Events moved quickly at headquarters and the King’s palace next day, and for the most part they went according to plan. Bolaris had the man of action’s habit of keeping his thoughts in compartments, and his new philosophy of revolution and his project for restoring his brother to liberty remained disregarded in their pigeon-holes until Gammet had been shot and the King, concealing his astonishment and dismay beneath a certain chilly graciousness, had acquiesced in Bolaris’s assumption of supreme power. All the Five had played their appointed parts admirably. The coup d’etat had been planned so well and was executed so neatly that it produced no visible breach in the Anti–Red front. On the afternoon of the second day the group, all its tasks accomplished, assembled in the former dining-room of the Orpedimento chateau, which was becoming now the council chamber of the new regime. Bolaris kept them waiting for a time. It was his habit to keep them waiting and then appear with an air of having been working intensely on matters a little above and beyond them. But this time he stayed in his own large room upstairs because he felt a novel disinclination to go down to them. The agenda was plain and clear before him. The obvious next step was a concentrated culminating attack upon the Reds in the city that would justify and consolidate his control. He wanted now to delay that ultimate attack as long as possible. He wanted to keep up an appearance of successful driving energy during a phase of essential ineffectiveness, while he worked out the new situation, the new situation within his mind quite as much as the military and political situation which had arisen in the past two days. He had to find plausible reasons for delaying his concentration and he had to make up his mind definitely about Ratzel, not only about his immediate escape but about their subsequent relations. For the two days of the coup d’etat Ratzel had been, so to speak, in a pigeon-hole; now he had to come out again. And directly he was brought out again, he assumed the largest and most unmanageable proportions. They were waiting downstairs. He sat at the vast writing-desk of the wine king, with its heavy silver equipment — even the three telephones were silver-mounted — and stuck out the fingers of his hand and tried to assign each one of them its particular part in the complex of his problem. But the fingers behaved as though they did not belong to one hand and refused to remain turned down.
“I do not want to take the city.
“But all my prestige depends upon taking the city.
“If Ratzel is killed, I can be in the city in a fortnight, and they know that as well as I do.
“Do they know that as well as I do? If I tell them that we underrate the spirit of the city and the support from outside that is still coming in?
“No. But if we take the city now — with all this foreign support behind us! Shall I tell them we must not take the city until we have our kind friends from abroad a little more in hand?” That finger looked better than the others. It remained bent down.
“Next. Let us continue the patriotic strain. Assume that three-quarters of the city is patriotic au fond. Even if it doesn’t know it..
“If I propose to double-cross our amiable allies by a deal with the Reds, how will they take it? Which do they hate most? We are supposed to be the patriotic side. But are we?
“Suppose — suppose I tell them I’ve got Ratzel and that he is a much more reasonable man than they suppose?
“Am I going to tell them I’ve got Ratzel?
“If I don’t tell them now, it will be harder and harder to tell them.
“They will want him shot as publicly as possible, and from their point of view they will be right.
“How far can I afford to strain their confidence in me?
“I might have got Catherine to arrange his escape that very night. Could I have done that?
“No use crying over spilt opportunities. Somehow I must fix up some means of communicating with him and get him back to his proper place.
“I will tell them.
“I won’t tell them.”
He turned to his telephone and rang up Catherine.
“I’m longing to see you,” he said. “I’m damnably tired. I want every sort of consolation.”
And then in Lampobo:
“Use your mother wit, my dear. I don’t care how soon Ratzel gets back to his own side of the lines. I’ve no time to say anything more. Bless you, my dear.”
“I’ll try and see what can be done. It’s difficult,” she answered.
“Bless you, my dear.”
Bolaris took a turn up and down the room to recover his poise and then descended to the dining-room.
As Bolaris descended the florid and redundant staircase of the wine king, a duplicated white marble affair lit patchily by big windows of modem stained glass, he was acutely conscious of an unusual indecisiveness and of an unusual sensibility.
“I have been thinking,” he said, very much as a man with a headache might say: “I have been drinking.”
He had a queer feeling that he was not altogether there, as though something had been left behind with Ratzel, and exchanged for something else. Or as if long-neglected parts of his brain had been awakened to an unaccustomed activity. Or as if he had a new sort of stereoscopic vision, seeing round things a little because now he had two heads to see with. All sorts of things that had hitherto been irrelevant to him had assumed an air of not quite explicit significance, and things that he had hitherto gripped unhesitatingly as the business in hand had lost something of their lucid definition. It had never occurred to him before that the wine king’s palace was damnably vulgar, nor that it mattered in the least if it was. Now it came into his head that this pretentious superfluity of marble, with its mounted suits of European, West African, and Japanese mail and its sham Byzantine window saints, really did present something at which Ratzel could point a finger and say: “That’s your capitalist system!” It wasn’t, of course. . . .
Bolaris pulled himself back on the verge of a complicated internal argument, and passed between two saluting sentries into the big dining-room. For an instant in the doorway, the staircase idea made a phantasmal reappearance. What a jumble of weak appeals to ancient prestige, unintelligent acquiescence in grandiose traditions, and large unsubstantial claims to present importance this room presented! The chateau of a wine-peddling, market-rigging merchant pretending to be a kingly palace! As if any palace had ever been kingly! Could one ever hope to turn this sort of thing into a rational home for human beings? Maybe after all there was something to be said for revolutionary destructiveness, and beginning from the ground upward. While the upstairs room was silver, this was all gilt. Over the fireplace was a vast pseudo-Correggio, very appetizing for the diners, representing Elijah fed by the ravens. The ceiling and walls were fussy with gilt pilasters, cornices, massive mouldings, suggesting imaginary thrusts against quite impossible strains. There was a number of big shining jars of porcelain, on brackets and pedestals.
“The world has always been making big empty jars since Cnossos,” he thought. “And sweating and enslaving and murdering to get them. . . . A civilization of empty pots. . . . The world made safe for crockery.”
These were preposterous ideas to have streaming across a mind that ought to have been clenched like a fist ready to deliver a blow. Criticizing furniture! A chandelier of crystal and gilt glittered from a ceiling rosette, and on either side of the huge hearth gigantic ebony Negresses sustained clusters of electric lights. . . . The Five, seated with a certain assumption of ease about the central table, were dwarfed by their surroundings. It looked as though they ought to have been larger or that there ought to have been more of them. He advanced across a shining floor space and they rose at his approach.
“Hail, Chief!” said Handon. “You are master at last.”
“Servus servorum,” said Bolaris, standing at the head of the table. “The flag and secularists and our national honour.”
“We look to you in all things,” said Handon.
“And we have still to take the city,” said Bolaris.
“But now we shall take it,” said Handon. “Everything comes into your hands. Everything.” He seemed to be on the point of saying more.
“Not yet,” said Bolaris dryly, and sat down and surveyed his associates. “Much has to be done before we recapture the city,” he said, “and when we have taken it, our troubles are only beginning. . . . ”
(What a lot they were! And what the devil was he going to tell theme Hitherto he had had the hard concentration of a sportsman when he handled them. He had liked it as one likes playing a game one can play well. He had lapsed long ago into the belief that this game was the best one could do with life; now he was alert with new doubts. Latterly he had fretted at his enslavement to his associates’ loyalty, but that had not hampered his treatment of them; now he found himself simply and blindingly disliking and despising them. It would be difficult to control his irritation if anything adverse arose. Handon as usual had everything arranged for either action A, B, or C, but C meant extreme measures, and he did not want that for some time.) He decided to make an apology in anticipation.
“I’ve not slept for three nights,” he said, and swept his hands over his face and stared again at his confederates. What a lot! Who had said that? The voice of Ratzel echoed in his brain. First there was Handon, his stalwart junior by three years, his devoted fag at school, his stooge during their student days, a relentless exacting admirer. Handon had a buoyant physique, an unlimited romantic imagination, and a consciousness of intellectual inadequacy which did nothing whatever to limit his greed for power. Bolaris knew that Handon’s hero-worship was largely self-projection. If the man could not dare to set up for dictator himself, the next best thing was to identify himself with the brilliant man who could. He wanted Bolaris to swagger with invincible resolution so that he could be a swaggering shadow. He was the sort of dog who bites the friends of those he loves. He could be counted upon for an unhesitating obedience to orders and an obstinate insistence upon what he considered his hero ought to do and be. Visibly he resented the existence of Catherine. He was bound to be extremely difficult about Ratzel.
Next to him sat the corpulent figure of Istom, the Big Money of the conspirators, the owner of the catalamite monopoly and the native partner in the foreign exploitation of the Gorram mines. His financial tentacles extended to London, New York, Amsterdam, and were hidden and camouflaged with extreme skill. His puffy face now radiated a genuine admiration for the success of Bolaris; he loved and made up to all successful fellows, but his eyes nevertheless had a certain watchful distrust. He was ready to give to the cause, he could give magnificently at times, but he was inflexibly hostile to taxation or control. He kept his own initiative. He was a born hider. So far Bolaris had never been able to find out what he hid, nor how he hid things, nor what his understandings with his foreign partners were. How far would they come in to help him? Istom lived in great fear of the “Reds,” and Reds for him were any people who seemed likely to impair that godlike sense of overpowering wealth which was his particular protection against the humiliations and frustrations of life. Without any visible physical preponderance those massive hoards of his gave him a sense of limitless power. You could intimidate men, play men through their greedy hopes, buy women — practically any woman — buy art, music, space. Provided your spending was uncontrolled. These Reds of his had no relation to the realities of “labour.” They were conscience — born phantoms whose captain was Nemesis, and the core of the Anti–Red organization was an alliance of bold, cunning, able men, smaller or greater than himself — mostly, thank God, smaller. They were allied to defend their right, the right of the stronger to a free hand with their fellow-creatures and an unchallenged survival for the winner. They did each other in a lot, good poker players all, but they kept a common front against the commonweal.
“I serve his purpose while the Reds still fight,” thought Bolaris. “But the day we are through with the shooting and killing and intimidation in the working-class quarters of the city, ends any use he has for me. It’s him I want in handcuffs now. He knows that I mean to get his money at last if I have to cut through his knuckles. Unless he gets me first. He’s no fool inside his fat white brain. He too is going to be difficult about Ratzel.”
Close up to Istom, as if to assure himself and everyone else of their essential alliance, was the Duke of Carmnavera Credora. He had that narrow aquiline face with large wandering features which is so frequent a result of aristocratic interbreeding. His chin was not an ordinary chin; it was an heirloom. His dark eyes were irregular and scornful, and the exquisite politeness of his manner to all the world was the quintessence of insolence. He had peculiarly long hands of which he was proud; he had a son who was a criminal cripple of whom he was proud; he had a slight slobbery family lisp of which he was proud; he had syphilis so long inherited and so complicated that it had become less of a disease than a constitutional distinction of which he was proud. His estates covered vast areas; he had ancient castles and palaces and much rare furniture, historical jewels, and priceless paintings, so that Istom’s raw grandeurs and art patronage filled him with ill-concealed contempt. Not that he knew much about art, except that he knew that he was right about art and Istom wrong. Whatever he did was right and whatever Istom did was by natural necessity not. His ancestors glittered in history right back to the Byzantine Empire, and where were the Istoms then? He knew of no reason why the future should be different. He was convinced that the real people worshipped his family and were only being temporarily misled by agitators and suchlike mischief-makers, taking advantage of the irritation caused by Istom’s excruciating lack of style. No communist was as free from bourgeois prejudices as himself when it came to borrowing, defaulting, betraying, using, and not paying. He would not scruple to sell his palaces, rare furniture, pictures, daughters, mistresses, to the highest bidder, confident that all things come back at last to the place where they belong. He believed Istom was saturated with snobbish admiration for aristocratic quality — or why should he covet palaces and titles? — and that he could twist him round his finger by drawling a little flattery, putting a hand on his shoulder, and calling him “my dear Istom.” Just now the Duke had to play a waiting game much as the King did. Why was he not with the King? Well — the King was a weak fool and suspicious in the wrong place. And besides, this so-called royal family was no better than the Duke’s. Not nearly so good. Not an authentic trace of it before the eleventh century. And Bolaris? “Double-cross,” was the Duke’s maxim, “but never distrust.” This fellow Bolaris was the sort of clever man you call in to do a job, just as you call in a physician, or an architect, or a locksmith, or a lawyer, or one of those shuffling respectful scientific oddities. Bolaris had to have a free hand for his cleverness. He had to be dictator. For a time. But dictators come and dictators go; they have no home life, no social tradition, no culture, no innate manners; while aristocracies go on for ever, the chronic beautiful disease, the hereditary syphilis of our species. So Bolaris read him as he sat wearing his mask of aristocratic aloofness, his cynical detachment that hid nothing better in the way of reality than cunning, treachery, and invincible conceit. Could he be detached from Istom? Not in the matter of Ratzel. Wherever the Left held the country, they had divided up the Duke’s estates and filled his abject peasants with fantastic ideas about their rights.
“My dear Bolaris!” the Duke had said, “the mischief of the social revolution is that they can do nothing properly. If they were better men than we, no one would be readier to hand things over than I. But how have they been behaving under the Revolution? They just sell my crops, keep no seed corn, gobble up the best pigs and eggs, and seduce their own daughters. It was all so much better when it was done for them. Such a lot of the poor fellows will have to be killed, I’m afraid. Such a lot of them.” Not much help for Ratzel there.
Opposite the Duke was Fayle with his white face and his sunken dark eyes. The soul of Fayle had been a matter of profound speculation to Bolaris. He was a religious fanatic. He was an essential saint. He had sublimated his personality in the Church just as Handon had sublimated himself in the Leader. He had made the fretted exaltation of nave and aisle, the clustering still candles of choir and altar, the swinging censers, the chanting processions, the superhuman voice of the organ, the orderly functioning of service, fast, and festival, the prescribed responses, the prescribed genuflexions and motions, his own, a necessary part of his bodily being. The mystery of pain in the crucifix, the pallid saints in chapel and window, stirred no mental processes in him but flushed him with profound spiritual emotion; he did not question them, did not think about them, but he gave himself unreservedly to them. He belonged to them and they to him, and the rest of the world had to prostrate itself to his mystical Church self. Bolaris doubted whether he had the remotest idea of any God above himself or indeed of anything over and outside his Church. The Church was the wonderful, great, and immortal Self he had achieved at the price of his meagre personality. He was not a priest only because he felt he could serve the Church better and get more out of it in political life. But he was a celibate, and his only use for women was that they should become saints and martyrs. Sex for him was a method of dominance over and persecution of natural desires, a cause for penitence and abasement. To buy him Bolaris had “put the crucifix back in the schools,” and it had been a poor bargain. Bolaris had hoped to use his fanaticism against the King’s frivolity, against the exploitation of the workers and the oppression of the peasants, but he had underrated the exalted detachment of Fayle’s spirituality. The spectacle of deprived and downtrodden human beings aroused envy in him rather than pity, for while he wore his hair shirt with an effort, God saw to theirs. And Ratzel had let his atheist following defile relics, mock at priests, insult nuns, and burn magnificent churches. If Fayle could not hope for a complete restoration of his sacred buildings, there was at any rate the belated wrath of God upon Ratzel to anticipate. No help there.
Lastly, on Bolaris’s right sat that stout old soldier, Goodamanas, his father’s companion in arms, a gallant lout. He lived not for “service” in deed or anything so abstract, but for the Services. He wanted the army to be a shining sword, and his imagination went no further. Anything that might diminish it, impair its clean brightness, hamper its swiftness, question it in any way, was anathema to him. This, too, was self-projection, but free of the queer sexualized complexities of Fayle. He was chivalrous, he was patriotic; on one or two occasions he had even admired the strategy of “that Red devil” in the city. He was for the dictatorship — and keeping the King in his place — simply out of his hopeless contempt for the royal personality and because of the King’s bad treatment of his niece. The King had shown no esprit de corps; he was an entirely unworthy hilt for the national blade. Goodamanas had no professional vanity. He had never betrayed hate or affection for Bolaris, but he had played a straight game with him and accepted his leadership without cavil because it was more competent than his own. After all, the son of General Bolaris, legitimate or not, was one of his caste. His grip could be firm but it was never malignant. His attitude to Ratzel might not be a foregone conclusion, and there is nothing military men dislike so much as the practice of shooting antagonistic generals. Bolaris counted: himself, one; Handon, trustworthy but troublesome, two; and a doubtful Goodamanas, three; something might be done if as Dictator he grabbed the casting vote. Such was the core of the dust eddy of thought that whirled through the mind of Bolaris, in the brief pause before he began to speak.
“I want to put my views and intentions about this new situation in which we find ourselves as clearly as possible. It is vital that we should have the completest understanding among ourselves about how things stand, about what we are doing and what we are going to do. Our armies have had a defeat but, to be frank, it is a defeat that is not without its redeeming aspects. It has rid us of a lamentable division of command, and it is not upon our own nationals that the brunt of the loss has fallen. We still hold the initiative in this war and there has been no loss of morale; indeed, the reverse has drawn us all together more closely than ever in our common devotion to the Cause of God, King, and Country.”
He bowed his head, and his five associates, with an equal sincerity, bowed in sympathy. “You are saying this in your proclamation;” said Istom.
Bolaris smiled. “Precisely. And it sounds like a proclamation. I prepared that this morning. And now let us get down to some underlying realities that are bound to come to the surface directly the city is in our effective occupation. For I assure you I can certainly be in the city in a fortnight — almost certainly in ten days — and then what?”
“A general clean-up,” said Istom. “Reconstruction of industry-business. Solvency will not wait. We have been fighting our way deep and deeper into debt. Production has slowed down. It has been like a heart stopping.”
“One or two things take precedence of that.”
“The churches, the schools,” said Fayle.
“Even of that,” said Bolaris.
“The land, I suppose, can wait — and the crops and the seasons,” sneered the Duke with manifest irony.
“First of all,” said Bolaris, “we want to be masters in our own house. Our friends from the north-east have been landing more troops, more material — as you know. If I get into the city in ten days, I shall be there with a tired army with its hands full — and our kind friends, as fresh as paint, will be ready to take anything over that they can. We have to remember they have allies in high quarters.”
“Pin-head is a fool and a traitor,” said the Duke. “We all know that.”
“We may have them on our backs for the next twenty years,” said Bolaris.
“We couldn’t perhaps give them the place of honour in our next attack?” suggested Goodamanas.
“We cannot do that twice,” said Bolaris.
“And so we have to wait again!” cried Handon, and was again on the verge of saying more.
“No,” said Bolaris. “We have to be in the city in a fortnight.”
“But how —?” began Istom. Bolaris held up his hand and paused for a moment before he made his announcement.
“I have had, in an irregular and unexpected way, a communication from Ratzel.”
An idea flashed into Bolaris’s head as he spoke. Instead of admitting that he had Ratzel, he might represent his prisoner as a messenger from Ratzel. But Handon might make that difficult. No time to think that out now. He became aware of the intent eyes upon him.
“Ratzel,” he invented, “wants to make a deal.”
“We must take the city,” said Goodamanas.
“The city could be abandoned for us to march in,” said Bolaris, still romancing. “On terms.”
“What terms:” said Fayle.
“Yes. What terms?” said the Duke. And Istom turned the silent beam of a full-faced interrogation upon Bolaris.
“Man is by nature a patriot,” began Bolaris.
“How can Ratzel be patriotic?” said Fayle. “He is an American.”
Bolaris disregarded that. “The mass of the people in the city are primarily patriotic,” he said. “It is the only form in which they are really capable of thinking of themselves as a community. That’s as far as they have grown up. The great point made against us is our foreign alliance.”
“What terms would Ratzel offer?” said Fayle.
“He will drop the Red flag.”
“Good,” said Goodamanas, to whom flags meant much, but the others were not so easily satisfied. Their faces remained expectant.
“All things come to an end and give place to fresh,” said Bolaris. “The Red flag has meant tremendous things in people’s imaginations. But now it is played out.”
“What has it ever meant but envy of success on the part of the incapablese” said Istom.
“Hatred of God,” said Fayle.
“The snarl of the natural slave who does not know his place,” said the Duke. “I thought Aristotle had settled all that.”
“Aristotle said there were natural slaves,” Bolaris reflected. “But I doubt if he ever really consulted any natural slaves about it.”
“Why should he?” said the Duke in a half-aside. “And if there was anything else in the Red flag at any time, what was it?”
“Hope,” said Bolaris. He realized that he was being drawn into an argument, that he was not telling things to these people in good dictatorial style but pursuing novel lines of thought springing out of his colleagues’ self-revelations. He was not trying to dominate them. He was not trying to convince them. He was trying to state novel ideas that had invaded and changed his mind. It was as though an entirely new system were struggling for the possession of him. His clear cut decisiveness had deserted him.
“For the last century or more, this idea that life could be made abundant without a stroke of work, free meals and free circuses and everybody better off than anyone else, human subjugation abolished, has been spreading through the world like a contagious disease,” said the Duke. “God knows where it will take us. It is so terribly plausible to the inexperienced; it is so fundamentally absurd. What is civilization but balance, refinement, selection:”
“The damnedest of all heresies,” said Fayle, “is the belief in progress, the denial of the necessary limitations of the normal human life.”
“That hope,” said Bolaris, “the Red flag, I mean — was the sense of a promise, the first brightness of a dawn.”
“My dear fellow,” said the Duke, “this is like one of the spouters of the other side. What sort of dawn are you thinking of. What sort of new sun is this which will rise in the west and reverse all the precedents of nature?”
“Spouters?” said Bolaris, and abruptly something seemed to turn over in his mind. These people were unbearable. All capacity, all disposition, to persuade and humour these uncongenial associates deserted him in a blaze of indignation. Yet still he tried to control himself and the Five. “And you really think,” he asked, “that that hope, that belief in progress, which as you say has been running like an infection about the world for the space of three lifetimes, can ever be quenched again?”
“Certainly,” said the Duke, “isn’t that what we are trying to do now, and can anything else in the world be done but that? ‘Hope’ of this sort has always been cropping up and needing suppression. Inequality is the first law of human nature.”
“The law of God,” said Fayle.
“The kindest thing,” said the Duke, “the very, very kindest thing you can do to your natural inferiors is to keep them in their places. I know it. I’m not without experience. This will-o’-the-wisp of irrational desires and impossible vindications which you call hope may be in full flow; all the more need for strength and firmness. The swifter and grimmer the lesson, the less the suffering. If we do not beat out this spirit of mass rebellion, trample on it now, destroy the faintest hope of any recovery, it will begin all over again. Who was it said: ‘The price of civilization is eternal vigilance’?” Fayle decided not to correct the misquotation.
“I agree,” said Istom.
“We cannot afford to consider terms with the Reds,” said the Duke. “We must dictate them, or our social order will collapse in hopeless ruins. It has been the growth of ages and ages of evolution, it is a whole system, a system of tried and tested balances we inherit, and there is nothing, nothing whatever, to replace it. Nothing. There is no other social order possible. That is what none of you world-menders realize. As well try and abolish the headship of the head, and surrender things to a dictatorship of the guts. Don’t blame me, my dear Bolaris. It isn’t I who made the world like this; it is the way the world is made, kings and priests, rich and poor, gentle and simple — so it has been from the beginning, so it must always be.”
“But,” said Bolaris. And then with a wrathful wrench of his mind flung out of this argumentative groove altogether. “Never have I heard such nonsense. Never yet have I had to tolerate such useless talk from grown men. You seem to think that nothing changes in human possibility. Because otherwise where would you be? I tell you that everything has changed. I tell you that within a century age-old mists of ignorance and misconception have been scattered like clouds before the sunrise. It is a dawn, it is illumination. What is the good of sneering at these words, Duke, because they have been worn threadbare? That does not make them untrue. The eyes of the common man have been opened. He has such a conception of what life may be as no nobleman had five hundred years ago. Maybe he is still like that man who was given sight and saw men like trees walking. That will pass. Whatever else arrives we are going on into a clear-sighted world. The common man will not stand life as you lucky ones dole it out to him any longer. You had no generosity in your minds. You failed to make your peace with him when you were in the way with him. You will be able to humbug him less and less; and you will exasperate him more and more. Make your suppressions harsher and harsher; they break in your hands. The crowd may not be able to replace the old conditions by new ones quite possibly, but rest assured, if its conditions are not replaced, it will smash them, even if smashing them means disaster, collapse-utter destruction for our species. Get that idea right; it is the fundamental reality in things today. Let me say it again, Duke, in spite of that suppressed yawn. The endurance and discipline of common people is at an end; they will never stand the old conditions again; they may embrace violent and ineffective doctrines, they may believe blindly for a time in the promises of this new leader or that, they may cease to struggle on for a time and try to get back to some imaginary golden age, kings again for a bit, dictators, prophets. They may commit infinite follies, but unless they get change and satisfying change, they will break and perish rather than submit, and you and I will go into the boiling with them. This pretty historical world of yours, of kings and priests, lords and ladies, rich and poor, is going to pieces under your very eyes. It can never be put back again, never. The harder you try to hold it together the more it will rot and change. You might as well dream of restoring the stink of horse droppings to the avenues of New York or repeopling roads with the chariots of Ur. You people are as incapable of maintaining the old order of things as those rebels and doctrinaires away there in the city are of setting up a new. Of that anyhow you are all quite sure; aren’t you. We are as much in the revolution as those you call the Reds — far more. What I stand for, and what until today I always believed you understood I stood for, is a new order of things without a precedent, and if we also on our side cannot evoke the necessary vigour and the imagination and above all the generosity for a new order of things, then social collapse will continue indefinitely. That is not simply our case in this country. It is the plain destiny before all the world.
“No. No. Don’t fret, Istom, listen to me. I used to think you and your business rationalization and so on had at least a bit of creativeness about it. Are you, too, for just sticking it, in the mud and blood here? “This new order, Istom, we have to make must be newer and stronger than any of the dream worlds they imagine over there. Their whole turn of mind is to insubordination and sabotage. What else could it be? Their Utopias are infantile. They have never known anything but limitation. We have to go one better than they can. The only possible reply to a poor rebel revolution is going right on to a better and bigger creative revolution, and that means a new order of things altogether.”
“Well, that’s your corporate state!” said Istom.
“Mm-m!” said the Duke. “Hobbes’s dear old Leviathan come ashore — with Istom in control.”
“The only possible corporate state is to have the whole of mundane affairs under the direct control of the Church,” said Fayle. “Restore Christendom! The guidance of God and the wisdom of the ages.”
Bolaris went on talking as though these things had not been said. What they were doing in each case, except maybe Handon’s, was, he knew, to think these terrifying words “a new order of things altogether” into the form of their hearts’ desires, a little brighter and larger.
“Your corporate state, Istom,” he said, “was a tawdry first attempt to exploit the new necessities, a mere vague gesture towards that complete scientific socialism which is the only possible escape from social disintegration.”
“Not socialism exactly,” said Istom. “That’s where I differ.”
“Not scientific,” said Fayle. “Christian.”
“You played with it a little, Istom, and then you dropped it,” said Bolaris. “It went on beyond your courage and will. All the same that possible new order is taking shape in men’s imaginations; its necessary conditions are growing clearer. Men have to go on with their minds; they have to go on — and on. Go on to the new. Only by the complete abandonment of current ideas and current antagonisms can the new world be brought into being. Not only vast changes in institutions but changes in general ideas, changes in moral conceptions, a new universal education.”
(Fayle shook his head.)
“Yes — a new religion, an incessantly progressive religion, a reconstruction of behaviour, clearer and clearer ideas of property and social reward. All that. If you are not prepared for that much creation, then you are no better than those mere rebels over there; you too are men who refuse to learn, tearing at this dying social system — which must die anyhow, from a different point and at a different angle. . . .
“Oh! Get on with it. Get on with the new world. Stop your poor defensive resistances. Enlightenment, clarification — trite words, my dear Duke, eh? but alive where you are dead! Remould this world nearer the shape of men’s new dreams and desires. Yes, that means something. It means everything above the level of an everlasting fight for front place at the hog-trough. Ratzel, I know — never mind how I know — has come to realize that, as clearly as I do; he is willing to help and he has got to help. This imbecile civil warfare of sham loyalties, stale dogmas, perverted traditions, and fragmentary ideas has got to end. He’s a man with a brain like mine, and the sooner we can get in touch with him the better for us all.”
“No!” said the Duke.
“No! Atheists and murderers!” said Fayle.
“How far will he come away from communism?” asked Istom.
“Now you know where I stand,” said Bolaris, “and the way I mean to go. There it is. Either you come on with me . . . Men, where do you think we are going? Where else is there to go?”
He met doubt and antagonism in their eyes, even in the eyes of Handon and Goodamanas. His train of thought ceased to flow, crystallized, lit up, and became resolution. The unwonted thinker in him gave place to the natural fighter. His expression became cheerful.
“That’s how we stand, that is what we have to do.” He smiled and stared them in the face.
“Now,” said Istom, “after this magnificent flight into the ideal, let us come down to practical realities. I have always been open to the idea of — rationalization. Of a kind. Reasonable rationalization. Profit sharing. Controlled marketing. Rationing. We are all socialists nowadays and all that. What in concrete fact does Ratzel offer us and what at the present time are we going to do? He went unanswered.
“We are going to make a firm deal with Ratzel,” said Bolaris. “The city is going to surrender. We are going to help our foreign allies to pack up and facilitate their departure.”
Fayle made a dissentient noise.
“Now is the time for ending this imbecile war of the Lefts and Rights, this bloodshed for nothing. Everywhere men are war-weary. All the world is tired of a state of siege. Now is the time for the new unity — with Ratzel in the mood for it.
“With Ratzel in our hands!” said Handon abruptly. He could contain himself no longer.
“With Ratzel in our hands!” Bolaris could have struck his right-hand man. For some vivid moments it was as if Bolaris was the defendant in a trial instead of a dictator. Three faces accused him. Handon was dismayed already at his own precipitance. Goodamanas sat rigid, profoundly perplexed, trying to be firm and rigid in vacuo.
“What are you going to do with him:” asked Istom.
“Where is he?” asked Fayle.
“Where have you put him?” demanded the Duke.
“I have him where I want him,” said Bolaris.
“When we have fixed our deal with him I am going to send him back.”
“Send him back!” cried Istom.
“Shoot him!” said the Duke. Fayle murmured approval. “The Church does not execute. But it acquiesces.”
“It is absolutely necessary that we should come to an agreement with Ratzel if ever social order is to be restored. This fools’ war now I tell you is like the Thirty Years’ War — a fantastic waste of the human generations.”
“I mistrust Ratzel,” said Handon.
“Think what will happen if he does not return to them,” said Bolaris, like a grown man talking to unreasonable pupils. “We shall have no one to deal with.”
“So much the better,” said the Duke. “They will break up.”
“Yes, yes, but think what that really means! These people are indignant. They have reason to be indignant. Every common man in the world now is justly and properly indignant with human life — their vague indignations have been drawn together. No one can completely satisfy them, but Ratzel has given their angry discontent with life a form with which we can deal. He is the one man they trust not to betray them.” He overrode their protests. “What is the good of argument. If you do not follow me in this-you will never take the city. This war has to end and I and Ratzel alone can end it.”
“I do not trust Ratzel,” Handon repeated.
“It is not my affair to criticize,” said Goodamanas. “I have accepted the leadership of Bolaris, and I and my Bands and indeed all the army now are with him. I doubt. So far as I understand I disagree. But I serve.”
“I too,” said Handon, not to be outdone in loyalty, “and my Boys and the Inner Circle. We stand by the Captain.”
There was a momentary pause.
“Well?” said Bolaris, turning to the recalcitrants.
“This is militarism,” said Istom, “naked and unashamed. This is the end of democracy.”
“Like so many of your American friends,” said Bolaris, “when you say democracy you mean unfettered finance, private police, controlled newspapers, and so on. You have no idea of service. Your democracy is a jungle in which you prowl and scheme against mankind. From henceforth, Istom, either you will play your game with glass pockets and cards down on the table or you won’t play at all.”
Istom stood up sharply, and immediately the Duke rose beside him, but Fayle understood the situation better and remained seated, passive and obdurate.
“Then it has to be C,” said Bolaris to Handon. Handon turned to the guards and muttered an order. Fresh men who had been waiting in readiness appeared.
“A council in time of crisis must be unanimous,” said Bolaris.
“Absolutely,” said Goodamanas.
“And that means?” asked the Duke.
“A temporary close on all discussion.”
“We are dismissed?”
“No. You are retained. There must be no conflict outside this room. People’s minds out there are in a state of tension. Your lives will not be safe.”
“That’s not the fact,” said Fayle.
“Under a dictatorship — in times of urgency, fact is as the dictator wills. You will be held incommunicado. But in the utmost comfort.”
“I also?” said Istom.
“You most of all,” said Bolaris, and gave Handon the signal. Istom looked more like an apoplectic frog than ever.
“To think that I walked into this!”
“And now they have gone, my Captain,” began Handon.
“You have put Private Finance and Landlord and Church in their places and cleared your way. So far I am absolutely yours. I did not expect it like this, but I see now it had to be swift and absolutely unexpected. And now —?”
“I am no politician,” said Goodamanas.
“I do not want to hide anything from you,” said Bolaris, playing for time, “but in this business I must have a free hand.”
“About Ratzel,” said Handon, “I should like to know.”
For the moment Bolaris could not think quickly enough. “I want him to seem to escape,” he said.
“A false escape?”
“But how can you trust him? What guarantee can you have he will not trick you;” Bolaris lost his head for a moment and committed himself.
“The best guarantee,” he said. “I shall go to the city, and if by any chance they realize what has happened, he will be hostage for me.”
Handon threw up his hands. “It is impossible. There are a thousand dangers and difficulties.”
Bolaris laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Which we meet as they arise, Handon. Trust me.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15