THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
CHAPTER 43: THE BATTLE OF THE SAND BELT
I was right. The time came. They HAD to speak. Poor lads, it
was pitiful to see, they were so pale, so worn, so troubled. At
first their spokesman could hardly find voice or words; but he
presently got both. This is what he said--and he put it in the
neat modern English taught him in my schools:
"We have tried to forget what we are--English boys! We have tried
to put reason before sentiment, duty before love; our minds
approve, but our hearts reproach us. While apparently it was
only the nobility, only the gentry, only the twenty-five or thirty
thousand knights left alive out of the late wars, we were of one
mind, and undisturbed by any troubling doubt; each and every one
of these fifty-two lads who stand here before you, said, 'They
have chosen--it is their affair.' But think!--the matter is
altered--All England is marching against us! Oh, sir, consider!--
reflect!--these people are our people, they are bone of our bone,
flesh of our flesh, we love them--do not ask us to destroy our nation!"
Well, it shows the value of looking ahead, and being ready for
a thing when it happens. If I hadn't foreseen this thing and been
fixed, that boy would have had me!--I couldn't have said a word.
But I was fixed. I said:
"My boys, your hearts are in the right place, you have thought the
worthy thought, you have done the worthy thing. You are English
boys, you will remain English boys, and you will keep that name
unsmirched. Give yourselves no further concern, let your minds be
at peace. Consider this: while all England is marching against
us, who is in the van? Who, by the commonest rules of war, will
march in the front? Answer me."
"The mounted host of mailed knights."
"True. They are thirty thousand strong. Acres deep they will march.
Now, observe: none but they will ever strike the sand-belt! Then
there will be an episode! Immediately after, the civilian multitude
in the rear will retire, to meet business engagements elsewhere.
None but nobles and gentry are knights, and none but these will
remain to dance to our music after that episode. It is absolutely
true that we shall have to fight nobody but these thirty thousand
knights. Now speak, and it shall be as you decide. Shall we
avoid the battle, retire from the field?"