Mr. Britling Sees It Through
MATCHING'S EASY AT EASE
CHAPTER THE SECOND
MR. BRITLING CONTINUES HIS EXPOSITION
Mr. Direck found little reason to revise his dictum in the subsequent
experiences of the afternoon. Indeed the afternoon and the next day were
steadily consistent in confirming what a very good dictum it had been. The
scenery was the traditional scenery of England, and all the people seemed
quicker, more irresponsible, more chaotic, than any one could have anticipated,
and entirely inexplicable by any recognised code of English
"You think that John Bull is dead and a strange generation is wearing his
clothes," said Mr. Britling. "I think you'll find very soon it's the old John
Bull. Perhaps not Mrs. Humphry Ward's John Bull, or Mrs. Henry Wood's John Bull
but true essentially to Shakespeare, Fielding, Dickens, Meredith...."
"I suppose," he added, "there are changes. There's a new generation grown
He looked at his barn and the swimming pool. "It's a good point of yours
about the barn," he said. "What you say reminds me of that very jolly thing of
Kipling's about the old mill-wheel that began by grinding corn and ended by
"Only I admit that barn doesn't exactly drive a dynamo....
"To be frank, it's just a pleasure barn....
"The country can afford it...."
He left it at that for the time, but throughout the afternoon Mr. Direck had
the gratification of seeing his thought floating round and round in the
back-waters of Mr. Britling's mental current. If it didn't itself get into the
stream again its reflection at any rate appeared and reappeared. He was taken
about with great assiduity throughout the afternoon, and he got no more than
occasional glimpses of the rest of the Dower House circle until six o'clock in
Meanwhile the fountains of Mr. Britling's active and encyclopædic mind played
He was inordinately proud of England, and he abused her incessantly. He
wanted to state England to Mr. Direck as the amiable summation of a grotesque
assembly of faults. That was the view into which the comforts and prosperities
of his middle age had brought him from a radicalism that had in its earlier
stages been angry and bitter. And for Mr. Britling England was "here." Essex was
the county he knew. He took Mr. Direck out from his walled garden by a little
door into a trim paddock with two white goals. "We play hockey here on Sundays,"
he said in a way that gave Mr. Direck no hint of the practically compulsory
participation of every visitor to Matching's Easy in this violent and dangerous
exercise, and thence they passed by a rich deep lane and into a high road that
ran along the edge of the deer park of Claverings. "We will call in on
Claverings later," said Mr. Britling. "Lady Homartyn has some people there for
the week-end, and you ought to see the sort of thing it is and the sort of
people they are. She wanted us to lunch there to-morrow, but I didn't accept
that because of our afternoon hockey."
Mr. Direck received this reason uncritically.
The village reminded Mr. Direck of Abbey's pictures. There was an inn with a
sign standing out in the road, a painted sign of the
Clavering Arms; it had a water trough (such as Mr. Weller senior ducked the
dissenter in) and a green painted table outside its inviting door. There were
also a general shop and a number of very pleasant cottages, each marked with the
Mainstay crest. All this was grouped about a green with real geese drilling
thereon. Mr. Britling conducted his visitor (through a lych gate) into the
church-yard, and there they found mossy, tumble-down tombstones, one with a
skull and cross-bones upon it, that went back to the later seventeenth century.
In the aisle of the church were three huge hatchments, and there was a side
chapel devoted to the Mainstay family and the Barons Homartyn, with a series of
monuments that began with painted Tudor effigies and came down to a vast stained
glass window of the vilest commercial Victorian. There were also mediæval
brasses of parish priests, and a marble crusader and his lady of some
extinguished family which had ruled Matching's Easy before the Mainstays came.
And as the two gentlemen emerged from the church they ran against the perfect
vicar, Mr. Dimple, ample and genial, with an embracing laugh and an enveloping
voice. "Come to see the old country," he said to Mr. Direck. "So Good of you
Americans to do that! So Good of you...."
There was some amiable sparring between the worthy man and Mr. Britling about
bringing Mr. Direck to church on Sunday morning. "He's terribly Lax," said Mr.
Dimple to Mr. Direck, smiling radiantly. "Terribly Lax. But then nowadays
Everybody is so Lax. And he's very Good to my Coal Club; I don't know
what we should do without him. So I just admonish him. And if he doesn't go to
church, well, anyhow he doesn't go anywhere else. He may be a poor churchman,
but anyhow he's not a dissenter...."
"In England, you see," Mr. Britling remarked, after they had parted from the
reverend gentleman, "we have domesticated everything. We
have even domesticated God."
For awhile Mr. Britling showed Mr. Direck English lanes, and then came back
along narrow white paths across small fields of rising wheat, to the village and
a little gate that led into the park.
"Well," said Mr. Direck, "what you say about domestication does seem to me to
be very true indeed. Why! even those clouds up there look as though they had a
shepherd and were grazing."
"Ready for shearing almost," said Mr. Britling.
"Indeed," said Mr. Direck, raising his voice a little, "I've seen scarcely
anything in England that wasn't domesticated, unless it was some of your back
streets in London."
Mr. Britling seemed to reflect for a moment. "They're an excrescence," he
The park had a trim wildness like nature in an old Italian picture; dappled
fallow deer grouped close at hand and looked at the two men fearlessly; the path
dropped through oak trees and some stunted bracken to a little loitering stream,
that paused ever and again to play at ponds and waterfalls and bear a fleet of
water-lily leaves; and then their way curved round in an indolent sweep towards
the cedars and shrubberies of the great house. The house looked low and
extensive to an American eye, and its red-brick chimneys rose like infantry in
open order along its extended line. There was a glimpse of flower-bright garden
and terraces to the right as they came round the corner to the front of the
house through a path cut in the laurel bushes.
Mr. Britling had a moment of exposition as they approached the entrance.
"I expect we shall find Philbert from the Home Office—or is it the Local
Government Board?—and Sir Thomas Loot, the Treasury man.
There may be some other people of that sort, the people we call the Governing
Class. Wives also. And I rather fancy the Countess of Frensham is coming, she's
strong on the Irish Question, and Lady Venetia Trumpington, who they say is a
beauty—I've never seen her. It's Lady Homartyn's way to expect me to come in—not
that I'm an important item at these week-end social feasts—but she likes to see
me on the table—to be nibbled at if any one wants to do so—like the olives and
the salted almonds. And she always asks me to lunch on Sunday and I always
refuse—because of the hockey. So you see I put in an appearance on the Saturday
They had reached the big doorway.
It opened into a large cool hall adorned with the heads of hippopotami and
rhinoceroses and a stuffed lion, and furnished chiefly with a vast table on
which hats and sticks and newspapers were littered. A manservant with a subdued,
semi-confidential manner, conveyed to Mr. Britling that her ladyship was on the
terrace, and took the hats and sticks that were handed to him and led the way
through the house. They emerged upon a broad terrace looking out under great
cedar trees upon flower beds and stone urns and tennis lawns and yew hedges that
dipped to give a view of distant hills. On the terrace were grouped perhaps a
dozen people for the most part holding teacups, they sat in deck chairs and
folding seats about a little table that bore the tea-things. Lady Homartyn came
forward to welcome the newcomers.
Mr. Direck was introduced as a travelling American gratified to see a typical
English country house, and Lady Homartyn in an habituated way ran over the
points of her Tudor specimen. Mr. Direck was not accustomed to titled people,
and was suddenly in doubt whether you called a baroness "My Lady" or "Your
Ladyship," so he wisely avoided any form of address until he had a lead from Mr.
Britling. Mr. Britling presently called her "Lady Homartyn."
She took Mr. Direck and sat him down beside a lady whose name he didn't catch,
but who had had a lot to do with the British Embassy at Washington, and then she
handed Mr. Britling over to the Rt. Honble. George Philbert, who was anxious to
discuss certain points in the latest book of essays. The conversation of the
lady from Washington was intelligent but not exacting, and Mr. Direck was able
to give a certain amount of attention to the general effect of the scene.
He was a little disappointed to find that the servants didn't wear livery. In
American magazine pictures and in American cinematograph films of English
stories and in the houses of very rich Americans living in England, they do so.
And the Mansion House is misleading; he had met a compatriot who had recently
dined at the Mansion House, and who had described "flunkeys" in hair-powder and
cloth of gold—like Thackeray's Jeames Yellowplush. But here the only servants
were two slim, discreet and attentive young gentlemen in black coats with a
gentle piety in their manner instead of pride. And he was a little disappointed
too by a certain lack of splendour in the company. The ladies affected him as
being ill-dressed; there was none of the hard snap, the "There! and what
do you say to it?" about them of the well-dressed American woman, and the men
too were not so much tailored as unobtrusively and yet grammatically
He was still only in the fragmentary stage of conversation when everything
was thrown into commotion by the important arrival of Lady Frensham, and there
was a general reshuffling of places. Lady Frensham had arrived from London by
automobile; she appeared in veils and swathings and a tremendous dust cloak,
with a sort of nephew in her train who had driven the car. She was manifestly a
constitutionally triumphant woman. A certain afternoon
lassitude vanished in the swirl of her arrival. Mr. Philbert removed wrappings
and handed them to the manservant.
"I lunched with Sir Edward Carson to-day, my dear," she told Lady Homartyn,
and rolled a belligerent eye at Philbert.
"And is he as obdurate as ever?" asked Sir Thomas.
"Obdurate! It's Redmond who's obdurate," cried Lady Frensham. "What do you
say, Mr. Britling?"
"A plague on both your parties," said Mr. Britling.
"You can't keep out of things like that," said Lady Frensham with the utmost
gusto, "when the country's on the very verge of civil war.... You people who try
to pretend there isn't a grave crisis when there is one, will be more
accountable than any one—when the civil war does come. It won't spare you. Mark
The party became a circle.
Mr. Direck found himself the interested auditor of a real English
country-house week-end political conversation. This at any rate was like the
England of which Mrs. Humphry Ward's novels had informed him, but yet not
exactly like it. Perhaps that was due to the fact that for the most part these
novels dealt with the England of the 'nineties, and things had lost a little in
dignity since those days. But at any rate here were political figures and titled
people, and they were talking about the "country."...
Was it possible that people of this sort did "run" the country, after all?...
When he had read Mrs. Humphry Ward in America he had always accepted this theory
of the story quite easily, but now that he saw and heard them—!
But all governments and rulers and ruling classes when you look at them
closely are incredible....
"I don't believe the country is on the verge of civil war," said Mr.
"Facts!" cried Lady Frensham, and seemed to wipe away delusions with a rapid
gesture of her hands.
"You're interested in Ireland, Mr. Dirks?" asked Lady Homartyn.
"We see it first when we come over," said Mr. Direck rather neatly, and after
that he was free to attend to the general discussion.
Lady Frensham, it was manifest, was one of that energetic body of
aristocratic ladies who were taking up an irreconcilable attitude against Home
Rule "in any shape or form" at that time. They were rapidly turning British
politics into a system of bitter personal feuds in which all sense of imperial
welfare was lost. A wild ambition to emulate the extremest suffragettes seems to
have seized upon them. They insulted, they denounced, they refused every
invitation lest they should meet that "traitor" the Prime Minister, they
imitated the party hatreds of a fiercer age, and even now the moderate and
politic Philbert found himself treated as an invisible object. They were
supported by the extremer section of the Tory press, and the most extraordinary
writers were set up to froth like lunatics against the government as "traitors,"
as men who "insulted the King"; the Morning Post and the lighter-witted
side of the Unionist press generally poured out a torrent of partisan nonsense
it is now almost incredible to recall. Lady Frensham, bridling over Lady
Homartyn's party, and for a time leaving Mr. Britling, hurried on to tell of the
newest developments of the great feud. She had a wonderful description of Lady
Londonderry sitting opposite "that old rascal, the Prime Minister," at a
performance of Mozart's Zauberflöte.
"If looks could kill!" cried Lady Frensham with tremendous gusto.
"Sir Edward is quite firm that Ulster means to fight. They have
machine-guns—ammunition. And I am sure the army is with us...."
"Where did they get those machine-guns and ammunition?" asked Mr. Britling
"Ah! that's a secret," cried Lady Frensham.
"Um," said Mr. Britling.
"You see," said Lady Frensham; "it will be civil war! And yet you
writing people who have influence do nothing to prevent it!"
"What are we to do, Lady Frensham?"
"Tell people how serious it is."
"You mean, tell the Irish Nationalists to lie down and be walked over. They
"We'll see about that," cried Lady Frensham, "we'll see about that!"
She was a large and dignified person with a kind of figure-head nobility of
carriage, but Mr. Direck was suddenly reminded of a girl cousin of his who had
been expelled from college for some particularly elaborate and aimless
"May I say something to you, Lady Frensham," said Mr. Britling, "that you
have just said to me? Do you realise that this Carsonite campaign is dragging
these islands within a measurable distance of civil war?"
"It's the fault of your Lloyd George and his government. It's the fault of
your Socialists and sentimentalists. You've made the mischief and you have to
deal with it."
"Yes. But do you really figure to yourself what a civil war may mean for the
empire? Surely there are other things in the world besides this quarrel between
the 'loyalists' of Ulster and the Liberal government; there are other interests
in this big empire than party advantages? Yon think you are going to frighten
this Home Rule government into some ridiculous sort of collapse that will bring
in the Tories at the next election. Well, suppose you don't manage that. Suppose
instead that you really do contrive to bring about a civil war. Very few people
here or in Ireland want it—I was over there not a month
ago—but when men have loaded guns in their hands they sometimes go off. And then
people see red. Few people realise what an incurable sore opens when fighting
begins. Suppose part of the army revolts and we get some extraordinary and
demoralising fighting over there. India watches these things. Bengal may imitate
Ireland. At that distance rebellion and treason are rebellion and treason
whether they are coloured orange or green. And then suppose the Germans see fit
to attack us!"
Lady Frensham had a woman's elusiveness. "Your Redmondites would welcome them
with open arms."
"It isn't the Redmondites who invite them now, anyhow," said Mr. Britling,
springing his mine. "The other day one of your 'loyalists,' Andrews, was talking
in the Morning Post of preferring conquest by Germany to Home Rule; Craig
has been at the same game; Major Crawford, the man who ran the German Mausers
last April, boasted that he would transfer his allegiance to the German Emperor
rather than see Redmond in power."
"Rhetoric!" said Lady Frensham. "Rhetoric!"
"But one of your Ulster papers has openly boasted that arrangements have been
made for a 'powerful Continental monarch' to help an Ulster rebellion."
"Which paper?" snatched Lady Frensham.
Mr. Britling hesitated.
Mr. Philbert supplied the name. "I saw it. It was the Irish
"You two have got your case up very well," said Lady Frensham. "I didn't know
Mr. Britling was a party man."
"The Nationalists have been circulating copies," said Philbert.
"They make it look worse than mere newspaper talk and speeches," Mr. Britling
pressed. "Carson, it seems, was lunching with the German Emperor last autumn. A
fine fuss you'd make if Redmond did that. All this gun-running, too, is German
"What does it matter if it is?" said Lady Frensham, allowing a belligerent
eye to rest for the first time on Philbert. "You drove us to it. One thing we
are resolved upon at any cost. Johnny Redmond may rule England if he likes; he
shan't rule Ireland...."
Mr. Britling shrugged his shoulders, and his face betrayed despair.
"My one consolation," he said, "in this storm is a talk I had last month with
a young Irishwoman in Meath. She was a young person of twelve, and she took a
fancy to me—I think because I went with her in an alleged dangerous canoe she
was forbidden to navigate alone. All day the eternal Irish Question had banged
about over her observant head. When we were out on the water she suddenly
decided to set me right upon a disregarded essential. 'You English,' she said,
'are just a bit disposed to take all this trouble seriously. Don't you fret
yourself about it... Half the time we're just laffing at you. You'd best leave
us all alone....'"
And then he went off at a tangent from his own anecdote.
"But look at this miserable spectacle!" he cried. "Here is a chance of
getting something like a reconciliation of the old feud of English and Irish,
and something like a settlement of these ancient distresses, and there seems no
power, no conscience, no sanity in any of us, sufficient to save it from this
cantankerous bitterness, this sheer wicked mischief of mutual exasperation....
Just when Ireland is getting a gleam of prosperity.... A murrain on both your
"I see, Mr. Britling, you'd hand us all over to Jim Larkin!"
"I'd hand you all over to Sir Horace Plunkett—"
"That doctrinaire dairyman!" cried Lady Frensham, with an air of quite
conclusive repartee. "You're hopeless, Mr. Britling. You're hopeless."
And Lady Homartyn, seeing that the phase of mere personal verdicts drew near,
created a diversion by giving Lady Frensham a second cup of
tea, and fluttering like a cooling fan about the heated brows of the disputants.
She suggested tennis....
Mr. Britling was still flushed and ruffled as he and his guest returned
towards the Dower House. He criticised England himself unmercifully, but he
hated to think that in any respect she fell short of perfection; even her
defects he liked to imagine were just a subtler kind of power and wisdom. And
Lady Frensham had stuck her voice and her gestures through all these amiable
illusions. He was like a lover who calls his lady a foolish rogue, and is
startled to find that facts and strangers do literally agree with him.
But it was so difficult to resolve Lady Frensham and the Irish squabble
generally into anything better than idiotic mischief, that for a time he was
unusually silent—wrestling with the problem, and Mr. Direck got the
"To an American mind it's a little—startling," said Mr. Direck, "to hear
ladies expressing such vigorous political opinions."
"I don't mind that," said Mr. Britling. "Women over here go into politics and
into public-houses—I don't see why they shouldn't. If such things are good
enough for men they are good enough for women; we haven't your sort of chivalry.
But it's the peculiar malignant silliness of this sort of Toryism that's so
discreditable. It's discreditable. There's no good in denying it. Those people
you have heard and seen are a not unfair sample of our governing class—of a
certain section of our governing class—as it is to-day. Not at all unfair. And
you see how amazingly they haven't got hold of anything. There was a time when
they could be politic.... Hidden away they have politic instincts even now....
But it makes me sick to think of this Irish business. Because, you know, it's
true—we are drifting towards civil war there."
"You are of that opinion?" said Mr. Direck.
"Well, isn't it so? Here's all this Ulster gun-running—you heard how she
talked of it? Isn't it enough to drive the south into open revolt?..."
"Is there very much, do you think, in the suggestion that some of this Ulster
trouble is a German intrigue? You and Mr. Philbert were saying things—"
"I don't know," said Mr. Britling shortly.
"I don't know," he repeated. "But it isn't because I don't think our
Unionists and their opponents aren't foolish enough for anything of the sort.
It's only because I don't believe that the Germans are so stupid as to do such
things.... Why should they?...
"It makes me—expressionless with anger," said Mr. Britling after a pause,
reverting to his main annoyance. "They won't consider any compromise. It's sheer
love of quarrelling.... Those people there think that nothing can possibly
happen. They are like children in a nursery playing at rebellion. Unscathed and
heedless. Until there is death at their feet they will never realise they are
playing with loaded guns...."
For a time he said no more; and listened perfunctorily while Mr. Direck tried
to indicate the feeling in New England towards the Irish Question and the many
difficult propositions an American politician has to face in that respect. And
when Mr. Britling took up the thread of speech again it had little or no
relation to Mr. Direck's observations.
"The psychology of all this recent insubordination and violence is—curious.
Exasperating too.... I don't quite grasp it.... It's the same thing whether you
look at the suffrage business or the labour people or at this Irish muddle.
People may be too safe. You see we live at the end of a series of secure
generations in which none of the great things of life have changed materially.
We've grown up with no sense of danger—that is to say, with no sense of
responsibility. None of us, none of us—for though I talk my
actions belie me—really believe that life can change very fundamentally any more
forever. All this",—Mr. Britling waved his arm comprehensively—"looks as though
it was bound to go on steadily forever. It seems incredible that the system
could be smashed. It seems incredible that anything we can do will ever smash
the system. Lady Homartyn, for example, is incapable of believing that she won't
always be able to have week-end parties at Claverings, and that the letters and
the tea won't come to her bedside in the morning. Or if her imagination goes to
the point of supposing that some day she won't be there to receive the
tea, it means merely that she supposes somebody else will be. Her pleasant
butler may fear to lose his 'situation,' but nothing on earth could make him
imagine a time when there will not be a 'situation' for him to lose. Old Asquith
thinks that we always have got along, and that we always shall get along by
being quietly artful and saying, 'Wait and see.' And it's just because we are
all convinced that we are so safe against a general breakdown that we are able
to be so recklessly violent in our special cases. Why shouldn't women have the
vote? they argue. What does it matter? And bang goes a bomb in Westminster
Abbey. Why shouldn't Ulster create an impossible position? And off trots some
demented Carsonite to Germany to play at treason on some half word of the German
Emperor's and buy half a million rifles....
"Exactly like children being very, very naughty....
"And," said Mr. Britling with a gesture to round off his discourse, "we do go
on. We shall go on—until there is a spark right into the magazine. We have lost
any belief we ever had that fundamental things happen. We are everlasting
children in an everlasting nursery...."
And immediately he broke out again.
"The truth of the matter is that hardly any one has ever yet mastered the
fact that the world is round. The world is round—like an orange. The thing is
told us—like any old scandal—at school. For all practical
purposes we forget it. Practically we all live in a world as flat as a pancake.
Where time never ends and nothing changes. Who really believes in any world
outside the circle of the horizon? Here we are and visibly nothing is changing.
And so we go on to—nothing will ever change. It just goes on—in space, in time.
If we could realise that round world beyond, then indeed we should go
circumspectly.... If the world were like a whispering gallery, what whispers
might we not hear now—from India, from Africa, from Germany, warnings from the
past, intimations of the future....
"We shouldn't heed them...."
And indeed at the very moment when Mr. Britling was saying these words, in
Sarajevo in Bosnia, where the hour was somewhat later, men whispered together,
and one held nervously to a black parcel that had been given him and nodded as
they repeated his instructions, a black parcel with certain unstable chemicals
and a curious arrangement of detonators therein, a black parcel destined
ultimately to shatter nearly every landmark of Mr. Britling's and Lady
When Mr. Direck and Mr. Britling returned to the Dower House the guest was
handed over to Mrs. Britling and Mr. Britling vanished, to reappear at supper
time, for the Britlings had a supper in the evening instead of dinner. When Mr.
Britling did reappear every trace of his vexation with the levities of British
politics and the British ruling class had vanished altogether, and he was no
longer thinking of all that might be happening in Germany or India....
While he was out of the way Mr. Direck extended his acquaintance with the
Britling household. He was taken round the garden and shown the roses by Mrs.
Britling, and beyond the rose garden in a little arbour they came upon Miss
Corner reading a book. She looked very grave and pretty reading a book. Mr.
Direck came to a pause in front of her, and Mrs. Britling stopped beside him.
The young lady looked up and smiled.
"The last new novel?" asked Mr. Direck pleasantly.
"Campanella's 'City of the Sun.'"
"My word! but isn't that stiff reading?"
"You haven't read it," said Miss Corner.
"It's a dry old book anyhow."
"It's no good pretending you have," she said, and there Mr. Direck felt the
conversation had to end.
"That's a very pleasant young lady to have about," he said to Mrs. Britling
as they went on towards the barn court.
"She's all at loose ends," said Mrs. Britling. "And she reads like a—Whatever
does read? One drinks like a fish. One eats like a wolf."
They found the German tutor in a little court playing Badminton with the two
younger boys. He was a plump young man with glasses and compact gestures; the
game progressed chiefly by misses and the score was counted in German. He won
thoughtfully and chiefly through the ardour of the younger brother, whose
enthusiastic returns invariably went out. Instantly the boys attacked Mrs.
Britling with a concerted enthusiasm. "Mummy! Is it to be dressing-up
Mrs. Britling considered, and it was manifest that Mr. Direck was material to
"We wrap ourselves up in curtains and bright things instead of dressing," she
explained. "We have a sort of wardrobe of fancy dresses. Do you mind?"
Mr. Direck was delighted.
And this being settled, the two small boys went off with
their mother upon some special decorative project they had conceived and Mr.
Direck was left for a time to Herr Heinrich.
Herr Heinrich suggested a stroll in the rose garden, and as Mr. Direck had
not hitherto been shown the rose garden by Herr Heinrich, he agreed. Sooner or
later everybody, it was evident, had got to show him that rose garden.
"And how do you like living in an English household?" said Mr. Direck,
getting to business at once. "It's interesting to an American to see this
English establishment, and it must be still more interesting to a German."
"I find it very different from Pomerania," said Herr Heinrich. "In some
respects it is more agreeable, in others less so. It is a pleasant life but it
is not a serious life.
"At any time," continued Herr Heinrich, "some one may say, 'Let us do this
thing,' or 'Let us do that thing,' and then everything is disarranged.
"People walk into the house without ceremony. There is much kindness but no
politeness. Mr. Britling will go away for three or four days, and when he
returns and I come forward to greet him and bow, he will walk right past me, or
he will say just like this, 'How do, Heinrich?'"
"Are you interested in Mr. Britling's writings?" Mr. Direck asked.
"There again I am puzzled. His work is known even in Germany. His articles
are reprinted in German and Austrian reviews. You would expect him to have a
certain authority of manner. You would expect there to be discussion at the
table upon questions of philosophy and aesthetics.... It is not so. When I ask
him questions it is often that they are not seriously answered. Sometimes it is
as if he did not like the questions I askt of him. Yesterday I askt of him did
he agree or did he not agree with Mr. Bernard Shaw. He just said—I wrote it down
in my memoranda—he said: 'Oh! Mixt Pickles.' What can one understand of
The young man's sedulous blue eyes looked out of his pink face through his
glasses at Mr. Direck, anxious for any light he could offer upon the atmospheric
vagueness of this England.
He was, he explained, a student of philology preparing for his doctorate. He
had not yet done his year of military service. He was studying the dialects of
"You go about among the people?" Mr. Direck inquired.
"No, I do not do that. But I ask Mr. Carmine and Mrs. Britling and the boys
many questions. And sometimes I talk to the gardener."
He explained how he would prepare his thesis and how it would be accepted,
and the nature of his army service and the various stages by which he would
subsequently ascend in the orderly professorial life to which he was destined.
He confessed a certain lack of interest in philology, but, he said, "it is what
I have to do." And so he was going to do it all his life through. For his own
part he was interested in ideas of universal citizenship, in Esperanto and Ido
and universal languages and such-like attacks upon the barriers between man and
man. But the authorities at home did not favour cosmopolitan ideas, and so he
was relinquishing them. "Here, it is as if there were no authorities," he said
with a touch of envy.
Mr. Direck induced him to expand that idea.
Herr Heinrich made Mr. Britling his instance. If Mr. Britling were a German
he would certainly have some sort of title, a definite position, responsibility.
Here he was not even called Herr Doktor. He said what he liked. Nobody rewarded
him; nobody reprimanded him. When Herr Heinrich asked him of his position,
whether he was above or below Mr. Bernard Shaw or Mr. Arnold White or Mr. Garvin
or any other publicist, he made jokes. Nobody here seemed to have a title and
nobody seemed to have a definite place. There was Mr. Lawrence Carmine; he was a student of Oriental questions; he had to do with some
public institution in London that welcomed Indian students; he was a
"Eh?" said Mr. Direck.
"It is—what do they call it? the Essex County Council." But nobody took any
notice of that. And when Mr. Philbert, who was a minister in the government,
came to lunch he was just like any one else. It was only after he had gone that
Herr Heinrich had learnt by chance that he was a minister and "Right
"In Germany everything is definite. Every man knows his place, has his
papers, is instructed what to do...."
"Yet," said Mr. Direck, with his eyes on the glowing roses, the neat arbour,
the long line of the red wall of the vegetable garden and a distant gleam of
cornfield, "it all looks orderly enough."
"It is as if it had been put in order ages ago," said Herr Heinrich.
"And was just going on by habit," said Mr. Direck, taking up the idea.
Their comparisons were interrupted by the appearance of "Teddy," the
secretary, and the Indian young gentleman, damp and genial, as they explained,
"from the boats." It seemed that "down below" somewhere was a pond with a punt
and an island and a toy dinghy. And while they discussed swimming and boating,
Mr. Carmine appeared from the direction of the park conversing gravely with the
elder son. They had been for a walk and a talk together. There were proposals
for a Badminton foursome. Mr. Direck emerged from the general interchange with
Mr. Lawrence Carmine, and then strolled through the rose garden to see the
sunset from the end. Mr. Direck took the opportunity to verify his impression
that the elder son was the present Mrs. Britling's stepson, and he also
contrived by a sudden admiration for a distant row of evening primroses to
deflect their path past the arbour in which the evening
light must now be getting a little too soft for Miss Corner's book.
Miss Corner was drawn into the sunset party. She talked to Mr. Carmine and
displayed, Mr. Direck thought, great originality of mind. She said "The City of
the Sun" was like the cities the boys sometimes made on the playroom floor. She
said it was the dearest little city, and gave some amusing particulars. She
described the painted walls that made the tour of the Civitas Solis a liberal
education. She asked Mr. Carmine, who was an authority on Oriental literature,
why there were no Indian nor Chinese Utopias.
Now it had never occurred to Mr. Direck to ask why there were no Indian nor
Chinese Utopias, and even Mr. Carmine seemed surprised to discover this
"The primitive patriarchal village is Utopia to India and China," said
Mr. Carmine, when they had a little digested the inquiry. "Or at any rate it is
their social ideal. They want no Utopias."
"Utopias came with cities," he said, considering the question. "And the first
cities, as distinguished from courts and autocratic capitals, came with ships.
India and China belong to an earlier age. Ships, trade, disorder, strange
relationships, unofficial literature, criticism—and then this idea of some novel
remaking of society...."
Then Mr. Direck fell into the hands of Hugh, the eldest son, and anticipating
the inevitable, said that he liked to walk in the rose garden. So they walked in
the rose garden.
"Do you read Utopias?" said Mr. Direck, cutting any preface, in the English
"Oh, rather!" said Hugh, and became at once friendly and
"We all do," he explained. "In England everybody talks of change and nothing
"I found Miss Corner reading—what was it? the Sun People?—some old classical
"Campanella," said Hugh, without betraying the slightest interest in Miss
Corner. "Nothing changes in England, because the people who want to change
things change their minds before they change anything else. I've been in London
talking for the last half-year. Studying art they call it. Before that I was a
science student, and I want to be one again. Don't you think, Sir, there's
something about science—it's steadier than anything else in the world?"
Mr. Direck thought that the moral truths of human nature were steadier than
science, and they had one of those little discussions of real life that begin
about a difference inadequately apprehended, and do not so much end as are
abandoned. Hugh struck him as being more speculative and detached than any
American college youth of his age that he knew—but that might not be a national
difference but only the Britling strain. He seemed to have read more and more
independently, and to be doing less. And he was rather more restrained and
Before Mr. Direck could begin a proper inquiry into the young man's work and
outlook, he had got the conversation upon America. He wanted tremendously to see
America. "The dad says in one of his books that over here we are being and that
over there you are beginning. It must be tremendously stimulating to think that
your country is still being made...."
Mr. Direck thought that an interesting point of view. "Unless something
tumbles down here, we never think of altering it," the young man remarked. "And
even then we just shore it up."
His remarks had the effect of floating off from some busy mill of thought
within him. Hitherto Mr. Direck had been inclined to think this silent observant
youth, with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders a little humped, as probably shy and adolescently ineffective. But the head was
manifestly quite busy....
"Miss Corner," he began, taking the first thing that came into his head, and
then he remembered that he had already made the remark he was going to make not
five minutes ago.
"What form of art," he asked, "are you contemplating in your studies at the
present time in London?"....
Before this question could be dealt with at all adequately, the two small
boys became active in the garden beating in everybody to "dress-up" before
supper. The secretary, Teddy, came in a fatherly way to look after Mr. Direck
and see to his draperies.
Mr. Direck gave his very best attention to this business of draping himself,
for he had not the slightest intention of appearing ridiculous in the eyes of
Miss Corner. Teddy came with an armful of stuff that he thought "might do."
"What'll I come as?" asked Mr. Direck.
"We don't wear costumes," said Teddy. "We just put on all the brightest
things we fancy. If it's any costume at all, it's Futurist."
"And surely why shouldn't one?" asked Mr. Direck, greatly struck by this
idea. "Why should we always be tied by the fashions and periods of the
He rejected a rather Mephistopheles-like costume of crimson and a scheme for
a brigand-like ensemble based upon what was evidently an old bolero of Mrs.
Britling's, and after some reflection he accepted some black silk tights. His
legs were not legs to be ashamed of. Over this he tried various brilliant
wrappings from the Dower House armoire, and chose at last, after some
hesitation in the direction of a piece of gold and purple brocade, a big square
of green silk curtain stuff adorned with golden pheasants
and other large and dignified ornaments; this he wore toga fashion over his
light silken under-vest—Teddy had insisted on the abandonment of his shirt "if
you want to dance at all"—and fastened with a large green glass-jewelled brooch.
From this his head and neck projected, he felt, with a tolerable dignity. Teddy
suggested a fillet of green ribbon, and this Mr. Direck tried, but after
prolonged reflection before the glass rejected. He was still weighing the effect
of this fillet upon the mind of Miss Corner when Teddy left him to make his own
modest preparations. Teddy's departure gave him a chance for profile studies by
means of an arrangement of the long mirror and the table looking-glass that he
had been too shy to attempt in the presence of the secretary. The general effect
was quite satisfactory.
"Wa-a-a-l," he said with a quaver of laughter, "now who'd have thought it?"
and smiled a consciously American smile at himself before going down.
The company was assembling in the panelled hall, and made a brilliant show in
the light of the acetylene candles against the dark background. Mr. Britling in
a black velvet cloak and black silk tights was a deeper shade among the shadows;
the high lights were Miss Corner and her sister, in glittering garments of
peacock green and silver that gave a snake-like quality to their lithe bodies.
They were talking to the German tutor, who had become a sort of cotton Cossack,
a spectacled Cossack in buff and bright green. Mrs. Britling was dignified and
beautiful in a purple djibbah, and her stepson had become a handsome still
figure of black and crimson. Teddy had contrived something elaborate and
effective in the Egyptian style, with a fish-basket and a cuirass of that thin
matting one finds behind washstands; the small boys were brigands, with
immensely baggy breeches and cummerbunds in which they had stuck a selection of
paper-knives and toy pistols and similar weapons. Mr. Carmine and his young man
had come provided with real Indian costumes; the feeling of
the company was that Mr. Carmine was a mullah. The aunt-like lady with the noble
nose stood out amidst these levities in a black silk costume with a gold chain.
She refused, it seemed, to make herself absurd, though she encouraged the others
to extravagance by nods and enigmatical smiles. Nevertheless she had put pink
ribbons in her cap. A family of father, golden-haired mother, and two young
daughters, sympathetically attired, had just arrived, and were discarding their
outer wrappings with the assistance of host and hostess.
It was all just exactly what Mr. Direck had never expected in England, and
equally unexpected was the supper on a long candle-lit table without a cloth. No
servants were present, but on a sideboard stood a cold salmon and cold joints
and kalter aufschnitt and kartoffel salat, and a variety of other comestibles,
and many bottles of beer and wine and whisky. One helped oneself and anybody
else one could, and Mr. Direck did his best to be very attentive to Mrs.
Britling and Miss Corner, and was greatly assisted by the latter.
Everybody seemed unusually gay and bright-eyed. Mr. Direck found something
exhilarating and oddly exciting in all this unusual bright costume and in this
easy mutual service; it made everybody seem franker and simpler. Even Mr.
Britling had revealed a sturdy handsomeness that had not been apparent to Mr.
Direck before, and young Britling left no doubts now about his good looks. Mr.
Direck forgot his mission and his position, and indeed things generally, in an
irrational satisfaction that his golden pheasants harmonised with the glitter of
the warm and smiling girl beside him. And he sat down beside her—"You sit
anywhere," said Mrs. Britling—with far less compunction than in his ordinary
costume he would have felt for so direct a confession of preference. And there
was something in her eyes, it was quite indefinable and yet very satisfying,
that told him that now he escaped from the stern square imperatives of his patriotic tailor in New York she had made a discovery of
Everybody chattered gaily, though Mr. Direck would have found it difficult to
recall afterwards what it was they chattered about, except that somehow he
acquired the valuable knowledge that Miss Corner was called Cecily, and her
sister Letty, and then—so far old Essex custom held—the masculine section was
left for a few minutes for some imaginary drinking, and a lighting of cigars and
cigarettes, after which everybody went through interwoven moonlight and
afterglow to the barn. Mr. Britling sat down to a pianola in the corner and
began the familiar cadences of "Whistling Rufus."
"You dance?" said Miss Cecily Corner.
"I've never been much of a dancing man," said Mr. Direck. "What sort of dance
"Just anything. A two-step."
Mr. Direck hesitated and regretted a well-spent youth, and then Hugh came
prancing forward with outstretched hands and swept her away.
Just for an instant Mr. Direck felt that this young man was a trifle
But it was very amusing dancing.
It wasn't any sort of taught formal dancing. It was a spontaneous retort to
the leaping American music that Mr. Britling footed out. You kept time, and for
the rest you did as your nature prompted. If you had a partner you joined hands,
you fluttered to and from one another, you paced down the long floor together,
you involved yourselves in romantic pursuits and repulsions with other couples.
There was no objection to your dancing alone. Teddy, for example, danced alone
in order to develop certain Egyptian gestures that were germinating in his
brain. There was no objection to your joining hands in a cheerful
Mr. Direck hung on to Cissie and her partner. They danced very well together;
they seemed to like and understand each other. It was
natural of course for two young people like that, thrown very much together, to
develop an affection for one another.... Still, she was older by three or four
It seemed unreasonable that the boy anyhow shouldn't be in love with
It seemed unreasonable that any one shouldn't be in love with her....
Then Mr. Direck remarked that Cissie was watching Teddy's manoeuvres over her
partner's shoulder with real affection and admiration....
But then most refreshingly she picked up Mr. Direck's gaze and gave him the
slightest of smiles. She hadn't forgotten him.
The music stopped with an effect of shock, and all the bobbing, whirling
figures became walking glories.
"Now that's not difficult, is it?" said Miss Corner, glowing happily.
"Not when you do it," said Mr. Direck.
"I can't imagine an American not dancing a two-step. You must do the next
with me. Listen! It's 'Away Down Indiana' ... ah! I knew you could."
Mr. Direck, too, understood now that he could, and they went off holding
hands rather after the fashion of two skaters.
"My word!" said Mr. Direck. "To think I'd be dancing."
But he said no more because he needed his breath.
He liked it, and he had another attempt with one of the visitor daughters,
who danced rather more formally, and then Teddy took the pianola and Mr. Direck
was astonished by the spectacle of an eminent British thinker in a whirl of
black velvet and extremely active black legs engaged in a kind of Apache dance
in pursuit of the visitor wife. In which Mr. Lawrence Carmine suddenly
"In Germany," said Herr Heinrich, "we do not dance like
this. It could not be considered seemly. But it is very pleasant."
And then there was a waltz, and Herr Heinrich bowed to and took the visitor
wife round three times, and returned her very punctually and exactly to the
point whence he had taken her, and the Indian young gentleman (who must not be
called "coloured") waltzed very well with Cecily. Mr. Direck tried to take a
tolerant European view of this brown and white combination. But he secured her
as soon as possible from this Asiatic entanglement, and danced with her again,
and then he danced with her again.
"Come and look at the moonlight," cried Mrs. Britling.
And presently Mr. Direck found himself strolling through the rose garden with
Cecily. She had the sweetest moonlight face, her white shining robe made her a
thing of moonlight altogether. If Mr. Direck had not been in love with her
before he was now altogether in love. Mamie Nelson, whose freakish unkindness
had been rankling like a poisoned thorn in his heart all the way from
Massachusetts, suddenly became Ancient History.
A tremendous desire for eloquence arose in Mr. Direck's soul, a desire so
tremendous that no conceivable phrase he could imagine satisfied it. So he
remained tongue-tied. And Cecily was tongue-tied, too. The scent of the roses
just tinted the clear sweetness of the air they breathed.
Mr. Direck's mood was an immense solemnity, like a dark ocean beneath the
vast dome of the sky, and something quivered in every fibre of his being, like
moonlit ripples on the sea. He felt at the same time a portentous stillness and
an immense enterprise....
Then suddenly the pianola, pounding a cake walk, burst out into ribald
"Come back to dance!" cried Cecily, like one from whom a spell has just been
broken. And Mr. Direck, snatching at a vanishing scrap of everything he had not
said, remarked, "I shall never forget this evening."
She did not seem to hear that.
They danced together again. And then Mr. Direck danced with the visitor lady,
whose name he had never heard. And then he danced with Mrs. Britling, and then
he danced with Letty. And then it seemed time for him to look for Miss Cecily
And so the cheerful evening passed until they were within a quarter of an
hour of Sunday morning. Mrs. Britling went to exert a restraining influence upon
"Oh! one dance more!" cried Cissie Corner.
"Oh! one dance more!" cried Letty.
"One dance more," Mr. Direck supported, and then things really had to
There was a rapid putting out of candles and a stowing away of things by
Teddy and the sons, two chauffeurs appeared from the region of the kitchen and
brought Mr. Lawrence Carmine's car and the visitor family's car to the front
door, and everybody drifted gaily through the moonlight and the big trees to the
front of the house. And Mr. Direck saw the perambulator waiting—the mysterious
perambulator—a little in the dark beyond the front door.
The visitor family and Mr. Carmine and his young Indian departed. "Come to
hockey!" shouted Mr. Britling to each departing car-load, and Mr. Carmine
receding answered: "I'll bring three!"
Then Mr. Direck, in accordance with a habit that had been growing on him
throughout the evening, looked around for Miss Cissie Corner and failed to find
her. And then behold she was descending the staircase with the mysterious baby
in her arms. She held up a warning finger, and then glanced at her sleeping
burthen. She looked like a silvery Madonna. And Mr. Direck remembered that he
was still in doubt about that baby....
Teddy, who was back in his flannels, seized upon the perambulator. There was
much careful baby stowing on the part of Cecily; she displayed an infinitely
maternal solicitude. Letty was away changing; she reappeared
jauntily taking leave, disregarding the baby absolutely, and Teddy departed
bigamously, wheeling the perambulator between the two sisters into the hazes of
the moonlight. There was much crying of good nights. Mr. Direck's curiosities
narrowed down to a point of great intensity....
Of course, Mr. Britling's circle must be a very "Advanced" circle...
Mr. Direck found he had taken leave of the rest of the company, and drifted
into a little parlour with Mr. Britling and certain glasses and siphons and a
whisky decanter on a tray....
"It is a very curious thing," said Mr. Direck, "that in England I find myself
more disposed to take stimulants and that I no longer have the need for iced
water that one feels at home. I ascribe it to a greater humidity in the air. One
is less dried and one is less braced. One is no longer pursued by a thirst, but
one needs something to buck one up a little. Thank you. That is enough."
Mr. Direck took his glass of whisky and soda from Mr. Britling's hand.
Mr. Britling seated himself in an armchair by the fireplace and threw one leg
carelessly over the arm. In his black velvet cloak and cap, and his black silk
tights, he was very like a minor character, a court chamberlain for example, in
some cloak and rapier drama. "I find this week-end dancing and kicking about
wonderfully wholesome," he said. "That and our Sunday hockey. One starts the new
week clear and bright about the mind. Friday is always my worst working
Mr. Direck leant against the table, wrapped in his golden pheasants, and
appreciated the point.
"Your young people dance very cheerfully," he said.
"We all dance very cheerfully," said Mr. Britling.
"Then this Miss Corner," said Mr. Direck, "she is the sister, I presume, is
she? of that pleasant young lady who is married—she is married, isn't she?—to
the young man you call Teddy."
"I should have explained these young people. They're the sort of young people
we are producing over here now in quite enormous quantity. They are the sort of
equivalent of the Russian Intelligentsia, an irresponsible middle class with
ideas. Teddy, you know, is my secretary. He's the son, I believe, of a Kilburn
solicitor. He was recommended to me by Datcher of The Times. He came down
here and lived in lodgings for a time. Then suddenly appeared the young
"Miss Corner's sister?"
"Exactly. The village was a little startled. The cottager who had let the
rooms came to me privately. Teddy is rather touchy on the point of his personal
independence, he considers any demand for explanations as an insult, and
probably all he had said to the old lady was, 'This is Letty—come to share my
rooms.' I put the matter to him very gently. 'Oh, yes,' he said, rather in the
manner of some one who has overlooked a trifle. 'I got married to her in the
Christmas holidays. May I bring her along to see Mrs. Britling?' We induced him
to go into a little cottage I rent. The wife was the daughter of a Colchester
journalist and printer. I don't know if you talked to her."
"I've talked to the sister rather."
"Well, they're both idea'd. They're highly educated in the sense that they do
really think for themselves. Almost fiercely. So does Teddy. If he thinks he
hasn't thought anything he thinks for himself, he goes off and thinks it
different. The sister is a teacher who wants to take the B.A. degree in London
University. Meanwhile she pays the penalty of her sex."
"Meaning—?" asked Mr. Direck, startled.
"Oh! that she puts in a great deal too much of her time upon housework and
minding her sister's baby."
"She's a very interesting and charming young lady indeed," said Mr. Direck.
"With a sort of Western college freedom of mind—and something about her that
isn't American at all."
Mr. Britling was following the train of his own thoughts.
"My household has some amusing contrasts," he said. "I don't know if you have
talked to that German.
"He's always asking questions. And you tell him any old thing and he goes and
writes it down in his room upstairs, and afterwards asks you another like it in
order to perplex himself by the variety of your answers. He regards the whole
world with a methodical distrust. He wants to document it and pin it down. He
suspects it only too justly of disorderly impulses, and a capacity for
self-contradiction. He is the most extraordinary contrast to Teddy, whose
confidence in the universe amounts almost to effrontery. Teddy carries our
national laxness to a foolhardy extent. He is capable of leaving his watch in
the middle of Claverings Park and expecting to find it a month later—being
carefully taken care of by a squirrel, I suppose—when he happens to want it.
He's rather like a squirrel himself—without the habit of hoarding. He is
incapable of asking a question about anything; he would be quite sure it was all
right anyhow. He would feel that asking questions betrayed a want of
confidence—was a sort of incivility. But my German, if you notice,—his normal
expression is one of grave solicitude. He is like a conscientious
ticket-collector among his impressions. And did you notice how beautifully my
pianola rolls are all numbered and catalogued? He did that. He set to work and
did it as soon as he got here, just as a good cat when you bring it into the
house sets to work and catches mice. Previously the pianola music was chaos. You
took what God sent you.
"And he looks like a German," said Mr. Britling.
"He certainly does that," said Mr. Direck.
"He has the fair type of complexion, the rather full habit of body, the
temperamental disposition, but in addition that close-cropped head, it is almost
as if it were shaved, the plumpness, the glasses—those are things that are made.
And the way he carries himself. And the way he thinks. His meticulousness. When
he arrived he was delightful, he was wearing a student's corps cap and a
rucksack, he carried a violin; he seemed to have come out of a book. No one
would ever dare to invent so German a German for a book. Now, a young Frenchman
or a young Italian or a young Russian coming here might look like a foreigner,
but he wouldn't have the distinctive national stamp a German has. He wouldn't be
plainly French or Italian or Russian. Other peoples are not made; they are
neither made nor created but proceeding—out of a thousand indefinable causes.
The Germans are a triumph of directive will. I had to remark the other day that
when my boys talked German they shouted. 'But when one talks German one
must shout,' said Herr Heinrich. 'It is taught so in the schools.' And it
is. They teach them to shout and to throw out their chests. Just as they teach
them to read notice-boards and not think about politics. Their very ribs are not
their own. My Herr Heinrich is comparatively a liberal thinker. He asked me the
other day, 'But why should I give myself up to philology? But then,' he
reflected, 'it is what I have to do.'"
Mr. Britling seemed to have finished, and then just as Mr. Direck was
planning a way of getting the talk back by way of Teddy to Miss Corner, he
snuggled more deeply into his chair, reflected and broke out again.
"This contrast between Heinrich's carefulness and Teddy's easy-goingness,
come to look at it, is I suppose one of the most fundamental in the world. It
reaches to everything. It mixes up with education, statecraft, morals. Will you
make or will you take? Those are the two extreme courses in
all such things. I suppose the answer of wisdom to that is, like all wise
answers, a compromise. I suppose one must accept and then make all one can of
it.... Have you talked at all to my eldest son?"
"He's a very interesting young man indeed," said Mr. Direck. "I should
venture to say there's a very great deal in him. I was most impressed by the few
words I had with him."
"There, for example, is one of my perplexities," said Mr. Britling.
Mr. Direck waited for some further light on this sudden transition.
"Ah! your troubles in life haven't begun yet. Wait till you're a father. That
cuts to the bone. You have the most delicate thing in the world in hand, a young
kindred mind. You feel responsible for it, you know you are responsible for it;
and you lose touch with it. You can't get at it. Nowadays we've lost the old
tradition of fatherhood by divine right—and we haven't got a new one. I've tried
not to be a cramping ruler, a director, a domestic tyrant to that lad—and in
effect it's meant his going his own way.... I don't dominate. I hoped to advise.
But you see he loves my respect and good opinion. Too much. When things go well
I know of them. When the world goes dark for him, then he keeps his trouble from
me. Just when I would so eagerly go into it with him.... There's something the
matter now, something—it may be grave. I feel he wants to tell me. And there it
is!—it seems I am the last person to whom he can humiliate himself by a
confession of blundering, or weakness.... Something I should just laugh at and
say, 'That's in the blood of all of us, dear Spit of myself. Let's see what's to
He paused and then went on, finding in the unfamiliarity and transitoriness
of his visitor a freedom he might have failed to find in a close friend.
"I am frightened at times at all I don't know about in
that boy's mind. I know nothing of his religiosities. He's my son and he must
have religiosities. I know nothing of his ideas or of his knowledge about sex
and all that side of life. I do not know of the things he finds beautiful. I can
guess at times; that's all; when he betrays himself.... You see, you don't know
really what love is until you have children. One doesn't love women. Indeed you
don't! One gives and gets; it's a trade. One may have tremendous excitements and
expectations and overwhelming desires. That's all very well in its way. But the
love of children is an exquisite tenderness: it rends the heart. It's a thing of
God. And I lie awake at nights and stretch out my hands in the darkness to this
lad—who will never know—until his sons come in their time...."
He made one of his quick turns again.
"And that's where our English way makes for distresses. Mr. Prussian respects
and fears his father; respects authorities, attends, obeys and—his father has
a hold upon him. But I said to myself at the outset, 'No, whatever happens,
I will not usurp the place of God. I will not be the Priest-Patriarch of my
children. They shall grow and I will grow beside them, helping but not cramping
or overshadowing.' They grow more. But they blunder more. Life ceases to be a
discipline and becomes an experiment...."
"That's very true," said Mr. Direck, to whom it seemed the time was ripe to
say something. "This is the problem of America perhaps even more than of
England. Though I have not had the parental experience you have undergone.... I
can see very clearly that a son is a very serious proposition."
"The old system of life was organisation. That is where Germany is still the
most ancient of European states. It's a reversion to a tribal cult. It's
atavistic.... To organise or discipline, or mould characters or press authority,
is to assume that you have reached finality in your general
philosophy. It implies an assured end. Heinrich has his assured end, his
philological professorship or thereabouts as a part of the Germanic machine. And
that too has its assured end in German national assertion. Here, we have none of
those convictions. We know we haven't finality, and so we are open and
apologetic and receptive, rather than wilful.... You see all organisation, with
its implication of finality, is death. We feel that. The Germans don't. What you
organise you kill. Organised morals or organised religion or organised thought
are dead morals and dead religion and dead thought. Yet some organisation you
must have. Organisation is like killing cattle. If you do not kill some the herd
is just waste. But you musn't kill all or you kill the herd. The unkilled cattle
are the herd, the continuation; the unorganised side of life is the real life.
The reality of life is adventure, not performance. What isn't adventure isn't
life. What can be ruled about can be machined. But priests and schoolmasters and
bureaucrats get hold of life and try to make it all rules, all
etiquette and regulation and correctitude.... And parents and the love of
parents make for the same thing. It is all very well to experiment for oneself,
but when one sees these dear things of one's own, so young and inexperienced and
so capable of every sort of gallant foolishness, walking along the narrow plank,
going down into dark jungles, ah! then it makes one want to wrap them in laws
and foresight and fence them about with 'Verboten' boards in all the conceivable
"In America of course we do set a certain store upon youthful self-reliance,"
said Mr. Direck.
"As we do here. It's in your blood and our blood. It's the instinct of the
English and the Irish anyhow to suspect government and take the risks of the
chancy way.... And manifestly the Russians, if you read their novelists, have
the same twist in them.... When we get this young Prussian here, he's a marvel
to us. He really believes in Law. He likes to obey.
That seems a sort of joke to us. It's curious how foreign these Germans are—to
all the rest of the world. Because of their docility. Scratch the Russian and
you get the Tartar. Educate the Russian or the American or the Englishman or the
Irishman or Frenchman or any real northern European except the German, and you
get the Anarchist, that is to say the man who dreams of order without
organisation—of something beyond organisation....
"It's one o'clock," said Mr. Britling abruptly, perceiving a shade of fatigue
upon the face of his hearer and realising that his thoughts had taken him too
far, "and Sunday. Let's go to bed."
For a time Mr. Direck could not sleep. His mind had been too excited by this
incessant day with all its novelties and all its provocations to comparison. The
whole complicated spectacle grouped itself, with a naturalness and a complete
want of logic that all who have been young will understand, about Cecily
She had to be in the picture, and so she came in as though she were the
central figure, as though she were the quintessential England. There she was,
the type, the blood, the likeness, of no end of Massachusetts families, the very
same stuff indeed, and yet she was different....
For a time his thoughts hovered ineffectively about certain details of her
ear and cheek, and one may doubt if his interest in these things was entirely
Then he found himself under way with an exposition of certain points to Mr.
Britling. In the security of his bed he could imagine that he was talking very
slowly and carefully while Mr. Britling listened; already he was more than half
way to dreamland or he could not have supposed anything so incredible.
"There's a curious sort of difference," he was saying.
"It is difficult to define, but on the whole I might express it by saying that
such a gathering as this if it was in America would be drawn with harder lines,
would show its bones more and have everything more emphatic. And just to take
one illustrative point: in America in such a gathering as this there would be
bound to be several jokes going on as it were, running jokes and running
criticisms, from day to day and from week to week.... There would be jokes about
your writing and your influence and jokes about Miss Corner's advanced
reading.... You see, in America we pay much more attention to personal
character. Here people, I notice, are not talked to about their personal
characters at all, and many of them do not seem to be aware and do not seem to
mind what personal characters they have....
"And another thing I find noteworthy is the way in which what I might call
mature people seem to go on having a good time instead of standing by and
applauding the young people having a good time.... And the young people do not
seem to have set out to have a good time at all.... Now in America, a charming
girl like Miss Corner would be distinctly more aware of herself and her vitality
than she is here, distinctly more. Her peculiarly charming sidelong look, if I
might make so free with her—would have been called attention to. It's a
perfectly beautiful look, the sort of look some great artist would have loved to
make immortal. It's a look I shall find it hard to forget.... But she doesn't
seem to be aware in the least of it. In America she would be aware of it. She
would be distinctly aware of it. She would have been made aware of it.
She would have been advised of it. It would be looked for and she would know it
was looked for. She would give it as a singer gives her most popular
song. Mamie Nelson, for example, used to give a peculiar little throw back of
the chin and a laugh.... It was talked about. People came to see it....
"Of course Mamie Nelson was a very brilliant girl indeed. I suppose in
England you would say we spoilt her. I suppose we did spoil her...."
It came into Mr. Direck's head that for a whole day he had scarcely given a
thought to Mamie Nelson. And now he was thinking of her—calmly. Why shouldn't
one think of Mamie Nelson calmly?
She was a proud imperious thing. There was something Southern in her. Very
dark blue eyes she had, much darker than Miss Corner's....
But how tortuous she had been behind that outward pride of hers! For four
years she had let him think he was the only man who really mattered in the
world, and all the time quite clearly and definitely she had deceived him. She
had made a fool of him and she had made a fool of the others perhaps—just to
have her retinue and play the queen in her world. And at last humiliation,
bitter humiliation, and Mamie with her chin in the air and her bright triumphant
smile looking down on him.
Hadn't he, she asked, had the privilege of loving her?
She took herself at the value they had set upon her.
Well—somehow—that wasn't right....
All the way across the Atlantic Mr. Direck had been trying to forget her
downward glance with the chin up, during that last encounter—and other aspects
of the same humiliation. The years he had spent upon her! The time! Always
relying upon her assurance of a special preference for him. He tried to think he
was suffering from the pangs of unrequited love, and to conceal from himself
just how bitterly his pride and vanity had been rent by her ultimate rejection.
There had been a time when she had given him reason to laugh in his sleeve at
Perhaps Booth Wilmington had also had reason for laughing in his
Had she even loved Booth Wilmington? Or had she just snatched at him?...
Wasn't he, Direck, as good a man as Booth Wilmington anyhow?...
For some moments the old sting of jealousy rankled again. He recalled the
flaring rivalry that had ended in his defeat, the competition of gifts and
treats.... A thing so open that all Carrierville knew of it, discussed it, took
sides.... And over it all Mamie with her flashing smile had sailed like a
Why, they had made jokes about him in the newspapers!
One couldn't imagine such a contest in Matching's Easy. Yet surely even in
Matching's Easy there are lovers.
Is it something in the air, something in the climate that makes things harder
and clearer in America?...
Cissie—why shouldn't one call her Cissie in one's private thoughts
anyhow?—would never be as hard and clear as Mamie. She had English eyes—merciful
That was the word—merciful!
The English light, the English air, are merciful....
They tolerate old things and slow things and imperfect apprehensions. They
aren't always getting at you....
They don't laugh at you.... At least—they laugh differently....
Was England the tolerant country? With its kind eyes and its wary sidelong
look. Toleration. In which everything mellowed and nothing was destroyed. A soft
country. A country with a passion for imperfection. A padded country....
England—all stuffed with soft feathers ... under one's ear. A pillow—with
soft, kind Corners ... Beautiful rounded Corners.... Dear, dear Corners. Cissie
Corners. Corners. Could there be a better family?
Massachusetts—but in heaven....
Harps playing two-steps, and kind angels wrapped in moonlight.
Very softly I and you,
One turn, two turn, three turn, too.
Off we go!....