All his concerns, the crisis with Nona, with his honour and his love, that awaited determination, were disputed their place in his mind by the incredible and enormous events that each new hour discharged upon the world. He watched them as one might be watching a burning building and feeling at every moment that the roof will crash in, yet somehow feeling that it cannot and will not fall in. The thing was gone beyond possibility of recovery, there terribly arose now the urgency for Great Britain to declare for honour, yet somehow he felt that it could not and would not fail to be averted. It could not happen.
It did happen. On Tuesday the mounting amazements burst amain. On Tuesday the roof that could not fall in fell in. On Tuesday, the day appointed for his letter to Nona, he uttered in realisation that which, uttered in speculation, had been meaningless as an unknown word spoken in a foreign tongue: “War!”
The news of Tuesday morning caused him at six o’clock in the evening to have been standing two hours in the great throng that filled Market Square gazing towards the offices of the County Times. Our mobilisation, our resolve to stand by France if the German Fleet came into the Channel, lastly, most awfully pregnant of all, our obligations to Belgium,—that had been the morning’s news, conveyed in the report of Sir Edward Grey’s statement in the House of Commons. That afternoon the Prime Minister was to make a statement.
A great murmur swelled up from the waiting crowd, a great movement pressed it forward towards the County Times offices. On the first-floor balcony men appeared dragging a great board faced with paper, on the paper enormous lettering. The board was pulled out endways. The man last through the window took a step forward and swung the letters into view.
PREMIER’S STATEMENT ------- ULTIMATUM TO GERMANY EXPIRES MIDNIGHT
Sabre said aloud, “My God! War!”
As a retreating wave harshly withdrawing upon the reluctant pebbles, there sounded from the crowd an enormous intaking of the breath. An instant’s stupendous silence, the wave poised for return. Down! A shattering roar, tremendous, wordless. The figure of Pike appeared upon the balcony, in his shirt sleeves, his long hair wild about his face, in his hands that which caught the roar as it were by the throat, stopped it and broke it out anew on a burst of exultant clamour. A Union Jack. He shook it madly with both hands above his head. The roar broke into a tremendous chant. “God Save the King!”
Sabre pressed his way out of the Square. He kept saying to himself, “War.... War....” He found himself running to the office; no one was in the office; then getting out his bicycle with frantic haste, then riding home,—hard.
And he kept saying, “War!”
He thought, “Otway!” and before his eyes appeared a vision of Otway with those little beads of perspiration on his nose.