Sabre went across to the filing cabinet without speaking.
Mr. Fortune cleared his throat. “Ah, Sabre. Ah, Sabre, we were just saying, we were just saying—” His hesitation, and the pause before he had begun quite clearly informed Sabre that what he was now about to say was not going to be—precisely—what he had just been saying. “We were just saying what a very unfortunate thing, what a very deeply unfortunate thing it is that none of us principals are of an age to do the right thing by the Firm by joining the Army. I’m afraid we’ve got one or two shirkers downstairs, and we were just saying what a splendid, what an entirely splendid thing it would be if one of us were able to set them an example.”
Sabre faced about from the cabinet towards them. Twyning in the big chair had his elbow on the arm and was biting his nails. Mr. Fortune, revolved to face the room, was exercising his watch chain on his whale-like front.
“Yes, it’s a pity,” Sabre said.
“I’m glad you agree. I knew you would. Indeed, yes, a pity; a very great pity. For myself, of course, I’m out of the question. Twyning here is getting on for forty and of course he’s given his son to the war; moreover, there’s the business to be thought of. I’m afraid I’m not quite able to do all I used to do. You—of course, you’re married too, and there we are! It does, as you say, seem a great pity.” The watch chain, having been generously exercised, was put to the duty of heavy tugs at its reluctant partner. Mr. Fortune gazed at his watch and remarked absently, “I hear young Phillips of Brown and Phillips has persuaded his wife to let him go. You were at the school with him, Sabre, weren’t you? Isn’t he about your age?”
Sabre spoke very slowly. Most furious anger had been rising within him. It was about to burst when there had suddenly come to its control the thought, “These two aren’t getting at you for any love of England, for any patriotic reason. That’s not it. Don’t bother about that. Man alive, don’t mix them up in what you feel about these things. Don’t go cheapening what you think about England. Theirs is another reason.” He said very slowly, “I never told you, perhaps I ought to have told you at the time, that I was refused for the Army some while ago.”
Mr. Fortune’s watch slipped through his fingers to the full length of his chain. Twyning got up and went over to a bookcase and stared at it.
Mr. Fortune heaved in the line with an agitated hand over hand motion. “I’d no idea! My dear fellow, I’d no idea! How very admirable of you! When was this? After that big meeting in the Corn exchange the other day?”
“Don’t tell them when it was,” said Sabre’s mind. He said, “No, rather before that. I was rejected on medical grounds.”
“Well, well!” said Mr. Fortune. “Well, well!” He gave the suggestion of being unable to array his thoughts against this surprising turn of the day. “Most creditable. Twyning, do you hear that?”