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„You Can’t Be Too Careful” is a sketch of one way of life – the life path, cowardly man, in fear, made a lot of dirty tricks. He never forgot that „necessary caution”, and helped unleash the Second world war. He believed everything he was told, he did what he was told. Not it is done by world Affairs, he was only a humble and law-abiding. But he relied all those who would, in the words of wells, „to increase the amount of the world’s evil”. He was one of the men who developed mass support for fascism and reaction. „You Can’t Be Too Careful” is a novel written by H. G. Wells and first published in 1941. It is a satirical novel of one Englishman, a Mr. Edward Albert Tewler, from cradle to grave.
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INTRODUCTION. PLAIN COMMON SENSE
BOOK I. THE BIRTH AND EARLY UPBRINGING OF EDWARD ALBERT TEWLER
I. DARLING BUD
II. MRS HUMBELAY MARVELS
III. MR MYAME DEPLORES SIN
IV. ANIMALISM OF ANIMALS
V. ALL-SEEING EYE
VI. ADVERTISED TO DEATH
BOOK II. THE ADOLESCENCE OF EDWARD ALBERT TEWLER
I. THE HIDDEN HAND
II. THE CRICKET MATCH
III. METAMORPHOSIS OF MAN
IV. FEUDAL STRAIN?
V. TERRIFYING ENTERPRISE
VI. FIRST STEPS IN FRENCH
VII. MR MYAME IS UNEASY
VIII. SNARES FOR MR MYAME
IX. OUT OF THE DEEPS, OH LORD!
X. FAITH AND HOPE
XI. INTRODUCING DOOBERS
XII. MR HAROLD THUMP
XIII. INTIMATIONS OF EMPIRE
XIV. DO BELGIANS SPEAK FRENCH?
XV. THINGS HE MISSED
XVI. BOY INTO MAN
BOOK III. THE MARRYING, DIVORCE AND EARLY MIDDLE AGE OF EDWARD ALBERT TEWLER
I. SPECIES HOMO TEWLER
II. PURITY BY TERROR
III. PEEPING AND PRYING
V. THE THUMP TRAGEDY
VI. MR CHAMBLE PEWTER
VII. THEY COME—THEY GO
VIII. EVANGELINE BIRKENHEAD
XI. TRAP FOR INNOCENTS
XII. MR PIP CHASER
XIII. WEDDING DEFERRED
XIV. FIZZ POP
XV. MAN AND WIFE
XVI. RIFTED LUTE
XVII. HENRY TEWLER BEGINS
XVIII. TEWLER DEFIED
XIX. EXIT EVANGELINE
XXI. MRS BUTTER TAKES PITY
XXII. MORNINGSIDE PROSPECT
BOOK IV. THE POLITICAL LIFE OF EDWARD ALBERT TEWLER
I. FIRST AND LAST: POLITICAL ANIMALS?
BOOK V. HOW EDWARD ALBERT TEWLER WAS OVERTAKEN BY A STORM OF WAR AND DESTRUCTION AND WHAT HE SAID AND DID IN IT
II. THE STORM BREAKS
III. A.R.W. AND H.G.
IV. HEROIC MOMENT
V. THE END OF HOMESTEAD
BOOK VI. GOD, SATAN AND HOMO TEWLER
I. “TEWLER” TO “SAPIENS”
III. TEWLER AS EVER
IV. FLYING SPARKS
V. AND AFTER SAPIENS?
INTRODUCTION. PLAIN COMMON SENSE
“WHAT are ideers?” said Mr Edward Albert Tewler.
“What good are they? What good do they do you?”
Young Tewler had no answer.
“You get these here books,” said Mr Tewler senior.
“You don’t ‘ave to read ‘em. It can’t be good for your eyes, especially nowadays with all this light-saving and everything. And what, do you get out of them?” He paused for his own contemptuous reply….“Ideers!”
“I made good,” Mr Tewler continued, trampling over the rebellious silence of his offspring. “And why? Because I took jolly good care to steer clear of all these Ideers. I made up my mind and I did. What the world wants of a man is Character–and you can’t have much character left if you’ve muddled yourself up with Ideers. See! I ask you–‘ow I made good?”
“You got the G.C.,” said young Tewler. “We’re all proud of you.”
“Very well,” said Mr Tewler senior conclusively.
There was a pause. “All the same,” said young Tewler.
“Ah!” said his father.
“All the same,” said young Tewler. “You got to keep up with the times. Things do change.”
“You don’t change human nature. There’s such things as the Eternal Verities, ‘Enery. Ever ‘eard of ‘em?”
“Yerss. I know. But all this stuff that’s getting about. Like abolishing distance, stopping this air war, having a sort of federal world. If we don’t end war, war will end us. All that.”
“Claptrap,” said his father. “Bawls.”
“Well,” said his offspring. “I was reading a book–”
“There you go!”
“Well, he said anyhow, he wasn’t talking about Ideers. He was talking about facts. That’s what he said. Just as you and me might be.”
“Facts! What are these precious facts of ‘is? In a book!”
“Well, I’m telling you. He says that what with all this invention and discovery that’s been going on life isn’t the same as it used to be. We’ve got so that everybody’s on our doorstep. We’ve got power, more than we ever ‘ad, so as to be able to smash our world to bits. And ‘e says we are smashing it to bits. And what he says is that whether it’s hard, whether it goes against the grain, we can’t go on in the old way. We got to exert ourselves. War, ‘e says, will last for ever unless we get a lot of new things going….”
“Now listen to me, ‘Enery. Who is it ‘as been putting all these Ideers into you?–for Ideers they are, say what you like. Who is it, I ask? Some one who’s written a book? Eh? Some professor or journalist or something of that sort? Some devilish clever chap who isn’t reely anybody at all. Somebody who’d just jump at the chance of getting a ‘undred pounds for writing a book to depress people and not mind what happens. Well, let’s come down to brass tacks. Put him on one side there. As it might be–so. Now here on the other ‘and you’ve got real people, thousands of those who know. Here’s our great Leader. Don’t he know anything, ‘Enery? Who are you and your book-writer to criticise and sit in judgment on ‘im? Here’s all these men of experience in the government, older than you are, wiser than you are, brought up to deal with just these particular things. Here’s business men with great businesses, businesses you haven’t the beginnings of a notion. Don’t they know anything? No? You got ideers about India. Have you ever bin to India, ‘Enery? They ‘ave. You’ve got notions about Japan. What do you know of Japan? There they are, they got the best science, the very fullest information, the knowledge, they’ve learnt everything they could teach ‘em at the universities, let alone the experience, and along comes some–some unresponsible scribbler with his ideers… Unresponsible scribbler, I said, and I repeat it, unresponsible, with his twopenny-halfpenny ideers, arguing and suggesting. ‘E knows this and ‘e knows that. And everybody else is wrong. And off you fly!”
“Well, the world now isn’t so particularly satisfactory…. Falling to pieces like…. Don’t seem to settle down; does it?….”
“It’s as right as it can be. What do you know of the difficulties they got to contend against? You got to trust ‘em. Who are you to set yourself up?”
“All the same you can’t help thinking–”
“Think? yes–I admit that–you got to think, out think in the right way. Think like people round you think. Don’t go rushing about like a dog with a wasp in his ear, with ideers that don’t stand to reason. All this talk of a new world! Brave new world it would be! As the saying goes. Brave New World! Stay put where you are, boy. Do you want to be queer? Do you want to go about talking all this sort of thing just to be larfed at? Suppose–now suppose even there was something in all that stuff you get in books. There’s ‘undreds of books saying this that and the other thing. Who’s to tell you which is right? I ask you. I do put it to you, ‘Enery.”
Edward Albert Tewler’s face was very grave and earnest and full of parental solicitude. His voice lost its faint flavour of querulous protest and became simply affectionate. “You’ll grow out of all this, ‘Enery,” he said. “It’s a sort of measles of the mind. It rubs off. I had it. Not as bad as you, I admit, for I didn’t run the same risks. I was never a great reader, thank God, and when I did read I stuck to safe books. Still I know how it goes….
“Frinstance I was brought up a bit narrer. My mother, she was an angel if ever was, but she was narrer. She got narrer. She was too good to suspect them as got ‘old of her. When it came to Total Immersion and all that and going to meeting Sunday after Sunday I struck. It wasn’t that I lost my faith. No. It grew. It broadened out, my boy. Simple earnest Christianity, says I, and none of your Creeds and Ideers and complications. And that’s what I am, a Simple Believing Christian in a Christian Land. The Lord died to save us, ‘Enery, me and you, and there’s no need to make a song about it. Or risk ketching your death of cold as they wanted me to do. Trust in God and honour the King. That’s good enough for me. Yes.”
He paused. He smiled indulgently at his past.
“A little religious trouble I did ‘ave even after that. I didn’t take things for granted…. That’s not my way. About the ark it was. Curious! I’ll tell you. You see, I bin to the Zoo and suddenly I doubted about whether the ark could ‘ave ‘eld all them animals. I did, ‘Enery. Being clever, that was. Being silly, my boy. It was the Devil put it into me to make a fool of me. Just as though God Ormighty couldn’t pack anything into anything if ‘E ‘ad a mind to. Why, if he’d wanted to. He could’ve put all them animals into a nutshell–all of them. Leastways–a cokernut, say. Easy–
“I saw the light, and so will you, ‘Enery. All this Brave Noo World of theirs! Bunkum New World, says I. Gord larfs at it. Ferget it!… You’ll grow out of it. At heart you’re sound, my boy. You’re the bulldog breed. At heart, when you’re put to the test, you’ll stand up to it as I stood up to it and come out right side up.”
The young man looked mulish still, but he said no more.
The conversation hung fire for a moment.
Then Edward Albert Tewler resumed. “I’m glad to have this talk with you. Now you are going away, I’ve been a bit worried. Seeing you reading so much. There’s other subjects I might talk to you about as father to son–but nowadays people seem to know such a lot. More than ever I did. We won’t go into all that, No…. You may be away a long time, and it’s not so easy to get about now as it used to be. I’ve never been much of a letter-writer….
“There’s all this new sort of fever about. They say it’s the water. Doctors aren’t what they were. Sometimes when I get a fit of them night-stummick-aches of mine. Twisty they are. Make me ‘oiler. May be fancy, but one can’t help thinking. You may come back ‘ere one of these days, my boy, and not find me. No good pulling a long face about it,
“Anyhow I’ve said my say to you. You can’t be too careful about those books. I’d burn the whole lot of them if I had my say, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. Except of course The Book. But those others. Right is right and wrong is wrong, and the simpler you are about that, the better. I’d say that to you, ‘Enery, if these was my last words to you. As maybe they are, almost. You’ll soon be packing….
“That old cemetery there at Highgate. High up and quiet. It’s getting a bit crowded, but I guess they’ll find a corner for me. Don’t forget me, my boy, altogether. And don’t let me be forgotten altogether. Tomb of the Unknown Citizen. Eh? It isn’t much I ask for. You needn’t go to the expense of anything fulsome, my son. No. Just ‘ave my name put there, Edward Albert Tewler, G.C., plain letters on a plain slab, and then just this “–his voice fell a little as though the beauty of his own phrase overcame him: “Deeds not words. Deeds not words. That’s me, ‘Enery….”
So be it. You shall have him unadorned; you shall have his plain unvarnished record. Nothing fulsome about it. This is a plain straight story of deeds and character–not character in general but the character you get in characters. What they did, what they said–there must, you know, be a sound track to a picture nowadays–but nothing like thought, no sort of consecutive thought. No dissertations, no arguments, above all no projects nor incitements nor propaganda, shall break the flow of our narrative; no more of these damned “ideers” shall there be, than mice in the Small Cats’ House. For anything of that sort this tale will leave you unruffled. We just take what comes to us.
Whether it will leave you with quite the biography that floated in the mind of Edward Albert Tewler, G.C., behind that epitaph, is another matter. He scrutinised himself as little as he scrutinised the world about him. Simple as his life had been, he had forgotten many things about it. We cannot recall his past; we shall have to exhume it bit by bit.
One thing we may remark here, and that is that while he imagined he was doing things to the world, the reality was that the world was doing things to him. All he did from first to last was to react to it. “Deeds!” said he, but did he ever do anything to the world about him? It begot and bore him, it moulded and made him. He still lives, but it is the world around him that will decide when the time for his epitaph has come, This is the story of the Deeds and Sayings of Edward Albert Tewler. From his point of view. But like those amusing pictures you find in books on Optics that will turn inside out as you look at them, it is equally the story of this whole universe of Edward Albert Tewler, and he is just the empty shape of a human being at the centre of it–its resultant, its creature.
But here we touch upon the profoundest riddle in this affair called life. It has echoed down the ages. Can Edward Albert, in view of the fact that he is a creature, have such a thing as free will? Could something, a response not merely passive but Satanic, enter into and possess that shape? The answer No has never quite convinced mankind. But this is a matter we must postpone until the end. Plain story we have to tell, but if, in spite of that resolution, plain story leads at last to an insoluble dualism, thither we must go. We may find ourselves free to balance or take sides.
Young Tewler shall not trouble you again. We dismiss him and his poor belated mental fermentation here and now. Don’t ask me what became of him. It would only make you uncomfortable. Let me tell the plain tale of Edward Albert Tewler, G.C., who grew up in that great crowded sunset of human security between 1918 and 1938, before our wars were resumed in real earnest and men were changed to heroes in a night.
Here we have a picture of the modern novel. Look at it hard and alternately you see the vase, the social vessel, and nothing else, and then the social vessel vanishes and you see individuals and nothing else.
BOOK I. THE BIRTH AND EARLY UPBRINGING OF EDWARD ALBERT TEWLER
I. DARLING BUD
IT took Mrs Richard Tewler, his mother, three and twenty hours to bring her only son into the world. He came shyly, not head-first but toe-first like a timid bather, and that sort of presentation always causes trouble. It is doubtful if his reluctant entry into this fierce universe would have occurred even then if it had not been for the extreme inadequacy of the knowledge of what are called preventatives that prevailed in the late Victorian period. People didn’t want children then, except by heart’s desire, but they got them nevertheless. One knew there was some sort of knowledge about it, but one couldn’t be too careful whom one asked, and your doctor also in those days couldn’t be too careful in misunderstanding your discreet hints and soundings. In those days England was far behind Polynesia in that matter. So there you were–and do what you could, you were liable to be caught.
Yet such is the heart of woman that Edward Albert Tewler had been scarcely four and twenty hours in this dangerous world before his mother loved him passionately. Neither she nor her husband had really desired him. And now he was the animating centre of their lives. Nature had played a trick upon them, caught them in a careless moment, and this miracle occurred.
If Mrs Tewler was overcome by love such as she had never known before, Mr Tewler was equally distended by pride. He was the useful repair man to Messrs Colebrook and Mahogany of North Lonsdale Street; a row of great windows they had, in those days, full of the loveliest Chinese porcelain, Danish China, Venetian glass, old Wedgwood and Spode and Chelsea, and every sort of old and modern English ware; and he came up in a green baize apron from somewhere below and considered the case carefully and gave his advice with discretion, and cemented invisibly and filled up gaps and, when necessary, riveted with the utmost skill. He was used to handling delicate, fragile things. But never in his life had he held anything so fragile and delicate as Edward Albert in the nascent stage.
And he had made this wonder .l He himself had made it. He held it in his arms, having promised on his honour not to drop it whatever he did, and he marvelled at its perfection.
It had hair, darkish hair of an extreme softness and fineness. There were no teeth, and its round mouth expressed an artless . astonishment tinged with resentment, but its nose was finished minutely, nostrils and bridge and all, and it had hands, complete hands with little nails–every finger had a miniature nail on it, a perfect finger-nail. One, two, three, four, five fingers–only so delicate! And toes also. Not one missing.
He pointed this out to his wife and she shared his pride. They doubted secretly if anyone else had ever produced so highly finished a product. If you had cared to do so, you could have told the little chap’s fortune from those hands. They were not flat and featureless as you might have expected them to be; already they had all the lines and creases known to palmistry. If no one had ever thought of “This little pig went to market”, I think Mrs Tewler would have invented something of the kind herself. She seemed unable to get over the fact that Edward Albert at the age of a week had as many fingers as his father. And later on, weeks later, when she was pretending to bite them off and gobble them up she was rewarded by Edward Albert Tewler’s first indisputable smile He gurgled and he smiled.
The pride of Richard Tewler took many forms and masks according to his immediate surroundings. The “governor” at Colebrook and Mahogany’s, Jim Whittaker–he had married Jane Mahogany–had heard of the great event.
“All’s well with the Missus, Tewler?” he asked.
“All Sir Garnet, Sir,” said Mr Richard Tewler. “They tell me he weighed nine pounds.”
“That’s a good start,” said Mr Whittaker. “He’ll fall away from that for a bit, but that won’t be anything to worry about. “the firm’s been thinking of a silver mug. If there’s no other godfathers in sight. Eh?”
“Such a nonner,” said Mr Tewler, overwhelmed….
Among the warehousemen and boys downstairs he assumed an air of modest assurance. They attempted badinage.
“So you didn’t get them twins you were counting on, Mr Tooler,” said old Matteriock.
“Sample first,” said Mr Tewler.
“You took your time getting started,” said old Matterlock.
“Better than never starting at all, grandfather.”
“That’s all you know, my boy. Well, now you’ve found out how it’s done, you be careful not to overdo it. What I mean is, don’t make a ‘abit of it.”
“Somebody’s got to keep up the breed,” said Mr Tewler.
Mr Matteriock paused in his packing in order to demolish Mr Tewler by facial play. He featured an opinion of Mr Tewler’s genes, a doubt of his health and beauty, an astonishment at his presumption….
The proud father was invincible. “It ain’t no good, Methuselah. You should see my kid.”
Shackle, .known as the Sniffer because of an objectionable but incurable habit, winked heavily at Matteriock, and wiped his muzzle with his sleeve. “What you ought to do, Tewler, you know, is to stick a notice of it in the Times; births, marriages, and deaths. No, no other paper, just the Times. ‘Mrs Tewler of a son, no flowers by request.’ Just that and the address…. Oh, I know what I’m talking about. I know a chap that did it. In the blasted old Times, and straight off from all over the country they began sending his missus samples of foods and drinks and medicine, and stuff, for the kid and for ‘er. Strengthenin’ things and so on. I do believe there was a bottle of special nourishing stout. Just think of that! Pounds worth it came to.”
For a moment Mr Tewler considered the possibility. Then he put it aside. “Mrs Whittaker might see it,” he said,
“The guv’nor might laugh it off but she wouldn’t. She’d think it a liberty….”
But as he made his way home to Camden Town that night, he found himself repeating in a sort of song, “Mrs Richard Tewler of a son. Mrs Richard Tewler of a son,” He went over the details of the conversation and decided he had had much the better of old Matterlock. And of course it was quite right that one mustn’t make a ‘abit of it.
Still, somewhen there might have to be some one to wear out Edward Albert’s clothes. Children grew so fast they didn’t half wear their clothes out. He’d heard that said. It was almost as cheap to provide for two as for one–two or at the outside three. Not more. “Mrs Richard Tewler of a son.” What would old Matterlock say to that? One in the eye for him. It made him feel quite excited and philoprogenitive, and when he got home, Mrs Tewler thought he had never been more affectionate. “Not yet for a bit, Dickybird,” she said.
She hadn’t called him Dickybird for years…. Later on that idea recurred to them, particularly after some transitory infection had jumped up the temperature of Master Edward Albert to 104° Fahrenheit, “To think of that little cot empty!?” said Mrs Tewler, “What it would be.”
But you cannot be too careful, and the matter had to be considered from every point of view. After all there was no hurry. No need to plunge, If not to-day, then next week or next month. The “governor” had been very nice about Edward Albert, but you never knew how things may be misinterpreted.
“Of course,” said Mr Richard Tewler, “it would sort of look like rushing him for another silver mug. You have to think of that.”
So in the end Edward Albert Tewler remained an only child. A little brother or sister was eliminated altogether from his world of possibility by the unexpected death of his father when he was four. Mr Richard Tewler was crossing the road from Camden Town Tube Station and had just passed behind an omnibus, when he discovered another bearing down upon him from the opposite direction and close upon him. He might have dashed across in front 01 that, but suddenly he stopped dead. It would have been wiser to recoil. You cannot be too careful, and in that instant while he stood uncertain as to the best course to pursue, the big vehicle, which was swerving to pass behind him, skidded and killed him.
Fortunately he had insured his life so fully, taking out a new policy when Edward Albert was born, that on the whole his wife and son were left rather better off than they had ever been before his loss. He had belonged to a Burial Society, and the funeral had a black magnificence of the most satisfying sort. Messrs Colebrook and Mahogany put up a special ceremonial shutter (used normally for royal funerals) at each great window, six of the warehousemen, including Matterlock and Shackle the Sniffer, were given time off to attend the funeral, and Jim Whittaker, who knew that Tewler was irreplaceable and ought to have had a rise years ago, sent as big a wreath of virginal lilies as money could buy. The salesman in the shop also sent a wreath, and Mrs Tewler’s uncle in Scotland astonished her by sending one too; a distinctly niggardly one, however, of everlasting flowers, with a curious second-hand look about it.
That intrigued her greatly. Why had he sent it? How he had come by it was beyond her imaginative range. He had acquired it some months before when he sold, up one of his weekly tenants, an undertaker’s widow. He had taken it because there was nothing else to take in its place. But he hated the sight of it once he had got it and hung it up on the living-room wall. He began to have fancies about it. He feared it might grace his own demise. The undertaker’s widow, a dark highland woman with second sight, had cursed him. Simply for taking what was due to him she had cursed him. Maybe she had cursed this wreath on to him. Once he had put it in the dustbin, but the dustman brought it back next day and wanted a whole bawbee, man, as a reward! He put it here and he put it there, he had a fit of indigestion, and its air of waiting for him increased. The death of his nephew-in-law had come as a happy solution. He did not feel he was giving something away; he was simply releasing himself from a menace. Handing it on whence it could never come back to roost.
But it seemed to Mrs Tewler. that in his heart he must have been inspired by some glimmer of obligation towards his sole surviving next of kin. That gave her food for reverie, and later on she wrote him a long, long, grateful letter telling him of the wonderfulness of Edward Albert and of her own complete devotion to the little fellow; hard struggle though it might be for her; and so on. The old man saw no reason to waste a postage stamp on a reply.
At the funeral, which was wet and windy, Mrs Tewler wore a quite astonishing amount of crape for such a slender person. Long streamers waved about her and made sudden almost coquettish tentacular assaults upon the officiating clergy, patting their faces, even getting round their legs. Edward Albert himself wore a black Fauntleroy velvet suit with a lace collar. He had been put into knickerbockers for the first time. He had looked forward to his escape from the shame of girlish plaid frocks with unalloyed pleasure, sad though the occasion was. But the knickerbockers had been put together rather thoughtlessly, and they threatened to saw him asunder at every movement. Life suddenly became a long cold vista of bisection, so that he wept unaffectedly with disappointment and pain, to the edification of all beholders.
His mother was profoundly touched by this evidence of precocious sensibility. She had feared he might stare about and ask impossible questions, and point.
“You are all I have left,” she sobbed, constricting him and wetting him in a passionate embrace. “You are everything in the world to me. You must be my Dickybird and everything, now that He has gone.”
She was disposed at first to go on wearing her weeds indefinitely as dear Queen Victoria did, but afterwards someone suggested to her that this might cast a shadow upon Edward Albert’s budding mind. So she compromised on black and white and mauve for such short years as still remained to her.
II. MRS HUMBELAY MARVELS
SO it was Edward Albert Tewler began his earthly career, rather overweight and with a silver mug to his mouth, at a date so auspicious that when the World War of 1914–18 broke out he was four years too young to take an active part in it. Few of us could imagine a more fortunate beginning. Yet he missed a father’s guidance, and–in 1914–his mother also passed over to that better world, where insurance is unnecessary–all our dear lost Dickybirds wait our coming, and as for the weary, the weary are at rest.
I have told my tale but ill if I have failed to convey that if this most natural and excellent of mothers had any fault at all in her, it was a certain disposition to excessive solicitude, and, associated with that and integral to that, an element of fear. I will not discuss whether these qualities were innate or the infection of her generation, for that would be a breach of the undertaking given in the Preface. She was not afraid herself, but her protective motherliness extended to everyone and everything that appertained to her. And it came to a focus upon young Albert Edward, who was always central to her thoughts and dreams and plans and speeches. She was not you must understand an unhappy woman. She lived a life of intensely concentrated anxious happiness. There was always some new menace to excite her.
Her Treasure had to be shielded from every harm. He had to be watched over and trained to recoil from every form of danger. His shielding was her sole topic of conversation. She welcomed every new threat to her darling; she sought ideas for fresh precautions. She would ask the most churlish to advise her, and remained poised expectant while they did their best to keep their replies within the still very narrow limits of early Edwardian good manners. Their real ideas about what ought to be done to Edward Albert they muttered when she was out of earshot. But one old curmudgeon was driven to say: “Let him be run over. Let him. I implore you. He won’t do it twice. That’ll teach him if nothing else will.”
Of course he could not know how dear Richard had been killed. Still it was heartless….
She made her solicitude the justification for an unrelenting pursuit of lecturers, teachers, doctors, and the minor clergy.
“No harm shall come near him,” she said. “Only tell me.”
Earnest preachers hid in vestries, peeping slyly at her until she went away, and hygienic experts, after giving the most edifying lectures and passing lightly over the more difficult parts, escaped through the most undignified and unhygienic exits to avoid this importunate widow’s demand for precisions. She subscribed to numerous periodicals wherein
“Aunt Jane” or “Dorothy Wisdom” advised and answered readers’ questions, when a coupon was enclosed. She asked for all the information that was fit to print, and got it–time after time.
But there are many dangers and riddles that centre upon the upbringing of a solitary male child that cannot be solved in public print, and here Mrs Tewler was much beholden to intimate, shame-faced but extremely interesting talks with various people endowed with a rich store of obsessions and inaccurate but moving information, who would talk to her in undertones, with circumlocutions, metaphors and gestures and an obvious mutuality of relief. There was, for example, Mrs Humbelay, acquired at the Baptist Social Afternoons, who would come to tea, or entertain Mrs Tewler in her own modest but extremely over-furnished apartment. She said very little at the Socials, but she listened with an appreciative tranquility, and she was very helpful, bringing little delicacies and making buttered toast.
These Socials were becoming an increasingly important factor in Mrs Tewler’s life. Now there was no Dickybird to whom she could tell her troubles in the evening she turned more definitely to the little close Baptist community. Behind the blue door they were Strict and Particular and she agreed. She could talk about her devotion to her Darling and about her ill-health with a reasonable reciprocity. And in particular there was this Mrs Humbelay.
Mrs Humbelay had been and still was an extremely fine woman, and everything was fine and large about her, her things particularly, except her rooms, which were small, and her voice, which was infinitesimal, a whisper at the best of times, and an inaudible wheeze, in which facial expression had to come to its assistance. She had not very much facial expression beyond a certain astonishment at the things she was saying.
She had left her village school in a state of innocent simplicity to become under-housemaid to Miss Pooter-Bayton, who was then living under the protection and in the household of the scandalous Duke of Dawes, the sixth Duke. There was some pretence that Miss Pooter-Bayton had a husband somewhere and that her relations to the Duke were Platonic. But when the under-housemaid asked what Platonic was, she got only mirthful and perplexing replies. She gave way to wonder, and open-eyed and breathless wonder became her permanent attitude to life. Fate had decided that she should see the entirely disreputable side of what used to be called the Fin de Siècle. She was a young, simple, rather pretty, acquiescent creature, and all sorts of things happened to her. She was never greatly shocked. She wept at nothing; she laughed at nothing. Fate pitched her about and she marvelled. “The things they do!” she said.
The things they did to her!
It wasn’t right, she knew, but apparently there was no right, really. Everybody told lies about what they did, making things out to be worse or better as the mood took them. That gave her a sense of standards. The Duke’s house steward, who had fallen in love with her wide-eyed credulity, suddenly married her. It seemed rather unnecessary after all that had happened to her, but he knew what he was up to. “We are going to run a private hotel down in Cornwall for the Duke and his sort,” he said, “and fine times we’re going to have there,” and so she acquired that houseful of large furniture of which the remnant still clung to her, Except the pictures. She got rid of all that stuff. Fine times they had for a bit, and then he turned against her. There was a great Fin de Siècle scandal in London and he seemed to change. He said one day that she was getting too fat for endurance and that a cow could make love better than she did. “I do my best,” she said. “If only you’d tell me what you want me to do….”
Then suddenly the Fin de Siècle world fled abroad in a great flutter like starlings. “You run this place, my dear, until things blow over and I come back, and put by all the money for me,” he said, and he left her, still marvelling but bankrupt, in a great shady hotel that had figured in the case so conspicuously that nobody now would come near it. She extricated herself as well as she could, and came to London; the works of art she sold to furtive dealers and private collectors; and, having always had a subdued craving for conventional standards and a virtuous life, she joined the congregation of the smaller Baptist Church up Camden Hill, the Particular Baptist Church, the one with the blue doorway. She disliked smoking and detested alcohol, and the Baptist atmosphere suited her admirably. She tried to thin herself by avoiding almost every sort of food except cakes and buttered toast at tea-time, and little snacks in between meals. Yet every day she grew larger of body and shorter of breath, and her look of faint perplexity increased. As you may understand, she felt a great need to talk to someone about the fantastic whirl of improper revelations amidst which she had been spinning all her life. And you will realise what a godsend she was to Mr Tewler, and what a godsend Mrs Tewler was to her.
Yet if only she had not had that trick of letting her voice die out with her lips still active but inaudible, and staring you with those innocent, earnest, inquiring blue eyes of hers, Mrs Tewler’s ideas might have been more explicit,
“Sometimes I can’t make head or tail of it,” Mrs. Tewler would complain, but really it was the tail she lost. She wanted to know, for Dearest One’s sake, what were all those dreadful things that lay in wait for the unguarded young, underneath the sunken tail and the raised eyebrows. She wanted particulars and she got this sort of thing.
“Sometimes I think it’s the good ones really make the bad ones. For after all, you see….”
“There isn’t so very much that they can do with themselves….”
“Well, my dear, it isn’t as though we was octopuses, is it? all legs and arms and things….”
“His Grace had a sort of joking way of saying, ‘All the world’s a stage, my girl’….”
Mrs Tewler went to the Public Library afterwards and with the librarian’s assistance looked that up in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations:
“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages….”
Nothing in that. It was a mystery.
“All they want to do is something queer and awful. Would it matter–whether it was upside down or round about, if the good people didn’t make such a fuss about it? I could never find anything so wonderful….”
“But good people say, ‘This is a sin’, and that is terrible….”
“Doing all these things. And so they make laws against them and all that, and it seems to give them dignity, so to to speak, as though they mattered. Why should they matter? For instance, is there really any great harm….”
Most people like breaking laws, just to show they aren’t to be put upon. If they’d been left alone, they’d just have done this or that and forgotten about it. Everybody does things somewhen–”
“But they are sins,” cried Mrs Tewler. “And I think it’s all terrible. And wicked!”
“Maybe you’re right. They call it Original Sin, It seems the most unoriginal sort of sin possible to me. Why if for example….”
“But someone must teach them these dreadful things!”
“They get together. Or they get alone. And there’s nothing else to distract them. And before you know where you are you find….”
“But if one keeps one’s little boy away from nasty little boys and girls, and watches over his reading and never leaves him alone until he’s sound asleep–”
“There’s dreams,” said the wise woman. “There’s fancies that come from nowhere at all. Very likely you’ve forgotten your own early dreams and fancies. Most people do. Or they wouldn’t make such a fuss. I haven’t. Why, long before I went into service, I used to sleep with the curate and my elder brother and a boy I once saw bathing–”
“My dear Mrs Humbelay!”
“Only in dreams. Have you forgotten all that about yourself? Well “–down went the voice–” and I used to imagine myself….” Mrs Tewler could get nothing of it.
“Oh! Oh!” she cried. “My Boy isn’t like that. My Boy can’t be like that He just sleeps like a little harmless lamb….”
“Maybe he’s different. Still I’m only telling you what I’ve come across in life. I can’t make out what it’s all about….
“It’s a great relief to talk to an understanding woman like yourself. I’ve thought of putting all my troubles plainly and simply to Mr Burlap. What I’ve been through. What I’ve seen. But you see he doesn’t know anything of what I’ve been, really. He thinks I’m just a comfortable respectable widow. I wouldn’t like him to turn against me…”
“I don’t think you’d be wise to tell him.”
“Nor me. Still, what’s the answer to it all? We’ve got all these desires and impulses, we’re told, so as to have children.
So you may say. But they don’t lead to children, Mrs Tewler. They lead right away from them. Why, I ask you, my dear, should Nature dispose a man–well now, for example, to….”
III. MR MYAME DEPLORES SIN
MRS TEWLER brooded profoundly on these conventions. Enough came across to convince her of the diabolical wickedness that would presently be weaving its snares about the unsuspecting feet of the Most Precious Child in the world. She tried Mr Burlap, the pastor of the little chape). He received her in his Sanctum. “It’s a very difficult thing,” she said, “for a mother to know what to do about the–I hardly know how to put it–well, the sexual education of a solitary fatherless child.”
“H’rump,” said Mr Burlap. He leant back in his chair and looked as thoughtful as he could, but his ears and nostrils had suddenly gone very red, and his eyes, magnified by his spectacles, were uncomfortable and defensive.
“Yee-es,” he said. “It is a difficult problem.”
“It is a difficult problem.”
“It is certainly, a very difficult problem.”
“That’s what I feel.”
So far they were in perfect agreement.
“Whether he ought to be told” she resumed after a pause.
“Whether he ought to be warned. Books perhaps. A talk to a doctor.”
“Oom,” said Mr Burlap, filling the Sanctum with his reverberation.
“Exactly,” she said, and waited.
“You see, my dear Mrs Tewler, that this problem so to speak varies with the circumstances of the case. We are not all made alike. What may be wise in one case may be quite unsuitable for another case.”
“Yes? “she said.
“And of course, Vice Versa.”
“I see that,” she said.
“There is a little book called, I believe, The Loves of the Flowers. Mr Burlap’s face was suffused with an honourable blush. “He could have no more helpful introduction to the–to the great mystery.”
“I will give it to him.”
“And then perhaps a little judicious talk.”
“When the opportunity arises,”
“I must pray for that.”
All that was very clear and helpful. But it seemed to leave something still to be said. There was something even a little superficial about it all. “Nowadays,” she said, “there is so much evil about.”
“These are evil times, Mrs Tewler. ‘The world is very evil; the times are growing late.’ This has never been so true as it is to-day. Guard him. Evil communications corrupt good manners. Keep him close to you. Yes.”
He seemed to be wanting to convey that the matter was practically settled.
“I have taught him his letters and so on, but presently he will have to go to school. There he may learn–all sorts of things.”
“Oom,” said Mr Burlap again, and then seemed to be struck by an idea.
“I hear such dreadful things of schools,” she said. Mr Burlap roused himself from his idea. “Boarding schools?”
“Yes, boarding Schools.”
“Boarding schools,” said Mr Burlap, “are, without exception, Sinks of Iniquity. Especially the Preparatory Schools and the so-called Public Schools. I know. I know. There are things–I cannot speak of them,”
“That is exactly what I came to talk to you about,” said Mrs Tewler.
“Well,” said the worthy pastor, “H’rump. Here we have in our own little congregation just the one man…. You have never noted? Mr Myame. That slender, reserved man with a big head, large black side-whiskers and a bass voice. You must at least have noticed his voice. You could hardly fail to do that. He is a man of great spiritual power, a Boanerges, a son of Thunder. He has a small, a very select, private day school. He is most particular whom he takes. His wife is, I fear, consumptive; a very sweet and tender woman. They have no children of their own; it is a great sorrow to them; but their school is in the best sense of the word their family. They study the characters of their little charges. They are never weary of discussing them. There and with your home influence, I cannot imagine any harm coming near to your little fellow….”
So Mrs Tewler went to Mr Myame.
There was something very reassuring in the grave earnestness of Mr Myame’s large grey eyes and of the black hair that streamed sporadically from every part of his visage. And instead of sitting far off and defensive at a desk, he came and stood right over her and studied her very earnestly as he talked down to her. After a little preliminary skirmishing she came to the point, “To be frank,” said she, with eyes downcast, “I am troubled by problems–My poor little Hopeful…. Without a father…. The onset of sex. One cannot be too careful.”
“No,” said Mr Myame, in a voice that enveloped her. “That is the greatest scandal of my profession. Eager only for examinational results and what are called games. Cram and cricket. The carelessless, the indifference, to purity, to true manliness….”
“I hear,” said she, and paused. “I know so little about these things. But I have been told,…. Things have come to my knowledge. Very dreadful things….”
“Such as–?” he helped her.
Bit by bit they led each other into the thickets of this absorbing subject.
“No one warns them.” said Mr Myame. “No one tells them of the dangers…. Their own little school-fellows make themselves the very agents of the devil.”
“Yes,” she said, and looked up, stirred by the vibrant passion in his voice.
A gleam of fanaticism shone in Mr Myame’s eye.
“We must speak plainly,” he said. “We must avoid all self-deception.”
He shirked no particulars. It was a most edifying conversation. His discreet undertones were like the rumble of a train in a distant tunnel. Under any other circumstances it would, she felt, have been painful and very indelicate of her to pursue this knowledge, but for her Sweet Boy she felt no sacrifice was too great. So she did not merely pursue it. She hunted it into its most recondite corners, Mr Myame, who had never been honoured by the confidences of Mrs Humbelay, was astonished by the range of Mrs Tewler’s knowledge. She must surely know it by inspiration….
“Another Parent?” asked his wife after he had let Mrs Tewler out.
“At the full rates,” he said, with a certain gladness.
“You look–excited,” she remarked.
“Fanny, I have been talking to the purest and holiest Mother I have ever known. Who could touch pitch and not be defiled. I have learnt much. It has been a great spiritual experience and I hope I may do my duty by her Little One,”
“I have asked her to come to our inner circle meeting next Friday. She breaks bread with us but she has not yet undergone Baptism. She has hesitated but she is very desirous; Like you she has very delicate health. She does not want to risk an illness that might separate her from her son. Later perhaps….”
A phase of great spiritual contentment opened in Mrs Tewler’s life. Impelled only by love and her sense of duty, she found she had come into a circle of intense and sustained mutual appreciation, a sort of inner chapel into which she was extremely careful not to introduce Mrs Humbelay. Mrs Humbelay could be very helpful and generous on the social side, but she was, one had to admit, lacking in real spirituality, suited to be at most a sort of lay sister to the chapel. And also subconsciously Mrs Tewler did not want to spoil Mrs Humbelay for herself…. It was a case of oil and water….
Everyone in that inner group was a Beloved Spirit, a Saintly Figure, a Noble and Outstanding Soul with an Inner Light shining through. Her Baptism continued to be deferred, but she seemed to anticipate its beneficent influence. She broke bread. She invented and exchanged experiences. Wrapped in that confident anticipation of an eternity of Glory which the Strict and Particular Baptists entertained, her face almost luminous with that happy inner light, she would thread her way through the countless multitudes of the damned who thronged the streets of Camden Town. And she led her One Darling by the hand.
And safe in her keeping Edward Albert would extend his tongue or snoot at the Children of Perdition passing him on their way to Judgment, or tug back to look at things in the shop windows. Sometimes there would be a bit of a struggle when the bill boards outside the newly opened cinema caught his eye. Moreover at that tender age he felt a curious desire to pull little girls by the hair, that twice became irresistible….
But when he was taxed with that he denied it stoutly. There were scenes in the street. Fierce accusations and disgraceful retorts. He said the little girls were Wicked Little Fibs. His mother would not believe it of him, and he could scarcely believe it of himself.
IV. ANIMALISM OF ANIMALS
MRS TEWLER would let no nurse girl intervene between herself and her “Precious.” During his lays, she herself, proud and vigilant, wheeled him out in his little perambulator every day up Camden Hill or into Regent’s Park. When Edward Albert showed signs of friendliness towards dogs, and reached out at them, saying! “Bow-wow, Bow-wow,” she intervened. “Never touch a strange dog,” she said. “They bite. They bite and give you hydrophobia and you go mad and run about biting people. And then thy go mad too.”
Something in the eye of the small boy suggested that this was not an altogether unattractive idea, “And you scream when you see water and you die in awful agony,” she said. That gleam of hope faded.
Cats too Edward Albert was trained to shun. “They have pins in their toes,” and sometimes these can be very poisonous pins. Lots of people have caught things from a cat’s scratches. They bring measles into the house. They don’t love you even when they purr. And then she heard a terrible story that had to be repeated at once to the cherished darling, of a cat, being petted, purring in the lap of its little mistress, and it watched her eyes, it kept on watching her eyes, and suddenly it sprang at them with its claws out….
After that Edward Albert developed an antipathy for cats, and declared he could not endure them in the same room .with him. He was cat-allergic, as people say nowadays, in their bright, inexact way. But at times cats got near him unobserved –which wasn’t in accordance with that assertion. Horses too he feared, because he realised they could be equally dangerous to human life at either end. Sheep he was inclined to bully and run after, until one dreadful day in Regent’s Park an old ram suddenly turned on him and stamped and stood his ground, Whereupon he fled screaming to his mother, who, pale but determined, intervened, confronted the danger and disposed of it very rapidly by opening and shutting her grey-and-white parasol. That left only the new grey squirrels which had recently come over from America for him to be reasonably bold about. He gave them nuts sometimes, but when they became over-familiar and wanted to run up his legs and over him, he struck and kicked at them. When a passer-by remonstrated with his mother, the defended him.
“You never know what they’ll give you,” she said. “They’re thick with fleas, you see, and he’s a delicate, sensitive child.”
Such were the reactions Edward Albert acquired to the indigenous fauna of London. His knowledge of the graver extremities to which Nature was allowed to go after the Fall of Man was derived chiefly from books. He invented a marvellous electric gun for his private comfort which always killed and never required re-loading, and this he always kept close at hand when he travelled in his reveries across the silver seas. Gorillas and bears lurked in the darker corners of the house and under his bed, and no sort of emergency would induce him to quit that shelter once he had been tucked up in it. Four guardian angels, he knew, watched about him, but none of them had the pluck or the intelligence to rout about underneath the bed. If he woke up at night they weren’t there. He would listen to things creeping about and scrutinise dim ambiguous shapes until it became unbearable, and then he would scream for his mother.
“Was there a nasty bear?” she would say, rejoicing in her protectiveness. She never lit up the room and showed him the emptiness of his fears. So he learnt to hate animals in every shape and form. They were his enemies, and when he went to the Zoo he made derisive faces and put out his tongue at all the most dangerous animals behind the bars. But the mandrill went one better.
After the mandrill Mrs Tewler and her son went on for a time in silence.
Some things are unspeakable.
They both felt that animals ought never to have been allowed, none of them, and that coming to the Zoo was simply encouraging them to be the animals they were.
“Would you like a nice ride on the elephant, darling?” said Mrs Tewler, breaking that embarrassed silence, “or look at the dear little fish in the aquarium?”
At first Edward Albert was inclined to have a ride on the elephant. But he asked to have a good look at it first. He thought perhaps he might sit by the keeper man and be allowed to beat it about the head, but when he saw the elephant taking programmes and newspapers out of people’s hands and eating them, and when it handed up pennies to its keeper in the most intimate way, and when it suddenly put a moist mendicant trunk in front of him, he decided he would prefer to go home. So he and his mother went home.
V. ALL-SEEING EYE
THE home in which Edward Albert’s mind expanded for the nine crucial years that followed his father’s death was a furnished first floor. He had the little back room. There was fortunately no bathroom, so up to the day of her death he performed his week-end top to toe modestly in a sitz bath into which a large can of hot water had been poured, in his mother’s room, under her watchful eye. The front room was the living-room and sitting-room, and it had a balcony from which the little fellow could watch the proceedings of his wilder fellow-creatures at large in the street below. He went for walks with his mother to and fro from school and on small commissions. He skirted dogs widely and never answered if anyone accosted him. And one day when a small low-class boy punched him heavily in the back he went his way as though nothing had happened. But afterwards he meditated horrible reprisals! If ever he met that kid again!….
This peaceful and secluded home had been furnished in order to be let. Mrs Tewler had never possessed any things of her own, though she and her husband had often discussed setting up a place of their own on the hire purchase system, but as we have seen they were people of slow decisions. No human eye had ever seen the fundamental upholstery of the various chairs and sofa except by peeping. They were enveloped in covers changed semi-annually from a faded chintz to a weary cretonne. Folding-doors separated the apartment from the principal bedroom. There was a sideboard and a bookcase and various pictures, a fine steel engraving of a stag at bay, a view of Jerusalem, a picture of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort with a slaughtered deer, gillies, etc., balancing the stag, and a large and sensational rendering of the Writing on the Wall. A round table, an overmantel and a large coal scuttle, refilled at sixpence a time, completed the apartment.
Mrs Tewler had added many souvenirs, knicknacks, photographs framed and unframed, and objects of art and fancy to all this, making it very personal and homelike. She had thought of having in a piano on the hire purchase system, but, as she could not play it, she had decided this might be regarded as ostentation.
There was indeed no music whatever in Master Edward Albert’s early life, except the harmonium and sustained hymn singing of the chapel and a passing barrel organ. The gramophone, the pianola, the radio, had still to break the grave serenity of British home life, silent still except for an occasional cough or sniff, the rustle of a turning page, the crepitation of the fire or a peculiar snoring of the gas jets, whose light was supplemented by a shaded paraffin lamp of noble proportions set upon a woollen mat in the midst of the central table. It had a glass receiver and when one touched it one acquired a faint but persistent odour of paraffin. On Sundays when one changed into clean linen came a whiff of lavender. The roast chestnut men, the baked potato men and suchlike “cries of London” stood out brightly against this olfactory background.
On the mantel was a card which Mrs Tewler had discovered in a shop together with others proclaiming “Furnished Apartments” and “Teas.” It bore two words which were destined many years later to become a national slogan;
“Safety First.” By what gleam of foresight this card had been inspired, or what particular danger it advertised in mitigation of damages, I cannot imagine. But there it was, and it found a prompt response in the mind of Mrs Richard Tewler.
By the standards of our present violent times, this atmosphere might have been considered under-stimulating. In Edward Albert’s own little room however there was a more definite appeal to his religious susceptibilities. There was a coloured picture of his Redeemer surrounded by a great number of children, with the inscription, “Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” For some reason Edward Albert could not identify himself with any of these roseate innocents. Severally and collectively he hated them. The other religious subjects that adorned his apartment neither offended nor appealed to him. He just avoided looking at them. But one or two of the illuminated texts bothered him. “Thou God seest me,” in particular. He did not like that. He liked it less and less as he grew to boy’s estate.
It wasn’t fair, he felt. Was there nothing He couldn’t see? Could He see through bedclothes for example? And whatever you chanced to be doing? There was something indelicate about this relentless stare.
It was Edward Albert’s first encounter with Doubt. Never once did the faintest gleam of affection for the divinity, Father, Son or Holy Ghost, enter into his soul. He believed that this Watcher and Punisher brooded insanely over his world and that he had sent his Only Son just to put his helpless creatures still more in the wrong. That was what Edward Albert felt and believed. I make no comment; I am merely recording facts. Since God was Almighty and Relentless, you had to propitiate Him–safety first–and not think a thought of protest even in the darkness of your black little heart. No putting out your tongue at Him, No! (And a recording angel writing it all down! ) Edward Albert doubted but he never denied. Like most other Believers he managed to mitigate. He had an inspiration. “He can see you,” he argued. “But they can’t be looking at everybody and writing down about everybody all the time.”
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