Meanwhile, by H. G. Wells

§ 10

Philip’s “first real letter,” so he called it, came on the day of Mr. Sempack’s departure for England. There had been an “arrived safe” telegram from London and a pencil scrawl of affectionate “rubbidge” so he put it, with various endearments and secret and particular names, that he had posted in Paris. That was just carrying on. But this she felt was something momentous. It came while she was resting on her bed, through sheer laziness, and she felt its importance so much that for a time she could not open it. It was a fat letter, a full letter, it was over the two ounces, fivepence ha’penny worth of letter, and inside there was going to be something — something she had never had before — Philip mentally, all out, according to his promise. She was going to learn fresh and important things about him. She was going to scrutinise his mental quality as she had never done before.

What sort of a letter was it going to be? She had a shadow of fear in her mind. Things said can be forgotten. Or you recall the manner and edit and rearrange the not too happy words. Things written hammer at the eye and repeat themselves inexorably. Written clumsiness becomes monstrous clumsy. So far she had never had anything more from Philip than a note. His notes were good, queer in their phrasing but with an odd way of conveying tenderness. . . . Philip would be Philip. She took courage and tore open the distended envelope.

She found half a dozen fascicles each pinned together. It was neither like a letter nor like a proper manuscript, but it was like Philip. The paper was of various sorts, some of it from their house in South Street, some from the Reform Club, some from Brooks’ and some ruled foolscap of unknown origin carefully torn into half-sheets so as to pack comfortably with the spread out notepaper. Somewhere he had got hold of a blue pencil and numbered the fascicles with large numbers, one, two, three and so forth, emphasised by a circle. The fascicle numbered one, was

“General Instructions for a little Cynner to read these Lubrications.”

Lucubrations?

Then this touching design and appeal:

Be merciful

“My dearest Cynthia, wife,” it went on, “I find it pretty hard to set down all my impressions of things here. Which is all the more reason I suppose why I should begin to set down my impressions. It’s hard to make it go, one, two, three, and away. I just can’t make the stuff I have to tell you flow off my pen as trained chaps like old Sempack seem able to do. Whatever he has to say seems to begin at one place and go right through to an end, missing nothing by the way. I’ve been reading in some of his books. In fact I’ve been reading him no end. People talk about ‘writing’ and I’ve always thought before it meant purple patches and lovely words, but this sort of thing also is writing; driving ten topics in a team together — and getting somewhere, getting through doors and narrow places and home to where you want to go. I seem to begin at half a dozen places and it is only after a time that one finds that this joins up with that. I’ve made half a dozen starts and here most of them are.

“This is a sort of student’s notebook. I’ve helped it out with diagrams and here and there pictures seem to have got themselves in when I wasn’t looking. But it is a multiplex affair here. Here in England I mean — not in this letter. An imbrolio. It isn’t a straight story. You take Part numbered Two and then Three and so on in the order of the numbers, and I think at the end you’ll get the hang of what I’m thinking all right. Forgive some of the spelling, and all the heavy lumpish way of putting things. If I do much of this sort of thing I shall have to take lessons from Sempack and Bertrand Russell, how to be clear if complex. As you said, we’ve got to know each other — even if it hurts. So I’ve done my best. I don’t think I’ve struck any attitudes.

“If you despise me over this stuff — well, it had to be. Better than not knowing each other. Better than that. Truly. Dear Cynthia, my Friend. All you said to me about being truly near, mind more than body, went to my heart. Both.”

That was the substance of Part One. Followed a sort of index and a few remarks about each part, that were simply preparatory matter. Rather businesslike preparatory matter. He must have written that index after all the rest was done.

She held Part One in her hand and thought for some moments. Queer! This wasn’t her Philip; the Philip she had known for a wonderful year. But it was not inharmonious with her Philip. It was an extension of him, the wider Philip. It was at once a little strange and more intimate. It was very honest; that was the first thing about it. And it had a quality of strength. It was extraordinary that a man who had been as close to her as he had been, with such warmth and laughter and delight, should still betray so plainly a maidenly bashfulness over the nakedness of his prose and the poverty of his spelling. Bodies one can strip in half a minute. Now — and he knew it — he was revealing his mind.

And then the drawing. She had never suspected him of skill, but there was skill in the way he got what he wanted to express over to her. The figure of himself, a little oafish and anxious. And herself. He didn’t spare her littleness. And yet plainly he couldn’t draw — as she judged drawing. There were several other drawings. . . .

She glanced at Part Three. But these looked more like the figures one scribbles on blotting paper. Perhaps it would be plainer when she came to them in order.

She took up Part Two which was entitled:

“General Observations on the General Strike.

“Firstly, I am disposed to call this General Strike the Silliest Thing in the History of England. I don’t know whether I would stick to that. What old Muzzleton used to get red in the nose working us up about, what he used to call ‘Our Island Story,’ is full of dam silly things. But this is a monstrous dam silly affair, my Cynthia. It is a tangle of false issues from beginning to end. So silly one can’t take sides. One is left gibbering helplessly as the silly affair unrolls itself.

“Imagine a procession of armoured cars and tanks going through the dear old East End of London to protect vans of food-stuffs nobody has the least idea of touching. After the strikers have guaranteed a food supply! A sort of Lord Mayor’s day crowd of sightseers and chaps like old Bullace in tin helmets — you know, helmets against shrapnel!! stern and solum. If presently they began to throw pots of shrapnel out of the East End top windows, old Bullace’s little bit of brains will be as safe as safe.

“Then imagine a labour movement which imagines it is appealling to the general public against the goverment. Which nevertheless has called out all the printers and stopped the newspapers! As the goverment has seized its own one paper, I mean the labour paper, and monopolises, the goverment does, the wireless, the labour movement is making its appeal inaudibly. As a consequence that side of the dispute has become almost invisible. You see police and soldiers and all that, but all you see or hear of the strike side is that it isn’t there. The engineers and the railway men and the printers aren’t there. Just a bit of speaking at a corner or a handbill put in your hand. Pickets lurking. A gap. Silence.”

Mrs. Rylands pulled up abruptly, went back from the beginning of the next sentence, scrutinised a word. It was “goverment.” And down the sheet and over, she found it repeated. And what did it matter if he did take the “n” out of government, so long as his head was clear?

“The strike stopped all the buses, trams, trains, etc., etc. The streets are full morning and evening of a quite cheerful (so far) crowd of clerks, shop people and suchlike walking to business or walking home, getting casual pick-ups from passing motor cars. General disposition to treat it as a lark. Thanks chiefly to the weather. Most buses are off the streets. Some are being run by volunteers and they go anyhow, anywhere and anybody rides. They get their windows broken a bit and there is often a bobby by the driver. Some have wire over their windows and one or two I saw with a motor car full of special constables going in front of them. Convoy. There is a story of some being burnt but I can’t find out if that is true. The voice of the gearbox is heard in the land and the young gentlemen volunteers don’t bother much about collecting fares. For some unknown reason most of them have come to the job in plus fours. Pirate buses having the time of their lives. Disposition of crowds to collect at central positions and stand about and stare. Police and soldiers in quantity lurking darkly up back streets, ready aye ready for trouble that never comes, and feeling I think rather fools. They seem uneasy when you go and look at them. What are they all waiting for? They’ve sworn-in quantities of special constables and I’ve had a row with Uncle Robert on that score, because I won’t be sworn-in and set an example. All his men-servants have been sworn-in and are on the streets with armlets and truncheons. The specials just walk about, trying to avoid being followed by little boys; harmless earnest middle-class chaps they are for the most part.

“As might be expected Winston has gone clean off his head. He hasn’t been as happy since he crawled on his belly and helped snipe in Sidney Street. Whatever anyone else may think, Winston believes he is fighting a tremendous revolution and holding it down, fist and jaw. He careers about staring, inactive, gaping, crowded London, looking for barricades. I wish I could throw one for him.”

In the margin Mr. Philip had eked out his prose with a second illustration.

Winston doing Everything

“The goverment has taken over the Morning Post office and machinery and made Winston edit a sort of emergency goverment rag called the British Gazette. Baldwin’s idea seems to be to get the little devil as far away from machine guns as possible and keep him busy. Considerable task. His paper is the most lop-sided rag you ever. It would be a disgrace to any goverment. The first number is all for the suppression of Trade Unions, a most desperate attempt to provoke them to the fighting pitch.

“I met Mornington at the Club; he is mixed up with the Morning Post somehow and he says the office is simply congested with young Tories who have fancied themselves as writers for years. For them it’s perfect Heaven. They’ve collared most of the Morning Post paper; they are grabbing all The Times paper pro bono Winstono. The Times still puts out a little sheet but they say it will have to stop in a week or ten days — in favour of Winston’s splutter. That seems to me nearly the maddest thing of all. The Labour people have had their own Daily Herald suppressed. Instead they are trying and failing to go a peg below Winston with a sort of bulletin newsheet called the British Worker. But Winston has a scheme for stealing their paper supply, raiding their office and breaking them up in the name of the British Constitution. Like undergraduates at election time. Isn’t it all bottomlessly silly? Most of the papers seem to be handing out something, a half-sheet or suchlike just to say ‘Jack’s alive,’ and you happen upon it and buy it by chance. Fellows try and sell you typewritten stuff with the latest from the broadcasting for sixpence or a shilling, and here and there you see bulletins stuck up outside churches and town halls. In the west end they display Winston’s British Gazette in the smart shop windows. I suppose their plate glass insurance covers risks like that. But perhaps they realise there isn’t much risk.

“I just go along the streets talking to people in the character of an intelligent young man from New Zealand. I say I don’t rightly understand what the strike is about and ask them to explain. I get a different story each time. ’Who is striking?’ ‘Oh!’ they say, ‘It’s a general strike!’ ‘Are you?’ I ask. ‘No fear!’ Some of them say it is in sympathy with the miners. But they never know the rights and wrongs about the miners. Very few of them know if the miners have struck or whether it is a lock-out. They don’t know which is the pig-headest, the miners or the mine-owners, and yet you’d think they would be curious about that. And the whole country is disorganised, no papers, no trains, no trams, and, this morning, no taxis. Post offices are still going on, but the labour people talk of bringing out what they call their second line. That will stop letters, telegrams, gas and electric light and power, it seems. If the second line really comes out — which Hind says is rather doubtful. So if I am swallowed up by silence all of a sudden you will know it is the second line you have to blame. Unless Winston happens to have got hold of a machine gun and shot me suddenly in the back.

“But I don’t think that will happen while he has ink and paper. Don’t you worry about that.

“Well, there’s some features of this General Strike. Not a bit like a revolution. Far more as if a new sort of day not quite a weekday and not quite a Good Friday had happened. I don’t know whether what I have told you will make any sort of picture for you. There are foreign reporters in London and probably you will get it in the French papers or the Paris edition of the New York Herald. The essence of it is, miners locked out, transport workers of all sorts striking, printers striking, Winston probably certifiable but no doctors can get near him to do it, soldiers and police going about with loaded guns looking for a Revolution that isn’t there, Jix inciting the police to be violent at the least provocation, and the general public, like me, agape. All London agape. And over it all this for a Prime Minister —

Trusty old Baldwin keeps on doing nuffin

“Here endeth Part Two.”

The third fascicle was headed:

“What Labour thinks it is doing.

“Here, my dear Cynthia, I am going to set down what I can make out of how this strike came about. It is a queer history, but you can check it back and fill it out in details by the newspaper files I marked for you before I left Casa Terragena. This muddle has been tangling itself up for years. These are matter the Rylands family, branch as well as root (which is for current purposes Uncle Robert) ought to have some ideas about.

“After the war, you must understand, to go back to beginnings, Great Britain had a boom time for coal. It had a little boom in 1919. Then there was dislocation and trouble turning on de-control after the war and bringing men back from the army, problems of men taken on and so on. There was a Royal Commission and a very startling report called the Sankey Report, pointing out how wastefully British coal was won and proposing ‘Nationalisation,’ and that was followed by a strike — I think the year after. But it was possible to fix fairly good wages for the men just then. All Europe wanted coal, the French coal regions were all devastated area and Poincaré danced into the Ruhr and put that supply out of gear too. English coal prices mounted, wages mounted, we got in thousands of fresh miners from the agricultural workers over and above the war drift to the mines. There was a time when coal stood at £4 a ton. I mean we were selling it at that. Not for long of course. Even when it fell back below 40/- it was still a big price for us. Exports rose to huge figures. The miners and the coal-owners purred together and nobody bothered about Sankey and nationalisation. Say the top of ‘23.

“Then we deflated the pound, and also continental coal-winning began to recover.

“By 1924 the slump was plain in the sight to all men. Coal prices couldn’t be kept at the old level. There was trouble about wages in 1924 and a new arrangement which we owners dropped last year. Time, said the coal-owners, to take in sail. Naturally they kept mum about the stuff they’d put away during the boom years. Merely ‘business’ to do that. They just looked round for someone else to make up the current deficit, John Taxpayer was called upon, and Baldwin (a bit of a coal-owner himself) made him fork out the Coal Subsidy until he would stand it no longer. Then the coal-owners made what seemed to them the reasonable proposal that the miners should take lower wages-not a small reduction but a drop of twenty per cent, one shilling in five — work longer hours and (though this wasn’t clearly stated) a lot of them become unemployed. Obviously longer hours means fewer men.

“The reply of the miners was a most emphatic ‘No.’ I sympathise. Though as a rational creature I see that there are now more miners in Britain than can ever be employed at the boom rates or perhaps at any rates again, I see also how the miners who have settled down on the high rates feel about it. Their main representative is a man named Cook and he says ‘Not a penny off the pay; not a second on the day.’ If I had to live like a miner I should say the same. I’d rather die than come down below the present level. I have just happened upon a little book called Easingden by a man named Sinclair and it gives a flat, straightforward account of the life of a miner. I half suspect some connexion between Easingden and Edensoke, but never mind that. No frills about his story and to the best of my knowledge and belief dead true. It’s a grimy nightmare of a life. I am going to send it to you. When you read it, you will agree with me that it is intolerable to think of Englishmen — many of whom fought in the Great War to save me and you among others from the Hun — having to go a single step lower than that cramped, sordid, hopeless drudgery. Let the coal-owner, who didn’t foresee, who failed to reorganise on modern lines in his boom days, who has got a tidy pile stowed away, let him pay the racket now and not take it out of the flesh and blood of the people.

“My Lord Edensoke says what country wants work. This was meant to be a cigar but is an anachronism that came with old brandy later hard work never hurt anyone Philip tis champagne in the glass N. B. our celebrated pink

“That’s what the miner feels and partly thinks. The hoards of the successful, he thinks, ought to be the elastic pads we fall back upon in a squeeze; not the living bodies of the miners and their families.

“The miners never professed to organise business and make reserves, they thought the clever fellows were seeing to that. Their job was to hew coal. They say they didn’t suppose the clever fellows were just out to get away with profits and leave them in the lurch. So that a lot of them now are feeling decidedly Communist and would like to go out and hew at the clever fellows. I should, Cynthia, if I were a miner.

“The new Coal Commission although it is all Herbert Samuels and business men and not a Justice Sankey upon it and no one to speak for the miners, admits a lot of reasonableness in the miners’ case. But the coal-owners say in effect, ‘Not a penny out of our hoards, not a shadow of sacrifice from us!‘ They propose to knock wages down to the tune of a shilling in five and practically don’t offer to bear any equivalent hardship on their own part. I had it out — or partly had it out with Uncle Robert last night. ‘Partly,’ because he got so obviously cross that my natural respect for the head of the family made me shut up. He was all for the unreasonableness of the miners in not making any concessions. Stern and dignified and rude. Wouldn’t say what was to be done with the miners who will have to be laid off whatever concessions the poor devils make. The more concessions they make in hours, the more will get laid off. He wouldn’t say whether the shilling in five was his last word or not. And he got really vicious on the subject of Cook.

“‘At present,’ said his lordship, ‘all discussion is in abeyance. The whole social order has been struck at — and has to be defended.’ Repeated it. Raised his hand with an air of finality.

“Baldwin and Co just went from one party to the other wringing their hands or pretending to wring their hands — I’ve got something to say about that — and repeating, ‘Do please be reasonable,’ instead of taking us coal-owners by the scruff of the neck as they should have done and saying ‘Share the loss like decent men.’ If the coal-owners won’t give way, said Baldwin and Co in effect, then the miners must. Nothing was done. The coal-owners simply demanded lower wages and more work and prepared for a general lock-out if the miners didn’t knuckle under. And that is how things were between the coal-owners and the miners.

“In a country that had honest newspapers and clear heads all this would have brought such a storm about the ears of the coal-owners that they would have met the men half-way — three quarters of the way, in a hurry. They would have sat up all night sweating apologies and drawing up more and more generous schemes to ease off the situation. And the public would have insisted on the deal. But the country never got the story plain and clear. How could it judge?

“Now here it is the General Council of the Trade Unions comes in. The miners are a part of that and have raised this coal puzzle at the Congress of the Trade Unions for the last two years. The General Council of the Trade Unions declares, and I myself think rightly, that the attack to reduce the miners is only a preliminary to a general reduction, railway men, engineers, industrials of all sorts. Common cause. So the T.U.C. takes a hand and you get a sort of four-cornered game, (1) T.U.C., (2) miners (Cook very vocal, too vocal), (3) goverment and (4) owners. (1) and (2) are theoretically partners: (3) and (4) profess not to be — but I am afraid are. If the miners are locked out, if nothing is done, then says the T.U.C. we shall have to call out the railwaymen, transport workers, engineers, postal employees and so forth and so on. ‘That,’ says the goverment, ‘is a general strike. It isn’t an industrial dispute; it’s politics. It’s an attack on the goverment of the land.’ Says the T.U.C., ‘Damn you! Why don’t you be the goverment of the land? We aren’t going to let the miners be downed in this fashion, politics or not. Something has to be done. We don’t want a strike of this sort but if there is a miners’ lock-out, some such strike there will have to be.’

“But the T.U.C. wasn’t very resolute about all that. That’s a nasty point in my story. Not the only one. They backed up the miners but they didn’t quite back them up. Several of the Labour Leaders, chaps of the court suit and evening dress type, were running about London, weeks and weeks ago, pulling long faces and saying, ‘The extremists are forcing our hands. We don’t want the general strike. We’re perfectly peaceful snobs on the make. We are indeed. It’s an attempt at revolution; we admit it. Do something — even if it only looks like something.’ Mornington met two of them. Those were practically their words. They started out upon a series of conferences with the goverment. Conferences and more conferences. Suggestions, schemes. Running to and fro — T.U.C. at Downing Street. T.U.C. goes to the miners. To and fro. Talk about the Eleventh Hour. But in England nobody ever believes there is an Eleventh Hour until it comes. Like the war. Cook going on all the time like a musical box that can’t leave off: ‘Not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day.’ Twenty speeches a day and still at it in his sleep.

“My dear, I don’t know if you will make head or tail of this rigmarole so far. I set it down as well as I can. But try and get that situation clear — which brings things up to last week-end. Miners, inflexible; owners, inflexible. Goverment ambiguous, T.U.C. forcible feeble, rather warning about the General Strike than promising it. And doing nothing hard and strong to prepare for it. Under-prepared while the goverment was over-prepared.

“And here I must conclude my Part Three because I have already been writing about the next stage in Part Four. Go on to Part number Four.”

Mrs. Rylands did.

Part Four was headed:

“The Goverment isn’t playing straight.

“Here little Cynna comes the stuff that troubles my mind most. I don’t think Baldwin and his goverment have played a straight game. I don’t think the miners and the rank and file of the workers are getting a square deal. I think that Baldwin and Co are consciously or subconsciously on the side of the coal-owner and the profit extractor, and that they mean to let the workers down. They are making an Asset of Cook and his not listening to reason. I’ve had that smell in my nose for some time. Even at Casa Terragena. Churchill’s first number of the British Gazette stank of it. Gave the whole thing away.

“They didn’t want to prevent a General Strike. They wanted it to happen. They wanted it to happen so as to distract attention from the plain justice of the case as between miners and coal-owners. And between workers generally and employers and business speculators generally, in a world of relative shrinkage. They wanted the chance of a false issue, to readjust with labour nearer the poverty line.

“You may say that is a serious charge to make against any goverment. But consider the facts. Consider what happened last Sunday night. Probably you haven’t got the facts of Sunday night over there yet. It’s the ugliest, most inexplicable night in the record of our quiet little Baldwin. If after all there does happen to be a Last Judgment, Master Stanley will be put through it hard and good about Sunday May 2nd. Or to be more exact, Monday May 3rd. ‘Put that pipe down Sir,’ the great flaming Angel will say, ‘We want to see your face.’

“We shall all want to see his face.

“What happened was this. The Trade Union leaders were haggling and conferring between the miners and the cabinet all Sunday and they really seemed to be getting to a delaying compromise, and something like a deal. If the goverment really meant to make a deal. Late in the night the Trade Union leaders at Downing Street, had hammered out some sort of reply to certain cabinet proposals. They went back to the conference room with it. And they found the room empty and dark and the lights out.

“The goverment had thrown down the negotiations. They came into a darkened room and were told that the goverment had gone away. Gone home!

“Bit dramatic that, anyhow.

“Why?

“My dear, you might guess at a thousand reasons. Some compositors at the Daily Mail had refused to set up an anti-labour leading article! The Daily Mail! I have never been able to understand how the Daily Mail is able to get compositors to set up any of its articles. But this thing I have a nasty feeling was foreseen. The coup was prepared. It was too clumsy, too out of proportion, to be a genuine thing. Forthwith the cabinet hear of the Daily Mail hitch. Remarkably quick. ‘It’s come off,’ I guess some one said. ‘Get on with the break.’ Like a shot the cabinet responded. Like an actor answering his cue. The goverment snatched at the excuse of that little Daily Mail printing-office strike to throw down the whole elaborate sham of negotiating for peace. They called the bluff of the poor old vacillating T.U.C. ‘This is the general strike and we are ready,’ said they. Off flew Winston and the heroic set to get busy, and Mr. Baldwin went to bed.

“The empty room. The lights put out. The labour leaders peering into it, astonished and not a little scared. Like sheep at the gate of a strange field. Don’t forget that picture, Cynthia.

“And since then the goverment hasn’t been a goverment. It’s been like a party trying to win an election. By fair means or foul. It’s stifled all discussion. It’s made broadcasting its call boy. It is playing the most extraordinarily dirty tricks in shutting up people and concealing facts. I’ve just heard things — but these I’ll tell you later. And all the rights and wrongs as between miners and coal-owners have vanished into thin air. Which is what the goverment wanted to happen. Q.E.F. as Mr. Euclid used to say.

“That ends my fourth section.”

Mrs. Rylands reflected for a time. Philip had told his story well. It sounded — credible. For the first time she seemed to be realising what this queer business in England meant. And yet there were difficulties. She must think it over. Some of it startled her and much that he had to say sounded excessively uncompromising. His note was one of combatant excitement. But then he was not living in the soft air of a great Italian garden which makes everything seem large and gentle and intricate. She must read those marked papers downstairs. But now what else had he to say? Part Five was headed:—

“Why did the Goverment want the Strike to happen?

“And now, my dear wife, I want to write of something more difficult. But it’s about the state of mind of the sort of people to which after all we belong. It’s about more than the General Strike.

“I’ve been about at the Club; I lunched at the Carlton with Silverbaum; I spent an evening with Hind and Mornington and their crew at Hind’s flat. And more particularly I’ve studied the words and proceedings of our esteemed uncle Lord Edensoke and of our honoured and trusted partner Sir Revel Cokeson, not to mention Mr. Gumm, the burly British Mr. Gumm. You remember them?

“Let me try and get it set down, as it has come to me. There is a feeling in the air that Britain is going down. I don’t mean that there is any sort of crash in view, but that industrially and financially she is being passed and overshadowed. She is in for a time of relative if not of absolute shrinkage. We may never be able to employ the same mass of skilled and semi-skilled labour that we have done in the past.

“I am not telling you here what I believe. Never mind what I believe. I am telling you what is in the minds and not very far from openly showing upon the surface of the minds of a lot of these people. Uncle Robert practically said as much. One of those speeches of his that begin, ‘My dear boy.’ One of those speeches of his that seem to admit that so far he has been lying but that now we have really come to it. And one has been getting the same sort of thing for a long time between the lines of such a paper as the Morning Post. Well, here is my reading of hearts. They think that there is shrinkage and hard times ahead and they think that it is the mass of workers who will have to bear the burthen. Because otherwise it will fall on — ourselves. Labour in Great Britain has seen its sunniest days. That is what they think.

“I suppose one has to face a certain loss of pre-eminence in the world for England. I don’t like it, but I suppose we have to. We were the boss country of the Nineteenth Century and the Nineteenth Century is over. Possibly there will not be a boss country in the Twentieth Century. Or it may be America. But it isn’t going to be us and we have to face up to that. That I say has got into the minds of pretty nearly all the sort of protected people, established people, go-about-the-globe people, financial and business people, who support the present goverment. And it takes two forms in its expression just according as intelligent meanness or unintelligent prejudice prevails in their minds.

First Class; The intelligent mean wealthy people of Great Britain want to shove the bigger part of the impoverishment due to our relative shrinkage in the world upon the workers. They want a scrap that will cripple and discredit the Trade Unions. Then they will reduce wages and at the same time cut down social services and popular education. So they will be able to go on for quite a long time as they are now and even recover some of their investments abroad and — to make these economies possible — we shall just breed and train cheaper and more miserable common English people.

“But they are not the majority of their sort, this class are not. They are just the mean left hand of Baldwin and Co. The right hand, which is heavier and lumpier, is able to be more honest because it is more stupid. Let us come to them.

Second Class; The unintelligent wealthy people in Great Britain. The majority. On them too for some time the unpleasant realisation that Great Britain is shrinking in world importance has been growing. It seems to have grown with a rush since the coal trade began to look groggy after deflation. Perhaps it has grown too much. But this sort cannot accept it as the others do — clearly. All ideas turn to water and feelings in their minds. This is the sort that disputes the plainest facts if they are disagreeable. It is too horrible an idea for them. So it remains a foreign growth in their minds. Their Empire threatened! Their swagger and privileges going! Their air of patronage to all the rest of the world undermined! They refuse the fact.

“The more I hear our sort of people talk and see how they are behaving over this strike, the more I am reminded of some Gold Coast nigger who is suffering from the first intimations of old age and thinks he is bewitched and will get all right again if he only finds out and kills the witch. They lie awake at nights and hear the Empire, their Empire — for they’ve never given the working man a dog’s chance in it — creaking. They think of China up, India up, Russia not caring a damn for them — and the Americans getting patronising to the nth degree. Foreign investments shrunken and no means of restoring them. These people here about me, the wealthy Tory sort of people, the chaps in the Clubs, the men and women in the boxes and stalls and restaurants and night clubs, the Ascot people and the gentle jazzers, are not thinking of the rights and wrongs of the miners and the trade union people at all, and of fair play and what’s a straight deal with the men. Their attention will not rest on that. It seems unable to rest on that. The men are just a pawn in their game of foreign investment. The plain story I have told to you about the mines and the strike has passed right under their noses and they have missed the substance of it altogether. They have something larger and vaguer in their minds; this shrinkage of their credit as a class; this arrest in growth and vigour of their Empire, the Empire of their class — because that is all it is; its loss of moral power, the steady evaporation of its world leadership in finance and industry; the realisation — and they have it now in their bones if not in their intelligences, even the stupidest of them — that new and greater things are dawning upon the world. They are too-ill-educated and self-centred and consciously incompetent to accept these things fully and try to adapt themselves to new conditions. They become puzzled and frightened and quarrelsome at the bare thought of these new conditions — which threaten them — with extinction — or worse — with education. On no terms will they learn. That is too horrible. So they go frantic. They bristle up to fight. They want a great fight against time and fate. Before time and fate overtake them. They dream that perhaps if there was a tremendous scrap of some sort now, now while they are still fairly strong, somehow at the end of it this creeping rot, this loss of go, in all they value and of all that makes them swagger people, would be abolished and made an end to. It would be lost in the uproar and at the end they would find themselves back on the top of things, strong and hearty again without any doubts, without a single doubt, just as they used to be. Making decisions for everyone, universally respected, America put back in its place, all the world at the salute again.

“That I am convinced is what the Winston-Bullace state of mind amounts to — as distinguished from the more cold-blooded types you find like our thin-lipped Uncle Robert. That is Class Two.

“But what is the enemy? I say it is time and fate, geography and necessity. Sempack I suppose would say it was the spread of scientific and mechanical progress about the world which is altering the proportions of every blessed thing in life, so that (Sempack is my witness) a world system has to come. But you can’t fight time and fate and scientific and mechanical progress. You don’t get a chap like Bullace grasping an idea like that. And Bullace is our class, Cynthia; he is the rule and we are the exceptions. For him therefore it has to be a conspiracy. If he finds his blessed Empire is losing the game, or to put it more exactly, if he finds the game is evaporating away from his blessed Empire, then there must be cheating. There is an enemy bewitching us and there ought to be a witch-smelling. (If only it was half as simple!)

“They call the witch Bolshevism. The Red Red Witch of the World. They pretend to themselves that there is a great special movement afoot to overthrow British trade, British prestige and the British Empire. Wicked men from Moscow are the real source of all our troubles. The miners are just their ‘tools.’ You remember old fool Bullace saying that. If it wasn’t for Moscow the miners would like lower pay and longer hours. Ask for them. So you just take something that you call Bolshevism by the throat and kill it, and everyone will be happy.

“You can call almost anything Bolshevism for this purpose. You tackle that something and kill it and then the dear old Nineteenth Century will be restored and go on for ever and ever and ever.

“This is what I mean when I say that this trouble here is on a false issue. The miners and workers haven’t the ghost of an idea of what they are up against. They are out because their lives are squalid and their prospects dismal. They object to carrying all the hardship of the shrinkage of England’s overseas interests and investments. To them it is just the old story of the employer trying to screw them down. They don’t connect it yet with the decline of Britain as a world market and a world bank or anything of the sort. The reactionary party in the goverment, the ‘sojers’ as we call it, on the other hand are prancing about saving the country from an imaginary Social Revolution. You see the miss?

“The goverment lot, both Class One and Class Two, wants a fight. Class One to shift their losses on to labour and Class Two to exorcise the phantom of decay. Class One just wants to win. But if Class Two gets the least chance to make it a real bloody fight it will. They want to bully and browbeat and shoot and confuse everything in wrath and hate. They will make silly arrests; they will provoke. If they get a chance of firing into a crowd, they will do it. If they can have an Amritsar in Trafalgar Square they will. They want to beat the Reds and then tie up the Trade Unions hand and foot — and trample. And that, my dear, is the dangerous side of the present situation.

“What adds to its danger is that the miners are being led too stiffly. I sympathise with them, but I see they aren’t playing to win — anything solid. If Cook can, he will give our Bullaces an excuse. Cook is Bullace in reverse. Perhaps there is some Moscow about Cook. Or he shares a dream with Bullace. He dreams Bullace’s nightmare as a paradise. Both dreamers.

“So far our patient, humorous, common English hasn’t given the goverment a chance. But anywhere now, an accident might happen. Some silly provocation. An ugly crowd. Or pure misunderstanding. It’s touch and go these days. I have said it is a silly situation, but also it is a dangerous one. And above all it is a game of false issues. Nothing fairly meeting anything else. Nothing being plainly put, the real world situation least of all. Two different things. Labour wanting to be comfortable in a time of slump and the old Empire lot wanting to feel as lordly as ever in a spell of decline. And the common man with his head spinning. This sort of thing:—”

Came a queer little drawing of which Mrs. Rylands only discovered the import after some moments of attention.

Labour Mr. Englishman The Goverment N.B. The fellow on the right has a gun.

“There my dear Cynna is a long history, tediously told, but I think it gives the general shape of this business here in England up to date. On one hand workers striking wisely or not, against shrinkage and going down in the scale of life; on the other a goverment, a governing class, all of our sort, coal-owners, landowners, industrials and financiers, anticking about, believing or pretending to believe we are fighting Red Revolution, and setting out in good earnest under cover of that to kill or cripple trade unionism and labourism generally. Much good it will do their blessed Empire if they do. Against time and fate.

“But can you imagine the solemn glory of an owl like Jix, in the midst of all this? Can you imagine what I have to put up with at the club from the old fools and the young fools burning to ‘give these Bolsheviks a lesson’? And the tension in the air when I go to investigate Uncle Robert. Meanwhile the reasonable, kindly, unsuspicious English common public is so puzzled, so good-humoured, so willing to do anything that seems tolerant and helpful and fair, and so ignorant of any of the realities!

“Hind told me yesterday of a bus-driver who had struck, in all loyalty to his trade union and then went and hunted up the young gentleman from Oxford who had been put in charge of his bus, just to tell him a few points he ought to know about handling a great heavy bus. What was it the old Pope said? Non Angli sed Angeli— simple-minded angels. Fancy trying to shift mere pecuniary losses on to the daily lives of men of that quality!”

So ended the Fifth Part. The sixth and last part was headed simply:—

“About myself and Cynthia.

“And now lastly, my darling, what am I doing? Nothing. Going about with my mouth open in the wonderful spectacle of England paralysed by its own confusion of mind. Baiting Uncle Robert. Reading the dreams of Mr. Sempack and comparing them with the ideas of the British Gazette. Learning something perhaps about the way this extraordinary world of ours, as Sempack would call it, fumbles along. And writing to you.

“I don’t know what to do Cynthia? I don’t know where to take hold. This is a world change being treated as a British political and social row. Its roots are away in world finance, gold and the exchanges, and all sorts of abstruse things. It isn’t London or Yorkshire or New York or Moscow; it’s everywhere. Part of everywhere. Where we all live nowadays. No. 1, The Universe, Time. I sympathise with the strikers but I don’t really see what good this general strike is going to do, even if it does all it proposes to do. Throw everything out of gear, but what then? The goverment would have to resign. Who would come in if the goverment went out? Unheard of labour men? Snobs and spouters. Miscellaneous liberal leaders. What difference is there — except for the smell of tobacco — between Asquith and Baldwin? Lloyd George saving the country? Half the liberals and all the labour leaders would see the country in boiling pitch before they let it be saved by Lloyd George Communism and start again? There aren’t three thousand Communists in England and half of them aren’t English.

“On the other hand, I won’t do a hand’s turn to break the strike.

“I feel most horribly no good at all. I have twenty-two thousand a year, I’m a pampered child of this England and I don’t belong anywhere. Dear Uncle Robert drives our great concerns and our fifth share, or thereabouts, is like a trunk tied behind an automobile. I’m an overpaid impostor. Nobody knows me. I’ve got no authority. If I said anything it wouldn’t matter. It would be like someone shouting at the back of a meeting. And even if it did matter it wouldn’t matter, because free speech is now suppressed. There are no newspapers and the broadcasting is given over to twaddle — there was a fellow gassing most improvingly about ants and grasshoppers yesterday — mixed up with slabs of biassed news and anti-strike propaganda. You see one is just carried along by the stream of events — and the stream is hopelessly silly.

“And that brings me round, Heart of my World, to all we were talking about before I left you. How good it was to talk like that just at the end and how good those talks were! People like us, as you said, ought to do. But what are we to do and how are we to do? Where do we come in? It is all very well for old prophet Sempack to lift his mighty nose and talk of the great progressive movements that will ultimately sweep all these things away, but will they? Are they sweeping them away? Even ultimately? This muddle, this dislocated leaderless country, finding its level in a new world so clumsily and dangerously, this crazy fight against a phantom revolution, is Reality. It is England 1926. Sempackia isn’t Reality; this is Reality. People smile about the streets and make dry jokes in our English way, but hundreds of thousands must be hiding worry almost beyond bearing. Anxiety untold, hardship and presently hunger. And the outlook —bad. At any time there may be shooting and killing. Sempack’s great glowing golden happy world is only a dream. A remote dream. I cannot tell you how remote from this disorganised London here.

“All very well to talk of the ultimate reasonableness of mankind, but what chance has ultimate reasonableness when some atavism like Winston collars all the paper for his gibberings and leaves you with nothing to print your appeals to the ultimate reasonableness on; or when a lot of young roughs like your Italian Fascists break up everyone who writes or speaks against their imbecile ideas about the universe and Italy?

“This ultimate reasonableness of Sempack’s is a rare thing, a hothouse plant. It’s the last fine distillation of human hope. It lives in just a few happy corners of the world, in libraries and liberal households. If you smash the greenhouse glass or turn off the hot water it will die. How is it ever coming into the open air, to face crowds and sway millions?

“If he is back there with you I wish you would ask him that. Drive him hard, Cynthia. He ought to come over here.

“Last night my mind was so puzzled and troubled I could not sleep. I turned out long after midnight and prowled down through Westminster and out along the Thames Embankment. There were not so many lights as usual and all those flaring advertisements about whisky and dental cream and suchlike helps to the soul weren’t lit. Economy of power. It made the bridges seem browner and the little oily lights on barges and boats more significant and it gave the moon a chance on the steely black water. I thought you might be looking at the same old moon — at that very moment. It looked hard and a bit cold over here but with you it must have been bigger and soft and kindly. There were very few people about and not a tram running. Cold. Such few people as did pass were for the most part hurrying — home I suppose. I looked at the moon and thought how you would presently be reading over the things I have been trying to tell you and how perplexing they were. I had a great heartache for you, to be with you. I wished I could talk to you instead of just writing to you. Do you remember — it isn’t a week yet, how I sat beside you on your balcony above the old palm trees and talked to you? Not very much. How much I would say now that I couldn’t say then!

“I wandered along the Embankment wondering what was brewing beneath all this frightful foolishness of the strike. Things are surely brewing that will affect all our lives, change all the prospects of that child of ours. A country that has been very proud and great and rather stupidly and easily great, learning its place in a new world. A finer world perhaps later — but bleak and harsh at present.

“London rather darkened, rather unusually quiet — in spite of its good humour — has something about it ——

“Awe?

“It’s like Bovril. I mean, so much of the world’s life is still concentrated here. London is a very wonderful city. I don’t think it is just because I am English that I think that.

“I stood and looked back at the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben and thought of the way the members must be going to and fro in that empty resounding maze of a place with its endless oak-lined passages, everyone rather at a loss as to what was to happen next. Saying silly things to each other, little jokes and so on because they can’t think of anything sensible to say. Futile lot they are at Westminster nowadays when anything real shows its teeth at them. There would probably be more people than usual, but trade union sort of people, standing about in the lobbies. No sight seers. Not the usual mixed crowd. . . .

“My mind ran on to all these riddles we have to guess together, you and I, if we are not to be lost in the general futility. If we are not to be swept along just as everything here is being swept along by forces, too misunderstood to be used or controlled. I thought of what a sterling thing you are so that you almost persuade me I can be sterling. And it came to me all over again that I wasn’t nearly as good a thing as even I might be, nor making nearly enough of myself in spite of all my freedoms and money and position. Nor were any of the people who were wrapped up in the vast, ungracious, mean quarrel made up of fear and hot misunderstandings and the meanness and cowardice of comfortable wealth. Millions of strikers saying their life wasn’t good enough — like some big thing talking in its sleep. And the anti-revolutionaries being firm and unflexible like an uneasy dream when your fist gets clenched. Why didn’t any of these people seem able to wake up? Why was I only awake in gleams and moments like that moment?

“I got into a sort of exalted state out there on the Embankment in the cold moonlight.

“‘Good God!’ I said to you — I said it to you; you can’t imagine how much I have talked to you lately, trying to explain things —‘Can none of us get together in the world to make something of it better than such silly squabbling and conflict as this? Is it a lie that there ever were martyrs — that men have died for causes and set out upon crusades? Is religion over for ever and the soul of man gone dead? And if it isn’t, why is there none of it here? Why are these people all jammed against each other like lumpish things against the grating of a drain? Why is there no league for clear-headedness? Why are there no Fascisti of the Light to balance the black Fascists? Why are none of us banded together to say “Stop!” all these politicians’ tricks, these shams, to scrap all the old prejudices and timidities, to take thought — and face the puzzle of the British position and the real future of England and the world, face it generously, mightily — like men?’

“That much I said or some such thing. I seemed to have a gleam of something — not yet. It is too much to get put together yet. Now I am trying to get what I said and thought back again and to write it down and send it to you so that you can know what I said.”

Abruptly it ended, “Philip.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/meanwhile/book2.10.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30