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Satire Of The Sea
by [?]

“What was the mystery about St. Alban?” I asked

The Baronet did not at once reply. He looked out over the English country through the ancient oak-trees, above the sweep of meadow across the dark, creeping river, to the white shaft rising beyond the wooded hills into the sky.

The war was over. I was a guest of Sir Henry Marquis for a week-end at his country-house. The man fascinated me. He seemed a sort of bottomless Stygian vat of mysteries. He had been the secret hand of England for many years in India. Then he was made a Baronet and put at the head of England’s Secret Service at Scotland Yard.

A servant brought out the tea and we were alone on the grass terrace before the great oak-trees. He remained for some moments in reflection, then he replied:

“Do you mean the mystery of his death?”

“Was there any other mystery?” I said.

He looked at me narrowly across the table.

“There was hardly any mystery about his death,” he said. “The man shot himself with an old dueling pistol that hung above the mantel in his library. The family, when they found him, put the pistol back on the nail and fitted the affair with the stock properties of a mysterious assassin.

“The explanation was at once accepted. The man’s life, in the public mind, called for an end like that. St. Alban after his career, should by every canon of the tragic muse, go that way.”

He made a careless gesture with his fingers.

“I saw the disturbed dust on the wall where the pistol had been moved, the bits of split cap under the hammer, and the powder marks on the muzzle.

“But I let the thing go. It seemed in keeping with the destiny of the man. And it completed the sardonic picture. It was all fated, as the Gaelic people say . . . . I saw no reason to disturb it.”

“Then there was some other mystery?” I ventured.

He nodded his big head slowly.

“There is an ancient belief,” he said, “that the hunted thing always turns on us. Well, if there was ever a man in this world on whom the hunted thing awfully turned, it was St. Alban.”

He put out his hand.

“Look at the shaft yonder,” he said, “lifted to his memory, towering over the whole of this English country, and cut on its base with his services to England and the brave words he said on that fatal morning on the Channel boat. Every schoolboy knows the words:

“‘Don’t threaten, fire if you like!’

“First-class words for the English people to remember. No bravado, just the thing any decent chap would say. But the words are persistent. They remain in the memory. And it was a thrilling scene they fitted into. One must never forge that: The little hospital transport lying in the Channel in a choppy sea that ran streaks of foam; the grim turret and the long whaleback of a U-boat in the foam scruff; and the sun lying on the scrubbed deck of the jumping transport.

“Everybody was crowded about. St. Alban was in the center of the human pack, in a pace or two of clear deck, his injured arm in a sling; his split sleeve open around it; his shoulders thrown back; his head lifted; and before him, the Hun commander with his big automatic pistol.

“It’s a wonderful, spirited picture, and it thrilled England. It was in accord with her legends. England has little favor of either the gods of the hills or the gods of the valleys. But always, in all her wars, the gods of the seas back her.”

The big Baronet paused and poured out a cup of tea. He tasted it and set it down on the table.

“That’s a fine monument,” he said, indicating the white shaft that shot up into the cloudless evening sky. “The road makes a sharp turn by it. You have got to slow up, no matter how you travel. The road rises there. It’s built that way; to make the passer go slow enough to read the legends on the base of the monument. It’s a clever piece of business. Everybody is bound to give his tribute of attention to the conspicuous memorial.