Authors: James Hanley
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Our Time Is Gone
The crowds that surged round the doors of the Round House were good humoured, and full of spirit, and the bitingly cold wind of the November evening did not deter them. They pushed and swayed about the doors. They had been increasing in size for the past hour. As the first of the cars rolled up to the doors the crowd was forced back by the police, firmly, but not too firmly, as was usual when crowds gathered in such places. But this was no ordinary occasion and they could afford to be indulgent. At the sporadic outbursts of feeling, patriotic and otherwise, as well as the sometimes too manifest horseplay, they winked eyes. So long as good humour continued to permeate through the crowd they would remain indulgent. To them its only significance lay in sheer physical weight. But the Gelton Force had so often asserted itself against them, and in no unmistakable manner and authority, that they
this evening show a little indulgence. Society, at least that section of Gelton society that mattered, seemed quite safe.
To-night was a special occasion, and if Bumbledom trembled with pride, Geltonian crowds trembled too, upon the precipice of many anticipations. Here, then, was the first car. The crowd started to sway and push, hats were knocked off and feet trodden on, whilst somewhere in its midst a child's wail rent the air. The police did their duty and in due course the first car door opened. There was a momentary silence. A low murmuring sound began, and then an excited member of the audience cried out:
âOoh! Whyâit's Sir Digby Dick!'
And it was Sir Digby Dick, a man of means, of large affairs, whose big red face had the bovine look of some of his own prize cattle. The crowd stood on its toes, leaned forward. Slowly, the gentleman moved towards the doors of the Hall. He smiled twice, hearing his name bandied about by the excited crowd.
The car rolled away and another took its place. A long black car, bearing the city's crest on its windows and bonnet. The Lord Mayor. There were a few cheers then, and the Mayor passed inside. The excitement had now reached fever pitch, for the cars were rolling up in a steady stream. One dignitary after another got out and went into the Round House.
âPlenty of money knocking about to-night.'
âThink this idea's a good one?'
âAh, a lot you'll get out of the bloody war.'
âOoh! Just look at'er! Just look at her dress!'
âThere's a smasher of a car for you. Know whose that is?'
âA damned good stunt I call it.'
âHere, you, you ought to be in the army, a great big lump like you!'
âWhat for? Fighting for a big fat girl like you?'
âTake a bet there'll be a scrum to-night, mate.'
The remarks floated about on the night air. A line of cars stood, their engines silent, along the back area of the Round House, and in the front seats chauffeurs sat, as motionless as their charges, ciphers in livery. Some cheers burst forth, a few boos followed. A girl giggled, a man laughed. One rather important gentleman showed condescension. The crowd loved it.
The police looked on indifferently. When a battered-looking taxi drove up they knew that the last of the dignitaries had passed inside. Here then were the lesser fry, the not so important, the less picturesque.
Two men in tweeds and wearing immaculately white cutaway linen collars stepped out. Lanty and David. The crowd roared its hurrahs, the gentlemen smiled, and they, too, passed into the Round House. But to the general surprise a large Rolls car drove up, out of which stepped a number of army officers. When one of these, a tall burly looking man with a dark swarthy face got out, the crowd roared louder than ever.
“Hurray! Hurray! Good old Fury.”
Mr. Fury smiled, the other officers stood waiting. Then suddenly out of the car stepped a lady in black. The crowd saw her take Mr. Fury's arm. The party then passed inside. When they had vanished from sight, tongues broke loose, opinions flew like hail. Some made themselves heard quite clearly above the crowd. A woman booed; a man spat, exclaiming: âBloody turncoat! That's what he is. Poshing it with the nobs now!' The man spat again to show his contempt.
âYes, that was Mr. Desmond Fury all right, hob-nobbing with the great.'
âCourse it is.'
âSpeaking on the platform with that lot? I thought he was against them all.'
âSo did I.'
âHe's very fond of best butter on his bread. Three years ago he was nothing.'
âThey all turn, take it from me.'
âA bloody, blustering patriot, eh! So that's how it is. H'm! Lovely, isn't it.'
The crowd listened to this latter comment in stony silence. This set the seal upon opinion, for good and all. A trade-union man hob-nobbing with the great. Unheard of. Unthinkable. But what could you expect, anyhow? The police listened, more patient. The world was at war. Let them have their little hour, their attitude seemed to say. Let them enjoy themselves. When crowds were good humoured, society, at least the best part of it, was safe. The high lights shone down on them and the wind continued to blow in wild gusts. Suddenly the public doors were opened and the fun began.
The crowd rushed forward, milled, stumbled, thrust, leaned, in fact it did all the things that healthy good-humoured crowds did; women shouted, girls giggled, youths thwacked off hats, old men breathed quickly, the pupils of hundreds of eyes became dilated. They were on the threshold at last. One fell and was trampled on. One lost a hat and laughed, one swore, one was silent. They poured in, and the air of the hall was electric. The air was full of words, the atmosphere tense. They could see that the dignified and important had already taken their seats, and some not so important sat quietly behind three solid rows of Bumbledom. Everybody talked. There was the platform, at present empty, its long deal table already covered with the Union Jack, and standing on it a number of water-bottles and glasses to come in handy during the perorations.
Somebody at the back of the hall cried audaciously:
âDown with the bloody lot of them!' and this was followed by a more final utterance that came from a gentleman a little drunk, who up to now had been ignored by everybody. âDown with every-bloody-body! That's wass I say.'
Everybody laughed again. One cheered, one shouted. Hurrah! One clapped hands. Suddenly a woman screeched at the top of her voice: âHere they are! Don't they look lovely!'
A man, quite unable to sense the satire behind the remark, promptly replied in a brusque-like voice: âThey look fine. They're grand. Three cheers, I say!'
The cheers that followed so half-heartedly were at once acknowledged by the ladies and gentlemen who had now filed in procession across the platform, there to take their seats and so look out upon a good assembly of Geltonian society.
A short man rose from the centre of this row and approached the table. He was dressed in the loudest brown suit imaginable, sported a violently red tie as well as a much-brilliantined head of greying hair. When he spoke he did so slowly, awkwardly, owing to a loose upper dental plate, but nobody took any notice of him. After all, he was nothing in particular. The secretary, the announcer, the organizer and arranger of these meetings. His red face bristled with importance.
âLadies and gentlemen.' Then a dignified pause. He was waiting for absolute silence. âLadies and gentlemen. To-night as you know we have arranged this meeting because we feel that the time has now come to weigh in the balance â¦' and here he stopped. Perhaps he had forgotten his speech. Or perhaps the dentist's plate had proved more troublesome than he had anticipated.
âCome on then, man. Weigh the balance, can't you?'
âIâerâas you knowââ' Pause. ââLadies and gentlemen, we have here this evening a representative body of opinion that cannot fail to have some influence upon you all. I'âhe spoke quietly now; his voice had a kind of gobble in it, not unlike a turkey'sââIâweâwe are at war! The hour has come'âpauseââthe time has gone by when we couldââ'
âAhem!' This came from the man at the end of the row, Sir Digby Dick.
The audience watched the gentleman's mouth, and watched his hands. They watched his feet under the table, and they watched the expanse of gold chain shake upon his waistcoat. And the bright light was like a halo over his brilliantined hair. Suddenly, to everybody's surprise, he struck his fist upon the table and announced in a voice more controlled and dignified: âI now call upon his Worship the Mayor to address the meeting.'