What Might Have Been

W. H. P. Jarvis September 1 1918

What Might Have Been

W. H. P. Jarvis September 1 1918

What Might Have Been


W. H. P. Jarvis

Author of "Letters of a Remittance Man,” "Great Gold Rush.," etc.

EDITOR’S Note—At the time of the Maurice incident, the possibility of a clash between civil and military authority was widely discussed. People asked: The German army mies Germany; is it possible that before the war is over the British army will dominate affairs in Britain? The following story has arisen out of that conjecture:

I HAD been fortunate enough to obtain a place in the Speaker's gallery, after a strenuous struggle in an almost maddened crowd. It had seemed to me, as I buffeted my way along, to be significant that all the rules and regulations governing the admission of the public to Westminster had been suspended.

The galleries had been thrown open and the early comers filled them to the point of suffocation. Being an early comer—I had stood in line from the chill of early dawn —and broad of shoulder, I had elbowed my way into one of the front rows. Consequently I had a clear view of what was to prove the most momentous session ever held by the Mother of Parliaments.

AS Mr. Asquith rose to the right of Mr. Speaker, a silence held over the benches and the supercrowded galleries. From his lips were due to fall words that marked the decision of himself and his colleagues in this culminating crisis, the l««t of a long sequence.

As the eye of the beholder focussed on Mr. Asquith the impression gained—the story told by the drawn and haggard features—was that rumor had not been false. Many a one there was in the gallery, and even in the benches for that matter, who had strained every effort to be there, feeling that, if it did come to pass, the occasion would be of such historic interest that, as long as he lived, he might hold the attention of those he met with a description of the scene.

The ex-premier’s features were pale and drawn but, as always, he was outwardly calm. When he spoke it was with the utmost simplicity. There was nothing in his speech or manner to indicate that he was the central figure in the gravest political crisis that the Empire had faced since the war began.

“I have to inform the House that I have advised His Majesty that I find it impossible to form a Government and that I have further advised him to dissolve Parliament and ask Sir William Robertson to proclaim Martial Law. I feel—”

From a complete silence the House broke into the wildest uproar and, strangely enough, the first cry was one of elation. On the side opposite Mr.

Asquith a number of men sprang to their feet and cheered most lustily and their acclaims were joined in by many to the right of Mr. Speaker. In distinction they sounded from all over the House booings and cat-calls. For some moments Mr. Asquith stood awaiting a cessation of the uproar that he might review the sequence of events that had forced him to his act. No attention was vouchsafed him—already Parliament had passed out of existence—who was he?

The first of the sequence of crises that has been referred to, had come when Mr. Lloyd George, beset by the socialist and the disloyal element of the Nationalist Party and the Sinn Feiners, had placed his resignation at the foot of the Throne. And this was the ultimate result! This chamber, wherein had been decided the fate of the world over so many years, wherein the economy of the Fellahin and the measure of the Maori, the rights of man and the virtue of property, had so often come up for discussion, had now lost its potency. This plain and sombre chamber whose only quality was an appearance of business usefulness might for a time at least be given over to the rats and moths.

And quickly the process set in: everybody began to leave.

T TP and down the Strand the word Y-' passed before even the extra of the most enterprising ha’penny journal could be called or blatant sales bills could be held before the smirking visage of the obsequious news-boy. Into the hotels it went. About the rotunda of the Savoy stood groups of stately officers in fervent, if suppressed, argument. How would it affect the Nation—the individual—the Empire? But it had come. Only the ascendancy of German arms in France and Flanders could furnish a sensation that would surpass this great epoch-making transition. Dreamers had dreamed of it ever since the war began. And now it was with us. “At last, at last,” muttered a tall and venerable figure whose bearing spoke of a ruling race and whose sunburned face and general air suggested years of military service in India. And his eyes spoke exultation as he broke away from the group of which he had made one. He broke away but it was only the expression of the fire that was in him for he wandered aimlessly about, at one moment appearing as if he would answer an impulse to join another group, the next moment hanging his head in the depth of thought.

Parliament had fallen!

With no shedding of blood and no uproar greater than has been told, the prime foundation of British liberty had been suspended that the war might be won. “Military Autocracy!” What an evil name! And yet it was with us— we had it. What was going to happen?

T PASSED from the grand hall of the . hotel with its medley and its motley, its brave and its sordid. In the court, motors were speeding in and out, the arriving guests displaying a set and eager cast of countenance. I turned from this by-play to seek the rostrum of the populace—the base of Nelson’s pillar There the voice of the million would be heard: There the passions of men would find expression. As I turned into the Strand I bumped into a soldier from France, a band of blue on his arm telling that he was an inmate of a hospital. With the freedom that a general excitement engenders I addressed him m his vernacular: “Well, mate, how does this strike your fancy?” “I think it is right. There’s nothin’ in it to frighten me.” “What will the labor people say to this?” I ask'd, putting all the astonishment into my voice I could. “I—we don’t care what they say Take from me, mate, the Army was sick of this ’ere parleement squabblin’ an’ fussin’ like a lot of ol’ women, most o’ ’em fearin’ v every day the war will quit an’ us blokes gettin’ back to^tell ’em what we think of ’em.”

“Ho, ho!” said I, “that is it, is it? Then you aren’t afraid of a militaristic government after the war?” We went dodging along the pavement,

the general hustle and the more vehement honking of the taxis being the only index of the fever in the air. My companion deliberated ere he replied, his face retaining the dignity that marks the ex-

pression of the man who has been buffeted by the high explosives. He spoke: “Us blokes as ’ave been at the front an’ ’ave ’ad time to think a bit ’ave used it mightily. We’re sick of Pai-leement an’ the jobs they ’ave put up on us: their Free Trade feedin’ Fritz all these years an’ givin’ him money to make ’is guns: that’s ’no bon’ as ma’mo’z elle says. They’d be sendin’ me back again in a week or two while +v>pre’s lots o’ blighters ’oo never saw France in cushy jobs Blighty.” This was an astonish i n g revelation to me: From what I had heard I had been satisfied that the discipline the men in Francehad been under had so sick-

ened them of the life that they would refuse to consider any form of autocracy. I determined to sound this man further, to draw him out, so I said:

“But look here. Does this not mean that we are to have the same form of government as the blinking Germans?”

“Ye’d better throw that idea out an’ jump on it—forget it—it’s no good. Don’t it strike you as reasonable that there would be as much difference between an English government an’ a German government as there is between a German an’ an Englishman?”

SAYING this my companion struck a silence he did not break and, his manner displaying an air of resentment, I said no more. Coming to Charing Cross we parted company with civil adieux. Choosing my opportunity I dodged the traffic and made towards the crowd that was gathered about the base of Nelson’s Monument. Evidently an orator was holding forth from the plinth. Reaching the curb I was confirmed in this supposition by the sound of the speaker’s voice; but before I entered the crowd that grouped beneath him I turned my gaze down White Hall and again viewed the monumental fabric of the Houses of Parliament. There they stood, the upgrowth of a thousand ideals and principles: the expression of the Briton’s faith in his fellow. All that they had stood for must still reign deep in the heart of every Briton but at least, the machinery they were reared to house had been suspended in the face of a world crisis. My eyes turned towards the War Office—over there was the guiding hand! The answer to the cuestión of how it would affect the nation was identical with the answer to the question of how it would affect me. The apprehension that is born of the spirit of self-preservation welled through my being as a cheer went up from the listeners. I dove into the crowd to listen: “— will get fair play.”

This sounded good—the words that make up the Anglo-Saxon’s creed. I pricked up my ears and gazed upon the speaker, a tall young officer. His bearing was soldierly, all that it should be, and his features handsome. “Surely,” though I, “he must be a Mark Anthony if he can draw applause on such a startling theme.” But there he was—

“All principles of honor—every instinct of chivalry was born of the Army,” said he, “and the canker that has brought Parliament to the ground is that it lost all honor. The excuse for the thoroughly inefficient machinery of popular government has always been that the people would not tolerate injustice. But what did ours descend to? It conciliated every interest but the Army: it pandered to every man but the fighting man : it tore some men from their homes and hurled them into the firing line while others it left to fatten in an unholy prosperity.” “Right-o,” called a citizen.

“What about Ireland?”

“There you ha^e it—Ireland. Parliament came to your home and my home and dragged any it might find into the Army but it let the Irish Sinn Feiner go free! Where is the justice in that?” “There bloomin’ well ain’t any,” called a Cockney at my left.

“The plan of Parliament was to impose on all who would be imposed on and toady to all it could not impose on and, as I have said, conciliate every faction that became obstreperous; in fact it tried to prove itself all things to all men and like an individual who tries that game, it broke on it.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” called several voices.

“The worm was about to turn when this happy development came peacefully —how can you expect the soldier in the front line to be strong when the government at home is weak?” he cried, raising his voice to the highest pitch.

“What about democracy?” called a heckler.

“Democracy in war is a poor thing

with a loud voice. In effect it is the ostensible rule of the illiterate masking the hidden hand—the power of money: look what the profiteers—!”

“The profiteers—let’s hear about the profiteers!” called a voice.

“The profiteers! The profiteers!— they’re all friends of Parliament—” came from another.

“Lloyd George was their friend—he protected them,” called a libelous voice that served to mark the inconstancy of man. “He kept them under his wing and pandered to them," continued the same voice in less frenzied but more convincing tones. And then, as the turmoil subsided a bit, the youthful exponent of the new order struck a higher key:

“The excuse for Parliament over many years has been that Parliament would not tolerate injustice to the individual but it has been shown that its measure of justice is the limit of its necessity! Parliament found it necessary to conciliate the Sinn Feiners and it conciliated them. By the processes of Parliament the profiteer may stay at home and vote his neighbor into the firing line: he may take your house away from you while he grows rich. This is a very desirable condition from the point of view of the profiteer but happily it no longer obtains. Parliament was a power, not a right. Like every other power Parliament was subservient to necessity and necessity knows no law.”

THIS little play at word juggling seemed to please the crowd. The number of expressions of assent from round about increased. Parliament was dead and none too poor to pay it reverence. From Charing Cross to Cockspur street the busses tore as of yore. London was serene, Empress City of the World.

“What will autocracy do to us?” called a voice in a tone of apprehension.

“It will more evenly distribute the burdens of the State and it will take such measures as it may to carry on the

“Will we have the right of free speech?”

“The press will be controlled—”

“Oh, Oh—” called a number of voices in such vehemence that I thought the tide had set into the ebb. But the speaker had the situation in hand. He resnonded in derision:

“Free speech is a great thin»': I may stand here and talk to several hundred of you but what can Lord Northcliffe do? To-morrow he will thunder to forty millions of people! Why should I not have a voice as loud as his or why should he be allowed to speak to millions while I am limited to hundreds?”

“Quite right, quite right!" called he who had before spoken at my right.

“To Downing street! To Downing street!”

This cry was taken up, and soon a wild crowd was surging down Whitehall. It turned into the gloomy little street where for centuries have dwelt the Prime Ministers and stopped before number 10. Only for a moment did the mob show the least semblance of restraint. From somewhere came the word that none of the family was at home. The police were powerless.

“Down with the friends of the profiteer!” went the cry.

“Who was the friend of Kaiser Bill?” derisively shouted someone.

“Wreck it, wreck it,” called a voice. “Crash”—a stone went through a window and then the house was stormed. What a scene it was! Useless and im-

potent vengeance on household finery.But it was a scene of outstanding human interest—it was again the mob stabbing the inanimate remains of the dead Caesar. “But yesterday the word of Caesar might have stood against the world.”

If it were possible to define the motive of a mob and such a process brought into these circumstances it would seem that the wrecking of No. 10 Downing street was as a process of burning government in effigy and it had not grown out of personal dislike for the occupant. It was soon over and the mob felt relief and quieted down and I knew that this demonstration was at an end.

¥ WALKED up Whitehall, turned to the left at Trafalgar Square and, disregarding the minor demonstration being held there, entered the Mall and walked towards Buckingham Palace. My mind was filled with many thoughts that had grown out of the sights I had seen and the new-old gospel that I had heard. Again the thought came to me: “How

like the dead Caesar was the dead Parliament!” And: “How like the mob of ancient Rome was the London mob!” Parliament had been the people’s idol until it had tried to be the people’s master and so it had fallen. Change and decay!—it is Nature’s rule. But in the populace how little care was shown: Not a voice raised in regret; hardly a question asked that did not spring from apprehension of personal welfare!

Buckingham Palace I found the focu3 of every gaze though the light in people’s eyes was that of wonder rather than expectancy. People stood in groups and sang the National Anthem. Towards Hyde Park Corner the crowd was more dense. Evidently speechifying was going on there. I gazed up at the residence of the Duke of Wellington and wondered how that warrior would have figured in the present development had he been on earth. I pictured him standing on his balcony, receiving the acclamations of the populace and moralizing in the line of thought that I was at the moment playing with, and pointing to the iron shutters which he had once found necessary to protect his windows.

I then climbed upon a bus, pausing only long enough to buy a late edition of the Globe. And so left the maelstrom at the Park and sought the companionship of my little hotel in South Kensington. The squire was there apd actually looked up from his paper as I entered. A hint of a smile crossed his features as our eyes met. I fell into a chair beside him.

“Well?” said he, turning his aquiline and venerable features towards me. “Parliament is no more,” I announced. “And a jolly good thing: how could we expect self-sacrifice to develop in the field with all this muddle in the home land. It was monstrous to dream of carrying on.”

“Yes—yes: what will become of Lloyd George?” I said.

“What matters what becomes of him? Though no doubt some use will be found for him—he is an able man, none abler.” “I have always,” I ventured, “regarded him as the most remarkable man in England’s history.”

The squire’s eyes flashed.

“So he was in a way: not Wolsey could rank with him—a few years ago his name an anathema to all but the illiterate-later the arms of civilization about his neck.” “Do you think the fall of democracy portends no evil?”

“It is a question! Take the processes of the politician: he has two or three or four policies which he advances in different districts: say Home Rule in Ireland: the robbery of the Church in Wales and Free Trade in the north. Now the Irish Nationalist would see the disintegration of the whole of the British Em" pire if he might get what he fancies is his rights while the ardent Free Trader would allow Ireland Home Rule if by so doing he could see the maintenance of what he believes to be a pillar in British liberty. But if the several questions for which Mr. Asquith claimed support in the last election—it seems an age ago —had been subjected to a referendum, not one of them would have passed. How then could Parliament claim to be the voice of the people?”

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Continued from page 47

This was perhaps too much for my bewildered mind to follow. I heard the voice of my old friend rumbling on, waxing at intervals into high emphasis and again dying down until—

T SAT up with a start. It had all been 1 a dream. I had gone to sleep with a copy of Hansard in my hand from which I had been reading some of the discussions in the Canadian Commons, the endless controversies that had so often tended to drive thinking men to oespair. I remembered that my pondering of the futility of so much that our own Canadian legislators did had turned my thoughts to the spectacle presented at Westminster. I apparently had fallen off to sleep with my mind full of the squabbling over trifles that filled so much of the time of the House of Commons and even at times drowned out the sound of the guns of Armageddon.

And as I rubbed my eyes and pulled my wits together, I found myself reconstructing that vivid dream. It had been but a graphic vision but—if civilian government continues to fail in its paramount duty of supporting the armies in the field—who knows what the future may hold?