which gave him absolute ownership of the cannel mine with the twelve-hundred-foot vertical shaft at Farnworth.

That afternoon and evening Lady Margaret was more than entertained, for during the afternoon she learned the story of the approaching cataclysm, in comparison with which the war was of no more importance than a mere street riot; and that night Auriole, who had learned to work the great reflector almost as well as Lennard himself, showed her the ever-growing, ever-brightening shape of the Celestial Invader.

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