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