Young Perch took her hand and fondled it. Sabre saw the wrinkled, fumbling old hand between the strong brown fingers. “That’s all right, Mother. Of course, you don’t understand it. That’s just it. You think I’m going out to fighting and all that. And I’m just going into a training camp here in England for a bit. And before Christmas it will all be over and I shall come flying back and we’ll send Miss Bright toddling off home and—Don’t cry, Mother. Don’t cry, Mother. Isn’t that so, Sabre? Just training in England. Isn’t that so? Now wherever’s your old handkerchief got to? Look here; here’s mine. Look, this is the one I chose that day with you in Tidborough. Do you remember what a jolly tea we had that day? Remember what a laugh we had over that funny teapot. There, let me wipe them, Mother....”
Sabre turned away. This frightful war....
This frightful war! On his brain like a weight. On his heart like a pressing hand.
Came Christmas by which, at the outset, everybody knew it would be over, and it was not over. Came June, 1915, concerning which, at the outset, he had joined with Mr. Fortune, Twyning and Harold in laughter at his own grotesque idea of the war lasting to the dramatic effect of a culminating battle on the centenary of Waterloo, and the war had lasted, and was still lasting.
“This frightful war!” The words were constantly upon his lips, ejaculated to himself in reception of new manifestations of its eruptions; forever in his mind, like a live thing gnawing there. Other people seemed to suffer the war in spasms, isolated amidst the round of their customary routines, of dejection or of optimistic reassurance. The splendid sentiment of “Business as usual” was in many valiant mouths. The land, in so far as provisions and prices were concerned, continued to flow in milk and honey as the British Isles had always flowed in milk and honey. In July a rival multiple grocer’s shop opened premises opposite the multiple grocer’s shop already established in the shopping centre of the Garden Home and Mabel told Sabre how very exciting it was. The rivals piled their windows, one against the other, with stupendous stacks of margarine and cheese at sevenpence the pound each; and then one day, “Whatever do you think?” the new man interspersed his mountains of margarine and cheese with wooden bowls running over with bright new pennies, and flamed his windows with announcements that this was “The Money-back Shop.” You bought a pound of margarine for sevenpence and were handed a penny with your purchase! And the next day, “Only fancy!” the other man also had bright new pennies (in bursting bags from the bank) and also bellowed that he too was a Money-back Shop.
“The fact is the war really hasn’t mattered a bit,” Mabel said. “I think it’s wonderful. And when you remember at the beginning how people rushed to buy up food and what awful ideas of starvation went about; you were one of the worst.”