You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 1

Catspaws

THE unpleasant buzzing of disturbing ideas and untoward events that Edward Albert had kept at a distance for the first ten years of his contentment in Morningside Prospect crept nearer to him by such imperceptible degrees that it is almost impossible to mark any definite date for the end of his agreeable stagnation. Take Morningside Prospect throughout the week of years that preceded the actual onset of the Great Warfare. What touch of foreboding wrinkled the smooth reflection it presented to the world? What catspaws warned it of the gathering hurricane?

The World War of 1914–18 had not struck the Tewler imagination as bringing with it a new ordering of life for mankind. It was, from the Tewler point of view, a fight like a dog-fight for the upper hand among things called Powers, essentially the same in their nature. They rose and they fell, like football clubs. It was just another chapter of the old history. The academic Tewlers who taught history throughout the world knew nothing, and almost passionately wanted to know nothing, of the space-time process that continually puts a fresh face on life and continually sweeps away the working appearances of the past. Their mental equipment could not handle such ideas. So how could they be expected to transmit them?

There was not a country in the world where what passed for the teaching of history was more than a training in national conceit and xenophobia, and Edward Albert, according to his rank and scale, participated in the prevalent mental perversity. He was ready at any time to assert that the scenery of England, the wild flowers of England, the skilled labour of England (when not disturbed by foreign agitators) the horsemanship and seamanship of England, the gentry of England, the agriculture of England, the politics of England, the graciousness and wisdom of her Royal Family, the beauty of the Englishwomen, their incurable healthiness of mind and body, were not to be surpassed, not even to be disputed by any other people. For that he “stood up”, and all Morningside Prospect, all England, from Sir Adrian von Stahlheim down to the dirtiest child coughing its life out in the dirtiest slum of East London “stood up.” And all over the world, with the simple substitution of whatever name the local, community happened to possess, Homo Tewler was of the same persuasion.

But the various British and French and American varieties of the species were now more cock-a-hoop and contented, because they had won the great war, than was Homo Tewler var. Teutonicus, who was suffering acutely in his pride and material conditions through having lost it. He was gradually persuading himself that he had never lost the war, but had been cheated in some complicated way out of his victory, and he was screwing himself up, through his schoolmasters, professors, politicians, industrialists, romantic pederasts and out-of-work professional soldiers, to the idea of a return match with the great Powers that would restore and realise his dream of world ascendency. Homo Tewler Gallicus was uncomfortably aware of this state of mind beyond the frontier, but Anglicanus and Americanus thought this awareness uncharitable. . . .

One might go on thus describing the Tewler mentality in terms of that masterpiece of Tewler thought, published in 1871, The Fight In Dame Europa’s School. To that period stuff, to the same old nationalist mythology, the schoolmasters of each successive generation put back their prey. . . .

Yet certain things did appear dimly beneath the surface of these traditional appearances, as being novel and challenging even to Edward Albert. A wave of ill-conceived and ill — organised expressions1 of popular discontent that disturbed the tranquil resumption of power and property by the larger salesmanship and die old authorities in the Period of Reconstruction, would have passed without any but the most incidental remarks by the contemporary historian in the general sauve qui peut (and then grab a bit more) of the influential classes, if it had not been for the complete collapse of the established social order throughout the vast areas of Russia. There had been social upthrusts in the past, the Commune in Paris, and talk of socialism in England, but no normally educated English child was ever allowed to know anything about these things. “‘Oo are these Bolsheviks?” Edward Albert had asked old Mr Blake in the middle Doober days, when the decision of Russia to go out of the Great War was shocking the minds of Power-politics-fans ‘throughout the world.

“Thieves and bloody murderers,” said old Mr Blake. And then and subsequently he confided to Edward Albert the horror of this Sovietic Russia that had come upon the world. These Bolsheviks were hate and evil incarnate; they put Satan in the shade; they delighted in bloodshed, lust and the repudiation of their just debts. They shared their women in common and drove out their children to grow up like wild animal in the woods. They had massacred millions of people; every day they had a massacre before breakfast. This man Lenin was conducting frightful orgies in the Kremlin, and his wife was prancing about covered with the Crown jewels and any others she could lay hands on. Nobody in Russia had had anything to eat for months. The rouble went down and down. Mr Blake had bought roubles when there was reason to suppose they would recover, and had they recovered? And he had had a bit in Lena Goldfields. No good crying over spilt milk.

The streets of Moscow, he explained, were littered with dead —“murdered people like you and me.” You had to pick your way among them. Everywhere the Churches had been turned into anti-God Museums. Everywhere aristocrats and respectable people were being treated with incredible brutality and bestiality. Mr Blake seemed to have sources of information of his own, and he gave Edward Albert the most circumstantial and revolting details with an indignant gusto. “Take, for instance, something I heard the other day. . . . ”

“You’d wonder how they can bring themselves to do it,” said Edward Albert, not doubting in the least. Old Mr Blake offered no explanation.

The newspapers Edward Albert glanced over and the talk he heard about “these here Bolshies” during the two decades of later Georgian decadence, did little to attenuate the shock of those early impressions. When he blended his mind with the general unanimities of Morningside Prospect, he found a practical agreement that for the rest of the world outside the Soviet sphere, the less one thought about Russia the better, the “Bolshies” were thorough rascals and also blind fanatics, they were incredibly incompetent and a menace to the whole world; Stalin was just another Tsar, he was certain to be assassinated and he would found a new dynasty; private enterprise would be restored because you cannot do without it. Communism did not matter; it was spreading insidiously; it stirred up a lot of discontent among the working classes, and it ought to be put down with a firm hand. It was the hidden hand of Communism that caused labour unrest that kept wages and prices, rates and taxes, mounting and mounting, to the serious disadvantage of decent independent people who had retired and wanted to keep retired.

So round and round they went, perpetually evading the realisation that there was something in the stars and in the wicked hearts of men that would not endure Morningside Prospect for very much longer, whatever else ensued,

Mr Pildington of Johore was disposed to take a serious view of Communist activities in the East. These frightful ideas were spreading in India and China and even in Japan.

“They nibble and they nibble at our prestige. It’s no laughing matter.”

“These ideers,” said Edward Albert gloomily.

“Let’s hope it will last our time,” said Mr Pildington and turned to pleasanter topics, . . .

So the first transient intimations of social revolution appeared and vanished in Edward Albert’s mind; the sense of something out of order and something impending. But it was not simply the Bolshie menace alone. There was the whisper of something unsatisfactory and inadequate in the control of public affairs. In the great days of Gladstone and Disraeli, political life had been pompous and respected. Gentlemen in top hats and frock coats, used parliamentary language, obeyed the division bell, and passed through the division lobbies, and no Briton doubted that the Mother of Parliaments was the ultimate legislative and administrative machine. Then as the century unfolded, the new journalism, the unruly Irish, the appearance of a Labour Party (in all sorts of hats), votes for women and women members of Parliament, the accumulating effects of elementary education, robbed the legislature, step by step, of its male and gentlemanly prestige.

This new Parliament was by no means as agreeable to the larger Tewlers, the salesmen, the great interests and profit-making enterprises, as the old. Parliament was passing out of the hands of an essentially conservative oligarchy into those of an incoherently progressive democracy, and the oligarchy, through its press lords and its social and business influences, was developing a spirit of resistance to Parliamentary institutions, to the taxation and control of enterprise and the ever — increasing expenditure upon public services. Everywhere in the pseudo-democratic countries the process followed parallel lines. The newly enfranchised masses, awakening to the power of the vote, were reappropriating the goods of the community bit by bit to a collective use, and everywhere among the employers and wealthy, the spirit of resistance sought expression. Everywhere, in the Scandinavian countries, in blue-swastika Finland, in America after the socialisations of the New Deal in France, in Spain before Franco, there were Quislings seeking a saviour from this awakening democracy and not knowing to whom to turn.

“Parliament is played out,” said this gathering counter. revolution. “Democracy is played out.”

Mr Copper of Caxton felt the need of some resistance to these unending concessions to labour demands. “What this country needs,” said Mr Copper, “is leadership, firmer leadership. We want a middle-class party led by a Man.” Mr Stannish of Tintern was inclined to agree with Mr Copper, but Mr Droop of London Pride, who was suspected of religious unsoundness, was disposed to be critical not of the idea but of the leader towards whom their thoughts were turning. He exhibited newspaper pictures and invited his neighbours to look at them.

“He’s herring-jawed, and I like teeth that meet,” said Mr Droop. “Why does he dress up in this sort of tights he wears? His shape ain’t English. It isn’t even decent, He seems to attach too much importance to his behind. Look at that one. It’s a sort of hind bosom he’s got. And why does he imitate them Dagos? Can’t he think anything out for himself? Anything fresh? Fine outlook for us to have a leader without an original idea in his head! Ask him what we are to do, and he’ll go round asking, What would Musso do? If we want a strong Englishman, let’s have a strong English Englishman with a mind of his own, and not that sort of flibberty-gibbet. Flibberty-gibbet, I call him. Something that sways about and dangles. For good old England? No, thank you.”

“Well, anyhow, we’ve got to be quit of this Parliament nonsense,” said Mr Copper, “and all this criticising of everybody and doing nothing, while the Bolshies and Jews run away with everything we’ve got.”

“Jews?” said Edward Albert, questioning himself.

It is interesting to note that our specimen Englishman for the first thirty years of his life was practically unaware of contemporary Jews. He thought they were a disagreeable lot of people in the Bible whom even God had had to give up at last, and that had been the end of them. We lived in the New Dispensation. He went to school with Jews and half-Jews and quarter-Jews and never perceived any distinctive difference between them and his other school-fellows. He thought Circumcision was something religious, and enquired no further into the matter. Was Buffin Burleybank a Jew? Was Jim Whittaker? Was Evangeline Birkenhead, on either side, Jewish? It never occurred to Edward Albert to ask, and there is no need to introduce irrelevant information into this story. If Jews are so different you ought to be able to tell.

But as the vague uneasiness of the Georgian decadence spread and sought forms of expression, it was necessary to protect oneself from any sense of responsibility in the matter by finding scapegoats, and almost any outstanding group of people was exposed to the honour of vicarious atonement. A certain section of the mixture of peoples called the Jews, especially those hailing from Eastern Europe, is ghetto-conscious and suffers from an. Adlerian assertiveness, and it has always been a temptation to bright young men of the Armenoid type to set up as “champions” for their “people”, to revive the sense of being downtrodden if it threatens to wane and insist upon a preferential association. Jew must help Jew. Such economic bad manners reveal a universal human tendency; Scotchmen hang together, Welshmen control the milk and drapery trades in London, and so on; only the drastic contempt of more broadly civilised individuals can do anything to correct this exclusiveness.

Unhappily at the conclusion of the 1914–18 phase of the world war, the professional Jewish “champions” set themselves with particular energy to inflame this racial segregation in every possible way and to ignore as blatantly as possible the common need for a world settlement. They did not want to go on to a new world; they headed their “people” for Zion, They became Maccabean, they became heroic; boys in West Kensington dreamt of being Davids and their sisters Esthers, No public man, no writer, no journalist could go anywhere without having the Jewish Problem thrust into his face as though it was the one supreme interest of mankind. He was threatened implicitly or explicitly with boycotts and mischief if he refused his appointed ro1e as a Gideonite, hewer of wood and a drawer of water for the Great Race. The mildest, most broadminded of humanitarians found themselves provoked into saying, “Oh, damn those Jews!”

Admittedly the Jews are tactless and vain and clannish but that after all is the worst that can be said about the worst of them. The most they did was to irritate. The great Jewish conspiracy is and always has been a fantasy.

But it was disastrous of these champions and leaders of Jewry, considering how widely dispersed and how vulnerable their “people” were, to make them so conspicuous in a world in urgent need of scapegoats. Homo Tewler Teutonicus, licking his sore vanity after defeat, found himself all too ready to be persuaded that he had been betrayed to defeat by the Jews. Morningside Prospect throughout the western world, looking for some scapegoat to explain the increased rocking of the financial boat, found it plausible to attribute it to “international finance” and easy to believe that international finance was essentially Jewish, It is not. It is less so than ever it was.

And come to think of it, said the Christian Churches, why, in spite of all our educational efforts, are congregations shrinking and our people losing their religious ardour? Some one, something, not ourselves, must be to blame. Why are our flocks restricting their birth-rate, while Jews, as we all know, invariably have enormous families? Why is there this increasing incredulity in the beautiful incomprehensible dogmas of our religion? How can people disbelieve what they cannot possibly understand unless they are stirred up by mischief-makers? And what is there at the back of this upset in Godless Russia, which was once so devoted to the Little Father on earth and his and Our Father in Heaven?,You can read all about the ramifications of these satanic plottings in Mrs Nesta Webster’s Secret Societies and Subversive Movements. Or you can study how the new pogromism was revived in that curious and impudent forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. There you see how craziness festers into mania.

That, in terms of general contemporary history, is the why and wherefore of the world epidemic of pogrom fever in the second Georgian period, and that is why Edward Albert, our microcosm, leaning over his garden gate and talking to Mr Copper, remarked, “These here Jews seem to be doing a lot of mischief in the world, one way and another.”

And why Mr Copper, already thoroughly infected, replied,

“And we let ’em get away with it — every time.”

You see here in Morningside Prospect in our Edward Albert just the same threefold mental stir that was to be found in the whole Morningside Prospect side of civilisation; the sick dread of some profound rearrangement of economic and social relationships impending, a dread expressing itself defensively in an irrational fear of “Bolshevism “; the same unpleasant realisation of a common nerveless conduct of affairs leading to the craving for a saviour and leader, and the same disposition to discover a scapegoat, for which role the Jewish Champions were already preparing their “people.” The world now and henceforth is doomed to live in an increasing community of interpretations, and these three factors were to be found among the threatened governing classes, all round the globe from pole to pole. The Bolshie, the Jew and the inspired Leader, all essentially imaginary beings, were becoming the three cardinal figures in a new mythology of escape from thought, starkness and courage.

Wherever the pound sterling and the dollar were current and freely exchangeable with local money, this mythology prevailed, masking the hard realities of the abolition of distance, the ever-increasing release of physical and human energy and the gathering resentment of the poor, the exploited and the frustrated majority of mankind. These triple ingredients brewed the final explosion of the Old Order, which that triple mythology prevented men from anticipating and averting.

But if that mythology was world-wide, it still varied greatly in its realisation in different regions of the earth. There were great differences in phase. Homo Tewler in his Western, Scandinavian and Polish varieties was not so widely different from Anglicanus; he presented the same mythological triangle and the same underlying forces, but until America had that rather alarming financial jolt in 1932 which put an end to its “sturdy individualism” for ever, there was not the same apprehension of possible calamity that was setting all Europe peering about for scapegoats and conspirators. But, as the New Deal unfolded, American myth and reality began to take on an increasing parallelism with Europe. In Russia the Muscovite Homo Tewler, after a tremendous constructive effort after the war, and after a phase of experimental strain and stress, lapsed for a time under the autocratic rule of a Saviour, forgetting or liquidating the old Bolshies and feeling no need for any other victims.

Homo Tewler Teutonicus, sharing the new mythology, was nevertheless in a different and more formidable mood than any of its neighbours in the world. It was smarting from a sense of accepted defeat and sustained disadvantage. It was very much in the state of mind of Edward Albert in the days when he endured.the punches of Horry Budd and pretended not to mind them. It was working up to the “Vad-a-nuff-o-vis” phase and the hysterical and vicious smacking of that young gentleman’s face. Sooner or later Homo Tewler Teutonicus was bound to fight. The particular event that. fired the magazine belonged to the chapter of accidents. The British Government played the part of those Bolter’s College Old Boys who lost the match through stupid over-confidence, and so put spunk into Edward Albert. They put spunk in the faltering German patriot. If it had not been the Nazi triumvirate of Goering, Goebbels and Hitler, it might have been the much more formidable Germany of the Strasser brothers. Or some other combination. But at the contemporary level of world intelligence it was as inevitable as dawn a week ahead, that Germany would start a war.

But what the world mind had still to grasp was the tremendous increase in destructive energy that had occurred since the clearing-up wars that followed the Treaty of Versailles. Even the people, the Fascists and Nazis who were most obviously and ostentatiously getting their feet upon the war path, had only a very feeble premonition of the immense smash they were going to make. Many people thought that war was approaching again; even Edward Albert remarked that “all this here armament don’t look like peace for ever, does it? Something ought to be done about it.” But they thought always of the old sort of war and not of war right out of control and a world blown to smithereens. And Morningside Prospect thought no more of warfare on its own golf links than of Martians out of the sky. Talk about disarmament went on among the representative Tewlers gathered at Geneva, but the arms salesmen made sure that these deliberations came to nothing.

Edward Albert became aware of Adolf Hitler, not as a personal enemy who was going to Shatter all the complacencies of his life, but as a strange, rather comic, figure in that pleasantly defeated Germany, somewhen about the time of the Reichstag fire. Mrs Tewler was shopping in Gage and Hopler’s emporium and Edward Albert was waiting for her in die convenient waiting-room beyond the soda fountain and the Hairdressing. He picked up an illustrated paper and found pictures of the Fuehrer in full blast.

“Look at that,” said Edward Albert.

“What’s he so excited about?”

“Politics.”

“Looks as if he ought to be took care of somewhere. He’s worse than that great ugly Mussolini. People like that didn’t ought to be let go about loose, all dressed up and ‘owling and threatening everyone who don’t agree with them. You don’t know what mischief they may do sensible people.”

Thus Mary, revealing an anticipatory gleam of sapiens in her composition.

“No affair of ours,” said Mr Tewler, true to type, true to the specific quality that will never see what is coming to it until after it has been hit.

Later on he became more aware of the Nazi triumvirate and more particularly of” This here Hitler M.

Mr Copper of Caxton and Mr Standish of Tintern, in particular, were inclined to take a favourable view of this now rising star. “He may have his faults,” said Mr Copper, “but he and Musso stand like bulwarks between us and the Bolshies. Never forget that. And as for his treatment of them Jews — well, they ask for it.”

“They do do that,” said Edward Albert.

“You can’t trust a Jew with a fair-haired girl-servant. Same thing at Hollywood. I expect poor Hitler has his story to tell. And then these French. They’ve treated the Germans badly. How would you like to go out on the links and find some great. Senegalese nigger running about and raping every English girl he sets eyes on? I was reading a bit in a book the other day by Mr Arthur Bryant. There’s things flesh and blood won’t stand.”

That gave Edward Albert food for thought. He tried to think of himself as Sir Galahad clearing Soudanese niggers off the links and comforting their victims by a kind word or so before starting his round.

Mr Pildington, said that bringing coloured soldiers to Europe had been a great mistake. “The tales they take back! No respect left in them. . . . We did it and the French did it and we shall pay for it. Mark my words. . . . ”

“One thing we must never forget about Mussolini,”’ said the vicar of Casing to Mrs Rooter in an earnest friendly talk at Harvest Thanksgiving. “Mustard gas or no mustard gas, he did put back the crucifix in the schools. I could forgive him many things for that.”

But Mrs Tewler took a different view. “These violent men ought to be put under control now,” she said. “They’ll do the world a mischief.”

“The more mischief they do the Bolshies and Jews the better I shall be pleased,” said Edward Albert. “There’s worse things in the world than holding up a hand and saying

“‘Heil Hitler!’ After all, it’s only like standing up to ‘God save the King’ in their German way.”

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