In those days he had had no amiable doctrine of compromise. He had truckled to no “domesticated God,” but talked of the “pitiless truth”; he had tolerated no easy-going pseudo-aristocratic social system, but dreamt of such a democracy “mewing its mighty youth” as the world had never seen. He had thought that his brains were to do their share in building up this great national imago, winged, divine, out of the clumsy, crawling, snobbish, comfort-loving caterpillar of Victorian England. With such dreams his life had started, and the light of them, perhaps, had helped him to his rapid success. And then his wife had died, and he had married again and become somehow more interested in his income, and then the rather expensive first of the eight experiences had drained off so much of his imaginative energy, and the second had drained off so much, and there had been quarrels and feuds, and the way had been lost, and the days had passed. He hadn’t failed. Indeed he counted as a success among his generation. He alone, in the night watches, could gauge the quality of that success. He was widely known, reputably known; he prospered. Much had come, oh! by a mysterious luck, but everything was doomed by his invincible defects. Beneath that hollow, enviable show there ached waste. Waste, waste, waste—his heart, his imagination, his wife, his son, his country—his automobile....
Then there flashed into his mind a last straw of disagreeable realisation.
He hadn’t as yet insured his automobile! He had meant to do so. The papers were on his writing-desk.
On these black nights, when the personal Mr. Britling would lie awake thinking how unsatisfactorily Mr. Britling was going on, and when the impersonal Mr. Britling would be thinking how unsatisfactorily his universe was going on, the whole mental process had a likeness to some complex piece of orchestral music wherein the organ deplored the melancholy destinies of the race while the piccolo lamented the secret trouble of Mrs. Harrowdean; the big drum thundered at the Irish politicians, and all the violins bewailed the intellectual laxity of the university system. Meanwhile the trumpets prophesied wars and disasters, the cymbals ever and again inserted a clashing jar about the fatal delay in the automobile insurance, while the triangle broke into a plangent solo on the topic of a certain rotten gate-post he always forgot in the daytime, and how in consequence the cows from the glebe farm got into the garden and ate Mrs. Britling’s carnations.
Time after time he had promised to see to that gate-post....
The organ motif battled its way to complete predominance. The lesser themes were drowned or absorbed. Mr. Britling returned from the role of an incompetent automobilist to the role of a soul naked in space and time wrestling with giant questions. These cosmic solicitudes, it may be, are the last penalty of irreligion. Was Huxley right, and was all humanity, even as Mr. Britling, a careless, fitful thing, playing a tragically hopeless game, thinking too slightly, moving too quickly, against a relentless antagonist?