John Galsworthy: The monstrous injustice of conflating chauvinism with common drunkenness
From The Burning Spear (1919)
At this moment a little white dog, who accompanied the old lady, began sniffing round Mr. Lavender, and Blink, wounded in her proprietary instincts, placed her paws at once on her master’s shoulders, so that he fell prone. When he recovered a sitting posture neither the old lady nor the little dog were in sight, but his hat was hanging on a laurel bush. “There seems to be something fateful about this morning,” he mused; “I had better go in before the rest of the female population -” and recovering his feet with difficulty, he took his hat, and was about to enter the house when he saw the young lady watching him from an upper window of the adjoining castle. Thinking to relieve her anxiety, he said at once:
“My dear young lady, I earnestly beg you to believe that such a thing never happens to me, as a rule.”
Her face was instantly withdrawn, and, sighing deeply, Mr. Lavender entered the house and made his way upstairs. “Ah!” he thought, painfully recumbent in his bed once more, “though my bones ache and my head burns I have performed an action not unworthy of the traditions of public life. There is nothing more uplifting than to serve Youth and Beauty at the peril of one’s existence. Humanity and Chivalry have ever been the leading characteristics of the British race;” and, really half-delirious now, he cried aloud: “This incident will for ever inspire those who have any sense of beauty to the fulfilment of our common task. Believe me, we shall never sheathe the sword until the cause of humanity and chivalry is safe once more.”
Blink, ever uneasy about sounds which seemed to her to have no meaning, stood up on her hind legs and endeavoured to stay them by licking his face; and Mr. Lavender, who had become so stiff that he could not stir without great pain, had to content himself by moving his head feebly from side to side until his dog, having taken her fill, resumed the examination of her bone. Perceiving presently that whenever he began to talk she began to lick his face, he remained silent, with his mouth open and his eyes shut, in an almost unconscious condition, from which he was roused by a voice saying:
“He is suffering from alcoholic poisoning.”
The monstrous injustice of these words restored his faculties, and seeing before him what he took to be a large concourse of people – composed in reality of Joe Petty, Mrs. Petty, and the doctor – he thus addressed them in a faint, feverish voice:
“The pressure of these times, ladies and gentlemen, brings to the fore the most pushing and obstreperous blackguards. We have amongst us persons who, under the thin disguise of patriotism, do not scruple to bring hideous charges against public men. Such but serve the blood-stained cause of our common enemies. Conscious of the purity of our private lives, we do not care what is said of us so long as we can fulfil our duty to our country. Abstinence from every form of spirituous liquor has been the watchword of all public men since this land was first threatened by the most stupendous cataclysm which ever hung over the heads of a great democracy. We have never ceased to preach the need for it, and those who say the contrary are largely Germans or persons lost to a sense of decency.” So saying, he threw off all the bedclothes, and fell back with a groan.
“Easy, easy, my dear sir!” said the voice.
“Have you a pain in your back?”
“I shall not submit,” returned our hero, “to the ministrations of a Hun; sooner will I breathe my last.”
“Turn him over,” said the voice. And Mr. Lavender found himself on his face.
“Do you feel that?” said the voice.
Mr. Lavender answered faintly into his pillow:
“It is useless for you to torture me. No German hand shall wring from me a groan.”
“Is there mania in his family?” asked the voice. At this cruel insult Mr. Lavender, who was nearly smothered, made a great effort, and clearing his mouth of the pillow, said:
“Since we have no God nowadays, I call the God of my fathers to witness that there is no saner public man than I.”
It was, however, his last effort, for the wriggle he had given to his spine brought on a kind of vertigo, and he relapsed into unconsciousness.