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- Mr. Britling Sees It Through
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- Mr. Britling Sees It Through
And he went on to observe that it was novel and entertaining to find Mr. Britling driving his own automobile and to note that it was an automobile of American manufacture. In America they had standardised and systematised the making of such things as automobiles to an extent that would, he thought, be almost startling to Europeans. It was certainly startling to the European manufacturers. In illustration of that he might tell a little story of a friend of his called Robinson—a man who curiously enough in general build and appearance was very reminiscent indeed of Mr.
He had been telling Mr. Britling as much on his way here from the station. His friend was concerned with several others in one of the biggest attacks that had ever been made upon what one might describe in general terms as the thousand-dollar light automobile market. What they said practically was this: This market is a jig-saw puzzle waiting to be put together and made one.
We are going to do it. But that was easier to figure out than to do. At the very outset of this attack he and his associates found themselves up against an unexpected and very difficult proposition At first Mrs. Britling had listened to Mr. Direck with an almost undivided attention, but as he had developed his opening the feast upon the blue linen table had passed on to a fresh phase that demanded more and more of her directive intelligence.
The two little boys appeared suddenly at her elbows. Then one of the neat maids in the background had to be called up and instructed in undertones, and Mr. Direck saw that for the present Robinson's illuminating experience was not for her ears. A little baffled, but quite understanding how things were, he turned to his neighbour on his left The girl really had an extraordinarily pretty smile, and there was something in her soft bright brown eye—like the movement of some quick little bird.
And—she was like somebody he knew! Indeed she was. She was quite ready to be spoken to. Britling," said Mr. Direck, "what a very great privilege I esteem it to meet Mr. Britling in this highly familiar way. Just twenty-four hours. It was a matter of very great regret to me. Direck had already begun on the liner to adapt himself to the hopping inconsecutiveness of English conversation.
He made now what he felt was quite a good hop, and he dropped his voice to a confidential undertone. It was probably Adam in his first conversation with Eve, who discovered the pleasantness of dropping into a confidential undertone beside a pretty ear with a pretty wave of hair above it. Direck, "that Mr. Britling made the acquaintance of the coloured gentleman? Lawrence Carmine's young men! Even more intimately and confidentially she indicated Mr. Carmine, as it seemed by a motion of her eyelash. Direck prepared to be even more sotto-voce and to plumb a much profounder mystery.
His eye rested on the perambulator; he leant a little nearer to the ear But the strawberries interrupted him. And then Mrs. Britling resumed her conversation with him. She was so ignorant, she said, of things American, that she did not even know if they had strawberries there. At any rate, here they were at the crest of the season, and in a very good year. And in the rose season too. It was one of the dearest vanities of English people to think their apples and their roses and their strawberries the best in the world. Direck, over the pyramid of fruit, quite manifestly intending a compliment.
So that was all right But the girl on the left of him was speaking across the table to the German tutor, and did not hear what he had said. So that even if it wasn't very neat it didn't matter Then he remembered that she was like that old daguerreotype of a cousin of his grandmother's that he had fallen in love with when he was a boy. It was her smile. Of course! And he'd sort of adored that portrait He felt a curious disposition to tell her as much Britling, "than it would otherwise be, is that this Essex country is the country in which my maternal grandmother was raised, and also long way back my mother's father's people.
My mother's father's people were very early New England people indeed Well, no. If I said Mayflower it wouldn't be true. But it would approximate. They were Essex Hinkinsons. That's what they were. I must be a good third of me at least Essex. My grandmother was an Essex Corner, I must confess I've had some thought—". I haven't dropped a brick, have I? Direck, and hesitated for a moment. It was so delightful that one couldn't go on being just discreet. The atmosphere was free and friendly. His intonation disarmed offence.
And he gave the young lady the full benefit of a quite expressive eye. How are the old folks at home? The bright interest of this consulship helped Mr. Direck more than anything to get the better of his Robinson-anecdote crave, and when presently he found his dialogue with Mr. Britling resumed, he turned at once to this remarkable discovery of his long lost and indeed hitherto unsuspected relative. Britling, "you'd find something about them in the parish registers. Lots of our registers go back three hundred years or more. I'll drive you over in my lil' old car.
I like the driving. What I have had of it. And while we're at it, we'll come back by Harborough High Oak and look up the Corner pedigree. They're all over that district still. And the road's not really difficult; it's only a bit up and down and roundabout. I'm dying to take her for something like a decent run. I've only had her out four times altogether, and I've not got her up yet to forty miles. Which I'm told she ought to do easily. We'll consider that settled.
For the moment Mr. Direck couldn't think of any further excuse. But it was very clear in his mind that something must happen; he wished he knew of somebody who could send a recall telegram from London, to prevent him committing himself to the casual destinies of Mr. Britling's car again. And then another interest became uppermost in his mind. She seems a very pleasant young lady. You know, of course, that district south of Evesham where every other church monument bears the stars and stripes, the arms of departed Washingtons.
I doubt though if you'll still find the name about there. Nor will you find many Hinkinsons in Market Saffron. But lots of this country here has five or six hundred-year-old families still flourishing. Round here you'll find Corners and Fairlies, and then you get Capels, and then away down towards Dunmow and Braintree Maynards and Byngs. And there are oaks and hornbeams in the park about Claverings that have echoed to the howling of wolves and the clank of men in armour. All the old farms here are moated—because of the wolves.
Claverings itself is Tudor, and rather fine too. And the cottages still wear thatch He reflected. You're in a different period, a different society. You're in London suburbs right down to the sea. You'll find no genuine estates left, not of our deep-rooted familiar sort. You'll find millionaires and that sort of people, sitting in the old places.
Surrey is full of rich stockbrokers, company-promoters, bookies, judges, newspaper proprietors. Sort of people who fence the paths across their parks. They do something to the old places—I don't know what they do—but instantly the countryside becomes a villadom. And little sub-estates and red-brick villas and art cottages spring up. And a kind of new, hard neatness. And pneumatic tyre and automobile spirit advertisements, great glaring boards by the roadside.
And all the poor people are inspected and rushed about until they forget who their grandfathers were. They become villa parasites and odd-job men, and grow basely rich and buy gramophones. This Essex and yonder Surrey are as different as Russia and Germany. Those Surrey people are not properly English at all. They are strenuous. You have to get on or get out.
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They drill their gardeners, lecture very fast on agricultural efficiency, and have miniature rifle ranges in every village. It's a county of new notice-boards and barbed-wire fences; there's always a policeman round the corner. They dress for dinner. They dress for everything. If a man gets up in the night to look for a burglar he puts on the correct costume—or doesn't go.
They've got a special scientific system for urging on their tramps. And they lock up their churches on a week-day. Half their soil is hard chalk or a rationalistic sand, only suitable for bunkers and villa foundations. And they play golf in a large, expensive, thorough way because it's the thing to do Now here in Essex we're as lax as the eighteenth century.
We hunt in any old clothes. Our soil is a rich succulent clay; it becomes semi-fluid in winter—when we go about in waders shooting duck. All our fingerposts have been twisted round by facetious men years ago. And we pool our breeds of hens and pigs. Our roses and oaks are wonderful; that alone shows that this is the real England. If I wanted to play golf—which I don't, being a decent Essex man—I should have to motor ten miles into Hertfordshire.
And for rheumatics and longevity Surrey can't touch us. I want you to be clear on these points, because they really will affect your impressions of this place This country is a part of the real England—England outside London and outside manufactures. And it's the essential England still It detracted a little from Mr.
Direck's appreciation of this flow of information that it was taking them away from the rest of the company. He wanted to see more of his new-found cousin, and what the baby and the Bengali gentleman—whom manifestly one mustn't call "coloured"—and the large-nosed lady and all the other inexplicables would get up to.
Instead of which Mr. Britling was leading him off alone with an air of showing him round the premises, and talking too rapidly and variously for a question to be got in edgeways, much less any broaching of the matter that Mr. Direck had come over to settle. There was quite a lot of rose garden, it made the air delicious, and it was full of great tumbling bushes of roses and of neglected standards, and it had a long pergola of creepers and trailers and a great arbour, and underneath over the beds everywhere, contrary to all the rules, the blossom of a multitude of pansies and stock and little trailing plants swarmed and crowded and scrimmaged and drilled and fought great massed attacks.
And then Mr. Britling talked their way round a red-walled vegetable garden with an abundance of fruit trees, and through a door into a terraced square that had once been a farmyard, outside the converted barn. The barn doors had been replaced by a door-pierced window of glass, and in the middle of the square space a deep tank had been made, full of rainwater, in which Mr.
Britling remarked casually that "everybody" bathed when the weather was hot. Thyme and rosemary and suchlike sweet-scented things grew on the terrace about the tank, and ten trimmed little trees of Arbor vitae stood sentinel. Direck was tantalisingly aware that beyond some lilac bushes were his new-found cousin and the kindred young woman in blue playing tennis with the Indian and another young man, while whenever it was necessary the large-nosed lady crossed the stage and brooded soothingly over the perambulator.
Britling, choosing a seat from which Mr. Direck just couldn't look comfortably through the green branches at the flying glimpses of pink and blue and white and brown, continued to talk about England and America in relation to each other and everything else under the sun. Presently through a distant gate the two small boys were momentarily visible wheeling small but serviceable bicycles, followed after a little interval by the German tutor.
Then an enormous grey cat came slowly across the garden court, and sat down to listen respectfully to Mr. The afternoon sky was an intense blue, with little puff-balls of cloud lined out across it. Occasionally, from chance remarks of Mr. Britling's, Mr. Direck was led to infer that his first impressions as an American visitor were being related to his host, but as a matter of fact he was permitted to relate nothing; Mr.
Britling did all the talking. He sat beside his guest and spirted and played ideas and reflections like a happy fountain in the sunshine. Direck sat comfortably, and smoked with quiet appreciation the one after-lunch cigar he allowed himself. At any rate, if he himself felt rather word-bound, the fountain was nimble and entertaining. He listened in a general sort of way to the talk, it was quite impossible to follow it thoughtfully throughout all its chinks and turnings, while his eyes wandered about the garden and went ever and again to the flitting tennis-players beyond the green.
It was all very gay and comfortable and complete; it was various and delightful without being in the least opulent ; that was one of the little secrets America had to learn. It didn't look as though it had been made or bought or cost anything, it looked as though it had happened rather luckily Britling's talk became like a wide stream flowing through Mr. Direck's mind, bearing along momentary impressions and observations, drifting memories of all the crowded English sights and sounds of the last five days, filmy imaginations about ancestral names and pretty cousins, scraps of those prepared conversational openings on Mr.
Britling's standing in America, the explanation about the lecture club, the still incompletely forgotten purport of the Robinson anecdote We're like that little shell the Lingula , that is found in the oldest rocks and lives to-day: it fitted its easy conditions, and it has never modified since. Why should it? It excretes all its disturbing forces.
Our younger sons go away and found colonial empires. Our surplus cottage children emigrate to Australia and Canada or migrate into the towns. It doesn't alter this Direck's eye had come to rest upon the barn, and its expression changed slowly from lazy appreciation to a brightening intelligence. Suddenly he resolved to say something. He resolved to say it so firmly that he determined to say it even if Mr. Britling went on talking all the time. That grey patch in the corner, for example. The barn itself is Georgian. Britling was for flying off again, but Mr. Direck would not listen; he held on like a man who keeps his grip on a lasso.
Britling, and I might, while I am at it, say the same thing about your farmyard. Direck, "the point that strikes me most about all this is that that barn isn't a barn any longer, and that this farmyard isn't a farmyard. There isn't any wheat or chaff or anything of that sort in the barn, and there never will be again: there's just a pianola and a dancing floor, and if a cow came into this farmyard everybody in the place would be shooing it out again.
They'd regard it as a most unnatural object. He had a pleasant sense of talking at last. He kept right on. He was moved to a sweeping generalisation. Britling, a little while ago, what my first impression of England was. Well, Mr. Britling, my first impression of England that seems to me to matter in the least is this: that it looks and feels more like the traditional Old England than any one could possibly have believed, and that in reality it is less like the traditional Old England than any one would ever possibly have imagined.
He was carried on even further. He made a tremendous literary epigram. I find it is not even the England of Mrs. Humphry Ward. Direck found little reason to revise his dictum in the subsequent experiences of the afternoon. Indeed the afternoon and the next day were steadily consistent in confirming what a very good dictum it had been. The scenery was the traditional scenery of England, and all the people seemed quicker, more irresponsible, more chaotic, than any one could have anticipated, and entirely inexplicable by any recognised code of English relationships Perhaps not Mrs.
Humphry Ward's John Bull, or Mrs. He looked at his barn and the swimming pool. He left it at that for the time, but throughout the afternoon Mr. Direck had the gratification of seeing his thought floating round and round in the back-waters of Mr. Britling's mental current. If it didn't itself get into the stream again its reflection at any rate appeared and reappeared. He was taken about with great assiduity throughout the afternoon, and he got no more than occasional glimpses of the rest of the Dower House circle until six o'clock in the evening.
He was inordinately proud of England, and he abused her incessantly. He wanted to state England to Mr. Direck as the amiable summation of a grotesque assembly of faults. That was the view into which the comforts and prosperities of his middle age had brought him from a radicalism that had in its earlier stages been angry and bitter. And for Mr. Britling England was "here. He took Mr. Direck out from his walled garden by a little door into a trim paddock with two white goals. Direck no hint of the practically compulsory participation of every visitor to Matching's Easy in this violent and dangerous exercise, and thence they passed by a rich deep lane and into a high road that ran along the edge of the deer park of Claverings.
She wanted us to lunch there to-morrow, but I didn't accept that because of our afternoon hockey. The village reminded Mr. Direck of Abbey's pictures. There was an inn with a sign standing out in the road, a painted sign of the Clavering Arms; it had a water trough such as Mr. Weller senior ducked the dissenter in and a green painted table outside its inviting door. There were also a general shop and a number of very pleasant cottages, each marked with the Mainstay crest.
All this was grouped about a green with real geese drilling thereon. Britling conducted his visitor through a lych gate into the church-yard, and there they found mossy, tumble-down tombstones, one with a skull and cross-bones upon it, that went back to the later seventeenth century. In the aisle of the church were three huge hatchments, and there was a side chapel devoted to the Mainstay family and the Barons Homartyn, with a series of monuments that began with painted Tudor effigies and came down to a vast stained glass window of the vilest commercial Victorian.
There were also mediaeval brasses of parish priests, and a marble crusader and his lady of some extinguished family which had ruled Matching's Easy before the Mainstays came. And as the two gentlemen emerged from the church they ran against the perfect vicar, Mr. Dimple, ample and genial, with an embracing laugh and an enveloping voice. So Good of you There was some amiable sparring between the worthy man and Mr.
Britling about bringing Mr. Direck to church on Sunday morning. Dimple to Mr. Direck, smiling radiantly. But then nowadays Everybody is so Lax. And he's very Good to my Coal Club; I don't know what we should do without him. So I just admonish him. And if he doesn't go to church, well, anyhow he doesn't go anywhere else.
He may be a poor churchman, but anyhow he's not a dissenter Britling remarked, after they had parted from the reverend gentleman, "we have domesticated everything. We have even domesticated God. For awhile Mr. Britling showed Mr. Direck English lanes, and then came back along narrow white paths across small fields of rising wheat, to the village and a little gate that led into the park. Direck, "what you say about domestication does seem to me to be very true indeed.
Direck, raising his voice a little, "I've seen scarcely anything in England that wasn't domesticated, unless it was some of your back streets in London. The park had a trim wildness like nature in an old Italian picture; dappled fallow deer grouped close at hand and looked at the two men fearlessly; the path dropped through oak trees and some stunted bracken to a little loitering stream, that paused ever and again to play at ponds and waterfalls and bear a fleet of water-lily leaves; and then their way curved round in an indolent sweep towards the cedars and shrubberies of the great house.
The house looked low and extensive to an American eye, and its red-brick chimneys rose like infantry in open order along its extended line. There was a glimpse of flower-bright garden and terraces to the right as they came round the corner to the front of the house through a path cut in the laurel bushes. There may be some other people of that sort, the people we call the Governing Class.
Wives also. It's Lady Homartyn's way to expect me to come in—not that I'm an important item at these week-end social feasts —but she likes to see me on the table—to be nibbled at if any one wants to do so—like the olives and the salted almonds. And she always asks me to lunch on Sunday and I always refuse—because of the hockey. So you see I put in an appearance on the Saturday afternoon It opened into a large cool hall adorned with the heads of hippopotami and rhinoceroses and a stuffed lion, and furnished chiefly with a vast table on which hats and sticks and newspapers were littered.
A manservant with a subdued, semi-confidential manner, conveyed to Mr. Britling that her ladyship was on the terrace, and took the hats and sticks that were handed to him and led the way through the house. They emerged upon a broad terrace looking out under great cedar trees upon flower beds and stone urns and tennis lawns and yew hedges that dipped to give a view of distant hills. On the terrace were grouped perhaps a dozen people for the most part holding teacups, they sat in deck chairs and folding seats about a little table that bore the tea-things.
Lady Homartyn came forward to welcome the newcomers. Direck was introduced as a travelling American gratified to see a typical English country house, and Lady Homartyn in an habituated way ran over the points of her Tudor specimen. Direck was not accustomed to titled people, and was suddenly in doubt whether you called a baroness "My Lady" or "Your Ladyship," so he wisely avoided any form of address until he had a lead from Mr.
Britling presently called her "Lady Homartyn. Direck and sat him down beside a lady whose name he didn't catch, but who had had a lot to do with the British Embassy at Washington, and then she handed Mr. Britling over to the Rt. George Philbert, who was anxious to discuss certain points in the latest book of essays.
The conversation of the lady from Washington was intelligent but not exacting, and Mr. Direck was able to give a certain amount of attention to the general effect of the scene. He was a little disappointed to find that the servants didn't wear livery. In American magazine pictures and in American cinematograph films of English stories and in the houses of very rich Americans living in England, they do so. And the Mansion House is misleading; he had met a compatriot who had recently dined at the Mansion House, and who had described "flunkeys" in hair-powder and cloth of gold—like Thackeray's Jeames Yellowplush.
But here the only servants were two slim, discreet and attentive young gentlemen in black coats with a gentle piety in their manner instead of pride. And he was a little disappointed too by a certain lack of splendour in the company. The ladies affected him as being ill-dressed; there was none of the hard snap, the " There! He was still only in the fragmentary stage of conversation when everything was thrown into commotion by the important arrival of Lady Frensham, and there was a general reshuffling of places.
Lady Frensham had arrived from London by automobile; she appeared in veils and swathings and a tremendous dust cloak, with a sort of nephew in her train who had driven the car. She was manifestly a constitutionally triumphant woman. A certain afternoon lassitude vanished in the swirl of her arrival. Philbert removed wrappings and handed them to the manservant. It's Redmond who's obdurate," cried Lady Frensham. You people who try to pretend there isn't a grave crisis when there is one, will be more accountable than any one—when the civil war does come.
It won't spare you. Mark my words! Direck found himself the interested auditor of a real English country- house week-end political conversation. This at any rate was like the England of which Mrs. Humphry Ward's novels had informed him, but yet not exactly like it. Perhaps that was due to the fact that for the most part these novels dealt with the England of the 'nineties, and things had lost a little in dignity since those days. But at any rate here were political figures and titled people, and they were talking about the "country.
Was it possible that people of this sort did "run" the country, after all? When he had read Mrs. Humphry Ward in America he had always accepted this theory of the story quite easily, but now that he saw and heard them —! But all governments and rulers and ruling classes when you look at them closely are incredible Direck rather neatly, and after that he was free to attend to the general discussion. Lady Frensham, it was manifest, was one of that energetic body of aristocratic ladies who were taking up an irreconcilable attitude against Home Rule "in any shape or form" at that time.
They were rapidly turning British politics into a system of bitter personal feuds in which all sense of imperial welfare was lost. A wild ambition to emulate the extremest suffragettes seems to have seized upon them. They insulted, they denounced, they refused every invitation lest they should meet that "traitor" the Prime Minister, they imitated the party hatreds of a fiercer age, and even now the moderate and politic Philbert found himself treated as an invisible object.
They were supported by the extremer section of the Tory press, and the most extraordinary writers were set up to froth like lunatics against the government as "traitors," as men who "insulted the King"; the Morning Post and the lighter-witted side of the Unionist press generally poured out a torrent of partisan nonsense it is now almost incredible to recall.
Lady Frensham, bridling over Lady Homartyn's party, and for a time leaving Mr. Britling, hurried on to tell of the newest developments of the great feud. She had a wonderful description of Lady Londonderry sitting opposite "that old rascal, the Prime Minister," at a performance of Mozart's Zauberfloete.
They have machine- guns—ammunition. And I am sure the army is with us And yet you writing people who have influence do nothing to prevent it! She was a large and dignified person with a kind of figure-head nobility of carriage, but Mr. Direck was suddenly reminded of a girl cousin of his who had been expelled from college for some particularly elaborate and aimless rioting Britling, "that you have just said to me? Do you realise that this Carsonite campaign is dragging these islands within a measurable distance of civil war? It's the fault of your Socialists and sentimentalists.
You've made the mischief and you have to deal with it. But do you really figure to yourself what a civil war may mean for the empire? Surely there are other things in the world besides this quarrel between the 'loyalists' of Ulster and the Liberal government; there are other interests in this big empire than party advantages? Yon think you are going to frighten this Home Rule government into some ridiculous sort of collapse that will bring in the Tories at the next election. Well, suppose you don't manage that. Suppose instead that you really do contrive to bring about a civil war.
Very few people here or in Ireland want it—I was over there not a month ago—but when men have loaded guns in their hands they sometimes go off. And then people see red. Few people realise what an incurable sore opens when fighting begins. Suppose part of the army revolts and we get some extraordinary and demoralising fighting over there.
India watches these things. Bengal may imitate Ireland. At that distance rebellion and treason are rebellion and treason whether they are coloured orange or green. And then suppose the Germans see fit to attack us! Lady Frensham had a woman's elusiveness. Britling, springing his mine. Britling was a party man. Britling pressed. A fine fuss you'd make if Redmond did that. All this gun-running, too, is German gun-running. One thing we are resolved upon at any cost.
Johnny Redmond may rule England if he likes; he shan't rule Ireland She was a young person of twelve, and she took a fancy to me—I think because I went with her in an alleged dangerous canoe she was forbidden to navigate alone. All day the eternal Irish Question had banged about over her observant head.
When we were out on the water she suddenly decided to set me right upon a disregarded essential. Don't you fret yourself about it Half the time we're just laffing at you. You'd best leave us all alone Just when Ireland is getting a gleam of prosperity A murrain on both your parties! You're hopeless. And Lady Homartyn, seeing that the phase of mere personal verdicts drew near, created a diversion by giving Lady Frensham a second cup of tea, and fluttering like a cooling fan about the heated brows of the disputants. She suggested tennis Britling was still flushed and ruffled as he and his guest returned towards the Dower House.
He criticised England himself unmercifully, but he hated to think that in any respect she fell short of perfection; even her defects he liked to imagine were just a subtler kind of power and wisdom. And Lady Frensham had stuck her voice and her gestures through all these amiable illusions. He was like a lover who calls his lady a foolish rogue, and is startled to find that facts and strangers do literally agree with him.
But it was so difficult to resolve Lady Frensham and the Irish squabble generally into anything better than idiotic mischief, that for a time he was unusually silent—wrestling with the problem, and Mr.
Direck got the conversational initiative. Direck, "to hear ladies expressing such vigorous political opinions. If such things are good enough for men they are good enough for women; we haven't your sort of chivalry. But it's the peculiar malignant silliness of this sort of Toryism that's so discreditable. It's discreditable.
There's no good in denying it. Those people you have heard and seen are a not unfair sample of our governing class—of a certain section of our governing class—as it is to-day. Not at all unfair. And you see how amazingly they haven't got hold of anything. There was a time when they could be politic Hidden away they have politic instincts even now But it makes me sick to think of this Irish business. Because, you know, it's true—we are drifting towards civil war there. Here's all this Ulster gun-running—you heard how she talked of it?
Isn't it enough to drive the south into open revolt? You and Mr. Philbert were saying things—". It's only because I don't believe that the Germans are so stupid as to do such things Why should they? Britling after a pause, reverting to his main annoyance. It's sheer love of quarrelling Those people there think that nothing can possibly happen. They are like children in a nursery playing at rebellion. Unscathed and heedless. Until there is death at their feet they will never realise they are playing with loaded guns For a time he said no more; and listened perfunctorily while Mr.
Direck tried to indicate the feeling in New England towards the Irish Question and the many difficult propositions an American politician has to face in that respect. And when Mr. Britling took up the thread of speech again it had little or no relation to Mr. Direck's observations. Exasperating too I don't quite grasp it It's the same thing whether you look at the suffrage business or the labour people or at this Irish muddle.
People may be too safe. You see we live at the end of a series of secure generations in which none of the great things of life have changed materially. We've grown up with no sense of danger—that is to say, with no sense of responsibility. None of us, none of us—for though I talk my actions belie me—really believe that life can change very fundamentally any more forever.
All this",—Mr. Britling waved his arm comprehensively —"looks as though it was bound to go on steadily forever. It seems incredible that the system could be smashed. It seems incredible that anything we can do will ever smash the system. Lady Homartyn, for example, is incapable of believing that she won't always be able to have week-end parties at Claverings, and that the letters and the tea won't come to her bedside in the morning.
Or if her imagination goes to the point of supposing that some day she won't be there to receive the tea, it means merely that she supposes somebody else will be. Her pleasant butler may fear to lose his 'situation,' but nothing on earth could make him imagine a time when there will not be a 'situation' for him to lose. Old Asquith thinks that we always have got along, and that we always shall get along by being quietly artful and saying, 'Wait and see.
Why shouldn't women have the vote? What does it matter? And bang goes a bomb in Westminster Abbey. Why shouldn't Ulster create an impossible position? And off trots some demented Carsonite to Germany to play at treason on some half word of the German Emperor's and buy half a million rifles Britling with a gesture to round off his discourse, "we do go on.
We shall go on—until there is a spark right into the magazine. We have lost any belief we ever had that fundamental things happen. We are everlasting children in an everlasting nursery The world is round—like an orange. The thing is told us—like any old scandal—at school.
For all practical purposes we forget it. Practically we all live in a world as flat as a pancake. Where time never ends and nothing changes. Who really believes in any world outside the circle of the horizon? Here we are and visibly nothing is changing. And so we go on to—nothing will ever change. It just goes on —in space, in time. If we could realise that round world beyond, then indeed we should go circumspectly If the world were like a whispering gallery, what whispers might we not hear now—from India, from Africa, from Germany, warnings from the past, intimations of the future And indeed at the very moment when Mr.
Britling was saying these words, in Sarajevo in Bosnia, where the hour was somewhat later, men whispered together, and one held nervously to a black parcel that had been given him and nodded as they repeated his instructions, a black parcel with certain unstable chemicals and a curious arrangement of detonators therein, a black parcel destined ultimately to shatter nearly every landmark of Mr.
Britling's and Lady Frensham's cosmogony When Mr. Britling returned to the Dower House the guest was handed over to Mrs. Britling and Mr. Britling vanished, to reappear at supper time, for the Britlings had a supper in the evening instead of dinner. Britling did reappear every trace of his vexation with the levities of British politics and the British ruling class had vanished altogether, and he was no longer thinking of all that might be happening in Germany or India While he was out of the way Mr. Direck extended his acquaintance with the Britling household. He was taken round the garden and shown the roses by Mrs.
Britling, and beyond the rose garden in a little arbour they came upon Miss Corner reading a book. She looked very grave and pretty reading a book. Direck came to a pause in front of her, and Mrs. Britling stopped beside him. The young lady looked up and smiled.
Direck felt the conversation had to end. Britling as they went on towards the barn court. One drinks like a fish. One eats like a wolf. They found the German tutor in a little court playing Badminton with the two younger boys. He was a plump young man with glasses and compact gestures; the game progressed chiefly by misses and the score was counted in German. He won thoughtfully and chiefly through the ardour of the younger brother, whose enthusiastic returns invariably went out.
Instantly the boys attacked Mrs. Britling with a concerted enthusiasm. Is it to be dressing-up supper? Do you mind? And this being settled, the two small boys went off with their mother upon some special decorative project they had conceived and Mr. Direck was left for a time to Herr Heinrich.
Herr Heinrich suggested a stroll in the rose garden, and as Mr. Direck had not hitherto been shown the rose garden by Herr Heinrich, he agreed. Sooner or later everybody, it was evident, had got to show him that rose garden. Direck, getting to business at once. It is a pleasant life but it is not a serious life. There is much kindness but no politeness. Britling will go away for three or four days, and when he returns and I come forward to greet him and bow, he will walk right past me, or he will say just like this, 'How do, Heinrich?
His work is known even in Germany. His articles are reprinted in German and Austrian reviews. You would expect him to have a certain authority of manner. You would expect there to be discussion at the table upon questions of philosophy and aesthetics It is not so. When I ask him questions it is often that they are not seriously answered. Sometimes it is as if he did not like the questions I askt of him. Yesterday I askt of him did he agree or did he not agree with Mr.
Bernard Shaw. He just said —I wrote it down in my memoranda—he said: 'Oh! Mixt Pickles. The young man's sedulous blue eyes looked out of his pink face through his glasses at Mr. Direck, anxious for any light he could offer upon the atmospheric vagueness of this England. He was, he explained, a student of philology preparing for his doctorate.
He had not yet done his year of military service. He was studying the dialects of East Anglia—. But I ask Mr. Carmine and Mrs. Britling and the boys many questions. And sometimes I talk to the gardener. He explained how he would prepare his thesis and how it would be accepted, and the nature of his army service and the various stages by which he would subsequently ascend in the orderly professorial life to which he was destined. He confessed a certain lack of interest in philology, but, he said, "it is what I have to do.
For his own part he was interested in ideas of universal citizenship, in Esperanto and Ido and universal languages and such-like attacks upon the barriers between man and man. But the authorities at home did not favour cosmopolitan ideas, and so he was relinquishing them. Herr Heinrich made Mr. Britling his instance. If Mr. Britling were a German he would certainly have some sort of title, a definite position, responsibility. Here he was not even called Herr Doktor. He said what he liked. Nobody rewarded him; nobody reprimanded him. When Herr Heinrich asked him of his position, whether he was above or below Mr.
Bernard Shaw or Mr. Arnold White or Mr. Garvin or any other publicist, he made jokes. Nobody here seemed to have a title and nobody seemed to have a definite place. There was Mr. Lawrence Carmine; he was a student of Oriental questions; he had to do with some public institution in London that welcomed Indian students; he was a Geheimrath—. Philbert, who was a minister in the government, came to lunch he was just like any one else.
It was only after he had gone that Herr Heinrich had learnt by chance that he was a minister and "Right Honourable Every man knows his place, has his papers, is instructed what to do Direck, with his eyes on the glowing roses, the neat arbour, the long line of the red wall of the vegetable garden and a distant gleam of cornfield, "it all looks orderly enough. Their comparisons were interrupted by the appearance of "Teddy," the secretary, and the Indian young gentleman, damp and genial, as they explained, "from the boats.
And while they discussed swimming and boating, Mr. Carmine appeared from the direction of the park conversing gravely with the elder son. They had been for a walk and a talk together. There were proposals for a Badminton foursome. Direck emerged from the general interchange with Mr. Lawrence Carmine, and then strolled through the rose garden to see the sunset from the end. Direck took the opportunity to verify his impression that the elder son was the present Mrs.
Britling's stepson, and he also contrived by a sudden admiration for a distant row of evening primroses to deflect their path past the arbour in which the evening light must now be getting a little too soft for Miss Corner's book. Miss Corner was drawn into the sunset party. My mother prayed. The younger children shivered in their beds. There was no coal and no food. I remember wondering why I could not get excited over the possibility that my father would have to face the firing squad. The arrest of the mutineers, however, was only an incident.
With help from outside they smashed the doors, stormed the ships, and took control. The officers gave way. By November 7 the whole Fleet was in revolt. Thousands milled in the streets, Often the trucks stopped and the sailors sang and roared for free passage. The workers cheered particularly a short, burly young man in grimy blue. The man swung his carbine over his head to return the salute.
He was the stoker who had hoisted the first red flag over the Fleet. His name was Ernst Wollweber. In front of the railway station I saw a man lose his life. He was an officer in field gray who came out of the station the minute it was surrounded, and was seized by the mutineers. He was slow in giving up his arms and epaulettes. He made no more than a motion to draw his pistol when they were on top of him.
Rifle butts flew through the air above him. Fascinated, I watched from a little way off. Then the sailors turned away to saunter back to their trucks. I had seen dead people before. But death by violence and the fury that accompanied it were something new. The officer did not move. I marveled how easily a man could be killed. I rode away on my bicycle. I fevered with a strange sense of power. I did not know that it was part of the mass intoxication which, like the chunky stoker from the Helgoland , had risen from the depths to take charge of minds and events.
I circled toward the Brill, a square in the western center of the town. From there on I had to push my bicycle through the throngs. The population was in the streets. From all sides masses of humanity, a sea of swinging, pushing bodies and distorted faces was moving toward the center of the town. Many of the workers were armed with guns, with bayonets, with hammers. I felt then, and later, that the sight of armed workers sets off a roar in the blood of those who sympathize with the marchers. Singing hoarsely was a sprawling band of demonstrating convicts freed by a truckload of sailors from Oslebshausen prison.
But the true symbol of this revolution, which was really naught but a revolt, were neither the armed workers nor the singing convicts—but the mutineers from the Fleet with their reversed hatbands and carbines slung over their shoulders, butts up and barrels down. The City Hall of Bremen fell without real fighting.
No one rose to defend the toppling Empire. Late that night tens of thousands of workers filled the marketplace. Among them was a sprinkling of soldiers and the inevitable sailors from the warships. At the foot of the Roland statue a frightened old woman crouched. He laughed resoundingly. Wollweber hurled his words like rocks into the masses. Long live the German Soviet Republic! They roared until it seemed their faces would burst. The compulsion was irresistible. I roared with them.
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The upsurge spread from the coast to the south, with sailors as the spearhead of revolt. The Prussian government gave way. Bavaria was proclaimed a republic. In Hamburg, traditionally the reddest town of Germany, Soviets came to power. The Kaiser bolted to Holland, and two days later the Armistice was signed. I did not see my father again. Later my father went to Berlin. The Independent Socialists sent him to Brunswick.
Each day in Bremen saw demonstrations and counter-demonstrations of rival proletarian blocs. The soldiers were silent and plastered with mud. The officers had their swords drawn and they answered the shouting masses with sneers and threats. Once in the city, the soldiers from the front were surrounded by revolutionary sailors and shipyard workers entrenched in machine gun nests on roofs and balconies.
The troops were trapped; everyone expected a massacre. A few days later the first signs of the existence of newly formed nationalist bands were in evidence. Tired horses, abandoned by the troops, were butchered at night in the streets by flocks of determined women. In January, , disunity led to open battle. The Ebert-Scheidemann-Noske forces, right-wing socialists, enlisted the aid of nationalist divisions under the command of officers from the Western Front to head off the attempts of the Spartakus Bund to seize power.
Hundreds died in the streets of Berlin. Karl Liebknecht and the heroic woman who shared his leadership, Rosa Luxemburg, were murdered by a camarilla of such officers. Rosa was torn to pieces and flung into a canal, and the monarchist rabble rejoiced in a new song which began:. In Bremen the sailors were still optimistic. As one of them put it, "As long as we have a machine gun, a loaf of munition bread and a liverwurst, we have no cause for worry. In Bremen the moderates were shoved aside. That gave me a fearful shock. My mother, almost out of her mind with grief, left at once for Brunswick.
The younger children were left in charge of a neighbor. On January 22 my youngest brother, five years old, was found dead in his bed. No one saw him die. Since the middle of November, , I had ceased going to school. The Young Spartakus group to which I belonged was quite active. Each morning we went to the Red House on the left bank of the Weser and got packs of leaflets from the secretary of a fierce hunchback who had somehow come to power in the councils of the revolutionary sailors.
The leaflets we distributed in the harbor, at the factory gates, and in suburban tenement districts. All day we spent in breaking up the Kaiser Day meetings arranged by the principals of gymnasiums and high schools. We armed ourselves with clubs and stones and burst in on the meetings. The teachers did not dare to interfere with our rowdyism. The better-dressed and better-fed boys we drove out into the streets. Came February. The tragedy that had been enacted in Berlin—the crushing of fighting revolutionary minorities by the young Reichswehr under the command of War Minister Gustav Noske, a social democrat,—was repeated in many outlying cities.
Rumors spread in our ranks that Berlin was sending reactionary troops to suppress the Soviets in Bremen. The sons of the bourgeoisie evacuated the city. In long drawn-out columns they raced away on skates over the frozen moorland to join the on-marching troops. Many of us were supplied with new bicycles which had been taken from the stores. Spartacist detachments were marching toward the outskirts of the city. Most of the marchers were young, under twenty. They were all badly clad. Some wore rags in place of boots. They had their rifles slung butt-end up over their shoulders and their hands buried in their pockets.
Their faces were pale, and blue with the cold. The night from February 3 to February 4 I did not go home. I heard men talk of annihilating the counter-revolution. They could not fool me; I knew what was in their minds. They themselves faced annihilation and they realized it, but their fever and their self-respect and their sensitivity toward ridicule did not permit them to give up a position already as good as lost. I half slept through that night on the ground floor of the Stock Exchange building. The large hall was cluttered with young men and a few young women.
Scores of bicycles leaned against the walls. Firearms were stacked near the doors. Big pots of bad coffee steamed on kerosene stoves. It was still dark when we were roused. Several sailors ran among us, leaping over the debris, kicking the sleepers right and left, and shouting. The Noske guards are coming! From the left bank of the river drifted the thump of artillery and the hard chatter of machine guns. With five other boys I was ordered to proceed to the central savings bank on Kaiser Street. We were to serve as dispatch riders between the bank and the Weser Shipyards in the west. Three of our courier group deserted at once.
I doubt that their motive was fear. They simply went off to get closer glimpses of the battle. All that day curious mobs were dodging around street corners, undeterred by bullets whining past their ears. Two times during the forenoon I made the journey between the bank and the shipyard with a scrawled report of the comrade in charge of defending the entrance of Kaiser Street, a thoroughfare that led from the river to the central railway station.
At that time the western portion of the town was still outside the zone of fighting. Barricaded stores, shattered windows, patches of pavement torn up and heaped to form barricades were landmarks all along the route. There seemed nothing more to do after the second trip. Since I had never been inside of a bank I proceeded to explore the building.
Not a window was intact. Doors had been broken. Desks, chairs, filing cabinets and rugs were piled up against the windows, ready to be hurled on the heads of attackers in the street below. At some of the windows snipers were at work. No one stopped me; any spy of the counter forces could have walked into the building to reconnoiter the forces of the defenders. Finally I came to rest in a large room on the top floor.
There was a machine gun firing from the largest window. Two sailors and a youth about my own age served it. By this time the whole city reverberated with the sounds of battle. Snipers fired at soldiers crawling over distant housetops. The field pieces along the river roared intermittently. Men were shooting from speeding lorries and from doorways. Several houses were afire. Down in the Brill inquisitive pedestrians ran for their lives.
I saw them leap from doorway to doorway, while others came simultaneously across the roofs and garden fringes. From half a mile off they looked like animated toy soldiers; in reality they were veterans of the Western Front. The thumping of the mines increased. The southern bridge-head of the Kaiser bridge swarmed suddenly with field-gray shapes under steel helmets. At the window the machine gun jammed. A sailor turned and said, "Hang on now, the comrades are blowing up the bridges. The Noske guards stormed the bridge.
As they ran, they shouted. And abruptly the machine guns opened in merciless bursts. I saw many soldiers fall. Death was commonplace. That day it evoked in me no other emotion than would a fascinating show. An instant later we all ran from the building in a panic. The thunder of exploding hand-grenades was less than two hundred yards away.
Shells exploding in the air ripped chunks of rock out of the towers of the cathedral. Angry shouts went up. But there was a hideous confusion. A rumor spread that Knief, the revolutionary teacher, and Fraczunkovitz, the hunchback, had escaped by plane. Dead men sprawled grotesquely here and there, and in many places the snow was splotched with blood.
I reached the moat, a natural line of defense encircling the inner city. It too had been deserted. After three days of wandering I reached Hamburg. From the railway station I wrote a postcard to my mother to assure her that I was alive. She wired me what little money she managed to scrape up.
Next day she arrived in Hamburg, looking like a ghost. Finally she said, "But our country has no ships. They were all taken by the British. When the train moved out of the Hamburg station I saw her standing at the window, frail, shabby, sad and invincibly loyal. For weeks I haunted the waterfront, but the great seaport was a sleeping giant. Except for coastal trade and a few food ships from America, the Hamburg harbor was dead.
The British blockade was still in force, although it was months after the signing of the Armistice. It was springtime in Versailles, too, where the peace that was to haunt the world was being perfected. I would awake hungry, and was still hungry when I went to sleep. Hunger wiped out the lines between adolescents and full-grown men. A sack of flour was worth more than a human life. When a fruit cart of a peasant from Vierlanden was turned over in the street and a middle-aged man tried to shoulder me aside in the scramble for the winter apples, what else was there to do but to stand up and hit him in the face?
I was in my fifteenth year. I took part in the plundering of a wholesale fish store in Altona. Tons of fish were dumped on the cobblestones, and people grabbed the fish and ran. When a policeman interfered, what else was there to do but to slam a ten-pound codfish into his face? When one is thrown adrift in a polluted stream, with no dry land in sight, what escape is there? I took no active part in the political riots of this Hamburg spring, but my heart was with the revolutionary workers, perhaps because it was their side which always lost in the end.
Whenever I saw a policeman level his rifle against a civilian, I felt the same hatred as at the sight of a teamster cruelly mistreating his emaciated horse. Each day armed workers skirmished with the police. Night after night the sounds of desultory firing echoed over the city. Yet the news that a trawler loaded with flounders or herring was steaming up the river moved the people more than stumbling against a dead man in the gutter, or encountering a lorry piled high with crude coffins, or coming upon a barricade manned by a few determined-looking youths.
I hunted for food and work. But the struggle to conquer and defend power seemed the essence of life. In the Grenzfass , a large beer hall in the St. Of medium height, slight of build, with a mop of almost colorless hair, his pale eyes gleaming with reckless deviltry, he was no more than twenty-two or -three at the time. The hall was full of workless dockers. There was a thunder of cheers. A delegation of the Communist Party of Germany was scheduled to go to Moscow at a time when Russia was closed to the West by the civil war. The faithful shipping master Wolfert, through his acquaintance with former sailship masters, at last found me a ship.
The ship hulked gray and mournful at her wharf, her flanks covered with creeping rust. The thought of being able to make my living on the good clean sea made me weep with joy. The ship was bound for South America. She was loaded with crews who were to man and bring home the large fleet of German vessels marooned in the ports of Chile and Peru during the war.
Scores of the nearly four hundred who were signed had been among the mutineers of the Imperial navy; scores of others had never been aboard a ship before; once at sea none manifested the slightest intention of bringing German ships back home, or of ever returning to Germany. The ship was infested with stowaways. Three boatloads of them were returned to shore off Cuxhaven.
All of them were transferred to homebound fishermen. But many others, found later, remained aboard. Gangs of hoodlums assaulted and robbed the more prosperous voyagers. One old man was found with his throat cut. Another elderly man put on holiday clothes and at sunrise jumped into the ocean. Elsewhere conditions bordering on madness reigned. Off the Azores, however, such leadership as there could be fell to a man named Herrmann Kruse. He formed a ship Tcheka, and by sheer terror subdued all independent marauders in our midst.
Kruse, about twenty-five years old, was blond, bearish, quick-tempered, and had a flair for oratory. He brought some order out of the confusion and now he demanded control of the ship. Most of the time the steam was kept low, and at times the ship wallowed helplessly without steam at all. I have a cargo of lunatics," our skipper answered. But the officers succeeded, despite all difficulties, in bringing the vessel to Colon.
One faction on board planned to scuttle the ship in the Panama Canal, to desert, and to walk through the jungles to Mexico or the United States. Herrmann Kruse and his guerrillas, armed with clubs and belaying pins, opposed this. After that, we were to steam for the Galapagos Islands, establish a Soviet Republic, and ask Moscow for protection, supplies and women. Opposing factions shrieked their protest.
Down with Galapagos! We land right here! In defiance of Kruse, "debarkation squads" were hastily formed as we steamed through the Canal. The rush to reach a shore that looked inviting from a little way off was contagious. As a matter of course, I joined one of the squads. We packed our belongings, put on life preservers, and lined up along the rail for the plunge. The captain shouted from the bridge for us to desist, but he was greeted with laughter. Group after group heaved their bundles overboard and jumped after them. The Canal waters were soon dotted with swimming men. I, too, jumped.
I felt the water rush upward, smooth and warm, and then I swam for dear life, pushing with all my strength to get away from the deadly propeller. Several of my fellow-deserters were cut to shreds. The shore was much farther away than it had seemed from the ship. Close behind me, as I swam, struggled a middle-aged shoemaker. The ground was soggy, and the underbrush dense. But we pushed forward. Soon we came on four other deserters, and the six of us proceeded in single file, carrying our water-soaked bundles and streaming with perspiration.
Our leader was a stoker who had once served on Amazon River steamboats. Sometimes the underbrush was so thick that we could not penetrate it; at other times we were confronted with swamps which seemed to stretch out for miles. Once in a while the Amazon River stoker climbed a tree to look around. All he could report was jungle all around, a few hills, and steamers passing in the Canal. The passing steamers looked as if they were threading their way through the treetops.
Mr. Britling Sees It Through
After walking in circles for four or five hours, we struck a lake. We tried to skirt the shore of the lake, but soon ran into swamps. The Amazon River stoker cursed almost without interruption. The shoemaker chattered happily. Suddenly our leader halted. Ahead of us was a railroad embankment, neat, compact, dry. We opened our bundles and spread the wet things over the tracks: shirts, pants, papers, tobacco. The stoker sent one man a hundred yards in each direction to watch for oncoming trains. We stripped off our clothes and spread them out to dry.
We munched bananas and relaxed in the sun. Our hopes rose. The shoemaker wanted to ride the next train into Panama City. He was anxious to start himself in business without loss of time. It was agreed that the men who stood guard on both sides of the tracks should whistle when a train approached. But when a train came from the Atlantic side, the guard did not whistle. Naked, his pants and shirt jammed under his arm, he came running toward us down the tracks.
Behind him rumbled the train. It was too late to save our things. Our leader yelled, "All hands take cover. The train ran over our belongings. Then it stopped. Men in khaki uniforms jumped from the train, and began to comb the jungle.
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We separated. I crawled through broad-leaved bushes, moving on hands and knees, and when I rose I confronted a grinning soldier. All my companions had been caught. I put on a shirt which had been cut under the armpits by the train, and a pair of trousers which had but one leg. My comrades did not look much better. We were herded into the train and taken to a station.
From there we were marched to a police post. The Americans treated us hospitably. They fed us and plied us with cigarettes. Before nightfall we were all loaded into a motor launch and returned to the Lucy , which was anchored in Panama Bay. The ship weighed anchor and shaped a course down the west coast of South America, calling at Callao and ports to the south. There were strikes, arrests by the Chilean police, jail breaks.
Seven months I lingered on the Chile coast. Here I found a freedom I had not known in Europe. The world of political strife, of cold and hunger, seemed as distant as Saturn. Employers and officials asked neither for references nor for papers of identification. After that job gave out, a labor agent of Antofagasta recruited me for the Chuqui copper mines high up in the barren Andes. My work was that of a splicer of wire cables and my pay was high beyond all expectation—ten pesos a day, for good splicers were rare. Life in the mining camps was rough, particularly after paydays when gambling bouts frequently ended in a flash of knives.
Much of the bestiality was due to the absence of women; all but the hardiest prostitutes from the coast shunned the trade with the rabble of the Chuqui mines. The vision of a Chilean girl, Carmencita, with whom I had become friendly, drew me back to the coast. I arrived in Antofagasta on a copper train, with more than three hundred pesos in my pockets, only to find that Carmencita had become the companion of a jobless Norwegian second mate. I traveled south as a deck passenger aboard a slow coastwise steamer, and after a few aimless days in Valparaiso, I decided to visit the nearby capital, Santiago de Chile.
Here I found work in a candle factory under a domineering British foreman. It was inside work which I detested heartily. In a cafe I met a young American who had come from Argentina and spoke enthusiastically about the lusty life in Buenos Aires. Next day I threw up my job of packing candles and bought a trans-Andean railway ticket to Buenos Aires.
I arrived in the La Plata metropolis with two pesos and sixty centavos. After three days of dodging the energetic carabineros , I signed on as a full-fledged sailor aboard the barque Tiljuca , a supply ship for the Norwegian and British whaling bases on the Antarctic island of South Georgia, and manned entirely by Russians and Germans. Toughened as I was, compared with the toughness of the Tiljuca tars, I was a mere infant.
One of them ate his salt pork, seasoned with tobacco, raw. Another answered a letter from his mother, imploring him to come home after so many years, by writing that he would come home as soon as he had found someone rich enough to be killed for his money. They gloried in their toughness. Perhaps only that combination of life on the Buenos Aires Boca and on the forbidding Antarctic seas is able to produce such types.
I left the Tiljuca on her return to Buenos Aires for trampship journeys under the flags of Britain, Norway and Greece which landed me in the fall of in the negro quarter of Galveston, Texas. I was seventeen. The black folk were friendly to me. An elderly master painter treated me as if I had been his son until, by a stroke of luck, I found a berth on what, I believe, was the finest and largest sailing ship afloat at that time. It was the Magdalene Vinnen , a four-masted barque, which eventually brought me back to Chile.
One of my shipmates had broken a leg off Tierra del Fuego. The captain of our ship refused to have the injured man transferred to a hospital. There was a near mutiny on board in which I had a hand. Christmas Eve of found me celebrating with other stranded sailors on the green lawns of Plaza Colon, toasting Mrs. Bready, the chesty female shipping master of Nitrate Coast, who generously had supplied a keg of wine.
For a fee of six pounds sterling Mrs. Bready found me a berth aboard an ancient barque, the Obotrita , Captain Dietrich, bound with nitrate around Cape Horn to Hull, England. I paid off in Hull in the early spring of From there I bought passage to Hamburg. But the minute I set foot on German soil, I found myself sucked back into a whirlpool of hate and distress even more fierce than the one I had left.
I found that my family, my mother and the three younger children, stripped by the cyclonic inflation, badly needed what little money I had. I saw an aged woman standing at a curb, burning thousand-mark bills, and cackling at the silently watching crowd. The country was sick. During my years at sea, which had almost made me forget the old hates, my country had had no peace.
In , the militarists under Kapp had struck at the Weimar Republic. Ministers of the Republic had been assassinated. In , armed insurrections in Saxony and Thuringia had been crushed without mercy. In January, , French and Belgian armies had invaded the Ruhr to enforce payment of war reparations. Separatist bands rioted in the Rhineland. Inflation stalked the land with giant strides. Foreign scavengers descended upon Germany in droves, exchanging for a pittance the products of native toil. Prices leaped ahead of wages in a mad dance.
Between the city of Hamburg and its great harbor flows the river Elbe. I was at the ferry landing when the thousands of dockers returned from work. On the ferry landing stood a squad of customs officials and harbor police. Each worker, before he was allowed to pass, was searched for contraband by the officers. A policeman held the bag with flour aloft. You fellows rip open the bags with your hooks. Come on, now. The worker tore himself free. A scuffle ensued. Another stevedore stepped in. Give him his flour back. Keep moving. The policemen drew their rubber truncheons, formed a skirmish line, drove the workers back from the wharf.
A worker, young and lean, with the five-point star, the emblem of the Communist Party, on his blue cap, sprang on a bitt and shouted: "Down with the police. Down with the lackeys of capitalism. Throw them into the harbor! That night, on my way to the dingy room I had rented in a tenement in the waterfront district, I was accosted by two women.
One was about forty, the other barely over sixteen. The older woman tugged at my sleeve and said, "You have a good face. Please help us. He had helped blow up a railway line to prevent shipment of German coal to France. He had been arrested, convicted to twelve years of penal servitude by a military court, and had been carried off into France. His family had been told to leave the zone of occupation within twelve hours. Their house and their garden were seized.
Mr. Britling Sees It Through
They had wandered for weeks, pushed on from town to town by unwilling authorities. The older woman was terribly emaciated. I thought of giving her some money, but then I remembered that the stores were closed, that the hotels demanded foreign currency, that the money would be useless. It was German money. The woman said: "My daughter can sleep with you in the bed and I will sleep on the floor. In their home town they had been respectable people. I looked at the girl. I thought of their man languishing in some distant French prison.
He had blown up a railway. In such times, it seemed to me, the best thing one could do would be to blow up the whole world. I told the women to use the bed. Then I walked down to the street. There a group of young workers were busy pasting posters on the walls.
The leader of the group brought his face close to mine. He seemed satisfied. For two hours I helped the young workers put up posters. Very little was said. Three of us worked, and two stood at the corners watching for police. Twice police patrols surprised us. They came running, swinging their clubs. But we ran faster and escaped. Ten dead policemen for every dead worker.
We parted. All night I walked aimlessly through cold streets. Near the Sternschanze Station I passed a house in front of which stood an ambulance. Attendants carried an old woman out of the house. The old woman was dead. The man raised his right fist. In the gray of early dawn I found myself in an outlying section where long streets were lined with drab one-family houses which resembled one another like so many eggs in a box.
In front of the stores, at the street corners, women began to line up. They shivered in the cold and counted the paper in their hands. They counted hundreds of thousands, millions. They were determined to be first to spend this money when the stores opened. As it grew lighter I came to a house where a town official argued heatedly with a housewife.
The housewife looked unhappy. She had her arm tightly around the shoulder of a boy about ten. At the curb stood a truck. Two sinewy truckmen were waiting. I stopped and listened to the argument. The woman could not pay her rent. The official showed her a warrant of eviction. Every day there were mass evictions. To attract the least attention, they were carried through in the early morning hours. He pushed the woman aside and entered the house, and the two truckmen followed him.
A minute later they began loading the furniture into the truck. A passing man who carried a big bundle of newspapers under his arm halted and asked the woman: "An eviction? He placed his newspapers on the sidewalk and ran to the nearest store. In less than ten minutes the truck was loaded and the truckmen were tightening the ropes around their load. At this moment a column of roughly-clad men swept around the corner on bicycles. All of them had the red five-pointed star on blue caps.
The truckmen, seeing the raiders approach, stood aside. The official came running out of the house. The others leaped from their bicycles, cut the ropes on the truck. Each of them seized a piece of furniture and carried it back into the house. Two minutes later the truck drove away, empty, and the official had fled. People gathered. The men of the Red Self-Help formed a picket line in front of the house. Others marched along the street, shouting in chorus: "Refuse to pay rent to the landlords!
Three blocks away I saw a lorry loaded with green-uniformed Security Police speed past me down the street. I wanted to ship out, to get away, to go back to the far seas. I made the rounds of the British and Scandinavian shipping masters. They had no ship for me.
Their offices were besieged by stranded foreign seamen. I walked through a filthy backyard and up a flight of iron steps. The shipping office was a dark, gloomy hall. Thousands of men lounged in the backyard and in the hall. All seamen out of a job. I went to one of the barred windows and threw in my papers. The clerk looked at them, shoved them back. I want a ship. This is a German shipping office. Any ship. An equal deal to everybody. And I tell you this man will be registered. Smash your cocoanut, too, for that matter. Remember how we smashed the other one? He went into a private office and returned with the director.
The director looked like a walrus. His name was Captain Brahms. By that time hundreds of men stood packed around the window. Loud calls burst from the charivari of voices. Captain Brahms walked calmly to a telephone. He called the police. Eight or ten men had seized one of the heavy benches and used it as a ramming pole. The clerks fortified themselves behind their desks which they hastily pushed together.
Outside, from the yard, rocks hurtled through the windows. The stoker roared: "Down with the special lists! Abolish secret placement! Down with the hunger regime! A score of sailors raised havoc with furniture and files. Others pounced on the clerks who defended themselves with broken-off chair legs. Captain Brahms crawled under a table. The thousands in the hall and down in the yard milled about, laughing, shouting, cursing. In the center of the hall a group of fifty men stood massed, yelling in chorus: "Hunger! We want a ship!
Sirens pierced the air. Three large trucks full of men in green uniforms clashed to a halt. Before they had stopped, a hundred policemen leaped to the pavement. They drew their rubber truncheons while they ran. They pitched into the crowds, dealing vicious blows left and right. Those who resisted were handcuffed and led to the trucks. A policeman had lost his footing on the stairs. Four, five seamen were on top of him, hitting, kicking, robbing him of his truncheon and pistol.
In the yard a young policeman ran to the shelter of a doorway. He drew his pistol and took careful aim. An instant later a youngster in a gray sweater spun around and pitched on his face. There was a thousandfold howl of rage. They were nervous and badly scared. Voices barked: "Strasse frei! Es wird geschossen! Women, appearing from nowhere, shouted abuse. Others threw garbage cans from windows at pursuing policemen. Half-stunned, I made my way to the Cathedral of St. Beside me walked an old mariner. He was serene, as if nothing had happened.
Shall I run away from this diseased country? Or shall I join the forces which are actively attacking the wrongs that made my blood rebel? One road tempted me with the free and happy countries I had seen during my seafaring years. The other filled me with the fervor and the high expectations of revolutionary youth. I felt a strangulating loneliness. I yearned for a place where I could belong. In a waterfront tavern I studied the Shipping News. There was a steamer of the Roland Line leaving at five for Panama and Valparaiso. The very names of those ports conjured up before me vistas of high coast-lines, of warmth and abundance, of laughing brown-eyed girls, and of jobs under foreign flags or in the copper mines, of jobs with decent wages and with promise for the future.
I decided to go. With the last of my money I filled a satchel with food—biscuits, sardines, corned beef and a bottle of water, and crossed the river to the India Docks. The steamer was loaded. The longshoremen were closing the hatches, and the deckhands were busy lowering the derricks. In an unguarded moment I slipped aboard and ran forward to hide.
I climbed into the chain locker, closing the manhole above me. The bulkheads were damp and rusty. Beneath me tons of ponderous chain were curled up like iron snakes. A smell of mud and bilge water filled the place. I heard the siren roar, muffled commands, the loud tramping of many feet, the rumbling of winches. Then the whole ship vibrated as the engines began to turn over. We were outbound. In two or three days the ship would have cleared the English Channel and I could come on deck and report myself as a stowaway to the captain.
Somewhere in the river estuary the steamer ran into a fog. I knew it by the roar of the siren which came at steady two-minute intervals. Three, four times the siren roared. The vibration in the bulkheads ceased. The engines were stopped. I heard the patter of feet on the forecastle head. It was followed by the clashing sound of metal striking metal. Suddenly I realized: the fog was too dense for the ship to proceed and the pilot had decided to anchor until the weather cleared. A clear voice rang above me: "All clear anchor!
Stand by to let go! Man below! Help, help! A young officer came rushing down from the forecastle head. Seeing me, he shouted: "Any more of you bums down there? All around was soupy fog. From near and far sounded the sirens of other ships groping in the fog. My knees trembled as the officer led me up to the bridge. I spent the night in a dank police station in Cuxhaven. Next day a cold-eyed police judge sentenced me to seven days in jail for trespassing on the property of the Roland Line.
I served the seven days in the Hamburg city jail. The jail was overcrowded with workers of all ages caught stealing on the wharves, in railroad yards and warehouses, or surprised by police in the act of plundering food stores. Among my fellow prisoners was a communist agitator, a thin young man whose name was Willy Zcympanski.
A fanatic fire burned in his gray eyes. Seeing my eagerness, he singled me out for special attention.