“By the by, Ortheris, following the indications of his creator and succumbing to the universal boredom before the rifles came, forgot Lord Kitchener’s advice and attempted ‘seduktion.’ With painful results which he insists upon confiding to the entire platoon. He has been severely smacked and scratched by the proposed victim, and warned off the premises (licensed premises) by her father and mother—both formidable persons. They did more than warn him off the premises. They had displayed neither a proper horror of Don Juan nor a proper respect for the King’s uniform. Mother, we realise, got hold of him and cuffed him severely. ’What the ‘ell’s a chap to do?’ cried Ortheris. ’You can’t go ‘itting a woman back.’ Father had set a dog on him. A less ingenuous character would be silent about such passages—I should be too egotistical and humiliated altogether—but that is not his quality. He tells us in tones of naive wonder. He talks about it and talks about it. ‘I don’t care what the old woman did,’ he says, ’not—reely. What ’urts me about it is that I jest made a sort of mistake ’ow she’d tike it. You see, I sort of feel I’ve ’urt and insulted ’er. And reely I didn’t mean to. Swap me, I didn’t mean to. Gawd ’elp me. I wouldn’t ’ave ’ad it ’appened as it ’as ’appened, not for worlds. And now I can’t get round to ’er, or anyfing, not to explain.... You chaps may laugh, but you don’t know what there is in it.... I tell you it worries me something frightful. You think I’m just a little cad who took liberties he didn’t ought to. (Note of anger drowning uncharitable grunts of assent.) ’Ow the ’ell is ’e to know when ’e didn’t ought to? ... I swear she liked me....’
“This kind of thing goes on for hours—in the darkness.
“’I’d got regular sort of fond of ‘er.’
“And the extraordinary thing is it makes me begin to get regular fond of Ortheris.
“I think it is because the affair has surprised him right out of acting Ortheris and Tommy Atkins for a bit, into his proper self. He’s frightfully like some sort of mongrel with a lot of wiry-haired terrier and a touch of Airedale in it. A mongrel you like in spite of the flavour of all the horrid things he’s been nosing into. And he’s as hard as nails and, my dear daddy! he can’t box for nuts.”
Mr. Britling, with an understanding much quickened by Hugh’s letters, went about Essex in his automobile, and on one or two journeys into Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, and marked the steady conversion of the old pacific countryside into an armed camp. He was disposed to minimise Hugh’s criticisms. He found in them something of the harshness of youth, which is far too keen-edged to be tolerant with half performance and our poor human evasion of perfection’s overstrain. “Our poor human evasion of perfection’s overstrain”; this phrase was Mr. Britling’s. To Mr. Britling, looking less closely and more broadly, the new army was a pride and a marvel.