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 Germany.
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
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
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
"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
"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 peace...."
After lunch Mr. Britling had a brilliant idea for the ease and comfort
of Mr. Direck.
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
"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 attentive."
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 together."
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
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 himself."
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
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
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
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 intelligent.
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 businesses.
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 Hugh.
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
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 sustaining intimacies.
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 it....
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 pamphlet.
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 afternoon.
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 his attention....
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 word.
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 you...."
"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 you...."
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
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 Perfect Dear."
"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 lovely time!"
"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
"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
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 wasn't...."
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
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 put off."
"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 to mobilise.
"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 my papers."
"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
"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
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 more."
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 portmanteau!
"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 him.
"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 the decision.
"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
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
"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 Russians."
"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, please."
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 one.
"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; "_Verdammte Bummelei!_"
"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
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
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
"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
"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 place."
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
"'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 beginning like."
"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
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 Belgium alone?"
"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 Powers engaged.
"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 Jena...."
"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 about Christmas."
"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
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
"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 hockey.
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 sticks together.
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
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 flares.
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
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 silver.
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
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
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 Pyecrafts.
"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 slumbering land....
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 possibilities.
At the Market Saffron cross-roads he slowed down, and for a moment he
"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
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."