“After the peace, I mean,” said the young officer.
“There’ll be just the devil to pay,” said Raeburn.
“One thing after another in the country is being pulled up by its roots,” reflected Mr. Britling.
“We’ve never produced a plan for the war, and it isn’t likely we shall have one for the peace,” said Raeburn, and added: “and Lady Frensham’s little lot will be doing their level best to sit on the safety-valve.... They’ll rake up Ireland and Ulster from the very start. But I doubt if Ulster will save ’em.”
“We shall squabble. What else do we ever do?”
No one seemed able to see more than that. A silence fell on the little party.
“Well, thank heaven for these dahlias,” said Raeburn, affecting the philosopher.
The young staff officer regarded the dahlias without enthusiasm....
Mr. Britling sat one September afternoon with Captain Lawrence Carmine in the sunshine of the barn court, and smoked with him and sometimes talked and sometimes sat still.
“When it began I did not believe that this war could be like other wars,” he said. “I did not dream it. I thought that we had grown wiser at last. It seemed to me like the dawn of a great clearing up. I thought the common sense of mankind would break out like a flame, an indignant flame, and consume all this obsolete foolery of empires and banners and militarism directly it made its attack upon human happiness. A score of things that I see now were preposterous, I thought must happen—naturally. I thought America would declare herself against the Belgian outrage; that she would not tolerate the smashing of the great sister republic—if only for the memory of Lafayette. Well—I gather America is chiefly concerned about our making cotton contraband. I thought the Balkan States were capable of a reasonable give and take; of a common care for their common freedom. I see now three German royalties trading in peasants, and no men in their lands to gainsay them. I saw this war, as so many Frenchmen have seen it, as something that might legitimately command a splendid enthusiasm of indignation.... It was all a dream, the dream of a prosperous comfortable man who had never come to the cutting edge of life. Everywhere cunning, everywhere small feuds and hatreds, distrusts, dishonesties, timidities, feebleness of purpose, dwarfish imaginations, swarm over the great and simple issues.... It is a war now like any other of the mobbing, many-aimed cataclysms that have shattered empires and devastated the world; it is a war without point, a war that has lost its soul, it has become mere incoherent fighting and destruction, a demonstration in vast and tragic forms of the stupidity and ineffectiveness of our species....”
He stopped, and there was a little interval of silence.
Captain Carmine tossed the fag end of his cigar very neatly into a tub of hydrangeas. “Three thousand years ago in China,” he said, “there were men as sad as we are, for the same cause.”