“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 Cafe. He never finds a Cafe, 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. And—so lavishly....”
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 milliners....”
A faint gleam of amusement was only too perceptible through the good man’s horror.
“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.