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John Galsworthy: On the embarrassing consequences of bellicose pontification

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

John Galsworthy: Selections on war

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John Galsworthy
From The Burning Spear (1919)

Writer John Galsworthy

“Believe me,” continued Mr. Lavender, “no task in these days is so important as the cultivation of the soil; now that we are fighting to the last man and the last dollar every woman and child in the islands should put their hands to the plough.” And at that word his vision became feverishly enlarged, so that he seemed to see not merely the young lady, but quantities of young ladies, filling the whole garden.

“This,” he went on, raising his voice, “is the psychological moment, the turning-point in the history of these islands. The defeat of our common enemies imposes on us the sacred duty of feeding ourselves once more. ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to – Oh!” For in his desire to stir his audience, Mr. Lavender had reached out too far, and losing foothold on his polished bedroom floor, was slipping down into the lilac-bush. He was arrested by a jerk from behind; where Blink, moved by this sudden elopement of her master, had seized him by the nightshirt tails, and was staying his descent.

“Is anything up?” said the young lady.

“I have lost my balance,” thickly answered Mr. Lavender, whose blood was running to his head, which was now lower than his feet. “Fortunately, my dog seems to be holding me from behind. But if someone could assist her it would be an advantage, for I fear that I am slipping.” “Hold on!” cried the young lady. And breaking through the low privet hedge which separated the domains, she vanished beneath him with a low gurgling sound.

Mr. Lavender, who dared not speak again for fear that Blink, hearing his voice, might let go to answer, remained suspended, torn with anxiety about his costume. “If she comes in,” he thought, “I shall die from shame. And if she doesn’t, I shall die from a broken neck. What a dreadful alternative!” And he firmly grasped the most substantial lilac-boughs within his reach, listening with the ears of a hare for any sound within the room, in which he no longer was to any appreciable extent. Then the thought of what a public man should feel in his position came to his rescue. “We die but once,” he mused; “rather than shock that charming lady let me seek oblivion.” And the words of his obituary notice at once began to dance before his eyes. “This great public servant honoured his country no less in his death than in his life.” Then striking out vigorously with his feet he launched his body forward. The words “My goodness!” resounded above him, as all restraining influence was suddenly relaxed; Mr. Lavender slid into the lilac-bush, turned heels over head, and fell bump on the ground. He lay there at full, length, conscious of everything, and especially of the faces of Blink and the young lady looking down on him from the window.

“Are you hurt?” she called.

“No,” said Mr. Lavender, “that is – er – yes,” he added, ever scrupulously exact.

“I’m coming down,” said the young lady.

“Don’t move!”

With a great effort Mr. Lavender arranged his costume, and closed his eyes. “How many lie like this, staring at the blue heavens!” he thought.

“Where has it got you?” said a voice; and he saw the young lady bending over him.

“‘In the dorsal region, I think,” said Mr. Lavender. “But I suffer more from the thought that I – that you -“

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