Jaz took Somers to the famous Canberra House, in Sydney, where the Socialists and Labour people had their premises: offices, meeting-rooms, club-rooms, quite an establishment. There was a lively feeling about the place, in spite of various down-at-heel malcontents who stood about in the passage and outside on the pavement. A business-like air.
The two men were conducted into an inner room where a man sat at a desk. He was very dark, red-faced, and thin, with deep lines in his face, a tight shut, receding mouth, and black, burning eyes. He reminded Somers of the portraits of Abraham Lincoln, the same sunken cheeks and deep, cadaverous lines and big black eyes. But this man, Willie Struthers, lacked that look of humour and almost of sweetness that one can find in Abraham Lincoln’s portraits. Instead, he was suspicious, and seemed as if he were brooding an inner wrong.
He was a born Australian, had knocked about the continent, and spent many years on the goldfields. According to report, he was just comfortably well-off — not rich. He looked rather shabby, seedy; his clothes had that look as if he had just thrown them on his back, after picking them off the floor. Also one of his thin shoulders was noticeably higher than the other. But he was a distinct Australian type, thin, hollow-cheeked, with a brightish brittle, red skin on his face, and big, dark, incensed-looking eyes. He nodded to the two men as they entered, but did not speak nor rise from his desk.
“This is Mr. Somers,” said Jaz. “You’ve read his book on democracy.”
“Yes, I’ve read it,” said Struthers. “Take a seat.”
He spoke with a pronounced Australian accent — a bad cockney. He stared at Somers for a few seconds, then looked away.
He asked the usual questions, how Richard liked Australia, how long he had been there, how long he thought of staying. The two didn’t get into any easy harmony.
Then he began to put a few shrewd questions concerning the Fascisti and Socialisti in Italy, the appropriation of the land by the peasants, and so on; then about Germany, the actual temper of the working people, the quality of their patriotism since the war, and so on.
“You understand,” said Somers, “I don’t pretend to give anything but personal impressions. I have no claim to knowledge, whatever.”
“That’s all right, Mr. Somers. I want your impressions. What they call knowledge is like any other currency, it’s liable to depreciate. Sound valuable knowledge to-day may not be worth the paper it’s printed on to-morrow — like the Austrian krone. We’re no slaves to facts. Give us your impressions.”
He spoke with a peculiar kind of bitterness, that showed passion too. They talked about Europe for some time. The man could listen: listen with his black eyes too. Watchful, always watchful, as if he expected some bird to fly suddenly out of the speaker’s face. He was well-informed, and seemed to weigh and judge everything he heard as he heard it.
“Why, when I left Europe it seemed to me socialism was losing ground everywhere — in Italy especially. In 1920 it was quite a living, exciting thing, in Italy. It made people insolent, usually, but it lifted them up as well. Then it sort of fizzled down, and last year there was only the smoke of it: and a nasty sort of disappointment and disillusion, a grating sort of irritation. Florence, Siena — hateful! The Fascisti risen up and taking on airs, all just out of a sort of spite. The Dante festival at Florence, and the King there, for example. Just set your teeth on edge, ugh! — with their “Savoia!” All false and out of spite.”
“And what do you attribute that to, Mr. Somers?”
“Why, I think the Socialists didn’t QUITE believe in their own socialism, so everybody felt let down. In Italy, particularly, it seemed to me they were on the brink of a revolution. And the King was ready to abdicate, and the Church was ready to make away with its possessions: I know that. Everything ready for a flight. And then the Socialists funked. They just funked. They daren’t make a revolution, because then they’d be responsible for the country. And they DAREN’T. And so the Fascisti, seeing the Socialists in a funk, got up and began to try to kick their behinds.”
Mr. Struthers nodded his head slowly.
“I suppose that is so,” he said. “I suppose that’s what it amounts to, they didn’t believe in what they were doing. But then they’re a childish, excitable people, with no stability.”
“But it seems to me socialism hasn’t got the spark in it to make a revolution. Not in any country. It hasn’t got the spunk, either. There’s no spunk in it.”
“What is there any spunk in?” asked the other man, a sort of bitter fire corroding in his eyes. “Where do you find any spunk?”
“Oh, nowhere,” said Richard.
There was a silence. Struthers looked out of the window as if he didn’t know what to say next, and he played irritably with a blotter on the desk, with his right hand. Richard also sat uncomfortably silent.
“Nowhere any spunk?” said Struthers, in his flat metallic voice.
“No,” said Richard.
And again the uncomfortable silence.
“There was plenty of spunk in the war,” said Struthers.
“Of a sort. And because they felt they HAD to, not from choice.”
“And mayn’t they feel they HAVE to again?” said Struthers, smiling rather grimly.
The two men eyed one another.
“What’ll make them?” asked Richard.
“Oh — circumstances.”
“Ah well — if circumstances.” Richard was almost rude. “I know if it was a question of WAR the majority of returned soldiers would join up in a month — in a week. You hear it over and over again from the Diggers here. The war was the only time they ever felt properly alive. But then they moved because they hated the Germans — self-righteously hated them. And they can’t quite bring it off, to hate the capitalist with a self-righteous hate. They don’t hate him. They know that if they themselves got a chance to make a pile of money and be capitalists, they’d JUMP at it. You can’t work up a hate except on fear. And they DON’T fear the capitalist, and you can’t make them. The most they’ll do is sneer about him.”
Struthers still fidgetted with the blotter, with his thin, very red, hairy hand, and abstractedly stared at the desk in front of him.
“And what does all that mean, in your estimation, Mr. Somers?” he asked dryly, looking nervously up.
“That you’ll never get them to act. You’ll never get Labour, or any of the Socialists, to make a revolution. They just won’t act. Only the Anarchists might — and they’re too few.”
“I’m afraid they are growing more.”
“Are they? Of that I know nothing. I should have thought they were growing fewer.”
Mr. Struthers did not seem to hear this. At least he did not answer. He sat with his head dropped, fingering the blotter, rather like a boy who is being told things he hates to hear, but which he doesn’t deny.
At last he looked up, and the fighting look was in the front of his eyes.
“It may be as you say, Mr. Somers,” he replied. “Men may not be ready yet for any great change. That does not make the change less inevitable. It’s coming, and it’s got to come. If it isn’t here to-day, it will be here next century, at least. Whatever you may say, the socialistic and communal ideal is a great ideal, which will be fulfilled when men are ready. We aren’t impatient. If revolution seems a premature jump — and perhaps it does — then we can go on, step by step, towards where we intend to arrive at last. And that is, State Ownership, and International Labour Control. The General Confederation of Labour, as perhaps you know, does not aim at immediate revolutions. It wants to make the great revolution by degrees. Step by step, by winning political victories in each country, by having new laws passed by our insistence, we intend to advance more slowly, but more surely towards the goal we have in sight.
“Now, Mr. Somers, you are no believer in capitalism, and in this industrial system as we have it. If I judge you correctly from your writings, you are no lover of the great Washed Middle Classes. They are more than washed, they are washed out. And I think in your writings you say as much. You want a new spirit in society, a new bond between men. You want a new bond between men. Well, so do I, so do we. We realise that if we are going to go ahead we need first and foremost SOLIDARITY. Where we fail in our present position is in our lack of solidarity.
“And how are we to get it? You suggest us the answer in your writings. We must have a new bond between men, the bond of real brotherhood. And why don’t we find that bond sufficiently among us? Because we have been brought up from childhood to mistrust ourselves and to mistrust each other. We have been brought up in a kind of fetish worship. We are like tribes of savages with their witch-doctors. And who are our witch-doctors, our medicine-men? Why, they are professors of science and professors of medicine and professors of law and professors of religion, all of whom thump on their tom-tom drums and overawe us and take us in. And they take us in with the clever cry, “Listen to us, and you will get on, get on, get on, you will rise up into the middle classes and become one of the great washed.”
“The trick of this only educated men like yourself see through. The working man can’t see through it. HE can’t see that, for every one that GETS ON, you must have five hundred fresh slavers and toilers to produce the graft. Tempt all men to get on, and it’s like holding a carrot in front of five thousand asses all harnessed to your machine. One ass gets the carrot, and all the others have done your pulling for you.
“Now what we want is a new bond between fellow-men. We’ve got to knock down the middle-class fetish and the middle-class medicine-men. But you’ve got to build up as you knock down. You’ve got to build up the real fellow-feeling between fellow-men. You’ve got to teach us working men to trust one another, absolutely trust one another, and to take all our trust away from the Great Washed and their medicine men who bleed us like leeches. Let us mistrust them — but let us trust one another. First and foremost, let us trust one another, we working men.
“Now Mr. Somers, you are a working man’s son. You know what I’m talking about. Isn’t it right, what I say? And isn’t it feasible?”
A strange glow had come into his large black eyes, something glistening and half-sweet, fixing itself on you. You felt drawn towards a strange sweetness — perhaps poisonous. Yet it touched Richard on one of his quivering strings — the latent power that is in man to-day, to love his near mate with a passionate, absolutely trusting love. Whitman says the love of comrades. We say, the mate love. “He is my mate.” A depth of unfathomed, unrealised love can go into that phrase! “My mate is waiting for me,” a man says, and turns away from wife, children, mother and all. The love of a man for his mate.
Now Richard knew what Struthers wanted. He wanted this love, this mate-trust called into consciousness and highest honour. He wanted to set it where Whitman tried to set his Love of Comrades. It was to be the new tie between men, in the new democracy. It was to be the new passional bond in the new society. The trusting love of a man for his mate.
Our society is based on the family, the love of a man for his wife and his children, or for his mother and brothers. The family is our social bedrock and limit. Whitman said the next, broader, more unselfish rock should be the Love of Comrades. The sacred relation of a man to his mate, his fellow man.
If our society is going to develop a new great phase, developing from where we stand now, it must accept this new relationship as the new sacred social bond, beyond the family. You can’t make bricks without straw. That is, you can’t hold together the friable mixture of modern mankind without a new cohesive principle, a new unifying passion. And this will be the new passion of a man’s absolute trust in his mate, his love for his mate.
Richard knew this. But he had learned something else as well. He had learned the great danger of the new passion, which as yet lay only half realised and half recognised, half effective.
Human love, human trust, are always perilous, because they break down. The greater the love, the greater the trust, and the greater the peril, the greater the disaster. Because to place absolute trust on another human being is in itself a disaster, both ways, since each human being is a ship that must sail its own course, even if it go in company with another ship. Two ships may sail together to the world’s end. But lock them together in mid-ocean and try to steer both with one rudder, and they will smash one another to bits. So it is when one individual seeks absolutely to love, or trust, another. Absolute lovers always smash one another, absolute trusters the same. Since man has been trying absolutely to love women, and women to love man, the human species has almost wrecked itself. If now we start a still further campaign of men loving and absolutely trusting each other, comrades or mates, heaven knows the horror we are laying up.
And yet, love is the greatest thing between human beings, men and women, men and men, women and women, when it is love, when it happens. But when human love starts out to lock individuals together, it is just courting disaster.
Man-and-woman love is a disaster nowadays. What a holy horror man-and-man love would be: mates or comrades!
What is it then that is wrong? Why, human beings CAN’T absolutely love one another. Each man DOES kill the thing he loves, by sheer dint of loving it. Is love then just a horror in life?
Ah no. This individuality which each of us has got and which makes him a wayward, wilful, dangerous, untrustworthy quantity to every other individual, because every individuality is bound to react at some time against every other individuality, without exception — or else lose its own integrity; because of the inevitable necessity of each individual to react away from any other individual, at certain times, human love is truly a relative thing, not an absolute. It CANNOT be absolute.
Yet the human heart must have an absolute. It is one of the conditions of being human. The only thing is the God who is the source of all passion. Once go down before the God-passion and human passions take their right rhythm. But human love without the God-passion always kills the thing it loves. Man and woman virtually are killing each other with the love-will now. What would it be when mates, or comrades, broke down in their absolute love and trust? Because, without the polarized God-passion to hold them stable at the centre, break down they would. With no deep God who is source of all passion and life to hold them separate and yet sustained in accord, the loving comrades would smash one another, and smash all love, all feeling as well. It would be a rare gruesome sight.
Any more love is a hopeless thing, till we have found again, each of us for himself, the great dark God who alone will sustain us in loving one another. Till then, best not play with more fire.
Richard knew this, and it came to him again powerfully, under the dark eyes of Mr. Struthers.
“Yes,” he answered slowly. “I know what you mean, and you know I know. And it’s probably your only chance of carrying Socialism through. I don’t really know how much it is feasible. But —.”
“Wait a minute, Mr. Somers. You are the man I have been waiting for: all except the but. Listen to me a moment further. You know our situation here in Australia. You know that Labour is stronger here, perhaps, more unopposed than in any country in the world. We might do anything. Then why do we do nothing? You know as well as I do. Because there is no real unifying principle among us. We’re not together, we aren’t one. And probably you never WILL be able to unite Australians on the wage question and the State Ownership question alone. They don’t care enough. It doesn’t really touch them emotionally. And they need to be touched emotionally, brought together that way. Once that was done, we’d be a grand, solid working-class people; grand, unselfish: a real PEOPLE. “When wilt thou save the People, Oh God of Israel, when?” It looks as if the God of Israel would never save them. We’ve got to save ourselves.
“Now you know quite well, Mr. Somers, we’re an unstable, unreliable body to-day, the Labour Party here in Australia. And why? Because in the first place we haven’t got any voice. We want a voice. Think of it, we’ve got no real Labour newspaper in Sydney — or in Australia. How CAN we be united? We’ve no voice to call us together. And why don’t we have a paper of our own? Well, why? Nobody has the initiative. What would be the good, over here, of a grievance-airing rag like your London Daily Herald? It wouldn’t be taken any more seriously than any other rag. It would have no real effect. Australians are a good bit subtler and more disillusioned than the English working classes. You can throw Australians chaff, and they’ll laugh at it. They may even pretend to peck it up. But all the time they KNOW, and they’re not taken in. The Bulletin would soon help them out, if they were. They’ve got a natural sarcastic turn, have the Australians. They’ll do imbecile things: because one thing is pretty well as good as another, to them. They don’t care.
“Then what’s the good starting another Red rag, if the bull won’t run at it? And this Australian bull may play about with a red rag, but it won’t get his real dander up.
“No, you’ve got to give them something to appeal to the deeper man in them. That deeper man is waiting to be appealed to. And we’re waiting for the right individual to come along to put the appeal to them.
“Now, Mr. Somers, here’s your chance. I’m in a position to ask you, won’t you help us to bring out a sincere, CONSTRUCTIVE Socialist paper, not a grievance airer, but a paper that calls to the constructive spirit in men? Deep calleth to deep. And the trouble with us here is, no one calls to our deeps, they lie there stagnant. I can’t do it, I’m too grimy. It wants a deep, fresh nature, and I’m too stale.
“Now Mr. Somers, you’re the son of a working man. You were born of the People. You haven’t turned your back on them, have you, now that you’re a well-known gentleman?”
“No, no,” said Richard, laughing at the irony.
“Then here is your work before you. Come and breathe the breath of life into us, through the printed word. Come and take charge of a true People’s paper for us. We needn’t make it a daily. Make it a twice-weekly. And let it appeal to the Australian, to his heart, for his heart is the right place to appeal to. Let it breathe the new air of trust and comradeship into us. We are ready for it: dying for it. Show us how to BELIEVE in one another, with all our hearts. Show us that the issue isn’t just the wage issue, or who holds the money. It’s brother-love at last, on which Christ’s Democracy is bound to rest. It’s the living People. It is man to man at last.”
The red face of Willie Struthers seemed to glow with fire, and his black eyes had a strange glisten as he watched Richard’s face. Richard’s pale, sombre face showed that he was moved. There was a strange excitement, a deep, exciting vibration in the air, as if something secret were taking place. Jaz in his corner sat silent as a mouse, his knees wide apart, his elbows on his knees, his head dropped. Richard’s eyes at length met the black, excited, glistening eyes of the other man, and he felt that something in the glisten was bearing him down, as a snake bears down a bird. Himself the bird.
But his heart was big within him, swollen in his breast. Because in truth he did love the working people, he did know them capable of a great, generous love for one another. And he did also believe, in a way, that they were capable of building up this great Church of Christ, the great beauty of a People, upon the generous passion of mate-love. All this theoretical socialism started by Jews like Marx, and appealing only to the will-to-power in the masses, making money the whole crux, this has cruelly injured the working people of Europe. For the working people of Europe were generous by nature, and money was not their prime passion. All this political socialism — all politics, in fact — has conspired to make money the only god. It has been a great treacherous conspiracy against the generous heart of the people. And that heart is betrayed: and knows it.
Then can’t the injury be remedied? Can’t the working men be called back, man to man, to a generous opening of the heart to one another, money forgotten? Can’t a new great inspiration of belief in the love of mates be breathed into the white Peoples of the world, and a new day be built on this belief?
It can be done. It could be done. Only, the terrible stress, the strain on the hearts of men, if as human beings the whole weight of the living world is to rest on them. Each man with the poles of the world resting on his heart. Men would go mad.
“You see,” stammered Richard, “it needs more than a belief of men in each other.”
“But what else is there to believe in? Quacks? Medicinemen? Scientists and politicians?”
“It DOES need some sort of religion.”
“Well then — well then — the religious question is ticklish, especially here in Australia. But all the churches are established on Christ. And Christ says Love one another.”
Richard laughed suddenly.
“That makes Christ into another political agent,” he said.
“Well then — I’m not deep enough for these matters. But surely you know how to square it with religion. Seems to me it IS religion — love one another.”
“Without a God.”
“Well — as I say — it’s Christ’s teaching, and that ought to be God enough.”
Richard was silent, his heart heavy. It all seemed so far from the dark God he wished to serve, the God from whom the dark, sensual passion of love emanates, not only the spiritual love of Christ. He wanted men once more to refer the sensual passion of love sacredly to the great dark God, the ithyphallic, of the first dark religions. And how could that be done, when each dry little individual ego was just mechanically set against any such dark flow, such ancient submission? As for instance Willie Struthers at this minute. Struthers didn’t mind Christ. Christ could easily be made to subserve his egoistic purpose. But the first, dark, ithyphallic God whom men had once known so tremendous — Struthers had no use for Him.
“I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I’ve the right touch,” said Richard slowly.
“Nay, Mr. Somers, don’t you be a funker, now. This is the work you were born for. Don’t leave us in the lurch.”
“I shouldn’t be doing what you want me to do.”
“Do what seems best to yourself. We’ll risk it. Make your own conditions. I know as far as money goes you won’t be hard. But take the job on, now. It’s been waiting for you, waiting for you to come out here. Don’t funk at the last minute.”
“I won’t promise at this minute,” said Richard, rising to escape. “I want to go now. I will tell you within a week. You might send me details of your scheme for the paper. Will you? And I’ll think about it hard.”
Mr. Struthers watched him as if he would read his soul. But Richard wasn’t going to have his soul read by force.
“Very well. I’ll see you have the whole scheme of the proposal to-morrow. I don’t think you’ll be able to run away from it.”
Richard was thankful to get out of Canberra Hall. It was like escaping from one of the medical-examination rooms in the war. He and Jaz went in silence down the crowded, narrow pavement of George Street, towards the Circular Quay. Richard called at the General Post-office in Martin Place. As he came out again, and stood on the steps folding the stamps he had bought, seeing the sun down Pitt Street, the people hurrying, the flowers at the corner, the pink spread of Bulletins for sale at the corner of George Street, the hansom-cabs and taxis standing peacefully in the morning shadow of the post-office, suddenly the whole thing switched right away from him. He hailed a hansom.
“Jaz,” he said, “I want to drive round the Botanical Gardens and round the spit there — and I want to look at the peacocks and cockatoos.”
Jaz climbed in with him. “Right-O!” said the cabby, hearing the order, and they clock-clocked away up the hill to Macquarie Street.
“You know, Jaz,” said Richard, looking with joy at the blue harbour inlet, where the Australian “fleet” lay rusting to bits, with a few gay flags; “you know, Jaz, I shan’t do it. I shan’t do anything. I just don’t care about it.”
“You don’t?” said Jaz, with a sudden winsome smile.
“I try to kid myself that I care about mankind and its destiny. And I have fits of wistful love for the working men. But at the bottom I’m as hard as a mango nut. I don’t care about them all. I don’t really care about anything, no I don’t. I just don’t care, so what’s the good of fussing.”
“Why no,” said Jaz, again with a quick smile.
“I feel neither good nor bad. I feel like a fox that has gnawed his tail off and so escaped out of a trap. It seems like a trap to me, all this social business and this saving mankind. Why can’t mankind save itself? It can if it wants to. I’m a fool. I neither want love nor power. I like the world and I like to be alone in it, by myself. What do you want, Jaz?”
Richard was like a child escaped from school, escaped from his necessity to BE something and to DO something. They had jogged past the palm trees and the grass of the gardens, and the blue wrens had cocked their preposterous tails. They jogged to the end of the promontory, under wild trees, and Richard looked at the two lobes of the harbour, blue water on either side, and another part of the town beyond.
“Now take us back to the cockatoos,” he said to the cabby.
Richard loved the look of Australia, that marvellous soft flower-blue of the air, and the sombre grey of the earth, the foliage, the brown of the low rocks: like the dull pelts of kangaroos. It had a wonder and a far-awayness, even here in the heart of Sydney. All the shibboleths of mankind are so trumpery. Australia is outside everything.
“I couldn’t exactly say,” Jaz answered. “You’ve got a bit of an Australian look this morning about you,” he added with a smile.
“I feel Australian. I feel a new creature. But what’s the outcome?”
“Oh, you’ll come back to caring, I should think: for the sake of having something to care about. That’s what most of them do. They want to turn bushrangers for six months, and then they get frightened of themselves, and come back and want to be good citizens.”
“Bushranger? But Australia’s like an open door with the blue beyond. You just walk out of the world and into Australia. And it’s just somewhere else. All those nations left behind in their schoolrooms, fussing. Let them fuss. This is Australia, where one can’t care.”
Jaz sat rather pale, and ten times more silent than ever.
“I expect you’ve got yourself to reckon with, no matter where you are. That’s why most Australians have to fuss about something — politics, or horse-racing, or football. Though a man can go empty in Australia, if he likes: as you’ve said yourself,” replied he.
“Then I’ll go empty,” said Richard. “What makes YOU fuss with Kangaroo and Struthers, Jaz?”
“Me?” The smile was slow and pale. “Go into the middle of Australia and see how empty it is. You can’t face emptiness long. You have to come back and do something to keep from being frightened at your own emptiness, and everything else’s emptiness. It may be empty. But it’s wicked, and it’ll kill you if it can. Something comes out of the emptiness, to kill you. You have to come back and do things with mankind, to forget.”
“It’s wonderful to be empty. It’s wonderful to feel this blue globe of emptiness of the Australian air. It shuts everything out,” protested Richard.
“You’ll be an Aussie yet,” smiled Jaz slowly.
“Shall I regret it?” asked Richard.
The eyes of the two men met. In the pale grey eyes of Jaz something lurking, like an old, experienced consciousness looking across at the childish consciousness of Somers, almost compassionately: and half in mockery.
“You’ll change back before you regret it,” he said.
“Are you wise, Jaz? And am I childish?” Richard’s look suddenly changed also to mockery. “If you’re wise, Jaz, why do you wander round like a lost soul? Because you do. And what takes you to Struthers, if you belong to Kangaroo?”
“I’m secretary for the coal- and timber-merchants’ union,” said Jaz quietly.
They got out of the cab to look at the aviaries. Wonderful, brilliant-coloured little birds, the love-birds self-consciously smirking. “Hello!”— pronounced pure Australian-cockney: “Helleow! Hello! Hello! Hello Cocky! What yer want?” This in a more-than-human voice from a fine sulphur-crested cockatoo. “Hello Cocky!” His thick black tongue worked in his narrow mouth. So absolutely human the sound, and yet a bird’s. It was startling, and very funny. The two men talked to the cockatoos, fascinated and amused, for a quarter of an hour. The emu came prancing up, with his alert, large, sticking-out eyes and his whiskers. An alert gentleman, with the dark Australian eye. Very wide-awake, and yet far off in the past. And a remote, alert, sharp gentleness belonging to far past twilight ages, before enemies and iron weapons were perfected. A very remote, dirt-brown gentleman from the lost plains of time. The peacock rustling his blue fireworks seemed a sort of nouveau-riche in comparison.
Somers went in the evening of this memorable day to dine with Kangaroo. The other man was quiet, and seemed preoccupied.
“I went to Willie Struthers this morning,” Somers said.
Kangaroo looked at him sharply through his pince-nez. On the subtle face of Somers a small, wicked smile hovered like a half visible flame. But it was his alive, beautiful face. And his whole person seemed magnetic.
“Who took you there?” asked Kangaroo sharply.
“Jaz is a meddlesome-Patty. Well, and what then?”
“I think Willie is rather a terror. I wouldn’t like to have to spend my life with him. But he’s shrewd. Only I don’t like him physically — something thin and hairy and spiderish. I didn’t want to touch him. But he’s a force, he’s SOMETHING.”
Kangaroo looked puzzled, and his face took a heavy, stupid look.
“He wouldn’t want you to touch him,” he barked. “He didn’t offer to shake hands, did he?”
“No, thank goodness,” said Somers, thinking of the red, dry, thin-skinned hand.
There was a hostile silence from Kangaroo. He knew that this subtle, attractive Somers with the faint glow about him, like an aura, was venomous. And yet he was helplessly attracted to him.
“And what do you mean about his being something? Some more Trewhella?”
“Perhaps. I couldn’t help feeling that Struthers was shrewder than you are — in a way baser — but for that reason more likely to be effectual.”
Kangaroo watched Richard for a long time in silence.
“I know why Trewhella took you there,” he said sulkily.
“Oh, I know why. And what have you decided?”
There was a long and obstinate silence. The two men were at loggerheads, and neither would make the first move.
“You seem very thick with Trewhella,” said Kangaroo at last.
“Not thick,” said Richard. “Celts — Cornish, Irish — they always interest me. What do you imagine is at the bottom of Jaz?”
“Oh, not only,” laughed Somers.
“Then why do you ask me, if you know better?”
“Because I don’t really get to the bottom of him.”
“There is no bottom to get to — he’s the instinctive traitor, as they all are.”
“Oh, surely not only that.”
“I see nothing else. They would like the white civilisation to be trampled underfoot piecemeal. And at the same time they live on us like parasites.” Kangaroo glowered fiercely.
“There’s something more,” replied Richard. “They don’t believe in our gods, in our ideals. They remember older gods, older ideals, different gods: before the Jews invented a mental Jehovah, and a spiritual Christ. They are nearer the magic of the animal world.”
“Magic of the animal world!” roared Kangaroo. “What does that nonsense mean? Are you traitor to your own human intelligence?”
“All too human,” smiled Richard.
Kangaroo sat up very straight, and looked at Somers. Somers still smiled faintly and luminously.
“Why are you so easily influenced?” said Kangaroo, with a certain cold reproof. “You are like a child. I know that is part of the charm of your nature, that you are naive like a child, but sometimes you are childish rather than childlike. A perverse child.”
“Let me be a perverse child then,” laughed Somers, with a flash of attractive laughter at Kangaroo. It frightened the big man, this perverse mood. If only he could have got the wicked light out of Lovat’s face, and brought back the fire of earnestness. And yet, as an individual, he was attracted to the little fellow now, like a moth to a candle: a great lumbering moth to a small, but dangerous flame of a candle.
“I’m sure it’s Struthers’ turn to set the world right, before it’s yours,” Somers said.
“Why are you sure?”
“I don’t know. I thought so when I saw him. You’re too human.”
Kangaroo was silent, and offended.
“I don’t think that is a final reason,” he replied.
“For me it is. No, I want one of the olives that the man took away. You give one such good food, one forgets deep questions in your lovely salad. Why don’t you do as Jaz says, and back up the Reds for the time being. Play your pawns and your bishops.”
“You know that a bite from a hyaena means blood-poisoning,” said Kangaroo.
“Don’t be solemn. You mean Willie Struthers? Yes, I wouldn’t want to be bitten. But if you are so sure of love as an all-ruling influence, and so sure of the fidelity of the Diggers, through love, I should agree with Jaz. Push Struthers where he wants to go. Let him proclaim the rule of the People: let him nationalise all industries and resources, and confiscate property above a certain amount: and bring the world about his ears. Then you step in like a saviour. It’s much easier to point to a wrecked house, if you want to build something new, than to persuade people to pull the house down and build it up in a better style.”
Kangaroo was deeply offended, mortified. Yet he listened.
“You are hopelessly facile, Lovat,” he said gently. “In the first place, the greatest danger to the world to-day is anarchy, not bolshevism. It is anarchy and unrule that are coming on us — and that is what I, as an order-loving Jew and one of the half-chosen people, do not want. I want one central principle in the world: the principle of love, the maximum of individual liberty, the minimum of human distress. Lovat, you know I am sincere, don’t you?”
There was a certain dignity and pathos in the question.
“I do,” replied Somers sincerely. “But I am tired of one central principle in the world.”
“Anything else means chaos.”
“There has to be chaos occasionally. And then, Roo, if you DO want a benevolent fatherly autocracy, I’m sure you’d better step in after there’s been a bit of chaos.”
Kangaroo shook his head.
“Like a wayward child! Like a wayward child!” he murmured. “You are not such a fool, Lovat, that you can’t see that once you break the last restraints on humanity to-day, it is the end. It is the end. Once burst the flood-gates, and you’ll never get the water back into control. Never.”
“Then let it distil up to heaven. I really don’t care.”
“But man, you are PERVERSE. What’s the matter with you?” suddenly bellowed Kangaroo.
They had gone into the study for coffee. Kangaroo stood with his head dropped and his feet apart, his back to the fire. And suddenly he roared like a lion at Somers. Somers started, then laughed.
“Even perversity has its points,” he said.
Kangaroo glowered like a massive cloud. Somers was standing staring at the Durer etching of St. Jerome: he loved Durer. Suddenly, with a great massive movement, Kangaroo caught the other man to his breast.
“Don’t Lovat,” he said, in a much moved voice, pressing the slight body of the lesser man against his own big breast and body. “Don’t!” he said, with a convulsive tightening of the arm.
Somers, squeezed so that he could hardly breathe, kept his face from Kangaroo’s jacket and managed to ejaculate:
“All right. Let me go and I won’t.”
“Don’t thwart me,” pleaded Kangaroo. “Don’t — or I shall have to break all connection with you, and I love you so. I love you so. Don’t be perverse, and put yourself against me.”
He still kept Somers clasped against him, but not squeezed so hard. And Somers heard over his own head the voice speaking with a blind yearning. Not to himself. No. It was speaking over his head, to the void, to the infinite or something tiresome like that. Even the words: “I love you so. I love you so.” They made the marrow in Lovat’s bones melt, but they made his heart flicker even more devilishly.
“It is an impertinence, that he says he loves me,” he thought to himself. But he did not speak, out of regard for Kangaroo’s emotion, which was massive and genuine, even if Somers felt it missed his own particular self completely.
In those few moments when he was clasped to the warm, passionate body of Kangaroo, Somers’ mind flew with swift thought. “He doesn’t love ME,” he thought to himself. “He just turns a great general emotion on me, like a tap. I feel as cold as steel, in his clasp — and as separate. It is presumption, his loving me. If he was in any way really AWARE of me, he’d keep at the other end of the room, as if I was a dangerous little animal. He wouldn’t be hugging me if I were a scorpion. And I AM a scorpion. So why doesn’t he know it. Damn his love. He wants to FORCE me.”
After a few minutes Kangaroo dropped his arm and turned his back. He stood there, a great, hulked, black back. Somers thought to himself: “If I were a kestrel I’d stoop and strike him straight in the back of the neck, and he’d die. He ought to die.” Then he went and sat in his chair. Kangaroo left the room.
He did not come back for some time, and Lovat began to grow uncomfortable. But the devilishness in his heart continued, broken by moments of tenderness or pity or self-doubt. The gentleness was winning, when Kangaroo came in again. And one look at the big, gloomy figure set the devil alert like a flame again in the other man’s heart.
Kangaroo took his place before the fire again, but looked aside.
“Of course you understand,” he began in a muffled voice, “that it must be one thing or the other. Either you are with me, and I FEEL you with me: or you cease to exist for me.”
Somers listened with wonder. He admired the man for his absoluteness, and his strange blind heroic obsession.
“I’m not really against you, am I?” said Somers. And his own heart answered, YES YOU ARE!
“You are not WITH me,” said Kangaroo, bitterly.
“No,” said Somers slowly.
“Then why have you deceived me, played with me,” suddenly roared Kangaroo. “I could have killed you.”
“Don’t do that,” laughed Somers, rather coldly.
But the other did not answer. He was like a black cloud.
“I want to hear,” said Kangaroo, “your case against me.”
“It’s not a case, Kangaroo,” said Richard, “it’s a sort of instinct.”
“Why, against your ponderousness. And against your insistence. And against the whole sticky stream of love, and the hateful will-to-love. It’s the will-to-love that I hate, Kangaroo.”
“In us all. I just hate it. It’s a sort of syrup we HAVE to stew in, and it’s loathsome. Don’t love me. Don’t want to save mankind. You’re so awfully GENERAL, and your love is so awfully general: as if one were only a cherry in the syrup. Don’t love me. Don’t want me to love you. Let’s be hard, separate men. Let’s understand one another deeper than love.”
“Two human ants, in short,” said Kangaroo, and his face was yellow.
“No, no. Two men. Let us go to the understanding that is deeper than love.”
“Is any understanding deeper than love?” asked Kangaroo with a sneer.
“Why, yes, you know it is. At least between men.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know it. I know the understanding that is much LESS than love. If you want me to have a merely commonplace acquaintance with you, I refuse. That’s all.”
“We are neither of us capable of a quite commonplace acquaintance.”
“Oh yes, I am,” barked Kangaroo.
“I’m not. But you’re such a Kangaroo, wanting to carry mankind in your belly-pouch, cosy, with its head and long ears peeping out. You sort of figure yourself a Kangaroo of Judah, instead of a Lion of Judah: Jehovah with a great heavy tail and a belly-pouch. Let’s get off it, and be men, with the gods beyond us. I DON’T want to be godlike, Kangaroo. I like to know the gods beyond me. Let’s start as men, with the great gods beyond us.”
He looked up with a beautiful candour in his face, and a diabolic bit of mockery in his soul. For Kangaroo’s face had gone like an angry wax mask, with mortification. An angry wax mask of mortification, haughty with a stiff, wooden haughtiness, and two little near-set holes for eyes, behind glass pince-nez. Richard had a moment of pure hate for him. in the silence. For Kangaroo refused to answer.
“What’s the good, men trying to be gods?” said Richard. “You’re a Jew, and you must be Jehovah or nothing. We’re Christians, all little Christs walking without our crucifixes. Jaz is quite right to play us one against the other. Struthers is the anti-christ, preaching love alone. I’m tired, tired. I want to be a man, with the gods beyond me, greater than me. I want the great gods, and my own mere manliness.”
“It’s that treacherous Trewhella,” Kangaroo murmured to himself. Then he seemed to be thinking hard.
And then at last he lifted his head and looked at Somers. And now Somers openly hated him. His face was arrogant, insolent, righteous.
“I am sorry I have made a mistake in you,” he said. “But we had better settle the matter finally here. I think the best thing you can do is to leave Australia. I don’t think you can do me any serious damage with your talk. I would ask you — before I warn you — not to try. That is all. I should prefer now to be alone.”
He had become again hideous, with a long yellowish face and black eyes close together, and a cold, mindless, dangerous hulk to his shoulders. For a moment Somers was afraid of him, as of some great ugly idol that might strike. He felt the intense hatred of the man coming at him in cold waves. He stood up in a kind of horror, in front of the great, close-eyed horrible thing that was now Kangaroo. Yes, a thing, not a whole man. A great Thing, a horror.
“I am sorry if I have been foolish,” he said, backing away from the Thing. And as he went out of the door he made a quick movement, and his heart melted in horror lest the Thing Kangaroo should suddenly lurch forward and clutch him. If that happened, Kangaroo would have blood on his hands. But Somers kept all his wits about him, and quickly, quietly got his hat and walked to the hall door. It seemed like a dream, as if it were miles to the outer door, as if his heart would burst before he got there, as if he would never be able to undo the fastening of the door.
But he kept all his wits about him, and as by inspiration managed the three separate locks of the strong door. Kangaroo had followed slowly, awfully, behind, like a madman. If he came near enough to touch!
Somers had the door opened, and looked round. The huge figure, the white face with the two eyes close together, like a spider, approaching with awful stillness. If the stillness suddenly broke, and he struck out!
“Good-night!” said Somers, at the blind, horrible-looking face. And he moved quickly down the stairs, though still not apparently in flight, but going in that quick, controlled way that acts as a check on an onlooker.
He was thankful for the streets, for the people. But by bad luck, it was Saturday night, when Sydney is all shut up, and the big streets seem dark and dreary, though thronging with people. Dark streets, dark, streaming people. And fear. One could feel such fear, in Australia.
Last updated Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 22:23