War—he couldn’t get any further than that. Like the systole and diastole of a slowly beating pulse, the word kept on forming in his mind and welling away in a tide of confused and amorphous scenes; and forming again; and again oozing in presentments of speculations, scenes, surmises, and in profound disturbances of strange emotions. War.... And there kept appearing the face of Otway with the little points of perspiration about his nose. Otway had predicted this months ago.—And he was right. It had come.
He approached Penny Green and realised for the first time the hard pace at which he had been riding. And realised also the emotions which subconsciously had been driving him along. All the way he had been saying “War!” What he wanted, most terribly, was to say it aloud to some one. He wanted to say it to Mabel. He had a sudden great desire to see Mabel and tell her about it and talk to her about it. He felt a curiously protective feeling towards her. For the first time in his life he pedalled instead of free-wheeling the conclusion of the ride. He ran into the house and into the morning room. Mabel was not there. It was almost dinner time. She would be in her room. He ran upstairs. She was standing before her dressing table and turned to him in surprise.
“I say, it’s war!”
She echoed the word. “War?”
“Yes, war. We’ve declared war!”
“Yes, declared war. We’ve sent Germany an ultimatum. It ends to-night. It’s the same thing. It means war.”
He was breathless, panting. She said, “Good gracious! Whatever will happen? Have you brought an evening paper? Do you know the papers didn’t come this morning till—”
He could not hear her out. “No, I didn’t wait. I simply rushed away.” He was close to her. He took her hands. “I say, Mabel, it’s war.” His emotions were tumultuous and extraordinary. He wanted to draw her to him and kiss her. They had not kissed for longer than he could have remembered; but now he held her hands hard and desired to kiss her. “I say, it’s war.”
She gave her sudden burst of laughter. “You are excited. I’ve never seen you so excited. Your collar’s undone.”
He dropped her hands. He said rather stupidly, “Well, it’s war, you know,” and stood there.
She turned to her dressing table. “Well, I do wish you’d stayed for a paper. Now we’ve got to wait till to-morrow and goodness only knows—” She was fastening something about her throat and held her breath in the operation. She released it and said, “Just fancy, war! I never thought it would be. What will happen first? Will they—” She held her breath again. She said, “It’s too annoying about those papers coming so late. If they haven’t arrived when you go off to-morrow you can tell Jones he needn’t send them any more. He’s one of those independent sort of tradesmen who think they can do just what they like. Just fancy actually having war with Germany. I can’t believe it.” She turned towards him and gave her sudden laugh again. “I say, aren’t you ever going to move?”