essentially we English were a world of indolent, pampered,
sham good-humoured, old and middle-aged men. (So he
distributed the intolerable load of self-accusation.)
Why was he doing nothing to change things, to get them
better? What was the good of an assumed modesty,
an effort at tolerance for and confidence in these
boozy old lawyers, these ranting platform men, these
stiff-witted officers and hide-bound officials?
They were butchering the youth of England. Old
men sat out of danger contriving death for the lads
in the trenches. That was the reality of the thing.
“My son!” he cried sharply in the darkness.
His sense of our national deficiencies became tormentingly,
fantastically acute. It was as if all his cherished
delusions had fallen from the scheme of things....
What was the good of making believe that up there
they were planning some great counter-stroke that
would end in victory? It was as plain as daylight
that they had neither the power of imagination nor
the collective intelligence even to conceive of a
counter-stroke. Any dull mass may resist, but
only imagination can strike. Imagination!
To the end we should not strike. We might strike
through the air. We might strike across the sea.
We might strike hard at Gallipoli instead of dribbling
inadequate armies thither as our fathers dribbled men
at the Redan.... But the old men would sit at
their tables, replete and sleepy, and shake their
cunning old heads. The press would chatter and
make odd ambiguous sounds like a shipload of monkeys
in a storm. The political harridans would get
the wrong men appointed, would attack every possible
leader with scandal and abuse and falsehood....
The spirit and honour and drama had gone out of this
Our only hope now was exhaustion. Our only strategy
was to barter blood for blood—trusting
that our tank would prove the deeper....
While into this tank stepped Hugh, young and smiling....
The war became a nightmare vision....
In the morning Mr. Britling’s face was white
from his overnight brain storm, and Hugh’s was
fresh from wholesome sleep. They walked about
the lawn, and Mr. Britling talked hopefully of the
general outlook until it was time for them to start
to the station....
The little old station-master grasped the situation
at once, and presided over their last hand-clasp.
“Good luck, Hugh!” cried Mr. Britling.
“Good luck!” cried the little old station-master.
“It’s not easy a-parting,” he said
to Mr. Britling as the train slipped down the line.
“There’s been many a parting hea’
since this here old war began. Many. And
some as won’t come back again neether.”
For some days Mr. Britling could think of nothing
but Hugh, and always with a dull pain at his heart.
He felt as he had felt long ago while he had waited
downstairs and Hugh upstairs had been under the knife
of a surgeon. But this time the operation went
on and still went on. At the worst his boy had
but one chance in five of death or serious injury,
but for a time he could think of nothing but that
one chance. He felt it pressing upon his mind,
pressing him down....