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A Cabinet Secret by Guy Newell Boothby

Woller and I had been friends for many years


There

was an air of mystery about Williams that I knew heralded the announcement of some extraordinary information.

"Yes, sir," he said, "there is some important news. The papers do say that 'War is declared.'"

CHAPTER III

During the week which followed my return to London, events followed thick and fast upon each other. The now famous Ultimatum issued by the enemy, though surprising enough at the time, was not altogether unexpected. Its presumptuous tone, however, was the cause of general comment. As a matter of fact, it was not until it became known that the enemy, instead of waiting to be attacked in their own territory, had invaded that of Her Majesty the Queen, that the first feeling of amazement changed to one of anger, and, if the truth must be told, to one of no little anxiety. Our Force at the front was well known to be inadequate, and, as we had the best of reasons for being aware, a considerable time would have to elapse before it would be possible for it to be supplemented.

In my new capacity as a member of the Cabinet, my knowledge of the country in which we were about to fight stood me in good stead; consequently, I was kept busily employed after my return to England. The situation, as I have already said, was one of considerable anxiety, but as soon as it was announced that that popular soldier,

Sir William Woller, had been selected to proceed to the South, in order to take up the Chief Command, the public fears were in a great measure allayed. With perhaps but three exceptions, no more popular choice could have been made, and I do not think I am breaking faith with my colleagues when I say that we were all agreed upon this point. The decision was arrived at on Wednesday afternoon, and orders were issued that the General in question should sail from Southampton on the following Saturday. On the Friday morning he was to be present at an important Council at the War Office; in the afternoon he was to be received in Audience at Windsor, and at eleven o'clock on Saturday morning he was due to leave Waterloo for Southampton Docks.

Now, Woller and I had been friends for many years, and immediately his appointment was made known, I hastened to write him a letter of congratulation. In it I said that if he should have sufficient time at his disposal to allow me a chance of seeing him, before he left London, I should like to shake him by the hand and wish him God-speed. He replied to the effect that he would be dining with the Commander-in-Chief on Friday evening, and informed me that I was to be one of the party. In confirmation of this the next post brought me an invitation which I hastened to accept.

In due course Friday evening arrived, and the appointed hour found me at the Commander-in-Chief's residence in Bruton Street. I had already been informed that it was to be quite a small and friendly affair--as a matter of fact, the guest of the evening, myself, and two other friends, constituted the party. I was the first to arrive, Sir George Brandon followed me, Berkeley Burroughes came next, and as soon as he had put in an appearance, we only required Woller to make the number complete. He was late, however. Eight o'clock struck, and still there was no sign of him. Our host, in apologising for the delay, reminded us that, owing to the multitudinous claims upon Sir William's time, it might be impossible for him to avoid being just a little late. When, however, the clock upon the mantel-piece stood at half-past eight, we began to look at each other and to wonder what could have become of him. At last the Commander-in-Chief was unable to bear the suspense any longer.


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