Mr. Direck’s eye had come to rest upon the barn, and its expression changed slowly from lazy appreciation to a brightening intelligence. Suddenly he resolved to say something. He resolved to say it so firmly that he determined to say it even if Mr. Britling went on talking all the time.
“I suppose, Mr. Britling,” he said, “this barn here dates from the days of Queen Anne.”
“The walls of the yard here are probably earlier: probably monastic. That grey patch in the corner, for example. The barn itself is Georgian.”
“And here it is still. And this farmyard, here it is still.”
Mr. Britling was for flying off again, but Mr. Direck would not listen; he held on like a man who keeps his grip on a lasso.
“There’s one thing I would like to remark about your barn, Mr. Britling, and I might, while I am at it, say the same thing about your farmyard.”
Mr. Britling was held. “What’s that?” he asked.
“Well,” said Mr. Direck, “the point that strikes me most about all this is that that barn isn’t a barn any longer, and that this farmyard isn’t a farmyard. There isn’t any wheat or chaff or anything of that sort in the barn, and there never will be again: there’s just a pianola and a dancing floor, and if a cow came into this farmyard everybody in the place would be shooing it out again. They’d regard it as a most unnatural object.”
He had a pleasant sense of talking at last. He kept right on. He was moved to a sweeping generalisation.
“You were so good as to ask me, Mr. Britling, a little while ago, what my first impression of England was. Well, Mr. Britling, my first impression of England that seems to me to matter in the least is this: that it looks and feels more like the traditional Old England than any one could possibly have believed, and that in reality it is less like the traditional Old England than any one would ever possibly have imagined.”
He was carried on even further. He made a tremendous literary epigram. “I thought,” he said, “when I looked out of the train this morning that I had come to the England of Washington Irving. I find it is not even the England of Mrs. Humphry Ward.”
CHAPTER THE SECOND
MR. BRITLING CONTINUES HIS EXPOSITION
Mr. Direck found little reason to revise his dictum in the subsequent experiences of the afternoon. Indeed the afternoon and the next day were steadily consistent in confirming what a very good dictum it had been. The scenery was the traditional scenery of England, and all the people seemed quicker, more irresponsible, more chaotic, than any one could have anticipated, and entirely inexplicable by any recognised code of English relationships....
“You think that John Bull is dead and a strange generation is wearing his clothes,” said Mr. Britling. “I think you’ll find very soon it’s the old John Bull. Perhaps not Mrs. Humphry Ward’s John Bull, or Mrs. Henry Wood’s John Bull but true essentially to Shakespeare, Fielding, Dickens, Meredith....”