“Yes, do,” said Sabre. “There’ll be things to see.”
There were things to see. As he rode into the town people were standing about in little groups, excitedly talking; every one seemed to have a newspaper. In a row, as he approached the news agent’s, were hugely printed contents bills, all with the news, in one form or another, “War Declared.”
It was war. Yesterday no dream. He could not stop to rest his bicycle against the curb. He leant it over and dropped it on the pavement with a crash and hurried into the shop and bought and read.
War.... He looked out into the street through the open doorway. All those knots of people standing talking. War.... A mounted orderly passed down the street at a brisk trot, his dispatch bag swaying and bumping across his back. Every one turned and stared after him, stepped out into the roadway and stared after him. War.... He bought all the morning papers and went on to the office. Outside a bank a small crowd of people waited about the doors. They were waiting to draw out their money. Lloyd George had announced the closing of the banks for three days; but they didn’t believe it was real. Was it real? He passed Hanbury’s, the big grocer’s. It seemed to be crammed. People outside waiting to get in. They were buying up food. A woman struggled her way out with three tins of fruit, a pot of jam and a bag of flour. She seemed thoroughly well pleased with herself. He heard her say to some one, “Well, I’ve got mine, anyway.” He actually had a sense of reassurance from her grotesque provisioning. He thought, “You see, every one knows it can’t last long.”
No one in the office was pretending to do any work. As in the street, all were in groups eagerly talking. The clerks’ room resounded with excited discussion. Everybody wanted to talk to somebody. He went into Mr. Fortune’s room. Mr. Fortune and Twyning and Harold were gathered round a map cut from a newspaper, all talking; even young Harold giving views and being attentively listened to. They looked up and greeted him cordially. Everybody was cordial and communicative to everybody. “Come along in, Sabre.” He joined them and he found their conversation extraordinarily reassuring, like the woman who had sufficiently provisioned with three tins of fruit, a pot of jam and a bag of flour. They knew a tremendous lot about it and had evidently been reading military articles for days past. They all showed what was going to be done, illustrating it on the map. And the map itself was extraordinarily reassuring: as Twyning showed—his fingers covering the whole of the belligerent countries—while the Germans were delivering all their power down here, in Belgium, the Russians simply nipped in here and would be threatening Berlin before those fools knew where they were!
He thought, “By Jove, yes.”