The Seed of Empireby Fred M White
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THE SCRAP of paper lay on the counter of Europe, and the honour of more than one great Power trembled in the balance. And accordingly the greatest nation of them all would be compelled to act. Not that she had ever hesitated; not that she would swerve one inch from the path that she had pursued for nearly a thousand years; and perhaps because of this, from the north to the south, and from the east to the west, anxious hearts were beating and anxious eyes turned towards the storm centre that hung so black and threatening over Central Europe.
Would Germany respect her word? Would she hold by the compact she had entered into so many years ago? There were those who declared that she would, that the fear of Germany was no more than the exploitation of a certain school of journalism; but there were others who knew better than that, who knew for a certainty that Belgium was merely a pawn in the game of chess that Germany had played incessantly for the last 40 years. And so England waited.
The storm had gathered all too quickly. Seven days before, outside the charmed circle of European diplomacy, not a score of people had seen a sign of the gathering tempest. All England had been looking forward to its playtime, hundreds of thousands of honest toilers in the workshops and the offices were joyfully anticipating the holiday month. Eyes were turned eagerly towards the sea and the moorland, and now it seemed as if all that was forgotten. There had been trouble threatening on the Thursday and Friday, and then Black Monday had come with the most fateful Bank Holiday since holidays had first begun. And now to all practical purposes Germany had cynically flung her honour into the melting pot, and already had broken her solemn promise to Belgium, and England was at war with Germany, and the greatest conflict in the history of the world had begun.
It was a strange, weird holiday the Londoners were spending, a combination of holiday and funeral. It was as if some great nation was suddenly in the grip of mortal plague just at the moment when work had been flung aside with no heed for the morrow, a decorous mute festival with the shadow of some dire misfortune looming behind it.
So far there had been no outbreak of passion or emotion, no waving of flags, no outburst of patriotism from a million throats. For the thing had gone too deep for that. Early as it was, the nation was beginning to realise the stupendous task that lay before it. It seemed almost incredible that this quiet, sombre-eyed London was the same capital that had gone into the Boer War with noise and tumult, the wagging or flags, and the loud bray of brass and cymbals. For already deep down was the feeling that this ghastly business had been inevitable from the first, and that the future of the Empire was in peril.
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