They crossed a rather thickly inhabited, very delightful-looking coastal belt and came over what was evidently a rainless desert country, given over to mining and to vast engineering operations. Far away were very high snowy mountains, but the aeroplane descended before it came to these. For a time the Earthlings were flying over enormous heaps of slaggy accumulations, great mountains of them, that seemed to be derived from a huge well-like excavation that went down into the earth to an unknown depth. A tremendous thunder of machinery came out of this pit and much smoke. Here there were crowds of workers and they seemed to be living in camps among the debris. Evidently the workers came to this place merely for spells of work; there were no signs of homes. The aeroplane of the Earthlings skirted this region and flew on over a rocky and almost treeless desert deeply cut by steep gorges of the canyon type. Few people were to be seen, but there were abundant signs of engineering activity. Every torrent, every cataract was working a turbine, and great cables followed the cliffs of the gorges and were carried across the desert spaces. In the wider places of the gorges there were pine woods and a fairly abundant vegetation.
The high crag which was their destination stood out, an almost completely isolated headland, in the fork between two convergent canyons. It towered up to a height of perhaps two thousand feet above the foaming clash of the torrents below, a great mass of pale greenish and purple rocks, jagged and buttressed and cleft deeply by joint planes and white crystalline veins. The gorge on one side of it was much steeper than that on the other, it was so overhung indeed as to be darkened like a tunnel, and here within a hundred feet or so of the brow a slender metallic bridge had been flung across the gulf. Some yards above it were projections that might have been the remains of an earlier bridge of stone. Behind, the crag fell steeply for some hundreds of feet to a long slope covered with a sparse vegetation which rose again to the main masses of the mountain, a wall of cliffs with a level top.
It was on this slope that the aeroplane came down alongside of three or four smaller machines. The crag was surmounted by the tall ruins of an ancient castle, within the circle of whose walls clustered a number of buildings which had recently harboured a group of chemical students. Their researches, which had been upon some question of atomic structure quite incomprehensible to Mr. Barnstaple, were finished now and the place had become vacant. Their laboratory was still stocked with apparatus and material; and water and power were supplied to it from higher up the gorge by means of pipes and cables. There was also an abundant store of provisions. A number of Utopians were busily adapting the place to its new purpose of isolation and disinfection when the Earthlings arrived.
Serpentine appeared in the company of a man in a gas-mask whose name was Cedar. This Cedar was a cytologist, and he was in charge of the arrangements for this improvised sanatorium.
Serpentine explained that he himself had flown to the crag in advance, because he understood the equipment of the place and the research that had been going on there, and because his knowledge of the Earthlings and his comparative immunity to their infections made him able to act as an intermediary between them and the medical men who would now take charge of their case. He made these explanations to Mr. Burleigh, Mr. Barnstaple, Lord Barralonga and Mr. Hunker. The other Earthlings stood about in small groups beside the aeroplane from which they had alighted, regarding the castellated summit of the crag, the scrubby bushes of the bleak upland about them and the towering cliffs of the adjacent canyons with no very favourable expressions.
Mr. Catskill had gone apart nearly to the edge of the great canyon, and was standing with his hands behind his back in an attitude almost Napoleonic, lost in thought, gazing down into those sunless depths. The roar of the unseen waters below, now loud, now nearly inaudible, quivered in the air.
Miss Greeta Grey had suddenly produced a Kodak camera; she had been reminded of its existence when packing for this last journey, and she was taking a snapshot of the entire party.
Cedar said that he would explain the method of treatment he proposed to follow, and Lord Barralonga called “Rupert!” to bring Mr. Catskill into the group of Cedar’s hearers.
Cedar was as explicit and concise as Urthred had been. It was evident, he said, that the Earthlings were the hosts of a variety of infectious organisms which were kept in check in their bodies by immunizing counter substances, but against which the Utopians had no defences ready and could hope to secure immunity only after a painful and disastrous epidemic. The only way to prevent this epidemic devastating their whole planet indeed, was firstly to gather together and cure all the cases affected, which was being done by converting the Conference Park into a big hospital, and next to take the Earthlings in hand and isolate them absolutely from the Utopians until they could be cleaned of their infections. It was, he confessed, an inhospitable thing to do to the Earthlings, but it seemed the only possible thing to do, to bring them into this peculiarly high and dry desert air and there to devise methods for their complete physical cleansing. If that was possible it would be done, and then the Earthlings would again be free to go and come as they pleased in Utopia.
“But suppose it is not possible?” said Mr. Catskill abruptly.
“I think it will be.”
“But if you fail?”
Cedar smiled at Serpentine. “Physical research is taking up the work in which Arden and Greenlake were foremost, and it will not be long before we are able to repeat their experiment. And then to reverse it.”
“With us as your raw material?”
“Not until we are fairly sure of a safe landing for you.”
“You mean,” said Mr. Mush, who had joined the circle about Cedar and Serpentine, “that you are going to send us back?”
“If we cannot keep you,” said Cedar, smiling.
“Delightful prospect!” said Mr. Mush unpleasantly. “To be shot across space in a gun. Experimentally.”
“And may I ask,” came the voice of Father Amerton, “may I ask the nature of this treatment of yours, these experiments of which we are to be the—guinea pigs, so to speak. Is it to be anything in the nature of vaccination?”
“Injections,” explained Mr. Barnstaple.
“I have hardly decided yet,” said Cedar. “The problem raises questions this world has forgotten for ages.”
“I may say at once that I am a confirmed anti-vaccinationist,” said Father Amerton. “Absolutely. Vaccination is an outrage on nature. If I had any doubts before I came into this world of—of vitiation, I have no doubts now. Not a doubt! If God had meant us to have these serums and ferments in our bodies he would have provided more natural and dignified means of getting them there than a squirt.”
Cedar did not discuss the point. He went on to further apologies. For a time he must ask the Earthlings to keep within certain limits, to confine themselves to the crag and the slopes below it as far as the mountain cliffs. And further, it was impossible to set young people to attend to them as had hitherto been done. They must cook for themselves and see to themselves generally. The appliances were all to be found above upon the crest of the crag and he and Serpentine would make any explanations that were needful. They would find there was ample provision for them.
“Then are we to be left alone here?” asked M. Catskill.
“For a time. When we have our problem clearer we will come again and tell you what we mean to do.”
“Good,” said Mr. Catskill. “Good.”
“I wish I hadn’t sent my maid by train,” said Lady Stella.
“I have come to my last clean collar,” said M. Dupont with a little humorous grimace. “It is no joke this week-end with Lord Barralonga.”
Lord Barralonga turned suddenly to his particular minion. “I believe that Ridley has the makings of a very good cook.”
“I don’t mind trying my hand,” said Ridley. “I’ve done most things—and once I used to look after a steam car.”
“A man who can keep one of those—those things in order can do anything,” said Mr. Penk with unusual emotion. “I’ve no objection to being a temporary general utility along of Mr. Ridley. I began my career in the pantry and I ain’t ashamed to own it.”
“If this gentleman will show us the gadgets,” said Mr. Ridley, indicating Serpentine.
“Exactly,” said Mr. Penk.
“And if all of us give as little trouble as possible,” said Miss Greeta bravely.
“I think we shall be able to manage,” said Mr. Burleigh to Cedar. “If at first you can spare us a little advice and help.”
Cedar and Serpentine remained with the Earthlings upon Quarantine Crag until late in the afternoon. They helped to prepare a supper and set it out in the courtyard of the castle. They departed with a promise to return on the morrow, and the Earthlings watched them and their accompanying aeroplanes soar up into the sky.
Mr. Barnstaple was surprised to find himself distressed at their going. He had a feeling that mischief was brewing amongst his companions and that the withdrawal of these Utopians removed a check upon this mischief. He had helped Lady Stella in the preparation of an omelette; he had to carry back a dish and a frying-pan to the kitchen after it was served, so that he was the last to seat himself at the supper-table. He found the mischief he dreaded well afoot.
Mr. Catskill had finished his supper already and was standing with his foot upon a bench orating to the rest of the company.
“I ask you, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Mr. Catskill was saying; “I ask you: Is not Destiny writ large upon this day’s adventure? Not for nothing was this place a fortress in ancient times. Here it is ready to be a fortress again. M’m—a fortress. . . . In such an adventure as will make the stories of Cortez and Pizarro pale their ineffectual fires!”
“My dear Rupert!” cried Mr. Burleigh. “What have you got in that head of yours now?”
Mr. Catskill waved two fingers dramatically. “The conquest of a world!”
“Good God!” cried Mr. Barnstaple. “Are you mad?”
“As Clive,” said Mr. Catskill, “or Sultan Baber when he marched to Panipat.”
“It’s a tall proposition,” said Mr. Hunker, who seemed to have had his mind already prepared for these suggestions, “but I’m inclined to give it a hearing. The alternative so far as I can figure it out is to be scoured and whitewashed inside and out and then fired back into our own world—with a chance of hitting something hard on the way. You tell them, Mr. Catskill.”
“Tell them,” said Lord Barralonga, who had also been prepared. “It’s a gamble, I admit. But there’s situations when one has to gamble—or be gambled with. I’m all for the active voice.”
“It’s a gamble—certainly,” said Mr. Catskill. “But upon this narrow peninsula, upon this square mile or so of territory, the fate, Sir, of two universes awaits decision. This is no time for the faint heart and the paralyzing touch of discretion. Plan swiftly—act swiftly. . . . ”
“This is simply thrilling!” cried Miss Greeta Grey clasping her hands about her knees and smiling radiantly at Mr. Mush.
“These people,” Mr. Barnstaple interrupted, “are three thousand years ahead of us. We are like a handful of Hottentots in a showman’s van at Earl’s Court, planning the conquest of London.”
Mr. Catskill, hands on hips, turned with extraordinary good humour upon Mr. Barnstaple. “Three thousand years away from us—yes! Three thousand years ahead of us—no! That is where you and I join issue. You say these people are super-men. M’m—super-men. . . . I say they are degenerate men. Let me call your attention to my reasons for this belief—in spite of their beauty, their very considerable material and intellectual achievements and so forth. Ideal people, I admit. . . . What then? . . . My case is that they have reached a summit—and passed it, that they are going on by inertia and that they have lost the power not only of resistance to disease—that weakness we shall see develop more and more—but also of meeting strange and distressing emergencies. They are gentle. Altogether too gentle. They are ineffectual. They do not know what to do. Here is Father Amerton. He disturbed that first meeting in the most insulting way. (You know you did, Father Amerton. I’m not blaming you. You are morally—sensitive. And there were things to outrage you.) He was threatened—as a little boy is threatened by a feeble old woman. Something was to be done to him. Has anything been done to him?”
“A man and a woman came and talked to me,” said Father Amerton.
“And what did you do?”
“Simply confuted them. Lifted up my voice and confuted them.”
“What did they say?”
“What could they say?”
“We all thought tremendous things were going to be done to poor Father Amerton. Well, and now take a graver case. Our friend Lord Barralonga ran amuck with his car—and killed a man. M’m. Even at home they’d have endorsed your licence you know. And fined your man. But here? . . . The thing has scarcely been mentioned since. Why? Because they don’t know what to say about it or do about it. And now they have put us here and begged us to be good. Until they are ready to come and try experiments upon us and inject things into us and I don’t know what. And if we submit, Sir, if we submit, we lose one of our greatest powers over these people, our power of at once giving and resisting malaise, and in addition, I know not what powers of initiative that may very well be associated with that physiological toughness of which we are to be robbed. They may trifle with our ductless glands. But science tells us that these very glands secrete our personalities. Mentally, morally we shall be dissolved. If we submit, Sir—if we submit. But suppose we do not submit; what then?”
“Well,” said Lord Barralonga, “what then?”
“They will not know what to do. Do not be deceived by any outward shows of beauty and prosperity. These people are living, as the ancient Peruvians were living in the time of Pizarro, in an enervating dream. They have drunken the debilitating draught of Socialism and, as in ancient Peru, there is no health nor power of will left in them any more. A handful of resolute men and women who can dare—may not only dare but triumph in the face of such a world. And thus it is I lay my plans before you.”
“You mean to jump this entire Utopian planet?” said Mr. Hunker.
“Big order,” said Lord Barralonga.
“I mean, Sir, to assert the rights of a more vigorous form of social life over a less vigorous form of social life. Here we are—in a fortress. It is a real fortress and quite defensible. While you others have been unpacking, Barralonga and Hunker and I have been seeing to that. There is a sheltered well so that if need arises we can get water from the canyon below. The rock is excavated into chambers and shelters; the wall on the land side is sound and high, glazed so that it cannot be scaled. This great archway can easily be barricaded when the need arises. Steps go down through the rock to that little bridge which can if necessary be cut away. We have not yet explored all the excavations. In Mr. Hunker we have a chemist—he was a chemist before the movie picture claimed him as its master—and he says there is ample material in the laboratory for a store of bombs. This party, I find, can muster five revolvers with ammunition. I scarcely dared hope for that. We have food for many days.”
“Oh! This is ridiculous!” cried Mr. Barnstaple standing up and then sitting down again. “This is preposterous! To turn on these friendly people! But they can blow this little headland to smithereens whenever they want to.”
“Ah!” said Mr. Catskill and held him with his outstretched finger. “We’ve thought of that. But we can take a leaf from the book of Cortez—who, in the very centre of Mexico, held Montezuma as his prisoner and hostage. We too will have our hostage. Before we lift a finger—. First our hostage. . . . ”
“Is there such a thing in Utopia? Or such an idea? And again—we must have our hostage.”
“Somebody of importance,” said Mr. Hunker.
“Cedar and Serpentine are both important people,” said Mr. Burleigh in tones of disinterested observation.
“But surely, Sir, you do not countenance this schoolboy’s dream of piracy!” cried Mr. Barnstaple, sincerely shocked.
“Schoolboys!” cried Father Amerton. “A cabinet minister, a peer and a great entrepreneur!”
“My dear Sir,” said Mr. Burleigh, “we are, after all, only envisaging eventualities. For the life of me, I do not see why we should not thresh out these possibilities. Though I pray to Heaven we may never have to realize them. You were saying, Rupert—?”
“We have to establish ourselves here and assert our independence and make ourselves felt by these Utopians.”
“’Ear, ’ear!” said Mr. Ridley cordially. “One or two I’d like to make feel personally.”
“We have to turn this prison into a capitol, into the first foothold of mankind in this world. It is like a foot thrust into a reluctant door that must never more close upon our race.”
“It is closed,” said Mr. Barnstaple. “Except by the mercy of these Utopians we shall never see our world again. And even with their mercy, it is doubtful.”
“That’s been keeping me awake nights,” said Mr. Hunker.
“It’s an idea that must have occurred to all of us,” said Mr. Burleigh.
“And it’s an idea that’s so thundering disagreeable that one hasn’t cared to talk about it,” said Lord Barralonga.
“I never ’ad it until this moment,” said Penk. “You don’t reely mean to say, Sir, we can’t get back?”
“Things will be as they will be,” said Mr. Burleigh. “That is why I am anxious to hear Mr. Catskill’s ideas.”
Mr. Catskill rested his hands on his hips and his manner became very solemn. “For once,” he said, “I am in agreement with Mr. Barnaby. I believe that the chances are against our ever seeing the dear cities of our world again.”
“I felt that,” said Lady Stella, with white lips. “I knew that two days ago.”
“And so behold my week-end expand to an eternity!” said M. Dupont, and for a time no one said another word.
“It’s as if—” Penk said at last. “Why! One might be dead!”
“But I murst be back,” Miss Greeta Grey broke out abruptly, as one who sets aside a foolish idea. “It’s absurd. I have to go on at the Alhambra on September the 2nd. It’s imperative. We came here quite easily; it’s ridiculous to say I can’t go back in the same way.”
Lord Barralonga regarded her with affectionate malignity. “You wait,” he said.
“But I murst!” she sang.
“There’s such things as impossibilities—even for Miss Greeta Grey.”
“Charter a special aeroplane!” she said. “Anything.”
He regarded her with an elfin grin and shook his head.
“My dear man,” she said, “you’ve only seen me in a holiday mood, so far. Work is serious.”
“My dear girl, that Alhambra of yours is about as far from us now as the Court of King Nebuchadnezzar. . . . It can’t be done.”
“But it murst,” she said in her queenly way. “And that’s all about it.”
Mr. Barnstaple got up from the table and walked apart to where a gap in the castle wall gave upon the darkling wilderness without. He sat down there. His eyes went from the little group talking around the supper table to the sunlit crest of the cliffs across the canyon and to the wild and lonely mountain slopes below the headland. In this world he might have to live out the remainder of his days.
And those days might not be very numerous if Mr. Catskill had his way. Sydenham, and his wife and the boys were indeed as far—“as the Court of King Nebuchadnezzar.”
He had scarcely given his family a thought since he had posted his letter at Victoria. Now he felt a queer twinge of desire to send them some word or token—if only he could. Queer that they would never hear from him or of him again! How would they get on without him? Would there be any difficulty about the account at the bank? Or about the insurance money? He had always intended to have a joint and several account with his wife at the bank, and he had never quite liked to do it. Joint and several. . . . A thing every man ought to do. . . . His attention came back to Mr. Catskill unfolding his plans.
“We have to make up our minds to what may be a prolonged, a very prolonged stay here. Do not let us deceive ourselves upon that score. It may last for years—it may last for generations.”
Something struck Penk in that. “I don’t ’ardly see,” he said, “how that can be—generations?”
“I am coming to that,” said Mr. Catskill.
“Un’appily,” said Mr. Penk, and became profoundly restrained and thoughtful with his eyes on Lady Stella.
“We have to remain, a little alien community, in this world until we dominate it, as the Romans dominated the Greeks, and until we master its science and subdue it to our purpose. That may mean a long struggle. It may mean a very long struggle indeed. And meanwhile we must maintain ourselves as a community; we must consider ourselves a colony, a garrison, until that day of reunion comes. We must hold our hostages, Sir, and not only our hostages. It may be necessary for our purpose, and if it is necessary for our purpose, so be it—to get in others of these Utopians, to catch them young, before this so-called education of theirs unfits them for our purpose, to train them in the great traditions of our Empire and our race.”
Mr. Hunker seemed on the point of saying something but refrained.
M. Dupont got up sharply from the table, walked four paces away, returned and stood still, watching Mr. Catskill.
“Generations?” said Mr. Penk.
“Yes,” said Mr. Catskill. “Generations. For here we are strangers—strangers, like that other little band of adventurers who established their citadel five-and-twenty centuries ago upon the Capitol beside the rushing Tiber. This is our Capitol. A greater Capitol—of a greater Rome—in a vaster world. And like that band of Roman adventurers we too may have to reinforce our scanty numbers at the expense of the Sabines about us, and take to ourselves servants and helpers and—mates! No sacrifice is too great for the high possibilities of this adventure.”
M. Dupont seemed to nerve himself for the sacrifice.
“Duly married,” injected Father Amerton.
“Duly married,” said Mr. Catskill in parenthesis. “And so, Sir, we will hold out here and maintain ourselves and dominate this desert countryside and spread our prestige and our influence and our spirit into the inert body of this decadent Utopian world. Until at last we are able to master the secret that Arden and Greenlake were seeking and recover the way back to our own people, opening to the crowded millions of our Empire—”
“Just a moment,” said Mr. Hunker. “Just a moment! About this empire—!”
“Exactly,” said M. Dupont, recalled abruptly from some romantic day-dream. “About your Empire—!”
Mr. Catskill regarded them thoughtfully and defensively. “When I say Empire I mean it in the most general sense.”
“Exactly,” snapped M. Dupont.
“I was thinking generally of our—Atlantic civilization.”
“Before, Sir, you go on to talk of Anglo-Saxon unity and the English-speaking race,” said M. Dupont, with a rising note of bitterness in his voice, “permit me to remind you, Sir, of one very important fact that you seem to be overlooking. The language of Utopia, Sir, is French. I want to remind you of that. I want to recall it to your mind. I will lay no stress here on the sacrifices and martyrdoms that France has endured in the cause of Civilization—”
The voice of Mr. Burleigh interrupted. “A very natural misconception. But, if you will pardon the correction, the language of Utopia is not French.”
Of course, Mr. Barnstaple reflected, M. Dupont had not heard the explanation of the language difficulty.
“Permit me, Sir, to believe the evidence of my own ears,” the Frenchman replied with dignified politeness. “These Utopians, I can assure you, speak French and nothing but French—and very excellent French it is.”
“They speak no language at all,” said Mr. Burleigh.
“Not even English?” sneered M. Dupont.
“Not even English.”
“Not League of Nations, perhaps? But—Bah! Why do I argue? They speak French. Not even a Bosch would deny it. It needs an Englishman—”
A beautiful wrangle, thought Mr. Barnstaple. There was no Utopian present to undeceive M. Dupont and he stuck to his belief magnificently. With a mixture of pity and derision and anger, Mr. Barnstaple listened to this little band of lost human beings, in the twilight of a vast, strange and possibly inimical world, growing more and more fierce and keen in a dispute over the claims of their three nations to “dominate” Utopia, claims based entirely upon greeds and misconceptions. Their voices rose to shouts and sank to passionate intensity as their life-long habits of national egotism reasserted themselves. Mr. Hunker would hear nothing of any “Empire”; M. Dupont would hear of nothing but the supreme claim of France. Mr. Catskill twisted and turned. To Mr. Barnstaple this conflict of patriotic prepossessions seemed like a dog-fight on a sinking ship. But at last Mr. Catskill, persistent and ingenious, made headway against his two antagonists.
He stood at the end of the table explaining that he had used the word Empire loosely, apologizing for using it, explaining that when he said Empire he had all Western Civilization in mind. “When I said it,” he said, turning to Mr. Hunker, “I meant a common brotherhood of understanding.” He faced towards M. Dupont. “I meant our tried and imperishable Entente.”
“There are at least no Russians here,” said M. Dupont. “And no Germans.”
“True,” said Lord Barralonga. “We start ahead of the Hun here, and we can keep ahead.”
“And I take it,” said Mr. Hunker, “that Japanese are barred.”
“No reason why we shouldn’t start clean with a complete colour bar,” reflected Lord Barralonga. “This seems to me a White Man’s World.”
“At the same time,” said M. Dupont, coldly and insistently, “you will forgive me if I ask you for some clearer definition of our present relationship and for some guarantee, some effective guarantee, that the immense sacrifices France has made and still makes in the cause of civilized life, will receive their proper recognition and their due reward in this adventure. . . .
“I ask only for justice,” said M. Dupont.
Indignation made Mr. Barnstaple bold. He got down from his perch upon the wall and came up to the table.
“Are you mad,” he said, “or am I?”
“This squabble over flags and countries and fanciful rights and deserts—it is hopeless folly. Do you not realize even now the position we are in?”
His breath failed him for a moment and then he resumed.
“Are you incapable of thinking of human affairs except in terms of flags and fighting and conquest and robbery? Cannot you realize the proportion of things and the quality of this world into which we have fallen? As I have said already, we are like some band of savages in a show at Earl’s Court, plotting the subjugation of London. We are like suppressed cannibals in the heart of a great city dreaming of a revival of our ancient and forgotten filthiness. What are our chances in this fantastic struggle?”
Mr. Ridley spoke reprovingly. “You’re forgetting everythink you just been told. Everythink. ’Arf their population is laid out with flu and measles. And there’s no such thing as a ’ealthy fighting will left in all Utopia.”
“Precisely,” said Mr. Catskill.
“Well, suppose you have chances? If that makes your scheme the more hopeful, it also makes it the more horrible. Here we are lifted up out of the troubles of our time to a vision, to a reality of civilization such as our own world can only hope to climb to in scores of centuries! Here is a world at peace, splendid, happy, full of wisdom and hope! If our puny strength and base cunning can contrive it, we are to shatter it all! We are proposing to wreck a world! I tell you it is not an adventure. It is a crime. It is an abomination. I will have no part in it. I am against you in this attempt.”
Father Amerton would have spoken but Mr. Burleigh arrested him by a gesture.
“What would you have us do?” asked Mr. Burleigh.
“Submit to their science. Learn what we can from them. In a little while we may be cured of our inherent poisons and we may be permitted to return from this outlying desert of mines and turbines and rock, to those gardens of habitation we have as yet scarcely seen. There we too may learn something of civilization. . . . In the end we may even go back to our own disordered world—with knowledge, with hope and help, missionaries of a new order.”
“But why—?” began Father Amerton.
Again Mr. Burleigh took the word. “Everything you say,” he remarked, “rests on unproven assumptions. You choose to see this Utopia through rose-tinted glasses. We others—for it is”—he counted—“eleven to one against you—see things without such favourable preconceptions.”
“And may I ask, Sir,” said Father Amerton, springing to his feet and hitting the table a blow that set all the glasses talking. “May I ask, who you are, to set yourself up as a judge and censor of the common opinion of mankind? For I tell you, Sir, that here in this lonely and wicked and strange world, we here, we twelve, do represent mankind. We are the advance guard, the pioneers—in the new world that God has given us, even as He gave Canaan to Israel His chosen, three thousand years ago. Who are you—”
“Exactly,” said Penk. “Who are you?”
And Mr. Ridley reinforced him with a shout: “Oo the ’ell are you?”
Mr. Barnstaple had no platform skill to meet so direct an attack. He stood helpless. Astonishingly Lady Stella came to his rescue.
“That isn’t fair, Father Amerton,” she said. “Mr. Bastaple, whoever he is, has a perfect right to express his own opinion.”
“And having expressed it,” said Mr. Catskill, who had been walking up and down on the other side of the table to that on which Mr. Barnstaple stood, “M’m, having expressed it, to allow us to proceed with the business in hand. I suppose it was inevitable that we should find the conscientious objector in our midst—even in Utopia. The rest of us, I take it, are very much of one mind about our situation.”
“We are,” said Mr. Mush, regarding Mr. Barnstaple with a malevolent expression.
“Very well. Then I suppose we must follow the precedents established for such cases. We will not ask Mr.—Mr. Bastaple to share the dangers—and the honours—of a combatant. We will ask him merely to do civilian work of a helpful nature—”
Mr. Barnstaple held up his hand. “No,” he said. “I am not disposed to be helpful. I do not recognize the analogy of the situation to the needs of the Great War, and, anyhow, I am entirely opposed to this project—this brigandage of a civilization. You cannot call me a conscientious objector to fighting, because I do not object to fighting in a just cause. But this adventure of yours is not a just cause. . . . I implore you, Mr. Burleigh, you who are not merely a politician, but a man of culture and a philosopher, to reconsider what it is we are being urged towards—towards acts of violence and mischief from which there will be no drawing back!”
“Mr. Barnstaple,” said Mr. Burleigh with grave dignity and something like a note of reproach in his voice, “I have considered. But I think I may venture to say that I am a man of some experience, some traditional experience, in human affairs. I may not altogether agree with my friend Mr. Catskill. Nay! I will go further and say that in many respects I do not agree with him. If I were the autocrat here I would say that we have to offer these Utopians resistance—for our self-respect—but not to offer them the violent and aggressive resistance that he contemplates. I think we could be far more subtle, far more elaborate, and far more successful than Mr. Catskill is likely to be. But that is my own opinion. Neither Mr. Hunker nor Lord Barralonga, nor Mr. Mush, nor M. Dupont shares it. Nor do Mr.—our friends, the ah!—technical engineers here share it. And what I do perceive to be imperative upon our little band of Earthlings, lost here in a strange universe, is unity of action. Whatever else betide, dissension must not betray us. We must hold together and act together as one body. Discuss if you will, when there is any time for discussion, but in the end decide. And having decided abide loyally by the decision. Upon the need of securing a hostage or two I have no manner of doubt whatever. Mr. Catskill is right.”
Mr. Barnstaple was a bad debater. “But these Utopians are as human as we are,” he said. “All that is most sane and civilized in ourselves is with them.”
Mr. Ridley interrupted in a voice designedly rough. “Oh Lord!” he said. “We can’t go on jawing ’ere for ever. It’s sunset, and Mr.—this gentleman ’as ’ad ’is say, and more than ’is say. We ought to have our places and know what is expected of us before night. May I propose that we elect Mr. Catskill our Captain with full military powers?”
“I second that,” said Mr. Burleigh with grave humility.
“Perhaps M. Dupont,” said Mr. Catskill, “will act with me as associated Captain, representing our glorious ally, his own great country.”
“In the absence of a more worthy representative,” acquiesced M. Dupont, “and to see that French interests are duly respected.”
“And if Mr. Hunker would act as my lieutenant? . . . Lord Barralonga will be our quartermaster and Father Amerton our chaplain and censor. Mr. Burleigh, it goes without saying, will be our civil head.”
Mr. Hunker coughed. He frowned with the expression of one who makes a difficult explanation. “I won’t be exactly lieutenant,” he said. “I’ll take no official position. I’ve a sort of distaste for—foreign entanglements. I’ll be a looker-on—who helps. But I think you will find you can count on me, Gentlemen—when help is needed.”
Mr. Catskill seated himself at the head of the table and indicated the chair next to his for M. Dupont. Miss Greeta Grey seated herself on his other hand between him and Mr. Hunker. Mr. Burleigh remained in his place, a chair or so from Mr. Hunker. The rest came and stood round the Captain except Lady Stella and Mr. Barnstaple.
Almost ostentatiously Mr. Barnstaple turned his back on the new command. Lady Stella, he saw, remained seated far down the table, looking dubiously at the little crowd of people at the end. Then her eyes went to the desolate mountain crest beyond.
She shivered violently and stood up. “It’s going to be very cold here after sunset,” she said, with nobody heeding her. “I shall go and unpack a wrap.”
She walked slowly to her quarters and did not reappear.
Mr. Barnstaple did not want to seem to listen to this Council of War. He walked to the wall of the old castle and up a flight of stone steps and along the rampart to the peak of the headland. Here the shattering and beating sound of the waters in the two convergent canyons was very loud.
There was still a bright upper rim of sunlit rock on the mountain face behind, but all the rest of the world was now in a deepening blue shadow, and a fleecy white mist was gathering in the canyons below and hiding the noisy torrents. It drifted up almost to the level of the little bridge that spanned the narrower canyon to a railed stepway from the crest on the further side. For the first time since he had arrived in Utopia Mr. Barnstaple felt a chill in the air. And loneliness like a pain.
Up the broader of the two meeting canyons some sort of engineering work was going on and periodic flashes lit the drifting mist. Far away over the mountains a solitary aeroplane, very high, caught the sun’s rays ever and again and sent down quivering flashes of dazzling golden light, and then, as it wheeled about, vanished again in the deepening blue.
He looked down into the great courtyard of the ancient castle below him. The modern buildings in the twilight looked like phantom pavilions amidst the archaic masonry. Someone had brought a light, and Captain Rupert Catskill, the new Cortez, was writing orders, while his Commando stood about him.
The light shone on the face and shoulders and arms of Miss Greeta Grey; she was peering over the Captain’s arm to see what he was writing. And as Mr. Barnstaple looked he saw her raise her hand suddenly to conceal an involuntary yawn.