“But I don’t happen to be at the front, Major,” said Randall.
“Then you damned well ought to be,” said I, in sudden wrath.
I couldn’t help it. He asked for it. He got it.
He went away, mounted his motor bicycle, and rode off.
I was sorry. The boy evidently was in a chastened mood. If I had handled him gently and diplomatically, I might have done something with him. I suppose I’m an irritable, nasty-tempered beast. It is easy to lay the blame on my helpless legs. It isn’t my legs. I’ve conquered my damned legs. It isn’t my legs. Its me.
I was ashamed of myself. And when, later, Marigold enquired whether the doors were still shut against Mr. Holmes, I asked him what the blazes he meant by not minding his own business. And Marigold said: “Very good, sir.”
For a week or two the sluggish stream of Wellingsfordian life flowed on undisturbed. The chief incident was a recruiting meeting held on the Common. Sir Anthony Fenimore in his civic capacity, a staff-officer with red tabs, a wounded soldier, an elderly, eloquent gentleman from recruiting headquarters in London, and one or two nondescripts, including myself, were on the platform. A company of a County Territorial Battalion and the O.T.C. of the Godbury Grammar School gave a semblance of military display. The Town Band, in a sort of Hungarian uniform, discoursed martial music. Old men and maidens, mothers and children, and contented young fellows in khaki belonging to all kinds of arms, formed a most respectable crowd. The flower of Wellingsfordian youth was noticeably absent. They were having too excellent a time to be drawn into the temptation of a recruiting meeting, in spite of the band and the fine afternoon and the promiscuity of attractive damsels. They were making unheard-of money at the circumjacent factories; their mothers were waxing fat on billeting-money. They never had so much money to spend on moving-picture-palaces and cheap jewellery for their inamoratas in their lives. As our beautiful Educational system had most scrupulously excluded from their school curriculum any reference to patriotism, any rudimentary conception of England as their sacred heritage, and as they had been afforded no opportunity since they left school of thinking of anything save their material welfare and grosser material appetites, the vague talk of peril to the British Empire left them unmoved. They were quite content to let others go and fight. They had their own comfortable theories about it. Some fellows liked that sort of thing. They themselves didn’t. In ordinary times, it amused that kind of fellow to belong to a Harriers Club, and clad in shorts and zephyrs, go on Sundays for twenty-mile runs. It didn’t amuse them. A cigarette, a girl, and a stile formed their ideal of Sunday enjoyment. They had no quarrel with the harrier fellow or the soldier fellow for following his bent. They were most broad-minded. But they flattered themselves that they were fellows of a superior and more intelligent breed. They were making money and living warm, the only ideal of existence of which they had ever heard, and what did anything else matter?