As soon as the guards who had brought up Ratzel had taken their places outside the door, Bolaris left the window from which he had been watching the glare of the distant conflagration as it fluctuated between the black silhouette of the motionless agaves, and came and sat on the settee beside his prisoner. Catherine Farness stood questioningly, unsure whether her presence was wanted.
“Come and sit by us,” said Bolaris, putting a chair for her. “This maybe is one of those matters where your wits are better than mine. Look at him! Can you doubt he is my twin brother?”
“But I thought you denied —” began Ratzel.
“I did. I had to. For reasons of state. I lied. I hate lying — it’s the dry rot of politics. But you were on the point of saying too much. I had to shut you up at once. I said I was never in the United States of America. Well, I was in the United States. My story begins as a foundling in New Orleans thirty-two years ago. My age was guessed at as about one year ten months old.”
“Thirty-four. Then that clinches it all. I had a twin brother.”
“That was what I didn’t want you to blurt out.
“Exactly. I understand perfectly. I had a twin brother. I have one now, I realize. My long-lost twin brother. It’s melodramatic. We ought to burst into a duet about it. Thirty-two years ago was the great flood year. Gods, what floods they must have been! It was the ruination of a whole country. The waters rose so suddenly at Hulkingtown that our mother couldn’t get back to the house — she had waded and clambered out to the store. I suppose you and I were left in different beds or in different rooms. Anyhow the man who carried me out — he had to jump for the boat when the house collapsed — thought I was the only kid in the shack. My mother told me about it a hundred times. It was always on her mind. How she got to the embankment above the house and how she stood screaming against the wind and the rain: ‘Two of them! Two!’ Nobody heard her. It was three days before she could find where I was and claim me. You and the house went swirling off. Heaven knows how you weren’t drowned. The shack was surely smashed somewhere near down the river. Did you get in a box? Did you get into a cupboard or something?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea. It was only when I was seventeen or eighteen, as a result of a violent quarrel between my foster father and his second wife, that I learnt I was a foster child. I remember nothing of America. Nothing. I grew up here. I doubt if I know three hundred words of English. I had always supposed I was the actual son of General Bolaris. He and his wife were in New Orleans at the time of the floods, they were coming home from South America, they had thought of adopting a child, and they adopted me. What happened to you?”
“You got a bourgeois education.”
“I had a good education. I went to the University here.” He nodded casually towards those faraway flickerings. “I had a time in the Military Academy and then I tried journalism and politics.”
“Life wasn’t as easy as that for me,” said Ratzel.
“Tell me about your mother,” said Catherine Farness.
“His mother too,” said Ratzel smiling. “She was, as people say, the best of mothers. But she really was the best of mothers. Rather big, blonde, plucky, excitable, devoted. And no luck. She died when I was twelve years old.”
“Odd! My mother died when I was twelve years old,” said Bolaris. “Or rather my foster mother. It’s a little difficult to adjust all at once to the new situation. For all those years she was in effect a very real mother to me. What was our father like?”
“I never knew him. He was engineer on a river steamboat and he was drowned before I can remember much about him. My mother had a hard time, scraping a living down there in the South. She tried to get me educated. First in Louisiana and then in Georgia. Not so easy. Poor whites is what they called our sort. I was precocious. I tried to get north. Not so easy for a sweated worker. They won’t let you go. Never mind about those early struggles. I knew pretty bitterly what it was to be a proletarian before I was fifteen. Then I had luck — I broke my leg and was put into Glegges Hospital down at Red River and I got away from there.”
“You broke your leg when you were fifteen?” said Bolaris. “I broke my leg when I was fifteen. I’m beginning to believe in horoscopes. We were born under the same stars.”
“Roughly maybe. I’m not superstitious. I’ve noted in a lot of things that Coincidence seems to be carrying on an everlasting guerrilla war against Probability — but it never amounts to anything practical. Anyhow, the more you believe in horoscopes the better for me. You won’t be in such a hurry to put me up against a wall and finish me.”
“There will be a strong disposition on the part of my associates to put you up against a wall anyhow, as soon as they know who you are.”
“I understand that.”
“You can’t let that happen,” said Catherine Farness to Bolaris.
“You don’t frighten me with an imaginary horoscope,” said Bolaris. “If he’s truly my brother he’ll quite understand if he has to be shot and behave like a gentleman. But we aren’t talking about putting against walls just now. What happened in that hospital”
“I got hold of books. I was always a glutton for books. But the point is that it was possible to get away north from there. Then indeed I read.”
“I was reading when I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. Fermenting with ideas. I was a bit of a socialist for a time. It’s wonderful what a boy does in those years. Learns a universe.”
“He learns a universe,” said Ratzel. “And judges it.”
“A bit prematurely?”
“When you start as a Southern town factory worker, you soon get the gist of the evidence,” said Ratzel.
“Against,” said Bolaris.
Ratzel considered that for a moment. “Possibly there is something in that,” he said.
Catherine Farness was an alert intelligence glowing between them and she brightened at his concession. And now they began a talk. But no book can do justice to a talk about ideas if it gives what is said verbatim. They talked with the quick sensitiveness of their common nature, but also they beat about the bush and harked backwards and forwards. Sometimes they lost touch and had some trouble to recover it. And for the sake of the reader the story-teller must give a foreshortened account of what they said — an arranged talk, all point and gist.
“Why are you a communist, Ratzel?” said Bolaris.
“Why did you drop your college socialism. And go over to the Right? You — with our brains.”
“Why did you come here? I was adopted and brought — but what brought you?”
“I came with a batch of miners fifteen years ago — to open up the Gorram Mines and show your people how. We got high pay. Even by American rates. They might have got Poles or Belgians, but they preferred us. In the long run they reckoned we should give less trouble. We were picked over — hundred percent Americans — guaranteed free from all revolutionary ideas with an inborn hatred in fact of radicals and Reds. So they thought.”
“In a way. Fifteen years ago that was. In those days the words communism or socialism didn’t cut much ice in America. We thought Revolution was a game for Wops and Dagoes. Why! in those days we despised the English workers for being on the dole. Funny to think of that now. We Americans, I realize, more and more, are the most lawless and revolutionary people on earth — but we don’t like to give it a name. In our bones we know we are really a new people — and it frightens us. Americans will sail at top speed towards socialism without a qualm — unless you wave a red flag at them. . . . ”
“Maybe it’s all the better if they call American realities by American names,” said Bolaris. “Your Red jargon, proletariat, dictatorship of the proletariat, bourgeoisie, and so on, and so forth, is about as sloppy a lingo, forgive me, as the human mind ever slipped up upon. Not a classification in it that is sound, not a term that isn’t like a thin paper bag full of broken eggs. . . . Dogmas made by exasperated refugees with chronic indigestion.”
“I rather agree with you,” said Ratzel, tranquilly. “I’ve had to listen to so much more of it than you have. But after a while you don’t listen any more to the words and phrases because you hear something behind the words and phrases. Something absolutely real. An indignation.”
Catherine spoke. “We hate fighting that.”
Ratzel looked at her. “You’ve talked of it already?”
“In a way. Sometimes we hardly need to talk.”
“We are like that,” said Ratzel.
“Don’t say I have a double also:”
“No,” considered Ratzel. “But there is a sort of parallel.”
“Go on with what you were saying,” said Catherine. “That is more important.”
“Yes,” said Bolaris, “it is more important. . . . That indignation. . . . Human indignation. It’s an essential word.”
He was evidently trying to get something clear in his mind. The two others waited for him to speak.
“You see,” said Bolaris; “there is an indignation on our side.”
“Rather like the indignation of a fat dog with a big bone who is sniffed at by an impertinent starving mongrel.”
“Not altogether that. No. He got the bone for himself anyhow and there’s a whole pack of the mongrels. For all that, brother Ratzel, our two indignations may not be so very different in essence as you seem to think.”
“Against stupid acquisitiveness, careless cruelty?”
“Well — what of stupid resentment, stupid vindictiveness? . . . Never mind that for the present. There’s one or two things between us more important than recrimination. You say that I seem to think this and that. That’s interesting. Think, you say. When do you imagine I think nowadays? It comes to me like a blow that I don’t think any more. So far as I know I’ve done no thinking — I’ve done nothing but scheming for the past two years. Politics, management, war, the next immediate thing and then the next immediate thing. Years ago perhaps I thought. And suddenly I’m thinking again now.”
“Yes. It’s been much the same with me. We’ve been so busy . . . ”
“Until this remarkable fact that we two people, who may be almost identically alike inside, find ourselves here in the most direct antagonism . . . That sets us thinking again in spite of ourselves . . . We’ve just carried on. But am I thinking now? I ask you. Good Heavens! My head’s spinning faster and faster. And yet not fast enough for me. I want to talk this out with you and nothing will wait for us to talk. Have you ever thought, Ratzel, how the poor human mind is being left behind nowadays by the rush of events? Not only us. ‘Do something,’ they say to us, and: ‘Tell us what to do! Decide! Decide!’ If only these damned scientific men would invent something — a mental accelerator that would make us think fifty times as fast as we do now — and not get fatigued, not get raw and bitter, then we might do something with the world. Well, let us say what we can in the time we have. In an hour and a half at latest I must start back for — up there. . . .
“Now about this indignation of yours — let’s get it clear. I began life with much the same indignation. I insist — the same indignation. Remember, I told you, I was a socialist as a student. Do you think I didn’t perceive that the mass of humanity was being used up to no good purpose and wasted? What does your indignation amount to? What is it really? The first thing I want to ask you is this: Have you ever tried to estimate the personal element in indignation How far your indignation at your own experience gives it force and substance” He paused. Ratzel smiled. When he spoke he spoke more deliberately than his brother. He was more exact and less nimble. He spoke like one accustomed to be heard attentively and interpreted and misinterpreted by sincere and jealously dogmatic men and women, while Bolaris spoke like a man used to inattentive listeners.
“What you suggest is perfectly sound,” Ratzel admitted. “My indignation was never disinterested. No. Never. I was indignant primarily because I found myself attacked, threatened with subjugation, and obliged to struggle. It was the amazement and wrath of a child when first it is crossed. I began with tremendous expectations as all young creatures do. And I discovered I belonged to a frustrated class before I was fourteen. I had been given life and I had been cheated of life. My promised world, the beautiful toy ball they taught me about, had been stolen from me almost as soon as it had been put into my hands. I was, I realized, condemned to live in need and humiliation, toiling, wanting, caught in that vile town with not one chance in a hundred thousand of escape. Every one about me, every one of my sort, seemed to be in much the same plight. So I looked round to find who had stolen my world.”
“Wait a minute,” said Bolaris. “I know what you concluded had stolen your world — the damned bourgeoisie and all that. Maybe you think it still. But let me ask — myself as well as you — a more essential question. Isn’t it possible that this indignation of ours is something deeper in the nature of life than either you or I have supposed? Isn’t it in the nature of young life to expect — extremely? To set out to conquer the world? Isn’t all new life eager? Isn’t all life indignant and fighting? Is any vital activity any thing much more than an indignant struggle? I— I was indignant just as much as you were. Not quite in the same way. Though not as you say a mere mean indignation — the dog with the bone and all that. I didn’t feel robbed perhaps but I felt hampered and encumbered. The toy ball wasn’t so much snatched from me as punctured, until it shrank to something crumpled and unsatisfactory. I was only to play with it in a certain way — a stupid way. I had liberties on conditions. Mean conditions. It wasn’t good enough.”
Catherine nodded with the expression of one who sees the solution of a long-pondered riddle plain before her.
“Let me tell my story now that I have begun it,” said Ratzel. “I saw the Capitalist System plain, as the world thief. I saw life as a choice between world revolution or life-long slavery. It seemed to me that every one except the robbers must see things like that. The masses would arise, once you opened their eyes, wrench back the world from its exploiters . . . ”
“And all would be well?” said Bolaris.
“All would be well. I gave myself to the World Revolution before I was eighteen.”
“I have given myself to this idea of a World Revolution. The thing is done. Here I am.”
“But because you wanted to fulfil yourself,” said Bolaris. “You saw frustration in economic slavery. I saw frustration from a different angle. I didn’t believe, I don’t believe, in the power of these indignant masses of yours to take over and manage affairs. I didn’t believe in that solidarity your side is always assuming; your proletariat seemed to me to be just as credulous, stupid, impulsive, incalculable, as rich people. More, even. I couldn’t persuade myself to your mystical belief in mass direction. Were you really persuaded about that? Didn’t you perhaps jump rather hastily to an easy conclusion?”
“And how did you jump?”
“To another easy conclusion maybe. But not that one. Since you lived mostly with people who were driven from above, obliged to work and obliged to work in particular unpleasant ways and sometimes even deprived of the work that opened the door for them to even the most elementary satisfactions; while you, I say, had all the odds against you, it was easy for you to take refuge in the belief that, if your sort were only given half a chance to assert itself and take control of things — Heavens, how different it would be! But I wasn’t one of the under dogs. I was one of the released. And I saw and knew what released people could do, and all that in the worst sense they were capable of doing. I was brought up among released people, among people who had an air of controlling things, giving directions, military people, lawyers, priests and teachers, newspaper owners, industrialists, and what hit me was not indignation at oppression but indignation at presumption and pretentious meanness and muddle. You thought these people of the Right, as you would call them, were cruel and hard; I knew they were — fatuous. I saw enough of human incapacity to disbelieve in the ability of any sort of intelligent management of our affairs with the normal badly trained stuff of humanity we have today. A director is a director still and a colonel a colonel, even if you call them commissars. But these people here were uneasy and more aware of their own incapacity than your inexperienced rebels. Less conceit and more cowardice and cunning. They want a Strong Man to make them feel safe. Demand creates supply. I seem to give them what they want. I have a certain aptitude for this silly war business and a reasonable share of political trickiness. Anyhow, said I— and that maybe is where the family vanity comes in, Ratzel — the stronger the grip I get upon affairs the less of their foolery need I suffer. I’m told that, away there in the city, your general behaviour has had — a fairly similar flavour.”
Ratzel considered. “There has to be a phase — it is fundamental in communist theory — of trusteeship.”
“Your dictatorship of the proletariat, I agree. But God help the trustees! Against themselves. Your trustee in Russia shows more than a hint of moral strain. Eh? But I also have exactly the same idea about myself — of trusteeship, which is roughly that any one else would be worse. At bottom it is my frustration I am fighting against. At bottom it is my indignation that drives. I am not trying to interpret or reconcile or implement the forces behind me. I’m trying to make them go what I believe to be the sane way. I’d as soon ask my lot to tell me where to go next as the man with the dog would ask the sheep. Is that anything different from what you are doing? Are you obeying this indignation of the proletariat or are you using it? What shape or direction is there in it to obeys Tell me, Ratzel, frankly brother to brother, now that you have seen your particular brand of indignation sweep like a flame about the world, has it done much more than burn up a certain amount of old rubbish, break up a few old traditions and organizations, smash and break and burn like a resentful child in a tantrum who has got hold of the matches? But make —?????????? “Is it really a new world you and your communists are making? Anywhere? Moscow? Mexico? North China;”
“Not yet,” said Ratzel and then, “but the spirit is there. Hope. The spirit for a new world. We have been so busy fighting your lot. And there is a complicatedness about things.”
“The spirit is everywhere — I have it quite as much as you have — but are your lot over there really giving it an operative form? That’s one of my phrases, brother — operative form. And another which isn’t mine — it came from someone on your side — is competent receiver. Competent receiver and operative form; two phrases for two problems that socialism and communism ought to have tackled forty years ago. We know pretty accurately what is going on behind your front. We know about your troubles. All the shooting in the city hasn’t been at us. We know how you suffer from the touchy dissentient, the egotist who must assert himself by making difficulties, the disciple who pesters to be persuaded like an amorous woman, the devotee who must never be slighted, the praise-hunters, the asinine ‘kicker’ who flames into jealousy, who likes to flare up and is proud of it, at any hint of leadership. Quite apart from the fools who are downright rascals, fanatics today and rascals tomorrow. We know of their groups and their — what is your words — deviations. We know of your would-be successors in the city there. Some of them must be getting busy now. But they’ll be scared. They want you to win this war for them before they do you down. You all have the same brand of indignation over there, no doubt, just as you have similar heads and feet; you have your proletarian indignation, but it doesn’t hold you together in any real co-operation. You’re just a crowd of empty antis — without a creative idea in common.”
“I do my best to discipline the Party,” said Ratzel reflectively.
“We know you do,” said Bolaris cheerfully. “Lot of fools they are. Don’t you want to get up now and then and kick ’em all round hard, good and hard, every man jack of them?”
Ratzel’s smile returned to his face. “Tell me about your lot.”
“Just as impossible. If it wasn’t for the civil war and their fear of your lot, the whole damned dog team would have me out of the sledge and be at each other’s throats tomorrow.”
Ratzel smiled at Catherine — and his smile was exactly like what she called Bolaris’s old-fashioned look.
“Very similar isn’t it. My lot holds together because they hate your lot, and your lot holds together because they are afraid of mine. But except that your lot is Anti–Red, I can’t tell what they are up to. We do at any rate talk of the classless society and so on. We do dream of something generous and fraternal. But you? Are you monarchist, Bolaris, with a pious loyalty to that sly, futile, pin-head of yours, or are you clerical with a mysterious belief in that unbreakable triplex God who crucified Himself to put the Pope in the Vatican, and who prefers Reds to be shot in heaps and children sweated rather than interfere, or are you on the side of those dreary cash registers who run the mines and transport, or the colonels and majors who just want men to order about, or these grandee landlords of yours with a passion for swagger, slavery, and sex? Which is it, Bolaris? Think of them. You are too close up to them. You should see them from away there in the city. What a lot!”
“It is a lot, as you say.”
“Much worse than yours?” asked Catherine of Ratzel.
“More to blame because they have had opportunities.”
“Less to blame because they have had temptations. If you knew some of the heroisms of our men —!”
Catherine seemed to hesitate. “Maybe,” she doubted.
“Much the same stuff really,” said Bolaris. “Well — I answer you in your own words; I too — I want to discipline my party. I want a humanity chastened and informed and disciplined. Educated. Really educated. What we are dealing with, you and I, in ourselves and every one else, is — an untrained, unquickened animal; animal still; a greedy, cowardly animal whose only loyalty is a disguised Narcissism.”
“You speak plainly,” said Ratzel.
“Because usually I do not have to speak at all. That’s my advantage over you.”
“No,” interrupted Catherine suddenly. “You are going too far, Richard dear. You are too hard on our humanity. May I say something? I have played a woman’s part in the world, and that is to look on while things are being done. And learn. The creature is a child — not really a stuck-up monkey but a childish man. It isn’t a wicked old formed animal, like an old gorilla or a boar or a crocodile. It’s a cub. No human being really grows up mentally — yet. That is the trouble with men and women. They are all infants mentally, physically precocious. They are as greedy, credulous, vain, and heartless as any other young animals. I’m not talking theory; I’m talking biological fact. Yes — I could prove it to you by Axolotl and Amphioxus and gregarious animals and all sorts of established scientific ideas.”
“You’ve been reading biology!” said Bolaris. “What don’t you read?”
“Women ought to read. A sacred duty. I read biology. I read psychology. I read everything because I want to understand you. You are my job, Richard dear, just as the world is yours. And things like that I am beginning to understand.”
“But I think that what you say is absolutely right,” said Ratzel turning to Catherine, and Bolaris laid his hand for a moment on Catherine’s because when he called her “governess” he had wanted to call her “mother-mistress,” and he had been too shy to say so.
“Human beings are children,” said Ratzel, taking on her idea. “And we, except in such gleams of sanity as this — when we get three brains working hard instead of one — are children too. When all is said and done about loyalty to the will of the people and so forth and so on, what we do is to manage them.” He grinned cheerfully. “As some women manage us.
“No. We would if we could,” said Catherine. “But all we with our feminine minds can do is to think in terms of individuals, by and through individuals, and it is you who must be responsible for the whole. Whether it’s sound and complete or not.”
Bolaris and Ratzel nodded agreement.
“Somehow it seems to me that here perhaps we have the two halves of one scheme. But that may be my headlong imagination,” said Catherine.
“Is that so?”
“What have we got in common?” said Bolaris.
“Quite a lot.”
“I began by being indignant on my own score no doubt,” said Ratzel. “But — at any rate I’m no longer infantile.”
“I believe he is the nearest thing to a grown man I have ever known,” said Catherine. “And you too seem much of an age.”
“I am growing up — well and good. I want to see a new world freed from smothered indignation, from the madness that comes out of hope less discontent. I believe that a new world, a fullness of human life, such as men have never dreamt of before, is possible now. But we have still to learn the way to it. There has to be a new education. An education with steel in it. Exactly what you have said. I want to get my hands on power to bring that about, and so do you. I want to discover and mobilize every one in the world who can be made like-minded with myself. And I don’t care a rap for the others. Not a rap. Naturally I want to revolutionize all this jungle of industrialism that has grown up about us. That is to say I want a real socialism. I want mankind drilled — and I don’t care how hard they are drilled — into a proper use of property and money — a proper respect. Respect the work done. Respect the promise which you call wages. And I don’t care if I have to hang every speculator in the world.”
“I am as ready to alter all that as you are,” said Bolaris. “And my hand, mind you, is nearer the necks of the rich than yours.”
“I hate greedy incompetence that has to compel and crush because it cannot direct and govern.”
“And so do I. I hate indiscipline.”
“And so do I.”
“I hate that continual congealing of officialism and professionalism and custom, which is like the hardening of arteries in the state.”
“Well!” said Ratzel, meeting a new idea there. “Yes, so do I. . . . And priests.”
“All sane men resent priests,” said Bolaris.
“And where do you differ;” asked Catherine.
“We don’t differ,” said Bolaris. “Evidently when we scrap our catch-words, we don’t differ. This isn’t a collision, it is a meeting.”
“It has been a wonderful meeting,” she said. “But the night is passing. Time waits for no man. The cars have been back an hour and are waiting for you, Richard. The children want to go on with their civil war, gratify old grudges, get their revenges, feel important in their uniforms. What is the next phase? Are you going to stop them? What are you two adults going to do?”
“Well?” said Ratzel.
“You first, brother. Brother —?”
“Brother Robert. No, you first. I am corrupted by speaking perpetually to the faithful in their Marxist jargon. I am evasive, redundant, politic. I know it. I tend to gabble away from the question in hand. Think aloud, brother-Brother —?”
“Brother Richard,” said Catherine softly.
“I will. I am virtually dictator now. Gammet is done for. I clean him up tomorrow. The rich people will truckle to me and pay — pay; the King will try to outwit me, with what you call his pin-head; the generals will applaud me but insist I’m too soft with the men and too hard upon jealous officers; the Church will bless me publicly and mutter. They hate me like poison, but they believe that I, and I alone, can save them from a reckoning with you Reds. Thank Heaven, they have a tremendous idea of you. They believe there may be a Red Judgment yet. That’s the nightmare in which I ride to power. You, you Reds, you poor squabbling Reds, keep me in power. If you are defeated, wiped out — Gods! it will be like hounds upon a fox.”
“Our positions,” reflected Ratzel, “are extraordinarily parallel.”
“We depend on one another. We live and die together. Our horoscopes are left and right of the same picture. Catherine, I cannot help it, we have to keep on with the war.”
“Until his power there and mine here have been so consolidated . . . that we can tell them.”
“But what goes on meanwhile? You foster reaction and he a tyranny.”
“No. We make nothing really. We foster very little. Perhaps presently we will have a sort of peace, an armed peace, with perpetual snarling and menaces. What is really happening is the birth of a new world, out of mankind, almost in spite of mankind. Our job, his as well as mine, is to liquidate things outworn. Catherine, let us confess the truth, we two men are obstetricians — no less and no more. We may kill the birth-yes, or we may save the birth, or cripple it, but I doubt if we can alter it in any other way. What has to be, has to be — in essence — whatever the accidents. What he has to say to his people is: ‘Freedom and plenty — yes, but first,’ he has to say, ‘you must learn self-knowledge, public service, discipline.’ What I have to say to my people is: ‘Authority and abundance — yes, but first you must give these common serfs, this cheated crowd, comfort, health, leisure, self-respect, and individual hope. There is no authority but competence.’ But the real forces that are shaping human life today and driving us all before them are neither in politics nor business. They are in laboratories and drawing-offices on the one hand, and on the other in the spin of the earth, the dust before the wind, the blaze of the sun, the festering germs in the dirt. And certain incalculables. The true dictator of the world is an embracing necessity. Maybe the ultimate ruler will always be Necessity. Necessity presents us with opportunity. Take it or leave it, she says, but don’t pretend to dictate. Whichever side wins or whether we two call it a draw and share the world, necessity will insist now, at the price of utter defeat for our race, upon much the same new industrial organization, much the same new monetary conventions, much the same new classifications of people, much the same distribution of work and leisure, much the same ways of travelling, much the same countryside, and much the same education. Take it, she says, this new world, or refuse it and perish. Politicians like us are just the whippers-in of necessity. The old order breaks up, behaves preposterously. Dangerously. We too have behaved preposterously and dangerously until now here we meet face to face and see the truth through each other.”
“Yes,” said Catherine and stopped short. They turned to her. “There is still the old riddle,” she said. “Who will control the rulers? Who will guard the guardians.”
“No one,” said Bolaris. Their silence seemed to question him. “All balances and constitutions are provisional things. In the end when they are adult all men are irresponsible. We are going to do what we believe to be right.”
“And if presently you give way to fatigue, fear, haste, hatred and anger, vanity?”
“So much the worse for the world and so much the worse for us. Maybe there will be others to take things out of our hands. But there is no helping that irresponsibility. We must judge ourselves now — we are adult men with nothing left to control us. Sovereign adult men. Or are you, Ratzel, still disposed to take orders from the Party?”
“About as much as you are disposed to die for your King.”
Catherine brooded. “Yes,” she concluded. “That is what growing-up means. You are men. And now, since this talk must come to an end, shall I make a foolish generalization about women? No woman has ever really respected a man who put a law or a leader or what you call love above that innate sense — which is the very essence of manhood — of the right thing that he of himself has to do. . . . Which is his necessity.”
“Under God, the pious would say,” said Ratzel.
“It is God,” said Catherine. Such in effect is what these two brothers and Catherine said and understood in their long talk, and that is the determination they drew out of each other. But the story-teller has stripped and simplified what they had to say, and crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s, and smoothed out digressions, and filled in several gaps that they with their innate intuitions were able to leap over.
A wordless treaty materialized between them as they talked. They had no doubt of themselves and each other.
Suddenly the air quivered with a renewal of the distant gun-fire and the thin bright orange thread of a signal rocket soared across the blue darkness. Both men stood up and looked towards the open window listening. Silence returned. There was not even the distant sound of an aeroplane. No conflagration was visible any longer nor the flash of any explosions. Maybe far away, buried in that stillness, the wounded were being gathered in and the shattered posts and positions reconstituted. Nothing reached the three listeners.
“The cars are waiting,” said Catherine. “What are we going to do?”
“You have to get back to your people, Ratzel. And I have to seize power tomorrow. Nothing can alter that.”
“But how is he to get back to his people?” said Catherine.
“I haven’t even a map,” said Ratzel. “I don’t know any of the ropes here.”
Bolaris stood up. He walked to the window, whistling softly to himself, and stood in a profound meditation. His shoulders showed Catherine that he was counting on his fingers, a trick he had when he was trying out some scheme. He came back to the two seated at the table.
“This isn’t going to be so easy,” he said.
“The cars are waiting,” she remarked.
“For the present, brother Robert, you must stay hidden here. Stand up and look resentful and a prisoner. Catherine, sit over there, and look at him as though he was poison.”
Bolaris clapped his hands for the guards and sent for the officer in command. A young man appeared and saluted. Bolaris scrutinized his face and decided to trust him.
“Something very responsible indeed,” he said in a quietly impressive voice. The young officer stiffened and tried not to look elated. “This prisoner is very important. I want you to notice something. Just look at us as we stand together.”
He walked across to Robert, stood beside him for a moment and walked back.
“That will do. Let him be taken away.” When Ratzel had departed with his guards, Bolaris smiled mysteriously at his subordinate.
“You noticed it?” he asked.
“The resemblance, sir. Yes.”
“I have been trying to find out all I can about that individual. Something — never mind what might arise out of this resemblance. I want you to guard him carefully, wait on him hand and foot so to speak, and learn his little ways. Let no one see him — absolutely no one — except yourself and the most trustworthy stupid men you have. Make him quite comfortable. I have an idea.”
Bolaris acted hesitation, turned to Catherine.
“Could I ask you to tell the cars to be ready downstairs?” he said.
“I think I had better tell you my idea,” he began, as soon as he and the young officer were alone. “It is a fantastic idea. . . . I don’t know you. But there is something about you inspires confidence. Suppose presently that man escapes and returns to the city and you help him to escape and go with him. No. Don’t be shocked. Wait a moment. Suppose it was not really that man who escaped?” Romantic excitement blazed in the young man’s eyes.
“You mean, sir —?
“Yes. It might be necessary. Find out exactly who and what he is, so that if presently I choose to impersonate him. . . . And you come with me . . . Do you understand?”
“Sir! Such an adventure!” He became speechless.
“Exactly. But now you see how it is no one must see him, no one. No one must come near him. It is my affair. This is the house of Madame Faress and you are her special guardian. It is a position of great responsibility. She knows something. Not of course what I have told you about my intentions. If she wants to see that man, she may do so. I doubt if she will. But let no one else come near him. Let no one know. No one — however important. Deny even that he is here. Can I trust you? Courage, loyalty, yes — but discretion?”
“Sir! — Try me.”
“If any rumours get about — if there are too many fingers in this pie —”
“I quite understand, sir.”
Bolaris held out his hand to the overwhelmed youngster.
“It is in your hands,” he said.
“Keep your eyes open and say nothing,” was his parting injunction to Catherine below. “Tell me anything out of the way that occurs. I shall be back as soon as I can. If you see him at all, see him discreetly. Darling!”
Last updated Friday, September 11, 2015 at 12:27