He arrived long before dinner, before I had gone upstairs to dress, and explained himself.
"I heard," he said, "that Power was up here, so I thought I'd better come too."
"How lucky it is," I said, "that Pringle didn't invite you to-night."
"I shouldn't have gone if he had. I should have considered it my duty to come here. After all, Excellency, some one ought to look after Marion a bit."
"For the matter of that," I said, "some one ought to look after Tottie Pringle."
"You never can tell," said Godfrey, "what silly fancy a girl will take into her head, and that fellow Power is just the sort who might—"
Godfrey nodded sagaciously. It has always been understood that Godfrey is to marry Marion at some future time. I have always understood this and, on personal grounds, dislike it very much; though I do not deny that the arrangement is convenient. My title is not a very ancient or particularly honourable one, but I do not like to think of its being dragged in the gutter by a pauper. If Godfrey married Marion he would have the use of her income. Godfrey has certainly understood this plan for the future. He may treat himself occasionally to the kisses of Tottie Pringle, but he is not the man to allow kissing to interfere with his prospect of earning a competence. Whether Marion understood her fate or not, I do not know. She always endured Godfrey with patience. I suppose that this condition of affairs gave Godfrey a certain right to nod sagaciously when he spoke of looking after Marion. But I resented both his tone and the things he said. I left him and went up to dress.
Marion's behaviour during the evening fully justified Godfrey's fears, though I do not think that anything would have excused him for expressing them to me. She was amazingly cheerful during dinner, and in so good a temper, that she continued smiling at Godfrey even when he scowled at her. Bob Power was breezily agreeable, and I should have thoroughly enjoyed the stories he told us if I had not been conscious all the time that Godfrey was frowning at my right ear. He sat on that side of me and Bob Power on the other, so my ear was, most of the time, the nearest thing to my face that Godfrey could frown at.
After dinner Bob and Marion behaved really badly; not to Godfrey, but to me. No one could behave badly to Godfrey because he always deserves worse than the worst that is done to him. But I am not a very objectionable person, and I have during the last twenty-two years shown a good deal of kindness to Marion. I do not think that she and Bob ought to have slipped out of the drawing-room window after singing one short song, and left me to be worried by Godfrey for the whole evening. Only one way of escape presented itself to me. I pretended to go to sleep. That stopped Godfrey talking after a time; but not until I had found it necessary to snore. I heard every word he said up to that point. I woke up with a very good imitation of a start when Bob and Marion came in again. That happened at ten o'clock, and Bob immediately said good night. Under ordinary circumstances Godfrey stays on till nearly eleven; but that night he went away five minutes after Bob left.
Next morning there was trouble. It began with Marion's behaviour at breakfast. As a rule she is a young woman of placid and equable temper, one who is likely in the future to have a soothing effect on her husband. That morning she was very nearly hysterical. When we went into my study after breakfast she was quite incapable of work, and could not lay her hands on any of the papers which I particularly wanted. I was irritated at the moment, but I recognized afterwards that she had some excuse, and in any case my morning's work would have been interrupted.
At half-past ten I got a note from Godfrey—written in pencil and almost illegible—in which he asked me to go down to see him at once. He said that he was in severe pain and for the time confined to bed.
"You're sure," he said, "to have heard a garbled account of what happened, before you get this letter. I want to tell you the facts before I take further action."
The word "facts" was underlined shakily. I had, of course, heard no account of anything which had happened. I handed the letter to Marion.
"Do you know what this means?" I asked.
Marion read it.
"Rose told me this morning," she said, "that there had been some kind of a row last night. She said Godfrey was killed."
"That isn't true at all events," I said. "He's still alive."
"Of course I didn't believe her," said Marion.
"But I think you ought to have told me at breakfast," I said. "I hate having these things sprung on me suddenly. At my time of life even good news ought to be broken to me gradually. Any sudden shock is bad for the heart."
"I thought there might be no truth in the story at all," said Marion, "and you know, father, that you don't like being worried."
I don't. But I am worried a great deal.
"I suppose," I said, "that I'd better go down and see him. He says he's in great pain, so he's not likely to be agreeable; but still I'd better go."
"Do," said Marion; "and, of course, if there's anything I can do, anything I can send down to him—"
"I don't expect he's as bad as all that," I said. "Men like Godfrey are never seriously hurt. But if he expresses a wish for chicken jelly I'll let you know at once."
I started at once. I met Bob Power just outside my own gate. He was evidently a little embarrassed, but he spoke to me with the greatest frankness.
"I'm extremely sorry, Lord Kilmore," he said, "but I am afraid I hurt your nephew last night."
"Not very," said Bob. "Collar bone and a couple of ribs. I saw the doctor this morning."
"Yes. It wasn't altogether my fault. I mean to say—"
"I'm sure it was altogether Godfrey's," I said. "The thing which surprises me is that nobody ever did it before. Godfrey is nearly thirty, so for twenty years at least every man he has met must have been tempted to break his ribs. We must, in spite of what everybody says, be a Christian nation. If we were not—"
"He would keep following me about," said Bob. "I told him several times to clear away and go home. But he wouldn't."
"He has a fixed idea that you're engaged in smuggling."
"Even if I was," said Bob, "it would be no business of his."
"That's just why he mixes himself up in it. If it had been his business he wouldn't have touched it. There's nothing Godfrey hates more than doing anything he ought to do."
"I'm awfully glad you take it that way," said Bob. "I was afraid—"
"My dear fellow," I said, "I'm delighted. But you haven't told me yet exactly how it happened."
"I was moving a packing-case," said Bob, "a rather large one—"
He hesitated. I think he felt that the packing-case might require some explanation, especially as it was being moved at about eleven o'clock at night. I hastened to reassure him.
"Quite a proper thing for you to be doing," I said, "and certainly no business of Godfrey's. Every one has a perfect right to move packing-cases about from place to place."
"He told me he was going for the police, so—"
"I don't think you need have taken any notice of that threat. The police know Godfrey quite well. They hate being worried just as much as I do."
"So I knocked him down."
"You must have hit him in several places at once," I said, "to have broken so many bones."
"The fact is," said Bob, "that he got up again."
"That's just the sort of thing he would do. Any man of ordinary good feeling would have known that when he was knocked down he was meant to stay down."
"Then the two other men who were with me, young fellows out of the town, set on him."
"Was one of them particularly freckly?" I asked.
"I didn't notice. Why do you ask?"
"If he was it would account for my daughter's maid getting hold of an inaccurate version of the story this morning. But it doesn't matter. Go on with what you were saying."
"There isn't any more," said Bob. "They hammered him, and then we carried him home. That's all."
"I am going down to see him now," I said. "He's thinking of taking further action."
"Let him," said Bob. "Is Miss D'Aubigny at home?"
"Yes, she is. If you're going up to see her—"
"I would," said Bob, "if I thought she wouldn't be angry with me."
"She's nervous," I said, "and excited; but she didn't seem angry."
Just outside the town I met Crossan and, very much to my surprise, McNeice walking with him. Crossan handed me a letter. I put it into my pocket and greeted McNeice.
"I did not know you were here," I said. "When did you come?"
"Last night," said McNeice. "Crossan brought me on his motor."
"Were you in time for the scrimmage?"
"You'd maybe better read the letter I've given you, my lord," said Crossan.
"If I'd been there," said McNeice, "your nephew would probably be dead now. In my opinion he ought to be."
"The letter I've just given your lordship," said Crossan, "is an important one."
"I'm sure it is," I said. "But I haven't time to read it now."
"What's in it, my lord, is this. I'm resigning the management of your business here, and the sooner you're suited with a new man the better."
"If my nephew Godfrey has been worrying you, Crossan," I said, "I'll take steps—"
"It's not that, my lord. For all the harm his talk ever did me I'd stay on. But—"
He looked at McNeice as if asking permission to say more.
"Political business," said McNeice.
"Of course," I said, "if it's a matter of politics, everything must give way to politics. But I'm very sorry to lose you, Crossan. My business affairs—"
"You'll have no business affairs left, my lord, if the Home Rule Bill passes."
"But you're going to stop it," I said.
"We are," said Crossan.
He certainly believed that he was. At the present moment he believes that he did stop it.
I found Godfrey propped up in bed. His face had a curiously unbalanced appearance owing to the way in which one side of his jaw was swollen. Bob Power's original blow must have been a hard one. I noticed when he spoke that one of his eye teeth was broken off short. He began to pour out his complaint the moment I entered the room.
"A murderous assault was made on me last night," he said. "After I left your house I walked down—"
"Don't talk if it hurts you, Godfrey," I said.
He was speaking in a muffled way which led me to think that the inside of his mouth must be nearly as much swollen as the outside.
"That fellow Power had a band of ruffians with him. If he had fought fair I shouldn't have minded, but—"
"What were you doing," I said, "to make him attack you? He must have had some reason."
"I wasn't doing anything. I was simply looking on."
"That may have been the most objectionable thing possible," I said. "I don't say that his violence was justified; but it may have been quite excusable if you insisted on looking on at something which he didn't want you to see."
Godfrey actually tried to smile. He could not do so, of course, on account of the condition of his mouth, but I judged by the expression of his eyes that he was trying to. Godfrey's smiles are always either malicious or idiotic. This one, if it had come off, would have been malicious.
"I saw all I wanted to," he said, "before they attacked me. In fact, I was just going for the police—"
"I suppose you sent for the police this morning?" I said.
"No, I didn't. I don't trust the police. I wouldn't trust the magistrates here, except you, of course, Excellency. What I'm going to do is write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer."
"Good gracious, Godfrey! Why the Chancellor of the Exchequer? What interest can you expect him to take in your fights? If you are going to make a political matter of it at all, you'd far better try the Secretary of State for War. It's much more in his line."
"But the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the man who's responsible for the revenue, isn't he?"
"You can't expect him to give you a pension simply because Power knocked out your teeth."
"He'll stop Power smuggling," said Godfrey.
"I suppose," I said, "that it's no use my telling you that he was not smuggling?"
"I saw him at it," said Godfrey, "and I'm going to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer."
"What on earth do you expect to gain by that?" I asked.
"He ought to be grateful to me for putting him on the track of the smuggling," said Godfrey. "I should think he'd want to do something for me afterwards. He might—"
"Give you a job," I said.
"Yes," said Godfrey. "I always heard that fellows in the Treasury got good salaries."
I was greatly relieved when I left Godfrey. I expected that he would want to take some sort of legal proceedings against Bob Power which would have involved us all in a great deal of unpleasantness. I should not have been surprised if he had tried to blackmail Bob or Conroy, or both, and I should have disliked that very much. But his letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to be merely foolish. In the first place Bob Power was not smuggling. In the next place the Chancellor of the Exchequer would never see Godfrey's letter. It would be opened, I supposed, by some kind of clerk or secretary. He would giggle over it and show it to a friend. He would also giggle. Then unless the spelling was unusually eccentric the letter would go into the waste-paper basket. Nothing whatever would happen.
I was, I own, entirely wrong. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did see the letter. I take that for granted, because the Prime Minister saw it, and I cannot see how it could have got to him except through the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The spelling may have been as bad as Godfrey's spelling usually is, but the letter evidently gave a detailed account of what had happened, the kind of account which impresses people as being true. The letter was, in fact, the first direct evidence the Government got about what Conroy and McNeice and Bob were doing. I dare say there were suspicions abroad before. The offer of a peerage to Conroy showed that there was good reason to placate him. But it was Godfrey's absurd letter which first suggested to the minds of the Cabinet that Conroy was using his yacht, the Finola, for importing arms into Ulster. Even then I do not think that anybody in authority suspected how thoroughly Conroy and Bob were doing the work. They may have thought of a cargo of rifles, and a few thousand cartridges. The existence of the Ulster artillery was a surprise to them at the very moment when the guns first opened fire.
So far from having no consequences at all, Godfrey's ridiculous letter actually precipitated the conflict which took place. I do not think that it made any difference to the result of the fighting. That would have been the same whether the fighting came a little sooner or a little later. But the letter and the action of the Government which followed it certainly disorganized Conroy's plans and hustled McNeice.
I found McNeice in my study when I got home. I told him, by way of a joke, about the letter which Godfrey intended to write. To my surprise he did not treat it as a joke. I suppose he realized at once what the consequences of such a letter might be.
"They ought to have put him past writing letters," he growled, "when they had him."
Then, without even saying good-bye to me, he got up and left the room. In less than an hour he and Crossan were rushing off somewhere in their motor car. They may have gone to hold a consultation with Conroy. He was in Belfast at the time.
I found Bob Power and Marion in the garden, but not, as I expected, eating gooseberries. They were sitting together on a seat opposite a small artificial pond in which I try to keep gold fish. When I came upon them they were sitting up straight, and both of them were gazing intently into the pond. This surprised me, because all the last consignment of gold fish had died, and there was nothing in the pond to look at.
I told Bob about Godfrey and the letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His reception of the news was even more disappointing than McNeice's was. He neither laughed, as I hoped, nor even scowled. In fact, if I had not spoken quite distinctly, I should have thought that he did not hear what I said.
"Lord Kilmore," he said, "I think I ought to tell you at once—"
Then he stopped and looked at Marion. She became very red in the face.
"Father," she said, "Bob and I—"
Then she stopped too. I waited for a long time. Neither of them did more than begin a sentence; but Bob took Marion's hand and held it tight. I thought it better to try to help them out.
"I don't know," I said, "whether I've guessed rightly—"
"Of course you have, father," said Marion.
"If not," I said, "it'll be very embarrassing for all of us when I tell you what my guess is."
"Marion and I—" said Bob.
"Have spent the morning," I said, "in finding out that you want to marry each other?"
"Of course we have," said Marion.
"Of course," said Bob.
The discovery that they both wanted the same thing made them ridiculously happy. Marion kissed me with effusive ardour, putting her left arm tight round my neck, but still holding on to Bob with her right hand. Bob, after our first raptures had subsided a little, insisted on going down to Godfrey's lodgings, and apologizing for breaking his ribs. I told him that an apology delivered in that spirit would merely intensify Godfrey's wish to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But nothing I said moved Bob in the least. He was so happy that he wanted to abase himself before some one.
Babberly is in some ways a singularly unlucky man. A place for him, and that a high one, ought to have been quite secure in the next Unionist Cabinet. Now he will never hold office under any government, and yet no one can say that his collapse was in any way his own fault.
On the very day on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer received Godfrey's letter, Babberly announced his intention of holding another Unionist demonstration in Belfast. He did not mean any harm by this. He intended nothing worse than another eloquent speech and expected nothing more serious than the usual cheers. He regards demonstrations very much as my nephew Godfrey does garden-parties. They are troublesome functions, requiring a good deal of labour and care for their successful accomplishment, but they are necessary. People expect something of the kind from time to time; and—if I do not give garden-parties, I should not, so Godfrey says, keep up my position in the county. If Babberly did not, so to speak, give demonstrations he would lose his position in the political world. Babberly's position is, of course, vastly more important than mine.
Moyne, goaded on I suppose by Lady Moyne, wrote a letter to the papers—perhaps I should say published a manifesto—urging the extreme importance of Babberly's demonstration. This was necessary because McNeice and O'Donovan, in The Loyalist, had lately adopted a sneering tone about demonstrations. And The Loyalist was becoming an effective force in the guidance of Ulster opinion. Thanks to the exertions of Crossan, Malcolmson and some others the paper was very widely circulated and wherever it went it was read. Lady Moyne, I knew, disliked The Loyalist and was uneasy about the tone of its articles. She felt it necessary to stimulate the popular taste for demonstrations, and wrote Moyne's manifesto for him. It was a very good manifesto, full of weighty words about the present crisis and the necessity of standing shoulder to shoulder against the iniquitous plot of the Government for the dismemberment of the Empire.
Very much to my surprise, and I am sure to Lady Moyne's, The Loyalist printed a strong article in support of the proposed demonstration. Nothing could have been more flattering than its reference to Babberly and Lord Moyne; nothing better calculated to insure the success of the performance than the way in which it urged all Unionists to attend it. "Assemble in your Thousands" was the phrase used four times over in the course of the article. There was only one sentence in it which could cause any one the slightest uneasiness.
"Previous demonstrations," so the article concluded, "have served their purpose as expressions of our unalterable convictions. This one must do something more. It must convince the world that we mean what we say."
That, of course, was nothing more than Babberly had proclaimed a dozen times in far more eloquent language. Nor was the fact that McNeice printed the last sentence in italics particularly startling. Babberly had emphasized the same statement with all the violence possible. But, so tense was the public mind at this time, everybody was vaguely anxious and excited. We felt that McNeice attached more meaning to the words than Babberly did.
A member of the Cabinet happened to be speaking two days later at a large public meeting in Croydon. He was supposed to be explaining the advantages of the new Insurance Act to the mistresses and servants of the smaller middle-class households. There were, I believe, very few people with sufficient faith in his power of apology to go to hear him; but, of course, there were plenty of newspaper reporters. The Cabinet Minister addressed them, and, ignoring for the time the grievances of the British house-and-parlourmaid, he announced that the Government was going to stand no nonsense from Ulster.
"The leaders," he said, "of the unfortunate dupes who are to assemble next week in Belfast, must understand once for all that in a democratically governed country the will of the majority must prevail, and His Majesty's Government is fully determined to see that it does prevail, at any cost."
This, again, was nothing more than the usual thing. Only the last three words conveyed anything in the nature of a threat, and many papers did not report the last three words. Babberly, I think, was quite justified in supposing that the Cabinet Minister was saying no more than, according to the rules of the game, he was bound to say; that he was, in fact, giving a garden-party of his own to keep up his position in the county. At all events Babberly replied to the Government's pronouncement with a defiance of the boldest possible kind. The Loyalist, in a special number, published in the middle of the week, patted Babberly on the back, and said that the men of Ulster would, if necessary, assert their right of public meeting with rifles in their hands.
This was not going much further than Babberly himself had often gone in earlier stages of the controversy. It is true that he had always spoken of "arms" which is a vague word and might mean nothing worse than the familiar paving stones. The Loyalist specified the kind of arms, mentioned rifles, which are very lethal weapons. Still, viewed from a reasonable standpoint, there was nothing very alarming in the word rifles.
Two days later Moyne motored over to my house. He seemed greatly disturbed, so I took him into my study and gave him tea. While we were drinking it he told me what was the matter with him.
"Look here, Kilmore," he said, "do you know anything about a rumour that's flying about?"
"There are so many," I said.
"About the importation of arms into this country."
I had my suspicions, rather more than suspicions, for I had been thinking over the somewhat remarkable performances of Bob Power and the Finola. I did not, however, want to say anything definite until I knew how much information Moyne had. After all Bob Power had now arranged to be my son-in-law. I do not know what the law does to people who import arms into a peaceful country; but the penalty is sure to be severe, and I did not want Marion's wedding-day to be blighted by the arrest of the bridegroom.
"They say," said Moyne, "that some of the cargoes have been landed here under your windows."
"I can only assure you," I said, "that I have never in my life imported so much as a pocket pistol."
"I had a long letter from Babberly this morning," said Moyne. "He had an interview with the Prime Minister yesterday. It appears that the Government has some information."
"Why doesn't the Government act upon it then?"
"They are acting. They want me and Babberly to come out and denounce this kind of thing, to discountenance definitely—"
"That's all well enough," I said, "but I don't see why you and Babberly should be expected to get the Government out of a hole. In fact it's your business to keep them in any holes they fall into."
"Under ordinary circumstances," said Moyne, "we shouldn't, of course, stir hand or foot. We'd let them stew in their own juice. And I may tell you that's the line Babberly thinks we ought to take. But I don't know. If there's any truth in these rumours, and there may be, you know, it seems to me that we are face to face with a very serious business. Party politics are all right, of course; and I'm just as keen as any man to turn out this wretched Government. They've done mischief enough, but—well, if there's any truth in what they say, it isn't exactly a question of ordinary politics, and I think that every loyal man ought to stand by—"
"If there's any truth in the rumours—" I said.
"The country's in a queer state," said Moyne. "I don't understand what's going on."
"If the people have got rifles," I said, "they're not likely to give them up because you and Babberly tell them to."
"Babberly says there's nothing in it," said Moyne, doubtfully, "and her ladyship agrees with him. She thinks it's simply a dodge of the Government to spike our guns."
It is curious that Moyne cannot help talking about guns, even when he's afraid that somebody or other may really have one. He might, under the circumstances, have been expected to use some other metaphor. "Cook our goose," for instance, would have expressed his meaning quite well, and there would have been no suggestion of gunpowder about the words.
"I don't see," I said, "how you can very well do anything when both Lady Moyne and Babberly are against you."
"I can't—I can't, of course. And yet, don't you know, Kilmore, I don't know—"
I quite appreciated Moyne's condition of mind. I myself did not know. I felt nearly certain that Bob Power had been importing arms in the Finola. I suspected that Crossan and others had been distributing them. And yet it seemed impossible to suppose that ordinary people, the men I lunched with in the club, like Malcolmson, the men who touched their hats to me on the road, like Rose's freckly-faced lover, the quiet-looking people whom I saw at railway stations, that those people actually meant to shoot off bullets out of guns with the intention of killing other people. Of course, long ago, this sort of killing was done, but then, long ago, men believed things which we do not believe now. Perhaps I ought to say which I do not believe now. Malcolmson may still believe in what he calls "civil and religious liberty." Crossan certainly applies his favourite epithet to the "Papishes." He may conceivably think that they would put him on a rack if they got the chance. If he believed that he might fight. And yet the absurdity of the thing prevents serious consideration.
The fact is that our minds are so thoroughly attuned to the commonplace that we have lost the faculty of imaginative vision of unusual things. Commonplace men—I, for instance, or Babberly—can imagine a defeat of the Liberal Government or a Unionist victory at the General Election, because Liberal Governments have been defeated and Unionist victories have been won within our own memories. We cannot imagine that Malcolmson and Crossan and our large Dean would march out and kill people, because we have never known any one who did such things. Men with prophetic minds can contemplate such possibilities, because they have the power of launching themselves into the unseen. We cannot. This is the reason why cataclysms, things like the Flood recorded in the Book of Genesis, and the French Revolution, always come upon societies unprepared for them. The prophets foretell them, but the common man has not the amount of imagination which would make it possible for him to believe the prophets. "They eat and drink, marry, and are given in marriage," until the day when the thing happens.
Looking back now and considering, in the light of what actually happened, my own frame of mind while I was talking to Moyne, I can only suppose that it was my lack of imagination which prevented my realizing the meaning of what was going on around me.
The next event which I find it necessary to chronicle is Conroy's visit to Germany. I heard about it from Marion. She got a letter almost every day from Bob Power, and it was understood that he was to pay us a short visit at the end of that week. He explained, much to Marion's disappointment and mine, that this visit must be postponed.
"The chief," it was thus he wrote of Conroy, "has gone over to Germany. He's always going over to Germany. I fancy he must have property there. But it doesn't generally matter to me whether he goes or not. This time—worse luck—he has taken it into his head to have the yacht to meet him at Kiel. I have to go at once."
At the moment I attached no importance whatever to Conroy's visit to Germany. Now I have come to think that he went there on a very serious business indeed. His immense financial interests not only kept him in touch with all the money markets of the world. They also gave him a knowledge of what was being done everywhere by the great manufacturers and the inventors. Moreover Conroy's immense wealth, when he chose to use it, enabled him to get things done for him very quietly. He could secure the delivery of goods which he ordered in unconventional ways, in unusual places. He could, for instance, by means of lavish expenditure and personal interviews, arrange to have guns put unobtrusively into innocent looking tramp steamers and transhipped from them in lonely places to the hold of the Finola. Whether the German Government had any idea of what was going on I do not know. Foreign governments are supposed to be well supplied with information about the manufacture and destination of munitions of war. The English Government, I am sure, had not up to the last moment any definite information. Its suspicions were of the very vaguest kind before the Chancellor of the Exchequer received Godfrey's letter.
The Belfast demonstration—Babberly's defiance of the Government's warning—was fixed for the first Monday in September. On the 24th of August, ten days before the demonstration, The Loyalist became a daily instead of a weekly paper. Its circulation increased immediately. It was on sale everywhere in the north of Ireland, and it was delivered with striking regularity in out of the way places in which it was almost impossible to get any other daily paper. It continued to press upon its readers the necessity of attending Babberly's demonstration in Belfast. It said, several times over, that the demonstration was to be one of armed men. Parliament was sitting late, debating wearily the amendments proposed by Unionists to the Home Rule Bill. A Nationalist member arrived at Westminster one day with a copy of The Loyalist in his pocket. He called the attention of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the language used in one of the leading articles, and asked what steps were being taken to prevent a breach of the peace in Belfast on the first Monday in September. Before the Chief Secretary could answer Babberly burst in with another question.
"Is it not a fact," he asked, "that the paper in question is edited by a notorious Nationalist, a physical force man, a declared rebel, one of the chosen associates of the honourable gentleman opposite?"
The Chief Secretary replied that he had no knowledge of the political opinions of the editor in question further than as they obtained expression in his paper. He appeared to be a strong Unionist.
Considering that O'Donovan had been in prison three times, and that papers edited by him had been twice suppressed by the Government, the Chief Secretary must have meant that he had no official knowledge of O'Donovan's opinions. The distinction between knowledge and official knowledge is one of the most valuable things in political life.
Babberly displayed the greatest indignation at this answer to his question.
"Is the fair fame of the men of Ulster," he asked, "to be traduced, is their unswerving loyalty to the Crown and Constitution to be impeached, on the strength of irresponsible scribblings emanating from a Dublin slum?"
The office of The Loyalist is in a slum. So far Babberly was well informed. He cannot have known that the "scribblings" were by the pen of an eminent fellow of Trinity College, or that the money which paid for printing and circulation was Conroy's.
The Nationalist member pressed for a reply to his original question. He said that he desired nothing except that the Government should perform the elementary duty of preserving law and order.
That particular Nationalist member had, in the days past, been put into prison with the utmost regularity whenever a government undertook to perform the elementary duty he now desired to see undertaken. And no government ever, in old times, undertook such work except when goaded to desperation by Babberly. The seething of a kid in its mother's milk is forbidden by the law of Moses, which shows that it must be a tempting thing to do. That Nationalist member felt the temptation strongly. He evidently had hopes of sacrificing Babberly on the altar of the twin gods so long worshipped by the Ulster members, incarcerating him in the sacred names of law and order. But the Chief Secretary did not see his way to make Babberly the hero of a state trial. He replied that the Government was fully alive to the duty of preserving order in Belfast, and refused to commit himself to any definite plan for dealing with Babberly.
The newspapers made the most of the incident, and O'Donovan's record was scrutinized by both parties. A lively discussion ensued as to whether a "Hill-sider"—some one discovered that picturesque description of O'Donovan—could become a militant Unionist. The text from the prophet Jeremiah about the spots on the leopard was quoted several times with great effect.
McNeice's name was not mentioned, nor was Conroy's. We may suppose that his connection with the University saved McNeice. Trinity College has, of late years, displayed such a capacity for vigorous self-defence, that the boldest politician hesitates to attack it or any one under its immediate protection. Conroy escaped because no one, not even an Irish member, cares to ride atilt against a millionaire. We respect little else in heaven or earth, but we do, all of us, respect money.
On the Wednesday before the day fixed for the Belfast demonstration, a meeting of the Ulster Unionist leaders was held in London. Moyne was at it. Lady Moyne, although the absurd conventions of our political life prevented her being present in person, was certainly an influence in the deliberations. She gave a dinner-party the night before in Moyne's town house. Babberly, of course, was at the dinner, and with him most of the small group of Ulster Members of Parliament. Three or four leading members of the Opposition, Englishmen who had spoken on Ulster platforms and were in full sympathy with the Ulster dislike of Home Rule, were also present. Cahoon was not. He travelled from Belfast during the night of the dinner-party and only reached London in time for the meeting of the Party next day. I do not know whether Cahoon was invited to the dinner or not. Malcolmson was invited. He told me so himself, but he did not accept the invitation. He said he had business in Belfast and he went to London with Cahoon. The Dean was at the dinner-party. His name appeared in the newspaper lists of guests next morning. McNeice was not there. Lady Moyne did not like McNeice, and, although he was a member of the "Ulster Defence Committee," he was never admitted to what might be called the social gatherings of the party.
The newspapers, in their columns of fashionable intelligence, printed a full list of the guests at this dinner, and even noted the dresses worn by some of the chief ladies. It was described as a brilliant function, and Lady Moyne figured as "one of the most successful of our political hostesses." I have no doubt that she was successful in impressing her views on Babberly and the others. Whether she thought it worth while to spend time that night in talking to the Dean I do not know. Immediately under the account of the dinner-party there was a short paragraph which stated that Conroy, "the well-known millionaire yachtsman," had returned from a cruise in the Baltic Sea, and that the Finola was lying off Bangor in Belfast Lough.
In quite a different part of the papers there were comments and articles on the meeting of the Ulster leaders to be held that afternoon. The articles in Liberal papers oscillated between entreaties and threats. One of them, in a paper supposed to be more or less inspired by the Government, pleased me greatly. It began with a warm tribute to the loyalty which had always characterized the men of Ulster. Then it said that troops were being moved to Belfast in order to overcome a turbulent populace. It went on from that to argue that troops were entirely unnecessary, because Ulstermen, though pig-headed almost beyond belief in their opposition to Home Rule, would not hesitate for a moment when the choice was given them of obeying or defying the law. They would, of course, obey the law. But, so the article concluded, if they did not obey the law the resources of civilization were by no means exhausted.
As no law had, up to that time, been made forbidding the holding of the Belfast demonstration, this article was perhaps premature in its attempt to impale Babberly and his friends on the horns of a dilemma.
The Conservative papers assumed an air of calm confidence. One of them, the editor of which was in close touch with Babberly, said plainly that dear as the right of free speech was to the Unionist leaders they would cheerfully postpone the Belfast demonstration rather than run the smallest risk of causing a riot in the streets. Political principles, it is said, were sacred things, but the life of the humblest citizen was far more sacred than any principle, and the world could confidently rely on Babberly's being guided in his momentous decision by considerations of the loftiest patriotism.
I have no doubt that Babberly fully intended to do as that paper said he would do. I feel certain that the informal consultation of the politicians at Lady Moyne's dinner-party had ended in a decision to postpone the demonstration. But things had passed beyond the control of Babberly and Lady Moyne. No newspaper was able to give any report of the proceedings of the meeting held that afternoon. But Malcolmson, Cahoon and McNeice were all present, and the Dean, having escaped the overpowering atmosphere of Moyne House, was able to express his opinions freely and forcibly. On the other hand Lady Moyne was not there, and Moyne, when it comes to persuading men, is a very poor substitute for her. The English Unionists could not be there, so the weight of their moderation was not felt. The meeting broke up without reaching any decision at all; and the Belfast demonstration remained on the list of fixtures for the next week.
Sir Samuel Clithering, originally a manufacturer of hosiery in the midlands, was at this time acting regularly as an official ambassador of the Cabinet. The fact that he was a leading Nonconformist was, I fancy, supposed to commend him in some obscure way to the Ulster party. He spent the evening after the meeting in flying about in his motor between the House of Commons where Babberly was proposing amendments to the Bill, Moyne House where Lady Moyne and her secretary sat over her typewriter, a military club in St. James' Street where Malcolmson sat smoking cigars, and a small hotel in the Strand where McNeice and Cahoon were stopping. The Dean had left London for Belfast immediately after the meeting. I have no doubt that Sir Samuel Clithering did his best; but diplomacy applied to men like McNeice and Malcolmson is about as useful as children's sand dykes are in checking the advance of flowing tides.
It is a source of regret to me that my account of what happened in London is meagre and disjointed. I was not there myself and events became so much more exciting afterwards that nobody has any very clear recollection of the course of these preliminary negotiations.
My own personal narrative begins again two days after the London meeting, that is to say on the Friday before the Belfast demonstration.
Godfrey came up to see me at eleven o'clock with his arm in a sling.
"Excellency," he said, "the Dean has just hoisted a large flag on the tower of the church. I'm sure you don't approve of that."
It is, I hope, unnecessary to say that Godfrey is at feud with the Dean. The Dean is a straightforward and honourable man. He and Godfrey live in the same town. A quarrel between them was therefore inevitable.
As a matter of fact I do not approve of the hoisting of flags on the church tower. In Ireland we only hoist flags with a view to irritating our enemies, and—I am not an expert in Christian theology but it seems to me that church towers are not the most suitable places for flaunting defiances. The Dean and I argued the matter out years ago and arrived at a working compromise. I agreed to make no protest against flags on the 12th of July. The Dean promised not to hoist them on any other day. This is fairly satisfactory to the Dean because he can exult over his foes on the day of the year on which it is most of all desirable to do so. It is fairly satisfactory to me because on three hundred and sixty-four days out of every year the church remains, in outward appearance at least, a house of prayer, and I am not vexed by having to regard it as a den of politicians. That is as much as can be expected of any compromise, and I was always quite loyal to my share of the bargain. The Dean, it now appeared, was not; and Godfrey saw his chance of stirring up strife.
"I don't think," I said, "the Dean can have anything to do with the flag. He is in London."
"He came back yesterday," said Godfrey, "and the flag he has hoisted is a large Union Jack."
Now the Union Jack is of all flags the most provocative. Any other flag under the sun, even the Royal Standard, might be hoisted without giving any very grave offence to any one. But the Union Jack arouses the worst feelings of everybody. Some little time ago a fool flew a Union Jack out of the window of a Dublin house underneath which the Irish leader happened at the moment to be proclaiming his loyalty to the Empire and his ungovernable love for the English people. The fool who hoisted the flag was afterwards very properly denounced for having gone about to insult the Irish nation. The Dean might, I think, have set floating a banner with three Orange lilies emblazoned upon it like the fleur-de-lys of ancient France. No one's feelings would have been much hurt and no one's enthusiasm unusually stirred. But it is characteristic of the Dean that when he does a thing at all he does it thoroughly.
"Just come and look at it," said Godfrey. "It's enormous."
We went into the library, from the windows of which a clear view can be obtained of the town and the church which stands above it. There certainly was a flag flying from the church tower. I took a pair of field-glasses and satisfied myself that it was the Union Jack.
"Would you like me to speak to the Dean about it?" said Godfrey.
"Certainly not," I said. "Any interference on your part would merely—and these are rather exciting times. The Dean is entitled, I think, to a little license. I don't suppose he means to keep it there permanently."
Then, borne to us by a gentle breeze across the bay, came the sound of the church bells. We have a fine peal of bells in our church, presented to the parish by my father. They are seldom properly rung, but when they are—on Christmas Day, at Easter and on the 12th of July—the effect is very good.
"Surely," I said, "the Dean can't be having a Harvest Thanksgiving Service yet? It's not nearly time."
Then I noticed that instead of one of the regular chimes the bells were playing a hymn tune. It was, as I might have guessed, the tune to which "O God, our help in ages past" is sung in Ireland. The hymn, since Babberly's first demonstration in Belfast, had become a kind of battle song. It is, I think, characteristic of the Irish Protestants that they should have a tune of their own for this hymn. Elsewhere, in England, in Scotland, in the United States and the Colonies this metrical version of the 90th Psalm is sung to a fine simple tune called St. Ann. But we are not and never have been as other men are. Without a quiver of our nerves we run atilt at the most universally accepted traditions. The very fact that every one else who uses the hymn sings it to the tune called St. Ann would incline us to find some other tune if such a thing were obtainable. We found one which musicians, recognizing that we had some right to claim it as ours, called "Irish" or "Dublin." This tune emerged suddenly from nowhere in response to no particular demand in the middle of the eighteenth century. It is anonymous, but it was at once wedded to the words of that particular hymn, and we have used it ever since. It is difficult to give an opinion on the comparative merits of two hymn tunes, and I hesitate to say that ours is a finer one than that used by the rest of the English-speaking world. I am, however, certain that there is in our tune an unmistakable suggestion of majestic confidence in an eternal righteousness, and that it very well expresses the feeling with which we sing the hymn at political demonstrations and elsewhere. It came to me that day across the waters of the bay, hammered slowly out by the swinging bells, with a tremendous sense of energy. The English St. Ann seemed lilty and almost flippant in comparison.
I raised my glasses again and took another look at the Union Jack, blown out from its flag-post and displaying plainly its tangled crosses. Then I noticed that men were entering the churchyard singly, in pairs and in little groups of three and four.
"The Dean," I said, "must have some sort of service in church to-day. If it isn't the Harvest Thanksgiving it must be an anniversary of something. What happened at this time of year, Godfrey? I can't remember anything."
I still stared through my glasses. I was struck by the unusual fact that only men were going into the church. Then, quite suddenly, I saw that every man was carrying a gun. I laid down my glasses and turned to Godfrey.
"I wish," I said, "that you'd go down to the town—not to the church, mind, Godfrey, but into the town, and ask somebody—ask the police sergeant at the barrack what is going on in the church."
Godfrey is always at his very best when he has to find out something. He would have made almost an ideal spy. If any one is ever wanted by the nation for the more disagreeable part of secret service work I can confidently recommend Godfrey.
Half an hour later he returned to me hot and breathless.
"The police sergeant told me, Excellency, that the Dean's going to march all the Orangemen and a lot of other men along with them to Belfast for the Unionist demonstration. They are having service in the church first and they've all got rifles."
I have all my life steadily objected to politics being mixed with religion. I hold most strongly that the Church ought not to be dominated by politicians. The Church is degraded and religion is brought into contempt when they are used by party leaders. But—the bells had ceased ringing. The hymn was now, no doubt, being sung by the men within. It occurred to me suddenly that on this occasion it was not the politicians who were taking possession of religion, but religion which was asserting its right to dominate politics. This is plainly quite a different matter. I can even imagine that politics might be improved if religion asserted itself a little more frequently than it does. I still maintain that it is only right and fair to keep politics out of the Church. I am not at all sure that it is right to keep the Church out of politics.
"I told the sergeant," said Godfrey, "that he had better go and stop them at once."
"Oh, did you?" I said. "Do you know, Godfrey, that's just the kind of suggestion I'd expect you to make under the circumstances."
"Thanks awfully, Excellency," said Godfrey. "I'm awfully glad you're pleased."
There are besides the sergeant three constables in our police barrack. They are armed as a rule with short round sticks. On very important occasions they carry an inferior kind of firearm called a carbine. There were, I guessed about three hundred men in the church, and they were armed with modern rifles. Godfrey's faith in the inherent majesty of the law was extremely touching.
"Did he go?" I asked.
"I don't think he intends to," said Godfrey, "but he did not give me a decided answer."
Our police sergeant is a man of sense.
"Did you say," I asked, "that they're going to march to Belfast?"
"That's what the sergeant told me," said Godfrey.
"Actually walk the whole way?"
Belfast is a good many miles away from us. It would, I suppose, take a quick walker the better part of two days to accomplish the journey.
"He said 'march,'" said Godfrey. "I suppose he meant to walk."
This is, as we are constantly reminded, the twentieth century. I should have supposed that any one who wanted to get from this place to Belfast would have gone in a train. Our nearest railway station is some way off, but one might walk to it in an hour and a half. Once there, the journey to Belfast can be accomplished in another two hours. It seems rather absurd to spend two days over it, but then the whole thing is rather absurd. The rifles are absurd. The gathering of three hundred men into a church to indulge in a kind of grace before meat as preparation for a speech from Babberly is rather absurd. To set a peal of bells playing—but I am not quite sure about the hymn tune. It did not sound to me absurd as it came across the bay. I am, I trust, a reasonable man, not peculiarly liable to be swept off my feet by waves of emotion; but there was something in the sound of that hymn tune which prevented me from counting it, along with our other performances, as an absurdity.
The Dean and his men did actually march to Belfast. I saw them there two days later. I also saw them start, ranged in very fair order with the Dean at their head. The most surprising thing about their march was that they had no band. There are at least two bands in the town. I subscribe to both of them regularly and have occasionally given a donation to a third which enjoys an intermittent existence, springing into sudden activity for a week or two and then disappearing for months. I asked the police sergeant, who is a South of Ireland man and very acute of mind, why none of the bands accompanied the army. The explanation he gave me was interesting and suggestive.
"There isn't as much as a boy in the district," he said, "who'd content himself with a drum when he might have the handling of a rifle."
And yet an excessive fondness for drums has been reckoned—by English politicians—one of the failings of the Ulster man.
I went to Belfast next morning quite unexpectedly. No peal of bells heartened me for my start, partly because all the bell-ringers and nearly all the able-bodied members of the church in the parish had marched forth with the Dean. Partly also, I suppose, because I did not travel in a heroic way. I am much too old to undertake a two-days' walking tour, so I went by train. Godfrey saw me off. I owed this attention, I am sure, to the fact that Marion was with me. She told Godfrey that she was going to marry Bob Power, but Godfrey did not on that account cease to regard her as his property. He had hopes, I fancy, that Bob Power would be killed in some fight with a Custom House officer. Marion, on the other hand, was vaguely afraid that either Bob or I would get injured while rioting in Belfast. That was her reason for going with me.
I went because I received on Friday evening a very urgent letter from Lady Moyne. She and Lord Moyne had just arrived in Belfast, and her letter was sent to me by a special messenger on a motor bicycle. She wished me to attend an extraordinary meeting of the "Ulster Defence Committee" which, in defiance of our strong sabbatarian feeling, was to be held on Sunday afternoon.
"We elected you a member of the committee at a meeting held yesterday in London," she wrote, "so you have a perfect right to be present and to vote."
That meeting must have been held after McNeice, Malcolmson and Cahoon returned to Ireland. They regard me as a Laodicean in the matter of Home Rule, and would never have consented to my sitting on a committee which controlled, or at all events was supposed to control, the actions of the Ulster leaders.
"It's most important, dear Lord Kilmore," the letter went on, "that you should be present on Sunday. Your well-known moderation will have a most steadying influence, and if it should come to a matter of voting, your vote may be absolutely necessary."
After getting a letter of that kind I could not well refuse to go to Belfast. Even without the letter I should, I think, have gone. I was naturally anxious to see what was going to happen.
I spent my time in the train reading several different accounts of an important Nationalist meeting held the day before in a village in County Clare, the name of which I have unfortunately forgotten. Three of the chief Nationalist orators were there, men quite equal to Babberly in their mastery of the art of public speaking. I read all their speeches; but that was not really necessary. None of them said anything which the other two did not say, and none of them left out anything which the other two had said.
They all began by declaring that under Home Rule all Irishmen should receive equal consideration and be treated with equal respect. They all looked forward to the day when they would be walking about the premises at present occupied by the Bank of Ireland in Dublin with their arms round Babberly's neck. The dearest wish of their hearts—so they all said, and the people of County Clare cheered heartily—was to unite with Lord Moyne, Babberly, Malcolmson and even the Dean in the work of regenerating holy Ireland. Any little differences of religious creed which might exist would be entirely forgotten as soon as the Home Rule Bill was safely passed. They then went on to say that the Belfast people, and the people of County Antrim and County Down generally, were enthusiastically in favour of Home Rule. The fact that they elected Unionist members of Parliament and held Unionist demonstrations was accounted for by the existence of a handful of rack-renting landlords, a few sweating capitalists and some clergymen whose churches were empty because the people were tired of hearing them curse the Pope.
Poor Moyne has sold every acre of his property and the Dean's only difficulty with the majority of his large congregation is that he does not curse the Pope often enough to please them. Cahoon, I am told, only sweats in the old-fashioned intransitive sense of the word. He is frequently bathed in perspiration himself. I never heard of his insisting on his workmen getting any hotter than was natural and necessary. But these criticisms are beside the mark. No one supposes that a political orator means to tell the truth when he is making a speech. Politics could not be carried on if he did. What the public expects and generally insists on is that the inevitable lies should have their loins girt about with a specious appearance of truthfulness. Every speaker must offer distinct and convincing proofs that his statements are strictly accurate reflections of fact. The best and simplest way of doing this is by means of bold challenge. The speaker offers to deposit a large sum of money with the local mayor to be paid over to a deserving charity, if any opponent of the speaker can, to the satisfaction of twelve honourable men, generally named, disprove some quite irrelevant truism, or can prove to the satisfaction of the same twelve men the falsity of some universally accepted platitude. This method is very popular with orators, and invariably carries conviction to their audiences.
The Nationalist members in County Clare broke away into a variant of the familiar plan. They challenged the Government.
"Let the Government," they said, all three of them, "proclaim the meeting to be held in Belfast on Monday next, and allow the public to watch with contempt the deflation of the wind-distended bladder of Ulster opposition to Home Rule. We venture to say that the little group of selfish wire-pullers at whose bidding the meeting has been summoned, will sneak away before the batons of half a dozen policemen, and their followers will be found to be non-existent."
The Government, apparently, believed the Nationalist orators, or half believed them. Sir Samuel Clithering was sent over to Belfast, to report, confidentially, on the temper of the people. He must have sent off his despatch before the Dean's army marched in, before any of the armies then converging on the city arrived, before the Belfast people had got out their rifles. The Government in the most solemn and impressive manner, proclaimed the meeting. That was the news with which we were greeted when our train drew up at the platform in Belfast.
The proclamation of meeting is one of the regular resources of governments when Irish affairs get into a particularly annoying tangle. There have been during my time hundreds of meetings proclaimed in different parts of the country. The Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary never get any thanks for their action. The people who want to hold the meeting always accuse the Government of violating the right of free speech and substituting a military tyranny for the Magna Charta. The other people who do not want the meeting to be held always say that the Government ought to have proclaimed it much sooner than it did, and ought to have imprisoned, perhaps beheaded, the men who intended to speak at the meeting.
Bob Power met us on the platform, which was horribly crowded, and immediately conducted Marion to a motor car which he had in waiting outside the station. Then he came back to me and we went together in search of Marion's luggage. It was while we were pushing our way through the crowd that he told me the great news. I said that the failure of the demonstration would be a disappointment to the Dean and his riflemen who would have to walk all the way home again without hearing Babberly's speech.
"I'm not so sure about that," said Bob. "We may have the meeting in spite of their teeth."
"You can't possibly," I said, "hold a meeting when—dear me! Who are those?"
There was a crowd round the luggage van where we were trying to discover Marion's trunk. An unmannerly porter shoved me back, and I bumped into a man who had something hard and knobby in his hand. I looked round. He was a soldier in the regular khaki uniform with a rifle in his hand. The bayonet was fixed. I felt deeply thankful that it was pointing upwards and not in a horizontal direction when the porter charged me. It might quite easily have gone through my back. This man appeared to be a kind of outpost sentry. Behind him, all similarly armed, were twenty or thirty more men drawn up with their backs to the wall of the station. A youth, who looked bored and disgusted, was in command of them and stood at the end of the line. His sword struck me as being far too big for him.
"Who on earth are those?" I said.
"Those," said Bob, "are the troops who are overawing us. Some of them. There are lots more. You'll see them at every street corner as we go along. By jove! I believe that's Nosey Henderson in command of this detachment. Excuse me one moment, Lord Kilmore. Henderson was with me at Harrow. I'll just shake hands with him."
He turned to the young officer as he spoke.
"Hullo Nosey," he said, "I didn't know you were in these parts."
"Ordered up from the Curragh," said Henderson. "Damned nuisance this sort of police duty. We oughtn't to be asked to do it."
"Your particular job," said Bob, "is to overawe the railway porters, I suppose."
"Been here since nine o'clock this morning," said Henderson, "and haven't had a blessed thing to eat except two water biscuits. What's the row all about? That's what I can't make out."
"Oh! It's quite simple," said Bob. "Our side wants to hold a meeting—"
"You are on a side then, are you?"
"Of course I am," said Bob. "I'm in command of a company of volunteers. We don't run to khaki uniforms and brass buttons, but we've got guns all right."
"I say," said Henderson, "tell me this now. Any chance of a scrap? Real fighting, you know? I've been asking all sorts of fellows, and nobody seems to be able to say for certain."
"We shan't begin it," said Bob; "but, of course, if you get prodding at us with those spikes you have at the end of your guns—"
"There are a lot of fellows in this town that would be all the better of being prodded. Every porter that walks along the platform spits when he passes us in a damned offensive way. You would think they were looking for trouble."
The crowd round the luggage van cleared away a little and we found Marion's trunk. Bob handed it over to a porter and we joined Marion in the motor car.
The scene outside the station was striking. A considerable body of dragoons, some mounted, some on foot beside their horses, were grouped together near the great gate which led into the railway company's yard. Their accoutrements and the bridles of their horses jangled at every movement in a way very suggestive of military ardour. The trappings of horse soldiers are evidently made as noisy as possible. Perhaps with the idea of keeping up the spirits of the men. Some Highlanders, complete in their kilts, stood opposite the dragoons at the other end of the yard. A sergeant was shouting explosive monosyllables at them in order to make them turn to the left or to the right as he thought desirable. Behind them were some other soldiers, Englishmen I presume, who wore ordinary trousers. They were sitting on a flight of stone steps eating chunks of dry bread. Their rifles were neatly stacked behind them. Round the motor car were about thirty men whom I hesitate to call civilians, because they had rifles in their hands; but who were certainly not real soldiers, for they had no uniforms. They looked to me like young farmers.
"My fellows," said Bob, pointing to these men. "Pretty tidy looking lot, aren't they? I brought them along as a sort of guard of honour for Marion. They're not really the least necessary; but I thought you and she might be pleased to see them."
Here and there, scattered among the military and Bob's irregular troops, were black uniformed policemen, rosy-faced young men, fresh from a healthy life among the cattle ranches of Roscommon, drafted to their own immense bewilderment into this strange city of Belfast, where no one regarded them with any reverence, or treated them with the smallest respect. The motor car started, creeping at a walking pace through the mingled crowd of armed men who thronged the entrance to the station. Our guard of honour, some of them smoking, some stopping for a moment to exchange greetings with acquaintance, kept up with us pretty well. Then, as we got clear of the station and went faster, we left our guard behind. One man indeed, with a singular devotion to duty, poked his rifle into the car and then ran alongside of us with his hand on the mudguard. He carried Marion's trunk into the hotel when we got there.
Our drive was an exciting one. At every street corner there were parties of soldiers. Along every street stalwart policemen strolled in pairs. There were certainly hundreds of armed irregulars. For the most part these men seemed to be under no control; but occasionally we met a party marching in something like military formation, led by an officer, grave with responsibility. One company, I remember, got in our way and for a long time could not get out of it. Their officer had been drilling them carefully and they were all most anxious to obey his orders. The difficulty was that he could not recollect at the moment what orders he ought to give to get them out of our way. He halted them to begin with. Then in firm tones, he commanded a half-right turn and a quick march. We had to back our car to avoid collision with the middle part of the column. Their officer halted them again. We offered to go back and take another route to our hotel; but the officer would not hear of this. He told his men to stand at ease while he consulted a handbook on military evolutions. In the end he gave the problem up.
"Get out of the way, will you," he said, "and form up again when the car is past."
This was unconventional, but quite effective. The men—and it is to their credit that not one of them smiled—broke their formation, scattered to right and left and reformed after we had passed. This took place in a narrow side street in which there was very little traffic. I recognized the wisdom of the officer in choosing such a place for his manoeuvres.
In the main streets the business of the town seemed to be going on very much as usual. It was Saturday afternoon. Shops and offices were closing. Young men and girls passed out of them and thronged the trams which were leaving the centre of the city. They took very little notice of the soldiers or the police. In the poorer streets women with baskets on their arms were doing their weekly shopping at the stalls of small butchers and greengrocers. Groups of factory girls marched along with linked arms, enjoying their outing, unaffected apparently by the unusual condition of their streets. The newspaper boys did a roaring trade, shrieking promises of sensational news to be found in the pages of the Telegraph and Echo.
Marion became intensely excited.
"Doesn't it look just as if the town had been captured by an enemy," she said, "after a long siege?"
"It hasn't been captured yet," said Bob.
I have often tried to understand how it was that Bob Power came to take the active part he did in the fighting which followed, and how he came to be in command of a body of volunteers. He had not, so far as I know, any actual hatred of the idea of Home Rule. He was too light-hearted to be in full sympathy with fanatical Puritans like Crossan and McNeice. He certainly had no hatred of the British Empire or the English army. He was, up to the last moment, on friendly terms with those of the army officers whom he happened to know. He chatted with them and with detached inspectors of police in the same friendly way as he did with Henderson at the railway station.
I can only suppose that he regarded the whole business—to begin with at all events—as a large adventure of a novel and delightful kind. He went into it very much as many volunteers went into the Boer War, without any very strong convictions about the righteousness of the cause in which he fought, certainly without any realization of the horror of actual bloodshed.
There are men of this temperament, fortunately a good many of them. If they did not exist in large numbers the world's fighting would be very badly done. The mere mercenary—uninspired by the passion for adventure—will at the best do as little fighting as possible, and do it with the smallest amount of ardour. Fanatics cannot be had to order. Some kind of idea—in most cases a religious idea—is necessary to turn the ordinary church-going business man or farmer into an efficient fighting unit. The kind of patriotism which is prepared to make sacrifices, to endure bodily pain and risk death, is very rare. It is on the men who enjoy risk, who love struggle, who face death with a laugh, the men of Bob Power's reckless temperament, that the world must rely when it wants fighting done. Hitherto men of this kind have been plentiful. Whether our advancing civilization is going to destroy the breed is a question which, I am pleased to say, need not be answered by my generation. There are enough Bob Powers alive to last my time.
I fully intended to go to church on Sunday morning. I was, in fact, waiting for Marion at the door of the hotel, when Sir Samuel Clithering came to see me.
"I shall be so much obliged," he said, "if you will spare me a few minutes."
I did not want to spare any minutes to Sir Samuel Clithering. In the first place I had promised to take Marion to the cathedral. "A Parade Service"—I quote the official title of the function—was to be held for the benefit of the volunteers and Marion naturally wanted to see Bob Power at the head of his men. I wanted to hear the men singing that hymn again, and I wanted to hear what sort of sermon the Dean—our Dean, not the Dean of the cathedral—would preach on such an occasion. He was advertised to preach, as "Chaplain General of the Loyalists." These were three good reasons for not giving Sir Samuel Clithering the few minutes he demanded. I had, also, a fourth. I had held, as I have related, previous communications with Clithering. I suspected him of having more peerages in his pocket for distribution, and I did not want to undertake any further negotiations like that with Conroy. He might even—and I particularly disliked the idea—be empowered to offer our Dean an English bishopric.
I kept this last reason to myself, but I stated the other three fully to Sir Samuel. He seemed dissatisfied.
"Everybody's going to church," he complained. "I can't get Lord Moyne. I can't get Babberly. I can't get Malcolmson, and it's really most important that I should see some one. Going to church is all very well—"
"As a leading Nonconformist," I said.
"Free Churchman," said Sir Samuel.
"I beg your pardon, Free Churchman. You ought not to object to people going to church. I've always understood that the Free Churchmen are honourably distinguished from other Christians by their respect for the practice of Sunday worship."
"Of course, I don't object to people going to church. I should be there myself if it were not that—"
He hesitated. I thought he might be searching for an appropriate text of Scripture so I helped him.
"Your ass," I said, "has fallen into a pit, and you want—"
This was evidently not exactly the text he wanted. He seemed astonished when I quoted it.
"Ass!" he said. "What ass?"
"The Government," I said. "It is in rather a hole, isn't it?"
"Capital," said Clithering, laughing without the smallest appearance of mirth, "capital! I didn't catch the point for a moment, but I do now. My ass has fallen into a pit. You put the matter in a nutshell, Lord Kilmore. I don't mind confessing that a pit of rather an inconvenient size does lie in front of us. I feel sure that you, as a humane man, won't refuse your help in the charitable work of helping to get us out."
Marion came downstairs in her best hat. It was not for nothing that Bob Power and I and the running volunteer had struggled with her trunk. Her frock, also, was charming.
"Your daughter," said Clithering. "Now my dear young lady, you must spare your father to me for an hour. Affairs of state. Affairs of state. But you'll allow me to send you to church in my car. My private secretary is in it, and I shall tell him to see you safely to church, to secure a seat for you—"
"The Dean has reserved seats for us," I said.
"Capital, capital. We can regard that as settled then. My private secretary—an excellent young fellow whom I picked up at Toynbee Hall—a student of our social problems—a man whom I'm sure you'll like."
He conducted Marion to the door and handed her over to the private secretary from Toynbee Hall. I resigned myself and led Clithering to a deserted smoking-room.
"I never saw so much church-going anywhere," he said. "It's most remarkable. I don't think the Government quite appreciates—"
As a matter of fact the percentage of church-going men on that particular Sunday was considerably over the average. On the other hand there were much fewer women than usual. Every church of every Protestant denomination was holding a "Parade Service" for volunteers, and most of the women who tried to get in had to be turned away from the doors. I thought it well to rub the facts in a little.
"Rack-renting landlords," I said. "Sweating capitalists, and clergymen whose churches are empty because their congregations are tired of hearing them curse the Pope!"
"Eh?" said Clithering, "what's that? what's that?"
"Only a quotation," I said. "I forget if it was a Cabinet Minister—"
"Not at all," said Clithering. "I recollect the words now. It was one of the Irish Members. No Cabinet Minister would dream of saying such things. We have a high sense of the importance of the Ulster problem. Nothing, I assure you, is further from our minds than the desire to minimize or treat with undue flippancy the conscientious objections, even the somewhat unreasonable fears of men whom we recognize as—"
Clithering paused. I had not anything particular to say, so I waited for him to begin again.
"I understand," he said, "that a meeting of the Unionist Defence Committee is to be held this afternoon."
"Yes," I said. "I'm going to it. I'm not really a member of the committee, at least I wasn't until yesterday; but—"
"I quite understand, quite understand. In fact—speaking now in the strictest confidence—I may say that the suggestion to add your name to the committee was made—well it was made to Lady Moyne by a very important person. It was generally recognized that a man of your well-known moderation—"
I was beginning to dislike being called a man of moderation nearly as much as I disliked being called a Liberal.
"What do you want me to do?" I asked.
"The situation—the very difficult and distressing situation is this," said Clithering, "stated roughly it is this. The Government has proclaimed to-morrow's meeting."
"That," I said, "is the pit into which—I don't want to be offensive—I'll say, your ox has fallen."
"And the town is full of troops and police. Any attempt to hold the meeting can only result in bloodshed, deplorable bloodshed, the lives of men and women, innocent women sacrificed."
"The strength of Babberly's position," I said, "is that he doesn't think bloodshed deplorable."
"But he does. He told me so in London. He repeated the same thing this morning."
"I don't mean Babberly personally," I said, "I mean his party; Malcolmson, you know, and our Dean. If you'd only gone to hear the Dean preach this morning you'd know what he thinks about blood. I've often heard him say that the last drop of it—mind that now, Sir Samuel—the last drop ought to be shed. That's going as far as any one very well could, isn't it?"
"But he must," said Clithering, "he must think bloodshed deplorable."
"No, he doesn't," I said. "You mustn't think everybody is like your Government. It's humanitarian. We're not. We're business men."
Clithering caught at the last phrase. It appealed to him. He did not know the meaning attached to it by Cahoon.
"That's just it," he said. "We want to appeal to you as business men. We want to suggest a reasonable compromise."
"I'm afraid," I said, "that you've come to the wrong place. I'm not the least averse to compromises myself, in fact I love them. But the Belfast business man—You don't quite understand him, I'm afraid, Sir Samuel. Have you heard him singing his hymn?"
"No. What hymn? But leaving the question of hymns aside for the moment—"
"You can't do that," I said, "the hymn is the central fact in the situation."
Clithering thought this over and evidently failed to understand it.
"What I am empowered to suggest," he said, "is a compromise so very favourable to the Ulster claims that I can hardly imagine your rejecting it. The Government will allow the meeting to be held this day week if your committee will agree to the postponement."
"If," I said, "you will also withdraw your Home Rule Bill—"
"But we can't," said Clithering. "We can't do that. We'll insert any reasonable safeguards. We'll concede anything that Ulster likes to ask, but we're pledged, absolutely pledged, to the Bill."
"Well," I said, "as far as pledges are concerned, we're pledged against it."
"What we deprecate," said Sir Samuel, "is violence of any kind. Constitutional agitation, even if carried on with great bitterness is one thing. Violence—but I'm sure, Lord Kilmore, that we can rely on you to use your influence at the meeting this afternoon to secure the acceptance of the terms we offer. I'm sure we can count on you. You can't want bloodshed."
I did not want bloodshed, of course. I do not suppose that anybody did. What Clithering could not understand was that some people—without wanting bloodshed—might prefer it to Home Rule. He left me, still I fancy relying on my well-known moderation. No man ever relied on a more utterly useless crutch. Moderation has never been of the slightest use anywhere in Ireland and was certainly a vain thing in Belfast that day.
I walked round to the club and found nobody in it except Conroy. He alone, among the leading supporters of the Loyalist movement, had failed to go to church. I thought I might try how he would regard the policy of moderation.
"I suppose," I said, "that you'll have to give up this meeting to-morrow."
"I don't think so," said Conroy.
"I've just been talking to Sir Samuel Clithering," I said, "and he thinks there'll be bloodshed if you don't."
"I reckon he's right there. We're kind of out for that, aren't we?"
"It won't be so pleasant," I said, "when it's your blood that's shed. I don't mean yours personally, I mean your friends."
"The other side will do some of the bleeding," said Conroy.
"Still," I said, "in the end they'll win."
"I wouldn't bet too heavy on that," said Conroy.
"You don't mean to say that you think that a handful of north of Ireland farmers and mechanics can stand up against the British Empire?"
"It's fixed in my mind," said Conroy, "that the British lion will get his tail twisted a bit before he's through with this business. I don't say that he won't make good in the end. Nobody but God Almighty can tell this minute whether he will or not; but he'll be considerable less frisky when he's finished than he is to-day."
"But," I said, "even supposing you clear the streets of the soldiers and police to-morrow—I do not see how you can; but if you do the Government will simply anchor a battleship off Carrickfergus and shell the whole town into a heap of ruins."
"I'm calculating on their trying that," said Conroy.
That was all I could get out of Conroy. I left him, feeling uneasily that his vote would certainly go against Clithering's compromise. His confidence in the fighting powers of the raw men whom Bob and others had taken to church with them struck me as absurd. His cool assumption of power to deal with the British fleet was arrogance run mad.
On my way back to my hotel I ran into a congregation which had just got out of some church or other. In the first rank—they were marching in very fair order—was Crossan. He saluted me and stopped.
"I'm thinking," he said, "that you won't have seen them."
He pointed to a small group of men who were bringing up the rear of the congregation's march. They were dragging a heavy object along with two large ropes. I recognized the leader of them at once. He was Cahoon's foreman friend, McConkey. I was pleased to find that he recognized me.
"I have her safe," he said. "Would you like to take a look at her?"
I did. She was a machine gun of a kind quite unknown to me; but her appearance was very murderous. McConkey led me up to her. He stroked her black side lovingly and patted her in various places.
"I was trying her yesterday," he said, "down on the slob land under the Shore Road. Man o' man, but she shoots bonny!"
I had no doubt of it. She was likely to be accountable for a good deal of bloodshed if there was any street fighting next day. The record of her bag would, I should think, haunt Sir Samuel Clithering for the rest of his life.
"I've a matter of five thousand cartridges," said McConkey in a hoarse whisper, "and there's another five thousand ordered."
The committee met at three o'clock in the afternoon. Sir Samuel Clithering was not, of course, a member of it; but he lurked about outside and waylaid us as we went in. He was in a condition of pitiful bewilderment. Alice whose adventures in Wonderland have been very dear to me since I first read them aloud to Marion, was once placed in a difficult and awkward position by the kings, queens and knaves of the pack of cards with which she was playing coming to life. This was sufficiently embarrassing. But Clithering was much worse off than Alice. In her story all the cards came to life, and though the unexpectedness of their behaviour made things difficult for her there was a certain consistency about the whole business. A card player might in time adjust himself to a game played with cards which possessed wills of their own. But poor Clithering had to play with a pack in which one suit only, and it not even the trump suit, suddenly insisted that the game was a reality. The other three suits, the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the Irish Nationalists still behaved in the normal way, falling pleasantly on top of each other, and winning or losing tricks as the rules of the game demanded. The Ulster party alone—Clubs, we may call them—would not play fairly. They jumped out of the player's hand and obstinately declared that the green cloth was a real battlefield. The higher court cards of the suit—Lady Moyne for instance, and Babberly—Clithering felt himself able to control. It was the knaves—I am sure he looked on McNeice as a knave—the tens, the sevens and the humble twos which behaved outrageously.
And Clithering was not the only player who was perplexed. I had been to luncheon with the Moynes. Babberly was there of course. So was Malcolmson. Clithering sat next but one to Lady Moyne. Malcolmson was between them. It was a curious alliance. The emissary of the Government, which had passed measures which all good aristocrats disliked intensely, joined hands for the moment with the lady whose skill as a political hostess had frequently been troublesome to Clithering's friends. I do not suppose that such an alliance could possibly last long. Those whom misfortune, according to the old proverb, forces into bed together, always struggle out again at opposite sides when the clouds cease to be threatening. But while it lasted the alliance was firm enough. They were both bent on pressing the advantages of moderation on Malcolmson. They produced very little effect. Malcolmson is impervious to reason. He kept falling back, in replying to their arguments, on his original objection to Home Rule.
"I shall never consent," he said, "to be governed by a pack of blackguards in Dublin."
It was really a very good answer, for every time he made it he drove a wedge into the coalition against him. Lady Moyne was bound to admit that all Irishmen outside Ulster are blackguards, and that the atmosphere of Dublin is poisonous. Clithering, on the other hand, was officially committed to an unqualified admiration for everything south of the Boyne. I do not think that Malcolmson appreciated his dialectic advantage. His mind was running on big guns rather than arguments.
Lady Moyne squeezed my hand as we parted after luncheon, and I think I am not exaggerating in saying that there were tears in her eyes. She succeeded at all events in giving me the impression that her future happiness depended very largely on me. I determined, as I had determined several times before, to be true to the most charming lady of my acquaintance.
Moyne took the chair at our meeting. Next him sat Babberly. Cahoon, McNeice and Malcolmson sat together at the bottom of the table. I was given a chair on Moyne's other side. Conroy would not sit at the table at all. He had two chairs in a corner of the room. He sat on one of them and put his legs on the other. He also smoked a cigar, which I think everybody regarded as bad form. But nobody liked to protest, because nobody, except me and McNeice, knew which side Conroy was going to take in the controversy before us. Babberly, I feel sure, would have objected to the cigar if he had thought that Conroy favoured extreme defiance of the Government. Malcolmson, like many military men, is a great stickler for etiquette. He would have snubbed the cigar if he thought Conroy was inclined to moderation. As things were, we all warmly invited Conroy to desert his private encampment and join us round the table.
"I guess I'm here as an onlooker," said Conroy. "You gentlemen can settle things nicely without me, till it comes to writing cheques. Then I chip in."
Moyne murmured a compliment about Conroy's extreme generosity in the past, and Babberly said that further calls on our purses were, for the present, unnecessary. Then we all forgot about Conroy. The Dean sat half way down the table on my side. There was also present a Member of Parliament, a man who had sat by Babberly's side in the House of Commons all through the dreary months of June, July and August, supporting consistently every move he made towards wrecking the Home Rule Bill. There ought to have been several others of the moderate party at the meeting. Their letters of apology were read to us. They all had urgent business either in England or Scotland, which prevented their being in Belfast. I do not think their absence made much difference in the result of our deliberations. We had got beyond the stage at which votes matter much.
Moyne was pitifully nervous. He stated our position very fairly. It was, he said, a hateful thing to have to give in to the Government. He did not like doing it. On the other hand he did not like to take the responsibility of urging the people of Belfast to commit a breach of the peace. Lives, he said, would certainly be lost if we attempted to hold our meeting in the face of the force of armed men which the Government had collected in our streets. He would feel himself guilty of something little short of murder if he did not advise the acceptance of the compromise offered by Clithering. It was, after all, a fair, more than a fair compromise. Nothing would be lost by postponing the meeting for a week.
It was rather a feeble speech. Nobody offered any interruption, but nobody expressed any approval of what he said. When he sat down Babberly rose at once.
Now Babberly is no fool. He knows that florid orations are out of place at committee meetings. He did not treat us to any oratory. He gave us tersely and forcibly several excellent reasons for postponing our demonstration.
"The Government," he said, "is weakening. Its offer of a compromise shows that it is beginning at last to feel the full force of the Ulster objection to Home Rule."
Here McNeice interrupted him.
"If that's so," he said, "we must make our objection more unmistakably obvious than before."
"Quite so," said Babberly; "but how? Is it—"
"By fighting them," said McNeice.
"If by fighting them," said Babberly, "you mean asking the unarmed citizens of Belfast to stand up against rifles—"
"Unarmed?" The word came from Conroy in his corner. Every one was startled. We had not expected Conroy to take any part in the discussion.
"Undrilled, undisciplined," said Babberly. "What can be the result of such a conflict as you suggest? Our people, the men who have trusted us, will be mowed down. We shall place ourselves hopelessly in the wrong. We shall alienate the sympathies of our friends in England."
A large crowd had gathered in the street outside the windows of the room in which we were sitting. I suppose that the men found waiting a tiresome business. By way of passing the time they began to sing "O God, our help in ages past."
"It is of the utmost importance to us," said Babberly, "to retain the sympathies of the English constituencies. Any illegal violence on our part—"
"You should have thought of that before you told the English people that we meant to fight," said McNeice.
"If you follow my advice to-day," said Babberly, "there will be no necessity for fighting."
The hymn outside gathered volume. It seemed to me that thousands of voices were joining in the singing of it. It became exceedingly difficult to hear what Babberly was saying. I leaned forward and caught his next few sentences.
"By keeping within the limits of constitutional action at this crisis we shall demonstrate that we are, what we have always boasted ourselves, the party of law and order. We shall win a bloodless victory. We shall convince the Government that we possess self-control as well as determination."
Then the noise of the singing outside became so great that it was impossible to hear Babberly at all. McNeice tilted his chair back and began to hum the tune. Malcolmson beat time to the singing with his forefingers. Their action seemed to me to be intentionally insulting to Babberly. The crowd outside reached the end of a verse and there was a pause.
"Damn that hymn!" said Babberly.
This roused the Dean. It would have roused any dean with a particle of spirit in him. After all, a high ecclesiastic cannot sit still and listen to profane condemnation of one of the Psalms of David, even if it has undergone versification at the hands of Dr. Watts. The conduct of McNeice and Malcolmson was offensive and provocative. The noise made by the crowd was maddening. There is every excuse for Babberly's sudden loss of temper. But the Dean's anger was more than excusable. It was justified. He sprang to his feet, and I knew at once that he was very angry indeed. I could see a broad white rim all round the irises of his eyes, and a pulse in his temples was throbbing visibly. I recognized the symptoms. I had seen them once before at a vestry meeting when some ill-conditioned parishioner said that the Dean's curate was converting to his own uses the profits of the parish magazine. The periodical, as appeared later on, was actually run at a loss, and the curate had been seven-and-ninepence out of pocket the previous year.
The Dean said something to Babberly, but the crowd had begun the fourth verse of the hymn, and we could not hear what he said. I got up and shut both windows. The atmosphere of our committee-room was hot, and likely to become hotter; but it is better to do business in a Turkish bath than not to do it at all. There was plainly no use our talking to each other unless we were able to hear. My action gave Babberly time to regain his temper.
"I apologize," he said. "I apologize to all of you, and especially to you, Mr. Dean, for an intemperate and uncalled-for exclamation."
The Dean sat down. The pulse in his forehead was still throbbing, but the irises of his eyes ceased to look like bulls' eyes in the middle of targets.
"I have been a consistent supporter of the Union," said Babberly, "for twenty years. In season and out of season I have upheld the cause we have at heart on English platforms and in the House of Commons. I know better than you do, gentlemen, what the temper of the English people is. I know that we shall sacrifice their friendship and alienate their sympathy if we resort to the argument of lawlessness and violence."
"It's the only argument they ever listen to," said McNeice. "Look at the Nationalists. What arguments did they use?"
"Gentlemen," said Babberly, "are you going to ask Ulstermen to fire on the King's troops?"
"I reckon," said Conroy, "that we mean to use our guns now we've got them."
Babberly made a curious gesture with his hands. He flung them out from him with the palms upwards and then sat down. McNeice rose next.
"For the last two years," he said, "we've been boasting that we meant to resist Home Rule with force if necessary. That's so, isn't it?"
Malcolmson growled an assent.
"English politicians and Irish rebels said we were bluffing. Our own people—the men outside there in the street—thought we were in earnest. The English went on with their Bill. Our people drilled and got rifles. Which of the two was right about us? Were we bluffing or were we in earnest? We've got to answer that question to-morrow, and we'll never get another chance. If we don't fight now, we'll never fight, for there won't be a man left in Ulster that will believe in us again. I don't know that there's any more to be said. I propose that Lord Moyne puts the question to the meeting and takes a vote."
Then Cahoon rose to his feet.
"Before you do that, my lord," he said, "I'd like to say a word. I'm a business man. I've as much at stake as any one in this room. My fortune, gentlemen, is in bricks and mortar, in machinery and plant not ten miles from this city. I've thought this matter out, and I came to a conclusion years ago. Home Rule won't do for Belfast, and Belfast isn't going to have it. If I saw any way of stopping it but the one I'd take it. There are thousands, yes, gentlemen, thousands of men, women, and children depending on my business for their living. Home Rule means ruining it and starving them. I don't like fighting, but, by God, I'll fight before I submit to Home Rule."
Lord Moyne looked slowly round the room. His face was quite pale. It seemed to me that his eyes had grown larger. They had a look of terror in them. His hands trembled among the papers in front of him. He saw at once what the result of a vote would be. He looked at me. I shook my head. It was quite plain that nothing I could say would influence the meeting in the least.