|Chapter III||Contents etc.||Chapter V|
A DINNER PARTY
THE greatest luxury with which the Unæans surrounded themselves in their dining-rooms and banquet-halls was mirrors. From the exquisitely polished line surface of these mirrors on festal occasions came, obliquely reflected, the image of one participant to another, and the throbbing ingenuousness of the vis-à-vis conversations in which the Unæas attained a conspicuous eminence spread itself like a delicate bouquet, spurring each by the reflected glimpses and half-heard tones of his neighbours to explore boldly the treasures his partner's conversation had for him.
Cartwright cultivated the reputation of an ostentatious and omni-collective hospitality, for it enabled him to sound and test and understand so many diverse minds and take note of all the variant phases of Unæa opinions.
It is therefore as good an occasion as any other for obtaining a glimpse of the manner and customs of Unæa if we observe the guests at one of Cartwright's banquets, the more so because with Laura's turn to seriousness, and the complaisance with which her lightest wishes were treated, we may succeed in eliciting something more than the graceful expression of elegant trifles from her companions.
Let us take them at random, these men and women lapped in the arms of Unæan luxury, as they conversed with one another in this scene of light and flowers and radiant beauty.
Sylvester Barr, making a low obeisance, handed Julia Castle to the seat opposite him, quoting from an old poem:
"From the dying rose its soul has fled
And blooms above, divinely red."
"Why, my rose isn't a bit withered," said Julia, looking down at the flower in her corsage, pretending not to observe the allusion to the brilliant colouring of her complexion, in which (perhaps the greatest beauty of Unæa women) she reigned justly pre-eminent.
"Neatly parried," he murmured, "and I see that I am to be shut out beyond the outermost frozen portals."
"Quite the very outermost," she said.
"'Tis ever thus," he sighed, "I was ever misunderstood from childhood's hour."
"And so you cultivated your remarkable plainness of speech. I think, Mr. Barr, the thing we have to be most thankful for, is that there were poets before you."
"Because if there weren't, people would have to quote such embarrassing things."
"But are you sure," said Sylvester Barr, "that there were poets before me."
"It depends on what you call poetry," said Julia.
"Why poetry is the soul in love with matter," said Sylvester and, presuming shamelessly on Julia's limitations, added, "most of the classic versifiers were old men, and those that weren't were delicate."
"You impute that to them as a fault?"
"Why yes, youth and passion are always indelicate; we are stifled with the sayings of death."
"But why should you call the works of old men the sayings of death?"
"Mrs. Castle, it is not generally known, but death is not a sudden event, it comes on gradually; do you suppose a poet lives on in an old and feeble body—no, he leaves it for eternally renewed youth and loveliness."
"But you will grow old."
"I—no, not I—not the I that talks to you—that part of me, perhaps, which keeps accounts and hires conveyances. I shall be gone and of all beings I detest that relic to whom I leave my clothes and clubs and debts."
"And your reputation?"
"Yes, poor fellow, I almost pity him when I think of him trying to pose and moralize with that behind him, and his old cronies chuckling. Think of him with that mitigated hostility he calls friendship, the decorum he calls love, the sparkling eyes of folly closed—ah! what will you and I be then? We shall be far away. "
"Mr. Barr! I have never been asked to elope in such a curious way before."
Mrs. Castle's charming confusion when she recognised what an admission she had made, placed Barr on the best of terms with himself and her. He pursued their conversation in his most animated and adventurous manner till it was time for them to part.
Agatha was the one of the plane folk whom you would, I think, most have liked to meet. She was a light weight, it is true, but she made such fine running. She was as affected as she could be, but believed in her affectations with such a whole-hearted simplicity, as robbed them of all their littleness. She was a true specimen of unencumbered womanhood, who, acting, forgets she acts. What she really was, was an enigma, but she was always willing to follow where merry thought fools it with the tinsel stars. At the present stage of her career, she imagined herself to be an agnostic and physicist, with her faith firmly fixed on atoms and the conservation of energy. If I am somewhat incongruous, it is because it is impossible to be congruous when speaking of Agatha.
She had excited a lively interest in the great Brand. One of the problems which occupied the powerful but slow moving mind of this great chemist, was how to complete her scientific education. Of plebeian descent, he was dazzled by Agatha Harcourt's delicate hands, her aristocratic friends, and could never make the slightest approach to rebuking her or reproving her for anythingshe said. He tried to sow the good seed of precise observation and exact measurement, but tares unaccountably were mingled with the good wheat, and the crop he reaped was such as occasionally to make him despair.
She and Forest were seated together and had gradually passed from superficial observations to subjects which Agatha considered herself to consider really interesting.
"I have just been talking over a remarkable discovery."
Agatha settled herself comfortably in her seat. Of all the men she met at dinner parties, Forest was the nicest in accommodating himself to her scientific enthusiasms, and she used to beam gratefully on the ancient clippings from scientific periodicals which he rehearsed for her benefit. She would not, for the world, have diminished his sense of the interest he inspired in her, by letting him know that they were not perfectly new to her.
"Oh, tell me," she murmured.
"It is really very difficult," he answered. "It's about cause and effect."
"You can make everything plain."
"Well I will try, and if you don't understand, it's my fault."
"At any rate this is it. You know that the earth goes round the sun, and does not fly off into space because the sun pulls it. It's as if there were an elastic band between the two and the sun was automatically pulling it."
"Yes," said Agatha, "that's gravitation."
"Now, if you think," said Forest, "you will see that if you were pulling an object by a string, its course would depend on how long the pull you exerted took in going. The pull does not act all at once at the far end, but travels along the string as you can see if you pull a long rope."
"That is clear," said Agatha, "I have heard all about that. Gravitation is propagated from the sun as a centre, and people are trying to find out how fast it goes."
"Quite true, it used to be thought that it took no time at all, but now they have discovered a very curious thing."
"Is it very quick?"
"Very, it takes less than no time, it gets to the end before it starts. That is, the earth begins to change its course before the pull comes."
"Oh, that's impossible."
"You may well say so. But in astronomy observations of the greatest precision can be made, and there is now no doubt of the fact. We must not think what we please, must we, Agatha?"
"No," said Agatha, "we must see what happens and think accordingly."
"Well then," exclaimed Forest, "see what a wonderful discovery this is—what a light it throws on the relation of cause and effect. You know cause and effect are known to be related, and it is generally supposed that the effect comes after the cause. But now where the relation has been definitely observed, it is found that the effect comes before the cause, and what is true there, is true in every case."
"But how can that be?" said Agatha, knitting her forehead in the intensity of her thought.
"You may well ask, but as Brand says, in science we must follow facts not say what they must be, and now we have to look on all the laws of nature in a new light. I can tell you something which proves it too."
"Something I can understand, Edward?"
"Oh yes—I have told you a great many things, haven't I?"
"Yes, I've learned a great deal from you."
"Well, haven't you sometimes had a feeling that you knew them before?"
Agatha looked at him enquiringly. "Well, yes, perhaps sometimes I have."
"And doesn't that prove it," he answered triumphantly, "the effect comes before the cause—you knew those things before the cause of your knowing them—my telling them—took place."
"Why, yes," said Agatha, "listening to you is like reading a great author; everyone says, 'that's just what I always thought but never said.'"
"Exactly," said Forest.
"But," said Agatha, "wouldn't it mean that we were going backwards?"
"Nobody can tell what it leads to," he replied. "It's like the discovery that the earth wasn't the centre of the universe, it alters all our notions."
"Oh, do go on," said Agatha, settling down to enjoy herself tremendously. Forest's face assumed a serious and solemn expression. In his gravest tones he said:
"People need be anxious no longer as to whether there is an end and purpose in the world. You see of course there is—for the effect comes first, and also, less important but still interesting, it tells the size of an atom."
"How does it do that?"
"Why, the smaller the causes the more nearly they coincide with their effects. Now, matter is the cause of itself, and we have only to find how small a cause must be to coincide with its effect to find the size of an atom which is the bit of matter that really exists by itself."
"I'm so delighted you have told me all this, won't Professor Brand be astonished when he sees it all in my next essay. You don't mind, do you?"
"Oh, no, he'll think you got it by thought transference from him."
"I believe I do think that way," said Agatha, "I can think so much better when everyone round is talking and happy as they are now, things seem so clear."
"Of course they do," said Forest, "on an exhilarating occasion like this. See how interested Laura looks in what Mr. Lake is telling her."
"Yes," said Agatha, casting a look in a mirror which reflected a man in the prime of life and Laura perfectly absorbed in what he was saying, "her father has been scolding her for being frivolous, and she is just wild to get anyone who can talk to her seriously."
"There is something inexplicable in Laura," said Forest, "something that defies cold analysis—you will understand what I mean, Agatha, when I say she is like a body that rotates about another centre not its own. When you talk to her she rotates about you and the centre of her being is in you. She catches up your ideas, they have such an effect on her that an extraordinary sense of power and influence comes over you. That a girl like her who sweeps all her companions along with her in her gay vitality should be centred in you, is a phenomenon the inexplicability of which is lost in a sense of its satisfactoriness. And her direct simplicity all the while makes you wonder what her orb would be capable of if the centre about which she really rotates did make its appearance."
"You haven't hit Laura off badly," said Agatha.
Laura was indeed engaged in an interesting conversation. She was sitting next to a celebrated historian and, after a few amenities, she said, "Mr. Lake, I have always wanted to ask you a question—we read your books at school because you wrote them, but why did you write them?"
Mr. Lake answered, crustily, "I wrote them because I was well paid for doing so, so much work so much gold, as in everything else."
"You remember the place," went on Laura, sweetly, "where you say that the Unæas became more civilized than the Scythians because they found gold near the surface, and so trade arose?"
"Yes," he answered.
"But I have heard some mining engineers talking to papa, and they said there was just as much gold near the surface, and more in Scythia than Unæa. I always thought that we became civilized because we cared more about finding out."
"The child can give a pat with her claws if she does draw the velvet over them directly afterwards," thought Mr. Lake. He was, in fact, ashamed of the brilliant and superficial generalization of his youth, and far from being offended at Laura's detection of one of them looked at his young interlocutor with interest. He had often envied the young men of fashion their passages at arms with dazzling beauties, now it was his turn to pursue the windings of Unman history with so beautifully undulating a throat, a voice so sweet, a gaze so clear—everything comes to the man who waits, and labours while he waits!
"It was that aim of finding out that moved me," he replied. "You know the waters are sucked up into the sky and fall in rain, that gives life to the earth; and the same exhalation of our spirits in the vast unknown falls back in definite knowledge, that means our life and civilization. You find this again and again; for instance, it was what you might call a mere movement of curiosity that resulted in the marvellous preservation of our State."
"You mean when they found out that the earth was round?" she asked.
"Yes, and travelled round it, and I began to study history so that from the past I might be able to tell what was wise to do in the future."
"How splendid," she said, "and that is why everyone reads your books."
"No, the changes and alterations of these latter years are so great that the past throws hardly any light on the present, the men and the qualities which once stood us in such stead are placed on one side now."
"Yes, isn't it a shame," said Laura.
"Inevitable, the world is face to face with new problems."
"But the fidelity and courage they showed! Their descendants ought to have the highest place amongst us now."
"The country has need of other qualities than those of the watch-dog order," said Lake, "the security of our social order is entrusted to the fidelity of the men we need no longer as soldiers, and with this humble and honourable place they are justly content: a more intellectual and versatile character is required for public affairs. Take young Wall for instance, this opportunity of taking out a band of colonists is about the only opportunity that could come to him of emerging from absolute obscurity. He has no aptitude for political life. He said to me the other day that the people never moved except for fear; whenever they seemed to have acted spontaneously it was, he said, because there were certain active movers amongst them who understood how to make it more dangerous for a man to keep still than to move with them. He can't obtain political prestige by sentiments like that."
"But, said Laura, his being at the head has made many willing to go that awful distance."
"Yes, that's true, the masses have a certain confidence in these old-time names. And in days gone by the aristocracy of wealth strengthened themselves not a little by alliances with this class. But these days are over, a girl now would hardly find that kind of man with his limited opportunities congenial. Such a marriage would mean her absolutely burying herself."
This was too much for Laura.
She felt her colour mounting and changed the topic. She had lately heard a number of controversial sermons which had deeply impressed her, pointing out the errors of the older and parent church from which the reformed church sprang.
"Mr. Lake," she said, "why do the Orbians still believe their false doctrines?" He looked at her shrewdly.
"Every Orbian young lady has heard the errors of your church exposed, just as effectively as you have heard those of hers."
"But," said Laura, "people agree about every discovery after a time."
"Discovery!" said Lake. "You ought to call the origin of our religion a revelation." Laura, taking advantage of the indulgence with which he treated her remarks, said:
"It was a discovery just as much as a revelation, for if it had all happened in Scythia, no one would have known about it."
Yes," said Lake, "no doubt there was an element of discovery, but you cannot account for the rise of our institutions as you would for the discovery made by any individual. Our institutions rise by a different and more wonderful process."
"I see now," said Laura, "why papa says you praise the individual and glorify the institution."
Lake started visibly perturbed. "Are you sure your father said that?"
"He said something about individuals and institutions," said Laura.
"I have been accused of treating individuals with severity, of cutting them up, never of praising them."
"But wouldn't you rather praise than cut up?"
"No, Miss Cartwright." Lake was moved by the blow Laura had unwittingly administered, for his reputation for sarcasm was what he really most treasured. He spoke without reserve, giving this young girl his most intimate convictions.
"Long ago Providence, in its inscrutable wisdom, using, I would not deny, human credulity as part of its means, founded the institution of the church—the Orbian church. From it sprang our church. We rightly consider those miraculous occurrences which accompanied the founding of these institutions to be strictly confined to the past. The Orbians think they happen to-day and, moreover, they still have a hidden aspiration to usurp the functions of government. They do not give reason its properly limited province, and they conflict with the institution of the State. But it is only in our institutions that we are great. What is a man by himself? No, Miss Cartwright, the part of an individual is to contribute to the whole, by belief to form a part of the church, by obedience to law to be a worthy member of the State, and by the exercise of his faculties along sound and accredited lines to perform his little part in the progress of science. A man must first raise himself to the level of our present condition before he can help us on, and the only way to raise himself to our level is to become an efficient instrument in the church, the government, or the academy of science.
"The greatest danger of our time lies in those crude individuals who refuse to believe, thereby destroying the foundations of the church, or who start off on some wild reform of the State or science. All they do is to exhibit savage instincts incompatible with the very existence of society."
"But why do we let such people go about," said Laura.
"Unfortunately the church did not recognise the necessity for a certain amount of rationalism once and persecuted people who were found afterwards to be right. So now we are chary about repressing opinion. But these unbelievers and innovators are men of crude knowledge or crude feeling, who are a source of terrible harm to the masses."
He finished, and Laura felt that wisdom like his was the only resource against a background of dark perils.
Turning away for a moment from that scene of flowers and fruit and gaily talking men and women, a look cast far back in the past reveals the solitary life of one on whom yet somehow they all seem to depend. For in that land of Unæa there lived one who, from no philosophy, but from an inner and intimate conviction, told his fellows of a soul that dwelt in them—a home to which it went, and an eternal love behind the labour of their little day. So firm and strong was his authority, that for ages the Unmans believed in a real heaven beyond their world. All the forces of union awoke in them, and the rational and immaculate courage was born to meet their Scythian foes. But scientific exploration and the widening scope of outlook on their world brought no information of this beyond. The faint-hearted teachers of the faith turned from the study of facts, gaining their inspiration only from the past, leaving the rational conquest of the world to men who placed the whole source of knowledge in sense. The one common point of agreement in all the speculations of these latter consisted in a determination to account for everything in terms of what they knew, in terms of their ideas, in terms of the limited thin range of their flat space events and scenes.
Lake's opinions, like those of the majority of the cultured inhabitants of Astria, indicated a somewhat sombre state of mind.
In the background of their thoughts were the old religious affirmations. But also in the background of their thoughts was the scientific picture of the Universe—a vast extent of space in which on different worlds life arose, civilizations arose, flourished and perished, leaving nothing but dark orbs revolving round extinct suns.
The old days when all Unæa was banded together in one great effort were gone, apparently never to return. They trusted to the interaction of environment and individual for the evolution of their social organism, and at the date of which we treat these blind forces of society seemed to bring about inevitably an increasing distinction of classes, with prodigal luxury on the one hand, economic slavery on the other.
Their life was active in the prosecution of their individual ambitions and aims, but the old dogmatic views afforded no guidance for their collective action, and save in the slow course of the operation of the principle of the survival of the fittest, with all its painful struggles, they had no scientific clue to the meaning of their existence.
The inspiring and brightest aspect of Unæan life was the ardour and innate faith with which the coming generation flung itself into the battle of life. There there was no flagging, no weariness or discouragement, but youth and energy perpetually renewed.
The time to change places and vis-à-vis had come. Owing to the difficulties of service, Unæa banquets were given in halls of considerable length. And in this splendid specimen of Persepolis architecture of Cartwright's, the guests first sat down at the inner end. When the first course was finished they moved, changing their partners, to a second course prepared for them in the middle of the hall. The final course was laid near the entrance, and thence they strolled out into the gardens conversing in a more desultory fashion and with more frequent changes.
Laura's next vis-à-vis was a young banker, who was always full of news about their mutual acquaintances. He began by saying:
"I've been pitying you, Miss Cartwright, it's bad enough to read Lake's Review, but you can always put that down, while with the man himself you've no escape."
"I don't believe he has ever talked to you, or you wouldn't say that," said Laura.
"Quite right, he never wasted his words on me; you can put me down, I see."
"I think you need a great deal of putting down, Mr. Field, and I'll do all I can," said Laura. And so they chatted and laughed in the old way, he never remembering to have seen her so animated before, and she determined to make him feel, when she went away from them all (if she went away), that the loss was perfectly crushing.
Mrs. Castle had the pleasure of Mr. Cartwright's society during this second course, and carefully led the conversation to a topic she very much wished to hear him discuss.
She might have spared herself the trouble of her transitions however, for Cartwright was, unlike himself, moody and abstracted. He woke up to vivacity, however, when she mentioned that the Orbian Society of Friends of the Poor had sold a large tract of land. The cause of the continued lowering of value of real estate in a time of prosperity had been accepted by Cartwright as a kind of providential accessory to his aim of removing Wall to a place where his activities would have a beneficial field of operation, and he had not enquired closely into the causes of the fall in values. It crossed his mind suddenly that the Orbians, too, might have some knowledge of impending events, and were preparing for the catastrophe. Amongst them were to be found astronomers equal to any of those in the service of the State, and what the astronomers of the State had found out they too might have discovered. He could not understand, however, why they should part with the solid fabric of the earth—the thing least likely to be disturbed, and dismissed the suggestion which came to him for future meditation.
"It is very disturbing," said Mrs. Castle, "these sudden changes of value make one feel as if one might be plunged into poverty any moment."
"Yes," said Cartwright sympathetically, "they are a great trial."
"And then the rise in mining property. If I could only tell whether to sell a few shares I have in a coal mine or not."
"Who can tell," answered Cartwright. "There are so many conditions to be considered. If new fields are opened the prices will fall; but if the present cold winters continue, they may remain high. It's a mere lottery."
"Surely you know the report the Socialists have spread?" said Mrs. Castle.
"No. What is it?"
"They say that you only raise the price of coal to recoup the expense of the Colony, and when you have made the people pay for it, prices will go down again to normal." Cartwright frowned.
"It is like the demagogues," he said. "I pity the people—at the mercy of empty talkers, who, if they have the power, lead the nation into every kind of folly; and if they have not, sow suspicion and distrust. The rise in prices is not in the least connected with the Colony, or its expenses; it has no connection with it, however remote."
Mrs. Castle smiled at him sympathetically, and if she had put her thought in words would have said: "You dear flat, why wouldn't you tell me what I wanted to know without forcing me to irritate it out of you?" For now, she felt quite sure of the wisdom of speculating on the rise in value of coal lands.
Meanwhile Sylvester Barr was sitting with Agatha.
"May I claim you for my companion in the fête of flowers?" he asked.
"I've promised already," she replied.
"Then the unexpressed pledge of last year, when I rowed you across, counts for nothing?" he asked.
"What is an unexpressed pledge?" she asked.
"In this case it's an unfulfilled expectation," he answered.
"Mr. Forest was talking to me so interestingly, that I couldn't help when he promised to tell me more on the lake."
"Well, won't you let me try to persuade you to change your mind?"
"Yes," she said. "Mr. Forest would much rather go with Laura, but she has invited Harold Wall—who's going out with the Colony, you know—so she must devote herself to him; and so Mr. Forest and I thought we would improve our minds."
"I've heard, Miss Harcourt, that you have become quite serious. I suppose Forest was talking science to you."
"I did not know that Forest was scientific."
"I don't know that he is either, but he is a wonderful reasoner."
"And so I have to reason you out of your love of reasoning?"
"It isn't fair—one of your reasoning friends could easily make you think poetry was horrible, while I am a poor hand at an argument."
"How could my reasoning friends make me think poetry was horrible?" asked Agatha.
"By writing a poem, of course; now you'd much better let me leave science alone and tell you how nice other things are."
"But I don't want to do anything else except listen to science," said Agatha.
"Will the history of science do?" he asked.
"That will do."
"Well once, long ago, there was nothing on the earth but flowers, they bloomed beautiful and gay from East to West, and having all things to themselves, the history of the world was the history of them."
"Yes," said Agatha, " it couldn't be anything else—what are you looking at so earnestly?"
"I can see Mr. Cartwright's face in the mirror," he replied.
"Doesn't he look well?"
"Yes, and happy, trying horribly hard to look happy."
"He's trying to be polite to someone he can't bear, go on with your history."
"So the flowers grew in the sunshine and in the night, and most were careless and happy. But some began to think."
"How does a flower think? they haven't got anything to think with."
"Yes they have, they think with their roots, and when they think very hard their roots grow into little round swellings, those are the brains of flowers. And the more they thought the more they wanted to think till their brains became very big and they got tubers and bulbs. It seemed to be no good because, of course, they couldn't do anything, but still they had wonderful thoughts, and thought on and on."
"How funny, but was there really any good?"
"Of course there was, nothing, in nature is in vain. The winters became colder and colder, like they have been doing recently, and the poor flowers were all killed, except those that had their tubers and brains. They stopped underground, and lived ever so long, till the weather got fine again. Then they grew up, and that is why the oldest flowers, those from which all the others come, have bulbs and tubers. And now you see the reason of science, it's only to make our brains grow. They are our tubers, and when we all take to caves and caverns, only scientists with big brains . . . ."
"Don't go on," said Agatha, " I'll make any promises you like if you'll only stop."
Sylvester Barr was still looking in the mirror, catching glimpses of Cartwright's face, from which the singular expression he had noticed had gone. But though the expression had gone, the effect of it remained, and it was no doubt because of some subtle communication of influence that his history took the form it had. One man could not carry the burden of the knowledge of the approaching end of all that happy world without striking somewhere a resonant chord.
It was with a sense of perilous pleasure that Laura found herself sitting next to a real unbeliever for the final course of the banquet. Flower was a young and distinguished professor of Biology. Laura found no way of leaving the discussion of theatres, and sports, and people, till course after course went by, at last she boldly said: " Mr. Flower, do you really believe that I came from a monkey?"
"That isn't fair, Miss Cartwright, someone has been telling you tales about me, and making fun of my opinions, while, if I defend them, you will laugh at me still more afterwards."
"I won't laugh at you now," she said. " I can't tell how foolish I may be afterwards."
"Then I'll live in the present."
"It is quite true that I, like other scientific men of the day, have given up all the explanations that have been handed down from the past. But that is because we wanted to be able to really believe in something, for we found old theories, to say the least, full of self-contradictions, and looking at nature we found simply an inexhaustible fulness of things to believe in. Everything there is gives you something to believe in, namely itself, if you examine it carefully. It does not say much at first about other things, but gradually a light breaks in and we have found that there is a universal process in nature from the less complex to the more complex. At first there was only a nebulous dust suspended in the firmament, then star clusters were found by condensation, and planets moving round in their orbits. Then on this planet of ours forms of life arose, and from the first beginnings have evolved all we see. You know that every animal or vegetable is subject to slight variation. Now each animal or vegetable in the natural course of things is capable of filling the whole earth with its descendants. From this innumerable progeny some are selected, namely, those that are best fitted to survive. Hence any feature of advantage is preserved, and gradually all those adaptations we so wonder at come into being."
"What a long time it must have taken! " said Laura.
"Ages and ages that you can hardly begin to conceive, but what is time in evolution? That is the mighty force, the wonderful process which brings every form of life into being. We need none of the old suppositions of types or tendencies, we see the whole world evolving itself inexorably, necessarily, into new forms of ever greater and greater complexity."
"But," said Laura, " you might argue in the same way about the household things we have, once we used very simple things, now they are quite complicated, but we know there was thought and design in making all the changes."
"Oh, yes," said he, "that is part of the same process. An organism in a shallow pool of the sea is in danger of being dried up when the tide recedes. Those that have a tendency to creep out into the deeper pools survive, while those that have not this tendency die. In such actions which tend to preserve a species is the origin of a directive power which, amplified in the long ages, is our conscious thought; all is a product of this mighty power."
"Then are we the highest things there are?
"The very highest. This mighty process has produced you and me—you the very apex and flower of it all, and I who can open your eyes to it. This knowledge brings with it a great responsibility. We who trace the rise of one form of life from another, and the law of progress, have gained the insight from the only source possible that is capable of directing the course of our country. I know I seem presumptuous, Miss Cartwright, Laura, but you with your intelligence were born to be more than a mere onlooker or feted and courted grand lady, in the inspiration of this great thought I claim you for it—we together, what could we not do!"
"But," said Laura hastily, a little alarmed, " I don't believe in your evolution a bit. It seems to me like this, as if there was a stone at the bottom of a hill, and afterwards you see it at the top of the hill, you feel obliged to explain how it got there, and don't see any way, so you make up a kind of principle by which it got there of itself."
"But we know that there were once only the simpler forms of life on this earth and now we see most complex forms."
"Yes," said Laura, "that's just it. Because you don't see how the change came about you make up an explanation of how it came about of itself. If you really saw how it took place your account would be perfectly useless."
"Well, how did it come about?"
"By planning and trying and thinking, as we make things," said Laura.
"Oh this is animism, it is fetichism, it is deplorable," said the professor.
"What nice words," said Laura.
"If I like them it would be deplorable of you to try to make me think as I don't like to."
"But I should like to make you like to think differently."
"Well, you must try," said Laura, "I'm so glad you told me about your opinion, for I think you are a very safe kind of unbeliever. You don't want to turn papa out, and upset the government, do you?"
"No," said Flower, "certainly not. You must not confuse me with the ignorant rationalists."
"No, I won't ever again," said Laura, "and you have a powerful way of thinking, and if I don't like it, it is my misfortune you know, not my fault."
It was time to pass out into the garden and, fortunately, Agatha was close at hand walking with an Orbian priest. Laura told her professor that her cousin loved talking about scientific things, and introduced him, turning herself to Father Luke.
Laura had never found anyone so quick to respond to her wish to talk about serious things as this Orbian priest.
In the plutocratic society of Unæa, absorbed in its material interests, girls were trained to have a most vivacious interest in things, to care about manners and dress, and their talk was considered the more perfect, the more butterfly-like it hovered o'er the things of the hour. But he found himself describing to this girl the life of a sister, living in a hospital with the sick and miserable always about her, yet from whom a wave of happiness always seems to radiate, whom he thought was the most perfectly happy person he knew.
"That," she answered, "is because there is something great and strong always near her which she knows is perfectly right, but what if there is something great and strong near one which one isn't sure is right?"
"It's hard to be happy then with a true and peaceful happiness," he answered, "but that need never happen, for to all those that believe we bring the consciousness of something great and strong, nearer than father or mother or husband or wife, that is perfectly holy."
"Yes," she replied, "I have heard so, but we are told that it is best for us to be left in the dark sometimes because we learn to use our own judgment."
"If you will let me say so you have a wrong idea of judgment. Judgment is only how to carry things out, God does not leave the world in darkness, there is always His will plainly revealed and those He has sent to declare it."
"Yes, I know you say so," she answered, "but perhaps you are mistaken sometimes. You say that the rule ought to belong to the Orbian and we ought to be all His subjects."
"Yes," he replied, smiling.
"But that is contrary to law. You cannot say rebellion is right."
"What I said was very different, and it will come to pass," he answered. "We do not say overthrow your rulers, but when your rulers and you do not know what to do, you will come to us. They will find where the wisdom is ultimately, for it is not possible to suppose, is it, that God has not given light sufficient for our path? All we have to do is to accept it."
"But believing as you do," said Laura, "I should try hard to make people believe; they turn just in the opposite way now."
"Not so much as you would think," said he, "there is a constant tendency to turn to the holy father when men are puzzled and confused. Even to-day your father asked me if our influence could not be used to turn men's minds to this Colony—I said 'No.' Humanly speaking it seems right, but the holy father has pronounced the word of God against it."
"But I heard," she said, "that Harold Wall had a large following who were ready to go."
"Yes," he answered, "they go and we remain."
Was there a touch of sadness in his tone? She felt responsive to a voice that sounded full of sympathy for a troubled heart, welcome in that babel of gaily talking men and women. He answered her look by saying:
"My daughter, let your happiness consist in following the right, for remember you are but as a flower in the field, or a piece that the designer places in his work, yours it is but to be, and leave it for an all wise hand to place you—be it on this earth, or be it beyond in the place prepared for you."
He spoke with tender earnestness, and Laura felt that he looked upon a world hidden from her sight.
"Laura," said Agatha, as they sat together in her bedroom, "whatever did Father Luke say to you this evening, you aren't going to be converted, are you?"
"He was saying that no one need ever be uncertain of what was right. What he said was beautiful."
"I'll tell you what I think about it, Laura. You know there are some people who think you can get well when you are sick, simply by faith. We don't believe that, and it is easy to see that the same principle could make us try by faith to make a house grow up simply by believing it was there, or try to get anything else we wanted without taking trouble."
"Yes," said Laura, "it would be very convenient to be able to get things simply by believing we have them, but we can't, we have to take a whole lot of trouble."
"A great deal of trouble," said Agatha, "and the way to get them is often very indirect."
"I wouldn't mind how indirect it was if it led right at last," said Laura.
"No, being your father's daughter, I think you would not."
"The worst of papa is that you only know what he wants when he has got it."
"You mean you can't help him?"
"You can neither hinder him or help him," said Laura diplomatically.
"That is because you are so passive, Laura, you let people do what they like with you, if you had some motion of your own, you wouldn't be so much clay in your father's hands."
"I'm not clay."
"Yes, you are very pretty clay, you will be engaged and married before you have had any life of your own."
"I'm not going to be," said Laura nervously.
"Well, the only way to stop it is to do something; take me, for instance, they were going to marry me to someone I didn't like, so I took up science, and by and by they'll be glad if I marry at all."
"I always thought you must have some reason for taking up science," said Laura incautiously.
"That shows how little you know about it," said Agatha, "science is the most glorious pursuit in the world. I didn't know anything about it till—till some-one told me. We want to know and the only way is to begin at the beginning. We can't choose what to know and science is beginning by knowing what we can. He said that we are like a giant, bound, who can only just begin to move, we are feeling now just the simplest real things about us, some day we shall come through that to know ourselves, and the certainty of all that people have imagined so much about. But it takes hard work."
"I wish you would let me come with you to learn science," said Laura.
"I think you had much better take up art," was Agatha's tardy response.
|Chapter III||Contents etc.||Chapter V|