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Produced by David Widger





THE BURNING SPEAR

by John Galsworthy



Being the Experiences of Mr. John Lavender in the Time of War

Recorded by: A. R. P - M [John Galsworthy]


[NOTE: John Galsworthy said of this work: "'The Burning Spear' was
revenge of the nerves. It was bad enough to have to bear the dreads and
strains and griefs of war." Several years after its first publication he
admitted authorship and it was included in the collected edition of his
works. D.W.]



"With a heart of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air
In the wilderness I wander;
With a night of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end
For me it is no journey."

TOM O'BEDLAM




THE BURNING SPEAR




I

THE HERO

In the year - - there dwelt on Hampstead Heath a small thin gentleman
of fifty-eight, gentle disposition, and independent means, whose wits
had become somewhat addled from reading the writings and speeches of
public men. The castle which, like every Englishman, he inhabited was
embedded in lilac bushes and laburnums, and was attached to another
castle, embedded, in deference to our national dislike of uniformity,
in acacias and laurustinus. Our gentleman, whose name was John Lavender,
had until the days of the Great War passed one of those curious
existences are sometimes to be met with, in doing harm to nobody. He
had been brought up to the Bar, but like most barristers had never
practised, and had spent his time among animals and the wisdom of the
past. At the period in which this record opens he owned a young female
sheep-dog called Blink, with beautiful eyes obscured by hair; and was
attended to by a thin and energetic housekeeper, in his estimation
above all weakness, whose name was Marian Petty, and by her husband, his
chauffeur, whose name was Joe.

It was the ambition of our hero to be, like all public men, without fear
and without reproach. He drank not, abstained from fleshly intercourse,
and habitually spoke the truth. His face was thin, high cheek-boned, and
not unpleasing, with one loose eyebrow over which he had no control; his
eyes, bright and of hazel hue, looked his fellows in the face without
seeing what was in it. Though his moustache was still dark, his thick
waving hair was permanently white, for his study was lined from floor to
ceiling with books, pamphlets, journals, and the recorded utterances
of great mouths. He was of a frugal habit, ate what was put before him
without question, and if asked what he would have, invariably answered:
"What is there?" without listening to the reply. For at mealtimes it was
his custom to read the writings of great men.

"Joe," he would say to his chauffeur, who had a slight limp, a green
wandering eye, and a red face, with a rather curved and rather redder
nose, "You must read this."

And Joe would answer:

"Which one is that, sir?"

"Hummingtop; a great man, I think, Joe."

"A brainy chap, right enough, sir."

"He has done wonders for the country. Listen to this." And Mr. Lavender
would read as follows: "If I had fifty sons I would give them all. If
I had forty daughters they should nurse and scrub and weed and fill
shells; if I had thirty country-houses they should all be hospitals; if
I had twenty pens I would use them all day long; if had ten voices they
should never cease to inspire and aid my country."

"If 'e had nine lives," interrupted Joe, with a certain suddenness,
"'e'd save the lot."

Mr. Lavender lowered the paper.

"I cannot bear cynicism, Joe; there is no quality so unbecoming to a
gentleman."

"Me and 'im don't put in for that, sir."

"Joe, Mr. Lavender would say you are, incorrigible...."

Our gentleman, in common with all worthy of the name, had a bank-book,
which, in hopes that it would disclose an unsuspected balance, he would
have "made up" every time he read an utterance exhorting people to
invest and save their country.

One morning at the end of May, finding there was none, he called in his
housekeeper and said:

"Mrs. Petty, we are spending too much; we have again been exhorted to
save. Listen! 'Every penny diverted from prosecution of the war is one
more spent in the interests of the enemies of mankind. No patriotic
person, I am confident; will spend upon him or herself a stiver which
could be devoted to the noble ends so near to all our hearts. Let us
make every spare copper into bullets to strengthen the sinews of war!' A
great speech. What can we do without?"

"The newspapers, sir."

"Don't be foolish, Mrs. Petty. From what else could we draw our
inspiration and comfort in these terrible days?"

Mrs. Petty sniffed. "Well, you can't eat less than you do," she said;
"but you might stop feedin' Blink out of your rations - that I do think."

"I have not found that forbidden as yet in any public utterance,"
returned Mr. Lavender; "but when the Earl of Betternot tells us to stop,
I shall follow his example, you may depend on that. The country comes
before everything." Mrs. Petty tossed her head and murmured darkly -

"Do you suppose he's got an example, Sir?"

"Mrs. Petty," replied Mr. Lavender, "that is quite unworthy of you. But,
tell me, what can we do without?"

"I could do without Joe," responded Mrs. Petty, "now that you're not
using him as chauffeur."

"Please be serious. Joe is an institution; besides, I am thinking of
offering myself to the Government as a speaker now that we may use gas."

"Ah!" said Mrs. Petty.

"I am going down about it to-morrow."

"Indeed, sir!"

"I feel my energies are not fully employed."

"No, sir?"

"By the way, there was a wonderful leader on potatoes yesterday. We must
dig up the garden. Do you know what the subsoil is?"

"Brickbats and dead cats, I expect, sir."

"Ah! We shall soon improve that. Every inch of land reclaimed is a nail
in the coffin of our common enemies."

And going over to a bookcase, Mr. Lavender took out the third from the
top of a pile of newspapers. "Listen!" he said. "'The problem before
us is the extraction of every potential ounce of food. No half measures
must content us. Potatoes! Potatoes! No matter how, where, when the
prime national necessity is now the growth of potatoes. All Britons
should join in raising a plant which may be our very salvation.

"Fudge!" murmured Mrs. Petty.

Mr. Lavender read on, and his eyes glowed.

"Ah!" he thought, "I, too, can do my bit to save England.... It needs
but the spark to burn away the dross of this terrible horse-sense which
keeps the country back.

"Mrs. Petty!" But Mrs. Petty was already not.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The grass never grew under the feet of Mr. Lavender, No sooner had he
formed his sudden resolve than he wrote to what he conceived to be the
proper quarter, and receiving no reply, went down to the centre of
the official world. It was at time of change and no small national
excitement; brooms were sweeping clean, and new offices had arisen
everywhere. Mr. Lavender passed bewildered among large stone buildings
and small wooden buildings, not knowing where to go. He had bought no
clothes since the beginning of the war, except the various Volunteer
uniforms which the exigencies of a shifting situation had forced the
authorities to withdraw from time to time; and his, small shrunken
figure struck somewhat vividly on the eye, with elbows and knees shining
in the summer sunlight. Stopping at last before the only object which
seemed unchanged, he said:

"Can you tell me where the Ministry is?"

The officer looked down at him.

"What for?"

"For speaking about the country."

"Ministry of Propagation? First on the right, second door on the left."

"Thank you. The Police are wonderful."

"None of that," said the officer coldly.

"I only said you were wonderful."

"I 'eard you."

"But you are. I don't know what the country would do without you.
Your solid qualities, your imperturbable bonhomie, your truly British
tenderness towards - - "

"Pass away!" said the officer.

"I am only repeating what we all say of you," rejoined Mr. Lavender
reproachfully.

"Did you 'ear me say 'Move on,'" said the officer; "or must I make you
an example?"

"YOU are the example," said Mr. Lavender warmly.

"Any more names," returned the officer, "and I take you to the station."
And he moved out into the traffic. Puzzled by his unfriendliness Mr.
Lavender resumed his search, and, arriving at the door indicated, went
in. A dark, dusty, deserted corridor led him nowhere, till he came on a
little girl in a brown frock, with her hair down her back.

"Can you tell me, little one - - " he said, laying his hand on her head.

"Chuck it!" said the little girl.

"No, no!" responded Mr. Lavender, deeply hurt. "Can you tell me where I
can find the Minister?"

"'Ave you an appointment?

"No; but I wrote to him. He should expect me."

"Wot nyme?"

"John Lavender. Here is my card."

"I'll tyke it in. Wyte 'ere!"

"Wonderful!" mused Mr. Lavender; "the patriotic impulse already stirring
in these little hearts! What was the stanza of that patriotic poet?

"'Lives not a babe who shall not feel the pulse
Of Britain's need beat wild in Britain's wrist.
And, sacrificial, in the world's convulse
Put up its lips to be by Britain kissed.'

"So young to bring their lives to the service of the country!"

"Come on," said the little girl, reappearing suddenly; "e'll see you."

Mr. Lavender entered a room which had a considerable resemblance to the
office of a lawyer save for the absence of tomes. It seemed furnished
almost exclusively by the Minister, who sat with knees crossed, in a
pair of large round tortoiseshell spectacles, which did not, however,
veil the keenness of his eyes. He was a man with close cropped grey
hair, a broad, yellow, clean-shaven face, and thrusting grey eyes.

"Mr. Lavender," he said, in a raw, forcible voice; "sit down, will you?"

"I wrote to you," began our hero, "expressing the wish to offer myself
as a speaker."

"Ah!" said the Minister. "Let's see - Lavender, Lavender. Here's your
letter." And extracting a letter from a file he read it, avoiding
with difficulty his tortoise-shell spectacles. "You want to stump the
country? M.A., Barrister, and Fellow of the Zoological. Are you a good
speaker?"

"If zeal - -" began Mr. Lavender.

"That's it; spark! We're out to win this war, sir."

"Quite so," began Mr. Lavender. "If devotion - - "

"You'll have to use gas," said the Minister; "and we don't pay."

"Pay!" cried Mr. Lavender with horror; "no, indeed!"

The Minister bent on him a shrewd glance.

"What's your line? Anything particular, or just general patriotism? I
recommend that; but you'll have to put some punch into it, you know."

"I have studied all the great orators of the war, sir," said Mr.
Lavender, "and am familiar with all the great writers on, it. I should
form myself on them; and if enthusiasm - - "

"Quite!" said the Minister. "If you want any atrocities we can give you
them. No facts and no figures; just general pat."

"I shall endeavour - - " began Mr. Lavender.

"Well, good-bye," said the Minister, rising. "When do you start?"

Mr. Lavender rose too. "To-morrow," he said, "if I can get inflated."

The Minister rang a bell.

"You're on your own, mind," he said. "No facts; what they want is
ginger. Yes, Mr. Japes?"

And seeing that the Minister was looking over his tortoiseshell.
spectacles at somebody behind him, Mr. Lavender turned and went out. In
the corridor he thought, "What terseness! How different from the days
when Dickens wrote his 'Circumlocution Office'! Punch!" And opening
the wrong door, he found himself in the presence of six little girls
in brown frocks, sitting against the walls with their thumbs in their
mouths.

"Oh!" he said, "I'm afraid I've lost my way."

The eldest of the little girls withdrew a thumb.

"What d'yer want?"

"The door," said Mr. Lavender.

"Second on the right."

"Goodbye," said Mr. Lavender.

The little girls did not answer. And he went out thinking, "These
children are really wonderful! What devotion one sees! And yet the
country is not yet fully roused!"




II

THE VALET

Joe Petty stood contemplating the car which, purchased some fifteen
years before had not been used since the war began. Birds had nested in
its hair. It smelled of mould inside; it creaked from rust. "The Guv'nor
must be cracked," he thought, "to think we can get anywhere in this
old geyser. Well, well, it's summer; if we break down it won't break my
'eart. Government job - better than diggin' or drillin'. Good old
Guv!" So musing, he lit his pipe and examined the recesses beneath the
driver's seat. "A bottle or three," he thought, "in case our patriotism
should get us stuck a bit off the beaten; a loaf or two, some 'oney in a
pot, and a good old 'am.

"A life on the rollin' road - - ' 'Ow they can give 'im the job I can't
think!" His soliloquy was here interrupted by the approach of his wife,
bearing a valise.

"Don't you wish you was comin', old girl?" he remarked to her lightly.

"I do not; I'm glad to be shut of you. Keep his feet dry. What have you
got under there?"

Joe Petty winked.

"What a lumbering great thing it looks!" said Mrs. Petty, gazing
upwards.

"Ah!" returned her husband thoughtfully, we'll 'ave the population round
us without advertisement. And taking the heads of two small boys who had
come up, he knocked them together in an absent-minded fashion.

"Well," said Mrs. Petty, "I can't waste time. Here's his extra set of
teeth. Don't lose them. Have you got your own toothbrush? Use it, and
behave yourself. Let me have a line. And don't let him get excited." She
tapped her forehead.

"Go away, you boys; shoo!"

The boys, now six in number, raised a slight cheer; for at that moment
Mr. Lavender, in a broad-brimmed grey felt hat and a holland dust-coat,
came out through his garden-gate carrying a pile of newspapers and
pamphlets so large that his feet, legs, and hat alone were visible.

"Open the door, Joe!" he said, and stumbled into the body of the
vehicle. A shrill cheer rose from the eight boys, who could see him
through the further window. Taking this for an augury Of success, Mr.
Lavender removed his hat, and putting his head through the window, thus
addressed the ten boys:

"I thank you. The occasion is one which I shall ever remember. The
Government has charged me with the great task of rousing our country in
days which demand of each of us the utmost exertions. I am proud to
feel that I have here, on the very threshold of my task, an audience of
bright young spirits, each one of whom in this democratic country has in
him perhaps the makings of a General or even of a Prime Minister. Let it
be your earnest endeavour, boys - - "

At this moment a piece of indiarubber rebounded from Mr. Lavender's
forehead, and he recoiled into the body of the car.

"Are you right, sir?" said Joe, looking in; and without waiting for
reply he started the engine. The car moved out amid a volley of stones,
balls, cheers, and other missiles from the fifteen boys who pursued it
with frenzy. Swaying slightly from side to side, with billowing bag, it
gathered speed, and, turning a corner, took road for the country. Mr.
Lavender, somewhat dazed, for the indiarubber had been hard, sat gazing
through the little back window at the great city he was leaving. His
lips moved, expressing unconsciously the sentiments of innumerable Lord
Mayors: "Greatest City in the world, Queen of Commerce, whose full heart
I can still hear beating behind me, in mingled pride and regret I leave
you. With the most sacred gratitude I lay down my office. I go to other
work, whose - - Joe!"

"Sir?"

"Do you see that?"

"I see your 'ead, that's all, sir."

"We seem to be followed by a little column of dust, which keeps ever at
the same distance in the middle of the road. Do you think it can be an
augury."

"No; I should think it's a dog."

"In that case, hold hard!" said Mr. Lavender, who had a weakness for
dog's. Joe slackened the car's pace, and leaned his head round the
corner. The column of dust approached rapidly.

"It is a dog," said Mr. Lavender, "it's Blink."

The female sheep-dog, almost flat with the ground from speed, emerged
from the dust, wild with hair and anxiety, white on the cheeks and chest
and top of the head, and grey in the body and the very little tail, and
passed them like a streak of lightning.

"Get on!" cried Mr. Lavender, excited; "follow her she's trying to catch
us up!"

Joe urged on the car, which responded gallantly, swaying from side to
side, while the gas-bag bellied and shook; but the faster it went the
faster the sheep-dog flew in front of it.

"This is dreadful!" said Mr. Lavender in anguish, leaning far out.
"Blink! Blink!"

His cries were drowned in the roar of the car.

"Damn the brute!" muttered Joe, "at this rate she'll be over the edge in
'alf a mo'. Wherever does she think we are?"

"Blink! Blink!" wailed Mr. Lavender. "Get on, Joe, get on! She's gaining
on us!"

"Well I never see anything like this," said Joe, "chasin' wot's chasing
you! Hi! Hi!"

Urged on by their shouts and the noise of the pursuing car, the poor dog
redoubled her efforts to rejoin her master, and Mr. Lavender, Joe, and
the car, which had begun to emit the most lamentable creaks and odours,
redoubled theirs.

"I shall bust her up," said Joe.

"I care not!" cried Mr. Lavender. "I must recover the dog."

They flashed through the outskirts of the Garden City. "Stop her, stop
her!" called Mr. Lavender to such of the astonished inhabitants as they
had already left behind. "This is a nightmare, Joe!"

"'It's a blinkin' day-dream," returned Joe, forcing the car to an
expiring spurt.

"If she gets to that 'ill before we ketch 'er, we're done; the old
geyser can't 'alf crawl up 'ills."

"We're gaining," shrieked Mr. Lavender; "I can see her tongue."

As though it heard his voice, the car leaped forward and stopped with a
sudden and most formidable jerk; the door burst open, and Mr. Lavender
fell out upon his sheep-dog.

Fortunately they were in the only bed of nettles in that part of the
world, and its softness and that of Blink assuaged the severity of his
fall, yet it was some minutes before he regained the full measure of his
faculties. He came to himself sitting on a milestone, with his dog on
her hind legs between his knees, licking his face clean, and panting
down his throat.

"Joe," he said; "where are you?"

The voice of Joe replied from underneath the car: "Here sir. She's
popped."

"Do you mean that our journey is arrested?"

"Ah! We're in irons. You may as well walk 'ome, sir. It ain't two miles.

"No! no!" said Mr. Lavender. "We passed the Garden City a little way
back; I could go and hold a meeting. How long will you be?"

"A day or two," said Joe.

Mr. Lavender sighed, and at this manifestation of his grief his
sheep-dog redoubled her efforts to comfort him. "Nothing becomes one
more than the practice of philosophy," he thought. "I always admired
those great public men who in moments of national peril can still dine
with a good appetite. We will sit in the car a little, for I have rather
a pain, and think over a speech." So musing he mounted the car, followed
by his dog, and sat down in considerable discomfort.

"What subject can I choose for a Garden City?" he thought, and
remembering that he had with him the speech of a bishop on the subject
of babies, he dived into his bundle of literature, and extracting a
pamphlet began to con its periods. A sharp blow from a hammer on the
bottom of the car just below where Blink was sitting caused him to pause
and the dog to rise and examine her tiny tail.

"Curious," thought Mr. Lavender dreamily, "how Joe always does the right
thing in the wrong place. He is very English." The hammering continued,
and the dog, who traced it to the omnipotence of her master, got up on
the seat where she could lick his face. Mr. Lavender was compelled to
stop.

"Joe," he said, leaning out and down; "must you?"

The face of Joe, very red, leaned out and up. "What's the matter now,
sir?"

"I am preparing a speech; must you hammer?"

"No," returned Joe, "I needn't."

"I don't wish you to waste your time," said Mr Lavender.

"Don't worry about that, sir," replied Joe; "there's plenty to do."

"In that case I shall be glad to finish my speech."

Mr. Lavender resumed his seat and Blink her position on the floor, with
her head on his feet. The sound of his voice soon rose again in the car
like the buzzing of large flies. "'If we are to win this war we must
have an ever-increasing population. In town and countryside, in
the palace and the slum, above all in the Garden City, we must have
babies.'"

Here Blink, who had been regarding him with lustrous eyes, leaped on
to his knees and licked his mouth. Again Mr. Lavender was compelled to
stop.

"Down, Blink, down! I am not speaking to you. 'The future of our country
depends on the little citizens born now. I especially appeal to women.
It is to them we must look - - '"

"Will you 'ave a glass, sir?"

Mr. Lavender saw before him a tumbler containing a yellow fluid.

"Joe," he said sadly, "you know my rule - - "

"'Ere's the exception, sir."

Mr. Lavender sighed. "No, no; I must practise what I preach. I shall
soon be rousing the people on the liquor question, too."

"Well, 'ere's luck," said Joe, draining the glass. "Will you 'ave a
slice of 'am?"

"That would not be amiss," said Mr. Lavender, taking Joe's knife with
the slice of ham upon its point. "'It is to them that we must look,'"
he resumed, "'to rejuvenate the Empire and make good the losses in the
firing-line.'" And he raised the knife to his mouth. No result followed,
while Blink wriggled on her base and licked her lips.

"Blink!" said Mr. Lavender reproachfully. "Joe!"

"Sir!"

"When you've finished your lunch and repaired the car you will find me
in the Town Hall or market-place. Take care of Blink. I'll tie her up.
Have you some string?"

Having secured his dog to the handle of the door and disregarded the
intensity of her gaze, Mr. Lavender walked back towards the Garden City
with a pamphlet in one hand and a crutch-handled stick in the other.
Restoring the ham to its nest behind his feet, Joe finished the bottle
of Bass. "This is a bit of all right!" he thought dreamily. "Lie down,
you bitch! Quiet! How can I get my nap while you make that row? Lie
down! That's better."

Blink was silent, gnawing at her string. The smile deepened on Joe's
face, his head fell a little one side his mouth fell open a fly flew
into it.

"Ah!" he thought, spitting it out; "dog's quiet now." He slept.




III

MR. LAVENDER ADDRESSES A CROWD OF HUNS

"'Give them ginger!'" thought Mr. Lavender, approaching the first
houses. "My first task, however, will be to collect them."

"Can you tell me," he said to a dustman, "where the market-place is?"

"Ain't none."

"The Town Hall, then?"

"Likewise."

"What place is there, then," said Mr. Lavender, "where people
congregate?"

"They don't."

"Do they never hold public meetings here?"

"Ah!" said the dustman mysteriously.

"I wish to address them on the subject of babies."

"Bill! Gent abaht babies. Where'd he better go?"

The man addressed, however, who carried a bag of tools, did not stop.

"You,'ear?" said the dustman, and urging his horse, passed on.

"How rude!" thought Mr. Lavender. Something cold and wet was pressed
against his hand, he felt a turmoil, and saw Blink moving round and
round him, curved like a horseshoe, with a bit of string dangling from
her white neck. At that moment of discouragement the sight of one who
believed in him gave Mr. Lavender nothing but pleasure. "How wonderful
dogs are!" he murmured. The sheep-dog responded by bounds and
ear-splitting barks, so that two boys and a little girl wheeling a
perambulator stopped to look and listen.

"She is like Mercury," thought Mr. Lavender; and taking advantage of
her interest in his hat, which she had knocked off in her effusions, he
placed his hand on her head and crumpled her ear. The dog passed into
an hypnotic trance, broken by soft grumblings of pleasure. "The most
beautiful eyes in the world!" thought Mr. Lavender, replacing his hat;
"the innocence and goodness of her face are entrancing."

In his long holland coat, with his wide-brimmed felt hat all dusty,


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