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The Way Down
by [?]

Sydney Smith, or Napoleon or Marcus Aurelius (somebody about that time) said that after ten days any letter would answer itself. You see what he meant. Left to itself your invitation from the Duchess to lunch next Tuesday is no longer a matter to worry about by Wednesday morning. You were either there or not there; it is unnecessary to write now and say that a previous invitation from the Prime Minister–and so on. It was Napoleon’s idea (or Dr. Johnson’s or Mark Antony’s–one of that circle) that all correspondence can be treated in this manner.

I have followed these early Masters (or whichever one it was) to the best of my ability. At any given moment in the last few years there have been ten letters that I absolutely must write, thirty which I ought to write, and fifty which any other person in my position would have written. Probably I have written two. After all, when your profession is writing, you have some excuse for demanding a change of occupation in your leisure hours. No doubt if I were a coal-heaver by day, my wife would see to the fire after dinner while I wrote letters. As it is, she does the correspondence, while I gaze into the fire and think about things.

You will say, no doubt, that this was all very well before the War, but that in the Army a little writing would be a pleasant change after the day’s duties. Allow me to disillusion you. If, years ago, I had ever conceived a glorious future in which my autograph might be of value to the more promiscuous collectors, that conception has now been shattered. Four years in the Army has absolutely spoilt the market. Even were I revered in the year 2000 A.D. as Shakespeare is revered now, my half-million autographs, scattered so lavishly on charge-sheets, passes, chits, requisitions, indents and applications would keep the price at a dead level of about ten a penny. No, I have had enough of writing in the Army and I never want to sign my own name again. “Yours sincerely, Herbert Asquith,” “Faithfully yours, J. Jellicoe”–these by all means; but not my own.

However, I wrote a letter in the third year of the war; it was to the bank. It informed the Manager that I had arrived in London from France and should be troubling them again shortly, London being to all appearances an expensive place. It also called attention to my new address–a small furnished flat in which Celia and I could just turn round if we did it separately. When it was written, then came the question of posting it. I was all for waiting till the next morning, but Celia explained that there was actually a letterbox on our own floor, twenty yards down the passage. I took the letter along and dropped it into the slit.

Then a wonderful thing happened. It went

Flipperty–flipperty–flipperty–flipperty–flipperty– flipperty–flipperty–flipperty–flipperty–flipperty–FLOP.

I listened intently, hoping for more … but that was all. Deeply disappointed that it was over, but absolutely thrilled with my discovery, I hurried back to Celia.

“Any letters you want posted?” I said in an off-hand way.

“No, thank you,” she said.

“Have you written any while we’ve been here?”

“I don’t think I’ve had anything to write.”

“I think,” I said reproachfully, “it’s quite time you wrote to your–your bank or your mother or somebody.”

She looked at me and seemed to be struggling for words.

“I know exactly what you’re going to say,” I said, “but don’t say it; write a little letter instead.”

“Well, as a matter of fact I must just write a note to the laundress.”

“To the laundress,” I said. “Of course, just a note.”

When it was written I insisted on her coming with me to post it. With great generosity I allowed her to place it in the slit. A delightful thing happened. It went