MOONLIGHT AT BELBURY
"I AM the last person. Miss Hardcastle," said the Deputy Director, " to wish to interfere with your-er-private pleasures. But, really! . . ."It was some hours before breakfasttime and he and the Fairy were standing in his study.
"She can't be far away," said Fairy Hardcastle. "We'll pick her up some other time. It was well worth trying. If I'd got out of her where she'd been-and I should have if I'd had a few minutes longer-why, it might have turned out to be enemy headquarters."
"It was hardly a suitable occasion-- " began Wither, but she interrupted him.
"We haven't so much time to waste, you know. You tell me Frost is already complaining that the woman's mind is less accessible. That means she's falling under the influence of the other side. Where'll we be if you lose touch with her mind before I've got her body locked up here?"
"I am always, of course," said Wither, " most ready and -er-interested to hear expressions of your own opinions and would not for a moment deny that they are, in certain respects, of course, if not in all, of a very real value. On the other hand, there are matters . . . The Head will, I fear, take the view that you have exceeded your authority, I do not say that I necessarily agree with him. But we must all agree---"
"Oh, cut it out, Wither!" said the Fairy, seating herself on the side of the table. "Try that game on the Steeles and Stones. It's no bloody good trying the elasticity stunt on me. It was a golden opportunity, running into that girl. If I hadn't taken it you'd have talked about lack of initiative. We've got to get the girl, haven't we?"
"But not by an arrest. If a mere arrest could have secured the-er-goodwill and collaboration of Mrs. Studdock, we should hardly have embarrassed ourselves with the presence of her husband."
"I couldn't tell that the bucking car was going to break down, could I?"
"I do not think," said Wither, " the Head could be induced to regard that as the only miscarriage. Once the slightest resistance on this woman's part developed, it was not, in my opinion, reasonable to expect success by the method you employed. I always deplore anything that is not perfectly humane: but that is quite consistent with the position that if more drastic expedients have to be used then they must be used thoroughly. Moderate pain, such as any ordinary degree of endurance can resist, is always a mistake. I should not be doing my duty if I failed to remind you that complaints from that quarter have already been made, though not, of course, minuted, as to your tendency to allow a certain-er-emotional excitement in the disciplinary;
side of your work to distract you from the demands of policy."
"You won't find anyone can do a job like mine well unless they get some kick out of it," said the Fairy sulkily, "Anyway, what does the Head want to see me now for? ;
I've been on my feet the whole bloody night. I might be allowed a bath and some breakfast."
"The path of duty Miss Hardcastle," said Wither, " can never be an easy one."
"Well, I must have something to drink before I go in."
Wither held out his hands in deprecation. ' Come on. Wither. I must," said Miss Hardcastle. "You don't think he'll smell it?" said Wither. "I'm not going in without it, anyway," said she. The old man unlocked his cupboard and gave her whisky. Then the two left the study and went a long way, right over to the other side of the house where it joined on to the actual Blood Transfusion Offices. At last they came to a place where the lights were on and there was a mixture of animal and chemical smells, and then to a door which was opened to them after they had parleyed through a speaking-tube. Filostrato, wearing a white coat, confronted them in the doorway.
"Enter," said Filostrato. "He expect you for some time."
"Is it in a bad temper?" said Miss Hardcastle. "You are to go in at once," said Filostrato, "as soon as you have made yourselves ready."
"Stop! Half a moment," said Miss Hardcastle suddenly;" What is it? Be quick, please," said Filostrato. "I'm going to be sick."
"You cannot be sick here. Go back. I will give you some X54 at once."
"It's all right now," said Miss Hardcastle. "It was only momentary. It'd take more than this to upset me."
"Silence, please," said the Italian. "Do not attempt to open the second door until my assistant has shut the first one behind you. Do not speak more than you can help. Do not say yes when you are given an order. The Head will assume your obedience. Do not get too close. Now!"
'Long after sunrise there came into Jane's sleeping mind a sensation which, had she put it into words, would have sung, "Be glad thou sleeper and thy sorrow off cast. I am the gate to all good adventure." Sometime after this Mrs. Maggs came in and lit the fire and brought breakfast.
"It's ever so nice, us both being here, isn't it, Mrs. Studdock?" she said.
Shortly after breakfast came Miss Ironwood. She examined and dressed the burns, which were not serious.
"You can get up in the afternoon, if you like, Mrs. Studdock," she said. "What would you like to read?"
"I'd like Mansfield Park, please," said Jane, "and Shakespeare's Sonnets."
Having been provided with reading matter, she comfortably went to sleep again.
When Mrs. Maggs looked in at about four o'clock Jane said she would like to get up. "
"All right, Mrs. Studdock," said Mrs. Maggs, "Just as you like. I'll bring you along a nice cup of tea in a minute and then I'll get the bathroom ready for you. There's a bathroom next door almost, only I'll have to get that Mr. Bultitude out of it. He's that lazy, and he will sit there all day when it's cold."
As soon as Mrs. Maggs had gone, however, Jane decided to get up. She felt that her social abilities were quite equal to dealing with the eccentric Mr. Bultitude. Accordingly, she put on her coat, took her towel, and proceeded to explore; and that was why Mrs. Maggs, coming upstairs with the tea a moment later, saw Jane emerge from the bathroom with a white face and slam the door behind her.
"Oh dear!" said Mrs. Maggs, bursting into laughter. "I ought to have told you. Never mind. I'll soon have him out of that." She set the tea-tray down on the passage floor and turned to the bathroom.
"Is it safe?" asked Jane.
"Oh yes, he's safe alright," said Mrs. Maggs. With that she opened the bathroom door. Inside, sitting up on its hunkers beside the bath, was a great, snuffly, wheezy, beady-eyed, loose-skinned, gor-bellied brown bear, which, after a great many reproaches, exhortations, pushes, and blows from Mrs. Maggs, heaved up its enormous bulk and came slowly out into the passage. "Why don't you go out' ' and take some exercise this lovely afternoon, you great lazy
thing?" said Mrs. Maggs. "Don't be frightened, Mrs. Studdock. He'll let you stroke him." Jane extended a hesitant and unconvincing hand to touch the animal's back, but Mr. Bultitude was sulking, and without a glance at Jane continued his slow walk along the passage to a point about ten yards away, where he quite suddenly sat down. Everyone on the flour below must have known that Mr. Bultitude had sat down.
"Is it really safe to have a creature like that loose about the house?" said Jane.
"Mrs. Studdock," said Ivy Maggs with solemnity, " if the Director wanted to have a tiger about the house it would be safe. There isn't a creature in the place that would go for another or for us once he's had his little talk with them. Just the same as he does with us. You'll see."
"If you would put the tea in my room . . ."said Jane rather coldly, and went towards the bathroom. ...
"Well," said Mrs. Maggs, " you'll find us in the kitchen, I expect, Mother Dimble and me and the rest."
"Is Mrs. Dimble staying in the house?" asked Jane with a slight emphasis on the Mrs.
"Mother Dimble we all call her here," said Mrs. Maggs. "And I'm sure she won't mind you doing the same."
When Jane had washed and dressed herself she set out to look for the inhabited rooms. When she reached the hall she saw at once where the back premises of the house must lie - down two steps and along a paved passage, and then, guided by voices and other sounds, to the kitchen itself.
A wide, open hearth glowing with burning wood lit up the comfortable form of Mrs. Dimble, who was seated at one side of it, apparently engaged in preparing vegetables. -
Mrs. Maggs and Camilla were doing something at a stove and in a doorway, which led to the scullery, a tall, grizzly headed man, who wore gum-boots and seemed to have just come from the garden, was drying his hands.
"Come in, Jane," said Mother Dimble. "We're not expecting you to do any work to-day. This is Mr. Mac-Phee-who has no right to be here, but he'd better be introduced to you."
Mr. MacPhee, having finished the drying process and carefully hung the towel behind the door, advanced rather ceremoniously and shook hands with Jane. His own hand was very large and coarse in texture, and he had a shrewd, hard-featured face.
"I am very glad to see you, Mrs. Studdock," he said, in what Jane took to be a Scotch accent, though it was
really that of an Ulsterman.
"Don't believe a word he says, Jane," said Mother Dimble. "He's your prime enemy. He doesn't believe in your dreams."
"Mrs. Dimble," said MacPhee, "I have repeatedly explained to you the distinction between a personal feeling of confidence and a logical satisfaction of the claims of evidence."
"Of course," said Jane vaguely, and a little confused.
I'm sure you have a right to your own opinions."
All the women laughed as MacPhee in a somewhat louder tone replied, "Mrs. Studdock, I have no opinions- on any subject in the world. I state the facts and exhibit the implications. If everyone indulged in fewer opinions" (he pronounced the word with emphatic disgust) " there'd be less silly talking and printing in the world."
"I know who talks most in this house," said Mrs. Maggs, somewhat to Jane's surprise.
The Ulsterman eyed the last speaker with an unaltered face while producing a small pewter box from his pocket and helping himself to a pinch of snuff.
"What are you waiting for anyway?" said Mrs. Maggs. "Women's day in the kitchen to-day."
"I was wondering," said MacPhee, " whether you had a cup of tea saved for me."
"And why didn't you come in at the right time, then?" said Mrs. Maggs. Jane noticed that she talked to him much as she had talked to the bear. "I was busy," said the other, seating himself at one end of the table; and added after a pause, " trenching celery."
"What is ' women's day ' in the kitchen?" asked Jane of Mother Dimble.
"There are no servants here," said Mother Dimble,"and we all do the work. The women do it one day and the men the next. . . . What? . . . No, it's a very sensible arrangement. The Director's idea is that men and women can't do housework together without quarrelling."
"The cardinal difficulty," said MacPhee, " in collaboration between the sexes is that women speak a language without nouns. If two men are doing a bit of work one will say to the other, ' Put this bowl inside the bigger bowl which you'll find on the top shelf of the green cupboard.' The female for this is, ' Put that in the other one in there.' There is consequently a phatic hiatus."
"There's your tea now, and I'll go and get you a piece of cake," said Ivy Maggs, and left the room.
Jane took advantage of this to say to Mother Dimble in a lower voice, "Mrs. Maggs seems to make herself very much at home here."
"My dear, she is at home here."
"As a maid, you mean?"
"Well, no more than anyone else. She's here chiefly because her house has been taken from her. She had nowhere else to go."
"You mean she is ... one of the Director's charities."
"Certainly that. Why do you ask?" At that moment the door opened and a voice from behind it said, "Well, go in then, if you're going." Thus admonished, a very fine jackdaw hopped into the room, followed, firstly, by Mr. Bultitude and, secondly, by Arthur Denniston.
"Dr. Dimble's just come back, Mother Dimble," said Denniston. "But he's had to go straight to the Blue Room. And the Director wants you to go to him, too. MacPhee."
Mark sat down to lunch that day in good spirits. Everyone reported that the riot had gone off most satisfactorily, and he had enjoyed reading his own accounts of it in the morning papers. His morning, too, had involved a conversation with Frost, the Fairy, and Wither himself, about the future of Edgestow. All agreed that the Government would follow the almost unanimous opinion of the Nation (as expressed in the newspapers) and put it temporarily under the control of the Institutional Police. An emergency governor of Edgestow must be appointed. Feverstone was the obvious man. As a Member of Parliament he represented the Nation, as a Fellow of Bracton he represented the University, as a member of the Institute he represented the Institute; the articles on this subject which Mark was to write that afternoon would almost write themselves. And Mark had (as he would have put it) " got to know " Frost. He knew that there is in almost every organisation some quiet, inconspicuous person whom the small fry suppose to be of no importance but who is really one of the mainsprings. Even to recognise such people shows that one has made progress. There was, to be sure, a cold, fish-like quality about Frost which Mark did not like and something even repulsive about the regularity of his features. But the pleasures of conversation were coming, for Mark, to have less and less connection with his spontaneous liking of the people he talked to. He was aware of this change, and welcomed it as a sign of maturity.
Wither had thawed in a most encouraging manner. At the end of the conversation he had taken Mark aside, spoken vaguely but paternally of the great work he was doing, and finally asked after his wife. The D.D. hoped there was no truth in the rumour which had reached him that she was suffering from-er-some nervous disorder. "Who the devil has been telling him that?" thought Mark. "Because," said Wither, " it had occurred to me, in view of the great pressure of work which rests on you at present and the difficulty, therefore, of your being at home as much as we should all (for your sake) wish, that in your case the Institute might be induced ... I am speaking in a quite informal way . . . that we should all be delighted to welcome Mrs. Studdock here."
Until the D.D. said this Mark had not realised that there was nothing he would dislike so much as having Jane at Belbury. Her mere presence would have made all the laughter of the Inner Ring sound metallic, unreal; and what he now regarded as common prudence would seem to her, and through her to himself, mere flattery, back-biting, and toad eating. His mind sickened at the thought of trying to teach Jane that she must help to keep Wither in a good temper. He excused himself vaguely to the D.D., with profuse thanks, and got away as quickly as he could.
That afternoon, while he was having tea, Fairy Hardcastle came and leaned over the back of his chair and said:
"You've torn it, Studdock."
"What's the matter now. Fairy?" said he.
"I can't make out what's the matter with JOB. Have you made up your mind to annoy the Old Man? Because it's a dangerous game, you know."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"Well, here we've all been working on your behalf, and this morning we thought we'd succeeded. He was talking about giving you the appointment originally intended for you and waiving the probationary period. Not a cloud in the sky: and then you have five minutes' chat with him, and in that time you've managed to undo it all."
"What the devil's wrong with him this time?"
"Well you ought to know! Didn't he say something about bringing your wife here?"
"Yes he did. What about it?"
"And what did you say?"
"I said not to bother about it ... and, of course, thanked him very much and all that."
The Fairy whistled. "Don't you see, honey," she said, gently rapping Mark's scalp with her knuckles, " that you could hardly have made a worse bloomer? It was a most terrific concession for him to make. He's never done it to anyone else. He's burbling away now about lack of confidence. Says he's ' hurt'; takes your refusal as a sign that you are not really ' settled ' here."
"But that is sheer madness. I mean . . ."
"Why the blazes couldn't you tell him you'd have your wife here?
"Isn't that my own business?"
"Don't you want to have her? You're not very polite to little wifie, Studdock. And they tell me she's a damned pretty girl."
At that moment the form of Wither, slowly sauntering in their direction, became apparent to both, and the conversation ended.
At dinner he sat next to Filostrato, and as they rose from the table he whispered in Mark's ear, "I would not advise the Library for you to-night. You understand ? Come and have a little conversation in my room."
Mark followed him, glad that in this new crisis with the D.D. Filostrato was apparently still his friend. They went up to the Italian's sitting-room on the first floor. There Mark sat down before the fire, but his host continued to walk up and down the room.
"I am very sorry, my young friend," said Filostrato, " to hear of this new trouble between you and the Deputy Director. It must be stopped, you understand? If he invite you to bring your wife here why do you not bring her?"
"Well, really," said Mark, "I never knew he attached so much importance to it." His objection to having Jane at Belbury had been temporarily deadened by the wine he had drunk at dinner and the pang he had felt at the threat of expulsion from the library circle.
"It is of no importance in itself," said Filostrato. "But have reason to believe it came not from Wither but from the Head himself."
"The Head ? You mean Jules?"
"Jules?" said Filostrato. "Why do you speak of him? As for your wife, I attach no importance to it. What have I to do with men's wives? The whole subject disgusts me. But if they make a point of it ... Look, my friend, the real question is whether you mean to be truly at one with us or no."
"I don't quite follow," said Mark.
"Do you want to be a mere hireling? But you have already come too far in for that. If you try to go back you will be as unfortunate as the fool Hingest. If you come really in-the world . . . bah, what do I say? ... the universe is at your feet."
"But of course I want to come in," said Mark. A certain excitement was stealing over him.
"The Head will have all of you, and all that is yours-or else nothing. You must bring the woman in too. She also must be one of us."
This remark was a shock, yet at that moment, fixed with the little, bright eyes of the Professor, he could hardly make the thought of Jane real to himself.
"You shall hear it from the lips of the Head himself," said Filostrato suddenly.
"Is Jules here?" said Mark.
Filostrato turned sharply from him and flung back the window curtains; the full moon stared down upon them.
'' There is a world for you, no?" said Filostrato. '' There is cleanness, purity. Thousands of square miles of polished rock with not one blade of grass, not one fibre of lichen, not one grain of dust. Not even air."
"Yes. A dead world," said Mark, gazing at the moon. "No!"said Filostrato. "No. There is life there."
"Do we know that?" asked Mark.
"Oh, yes. Intelligent life. Under the surface. A great race, further advanced than we. A pure race. They have cleaned their world, broken free (almost) from the organic."
"They do not need to be born and breed and die; only their common people, their canaglia do that. The Masters live on. They retain their intelligence: they can keep it artificially alive after the organic body has been dispensed with-a miracle of applied biochemistry. They do not need organic food. They are almost free of Nature, attached to her only by the thinnest, finest cord."
"Do you mean that all that," Mark pointed to the mottled white globe of the moon, " is their own doing?"
"Why not? If you remove all the vegetation, presently you have no atmosphere, no water."
"But what was the purpose?"
"Hygiene. Why should they have their world all crawling with organisms?"
"But how do we know all this?"
"The Head has many sources of information. I speak that you may know what can be done: what shall be done here. This Institute-Dio mio, it is for something better than housing and vaccinations and curing the people of cancer. It is for the conquest of death; or for the conquest of organic life, if you prefer. They are the same thing. It is to bring out of that cocoon of organic life which sheltered the babyhood of mind, the New Man, the man who will not die, the artificial man, free from Nature."
"And you think that some day we shall really find a means of keeping the brain alive indefinitely?"
"We have begun already. The Head himself . . ."
"Go on," said Mark. This at last was the real thing. "The Head himself has already survived death, and you shall speak to him this night."
"Do you mean that Jules has died?"
"Bah! Jules is nothing. He is not the Head."
"Then who is?"
At this moment there was a knock on the door. Someone came in. "Is the young man ready?" asked the voice of Straik. "Oh yes. You are ready, are you not, Mr. Studdock?"
"Do you mean really to join us, young man?" said Straik. "The Head has sent for you. Do you understand -the Head? You will look upon one who was killed and is still alive. The resurrection of Jesus in the Bible was a symbol: to-night you shall see what it symbolised. This is real Man at last."
"What the devil are you talking about?" said Mark.
"My friend is quite right," said Filostrato. "Our Head is the first of the New Men-the first that lives beyond animal life. If Nature had her way his brain would now be mouldering in the grave. But he will speak to you within this hour, and-a word in your ear-you will obey."
"But who is it?" said Mark.
"It is Francois Alcasan," said Filostrato.
"You mean the man who was guillotined?" gasped Mark. Both the heads nodded. Both faces were close to him: in that disastrous light they looked like masks hanging in the air.
"You are frightened?" said Filostrato. "Ah!-if you were outside, if you were mere canaglia, you would have reason. It is the beginning of all power."
"It is the beginning of Man Immortal and Man Ubiquitous," said Straik. "It is what all the prophecies really meant."
"At first, of course," said Filostrato, " the power will be confined to a small number of individual men. Those who are selected for eternal life."
"And you mean," said Mark, " it will then be extended to all men?"
"No," said Filostrato. "I mean it will then be reduced to one man. You are not a fool, are you, my young friend? All that talk about the power of Man over Nature is only for the canaglia. You know, as I do, that Man's power over Nature means the power of some men over other men, with Nature as the instrument. There is no such thing as Man- it is a word. It is not Man who will be omnipotent, it is some one man, some immortal man. Alcasan, our Head, is the first sketch of it. The completed product may be someone else. It may be you. It may be me."
"I don't understand, I don't understand," said Mark.
"But it is very easy," said Filostrato. "We have found how to make a dead man live. He was a wise man even in his natural life. He live now forever: he get wiser. Later, we make them live better-for at present this second life is probably not very agreeable. Later' we make it pleasant for some-perhaps not so pleasant for others. For we can make the dead live whether they wish it or not. They cannot refuse the little present."
"And so," said Straik, " the lessons you learned at your mother's knee return. God will have power to give eternal reward and eternal punishment."
"God?" said Mark. "How does He come into it? I don't believe in God."
"But, my friend," said Filostrato, " does it follow that because there was no God in the past that there will be no God also in the future?"
"Don't you see," said Straik, " that we are offering you the unspeakable glory of being present at the creation of God Almighty?"
"And that little affair of the wife," added Filostrato. "You will do as you are told. One does not argue with the Head."
Mark had nothing now to help him but the rapidly ebbing exhilaration of the alcohol taken at dinner and some faint gleams of memory from hours during which the world had had a different taste from this exciting horror which now pressed upon him. On the other side was fear. What would they do to him if he refused now ? And, aiding the fear, there was, even then, a not wholly disagreeable thrill at the thought of sharing so stupendous a secret. "Yes," he said. "Yes-of course-I'll come." They led him out. He stumbled, and they linked arms with him. The journey seemed long: passage after passage, doors to unlock, strange smells. Then Filostrato spoke through a speaking-tube and a door was opened to them. A young man in a white coat received them.
"Strip to your underclothes," said Filostrato. The opposite wall of the room was covered with dials. Numbers of flexible tubes came out of the floor and went into the wall just beneath the dials. The staring dial faces and the bunches of tubes beneath them, faintly pulsating, gave one the impression of looking at some creature with many eyes and many tentacles. When the three newcomers had removed their outer clothes, they washed their hands and faces, and Filostrato plucked white clothes for them out of a glass container with a pair of forceps. He gave them gloves and masks such as surgeons wear. He studied the dials. "Yes, yes," he said. "A little more air. Turn on the chamber air ... slowly ... to Full. Now air in the lock. A little less of the solution. Now."
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