HotFreeBooks.com
In the Track of the Troops
by R.M. Ballantyne
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse

"Then," said Nicholas, with a laugh, "I suppose I must give in."

"Yes, my boy, you had better. If you don't, just think what will be the consequences. First of all, you will die sooner than there is any occasion for; then Bella will pine, mope, get into bad health, and gradually fade away. That will break down my mother, whose susceptible spirit could not withstand the shock. Of course, after that my own health would give way, and the hopes of a dear little—well, that is to say, ruination and widespread misery would be the result of your unnatural and useless obstinacy."

"To save you all from that," said Nicholas, "of course I must give in."

And Nicholas did give in, and the result was not half so disastrous as he had feared.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

SOME MORE OF WAR'S CONSEQUENCES.

Let us turn once more to the Balkan Mountains. Snow covers alike the valley and the hill. It is the depth of that inhospitable season when combative men were wont, in former days, to retire into winter quarters, repose on their "laurels," and rest a while until the benign influences of spring should enable them to recommence the "glorious" work of slaying one another.

But modern warriors, like modern weapons, are more terrible now than they used to be. They scout inglorious repose—at least the great statesmen who send them out to battle scout it for them. While these men of super-Spartan mould sit at home in comfortable conclave over mild cigar and bubbling hookah, quibbling over words, the modern warrior is ordered to prolong the conflict; and thus it comes to pass that Muscovite and Moslem pour out their blood like water, and change the colour of the Balkan snows.

In a shepherd's hut, far up the heights, which the smoke of battle could not reach, and where the din of deadly strife came almost softly, like the muttering of distant thunder, a young woman sat on the edge of a couch gazing wistfully at the beautiful countenance of a dead girl. The watcher was so very pale, wan, and haggard, that, but for her attitude and the motion of her great dark eyes, she also might have been mistaken for one of the dead. It was Marika, who escaped with only a slight flesh-wound in the arm from the soldier who had pursued her into the woods near her burning home.

A young man sat beside her also gazing in silence at the marble countenance.

"No, Petko, no," said Marika, looking at the youth mournfully, "I cannot stay here. As long as the sister of my preserver lived it was my duty to remain, but now that the bullet has finished its work, I must go. It is impossible to rest."

"But, Marika," urged Petko Borronow, taking his friend's hand, "you know it is useless to continue your search. The man who told me said he had it from the lips of Captain Naranovitsch himself that dear Dobri died at Plevna with his head resting on the captain's breast, and—"

The youth could not continue.

"Yes, yes," returned Marika, with a look and tone of despair, "I know that Dobri is dead; I saw my darling boy slain before my eyes, and heard Ivanka's dying scream; no wonder that my brain has reeled so long. But I am strong now. I feel as if the Lord were calling on me to go forth and work for Himself since I have no one else to care for. Had Giuana lived I would have stayed to nurse her, but—"

"Oh that the fatal ball had found my heart instead of hers!" cried the youth, clasping his hands and gazing at the tranquil countenance on the bed.

"Better as it is," said Marika in a low voice. "If you had been killed she would have fallen into the hands of the Bashi-Bazouks, and that would have been worse—far worse. The Lord does all things well. He gave, and He has taken away—oh let us try to say, Blessed be His name!"

She paused for a few minutes and then continued—

"Yes, Petko, I must go. There is plenty of work in these days for a Christian woman to do. Surely I should go mad if I were to remain idle. You have work here, I have none, therefore I must go. Nurses are wanted in the ambulance corps of our—our—deliverers."

There was no sarcasm in poor Marika's heart or tone, but the slight hesitation in her speech was in itself sarcasm enough. With the aid of her friend Petko, the poor bereaved, heart-stricken woman succeeded in making her way to Russian headquarters, where her sad tale, and the memory of her heroic husband, at once obtained for her employment as a nurse in the large hospital where I had already spent a portion of my time—namely, that of Sistova.

Here, although horrified and almost overwhelmed, at first, at the sight of so much and so terrible suffering, she gradually attained to a more resigned and tranquil frame of mind. Her sympathetic tenderness of heart conduced much to this, for she learned in some degree to forget her own sorrows in the contemplation of those of others. She found a measure of sad comfort, too, while thus ministering to the wants of worn, shattered, and dying young men, in the thought that they had fought like lions on the battle-field, as Dobri had fought, and had lain bleeding, crushed, and helpless there, as Dobri had lain.

Some weeks after her arrival there was a slight change made in the arrangements of the hospital. The particular room in which she served was selected as being more airy and suited for those of the patients who, from their enfeebled condition, required unusual care and nursing.

The evening after the change was effected, Marika, being on what may be called the night-shift, was required to assist the surgeons of the ward on their rounds. They came to a bed on which lay a man who seemed in the last stage of exhaustion.

"No bones broken," said one surgeon in a low tone to another, to whom he was explaining the cases, "but blood almost entirely drained out of him. Very doubtful his recovery. Will require the most careful nursing."

Marika stood behind the surgeons. On hearing what they said she drew nearer and looked sadly at the man.

He was gaunt, cadaverous, and careworn, as if from long and severe suffering, yet, living skeleton though he was, it was obvious that his frame had been huge and powerful.

Marika's first sad glance changed into a stare of wild surprise, then the building rang with a cry of joy so loud, so jubilant, that even those whose blood had almost ceased to flow were roused by it.

She sprang forward and leaped into the man's outstretched arms.

Ay, it was Dobri Petroff himself—or rather his attenuated shadow,—with apparently nothing but skin and sinew left to hold his bones together, and not a symptom of blood in his whole body. The little blood left, however, rushed to his face, and he found sufficient energy to exclaim "Thank the Lord!" ere his senses left him.

It is said that joy never kills. Certainly it failed to do so on this occasion. Dobri soon recovered consciousness, and then, little by little, with many a pause for breath, and in tones that were woefully unlike to those of the bold, lion-like scout of former days, he told how he had fainted and fallen on the breast of his master, how he had lain all night on the battle-field among the dead and dying, how he had been stripped and left for dead by the ruffian followers of the camp, and how at last he had been found and rescued by one of the ambulance-wagons of the Red Cross.

When Marika told him of the death of their two children he was not so much overwhelmed as she had anticipated.

"I'm not so sure that you are right, Marika," he said, after a long sad pause. "That our darling boy is now in heaven I doubt not, for you saw him killed. But you did not see Ivanka killed, and what you call her death-shriek may not have been her last. We must not be too ready to believe the worst. If I had not believed you and them to have been all murdered together, I would not have sought death so recklessly. I will not give up hope in that God who has brought you back, and saved me from death. I think that darling Ivanka is still alive."

Marika was only too glad to grasp at and hold on to the hope thus held out—feeble though the ground was on which it rested, and it need scarcely be said that she went about her hospital duties after that with a lightness and joy of heart which she had not felt for many a day.

Dobri Petroff's recovery was now no longer doubtful. Day by day his strength returned, until at last he was dismissed cured.

But it must not be supposed that Dobri was "himself again." He stood as erect, indeed, and became as sturdy in appearance as he used to be, but there was many a deep-seated injury in his powerful frame which damaged its lithe and graceful motions, and robbed it of its youthful spring.

Returning to the village of Venilik at the conclusion of the armistice, the childless couple proceeded to rebuild their ruined home.

The news of the bold blacksmith's recovery, and return with his wife to the old desolated home, reached me at a very interesting period of our family history—my sister Bella's wedding day.

It came through my eccentric friend U. Biquitous, who, after going through the Russo-Turkish war as correspondent of the Evergreen Isle, had proceeded in the same capacity to Greece. After detailing a good many of his adventures, and referring me to the pages of the EI for the remainder of his opinions on things in general, he went on, "By the way, in passing through Bulgaria lately, I fell in with your friend Dobri Petroff, the celebrated scout of the Balkan army. He and his pretty wife send their love, and all sorts of kind messages which I totally forget. Dobri said he supposed you would think he was dead, but he isn't, and I can assure you looks as if he didn't mean to die for some time to come. They are both very low, however, about the loss of their children, though they still cling fondly to the belief that their little girl Ivanka has not been killed."

Here, then, was a piece of news for my mother and family!—for we had regularly adopted Ivanka, and the dear child was to act that very day as one of Bella's bridesmaids.

I immediately told my mother, but resolved to say nothing to Ivanka, Nicholas, or Bella, till the ceremony was over.

It was inexpressibly sad to see Nicholas Naranovitsch that day, for, despite the fact that by means of a cork foot he could walk slowly to the church without the aid of a crutch, his empty sleeve, marred visage, and slightly stooping gait, but poorly represented the handsome young soldier of former days.

But my sister saw none of the blemishes—only the beauties—of the man.

"You've only got quarter of a husband, Bella," he said with a sad smile when the ceremony was over.

"You were unnecessarily large before," retorted Bella. "You could stand reducing; besides, you are doubled to-day, which makes you equal to two quarters, and as the wife is proverbially the better half, that brings you up nearly to three quarters, so don't talk any more nonsense, sir. With good nursing I shall manage, perhaps, to make a whole of you once more."

"So be it," said Nicholas, kissing her. When they had left us, my mother called me—

"Jeff," she said, with a look of decision in her meek face which I have not often observed there, "I have made up my mind that you must go back to Turkey."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, Jeff. You had no right, my dear boy, to bring that child away from her home in such a hurry."

"But," said I remonstratively, "her home at the time I carried her off was destroyed—indeed, most of the village was a smoking ruin, and liable at any moment to be replundered by the irregular troops of both sides, while Ivanka's parents were reported dead—what could I do?"

"I don't know what you could do in those circumstances, but I know what you can do now, and that is, pack your portmanteau and prepare to take Ivanka to Venilik. The child must be at once restored to her parents. I cannot bear to think of their remaining in ignorance of her being alive. Very likely Nicholas and Bella will be persuaded to extend their honeymoon to two, or even three, months, and join you in a tour through the south of Europe, after which you will all come home strong and well to spend the winter with me."

"Agreed, mother; your programme shall be carried out to the letter, if I can manage it."

"When," asked my mother, "did your friend say he passed through that village?"

I opened his letter to ascertain, when my eye fell on a postscript which had escaped me on the first perusal. It ran thus—

"P.S. I see no reason why I should not ask you to wish me joy. I'm going to be married, my boy, to Blue-eyes! I could not forget her. I had no hope whatever of discovering her. I had settled in my mind to live and die an old bachelor, when I suddenly met her. It was in Piccadilly, when I was home, some months ago, in reference to an increase of my nominal salary from the EI (which by the way came to nothing—its original figure). I entered a 'bus and ran my head against that of a lady who was coming out. I looked up to apologise, and was struck dumb. It was Blue-eyes! I assisted her to alight, and stammered, I know not what, something like—'A thousand pardons— surely we have met—excuse me—a mistake—Thunderer—captain, great guns, torpedoes, and blazes—' in the midst of which she smiled, bowed, and moved on. I moved after her. I traced her (reverentially) to a house. It was that of a personal friend! I visited that friend, I became particularly intimate with that friend, I positively bored that friend until he detested me. At last I met her at the house of that friend and—but why go on? I am now 'captain' of the Blue-eyes, and would not exchange places with any officer in the Royal Navy; we are to be married on my return, if I'm not shot, assassinated, or hanged in the meantime. U.B."

"Ah, Jeff," said my mother, "how I wish that you would—"

She stopped.

"I know what you're going to say," I returned, with a smile; "and there is a charming little—"

"Well, Jeff, why don't you go on?"

"Well, I don't see why I should not tell you, mother, that there is a charming little woman—the very best woman in the world—who has expressed herself willing to—you understand?"

"Yes, I understand."

Reader, I would gladly make a confidant of yourself in this matter, and tell you all about this charming little woman, if it were not for the fact that she is standing at my elbow at this very minute, causing me to make blots, and telling me not to write nonsense!

Before dismissing U. Biquitous, I may as well introduce here the last meeting I had with him. It was a considerable time after the war was over—after the "Congress" had closed its labours, and my friend had settled—if such a term could be applied to one who never settled—near London. Nicholas and I were sitting in a bower at the end of our garden, conversing on the war which had been happily brought to a close. Bella and my mother were seated opposite to us, the latter knitting a piece of worsted-work, the size of whose stitches and needles was suited to the weakness of her eyes, and the former busy with a pencil sketch of the superb view of undulating woodland which stretched away for miles in front of our house.

"No doubt it is as you state, Jeff," said Nicholas, in reply to my last remark; "war is a miserable method of settling a dispute, quite unworthy of civilised, to say nothing of Christian, men; but, then, how are we to get along without it? It's of no use saying that an evil must be put down—put a stop to—until you are able to show how it is to be stopped."

"That does not follow," said I, quickly; "it may be quite possible for me to see, point out, and condemn an evil although I cannot suggest a remedy and my earnest remonstrances regarding it may be useful in the way of helping to raise a general outcry of condemnation, which may have the effect of turning more capable minds than my own to the devising of a remedy. Sea-sickness is a horrible malady; I perceive it, I know it to be so. I loudly draw attention to the fact; I won't be silenced. Hundreds, thousands, of other miserables take heart and join me. We can't stand it! we shan't! is the general cry. The attention of an able engineer is attracted by the noise we make, and the Calais-Douvre steamboat springs into being, a vessel which is supposed to render sea-sickness an impossibility. Whether it accomplishes this end or not is beside the question. The point is, that, by the vigorous use of our tongues and pens in condemnation of an admitted evil, we have drawn forth a vigorous attempt to get the better of it."

"But you don't expect to do away with war altogether?" said Nicholas.

"Certainly not; I am not mad, I am only hopeful. As long as sin reigns in this world we shall have more or less of war, and I don't expect universal peace until the Prince of Peace reigns. Nevertheless, it is my duty to 'seek peace,' and in every way to promote it."

"Come, now, let us have this matter out," said Nicholas, lighting a cigar.

"You are as fond of argument as a Scotsman, Nic," murmured Bella, putting a powerful touch in the foreground of her sketch.

"Suppose, now," continued Nicholas, "that you had the power to influence nations, what would you suggest instead of war?"

"Arbitration," said I, promptly; "I would have the nations of Europe to band together and agree never to fight but always to appeal to reason, in the settlement of disputes. I would have them reduce standing armies to the condition of peace establishments—that is, just enough to garrison our strongholds, and be ready to back up our police in keeping ruffians in order. This small army would form a nucleus round which the young men of the nation would rally in the event of unavoidable war."

"Ha!" exclaimed Nicholas, with a smile of sarcasm, "you would then have us all disarm, beat our swords into reaping-hooks, and melt our bayonets and cannon into pots and pans. A charming idea! Now, suppose there was one of the nations—say Russia or Turkey—that declined to join this peaceful alliance, and, when she saw England in her disarmed condition, took it into her head to pay off old scores, and sent ironclads and thousands of well-trained and well-appointed troops to invade you, what would you do?"

"Defend myself," said I.

"What! with your peace-nucleus, surrounded by your rabble of untrained young men?"

"Nicholas," said my mother, in a mild voice, pausing in her work, "you may be as fond of argument as a Scotsman, but you are not quite as fair. You have put into Jeff's mouth sentiments which he did not express, and made assumptions which his words do not warrant. He made no reference to swords, reaping-hooks, bayonets, cannon, pots or pans, and did not recommend that the young men of nations should remain untrained."

"Bravo! mother; thank you," said I, as the dear old creature dropped her mild eyes once more on her work; "you have done me nothing but justice. There is one point, however, on which I and those who are opposed to me coincide exactly; it is this, that the best way to maintain peace is to make yourself thoroughly capable and ready for war."

"With your peculiar views, that would be rather difficult, I should fancy," said Nicholas, with a puzzled look.

"You fancy so, because you misunderstand my views," said I; "besides, I have not yet fully explained them—but here comes one who will explain them better than I can do myself."

As I spoke a man was seen to approach, with a smart free-and-easy air.

"It is my friend U. Biquitous," said I, rising and hastening to meet him.

"Ah, Jeff, my boy, glad I've found you all together," cried my friend, wringing my hand and raising his hat to the ladies. "Just come over to say good-bye. I'm engaged again on the Evergreen Isle—same salary and privileges as before—freer scope, if possible, than ever."

"And where are you going to, Mr Biquitous?" asked my mother.

"To Cyprus, madam,—the land of the—of the—the something or other; not got coached up yet, but you shall have it all in extenso ere long in the Evergreen, with sketches of the scenery and natives. I'll order a copy to be sent you."

"Very kind, thank you," said my mother; "you are fond of travelling, I think?"

"Fond of it!" exclaimed my friend; "yes, but that feebly expresses my sentiments,—I revel in travelling, I am mad about it. To roam over the world, by land and sea, gathering information, recording it, collating it, extending it, condensing it, and publishing it, for the benefit of the readers of the Evergreen Isle, is my chief terrestrial joy."

"Why, Mr Biquitous," said Bella, looking up from her drawing, with a slight elevation of the eyebrows, "I thought you were a married man."

"Ah! Mrs Naranovitsch, I understand your reproofs; but that, madam, I call a celestial joy. Looking into my wife's blue eyes is what I call star-gazing, and that is a celestial, not a terrestrial, occupation. Next to making the stars twinkle, I take pleasure in travelling—flying through space,—

"Crashing on the railroads, Skimming on the seas, Bounding on the mountain-tops, Battling with the breeze. Roaming through the forest, Scampering on the plain, Never stopping, always going, Round and round again."

"How very beautiful,—so poetical!" said Bella.

"So suggestively peaceful," murmured Nicholas.

"Your own composition?" asked my mother.

"A mere morceau," replied my friend, modestly, "tossed off to fill up a gap in the Evergreen."

"You should write poetry," said I.

"Think so? Well, I've had some notion at times, of trying my hand at an ode, or an epic, but, man, I find too many difficulties in the way. As to 'feet,' now, I can't manage feet in poetry. If it were inches or yards, one might get along, but feet are neither one thing nor another. Then, rhyme bothers me. I've often to run over every letter in the alphabet to get hold of a rhyme—click, thick, pick, rick, chick, brick—that sort of thing, you know. Sentiment, too, is very troublesome. Either I put too much or too little sentiment into my verses; sometimes they are all sentiment together; not unfrequently they have none at all; or the sentiment is false, which spoils them, you know. Yes, much though I should like to be a poet, I must content myself with prose. Just fancy, now, my attempting a poem on Cyprus! What rhymes with Cyprus? Fyprus, gyprus, highprus, kyprus, lyprus, tryprus, and so on to the end. It's all the same; nothing will do. No doubt Hook would have managed it; Theodore could do anything in that way, but I can't."

"Most unfortunate! But for these difficulties you might have been a second Milton. You leave your wife behind, I suppose," said Bella, completing her sketch and shutting the book.

"What!" exclaimed my volatile friend, becoming suddenly grave, "leave Blue-eyes behind me! leave the mitigator of my woes, the doubler of my joys, the light of my life behind me! No, Mrs Naranovitsch, Blue-eyes is necessary to my existence; she inspires my pen and corrects my spelling; she lifts my soul, when required, above the petty cares of life, and enables me to take flights of genius, which, without her, were impossible, and you know that flights of genius are required, occasionally, of the correspondent of a weekly—at least of an Irish weekly. Yes, Blue-eyes goes with me. We shall levant together."

"Are bad puns allowed in the Evergreen?" I asked.

"Not unless excessively bad," returned my friend; "they won't tolerate anything lukewarm."

"Well, now, Biquitous," said I, "sit down and give Nicholas, who is hard to convince, your opinion as to the mode in which this and other countries ought to prepare for self-defence."

"In earnest, do you mean?"

"In earnest," said I.

"Well, then," said my friend, "if I were in power I would make every man in Great Britain a trained soldier."

"Humph!" said Nicholas, "that has been tried by other nations without giving satisfaction."

"But," continued U. Biquitous, impressively, "I would do so without taking a single man away from his home, or interfering with his duties as a civilian. I would have all the males of the land trained to arms in boyhood—during school-days—at that period of life when boys are best fitted to receive such instruction, when they would 'go in' for military drill, as they now go in for foot-ball, cricket, or gymnastics—at that period when they have a good deal of leisure time, when they would regard the thing more as play than work—when their memories are strong and powerfully retentive, and when the principles and practice of military drill would be as thoroughly implanted in them as the power to swim or skate, so that, once acquired, they'd never quite lose it. I speak from experience, for I learned to skate and swim when a boy, and I feel that nothing—no amount of disuse—can ever rob me of these attainments. Still further, in early manhood I joined the great volunteer movement, and, though I have now been out of the force for many years, I know that I could 'fall in' and behave tolerably well at a moment's notice, while a week's drill would brush me up into as good a soldier as I ever was or am likely to be. Remember, I speak only of rank and file, and the power to carry arms and use them intelligently. I would compel boys to undergo this training, but would make it easy, on doctor's certificate, or otherwise, for anxious parents to get off the duty, feeling assured that the fraction of trained men thus lost to the nation would be quite insignificant. Afterwards, a few days of drill each year would keep men well up to the mark; and even in regard to this brushing-up drill I would make things very easy, and would readily accept every reasonable excuse for absence, in the firm belief that the willing men would be amply sufficient to maintain our 'reserve force.' As to the volunteers, I would encourage them as heretofore, and give them more honour and privileges than they possess at present. Thus would an army be ever ready to spring into being at a day's notice, and be thoroughly capable of defending hearths and homes in a few weeks.

"For our colonies and our authority at home, I would have a very small, well-paid, and thoroughly efficient standing army, which would form a perfect model in military matters, and a splendid skeleton on which the muscle and sinew of the land might wind itself if invasion threatened. For the rest, I would keep my bayonets and artillery in serviceable condition, and my 'powder dry.' If all Europe acted thus, she would be not less ready for war than she is now, and would have all her vigorous men turned into producers instead of consumers, to the immense advantage of the States' coffers, to the great comfort of the women and children, to the lessening of crime and poverty, and to the general well-being of the world at large."

"My dear sir," said Nicholas, with a laugh, "you were born before your time."

"It may be so," returned the other, lightly, "nevertheless I will live in the hope of seeing the interests of peace more intelligently advanced than they have been of late; and if the system which I suggest is not found to be the best, I will rejoice to hear of a better, and will do my best to advocate it in the Evergreen Isle. But now I must go; Blue-eyes and Cyprus await me. Farewell."

U. Biquitous shook hands heartily, and walked rapidly away down the avenue, where he was eventually hidden from our view by a bush of laurel.

To return from this digression.

It is not difficult in these days to "put a girdle round the world." Ivanka and I soon reached the village of Venilik.

It was a sad spectacle of ruin and desolation, but we found Dobri Petroff and Marika in the old home, which had been partially rebuilt. The blacksmith's anvil was ringing as merrily as ever when we approached, and his blows appeared to fall as heavily as in days gone by, but I noticed, when he looked up, that his countenance was lined and very sad, while his raven locks were prematurely tinged with grey.

Shall I describe the meeting of Ivanka with her parents? I think not. The imagination is more correct and powerful than the pen in such cases. New life seemed from that moment to be infused into the much-tried pair. Marika had never lost her trust in God through all her woes, and even in her darkest hours had refused to murmur. She had kissed the rod that smote her, and now she praised Him with a strong and joyful heart.

Alas! there were many others in that village, and thousands of others throughout that blood-soaked land, who had no such gleam of sunshine sent into the dark recesses of their woe-worn hearts—poor innocent souls these, who had lost their joy, their possessions, their hope, their all in this life, because of the mad, unreasonable superstition that it is necessary for men at times to arrange their differences by war!

War! what is it? A monster which periodically crushes the energies, desolates the homes, swallows thousands of the young lives, and sweeps away millions of the money of mankind. It bids Christianity stand aside for a time. It legalises wholesale murder and robbery. It affords a safe opportunity to villainy to work its diabolic will, so that some of the fairest scenes of earth are converted into human shambles. It destroys the labour of busy generations, past and present, and saddles heavy national debt on those that are yet unborn. It has been estimated that the national debts of Europe now amount to nearly 3000 millions sterling, more than three-fourths of which have been required for war and warlike preparations, and that about 600 millions are annually taken from the capital and industry of nations for the expense of past, and the preparation for future wars. War tramples gallantry in the dust, leaves women at the mercy of a brutal soldiery, slaughters old men, and tosses babes on bayonet-points. All this it does, and a great deal more, in the way of mischief; what does it accomplish in the way of good? What has mankind gained by the wars of Napoleon the First, which cost, it is said, two million of lives, to say nothing of the maimed-for-life and the bereaved? Will the gain or the loss of Alsace and Lorraine mitigate or increase in any appreciable degree the woe of French and Prussian widows? Will the revenues of these provinces pay for the loss consequent on the stagnation of trade and industry? What has been gained by the Crimean war, which cost us thousands of lives and millions in money? Nothing whatever! The treaties which were to secure what had been gained have been violated, and the empire for which we fought has been finally crushed.

When waged in self-defence war is a sad, a horrible necessity. When entered into with a view to national aggrandisement, or for an idea, it is the greatest of crimes. The man who creeps into your house at night, and cuts your throat while you are asleep in bed, is a sneaking monster, but the man who sits "at home at ease," safe from the tremendous "dogs" which he is about to let loose, and, with diplomatic pen, signs away the peace of society and the lives of multitudes without serious cause, is a callous monster. Of the two the sneak is the less objectionable, because less destructive.

During this visit to Venilik, I spent some time in renewing my inquiries as to the fate of my yacht's crew, but without success, and I was forced to the sad conclusion that they must either have been drowned or captured, and, it may be, killed after reaching the land. Long afterwards, however, I heard it rumoured that Mr Whitlaw had escaped and returned to his native country. There is, therefore, some reason to hope that that sturdy and true-hearted American still lives to relate, among his other stirring narratives, an account of that memorable night when he was torpedoed on the Danube.

Before finally bidding adieu to the Petroff family, I had many a talk with Dobri on the subject of war as we wandered sadly about the ruined village. The signs of the fearful hurricane by which it had been swept were still fresh upon it, and when I looked on the burnt homesteads, the trampled crops, and neglected fields, the crowds of new-made graves, the curs that quarrelled over unburied human bones, the blood-stained walls and door-posts, the wan, almost bloodless, faces of the few who had escaped the wrath of man, and reflected that all this had been brought about by a "Christian" nation, fighting in the interests of the Prince of Peace, I could not help the fervent utterance of the prayer: "O God, scatter thou the people that delight in war!"

THE END.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse