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 to-morrow....”
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? O.T.C.?”
“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 as privates....”
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 sanitation....”
“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 regretted it.
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.