The Brothers, by H.G. Wells

Chapter Five

The Tangle

§ 1

Bolaris found himself regretting acutely the lost mental simplicity of two days ago. Then he had nothing but straightforward crookedness in his mind, a game to play as strictly limited in its rules as a game of chess. He had had the clearest conception of the side he was on and the antagonists he had to defeat in turn. But now the chess pieces were changing colour, the board was expanding and contracting, the chequerwork grimacing in fantastic patterns. He was no longer for or against Right or Left. The infection of Ratzel’s too congenial mind had made all these antagonisms transparent and unreal. Beneath them had appeared a conception of reality that made them incredible and crazy.

He saw nothing now with a single eye; he had become stereoscopic. It was the Ratzel influence that had precipitated this open conflict with Istom, Fayle, and the Duke. He had contemplated no such breach. His intention had been to sustain a policy of thrust and pressure and qualified reconciliation with them, and even to conclude at last with a compromise between their practical realities and the complete realization of his corporate theories. Even as his ends had grown more downright and definite, his purpose had still remained one of steadfast encroachment rather than antagonism. Now that intention was smashed. Handon’s disclosure of Ratzel’s capture had exploded that. There could be no more of that unfriendly alliance. He had struck openly at them, and now there was nothing for it but to go on striking. He had them under arrest; at the utmost he could keep that secret only for a few hours. There had been no one in immediate attendance upon them, but their cars would have to be sent back, and their staffs, households, and adherents would be missing them and alert, at the latest, by tomorrow morning. Then he would have to go on to wholesale arrests. The best thing he could think of was that the entire council, with the exception of Goodamanas, should vanish at the same time. All five, it could be whispered, had gone away very secretly upon an affair of state. Something to do with the King. That would create a mystification, but it would not suggest a breach. Meanwhile he must get Ratzel back to the city. How? He had got the young officer prepared for the fantastic idea of his impersonating Ratzel. He had got Handon in a state of protesting complicity with the same idea. On the spur of the moment that had seemed to him a dazzlingly brilliant idea, but since then his imagination had produced one possible complication after another. He could pass muster perhaps in the city, though a whole crop of hitherto unthought of difficulties arose as he worked out details, but now with his own council in violent conflict how could Ratzel hope to impersonate him? How could Ratzel handle the changing emergencies of the next forty-eight hours at the chateau? It would be far better if he got back in control on his own side. . . . What were Catherine’s quick wits doing down there at the villa? Had she hit upon any fresh way out? That young officer would sit on his prey now like a watchdog. Bolaris ticked off necessary items.

“He must have a complete set of my clothes.

“At the last moment he must shave and Catherine must clip his hair.

“I must have not only his clothes down there but another set of my own. Then I can be Bolaris or Ratzel as occasion arises.

“Somehow we must get this stuff into a room with ourselves. We must have that youngster waiting outside. On some excuse. What excuse? Catherine must help there. I must keep in the background away from the light as Ratzel. Ratzel must come out as me. He’ll take that. He knows Ratzel’s movements by this time and he hardly knows anything of me. . . . I might contrive a recognizable scratch on my neck. I must arrange a feather of hair at the back of my head. . . .

“Is there any other way: A plain straightforward escape? Catherine will know that by this time.

“Will a rope be useful? Hooks?

“Shall I take Handon? Yes. No.

“These are only preliminaries. What else can I do? Is there anything else I ought to take? I must get down there at once.”

He decided to take Handon with him. Goodamanas was the only man in the world he would have dared to leave in control behind him. He called for Handon to get the cars, and then turned to his telephone to talk Lampobo with Catherine. She told him something very cheerful.

“This villa was part of the old convent. It is cavernous underground and two passages run away under the ruined wing of the hospital. I’ve worked out some things. Need I say more now?”

“Less. I’m starting to you right away,” he said.

§ 2

“Do you really mean to go through with this?” asked Handon in the car.

“Let me try it out in my imagination anyhow,” said Bolaris. “In the end I may be largely guided by you. You must see us together, him and me, again.”

“If you are guided by me —” began Handon, and left it at that. Presently he asked: “What have you got in that big portmanteau.”

“My dear Handon, you are not a married man,” laughed Bolaris.

“Sorry,” said Handon.

“We must be back before nightfall,” reflected Bolaris. “Nothing can happen up here until then. By the by, have you eaten;”

“I had some sandwiches.”

“I wish I had brought some. I forget all about food. I haven’t touched a mouthful today. Madame Farness will have to give me something. . . . ”

Again silence. Then Bolaris thought aloud.

“We’ve had no planes over this side for three days. I wish I knew what that meant. It’s a general lull. . . . What a perfect siesta! Half those fellows down among the tents there might be asleep. Most of them are. That last gate was slow to open and the man looked scared. He hoped we didn’t see he hadn’t his boots on and that he had been as fast asleep as a dormouse.”

“I’d have told him off,” said Handon, “if we’d had the time.”

Bolaris returned to his private thoughts. If Catherine had really found some sort of bolt-hole and secret passage, then the problem was simply to get the young officer out of the way, form an accurate idea of how far Ratzel could get before he had to come out in the open, and what sort of situation he would come out into.

“Damn!” said Bolaris suddenly. He ought to have had a Black Legion uniform available. But after all that might save Ratzel from the Anti–Reds only to get shot at by his own side. . . .

“What?” said Handon.

“How — what?”

“Why damnn”

“I’m so damnably hungry,” said Bolaris.

“I ought to have thought of sandwiches,” said Handon, full of self-reproach.

(But would they shoot him? They’d think he was a deserter. . . . What exactly had Catherine found? She was resourceful. She would have thought out plans. . . . )

“All this corner is very badly charted,” he said aloud to Handon. “Have we anyone who knows the lie of the ground beyond the ravines . . . We have to have these gaps. It would need half a million men to hold this circle round the city, and I suppose neither we nor they total a hundred thousand. They can’t afford men for anything serious this way. They hold us and we hold them. All the same . . . ”

“Yes,” said Handon. “I wonder what Ratzel was looking for when we caught him!” He took out and unfolded a sketch map.

“See that spur from the ravine? Round here behind the convent. Vague, isn’t it? I should feel safer if I knew that a little more precisely. Have you anyone —?” Handon looked at the map.

“I could see to that myself,” he said.

§ 3

Bolaris sat in Catherine’s room with an untouched meal on a tray before him.

“Handon,” he said, “prides himself on his intuitions in scouting, thank Heaven. So we are quit of him for an hour or so. And now — I want Ratzel to escape.”

“You’ve given up that idea of impersonating him?”

“Absolutely. Catherine, it was childish. Ratzel must escape as Ratzel — all we can do is to give him a gun. I’ve been over-obsessed by that impersonation idea. But as we try it over we realize how weak it is. It’s boyish. It’s as impossible as the Comedy of Errors. It’s Prisoner of Zenda romance. It just leapt up in my mind and it has entangled me ever since. Dismiss it. Tell me now — exactly. How can he escape?”

Catherine put her elbows on the table and spoke compactly and to the point. Ratzel’s room, she explained, was below the ground level. It opened into a sunken area covered by a grating over which a sentry had been placed. Catherine had watched him from her window above. He interpreted his instructions liberally, especially in the afternoon, when he would often be snoozing on a bank of violets under a stone angel, a score of yards away. In one corner of the area was a water tap and a big sink with an escape grating below, which Ratzel had found quite easy to loosen and lift. From it a quite climbable shaft descended to the main cloaca of the villa, and this again led to a tunnel that forked and ran south and east under the walls of the old convent part of the hospital. From the forks there were openings to an old moat outside, choked with agaves and litter, and thence overgrown rain gullies led down to the head of the ravine. There seemed to be no sentinels in that direction. It had not been thought of. Ratzel’s prison had been improvised, and no very exact consideration had been given to the possibilities of an escape. The young officer was in and out whenever he thought proper, and there were two men in the room next to him, but they too were inconstant guardians. The young officer would send one or both of them away on errands and they were relieved by others. They were unaware of the importance of the captive. There would be no great difficulty in getting as far as the ravine if the attention of Ratzel’s particular bodyguard could be detached for an hour or so. That youngster was the essential difficulty. Some way down the ravine, so far as she had been able to observe, there were two or three small outposts, part of a thin line which connected up to a few observation points and machine-gun nests on the edge of the woods that covered the mountainside, which otherwise was unoccupied. Beyond was an indefinite arid no-man’s-land of rock and cactus. The whole of the farther country was waterless and uncultivated. No one seemed to know what ground the Reds were holding nor in what strength. They might be twenty miles away or more.

“Evidently what we have to arrange,” said Bolaris, “is the get-away here. After that he can take his chances. What have you schemed for that?”

“He will want a pistol and a water-bottle,” said Catherine.

“That’s not difficult. The only serious difficulty is the vigilance of your young officer here. You have excited him about this business beyond all measure. . . . “Richard, why do you excite people? Why do you inspire them? He’s crazy to go with you to the city. He’d go with you straight into the Arabian Nights. Why have you that fatal attraction for people of limited imagination? You draw them like a magnet. There is such a candour about you, such a real friendliness, and such a self-confidence. Something arises in them and shouts: ‘Now I need not manage this life of mine any more. Now I need not bother about this perplexing world again. To this man I will give myself. His right shall be my right and his wrong my wrong. His success shall be mine — and he is sure of success.’ And after that you never shake them off. They encumber you — as women do. As I do.”

“Not you.”

“I’ve not had a mind of my own since you began to trail me after you. Well, he is as devoted to you now as Handon, and between them you are like a prisoner between two guards. They mean you to be the champion of the Anti–Reds, the saviour of society from all that Red awfulness — whatever it is. I’ve seen you stepping right out of those ideas in the last few days, but how can they understand that? Never will they let you change, never will they let you go. Well, anyhow I don’t enslave you.”

“You don’t enslave me,” he said. “Dearest, you are the best of lovers — a lover without expectation.”

“I have more than I ever expected,” she said. “But let us be practical. Both your young officer and Handon have entered into this idea of an impersonation and a seizure of Ratzel’s power over the Left organizations. The boy is frantic to do it. Handon hates the idea and will prevent it if he can. But he believes you mean it. The practical outcome is that the boy sticks to Ratzel like a leech, sits talking to him and watching him, seems jealous even of leaving me alone with him. Ratzel likes him and talks to him. I think he misunderstands his — adhesiveness. He thinks he has made a convert. He talks to him of much the same things as you would now, about civilization, about your universal liberal world order and so on, and the youngster finds what he says at once attractive, and since it is tinted Red, indescribably wicked. . . . Never mind all that now, dear. I run on because I’m trying to keep pace with you. The point is that Ratzel cannot get away until you separate him from his keeper, and the only way to separate them is for you to go on to a certain extent with that impersonation idea. I’ve puzzled it out. He’ll leave Ratzel’s side naturally and unsuspiciously only when he starts with you for the city. So I see nothing for it but for you to make a show at least of changing clothes and starting.”

“But how?”??????? Listen.

“I listen.”

“We call up your bright young officer boy and give him the change of clothing and so on you have brought with you. Then you go down with him to Ratzel, and with his assistance you and Ratzel change clothes. None of the men must know of this. He sends them away. You say you are a little doubtful after all whether it is a good impersonation. You decide to make the attempt. You and the young officer come up from the cellar and go into the big room beside the hall. There is no reason for leaving anyone at all down there. If there are any soldiers about down there they can have a glimpse of Ratzel in your clothes standing out of the light in the prison room, smoking a cigar and reading a map or something of that sort. They think that is you. You are not their affair, and it will be quite easy for our officer to get them out of the way. Then he locks up Ratzel and takes you to one of the small rooms upstairs. You discuss a pseudo-escape with him very gravely and in detail, and meanwhile Ratzel is really escaping downstairs. Then you begin to doubt whether you ought not to go alone to the city. He will be terribly disappointed. Ratzel is locked in and nobody in particular is looking after him because nobody knows about that drain. You tell your young officer you must see Handon. You send the young man off to find Handon and you remain under guard. The guards think you are Ratzel and are content, and the real Ratzel has already wriggled half-way down the sink shaft.”

“Good,” said Bolaris, “so far. Very good. But what next: Having Ratzelized me you have to get me un-Ratzelized again.”

“When Handon returns he will certainly protest against this wild freak of yours.”

“If he sends anyone downstairs: They will find Ratzel has gone.”

“Why should he send anyone downstairs? That will be giving away your disguise to the men, and the less people who know of that the better. Meanwhile I am watching from upstairs and I get busy. I will ring up your secretary at the chateau, do a quick talk, and come flying downstairs or wherever you are with an urgent message from Goodamanas for you personally. Something has happened. Trouble at the palace. He wants you as soon as possible.”

“And then?”

“Hustle. Extreme hustle. The cars are called and you carry off Handon and the young officer together.”

“With Ratzel forgotten! No, dear. Trust Handon not to forget him. I agree to your general plan, but listen. Why not this? So soon as the guards and the young officer are upstairs, Ratzel, who is for the time being Bolaris, walks through the guardroom and — can he get out that way?”

“In your clothes he could, I suppose, walk right past a sentinel if necessary and slip down — there is a place there, into the old tunnel. But then — there’s more risk. He might run against Handon or the young officer. No, no, my way is best. We spring a sort of wild hustle-scurry, and then if Handon does find Ratzel has escaped, what can he do? It will seem plain prison-breaking. Nobody is going to see just how unobtrusively we’ve made it possible. And while the guards here are hunting about for Ratzel, you are off to the castle — more and more yourself again. You make no attempt to act. You give orders. Nobody will think much of your changed clothes. You often contrive to be pretty dirty, and when you are up there you can change into a uniform.”

“The youngster will be mad. He’ll want to stay back here and hunt Ratzel.”

“He can.”

“I think it works,” said Bolaris. “And now we must tell Ratzel.”

Ratzel, with his habitual dry smile, sat down between them, and as soon as the guards were out of the room, Bolaris recapitulated the details for the escape. Ratzel nodded. He asked a few questions.

“All that seems to work very well. It’s got to be done. Your little officer boy is almost oppressively conscientious and adhesive. Otherwise he’s remarkably likeable. He admires you. Me, he regards as sinister. He feels that if he stops watching me for a moment I may inject some Red poison into him unbeknown. The more reasonable he finds the things I say, the more insidious he feels they are. Of course I am to change clothes with you under compulsion. Good! It’s all clear. You’ll slip me a revolver as we change. Sure we can do that? . . . ”

“The water-bottle will be put in the room now,” said Catherine. “I’ll see to that myself.”

“And tomorrow night,” said Ratzel, “I shall be restoring order in the city and you will be —?”

“Having some trouble up above here,” said Bolaris. “But I’ve got the armed forces well in hand. There may be a bit of shooting. . . . ”

“And then in the name of patriotism we call a truce and get rid of your foreign friends. And after that?”

“We carry on our truce — in the name of civilizatlon.

“A new civilization.”

Bolaris was turning things over in his mind. He laughed. He began talking.

“So at last,” he said, “after a world of trouble you and I find out that we have both been serving the Common Fool — the normal human animal who quarrels by nature, can tolerate no superiority, and hates new things. The Left and Right in any age are just the two faces of the Common Fool, and nothing more, and you have been on one face and I the other. Your communist fool denounces what he calls Utopianism and my individualists denounce Socialism. And when we look into it they mean precisely the same thing. What moves them either way is fear and hatred of the unknown, fear and hatred of the coming scientifically organized state, dread that they will be called upon for effort and performance. Your communist releases his fear and detestation of anything whatever that isn’t the glorification of his proletarian self, through the class war and his blind hatred of what he calls Utopians, and my individualist does exactly the same thing by denouncing the collective control that would stop his grabbing and gripping, and hating what he calls visionaries and fanatics. Both Left and Right are defensive hate systems. Both are obdurately dogmatic. Both pretend to be ‘scientific’ and both suppress reason. Neither will face novelty. The further we recede in time from them, the more we realize how identical they are. Marx stinks of Herbert Spencer and Herbert Spencer stinks of Marx. They are the great unimaginative twins. And here we are, Ratzel! The imaginative twins. What have you and I, whose minds are open and incessant, who are adventurers in spirit and innovators in grain, what business have we either on the left hand or the right hand of the Common Fool? The Common Fool, the born slave of stale tradition, suspicious, base, and malignant, everlastingly bickering about out-of-date things. Our job is to emancipate him as much as we can, use him as well as we can, and get rid of him as fast as we can.”

“You use words with a greater boldness than I do,” said Ratzel. “But you seem to be saying what I have in mind.”

Catherine made a sudden observation. “I suppose it was necessary even for you to have this war before you could discover how little it was about.”

Ratzel considered that. “I suppose it was.”

“And now,” said Catherine, “what are you going to do? What are you reasonable men who are so free from tradition and destiny, what are you going to do? How are you going to escape from the undying past? Which, I take it, is what the Common Fool is suffering from?”

“That’s where our troubles begin. I doubt if over there I have twenty men with these ideas of ours fully expounded.”

“I haven’t a dozen.”

Catherine went on like one who repeats an unfamiliar lesson.

“All the rest are asserting themselves in ways that you think evil — partial and disconnected anyhow — either pretending to be this or that but just playing for their own silly private hands, or really identifying themselves with some church, party, nation, some such loyalty” (she pronounced the word as though it stank) “no better than — how did you put it to me, Bolaris, once? — the cowardly aggressive identification of a cur with its house or pack. While you?”

“We also assert ourselves,” said Bolaris.

“Living is self-assertion,” said Ratzel to Catherine. “We also identify ourselves with something greater than ourselves. Only we flatter ourselves we have identified ourselves with something more final than any of these others. Something difficult to get beyond. That is our idea of ourselves. Maybe that isn’t self-flattery. You believe, Bolaris, and I believe, in our hearts, that if a hard, clear-headed man carries his thought far enough he comes out where we are — and so by necessity joins us.”

“That’s only to believe ourselves sane.”

“We two are self-assertive, as much fanatics, as much devotees, as any of the others. Yes. Every man is an assertion or a nonentity. We are not alone, brother Richard. The world swarms with our undiscovered brothers; elder brothers and younger brothers, big and little. An age of exposure. All the — ists and — isms of today are faint now with doubts and questions. Presently a multitude of our brothers will be turning up, but not perhaps so exactly under the same star as we.”

“And sisters,” said Catherine, and looked at Bolaris.

Bolaris met her eyes. He had an intense affection for her, an admiration, a belief in a sort of textural wisdom of body and impulse in her, far surpassing his own mental processes, and yet he had come reluctantly, as so many men come, to a profound disbelief in a woman’s capacity for intellectual initiative. Maybe that was the price she paid for her unquestioning steadfastness to him. For a moment they scrutinized each other with an immense volume of unsaid mutual criticism behind their faintly smiling faces. “Sisters,” he said quietly.

“As you will,” she said.

“And so to our stations,” said Bolaris . . . “Well — good luck, brother.”

“Good luck.”

They gripped hands and Bolaris said: “Stand up and look the damned prisoner you are.” He clapped his hands for the guards, and the young officer and two men appeared and saluted.

Abruptly everything stood still. It was as if a motion picture suddenly ceased to turn over.

“What’s that?” Before Bolaris could give any directions a swift run of shots, crack, crack, crack, had come from the direction of the ravine. This whiff of firing brought everybody to rigid attention, and then as they stood and stared, silence closed upon them. . . .

The picture began to move and talk again.

Bolaris was the first to speak. “Could that have been Handon.” he said.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30