Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 21

The Beginning of the End

WHEN I had been on the island nearly four months a British surveying vessel discovered us. We knew beforehand from telepathic sources that she was likely to come our way, for she had orders to study the oceanic conditions of the South-east Pacific. We knew also that she had a gyroscopic compass. It would be difficult to lead her astray.

This vessel, the Viking, strayed about the ocean for some weeks, following the dictates of research. With innumerable zigzags she approached the island. When she came within range of our deflector her officers were perplexed by the discrepancy between the magnetic and gyroscopic compasses, but the ship maintained her true course. On one of her laps she passed within twenty miles of the island, but at night. Would she on the next lap miss us entirely? No! Approaching from the south-west, she sighted us far away on the port bow. The effect was unexpected. Since no island had any business to be in that spot, the officers concluded that the gyro was wrong after all, although their observation of the sun had seemed to confirm it. This island, then, must he one of the Tuamotu Group. The Viking, therefore veered away from us. Tsomotre, our chief telepathist, reported that the officers of the Viking were feeling very much like people lost in the dark.

A month later the Viking sighted us again. This time she changed her course and headed for the island, We saw her approaching, a minute toy vessel, white, with buff funnel. She plunged and swayed, and grew larger. When she was within a few miles of the island, she cruised round it, inspecting. She came a mile or two nearer and described another circle, at half speed, using the lead. She anchored. A motor-launch was lowered. It left the Viking and nosed along the coast till it found the entrance to our harbour. In the outer harbour it came to shore and landed an officer and three men. They advanced inland among the brushwood.

We still hoped that they might make a perfunctory examination and then return. Between the inner and the outer harbours, and along the slopes of the outer harbour itself, there was a dense wilderness of scrub, which would give pause to any explorer. The actual channel to the inner harbour had been concealed with a curtain of vegetation hung from a rope which stretched from shore to shore.

The invaders wandered about in the comparatively open space for a while, then turned back to the launch. Presently one of them stooped and picked up something. John, who was in hiding beside me, watching both the bodies and the minds of the four men, exclaimed, “God He’s found one of your bloody cigarette-ends — a fresh one, too.” In horror I sprang to my feet, crying. “Then he must find me.” I plunged down the hillside. shouting. The men turned and waited for me. As I approached, naked, dirty and considerably scratched by the scrub, they gaped at me in astonishment. Panting, I poured out an impromptu story. I was the sole survivor of a schooner, wrecked on the island. I had smoked my last cigarette today. At first they believed me. While we made our way toward the launch, they fired questions at me. I played my part tolerably well, but by the time we reached the Viking, they were growing suspicious. Though superficially dirty after my stampede, I was quite decently groomed. My hair was short, I was beardless, my nails were cut and clean. Under cross-examination by the Commander of the vessel I became confused; and finally, in despair, I told them the whole truth. Naturally they concluded that I was mad. All the same, the Commander determined to make further investigations on the island. He himself came with the party. I was taken, too, in case I should prove useful.

I now feigned complete idiocy, hoping they might still find nothing. But they discovered the camouflage curtain, and forced the launch through it into the inner harbour. The settlement was now in full view. John and the others had decided that it was useless to hide, and were standing about on the quay, waiting for us. As we came alongside. John advanced to greet us. He was an uncouth but imposing figure, with his dazzling white hair, his eyes of a nocturnal beast, and his lean body. Behind him the others waited, a group of unclad boys and girls with formidable heads. One of the Viking’s officers was heard to exclaim, “Jesus Christ! What a troupe!”

The invaders were fluttered by the sight of naked young women, several of whom were of the white race.

We took the officers to the feeding-house terrace, and gave them light refreshments, including our best Chablis. John explained to them rather fully about the colony; and though, of course, they could not appreciate the more subtle aspect of the great adventure, and were frankly though politely incredulous of the “new species” idea, they were sympathetic. They appreciated the sporting aspect of the matter. They were also impressed by the fact that I, the only adult and the only normal human figure among these juvenile freaks, was obviously a quite unimportant person on the island.

Presently John took them to see the power-station, which they just wouldn’t believe, and the Skid, which impressed them more than anything else. To them she was a subtle blend of the crazy and the shipshape. There followed a tour of the other buildings and the estate. I was surprised that John was so anxious to show everything, more surprised that he made no attempt to persuade the Commander not to report on the island and its inhabitants. But John’s policy was more subtle. After the tour of inspection he persuaded the Commander to allow all his men to leave the launch and come to the terrace for refreshments. There the party spent another half-hour. John and Lo and Marianne talked to the officers. Other islanders talked to the men. When at last the party made its farewells on the quay, the Commander assured John that he would make a full report on the island, and give high praise to its inhabitants.

As we watched the launch retreating, several of the islanders showed signs of mirth. John explained that throughout the interview the visitors had been subjected to an appropriate psychological treatment, and that by the time they reached the Viking their memory of recent events on the island would be so obscure that they would be quite unable to produce a plausible report, or even to give their shipmates an account of their adventure. “But,” said John, “this is the beginning of the end. If only we could have treated the whole ship’s company thoroughly, all might have been well. As it is, some distorted information is sure to get through and rouse the curiosity of your species.”

For three months the life of the island proceeded undisturbed. But it was a changed life. Knowledge that the end could not be far off produced a fresh intensity of consciousness in all personal relations and social activities. The islanders evidently discovered a new and passionate love of their little society, a kind of poignant and exalted patriotism, such as must have been felt in Greek city-states when the enemy was at the gates. But it was a patriotism curiously free from hate. The impending disaster was regarded less as an attack by human enemies than as a natural catastrophe, like destruction by an avalanche.

The programme of activities on the island was now altered considerably. All work that could not bear fruit within the next few months was abandoned. The islanders told me that they had certain supreme tasks on hand which must if possible be finished before the end. The true purpose of the awakened spirit, they reminded me, is twofold, namely to help in the practical task of world-building, and to employ itself to the best of its capacity in intelligent worship. Under the first head they had at least created something glorious though ephemeral, a microcosm, a world in little. But the more ambitious part of their practical purpose, the founding of the new species, they were destined never to fulfil. Therefore they were concentrating all their strength upon the second aim. They must apprehend existence as precisely and zestfully as they could, and salute That in the universe which was of supreme excellence. This purpose, with the aid of Langatse, they might yet advance to a definite plane of achievement which at present still lay beyond them, though their most mature minds had already glimpsed it. With their unique practical experience and their consciousness of approaching doom they might, they said, within a few months offer to the universal Spirit such a bright and peculiar jewel of worship as even the great Langatse himself, alone and thwarted, could not create.

This most exalting and most exacting of all tasks made it necessary for them to give up all but the necessary daily toil in the fields and in the canoes. Not that very much of their time could be devoted to their spiritual exercises, for there was danger of overstraining their powers. It was necessary therefore to secure plentiful relaxation. Much of the life of the colony during this period seemed to consist of recreation. There was much bathing in the shark-free harbour, much love-making, much dancing and music and poetry, and much aesthetic juggling with colour and form. It was difficult for me to enter into the aesthetic appreciation of the islanders, but from their reactions to their own art in this period I judged that the pervading sense of finality had sharpened their sensibility. Certainly in the sphere of personal relations the knowledge that the group would soon be destroyed produced a passion of sociality. Solitariness lost its charm.

One night Chargut, who was on duty as telepathic look-out, reported that a British light cruiser was under orders to make a search for the mysterious island which had somehow temporarily undermined the sanity of so many of the Viking’s crew.

Some weeks later the vessel entered the zone of our deflector, but had little difficulty in keeping her course. She had expected some sort of craziness on the part of the magnetic needle, and trusted only to her gyroscopic compass. After some groping, she reached the island. This time the islanders made no attempt at concealment. From a convenient shoulder of the mountain we watched the grey ship drop anchor and heave slowly in the swell, displaying her red bottom-colour. A launch left her. When it was near enough, we signalled it round to the harbour entrance. John received the visitors on the quay. The lieutenant (in white duck and stiff collar) was inclined to stand on his dignity as the representative of the British Navy. The presence of naked white girls obviously increased his hauteur by upsetting his equilibrium. But refreshments on the terrace, combined with secret psychological treatment, soon produced a more friendly atmosphere. Once more I was impressed by John’s wisdom in keeping a store of good wine and cigars.

I have not space to give details of this second encounter with Homo sapiens. There was unfortunately much coming and going between the cruiser and the shore, and it was impossible to administer a thorough hypnotic inoculation to every man who saw the settlement. A good deal was achieved, however, and the visit of the Commander himself, a grizzled and a kindly gentleman of the sea, was particularly satisfactory. John soon discovered telepathically that he was a man of imagination and courage, and that he regarded his calling with unusual detachment. Therefore, seeing that a number of the naval men had escaped with only slight psychological treatment, it seemed best not to administer “oblivifaction” to the Commander, but instead to attempt the more difficult enterprise of rousing in him an overmastering interest in the colony, and loyalty to its purpose. The Commander was one of those exceptional seamen who spend a good deal of their time in reading. His mind had a background of ideas which rendered him susceptible to the technique. His was not, indeed, a brilliant intellect, but he had dabbled in popular science and popular philosophy, and his sense of values was intuitively discriminate, though uncultivated.

The cruiser remained for some days off the island, and during this time the Commander spent much of his time ashore. His first official act was to annex the island to the British Empire. I was reminded of the way in which robins and other birds annex gardens and orchards, regardless of human purposes. But alas in this case the robin represented a Great Power — the power, indeed, of the jungle over this minute garden of true humanity.

Though the Commander alone was to be allowed clear memory of his experiences on the island, all the visitors were treated in such a way as to help them to appreciate the colony as well as it was in them to do. Some were of course impervious, but many were affected to some extent. All were forced to use every ounce of their imagination to envisage the colony at least as a gay and romantic experiment. In most cases, doubtless, the notion that they conceived of it was extremely crude and false; but in one or two, besides the Commander, all sorts of rudimentary and inhibited spiritual capacities were roused into unfamiliar and disturbing activity.

When at last the time came for the visitors to leave the island, I noticed that their demeanour was different from what it had been on their arrival. There was less formality, less of a gulf between officers and men, less strict discipline. I noticed, too, that some who had formerly looked at the young women with disapproval or lust or both, now bade them farewell with friendly courtesy, and with some appreciation of their uncouth beauty. I noticed also on the faces of the more sensitive a look of anxiety, as though they did not feel altogether “at home” in their own minds. The Commander himself was pale. As he shook hands with John, he muttered, “I’ll do my best, but I’m not hopeful.”

The cruiser departed. Events on board her were followed by our telepathists with intense interest. Tsomotre and Chargut and Lankor reported that amnesia for all events on the island was rapidly spreading; that some of those who still had clear recollection were so tortured by their spiritual upheaval, and the contrast between the island and the ship, that they were losing all sense of discipline and patriotism; that two had committed suicide; that a vague panic was spreading, a sense that madness was afoot amongst them; that, apart from the Commander, none who had been in close contact with the islanders could now recall more than the most confused and incredible memories of the island; that those who escaped severe psychological treatment were also very confused, but that they remembered enough to make them a source of grave danger; that the Commander had addressed the whole ship’s company, ordering them, imploring them, to keep strict silence ashore on the subject of their recent experiences. He himself must of course report to the Admiralty, but the crew must regard the whole matter as an official secret. To spread incredible stories would only cause trouble, and get the ship into disgrace. Privately, of course, he intended to make a perfectly colourless and harmless report.

Some weeks later the telepathists announced that fantastic stories of the island were current in the Navy; that a reference had been made in a foreign paper to “an immoral and communistic colony of children on a British island in the Pacific”; that foreign secret services were nosing out the truth, in case it should prove diplomatically useful; that the British Admiralty was holding a secret inquiry; that the Commander of the cruiser had been dismissed from the Service for making a false report; that the Soviet Government had collected a good deal of information about the island, and intended to embarrass Britain by organizing a secret expedition to make contact with the colony; that the British Government had learnt of this intention, and was determined to evacuate the island at once. We were told also that the world at large knew practically nothing of the matter. The British Press had been warned against making any reference to it. The Foreign Press had not given serious attention to the vague rumour which one paper had published.

The visit of the second cruiser ended much as the previous incident, but at one stage it entailed desperate measures. The second Commander had perhaps been chosen for his uncompromising character. He was in fact a bit of a bully. Moreover, his instructions were emphatic, and he had no thought but to carry them out promptly. He sent a launch to give the islanders five hours to pack up and come aboard. The lieutenant returned “in a state of nerves” and reported that the instructions were not being carried out. The Commander himself came ashore with a party of armed men. He was determined to stand no nonsense. Refusing offers of hospitality, he announced that all the islanders must come aboard at once.

John asked for an explanation, trying to lead the man into normal conversation. He also pointed out that most of the islanders were not British subjects, and that the colony was doing no harm to any one. It was no use. The Commander was something of a sadist, and the sight of unclad female flesh had put him in a mood of ruthlessness. He merely ordered the arrest of every member of the colony.

John intervened in a changed and solemn voice. “We will not leave the island alive. Any one that you seize will drop down dead.”

The Commander laughed. Two tars approached Chargut, who happened to be the nearest. The Tibetan looked around at John, and, at the first touch of the sailors’ hands, he dropped. The sailors examined him. There was no sign of life.

The Commander was flustered; but, pulling himself together, he repeated his order. John said, “Be careful! Don’t you see yet that you’re up against something you can’t understand? Not one of us will be taken alive.” The sailors hesitated. The Commander snapped out, “Obey orders. Better begin on a girl, for safety.” They approached Sigrid, who turned with her bright smile to John, and extended a hand behind her to feel for Kargis, her mate. One of the sailors laid a gentle and hesitating paw on her shoulder. She collapsed backwards into the arms of Kargis, dead.

The Commander was now thoroughly upset, and the sailors were showing signs of insubordination. He tried to reason with John, assuring him that the islanders would be well treated on the ship; but John merely shook his head. Kargis was sitting on the ground with the dead Sigrid in his arms. His own face looked dead. After a moment’s contemplation of Kargis the Commander said, “I shall consult with the Admiralty about you. Meanwhile you may stay here.” He and his men returned to their boat. The cruiser departed.

On the island the two bodies were laid upon the great rock by the harbour. For some time we all stood round in silence, while the seagulls cried. One of the Indian girls, who had been attached to Chargut, fainted. But Kargis showed now no sign of grief. The desolate expression that had come over his face when Sigrid fell dead in his arms had soon cleared. The supernormal mind would never for long succumb to emotion that must perforce be barren. For a few moments he stood gazing on the face of Sigrid. Suddenly he laughed. It was a John-like laugh. Then Kargis stooped and kissed the cold lips of his mate, gently but with a smile. He stepped aside. Once more John availed himself of the psycho-physical technique. There was a fierce blaze. The bodies were consumed.

Some days later I ventured to ask John why he had sacrificed these two lives, and indeed why the islanders could not come to terms with Britain. No doubt the colony would have to be disbanded, but its members would be allowed to return to their respective countries, and each of them might expect a long life of intense experience and action. John shook his head and replied, “I cannot explain. I can only say that we are one together now, and there is no life for us apart. Even if we were to do as you suggest and go back into the world of your species, we should be watched, controlled, persecuted. The things that we live for beckon us to die. But we are not ready yet. We must stave off the end for a while so that we may finish our work.”

Shortly after the departure of the second cruiser an incident occurred which gave me fresh understanding of the mentality of the islanders. Ng–Gunko had for some time been absorbed in private researches. With the self-importance and mysteriousness of a child he announced that he would rather not explain until he had finished his experiments. Then one day, grinning with pride and excitement, he summoned the whole company to the laboratory and gave a full account of his work. His speech was telepathic; so also were the subsequent discussions. My report is based on information given me by John, and also by Shên Kuo and others.

Ng–Gunko had invented a weapon which, he said, would make it impossible for Homo sapiens ever again to interfere with the island. It would project a destructive ray, derived from atomic disintegration, with such effect that a battleship could be annihilated at forty miles’ distance, or an aeroplane at any height within the same radius. A projector placed on the higher of the two mountain-tops could sweep the whole horizon. The designs were complete in every detail, but their execution would involve huge co-operative work, and certain castings and wrought-steel parts would have to be ordered secretly in America or Japan. Smaller weapons, however, could be laboriously made at once on the island, and fitted to the Skid and the plane to equip them for dealing with any attack that might be expected within the next few months.

Careful scrutiny proved that the invention was capable of doing all that was claimed for it. The discussion passed on to the detailed problems of constructing the weapon. But at this point, apparently, Shên Kuo interposed, and urged that the project should be abandoned. He pointed out that it would absorb the whole energy of the colony, and that the great spiritual task would have to be shelved, at any rate for a very long time. “Any resistance on our part,” he said, “would bring the whole force of the inferior species against us, and there would be no peace till we had conquered the world. That would take a long time. We are young, and we should have to spend the most critical years of our lives in warfare. When we had finished the great slaughter, should we be any longer fit mentally for our real work, for the founding of a finer species, and for worship? No! We should be ruined, hopelessly distorted in spirit. Violent practical undertakings would have blotted out for ever such insight as we have now gained into the true purpose of life. Perhaps if we were all thirty years older we should be sufficiently mature to pass through a decade of warfare without becoming too impoverished, spiritually, for our real work. But as things are, surely the wise course is to forego the weapon, and make up our minds to fulfil as much as possible of our accepted spiritual task of worship before we are destroyed.”

I could tell by merely watching the faces of the islanders that they were now in the throes of a conflict of wills such as they had never before experienced. The issue was not merely one of life and death; it was one of fundamental principle. When Shên Kuo had done, there was a clamour of protest and argument, much of which was actually vocal; for the islanders were deeply moved. It was soon agreed that the decision should be postponed for a day. Meanwhile there must be a solemn meeting in the meeting-room, and all hearts must be deeply searched in a most earnest effort to reach mental accord and the right decision. The meeting was silent. It lasted for many hours. When it was over I learned that all, including Ng–Gunko and John himself, had accepted with conviction and with gladness the views of Shên Kuo.

The weeks passed. Telepathic observation informed us that, when the second cruiser had left us, considerable amnesia and other mental derangements had occurred among those of the crew who had landed on the island. The Commander’s report was incoherent and incredible. Like the first Commander, he was disgraced. The Foreign Offices of the world, through their secret services, ferreted out as much as possible of this latest incident. They did not form anything like an accurate idea of events, but they procured shreds of truth embroidered with fantastic exaggeration. There was a general feeling that something more was at stake than a diplomatic coup, and the discomfiture of the British Government. Something weird, something quite beyond reckoning was going on on that remote island. Three ships had been sent away with their crews in mental confusion. The islanders, besides being physically eccentric and morally perverse, seemed to have powers which in an earlier age would have been called diabolic. In a vague subconscious way Homo sapiens began to realize that his supremacy was challenged.

The Commander of the second cruiser had informed his Government that the islanders were of many nationalities. The Government, feeling itself to be in an extremely delicate position in which a false step might expose it as guilty of murdering children, yet feeling that the situation must be dealt with firmly and speedily before the Communists could make capital out of it, decided to ask other Powers to co-operate and share responsibility.

Meanwhile the Soviet vessel had left Vladivostok and was already in the South Seas. Late one afternoon we sighted her, a small trading-vessel of unobtrusive appearance. She dropped anchor and displayed the Red Flag, with its golden device.

The Captain, a grey-haired man in a peasant blouse, who seemed to me to be still inwardly watching the agony of the Civil War, brought us a flattering message from Moscow. We were invited to migrate to Russian territory, where, we were assured, we should be left free to manage our colony as we wished. We should be immune from persecution by the Capitalist Powers on account of our Communism and our sexual customs. While he was delivering himself of this speech, slowly, but in excellent English, a woman who was apparently one of his officers was making friendly advances to Sambo, who had crawled toward her to examine her boots. She smiled, and whispered a few endearments. When the Captain had finished, Sambo looked up at the woman and remarked. “Comrade, you have the wrong approach.” The Russians were taken aback, for Sambo was still in appearance an infant. “Yes,” said John, laughing, “Comrades, you have the wrong approach. Like you, we are Communists, but we are other things also. For you, Communism is the goal, but for us it is the beginning. For you the group is sacred, but for us it is only the pattern made up of individuals. Though we are Communists, we have reached beyond Communism to a new individualism. Our Communism is individualistic. In many ways we admire the achievements of the New Russia; but if we were to accept this offer we should very soon come into conflict with your Government. From our point of view it is better for our colony to be destroyed than to be enslaved by any alien Power.” At this point he began to speak in Russian, with great rapidity, sometimes turning to one or other of his companions for confirmation of his assertions. Once more the visitors were taken aback. They interjected remarks, they began arguing with each other. The discussion seemed to become heated.

Presently the whole company moved to the feeding terrace, where the visitors were given refreshments, and their psychological treatment was continued. As I cannot understand Russian I do not know what was said to them; but from their expressions I judged that they were greatly excited, and that, while some were roused to bewildered enthusiasm, others kept their heads so far as to recognize in these strange beings a real danger to their species and more particularly to the Revolution.

When the Russians departed, they were all thoroughly confused in mind. Subsequently, we learned from our telepathists that the Captain’s report to his Government had been so brief, self-contradictory and incredible, that he was relieved of his command on the score of insanity.

News that the Russian expedition had occurred, and that it had left the islanders in possession, confirmed the worst fears of the Powers. Obviously, the island was an outpost of Communism. Probably it was now a highly fortified base for naval and aerial attack upon Australia and New Zealand. The British Foreign Office redoubled its efforts to persuade the Pacific Powers to take prompt action together.

Meanwhile the incoherent stories of the crew of the Russian vessel had caused a flutter in the Kremlin. It had been intended that when the islanders had been transported to Russian territory the story of their persecution by Britain should be published in the Soviet Press. But such was the mystery of the whole matter that the authorities were at a loss, and decided to prevent all reference to the island.

At this point they received a diplomatic note protesting against their interference in an affair which concerned Britain alone. The party in the Soviet Government which was anxious to prove to the world that Russia was a respectable Power now gained the upper hand. The Russian reply to Britain was a request for permission to take part in the proposed international expedition. With grim satisfaction Britain granted the request.

Telepathically the islanders watched the little fleet converging on it from Asia and America. Near Pitcairn Island the vessels assembled. A few days later we saw a tuft of smoke on the horizon, then another, and others. Six vessels came into view, all heading toward us. They displayed the ensigns of Britain, France, the United States, Holland, Japan, and Russia; in fact, “the Pacific Powers.” When the vessels had come to anchor, each dispatched a motor-launch, bearing its national flag in the stern.

The fleet of launches crowded into the harbour. John received the visitors on the quay. Homo superior faced the little mob of Homo sapiens, and it was immediately evident that Homo superior was indeed the better man. It had been intended to effect a prompt arrest of all the islanders, but an odd little hitch occurred. The Englishman, who was to be spokesman, appeared to have forgotten his part. He stammered a few incoherent words, then turned for help to his neighbour the Frenchman. There followed an anxious whispered discussion, the rest of the party crowding round the central couple. The islanders watched in silence. Presently the Englishman came to the fore again, and began to speak, rather breathlessly. “In the name of the Governments of the Pacif —” He stopped, frowning distractedly and staring at John. The Frenchman stepped forward, but John now intervened. “Gentlemen,” he said, pointing, “let us move over to the shady end of that terrace. Some of you have evidently been affected by the sun.” He turned and strode away, the little flock following him obediently.

On the terrace, wine and cigars appeared. The Frenchman was about to accept, when the Japanese cried, “Do not take. It is perhaps drugged.” The Frenchman paused, withdrew his hand and smiled deprecatingly at Marianne, who was offering the refreshments. She set the tray on the table.

The Englishman now found his tongue, and blurted out in a most unofficial manner, “We’ve come to arrest you all. You’ll be treated decently, of course, Better start packing at once.”

John regarded him in silence for a moment, then said affably, “But please tell us, what is our offence, and your authority?”

Once more the unfortunate man found that the power of coherent speech had left him. He stammered something about “The Pacific Powers” and “boys and girls on the loose,” then turned plaintively to his colleagues for help. Babel ensued, for every one attempted to explain, and no one could express himself. John waited. Presently he began speaking. “While you find your speech,” he said, “I will tell you about our colony.” He went on to give an account of the whole venture. I noticed that he said almost nothing about the biological uniqueness of the islanders. He affirmed only that they were sensitive and freakish creatures who wanted to live their own life. Then he drew a contrast between the tragic state of the world and the idyllic life of the islanders. It was a consummate piece of pleading, but I knew that it was really of much less importance than the telepathic influence to which the visitors were all the while being subjected. Some of them were obviously deeply moved. They had been raised to an unaccustomed clarity and poignancy of experience. All sorts of latent and long-inhibited impulses came to life in them. They looked at John and his companions with new eyes, and at one another also.

When John had finished, the Frenchman poured himself out some wine. Begging the others to fill their glasses and drink to the colony, he made a short but eloquent speech, declaring that he recognized in the spirit of these young people something truly noble, something, indeed, almost French. If his Government had known the facts, it would not have participated in this attempt to suppress the little society. He submitted to his colleagues that the right course was for them all to leave the island and communicate with their Governments.

The wine was circulated and accepted by all, save one. Throughout John’s speech the Japanese representative had remained unmoved. Probably he had not understood well enough to feel the full force of John’s eloquence. Possibly, also, his Asiatic mind was not to be mastered telepathically by the same technique as that which applied to his colleagues. But the main source of his successful resistance, so John told me later, was almost certainly the influence of the terrible Hebridean infant, who, ever desiring to destroy John, had contrived to be telepathically present at this scene. I had seen John watching the Jap with an expression in which were blended amusement, anxiety and admiration. This dapper but rather formidable little man now rose to his feet, and said, “Gentlemen, you have been tricked. This lad and his companions have strange powers which Europe does not understand. But we understand. I have felt them. I have fought against them. I have not been tricked. I can see that these are not boys and girls; they are devils. If they are left, some day they will destroy us. The world will be for them, not for us. Gentlemen, we must obey our orders. In the name of the Pacific Powers I— I——” Confusion seized him.

John intervened and said, almost threateningly, “Remember, any one of us that you try to arrest, dies.”

The Japanese, whose face was now a ghastly colour, completed his sentence, “I arrest you all.” He shouted a command in Japanese. A party of armed Japanese sailors stepped on to the terrace, The lieutenant in command of them approached John, who faced him with a stare of contempt and amusement, The man came to a stand a few yards from him. Nothing happened.

The Japanese Commander himself stepped forward to effect the arrest. Shahîn barred his way, saying, “You shall take me first.” The Jap seized him. Shahîn collapsed. The Jap looked down at him with horror, then stepped over him and moved toward John. But the other officers intervened. All began talking at once. After a while it was agreed that the islanders should be left in peace until the representatives of Homo sapiens had communicated with their Governments.

Our visitors left us. Next morning the Russian ship weighed anchor and sailed. One by one the others followed suit.


Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30