Disturbing Charm


19. 2-2 The Last Allies

"They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they have found no fault,
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt."


The War-missioner on the platform paused for a moment to look at his watch.

Then he resumed, in the rich deep voice that spoke English not as the English speak it, the voice that had done so much to bring the help of his great country into the War.

"But you'd rather be hearing Miss van Huysen sing; and if you wouldn't, I would. So I'll just say this one thing to you men and women at the Phoenix Hut tonight. I want you to look at this flag." He pointed to the right-hand one of the two flags that backed him where he stood; the Stars and Stripes.

"And now--I want to think of another flag. Our stars only stand for stars that are older still."

The orator's fine grey head was lifted as if he could see those stars above the many-pointed roof of the hut; stars of the night sky.

"Those stars don't change. They're rising all the while, right round the world. They were there, those stars, before you or I were heard of. They will be there when we are gone. I see them as the stars of Love and Home. And I'll tell you, friends, what I see in those stripes, too. I see the whole world turning round to Daybreak, and those stripes are the rays of the Dawn."

Measured as the roll of distant drums, as soft, as stirring, the War-missionary's voice sounded through a silence which could be felt.

"The Dawn seems a long time in coming, but that it is coming is sure; sure as our men are on the ocean now! That's all I have to say. It wouldn't be any truer if I said it twenty times, and it wouldn't be any less true if I never said it at all.... So now--Mr. Reynolds?"

The orator smiled to the dark, clean-shaven official with the high khaki collar and stepped quickly down off the platform. Just as he did so he looked back at the Stars and Stripes. "Not 'Old Glory' now," he added as if the thought had just come to him. "'New Glory,' joined with the Old," and his smile was for the Union Jack.

His talk, as homely as the gossip of a camp, yet somehow as high as the stars to which it pointed, was not of the kind that provokes violent applause. The whole assembly in that big hall felt that it was not mere applause that the orater and his kind were out to win. Quiet brooded for a moment over the meeting, over the mingling of Allies in khaki; and over the rows of big-framed, bold-featured Americans in uniforms of brown and blue, all clean-shaven as were those Normans of whom King Harold said, "Those priests will make good soldiers."

Then the spell was relaxed; there was a little sputtering of matches as pipes were relighted. Men began to talk. And little Olwen Howel-Jones, who was one of the visitors occupying the two front rows of chairs settled herself for the singing.

On her lap was a great soft heap of leopard-skin furs. They belonged to Miss van Huysen (the girl who was going to sing as soon as she could be fetched from saying good-bye to a party of sailors who were taking their leave in the billiard-room). Miss van Huysen's seat, next to Olwen, had just been slid into by Captain Ross, who would have to leave it as soon as the singer had finished; Olwen thought he must have something to say to her, but apparently he hadn't. On her other side sat Mrs. Cartwright, serene and smiling, with her hand lying in that of the very young man who accompanied her. This very young man, aged fifteen, was Keith, her elder son, now in London with his mother on account of measles at his school. In the row behind them, his long legs rather cramped, sat Jack Awdas, the flyer, with the rest of the party from The Honeycomb; Leefe, Ellerton, little Mrs. Newton, and one or two other R.F.C. officers.

Since Captain Ross did not seem to have anything to say to her, Olwen found time to glance about this great hall which was only one room of the Phoenix Hut.

The keynote to the whole place--with its spaciousness of comfort, its shields of Harvard, Yale, and the other colleges, its flags, its palms, its theatrical posters, and its three glowing fireplaces, might be found in the great pedestalled image of the American Eagle, carved in grey stone and set up in the middle of the hall. Stately he stood with outstretched wings, poised and ready to strike; and from one of those wings dangled the blue jacket of some American sailor, while upon the huge bird's head there was perched an American soldier's cowboy hat.

It seemed so typical, that mixture of dignity and gaiety!

Suddenly a rustle and a buzz went round the hall, then the applause broke out in a storm as of summer rain.

Miss Golden van Huysen, the singer, had come quickly through the doors that led from the billiard-room smiling an apology for her absence. Olwen's glance flew back to the platform as her friend stepped forward up to it.

There she stood facing all eyes, a vision of white and gold. There she shone, in front of all the illuminating lights. Into that place, already bright, she brought an added radiance as of the June sun on a field of buttercups. Golden was her name; golden her hair, golden the girdle that clipped her, its long ends falling to the hem of her skirt. Olwen looked at the glorious young form, symbolical as that of a goddess on a golden coin.

"Isn't she beautiful tonight!" she breathed.

Every man in the hall must have agreed with her, and the blue eyes of at least one Englishman there said as much.

They were the eyes of Jack Awdas.