Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Classical Novels > Kangaroo > CHAP: XII. THE NIGHTMARE
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 He had known such different deep fears. In Sicily, a sudden fear, in the night of some single murderer, some single thing as it were out of the violent past, with the intent of murder. Out of the old Greek past, that had been so vivid, sometimes an unappeased spirit of murderous-hate against the moderns. A sudden presence of murder in the air, because of something which the modern had excluded, some old and vital thing which Christianity has cut out. An old spirit, waiting for . But in England, during the later years of the war, a true and deadly fear of the criminal living spirit which arose in all the stay-at-home who governed the country during those years. From 1916 to 1919 a wave of criminal rose and England, there was a of terror, under a set of indecent bullies like Bottomley of John Bull and other bottom-dog members of the House of Commons. Then Somers had known what it was to live in a perpetual state of semi-fear: the fear of the criminal public and the criminal government. The torture was , during those years after Asquith fell, to break the independent soul in any man who would not hunt with the criminal mob. A man must identify himself with the criminal mob, sink his sense of truth, of justice, and of human honour, and bay like some horrible unclean hound, bay with a loud sound, from slavering, unclean .  
This Richard Lovat Somers had steadily refused to do. The deepest part of a man is his sense of essential truth, essential honour, essential justice. This deepest self makes him by his own feelings, come what may. It is not sentimentalism. It is just the male human creature, the thought-adventurer, driven to earth. Will he give in or won’t he?
Many men, carried on a wave of and true belief in democracy, entered the war. Many men were driven in out of belief that it was necessary to save their property. Vast numbers of men were just into the{239} army. A few remained. Of these, many became objectors.
Somers belonged to no group. He would not enter the army, because his profoundest instinct was against it. Yet he had no conscientious objection to war. It was the whole spirit of the war, the vast mob-spirit, which he could never in. The terrible, terrible war, made so fearful because in every country practically every man lost his head, and lost his own centrality, his own in his own integrity, which alone keeps life real. Practically every man being caught away from himself, as in some horrible flood, and swept away with the ghastly masses of other men, unable to speak, or feel for himself, or to stand on his own feet, delivered over and in the current, for the time being. Some of them to die for ever. Most to come back home in circumstance, but with their inner pride gone: inwardly lost. To come back home, many of them, to wives who had egged them on to this downfall in themselves: black bitterness. Others to return to a bewildered wife who had in vain tried to keep her man true to himself, tried and tried, only to see him at last swept away. And oh, when he was swept away, how she loved him. But when he came back, when he crawled out like a dog out of a dirty stream, a stream that had suddenly gone slack and : when he came back covered with outward glory and inward shame, then there was the price to pay.
And there is this bitter and after-war price to pay because men lost their heads, and worse, lost their inward, individual integrity. And when a man loses his inward, , manly integrity, it is a bad day for that man’s true wife. A true man should not lose his head. The greater the crisis, the more intense should be his isolated reckoning with his own soul. And then let him act, of his own whole self. Not fling himself away: or much worse, let himself be dragged away, bit by bit.
Awful years—’16, ’17, ’18, ’19—the years when the damage was done. The years when the world lost its real manhood. Not for lack of courage to face death. Plenty of superb courage to face death. But no courage in any{240} man to face his own isolated soul, and abide by its decision. Easier to sacrifice oneself. So much easier!
Richard Lovat was one of those utterly unsatisfactory creatures who just would not. He had no conscientious objections. He knew that men must fight, some time in some way or other. He was no Quaker, to believe in perpetual peace. He had been in Germany times enough to know how much he the German military creatures: mechanical bullies they were. They had once threatened to arrest him as a spy, and had insulted him more than once. Oh, he would never forgive them, in his inward soul. But then the industrialism and commercialism of England, with which patriotism and democracy became identified: did not these insult a man and hit him pleasantly across the mouth? How much had Richard suffered, trying to earn his living! How had they tried, with their beastly industrial self-righteousness, to him as a separate, single man? They wanted to bring him to heel even more than the German militarist did. And if a man is to be brought to any heel, better a spurred heel than the heel of a Jewish financier. So Richard later, when the years let him think things over, and see where he was.
Therefore when the war came, his instinct was against it. When the Asquith government so softly , he began to suffer agonies. But when the Asquith government went right under, and in its place came that John Bull government of ’16, ’17, ’18, then agonies gave way to tortures. He was summoned to join the army: and went. Spent a night in barracks with forty other men, and not one of these other men but felt like a criminal , bitter in dejection and humiliation. Was medically examined in the morning by two doctors, both gentlemen, who knew the sacredness of another naked man: and was rejected.
So, that was over. He went back home. And he made up his mind what he would do. He would never voluntarily make a of himself. His feeling was private to himself, he didn’t want to force it on any other man. He would just act alone. For the moment, he was rejected as medically unfit. If he was called up again, he would go again. But he would never serve.{241}
“Once,” he said to Harriet, “that they have really conscripted me, I will never obey another order, if they kill me.”
Poor Harriet felt scared, and didn’t know what else to say.
“If ever,” he said, looking up from his own knees in their old grey trousers, as he sat by the fire, “if ever I see my legs in khaki, I shall die. But they shall never put my legs into khaki.”
That first time, at the barracks in the country town in the west, they had treated him with that regard and gentleness which he usually got from men who were not German militarist bullies, or worse, British commercial bullies. For instance, in the morning in that prison barracks room, these unexamined recruits were ordered to make their beds and sweep the room. In , so far, Richard Lovat took one of the heavy brooms. He was pale, silent, isolated: a queer figure, a young man with a beard. The other soldiers—or must-be soldiers—had looked at him as a queer fish, but that he was used to.
“Say, Dad,” said a fattish young fellow older than himself, the only blatherer, a loose fellow who had come from Canada to join up and was already cursing: he was a good deal older than Somers.
“Say, Dad,” said this fellow, as they sat in the train coming up, “all that’ll come off to-morrow—Qck, Qck!”—and he made two noises, and gave two long swipes with his finger round his chin, to intimate that Richard’s beard would be cut off to-morrow.
“We’ll see,” said Richard, smiling with pale lips.
He said in his heart, the day his beard was shaven he was beaten, lost. He identified it with his manhood. He never forgot that journey up to Bodmin, with the other men who were called up. They were all bitterly, , but still manly: mostly very quiet, yet neither nor frightened. Only the fat, loose fellow who had given up a damned good job in Canada to come and serve this country, etc., etc., was a ranter and a . Somers saw him afterwards naked: strange, fat, soft, like a woman. But in another carriage the men sang all the time, or howled like dogs in the night:{242}
“I’ll be your sweetheart, if you will be mine,
All my life I’ll be you-o-o-ur Valentine.
I’ll gather, take them and be true,
When I’m a man, my plan will be to marry you.”
down the lost corridors of hell, surely, those ghastly notes—
“All my li-i-i-ife—I’ll be you-u-r Valentine.”
Somers could never recall it without . It is not death that matters, but the loss of the integral soul. And these men howled as if they were going to their , helplessly, ghastly. It was not the death in front. It was the surrender of all their old beliefs, and all their sacred liberty.
Those bluebells! They were worse than the earlier songs. In 1915, autumn, Hampstead Heath, leaves burning in heaps, in the blue air, London still almost pre-war London: but by the pond on the Spaniards Road, blue soldiers, wounded soldiers in their bright hospital blue and red, always there: and earth-coloured recruits with pale faces drilling near Parliament Hill. The pre-war world still lingering, and some vivid strangeness, thrown in. At night all the great beams of the searchlights, in great straight bars, feeling across the London sky, feeling the clouds, feeling the body of the dark overhead. And then Zeppelin raids: the awful noise and the excitement. Somers was never afraid then. One evening he and Harriet walked from Platts Lane to the Spaniards Road, across the Heath: and there, in the sky, like some god vision, a Zeppelin, and the searchlights it, so that it gleamed like a in the heavens, then losing it, so that only the strange drumming came down out of the sky where the searchlights their feelers. There it was again, high, high, high, tiny, pale, as one might imagine the Holy Ghost, far, far above. And the crashes of guns, and the awful of shells bursting in the city. Then gradually, quiet. And from Parliament Hill, a great red glare below, near St Paul’s. Something in the city. Harriet was horribly afraid. Yet as she looked up at the far-off Zeppelin she said to Somers:{243}
“Think, some of the boys I played with when I was a child are probably in it.”
And he looked up at the far, thing, like a moon. Were there men in it? Just men, with two vulnerable legs and warm mouths. The imagination could not go so far.
Those days, that autumn ... people carried about , yellow and brown chrysanthemums: and the smell of burning leaves: and the wounded, bright blue soldiers with their red cotton neckties, sitting together like macaws on the seats, pale and different from other people. And the star Jupiter very bright at nights over the cup hollow of the Vale, on Hampstead Heath. And the war news always coming, the war horror drifting in, drifting in, prices rising, excitement growing, people going mad about the Zeppelin raids. And always the one song:
“Keep the home fires burning,
Though your hearts be .”
It was in 1915 the old world ended. In the winter 1915-1916 the spirit of the old London ; the city, in some way, perished, perished from being a heart of the world, and became a vortex of broken passions, , hopes, fears, and horrors. The integrity of London collapsed, and the genuine debasement began, the unspeakable baseness of the press and the public voice, the reign of that bloated ignominy, John Bull.
No man who has really consciously lived through this can believe again absolutely in democracy. No man who has heard in thousands of tones from all the common people, during the crucial years of the war: “I believe in John Bull. Give me John Bull,” can ever believe that in any crisis a people can govern itself, or is ever fit to govern itself. During the crucial years of the war, the people chose, and chose Bottomleyism. Bottom enough.
The well-bred, really cultured classes were on the whole passive resisters. They shirked their duty. It is the business of people who really know better to fight tooth and nail to keep up a standard, to hold control of authority. Laisser-aller is as guilty as the actual, mongrelism it gives place to.{244}
It was in mid-winter 1915 that Somers and Harriet went down to Cornwall. The spirit of the war—the spirit of and of human ignominy, had not travelled so far yet. It came in advancing waves.
We hear so much of the bravery and horrors at the front. Brave the men were, all honour to them. It was at home the world was lost. We hear too little of the collapse of the proud human spirit at home, the triumph of sordid, , raging meanness. “The bite of a jackal is blood-poisoning and .” And at home stayed all the jackals, , male and female jackals. And they bit us all. And blood-poisoning and mortification set in.
We should never have let the jackals loose, and patted them on the head. They were feeding on our death all the while.
Away in the west Richard and Harriet lived alone in their cottage by the Atlantic. He hardly wrote at all, and never any propaganda. But he hated the war, and said so to the few Cornish people around. He laughed at the palpable lies of the press, bitterly. And because of his isolation and his absolute separateness, he was marked out as a spy.
“I am not a spy,” he said, “I leave it to dirtier people. I am myself, and I won’t have popular lies.”
So, there began the visits from the policeman. A large, blue, helmeted figure at the door.
“Excuse me, sir, I have just a few enquiries to make.”
The police- always a decent, fellow, driven by the military.
Somers and Harriet lived now with that about them in the very air they breathed. They were suspects.
“Then let them suspect,” said he. “I do nothing to them, so what can they do to me.”
He still believed in the constitutional liberty of an Englishman.
“You know,” said Harriet, “you do say things to these Cornish people.”
“I only say, when they tell me newspaper lies, that they are lies.”
But now the two began to be hated, hated far more than they knew.{245}
“You want to be careful,” warned one of the Cornish friends. “I’ve heard that the coast-watchers have got orders to keep very strict watch on you.”
“Let them, they’ll see nothing.”
But it was not till afterwards that he learned that the watchers had lain behind the stone fence, to hear what he and Harriet talked about.
So, he was called up the first time and went. He was summoned to Penzance, and drove over with Harriet, expecting to return for the time at least. But he was ordered to proceed the same afternoon to Bodmin, along with sixteen or seventeen other fellows, farm hands and working men. He said good-bye to Harriet, who was to be driven back alone across the , to their lonely cottage on the other side.
“I shall be back to-morrow,” he said.
England was still England, and he was not finally afraid.
The train-journey from Penzance to Bodmin with the other men: the fat, other man: the tall man who felt as Somers did: the change at the roadside station, with the porters chaffing the men that the handcuffs were on them. Indeed, it was like being one of a gang of convicts. The great, prison-like barracks—the disgusting evening meal of which he could eat nothing—the little terrier-like sergeant of the regulars, who made them a little encouraging speech: not a bad chap. The lounging about that barracks yard, prisoners, till bed time: the other men crowding to the canteen, himself mostly alone. The brief talks with men who were for a moment curious as to who and what he was. For a moment only. They were most of them miserable and bitter.
! It was like gaol. He thought of Oscar Wilde in prison. Night came, and the beds to be made.
“They’re good beds, clean beds, you’ll sleep quite comfortable in them,” said the elderly little sergeant with a white moustache. Nine o’clock lights out. Somers had brought no night clothes, nothing. He slept in his woollen pants, and was ashamed because they had patches on the knees, for he and Harriet were very poor these years. In the next bed was a youth, a queer fellow, in a sloppy suit of black broadcloth, and down-at-heel boots. He had{246} a sort of handsomeness too. He had never spoken a word. His face was long and rather fine, but like an Apache, his straight black hair came in a lock over his forehead. And there was an Apache sort of sheepishness, stupidity, in everything he did. He was a long time getting undressed. Then there he stood, and his white cotton day-shirt was long below his knees, like a woman’s nightgown. A restless, bitter night, with one man cough, cough, coughing, a cough, and others talking, making noises in their sleep. at six, and a to wash themselves at the trough in the wash house. Somers could not crowd in, did not get in till towards the end. Then he had to borrow soap, and afterwards a piece of comb. The men were all quiet and inoffensive, common, but gentle, by nature decent. A sickening breakfast, then wash-up and sweep the floors. Somers took one of the heavy brooms, as ordered, and began. He swept his own floors nearly every day. But this was heavier work. The sergeant stopped him. “Don’t you do that. You go and help to wipe the pots, if you like. Here, you boy, you—take that brush.”
And Somers his broom to a bigger man.
They were kindly, and, in the essential sense, gentlemen, the little terrier of a sergeant too. Englishmen, his own people.
When it came to Somers’ turn to be examined, and he took off his clothes and sat in his shirt in the cold lobby: the fat fellow to his thin, delicate legs with a . But Somers looked at him, and he was quiet again. The queer, soft, pale-bodied fellow, against Somers’ thin delicate whiteness. The little sergeant kept saying:
“Don’t you catch cold, you chaps.”
In the warm room behind a screen, Richard took off his shirt and was examined. The doctor asked him where he lived—where was his home—asked as a gentleman asks, treated him with that gentle consideration Somers usually met with, save from business people or official people.
“We shall reject you, leave you free,” said the doctor, after consulting with the more elderly, officious little man, “but we leave it to you to do what you can for your country.”
“Thank you,” said Richard, looking at him.{247}
“Every man must do what he can,” put in the other doctor, who was elderly and officious, but a gentleman. “The country needs the help of every man, and though we leave you free, we expect you to apply yourself to some service.”
“Yes,” said Somers, looking at him, and speaking in an absolutely neutral voice. Things said like that to him were never real to him: more like the noise of a cart passing, just a noise.
The two doctors looked from his face down his thin nakedness again.
“Put your shirt on,” said the younger one.
And Somers could hear the mental comment, “Rum sort of a fellow,” as he did so.
There was still a wait for the card. It was one of those cards: A—Called up for military service. B—Called up for service at the front, but not in the lines. C—Called up for non-military service. R—Rejected. A, B, and C were ruled out in red ink, leaving the Rejected. He still had to go to another office for his pay—two shillings and fourpence, or something like that. He signed for this and was free. Free—with two shillings and fourpence, and pass for a railway ticket—and God’s air. The moment he stepped out with his card, he realised that it was Saturday morning, that the sun was shining, filling the big stone yard of the barracks, from which he could look to the station and the hill with its grass, beyond. That hill beyond—he had seemed to look at it through darkened glass, before. Till now, the morning had been a timeless greyness. Indeed, it had rained at seven o’clock, as they stood lounging about in the barracks yard with its high wall, cold and bitter. And the tall man had talked to him bitterly.
But now the sun shone, the dark-green, Cornish hill, hard-looking, was just a near hill. He walked through the great gates. Ah God, he was out, he was free. The road with trees went down-hill to the town. He hastened down, a free human being, on Saturday morning, the grey gone from his eyes.
He telegraphed the word Rejected, and the time of his arrival, to Harriet. Then he went and had dinner. Some of the other men came in. They were{248} reserved now—there was a distance between him and them—he was not of their social class.
“What are you?” they asked him.
“Rejected,” he said.
And they looked at him , thinking it was because he was not a working man he had got special favour. He knew what they thought, and he tried not to look so glad. But glad he was, and in some mysterious way, .
It was a wonderful journey on the Saturday afternoon home—sunny, busy, lovely. He changed at Truro and went into town. On the road he met some of the other fellows, who were called up, but not summoned for service immediately. They had some weeks, or months, of and suspense before them. They looked at Somers, and grinned rather at him. They envied him—no wonder. And already he was a stranger, in another walk of life.
Rejected as unfit. One of the unfit. What did he care? The Cornish are always of any or physical disablement. “What’s amiss then?” they would ask. They would say that you might as well be shot as labelled unfit. But most of them tried hard to find constitutional weaknesses in themselves, that would get them rejected also, notwithstanding. And at the same time they felt they must be horribly ashamed of their physical ignominy if they were labelled unfit.
Somers did not care. Let them label me unfit, he said to himself. I know my own body is fragile, in its way, but also it is very strong, and it’s the only body that would carry my particular self. Let the fools peer at it and put me down undeveloped chest and what they like, so long as they leave me to my own way.
Then the kindly doctor’s that he should find some way for himself of serving his country. He thought about that many times. But always, as he came near to the fact of committing himself, he knew that he simply could not commit himself to any service . In no shape or form could he serve the war, either or directly. Yet it would have been so easy. He had quite enough friends in London to put him into some job, even some quite congenial, literary job, with a{249} sufficient salary. They would be only too glad to do it, for there in his remoteness, writing occasionally an essay that only bothered them, he was a thorn in their flesh. And men and women with sons, brothers, husbands away fighting, it was small pleasure for them to read Mr Somers and his pronunciation. “This and machine is a against life itself, a blasphemy which we are all committing.” All very well, they said, but we are in for a war, and what are we to do? We hate it as much as he does. But we can’t all sit safely in Cornwall.
That was true too, and he knew it, and he felt the most a , knowing how many brave, generous men were being put through this slaughter-machine of human devilishness. They were doing their best, and there was nothing else to do. But even that was no reason why he should go and do likewise.
If men had kept their souls firm and integral through the years, the war would never have come on. If, in the beginning, there had been enough strong, proud souls in England to concentrate the English feeling into stern, fierce, fighting, the war would never have gone as it went. But England slopped and wobbled, and the tide of horror accumulated.
And now, if circumstances had roped nearly all men into the horror, and it was a case of adding horror to horror, or dying well, on the other hand, the irremediable circumstance of his own separate soul made Richard Lovat’s out. If there is outward, circumstantial unreason and , there is inward unreason and inward fate. He would have to dare to follow his inward fate. He must remain alone, outside of everything, everything, conscious of what was going on, conscious of what he was doing and not doing. Conscious he must be, and consciously he must stick to it. To be forced into nothing.
For, above all things, man is a land animal and a thought-adventurer. Once the human consciousness really sinks and is swamped under the tide of events—as the best English consciousness was swamped, pacifist and alike—then the adventure is . The English soul went under in the war, and, as a conscious, proud, , self-responsible soul, it was lost. We all lost the war: perhaps Germany least. Lost all the lot. The{250} adventure is always lost when the human conscious soul gives way under the stress, fails to keep control, and is submerged. Then out the rats and the Bottomleys and crew, and the ship of human adventure is a horrible piratic affair, a dirty sort of freebooting.
Richard Lovat had nothing to hang on to but his own soul. So he hung on to it, and tried to keep his wits. If no man was with him, he was hardly aware of it, he had to grip on so desperately, like a man on a in a . The plank was his own individual self.
Followed that period of suspense which changed his life for ever. If the postman was coming downhill through the bushes over the , the first thought was: What is he bringing now? The postman was over military age, and had a of pleasure in handing out those accursed On His Majesty’s Service envelopes which meant that a man was summoned for torture. The postman was a great Wesleyan and a preacher, and the thought of hell for other men was sweet in him: he had a religious added to his natural Cornish zest in other people’s disasters.
Again, if there was the glint of a bicycle on the moor road, and if it turned down the bypath towards the cottage, then Somers strained his eyes to see if the rider were fat and blue, or tall and blue. Was it the police sergeant, or the police , coming for more identification proofs.
“We want your birth certificate,” said the sergeant. “They’ve written from Bodmin asking you to produce your birth certificate.”
“Then tell them to get it. No, I haven’t got it. You’ve had my marriage certificate. You know who I am and where I was born and all the rest. Now let them get the birth certificate themselves.”
Richard Lovat was at the end of all patience. They persisted he was a foreigner—poor Somers, just because he had a beard. One of the most intensely English little men England ever produced, with a passion for his country, even if it were often a passion of . But no, they persisted he was a foreigner. Pah!
He and Harriet did all their own work, their own shopping. One wintry afternoon they were coming home with a knapsack, along the field path above the sea, when{251} two khaki individuals, officers of some sort, strode after them.
“Excuse me,” said one, in a damnatory officious voice. “What have you got in that sack?”
“A few groceries,” said Lovat.
“I would like to look.”
Somers put the sack down on the path. The tall and lofty officer stooped and groped nobly among a pound of rice and a piece of soap and a dozen candles.
“Ha!” he cried, . “What’s this? A camera!”
Richard peeped in the bag at the groping red military hands. For a moment he almost believed that a camera had spirited itself in among his few goods, the implication of his was so powerful. He saw a block in brown paper.
“A penn’orth of salt,” he said quietly, though pale to the lips with anger and insult.
But the gentlemanly officer—a Captain—tore open the paper. Yes, a common block of salt. He pushed the bag aside.
“We have to be careful,” said the other, man.
“Of course,” said Richard, tying up his bag.
“Good afternoon!” said Harriet.
The fellows half , and turned hastening away. Richard and Harriet had the advantage of sauntering behind them and looking at their noble backs. Oh, they were gentlemen, true English gentlemen: perhaps Cornish.
Harriet gave a pouf of laughter.
“The poor innocent salt!” she exclaimed.
And no doubt that also was chalked up against her.
It was Christmas time, and two friends came down to stay at the cottage with the Somers. Those were the days before America joined the Allies. The man friend arrived with a whole parcel of American dainties, buckwheat meal and sweet potatoes and sugar: the woman friend brought a good basket of fruit. They were to have a Christmas in the lonely cottage in spite of everything.
It was Christmas Eve, and a pouring black wet night outside. Nowhere can it be so black as on the edge of a Cornish moor, above the western sea, near the rocks where the ancient worshippers used to sacrifice. The darkness{252} of menhirs. The American woman friend was at the fire making fudge, the man was away in his room, when a thundering knock at the door. Ah Lord!
The burly police-sergeant, and his bicycle.
“Sorry to trouble you, sir, but is an American, a Mr Monsell, stopping here with you? He is. Can I have a word with him?”
“Yes. Won’t you come in?”
Into the cottage room, with the American girl at the fire, her face flushed with the fudge-making, entered the big, burly ruddy police-sergeant, his black mackintosh-cape streaming wet.
“We give you a terrible lot of trouble, I’m sorry to say,” said Harriet ironically. “What an awful night for you to have to come all these miles. I’m sure it isn’t our doing.”
“No, ma’m, I know that. It’s the doing of people who like to . These military orders, they take some keeping pace with.”
“I’m sure they do.”
Harriet was all sympathy. So he, too, was by these military canaille.
Somers fetched the American friend, and he was asked to produce papers, and give information. He gave it, being an honourable citizen and a well-bred American, with complete sang froid. At that moment Somers would have given a lot to be American too, and not English. But wait—those were early days, when America was still being at for standing out and filling her pockets. She was not yet the intensely loved Ally. The police-sergeant was pleasant as ever. He apologised again, and went out into the black and pouring night. So much for Christmas Eve.
“But that’s not the end of the affair,” as the song says. When Monsell got back to London he was arrested, and conveyed to Scotland Yard: there examined, stripped naked, his clothes taken away. Then he was kept for a night in a cell—next evening and advised to return to America.
Poor Monsell, and he was so very anti-German, so very pro-British. It was a blow for him. He did not leave off being anti-German, but he was much less pro-British. And after all, it was war-time, when these things must happen,{253} we are told. Such a war-time that let loose the feelings of a mob, particularly of “gentlemen,” to torture any single, independent man as a mob always tortures the isolated and independent.
In despair, Somers thought he would go to America. He had passports, he was Rejected. They had no use for him, and he had no use for them. So he posted his passports to the Foreign Office, for the military permit to depart.
It was January, and there was a thin film of half-melted snow, like silver, on the fields and the path. A white, static, arrested morning, away there in the west of Cornwall, with the moors looking primeval, and the huge out of the earth like presences. So easy to realise men worshipping stones. It is not the stone. It is the mystery of the powerful, pre-human earth, showing its might. And all, this morning, static, arrested in a cold, whiteness, like death, the west lost in the sea.
A man in intense moments. This was one of Somers’ white, deathlike moments, as he walked home from the tiny post-office in the hamlet, on the wintry morning, after he had posted his passports asking for visas to go to New York. It was like walking in death: a strange, arrested land of death. Never had he known that feeling before: as if he were a ghost in the after-death, walking a strange, pale, static, cold world. It almost frightened him. “Have I done wrong?” he asked himself. “Am I wrong, to leave my country and go to America?”
It was then as if he had left his country: and that was like death, a still, static, death. America was the death of his own country in him, he realised that.
But he need not have bothered. The Foreign Office kept his passports, and did not so much as answer him. He waited in vain.
Spring came—and one morning the news that Asquith was out of the government, that Lloyd George was in. And this was another of Somers’ crises. He felt he must go away from the house, away from everywhere. And as he walked, clear as a voice out of the moors, came a voice saying: “It is the end of England. It is the end{254} of the old England. It is finished. England will never be England any more.”
Cornwall is a country that makes a man psyche. The longer he stayed, the more intensely it had that effect on Somers. It was as if he were developing second sight, and second hearing. He would go out into the blackness of night and listen to the blackness, and call, call softly, for the spirits, the presences he felt coming downhill from the moors in the night. “Tuatha De Danaan!” he would call softly. “Tuatha De Danaan! Be with me. Be with me.” And it was as if he felt them come.
And so this morning the voice struck into his consciousness. “It is the end of England.” So he walked along blindly, up the valley and on the moors. He loved the country intensely. It seemed to answer him. But his consciousness was all confused. In his mind, he did not at all see why it should be the end of England. Mr Asquith was called Old Wait-and-See. And truly, English Liberalism had proved a slobbery affair, all sad sympathy with everybody, and no iron , these years. , too, on its own account. It was no time for . And yet, it was true to its great .
Whereas Lloyd George! Somers knew nothing about Lloyd George. A little Welsh lawyer, not an Englishman at all. He had no real significance in Richard Lovat’s soul. Only, Somers gradually came to believe that all Jews, and all Celts, even whilst they the cause of England, subtly lived to bring about the last humiliation of the great old England. They could never do so if England would not be . But with an England fairly offering herself to ignominy, where was the help? Let the Celts work out their . If England wanted to be betrayed, in the deeper issues. Perhaps Jesus wanted to be betrayed. He did. He chose Judas.
Well, the story could have no other ending.
The war-wave had broken right over England, now: right over Cornwall. Probably throughout the ages Cornwall had not been finally swept, submerged by any English spirit. Now it happened—the accursed later war spirit. Now the tales began to go round full-tilt against Somers. A chimney of his house was tarred to keep out the damp:{255} that was a signal to the Germans. He and his wife carried food to supply German submarines. They had secret stores of petrol in the cliff. They were watched and listened to, spied on, by men lying behind the low stone fences. It is a job the Cornish loved. They didn’t even mind being caught at it: lying behind a fence with field-glasses, watching through a hole in the drystone wall a man with a lass, on the edge of the moors. Perhaps they were proud of it. If a man wanted to hear what was said about him—or anything—he lay behind a wall at the field-corners, where the youths talked before they parted and went indoors, late of a Saturday night. A whole intense life of spying going on all the time.
Harriet could not hang out a towel on a bush, or carry out the slops, in the empty landscape of moors and sea, without her every movement being followed by invisible eyes. And at evening, when the doors were shut, men lay under the windows to listen to the conversation in the cosy little room. And bitter enough were the things they said: and damnatory, the two Somers. Richard did not hold himself in. And he talked too with the men on the farm: openly. For they had exactly the same anti-military feeling as himself, and they simply the thought of being compelled to serve. Most men in the west, Somers thought, would have committed murder to escape, if murder would have helped them. It wouldn’t. He loved the people at the farm, and the men their rage together. And again Somers’ farmer friend warned him, how he was being watched. But Somers would not . “What can they do to me!” he said. “I am not a spy in any way whatsoever. There is nothing they can do to me. I make no public appearance at all. I am just by myself. What can they do to me? Let them go to hell.”
He refused to be , guarded, , like the people around, saying double things as occasion arose, and hiding their secret thoughts and secret malignancy. He still believed in the freedom of the individual.—Yes, freedom of the individual!
He was aware of the mass of secret feeling against him. Yet the people he came into daily contact with liked him—almost loved him. So he kept on defying the rest, and went along and open as ever, saying what he really felt,{256} or holding his tongue. Enemies! How could he have any personal enemies? He had never done harm to any of these people, had never even felt any harm. He did not believe in personal enemies. It was just the military.
Enemies he had, however, people he didn’t know and hadn’t even spoken to. Enemies who hated him like poison. They hated him because he was free, because of his different, unafraid face. They hated him because he wasn’t cowed, as they were all cowed. They hated him for his at the farm, in the hamlet. For each farm was bitter jealous of each other.
Yet he never believed he had any personal enemies. And he had all the west hating him like poison. He realised once, when two men came down the moorland by-road—officers in khaki—on a motor-bicycle, and went trying the door of the next cottage, which was shut up. Somers went to the door, in all .
“Did you want me?” he asked.
“No, we didn’t want you,” replied one of the fellows, in a genteel voice and a tone like a slap in the face. Somers spoken to as if he were the lowest of the low. He shut his cottage door. Was it so? Had they spoken to him like that? He would not believe it.
But inwardly, he knew it was so. That was what they intended to convey to him: that he was the lowest of the low. He began even to feel guilty, under this mass of poisonous . And he realised that they had come, on their own, to get into the other cottage and see if there were some installation or something else criminal. But it was fastened tight, and they gave up their design of breaking in, for they turned the motor-cycle and went away.
Day followed day in this tension of suspense. Submarines were off the coast; Harriet saw a ship sunk, away to sea. Horrible excitement, and the postman asking sly questions to try to catch Somers out. Increased rigour of coast watching, and no light must be shown. Yet along the highroad on the hillside above, plainer than any house-light, danced the lights of a cart, moving, or slowly sped the light of a bicycle, on the blackness. Then a Spanish coal-vessel, three thousand tons, ran on the rocks in a fog, straight under the cottage. She was completely . Somers{257} watched the waves break over her. Her coal washed , and the farmers carried it up the cliffs in sacks.
There was to be a calling-up now and a re-examination of every man—Somers felt the crisis approaching. The was to go through, once more. The first meant nothing. There were certain reservations. He had himself examined again by a doctor. The strain told on his heart as well as his breathing. He sent in this note to the authorities. A reply: “You must present yourself for examination, as ordered.”
He knew that if he was really ever summoned to any service, and finally violated, he would be broken, and die. But patience. In the meanwhile he went to see his people: the long journey up the west, changing at Plymouth and Bristol and Birmingham, up to Derby. west of England: if a man were free. He sat through the whole day, very still, looking at the world. Very still, gone very far inside himself, travelling through this England in spring. He loved it so much. But it was in the grip of something , not English, and he was almost gripped too. As it was, by making himself far away inside himself, he contained himself, and was still.
He arrived late in Derby: Saturday night, and no train for the next ten miles. But luckily, there was a motor-bus going out to the outlying villages. Derby was very dark, like a savage town, a feeling of . And at last the ’bus was ready: full of young miners, more or less . The ’bus was , a solid jam of men, sitting on each other’s knees, standing blocked and wedged. There was no outside accommodation. And inside were jammed eighteen more men than was allowed. It was like being pressed into one block of corned beef.
The ’bus ran six miles without stopping, through an absolutely dark country, Zeppelin black, and having one feeble light of its own. The roads were unmended, and very bad. But the ’bus charged on, madly, at full speed, like a dim consciousness madly charging through the night. And the mass of colliers swayed with the ’bus, intoxicated into a living block, and with high, loud, wailing voices they sang:{258}
“There’s a long, long trail a-winding
Into the land of my dreams—
Where the nightingales are singing and the——”
This ghastly trailing song, like death itself. The colliers seemed to tear it out of their , in a long, wild chant. They, too, all loathed the war: loathed it. And this awful song! They , and somebody started “Tipperary.”
“It’s a long, long way to Tipperary,
It’s a long way to go——”
But Tipperary was already felt as something of a Jonah: a bad-luck song, so it did not last long. The miserable songs—with their long, long ways that ended in sheer : real death-wails! These for battle songs. The of a dying humanity.
Somebody started:
Don’t cry—eee
Wipe the tear, baby dear, from your eye—eee—
For it’s hard to part I know.
I’ll—be—tickled-to-death to go,
Don’t cry—eee—”
But the others didn’t know this , and they weren’t yet in the mood. They drifted drunkenly back to the howl of
“There’s a long, long trail——”
A black, wild Saturday night. These were the collier youths Somers has been to school with—approximately. As they tore their bowels with their singing, they tore his. But as he sat squashed far back among all that coated flesh, in the dimmest glim of a light, that only made darkness more substantial, he felt like some strange isolated cell in some tensely packed organism that was through into oblivion. The colliers. He was more at one with them. But they were blind, ventral. Once they broke loose heaven knows what it would be.
The Midlands—the theatre in Nottingham—the of amusement, and the feeling of murder in the dark, {259}ful city. In the daytime these songs—this horrible long trail, and “Good-byeeee” and “Way down in Tennessee.” They tried to keep up their spirits with this rag-time Tennessee. But there was murder in the air in the Midlands, among the colliers. In the theatre particularly, a shut-in, awful feeling of souls fit for murder.
London—mid-war London, nothing but war, war. Lovely sunny weather, and bombs at midday in the . Summery weather. Berkshire—aeroplanes—springtime. He was as if blind; he must hurry the long journey back to Harriet and Cornwall.
Yes—he had his papers—he must present himself again at Bodmin barracks. He was just simply summoned as if he were already conscripted. But he knew he must be medically examined. He went—left home at seven in the morning to catch the train. Harriet watched him go across the field. She was left alone, in a strange country.
“I shall be back to-night,” he said.
It was a still morning, remote, as if one were not in the world. On the hill down to the station he lingered. “Shall I not go! Shall I not go!” he said to himself. He wanted to break away. But what good? He would only be arrested and lost. Yet he had his time, he had to run hard to catch the train in the end.
This time things went much more quickly. He was only two hours in the barracks. He was examined. He could tell they knew about him and disliked him. He was put in class C 3—unfit for military service, but conscripted for light non-military duties. There were no now. Still, it was good enough. There were thousands of C men, men who wanted to have jobs as C men, so they were not very likely to fetch him up. He would only be a nuisance anyhow. That was clear all round.
Through the little window at the back of their ancient granite cottage, Harriet, peeping wistfully out to sea—poor Harriet, she was always frightened now—saw Richard coming across the fields, home, walking fast, and with that intent look about him that she half feared. She ran out in a sort of fear, then waited. She would wait.
He saw her face very bright with fear and joy at seeing him back: very beautiful in his eyes. The only real thing, perhaps, left in his world.{260}
“Here you are! So early!” she cried. “I didn’t expect you. The dinner isn’t ready yet. Well?”
“C 3,” he replied. “It’s all right.”
“I knew it would be,” she cried, seizing his arm and hugging it to her. They went in to the cottage to finish cooking the evening meal. And immediately one of the farm girls came running up to see what it was.
“Oh, C 3—so you’re all right, Mr Somers. Glad, I’m glad.”
Harriet never forgot the straight, intent bee-line for home which he was making when she peeped out of that little window .
So, another . They were not going to touch him. They knew he would be a firebrand in their army, a dangerous man to put with any group of men. They would leave him alone. C 3.
He had almost entirely left off writing now, and spent most of his days working on the farm. Again the neighbours were jealous.
“Buryan gets his labour cheap. He’d never have got his hay in but for Mr Somers,” they said. And that was another reason for wishing to remove Richard Lovat. Work went like steam when he was on Trendrinnan farm, and he was too thick with the Buryans. Much too thick. And John Thomas Buryan rather of Mr Somers at market, and how he, Richard Lovat, wasn’t afraid of any of them, etc., etc.—that he wasn’t going to serve anybody, etc.—and that nobody could make him—etc., etc.
But Richard drifted away this summer, on to the land, into the weather, into Cornwall. He worked out of doors all the time—he ceased to care inwardly—he began to drift away from himself. He was very thick with John Thomas, and nearly always at the farm. Harriet was a great deal alone. And he seemed to be drifting away, drifting back to the common people, becoming a working man, of the lower classes. It had its charm for Harriet, this aspect of him—careless, rather reckless, in old clothes and an old hat. He kept his sharp wits, but his spirit became careless, lost its concentration.
“I declare!” said John Thomas, as Somers appeared in the cornfield, “you look more like one of us every day.” And he looked with a bright Cornish eye at Somers’ care{261}less, belted figure and old jacket. The speech struck Richard: it sounded half triumphant, half mocking. “He thinks I’m coming down in the world—it is half a rebuke,” thought Somers to himself. But he was half pleased: and half he was .
Corn harvest lasted long, and was a happy time for them all. It went well, well. Also from London occasionally a young man came down and stayed at the inn in the church town, some young friend of Somers who hated the army and the Government and was generally discontented, and so fitfully came as an to Richard Lovat. One of these was James Sharpe, a young Edinburgh man with a moderate income of his own, interested in music. Sharpe was hardly more than a lad—but he was the type of lowland Scotsman who is half an artist, not more, and so can never get on in the ordinary respectable life, rebels against it all the time, and yet can never get away from it or free himself from its .
Sharpe had taken a house further along the coast, brought his piano down from London and sufficient furniture and a , and insisted, like a bird, that he wanted to be alone. But he wasn’t really morose, and he didn’t want really to be alone. His old house, rather ramshackle, stood back a little way from the cliffs, where the moor came down to the sea, past a tin mine. It was lonely, wild, and in a savage way, enough. Here Sharpe installed himself for the moment: to be alone with his music and his general discontent.
Of course he excited the wildest comments. He had window-curtains of different colours, so of course, here was plain signalling to the German submarines. Spies, the lot of them. When still another young man of the same set came and took a on the moors, West Cornwall decided that it was being delivered straight into German hands. Not that West Cornwall would really have minded that so terribly. No; it wasn’t that it feared the Germans. It was that it hated the sight of these young men. And Somers the , the arch-spy, the responsible little swine with his beard.
Somers, meanwhile, began to chuckle a bit to himself. After all he was getting the better of the military canaille.{262} Canaille! Canaglia! Schweinerei! He loathed them in all the languages he could lay his tongue to.
So Somers and Harriet went to stay a week-end with Sharpe at Trevenna, as the house was called. Sharpe was a C 2 man, on perpetual . He had decided that if ever he were summoned to serve, he would just disappear. The Somers drove over, only three or four miles, on the Saturday afternoon, and the three wandered on the moor and down the cliff. No one was in sight. But how many pairs of eyes were watching, who knows? Sharpe a cigarette for Harriet was an indication of .
Evening came, the lamps were lit, and the incriminating curtains carefully . The three sat before the fire in the long music room, and tried to be cosy and jolly. But there was something wrong with the mood. After dinner it was even worse. Harriet curled herself up on the sofa with a cigarette, Sharpe spread himself in profound melancholy in his big chair, Somers sat back, nearer the window. They talked in occasional snatches, in mockery of the enemy that surrounded them. Then Somers sang to himself, in an irritating way, one German folksong after another, not in a songful, but in a way.
“Annchen von Tharau”—“Schatz, mein Schatz, reite nicht so weit von mir.” “Zu Strasburg auf der Schanz, da fiel mein Unglück ein.” This went on till Sharpe asked him to stop.
And in the silence, the tense and silence that followed, came a loud bang. All got up in alarm, and followed Sharpe through the dining-room to the small entrance-room, where a dim light was burning. A and three sordid men in the dark behind him, one with a lantern.
“Mr Sharpe?”—the and absolutely-in-the-right voice of the puppy lieutenant.
Sharpe took his pipe from his mouth and said , “Yes.”
“You’ve a light burning in your window facing the sea.”
“I think not. There is only one window, and that’s on the passage where I never go, upstairs.”
“A light was showing from that window ten minutes ago.”
“I don’t think it can have been.”
“It was.” And the stern, puppy lieutenant turned to his , who clustered there in the dark.
“Yes, there was a light there ten minutes since,” chimed the followers.
“I don’t see how it’s possible,” persisted Sharpe.
“Oh, well—there is sufficient evidence that it was. What other persons have you in the house—” and this officer and gentleman stepped into the room, followed by his three Cornish weeds, one of whom had fallen into a ditch in his assiduous serving of his country, and was a sorry sight. Of course Harriet saw chiefly him, and had to laugh.
“There’s Mrs Waugh, the housekeeper—but she’s in bed.”
The party now stood and eyed one another—the lieutenant with his three sorry braves on one hand, Sharpe, Somers, and Harriet in an old dress of soft silk on the other.
“Well, Mr Sharpe, the light was seen.”
“I don’t see how it was possible. We’ve none of us been upstairs, and Mrs Waugh has been in bed for half an hour.”
“Is there a curtain to the passage window?” put in Somers quietly. He had helped Sharpe in setting up house.
“I don’t believe there is,” said Sharpe. “I forgot all about it, as it wasn’t in a room, and I never go to that side of the house. Even Mrs Waugh is supposed to go up the kitchen stairs, and so she doesn’t have to pass it.”
“She must have gone across with a candle as she went to bed,” said Somers.
But the lieutenant didn’t like being pushed into unimportance while these young men so quietly and naturally together, excluding him as if he were an inferior: which they meant to do.
“You have an uncurtained window overlooking the sea, Mr Sharpe?” he said, in his military counter-jumper voice.
“You’ll have to put a curtain to it to-morrow,” said Somers to Sharpe.
“What is your name?” chimed the lieutenant.
“Somers—I wasn’t speaking to you,” said Richard coldly. And then to Sharpe, with a note of contempt: “That’s what it is. Mrs Waugh must just have passed with a candle.”
There was a silence. The wonderful watchers did not contradict.
“Yes, I suppose that’s it,” said Sharpe, fretfully.
“We’ll put a curtain up to-morrow,” said Somers.
The lieutenant would have liked to search the house. He would have liked to destroy its privacy. He glanced down to the music room. But Harriet, so obviously a lady, even if a hateful one; and Somers with his pale look of derision; and Sharpe so impassive with his pipe; and the weedy watchers in the background, knowing just how it all was, and almost ready to take sides with the “gentleman” against the officer: they were too much for the lieutenant.
“Well, the light was there, Mr Sharpe. Distinctly visible from the sea,” and he turned to his followers for .
“Oh, yes, a light plain enough,” said the one who had fallen into a ditch, and wanted a bit of his own back.
“A candle!” said Sharpe, with his queer, musical note of derision and fretfulness. “A candle just passing—”
“You have an uncurtained window to the sea, and lights were showing. I shall have to report this to headquarters. Perhaps if you write and apologise to Major Caerlyon it may be passed over, if nothing of the like occurs again—”
So they departed, and the three went back to their room, with rage and mockery. They mocked the appearance and voice of the lieuten............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved