THE WHITE FEATHER
A SKETCH OF ENGLISH RECRUITING. [Written by Arnold Bennett, for ‘Collier’s Weekly.’] This is a true story, for the essential facts of which I vouch. The final spectacular incident has not yet actually happened, but it may happen at any moment ou a fine day. On a recent afternoon Cedric Rollinson, looking excited and triumphant, entered the great olive-green, white-lettered gates of the establishment of the Imperial Blank Manufacturing Company, Limited. He was 29 years of age, and seemed younger. A conscientious young man, with a considerable sense of responsibility! Also, a successful young man. for he added to conscientiousness much industry, and he had been well educated a.iui scientifically trained lor bis job. His job was an expert job in the establishment o£ tho Imperial Blank Manufacturing Company, and it combined applied science with the handling of human workmen. His salary was, of course, inadequate (the company always insisting on his extreme youth), but it enabled him to live agreeably in a suburban house and garden with his wife and child. . . . Yes, the fool, criminally blind to the chances of a European war, had married and become a father. Soon after the war broke out the Imperial Blank Manufacturing Company, Limited, also broke out with notices to their employers, which notices were posted all over the walls of the immense manufactory. Copies of the notices were sent to the' daily papers, and were duly printed Ibeiein with an editorial headline eulogistic of -the firm. The notices ran thus i FOR KING AND COUNTRY. Imperial Blank Manufacturing Company, Limited. The direct ora wish it to be known that in the event of any employee joining the colors thev will, so far as practicable, keep hio place open for him, and in addition will pay to the family of the employee, should such family be dependent upon him for support, the difference between his salary from the company a. id his pay as a soldier, this arrangement to ho.d good as long as tho war Lists. The directors hope for an excellent response to the above order. God Save the King! By Order. The thing was not very elegantly worded, but its meaning was dear. Everybody who entered the gates saw the notice. Everybody who passed down the street saw it. At first Cedric Rollinson could not imaginatively grasp that that notice was a notice to him; but his conscience happened to be a persevering organism, and after a day or two it had got the better of him. lie had observed in the intellectual periodicals which he read an urgent advertisement to the effect that 2,000 junior officers were immediately needed by the British Army. Ho said to himself: “ I have a lot of expert knowledge that might be useful, and, moreover, 1 am accu-tomed to handling men. Indeed, I am thought to bo rather good at handling men. Perhaps I ought to go.” On the second night he remarked rather timidly to his wife: “I "was wondering whether I oughtn’t to offer myself—as an officer, you know.” Then he laughed, as if he had only been joking after all. But his wife startled him by answering seriously: “ I’ve been wondering about it too, dearest.” In a moment they both knew that the matter was decided. He must go. On all the hoardings he had read _“Your country nce ,: s you.” With simplicity and single-mind dness ho took the call to himself ; ho did not ram it into the ears of the man sitting next to him in th" T ube he took it to himself. _ His wife c'Ua.. and started to prepare things for him. —Trying to Make a Present of Himself.— At tho same time he began to offer himself. and his difficulties began. The attitude of the War Office officials was such as to engender the belief that they did not want officer? at all, that in particular they did not want him, and it was like his infernal impudence to fancy that he could get a commission in British Armv. Nevertheless, having had for years an mtelHcenit notion of what the average mentality of the War Office was. he persisted in his efforts to make a present of himself to the nation, and did at length bent down the first defences of the official mind Then he made still further progress, and in the end he was “ given to understand ” that if he could, obtain a recommendation from a person of consequence he might conceivable get his commission. Now. he knew a very well-known artist, and this artist knew a sporting peer (through having painted the peers daughters). and it was borne in upon CVdnc Rollinson that the recommendation of tho sporting peer would bo more valuable at iho War Office than the recommendation of ten thousand artists, professors. or philanthropists. S<> through the artist he arrived at the sporting peer, who was ontirelv amiable ; the rceommendation was promised ; and the wheels had the air oi going round in a satisfactory manner.
—A Chance Interview with Mr Maffick. It was at this point that Ccdri'' Rollinson, looking excited ami triumphant onion*! the great olivo-grecn gates of his employers. He was excited and triune phant, because he had now almost succeeded in forcing his services on his coimtrv. and almost reconciled himself to leaving his wife, child, and homo, Iho remuneration named by the War Office was ■not excessive; it was, indeed, quite inidecjunte for the support of that subinba:. home and its inmates. But as the com pany had guaranteed the difference between his present salary and his futuie pav, he did not mind. Certainly, he was risking life and limb and the whole future of his family ; but he would not be risking tho immediate welfare of his. family, and this contented him. In the yard in front of the counting house staircase he met Mr Hawker Maffick, a director of the Imperial Blank Manufacturing Company, Limited—and the only director then in London. Mr Hawker Maffick was a member of the august family of Maffick, some of whose characteristics have already been set forth bv 11. G. Wells. A bachelor of 58, he was perhaps (though Wells may disagree with me) the greatest of all the Mafficks. Other Mafficks had accepted (or, rather, bought) titles; but not Hawker Maffick. Hawker was above titles; he was above all essentials. He never boasted of anything, except that ho had the best man-servant in the Empire. He was never ostentatious. But there ivas not another Maffick matter how s|>cctacular and well advertised he might be—who did not deeply respect and fear Hawker Maffick, and speak with awe of his genius for picking up the right investments, and of the probable amount of the death duties on his estate. Hawker Maffick’s social and political sentiments were apparently correct to tho least detail. He was a stoutieh man, unsusceptible to flattery save at one point: he liked to be thought “strong-lipped." “ Good afternoon, Mr Maffick said Cedric Rollison, raising his hat. “ I was hoping to catch you before you left. "what is it?" asked Hawker Maffick with a blandness which somehow very firmly indicated to Rollinson that directors must not be kept past a certain hour from their clubs. Hawker Maffick and a few friends had amused themselves immensely of late at the club by concocting messages to "shirkers" and advertising them in the Agony columns of ‘ The Times’ and the ‘ Morning Post.’ Hawker’s own contribution to the solemn patriotic gaiety had been as follows : " Cotton wool and a glass case will be provided free on demand to any young man who does not feel equal to joining the army." “I shall in all probability get my commission, sir," said .Rollinson. "On what?" asked Hawker Maffick—it must be admitted without sufficient reflection. But tho minds of even the greatest Maffick runs in a groove. "In the army, sir. I’d mentioned it Vo Mr Sjcativo."
Mr Spation was the assistant manager. Said Mr Maffick : “ See me in the morning at 10.30." And in the morning a refreshed Maffick, seated in his grandiose, empire-furnished, private office, said to his expert young employee : "So you’re thinking of going into the army ?” Rollinson did not stick out his chest and reply : “ Sir, my country has need of me, and I feel that I must to her call!” No: he just said : "Yes, sir.” "Well,” said Hawker Maffick, raising his eyebrows and gently smiling, and touching his discreetly perfect cravat, of course you know your own business best. I have no doubt that I can find some one to take your place, but you will admit that you put us in an awkward position. However ” “ But surely temporarilv. sir ” RolHnaon began, already feeling like a criminal. “ Temporarily?” Mr Maffick failed to understand. “ Won’t you keep my place for me, sir?" “ You ought to know tbit wo cannot.” “But your printed notice, sir?” “Ah. Air Rollinson. that applies tool- —the hands, naturally—but for those in the higher ranks, such as yourself, the problem is different. Moreover, the notice says ‘so far as practicable.’ Duty to your country, oortaintlr! Certainly! But where is your dutv to your country? What about your wife, your family? Are they not part of your country? Are you sure that a youthful itching for military glorv, as you imagine it, is not clouding your better iudgment?" Cedric Rollinson asked quietly : “-If I go. shall you make u}i. my salary to my wife?” “I fear we cannot.” “Will you make un half of my salarv?” Rollinson demanded with a sort of desperation. Hawker Maffick gazed at his hands and shook It’s head. “In the c e times ” hesa.id, “it would be impossible for us—having regard to the interests of our shareholders.” ■ He picked up a document and frowned at it. Utterly unconscious of dancer, he had not the slightest idea that Cedric Rolliuicon was on the noint of (dinning round the desk and rmnrhing him violenHv in the eve. Rut Cedric, having a wife and family, and having also some remains of nnidenoc. controlled himself. He had to choose between his country and his wifo and family, and he chose. "Yery well, sir,” he said. “I must stay hero.” —lnglorious Urshot.— That evening as he was walking from the station on his way home, three smartly-dressed girls, approaching, barred the na.vement. He stop-nod. “ How young he is. the -poor darling murmured fondly the central redden, and. suddenly producing a lar™ white feather, she jabbed it into his waistcoat. And in another tone, erce and scornful. she added : “ That’s all you’re short of, you coward! Whv don’t you enlist?” And off the trio went, laughing. This was the latest snort of bright and pretty creatures in Rond on.
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THE WHITE FEATHER, Evening Star, Issue 15660, 26 November 1914