|Chapter XV||Contents etc.||Chapter XVII|
AN ACCIDENTAL MEETING
WALL'S task had been by no means an easy one. His chief difficulty was with the management of the farming class. They were aggrieved at the new regulations. They worked, they said, while others were idle—for the exercises by which the planet was to be deflected from its course did not strike them as work—and working, they must be paid.
Now, since ordinary manufactures were in abeyance except to the limited extent which was needed to provide the articles of barest necessity, to pay the farmers would have meant that the circulation of money would be stopped, all would come to the producers of food and none return from them. Consequently, they were deprived of the products of their labour for what they considered an unjust and miserable return. To put down the active and overt rebellions that resulted from the discontent in the agricultural districts demanded incessant journeys on Wall's part. He found some way of quelling the disorder which overtaxed the powers of his lieutenants.
It may be conjectured that he had no time to study the new departure of thought, and the most irksome occasions of his itinerary were those in which he was called on to inspect and encourage the institutions of national education.
One such bad hour he experienced on returning in July, the month of the harvest in Persepolis. The director of the famous school of the capital explained to him how, by means of models showing the appearances of a three-dimensional object, the children were taught to think such objects natural, the great difficulty in the way—the absence of sense perception—being thus removed.
"It is undoubtedly the fact," said the director, "that this new conception of existence has a marked influence on the power and scope of volition. For one thing when the children get to know that real existence has a dimension they cannot see with their bodily eyes, and has a richness of movement they cannot make with their limbs, they realise that they are not these bodies, they realise that they are beings of this higher kind, directing these extended bodies of a lower plane. And this conception of the higher movements, the higher activities, seem to wake up a response in their physical organisation. It is as if there were a multitude of beings in each child that were capable of being waked up to a higher grade of intelligence than has hitherto been the case.
"The comparison you will best appreciate is that of an army, an army whose soldiers simply know their drill is a good, serviceable instrument. But if the private soldiers, beside their drill, learn to exercise their intelligence, a general can do infinitely more with them. They will throw themselves into the right formations, not be dependent on the processes he has to adopt to convey his will to them. And thus I find that the very bodies of our children are undergoing modification. In the old times to teach the use of a musical instrument it was necessary to drill the hand by incessant repetitions of the necessary movements, now I make the child clearly understand the anatomy of the muscles and nerves requisite for carrying out the effect I want. From the child's mind this knowledge in some way pervades the awakened individuals of the body, and the change of organisation I want, the facility of execution, comes with but little practice. Indeed, I look forward to wonderful results. Hitherto, these subdominant agencies of the body have been concerned with maintaining the vital processes of keeping the status quo.
"But I see no reason why they should not modify, alter, and adapt those vital processes. We know that there is an intelligence in these subdominant agencies which can repair small injuries, restoring the perfect image of the unimpaired condition. By the same intelligence re-inforced and put into communication with the dominant mind, I believe that structural changes, not of the mere nature of conservative repairs can be effected. I believe that a sensitiveness to light can be locally induced, that it will be possible to call into existence new organs of such a nature that we shall be aware of objects on both sides of us."
Wall had spoken with the educators in the provinces, but had met no one approaching this director.
"Sir," he said stiffly, "I am old fashioned in my views, perhaps, but I think the last place for the application of wild theories is in the schoolroom."
"You have only to see for yourself, to find how unfounded your criticism is," remarked the director and led the way into the school. The sweet sounds of children's voices fell on Harold's ear, and interwoven with the delicate shrill melody a rich soprano. Involuntarily he stood still. For the moment he was again gliding over the Alban Lake in the flower-garlanded boat with Laura opposite him.
They entered the room and the director began to say "Miss Cartwright . . ." but stopped, for Laura in her confusion had dropped her book, and stood, her gaze fixed, her face alternately pale and flushed.
"Harold!" she gasped—and he who had never shown a sign of discomposure in any peril, stood still utterly confused before the girl.
"Laura," he ejaculated. Their eyes met in one happy glance. The director seeing an introduction was needless, tactfully withdrew.
The children stared and giggled. They had never seen their adorable teacher, who greeted every visitor with such assured affability and who was so ready forevery emergency, so confused. They all wondered what was going to happen. Finally Laura said:
"I am glad to see you again." The words were simple, but was there ever such an expression of divine content!
"Little did I imagine I should find you here," he said. Again that ineffable light greeted him, but she simply said:
"Sit down, I am teaching uncle's system."
In quick succession the thousand and one incidents of their lives crowded on him while he watched her, even some faint notion of what she was saying reached his mind. She was saying a number of words he had never heard before, for it was part of Farmer's plan to name everything he thought about, and he hoped to enrich the Unæan vocabulary with thousands of new vocables. Laura was trying her best to induct the children into their new department of language. Now it was impossible to say these words in their right connection unless with close attention, and she gradually became more herself.
For Laura was in face of the worst problem which afflicted the inhabitants of Unæa. She was in the presence of tyrannous little creatures, who took a malicious pleasure in getting puzzled and failing in their studies if she departed in the least from the utmost exactitude of speech or trusted them to make the slightest natural inference. As to the lesson itself this is not the place to give it, for here we are obliged to stop when we come to what is really interesting. Enough it is to say that, as she gave it, Laura completely recovered her composure. In Unæa, as here, people were in contact with something more important than their own pleasures or pains, however entrancing, however desperate. And Laura was at her post: whatever she felt, she must do her part to drive the great engine along.
"So," said Harold, when the lesson was over, "do you mean to say you really teach the children about the third dimension?"
"Yes, they all learn about it."
"But, can you show it to me? If it is real it must be somewhere."
Laura sank her beautiful head in thought, "I'm not so sure of it myself, Harold."
"It makes me glad to hear you say that, we haven't much time on the march to think about such things, and feel as if we had fallen behind when we hear that even the children understand all about it. I passed through your father's place. He's done a great work with his new varieties of plants. That's what I admire. He didn't lose a moment after he came to a full stop, but turned himself resolutely in another direction without wasting a thought on the past."
"But, Harold, it's natural to look back sometimes."
"Oh, yes, we can't help doing that."
"Uncle is wondering why you don't come to see him."
"I'd like nothing better," said Harold, glad that she intended to 'look back' a little, "and have a quiet talk with my old friend. Many of us think that your father is the strongest man we have got, and that we cannot do better than put him at the head of affairs when I resign. And that may not be so long either. He would find it easier to take hold when there is still danger enough to make people co-operate. You know I have done a lot of unconstitutional things, and when the newspapers come out again they are sure to hound the people on against me, unless I and my doings are matters of ancient history."
"I don't think you could possibly resign till the time of danger is over," said Laura, "and you ought to think better of the people than you do."
"There's no time like the present," said Wall, glad to find she did not regard him as an usurper of her father's power, "let us go to your uncle's now."
"He will be glad to see you," said Laura simply, "but first you must go and thank our director."
So Harold called in at the office and explained how much he had been influenced by his personal inspection of the system, and then actually walked with Laura, who trod every step of the way as if it were the most ordinary process in the world.
At Farmer's house, although it was the hour in which Unæan society was wont to distribute its presence most liberally, there were but a few persons to be seen. Two Orbian priests, Luke and Percival, who as a kindly duty tried to render less conspicuous the emptiness of the official residence, and Forest, who would have sought his flaming star anywhere, were the only visitors.
"Where have you come from?" asked Farmer, as he clasped Harold's hand.
"The very last place was the Central Academy," answered Harold.
"And how did the new system strike you?"
"What an extraordinary person you have got as director," answered Wall, evading the question.
"I give you credit," said Farmer, "for a good deal of perspicacity. When I came to introduce the knowledge of the third dimension into the schools I found that the minds of all the teachers had been atrophied by contact with youth. Moreover, they had been so long in the habit of explaining things which no one can understand, that they had lost the feeling of what understanding is. So I cast about and reflected that in the commercial world a class of people had been evolved who gained their living by forming opinion. There, where their talents had been evolved by free competition, I found a class of workers who leave the professional educators far behind in their power of evoking belief. Now, in the cessation of manufacture there was absolutely no employment at hand for those whose faculties were devoted to the recommendation of one kind of wares rather than another. What was more suitable then than to use the extraordinary powers of persuasion they possess for the benefit of the school children, thus enlisting the force of credulity on the side of truth. The director is a man who, as he often informs me when we quarrel, drew in commercial life ten times the salary I could ever hope to receive."
"Anybody would think," said Laura interrupting, "that uncle was a perfect tyrant, but he isn't, really. How many of these new kinds of professors have you appointed, tell us truly."
"One at present," said Farmer.
"One is enough," observed Wall.
"And how he treats you," exclaimed Laura, "he won't let you go near the school, he says you puzzle everyone you speak to."
"You are prejudiced against him, Laura," observed Farmer, meditatively, "you, almost as much as the professors. They threatened to resign in a body, but when I appointed this director they withdrew their opposition very nobly. Rather than give their pupils over to men like him, they have consented to continue in their posts. Still, they are mistaken. The new director is producing wonderful results.
"I am the only one to suffer—I want to make people think differently, and the way in which I am sure it can be done best, no one will accept. They say it is too long and tedious. But people will have to think differently. They can't help coming to believe in the third dimension somehow, and then they will think differently about everything."
"That is exactly what I have felt," said one of the priests, "Mr. Farmer thinks differently from the rest of us, he has practised himself in his system so long that things which surprise us appear quite natural to him. I have often wished to ask him what he really did mean by his attack on us during the conference in the Orbian palace."
"That would have better been left unsaid," replied Farmer.
"Not at all, it interested us very deeply, but we did not understand how we could be accused of attaching too much importance to the body when we try to think only of the soul."
"That is exactly your mistake," said Farmer, "it is impossible to think of the soul alone. You cannot conceive a will without processes of nature which it can act on, which produce definite results. If everything happens arbitrarily I can't conceive myself as performing an act of will. Hence the soul implies bodily relations. You must have them, and if you don't acknowledge them rightly they will come in wrongly. It is impossible to conceive a being capable of will and action without a world of things which do not will and feel and by which that being can produce definite results. Some people say that you cannot conceive a world of things without a mind. Colour does not exist unless there is a sentient being, and so on. But this argument does not seem to me conclusive,—besides it leads to idealism, and idealism is the only absolutely fatal kind of philosophy. Whatever other path of inquiry you take, you may sometimes get a new idea, but idealists are so occupied in proving all the time that what is is a form of the ideas they have, that they cannot possibly get a new idea."
"We will give up the idealists," said the priest, "I offer them to you as a sacrifice, tell me your objection to us."
"Everyone," said Farmer, "can be judged in two aspects; one as to the work he does, the other as to how he behaves. We can pardon defects of manner if a man does his work satisfactorily. Now the soul should be judged in those two aspects also."
"We think it is of the utmost importance that every man should bend his soul to the faithful accomplishment of his duty."
"Yes," replied Farmer, "but it is as his duty manifested in some quality, not quite simply and directly as doing something. The fact is we can't make the analysis into soul and body in your way at all. We have individuals given in nature in two aspects which you call soul and body, but it is impossible to resolve them into any such constituents. If we think of the soul we must think of it as a new individual having both spiritual and material relations. I think it is a very small being guiding and directing your body as your bodily form would guide and direct a machine. Our souls hurl this great vital world along, and do it by means of our bodies. It is not fair, it is disheartening to be too particular about the precise way in which they run their machines. Now I ask you, are we not all better now that there is obviously a real work on which our souls altogether are engaged in diverting the course of our planet?"
"I don't think I'm one bit better," said Laura, "the other day when I was in the Cathedral and all the others were trying to imagine they were angels soaring upwards, I thought I was a little black demon going down."
"Laura," said Farmer with solicitude, "didn't you feel a horrible grating sensation?"
"No," said Laura, "I felt going down so comfortably and fast that I got frightened and left off."
"I think we do not differ from you essentially," said the priest, "but from our knowledge of human nature we have to take account of much you disregard."
Farmer had been speaking calmly, but inwardly he was growing more and more indignant. He was conscious of differing radically from Luke. All the evil in the world he attributed to the imposition of false ideals. He was on the point of speaking his mind, and letting his friends know what he really thought. But something prevented him. A sense of his own crude and curious simplicity came over him in the presence of Luke and Harold. It was something so strong, so inexplicable and strong, this "religion" of Luke's, something so strong this love of Harold's, so incapable of being laid down bounds to and prescribed its place in the world. Who was he to lay down rules for a world in which such things were? He contented himself with saying, "Perhaps I do disregard a great deal that there is in human nature, that's very like something you once said to me, Harold, isn't it?"
But Harold did not answer. Ever since Laura's words he had been absorbed in thinking of them. He knew that he, for his part, even such a brute of earth as he, would feel as if he were soaring in the empyrean heavens if she were his and he hers. And she now, if she loved Forest, would she have spoken so? To think she was a little black demon going down wasn't the part of a girl in love.
Farmer did not press for an answer, but went on addressing Luke.
"I come from the contemplation of inanimate things, and what I would say about human nature does not count for much. But it seems to me that you are presumptuous in claiming to direct the human spirit when you do not rise to the intellectual level of the age. The man who really means to do anything seizes the tools for his work—and the tool of thought is space—only as we think of things as in space do we get hold of them with our minds. The ideals you would inflict on us spring haphazard, and you choose them more often because they satisfy your fastidious taste than because they are the real ends of human endeavour. You dwell in the past when the sword is ready for you to grasp and use to cleave your way to a knowledge of what the soul really is, what its work is."
"What is this sword so mysteriously coming to us out of the air?" asked Luke.
"It is three dimensional space," said Farmer.
"You are a true enthusiast," said Luke, "but I fail to perceive any connection between an extension of geometry and the spiritual nature of man. You are dealing with altogether disconnected subjects. The feelings implanted in us by the Divine author of the world are altogether independent of space and time. His will is revealed within the heart, to those who accept the message He has sent the world. I can understand your wild reckless seeking after certainty, it comes on all those who have left the path of faith, and, believe me, we frame no ideals, make no wanton demands on human nature, we but speak God's will as He speaks through the infallible head of His church."
Laura had been listening attentively to their conversation, and now broke in.
"Mr. Luke, I think you are not at all nice to uncle, he is just as good as any one can be."
"Tell me, Laura," he answered, smiling, "what ought I to do?"
"You know he can't come over to you, so you ought to go over to him and find out what he means."
"I should only be too happy if he does not think me too ignorant," said Luke.
"What I mean is very simple," said Farmer, "we find out about the people we know by means of their bodies, in this material world we have found parents and children, country, lovers, friends. You say that there is more than these. Granted. But why should we abandon the way in which we have found out all we know? Space is much larger than we think. If we become familiar with it as it really is we shall find those higher objects of our regard about which you tell us, and we shall find them as they really are, not as we fancy them. We must train ourselves to understand the higher space things, and by so doing we enter a wonderful world with all kinds of new possibilities. The simplest thing in three dimensional space, cannot be shown in our space except by means of inconsistent two dimensional things. If you want to learn the higher space things, you have to study things in our space which are inconsistent, incredible, illogical, but you must train yourself to them, and you will find out that these illogical appearances are really consistent in the higher reality—thus you will learn the only sure way of finding the objects of religion."
"But," said Luke, "am I not right, Mr. Farmer, in supposing that there is no end to space, no finality in it, and one space being comes after another for ever?"
"Yes, certainly," said Farmer.
"Then in that way I could never find anything ultimate, I could never know God."
"Certainly not," said Farmer, "you can only know the proximate and so on endlessly."
"But have you ever thought," asked Luke, "what this whole space system springs from, have you never wearied of it, tried to go outside it? That is what religion does. And just as the higher space thing is only known by inconsistent appearances in a lower space, inconsistent, incredible, and, as you say, illogical, so that which is the object of religion can never be known in any space system at all save as incredible. But our faculties are not limited to space perceptions. By the impossible and, if you will, illogical statements of religion, we can wake the soul up to something above the space view altogether. Since religion is something above space, if we express it in the space way it must be a mystery."
Farmer did not answer. With all his mental activity he was a creature of the most extraordinary limitations, and now he was in the presence of a thought entirely new to him.
He made no answer. Forest relieved the silence by saying:
"Laura, I am glad to know that you will spend the summer in my district." This plan of her father's, which she heard of for the first time thus unexpectedly, took Laura by surprise.
"I'm tired of that part of the country," she said, "I know it so well."
It was, of course, perfectly ridiculous to talk of being tired of the most beautiful scenery in the whole of Astria, and Forest, afraid she would make some even more pronounced objection, or possibly refuse to go at all, made haste to say:
"I think I could tell you something you don't know even about the Alban Lake. Just reflect how singular it is to find a body of water like that almost over-hanging the plain. It isn't a natural lake, it was originally a small depression in the ground, but the farmers have built a dam for the purposes of irrigation and so as to raise their crops in the valley below."
"Which they are not very anxious to share with anyone else," said Wall.
"On the contrary, I find them a reasonable kind of people when matters are properly explained."
"They are a different set then to those I have found in other parts of the country, all the difficulties originate with the farmers."
"I hope you will be persuaded to come with us, General," said Forest, arriving by rapid intuition at the cause of Laura's disapproval of the project, and disdaining to take any share of complicity in the net Cartwright was weaving round his daughter. A grateful look rewarded him—he felt sure she would come now.
"Thank you," said Wall, somewhat stiffly, "I'll come if possible."
Returning to his house he said to Beam:
"If a successful rival were to ask you to walk behind his triumphal car, what would you do, Beam?"
"I should say—"
"I didn't ask you what you'd say, what would you do?"
"I'd be a death's head at the feast."
"I'd try to be something not so bad as that. I tell you, Beam, there's a girl in this city that the flowers spring up wherever she steps—if I could see her once a day, nothing the farmers could do would bother me. Where are your last reports?"
|Chapter XV||Contents etc.||Chapter XVII|