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

Chapter 3

Tewler as Ever

EDWARD ALBERT TEWLER is still alive. I am afraid he at least is lost to the revolution. I have told his poor sordid story and that of the people whose lives he helped to spoil; I have mocked at his absurdities and misfortunes and invincible conceit; but all the way along as I wrote it something has protested, “This is not fair. Given a broader education, given air, light and opportunity, would he have been anything like this?”

He is what our civilisation made of him, and this is all it made of him. I have told the complete truth about a contemporary specimen man. This brings me into conflict with my most intimate and trusted critic and with my loyal but anxious publishers. Your hero is detestable, they protest, and there is not really a nice human being in the book Couldn’t you put in some flash of real nobility in him, and can’t you redeem the spectacle by one or two good people, essentially good people, behaving in an exemplary manner, people your readers would like and with whom they could identify themselves and so hold themselves aloof from the harsh veracity of your story? That is exactly what I refuse to do for them. My case is that Edward Albert is not so much detestable as pitiful, and that for the rest I like nearly all my characters as they are — except Mr Chamble Pewter, whom manifestly I loathe. To love without illusions is to be secure against surprise. It is the quintessence of love. I follow in the tradition of Hogarth and Tom Jones and not in the footsteps of Richardson, and I shall count myself wholly damned if I let my friendly advisers induce me to pander to these people for whom reading is nothing better than material far Grandisonian reverie How can there be any “gleams of nobility” in a darkened and ever-darkening world? What light is there to reflect? What I have to say to every reader without exception is this: “This means you. Toil are Tewler. Search your memories sedulously, humble yourself before the truth. You are Tewler and I am Tewler, You and I in this book are not getting together and nudging each other gleefully at the blunders and baseness of a lot of inferior people. They are part of us, they are one body with us, and what they are we are. We perish with them. I am trying to tell you the most hopeful thing in our world and that is that out of our warring spites and meannesses there is the bare possibility of a wilful change in our atmosphere that will revolutionise human life. There is a way out and up, but only a fellowship of resentment and disillusionment can lead to that. We can make no terms with falsehood. Mankind has to be debunked. When Man realises his littleness, his greatness can appear. But not before. The priests, the scribes and pharisees, propitiatory Pilate and compromising Judas, will fight to the last against that release of Cosmopolis and the great brotherhood of sapiens that will ensue.”

How long are we unawakened Cosmopolitans to go on wasting one another and devastating the future? What of the next generation that is straggling about in an evasive world that still lacks the wit to achieve peace? Young Henry — I meant not to tell you — is in jail, and his father has disowned him. He was involved in a labour riot, and he may or may not have been party to the killing of a man. His trial was brief and farcical. He may be young enough to save when the great jail delivery of the world revolution comes, but that will have to be soon for him to profit by it.

Edward Albert married again late last year. Something of the sort was inevitable. He met a widowed lady of independent means in a hydropathic establishment which has reopened in the Peak District. A certain flirtatiousness, small attentions, agreement in casual observations, awakened a mutual interest. They drifted together and kept together like two bits of wood on a stream. They looked for each other at breakfast-time and after dinner they wore not divided. They sat out on the terrace for a long time in silence side by side in the moonlight, and broke into autobiographical reminiscence. They realised they were both creatures of circumstances. “Life,” said Edward Albert, “is one of the most ‘strordinary things there is. There’s nothing else quite like it.” (“Nothing,” agreed the lady.)

“Who could have told, you and me would be sitting here like this three weeks ago? It’s just as if it ‘ad to be. . . . ”

After that, mutuality developed at a headlong pace. They discovered that they were both dreadfully lonely, that they had reciprocal needs, and that one household halves the expense of two.

So they married and snuggled up for mutual comfort and reassurance, and because the price of everything was going up and up. She was a warm embracing woman and a great comfort to Edward Albert. His digestion improved and he ceased to brood on cemeteries and epitaphs.

This marriage widened the breach between father and son. The boy objected to calling the new Mrs Tewler “mother”, and seemed lacking in appreciation of her very generous and abundant blandishments. When she attempted to kiss him, he ducked and hurt her lip with his forehead.

When he got his discharge from the army he stayed only a few weeks at home, devouring books from the public library — he was a glutton for reading — and talking as little as possible to his father and step-mother. “You can’t say a word to him without his flying out at you,” Edward Albert complained.

“I don’t know what’s come over the boy. Nothing’s right for him.” It was to their mutual relief that Henry proclaimed his intention of going to South Wales.

Edward Albert displayed parental solicitude that was ill requited. “‘Ave you thought out where you’re going an4 what you’re going to do?” he asked. “You can’t be too careful, my boy.”

“I’m going to work there.”

“And what work?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

Pretty thing for a son to say to his father!

Then came the dreadful news that them Agitators had got hold of him, and then the tragedy.

It made Edward Albert very unhappy. Constantly he would recur to it.

“What did I ever do that the boy should turn against me? Him and Mary, they seemed to lock their ‘earts against me. Mary too. . . . Locked ‘earts.”

“There’s a sort of bitterness in him about you. I wonder sometimes if it isn’t jealousy of that George’s Cross of yours.”

“I don’t like to think that of ‘Enery,” considered Edward Albert. “I reely don’t. Even now. Couldn’t ‘e feel pride in his own father? No. ‘E’s not so bad as that. It’s these ideers he has, right-down wrong ideers. It’s a sort of disease. I remember a talk I had with him when he thought he might be sent to France to put down them syndicalists. I warned him then.

“That was before you came along, my lady. I remember it as though it was yesterday. My ‘ealth wasn’t too good, the posts were all anyhow because of the general strike, and it looked as though he might not find his father when he came back. These ideers of his I told him were all wrong, but I didn’t know then where they would lead him. It’s been ‘ard to see the way ‘e’s gone and ‘arder still to do my duty by King and Country against my own son. Maybe I let Mary spoil ’im and make too much of him. She had a sort of — well, foolishness, for him. I often said she loved him more than she did me. . . . Often.”

Mrs Tewler III shook her head in agreement and said no more for the time being. She was very punctilious never to say a word, not a single word, against Mary. . . .

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