hush of that dead village, so loud that once or twice
they paused, frightened, their ears alert for answering
sound. None came and they resumed their attack.
The door commenced to splinter and to crack upon
Collectively they threw their whole weight
against it in sudden impact. It gave way and the
three of them followed it in a heap.
They struggled to their feet, cursing, and some-
one struck a match. It was Sam. The others
followed the dim illumination into the interior.
There was an exclamation of joyful surprise and
then the match went out. The exclamation was
renewed as Sam struck another and lit a hanging oil-
PRO PATRIA 33
" Gawd blimy if they ain't left it for us ! "
They were in a small room at the back of the bar.
A long table filled most of the space, and on that table
stood a large joint of beef, several loaves of bread,
and one or two pewter tankards. A number of plates
each containing food and crossed at odd angles by
knife and fork told a story that the overturned chairs
about the room corroborated.
" Left in a blamed 'urry," said Bill, picking up
one of the tankards. " Fancy leavin' the beer ! "
The third man pushed past him eagerly and sprang
at the table, clawing at the food. He almost wept.
" Two days — I ain't 'ad nufnnk fer two days, mates,"
he whimpered between huge mouthfuls. He went on
cramming himself with everything he could reach,
uttering the while inarticulate cries of satisfaction
that sounded like sobs.
The others were rivalled but not surpassed in this
gastronomical performance. Less excitedly, they
also were eating enormously. For long minutes the
three men sat at the table under the hanging lamp
without uttering a word. They fed like famished
animals at a trough. As their hunger grew less fierce,
however, the two comrades looked up and exchanged
appraising glances with their new companion. He
was a little fellow, with a cunning face and an ill-
shaped head that needed no criminologist to class it.
Petty rogue was stamped on him. The metal letters
and number on the shoulder-strap of his dirty and
ragged uniform showed that he, like themselves,
belonged to a Cockney battalion. The two com-
rades were burly fellows of the navvy type, full-
34 PRO PATRIA
bodied, full-faced, narrow in the brows, powerful in
the arms. Distress, the utter lack of work, had
probably forced them into one of the new regiments.
The little man, with equal probability, had enlisted
for similar reasons and had found escape not so easy
as he expected.
At last, replete, they desisted from their orgy of
victuals. Bill stretched his legs and looked good-
humouredly at his comrade.
" This ain't better than the army, I don't think ! "
he opined, qualifying the army by an epithet which
in its circumstances was not inappropriate.
" Curse the army ! " replied Sam, frowning from
under his heavy sandy brows. He shivered with the
commencement of digestion. " Light the fire, Bill,"
he commanded brutally. " And you," he added,
turning to the little man, " go an' get some more beer
— an' don't drink any or I'll smash your bloomin'
'ead in ! "
Bill, always in awe of his friend, had already com-
menced to obey, but the little man was not yet broken
to Sam's discipline.
" 'Ere ! — 'Oo are you orderin' about ? " he ex-
postulated in his thin, aggrieved voice. Then he
dodged quickly to escape a flying tankard. With a
frightened glance at the burly tyrant, he hastened
out, jug in hand.
When he returned, he deposited several packets of
tobacco on the table and pushed them towards Sam.
" Thought per'aps you'd be wantin' some, mate," he
said humbly. " There's a 'ole barrel o' beer in the
bar. If 'e'd 'elp me, I could get it in 'ere."
PRO PATRIA 35
" Go and 'elp 'im, Bill," ordered Sam, pocketing
The two men rolled in the barrel of beer and hoisted
it onto the table. Then, with full tankards handy
and their pipes smoking like factory chimneys, the
trio pulled their chairs up to the fire.
" Curse the army, I say ! " said Sam in a challenging
voice, apropos of nothing. He had been staring
moodily at the crackling logs. " I want to get back
to my wife an' kids."
" 'Ear, 'ear ! " said Bill, raising his tankard before
he drained it. " Curse the army ! "
" Chins ! " said the little man. The proposal was
" I'm fed up with it," continued Sam, still in his
mood of heavy reflection, " abso-bloomin'-lutely fed
up ! Marchin' 'ere, marchin' there, march all day,
march all night ; w'en you do stop, nothin' to eat ;
march back w'ere you come from, then right about
face and march ag'in till you don't know w'ere you
are. I joined the bloomin' army to fight, not to go
on a blighted walkin'-tour ! "
" Fight ! " chimed in the little man. " You ought
to 'a' been wiv us the other day ! Talk about fightin' !
Our company fought three thousand on 'em for hours
an' hours — all alone. We killed 'undreds of 'em,
me an' about a dozen others, till we 'ad to retreat.
That's wot I calls fightin' ! "
"Is it ? " sneered Sam. " You wos one o' that
picket guard wot run away from a cow, you mean.
Fightin' ! That ain't fightin' — bein' shot at by swine
you can't see. I ain't 'ad a sight o' one on 'em yet,
36 PRO PATRIA
not one — an' yesterday forty men of our company
was killed w'ere we laid in a 'tater-field. Ain't that
so, Bill ? "
" Forty-two," corrected Bill, " an' you couldn't
find some of 'em after the shell 'ad 'it 'em."
" That's it," continued Sam, " shells ! Shells
plumpin' down and chokin' yer, shells over'ead as if
the sky was breakin' in and droppin' down in bullets.
Shells ! That's wot I can't stand — bein' 'it on the
back of the 'ead w'en you're lyin' down an' takin'
cover accordin' to orders. It fair got on my nerves —
all day, shells, shells, shells, an' not a mouthful to
eat, an' then, at the end, right about face, quick
march, we're beat. Beat ! We'll see if we get beat !
No, — it's just bloomin' silly — they march us orf our
feet for a week just to make us a target for their
damn artillery and then tell us we're licked and 'ave
got to march back double-quick. I'm fed up
wiv it. I've chucked the blank army. Chucked
it, d'yer 'ear ? " he turned savagely on the little
" You're right, mate," said the little man, stand-
ing up to refill his tankard at the barrel. " So 've I.
W'y should we fight ? That's wot I arsks yer. We're
the pore workin'-man — we ain't got no property,"
he developed the manner of a street-corner orator,
and thumped his tankard on the table. " We ain't
got no stake in the country. Let them as 'as got a
stake in the country fight for it, says I. Not get a
pore honest workin'-man to go an' do it for 'em.
'Tain't right, mates. That's w'y I chucked the
bloomin' army, I don't mind tellin' yer — because I
PRO PATRIA 37
felt it wasn't right ! I'm a honest workin'-man an'
I don't believe in war."
" 'Ear, 'ear," said Bill sleepily.
" Chuck it ! " commented Sam unsympathetically,
regarding the hands of the orator. " You a workin'-
man ! You ain't never done a day's work in yer life,
unless you calls work pickin' pockets at the races. I
don't want no Socialism — an' I don't want no war,
neither. I wants to get back to my missus an' the
kids an' a regular job."
" 'Ear, 'ear," said Bill. " Wot price the Ole Kent
Road on a Saturday night, Sam ? "
" That's wot I was thinkin'. Is to-night Saturday,
Bill ? "
" Cursed if I know," was the reply. " I've lost
Sam sat gloomily looking into the fire. In his
brain was a vision of the great thoroughfare, lined
with naphtha flares, thronged with people who
clustered about the stalls, here and there the blaze
of lights upon the white-and-gold facade of a picture-
palace, the yellowish radiance of a public-house. He
visualised it now, distant from it, as the rustic looks
back to his village, sentimentally. There the inci-
dents, commonplace enough, sordid even, which had
made his life something individual to himself, had
linked themselves one by one.
" Bill," he said huskily, " if I saw those blank
foreigners mar chin' up the Ole Kent Road, I'd go
for 'em — if there wasn't a man to 'elp me."
" 'Ear, 'ear ! " said Bill. " So would I."
" I've got a bit o' skirt meself wot lives just off the
38 PRO PATRIA
Ole Kent Road," said the third man in a tone of
reminiscence. " Let's 'ave some more beer. I say,"
he remarked suddenly, having refilled his mug, " if
the army comes back it'll be a fair cop for us, won't
" I ain't goin' back," said Sam sturdily, still
gazing into the fire. " I'm fed up — and w'en I'm fed
up I'm fed up."
Bill had wakened at the suggestion.
"But s'pose they come back, Sam ? Wot '11 we do ? "
The third man interposed.
" 'Tain't wot we'll do. It's wot they'll do. They'll
shoot us, by Gawd they will ! " Panic came into
his sharp little white face. He was desperately in
earnest. " They'll shoot every man of us ! "
" They won't come back," said Sam.
" Ho ! Won't they ? And 'aven't they counter-
marched before ? W'y — I 'eard an officer say only
this afternoon that they'd be 'avin' another go at 'em
" Did yer, really ? " asked Bill, now thoroughly
" 'Strue as I stand 'ere ! — ' We'll march back quick
an' catch 'em,' 'e said," the little man invented
rapidly. " An officer in the cavalry, it was. Staff-
officer, shudn't wonder."
" Oh, my Gawd ! " cried Bill, his beer-muddled
faculties dispersing before a gale of fear. " 'Ere,
Sam — I'm orf ! Come on ! You brought me into
this, yer know — I didn't want to desert. I told yer
so, lots o' times — an' now ! — Come on ! — I ain't goin'
to stop 'ere to get shot ! "
PRO PATRIA 39
" 'Arf a mo ! " said the little man. " 'Tain't no
good runnin' orf in that uniform. Wot we've got to
do is to find some togs. Then if they comes back
we're just honest rustics, see ? "
Sam stood up. The sudden panic of his companions
had communicated itself to his slower brain. He also
trembled at the prospect of recapture.
" That's the ticket, mate. You've got it. You're
a smart little cove. Wot's yer name ? " This, he
implied, was condescension.
" Hoswald — Hoswald Smiff — my farver was a
toff, a flash cove, 'e was. Come on, mates — there's
sure to be some togs upstairs — shudn't wonder if
they've left some dibs be'ind 'em, too."
" They left the beer, anyway," said Bill. His tone
implied that people who left beer would leave any-
Rather unsteadily, the trio ascended the steep and
narrow stairs of the inn. Sam carried a lighted candle
which Oswald Smith had found in the kitchen. A
disappointment awaited them. In every room the
drawers stood open, empty, their contents carried
off. The trio swore in harmony and in fugues. They
cursed with the pointless fluency of drunken men
baulked of an intention. Then they lurched down-
" Wot '11 we do now ? " asked Bill, his face pale
with fright. " They'll be on us before morning,
sure ! "
" Certain ! " said Oswald.
" I ain't goin' back," said Sam doggedly. " I'm
fed up." He stood and tried to think, his mind
40 PRO PATRIA
harassed by the necessity for a disguise which had
been suggested to it.
Bill drank deeply from his tankard and, in the
middle of the draught, was visited by a brilliant
" I know," he cried. " Let's cut the letters orf
our uniforms. They won't be able to tell w'ere we
come from an' we can make up some yarn — say we
found 'em — 'ad our own togs pinched by the soldiers."
The others seized on the suggestion. To their
alcoholised brains the plan seemed more than feasible ;
it was certain of success. Feverishly and clumsily
they ripped the regimental letters from each other's
uniforms and cast them into the fire. The identifica-
tion labels, everything which could point to their
connection with the army, followed. They stood,
anonymous it seemed to them, in their stripped
" That's done wiv," said Sam, with a heavy sigh.
" Let's 'ave some more beer."
Joyous now, their minds relieved of the fear of
recapture, the trio refilled their tankards and their
pipes. They settled themselves again.
" I say, mates," said Oswald, " ever 'eard the yarn
of the bloke 'oo ? " He told the story and, ere
the noisy laughter which greeted the end had died
away, began another. He revealed himself as a
fellow of rare social qualities. His repertory of
anecdotes, many of them relating shady episodes of
his own career, was inexhaustible. On his own con-
fession he was a sharper or worse ; the humour of
his experiences the eternal humour of the sharp-
PRO PATRIA 41
witted clown and the dull policeman. He diversified
his entertainment with comic songs rendered with
more verve than elegance. Bill obliged with others of
a sentimental nature. They drank beer and more
beer. They bellowed out choruses whose rhythm
was marked by the heavy beating of tankards upon
the table and laughed and shouted as though they
sat at a " free-and-easy " in the Old Kent Road.
The fire blazed up the chimney, fed by chairs de-
molished one after another. Such merry men as they
could not condescend to the fetching of fuel. The
room was thick with tobacco -smoke. On the floor
little lakes of beer communicated by a rivulet whose
source was the spigot of the barrel. The three men
gave themselves up to a roaring orgy. They forgot
entirely the army which was marching away from
them, the other army which approached.
At last, in an atmosphere heavy with debauch, they
slumbered, three worthless soldiers of whom any army
was well rid.
Sam was awakened from a muddled dream of a
tenement near the Old Kent Road by a rough hand
upon his shoulder and the sound of a peremptory
" All-ri', Bill," he murmured, " revalley 'asn't
sounded yet." Then he opened his eyes, tried to
orientate himself in his surroundings. It was morning.
He was in an unfamiliar room and the room was
filled with unfamiliar men, dressed in a strange
uniform. His shoulder was again roughly shaken.
42 PRO PATRIA
The voice, uttering words foreign to him, but whose
meaning was not in doubt, spoke again. A strange
stern face was thrust close to his. Sam got on his
feet, still bewildered. Immediately he felt his arm
firmly grasped. His companions were undergoing
similar treatment. At the sight of them, the in-
cidents of the previous night returned to his memory.
Recapture ? He was reassured by the foreign incom-
prehensible language about him. He would give
himself up comfortable as a prisoner. His dangers
Oswald was in the grasp of two stalwart captors,
the frightened eyes in his cunning little face looking
up wildly into their unemotional countenances. Bill,
who had slid with his head under a chair in the stupor
which followed their orgy, was less easy to awaken.
The strange soldiers kicked him liberally, eliciting
sleepy curses but scarce a movement.
Sam could not repress a grin ; Bill's morning recall
to the sorrows of this waking world was usually made
in this manner.
Then he was pushed on by a firm, unrelenting
hand which reminded him vividly of that of a police-
man. As he was propelled through the door he had
a glimpse of Bill being hoisted bodily on to his feet
by several of the strange soldiers. Behind him,
Oswald was asking imploring questions in his thin
expostulating voice. They received no reply. The
trio were pushed swiftly, inexorably, into the
Outside in the bright sunshine they perceived that
the village was full of cavalrymen garbed in an un-
PRO PATRIA 43
familiar uniform. Their position was obvious. They
had been captured by the enemy's advance-guard.
Just without the door they were halted and the
danger of any movement was explained to them in
dumb show by a soldier who allowed them a dis-
concerting view down the muzzle of a rifle.
In front of the inn was a rustic bench and table,
occupied at the moment by a big, fair-moustached
man who bent over a map. Around him a group of
officers stood waiting in respectful attitudes. Pre-
sently the fair-moustached man looked up and said
a few words to one of the officers. He had a good-
humoured, smiling face, that man. The trio con-
templated it anxiously and drew some comfort from
its jovial appearance.
Sam turned to his companions.
" Mates," he said huskily, " we're copped. But
mind, we don't know nuffink. We ain't goin' to give
the boys away, are we ? "
" No, Sam," replied Bill, even more huskily.
" Wot'll they do to us, d'yer think ? "
" Nuffink," was the answer. " We're soldiers —
they don't shoot prisoners."
Oswald drew a long breath of relief at this. Sam
looked at him sharply.
" Mind — not a word, you little skunk — or I'll bash
yer 'ead in."
" All right, mate," said Oswald. " I ain't goin' to
The good-humoured officer on the bench spoke a
couple of sharp words. Immediately the prisoners
were pushed in front of him. A pair of very blue
44 PRO PATRIA
eyes looked over them, seemed to smile at them, they
thought and hoped.
" What are you ? " he asked sharply in English.
" Soldiers, sir," replied Sam quickly. Not very
confident of the discretion of his companions, he was
anxious to make himself the spokesman of the party.
"Indeed? What corps ? "
The blue eyes smiled on Sam. He felt them
dangerously fascinating. It was with an effort that
he kept himself from a reply and remained silent.
His dull faculties were desperately on the defensive.
" What corps ? "
The officer drew out a heavy gold watch. He
smiled outright at them.
" I give you five minutes. If you do not reply,
you will be shot against that wall."
" We're soldiers — prisoners of war, sir," said Sam.
" You can't shoot prisoners of war."
" Indeed ! " The blue eyes above the fair mous-
tache looked innocently amused. " You call your-
selves soldiers — to what corps do you belong ? To
what regiment ? Where are your shoulder-straps ? "
He got angry suddenly. " Tell me at once what regi-
ments — what time they passed here, or you go against
that wall ! "
Sam set his teeth and went pale. The conse-
quences of their anonymity became plain to him. He
met the eyes of the quick-witted little Cockney rogue.
The cunning, ill -shaped face was lit with a feverish
" Don't yer see, mate ? " he whispered eagerly.
PRO PATRIA 45
" Our chaps 'ave give 'em the slip. 'E wants to find
out wot corps passed through 'ere "
" Silence ! — Answer, you ! "
The fascinating blue eyes looked at Sam, almost
" We'r^e soldiers — prisoners o' war," he repeated
" Soldiers ! Soldiers without regiments — without
corps ! Prove it then, my man. Quick ! I have no
time to waste. Where are your shoulder-straps ?
Your identification papers ? "
The trio remained silent. The officer adopted a
more cajoling tone.
" Come, come, my man. You don't want to throw
your lives away on a trifle. I am willing to treat you
as prisoners of war if you prove to me that you are
soldiers. Tell me your regiments."
The trio stood in stubborn silence, the ex-navvies
rather sheepish, the Cockney rogue watching the
questioner with quick and knowing eyes. " No ?
Then you are spies." He turned to his men and
uttered a brief order, pointing to Sam.
On the instant the ex-navvy found himself pushed
with his back against the wall, looking into a grim
row of rifle-barrels. The squad that menaced him
stood equably waiting the word of command. The
officer rose, walked across to him and smiled in his
face. Once more he drew out his watch.
" One minute," he said pleasantly. " One minute
to prove that you are a soldier and no spy."
Sam stood as erect as suddenly enfeebled knees
would let him. He felt the bricks of the wall pushing
46 PRO PATRIA
against his back in the instinctive retreat of his body
from the imminent danger. His eyes were fixed on
the officer who stood calmly regarding his watch. He
felt sick and dizzy and very cold. He shivered as in
a mantle of ice. His mouth went dry. The panic-
stricken part of his brain began an attempt % to count
the seconds without any revolt at the stubborn
decision of his directing self. One, two, three —
twenty — thirty — the minute seemed endlessly long.
He moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue,
striving desperately to bring himself to speech in the
fraction of time which remained to him. He suc-
His voice came raucously, an agonised appeal.
" Mates ! — Remember — the Ole Kent Road ! "
The officer uttered a sharp sound and the windows
shook with the loud report of the rifles. In a thin
haze of smoke, the prisoners saw Sam lurch forward,
his arms outstretched, swaying on his toes for one
ghastly moment ere he pitched.
The officer calmly replaced his watch and brushed
past Oswald. He seized Bill by the arm.
" You ! " he said, with that sudden and disconcert-
ing anger of his. " Will you speak ? "
Bill stood sheepishly staring at him.
" The Ole Kent Road— 'Ome ! " he mumbled to
himself. Relentless hands pushed him against the
wall. At his feet lay Sam, a dark pool forming under
" Will you speak ? " vociferated the officer.
" 'Ome," mumbled Bill. " 'Ome !— Oh, Gawd ! "
He ignored the demand — seemed not to hear it.
PRO PATRIA 47
The officer, exasperated, stamped upon the gravel.
Again he uttered the sharp order, again the windows
shook. Bill slid down the wall with his head on his
The officer turned to the survivor, the petty rogue,
nurtured fatherless in a London slum. " Now, my
man," he said cheerfully. " You see I am not to be
trifled with. Come — tell me what corps passed
through here yesterday." He added with a smile of
contempt, " These scruples are absurd in a deserter."
A cunning grin came over Oswald's face.
" Yah ! " he said. " Deserter, am I ? So I am,
but I ain't goin' to peach on my pals. They've give
yer the slip right enough — an' yer knows it. Yah ! "
He finished with an ugly grimace.
A moment later, he also stood with his back to the
" Yah ! " he cried, and grinned as at some private
The rifles spoke and he spun and fell. In his pocket
was the officer's gold watch.
At the foot of a bullet -marked wall lay three worth-
less soldiers. Far away, a beaten army, lost for the
nonce in the fog of war, rallied itself without molesta-
tion for another struggle.
A heavy north-east gale was setting with a flowing
tide into the River Ems. Out at sea dark grey rain-
clouds blew raggedly over a background but little
lighter in colour. The distant sea stretched away,
cheerless and leaden, to a horizon that was whelmed
in a grey mist where the elements met, indistinguish-
able. The nearer waters broke in a confused turmoil
of white-caps on either hand. A heavy swell rolled
dark between these shoals. Up the estuary a blur of
dirty brown smoke, rising from behind a line ox bleak
sand-dunes, smudged the sagging sky. It rose from
the little town of Emden, round the corner. A
couple of tall posts, wireless " aerials," stood out
black against the smoke.
In the river, just off the low sandy point, lay a long,
four-funnelled cruiser. In the heavy rain-squalls
which swallowed her every few minutes she looked
like a thing of mist, so well did the grey of her hull
and superstructure blend with the grey of sea and
sky. She pitched slowly and gently at the taut-
stretched cables of her bow anchors, her nose pointed
seawards towards the incoming tide. From her
steam-pipes the white vapour which issued, deafen-
ingly stridulant, was torn violently away in horizontal
pennons. At her peak a small flag blew out stiffly.
NERVES ! 49
At her stern, the ensign — black rectangular cross on
white, centred with the crowned eagle and quartered
with a small black cross upon the national colours,
black, white and red — flattened itself out in the wind
with loud claps as the gale half-released it for a second
and then seized upon it again.
To and fro upon her navigating bridge the oilskin-
clad officer of the watch paced restlessly. Under
his sou' -wester, anxious, strained eyes peered from
a haggard face whose weather-beaten brown was
paled to an unhealthy yellow. Up and down he went,
but never for a moment did he take those anxious
eyes from the dark channel ahead of the ship's bows.
The look-outs, posted at each end of the bridge close
behind the canvas " dodger," gazed with equal
fixity towards the sea. On their faces the same