The thing that Kangaroo had to reckon with, and would not reckon with, was the mass-spirit. A collection of men does not necessarily mean a mob. A collection of men — an accidental gathering — may be just a gathering, drawn by a moment’s curiosity, or it may be an audience drawn to hear something, or it may be a congregation, gathered together in some spirit of earnest desire: or it may be just a crowd, inspired by no one motive. The mass-spirit is complex. At its lowest it is a mob, and what is a mob?
To put it as briefly as possible, it is a collection of all the weak souls, sickeningly conscious of their weakness, into a heavy mob, that lusts to glut itself with blind destructive power. Not even vengeance. The spirit of vengeance belongs to a mass which is higher than a mob.
The study of collective psychology to-day is absurd in its inadequacy. Man is supposed to be an automaton working in certain automatic ways when you touch certain springs. These springs are all labelled, they form a keyboard to the human psyche, according to modern psychology. And the chief labels are herd instinct, collective interest, hunger, fear, collective prestige, and so on.
But the only way to make any study of collective psychology is to study the isolated individual. Upon your conception of the single individual, all your descriptions will be based, all your science established. For this reason, the human sciences, philosophy, ethics, psychology, politics, economics, can never be sciences at all. There can never be an exact science dealing with individual life. L’anatomia presuppone il cadavere: anatomy presupposes a corpse, says D’Annunzio. You can establish an exact science on a corpse, supposing you start with the corpse, and don’t try to derive it from a living creature. But upon life itself, or any instance of life, you cannot establish a science.
Because even science must start from definition, or from precise description. And you can never define or precisely describe any living creature. Iron must remain iron, or cease to exist. But a rabbit might evolve into something which is still rabbit, and yet different from that which a rabbit now is. So how can you define or precisely describe a rabbit? There is always the unstable CREATIVE element present in life, and this science can never tackle. Science is cause-and-effect.
Before we can begin any of the so-called humane sciences we must take on trust a purely unscientific fact: namely, that every living creature has an individual soul, however trivial or rudimentary, which connects it individually with the source of all life, as man, in the religious terminology, is connected with God, and inseparable from God. So is every creature, even an ant or a louse, individually in contact with the great life-urge which we call God. To call this connection the will-to-live is not quite sufficient. It is more than a will-to-persist. It is a will-to-live in the further sense, a will-to-change, a will-to-evolve, a will towards further creation of the self. The urge towards evolution if you like. But it is more than evolution. There is no simple cause-and-effect sequence. The change from caterpillar to butterfly is not cause and effect. It is a new gesture in creation. Science can wriggle as hard as it likes, but the change from caterpillar to butterfly is utterly unscientific, illogical, and UNNATURAL, if we take science’s definition of nature. It is an answer to the strange creative urge, the God-whisper, which is the one and only everlasting motive for everything.
So then man. He is said to be a creature of cause-and-effect, or a creature of free-will. The two are the same. Free-will means acting according to reasoned choice, which is a purest instance of cause-and-effect. Logic is the quintessence of cause-and-effect. And idealism, the ruling of life by the instrumentality of the idea, is precisely the mechanical, even automatic cause-and-effect process. The idea, or ideal, becomes a fixed principle, and life, like any other force, is driven into mechanical repetition of given motions — millions of times over and over again — according to the fixed ideals. So, the Christian-democratic world prescribes certain motions, and men proceed to repeat these motions, till they conceive that there ARE no other motions but these. And that is pure automatism. When scientists describe savages, or ancient Egyptians, or Aztecs, they assume that these far-off peoples acted, but in a crude, clumsy way, from the same motives which move us. “Too much ego in his cosmos.” Men have had strange, inconceivable motives and impulses, which were just as “right” as ours are. And our “right” motives will cease to activate, even as the lost motives of the Assyrians have ceased. Our “right” and our righteousness will go pop, and there will be another sort of right and righteousness.
The mob, then. Now, the vast bulk of mankind has always been, and always will be, helpless. By which we mean, helpless to interpret the new prompting of the God-urge. The highest function of MIND is its function of messenger. The curious throbs and pulses of the God-urge in man would go on forever ignored, if it were not for some few exquisitely sensitive and fearless souls who struggle with all their might to make that strange translation of the low, dark throbbing into open act or speech. Like a wireless message the new suggestion enters the soul, throb-throb, throb-throb-throb. And it beats and beats for years, before the mind, frightened of this new knocking in the dark, can be brought to listen and attend.
For the mind is busy in a house of its own, which house it calls the universe. And how can there be anything outside the universe?
There is though. There is always something outside our universe. And it is always at the doors of the innermost, sentient soul. And there throb-throb, throb-throb-throb, throb-throb. It is like the almost inaudible beating of a wireless machine. Nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of a thousand hear nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. They racket away in their nice, complete, homely universe, running their trains and making their wars and saving the world for democracy. They hear not a thing. A tiny minority of sensitive souls feel the throb, and are frightened, and cry for more virtue, more goodness, more righteousness a la mode. But all the righteousness and goodness in all the world won’t answer the throb, or interpret the faint but painful thresh of the message.
There is no Morse-code. There never will be. Every new code supersedes the current code. Nowadays, when we feel the throb, vaguely, we cry: “More love, more peace, more charity, more freedom, more self-sacrifice.” Which makes matters all the worse, because the new throb interpreted mechanically according to the old code breeds madness and insanity. It may be that there is an insufficient activity of the thyroid glands, or the adrenalin cortex isn’t making its secretions, or the pituitary or the pineal body is not working adequately. But this is result, not cause, of our neurasthenia and complexes. The neurasthenia comes from the inattention to the suggestion, or from a false interpretation. The best souls in the world make some of the worst interpretations — like President Wilson — and this is the bitterest tragedy of righteousness. The heroic effort to carry out the old righteousness becomes at last sheer wrongeousness. Men in the past have chosen to be martyred for an unborn truth. But life itself inflicts something worse than martyrdom on them if they will persist too long in the old truth.
Alas, there is no Morse-code for interpreting the new life-prompting, the new God-urge. And there never will be. It needs a new term of speech invented each time. A whole new concept of the universe gradually born, shedding the old concept.
Well now. There is the dark god knocking afresh at the door. The vast mass hear nothing, but say: “We know all about the universe. Our job is to make a real smart place of it.” So they make more aeroplanes and old-age-pensions and are furious when Kaiser William interrupts them. The more sensitive hear something, feel a new urge and are uneasy. Then cry: “We are not pure in heart. We are too selfish. Let us educate the poor. Let us remove the slums. Let us save the children. Let us spend all we have on the noble work of education.” So they spend a bit more than before, but by no means all they have, with the result that now everybody reads the newspapers and discusses world-politics and feels himself most one-sidedly a bit of the great Godhead of the sacred People.
And still the knocking goes on, on, on, till some soul that dares as well as can, listens, and struggles to interpret. Every new word is anathema — bound to be. Jargon, rant, mystical tosh and so on. Evil, and anti-civilisation. Naturally. For the machine of the human psyche, once wound up to a certain ideal, doesn’t want to stop.
And still, all the time, even in the vulgar uneducated — perhaps more in them than in the hearty money-makers of the lower middle-classes — throb-throb-throb goes the god-urge deep in their souls, driving them almost mad. They are quite stone-deaf to any new meaning. They would jeer an attempt at a new interpretation, jeer it to death. So there they are, between the rocky Scylla of the fixed, established ideal, and the whirling Charybdis of the conservative opposition to this ideal. Between these two perils they must pass. For behind them drives the unknown current of the God-urge, on, on through the straits.
They will never get through the straits. They do not know that there IS any getting through. Scylla must beat Charybdis, and Charybdis must beat Scylla. So the monster of humanity with a Scylla of an ideal of equality for the head, and a Charybdis of industrialism and possessive conservatism for the tail, howls with frenzy, and lashes the straits till every boat goes down, that tries to make a passage.
Well, Scylla must have it out with Charybdis, that’s all, and we must wait outside the straits till the storm is over.
It won’t be over yet, though.
Now this is the state of the mass. It is driven, goaded mad at length by the pricking of the God-urge which it will not, cannot attend to or interpret. It is so goaded that it is mad with its own wrongs. It is wronged, so wronged that it is mad.
And what is the wrong, pray? The mass doesn’t know. There is no connection at all between the burning, throbbing unconscious soul and the clear-as-daylight conscious mind. The whole of Labour, to-day, sees the situation clear as daylight. So does the whole of Capital. And yet the whole of the daylight situation has really nothing to do with it. It is the God-urge which drives them mad, the unacknowledged, unadmitted, non-existent God-urge.
They may become a mob. A mob is like a mass of bullocks driven to frenzy by some bott fly, and charging frantically against the tents of some herdsman, imagining that all the evil comes out of these tents. There is a gulf between the quivering hurt in the unconscious soul, and the round, flat world of the visible existence. A sense of weakness and injury, at last an intolerable sense of wrong, turning to a fiendish madness. A mad necessity to wreck something, cost what it may. For only the flat, round, visible world exists.
And yet it is the bott fly of the Holy Ghost, unlistened to, that is the real cause of everything.
But the mob has no direction even in its destructive lust. The vengeful masses HAVE direction. And it is no good trying to reason with them. The mass does not act by reason. A mass is not even formed by reason. The more intense or extended the COLLECTIVE consciousness, the more does the truly reasonable, individual consciousness sink into abeyance.
The herd instinct, for example, is of many sorts. It has two main divisions, the fear-instinct, and the aggressive instinct. But the vengeance instinct is not part of the herd instinct.
But consider the mode of communication of herd instinct. The communication between the individuals in a herd is not through the MIND. It is not through anything said or known. It is sub-mental. It is telepathic.
Why does a flock of birds rise suddenly from the tree-tops, all at once, in one spring, and swirl round in one cloud towards the water? There was no visible sign or communication given. It was a telepathic communication. They sat and waited, and waited, and let the individual mind merge into a kind of collective trance. Then click! — the unison was complete, the knowledge or suggestion was one suggestion all through, the action was one action.
This so-called telepathy is the clue to all herd instinct. It is not instinct. It is a vertebral-telegraphy, like radio-telegraphy. It is a complex interplay of vibrations from the big nerve centres of the vertebral system in all the individuals of the flock, till, click! — there is a unanimity. They have one mind. And this one-mindedness of the many-in-one will last while ever the peculiar pitch of vertebral nerve-vibrations continues unbroken through them all. As the vibration slacks off, the flock falls apart.
This vertebral telepathy is the true means of communication between animals. It is perhaps most highly developed where the brain, the mental consciousness, is smallest. Indeed the two forms of consciousness, mental and vertebral, are mutually exclusive. The highest form of vertebral telepathy seems to exist in the great sperm whales. Communication between these herds of roving monsters is of marvellous rapidity and perfection. They are lounging, feeding lazily, individually, in mid-ocean, with no cohesion. Suddenly, a quick thought-wave from the leader-bull, and as quick as answering thoughts the cows and young bulls are ranged, the herd is taking its direction with a precision little short of miraculous. Perhaps water acts as a most perfect transmitter of vertebral telepathy.
This is the famous wisdom of the serpent, this vertebral consciousness and telepathy. This is what makes the magic of a leader like Napoleon — his powers of sending out intense vibrations, messages to his men, without the exact intermediation of mental correspondence. It is not brain-power. In fact, it is, in some ways, the very REVERSE of brain-power: it might be called the acme of stupidity. It is the stupendous wits of brainless intelligence. A marvellous reversion to the pre-mental form of consciousness.
This pre-mental form of consciousness seems most perfect in the great whales: more even in them than in the flocks of migrating birds. After the whales, the herds of wolves and deer and buffaloes. But it is most ABSOLUTE in the cold fishes and serpents, reptiles. The fishes have no other correspondence save this cold, vertebral vibration. And this is, as it were blind. The fish is absolutely stone-wall limited in its consciousness, to itself. It knows none other. Stony, abstract, cold, alone, the fish has still the power of radio-communication. It is a form of telepathy, like a radium-effluence, vibrating fear principally. Fear is the first of the actuating gods.
Then come the reptiles. They have sex, and dimly, darkly discern the bulk of the answerer. They are drawn to contact. It is the new motive. The fishes are never drawn to contact. Only food and fear. So in the reptiles the second telepathic vibration, the sympathetic, is set up. The primary consciousness is cold, the wisdom is isolated, cold, moon-like, knowing none other: the self alone in knowledge, utterly subtle. But then sex comes upon them, and the isolation is broken. Another flow sets up. They must seek the answerer. It is love.
So, telepathy, communication in the vertebrates. Ants and bees too have a one-conscious vibration. Even they have perfect ganglia-communication. But it is enough to consider the vertebrates.
In the sperm whale, intense is the passion of amorous love, intense is the cold exultance in power, isolate kingship. With the most intense enveloping vibration of possessive and protective love, the great bull encloses his herd into a oneness. And with the intensest vibration of power he keeps it subdued in awe in fear. These are the two great telepathic vibrations which rule all the vertebrates, man as well as beast. Man, whether in a savage tribe or in a complex modern society, is held in unison by these two great vibrations emitted unconsciously from the leader, the leaders, the governing classes, the authorities. First, the great influence of shadow of power, causing trust, fear and obedience: second, the great influence of protective love, causing productivity and the sense of safety. Those two powerful influences are emitted by men like Gladstone or Abraham Lincoln, against their knowledge, but none the less emitted. Only Gladstone and Lincoln justify themselves in speech. And both insist on the single influence of love, and denounce the influence of fear.
A mob occurs when men turn upon ALL leadership. For true, living activity the mental and the vertebral consciousness should be in harmony. In Caesar and Napoleon the vertebral influence of power prevailed — and there was a break of balance, and a fall. In Lincoln and President Wilson the vertebral influence of love got out of balance, and there was a fall. There was no balance between the two modes of influence: the mind ran on, as it were, without a brake, towards absurdity. So it ran to absurdity in Napoleon.
Break the balance of the two great controlling influences, and you get, not a simple preponderance of the one influence, but a third state, the mob-state. This is the state when the society, tribe or herd degenerates into a mob. In man, the mind runs on with a sort of terrible automatism, which has no true connection with the VERTEBRAL consciousness. The vertebral inter-communication gradually gathers force, apart from all mental expression. Its vibration steadily increases till there comes a sudden click! And then you have the strange phenomenon of revolution, like the Russian and the French revolutions. It is a great disruptive outburst. It is a great eruption against the classes in authority. And it is, finally, a passionate, mindless vengeance taken by the collective, vertebral psyche upon the authority of orthodox MIND. In the Russian revolution it was the EDUCATED classes that were the enemy really: the deepest inspiration the hatred of the conscious classes. But revolution is not a mob-movement. Revolution has direction, and leadership, however temporary. There is point to its destructive frenzy.
In the end, it is a question with us to-day whether the masses will degenerate into mobs, or whether they will still keep a spark of direction. All great mass uprisings are really acts of vengeance against the dominant consciousness of the day. It is the dynamic, vertebral consciousness in man bursting up and smashing through the fixed, superimposed mental consciousness of mankind, which mental consciousness has degenerated and become automatic.
The masses are always, strictly, non-mental. Their consciousness is preponderantly vertebral. And from time to time, as some great life-idea cools down and sets upon them like a cold crust of lava, the vertebral powers will work below the crust, apart from the mental consciousness, till they have come to such a heat of unison and unanimity, such a pitch of vibration that men are reduced to a great, non-mental oneness as in the hot-blooded whales, and then, like whales which suddenly charge upon the ship which tortures them, so they burst upon the vessel of civilization. Or like whales that burst up through the ice that suffocates them, so they will burst up through the fixed consciousness, the congealed idea which they can now only blindly react against. At the right moment, a certain cry, like a war-cry, a catchword, suddenly sounds, and the movement begins.
The purest lesson our era has taught is that man, at his highest, is an individual, single, isolate, alone, in direct soul-communication with the unknown God, which prompts within him.
This lesson, however, puts us in danger of conceit, especially spiritual conceit.
In his supreme being, man is alone, isolate, nakedly himself, in contact only with the unknown God.
This is our way of expressing Nirvana.
But just as a tree is only perfect in blossom because it has groping roots, so is man only perfected in his individual being by his groping, pulsing unison with mankind. The unknown God is within, at the quick. But this quick must send down roots into the great flesh of mankind.
In short, the ‘spirit’ has got a lesson to learn: the lesson of its own limitation. This is for the individual. And the infinite, which is Man writ large, or Humanity, has a still bitterer lesson to learn. It is the individual alone who can save humanity alive. But the greatest of great individuals must have deep, throbbing roots down in the dark red soil of the living flesh of humanity. Which is the bitter pill which Buddhists and all advocates of pure “Spirit” must swallow.
In short, man, even the greatest man, does not live only by his spirit and his pure contact with the Godhead — for example, Nirvana. Blessed are the pure in heart, Blessed are the poor in spirit. He is FORCED to live in vivid RAPPORT with the mass of men. If he denies this, he cuts his roots. He intermingles as the roots of a tree interpenetrate the fat, rock-ribbed earth.
How? In this same vertebral correspondence. The mystic may stare at his own navel and try to abstract himself for ever towards Nirvana: it is half at least illusion. There is all the time a powerful, unconscious interplay going on between the vertebral centres of consciousness in all men, a deep, mindless current flashing and quivering through the family, the community, the nation, the continent, and even the world. No man can REALLY isolate himself. And this vertebral interplay is the root of our living: must always be so.
And this vertebral interplay is subject to the laws of polarity, since it is an intercommunion of active, polarised conscience-force. There is a dual polarity, and a dual direction. There is the outward, or downward pulse, in the great motion of sympathy or love, the love that goes out to the weaker, to the poor, to the humble. The vast, prostrate mass now becomes the positive pole of attraction: woman, the working classes.
The whole of the great current of vertebral consciousness in mankind is supposed, now, to run in this direction. But the whole movement is but a polarised circuit. Insist on one direction overmuch, derange the circuit, and you have a terrible debacle. Which brings us to another aspect of relativity: relativity in dynamic living.
When the flow is sympathetic, or love, then the weak, the woman, the masses, assume the positivity. But the balance even is only kept by stern AUTHORITY, the unflinching obstinacy of the return-force, of power.
When the flow is power, might, majesty, glory, then it is a culminating flow towards one individual, through circles of aristocracy towards one grand centre. Emperor, Pope, Tyrant, King: whatever may be. It is the grand obeisance before a master.
In the balance of these two flows lies the secret of human stability. In the absolute triumph of either flow lies the immediate surety of collapse.
We have gone very far in the first direction. Democracy has ALMOST triumphed. The only real master left is the boss in industry. And he is to be dethroned. Labour is to wear the absolute crown of the everyday hat. Even the top hat is doomed. Labour shall be its own boss, and possess its own means and ends. The serpent shall swallow itself in a last gulp.
Mastership is based on possessions. To kill mastership you must have communal ownership. Then have it, for this superiority based on possession of money is worse than any of the pretensions of Labour or Bolshevism, strictly. Let the serpent swallow itself. Then we can have a new snake.
The moment Labour takes upon itself to be its own boss, the whole show is up, the end has begun. While ever the existing boss succeeds in hanging on to his money-capital, we get the present conditions of nullity and nagging. We’re between the devil and a deep sea.
What Richard wanted was some sort of a new show: a new recognition of the life-mystery, a departure from the dreariness of money-making, money-having, and money-spending. It meant a new recognition of difference, of highness and of lowness, of one man meet for service and another man clean with glory, having majesty in himself, the innate majesty of the purest INDIVIDUAL, not the strongest instrument, like Napoleon. Not the tuppeny trick-majesty of Kaisers. But the true majesty of the single soul which has all its own weaknesses, but its strength in spite of them, its own lovableness, as well as its might and dread. The single soul that stands naked between the dark God and the dark-blooded masses of men. “Now, Kangaroo,” said Richard, “is in a false position. He wants to save property for the property owners, and he wants to save Labour from itself and from the capitalist and the politician and all. In fact, he wants to save everything as we have it, and it can’t be done. You can’t eat your cake and have it, and I prefer Willie Struthers. Bolshevism is at least not sentimental. It’s a last step towards an end, a hopeless end. But better disaster than an equivocal nothingness, like the present. Kangaroo wants to be God Himself, and save everybody, which is just irritating, at last. Kangaroo as God Himself, with a kind of marsupial belly, is worse than Struthers’ absolute of the People. Though it’s a choice of evils, and I choose neither. I choose the Lord Almighty.”
Having made up his mind so far, Richard came up to the big mass meeting of Labour in the great Canberra Hall, in Sydney. The Labour leaders had lost much ground. Labour was slipping into disorganization: the property-owning Conservatives and Liberals were just beginning to rejoice again. The reduction of the basic wage had been brought about, a further reduction was announced. At the same time the Government was aiming a strong blow at the Unions. It had pronounced the right of every man to work as he himself chose, and the right of employers to agree with non-union workers as to rate of wages. It had further announced its determination to protect the non-union worker, by holding the union responsible for any attacks on non-union men. The leaders of a union were to be arrested and held responsible for attacks on non-workers. In case of bloodshed and death, they were to be tried for manslaughter or for murder. The first to be arrested should be the chief of the union concerned. After him, his immediate subordinates.
Now the sword was drawn, and Labour was up in arms. Meetings were held every day. A special meeting was announced at Canberra Hall, admission by ticket. Somers had asked Jaz if he could get him a ticket, and Jaz had succeeded. There were two meetings: one, a small gathering for discussion, at half-past eight in the morning; the other, the mass meeting, at seven at night.
Richard got up in the dark, to catch the six o’clock train to Sydney. It was a dark, cloudy morning — night still — and a few frogs still were rattling away in a hollow towards the sea, like a weird little factory of machines whirring and trilling and screeching in the dark. At the station some miners were filling their tin bottles at the water-tap: pale and extinguished-looking men.
Dawn began to break over the sea, in a bluey-green rift between clouds. There seemed to be rain. The journey was endless.
In Sydney it was raining, but Richard did not notice. He hurried to the hall to the meeting. It lasted only half an hour, but it was straightforward and sensible. When Richard heard the men among themselves, he realised how LOGICAL their position was, in pure philosophy.
He came out with Jaz, whom he had not seen for a long time. Jaz looked rather pale, and he was very silent, brooding.
“Your sympathy is with Labour, Jaz?”
“My sympathy is with various people, Mr. Somers,” replied Jaz, non-communicative.
It was no use talking to him: he was too much immersed.
The morning was very rainy, and Sydney, big city as it is, a real metropolis in Pitt Street and George Street, seemed again like a settlement in the wilderness, without any core. One of the great cities of the world. But without a core: unless, perhaps, Canberra Hall were its real centre. Everybody very friendly and nice. The friendliest country in the world: in some ways, the gentlest. But without a core. There was no heart in it all, it seemed hollow.
With mid-day came the sun and the clear sky: a wonderful clear sky and a hot, hot sun. Richard bought sandwiches and a piece of apple turnover, and went into the Palace Gardens to eat them, so that he need not sit in a restaurant. He loathed the promiscuity and publicity of even the good restaurants. The promiscuous feeding gave him a feeling of disgust. So he walked down the beautiful slope to the water again, and sat on a seat by himself, near a clump of strange palm-trees that made a weird noise in the breeze. The water was blue and dancing: and again he felt as if the harbour were wild, lost and undiscovered, as it was in Captain Cook’s time. The city wasn’t real.
In front in the small blue bay lay two little war-ships, pale grey, with the white flag having the Union Jack in one corner floating behind. And one boat had the Australian flag, with the five stars on a red field. They lay quite still, and seemed as lost as everything else, rusting into the water. Nothing seemed to keep its positive reality, this morning in the strong sun after the rain. The two ships were like bits of palpable memory, that persisted, but were only memory images.
Two tiny birds, one brown, one with a sky-blue patch on his head, like a dab of sky, fluttered and strutted, hoisting their long tails at an absurd angle. They were real: the absurd, sharp, unafraid creatures. They seemed to have no deep natural fear, as creatures in Europe have. Again and again Somers had felt this in Australia: the creatures had no sense of fear as in Europe. There was no animal fear in the air, as there is so deeply in India. Only sometimes a grey metaphysical dread.
“Perhaps,” thought he to himself, “this is really the country where men might live in a sort of harmless Eden, once they have settled the old Adam in themselves.”
He wandered the hot streets, walked round the circular quay and saw the women going to the ferries. So many women, ALMOST elegant. Yet their elegance provincial, without pride, awful. So many ALMOST beautiful women. When they were in repose, quite beautiful, with pure, wistful faces, and some nobility of expression. Then, see them change countenance, and it seemed almost always a grimace of ugliness. Hear them speak, and it was startling, so ugly. Once in motion they were not beautiful. Still, when their features were immobile, they were lovely.
Richard had noticed this in many cases. And they were like the birds, quite without fear, impudent, perky, with a strange spasmodic self-satisfaction. Almost every one of the younger women walked as if she thought she was sexually trailing every man in the street after her. And that was absurd, too, because the men seemed more often than not to hurry away and leave a blank space between them and these women. But it made no matter: like mad-women the females, in their quasi-elegance, pranced with that prance of crazy triumph in their own sexual powers which left little Richard flabbergasted.
Hot, big, free-and-easy streets of Sydney: without any sense of an imposition of CONTROL. No control, everybody going his own ways with alert harmlessness. On the pavement the foot-passengers walked in two divided streams, keeping to the left, and by their unanimity made it impossible for you to wander and look at the shops, if the shops happened to be on your right. The stream of foot passengers flowed over you.
And so it was: far more regulated than London, yet all with a curious exhilaration of voluntariness that oppressed Richard like a madness. No control, and no opposition to control. Policemen were cyphers, not noticeable. Every man his own policeman. The terrible lift of the HARMLESS crowd. The strange relief from all superimposed control. One feels the police, for example, in London, and their civic majesty of authority. But in Sydney no majesty of authority at all. Absolute freedom from all that. Great freedom in the air. Yet, if you got into the wrong stream on the pavement you felt they’d tread you down, almost unseeing. You just MUSTN’T get in the wrong stream — Liberty!
Yes — the strange unanimity of HARMLESSNESS in the crowd had a half paralysing effect on Richard. “Can it be?” he said to himself, as he drifted in the strong sun-warmth of the world after rain, in the afternoon of this strange, antipodal city. “Can it be that there is any harm in these people at all?”
They were quick, and their manners were, in a free way, natural and kindly. They might say Right-O, Right you are! — they did say it, even in the most handsome and palatial banks and shipping offices. But they were patient and unaffected in their response. That Was the beauty of the men: their absolute lack of affectation, their naive simplicity, which was at the same time sensitive and gentle. The gentlest country in the world. Really, a high pitch of breeding. Good-breeding at a very high pitch — innate, and in its shirt sleeves.
A strange country. A wonderful country. Who knows what future it may have? Can a great continent breed a people of this magic harmlessness without becoming a sacrifice of some other, external power? The land that invites parasites now — where parasites breed like nightmares — what would happen if the power-lust came that way?
Richard bought himself a big, knobbly, green, soft-crusted apple, at a Chinese shop, and a pretty mother-of-pearl spoon to eat it with. The queer Chinese, with their gabbling-gobbling way of speaking — were they parasites too? A strange, strange world. He took himself off to the gardens to eat his custard apple — a pudding inside a knobbly green skin — and to relax into the magic ease of the afternoon. The warm sun, the big, blue harbour with its hidden bays, the palm trees, the ferry steamers sliding flatly, the perky birds, the inevitable shabby-looking, loafing sort of men strolling across the green slopes, past the red poinsettia bush, under the big flame-tree, under the blue, blue sky — Australian Sydney, with a magic like sleep; like sweet, soft sleep — a vast, endless, sun-hot, afternoon sleep with the world a mirage. He could taste it all in the soft, sweet, creamy custard apple. A wonderful sweet place to drift in. But surely a place that will some day wake terribly from this sleep.
Yet why should it? Why should it not drift marvellously for ever, with its sun and its marsupials?
The meeting in the evening, none the less, was a wild one. And Richard could not believe there was any REAL vindictiveness. He couldn’t believe that anybody REALLY hated anybody. There was a touch of sardonic tolerance in it all. Oh, that sardonic tolerance! And at the same time that overwhelming obstinacy and power of endurance. The strange, Australian power of enduring — enduring suffering or opposition or difficulty — just blank enduring. In the long run, just endure.
Richard sat next to Jaz. Jaz was very still, very still indeed, seated with his hands in his lap.
“Will there be many diggers here?” Lovat asked.
“Oh, yes. There’s quite a crowd over there, with Jack.”
And Richard looked quickly, and saw Jack. He knew Jack had seen him. But now he was looking the other way. And again, Richard felt afraid of something.
It was a packed hall, tense. There was plenty of noise and interruption, plenty of homethrusts at the speakers from the audience. But still, that sense of sardonic tolerance, endurance. “What’s the odds, boys?”
Willie Struthers gave the main speech: on the solidarity of Labour. He sketched the industrial situation, and elaborated the charge that Labour was cutting its own throat by wrecking industry and commerce.
“But will anything get us away from this fact, mates,” he said: “that there’s never a shop shuts down because it can’t pay the weekly wage-bill. If a shop shuts down, it is because it can’t pay a high enough DIVIDEND, and there you’ve got it.
“Australian Labour has set out from the first on the principle that huge fortunes should not be made out of its efforts. We have had the obvious example of America before us, and we have been determined from the start that Australia should not fall into the hands of a small number of millionaires and a larger number of semi-millionaires. It has been our idea that a just proportion of all profits should circulate among the workers in the form of wages. Supposing the worker DOES get his pound a day. It is enormous, isn’t it! It is preposterous. Of course it is. But it isn’t preposterous for a small bunch of owners or shareholders to get their ten pounds a day, FOR DOING NOTHING. Sundays included. That isn’t preposterous, is it?
“They raise the plea that their fathers and their forefathers accumulated the capital by their labours. Well, haven’t OUR fathers and forefathers laboured? Haven’t they? And what have they accumulated? The right to labour on, and be paid for it what the others like to give ’em.
“We don’t want to wreck industry. But, we say, wages shall go up so that profits shall go down. Why should there be any profits, after all? Forefathers! Why, we’ve all had forefathers, and I’m sure mine worked. Why should there be any profits AT ALL, I should like to know. And if profits there MUST be, well then, the profit grabber isn’t going to get ten times as mush as the wage-earner, just because he had a few screwing forefathers. We, who work for what we get, are going to see that the man who doesn’t work shall not receive a large income for not working. If he’s GOT to have an income for doing nothing, let him have no more than what we call wages. The labourer is worthy of his hire, and the hire is worthy of his labourer. But I can NOT see that any man is worthy of an unearned income. Let there be no unearned incomes. So much for the basic wage. We know it is not the basic wage that wrecks industry. It’s big profits. When the profits are not forthcoming the directors would rather close down. A criminal proceeding. Because, after all, any big works is run, first, to supply the community with goods, and second, to give a certain proportion of the community a satisfactory occupation. Whatever net profits are made are made by cheating the worker and the consumer, filching a bit from every one of them, no matter how small a bit. And we will not see wages reduced one ha’penny, to help to fill the pockets of shareholders —.”
“What about your own shares in Nestles Milk, Willie?” asked a voice.
“I’ll throw them in the fire the minute they’re out of date,” said Willie, promptly, “they’re pretty well wastepaper already.”
He went on to answer the charges of corruption and Tammany, with which the Labour Party in Australia had been accused. This led to the point of class hatred.
“It is we who are supposed to foster class hatred,” he said. “Now I put it to you. Does the so-called upper class hate us, or do we hate them more? If you’ll let me answer, I tell you it’s they who do the hating. We don’t wear the flesh off our bones hating them. They aren’t worth it. They’re far beneath hatred.
“We do want one class only — not your various shades of upper and lower. We want The People — and The People means the worker. I don’t mind what a man works at. He can be a doctor or a lawyer even, if men are such fools they must have doctors and lawyers. But look here, mates, what do we all work FOR? For a living? Then why won’t a working-man’s living wage do for a lawyer? Why not? Perhaps a lawyer makes an ideal of his job. Perhaps he is inspired in his efforts to right the wrongs of his client. Very well: virtue is its own reward. If he wants to be paid for it, it isn’t virtue any more. It’s dirty trading in justice, or whatever law means.
“Look at your upper classes, mates. Look at your lawyer charging you two guineas for half an hour’s work. Look at your doctor scrambling for his guinea a visit. Look at your experts with their five thousand a year. Call these UPPER classes? Upper in what? In the make-and-grab faculties, that’s all.
“To hell with their ‘upper’. If a working man thinks he’ll be in the running, and demand say half of what these gentry get, then he’s the assassin of his trade and country. It’s his business to grovel before these ‘upper’ gents, is it?
“No, mates, it’s his business to rise up and give ’em a good kick in the seats of their pants, to remind them of their bedrock bottoms. You’d think, to hear all the fairy tales they let off, that their pants didn’t have such a region as seats. Like the blooming little angels, all fluttery tops and no bottoms. Don’t you be sucked in any more, mates. Look at ’em, and you’ll see they’ve got good, heavy-weight sit-upons, and big, deep trouser-pockets next door. That’s them. Up-end ’em for once, and look at ’em upside down. Greedy fat-arses, mates, if you’ll pardon the vulgarity for once. Greedy fat-arses.
“And that’s what we’ve got to knuckle under to, is it? They’re the upper classes? Them and a few derelict lords and cuttle-fish capitalists. Upper classes? I’m damned if I see much upper about it, mates. Drop ’em in the sea and they’ll float butt-end uppermost, you see if they don’t. For that’s where they keep their fat, like the camel his hump. Upper classes!
“But I wish them no special harm. A bit of a kick in the rear, to remind them that they’ve got a rear, a largely kickable rear. And then, let them pick themselves up and mingle with the rest. Give them a living wage, like any other working man. But it’s hell on earth to see them floating their fat bottoms through the upper regions, and just stooping low enough to lick the cream off things, as it were, and to squeal if a working man asks for more than a gill of the skilly.
“Work? What is one man’s job more than another? Your Andrew Carnegies and your Rothschilds may be very smart at their jobs. All right — give ’em the maximum wage. Give ’em a pound a day. They won’t starve on it. And what do they want with more? A job is nothing but a job, when all’s said and done. And if Mr. Hebrew Rothschild is smart on the finance job, so am I a smart sheep-shearer, hold my own with any man. And what’s the odds? Wherein is Mr. Hebrew, or Lord Benjamin Israelite any better man than I am? Why does he want so damned much for his dirty financing, and begrudges me my bit for shearing ten score o’ sheep?
“No, mates, we’re not sucked in. It may be Mr. Steel-trust Carnegie, it may even be Mr. Very-clever Marconi, it may be Marquis Tribes von Israel; and it certainly IS Willie Struthers. Now, mates, I, Willie Struthers, a big fortune I DO NOT WANT. But I’m damned if I am going to let a few other brainy vampires suck big fortunes out of me. Not I. I wouldn’t be a man if I did. Upper Classes? They’ve got more greedy brains in the seats of their pants than in their top storeys.
“We’re having no more of their classes and masses. We’ll just put a hook in their trouser-bottoms and hook ’em gently to earth. That’s all. And put ’em on a basic wage like all the rest: one job, one wage. Isn’t that fair? No man can do more than his best. And why should one poor devil get ten bob for his level best, and another fat-arse get ten thousand for some blooming trick? No, no, if a man’s a sincere citizen he does his BEST for the community he belongs to. And his simple wage is enough for him to live on.
“That’s why we’ll have a Soviet. Water finds its own level, and so shall money. It shall not be dammed up by a few sly fat-arses much longer. I don’t pretend it will be paradise. But there’ll be fewer lies about it, and less fat-arsed hypocrisy, and less dirty injustice than there is now. If a man works, he shall not have less than the basic wage, be he even a lying lawyer. There shall be no politicians, thank God. But more than the basic wage also he shall not have. Let us bring things down to a rock-bottom.
“Upper? Why all their uppishness amounts to is extra special greedy guts, ten-thousand-a-year minimum. Upper classes! Upper classes! Upper arses.
“We’ll have a Soviet, mates, and then we shall feel better about it. We’ll be getting nasty tempered if we put it off much longer. Let’s know our own mind. We’ll unite with the World’s Workers. Which doesn’t mean we’ll take the hearts out of our chests to give it Brother Brown to eat. No, Brother Brown and Brother Yellow had, on the whole, best stop at home and sweep their own streets, rather than come and sweep ours. But that doesn’t mean we can’t come to more or less of an understanding with them. We don’t want to get too much mixed up with them or anybody. But a proper understanding we can have. I don’t say, Open the gates of Australia to all the waiting workers of India and China, let alone Japan. But, mates, you can be quite friendly with your neighbour over the fence without giving him the run of your house. And that is International Labour. You have a genuine understanding with your neighbours down the street. You know they won’t shy stones through your windows or break into your house at night or kill your children in a dark corner. Why not? Because they’re your neighbours and you all have a certain amount of trust in one another. And that is International Labour. That is the World’s Workers.
“After all, mates, the biggest part of our waking lives belongs to our work. And certainly the biggest part of our importance is our importance as workers. Mates, we are, and we are bound to be, workers first and foremost. So were our fathers before us, so will our children be after us. Workers first. And as workers, mates. On this everything else depends. On our being workers depends our being husbands and fathers and playmates: nay, our being men. If we are not workers we are not even men, for we can’t exist.
“Workers we are, mates, workers we must be, and workers we will be, and there’s the end of it. We take our stand on it. Workers first, and whatever soul we have, it must go first into our work. Workers, mates, we are workers. A man is a man because he works. He must work and he does work. Call it a curse, call it a blessing, call it what you like. But the Garden of Eden is gone for ever, and while the ages roll, we must work.
“Let us take our stand on that fact, mates, and trim our lives accordingly. While time lasts, whatever ages come or go, we must work, day in, day out, year in, year out, so for ever. Then, mates, let us abide by it. Let us abide by it, and shape things to fit. No use shuffling, mates. Though you or I may make a little fortune, enough for the moment to keep us in idleness, yet, mates, as sure as ever the sun rises, as long as ever time lasts, the children of men must rise up to their daily toil.
“Is it a curse? — is it a blessing? I prefer to think it is a blessing, so long as, like everything else, it is in just proportion. My happiest days have been shearing sheep, or away in the gold mines —.”
“What, not talking on a platform?” asked a voice.
“No, not talking on a platform. Working along with my mates, in the bush, in the mines, wherever it was. That’s where I put my manhood into my work. There I had my mates — my fellow-workers. I’ve had playmates as well. Wife, children, friends — playmates all of them. My fellow-workers were my mates.
“So, since workers we are and shall be, till the end of time, let us shape the world accordingly. The world is shaped now for the idlers and the play-babies, and we work to keep THAT going. No, no, mates, it won’t do.
“Join hands with the workers of the world: just a fist-grip, as a token and a pledge. Take nobody to your bosom — a worker hasn’t got a bosom. He’s got a fist, to work with, to hit with, and lastly, to give the tight grip of fellowship to his fellow-workers and fellow-mates, no matter what colour or country he belongs to. The World’s Workers — and since they ARE the world, let them take their own, and not leave it all to a set of silly playboys and Hebrews who are not only silly but worse. The World’s Workers — we, who are the world’s millions, the world is our world. Let it be so, then. And let us so arrange it.
“What’s the scare about being mixed up with Brother Brown and Chinky and all the rest: the Indians in India, the niggers in the Transvaal, for instance? Aren’t we tight mixed up with them as it is? Aren’t we in one box with them, in this Empire business? Aren’t we all children of the same noble Empire, brown, black, white, green, or whatever colour we may be? We may not, of course, be reposing on the bosom of Brother Brown and Brother Black. But we are pretty well chained at his side in a sort of slavery, slaving to keep this marvellous Empire going, with its out-of-date Lords and its fat-arsed, hypocritical upper classes. I don’t know whether you prefer working in the same imperial slave-gang with Brother Brown of India, or whether you’d prefer to shake hands with him as a free worker, one of the world’s workers — but —.”
“ONE!” came a loud, distinct voice, as if from nowhere, Like a gun going off.
“But one or the other —.”
“TWO!” a solid block of men’s voices, like a bell.
“One or the other you’ll —.”
“THREE!” The voice, like a tolling bell, of men counting the speaker out. It was the diggers.
A thrill went through the audience. The diggers sat mostly together, in the middle of the hall, around Jack. Their faces were lit up with a new light. And like a bell they tolled the numbers against the speaker, counting him out, by their moral unison annihilating him.
Willie Struthers, his dark-yellow face gone demoniac, stood and faced them. His eyes too had suddenly leaped with a new look: big, dark, glancing eyes, like an aboriginal’s, glancing strangely. Was it fear, was it a glancing, gulf-like menace? He stood there, a shabby figure of a man, with undignified legs, facing the tolling enemy.
“FOUR!” came the sonorous, perfect rhythm. It was a strange sound, heavy, hypnotic, trance-like. Willie Struthers stood as if he were fascinated, glaring spell-bound.
“FIVE!” The sound was unbearable, a madness, tolling out of a certain devilish cavern in the back of the men’s unconscious mind, in terrible malignancy. The Socialists began to leap to their feet in fury, turning towards the block of Diggers. But the lean, naked faces of the ex-soldiers gleamed with a smiling, demonish light, and from their narrow mouths simultaneously:
Struthers, looking as if he were crouching to spring, glared back at them from the platform. They did not even look at him.
“SEVEN!” In two syllables, SEV-EN!
The sonorous gloating in the sound was unbearable. It was like hammer-strokes on the back of the brain. Everybody had started up save the Diggers. Even Somers was wildly on his feet, feeling as if he could fly, swoop like some enraged bird. But his feeling wavered. At one moment he gloated with the Diggers against the black and devilish figure of the isolated man on the platform, who half-crouched as if he were going to jump, his face black and satanic. And then, as the number came, unbearable in its ghastly striking:
“EIGHT!” like some hammer-stroke on the back of his brain it sent him clean mad, and he jumped up into the air like a lunatic, at the same moment as Struthers sprang with a clear leap, like a cat, towards the group of static, grinning ex-soldiers.
There was a crash, and the hall was like a bomb that has exploded. Somers tried to spring forward. In the blind moment he wanted to kill — to kill the soldiers. Jaz held him back, saying something. There was a most fearful roar, and a mad whirl of men, broken chairs, pieces of chairs brandished, men fighting madly with fists, claws, pieces of wood — any weapon they could lay hold of. The red flag suddenly flashing like blood, and bellowing rage at the sight of it. A Union Jack torn to fragments, stamped upon. A mob with many different centres, some fighting frenziedly round a red flag, some clutching fragments of the Union Jack, as if it were God incarnate. But the central heap a mass struggling with the Diggers, in real blood-murder passion, a tense mass with long, naked faces gashed with blood, and hair all wild, and eyes demented, and collars burst, and arms frantically waving over the dense bunch of horrific life, hands in the air with weapons, hands clawing to drag them down, wrists bleeding, hands bleeding, arms with the sleeves ripped back, white naked arms with brownish hands, and thud! as the white flesh was struck with a chair-leg.
The doors had been flung open — many men had gone out, but more rushed in. The police in blue uniforms and in blue clothes wielding their batons, the whole place gone mad. Richard, small as he was, felt a great frenzy on him, a great longing to let go. But since he didn’t REALLY know whom he wanted to let go at, he was not quite carried away. And Jaz, quiet, persistent, drew him gradually out into the street. Though not before he had lost his hat and had had his collar torn open, and had received a bang over the forehead that helped to bring him to his senses.
Smash went the lights of the hall — somebody smashing the electric lamps. The place was almost in darkness. It was unthinkable.
Jaz drew Somers into the street, which was already a wide mass of a crowd, and mounted police urging their way to the door, laying about them. The crowd too was waiting to catch fire. Almost beside himself Richard struggled out of the crowd, to get out of the crowd. Then there were shots in the night, and a great howl from the crowd. Among the police on horseback he saw a white hat — a white felt hat looped up at the side — and he seemed to hear the bellowing of a big, husky voice. Surely that was Kangaroo, that was Kangaroo shouting. Then there was a loud explosion and a crash — a bomb of some sort.
And Richard suddenly was faint — Jaz was leading him by the arm — leading him away — in the city night that roared from the direction of the hall, while men and women were running thither madly, and running as madly away, and motor cars came rushing: and even the fire-brigade with bright brass helmets — a great rush towards the centre of conflict — and a rush away, outwards. While hats — white hats — Somers, in his dazed condition saw three or four, and they occupied his consciousness as if they were thousands.
“We must go back,” he said, “We must go back to them!”
“What for?” said Jaz, “We’re best away.”
And he led him sturdily down a side street, while Somers was conscious only of the scene he had left, and the sound of shots.
They went to one of the smaller, more remote Digger’s Clubs. It consisted only of one large room, meeting room and gymnastics hall in turn, and a couple of small rooms, one belonging to the secretary and the head, and the other a sort of little kitchen with a sink and a stove. The one-armed caretaker was in attendance, but nobody else was there. Jaz and Somers went into the secretary’s room, and Jaz made Richard lie down on the sofa.
“Stay here,” he said, “while I go and have a look round.”
Richard looked at him. He was feeling very sick: perhaps the bang over the head. Yet he wanted to go back into the town, into the melee. He felt he would even die if he did so. But then why not die? Why stay outside the row? He had always been outside the world’s affairs.
“I’ll come with you again,” he said.
“No, I don’t want you,” snapped Jaz. “I have a few of my own things to attend to.”
“Then I’ll go by myself,” said Richard.
“If I were you I wouldn’t,” said Jaz.
And Richard sat back feeling very sick, and confused. But such a pain in his stomach, as if something were torn there. And he could not keep still — he wanted to do something.
Jaz poured out a measure of whiskey for himself and one for Richard. Then he went out, saying:
“You’d best stay here till I come back, Mr. Somers. I shan’t be very long.”
Jaz too was very pale, and his manner was furtive, like one full of suppressed excitement.
Richard looked at him, and felt very alien, far from him and everybody. He rose to his feet to rush out again. But the torn feeling at the pit of his stomach was so strong he sat down and shoved his fists in his abdomen, and there remained. It was a kind of grief, a bitter, agonised grief for his fellow-men. He felt it was almost better to die, than to see his fellow-men go mad in this horror. He could hear Jaz talking for some time to the one-armed caretaker, a young soldier who was lame with a bad limp as well as maimed.
“I can’t do anything. I can’t be on either side. I’ve got to keep away from everything,” murmured Richard to himself. “If only one might die, and not have to wait and watch through all the human horror. They are my fellow-men, they are my fellow-men.”
So he lay down, and at length fell into a sort of semi-consciousness, still pressing his fists into his abdomen, and feeling as if he imagined a woman might feel after her first child, as if something had been ripped out of him. He was vaguely aware of the rage and chaos in the dark city round him, the terror of the clashing chaos. But what was the good even of being afraid? — even of grief? It was like a storm, in which he could do nothing but lie still and endure and wait. “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Perhaps it is the bitterest part, to keep still through it all, and watch and wait. In a numb half-sleep Richard lay and waited — waited for heaven knows what.
It seemed a long time. Then he heard voices. There was Jack and Jaz and one or two others — loud voices. Presently Jack and Jaz came in to him. Jack had a big cut on the chin, and was pale as death. There was blood on his coat, and he had a white pocket-handkerchief round his neck, having lost his collar. He looked with black eyes at Richard.
“What time is it?” asked Richard.
“Blowed if I know,” answered Jack, like a drunken man.
“Half past eleven,” said Jaz quietly.
Only an hour — or an hour and a half. Time must have stood still and waited.
“What has happened?” asked Richard.
“Nought!” blurted Jack, still like a drunken man. “Nought happened. Bloody blasted nothing.”
“Kangaroo is shot,” said Jaz.
“No — o!” snarled Jack. “No, damn yer, not dead.”
Somers looked at Jaz.
“They’ve taken him home — shot in the belly,” said Jaz.
“In his bloomin’ Kangaroo guts,” said Jack. “Ain’t much left of the ant that shot ’im, though — neither guts nor marrow.”
Richard stared at the two men.
“Are you hurt?” he said to Jack.
“Me? Oh, no, I just scratched myself shaving, darling. Making me toilet.”
There was silence for some time. Jaz’s plump, pale face was still impassive, inscrutable, and his clothing was in order. Jack poured himself a half-glass of neat whiskey, put in a little water, and drank it off.
“And Willie Struthers and everybody?” asked Richard.
“Gone ’ome to his missis to have sausage for tea,” said Jack.
“Blowed if I know,” replied Jack indifferently, “whether he’s hurt or not.”
“And is the town quiet?” Somers turned to Jaz. “Has everything blown over? What has happened?”
“What has happened exactly I couldn’t tell you. I suppose everything is quiet. The police have everything in hand.”
“Police!” snarled Jack. “Bloody Johnny Hops! They couldn’t hold a sucking pig in their hands, unless somebody hung on to its tail for them. It’s our boys who’ve got things in hand. And handed them over to the Hops.”
Somers knew that Johnny Hops was Australian for a policeman. Jack spoke in a suppressed frenzy.
“Was anybody killed?” Somers asked.
“I’m sure I hope so. If I haven’t done one or two of ’em in I’m sorry. Damned sorry. Bloody sorry,” said Jack.
“I should be careful what I say,” said Jaz.
“I know you’d be careful, you Cornish whisper. Careful Jimmy’s your name and nation. But I HOPE I did one or two of ’em in. And I DID do one or two of ’em in. See the brains sputter out of that chap that shot ’Roo?”
“And suppose they arrest you to-night and shove you in gaol for manslaughter?” said Jaz.
“I wouldn’t advise anybody to lay as much as a leaf of maidenhair fern on me to-night, much less a finger.”
“They might to-morrow. You be still, and go home.”
Jack relapsed into a white silence. Jaz went into the common room again, where members dropped in from the town. Apparently everything had gone quiet. It was determined that everybody should go home as quietly and quickly as possible.
Richard found himself in the street with Jaz and Jack, both of whom were silent. They walked briskly through the streets. Groups of people were hurrying silently home. The town felt very dark, and as if something very terrible had happened. A few taxi-cabs were swiftly and furtively running. In George Street and Pitt Street patrols of mounted police were stationed, and the ordinary police were drawn up on guard outside the most important places. But the military had not been called out.
On the whole, the police took as little notice as possible of the foot-passengers who were hurrying away home, but occasionally they held up a taxi-cab. Jaz, Jack and Somers proceeded on foot, very quickly and in absolute silence. They were not much afraid of the city authorities: perhaps not so much as were the authorities themselves. But they all instinctively felt it best to keep quiet and unnoticed.
It was nearly one o’clock when they reached Wyewurk. Victoria had gone to bed. She called when she heard the men enter. Evidently she knew nothing of the row.
“Only me and Jaz and Mr. Somers,” called Jack. “Don’t you stir.”
“Of course I must,” she cried brightly.
“Don’t you move,” thundered Jack, and she relapsed into silence. She knew, when he had one of his hell-moods on him, it was best to leave him absolutely alone.
The men drank a little whiskey, then sat silent for some time. At last Jaz had the energy to say they must go to bed.
“Trot off Jazzy,” said Jack. “Go to bee-by, boys.”
“That’s what I’m doing,” said Jaz, as he retired. He was sleeping the night at Wyewurk, his own home being across the harbour.
Somers still sat inert, with his unfinished glass of whiskey, though Jaz said to him pertinently:
“Aren’t you retiring, Mr. Somers?”
“Yes,” he answered, but didn’t move.
The two were left in silence: only the little clock ticking away. Everything quite still.
Suddenly Jack rose and looked at his face in the mirror.
“Nicked a bit out of my chin, seemingly. It was that little bomb that did that. Dirty little swine, to throw a bomb. But it hadn’t much kick in it.”
He turned round to Somers, and the strangest grin in the world was on his face, all the lines curved upwards.
“Tell you what, boy,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “I settled THREE of ’em — three!” There was an indescribable gloating joy in his tones, like a man telling of the good time he has had with a strange mistress —“Gawr, but I was lucky. I got one of them iron bars from the windows, and I stirred the brains of a couple of them with it, and I broke the neck of a third. Why it was as good as a sword to defend yourself with, see —.”
He reached his face towards Somers with weird, gruesome exultation, and continued in a hoarse, secret voice:
“Cripes, there’s NOTHING bucks you up sometimes like killing a man — NOTHING. You feel a perfect ANGEL after it.”
Richard felt the same torn feeling in his abdomen, and his eyes watched the other man.
“When it comes over you, you know, there’s nothing else like it. I never knew, till the war. And I wouldn’t believe it then, not for many a while. But it’s THERE. Cripes, it’s there right enough. Having a woman’s something, isn’t it? But it’s a flea-bite, nothing, compared to killing your man when your blood comes up.”
And his eyes glowed with exultant satisfaction.
“And the best of it is,” he said, “you feel a perfect ANGEL after it. You don’t feel you’ve done any harm. Feel as gentle as a lamb all round. I can go to Victoria, now, and be as gentle —.” He jerked his head in the direction of Victoria’s room. “And you bet she’ll like me.”
His eyes glowed with a sort of exaltation.
“Killing’s natural to a man, you know,” he said. “It is just as natural as lying with a woman. Don’t you think?”
And still Richard did not answer.
The next morning he left early for Mullumbimby. The newspaper gave a large space to the disturbance, but used the wisest language. “Brawl between Communists and Nationalists at Canberra Hall. Unknown anarchist throws a bomb. Three persons killed and several injured. Ben Cooley, the well-known barrister, receives bullets in the abdomen, but is expected to recover. Police, aided by Diggers, soon restored order.”
This was the tone of all the newspapers.
Most blamed the Labour incendiaries, with pious horror — but all declared that the bomb was thrown by some unknown criminal who had intruded himself into the crowd unknown to all parties. There was a mention of shots fired: and a loud shout of accusation against the Mounted Police from the Labour papers, declaring that these had fired on the crowd. Equally loud denials. A rigorous inquiry was to be instituted, fourteen men were arrested. Jack was arrested as the leader of the men who had counted-out Willie Struthers, but he was released on bail. Kangaroo was said to be progressing, as far as could be ascertained, favourably.
And then the papers had a lovely lot of topics. They could discuss the character and persons of Struthers and Ben Cooley, all except the Radical paper, the Sun, praising Ben for his laudable attempts to obtain order by the help of his loyal Diggers. The Sun hinted at other things. Then the personal histories of all the men arrested. Jack, the well-known V.C., was cautiously praised.
What was curious was that nobody brought criminal charges against anybody. Jack’s iron bar, for instance, nobody mentioned. It was called a stick. Who fired the revolvers, nobody chose to know. The bomb thrower was an unknown anarchist, probably a new immigrant from Europe. Each side vituperated and poured abuse on the other side. But nobody made any precise, criminal accusations. Most of the prisoners — including Jack — were bound over. Two of them got a year’s imprisonment, and five got six months. And the affair began to fizzle down.
A great discussion started on the subject of counting out. Tales were told, how the sick men in a hospital, from their beds, counted out an unsympathetic medical officer till the man dared not show his face. It was said that the Aussies had once begun to count out the Prince of Wales. It was in Egypt. The Prince had ridden up to review them, and he seemed to them, as they stood there in the sun, to be supercilious, “superior”. This is the greatest offence. So as he rode away like magic they started to count him out. “One! Two! Three!” No command would stop them. The Prince, though he did not know what it meant, instantly felt the thing like a blow, and rode back at once, holding up his hand, to ask what was wrong. And then he was so human and simple that they said they had made a mistake, and they cheered him passionately. But they had BEGUN to count him out. And once a man was counted out he was done: he was dead, he was counted out. So, newspaper talk.
And Somers, looking through the Bulletin, though he could hardly read it now, as if he could not SEE it, in its one level, as if he had gone deaf to its note — was struck by the end of a paragraph:
This tendency may be noted in the Christianised Melanesian native, in whom an almost uncontrolled desire to kill sometimes arises without any provocation whatever. Fortunately for the would-be victim the native often has a premonition of the impending nerve-storm. It is not uncommon for a white man to be addressed thus by his model house-boy, walking behind him on a bush track: “More better, taubada (master), you walk behind me. Me want make you kill.” In five minutes (If the master has been wise enough to get out of the way) a smiling boy will indicate that his little trouble has been weathered. In these cases Brother Brown is certainly a gentleman compared to the atavistic white.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57