Mr. Britling Sees It Through
MATCHING'S EASY AT EASE
CHAPTER THE FIFTH
THE COMING OF THE DAY
It was quite characteristic of the state of mind of England in the summer of
1914 that Mr. Britling should be mightily concerned about the conflict in
Ireland, and almost deliberately negligent of the possibility of a war with
The armament of Germany, the hostility of Germany, the consistent assertion
of Germany, the world-wide clash of British and German interests, had been facts
in the consciousness of Englishmen for more than a quarter of a century. A whole
generation had been born and brought up in the threat of this German war. A
threat that goes on for too long ceases to have the effect of a threat, and this
overhanging possibility had become a fixed and scarcely disturbing feature of
the British situation. It kept the navy sedulous and Colonel Rendezvous uneasy;
it stimulated a small and not very influential section of the press to a series
of reminders that bored Mr. Britling acutely, it was the excuse for an agitation
that made national service ridiculous, and quite subconsciously it affected his
attitude to a hundred things. For example, it was a factor in his very keen
indignation at the Tory levity in Ireland, in his disgust with many things that
irritated or estranged Indian feeling. It bored him; there it was, a danger, and
there was no denying it, and yet he believed firmly that it was a mine that
would never be fired, an avalanche that would never fall. It was a nuisance, a
stupidity, that kept Europe drilling and wasted enormous sums on unavoidable
preparations; it hung up everything like a noisy argument in a drawing-room, but
that human weakness and folly would ever let the mine
actually explode he did not believe. He had been in France in 1911, he had seen
how close things had come then to a conflict, and the fact that they had not
come to a conflict had enormously strengthened his natural disposition to
believe that at bottom Germany was sane and her militarism a bluff.
But the Irish difficulty was a different thing. There, he felt, was need for
the liveliest exertions. A few obstinate people in influential positions were
manifestly pushing things to an outrageous point....
He wrote through the morning—and as the morning progressed the judicial calm
of his opening intentions warmed to a certain regrettable vigour of phrasing
about our politicians, about our political ladies, and our hand-to-mouth
He came down to lunch in a frayed, exhausted condition, and was much
afflicted by a series of questions from Herr Heinrich. For it was an incurable
characteristic of Herr Heinrich that he asked questions; the greater part of his
conversation took the form of question and answer, and his thirst for
information was as marked as his belief that German should not simply be spoken
but spoken "out loud." He invariably prefaced his inquiries with the word
"Please," and he insisted upon ascribing an omniscience to his employer that it
was extremely irksome to justify after a strenuous morning of enthusiastic
literary effort. He now took the opportunity of a lull in the solicitudes and
congratulations that had followed Mr. Direck's appearance—and Mr. Direck was so
little shattered by his misadventure that with the assistance of the kindly
Teddy he had got up and dressed and come down to lunch—to put the matter that
had been occupying his mind all the morning, even to the detriment of the
lessons of the Masters Britling.
"Please!" he said, going a deeper shade of pink and partly turning to Mr.
A look of resignation came into Mr. Britling's eyes. "Yes?" he said.
"I do not think it will be wise to take my ticket for the Esperanto
Conference at Boulogne. Because I think it is probable to be war between Austria
and Servia, and that Russia may make war on Austria."
"That may happen. But I think it improbable."
"If Russia makes war on Austria, Germany will make war on Russia, will she
"Not if she is wise," said Mr. Britling, "because that would bring in
"That is why I ask. If Germany goes to war with France I should have to go to
Germany to do my service. It will be a great inconvenience to me."
"I don't imagine Germany will do anything so frantic as to attack Russia.
That would not only bring in France but ourselves."
"Of course. We can't afford to see France go under. The thing is as plain as
daylight. So plain that it cannot possibly happen.... Cannot.... Unless Germany
wants a universal war."
"Thank you," said Herr Heinrich, looking obedient rather than reassured.
"I suppose now," said Mr. Direck after a pause, "that there isn't any strong
party in Germany that wants a war. That young Crown Prince, for example."
"They keep him in order," said Mr. Britling a little irritably. "They keep
him in order....
"I used to be an alarmist about Germany," said Mr. Britling, "but I have come
to feel more and more confidence in the sound common sense of the mass of the
German population, and in the Emperor too if it comes to that. He is—if Herr
Heinrich will permit me to agree with his own German comic papers—sometimes a
little theatrical, sometimes a little egotistical, but in his operatic, boldly coloured way he means peace. I am convinced he means
After lunch Mr. Britling had a brilliant idea for the ease and comfort of Mr.
It seemed as though Mr. Direck would be unable to write any letters until his
wrist had mended. Teddy tried him with a typewriter, but Mr. Direck was very
awkward with his left hand, and then Mr. Britling suddenly remembered a little
peculiarity he had which it was possible that Mr. Direck might share
unconsciously, and that was his gift of looking-glass writing with his left
hand. Mr. Britling had found out quite by chance in his schoolboy days that
while his right hand had been laboriously learning to write, his left hand, all
unsuspected, had been picking up the same lesson, and that by taking a pencil in
his left hand and writing from right to left, without watching what he was
writing, and then examining the scrawl in a mirror, he could reproduce his own
handwriting in exact reverse. About three people out of five have this often
quite unsuspected ability. He demonstrated his gift, and then Miss Cecily
Corner, who had dropped in in a casual sort of way to ask about Mr. Direck,
tried it, and then Mr. Direck tried it. And they could all do it. And then Teddy
brought a sheet of copying carbon, and so Mr. Direck, by using the carbon
reversed under his paper, was restored to the world of correspondence again.
They sat round a little table under the cedar trees amusing themselves with
these experiments, and after that Cecily and Mr. Britling and the two small boys
entertained themselves by drawing pigs with their eyes shut, and then Mr.
Britling and Teddy played hard at Badminton until it was time for tea. And
Cecily sat by Mr. Direck and took an interest in his accident, and he told her
about summer holidays in the Adirondacks and how he loved to travel. She said
she would love to travel. He said that so soon as he was
better he would go on to Paris and then into Germany. He was extraordinarily
curious about this Germany and its tremendous militarism. He'd far rather see it
than Italy, which was, he thought, just all art and ancient history. His turn
was for modern problems. Though of course he didn't intend to leave out Italy
while he was at it. And then their talk was scattered, and there was great
excitement because Herr Heinrich had lost his squirrel.
He appeared coming out of the house into the sunshine, and so distraught that
he had forgotten the protection of his hat. He was very pink and deeply
"But what shall I do without him?" he cried. "He has gone!"
The squirrel, Mr. Direck gathered, had been bought by Mrs. Britling for the
boys some month or so ago; it had been christened "Bill" and adored and then
neglected, until Herr Heinrich took it over. It had filled a place in his ample
heart that the none too demonstrative affection of the Britling household had
left empty. He abandoned his pursuit of philology almost entirely for the
cherishing and adoration of this busy, nimble little creature. He carried it off
to his own room, where it ran loose and took the greatest liberties with him and
his apartment. It was an extraordinarily bold and savage little beast even for a
squirrel, but Herr Heinrich had set his heart and his very large and patient
will upon the establishment of sentimental relations. He believed that
ultimately Bill would let himself be stroked, that he would make Bill love him
and understand him, and that his would be the only hand that Bill would ever
suffer to touch him. In the meanwhile even the untamed Bill was wonderful to
watch. One could watch him forever. His front paws were like hands, like a
musician's hands, very long and narrow. "He would be a musician if he could only
make his fingers go apart, because when I play my violin he listens. He is
The entire household became interested in Herr Heinrich's attacks upon Bill's
affection. They watched his fingers with particular interest because it was upon
those that Bill vented his failures to respond to the stroking advances.
"To-day I have stroked him once and he has bitten me three times," Herr
Heinrich reported. "Soon I will stroke him three times and he shall not bite me
at all.... Also yesterday he climbed up me and sat on my shoulder, and suddenly
bit my ear. It was not hard he bit, but sudden.
"He does not mean to bite," said Herr Heinrich. "Because when he has bit me
he is sorry. He is ashamed.
"You can see he is ashamed."
Assisted by the two small boys, Herr Heinrich presently got a huge bough of
oak and brought it into his room, converting the entire apartment into the
likeness of an aviary. "For this," said Herr Heinrich, looking grave and
diplomatic through his glasses, "Billy will be very grateful. And it will give
him confidence with me. It will make him feel we are in the forest
Mrs. Britling came to console her husband in the matter.
"It is not right that the bedroom should be filled with trees. All sorts of
dust and litter came in with it."
"If it amuses him," said Mr. Britling.
"But it makes work for the servants."
"Do they complain?"
"Things will adjust themselves. And it is amusing that he should do such a
And now Billy had disappeared, and Herr Heinrich was on the verge of tears.
It was so ungrateful of Billy. Without a word.
"They leave my window open," he complained to Mr. Direck. "Often I have askit
them not to. And of course he did not understand. He has out climbit by the
ivy. Anything may have happened to him. Anything. He is not
used to going out alone. He is too young.
"Perhaps if I call—"
And suddenly he had gone off round the house crying: "Beelee! Beelee! Here is
an almond for you! An almond, Beelee!"
"Makes me want to get up and help," said Mr. Direck. "It's a tragedy."
Everybody else was helping. Even the gardener and his boy knocked off work
and explored the upper recesses of various possible trees.
"He is too young," said Herr Heinrich, drifting back.... And then presently:
"If he heard my voice I am sure he would show himself. But he does not show
It was clear he feared the worst....
At supper Billy was the sole topic of conversation, and condolence was in the
air. The impression that on the whole he had displayed rather a brutal character
was combated by Herr Heinrich, who held that a certain brusqueness was Billy's
only fault, and told anecdotes, almost sacred anecdotes, of the little
creature's tenderer, nobler side. "When I feed him always he says, 'Thank you,'"
said Herr Heinrich. "He never fails." He betrayed darker thoughts. "When I went
round by the barn there was a cat that sat and looked at me out of a laurel
bush," he said. "I do not like cats."
Mr. Lawrence Carmine, who had dropped in, was suddenly reminded of that
lugubrious old ballad, "The Mistletoe Bough," and recited large worn fragments
of it impressively. It tells of how a beautiful girl hid away in a chest during
a Christmas game of hide-and-seek, and how she was found, a dried vestige, years
afterwards. It took a very powerful hold upon Herr Heinrich's imagination. "Let
us now," he said, "make an examination of every box and cupboard and drawer.
Marking each as we go...."
When Mr. Britling went to bed that night, after a long gossip with Carmine
about the Bramo Samaj and modern developments of Indian thought generally, the
squirrel was still undiscovered.
The worthy modern thinker undressed slowly, blew out his candle and got into
bed. Still meditating deeply upon the God of the Tagores, he thrust his right
hand under his pillow according to his usual practice, and encountered something
soft and warm and active. He shot out of bed convulsively, lit his candle, and
lifted his pillow discreetly.
He discovered the missing Billy looking crumpled and annoyed.
For some moments there was a lively struggle before Billy was gripped. He
chattered furiously and bit Mr. Britling twice. Then Mr. Britling was out in the
passage with the wriggling lump of warm fur in his hand, and paddling along in
the darkness to the door of Herr Heinrich. He opened it softly.
A startled white figure sat up in bed sharply.
"Billy," said Mr. Britling by way of explanation, dropped his capture on the
carpet, and shut the door on the touching reunion.
A day was to come when Mr. Britling was to go over the history of that sunny
July with incredulous minuteness, trying to trace the real succession of events
that led from the startling crime at Sarajevo to Europe's last swift rush into
war. In a sense it was untraceable; in a sense it was so obvious that he was
amazed the whole world had not watched the coming of disaster. The plain fact of
the case was that there was no direct connection; the Sarajevo murders were
dropped for two whole weeks out of the general consciousness, they went out of
the papers, they ceased to be discussed; then they were picked up again and used
as an excuse for war. Germany, armed so as to be a threat to all the world,
weary at last of her mighty vigil, watching the course of
events, decided that her moment had come, and snatched the dead archduke out of
his grave again to serve her tremendous ambition.
It may well have seemed to the belligerent German patriot that all her
possible foes were confused, divided within themselves, at an extremity of
distraction and impotence. The British Isles seemed slipping steadily into civil
war. Threat was met by counter-threat, violent fool competed with violent fool
for the admiration of the world, the National Volunteers armed against the
Ulster men; everything moved on with a kind of mechanical precision from parade
and meeting towards the fatal gun-running of Howth and the first bloodshed in
Dublin streets. That wretched affray, far more than any other single thing, must
have stiffened Germany in the course she had chosen. There can be no doubt of
it; the mischief makers of Ireland set the final confirmation upon the European
war. In England itself there was a summer fever of strikes; Liverpool was choked
by a dockers' strike, the East Anglian agricultural labourers were in revolt,
and the building trade throughout the country was on the verge of a lockout.
Russia seemed to be in the crisis of a social revolution. From Baku to St.
Petersburg there were insurrectionary movements in the towns, and on the
23rd—the very day of the Austrian ultimatum—Cossacks were storming barbed wire
entanglements in the streets of the capital. The London Stock Exchange was in a
state of panic disorganisation because of a vast mysterious selling of
securities from abroad. And France, France it seemed was lost to all other
consideration in the enthralling confrontations and denunciations of the
Caillaux murder trial, the trial of the wife of her ex-prime Minister for the
murder of a blackmailing journalist. It was a case full of the vulgarest sexual
violence. Before so piquant a spectacle France it seemed could have no time nor
attention for the revelation of M. Humbert, the Reporter of the Army Committee,
proclaiming that the artillery was short of ammunition,
that her infantry had boots "thirty years old" and not enough of those....
Such were the appearances of things. Can it be wondered if it seemed to the
German mind that the moment for the triumphant assertion of the German
predominance in the world had come? A day or so before the Dublin shooting, the
murder of Sarajevo had been dragged again into the foreground of the world's
affairs by an ultimatum from Austria to Serbia of the extremest violence. From
the hour when the ultimatum was discharged the way to Armageddon lay wide and
unavoidable before the feet of Europe. After the Dublin conflict there was no
turning back. For a week Europe was occupied by proceedings that were little
more than the recital of a formula. Austria could not withdraw her unqualified
threats without admitting error and defeat, Russia could not desert Serbia
without disgrace, Germany stood behind Austria, France was bound to Russia by a
long confederacy of mutual support, and it was impossible for England to witness
the destruction of France or the further strengthening of a loud and threatening
rival. It may be that Germany counted on Russia giving way to her, it may be she
counted on the indecisions and feeble perplexities of England, both these
possibilities were in the reckoning, but chiefly she counted on war. She counted
on war, and since no nation in all the world had ever been so fully prepared in
every way for war as she was, she also counted on victory.
One writes "Germany." That is how one writes of nations, as though they had
single brains and single purposes. But indeed while Mr. Britling lay awake and
thought of his son and Lady Frensham and his smashed automobile and Mrs.
Harrowdean's trick of abusive letter-writing and of God and evil and a thousand
perplexities, a multitude of other brains must also have been busy, lying also
in beds or sitting in studies or watching in guard-rooms or chatting belatedly
in cafés or smoking-rooms or pacing the bridges of battleships or walking along in city or country, upon this huge possibility the
crime of Sarajevo had just opened, and of the state of the world in relation to
such possibilities. Few women, one guesses, heeded what was happening, and of
the men, the men whose decision to launch that implacable threat turned the
destinies of the world to war, there is no reason to believe that a single one
of them had anything approaching the imaginative power needed to understand
fully what it was they were doing. We have looked for an hour or so into the
seething pot of Mr. Britling's brain and marked its multiple strands, its
inconsistencies, its irrational transitions. It was but a specimen. Nearly every
brain of the select few that counted in this cardinal determination of the
world's destinies, had its streak of personal motive, its absurd and petty
impulses and deflections. One man decided to say this because if he said
that he would contradict something he had said and printed four or five
days ago; another took a certain line because so he saw his best opportunity of
putting a rival into a perplexity. It would be strange if one could reach out
now and recover the states of mind of two such beings as the German Kaiser and
his eldest son as Europe stumbled towards her fate through the long days and
warm, close nights of that July. Here was the occasion for which so much of
their lives had been but the large pretentious preparation, coming right into
their hands to use or forgo, here was the opportunity that would put them into
the very forefront of history forever; this journalist emperor with the
paralysed arm, this common-fibred, sly, lascivious son. It is impossible that
they did not dream of glory over all the world, of triumphant processions, of a
world-throne that would outshine Caesar's, of a godlike elevation, of acting
Divus Caesar while yet alive. And being what they were they must have imagined
spectators, and the young man, who was after all a young man of particularly
poor quality, imagined no doubt certain women onlookers, certain humiliated and
astonished friends, and thought of the clothes he would
wear and the gestures he would make. The nickname his English cousins had given
this heir to all the glories was the "White Rabbit." He was the backbone of the
war party at court. And presently he stole bric-à-brac. That will help posterity
to the proper values of things in 1914. And the Teutonic generals and admirals
and strategists with their patient and perfect plans, who were so confident of
victory, each within a busy skull must have enacted anticipatory dreams of his
personal success and marshalled his willing and unwilling admirers. Readers of
histories and memoirs as most of this class of men are, they must have composed
little eulogistic descriptions of the part themselves were to play in the
opening drama, imagined pleasing vindications and interesting documents. Some of
them perhaps saw difficulties, but few foresaw failure. For all this set of
brains the thing came as a choice to take or reject; they could make war or
prevent it. And they chose war.
It is doubtful if any one outside the directing intelligence of Germany and
Austria saw anything so plain. The initiative was with Germany. The Russian
brains and the French brains and the British brains, the few that were really
coming round to look at this problem squarely, had a far less simple set of
problems and profounder uncertainties. To Mr. Britling's mind the Round Table
Conference at Buckingham Palace was typical of the disunion and indecision that
lasted up to the very outbreak of hostilities. The solemn violence of Sir Edward
Carson was intensely antipathetic to Mr. Britling, and in his retrospective
inquiries he pictured to himself that dark figure with its dropping under-lip,
seated, heavy and obstinate, at that discussion, still implacable though the
King had but just departed after a little speech that was packed with veiled
intimations of imminent danger...
Mr. Britling had no mercy in his mind for the treason of obstinate egotism
and for persistence in a mistaken course. His own
temperamental weaknesses lay in such different directions. He was always ready
to leave one trail for another; he was always open to conviction, trusting to
the essentials of his character for an ultimate consistency. He hated Carson in
those days as a Scotch terrier might hate a bloodhound, as something at once
more effective and impressive, and exasperatingly, infinitely less
Thus—a vivid fact as yet only in a few hundred skulls or so—the vast
catastrophe of the Great War gathered behind the idle, dispersed and confused
spectacle of an indifferent world, very much as the storms and rains of late
September gathered behind the glow and lassitudes of August, and with scarcely
more of set human intention. For the greater part of mankind the European
international situation was at most something in the papers, no more important
than the political disturbances in South Africa, where the Herzogites were
curiously uneasy, or the possible trouble between Turkey and Greece. The things
that really interested people in England during the last months of peace were
boxing and the summer sales. A brilliant young Frenchman, Carpentier, who had
knocked out Bombardier Wells, came over again to defeat Gunboat Smith, and did
so to the infinite delight of France and the whole Latin world, amidst the
generous applause of Anglo-Saxondom. And there was also a British triumph over
the Americans at polo, and a lively and cultured newspaper discussion about a
proper motto for the arms of the London County Council. The trial of Madame
Caillaux filled the papers with animated reports and vivid pictures; Gregori
Rasputin was stabbed and became the subject of much lively gossip about the
Russian Court; and Ulivi, the Italian impostor who claimed he could explode
mines by means of an "ultra-red" ray, was exposed and fled with a lady, very amusingly. For a few days all the work at Woolwich Arsenal
was held up because a certain Mr. Entwhistle, having refused to erect a machine
on a concrete bed laid down by non-unionists, was rather uncivilly dismissed,
and the Irish trouble pounded along its tiresome mischievous way. People gave a
divided attention to these various topics, and went about their individual
And at Dower House they went about their businesses. Mr. Direck's arm healed
rapidly; Cecily Corner and he talked of their objects in life and Utopias and
the books of Mr. Britling, and he got down from a London bookseller Baedeker's
guides for Holland and Belgium, South Germany and Italy; Herr Heinrich after
some doubt sent in his application form and his preliminary deposit for the
Esperanto Conference at Boulogne, and Billy consented to be stroked three times
but continued to bite with great vigour and promptitude. And the trouble about
Hugh, Mr. Britling's eldest son, resolved itself into nothing of any vital
importance, and settled itself very easily.
After Hugh had cleared things up and gone back to London Mr. Britling was
inclined to think that such a thing as apprehension was a sin against the
general fairness and integrity of life.
Of all things in the world Hugh was the one that could most easily rouse Mr.
Britling's unhappy aptitude for distressing imaginations. Hugh was nearer by far
to his heart and nerves than any other creature. In the last few years Mr.
Britling, by the light of a variety of emotional excursions in other directions,
had been discovering this. Whatever Mr. Britling discovered he talked about; he
had evolved from his realisation of this tenderness, which was without an effort
so much tenderer than all the subtle and tremendous feelings he had attempted in
his—excursions, the theory that he had expounded to Mr. Direck that it is only
through our children that we are able to achieve
disinterested love, real love. But that left unexplained that far more intimate
emotional hold of Hugh than of his very jolly little step-brothers. That was a
fact into which Mr. Britling rather sedulously wouldn't look....
Mr. Britling was probably much franker and more open-eyed with himself and
the universe than a great number of intelligent people, and yet there were quite
a number of aspects of his relations with his wife, with people about him, with
his country and God and the nature of things, upon which he turned his back with
an attentive persistence. But a back too resolutely turned may be as indicative
as a pointing finger, and in this retrogressive way, and tacitly even so far as
his formal thoughts, his unspoken comments, went, Mr. Britling knew that he
loved his son because he had lavished the most hope and the most imagination
upon him, because he was the one living continuation of that dear life with
Mary, so lovingly stormy at the time, so fine now in memory, that had really
possessed the whole heart of Mr. Britling. The boy had been the joy and marvel
of the young parents; it was incredible to them that there had ever been a
creature so delicate and sweet, and they brought considerable imagination and
humour to the detailed study of his minute personality and to the forecasting of
his future. Mr. Britling's mind blossomed with wonderful schemes for his
education. All that mental growth no doubt contributed greatly to Mr. Britling's
peculiar affection, and with it there interwove still tenderer and subtler
elements, for the boy had a score of Mary's traits. But there were other things
still more conspicuously ignored. One silent factor in the slow widening of the
breach between Edith and Mr. Britling was her cool estimate of her stepson. She
was steadfastly kind to this shock-headed, untidy little dreamer, he was
extremely well cared for in her hands, she liked him and she was amused by
him—it is difficult to imagine what more Mr. Britling could have expected—but it was as plain as daylight that she felt that this was not
the child she would have cared to have borne. It was quite preposterous and
perfectly natural that this should seem to Mr. Britling to be unfair to
Edith's home was more prosperous than Mary's; she brought her own money to
it; the bringing up of her children was a far more efficient business than
Mary's instinctive proceedings. Hugh had very nearly died in his first year of
life; some summer infection had snatched at him; that had tied him to his
father's heart by a knot of fear; but no infection had ever come near Edith's
own nursery. And it was Hugh that Mr. Britling had seen, small and green-faced
and pitiful under an anaesthetic for some necessary small operation to his
adenoids. His younger children had never stabbed to Mr. Britling's heart with
any such pitifulness; they were not so thin-skinned as their elder brother, not
so assailable by the little animosities of dust and germ. And out of such things
as this evolved a shapeless cloud of championship for Hugh. Jealousies and
suspicions are latent in every human relationship. We go about the affairs of
life pretending magnificently that they are not so, pretending to the
generosities we desire. And in all step-relationships jealousy and suspicion are
not merely latent, they stir.
It was Mr. Britling's case for Hugh that he was something exceptional,
something exceptionally good, and that the peculiar need there was to take care
of him was due to a delicacy of nerve and fibre that was ultimately a virtue.
The boy was quick, quick to hear, quick to move, very accurate in his swift way,
he talked unusually soon, he began to sketch at an early age with an incurable
roughness and a remarkable expressiveness. That he was sometimes ungainly, often
untidy, that he would become so mentally preoccupied as to be uncivil to people
about him, that he caught any malaise that was going, was all a part of that.
The sense of Mrs. Britling's unexpressed criticisms, the implied contrasts with
the very jolly, very uninspired younger family, kept up a
nervous desire in Mr. Britling for evidences and manifestations of Hugh's
quality. Not always with happy results; it caused much mutual irritation, but
not enough to prevent the growth of a real response on Hugh's part to his
father's solicitude. The youngster knew and felt that his father was his father
just as certainly as he felt that Mrs. Britling was not his mother. To his
father he brought his successes and to his father he appealed.
But he brought his successes more readily than he brought his troubles. So
far as he himself was concerned he was disposed to take a humorous view of the
things that went wrong and didn't come off with him, but as a "Tremendous
Set-Down for the Proud Parent" they resisted humorous treatment....
Now the trouble that he had been hesitating to bring before his father was
concerned with that very grave interest of the young, his Object in Life. It had
nothing to do with those erotic disturbances that had distressed his father's
imagination. Whatever was going on below the surface of Hugh's smiling or
thoughtful presence in that respect had still to come to the surface and find
expression. But he was bothered very much by divergent strands in his own
intellectual composition. Two sets of interests pulled at him, one—it will seem
a dry interest to many readers, but for Hugh it glittered and fascinated—was
crystallography and molecular physics; the other was caricature. Both aptitudes
sprang no doubt from the same exceptional sensitiveness to form. As a schoolboy
he exercised both very happily, but now he was getting to the age of
specialisation, and he was fluctuating very much between science and art. After
a spell of scientific study he would come upon a fatigue period and find nothing
in life but absurdities and a lark that one could represent very amusingly;
after a bout of funny drawings his mind went back to his light and crystals and
films like a Magdalen repenting in a church. After his public school he had refused Cambridge and gone to University
College, London, to work under the great and inspiring Professor Cardinal;
simultaneously Cardinal had been arranging to go to Cambridge, and Hugh had
scarcely embarked upon his London work when Cardinal was succeeded by the dull,
conscientious and depressing Pelkingham, at whose touch crystals became as
puddings, bubble films like cotton sheets, transparency vanished from the world,
and X rays dwarfed and died. And Hugh degenerated immediately into a scoffing
trifler who wished to give up science for art.
He gave up science for art after grave consultation with his father, and the
real trouble that had been fretting him, it seemed, was that now he repented and
wanted to follow Cardinal to Cambridge, and—a year lost—go on with science
again. He felt it was a discreditable fluctuation; he knew it would be a
considerable expense; and so he took two weeks before he could screw himself up
to broaching the matter.
"So that is all," said Mr. Britling, immensely relieved.
"My dear Parent, you didn't think I had backed a bill or forged a
"I thought you might have married a chorus girl or something of that sort,"
said Mr. Britling.
"Or bought a large cream-coloured motor-car for her on the instalment system,
which she'd smashed up. No, that sort of thing comes later.... I'll just put
myself down on the waiting list of one of those bits of delight in the Cambridge
tobacco shops—and go on with my studies for a year or two...."
Though Mr. Britling's anxiety about his son was dispelled, his mind remained
curiously apprehensive throughout July. He had a feeling that things were not
going well with the world, a feeling he tried in vain to dispel by various distractions. Perhaps some subtler subconscious
analysis of the situation was working out probabilities that his conscious self
would not face. And when presently he bicycled off to Mrs. Harrowdean for
flattery, amusement, and comfort generally, he found her by no means the
exalting confirmation of everything he wished to believe about himself and the
universe, that had been her delightful rôle in the early stages of their
romantic friendship. She maintained her hostility to Edith; she seemed bent on
making things impossible. And yet there were one or two phases of the old
They walked across her absurd little park to the summer-house with the view
on the afternoon of his arrival, and they discussed the Irish pamphlet which was
now nearly finished.
"Of course," she said, "it will be a wonderful pamphlet."
There was a reservation in her voice that made him wait.
"But I suppose all sorts of people could write an Irish pamphlet. Nobody but
you could write 'The Silent Places.' Oh, why don't you finish that great
beautiful thing, and leave all this world of reality and newspapers, all these
Crude, Vulgar, Quarrelsome, Jarring things to other people? You have the magic
gift, you might be a poet, you can take us out of all these horrid things that
are, away to Beautyland, and you are just content to be a critic and a disputer.
It's your surroundings. It's your sordid realities. It's that Practicality at
your elbow. You ought never to see a newspaper. You ought never to have an
American come within ten miles of you. You ought to live on bowls of milk drunk
in valleys of asphodel."
Mr. Britling, who liked this sort of thing in a way, and yet at the same time
felt ridiculously distended and altogether preposterous while it was going on,
answered feebly and self-consciously.
"There was your letter in the Nation the other day," she said. "Why
do you get drawn into arguments? I wanted to rush into the Nation
and pick you up and wipe the anger off you, and carry you out of it all—into
some quiet beautiful place."
"But one has to answer these people," said Mr. Britling, rolling along
by the side of her like a full moon beside Venus, and quite artlessly falling in
with the tone of her.
She repeated lines from "The Silent Places" from memory. She threw quite
wonderful emotion into her voice. She made the words glow. And he had only shown
her the thing once....
Was he indeed burying a marvellous gift under the dust of current affairs?
When at last in the warm evening light they strolled back from the summer-house
to dinner he had definitely promised her that he would take up and finish "The
Silent Places."... And think over the Irish pamphlet again before he published
Pyecrafts was like a crystal casket of finer soil withdrawn from the tarred
highways of the earth....
And yet the very next day this angel enemy of controversies broke out in the
most abominable way about Edith, and he had to tell her more plainly than he had
done hitherto, that he could not tolerate that sort of thing. He wouldn't have
Edith guyed. He wouldn't have Edith made to seem base. And at that there was
much trouble between them, and tears and talk of Oliver....
Mr. Britling found himself unable to get on either with "The Silent Places"
or the pamphlet, and he was very unhappy....
Afterwards she repented very touchingly, and said that if only he would love
her she would swallow a thousand Ediths. He waived a certain disrespect in the
idea of her swallowing Edith, and they had a beautiful reconciliation and talked
of exalted things, and in the evening he worked quite well upon "The Silent
Places" and thought of half-a-dozen quite wonderful lines,
and in the course of the next day he returned to Dower House and Mr. Direck and
considerable piles of correspondence and the completion of the Irish
But he was restless. He was more restless in his house than he had ever been.
He could not understand it. Everything about him was just as it had always been,
and yet it was unsatisfactory, and it seemed more unstable than anything had
ever seemed before. He was bored by the solemn development of the Irish dispute;
he was irritated by the smouldering threat of the Balkans; he was irritated by
the suffragettes and by a string of irrational little strikes; by the general
absence of any main plot as it were to hold all these wranglings and
trivialities together.... At the Dower House the most unpleasant thoughts would
come to him. He even had doubts whether in "The Silent Places," he had been
plagiarising, more or less unconsciously, from Henry James's "Great Good
On the twenty-first of July Gladys came back repaired and looking none the
worse for her misadventure. Next day he drove her very carefully over to
Pyecrafts, hoping to drug his uneasiness with the pretence of a grand passion
and the praises of "The Silent Places," that beautiful work of art that was so
free from any taint of application, and alas! he found Mrs. Harrowdean in an
evil mood. He had been away from her for ten days—ten whole days. No doubt Edith
had manoeuvred to keep him. She hadn't! Hadn't she? How was he, poor
simple soul! to tell that she hadn't? That was the prelude to a stormy
The burthen of Mrs. Harrowdean was that she was wasting her life, that she
was wasting the poor, good, patient Oliver's life, that for the sake of
friendship she was braving the worst imputations and that he treated her
cavalierly, came when he wished to do so, stayed away heartlessly, never thought
she needed little treats, little attentions,
little presents. Did he think she could settle down to her poor work,
such as it was, in neglect and loneliness? He forgot women were dear little
tender things, and had to be made happy and kept happy. Oliver might not
be clever and attractive but he did at least in his clumsy way understand and
try and do his duty....
Towards the end of the second hour of such complaints the spirit of Mr.
Britling rose in revolt. He lifted up his voice against her, he charged his
voice with indignant sorrow and declared that he had come over to Pyecrafts with
no thought in his mind but sweet and loving thoughts, that he had but waited for
Gladys to be ready before he came, that he had brought over the manuscript of
"The Silent Places" with him to polish and finish up, that "for days and days"
he had been longing to do this in the atmosphere of the dear old summer-house
with its distant view of the dear old sea, and that now all that was impossible,
that Mrs. Harrowdean had made it impossible and that indeed she was rapidly
making everything impossible....
And having delivered himself of this judgment Mr. Britling, a little
surprised at the rapid vigour of his anger, once he had let it loose, came
suddenly to an end of his words, made a renunciatory gesture with his arms, and
as if struck with the idea, rushed out of her room and out of the house to where
Gladys stood waiting. He got into her and started her up, and after some trouble
with the gear due to the violence of his emotion, he turned her round and
departed with her—crushing the corner of a small bed of snapdragon as he
turned—and dove her with a sulky sedulousness back to the Dower House and
newspapers and correspondence and irritations, and that gnawing and irrational
sense of a hollow and aimless quality in the world that he had hoped Mrs.
Harrowdean would assuage. And the further he went from Mrs. Harrowdean the
harsher and unjuster it seemed to him that he had been to her.
But he went on because he did not see how he could very well go back.
Mr. Direck's broken wrist healed sooner than he desired. From the first he
had protested that it was the sort of thing that one can carry about in a sling,
that he was quite capable of travelling about and taking care of himself in
hotels, that he was only staying on at Matching's Easy because he just loved to
stay on and wallow in Mrs. Britling's kindness and Mr. Britling's company. While
as a matter of fact he wallowed as much as he could in the freshness and
friendliness of Miss Cecily Corner, and for more than a third of this period Mr.
Britling was away from home altogether.
Mr. Direck, it should be clear by this time, was a man of more than European
simplicity and directness, and his intentions towards the young lady were as
simple and direct and altogether honest as such intentions can be. It is the
American conception of gallantry more than any other people's, to let the lady
call the tune in these affairs; the man's place is to be protective,
propitiatory, accommodating and clever, and the lady's to be difficult but
delightful until he catches her and houses her splendidly and gives her a
surprising lot of pocket-money, and goes about his business; and upon these
assumptions Mr. Direck went to work. But quite early it was manifest to him that
Cecily did not recognise his assumptions. She was embarrassed when he got down
one or two little presents of chocolates and flowers for her from London—-the
Britling boys were much more appreciative—she wouldn't let him contrive costly
little expeditions for her, and she protested against compliments and declared
she would stay away when he paid them. And she was not contented by his general
sentiments about life, but asked the most direct questions about his occupation
and his activities. His chief occupation was being the well
provided heir of a capable lawyer, and his activities in the light of her
inquiries struck him as being light and a trifle amateurish, qualities he had
never felt as any drawback about them before. So that he had to rely rather upon
aspirations and the possibility, under proper inspiration, of a more actively
serviceable life in future.
"There's a feeling in the States," he said, "that we've had rather a tendency
to overdo work, and that there is scope for a leisure class to develop the
refinement and the wider meanings of life."
"But a leisure class doesn't mean a class that does nothing," said Cecily.
"It only means a class that isn't busy in business."
"You're too hard on me," said Mr. Direck with that quiet smile of his.
And then by way of putting her on the defensive he asked her what she thought
a man in his position ought to do.
"Something," she said, and in the expansion of this vague demand they
touched on a number of things. She said that she was a Socialist, and there was
still in Mr. Direck's composition a streak of the old-fashioned American
prejudice against the word. He associated Socialists with Anarchists and
deported aliens. It was manifest too that she was deeply read in the essays and
dissertations of Mr. Britling. She thought everybody, man or woman, ought to be
chiefly engaged in doing something definite for the world at large. ("There's my
secretaryship of the Massachusetts Modern Thought Society, anyhow," said Mr.
Direck.) And she herself wanted to be doing something—it was just because she
did not know what it was she ought to be doing that she was reading so
extensively and voraciously. She wanted to lose herself in something. Deep in
the being of Mr. Direck was the conviction that what she ought to be doing was
making love in a rapturously egotistical manner, and enjoying every scrap of her
own delightful self and her own delightful vitality—while
she had it, but for the purposes of their conversation he did not care to put it
any more definitely than to say that he thought we owed it to ourselves to
develop our personalities. Upon which she joined issue with great vigour.
"That is just what Mr. Britling says about you in his 'American
Impressions,'" she said. "He says that America overdoes the development of
personalities altogether, that whatever else is wrong about America that is
where America is most clearly wrong. I read that this morning, and directly I
read it I thought, 'Yes, that's exactly it! Mr. Direck is overdoing the
development of personalities.'"
"Yes. I like talking to you and I don't like talking to you. And I see now it
is because you keep on talking of my Personality and your Personality. That
makes me uncomfortable. It's like having some one following me about with a
limelight. And in a sort of way I do like it. I like it and I'm flattered by it,
and then I go off and dislike it, dislike the effect of it. I find myself trying
to be what you have told me I am—sort of acting myself. I want to glance at
looking-glasses to see if I am keeping it up. It's just exactly what Mr.
Britling says in his book about American women. They act themselves, he says;
they get a kind of story and explanation about themselves and they are always
trying to make it perfectly plain and clear to every one. Well, when you do that
you can't think nicely of other things."
"We like a clear light on people," said Mr. Direck.
"We don't. I suppose we're shadier," said Cecily.
"You're certainly much more in half-tones," said Mr. Direck. "And I confess
it's the half-tones get hold of me. But still you haven't told me, Miss Cissie,
what you think I ought to do with myself. Here I am, you see, very much at your
disposal. What sort of business do you think it's my duty to go in for?"
"That's for some one with more experience than I have, to tell you. You
should ask Mr. Britling."
"I'd rather have it from you."
"I don't even know for myself," she said.
"So why shouldn't we start to find out together?" he asked.
It was her tantalising habit to ignore all such tentatives.
"One can't help the feeling that one is in the world for something more than
oneself," she said....
Soon Mr. Direck could measure the time that was left to him at the Dower
House no longer by days but by hours. His luggage was mostly packed, his tickets
to Rotterdam, Cologne, Munich, Dresden, Vienna, were all in order. And things
were still very indefinite between him and Cecily. But God has not made
Americans clean-shaven and firm-featured for nothing, and he determined that
matters must be brought to some sort of definition before he embarked upon
travels that were rapidly losing their attractiveness in this concentration of
A considerable nervousness betrayed itself in his voice and manner when at
last he carried out his determination.
"There's just a lil' thing," he said to her, taking advantage of a moment
when they were together after lunch, "that I'd value now more than anything else
in the world."
She answered by a lifted eyebrow and a glance that had not so much inquiry in
it as she intended.
"If we could just take a lil' walk together for a bit. Round by Claverings
Park and all that. See the deer again and the old trees. Sort of scenery I'd
like to remember when I'm away from it."
He was a little short of breath, and there was a quite
disproportionate gravity about her moment for consideration.
"Yes," she said with a cheerful acquiescence that came a couple of bars too
late. "Let's. It will be jolly."
"These fine English afternoons are wonderful afternoons," he remarked after a
moment or so of silence. "Not quite the splendid blaze we get in our summer,
but—sort of glowing."
"It's been very fine all the time you've been here," she said....
After which exchanges they went along the lane, into the road by the park
fencing, and so to the little gate that lets one into the park, without another
The idea took hold of Mr. Direck's mind that until they got through the park
gate it would be quite out of order to say anything. The lane and the road and
the stile and the gate were all so much preliminary stuff to be got through
before one could get to business. But after the little white gate the way was
clear, the park opened out and one could get ahead without bothering about the
steering. And Mr. Direck had, he felt, been diplomatically involved in lanes and
by-ways long enough.
"Well," he said as he rejoined her after very carefully closing the gate.
"What I really wanted was an opportunity of just mentioning something that
happens to be of interest to you—if it does happen to interest you.... I suppose
I'd better put the thing as simply as possible.... Practically.... I'm just
right over the head and all in love with you.... I thought I'd like to tell
"Of course I won't pretend there haven't been others," Mr. Direck suddenly
resumed. "There have. One particularly. But I can assure you I've never felt the
depth and height or anything like the sort of Quiet Clear Conviction.... And now
I'm just telling you these things, Miss Corner, I don't know whether it will
interest you if I tell you that you're really and truly the very first love I ever had as well as my last. I've had sent over—I got it
only yesterday—this lil' photograph of a miniature portrait of one of my
ancestor's relations—a Corner just as you are. It's here...."
He had considerable difficulties with his pockets and papers. Cecily, mute
and flushed and inconvenienced by a preposterous and unaccountable impulse to
weep, took the picture he handed her.
"When I was a lil' fellow of fifteen," said Mr. Direck in the tone of one
producing a melancholy but conclusive piece of evidence, "I worshipped
that miniature. It seemed to me—the loveliest person.... And—it's just
He too was preposterously moved.
It seemed a long time before Cecily had anything to say, and then what she
had to say she said in a softened, indistinct voice. "You're very kind," she
said, and kept hold of the little photograph.
They had halted for the photograph. Now they walked on again.
"I thought I'd like to tell you," said Mr. Direck and became tremendously
Cecily found him incredibly difficult to answer. She tried to make herself
light and offhand, and to be very frank with him.
"Of course," she said, "I knew—I felt somehow—you meant to say something of
this sort to me—when you asked me to come with you——"
"Well?" he said.
"And I've been trying to make my poor brain think of something to say to
She paused and contemplated her difficulties....
"Couldn't you perhaps say something of the same kind—such as I've been trying
to say?" said Mr. Direck presently, with a note of earnest helpfulness. "I'd be
very glad if you could."
"Not exactly," said Cecily, more careful than ever.
"I think you know that you are the best of friends. I think you are, oh—a
"Well—that's all right—so far."
"That is as far."
"You don't know whether you love me? That's what you mean to say."
"No.... I feel somehow it isn't that.... Yet...."
"There's nobody else by any chance?"
"No." Cecily weighed things. "You needn't trouble about that."
"Only ... only you don't know."
Cecily made a movement of assent.
"It's no good pretending I haven't thought about you," she said.
"Well, anyhow I've done my best to give you the idea," said Mr. Direck. "I
seem now to have been doing that pretty nearly all the time."
"Only what should we do?"
Mr. Direck felt this question was singularly artless. "Why!—we'd marry," he
said. "And all that sort of thing."
"Letty has married—and all that sort of thing," said Cecily, fixing her eye
on him very firmly because she was colouring brightly. "And it doesn't leave
Letty very much—forrader."
"Well now, they have a good time, don't they? I'd have thought they have a
"They've had a lovely time. And Teddy is the dearest husband. And they have a
sweet little house and a most amusing baby. And they play hockey every Sunday.
And Teddy does his work. And every week is like every other week. It is just
heavenly. Just always the same heavenly. Every Sunday there is a fresh week of
heavenly beginning. And this, you see, isn't heaven; it is earth. And they don't
know it but they are getting bored. I have been watching
them, and they are getting dreadfully bored. It's heart-breaking to watch,
because they are almost my dearest people. Teddy used to be making perpetual
jokes about the house and the baby and his work and Letty, and now—he's made all
the possible jokes. It's only now and then he gets a fresh one. It's like spring
flowers and then—summer. And Letty sits about and doesn't sing. They want
something new to happen.... And there's Mr. and Mrs. Britling. They love each
other. Much more than Mrs. Britling dreams, or Mr. Britling for the matter of
that. Once upon a time things were heavenly for them too, I suppose. Until
suddenly it began to happen to them that nothing new ever happened...."
"Well," said Mr. Direck, "people can travel."
"But that isn't real happening," said Cecily.
"It keeps one interested."
"But real happening is doing something."
"You come back to that," said Mr. Direck. "I never met any one before who'd
quite got that spirit as you have it. I wouldn't alter it. It's part of you.
It's part of this place. It's what Mr. Britling always seems to be saying and
never quite knowing he's said it. It's just as though all the things that are
going on weren't the things that ought to be going on—but something else quite
different. Somehow one falls into it. It's as if your daily life didn't matter,
as if politics didn't matter, as if the King and the social round and business
and all those things weren't anything really, and as though you felt there was
something else—out of sight—round the corner—that you ought to be getting at.
Well, I admit, that's got hold of me too. And it's all mixed up with my idea of
you. I don't see that there's really a contradiction in it at all. I'm in love
with you, all my heart's in love with you, what's the good of being shy about
it? I'd just die for your littlest wish right here now, it's just as though I'd
got love in my veins instead of blood, but that's not
taking me away from that other thing. It's bringing me round to that other
thing. I feel as if without you I wasn't up to anything at all, but with
you—We'd not go settling down in a cottage or just touring about with a Baedeker
Guide or anything of that kind. Not for long anyhow. We'd naturally settle down
side by side and do ..."
"But what should we do?" asked Cecily.
There came a hiatus in their talk.
Mr. Direck took a deep breath.
"You see that old felled tree there. I was sitting on it the day before
yesterday and thinking of you. Will you come there and sit with me on it? When
you sit on it you get a view, oh! a perfectly lovely English view, just a bit of
the house and those clumps of trees and the valley away there with the lily
pond. I'd love to have you in my memory of it...."
They sat down, and Mr. Direck opened his case. He was shy and clumsy about
opening it, because he had been thinking dreadfully hard about it, and he hated
to seem heavy or profound or anything but artless and spontaneous to Cecily. And
he felt even when he did open his case that the effect of it was platitudinous
and disappointing. Yet when he had thought it out it had seemed very profound
and altogether living.
"You see one doesn't want to use terms that have been used in a thousand
different senses in any way that isn't a perfectly unambiguous sense, and at the
same time one doesn't want to seem to be canting about things or pitching
anything a note or two higher than it ought legitimately to go, but it seems to
me that this sort of something that Mr. Britling is always asking for in his
essays and writings and things, and what you are looking for just as much and
which seems so important to you that even love itself is a secondary kind of
thing until you can square the two together, is nothing more nor less than
Religion—I don't mean this Religion or that Religion but
just Religion itself, a Big, Solemn, Comprehensive Idea that holds you and me
and all the world together in one great, grand universal scheme. And though it
isn't quite the sort of idea of love-making that's been popular—well, in places
like Carrierville—for some time, it's the right idea; it's got to be followed
out if we don't want love-making to be a sort of idle, troublesome game of
treats and flatteries that is sure as anything to lead right away to
disappointments and foolishness and unfaithfulness and—just Hell. What you are
driving at, according to my interpretation, is that marriage has got to be a
religious marriage or else you are splitting up life, that religion and love are
most of life and all the power there is in it, and that they can't afford to be
harnessed in two different directions.... I never had these ideas until I came
here and met you, but they come up now in my mind as though they had always been
there.... And that's why you don't want to marry in a hurry. And that's why I'm
glad almost that you don't want to marry in a hurry."
He considered. "That's why I'll have to go on to Germany and just let both of
us turn things over in our minds."
"Yes," said Cecily, weighing his speech. "I think that is it. I think
that I do want a religious marriage, and that what is wrong with Teddy and Letty
is that they aren't religious. They pretend they are religious somewhere out of
sight and round the corner.... Only—"
He considered her gravely.
"What is Religion?" she asked.
Here again there was a considerable pause.
"Very nearly two-thirds of the papers read before our Massachusetts society
since my connection with it, have dealt with that very question," Mr. Direck
began. "And one of our most influential members was able to secure the services
of a very able and highly trained young woman from Michigan University, to make
a digest of all these representative utterances. We are having it printed in a thoroughly artistic mariner, as the club book for our
autumn season. The drift of her results is that religion isn't the same thing as
religions. That most religions are old and that religion is always new.... Well,
putting it simply, religion is the perpetual rediscovery of that Great Thing Out
There.... What the Great Thing is goes by all sorts of names, but if you know
it's there and if you remember it's there, you've got religion.... That's about
how she figured it out.... I shall send you the book as soon as a copy comes
over to me.... I can't profess to put it as clearly as she puts it. She's got a
real analytical mind. But it's one of the most suggestive lil' books I've ever
seen. It just takes hold of you and makes you think."
He paused and regarded the ground before him—thoughtfully.
"Life," said Cecily, "has either got to be religious or else it goes to
pieces.... Perhaps anyhow it goes to pieces...."
Mr. Direck endorsed these observations by a slow nodding of the head.
He allowed a certain interval to elapse. Then a vaguely apprehended purpose
that had been for a time forgotten in these higher interests came back to him.
He took it up with a breathless sense of temerity.
"Well," he said, "then you don't hate me?"
"You don't dislike me or despise me?"
She was still reassuring.
"You don't think I'm just a slow American sort of portent?"
"You think, on the whole, I might even—someday——?"
She tried to meet his eyes with a pleasant frankness, and perhaps she was
franker than she meant to be.
"Look here," said Mr. Direck, with a little quiver of
emotion softening his mouth. "I'll ask you something. We've got to wait. Until
you feel clearer. Still.... Could you bring yourself——? If just once—I could
"I'm going away to Germany," he went on to her silence. "But I shan't be
giving so much attention to Germany as I supposed I should when I planned it
out. But somehow—if I felt—that I'd kissed you...."
With a delusive effect of calmness the young lady looked first over her left
shoulder and then over her right and surveyed the park about them. Then she
stood up. "We can go that way home," she said with a movement of her head,
"through the little covert."
Mr. Direck stood up too.
"If I was a poet or a bird," said Mr. Direck, "I should sing. But being just
a plain American citizen all I can do is just to talk about all I'd do if I
And when they had reached the little covert, with its pathway of soft moss
and its sheltering screen of interlacing branches, he broke the silence by
saying, "Well, what's wrong with right here and now?" and Cecily stood up to him
as straight as a spear, with gifts in her clear eyes. He took her soft cool face
between his trembling hands, and kissed her sweet half-parted lips. When he
kissed her she shivered, and he held her tighter and would have kissed her
again. But she broke away from him, and he did not press her. And muter than
ever, pondering deeply, and secretly trembling in the queerest way, these two
outwardly sedate young people returned to the Dower House....
And after tea the taxicab from the junction came for him and he vanished, and
was last seen as a waving hat receding along the top of the dog-rose hedge that
ran beyond the hockey field towards the village.
"He will see Germany long before I shall," said Herr Heinrich with a gust of
nostalgia. "I wish almost I had not agreed to go to Boulogne."
And for some days Miss Cecily Corner was a very grave and dignified young
woman indeed. Pondering....
After the departure of Mr. Direck things international began to move forward
with great rapidity. It was exactly as if his American deliberation had hitherto
kept things waiting. Before his postcard from Rotterdam reached the Dower House
Austria had sent an ultimatum to Serbia, and before Cecily had got the letter he
wrote her from Cologne, a letter in that curiously unformed handwriting the
stenographer and the typewriter are making an American characteristic, Russia
was mobilising, and the vast prospect of a European war had opened like the
rolling up of a curtain on which the interests of the former week had been but a
trivial embroidery. So insistent was this reality that revealed itself that even
the shooting of the Dublin people after the gun-running of Howth was dwarfed to
unimportance. The mind of Mr. Britling came round from its restless wanderings
to a more and more intent contemplation of the hurrying storm-clouds that swept
out of nothingness to blacken all his sky. He watched it, he watched amazed and
incredulous, he watched this contradiction of all his reiterated confessions of
faith in German sanity and pacifism, he watched it with all that was impersonal
in his being, and meanwhile his personal life ran in a continually deeper and
narrower channel as his intelligence was withdrawn from it.
Never had the double refraction of his mind been more clearly defined. On the
one hand the Britling of the disinterested intelligence saw the habitual peace
of the world vanish as the daylight vanishes when a shutter falls over the
window of a cell; and on the other the Britling of the private life saw all the
pleasant comfort of his relations with Mrs. Harrowdean disappearing in a
perplexing irrational quarrel. He did not want to lose Mrs.
Harrowdean; he contemplated their breach with a profound and profoundly selfish
dismay. It seemed the wanton termination of an arrangement of which he was only
beginning to perceive the extreme and irreplaceable satisfactoriness.
It wasn't that he was in love with her. He knew almost as clearly as though
he had told himself as much that he was not. But then, on the other hand, it was
equally manifest in its subdued and ignored way that as a matter of fact she was
hardly more in love with him. What constituted the satisfactoriness of the whole
affair was its essential unlovingness and friendly want of emotion. It left
their minds free to play with all the terms and methods of love without
distress. She could summon tears and delights as one summons servants, and he
could act his part as lover with no sense of lost control. They supplied in each
other's lives a long-felt want—if only, that is, she could control her curious
aptitude for jealousy and the sexual impulse to vex. There, he felt, she broke
the convention of their relations and brought in serious realities, and this
little rift it was that had widened to a now considerable breach. He knew that
in every sane moment she dreaded and wished to heal that breach as much as he
did. But the deep simplicities of the instincts they had tacitly agreed to
bridge over washed the piers of their reconciliation away.
And unless they could restore the bridge things would end, and Mr. Britling
felt that the ending of things would involve for him the most extraordinary
exasperation. She would go to Oliver for comfort; she would marry Oliver; and he
knew her well enough to be sure that she would thrust her matrimonial happiness
with Oliver unsparingly upon his attention; while he, on the other hand, being
provided with no corresponding Olivette, would be left, a sort of emotional
celibate, with his slack times and his afternoons and his general need for
flattery and amusement dreadfully upon his own hands. He would be tormented by jealousy. In which case—and here he came to
verities—his work would suffer. It wouldn't grip him while all these vague
demands she satisfied fermented unassuaged.
And, after the fashion of our still too adolescent world, Mr. Britling and
Mrs. Harrowdean proceeded to negotiate these extremely unromantic matters in the
phrases of that simple, honest and youthful passionateness which is still the
only language available, and at times Mr. Britling came very near persuading
himself that he had something of the passionate love for her that he had once
had for his Mary, and that the possible loss of her had nothing to do with the
convenience of Pyecrafts or any discretion in the world. Though indeed the only
thing in the whole plexus of emotional possibility that still kept anything of
its youthful freshness in his mind was the very strong objection indeed he felt
to handing her over to anybody else in the world. And in addition he had just a
touch of fatherly feeling that a younger man would not have had, and it made him
feel very anxious to prevent her making a fool of herself by marrying a man out
of spite. He felt that since an obstinate lover is apt to be an exacting
husband, in the end the heavy predominance of Oliver might wring much sincerer
tears from her than she had ever shed for himself. But that generosity was but
the bright edge to a mainly possessive jealousy.
It was Mr. Britling who reopened the correspondence by writing a little
apology for the corner of the small snapdragon bed, and this evoked an admirably
touching reply. He replied quite naturally with assurances and declarations. But
before she got his second letter her mood had changed. She decided that if he
had really and truly been lovingly sorry, instead of just writing a note to her
he would have rushed over to her in a wild, dramatic state of mind, and begged
forgiveness on his knees. She wrote therefore a second letter to this effect,
crossing his second one, and, her literary gift getting the
better of her, she expanded her thesis into a general denunciation of his
habitual off-handedness with her, to an abandonment of all hope of ever being
happy with him, to a decision to end the matter once for all, and after a decent
interval of dignified regrets to summon Oliver to the reward of his patience and
goodness. The European situation was now at a pitch to get upon Mr. Britling's
nerves, and he replied with a letter intended to be conciliatory, but which
degenerated into earnest reproaches for her "unreasonableness." Meanwhile she
had received his second and tenderly eloquent letter; it moved her deeply, and
having now cleared her mind of much that had kept it simmering uncomfortably,
she replied with a sweetly loving epistle. From this point their correspondence
had a kind of double quality, being intermittently angry and loving; her third
letter was tender, and it was tenderly answered in his fourth; but in the
interim she had received his third and answered it with considerable acerbity,
to which his fifth was a retort, just missing her generous and conclusive fifth.
She replied to his fifth on a Saturday evening—it was that eventful Saturday,
Saturday the First of August, 1914—by a telegram. Oliver was abroad in Holland,
engaged in a much-needed emotional rest, and she wired to Mr. Britling: "Have
wired for Oliver, he will come to me, do not trouble to answer this."
She was astonished to get no reply for two days. She got no reply for two
days because remarkable things were happening to the telegraph wires of England
just then, and her message, in the hands of a boy scout on a bicycle, reached
Mr. Britling's house only on Monday afternoon. He was then at Claverings
discussing the invasion of Belgium that made Britain's participation in the war
inevitable, and he did not open the little red-brown envelope until about
half-past six. He failed to mark the date and hours upon it, but he perceived
that it was essentially a challenge. He was expected, he saw, to go over at
once with his renovated Gladys and end this unfortunate
clash forever in one striking and passionate scene. His mind was now so full of
the war that he found this the most colourless and unattractive of obligations.
But he felt bound by the mysterious code of honour of the illicit love affair to
play his part. He postponed his departure until after supper—there was no reason
why he should be afraid of motoring by moonlight if he went carefully—because
Hugh came in with Cissie demanding a game of hockey. Hockey offered a nervous
refreshment, a scampering forgetfulness of the tremendous disaster of this war
he had always believed impossible, that nothing else could do, and he was very
glad indeed of the irruption....
For days the broader side of Mr. Britling's mind, as distinguished from its
egotistical edge, had been reflecting more and more vividly and coherently the
spectacle of civilisation casting aside the thousand dispersed activities of
peace, clutching its weapons and setting its teeth, for a supreme struggle
against militarist imperialism. From the point of view of Matching's Easy that
colossal crystallising of accumulated antagonisms was for a time no more than a
confusion of headlines and a rearrangement of columns in the white windows of
the newspapers through which those who lived in the securities of England looked
out upon the world. It was a display in the sphere of thought and print
immeasurably remote from the real green turf on which one walked, from the voice
and the church-bells of Mr. Dimple that sounded their ample caresses in one's
ears, from the clashing of the stags who were beginning to knock the velvet from
their horns in the park, or the clatter of the butcher's cart and the respectful
greeting of the butcher boy down the lane. It was the spectacle of the world
less real even to most imaginations than the world of novels or plays. People talked of these things always with an underlying
feeling that they romanced and intellectualised.
On Thursday, July 23rd, the Austro-Hungarian minister at Belgrade presented
his impossible ultimatum to the Serbian government, and demanded a reply within
forty-eight hours. With the wisdom of retrospect we know now clearly enough what
that meant. The Sarajevo crime was to be resuscitated and made an excuse for
war. But nine hundred and ninety-nine Europeans out of a thousand had still no
suspicion of what was happening to them. The ultimatum figured prominently in
the morning papers that came to Matching's Easy on Friday, but it by no means
dominated the rest of the news; Sir Edward Carson's rejection of the government
proposals for Ulster was given the pride of place, and almost equally
conspicuous with the Serbian news were the Caillaux trial and the storming of
the St. Petersburg barricades by Cossacks. Herr Heinrich's questions at lunch
time received reassuring replies.
On Saturday Sir Edward Carson was still in the central limelight, Russia had
intervened and demanded more time for Serbia, and the Daily Chronicle
declared the day a critical one for Europe. Dublin with bayonet charges and
bullets thrust Serbia into a corner on Monday. No shots had yet been fired in
the East, and the mischief in Ireland that Germany had counted on was well
ahead. Sir Edward Grey was said to be working hard for peace.
"It's the cry of wolf," said Mr. Britling to Herr Heinrich.
"But at last there did come a wolf," said Herr Heinrich. "I wish I had not
sent my first moneys to that Conference upon Esperanto. I feel sure it will be
"See!" said Teddy very cheerfully to Herr Heinrich on Tuesday, and held up
the paper, in which "The Bloodshed in Dublin" had squeezed the "War Cloud
Lifting" into a quite subordinate position.
"What did we tell you?" said Mrs. Britling. "Nobody wants a European
But Wednesday's paper vindicated his fears. Germany had commanded Russia not
"Of course Russia will mobilise," said Herr Heinrich.
"Or else forever after hold her peace," said Teddy.
"And then Germany will mobilise," said Herr Heinrich, "and all my holiday
will vanish. I shall have to go and mobilise too. I shall have to fight. I have
"I never thought of you as a soldier before," said Teddy.
"I have deferred my service until I have done my thesis," said Herr Heinrich.
"Now all that will be—Piff! And my thesis three-quarters finished."
"That is serious," said Teddy.
"Verdammte Dummheit!" said Herr Heinrich. "Why do they do such
On Thursday, the 30th of July, Caillaux, Carson, strikes, and all the common
topics of life had been swept out of the front page of the paper altogether; the
stock exchanges were in a state of wild perturbation, and food prices were
leaping fantastically. Austria was bombarding Belgrade, contrary to the rules of
war hitherto accepted; Russia was mobilising; Mr. Asquith was, he declared, not
relaxing his efforts "to do everything possible to circumscribe the area of
possible conflict," and the Vienna Conference of Peace Societies was postponed.
"I do not see why a conflict between Russia and Austria should involve Western
Europe," said Mr. Britling. "Our concern is only for Belgium and France."
But Herr Heinrich knew better. "No," he said. "It is the war. It has come. I
have heard it talked about in Germany many times. But I have never believed that
it was obliged to come. Ach! It considers no one. So long as Esperanto is
disregarded, all these things must be."
Friday brought photographs of the mobilisation in
Vienna, and the news that Belgrade was burning. Young men in straw hats very
like English or French or Belgian young men in straw hats were shown parading
the streets of Vienna, carrying flags and banners portentously, blowing trumpets
or waving hats and shouting. Saturday saw all Europe mobilising, and Herr
Heinrich upon Teddy's bicycle in wild pursuit of evening papers at the junction.
Mobilisation and the emotions of Herr Heinrich now became the central facts of
the Dower House situation. The two younger Britlings mobilised with great vigour
upon the playroom floor. The elder had one hundred and ninety toy soldiers with
a considerable equipment of guns and wagons; the younger had a force of a
hundred and twenty-three, not counting three railway porters (with trucks
complete), a policeman, five civilians and two ladies. Also they made a number
of British and German flags out of paper. But as neither would allow his troops
to be any existing foreign army, they agreed to be Redland and Blueland,
according to the colour of their prevailing uniforms. Meanwhile Herr Heinrich
confessed almost promiscuously the complication of his distresses by a hitherto
unexpected emotional interest in the daughter of the village publican. She was a
placid receptive young woman named Maud Hickson, on whom the young man had, it
seemed, imposed the more poetical name of Marguerite.
"Often we have spoken together, oh yes, often," he assured Mrs. Britling.
"And now it must all end. She loves flowers, she loves birds. She is most sweet
and innocent. I have taught her many words in German and several times I have
tried to draw her in pencil, and now I must go away and never see her any
His implicit appeal to the whole literature of Teutonic romanticism disarmed
Mrs. Britling's objection that he had no business whatever to know the young
woman at all.
"Also," cried Herr Heinrich, facing another aspect of his distresses, "how am
I to pack my things? Since I have been here I have bought
many things, many books, and two pairs of white flannel trousers and some shirts
and a tin instrument that I cannot work, for developing privately Kodak films.
All this must go into my little portmanteau. And it will not go into my little
"And there is Billy! Who will now go on with the education of Billy?"
The hands of fate paused not for Herr Heinrich's embarrassments and
distresses. He fretted from his room downstairs and back to his room, he went
out upon mysterious and futile errands towards the village inn, he prowled about
the garden. His head and face grew pinker and pinker; his eyes were flushed and
distressed. Everybody sought to say and do kind and reassuring things to
"Ach!" he said to Teddy; "you are a civilian. You live in a free country. It
is not your war. You can be amused at it...."
But then Teddy was amused at everything.
Something but very dimly apprehended at Matching's Easy, something methodical
and compelling away in London, seemed to be fumbling and feeling after Herr
Heinrich, and Herr Heinrich it appeared was responding. Sunday's post brought
"I have to go," he said. "I must go right up to London to-day. To an address
in Bloomsbury. Then they will tell me how to go to Germany. I must pack and I
must get the taxi-cab from the junction and I must go. Why are there no trains
on the branch line on Sundays for me to go by it?"
At lunch he talked politics. "I am entirely opposed to the war," he said. "I
am entirely opposed to any war."
"Then why go?" asked Mr. Britling. "Stay here with us. We all like you. Stay
here and do not answer your mobilisation summons."
"But then I shall lose all my country. I shall lose my papers. I shall be
outcast. I must go."
"I suppose a man should go with his own country," Mr. Britling reflected.
"If there was only one language in all the world, none of such things would
happen," Herr Heinrich declared. "There would be no English, no Germans, no
"Just Esperantists," said Teddy.
"Or Idoists," said Herr Heinrich. "I am not convinced of which. In some ways
Ido is much better."
"Perhaps there would have to be a war between Ido and Esperanto to settle
it," said Teddy.
"Who shall we play skat with when you have gone?" asked Mrs. Britling.
"All this morning," said Herr Heinrich, expanding in the warmth of sympathy,
"I have been trying to pack and I have been unable to pack. My mind is too
greatly disordered. I have been told not to bring much luggage. Mrs. Britling,
Mrs. Britling became attentive.
"If I could leave much of my luggage, my clothes, some of them, and
particularly my violin, it would be much more to my convenience. I do not care
to be mobilised with my violin. There may be much crowding. Then I would but
just take my rucksack...."
"If you will leave your things packed up."
"And afterwards they could be sent."
But he did not leave them packed up. The taxi-cab, to order which he had gone
to the junction in the morning on Teddy's complaisant machine, came presently to
carry him off, and the whole family and the first contingent of the usual hockey
players gathered about it to see him off. The elder boy of the two juniors put a
distended rucksack upon the seat. Herr Heinrich then shook hands with every
"Write and tell us how you get on," cried Mrs. Britling.
"But if England also makes war!"
"Write to Reynolds—let me give you his address; he is my agent in New York,"
said Mr. Britling, and wrote it down.
"We'll come to the village corner with you, Herr Heinrich," cried the
"No," said Herr Heinrich, sitting down into the automobile, "I will part with
you altogether. It is too much...."
"Auf Wiedersehen!" cried Mr. Britling. "Remember, whatever happens
there will be peace at last!"
"Then why not at the beginning?" Herr Heinrich demanded with a reasonable
exasperation and repeated his maturer verdict on the whole European situation;
"Go," said Mr. Britling to the taxi driver.
"Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Heinrich!"
"Good-bye, Herr Heinrich!"
"Good luck, Herr Heinrich!"
The taxi started with a whir, and Herr Heinrich passed out of the gates and
along the same hungry road that had so recently consumed Mr. Direck. "Give him a
last send-off," cried Teddy. "One, Two, Three! Auf Wiedersehen!"
The voices, gruff and shrill, sounded raggedly together. The dog-rose hedge
cut off the sight of the little face. Then the pink head bobbed up again. He was
standing up and waving the panama hat. Careless of sunstroke....
Then Herr Heinrich had gone altogether....
"Well," said Mr. Britling, turning away.
"I do hope they won't hurt him," said a visitor.
"Oh, they won't put a youngster like that in the fighting line," said Mr.
Britling. "He's had no training yet. And he has to wear glasses. How can he
shoot? They'll make a clerk of him."
"He hasn't packed at all," said Mrs. Britling to her husband. "Just come up
for an instant and peep at his room. It's—touching."
It was touching.
It was more than touching; in its minute, absurd way it was symbolical and
prophetic, it was the miniature of one small life uprooted.
The door stood wide open, as he had left it open, careless of all the little
jealousies and privacies of occupation and ownership. Even the windows were wide
open as though he had needed air; he who had always so sedulously shut his
windows since first he came to England. Across the empty fireplace stretched the
great bough of oak he had brought in for Billy, but now its twigs and leaves had
wilted, and many had broken off and fallen on the floor. Billy's cage stood
empty upon a little table in the corner of the room. Instead of packing, the
young man had evidently paced up and down in a state of emotional elaboration;
the bed was disordered as though he had several times flung himself upon it, and
his books had been thrown about the room despairfully. He had made some little
commencements of packing in a borrowed cardboard box. The violin lay as if it
lay in state upon the chest of drawers, the drawers were all partially open, and
in the middle of the floor sprawled a pitiful shirt of blue, dropped there, the
most flattened and broken-hearted of garments. The fireplace contained an
unsuccessful pencil sketch of a girl's face, torn across....
Husband and wife regarded the abandoned room in silence for a time, and when
Mr. Britling spoke he lowered his voice.
"I don't see Billy," he said.
"Perhaps he has gone out of the window," said Mrs. Britling also in a hushed
"Well," said Mr. Britling abruptly and loudly, turning away from this first
intimation of coming desolations, "let us go down to our hockey! He had to go,
you know. And Billy will probably come back again when he
begins to feel hungry...."
Monday was a public holiday, the First Monday in August, and the day
consecrated by long-established custom to the Matching's Easy Flower Show in
Claverings Park. The day was to live in Mr. Britling's memory with a harsh
brightness like the brightness of that sunshine one sees at times at the edge of
a thunderstorm. There were tents with the exhibits, and a tent for "Popular
Refreshments," there was a gorgeous gold and yellow steam roundabout with
motor-cars and horses, and another in green and silver with wonderfully
undulating ostriches and lions, and each had an organ that went by steam; there
were cocoanut shies and many ingenious prize-giving shooting and dart-throwing
and ring-throwing stalls, each displaying a marvellous array of crockery,
clocks, metal ornaments, and suchlike rewards. There was a race of gas balloons,
each with a postcard attached to it begging the finder to say where it
descended, and you could get a balloon for a shilling and have a chance of
winning various impressive and embarrassing prizes if your balloon went far
enough—fish carvers, a silver-handled walking-stick, a bog-oak gramophone-record
cabinet, and things like that. And by a special gate one could go for sixpence
into the Claverings gardens, and the sixpence would be doubled by Lady Homartyn
and devoted next winter to the Matching's Easy coal club. And Mr. Britling went
through all the shows with his boys, and finally left them with a shilling each
and his blessing and paid his sixpence for the gardens and made his way as he
had promised, to have tea with Lady Homartyn.
The morning papers had arrived late, and he had been reading them and
re-reading them and musing over them intermittently until his family had
insisted upon his coming out to the festivities. They said that if for no
other reason he must come to witness Aunt Wilshire's
extraordinary skill at the cocoanut shy. She could beat everybody. Well, one
must not miss a thing like that. The headlines proclaimed, "The Great Powers at
War; France Invaded by Germany; Germany invaded by Russia; 100,000 Germans march
into Luxemburg; Can England Abstain? Fifty Million Loan to be Issued." And
Germany had not only violated the Treaty of London but she had seized a British
ship in the Kiel Canal.... The roundabouts were very busy and windily melodious,
and the shooting gallery kept popping and jingling as people shot and broke
bottles, and the voices of the young men and women inviting the crowd to try
their luck at this and that rang loud and clear. Teddy and Letty and Cissie and
Hugh were developing a quite disconcerting skill at the dart-throwing, and were
bent upon compiling a complete tea-set for the Teddy cottage out of their
winnings. There was a score of automobiles and a number of traps and gigs about
the entrance to the portion of the park that had been railed off for the
festival, the small Britling boys had met some nursery visitors from Claverings
House and were busy displaying skill and calm upon the roundabout ostriches, and
less than four hundred miles away with a front that reached from Nancy to Liège
more than a million and a quarter of grey-clad men, the greatest and
best-equipped host the world had ever seen, were pouring westward to take Paris,
grip and paralyse France, seize the Channel ports, invade England, and make the
German Empire the master-state of the earth. Their equipment was a marvel of
foresight and scientific organisation, from the motor kitchens that rumbled in
their wake to the telescopic sights of the sharp-shooters, the innumerable
machine-guns of the infantry, the supply of entrenching material, the
preparations already made in the invaded country....
"Let's try at the other place for the sugar-basin!" said Teddy, hurrying
past. "Don't get two sugar-basins," said Cissie
breathless in pursuit. "Hugh is trying for a sugar-basin at the other
Then Mr. Britling heard a bellicose note.
"Let's have a go at the bottles," said a cheerful young farmer. "Ought to
keep up our shooting, these warlike times...."
Mr. Britling ran against Hickson from the village inn and learnt that he was
disturbed about his son being called up as a reservist. "Just when he was
settling down here. It seems a pity they couldn't leave him for a bit."
"'Tis a noosence," said Hickson, "but anyhow, they give first prize to his
radishes. He'll be glad to hear they give first prize to his radishes. Do you
think, Sir, there's very much probability of this war? It do seem to be
"It looks more like beginning than it has ever done," said Mr. Britling.
"It's a foolish business."
"I suppose if they start in on us we got to hit back at them," said Mr.
Hickson. "Postman—he's got his papers too...."
Mr. Britling made his way through the drifting throng towards the little
wicket that led into the Gardens....
He was swung round suddenly by a loud bang.
It was the gun proclaiming the start of the balloon race.
He stood for some moments watching the scene. The balloon start had gathered
a little crowd of people, village girls in white gloves and cheerful hats, young
men in bright ties and ready-made Sunday suits, fathers and mothers, boy scouts,
children, clerks in straw hats, bicyclists and miscellaneous folk. Over their
heads rose Mr. Cheshunt, the factotum of the estate. He was standing on a table
and handing the little balloons up into the air one by one. They floated up from
his hand like many-coloured grapes, some rising and falling, some soaring
steadily upward, some spinning and eddying, drifting eastward before the gentle
breeze, a string of bubbles against the sky and the big trees that bounded the
park. Farther away to the right were the striped canvas
tents of the flower-show, still farther off the roundabouts churned out their
music, the shooting galleries popped, and the swing boats creaked through the
air. Cut off from these things by a line of fencing lay the open park in which
the deer grouped themselves under the great trees and regarded the festival
mistrustfully. Teddy and Hugh appeared breaking away from the balloon race
cluster, and hurrying back to their dart-throwing. A man outside a little tent
that stood apart was putting up a brave-looking notice, "Unstinted Teas One
Shilling." The Teddy perambulator was moored against the cocoanut shy, and Aunt
Wilshire was still displaying her terrible prowess at the cocoanuts. Already she
had won twenty-seven. Strange children had been impressed by her to carry them,
and formed her retinue. A wonderful old lady was Aunt Wilshire....
Then across all the sunshine of this artless festival there appeared, as if
it were writing showing through a picture, "France Invaded by Germany; Germany
Invaded by Russia."
Mr. Britling turned again towards the wicket, with its collectors of tribute,
that led into the Gardens.
The Claverings gardens, and particularly the great rockery, the lily pond,
and the herbaceous borders, were unusually populous with unaccustomed visitors
and shy young couples. Mr. Britling had to go to the house for instructions, and
guided by the under-butler found Lady Homartyn hiding away in the walled Dutch
garden behind the dairy. She had been giving away the prizes of the flower-show,
and she was resting in a deck chair while a spinster relation presided over the
tea. Mrs. Britling had fled the outer festival earlier, and was sitting by the
tea-things. Lady Meade and two or three visitors had
motored out from Hartleytree to assist, and Manning had come in with his
tremendous confirmation of all that the morning papers had foreshadowed.
"Have you any news?" asked Mr. Britling.
"It's war!" said Mrs. Britling.
"They are in Luxemburg," said Manning. "That can only mean that they are
coming through Belgium."
"Then I was wrong," said Mr. Britling, "and the world is altogether mad. And
so there is nothing else for us to do but win.... Why could they not leave
"It's been in all their plans for the last twenty years," said Manning.
"But it brings us in for certain."
"I believe they have reckoned on that."
"Well!" Mr. Britling took his tea and sat down, and for a time he said
"It is three against three," said one of the visitors, trying to count the
"Italy," said Manning, "will almost certainly refuse to fight. In fact Italy
is friendly to us. She is bound to be. This is, to begin with, an Austrian war.
And Japan will fight for us...."
"I think," said old Lady Meade, "that this is the suicide of Germany. They
cannot possibly fight against Russia and France and ourselves. Why have they
ever begun it?"
"It may be a longer and more difficult war than people suppose," said
Manning. "The Germans reckon they are going to win."
"Against us all?"
"Against us all. They are tremendously prepared."
"It is impossible that Germany should win," said Mr. Britling, breaking his
silence. "Against her Germany has something more than armies; all reason, all
instinct—the three greatest peoples in the world."
"At present very badly supplied with war material."
"That may delay things; it may make the task harder; but it will not alter
the end. Of course we are going to win. Nothing else is thinkable. I have never
believed they meant it. But I see now they meant it. This insolent arming and
marching, this forty years of national blustering; sooner or later it had to
topple over into action...."
He paused and found they were listening, and he was carried on by his own
thoughts into further speech.
"This isn't the sort of war," he said, "that is settled by counting guns and
rifles. Something that has oppressed us all has become intolerable and has to be
ended. And it will be ended. I don't know what soldiers and politicians think of
our prospects, but I do know what ordinary reasonable men think of the business.
I know that all we millions of reasonable civilised onlookers are prepared to
spend our last shillings and give all our lives now, rather than see Germany
unbeaten. I know that the same thing is felt in America, and that given half a
chance, given just one extra shake of that foolish mailed fist in the face of
America, and America also will be in this war by our side. Italy will come in.
She is bound to come in. France will fight like one man. I'm quite prepared to
believe that the Germans have countless rifles and guns; have got the most
perfect maps, spies, plans you can imagine. I'm quite prepared to hear that they
have got a thousand tremendous surprises in equipment up their sleeves. I'm
quite prepared for sweeping victories for them and appalling disasters for us.
Those are the first things. What I do know is that the Germans understand
nothing of the spirit of man; that they do not dream for a moment of the devil
of resentment this war will arouse. Didn't we all trust them not to let off
their guns? Wasn't that the essence of our liberal and pacific faith? And here
they are in the heart of Europe letting off their guns?"
"And such a lot of guns," said Manning.
"Then you think it will be a long war, Mr. Britling?" said Lady Meade.
"Long or short, it will end in the downfall of Germany. But I do not believe
it will be long. I do not agree with Manning. Even now I cannot believe that a
whole great people can be possessed by war madness. I think the war is the work
of the German armaments party and of the Court party. They have forced this war
on Germany. Well—they must win and go on winning. So long as they win, Germany
will hold together, so long as their armies are not clearly defeated nor their
navy destroyed. But once check them and stay them and beat them, then I believe
that suddenly the spirit of Germany will change even as it changed after
"Willie Nixon," said one of the visitors, "who came back from Hamburg
yesterday, says they are convinced they will have taken Paris and St. Petersburg
and one or two other little places and practically settled everything for us by
"I forgot if he said London. But I suppose a London more or less hardly
matters. They don't think we shall dare come in, but if we do they will Zeppelin
the fleet and walk through our army—if you can call it an army."
Manning nodded confirmation.
"They do not understand," said Mr. Britling.
"Sir George Padish told me the same sort of thing," said Lady Homartyn. "He
was in Berlin in June."
"Of course the efficiency of their preparations is almost incredible," said
another of Lady Meade's party.
"They have thought out and got ready for everything—literally
Mr. Britling had been a little surprised by the speech he had made. He hadn't
realised before he began to talk how angry and scornful he was at this final
coming into action of the Teutonic militarism that had so
long menaced his world. He had always said it would never really fight—and here
it was fighting! He was furious with the indignation of an apologist betrayed.
He had only realised the strength and passion of his own belligerent opinions as
he had heard them, and as he walked back with his wife through the village to
the Dower House, he was still in the swirl of this self-discovery; he was darkly
silent, devising fiercely denunciatory phrases against Krupp and Kaiser. "Krupp
and Kaiser," he grasped that obvious, convenient alliteration. "It is all that
is bad in mediævalism allied to all that is bad in modernity," he told
"The world," he said, startling Mrs. Britling with his sudden speech, "will
be intolerable to live in, it will be unendurable for a decent human being,
unless we win this war.
"We must smash or be smashed...."
His brain was so busy with such stuff that for a time he stared at Mrs.
Harrowdean's belated telegram without grasping the meaning of a word of it. He
realised slowly that it was incumbent upon him to go over to her, but he
postponed his departure very readily in order to play hockey. Besides which it
would be a full moon, and he felt that summer moonlight was far better than
sunset and dinner time for the declarations he was expected to make. And then he
went on phrase-making again about Germany until he had actually bullied off at
Suddenly in the midst of the game he had an amazing thought. It came to him
like a physical twinge.
"What the devil are we doing at this hockey?" he asked abruptly of Teddy, who
was coming up to bully after a goal. "We ought to be drilling or shooting
against those infernal Germans."
Teddy looked at him questioningly.
"Oh, come on!" said Mr. Britling with a gust of impatience, and snapped the
Mr. Britling started for his moonlight ride about half-past nine that night.
He announced that he could neither rest nor work, the war had thrown him into a
fever; the driving of the automobile was just the distraction he needed; he
might not, he added casually, return for a day or so. When he felt he could work
again he would come back. He filled up his petrol tank by the light of an
electric torch, and sat in his car in the garage and studied his map of the
district. His thoughts wandered from the road to Pyecrafts to the coast, and to
the possible route of a raider. Suppose the enemy anticipated a declaration of
war! Here he might come, and here....
He roused himself from these speculations to the business in hand.
The evening seemed as light as day, a cool moonshine filled the world. The
road was silver that flushed to pink at the approach of Mr. Britling's
headlight, the dark turf at the wayside and the bushes on the bank became for a
moment an acid green as the glare passed. The full moon was climbing up the sky,
and so bright that scarcely a star was visible in the blue grey of the heavens.
Houses gleamed white a mile away, and ever and again a moth would flutter and
hang in the light of the lamps, and then vanish again in the night.
Gladys was in excellent condition for a run, and so was Mr. Britling. He went
neither fast nor slow, and with a quite unfamiliar confidence. Life, which had
seemed all day a congested confusion darkened by threats, became cool,
mysterious and aloof and with a quality of dignified reassurance.
He steered along the narrow road by the black dog-rose hedge, and so into the
high road towards the village. The village was alight at several windows but
almost deserted. Out beyond, a coruscation of lights burnt like a group of topaz
and rubies set in the silver shield of the night. The
festivities of the Flower Show were still in full progress, and the reduction of
the entrance fee after seven had drawn in every lingering outsider. The
roundabouts churned out their relentless music, and the bottle-shooting
galleries popped and crashed. The well-patronised ostriches and motorcars
flickered round in a pulsing rhythm; black, black, black, before the naphtha
Mr. Britling pulled up at the side of the road, and sat for a little while
watching the silhouettes move hither and thither from shadow to shadow across
the bright spaces.
"On the very brink of war—on the brink of Armageddon," he whispered at last.
"Do they understand? Do any of us understand?"
He slipped in his gear to starting, and was presently running quietly with
his engine purring almost inaudibly along the level road to Hartleytree. The
sounds behind him grew smaller and smaller, and died away leaving an immense
unruffled quiet under the moon. There seemed no motion but his own, no sound but
the neat, subdued, mechanical rhythm in front of his feet. Presently he ran out
into the main road, and heedless of the lane that turned away towards Pyecrafts,
drove on smoothly towards the east and the sea. Never before had he driven by
night. He had expected a fumbling and tedious journey; he found he had come into
an undreamt-of silvery splendour of motion. For it seemed as though even the
automobile was running on moonlight that night.... Pyecrafts could wait. Indeed
the later he got to Pyecrafts the more moving and romantic the little comedy of
reconciliation would be. And he was in no hurry for that comedy. He felt he
wanted to apprehend this vast summer calm about him, that alone of all the
things of the day seemed to convey anything whatever of the majestic tragedy
that was happening to mankind. As one slipped through this still vigil one could
imagine for the first time the millions away there
marching, the wide river valleys, villages, cities, mountain-ranges, ports and
seas inaudibly busy.
"Even now," he said, "the battleships may be fighting."
He listened, but the sound was only the low intermittent drumming of his
cylinders as he ran with his throttle nearly closed, down a stretch of gentle
He felt that he must see the sea. He would follow the road beyond the Rodwell
villages, and then turn up to the crest of Eastonbury Hill. And thither he went
and saw in the gap of the low hills beyond a V-shaped level of moonlit water
that glittered and yet lay still. He stopped his car by the roadside, and sat
for a long time looking at this and musing. And once it seemed to him three
little shapes like short black needles passed in line ahead across the molten
But that may have been just the straining of the eyes....
All sorts of talk had come to Mr. Britling's ears about the navies of England
and France and Germany; there had been public disputes of experts, much
whispering and discussion in private. We had the heavier vessels, the bigger
guns, but it was not certain that we had the preeminence in science and
invention. Were they relying as we were relying on Dreadnoughts, or had they
their secrets and surprises for us? To-night, perhaps, the great ships were
steaming to conflict....
To-night all over the world ships must be in flight and ships pursuing; ten
thousand towns must be ringing with the immediate excitement of war....
Only a year ago Mr. Britling had been lunching on a battleship and looking
over its intricate machinery. It had seemed to him then that there could be no
better human stuff in the world than the quiet, sunburnt, disciplined men and
officers he had met.... And our little army, too, must be gathering to-night,
the little army that had been chastened and reborn in South
Africa, that he was convinced was individually more gallant and self-reliant and
capable than any other army in the world. He would have sneered or protested if
he had heard another Englishman say that, but in his heart he held the dear
And what other aviators in the world could fly as the Frenchmen and
Englishmen he had met once or twice at Eastchurch and Salisbury could fly? These
are things of race and national quality. Let the German cling to his gasbags.
"We shall beat them in the air," he whispered. "We shall beat them on the seas.
Surely we shall beat them on the seas. If we have men enough and guns enough we
shall beat them on land.... Yet—For years they have been preparing...."
There was little room in the heart of Mr. Britling that night for any love
but the love of England. He loved England now as a nation of men. There could be
no easy victory. Good for us with our too easy natures that there could be no
easy victory. But victory we must have now—or perish....
He roused himself with a sigh, restarted his engine, and went on to find some
turning place. He still had a colourless impression that the journey's end was
"We must all do the thing we can," he thought, and for a time the course of
his automobile along a winding down-hill road held his attention so that he
could not get beyond it. He turned about and ran up over the hill again and down
long slopes inland, running very softly and smoothly with his lights devouring
the road ahead and sweeping the banks and hedges beside him, and as he came down
a little hill through a village he heard a confused clatter and jingle of
traffic ahead, and saw the danger triangle that warns of cross-roads. He slowed
down and then pulled up abruptly.
Riding across the gap between the cottages was a string of horsemen, and then
a grey cart, and then a team drawing a heavy object—a gun,
and then more horsemen, and then a second gun. It was all a dim brown procession
in the moonlight. A mounted officer came up beside him and looked at him and
then went back to the cross-roads, but as yet England was not troubling about
spies. Four more guns passed, and then a string of carts and more mounted men,
sitting stiffly. Nobody was singing or shouting; scarcely a word was audible,
and through all the column there was an effect of quiet efficient haste. And so
they passed, and rumbled and jingled and clattered out of the scene, leaving Mr.
Britling in his car in the dreaming village. He restarted his engine once more,
and went his way thoughtfully.
He went so thoughtfully that presently he missed the road to Pyecrafts—if
ever he had been on the road to Pyecrafts at all—altogether. He found himself
upon a highway running across a flattish plain, and presently discovered by the
sight of the Great Bear, faint but traceable in the blue overhead, that he was
going due north. Well, presently he would turn south and west; that in good
time; now he wanted to feel; he wanted to think. How could he best help England
in the vast struggle for which the empty silence and beauty of this night seemed
to be waiting? But indeed he was not thinking at all, but feeling, feeling
wonder, as he had never felt it since his youth had passed from him. This war
might end nearly everything in the world as he had known the world; that idea
struggled slowly through the moonlight into consciousness, and won its way to
dominance in his mind.
The character of the road changed; the hedges fell away, the pine trees and
pine woods took the place of the black squat shapes of the hawthorn and oak and
apple. The houses grew rarer and the world emptier and emptier, until he could
have believed that he was the only man awake and out-of-doors in all the
For a time a little thing caught hold of his dreaming mind. Continually as he
ran on, black, silent birds rose startled out of the dust
of the road before him, and fluttered noiselessly beyond his double wedge of
light. What sort of bird could they be? Were they night-jars? Were they
different kinds of birds snatching at the quiet of the night for a dust bath in
the sand? This little independent thread of inquiry ran through the texture of
his mind and died away....
And at one place there was a great bolting of rabbits across the road, almost
under his wheels....
The phrases he had used that afternoon at Claverings came back presently into
his head. They were, he felt assured, the phrases that had to be said now. This
war could be seen as the noblest of wars, as the crowning struggle of mankind
against national dominance and national aggression; or else it was a mere
struggle of nationalities and pure destruction and catastrophe. Its enormous
significances, he felt, must not be lost in any petty bickering about the minor
issues of the conflict. But were these enormous significances being stated
clearly enough? Were they being understood by the mass of liberal and pacific
thinkers? He drove more and more slowly as these questions crowded upon his
attention until at last he came to a stop altogether.... "Certain things must be
said clearly," he whispered. "Certain things—The meaning of England.... The deep
and long-unspoken desire for kindliness and fairness.... Now is the time for
speaking. It must be put as straight now as her gun-fire, as honestly as the
steering of her ships."
Phrases and paragraphs began to shape themselves in his mind as he sat with
one arm on his steering-wheel.
Suddenly he roused himself, turned over the map in the map-case beside him,
and tried to find his position....
So far as he could judge he had strayed right into Suffolk....
About one o'clock in the morning he found himself in Newmarket. Newmarket too
was a moonlit emptiness, but as he hesitated at the cross-roads he became aware
of a policeman standing quite stiff and still at the corner
by the church.
"Matching's Easy?" he cried.
"That road, Sir, until you come to Market Saffron, and then to the
Mr. Britling had a definite purpose now in his mind, and he drove faster, but
still very carefully and surely. He was already within a mile or so of Market
Saffron before he remembered that he had made a kind of appointment with himself
at Pyecrafts. He stared at two conflicting purposes. He turned over certain
At the Market Saffron cross-roads he slowed down, and for a moment he hung
"Oliver," he said, and as he spoke he threw over his steering-wheel towards
the homeward way.... He finished his sentence when he had negotiated the corner
safely. "Oliver must have her...."
And then, perhaps fifty yards farther along, and this time almost
indignantly: "She ought to have married him long ago...."
He put his automobile in the garage, and then went round under the black
shadow of his cedars to the front door. He had no key, and for a long time he
failed to rouse his wife by flinging pebbles and gravel at her half-open window.
But at last he heard her stirring and called out to her.
He explained he had returned because he wanted to write. He wanted indeed to
write quite urgently. He went straight up to his room, lit his reading-lamp,
made himself some tea, and changed into his nocturnal suit. Daylight found him
still writing very earnestly at his pamphlet. The title he had chosen was: "And
Now War Ends."
In this fashion it was that the great war began in Europe and came to one man
in Matching's Easy, as it came to countless intelligent men
in countless pleasant homes that had scarcely heeded its coming through all the
years of its relentless preparation. The familiar scenery of life was drawn
aside, and War stood unveiled. "I am the Fact," said War, "and I stand astride
the path of life. I am the threat of death and extinction that has always walked
beside life, since life began. There can be nothing else and nothing more in
human life until you have reckoned with me."