A Story of the Days To Come, by H. G. Wells

5. Bindon Intervenes

In Bindon’s younger days he had dabbled in speculation and made three brilliant flukes. For the rest of his life he had the wisdom to let gambling alone, and the conceit to believe himself a very clever man. A certain desire for influence and reputation, interested him in the business intrigues of the giant city in which his flukes were made. He became at last one of the most influential shareholders in the company that owned the London flying-stages to which the aeroplanes came from all parts of the world. This much for his public activities. In his private life he was a man of pleasure. And this is the story of his heart.

But before proceeding to such depths, one must devote a little time to the exterior of this person. Its physical basis was slender, and short, and dark; and the face, which was fine-featured and assisted by pigments, varied from an insecure self-complacency to an intelligent uneasiness. His face and head had been depilated, according to the cleanly and hygienic fashion of the time, so that the colour and contour of his hair varied with his costume. This he was constantly changing.

At times he would distend himself with pneumatic vestments in the rococo vein. From among the billowy developments of this style, and beneath a translucent and illuminated head-dress, his eyes watched jealously for the respect of the less fashionable world. At other times he emphasised his elegant slenderness in close-fitting garments of black satin. For effects of dignity he would assume broad pneumatic shoulders, from which hung a robe of carefully arranged folds of China silk, and a classical Bindon in pink tights was also a transient phenomenon in the eternal pageant of Destiny. In the days when he hoped to marry Elizabeth, he sought to impress and charm her, and at the same time to take off something of his burthen of forty years, by wearing the last fancy of the contemporary buck, a costume of elastic material with distensible warts and horns, changing in colour as he walked, by an ingenious arrangement of versatile chromatophores. And no doubt, if Elizabeth’s affection had not been already engaged by the worthless Denton, and if her tastes had not had that odd bias for old-fashioned ways, this extremely chic conception would have ravished her. Bindon had consulted Elizabeth’s father before presenting himself in this grab — he was one of those men who always invite criticism of their costume — and Mwres had pronounced him all that the heart of woman could desire. But the affair of the hypnotist proved that his knowledge of the heart of woman was incomplete.

Bindon’s idea of marrying had been formed some little time before Mwres threw Elizabeth’s budding womanhood in his way. It was one of Bindon’s most cherished secrets that he had a considerable capacity for a pure and simple life of a grossly sentimental type. The thought imparted a sort of pathetic seriousness to the offensive and quite inconsequent and unmeaning excesses, which he was pleased to regard as dashing wickedness, and which a number of good people also were so unwise as to treat in that desirable manner. As a consequence of these excesses, and perhaps by reason also of an inherited tendency to early decay, his liver became seriously affected, and he suffered increasing inconvenience, when travelling by aeroplane. It was during his convalescence from a protracted bilious attack that it occurred to him that in spite of all the terrible fascinations of Vice, if he found a beautiful, gentle, good young women of a not too violently intellectual type to devote her life to him, he might yet be saved to Goodness, and even rear a spirited family in his likeness to solace his declining years. But like so many experienced men of the world, he doubted if there were any good women. Of course as he had heard tell he was outwardly sceptical and privately much afraid.

When the aspiring Mwres effected his introduction to Elizabeth, it seemed to him that his good fortune was complete. He fell in love with her at once. Of course, he had always been falling in love since he was sixteen, in accordance with the extremely varied recipes to be found in the accumulated literature of many centuries. But this was different. This was real love. It seemed to him to call forth all the lurking goodness in his nature. He felt that for her sake he could give up a way of life that had already produced the gravest lesions on his liver and nervous system. His imagination presented him with idyllic pictures of the life of the reformed rake. He would never be sentimental with her, or silly; but always a little cynical and bitter, as became the past. Yet he was sure she would have an intuition of his real greatness and goodness. And in due course he would confess things to her, pour his version of what he regarded as his wickedness — showing what a complex of Goethe, and Benvenuto Cellini, and Shelley, and all those other chaps he really was — into her shocked, very beautiful, and no doubt sympathetic ear. And preparatory to these things he wooed her with infinite subtlety and respect. And the reserve with which Elizabeth treated him seemed nothing more nor less than an exquisite modesty touched and enhanced by an equally exquisite lack of ideas.

Bindon knew nothing of her wandering affections, nor of the attempt made by Mwres to utilise hypnotism as a corrective to this digression of her heart; he conceived he was on the best of terms with Elizabeth, and had made her quite successfully various significant presents of jewellery and the more virtuous cosmetics, when her elopement with Denton threw the world out of gear for him. His first aspect of the matter was rage begotten of wounded vanity, and as Mwres was the most convenient person, he vented the first brunt of it upon him.

He went immediately, and insulted the desolate father grossly, and then spent an active and determined day going to and fro about the city and interviewing people in a consistent and partly-successful attempt to ruin that matrimonial speculator. The effectual nature of these activities gave him a temporary exhilaration, and he went to the dining-place he had frequented in his wicked days in a devil-may-care frame of mind, and dined altogether too amply and cheerfully with two other golden youths in their early forties. He threw up the game; no woman was worth being good for, and he astonished himself by the strain of witty cynicism he developed. One of the other desperate blades, warmed with wine, made a facetious allusion to his disappointment, but at the time this did not seem unpleasant.

The next morning found his liver and temper inflamed. He kicked his phonographic-news machine to pieces, dismissed his valet, and resolved that he would perpetrate a terrible revenge upon Elizabeth. Or Denton. Or somebody. But anyhow, it was to be a terrible revenge; and the friend who had made fun at him should no longer see him in the light of a foolish girl’s victim. He knew something of the little property that was due to her, and that this would be the only support of the young couple until Mwres should relent. If Mwres did not relent, and if unpropitious things should happen to the affair in which Elizabeth’s expectations lay, they would come upon evil times and be sufficiently amenable to temptation of a sinister sort. Bindon’s imagination, abandoning its beautiful idealism altogether, expanded the idea of temptation of a sinister sort. He figured himself as the implacable, the intricate and powerful man of wealth pursuing this maiden who had scorned him. And suddenly her image came upon his mind vivid and dominant, and for the first time in his life Bindon realised something of the real power of passion.

His imagination stood aside like a respectful footman who has done his work in ushering in the emotion.

“My God!” cried Bindon: “I will have her! If I have to kill myself to get her! And that other fellow —!”

After an interview with his medical man and a penance for his overnight excesses in the form of bitter drugs, a mitigated absolutely resolute Bindon sought out Mwres. Mwres he found properly smashed, and impoverished and humble, in a mood of frantic self-preservation, ready to sell himself body and soul, much more any interest in a disobedient daughter, to recover his lost position in the world. In the reasonable discussion that followed, it was agreed that these misguided young people should be left to sink into distress, or possibly even assisted towards that improving discipline by Bindon’s financial influence.

“And then?” said Mwres.

“They will come to the Labour Company,” said Bindon. “They will wear the blue canvas.”

“And then?”

“She will divorce him,” he said, and sat for a moment intent upon that prospect. For in those days the austere limitations of divorce of Victorian times were extraordinarily relaxed, and a couple might separate on a hundred different scores.

Then suddenly Bindon astonished himself and Mwres by jumping to his feet. “She shall divorce him!” he cried. “I will have it so — I will work it so. By God! It shall be so. He shall be disgraced, so that she must. He shall be smashed and pulverised.”

The idea of smashing and pulverising inflamed him further. He began a Jovian pacing up and down the little office. “I will have her,” he cried. “I will have her! Heaven and Hell shall not save her from me!” His passion evaporated in its expression, and left him at the end simply histrionic. He struck an attitude and ignored with heroic determination a sharp twinge of pain about the diaphragm. And Mwres sat with his pneumatic cap deflated and himself very visibly impressed.

And so, with a fair persistence, Bindon set himself to the work of being Elizabeth’s malignant providence, using with ingenious dexterity every particle of advantage wealth in those days gave a man over his fellow-creatures. A resort to the consolations of religion hindered these operations not at all. He would go talk with an interesting, experienced and sympathetic Father of the Huysmanite sect of the Isis cult, about all the irrational little proceedings he was pleased to regard as his Heaven-dismaying wickedness, and the interesting, experienced and sympathetic Father representing Heaven dismayed, would with a pleasing affectation of horror, suggest simple and easy penances, and recommended a monastic foundation that was airy, cool, hygienic, and not vulgarised, for viscerally disordered penitent sinners of the refined and wealthy type. And after these excursions, Bindon would come back to London quite active and passionate again. He would machinate with really considerable energy, and repair to a certain gallery high above the street of moving ways, from which he could view the entrance to the barrack of the Labour Company in the ward which sheltered Denton and Elizabeth. And at last one day he saw Elizabeth go in, and thereby his passion was renewed.

So in the fullness of time the complicated devices of Bindon ripened, and he could go to Mwres and tell him that the young people were near despair.

“It’s time for you,” he said, “to let your parental affections have play. She’s been in blue canvas some months, and they’ve been cooped together in one of those Labour dens, and the little girl is dead. She knows now what his manhood is worth to her, by way of protection, poor girl. She’ll see things now in a clearer light. You go to her — I don’t want to appear in this affair yet — and point out to her how necessary it is she should get a divorce from him . . . ”

“She’s obstinate,” said Mwres doubtfully.

“Spirit!” said Bindon. She’s a wonderful girl — a wonderful girl!”

“She’ll refuse.”

“Of course she will. But leave it open to her. Leave it open to her. And some day — in that stuffy den, in that irksome, toilsome life they can’t help it — they’ll have a quarrel. And then —”

Mwres meditated over the matter, and did as he was told.

Then Bindon, as he had arranged with his spiritual adviser, went into retreat. The retreat of the Huysmanite sect was a beautiful place, with the sweetest air in London, lit by natural sunlight, and with restful quadrangles of real grass open to the sky, where at the same times the penitent man of pleasure might enjoy all the pleasures of loafing and all the satisfaction of distinguished austerity. And save for participation in simple and wholesome dietary of the place and in certain magnificent chants, Bindon spent all his time in meditation upon the theme of Elizabeth, and the extreme purification his soul had undergone since he first saw her, and whether he would be able to get a dispensation to marry her from the experienced and sympathetic Father in spite of the approaching “sin” of her divorce; and then . . . Bindon would lean against a pillar of the quadrangle and lapse into reveries on the superiority of virtuous love to any other of indulgence. A curious feeling in his back and chest that was trying to attract his attention, a disposition to be hot or shiver, a general sense of ill-health and cutaneous discomfort he did his best to ignore. All that of course belonged to the old life that he was shaking off.

When he came out of retreat he went at once to Mwres to ask for news of Elizabeth. Mwres was clearly under the impression that he was an exemplary father, profoundly touched about the heart by his child’s unhappiness. “She was pale,” he said greatly moved; “She was pale. When I asked her to come away and leave him — and be happy — she put her head down upon the table —” Mwres sniffed —“and cried.”

His agitation was so great that he could say no more.

“Ah!” said Bindon, respecting this manly grief. “Oh!” said Bindon quite suddenly, with his hand to his side.

Mwres looked up sharply out of the pit of his sorrows, startled. “What’s the matter?” he asked, visibly concerned.

“A most violent pain. Excuse me! You were telling me about Elizabeth.”

And Mwres, after a decent solicitude for Bindon’s pain, proceeded with his report. It was even unexpectedly hopeful. Elizabeth, in her first emotion at discovering her father had not absolutely deserted her, had been frank with him about her sorrows and disgusts.

“Yes,” said Bindon, magnificently, “I shall have her yet.” And yet then that novel pain twitched him for the second time.

For these lower pains the priest was comparatively ineffectual, inclining rather to regard the body and them as mental illusions amenable to contemplation; so Bindon took it to a man of class he loathed, a medical man of extraordinary repute and incivility. “We must go all over you,” said the medical man, and did so with the most disgusting frankness. “Did you ever bring any children into the world?” asked this gross materialist among other impertinent questions.

“Not that I know of,” said Bindon, too amazed to stand upon his dignity.

“Ah!” said the medical man, and proceeded with his punching and sounding. Medical science in those days was just reaching the beginning of precision. “You’d better go right away,” said the medical man, “and make the Euthanasia. The sooner the better.”

Bindon gasped. He had been trying not to understand the technical explanations and anticipations in which the medical man had indulged.

“I say!” he said. “But do you mean to say . . . Your science . . . ”

“Nothing,” said the medical man. “A few opiates. The thing is your own doing, you know, to a certain extent.”

“I was sorely tempted in my youth.”

“It’s not that so much. But you come of a bad stock. Even if you’d have taken precautions you’d have had bad times to wind up with. The mistake was getting born. The indiscretions of the parents. And you’ve shirked exercise, and so forth.”

“I had no one to advise me.”

“Medical men are always willing.”

“I was a spirited young fellow.”

“We won’t argue; the mischief’s done now. You’ve lived. We can’t start you again. You ought never to have started at all. Frankly — the Euthanasia!”

Bindon hated him in silence for a space. Every word of this brutal expert jarred upon his refinements. He was so gross, so impermeable to all the subtler issues of being. But it is no good picking a quarrel with a doctor. “My religious beliefs,” he said. “I don’t approve of suicide.”

“You’ve been doing it all your life.”

“Well, anyway I’ve come to take a serious view of life now.”

“You’re bound to, if you go on living. You’ll hurt. But for practical purposes it’s late. However, if you mean to do that — perhaps I’d better mix you a little something. You’ll hurt a great deal. These little twinges . . . ”

“Twinges!”

“Mere preliminary notices.”

“How long can I go on? I mean, before I hurt — really.”

“You’ll get it hot soon. Perhaps three days.”

Bindon tried to argue for an extension of time, and in the midst of his pleading gasped, put his hand to his side. Suddenly the extraordinary pathos of his life came to him clear and vivid. “It’s hard,” he said. “It’s infernally hard! I’ve been no man’s enemy but my own. I’ve always treated everybody quite fairly.”

The medical man stared at him without any sympathy for some seconds. He was reflecting how excellent it was that there were no more Bindons to carry on that line of pathos. He felt quite optimistic. Then he turned to his telephone and ordered up a prescription from the Central Pharmacy.

He was interrupted by a voice behind him. “By God!” cried Bindon; “I’ll have her yet.”

The physician stared over his shoulder at Bindon’s expression, and then altered the prescription.

So soon as this painful interview was over, Bindon gave way to rage. He settled that the medical man was not only an unsympathetic brute and wanting in the first beginnings of a gentleman, but also highly incompetent; and he went off to four other practitioners in succession, with a view to the establishment of this intuition. But to guard against surprises he kept that little prescription in his pocket. With each he began by expressing his grave doubts of the first doctor’s intelligence, honesty and professional knowledge, and then stated his symptoms, suppressing only a few more material facts in each case. These were always subsequently elicited by the doctor. In spite of the welcome depreciation of another practitioner, none of these eminent specialists would give Bindon any hope of eluding the anguish and helplessness that loomed now close upon him. To the last of them he unburthened his mind of an accumulated disgust with medical science. “After centuries and centuries,” he exclaimed hotly; “and you can do nothing — except admit your helplessness. I say, ‘save me —’ and what do you do?”

“No doubt it’s hard on you,” said the doctor. “But you should have taken precautions.”

“How was I to know?”

“It wasn’t our place to run after you,” said the medical man, picking a thread of cotton from his purple sleeve. “Why should we save you in particular? You see — from one point of view — people with imagination and passion like yours have to go — they have to go.”

“Go?”

“Die out. It’s an eddy.”

He was a young man with a serene face. He smiled at Bindon. “We get on with research, you know; we give advice when people have the sense to ask for it. And we bide our time.”

“Bide your time?”

“We hardly know enough yet to take over the management, you know.”

“The management?”

“You needn’t be anxious. Science is young yet. It’s got to keep on growing for a few generations. We know enough now to know we don’t know enough yet . . . But the time is coming, all the same. You won’t see the time. But, between ourselves, you rich men and party bosses, with your natural play of passions and patriotism and religion and so forth, have made rather a mess of things; haven’t you? These underways! And all sort of thing. Some of us have sort of fancy that in time we may know enough to take over a little more than the ventilation and drains. Knowledge keeps on piling up, you know. It keeps on growing. And there’s not the slightest hurry for a generation or so. Some day — some day, men will live in a different way.” He looked at Bindon and meditated. “There’ll be a lot of dying out before that day can come.”

Bindon attempted to point out to this young man how silly and irrelevant such talk was to a sick man like himself, how impertinent and uncivil it was to him, an older man occupying a position in the official world of extraordinary power and influence. He insisted that a doctor was paid to cure people — he laid great stress on “paid —” and had no business to glance even for a moment at “those other questions.” “But we do,” said the young man, insisting upon facts, and Bindon lost his temper.

His indignation carried him home. That these incompetent impostors, who were unable to save the life of a really influential man like himself, should dream of some day robbing the legitimate property owners of social control, of inflicting one knew not, what tyranny upon the world. Curse science! He fumed over the intolerable prospect for some time, and then the pain returned, and he recalled the made-up prescription of the first doctor, still happily in his pocket. He took a dose forthwith.

It calmed and soothed him greatly, and he could sit down in his most comfortable chair beside his library (of phonographic records), and think over the altered aspect of affairs. His indignation passed, his anger and his passion crumbled under the subtle attack of that prescription, pathos became his sole ruler. He stared about him, at his magnificent and voluptuously appointed apartment, at his statuary and discreetly veiled pictures, and all the evidences of a cultivated and elegant wickedness; he touched a stud and the sad piping of Tristan’s shepherd filled the air. His eye wandered from one object to another. They were costly and gross and florid — but they were his. They presented in concrete form his ideals, his conceptions of beauty and desire, his idea of all that is precious in life. And now — he must leave it all like a common man. He was, he felt, a slender and delicate flame, burning out. So must all life flame up and pass, he thought. His eyes filled with tears.

Then it came into his head that he was alone. Nobody cared for him, nobody needed him! At any moment he might begin to hurt vividly. He might even howl. Nobody would mind. According to all the doctors he would have excellent reason for howling in a day or so. It recalled what his spiritual adviser had said of the decline of faith and fidelity, the degeneration of the age. He beheld himself as a pathetic proof of this; he, the subtle, able important, voluptuous, cynical, complex Bindon, possibly howling, and not one faithful simple creature in all the world to howl in sympathy. Not one faithful simple soul was there — no shepherd to pipe to him! Had all such faithful simple creatures vanished from this harsh and urgent earth? He wondered whether the horrid vulgar crowd that perpetually went about the city could possibly know what he thought of them. If they did he felt sure some would try to earn a better opinion. Surely the world went from bad to worse. It was becoming impossible for Bindons. Perhaps some day . . . He was quite sure that the one thing he had needed in life was sympathy. For a time he regretted that he left no sonnets — no enigmatical pictures or something of that sort behind him to carry on his being until at last the sympathetic mind should come . . .

It seemed incredible to him that this that came was extinction. Yet his sympathetic spiritual guide was in this matter annoyingly figurative and vague. Curse science! It had undermined all faith — all hope. To go out, to vanish from theatre and street, from office and dining-place, from the dear eyes of womankind. And not to be missed! On the whole to leave the world happier!

He reflected that he had never worn his heart upon his sleeve. Had he after all been too unsympathetic? Few people could suspect how subtly profound he really was beneath the mask of that cynical gaiety of his. They would not understand the loss they had suffered. Elizabeth, for example, had not suspected . . .

He had reserved that. His thoughts having come to Elizabeth gravitated about her for some time. How little Elizabeth understood him!

That thought became intolerable. Before all other things he must set that right. He realised that there was still something for him to do in life, his struggle against Elizabeth was even yet not over. He could never overcome her now, as he had hoped and prayed. But he might still impress her!

From that idea he expanded. He might impress her profoundly — he might impress her so that she should for evermore regret her treatment of him. The thing that she must realise before everything else was his magnanimity. His magnanimity! Yes! He had loved her with amazing greatness of heart. He had not seen it so clearly before — but of course he was going to leave her all his property. He saw it instantly, as a thing determined and inevitable. She would think how good he was, how spaciously generous; surrounded by all that makes life tolerable from his hand, she would recall with infinite regret her scorn and coldness. And when she sought expression for that regret, she would find that occasion gone forever, she should be met by a locked door, by a disdainful stillness, by a white dead face. He closed his eyes and remained for a space imagining himself that white dead face.

From that he passed to the other aspect of the matter, but his determination was assured. He meditated elaborately before he took action, for the drug he had taken inclined him to a lethargic and dignified melancholy. In certain respects he modified details. If he left all his property to Elizabeth it would include the voluptuously appointed room he occupied, and for many reasons he did not care to leave that to her. On the other hand, it had to be left to some one. In his clogged condition this worried him extremely.

In the end he decided to leave it to the sympathetic exponent of the fashionable religious cult whose conversation had been so pleasing in the past. “He will understand,” said Bindon with a sentimental sigh. “He knows what Evil means — he understands something of the Stupendous Fascination of the Sphinx of Sin. Yes — he will understand.” By that phrase it was that Bindon was pleased to dignify certain unhealthy and undignified departures from sane conduct to which a misguided vanity and an ill-controlled curiosity had led him. He sat for a space thinking how very Hellenic and Italian and Neronic, and all those things, he had been. Even now — might one not try a sonnet? A penetrating voice to echo down the ages; sensuous, sinister, and sad. For a space he forgot Elizabeth. In the course of half an hour he spoilt three phonographic coils, got a headache, took a second dose to calm himself, and reverted to magnanimity and his former design.

At last he faced the unpalatable problem of Denton. It needed all his newborn magnanimity before he could swallow the thought of Denton; but at last this greatly misunderstood man, assisted by his sedative and the near approach of death, effected even that. If he was at all exclusive about Denton, if he should display the slightest distrust, if he attempted any specific exclusion of that young man, she might — misunderstand. Yes — she should have her Denton still. His magnanimity must go even to that. He tried to think only of Elizabeth in the matter.

He rose with a sigh, and limped across to the telephonic apparatus that communicated with his solicitor. In ten minutes a will duly attested and with its proper thumb-mark signature lay in the solicitor’s office three miles away. And then for a space Bindon sat very still.

Suddenly he started out of a vague reverie and pressed an investigatory hand to his side.

Then he jumped eagerly to his feet and rushed to the telephone. The Euthanasia Company had rarely been called by a client in a greater hurry.

So it came at last that Denton and his Elizabeth, against all hope, returned unseparated from the labour servitude to which they had fallen. Elizabeth came out from her cramped subterranean den of metal-beaters and all the sordid circumstances of blue canvas, as one comes out of a nightmare. Back towards the sunlight their fortune took them; once the bequest was known to them, the bare thought of another day’s hammering became intolerable. They went up long lifts and stairs to levels that they had not seen since the days of their disaster. At first she was full of this sensation of escape; even to think of the underways was intolerable; only after many months could she begin to recall with sympathy the faded women who were still below there, murmuring scandals and reminiscences and folly, and tapping away their lives.

Her choice of apartments they presently took expressed the vehemence of her release. They were rooms upon the very verge of the city; they had a roof space and a balcony upon the city wall, wide open to the sun and wind, the country and the sky.

And in that balcony comes the last scene in this story. It was summer sunsetting, and the hills of Surrey were very blue and clear. Denton leant upon the balcony regarding them, and Elizabeth sat by his side. Very wide and spacious was the view, from their balcony hung five hundred feet above the ancient level of the ground. The oblong of the Food Company, broken here and there by the ruins — grotesque little holes and sheds — of the ancient suburbs, and intersected by shinning streams of sewage, passed at last into a remote diapering at the foot of the distant hills. There once had been the squatting-place of the children of Uya. On those further slopes gaunt machines of unknown import worked slackly at the end of their spell, and the hill crest was set with stagnant wind vanes. Along the great south road the Labour Company’s field workers in huge wheeled mechanical vehicles were hurrying back to their meals, their last spell finished. And through the air a dozen little private aeropiles sailed down towards the city. Familiar scene as it was to the eyes of Denton and Elizabeth, it would have filled the minds of their ancestors with incredulous amazement. Denton’s thoughts fluttered towards the future in a vain attempt at what that scene might be in another two hundred years, and recoiling turned, towards the past.

He shared something of the growing knowledge of the time; he could picture the quaint smoke-grimed Victorian city with its narrow little roads of beaten earth, it’s wide common-land, ill-organised, ill-built suburbs, and irregular enclosures; the old countryside of the Stuart times, with its little villages and its petty London; the England of the monasteries, the far older England of the Roman dominion, and then before that a wild country; with here and there the huts of some warring tribe. These huts must have come and gone and come again through a space of years that made the Roman camp and villa seem but yesterday; and before those years, before even the huts, there had been men in the valley. Even then — so recent had it all been when one judged it by the standards of geological time — this valley had been here; and those hills yonder, higher perhaps, and snow-tipped, had still been yonder hills, and the Thames had flowed down from the Cotswolds to the sea. But the men had been but the shapes of men, creatures of darkness and ignorance, victims of beast and floods, storms and pestilence and incessant hunger. They had held a precarious foothold amidst bears and lions and all the monstrous violence of the past. Already some at least of these enemies were overcome . . .

For a time Denton pursued the thoughts of this spacious vision, trying in obedience to his instinct to find his place and proportion in the scheme.

“It has been chance,” he said, “it has been luck. We have come through. It happens we have come through. Not by any strength of our own . . . And yet . . . No. I don’t know.”

He was silent for a long time before he spoke again.

“After all — there is a long time yet. There have scarcely been men for twenty thousand years — and there has been life for twenty millions. And what are generations? What are generations? It is enormous, and we are so little. Yet we know — we feel. We are not dumb atoms, we are part of it — part of it — to the limits of our strength and will. Even to die is part of it. Whether we die or live, we are in the making . . . As time goes on perhaps — men will be wiser . . . Wiser . . . Will they ever understand?”

He became silent again. Elizabeth said nothing to these things, but she regarded his dreaming face with infinite affection. Her mind was not very active that evening. A great contentment possessed her. After a time she laid a gentle hand on his beside her. He fondled it softly, still looking out upon the spacious gold-woven view. So they sat as the sun went down. Until presently Elizabeth shivered. Denton recalled himself abruptly from these spacious issues of his leisure, and went in to fetch her shawl.

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