Mr. Direck, secretary of a Boston cultural society, was in England for the purpose of persuading Mr. Britling, a famous writer, to deliver a series of lectures in the United States. Direck found England all that he had expected, as he traveled from London to Matching’s Easy in Essex to meet Mr. Britling. Mr. Britling, however, did not support the illusion. He neither dressed like an Englishman nor acted like an intellectual, and Direck was disappointed, but Mr. Britling’s family and friends aroused his interest. Mr. and Mrs. Britling had three boys. The oldest, Hugh, was the son of Mr. Britling’s first wife. In addition to the immediate family, an old aunt and a young German tutor, Heinrich, lived in the house. Mr. Britling’s secretary Teddy, his wife Letty, and her sister Cissie lived in a cottage nearby. Direck fell in love with Cissie, a vivacious and intelligent girl.
Largely because of Cissie, Direck zestfully entered into the entertainments of the Britling household; at times, he almost forgot the real reason for his visit. Several times, however, he and his host had serious discussions. Once they spoke about possible war with Germany. Mr. Britling said the idea was nonsense; it had been expected for a long time and had never happened. Unknown to Direck and Mr. Britling, however, an attempt was at that moment being made to kill Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria. The fatal march of events had begun.
One morning, Mr. Britling took Direck on a ride around the countryside. Mr. Britling, a poor driver, was involved in an accident with a motorcycle. He was not hurt, but Direck broke his wrist. The accident provided an opportunity for Direck to prolong his stay at Matching’s Easy. Meanwhile, war brewed behind the scenes. France was unsettled. The British were troubled with civil war in Ireland. Heinrich anxiously questioned Mr. Britling about the war. Mr. Britling was still confident that Germany could not be so foolish as to fight the rest of the world.
When the time finally came for Direck to leave Matching’s Easy, he decided he could not go without confessing his love to Cissie. Because she had not yet made up her mind about her love for him, Direck left for a tour of Europe. He felt hopeful because Cissie had not definitely rejected him.
Mr. Britling was also involved in a love affair. He and his wife had ceased to love each other years before, but they cooperated admirably to run their pleasant household. Life ran smoothly at home. Away from home, there was Mrs. Harrowdean, a widow. The love affair between her and Mr. Britling did not run smoothly. At the time, they had ceased to see each other and were quarreling by mail.
The threat of war crept forward. Heinrich was called home for mobilization, and he left sadly. He did not believe in war. The Britlings urged him to stay, but he said that he must serve his country.
Germany invaded France, and Russia invaded Germany. Although forced to readjust his thinking, Mr. Britling firmly believed that Germany could never win. With a troubled mind, he drove into the country and was half-determined to call on Mrs. Harrowdean; on the way, however, he began to think of what the war would mean to the world. Instead of going to see Mrs. Harrowdean, he returned home to his writing desk. The war had arrived to fill the mind of Mr. Britling to the exclusion of everything else.
When the Germans attacked Belgium, England declared war. Direck, who had been in Germany when war was declared, returned immediately to England, where he found Cissie thinking only of England and the war. As an American, Direck remained only an interested spectator.
Gradually it dawned on Mr. Britling that Germany could not easily be beaten. The Britling household slowly became involved in the war. First Teddy and then Hugh volunteered. At last, Mr. Britling got a job as a constable guarding bridges and...
(The entire section contains 1126 words.)
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