Chapter II -- Quick Work
At home, Harry had an early dinner with his father and mother, who were going to the theatre. They lived in a comfortable house, which Mr. Fleming had taken on a five-year lease when they came to England to live. It was one of a row of houses that looked very much alike, which, itself, was one of four sides of a square. In the centre of the square was a park-like space, a garden, really. In this garden were several tennis courts, with plenty of space, also, for nurses and children. There are many such squares in London, and they help to make the British capital a delightful place in which to live.
As he went in, Harry saw a lot of the younger men who lived in the square playing tennis. It was still broad daylight, although, at home, dusk would have fallen. But this was England at the end of July and the beginning of August, and the light of day would hold until ten o'clock or thereabout. That was one of the things that had helped to reconcile Harry to living in England. He loved the long evenings and the chance they gave to get plenty of sport and exercise after school hours.
The school that he and Dick attended was not far away; they went to it each day. A great many of the boys boarded at the school, but there were plenty who, like Dick and Harry, did not. But school was over now, for the time. The summer holidays had just begun.
At the table there was much talk of the war that was in the air. But Mr. Fleming did not even yet believe that war was sure.
"They'll patch it up," he said, confidently. "They can't be so mad as to set the whole world ablaze over a little scrap like the trouble between Austria and Servia."
"Would it affect your business, dear?" asked Mrs. Fleming. "If there really should be war, I mean ?"
"I don't think so," said he. "I might have to make a flying trip home, but I'd be back. Come on -- time for us to go. What are you going to do, boy? Going over to Grenfel's, aren't you ?"
"Yes, father," said Harry.
"All right. Get home early. Good-night!"
A good many of the boys were already there when Dick and Harry reached Grenfel's house. The troop -- the Forty-second, of London -- was a comparatively small one, having only three patrols. But nearly all of them were present, and the scout-master took them out into his garden.
"I'm going to change the order a bit," he said, gravely. "I want to do some talking, and then I expect to answer questions. Boys, Germany has declared war on Russia. There are reports already of fighting on the border between France and Germany. And there seems to be an idea that the Germans are certain to strike at France through Belgium. I may not be here very long -- I may have to turn over the troop to another scoutmaster. So I want to have a long talk to-night." There was a dismayed chorus.
"What? You going away, sir? Why?"
But Harry did not join. He saw the quiet blaze in John Grenfel's eyes, and he thought he knew.
"I've volunteered for foreign service already," Grenfel explained. "I saw a little fighting in the Boer war, you know. And I may be useful. So I thought I'd get my application in directly. If I go, I'll probably go quietly and quickly. And there may be no other chance for me to say good-bye."
'Then you think England will be drawn in, sir?" asked Leslie Franklin, leader of the patrol to which Dick and Harry belonged, the Royal Blues.
"I'm afraid so," said Grenfels grimly. "There's just a chance still, but that's all -- the ghost of a chance, you might call it. I think it might be as well if I explained a little of what's back of all this trouble. Want to listen? If you do, I'll try. And if I'm not making myself clear, ask all the questions you like."
There was a chorus of assent. Grenfel sat in the middle, the scouts ranged about him in a circle. "In the first place," he began, "this Servian business is only an excuse. I'm not defending the Servians -- I'm taking no sides between Servia and Austria. Here in England we don't care about that, because we know that if that hadn't started the war, something else would have been found.
"England wants peace. And it seems that, every so often, she has to fight for it. It was so when the Duke of Marlborough won his battles at Blenheim and Ramillies and Malplaquet. Then France was the strongest nation in Europe. And she tried to crush the others and dominate everything. If she had, she would have been strong enough, after her victories, to fight us over here -- to invade England. So we went into that war, more than two hundred years ago, not because we hated France, but to make a real peace possible. And it lasted a long time.
"Then, after the French revolution, there was Napoleon. Again France, under him, was the strongest nation in Europe. He conquered Germany, and Austria, Italy and Spain, the Netherlands. And he tried to conquer England, so that France could rule the world. But Nelson beat his fleet at Trafalgar --"
"Hurrah!" interrupted Dick, carried away. "Three cheers for Nelson!"
Grenfel smiled as the cheers were given.
"Even after Trafalgar," he went on, "Napoleon hoped to conquer England. He had massed a great army near Boulogne, ready to send it across the channel. And so we took the side of the weaker nations again. All Europe, led by England, rose against Napoleon. And you know what happened. He was beaten finally at Waterloo. And so there was peace again in Europe for a long time, with no one nation strong enough to dictate to all the others." But then Germany began to rise. She beat Austria, and that made her the strongest German country. Then she beat France, in 1870, and that gave her her start toward being the strongest nation on the continent.
"And then, I believe -- and so do most Englislmen -- she began to be jealous of England. She wanted our colonies. She began, finally, to build a great navy. For years we have had to spend great sums of money to keep our fleet stronger than hers. And she made an alliance with Austria and Italy. Because of that France and Russia made an alliance, too, and we had to be friendly with them. And now it looks to me as if Germany thought she saw a chance to beat France and Russia. Perhaps she thinks that we won't fight, on account of the trouble in Ireland. And what we English fear is that, if she wins, she will take Belgium and Holland. Then she would be so close to our coasts that we would never be safe. We would have to be prepared always for invasion. So, you see, it seems to me that we are facing the same sort of danger we have faced before. Only this time it is Germany, instead of France, that we shall have to fight -- if we do fight."
"If the Germans go through Belgium, will that mean that we shall fight?" asked Leslie Franklin.
"Almost certainly, yes," said Grenfel. "And it is through Belgium that Germany has her best chance to strike at France. So you see how serious things are. I don't want to go into all the history that is back of all this. I just want you to understand what England's interest is. If we make war, it will be a war of self- defence. Suppose you owned a house. And suppose the house next door caught fire. You would try to put out that fire, wouldn't you, to save your own house from being burned up? Well, that's England's position. If the Germans held Belgium or Holland -- and they would hold both, if they beat France and Russia -- England would then be in just as much danger as your house would be. So if we fight, it will be to put out the German fire in the house next door.
"Now I want you to understand one thing. I'm talking as an Englishman. A German would tell you all this in a very different way. I don't like the people who are always slandering their enemies. Germany has her reasons for acting as she does. I think her reasons are wrong. But the Germans believe that they are right. We can respect even people who are wrong if they themselves believe that they are right. There may be two sides to this quarrel. And Germans, even if they are to be our enemies, may be just as patriotic, just as devoted to their country, as we are. Never forget that, no matter what may happen."
He stopped then, waiting for questions. None came.
"Then you understand pretty well?" he asked. There was a murmur of assent from the whole circle.
"All right, then," he said. "Now there's work for Scouts to do. Be prepared! That's our motto, isn't it? Suppose there's war. Franklin, what's your idea of what the Boy Scouts would be able to do?"
"I suppose those who are old enough could volunteer, sir," said Franklin, doubtfully. "I can't think of anything else --"
"Time enough for that later," said Grenfel, with a short laugh. "England may have to call boys to the colors before she's done, if she once starts to fight. But long before that time comes, there will be a great work for the organization we all love and honor. Work that won't be showy, work that will be very hard. Boys, everyone in England, man and woman and child will have work to do! And we, who are organized, and whose motto Be Prepared, ought to be able to show what stuff there is in us.
"Think of all the places that must be guarded. The waterworks, the gas tanks, the railroads that lead to the seaports and that will be used by the troops."
A startled burst of exclamations answered him. "Why, there won't be any fighting in England, sir, will there?" asked Dick Mercer, in surprise.
"We all hope not," said Grenfel. "But that's not what I mean. It doesn't take an army to destroy a railroad. One man with a bomb and a time fuse attached to it can blow up a culvert and block a whole line so that precious hours might be lost in getting troops aboard a transport. One man could blow up a waterworks or a gas tank or cut an important telegraph or telephone wire!"
"You mean that there will be Germans here trying to hurt England any way they can, don't you sir? asked Harry Fleming.
"I mean exactly that," said Grenfel. "We don't know this -- we can't be sure of it. But we've got good reason to believe that there are a great many Germans here, seemingly peaceable enough, who are regularly in the pay of the German government as spies. We don't know the German plans. But there is no reason, so far as we know, why their great Zeppelin airships shouldn't come sailing over England, to drop bombs down where they can do the most harm. There is nothing except our own vigilance to keep these spies, even if they have to work alone, from doing untold damage!"
'We could be useful as sentries, then?" said Leslie Franklin. He drew a deep breath. "I never thought of things like that, sir! I'm just beginning to see how useful we really might be. We could do a lot of things instead of soldiers, couldn't we? So that they would be free to go and fight?"
"Yes," answered the scoutmaster. "And I can tell you now that the National Scout Council has always planned to 'Be Prepared!' It decided, a long time ago, what should be done in case of war. A great many troops will be offered to the War Department to do odd jobs. They will carry messages and dispatches. They will act as clerks, so far as they can. They will patrol the railways and other places that ought to be under guard, where soldiers can be spared if we take their places. So far as such things can be planned, they have been planned.
"But most of the ways in which we can be useful haven't showed themselves, at all yet. They will develop, if war comes. We shall have to be alert and watchful, and do whatever there is to be done..." "Who will be scoutmaster, sir. if you go to the war?" asked Harry.
"I'm not quite sure," said Grenfel. "We haven't decided yet. But it will be someone you can trust -- be sure of that. And I think I needn't say that if you scouts have any real regard for me you will show it best by serving as loyally and as faithfully under him as you have under me. I shall be with you in spirit, no matter where I am. Now it's, getting late. I think we'd better break up for tonight. We will make a special order, too, for the present. Every scout in the troop will report at scout headquarters until further notice, every day, at nine o'clock in the morning.
"I think we'll have to make up our minds not to play many games for the time that is coming. There is real work ahead of us if war comes -- work just as real and just as hard, in its way, as if we were all going to fight for England. Everyone cannot fight, but the ones who stay at home and do the work that comes to their hands will serve England just as loyally as if they were on the firing line. Now up, all of you! Three cheers for King George!"
They were given with a will -- and Harry Fleming joined in as heartily as any of them. He was as much of an American as he had ever been, but something in him responded with a strange thrill to England's need, as Grenfel had expressed it. After all, England had been and was the mother country. England and America had fought, in their time, and America had won, but now, for a hundred years, there had been peace between them. And he and these English boys were of the same blood and the same language, binding them very closely together. "Blood is thicker than water, after all!" he thought.
Then every scout there shook hands with John Grenfel. He smiled as he greeted them.
"I hope this will pass over," he said, "and that we'll do together during this vacation all the things we've planned to do. But if we can't, and if I'm called away, good-bye! Do your duty as scouts, and I'll know it somehow! And, in case I don't see you again, good-bye!"
"You're going to stand with us, then, Fleming?" he said, as Harry came up to shake hands. "Good boy! We're of one blood, we English and you Americans. We've had our quarrels, but relatives always do quarrel. And you'll not be asked, as a scout here, to do anything an American shouldn't do."
Then it was over. They were out in the street. In the distance newsboys were yelling their extra still. Many people were out, something unusual in that quiet neighborhood. And suddenly one of the scouts lifted his voice, and in a moment they were all singing:
Rule, rule, Britannia!
Scores of voices swelled the chorus, joining the fresh young voices of the scouts. And then someone started that swinging march song that had leaped into popularity at the time of the Boer War, Soldiers of the Queen. The words were trifling, but there was a fine swing to the music, and it was not the words that counted -- it was the spirit of those who sang.
As he marched along with the others Harry noticed one thing. In a few hours the whole appearance of the streets had changed. From every house, in the still night air, drooped a Union Jack. The flag was everywhere; some houses had flung out half a dozen to the wind.
Harry was seeing a sight, that once seen, can never be forgotten. He was seeing a nation aroused, preparing to fight. If war came to England it would be no war decreed by a few men. It would be a war proclaimed by the people themselves, demanded by them. The nation was stirring; it was casting off the proverbial lethargy and indifference of the English. Even here, in this usually quiet suburb of London, the home of business and professional men who were comfortably well off, the stirring of the spirit of England was evident. And suddenly the song of the scouts and those who had joined them was drowned out by a new noise, sinister, threatening. It was the angry note that is raised by a mob.
Leslie Franklin took command at once. "Here, we must see what's wrong!" he cried. "Scouts, attention! Fall in! Double quick -- follow me!"
He ran in the direction of the sound, and they followed. Five minutes brought them to the scene of the disturbance. They reached a street of cheaper houses and small shops. About one of these a crowd was surging, made up largely of young men of the lower class, for in West Kensington, as in all parts of London, the homes of the rich and of the poor rub one another's elbows in easy familiarity. The crowd seemed to be trying to break in the door of this shop. Already all the glass of the show windows had been broken, and from within there came guttural cries of alarm and anger.
"It's Dutchy's place!" cried Dick Mercer. "He's a German, and they're trying to smash his place up!" "Halt!" cried Franklin. He gathered the scouts about him. "This won't do," he said, angry spots of color showing on his cheek bones. "No one's gone for the police -- or, if they have, this crowd of muckers will smash everything up and maybe hurt the old Dutchman before the Bobbies get here. Form together now -- and when I give the word, go through! Once we get between them and the shop, we can stop them. Maybe they won't know who we are at first, and our uniforms may stop them."
"Now!" he said, a moment later. And, with a shout, the scouts charged through the little mob in a body.
They had no trouble in getting through. A few determined people, knowing just what they mean to do, can always overcome a greater number of disorganized ones. That is why disciplined troops can conquer five times their number of rioters or savages. And so in a moment they reached the shop.
"Let us in! We're here to protect you!" cried Franklin to old Schmidt, who was cowering within, with his wife. Then he turned to the rioters, who, getting over their first surprise, were threatening again.
"For shame!" he cried. "Do you think you're doing anything for England? War's not declared yet -- and, if it was, you might better be looking for German soldiers to shoot at than trying to hurt an old man who never did anyone any harm!"
There was a threatening noise from the crowd, but Franklin was undismayed.
"You'll have to get through us to reach them !" he cried. "We --"
But he was interrupted. A whistle sounded. The next moment the police were there.
"Bli'me!" said the soldier, surprised. "Think of that, now! What will they be up to next -- those Germans? That's what I'd like to mow! Coming over here to England and doing things like that! I'd have the law on 'em - that's what I'd do!"
Harry laughed. So blind to the real side of war were men who, at any moment, might find themselves face to face with the enemy!