Mr. Britling Sees It Through
MATCHING'S EASY AT EASE
CHAPTER THE FIRST
MR. DIRECK VISITS MR. BRITLING
It was the sixth day of Mr. Direck's first visit to England, and he was at
his acutest perception of differences. He found England in every way gratifying
and satisfactory, and more of a contrast with things American than he had ever
dared to hope.
He had promised himself this visit for many years, but being of a sunny
rather than energetic temperament—though he firmly believed himself to be a
reservoir of clear-sighted American energy—he had allowed all sorts of things,
and more particularly the uncertainties of Miss Mamie Nelson, to keep him back.
But now there were no more uncertainties about Miss Mamie Nelson, and Mr. Direck
had come over to England just to convince himself and everybody else that there
were other interests in life for him than Mamie....
And also, he wanted to see the old country from which his maternal
grandmother had sprung. Wasn't there even now in his bedroom in New York a
water-colour of Market Saffron church, where the dear old lady had been
confirmed? And generally he wanted to see Europe. As an interesting side show to
the excursion he hoped, in his capacity of the rather
underworked and rather over-salaried secretary of the Massachusetts Society for
the Study of Contemporary Thought, to discuss certain agreeable possibilities
with Mr. Britling, who lived at Matching's Easy.
Mr. Direck was a type of man not uncommon in America. He was very much after
the fashion of that clean and pleasant-looking person one sees in the
advertisements in American magazines, that agreeable person who smiles and says,
"Good, it's the Fizgig Brand," or "Yes, it's a Wilkins, and that's the Best," or
"My shirt-front never rucks; it's a Chesson." But now he was saying, still with
the same firm smile, "Good. It's English." He was pleased by every unlikeness to
things American, by every item he could hail as characteristic; in the train to
London he had laughed aloud with pleasure at the chequer-board of little fields
upon the hills of Cheshire, he had chuckled to find himself in a compartment
without a corridor; he had tipped the polite yet kindly guard magnificently,
after doubting for a moment whether he ought to tip him at all, and he had gone
about his hotel in London saying "Lordy! Lordy! My word!" in a kind of
ecstasy, verifying the delightful absence of telephone, of steam-heat, of any
dependent bathroom. At breakfast the waiter (out of Dickens it seemed) had
refused to know what "cereals" were, and had given him his egg in a china
egg-cup such as you see in the pictures in Punch. The Thames, when he
sallied out to see it, had been too good to be true, the smallest thing in
rivers he had ever seen, and he had had to restrain himself from affecting a
marked accent and accosting some passer-by with the question, "Say! But is this
little wet ditch here the Historical River Thames?"
In America, it must be explained, Mr. Direck spoke a very good and careful
English indeed, but he now found the utmost difficulty in controlling his
impulse to use a high-pitched nasal drone and indulge in dry "Americanisms" and poker metaphors upon all occasions. When people asked him
questions he wanted to say "Yep" or "Sure," words he would no more have used in
America than he could have used a bowie knife. But he had a sense of rôle. He
wanted to be visibly and audibly America eye-witnessing. He wanted to be just
exactly what he supposed an Englishman would expect him to be. At any rate, his
clothes had been made by a strongly American New York tailor, and upon the
strength of them a taxi-man had assumed politely but firmly that the shillings
on his taximeter were dollars, an incident that helped greatly to sustain the
effect of Mr. Direck, in Mr. Direck's mind, as something standing out with an
almost representative clearness against the English scene.... So much so that
the taxi-man got the dollars....
Because all the time he had been coming over he had dreaded that it wasn't
true, that England was a legend, that London would turn out to be just another
thundering great New York, and the English exactly like New
And now here he was on the branch line of the little old Great Eastern
Railway, on his way to Matching's Easy in Essex, and he was suddenly in the
heart of Washington Irving's England.
Washington Irving's England! Indeed it was. He couldn't sit still and just
peep at it, he had to stand up in the little compartment and stick his large,
firm-featured, kindly countenance out of the window as if he greeted it. The
country under the June sunshine was neat and bright as an old-world garden, with
little fields of corn surrounded by dog-rose hedges, and woods and small rushy
pastures of an infinite tidiness. He had seen a real deer park, it had rather
tumbledown iron gates between its shield-surmounted pillars, and in the
distance, beyond all question, was Bracebridge Hall nestling among great trees. He had seen thatched and timbered cottages, and
half-a-dozen inns with creaking signs. He had seen a fat vicar driving himself
along a grassy lane in a governess cart drawn by a fat grey pony. It wasn't like
any reality he had ever known. It was like travelling in literature.
Mr. Britling's address was the Dower House, and it was, Mr. Britling's note
had explained, on the farther edge of the park at Claverings. Claverings! The
very name for some stately home of England....
And yet this was only forty-two miles from London. Surely it brought things
within the suburban range. If Matching's Easy were in America, commuters would
live there. But in supposing that, Mr. Direck displayed his ignorance of a fact
of the greatest importance to all who would understand England. There is a gap
in the suburbs of London. The suburbs of London stretch west and south and even
west by north, but to the north-eastward there are no suburbs; instead there is
Essex. Essex is not a suburban county; it is a characteristic and individualised
county which wins the heart. Between dear Essex and the centre of things lie two
great barriers, the East End of London and Epping Forest. Before a train could
get to any villadom with a cargo of season-ticket holders it would have to
circle about this rescued woodland and travel for twenty unprofitable miles, and
so once you are away from the main Great Eastern lines Essex still lives in the
peace of the eighteenth century, and London, the modern Babylon, is, like the
stars, just a light in the nocturnal sky. In Matching's Easy, as Mr. Britling
presently explained to Mr. Direck, there are half-a-dozen old people who have
never set eyes on London in their lives—and do not want to.
"Fussin' about thea."
"Mr. Robinson, 'e went to Lon', 'e did. That's 'ow 'e 'urt 'is fut."
Mr. Direck had learnt at the main-line junction that he
had to tell the guard to stop the train for Matching's Easy; it only stopped "by
request"; the thing was getting better and better; and when Mr. Direck seized
his grip and got out of the train there was just one little old Essex
station-master and porter and signalman and everything, holding a red flag in
his hand and talking to Mr. Britling about the cultivation of the sweet peas
which glorified the station. And there was the Mr. Britling who was the only
item of business and the greatest expectation in Mr. Direck's European journey,
and he was quite unlike the portraits Mr. Direck had seen and quite unmistakably
Mr. Britling all the same, since there was nobody else upon the platform, and he
was advancing with a gesture of welcome.
"Did you ever see such peas, Mr. Dick?" said Mr. Britling by way of
"My word," said Mr. Direck in a good old Farmer Hayseed kind of
"Aye-ya!" said the station-master in singularly strident tones. "It be a rare
year for sweet peas," and then he slammed the door of the carriage in a
leisurely manner and did dismissive things with his flag, while the two
gentlemen took stock, as people say, of one another.
Except in the doubtful instance of Miss Mamie Nelson, Mr. Direck's habit was
good fortune. Pleasant things came to him. Such was his position as the salaried
secretary of this society of thoughtful Massachusetts business men to which
allusion has been made. Its purpose was to bring itself expeditiously into touch
with the best thought of the age.
Too busily occupied with practical realities to follow the thought of the age
through all its divagations and into all its recesses, these Massachusetts
business men had had to consider methods of access more quintessential and nuclear. And they had decided not to hunt out the best thought
in its merely germinating stages, but to wait until it had emerged and flowered
to some trustworthy recognition, and then, rather than toil through recondite
and possibly already reconsidered books and writings generally, to offer an
impressive fee to the emerged new thinker, and to invite him to come to them and
to lecture to them and to have a conference with them, and to tell them simply,
competently and completely at first hand just all that he was about. To come, in
fact, and be himself—in a highly concentrated form. In this way a number of
interesting Europeans had been given very pleasant excursions to America, and
the society had been able to form very definite opinions upon their teaching.
And Mr. Britling was one of the representative thinkers upon which this society
had decided to inform itself. It was to broach this invitation and to offer him
the impressive honorarium by which the society honoured not only its guests but
itself, that Mr. Direck had now come to Matching's Easy. He had already sent Mr.
Britling a letter of introduction, not indeed intimating his precise purpose,
but mentioning merely a desire to know him, and the letter had been so happily
phrased and its writer had left such a memory of pleasant hospitality on Mr.
Britling's mind during Mr. Britling's former visit to New York, that it had
immediately produced for Mr. Direck an invitation not merely to come and see him
but to come and stay over the week-end.
And here they were shaking hands.
Mr. Britling did not look at all as Mr. Direck had expected him to look. He
had expected an Englishman in a country costume of golfing tweeds, like the
Englishman in country costume one sees in American illustrated stories. Drooping
out of the country costume of golfing tweeds he had expected to see the mildly
unhappy face, pensive even to its drooping moustache, with which Mr. Britling's
publisher had for some faulty and unfortunate reason
familiarised the American public. Instead of this, Mr. Britling was in a
miscellaneous costume, and mildness was the last quality one could attribute to
him. His moustache, his hair, his eyebrows bristled; his flaming freckled face
seemed about to bristle too. His little hazel eyes came out with a "ping" and
looked at Mr. Direck. Mr. Britling was one of a large but still remarkable class
of people who seem at the mere approach of photography to change their hair,
their clothes, their moral natures. No photographer had ever caught a hint of
his essential Britlingness and bristlingness. Only the camera could ever induce
Mr. Britling to brush his hair, and for the camera alone did he reserve that
expression of submissive martyrdom Mr. Direck knew. And Mr. Direck was
altogether unprepared for a certain casualness of costume that sometimes
overtook Mr. Britling. He was wearing now a very old blue flannel blazer, no
hat, and a pair of knickerbockers, not tweed breeches but tweed knickerbockers
of a remarkable bagginess, and made of one of those virtuous socialistic
homespun tweeds that drag out into woolly knots and strings wherever there is
attrition. His stockings were worsted and wrinkled, and on his feet were those
extraordinary slippers of bright-coloured bast-like interwoven material one buys
in the north of France. These were purple with a touch of green. He had, in
fact, thought of the necessity of meeting Mr. Direck at the station at the very
last moment, and had come away from his study in the clothes that had happened
to him when he got up. His face wore the amiable expression of a wire-haired
terrier disposed to be friendly, and it struck Mr. Direck that for a man of his
real intellectual distinction Mr. Britling was unusually short.
For there can be no denying that Mr. Britling was, in a sense, distinguished.
The hero and subject of this novel was at its very beginning a distinguished
man. He was in the Who's Who of two continents. In the last few years he
had grown with some rapidity into a writer recognised and
welcomed by the more cultivated sections of the American public, and even known
to a select circle of British readers. To his American discoverers he had first
appeared as an essayist, a serious essayist who wrote about aesthetics and
Oriental thought and national character and poets and painting. He had come
through America some years ago as one of those Kahn scholars, those promising
writers and intelligent men endowed by Auguste Kahn of Paris, who go about the
world nowadays in comfort and consideration as the travelling guests of that
original philanthropist—to acquire the international spirit. Previously he had
been a critic of art and literature and a writer of thoughtful third leaders in
the London Times. He had begun with a Pembroke fellowship and a prize
poem. He had returned from his world tour to his reflective yet original corner
of The Times and to the production of books about national relationships
and social psychology, that had brought him rapidly into prominence.
His was a naturally irritable mind, which gave him point and passion; and
moreover he had a certain obstinate originality and a generous disposition. So
that he was always lively, sometimes spacious, and never vile. He loved to write
and talk. He talked about everything, he had ideas about everything; he could no
more help having ideas about everything than a dog can resist smelling at your
heels. He sniffed at the heels of reality. Lots of people found him interesting
and stimulating, a few found him seriously exasperating. He had ideas in the
utmost profusion about races and empires and social order and political
institutions and gardens and automobiles and the future of India and China and
aesthetics and America and the education of mankind in general.... And all that
sort of thing....
Mr. Direck had read a very great deal of all this expressed opiniativeness of
Mr. Britling: he found it entertaining and stimulating stuff, and it was with
genuine enthusiasm that he had come over to encounter the man himself. On his way across the Atlantic and during the
intervening days, he had rehearsed this meeting in varying keys, but always on
the supposition that Mr. Britling was a large, quiet, thoughtful sort of man, a
man who would, as it were, sit in attentive rows like a public meeting and
listen. So Mr. Direck had prepared quite a number of pleasant and attractive
openings, and now he felt was the moment for some one of these various simple,
memorable utterances. But in none of these forecasts had he reckoned with either
the spontaneous activities of Mr. Britling or with the station-master of
Matching's Easy. Oblivious of any conversational necessities between Mr. Direck
and Mr. Britling, this official now took charge of Mr. Direck's grip-sack, and,
falling into line with the two gentlemen as they walked towards the exit gate,
resumed what was evidently an interrupted discourse upon sweet peas, originally
addressed to Mr. Britling.
He was a small, elderly man with a determined-looking face and a sea voice,
and it was clear he overestimated the distance of his hearers.
"Mr. Darling what's head gardener up at Claverings, 'e can't get sweet
peas like that, try 'ow 'e will. Tried everything 'e 'as. Sand ballast,
'e's tried. Seeds same as me. 'E came along 'ere only the other day, 'e did, and
'e says to me, 'e says, 'darned 'f I can see why a station-master should beat a
professional gardener at 'is own game,' 'e says, 'but you do. And in your orf
time, too, so's to speak,' 'e says. 'I've tried sile,' 'e says——"
"Your first visit to England?" asked Mr. Britling of his guest.
"Absolutely," said Mr. Direck.
"I says to 'im, 'there's one thing you 'aven't tried,' I says," the
station-master continued, raising his voice by a Herculean feat still
"I've got a little car outside here," said Mr. Britling. "I'm a couple of
miles from the station."
"I says to 'im, I says, ''ave you tried the vibritation of the trains?' I says. 'That's what you 'aven't tried, Mr.
Darling. That's what you can't try,' I says. 'But you rest assured that
that's the secret of my sweet peas,' I says, 'nothing less and nothing more than
the vibritation of the trains.'"
Mr. Direck's mind was a little confused by the double nature of the
conversation and by the fact that Mr. Britling spoke of a car when he meant an
automobile. He handed his ticket mechanically to the station-master, who
continued to repeat and endorse his anecdote at the top of his voice as Mr.
Britling disposed himself and his guest in the automobile.
"You know you 'aven't 'urt that mud-guard, sir, not the slightest bit that
matters," shouted the station-master. "I've been a looking at it—er. It's my
fence that's suffered most. And that's only strained the post a lil' bit. Shall
I put your bag in behind, sir?"
Mr. Direck assented, and then, after a momentary hesitation, rewarded the
"Ready?" asked Mr. Britling.
"That's all right sir," the station-master reverberated.
With a rather wide curve Mr. Britling steered his way out of the station into
And now it seemed was the time for Mr. Direck to make his meditated speeches.
But an unexpected complication was to defeat this intention. Mr. Direck
perceived almost at once that Mr. Britling was probably driving an automobile
for the first or second or at the extremest the third time in his life.
The thing became evident when he struggled to get into the high gear—an
attempt that stopped the engine, and it was even more startlingly so when Mr.
Britling narrowly missed a collision with a baker's cart at a corner. "I pressed
the accelerator," he explained afterwards, "instead of the
brake. One does at first. I missed him by less than a foot." The estimate was a
generous one. And after that Mr. Direck became too anxious not to distract his
host's thoughts to persist with his conversational openings. An attentive
silence came upon both gentlemen that was broken presently by a sudden outcry
from Mr. Britling and a great noise of tormented gears. "Damn!" cried Mr.
Britling, and "How the devil?"
Mr. Direck perceived that his host was trying to turn the car into a very
beautiful gateway, with gate-houses on either side. Then it was manifest that
Mr. Britling had abandoned this idea, and then they came to a stop a dozen yards
or so along the main road. "Missed it," said Mr. Britling, and took his hands
off the steering wheel and blew stormily, and then whistled some bars of a
fretful air, and became still.
"Do we go through these ancient gates?" asked Mr. Direck.
Mr. Britling looked over his right shoulder and considered problems of
curvature and distance. "I think," he said, "I will go round outside the park.
It will take us a little longer, but it will be simpler than backing and
manoeuvring here now.... These electric starters are remarkably convenient
things. Otherwise now I should have to get down and wind up the engine."
After that came a corner, the rounding of which seemed to present few
difficulties until suddenly Mr. Britling cried out, "Eh! eh! EH! Oh,
Then the two gentlemen were sitting side by side in a rather sloping car that
had ascended the bank and buried its nose in a hedge of dog-rose and
honeysuckle, from which two missel thrushes, a blackbird and a number of
sparrows had made a hurried escape....
"Perhaps," said Mr. Britling without assurance, and after a little peaceful
pause, "I can reverse out of this."
He seemed to feel some explanation was due to Mr. Direck. "You see, at
first—it's perfectly simple—one steers round a corner and then one
doesn't put the wheels straight again, and so one keeps on going round—more than
one meant to. It's the bicycle habit; the bicycle rights itself. One expects a
car to do the same thing. It was my fault. The book explains all this question
clearly, but just at the moment I forgot."
He reflected and experimented in a way that made the engine scold and
"You see, she won't budge for the reverse.... She's—embedded.... Do you mind
getting out and turning the wheel back? Then if I reverse, perhaps we'll get a
Mr. Direck descended, and there were considerable efforts.
"If you'd just grip the spokes. Yes, so.... One, Two, Three!... No! Well,
let's just sit here until somebody comes along to help us. Oh! Somebody will
come all right. Won't you get up again?"
And after a reflective moment Mr. Direck resumed his seat beside Mr.
The two gentlemen smiled at each other to dispel any suspicion of
"My driving leaves something to be desired," said Mr. Britling with an air of
frank impartiality. "But I have only just got this car for myself—after some
years of hired cars—the sort of lazy arrangement where people supply car,
driver, petrol, tyres, insurance and everything at so much a month. It bored me
abominably. I can't imagine now how I stood it for so long. They sent me down a
succession of compact, scornful boys who used to go fast when I wanted to go
slow, and slow when I wanted to go fast, and who used to take every corner on
the wrong side at top speed, and charge dogs and hens for
the sport of it, and all sorts of things like that. They would not even let me
choose my roads. I should have got myself a car long ago, and driven it, if it
wasn't for that infernal business with a handle one had to do when the engine
stopped. But here, you see, is a reasonably cheap car with an electric
starter—American, I need scarcely say. And here I am—going at my own pace."
Mr. Direck glanced for a moment at the pretty disorder of the hedge in which
they were embedded, and smiled and admitted that it was certainly much more
Before he had finished saying as much Mr. Britling was talking again.
He had a quick and rather jerky way of speaking; he seemed to fire out a
thought directly it came into his mind, and he seemed to have a loaded magazine
of thoughts in his head. He spoke almost exactly twice as fast as Mr. Direck,
clipping his words much more, using much compacter sentences, and generally
cutting his corners, and this put Mr. Direck off his game.
That rapid attack while the transatlantic interlocutor is deploying is indeed
a not infrequent defect of conversations between Englishmen and Americans. It is
a source of many misunderstandings. The two conceptions of conversation differ
fundamentally. The English are much less disposed to listen than the American;
they have not quite the same sense of conversational give and take, and at first
they are apt to reduce their visitors to the rôle of auditors wondering when
their turn will begin. Their turn never does begin. Mr. Direck sat deeply in his
slanting seat with a half face to his celebrated host and said "Yep" and "Sure"
and "That is so," in the dry grave tones that he believed an Englishman
would naturally expect him to use, realising this only very gradually.
Mr. Britling, from his praise of the enterprise that had at last brought a
car he could drive within his reach, went on to that favourite topic of all
intelligent Englishmen, the adverse criticism of things
British. He pointed out that the central position of the brake and gear levers
in his automobile made it extremely easy for the American manufacturer to turn
it out either as a left-handed or a right-handed car, and so adapt it either to
the Continental or to the British rule of the road. No English cars were so
adaptable. We British suffered much from our insular rule of the road, just as
we suffered much from our insular weights and measures. But we took a perverse
pride in such disadvantages. The irruption of American cars into England was a
recent phenomenon, it was another triumph for the tremendous organising ability
of the American mind. They were doing with the automobile what they had done
with clocks and watches and rifles, they had standardised and machined
wholesale, while the British were still making the things one by one. It was an
extraordinary thing that England, which was the originator of the industrial
system and the original developer of the division of labour, should have so
fallen away from systematic manufacturing. He believed this was largely due to
the influence of Oxford and the Established Church....
At this point Mr. Direck was moved by an anecdote. "It will help to
illustrate what you are saying, Mr. Britling, about systematic organisation if I
tell you a little incident that happened to a friend of mine in Toledo, where
they are setting up a big plant with a view to capturing the entire American and
European market in the class of the thousand-dollar car——"
"There's no end of such little incidents," said Mr. Britling, cutting in
without apparent effort. "You see, we get it on both sides. Our manufacturer
class was, of course, originally an insurgent class. It was a class of distended
craftsmen. It had the craftsman's natural enterprise and natural radicalism. As
soon as it prospered and sent its boys to Oxford it was lost. Our manufacturing
class was assimilated in no time to the conservative
classes, whose education has always had a mandarin quality—very, very little of
it, and very cold and choice. In America you have so far had no real
conservative class at all. Fortunate continent! You cast out your Tories, and
you were left with nothing but Whigs and Radicals. But our peculiar bad luck has
been to get a sort of revolutionary who is a Tory mandarin too. Ruskin and
Morris, for example, were as reactionary and anti-scientific as the dukes and
the bishops. Machine haters. Science haters. Rule of Thumbites to the bone. So
are our current Socialists. They've filled this country with the idea that the
ideal automobile ought to be made entirely by the hand labour of traditional
craftsmen, quite individually, out of beaten copper, wrought iron and seasoned
oak. All this electric-starter business and this electric lighting outfit I have
here, is perfectly hateful to the English mind.... It isn't that we are simply
backward in these things, we are antagonistic. The British mind has never really
tolerated electricity; at least, not that sort of electricity that runs through
wires. Too slippery and glib for it. Associates it with Italians and fluency
generally, with Volta, Galvani, Marconi and so on. The proper British
electricity is that high-grade useless long-sparking stuff you get by turning
round a glass machine; stuff we used to call frictional electricity. Keep it in
Leyden jars.... At Claverings here they still refuse to have electric bells.
There was a row when the Solomonsons, who were tenants here for a time, tried to
put them in...."
Mr. Direck had followed this cascade of remarks with a patient smile and a
slowly nodding head. "What you say," he said, "forms a very marked contrast
indeed with the sort of thing that goes on in America. This friend of mine I was
speaking of, the one who is connected with an automobile factory in
"Of course," Mr. Britling burst out again, "even conservatism isn't an
ultimate thing. After all, we and your enterprising friend
at Toledo, are very much the same blood. The conservatism, I mean, isn't racial.
And our earlier energy shows it isn't in the air or in the soil. England has
become unenterprising and sluggish because England has been so prosperous and
"Exactly," said Mr. Direck. "My friend of whom I was telling you, was a man
named Robinson, which indicates pretty clearly that he was of genuine English
stock, and, if I may say so, quite of your build and complexion; racially, I
should say, he was, well—very much what you are...."
This rally of Mr. Direck's mind was suddenly interrupted.
Mr. Britling stood up, and putting both hands to the sides of his mouth,
shouted "Yi-ah! Aye-ya! Thea!" at unseen hearers.
After shouting again, several times, it became manifest that he had attracted
the attention of two willing but deliberate labouring men. They emerged slowly,
first as attentive heads, from the landscape. With their assistance the car was
restored to the road again. Mr. Direck assisted manfully, and noted the respect
that was given to Mr. Britling and the shillings that fell to the men, with an
intelligent detachment. They touched their hats, they called Mr. Britling "Sir."
They examined the car distantly but kindly. "Ain't 'urt 'e, not a bit 'e ain't,
not really," said one encouragingly. And indeed except for a slight crumpling of
the mud-guard and the detachment of the wire of one of the headlights the
automobile was uninjured. Mr. Britling resumed his seat; Mr. Direck gravely and
in silence got up beside him. They started with the usual convulsion, as though
something had pricked the vehicle unexpectedly and shamefully behind. And from
this point Mr. Britling, driving with meticulous care, got home without further
mishap, excepting only that he scraped off some of the metal
edge of his footboard against the gate-post of his very agreeable garden.
His family welcomed his safe return, visitor and all, with undisguised relief
and admiration. A small boy appeared at the corner of the house, and then
disappeared hastily again. "Daddy's got back all right at last," they heard him
shouting to unseen hearers.
Mr. Direck, though he was a little incommoded by the suppression of his story
about Robinson—for when he had begun a thing he liked to finish it—found Mr.
Britling's household at once thoroughly British, quite un-American and a little
difficult to follow. It had a quality that at first he could not define at all.
Compared with anything he had ever seen in his life before it struck him as
being—he found the word at last—sketchy. For instance, he was introduced to
nobody except his hostess, and she was indicated to him by a mere wave of Mr.
Britling's hand. "That's Edith," he said, and returned at once to his car to put
it away. Mrs. Britling was a tall, freckled woman with pretty bright brown hair
and preoccupied brown eyes. She welcomed him with a handshake, and then a
wonderful English parlourmaid—she at least was according to expectations—took
his grip-sack and guided him to his room. "Lunch, sir," she said, "is outside,"
and closed the door and left him to that and a towel-covered can of hot
It was a square-looking old red-brick house he had come to, very handsome in
a simple Georgian fashion, with a broad lawn before it and great blue cedar
trees, and a drive that came frankly up to the front door and then went off with
Mr. Britling and the car round to unknown regions at the back. The centre of the
house was a big airy hall, oak-panelled, warmed in winter only by one large
fireplace and abounding in doors which he knew opened into the square separate
rooms that England favours. Bookshelves and stuffed birds
comforted the landing outside his bedroom. He descended to find the hall
occupied by a small bright bristling boy in white flannel shirt and
knickerbockers and bare legs and feet. He stood before the vacant open fireplace
in an attitude that Mr. Direck knew instantly was also Mr. Britling's. "Lunch is
in the garden," the Britling scion proclaimed, "and I've got to fetch you. And,
I say! is it true? Are you American?"
"Why surely," said Mr. Direck.
"Well, I know some American," said the boy. "I learnt it."
"Tell me some," said Mr. Direck, smiling still more amiably.
"Oh! Well—God darn you! Ouch, Gee-whizz! Soak him, Maud! It's up to you,
"Now where did you learn all that?" asked Mr. Direck recovering.
"Out of the Sunday Supplement," said the youthful Britling.
"Why! Then you know all about Buster Brown," said Mr. Direck. "He's
The Britling child hated Buster Brown. He regarded Buster Brown as a totally
unnecessary infant. He detested the way he wore his hair and the peculiar cut of
his knickerbockers and—him. He thought Buster Brown the one drop of paraffin in
the otherwise delicious feast of the Sunday Supplement. But he was a diplomatic
"I think I like Happy Hooligan better," he said. "And dat ole Maud."
He reflected with joyful eyes, Buster clean forgotten. "Every week," he said,
"she kicks some one."
It came to Mr. Direck as a very pleasant discovery that a British infant
could find a common ground with the small people at home in these
characteristically American jests. He had never dreamt that the fine wine of
Maud and Buster could travel.
"Maud's a treat," said the youthful Britling, relapsing into his native
Mr. Britling appeared coming to meet them. He was now in a grey flannel
suit—he must have jumped into it—and altogether very much tidier....
The long narrow table under the big sycamores between the house and the
adapted barn that Mr. Direck learnt was used for "dancing and all that sort of
thing," was covered with a blue linen diaper cloth, and that too surprised him.
This was his first meal in a private household in England, and for obscure
reasons he had expected something very stiff and formal with "spotless napery."
He had also expected a very stiff and capable service by implacable
parlourmaids, and the whole thing indeed highly genteel. But two cheerful women
servants appeared from what was presumably the kitchen direction, wheeling a
curious wicker erection, which his small guide informed him was called Aunt
Clatter—manifestly deservedly—and which bore on its shelves the substance of the
meal. And while the maids at this migratory sideboard carved and opened bottles
and so forth, the small boy and a slightly larger brother, assisted a little by
two young men of no very defined position and relationship, served the company.
Mrs. Britling sat at the head of the table, and conversed with Mr. Direck by
means of hostess questions and imperfectly accepted answers while she kept a
watchful eye on the proceedings.
The composition of the company was a matter for some perplexity to Mr.
Direck. Mr. and Mrs. Britling were at either end of the table, that was plain
enough. It was also fairly plain that the two barefooted boys were little
Britlings. But beyond this was a cloud of uncertainty. There was a youth of
perhaps seventeen, much darker than Britling but with nose and freckles rather
like his, who might be an early son or a stepson; he was shock-headed and with that look about his arms and legs that suggests
overnight growth; and there was an unmistakable young German, very pink, with
close-cropped fair hair, glasses and a panama hat, who was probably the tutor of
the younger boys. (Mr. Direck also was wearing his hat, his mind had been filled
with an exaggerated idea of the treacheries of the English climate before he
left New York. Every one else was hatless.) Finally, before one reached the
limits of the explicable there was a pleasant young man with a lot of dark hair
and very fine dark blue eyes, whom everybody called "Teddy." For him, Mr. Direck
But in addition to these normal and understandable presences, there was an
entirely mysterious pretty young woman in blue linen who sat and smiled next to
Mr. Britling, and there was a rather kindred-looking girl with darker hair on
the right of Mr. Direck who impressed him at the very outset as being still
prettier, and—he didn't quite place her at first—somehow familiar to him; there
was a large irrelevant middle-aged lady in black with a gold chain and a large
nose, between Teddy and the tutor; there was a tall middle-aged man with an
intelligent face, who might be a casual guest; there was an Indian young
gentleman faultlessly dressed up to his brown soft linen collar and cuffs, and
thereafter an uncontrolled outbreak of fine bronze modelling and abundant fuzzy
hair; and there was a very erect and attentive baby of a year or less, sitting
up in a perambulator and gesticulating cheerfully to everybody. This baby it was
that most troubled the orderly mind of Mr. Direck. The research for its
paternity made his conversation with Mrs. Britling almost as disconnected and
absent-minded as her conversation with him. It almost certainly wasn't Mrs.
Britling's. The girl next to him or the girl next to Mr. Britling or the lady in
black might any of them be married, but if so where was the spouse? It seemed
improbable that they would wheel out a foundling to lunch....
Realising at last that the problem of relationship must be left to solve
itself if he did not want to dissipate and consume his mind entirely, Mr. Direck
turned to his hostess, who was enjoying a brief lull in her administrative
duties, and told her what a memorable thing the meeting of Mr. Britling in his
own home would be in his life, and how very highly America was coming to esteem
Mr. Britling and his essays. He found that with a slight change of person, one
of his premeditated openings was entirely serviceable here. And he went on to
observe that it was novel and entertaining to find Mr. Britling driving his own
automobile and to note that it was an automobile of American manufacture. In
America they had standardised and systematised the making of such things as
automobiles to an extent that would, he thought, be almost startling to
Europeans. It was certainly startling to the European manufacturers. In
illustration of that he might tell a little story of a friend of his called
Robinson—a man who curiously enough in general build and appearance was very
reminiscent indeed of Mr. Britling. He had been telling Mr. Britling as much on
his way here from the station. His friend was concerned with several others in
one of the biggest attacks that had ever been made upon what one might describe
in general terms as the thousand-dollar light automobile market. What they said
practically was this: This market is a jig-saw puzzle waiting to be put together
and made one. We are going to do it. But that was easier to figure out than to
do. At the very outset of this attack he and his associates found themselves up
against an unexpected and very difficult proposition....
At first Mrs. Britling had listened to Mr. Direck with an almost undivided
attention, but as he had developed his opening the feast upon the blue linen
table had passed on to a fresh phase that demanded more and more of her
directive intelligence. The two little boys appeared suddenly at her elbows.
"Shall we take the plates and get the strawberries, Mummy?"
they asked simultaneously. Then one of the neat maids in the background had to
be called up and instructed in undertones, and Mr. Direck saw that for the
present Robinson's illuminating experience was not for her ears. A little
baffled, but quite understanding how things were, he turned to his neighbour on
The girl really had an extraordinarily pretty smile, and there was something
in her soft bright brown eye—like the movement of some quick little bird.
And—she was like somebody he knew! Indeed she was. She was quite ready to be
"I was telling Mrs. Britling," said Mr. Direck, "what a very great privilege
I esteem it to meet Mr. Britling in this highly familiar way."
"You've not met him before?"
"I missed him by twenty-four hours when he came through Boston on the last
occasion. Just twenty-four hours. It was a matter of very great regret to
"I wish I'd been paid to travel round the world."
"You must write things like Mr. Britling and then Mr. Kahn will send
"Don't you think if I promised well?"
"You'd have to write some promissory notes, I think—just to convince him it
was all right."
The young lady reflected on Mr. Britling's good fortune.
"He saw India. He saw Japan. He had weeks in Egypt. And he went right across
Mr. Direck had already begun on the liner to adapt himself to the hopping
inconsecutiveness of English conversation. He made now what he felt was quite a
good hop, and he dropped his voice to a confidential undertone. (It was probably
Adam in his first conversation with Eve, who discovered the pleasantness of
dropping into a confidential undertone beside a pretty ear with a pretty wave of
hair above it.)
"It was in India, I presume," murmured Mr. Direck, "that Mr. Britling made
the acquaintance of the coloured gentleman?"
"Coloured gentleman!" She gave a swift glance down the table as though she
expected to see something purple with yellow spots. "Oh, that is one of Mr.
Lawrence Carmine's young men!" she explained even more confidentially and with
an air of discussing the silver bowl of roses before him. "He's a great
authority on Indian literature, he belongs to a society for making things
pleasant for Indian students in London, and he has them down."
"And Mr. Lawrence Carmine?" he pursued.
Even more intimately and confidentially she indicated Mr. Carmine, as it
seemed by a motion of her eyelash.
Mr. Direck prepared to be even more sotto-voce and to plumb a much
profounder mystery. His eye rested on the perambulator; he leant a little nearer
to the ear.... But the strawberries interrupted him.
"Strawberries!" said the young lady, and directed his regard to his left
shoulder by a little movement of her head.
He found one of the boys with a high-piled plate ready to serve him.
And then Mrs. Britling resumed her conversation with him. She was so
ignorant, she said, of things American, that she did not even know if they had
strawberries there. At any rate, here they were at the crest of the season, and
in a very good year. And in the rose season too. It was one of the dearest
vanities of English people to think their apples and their roses and their
strawberries the best in the world.
"And their complexions," said Mr. Direck, over the pyramid of fruit, quite
manifestly intending a compliment. So that was all right.... But the girl on the
left of him was speaking across the table to the German tutor, and did not hear what he had said. So that even if it wasn't
very neat it didn't matter....
Then he remembered that she was like that old daguerreotype of a cousin of
his grandmother's that he had fallen in love with when he was a boy. It was her
smile. Of course! Of course!... And he'd sort of adored that portrait.... He
felt a curious disposition to tell her as much....
"What makes this visit even more interesting if possible to me," he said to
Mrs. Britling, "than it would otherwise be, is that this Essex country is the
country in which my maternal grandmother was raised, and also long way back my
mother's father's people. My mother's father's people were very early New
England people indeed.... Well, no. If I said Mayflower it wouldn't be
true. But it would approximate. They were Essex Hinkinsons. That's what they
were. I must be a good third of me at least Essex. My grandmother was an Essex
Corner, I must confess I've had some thought—"
"Corner?" said the young lady at his elbow sharply.
"I was telling Mrs. Britling I had some thought—"
"But about those Essex relatives of yours?"
"Well, of finding if they were still about in these parts.... Say! I haven't
dropped a brick, have I?"
He looked from one face to another.
"She's a Corner," said Mrs. Britling.
"Well," said Mr. Direck, and hesitated for a moment. It was so delightful
that one couldn't go on being just discreet. The atmosphere was free and
friendly. His intonation disarmed offence. And he gave the young lady the full
benefit of a quite expressive eye. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Cousin Corner.
How are the old folks at home?"
The bright interest of this consulship helped Mr. Direck more than anything
to get the better of his Robinson-anecdote crave, and when
presently he found his dialogue with Mr. Britling resumed, he turned at once to
this remarkable discovery of his long lost and indeed hitherto unsuspected
relative. "It's an American sort of thing to do, I suppose," he said
apologetically, "but I almost thought of going on, on Monday, to Market Saffron,
which was the locality of the Hinkinsons, and just looking about at the
tombstones in the churchyard for a day or so."
"Very probably," said Mr. Britling, "you'd find something about them in the
parish registers. Lots of our registers go back three hundred years or more.
I'll drive you over in my lil' old car."
"Oh! I wouldn't put you to that trouble," said Mr. Direck hastily.
"It's no trouble. I like the driving. What I have had of it. And while we're
at it, we'll come back by Harborough High Oak and look up the Corner pedigree.
They're all over that district still. And the road's not really difficult; it's
only a bit up and down and roundabout."
"I couldn't think, Mr. Britling, of putting you to that much trouble."
"It's no trouble. I want a day off, and I'm dying to take Gladys——"
"Gladys?" said Mr. Direck with sudden hope.
"That's my name for the lil' car. I'm dying to take her for something like a
decent run. I've only had her out four times altogether, and I've not got her up
yet to forty miles. Which I'm told she ought to do easily. We'll consider that
For the moment Mr. Direck couldn't think of any further excuse. But it was
very clear in his mind that something must happen; he wished he knew of somebody
who could send a recall telegram from London, to prevent him committing himself
to the casual destinies of Mr. Britling's car again. And then another interest
became uppermost in his mind.
"You'd hardly believe me," he said, "if I told you that that Miss Corner of
yours has a quite extraordinary resemblance to a miniature I've got away there
in America of a cousin of my maternal grandmother's. She seems a very pleasant
But Mr. Britling supplied no further information about Miss Corner.
"It must be very interesting," he said, "to come over here and pick up these
American families of yours on the monuments and tombstones. You know, of course,
that district south of Evesham where every other church monument bears the stars
and stripes, the arms of departed Washingtons. I doubt though if you'll still
find the name about there. Nor will you find many Hinkinsons in Market Saffron.
But lots of this country here has five or six hundred-year-old families still
flourishing. That's why Essex is so much more genuinely Old England than Surrey,
say, or Kent. Round here you'll find Corners and Fairlies, and then you get
Capels, and then away down towards Dunmow and Braintree Maynards and Byngs. And
there are oaks and hornbeams in the park about Claverings that have echoed to
the howling of wolves and the clank of men in armour. All the old farms here are
moated—because of the wolves. Claverings itself is Tudor, and rather fine too.
And the cottages still wear thatch...."
He reflected. "Now if you went south of London instead of northward it's all
different. You're in a different period, a different society. You're in London
suburbs right down to the sea. You'll find no genuine estates left, not of our
deep-rooted familiar sort. You'll find millionaires and that sort of people,
sitting in the old places. Surrey is full of rich stockbrokers,
company-promoters, bookies, judges, newspaper proprietors. Sort of people who
fence the paths across their parks. They do something to the old places—I don't
know what they do—but instantly the countryside becomes a villadom. And little sub-estates and red-brick villas and art cottages
spring up. And a kind of new, hard neatness. And pneumatic tyre and automobile
spirit advertisements, great glaring boards by the roadside. And all the poor
people are inspected and rushed about until they forget who their grandfathers
were. They become villa parasites and odd-job men, and grow basely rich and buy
gramophones. This Essex and yonder Surrey are as different as Russia and
Germany. But for one American who comes to look at Essex, twenty go to Godalming
and Guildford and Dorking and Lewes and Canterbury. Those Surrey people are not
properly English at all. They are strenuous. You have to get on or get out. They
drill their gardeners, lecture very fast on agricultural efficiency, and have
miniature rifle ranges in every village. It's a county of new notice-boards and
barbed-wire fences; there's always a policeman round the corner. They dress for
dinner. They dress for everything. If a man gets up in the night to look for a
burglar he puts on the correct costume—or doesn't go. They've got a special
scientific system for urging on their tramps. And they lock up their churches on
a week-day. Half their soil is hard chalk or a rationalistic sand, only suitable
for bunkers and villa foundations. And they play golf in a large, expensive,
thorough way because it's the thing to do.... Now here in Essex we're as lax as
the eighteenth century. We hunt in any old clothes. Our soil is a rich succulent
clay; it becomes semi-fluid in winter—when we go about in waders shooting duck.
All our fingerposts have been twisted round by facetious men years ago. And we
pool our breeds of hens and pigs. Our roses and oaks are wonderful; that alone
shows that this is the real England. If I wanted to play golf—which I don't,
being a decent Essex man—I should have to motor ten miles into Hertfordshire.
And for rheumatics and longevity Surrey can't touch us. I want you to be clear
on these points, because they really will affect your
impressions of this place.... This country is a part of the real England—England
outside London and outside manufactures. It's one with Wessex and Mercia or old
Yorkshire—or for the matter of that with Meath or Lothian. And it's the
essential England still...."
It detracted a little from Mr. Direck's appreciation of this flow of
information that it was taking them away from the rest of the company. He wanted
to see more of his new-found cousin, and what the baby and the Bengali
gentleman—whom manifestly one mustn't call "coloured"—and the large-nosed lady
and all the other inexplicables would get up to. Instead of which Mr. Britling
was leading him off alone with an air of showing him round the premises, and
talking too rapidly and variously for a question to be got in edgeways, much
less any broaching of the matter that Mr. Direck had come over to settle.
There was quite a lot of rose garden, it made the air delicious, and it was
full of great tumbling bushes of roses and of neglected standards, and it had a
long pergola of creepers and trailers and a great arbour, and underneath over
the beds everywhere, contrary to all the rules, the blossom of a multitude of
pansies and stock and little trailing plants swarmed and crowded and scrimmaged
and drilled and fought great massed attacks. And then Mr. Britling talked their
way round a red-walled vegetable garden with an abundance of fruit trees, and
through a door into a terraced square that had once been a farmyard, outside the
converted barn. The barn doors had been replaced by a door-pierced window of
glass, and in the middle of the square space a deep tank had been made, full of
rainwater, in which Mr. Britling remarked casually that "everybody" bathed when
the weather was hot. Thyme and rosemary and suchlike sweet-scented things grew on the terrace about the tank, and ten trimmed little
trees of Arbor vitae stood sentinel. Mr. Direck was tantalisingly aware
that beyond some lilac bushes were his new-found cousin and the kindred young
woman in blue playing tennis with the Indian and another young man, while
whenever it was necessary the large-nosed lady crossed the stage and brooded
soothingly over the perambulator. And Mr. Britling, choosing a seat from which
Mr. Direck just couldn't look comfortably through the green branches at the
flying glimpses of pink and blue and white and brown, continued to talk about
England and America in relation to each other and everything else under the
Presently through a distant gate the two small boys were momentarily visible
wheeling small but serviceable bicycles, followed after a little interval by the
German tutor. Then an enormous grey cat came slowly across the garden court, and
sat down to listen respectfully to Mr. Britling. The afternoon sky was an
intense blue, with little puff-balls of cloud lined out across it.
Occasionally, from chance remarks of Mr. Britling's, Mr. Direck was led to
infer that his first impressions as an American visitor were being related to
his host, but as a matter of fact he was permitted to relate nothing; Mr.
Britling did all the talking. He sat beside his guest and spirted and played
ideas and reflections like a happy fountain in the sunshine.
Mr. Direck sat comfortably, and smoked with quiet appreciation the one
after-lunch cigar he allowed himself. At any rate, if he himself felt rather
word-bound, the fountain was nimble and entertaining. He listened in a general
sort of way to the talk, it was quite impossible to follow it thoughtfully
throughout all its chinks and turnings, while his eyes wandered about the garden
and went ever and again to the flitting tennis-players beyond the green. It was
all very gay and comfortable and complete; it was various and delightful without
being in the least opulent; that was one of the little secrets America had to learn. It didn't look as though it had been made or
bought or cost anything, it looked as though it had happened rather
Mr. Britling's talk became like a wide stream flowing through Mr. Direck's
mind, bearing along momentary impressions and observations, drifting memories of
all the crowded English sights and sounds of the last five days, filmy
imaginations about ancestral names and pretty cousins, scraps of those prepared
conversational openings on Mr. Britling's standing in America, the explanation
about the lecture club, the still incompletely forgotten purport of the Robinson
"Nobody planned the British estate system, nobody planned the British
aristocratic system, nobody planned the confounded constitution, it came about,
it was like layer after layer wrapping round an agate, but you see it came about
so happily in a way, it so suited the climate and the temperament of our people
and our island, it was on the whole so cosy, that our people settled down into
it, you can't help settling down into it, they had already settled down by the
days of Queen Anne, and Heaven knows if we shall ever really get away again.
We're like that little shell the Lingula, that is found in the oldest
rocks and lives to-day: it fitted its easy conditions, and it has never modified
since. Why should it? It excretes all its disturbing forces. Our younger sons go
away and found colonial empires. Our surplus cottage children emigrate to
Australia and Canada or migrate into the towns. It doesn't alter
Mr. Direck's eye had come to rest upon the barn, and its expression changed
slowly from lazy appreciation to a brightening intelligence. Suddenly he
resolved to say something. He resolved to say it so firmly that he determined to
say it even if Mr. Britling went on talking all the time.
"I suppose, Mr. Britling," he said, "this barn here dates from the days of
"The walls of the yard here are probably earlier: probably monastic. That
grey patch in the corner, for example. The barn itself is Georgian."
"And here it is still. And this farmyard, here it is still."
Mr. Britling was for flying off again, but Mr. Direck would not listen; he
held on like a man who keeps his grip on a lasso.
"There's one thing I would like to remark about your barn, Mr. Britling, and
I might, while I am at it, say the same thing about your farmyard."
Mr. Britling was held. "What's that?" he asked.
"Well," said Mr. Direck, "the point that strikes me most about all this is
that that barn isn't a barn any longer, and that this farmyard isn't a farmyard.
There isn't any wheat or chaff or anything of that sort in the barn, and there
never will be again: there's just a pianola and a dancing floor, and if a cow
came into this farmyard everybody in the place would be shooing it out again.
They'd regard it as a most unnatural object."
He had a pleasant sense of talking at last. He kept right on. He was moved to
a sweeping generalisation.
"You were so good as to ask me, Mr. Britling, a little while ago, what my
first impression of England was. Well, Mr. Britling, my first impression of
England that seems to me to matter in the least is this: that it looks and feels
more like the traditional Old England than any one could possibly have believed,
and that in reality it is less like the traditional Old England than any one
would ever possibly have imagined."
He was carried on even further. He made a tremendous literary epigram. "I
thought," he said, "when I looked out of the train this morning that I had come
to the England of Washington Irving. I find it is not even the England of Mrs.