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WAR-TIME SILHOUETTES


By Stephen Hudson




CONTENTS

I. MR. REISS'S FINAL GRIEVANCE

II. IN THE TRUE INTEREST OF THE NATION

III. WAR WORK

IV. BUSINESS IS BUSINESS

V. "BOBBY"

VI. A WAR VICTIM

VII. DULCE ET DECORUM




I. MR. REISS'S FINAL GRIEVANCE

Mr. Adolf Reiss, merchant, sits alone on a gloomy December afternoon.
He gazes into the fire with jaundiced eyes reflecting on his grievance
against Life. The room is furnished expensively but arranged without
taste, and it completely lacks home atmosphere. Mr. Reiss's room is,
like himself, uncomfortable. The walls are covered with pictures, but
their effect is unpleasing; perhaps this is because they were bought
by him as reputed bargains, sometimes at forced sales of bankrupt
acquaintances Making and thinking about money has not left Mr. Reiss
time to consider comfort, but for Art, in the form of pictures and
other saleable commodities, he has a certain respect. Such things if
bought judiciously have been known to increase in value in the most
extraordinary manner, and as this generally happens long after their
creators are dead, he leaves living artists severely alone. The essence
of successful speculation is to limit your liability.

Mr. Reiss is a short, stoutish, ungainly man past seventy, and he suffers
from chronic indigestion. He is one of those people of whom it is
difficult to believe that they ever were young.

But it is not on account of these disadvantages that Mr. Reiss considers
himself ill treated by Fate. It is because since the War he regards
himself as a ruined man. Half his fortune remains; but Mr. Reiss, though
he hates the rich, despises the merely well-off. Of a man whose income
would generally be considered wealth he says, "Bah! He hasn't a penny."
Below this level every one is "a pauper"; now he rather envies such
pitiable people because "they've got nothing to lose." His philosophy
of life is simple to grasp, and he can never understand why so many
people refuse to accept it. If they did, he thinks that the world would
not be such an unpleasant place to live in. Life in his opinion is
simply a fight for money. All the trouble in the world is caused by
the want of it, all the happiness man requires can be purchased with
it. Those who think the contrary are fools, and if they go to the length
of professing indifference to money they are "humbugs."

"Humbug" and "Bunkum" are favourite words of his. He generally dismisses
remarks and stops discussion by the use of either or both. His solitary
term of praise is the word "respectable" and he uses it sparingly,
being as far as he can conscientiously go in approval of any one; he
thus eulogizes those who live within their means and have never been
known to be hard up. People who are hard up are "wasters." No one has
any business to be hard up; "respectable" men live on what they've
got. If any one were to ask him how people are to live within their
means when they've not got any, he would reply with the word "bunkum"
and clinch the argument with a grunt. It will be understood that
conversation with Mr. Adolf Reiss is not easy.

* * * * *

A knock on the door. Mr. Reiss's servant announces some one and
withdraws.

Intuitively Mr. Reiss, who is rather deaf, and has not caught the name,
grasps the paper and hides behind it. From long experience he has
discovered the utility of the newspaper as a sort of parapet
behind which he can better await attack.

A slight figure in khaki advances into the room, observes the newspaper
above the legs and smiles slightly.

"Hello, uncle!" It's a fresh young voice.

Mr. Reiss grunts, slowly lowers the paper and gazes at the youth over
his eyeglasses.

"Oh, it's you. When did you come up?"

"Just arrived, uncle. We're ordered out. I thought I'd look you up
at once as there are one or two things - "

"Eh - what?"

Among Mr. Reiss's characteristics is a disconcerting habit of making
people repeat their remarks. This is deliberate and its purpose
twofold - to gain time and to embarrass the person addressed.

The young fellow sits down rather uncomfortably and begins again -

"We're ordered out, you know - "

"No, I didn't know. How could I? You never write - "

Mr. Reiss consolidates his defence with the pretence of a grievance.

"I didn't know myself until yesterday. They don't give one much time,
you know."

"They - who?"

"The War Office people. You see, our first battalion has had a lot
of casualties and three of us subs are being taken from the third.
We've got to join the day after to-morrow. Bit of a rush. And I've
got things to get. I'm afraid I must ask you to give me a leg up, uncle.
I'm a bit short - "

"Short? Why, you've got an ample allowance besides your pay and the
Government pays for your outfit at an extravagant rate." Mr. Reiss
never ceases denouncing the extravagance of the Government. He now
adjusts his glasses and glowers at the youngster, who fidgets under
the scrutiny. "Yes, I know. I - " he stammers.

"Well - well?"

"The fact is - when Staples, our captain, went back - he - I - "

A grunt. Then, "Eh - what?"

"He was engaged, you know."

"Well - well?" irritably.

"I can't explain, uncle, if you don't give me a chance."

Another grunt.

"Jimmie - I mean Staples - wanted to give his girl a ring before he went
back. He hadn't enough money - so I lent him fifty pounds."

Mr. Reiss drops his glasses, gets up from his chair, and stands before
the fire, facing his nephew.

"So you lent him fifty pounds, did you? A third of your annual allowance.
You had no business to - and if Captain Whatever's-his-name were a
respectable man, he would have saved the money to pay for the ring.
Instead of that _I_ have to pay for it."

"Oh no, uncle."

"How d'you mean - 'no, uncle'? Aren't you asking me for money? It's
always the same story with the lot of you. You like to be generous
at other people's expense. I've told you I'm a ruined man. The fortune
which was the result of my hard work all my life has disappeared. I'm
a poor man. I spend nothing on myself. I've given up my car. I've put
down everything. I'm trying to dispose of my pictures and to sell the
lease of this place. You don't seem to understand what this infernal
war means to people like myself. _You_ don't have to pay for it.
Do you realize that one-third of my entire income goes for income
tax? I've paid your bills over and over again, but I can't do it any
more. For this once I'll - " The boy holds up his hand.

"Look here, uncle. I'd better tell you at once. I shall need another
fifty to make me square. But I'll pay you back - on my honour - "

"Bah! Your honour! Pay me back. I know what that means. So it's a hundred
pounds you want. Very well. You shall have your hundred pounds. But
I solemnly warn you that it's the last penny I intend to pay for your
extravagance. As for that waster of a Captain What's-his - "

The boy flushes to the roots of his light, wavy hair.

"I say, uncle. He's not a waster. He's the finest fellow in the regiment.
I can't allow you - Look here - never mind the money. The jeweller knows
it's all right. I'd rather - "

He stops. The words won't come. He gazes at his uncle helplessly. Mr.
Reiss goes slowly to the writing-table and sits down. Taking a blank
cheque from a pocket-book he always carries, he fills it in and passes
it to the boy without speaking.

"I don't like taking it, uncle. I don't, really - "

Mr. Reiss half turns round. He still says nothing, he does not even
grunt. He knows that there are times when silence is golden. Moreover,
he knows that money talks.

A few minutes later Mr. Adolf Reiss is again sitting alone, gazing
into the fire. And he has another grievance against Life.

* * * * *

The philosophy of Mr. Reiss is a natural result of his early environment.
In Magdeburg, where he was born and brought up, education in business
principles is combined with the theory of family duty. Whether this
theory takes the place of affection or not, its application in the
case of Mr. Reiss resulted in his migration at an early age to England,
where he soon found a market for his German industry, his German
thriftiness, and his German astuteness. He established a business and
took out naturalization papers. Until the War came Mr. Reiss was growing
richer and richer. His talent for saving kept pace with his gift for
making.

He spent evening after evening, when he came home from the
City, thinking out different ways of tying up his fortune on Percy,
so that it could remain intact as long as possible. Some of his schemes
for insuring the safety of his capital, for the resettlement of the
greater part of the income by trustees - for combining, in fact, a maximum
of growing power for the fortune with a minimum of enjoyment for the
heir - were really marvels of ingenuity.

But since the War his thoughts have taken a different turn. Half his
fortune has gone. He is too old now to catch up again. It's all over
with money-making. The most he can hope for is to keep "the little
that is left." If only Percy had been older and had a son, he could
settle the money upon his great-nephew. Then there would have been
time for the money to accumulate again.

And now he's gone to the Front. He might be killed. It doesn't bear
thinking about. He has toiled all his life. Surely after _all_
his self-sacrifice and self-denial he is not to be robbed of the one
satisfaction he asks for, to know that the beggarly remains of his
wealth shall be safe after his own death.

Every day he scans the papers anxiously. His one preoccupation is the
daily casualty list.

* * * * *

Spring is at hand, and though there is chill in the air Mr. Reiss is
economical and sits before an empty grate. Self-mortification always
seems to him to be evidence of moral superiority and to confirm his
right to special grievances. He is reading a letter over again received
that morning from Percy. It bears the stamp of the Base Censor and
is some days old.


DEAR UNCLE ADOLF,

You remember my friend Jimmy Staples - the one I told you about, who
was engaged and I lent that money to? Well, he's been killed, or rather
he has just died of wounds. He has done splendidly. Our Brigadier had
sent in his name for a V.C. I'll tell you all about it when I see you.
But what I wanted to say is that it's all right about the money. I've
got lots in the bank now, and in another couple of months I shall be
able to pay you back. One can't spend anything much out here. I'm quite
fit, but I'm rather in the blues about Jimmy. Mother will give you
all my news.

Your affectionate Nephew.

P.S. - By the way, I gave your name as nearest relative in case of
accidents, to save mother.


Mr. Reiss has a curious and unaccustomed feeling of flatness as he
re-reads the letter. Somehow or other he does not want Percy to pay
him back that fifty pounds. He thinks he'll write and tell him so at
once.

He sits down at the writing-table - the same one at which he had
written the cheque the last time he saw Percy. The scene comes back
to him with a strange vividness as he dips his pen in the ink. He
hesitates a moment before beginning the letter. Was there anything he
could say that would please Percy? He has a curious and at the same time
a strong desire to do something now - at once. He has never felt like this
before. Supposing he were to - A knock on the door. His servant brings in a
telegram. Why do Mr. Reiss's fingers tremble so? Why does Mr. Reiss begin
cleaning his glasses before he opens the envelope?

He holds the pink paper under the lamp.


Deeply regret to inform you....


Mr. Adolf Reiss does not need to read farther, and now he has a final
grievance against Life.




II. IN THE TRUE INTEREST OF THE NATION

Sir Matthew Bale, baronet and Member of Parliament, appears to be,
at first sight, a distinguished person. When you know him better, you
ask yourself what misled you, and you reconsider his personality. Careful
scrutiny reveals that he is a skilful imitation. On the other hand,
he is not just a fa√Іade, for there is will behind the mask. His imitation
is, in fact, the result of an endeavour to be, not merely to appear,
distinguished, and he fails because, while the manner is there, the
moral qualities which should support it are not. Though he does not
know it, this failure to realize his own ideal of himself is the fly
in the amber. Sir Matthew was an ambitious man, and believed that all
that was necessary in order to "arrive" was to will it sufficiently.
Up to a point his career supports his theory, but not altogether; for
while, considering where he began, he has climbed to a considerable
height, Sir Matthew is very far from satisfied with his position.

Sir Matthew is wily, but he is not able, and he is exceedingly ignorant;
this ignorance even extends to matters in which he is directly and
personally interested. In most men this defect would have proved an
insuperable obstacle to success, but it has not been so with Sir Matthew
because he is aware of his own shortcomings, and when he can't do a
thing himself he is exceedingly good at getting some one to do it for
him.

Nobody knows anything about his origin, but he began to make his
living at an early age, and while still in the twenties he was doing
well as a bookmaker.

Reggy Dumbarton owed him a good deal more money than he could ever
have paid, so, on reflection, Bale turned his back on bookmaking and
started finance with large plate-glass windows in Threadneedle Street,
and Lord Reginald Dumbarton as junior (very junior) partner.

The Dumbarton connection made the new office a rendezvous for young
bloods whose profession in life it is to induce their friends to
cultivate a taste for speculative investment. The growth of the business
demanding a wider financial knowledge than Bale's bookmaking experience
could supply, his discriminating eye discovered a promising additional
partner in the person of Maurice Blum, who had survived two startling
bankruptcies and an action against him for fraud. Bale, Dumbarton,
and Blum now did so thriving a business that Bale started an elegantly
appointed flat in Mayfair, drove a phaeton and pair (it was before
the days of motors), and was much about town with gentlemen of family
to whom his partnership with Dumbarton afforded a useful and easy
introduction. An indication that at this time he was among the minor
celebrities may be found in the fact that a flattering caricature of
him appeared in _Vanity Fair_.

When his engagement was announced to Dumbarton's cousin, Lady Ermyntrude
Stanley-Dalrymple, elder daughter of Lord Belfast, a social personage
and a power in the inner councils of the Conservative Party, it was
suggested that there might be some connection between this rather
unexpected event and Lord Belfast's heavy losses on the Stock Exchange
and subsequent directorships and holdings of shares in his future
son-in-law's companies. Whether this supposition was well founded or
not, it can be said with certainty that Bale had secured at one stroke
a footing in society and in politics, for shortly after his marriage
to Lady Ermyntrude his father-in-law found him a safe seat in Parliament.

Meanwhile Mr. Maurice Blum, who in the absence of his chief partner
had been looking after himself as well as the business, presented an
ultimatum. If Mr. Bale wanted to be a politician, Blum had no objection,
but that meant, at all events at first, spending money instead of making
it, and under the circumstances the terms of the partnership must be
modified.

This was the nastiest blow Bale had yet received. He had regarded Blum
as his creature, and his resentment at what he considered his partner's
treachery was deep. But his prudence and astuteness did not fail him;
he knew Blum's value, and he was aware that even if he were himself
able to spare the time from his political activities, his knowledge
was not sufficient to enable him to manage the growing business of
the firm.

In Bale's view wealth is a necessary accompaniment of
distinction. He longed to be aristocratically indifferent to money,
and it humiliated him that not only was he not rich, but that to keep
up the style of living his position demanded involved no inconsiderable
strain. And, as a matter of fact, his financial position was precarious
and depended entirely upon the fluctuating and speculative income he
derived from the business of Blum & Co. Obviously, therefore, Mr. Maurice
Blum was not a person with whom Bale could afford to quarrel. Wherefore
he mastered his resentment and accepted the change of the name of the
firm to Blum & Co., and the incidental reduction of his income that
change implied with a smile on his face in spite of the bitterness
in his heart.

To a man less adroit than he, the change in the partnership
might well have constituted a serious check in his upward career, but
once more Bale's native resourcefulness asserted itself. This crisis
in his private affairs took place when the country was torn by
dissensions over Tariff Reform. He had early learnt to fish in troubled
waters, and the political upheaval gave him his opportunity; he promptly
crossed the floor of the House and obtained, without paying for it, a
baronetcy as his reward.

* * * * *

Sir Matthew Bale is tall and slender; his head is well placed on his
shoulders, he has clear-cut features, a firm mouth with excellent teeth,
and is clean-shaven. Although he is over fifty, he has plenty of hair,
originally sandy, but now tinged with grey, which he parts at the side
and brushes straight back from the forehead. He dresses with a certain
quiet elegance, and he has a way of drawing down his cuffs as he talks
to you, and of placing the tips of his fingers together so that you
notice his nicely kept nails. He speaks in a low tone, which he only
raises when he forgets himself, and relies for emphasis on little
restrained gestures adopted by him, together with other tricks of speech
and manner, from his wife's male relations. In this he is unconscious
of imitation, for he is by nature adaptable and his desire to be
identified with the aristocracy is instinctive.

He has now associated himself with the extreme Radical and Labour wing,
where it flatters his vanity to think he is regarded as an elegant
exotic. A constant saying of his is "Keep your eye on labour," but,
though they don't say so, the Labour Members keep their eye on him
and regard his advances with distrust.

He has been active on departmental committees, and has on occasion
served as chairman. It did not need a long experience to teach him
that whatever the ostensible object of these convenient arrangements
may be, their usual purpose is to throw dust in the eyes of the public,
to burke discussion, and to save the face of embarrassed ministers.
Therefore, whenever he was appointed, his first step was invariably
to make certain what the wish of the minister was who nominated him.

Possessing such qualities it was no surprise to those who knew the
considerations involved when he was made chairman of the Government
Committee "to consider and report on the measures to be adopted during
the war with reference to the commercial, industrial, and financial
interests of British subjects in neutral countries."

This was by far the most important committee over which Sir Matthew
had ever presided, and he cherished the hope that by means of it he
might secure the immediate desire of his heart, a Privy Councillorship;
once a "Right Honourable" he could aspire to anything - a seat in the
Cabinet, or, if Blum & Co. prospered, a peerage even. Sir Matthew's
heart leaped at the thought of a coronet.

* * * * *

About this time Oswald Tarleton was sent for by his chief, and informed
that he had been selected for the secretaryship of Sir Matthew Bale's
committee.

"This is a very weighty committee, Mr. Tarleton," said the permanent
secretary of the department. "The Government's policy in regard to
enemy trading and proceedings under the Defence of the Realm Act will
largely depend upon the result of its deliberations. In Sir Matthew
Bale I have every reason for believing that you will find a most able,
and at the same time a most agreeable, chairman."

Oswald Tarleton went off delighted. Although he had been for twenty
years a highly conscientious departmental official, and had received
nothing but praise for his services, he was too much a gentleman to
push himself, and this modesty had resulted in his never being given
an opportunity of showing how competent a public servant he really was.

Now, Tarleton is an honest man and something of an idealist. His
first interview with Sir Matthew Bale made him open his eyes wider
than ever in his life before.

The chairman settled himself in his chair opposite his secretary, pulled
down his cuffs, put the tips of his fingers together, and held forth.

"Mr. Tarleton, we have got to make a success of this committee. I need
hardly tell you how important it is and that upon it depend vital
questions of Government policy. I am not going too far in saying that
the future of the Government itself depends to a large extent upon
the guidance which we shall be able to afford them as the result of
our labours."

Sir Matthew, as a rule, expressed himself badly, but he had been at
pains to prepare a little set speech with which to impress his secretary,
who now sat looking at him, silently meditating over the pompous
utterance, and wondering what was coming next.

"I understand, Mr. Tarleton," the chairman continued, "that you have
not hitherto had any experience as secretary of committees?"

"Oh yes, Sir Matthew, excuse me - "

"I mean," interrupted the chairman, "of Government committees. Now,
this one has been appointed by the Prime Minister himself, and I think
I may say, without indiscretion that he has largely consulted me as
to its composition. The - er - terms of reference will indicate to you
that the subject of our deliberations is a delicate one, and that it
will be necessary for us to remember that a grave responsibility rests
upon us in the selection of our witnesses. In other words, Mr.
Tarleton" - the chairman leaned back in his seat and scrutinized his
secretary - "we must, in the true interest of the nation - for of course
that is the paramount consideration - be careful to avoid anything in
the nature of disclosures which at this critical juncture
might - er - undermine the - er - confidence which rightly is reposed in
the Government. D'you follow me, Mr. Tarleton?"

The secretary hesitated for a moment.

"Do you mean, Sir Matthew, that we are not to accept evidence - "

"I mean, Mr. Tarleton, that we must discriminate in the selection of
our witnesses before we decide to call them. You are aware, perhaps, that
I am in the confidence of the Labour Party, and you will notice that
Amongst the members of the committee there are three prominent Labour
Members. Now you will understand that - er - er - while I have the
greatest - er - respect for the views of these - er - er - gentlemen,
there are limits to the influence I possess with them, and it is in
the highest degree desirable that no witness should come before them who
would be likely to prejudice in their eyes those who - er - indirectly
perhaps have - er - associations or connections - er - political or
otherwise, in the highest quarters."

"But excuse me, Sir Matthew, I thought - "

"No 'buts,' Mr. Tarleton; no thoughts except on the lines indicated by
me."

Oswald Tarleton withdrew from this preliminary interview with mingled
feelings, but uppermost there was already vaguely forming itself in his
mind a profound distrust, and still more a cordial dislike, of Sir
Matthew Bale.

* * * * *

A recent and somewhat acrimonious debate in the House of Commons had
Precipitated the formation of this committee, and had unduly hastened the
selection of its members. Sir Matthew had been called in at short notice
as being, in the opinion of the minister who had been under criticism,
the most pliant chairman available.

The proceedings of the Committee were to be hurried on as much as
possible. This much Tarleton had gathered from his departmental chief,
and there was no doubt that he would have his hands full. He had had
opportunity of gauging the political qualities of Sir Matthew Bale;


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