At the end of my journey I was hearing the same din of systematic optimism in my ears as in the beginning.
“Warsaw, then Paris, then our Zeppelins will finish London,” said the restaurant keeper on the German side of the Dutch frontier; “and our submarines will settle the British navy before the summer is over. No, the war will not last a year.”
“And is America next on the programme?” I asked.
“No. America is too strong; too far away.”
I was guilty of a faint suspicion that he was a diplomatist.
No week at the front, where war is made, left the mind so full as this week beyond the sound of the guns with war’s results. It taught the meaning of the simple words life and death, hunger and food, love and hate. One was in a house with sealed doors where a family of seven millions sat in silence and idleness, thinking of nothing but war and feeling nothing but war. He had war cold as the fragments of an exploded shell beside a dead man on a frozen road; war analysed and docketed for exhibition, without its noise, its distraction, and its hot passion.
In Ostend I had seen the Belgian refugees in flight, and I had seen them pouring into London stations, bedraggled outcasts of every class, with the staring uncertainty of the helpless human flock flying from the storm. England, who considered that they had suffered for her sake, opened her purse and her heart to them; she opened her homes, both modest suburban homes and big country houses which are particular about their guests in time of peace. No British family without a Belgian was doing its duty. Bishop’s wife and publican’s wife took whatever Belgian was sent to her. The refugee packet arrived without the nature of contents on the address tag. All Belgians had become heroic and noble by grace of the defenders of Liege.
Perhaps the bishop’s wife received a young woman who smoked cigarettes, and asked her hostess for rouge, and the publican’s wife received a countess. Mrs. Smith, of Clapham, who had brought up her children in the strictest propriety, welcomed as play-mates for her dears, whom she had kept away from the contaminating associations of the alleys, Belgian children from the toughest quarters of Antwerp, who had a precocity that led to baffling confusion in Mrs. Smith’s mind between parental responsibility and patriotic duty. Smart society gave the run of its houses sometimes to gentry who were used to getting the run of that kind of houses by lifting a window with a jemmy on a dark night. It was a refugee lottery. When two hosts met one said: “My Belgian is charming!” and the other said: “Mine isn’t. Just listen—”
But the English are game; they are loyal; they bear their burden of hospitality bravely.