Mr. Barnstaple wanted to walk about alone to recall and digest the astounding realizations of the afternoon and to accustom himself to the wonder of this beautiful world, so beautiful and now in the twilight so mysterious also, with its trees and flowers becoming dim and shapeless notes of pallor and blackness and with the clear forms and gracious proportions of its buildings melting into a twilight indistinctness.
The earthliness of his companions intervened between him and this world into which he felt he might otherwise have been accepted and absorbed. He was in it, but in it only as a strange and discordant intruder. Yet he loved it already and desired it and was passionately anxious to become a part of it. He had a vague but very powerful feeling that if only he could get away from his companions, if only in some way he could cast off his earthly clothing and everything upon him that marked him as earthly and linked him to earth, he would by the very act of casting that off become himself native to Utopia, and then that this tormenting sense, this bleak distressing strangeness would vanish out of his mind. He would suddenly find himself a Utopian in nature and reality, and it was Earth that would become the incredible dream, a dream that would fade at last completely out of his mind.
For a time, however, Father Amerton’s need of a hearer prevented any such detachment from earthly thoughts and things. He stuck close to Mr. Barnstaple and maintained a stream of questions and comments that threw over this Utopian scene the quality of some Earl’s Court exhibition that the two of them were visiting and criticizing together. It was evidently so provisional, so disputable and unreal to him, that at any moment Mr. Barnstaple felt he would express no astonishment if a rift in the scenery suddenly let in the clatter of the Earl’s Court railway station or gave a glimpse of the conventional Gothic spire of St. Barnabas in the West.
At first Father Amerton’s mind was busy chiefly with the fact that on the morrow he was to be “dealt with” on account of the scene in the conference. “How can they deal with me?” he said for the fourth time.
“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. Barnstaple. Every time Mr. Amerton began speaking Mr. Barnstaple said, “I beg your pardon,” in order to convey to him that he was interrupting a train of thought. But every time Mr. Barnstaple said, “I beg your pardon,” Mr. Amerton would merely remark, “You ought to consult someone about your hearing,” and then go on with what he had to say.
“How can I be dealt with?” he asked of Mr. Barnstaple and the circumambient dusk. “How can I be dealt with?”
“Oh! psycho-analysis or something of that sort,” said Mr. Barnstaple.
“It takes two to play at that game,” said Father Amerton, but it seemed to Mr. Barnstaple with a slight flavour of relief in his tone. “Whatever they ask me, whatever they suggest to me, I will not fail—I will bear my witness.”
“I have no doubt they will find it hard to suppress you,” said Mr. Barnstaple bitterly. . . .
For a time they walked among the tall sweet-smelling, white-flowered shrubs in silence. Now and then Mr. Barnstaple would quicken or slacken his pace with the idea of increasing his distance from Father Amerton but quite mechanically Father Amerton responded to these efforts. “Promiscuity,” he began again presently. “What other word could you use?”
“I really beg your pardon,” said Mr. Barnstaple.
“What other word could I have used but ‘promiscuity’? What else could one expect—with people running about in this amazing want of costume, but the morals of the monkeys’ cage? They admit that our institution of marriage is practically unknown to them!”
“It’s a different world,” said Mr. Barnstaple irritably. “A different world.”
“The Laws of Morality hold good for every conceivable world.”
“But in a world in which people propagated by fission and there was no sex?”
“Morality would be simpler but it would be the same morality.” . . .
Presently Mr. Barnstaple was begging his pardon again.
“I was saying that this is a lost world.”
“It doesn’t look lost,” said Mr. Barnstaple.
“It has rejected and forgotten Salvation.”
Mr. Barnstaple put his hands in his pockets and began to whistle the barcarolle from “The Tales of Hoffman,” very softly to himself. Would Father Amerton never leave him? Could nothing be done with Father Amerton? At the old shows at Earl’s Court there used to be wire baskets for waste paper and cigarette ends and bores generally. If one could only tip Father Amerton suddenly into some such receptacle!
“Salvation has been offered them, and they have rejected it and well nigh forgotten it. And that is why we have been sent to them. We have been sent to them to recall them to the One Thing that Matters, to the One Forgotten Thing. Once more we have to raise the healing symbol as Moses raised it in the Wilderness. Ours is no light mission. We have been sent into this Hell of sensuous materialism—”
“Oh, Lord!” said Mr. Barnstaple, and relapsed into the barcarolle. . . .
“I beg your pardon,” he exclaimed again presently.
“Where is the Pole Star? What has happened to the Wain?”
Mr. Barnstaple looked up.
He had not thought of the stars before, and he looked up prepared in this fresh Universe to see the strangest constellations. But just as the life and size of the planet they were on ran closely parallel to the earth’s, so he beheld above him a starry vault of familiar forms. And just as the Utopian world failed to be altogether parallel to its sister universe, so did these constellations seem to be a little out in their drawing. Orion, he thought, straddled wider and with a great unfamiliar nebula at one corner, and it was true—the Wain was flattened out and the pointers pointed to a great void in the heavens.
“Their Pole Star gone! The Pointers, the Wain askew! It is symbolical,” said Father Amerton.
It was only too obviously going to be symbolical. Mr. Barnstaple realized that a fresh storm of eloquence was imminent from Father Amerton. At any cost he felt this nuisance must be abated.
On earth Mr. Barnstaple had been a passive victim to bores of all sorts, delicately and painfully considerate of the mental limitations that made their insensitive pressure possible. But the free air of Utopia had already mounted to his head and released initiatives that his excessively deferential recognition of others had hitherto restrained. He had had enough of Father Amerton; it was necessary to turn off Father Amerton, and he now proceeded to do so with a simple directness that surprised himself.
“Father Amerton,” he said, “I have a confession to make to you.”
“Ah!” cried Father Amerton. “Please—anything?”
“You have been walking about with me and shouting at my ears until I am strongly impelled to murder you.”
“If what I have said has struck home—”
“It hasn’t struck home. It has been a tiresome, silly, deafening jabbering in my ears. It wearies me indescribably. It prevents my attending to the marvellous things about us. I see exactly what you mean when you say that there is no Pole Star here and that that is symbolical. Before you begin I appreciate the symbol, and a very obvious, weak and ultimately inaccurate symbol it is. But you are one of those obstinate spirits who believes in spite of all evidence that the eternal hills are still eternal and the fixed stars fixed for ever. I want you to understand that I am entirely out of sympathy with all this stuff of yours. You seem to embody all that is wrong and ugly and impossible in Catholic teaching. I agree with these Utopians that there is something wrong with your mind about sex, in all probability a nasty twist given to it in early life, and that what you keep saying and hinting about sexual life here is horrible and outrageous. And I am equally hostile to you and exasperated and repelled by you when you speak of religion proper. You make religion disgusting just as you make sex disgusting. You are a dirty priest. What you call Christianity is a black and ugly superstition, a mere excuse for malignity and persecution. It is an outrage upon Christ. If you are a Christian, then most passionately I declare myself not a Christian. But there are other meanings for Christianity than those you put upon it, and in another sense this Utopia here is Christian beyond all dreaming. Utterly beyond your understanding. We have come into this glorious world, which, compared to our world, is like a bowl of crystal compared to an old tin can, and you have the insufferable impudence to say that we have been sent hither as missionaries to teach them—God knows what!”
“God does know what,” said Father Amerton a little taken aback, but coming up very pluckily.
“Oh!” cried Mr. Barnstaple, and was for a moment speechless.
“Listen to me, my Friend,” said Father Amerton, catching at his sleeve.
“Not for my life!” cried Mr. Barnstaple, recoiling. “See! Down that vista, away there on the shore of the lake, those black figures are Mr. Burleigh, Mr. Mush and Lady Stella. They brought you here. They belong to your party and you belong to them. If they had not wanted your company you would not have been in their car. Go to them. I will not have you with me any longer. I refuse you and reject you. That is your way. This, by this little building, is mine. Don’t follow me, or I will lay hands on you and bring in these Utopians to interfere between us. . . . Forgive my plainness, Mr. Amerton. But get away from me! Get away from me!”
Mr. Barnstaple turned, and seeing that Father Amerton stood hesitating at the parting of the ways, took to his heels and ran from him.
He fled along an alley behind tall hedges, turned sharply to the right and then to the left, passed over a high bridge that crossed in front of a cascade that flung a dash of spray in his face, blundered by two couples of lovers who whispered softly in the darkling, ran deviously across flower-studded turf, and at last threw himself down breathless upon the steps that led up to a terrace that looked towards lake and mountains, and was adorned, it seemed in the dim light, with squat stone figures of seated vigilant animals and men.
“Ye merciful stars!” cried Mr. Barnstaple. “At last I am alone.”
He sat on these steps for a long time with his eyes upon the scene about him, drinking in the satisfying realization that for a brief interval at any rate, with no earthly presence to intervene, he and Utopia were face to face.
He could not call this world the world of his dreams because he had never dared to dream of any world so closely shaped to the desires and imaginations of his heart. But surely this world it was, or a world the very fellow of it, that had lain deep beneath the thoughts and dreams of thousands of sane and troubled men and women in the world of disorder from which he had come. It was no world of empty peace, no such golden decadence of indulgence as Mr. Catskill tried to imagine it; it was a world, Mr. Barnstaple perceived, intensely militant, conquering and to conquer, prevailing over the obduracy of force and matter, over the lifeless separations of empty space and all the antagonistic mysteries of being.
In Utopia in the past, obscured by the superficial exploits of statesmen like Burleigh and Catskill and the competition of traders and exploiters every whit as vile and vulgar as their earthly compeers, the work of quiet and patient thinkers and teachers had gone on and the foundations which sustained this serene intensity of activity had been laid. How few of these pioneers had ever felt more than a transitory gleam of the righteous loveliness of the world their lives made possible!
And yet even in the hate and turmoil and distresses of the Days of Confusion there must have been earnest enough of the exquisite and glorious possibilities of life. Over the foulest slums the sunset called to the imaginations of men, and from mountain ridges, across great valleys, from cliffs and hillsides and by the uncertain and terrible splendours of the sea, men must have had glimpses of the conceivable and attainable magnificence of being. Every flower petal, every sunlit leaf, the vitality of young things, the happy moments of the human mind transcending itself in art, all these things must have been material for hope, incentive to effort. And now at last—this world!
Mr. Barnstaple lifted up his hands like one who worships to the friendly multitude of the stars above him.
“I have seen,” he whispered. “I have seen.”
Little lights and soft glows of illumination were coming out here and there over this great park of flowerlike buildings and garden spaces that sloped down towards the lake. A circling aeroplane, itself a star, hummed softly overhead.
A slender girl came past him down the steps and paused at the sight of him.
“Are you one of the Earthlings?” came the question, and a beam of soft light shone momentarily upon Mr. Barnstaple from the bracelet on her arm.
“I came to-day,” said Mr. Barnstaple, peering up at her.
“You are the man who came alone in a little machine of tin, with rubber air-bags round the wheels, very rusty underneath, and painted yellow. I have been looking at it.”
“It is not a bad little car,” said Mr. Barnstaple.
“At first we thought the priest came in it with you.”
“He is no friend of mine.”
“There were priests like that in Utopia many years ago. They caused much mischief among the people.”
“He was with the other lot,” said Mr. Barnstaple. “For their week-end party I should think him—rather a mistake.”
She sat down a step or so above him.
“It is wonderful that you should come here out of your world to us. Do you find this world of our very wonderful? I suppose many things that seen quite commonplace to me because I have been born among them seem wonderful to you.”
“You are not very old?”
“I am eleven. I am learning the history of the Ages Of Confusion, and they say your world is still in an Age of Confusion. It is just as though you came to us out of the past—out of history. I was in the Conference and I was watching your face. You love this present world of ours—at least you love it much more than your other people do.”
“I want to live all the rest of my life in it.”
“I wonder if that is possible?”
“Why should it not be possible? It will be easier than sending me back. I should not be very much in the way. I should only be here for twenty or thirty years at the most, and I would learn everything I could and do everything I was told.”
“But isn’t there work that you have to do in your own world?”
Mr. Barnstaple made no answer to that. He did not seem to hear it. It was the girl who presently broke the silence.
“They say that when we Utopians are young, before our minds and characters are fully formed and matured, we are very like the men and women of the Age of Confusion. We are more egotistical then, they tell us; life about us is still so unknown, that we are adventurous and romantic. I suppose I am egotistical yet—and adventurous. And it does still seem to me that in spite of many terrible and dreadful things there was much that must have been wildly exciting and desirable in that past—which is still so like your present. What can it have been like to have been a general entering a conquered city? Or a prince being crowned? Or to be rich and able to astonish people by acts of power an benevolence? Or to be a martyr led out to die for some splendid misunderstood cause?”
“These things sound better in stories and histories than in reality,” said Mr. Barnstaple after due consideration. “Did you hear Mr. Rupert Catskill, the last of the Earthlings to make a speech?”
“He thought romantically—but he did not look romantic.”
“He has lived most romantically. He has fought bravely in wars. He has been a prisoner and escaped wonderfully from prison. His violent imaginations have caused the deaths of thousands of people. And presently we shall see another romantic adventurer in this Lord Barralonga they are bringing hither. He is enormously rich and he tries to astonish people with his wealth—just as you have dreamt of astonishing people.”
“Are they not astonished?”
“Romance is not reality,” said Mr. Barnstaple. “He is one of a number of floundering, corrupting rich men who are a weariness to themselves and an intolerable nuisance to the rest of our world. They want to do vulgar showy things. This man Barralonga was an assistant to a photographer and something of an actor when a certain invention called moving pictures came into our world. He became a great prospector in the business of showing these pictures, partly by accident, partly by the unscrupulous cheating of various inventors. Then he launched out into speculations in shipping and in a trade we carry on in our world in frozen meat brought from great distances. He made food costly for many people and impossible for some, and so he grew rich. For in our world men grow wealthy by intercepting rather than by serving. And having become ignobly rich, certain of our politicians, for whom he did some timely services, ennobled him by giving him the title of Lord. Do you understand the things I am saying? Was your Age of Confusion so like ours? You did not know it was so ugly. Forgive me if I disillusion you about the Age of Confusion and its romantic possibilities. But I have just stepped out of the dust and disorder and noise of its indiscipline, out of limitation, cruelties and distresses, out of a weariness in which hope dies. . . . Perhaps if my world attracts you you may yet have an opportunity of adventuring out of all this into its disorders. . . . That will be an adventure indeed. . . . Who knows what may happen between our worlds? . . . But you will not like it, I am afraid. You cannot imagine how dirty our world is. . . . Dirt and disease, these are in the trailing skirts of all romance. . . . ”
A silence fell between them; he followed his own thoughts and the girl sat and wondered over him.
At length he spoke again.
“Shall I tell you what I was thinking of when you spoke to me?”
“Your world is the consummation of a million ancient dreams. It is wonderful! It is wonder, high as heaven. But it is a great grief to me that two dear friends of mine cannot be here with me to see what I am seeing. It is queer how strong the thought of them is in my mind. One has passed now beyond all the universes, alas!—but the other is still in my world. You are a student, my dear; everyone of your world, I suppose, is a student here, but in our world students are a class apart. We three were happy together because we were students and not yet caught into the mills of senseless toil, and we were none the less happy perhaps because we were miserably poor and often hungry together. We used to talk and dispute together and in our students’ debating society, discussing the disorders of our world and how some day they might be bettered. Was there, in your Age of Confusion, that sort of eager, hopeful, poverty-struck student life?”
“Go on,” said the girl with her eyes intent on his dim profile. “In old novels I have read of just that hungry dreaming student world.”
“We three agreed that the supreme need of our time was education. We agreed that was the highest service we could join. We all set about it in our various ways, I the least useful of the three. My friends and I drifted a little apart. They edited a great monthly periodical that helped to keep the world of science together, and my friend, serving a careful and grudging firm of publishers, edited school books for them, conducted an educational paper, and also inspected schools for our university. He was too heedless of pay and profit ever to become even passably well off though these publishers profited greatly by his work; his whole life was a continual service of toil for teaching; he did not take as much as a month’s holiday in any year in his life. While he lived I thought little of the work he was doing, but since he died I have heard from teachers whose schools he inspected, and from book writers whom he advised, of the incessant high quality of his toil and the patience and sympathy of his work. On such lives as his this Utopia in which your sweet life is opening is founded; on such lives our world of earth will yet build its Utopia. But the life of this friend of mine ended abruptly in a way that tore my heart. He worked too hard and too long through a crisis in which it was inconvenient for him to take a holiday. His nervous system broke down with shocking suddenness, his mind gave way, he passed into a phase of acute melancholia and—died. For it is perfectly true, old Nature has neither righteousness nor pity. This happened a few weeks ago. That other old friend and I, with his wife, who had been his tireless helper, were chief among the mourners at his funeral. To-night the memory of that comes back to me with extraordinary vividness. I do not know how you dispose of your dead here, but on earth the dead are mostly buried in the earth.”
“We are burnt,” said the girl.
“Those who are liberal-minded in our world burn also. Our friend was burnt, and we stood and took our part in a service according to the rites of our ancient religion in which we no longer believed, and presently we saw his coffin, covered with wreaths of flowers, slide from before us out of our sight through the gates that led to the furnaces of the crematorium, and as it went, taking with it so much of my youth, I saw that my other dear old friend was sobbing, and I too was wrung to the pitch of tears to think that so valiant and devoted and industrious a life should end, as it seemed, so miserably and thanklessly. The priest had been reading a long contentious discourse by a theological writer named Paul, full of bad arguments by analogy and weak assertions. I wished that instead of the ideas of this ingenious ancient we could have had some discourse upon the real nobility of our friend, on the pride and intensity of his work and on his scorn for mercenary things. All his life he had worked with unlimited devotion for such a world as this, and yet I doubt if he had ever had any realization of the clearer, nobler life for man that his life of toil and the toil of such lives as his, were making sure and certain in the days to come. He lived by faith. He lived too much by faith. There was not enough sunlight in his life. If I could have him here now—and that other dear friend who grieved for him so bitterly; if I could have them both here; if I could give up my place here to them so that they could see, as I see, the real greatness of their lives reflected in these great consequences of such lives as theirs—then, then I could rejoice in Utopia indeed. . . . But I feel now as if I had taken my old friend’s savings and was spending them on myself. . . . ”
Mr. Barnstaple suddenly remembered the youth of his hearer. “Forgive me, my dear child, for running on in this fashion. But your voice was kind.”
The girl’s answer was to bend down and brush his extended hand with her soft lips.
Then suddenly she sprang to her feet. “Look at that light,” she said, “among the stars!”
Mr. Barnstaple stood up beside her.
“That is the aeroplane bringing Lord Barralonga and his party; Lord Barralonga who killed a man to-day! Is he a very big, strong man—ungovernable and wonderful?”
Mr. Barnstaple, struck by a sudden doubt, looked sharply at the sweet upturned face beside him.
“I have never seen him. But I believe he is a youngish, baldish, undersized man, who suffers very gravely from a disordered liver and kidneys. This has prevented the dissipation of his energies upon youthful sports and pleasures and enabled him to concentrate upon the acquisition of property. And so he was able to buy the noble title that touches your imagination. Come with me and look at him.”
The girl stood still and met his eyes. She was eleven years old and she was as tall as he was.
“But was there no romance in the past?”
“Only in the hearts of the young. And it died.”
“But is there no romance?”
“Endless romance—and it has all to come. It comes for you.”
The bringing in of Lord Barralonga and his party was something of an anti-climax to Mr. Barnstaple’s wonderful day. He was tired and, quite unreasonably, he resented the invasion of Utopia by these people.
The two parties of Earthlings were brought together in a brightly lit hall near the lawn upon which the Barralonga aeroplane had come down. The newcomers came in in a group together, blinking, travel-worn and weary-looking. But it was evident they were greatly relieved to encounter other Earthlings in what was to them a still intensely puzzling experience. For they had had nothing to compare with the calm and lucid discussion of the Conference Place. Their lapse into this strange world was still an incomprehensible riddle for them.
Lord Barralonga was the owner of the gnome-like face that had looked out at Mr. Barnstaple when the large grey car had passed him on the Maidenhead Road. His skull was very low and broad above his brows so that he reminded Mr. Barnstaple of the flat stopper of a glass bottle. He looked hot and tired, he was considerably dishevelled as if from a struggle, and one arm was in a sling; his little brown eyes were as alert and wary as those of a wicked urchin in the hands of a policeman. Sticking close to him like a familiar spirit was a small, almost jockey-like chauffeur, whom he addressed as “Ridley.” Ridley’s face also was marked by the stern determination of a man in a difficult position not in any manner to give himself away. His left cheek and ear had been cut in the automobile smash and were liberally adorned with sticking-plaster. Miss Greeta Grey, the lady of the party, was a frankly blonde beauty in a white flannel tailor-made suit. She was extraordinarily unruffled by the circumstances in which she found herself; it was as if she had no sense whatever of their strangeness. She carried herself with the habitual hauteur of a beautiful girl almost professionally exposed to the risk of unworthy advances. Anywhere.
The other two people of the party were a grey-faced, grey-clad American, also very wary-eyed, who was, Mr. Barnstaple learnt from Mr. Mush, Hunker, the Cinema King, and a thoroughly ruffled-looking Frenchman, a dark, smartly dressed man, with an imperfect command of English, who seemed rather to have fallen into Lord Barralonga’s party than to have belonged to it properly. Mr. Barnstaple’s mind leapt to the conclusion, and nothing occurred afterwards to change his opinion, that some interest in the cinematograph had brought this gentleman within range of Lord Barralonga’s hospitality and that he had been caught, as a foreigner may so easily be caught, into the embrace of a thoroughly uncongenial week-end expedition.
As Lord Barralonga and Mr. Hunker came forward to greet Mr. Burleigh and Mr. Catskill, this Frenchman addressed himself to Mr. Barnstaple with the inquiry whether he spoke French.
“I cannot understand,” he said. “We were to have gone to Viltshire—Wiltshire, and then one ’orrible thing has happen after another. What is it we have come to and what sort of people are all these people who speak most excellent French? Is it a joke of Lord Barralonga, or a dream, or what has happen to us?”
Mr. Barnstaple attempted some explanation.
“Another dimension,” said the Frenchman, “an other worl’. That is all very well. But I have my business to attend to in London. I have no need to be brought back in this way to France, some sort of France, some other France in some other worl’. It is too much of a joke altogether.”
Mr. Barnstaple attempted some further exposition. It was clear from his interlocutor’s puzzled face that the phrases he used were too difficult. He turned helplessly to Lady Stella and found her ready to undertake the task. “This lady,” he said, “will be able to make things plain to you. Lady Stella, this is Monsieur—”
“Emile Dupont,” the Frenchman bowed. “I am what you call a journalist and publicist. I am interested in the cinematograph from the point of view of education and propaganda. It is why I am here with his Lordship Barralonga.”
French conversation was Lady Stella’s chief accomplishment. She sailed into it now very readily. She took over the elucidation of M. Dupont, and only interrupted it to tell Miss Greeta Grey how pleasant it was to have another woman with her in this strange world.
Relieved of M. Dupont, Mr. Barnstaple stood back and surveyed the little group of Earthlings in the centre of the hall and the circle of tall, watchful Utopians about them and rather aloof from them. Mr. Burleigh was being distantly cordial to Lord Barralonga, and Mr. Hunker was saying what a great pleasure it was to him to meet “Britain’s foremost statesman.” Mr. Catskill stood in the most friendly manner beside Barralonga; they knew each other well; and Father Amerton exchanged comments with Mr. Mush. Ridley and Penk, after some moments of austere regard, had gone apart to discuss the technicalities of the day’s experience in undertones. Nobody paid any attention to Mr. Barnstaple.
It was like a meeting at a railway station. It was like a reception. It was utterly incredible and altogether commonplace. He was weary. He was saturated and exhausted by wonder.
“Oh, I am going to my bed!” he yawned suddenly. “I am going to my little bed.”
He made his way through the friendly-eyed Utopians out into the calm starlight. He nodded to the strange nebula at the corner of Orion as a weary parent might nod to importunate offspring. He would consider it again in the morning. He staggered drowsily through the gardens to his own particular retreat.
He disrobed and went to sleep as immediately and profoundly as a tired child.