Skip to main content
Read page text


war prose construct that speech afterwards for his own comfort; for it had seemed to him beautiful in the midst of the trembling agony that came upon him. Once, later, he tried to write it down. It began something like this, in the note that Humphry made... Clara Sophia had said that they were vile – all of them who had slept in beds. And Mr Croyd had said that vile was not the right word. She must think more exactly...

He had gone on to say that this war had been a great misfortune for good, fat men – and for others. They stayed at home and increased their substance. For the rest of their lives, after it was all over, they would regret that they had not ‘gone’. It was a dreadful thing for a good, fat man to have to nurse regrets and to consider that it was his duty to relinquish material advantage. So he would hate the other fellow. He would ruin him to the best of his abilities – which would be many. He would do this so that there might be fewer manifest reminders. A man in the workhouse or selling matches is as good as dead. He does not attract much attention. That was what the good fat man – and others – desired.

They wanted not to be reminded; they wanted the remembrances swept up and burned as their gardeners were ordered to sweep up and burn last year’s leaves that had fallen on their gravel walks... But that was not vileness; it was the instinct of self-preservation. No man who is haunted by phantoms can live and propagate his species. The wolf is not vile; the rat is not vile; nor yet is the louse... Why then should men uniting in themselves the instincts of the wolf, the rat and the louse, be called vile?

The context of those speeches remained in Humphry’s mind. They were what had finally driven him up into the loft. Nevertheless, before he went the old man had uttered one speech that was like the words out of a book .... That was the reason why he afterwards tried to write it down. It gave him something to look at and to calm himself by when these fits were on him, though at the moment it had driven him away.

And, in the end – Mr Croyd had said – what did it matter? These men, now starving, were now giving their lives most fully, honourably and consummately. They had not calculated when they had gone; now they were paying the price. That was just. Fine, uncalculating actions must be carried through to the end and paid for!

‘And so, what does it matter? That is life; that is the whole of life... The leaves that were beautiful and gracious are swept up and

My Bookmarks

    Skip to main content