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

Chapter 4

Flying Sparks

AND now that I am speaking of this widening estrangement of the Tewlers, father and son, I may perhaps go still further beyond this austere limitations I set myself at the beginning and bring the record of several other characters who have figured in this story up-to-date.

You may perhaps want to know about Evangeline Birkenhead who went off with all her belongings in a taxi-cab so precipitately out of this story in Book III, Chapter 19. She jumped out of Edward Albert’s life like a woman who finds herself in the wrong train. She became a respondent, a decree nisi, a decree absolute and that was the end of her for him.

She did have a lover in her mind when she deserted Edward Albert. She was not boasting to Mrs Butter. Her lover was the managing director of the firm of glovers for whom she worked. He was a kindly middle-aged man who had been fascinated by her animation. His first wife had not made him very happy. She was a cold, religious woman, and a short-lived escapade on his part in another direction enabled her to half-divorce him. Only half, because after the decree nisi she was converted to Roman Catholicism and refused to have the decree made absolute, leaving him debarred from any other marriage. So in a state of considerable repression he conceived a very real passion for the bright young Evangeline. He imagined such intelligence into her that almost he evoked it.

He felt too mature and responsible towards her to seduce her, but he showered a devotion upon her that at once delighted and tantalised her. Once or twice they kissed, but he disciplined himself to a sentimental restraint which blinded him to the fact that in a year or so she had grown up very completely. He promoted her to a responsible position in the firm and contrived her trip to Paris to please her. He suffered acutely from her marriage, and, when she sought him out again, he succumbed very readily to her proposals, reinstated her in the business and lived with her as his wife, in a world which is less and less disposed to demand a sight of your marriage lines.

She became extremejy philoprogenitive. She was interested in children; she wanted them. I suppose it was part of her acute sense of children that made her repudiate our unfortunate Henry. She wasn’t going to have a thing made after the fashion of Edward Albert thrust upon her. She resisted every momentary impulse to regard Henry as more than a premature and misbegotten little cuckoo. On the other hand, she elevated Mr Grigson to the highest honours among possible sires. She almost believed the glowing imaginations she wrapped about him. Millie Chaser had to listen at times to revelations about that quiet-seeming, civil-spoken gentleman that threw a languid pallor over the dalliance of Psyche with Cupid. At any rate, the children were healthy, active and good-looking, and Evangeline made, as people say, a remarkably good mother. She had a quick eye for temperatures, symptoms and slackening appetites. Her fourth offspring, the second son, was born a few weeks ago.

She reads the newspapers and she may even go tearing her way through a book that arouses her curiosity. Through her unquestionably magnifying eyes she sees the ever-increasing disaster of the world in terrifying proportions. She is persistent in her struggle to realise some more satisfactory way of securing a good life for her offspring than that confusion promises, she talks to her husband, she worries all the brains she has, and it may be she will wrench something worth while out of it all. She may get the idea of Eutrophy, and that is a good idea. She may grasp the fact that the fate of every child and the fate of the world are inseparable, so that no child on earth now has much of an outlook unless there is a world revolution. Harsh, clamorous and vain though she is at times, the world revolution may yet get a profit out of her energy. She is less of a resultant and more of a will than anyone else in this story.

So much for Evangeline. Mrs Humbelay, I regret to say, for I have an irrational affection for her, died very suddenly of fatty degeneration of the heart, during a London air raid in 1940. She was saying,” It doesn’t stand to reason,” and then she and her voice faded out altogether amidst the uproar. But then her voice always faded out. They did not realise she was dead until they perceived that her lips moved no longer.

Mrs Thump, another valiant woman, kept the standard of English dressmaking flying among the refugees of Torquay. Torquay became a city of refuge for a multitude of people who were elderly or disposed to consider themselves elderly or otherwise excused from any sort of helpful service for the duration of the struggle. But they felt it their duty to maintain a brave face towards Hitler and remain almost defiantly comfortable. And to grumble incessantly at the conduct of affairs. The more the rationing of clothes restrained them from new costumes, the more they appreciated the ability of Mrs Thump — in making over and modernising the ample wardrobes they already possessed.

Doober’s, having, in the words of Mr Doober, stared ruin in the face at the outset of the war, was incorporated in a billeting scheme and did reasonably well in a rough and tumble fashion. It lost its windows when University College was bombed, and subsequently annexed two adjacent houses which were standing empty. It is now a temporary residence under Schedule 9,.but its grant is nearly a year in arrears.

Gawpy, however, who had seemed chained to the establishment for the rest of her life on account of her money, was a type made for war work. She was out at night on her own initiative during the 1940 raids with three thermos flasks of coffee.

“They’ll be wanting coffee,” said Gawpy. She became the right hand woman of Lady Llewellyn Riglandon in her canteen work in the East End of London. That is to say she did most of the work and Lady Llewellyn bore the brunt of the publicity. She was always ready to stand between Gawpy and the photographers.

Mr Chamble Pewter was attached to the new Ministry of Reconstruction in an advisory capacity. His unfailing sense of humour, I am told, did much to restrain the extravagances of imaginative people, and promoted a natural rebuilding of the East End of London, so far as it has been rebuilt, upon traditional lines.

Nuts MacBryde was flighty commended by a magistrate for working indefatigably for thirty-two hours on end extracting casualties from a row of bombed houses in Pimlico, but afterwards got into trouble for looting salvaged bric-a-brac. Bert Bloxham was killed in Lybia and Horry Budd went down with the Hood.

It is possible to give these few disconnected glimpses of various personalities who have passed across the background of the Tewler scene, but several of those incidental individuals have proved untraceable. I do not know what became of Miss Blame, Evangeline’s rival for Edward Albert’s adolescent affections. But then, I never knew whence she came. She may have given up bleaching her hair and got lost in the brown. I could not pick her out of an identification parade. Molly Brown too disappears again among a swarm of other Cockney young women from whom she is indistinguishable. Miss Pooley I heard of last in the postal censorship. Mr Blake at Southsea went on getting older and bitterer like stewed tea. He was found to be hoarding two bars of gold which he ought to have relinquished to the government long ago; he was fined, but he escaped any further penalties on account of his age and infirmity. He seems to have been killed in the raid on Portsmouth in April 1940, and his book, Professors So–Called, And Performances, if ever it was written, must have perished with him,. . . .

These notes are in the nature of an interim report. This is how these individuals flew this way and that according to their natures,, in this opening phase of an ultimate world revolution which is still only like a fire beginning to-burn, They are the sparks of a whirling torch, leaving traces as they fly. The fire may blaze on or die down. All men are political animal — one cannot hammer that in too persistently — and now their fates are bound together in one. The great wheel of human fate turns, and turns more and more swiftly, either to fling off its human burthen into the void altogether, or, if that human burthen does after all develop sufficient tenacity, to carry it flaring on to a new phase of infinitely more vigorous living.

Let us take our last view of Tewler from the extreme outer rim of that circling wheel of destiny.

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