An alert is sounding. This is the first daylight warning for about two months. I have just got back from the library, so I am lucky to be inside the house. Last night Gerry was over. We had just gone to bed about eleven thirty p.m. no alert was sounded, but we heard the German engines throbbing over, and then the guns: not immediately near, but about Upminister I guessed. We did not come downstairs, but I felt simply awful. I began uncontrollably to tremble, and to feel sick in the pit of my stomach. I began to pray! In danger everything primitive asserts itself, and one prays by instinct. All my soreness against Ted vanished. I thought why do I get myself so wrought up for things that don’t matter? Ted is as he is, and I love him as he is. I do. I can’t help myself.
September 2, 1941
It is a quiet night. Mary Jude in this evening, bringing the latest Vogue. I have received a disturbing letter from Artie. He writes that, after all, he is contemplating becoming engaged to Edna Renacre. I feel stunned.
September 3, 1941
Ted is out to the Home Guard. This is the second anniversary of the start of the war. At eleven this morning we entered on the third year of this war. I heard guns in the depth of the night, but no alarm was given. All day planes have been flying overhead incessantly. The news today tells that we bombed Berlin very heavily last night, so I expect London will receive a bombing tonight. God help us! The news from the Russian front is terribly momentous. A tremendous battle for Leningrad is expected now, and my even have begun. The Russians are fighting magnificently, but, regardless of their own awful losses, the Germans press on. Oh God! Save the world!
September 7, 1941
Edna Renacre came today. In the evening she herself broached the subject of her engagement to Artie. She asked us what we thought about it. Ted answered her. I felt sick. She stayed very late, leaving us with the idea that the engagement is only prospective, not definite, and it was left that she would come with Artie “to talk it over.”
September 8, 1941
A letter arrived from Artie, in acknowledgement of the letters we sent him last week, saying he despises himself. Why? How has he compromised himself with this girl? She is a very clever and determined miss, and she has nailed him anyhow. He writes, he is in very deep, and has given her a ring. She wasn’t wearing a ring yesterday, nor did she ever mention a word about one, which is a great slyness I think. Artie writes he expects to be home on the eleventh for forty-eight hours. I have written asking him please to see us, his parents, before he sees Edna. I pray God we may get the boy out of this engagement.
September 9, 1941
I went to the hairdresser’s. I went to the Floral Hall, so as to be entirely among strangers, so as to be able to think. The long operation of shampooing, setting, etc. always gives me a quiet space for uninterrupted thinking, and in times of stress can even sooth my mind. This advantage is now lost at Miss Young’s because she knows me too well, and will chatter.
I can’t say that I have cleared my mind at all today. I feel downright sick about Artie and this disastrous affair with Edna. What can I do? This girl has stalked him for two years, and now finally she has snared him. Can we get him out of her trap? I’m afraid not. She is not a bad girl, but Artie could never be happy with her. He hasn’t even been happy in a friendship with her; in marriage he would be miserable, both of them would be miserable. It is this girl who is determined to marry Artie and her desire and determination to do so has been obvious from the beginning and to everybody. She is just a plain man hunter. She marked Artie for her prey, and she has never let up from the chase. Now finally she has caught him, or almost. What can we say or do to prevent her marrying him in the end?
Artie arrived at dinner time. His father and I had a most serious talk with him. It appears, she asked him for the ring! He had not realized that an “engagement” means an engagement to marry! He has not proposed marriage, and does not mean to do so. On his father’s advice he is going to tell the girl outright that there is no engagement. Ted will give him the money to pay for the ring. So that the girl may be reimbursed for her outlay. She bought it herself! Ted is buying the ring from the girl. It is not to stay in her possession. I have phoned the hospital and asked her up to tea. Ted will bring home cash at teatime, and the matter is to be settled this evening.
September 13, 1941
We had an awful to-do here. Artie is certainly a fool, but Edna is a very crafty wise woman. She plays tricks, the tricks of the schemer. I cannot write down the whole to-do, it is too involved, and, besides, it makes me sick. The girl refused to part with the ring, though at first she agreed to do so. She understands that Artie has not proposed to her, and positively there is no engagement.
Last night she was invited here to tea again, and accepted the invitation but after Artie had gone to meet her he rung up, and said they would go to the movies first, and be in for evening coffee afterwards. Well, they never came in, and at eleven-fifteen Ted and I went to bed. About eleven-thirty they came in, both of them, so
Ted remained downstairs until they left for Artie to take the girl home. When Ted got up at six-thirty this morning to go to church, he woke me and told me, Artie isn’t in the house. He’s never been home. His bed hasn’t been slept in.
We were alarmed! My dread was that this girl, who had been foxy enough to buy herself a ring, had also been foxy enough to procure a marriage-license, and Artie had stayed away all night because he hadn’t had the courage to tell us so, that they were going to be married this morning, and that they would not return until he brought her in as his wife. This was an awful thought!
Well, we waited until after nine o’clock and no Artie. At nine-thirty I decided to ring up the hospital. I did so, but could not get through to Edna. I was told she was in the hospital, and was asked, would I give a message. I replied, yes, and it was a very urgent matter. I said. This is about a missing person. Will you ask Miss Renacre where my son is?
Does she know him? Certainly. I think she’s trying to kidnap him. He took her home last night, but has not returned to his home. Where is he? As he is a soldier on leave, this is urgent. Please ask Miss Renacre where she saw him last, and to let me know at once.
She did not telephone, but soon after ten o’clock Artie came home. I said, Artie I’ve just been telephoning the hospital, making inquiries about you. I couldn’t get Edna on the wire, but they told me she was in the hospital.
Now then how’s that for a trick? Artie assures us there is no engagement, that he has not promised marriage, nor has he seduced the girl. She will not let go. All right, we say, let her sue.
September 21, 1941
Because of the stupidities, complications, and urgencies of Artie’s disastrous love affair, his father thought it would be a good idea for me to go and see the boy, so yesterday I went to New Romney, where he is in Camp. It was a very long day for me. I left home at eight-thirty in the morning, and did not get back until ten-thirty at night. The day itself was one of beautiful sunshine, so the traveling was not too bad for me. I had also been to town on Wednesday, so this made two days outings in one week, for me, very unusual.
On Wednesday I took a sudden notion to go sight seeing. At breakfast Ted told me he would not be home for lunch, as he was gong to take dinner at the Communal War Dining Hall, to see what that was like; so, as the day was clear and lovely, and no Gerry’s about, I decided to go out to town and have a look at London. I bussed to Aldgate; then bussed to Selfridge, from there to Victoria; then another bus route back to Aldgate, and the final bus back to Romford. I was glad I went, and the general devastation did not in the least depress me.
Well, Wednesday’s trip was one of simple curiosity, mere sightseeing but yesterday’s was for a family affair; an attempt to put wisdom into a young man, to protect a fool from his folly. I am not going to write about this. I am mind weary over Artie’s love affair. We are doing all we can to break it up, but whether we can succeed or not, I don’t know. Edna Renacre is the most determined pursuing young female I have ever come across, and she’s slick and sly, so she may marry the boy yet. Artie says no, he won’t marry her, and that he has made her understand there positively is no engagement between them. When he said goodbye to me in Ashford Station last night, he promised me, and he swore before God, that he would break with her completely, but whether he will be strong enough to keep his promise, I don’t know. He means to.
Edna is the very devil of a schemer and pursuer, and she may be too clever, for him yet. She makes him sorry for her and of course that’s fatal with Artie. He believes every word she tells him, and he can’t see she is a little double-timer. Now I must rest on his promise that he won’t marry the girl. I can’t talk about it anymore.
What I want to write about is the effect of yesterdays trip upon me. What I saw with great clarity yesterday were the great delusions. First of all there was the delusion of romantic young love, which was the reason for my jaunting but that became a minor delusion, as transitory as itself, in comparison with others that were brought home to me.
I saw how trivial are human beings. Riding through the railway cuttings of Kent I noticed the sloping grassy banks, and there were exactly the same as they were in my childhood. I had ridden between those grass banks fifty years ago, and fifty years hence other people will pass them, and they will still be exactly as they are now. The grass is more perdurable than we are. We chafe and we grieve and we die, but the grass still grows, indestructible. I thought, What is man that thou art mindful of him? Then immediately realized that thou have disappeared.
It is the delusion of God. Yesterday looking over the country I thought, Why, I have lost God altogether. I no longer believe in him! Yet only last Wednesday I found him, or thought I did, in the cathedral, when I went in there to pray, and was able to pray. We all live in a state of hypnosis. We are hypnotized by propaganda; by the impact of particular places and persons; by religion, by war, and by ourselves, by our own terrible easy suggestibility. We are sheep, dumb fool sheep. Consider this huge derision of patriotism and of war.
As I looked over Kent yesterday, so peaceful, all the harvest in, so green, so quiet, the sense of the folly of the war enveloped me ever more tightly and suffocating then in Blitzed London. Much of London is offensive to the sight, so that when one sees portions of it utterly destroyed unconsciously one is reconciled to the destruction.
All my natural solitariness arose in me yesterday. I didn’t want to see any of the little towns as we passed through them. All the habitations of men. They were ugly. They were depressing. I wanted empty country, lone farms. I wanted the prairie, and the great ranges of the American west. I wanted solitude: no people at all. Like Sheila, I am antisocial. Not only did I see other people as distasteful and tiresome and silly; I saw myself equally so. Oh, I realize my own insignificance all right! Full well I know I am a no-account.
One thing I determined, and that is, to guard my own mind. That seems the most important thing to me today, to protect my mind and to keep out the crazy propaganda and all the world’s false beliefs. The everlasting verities, those are what I want to discern and the realities, and mainly the beautiful and good realities. War is a reality and Hitler is a reality, but neither Hitler nor war is enduring; both will pass away, but the grass will remain, beauty will remain.
So I at least will keep sane, and keep my mind uncontaminated by the horrors. I will think on the things that are lovely, and of good repute. I revert again; you see, to the doctrines of Mrs. Eddy, the self-control of the mind. Think the right thoughts. Yes. I can’t stop the war but I can think less about it. Today I am very tired, terribly tired. Miss Owlett has begun her Sunday evening singing, so, as it is impossible to think a thought against it. Au-revoir.
Ted is off to the Home Guard. Miss Coppen here this afternoon. I went round the town this morning to pay the bills, which got missed on Saturday, and the town depressed me. I long for a clean and cheerful American town, with bright and snappy people going around in it. The sight of the population in Romford gives me the blues. Everyone is so drab. The atmosphere of the place is so slack, so slow, and so heavy. I need to be exhilarated, but Romford deflates me. On Saturday, with the sea-air blowing in from Hythe, I felt fine. Probably physically Romford is the wrong place for me anyhow. I had intended to do some writing tonight, but now I am too tired. I’m sure Romford doesn’t agree with me but how to get away from it? That is the question.
September 23, 1941
By the first post I received a letter from Artie, written in camp yesterday, in which he writes: With this I am posting a registered letter to Edna declaring the engagement broken and telling her I shall have it inserted in the Romford paper to the same effect. I’ve also sent Mrs. Renacre a short note.
Before ten o’clock this morning Mrs. Renacre came calling. Thinking Mrs. R’s letter was for her, Edna had opened it and read it. She was dreadfully upset Mrs. Renacre said. She did not say exactly what was in Artie’s letter, and apparently the registered letter to Edna had not yet been delivered. Mrs. Renacre is diffuse. She looks like a respectable charwoman and she talks like one. I gathered that Artie had written to say, not only the engagement was off, but also the friendship was ended. I also got an impression that the Renacre’s will try to compel Artie to stick to the engagement.
Mrs. R’s stresses what he has written in previous letters. I tried to point out that the past is the past. If a man (or a girl) changes his mind, declares an engagement broken, then it is broken, and what can you do about it? You can’t compel a man to marry a girl. True, a girl can sue for breach of promise but she must prove damage, and there must be funds from which to collect damages. Artie has no money, nor is Edna damaged. Anyhow, what sympathy would any girl get today that sued a soldier? Besides, she would quite likely, indirectly, put a permanent label on herself as damaged goods. Not that she would be, but by bringing suit she would lay herself open to suspicion. Obviously the family will compel Artie to maintain the engagement if they can. They lack delicacy entirely. The ordinary normal response of a nice girl, who would scorn to make advances where she knows she is not wanted, is entirely lacking. They see a good match slipping through their fingers, and they don’t intend to lose it; that’s their attitude. It’s a miserable affair. It would be much worse if Artie finally married the girl. She is a tartar, and her family is deplorable. Luckily Artie goes to Scotland October 2, she can’t run up there after him.
This is the third consecutive Thursday on which Mrs. Prior has not shown up to work, so I had to get busy myself this morning on the housework. Cleaned my bedroom, bathroom, little halls, and stairs, which was quite enough for me for one day.
September 27, 1941
Ted spotted this notice in today’s Romford Recorder, in the personals: Miss Edna Renacre wishes to state that no engagement exists between herself and Mr. Arthur F. Thompson of Western Road.
This is a clever move on her part. Recognizing, I suppose, that her game was lost, she put the notice in the paper, and by doing so she publicly practically asserts that she is the jilter, not the jilted. I am surprised she thought of the move, for her social ignorance is colossal.
September 29, 1941
A letter from Artie, saying, that on Dad’s advice, he had written to Edna: ... that if she will send me a letter stating the ring is not to be looked on as an engagement ring and that no engagement exists she will be reimbursed for the ring and that she may keep it, and that no advertisement will be made in the newspaper.
He writes that he will be at Euston about ten-thirty p.m. on Wednesday, and for his father to see him there. His train for Lanark leaves at two a.m. Thursday. Of course Ted will go, and probably the finale of the ring- business will have occurred by then. What a miserable business the whole affair has been!