The big room was very still. Outside, beneath a thin, cold drizzle, the first tinge of green showed on the broad lawn. The crocuses were beginning to thrust their spears through the sodden mold. One of the long French windows stood ajar, and in the air that slipped through was a clean, moist whiff of coming spring. It was the end of March.
In the leather armchair by the wide, flat desk sat a man. His chin was on his chest; the lowered head and the droop of the broad, spare shoulders showed the impact of some heavy burden. His clothes were gray–a trim, neatly cut business suit; his hair was gray; his gray-blue eyes were sombre. In the gathering dusk he seemed only a darker shadow in the padded chair. His right hand–the long, firm, nervous hand of a scholar–rested on the blotting pad. A silver pen had slipped from his fingers as he sat in thought. On the desk lay some typed sheets which he was revising.
Sitting there, his mind had been traversing the memories of the past two and a half years. Every line of his lean, strong figure showed some trace of the responsibilities he had borne. In the greatest crisis of modern times he had steadfastly pursued an ideal, regardless of the bitterness of criticism and the sting of ridicule. The difficulties had been tremendous. Every kind of influence had been brought upon him to do certain things, none of which he had done. A scholar, a dreamer, a lifelong student of history, he had surprised his associates by the clearness of his vision, the tenacity of his will. Never, perhaps, in the history of the nation had a man been more brutally reviled than he–save one! And his eyes turned to the wall where, over the chimney piece, hung the portrait of one of his predecessors who had stood for his ideals in a time of fiery trial. It was too dark now to see the picture but he knew well the rugged, homely face, the tender, pain-wrenched mouth.
This man had dreamed a dream. Climbing from the humble youth of a poor student, nourished in classroom and library with the burning visions of great teachers, he had hoped in this highest of positions to guide his country in the difficult path of a higher patriotism. Philosopher, idealist, keen student of men, he had been able to keep his eyes steadfast on his goal despite the intolerable cloud of unjust criticism that had rolled round him. Venomous and shameful attacks had hurt him, but had never abated his purpose. In a world reeling and smoking with the insane fury of war, one nation should stand unshaken for the message of the spirit, for the glory of humanity; for the settlement of disputes by other means than gunpowder and women’s tears. That was his dream. To that he had clung.
He shifted grimly in his chair, and took up the pen.
What a long, heart-rending strain it had been! His mind went back to the golden August day when the telegram was laid on his desk announcing that the old civilization of Europe had fallen into fragments. He remembered the first meeting thereafter, when his associates, with grave, anxious faces, debated the proper stand for them to take. He remembered how, in the swinging relaxation of an afternoon of golf, he had thoughtfully planned the wording of his first neutrality proclamation.
In those dim, far-off days, who had dreamed what would come? Who could have believed that great nations would discard without compunction all the carefully built-up conventions of international law? That murder in the air, on land, on the sea, under the sea, would be rewarded by the highest military honours? That a supposedly friendly nation would fill another land with spies–even among the accredited envoys of diplomacy?
Sadly this man thought of the long painful fight he had made to keep one nation at least out of the tragic, barbaric struggle. Giving due honour to convinced militarist and sincere pacifist, his own course was still different. That his country, disregarding the old fetishes of honour and insult, should stand solidly for humanity; should endure all things, suffer all things, for humanity’s sake; should seek to bind up the wounds and fill the starving mouths. That one nation–not because she was weak, but because she was strong–should, with God’s help, make a firm stand for peace and show to all mankind that force can never conquer force.