THE LIQUIDATION OF ANACHRONISMS
ALMOST before Jane had finished putting clean sheets on Mark's bed, Mrs. Dimble arrived. "You're an angel to have me," she said. "We'd tried every hotel in Edgestow I believe. All full up with the hangers-on and camp followers of this detestable N.I.C.E. Secretaries here- typists there-commissioners of works-the thing's outrageous. If Cecil hadn't had a room in College I really believe he'd have had to sleep in the waiting-room at the station. I only hope that man in College has aired the bed."
"But what on earth's happened?" asked Jane. "Turned out, my dear!"
"But it isn't possible, Mrs. Dimble. I mean, it can't be legal."
"That's what Cecil said. . Just think of it, Jane. The first thing we saw when we poked our heads out of the window this morning was a lorry on the drive and a small army of what looked like criminals with picks and spades. There was an odious little man in a peaked cap who said they'd have no objection to our remaining in possession (of the house, mind you, not the garden) till eight o'clock tomorrow morning. No objection!"
"But surely-surely-it must be some mistake."
"Of course Cecil rang up your Bursar. And of course your Bursar was out, and by that time the big beech had been cut down. At last Cecil did get Mr. Busby, who said there must be some misunderstanding, but it was out of his hands now, and we'd better get on to the N.I.C.E. at Belbury. Of course it turned out to be quite impossible to get them. But by lunchtime we saw that one simply couldn't stay there."
"My dear, you've no conception what it was like. Great lorries and traction engines roaring past all the time. Why, our own tradesmen couldn't get through it. The milk didn't arrive till eleven o'clock. We'd the greatest difficulty in getting into town ourselves. Flares and noise everywhere and the road practically ruined. And the people! Such horrid men. I didn't know we had workpeople like that in England."
"And what are you going to do?" asked Jane.
"Heaven knows!" said Mrs. Dimble."Cecil has been at Rumbold the solicitor's. Rumbold doesn't seem to know where he is. He keeps on saying the N.I.C.E. are in a very peculiar position legally. There's no question of trying to live on the far side of the river any longer, even if they'd let us. All the poplars are going down. All those nice little cottages by the church are going down. I found poor Ivy-that's your Mrs. Maggs, you know-in tears. Poor things! They do look dreadful when they cry on top of powder. She's being turned out too; she's had enough troubles in her life without this. I was glad to get away. The men were so horrible. Three big brutes came to the back door asking for hot water and went on so that they frightened Martha out of her wits. A sort of special constable sent them away. What? Oh yes, there are dozens of what look like policemen all over the place, and I didn't like the look of them either. Cecil and I both thought the same thing: we thought it's almost as if we'd lost the war. Oh, good girl, tea! That's just what I wanted."
"You must stay here as long as you like, Mrs. Dimble," said Jane. "Mark'll just have to sleep in College."
"Well, really," said Mother Dimble, "I feel at the moment that no Fellow of Bracton ought to be allowed to sleep anywhere! As a matter of fact, I shan't have to. Cecil and I are to go out to the Manor at St. Anne's. We have to be there so much at present, you see."
"Oh," said Jane involuntarily, as her own story flowed back on her mind.
"Why, what a selfish pig I've been," said Mother Dimble. "Here have I been quite forgetting that you've been out there and are full of things to tell me. Did you see Grace? And did you like her?"
"Is 'Grace' Miss Ironwood?" asked Jane.
"I saw her. I don't know if I liked her or not. But I don't want to talk about all that. I can't think about anything except this outrageous business of yours. It's you who are the real martyr, not me."
"No, my dear," said Mrs. Dimble, "I'm not a martyr. I'm only an angry old woman with sore feet and a splitting head (but that's beginning to be better). After all, Cecil and I haven't lost our livelihood as poor Ivy Maggs has. It doesn't really matter leaving the old house, all those big rooms which we thought we should want because we were going to have lots of children, and then we never had. Jane, that's the third time you've yawned. You're dropping asleep and I've talked your head off. It comes of being married for thirty years. Husbands were made to be talked to. It helps them to concentrate on what they're reading."
Jane found Mother Dimble an embarrassing person to share a room with because she said prayers. One didn't know where to look.
"Are you awake now?" said Mrs. Dimble's voice, quietly, in the middle of the night.
"Yes," said Jane. "I'm so sorry. Did I wake you up? Was I shouting?"
"Yes. You were shouting out about someone being hit on the head."
"I saw them killing a man . . .a man in a big car driving along a country road. Then he came to a crossroads and there was someone standing in the middle of the road waving a light to stop him. I couldn't hear what they said; I was too far away. They must have persuaded him to get out of the car somehow, and there he was talking to one of them. The light fell full on his face. He wasn't the same old man I saw in my other dream. He hadn't a beard, only a moustache. And he had a very quick, kind of proud, way. He didn't like what the man said to him and presently he put up his fists and knocked him down. Another man behind him tried to hit him on the head with something, but the old man was too quick and turned round in time. Then it was rather horrible, but rather fine. There were three of them at him and he was fighting them all. I've read about that kind of thing in books, but I never realised how one would feel about it. Of course they got him in the end."
"Without a doubt," thought Mark, "this must be the Mad Parson that Bill the Blizzard was talking of." The committee at Belbury did not meet till 10.30, and ever since breakfast he had been walking with the Reverend Straik in the garden, despite the raw and misty weather of the morning. At the very moment when the man had first buttonholed him, the threadbare clothes and clumsy boots, the frayed clerical collar, the dark, lean, tragic face, gashed and ill-shaved and seamed, and the bitter sincerity of his manner, had struck a discordant note. It was not a type Mark had expected to meet in the N.I.C.E.
"Do not imagine," said Mr. Straik, "that I indulge in any dreams of carrying out our programme without violence. There will be resistance. They will gnaw their tongues and not repent. We face these disorders with a firmness which will lead traducers to say that we have desired them. In a sense we have. It is no part of our witness to preserve that organisation of ordered sin which is called Society."
"Now that is what I meant," said Mark, " when I said that your point of view and mine must, in the long run, be incompatible. The preservation, which involves the thorough planning, of society is just precisely the end I have in view. I do not think there is or can be any other end. The problem is quite different for you because you look forward to something better than human society, in some other world."
"With every thought and vibration of my heart," said Mr. Straik, "I repudiate that damnable doctrine. The Kingdom of God is to be realised here-in this world. And it will be. At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.
"Bother!" said Jane: and added, without much interest in the reply, "What is she doing, do you know?"
"She's gone out to St. Anne's."
"Has she got friends there?"
"She's gone to the Manor, along with Cecil."
"Do you mean she's got a job there?"
"Well, yes. I suppose it is a job."
Mrs. Dimble left at about eleven. She also, it appeared, was going to St. Anne's, but was first to meet her husband and lunch with him at Northumberland. Jane walked down to the town with her and they parted at the bottom of Market Street. It was just after this that Jane met Mr. Curry.
"Have you heard the news, Mrs. Studdock?" said Curry.
"No. What's wrong?" said Jane. She thought Mr. Curry a pompous fool and Mark a fool for being impressed by him. But as soon as Curry began speaking her face showed all the wonder and consternation he could have wished. The murder of Hingest had already become Curry's property. The "matter" was, in some indefinable sense, "in his hands", and he was heavy with responsibility. At another time Jane would have found this amusing. She escaped from him as soon as possible and went into Blackie's for a cup of coffee. She felt she must sit down.
The death of Hingest in itself meant nothing to her. But the certainty that she herself in her dream had witnessed a real murder shattered the consoling pretences with which she had begun the morning. It came over her with sickening clarity that the affair of her dreams, far from being ended, was only beginning. It would drive her mad, she thought, to face it alone. The other alternative was to go back to Miss Ironwood. But that seemed to be only a way of going deeper into all this darkness. She didn't want to get drawn in. It was unfair. It wasn't as if she had asked much of life. All she wanted was to be left alone.
Cosser-the freckle-faced man with the little wisp of black moustache-approached Mark as he was coming away from the committee.
"You and I have a job to do," he said. "Got to get out a report about Cure Hardy."
Mark was very relieved to hear of a job. But he was a little on his dignity.
"Does that mean I am to be in Steele's department after all?"
"That's right," said Cosser.
"The reason I ask," said Mark, "is that neither he nor you seemed particularly keen on having me. I don't want to push myself in, you know. I don't need to stay at the N.I.C.E. at all if it comes to that."
"Well, don't start talking about it here," said Cosser. "Come upstairs."
They were in the hall and Mark noticed Wither pacing thoughtfully towards them. "Wouldn't it be as well to speak to him?" he suggested. But the Deputy Director, after coming within ten feet of them, had turned in another direction. He was humming to himself under his breath and seemed so deep in thought that Mark felt the moment unsuitable for an interview. Cosser apparently thought the same, and Mark followed him up to an office on the third floor.
"It's about the village of Cure Hardy," said Cosser, when they were seated. "You see, all that land at Bragdon Wood is going to be little better than a swamp once they get to work. Why the hell we wanted to go there I don't know. Anyway, the latest plan is to divert the Wynd: block up the old channel through Edgestow altogether. Look. It's to be diverted and brought down an artificial channel-here, to the east, where the blue line is-and rejoin the old bed down here."
"The university will hardly agree to that," said Mark.
"We've got the university by the short hairs," said Cosser. "The point is that the new Wynd must come right through Cure Hardy in this narrow little valley. The idea is to dam the valley at the southern end and-make a big reservoir."
"But what happens to Cure Hardy?"
"That's another advantage. We build a new model village four miles away."
"I say, there'll be the devil of a stink about this. Cure Hardy is famous. It's a beauty spot."
"That's where you and I come in. We've got to make a report on Cure Hardy. We'll run out and have a look round to-morrow, but we can write most of the report today. It ought to be pretty easy. If it's a beauty spot, you can bet it's insanitary. Then we've got to get out some facts about the population. I think you'll find it consists chiefly of undesirable elements-small rentiers and agricultural labourers."
"That's easy enough," said Mark, "but before I get down to it I'd like to be a bit clearer about my position. Oughtn't I to go and see Steele?"
"I wouldn't do that," said Cosser.
"Well, for one thing, Steele can't prevent you if the D.D. backs you up. For another, Steele is rather a dangerous man. There's another thing, too. I don't think things can go on in this department in the way they are at present."
Mark understood. Cosser was hoping to get Steele out of the department altogether.
"I got the impression," said Mark, "that you and Steele hit it off together rather well."
"The great thing here," said Cosser, "is never to quarrel with anyone."
"Of course," said Mark. "By the way, if-we go to Cure Hardy tomorrow I might as well run in to Edgestow and spend the night at home."
For Mark a good deal hung on the answer to this. But Cosser merely said, "Oh," leaving Mark in doubt whether no one needed leave of absence or whether Mark was not sufficiently established as a member of the Institute for his absence to be of any consequence. Then they went to work on their report.
Next day they drove to Cure Hardy, and walked about the village for two hours and saw all the abuses and anachronisms they came to destroy. They saw the backward labourer and heard his views on the weather. They met the wastefully supported pauper shuffling across the courtyard of the alms-houses to fill a kettle, and the elderly rentier in conversation with the postman. It did not quite escape Mark that the face of the labourer was rather more interesting than Cosser's and his voice a great deal more pleasing to the ear. But all this did not influence his sociological convictions, for his education had had the effect of making things that he read and wrote more real to him than things he saw. Statistics about agricultural labourers were the substance: any real ditcher, ploughman, or farmer's boy, was the shadow. In his own way, he believed as firmly as any mystic in the superior reality of the things that are not seen.
On their way back Cosser dropped him near Edgestow station, and as he walked home Mark began to think of what he would say to Jane about Belbury. You will misunderstand him if you think he was consciously inventing a lie; his misgiving and uneasiness quickened his desire to cut a good figure in the eyes of his wife. Almost without noticing it, he decided not to mention Cure Hardy; Jane cared for old buildings and all that sort of thing. When Jane heard the door opening and looked round and saw Mark, she saw a rather breezy Mark. Yes, he was almost sure he'd got the job. The salary wasn't fixed, but he'd be going into that to-morrow. But he had already got on to the real people there.
Jane decided to tell him nothing about the dreams or St. Anne's. Men hated women who had things wrong with them, specially queer, unusual things. Her resolution was easily kept, for Mark full of his own story, asked her no questions. She was not, perhaps, entirely convinced by what he said. Very early in the conversation she said in a sharp, frightened voice (she had no idea how he disliked that voice), "Mark, you haven't given up your Fellowship at Bracton?" He said of course not, and went on.
That evening the Fellows of Bracton sat in Common Room over their wine and dessert. Feverstone and Curry were sitting together. Until that night for about three hundred years this Common Room had been one of the pleasant quiet places of England, and at this hour and season the windows were, of course, shut and curtained. But from beyond them came such noises as had never been heard in that room before-shouts and curses and the sound of lorries heavily drumming past or harshly changing gear, rattling of chains, drumming of mechanical drills, clanging of iron, whistles, thuddings, and an all-pervasive vibration. Beyond those windows, scarcely thirty yards away on the other side of the Wynd, the conversion of an ancient woodland into an inferno of mud and steel and concrete was already going on. Several members even of the Progressive Element had already been grumbling about it. Curry was doing his best to brazen it out, and though his conversation with Feverstone had to be conducted at the top of their voices, he made no allusion to this inconvenience.
"It's quite definite, then," he bawled, "that young Studdock is not coming back?"
"Oh, quite," shouted Feverstone. "When will he send a formal resignation?"
"Haven't an earthly!"
"We must begin thinking about the vacancy at once."
"Does his successor have to be a sociologist? I mean is the Fellowship tied to the subject?"
"Oh, not in the least. I say, Feverstone, oughtn't we to give this new subject a leg up?"
"What new subject?"
"Well, now, it's funny you should say that, because the man I was beginning to think of has been going in a good deal for pragmatometry. One could call it a fellowship in social pragmatometry, or something like that."
"Who is the man?"
"Laird-from Leicester, Cambridge."It was automatic for Curry, though he had never heard of Laird, to say "Ah, Laird. Just remind me of the details."
"Well," said Feverstone, "as you remember, he was in bad health at the time of his finals, and came rather a cropper. The Cambridge examining is so bad nowadays that one hardly counts that. He used to edit The Adult."
"Yes, to be sure. That Laird. But I say, Dick . . ."
"I'm not quite happy about his bad degree. Of course I don't attach a superstitious value to examination results any more than you do. Still . . . we have made one or two unfortunate elections lately."
"I'm going to be at Cambridge next week," Feverstone said, " in fact I'm giving a dinner. I'd as soon it wasn't mentioned here, because, as a matter of fact, the P.M. may be coming, and one or two big newspaper people and Tony Dew. What? Oh, of course you know Tony. That little dark man from the Bank. Laird is going to be there. He's some kind of cousin of the P.M.'s. I was wondering if you could join us."
"Well, it would be very difficult. It rather depends on when old Bill's funeral is to be. Was there anything about the inquest on the six-o'clock news?"
"I can't hear," yelled Feverstone. "Is this noise getting worse? Or am I getting deaf?"
"I say, Sub-Warden," shouted Ted Raynor from beyond Feverstone, "what the devil are your friends outside doing?"
"Listen!" said Glossop suddenly, "that's not work. Listen to the feet."
Next moment nearly everyone in the room was on his feet. "They're murdering someone," said Glossop. "There's only one way of getting a noise like that out of a man's throat."
"Where are you going?" asked Curry.
"I'm going to see what's happening," said Glossop. "I shouldn't go out if I were you," said Feverstone, "it sounds as if the police, or something, was there already."
"What do you mean?"
"I thought that was their infernal drill."
"My God . . . you really think it's a machine-gun?"
"Look out! Look out!" said a dozen voices, as a splintering of glass became audible and a shower of stones fell on to the Common Room floor. A moment later several of the Fellows had made a rush for the windows and put up the shutters. Glossop had a cut on the forehead, and on the floor lay the fragments of that famous east window on which Henrietta Maria had once cut her name with a diamond.