THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
CHAPTER 43: THE BATTLE OF THE SAND BELT
I had spies out every night, of course, to get news. Every report
made things look more and more impressive. The hosts were gathering,
gathering; down all the roads and paths of England the knights were
riding, and priests rode with them, to hearten these original
Crusaders, this being the Church's war. All the nobilities, big
and little, were on their way, and all the gentry. This was all
as was expected. We should thin out this sort of folk to such
a degree that the people would have nothing to do but just step
to the front with their republic and--
Ah, what a donkey I was! Toward the end of the week I began to get
this large and disenchanting fact through my head: that the mass
of the nation had swung their caps and shouted for the republic for
about one day, and there an end! The Church, the nobles, and
the gentry then turned one grand, all-disapproving frown upon them
and shriveled them into sheep! From that moment the sheep had
begun to gather to the fold--that is to say, the camps--and offer
their valueless lives and their valuable wool to the "righteous
cause." Why, even the very men who had lately been slaves were
in the "righteous cause," and glorifying it, praying for it,
sentimentally slabbering over it, just like all the other commoners.
Imagine such human muck as this; conceive of this folly!
Yes, it was now "Death to the Republic!" everywhere--not a dissenting
voice. All England was marching against us! Truly, this was more
than I had bargained for.
I watched my fifty-two boys narrowly; watched their faces, their
walk, their unconscious attitudes: for all these are a language--
a language given us purposely that it may betray us in times of
emergency, when we have secrets which we want to keep. I knew
that that thought would keep saying itself over and over again
in their minds and hearts, All England is marching against us!
and ever more strenuously imploring attention with each repetition,
ever more sharply realizing itself to their imaginations, until
even in their sleep they would find no rest from it, but hear
the vague and flitting creatures of the dreams say, All England--
ALL ENGLAND!--is marching against you! I knew all this would
happen; I knew that ultimately the pressure would become so great
that it would compel utterance; therefore, I must be ready with an
answer at that time--an answer well chosen and tranquilizing.