(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Clive Briggs was home on rest leave after the disaster of Dunkirk. He went first to Leaford and then to Gosley, both resort towns on the coast of England. At a band concert in Gosley, he met Prudence Cathaway, who was stationed nearby with the women’s army corps. Prue was of an upper middle-class family and Clive was from the slums, but they were attracted to each other and became lovers the second time they were together.

Prue told him of her family. Her grandfather had been a general in the last war and felt unwanted and useless in this one; her father was a doctor, a famous brain specialist. She told him of her Aunt Iris, who wanted only to get to America and who pretended that she wanted her children to be safe when she really feared only for herself. Iris’ brother was in America, buying steel for the British government. Prue also told Clive that she had broken her engagement to a conscientious objector; because she was ashamed for him, she had joined the W.A.A.F.

Clive seemed reluctant to talk about himself, other than to say he had been born in the slums. In fact, it was many days before Prue knew he was in the army and had been in the rearguard action at Dunkirk.

When they found that Prue could obtain a leave that would give them ten days together, they went to Leaford. Most of the time they were quite happy, but each time Prue mentioned the war, Clive became angry and sullen and seemed to get pleasure from taunting her about her family. Sometimes they quarreled without knowing the reason and were reconciled only because of their desire for each other.

During the last five days of their stay, Clive’s friend Monty joined them. Monty was also born in the slums. Monty had told Prue of Clive’s heroism at Dunkirk, and his story puzzled Prue more than ever. She could understand even less why Clive was so bitter.

While they were at Leaford, air raids became frequent. One night during a heavy raid, Clive told Prue why he would not go back to the army and why he intended to desert. He told her of his childhood, of his illegitimate birth, and of his sordid remembrances of childhood in the slums. He asked her if a country was worth fighting for that ignored its poor. England was still fighting a gentleman’s war, he said, and the leaders were asking the slum boys to win the war and then go back to the mines, factories, and mills from which they had come. He was through. Prue tried to tell him that he must go back to save himself. She said it...

(The entire section is 1023 words.)