CHAPTER THE SECOND
There were now two chief things in the mind of Mr. Britling. One was a
large and valiant thing, a thing of heroic and processional quality, the
idea of taking up one's share in the great conflict, of leaving the
Dower House and its circle of habits and activities and going out--.
From that point he wasn't quite sure where he was to go, nor exactly
what he meant to do. His imagination inclined to the figure of a
volunteer in an improvised uniform inflicting great damage upon a
raiding invader from behind a hedge. The uniform, one presumes, would
have been something in the vein of the costume in which he met Mr.
Direck. With a "brassard." Or he thought of himself as working at a
telephone or in an office engaged upon any useful quasi-administrative
work that called for intelligence rather than training. Still, of
course, with a "brassard." A month ago he would have had doubts about
the meaning of "brassard"; now it seemed to be the very keyword for
national organisation. He had started for London by the early train on
Monday morning with the intention of immediate enrolment in any such
service that offered; of getting, in fact, into his brassard at once.
The morning papers he bought at the station dashed his conviction of the
inevitable fall of Paris into hopeful doubts, but did not shake his
resolution. The effect of rout and pursuit and retreat and retreat and
retreat had disappeared from the news. The German right was being
counter-attacked, and seemed in danger of getting pinched between Paris
and Verdun with the British on its flank. This relieved his mind, but
it did nothing to modify his new realisation of the tremendous gravity
of the war. Even if the enemy were held and repulsed a little there was
still work for every man in the task of forcing them back upon their own
country. This war was an immense thing, it would touch everybody....
That meant that every man must give himself. That he had to give
himself. He must let nothing stand between him and that clear
understanding. It was utterly shameful now to hold back and not to do
one's utmost for civilisation, for England, for all the ease and safety
one had been given--against these drilled, commanded, obsessed millions.
Mr. Britling was a flame of exalted voluntaryism, of patriotic devotion,
But behind all this bravery was the other thing, the second thing in the
mind of Mr. Britling, a fear. He was prepared now to spread himself like
some valiant turkey-gobbler, every feather at its utmost, against the
aggressor. He was prepared to go out and flourish bayonets, march and
dig to the limit of his power, shoot, die in a ditch if needful, rather
than permit German militarism to dominate the world. He had no fear for
himself. He was prepared to perish upon the battlefield or cut a valiant
figure in the military hospital. But what he perceived very clearly and
did his utmost not to perceive was this qualifying and discouraging
fact, that the war monster was not nearly so disposed to meet him as he
was to meet the war, and that its eyes were fixed on something beside
and behind him, that it was already only too evidently stretching out a
long and shadowy arm past him towards Teddy--and towards Hugh....
The young are the food of war....
Teddy wasn't Mr. Britling's business anyhow. Teddy must do as he thought
proper. Mr. Britling would not even advise upon that. And as for Hugh--
Mr. Britling did his best to brazen it out.
"My eldest boy is barely seventeen," he said. "He's keen to go, and I'd
be sorry if he wasn't. He'll get into some cadet corps of course--he's
already done something of that kind at school. Or they'll take him into
the Territorials. But before he's nineteen everything will be over, one
way or another. I'm afraid, poor chap, he'll feel sold...."
And having thrust Hugh safely into the background of his mind
as--juvenile, doing a juvenile share, no sort of man yet--Mr. Britling
could give a free rein to his generous imaginations of a national
uprising. From the idea of a universal participation in the struggle he
passed by an easy transition to an anticipation of all Britain armed and
gravely embattled. Across gulfs of obstinate reality. He himself was
prepared to say, and accordingly he felt that the great mass of the
British must be prepared to say to the government: "Here we are at your
disposal. This is not a diplomatists' war nor a War Office war; this is
a war of the whole people. We are all willing and ready to lay aside our
usual occupations and offer our property and ourselves. Whim and
individual action are for peace times. Take us and use us as you think
fit. Take all we possess." When he thought of the government in this
way, he forgot the governing class he knew. The slack-trousered Raeburn,
the prim, attentive Philbert, Lady Frensham at the top of her voice,
stern, preposterous Carson, boozy Bandershoot and artful Taper, wily
Asquith, the eloquent yet unsubstantial George, and the immobile Grey,
vanished out of his mind; all those representative exponents of the way
things are done in Great Britain faded in the glow of his imaginative
effort; he forgot the dreary debates, the floundering newspapers, the
"bluffs," the intrigues, the sly bargains of the week-end party, the
"schoolboy honour" of grown men, the universal weak dishonesty in
thinking; he thought simply of a simplified and ideal government that
governed. He thought vaguely of something behind and beyond them,
England, the ruling genius of the land; something with a dignified
assurance and a stable will. He imagined this shadowy ruler miraculously
provided with schemes and statistics against this supreme occasion which
had for so many years been the most conspicuous probability before the
country. His mind leaping forwards to the conception of a great nation
reluctantly turning its vast resources to the prosecution of a righteous
defensive war, filled in the obvious corollaries of plan and
calculation. He thought that somewhere "up there" there must be people
who could count and who had counted everything that we might need for
such a struggle, and organisers who had schemed and estimated down to
practicable and manageable details....
Such lapses from knowledge to faith are perhaps necessary that human
heroism may be possible....
His conception of his own share in the great national uprising was a
very modest one. He was a writer, a footnote to reality; he had no trick
of command over men, his rôle was observation rather than organisation,
and he saw himself only as an insignificant individual dropping from his
individuality into his place in a great machine, taking a rifle in a
trench, guarding a bridge, filling a cartridge--just with a brassard or
something like that on--until the great task was done. Sunday night was
full of imaginations of order, of the countryside standing up to its
task, of roads cleared and resources marshalled, of the petty interests
of the private life altogether set aside. And mingling with that it was
still possible for Mr. Britling, he was still young enough, to produce
such dreams of personal service, of sudden emergencies swiftly and
bravely met, of conspicuous daring and exceptional rewards, such dreams
as hover in the brains of every imaginative recruit....
The detailed story of Mr. Britling's two days' search for some easy and
convenient ladder into the service of his threatened country would be a
voluminous one. It would begin with the figure of a neatly brushed
patriot, with an intent expression upon his intelligent face, seated in
the Londonward train, reading the war news--the first comforting war
news for many days--and trying not to look as though his life was torn
up by the roots and all his being aflame with devotion; and it would
conclude after forty-eight hours of fuss, inquiry, talk, waiting,
telephoning, with the same gentleman, a little fagged and with a kind of
weary apathy in his eyes, returning by the short cut from the station
across Claverings park to resume his connection with his abandoned
roots. The essential process of the interval had been the correction of
Mr. Britling's temporary delusion that the government of the British
Empire is either intelligent, instructed, or wise.
The great "Business as Usual" phase was already passing away, and London
was in the full tide of recruiting enthusiasm. That tide was breaking
against the most miserable arrangements for enlistment it is possible to
imagine. Overtaxed and not very competent officers, whose one idea of
being very efficient was to refuse civilian help and be very, very slow
and circumspect and very dignified and overbearing, sat in dirty little
rooms and snarled at this unheard-of England that pressed at door and
window for enrolment. Outside every recruiting office crowds of men and
youths waited, leaning against walls, sitting upon the pavements, waited
for long hours, waiting to the end of the day and returning next
morning, without shelter, without food, many sick with hunger; men who
had hurried up from the country, men who had thrown up jobs of every
kind, clerks, shopmen, anxious only to serve England and "teach those
damned Germans a lesson." Between them and this object they had
discovered a perplexing barrier; an inattention. As Mr. Britling made
his way by St. Martin's Church and across Trafalgar Square and marked
the weary accumulation of this magnificently patriotic stuff, he had his
first inkling of the imaginative insufficiency of the War Office that
had been so suddenly called upon to organise victory. He was to be more
fully informed when he reached his club.
His impression of the streets through which he passed was an impression
of great unrest. There were noticeably fewer omnibuses and less road
traffic generally, but there was a quite unusual number of drifting
pedestrians. The current on the pavements was irritatingly sluggish.
There were more people standing about, and fewer going upon their
business. This was particularly the case with the women he saw. Many of
them seemed to have drifted in from the suburbs and outskirts of London
in a state of vague expectation, unable to stay in their homes.
Everywhere there were the flags of the Allies; in shop windows, over
doors, on the bonnets of automobiles, on people's breasts, and there was
a great quantity of recruiting posters on the hoardings and in windows:
"Your King and Country Need You" was the chief text, and they still
called for "A Hundred Thousand Men" although the demand of Lord
Kitchener had risen to half a million. There were also placards calling
for men on nearly all the taxicabs. The big windows of the offices of
the Norddeutscher Lloyd in Cockspur Street were boarded up, and
plastered thickly with recruiting appeals.
At his club Mr. Britling found much talk and belligerent stir. In the
hall Wilkins the author was displaying a dummy rifle of bent iron rod to
several interested members. It was to be used for drilling until rifles
could be got, and it could be made for eighteen pence. This was the
first intimation Mr. Britling got that the want of foresight of the War
Office only began with its unpreparedness for recruits. Men were talking
very freely in the club; one of the temporary effects of the war in its
earlier stages was to produce a partial thaw in the constitutional
British shyness; and men who had glowered at Mr. Britling over their
lunches and had been glowered at by Mr. Britling in silence for years
now started conversations with him.
"What is a man of my sort to do?" asked a clean-shaven barrister.
"Exactly what I have been asking," said Mr. Britling. "They are fixing
the upward age for recruits at thirty; it's absurdly low. A man well
over forty like myself is quite fit to line a trench or guard a bridge.
I'm not so bad a shot...."
"We've been discussing home defence volunteers," said the barrister.
"Anyhow we ought to be drilling. But the War Office sets its face as
sternly against our doing anything of the sort as though we were going
to join the Germans. It's absurd. Even if we older men aren't fit to go
abroad, we could at least release troops who could."
"If you had the rifles," said a sharp-featured man in grey to the right
of Mr. Britling.
"I suppose they are to be got," said Mr. Britling.
The sharp-featured man indicated by appropriate facial action and
head-shaking that this was by no means the case.
"Every dead man, many wounded men, most prisoners," he said, "mean each
one a rifle lost. We have lost five-and-twenty thousand rifles alone
since the war began. Quite apart from arming new troops we have to
replace those rifles with the drafts we send out. Do you know what is
the maximum weekly output of rifles at the present time in this
Mr. Britling did not know.
Mr. Britling suddenly understood the significance of Wilkins and his
The sharp-featured man added with an air of concluding the matter: "It's
the barrels are the trouble. Complicated machinery. We haven't got it
and we can't make it in a hurry. And there you are!"
The sharp-featured man had a way of speaking almost as if he was
throwing bombs. He threw one now. "Zinc," he said.
"We're not short of zinc?" said the lawyer.
The sharp-featured man nodded, and then became explicit.
Zinc was necessary for cartridges; it had to be refined zinc and very
pure, or the shooting went wrong. Well, we had let the refining business
drift away from England to Belgium and Germany. There were just one or
two British firms still left.... Unless we bucked up tremendously we
should get caught short of cartridges.... At any rate of cartridges so
made as to ensure good shooting. "And there you are!" said the
But the sharp-featured man did not at that time represent any
considerable section of public thought. "I suppose after all we can get
rifles from America," said the lawyer. "And as for zinc, if the shortage
is known the shortage will be provided for...."
The prevailing topic in the smoking-room upstairs was the inability of
the War Office to deal with the flood of recruits that was pouring in,
and its hostility to any such volunteering as Mr. Britling had in mind.
Quite a number of members wanted to volunteer; there was much talk of
their fitness; "I'm fifty-four," said one, "and I could do my
twenty-five miles in marching kit far better than half those boys of
nineteen." Another was thirty-eight. "I must hold the business
together," he said; "but why anyhow shouldn't I learn to shoot and use a
bayonet?" The personal pique of the rejected lent force to their
criticisms of the recruiting and general organisation. "The War Office
has one incurable system," said a big mine-owner. "During peace time it
runs all its home administration with men who will certainly be wanted
at the front directly there is a war. Directly war comes, therefore,
there is a shift all round, and a new untried man--usually a dug-out in
an advanced state of decay--is stuck into the job. Chaos follows
automatically. The War Office always has done this, and so far as one
can see it always will. It seems incapable of realising that another
man will be wanted until the first is taken away. Its imagination
doesn't even run to that."
Mr. Britling found a kindred spirit in Wilkins.
Wilkins was expounding his tremendous scheme for universal volunteering.
Everybody was to be accepted. Everybody was to be assigned and
"A brassard," said Mr. Britling.
"It doesn't matter whether we really produce a fighting force or not,"
said Wilkins. "Everybody now is enthusiastic--and serious. Everybody is
willing to put on some kind of uniform and submit to some sort of
orders. And the thing to do is to catch them in the willing stage. Now
is the time to get the country lined up and organised, ready to meet the
internal stresses that are bound to come later. But there's no
disposition whatever to welcome this universal offering. It's just as
though this war was a treat to which only the very select friends of the
War Office were to be admitted. And I don't admit that the national
volunteers would be ineffective--even from a military point of view.
There are plenty of fit men of our age, and men of proper age who are
better employed at home--armament workers for example, and there are all
the boys under the age. They may not be under the age before things are
He was even prepared to plan uniforms.
"A brassard," repeated Mr. Britling, "and perhaps coloured strips on the
revers of a coat."
"Colours for the counties," said Wilkins, "and if there isn't coloured
cloth to be got there's--red flannel. Anything is better than leaving
the mass of people to mob about...."
A momentary vision danced before Mr. Britling's eyes of red flannel
petticoats being torn up in a rapid improvisation of soldiers to resist
a sudden invasion. Passing washerwomen suddenly requisitioned. But one
must not let oneself be laughed out of good intentions because of
ridiculous accessories. The idea at any rate was the sound one....
The vision of what ought to be done shone brightly while Mr. Britling
and Mr. Wilkins maintained it. But presently under discouraging
reminders that there were no rifles, no instructors, and, above all, the
open hostility of the established authorities, it faded again....
Afterwards in other conversations Mr. Britling reverted to more modest
"Is there no clerical work, no minor administrative work, a man might be
used for?" he asked.
"Any old dug-out," said the man with the thin face, "any old doddering
Colonel Newcome, is preferred to you in that matter...."
Mr. Britling emerged from his club about half-past three with his mind
rather dishevelled and with his private determination to do something
promptly for his country's needs blunted by a perplexing "How?" His
search for doors and ways where no doors and ways existed went on with a
gathering sense of futility.
He had a ridiculous sense of pique at being left out, like a child shut
out from a room in which a vitally interesting game is being played.
"After all, it is _our_ war," he said.
He caught the phrase as it dropped from his lips with a feeling that it
said more than he intended. He turned it over and examined it, and the
more he did so the more he was convinced of its truth and soundness....
By night there was a new strangeness about London. The authorities were
trying to suppress the more brilliant illumination of the chief
thoroughfares, on account of the possibility of an air raid. Shopkeepers
were being compelled to pull down their blinds, and many of the big
standard lights were unlit. Mr. Britling thought these precautions were
very fussy and unnecessary, and likely to lead to accidents amidst the
traffic. But it gave a Rembrandtesque quality to the London scene,
turned it into mysterious arrangements of brown shadows and cones and
bars of light. At first many people were recalcitrant, and here and
there a restaurant or a draper's window still blazed out and broke the
gloom. There were also a number of insubordinate automobiles with big
head-lights. But the police were being unusually firm....
"It will all glitter again in a little time," he told himself.
He heard an old lady who was projecting from an offending automobile at
Piccadilly Circus in hot dispute with a police officer. "Zeppelins
indeed!" she said. "What nonsense! As if they would _dare_ to come here!
Who would _let_ them, I should like to know?"
Probably a friend of Lady Frensham's, he thought. Still--the idea of
Zeppelins over London did seem rather ridiculous to Mr. Britling. He
would not have liked to have been caught talking of it himself.... There
never had been Zeppelins over London. They were gas bags....
On Wednesday morning Mr. Britling returned to the Dower House, and he
was still a civilian unassigned.
In the hall he found a tall figure in khaki standing and reading _The
Times_ that usually lay upon the hall table. The figure turned at Mr.
Britling's entry, and revealed the aquiline features of Mr. Lawrence
Carmine. It was as if his friend had stolen a march on him.
But Carmine's face showed nothing of the excitement and patriotic
satisfaction that would have seemed natural to Mr. Britling. He was
white and jaded, as if he had not slept for many nights. "You see," he
explained almost apologetically of the three stars upon his sleeve, "I
used to be a captain of volunteers." He had been put in charge of a
volunteer force which had been re-embodied and entrusted with the care
of the bridges, gasworks, factories and railway tunnels, and with a
number of other minor but necessary duties round about Easinghampton.
"I've just got to shut up my house," said Captain Carmine, "and go into
lodgings. I confess I hate it.... But anyhow it can't last six
months.... But it's beastly.... Ugh!..."
He seemed disposed to expand that "Ugh," and then thought better of it.
And presently Mr. Britling took control of the conversation.
His two days in London had filled him with matter, and he was glad to
have something more than Hugh and Teddy and Mrs. Britling to talk it
upon. What was happening now in Great Britain, he declared, was
_adjustment_. It was an attempt on the part of a great unorganised
nation, an attempt, instinctive at present rather than intelligent, to
readjust its government and particularly its military organisation to
the new scale of warfare that Germany had imposed upon the world. For
two strenuous decades the British navy had been growing enormously under
the pressure of German naval preparations, but the British military
establishment had experienced no corresponding expansion. It was true
there had been a futile, rather foolishly conducted agitation for
universal military service, but there had been no accumulation of
material, no preparation of armament-making machinery, no planning and
no foundations for any sort of organisation that would have facilitated
the rapid expansion of the fighting forces of a country in a time of
crisis. Such an idea was absolutely antagonistic to the mental habits of
the British military caste. The German method of incorporating all the
strength and resources of the country into one national fighting machine
was quite strange to the British military mind--still. Even after a
month of war. War had become the comprehensive business of the German
nation; to the British it was an incidental adventure. In Germany the
nation was militarised, in England the army was specialised. The nation
for nearly every practical purpose got along without it. Just as
political life had also become specialised.... Now suddenly we wanted a
government to speak for every one, and an army of the whole people. How
were we to find it?
Mr. Britling dwelt upon this idea of the specialised character of the
British army and navy and government. It seemed to him to be the clue to
everything that was jarring in the London spectacle. The army had been a
thing aloof, for a special end. It had developed all the characteristics
of a caste. It had very high standards along the lines of its
specialisation, but it was inadaptable and conservative. Its
exclusiveness was not so much a deliberate culture as a consequence of
its detached function. It touched the ordinary social body chiefly
through three other specialised bodies, the court, the church, and the
stage. Apart from that it saw the great unofficial civilian world as
something vague, something unsympathetic, something possibly
antagonistic, which it comforted itself by snubbing when it dared and
tricking when it could, something that projected members of Parliament
towards it and was stingy about money. Directly one grasped how apart
the army lived from the ordinary life of the community, from
industrialism or from economic necessities, directly one understood that
the great mass of Englishmen were simply "outsiders" to the War Office
mind, just as they were "outsiders" to the political clique, one began
to realise the complete unfitness of either government or War Office for
the conduct of so great a national effort as was now needed. These
people "up there" did not know anything of the broad mass of English
life at all, they did not know how or where things were made; when they
wanted things they just went to a shop somewhere and got them. This was
the necessary psychology of a small army under a clique government.
Nothing else was to be expected. But now--somehow--the nation had to
take hold of the government that it had neglected so long....
"You see," said Mr. Britling, repeating a phrase that was becoming more
and more essential to his thoughts, "this is _our_ war....
"Of course," said Mr. Britling, "these things are not going to be done
without a conflict. We aren't going to take hold of our country which we
have neglected so long without a lot of internal friction. But in
England we can make these readjustments without revolution. It is our
"At present England is confused--but it's a healthy confusion. It's
astir. We have more things to defeat than just Germany....
"These hosts of recruits--weary, uncared for, besieging the recruiting
stations. It's symbolical.... Our tremendous reserves of will and
manhood. Our almost incredible insufficiency of direction....
"Those people up there have no idea of the Will that surges up in
England. They are timid little manoeuvring people, afraid of property,
afraid of newspapers, afraid of trade-unions. They aren't leading us
against the Germans; they are just being shoved against the Germans by
From this Mr. Britling broke away into a fresh addition to his already
large collection of contrasts between England and Germany. Germany was a
nation which has been swallowed up and incorporated by an army and an
administration; the Prussian military system had assimilated to itself
the whole German life. It was a State in a state of repletion, a State
that had swallowed all its people. Britain was not a State. It was an
unincorporated people. The British army, the British War Office, and the
British administration had assimilated nothing; they were little old
partial things; the British nation lay outside them, beyond their
understanding and tradition; a formless new thing, but a great thing;
and now this British nation, this real nation, the "outsiders," had to
take up arms. Suddenly all the underlying ideas of that outer, greater
English life beyond politics, beyond the services, were challenged, its
tolerant good humour, its freedom, and its irresponsibility. It was not
simply English life that was threatened; it was all the latitudes of
democracy, it was every liberal idea and every liberty. It was
civilisation in danger. The uncharted liberal system had been taken by
the throat; it had to "make good" or perish....
"I went up to London expecting to be told what to do. There is no one to
tell any one what to do.... Much less is there any one to compel us what
"There's a War Office like a college during a riot, with its doors and
windows barred; there's a government like a cockle boat in an Atlantic
"One feels the thing ought to have come upon us like the sound of a
trumpet. Instead, until now, it has been like a great noise, that we
just listened to, in the next house.... And now slowly the nation
awakes. London is just like a dazed sleeper waking up out of a deep
sleep to fire and danger, tumult and cries for help, near at hand. The
streets give you exactly that effect. People are looking about and
listening. One feels that at any moment, in a pause, in a silence, there
may come, from far away, over the houses, faint and little, the boom of
guns or the small outcries of little French or Belgian villages in
Such was the gist of Mr. Britling's discourse.
He did most of the table talk, and all that mattered. Teddy was an
assenting voice, Hugh was silent and apparently a little inattentive,
Mrs. Britling was thinking of the courses and the servants and the boys,
and giving her husband only half an ear, Captain Carmine said little and
seemed to be troubled by some disagreeable preoccupation. Now and then
he would endorse or supplement the things Mr. Britling was saying.
Thrice he remarked: "People still do not begin to understand."...
It was only when they sat together in the barn court out of the way of
Mrs. Britling and the children that Captain Carmine was able to explain
his listless bearing and jaded appearance. He was suffering from a bad
nervous shock. He had hardly taken over his command before one of his
men had been killed--and killed in a manner that had left a scar upon
The man had been guarding a tunnel, and he had been knocked down by one
train when crossing the line behind another. So it was that the bomb of
Sarajevo killed its first victim in Essex. Captain Carmine had found the
body. He had found the body in a cloudy moonlight; he had almost fallen
over it; and his sensations and emotions had been eminently
disagreeable. He had had to drag the body--it was very dreadfully
mangled--off the permanent way, the damaged, almost severed head had
twisted about very horribly in the uncertain light, and afterwards he
had found his sleeves saturated with blood. He had not noted this at the
time, and when he had discovered it he had been sick. He had thought the
whole thing more horrible and hateful than any nightmare, but he had
succeeded in behaving with a sufficient practicality to set an example
to his men. Since this had happened he had not had an hour of dreamless
"One doesn't expect to be called upon like that," said Captain Carmine,
"suddenly here in England.... When one is smoking after supper...."
Mr. Britling listened to this experience with distressed brows. All his
talking and thinking became to him like the open page of a monthly
magazine. Across it this bloody smear, this thing of red and black, was
The smear was still bright red in Mr. Britling's thoughts when Teddy
came to him.
"I must go," said Teddy, "I can't stop here any longer."
"Into khaki. I've been thinking of it ever since the war began. Do you
remember what you said when we were bullying off at hockey on Bank
Holiday--the day before war was declared?"
Mr. Britling had forgotten completely; he made an effort. "What did I
"You said, 'What the devil are we doing at this hockey? We ought to be
drilling or shooting against those confounded Germans!' ... I've never
forgotten it.... I ought to have done it before. I've been a
scout-master. In a little while they will want officers. In London, I'm
told, there are a lot of officers' training corps putting men through
the work as quickly as possible.... If I could go...."
"What does Letty think?" said Mr. Britling after a pause. This was
right, of course--the only right thing--and yet he was surprised.
"She says if you'd let her try to do my work for a time...."
"She _wants_ you to go?"
"Of course she does," said Teddy. "She wouldn't like me to be a
shirker.... But I can't unless you help."
"I'm quite ready to do that," said Mr. Britling. "But somehow I didn't
think it of you. I hadn't somehow thought of _you_--"
"What _did_ you think of me?" asked Teddy.
"It's bringing the war home to us.... Of course you ought to go--if you
want to go."
He reflected. It was odd to find Teddy in this mood, strung up and
serious and businesslike. He felt that in the past he had done Teddy
injustice; this young man wasn't as trivial as he had thought him....
They fell to discussing ways and means; there might have to be a loan
for Teddy's outfit, if he did presently secure a commission. And there
were one or two other little matters.... Mr. Britling dismissed a
ridiculous fancy that he was paying to send Teddy away to something that
neither that young man nor Letty understood properly....
The next day Teddy vanished Londonward on his bicycle. He was going to
lodge in London in order to be near his training. He was zealous. Never
before had Teddy been zealous. Mrs. Teddy came to the Dower House for
the correspondence, trying not to look self-conscious and important.
Two Mondays later a very bright-eyed, excited little boy came running to
Mr. Britling, who was smoking after lunch in the rose garden. "Daddy!"
squealed the small boy. "Teddy! In khaki!"
The other junior Britling danced in front of the hero, who was walking
beside Mrs. Britling and trying not to be too aggressively a soldierly
figure. He looked a very man in khaki and more of a boy than ever. Mrs.
Teddy came behind, quietly elated.
Mr. Britling had a recurrence of that same disagreeable fancy that these
young people didn't know exactly what they were going into. He wished he
was in khaki himself; then he fancied this compunction wouldn't trouble
him quite so much.
The afternoon with them deepened his conviction that they really didn't
in the slightest degree understand. Life had been so good to them
hitherto, that even the idea of Teddy's going off to the war seemed a
sort of fun to them. It was just a thing he was doing, a serious,
seriously amusing, and very creditable thing. It involved his dressing
up in these unusual clothes, and receiving salutes in the street....
They discussed every possible aspect of his military outlook with the
zest of children, who recount the merits of a new game. They were
putting Teddy through his stages at a tremendous pace. In quite a little
time he thought he would be given the chance of a commission.
"They want subalterns badly. Already they've taken nearly a third of our
people," he said, and added with the wistfulness of one who glances at
inaccessible delights: "one or two may get out to the front quite soon."
He spoke as a young actor might speak of a star part. And with a touch
of the quality of one who longs to travel in strange lands.... One must
be patient. Things come at last....
"If I'm killed she gets eighty pounds a year," Teddy explained among
many other particulars.
He smiled--the smile of a confident immortal at this amusing idea.
"He's my little annuity," said Letty, also smiling, "dead or alive."
"We'll miss Teddy in all sorts of ways," said Mr. Britling.
"It's only for the duration of the war," said Teddy. "And Letty's very
intelligent. I've done my best to chasten the evil in her."
"If you think you're going to get back your job after the war," said
Letty, "you're very much mistaken. I'm going to raise the standard."
"_You_!" said Teddy, regarding her coldly, and proceeded ostentatiously
to talk of other things.
"Hugh's going to be in khaki too," the elder junior told Teddy. "He's
too young to go out in Kitchener's army, but he's joined the
Territorials. He went off on Thursday.... I wish Gilbert and me was
Mr. Britling had known his son's purpose since the evening of Teddy's
Hugh had come to his father's study as he was sitting musing at his
writing-desk over the important question whether he should continue his
"Examination of War" uninterruptedly, or whether he should not put that
on one side for a time and set himself to state as clearly as possible
the not too generally recognised misfit between the will and strength of
Britain on the one hand and her administrative and military organisation
on the other. He felt that an enormous amount of human enthusiasm and
energy was being refused and wasted; that if things went on as they were
going there would continue to be a quite disastrous shortage of gear,
and that some broadening change was needed immediately if the swift
exemplary victory over Germany that his soul demanded was to be ensured.
Suppose he were to write some noisy articles at once, an article, for
instance, to be called "The War of the Mechanics" or "The War of Gear,"
and another on "Without Civil Strength there is no Victory." If he wrote
such things would they be noted or would they just vanish
indistinguishably into the general mental tumult? Would they be audible
and helpful shouts, or just waste of shouting?... That at least was what
he supposed himself to be thinking; it was, at any rate, the main
current of his thinking; but all the same, just outside the circle of
his attention a number of other things were dimly apprehended, bobbing
up and down in the flood and ready at the slightest chance to swirl into
the centre of his thoughts. There was, for instance, Captain Carmine in
the moonlight lugging up a railway embankment something horrible,
something loose and wet and warm that had very recently been a man.
There was Teddy, serious and patriotic--filling a futile penman with
incredulous respect. There was the thin-faced man at the club, and a
curious satisfaction he had betrayed in the public disarrangement. And
there was Hugh. Particularly there was Hugh, silent but watchful. The
boy never babbled. He had his mother's gift of deep dark silences. Out
of which she was wont to flash, a Black Princess waving a sword. He
wandered for a little while among memories.... But Hugh didn't come out
like that, though it always seemed possible he might--perhaps he didn't
come out because he was a son. Revelation to his father wasn't his
business.... What was he thinking of it all? What was he going to do?
Mr. Britling was acutely anxious that his son should volunteer; he was
almost certain that he would volunteer, but there was just a little
shadow of doubt whether some extraordinary subtlety of mind mightn't
have carried the boy into a pacifist attitude. No! that was impossible.
In the face of Belgium.... But as greatly--and far more deeply in the
warm flesh of his being--did Mr. Britling desire that no harm, no evil
should happen to Hugh....
The door opened, and Hugh came in....
Mr. Britling glanced over his shoulder with an affectation of
indifference. "Hal-_lo!_" he said. "What do you want?"
Hugh walked awkwardly to the hearthrug.
"Oh!" he said in an off-hand tone; "I suppose I've got to go soldiering
for a bit. I just thought--I'd rather like to go off with a man I know
Mr. Britling's manner remained casual.
"It's the only thing to do now, I'm afraid," he said.
He turned in his chair and regarded his son. "What do you mean to do?
"I don't think I should make much of an officer. I hate giving orders to
other people. We thought we'd just go together into the Essex Regiment
There was a little pause. Both father and son had rehearsed this scene
in their minds several times, and now they found that they had no use
for a number of sentences that had been most effective in these
rehearsals. Mr. Britling scratched his cheek with the end of his pen.
"I'm glad you want to go, Hugh," he said.
"I _don't_ want to go," said Hugh with his hands deep in his pockets. "I
want to go and work with Cardinal. But this job has to be done by every
one. Haven't you been saying as much all day?... It's like turning out
to chase a burglar or suppress a mad dog. It's like necessary
"You aren't attracted by soldiering?"
"Not a bit. I won't pretend it, Daddy. I think the whole business is a
bore. Germany seems to me now just like some heavy horrible dirty mass
that has fallen across Belgium and France. We've got to shove the stuff
back again. That's all...."
He volunteered some further remarks to his father's silence.
"You know I can't get up a bit of tootle about this business," he said.
"I think killing people or getting killed is a thoroughly nasty
habit.... I expect my share will be just drilling and fatigue duties and
route marches, and loafing here in England...."
"You can't possibly go out for two years," said Mr. Britling, as if he
A slight hesitation appeared in Hugh's eyes. "I suppose not," he said.
"Things ought to be over by then--anyhow," Mr. Britling added, betraying
his real feelings.
"So it's really just helping at the furthest end of the shove," Hugh
endorsed, but still with that touch of reservation in his manner....
The pause had the effect of closing the theoretical side of the
question. "Where do you propose to enlist?" said Mr. Britling, coming
down to practical details.
The battle of the Marne passed into the battle of the Aisne, and then
the long lines of the struggle streamed north-westward until the British
were back in Belgium failing to clutch Menin and then defending Ypres.
The elation of September followed the bedazzlement and dismay of August
into the chapter of forgotten moods; and Mr. Britling's sense of the
magnitude, the weight and duration of this war beyond all wars,
increased steadily. The feel of it was less and less a feeling of crisis
and more and more a feeling of new conditions. It wasn't as it had
seemed at first, the end of one human phase and the beginning of
another; it was in itself a phase. It was a new way of living. And still
he could find no real point of contact for himself with it all except
the point of his pen. Only at his writing-desk, and more particularly at
night, were the great presences of the conflict his. Yet he was always
desiring some more personal and physical participation.
Hugh came along one day in October in an ill-fitting uniform, looking
already coarser in fibre and with a nose scorched red by the autumnal
sun. He said the life was rough, but it made him feel extraordinarily
well; perhaps man was made to toil until he dropped asleep from
exhaustion, to fast for ten or twelve hours and then eat like a wolf. He
was acquiring a taste for Woodbine cigarettes, and a heady variety of
mineral waters called Monsters. He feared promotion; he felt he could
never take the high line with other human beings demanded of a corporal.
He was still trying to read a little chemistry and crystallography, but
it didn't "go with the life." In the scanty leisure of a recruit in
training it was more agreeable to lie about and write doggerel verses
and draw caricatures of the men in one's platoon. Invited to choose what
he liked by his family, he demanded a large tuckbox such as he used to
have at school, only "_much_ larger," and a big tin of insect powder.
It must be able to kill ticks....
When he had gone, the craving for a personal share in the nation's
physical exertions became overpowering in Mr. Britling. He wanted, he
felt, to "get his skin into it." He had decided that the volunteer
movement was a hopeless one. The War Office, after a stout resistance to
any volunteer movement at all, decided to recognise it in such a manner
as to make it ridiculous. The volunteers were to have no officers and no
uniforms that could be remotely mistaken for those of the regulars, so
that in the event of an invasion the Germans would be able to tell what
they had to deal with miles away. Wilkins found his conception of a
whole nation, all enrolled, all listed and badged according to capacity,
his dream of every one falling into place in one great voluntary
national effort, treated as the childish dreaming of that most ignorant
of all human types, a "novelist." _Punch_ was delicately funny about
him; he was represented as wearing a preposterous cocked hat of his own
design, designing cocked hats for every one. Wilkins was told to "shut
up" in a multitude of anonymous letters, and publicly and privately to
"leave things to Kitchener." To bellow in loud clear tones "leave things
to Kitchener," and to depart for the theatre or the river or an
automobile tour, was felt very generally at that time to be the proper
conduct for a patriot. There was a very general persuasion that to
become a volunteer when one ought to be just modestly doing nothing at
all, was in some obscure way a form of disloyalty....
So Mr. Britling was out of conceit with volunteering, and instead he
went and was duly sworn and entrusted with the badge of a special
constable. The duties of a special constable were chiefly not to
understand what was going on in the military sphere, and to do what he
was told in the way of watching and warding conceivably vulnerable
points. He had also to be available in the event of civil disorder. Mr.
Britling was provided with a truncheon and sent out to guard various
culverts, bridges, and fords in the hilly country to the north-westward
of Matching's Easy. It was never very clear to him what he would do if
he found a motor-car full of armed enemies engaged in undermining a
culvert, or treacherously deepening some strategic ford. He supposed he
would either engage them in conversation, or hit them with his
truncheon, or perhaps do both things simultaneously. But as he really
did not believe for a moment that any human being was likely to tamper
with the telegraphs, telephones, ways and appliances committed to his
care, his uncertainty did not trouble him very much. He prowled the
lonely lanes and paths in the darkness, and became better acquainted
with a multitude of intriguing little cries and noises that came from
the hedges and coverts at night. One night he rescued a young leveret
from a stoat, who seemed more than half inclined to give him battle for
its prey until he cowed and defeated it with the glare of his electric
As he prowled the countryside under the great hemisphere of Essex sky,
or leant against fences or sat drowsily upon gates or sheltered from
wind and rain under ricks or sheds, he had much time for meditation, and
his thoughts went down and down below his first surface impressions of
the war. He thought no longer of the rights and wrongs of this
particular conflict but of the underlying forces in mankind that made
war possible; he planned no more ingenious treaties and conventions
between the nations, and instead he faced the deeper riddles of
essential evil and of conceivable changes in the heart of man. And the
rain assailed him and thorns tore him, and the soaked soft meadows
bogged and betrayed his wandering feet, and the little underworld of the
hedges and ditches hissed and squealed in the darkness and pursued and
fled, and devoured or were slain.
And one night in April he was perplexed by a commotion among the
pheasants and a barking of distant dogs, and then to his great
astonishment he heard noises like a distant firework display and saw
something like a phantom yellowish fountain-pen in the sky far away to
the east lit intermittently by a quivering search-light and going very
swiftly. And after he had rubbed his eyes and looked again, he realised
that he was looking at a Zeppelin--a Zeppelin flying Londonward over
And all that night was wonder....
While Mr. Britling was trying to find his duty in the routine of a
special constable, Mrs. Britling set to work with great energy to attend
various classes and qualify herself for Red Cross work. And early in
October came the great drive of the Germans towards Antwerp and the sea,
the great drive that was apparently designed to reach Calais, and which
swept before it multitudes of Flemish refugees. There was an exodus of
all classes from Antwerp into Holland and England, and then a huge
process of depopulation in Flanders and the Pas de Calais. This flood
came to the eastern and southern parts of England and particularly to
London, and there hastily improvised organisations distributed it to a
number of local committees, each of which took a share of the refugees,
hired and furnished unoccupied houses for the use of the penniless, and
assisted those who had means into comfortable quarters. The Matching's
Easy committee found itself with accommodation for sixty people, and
with a miscellaneous bag of thirty individuals entrusted to its care,
who had been part of the load of a little pirate steam-boat from Ostend.
There were two Flemish peasant families, and the rest were more or less
middle-class refugees from Antwerp. They were brought from the station
to the Tithe barn at Claverings, and there distributed, under the
personal supervision of Lady Homartyn and her agent, among those who
were prepared for their entertainment. There was something like
competition among the would-be hosts; everybody was glad of the chance
of "doing something," and anxious to show these Belgians what England
thought of their plucky little country. Mr. Britling was proud to lead
off a Mr. Van der Pant, a neat little bearded man in a black tail-coat,
a black bowler hat, and a knitted muffler, with a large rucksack and a
conspicuously foreign-looking bicycle, to the hospitalities of Dower
House. Mr. Van der Pant had escaped from Antwerp at the eleventh hour,
he had caught a severe cold and, it would seem, lost his wife and family
in the process; he had much to tell Mr. Britling, and in his zeal to
tell it he did not at once discover that though Mr. Britling knew French
quite well he did not know it very rapidly.
The dinner that night at the Dower House marked a distinct fresh step in
the approach of the Great War to the old habits and securities of
Matching's Easy. The war had indeed filled every one's mind to the
exclusion of all other topics since its very beginning; it had carried
off Herr Heinrich to Germany, Teddy to London, and Hugh to Colchester,
it had put a special brassard round Mr. Britling's arm and carried him
out into the night, given Mrs. Britling several certificates, and
interrupted the frequent visits and gossip of Mr. Lawrence Carmine; but
so far it had not established a direct contact between the life of
Matching's Easy and the grim business of shot, shell, and bayonet at the
front. But now here was the Dower House accomplishing wonderful idioms
in Anglo-French, and an animated guest telling them--sometimes one
understood clearly and sometimes the meaning was clouded--of men blown
to pieces under his eyes, of fragments of human beings lying about in
the streets; there was trouble over the expression _omoplate d'une
femme_, until one of the youngsters got the dictionary and found out it
was the shoulder-blade of a woman; of pools of blood--everywhere--and
of flight in the darkness.
Mr. Van der Pant had been in charge of the dynamos at the Antwerp Power
Station, he had been keeping the electrified wires in the entanglements
"alive," and he had stuck to his post until the German high explosives
had shattered his wires and rendered his dynamos useless. He gave vivid
little pictures of the noises of the bombardment, of the dead lying
casually in the open spaces, of the failure of the German guns to hit
the bridge of boats across which the bulk of the defenders and refugees
escaped. He produced a little tourist's map of the city of Antwerp, and
dotted at it with a pencil-case. "The--what do you call?--_obus_, ah,
shells! fell, so and so and so." Across here he had fled on his
_bécane_, and along here and here. He had carried off his rifle, and hid
it with the rifles of various other Belgians between floor and ceiling
of a house in Zeebrugge. He had found the pirate steamer in the harbour,
its captain resolved to extract the uttermost fare out of every refugee
he took to London. When they were all aboard and started they found
there was no food except the hard ration biscuits of some Belgian
soldiers. They had portioned this out like shipwrecked people on a
raft.... The _mer_ had been _calme_; thank Heaven! All night they had
been pumping. He had helped with the pumps. But Mr. Van der Pant hoped
still to get a reckoning with the captain of that ship.
Mr. Van der Pant had had shots at various Zeppelins. When the Zeppelins
came to Antwerp everybody turned out on the roofs and shot at them. He
was contemptuous of Zeppelins. He made derisive gestures to express his
opinion of them. They could do nothing unless they came low, and if they
came low you could hit them. One which ventured down had been riddled;
it had had to drop all its bombs--luckily they fell in an open field--in
order to make its lame escape. It was all nonsense to say, as the
English papers did, that they took part in the final bombardment. Not a
Zeppelin.... So he talked, and the Britling family listened and
understood as much as they could, and replied and questioned in
Anglo-French. Here was a man who but a few days ago had been steering
his bicycle in the streets of Antwerp to avoid shell craters, pools of
blood, and the torn-off arms and shoulder-blades of women. He had seen
houses flaring, set afire by incendiary bombs, and once at a corner he
had been knocked off his bicycle by the pouff of a bursting shell....
Not only were these things in the same world with us, they were sitting
at our table.
He told one grim story of an invalid woman unable to move, lying in bed
in her _appartement_, and of how her husband went out on the balcony to
look at the Zeppelin. There was a great noise of shooting. Ever and
again he would put his head back into the room and tell her things, and
then after a time he was silent and looked in no more. She called to
him, and called again. Becoming frightened, she raised herself by a
great effort and peered through the glass. At first she was too puzzled
to understand what had happened. He was hanging over the front of the
balcony, with his head twisted oddly. Twisted and shattered. He had been
killed by shrapnel fired from the outer fortifications....
These are the things that happen in histories and stories. They do not
happen at Matching's Easy....
Mr. Van der Pant did not seem to be angry with the Germans. But he
manifestly regarded them as people to be killed. He denounced nothing
that they had done; he related. They were just an evil accident that had
happened to Belgium and mankind. They had to be destroyed. He gave Mr.
Britling an extraordinary persuasion that knives were being sharpened in
every cellar in Brussels and Antwerp against the day of inevitable
retreat, of a resolution to exterminate the invader that was far too
deep to be vindictive.... And the man was most amazingly unconquered.
Mr. Britling perceived the label on his habitual dinner wine with a
slight embarrassment. "Do you care," he asked, "to drink a German wine?
This is Berncasteler from the Moselle." Mr. Van der Pant reflected. "But
it is a good wine," he said. "After the peace it will be Belgian....
Yes, if we are to be safe in the future from such a war as this, we must
have our boundaries right up to the Rhine."
So he sat and talked, flushed and, as it were, elated by the vividness
of all that he had undergone. He had no trace of tragic quality, no hint
of subjugation. But for his costume and his trimmed beard and his
language he might have been a Dubliner or a Cockney.
He was astonishingly cut off from all his belongings. His house in
Antwerp was abandoned to the invader; valuables and cherished objects
very skilfully buried in the garden; he had no change of clothing except
what the rucksack held. His only footwear were the boots he came in. He
could not get on any of the slippers in the house, they were all too
small for him, until suddenly Mrs. Britling bethought herself of Herr
Heinrich's pair, still left unpacked upstairs. She produced them, and
they fitted exactly. It seemed only poetical justice, a foretaste of
national compensations, to annex them to Belgium forthwith....
Also it became manifest that Mr. Van der Pant was cut off from all his
family. And suddenly he became briskly critical of the English way of
doing things. His wife and child had preceded him to England, crossing
by Ostend and Folkestone a fortnight ago; her parents had come in
August; both groups had been seized upon by improvised British
organisations and very thoroughly and completely lost. He had written to
the Belgian Embassy and they had referred him to a committee in London,
and the committee had begun its services by discovering a Madame Van der
Pant hitherto unknown to him at Camberwell, and displaying a certain
suspicion and hostility when he said she would not do. There had been
some futile telegrams. "What," asked Mr. Van der Pant, "ought one to
Mr. Britling temporised by saying he would "make inquiries," and put Mr.
Van der Pant off for two days. Then he decided to go up to London with
him and "make inquiries on the spot." Mr. Van der Pant did not discover
his family, but Mr. Britling discovered the profound truth of a comment
of Herr Heinrich's which he had hitherto considered utterly trivial, but
which had nevertheless stuck in his memory. "The English," Herr Heinrich
had said, "do not understanding indexing. It is the root of all good
Finally, Mr. Van der Pant adopted the irregular course of asking every
Belgian he met if they had seen any one from his district in Antwerp, if
they had heard of the name of "Van der Pant," if they had encountered
So-and-so or So-and-so. And by obstinacy and good fortune he really got
on to the track of Madame Van der Pant; she had been carried off into
Kent, and a day later the Dower House was the scene of a happy reunion.
Madame was a slender lady, dressed well and plainly, with a Belgian
common sense and a Catholic reserve, and André was like a child of wax,
delicate and charming and unsubstantial. It seemed incredible that he
could ever grow into anything so buoyant and incessant as his father.
The Britling boys had to be warned not to damage him. A sitting-room was
handed over to the Belgians for their private use, and for a time the
two families settled into the Dower House side by side. Anglo-French
became the table language of the household. It hampered Mr. Britling
very considerably. And both families set themselves to much unrecorded
observation, much unspoken mutual criticism, and the exercise of great
patience. It was tiresome for the English to be tied to a language that
crippled all spontaneous talk; these linguistic gymnastics were fun to
begin with, but soon they became very troublesome; and the Belgians
suspected sensibilities in their hosts and a vast unwritten code of
etiquette that did not exist; at first they were always waiting, as it
were, to be invited or told or included; they seemed always
deferentially backing out from intrusions. Moreover, they would not at
first reveal what food they liked or what they didn't like, or whether
they wanted more or less.... But these difficulties were soon smoothed
away, they Anglicised quickly and cleverly. André grew bold and
cheerful, and lost his first distrust of his rather older English
playmates. Every day at lunch he produced a new, carefully prepared
piece of English, though for some time he retained a marked preference
for "Good morning, Saire," and "Thank you very mush," over all other
locutions, and fell back upon them on all possible and many impossible
occasions. And he could do some sleight-of-hand tricks with remarkable
skill and humour, and fold paper with quite astonishing results.
Meanwhile Mr. Van der Pant sought temporary employment in England, went
for long rides upon his bicycle, exchanged views with Mr. Britling upon
a variety of subjects, and became a wonderful player of hockey.
He played hockey with an extraordinary zest and nimbleness. Always he
played in the tail coat, and the knitted muffler was never relinquished;
he treated the game entirely as an occasion for quick tricks and
personal agility; he bounded about the field like a kitten, he
pirouetted suddenly, he leapt into the air and came down in new
directions; his fresh-coloured face was alive with delight, the coat
tails and the muffler trailed and swished about breathlessly behind his
agility. He never passed to other players; he never realised his
appointed place in the game; he sought simply to make himself a leaping
screen about the ball as he drove it towards the goal. But André he
would not permit to play at all, and Madame played like a lady, like a
Madonna, like a saint carrying the instrument of her martyrdom. The
game and its enthusiasms flowed round her and receded from her; she
remained quite valiant but tolerant, restrained; doing her best to do
the extraordinary things required of her, but essentially a being of
passive dignities, living chiefly for them; Letty careering by her, keen
and swift, was like a creature of a different species....
Mr. Britling cerebrated abundantly about these contrasts.
"What has been blown in among us by these German shells," he said, "is
essentially a Catholic family. Blown clean out of its setting.... We who
"At first you imagine there is nothing separating us but language.
Presently you find that language is the least of our separations. These
people are people living upon fundamentally different ideas from ours,
ideas far more definite and complete than ours. You imagine that home in
Antwerp as something much more rounded off, much more closed in, a cell,
a real social unit, a different thing altogether from this place of
meeting. Our boys play cheerfully with all comers; little André hasn't
learnt to play with any outside children at all. We must seem incredibly
_open_ to these Van der Pants. A house without sides.... Last Sunday I
could not find out the names of the two girls who came on bicycles and
played so well. They came with Kitty Westropp. And Van der Pant wanted
to know how they were related to us. Or how was it they came?...
"Look at Madame. She's built on a fundamentally different plan from any
of our womenkind here. Tennis, the bicycle, co-education, the two-step,
the higher education of women.... Say these things over to yourself, and
think of her. It's like talking of a nun in riding breeches. She's a
specialised woman, specialising in womanhood, her sphere is the home.
Soft, trailing, draping skirts, slow movements, a veiled face; for no
Oriental veil could be more effectual than her beautiful Catholic
quiet. Catholicism invented the invisible purdah. She is far more akin
to that sweet little Indian lady with the wonderful robes whom Carmine
brought over with her tall husband last summer, than she is to Letty or
Cissie. She, too, undertook to play hockey. And played it very much as
Madame Van der Pant played it....
"The more I see of our hockey," said Mr. Britling, "the more wonderful
it seems to me as a touchstone of character and culture and
Mr. Manning, to whom he was delivering this discourse, switched him on
to a new track by asking what he meant by "Neo-European."
"It's a bad phrase," said Mr. Britling. "I'll withdraw it. Let me try
and state exactly what I have in mind. I mean something that is coming
up in America and here and the Scandinavian countries and Russia, a new
culture, an escape from the Levantine religion and the Catholic culture
that came to us from the Mediterranean. Let me drop Neo-European; let me
say Northern. We are Northerners. The key, the heart, the nucleus and
essence of every culture is its conception of the relations of men and
women; and this new culture tends to diminish the specialisation of
women as women, to let them out from the cell of the home into common
citizenship with men. It's a new culture, still in process of
development, which will make men more social and co-operative and women
bolder, swifter, more responsible and less cloistered. It minimises
instead of exaggerating the importance of sex....
"And," said Mr. Britling, in very much the tones in which a preacher
might say "Sixthly," "it is just all this Northern tendency that this
world struggle is going to release. This war is pounding through Europe,
smashing up homes, dispersing and mixing homes, setting Madame Van der
Pant playing hockey, and André climbing trees with my young ruffians; it
is killing young men by the million, altering the proportions of the
sexes for a generation, bringing women into business and office and
industry, destroying the accumulated wealth that kept so many of them in
refined idleness, flooding the world with strange doubts and novel
But the conflict of manners and customs that followed the invasion of
the English villages by French and Belgian refugees did not always
present the immigrants as Catholics and the hosts as "Neo-European." In
the case of Mr. Dimple it was the other way round. He met Mr. Britling
in Claverings park and told him his troubles....
"Of course," he said, "we have to do our Utmost for Brave Little
Belgium. I would be the last to complain of any little inconvenience one
may experience in doing that. Still, I must confess I think you and dear
Mrs. Britling are fortunate, exceptionally fortunate, in the Belgians
you have got. My guests--it's unfortunate--the man is some sort of
journalist and quite--oh! much too much--an Atheist. An open positive
one. Not simply Honest Doubt. I'm quite prepared for honest doubt
nowadays. You and I have no quarrel over that. But he is aggressive. He
makes remarks about miracles, quite derogatory remarks, and not always
in French. Sometimes he almost speaks English. And in front of my
sister. And he goes out, he says, looking for a Café. He never finds a
Café, but he certainly finds every public house within a radius of
miles. And he comes back smelling dreadfully of beer. When I drop a
Little Hint, he blames the beer. He says it is not good beer--our good
Essex beer! He doesn't understand any of our simple ways. He's
sophisticated. The girls about here wear Belgian flags--and air their
little bits of French. And he takes it as an encouragement. Only
yesterday there was a scene. It seems he tried to kiss the Hickson girl
at the inn--Maudie.... And his wife; a great big slow woman--in every
way she is--Ample; it's dreadful even to seem to criticise, but I do so
_wish_ she would not see fit to sit down and nourish her baby in my poor
old bachelor drawing-room--often at the most _unseasonable_ times.
Mr. Britling attempted consolations.
"But anyhow," said Mr. Dimple, "I'm better off than poor dear Mrs.
Bynne. She secured two milliners. She insisted upon them. And their
clothes were certainly beautifully made--even my poor old unworldly eye
could tell that. And she thought two milliners would be so useful with a
large family like hers. They certainly _said_ they were milliners. But
it seems--I don't know what we shall do about them.... My dear Mr.
Britling, those young women are anything but milliners--anything but
A faint gleam of amusement was only too perceptible through the good
"Sirens, my dear Mr. Britling. Sirens. By profession."...
October passed into November, and day by day Mr. Britling was forced to
apprehend new aspects of the war, to think and rethink the war, to have
his first conclusions checked and tested, twisted askew, replaced. His
thoughts went far and wide and deeper--until all his earlier writing
seemed painfully shallow to him, seemed a mere automatic response of
obvious comments to the stimulus of the war's surprise. As his ideas
became subtler and profounder, they became more difficult to express; he
talked less; he became abstracted and irritable at table. To two people
in particular Mr. Britling found his real ideas inexpressible, to Mr.
Direck and to Mr. Van der Pant.
Each of these gentlemen brought with him the implication or the
intimation of a critical attitude towards England. It was all very well
for Mr. Britling himself to be critical of England; that is an
Englishman's privilege. To hear Mr. Van der Pant questioning British
efficiency or to suspect Mr. Direck of high, thin American superiorities
to war, was almost worse than to hear Mrs. Harrowdean saying hostile
things about Edith. It roused an even acuter protective emotion.
In the case of Mr. Van der Pant matters were complicated by the
difficulty of the language, which made anything but the crudest
statements subject to incalculable misconception.
Mr. Van der Pant had not the extreme tactfulness of his so typically
Catholic wife; he made it only too plain that he thought the British
postal and telegraph service slow and slack, and the management of the
Great Eastern branch lines wasteful and inefficient. He said the workmen
in the fields and the workmen he saw upon some cottages near the
junction worked slowlier and with less interest than he had ever seen
any workman display in all his life before. He marvelled that Mr.
Britling lit his house with acetylene and not electric light. He thought
fresh eggs were insanely dear, and his opinion of Matching's Easy
pig-keeping was uncomplimentary. The roads, he said, were not a means of
getting from place to place, they were a _dédale_; he drew derisive maps
with his finger on the table-cloth of the lane system about the Dower
House. He was astonished that there was no Café in Matching's Easy; he
declared that the "public house" to which he went with considerable
expectation was no public house at all; it was just a sly place for
drinking beer.... All these were things Mr. Britling might have remarked
himself; from a Belgian refugee he found them intolerable.
He set himself to explain to Mr. Van der Pant firstly that these things
did not matter in the slightest degree, the national attention, the
national interest ran in other directions; and secondly that they were,
as a matter of fact and on the whole, merits slightly disguised. He
produced a pleasant theory that England is really not the Englishman's
field, it is his breeding place, his resting place, a place not for
efficiency but good humour. If Mr. Van der Pant were to make inquiries
he would find there was scarcely a home in Matching's Easy that had not
sent some energetic representative out of England to become one of the
English of the world. England was the last place in which English energy
was spent. These hedges, these dilatory roads were full of associations.
There was a road that turned aside near Market Saffron to avoid Turk's
wood; it had been called Turk's wood first in the fourteenth century
after a man of that name. He quoted Chesterton's happy verses to justify
these winding lanes.
"The road turned first towards the left,
Where Perkin's quarry made the cleft;
The path turned next towards the right,
Because the mastiff used to bite...."
"And I should say they wound about
To find the town of Roundabout,
The merry town of Roundabout
That makes the world go round."
If our easy-going ways hampered a hard efficiency, they did at least
develop humour and humanity. Our diplomacy at any rate had not failed
He did not believe a word of this stuff. His deep irrational love for
England made him say these things.... For years he had been getting
himself into hot water because he had been writing and hinting just such
criticisms as Mr. Van der Pant expressed so bluntly.... But he wasn't
going to accept foreign help in dissecting his mother....
And another curious effect that Mr. Van der Pant had upon Mr. Britling
was to produce an obstinate confidence about the war and the nearness
of the German collapse. He would promise Mr. Van der Pant that he should
be back in Antwerp before May; that the Germans would be over the Rhine
by July. He knew perfectly well that his ignorance of all the military
conditions was unqualified, but still he could not restrain himself from
this kind of thing so soon as he began to speak Entente
Cordiale--Anglo-French, that is to say. Something in his relationship to
Mr. Van der Pant obliged him to be acutely and absurdly the protecting
British.... At times he felt like a conscious bankrupt talking off the
hour of disclosure. But indeed all that Mr. Britling was trying to say
against the difficulties of a strange language and an alien temperament,
was that the honour of England would never be cleared until Belgium was
restored and avenged....
While Mr. Britling was patrolling unimportant roads and entertaining Mr.
Van der Pant with discourses upon the nearness of victory and the subtle
estimableness of all that was indolent, wasteful and evasive in English
life, the war was passing from its first swift phases into a slower,
grimmer struggle. The German retreat ended at the Aisne, and the long
outflanking manoeuvres of both hosts towards the Channel began. The
English attempts to assist Belgium in October came too late for the
preservation of Antwerp, and after a long and complicated struggle in
Flanders the British failed to outflank the German right, lost Ghent,
Menin and the Belgian coast, but held Ypres and beat back every attempt
of the enemy to reach Dunkirk and Calais. Meanwhile the smaller German
colonies and islands were falling to the navy, the Australian battleship
_Sydney_ smashed the _Emden_ at Cocos Island, and the British naval
disaster of Coronel was wiped out by the battle of the Falklands. The
Russians were victorious upon their left and took Lemberg, and after
some vicissitudes of fortune advanced to Przemysl, occupying the larger
part of Galicia; but the disaster of Tannenberg had broken their
progress in East Prussia, and the Germans were pressing towards Warsaw.
Turkey had joined the war, and suffered enormous losses in the Caucasus.
The Dardanelles had been shelled for the first time, and the British
were at Basra on the Euphrates.
The Christmas of 1914 found England, whose landscape had hitherto been
almost as peaceful and soldierless as Massachusetts, already far gone
along the path of transformation into a country full of soldiers and
munition makers and military supplies. The soldiers came first, on the
well-known and greatly admired British principle of "first catch your
hare" and then build your kitchen. Always before, Christmas had been a
time of much gaiety and dressing up and prancing and two-stepping at the
Dower House, but this year everything was too uncertain to allow of any
gathering of guests. Hugh got leave for the day after Christmas, but
Teddy was tied; and Cissie and Letty went off with the small boy to take
lodgings near him. The Van der Pants had hoped to see an English
Christmas at Matching's Easy, but within three weeks of Christmas Day
Mr. Van der Pant found a job that he could do in Nottingham, and carried
off his family. The two small boys cheered their hearts with paper
decorations, but the Christmas Tree was condemned as too German, and it
was discovered that Santa Claus had suddenly become Old Father Christmas
again. The small boys discovered that the price of lead soldiers had
risen, and were unable to buy electric torches, on which they had set
their hearts. There was to have been a Christmas party at Claverings,
but at the last moment Lady Homartyn had to hurry off to an orphan
nephew who had been seriously wounded near Ypres, and the light of
Claverings was darkened.
Soon after Christmas there were rumours of an impending descent of the
Headquarters staff of the South-Eastern army upon Claverings. Then Mr.
Britling found Lady Homartyn back from France, and very indignant
because after all the Headquarters were to go to Lady Wensleydale at
Ladyholt. It was, she felt, a reflection upon Claverings. Lady Homartyn
became still more indignant when presently the new armies, which were
gathering now all over England like floods in a low-lying meadow, came
pouring into the parishes about Claverings to the extent of a battalion
and a Territorial battery. Mr. Britling heard of their advent only a day
or two before they arrived; there came a bright young officer with an
orderly, billeting; he was much exercised to get, as he expressed it
several times, a quart into a pint bottle. He was greatly pleased with
the barn. He asked the size of it and did calculations. He could "stick
twenty-five men into it--easy." It would go far to solve his problems.
He could manage without coming into the house at all. It was a ripping
place. "No end."
"But beds," said Mr. Britling.
"Lord! they don't want _beds_," said the young officer....
The whole Britling family, who were lamenting the loss of their
Belgians, welcomed the coming of the twenty-five with great enthusiasm.
It made them feel that they were doing something useful once more. For
three days Mrs. Britling had to feed her new lodgers--the kitchen motors
had as usual gone astray--and she did so in a style that made their
boastings about their billet almost insufferable to the rest of their
battery. The billeting allowance at that time was ninepence a head, and
Mr. Britling, ashamed of making a profit out of his country, supplied
not only generous firing and lighting, but unlimited cigarettes, cards
and games, illustrated newspapers, a cocoa supper with such little
surprises as sprats and jam roly-poly, and a number of more incidental
comforts. The men arrived fasting under the command of two very sage
middle-aged corporals, and responded to Mrs. Britling's hospitalities by
a number of good resolutions, many of which they kept. They never made
noises after half-past ten, or at least only now and then when a
singsong broke out with unusual violence; they got up and went out at
five or six in the morning without a sound; they were almost
inconveniently helpful with washing-up and tidying round.
In quite a little time Mrs. Britling's mind had adapted itself to the
spectacle of half-a-dozen young men in khaki breeches and shirts
performing their toilets in and about her scullery, or improvising an
unsanctioned game of football between the hockey goals. These men were
not the miscellaneous men of the new armies; they were the earlier
Territorial type with no heroics about them; they came from the
midlands; and their two middle-aged corporals kept them well in hand and
ruled them like a band of brothers. But they had an illegal side, that
developed in directions that set Mr. Britling theorising. They seemed,
for example, to poach by nature, as children play and sing. They
possessed a promiscuous white dog. They began to add rabbits to their
supper menu, unaccountable rabbits. One night there was a mighty smell
of frying fish from the kitchen, and the cook reported trout. "Trout!"
said Mr. Britling to one of the corporals; "now where did you chaps get
The "fisherman," they said, had got them with a hair noose. They
produced the fisherman, of whom they were manifestly proud. It was, he
explained, a method of fishing he had learnt when in New York Harbour.
He had been a stoker. He displayed a confidence in Mr. Britling that
made that gentleman an accessory after his offence, his very serious
offence against pre-war laws and customs. It was plain that the trout
were the trout that Mr. Pumshock, the stock-broker and amateur
gentleman, had preserved so carefully in the Easy. Hitherto the
countryside had been forced to regard Mr. Pumshock's trout with an
almost superstitious respect. A year ago young Snooker had done a month
for one of those very trout. But now things were different.
"But I don't really fancy fresh-water fish," said the fisherman. "It's
just the ketchin' of 'em I like...."
And a few weeks later the trumpeter, an angel-faced freckled child with
deep-blue eyes, brought in a dozen partridge eggs which he wanted Mary
to cook for him....
The domesticity of the sacred birds, it was clear, was no longer safe in
Then again the big guns would go swinging down the road and into
Claverings park, and perform various exercises with commendable
smartness and a profound disregard for Lady Homartyn's known objection
to any departure from the public footpath....
And one afternoon as Mr. Britling took his constitutional walk, a
reverie was set going in his mind by the sight of a neglected-looking
pheasant with a white collar. The world of Matching's Easy was getting
full now of such elderly birds. Would _that_ go on again after the war?
He imagined his son Hugh as a grandfather, telling the little ones about
parks and preserves and game laws, and footmen and butlers and the
marvellous game of golf, and how, suddenly, Mars came tramping through
the land in khaki and all these things faded and vanished, so that
presently it was discovered they were gone....