Richard Lovat Somers registered a new vow: not to take things with too overwhelming an amount of emotional seriousness, but to accept everything that came along with a certain sang froid, and not to sit frenziedly in judgment before he had heard the case. He had come to the end of his own tether, so why should he go off into tantrums if other folks strayed about with the broken bits of their tethers trailing from their ankles? Is it better to be savagely tugging at the end of your rope, or to wander at random tetherless? Matter of choice!
But the day of the absolute is over, and we’re in for the strange gods once more. “But when you get to the end of your tether you’ve nothing to do but die”— so sings an out-of-date vulgar song. But is it so? Why not all? When you come to the end of your tether you break the rope. When you come to the end of the lane you straggle on into the bush and beat about till you find a new way through, and no matter if you raise vipers or goannas or wallabies, or even only a stink. And if you see a man beating about for a new track you don’t immediately shout, “Perverted wretch!” or “Villain!” or “Vicious creature!” or even merely “The fool,” or mildly: “Poor dear!” You have to let him try. Anything is better than stewing in your own juice, or grinding at the end of your tether, or tread-milling away at a career. Better a “wicked creature” any day, than a mechanical tread-miller of a careerist. Better anything on earth than the millions of human ants.
In this way Mr. Somers had to take himself to task, for his Pommy stupidity and his pommigrant superiority, and kick himself rather severely, looking at the ends of the tether he presumed he had just broken. Why should people who are tethered to a post be so God-Almighty puffed up about their posts? It seems queer. Yet there they are, going round and round at the ends of their tethers, and being immensely sniffy about the people who stray loose trailing the broken end of their old rope, and looking for a new way through the bush. Yet so men are. They will set up inquisitions and every manner of torture chamber to COMPEL people to refrain from breaking their tethers. But once man has broken any old particular hobble-line, not God Himself can safely knot it together again.
Somers now left off standing on his head in front of the word love, and looking at it calmly, decided he didn’t care vastly either way. Harriet had on her dressing-table tray a painted wooden heart, painted red with dots round it, a Black Forest trifle which she had bought in Baden-Baden for a penny. On it was the motto:
Dem Mutigen gehort die Welt.
That was the motto to have on one’s red heart: not Love or Hope or any of those aspiring emotions: “The world belongs to the courageous.” To be sure, it was a rather two-edged motto just now for Germany. And Somers was not quite sure that it was the “world” that he wanted.
Yes it was. Not the tuppenny social world of present mankind: but the genuine world, full of life and eternal creative surprises, including of course destructive surprises: since destruction is part of creation. Somers did want the world. He did want to take it away from all the teeming human ants, human slaves, and all the successful, empty careerists. He wanted little that the present society can give. But the lovely other world that is in spite of the social man of to-day: that he wanted, to clear it, to free it. — Freedom! Not for this subnormal slavish humanity of democratic antics. But for the world itself, and the Mutigen.
Mut! Muth! A good word. Better even than “courage”. Virtue, virtus, manliness. Mut — manliness. Not braggaccio or insolence. De l’audace, at de l’audace, at encore de l’audace! Danton’s word. But it was more than daring. It was Mut, profound manliness, that is not afraid of anything except of being cowardly or barren.
Dem Mutigen gehort die Welt.
To the manly brave belongs the world.
Somers wrote to Kangaroo, and enclosed the red wooden heart, which had a little loop of ribbon so that it could be hung on the wall.
“Dear Kangaroo — I send you my red heart (never mind that it is wood, the wood once lived and was the tree of life) with its motto. I hope you will accept it, after all my annoying behaviour. It is not the love, but the Mut that I believe in, and join you in. Love may be an ingredient in Mut, so you have it all your own way. Anyhow, I send you my red motto-heart, and if you don’t want it you can send it back — I will be your follower, in reverence for your virtue — Virtus. And you may command me.”
The following day came the answer, in Kangaroo’s difficult scrawl:
“Dear Lovat — Love is in your name, notwithstanding. I accept the red heart gladly, and when I win, I will wear it for my Order of Merit, pinned on my swelling chest.
“But you are the one person in the world I can never command. I knew it would be so. Yet I am unspeakably glad to have your approval, and perhaps your allegiance.
“Come and see me as soon as it is your wish to do so: I won’t invite you, lest worse befall me. For you are either a terrible disappointment to me, or a great blessing in store. I wait for you.”
Somers also wrote to Jack, to ask him to come down with Victoria for the week-end. But Jack replied that he couldn’t get away this week-end, there was so much doing. Somers then invited him for the following one.
The newspapers were at this time full of the pending strike of coal-miners and shearers: that is, the Australian papers. The European papers were in a terrific stew about finance, and the German debt, and the more imposing Allied debt to America. Bolshevism, Communism, Labour, had all sunk into a sort of insignificance. The voice of mankind was against them for the time being, not now in hate and fear, as previously, but in a kind of bitter contempt: the kind of feeling one has when one has accepted a glib individual as a serious and remarkable man, only to find that he is a stupid vulgarian. Communism was a bubble that would never even float free and iridescent from the nasty pipe of the theorist.
What then? Nothing evident. There came dreary and fatuous letters from friends in England, refined young men of the upper middle-class writing with a guarded kind of friendliness, gentle and sweet, of course, but as dozy as ripe pears in their laisser aller heaviness. That was what it amounted to: they were over-ripe, they had been in the sun of prosperity too long, and all their tissues were soft and sweetish. How could they react with any sharpness to any appeal on earth? They wanted just to hang against the warmest wall they could find, as long as ever they could, till some last wind of death or disturbance shook them down into earth, mushy and overripe. A sardonic letter from a Jewish friend in London, amusing but a bit dreadful. Letters from women in London, friendly but irritable. “I have decided I am a comfort-loving conventional person, with just a dash of the other thing to keep me fidgety”— then accounts of buying old furniture, and gossip about everybody: “Verden Grenfel in a restaurant with TWO bottles of champagne, so he must be affluent just now.” A girl taking her honeymoon trip to Naples by one of the Orient boats, third class: “There are 800 people on board, but room for another 400, so that on account of the missing 400 we have a six-berth cabin to ourselves. It is a bit noisy and not luxurious, but clean and comfortable, and you can imagine what it is to me, to be on the glorious sea, and to go ashore at wonderful Gibraltar, and to see the blue hills of Spain in the distance. Frederick is struggling with a mass of Italian irregular verbs at the moment.” And in spite of all Somers’ love of the Mediterranean, the thought of sitting on a third class deck with eight hundred emigrants, including babies, made him almost sick. “The glorious sea — wonderful Gibraltar.” It takes quite a good eyesight even to SEE the sea from the deck of a liner, let alone out of the piled mass of humanity on the third-class deck. A letter from Germany, about a wedding and a pending journey into Austria and friends, written with a touch of philosophy that comes to a man when he’s fallen down and bumped himself, and strokes the bruise. A cheque for fifteen pounds seventeen shillings and fourpence, from a publisher: “Kindly acknowledge.” A letter from a farming friend who had changed places: “A Major Ashworth has got the farm, and has spent about 600 pounds putting it in order. He has started as a poultry-farm, but has had bad luck in losing 400 chicks straight away, with the cold weather. I hope our spell of bad luck doesn’t still hang over the place. I wish you would come back to England for the summer. Viv talks of getting a caravan, and then we might get two. Cold and wet weather for weeks. All work and no play, not good enough.” A letter from Paris, artist friends: “I have sold one of the three pictures that are in the last Salon.” A letter from Somers’ sister: “Louis has been looking round everywhere to buy a little farm, but there doesn’t seem to be a bit of land to be got anywhere. What do you think of our coming to Australia? I wish you would look for something for us, for we are terribly fed up with this place, nothing doing at all.” A letter from Sicily: “I have had my father and stepmother over from New York. I had got them rooms here, but when I said so, the face of Anna, my stepmother, was a sight. She took me aside and told me that father was spoiling the trip entirely by his economies, and that she had set her heart on the Villa Igeia. Then Dad took me aside and said that he didn’t wish to be reckless, but he didn’t want to thwart Anna’s wishes entirely, and was there nothing in the way of compromise? It ended by their staying two days here, and Anna said she thought it was very nice FOR ME. Then they went to the Palmes, which is entirely up to Anna’s ideas of luxury, and she is delighted.”
Somers had fourteen letters by this mail. He read them with a sort of loathing, one after the other, piling them up on his left hand for Harriet, and throwing the envelopes in the fire. By the time he had done he wished that every mail-boat would go down that was bringing any letter to him, that a flood would rise and cover Europe entirely, that he could have a little operation performed that would remove from him for ever his memory of Europe and everything in it — and so on. Then he went out and looked at the Pacific. He hadn’t even the heart to bathe, and he felt so trite, with all those letters; he felt quite capable of saying “Good dog” to the sea: to quote one of the quips from the Bulletin. The sea that had been so full of potency, before the postman rode up on his pony and whistled with his policeman’s whistle for Somers to come to the gate for that mass of letters. Never had Richard Lovat Somers felt so filled with spite against everybody he had ever known in the old life, as now.
“And there was I, knave, fool, and ninny, whining to go back to Europe, and abusing Australia for not being like it. That horrible, horrible staleness of Europe, and all their trite consciousness, and their dreariness. The dreariness? The sterility of their feelings? And here was I carping at Kangaroo and at Jack Callcott, who are golden wonders compared with anything I have known in the old world. Australia has got some real, positive indifference to “questions”, but Europe is one big wriggling question and nothing else. A tangle of quibbles. I’d rather be shot here next week, than quibble the rest of my life away in over-upholstered Europe.”
He left off kicking himself, and went down to the shore to get away from himself. After all, he knew the endless water would soon make him forget. It had a language which spoke utterly without concern of him, and this utter unconcern gradually soothed him of himself and his world. He began to forget.
There had been a squall in the night. At the tip of the rock-shelves above the waves men and youths, with bare, reddish legs, were fishing with lines for blackfish. They looked like animal creatures perching there, and like creatures they were passive or darting in their movements. A big albatross swung slowly down the surf: albatross or mollyhawk, with wide, waving wings.
The sea had thrown up, all along the surf-line, queer glittery creatures that looked like thin blown glass. They were bright transparent bladders of the most delicate ink-blue, with a long crest of deeper blue, and blind ends of translucent purple. And they had bunches of blue, blue strings, and one long blue string that trailed almost a yard across the sand, straight and blue and translucent. They must have been some sort of little octopus, with the bright glass bladder, big as smallish narrow pears, with a blue frill along the top to float them, and the strings to feel with — and perhaps the long string to anchor by. Who knows? Yet there they were, soft, brilliant, like pouches of frailest sea-glass. It reminded Somers of the glass they blow at Butano, at Venice. But there they never get the lovely soft texture and the colour.
The sky was tufted with cloud, and in the afternoon veils of rain swept here and there across the sea, in a changing wind. But then it cleared again, and Somers and Harriet walked along the sands, watching the blue sky mirror purple and the white clouds mirror warm on the wet sand. The sea talked and talked all the time, in its disintegrative, elemental language. And at last it talked its way into Somers’ soul, and he forgot the world again, the babel. The simplicity came back, and with it the inward peace. The world had left him again. He had been thinking, in his anger of the morning, that he would get Jack to teach him to shoot with a rifle and a revolver, so that he might take his part. He had never shot with a gun in his life, so he had thought it was high time to begin. But now he went back on his thoughts. What did he want with guns or revolvers? Nothing. He had nothing to do with them, as he had nothing to do with so much that is in the world of man. When he was truly himself he had a quiet stillness in his soul, an inward trust. Faith, undefined and undefinable. Then he was at peace with himself. Not content, but peace like a river, something flowing and full. A stillness at the very core.
But faith in what? In himself, in mankind, in the destiny of mankind? No, no. In Providence, in Almighty God? No, not even that. He tried to think of the dark God he declared he served. But he didn’t want to. He shrank away from the effort. The fair morning seaward world, full of bubbles of life.
So again came back to him the ever-recurring warning that SOME men must of their own choice and will listen only to the living life that is a rising tide in their own being, and listen, listen, listen for the injunctions, and give heed and know and speak and obey all they can. Some men must live by this unremitting inwardness, no matter what the rest of the world does. They must not let the rush of the world’s “outwardness” sweep them away: or if they are swept away, they must struggle back. Somers realised that he had had a fright against being swept away, because he half wanted to be swept away: but that now, thank God, he was flowing back. Not like the poor, weird “ink-bubbles”, left high and dry on the sands.
Now he could remember the frenzied outward rushing of the vast masses of people, away from themselves, without being driven mad by it. But it seemed strange to him that they should rush like this in their vast herds, outwards, outwards, always frenziedly outwards, like souls with hydrophobia rushing away from the pool of water. He himself, when he was caught up in the rush, felt tortured and maddened, it was an agony of irritation to him till he could feel himself drifting back again like a creature into the sea. The sea of his own inward soul, his own unconscious faith, over which his will had no exercise. Why did the mass of people not want this stillness and this peace with their own being? Why did they want cinemas and excitements? Excitements are as nauseous as sea-sickness. Why does the world want them?
It is their problem. They must go their way. But some men, some women must stay by their own inmost being, in peace, and without envy. And there in the stillness listen, listen, and try to know, and try to obey. From the innermost, not from the outside. It is so lovely, the peace. But poor dear Richard, he was only resting and basking in the old sunshine just now, after his fray. The fight would come again, and only in the fight would his soul burn its way once more to the knowledge, the intense knowledge of his “dark god”. The other was so much sweeter and easier, while it lasted.
At tea-time it began to rain again. Somers sat on the verandah looking at the dark green sea, with its films of floating yellow light between the ruffled waves. Far back, in the east, was a cloud that was a rainbow. It was a piece of rainbow, but not sharp, in a band; it was a tall fume far back among the clouds of the sea-wall.
“Who is there that you feel you are with, besides me — or who feel themselves with you?” Harriet was asking.
“No one,” he replied. And at the same moment he looked up and saw the rainbow fume beyond the sea. But it was on a dark back ground, like a coloured darkness. The rainbow was always a symbol to him — a good symbol: of this peace. A pledge of unbroken faith, between the universe and the innermost. And the very moment he said “No one,” he saw the rainbow for an answer.
Many times in his life he had seen a rainbow. The last had been on his arrival in Sydney. For some reason he felt absolutely wretched and dismal on that Saturday morning when the ship came into Sydney harbour. He had an unspeakable desire not to get out of the ship, not to go down on to the quay and into that town. The having to do it was a violation of himself. When he came on deck after breakfast and the ship had stopped, it was pouring with rain, the P. and O. wharf looked black and dismal, empty. It might almost have been an abandoned city. He walked round to the starboard side, to look towards the unimposing hillock of the city and the Circular Quay. Black, all black and unutterably dismal in the pouring rain, even the green grass of the Botanical Gardens, and the bits of battlement of the Conservatorium. Unspeakably forlorn. Yet over it all, spanning the harbour, the most magnificent great rainbow. His mood was so miserable he didn’t want to see it. But it was unavoidable. A huge, brilliant, supernatural rainbow, spanning all Sydney.
He was thinking of this, and still watching the dark-green, yellow-reflecting sea, that was like a northern sea, a Whitby sea, and watching the far-off fume of a dark rainbow apparition, when Harriet heard somebody at the door. It was William James, who had an hour to wait for his train, and thought they wouldn’t mind if he looked in. They were pleased, and Harriet brought him a cup and plate.
Thank goodness he, too, came in a certain stillness of spirit, saying very little, but being a quiet, grateful presence. When the tea was finished he and Somers sat back on the verandah out of the wind, and watched the yellow, cloudy evening sink. They hardly spoke, but lay lying back in the deckchairs.
“I was wondering,” said Somers, “whom Kangaroo depends on mostly for his following.”
William James looked back at him, with quiet, steady eyes.
“On the diggers — the returned soldiers chiefly: and the sailors.”
“Of what class?”
“Of any class. But there aren’t many rich ones. Mostly like me and Jack, not quite simple working men. A few doctors and architects and that sort.”
“And do you think it means much to them?”
Jaz shifted his thick body uneasily in his chair.
You never can tell,” he said.
“That’s true,” said Somers. “I don’t really know how much Jack Callcott cares. I really can’t make out.”
“He cares as much as about anything,” said Jaz. “Perhaps a bit more. It’s more exciting.”
“Do you think it IS the excitement they care about chiefly?”
“I should say so. You can die in Australia if you don’t get a bit of excitement.” There was silence for a minute or two.
“In my opinion,” said Somers, “it has to go deeper than excitement.” Again Jaz shifted uneasily in his chair.
“Oh, well — they don’t set much store on deepness over here. It’s easy come, easy go, as a rule. Yet they’re staunch chaps while the job lasts, you know. They are true to their mates, as a rule.”
“I believe they are. It’s the afterwards.”
“Oh, well — afterwards is afterwards, as Jack always says.” Again the two men were silent.
“If they cared deeply —” Somers began slowly — but he did not continue, it seemed fatuous. Jaz did not answer for some time.
“You see, it hasn’t come to that with them,” he said. “It might, perhaps, once they’d actually done the thing. It might come home to them then; they might HAVE to care. It might be a force-put. THEN they’d need a man.”
“They’ve got Kangaroo,” said Somers.
“You think Kangaroo would get them over the fence?” said Jaz carefully, looking up at Somers.
“He seems as if he would. He’s a wonderful person. And there seems no alternative to him.”
“Oh yes, he’s a wonderful person. Perhaps a bit too much of a wonder. A hatchet doesn’t look anything like so spanking as a lawn-mower, does it now, but it’ll make a sight bigger clearing.”
“That’s true,” said Somers, laughing. “But Kangaroo isn’t a lawn-mower.”
“Oh, I don’t say so,” smiled Jaz fidgeting on his chair. “I should like to hear your rock-bottom opinion of him though.”
“I should like to hear yours,” said Somers, “You know him much better than I do. I haven’t got a rock-bottom opinion of him yet.”
“It’s not a matter of the time you’ve known him,” said Jaz. He was manifestly hedging, and trying to get at something. “You know I belong to his gang, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Somers, wondering at the word “gang”.
“And for that reason I oughtn’t to criticize him, ought I?”
Somers reflected for some moments.
“There’s no oughts, if you FEEL critical,” he answered.
“I think you feel critical of him yourself at times,” said Jaz, looking up with a slow, subtle smile of cunning: like a woman’s disconcerting intuitive knowledge. It laid Somers’ soul bare for the moment. He reflected. He had pledged no allegiance to Kangaroo.
“Yet,” he said aloud to Jaz, “if I HAD joined him I wouldn’t want to hinder him.”
“No, we don’t want to hinder him. But we need to know where we are. Supposing you were in my position — and you DIDN’T feel sure of things! A man has to look things in the face. You yourself, now — you’re holding back, aren’t you?”
“I suppose I am,” said Richard, “But then I hold back from everything.”
Jaz looked at him searchingly.
You don’t like to commit yourself?” he said, with a sly smile.
“Not altogether that. I’d commit myself, if I could. It’s just something inside me shakes its head and holds back.”
Jaz studied his knuckles for some time.
“Yes,” he said slowly. “Perhaps you can afford to stand out. You’ve got your life in other things. Some of us feel we haven’t got any life if we’re not — if we’re not mixed up in something.” He paused, and Richard waited. “But the point is this —” Jaz looked up again with his light-grey, serpent’s eyes. “Do you yourself see Kangaroo pulling it off?” There was a subtle mockery in the question.
“Why — you know. This revolution, and this new Australia. Do you see him figuring on the Australian postage stamps — and running the country like a new Jerusalem?”
“The eyes watched Richard fixedly.
“If he’s got a proper backing, why not?” Somers answered.
“I don’t say why not. I ask you, WILL HE? Won’t you say how you feel?”
Richard sat quite still, not even thinking, but suspending himself. And in the suspense his heart went sad, oh so empty, inside him. He looked at Jaz, and the two men read the meaning in each other’s eyes.
“You think he won’t?” said Jaz, triumphing.
“No, I think he won’t,” said Richard. “There now. I knew you felt like that.”
“And yet,” said Richard, “if men were men still — if they had any of that belief in love they pretend to have — if they were FIT to follow Kangaroo,” he added fiercely, feeling grief in his heart.
Jaz dropped his head and studied his knuckles, a queer, blank smile setting round his mouth.
“You have to take things as they are,” he said in a small voice.
Richard sat silent, his heart for the moment broken again.
“And,” added Jaz, looking up with a slow, subtle smile, “if men aren’t what Kangaroo wants them to be, why should they be? If they don’t want a new Jerusalem, why should they have it? It’s another catch. They like to hear Kangaroo’s sweet talk — and they’ll probably follow him if he’ll bring off a good big row, and they think he can make it all pretty afterwards.” Again he smiled, but bitterly, mockingly. “I don’t know why I say these things to you, I’m sure. But it’s as well for a man to get to the bottom of what he thinks, isn’t it? And I feel, you know, that you and me think alike, if we allow ourselves to think.”
Richard looked at him, but never answered. He felt somehow treacherous.
“Kangaroo’s clever,” resumed Jaz. “He’s a Jew, and he’s damn clever. Maybe he’s the cleverest. I’ll tell you why. You’re not offended now at what I say, are you?”
“What’s the good of being offended by anything, if it’s a genuine opinion?”
“Well now, that’s what I mean. And I say Kangaroo is cleverer than the Red people, because he can make it look as if it would be all rosy afterwards, you know, everything as good as apple pie. I tell you what. All these Reds and I.W.W.’s and all, why don’t they make their revolution? Because they’re frightened of it when they’ve made it. They’re not frightened of hanging all the capitalists and such. But they’re frightened to death of having to keep things going afterwards. They’re frightened to death.” Jaz smiled to himself with a chuckle. “Nothing frightens them so much as the thought of having to look after things when their revolution is made. It frightens them to death. And that’s why they won’t make their grand revolution. Never. Unless somebody shoves them into it. That’s why they’ve got this new cry: Make the revolution by degrees, through winning in politics. But that’s no revolution, you know. It’s the same old thing with a bit of difference, such a small bit of difference that you’d never notice it if you weren’t made to.”
“I think that’s true,” said Richard. “Nobody’s more frightened of a Red revolution than the Reds themselves. They just absolutely funk it.”
“There now — that’s the word — they funk it. Yet, you know, they’re all ready for it. And if you got them started, if you could, they’d make a clearance, like they did in Russia. And we could do with that, don’t you think?”
“I do,” said Richard, sighing savagely.
“Well now, my idea’s this. Couldn’t we get Kangaroo — to join the Reds — the I.W.W.’s and all? Couldn’t we get him to use all his men to back Red Labour in this country, and blow a cleavage through the old system. Because, you know he’s got the trump cards in his hands. These Diggers’ Clubs, they’ve got all the army men, dying for another scrap. And then a sort of secret organisation has ten times the hold over men than just a Labour Party, or a Trades Union. He’s damned clever, he’s got a wonderful scheme ready. But he’ll spoil it, because he’ll want it all to happen without hurting anybody. Won’t he now?”
“Except a few.”
“Oh yes — maybe four of his enemies. But he wants to blow the house up without breaking the windows. He thinks he can turn the country upside-down without spilling milk, let alone blood. Now the Reds, let them loose, would make a hole in things. Only they’ll never move on their own responsibility. They haven’t got the guts, the stomach, the backbone.”
“You’re so clever, Jaz. I wonder you’re not a leader yourself.”
“Me?” A slow ironical smile wreathed his face. “You’re being sarcastic with me, Mr. Somers.” “Not at all. I think you’re amazing.”
Jaz only smiled sceptically still.
“You take what I mean, though, do you?”
“And what do you think of it?”
“But isn’t it feasible? You get Kangaroo, with his Diggers — the cleverest idea in the country, really — to quietly come in with the Reds, and explode a revolution over here. You could soon do it, in the cities: and the country couldn’t help itself. You let the Reds appear in the front, and take all the shine. You keep a bit of a brake on them. You let them call a Soviet, or whatever they want, and get into a real mess over it. And then Kangaroo steps in with the balm of Gilead and the New Jerusalem. But let them play Old Tommy Jenkins first with Capital and State Industries and the free press and religious sects. And then Kangaroo steps in like a redeeming angel, and reminds us that it’s God’s Own Country, so we’re God’s Own People, and makes us feel good again. Like Solomon, when David has done the dirty work.”
“The only point,” said Somers smiling, “is that an Australian Lenin and an Australian Trotsky might pop up in the scrimmage, and then Kangaroo could take to the bush again.”
Jaz shook his head.
“They wouldn’t,” he said. “There’s nobody with any grip. And you’d see, in this country, people would soon want to be good again, because it costs them least effort.”
“Perhaps Kangaroo is right, and they don’t want to be anything BUT good.”
Jaz shook his head.
“It’s not goodness they’re after just now,” he said. “They want to rip things up, or they want nothing. They aren’t ready to come under Kangaroo’s loving wing just yet. They’d as leave be under King George’s thumb, they can peep out easier. It seems to me, it’s SPITE that’s at the bottom, with most men. And they’ve got to let it out before anything’s any good.”
Somers began to feel tired now.
“But after all, Jaz,” he said, “what have I got to do with it?”
“You can put it to Kangaroo. You can make him see it. And you can keep him to it, if you promise him you’ll stick to him.”
“Me a power behind the throne?” protested the truly sceptical Richard.
“I take it you don’t want to sit on the throne yourself,” smiled Jaz. “And Kangaroo’s got more the figure. But what do you think of it?”
Somers was silent. He now was smiling subtly and ironically, and Jaz was watching him sharply, like a man who wants something. Jaz waited.
“I’m afraid, Jaz,” said Somers, “that, like Nietzsche, I no longer believe in great events. The war was a great event — and it made everything more pretty. I doubt if I care about the mass of mankind, Jaz. You make them more than ever distasteful to me.
“Oh, you know, you needn’t commit yourself. You’ve only to be friendly with Kangaroo, and work him into it. You know you said yourself you’d give anything to have a clearance made, in the world.”
“I know. Sometimes I feel I’d give anything, soul and body, for a smash up in this social-industrial world we’re in. And I would. And then when I realise people — just people — the same people after it as before — why, Jaz, then I don’t care any more, and feel it’s time to turn to the gods.”
“You feel there’s any gods to turn to, do you?” asked Jaz, with the sarcasm of disappointment.
“I feel it would probably be like Messina before and after the earthquake. Before the earthquake it was what is called a fine town, but commercial, low, and hateful. You felt you’d be glad if it was wiped out. After the earthquake it was horrible heaps of mortar and rubble, and now it’s rows and rows of wood and tin shanties, streets of them, and more commercial, lower than ever, and infinitely more ugly. That would probably be the world after your revolution. No, Jaz, I leave mankind to its own contrivances, and turn to the gods.”
“But you’ll say a word to Kangaroo?” said Jaz, persistent.
“Yes, if I feel like it,” said Richard.
Darkness had almost fallen, and Somers shivered as he rose to go indoors.
Next morning, when Somers had made the coffee, he and Harriet sat on the loggia at breakfast. It rained in the night, and the sea was whitish, sluggish, with soft, furry waves that had no plunge. The last thin flush of foam behaved queerly, running along with a straight, swift splash, just as when a steel rope rips out of water, as a tug hauls suddenly, jerking up a white splash that runs along its length.
“What had William James so much to say about?” asked Harriet, on the warpath.
“Why don’t you have the strength of mind not to ask?” he replied. “You know it’s better you left it alone: that I’m not supposed to blab.”
She gave him one fierce look, then went pale with anger. She was silent for some time. Then she burst out:
“Pah, as if I cared to know! What is all their revolution bosh to me! There have been revolutions enough, in my opinion, and each one more foolish than the last. And this will be the most foolish of the lot. And what have YOU got to do with revolutions, you petty and conceited creature? You and revolutions! You’re not big enough, not grateful enough to do anything real. I give you my energy and my life, and you want to put me aside as if I was a charwoman. Acknowledge ME first, before you can be any good.” With which she swallowed her coffee and rose from the table.
He finished too, and got up to carry in the cups and do the few chores that remained for his share. He always got up in the morning, made the fire, swept the room, and tidied roughly. Then he brought in coal and wood, made the breakfast, and did any little out-door job. After breakfast he helped to wash up, and settled the fire. Then he considered himself free to his own devices. Harriet could see to the rest.
His devices were not very many. He tried to write, that being his job. But usually, nowadays, when he tapped his unconscious, he found himself in a seethe of steady fury, general rage. He didn’t hate anybody in particular, nor even any class or body of men. He loathed politicians, and the well-bred darling young men of the well-to-do middle classes made his bile stir. But he didn’t fret himself about them specially. The off-hand self-assertive working people of Australia made him feel diabolic on their score sometimes. But as a rule the particulars were not in evidence, all the rocks were submerged, and his bile swirled diabolically for no particular reason at all. He just felt generally diabolical, and tried merely to keep enough good sense not to turn his temper in any particular direction.
“You think that nothing but goodness and virtue and wonderfulness comes out of you,” was one of Harriet’s accusations against him. “You don’t know how small and mean and ugly you are to other people.”
“Which means I am small and ugly and mean in her eyes,” he thought to himself. “All because of this precious gratitude which I am supposed to feel towards her, I suppose. Damn her and her gratitude. When she thwarts me and puts me in a temper I DON’T feel anything but spite. Damn her impudent gratitude.”
But Harriet was not going to be ignored: no, she was not. She was not going to sink herself to the level of a convenience. She didn’t really want protestations of gratitude or love. They only puzzled her and confused her. But she wanted him INWARDLY to keep a connection with her. Silently, he must maintain the flow between him and her, and safeguard it carefully. It is a thing which a man cannot do with his head: it isn’t REMEMBERING. And it is a thing which a woman cannot explain or understand, because it is quite irrational. But it is one of the deepest realities in life. When a man and woman truly come together, when there is a marriage, then an unconscious, vital connection is established between them, like a throbbing blood-circuit. A man may forget a woman entirely with his head, and fling himself with energy and fervour into whatever job he is tackling, and all is well, all is good, if he does not break that inner vital connection which is the mystery of marriage. But let him once get out of unison, out of conjunction, let him inwardly break loose and come apart, let him fall into that worst of male vices, the vice of abstraction and mechanisation, and have a concert of working ALONE and of himself, then he commits the breach. He hurts the woman and he hurts himself, though neither may know why. The greatest hero that ever existed was heroic only whilst he kept the throbbing inner union with something, God, or Fatherland, or woman. The most immediate is woman, the wife. But the most grovelling wife-worshippers are the foulest of traitors and renegades to the inner unison. A man must strive onward, but from the root of marriage, marriage with God, with wife, with mankind. Like a tree that is rooted, always growing and flowering away from its root, so is a vitally active man. But let him take some false direction, and there is torture through the whole organism, roots and all. The woman suffers blindly from the man’s mistaken direction, and reacts blindly.
Now in this revolution stunt, and his insistence on “male” activity, Somers had upturned the root flow, and Harriet was a devil to him — quite rightly — for he knew that inside himself he was devilish. She tried to keep her kindness and happiness. But no, it was false when the inner connection was betrayed. So her silent rage accumulated, and it was no good playing mental tricks of suppression with it. As for him, he was forced to recognize the devil in his own belly. He just felt devilish. While Harriet went about trying to be fair and happy, he realised that it was awful for him to be there, as black inside as an ink-bottle; however, he practised being nice. Theoretically he was grateful to her, and all that. But nothing conjured away that bellyful of black devilishness with which he was enceinte. He really felt like a woman who is with child by a corrosive fiend. In his lower man, just girning and demoniacal. No good pretending otherwise. No good playing tricks of being nice. Seven-thousand devils!
When he saw a motor-car parked in the waste lot next to Coo-ee, and saw two women in twelve-guinea black coats and skirts hobbling across the grass to the bungalow farther down, perhaps wanting to hire it: then the devil came and sat black and naked in his eyes. They hobbled along the uneven place so commonly, they looked so crassly common in spite of their tailors’ bills, so LOW, in spite of their motor-car, that the devil in him fairly lashed its tail like a cat. And yet, he knew, they were probably just two nice, kindly women, as the world goes. And truly, even the devil in him did not want to do them any PERSONAL harm. If they had fallen, or got into difficulty, he would have gone out at once to help them all he could. And yet, at the sight of their backs in their tailored “costumes” hobbling past the bushes, the devil in him lashed its tail till he writhed.
So there you are. Or rather, there was Richard Lovat Somers. He tried to square accounts with himself. Surely, he said to himself, I am not just merely a sort of human bomb, all black inside, waiting to explode I don’t know when or how or where. That’s what I seem like to myself, nowadays. Yet surely it is not the only truth about me. When I feel at peace with myself, and, as it were, so quietly at the CENTRE of things — like last evening, for example — surely that is also me. Harriet seems fairly to detest me for having this nice feeling all to myself. Well, it wasn’t my fault if I had it. I did have it. What does she want? She won’t leave a fellow alone. I felt fairly beatific last evening — I felt I could swim Australia into a future, and that Jaz was wonderful, and I was a sort of central angel. So now I must admit I am flabbergasted at finding my devil coiled up exultant like a black cat in my belly this morning, purring all the more loudly because of my “goodness” of last evening, and lashing his tail so venomously at the sight of the two women in the black “costumes”. Is this devil after all my god? Do I stand with the debbil-debbil worshippers, in spite of all my efforts and protestations?
This morning I do, and I admit it. I can’t help it: it is so, then let it be so. I shall change again, I know. I shall feel white again, and like a pearl, suave and quiet within the oyster of time. I shall feel again that, given but the ANSWER, the black poisonous bud will burst into a lovely new, unknown flower in me. The bud is deadly poison: the flower will be the flower of the tree of life. If Harriet let me alone, and people like Jaz really believed in me! Because they have a right to believe in me when I am at my best. Or perhaps he believes in me when I am my worst, and Kangaroo likes me when I am good. Yet I don’t really like Kangaroo. The devil in me fairly hates him. Him and everybody. Well, all right then, if I AM finally a sort of human bomb, black inside, and primed; I hope the hour and the place will come for my going off: for my exploding with the maximum amount of havoc. SOME men have to be bombs, to explode and make breaches in the walls that shut life in. Blind, havoc-working bombs too. Then so be it.
That morning as luck would have it Somers read an article by A. Meston in an old Sydney Daily Telegraph, headed:
The fact that Australia so far has had no trouble with volcanoes or earthquakes, and appears to be the most immune country in the world, accounts for our entire indifference to the whole subject. But here are phases of this problem entitled to some serious consideration by those in whom the thinking and observant faculties are not altogether dormant, and who have not a calm, cool disregard of very ominous inexorable facts. Australia is a very peaceful reposeful area, with the serious volcanoes of New Zealand on one side, and the still more serious volcanoes of Java on the other. We live in a soft flowery meadow between two jungles, a lion in one and a tiger in the other, but as neither animal has chased or bitten us, up to the present time, we go calmly to sleep quite satisfied they are harmless.
Now the line of volcanic action on the east coast of Australia is very clearly defined, from the basalt of Illawarra, north to the basalt within three miles of Cape York. The chief areas over all that distance are the Big Scrub on the Richmond River, the Darling Downs, and the Atherton Tableland, behind Cairns.
These are the largest basalt areas in Australia, the Darling Downs and Atherton containing each about 2,000,000 acres of basalt, the one chiefly black, and the other all red. The other conspicuous areas are the red basalt Isis and Woongarra scrubs, and north of Atherton the next basalt area is on the McIvor and Morgan Rivers, 40 miles north of Cooktown. From there I saw no basalt on the coast of the Peninsula, until somewhat surprised to find great piles of black basaltic stone, like artificial quarry heaps, in the dense Seaforthia palm scrubs ten miles west of Somerset.
Here, then, is a clearly defined but very intermittent line of volcanic action along our entire east coast for over two thousand miles. Yet to-day there is not only not one active volcano on the whole of that area, but not even one clearly authentic dead one. There is nothing to show whence came the basalt of the Darling Downs, the Big Scrub, or the Atherton Tableland, unless in the last case the two deep freshwater lakes, Barrine and Eacham, the Barrang and Zeetcham of the aboriginals, represent the craters of extinct volcanoes.
Whence, then, came the basalt spread along a narrow line of our east coast for two thousand miles, and all of it east of the Dividing Range? There is a lot of room for theories . . .
When the late Captain Audley Coote was laying the cable from New Caledonia to Sandy Cape, at the north end of Fraser Island, on the South Queensland coast, he passed a submerged mountain 6,000 feet in height, and found a tremendous chasm, so deep that they could find no bottom, and had to work the cable round the edge. When he reached the coast of Fraser Island he got the same soundings as Cook and Flinders and the Admiralty survey in the ’sixties, six to eight fathoms, but there came a break in the cable in after years, located in that six and eight fathom area, and they found the broken cable hanging over a submarine precipice of eight hundred feet.
That I read in Captain Coote’s own manuscript journal, and it was confirmed by Captain John Mackay, the Brisbane harbourmaster, who assured me that an 800 feet chasm had suddenly formed there in the bottom of the ocean!
On the coast of Japan, the ocean bottoms sank in one place suddenly from four or five fathoms to 4,000 feet.
The old Fraser Island aboriginals told me that the deep blue lake, two miles from the White Cliffs, was once a level plateau, on which their fathers held fights and corroborees, and that it sank in one night. On the North Queensland coast, there is fairly shallow water from the seashore out to the edge of the Barrier, and then the ocean goes down to depths up to two and three thousand feet, so if the sea were removed you would look down from the outer Barrier into a tremendous valley with a wall of granite cliffs.
When the town of Port Royal in Jamaica was destroyed by an earthquake on June 7, 1692, the houses all disappeared into an ocean chasm 300 feet in depth; and in the terrible earthquake at Lisbon, 1755, destroying 2,000 houses and 5,000 people, the wharves and piers, and even the vessels lying beside them, disappeared into some tremendous gulf, leaving no trace whatever.
It is a singular fact that the heights of the loftiest mountains correspond with the depths of the deepest seas, and that the 29,000 feet of Mount Everest is equal with what is known as the “Tuscarora Deep”, fathomed by the U.S.A. vessel Tuscarora.
From the days of Seneca there are records of islands suddenly appearing before astonished mariners, and others disappearing suddenly before mariners equally astonished. In the dreadful volcanic explosion of Krakatoa in August, 1883, one mountain peak was blown to pieces, while others were thrown up from the ocean. The tidal wave created by Krakatoa destroyed 40,000 people, and the air wave from the concussion pulsated three times round the world. And Krakatoa and the Javanese volcanoes are only a short distance from the coast of Australia!
Doubtless many of the ships that have mysteriously disappeared, leaving no trace, have gone down in the vortex of a submarine earthquake, or a chasm created by a sudden shrinkage in the bottom of the ocean. From the facts above available it is reasonable to believe that the present continent of Australia is only a portion of the original, and that in some remote period it extended hundreds or thousands of miles to the eastward, probably including Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands and New Zealand, possibly New Caledonia. How came the ancient Cretaceous Ocean, which once covered all Central Australia, from the gulf to the Bight, to withdraw from the land, leaving nothing but marine fossils in the desert sandstone?
Was the Cretaceous Ocean shallow all round this continent, and did it suddenly subside to fill some tremendous chasm caused by a sudden submarine shrinkage of the earth’s crust, followed by the inland sea which naturally rushed out into the vacancy?
What seems the only real danger to Australia lies not in the eruptions of some suddenly created new volcano, or any ordinary earthquake, but in just such shrinkages in the sea bottom as occurred on the coast of Japan, off Fraser Island, and many other localities, including Lisbon and Port Royal.
If such a subsidence were to come under Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Brisbane, it might be of such a magnitude that the whole city would disappear into the gulf.
We know nothing whatever of the awful forces at work beneath the crust of the earth, and nothing of the internal fires, or that awful subterranean abode where Shelley said “the old earthquake Demon nurses her young Ruin”. The history of volcanoes and earthquakes is an appalling record of lost countless millions of lives and awful destruction.
One Peking earthquake destroyed 300,000 people, one in Naples 70,000, another at Naples 40,000; and we are not far from July, 1902, when the volcano of Mount Pelee, in the island of Martinique, wiped out the town of St. Pierre and 30,000 inhabitants.
Still nearer is that 18th April, 1906, when the San Francisco earthquake killed over a thousand people, and did damage to the extent of sixty millions.
And so far in Australian history we have not had an earthquake that would capsize a tumbler of hot punch.
Why hot punch, thought Somers, why not hot bitters or ice-cream soda, which are much more Austral and to the point? But he had read this almost thrilling bit of journalism with satisfaction. If the mother earth herself is so unstable, and upsets the applecart without caring a straw, why, what can a man say to himself if he DOES happen to have a devil in his belly!
And he looked at the ocean uneasily moving, and wondered when next it would thrust an angry shoulder out of the watery bed-covering, to give things a little jog. Or when his own devil would get a leg up into affairs.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57