One evening he asked her a most extraordinary question, shot out of him without intending it, discharged out of his questing thoughts as by a hidden spring suddenly touched by groping fingers.
“Effie, do you love God?”
Her surprise seemed to him to be more at the thing he had asked than at its amazing unexpectedness and amazing irrelevancy. “Why, of course I do, Mr. Sabre.”
“Why do you?”
She was utterly at a loss. “Well, of course I do.”
He said rather sharply, “Yes, but why? Have you ever asked yourself why? Respecting, fearing, trusting, that’s understandable. But love, love, you know what love is, don’t you? What’s love got to do with God?”
She said in simple wonderment, as one asked what had the sun to do with light, or whether water was wet, “Why, God is love.”
He stared at her.
The second Christmas of the war came. The evening before the last day of the Old Year was to have given Sabre a rare pleasure to which he had been immensely looking forward. He was to have spent it with Mr. Fargus. The old chess and acrostic evenings hardly ever happened now. Mr. Fargus, most manifestly unfitted for the exposures of such a life, had become a special constable. He did night duty in the Garden Home. He chose night duty, he told Sabre, because he had no work to do by day and could therefore then take his rest. Younger men who were in offices and shops hadn’t the like advantage. It was only fair he should help in the hours help was most wanted. Sabre said it would kill him in time, but Mrs. Fargus and the three Miss Farguses still at home replied, when Sabre ventured this opinion to them, that Papa was much stronger than any one imagined, also that they agreed with Papa that one ought to do in the war, not what one wanted to do, but what was most required to be done; finally that, being at home by day, Papa could help, and liked helping, in the many duties about the house now interfered with by the enlistment of the entire battalion of female Farguses in work for the war. One detachment of female Farguses had leapt into blue or khaki uniforms and disappeared into the voracious belly of the war machine; the remainder of the battalion thrust their long legs into breeches and boots and worked at home as land girls. Little old Mr. Fargus in his grey suit, and the startled child Kate with one hand still up her back in search of the errant apron string “did” what the battalion used to do and were nightly, on the return of the giant land girls, shown how shockingly they had done it.
Rare, therefore, the old chess and acrostic evenings and most keenly anticipated, accordingly, this—the first for a fortnight—on the eve of New Year’s Eve. It was to have been a real long evening; but it proved not very long. It was to have been one in which the war should be shut out and forgotten in the delights of mental twistings and slowly puffed pipes; it proved to be one in which “this frightful war!” was groaned out of Sabre’s spirit in emotion most terrible to him.