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Elijah Ward
Elijah Ward

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Naturally, with her face, position, and background, she had experience of young men who wished to marry her, and made protestations of love, but, perhaps because she did not return the feeling, it remained something of a pageant to her. Not having experience of it herself, her mind had unconsciously occupied itself for some years in dressing up an image of love, and the marriage that was the outcome of love, and the man who inspired love, which naturally dwarfed any examples that came her way. Easily, and without correction by reason, her imagination made pictures, superb backgrounds casting a rich though phantom light upon the facts in the foreground. Splendid as the waters that drop with resounding thunder from high ledges of rock, and plunge downwards into the blue depths of night, was the presence of love she dreamt, drawing into it every drop of the force of life, and dashing them all asunder in the superb catastrophe in which everything was surrendered, and nothing might be reclaimed. The man, too, was some magnanimous hero, riding a great horse by the shore of the sea. They rode through forests together, they galloped by the rim of the sea. But waking, she was able to contemplate a perfectly loveless marriage, as the thing one did actually in real life, for possibly the people who dream thus are those who do the most prosaic things.

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A temporary check was imposed in 1910, when the[87]sudden death of King Edward plunged the country intomourning, but in 1911 London crowded two seasons intoone. Perhaps there was a fear that the new reign wouldusher in simpler manners and a more austere way oflife, perhaps the pleasure-loving, who had lived for atwelve-month, murmuring in undertones behind shutteredwindows, grudged their days of abstinence. Thecoronation gave legitimate excuse for carnival; and in1912 the fear of reaction merged into a resolve to postponethe reaction until carnival had spent itself: theresources of the new rich, not yet exhausted, began toseem inexhaustible; and every day, by unfitting theparasites for any other life, multiplied their number. By1913 the lust for amusement had become constant andwas whipped by a neurotic dread of anticlimax; by 1914there was a panic feeling that this old order could notlast. Already war had rumbled distantly since Agadir;twice in the Balkans the rumblings had given place tostorms which suggested how the suffering and ruthlessnessof twentieth-century fighting would transcend allthat had been known before and had demonstrated howstrong were the meshes which held all European diplomacyinvolved, how weak the paper safeguard of peace.The labour world had half risen in the great railwaystrike of 1911 and might any day rise in its full strength;Ireland was at the mercy of two lawless armies; andthe government was powerless even to prevent a determinedbody of women, already opposed by overwhelmingpublic opinion, from breaking windows and burningchurches.

It is useless to speculate how much the loss has costhumanity; to the men in the middle twenties at least asmuch as to the men of any age it was left to pay for themadness of the world and the crimes of its rulers. Theywere at the summit of their physical condition; theirspirit and training carried them unfalteringly into thewar; and, enrolling themselves in the first days, theysupported the chief burden of a game in which the oddslengthened against them with every hour of immunity.A strange marching-song sent them to their death: stridentand shrill cries of impatience with everything, revoltagainst everything; catches of crooning waltz and clatteringrag-time to bring back memories and to twisthearts; the craving for excitement and the whimper offretfulness; the sigh of a world in despair heard in thesilent pause of mankind bewildered; all blended theirnotes to a thunder of confusion, banishing thought. Theonlookers cried in rival tumult that this, at all events,would be the last war in history; and an echo of their consolingphilosophy carried to the departing troops and,in the belief that this was a war to end war, furnishedthem at last with a ready explanation of their going.

With the thunder of opposing oratory mingled therattle of grounding arms and the tramp of marchingfeet; but, though the Orangemen warned the governmentthat the Ulster rebels were too much in earnest to[121]be disregarded, ministers were by now grown indifferentto the bluff of their enemies, the counsel of the disinterestedand the public insults which highly-placed ladiesshowered upon them with impunity at court and inprivate houses. Whether the anarchy and treason,preached and admitted by Sir Edward Carson, wouldever have flamed into civil war is a matter of guess-work.The nationalist leaders, rightly or wrongly, thought thatit would not; the prime minister who afterwards discountedthe strength of nationalist idealism fromAugust, 1914, until the Easter rising was unlikely togive its true value, whatever that might be, to thestrength of unionist idealism two years before; by now,moreover, he was too well used to actual crises to bealarmed by a crisis which had not yet arisen. Mr. Birrell,the chief secretary, was too busily engaged in concealinghis defects as an administrator under his brillianceas an epigrammatist to supply the imaginationthat his leader lacked. No attempt was made to scotchthe rebellion or bring the ringleaders to book; enrolmentincreased, drilling continued, arms were purchased andimported. In the spring of 1914 some uneasiness madeitself felt in the bosom of Colonel Seely, the secretaryof state for war, and a confidential question directed tothe loyalty of the troops stationed at the Curragh elicitedthat a number of officers, holding the king's commission,would refuse to obey orders if commanded to proceedagainst the Ulster rebels.

By 1914, as indeed in 1911, the blundering of fourForeign Offices had produced a state of tension in whichwar was very difficult to avoid; but the phrase-fed populationwhich repeated in solemn tones that Germany had"been preparing for this war for forty years" seemednever to enquire why the war had not been fought byinstalments (as, all were told, Germany would assuredlydo if Great Britain did not play her part in 1914) andwhy the first attack had not been launched in 1905 whenRussia was exhausted by her struggle with Japan inManchuria and distracted at home by revolution andexperiments in constitution-making. So she might haverid herself for many years of the Russian menace; and,if France had been drawn in, it is inconceivable that soearly as 1906 Great Britain would have been drawn intoo. The reconstruction of the Kiel Canal was thereforeunimportant; and, for an occasion of war, nothing lessflimsy than the assassination of an archduke was evernecessary. And archdukes were plentiful. That Germanydid not provoke a conflict in 1905 suggests thatshe had not in fact devoted forty years to preparingfor a world-war and, further, that in that year she didnot regard a war of any kind as inevitable. By 1914 herview of world-politics had swung round; and, if othernations contributed to bring war nearer, Germany mustbear full and sole responsibility for provoking it.

As the civil service has undergone some slight modificationin the last hundred years, it is encouraging tofind that there is also a slight modification in the publicestimate of it since Dickens satirised the CircumlocutionOffice. As yet, justice has only been done to it byministers who recognise thankfully that it has no rivalin the world for intellectual ability, conscientiousness,loyalty, honour and integrity. Recruited by a mostsearching examination from the best brains of the Oxfordand Cambridge type, it receives fewer rewards andless payment than any other body of men charged withequal responsibility. No "budget secret" has ever leakedout, though it is in the power of a Treasury clerk tobecome rich beyond the dreams of avarice; during thewar no man worked harder than the civil servant.Whether the "business men" who were acclaimed andimported so eagerly contrived to run their departmentsmore cheaply can be answered by any tax-payer whochooses to enquire; that they ran them more efficiently[173]may be doubted by any one who recalls the nightmareof confusion in which, say, the Ministry of Munitionscame to birth; that they ran them with equal integritymay be challenged by small men who were compelledto disclose to powerful competitors their organisationand secret processes.


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