“I vow—” she began.
“No!” cried Mr. Direck, and held out a hand.
There was a moment of crisis.
“Never will I desert my country—while she is at war,” said Cissie, reducing her first fierce intention, and adding as though she regretted her concession, “Anyhow.”
“Then it’s up to me to end the war, Cissie,” said Mr. Direck, trying to get her back to a less spirited attitude.
But Cissie wasn’t to be got back so easily. The war was already beckoning to them in the cottage, and drawing them down from the auditorium into the arena.
“This is the rightest war in history,” she said. “If I was an American I should be sorry to be one now and to have to stand out of it. I wish I was a man now so that I could do something for all the decency and civilisation the Germans have outraged. I can’t understand how any man can be content to keep out of this, and watch Belgium being destroyed. It is like looking on at a murder. It is like watching a dog killing a kitten....”
Mr. Direck’s expression was that of a man who is suddenly shown strange lights upon the world.
Mr. Britling found Mr. Direck’s talk very indigestible.
He was parting very reluctantly from his dream of a disastrous collapse of German imperialism, of a tremendous, decisive demonstration of the inherent unsoundness of militarist monarchy, to be followed by a world conference of chastened but hopeful nations, and—the Millennium. He tried now to think that Mr. Direck had observed badly and misconceived what he saw. An American, unused to any sort of military occurrences, might easily mistake tens of thousands for millions, and the excitement of a few commercial travellers for the enthusiasm of a united people. But the newspapers now, with a kindred reluctance, were beginning to qualify, bit by bit, their first representation of the German attack through Belgium as a vast and already partly thwarted parade of incompetence. The Germans, he gathered, were being continually beaten in Belgium; but just as continually they advanced. Each fresh newspaper name he looked up on the map marked an oncoming tide. Alost—Charleroi. Farther east the French were retreating from the Saales Pass. Surely the British, who had now been in France for a fortnight, would presently be manifest, stemming the onrush; somewhere perhaps in Brabant or East Flanders. It gave Mr. Britling an unpleasant night to hear at Claverings that the French were very ill-equipped; had no good modern guns either at Lille or Maubeuge, were short of boots and equipment generally, and rather depressed already at the trend of things. Mr. Britling dismissed this as pessimistic talk, and built his hopes on the still invisible British army, hovering somewhere—
He would sit over the map of Belgium, choosing where he would prefer to have the British hover....