trifled not with talk, hurried down the street, stopped
before one of the neatest house-fronts, tremblingly
thrust a key into the latch, opened and ran breath-
A grey-haired old woman rose from a wooden chair
by the side of a cradle in a clean and modestly
At the entrance of her daughter-in-
law she laid a finger on her lips and looked warningly
to the infant. Then remarking an obvious distress,
she changed colour.
" What's the matter, Ann ? " she whispered,
shaking with a sudden alarm. She had to steady
herself by the support of the table. " Not — Jim ? "
The young woman shook her head, controlled her
" Hathaway's ! " she brought out. " Closing
down ! "
The elder stared speechlessly for a moment, then
seated herself with that blank mute resignation of
THEY COME BACK 279
the aged poor, long disillusioned of any title to good
fortune. The fingers of her unshapely hands twined
and untwined themselves tensely in her lap.
" Don't you hear, mother ? " said the young
woman irritably. " Hathaway's are closing down ! "
" Oh, dear ! " the old woman raised a face that
was strained with imminent tears. " I knew it 'ud
never last — I knew it 'ud never last ! "
" What we shall do, 'Eaven knows ! " said Ann,
viciously accenting the sole possible fount of know-
ledge. " They're all closing down — all of 'em, all
round ! " Her gesture, as she unpinned her hat and
put it, with an excess of energy, on the table, testified
to the completeness of the closed horizon. She stood
looking at the sleeping child, her brows bent, her
mouth troubled. Then suddenly she flung herself on
her knees and buried her head in the old woman's
lap, shaking with sobs.
" Oh, I did so want to keep it nice for Jim when 'e
comes back ! I did ! I did ! All we've got together.
And now it'll all go — bit by bit ! And I've worked
so 'ard — so very 'ard ! An' 'e'll never see, never
know 'ow nice it was ! Oh — mother ! " She could
utter no more words, only inarticulate sounds.
The old woman soothed her, stroking her hair.
" There, dear ! there, dear ! Don't take on !
It'll all come right. I can go out again an' do a bit
of cleanin'. I daresay Mrs. Smith'll take me on
again. I ain't done no work for a long while — sitting
'ere eatin' your bread — I've 'ad a nice rest, I 'ave —
I'm quite strong again now. We'll both get something
you see, dear ! "
280 THEY COME BACK
The young woman raised herself.
" No ! — No ! — No ! — You shan't work any more ! "
She turned her head wearily. " I can't make it out.
What's happening? Why are they all shutting
down like this ? "
The old woman looked at her stupidly. The
remote causes which made or unmade her unimport-
ant existence were beyond her comprehension.
" What's that ? " cried Ann, jumping to her feet.
" What's 'e calling ? "
The raucous shout of a newsvendor floated up from
the street. Ann listened for a moment — and then,
after a hurried search for a halfpenny in her purse,
dashed out of the door and down the stairs.
She reappeared after a bare minute, brandishing
the newspaper, wild-eyed, panting.
" Mother ! Mother ! " She could not wait to
enter the door before commencing her news. "It's
Peace ! Peace ! " She struggled with the unfolded
paper, crushed it together again, searching eagerly
for the magic headlines. " Here it is ! Listen ! "
The old woman, equally all trembling eagerness, was
standing at her side, pawing vaguely at the arm
which held the newspaper. Ann read out the great
news. " ' The wild rumours current during the past
few days have received a startling confirmation. It is
announced that an armistice has been signed on all the
fronts. This undoubtedly means a general Peace.
The end of the war has come.'' Mother ! it's all over !
it's all over — and Jim'll be coming back ! Oh, I
can't 'ardly believe it ! It's all over ! Oh, thank
God— thank God ! "
THEY COME BACK 281
" All over ! My Jim ! Safe and sound ! Oh," the
old woman commenced that sniffling weep common
to the aged and the young. " I can't 'elp it, Ann —
I can't 'elp it ! — I must cry ! "
Ann dashed down the newspaper and flung her
arms round the old woman in a close embrace.
44 Mother ! Mother ! I never was so " — and here
a sob checked her speech also — " so 'appy in my
life ! " Face against face, the tears of the two women
mingled — tears not of grief but of emotion for which
there was no expression. Somewhere down the street
church bells were ringing in joyous peal on peal. It
might have been merely a coincidence of practice,
but to the two women whose simple souls beat close
together, in a swoon of intense feeling that obliterated
the sharp outlines of environment, this happy rioting
of the bells seemed a holy blessing on the moment.
44 Oh, Ann dear, Ann dear," said the old woman,
looking up. 44 What a thanksgiving it'll be for all
the poor anxious women ! "
44 Oh, we're very lucky — we're very lucky. Jim'll
be coming back. Think of it, mother ! "
They kissed one another as if each were kissing the
man who would come back as son and husband.
44 We've got to keep it for 'im," said Ann. 44 All
the little 'ome. An' 'e'll soon be back to work for us
an' the baby, an' we shan't never be parted any more !
Oh, mother, think of the poor women who won't 'ave
no one to come back to 'em ! When they see
'em marching by ! Oh — we're lucky, we're very
lucky ! "
The old woman stood staring out of the window in
282 THEY COME BACK
vague thought, her eye caught by the vivid red of
the flags on the War Shrine.
" It'll be a different world, Ann, when they all
come back," she said. " Them what 'ave been left
be'ind all through will find lots missing what they
look for. And them what come back won't come
back the same. It'll never be the same again, any
of it ; let's 'ope it'll be better."
They were coming back. The Mother-City of the
Empire woke, silent of traffic, decked for a day that
knew no sufficient parallel, the day when the thou-
sands of her sons — those who had gone in their ones
and twos, their single battalions — should march back
from vast adventure in the full majesty of their cor-
porate soldier-life. The London Divisions were
coming back from the War, were marching for the
last time at full strength. And the London streets
were tunnels of gay flags, walled with black masses
of citizens kept clear from the sanded roadways.
From every steeple the bells tossed out their exuber-
ant rejoicing. In every breast of the millions there
congregated was a surge of emotion that exhaled in
one sustained murmur of the gladness for which there
are no words but which fills the eyes and chokes the
They were coming ! The thrilling blare of instru-
ments of brass ; the heart -stirring tap and roll and
beat of the drums ; the intoxicating rhythmic swing-
ing lilt and crash ; the brave gay runs of melody,
sublimely simple, that bring the tears ; the solid,
THEY COME BACK 283
even tramp of thousands who march as one — and the
leading files were passing in a storm of cheers, a
madness of waving hands. For the last time they
passed shoulder to shoulder in the familiar ranks,
marching as they had marched for all the years of exile,
marching as they had marched down the fatal roads
to Loos and Gommecourt, Guillemont and all those
rubble heaps where the bravest and the dearest of
tne greatest city of the world died for the fragment
of a village and for England. Rifles at the slope,
bare bayonets asserting the ancient privileges that
they had won, O so dearly, the right to flaunt, the
heavy weather-stained pack on the sturdy shoulders,
the steel helmets awry with the tilt of long-familiar
use, the brown strong faces gleaming with their
smiles — so they marched, not any more under the
thunder of the guns, but in a frenzy of voices where
the madly rioting bells were lost.
Battalion by battalion — all the glorious names,
London's own — the London Scottish, first in the fray
in the long ago, the Queen's Westminsters, the Ken-
singtons, the London Rifle Brigade, the H.A.C., the
numberless battalions of the London Regiment — they
came, each with its aura of the deathless dead. They
came from the interminable purgatory of the endless
trenches, terminated at last, from the unimaginable
inferno of Hill 60, from the hopeless dying of May
the Ninth, from the fierce hopes, the bitter strife of
Loos, from the massacre of Gommecourt and the
bloody fights of Guillemont, of Vimy Ridge, of
Messines, of a thousand places that were humble and
are henceforth names of splendour. Miraculously
284 THEY COME BACK
strong, happy, pregnant with vivid life they emerged
from that distant whelm of peril. And the eyes that
had looked so long at death in the bare fields pocked
hideously with the disease of war, looked up now at
the ranked tall buildings, so familiar and yet so
strange, so impressively permanent after timeless
aeons of destruction. Behind those windows — could
it be ? — they had sat at desk through months and
years. Between them and that past was a curtain
of fire, of emotions that had transformed, of the in-
tensity of life which has persisted in the face of death.
And rank by rank, battalion after battalion, swinging
with powerful stride, they marched back into the
past that had seemed for ever gone.
And those who watched the level ranks flowing in
their endless stream, cheering with throats now in-
capable of aught but the inarticulate cry, perceiving
them mistily through a blur of tears, saw more than
the men who marched, treading once again the
asphalt of the London streets. They saw the ghosts
of ranks, doubling — more than doubling — the ranks
of living men, the ghosts of those who had looked as
these looked, brown-faced, strong-limbed, the in-
carnation of living will, and were now no more than
the wind blowing over the desolate countrysides
where they had ceased to be. Yet were they present,
the men who had died that England might live. The
stir of their souls was in the skirling pipes, the wail
and feverish beat of the fifes and drums, the madden-
ing purposeful blare and thud of the brass bands.
They looked out of the eyes of those who marched —
the soul unconquerable, the living spirit of the English
THEY COME BACK 285
race. And a divine afflatus swept over the waving,
cheering crowds, swept them to a wilder intoxication.
One, whose faculty of speech was not yet over-
whelmed, cried : " Three cheers for the boys who are
left behind ! Hurrah ! Hurrah ! " and could not
finish. And a woman who stood, tensely pallid,
staring at the so-familiar badges of the troops
who passed, stared at utter strangeness, and fell as
The next battalion followed on, singing, carrying
on a tune caught up far back along the route, the
farewell song of Kitchener's Army of 1915, sung now
as an instinctive antistrophe to that old chorale when
they had marched to war :
" Keep the home fires burning,
While your hearts are yearning-,
Though your lads are far away, they dream of home,
There's a silver lining
Through the dark cloud shining,
Turn your dark clouds inside out
Till the boys come home."
They passed in a roar of voices that drowned the
So the long, long columns of the London Divisions
tramped through the heart of the Mother-City, under
the fluttering of countless flags, under the surge and
resurge of joy-bells from every steeple, under great
banners that proclaimed the gratitude of the city.
Rank after rank they lifted their eyes to the laurel-
green inscription that spanned the street at Temple
Bar : " Shall We Forget ?— Never ! "
Rank by rank they passed under the promise —
the thousands of men welded in the fires of war to
286 THEY COME BACK
a wondrous miracle of collective soul — passed onward
for the last time as one living unit, ere they should
lay down their arms, fall out — and disperse, in-
dividuals that were fragments of a sacred memory,
the shreds of a battle-flag distributed.
Sir Thomas Jackson Hathaway, Kt., Alderman of
the City of London, looked along the masculine faces,
spaced with the interstices of the departed ladies,
of the little dinner-party of intimate friends, and then
again to the brown keen visage of his son. He pushed
along the decanter — he was old-fashioned and made
a virtue of it — " Fill up, Harry, my boy — I've been
looking after the cellar while you've been away —
there's more of it." He laughed a little at the mirth
of his implied suggestion that there might possibly
be a shortage in the cellars of Sir Thomas Hathaway.
And his guests laughed a little in courtesy.
" We've kept the flag flying here also, my boy,"
said the big, heavily jovial host, puffing hugely at
his cigar and then taking it from his mouth to ex-
amine it with a superfluously critical eye. " You'll
find things as well — better, than when you left. You
don't mind, gentlemen, this little talk of shop ?
After all, we're all friends together, and most of us
have some small interest in the little business, ha !
ha ! " The guests were, in fact, Sir Thomas Hath-
away's co-directors in the large enterprises he con-
trolled. He continued : " Better I may say, for we
have been very conservative — we've looked to the
younger generation away fighting our battles for us
THEY COME BACK 287
— and we've built up a reserve fund that a few years
ago we shouldn't have dreamed of. You've come
back to a first-class concern, Harry, my boy. Here's
to it ! " He raised and drained his glass, setting a
followed example to his guests.
Captain Hathaway had been toying with a match
on the tablecloth. He looked up — quiet and thought-
ful, his face clean-cut and aristocratic by contrast
with the heavy opulence of his sire.
" You don't anticipate Labour trouble, then,
father ? "
Sir Thomas Hathaway laughed, a guffaw, and
crashed his hand on the table.
" Labour troubles, my boy ! You need have no
fear on that score. We're going to teach Labour a
lesson. We haven't built up our reserve for nothing.
— not only ourselves, but all the houses in the trade.
For long enough we've been dictated to by Labour
— and now, by God, we're going to crush it ! Do you
know what's coming, my boy ? Have you thought
about it ? There's going to be the biggest flood of
Labour chucked on the market that the world has
ever known. All of 'em fightin' — fightin for jobs !
And the trade, Harry, my boy, is going to lock out !
We're closed down now, and we shan't open again
till our own good time. How long d'you think the
Union funds'll last ? We'll bust 'em — bust 'em for
ever and a day. And when we open our shops again
to Labour — it'll be on our own terms ! Here, fill up,
gentlemen, I can vouch for this wine — cost me a sinful
price it did. We'll bust 'em, my lad, so that never
again in our time shall we hear a word of Labour
288 THEY COME BACK
trouble." He gulped the glassful of his sinfully costly
Captain Hathaway glanced round the table at the
somewhat flushed, semi-senile features of his father's
guests and partners. They were one and all nodding
their heads in varying emphasis of approbation. He
" Well, father, I don't think we'll discuss it now.
Suppose we join the ladies ? "
In the high drawing-room, softly lit with diffused
radiance from the ceiling, draped with precious
modern hangings that were genuine and spaced out
with expensive antique paintings that were not,
furnished with the luxury of a wealth too utterly
complete in its overwhelming newness to allow imagin-
ation its leap across an artistic restraint, the ladies
purred, or cooed in careful falsetto, as they awaited
the entrance of the males. At a grand piano, slightly
removed, a young woman with a delicately refined face
played softly to herself — in a quiet ecstasy of gladness
for which this was the only satisfying expression.
Captain Hathaway, entering with his father's
guests, came straight across to her, and she looked
up, smiling, into her husband's face as though he had
come in response to a murmured summoning spell.
She ceased and leaned back her head against him as
he stood close behind her.
" Oh, Harry," she said, " it's so lovely to have you
again — for always, always ! " Her eyes half closed
and her bosom heaved as she drank in an intoxicating
realization of his definite return, sketched to herself
a delicious little swoon.
THEY COME BACK 289
" My dear ! " he murmured. " It's good ! Home
— home for always with my beloved ! "
She clutched at his hand, and for a moment, while
the loud-voiced crowd vanished, they were secret
lovers, snatched up to dizzy heights, intensely
thrilling with an exquisite community, eyes looking
into eyes and seeing more than human brain can
translate of transcendent vision. She released him and
bowed forward suddenly with a little gulp, striking,
with trembling hands, vague chords on the piano.
" Now, Ethel, my dear," came the crass boom of
her father-in-law's voice, " when you've finished your
spooning, let's have something jolly. What about
that bit out of ■ Not a Word to the Wife ! ' Tra-la-
la-la-la ! " He sketched a hideous caricature of
blatant banality. " We're all jolly to-night — none of
your mooning sentiment, but jolly. Eh, ladies and
gentlemen ? — properly jolly for Harry's first night
Ethel got up from the piano, coupling an allegation
of another's superior capacity with an invitation to
perform, an invitation smirkingly accepted.
The slangy crash and bang alternating with hyper-
emphasized sentimentality of the current tune was a
cover under which Ethel Hathaway retreated to
happy intimacy with her husband. Not for long was
she allowed it. The very-consciously best-looking of
the co -directors' wives sidled up and subsided into
the adjacent chair. She yearned up into Captain
Hathaway's face, while she cooed deprecation of her
intrusion to his wife.
" But I do so want to hear how Captain Hathaway
290 THEY COME BACK
earned his Military Cross ! Of course, I read all about
it in the papers — but then — they're so bald, aren't
they ? One misses, what shall I say ? — the human
touch of heroism."
Mrs. Hathaway caught her husband's eye and for-
bade the instant flight.
" Tell Mrs. Jameson all about it, Harry," she com-
manded coolly. There was something in the tone
which rendered Mrs. Jameson's extorted confidence
" There's little to tell," said Captain Hathaway.
" The fellow who really earned anything there was to
get — and, I'm glad to say, got the D.C.M. — was one
of my men, a chap named Jim Swain. He used to
be in our employment, Ethel, by the way. It was a
pretty tight corner and I got practically left alone —
all the other fellows knocked out — and this chap
Swain came up with a bag of bombs — jolly plucky
thing, for there didn't seem a dog's chance — and we
chucked the bombs at the Hun till he didn't dare
raise his head. After a bit, some of another company
came up and we consolidated that bit of trench.
That's all there was to it."
" Oh, how splendid ! " Mrs. Jameson enthused
vaguely. " Leadership is everything, isn't it ? "
" When you've got something to lead, Mrs.
Jameson. One couldn't have better stuff than my
men — they're magnificent. They're the nation — and
now they're coming back they've got to be treated
like the men they are and not like soulless machinery."
He wound up on a note of fierce protest against some-
thing not obvious to his hearers.
THEY COME BACK 291
" Now, Harry," said his wife, " don't inflict your
theories on Mrs. Jameson. We both of us positively
refuse to be sympathetic with the working class,
don't we, Mrs. Jameson ? " She laughed lightly.
" The working class is just as selfish as any other."
A wave of collective chatter from an approaching
group engulfed this conversation.
Late that night Sir Thomas Hathaway sat alone
with his son.
" Now, Harry, my lad," he said. " You're going to
take Ethel away for a three months' holiday. You've
jolly well earned it, both of you. And, when you
come back, you'll be head of Hathaway and Company.
I've done my bit and I'm going to rest. My interest in
the business is now being transferred into your name.
That's my little present to you, my boy, by way of
showing that I'm proud of you. And I know that
you'll keep up the fine old traditions of the house,
The curtains had disappeared from the windows
of Whittingham Street. The brass of the doors had
lost its polish. The women who had tripped along in
an earnest display of finery were replaced by blowsy
unkempt females who stood at the doors and gossiped.
Once more the corners emphasized by the sordid
public-houses were the idling-ground of groups of
men, more numerous, shabbier even than of old.
But these men had not the shiftless look of their pre-
decessors. In their faces, thin and white, was a hard-
ness which was odd in an urban population. In the
292 THEY COME BACK
eyes which followed the progress of a stranger up
the street was a dangerous glare. The flags of the
War Shrine had disappeared ; its gilt-inscribed panel
was dingy and splashed with mud. At the far end
of the street the great chimneys of Hathaway's works
stuck up, clean of smoke, into a clear sky. The
massive entrance gates were a closed wall across the
In the little room to which Jim Swain had returned
— after the days unnumbered of life in the open
trenches, wet dykes in the winter, and in summer
dusty sunken avenues where death struck suddenly
in the glare ; after the countless nights of clear stars
rising to a wondrous infinity of multitude and distance
above the dark bank of parapet — Ann bent over a
soap-box cradle where a child whimpered in faint
misery. The room was utterly bare of any furniture
save the poor substitutes of a number of packing-
cases of various sizes. The little home which Jim had
established, which Ann had worked so passionately
to improve, was a home no longer. It was merely a
squalid shelter for squalid human animals.
Ann, on her knees by the child, looked up to the
three figures in the centre of the room, her attention
suddenly challenged by the clash of angry voices.
A tall man, fierce, with a shock of untidy hair
falling on a narrow brow, a vivid red tie overwhelming
the soft collar which kept it in place, was pointing a
quivering finger at her husband's breast.
" You call yourself the leader of these men," he was
saying, in a rage of scorn, " and you flaunt that scrap
of coloured rag — you advertise your pride that you
THEY COME BACK 293
helped the bourgeois to fight his war ! Take it off,
man — fling it down and trample on it ! The red on
it is the blood of your fellow- workers ! "
" Aye, that's just what it is, Laurence," said the
ex-soldier with equal anger. " And I am proud of it.
I'm proud that I did my bit for England — for Eng-
land's ours, too, as well as the capitalists', and the
war was our war, the war of the crowd of us — and we
went out and risked our lives while you and your
cowardly kind stayed at home and helped the enemy
all you could. That's your patriotism ! And now to
hear you talk one would think England was an enemy
country ! I tell you it's our country as much as any-
body's and our war that we fought for it ! The red
on this medal ribbon is the red of the blood of the
chaps that died for it if you like — and I'm mighty
proud to wear it. And, by God, Laurence, while I'm
the leader of these poor chaps I won't have any
traitor talk — is that clear ? "
" Your country ! " the other laughed bitterly.
" What right have you got to a ha'porth of it ? — you,
who are being chucked out into the street — you, who
haven't even the right to demand work and earn
your bread ! Bah ! Militarism has rotted the soul
" It taught me to know a true man when I see him,
anyway, Laurence — and you're none o' that kind !
You, poisoning the minds of starving men "
" And who keeps 'em starving ? Who prevents
'em from helping themselves in the nearest baker's
" Now, lads — now, lads ! " intervened the third
294 THEY COME BACK
man, a thick-set fellow in black coat and turned-up
trousers over yellow boots. A smug self-confidence
was native to his podgy countenance, was the com-
plement of the cunning, scheming eyes. " There's
no use quarrelling. What we've got to do is to 'elp
each other — we working-men. The Union's bust,