The Illustrious Prince

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 32 - Prince Maiyo Speaks


The library at Devenham Castle was a large and sombre apartment, with high oriel windows and bookcases reaching to the ceiling. It had an unused and somewhat austere air. Tonight especially an atmosphere of gloom seemed to pervade it. The Prince, when he opened the door, found the three men who were awaiting him seated at an oval table at the further end of the room.

"I do not intrude, I trust?" the Prince said. "I understood that you wished me to come here."

"Certainly," the Duke answered, "we were sitting here awaiting your arrival. Will you take this easy chair? The cigarettes are at your elbow."

The Prince declined the easy chair and leaned for a moment against the table.

"Perhaps later," he said. "Just now I feel that you have something to say to me. Is it not so? I talk better when I am standing."

It was the Prime Minister who made the first plunge. He spoke without circumlocution, and his tone was graver than usual.

"Prince," he said, "this is perhaps the last time that we shall all meet together in this way. You go from us direct to the seat of your Government. So far there has been very little plain speaking between us. It would perhaps be more in accord with etiquette if we let you go without a word, and waited for a formal interchange of communications between your Ambassador and ourselves. But we have a feeling, Sir Edward and I, that we should like to talk to you directly. Before we go any further, however, let me ask you this question. Have you any objection, Prince, to discussing a certain matter here with us?"

The Prince for several moments made no reply. He was still standing facing the fireplace, leaning slightly against the table behind him. On his right was the Duke, seated in a library chair. On his left the Prime Minister and Sir Edward Bransome. The Prince seemed somehow to have become the central figure of the little group.

"Perhaps," he said, "if you had asked me that question a month ago, Mr. Haviland, I might have replied to you differently. Circumstances, however, since then have changed. My departure will take place so soon, and the kindness I have met here from all of you has been so overwhelming, that if you will let me I should like to speak of certain things concerning which no written communication could ever pass between our two countries."

"I can assure you, my dear Prince, that we shall very much appreciate your doing so," Mr. Haviland declared.

"I think," the Prince continued, "that the greatest and the most subtle of all policies is the policy of perfect truthfulness. Listen to me, then. The thing which you have in your mind concerning me is true. Two years I have spent in this country and in other countries of Europe. These two years have not been spent in purposeless travel. On the contrary, I have carried with me always a definite and very fixed purpose."

The Prime Minister and Bransome exchanged rapid glances.

"That has been our belief from the first," Bransome remarked.

"I came to Europe," the Prince continued gravely, "to make a report to my cousin the Emperor of Japan as to whether I believed that a renewal of our alliance with you would be advantageous to my country. I need not shrink from discussing this matter with you now, for my report is made. It is, even now, on its way to the Emperor."

There was a moment's silence, a silence which in this corner of the great room seemed marked with a certain poignancy. It was the Prime Minister who broke it.

"The report," he said, "is out of your hands. The official decision of your Government will reach us before long. Is there any reason why you should not anticipate that decision, why you should not tell us frankly what your advice was?"

"There is no reason," the Prince answered. "I will tell you. I owe that to you at least. I have advised the Emperor not to renew the treaty."

"Not to renew," the Prime Minister echoed.

This time the silence was portentous. It was a blow, and there was not one of the three men who attempted to hide his dismay.

"I am afraid," the Prince continued earnestly, "that to you I must seem something of an ingrate. I have been treated by every one in this country as the son of a dear friend. The way has been made smooth for me everywhere. Nothing has been hidden. From all quarters I have received hospitality which I shall never forget. But you are three just men. I know you will realize that my duty was to my country and to my country alone. No one else has any claims upon me. What I have seen I have written of. What I believe I have spoken."

"Prince," Mr. Haviland said, "there is no one here who will gainsay your honesty. You came to judge us as a nation and you have found us wanting. At least we can ask you why?"

The Prince sighed.

"It is hard," he said. "It is very hard. When I tell you of the things which I have seen, remember, if you please, that I have seen them with other eyes than yours. The conditions which you have grown up amongst and lived amongst all your days pass almost outside the possibility of your impartial judgment. You have lived with them too long. They have become a part of you. Then, too, your national weakness bids your eyes see what you would have them see."

"Go on," Mr. Haviland said, drumming idly with his fingers upon the table.

"I have had to ask myself," the Prince continued,--"it has been my business to ask myself what is your position as a great military power, and the answer I have found is that as a great military power it does not exist. I have had to ask myself what would happen to your country in the case of a European war, where your fleet was distributed to guard your vast possessions in every quarter of the world, and the answer to that is that you are, to all practical purposes, defenceless. In almost any combination which could arrange itself, your country is at the mercy of the invader."

Bransome leaned forward in his chair.

"I can disprove it," he declared firmly. "Come with me to Aldershot next week, and I will show you that those who say that we have no army are ignorant alarmists. The Secretary for War shall show you our new scheme for defensive forces. You have gone to the wrong authorities for information on these matters, Prince. You have been entirely and totally misled."

The Prince drew a little breath.

"Sir Edward," he said, "I do not speak to you rashly. I have not looked into these affairs as an amateur. You forget that I have spent a week at Aldershot, that your Secretary for War gave me two days of his valuable time. Every figure with which you could furnish me I am already possessed of. I will be frank with you. What I saw at Aldershot counted for nothing with me in my decision. Your standing army is good, beyond a doubt,--a well-trained machine, an excellent plaything for a General to move across the chessboard. It might even win battles, and yet your standing army are mercenaries, and no great nation, from the days of Babylon, has resisted invasion or held an empire by her mercenaries."

"They are English soldiers," Mr. Haviland declared. "I do not recognize your use of the word."

"They are paid soldiers," the Prince said, "men who have adopted soldiering as a profession. Come, I will not pause half-way. I will tell you what is wrong with your country. You will not believe it. Some day you will see the truth, and you will remember my words. It may be that you will realize it a little sooner, or I would not have dared to speak as I am speaking. This, then, is the curse which is eating the heart out of your very existence. The love of his Motherland is no longer a religion with your young man. Let me repeat that,--I will alter one word only. The love of his Motherland is no longer THE religion or even part of the religion of your young man. Soldiering is a profession for those who embrace it. It is so that mercenaries are made. I have been to every one of your great cities in the North. I have been there on a Saturday afternoon, the national holiday. That is the day in Japan on which our young men march and learn to shoot, form companies and attend their drill. Feast days and holidays it is always the same. They do what tradition has made a necessity for them. They do it without grumbling, whole-heartedly, with an enthusiasm which has in it something almost of passion. How do I find the youth of your country engaged? I have discovered. It is for that purpose that I have toured through England. They go to see a game played called football. They sit on seats and smoke and shout. They watch a score of performers--one score, mind--and the numbers who watch them are millions. >From town to town I went, and it was always the same. I see their white faces in a huge amphitheatre, fifteen thousand here, twenty thousand there, thirty thousand at another place. They watch and they shout while these men in the arena play with great skill this wonderful game. When the match is over, they stream into public houses. Their afternoon has been spent. They talk it over. Again they smoke and drink. So it is in one town and another,--so it is everywhere,--the strangest sight of all that I have seen in Europe. These are your young men, the material out of which the coming generation must be fashioned? How many of them can shoot? How many of them can ride? How many of them have any sort of uniform in which they could prepare to meet the enemy of their country? What do they know or care for anything outside their little lives and what they call their love of sport,--they who spend five days in your grim factories toiling before machines,--their one afternoon, content to sit and watch the prowess of others! I speak to these footballers themselves. They are strong men and swift. They are paid to play this game. I do not find that even one of them is competent to strike a blow for his country if she needs him. It is because of your young men, then, Mr. Haviland, that I cannot advise Japan to form a new alliance with you. It is because you are not a serious people. It is because the units of your nation have ceased to understand that behind the life of every great nation stands the love of God, whatever god it may be, and the love of Motherland. These things may not be your fault. They may, indeed, be the terrible penalty of success. But no one who lives for ever so short a time amongst you can fail to see the truth. You are commercialized out of all the greatness of life. Forgive me, all of you, that I say it so plainly, but you are a race who are on the downward grade, and Japan seeks for no alliance save with those whose faces are lifted to the skies."

The pause which followed was in itself significant. The Duke alone remained impassive. Bransome's face was dark with anger. Even the Prime Minister was annoyed. Bransome would have spoken, but the former held out his hand to check him.

"If that is really your opinion of us, Prince," he said, "it is useless to enter into argument with you, especially as you have already acted upon your convictions. I should like to ask you this question, though. A few weeks ago an appeal was made to our young men to bring up to its full strength certain forces which have been organized for the defence of the country. Do you know how many recruits we obtained in less than a month?"

"Fourteen thousand four hundred and seventy-five," the Prince answered promptly, "out of nearly seven millions who were eligible. This pitiful result of itself might have been included amongst my arguments if I had felt that arguments were necessary. Mr. Haviland, you may drive some of these young men to arms by persuasion, by appealing to them through their womankind or their employers, but you cannot create a national spirit. And I tell you, and I have proved it, that the national spirit is not there. I will go further," the Prince continued with increased earnestness, "if you still are not weary of the subject. I will point out to you how little encouragement the youth of this country receive from those who are above them in social station. In every one of your counties there is a hunt, cricket clubs, golf clubs in such numbers that their statistics absolutely overwhelm me. Everywhere one meets young men of leisure, well off, calmly proposing to settle down and spend the best part of their lives in what they call country life. They will look after their estates; they will hunt a little, shoot a little, go abroad for two months in the winter, play golf a little, lawn tennis, perhaps, or cricket. I tell you that there are hundreds and thousands of these young men, with money to spare, who have no uniform which they could wear,--no, I want to change that!" the Prince cried with an impressive gesture,--"who have no uniform which they will be able to wear when the evil time comes! How will they feel then, these young men of family, whose life has been given to sports and to idle amusements, when their womankind come shrieking to them for protection and they dare not even handle a gun or strike a blow! They must stand by and see their lands laid waste, their womankind insulted. They must see the land run red with the blood of those who offer a futile resistance, but they themselves must stand by inactive. They are not trained to fight as soldiers,--they cannot fight as civilians."

"The Prince forgets," Bransome remarked dryly, "that an invasion of this country--a practical invasion--is very nearly an impossible thing."

The Prince laughed softly.

"My friend," he said, "if I thought that you believed that, although you are a Cabinet Minister of England I should think that you were the biggest fool who ever breathed. Today, in warfare, nothing is impossible. I will guarantee, I who have had only ten years of soldiering, that if Japan were where Holland is today, I would halve my strength in ships and I would halve my strength in men, and I would overrun your country with ease at any time I chose. You need not agree with me, of course. It is not a subject which we need discuss. It is, perhaps, out of my province to allude to it. The feeling which I have in my heart is this. The laws of history are incontrovertible. So surely as a great nation has weakened with prosperity, so that her limbs have lost their suppleness and her finger joints have stiffened, so surely does the plunderer come in good time. The nation which loses its citizen army drives the first nail into its own coffin. I do not say who will invade you, or when, although, to my thinking, any one could do it. I simply say that in your present state invasion from some one or other is a sure thing."

"Without admitting the truth of a single word you have said, my dear Prince," the Prime Minister remarked, "there is another aspect of the whole subject which I think that you should consider. If you find us in so parlous a state, it is surely scarcely dignified or gracious, on the part of a great nation like yours, to leave us so abruptly to our fate. Supposing it were true that we were suffering a little from a period of too lengthened prosperity, from an attack of over-confidence. Still think of the part we have played in the past. We kept the world at bay while you fought with Russia."

"That," the Prince replied, "was one of the conditions of a treaty which has expired. If by that treaty our country profited more than yours, that is still no reason why we should renew it under altered conditions. Gratitude is an admirable sentiment, but it has nothing to do with the making of treaties."

"We are, nevertheless," Bransome declared, "justified in pointing out to you some of the advantages which you have gained from your alliance with us. You realize, I suppose, that save for our intervention the United States would have declared war against you four months ago?"

"Your good offices were duly acknowledged by my Government," the Prince admitted. "Yet what you did was in itself of no consequence. It is as sure as north is north and south is south that you and America would never quarrel for the sake of Japan. That is another reason, if another reason is needed, why a treaty between us would be valueless. You and I--the whole world knows that before a cycle of years have passed Japan and America must fight. When that time comes, it will not be you who will help us."

"An alliance duly concluded between this country--"

The Prince held out both his hands.

"Listen," he said. "A fortnight ago a certain person in America wrote and asked you in plain terms what your position would be if war between Japan and America were declared. What was your reply?"

Bransome was on the point of exclaiming, but the Prime Minister intervened.

"You appear to be a perfect Secret Service to yourself, Prince," he said smoothly. "Perhaps you can also tell us our reply?"

"I can tell you this much," the Prince answered. "You did not send word back to Washington that your alliance was a sacred charge upon your honor and that its terms must be fulfilled to the uttermost letter. Your reply, I fancy, was more in the nature of a compromise."

"How do you know what our reply was?" Mr. Haviland asked.

"To tell you the truth, I do not," the Prince answered, smiling. "I have simply told you what I am assured that your answer must have been. Let us leave this matter. We gain nothing by discussing it."

"You have been very candid with us, Prince," Mr. Haviland remarked. "We gather that you are opposed to a renewal of our alliance chiefly for two reasons,--first, that you have formed an unfavorable opinion of our resources and capacity as a nation; and secondly, because you are seeking an ally who would be of service to you in one particular eventuality, namely, a war with the United States. You have spent some time upon the Continent. May we inquire whether your present attitude is the result of advances made to you by any other Power? If I am asking too much, leave my question unanswered."

The Prince shook his head slowly.

"Tonight,"he said, "I am speaking to you as one who is willing to show everything that is in his heart. I will tell you, then. I have been to Germany, and I can assure you of my own knowledge that Germany possesses the mightiest fighting machine ever known in the world's history. That I do truthfully and honestly believe. Yet listen to me. I have talked to the men and I have talked to the officers. I have seen them in barracks and on the parade ground, and I tell you this. When the time arrives for that machine to be set in motion, it is my profound conviction that the result will be one of the greatest surprises of modern times. I say no more, nor must you ask me any questions, but I tell you that we do not need Germany as an ally. I have been to Russia, and although our hands have crossed, there can be no real friendship between our countries till time has wiped out the memory of our recent conflict. France hates us because it does not understand us. The future of Japan is just as clear as the disaster which hangs over Great Britain. There is only one possible ally for us, only one possible combination. That is what I have written home to my cousin the Emperor. That is what I pray that our young professors will teach throughout Japan.. That is what it will be my mission to teach my country people if the Fates will that I return safely home. East and West are too far apart. We are well outside the coming European struggle. Our strength will come to us from nearer home."

"China!" the Prime Minister exclaimed.

"The China of our own making," the Prince declared, a note of tense enthusiasm creeping into his tone,--"China recreated after its great lapse of a thousand years. You and I in our lifetime shall not see it, but there will come a day when the ancient conquests of Persia and Greece and Rome will seem as nothing before the all-conquering armies of China and Japan. Until those days we need no allies. We will have none. We must accept the insults of America and the rough hand of Germany. We must be strong enough to wait!"

A footman entered the room and made his way to the Duke's chair.

"Your Grace," he said, "a gentleman is ringing up from Downing Street who says he is speaking from the Home Office."

"Whom does he want?" the Duke asked.

"Both Your Grace and Mr. Haviland," the man replied. "He wished me to say that the matter was of the utmost importance."

The Duke rose at once and glanced at the clock.

"It is an extraordinary hour," he remarked, "for Heseltine to be wanting us. Shall we go and see what it means, Haviland? You will excuse us, Prince?"

The Prince bowed.

"I think that we have talked enough of serious affairs tonight," he said. "I shall challenge Sir Edward to a game of billiards."