“Most o’ the chaps round here has gone,” he said, “an’ I don’t like staying be’ind. Seems as though you were hanging back like. ’Taint that I shouldn’t like to go; but it’s this way ... (Hullo, I got my hand on a wasp that time) ... There’s such a lot o’ women-folk dependent on me. There’s my wife and there’s my mother down the village and my aunt; and not a man to do anything for ’em but me. After my work on th’ farm, I keeps all three gardens going and a patch of allotment down the valley as well.”
“You’re growing a lot of good food, and that’s military work,” I said.
He seemed cheered by the idea, and asked me if I’d like to see the potatoes he had dug up that evening—they were “a wunnerful fine lot,” he said.
So after he had stripped the pear-tree he shouldered the ladder, and we went down the village to David’s garden. There I saw his potatoes, some lying to dry where they had been dug up, others in sacks. Also his marrows and beans and cabbages and lettuces. A little apologetically, he offered me some of the largest potatoes—“just as a hobby,” he said, meaning thereby that it was only a trifle he offered.
As I went away in the gathering dark, with my hands full of potatoes, I met the landlord of the Blue Boar, his shirt sleeves rolled up as usual above his brown, muscular arms.
“Bad news that about Mrs. Lummis,” he said, looking towards the cottage on the other side of the road.
“What is that?” said I. “Her son?” There had been no news of him for two months.
“Yes, poor Jack. She’s got news that he was killed near la Bassee in June. Nice feller—and her only son.”
Then, more cheerfully, he added, “Jim’s coming home to-morrow. Going to get his officer’s rig out, you know, and have a rest—the first since he went out a year ago.”
“You’ll be glad to see him,” said I.
“Not half,” said he with a vast smile.
I was speaking the other day to a man of cautious mind on a subject of current rumour. “Well,” he said, “if I had been asked whether I believed such evidence four months ago I should have said ‘Certainly.’ But after the great Russian myth I believe nothing that I can’t prove. I believed in that army of ghosts that came from Archangel! There are people who say they didn’t believe in it. Some of them believe they didn’t believe in it. But I say defiantly that I did believe in it. And I say further that there was never a rumour in the world that seemed based upon more various or more convincing evidence. And it wasn’t true.... Well, I find I’m a changed man. I find I am no longer a believer: I am a doubter.”
This experience, I suppose, is not uncommon. The man who believes as easily to-day as he did six months ago is a man on whom lessons are thrown away. We have lived in a world of gigantic whispers, and most of them have been false whispers. Even the magic word “Official” leaves one cold. It is not what I am “officially” told that interests me: it is what I am “officially” not told that I want to know in order to arrive at the truth.