Title: The Novels of Aldous Huxley – Part 3
Author: Aldous Huxley
SKU: ZG32

  Ape and Essence

    Contents

      I. Tallis

      Ii. The Script

  The Genius and the Goddess

  Island

    Contents

      Chapter One

      Chapter Two

      Chapter Three

      Chapter Four

      Chapter Five

        II

        III

      Chapter Six

      Chapter Seven

      Chapter Eight

      Chapter Nine

      Chapter Ten

      Chapter Eleven

      Chapter Twelve

      Chapter Thirteen

      Chapter Fourteen

      Chapter Fifteen

Ape and Essence

Ape and Essence was first published in the UK and USA in 1948 by Chatto & Windus and Harper & Brothers respectively. Written shortly after the end of World War II, the horrors and atrocities committed during the conflict serve to shatter the idea of the inevitability of a better and more progressive future. Huxley had famously expressed his fears about a society ruled by technology and science in his famous dystopian novel, A Brave New World. It was a time of great uncertainty, when it was possible to produce nuclear weapons with the power to kill many millions, possibly billions of people, while also decimating entire ecosystems. In Ape and Essence, Huxley once again focuses on the dehumanising aspects of unchecked technological advancement, while also exploring the effects of State oppression.

The satirical novel opens on 30 January 1948, the day of Gandhi’s assassination, with Bob Briggs complaining to an uninterested narrator about his personal woes. They discover a discarded film script called ‘Ape and Essence’ by William Tallis and decide to try and find him. The rest of the novel is the screenplay of ‘Ape and Essence’, which is set one hundred years after human civilisation has been devastated by World War III and the use of nuclear weapons. A team of scientists from New Zealand, having survived the destruction, arrive on the West Coast of the USA to explore the region. They discover a small society of survivors living a horrible existence that involves eugenics, stealing from graves, burning books and worshipping the devil, Belial. Huxley underlines that this future dystopia, where all empathy and humanity has been decimated, already has its seeds in the present.

Contents

  • I. TALLIS

  • II. THE SCRIPT

I. Tallis


IT WAS THE day of Gandhi’s assassination; but on Calvary the sightseers were more interested in the contents of their picnic baskets than in the possible significance of the, after all, rather commonplace event they had turned out to witness. In spite of all the astronomers can say, Ptolemy was perfectly right: the centre of the universe is here, not there. Gandhi might be dead; but across the desk in his office, across the lunch table in the Studio Commissary, Bob Briggs was concerned to talk only about himself.

‘You’ve always been such a help,’ Bob assured me, as he made ready, not without relish, to tell the latest instalment of his history.

But at bottom, as I knew very well and as Bob himself knew even better than I, he didn’t really want to be helped. He liked being in a mess and, still more, he liked talking about his predicament. The mess and its verbal dramatization made it possible for him to see himself as all the Romantic Poets rolled into one — Beddoes committing suicide, Byron committing fornication, Keats dying of Fanny Brawne, Harriet dying of Shelley. And seeing himself as all the Romantic Poets, he could forget for a little the two prime sources of his misery — the fact that he had none of their talents and very little of their sexual potency.

‘We got to the point,’ he said (so tragically that it occurred to me that he would have done better as an actor than as a writer of screen plays), ‘we got to the point, Elaine and I, where we felt like ... like Martin Luther.’

‘Martin Luther?’ I repeated in some astonishment.

‘You know — ich kann nicht anders. We just couldn’t — but couldn’t — do anything but go off together to Acapulco.’

And Gandhi, I reflected, just couldn’t do anything but resist oppression non-violently and go to prison and finally get shot.

‘So there it was,’ he went on. ‘We got on a plane and flew to Acapulco.’

‘Finally!’

‘What do you mean, “finally”?’

‘Well, you’d been thinking about it for a long time, hadn’t you?’

Bob looked annoyed. But I remembered all the previous occasions when he had talked to me about the problem. Should he or should he not make Elaine his mistress? (That was his wonderfully old-world way of putting it.) Should he or should he not ask Miriam for a divorce?

A divorce from the woman who in a very real sense was still what she had always been — his only love; but in another very real sense Elaine was also his only love — and would be still more so if he finally decided (and that was why he couldn’t decide) to ‘make her his mistress.’ To be or not to be — the soliloquy had gone on for the best part of two years, and if Bob could have had his way, it would have gone on for ten years longer. He liked his messes to be chronic and mainly verbal, never so acutely carnal as to put his uncertain virility to yet another humiliating test. But under the influence of his eloquence, of that baroque facade of a profile and prematurely snowy hair, Elaine had evidently grown tired of a merely chronic and platonic mess. Bob was presented with an ultimatum; it was to be either Acapulco or a clean breach.

So there he was, bound and committed to adultery no less irrevocably than Gandhi had been bound and committed to non-violence and prison and assassination, but, one may suspect, with more and deeper misgivings. Misgivings which the event had wholly justified. For though poor Bob didn’t actually tell me what had happened at Acapulco, the fact that Elaine was now, as he put it, ‘acting strangely’ and had been seen several times in the company of that unspeakable Moldavian baron, whose name I have fortunately forgotten, seemed to tell the whole ludicrous and pathetic story. And meanwhile Miriam had not only refused to give him a divorce: she had taken the opportunity of Bob’s absence and her possession of his power of attorney to have the title to the ranch, the two cars, the four apartment houses, the corner lots at Palm Springs and all the securities transferred from his name to hers. And meanwhile he owed thirty-three thousand dollars to the Government for arrears of income tax. But when he asked his producer for that extra two hundred and fifty dollars a week which had been as good as promised him, there was only a long and pregnant silence.

‘What about it, Lou?’

Measuring his words with a solemn emphasis, Lou Lublin gave his answer.

‘Bob,’ he said, ‘in this Studio, at this time, not even Jesus Christ himself could get a raise.’

The tone was friendly; but when Bob tried to insist, Lou had banged his desk and told him that he was being un-American. That finished it.

Bob talked on. But what a subject, I was thinking, for a great religious painting! Christ before Lublin, begging for a raise of only two hundred and fifty bucks a week and being turned down flat. It would be one of Rembrandt’s favourite themes, drawn, etched, painted a score of times. Jesus turning sadly away into the darkness of unpaid income tax, while in the golden spotlight, glittering with gems and metallic highlights, Lou in an enormous turban still chuckled triumphantly over what he had done to the Man of Sorrows.

And then there would be Breughel’s version of the subject. A great synoptic view of the entire Studio; a three-million-dollar musical in full production, with every technical detail faithfully reproduced; two or three thousand figures, all perfectly characterized; and in the bottom right-hand corner long search would finally reveal a Lublin, no bigger than a grasshopper, heaping contumely upon an even tinier Jesus.

‘But I’ve had an absolutely stunning idea for an original,’ Bob was saying with that optimistic enthusiasm which is the desperate man’s alternative to suicide. ‘My agent’s absolutely crazy about it — thinks I ought to be able to sell it for fifty or sixty thousand.’

He started to tell the story.

Still thinking of Christ before Lublin, I visualized the scene as Piero would have painted it — the composition, luminously explicit, an equation in balanced voids and solids, in harmonizing and contrasting hues; the figures in adamantine repose. Lou and his assistant producers would all be wearing those Pharaonic head-dresses, those huge inverted cones of white or coloured felt, which in Piero’s world serve the double purpose of emphasizing the solid-geometrical nature of the human body and the outlandishness of Orientals. For all their silken softness, the folds of every garment would have the inevitability and definitiveness of syllogisms carved in porphyry, and throughout the whole we should feel the all-pervading presence of Plato’s God, for ever mathematizing chaos into the order and beauty of art.

But from the Parthenon and the Timaeus a specious logic leads to the tyranny which, in the Republic, is held up as the ideal form of government. In the field of politics the equivalent of a theorem is a perfectly disciplined army; of a sonnet or picture, a police state under a dictatorship. The Marxist calls himself scientific, and to this claim the Fascist adds another: he is the poet — the scientific poet — of a new mythology. Both are justified in their pretensions; for each applies to human situations the procedures which have proved effective in the laboratory and the ivory tower. They simplify, they abstract, they eliminate all that, for their purposes, is irrelevant and ignore whatever they choose to regard as inessential; they impose a style, they compel the facts to verify a favourite hypothesis, they consign to the waste-paper basket all that, to their mind, falls short of perfection. And because they thus act like good artists, sound thinkers and tried experimenters, the prisons are full, political heretics are worked to death as slaves, the rights and preferences of mere individuals are ignored, the Gandhis are murdered, and from morning till night a million school teachers and broadcasters proclaim the infallibility of the bosses who happen at the moment to be in power.

‘And after all,’ Bob was saying, ‘there’s no reason why a movie shouldn’t be a work of art. It’s this damned commercialism ...’

He spoke with all the righteous indignation of an ungifted artist denouncing the scapegoat whom he has chosen to take the blame for the lamentable consequences of his own lack of talent.

‘Do you think Gandhi was interested in art?’ I asked.

‘Gandhi? No, of course not.’

‘I think you’re right,’ I agreed. ‘Neither in art nor in science. And that’s why we killed him.’

‘We?’

‘Yes, we. The intelligent, the active, the forward-looking, the believers in Order and Perfection. Whereas Gandhi was a reactionary who believed only in people. Squalid little individuals governing themselves, village by village, and worshipping the Brahman who is also Atman. It was intolerable. No wonder we bumped him off.’

But even as I spoke, I was thinking that that wasn’t the whole story. The whole story included an inconsistency, almost a betrayal. This man who believed only in people had got himself involved in the subhuman mass-madness of nationalism, in the would-be superhuman, but actually diabolic, institutions of the nation-state. He got himself involved in these things, imagining that he could mitigate the madness and convert what was satanic in the state to something like humanity. But nationalism and the politics of power had proved too much for him. It is not at the centre, not from within the organization, that the saint can cure our regimented schizophrenia; it is only from without, at the periphery. If he makes himself a part of the machine, in which the collective madness is incarnated, one or other of two things is bound to happen. Either he remains himself, in which case the machine will use him as long as it can and, when he becomes unusable, reject or destroy him. Or he will be transformed into the likeness of the mechanism with and against which he works, and in this case we shall see Holy Inquisitions and alliances with any tyrant prepared to guarantee ecclesiastical privileges.

‘Well, to get back to their disgusting commercialism,’ Bob said at last. ‘Let me give you an example....’

But I was thinking that the dream of Order begets tyranny, the dream of Beauty, monsters and violence. Athena, the patroness of the arts, is also the goddess of scientific warfare, the heavenly Chief of every General Staff. We killed him because, after having briefly (and fatally) played the political game, he refused any longer to go on dreaming our dream of a national Order, a social and economic Beauty; because he tried to bring us back to the concrete and cosmic facts of real people and the inner Light.

The headlines I had seen that morning were parables; the event they recorded, an allegory and a prophecy. In that symbolic act, we who so longed for peace had rejected the only possible means to peace and had issued a warning to all who, in the future, might advocate any courses but those which lead inevitably to war.

‘Well, if you’ve finished your coffee,’ said Bob, ‘let’s go.’

We rose and walked out into the sunshine. Bob took my arm and squeezed it.

You’ve been enormously helpful,’ he assured me again.

‘I wish I could believe it, Bob.’

‘But it’s true, it’s true.’

And perhaps it was true, in the sense that stirring the mess before a sympathetic public made him feel better, more like the Romantics.

We walked on for a little in silence — past the Projection Rooms and between the Churrigueresque bungalows of the executives. Over the entrance to the largest of them a great bronze plaque bore the inscription LOU LUBLIN PRODUCTIONS.

‘What about that salary raise?’ I asked. ‘Shall we go in and have another shot at it?’

Bob uttered a rueful little laugh, and there was another silence. When at last he spoke, it was in a pensive tone.

‘Too bad about old Gandhi,’ he said. ‘I suppose his great secret was not wanting anything for himself.’

‘Yes, I suppose that was one of the secrets.’

‘I wish to God I didn’t want things so much.’

‘Same here,’ I fervently concurred.

‘And when you finally get what you want, it’s never what you thought it was going to be.’

Bob sighed and relapsed into silence. He was thinking, no doubt, of Acapulco, of the horrible necessity of passing from the chronic to the acute, from the vaguely verbal to the all too definitely and concretely carnal.

We emerged from the street of executive bungalows, crossed a parking lot and entered a canyon between towering sound stages. A tractor passed, pulling a low trailer, on which was the bottom half of the west door of a thirteenth-century Italian cathedral.

‘That’s for “Catherine of Siena.”’

‘What’s that?’

‘Hedda Boddy’s new picture. I worked on the script two years ago. Then they gave it to Streicher. And after that it was rewritten by the O’Toole-Menendez-Boguslavsky team. It’s lousy.’

Another trailer rattled past with the upper half of the cathedral door and a pulpit by Niccolò Pisano.

‘When you come to think of it,’ I said, ‘she’s very like Gandhi in some ways.’

‘Who? Hedda?’

‘No, Catherine.’

‘Oh, I see. I thought you were talking about the loincloth.’

‘I was talking about saints in politics,’ I said. ‘They didn’t actually lynch her, of course; but that was only because she died too young. The consequences of her politics hadn’t had time to show up. Do you go into all that in the script?’

Bob shook his head.

‘Too depressing,’ he said. ‘The public likes its stars to be successful. Besides, how can you talk about church politics? It would certainly be anti-Catholic and might easily become un-American. No, we play safe — concentrate on the boy she dictated her letters to. He’s wildly in love — but it’s all sublimated and spiritual, and after she’s dead he goes into a hermitage and prays in front of her picture. And then there’s the other boy who actually made passes at her. It’s mentioned in her letters. We play that for all it’s worth. They’re still hoping to be able to sign up Humphrey ...’

A loud tooting made us both jump.

‘Look out!’

Bob caught my arm and pulled me back. From the courtyard in the rear of the Story Department a two-ton truck emerged into the roadway.

‘Why don’t you look where you’re going?’ shouted the driver as he passed.

‘Idiot!’ Bob yelled back; then, turning to me, ‘Do you see what it’s loaded with?’ he asked. ‘Scripts.’ He shook his head. ‘Taking them to the incinerator. Which is where they belong. A million dollars’ worth of literature.’

He laughed with melodramatic bitterness.

Twenty yards up the road, the truck swung sharply to the right. Its speed must have been excessive; centrifugally propelled, half a dozen of the topmost scripts spilled out into the road. Like prisoners of the Inquisition, I thought, making a miraculous escape on the way to the stake.

‘The man can’t drive,’ Bob was grumbling. ‘One of these days he’ll kill somebody.’

‘But meanwhile let’s see who’s been saved.’

I picked up the nearest of the scripts.

‘“A Miss is as good as a Male,” Screenplay by Albertine Krebs!’ Bob remembered it. It stank.

‘Well, what about “Amanda”?’ I turned over the pages. ‘It must have been a musical. Here’s some poetry:

‘Amelia needs a meal,

But Amanda needs a man ...’

Bob wouldn’t let me go on.

‘Don’t, don’t! It made four and a half million during the Battle of the Bulge.’

I dropped ‘Amanda’ and picked up another of the spread-eagled volumes. This one, I noticed, was bound in green, not in the Studio’s standard crimson.

‘“Ape and Essence,”’ I read aloud from the hand-lettered front cover.

‘“Ape and Essence”?’ Bob repeated in some surprise.

I turned to the flyleaf.

‘“An original Treatment by William Tallis, Cottonwood Ranch, Murcia, California.” And here’s a note in pencil. “Rejection slip sent 11-6-47. No self-addressed envelope. For the Incinerator” — twice underlined.’

‘They get thousands of these things,’ Bob explained.

Meanwhile I was looking into the body of the script.

‘More poetry.’

‘Christ!’ said Bob in a tone of disgust.

‘“Surely it’s obvious,”’ I began reading:

‘Surely it’s obvious.

Doesn’t every schoolboy know it?

Ends are ape-chosen; only the means are man’s.

Papio’s procurer, bursar to baboons,

Reason comes running, eager to ratify;

Comes, a catch-fart with Philosophy, truckling to tyrants;

Comes, a pimp for Prussia, with Hegel’s patent History;

Comes, with Medicine to administer the Ape-King’s aphrodisiac;

Comes, rhyming and with Rhetoric, to write his orations;

Comes with the Calculus to aim his rockets

Accurately at the orphanage across the ocean;

Comes, having aimed, with incense to impetrate

Our Lady devoutly for a direct hit.’

There was a silence. We looked at one another questioningly.

‘What do you think of it?’ Bob said at last.

I shrugged my shoulders. I really didn’t know.

‘Anyhow, don’t throw it away,’ he went on. ‘I want to see what the rest is like.’

We resumed our walk, turned a final corner, and there, a Franciscan convent among palm trees, was the Writers’ Building.

‘Tallis,’ Bob was saying to himself, as we entered, ‘William Tallis ...’ He shook his head. ‘Never heard of him. And anyhow, where’s Murcia?’

The following Sunday we knew the answer — knew it not merely in theory and on the map, but experimentally, by going there, at eighty miles an hour, in Bob’s (or rather Miriam’s) Buick convertible. Murcia, California, was two red gasoline pumps and a very small grocery store on the south-western fringe of the Mojave desert.

The long drouth had broken two days before. The sky was still overcast and a cold wind blew steadily from the west. Ghostly under their roof of slate-coloured cloud, the San Gabriel mountains were white with newly fallen snow. But to the north, far out in the desert, the sun was shining in a long narrow strip of golden light. All around us were the soft rich greys and silvers, the pale golds and russets of the desert vegetation — sage-brush, burro-brush, bunch-grass, and buckwheat, with here and there a strangely gesticulating Joshua-tree, rough-barked, or furred with dry prickles, and tufted at the end of its many-elbowed arms with thick clusters of green metallic spikes.

An old deaf man, at whom we had to shout our questions, at last understood what we were talking about. Cottonwood Ranch — of course he knew it. Take that dirt road there; drive south for a mile; then turn west, follow the irrigation ditch for another three-quarters of a mile, and there it was. The old man wanted to tell us much more about the place; but Bob was too impatient to listen. He threw the car into gear and we were off.

Along the irrigation ditch the cottonwoods and willows were aliens, clinging precariously, in the midst of those tough ascetic lives of the desert, to another, easier, more voluptuous mode of being. They were leafless now, the mere skeletons of trees, white against the sky; but one could imagine how intense, under the fierce clear sun, would be the emerald of their young leaves three months from now.

The car, which was being driven much too fast, crashed heavily into an unexpected dip. Bob swore.

‘Why any man in his senses should choose to live at the end of a road like this, I can’t imagine.’

‘Perhaps he takes it a little more slowly,’ I ventured to suggest.

Bob did not deign so much as to glance at me. The car rattled on at undiminished speed. I tried to concentrate on the view.

Out there, on the floor of the desert, there had been a noiseless but almost explosive transformation. The clouds had shifted and the sun was now shining on the nearest of those abrupt and jagged buttes, which rose so inexplicably, like islands out of the enormous plain. A moment before they had been black and dead. Now suddenly they had come to life; between a shadowed foreground and a background of cloudy darkness they shone as if with their own incandescence.

I touched Bob’s arm and pointed.

‘Now do you understand why Tallis chooses to live at the end of this road?’

He took a quick look, swerved round a fallen Joshua-tree, looked again for a fraction of a second and brought his eyes back to the road.

‘It reminds me of that etching by Goya — you know the one. The woman riding a stallion, and the animal’s turning its head and has her dress between its teeth — trying to pull her down, trying to tear the clothes off her. And she’s laughing like a maniac in a frenzy of pleasure. And in the background there’s a plain, with buttes sticking out of it, just like here. Only if you look carefully at Goya’s buttes, you see that they’re really crouching animals, half rats, half lizards — as big as mountains. I bought a reproduction of it for Elaine.’

But Elaine, I reflected in the ensuing silence, hadn’t taken the hint. She had allowed the stallion to drag her to the ground; she had lain there, laughing and laughing, uncontrollably, while the big teeth ripped at her bodice, tore the skirt to shreds, grazing the soft skin beneath with a fearful but delicious threat, with the tingling imminence of pain. And then, at Acapulco, those huge rat-lizards had stirred out of their stony sleep, and suddenly poor old Bob had found himself surrounded, not by deliciously swooning Graces, not by the laughing troop of rosy-bottomed Cupids, but by monsters.

But meanwhile we had reached our destination. Between the trees along the ditch I saw a white frame-house under an enormous cottonwood, with a windmill to one side of it, a corrugated iron barn to the other. The gate was closed. Bob stopped the car and we got out. A white board had been nailed to the gate-post. On it an unskilled hand had painted a long inscription in vermilion.

The leech’s kiss, the squid’s embrace,

The prurient ape’s defiling touch:

And do you like the human race?

No, not much.

THIS MEANS YOU, KEEP OUT

‘Well, we’ve evidently come to the right place,’ I said.

Bob nodded. We opened the gate, walked across a wide expanse of beaten earth and knocked at the door of the house. It was opened almost immediately by a stout elderly woman in spectacles, wearing a flowered blue cotton dress and a very old red jacket. She gave us a friendly smile.

‘Car broken down?’ she inquired.

We shook our heads and Bob explained that we had come to see Mr. Tallis.

‘Mr. Tallis.’

The smile faded from her face; she looked grave and shook her head. ‘Didn’t you know?’ she said. ‘Mr. Tallis passed on six weeks ago.’

‘Do you mean, he’s dead?’

‘Passed on,’ she insisted, then launched out into her story.

Mr. Tallis had rented the house for a year. She and her husband went to live in the little old cabin behind the barn. It only had an outside toilet, but they had been used to that back in North Dakota, and luckily it had been a warm winter. Anyhow, they were glad of the money, what with prices the way they were nowadays; and Mr. Tallis couldn’t have been pleasanter, once you understood that he liked his privacy.

‘I suppose it was he who put up that sign on the gate?’

The old lady nodded and said that it was kind of cute; she meant to leave it there.

‘Had he been sick for a long time?’ I asked.

‘Not sick at all,’ she answered. ‘Though he always did say he had heart trouble.’

And that was why he had passed on. In the bathroom. She found him there one morning when she came to bring him his quart of milk and a dozen eggs from the store. Stone cold. He must have lain there all night. She had never had such a shock in all her life. And then what a commotion on account of there not being any relatives that anybody knew about! The doctor was called and then the sheriff, and there had to be a court order before the poor man could even be buried, much less embalmed. And then all the books and papers and clothes had to be packed up and seals put on the boxes, and everything stored somewhere in Los Angeles, just in case there should be an heir somewhere. Well, now she and her husband were back in the house, and she felt rather badly about it, because poor Mr. Tallis still had four months of his lease to run and he’d paid everything in advance. But of course in one way she was thankful, now that the rain and snow had come at last — on account of the toilet being inside the house, not outside, like when they were living in the cabin.

She paused for breath. Bob and I exchanged glances.

‘Well, in the circumstances,’ I said, ‘I think we’d better be going.’

But the old lady wouldn’t hear of it.

‘Come in,’ she insisted, ‘come in.’

We hesitated; then, accepting her invitation, followed her through a tiny entrance lobby into the living room. An oil stove was burning in a corner of the room; the air was hot and an almost tangible smell of fried food and diapers filled the house. A little old man like a leprechaun was seated in a rocking-chair near the window, reading the Sunday comics. Near him a pale, preoccupied-looking young girl — she couldn’t have been more than seventeen — was holding a baby in one arm and, with the other hand, buttoning her pink blouse. The child belched; a bubble of milk appeared at the corner of its mouth. The young mother left the final button undone and tenderly wiped the pouting lips. Through the open door of another room came the sound of a fresh soprano voice singing, ‘Now is the Hour,’ to the accompaniment of a guitar.

‘This is my husband,’ said the old lady. ‘Mr. Coulton.’

‘Pleased to meet you,’ said the leprechaun, without looking up from his comics.

‘And this is our granddaughter, Katie. She got married last year.’

‘So I see,’ said Bob. He bowed to the girl and gave her one of those fascinating smiles for which he was so famous.

Katie looked at him as though he were merely a piece of furniture; then, fastening that final button, she turned without a word and started to climb the steep stairs that led to the upper floor.

‘And these,’ Mrs. Coulton went on, indicating Bob and myself, ‘are two friends of Mr. Tallis.’

We had to explain that we weren’t precisely friends. All we knew of Mr. Tallis was his work; but that had interested us so much that we had come here hoping to make his acquaintance — only to learn the tragic news of his death.

Mr. Coulton looked up from his paper.

‘Sixty-six,’ he said. ‘That’s all he was. I’m seventy-two myself. Seventy-two last October.’

He uttered the triumphant little laugh of one who has scored a victory, then returned to Flash Gordon — Flash the invulnerable, Flash the immortal, Flash the perpetual knight-errant to girls, not as they lamentably are, but as the idealists of the brassiere industry proclaim that they ought to be.

‘I happened to see what Mr. Tallis had sent in to our Studio,’ said Bob.

Again the leprechaun looked up.

‘You’re in the movies?’ he inquired.

Bob admitted that he was.

In the next room the music broke off suddenly in the middle of a phrase.

‘One of those big shots?’ Mr. Coulton inquired.

With the most charming false modesty, Bob assured him that he was only a writer who occasionally dabbled in directing.

The leprechaun nodded slowly.

‘I see in the paper where that guy Goldwyn says all the big shots got to take a fifty per cent. cut in their salary.’

His eyes twinkled gleefully, once again he uttered his triumphant little laugh. Then, abruptly disinteresting himself from reality, he returned to his myths.

Christ before Lublin! I tried to change the painful subject by asking Mrs. Coulton whether she had known that Tallis was interested in the movies. But as I spoke a sound of footsteps in the inner room distracted her attention.

I turned my head. In the doorway, dressed in a black sweater and a tartan skirt, there stood — who? Lady Hamilton at sixteen, Ninon de Lenclos when she lost her virginity to Coligny, la petite Morphilany, Anna Karenina in the schoolroom.

‘This is Rosie,’ said Mrs. Coulton proudly, ‘our other granddaughter. Rosie’s studying singing,’ she confided to Bob. ‘She wants to get into the movies.’

‘But how interesting!’ cried Bob enthusiastically, as he rose and shook hands with the future Lady Hamilton.

‘Maybe you could give her some advice,’ said the doting grandmother.

‘I’d be only too happy ...’

‘Fetch another chair, Rosie.’

The girl raised her eyelids and gave Bob a brief but intense look. ‘Unless you don’t mind sitting in the kitchen,’ she said.

‘Of course not!’

They vanished together into the inner room. Looking out of the window, I saw that the buttes were again in shadow. The rat-lizards had closed their eyes and were shamming dead — but only to lull their victim into a sense of false security.

‘It’s more than luck,’ Mrs. Coulton was saying, ‘it’s Providence. A big shot in the movies coming here, just when Rosie needs a helping hand.’

‘Just when movies are going to fold up like vaudeville,’ said the leprechaun without raising his eyes from the page before him.

‘What makes you say those things?’

‘It’s not me that says them,’ the old man answered. ‘It’s that Goldwyn guy.’

From the kitchen came the sound of a startlingly childish laugh. Bob was evidently making headway. I foresaw another trip to Acapulco, with consequences even more disastrous than the first.

Innocently the procuress, Mrs. Coulton, smiled with pleasure.

‘I like your friend,’ she said. ‘Gets on well with kids. None of that stuffed shirt business.’

I accepted the implied rebuke without comment and asked her again if she had known that Mr. Tallis was interested in movies.

She nodded. Yes, he’d told her that he was sending something to one of the Studios. He wanted to make some money. Not for himself; for though he’d lost most of what he once had, there was still enough to live on. No, he wanted some extra money to send to Europe. He’d been married to a German girl, way back, before the First World War. Then they’d been divorced and she had stayed on in Germany with the baby. And now there wasn’t anybody left but a granddaughter. Mr. Tallis wanted to bring her over here; but the people at Washington wouldn’t let him. So the next best thing was to send her a lot of money so she could eat properly and finish her education. That was why he’d written that thing for the movies.

Her words suddenly reminded me of something in Tallis’s script — something about children in post-war Europe prostituting themselves for bars of chocolate. The granddaughter — had she perhaps been one of those children? ‘Ich give you Schokolade, du give me Liebe. Understand?’ They understood only too well. One Hershey bar now; two more afterwards.

‘What happened to the wife?’ I asked. ‘And the granddaughter’s parents?’

‘They passed on,’ said Mr. Coulton. ‘I guess they were Jewish, or something.’

‘Mind you,’ said the leprechaun suddenly, ‘I don’t have anything against Jews. But all the same ...’ He paused. ‘Maybe Hitler wasn’t so dumb after all.’

This time, I could see, it was to the Katzenjammer Kids that he returned.

Another peal of childish laughter broke out in the kitchen. Lady Hamilton at sixteen sounded as though she were about eleven. And yet how mature, how technically perfect had been the look with which she greeted Bob! Obviously, the most disquieting fact about Rosie was that she was simultaneously innocent and knowing, a calculating adventuress and a pig-tailed schoolgirl.

‘He married again,’ the old lady went on, ignoring both the giggle and the anti-semitism. ‘Someone on the stage. He told me the name, but I’ve forgotten it. Anyhow, it didn’t last long. She went off with some other fellow. I say it served him right for going off with her when he had a wife back there in Germany. I don’t think it’s right, all this divorcing and marrying somebody else’s husband.’

In the ensuing silence I fabricated a whole biography for this man I had never seen. The young New Englander of good family. Carefully educated, but not to the point of pedantry. Naturally gifted, but not so overwhelmingly as to make him wish to exchange a life of leisure for the fatigues of professional authorship. From Harvard he had gone on to Europe, had lived gracefully, had known the best people everywhere. And then — in Munich, I felt sure — he had fallen in love. I visualized the girl, wearing the German equivalent of Liberty dresses — a daughter of some successful artist or patron of the arts. One of those almost disembodied, those as it were floating products of Wilhelmine wealth and culture; a being at once vague and intense, fascinatingly unpredictable and maddeningly idealistic, tief and German. Tallis had fallen in love, had married, had fathered a child in spite of his wife’s frigidity, had been almost asphyxiated by the oppressive soul-fulness of the domestic atmosphere. How fresh and healthy, by comparison, had seemed the air of Paris and the personal ambience of that young Broadway actress whom he had met vacationing there!

La belle Américaine,

Qui rend les hommes fous,

Dans deux ou trois semaines

Partira pour Corfu.

But this one didn’t leave for Corfu — or if she did, it was in Tallis’s company. And she wasn’t frigid, she didn’t float, she was neither vague nor intense, neither deep nor soulful, nor an art snob. What she was, unfortunately, was a bit of a bitch. And that bit had grown larger with the passage of the years. By the time he divorced her, it had become the entire animal.

Looking back from the vantage point of 1947, the Tallis of my imagination could see precisely what he had done: for the sake of a physical pleasure and the simultaneous excitement and satisfaction of an erotic imagination, he had condemned a wife and a daughter to death at the hands of maniacs, and a granddaughter to the caresses of any soldier or black marketeer with a pocketful of sweetmeats or the price of a decent meal.

Romantic fancies! I turned to Mrs. Coulton.

‘Well, I wish I’d known him,’ I said.

‘You’d have liked him,’ she assured me. ‘We all liked Mr. Tallis. I’ll tell you something,’ she confided. ‘Every time I make the trip to Lancaster for the Ladies’ Bridge Club, I go to the cemetery, just to visit with him.’

‘And I bet he hates it,’ said the leprechaun.

‘Now, Elmer,’ his wife protested.

‘But I heard him say it,’ Mr. Coulton insisted. ‘Time and again. “If I die here,” he says, “I want to be buried out in the desert.”’

‘He wrote as much in that script he sent to the Studio,’ I said.

‘He did?’ Mrs. Coulton’s tone was one of incredulity.

‘Yes, he even describes the grave he meant to be buried in. All by itself, under a Joshua-tree.’

‘I could have told him it wasn’t legal,’ said the leprechaun. ‘Not since the morticians lobbied that bill through the Legislature at Sacramento. I knew a man that had to be dug up twenty years after he was buried — way out there behind the buttes.’ He waved a hand in the direction of Goya’s saurian rats. ‘It cost his nephew three hundred dollars by the time he was all through.’

He chuckled at the recollection.

‘I wouldn’t want to be buried in the desert,’ said his wife emphatically.

‘Why not?’

‘Too lonely,’ she answered. ‘I’d hate it.’

While I was wondering what to say next, the pale young mother came down the stairs carrying a diaper. She stopped for a moment to look in at the kitchen.

‘Listen, Rosie,’ she said in a low, angry voice, ‘it’s time you did some work for a change.’

Then she turned and walked towards the entrance lobby, where an open door revealed the modern conveniences of that indoor bathroom.

‘He’s got diarrhoea again,’ she said bitterly, as she passed her grandmother.

Flushed, her eyes bright with excitement, the future Lady Hamilton emerged from the kitchen. Behind her, in the doorway, stood the future Hamilton, busily imagining that he was going to be Lord Nelson.

‘Grandma,’ the girl announced, ‘Mr. Briggs thinks he can arrange for me to have a screen test.’

The idiot! I got up.

‘Time we were going, Bob,’ I said, knowing that it was already too late.

From the half-open door of the bathroom came the squelchy sound of diapers being rinsed in the toilet bowl.

‘Listen!’ I whispered to Bob as we passed.

‘Listen to what?’ he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. Ears have they, neither do they hear.

Well, that was the nearest we ever got to Tallis in the flesh. In what follows the reader can discover the reflection of his mind. I print the text of ‘Ape and Essence’ as I found it, without change and without comment.

Ii. The Script


TITLES, CREDITS AND finally, to the accompaniment of trumpets and a chorus of triumphant angels, the name of the PRODUCER.

The music changes its character, and if Debussy were alive to write it, how delicate it would be, how aristocratic, how flawlessly pure of all Wagnerian lubricity and bumptiousness, all Straussian vulgarity! For here on the screen, in something better than Technicolor, it is the hour before sunrise. Night seems to linger in the darkness of an almost unruffled sea; but from the fringes of the sky a transparent pallor mounts from green through deepening blue to the zenith. In the east the Morning Star is still visible.

NARRATOR

Beauty inexpressible, peace beyond understanding ...

But, alas, on our screen

This emblem of an emblem

Will probably look like

Mrs. Somebody’s illustration

To a poem by Ella

Wheeler Wilcox.

Out of the sublime in Nature

Art all too often manufactures

Only the ludicrous.

But the risk must be run;

For you there, you in the audience,

Somehow and at any price,

Wilcox or worse,

Somehow you must be reminded,

Be induced to remember,

Be implored to be willing to

Understand what’s What.

As the Narrator speaks, we fade out of our emblem of an emblem of Eternity into the interior of a picture palace filled to capacity. The light grows a little less dim and suddenly we become aware that the audience is composed entirely of well-dressed baboons of both sexes and of all ages from first to second childhood.

NARRATOR

But man, proud man,

Drest in a little brief authority —

Most ignorant of what he is most assur’d.

His glassy essence — like an angry ape,

Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven

As make the angels weep.

Cut to the screen, at which the apes are so attentively gazing. In a setting such as only Semiramis or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer could have imagined we see a bosomy young female baboon, in a shell-pink evening gown, her mouth painted purple, her muzzle powdered mauve, her fiery red eyes ringed with mascara. Swaying as voluptuously as the shortness of her hind legs will permit her to do, she walks on to the brightly illuminated stage of a night club and, to the clapping of two or three hundred pairs of hairy hands, approaches the Louis XV microphone. Behind her, on all fours and secured by a light steel chain attached to a dog collar, comes Michael Faraday.

NARRATOR

‘Most ignorant of what he is most assur’d ...’ And I need hardly add that what we call knowledge is merely another form of Ignorance — highly organized, of course, and eminently scientific, but for that very reason all the more complete, all the more productive of angry apes. When Ignorance was merely ignorance, we were the equivalents of lemurs, marmosets and howler monkeys. Today, thanks to that Higher Ignorance which is our knowledge, man’s stature has increased to such an extent that the least among us is now a baboon, the greatest an orang-utan or even, if he takes rank as a Saviour of Society, a true Gorilla.

Meanwhile the baboon-girl has reached the microphone. Turning her head, she catches sight of Faraday on his knees, in the act of straightening his bent and aching back.

‘Down, sir, down!’

The tone is peremptory, she gives the old man a cut with her coral-headed riding-switch. Faraday winces and obeys, the apes in the audience laugh delightedly. She blows them a kiss, then, drawing the microphone towards her, she bares her formidable teeth and starts to sing, in an expiring bedroom contralto, the latest popular success:

Love, Love, Love —

Love’s the very essence

Of everything I think, of everything I do.

Give me, give me, give me,

Give me detumescence.

That means you.

Close-up of Faraday’s face, as it registers astonishment, disgust, indignation and, finally, such shame and anguish that tears begin to flow down the furrowed cheeks.

Montage shots of the Folks in Radio Land, listening-in.

A stout baboon housewife frying sausages, while the loud-speaker brings her the imaginary fulfilment and real exacerbation of her most unavowable wishes.

A baboon baby standing up in its cot, reaching over to the portable on the commode and dialling the promise of detumescence.

A middle-aged baboon financier, interrupting his reading of the stock-market news to listen, with closed eyes and a smile of ecstasy. Give me, give me, give me, give me.

Two baboon teen-agers, fumbling to music in a parked car. ‘That means you-ou.’ Close-up of mouths and paws.

Cut back to Faraday’s tears. The singer turns, catches sight of his agonized face, utters a cry of rage and starts to beat him, blow after savage blow, while the audience applauds tumultuously. The gold and jasper walls of the night club evaporate and for a moment we see the figures of the ape and her captive intellect silhouetted against the dawning twilight of our first sequence. Then these too fade out, and there is only the emblem of an emblem of Eternity.

NARRATOR

The sea, the bright planet, the boundless crystal of the sky — surely you remember them! Surely! Or can it be that you have forgotten, that you have never even discovered what lies beyond the mental Zoo and the inner Asylum and all that Broadway of imaginary theatres, in which the only name in lights is always your own?

The Camera moves across the sky, and now the black serrated shape of a rocky island breaks the line of the horizon. Sailing past the island is a large, four-masted schooner. We approach, we see that the ship flies the flag of New Zealand and is named the Canterbury. Her captain and a group of passengers are at the rail, staring intently towards the east. We look through their binoculars and discover a line of barren coast. Then, almost suddenly, the sun comes up behind the silhouette of distant mountains.

NARRATOR

This new bright day is the twentieth of February, 2108, and these men and women are members of the New Zealand Re-Discovery Expedition to North America. Spared by the belligerents of the Third World War — not, I need hardly say, for any humanitarian reason, but simply because, like Equatorial Africa, it was too remote to be worth anybody’s while to obliterate — New Zealand survived and even modestly flourished in an isolation which, because of the dangerously radioactive condition of the rest of the world, remained for more than a century almost absolute. Now that the danger is over, here come its first explorers, re-discovering America from the West. And meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the black men have been working their way down the Nile and across the Mediterranean. What splendid tribal dances in the bat-infested halls of the Mother of Parliaments! And the labyrinth of the Vatican — what a capital place in which to celebrate the lingering and complex rites of female circumcision! We all get precisely what we ask for.

The scene darkens; there is a noise of gunfire. When the lights come up again, there squats Dr. Albert Einstein, on a leash, behind a group of baboons in uniform.

The Camera moves across a narrow no-man’s-land of rubble, broken trees and corpses, and comes to rest on a second group of animals, wearing different decorations and under another flag, but with the same Dr. Albert Einstein, on an exactly similar string, squatting at the heels of their jack-boots. Under the tousled aureole of hair, the good, innocent face wears an expression of pained bewilderment. The Camera travels back and forth from Einstein to Einstein. Close shots of the two identical faces, staring wistfully at one another between the polished leather boots of their respective masters.

On the sound track, the voice, the saxophones and ‘cellos continue to yearn for detumescence.

‘Is that you, Albert?’ one of the Einsteins hesitantly inquires.

The other slowly nods his head.

‘Albert, I’m afraid it is.’

Overhead the flags of the opposing armies suddenly begin to stir in the freshening breeze. The coloured patterns open out, then fold in again upon themselves, are revealed and once more hidden.

NARRATOR

Vertical stripes, horizontal stripes, noughts and crosses, eagles and hammers. Mere arbitrary signs. But every reality to which a sign has been attached is thereby made subject to its sign. Goswami and Ali used to live at peace. But I got a flag, you got a flag, all Baboon-God’s children got flags. So even Ali and Goswami got flags; and because of the flags it immediately became right and proper for the one with the foreskin to disembowel the one without a foreskin, and for the circumcised to shoot the uncircumcised, rape his wife and roast his children over slow fires.

But meanwhile, above the bunting float the huge shapes of clouds, and beyond the clouds is that blue void which is an emblem of our glassy Essence, and at the foot of the flagstaff grows the wheat and the emerald-green rice and the millet. Bread for the body and bread for the spirit. Our choice is between bread and bunting. And bunting, I need hardly add, is what we have almost unanimously chosen.

The Camera drops from the flags to the Einsteins and passes from the Einsteins to the much-decorated General Staffs in the background. All at once and simultaneously the two Field Marshalissimos shout an order. Immediately, from either side, appear baboon technicians, with fully motorized equipment for releasing aerosols. On the pressure-tanks of one army are painted the words SUPER TULAREMIA; on those of their opponents, IMPROVED GLANDERS, GUARANTEED 99.44% PURE. Each group of technicians is accompanied by its mascot, Louis Pasteur, on a chain. On the sound track there is a reminiscence of the baboon-girl. Give me, give me, give me, give me detumescence.... Then these voluptuous strains modulate into ‘Land of Hope and Glory,’ played by massed brass bands, and sung by a choir of fourteen thousand voices.

NARRATOR

What land, you ask? And I answer,

Any old land.

And the Glory, of course, is the Ape-King’s,

As for the Hope —

Bless your little heart, there is no hope,

Only the almost infinite probability

Of consummating suddenly,

Or else by agonizing inches,

The ultimate and irremediable

Detumescence.

Close shot of paws at the stop-cocks; then the Camera draws back. Out of the pressure-tanks two streams of yellow fog start to roll towards one another, sluggishly, across no-man’s-land.

NARRATOR

Glanders, my friends, Glanders — a disease of horses, not common among humans. But, never fear, Science can easily make it universal. And these are its symptoms. Violent pains in all the joints. Pustules over the whole body. Below the skin hard swellings, which finally burst and turn into sloughing ulcers. Meanwhile the mucous membrane of the nose becomes inflamed and exudes a copious discharge of stinking pus. Ulcers rapidly form within the nostrils and eat away the surrounding bone and cartilage. From the nose the infection passes to the eyes, mouth, throat and bronchial passages. Within three weeks most of the patients are dead. To see that all shall die has been the task of some of those brilliant young D.Sc.’s now in the employ of your government. And not of your government only: of all the other elected or self-appointed organizers of the world’s collective schizophrenia. Biologists, pathologists, physiologists — here they are, after a hard day at the lab, coming home to their families. A hug from the sweet little wife. A romp with the children. A quiet dinner with friends, followed by an evening of chamber music or intelligent conversation about politics or philosophy. Then bed at eleven and the familiar ecstasies of married love. And in the morning, after orange juice and Grapenuts, off they go again to their job of discovering how yet greater numbers of families precisely like their own can be infected with a yet deadlier strain of bacillus mallei.

There is another yelp of command from the Marshalissimos. Among the booted apes in charge of either army’s supply of Genius there is a violent cracking of whips, a tugging of leashes.

Close shot of the Einsteins as they try to resist.

‘No, no ... I can’t.’

‘I tell you I can’t.’

‘Disloyal!’

‘Unpatriotic!’

‘Filthy Communist!’

‘Stinking bourgeois-Fascist!’

‘Red Imperialist!’

‘Capitalist-Monopolist!’

‘Take that!’

‘Take that!’

Kicked, whipped, half throttled, each of the Einsteins is finally dragged towards a kind of sentry box. Inside these boxes are instrument boards with dials, knobs and switches.

NARRATOR

Surely it’s obvious.

Doesn’t every schoolboy know it?

Ends are ape-chosen; only the means are man’s.

Papio’s procurer, bursar to baboons,

Reason comes running, eager to ratify;

Comes, a catch-fart with Philosophy, truckling to tyrants;

Comes, a pimp for Prussia, with Hegel’s patent History;

Comes, with Medicine to administer the Ape-King’s aphrodisiac;

Comes, rhyming and with Rhetoric, to write his orations;

Comes with the Calculus to aim his rockets

Accurately at the orphanage across the ocean;

Comes, having aimed, with incense to impetrate

Our Lady devoutly for a direct hit.

The brass bands give place to the most glutinous of Wurlitzers, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ to ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers.’ Followed by his Very Reverend Dean and Chapter, the Right Reverend the Baboon-Bishop of the Bronx advances majestic, his crozier in his jewelled paw, to pronounce benediction upon the two Field Marshalissimos and their patriotic proceedings.

NARRATOR

Church and State,

Greed and Hate: —

Two Baboon-Persons in one Supreme Gorilla.

OMNES

Amen, amen.

THE BISHOP

In nomine Babuini ...

On the sound track it is all vox humana and the angel voices of choristers.

‘With the (dim) Cross of (pp) Jesus, (ff) going on before.’

Huge paws hoist the Einsteins to their feet and, in a close-up, seize their wrists. Ape-guided, those fingers, which have written equations and played the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, close on the master switches and, with a horrified reluctance, slowly press them down. There is a little click, then a long silence which is broken at last by the voice of the Narrator.

NARRATOR

Even at supersonic speeds the missiles will take an appreciable time to reach their destinations. So what do you say, boys, to a spot of breakfast while we’re waiting for our Last Judgment!

The apes open their haversacks, throw some bread, a few carrots and two or three lumps of sugar to the Einsteins, then fall to themselves on rum and Bologna sausage.

We dissolve to the deck of the schooner, where the scientists of the Re-Discovery Expedition are also breakfasting.

NARRATOR

And these are some of the survivors of that Judgment. Such nice people! And the civilization they represent — that’s nice too. Nothing very exciting or spectacular, of course. No Parthenons or Sistine Chapels, no Newtons or Mozarts or Shakespeares; but also no Ezzelinos, no Napoleons or Hitlers or Jay Goulds, no Inquisitions or NKVD’s, no purges, pogroms or lynchings. No heights or abysses, but plenty of milk for the kids, and a reasonably high average IQ, and everything, in a quiet provincial way, thoroughly cosy and sensible and humane.

One of the men raises his binoculars and peers at the shore, now only a mile or two distant. Suddenly he utters an exclamation of delighted astonishment.

‘Look!’ He hands the glasses to one of his companions. ‘On the crest of the hill.’

The other looks.

Telescopic shot of low hills. On the highest point of the ridge, three oil derricks stand silhouetted against the sky, like the equipment of a modernized and more efficient Calvary.

‘Oil!’ cries the second observer excitedly. ‘And the derricks are still standing.’

‘Still standing?’

There is general astonishment.

‘That means,’ says old Professor Craigie, the geologist, ‘that there can’t have been much of an explosion hereabouts.’

‘But you don’t have to have explosions,’ explains his colleague from the Department of Nuclear Physics. ‘Radio-active gases do the job just as effectively and over much wider areas.’

‘You seem to forget the bacteria and the viruses,’ puts in Professor Grampian, the biologist. His tone is that of a man who feels that he has been slighted.

His young wife, who is only an anthropologist and so has nothing to contribute to the argument, contents herself with glaring angrily at the physicist.

Athletic in tweeds, but at the same time brightly intelligent behind her horn-rimmed glasses, Miss Ethel Hook, of the Department of Botany, reminds them that there was, almost certainly, a widespread employment of plant diseases. She turns for confirmation of what she says to her colleague, Dr. Poole, who nods approvingly.

‘Diseases of food plants,’ he says in his professorial manner, ‘would have a long-range effect hardly less decisive than that produced by fissionable material or artificially induced pandemics. Consider, for example, the potato ...’

‘But why bother about any of this fancy stuff?’ bluffly booms the engineer of the party, Dr. Cudworth. ‘Cut the aqueducts, and it’s all over in a week. No drinky, no livey.’ Delighted by his own joke, he laughs enormously.

Meanwhile Dr. Schneeglock, the psychologist, sits listening with a smile of hardly disguised contempt.

‘But why even bother about aqueducts?’ he asks. ‘All you need do is just to threaten your neighbour with any of the weapons of mass destruction. Their own panic will do the rest. Remember what the psychological treatment did to New York, for example. The short-wave broadcasts from overseas, the headlines in the evening papers. And immediately there were eight millions of people trampling one another to death on the bridges and in the tunnels. And the survivors scattered through the countryside, like locusts, like a horde of plague-infected rats. Fouling the water supply. Spreading typhoid and diphtheria and venereal disease. Biting, clawing, looting, murdering, raping. Feeding on dead dogs and the corpses of children. Shot at sight by the farmers, bludgeoned by the police, machine-gunned by the State Guard, strung up by the Vigilantes. And the same thing was happening in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington; in London, in Paris; in Bombay and Shanghai and Tokyo; in Moscow, in Kiev, in Stalingrad; in every capital, every manufacturing centre, every port, every railway junction, all over the world. Not a shot had been fired, and civilization was already in ruins. Why the soldiers ever found it necessary to use their bombs, I really can’t imagine.’

NARRATOR

Love casts out fear; but conversely fear casts out love. And not only love. Fear also casts out intelligence, casts out goodness, casts out all thought of beauty and truth. What remains is the dumb or studiedly jocular desperation of one who is aware of the obscene Presence in the corner of the room and knows that the door is locked, that there aren’t any windows. And now the thing bears down on him. He feels a hand on his sleeve, smells a stinking breath, as the executioner’s assistant leans almost amorously towards him. ‘Your turn next, brother. Kindly step this way.’ And in an instant his quiet terror is transmuted into a frenzy as violent as it is futile. There is no longer a man among his fellow-men, no longer a rational being speaking articulately to other rational beings; there is only a lacerated animal, screaming and struggling in the trap. For in the end fear casts out even a man’s humanity. And fear, my good friends, fear is the very basis and foundation of modern life. Fear of the much touted technology which, while it raises our standard of living, increases the probability of our violently dying. Fear of the science which takes away with one hand even more than what it so profusely gives with the other. Fear of the demonstrably fatal institutions for which, in our suicidal loyalty, we are ready to kill and die. Fear of the Great Men whom we have raised, by popular acclaim, to a power which they use, inevitably, to murder and enslave us. Fear of the War we don’t want and yet do everything we can to bring about.

As the Narrator speaks, we dissolve to the alfresco picnic of the baboons and their captive Einsteins. They eat and drink with gusto, while the first two bars of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ are repeated again and again, faster and faster, louder and louder. Suddenly the music is interrupted by the first of a succession of enormous explosions. Darkness. A long-drawn, deafening noise of crashing, rending, screaming, moaning. Then silence and increasing light, and once again it is the hour before sunrise, with the morning star and the delicate, pure music.

NARRATOR

Beauty inexpressible, peace beyond understanding ...

Far off, from below the horizon, a column of rosy smoke pushes up into the sky, swells out into the likeness of an enormous toadstool and hangs there, eclipsing the solitary planet.

We dissolve again to the scene of the picnic. The baboons are all dead. Horribly disfigured by burns, the two Einsteins lie side by side under what remains of a flowering apple tree. Not far off, a pressure-tank is still oozing its Improved Glanders.

FIRST EINSTEIN

It’s unjust, it isn’t right ...

SECOND EINSTEIN

We, who never did any harm to anybody;

FIRST EINSTEIN

We, who lived only for Truth.

NARRATOR

And that precisely is why you are dying in the murderous service of baboons. Pascal explained it all more than three hundred years ago. ‘We make an idol of truth; for truth without charity is not God, but his image and idol, which we must neither love nor worship.’ You lived for the worship of an idol. But, in the last analysis, the name of every idol is Moloch. So here you are, my friends, here you are.

Stirred by a sudden gust, the stagnant plague-fog noiselessly advances, sends a wreath of pus-coloured vapour swirling among the apple blossoms, then descends to engulf the two recumbent figures. A choking scream announces the death, by suicide, of twentieth-century science.

We dissolve to a point on the coast of Southern California, twenty miles or thereabouts due west of Los Angeles. The scientists of the Re-Discovery Expedition are in the act of landing from a whale-boat. A huge sewer, shattered where it enters the sea, stands in the background.

NARRATOR

Parthenon, Coliseum —

Glory that was Greece, grandeur, etcetera.

And there are all the others: —

Thebes and Copan, Arezzo and Ajanta;

Bourges, taking heaven by violence,

And the Holy Wisdom, floating in repose.

But the glory that was Queen Victoria

Remains unquestionably the W.C.;

The grandeur that was Franklin Delano

Is this by far the biggest drain-pipe ever —

Dry now and shattered, Ichabod, Ichabod;

And its freight of condoms (irrepressibly buoyant,

Like hope, like concupiscence) no longer whitens

This lonely beach with a galaxy as of wind-flowers

Or summer daisies.

Meanwhile the scientists, with Dr. Craigie at their head, have crossed the beach, scrambled up the low cliff and are making their way across the sandy and eroded plain towards the oil-wells on the hills beyond.

The Camera holds on Dr. Poole, the Chief Botanist of the Expedition. Like a browsing sheep, he moves from plant to plant, examining flowers through his magnifying glass, putting away specimens in his collecting box, making notes in a little black book.

NARRATOR

Well, here he is, our hero, Dr. Alfred Poole, D.Sc. Better known to his students and younger colleagues as Stagnant Poole. And the nickname, alas, is painfully apt. For though not unhandsome, as you see, though a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and by no means a fool, in the circumstances of practical life his intelligence seems to be only potential, his attractiveness no more than latent. It is as though he lived behind plate glass, could see and be seen, but never establish contact. And the fault, as Dr. Schneeglock of the Psychology Department is only too ready to tell you, the fault lies with that devoted and intensely widowed Mother of his — that saint, that pillar of fortitude, that vampire, who still presides at his breakfast table and with her own hands launders his silk shirts and sacrificially darns his socks.

Miss Hook now enters the shot — enters it on a burst of enthusiasm.

‘Isn’t this exciting, Alfred!’ she exclaims.

‘Very,’ says Dr. Poole politely.

‘Seeing Yucca gloriosa in its native habitat — who would have imagined that we’d ever get the chance? And Artemisia tridentata.’

‘There are still some flowers on the Artemisia,’ says Dr. Poole. ‘Do you notice anything unusual about them?’

Miss Hook examines them, and shakes her head.

‘They’re a great deal bigger than what’s described in the old text-books,’ he says in a tone of studiedly repressed excitement.

‘A great deal bigger?’ she repeats. Her face lights up. ‘Alfred, you don’t think ...?’

Dr. Poole nods.

‘I’m ready to bet on it,’ he says. ‘Tetraploidy. Induced by irradiation with gamma-rays.’

‘Oh, Alfred!’ she cries ecstatically.

NARRATOR

In her tweeds and her horn-rimmed spectacles Ethel Hook is one of those extraordinarily wholesome, amazingly efficient and intensely English girls to whom, unless one is oneself equally wholesome, equally English and even more efficient, one would so much rather not be married. Which is probably why, at thirty-five, Ethel is still without a husband. Still without a husband — but not, she dares to hope, for much longer. For though dear Alfred has not yet actually proposed, she knows (and knows that he knows) that his Mother’s dearest wish is for him to do so — and Alfred is the most dutiful of sons. Besides, they have so much in common — botany, the University, the poetry of Wordsworth. She feels confident that before they get back to Auckland it will all be arranged — the simple ceremony with dear old Dr. Trilliams officiating, the honeymoon in the Southern Alps, the return to their sweet little house in Mount Eden, and then, after eighteen months, the first baby ...

Cut to the other members of the expedition, as they toil up the hill towards the oil-wells. Professor Craigie, their leader, halts to mop his brow and to take stock of his charges.

‘Where’s Poole?’ he asks. ‘And Ethel Hook?’

Somebody points and, in a long shot, we see the distant figures of the two botanists.

Cut back to Professor Craigie, who cups his hands around his mouth and shouts: ‘Poole, Poole!’

‘Why don’t you leave them to their little romance?’ asks the genial Cudworth.

‘Romance indeed!’ Dr. Schneeglock snorts derisively.

‘But she’s obviously sweet on him.’

‘It takes two to make a romance.’

‘Trust a woman to get her man to pop the question.’

‘You might as well expect him to commit incest with his Mother,’ says Dr. Schneeglock emphatically.

‘Poole!’ bellows Professor Craigie once more, and turning to the others, ‘I don’t like people to lag behind,’ he says in a tone of irritation. ‘In a strange country ... You never know.’

He renews his shouting.

Cut back to Dr. Poole and Miss Hook. They hear the distant call, look up from their tetraploid Artemisia, wave their hands and start in pursuit of the others. Suddenly Dr. Poole catches sight of something that makes him cry aloud.

‘Look!’ He points a forefinger.

‘What is it?’

‘Echinocactus hexaedrophorus — and the most beautiful specimen.’

Medium long shot from his viewpoint of a ruined bungalow among the sage-brush. Then a close shot of the cactus growing between two paving-stones, near the front door. Cut back to Dr. Poole. From the leather sheath at his belt he draws a long, narrow-bladed trowel.

‘You’re not going to dig it up?’

His only answer is to walk over to where the cactus is growing and squat down beside it.

‘Professor Craigie will be so cross,’ protests Miss Hook.

‘Well, then, run ahead and keep him quiet.’

She looks at him for a few seconds with an expression of solicitude.

‘I hate to leave you alone, Alfred.’

‘You talk as though I were five years old,’ he answers irritably. ‘Go ahead, I tell you.’

He turns away and starts to dig.

Miss Hook does not immediately obey, but stands looking at him in silence for a little while longer.

NARRATOR

Tragedy is the farce that involves our sympathies; farce, the tragedy that happens to outsiders. Tweedy and breezy, wholesome and efficient, this object of the easiest kind of satire is also the subject of an Intimate Journal. What flaming sunsets she has seen and vainly attempted to describe! What velvety and voluptuous summer nights! What lyrically lovely days of spring! And oh, the torrents of feeling, the temptations, the hopes, the passionate throbbing of the heart, the humiliating disappointments! And now, after all these years, after so many committee meetings attended, so many lectures delivered and examination papers corrected, now at last, moving in His mysterious way, God has made her, she feels, responsible for this helpless and unhappy man. And because he is unhappy and helpless, she loves him — not romantically, of course, not as she loved that curly-headed scamp who, fifteen years ago, swept her off her feet and then married the daughter of that rich contractor, but genuinely none the less, with a strong, protective tenderness.

‘All right,’ she says at last. ‘I’ll go ahead. But promise you won’t be long.’

‘Of course I won’t be long.’

She turns and walks away. Dr. Poole looks after her; then, with a sigh of relief at finding himself once more alone, resumes his digging.

NARRATOR

‘Never,’ he is repeating to himself, ‘Never! Whatever Mother may say.’ For though he respects Miss Hook as a botanist, relies on her as an organizer and admires her as a high-minded person, the idea of being made one flesh with her is as unthinkable as a violation of the Categorical Imperative.

Suddenly, from behind him, three villainous-looking men, black-bearded, dirty and ragged, emerge very quietly from out of the ruins of the house, stand poised for a moment, then throw themselves upon the unsuspecting botanist and, before he can so much as utter a cry, force a gag into his mouth, tie his hands behind his back and drag him down into a gully, out of sight of his companions.

We dissolve to a panoramic view of Southern California from fifty miles up in the stratosphere. As the Camera plummets downwards, we hear the Narrator’s voice.

NARRATOR

The sea and its clouds, the mountains glaucous-golden,

The valleys full of indigo darkness,

The drouth of lion-coloured plains,

The rivers of pebbles and white sand.

And in the midst of them the City of the Angels.

Half a million houses,

Five thousand miles of streets,

Fifteen hundred thousand motor vehicles,

And more rubber goods than Akron,

More celluloid than the Soviets,

More Nylons than New Rochelle,

More brassieres than Buffalo,

More deodorants than Denver,

More oranges than anywhere,

With bigger and better girls —

The great Metrollopis of the West.

And now we are only five miles up and it becomes increasingly obvious that the great Metrollopis is a ghost town, that what was once the world’s largest oasis is now its greatest agglomeration of ruins in a waste-land. Nothing moves in the streets. Dunes of sand have drifted across the concrete. The avenues of palms and pepper trees have left no trace.

The Camera comes down over a large rectangular graveyard, lying between the ferro-concrete towers of Hollywood and those of Wilshire Boulevard. We land, pass under an arched gateway, enjoy a trucking shot of mortuary gazebos. A baby pyramid. A Gothic sentry box. A marble sarcophagus surmounted by weeping seraphs. The more than life-size statue of Hedda Boddy— ‘affectionately known,’ reads the inscription on the pedestal, ‘as Public Sweetheart Number One. “Hitch your wagon to a Star.”’ We hitch and move on; and suddenly in the midst of all this desolation, here is a little group of human beings. There are four men, heavily bearded and more than a little dirty, and two young women, all of them busy with shovels in or around an opened grave and all dressed identically in shirts and trousers of tattered homespun. Over these rough garments each wears a small square apron upon which, in scarlet wool, is embroidered the word ‘NO.’ In addition to the apron, the girls wear a round patch over either breast and, behind, a pair of somewhat larger patches on the seat of their trousers. Three unequivocal negatives greet us as they approach, two more, by way of Parthian shots, as they recede.

Overseeing the labourers from the roof of an adjacent mausoleum sits a man in his middle forties, tall, powerfully built, with the dark eyes and hawk nose of an Algerian corsair. A black curly beard emphasizes the moistness and redness of his full lips. Somewhat incongruously, he is dressed in a pale grey suit of midtwentieth-century cut, a little too small for him. When we catch our first sight of him, he is absorbed in the paring of his nails.

Cut back to the grave-diggers. One of them, the youngest and handsomest of the men, looks up from his shovelling, glances surreptitiously at the overseer on the roof and, seeing him busy with his nails, turns an intensely concupiscent look on the plump girl who stands, stooped over her spade, beside him. Close shot of the two prohibitory patches. NO and again NO, growing larger and larger the more longingly he looks. Cupped already for the deliciously imagined contact, his hand goes out, tentative, hesitant; then, with a jerk, as conscience abruptly gets the better of temptation, is withdrawn again. Biting his lip, the young man turns away and, with redoubled zeal, addresses himself once more to his digging.

Suddenly a spade strikes something hard. There is a cry of delight, a flurry of concerted activity. A moment later a handsome mahogany coffin is hoisted to the surface of the ground.

‘Break it open.’

‘O.K., Chief.’

We hear the creaking and cracking of rent wood.

‘Man or woman?’

‘Man.’

‘Fine! Spill him out.’

With a yo-heave-ho they tilt the coffin, and the corpse rolls out on to the sand. The eldest of the bearded gravediggers kneels down beside it and starts methodically to relieve the thing of its watch and jewellery.

NARRATOR

Thanks to the dry climate and the embalmer’s art, what remains of the Managing Director of the Golden Rule Brewing Corporation looks as though it had been buried only yesterday. The cheeks are still pink with the rouge applied by the undertaker for the lying-in-state. Stitched into a perpetual smile, the upturned corners of the lips impart to the round, crumpet-like face the maddeningly enigmatic expression of a Madonna by Boltraffio.

Suddenly the lash of a dog-whip cuts across the shoulders of the kneeling grave-digger. The Camera pulls back to reveal the Chief impending, whip in hand, like the embodiment of divine Vengeance, from the height of his marble Sinai.

‘Give back that ring.’

‘Which ring?’ the man falters.

For answer the Chief administers two or three more cuts with the dog-whip.

‘No, no — please! Ow! I’ll give it back. Stop!’

The culprit inserts two fingers into his mouth and after a little fumbling draws forth the handsome diamond ring which the deceased brewer bought for himself when business was so hearteningly good during the Second World War.

‘Put it there with the other things,’ commands the Chief, and, as the man obeys, ‘Twenty-five lashes,’ he continues with grim relish, ‘that’s what you’re going to get this evening.’

Blubbering, the man begs for indulgence — just for this once. Seeing that tomorrow is Belial Day ... And after all he’s old, he has worked faithfully all his life, has risen to the rank of a Deputy Supervisor ...

The Chief cuts him short.

‘This is a Democracy,’ he says. ‘We’re all equal before the Law. And the Law says that everything belongs to the Proletariat — in other words, it all goes to the State. And what’s the penalty for robbing the State?’ The man looks up at him in speechless misery. ‘What’s the penalty?’ the Chief bellows, raising his whip.

‘Twenty-five lashes,’ comes the almost inaudible reply.

‘Good! Well, that settles that, doesn’t it? And now, what are the clothes like?’

The younger and slimmer of the girls bends down and fingers the corpse’s double-breasted black jacket.

‘Nice stuff,’ she says. ‘And no stains. He hasn’t leaked or anything.’

‘I’ll try them on,’ says the Chief.

With some difficulty they divest the cadaver of its trousers, coat and shirt, then drop it back into the grave and shovel the earth back over its one-piece undergarment. Meanwhile the Chief takes the clothes, sniffs at them critically, then doffs the pearl-grey jacket which once belonged to the Production Manager of Western-Shakespeare Pictures Incorporated, and slips his arms into the more conservative tailoring that goes with malt liquors and the Golden Rule.

NARRATOR

Put yourself in his place. You may not know it, but a complete scribbler, or first card-engine, consists of a breast, or small swift, and two swifts, with the accompanying workers, strippers, fancies, doffers, etc. And if you don’t have any carding machinery or power looms, if you don’t have any electric motors to run them, or any dynamos to generate the electricity, or any turbines to turn the dynamos, or any coal to raise steam, or any blast furnaces to make steel — why then, obviously, you must depend for your fine cloth on the cemeteries of those who once enjoyed these advantages. And so long as the radioactivity persisted, there weren’t even any cemeteries to exploit. For three generations the dwindling remnant of those who survived the consummation of technological progress lived precariously in the wilderness. It is only during the last thirty years that it has been safe for them to enjoy the buried remains of le confort moderne.

Close shot of the Chief, grotesque in the borrowed jacket of a man whose arms were much shorter and whose belly was much larger than his own. The sound of approaching footsteps makes him turn his head.

In a long shot from his viewpoint we see Dr. Poole, his hands tied behind his back, trudging wearily through the sand. Behind him walk his three captors. Whenever he stumbles or slackens his pace, they prick him in the rear with needle-sharp yucca leaves and laugh uproariously to see him wince.

The Chief stares at them in astonished silence as they approach.

‘What in Belial’s name?’ he brings out at last.

The little party comes to a halt at the foot of the mausoleum. The three members of Dr. Poole’s escort bow to the Chief and tell their story. They had been fishing in their coracle off Redondo Beach; had suddenly seen a huge, strange ship coming out of the mist; had immediately paddled back to shore to escape detection. From the ruins of an old house they had watched the strangers land. Thirteen of them. And then this man had come wandering with a woman to the very threshold of their hiding-place. The woman had gone away again, and while the man was grubbing in the dirt with a tiny spade they had jumped on him from behind, gagged him, bound him and now had brought him here for questioning.

There is a long silence, broken finally by the Chief.

‘Do you speak English?’

‘Yes, I speak English,’ Dr. Poole stammers.

‘Good. Untie him; hoist him up.’

They hoist him — so unceremoniously that he lands on all fours at the Chief’s feet.

‘Are you a priest?’

‘A priest?’ Dr. Poole echoes in apprehensive astonishment. He shakes his head.

‘Then why don’t you have a beard?’

‘I ... I shave.’

‘Oh, then you’re not ...’ The Chief passes a finger across Dr. Poole’s chin and cheek. ‘I see, I see. Get up.’

Dr. Poole obeys.

‘Where do you come from?’

‘New Zealand, sir.’

Dr. Poole swallows hard, wishes his mouth were less dry, his voice less tremulous with terror.

‘New Zealand? Is that far?’

‘Very far.’

‘You came in a big ship? With sails?’

Dr. Poole nods, and adopting that lecture-room manner which is always his refuge when personal contacts threaten to become too difficult, proceeds to explain why they weren’t able to cross the Pacific under steam.

‘There would have been no place to refuel. It’s only for coastwise traffic that our shipping companies are able to make use of steamers.’

‘Steamers?’ the Chief repeats, his face alight with interest. ‘You still have steamers? But that must mean you didn’t have the Thing?’

Dr. Poole looks puzzled.

‘I don’t quite catch your meaning,’ he says. ‘What thing?’

‘The Thing. You know — when He took over.’

Raising his hands to his forehead, he makes the sign of the horns with extended forefingers. Devoutly, his subjects follow suit.

‘You mean the Devil?’ says Dr. Poole dubiously.

The other nods.

‘But, but ... I mean, really ...’

NARRATOR

Our friend is a good Congregationalist, but, alas, on the liberal side. Which means that he has never given the Prince of this world His ontological due. To put it brutally, he doesn’t believe in Him.

‘Yes, He got control,’ the Chief explains. ‘He won the battle and took possession of everybody. That was when they did all this.’

With a wide, comprehensive gesture he takes in the desolation that was once Los Angeles. Dr. Poole’s expression brightens with understanding.

‘Oh, I see. You mean the Third World War. No, we were lucky; we got off without a scratch. Owing to its peculiar geographical situation,’ he adds professorially, ‘New Zealand was of no strategic importance to ...’

The Chief cuts short a promising lecture.

‘Then you’ve still got trains?’ he questions.

‘Yes, we’ve still got trains,’ Dr. Poole answers, a little irritably. ‘But, as I was saying ...’

‘And the engines really work?’

‘Of course they work. As I was saying ...’

Startlingly the Chief lets out a whoop of delight and claps him on the shoulder.

‘Then you can help us to get it all going again. Like in the good old days before ...’ He makes the sign of horns. ‘We’ll have trains, real trains.’ And in an ecstasy of joyous anticipation he draws Dr. Poole towards him, puts an arm round his neck and kisses him on both cheeks.

Shrinking with an embarrassment that is reinforced by disgust (for the great man seldom washes and is horribly foul-mouthed), Dr. Poole disengages himself.

‘But I’m not an engineer,’ he protests. ‘I’m a botanist.’

‘What’s that?’

‘A botanist is a man who knows about plants.’

‘War plants?’ the Chief asks hopefully.

‘No, no, just plants. Things with leaves and stalks and flowers — though, of course,’ he adds hastily, ‘one mustn’t forget the Cryptogams. And as a matter of fact the Cryptogams are my special pets. New Zealand, as you probably know, is particularly rich in Cryptogams ...’

‘But what about the engines?’

‘Engines?’ Dr. Poole repeats contemptuously. ‘I tell you, I don’t know the difference between a steam turbine and a diesel.’

‘Then you can’t do anything to help us get the trains running again?’

‘Not a thing.’

Without a word the Chief raises his right leg, places his foot against the pit of Dr. Poole’s stomach, then sharply straightens the bent knee.

Close shot of Dr. Poole as he raises himself, shaken and bruised, but with no bones broken, from the heap of sand on to which he has fallen. Over the shot we hear the Chief shouting to his retainers.

Medium shot of the grave-diggers and fishermen as they come running in response to the summons.

The Chief points down at Dr. Poole.

‘Bury him.’

‘Alive or dead?’ asks the plumper of the girls in her rich contralto voice.

The Chief looks down at her. Shot from his viewpoint. With an effort he turns away. His lips move. He is repeating the relevant passage from the Shorter Catechism. ‘What is the nature of woman? Answer: Woman is the vessel of the Unholy Spirit, the source of all deformity, the enemy of the race, the ...’

‘Alive or dead?’ the plump girl repeats.

The Chief shrugs his shoulders.

‘As you like,’ he answers with studied indifference.

The plump girl claps her hands.

‘Goody, goody!’ she cries, and turns to her companions. ‘Come on, boys. Let’s have some fun.’

They close in on Dr. Poole, lift him screaming from the ground and drop him feet-first into the half-filled grave of the Managing Director of the Golden Rule Brewing Corporation. While the plump girl holds him down, the men shovel the loose dry earth into place. In a very short time he is buried up to the waist.

On the sound track the victim’s screams and the excited laughter of the executioners taper off into a silence that is broken by the voice of the Narrator.

NARRATOR

Cruelty and compassion come with the chromosomes;

All men are merciful and all are murderers.

Doting on dogs, they build their Dachaus;

Fire whole cities and fondle the orphans;

Are loud against lynching, but all for Oakridge;

Full of future philanthropy, but today the NKVD.

Whom shall we persecute, for whom feel pity?

It is all a matter of the moment’s mores,

Of words on wood-pulp, of radios roaring,

Of communist kindergartens or first communions.

Only in the knowledge of his own Essence

Has any man ceased to be many monkeys.

The laughter and the pleas for mercy return to the sound track. Then, suddenly, we hear the Chief.

‘Stand back,’ he shouts. ‘I can’t see.’

They obey. In silence the Chief looks down at Dr. Poole.

‘You know all about plants,’ he says at last. ‘Why don’t you grow some roots down there?’

The sally is greeted by enormous guffaws.

‘Why don’t you put out some nice little pink flowers?’

We are shown a close-up of the botanist’s agonized face.

‘Mercy, mercy ...’

The voice breaks, grotesquely; there is another burst of hilarity.

‘I could be useful to you. I could show you how to get better crops. You’d have more to eat.’

‘More to eat?’ the Chief repeats with sudden interest. Then he frowns savagely. ‘You’re lying!’

‘I’m not. I swear by Almighty God.’

There is a murmur of shocked protest.

‘He may be almighty in New Zealand,’ says the Chief. ‘But not here — not since the Thing happened.’

‘But I know I can help you.’

‘Are you ready to swear by Belial?’

Dr. Poole’s father was a clergyman and he himself is a regular church-goer; but it is with heartfelt fervour that he does what is asked of him.

‘By Belial. I swear by Almighty Belial.’

Everyone makes the sign of the horns. There is a long silence.

‘Dig him up.’

‘Oh, Chief!’ the plump girl protests. ‘That isn’t fair!’

‘Dig him up, you vessel of Unholiness!’

His tone carries immediate conviction; they dig with such fervour that in less than a minute Dr. Poole is out of his grave and standing, rather unsteadily, at the foot of the mausoleum.

‘Thank you,’ he manages to say; then his knees give way and he collapses.

There is a chorus of contemptuously good-humoured laughter.

The Chief leans from his marble perch. ‘Here, you there, the red-headed vessel.’ He hands the girl a bottle. ‘Make him drink some of this,’ he orders. ‘He’s got to be able to walk. We’re going back to Headquarters.’

She sits down beside Dr. Poole, raises his limp body, props the wobbling head against the interdictions on her bosom, and administers the restorative.

Dissolve to a street. Four of the bearded men are carrying the Chief in a litter. The others straggle behind, moving slowly through the drifted sand. Here and there, under the porches of ruined filling-stations, in the gaping doorways of office buildings, lie heaps of human bones.

Medium close shot of Dr. Poole. Still holding the bottle in his right hand, he walks a little unsteadily, singing ‘Annie Laurie’ to himself with intense feeling. Drunk on an empty stomach — the empty stomach, moreover, of a man whose Mother has always had conscientious objections to alcohol — the strong red wine has taken prompt effect.

‘And for bonny Annie Laurie

I’d lay me doon and dee....’

In the middle of the final phrase, the two girl gravediggers enter the shot. Approaching the singer from behind, the plump one gives him a friendly slap on the back. Dr. Poole starts, turns round, and looks suddenly apprehensive. But her smile is reassuring.

‘I’m Flossie,’ she says. ‘And I hope you’re not cross with me because I wanted to bury you?’

‘Oh, no, no, not a bit,’ Dr. Poole assures her in the tone of one who says he has no objection to the young lady lighting a cigarette.

‘It’s not that I had anything against you,’ Flossie assures him.

‘Of course not.’

‘I just wanted a laugh, that’s all.’

‘Quite, quite.’

‘People look so screamingly funny when they’re being buried.’

‘Screamingly,’ Dr. Poole agrees, and forces a nervous giggle.

Feeling the need for more courage, he fortifies himself with another swig from the bottle.

‘Well, see you later,’ says the plump girl. ‘I’ve got to go and talk to the Chief about lengthening the sleeves of his new jacket.’

She gives him another slap on the back and hurries away.

Dr. Poole is left alone with her companion. He steals a glance at her. She is eighteen; she has red hair and dimples, a charming face and a slender, adolescent body.

‘My name’s Loola,’ she volunteers. ‘What’s yours?’

‘Alfred,’ Dr. Poole replies. ‘My Mother was a great admirer of In Memoriam,’ he adds by way of explanation.

‘Alfred,’ the red-headed girl repeats. ‘I shall call you Alfie. I’ll tell you something, Alfie: I don’t really like these public burials. I don’t know why I should be different from other people; but they don’t make me laugh. I can’t see anything funny about them.’

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ says Dr. Poole.

‘You know, Alfie,’ she resumes, after a little silence, ‘you’re really a very lucky man.’

‘Lucky?’

Loola nods.

‘First of all you’re dug up — and I’ve never seen that happen before — and now you walk straight into the Purification Ceremonies.’

‘Purification Ceremonies?’

‘Yes, it’s Belial Day tomorrow — Belial Day,’ she insists in response to the blank look of incomprehension on the other’s face. ‘Don’t tell me you don’t know what happens on Belial Eve.’

Dr. Poole shakes his head.

‘But when do you have your Purification?’

‘Well, we take a bath every day,’ says Dr. Poole, who has just been reminded, yet once more, that Loola most decidedly doesn’t.

‘No, no,’ she says impatiently. ‘I mean the Purification of the Race.’

‘Of the Race?’

‘Hell, your priests don’t let the deformed babies go on living, do they?’

There is a silence; then Dr. Poole counters with a question of his own.

‘Are there many deformed babies born here?’

She nods affirmatively.

‘Ever since the Thing — ever since He’s been in charge.’ She makes the sign of the horns. ‘They say that before that there weren’t any.’

‘Did anyone ever tell you about the effect of gammarays?’

‘Gamma-rays? What’s a gamma-ray?’

‘It’s the reason for all those deformed children.’

‘You’re not trying to suggest that it wasn’t Belial, are you?’ Her tone is one of indignant suspicion; she looks at him as St. Dominic might have eyed an Albigensian heretic.

‘No, no, of course not,’ Dr. Poole hastens to assure her. ‘He’s the primary cause — that goes without saying.’ Clumsily and inexpertly, he makes the sign of the horns. ‘I was merely suggesting the nature of the secondary causes — the means He used to carry out His ... His providential purpose, if you see what I mean.’

His words and, still more, his pious gesture allay Loola’s suspicions. Her face clears; she gives him her most charming smile. The dimples in her cheeks come to life like a pair of adorable little creatures fitfully leading a secret and autonomous existence in independence of the rest of Loola’s face. Dr. Poole returns her smile, but almost instantly looks away, blushing as he does so to the roots of his hair.

NARRATOR

Out of the enormity of his respect for his Mother, our poor friend here is still, at thirty-eight, a bachelor. Too full of an unnatural piety to marry, he has spent half a lifetime surreptitiously burning. Feeling that it would be a sacrilege to ask a virtuous young gentlewoman to share his bed, he inhabits, under the carapace of academic respectability, a hot and furtive world, where erotic phantasies beget an agonizing repentance and adolescent desires forever struggle with the maternal precepts. And now here is Loola — Loola without the least pretension to education or good breeding, Loola au naturel with a musky redolence which, on second thoughts, has something really rather fascinating about it. What wonder if he reddens and (against his will, for he longs to go on looking at her) averts his eyes.

For consolation and in hope of an accession of boldness, he resorts again to the bottle. Suddenly the boulevard narrows to a mere footpath between the two dunes of sand.

‘After you,’ says Dr. Poole, politely bowing.

She smiles her acknowledgment of a courtesy to which, in this place where men take precedence and the vessels of the Unholy Spirit follow after, she is wholly unaccustomed.

Trucking shot, from Dr. Poole’s viewpoint, of Loola’s back. NO NO, NO NO, NO NO, step after step in undulant alternation. Cut back to a close shot of Dr. Poole, gazing, wide-eyed, and from Dr. Poole’s face once again to Loola’s back.

NARRATOR

It is the emblem, outward, visible, tangible, of his own inner consciousness. Principle at odds with concupiscence, his Mother and the Seventh Commandment superimposed upon his fancies and the facts of life.

The dunes subside. Once more the road is wide enough for two to walk abreast. Dr. Poole steals a glance at his companion’s face and sees it clouded with an expression of melancholy.

‘What is it?’ he asks solicitously and, greatly daring, adds ‘Loola’ and lays a hand on her arm.

‘It’s terrible,’ she says in a tone of quiet despair.

‘What’s terrible?’

‘Everything. You don’t want to think about those things; but you’re one of the unlucky ones — you can’t help thinking about them. And you almost go crazy. Thinking and thinking about someone, and wanting and wanting. And you know you mustn’t. And you’re scared to death of what they might do if they found out. But you’d give everything in the world just for five minutes, to be free for five minutes. But no, no, no. And you clench your fists and hold yourself in — and it’s like tearing yourself to pieces. And then suddenly, after all that suffering, suddenly ...’ she breaks off.

‘Suddenly what?’ inquires Dr. Poole.

She looks at him sharply, but sees on his face only an expression of inquiring and genuinely innocent incomprehension.

‘I can’t make you out,’ she says at last. ‘Is it true, what you told the Chief? You know, about your not being a priest.’

All at once she blushes.

‘If you don’t believe me,’ says Dr. Poole with wine-begotten gallantry, ‘I’m ready to prove it.’

She looks at him for a moment, then shakes her head and, in a kind of terror, turns away. Nervously she smooths her apron.

‘And meanwhile,’ he continues, emboldened by her new-found shyness, ‘you haven’t told me just what it is that suddenly happens.’

Loola glances about her to make sure that nobody is within earshot, then speaks at last almost in a whisper.

‘Suddenly He starts to take possession of everybody. For weeks He makes them think about those things — and it’s against the Law, it’s wicked. The men get so mad, they start hitting you and calling you a vessel, the way the priests do.’

‘A vessel?’

She nods.

‘Vessel of the Unholy Spirit.’

‘Oh, I see.’

‘And then comes Belial Day,’ she goes on after a little pause. ‘And then ... well, you know what that means. And afterwards, if you have a baby, the chances are that He’ll punish you for what He has made you do.’ She shudders, then makes the sign of the horns. ‘I know we have to accept what He wills,’ she adds. ‘But oh, I do so hope that, if ever I have any babies, they’ll be all right.’

‘But of course they’ll be all right,’ cried Dr. Poole. ‘After all, there isn’t anything wrong about you.’

Delighted by his own audacity, he looks down at her.

Close shot from his viewpoint. NO NO NO, NO NO NO ...

Mournfully, Loola shakes her head.

‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she says. ‘I’ve got an extra pair of nipples.’

‘Oh,’ says Dr. Poole, in a tone which makes us realize that the thought of his Mother has momentarily obliterated the effects of the red wine.

‘Not that there’s anything really bad about that,’ Loola hastily adds. ‘Even the best people have them. It’s perfectly legal. They allow you up to three pairs. And seven toes and fingers. Anything over that gets liquidated at the Purification. My friend Polly — she had a baby this season. Her first one. And it’s got four pairs, and no thumbs. There isn’t any chance for it. In fact, it’s been condemned already. She’s had her head shaved.’

‘Had her head shaved?’

‘They do it to all the girls whose babies are liquidated.’

‘But why?’

Loola shrugs her shoulders.

‘Just to remind them that He’s the Enemy.’

NARRATOR

‘To put it,’ as Schroedinger has said, ‘drastically, though perhaps a little naïvely, the injuriousness of a marriage between first cousins might very well be increased by the fact that their grandmother had served for a long period as an X-ray nurse. It is not a point that need worry any individual personally. But any possibility of gradually infecting the human race with unwanted latent mutations ought to be a matter of concern to the community.’ It ought to be; but, needless to say, it isn’t. Oakridge is working three shifts a day; an atomic power plant is going up on the coast of Cumberland; and on the other side of the fence, goodness only knows what Kapitza is up to on the top of Mount Ararat, what surprises that wonderful Russian Soul, about which Dostoevsky used to write so lyrically, has in store for Russian bodies and the carcases of Capitalists and Social Democrats.

Once again sand bars the road. They enter another winding pathway between the dunes and are suddenly alone, as though in the middle of the Sahara.

Trucking shot from Dr. Poole’s viewpoint. NO NO, NO NO ... Loola halts and turns back towards him. NO NO NO. The Camera moves up to her face and all at once he notices that its expression is tragical.

NARRATOR

The Seventh Commandment, the Facts of Life. But there is also another Fact, to which one cannot react by a mere departmentalized negation or a no less fragmentary display of lust — the Fact of Personality.

‘I don’t want them to cut my hair,’ she says in a breaking voice.

‘But they won’t.’

‘They will.’

‘They can’t, they mustn’t.’ Then, amazed by his own daring, he adds, ‘It’s much too beautiful.’

Still tragic, Loola shakes her head.

‘I feel it,’ she says, ‘in my bones. I just know it’ll have more than seven fingers. They’ll kill it, they’ll cut my hair off, they’ll whip me — and He makes us do these things.’

‘What things?’

She looks at him for a moment without speaking; then, with an expression almost of terror, drops her eyes.

‘It’s because He wants us to be miserable.’

Covering her face with her hands, she starts to sob uncontrollably.

NARRATOR

The wine within and, without, the musky reminder

Of those so near, warm, ripe, orby and all but

Edible Facts of Life.... And now her tears, her tears ...

Dr. Poole takes the girl in his arms and, while she sobs against his shoulder, strokes her hair with all the tenderness of the normal male he has momentarily become.

‘Don’t cry,’ he whispers, ‘don’t cry. It’ll be all right. I’ll always be there. I won’t let them do anything to you.’

She permits herself gradually to be comforted. The sobbing becomes less violent and finally ceases altogether. She looks up, and the smile she gives him through her tears is so unequivocally amorous that anyone but Dr. Poole would have accepted the invitation forthwith. The seconds pass and, while he is still hesitating, her expression changes, she drops her eyelids over an avowal that she suddenly feels to have been too frank, and turns away.

‘I’m sorry,’ she murmurs, and starts to rub away her tears with the knuckles of a hand that is as grubby as a child’s.

Dr. Poole takes out his handkerchief and tenderly wipes her eyes.

‘You’re so sweet,’ she says. ‘Not a bit like the men here.’

She smiles up at him again. Like a pair of enchanting little wild animals emerging from concealment, out come the dimples.

So impulsively that he has no time to feel surprise at what he is doing, Dr. Poole takes her face between his hands and kisses her on the mouth.

Loola resists for a moment, then abandons herself in a surrender so complete as to be more active than his assault.

On the sound track ‘Give me detumescence’ modulates into Liebestod from Tristan.

Suddenly Loola stiffens into a shuddering rigidity. Pushing him away, she stares up wildly into his face; then turns and glances over her shoulder with an expression of guilty terror.

‘Loola!’

He tries to draw her close again, but she breaks away from him and starts to run along the narrow path.

NO NO, NO NO, NO NO ...

We dissolve to the corner of Fifth Street and Pershing Square. As of old, the Square is the hub and centre of the city’s cultural life. From a shallow well in front of the Philharmonic Auditorium two women are drawing water in a goatskin, which they empty into earthenware jars for other women to carry away. From a bar slung between two rusty lamp-posts hangs the carcass of a newly slaughtered ox. Standing in a cloud of flies, a man with a knife is cleaning out the entrails.

‘That looks good,’ says the Chief genially.

The butcher grins and, with bloody fingers, makes the sign of the horns.

A few yards away stand the communal ovens. The Chief orders a halt, and graciously accepts a piece of the newly baked bread. While he is eating, ten or twelve small boys enter the shot, staggering under inordinate loads of fuel from the near-by Public Library. They tumble their burdens on to the ground and, stimulated by the blows and curses of their elders, hurry back for more. One of the bakers opens a furnace door and starts to shovel the books into the flames.

All the scholar in Dr. Poole, all the bibliophile, is outraged by the spectacle.

‘But this is frightful!’ he protests.

The Chief only laughs.

‘In goes The Phenomenology of Spirit, out comes the corn bread. And damned good bread it is.’

He takes another bite.

Meanwhile Dr. Poole has bent down and, from the very brink of destruction, has snatched to safety a charming little duodecimo Shelley.

‘Thank G—’ he begins, but fortunately remembers where he is and manages to check himself in time.

He slips the volume into his pocket and, turning to the Chief, ‘But what about culture?’ he asks. ‘What about the social inheritance of humanity’s painfully acquired wisdom? What about the best that has been thought and ...’

‘They can’t read,’ the Chief answers with his mouth full. ‘No, that’s not quite true. We teach all of them to read that.’

He points. Medium shot from his viewpoint of Loola — Loola with dimples and all the rest, but also with the large red NO on her apron, the two smaller NO’s on her shirt front.

‘That’s all the book learning they need. And now,’ he commands his bearers, ‘move on.’

Trucking shot of the litter as it is carried through the doorless entrance of what was once the Biltmore Coffee Shop. Here, in the malodorous twilight, twenty or thirty women, some middle-aged, some young, some mere girls, are busily weaving on primitive looms of the kind used by the Indians of Central America.

‘None of these vessels had a baby this season,’ the Chief explains to Dr. Poole. He frowns and shakes his head. ‘When they’re not producing monsters, they’re sterile. What we’re going to do for man power, Belial only knows ...’

They advance further into the Coffee Shop, pass a group of three- and four-year-old children under the supervision of an aged vessel with a cleft palate and fourteen fingers, and come to a halt under an archway giving access to a second dining-room only slightly smaller than the first.

Over the shot we hear the sound of a chorus of youthful voices reciting in unison the opening phrases of the Shorter Catechism.

‘Question: What is the chief end of Man? Answer: The chief end of Man is to propitiate Belial, deprecate His enmity and avoid destruction for as long as possible.’

Cut to a close shot of Dr. Poole’s face, on which we see an expression of amazement mingled with a growing horror. Then a long long shot from his viewpoint. In five rows of twelve, sixty boys and girls between the ages of thirteen and fifteen stand rigidly at attention, gabbling as fast as they can in a shrill harsh monotone. Facing them, on a dais, sits a small, fat man wearing a long robe of black-and-white goatskins and a fur cap with a stiff leather edging, to which are attached two medium-sized horns. Beardless and sallow, his face shines with a profuse perspiration, which he is forever wiping away with the hairy sleeve of his cassock.

Cut back to the Chief, as he leans down and touches Dr. Poole on the shoulder.

‘That,’ he whispers, ’is our leading Satanic Science Practitioner. I tell you, he’s an absolute whizz at Malicious Animal Magnetism.’

Over the shot we hear the mindless gabble of the children.

‘Question: To what fate is Man predestined? Answer: Belial has, out of His mere good pleasure, from all eternity elected all now living to everlasting perdition.’

‘Why does he wear horns?’ asks Dr. Poole.

‘He’s an Archimandrite,’ the Chief explains. ‘Due for his third horn any time now.’

Cut to a medium shot of the dais.

‘Excellent,’ the Satanic Science Practitioner is saying in a high piping voice, like the voice of an extraordinarily priggish and self-satisfied small boy. ‘Excellent!’ He wipes his forehead. ‘And now tell me why you deserve everlasting perdition.’

There is a moment’s silence. Then, in a chorus that starts a little raggedly, but soon swells to a loud unanimity, the children answer.

‘Belial has perverted and corrupted us in all the parts of our being. Therefore, we are, merely on account of that corruption, deservedly condemned by Belial.’

Their teacher nods approvingly.

‘Such,’ he squeaks unctuously, ’is the inscrutable justice of the Lord of Flies.’

‘Amen,’ respond the children.

All make the sign of the horns.

‘And what about your duty towards your neighbour?’

‘My duty towards my neighbour,’ comes the choral answer, ’is to do my best to prevent him from doing unto me what I should like to do unto him; to subject myself to all my governors; to keep my body in absolute chastity, except during the two weeks following Belial Day; and to do my duty in that state of life to which it hath pleased Belial to condemn me.’

‘What is the Church?’

‘The Church is the body of which Belial is the head and all possessed people are the members.’

‘Very good,’ says the Practitioner, wiping his face yet once more. ‘And now I need a young vessel.’

He runs his eyes over the ranks of his pupils, then points a finger.

‘You there. Third from the left in the second row ... The vessel with the yellow hair. Come here.’

Cut back to the group around the litter.

The bearers are grinning with happy anticipation and, looking intensely red and moist and fleshy among the black curls of the moustache and beard, even the Chief’s full lips are curved into a smile. But there is no smile on Loola’s face. Pale, her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide and staring, she is watching the proceedings with the horror of one who has been through this kind of ordeal herself. Dr. Poole glances at her, then back at the victim, whom we now see, from his viewpoint, slowly advancing towards the dais.

‘Up here,’ squeaks the almost babyish voice in a tone of conqueror’s authority. ‘Stand by me. Now face the class.’

The child does as she is told.

Medium close shot of a tall slender girl of fifteen with the face of a Nordic madonna. NO, proclaims the apron attached to the waist-band of her ragged pedal-pushers; NO and NO, the patches over her budding breasts.

The Practitioner points at her accusingly.

‘Look at it,’ he says, wrinkling up his face into a grimace of disgust. ‘Did you ever see anything so revolting?’

He turns to the class.

‘Boys,’ he squeaks. ‘Any of you who feels any Malicious Animal Magnetism coming out of this vessel, hold up your hand.’

Cut to a long shot of the class. Without exception, all the boys are holding up their hands. Their faces wear that expression of lustful and malevolent amusement with which the orthodox have always looked on while their spiritual pastors torment the hereditary scapegoats or still more severely punish the heretics who threaten the interests of the Establishment.

Cut back to the Practitioner. He sighs hypocritically and shakes his head.

‘I feared as much,’ he says. Then he turns to the girl beside him on the dais. ‘Now tell me,’ he says, ‘what is the Nature of Woman?’

‘The Nature of Woman?’ the child repeats unsteadily.

‘Yes, the Nature of Woman. Hurry up!’

She glances at him with an expression of terror in her blue eyes, then turns away. Her face becomes deathly pale. Her lips tremble; she swallows hard.

‘Woman,’ she begins, ‘woman ...’

Her voice breaks, her eyes overflow with tears; in a desperate effort to control her feelings she clenches her fists and bites her lip.

‘Go on!’ the Practitioner shrilly shouts. And picking up a willow switch from the floor, he gives the child a sharp cut across the calves of her bare legs. ‘Go on!’

‘Woman,’ the girl begins once more, ’is the vessel of the Unholy Spirit, the source of all deformity, the ... the ... Ow!’

She winces under another blow.

The Practitioner laughs and the whole class follows suit.

‘The enemy ...’ he prompts.

‘Oh, yes — the enemy of the race, punished by Belial and calling down punishment on all those who succumb to Belial in her.’

There is a long silence.

‘Well,’ says the Practitioner at last, ‘that’s what you are. That’s what all vessels are. And now go, go!’ he squeals, and with sudden fury he strikes at her again and again.

Crying with pain, the child jumps down from the dais and runs back to her place in the ranks.

Cut back to the Chief. His brow is wrinkled in a frown of displeasure.

‘All this progressive education!’ he says to Dr. Poole. ‘No proper discipline. I don’t know what we’re coming to. Why, when I was a boy, our old Practitioner used to tie them over a bench and go to work with a birch-rod. “That’ll teach you to be a vessel,” he’d say, and then swish, swish, swish! Belial, how they howled! That’s what I call education. Well, I’ve had enough of this,’ he adds. ‘Quick march!’

As the litter moves out of the shot, the Camera holds on Loola, who remains, staring in an agony of fellow-feeling at the tear-wet face and heaving shoulders of the little victim in the second row. A hand touches her arm. She starts, turns apprehensively and is relieved to find herself looking into the kindly face of Dr. Poole.

‘I entirely agree with you,’ he whispers. ‘It’s wrong, it’s unjust.’

Only after she has thrown a quick look over her shoulder does Loola venture to give him a little smile of gratitude.

‘Now we must go,’ she says.

They hurry after the others. Following the litter, they retrace their steps through the Coffee Shop, then turn to the right and enter the Cocktail Bar. At one end of the room an enormous pile of human bones reaches almost to the ceiling. Squatting on the floor, in a thick white dust, a score of craftsmen are engaged in fashioning drinking-cups out of skulls, knitting-needles from ulnas, flutes and recorders from the longer shank-bones, ladles, shoe-horns and dominoes from pelvises, and spigots out of femurs.

A halt is called, and, while one of the workmen plays ‘Give me detumescence’ on a shin-bone flute, another presents the Chief with a superb necklace of graded vertebrae ranging in size from a baby’s cervicals to the lumbars of a heavyweight boxer.

NARRATOR

‘And he set me down in the midst of the valley that was full of bones; and lo, they were very dry.’ The dry bones of some of those who died, by thousands, by millions, in the course of those three bright summer days that, for you there, are still in the future. ‘And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live?’ The answer, I replied, is in the negative. For though Baruch might save us (perhaps) from taking our places in such an ossuary as this, he can do nothing to avert that other, slower, nastier death....

Trucking shot of the litter as it is carried up the steps into the main lobby. Here the stink is overpowering, the filth beyond description. Close-up of two rats gnawing at a mutton bone, of the flies on the purulent eyelids of a small girl. The Camera pulls back for a longer shot. Forty or fifty women, half of them with shaven heads, are sitting on the stairs, among the refuse on the floor, on the tattered remnants of ancient beds and sofas. Each of them is nursing a baby, all the babies are ten weeks old, and all those belonging to shaven mothers are deformed. Over close-ups of little faces with hare lips, little trunks with stumps instead of legs and arms, little hands with clusters of supernumerary fingers, little bodies adorned with a double row of nipples, we hear the voice of the Narrator.

NARRATOR

For this other death — not by plague, this time, not by poison, not by fire, not by artificially induced cancer, but by the squalid disintegration of the very substance of the species — this gruesome and infinitely unheroic death-in-birth could as well be the product of atomic industry as of atomic war. For in a world powered by nuclear fission everybody’s grandmother would have been an X-ray technician. And not only everybody’s grandmother — everybody’s grandfather and father and mother as well, everybody’s ancestors back to three and four and five generations of them that hate Me.

From the last of the deformed babies the Camera pulls back to Dr. Poole, who is standing, his handkerchief held to his still too sensitive nose, staring with horrified bewilderment at the scene around him.

‘All the babies look as if they were exactly the same age,’ he says, turning to Loola, who is still beside him.

‘Well, what do you expect? Seeing that practically all of them were born between the tenth and the seventeenth of December.’

‘But that must mean that ...’ He breaks off, deeply embarrassed. ‘I think,’ he concludes hastily, ‘that things must be rather different here from what they are in New Zealand ...’

In spite of the wine, he remembers his grey-haired Mother across the Pacific and, blushing guiltily, coughs and averts his eyes.

‘There’s Polly,’ cries his companion, and hurries across the room.

Mumbling apologies as he picks his way between the squatting or recumbent mothers, Dr. Poole follows her.

Polly is sitting on a straw-filled sack near what was once the Cashier’s desk. She is a girl of eighteen or nineteen, small and fragile, her head shaved like that of a criminal prepared for execution. She has a face whose beauty is all in the fine bones and the big luminous eyes. It is with an expression of hurt bewilderment that those eyes now look up into Loola’s face and from Loola’s face move without curiosity, almost without comprehension, to that of the stranger who accompanies her.

‘Darling!’

Loola bends down to kiss her friend. NO NO, from Dr. Poole’s viewpoint. Then she sits down beside Polly, and puts a comforting arm around her. Polly hides her face against the other’s shoulder and both girls begin to cry. As though infected by their grief, the little monster in Polly’s arms wakes up and utters a thin complaining howl. Polly raises her head from her friend’s shoulder and, her face still wet with tears, looks down at the deformed child, then opens her shirt and, pushing aside one of the crimson NO’s, gives it the breast. With an almost frantic hunger the child starts to suck.

‘I love him,’ Polly sobs. ‘I don’t want them to kill him.’

‘Darling,’ is all that Loola can find to say, ‘darling!’

A loud voice interrupts her.

‘Silence there! Silence!’

Other voices take up the refrain.

‘Silence!’

‘Silence there!’

‘Silence, silence!’

In the lobby all talk ceases abruptly and there is a long, expectant hush. Then a horn is blown, and another of those strangely babyish but self-important voices announces: ‘His Eminence the Arch-Vicar of Belial, Lord of the Earth, Primate of California, Servant of the Proletariat, Bishop of Hollywood.’

Long shot of the hotel’s main staircase. Dressed in a long robe of Anglo-Nubian goatskins and wearing a golden crown set with four tall, sharp horns, the Arch-Vicar is seen majestically descending. An acolyte holds a large goatskin umbrella over his head and he is followed by twenty or thirty ecclesiastical dignitaries, ranging in rank from three-horned Patriarchs to one-horned Presbyters and hornless Postulants. All of them, from the Arch-Vicar downwards, are conspicuously beardless, sweaty and fat-rumped, and, when any of them speaks, it is always in a fluting contralto.

The Chief rises from his litter and advances to meet the incarnation of spiritual authority.

NARRATOR

Church and State,

Greed and Hate: —

Two baboon-persons

In one Supreme Gorilla.

The Chief inclines his head respectfully. The Arch-Vicar raises his hands to his tiara, touches the two anterior horns, then lays his spiritually charged fingertips on the Chief’s forehead.

‘May you never be impaled upon His horns.’

‘Amen,’ says the Chief; then, straightening himself up and changing his tone abruptly from the devout to the briskly business-like, ‘Everything O.K. for tonight?’ he asks. In the voice of a ten-year-old, but with the long-winded and polysyllabic unctuousness of a veteran ecclesiastic long accustomed to playing the role of a superior being set apart from and above his fellows, the Arch-Vicar replies that all things are in order. Under the personal supervision of the Three-Horned Inquisitor and the Patriarch of Pasadena, a devoted band of Familiars and Postulants has travelled from settlement to settlement, making the yearly census. Every mother of a monster has been marked down. Heads have been shaved and the preliminary whippings administered. By this time all the guilty have been transported to one or other of the three Purification Centres at Riverside, San Diego and Los Angeles. The knives and the consecrated bulls’ pizzles have been made ready and, Belial willing, the ceremonies will begin at the appointed hour. Before tomorrow’s sunrise the purification of the land should be complete.

Once more the Arch-Vicar makes the sign of the horns, then stands for a few seconds in recollected silence. Reopening his eyes, he turns to the ecclesiastics in his train.

‘Go, take the shaven ones,’ he squeaks, ‘take these defiled vessels, these living testimonies of Belial’s enmity, and lead them to the place of their shame.’

A dozen Presbyters and Postulants hurry down the stairs and out into the crowd of mothers.

‘Hurry, hurry!’

‘In Belial’s name.’

Slowly, reluctantly, the crop-headed women rise to their feet. Their little burdens of deformity pressed against bosoms heavy with milk, they move towards the door in a silence more painfully expressive of misery than any outcry.

Medium shot of Polly on her sack of straw. A young Postulant approaches and pulls her roughly to her feet.

‘Up!’ he shouts in a voice of an angry and malevolent child. ‘Get up, you spawner of filth!’

And he slaps her across the face. Cringing away from a second blow, Polly almost runs to rejoin her fellow-victims near the entrance.

Dissolve to a night sky, with stars between thin bars of cloud and a waning moon already low in the west. There is a long silence; then we begin to hear the sound of distant chanting. Gradually it becomes articulate in the words, ‘Glory to Belial, to Belial in the lowest,’ repeated again and again.

NARRATOR

An inch from the eyes, the ape’s black paw

Eclipses the stars, the moon, and even

Space itself. Five stinking fingers

Are all the World.

The silhouette of a baboon’s hand advances towards the Camera, grows larger and more menacing, and finally engulfs everything in blackness.

We cut to the interior of the Los Angeles Coliseum. By the smoky and intermittent light of torches we see the faces of a great congregation. Tier above tier, like massed gargoyles, spouting the groundless faith, the subhuman excitement, the collective imbecility which are the products of ceremonial religion — spouting them from black eye-holes, from quivering nostrils, from parted lips, while the chanting monotonously continues: ‘Glory to Belial, to Belial in the lowest.’ Below, in the arena, hundreds of shaven girls and women, each with her tiny monster in her arms, are kneeling before the steps of the High Altar. Awe-inspiring in their chasubles of Anglo-Nubian fur, in their tiaras of gilded horns, Patriarchs and Archimandrites, Presbyters and Postulants stand in two groups at the head of the altar steps, chanting antiphonally in a high treble to the music of bone recorders and a battery of xylophones.

SEMICHORUS I

Glory to Belial,

SEMICHORUS II

To Belial in the lowest!

Then, after a pause, the music of the chant changes and a new phase of the service begins.

SEMICHORUS I

It is a terrible thing,

SEMICHORUS II

Terrible, terrible,

SEMICHORUS I

To fall into the hands,

SEMICHORUS II

The huge hands and the hairy,

SEMICHORUS I

Into the hands of the living Evil,

SEMICHORUS II

Hallelujah!

SEMICHORUS I

Into the hands of the Enemy of man,

SEMICHORUS II

Our boon-companions;

SEMICHORUS I

Of the Rebel Against the Order of Things —

SEMICHORUS II

And we have conspired with him against ourselves,

SEMICHORUS I

Of the great Blowfly who is the Lord of Flies,

SEMICHORUS II

Crawling in the heart;

SEMICHORUS I

Of the naked Worm that never dies,

SEMICHORUS II

And, never dying, is the source of our eternal life;

SEMICHORUS I

Of the Prince of the Powers of the Air —

SEMICHORUS II

Spitfire and Stuka, Beelzebub and Azazel, Hallelujah!

SEMICHORUS I

Of the Lord of this world;

SEMICHORUS II

And its defiler;

SEMICHORUS I

Of the great Lord Moloch,

SEMICHORUS II

Patron of all nations;

SEMICHORUS I

Of Mammon our master,

SEMICHORUS II

Omnipresent:

SEMICHORUS I

Of Lucifer the all-powerful,

SEMICHORUS II

In Church, in State;

SEMICHORUS I

Of Belial,

SEMICHORUS II

Transcendent,

SEMICHORUS I

Yet, oh, how immanent!

ALL TOGETHER

Of Belial, Belial, Belial, Belial.

As the chanting dies away, two hornless Postulants descend, seize the nearest of the shaven women, raise her to her feet and lead her up, dumb with terror, to where, at the head of the altar steps, the Patriarch of Pasadena stands whetting the blade of a long butcher’s knife. The thick-set Mexican mother stands staring at him in fascinated horror, open-mouthed. Then one of the Postulants takes the child out of her arms and holds it up before the Patriarch.

Close shot of a characteristic product of progressive technology — a hare-lipped Mongolian idiot. Over the shot we hear the chanting of the Chorus.

SEMICHORUS I

I show you the sign of Belial’s enmity,

SEMICHORUS II

Foul, foul;

SEMICHORUS I

I show you the fruit of Belial’s grace,

SEMICHORUS II

Filth infused in filth.

SEMICHORUS I

I show you the penalty for obedience to His Will,

SEMICHORUS II

On earth as it is in Hell.

SEMICHORUS I

Who is the breeder of all deformities?

SEMICHORUS II

Mother.

SEMICHORUS I

Who is the chosen vessel of Unholiness?

SEMICHORUS II

Mother.

SEMICHORUS I

And the curse that is on our race?

SEMICHORUS II

Mother.

SEMICHORUS I

Possessed, possessed —

SEMICHORUS II

Inwardly, outwardly:

SEMICHORUS I

Her incubus an object, her subject a succubus —

SEMICHORUS II

And both are Belial;

SEMICHORUS I

Possessed by the Blowfly.

SEMICHORUS II

Crawling and stinging,

SEMICHORUS I

Possessed by that which irresistibly

SEMICHORUS II

Goads her, drives her,

SEMICHORUS I

Like the soiled fitchew,

SEMICHORUS II

Like the sow in her season,

SEMICHORUS I

Down a steep place

SEMICHORUS II

Into filth unutterable;

SEMICHORUS I

Whence, after much wallowing,

SEMICHORUS II

After many long draughts of the swill,

SEMICHORUS I

Mother emerging, nine months later,

SEMICHORUS II

Bears this monstrous mockery of a man.

SEMICHORUS I

How then shall there be atonement?

SEMICHORUS II

By blood.

SEMICHORUS I

How shall Belial be propitiated?

SEMICHORUS II

Only by blood.

The Camera moves from the altar to where, tier above tier, the pale gargoyles stare down in hungry anticipation at the scene below. And suddenly the faces open their black mouths and start to chant in unison, hesitantly at first, then with growing confidence and an ever greater volume of sound:

‘Blood, blood, blood, the blood, the blood, blood, blood, the blood ...’

We cut back to the altar. The sound of the mindless, subhuman chanting continues monotonously over the shot.

The Patriarch hands his whetstone to one of the attendant Archimandrites, then with his left hand takes the deformed child by the neck and impales it on his knife. It utters two or three little bleating cries, and is silent.

The Patriarch turns, allows half a pint of blood to spill out on the altar, then tosses the tiny corpse into the darkness beyond. The chanting rises in a savage crescendo:

‘Blood, blood, the blood, the blood, blood, blood, the blood ...’

‘Drive her away!’ cries the Patriarch in a commanding squeak.

In terror the mother turns and hurries down the steps. The two Postulants follow, striking at her savagely with their consecrated bulls’ pizzles. The chanting is punctuated by piercing screams. From the congregation comes a noise that is half commiserating groan, half grunt of satisfaction.

Flushed and a little breathless from so unusually strenuous an exercise, the plump young Postulants seize another woman — a girl this time, frail and slender almost to the point of childishness. Her face is hidden as they drag her up the steps. Then one of them steps back a little and we recognize Polly.

Thumbless, eight-nippled, the child is held up before the Patriarch.

SEMICHORUS I

Foul, foul! How shall there be atonement?

SEMICHORUS II

By blood.

SEMICHORUS I

How shall Belial be propitiated?

This time it is the entire congregation that answers:

‘Only by blood, blood, blood, blood, the blood ...’

The Patriarch’s left hand closes about the infant’s neck.

‘No, no, don’t. Please!’

Polly makes a movement towards him, but is held back by the Postulants. Very deliberately, while she sobs, the Patriarch impales the child on his knife, then tosses the body into the darkness behind the altar.

There is a loud cry. We cut to a medium close shot of Dr. Poole. Conspicuous in his front-row seat, he has fainted.

Dissolve to the interior of the Unholy of Unholies. The shrine, which stands at one end of the arena’s shorter axis, to the side of the high altar, is a small oblong chamber of adobe brick, with an altar at one end and, at the other, sliding doors, closed at present, except for a gap at the centre, through which one can see what is going on in the arena. On a couch in the centre of the shrine reclines the Arch-Vicar. Not far off a hornless Postulant is frying pigs’ trotters over a charcoal brazier, and near him a two-horned Archimandrite is doing his best to revive Dr. Poole, who lies inanimate on a stretcher. Cold water and two or three sharp slaps in the face at last produce the desired result. The botanist sighs, opens his eyes, wards off another slap and sits up.

‘Where am I?’ he asks.

‘In the Unholy of Unholies,’ the Archimandrite answers. ‘And there is His Eminence.’

Dr. Poole recognizes the great man and has enough presence of mind to incline his head respectfully.

‘Bring a stool,’ commands the Arch-Vicar.

The stool is brought. He beckons to Dr. Poole, who scrambles to his feet, walks a little unsteadily across the room and sits down. As he does so a particularly loud shriek makes him turn his head.

Long shot, from his viewpoint, of the High Altar. The Patriarch is in the act of tossing yet another little monster into the darkness, while his acolytes shower blows upon its screaming mother.

Cut back to Dr. Poole, who shudders and covers his face with his hands. Over the shot we hear the monotonous chanting of the congregation. ‘Blood, blood, blood.’

‘Horrible!’ says Dr. Poole. ‘Horrible!’

‘And yet there’s blood in your religion too,’ remarks the Arch-Vicar, smiling ironically: “Washed in the blood of the Lamb.” Isn’t that correct?’

‘Perfectly correct,’ Dr. Poole admits. ‘But we don’t actually do the washing. We only talk about it — or, more often, we only sing about it, in hymns.’

Dr. Poole averts his eyes. There is a silence. At this moment the Postulant approaches with a large platter, which, together with a couple of bottles, he sets down on a table beside the couch. Spearing one of the trotters with a genuine antique twentieth-century forgery of an early Georgian fork, the Arch-Vicar stars to gnaw.

‘Help yourself,’ he squeaks between two bites. ‘And here’s some wine,’ he adds, indicating one of the bottles.

Dr. Poole, who is extremely hungry, obeys with alacrity and there is another silence, loud with the noise of eating and the chant of the blood.

‘You don’t believe it, of course,’ says the Arch-Vicar at last, with his mouth full.

‘But I assure you ...’ Dr. Poole protests.

His zeal to conform is excessive, and the other holds up a plump, pork-greasy hand.

‘Now, now, now! But I’d like you to know that we have good reasons for believing as we do. Ours, my dear sir, is a rational and realistic faith.’ There is a pause while he takes a swig from the bottle and helps himself to another trotter. ‘I take it that you’re familiar with world history?’

‘Purely as a dilettante,’ Dr. Poole answers modestly. But he thinks he can say that he has read most of the more obvious books on the subject — Graves’s Rise and Extinction of Russia, for example; Basedow’s Collapse of Western Civilization; Bright’s inimitable Europe, An Autopsy; and, it goes without saying, that absolutely delightful and, though it’s only a novel, that genuinely veracious book, The Last Days of Coney Island by dear old Percival Pott. ‘You know it, of course?’

The Arch-Vicar shakes his head.

‘I don’t know anything that’s been published after the Thing,’ he answers curtly.

‘But how stupid of me!’ cried Dr. Poole, regretting, as so often in the past, that gushing loquacity with which he over-compensates a shyness that, left to itself, would reduce him almost to speechlessness.

‘But I’ve read quite a lot of the stuff that came out before,’ the Arch-Vicar continues. ‘They had some pretty good libraries here in Southern California. Mined out now, for the most part. In future, I’m afraid, we’ll have to go farther afield for our fuel. But meanwhile we’ve baked our bread and I’ve managed to save three or four thousand volumes for our Seminary.’

‘Like the Church in the Dark Ages,’ says Dr. Poole with cultured enthusiasm. ‘Civilization has no better friend than religion. That’s what my agnostic friends will never ...’ Suddenly remembering that the tenets of that Church were not quite the same as those professed by this, he breaks off and, to hide his embarrassment, takes a long pull at his bottle.

But fortunately the Arch-Vicar is too much preoccupied with his own ideas to take offence at the faux pas or even to notice it.

‘As I read history,’ he says, ‘it’s like this. Man pitting himself against Nature, the Ego against the Order of Things, Belial’ (a perfunctory sign of the horns) ‘against the Other One. For a hundred thousand years or so the battle’s entirely indecisive. Then, three centuries ago, almost overnight, the tide starts to run uninterruptedly in one direction. Have another of these pigs’ feet, won’t you?’

Dr. Poole helps himself to his second, while the other begins his third.

‘Slowly at first, then with gathering momentum, man begins to make headway against the Order of Things.’ The Arch-Vicar pauses for a moment to spit out a piece of cartilage. ‘With more and more of the human race falling into line behind him, the Lord of Flies, who is also the Blowfly in every individual heart, inaugurates His triumphal march across a world of which He will so soon become the undisputed Master.’

Carried away by his own shrill eloquence and forgetting for a moment that he is not in the pulpit of St. Azazel’s, the Arch-Vicar makes a sweeping gesture. The trotter falls off his fork. With a good-humoured laugh at his own expense, he picks it up from the floor, wipes it on the sleeve of his goatskin cassock, takes another bite and continues.

‘It began with machines and the first grain ships from the New World. Food for the hungry and a burden lifted from men’s shoulders. O God, we thank Thee for all the blessings which in Thy Bounty ... etcetera etcetera.’ The Arch-Vicar laughs derisively. ‘Needless to say, nobody ever gets anything for nothing. God’s bounties have their price, and Belial always sees that it’s a stiff one. Take those machines, for example. Belial knew perfectly well that, in finding a little alleviation from toil, flesh would be subordinated to iron and mind would be made the slave of wheels. He knew that if a machine is fool-proof, it must also be skill-proof, talent-proof, inspiration-proof. Your money back if the product should be faulty, and twice your money back if you can find in it the smallest trace of genius or individuality! And then there was that good food from the New World. O God, we thank Thee ... But Belial knew that feeding means breeding. In the old days, when people made love, they merely increased the infantile mortality rate and lowered the expectation of life. But after the coming of the food ships it was different. Copulation resulted in population — with a vengeance!’

Once again the Arch-Vicar utters his shrill laugh.

Dissolve to a shot through a powerful microscope of spermatozoa frantically struggling to reach their Final End, the vast moon-like ovum in the top left-hand corner of the slide. On the sound track we hear the tenor voice in the last movement of Liszt’s Faust Symphony: La femme éternelle toujours nous élève. La femme éternelle toujours ... Cut to an aerial view of London in 1800. Then back to the Darwinian race for survival and self-perpetuation. Then to a view of London in 1900 — and again to the spermatozoa — and again to London, as the German airmen saw it in 1940. Dissolve to a close shot of the Arch-Vicar.

‘O God,’ he intones in the slightly tremulous voice that is always considered appropriate to such utterances, ‘we thank Thee for all these immortal souls.’ Then, changing his tone, ‘these immortal souls,’ he goes on, ‘lodged in bodies that grow progressively sicklier, scabbier, scrubbier, year after year, as all the things foreseen by Belial inevitably come to pass. The overcrowding of the planet. Five hundred, eight hundred, sometimes as many as two thousand people to a square mile of food-producing land — and the land in process of being ruined by bad farming. Everywhere erosion, everywhere the leaching out of minerals. And the deserts spreading, the forests dwindling. Even in America, even in that New World which was once the hope of the Old. Up goes the spiral of industry, down goes the spiral of soil fertility. Bigger and better, richer and more powerful — and then, almost suddenly, hungrier and hungrier. Yes, Belial foresaw it all — the passage from hunger to imported food, from imported food to booming population and from booming population back to hunger again. Back to hunger. The New Hunger, the Higher Hunger, the hunger of enormous industrialized proletariats, the hunger of city dwellers with money, with all the modern conveniences, with cars and radios and every imaginable gadget, the hunger that is the cause of total wars and the total wars that are the cause of yet more hunger.’

The Arch-Vicar pauses to take another swig from his bottle.

‘And remember this,’ he adds: ‘even without synthetic glanders, even without the atomic bomb, Belial could have achieved all His purposes. A little more slowly, perhaps, but just as surely, men would have destroyed themselves by destroying the world they lived in. They couldn’t escape. He had them skewered on both His horns. If they managed to wriggle off the horn of total war, they would find themselves impaled on starvation. And if they were starving, they would be tempted to resort to war. And just in case they should try to find a peaceful and rational way out of their dilemma, He had another subtler horn of self-destruction all ready for them. From the very beginning of the industrial revolution He foresaw that men would be made so overwhelmingly bumptious by the miracles of their own technology that they would soon lose all sense of reality. And that’s precisely what happened. These wretched slaves of wheels and ledgers began to congratulate themselves on being the Conquerors of Nature. Conquerors of Nature, indeed! In actual fact, of course, they had merely upset the equilibrium of Nature and were about to suffer the consequences. Just consider what they were up to during the century and a half before the Thing. Fouling the rivers, killing off the wild animals, destroying the forests, washing the topsoil into the sea, burning up an ocean of petroleum, squandering the minerals it had taken the whole of geological time to deposit. An orgy of criminal imbecility. And they called it Progress. Progress,’ he repeats, ‘Progress! I tell you, that was too rare an invention to have been the product of any merely human mind — too fiendishly ironical! There had to be Outside Help for that. There had to be the Grace of Belial, which, of course, is always forthcoming — that is, for anyone who’s prepared to co-operate with it. And who isn’t?’

‘Who isn’t?’ Dr. Poole repeats with a giggle; for he feels that he has to make up somehow for his mistake about the Church in the Dark Ages.

‘Progress and Nationalism — those were the two great ideas he put into their heads. Progress — the theory that you can get something for nothing; the theory that you can gain in one field without paying for your gain in another; the theory that you alone understand the meaning of history; the theory that you know what’s going to happen fifty years from now; the theory that, in the teeth of all experience, you can foresee all the consequences of your present actions; the theory that Utopia lies just ahead and that, since ideal ends justify the most abominable means, it is your privilege and duty to rob, swindle, torture, enslave and murder all those who, in your opinion (which is, by definition, infallible), obstruct the onward march to the earthly paradise. Remember that phrase of Karl Marx’s: “Force is the midwife of Progress”? He might have added — but, of course, Belial didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag at that early stage of the proceedings — that Progress is the midwife of Force. Doubly the midwife, for the fact of technological progress provides people with the instruments of ever more indiscriminate destruction, while the myth of political and moral progress serves as the excuse for using those means to the very limit. I tell you, my dear sir, an undevout historian is mad. The longer you study modern history, the more evidence you find of Belial’s Guiding Hand.’ The Arch-Vicar makes the sign of the horns, refreshes himself with another drink of wine, then continues: ‘And then there was Nationalism — the theory that the state you happen to be subject to is the only true god, and that all other states are false gods; that all these gods, true as well as false, have the mentality of juvenile delinquents; and that every conflict over prestige, power or money is a crusade for the Good, the True and the Beautiful. The fact that such theories came, at a given moment of history, to be universally accepted is the best proof of Belial’s existence, the best proof that at long last He’d won the battle.’

‘I don’t quite follow,’ says Dr. Poole.

‘But surely it’s obvious. Here you have two notions. Each is intrinsically absurd and each leads to courses of action that are demonstrably fatal. And yet the whole of civilized humanity decides, almost suddenly, to accept these notions or guides to conflict. Why? And at Whose suggestion, Whose prompting, Whose inspiration? There can only be one answer.’

‘You mean, you think it was ... it was the Devil?’

‘Who else desires the degradation and destruction of the human race?’

‘Quite, quite,’ Dr. Poole agrees. ‘But all the same, as a Protestant Christian, I really can’t ...’

‘Is that so?’ says the Arch-Vicar sarcastically. ‘Then you know better than Luther, you know better than the whole Christian Church. Are you aware, sir, that from the second century onwards no orthodox Christian believed that a man could be possessed by God? He could only be possessed by the Devil. And why did people believe that? Because the facts made it impossible for them to believe otherwise. Belial’s a fact, Moloch’s a fact, diabolic possession’s a fact.’

‘I protest,’ cries Dr. Poole. ‘As a man of science ...’

‘As a man of science you’re bound to accept the working hypothesis that explains the facts most plausibly. Well, what are the facts? The first is a fact of experience and observation — namely, that nobody wants to suffer, wants to be degraded, wants to be maimed or killed. The second is a fact of history — the fact that, at a certain epoch, the overwhelming majority of human beings accepted beliefs and adopted courses of action that could not possibly result in anything but universal suffering, general degradation and wholesale destruction. The only plausible explanation is that they were inspired or possessed by an alien consciousness, a consciousness that willed their undoing and willed it more strongly than they were able to will their own happiness and survival.’

There is a silence.

‘Of course,’ Dr. Poole ventures at last to suggest, ‘those facts could be accounted for in other ways.’

‘But not so plausibly, not nearly so simply,’ insists the Arch-Vicar. ‘And then consider all the other evidence. Take the First World War, for example. If the people and the politicians hadn’t been possessed, they’d have listened to Benedict XV or Lord Lansdowne — they’d have come to terms, they’d have negotiated a peace without victory. But they couldn’t, they couldn’t. It was impossible for them to act in their own self-interest. They had to do what the Belial in them dictated — and the Belial in them wanted the Communist Revolution, wanted the Fascist reaction to that revolution, wanted Mussolini and Hitler and the Politburo, wanted famine, inflation and depression; wanted armaments as a cure for unemployment; wanted the persecution of the Jews and the Kulaks; wanted the Nazis and the Communists to divide Poland and then go to war with one another. Yes, and He wanted the wholesale revival of slavery in its most brutal form. He wanted forced migrations and mass pauperization. He wanted concentration camps and gas chambers and cremation ovens. He wanted saturation bombing (what a deliciously juicy phrase!); He wanted the destruction overnight of a century’s accumulation of wealth and all the potentialities of future prosperity, decency, freedom and culture. Belial wanted all this, and, being the Great Blowfly in the hearts of the politicians and generals, the journalists and the Common Man, He was easily able to get the Pope ignored even by Catholics, to have Lansdowne condemned as a bad patriot, almost a traitor. And so the war dragged on for four whole years; and afterwards everything went punctually according to Plan. The world situation went steadily from bad to worse, and, as it worsened, men and women became progressively more docile to the leadings of the Unholy Spirit. The old beliefs in the value of the individual soul faded away; the old restraints lost their effectiveness; the old compunctions and compassions evaporated. Everything that the Other One had ever put into people’s heads oozed out, and the resulting vacuum was filled by the lunatic dreams of Progress and Nationalism. Granted the validity of those dreams, it followed that mere people, living here and now, were no better than ants and bed-bugs and might be treated accordingly. And they were treated accordingly, they most certainly were!’

The Arch-Vicar chuckles shrilly and helps himself to the last of the trotters.

‘For his period,’ he continues, ‘old man Hitler was a pretty good specimen of a demoniac. Not so completely possessed, of course, as many of the great national leaders in the years between 1945 and the beginning of the Third World War, but definitely above the average of his own time. More than almost any of his contemporaries, he had a right to say, “Not I, but Belial in me.” The others were possessed only in spots, only at certain times. Take the scientists, for example. Good, well-meaning men, for the most part. But He got hold of them all the same — got hold of them at the point where they ceased to be human beings and became specialists. Hence, the glanders and those bombs. And then remember that man — what was his name? — the one that was President of the United States for such a long time ...’

‘Roosevelt?’ suggests Dr. Poole.

‘That’s it — Roosevelt. Well, do you recall that phrase he kept repeating through the whole of the Second World War? “Unconditional Surrender, Unconditional Surrender.” Plenary inspiration — that’s what that was. Direct and plenary inspiration!’

‘You say so,’ demurs Dr. Poole. ‘But what’s your proof?’

‘The proof?’ repeats the Arch-Vicar. ‘The whole of subsequent history is the proof. Look at what happened when the phrase became a policy and was actually put into practice. Unconditional surrender — how many millions of new cases of tuberculosis? How many millions of children forced to be thieves or prostituting themselves for bars of chocolate? Belial was particularly pleased about the children. And, again, unconditional surrender — the ruin of Europe, the chaos in Asia, the starvation everywhere, the revolutions, the tyrannies. Unconditional surrender — and more innocents had to undergo worse suffering than at any other period in history. And, as you know very well, there’s nothing that Belial likes better than the suffering of innocents. And finally, of course, there was the Thing. Unconditional surrender and bang! — just as He’d always intended. And it all happened without any miracle or special intervention, merely by natural means. The more one thinks about the workings of His Providence, the more unfathomably marvellous it seems.’ Devoutly, the Arch-Vicar makes the sign of the horns. There is a little pause. ‘Listen,’ he says, holding up his hand.

For a few seconds they sit without speaking. The dim, blurred monotone of the chant swells into audibility. ‘Blood, blood, blood, the blood ...’ There is a faint cry as yet another little monster is spitted on the Patriarch’s knife, then the thudding of bulls’ pizzles on flesh and, through the excited roaring of the congregation, a succession of loud, scarcely human screams.

‘You’d hardly think He could have produced us without a miracle,’ the Arch-Vicar thoughtfully continues. ‘But He did, He did. By purely natural means, using human beings and their science as His instruments, He created an entirely new race of men, with deformity in their blood, with squalor all around them, and ahead, in the future, no prospects but of more squalor, worse deformity and, finally, complete extinction. Yes, it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living Evil.’

‘Then why,’ asks Dr. Poole, ‘do you go on worshipping Him?’

‘Why do you throw food to a growling tiger? To buy yourself a breathing space. To put off the horror of the inevitable, if only for a few minutes. In earth as it is in Hell — but at least one’s still on earth.’

‘It hardly seems worth while,’ says Dr. Poole in the philosophical tone of one who has just dined.

Another unusually piercing scream makes him turn his head towards the door. He watches for a while in silence. This time, his expression is one in which horror has been considerably mitigated by scientific curiosity.

‘Getting used to it, eh?’ says the Arch-Vicar genially.

NARRATOR

Conscience, custom — the first makes cowards,

Makes saints of us sometimes, makes human beings.

The other makes Patriots, Papists, Protestants,

Makes Babbitts, Sadists, Swedes or Slovaks,

Makes killers of Kulaks, chlorinators of Jews,

Makes all who mangle, for lofty motives,

Quivering flesh, without qualm or question

To mar their certainty of Supreme Service.

Yes, my friends, remember how indignant you once felt when the Turks massacred more than the ordinary quota of Armenians, how you thanked God that you lived in a Protestant, progressive country, where such things simply couldn’t happen — couldn’t happen because men wore bowler hats and travelled daily to town by the eight-twenty-three. And then reflect for a moment on a few of the horrors you now take for granted; the outrages against the most rudimentary human decencies that have been perpetrated on your behalf (or perhaps by your own hands); the atrocities you take your little girl to see, twice a week, on the news reel — and she finds them commonplace and boring. Twenty years hence, at this rate, your grandchildren will be turning on their television sets for a look at the gladiatorial games; and when those begin to pall, there will be the Army’s mass crucifixion of Conscientious Objectors, or the skinning alive, in full colour, of the seventy thousand persons suspected, at Tegucigalpa, of un-Honduranean activities.

Meanwhile, in the Unholy of Unholies, Dr. Poole is still looking out through the crack between the sliding doors. The Arch-Vicar is picking his teeth. There is a comfortable, post-prandial silence. Suddenly Dr. Poole turns to his companion.

‘Something’s happening,’ he cries excitedly. ‘They’re leaving their seats.’

‘I’d been expecting that for quite a long time now,’ replies the Arch-Vicar, without ceasing to pick his teeth. ‘It’s the blood that does it. That and, of course, the whipping.’

‘They’re jumping down into the arena,’ Dr. Poole continues. ‘They’re running after one another. What on earth ...? Oh, my God! I beg your pardon,’ he hastily adds. ‘But really, really ...’

Much agitated, he walks away from the door.

‘There are limits,’ he says.

‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ replies the Arch-Vicar. ‘There are no limits. Everybody’s capable of anything — but anything.’

Dr. Poole does not answer. Drawn irresistibly by a force that is stronger than his will, he has returned to his old place and is staring out, avidly and in horror, at what is going on in the arena.

‘It’s monstrous!’ he cries indignantly. ‘It’s utterly revolting.’

The Arch-Vicar rises heavily from his couch and, opening a little cupboard in the wall, takes out a pair of binoculars, which he hands to Dr. Poole.

‘Try these,’ he says. ‘Night glasses. Standard Navy equipment from before the Thing. You’ll see everything.’

‘But you don’t imagine ...’

‘Not merely do I imagine,’ says the Arch-Vicar, with an ironically benignant smile; ‘I see with my own eyes. Go ahead, man. Look. You’ve never seen anything like this in New Zealand.’

‘I certainly have not,’ says Dr. Poole in the kind of tone his Mother might have used.

All the same, he finally raises the binoculars to his eyes.

Long shot from his viewpoint. It is a scene of Satyrs and Nymphs, of pursuits and captures, provocative resistances followed by the enthusiastic surrender of lips to bearded lips, of panting bosoms to the impatience of rough hands, the whole accompanied by a babel of shouting, squealing and shrill laughter.

Cut back to the Arch-Vicar, whose face is puckered into a grimace of contemptuous distaste.

‘Like cats,’ he says at last. ‘Only cats have the decency not to be gregarious in their courting. And you still have doubts about Belial — even after this?’

There is a pause.

‘Was this something that happened after ... after the Thing?’ Dr. Poole inquires.

‘In two generations.’

‘Two generations!’ Dr. Poole whistles. ‘Nothing recessive about that mutation. And don’t they ... well, I mean, don’t they feel like doing this sort of thing at any other season?’

‘Just for five weeks, that’s all. And we only permit two weeks of actual mating.’

‘Why?’

The Arch-Vicar makes the sign of the horns.

‘On general principles. They have to be punished for having been punished. It’s the Law of Belial. And, I may say, we really let them have it if they break the rules.’

‘Quite, quite,’ says Dr. Poole, remembering with discomfort the episode with Loola among the dunes.

‘It’s pretty hard for the ones who throw back to the old-style mating pattern.’

‘Are there many of those?’

‘Between five and ten per cent of the population. We call them “Hots.”’

‘And you don’t permit ...?’

‘We beat the hell out of them when we catch them.’

‘But that’s monstrous!’

‘Of course it is,’ the Arch-Vicar agrees. ‘But remember your history. If you want social solidarity, you’ve got to have either an external enemy or an oppressed minority. We have no external enemies, so we have to make the most of our Hots. They’re what the Jews were under Hitler, what the bourgeois were under Lenin and Stalin, what the heretics used to be in Catholic countries and the Papists under the Protestants. If anything goes wrong, it’s always the fault of the Hots. I don’t know what we’d do without them.’

‘But don’t you ever stop to think what they must feel?’

‘Why should I? First of all, it’s the Law. Condign punishment for having been punished. Second, if they’re discreet, they won’t get punished. All they’ve got to do is to avoid having babies at the wrong season and to disguise the fact that they fall in love and make permanent connections with persons of the opposite sex. And, if they don’t want to be discreet, they can always run away.’

‘Run away? Where to?’

‘There’s a little community up north, near Fresno. Eighty-five per cent Hot. It’s a dangerous journey, of course. Very little water on the way. And if we catch them, we bury them alive. But if they choose to take the risk, they’re perfectly free to do so. And then finally there’s the priesthood.’ He makes the sign of the horns. ‘Any bright boy who shows early signs of being a Hot has his future assured: we make a priest of him.’

Several seconds pass before Dr. Poole ventures to ask his next question.

‘You mean, you ...?’

‘Precisely,’ says the Arch-Vicar. ‘For the Kingdom of Hell’s sake. Not to mention the strictly practical reasons. After all, the business of the community has got to be carried on somehow, and obviously the laity are in no condition to do it.’

The noise from the arena swells to a momentary climax.

‘Nauseous!’ squeaks the Arch-Vicar with a sudden intensification of abhorrence. ‘And this is nothing to what it will be later on. How thankful I am that I’ve been preserved from such ignominy! Not they, but the Enemy of Mankind incarnate in their disgusting bodies. Kindly look over there.’ He draws Dr. Poole towards him; he points a thick forefinger. ‘To the left of the High Altar — with that little red-headed vessel. That’s the Chief. The Chief!’ he repeats with derisive emphasis. ‘What sort of a ruler is he going to be during the next two weeks?’

Resisting the temptation to make personal remarks about a man who, though temporarily in retirement, is destined to return to power, Dr. Poole utters a nervous little laugh.

‘Yes, he certainly seems to be relaxing from the cares of State.’

NARRATOR

But why, why does he have to relax with Loola? Vile brute and faithless strumpet! But there is at least one consolation — and to a shy man, plagued with desires he dares not act upon, a very great consolation: Loola’s conduct is the proof of an accessibility which, in New Zealand, in academic circles, in the neighbourhood of his Mother, could only be furtively dreamed about as something altogether too good to be true. And it is not only Loola who proves herself accessible. The same thing is being demonstrated, no less actively, no less vocally, by those mulatto girls, by Flossie, the plump and honey-coloured Teuton, by that enormous Armenian matron, by the little tow-headed adolescent with the big blue eyes....

‘Yes, that’s our Chief,’ says the Arch-Vicar bitterly. ‘Until he and the other pigs stop being possessed, the Church just takes over.’

Incorrigibly cultured, in spite of his overwhelming desire to be out there with Loola — or almost anyone else, if it comes to that — Dr. Poole makes an apt remark about the Spiritual Authority and the Temporal Power.

The Arch-Vicar ignores it.

‘Well,’ he says briskly, ‘it’s time I got down to business.’

He calls a Postulant, who hands him a tallow dip, then crosses over to the altar at the east end of the shrine. Upon it stands a single candle of yellow beeswax, three or four feet high and disproportionately thick. The Arch-Vicar genuflects, lights the candle, makes the sign of the horns, then comes back to where Dr. Poole is staring out, wide-eyed with fascinated horror and shocked concupiscence, at the spectacle in the arena.

‘Stand aside, please.’

Dr. Poole obeys.

A Postulant slides back first one door, then the other. The Arch-Vicar steps forward and stands in the centre of the opening, touching the gilded horns of his tiara. From the musicians on the steps of the High Altar comes a shrill screeching of thigh-bone recorders. The noises of the crowd die away into a silence that is only occasionally punctuated by the bestial utterance of some joy or anguish too savagely violent to be repressed. Antiphonally, the priests begin to chant.

SEMICHORUS I

This is the time,

SEMICHORUS II

For Belial is merciless,

SEMICHORUS I

Time for Time’s ending.

SEMICHORUS II

In the chaos of lust.

SEMICHORUS I

This is the time,

SEMICHORUS II

For Belial is in your blood,

SEMICHORUS I

Time for the birth in you

SEMICHORUS II

Of the Others, the Aliens,

SEMICHORUS I

Of Itch, of Tetter,

SEMICHORUS II

Of tumid Worm.

SEMICHORUS I

This is the time,

SEMICHORUS II

For Belial hates you,

SEMICHORUS I

Time for the Soul’s death,

SEMICHORUS II

For the Person to perish,

SEMICHORUS I

Sentenced by craving,

SEMICHORUS II

And pleasure is the hangman;

SEMICHORUS I

Time for the Enemy’s

SEMICHORUS II

Total triumph,

SEMICHORUS I

For the Baboon to be master,

SEMICHORUS II

That monsters may be begotten.

SEMICHORUS I

Not your will, but His,

SEMICHORUS II

That you may all be lost forever.

From the crowd rises a loud, unanimous ‘Amen.’

‘His curse be on you,’ the Arch-Vicar intones in his high-pitched voice, then moves back to the end of the shrine and mounts the throne that stands next to the altar. From outside we hear a confused shouting that grows louder and louder, and suddenly the shrine is invaded by a throng of corybantic worshippers. They rush to the altar, they tear off one another’s aprons and fling them in a mounting pile at the foot of the Arch-Vicar’s throne. NO, NO, NO — and for each NO there is a triumphant shout of ‘Yes,’ followed by an unequivocal gesture towards the nearest person of the opposite sex. In the distance the priests are monotonously chanting, ‘Not your will, but His, that you may all be lost forever’ — again and again.

Close shot of Dr. Poole as he watches the proceedings from a corner of the oratory.

Cut back to the crowd; face after mindless, ecstatic face enters the field of view and passes out again. And there, suddenly, is Loola’s face — the eyes shining, the lips parted, the dimples wildly alive. She turns her head, she catches sight of Dr. Poole.

‘Alfie!’ she cries.

Her tone and expression evoke an equally rapturous response.

‘Loola!’

They rush together in a passionate embrace. Seconds pass. Vaseline-like, the strains of the Good Friday music from Parsifal make themselves heard on the sound track.

Then the faces come unstuck, the Camera pulls back.

‘Quick, quick!’

Loola seizes his arm and drags him towards the altar.

‘The apron,’ she says.

Dr. Poole looks down at the apron, then, blushing as red as the NO embroidered upon it, averts his eyes.

‘It seems so ... so indecorous,’ he says.

He stretches out his hand, withdraws it, then changes his mind yet again. Taking a corner of the apron between his thumb and forefinger, he gives it a couple of feebly ineffective tweaks.

‘Harder,’ she cries, ‘much harder!’

With an almost frantic violence — for it is not only the apron that he is tearing away, it is also his Mother’s influence and all his inhibitions, all the conventions in which he has been brought up — Dr. Poole does as he is told. The stitching yields more easily than he had anticipated and he almost falls over backwards. Recovering his balance, he stands there, looking in sheepish embarrassment from the little diaper that represents the Seventh Commandment into Loola’s laughing face and then down again at the crimson prohibition. Cut back and forth: NO, dimples, NO, dimples, NO ...

‘Yes!’ shouts Loola triumphantly. ‘Yes!’

Snatching the apron out of his hand, she throws it down at the foot of the throne. Then, with a ‘Yes’ and another ‘Yes,’ she rips the patches from her chest and, turning to the altar, makes her reverence to the Candle.

Medium close shot from the back of Loola genuflecting. All at once an elderly man with a grey beard rushes excitedly into the shot, tears the twin NO’s off the seat of her homespun pants and starts to drag her towards the door of the shrine.

Giving him a slap in the face and a vigorous push, Loola breaks away and for the second time throws herself into Dr. Poole’s arms.

‘Yes?’ she whispers.

And emphatically he answers, ‘Yes!’

They kiss, smile rapturously at one another, then move in the direction of the darkness beyond the sliding doors. As they pass the throne, the Arch-Vicar leans down and, smiling ironically, taps Dr. Poole on the shoulder.

‘What about my field glasses?’ he says.

Dissolve to a night scene of ink-black shadows and expanses of moonlight. In the background stands the mouldering pile of the Los Angeles County Museum. Amorously interlaced, Loola and Dr. Poole enter the shot, then pass into impenetrable darkness. Silhouettes of men pursuing women, or women throwing themselves on men, appear for a moment and vanish. To the accompaniment of the Good Friday music we hear a rising and falling chorus of grunts and moans, of explosively shouted obscenities and long-drawn howls of angonizing delight.

NARRATOR

Consider the birds. What a delicacy in their lovemaking. What old-world chivalry! For although the hormones produced within the body of the breeding hen predispose her to sexual emotion, their effect is neither so intense nor of so brief a duration as that of the ovarian hormones in the blood of female mammals during oestrus. Moreover, for obvious reasons, the cock bird is in no position to enforce his desires upon an unwilling hen. Hence the prevalence among male birds of bright plumage and of an instinct for courtship. And hence the conspicuous absence of these charming things among male mammals. For where, as in the mammals, the female’s amorous desires and her attractiveness to the male sex are wholly determined by chemical means, what need is there of masculine beauty or the niceties of preliminary courtship?

Among humans every day of the year is potentially the mating season. Girls are not chemically predestined, during a few days, to accept the advances of the first male who presents himself. Their bodies manufacture hormones in doses sufficiently small to leave even the most temperamental of them a certain freedom of choice. That is why, unlike his fellow-mammals, man has always been a wooer. But now the gamma-rays have changed all that. The hereditary patterns of man’s physical and mental behaviour has been given another form. Thanks to the supreme Triumph of Modern Science, sex has become seasonal, romance has been swallowed up by the oestrus, and the female’s chemical compulsion to mate has abolished courtship, chivalry, tenderness, love itself.

At this moment a radiant Loola and a considerably dishevelled Dr. Poole emerge from the shadows. A burly male, temporarily unattached, comes striding into the shot. At the sight of Loola he stops. His mouth falls open, his eyes widen, he breathes heavily.

Dr. Poole gives the stranger one look, then turns nervously to his companion.

‘I think perhaps it might be a good thing if we walked this way ...’

Without a word the stranger rushes at him, gives him a push that sends him flying and takes Loola in his arms. She resists for a moment; then the chemicals in her blood impose their Categorical Imperative, and she ceases to struggle.

Making a noise like a tiger at feeding time, the stranger lifts her off her feet and carries her into the shadows.

Dr. Poole, who has had time to pick himself up, makes as though to follow, to wreak vengeance, to rescue the distressed victim. Then a combination of apprehension and modesty causes him to slacken his pace. If he advances, heaven knows what he may find himself intruding upon. And then that man, that hairy hulk of bone and muscle ... On the whole it might perhaps be wiser ... He comes to a halt and stands hesitant, not knowing what to do. Suddenly two beautiful young mulatto girls come running out of the County Museum and simultaneously throw their brown arms round his neck and cover his face with kisses.

‘You great big beautiful bastard,’ they whisper in husky unison.

For a moment Dr. Poole hesitates between the inhibitory recollection of his Mother, the fidelity to Loola prescribed by all the poets and novelists, and the warm, elastic Facts of Life. After about four seconds of moral conflict, he chooses, as we might expect, the Facts of Life. He smiles, he returns the kisses, he murmurs words which it would startle Miss Hook and almost kill his Mother to hear, he encircles either body with an arm, caresses either bosom with hands that have never done anything of the kind except in unavowable imaginings. The noises of mating swell to a brief climax, then diminish. For a little while there is complete silence.

Accompanied by a strain of Archimandrites, Familiars, Presbyters and Postulants, the Arch-Vicar and the Patriarch of Pasadena come pacing majestically into the shot. At the sight of Dr. Poole and the mulattoes they come to a halt. Making a grimace of disgusted abhorrence, the Patriarch spits on the ground. More tolerant, the Arch-Vicar only smiles ironically.

‘Dr. Poole!’ he flutes in his odd falsetto.

Guiltily, as though he had heard his Mother calling, Dr. Poole drops those busy hands of his and, turning towards the Arch-Vicar, tries to assume an expression of airy innocence. ‘These girls,’ his smile is meant to imply, ‘who are these girls? Why, I don’t even know their names. We were just having a little chat about the higher Cryptogams, that’s all.’

‘You great big beautiful ...’ begins a husky voice.

Dr. Poole coughs loudly and fends off the embrace that accompanies the words.

‘Don’t mind us,’ says the Arch-Vicar pleasantly. ‘After all, Belial Day comes but once a year.’

Approaching, he touches the gilded horns of his tiara, then lays his hands on Dr. Poole’s head.

‘Yours,’ he says with a suddenly professional unctuousness, ‘has been an almost miraculously sudden conversion. Yes, almost miraculously.’ Then, changing his tone, ‘By the way,’ he adds, ‘we’ve had a bit of trouble with your friends from New Zealand. This afternoon somebody spotted a group of them in Beverly Hills. I guess they were looking for you.’

‘Yes, I suppose so.’

‘But they’re not going to find you,’ says the Arch-Vicar genially. ‘One of our Inquisitors went out with a posse of Familiars to deal with them.’

‘What happened?’ Dr. Poole anxiously inquires.

‘Our men laid an ambush, let fly with arrows. One was killed, and the others made off with the wounded. I don’t think we shall be bothered again. But just to make certain ...’ He beckons to two of his attendants. ‘Listen,’ he says. ‘There isn’t going to be a rescue and there isn’t going to be an escape. I make you responsible, do you understand?’

The two Postulants bow their heads.

‘And now,’ says the Arch-Vicar, turning back to Dr. Poole, ‘we’ll leave you to beget all the little monsters you can.’

He winks, pats Dr. Poole on the cheek, then takes the Patriarch’s arm and, followed by his retinue, moves away.

Dr. Poole stares after the retreating figures, then glances uneasily at the two Postulants who have been appointed to guard him.

Brown arms are thrown around his neck.

‘You great big beautiful ...’

‘No, really. Not in public. Not with those men around!’

‘What difference does that make?’

And before he has time to answer, husky, musky, dusky, the Facts of Life close in on him again, and in a complicated embrace, like some half reluctant, half blissfully consenting Laocoon, he is ravished away into the shadows. With an expression of disgust, the two Postulants simultaneously spit.

NARRATOR

L’ombre était nuptiale, auguste et solennelle

He is interrupted by a burst of frenzied caterwauling.

NARRATOR

When I look into the fishponds in my garden,

(And not mine only, for every garden is riddled

With eel-holes and reflected moons), methinks

I see a Thing armed with a rake that seems,

Out of the ooze, out of the immanence

Among the eels of heaven, to strike at me —

At Me the holy, Me divine! And yet

How tedious is a guilty conscience! How

Tedious, for that matter, an unguilty one!

What wonder if the horror of the fishponds

Draws us towards the rake? And the Thing strikes,

And I, the uneasy Person, in the mud,

Or in the liquid moonlight, thankfully

Find others than myself to have that blind

Or radiant being.

Dissolve to a medium shot of Dr. Poole asleep on the drifted sand at the foot of a towering wall of concrete. Twenty feet away one of his guards is also sleeping. The other is absorbed in an ancient copy of Forever Amber. The sun is already high in the heavens and a close shot reveals a small green lizard crawling over one of Dr. Poole’s outstretched hands. He does not stir, but lies as though dead.

NARRATOR

And this, too, is the beatific being of somebody who most certainly isn’t Alfred Poole, D.Sc. For sleep is one of the pre-conditions of the Incarnation, the primary instrument of divine immanence. Sleeping, we cease to live that we may be lived (how blessedly!) by some nameless Other who takes this opportunity to restore the mind to sanity and bring healing to the abused and self-tormented body.

From breakfast to bed-time you may be doing everything in your power to outrage Nature and deny the fact of your Glassy Essence. But even the angriest ape at last grows weary of his tricks and has to sleep. And, while he sleeps, the indwelling Compassion preserves him, willynilly, from the suicide which, in his waking hours, he has tried so frantically hard to commit. Then the sun rises again, and our ape wakes up once more to his own self and the freedom of his personal will — to yet another day of trick-playing or, if he chooses, to the beginnings of self-knowledge, to the first steps towards his liberation.

A peal of excited feminine laughter cuts short the Narrator’s speech. The sleeper stirs and, at a second, louder outburst, starts into full wakefulness and sits up, looking around him in bewilderment, not knowing where he is. Again that laughter. He turns his head in the direction of the sound. In a long shot from his viewpoint we see his two brown-skinned friends of the previous night emerging at full speed from behind a sand dune and darting into the ruins of the County Museum. At their heels, in concentrated silence, runs the Chief. All three disappear from view.

The sleeping Postulant wakes up and turns to his companion.

‘What’s that?’ he asks.

‘The usual thing,’ the other answers, without looking up from Forever Amber.

As he speaks, shrill squeals reverberate through the cavernous halls of the Museum. The Postulants look at one another in silence, then simultaneously spit.

Cut back to Dr. Poole.

‘My God!’ he says aloud. ‘My God!’

He covers his face with his hands.

NARRATOR

Into the satiety of this morning-after let loose a rodent conscience and the principles learned at a Mother’s knee — or not infrequently across it (head downwards and with shirt tails well tucked up), in condign spankings, sadly and prayerfully administered, but remembered, ironically enough, as the pretext and accompaniment of innumerable erotic day-dreams, each duly followed by its remorse, and each remorse bringing with it the idea of punishment and all its attendant sensualities. And so on, indefinitely. Well, as I say, let those loose into this, and the result may easily be a religious conversion. But a conversion to what? Most ignorant of what he is most assured, our poor friend doesn’t know. And here comes almost the last person he would expect to help him to discover.

As the Narrator speaks this last sentence, Loola enters the shot.

‘Alfie!’ she cries happily. ‘I was looking for you.’

Cut briefly to the two Postulants, who look at her for a moment with all the distaste of enforced continence, then turn away and expectorate.

Meanwhile, after one brief glance at those ‘lineaments of satisfied desire,’ Dr. Poole guiltily averts his eyes.

‘Good morning,’ he says in a tone of formal politeness. ‘I hope you ... you slept well?’

Loola sits down beside him, opens the leather bag which she carries slung over her shoulder and extracts half a loaf of bread and five or six large oranges.

‘Nobody can think of doing much cooking these days,’ she explains. ‘It’s just one long picnic until the cold season begins again.’

‘Quite, quite,’ says Dr. Poole.

‘You must be awfully hungry,’ she goes on. ‘After last night.’

Her dimples come out of hiding as she smiles at him.

Hot and blushing with embarrassment, Dr. Poole hastily tries to change the subject of conversation.

‘Those are beautiful oranges,’ he remarks. ‘In New Zealand they don’t do really well except in the extreme ...’

‘There!’ says Loola, interrupting him.

She hands him a thick hunk of bread, breaks off another for herself and bites into it with strong white teeth.

‘It’s good,’ she says with her mouth full. ‘Why don’t you eat?’

Dr. Poole, who realizes that, in effect, he is ravenously hungry, but who is unwilling, for the sake of decorum, to admit the fact too openly, nibbles daintily at his crust.

Loola snuggles against him and leans her head on his shoulder.

‘It was fun, Alfie, wasn’t it?’ She takes another bite of bread, and without waiting for him to answer continues: ‘More fun with you than with any of the others. Did you think that too?’

She looks up at him tenderly.

Close shot from her viewpoint of Dr. Poole’s expression of agonizing moral discomfort.

‘Alfie!’ she cries, ‘what’s the matter?’

‘Perhaps it would be better,’ he manages at last to say, ‘if we talked about something else.’

Loola straightens herself up and looks at him for a few seconds intently and in silence.

‘You think too much,’ she says at last. ‘You mustn’t think. If you think, it stops being fun.’ The light suddenly goes out of her face. ‘If you think,’ she goes on in a low voice, ‘it’s terrible, terrible. It’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living Evil. When I remember what they did to Polly and her baby ...’

She shudders, her eyes fill with tears and she turns away.

NARRATOR

Those tears again, those symptoms of personality — the sight of them evokes a sympathy that is stronger than the sense of guilt.

Forgetting the Postulants, Dr. Poole draws Loola towards him and with whispered words, with the caresses one uses to quiet a crying child, tries to comfort her. He is so successful that, in a minute or two, she is lying quite still in the crook of his arm. Sighing happily, she opens her eyes, looks up at him and smiles with an expression of tenderness, to which the dimples add a ravishingly incongruous hint of mischief.

‘This is what I’ve always dreamed of.’

‘Is it?’

‘But it never happened — it never could happen. Not till you came....’ She strokes his cheek. ‘I wish your beard didn’t have to grow,’ she adds. ‘You’ll look like the other fellows then. But you aren’t like them, you’re quite different.’

‘Not so different as all that,’ says Dr. Poole.

He bends down and kisses her on the eyelids, on the throat, on the mouth — then draws back and looks down at her with an expression of triumphant masculinity.

‘Not different in that way,’ she qualifies. ‘But different in this way.’ She pats his cheek again. ‘You and I sitting together and talking and being happy because you’re you and I’m me. It doesn’t happen here. Except ... except ...’ She breaks off. Her face darkens. ‘Do you know what happens to people who are Hots?’ she whispers.

This time it is Dr. Poole’s turn to protest against thinking too much. He backs up his words with action.

Close shot of the embrace. Then cut to the two Postulants, staring disgustedly at the spectacle. As they spit, another Postulant enters the shot.

‘Orders from His Eminence,’ he says, making the sign of the horns. ‘This assignment’s over. You’re to report back to Headquarters.’

Dissolve to the Canterbury. A wounded seaman, with an arrow still sticking in his shoulder, is being hoisted in a sling from the whaleboat to the deck of the schooner. On the deck lie two other victims of the Californians’ archery — Dr. Cudworth with a wound in his left leg and Miss Hook. The latter has an arrow imbedded deeply in her right side. The doctor, as he bends over her, looks grave.

‘Morphine,’ he says to his orderly. ‘Then we’ll get her down to the surgery as quickly as we can....’

Meanwhile there has been a shouting of orders and suddenly we hear the noise of the donkey engine and the clanking of the anchor chain as it is wound round the capstan.

Ethel Hook opens her eyes and looks around her. An expression of distress appears on her pale face.

‘You’re not going to sail away and leave him?’ she says. ‘But you can’t, you can’t!’ She makes an effort to raise herself from the stretcher; but the movement causes so much pain that she falls back again, with a groan.

‘Quiet, quiet,’ says the doctor soothingly, as he swabs her arm with alcohol.

‘But he may still be alive,’ she feebly protests. ‘They can’t desert him; they can’t just wash their hands of him.’

‘Hold still,’ says the doctor, and, taking the syringe from his orderly, he drives the needle into the flesh.

The clanking of the anchor chain rises to a crescendo as we dissolve to Loola and Dr. Poole.

‘I’m hungry,’ says Loola, sitting up.

Reaching for her knapsack, she takes out what is left of the bread, breaks it in two, hands the larger fragment to Dr. Poole and sinks her teeth into the other. She finishes her mouthful and is about to start on another, when she changes her mind. Turning to her companion, she takes his hand and kisses it.

‘What’s that for?’ he asks.

Loola shrugs her shoulders.

‘I don’t know. I just suddenly felt like that.’ She eats some more bread, then, after a ruminative silence, turns to him with the air of one who has just made an important and unexpected discovery.

‘Alfie,’ she announces, ‘I believe I shall never want to say Yes to anyone except you.’

Greatly moved, Dr. Poole leans forward, and takes her hand and presses it to his heart.

‘I feel I’ve only just discovered what life’s all about,’ he says.

‘Me too.’

She leans against him, and like a miser irresistibly drawn to count his treasure yet once more, Dr. Poole runs his fingers through her hair, separating lock from thick lock, lifting a curl and letting it fall back noiselessly into its place.

NARRATOR

And so, by the dialectic of sentiment, these two have re-discovered for themselves that synthesis of the chemical and the personal to which we give the names of monogamy and romantic love. In her case it was the hormone that excluded the person; in his, the person that could not come to terms with the hormone. But now there is the beginning of a larger wholeness.

Dr. Poole reaches into his pocket and pulls out the little volume which he rescued yesterday from the furnace. He opens it, turns the pages and begins to read aloud:

‘Warm fragrance seems to fall from her light dress

And her loose hair; and where some heavy tress

The air of her own speed has disentwined,

The sweetness seems to satiate the faint wind;

And in the soul a wild odour is felt

Beyond the sense, like fiery dews that melt

Into the bosom of a frozen bud.’

‘What’s that?’ Loola asks.

‘You!’ He bends down and kisses her hair. ‘“And in the soul,”’ he whispers, ‘“a wild odour is felt beyond the sense.”’ ‘In the soul,’ he repeats.

‘What’s the soul?’ Loola asks.

‘Well ...’ He hesitates; then, deciding to let Shelley give the answer, he resumes his reading:

‘See where she stands, a mortal shape indued

With love and life and light and deity,

And motion which may change, but never die,

An image of some bright Eternity,

A shadow of some golden dream; a Splendour

Leaving the third sphere pilotless; a tender

Reflection of the eternal Moon of Love ...’

‘But I don’t understand a word of it,’ Loola complains.

‘And until today,’ says Dr. Poole, smiling down at her, ‘until today, neither did I.’

We dissolve to the exterior of the Unholy of Unholies, two weeks later. Several hundreds of bearded men and slatternly women are queued up, in double file, awaiting their turn to enter the shrine. The Camera passes down the long line of dull and dirty faces, then holds on Loola and Dr. Poole, who are in the act of passing through the sliding doors.

Within all is gloom and silence. Two by two the nymphs and prancing satyrs of a few short days ago shuffle despondently past an altar, whose mighty candle is now eclipsed by a tin extinguisher. At the foot of the Arch-Vicar’s empty throne lies the heap of discarded Seventh Commandments. As the procession slowly passes, the Archimandrite in charge of Public Morals hands out to every male an apron and to every female an apron and four round patches.

‘Out through the side door,’ he repeats to each recipient.

And out through the side door, when their turn comes, Loola and Dr. Poole duly go. There, in the sunshine, a score of Postulants are busily at work, with thread and needle, stitching aprons to waist-bands, patches to trouser seats and shirt fronts.

The Camera holds on Loola. Three young seminarists in Toggenbarg cassocks accost her as she emerges into the open air.

She hands her apron to the first, a patch to each of the others. All three set to work simultaneously and with extraordinary rapidity. NO, NO and NO.

‘Turn around, please.’

Handing over her last patches, she obeys; and while the apron specialist moves away to attend to Dr. Poole, the others ply their needles so diligently that, in half a minute, she is no less forbidding from behind than when seen from in front.

‘There!’

‘And there!’

The two clerical tailors step aside and reveal a close shot of their handiwork. NO NO. Cut back to the Postulants, who express their sentiments by spitting in unison, then turn towards the door of the shrine.

‘Next lady, please.’

Wearing a look of extreme dejection, the two inseparable mulatto girls step forward together.

Cut to Dr. Poole. Aproned, and bearded with a fortnight’s growth of hair, he walks over to where Loola is waiting for him.

‘This way, please,’ says a shrill voice.

In silence they take their places at the end of yet another queue. Resignedly, two or three hundred persons are waiting to be assigned their tasks by the Grand Inquisitor’s Chief Assistant in charge of Public Works. Three-horned and robed impressively in a white Saanen soutane, the great man is sitting with a couple of two-horned Familiars at a large table, on which stand several steel filing-cabinets salvaged from the offices of the Providential Life Insurance Company.

A series of montage shots exhibits, in twenty seconds, the slow, hour-long advance of Loola and Dr. Poole towards the well-spring of Authority. And now at last they have reached their destination. Close shot of the Grand Inquisitor’s Special Assistant as he tells Dr. Poole to report to the Director of Food Production at his office in the ruins of the Administration Building of the University of Southern California. This gentleman will see that the botanist gets a laboratory, a plot of ground for his experimental planting, and up to four labourers to perform the manual work.

‘Up to four labourers,’ the prelate repeats. ‘Though at ordinary times ...’

Unauthorized, Loola breaks into the conversation.

‘Oh, let me be one of the labourers,’ she begs. ‘Please.’

The Grand Inquisitor’s Special Assistant gives her a long withering look, then turns to his Familiars.

‘And who, pray, is this young vessel of the Unholy Spirit?’ he asks.

One of the Familiars extracts Loola’s card from the file and provides the relevant information. Aged eighteen and hitherto sterile, the vessel in question is reported to have associated during one off-season with a notorious Hot, who was later liquidated while trying to resist arrest. Nothing, however, was ever proved against the said vessel and its conduct has been generally satisfactory. Said vessel has been employed, for the past year, as a miner of cemeteries and is to be similarly employed during the coming season.

‘But I want to work with Alfie,’ she protests.

‘You seem to forget,’ says the first Familiar, ‘that this is a Democracy ...’

‘A Democracy,’ adds his colleague, ‘in which every proletarian enjoys perfect freedom.’

‘True freedom.’

‘Freely doing the will of the Proletariat.’

‘And vox proletariatus, vox Diaboli.’

‘While, of course, vox Diaboli, vox Ecclesiae.’

‘And we here are the Church’s representatives.’

‘So you see.’

‘But I’m tired of cemeteries,’ the girl insists. ‘I’d like to dig up live things for a change.’

There is a brief silence. Then the Grand Inquisitor’s Special Assistant bends down and, from under his chair, produces a very large consecrated bull’s pizzle, which he lays on the table before him. Then he turns to his subordinates.

‘Correct me if I’m wrong,’ he says. ‘But my impression is that any vessel rejecting proletarian liberty is liable to twenty-five lashes for each and every such offence.’

There is another silence. Pale and wide-eyed, Loola stares at the instrument of torture, then looks away, makes an effort to speak, finds herself voiceless and, swallowing hard, tries again.

‘I won’t resist,’ she manages to bring out. ‘I really want to be free.’

‘Free to go on mining cemeteries?’

She nods affirmatively.

‘There’s a good vessel!’ says the Special Assistant.

Loola turns to Dr. Poole, and for a few seconds they look into one another’s eyes without speaking.

‘Good-bye, Alfie,’ she whispers at last.

‘Good-bye, Loola.’

Two more seconds pass; then she drops her eyes and walks away.

‘And now,’ says the Special Assistant to Dr. Poole, ‘we can get back to business. At ordinary times, as I was saying, you would be expected to make use of not more than two labourers. Do I make myself clear?’

Dr. Poole inclines his head.

We dissolve to a laboratory in which the sophomores of the University of Southern California once pursued the study of Elementary Biology. There are the usual sinks and tables, Bunsen burners and balances, cages for mice and guinea-pigs, glass tanks for tadpoles. But the dust is thick over everything, and scattered about the room lie half a dozen skeletons, still associated with crumbling remains of slacks and sweaters, of Nylons and costume jewellery and brassieres.

The door opens and Dr. Poole enters, followed by the Director of Food Production, an elderly, grey-bearded man wearing homespun trousers, the standard apron and a cut-away coat that must have once belonged to the English butler of some twentieth-century motion-picture executive.

‘A little messy, I’m afraid,’ says the Director apologetically. ‘But I’ll have the bones cleared out this afternoon and tomorrow the charvessels can dust off the tables and wash the floors.’

‘Quite,’ says Dr. Poole, ‘quite.’

Dissolve to the same room a week later. The skeletons have been removed and, thanks to the charvessels, the floors, walls and furniture are almost clean. Dr. Poole has three distinguished visitors. Wearing his four horns and the brown, Anglo-Nubian habit of the Society of Moloch, the Arch-Vicar is seated beside the Chief, who is dressed in the much-bemedalled uniform of a Rear-Admiral of the United States Navy, recently disinterred from Forest Lawn. At a respectful distance behind and to one side of the two Heads of Church and State sits the Director of Food Production, still disguised as a butler. Facing them, in the posture of a French Academician preparing to read his latest production to some choice and privileged audience, sits Dr. Poole.

‘Shall I begin?’ he asks.

The heads of Church and State exchange glances; then turn to Dr. Poole and simultaneously nod their assent. He opens his notebook and adjusts his spectacles.

‘Notes on Soil Erosion and Plant Pathology in Southern California,’ he reads aloud. ‘Followed by a Preliminary Report on the Agricultural Situation and a Plan of Remedial Action for the Future. By Alfred Poole, D.Sc., Assistant Professor of Botany at the University of Auckland.’

As he reads, we dissolve to a slope among the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. Naked but for a cactus here and there, the stony ground lies dead and mangled in the sunshine. A network of ramifying gullies furrows the hillside. Some of them are still in the infancy of erosion, others have cut their way deep into the ground. The ruins of a substantial house, half of which has already been engulfed, stands precariously at the edge of one of these strangely fretted canyons. In the plain, at the foot of the hill, dead walnut trees emerge from the dried mud in which successive rains have buried them.

Over the shot we hear the sonorous drone of Dr. Poole’s voice:

‘In true symbiosis,’ he is saying, ‘there is a mutually beneficial relationship between two associated organisms. The distinguishing mark of parasitism, on the other hand, is that one organism lives at the expense of another. In the end this one-sided relationship proves fatal to both parties; for the death of the host cannot but result in the death of the parasite by which it has been killed. The relationship between modern man and the planet, of which, until so recently, he regarded himself as the master, has been that, not of symbiotic partners, but of tapeworm and infested dog, of fungus and blighted potato.’

Cut back to the Chief. Within its nest of curly black beard the red-lipped mouth has opened into an enormous yawn. Over the shot Dr. Poole reads on:

‘Ignoring the obvious fact that his devastation of natural resources would, in the long run, result in the ruin of his civilization and even in the extinction of his species, modern man continued, generation after generation, to exploit the earth in such a way that ...’

‘Couldn’t you make it a bit snappier?’ asks the Chief.

Dr. Poole begins by looking offended. Then he remembers that he is a condemned captive on probation among savages, and forces a nervous smile.

‘Perhaps it might be best,’ he says, ‘if we passed without more ado to the section on Plant Pathology.’

‘I don’t care,’ says the Chief, ‘so long as you make it snappy.’

‘Impatience,’ pipes the Arch-Vicar sententiously, ’is one of Belial’s favourite vices.’

Dr. Poole, meanwhile, has turned over three or four pages and is ready to start again.

‘Given the existing state of the soil, yield per acre would be abnormally low, even if the principal food plants were completely healthy. But they are not healthy. After viewing crops in the field, after inspecting grains, fruits and tubers in storage, after examining botanical specimens under an almost undamaged pre-Thing microscope, I feel certain that there is only one explanation for the number and variety of plant diseases now rampant in the area — namely, deliberate infection of the crops by means of fungus bombs, bacteria-bearing aerosols and the release of many species of virus-carrying aphides and other insects. Otherwise, how account for the prevalence and extreme virulence of Giberella Saubinetti and Puccinia graminis? Of Phytophthora infestans and Synchitrium endobioticum? Of all the mosaic diseases due to viruses? Of Bacillus amylovorus, Bacillus carotovorus, Pseudomonas citri, Pseudomonas tumefaciens, Bacterium ...’

Cutting short his recitation almost before it has begun, the Arch-Vicar interrupts him.

‘And you still maintain,’ he says, ‘that these people weren’t possessed by Belial!’ He shakes his head. ‘It’s incredible how prejudice can blind even the most intelligent, the most highly educated ...’

‘Yes, yes, we know all that,’ says the Chief impatiently. ‘But now let’s cut all the cackle and get down to practical business. What can you do about all this?’

Dr. Poole clears his throat.

‘The task,’ he says impressively, ‘will be long-drawn and extremely arduous.’

‘But I want more food now,’ says the Chief imperiously. ‘I’ve got to have it this very year.’

Somewhat apprehensively Dr. Poole is forced to tell him that disease-resisting varieties of plants cannot be bred and tested in under ten or twelve years. And meanwhile there is the question of the land; the erosion is destroying the land, erosion must be checked at all costs. But the labour of terracing and draining and composting is enormous and must go on unremittingly, year after year. Even in the old days, when man-power and machinery were plentiful, people had failed to do what was necessary to preserve the fertility of the soil.

‘It wasn’t because they couldn’t,’ puts in the Arch-Vicar. ‘It was because they didn’t want to. Between World War II and World War III they had all the time and all the equipment they needed. But they preferred to amuse themselves with power politics; and what were the consequences?’ He counts off the answers on his thick fingers. ‘Worse malnutrition for more people. More political unrest, resulting in more aggressive nationalism and imperialism. And finally the Thing. And why did they choose to destroy themselves? Because that was what Belial wanted them to do, because He had taken possession....’

The Chief holds up his hand.

‘Please, please,’ he protests. ‘This isn’t a course in Apologetics or Natural Diabology. We’re trying to do something.’

‘And unfortunately the doing will take a long time,’ says Dr. Poole.

‘How long?’

‘Well, in five years you might find yourself holding your own against erosion. In ten years there’d be a perceptible improvement. In twenty years, some of your land might be back to as much as seventy per cent, of its original fertility. In fifty years ...’

‘In fifty years,’ puts in the Arch-Vicar, ‘the deformity rate will be double what it is at present. And in a hundred years the triumph of Belial will be complete. But complete!’ he repeats with a child-like giggle. He makes the sign of the horns and gets up from his chair. ‘But meanwhile I’m all for this gentleman doing everything he can.’

Dissolve to the Hollywood Cemetery. Trucking shot of the monuments, with which our earlier visit to the graveyard has already made us familiar.

Medium close shot of the statue of Hedda Boddy. The Camera drops from the figure to the pedestal and the inscription:

‘... affectionately known as Public Sweetheart Number One. “Hitch your wagon to a Star.”’

Over the shot we hear the sound of a spade being thrust into the ground, then the rattle of sand and gravel as the earth is tossed aside.

The Camera pulls back, and we see Loola standing in a three-foot hole, wearily digging.

The sound of footsteps makes her look up. Flossie, the plump girl of the earlier sequence, enters the shot.

‘Getting on all right?’ she asks.

Loola nods without speaking and wipes her forehead with the back of her hand.

‘When you hit the pay dirt,’ the plump girl goes on, ‘come and report to us.’

‘It’ll take at least an hour more,’ says Loola gloomily.

‘Well, keep at it, kid,’ says Flossie in the maddeningly hearty tones of a person delivering a pep talk. ‘Put your back into it. Prove to them that a vessel can do as much as a man! If you work well,’ she goes on encouragingly, ‘maybe the Superintendent will let you keep the Nylons. Look at the pair I got this morning!’

She pulls the coveted trophies from her pocket. Except for a greenish discoloration around the toes, the stockings are in perfect condition.

‘Oh!’ cries Loola in envious admiration.

‘But we didn’t have any luck with the jewellery,’ says Flossie, as she puts the stockings away again. ‘Just the wedding ring and a rotten little bracelet. Let’s hope this one won’t let us down.’

She pats the Parian stomach of Public Sweetheart Number One.

‘Well, I must get back,’ she continues. ‘We’re digging for the vessel who’s buried under that red stone cross — you know, the big one, near the north gate.’

Loola nods.

‘I’ll be there as soon as I make a strike,’ she says.

Whistling the tune of ‘When I survey the Wondrous Horns,’ the plump girl walks out of the shot. Loola sighs, and resumes her digging.

Very softly, a voice pronounces her name.

She starts violently and turns in the direction from which the sound has come.

Medium shot from her viewpoint of Dr. Poole advancing cautiously from behind the tomb of Rudolph Valentino.

Cut back to Loola.

She flushes, then turns deathly pale. Her hand goes to her heart.

‘Alfie,’ she whispers.

He enters the shot, jumps into the grave beside her and, without a word, takes her in his arms. The kiss is passionate. Then she hides her face against his shoulder.

‘I thought I should never see you any more,’ she says in a breaking voice.

‘What did you take me for?’

He kisses her again, then holds her at arm’s length and looks into her face.

‘Why are you crying?’ he asks.

‘I can’t help it.’

‘You’re lovelier even than I remembered.’

She shakes her head, unable to speak.

‘Smile,’ he commands.

‘I can’t.’

‘Smile, smile. I want to see them again.’

‘See what?’

‘Smile!’

With an effort, but full of a passionate tenderness, Loola smiles up at him.

In her cheeks the dimples emerge from the long hibernation of her sorrow.

‘There they are,’ he cries in delight, ‘there they are!’

Delicately, like a blind man reading Herrick in Braille, he passes a finger across her cheek. Loola smiles more effortlessly, the dimple deepens under his touch. He laughs with pleasure.

At the same moment the whistled tune of ‘When I survey the Wondrous Horns’ swells from a distant pianissimo through piano to mezzo forte.

An expression of terror appears on Loola’s face.

‘Quick, quick!’ she whispers.

With astonishing agility Dr. Poole scrambles out of the grave.

By the time the plump girl re-enters the shot he is leaning in a studiedly casual attitude against the monument to Public Sweetheart Number One. Below him, in the pit, Loola is digging like mad.

‘I forgot to tell you that we’re knocking off for lunch in half an hour,’ Flossie begins.

Then, catching sight of Dr. Poole, she utters an exclamation of surprise.

‘Good morning,’ says Dr. Poole politely.

There is a silence. Flossie looks from Dr. Poole to Loola, and from Loola back to Dr. Poole.

‘What are you doing here?’ she asks suspiciously.

‘I’m on my way to St. Azazel’s,’ he answers. ‘The Arch-Vicar sent a message that he wanted me to attend his three lectures to the seminarists. Belial in History — that’s the subject of them.’

‘You’ve chosen a very funny way to get to St. Azazel’s.’

‘I was looking for the Chief,’ Dr. Poole explains.

‘Well, he’s not here,’ says the plump girl.

There is another silence.

‘In that case,’ says Dr. Poole, ‘I’d better be trotting along. Mustn’t keep either of you young ladies from your duties,’ he adds with an artificial and entirely unconvincing brightness. ‘Good-bye. Good-bye.’

He bows to the two girls, then, assuming an air of easy nonchalance, walks away.

Flossie looks after him in silence, then turns severely to Loola.

‘Now listen, kid,’ she begins.

Loola stops digging and looks up from the grave.

‘What is it, Flossie?’ she asks with an expression of uncomprehending innocence.

‘What is it?’ the other echoes derisively. ‘Tell me, what’s written on your apron?’

Loola looks down at her apron, then back at Flossie. Her face reddens with embarrassment.

‘What’s written on it?’ the plump girl insists.

‘“No!”’

‘And what’s written on those patches?’

‘“No!”’ Loola repeats.

‘And on the other ones, when you turn round?’

‘“No!”’

‘No, no, no, no, no,’ says the plump girl emphatically. ‘And when the Law says no, it means no. You know that as well as I do, don’t you?’

Loola nods her head without speaking.

‘Say you know it,’ the other insists. ‘Say it.’

‘Yes, I know it,’ Loola brings out at last in a barely audible voice.

‘Good. Then don’t pretend you haven’t been warned. And if that foreign Hot ever comes prowling around you again, just let me know. I’ll see to him.’

We dissolve to the interior of St. Azazel’s. Once the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Azazel’s has undergone only the most superficial of alterations. In the chapels, the plaster figures of St. Joseph, the Magdalen, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Rose of Lima have merely been painted red and fitted with horns. On the High Altar nothing has been changed except that the crucifix has been replaced by a pair of enormous horns carved out of cedar wood and hung with a wealth of rings and wristwatches, of bracelets, chains, earrings and necklaces, mined from the cemeteries or found in association with old bones and the mouldering remnants of jewel-boxes.

In the body of the church some fifty Toggenberg-robed seminarists — with Dr. Poole, incongruously bearded and in tweeds, in the middle of the front row — are sitting with bowed heads while, from the pulpit, the Arch-Vicar pronounces the final words of his lecture.

‘For as in the Order of Things all might, if they had so desired, have lived, so also in Belial all have been, or inevitably shall be, made to die. Amen.’

There is a long silence. Then the Master of Novices rises. With a great rustling of fur, the seminarists follow suit and start to walk, two by two, and with the most perfect decorum, towards the west door.

Dr. Poole is about to follow them, when he hears a high, childish voice calling his name.

Turning, he sees the Arch-Vicar beckoning from the steps of the pulpit.

‘Well, what did you think of the lecture?’ squeaks the great man as Dr. Poole approaches.

‘Very fine.’

‘Without flattery?’

‘Really and truly.’

The Arch-Vicar smiles with pleasure.

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ he says.

‘I specially liked what you said about religion in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — the retreat from Jeremiah to the Book of Judges, from the personal and therefore the universal to the national and therefore the internecine.’

The Arch-Vicar nods.

‘Yes, it was a pretty close shave,’ he says. ‘If they’d stuck to the personal and the universal, they’d have been in harmony with the Order of Things, and the Lord of Flies would have been done for. But fortunately Belial had plenty of allies — the nations, the churches, the political parties. He used their prejudices. He exploited their ideologies. By the time they’d developed the atomic bomb he had people back in the state of mind they were in before 900 B.C.’

‘And then,’ says Dr. Poole, ‘I liked what you said about the contacts between East and West — how He persuaded each side to take only the worst the other had to offer. So the East takes Western nationalism, Western armaments, Western movies and Western Marxism; the West takes Eastern despotism, Eastern superstitions and Eastern indifference to individual life. In a word, He saw to it that mankind should make the worst of both worlds.’

‘Just think if they’d made the best!’ squeaks the Arch-Vicar. ‘Eastern mysticism making sure that Western science should be properly used; the Eastern art of living refining Western energy; Western individualism tempering Eastern totalitarianism.’ He shakes his head in pious horror. ‘Why, it would have been the kingdom of heaven. Happily the grace of Belial was stronger than the Other One’s grace.’

He chuckles shrilly; then, laying a hand on Dr. Poole’s shoulder, he starts to walk with him towards the vestry.

‘You know, Poole,’ he says, ‘I’ve got to be very fond of you.’

Dr. Poole mumbles his embarrassed acknowledgments.

‘You’re intelligent, you’re well educated, you know all kinds of things that we’ve never learned. You could be very useful to me and, on my side, I could be very useful to you — that is,’ he adds, ‘if you were to become one of us.’

‘One of you?’ Dr. Poole repeats doubtfully.

‘Yes, one of us.’

Comprehension dawns on an expressive close-up of Dr. Poole’s face. He utters a dismayed ‘Oh!’

‘I won’t disguise from you,’ says the Arch-Vicar, ‘that the surgery involved is not entirely painless, nor wholly without danger. But the advantages to be gained by entering the priesthood would be so great as to outweigh any trifling risk or discomfort. Nor must we forget ...’

‘But, Your Eminence ...’ Dr. Poole protests.

The Arch-Vicar holds up a plump, damp hand.

‘One moment, please,’ he says severely.

His expression is so forbidding that Dr. Poole hastens to apologize.

‘I beg your pardon.’

‘Granted, my dear Poole, granted.’

Once again the Arch-Vicar is all amiability and condescension.

‘Well, as I was saying,’ he goes on, ‘we must not forget that, if you were to undergo what I may call a physiological conversion, you would be delivered from all the temptations to which, as an unmutated male, you will most certainly be exposed.’

‘Quite, quite,’ Dr. Poole agrees. ‘But I can assure you ...’

‘Where temptations are concerned,’ says the Arch-Vicar sententiously, ‘nobody can assure anyone of anything.’

Dr. Poole remembers his recent interview with Loola in the cemetery, and feels himself blushing.

‘Isn’t that rather a sweeping statement?’ he says, without too much conviction.

The Arch-Vicar shakes his head.

‘In these matters,’ he says, ‘one can never be too sweeping. And let me remind you of what happens to those who succumb to such temptations. The bulls’ pizzles and the burying squad are always in readiness. And that is why, in your own interest, for your future happiness and peace of mind, I advise you — nay, I beg and implore you — to join our Order.’

There is a silence. Dr. Poole swallows hard.

‘I should like to be able to think it over,’ he says at last.

‘Of course, of course,’ the Arch-Vicar agrees. ‘Take your time. Take a week.’

‘A week? I don’t think I could decide in a week.’

‘Take two weeks,’ says the Arch-Vicar, and when Dr. Poole still shakes his head, ‘take four,’ he adds, ‘take six, if you like. I’m in no hurry. I’m only concerned about you.’ He pats Dr. Poole on the shoulder. ‘Yes, my dear fellow, about you.’

Dissolve to Dr. Poole at work in his experimental garden, planting out tomato seedlings. Nearly six weeks have passed. His brown beard is considerably more luxuriant, his tweed coat and flannel trousers considerably dirtier, than when we saw him last. He wears a grey homespun shirt and moccasins of local manufacture.

When the last of his seedlings is in the ground, he straightens himself up, stretches, rubs his aching back, then walks slowly to the end of the garden and stands there motionless, looking out at the view.

In a long shot we see, as it were through his eyes, a wide prospect of deserted factories and crumbling houses, backed in the distance by a range of mountains that recedes, fold after fold, towards the east. The shadows are gulfs of indigo, and in the richly golden lights the far-off details stand out distinct and small and perfect, like the images of things in a convex mirror. In the foreground, delicately chased and stippled by the almost horizontal light, even the baldest patches of parched earth reveal an unsuspected sumptuousness of texture.

NARRATOR

There are times, and this is one of them, when the world seems purposefully beautiful, when it is as though some mind in things had suddenly chosen to make manifest, for all who choose to see, the supernatural reality that underlies all appearances.

Dr. Poole’s lips move and we catch the low murmur of his words:

‘For love and beauty and delight

There is no death nor change; their might

Exceed our organs, which endure

No light, being themselves obscure.’

He turns and walks back towards the entrance to the garden. Before opening the gate, he looks cautiously around him. There is no sign of an unfriendly observer. Reassured, he slips out and almost immediately turns into a winding path between sand dunes. Once again his lips move:

‘I am the Earth,

Thy mother; she within whose stony veins

To the last fibre of the loftiest tree,

Whose thin leaves trembled in the frozen air,

Joy ran, as blood within a living frame,

When thou didst from her bosom, like a cloud

Of glory, arise, a spirit of keen joy.’

From the footpath Dr. Poole emerges into a street flanked by small houses, each with its garage and each surrounded by the barren space that was once a plot of grass and flowers.

‘“A spirit of keen joy,”’ he repeats, and then sighs and shakes his head.

NARRATOR

Joy? But joy was murdered long ago. All that survives is the laughter of demons about the whipping-posts, the howling of the possessed as they couple in the darkness. Joy is only for those whose life accords with the given Order of the world. For you there, the clever ones who think you can improve upon that Order, for you, the angry ones, the rebellious, the disobedient, joy is fast becoming a stranger. Those who are doomed to reap the consequences of your fantastic tricks will never so much as suspect its existence. Love, Joy and Peace — these are the fruits of the spirit that is your essence and the essence of the world. But the fruits of the ape-mind, the fruits of the monkey’s presumption and revolt, are hate and unceasing restlessness and a chronic misery tempered only by frenzies more horrible than itself.

Dr. Poole, meanwhile, continues on his way.

‘The world is full of woodmen,’ he says to himself,

‘The world is full of woodmen, who expel

Love’s gentle dryads from the trees of life

And vex the nightingales in every dell.’

NARRATOR

Woodmen with axes, dryad-killers with knives, nightingale-vexers with scalpels and surgical scissors.

Dr. Poole shudders and, like a man who feels himself dogged by some malevolent presence, quickens his pace. Suddenly he halts and once more looks about him.

NARRATOR

In a city of two and a half million skeletons the presence of a few thousands of the living is hardly perceptible. Nothing stirs. The silence is total and, in the midst of all these cosy little bourgeois ruins, seems conscious and in some sort conspiratorial.

His pulses quickened by hope and the fear of disappointment, Dr. Poole turns off the road and hurries along the drive that leads to the garage of Number 1993. Sagging on their rusted hinges, the double doors stand ajar. He slips between them into a musty twilight. Through a hole in the west wall of the garage a thick pencil of late afternoon sunshine reveals the left front wheel of a Super de Luxe Four-Door Chevrolet Sedan and, on the ground beside it, two skulls, one an adult’s, the other evidently a child’s. Dr. Poole opens the only one of the four doors which is not jammed and peers into the darkness within.

‘Loola!’

He climbs into the car, sits down beside her on the disintegrated upholstery of the back seat, and takes her hand in both of his.

‘Darling!’

She looks at him without speaking. In her eyes there is an expression almost of terror.

‘So you were able to get away, after all?’

‘But Flossie still suspects something.’

‘Damn Flossie!’ says Dr. Poole in a tone that is intended to be carefree and reassuring.

‘She kept asking questions,’ Loola goes on. ‘I told her I was going out to forage for needles and cutlery.’

‘But all you’ve found is me.’

He smiles at her tenderly and raises her hand to his lips; but Loola shakes her head.

‘Alfie — please!’

Her tone is a supplication. He lowers her hand without kissing it.

‘And yet you do love me, don’t you?’

She looks at him with eyes that are wide with a frightened bewilderment, then turns away.

‘I don’t know, Alfie, I don’t know.’

‘Well, I know,’ says Dr. Poole decidedly. ‘I know I love you. I know I want to be with you. Always. Till death do us part,’ he adds with all the fervour of an introverted sexualist suddenly converted to objectivity and monogamy.

Loola shakes her head again.

‘All I know is that I oughtn’t to be here.’

‘But that’s nonsense!’

‘No, it isn’t. I oughtn’t to be here now. I oughtn’t to have come those other times. It’s against the Law. It’s against everything that people think. It’s against Him,’ she adds after a moment’s pause. An expression of agonized distress appears on her face. ‘But then why did He make me so that I could feel this way about you? Why did He make me like those — like those — ?’ She cannot bring herself to utter the abhorred word. ‘I used to know one of them,’ she goes on in a low voice. ‘He was sweet — almost as sweet as you are. And then they killed him.’

‘What’s the good of thinking about other people?’ says Dr. Poole. ‘Let’s think about ourselves. Let’s think how happy we could be, how happy we actually were two months ago. Do you remember? The moonlight ... And how dark it was in the shadows! “And in the soul a wild odour is felt beyond the sense ...!”’

‘But we weren’t doing wrong then.’

‘We’re not doing wrong now.’

‘No, no, it’s quite different now.’

‘It isn’t different,’ he insists. ‘I don’t feel any different from what I did then. And neither do you.’

‘I do,’ she protests — too loudly to carry conviction.

‘No, you don’t.’

‘I do.’

‘You don’t. You’ve just said it. You’re not like these other people — thank God!’

‘Alfie!’

She makes a propitiatory sign of the horns.

‘They’ve been turned into animals,’ he goes on. ‘You haven’t. You’re still a human being — a normal human being with normal human feelings.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Yes, you are.’

‘It isn’t true,’ she wails. ‘It isn’t true.’

She covers her face with her hands and starts to cry.

‘He’ll kill me,’ she sobs.

‘Who’ll kill you?’

Loola raises her head and looks apprehensively over her shoulder, through the rear window of the car.

‘He will. He knows everything we do, everything we even think or feel.’

‘Maybe He does,’ says Dr. Poole, whose Liberal-Protestant views about the Devil have been considerably modified during the past few weeks. ‘But if we feel and think and do the right thing. He can’t hurt us.’

‘But what is the right thing?’ she asks.

For a second or two he smiles at her without speaking.

‘Here and now,’ he says at last, ‘the right thing is this.’

He slips an arm about her shoulders and draws her towards him.

‘No, Alfie, no!’

Panic-stricken, she tries to free herself; but he holds her tight.

‘This is the right thing,’ he repeats. ‘It mightn’t always and everywhere be the right thing. But here and now it is — definitely.’

He speaks with the force and authority of complete conviction. Never in all his uncertain and divided life has he thought so clearly or acted so decisively.

Loola suddenly ceases to struggle.

‘Alfie, are you sure it’s all right? Are you absolutely sure?’

‘Absolutely sure,’ he replies from the depths of his new, self-validating experience. Very gently he strokes her hair.

‘“A mortal shape,”’ he whispers, ‘“indued with love and life and light and deity. A Metaphor of Spring and Youth and Morning, a Vision like incarnate April.”’

‘Go on,’ she whispers.

Her eyelids are closed, her face wears that look of supernatural serenity which one sees upon the faces of the dead.

Dr. Poole begins again:

‘And we will talk, until thought’s melody

Become too sweet for utterance, and it die

In words, to live again in looks, which dart

With thrilling tone into the voiceless heart,

Harmonizing silence without a sound.

Our breath shall intermix, our bosoms bound,

And our veins beat together, and our lips

With other eloquence than words, eclipse

The soul that burns between them, and the wells

Which boil under our being’s inmost cells,

The fountains of our deepest life, shall be

Confused in Passion’s golden purity;

As mountain springs under the morning sun,

We shall become the same, we shall be one

Spirit within two frames, oh! wherefore two?’

There is a long silence. Suddenly Loola opens her eyes, looks at him intently for a few seconds, then throws her arms round his neck and kisses him passionately on the mouth. But even as he clasps her more closely, she breaks away from him and retreats to her end of the seat.

He tries to approach, but she holds him at arm’s length.

‘It can’t be right,’ she says.

‘But it is right.’

She shakes her head.

‘It’s too good to be right, I should be too happy if it were. He doesn’t want us to be happy.’ There is a pause. ‘Why do you say He can’t hurt us?’

‘Because there’s something stronger than He is.’

‘Something stronger?’ She shakes her head. ‘That was what He was always fighting against — and He won.’

‘Only because people helped Him to win. But they don’t have to help Him. And, remember, He can never win for good.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because He can never resist the temptation of carrying evil to the limit. And whenever evil is carried to the limit, it always destroys itself. After which the Order of Things comes to the surface again.’

‘But that’s far away in the future.’

‘For the whole world, yes. But not for single individuals, not for you or me, for example. Whatever Belial may have done with the rest of the world, you and I can always work with the Order of Things, not against it.’

There is another silence.

‘I don’t think I understand what you mean,’ she says at last, ‘and I don’t care.’ She moves back towards him and leans her head against his shoulder. ‘I don’t care about anything,’ she goes on. ‘He can kill me if He wants to. It doesn’t matter. Not now.’

She raises her face towards his and, as he bends down to kiss her, the image on the screen fades into the darkness of a moonless night.

NARRATOR

L’ombre était nuptiale, auguste et solennelle. But this time it is a nuptial darkness whose solemnity is marred by no caterwaulings, no Liebestods, no saxophones pleading for detumescence. The music with which this night is charged is clear, but undescriptive; precise and definite, but about realities that have no name; all-embracingly liquid, but never viscous, without the slightest tendency to stick possessively (like blood or sperm, like treacle or excrement) to what it touches and comprehends. A music with the spirit of Mozart’s, delicately gay among the constant implications of tragedy; a music akin to Weber’s, aristocratic and refined, and yet capable of the most reckless joy and the completest realization of the world’s agony. And is there perhaps a hint of that which, in the Ave Verum Corpus, in the G-minor Quintet, lies beyond the world of Don Giovanni? Is there a hint already of what (in Bach, sometimes, and in Beethoven, in that final wholeness of art which is analogous to holiness) transcends the Romantic integration of the tragic and the joyful, the human and the daemonic? And when, in the darkness, the lover’s voice whispers again of

a mortal shape indued

With love and life and light and deity,

is there already the beginning of an understanding that beyond Epipsychidion there is Adonais, and beyond Adonais the wordless doctrine of the Pure in Heart?

Dissolve to Dr. Poole’s laboratory. Sunlight pours through the tall windows, and is dazzlingly reflected from the stainless steel barrel of the microscope on the work-table. The room is empty.

Suddenly the silence is broken by the sound of approaching footsteps; the door is opened and, still a butler in moccasins, the Director of Food Production looks in.

‘Poole,’ he begins, ‘His Eminence has come to ...’

He breaks off and an expression of astonishment appears on his face.

‘He isn’t here,’ he says to the Arch-Vicar, who now follows him into the room.

The great man turns to the two Familiars in attendance on him.

‘Go and see if Dr. Poole is in the experimental garden,’ he orders.

The Familiars bow, squeak, ‘Yes, Your Eminence,’ in unison, and go out.

The Arch-Vicar sits down and graciously motions to the Director to follow his example.

‘I don’t think I told you,’ he says; ‘I’m trying to persuade our friend here to enter religion.’

‘I hope Your Eminence doesn’t mean to deprive us of his invaluable help in the field of food production,’ says the Director anxiously.

The Arch-Vicar reassures him.

‘I’ll see that he always has time to give you the advice you need. But meanwhile I want to make sure that the Church shall benefit by his talents and ...’

The Familiars re-enter the room and bow.

‘Well?’

‘He isn’t in the garden, Your Eminence.’

The Arch-Vicar frowns angrily at the Director, who quails under his look.

‘I thought you said this was the day he worked in the laboratory?’

‘It is, Your Eminence.’

‘Then why is he out?’

‘I can’t imagine, Your Eminence. I’ve never known him to change his schedule without telling me.’

There is a silence.

‘I don’t like it,’ the Arch-Vicar says at last. ‘I don’t like it at all.’ He turns to his Familiars. ‘Run back to Headquarters and have half-a-dozen men ride out on horseback to find him.’

The Familiars bow, squeak simultaneously, and vanish.

‘And as for you,’ says the Arch-Vicar, turning on the pale and abject figure of the Director, ‘if anything should have happened, you’ll have to answer for it.’

He rises in majestic wrath and stalks towards the door.

Dissolve to a series of montage shots.

Loola with her leather knapsack and Dr. Poole with a pre-Thing army pack on his back are climbing over a landslide that blocks one of those superbly engineered highways whose remains still scar the flanks of the San Gabriel mountains.

We cut to a wind-swept crest. The two fugitives are looking down over the enormous expanse of the Mojave desert.

Next we find ourselves in a pine forest on the northern slope of the range. It is night. In a patch of moonlight between the trees, Dr. Poole and Loola lie sleeping under the same homespun blanket.

Cut to a rocky canyon, at the bottom of which flows a stream. The lovers have halted to drink and fill their water-bottles.

And now we are in the foothills above the floor of the desert. Between the clumps of sage-brush, the yuccas and the juniper bushes the walking is easy. Dr. Poole and Loola enter the shot, and the Camera trucks with them as they come striding down the slope.

‘Feet sore?’ he asks solicitously.

‘Not too bad.’

She gives him a brave smile, and shakes her head.

‘I think we’d better stop pretty soon and eat something.’

‘Just as you think best, Alfie.’

He pulls an antique map out of his pocket and studies it as he walks along.

‘We’re still a good thirty miles from Lancaster,’ he says. ‘Eight hours of walking. We’ve got to keep up our strength.’

‘And how far shall we get tomorrow?’ Loola asks.

‘A little beyond Mojave. And after that I reckon it’ll take us at least two days to cross the Tehachapis and get to Bakersfield.’ He returns the map to his pocket. ‘I managed to get quite a lot of information out of the Director,’ he goes on. ‘He says those people up north are very friendly to runaways from Southern California. Won’t give them back even when the government officially asks for them.’

‘Thank Bel ... I mean, thank God,’ says Loola.

There is another silence. Suddenly Loola comes to a halt.

‘Look! What’s that?’

She points, and from their viewpoint we see at the foot of a very tall Joshua-tree a slab of weathered concrete, standing crookedly at the head of an ancient grave, overgrown with bunch-grass and buckwheat.

‘Somebody must have been buried here,’ says Dr. Poole.

They approach, and in a close shot of the slab we see, while Dr. Poole’s voice reads aloud, the following inscription:

‘WILLIAM TALLIS

1882-1948

Why linger, why turn back, why shrink, my Heart?

They hopes are gone before: from all things here

They have departed, thou shouldst now depart!’

Cut back to the two lovers.

‘He must have been a very sad man,’ says Loola.

‘Perhaps not quite so sad as you imagine,’ says Dr. Poole, as he slips off his heavy pack and sits down beside the grave.

And while Loola opens her knapsack and takes out bread and fruit and eggs and strips of dried meat, he turns over the pages of his duodecimo Shelley.

‘Here we are,’ he says at last. ‘It’s the very next stanza after the one that’s quoted here:

‘That Light whose smile kindles the Universe,

That Beauty in which all things work and move,

That Benediction, which the eclipsing Curse

Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love,

Which through the web of being blindly wove

By man and beast and earth and air and sea,

Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of

The fire for which all thirst, now beams on me,

Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.’

There is a silence. Then Loola hands him a hard-boiled egg. He cracks it on the headstone and, as he peels it, scatters the white fragments of the shell over the grave.

The Genius and the Goddess

The first edition

“THE TROUBLE WITH fiction,” said John Rivers, “is that it makes too much sense. Reality never makes sense.”

“Never?” I questioned.

“Maybe from God’s point of view,” he conceded. “Never from ours. Fiction has unity, fiction has style. Facts possess neither. In the raw, existence is always one damned thing after another, and each of the damned things is simultaneously Thurber and Michelangelo, simultaneously Mickey Spillane and Thomas à Kempis. The criterion of reality is its intrinsic irrelevance.” And when I asked, “To what?” he waved a square brown hand in the direction of the bookshelves. “To the Best that has been Thought and Said,” he declaimed with mock portentousness. And then, “Oddly enough, the closest to reality are always the fictions that are supposed to be the least true.” He leaned over and touched the back of a battered copy of The Brothers Karamazov. “It makes so little sense that it’s almost real. Which is more than can be said for any of the academic kinds of fiction. Physics and chemistry fiction. History fiction. Philosophy fiction….” His accusing finger moved from Dirac to Toynbee, from Sorokin to Carnap. “More than can be said even for Biography fiction. Here’s the latest specimen of the genre.”

From the table beside him he picked up a volume in a glossy blue dust-jacket and held it up for my inspection.

“The Life of Henry Maartens,” I read out with no more interest than one accords to a household word. Then I remembered that, to John Rivers, the name had been something more and other than a household word. “You were his pupil, weren’t you?”

Rivers nodded without speaking.

“And this is the official biography?”

“The official fiction,” he amended. “An unforgettable picture of the Soap Opera scientist — you know the type — the moronic baby with the giant intellect; the sick genius battling indomitably against enormous odds; the lonely thinker who was yet the most affectionate of family men; the absent-minded Professor with his head in the clouds but his heart in the right place. The facts, unfortunately, weren’t quite so simple.”

“You mean, the book’s inaccurate?”

“No, it’s all true — so far as it goes. After that, it’s all rubbish — or rather it’s non-existent. And maybe,” he added, “maybe it has to be non-existent. Maybe the total reality is always too undignified to be recorded, too senseless or too horrible to be left unfictionalized. All the same it’s exasperating, if one happens to know the facts, it’s even rather insulting, to be fobbed off with Soap Opera.”

“So you’re going to set the record straight?” I presumed.

“For the public? Heaven forbid!”

“For me, then. In private.”

“In private,” he repeated. “After all, why not?” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “A little orgy of reminiscence to celebrate one of your rare visits.”

“Anyone would think you were talking about a dangerous drug.”

“But it is a dangerous drug,” he answered. “One escapes into reminiscence as one escapes into gin or sodium amytal.”

“You forget,” I said, “I’m a writer, and the Muses are the daughters of Memory.”

“And God,” he added quickly, “is not their brother. God isn’t the son of Memory; He’s the son of Immediate Experience. You can’t worship a spirit in spirit, unless you do it now. Wallowing in the past may be good literature. As wisdom, it’s hopeless. Time Regained is Paradise Lost, and Time Lost is Paradise Regained. Let the dead bury their dead. If you want to live at every moment as it presents itself, you’ve got to die to every other moment. That’s the most important thing I learned from Helen.”

The name evoked for me a pale young face framed in the square opening of a bell of dark, almost Egyptian hair — evoked, too, the great golden columns of Baalbek, with the blue sky and the snows of the Lebanon behind them. I was an archaeologist in those days, and Helen’s father was my boss. It was at Baalbek that I had proposed to her and been rejected.

“If she’d married me,” I said, “would I have learned it?”

“Helen practised what she always refrained from preaching,” Rivers answered. “It was difficult not to learn from her.”

“And what about my writing, what about those daughters of Memory?”

“There would have been a way to make the best of both worlds.”

“A compromise?”

“A synthesis, a third position subtending the other two. Actually, of course, you can never make the best of one world, unless in the process you’ve learned to make the best of the other. Helen even managed to make the best of life while she was dying.”

In my mind’s eye Baalbek gave place to the campus of Berkeley, and instead of the noiselessly swinging bell of dark hair there was a coil of grey, instead of a girl’s face I saw the thin drawn features of an ageing woman. She must have been ill, I reflected, even then.

“I was in Athens when she died,” I said aloud.

“I remember.” And then, “I wish you’d been here,” he added. “For her sake — she was very fond of you. And, of course, for your sake too. Dying’s an art, and at our age we ought to be learning it. It helps to have seen someone who really knew how. Helen knew how to die because she knew how to live — to live now and here and for the greater glory of God. And that necessarily entails dying too there and then and tomorrow and one’s own miserable little self. In the process of living as one ought to live, Helen had been dying by daily instalments. When the final reckoning came, there was practically nothing to pay. Incidentally,” Rivers went on after a little silence, “I was pretty close to the final reckoning last spring. In fact, if it weren’t for penicillin, I wouldn’t be here. Pneumonia, the old man’s friend. Now they resuscitate you, so that you can live to enjoy your arteriosclerosis or your cancer of the prostate. So, you see, it’s all entirely posthumous. Everybody’s dead except me, and I’m living on borrowed time. If I set the record straight, it’ll be as a ghost talking about ghosts. And anyhow this is Christmas Eve; so a ghost story is quite in order. Besides, you’re a very old friend and even if you do put it all in a novel, does it really matter?”

His large lined face lit up with an expression of affectionate irony.

“If it does matter,” I assured him, “I won’t.”

This time he laughed outright.

“The strongest oaths are straw to the fire i’ the blood,” he quoted. “I’d rather entrust my daughters to Casanova than my secrets to a novelist. Literary fires are hotter even than sexual ones. And literary oaths are even strawier than the matrimonial or monastic varieties.”

I tried to protest; but he refused to listen.

“If I still wanted to keep it secret,” he said, “I wouldn’t tell you. But when you do publish, please remember the usual footnote. You know — any resemblance to any character living or dead is purely coincidental. But purely! And now let’s get back to those Maartenses. I’ve got a picture somewhere.” He hoisted himself out of his chair, walked over to the desk and opened a drawer. “All of us together — Henry and Katy and the children and me. And by a miracle,” he added, after a moment of rustling among the papers in the drawer, “it’s where it ought to be.”

He handed me the faded enlargement of a snapshot. It showed three adults standing in front of a wooden summer house — a small, thin man with white hair and a beaked nose, a young giant in shirt sleeves and, between them, fair-haired, laughing, broad-shouldered and deep-bosomed, a splendid Valkyrie incongruously dressed in a hobble skirt. At their feet sat two children, a boy of nine or ten, and a pig-tailed elder sister in her early teens.

“How old he looks!” was my first comment. “Old enough to be his children’s grandfather.”

“And infantile enough, at fifty-six, to be Katy’s baby boy.”

“Rather a complicated incest.”

“But it worked,” Rivers insisted, “it worked so well that it had come to be a regular symbiosis. He lived on her. And she was there to be lived on — incarnate maternity.”

I looked again at the photograph.

“What a fascinating mixture of styles! Maartens is pure Gothic. His wife’s a Wagnerian heroine. The children are straight out of Mrs. Molesworth. And you, you …” I looked up at the square, leathery face that confronted me from the other side of the fireplace, then back at the snapshot. “I’d forgotten what a beauty you used to be. A Roman copy of Praxiteles.”

“Couldn’t you make me an original?” he pleaded.

I shook my head.

“Look at the nose,” I said. “Look at the modelling of the jaw. That isn’t Athens; that’s Herculaneum. But luckily girls aren’t interested in art history. For all practical amorous purposes you were the real thing, the genuine Greek god.”

Rivers made a wry face.

“I may have looked the part,” he said. “But if you think I could act it …” He shook his head. “No Ledas for me, no Daphnes, no Europas. In those days, remember, I was still the unmitigated product of a deplorable upbringing. A Lutheran minister’s son and, after the age of twelve, a widowed mother’s only consolation. Yes, her only consolation, in spite of the fact that she regarded herself as a devout Christian. Little Johnny took first, second and third place; God was just an Also Ran. And of course the only consolation had no choice but to become the model son, the star pupil, the indefatigable scholarship winner, sweating his way through college and postgraduate school with no spare time for anything more subtle than football or the Glee Club, more enlightening than the Reverend Wigman’s weekly sermon.”

“But did the girls allow you to ignore them? With a face like that?” I pointed at the curly-headed athlete in the snapshot.

Rivers was silent, then answered with another question.

“Did your mother ever tell you that the most wonderful wedding present a man could bring his bride was his virginity?”

“Fortunately not.”

“Well, mine did. And she did it, what’s more, on her knees, in the course of an extemporary prayer. She was a great one for extemporary praying,” he added parenthetically. “Better even than my father had been. The sentences flowed more evenly, the language was more genuinely sham-antique. She could discuss our financial situation or reprimand me for my reluctance to eat tapioca pudding, in the very phrases of the Epistle to the Hebrews. As a piece of linguistic virtuosity, it was quite amazing. Unfortunately I couldn’t think of it in those terms. The performer was my mother and the occasion solemn. Everything that was said, while she was talking to God, had to be taken with a religious seriousness. Particularly when it was connected with the great unmentionable subject. At twenty-eight, believe it or not, I still had that wedding present for my hypothetical bride.”

There was a silence.

“My poor John,” I said at last.

He shook his head.

“Actually it was my poor mother. She had it all worked out so perfectly. An instructorship in my old university, then an assistant professorship, then a professorship. There would never be any need for me to leave home. And when I was around forty, she’d arrange a marriage for me with some wonderful Lutheran girl who would love her like her own mother. But for the grace of God, there went John Rivers — down the drain. But the grace of God was forthcoming — with a vengeance, as it turned out. One fine morning, a few weeks after I had my Ph.D., I had a letter from Henry Maartens. He was at St. Louis then, working on atoms. Needed another research assistant, had heard good reports of me from my professor, couldn’t offer more than a scandalously small salary — but would I be interested? For a budding physicist it was the opportunity of a lifetime. For my poor mother it was the end of everything. Earnestly, agonizingly, she prayed over it. To her eternal credit, God told her to let me go.

“Ten days later a taxi deposited me on the Maartens’ doorstep. I remember standing there in a cold sweat, trying to screw up my courage to ring the bell. Like a delinquent schoolboy who has an appointment with the Headmaster. The first elation over my wonderful good fortune had long since evaporated, and for the last few days at home, and during all the endless hours of the journey, I had been thinking only of my own inadequacy. How long would it take a man like Henry Maartens to see through a man like me? A week? A day? More likely an hour! He’d despise me; I’d be the laughing-stock of the laboratory. And things would be just as bad outside the laboratory. Indeed, they might be even worse. The Maartenses had asked me to be their guest until I could find a place of my own. How extraordinarily kind! But also how fiendishly cruel! In the austerely cultured atmosphere of their home I should reveal myself for what I was — shy, stupid, hopelessly provincial. But meanwhile, the Headmaster was waiting. I gritted my teeth and pushed the button. The door was opened by one of those ancient coloured retainers in an old-fashioned play. You know, the kind that was born before Abolition and has been with Miss Belinda ever since. The performance was on the corny side; but it was a sympathetic part and, though she dearly loved to ham it up, Beulah was not merely a treasure; she was, as I soon discovered, well along the road to sainthood. I explained who I was and, as I talked, she looked me over. I must have seemed satisfactory; for there and then she adopted me as a long-lost member of the family, a kind of Prodigal Son just back from the husks. ‘I’ll go make you a sandwich and a nice cup of coffee,’ she insisted, and adding, ‘They’re all in here.’ She opened a door and pushed me through it. I braced myself for the Headmaster and a barrage of culture. But what I actually walked into was something which, if I had seen it fifteen years later, I might have mistaken for a parody, in the minor key, of the Marx Brothers. I was in a large, extremely untidy living-room. On the sofa lay a white-haired man with his shirt collar unbuttoned, apparently dying — for his face was livid, his breath came and went with a kind of wheezing rattle. Close beside him in a rocking-chair — her left hand on his forehead and a copy of William James’s Pluralistic Universe in her right — the most beautiful woman I had ever seen was quietly reading. On the floor were two children — a small red-headed boy playing with a clockwork train and a girl of fourteen with long black legs, lying on her stomach and writing poetry (I could see the shape of the stanzas) with a red pencil. All were so deeply absorbed in what they were engaged upon — playing or composing, reading or dying — that for at least half a minute my presence in the room remained completely unnoticed. I coughed, got no reaction, coughed again. The small boy raised his head, smiled at me politely but without interest, and returned to his train. I waited another ten seconds; then, in desperation, advanced into the room. The recumbent poetess blocked my path. I stepped over her. ‘Pardon me,’ I murmured. She paid no attention; but the reader of William James heard and looked up. Over the top of the Pluralistic Universe her eyes were brilliantly blue. ‘Are you the man about the gas furnace?’ she asked. Her face was so radiantly lovely that for a moment I couldn’t say a word. I could only shake my head. ‘Silly!’ said the small boy. ‘The gas man has a moustache.’ ‘I’m Rivers,’ I finally managed to mumble. ‘Rivers?’ she repeated blankly. ‘Rivers? Oh, Rivers!’ There was a sudden dawn of recognition. ‘I’m so glad …’ But before she could finish the sentence, the man with the death rattle opened a pair of ghastly eyes, made a noise like an indrawn war whoop and, jumping up, rushed toward the open window. ‘Look out!’ the small boy shouted. ‘Look out!’ There was a crash. ‘Oh, Christ!’ he added in a tone of contained despair. A whole Grand Central Station lay in ruins, reduced to its component blocks. ‘Christ!’ the child repeated; and when the poetess told him he mustn’t say Christ, ‘I’ll say something really bad,’ he menaced. ‘I’ll say …’ His lips moved in silent blasphemy.

“From the window, meanwhile, came the dreadful sound of a man being slowly hanged.

“‘Excuse me,’ said the beautiful woman. She rose, put down her book and hurried to the rescue. There was a metallic clatter. The hem of her skirt had overturned a signal. The small boy uttered a shriek of rage. ‘You fool,’ he yelled. ‘You … you elephant.’

“‘Elephants,’ said the poetess didactically, ‘always look where they’re going.’ Then she screwed her head round and, for the first time, acknowledged my existence. ‘They’d forgotten all about you,’ she explained to me in a tone of wearily contemptuous superiority. ‘That’s how things are around here.’

“Over by the window the gradual hanging was still in progress. Doubled up, as though someone had hit him below the belt, the white-haired man was fighting for air — fighting what looked and sounded like a losing battle. Beside him stood the goddess, patting his back and murmuring words of encouragement. I was appalled. This was the most terrible thing I had ever seen. A hand plucked at the cuff of my trousers. I turned and found the poetess looking up at me. She had a narrow, intense little face with grey eyes, set wide apart and a size too large. ‘Gloom,’ she said. ‘I need three words to rhyme with gloom. I’ve got room — that fits all right. And I’ve got womb — which is simply gorgeous. But what about catacomb? …’ She shook her head; then, frowning at her paper, she read aloud. ‘The something gloom Of my soul’s deep and dreary catacomb. I don’t like it, do you?’ I had to admit that I didn’t. ‘And yet it’s exactly what I want to say,’ she went on. I had a brain wave. ‘What about tomb?’ Her face lit up with pleasure and excitement. But of course, of course! What a fool she had been! The red pencil started to scribble at a furious rate. ‘The something gloom,’ she declaimed triumphantly, ‘Of my soul’s irremediable tomb.’ I must have looked dubious, for she hastily asked me if I thought irrevocable tomb would be better. Before I could answer there was another, louder sound of strangling. I glanced towards the window, then back at the poetess. ‘Isn’t there anything we can do?’ I whispered. The girl shook her head. ‘I looked it up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica,’ she answered. ‘It says there that asthma never shortened anybody’s life.’ And then, seeing that I was still disturbed, she shrugged her bony little shoulders and said, ‘You kind of get used to it.’”

Rivers laughed to himself as he savoured the memory.

“‘You kind of get used to it,’” he repeated. “Fifty per cent of the Consolations of Philosophy in seven words. And the other fifty per cent can be expressed in six: Brother, when you’re dead, you’re dead. Or if you prefer, you can make it seven: Brother, when you’re dead, you’re not dead.”

He got up and started to mend the fire.

“Well, that was my first introduction to the Maartens family,” he said as he laid another oak log on the pile of glowing embers. “I kind of got used to everything pretty quickly. Even to the asthma. It’s remarkable how easy it is to get used to other people’s asthma. After two or three experiences I was taking Henry’s attacks as calmly as the rest of them. One moment he’d be strangling; the next he was as good as new and talking nineteen to the dozen about quantum mechanics. And he continued to repeat the performance till he was eighty-seven. Whereas I shall be lucky,” he added, giving the log a final poke, “if I go to sixty-seven. I was an athlete, you see. One of those strong-as-a-horse boys. And never a day’s illness — until, bang, comes a coronary, or whoosh, go the kidneys! Meanwhile the broken reeds, like poor old Henry, go on and on, complaining of ill health until they’re a hundred. And not merely complaining — actually suffering. Asthma dermatitis, every variety of belly-ache, inconceivable fatigues, indescribable depressions. He had a cupboard in his study and another at the laboratory, chock full of little bottles of homoeopathic remedies, and he never stirred out of the house without his Rhus Tox, his Carbo Veg and Bryonia and Kali Phos. His sceptical colleagues used to laugh at him for dosing himself with medicines so prodigiously diluted that, in any given pill, there couldn’t be so much as a simple molecule of the curative substance.

“But Henry was ready for them. To justify homoeopathy, he had developed a whole theory of non-material fields — fields of pure energy, fields of unembodied organization. In those days it sounded preposterous. But Henry, don’t forget, was a man of genius. Those preposterous notions of his are now beginning to make sense. A few more years, and they’ll be self-evident.”

“What I’m interested in,” I said, “is the belly-aches. Did the pills work or didn’t they?”

Rivers shrugged his shoulders.

“Henry lived to eighty-seven,” he answered, as he resumed his seat.

“But wouldn’t he have lived to eighty-seven without the pills?”

“That,” said Rivers, “is a perfect example of a meaningless question. We can’t revive Henry Maartens and make him live his life over again without homoeopathy. Therefore, we can never know how his self-medication was related to his longevity. And where there’s no possible operational answer, there’s no conceivable sense in the question. That’s why,” he added, “there can never be a science of history — because you can never test the truth of any of your hypotheses. Hence the ultimate irrelevance of all these books. And yet you have to read the damned things. Otherwise how can you find your way out of the chaos of immediate fact? Of course it’s the wrong way; that goes without saying. But it’s better to find even the wrong way than to be totally lost.”

“Not a very reassuring conclusion,” I ventured.

“But the best we can reach — at any rate, in our present condition.” Rivers was silent for a moment. “Well, as I say,” he resumed in another tone, “I kind of got used to Henry’s asthma, I kind of got used to all of them, to everything. So much so, indeed, that when, after a month of house-hunting, I finally located a cheap and not too nasty apartment, they wouldn’t let me go. ‘Here you are,’ said Katy, ‘and here you stay.’ Old Beulah backed her up. So did Timmy and, though she was of an age and in a mood to dissent from everything anyone else approved of, so, rather grudgingly, did Ruth. Even the great man emerged for a moment from Cloud Cuckoo Land to cast a vote in favour of my staying on. That clinched it. I became a fixture; I became an honorary Maartens. It made me so happy,” Rivers went on after a pause, “that I kept thinking uneasily that there must surely be something wrong. And pretty soon I saw what it was. Happiness with the Maartenses entailed disloyalty to home. It was an admission that, all the time I lived with my mother, I had never experienced anything but constraint and a chronic sense of guilt. And now, as a member of this family of pagan strangers, I felt not merely happy, but also good; also, in an entirely unprecedented way, religious. For the first time I knew what all those words in the Epistles really meant. Grace, for example — I was chock full of grace. The newness of the spirit — it was there all the time; whereas most of what I had known with my mother was the deadening oldness of the letter. And what about First Corinthians, thirteen? What about faith, hope and charity? Well, I don’t want to boast, but I had them. Faith first of all. A redeeming faith in the universe and in my fellow man. As for the other brand of faith — that simple, Lutheran variety which my poor mother was so proud of having preserved intact, like a virginity, through all the temptations of my scientific education….” He shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing can be simpler than zero; and that, I suddenly discovered, was the simple faith I had been living by for the past ten years. At St Louis I had the genuine article — real faith in a real good, and at the same time a hope amounting to the positive conviction that everything would always be wonderful. And along with faith and hope went an overflowing charity. How could you feel affection for someone like Henry — someone so remote that he hardly knew who you were and so self-centred that he didn’t even want to know? You couldn’t be fond of him — and yet I was, I was. I liked him not merely for the obvious reasons — because he was a great man, because working with him was like having your own intelligence and insight raised to a higher power. I even liked him outside the laboratory, for the very qualities that made it all but impossible to regard him as anything but a kind of high-class monster. I had so much charity in those days that I could have loved a crocodile, I could have loved an octopus. One reads all these fictions of the sociologists, all this learned foolery by the political scientists.” With a gesture of contemptuous exasperation Rivers slapped the backs of a row of corpulent volumes on the seventh shelf. “But actually there’s only one solution, and that’s expressible in a four-letter word, so shocking that even the Marquis de Sade was chary of using it.” He spelled it out. “L-O-V-E. Or if you prefer the decent obscurity of the learned languages, Agape, Caritas, Mahakaruna. In those days I really knew what it meant. For the first time — yes, for the first time. That was the only disquieting feature in an otherwise blissful situation. For if this was the first time I knew what loving was, what about all the other times when I had thought I knew, what about those sixteen years of being my mother’s only consolation?”

In the ensuing pause I summoned up the memory of the Mrs Rivers who had sometimes come, with her little Johnny, to spend a Sunday afternoon with us on the farm, nearly fifty years ago. It was a memory of black alpaca, of a pale profile like the face on Aunt Esther’s cameo brooch, of a smile whose deliberate sweetness didn’t seem to match the cool appraising eyes. The picture was associated with a chilling sense of apprehension. “Give Mrs Rivers a big kiss.” I obeyed, but with what horrified reluctance! A phrase of Aunt Esther’s came up, detached, like a single bubble, out of the depths of the past. “That poor kid,” she had said, “he just worships his mother.” He had worshipped, yes. But had he loved her?

“Is there such a word as ‘debellishment’?” Rivers suddenly asked.

I shook my head.

“Well, there ought to be,” he insisted. “For that’s what I resorted to in my letters home. I recorded the facts; but I systematically debellished them. I turned a revelation into something drab and ordinary and moralistic. Why was I staying on at the Maartenses? Out of a sense of duty. Because Dr M. couldn’t drive a car and I was able to help with the fetching and carrying. Because the children had had the misfortune to strike a pair of inadequate teachers and needed all the coaching I could give them. Because Mrs M. had been so very kind that I felt I simply had to stay and relieve her of a few of her burdens. Naturally I should have preferred my privacy; but would it have been right to put my personal inclinations before their needs? And since the question was addressed to my mother, there could, of course, be only one answer. What hypocrisy, what a pack of lies! But the truth would have been much too painful for her to hear or for me to put into words. For the truth was that I had never been happy, never loved, never felt capable of spontaneous unselfishness until the day I left home and came to live with these Amalekites.”

Rivers sighed and shook his head.

“My poor mother,” he said. “I suppose I could have been kinder to her. But however kind I might have been, it wouldn’t have altered the fundamental facts — the fact that she loved me possessively, and the fact that I didn’t want to be possessed; the fact that she was alone and had lost everything, and the fact that I had my new friends; the fact that she was a proud Stoic, living in the illusion that she was a Christian, and the fact that I had lapsed into a wholesome paganism and that, whenever I could forget her — which was every day except Sundays, when I wrote her my weekly letter — I was supremely happy. Yes, supremely happy! For me, in those days, life was an eclogue interspersed with lyrics. Everything was poetry. Driving Henry to the laboratory in my second-hand Maxwell; mowing the lawn; carrying Katy’s groceries home in the rain — pure poetry. So was taking Timmy to the station to look at engines. So was taking Ruth for walks in springtime to look for caterpillars. She took a professional interest in caterpillars,” he explained, when I expressed my surprise. “It was part of the Gloom-Tomb syndrome. Caterpillars were the nearest approach, in real life, to Edgar Allen Poe.”

“To Edgar Allen Poe?”

“‘For the play is the tragedy, Man,’” he declaimed, “‘and its hero, the Conqueror Worm.’ In May and June the landscape was fairly crawling with Conqueror Worms.”

“Nowadays,” I reflected, “it wouldn’t be Poe. She’d be reading Spillane or one of the more sadistic comics.”

He nodded his agreement.

“Anything, however bad, provided it has some death in it. Death,” he repeated, “preferably violent, preferably in the form of guts and corruption — it’s one of the appetites of childhood. Almost as strong as the appetite for dolls or candy or playing with the genital organs. Children need death in order to get a new, disgustingly delicious kind of thrill. No, that’s not quite accurate. They need it, as they need the other things, in order to give a specific form to the thrills they already have. Can you remember how acute your sensations were, how intensely you felt about everything, when you were a child? The rapture of raspberries and cream, the horror of fish, the hell of castor oil! And the torture of having to get up and recite before the whole class! The inexpressible joy of sitting next to the driver, with the smell of horse sweat and leather in one’s nostrils, the white road stretching away to infinity, and the fields of corn and cabbages slowly turning, as the buggy rolled past, slowly opening and shutting like enormous fans. When you’re a child, your mind is a kind of saturated solution of feeling, a suspension of all the thrills — but in a latent state, in a condition of indeterminacy. Sometimes it’s external circumstances that act as the crystallizing agent, sometimes it’s your own imagination. You want some special kind of thrill, and you deliberately work away at yourself until you get it — a bright pink crystal of pleasure, for example, a green or bruise-coloured lump of fear; for fear, of course, is a thrill like any other, fear is a hideous kind of fun. At twelve, I used to enjoy the fun of scaring myself with fantasies about dying, about the hell of my poor father’s Lenten sermons. And how much scareder Ruth could get than I could! Scareder at one end of the scale and more rapturously happy at the other. And that’s true, I’d say, of most young girls. Their thrill-solution is more concentrated than ours, they can fabricate more kinds of bigger and better crystals more rapidly. Needless to say, I knew nothing about young girls in those days. But Ruth was a liberal education — a bit too liberal, as it turned out later; but we’ll come to that in due course. Meanwhile, she had begun to teach me what every young man ought to know about young girls. It was a good preparation for my career as the father of three daughters.”

Rivers drank some whisky and water, put down the glass and for a little while sucked at his pipe in silence.

“There was one particularly educative week-end,” he said at last, smiling to himself at the memory. “It was during my first spring with the Maartenses. We were staying at their little farmhouse in the country, ten miles west of St Louis. After supper, on the Saturday night, Ruth and I went out to look at the stars. There was a little hill behind the house. You climbed it, and there was the whole sky from horizon to horizon. A hundred and eighty degrees of brute inexplicable mystery. It was a good place for just sitting and saying nothing. But in those days I still felt I had a duty to improve people’s minds. So instead of leaving her in peace to look at Jupiter and the Milky Way, I trotted out the stale old facts and figures — the distance in kilometres to the nearest fixed star, the diameter of the galaxy, the latest word from Mount Wilson on the spiral nebulae. Ruth listened, but her mind wasn’t improved. Instead, she went into a kind of metaphysical panic. Such spaces, such durations, so many worlds beyond improbable worlds! And here we were, in the face of infinity and eternity, bothering our heads about science and housekeeping and being on time, about the colour of hair ribbons and the weekly grades in algebra and Latin grammar! Then, in the little wood beyond the hill, an owl began calling, and at once the metaphysical panic turned into something physical — physical but at the same time occult; for this creeping at the pit of the stomach was due to the superstition that owls are wizard birds, bringers of bad luck, harbingers of death. She knew, of course, that it was all nonsense; but how transporting it was to think and act as though it were true! I tried to laugh her out of it; but Ruth wanted to feel scared and was ready to rationalize and justify her fears. ‘One of the girls in my class’s grandmother died last year,’ she told me. ‘And that night there was an owl in the garden. Right in the middle of St Louis, where there never are any owls.’ As if to confirm her story, there was another burst of distant hooting. The child shuddered and took my arm. We started to walk down the hill in the direction of the wood. ‘It would absolutely kill me if I was alone,’ she said. And then, a moment later, ‘Did you ever read The Fall of the House of Usher?’ It was evident that she wanted to tell me the story; so I said, No, I hadn’t read it. She began. ‘It’s about a brother and sister called Usher, and they lived in a kind of castle with a black and livid tarn in front of it, and there are funguses on the walls, and the brother is called Roderick and he has such a fervid imagination that he can make up poetry without stopping to think, and he’s dark and handsome and has very large eyes and a delicate Hebrew nose, just like his twin sister, who’s called Lady Madeline, and they’re both very ill with a mysterious nervous complaint and she’s liable to go into cataleptic fits….’ And so the narrative proceeded — a snatch of remembered Poe, and then a gush of the junior high school dialect of the nineteen-twenties — as we walked down the grassy slope under the stars. And now we were on the road and moving towards the dark wall of woodland. Meanwhile poor Lady Madeline had died and young Mr Usher was roaming about among the tapestries and the fungi in a state of incipient lunacy. And no wonder! ‘For said I not that my senses were acute?’ Ruth declaimed in a thrilling whisper. ‘I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them many, many days ago.’ Around us the darkness had deepened and suddenly the trees closed over us and we were engulfed in the double night of the wood. Overhead, in the roof of foliage, there was an occasional jagged gleam of a paler, bluer darkness and on either side the tunnel walls opened here and there into mysterious crevices of dim grey crape and blackened silver. And what a mouldy smell of decay! What a damp chill against the cheek! It was as though Poe’s fancy had turned into sepulchral fact. We had stepped, so it seemed, into the Ushers’ family vault. ‘And then suddenly,’ Ruth was saying, ‘suddenly there was a kind of metallic clang, like when you drop a tray on a stone floor, but sort of muffled, like it was a long way underground, because, you see, there was a huge cellar under the house where all the family was buried. And a minute later there she was at the door — the lofty and enshrouded figure of the Lady Madeline of Usher. And there was blood on her white robes, because she’d been struggling for a whole week to get out of the casket, because of course she’d been buried alive. Lots of people are,’ Ruth explained. ‘That’s why they advise you to put it in your will — don’t bury me until you’ve touched the soles of my feet with a red-hot iron. If I don’t wake up, it’s OK and you can go ahead with the funeral. They hadn’t done that with the Lady Madeline, and she was just in a cataleptic fit, till she woke up in the coffin. And Roderick had heard her all those days, but for some reason he hadn’t said anything about it. And now here she was, all in white, with blood on her, reeling to and fro on the threshold, and then she gave the most frightened shriek and fell on top of him, and he shrieked too and …’ But at this moment there was a loud commotion in the invisible undergrowth. Black in the blackness, something enormous emerged on to the road just in front of us. Ruth’s scream was as loud as Madeline’s and Roderick’s combined. She clutched my arm, she hid her face against the sleeve. The apparition snorted. Ruth screamed again. There was another snort, then the clatter of retreating hoofs. ‘It’s only a stray horse,’ I said. But her knees had given way and, if I hadn’t caught her and lowered her gently to the ground, she would have fallen. There was a long silence. ‘When you’ve had enough of sitting in the dust,’ I said ironically, ‘maybe we can go on.’ ‘What would you have done if it had been a ghost?’ she asked at last. ‘I’d have run away and not come back till it was all over.’ ‘What do you mean “all over”?’ she asked. ‘Well, you know what happens to people who meet ghosts,’ I answered. ‘Either they die of fright on the spot, or else their hair turns white and they go mad.’ But instead of laughing, as I had meant her to do, Ruth said I was a beast and burst into tears. That dark clot, which the horse and Poe and her own fancy had crystallized out of her solution of feeling, was too precious a thing to be lightly parted with. You know those enormous lollipops on sticks that children lick at all day long? Well, that’s what her fear was — an all-day sucker; and she wanted to make the most of it, to go on sucking and sucking to the deliciously bitter end. It took me the best part of half an hour to get her on her feet again and in her right mind. It was after her bedtime when we got home and Ruth went straight to her room. I was afraid she’d have nightmares. Not at all. She slept like a top and came down to breakfast next morning as gay as a lark. But a lark that had read her Poe, a lark that was still interested in worms. After breakfast we went out caterpillar hunting and found something really stupendous — a big hawk-moth larva, with green and white markings and a horn on its rear end. Ruth poked it with a straw and the poor thing curled itself first one way, then the other, in a paroxysm of impotent rage and fear. ‘It writhes, it writhes,’ she chanted exultantly; ‘with frightful pangs the mimes become its food, and the angels sob at vermin fangs with human blood imbued.’ But this time the fear-crystal was no bigger than a diamond on a twenty-dollar engagement ring. The thought of death and corruption which she had savoured, the previous night, for the sake of its own intrinsic bitterness, was now a mere condiment, a spice to heighten the taste of life, and make it more intoxicating. “‘Vermin fangs,’” she repeated, and gave the green worm another poke, “‘Vermin fangs …’” And in an overflow of high spirits she began to sing, ‘If you were the only girl in the world,’ at the top of her voice. Incidentally,” Rivers added, “how significant it is that that disgusting song should crop up as a by-product of every major massacre! It was invented in World War I, revived in World War II and was still being sporadically warbled while the slaughter was going on in Korea. The last word in sentimentality accompanies the last words in Machiavellian power politics and indiscriminate violence. Is that something to be thankful for? Or is it something to deepen one’s despair about the human race? I really don’t know — do you?”

I shook my head.

“Well, as I was saying,” he resumed, “she started singing, ‘If you were the only girl in the world,’ changed the next line to ‘and I were the vermin fangs,’ then broke off, made a dive for Grampus, the cocker spaniel, who eluded her and rushed off, full tilt across the pasture, with Ruth in hot pursuit. I followed at a walk and, when at last I caught up with her, she was standing on a little knoll, with Grampus panting at her feet. The wind was blowing and she was facing into it, like a miniature Victory of Samothrace, the hair lifting from her small flushed face, her short skirt blown back and fluttering like a flag, the cotton of her blouse pressed by the air stream against a thin little body that was still almost as flat and boyish as Timmy’s. Her eyes were closed, her lips moved in some silent rhapsody or invocation. The dog turned his head as I approached and wagged a stumpy tail; but Ruth was too far gone into her rapture to hear me. It would have been almost a sacrilege to disturb her; so I halted a few yards away and quietly sat down on the grass. As I watched her, a beatific smile parted her lips and the whole face seemed to glow as though with an inner light. Suddenly her expression changed; she uttered a little cry, opened her eyes and looked about her with an air of frightened bewilderment. ‘John!’ she called thankfully, when she caught sight of me, then ran and dropped on her knees beside me. ‘I’m so glad you’re here,’ she said. ‘And there’s old Grampus. I almost thought …’ She broke off and, with the forefinger of her right hand, touched the tip of her nose, her lips, her chin. ‘Do I look the same?’ she asked. ‘The same,’ I assured her, ‘but if anything a little more so.’ She laughed, and it was a laugh not so much of amusement as of relief. ‘I was nearly gone,’ she confided. ‘Gone where?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘It was that wind. Blowing and blowing. Blowing everything out of my head — you and Grampus and everyone else, everyone at home, everyone at school, and everything I ever knew or ever cared about. All blown away, and nothing left but the wind and the feeling of my being alive. And they were turning into the same thing and blowing away. And if I’d let go, there wouldn’t have been any stopping. I’d have crossed the mountains and gone out over the ocean and maybe right off into one of those black holes between the stars that we were looking at last night.’ She shuddered. ‘Do you think I would have died?’ she asked. ‘Or maybe gone into a catalepsy, so that they’d think I was dead, and then I’d have woken up in a coffin.’ She was back again with Edgar Allen Poe. Next day she showed me a lamentable piece of doggerel, in which the terrors of the night and the ecstasies of the morning had been reduced to the familiar glooms and tombs of all her rhyming. What a gulf between impression and expression! That’s our ironic fate — to have Shakespearean feelings and (unless by some billion-to-one chance we happen to be Shakespeare) to talk about them like automobile salesmen, or teen-agers, or college professors. We practise alchemy in reverse — touch gold and it turns into lead; touch the pure lyrics of experience, and they turn into the verbal equivalents of tripe and hogwash.”

“Aren’t you being unduly optimistic about experience?” I questioned. “Is it always so golden and poetical?”

“Intrinsically golden,” Rivers insisted. “Poetical by its essential nature. But of course if you’re sufficiently steeped in the tripe and hogwash dished out by the moulders of public opinion, you’ll tend automatically to pollute your impressions at the source; you’ll re-create the world in the image of your own notions — and of course your own notions are everybody else’s notions; so the world you live in will consist of the Lowest Common Denominators of the local culture. But the original poetry is always there — always,” he insisted.

“Even for the old?”

“Yes, even for the old. Provided, of course, that they can recapture their lost innocence.”

“And do you ever succeed, may I ask?”

“Believe it or not,” Rivers answered, “I sometimes do. Or perhaps it would be truer to say that it sometimes happens to me. It happened yesterday, as a matter of fact, while I was playing with my grandson. From one minute to another — the transformation of lead into gold, of solemn professorial hogwash into poetry, the kind of poetry that life was all the time, while I was with the Maartenses. Every moment of it.”

“Including the moments in the laboratory?”

“Those were some of the best moments,” he answered me. “Moments of paper work, moments of fiddling around with experimental gadgets, moments of discussion and argument. The whole thing was pure idyllic poetry, like something out of Theocritus or Virgil. Four young Ph.D.s in the rôle of goatherd’s apprentices, with Henry as the patriarch, teaching the youngsters the tricks of his trade, dropping pearls of wisdom, spinning interminable yarns about the new pantheon of theoretical physics. He struck the lyre and rhapsodized about the metamorphosis of earth-bound Mass into celestial Energy. He sang the hopeless loves of Electron for her Nucleus. He piped of Quanta and hinted darkly at the mysteries of Indeterminacy. It was idyllic. Those were the days, remember, when you could be a physicist without feeling guilty; the days when it was still possible to believe that you were working for the greater glory of God. Now they won’t even allow you the comfort of self-deception. You’re paid by the Navy and trailed by the FBI. Not for one moment do they permit you to forget what you’re up to. Ad majorem Dei gloriam? Don’t be an idiot! Ad majorem hominis degradationem — that’s the thing you’re working for. But in 1921 infernal machines were safely in the future. In 1921 we were just a bunch of Theocritan innocents, enjoying the nicest kind of clean scientific fun. And when the fun in the laboratory was over, I’d drive Henry home in the Maxwell and there’d be fun of another kind. Sometimes it was young Timmy, having difficulties with the Rule of Three. Sometimes it was Ruth who simply couldn’t see why the square on the hypotenuse must always be equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. In this case, yes; she was ready to admit it. But why every time? They would appeal to their father. But Henry had lived so long in the world of Higher Mathematics that he had forgotten how to do sums; and he was interested in Euclid only because Euclid’s was the classical example of reasoning based upon a vicious circle. After a few minutes of utterly confounding talk, the great man would get bored and quietly fade away, leaving me to solve Timmy’s problem by some method a little simpler than vector analysis, to set Ruth’s doubts at rest by arguments a little less subversive of all faith in rationality than Hilbert’s or Poincaré’s. And then at supper there would be the noisy fun of the children telling their mother about the day’s events at school; the sacrilegious fun of Katy suddenly breaking into a soliloquy on general relativity theory with an accusing question about those flannel pants which Henry was supposed to have picked up at the cleaners; the Old Plantation fun of Beulah’s comments on the conversation, or the epic fun of one of her sustained, blow-by-blow accounts of how they used to butcher hogs back on the farm. And later, when the children had gone to bed and Henry had shut himself up in his study, there was the fun of funs — there were my evenings with Katy.”

Rivers leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.

“I’m not much good at visualizing,” he said after a little silence. “But the wallpaper, I’m pretty sure, was a dusty kind of pink. And the lampshade was certainly red. It must have been red, because there was always that rich flush on her face, as she sat there darning our socks or sewing on the children’s buttons. A flush on the face, but never on the hands. The hands moved in the brightness of the unscreened light. What strong hands!” he added, smiling to himself. “What efficient hands! None of your spiritual, Blessed-Damozellish appendages! Honest to God hands that were good with screw-drivers; hands that could fix things when they went wrong; hands that could give a massage, or when necessary, a spanking; hands that had a genius for pastry and didn’t mind emptying slops. And the rest of her matched the hands. Her body — it was the body of a strong young matron. A matron with the face of a healthy, peasant girl. No, that’s not quite right. It was the face of a goddess disguised as a healthy peasant girl. Demeter, perhaps. No, Demeter was too sad. And it wasn’t Aphrodite either; there was nothing fatal or obsessive about Katy’s femininity, nothing self-consciously sexy. If there was a goddess involved, it must have been Hera. Hera playing the part of a milkmaid — but a milkmaid with a mind, a milkmaid who had gone to college.” Rivers opened his eyes and replaced the pipe between his teeth. He was still smiling. “I remember some of the things she said about the books I used to read aloud in the evenings. H. G. Wells, for example. He reminded her of the rice paddies in her native California. Acres and acres of shiny water, but never more than two inches deep. And those ladies and gentlemen in Henry James’s novels — could they ever bring themselves, she wondered, to go to the bathroom? And D. H. Lawrence. How she loved those early books of his! All scientists ought to be compelled to take a post-graduate course in Lawrence. She said that to the Chancellor when he came to dinner. He was a most distinguished chemist; and whether it was post hoc or propter hoc, I don’t know; but his wife looked as if all her secretions were pure acetic acid. Katy’s remarks weren’t at all well received.” Rivers chuckled. “And sometimes,” he went on, “we didn’t read; we just talked. Katy told me about her childhood in San Francisco. About the balls and parties after she came out. About the three young men who were in love with her — each one richer and, if possible, stupider than the last. At nineteen she got engaged to the richest and the dumbest. The trousseau was bought, the wedding presents had begun to arrive. And then Henry Maartens came out to Berkeley as a visiting professor. She heard him lecture on the philosophy of science, and after the lecture she went to an evening party given in his honour. They were introduced. He had a nose like an eagle’s, he had pale eyes like a Siamese cat’s, he looked like the portraits of Pascal and when he laughed, the noise was like a ton of coke going down a chute. As for what he saw — it must have passed description. I knew Katy at thirty-six, when she was Hera. At nineteen she must have been Hebe and the three Graces and all the nymphs of Diana rolled into one. And Henry, remember, had just been divorced by his first wife. Poor woman! she simply wasn’t strong enough to play the parts assigned to her — mistress to an indefatigable lover, business manager to an absentee half-wit, secretary to a man of genius, and womb, placenta and circulatory system to the psychological equivalent of a foetus. After two miscarriages and a nervous breakdown she had packed up and gone home to her mother. Henry was on the loose, all four of him — foetus, genius, half-wit and hungry lover — in search of some woman capable of meeting the demands of a symbiotic relationship, in which all the giving would be on her side, all the ravenous and infantile taking on his. The search had been going on for the best part of a year. Henry was growing desperate. And now, suddenly, providentially, here was Katy. It was love at first sight. He took her into a corner and, ignoring everyone else in the room, started to talk to her. Needless to say, it never occurred to him that she might have her own interests and problems, it never entered his head that it might perhaps be a good thing to draw the girl out. He just let fly at her with what happened, for the moment, to be on his mind. On this occasion, it was recent developments in logic. Katy, of course, didn’t understand a word of it; but he was so manifestly a genius, it was all so unspeakably wonderful, that there and then, before the evening was over, she made her mother ask him to dinner. He came, he finished off what he had to say and, while Mrs Hanbury and her other guests played bridge he plunged with Katy into semiotics. Three days later there was some sort of a picnic organized by the Audubon Society, and the two of them managed to get separated from the rest of the party in an arroyo. And finally there was the evening when they went to hear Traviata. Rum-tum-tum-TUM-te-tum.” Rivers hummed the theme of the prelude to the third act. “It was irresistible — it always is. On the way home in the cab he kissed her — kissed her with an intensity of passion and at the same time a tact, an adeptness, for which the semiotics and the absent-mindedness had left her entirely unprepared. After that it became only too evident that her engagement to poor dear Randolph had been a mistake. But what a hue and cry, when she announced her intention of becoming Mrs Henry Maartens! A half-mad professor, with nothing but his salary, divorced by his first wife and old enough, into the bargain, to be her father! But all they could say was entirely irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was the fact that Henry belonged to another species; and that, not Randolph’s — Homo sapiens and not Homo moronicus — was the species she now was interested in. Three weeks after the earthquake they got married. Had she ever regretted her millionaire? Regretted Randolph? To this inconceivably ridiculous question the answer was a peal of laughter. But his horses, she added as she wiped the tears from her eyes, his horses were another matter. His horses were Arabians, and the cattle on his ranch were pure-bred Herefords, and he had a big pond behind the ranch house, with all kinds of the most heavenly ducks and geese. The worst of being a poor professor’s wife in a big town was that you never had a chance of getting away from people. Sure, there were plenty of good people, intelligent people. But the soul cannot live by people alone; it needs horses, it needs pigs and waterfowl. Randolph could have provided her with all the animals her heart could desire — but at a price: himself. She had sacrificed the animals and chosen genius — genius with all its drawbacks. And frankly (she admitted it with a laugh, she talked about it with humorous detachment), frankly there were drawbacks. In his own way, albeit for entirely different reasons, Henry could be almost as dumb as Randolph himself. An idiot where human relations were concerned, a prize ass in all the practical affairs of life. But what an unboring ass, what a luminous idiot! Henry could be utterly insupportable; but he was always worth it. Always! And maybe, she paid me the compliment of adding, maybe when I got married, my wife would feel the same way about me. Insupportable, but worth it.”

“I thought you said she wasn’t consciously sexy,” I commented.

“And it’s true,” he said. “You think she was baiting her hook with flattery. She wasn’t. She was just stating a fact. I had my points; but I was also unbearable. Twenty years of formal education and a lifetime of my poor mother had produced a real monster.” On the outspread fingers of his left hand he itemized the monster’s components. “I was a learned bumpkin; I was an athlete who couldn’t say Bo to a girl; I was a pharisee with a sense of inferiority, I was a prig who secretly envied the people he disapproved of. And yet, in spite of everything, it was worth while to put up with me. I was enormously well meaning.”

“And in this case, I imagine, you did more than mean well. Were you in love with her?” I asked.

There was a little pause; then Rivers slowly nodded.

“Overwhelmingly,” he said.

“But you couldn’t say Bo to a girl.”

“This wasn’t a girl,” he answered. “This was Henry’s wife. Bo was unthinkable. Besides, I was an honorary Maartens, and that made her my honorary mother. And it wasn’t just a question of morality. I never wanted to say Bo. I loved her metaphysically, almost theologically — the way Dante loved Beatrice, the way Petrarch loved Laura. With one slight difference, however. In my case it happened to be sincere. I actually lived my idealism. No little illegitimate Petrarchs on the side. No Mrs Alighieri, and none of those whores that Dante found it necessary to resort to. It was passion, but it was also chastity; and both at white heat. Passion and chastity,” he repeated, and shook his head. “At sixty one forgets what the words stand for. Today I only know the meaning of the word that has replaced them — indifference. Io son Beatrice,” he declaimed. “And all is dross that is not Helena. So what? Old age has something else to think about.”

Rivers was silent; and suddenly, as though to elucidate what he had been saying, there was only the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece, and the whispers of flames among the logs.

“How can anyone seriously believe in his own identity?” he went on. “In logic, A equals A. Not in fact. Me-now is one kettle of fish; me-then is another. I look at the John Rivers who felt that way about Katy. It’s like a puppet play, it’s like Romeo and Juliet through the wrong end of the opera glasses. No, it’s not even that; it’s like looking through the wrong end of the opera glasses at the ghosts of Romeo and Juliet. And Romeo once called himself John Rivers, and was in love, and had at least ten times more life and energy than at ordinary times. And the world he was living in — how totally transfigured!

“I remember how he looked at landscapes; and the colours were incomparably brighter, the patterns that things made in space unbelievably beautiful. I remember how he glanced around him in the streets, and St Louis, believe it of not, was the most splendid city ever built. People, houses, trees, T-model Fords, dogs at lamp-posts — everything was more significant. Significant, you may ask, of what? And the answer is: themselves. These were realities, not symbols. Goethe was absolutely wrong. Alles vergängliche is NOT a Gleichnis. At every instant every transience is eternally that transience. What it signifies is its own being, and that being (as one sees so clearly when one’s in love) is the same as Being with the biggest possible B. Why do you love the woman you’re in love with? Because she is. And that, after all, is God’s own definition of Himself: I am that I am. The girl is who she is. Some of her isness spills over and impregnates the entire universe. Objects and events cease to the mere representatives of classes and become their own uniqueness; cease to be illustrations of verbal abstractions and become fully concrete. Then you stop being in love, and the universe collapses, with an almost audible squeak of derision, into its normal insignificance. Could it ever stay transfigured? Maybe it could. Maybe it’s just a question of being in love with God. But that,” Rivers added, “is neither here nor there. Or rather it’s the only thing that’s either here, there or anywhere; but if we said so, we’d be cut by all our respectable friends and might even end up in the asylum. So let’s get back as quickly as possible to something a little less dangerous. Back to Katy, back to the late lamented …”

He broke off.

“Did you hear something?”

This time I distinctly did. It was the sound, muffled by distance and a heroic self-restraint, of a child’s sobbing.

Rivers got up and, thrusting his pipe into his pocket, walked to the door and opened it.

“Bimbo?” he called questioningly, and then to himself: “How the devil did he get out of his crib?”

For all answer there was a louder sob.

He moved out into the hall and a moment later there was the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs.

“Bimbo,” I heard him saying, “good old Bimbo! Come to see if you could catch Santa Claus red-handed — was that it?”

The sobbing mounted to a tragic crescendo. I got up and followed my host upstairs. Rivers was sitting on the top step, his arms, gigantic in their rough tweed, around a tiny figure in blue pyjamas.

“It’s grandpa,” he kept repeating. “Funny old grandpa. Bimbo’s all right with grandpa.” The sobbing gradually died down. “What made Bimbo wake up?” Rivers asked. “What made him climb out of his crib?”

“Dog,” said the child, and at the memory of his dream he began to cry again. “Big dog.”

“Dogs are funny,” Rivers assured him. “Dogs are so dumb they can’t say anything but bow-wow. Think of all the things Bimbo can say. Mummy. Weewee. Daddy. Pussycat. Dogs aren’t smart. They can’t say any of those things. Just bow-wow-wow.” He put on an imitation of a bloodhound. “Or else bow-wow-wow.” This time it was a toy Pomeranian. “Or else Wo-o-o-ow.” He howled lugubriously and grotesquely. Uncertainly, between sobs, the child began to laugh. “That’s right,” said Rivers. “Bimbo just laughs at those dumb dogs. Every time he sees one, every time he hears that silly barking, he laughs and laughs and laughs.” This time the child laughed whole-heartedly. “And now,” said Rivers, “grandpa and Bimbo are going to take a walk.” Still holding the child in his arms, he got up and made his way along the corridor. “This is grandpa’s room,” he said, opening the first door. “Nothing of great interest here, I’m afraid.” The next door stood ajar; he walked in. “And this is Mummy’s and Daddy’s room. And here’s the closet with all Mummy’s clothes. Don’t they smell good?” He sniffed loudly. The child followed suit. “Le Shocking de Schiaparelli,” Rivers went on. “Or is it Femme? Anyhow, it serves the same purpose; for it’s sex, sex, sex that makes the world go round — as, I’m sorry to say, you’ll find out, my poor Bimbo, in a very few years from now.” Tenderly he brushed his cheek against the pale floss of the child’s hair, then walked over to the full length mirror set in the door of the bathroom. “Look at us,” he called to me. “Just look at us!”

I came and stood beside him. There we were in the glass — a pair of bent and sagging elders and, in the arms of one of them, a small, exquisite Christ-child.

“And to think,” said Rivers, “to think that once we were all like that. You start as a lump of protoplasm, a machine for eating and excreting. You grow into this sort of thing. Something almost supernaturally pure and beautiful.” He laid his cheek once more against the child’s head. “Then comes a bad time with pimples and puberty. After which you have a year or two, in your twenties, of being Praxiteles. But Praxiteles soon puts on weight and starts to lose his hair and for the next forty years you degenerate into one or other of the varieties of the human gorilla. The spindly gorilla — that’s you. Or the leather-faced variety — that’s me. Or else it’s the successful business-man type of gorilla — you know, the kind that looks like a baby’s bottom with false teeth. As for the female gorillas, the poor old things with paint on their cheeks and orchids at the prow … No, let’s not talk about them, let’s not even think.”

The child in his arms yawned at our reflections, then turned, pillowed his head on the man’s shoulder and closed his eyes. “I think we can take him back to his crib,” Rivers whispered and started towards the door.

“One feels,” he said slowly, as we stood looking down, a few minutes later, at that small face, which sleep had transfigured into the image of an unearthly serenity, “one feels so desperately sorry for them. They don’t know what they’re in for. Seventy years of ambushes and betrayals, of booby traps and deceptions.”

“And of fun,” I put in. “Fun to the pitch, sometimes, of ecstasy.”

“Of course,” Rivers agreed, as he turned away from the crib. “That’s what baits the booby traps.” He switched off the light, softly closed the door and followed me down the stairs. “Fun — every kind of fun. Sex fun, eating fun, power fun, comfort fun, possession fun, cruelty fun. But there’s either a hook in the bait, or else when you grab it, it pulls a trigger and down come the bricks or the bucket of bird lime or whatever it is that the cosmic joker has prepared for you.” We resumed our seats on either side of the fire in the library. “What sort of traps are waiting for that poor little shining creature up there in the crib? One can hardly bear to think of it. The only comfort is that there’s ignorance before the event and, after it, forgetting, or at the very least indifference. Every balcony scene turns into an affair of midgets in another universe! And in the end, of course, there’s always death. And while there is death, there is hope.” He refilled our glasses and relit his pipe. “Where was I?”

“In heaven,” I answered, “with Mrs Maartens.”

“In heaven,” Rivers repeated. And then, after a little pause, “It lasted,” he went on, “about fifteen months. From December to the second spring, with a break of ten weeks in the summer, while the family was away in Maine. Ten weeks of what was supposed to be my vacation at home, but was actually, in spite of the familiar house, in spite of my poor mother, the most desolate kind of exile. And it wasn’t only Katy that I missed. I was homesick for all of them — for Beulah in the kitchen, for Timmy on the floor with his trains, for Ruth and her preposterous poems, for Henry’s asthma and the laboratory and those extraordinary monologues of his about everything. What bliss it was, in September, to regain my paradise! Eden in autumn, with the leaves turning, the sky still blue, the light changing from gold to silver. Then Eden in winter, Eden with the lamps lighted and rain outside the windows, the bare trees like hieroglyphs against the sunset. And then, at the beginning of that second spring, there was a telegram from Chicago. Katy’s mother was ill. Nephritis — and those were the days before the sulfas, before penicillin. Katy packed her bags and was at the station in time to catch the next train. The two children — the three children, if you counted Henry — were left in charge of Beulah and myself. Timmy gave us no trouble at all. But the others, I assure you, the others more than made up for Timmy’s reasonableness. The poetess refused to eat her prunes at breakfast, couldn’t be bothered to brush her hair, neglected her home work. The Nobel Prize winner wouldn’t get up in the morning, cut his lectures, was late for every appointment. And there were other, graver delinquencies. Ruth broke her piggy bank and squandered a year’s accumulated savings on a make-up kit and a bottle of cheap perfume. The day after Katy left, she looked and smelt like the Whore of Babylon.”

“For the benefit of the Conqueror Worm?”

“Worms were out,” he answered. “Poe was as old-fashioned as Over There or Alexander’s Ragtime Band. She’d been reading Swinburne, she’d just made the discovery of the poems of Oscar Wilde. The universe was quite different now and she herself was somebody else — another poetess with a brand new vocabulary … Sweet sin; desire; jasper claws; the ache of purple pulses; the raptures and roses of vice; and lips, of course, lips intertwisted and bitten till the foam has a savour of blood — all that adolescent bad taste of Late-Victorian rebellion. And in Ruth’s case, the new words had been accompanied by new facts. She was no longer a little boy in a skirt and with pigtails; she was a budding woman with two little breasts that she carried about delicately and gingerly as though they were a pair of extremely valuable but rather dangerous and embarrassing zoological specimens. They were a source, one could sense, of mingled pride and shame, of intense pleasure and, therefore, of a haunting sense of guilt. How impossibly crude our language is! If you don’t mention the physiological correlates of emotion, you’re being false to the given facts. But if you do mention them, it sounds as though you were trying to be gross and cynical. Whether it’s passion or the desire of the moth for the star, whether it’s tenderness or adoration or romantic yearning — love is always accompanied by events in the nerve endings, the skin, the mucous membranes, the glandular and erectile tissues. Those who don’t say so are liars. Those who do are labelled as pornographers. It’s the fault, of course, of our philosophy of life; and our philosophy of life is the inevitable byproduct of a language that separates in idea what in actual fact is always inseparable. It separates and at the same time it evaluates. One of the abstractions is ‘good,’ and the other is ‘bad.’ Judge not that ye be not judged. But the nature of language is such that we can’t help judging. What we need is another set of words. Words that can express the natural togetherness of things. Muco-spiritual, for example, or dermatocharity. Or why not mastonoetic? Why not viscerosophy? But translated, of course, out of the indecent obscurity of a learned language into something you could use in everyday speech or even in lyrical poetry. How hard it is, without those still non-existent words, to discuss even so simple and obvious a case as Ruth’s! The best one can do is to flounder about in metaphors. A saturated solution of feelings, which can be crystallized either from the outside or the inside. Words and events that fall into the psycho-physical soup and make it clot into action-producing lumps of emotion and sentiment. Then come the glandular changes, and the appearance of those charming little zoological specimens which the child carries around with so much pride and embarrassment. The thrill-solution is enriched by a new kind of sensibility that radiates from the nipples, through the skin and the nerve-ends, into the soul, the subconscious, the superconscious, the spirit. And these new psycho-erectile elements of personality impart a kind of motion to the thrill-solution, cause it to flow in a specific direction — towards the still unmapped, undifferentiated region of love. Into this flowing stream of love-oriented feeling chance drops a variety of crystallizing agents — words, events, other people’s example, private phantasies and memories, all the innumerable devices used by the Fates to mould an individual human destiny. Ruth had the misfortune to pass from Poe to Algernon and Oscar, from the Conqueror Worm to Dolores and Salome. Combined with the new facts of her own physiology, the new literature made it absolutely necessary for the poor child to smear her mouth with lipstick and drench her combinations with synthetic violet. And worse was to follow.”

“Synthetic ambergris?”

“Much worse — synthetic love. She persuaded herself that she was passionately, Swinburneishly in love — and, of all people, with me!”

“Couldn’t she have chosen someone a little nearer her own size?” I asked.

“She’d tried,” Rivers answered, “but it hadn’t worked. I had the story from Beulah, to whom she had confided it. A tragic little story of a fifteen-year-old girl adoring a heroic young footballer and scholarship-winner of seventeen. She had chosen someone more nearly her own size; but unfortunately, at that period of life, two years are an almost impassable gulf. The young hero was interested only in girls of a maturity comparable to his own — eighteen-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds, at a pinch well-developed sixteen-year-olds. A skinny little fifteen-year-old like Ruth was out of the question. She found herself in the position of a low-born Victorian maiden hopelessly adoring a duke. For a long time the young hero didn’t even notice her; and when at last she forced herself on his attention, he began by being amused and ended by being rude. That was when she started to persuade herself that she was in love with me.”

“But if seventeen was too old, why did she try twenty-eight? Why not sixteen?”

“There were several reasons. The rebuff had been public, and if she’d chosen some pimply younger substitute for the footballer, the other girls would have commiserated with her to her face and laughed at her behind her back. Love for another schoolboy was thus out of the question. But she knew no males except schoolboys and myself. There was no choice. If she was going to love anybody — and the new physiological facts inclined her to love, the new vocabulary imposed love upon her as a categorical imperative — then I was the man. It started actually several weeks before Katy left for Chicago. I had noticed a number of premonitory symptoms — blushings, silences, abrupt inexplicable exits in the middle of conversations, fits of jealous sulking if ever I seemed to prefer the mother’s company to the child’s. And then, of course, there were those love poems which she insisted, in the teeth of her own and my embarrassment, on showing me. Blisses and kisses. Lips and whips, yearning and burning. Best, blest, pressed, breast. She’d look at me intently while I read the things, and it wasn’t the merely anxious look of a literary novice awaiting the critic’s judgment; it was the damp, large, lustrous regard of an adoring spaniel, of a Counter-Reformation Magdalen, of the willing murderee at the feet of her predestined Bluebeard. It made me feel exceedingly uncomfortable, and I wondered sometimes if it wouldn’t be a good thing, for everybody’s sake, to mention the matter to Katy. But then, I argued, if my suspicions were unfounded, I should look pretty fatuous; and if I were right, I should be making trouble for poor little Ruth. Better say nothing and wait for the foolishness to blow over. Better to go on pretending that the poems were simply literary exercises which had nothing to do with real life or their author’s feelings. And so it went on, underground, like a Resistance Movement, like the Fifth Column, until the day of her mother’s departure. Driving home from the station I wondered apprehensively what would happen now that Katy’s restraining presence had been removed. Next morning brought the answer — painted cheeks, a mouth like an over-ripe strawberry and that perfume, that whore-house smell of her!”

“With behaviour, I suppose, to match?”

“That was what I expected, of course. But oddly enough it didn’t immediately materialize. Ruth didn’t seem to feel the need of acting her new part; it was enough merely to look it. She was satisfied with the signs and emblems of the grand passion. Scenting her cotton underclothes, looking at the image in the glass of that preposterously raddled little face, she could see and smell herself as another Lola Montez, without having to establish her claim to the title by doing anything at all. And it was not merely the mirror that told her who she had become; it was also public opinion — her amazed and envious and derisive school fellows, her scandalized teachers. Their looks and comments corroborated her private phantasies. She was not the only one to know it; even other people recognized the fact that she had now become the grande amoureuse, the femme fatale. It was all so novel and exciting and absorbing that for a time, thank heaven, I was almost forgotten. Besides, I had committed the unpardonable offence of not taking her latest impersonation with proper seriousness. It was on the very first day of the new dispensation. I came downstairs to find Ruth and Beulah in the hall, hotly disputing. ‘A nice young girl like you,’ the old woman was saying. ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself.’ The nice young girl tried to enlist me as an ally. ‘You don’t think mother will mind my using make-up, do you?’ Beulah left me no time to answer. ‘I’ll tell you what your mother will do,’ she said emphatically and with remorseless realism, ‘she’ll give you one look, then she’ll sit down on the davenport, turn you over her knee, pull down your drawers and give you the biggest spanking you ever had in all your life.’ Ruth gave her a look of cold and haughty contempt and said, ‘I wasn’t talking to you.’ Then she turned back in my direction. ‘What do you say, John?’ The strawberry lips wreathed themselves into what was intended to be a richly voluptuous smile, the eyes gave me a bolder version of their adoring look. ‘What do you say?’ In mere self-defence I told her the truth. ‘I’m afraid Beulah’s right,’ I said. ‘An enormous spanking.’ The smile faded, the eyes darkened and narrowed, an angry flush appeared beneath the rouge on her cheeks. ‘I think you’re absolutely disgusting,’ she said. ‘Disgusting!’ Beulah echoed. ‘Who’s disgusting, I’d like to know?’ Ruth scowled and bit her lip, but managed to ignore her. ‘How old was Juliet?’ she asked with a note of anticipated triumph in her voice. ‘A year younger than you are,’ I answered. The triumph broke through in a mocking smile. ‘But Juliet,’ I went on, ‘didn’t go to school. No classes, no homework. Nothing to think about except Romeo and painting her face — if she did paint it, which I rather doubt. Whereas you’ve got algebra, you’ve got Latin and the French irregular verbs. You’ve been given the inestimable opportunity of some day becoming a reasonably civilized young woman.’ There was a long silence. Then she said, ‘I hate you.’ It was the cry of an outraged Salome, of Dolores justly indignant at having been mistaken for a high school kid. Tears began to flow. Charged with the black silt of mascara, they cut their way through the alluvial plains of rouge and powder. ‘Damn you,’ she sobbed, ‘damn you!’ She wiped her eyes; then, catching sight of the horrible mess on her handkerchief, she uttered a cry of horror and rushed upstairs. Five minutes later, serene and completely repainted, she was on her way to school. And that,” Rivers concluded, “was one of the reasons why our grande amoureuse paid so little attention to the object of her devouring passion, why the femme fatale preferred, during the first two weeks of her existence, to concentrate on herself rather than on the person to whom the author of the scenario had assigned the part of victim. She had tried me out and found me sadly unworthy of the rôle. It seemed better, for the time being, to play the piece as a monologue. In that quarter at least I was given a respite. But meanwhile my Nobel Prize winner was getting into trouble.

“On the fourth day of his emancipation, Henry sneaked off to a cocktail party given by a female musicologist with Bohemian tastes. Broken reeds can never hold their liquor like gentlemen. Henry could get gloriously tipsy on tea and conversation. Martinis turned him into a maniac, who suddenly became a depressive and ended up, invariably, by vomiting. He knew it, of course; but the child in him had to assert its independence. Katy had confined him to an occasional sherry. Well, he’d show her, he’d prove that he could affront Prohibition as manfully as anyone else. When the cat’s away, the mice will play. And they’ll play (such is the curious perversity of the human heart) at games which are simultaneously dangerous and boring — games where, if you lose and retire, you feel humiliated and, if you persist and win, you wish to God you hadn’t. Henry accepted the musicologist’s invitation, and what was bound to happen duly happened. By the time he was halfway through his second drink he was making an exhibition of himself. By the end of the third he was holding the musicologist’s hand and telling her that he was the unhappiest man in the world. And a quarter of the way through the fourth he had to make a dash for the bathroom. But that wasn’t all; on the way home — he insisted on walking — he managed somehow to lose his briefcase. In it were the first three chapters of his new book. From Boole to Wittgenstein. Even now, a generation later, it’s still the best introduction to modern logic. A little masterpiece! And maybe it would be still better if he hadn’t got drunk and lost the original version of the first three chapters. I deplored the loss, but welcomed its sobering effect on poor old Henry. For the next few days he was as good as gold, as reasonable, very nearly, as little Timmy. I thought my troubles were over, all the more so as the news from Chicago seemed to indicate that Katy would soon be home again. Her mother, so it seemed, was sinking. Sinking so fast that, one morning on our way to the laboratory, Henry made me stop at a haberdasher’s; he wanted to buy himself a black satin tie for the funeral. Then, electrifyingly, came the news of a miracle. At the last moment, refusing to give up hope, Katy had called in another doctor — a young man just out of Johns Hopkins, brilliant, indefatigable, up to all the latest tricks. He had started a new treatment, he had wrestled with death through the whole of a night and a day and another night. And now the battle was won; the patient had been brought back from the very brink of the grave and would live. Katy, in her letter, was exultant and I, of course, exulted in sympathy. Old Beulah went about her work loudly praising the Lord, and even the children took time off from their themes and problems, their phantasies of sex and railway trains, to rejoice. Everyone was happy except Henry. True, he kept saying that he was happy; but his unsmiling face (he could never conceal what he really felt) belied his words. He had been counting on Mrs Hanbury’s death to bring his womb-secretary, his mother-mistress home again. And now — unexpectedly, improperly (there was no other word for it) — this interfering young squirt from Johns Hopkins had come along with his damned miracle. Someone who ought to have quietly shuffled off, was now (against all the rules) out of danger. Out of danger; but still, of course, much too sick to be left alone. Katy would have to stay on in Chicago until the patient could fend for herself. Heaven only knew when the one being on whom poor old Henry depended for everything — his health, his sanity, his very life — would return to him. Hope deferred brought on several attacks of asthma. But then, providentially, came the announcement that he had been elected a Corresponding Member of the French Institute. Very flattering, indeed! It cured him instantly — but, alas, not permanently. A week passed, and as day succeeded day, Henry’s sense of deprivation became a positive agony, like the withdrawal pains of a drug addict. His anguish found expression in a wild, irrational resentment. That fiendish old hag! (Actually, Katy’s mother was two months his junior.) That malignant malingerer! For, of course, she wasn’t really ill — nobody could be really ill that long without dying. She was just shamming. And the motive was a mixture of selfishness and spite. She wanted to keep her daughter to herself and she wanted (for the old bitch had always hated him) to prevent Katy from being where she ought to be — with her husband. I gave him a little talk about nephritis and made him re-read Katy’s letters. It worked for a day or two, and after that the news was more encouraging. The patient was making such good progress that in a few days, maybe, she could safely be left in charge of a nurse and the Swedish maid. In his joy, Henry became, for the first time since I had known him, almost a normal father. Instead of retiring to his study after dinner, he played games with the children. Instead of talking about his own subjects, he tried to amuse them by making bad puns and asking riddles. ‘Why is a chicken with its head hanging down like next week?’ Obviously, because its neck’s weak. Timmy was in ecstasies and even Ruth condescended to smile. Three more days passed and it was Sunday. In the evening we played bezique and then a game of Heads, Bodies and Tails. The clock struck nine. One last round; then the children went upstairs. Ten minutes later they were in bed and calling us to come and say good night. We looked in first on Timmy. ‘Do you know this one?’ Henry asked. ‘What flower would come up if you planted bags of anger?’ The answer, of course, was sacks of rage; but as Timmy had never heard of saxifrage, it left him rather cold. We turned out the light and moved on to the next room. Ruth was in bed with the Teddy Bear, who was at once her baby and her Prince Charming, beside her. She was wearing pale blue pyjamas and full make up. Her teacher had raised objections to rouge and perfume in class and, when persuasion proved unavailing, the Principal had categorically forbidden them. The poetess had been reduced to painting and scenting herself at bedtime. The whole room reeked of imitation violets and the pillow, on either side of her small face, was streaked with lipstick and mascara. These were details, however, which Henry was not the man to notice. ‘What flower,’ he asked as he approached the bed, ‘or, to be more precise, what flowering tree would come up, if you were to plant a packet of old love letters?’ ‘Love letters?’ the child repeated. She glanced at me, then blushed and looked away. Forcing a laugh, she answered, in a bored superior tone, that she couldn’t guess. ‘Laburnum,’ her father brought out triumphantly; and when she didn’t understand, ‘La, burn ’em,’ he explained. ‘Don’t you get the point? They’re love letters — old love letters, and you’ve found a new admirer. So what do you do? You burn them.’ ‘But why La?’ Ruth asked. Henry gave her a brief, instructive lecture on the art of innocuous blasphemy. Gee for God, Jeeze for Jesus, Heck for Hell, La for Lord. ‘But nobody ever says La,’ Ruth objected. ‘They did in the eighteenth century,’ Henry retorted rather testily. Far off, in the master bedroom, the telephone bell started to ring. His face brightened. ‘I have a hunch it’s Chicago calling,’ he said, as he bent down to give Ruth her good-night kiss. ‘And another hunch,’ he added as he hurried towards the door, ‘that mother will be coming back tomorrow. Tomorrow!’ he repeated, and was gone. ‘Won’t it be wonderful,’ I said fervently, ‘if he’s right!’ Ruth nodded her head and said, ‘Yes,’ in a tone that made it sound like ‘No.’ The narrow painted face suddenly took on an expression of acute anxiety. She was thinking, no doubt, of what Beulah had said would happen when her mother came home; was seeing, was actually feeling, Dolores-Salome turned over a large maternal knee and, in spite of her being a year older than Juliet, getting resoundingly spanked. ‘Well, I’d better be going,’ I said at last. Ruth caught my hand and held it. ‘Not yet,’ she pleaded and, as she spoke, her face changed its expression. The pinched anxious look was replaced by a tremulous smile of adoration; the lips parted, the eyes widened and shone. It was as though she had suddenly remembered who I was — her slave and her predestined Bluebeard, the only reason for her assumption of the double rôle of fatal temptress and sacrificial victim. And tomorrow, if her mother came home, tomorrow it would be too late; the play would be over, the theatre closed by order of the police. It was now or never. She squeezed my hand. ‘Do you like me, John?’ she whispered almost inaudibly. I answered in the jolly, ringing tones of an extraverted scoutmaster, ‘Of course I like you.’ ‘As much as you like mother?’ she insisted. I parried with a display of good-humoured impatience. ‘What an asinine question!’ I said. ‘I like your mother the way one likes grown-ups. And I like you the way …’ ‘The way one likes children,’ she concluded bitterly. ‘As if that made any difference!’ ‘Well, doesn’t it?’ ‘Not to this kind of thing.’ And when I asked which kind of thing, she squeezed my hand and said, ‘Liking people,’ and gave me another of those looks of hers. There was an embarrassing pause. ‘Well, I guess I’d better be going,’ I said at last, and remembering the rhyme which Timmy always found so exquisitely humorous, ‘Good night,’ I added as I disengaged my hand, ‘sleep tight, mind the fleas don’t bite.’ The joke fell like a ton of pig iron into the silence. Unsmiling, with a focused intensity of yearning that I would have found comic if it hadn’t scared me out of my wits, she went on gazing up at me. ‘Aren’t you going to say good night to me properly?’ she asked. I bent down to administer the ritual peck on the forehead, and suddenly her arms were around my neck and it was no longer I who was kissing the child, but the child who was kissing me — on the right cheekbone first of all and then, with somewhat better aim, near the corner of the mouth. ‘Ruth!’ I protested; but before I could say more, she had kissed me again, with a clumsy kind of violence, full on the lips. I jerked myself free. ‘What did you do that for?’ I asked in an angry panic. Her face flushed, her eyes shining and enormous, she looked at me, whispered, ‘I love you,’ then turned away and buried her face in the pillow, next to the Teddy Bear. ‘All right,’ I said severely. ‘This is the last time I come and say good night to you,’ and I turned to go. The bed creaked, bare feet thudded on the floor and as I touched the door knob she was beside me, tugging at my arm. ‘I’m sorry, John,’ she was saying incoherently. ‘I’m sorry. I’ll do anything you say. Anything …’ The eyes were all spaniel now, without a trace of the temptress. I ordered her back to bed and told her that, if she was a very good girl, I might relent. Otherwise … And with that unspoken threat I left her. First I went to my room, to wash the lipstick off my face, then walked back along the corridor towards the stairs and ultimately the library. On the landing at the head of the staircase I almost collided with Henry, as he came out of the passage leading to his wing of the house. ‘What news?’ I began. But then I saw his face and was appalled. Five minutes before he had been gaily asking riddles. Now he was an old, old man, pale as a corpse, but without the corpse’s serenity; for there was an expression in his eyes and around the mouth of unbearable suffering. ‘Is something wrong?’ I asked anxiously. He shook his head without speaking. ‘You’re sure?’ I insisted. ‘That was Katy on the phone,’ he said at last in a toneless voice. ‘She isn’t coming home.’ I asked if the old lady were worse again. ‘That’s the excuse,’ he said bitterly, then turned and walked back in the direction from which he had come. Full of concern, I followed him. There was a short passage, I remember, with the door of a bathroom at the end of it and another door on the left, opening into the master bedroom. I had never been in the room before, and it was with a shock of surprise and wonder that I now found myself confronted by the Maartenses’ extraordinary bed. It was an Early American four-poster, but of such gigantic proportions that it made me think of presidential assassinations and state funerals. In Henry’s mind, of course, the association of ideas must have been somewhat different. My catafalque was his marriage bed. The telephone, which had just condemned him to another term of solitude, stood next to the symbol and scene of his conjugal happiness. No, that’s the wrong word,” Rivers added parenthetically. “‘Conjugal’ implies a reciprocal relationship between two full-blown persons. But for Henry, Katy wasn’t a person; she was his food, she was a vital organ of his own body. When she was absent, he was like a cow deprived of grass, like a man with jaundice struggling to exist without a liver. It was an agony. ‘Maybe you’d better lie down for a while,’ I said in the wheedling tone one automatically adopts when speaking to the sick. I made a gesture in the direction of the bed. His response, this time, was like what happens if you sneeze while traversing a slope of newly fallen snow — an avalanche. And what an avalanche! Not the white, virginal variety, but a hot, palpitating dung-slide. It stank, it suffocated, it overwhelmed. From the fool’s paradise of my belated and utterly inexcusable innocence, I listened in shocked, astonished horror. ‘It’s obvious,’ he kept repeating. ‘It’s only too obvious.’ Obvious that if Katy didn’t come home, it was because she didn’t want to come home. Obvious that she must have found some other man. And obvious that this other man was the new doctor. Doctors were notoriously good lovers. They understood physiology, they knew all about the autonomic nervous system.

“Horror gave place in my mind to indignation. What was he daring to say about my Katy, about this more than woman who could only be as pure and perfect as my own almost religious passion? ‘Are you seriously implying,’ I began … But Henry wasn’t implying. He was categorically affirming. Katy was being unfaithful to him with the young squirt from Johns Hopkins.

“I told him he was mad, and he retorted that I knew nothing about sex. Which, of course, was painfully true. I tried to change the subject. It wasn’t a question of sex — it was a question of nephritis, of a mother who needed her daughter’s care. But Henry wouldn’t listen. All he now wanted was to torture himself. And if you ask why he wanted to torture himself, I can only answer that it was because he was already in agony. His was the weaker, the more dependent half of a symbiotic partnership which (so he believed) had just been dissolved abruptly. It was a surgical operation, without anaesthetics. Katy’s return would have stopped the pain and instantly healed the wound. But Katy was not returning. Therefore (admire the logic!) it was necessary for Henry to inflict upon himself as much additional suffering as he possibly could. And the most effective way of doing that was to put his misery into lacerating words. To talk and talk — not, of course, to me, not even at me; only to himself — but to himself (and this was essential if he was to suffer) in my presence. The part assigned to me was not that of the supporting character actor, not even that of the bit player who serves as confidante and errand-runner. No, I was merely the nameless, almost faceless extra, whose business it had been to provide the hero with his initial excuse for thinking out loud, and who now, by simply being on the spot, imparted to the overheard soliloquy a monstrousness, a sheer obscenity, which it would have lacked if the speaker had been alone. Self-activated, the dung-slide gathered momentum. From Katy’s betrayal, he passed to her choice (and this was the unkindest cut) of a younger man. Younger and therefore more virile, more indefatigably lustful. (Not to mention that, as a doctor, he knew about physiology and the autonomic nervous system.) The person, the professional, the devoted healer — all had disappeared; and so, by implication had Katy. Nothing remained except a pair of sexual functions frantically exploiting one another in the void. That he could have thought in these terms about Katy and her hypothetical lover was a proof, as I began obscurely to realize, that he thought in the same way about Katy and himself. Henry, as I’ve said, was a broken reed, and broken reeds, as you must have had innumerable occasions to observe, are apt to be ardent. Ardent, indeed, to the point of frenzy. No, that’s the wrong word. Frenzy is blind. Whereas lovers like Henry never lose their head. They take it with them, however far they go — take it with them so that they can be fully, gloatingly conscious of their own and their partner’s alienation. Actually, this was about the only thing, outside his laboratory and his library, that Henry cared to be conscious of. Most people inhabit a universe that is like French café au lait — fifty per cent skim milk and fifty per cent stale chicory, half psycho-physical reality and half conventional verbiage. Henry’s universe was modelled on the highball. It was a mixture in which half a pint of the fizziest philosophical and scientific ideas all but drowned a small jigger of immediate experience, most of it strictly sexual. Broken reeds are seldom good mixers. They’re far too busy with their ideas, their sensuality and their psycho-somatic complaints to be able to take an interest in other people — even their own wives and children. They live in a state of the most profound voluntary ignorance, not knowing anything about anybody, but abounding in preconceived opinions about everything. Take the education of children, for example. Henry could talk about it as an authority. He had read Piaget, he had read Dewey, he had read Montessori, he had read the psycho-analysts. It was all there in his cerebral filing cabinet, classified, categorized, instantly available. But when it came to doing something for Ruth and Timmy, he was either hopelessly incompetent or, more often, he just faded out of the picture. For of course they bored him. All children bored him. So did the overwhelming majority of adults. How could it be otherwise? Their ideas were rudimentary and their reading, nonexistent. What had they to offer? Only their sentiments and their moral life, only their occasional wisdom and their frequent and pathetic lack of wisdom. In a word, only their humanity. And humanity was something in which poor Henry was incapable, congenitally, of taking an interest. Between the worlds of quantum theory and epistemology at one end of the spectrum and of sex and pain at the other, there was a kind of limbo peopled only by ghosts. And among the ghosts was about seventy-five per cent of himself. For he was as little aware of his own humanity as of other people’s. His ideas and his sensations — yes, he knew all about those. But who was the man who had the ideas and felt the sensations? And how was this man related to the things and people around him? How, above all, ought he to be related to them? I doubt if it ever occurred to Henry to ask himself such questions. In any case he didn’t ask them on this occasion. His soliloquy was not a husband’s agonized debate between love and suspicion. That would have been a fully human response to the challenge of a fully human situation — and, as such, it could never occur in the presence of a listener so raw and foolish, so incapable of giving understanding help, as was the young John Rivers of thirty years ago. No, this was essentially a less than human reaction; and one of the elements of its sub-humanity was the fact, the utterly outrageous and senseless fact, that it was taking place in the presence of someone who was neither an intimate friend nor a professional counsellor — merely a shocked young bumpkin with a too pious background and a pair of receptive but shuddering ears. Those poor ears! Lucidly expressed and richly documented, the scientific dirt fairly poured into them. Burton and Havelock Ellis, Krafft-Ebing and the incomparable Ploss and Bartels — like Piaget and John Dewey, they were all there in Henry’s built-in filing cabinet, accessible in the minutest detail. And in this case, it now became evident, Henry had not been content to remain the armchair expert. He had practised what he preached, he had acted, systematically, on what he knew in theory. How difficult it is, in these days when you can discuss orgasms over the soup and flagellation with the ice cream, how extraordinarily difficult it is to remember the strength of the old taboos, the depth of the silence by which they were surrounded! As far as I was concerned, everything that Henry talked about — the techniques of love-making, the anthropology of marriage, the statistics of sexual satisfaction — was a revelation from the abyss. It was the sort of thing that decent people did not mention, did not, I had fondly imagined, even know; the sort of thing that could be discussed and understood only in brothels, at rich men’s orgies, in Montmartre and Chinatown and the French Quarter. And yet these horrors were being poured into my ears by the man whom I respected above all others, the man who, for intellect and scientific intuition, surpassed everyone I had ever known. And he was uttering his horrors in connection with the woman whom I loved as Dante had loved Beatrice; as Petrarch worshipped Laura. He was asserting, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world, that Beatrice had almost insatiable appetites, that Laura had broken her marriage vows for the sake of the kind of physical sensations which any hefty brute with a good knowledge of the autonomic nervous system could so easily evoke. And even if he hadn’t been accusing Katy of unfaithfulness, I should have been appalled by what he said. For what he said implied that the horrors were as much a part of marriage as of adultery. I can hardly expect you to believe it,” Rivers added with a laugh, “but it’s the truth. Up to that moment I had no idea of what went on between husbands and wives. Or rather I had an idea, but it didn’t happen to be correct. My idea was that, outside the underworld, decent people didn’t make love except for the sake of having children — once in a lifetime in my parents’ case, twice in the Maartenses’. And now here was Henry sitting on the edge of his catafalque and soliloquizing. Soliloquizing with the lucidity of genius, the uninhibited elaboration of infantility, about all the strange and, to me, appallingly immoral things that had happened under its funereal canopy. And Katy, my Katy, had been his accomplice — not his victim, as at first I had tried to believe, but his willing and even enthusiastic accomplice. It was this enthusiasm indeed, that made him suspect her. For if sensuality meant so much to her here, on the domestic catafalque, it must of necessity mean even more to her up there in Chicago, with the young doctor. And suddenly, to my unspeakable embarrassment, Henry covered his face and began to sob.”

There was a silence.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“What could I do?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing, except make a few soothing noises and advise him to go to bed. Tomorrow he’d discover that it had all been a huge mistake. Then, on the pretext of getting him his hot milk, I hurried off to the kitchen. Beulah was in her rocking-chair, reading a small book about the Second Coming. I told her that Dr Maartens wasn’t feeling so good. She listened, nodded meaningfully as though she had expected it, then shut her eyes and, in silence, but with moving lips, prayed for a long time. After that she gave a sigh and said, ‘Empty, swept and garnished.’ Those were the words that had been given to her. And though it seemed an odd thing to say about a man who had more in his head than any six ordinary intellectuals, the phrase turned out, on second thoughts, to be an exact description of poor old Henry. Empty of God, swept clean of common manhood and garnished, like a Christmas tree, with glittering notions. And seven other devils, worse even than stupidity and sentimentality, had moved in and taken possession. But meanwhile the milk was steaming. I poured it into a thermos and went upstairs. For a moment, as I entered the bedroom, I thought Henry had given me the slip. Then, from behind the catafalque, came a sound of movement. In the recess between the draped chintz of the four-poster and the window, Henry was standing before the open door of a small safe, let into the wall and ordinarily concealed from view by the half-length portrait of Katy in her wedding dress, which covered it. ‘Here’s your milk,’ I began in a tone of hypocritical cheerfulness. But then I noticed that the thing he had taken out of the recesses of the strong-box was a revolver. My heart missed a beat. I remembered suddenly that there was a midnight train for Chicago. Visions of the day after tomorrow’s headlines crowded in on me. FAMOUS SCIENTIST SHOOTS WIFE, SELF. Or NOBEL PRIZE MAN HELD IN DOUBLE SLAYING. Or even MOTHER OF TWO DIES IN FLAMING LOVE NEST. I put down the thermos and, bracing myself to knock him out, if necessary with a left to the jaw, or a short sharp jab in the solar plexus, I walked over to him. ‘If you don’t mind, Dr Maartens,’ I said respectfully. There was no struggle, hardly so much as a conscious effort on his part to keep the revolver. Five seconds later the thing was safely in my pocket. ‘I was just looking at it,’ he said in a small flat voice. And then, after a little pause, he added, ‘It’s a funny thing, when you think of it.’ And when I asked, ‘What?’ he said, ‘Death.’ And that was the full extent of the great man’s contribution to the sum of human wisdom. Death was a funny thing when you thought of it. That was why he never thought of it — except on occasions like the present, when suffering had made him feel the need for the self-infliction of more suffering. Murder? Suicide? The ideas had not even occurred to him. All he demanded from the instrument of death was a sensation of negative sensuality — a painful reminder, in the midst of all his other pains, that some day, a long long time hence, he too would have to die.

“‘Can we shut this up again?’ I asked. He nodded. On a little table beside the bed lay the objects he had taken out of the safe while looking for the revolver. These I now replaced — Katy’s jewel box, half a dozen cases containing the gold medals presented to the great man by various learned societies, several manilla envelopes bulging with papers. And finally there were those books — all six volumes of the Psychology of Sex, a copy of Félicia by Andréa de Nerciat and, published in Brussels, an anonymous work with illustrations, entitled Miss Floggy’s Finishing School. ‘Well, that’s that,’ I said in my jolliest bedside manner as I locked the safe door and returned him the key. Picking up the portrait I hung it again on its appointed hook. Behind the white satin and the orange blossom, behind the madonna lilies and a face whose radiance even the ineptitude of a fifth-rate painter could not obscure, who could have divined the presence of that strangely assorted treasure — Félicia and the stock certificates, Miss Floggy and the golden symbols with which a not very grateful society rewards its men of genius?

“Half an hour later I left him and went to my room — with what a blessed sense of having escaped, of being free at last from an oppressive nightmare! But even in my room there was no security. The first thing I saw, when I switched on the light, was an envelope pinned to my pillow. I opened it and unfolded two sheets of mauve paper. It was a love poem from Ruth. This time yearning rhymed with spurning, Love confessed had caused the beloved to detest her something or other breast. It was too much for one evening: Genius kept pornography in the safe; Beatrice had been to school at Miss Floggy’s; childish innocence painted its face, addressed impassioned twaddle to young men and, if I didn’t lock my door, would soon be yearning and burning its way out of bad literature into worse reality.

“The next morning I overslept and, when I came down to breakfast, the children were already halfway through their cereal. ‘Your mother isn’t coming home, after all,’ I announced. Timmy was genuinely sorry; but though she uttered appropriate words of regret, the sudden brightening of Ruth’s eyes betrayed her; she was delighted. Anger made me cruel. I took her poem out of my pocket and laid it on the tablecloth beside the grapenuts. ‘It’s lousy,’ I said brutally. Then without looking at her I left the room and went upstairs again to see what had happened to Henry. He had a lecture at nine-thirty and would be late unless I routed him out of bed. But when I knocked at his door, a feeble voice announced that he was ill. I went in. On the catafalque lay what looked already like a dead man. I took his temperature. It was over a hundred and one. What was to be done? I ran downstairs to the kitchen to consult with Beulah. The old woman sighed and shook her head. ‘You’ll see,’ she said. ‘He’ll make her come home.’ And she told me the story of what had happened, two years before, when Katy went to France to visit her brother’s grave in one of the war cemeteries. She had hardly been gone a month when Henry took sick — so sick that they had to send a cable summoning her home. Nine days later, when Katy got back to St Louis, he was all but dead. She entered the sickroom, she laid a hand on his forehead. ‘I tell you,’ said Beulah dramatically, ‘it was just like the raising of Lazarus. Down to the doors of death and then, whoosh! all the way up again, like he was in an elevator. Three days later he was eating fried chicken and talking his head off. And he’ll do the same this time. He’ll make her come home, even if it means going to death’s door to get what he wants.’ And that,” Rivers added, “was precisely where he went — to death’s door.”

“You mean it was genuine? He wasn’t putting on an act?”

“As if the second alternative excluded the first! Of course he was putting on an act; but he put it on so successfully that he very nearly died of pneumonia. However, that was something I didn’t clearly recognize at the time. In that respect Beulah was a great deal more scientific in her approach than I. I had the exclusive superstition of germs; she believed in psychosomatic medicine. Well, I telephoned the doctor and then went back to the dining-room. The children had finished their breakfast and were gone. I didn’t see them again for the best part of two weeks; for when I got home from the laboratory that evening, I found that Beulah had packed them off, on the doctor’s advice, to stay with a friendly neighbour. No more poems, no further need to lock my door. It was a great relief. I phoned to Katy on Monday night and again, with the news that we had had to engage a nurse and hire an oxygen tent, on Tuesday. Next day Henry was worse; but so, when I telephoned to Chicago, was poor Mrs Hanbury. ‘I can’t leave her,’ Katy kept repeating in an anguish. ‘I can’t!’ To Henry, who had been counting on her return, the news was almost mortal. Within two hours his temperature had risen a whole degree and he was delirous. ‘It’s his life or Mrs Hanbury’s,’ said Beulah, and she went to her room to pray for guidance. In about twenty-five minutes it came. Mrs Hanbury was going to die whatever happened; but Henry would be all right if Katy came home. So she must come home. It was the doctor who finally persuaded her. ‘I don’t want to be an alarmist,’ he said over the phone that evening, ‘but …’ That did it. ‘I’ll be home by tomorrow night,’ she said. Henry was going to get his way — but only just in time.

“The doctor left. The nurse settled down to a night of watching. I went to my room. ‘Katy will be back tomorrow,’ I said to myself. ‘Katy will be back tomorrow.’ But which Katy — mine or Henry’s, Beatrice or Miss Floggy’s favourite pupil? Would everything, I wondered, be different now? Would it be possible, after the dung-slide, to feel for her as I had felt before? All that night and the next day the questions tormented me. I was still asking them when, at long last, I heard the taxi turning into the driveway. My Katy or his? A horrible foreboding sickened and paralyzed me. It was a long time before I could force myself to go and meet her. When at last I opened the front door, the luggage was already on the steps and Katy was paying off the driver. She turned her head. How pale she looked in the light of the porch lamp, how drawn and haggard! But how beautiful! More beautiful than ever — beautiful in a new, heart-rending way, so that I found myself loving her with a passion from which the last traces of impurity had been dissolved by pity and replaced by an ardour of self-sacrifice, a burning desire to help and protect, to lay down life itself in her service. And what about Henry’s soliloquy and the other Katy? What about Miss Floggy and Félicia and the Studies in the Psychology of Sex? So far as my suddenly leaping heart was concerned, they had never existed, or at any rate were totally irrelevant.

“As we entered the hall, Beulah came running out of the kitchen. Katy threw her arms round the old woman’s neck and for a long half minute the two stood there locked in a silent embrace. Then, drawing back a little, Beulah looked up searchingly into the other’s face. And as she looked, the expression of tear-stained rapture gave place to one of deepening anxiety. ‘But it isn’t you,’ she cried. ‘It’s the ghost of you. You’re almost as far gone as he is.’ Katy tried to laugh it off. She was just a bit tired, that was all. The old woman emphatically shook her head. ‘It’s the virtue,’ she said. ‘The virtue’s gone out of you. Like it went out of our dear Lord when all those sick people kept grabbing hold of him.’ ‘Nonsense,’ said Katy. But it was quite true. The virtue had gone out of her. Three weeks at her mother’s bedside had drained her of life. She was empty, a shell animated only by the will. And the will is never enough. The will can’t digest your meals for you, or lower your temperature — much less somebody else’s temperature. ‘Wait till tomorrow,’ Beulah begged, when Katy announced her intention of going up to the sickroom. ‘Get some sleep. You can’t help him now, not in the state you’re in.’ ‘I helped him last time,’ Katy retorted. ‘But last time was different,’ the old woman insisted. ‘Last time you had the virtue; you weren’t a ghost.’ ‘You and your ghosts!’ said Katy with a touch of annoyance; and, turning, she started up the stairs. I followed her.

“Under his oxygen tent Henry was asleep or in a stupor. A grey stubble covered his chin and cheeks, and in the emaciated face the nose was enormous, like something in a caricature. Then, as we looked at him, the eyelids opened. Katy bent over the transparent window of the tent and called his name. There was no response, no sign in the pale blue eyes that he knew who she was, or even that he had seen her. ‘Henry,’ she repeated, ‘Henry! It’s me. I’ve come back.’ The wavering eyes came to a focus and a moment later there was the faintest dawn of recognition — for a few seconds only; then it faded. The eyes drifted away again, the lips began to move; he had fallen back into the world of his delirium. The miracle had miscarried; Lazarus remained unraised. There was a long silence. Then heavily, hopelessly, ‘I guess I’d better go to bed,’ Katy said at last.

“And the miracle?” I asked. “Did she pull it off the next morning?”

“How could she? With no virtue, no life in her, nothing but her will and her anxiety. Which is worse, I wonder — being desperately ill yourself, or watching somebody you love being desperately ill? One has to begin by defining the word ‘you.’ I say you’re desperately ill. But do I mean you? Isn’t it, in fact, the new, limited personality created by the fever and the toxins? A personality without intellectual interests, without social obligations, without material concerns. Whereas the loving nurse remains her normal self, with all her memories of past happiness, all her fears for the future, all her worried awareness of a world beyond the four walls of the sickroom. And then there’s the question of death. How do you react to the prospect of death? If you’re sick enough, you reach a point where, however passionately you may be fighting for life, a part of you wouldn’t be at all sorry to die. Anything rather than this misery, this interminably squalid nightmare of finding oneself reduced to a mere lump of suffering matter! ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’ But in this case the two are identical. Liberty equals death equals the pursuit of happiness — but only, of course, for the patient, never for the nurse who loves him. She has no right to the luxury of death, to deliverance, through surrender, from her sickroom-prison. Her business is to go on fighting even when it’s perfectly obvious that the battle is lost; to go on hoping, even when there are no reasons for anything but despair; to go on praying, even when God has manifestly turned against her, even when she knows for certain that He doesn’t exist. She may be sick with grief and foreboding but she must act as though she were cheerful and serenely confident. She may have lost courage; but she must still inspire it. And meanwhile she’s working and waking beyond the limits of physical endurance. And there’s no respite; she must be constantly there, constantly available, constantly ready to give and give — to go on giving, even when she’s completely bankrupt. Yes, bankrupt,” he repeated. “That’s what Katy was. Absolutely bankrupt, but compelled by circumstances and her own will to go on spending. And, to make matters worse, the spending was fruitless. Henry didn’t get well; he merely refrained from dying. And meanwhile she was killing herself with the long, sustained effort to keep him alive. The days passed — three days, four days, I can’t remember how many. And then came the day I shall never forget. April twenty-third, 1922.”

“Shakespeare’s birthday.”

“Mine too.”

“Yours?”

“Not my physical birthday,” Rivers explained. “That’s in October. My spiritual birthday. The day of my emergence from half-baked imbecility into something more nearly resembling the human form. I think,” he added, “we deserve a little more Scotch.”

He refilled our glasses.

“April the twenty-third,” he repeated. “What a day of miseries! Henry had had a bad night and was definitely worse. And when, at lunch time, Katy’s sister telephoned from Chicago, it was to announce that the end was very close. That evening I had to read a paper before one of the local Scientific Societies. When I got home at eleven, I found only the nurse. Katy, she told me, was in her room, trying to get a little sleep. There was nothing I could do. I went to bed.

“Two hours later I was startled out of unconsciousness by the groping touch of a hand. The room was pitch dark; but my nostrils immediately recognized the aura of womanhood and orris-root surrounding the unseen presence. I sat up. ‘Mrs Maartens?’ (I still called her Mrs Maartens.) The silence was pregnant with tragedy. ‘Is Dr Maartens worse?’ I asked anxiously. There was no immediate answer, only a movement in the darkness, only the creaking of springs as she sat down on the edge of the bed. The fringes of the Spanish shawl she had thrown over her shoulders brushed my face; the field of her fragrance enveloped me. Suddenly and with horror, I found myself remembering Henry’s soliloquy. Beatrice had appetites, Laura was a graduate of Miss Floggy’s. What blasphemy, what a hideous desecration! I was overcome by shame, and my shame deepened to an intense, remorseful self-loathing when, breaking the long silence Katy told me in a flat expressionless voice that there had been another call from Chicago: her mother was dead. I muttered some kind of a condolence. Then the flat voice spoke again. ‘I’ve been trying to go to sleep,’ it said. ‘But I can’t; I’m too tired to sleep.’ There was a sigh of hopeless weariness, then another silence.

“‘Have you ever seen anyone die?’ the voice went on at last. But my military service hadn’t taken me to France, and when my father died, I had been staying at my grandmother’s place. At twenty-eight I knew as little of death as of that other great encroachment of the organic upon the verbal, of experience upon our notions and conventions — the act of love. ‘It’s the cut-offness that’s so terrible,’ I heard her saying. ‘You sit there helplessly, watching the connections being broken, one after the other. The connection with people, the connection with language, the connection with the physical universe. They can’t see the light, they can’t feel the warmth, they can’t breathe the air. And finally the connection with their own body begins to give way. They’re left at last hanging by a single thread — and it’s fraying away, fraying away, minute by minute.’ The voice broke and, by the muffled sound of the last words, I knew that Katy had covered her face with her hands. ‘All alone,’ she whispered, ‘absolutely alone.’ The dying, the living — everyone is alone always. There was a little whimper in the darkness, then a shuddering, convulsive movement, a hardly human cry. She was sobbing. I loved her and she was in anguish. And yet the only thing I could find to say was, ‘Don’t cry.’” Rivers shrugged his shoulders. “If you don’t believe in God or an after-life — which of course as a minister’s son I didn’t, except in a strictly Pickwickian sense — what else can you say in the presence of death? Besides, in this particular case, there was the grotesquely embarrassing fact that I couldn’t decide what to call her. Her grief and my compassion had made it impossible to say ‘Mrs Maartens,’ but on the other hand ‘Katy’ might seem presumptuous, might even sound as though I were trying to exploit her tragedy for the baser purposes of a scoundrel who found it impossible to forget Miss Floggy and the dung-slide of Henry’s subhuman soliloquy. ‘Don’t cry,’ I went on whispering, and in lieu of the prohibited endearments, of the Christian name which I dared not pronounce, I laid a timid hand on her shoulder and clumsily patted her. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. And then, brokenly, ‘I promise I’ll behave properly tomorrow.’ And after another paroxysm of weeping, ‘I haven’t cried like this since before I was married.’ It was only later that the full significance of that last phrase began to dawn on me. A wife who permitted herself to cry would never have done for poor old Henry. His chronic weakness had compelled her to be unremittingly strong. But even the most stoical fortitude has its limits. That night Katy was at the end of her tether. She had suffered a total defeat — but a defeat for which, in a sense, she was grateful. Circumstances had been too much for her. But, by way of compensation, she had been granted a holiday from responsibility, had been permitted, if only for a few brief minutes, to indulge in the, for her, unprecedented luxury of tears. ‘Don’t cry,’ I kept repeating. But actually she wanted to cry, she felt the need of crying. Not to mention the fact that she had the best possible reasons for crying. Death was all around her — it had come for her mother; it was coming, inevitably, so it seemed, for her husband; it would be there in a few years for herself, in a few more years for her children. They were all moving towards the same consummation — towards the progressive cutting of the lines of communications, towards the slow, sure attrition of the sustaining threads, towards the final plunge, alone, into the emptiness.

“From somewhere far away over the house-tops a clock struck the three-quarters. The chimes were a manmade insult added gratuitously to a cosmic injury — a symbol of time’s incessant passage, a reminder of the inevitable end. ‘Don’t cry,’ I implored her, and forgetting everything but my compassion, I moved my hand from the nearer to the further of her shoulders, and drew her closer. Shaken by sobs and trembling, she pressed herself against me. The clock had struck, time was bleeding away and even the living are utterly alone. Our only advantage over the dead woman up there in Chicago, over the dying man at the other end of the house, consisted in the fact that we could be alone in company, could juxtapose our solitudes and pretend that we had fused them into a community. But these, of course, were not the thoughts I was thinking then. Then there was no room in my mind for anything but love and pity and an intensely practical concern for the well-being of this goddess who had suddenly become a weeping child, this adored Beatrice who was now trembling, in just the way that little dogs can tremble, within the circle of my protecting arm. I touched the hands with which she was covering her face; they were stone cold. And the bare feet — cold as ice. ‘But you’re frozen!’ I said almost indignantly. And then, thankful that at last it was possible for me to translate my pity into useful action. ‘You must get under the bed-clothes,’ I commanded. ‘At once.’ I visualized myself tenderly tucking her in, then drawing up a chair and sitting, quietly watchful, like a mother, while she went to sleep. But when I moved to get out of bed, she clung to me, she wouldn’t let me go. I tried to disengage myself, I tried to protest. ‘Mrs Maartens!’ But it was like protesting against the clutch of a drowning child; the act was at once inhuman and useless. And meanwhile she was chilled to the bone and trembling — trembling uncontrollably. I did the only thing that was left for me to do.”

“You mean, you got under the covers too?”

“Under the covers,” he repeated, “with two cold bare arms round my neck and a shuddering, sob-shaken body pressed against my own.”

Rivers drank some whisky and leaning back in his chair, sat for a long time smoking in silence.

“The truth,” he said at last, “the whole truth and nothing but the truth. All the witnesses take the same oath and testify about the same events. The result, of course, is fifty-seven varieties of fiction. Which of them is nearest the truth? Stendhal or Meredith? Anatole France or D. H. Lawrence? The fountains of our deepest life shall he confused in Passion’s golden purity or The Sexual Behaviour of the Human Female?”

“Do you know the answer?” I inquired.

He shook his head.

“Maybe one could take a hint from the geometers. Describe the event in relation to three co-ordinates.” In the air before him Rivers traced with the stem of his pipe two lines at right angles to one another, then from their point of intersection, added a vertical that took his hand above the level of his head. “Let one of these lines represent Katy, another the John Rivers of thirty years ago, and the third John Rivers as I am today. Now, within this frame of reference, what can we say about the night of April twenty-third, 1922? Not the whole truth, of course. But a good deal more of the truth than can be conveyed in terms of any single fiction. Let’s begin with the Katy line.” He drew it again, and for a moment the smoke of his pipe waveringly marked its position in space. “It’s the line,” he said, “of a born pagan forced by circumstances into a situation with which only a thorough-going Christian or Buddhist could adequately deal. It’s the line of a woman who has always been happily at home in the world and who suddenly finds herself standing on the brink of the abyss and invaded, body and mind, by the horrible black emptiness confronting her. Poor thing! She felt herself abandoned, not by God (for she was congenitally incapable of monotheism) but by the gods — all of them, from the little domestic lares and penates to the high Olympians. They had left her and taken everything with them. She had to find her gods again. She had to become a part once more of the natural, and therefore divine, order of things. She had to re-establish her contacts with life — with life at its simplest, life in its most unequivocal manifestations, as physical companionship, as the experience of animal warmth, as strong sensation, as hunger and the satisfaction of hunger. It was a matter of self-preservation. And that isn’t the whole story,” Rivers added. “She was in tears, grieving for the mother who had just died, grieving for the husband who might die tomorrow. There’s a certain affinity between the more violent emotions. Anger modulates only too easily into aggressive lust, and sorrow, if you give it a chance, will melt almost imperceptibly, into the most delicious sensuality. After which, of course, He giveth His beloved sleep. In the context of bereavement, love is the equivalent of barbiturates and a trip to Hawaii. Nobody blames the widow or the orphan for resorting to these alleviations. So why condemn them for trying to preserve their life and sanity by the other simpler method?”

“I’m not condemning them,” I assured him. “But other people have other views.”

“And thirty years ago I was one of them.” He ran his pipe up and down the imaginary vertical in front of him. “The line of the virgin prig of twenty-eight, the line of the ex-Lutheran and ex-mother’s boy, the line of the Petrarchian idealist. From that position I had no choice but to think of myself as a treacherous adulterer, and of Katy as — what? The words were too hideous to be articulated. Whereas from Katy’s goddess-eye viewpoint nothing had happened that was not entirely natural, and anything that was natural was morally good. Looking at the matter from here,” (and he indicated the line of John Rivers-Now) “I’d say we were both of us half right and therefore wholly wrong — she by being beyond good and evil on the merely Olympian level (and the Olympians, of course, were nothing but a pack of superhuman animals with miraculous powers), and I by not being beyond good and evil at all, but still mired up to the ears in the all too human notions of sin and social convention. To be wholly right, she should have come down to my level and then gone further, on the other side; whereas I should have climbed to her level and, having found it unsatisfactory, pressed forward to join her at the place where one is genuinely beyond good and evil in the sense of being, not a superhuman animal, but a transfigured man or woman. If we had been at that level, should we have done what we then did? It’s an unanswerable question. And in actual fact we weren’t at that level. She was a goddess who had temporarily broken down and was finding her way home to Olympus by the road of sensuality. I was a divided soul committing a sin all the more enormous for being accompanied by the most ecstatic pleasure. Alternately and even, at moments, simultaneously, I was two people — a novice in love who had had the extraordinary good fortune to find himself in the arms of a woman at once uninhibited and motherly, profoundly tender and profoundly sensual, and a conscience-stricken wretch, ashamed of having succumbed to what he had been taught to regard as his basest passions and shocked, positively outraged (for he was censorious as well as remorseful) by the easy unconcern with which his Beatrice accepted the intrinsic excellence of pleasure, his Laura displayed her proficiency in the arts of love, and displayed it, what was more, in the solemn context of mortality. Mrs Hanbury was dead, Henry was dying. According to all the rules, she should have been in crape and I should have been offering the consolations of philosophy. But in fact, in brute, paradoxical fact …” There was a moment of silence. “Midgets,” he went on pensively as, behind closed lids, he studied his far-off memories. “Midgets who don’t belong to my universe. And they didn’t really belong to it even then. That night of the twenty-third of April we were in the Other World, she and I, in the dark, wordless heaven of nakedness and touch and fusion. And what revelations in that heaven, what pentecosts! The visitations of her caresses were like sudden angels, like doves descending. And how hesitantly, how tardily I responded! With lips that hardly dared, with hands still fearful of blaspheming against my notions, or rather my mother’s notions, of what a good woman ought to be, of what, in fact, all good women are — in spite of which (and this was as shocking as it was wonderful) my timid blasphemies against the ideal were rewarded by an answering ecstasy of delight, by a bounty of reciprocated tenderness, beyond anything I could have imagined. But over against that nocturnal Other World stood this world — the world in which the John Rivers of 1922 did his day-time thinking and feeling; the world where this kind of thing was obviously criminal, where a pupil had cheated his master and a wife her husband; the world from whose point of view our dark heaven was the most sordid little hell and the visiting angels nothing but the manifestations of lust in a context of adultery. Lust and adultery,” Rivers repeated with a little laugh. “How old-fashioned it sounds! Nowadays we prefer to talk of drives, urges, extra-marital intimacies. Is it a good thing? Or a bad thing? Or does it simply not matter one way or another? Fifty years from now Bimbo may know the answer. Meanwhile one can only record the fact that, on the verbal level, morality is simply the systematic use of bad language. Vile, base, foul — those are the linguistic foundations of ethics; and those were the words that haunted my conscience as I lay there, hour after hour, watching over Katy’s sleep. Sleep — that’s also the Other World. Otherer even than the heaven of touch. From love to sleep, from the other to the otherer. It’s that otherer otherness which invests the sleeping beloved with a quality almost of sacredness. Helpless sacredness — the thing that people adore in the Christ Child; the thing that filled me, then, with such an inexpressible tenderness. And yet it was all vile, base, foul. Those hideous monosyllables! They were like woodpeckers, hammering away at me with their cast-iron beaks. Vile, base, foul … But in the silence between two bouts of pecking I could hear Katy quietly breathing; and she was my beloved, asleep and helpless and therefore sacred, sacred in that Other World where all bad language, even all good language, is entirely irrelevant and beside the point. But that didn’t prevent those damned woodpeckers from starting up again with undiminished ferocity.

“And then, against all the conventions of fiction and good style, I must have fallen asleep. For suddenly it was dawn, and the birds were twittering in the suburban gardens, and there was Katy standing beside the bed in the act of throwing her long-fringed shawl over her shoulders. For a fraction of a second I couldn’t think why she was there. Then I remembered everything — the visitations in the darkness, the ineffable Other Worlds. But now it was morning, and we were in this world again, and I would have to call her Mrs Maartens. Mrs Maartens, whose mother had just died, whose husband might be dying. Vile, base, foul! How could I ever look her in the face again? But at that moment she turned and looked me in the face. I had time to see the beginnings of her old, frank, open smile; then, in an agony of shame and embarrassment, I averted my face. ‘I’d hoped you wouldn’t wake up,’ she whispered, and bending down, she kissed me, as a grown-up kisses a child, on the forehead. I wanted to tell her that, in spite of everything, I still worshipped her; that my love was as intense as my remorse; that my gratitude for what had happened was as deep and strong as my determination that it should never happen again. But no words came; I was dumb. And so, but for quite another reason, was Katy. If she said nothing about what had happened, it was because she judged that what had happened was the sort of thing it was best not to talk about. ‘It’s after six,’ was all she said, as she straightened herself up. ‘I must go and relieve poor Nurse Koppers.’ Then she turned, opened the door noiselessly and, as noiselessly, closed it behind her. I was left alone, at the mercy of my woodpeckers. Vile, base, foul; foul, base, vile … By the time the bell rang for breakfast, my mind was made up. Rather than live a lie, rather than besmirch my ideal, I would go away — forever.

“In the hall, on my way to the dining-room, I ran into Beulah. She was carrying a tray with the eggs and bacon, and humming the tune of ‘All creatures that on earth do dwell’; catching sight of me, she gave me a radiant smile and said, ‘Praise the Lord!’ I had never felt less inclined to praise Him. ‘We’re going to have a miracle,’ she went on. ‘And when I asked her how she knew we were going to have a miracle, she told me that she had just seen Mrs Maartens in the sickroom, and Mrs Maartens was herself again. Not a ghost any more, but her old self. The virtue had come back, and that meant that Dr Maartens would start getting well again. ‘It’s Grace,’ she said. ‘I’ve been praying for it night and day. “Dear Lord, give Mrs Maartens some of that Grace of yours. Let her have the virtue back, so Dr Maartens can get well.” And now it’s happened, it’s happened!’ And, as though to confirm what she had said, there was a rustling on the stairs behind us. We turned. It was Katy. She was dressed in black. Love and sleep had smoothed her face and the body which yesterday had moved so wearily, at the cost of so much painful effort, was now as softly strong, as rich with life as it had been before her mother’s illness. She was a goddess once again — in mourning but uneclipsed, luminous even in her grief and resignation. The goddess came down the stairs, said good morning and asked if Beulah had told me the bad news. For a moment I thought something must have happened to Henry. ‘You mean Dr Maartens?’ I began. She cut me short. The bad news about her mother. And suddenly I realized that, officially, I hadn’t yet heard of the melancholy event in Chicago. The blood rushed up into my cheeks and I turned away in horrible confusion. We were acting the lie already — and was I bad at it! Sadly but serenely, the goddess went on talking about that midnight telephone call, about her sister’s voice sobbing at the other end of the wire, about the last moments of the long-drawn agony. Beulah sighed noisily, said it was God’s will and that she had known it all along, then changed the subject. ‘What about Dr Maartens?’ she asked. Had they taken his temperature? Katy nodded; they had, and it was definitely lower. ‘Didn’t I tell you so!’ the old woman said to me triumphantly. ‘It’s the grace of God, just like I said. The Lord has given her back the virtue.’ We moved into the diningroom, sat down and began to eat. Heartily, as I remember. And I remember, too, that I found the heartiness rather shocking.” Rivers laughed. “How hard it is not to be a Manichee! Soul’s high, body’s low. Death’s an affair of the soul, and in that context eggs and bacon are in bad taste and love, of course, is sheer blasphemy. And yet it’s sufficiently obvious that eggs and bacon may be the means of grace, that love may be chosen as the instrument of divine intervention.”

“You’re talking like Beulah,” I objected.

“Because there aren’t any other words to talk with. The uprush from within of something strong and wonderful, something that’s manifestly greater than yourself; the things and events which, from being neutral or downright hostile, suddenly, gratuitously, spontaneously come to your rescue — these are facts. They can be observed, they can be experienced. But if you want to talk about them, you discover that the only vocabulary is the theologian’s. Grace, Guidance, Inspiration, Providence — the words protest too much, beg all the questions before they’re asked. But there are occasions when you can’t avoid them. Here was Katy, for example. When she came back from Chicago, the virtue had gone out of her. Gone out of her so completely that she was useless to Henry and a burden to herself. Another woman might have prayed for strength, and the prayer might have been answered — because prayers do get answered sometimes. Which is absurd, which is out of the question; and yet it happens. Not, however, to people like Katy. Katy wasn’t the praying kind. For her, the supernatural was Nature; the divine was neither spiritual nor specifically human; it was in landscapes and sunshine and animals, it was in flowers, in the sour smell of little babies, in the warmth and softness of snuggling children, it was in kisses, of course, in the nocturnal apocalypses of love, in the more diffuse but no less ineffable bliss of just feeling well. She was a kind of feminine Antaeus — invincible while her feet were on the ground, a goddess so long as she was in contact with the greater goddess within her, the universal Mother without. Three weeks of attendance on a dying woman had broken that contact. Grace came when it was restored, and that happened on the night of April the twenty-third. An hour of love, five or six hours of the deeper otherness of sleep, and the emptiness was filled, the ghost reincarnated. She lived again — yet not she, of course, but the Unknown Quantity lived in her. The Unknown Quantity,” he repeated. “At one end of the spectrum it’s pure spirit, it’s the Clear Light of the Void; and at the other end it’s instinct, it’s health, it’s the perfect functioning of an organism that’s infallible so long as we don’t interfere with it; and somewhere between the two extremes is what St Paul called ‘Christ’ — the divine made human. Spiritual grace, animal grace, human grace — three aspects of the same underlying mystery; ideally, all of us should be open to all of them. In practice most of us either barricade ourselves against every form of grace or, if we open the door, open it to only one of the forms. Which isn’t, of course, enough. And yet a third of a loaf is better than no bread. How much better was manifest that morning of April twenty-fourth. Cut off from animal grace, Katy had been an impotent phantom. Restored to it, she was Hera and Demeter and Aphrodite gloriously rolled into one, with Aesculapius and the Grotto of Lourdes thrown in as a bonus — for the miracle was definitely under way. After three days at death’s door, Henry had felt the presence of the virtue in her and was responding. Lazarus was in process of being raised.”

“Thanks, at one remove, to you!”

“Thanks, at one remove, to me,” he repeated.

“Le Cocu Miraculé. What a subject for a French farce!”

“No better than any other subject. Oedipus, for example, or Lear, or even Jesus or Gandhi — you could make a roaring farce out of any of them. It’s just a question of describing your characters from the outside, without sympathy and in violent but unpoetical language. In real life farce exists only for spectators, never for the actors. What they participate in is either a tragedy or a complicated and more or less painful psychological drama. So far as I was concerned, the farce of the cuckold’s miraculous healing was a long-drawn anguish of divided loyalties, of love in conflict with duty, of temptations resisted and then ignominiously succumbed to, of pleasures guiltily enjoyed and passionately repented, of good resolutions made, forgotten, made again and once more swept away by the torrent of irresistible desire.”

“I thought you’d made up your mind to go away.”

“I had. But that was before I saw her coming down those stairs reincarnated as a goddess. A goddess in mourning. Those emblems of bereavement kept alive the pity, the religious adoration, the sense that my beloved was a spirit who must be worshipped in spirit. But out of the black bodice rose the luminous column of the neck; between the coils of honey-coloured hair the face was transfigured by a kind of unearthly radiance. What’s that thing of Blake’s?

In a wife I would require

What in whores is always found,

The lineaments of satisfied desire.

“But the lineaments of satisfied desire are also the lineaments of desirability, the lineaments of the promise of future satisfactions. God, how frantically I desired her! And how passionately, from the depths of my remorse, the heights of my idealism, I loathed myself for doing so! When I got back from the lab, I tried to have it out with her. But she put me off. It wasn’t the time, it wasn’t the place. Beulah might come in, or Nurse Koppers. It would be better in the evening, when we could be quiet. And so, that evening she came to my room. In the darkness, in the perfumed field of her womanhood, I tried to tell her all the things I had been unable to tell her that morning — that I loved her, but we mustn’t; that I had never been so happy, nor so utterly miserable; that I would remember what had happened with the most passionate gratitude, all my life long, and that tomorrow I would pack my bags and go and never, never see her again. At that point my voice broke and I found myself sobbing. This time it was Katy’s turn to say, ‘Don’t cry,’ to offer the consolation of a hand on the shoulder, an encircling arm; the outcome, of course, was the same as it had been the night before. The same but more so — with fierier pentecosts, visitations not from mere angels, but from Thrones, Dominations, Powers; and the next morning (when, needless to say, I did not pack my bags), remorses to match the ecstasies, woodpeckers proportionately ferocious.

“Which Katy, I gather, wasn’t pecked by?”

“And resolutely refused to talk about,” Rivers added.

“But you must have talked about them.”

“I did my best. But it takes two to make a conversation. Whenever I tried to tell her something of what was going on in my heart and mind, she either changed the subject or else, with a little laugh, with a little indulgent pat on the back of the hand, gently but very decidedly shut me up. Would it have been better, I wonder, if we had come out into the open, courageously called a spade a phallic symbol and handed one another our quivering entrails on a silver platter? Maybe it would. Or maybe it wouldn’t. The truth shall make you free; but on the other hand, let sleeping dogs lie and, above all, let lying dogs sleep. One must never forget that the most implacable wars are never the wars about things; they’re the wars about the nonsense that eloquent idealists have talked about things — in other words, the religious wars. What’s lemonade? Something you make out of lemons. And what’s a crusade? Something you make out of crosses — a course of gratuitous violence motivated by an obsession with unanalysed symbols. ‘What do you read, my lord?’ ‘Words, words, words.’ And what’s in a word? Answer: corpses, millions of corpses. And the moral of that is, Keep your trap shut; or if you must open it, never take what comes out of it too seriously. Katy kept our traps firmly shut. She had the instinctive wisdom that taboos the four-letter words (and a fortiori the scientific polysyllables), while tacitly taking for granted the daily and nightly four-letter acts to which they refer. In silence, an act is an act is an act. Verbalized and discussed, it becomes an ethical problem, a casus belli, the source of a neurosis. If Katy had talked, where, I ask you, should we have been? In a labyrinth of intercommunicating guilts and anguishes. Some people, of course, enjoy that sort of thing. Others detest it, but feel, remorsefully, that they deserve to suffer. Katy (God bless her!) was neither a Methodist nor a Masochist. She was a goddess, and the silence of goddesses is genuinely golden. None of your superficial plating. A solid, twenty-four carat silence all the way through. The Olympian’s trap is kept shut, not by an act of willed discretion, but because there’s really nothing to say. Goddesses are all of one piece. There’s no internal conflict in them. Whereas the lives of people like you and me are one long argument. Desires on one side, woodpeckers on the other. Never a moment of real silence. What I needed most at that time was a dose of justificatory good language to counteract the effect of all that vile-base-foul. But Katy wouldn’t give it me. Good or bad, language was entirely beside the point. The point, so far as she was concerned, was her experience of the creative otherness of love and sleep. The point was finding herself once again in a state of grace. The point, finally, was her renewed ability to do something for Henry. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, not in the cook book. Pleasure received and given, virtue restored, Lazarus raised from the dead — the eating in this case was self-evidently good. So help yourself to the pudding and don’t talk with your mouth full — it’s bad manners and it prevents you from appreciating the ambrosial flavour. It was a piece of advice too good for me to be able to take. True, I didn’t talk to her; she wouldn’t let me. But I went on talking to myself — talking and talking till the ambrosia turned into wormwood or was contaminated by the horrible gamey taste of forbidden pleasure, of sin recognized and knowingly indulged in. And meanwhile the miracle was duly proceeding. Steadily, rapidly, without a single setback, Henry was getting better.”

“Didn’t that make you feel happier about things?” I asked.

Rivers nodded his head.

“In one way, yes. Because, of course, I realized even then, even in my state of imbecile innocence, that I was indirectly responsible for the miracle. I had betrayed my master; but if I hadn’t, my master would probably be dead. Evil had been done; but good, an enormous good, had come of it. It was a kind of justification. On the other hand how horrible it seemed that grace for Katy and life for her husband should be dependent on something so intrinsically low, so utterly vile-base-foul, as bodies and their sexual satisfaction! All my idealism revolted against the notion. And yet it was obviously true.”

“And Henry?” I asked. “How much did he know or suspect about the origins of the miracle?”

“Nothing,” Rivers answered emphatically. “No, less than nothing. He was in a mood, as he emerged from the sepulchre, in which suspicion was unthinkable. ‘Rivers,’ he said to me one day when he was well enough to have me come and read to him, ‘I want to talk to you. About Katy,’ he added after a little pause. My heart stopped beating. This was the moment I had dreaded. ‘You remember that night just before I got ill?’ he went on. ‘I wasn’t in my right mind. I said all kinds of things that I oughtn’t to have said, things that weren’t true, things, for example, about Katy and that doctor from Johns Hopkins.’ But the doctor from Johns Hopkins, as he had now discovered, was a cripple. And even if the man hadn’t had infantile paralysis as a boy, Katy was utterly incapable of even thinking anything of the kind. And in a voice that trembled with feeling he proceeded to tell me how wonderful Katy was, how unspeakably fortunate he had been to win and hold a wife at once so good, so beautiful, so sensible and yet so sensitive, so strong and faithful and devoted. Without her, he would have gone mad, broken down, fizzled out. And now she had saved his life, and the thought that he had said those wild, bad, senseless things about her tormented him. So would I please forget them or, if I remembered, remember them only as the ravings of a sick man. It was a relief, of course, not to have been found out, and yet, in some ways, this was worse — worse because the display of so much trust, such abysmal ignorance, made me feel ashamed of myself — and not only of myself, of Katy too. We were a pair of cheats, conspiring against a simpleton — a simpleton who, for sentimental reasons which did him nothing but credit, was doing his best to make himself even more innocent than he was by nature.

“That evening I managed to say a little of what was on my mind. At first she tried to stop my mouth with kisses. Then, when I pushed her away, she grew angry and threatened to go back to her room. I had the sacrilegious courage to restrain her by brute force. ‘You’ve got to listen,’ I said as she struggled to free herself. And holding her at arm’s length, as one holds a dangerous animal, I poured out my tale of moral anguish. Katy heard me out; then, when it was all over, she laughed. Not sarcastically, not with the intention of wounding me, but from the sunny depths of a goddess’s amusement. ‘You can’t bear it,’ she teased. ‘You’re too noble to be a party to a deception! Can’t you ever think of anything but your own precious self? Think of me, for a change, think of Henry! A sick genius and the poor woman whose job it’s been to keep the sick genius alive and tolerably sane. His huge, crazy intellect against my instincts, his inhuman denial of life against the flow of life in me. It wasn’t easy, I’ve had to fight with every weapon that came to hand. And now here I have to listen to you — talking the most nauseous kind of Sunday School twaddle, daring to tell me — me! — you cannot live a lie — like George Washington and the cherry tree. You make me tired. I’m going to sleep.’ She yawned and, rolling over on her side, turned her back on me — the back,” Rivers added with a little snort of laughter, “the infinitely eloquent back (if you perused it in the dark, like Braille, with your fingertips), of Aphrodite Callipyge. And that, my friend, that was as near as Katy ever got to an explanation or an apologia. It left me no wiser than I was before. Indeed it left me considerably less wise; for her words prompted me to ask myself a lot of questions, to which she never vouchsafed any answers. Had she implied, for example, that this sort of thing was inevitable — at least in the circumstances of her own marriage? Had it, in actual fact, happened before? And if so, when, how often, with whom?”

“Did you ever find out?” I asked.

Rivers shook his head.

“I never got further than wondering and imagining — my God, how vividly! Which was enough, of course, to make me more miserable than I’d ever been. More miserable, and at the same time more frenziedly amorous. Why is it that, when you suspect a woman you love of having made love to somebody else, you should feel such a heightening of desire? I had loved Katy to the limit. Now I found myself loving her beyond the limit, loving her desperately and insatiably, loving her with a vengeance, if you know what I mean. Katy herself soon noticed it. ‘You’ve been looking at me,’ she complained two evenings later, ‘as though you were on a desert island and I were a beef steak. Don’t do it. People will notice. Besides, I’m not a beef steak, I’m an uncooked human being. And anyhow Henry’s almost well again, and the children will be coming home tomorrow. Things will have to go back to what they were before. We’ve got to be sensible.’ To be sensible … I promised — for tomorrow. Meanwhile — put out the light! — there was this love with a vengeance, this desire which, even in the frenzy of its consummation, retained a quality of despair. The hours passed and in due course it was tomorrow — dawn between the curtains, birds in the garden, the anguish of the final embrace, the reiterated promises that I would be sensible. And how faithfully I kept the promise! After breakfast I went up to Henry’s room and read him Rutherford’s article in the latest issue of Nature. And when Katy came in from her marketing, I called her ‘Mrs Maartens’ and did my best to look as radiantly serene as she did. Which in my case, of course, was hypocrisy. In hers it was just a manifestation of the Olympian nature. A little before lunch, the children came home, bag and baggage, in a cab. Katy was always the all-seeing mother; but her all-seeingness was tempered generally, by an easy tolerance of childish failings. This time, for some reason, it was different. Perhaps it was the miracle of Henry’s recovery that had gone to her head, that had given her not only a sense of power but also a desire to exercise that power in other ways. Perhaps, too, she had been intoxicated by her sudden restoration, after all those nightmare weeks, to a state of animal grace through satisfied desire. Anyhow, whatever the cause may have been, whatever the attenuating circumstances, the fact remained that, on that particular day, Katy was too all-seeing by half. She loved her children and their return filled her with joy; and yet she was under a kind of compulsion, as soon as she saw them, to criticize, to find fault, to throw her maternal weight around. Within two minutes of their arrival she had pounced on Timmy for having dirty ears; within three, she had made Ruth confess that she was constipated; and, within four, had inferred, from the fact that the child didn’t want anyone to unpack for her, that she must be hiding some guilty secret. And there — when, at Katy’s orders, Beulah had opened the suitcase — there the poor little guilty secret lay revealed: a boxful of cosmetics and the half empty bottle of synthetic violets. At the best of times Katy would have disapproved — but would have disapproved with sympathy, with an understanding chuckle. On this occasion, her disapproval was loud and sarcastic. She had the make-up kit thrown into the garbage can and herself, with an expression of nauseated disgust, poured the perfume into the toilet and pulled the plug. By the time we sat down to our meal, the poetess, red-faced and her eyes still swollen with crying, hated everybody — hated her mother for having humiliated her, hated Beulah for having been such a good prophet, hated poor Mrs Hanbury for being dead and therefore in no further need of Katy’s ministrations, hated Henry for being well enough to have permitted this disastrous home-coming, and hated me because I had treated her as a child, had said her love poem was lousy and had shown, still more unforgivably, that I preferred her mother’s company to her own.

“Did she suspect anything?” I asked.

“She probably suspected everything,” Rivers answered.

“But I thought you were being sensible.”

“We were. But Ruth had always been jealous of her mother. And now her mother had hurt her, and at the same time she knew — theoretically, of course, but in terms of the most violent and overblown language — the sort of things that happen when men and women like one another. Ache of purple pulses; lips intertwisted and bitten. Etcetera. Even if nothing had ever happened between Katy and me, she’d have believed that it had, and hated us accordingly, hated us with this new, more implacable kind of hate. In the past her hates had never lasted for more than a day or two. This time it was different. The hatred was unrelenting. For days on end she refused to talk to us, but sat there through every meal, in a black silence, pregnant with unspoken criticisms and condemnations. Poor little Ruth! Dolores-Salome was, of course, a fiction, but a fiction founded on the solid facts of puberty. In outraging the fiction Katy and I, in our different ways, had outraged something real, something that was a living part of the child’s personality. She had come home with her perfume and her make-up, with her brand new breasts and her brand new vocabulary, with Algernon’s notions and Oscar’s sentiments — had come home full of vaguely wonderful expectations, vaguely horrifying apprehensions; and what had happened to her? The insult of being treated as what, in fact, she still was: an irresponsible child. The outrage of not being taken seriously. The hurt and humiliation of finding herself rejected by the man she had chosen as her victim and Bluebeard, in favour of another woman — and, to make matters worse, the other woman was her own mother. Was it any wonder that all my efforts to laugh or cajole her out of her black mood were unavailing? ‘Leave her alone,’ was Katy’s advice. ‘Let her stew in her own juice, until she gets sick of it.’ But the days passed and Ruth showed no signs of getting sick of it. On the contrary, she seemed to be enjoying the bitter tastes of wounded pride, of jealousy and suspicion. And then, about a week after the children’s return, something happened that turned chronic grievance into the acutest, the most ferocious animosity.

“Henry was now well enough to sit up, to walk about his room. A few days more and he would be fully convalescent. ‘Let him spend a few weeks in the country,’ the doctor advised. But what with the bad weather in early spring, what with Katy’s absence in Chicago, the weekend farm house had been closed since Christmas. Before it could be lived in again, it would have to be aired and dusted and provisioned. ‘Let’s go and do the job tomorrow,’ Katy suggested to me one morning at breakfast. Startlingly, like a prairie dog popping out of its burrow, Ruth emerged from the depths of her malevolent silence. Tomorrow, she muttered angrily, she’d be at school. And that, Katy answered, was why tomorrow would be such a good day for doing the necessary chores. No work-shy poetesses mooning around and getting in the way. ‘But I must come,’ Ruth insisted with a strange kind of muffled violence. ‘Must?’ Katy echoed. ‘Why must?’ Ruth looked at her mother for a moment, then dropped her eyes. ‘Because …’ she began, thought better of it and broke off. ‘Because I want to,’ she concluded lamely. Katy laughed and told her not to be silly. ‘We’ll get off early,’ she said, turning back to me, ‘and take a picnic basket.’ The child turned very pale, tried to eat her toast but couldn’t swallow, asked to be excused and, without waiting for an answer, got up and ran out of the room. When I saw her again that afternoon, her face was a mask, blank but somehow menacing, of controlled hostility.”

From outside, in the hall, I had heard the creak of the front door being opened, then the bang of its closing. And now there was the sound of footsteps and low voices. Rivers broke off and looked at his watch.

“Only ten after eleven,” he said, and shook his head. Then, raising his voice, “Molly!” he called. “Is that you?”

Open on a square of smooth white skin, on pearls and the bodice of a scarlet evening gown, a mink coat appeared in the doorway. Above it was a young face that would have been beautiful, if its expression had been less bitterly sullen.

“Was it a nice party?” Rivers asked.

“Stinking,” said the young woman. “That’s why we’re home so early. Isn’t it, Fred?” she added, turning to a dark-haired young man who had followed her into the room. The young man gave her a look of cold distaste, and turned away. “Isn’t it?” she repeated more loudly, with a note in her voice almost of anguish.

A faint smile appeared on the averted face and there was a shrug of the broad shoulders, but no answer.

Rivers turned to me.

“You’ve met my little Molly, haven’t you?”

“When she was so high.”

“And this,” he waved his hand in the direction of the dark young man, “is my son-in-law, Fred Shaughnessy.”

I said I was pleased to meet him; but the young man didn’t even look at me. There was a silence.

Molly drew a jewelled hand across her eyes.

“I’ve got a splitting headache,” she muttered. “Guess I’ll go to bed.”

She started to walk away; then halted and, with what was evidently an enormous effort, brought herself to say, “Good night.”

“Good night,” we said in chorus. But she was already gone. Without a word, as though he were a gunman on her trail, the young man turned and followed her. Rivers sighed profoundly.

“They’ve got to the point,” he said, “where sex seems pretty dull unless it’s the consummation of a quarrel. And that, if you please, is little Bimbo’s destiny. Either life as the child of a divorced mother with a succession, until she loses her looks, of lovers or husbands. Or else life as the the child of two parents who ought to be divorced but can never separate because they share an unavowable taste for torturing and being tortured. And there’s nothing in either eventuality that I can do about it. Whatever happens, the child has got to go through hell. Maybe he’ll emerge all the better and stronger for it. Maybe he’ll be utterly destroyed. Who knows? Certainly not these boys!” He pointed with the stem of his pipe at a long shelf of Freudians and Jungians. “Psychology-fiction! It makes pleasant reading, it’s even rather instructive. But how much does it explain? Everything except the essentials, everything except the two things that finally determine the course of our lives, Predestination and Grace. Look at Molly, for example. She had a mother who knew how to love without wanting to possess. She had a father who at least had sense enough to try to follow his wife’s example. She had two sisters who were happy as children and grew up to be successful wives and mothers. There were no quarrels in the household, no chronic tensions, no tragedies or explosions. By all the rules of psychology-fiction, Molly ought to be thoroughly sane and contented. Instead of which …” He left the sentence unfinished. “And then there’s the other kind of Predestination. Not the inner Predestination of temperament and character, but the Predestination of events — the kind of Predestination that lay in wait for me and Ruth and Katy. Even through the wrong end of the opera glasses one doesn’t like to look at it.”

There was a long silence, which I did not presume to break.

“Well,” he said at last, “let’s get back to Ruth, let’s get back to that afternoon of the day before the picnic. I came home from the laboratory, and there was Ruth in the living-room, reading. She didn’t look up as I came in, so I put on my breeziest bedside manner and said, ‘Hullo, kiddums!’ She turned and gave me a long, unsmiling, balefully blank look, then went back to her book. This time I tried a literary gambit. ‘Have you been writing any more poetry?’ I asked. ‘Yes, I have,’ she said emphatically, and there was a little smile on her face more baleful even than the previous blankness. ‘May I see it?’ To my great surprise, she said yes. The thing wasn’t quite finished; but tomorrow without fail. I forgot all about the promise; but the next morning, sure enough, as she was leaving for school, Ruth handed me one of her mauve envelopes. ‘Here it is,’ she said. ‘I hope you’ll like it.’ And giving me another menacing smile, she hurried after Timmy. I was too busy to read the poem immediately, so I slipped the envelope into my pocket and went on with the job of loading the car. Bedding, cutlery, kerosene — I piled the stuff in. Half an hour later we were off. Beulah shouted goodbye from the front steps, Henry waved at us from an upstairs window. Katy waved back and blew a kiss. ‘I feel like John Gilpin,’ she said happily as we turned out of the driveway. ‘All agog to dash through thick and thin.’ It was one of those lyrical days in early May, one of those positively Shakespearean mornings. There had been rain in the night, and now all the trees were curtseying to a fresh wind; the young leaves glittered like jewels in the sunlight; the great marbly clouds on the horizons were something Michelangelo had dreamed in a moment of ecstatic happiness and superhuman power. And then there were the flowers. Flowers in the suburban gardens, flowers in the woods and fields beyond; and every flower had the conscious beauty of a beloved face, and its fragrance was a secret from the Other World, its petals had the smoothness, under the fingers of my imagination, the silky coolness and resilience of living skin. It goes without saying, of course, that we were still being sensible. But the world was tipsy with its own perfections, crazy with excess of life. We did our work, we ate our picnic lunch, we smoked our cigarettes on deck-chairs in the sun. But the sunwas too hot and we decided to finish our nap indoors; and then what anybody could have told us would happen duly happened … Happened, as I suddenly discovered between two ecstasies, under the eyes of a three-quarter length portrait of Henry Maartens, commissioned and presented to him by the directors of some big electrical company that had profited by his professional advice, and so monstrous in its photographic realism that it had been relegated to the spare bedroom at the farm. It was one of those portraits that are always looking at you, like Big Brother in Orwell’s 1984. I turned my head, and there it was in its black cutaway coat, solemnly glaring — the very embodiment of public opinion, the painted symbol and projection of my own guilty conscience. And next to the portrait was a Victorian wardrobe with a looking-glass door that reflected the tree outside the window and, within the room, part of the bed, part of two bodies dappled with sunlight and the moving shadows of oak leaves. ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ But here, what with the portrait and the mirror, there was no possibility of ignorance. And the knowledge of what we had done became even more disquieting when, half an hour later, as I put on my jacket, I heard the crackle of stiff paper in a side pocket, and remembered Ruth’s mauve envelope. The poem, this time, was a narrative, in four-line stanzas, a kind of ballad about two adulterers, a faithless wife and her lover, before the bar of God at the Last Judgment. Standing there in the huge, accusing silence, they feel themselves being stripped by invisible hands of all their disguises, garment after garment, until at last they’re stark naked. More than stark naked, indeed; for their resurrected bodies are transparent. Lights and liver, bladder and guts, every organ, with its specific excrement — all, all are revoltingly visible. And suddenly they find that they are not alone, but on a stage, under spotlights, in the midst of millions of spectators, tier on tier of them, retching with uncontrollable disgust as they look, or jeering, denouncing, calling for vengeance, howling for the whip and the branding iron. There was a kind of Early Christian malignity about the piece, which was all the more terrifying because Ruth had been brought up completely outside the pale of that hideous kind of fundamentalism. Judgment, hell, eternal punishment — these weren’t things she’d been taught to believe in. They were notions she had adopted for her own special purposes, in order to express what she felt about her mother and myself. Jealousy, to begin with; jealousy and rebuffed love, hurt vanity, angry resentment. And the resentment had to be given a respectable motive, the anger transformed into righteous indignation. She suspected the worst of us so that she might be justified in feeling the worst. And she suspected the worst so vehemently that, in next to no time, she wasn’t guessing any more, she knew that we were guilty. And, knowing it, the child in her was outraged, the woman felt more bitterly, vengefully jealous than before. With a horrible sinking of the heart, a mounting terror in the face of an incalculable future, I read the thing to the end, read it again, then turned to where Katy was sitting before the mirror on the dressing-table, pinning up her hair, smiling at the radiantly smiling image of a goddess, and humming a tune out of ‘The Marriage of Figaro.’ Dove sono i bei momenti Di dolcezza e di piacer? I had always admired that divine unconcern of hers, that Olympian je m’en foutisme. Now, suddenly, it enraged me. She had no right not to be feeling what the reading of Ruth’s poem had made me feel. ‘Do you want to know,’ I said, ‘why our little Ruthy has been acting the way she has? Do you want to know what she really thinks of us?’ And crossing the room, I handed her the two sheets of purple notepaper on which the child had copied out her poem. Katy started to read. Studying her face I saw the original look of amusement (for Ruth’s poetry was a standing joke in the family) give place to an expression of serious, concentrated attention. Then a vertical wrinkle appeared on the forehead between the eyes. The frown deepened and, as she turned to the second page, she bit her lip. The goddess, after all, was vulnerable … I had scored my point; but it was a poor sort of triumph that ended with there being two bewildered rabbits in the trap instead of one. And it was the kind of trap that Katy was totally unequipped to get out of. Most uncomfortable situations she just ignored, just sailed through as though they didn’t exist. And in effect, if she went on ignoring them long enough and serenely enough, they stopped existing. The people she had offended forgave her, because she was so beautiful and good-humoured; the people who had worried themselves sick, or made complications for others, succumbed to the contagion of her god-like indifference and momentarily forgot to be neurotic or malignant. And when the technique of being serenely unaware didn’t work, there was her other gambit — the technique of rushing in where angels fear to tread; the technique of being gaily tactless, of making enormous bloomers in all innocence and simplicity, of uttering the most unmentionable truths with the most irresistible of smiles. But this was a case where neither of these methods would work. If she said nothing, Ruth would go on acting as she had acted up till now. And if she rushed in and said everything, God only knew what a disturbed adolescent might do. And meanwhile there was Henry to think of, there was her own future as the sole and, we were all convinced, the utterly indispensable support of a sick genius and his children. Ruth was in the position, and might even now be in the mood, to pull down the whole temple of their lives for the sake of spiting her mother. And there was nothing that a woman who had the temperament of a goddess, without the goddess’s omnipotence, could do about it. There was, however, something that I could do; and as we discussed our situation — for the first time, remember, since there had been a situation to discuss! — it became more and more clear what that something was. I could do what I had felt I ought to do after that first apocalyptic night — clear out.

“Katy wouldn’t hear of it at first, and I had to argue with her all the way home — argue against myself, against my own happiness. In the end she was convinced. It was the only way out of the trap.

“Ruth eyed us, when we got home, like a detective searching for clues. Then she asked me if I had liked her poem. I told her — which was strictly true — that it was the best thing she had ever written. She was pleased, but did her best not to show it. The smile which lit up her face was almost instantly repressed and she asked me, in an intently meaningful way, what I had thought of the poem’s subject. I was prepared for the question and answered with an indulgent chuckle. It reminded me, I said, of the sermons my poor dear father used to preach in Lent. Then I looked at my watch, said something about urgent work and left her, as I could see by the expression on her face, discomfited. She had looked forward, I suppose, to a scene in which she would play the coldly implacable judge, while I, the culprit, gave an exhibition of cringing evasion, or broke down and confessed. But, instead, the culprit had laughed and the judge had been treated to an irrelevant joke about clergymen. I had won a skirmish; but the war still raged and could be ended, it was plain enough, only by my retreat.

“Two days later it was Friday and, as happened every Friday, the postman had brought my mother’s weekly letter and Beulah, when she set the table for breakfast, had propped it conspicuously (for she was all for mothers) against my coffee cup. I opened, read, looked grave, read again, then lapsed into preoccupied silence. Katy took the cue and asked solicitously if I had had bad news. To which I answered, of course, that it wasn’t too good. My mother’s health … The alibi had been prepared. By that evening it was all settled. Officially, as the head of the laboratory, Henry gave me two weeks’ leave of absence. I would take the ten-thirty on Sunday morning and, in the interval, on Saturday, we would all escort the convalescent to the farm and have a farewell picnic.

“There were too many of us for one car; so Katy and the children went ahead in the family Overland. Henry and Beulah, with most of their luggage, followed in the Maxwell with me. The others had a good start of us; for when we were half a mile from home, Henry discovered, as usual, that he had forgotten some absolutely indispensable book, and we had to drive back and look for it. Ten minutes later we were on our way again. On our way, as it turned out, to that meeting with Predestination.”

Rivers finished his whisky and knocked out his pipe.

“Even through the wrong end of the opera glasses, even in another universe, inhabited by different people …” He shook his head. “There are certain things that are simply inadmissible.” There was a pause. “Well, let’s get it over with,” he said at last. “About two miles this side of the farm there was a cross-road where you had to turn left. It was in a wood and the leaves were so thick you couldn’t see what was coming from either side. When we got there, I slowed down, I honked my horn, I put the car into low and turned. And suddenly, as I rounded the bend, there was the Overland roadster in the ditch, upside down, and near it a big truck with its radiator smashed in. And between the two cars was a young man in blue denims kneeling by a child, who was screaming. Ten or fifteen feet away there were two things that looked like bundles of old clothes, like garbage — garbage with blood on it.”

There was another silence.

“Were they dead?” I finally asked.

“Katy died a few minutes after we came on the scene, and Ruth died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Timmy was being reserved for a worse death at Okinawa; he got off with some cuts and a couple of broken ribs. He was sitting at the back, he told us, with Katy driving, and Ruth beside her on the front seat. The two of them had been having an argument, and Ruth was mad about something — he didn’t know what, because he wasn’t listening; he was thinking of a way of electrifying his clockwork train and anyhow he never paid much attention to what Ruth said when she was mad. If you paid attention to her, it just made things worse. But his mother had paid attention. He remembered her saying, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ and then, ‘I forbid you to say those things.’ And then they turned the corner, and they were going too fast and she didn’t honk the horn and that huge truck hit them broadside on. So you see,” Rivers concluded, “it was really both kinds of Predestination. The Predestination of events, and at the same time the Predestination of two temperaments, Ruth’s and Katy’s — the temperament of an outraged child, who was also a jealous woman; and the temperament of a goddess, cornered by circumstances and suddenly realizing that, objectively, she was only a human being, for whom the Olympian temperament might actually be a handicap. And the discovery was so disturbing that it made her careless, left her incapable of dealing adequately with the events by which she was predestined to be destroyed — and destroyed (but this was for my benefit, of course, this was an item in my psychological Predestination) with every refinement of physical outrage — an eye put out by a splinter of glass, the nose and lips and chin almost obliterated, rubbed out on the bloody macadam of the road. And there was a crushed right hand and the jagged ends of a broken shin-bone showing through the stocking. It was something I dreamed about almost every night. Katy with her back to me; and she was either on the bed in the farmhouse, or else standing by the window in my room, throwing the shawl over her shoulders. Then she’d turn and look at me, and there was no face, only that expanse of scraped flesh, and I’d wake up screaming. I got to the point where I didn’t dare to go to sleep at night.”

Listening to him, I remembered that young John Rivers whom, to my great surprise, I had found at Beirut, in twenty-four, teaching physics at the American University.

“Was that why you looked so horribly ill?” I asked.

He nodded his head.

“Too little sleep and too much memory,” he said. “I was afraid of going mad, and rather than go mad, I’d decided to kill myself. Then, just in the nick of time, Predestination got to work and came up with the only brand of saving Grace that could do me any good. I met Helen.”

“At the same cocktail party,” I put in, “where I met her. Do you remember?”

“Sorry, I don’t. I don’t remember anybody on that occasion except Helen. If you’ve been saved from drowning, you remember the life-guard, but not the spectators on the pier.”

“No wonder I never had a chance!” I said. “At the time I used to think, rather bitterly, that it was because women, even the best of them, even the rare extraordinary Helens, prefer good looks to artistic sensibility, prefer brawn with brains (for I was forced to admit that you had some brains!) to brains with that exquisite je ne sais quoi which was my specialty. Now I see what your irresistible attraction was. You were unhappy.”

He nodded his agreement, and there was a long silence. A clock struck twelve.

“Merry Christmas,” I said and, finishing off my whisky, I got up to go. “You haven’t told me what happened to poor old Henry after the accident.”

“Well, he began, of course, by having a relapse. Not a very bad one. He had nothing to gain, this time, by going to death’s door. Just a mild affair. Katy’s sister came down for the funeral and stayed on to look after him. She was like a caricature of Katy. Fat, florid, loud. Not a goddess disguised as a peasant — a barmaid imagining she was a goddess. She was a widow. Four months later Henry married her. I’d gone to Beirut by that time; so I never witnessed their connubial bliss. But from all accounts it was considerable. But the poor woman couldn’t keep her weight down. She died in thirty-five. Henry quickly found himself a young redhead, called Alicia. Alicia wanted to be admired for her thirty-eight inch bust, but still more for her two-hundred inch intellect. ‘What do you think of Schroedinger?’ you’d ask him; but it would be Alicia who answered. She saw him through to the end.”

“When did you see him last?” I asked.

“Just a few months before he died. Eighty-seven and still amazingly active, still chock-full of what his biographer likes to call ‘the undiminished blaze of intellectual power.’ To me he seemed like an overwound clockwork monkey. Clockwork ratiocination; clockwork gestures, clockwork smiles and grimaces. And then there was the conversation. What amazingly realistic tape recordings of the old anecdotes about Planck and Rutherford and J. J. Thompson! Of his celebrated soliloquies about Logical Positivism and Cybernetics! Of reminiscences about those exciting war years when he was working on the A-Bomb! Of his gaily apocalyptic speculations about the bigger and better Infernal Machines of the future! You could have sworn that it was a real human being who was talking. But gradually, as you went on listening, you began to realize that there was nobody at home. The tapes were being reeled off automatically, it was vox et praeterea nihil — the voice of Henry Maartens without his presence.”

“But isn’t that the thing you were recommending?” I asked. “Dying every moment.”

“But Henry hadn’t died. That’s the whole point. He’d merely left the clockwork running and gone somewhere else.”

“Gone where?”

“God knows. Into some kind of infantile burrow in his subconscious, I suppose. Outside, for all to see and hear, was that stupendous clockwork monkey, that undiminished blaze of intellectual power. Inside there lurked the miserable little creature who still needed flattery and reassurance and sex and a womb-substitute — the creature who would have to face the music on Henry’s death-bed. That was still frantically alive and unprepared, by any preliminary dying, totally unprepared for the decisive moment. Well, the decisive moment is over now and whatever remains of poor old Henry is probably squeaking and gibbering in the streets of Los Alamos, or maybe around the bed of his widow and her new husband. And of course nobody pays any attention, nobody gives a damn. Quite rightly. Let the dead bury their dead. And now you want to go.” He got up, took my arm and walked me out into the hall. “Drive carefully,” he said as he opened the front door. “This is a Christian country and it’s the Saviour’s birthday. Practically everybody you see will be drunk.”

Island


First published in America in 1962 by Harper & Brothers, Island is yet another utopian novel and the author’s last work, released only a year before he died on 22 November 1963. He wrote it during a period of declining health, while he was suffering from laryngeal cancer; in fact, Huxley nearly lost the manuscript completely in 1961, when his house burned down. In his dystopian books, a central theme is that of human development being subordinated to technological progress, but Huxley also voices Malthusian fears of the supposed dangers of overpopulation and addresses topics such as individual freedom, medicine and mysticism. Many of these subjects feature in Island too, but this time Huxley is interested in exploring how technology, science, the arts and religion can be combined positively to create a good society.

The novel tells the story of Will Farnaby, a frustrated journalist, who arrives at the fictional island of Pala, where he is tasked with trying to secure the rights to the island’s oil reserves for a British businessman. Farnaby explores the country and soon discovers a society built on peace, happiness, intellectual and cultural pursuits and mysticism. He also partakes in the practice of using of psychedelic drugs to alleviate past trauma and facilitate self-discovery and knowledge. The inhabitants of Pala have rejected rampant consumerism and capitalism and have not allowed themselves to become subsumed by technology. However, this idyllic life on the island is under threat by an invading kingdom that wishes to establish dictatorial control over the population.


The US first edition

Contents

  • CHAPTER ONE

  • CHAPTER TWO

  • CHAPTER THREE

  • CHAPTER FOUR

  • CHAPTER FIVE

  • CHAPTER SIX

  • CHAPTER SEVEN

  • CHAPTER EIGHT

  • CHAPTER NINE

  • CHAPTER TEN

  • CHAPTER ELEVEN

  • CHAPTER TWELVE

  • CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  • CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  • CHAPTER FIFTEEN


The UK first edition cover

Chapter One


“ATTENTION,” A VOICE began to call, and it was as though an oboe had suddenly become articulate. “Attention,” it repeated in the same high, nasal monotone. “Attention.”

Lying there like a corpse in the dead leaves, his hair matted, his face grotesquely smudged and bruised, his clothes in rags and muddy, Will Farnaby awoke with a start. Molly had called him. Time to get up. Time to get dressed. Mustn’t be late at the office.

“Thank you, darling,” he said and sat up. A sharp pain stabbed at his right knee and there were other kinds of pain in his back, his arms, his forehead.

“Attention,” the voice insisted without the slightest change of tone. Leaning on one elbow, Will looked about him and saw with bewilderment, not the grey wallpaper and yellow curtains of his London bedroom, but a glade among trees and the long shadows and slanting lights of early morning in a forest.

“Attention”?

Why did she say, “Attention”?

“Attention. Attention,” the voice insisted — how strangely, how senselessly!

“Molly?” he questioned. “Molly?”

The name seemed to open a window inside his head. Suddenly, with that horribly familiar sense of guilt at the pit of the stomach, he smelt formaldehyde, he saw the small brisk nurse hurrying ahead of him along the green corridor, heard the dry creaking of her starched clothes. “Number fifty-five,” she was saying, and then halted, opened a white door. He entered and there, on a high white bed, was Molly. Molly with bandages covering half her face and the mouth hanging cavernously open. “Molly,” he had called, “Molly …” His voice had broken, and he was crying, was imploring now, “My darling!” There was no answer. Through the gaping mouth the quick shallow breaths came noisily, again, again. “My darling, my darling …” And then suddenly the hand he was holding came to life for a moment. Then was still again.

“It’s me,” he said, “it’s Will.”

Once more the fingers stirred. Slowly, with what was evidently an enormous effort, they closed themselves over his own, pressed them for a moment and then relaxed again into lifelessness.

“Attention,” called the inhuman voice. “Attention.”

It had been an accident, he hastened to assure himself. The road was wet, the car had skidded across the white line. It was one of those things that happen all the time. The papers are full of them; he had reported them by the dozen. “Mother and three children killed in head-on crash …” But that was beside the point. The point was that, when she asked him if it was really the end, he had said yes; the point was that less than an hour after she had walked out from that last shameful interview into the rain, Molly was in the ambulance, dying.

He hadn’t looked at her as she turned to go, hadn’t dared to look at her. Another glimpse of that pale suffering face might have been too much for him. She had risen from her chair and was moving slowly across the room, moving slowly out of his life. Shouldn’t he call her back, ask her forgiveness, tell her that he still loved her? Had he ever loved her?

For the hundredth time the articulate oboe called him to attention.

Yes, had he ever really loved her?

“Good-bye, Will,” came her remembered whisper as she turned back on the threshold. And then it was she who had said it — in a whisper, from the depths of her heart. “I still love you, Will — in spite of everything.”

A moment later the door of the flat closed behind her almost without a sound. The little dry click of the latch, and she was gone.

He had jumped up, had run to the front door and opened it, had listened to the retreating footsteps on the stairs. Like a ghost at cock-crow, a faint familiar perfume lingered vanishingly on the air. He closed the door again, walked into his grey and yellow bedroom and looked out of the window. A few seconds passed, then he saw her crossing the pavement and getting into the car. He heard the shrill grinding of the starter, once, twice, and after that the drumming of the motor. Should he open the window? “Wait, Molly, wait,” he heard himself shouting in imagination. The window remained unopened; the car began to move, turned the corner and the street was empty. It was too late. Too late, thank God! said a gross derisive voice. Yes, thank God! And yet the guilt was there at the pit of his stomach. The guilt, the gnawing of his remorse — but through the remorse he could feel a horrible rejoicing. Somebody low and lewd and brutal, somebody alien and odious who was yet himself was gleefully thinking that now there was nothing to prevent him from having what he wanted. And what he wanted was a different perfume, was the warmth and resilience of a younger body. “Attention,” said the oboe. Yes, attention. Attention to Babs’s musky bedroom, with its strawberry-pink alcove and the two windows that looked on to the Charing Cross Road and were looked into, all night long, by the winking glare of the big sky sign for Porter’s Gin on the opposite side of the street. Gin in royal crimson — and for ten seconds the alcove was the Sacred Heart, for ten miraculous seconds the flushed face so close to his own glowed like a seraph’s, transfigured as though by an inner fire of love. Then came the yet profounder transfiguration of darkness. One, two, three, four … Ah God, make it go on forever! But punctually at the count of ten the electric clock would turn on another revelation — but of death, of the Essential Horror; for the lights, this time, were green, and for ten hideous seconds Babs’s rosy alcove became a womb of mud and, on the bed, Babs herself was corpse-coloured, a cadaver galvanized into posthumous epilepsy. When Porter’s Gin proclaimed itself in green, it was hard to forget what had happened and who one was. The only thing to do was to shut one’s eyes and plunge, if one could, more deeply into the Other World of sensuality, plunge violently, plunge deliberately into those alienating frenzies to which poor Molly — Molly (‘Attention’) in her bandages, Molly in her wet grave at Highgate, and Highgate, of course, was why one had to shut one’s eyes each time that the green light made a corpse of Babs’ nakedness — had always and so utterly been a stranger. And not only Molly. Behind his closed eyelids, Will saw his mother, pale like a cameo, her face spiritualized by accepted suffering, her hands made monstrous and subhuman by arthritis. His mother and, standing behind her wheelchair, already running to fat and quivering like calves’-foot jelly with all the feelings that had never found their proper expression in consummated love, was his sister Maud.

“How can you, Will?”

“Yes, how can you,” Maud echoed tearfully in her vibrating contralto.

There was no answer. No answer, that was to say, in any words that could be uttered in their presence, that, uttered, those two martyrs — the mother to her unhappy marriage, the daughter to filial piety — could possibly understand. No answer except in words of the most obscenely scientific objectivity, the most inadmissible frankness. How could he do it? He could do it, for all practical purposes was compelled to do it, because … well because Babs had certain physical peculiarities which Molly did not possess and behaved at certain moments in ways which Molly would have found unthinkable.

There had been a long silence; but now, abruptly, the strange voice took up its old refrain.

“Attention. Attention.”

Attention to Molly, attention to Maud and his mother, attention to Babs. And suddenly another memory emerged from the fog of vagueness and confusion. Babs’ strawberry-pink alcove sheltered another guest, and its owner’s body was shuddering ecstatically under somebody else’s caresses. To the guilt in the stomach was added an anguish about the heart, a constriction of the throat.

“Attention.”

The voice had come nearer, was calling from somewhere over there to the right. He turned his head, he tried to raise himself for a better view; but the arm that supported his weight began to tremble, then gave way, and he fell back into the leaves. Too tired to go on remembering, he lay there for a long time staring up through half-closed lids, at the incomprehensible world around him. Where was he and how on earth had he got here? Not that this was of any importance. At the moment nothing was of any importance except this pain, this annihilating weakness. All the same, just as a matter of scientific interest …

This tree, for example, under which (for no known reason) he found himself lying, this column of grey bark with the groining, high up, of sun-speckled branches, this ought by rights to be a beech tree. But in that case — and Will admired himself for being so lucidly logical — in that case the leaves had no right to be so obviously evergreen. And why would a beech tree send its roots elbowing up like this above the surface of the ground? And those preposterous wooden buttresses, on which the pseudo-beech supported itself — where did those fit into the picture? Will remembered suddenly his favourite worst line of poetry. “Who prop, thou ask’st, in these bad days my mind?” Answer: congealed ectoplasm, Early Dali. Which definitely ruled out the Chilterns. So did the butterflies swooping out there in the thick buttery sunshine. Why were they so large, so improbably cerulean or velvet-black, so extravagantly eyed and freckled? Purple staring out of chestnut, silver powdered over emerald, over topaz, over sapphire.

“Attention.”

“Who’s there?” Will Farnaby called in what he intended to be a loud and formidable tone; but all that came out of his mouth was a thin, quavering croak.

There was a long and, it seemed, profoundly menacing silence. From the hollow between two of the tree’s wooden buttresses an enormous black centipede emerged for a moment into view, then hurried away on its regiment of crimson legs and vanished into another cleft in the lichen-covered ectoplasm.

“Who’s there?” he croaked again.

There was a rustling in the bushes on his left and suddenly, like a cuckoo from a nursery clock, out popped a large black bird, the size of a jackdaw — only, needless to say, it wasn’t a jackdaw. It clapped a pair of white-tipped wings and, darting across the intervening space, settled on the lowest branch of a small dead tree, not twenty feet from where Will was lying. Its beak, he noticed was orange, and it had a bald yellow patch under each eye, with canary-coloured wattles that covered the sides and back of its head with a thick wig of naked flesh. The bird cocked its head and looked at him first with the right eye, then with the left. After which it opened its orange bill, whistled ten or twelve notes of a little air in the pentatonic scale, made a noise like somebody having hiccups, and then, in a chanting phrase, do do sol do, said, “Here and now, boys; here and now, boys.”

The words pressed a trigger, and all of a sudden he remembered everything. Here was Pala, the forbidden island, the place no journalist had ever visited. And now must be the morning after the afternoon when he’d been fool enough to go sailing, alone, outside the harbour of Rendang-Lobo. He remembered it all — the white sail curved by the wind into the likeness of a huge magnolia petal, the water sizzling at the prow, the sparkle of diamonds on every wave crest, the troughs of wrinkled jade. And eastwards, across the Strait, what clouds, what prodigies of sculptured whiteness above the volcanoes of Pala! Sitting there at the tiller, he had caught himself singing — caught himself, incredibly, in the act of feeling unequivocally happy.

“‘Three, three for the rivals,’” he had declaimed into the wind.

“‘Two, two for the lily-white boys, clothèd all in green-oh; One is one and all alone …’”

Yes, all alone. All alone on the enormous jewel of the sea.

“‘And ever more shall be so.’”

After which, needless to say, the thing that all the cautious and experienced yachtsmen had warned him against happened. The black squall out of nowhere, the sudden, senseless frenzy of wind and rain and waves …

“Here and now, boys,” chanted the bird. “Here and now, boys.”

The really extraordinary thing was that he should be here, he reflected, under the trees and not out there, at the bottom of the Pala Strait or, worse, smashed to pieces at the foot of the cliffs. For even after he had managed, by sheer miracle, to take his sinking boat through the breakers and run her aground on the only sandy beach in all those miles of Pala’s rock-bound coast — even then it wasn’t over. The cliffs towered above him; but at the head of the cove there was a kind of headlong ravine where a little stream came down in a succession of filmy waterfalls, and there were trees and bushes growing between the walls of grey limestone. Six or seven hundred feet of rock climbing — in tennis shoes, and all the footholds slippery with water. And then, dear God! those snakes. The black one looped over the branch by which he was pulling himself up. And five minutes later, the huge green one coiled there on the ledge, just where he was preparing to step. Terror had been succeeded by a terror infinitely worse. The sight of the snake had made him start, made him violently withdraw his foot, and that sudden unconsidered movement had made him lose his balance. For a long sickening second, in the dreadful knowledge that this was the end, he had swayed on the brink, then fallen. Death, death, death. And then, with the noise of splintering wood in his ears he had found himself clinging to the branches of a small tree, his face scratched, his right knee bruised and bleeding, but alive. Painfully he had resumed his climbing. His knee hurt him excruciatingly; but he climbed on. There was no alternative. And then the light had begun to fail. In the end he was climbing almost in darkness, climbing by faith, climbing by sheer despair.

“Here and now, boys,” shouted the bird.

But Will Farnaby was neither here nor now. He was there on the rock face, he was then at the dreadful moment of falling. The dry leaves rustled beneath him; he was trembling. Violently, uncontrollably, he was trembling from head to foot.

Chapter Two


SUDDENLY THE BIRD ceased to be articulate and started to scream. A small shrill human voice said, “Mynah!” and then added something in a language that Will did not understand. There was a sound of footsteps on dry leaves. Then a little cry of alarm. Then silence. Will opened his eyes and saw two exquisite children looking down at him, their eyes wide with astonishment and a fascinated horror. The smaller of them was a tiny boy of five, perhaps, or six, dressed only in a green loin cloth. Beside him, carrying a basket of fruit on her head, stood a little girl some four or five years older. She wore a full crimson skirt that reached almost to her ankles; but above the waist she was naked. In the sunlight her skin glowed like pale copper flushed with rose. Will looked from one child to the other. How beautiful they were, and how faultless, how extraordinarily elegant! Like two little thoroughbreds. A round and sturdy thoroughbred, with a face like a cherub’s — that was the boy. And the girl was another kind of thoroughbred, fine-drawn, with a rather long, grave little face framed between braids of dark hair.

There was another burst of screaming. On its perch in the dead tree the bird was turning nervously this way and that, then, with a final screech, it dived into the air. Without taking her eyes from Will’s face, the girl held out her hand invitingly. The bird fluttered, settled, flapped wildly, found its balance, then folded its wings and immediately started to hiccup. Will looked on without surprise. Anything was possible now — anything. Even talking birds that would perch on a child’s finger. Will tried to smile at them; but his lips were still trembling, and what was meant to be a sign of friendliness must have seemed like a frightening grimace. The little boy took cover behind his sister.

The bird stopped hiccuping and began to repeat a word that Will did not understand. ‘Runa’ — was that it? No, ‘Karuna’. Definitely ‘Karuna’.

He raised a trembling hand and pointed at the fruit in the round basket. Mangoes, bananas … His dry mouth was watering.

“Hungry,” he said. Then, feeling that in these exotic circumstances the child might understand him better if he put on an imitation of a musical comedy Chinaman, “Me velly hungly,” he elaborated.

“Do you want to eat?” the child asked in perfect English.

“Yes — eat,” he repeated, “eat.”

“Fly away, mynah!” She shook her hand. The bird uttered a protesting squawk and returned to its perch on the dead tree. Lifting her thin little arms in a gesture that was like a dancer’s, the child raised the basket from her head, then lowered it to the ground. She selected a banana, peeled it and, torn between fear and compassion, advanced towards the stranger. In his incomprehensible language the little boy uttered a cry of warning and clutched at her skirt. With a reassuring word, the girl halted, well out of danger, and held up the fruit.

“Do you want it?” she asked.

Still trembling, Will Farnaby stretched out his hand. Very cautiously, she edged forward, then halted again and, crouching down, peered at him intently.

“Quick,” he said in an agony of impatience.

But the little girl was taking no chances. Eyeing his hand for the least sign of a suspicious movement, she leaned forward, she cautiously extended her arm.

“For God’s sake,” he implored.

“God?” the child repeated with sudden interest. “Which God?” she asked. “There are such a lot of them.”

“Any damned God you like,” he answered impatiently.

“I don’t really like any of them,” she answered. “I like the Compassionate One.”

“Then be compassionate to me,” he begged. “Give me that banana.”

Her expression changed. “I’m sorry, she said apologetically. Rising to her full height, she took a quick step forward and dropped the fruit into his shaking hand.

“There,” she said and, like a little animal avoiding a trap, she jumped back, out of reach.

The small boy clapped his hands and laughed aloud. She turned and said something to him in their incomprehensible language. He nodded his round head, and saying “Okay, boss,” trotted away, through a barrage of blue and sulphur butterflies, into the forest shadows on the further side of the glade.

“I told Tom Krishna to go and fetch someone,” she explained.

Will finished his banana and asked for another, and then for a third. As the urgency of his hunger diminished, he felt a need to satisfy his curiosity.

“How is it that you speak such good English?” he asked.

“Because everybody speaks English,” the child answered.

“Everybody?”

“I mean, when they’re not speaking Palanese.” Finding the subject uninteresting, she turned, waved a small brown hand and whistled.

“Here and now, boys,” the bird repeated yet once more, then fluttered down from its perch on the dead tree and settled on her shoulder. The child peeled another banana, gave two-thirds of it to Will and offered what remained to the mynah.

“Is that your bird?” Will asked.

She shook her head.

“Mynahs are like the electric light,” she said. “They don’t belong to anybody.”

“Why does he say those things?”

“Because somebody taught him,” she answered patiently. What an ass! her tone seemed to imply.

“But why did they teach him those things? Why ‘Attention’? Why ‘Here and now’?”

“Well …” She searched for the right words in which to explain the self-evident to this strange imbecile. “That’s what you always forget, isn’t it? I mean, you forget to pay attention to what’s happening. And that’s the same as not being here and now.”

“And the mynahs fly about reminding you — is that it?”

She nodded. That, of course, was it. There was a silence.

“What’s your name?” she enquired.

Will introduced himself.

“My name’s Mary Sarojini MacPhail.”

“MacPhail?” It was too implausible.

“MacPhail,” she assured him.

“And your little brother is called Tom Krishna?” She nodded. “Well, I’m damned!”

“Did you come to Pala by the aeroplane?”

“I came out of the sea.”

“Out of the sea? Do you have a boat?”

“I did have one.” With his mind’s eye Will saw the waves breaking over the stranded hulk, heard with his inner ear the crash of their impact. Under her questioning he told her what had happened. The storm, the beaching of the boat, the long nightmare of the climb, the snakes, the horror of falling … He began to tremble again, more violently than ever.

Mary Sarojini listened attentively and without comment. Then as his voice faltered and finally broke, she stepped forward and, the bird still perched on her shoulder, kneeled down beside him.

“Listen, Will,” she said, laying a hand on his forehead. “We’ve got to get rid of this.” Her tone was professional and calmly authoritative.

“I wish I knew how,” he said between chattering teeth.

“How?” she repeated. “But in the usual way, of course. Tell me again about those snakes and how you fell down.”

He shook his head. “I don’t want to.”

“Of course you don’t want to,” she said. “But you’ve got to. Listen to what the mynah’s saying.”

“Here and now, boys,” the bird was still exhorting. “Here and now, boys.”

“You can’t be here and now,” she went on, “until you’ve got rid of those snakes. Tell me.”

“I don’t want to, I don’t want to.” He was almost in tears.

“Then you’ll never get rid of them. They’ll be crawling about inside your head forever. And serve you right,” Mary Sarojini added severely.

He tried to control the trembling; but his body had ceased to belong to him. Someone else was in charge, someone malevolently determined to humiliate him, to make him suffer.

“Remember what happened when you were a little boy,” Mary Sarojini was saying. “What did your mother do when you hurt yourself?”

She had taken him in her arms, had said, ‘My poor baby, my poor little baby.’

“She did that?” The child spoke in a tone of shocked amazement. “But that’s awful! That’s the way to rub it in. ‘My poor baby,’” she repeated derisively, “it must have gone on hurting for hours. And you’d never forget it.”

Will Farnaby made no comment, but lay there in silence, shaken by irrepressible shudderings.

“Well, if you won’t do it yourself, I’ll have to do it for you. Listen, Will: there was a snake, a big green snake, and you almost stepped on him. You almost stepped on him, and it gave you such a fright that you lost your balance, you fell. Now say it yourself — say it!”

“I almost stepped on him,” he whispered obediently. “And then I …” He couldn’t say it. “Then I fell,” he brought out at last, almost inaudibly.

All the horror of it came back to him — the nausea of fear, the panic start that had made him lose his balance, and then worse fear and the ghastly certainty that it was the end.

“Say it again.”

“I almost stepped on him. And then …”

He heard himself whimpering.

“That’s right, Will. Cry — cry!”

The whimpering became a moaning. Ashamed, he clenched his teeth, and the moaning stopped.

“No, don’t do that,” she cried. “Let it come out if it wants to. Remember that snake, Will. Remember how you fell.”

The moaning broke out again and he began to shudder more violently than ever.

“Now tell me what happened.”

“I could see its eyes, I could see its tongue going in and out.”

“Yes, you could see his tongue. And what happened then?”

“I lost my balance, I fell.”

“Say it again, Will.” He was sobbing now. “Say it again,” she insisted.

“I fell.”

“Again.”

It was tearing him to pieces, but he said it. “I fell.”

“Again, Will.” She was implacable. “Again.”

“I fell, I fell. I fell …”

Gradually the sobbing died down. The words came more easily and the memories they aroused were less painful.

“I fell,” he repeated for the hundredth time.

“But you didn’t fall very far,” Mary Sarojini now said.

“No, I didn’t fall very far,” he agreed.

“So what’s all the fuss about?” the child enquired.

There was no malice or irony in her tone, not the slightest implication of blame. She was just asking a simple, straightforward question that called for a simple straightforward answer. Yes, what was all the fuss about? The snake hadn’t bitten him; he hadn’t broken his neck. And anyhow it had all happened yesterday. Today there were these butterflies, this bird that called one to attention, this strange child who talked to one like a Dutch uncle, looked like an angel out of some unfamiliar mythology and within five degrees of the equator was called, believe it or not, MacPhail. Will Farnaby laughed aloud.

The little girl clapped her hands and laughed too. A moment later the bird on her shoulder joined in with peal upon peal of loud demonic laughter that filled the glade and echoed among the trees, so that the whole universe seemed to be fairly splitting its sides over the enormous joke of existence.

Chapter Three


“WELL, I’M GLAD it’s all so amusing,” a deep voice suddenly commented.

Will Farnaby turned and saw, smiling down at him, a small spare man dressed in European clothes and carrying a black bag. A man, he judged, in his late fifties. Under the wide straw hat the hair was thick and white, and what a strange beaky nose! And the eyes — how incongruously blue in the dark face!

“Grandfather!” he heard Mary Sarojini exclaiming.

The stranger turned from Will to the child.

“What was so funny?” he asked.

“Well,” Mary Sarojini began, and paused for a moment to marshal her thoughts. “Well, you see, he was in a boat and there was that storm yesterday and he got wrecked — somewhere down there. So he had to climb up the cliff. And there were some snakes, and he fell down. But luckily there was a tree, so he only had a fright. Which was why he was shivering so hard, so I gave him some bananas and I made him go through it a million times. And then all of a sudden he saw that it wasn’t anything to worry about. I mean, it’s all over and done with. And that made him laugh. And when he laughed, I laughed. And then the mynah bird laughed.”

“Very good,” said her grandfather approvingly. “And now,” he added, turning back to Will Farnaby, “after the psychological first aid, let’s see what can be done for poor old Brother Ass. I’m Dr Robert MacPhail, by the way. Who are you?”

“His name’s Will,” said Mary Sarojini before the young man could answer. “And his other name is Far-something.”

“Farnaby, to be precise. William Asquith Farnaby. My father, as you might guess, was an ardent Liberal. Even when he was drunk. Especially when he was drunk.” He gave vent to a harsh derisive laugh strangely unlike the full-throated merriment which had greeted his discovery that there was really nothing to make a fuss about.

“Didn’t you like your father?” Mary Sarojini asked with concern.

“Not as much as I might have,” Will answered.

“What he means,” Dr MacPhail explained to the child, “is that he hated his father. A lot of them do,” he added parenthetically.

Squatting down on his haunches, he began to undo the straps of his black bag.

“One of our ex-imperialists, I assume,” he said over his shoulder to the young man.

“Born in Bloomsbury,” Will confirmed.

“Upper class,” the doctor diagnosed, “but not a member of the military or county sub-species.”

“Correct. My father was a barrister and political journalist. That is, when he wasn’t too busy being an alcoholic. My mother, incredible as it may seem, was the daughter of an archdeacon. An archdeacon,” he repeated, and laughed again as he had laughed over his father’s taste for brandy.

Dr MacPhail looked at him for a moment, then turned his attention once more to the straps.

“When you laugh like that,” he remarked in a tone of scientific detachment, “your face becomes curiously ugly.”

Taken aback, Will tried to cover his embarrassment with a piece of facetiousness. “It’s always ugly,” he said.

“On the contrary, in a Baudelairian sort of way it’s rather beautiful. Except when you choose to make noises like a hyena. Why do you make those noises?”

“I’m a journalist,” Will explained. “Our Special Correspondent, paid to travel about the world and report on the current horrors. What other kind of noise do you expect me to make? Coo-coo? Blah-blah? Marx-Marx?” He laughed again, then brought out one of his well-tried witticisms. “I’m the man who won’t take yes for an answer.”

“Pretty,” said Dr MacPhail. “Very pretty. But now let’s get down to business.” Taking a pair of scissors out of his bag, he started to cut away the torn and bloodstained trouser leg that covered Will’s injured knee.

Will Farnaby looked up at him and wondered, as he looked, how much of this improbable Highlander was still Scottish and how much Palanese. About the blue eyes and the jutting nose there could be no doubt. But the brown skin, the delicate hands, the grace of movement — these surely came from somewhere considerably south of the Tweed.

“Were you born here?” he asked.

The doctor nodded affirmatively. “At Shivapuram, on the day of Queen Victoria’s funeral.”

There was a final click of the scissors, and the trouser leg fell away, exposing the knee. “Messy,” was Dr MacPhail’s verdict after a first intent scrutiny. “But I don’t think there’s anything too serious.” He turned to his granddaughter, “I’d like you to run back to the station and ask Vijaya to come here with one of the other men. Tell them to pick up a stretcher at the infirmary.”

Mary Sarojini nodded and, without a word, rose to her feet, and hurried away across the glade.

Will looked after the small figure as it receded — the red skirt swinging from side to side, the smooth skin of the torso glowing rosily golden in the sunlight.

“You have a very remarkable granddaughter,” he said to Dr MacPhail.

“Mary Sarojini’s father,” said the doctor after a little silence, “was my eldest son. He died four months ago — a mountain climbing accident.”

Will mumbled his sympathy, and there was another silence.

Dr MacPhail uncorked a bottle of alcohol and swabbed his hands.

“This is going to hurt a bit,” he warned. “I’d suggest that you listen to that bird.” He waved a hand in the direction of the dead tree, to which, after Mary Sarojini’s departure, the mynah had returned.

“Listen to him closely, listen discriminatingly. It’ll keep your mind off the discomfort.”

Will Farnaby listened. The mynah had gone back to its first theme.

“Attention,” the articulate oboe was calling. “Attention.”

“Attention to what?” he asked, in the hope of eliciting a more enlightening answer than the one he had received from Mary Sarojini.

“To attention,” said Dr MacPhail.

“Attention to attention?”

“Of course.”

“Attention,” the mynah chanted in ironical confirmation.

“Do you have many of these talking birds?”

“There must be at least a thousand of them flying about the island. It was the old Raja’s idea. He thought it would do people good. Maybe it does, though it seems rather unfair to the poor mynahs. Fortunately, however, birds don’t understand pep talks. Not even St Francis’. Just imagine,” he went on, “preaching sermons to perfectly good thrushes and goldfinches and chiffchaffs! What presumption! Why couldn’t he have kept his mouth shut and let the birds preach to him? And now,” he added in another tone, “you’d better start listening to our friend in the tree. I’m going to clean this thing up.”

“Attention.”

“Here goes.”

The young man winced and bit his lip.

“Attention. Attention. Attention.”

Yes, it was quite true. If you listened intently enough, the pain wasn’t so bad.

“Attention. Attention …”

“How you ever contrived to get up that cliff,” said Dr MacPhail, as he reached for the bandage, “I cannot conceive.”

Will managed to laugh. “Remember the beginning of Erewhon,” he said. “‘As luck would have it, Providence was on my side.’”

From the further side of the glade came the sound of voices. Will turned his head and saw Mary Sarojini emerging from between the trees, her red skirt swinging as she skipped along. Behind her, naked to the waist and carrying over his shoulder the bamboo poles and rolled-up canvas of a light stretcher, walked a huge bronze statue of a man, and behind the giant came a slender, dark-skinned adolescent in white shorts.

“This is Vijaya Bhattacharya,” said Dr MacPhail as the bronze statue approached. “Vijaya is my assistant.”

“In the hospital?”

Dr MacPhail shook his head. “Except in emergencies,” he said, “I don’t practise any more. Vijaya and I work together at the Agricultural Experimental Station. And Murugan Mailendra,” (he waved his hand in the direction of the dark-skinned boy), “is with us temporarily, studying soil science and plant breeding.”

Vijaya stepped aside and, laying a large hand on his companion’s shoulder, pushed him forward. Looking up into that beautiful, sulky young face, Will suddenly recognized, with a start of surprise, the elegantly tailored youth he had met, five days before, at Rendang-Lobo, had driven with in Colonel Dipa’s white Mercedes all over the island. He smiled, he opened his mouth to speak, then checked himself. Almost imperceptibly but quite unmistakably, the boy had shaken his head. In his eyes Will saw an expression of anguished pleading. His lips moved soundlessly. “Please,” he seemed to be saying, “please …” Will readjusted his face.

“How do you do, Mr Mailendra,” he said in a tone of casual formality.

Murugan looked enormously relieved. “How do you do,” he said, and made a little bow.

Will looked round to see if the others had noticed what had happened. Mary Sarojini and Vijaya, he saw, were busy with the stretcher and the doctor was repacking his black bag. The little comedy had been played without an audience. Young Murugan evidently had his reasons for not wanting it to be known that he had been in Rendang. Boys will be boys. Boys will even be girls. Colonel Dipa had been more than fatherly towards his young protégé, and towards the Colonel, Murugan had been a good deal more than filial — he had been positively adoring. Was it merely hero-worship, merely a schoolboy’s admiration for the strong man who had carried out a successful revolution, liquidated the opposition and installed himself as dictator? Or were other feelings involved? Was Murugan playing Antinous to this black moustached Hadrian? Well, if that was how he felt about middle-aged military gangsters, that was his privilege. And if the gangster liked pretty boys, that was his. And perhaps, Will went on to reflect, that was why Colonel Dipa had refrained from making a formal introduction. “This is Muru,” was all he had said, when the boy was ushered into the presidential office. “My young friend Muru,” and he had risen, had put his arm around the boy’s shoulders, had led him to the sofa and sat down beside him. “May I drive the Mercedes?” Murugan had asked. The dictator had smiled indulgently and nodded his sleek black head. And that was another reason for thinking that more than mere friendliness was involved in that curious relationship. At the wheel of the Colonel’s sports car Murugan was a maniac. Only an infatuated lover would have entrusted himself, not to mention his guest, to such a chauffeur. On the flat between Rendang-Lobo and the oil fields the speedometer had twice touched a hundred and ten; and worse, much worse, was to follow on the mountain road from the oil fields to the copper mines. Chasms yawned, tyres screeched round corners, water buffaloes emerged from bamboo thickets a few feet ahead of the car, ten-ton lorries came roaring down on the wrong side of the road. “Aren’t you a little nervous?” Will had ventured to ask. But the gangster was pious as well as infatuated. “If one knows that one is doing the will of Allah — and I do know it, Mr Farnaby — there is no excuse for nervousness. In those circumstances, nervousness would be blasphemy.” And as Murugan swerved to avoid yet another buffalo, he opened his gold cigarette case and offered Will a Balkan Sobranje.

“Ready,” Vijaya called.

Will turned his head and saw the stretcher lying on the ground beside him.

“Good!” said Dr MacPhail. “Let’s lift him on to it. Carefully. Carefully …”

A minute later the little procession was winding its way up the narrow path between the trees. Mary Sarojini was in the van, her grandfather brought up the rear and, between them, came Murugan and Vijaya at either end of the stretcher.

From his moving bed Will Farnaby looked up through the green darkness as though from the floor of a living sea. Far overhead, near the surface, there was a rustling among the leaves, a noise of monkeys. And now it was a dozen hornbills hopping, like the figments of a disordered imagination, through a cloud of orchids.

“Are you comfortable?” Vijaya asked, bending solicitously to look into his face.

Will smiled back at him.

“Luxuriously comfortable,” he said.

“It isn’t far,” the other went on reassuringly. “We’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Where’s ‘there’?”

“The Experimental Station. It’s like Rothamsted. Did you ever go to Rothamsted when you were in England?”

Will had heard of it, of course, but never seen the place.

“It’s been going for more than a hundred years,” Vijaya went on.

“A hundred and eighteen, to be precise,” said Dr MacPhail. “Lawes and Gilbert started their work on fertilizers in 1843. One of their pupils came out here in the early fifties to help my grandfather get our Station going. Rothamsted in the tropics — that was the idea. In the tropics and for the tropics.”

There was a lightening of the green gloom and a moment later the litter emerged from the forest into the full glare of tropical sunshine. Will raised his head and looked about him. They were not far from the floor of an immense ampitheatre. Five hundred feet below stretched a wide plain, checkered with fields, dotted with clumps of trees and clustered houses. In the other direction the slopes climbed up and up, thousands of feet towards a semicircle of mountains. Terrace above green or golden terrace, from the plain to the crenellated wall of peaks, the rice paddies followed the contour lines, emphasizing every swell and recession of the slope with what seemed a deliberate and artful intention. Nature here was no longer merely natural; the landscape had been composed, had been reduced to its geometrical essences, and rendered, by what in a painter would have been a miracle of virtuosity, in terms of these sinuous lines, these streaks of pure bright colour.

“What were you doing in Rendang?” Dr Robert asked, breaking a long silence.

“Collecting materials for a piece on the new régime.”

“I wouldn’t have thought the Colonel was newsworthy.”

“You’re mistaken. He’s a military dictator. That means there’s death in the offing. And death is always news. Even the remote smell of death is news,” he laughed. “That’s why I was told to drop in on my way back from China.”

And there had been other reasons which he preferred not to mention. Newspapers were only one of Lord Aldehyde’s interests. In another manifestation he was the South-East Asia Petroleum Company, he was Imperial and Foreign Copper Limited. Officially, Will had come to Rendang to sniff the death in its militarized air; but he had also been commissioned to find out what the dictator felt about foreign capital, what tax rebates he was prepared to offer, what guarantees against nationalization. And how much of the profits would be exportable? How many native technicians and administrators would have to be employed? A whole battery of questions. But Colonel Dipa had been most affable and co-operative. Hence that hair-raising drive, with Murugan at the wheel, to the copper mines. “Primitive, my dear Farnaby, primitive. Urgently in need, as you can see for yourself, of modern equipment.” Another meeting had been arranged — arranged, Will now remembered, for this very morning. He visualized the Colonel at his desk. A report from the chief of police. ‘Mr Farnaby was last seen sailing a small boat single-handed into the Pala Strait. Two hours later a storm of great violence … Presumed dead …’ Instead of which, here he was, alive and kicking, on the forbidden island.

“They’ll never give you a visa,” Joe Aldehyde had said at their last interview. “But perhaps you could sneak ashore in disguise. Wear a burnous or something, like Lawrence of Arabia.”

With a straight face, “I’ll try,” Will had promised.

“Anyhow if you ever do manage to land in Pala, make a bee-line for the palace. The Rani — that’s their Queen Mother — is an old friend of mine. Met her for the first time six years ago at Lugano. She was staying there with old Voegeli, the investment banker. His girl friend is interested in spiritualism and they staged a seance for me. A trumpet medium, genuine Direct Voice — only unfortunately it was all in German. Well, after the lights were turned on, I had a long talk with her.”

“With the trumpet?”

“No, no. With the Rani. She’s a remarkable woman. You know, The Crusade of the Spirit.”

“Was that her invention?”

“Absolutely. And personally I prefer it to Moral Rearmament. It goes down better in Asia. We had a long talk about it that evening. And after that we talked about oil. Pala’s full of oil. South-East Asia Petroleum has been trying to get in on it for years. So have all the other companies. Nothing doing. No oil concessions to anyone. It’s their fixed policy. But the Rani doesn’t agree with it. She wants to see the oil doing some good in the world. Financing the Crusade of the Spirit, for example. So, as I say, if ever you get to Pala, make a bee-line for the palace. Talk to her. Get the inside story about the men who make the decisions. Find out if there’s a pro-oil minority and ask how we could help them to carry on the good work.” And he had ended by promising Will a handsome bonus if his efforts should be crowned with success. Enough to give him a full year of freedom. “No more reporting. Nothing but High Art, Art, A-ART.” And he had uttered a scatological laugh as though the word had an ‘s’ at the end of it, and not a ‘t’. Unspeakable creature! But all the same he wrote for the unspeakable creature’s vile papers and was ready, for a bribe, to do the vile creature’s dirty work. And now, incredibly, here he was on Palanese soil. As luck would have it, Providence had been on his side — for the express purpose, evidently, of perpetrating one of those sinister practical jokes which are Providence’s speciality.

He was called back to present reality by the sound of Mary Sarojini’s shrill voice. “Here we are!”

Will raised his head again. The little procession had turned off the highway and was passing through an opening in a white stuccoed wall. To the left, on a rising succession of terraces, stood lines of low buildings shaded by peepul trees. Straight ahead an avenue of tall palms sloped down to a lotus pool, on the further side of which sat a huge stone Buddha. Turning to the left, they climbed between flowering trees and through blending perfumes to the first terrace. Behind a fence, motionless except for his ruminating jaws, stood a snow-white humped bull, god-like in his serene and mindless beauty. Europa’s lover receded into the past, and here were a brace of Juno’s birds trailing their feathers over the grass. Mary Sarojini unlatched the gate of a small garden.

“My bungalow,” said Dr MacPhail, and turning to Murugan, “Let me help you to negotiate the steps.”

Chapter Four


TOM KRISHNA AND Mary Sarojini had gone to take their siesta with the gardener’s children next door. In her darkened living-room, Susila MacPhail sat alone with her memories of past happiness and the present pain of her bereavement. The clock in the kitchen struck the half hour. It was time for her to go. With a sigh she rose, put on her sandals and walked out into the tremendous glare of the tropical afternoon. She looked up at the sky. Over the volcanoes enormous clouds were climbing towards the zenith. In an hour it would be raining. Moving from one pool of shadow to the next, she made her way along the tree-lined path. With a sudden rattle of quills a flock of pigeons broke out of one of the towering peepul trees. Green-winged and coral-billed, their breasts changing colour in the light like mother of pearl, they flew off towards the forest. How beautiful they were, how unutterably lovely! Susila was on the point of turning to catch the expression of delight on Dugald’s upturned face; then, checking herself, she looked down at the ground. There was no Dugald any more; there was only this pain, like the pain of the phantom limb that goes on haunting the imagination, haunting even the perceptions, of those who have undergone an amputation. “Amputation,” she whispered to herself, “amputation …” Feeling her eyes fill with tears, she broke off. Amputation was no excuse for self-pity and, for all that Dugald was dead, the birds were as beautiful as ever and her children, all the other children, had as much need to be loved and helped and taught. If his absence was so constantly present, that was to remind her that henceforward she must love for two, live for two, take thought for two, must perceive and understand not merely with her own eyes and mind but with the mind and eyes that had been his and, before the catastrophe, hers too in a communion of delight and intelligence.

But here was the doctor’s bungalow. She mounted the steps, crossed the verandah and walked into the living-room. Her father-in-law was seated near the window, sipping cold tea from an earthenware mug and reading the Journal de Mycologie. He looked up as she approached, and gave her a welcoming smile.

“Susila, my dear! I’m so glad you were able to come.”

She bent down and kissed his stubbly cheek.

“What’s all this I hear from Mary Sarojini?” she asked. “Is it true she found a castaway?”

“From England — but via China, Rendang and a shipwreck. A journalist.”

“What’s he like?”

“The physique of a Messiah. But too clever to believe in God or be convinced of his own mission. And too sensitive, even if he were convinced, to carry it out. His muscles would like to act and his feelings would like to believe; but his nerve-endings and his cleverness won’t allow it.”

“So I suppose he’s very unhappy.”

“So unhappy that he has to laugh like a hyena.”

“Does he know he laughs like a hyena?”

“Knows and is rather proud of it. Even makes epigrams about it. ‘I’m the man who won’t take yes for an answer.’”

“Is he badly hurt?” she asked.

“Not badly. But he’s running a temperature. I’ve started him on antibiotics. Now it’s up to you to raise his resistance and give the vis medicatrix naturae a chance.”

“I’ll do my best.” Then, after a silence, “I went to see Lakshmi,” she said, “on my way back from school.”

“How did you find her?”

“About the same. No, perhaps a little weaker than yesterday.”

“That’s what I felt when I saw her this morning.”

“Luckily the pain doesn’t seem to get any worse. We can still handle it psychologically. And today we worked on the nausea. She was able to drink something. I don’t think there’ll be any more need for intravenous fluids.”

“Thank goodness!” he said. “Those IV’s were a torture. Such enormous courage in the face of every real danger; but whenever it was a question of a hypodermic or a needle in a vein, the most abject and irrational terror.”

He thought of the time, in the early days of their marriage, when he had lost his temper and called her a coward for making such a fuss. Lakshmi had cried and, having submitted to her martyrdom, had heaped coals of fire upon his head by begging to be forgiven. “Lakshmi, Lakshmi …” And now in a few days she would be dead. After thirty-seven years. “What did you talk about?” he asked aloud.

“Nothing in particular,” Susila answered. But the truth was that they had talked about Dugald and that she couldn’t bring herself to repeat what had passed between them. “My first baby,” the dying woman had whispered. “I didn’t know that babies could be so beautiful.” In their skull-deep, skull-dark sockets the eyes had brightened, the bloodless lips had smiled. “Such tiny, tiny hands,” the faint hoarse voice went on, “such a greedy little mouth!” And an almost fleshless hand tremblingly touched the place where, before last year’s operation, her breast had been. “I never knew,” she repeated. And, before the event, how could she have known? It had been a revelation, an apocalypse of touch and love. “Do you know what I mean?” And Susila had nodded. Of course she knew — had known it in relation to her own two children, known it, in those other apocalypses of touch and love, with the man that little Dugald of the tiny hands and greedy mouth had grown into. “I used to be afraid for him,” the dying woman had whispered. “He was so strong, such a tyrant, he could have hurt and bullied and destroyed. If he’d married another woman … I’m so thankful it was you!” From the place where the breast had been the fleshless hand moved out and came to rest on Susila’s arm. She had bent her head and kissed it. They were both crying.

Dr MacPhail sighed, looked up and, like a man who has climbed out of the water, gave himself a little shake. “The castaway’s name is Farnaby,” he said. “Will Farnaby.”

“Will Farnaby,” Susila repeated. “Well, I’d better go and see what I can do for him.” She turned and walked away.

Dr MacPhail looked after her, then leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He thought of his son, he thought of his wife — of Lakshmi slowly wasting to extinction, of Dugald like a bright fiery flame suddenly snuffed out. Thought of the incomprehensible sequence of changes and chances that make up a life, all the beauties and horrors and absurdities whose conjunctions create the uninterpretable and yet divinely significant pattern of human destiny. “Poor girl,” he said to himself, remembering the look on Susila’s face when he had told her of what had happened to Dugald, “poor girl!” Meanwhile there was this article on Hallucinogenic mushrooms in the Journal de Mycologie. That was another of the irrelevancies that somehow took its place in the pattern. The words of one of the old Raja’s queer little poems came to his mind.

All things, to all things

perfectly indifferent,

perfectly work together

in discord for a Good beyond

good, for a Being more

timeless in transience, more

eternal in its dwindling than

God there in heaven.

The door creaked, and an instant later Will heard light footsteps and the rustle of skirts. Then a hand was laid on his shoulder and a woman’s voice, low-pitched and musical, asked him how he was feeling.

“I’m feeling miserable,” he answered without opening his eyes.

There was no self-pity in his tone, no appeal for sympathy — only the angry matter-of-factness of a Stoic who has finally grown sick of the long farce of impassibility and is resentfully blurting out the truth.

“I’m feeling miserable.”

The hand touched him again. “I’m Susila MacPhail,” said the voice, “Mary Sarojini’s mother.”

Reluctantly Will turned his head and opened his eyes. An adult, darker version of Mary Sarojini was sitting there beside the bed, smiling at him with friendly solicitude. To smile back at her would have cost him too great an effort; he contented himself with saying “How do you do,” then pulled the sheet a little higher and closed his eyes again.

Susila looked down at him in silence — at the bony shoulders, at the cage of ribs under a skin whose Nordic pallor made him seem, to her Palanese eyes, so strangely frail and vulnerable, at the sunburnt face, emphatically featured like a carving intended to be seen at a distance — emphatic and yet sensitive, the quivering, more than naked face, she found herself thinking, of a man who has been flayed and left to suffer.

“I hear you’re from England,” she said at last.

“I don’t care where I’m from,” Will muttered irritably. “Nor where I’m going. From hell to hell.”

“I was in England just after the War,” she went on. “As a student.”

He tried not to listen; but ears have no lids; there was no escape from that intruding voice.

“There was a girl in my psychology class,” it was saying; “her people lived at Wells. She asked me to stay with them for the first month of the summer vacation. Do you know Wells?”

Of course he knew Wells. Why did she pester him with her silly reminiscences?

“I used to love walking there by the water,” Susila went on, “looking across the moat at the cathedral,” — and thinking, while she looked at the cathedral, of Dugald under the palm trees on the beach, of Dugald giving her her first lesson in rock climbing. “You’re on the rope. You’re perfectly safe. You can’t possibly fall …” Can’t possibly fall, she repeated bitterly — and then remembered here and now, remembered that she had a job to do, remembered, as she looked again at the flayed emphatic face, that here was a human being in pain. “How lovely it was,” she went on, “and how marvellously peaceful!”

The voice, it seemed to Will Farnaby, had become more musical and in some strange way more remote. Perhaps that was why he no longer resented its intrusion.

“Such an extraordinary sense of peace. Shanti, shanti, shanti. The peace that passes understanding.”

The voice was almost chanting now — chanting, it seemed, out of some other world.

“I can shut my eyes,” it chanted on, “can shut my eyes and see it all so clearly. Can see the church — and it’s enormous, much taller than the huge trees round the bishop’s palace. Can see the green grass and the water and the golden sunlight on the stones and the slanting shadows between the buttresses. And listen! I can hear the bells. The bells and the jackdaws. The jackdaws in the tower — can you hear the jackdaws?”

Yes, he could hear the jackdaws, could hear them almost as clearly as he now heard those parrots in the trees outside his window. He was here and at the same time he was there — here in this dark, sweltering room near the equator, but also there, outdoors in that cool hollow at the edge of the Mendips, with the jackdaws calling from the cathedral tower and the sound of the bells dying away into the green silence.

“And there are white clouds,” the voice was saying, “and the blue sky between them is so pale, so delicate, so exquisitely tender.”

Tender, he repeated, the tender blue sky of that April week-end he had spent there, before the disaster of their marriage, with Molly. There were daisies in the grass and dandelions, and across the water towered up the huge church, challenging the wildness of those soft April clouds with its austere geometry. Challenging the wildness, and at the same time complementing it, coming to terms with it in perfect reconciliation. That was how it should have been with himself and Molly — how it had been then.

“And the swans,” he now heard the voice dreamily chanting, “the swans …”

Yes, the swans. White swans moving across a mirror of jade and jet — a breathing mirror that heaved and trembled, so that their silvery images were forever breaking and coming together again, disintegrating and being made whole.

“Like the inventions of heraldry. Romantic, impossibly beautiful. And yet there they are — real birds in a real place. So near to me now that I can almost touch them — and yet so far away, thousands of miles away. Far away on that smooth water, moving as if by magic, softly, majestically …”

Majestically, moving majestically, with the dark water lifting and parting as the curved white breasts advanced — lifting, parting, sliding back in ripples that widened in a gleaming arrowhead behind them. He could see them moving across their dark mirror, could hear the jackdaws in the tower, could catch, through this nearer mingling of disinfectants and gardenias, the cold, flat, weedy smell of that Gothic moat in the far-away green valley.

“Effortlessly floating,” Will said to himself. “Effortlessly floating.” The words gave him a deep satisfaction.

“I’d sit there,” she was saying, “I’d sit there looking and looking, and in a little while I’d be floating too. I’d be floating with the swans on that smooth surface between the darkness below and the pale tender sky above. Floating at the same time on that other surface between here and far away, between then and now.” And between remembered happiness, she was thinking, and this insistent, excruciating presence of an absence. “Floating,” she said aloud, “on the surface between the real and the imagined, between what comes to us from the outside and what comes to us from within, from deep, deep down in here.”

She laid her hand on his forehead, and suddenly the words transformed themselves into the things and events for which they stood; the images turned into facts. He actually was floating.

“Floating,” the voice softly insisted. “Floating like a white bird on the water. Floating on a great river of life — a great smooth silent river that flows so still, so still, you might almost think it was asleep. A sleeping river. But it flows irresistibly.

“Life flowing silently and irresistibly into ever fuller life, into a living peace all the more profound, all the richer and stronger and more complete because it knows all your pain and unhappiness, knows them and takes them into itself and makes them one with its own substance. And it’s into that peace that you’re floating now, floating on this smooth silent river that sleeps and is yet irresistible, and is irresistible precisely because it’s sleeping. And I’m floating with it.” She was speaking for the stranger. She was speaking on another level for herself. “Effortlessly floating. Not having to do anything at all. Just letting go, just allowing myself to be carried along, just asking this irresistible sleeping river of life to take me where it’s going — and knowing all the time that where it’s going is where I want to go, where I have to go: into more life, into living peace. Along the sleeping river, irresistibly, into the wholeness of reconciliation.”

Involuntarily, unconsciously, Will Farnaby gave a deep sigh. How silent the world had become! Silent with a deep crystalline silence, even though the parrots were still busy out there beyond the shutters, even though the voice still chanted here beside him. Silence and emptiness and through the silence and the emptiness flowed the river, sleeping and irresistible.

Susila looked down at the face on the pillow. It seemed suddenly very young, child-like in its perfect serenity. The frowning lines across the forehead had disappeared. The lips that had been so tightly closed in pain were parted now, and the breath came slowly, softly, almost imperceptibly. She remembered suddenly the words that had come into her mind as she looked down, one moonlit night, at the transfigured innocence of Dugald’s face: “She giveth her beloved sleep.”

“Sleep,” she said aloud. “Sleep.”

The silence seemed to become more absolute, the emptiness more enormous.

“Asleep on the sleeping river,” the voice was saying. “And above the river, in the pale sky, there are huge white clouds. And as you look at them, you begin to float up towards them. Yes, you begin to float up towards them, and the river now is a river in the air, an invisible river that carries you on, carries you up, higher and higher.”

Upwards, upwards through the silent emptiness. The image was the thing, the words became the experience.

“Out of the hot plain,” the voice went on, “effortlessly, into the freshness of the mountains.”

Yes, there was the Jungfrau, dazzlingly white against the blue. There was Monte Rosa …

“How fresh the air feels as you breathe it. Fresh, pure, charged with life!”

He breathed deeply and the new life flowed into him. And now a little wind came blowing across the snow-fields, cool against his skin, deliciously cool. And, as though echoing his thoughts, as though describing his experience, the voice said, “Coolness. Coolness and sleep. Through coolness into more life. Through sleep into reconciliation, into wholeness, into living peace.”

Half an hour later Susila re-entered the sitting room.

“Well?” her father-in-law questioned. “Any success?”

She nodded.

“I talked to him about a place in England,” she said. “He went off more quickly than I’d expected. After that I gave him some suggestions about his temperature …”

“And the knee, I hope.”

“Of course.”

“Direct suggestion?”

“No, indirect. They’re always better. I got him to be conscious of his body image. Then I made him imagine it much bigger than in everyday reality — and the knee much smaller. A miserable little thing in revolt against a huge and splendid thing. There can’t be any doubt as to who’s going to win.” She looked at the clock on the wall. “Goodness, I must hurry. Otherwise I’ll be late for my class at school.”

Chapter Five


THE SUN WAS just rising as Dr Robert entered his wife’s room at the hospital. An orange glow and, against it the jagged silhouette of the mountains. Then suddenly a dazzling sickle of incandescence between two peaks. The sickle became a half circle and the first long shadows, the first shafts of golden light crossed the garden outside the window. And when one looked up again at the mountains there was the whole unbearable glory of the risen sun.

Dr Robert sat down by the bed, took his wife’s hand and kissed it. She smiled at him, then turned again towards the window.

“How quickly the earth turns!” she whispered, and then after a silence, “One of these mornings,” she added, “it’ll be my last sunrise.”

Through the confused chorus of bird cries and insect noises, a mynah was chanting, “Karuna. Karuna …”

“Karuna,” Lakshmi repeated. “Compassion …”

“Karuna. Karuna,” the oboe-voice of Buddha insisted from the garden.

“I shan’t be needing it much longer,” she went on. “But what about you? Poor Robert, what about you?”

“Somehow or other one finds the necessary strength,” he said.

“But will it be the right kind of strength? Or will it be the strength of armour, the strength of shut-offness, the strength of being absorbed in your work and your ideas and not caring a damn for anything else? Remember how I used to come and pull your hair and make you pay attention? Who’s going to do that when I’m gone?”

A nurse came in with a glass of sugared water. Dr Robert slid a hand under his wife’s shoulders and lifted her to a sitting position. The nurse held the glass to her lips. Lakshmi drank a little water, swallowed with difficulty, then drank again and yet once more. Turning from the proffered glass, she looked up at Dr Robert. The wasted face was illumined by a strangely incongruous twinkle of pure mischief.

“‘I the Trinity illustrate,’” the faint voice hoarsely quoted, “‘Sipping watered orange pulp; in three sips the Arian frustrate’ …” She broke off. “What a ridiculous thing to be remembering. But then I always was pretty ridiculous, wasn’t I?”

Dr Robert did his best to smile back at her. “Pretty ridiculous,” he agreed.

“You used to say I was like a flea. Here one moment and then, hop! somewhere else, miles away. No wonder you could never educate me!”

“But you educated me all right,” he assured her. “If it hadn’t been for you coming in and pulling my hair and making me look at the world and helping me to understand it, what would I be today? A pedant in blinkers — in spite of all my training. But luckily I had the sense to ask you to marry me, and luckily you had the folly to say yes and then the wisdom and intelligence to make a good job of me. After thirty-seven years of adult education I’m almost human.”

“But I’m still a flea.” She shook her head. “And yet I did try. I tried very hard. I don’t know if you ever realized it, Robert: I was always on tiptoes, always straining up towards the place where you were doing your work and your thinking and your reading. On tiptoes, trying to reach it, trying to get up there beside you. Goodness, how tiring it was! What an endless series of efforts! And all of them quite useless. Because I was just a dumb flea hopping about down here among the people and the flowers and the cats and dogs. Your kind of highbrow world was a place I could never climb up to, much less find my way in. When this thing happened,” (she raised her hand to her absent breast) “I didn’t have to try any more. No more school, no more homework. I had a permanent excuse.”

There was a long silence.

“What about taking another sip?” said the nurse at last.

“Yes, you ought to drink some more,” Dr Robert agreed.

“And ruin the Trinity?” Lakshmi gave him another of her smiles. Through the mask of age and mortal sickness Dr Robert suddenly saw the laughing girl with whom, half a life-time ago, and yet only yesterday, he had fallen in love.

An hour later Dr Robert was back in his bungalow.

“You’re going to be all alone this morning,” he announced, after changing the dressing on Will Farnaby’s knee. “I have to drive down to Shivapuram for a meeting of the Privy Council. One of our student nurses will come in around twelve to give you your injection and get you something to eat. And in the afternoon, as soon as she’s finished her work at the school, Susila will be dropping in again. And now I must be going.” Dr Robert rose and laid his hand for a moment on Will’s arm. “Till this evening.” Half way to the door he halted and turned back. “I almost forgot to give you this.” From one of the side pockets of his sagging jacket he pulled out a small green booklet. “It’s the Old Raja’s ‘Notes on What’s What, and on What it Might be Reasonable to Do About What’s What.’”

“What an admirable title!” said Will as he took the proffered book.

“And you’ll like the contents, too,” Dr Robert assured him. “Just a few pages, that’s all. But if you want to know what Pala is all about, there’s no better introduction.”

“Incidentally,” Will asked, “who is the Old Raja?”

“Who was he, I’m afraid. The Old Raja died in thirty-eight — after a reign three years longer than Queen Victoria’s. His eldest son died before he did, and he was succeeded by his grandson, who was an ass — but made up for it by being short-lived. The present Raja is his great-grandson.”

“And, if I may ask a personal question, how does anybody called MacPhail come into the picture?”

“The first MacPhail of Pala came into it under the Old Raja’s grandfather — the Raja of the Reform, we call him. Between them, he and my great-grandfather invented modern Pala. The Old Raja consolidated their work and carried it further. And today we’re doing our best to follow in his footsteps.”

Will held up the ‘Notes on What’s What’.

“Does this give the history of the reforms?”

Dr Robert shook his head. “It merely states the underlying principles. Read about those first. When I get back from Shivapuram this evening, I’ll give you a taste of the history. You’ll have a better understanding of what was actually done, if you start by knowing what had to be done — what always and everywhere has to be done by anyone who has a clear idea about what’s what. So read it, read it. And don’t forget to drink your fruit juice at eleven.”

Will watched him go, then opened the little green book and started to read.

Nobody needs to go anywhere else. We are all, if we only knew it, already there.

If I only knew who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am; and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am.

What in fact I am, if only the Manichee I think I am would allow me to know it, is the reconciliation of yes and no lived out in total acceptance and the blessed experience of Not-Two.

In religion all words are dirty words. Anybody who gets eloquent about Buddha, or God, or Christ, ought to have his mouth washed out with carbolic soap.

Because his aspiration to perpetuate only the ‘yes’ in every pair of opposites can never, in the nature of things, be realized, the insulated Manichee I think I am condemns himself to endlessly repeated frustration, endlessly repeated conflicts with other aspiring and frustrated Manichees.

Conflicts and frustrations — the theme of all history and almost all biography. “I show you sorrow,” said the Buddha realistically. But he also showed the ending of sorrow — self-knowledge, total acceptance, the blessed experience of Not-Two.

II

Knowing who in fact we are results in Good Being, and Good Being results in the most appropriate kind of good doing. But good doing does not of itself result in Good Being. We can be virtuous without knowing who in fact we are. The beings who are merely good are not Good Beings; they are just pillars of society.

Most pillars are their own Samsons. They hold up, but sooner or later they also pull down. There has never been a society in which most good doing was the product of Good Being and therefore constantly appropriate. This does not mean that there will never be such a society or that we in Pala are fools for trying to call it into existence.

III

The Yogin and the Stoic — two righteous egos who achieve their very considerable results by pretending, systematically, to be somebody else. But it is not by pretending to be somebody else, even somebody supremely good and wise, that we can pass from insulated Manicheehood to Good Being.

Good Being is knowing who in fact we are; and in order to know who in fact we are, we must first know, moment by moment, who we think we are and what this bad habit of thought compels us to feel and do. A moment of clear and complete knowledge of what we think we are, but in fact are not, puts a stop, for the moment, to the Manichean charade. If we renew, until they become a continuity, these moments of the knowledge of what we are not, we may find ourselves all of a sudden, knowing who in fact we are. Concentration abstract thinking, spiritual exercises — systematic exclusions in the realm of thought. Asceticism and hedonism — systematic exclusions in the realms of sensation, feeling and action. But Good Being is in the knowledge of who in fact one is in relation to all experiences; so be aware — aware in every context, at all times and whatever, creditable or discreditable, pleasant or unpleasant, you may be doing or suffering. This is the only genuine yoga, the only spiritual exercise worth practising. The more a man knows about individual objects, the more he knows about God. Translating Spinoza’s language into ours, we can say: The more a man knows about himself in relation to every kind of experience, the greater his chance of suddenly, one fine morning, realizing who in fact he is — or rather Who (capital W) in Fact (capital F) “he” (between quotation marks) Is (capital I).

St John was right. In a blessedly speechless universe, the Word was not only with God; it was God. As a something to be believed in. God is a projected symbol, a deified name. God = “God”.

Faith is something very different from belief. Belief is the systematic taking of unanalysed words much too seriously. Paul’s words, Mohammed’s words, Marx’s words, Hitler’s words — people take them too seriously, and what happens? What happens is the senseless ambivalence of history — sadism versus duty, or (incomparably worse) sadism as duty; devotion counterbalanced by organized paranoia; sisters of charity selflessly tending the victims of their own church’s inquisitors and crusaders. Faith, on the contrary, can never be taken too seriously. For Faith is the empirically justified confidence in our capacity to know who in fact we are, to forget the belief-intoxicated Manichee in Good Being. Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.

There was a tap at the door. Will looked up from his book.

“Who’s there?”

“It’s me,” said a voice that brought back unpleasant memories of Colonel Dipa and that nightmarish drive in the white Mercedes. Dressed only in white sandals, white shorts and a platinum wrist watch, Murugan was advancing towards the bed.

“How nice of you to come and see me!”

Another visitor would have asked him how he was feeling; but Murugan was too whole-heartedly concerned with himself to be able even to simulate the slightest interest in anyone else. “I came to the door three-quarters of an hour ago,” he said in tones of aggrieved complaint. “But the old man hadn’t left, so I had to go home again. And then I had to sit with my mother and the man who’s staying with us while they were having their breakfast …”

“Why couldn’t you come in while Dr Robert was here?” Will asked. “Is it against the rules for you to talk to me?”

The boy shook his head impatiently. “Of course not. I just didn’t want him to know the reason for my coming to see you.”

“The reason?” Will smiled. “Visiting the sick is an act of charity — highly commendable.”

His irony was lost upon Murugan, who went on steadily thinking about his own affairs. “Thank you for not telling them you’d seen me before,” he said abruptly, almost angrily. It was as though he resented having to acknowledge his obligation, and were furious with Will for having done him the good turn which demanded this acknowledgement.

“I could see you didn’t want me to say anything about it,” said Will. “So of course I didn’t.”

“I wanted to thank you,” Murugan muttered between his teeth and in a tone that would have been appropriate to, “You dirty swine!”

“Don’t mention it,” said Will with mock politeness.

What a delicious creature! he was thinking as he looked, with amused curiosity, at that smooth golden torso, that averted face, regular as a statue’s but no longer Olympian, no longer classical — a Hellenistic face, mobile and all too human. A vessel of incomparable beauty — but what did it contain? It was a pity, he reflected, that he hadn’t asked that question a little more seriously before getting involved with his unspeakable Babs. But then Babs was a female. By the sort of heterosexual he was, the sort of rational question he was now posing was unaskable. As no doubt it would be, by anyone susceptible to boys, in regard to this bad-blooded little demi-god sitting at the end of his bed. “Didn’t Dr Robert know you’d gone to Rendang?” he asked.

“Of course he knew. Everybody knew it. I’d gone there to fetch my mother. She was staying there with some of her relations. I went over to bring her back to Pala. It was absolutely official.”

“Then why didn’t you want me to say that I’d met you over there?”

Murugan hesitated for a moment, then looked up at Will defiantly. “Because I didn’t want them to know I’d been seeing Colonel Dipa.”

Oh, so that was it! “Colonel Dipa’s a remarkable man,” he said aloud, fishing with sugared bait for confidences.

Surprisingly unsuspicious, the fish rose at once. Murugan’s sulky face lit up with enthusiasm and there, suddenly, was Antinous in all the fascinating beauty of his ambiguous adolescence. “I think he’s wonderful,” he said, and for the first time since he had entered the room, he seemed to recognize Will’s existence and gave him the friendliest of smiles. The Colonel’s wonderfulness had made him forget his resentment, had made it possible for him, momentarily, to love everybody — even this man to whom he owed a rankling debt of gratitude. “Look at what he’s doing for Rendang!”

“He’s certainly doing a great deal for Rendang,” said Will non-committally.

A cloud passed across Murugan’s radiant face. “They don’t think so here,” he said, frowning. “They think he’s awful.”

“Who thinks so?”

“Practically everybody!”

“So they didn’t want you to see him?”

With the expression of an urchin who has cocked a snook while the teacher’s back is turned, Murugan grinned triumphantly. “They thought I was with my mother all the time.”

Will picked up the cue at once. “Did your mother know you were seeing the Colonel?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“And had no objection?”

“She was all for it.”

And yet Will felt quite sure, he hadn’t been mistaken when he thought of Hadrian and Antinous. Was the woman blind? Or didn’t she wish to see what was happening?

“But if she doesn’t mind,” he said aloud, “why should Dr Robert and the rest of them object?” Murugan looked at him suspiciously. Realizing that he had ventured too far into forbidden territory, Will hastily drew a red herring across the trail. “Do they think,” he asked with a laugh, “that he might convert you to a belief in military dictatorship?”

The red herring was duly followed, and the boy’s face relaxed into a smile. “Not that, exactly,” he answered, “but something like it. It’s all so stupid,” he added with a shrug of the shoulders. “Just idiotic protocol.”

“Protocol?” Will was genuinely puzzled.

“Weren’t you told anything about me?”

“Only what Dr Robert said yesterday.”

“You mean, about my being a student?” Murugan threw back his head and laughed.

“What’s so funny about being a student?”

“Nothing — nothing at all.” The boy looked away again. There was a silence. Still averted, “The reason,” he said at last, “why I’m not supposed to see Colonel Dipa is that he’s the head of a state and I’m the head of a state. When we meet, it’s international politics.”

“What do you mean?”

“I happen to be the Raja of Pala.”

“The Raja of Pala?”

“Since fifty-four. That was when my father died.”

“And your mother, I take it, is the Rani?”

“My mother is the Rani.”

Make a bee-line for the palace. But here was the palace making a bee-line for him. Providence, evidently, was on the side of Joe Aldehyde and working overtime.

“Were you the eldest son?” he asked.

“The only son,” Murugan replied. And then, stressing his uniqueness still more emphatically, “The only child,” he added.

“So there’s no possible doubt,” said Will. “My goodness! I ought to be calling you Your Majesty. Or at least Sir.” The words were spoken laughingly; but it was with the most perfect seriousness and a sudden assumption of regal dignity that Murugan responded to them.

“You’ll have to call me that at the end of next week,” he said. “After my birthday. I shall be eighteen. That’s when a Raja of Pala comes of age. Till then I’m just Murugan Mailendra. Just a student learning a little bit about everything — including plant breeding,” he added contemptuously— “so that, when the time comes, I shall know what I’m doing.”

“And when the time comes, what will you be doing?” Between this pretty Antinous and his portentous office there was a contrast which Will found richly comic. “How do you propose to act?” he continued on a bantering note. “Off with their heads? L’Etat c’est Moi?”

Seriousness and regal dignity hardened into rebuke. “Don’t be stupid.”

Amused, Will went through the motions of apology. “I just wanted to find out how absolute you were going to be.”

“Pala is a constitutional monarchy,” Murugan answered gravely.

“In other words, you’re just going to be a symbolic figurehead — to reign, like the Queen of England, but not rule.”

Forgetting his regal dignity, “No, no,” Murugan almost screamed. “Not like the Queen of England. The Raja of Pala doesn’t just reign; he rules.” Too much agitated to sit still, Murugan jumped up and began to walk about the room. “He rules constitutionally; but, by God, he rules, he rules!” Murugan walked to the window and looked out. Turning back after a moment of silence, he confronted Will with a face transfigured by its new expression into an emblem, exquisitely moulded and coloured, of an all too familiar kind of psychological ugliness. “I’ll show them who’s the boss around here,” he said in a phrase and tone, which had obviously been borrowed from the hero of some American gangster movie. “These people think they can push me around,” he went on reciting from the dismally commonplace script, “the way they pushed my father around. But they’re making a big mistake,” he uttered a sinister snigger and wagged his beautiful, odious head. “A big mistake,” he repeated.

The words had been spoken between clenched teeth and with scarcely moving lips; the lower jaw had been thrust out so as to look like the jaw of a comic strip criminal; the eyes glared coldly between narrowed lids. At once absurd and horrible. Antinous had become the caricature of all the tough guys in all the B-pictures from time immemorial.

“Who’s been running the country during your minority?” Will now asked.

“Three sets of old fogeys,” Murugan answered contemptuously. “The Cabinet, the House of Representatives and then, representing me, the Raja, the Privy Council.”

“Poor old fogeys!” said Will. “They’ll soon be getting the shock of their lives.” Entering gaily into the spirit of delinquency, he laughed aloud. “I only hope I’ll still be around to see it happening.”

Murugan joined in the laughter — joined in it, not as the sinisterly mirthful Tough Guy but, with one of those sudden changes of mood and expression that would make it, Will foresaw, so hard for him to play the Tough Guy part, as the triumphant urchin of a few minutes earlier. “The shock of their lives,” he repeated happily.

“Have you made any specific plans?”

“I most certainly have,” said Murugan. On his mobile face the triumphant urchin made way for the statesman, grave but condescendingly affable, at a press conference. “Top priority: get this place modernized. Look at what Rendang has been able to do because of its oil royalties.”

“But doesn’t Pala get any oil royalties?” Will questioned with that innocent air of total ignorance, which he had found by long experience to be the best way of eliciting information from the simple-minded and the self-important.

“Not a penny,” said Murugan. “And yet the southern end of the island is fairly oozing with the stuff. But except for a few measly little wells for home consumption, the old fogeys won’t do anything about it. And what’s more, they won’t allow anyone else to do anything about it.” The statesman was growing angry; there were hints now in his voice and expression of the Tough Guy. “All sorts of people have made offers — South-East Asia Petroleum, Shell, Royal Dutch, Standard of California. But the bloody old fools won’t listen.”

“Can’t you persuade them to listen?”

“I’ll damn well make them listen,” said the Tough Guy.

“That’s the spirit!” Then, casually, “Which of the offers do you think of accepting?” he asked.

“Colonel Dipa’s working with Standard of California, and he thinks it might be best if we did the same.”

“I wouldn’t do that without at least getting a few competing bids.”

“That’s what I think too. So does my mother.”

“Very wise.”

“My mother’s all for South-East Asia Petroleum. She knows the Chairman of the Board, Lord Aldehyde.”

“She knows Lord Aldehyde? But how extraordinary!” The tone of delighted astonishment was thoroughly convincing. “Joe Aldehyde is a friend of mine. I write for his papers. I even serve as his private ambassador. Confidentially,” he added, “that’s why we took that trip to the copper mines. Copper is one of Joe’s side-lines. But of course his real love is oil.”

Murugan tried to look shrewd. “What would he be prepared to offer?”

Will picked up the cue and answered, in the best movie-tycoon style, “Whatever Standard offers plus a little more.”

“Fair enough,” said Murugan out of the same script, and nodded sagely. There was a long silence. When he spoke again, it was as the statesman granting an interview to representatives of the press.

“The oil royalties,” he said, “will be used in the following manner. Twenty-five per cent of all monies received will go to World Reconstruction.”

“May I ask,” Will enquired deferentially, “precisely how you propose to reconstruct the world?”

“Through the Crusade of the Spirit. Do you know about the Crusade of the Spirit?”

“Of course. Who doesn’t?”

“It’s a great world movement,” said the statesman gravely. “Like Early Christianity. Founded by my mother.”

Will registered awe and astonishment.

“Yes, founded by my mother,” Murugan repeated, and he added impressively, “I believe it’s man’s only hope.”

“Quite,” said Will Farnaby, “quite.”

“Well, that’s how the first twenty-five per cent of the royalties will be used,” the statesman continued. “The remainder will go into an intensive programme of industrialization.” The tone changed again. “These old idiots here only want to industrialize in spots and leave all the rest as it was a thousand years ago.”

“Whereas you’d like to go the whole hog. Industrialization for industrialization’s sake.”

“No, industrialization for the country’s sake. Industrialization to make Pala strong. To make other people respect us. Look at Rendang. Within five years they’ll be manufacturing all the rifles and mortars and ammunition they need. It’ll be quite a long time before they can make tanks. But meanwhile they can buy them from Skoda with their oil money.”

“How soon will they graduate to H-bombs?” Will asked ironically.

“They won’t even try,” Murugan answered. “But after all,” he added, “H-bombs aren’t the only absolute weapons,” He pronounced the phrase with relish. It was evident that he found the taste of ‘absolute weapons’ positively delicious. “Chemical and biological weapons — Colonel Dipa calls them the poor man’s H-bombs. One of the first things I’ll do is to build a big insecticide plant.” Murugan laughed and winked an eye. “If you can make insecticides,” he said, “you can make nerve gas.”

Will remembered that still unfinished factory in the suburbs of Rendang-Lobo.

“What’s that?” he had asked Colonel Dipa as they flashed past it in the white Mercedes.

“Insecticides,” the Colonel had answered. And showing his gleaming white teeth in a genial smile, “We shall soon be exporting the stuff all over South-East Asia.”

At the time, of course, he had thought that the Colonel merely meant what he said. But now … Will shrugged his mental shoulders. Colonels will be Colonels and boys, even boys like Murugan, will be gun-loving boys. There would always be plenty of jobs for special correspondents on the trail of death.

“So you’ll strengthen Pala’s army?” Will said aloud.

“Strengthen it? No — I’ll create it. Pala doesn’t have an army.”

“None at all?”

“Absolutely nothing. They’re all pacifists.” The p was an explosion of disgust, the s’s hissed contemptuously. “I shall have to start from scratch.”

“And you’ll militarize as you industrialize, is that it?”

“Exactly.”

Will laughed. “Back to the Assyrians! You’ll go down in history as a true revolutionary.”

“That’s what I hope,” said Murugan. “Because that’s what my policy is going to be — Continuing Revolution.”

“Very good!” Will applauded.

“I’ll just be continuing the revolution that was started more than a hundred years ago by Dr Robert’s great-grandfather when he came to Pala and helped my great-great-great-grandfather to put through the first reforms. Some of the things they did were really wonderful. Not all of them, mind you,” he qualified; and with the absurd solemnity of a schoolboy playing Polonius in an end-of-term performance of Hamlet he shook his curly head in grave, judicial disapproval. “But at least they did something. Whereas nowadays we’re governed by a set of do-nothing conservatives. Conservatively primitive — they won’t lift a finger to bring in modern improvements. And conservatively radical — they refuse to change any of the old bad revolutionary ideas that ought to be changed. They won’t reform the reforms. And I tell you, some of those so-called reforms are absolutely disgusting.”

“Meaning, I take it, that they have something to do with sex?”

Murugan nodded and turned away his face. To his astonishment, Will saw that he was blushing.

“Give me an example,” he demanded.

But Murugan could not bring himself to be explicit.

“Ask Dr Robert,” he said, “ask Vijaya. They think that sort of thing is simply wonderful. In fact they all do. That’s one of the reasons why nobody wants to change. They’d like everything to go on as it is, in the same old disgusting way, for ever and ever.”

“Forever and ever,” a rich contralto voice teasingly repeated.

“Mother!” Murugan sprang to his feet.

Will turned and saw in the doorway a large florid woman swathed (rather incongruously, he thought; for that kind of face and build usually went with mauve and magenta and electric blue) in clouds of white muslin. She stood there smiling with a conscious mysteriousness, one fleshy brown arm upraised, with its jewelled hand pressed against the door jamb, in the pose of the great actress, the acknowledged diva, pausing at her first entrance to accept the plaudits of her adorers on the other side of the footlights. In the background, waiting patiently for his cue, stood a tall man in a dove-grey Dacron suit whom Murugan, peering past the massive embodiment of maternity that almost filled the doorway, now greeted as Mr Bahu.

Still in the wings, Mr Bahu bowed without speaking.

Murugan turned again to his mother. “Did you walk here?” he asked. His tone expressed incredulity and an admiring solicitude. Walking here — how unthinkable! But if she had walked, what heroism! “All the way?”

“All the way, my baby,” she echoed, tenderly playful. The uplifted arm came down, slid round the boy’s slender body, pressed it, engulfed in floating draperies, against the enormous bosom, then released it again. “I had one of my Impulses.” She had a way, Will noticed, of making you actually hear the capital letters at the beginning of the words she meant to emphasize. “My Little Voice said, ‘Go and see this Stranger at Dr Robert’s house. Go!’ ‘Now?’ I said. ‘Malgré la chaleur?’ Which makes my Little Voice lose patience. ‘Woman,’ it says, ‘hold your silly tongue and do as you’re told.’ So here I am, Mr Farnaby.” With hand outstretched and surrounded by a powerful aura of sandalwood oil, she advanced towards him.

Will bowed over the thick bejewelled fingers and mumbled something that ended in ‘Your Highness’ …

“Bahu!” she called, using the royal prerogative of the unadorned surname.

Responding to his long-awaited cue, the supporting actor made his entrance and was introduced as His Excellency, Abdul Bahu, the Ambassador of Rendang: “Abdul Pierre Bahu — car sa mère est parisienne. But he learned his English in New York.”

He looked, Will thought as he shook the ambassador’s hand, like Savonarola — but a Savonarola with a monocle and a tailor in Savile Row.

“Bahu,” said the Rani, “is Colonel Dipa’s Brains Trust.”

“Your Highness, if I may be permitted to say so, is much too kind to me and not nearly kind enough to the Colonel.”

His words and manner were courtly to the point of being ironical, a parody of deference and self-abasement.

“The brains,” he went on, “are where brains ought to be — in the head. As for me, I am merely a part of Rendang’s sympathetic nervous system.”

“Et combien sympathique!” said the Rani. “Among other things, Mr Farnaby, Bahu is the Last of the Aristocrats. You should see his country place! Like the Arabian Nights! One claps one’s hands — and instantly there are six servants ready to do one’s bidding. One has a birthday — and there is a fête nocturne in the gardens. Music, refreshments, dancing girls; two hundred retainers carrying torches. The life of Haroun al Rashid, but with modern plumbing.”

“It sounds quite delightful,” said Will, remembering the villages through which he had passed in Colonel Dipa’s white Mercedes — the wattled huts, the garbage, the children with ophthalmia, the skeleton dogs, the women bent double under enormous loads.

“And such taste,” the Rani went on, “such a well-stored mind and, through it all” (she lowered her voice), “such a deep and unfailing Sense of the Divine.”

Mr Bahu bowed his head, and there was a silence.

Murugan, meanwhile, had pushed up a chair. Without so much as a backward glance — regally confident that someone must always, in the very nature of things, be at hand to guard against mishaps and loss of dignity — the Rani sat down with all the majestic emphasis of her hundred kilograms.

“I hope you don’t feel that my visit is an intrusion,” she said to Will. He assured her that he didn’t; but she continued to apologize … “I would have given warning,” she said, “I would have asked your permission. But my Little Voice says, ‘No — you must go now.’ Why? I cannot say. But no doubt we shall find out in due course.” She fixed him with her large, bulging eyes and gave him a mysterious smile. “And now, first of all, how are you, dear Mr Farnaby?”

“As you see, ma’am, in very good shape.”

“Truly?” The bulging eyes scrutinized his face with an intentness that he found embarrassing. “I can see that you’re the kind of heroically considerate man who will go on reassuring his friends even on his deathbed.”

“You’re very flattering,” he said. “But as it happens, I am in good shape. Amazingly so, all things considered — miraculously so.”

“Miraculous,” said the Rani, “was the very word I used when I heard about your escape. It was a miracle.”

“As luck would have it,” Will quoted again from Erewhon, “‘Providence was on my side.’”

Mr Bahu started to laugh; but noticing that the Rani had evidently failed to get the point, changed his mind and adroitly turned the sound of merriment into a loud cough.

“How true!” the Rani was saying, and her rich contralto thrillingly vibrated. “Providence is always on our side.” And when Will raised a questioning eyebrow, “I mean,” she elaborated, “in the eyes of those who Truly Understand.” (Capital T, capital U) “And this is true even when all things seem to conspire against us — même dans le désastre. You understand French, of course, Mr Farnaby?” Will nodded. “It often comes to me more easily than my own native tongue, or English or Palanese. After so many years in Switzerland,” she explained, “first at school. And again, later on, when my poor baby’s health was so precarious,” (she patted Murugan’s bare arm) “and we had to go and live in the mountains. Which illustrates what I was saying about Providence always being on our side. When they told me that my little boy was on the brink of consumption, I forgot everything I’d ever learnt. I was mad with fear and anguish, I was indignant against God for having allowed such a thing to happen. What Utter Blindness! My baby got well, and those years among the Eternal Snows were the happiest of our lives — weren’t they, darling?”

“The happiest of our lives,” the boy agreed, with what almost sounded like complete sincerity.

The Rani smiled triumphantly, pouted her full red lips and with a faint smack parted them again in a long-distance kiss. “So you see, my dear Farnaby,” she went on, “you see. It’s really self-evident. Nothing happens by Accident. There’s a Great Plan, and within the Great Plan innumerable little plans. A little plan for each and every one of us.”

“Quite,” said Will politely. “Quite.”

“There was a time,” the Rani continued, “when I knew it only with my intellect. Now I know it with my heart. I really …” she paused for an instant to prepare for the utterance of the mystic majuscule, “Understand.”

‘Psychic as hell.’ Will remembered what Joe Aldehyde had said of her. And surely that life-long frequenter of seances should know.

“I take it, ma’am,” he said, “that you’re naturally psychic.”

“From birth,” she admitted. “But also and above all by training. Training, needless to say, in Something Else.”

“Something else?”

“In the life of the Spirit. As one advances along the Path, all the sidhis, all the psychic gifts and miraculous powers, develop spontaneously.”

“Is that so?”

“My Mother,” Murugan proudly assured him, “can do the most fantastic things.”

“N’ exagérons pas, chéri.”

“But it’s the truth,” Murugan insisted.

“A truth,” the ambassador put in, “which I can confirm. And I confirm it,” he added, smiling at his own expense, “with a certain reluctance. As a life-long sceptic about these things, I don’t like to see the impossible happening. But I have an unfortunate weakness for honesty. And when the impossible actually does happen, before my eyes, I’m compelled malgré moi to bear witness to the fact. Her Highness does do the most fantastic things.”

“Well, if you like to put it that way,” said the Rani, beaming with pleasure. “But never forget, Bahu, never forget. Miracles are of absolutely no importance. What’s important is the Other Thing — the Thing one comes to at the end of the Path.”

“After the Fourth Initiation,” Murugan specified. “My Mother …”

“Darling!” The Rani had raised a finger to her lips. “These are things one doesn’t talk about.”

“I’m sorry,” said the boy. There was a long and pregnant silence.

The Rani closed her eyes, and Mr Bahu, letting fall his monocle, reverentially followed suit and became the image of Savonarola in silent prayer. What was going on behind that austere, that almost fleshless mask of recollectedness? Will looked and wondered.

“May I ask,” he said at last, “how you first came, ma’am, to find the Path?”

For a second or two the Rani said nothing, merely sat there with her eyes shut, smiling her Buddha smile of mysterious bliss. “Providence found it for me,” she answered at last.

“Quite, quite. But there must have been an occasion, a place, a human instrument.”

“I’ll tell you.” The lids fluttered apart and once again he found himself under the bright unswerving glare of those protuberant eyes of hers.

The place had been Lausanne; the time, the first year of her Swiss education; the chosen instrument, darling little Mme Buloz. Darling little Mme Buloz was the wife of darling old Professor Buloz, and old Professor Buloz was the man to whose charge, after careful enquiry and much anxious thought, she had been committed by her father, the late Sultan of Rendang. The Professor was sixty-seven, taught geology and was a Protestant of so austere a sect that, except for drinking a glass of claret with his dinner, saying his prayers only twice a day and being strictly monogamous, he might almost have been a Muslim. Under such guardianship a princess of Rendang would be intellectually stimulated, while remaining morally and doctrinally intact. But the Sultan had reckoned without the Professor’s wife. Mme Buloz was only forty, plump, sentimental, bubblingly enthusiastic and, though officially of her husband’s Protestant persuasion, a newly-converted and intensely ardent Theosophist. In a room at the top of the tall house near the Place de la Riponne she had her Oratory, to which, whenever she could find time, she would secretly retire to do breathing exercises, practice concentration and raise Kundalini. Strenuous disciplines! But the reward was transcendentally great. In the small hours of a hot summer night, while the darling old Professor lay rhythmically snoring two floors down, she had become aware of a Presence: the Master Koot Hoomi was with her.

The Rani made an impressive pause.

“Extraordinary,” said Mr Bahu.

“Extraordinary,” Will dutifully echoed.

The Rani resumed her narrative. Irrepressibly happy, Mme Buloz had been unable to keep her secret. She had dropped mysterious hints, had passed from hints to confidences, from confidences to an invitation to the Oratory and a course of instruction. In a very short time Koot Hoomi was bestowing greater favours upon the novice than upon her teacher.

“And from that day to this,” she concluded, “the Master has helped me to Go Forward.”

To go forward, Will asked himself, into what? Koot Hoomi only knew. But whatever it was that she had gone forward into, he didn’t like it. There was an expression on that large florid face which he found peculiarly distasteful — an expression of domineering calm, of serene and unshakeable self-esteem. She reminded him in a curious way of Joe Aldehyde. Joe was one of those happy tycoons who feel no qualms, but rejoice without inhibition in their money and in all that their money will buy in the way of influence and power. And here — albeit clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful — was another of Joe Aldehyde’s breed: a female tycoon who had cornered the market, not in soya beans or copper, but in Pure Spirituality and the Ascended Masters, and was now happily rubbing her hands over the exploit.

“Here’s one example of what He’s done for me,” the Rani went on. “Eight years ago — to be exact, on the twenty-third of November 1953 — the Master came to me in my morning Meditation. Came in Person, came in Glory. ‘A great Crusade is to be launched,’ He said, ‘a World-Movement to save Humanity from self-destruction. And you, my child, are the Appointed Instrument.’ ‘Me? A world movement? But that’s absurd,’ I said. ‘I’ve never made a speech in my whole life. I’ve never written a word for publication. I’ve never been a leader or an organizer.’ ‘Nevertheless,’ He said (and He gave me one of those indescribably beautiful smiles of His), ‘nevertheless it is you who will launch this Crusade — the World-Wide Crusade of the Spirit. You will be laughed at, you will be called a fool, a crank, a fanatic. The dogs bark; the Caravan passes. From tiny, laughable beginnings the Crusade of the Spirit is destined to become a Mighty Force. A force for Good, a force that will ultimately Save the World.’ And with that He left me. Left me stunned, bewildered, scared out of my wits. But there was nothing for it; I had to obey. I did obey. And what happened? I made speeches, and He gave me eloquence. I accepted the burden of leadership and, because He was walking invisibly at my side, people followed me. I asked for help, and the money came pouring in. So here I am.” She threw out her thick hands in a gesture of self-depreciation, she smiled a mystic smile. A poor thing, she seemed to be saying, but not my own — my Master’s, Koot Hoomi’s. “Here I am,” she repeated.

“Here, praise God,” said Mr Bahu devoutly, “you are.”

After a decent interval Will asked the Rani if she had always kept up the practices so providentially learned in Mme Buloz’s oratory.

“Always,” she answered. “I could no more do without Meditation than I could do without Food.”

“Wasn’t it rather difficult after you were married? I mean, before you went back to Switzerland. There must have been so many tiresome official duties.”

“Not to mention all the unofficial ones,” said the Rani in a tone that implied whole volumes of unfavourable comment upon her late husband’s character, weltanschauung and sexual habits. She opened her mouth to elaborate on the theme, then closed it again and looked at Murugan. “Darling,” she called.

Murugan, who was absorbedly polishing the nails of his left hand upon the open palm of his right, looked up with a guilty start. “Yes, Mother?”

Ignoring the nails and his evident inattention to what she had been saying, the Rani gave him a seducing smile. “Be an angel,” she said, “and go and fetch the car. My Little Voice doesn’t say anything about walking back to the bungalow. It’s only a few hundred yards,” she explained to Will. “But in this heat, and at my age …”

Her words called for some kind of flattering rebuttal. But if it was too hot to walk, it was also too hot, Will felt, to put forth the very considerable amount of energy required for a convincing show of bogus sincerity. Fortunately a professional diplomat, a practised courtier was on hand to make up for the uncouth journalist’s deficiencies. Mr Bahu uttered a peal of light-hearted laughter, then apologized for his merriment.

“But it was really too funny! ‘At my age,’” he repeated, and laughed again. “Murugan is not quite eighteen, and I happen to know how old — how very young — the Princess of Rendang was when she married the Raja of Pala.”

Murugan, meanwhile, had obediently risen and was kissing his mother’s hand.

“Now we can talk more freely,” said the Rani when he had left the room. And freely — her face, her tone, her bulging eyes, her whole quivering frame registering the most intense disapproval — she now let fly.

De mortuis … She wouldn’t say anything about her husband except that, in most respects, he was a typical Palanese, a true representative of his country. For the sad truth was that Pala’s smooth bright skin concealed the most horrible rottenness.

“When I think what they tried to do to my Baby, two years ago, when I was on my world tour for the Crusade of the Spirit.” With a jingling of bracelets she lifted her hands in horror. “It was an agony for me to be parted from him for so long; but the Master had sent me on a Mission, and my Little Voice told me that it wouldn’t be right for me to take my Baby with me. He’d lived abroad for so long. It was high time for him to get to know the country he was to rule. So I decided to leave him here. The Privy Council appointed a committee of guardianship. Two women with growing boys of their own and two men — one of whom, I regret to say,” (more in sorrow than in anger), “was Dr Robert MacPhail. Well, to cut a long story short, no sooner was I safely out of the country than those precious guardians, to whom I’d entrusted my Baby, my Only Son, set to work systematically — systematically, Mr Farnaby — to undermine my influence. They tried to destroy the whole edifice of Moral and Spiritual Values, which I had so laboriously built up over the years.”

Somewhat maliciously (for of course he knew what the woman was talking about), Will expressed his astonishment. The whole edifice of moral and spiritual values? And yet nobody could have been kinder than Dr Robert and the others, no Good Samaritans were ever more simply and effectively charitable.

“I’m not denying their kindness,” said the Rani. “But after all kindness isn’t the only virtue.”

“Of course not,” Will agreed, and he listed all the qualities that the Rani seemed most conspicuously to lack. “There’s also sincerity. Not to mention truthfulness, humility, selflessness …”

“You’re forgetting Purity,” said the Rani severely. “Purity is fundamental, Purity is the sine qua non.”

“But here in Pali, I gather, they don’t think so.”

“They most certainly do not,” said the Rani. And she went on to tell him how her poor Baby had been deliberately exposed to impurity, even actively encouraged to indulge in it with one of those precocious, promiscuous girls of whom, in Pala, there were only too many. And when they found that he wasn’t the sort of boy who would seduce a girl (for she had brought him up to think of Woman as essentially Holy), they had encouraged the girl to do her best to seduce him.

Had she, Will wondered, succeeded? Or had Antinous already been girl-proofed by little friends of his own age or, still more effectively, by some older, more experienced and authoritative pederast, some Swiss precursor of Colonel Dipa?

“But that wasn’t the worst.” The Rani lowered her voice to a horrified stage whisper. “One of the mothers on the committee of guardianship — one of the mothers, mind you — advised him to take a course of lessons.”

“What sort of lessons?”

“In what they euphemistically call Love.” She wrinkled up her nose as though she had smelt raw sewage. “Lessons, if you please,” and disgust turned into indignation, “from some Older Woman.”

“Heavens!” cried the ambassador.

“Heavens!” Will dutifully echoed. Those older women, he could see, were competitors much more dangerous, in the Rani’s eyes, than even the most precociously promiscuous of girls. A mature instructress in love would be a rival mother, enjoying the monstrously unfair advantage of being free to go to the limits of incest.

“They teach …” the Rani hesitated. “They teach Special Techniques.”

“What sort of techniques?” Will enquired.

But she couldn’t bring herself to go into the repulsive particulars. And anyhow it wasn’t necessary. For Murugan (bless his heart!) had refused to listen to them. Lessons in immorality from someone old enough to be his mother — the very idea of it had made him sick. No wonder. He had been brought up to reverence the Ideal of Purity. “Brahmacharya, if you know what that means.”

“Quite,” said Will.

“And this is another reason why his illness was such a blessing in disguise, such a real Godsend. I don’t think I could have brought him up that way in Pala. There are too many bad influences here. Forces working against Purity, against the Family, even against Mother Love.”

Will pricked up his ears. “Did they even reform mothers?”

She nodded. “You just can’t imagine how far things have gone here. But Koot Hoomi knew what kind of dangers we would have to run in Pala. So what happens? My Baby falls ill, and the doctors order us to Switzerland. Out of Harm’s way.”

“How was it,” Will asked, “that Koot Hoomi let you go off on your Crusade? Didn’t he foresee what would happen to Murugan as soon as your back was turned?”

“He foresaw everything,” said the Rani. “The temptations, the resistance, the massed assault by all the Powers of Evil and then, at the very last moment, the rescue. For a long time,” she explained, “Murugan didn’t tell me what was happening. But after three months the assaults of the Powers of Evil were too much for him. He dropped hints; but I was too completely absorbed in my Master’s business to be able to take them. Finally he wrote me a letter in which it was all spelled out — in detail. I cancelled my last four lectures in Brazil and flew home as fast as the jets would carry me. A week later we were back in Switzerland. Just my Baby and I — alone with the Master.”

She closed her eyes, and an expression of gloating ecstasy appeared upon her face. Will looked away in distaste. This self-canonized world-saviour, this clutching and devouring mother — had she ever, for a single moment, seen herself as others saw her? Did she have any idea of what she had done, what she was still doing, to her poor silly little son? To the first question the answer was certainly no. About the second one could only speculate. Perhaps she honestly didn’t know what she had made of the boy. But perhaps, on the other hand, she did know. Knew and preferred what was happening with the Colonel to what might happen if the boy’s education were taken in hand by a woman. The woman might supplant her; the Colonel, she knew, would not.

“Murugan told me that he intended to reform these so-called reforms.”

“I can only pray,” said the Rani in a tone that reminded Will of his grandfather, the Archdeacon, “that he’ll be given the Strength and Wisdom to do it.”

“And what do you think of his other projects?” Will asked. “Oil? Industries? An army?”

“Economics and politics aren’t exactly my strong point,” she answered with a little laugh which was meant to remind him that he was talking to someone who had taken the Fourth Initiation. “Ask Bahu what he thinks.”

“I have no right to offer an opinion,” said the ambassador. “I’m an outsider, the representative of a foreign power.”

“Not so very foreign,” said the Rani.

“Not in your eyes, ma’am. And not, as you know very well, in mine. But in the eyes of the Palanese government — yes. Completely foreign.”

“But that,” said Will, “doesn’t prevent you from having opinions. It only prevents you from having the locally orthodox opinions. And incidentally,” he added, “I’m not here in my professional capacity. You’re not being interviewed, Mr Ambassador. All this is strictly off the record.”

“Strictly off the record, then, and strictly as myself and not as an official personage, I believe that our young friend is perfectly right.”

“Which implies, of course, that you believe the policy of the Palanese government to be perfectly wrong.”

“Perfectly wrong,” said Mr Bahu — and the bony, emphatic mask of Savonarola positively twinkled with his Voltairean smile— “perfectly wrong because all too perfectly right.”

“Right?” the Rani protested. “Right?”

“Perfectly right,” he explained, “because so perfectly designed to make every man, woman and child on this enchanting island as perfectly free and happy as it’s possible to be.”

“But with a False Happiness,” the Rani cried, “a freedom that’s only for the Lower Self.”

“I bow,” said the ambassador, duly bowing, “to Your Highness’s superior insight. But still, high or low, true or false, happiness is happiness and freedom is most enjoyable. And there can be no doubt that the policies inaugurated by the original Reformers and developed over the years have been admirably well adapted to achieving these two goals.”

“But you feel,” said Will, “that these are undesirable goals?”

“On the contrary, everybody desires them. But unfortunately they’re out of context, they’ve become completely irrelevant to the present situation of the world in general and Pala in particular.”

“Are they more irrelevant now than they were when the Reformers first started to work for happiness and freedom?”

The Ambassador nodded. “In those days, Pala was still completely off the map. The idea of turning it into an oasis of freedom and happiness made sense. So long as it remains out of touch with the rest of the world, an ideal society can be a viable society. Pala was completely viable, I’d say, until about 1905. Then, in less than a single generation, the world completely changed. Movies, cars, aeroplanes, radio. Mass production, mass slaughter, mass communication and, above all, plain mass — more and more people in bigger and bigger slums or suburbs. By 1930 any clear-sighted observer could have seen that, for three-quarters of the human race, freedom and happiness were almost out of the question. Today, thirty years later, they’re completely out of the question. And meanwhile the outside world has been closing in on this little island of freedom and happiness. Closing in steadily and inexorably, coming nearer and nearer. What was once a viable ideal is now no longer viable.”

“So Pala will have to be changed — is that your conclusion?”

Mr Bahu nodded. “Radically.”

“Root and branch,” said the Rani with a prophet’s sadistic gusto.

“And for two cogent reasons,” Mr Bahu went on. “First because it simply isn’t possible for Pala to go on being different from the rest of the world. And, second, because it isn’t right that it should be different.”

“Not right for people to be free and happy?”

Once again the Rani said something inspirational about false happiness and the wrong kind of freedom.

Mr Bahu deferentially acknowledged her interruption, then turned back to Will.

“Not right,” he insisted. “Flaunting your blessedness in the face of so much misery — it’s sheer hubris, it’s a deliberate affront to the rest of humanity. It’s even a kind of affront to God.”

“God,” the Rani murmured voluptuously, “God …”

Then, re-opening her eyes, “These people in Pala,” she added, “they don’t believe in God. They only believe in Hypnotism and Pantheism and Free Love.” She emphasized the words with indignant disgust.

“So now,” said Will, “you’re proposing to make them miserable in the hope that this will restore their faith in God. Well, that’s one way of producing a conversion. Maybe it’ll work. And maybe the end will justify the means.” He shrugged his shoulders. “But I do see,” he added, “that, good or bad, and regardless of what the Palanese may feel about it, this thing is going to happen. One doesn’t have to be much of a prophet to foretell that Murugan is going to succeed. He’s riding the wave of the future. And the wave of the future is undoubtedly a wave of crude petroleum. Talking of crudity and petroleum,” he added, turning to the Rani, “I understand that you’re acquainted with my old friend, Joe Aldehyde.”

“You know Lord Aldehyde?”

“Well.”

“So that’s why my Little Voice was so insistent!” Closing her eyes again, she smiled to herself and slowly nodded her head. “Now I Understand.” Then, in another tone, “How is that dear man?” she asked.

“Still characteristically himself,” Will assured her.

“And what a rare self! L’homme au cerf-volant — that’s what I call him.”

“The man with the kite?” Will was puzzled.

“He does his work down here,” she explained; “but he holds a string in his hand, and at the other end of the string is a kite, and the kite is forever trying to go higher, higher, Higher. Even while he’s at work, he feels the constant Pull from Above, feels the Spirit tugging insistently at the flesh. Think of it! A man of affairs, a great Captain of Industry — and yet, for him, the only thing that Really Matters is the Immortality of the Soul.”

Light dawned. The woman had been talking about Joe Aldehyde’s addiction to Spiritualism. He thought of those weekly seances with Mrs Harbottle, the automatist; with Mrs Pym, whose control was a Kiowa Indian called Bawbo; with Miss Tuke and her floating trumpet out of which a squeaky whisper uttered oracular words that were taken down in shorthand by Joe’s private secretary: ‘Buy Australian cement; don’t be alarmed by the fall in Breakfast Foods; unload forty per cent of your rubber shares and invest the money in IBM and Westinghouse …’

“Did he ever tell you,” Will asked, “about that departed stock-broker, who always knew what the market was going to do next week?”

“Sidhis” said the Rani indulgently. “Just sidhis. What else can you expect? After all, he’s only a Beginner. And in this present life business is his karma. He was predestined to do what he’s done, what he’s doing, what he’s going to do. And what he’s going to do,” she added impressively and paused in a listening pose, her finger lifted, her head cocked, “what he’s going to do — that’s what my Little Voice is saying — includes some great and wonderful things here in Pala.”

“What a spiritual way of saying, ‘This is what I want to happen! Not as I will but as God wills — and by a happy coincidence God’s will and mine are always identical.’” Will chuckled inwardly, but kept the straightest of faces.

“Does your Little Voice say anything about South-East Asia Petroleum?” he asked.

The Rani listened again, then nodded. “Distinctly.”

“But Colonel Dipa, I gather, doesn’t say anything but ‘Standard of California.’ Incidentally,” Will went on, “why does Pala have to worry about the Colonel’s taste in oil companies?”

“My government,” said Mr Bahu sonorously, “is thinking in terms of a Five Year Plan for Inter-Island Economic Co-ordination and Co-operation.”

“Does Inter-Island Co-ordination and Co-operation mean that Standard has to be granted a monopoly?”

“Only if Standard’s terms were more advantageous than those of its competitors.”

“In other words,” said the Rani, “only if there’s nobody who will pay us more.”

“Before you came,” Will told her, “I was discussing this subject with Murugan. South-East Asia Petroleum, I said, will give Pala whatever Standard gives Rendang plus a little more.”

“Fifteen per cent more?”

“Let’s say ten.”

“Make it twelve and a half.”

Will looked at her admiringly. For someone who had taken the Fourth Initiation she was doing pretty well.

“Joe Aldehyde will scream with agony,” he said. “But in the end, I feel certain, you’ll get your twelve and a half.”

“It would certainly be a most attractive proposition,” said Mr Bahu.

“The only trouble is that the Palanese government won’t accept it.”

“The Palanese government,” said the Rani, “will soon be changing its policy.”

“You think so?”

“I KNOW it,” the Rani answered in a tone that made it quite clear that the information had come straight from the Master’s mouth.

“When the change of policy comes, would it help,” Will asked, “if Colonel Dipa were to put in a good word for South-East Asia Petroleum?”

“Undoubtedly.”

Will turned to Mr Bahu. “And would you be prepared, Mr Ambassador, to put in a good word with Colonel Dipa?”

In polysyllables, as though he were addressing a plenary session of some international organization, Mr Bahu hedged diplomatically. On the one hand, yes; but on the other hand, no. From one point of view, white; but from a different angle, distinctly black.

Will listened in polite silence. Behind the mask of Savonarola, behind the aristocratic monocle, behind the ambassadorial verbiage he could see and hear the Levantine broker in quest of his commission, the petty official cadging for a gratuity. And for her enthusiastic sponsorship of South-East Asia Petroleum, how much had the royal initiate been promised? Something, he was prepared to bet, pretty substantial. Not for herself, of course, no, no! For the Crusade of the Spirit, needless to say, for the greater glory of Koot Hoomi.

Mr Bahu had reached the peroration of his speech to the international organization. “It must therefore be understood,” he was saying, “that any positive action on my part must remain contingent upon circumstances as, when and if these circumstances arise. Do I make myself clear?”

“Perfectly,” Will assured him. “And now,” he went on with deliberately indecent frankness, “let me explain my position in this matter. All I’m interested Two thousand pounds without having to do a hand’s turn of work. A year of freedom just for helping Joe Aldehyde to get his hands on Pala.”

“Lord Aldehyde,” said the Rani, “is remarkably generous.”

“Remarkably,” Will agreed, “considering how little I can do in this matter. Needless to say, he’d be still more generous to anyone who could be of greater help.”

There was a long silence. In the distance a mynah bird was calling monotonously for attention. Attention to avarice, attention to hypocrisy, attention to vulgar cynicism … There was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” Will called out and, turning to Mr Bahu, “Let’s continue this conversation some other time,” he said.

Mr Bahu nodded.

“Come in,” Will repeated.

Dressed in a blue skirt and a short buttonless jacket that left her midriff bare and only sometimes covered a pair of apple-round breasts, a girl in her late teens walked briskly into the room. On her smooth brown face a smile of friendliest greeting was punctuated at either end by dimples. “I’m Nurse Appu,” she began. “Radha Appu.” Then, catching sight of Will’s visitors, she broke off. “Oh, excuse me, I didn’t know …”

She made a perfunctory Knicks to the Rani.

Mr Bahu, meanwhile, had courteously risen to his feet. “Nurse Appu,” he cried enthusiastically. “My little ministering angel from the Shivapuram hospital. What a delightful surprise!”

For the girl, it was evident to Will, the surprise was far from delightful.

“How do you do, Mr Bahu,” she said without a smile and, quickly turning away, started to busy herself with the straps of the canvas bag she was carrying.

“Your Highness has probably forgotten,” said Mr Bahu; “but I had to have an operation last summer. For hernia,” he specified. “Well, this young lady used to come and wash me every morning. Punctually at eight-forty-five. And now, after having vanished for all these months, here she is again!”

“Synchronicity,” said the Rani oracularly. “It’s all part of the Plan.”

“I’m supposed to give Mr Farnaby an injection,” said the little nurse looking up, still unsmiling, from her professional bag.

“Doctor’s orders are doctor’s orders,” cried the Rani, overacting the role of royal personage deigning to be playfully gracious. “To hear is to obey. But where’s my chauffeur?”

“Your chauffeur’s here,” called a familiar voice.

Beautiful as a vision of Ganymede, Murugan was standing in the doorway. A look of amusement appeared on the little nurse’s face.

“Hullo, Murugan — I mean, Your Highness.” She bobbed another curtsey which he was free to take as a mark of respect or of ironic mockery.

“Oh hullo, Radha,” said the boy in a tone that was meant to be distantly casual. He walked past her to where his mother was sitting. “The car,” he said, “is at the door. Or rather the so-called car.” With a sarcastic laugh, “It’s a Baby Austin, 1954 vintage,” he explained to Will. “The best that this highly civilized country can provide for its royal family. Rendang gives its ambassador a Bentley,” he added bitterly.

“Which will be calling for me at this address in about ten minutes,” said Mr Bahu, looking at his watch. “So may I be permitted to take leave of you here, Your Highness?”

The Rani extended her hand. With all the piety of a good Catholic kissing a Cardinal’s ring, he bent over it; then, straightening himself up, he turned to Will.

“I’m assuming — perhaps unjustifiably — that Mr Farnaby can put up with me for a little longer. May I stay?”

Will assured the ambassador that he would be delighted.

“And I hope,” said Mr Bahu to the little nurse, “that there will be no objections on medical grounds?”

“Not on medical grounds,” said the girl in a tone that implied the existence of the most cogent non-medical objections.

Assisted by Murugan, the Rani hoisted herself out of her chair. “Au revoir, mon cher Farnaby,” she said as she gave him her jewelled hand. Her smile was charged with a sweetness that Will found positively menacing.

“Good-bye, ma’am.”

She turned, patted the little nurse’s cheek and sailed out of the room. Like a pinnace in the wake of a full-rigged ship of the line, Murugan trailed after her.

Chapter Six


“GOLLY!” THE LITTLE nurse exploded, when the door was safely closed behind them.

“I entirely agree with you,” said Will.

The Voltairean light twinkled for a moment on Mr Bahu’s evangelical face. “Golly,” he repeated. “It was what I heard an English schoolboy saying when he first saw the Great Pyramid. The Rani makes the same kind of impression. Monumental. She’s what the Germans call eine grosse Seele.” The twinkle had faded, the face was unequivocally Savonarola’s, the words, it was obvious, were for publication.

The little nurse suddenly started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Will asked.

“I suddenly saw the Great Pyramid all dressed up in white muslin,” she gasped. “Dr Robert calls it the mystic’s uniform.”

“Witty, very witty!” said Mr Bahu. “And yet,” he added diplomatically, “I don’t know why mystics shouldn’t wear uniforms, if they feel like it.”

The little nurse drew a deep breath, wiped the tears of merriment from her eyes and began to make her preparations for giving the patient his injection.

“I know exactly what you’re thinking,” she said to Will. “You’re thinking I’m much too young to do a good job.”

“I certainly think you’re very young.”

“You people go to a University at eighteen and stay there for four years. We start at sixteen and go on with our education till we’re twenty-four — half-time study and half-time work. I’ve been doing biology and at the same time doing this job for two years. So I’m not quite such a fool as I look. Actually I’m a pretty good nurse.”

“A statement,” said Mr Bahu, “which I can unequivocally confirm. Miss Radha is not merely a good nurse; she’s an absolutely first-rate one.”

But what he really meant, Will felt sure as he studied the expression on that face of a much-tempted monk, was that Miss Radha had a first-rate midriff, first-rate navel and first-rate breasts. But the owner of the navel, midriff and breasts had clearly resented Savonarola’s admiration, or at any rate the way it had been expressed. Hopefully, over-hopefully, the rebuffed ambassador was returning to the attack.

The spirit lamp was lighted and, while the needle was being boiled, little Nurse Appu took her patient’s temperature.

“Ninety-nine point two.”

“Does that mean I have to be banished?” Mr Bahu enquired.

“Not so far as he’s concerned,” the girl answered.

“So please stay,” said Will.

The little nurse gave him his injection of antibiotic, then, from one of the bottles in her bag, stirred a tablespoonful of some greenish liquid into half a glass of water.

“Drink this.”

It tasted like one of those herbal concoctions that health-food enthusiasts substitute for tea.

“What is it?” Will asked, and was told that it was an extract from a mountain plant related to valerian.

“It helps people to stop worrying,” the little nurse explained, “without making them sleepy. We give it to convalescents. It’s useful, too, in mental cases.”

“Which am I! Mental or convalescent?”

“Both,” she answered without hesitation.

Will laughed aloud. “That’s what comes of fishing for compliments.”

“I didn’t mean to be rude,” she assured him. “All I meant was that I’ve never met anybody from the outside who wasn’t a mental case.”

“Including the Ambassador?”

She turned the question back upon the questioner. “What do you think?”

Will passed it on to Mr Bahu. “You’re the expert in this field,” he said.

“Settle it between yourselves,” said the little nurse. “I’ve got to go and see about my patient’s lunch.”

Mr Bahu watched her go; then, raising his left eyebrow, he let fall his monocle and started methodically to polish the lens with his handkerchief. “You’re aberrated in one way,” he said to Will. “I’m aberrated in another. A schizoid (isn’t that what you are?) and, from the other side of the world, a paranoid. Both of us victims of the same twentieth-century plague. Not the Black Death, this time; the Grey Life. Were you ever interested in power?” he asked after a moment of silence.

“Never.” Will shook his head emphatically. “One can’t have power without committing oneself.”

“And for you the horror of being committed outweighs the pleasure of pushing other people around?”

“By a factor of several thousand times.”

“So it was never a temptation?”

“Never.” Then after a pause, “Let’s get down to business,” Will added in another tone.

“To business,” Mr Bahu repeated. “Tell me something about Lord Aldehyde?”

“Well, as the Rani said, he’s remarkably generous.”

“I’m not interested in his virtues, only his intelligence. How bright is he?”

“Bright enough to know that nobody does anything for nothing.”

“Good,” said Mr Bahu. “Then tell him from me that for effective work by experts in strategic positions he must be prepared to lay out at least ten times what he’s going to pay you.”

“I’ll write him a letter to that effect.”

“And do it today,” Mr Bahu advised. “The plane leaves Shivapuram tomorrow evening, and there won’t be another outgoing mail for a whole week.”

“Thank you for telling me,” said Will. “And now — Her Highness and the shockable stripling being gone — let’s move on to the next temptation. What about sex?”

With the gesture of a man who tries to rid himself of a cloud of importunate insects, Mr Bahu waved a brown and bony hand back and forth in front of his face. “Just a distraction, that’s all. Just a nagging, humiliating vexation. But an intelligent man can always cope with it.”

“How difficult it is,” said Will, “to understand another man’s vices!”

“You’re right. Everybody should stick to the insanity that God has seen fit to curse him with. Pecca fortiter — that was Luther’s advice. But make a point of sinning your own sins, not someone else’s. And above all don’t do what the people of this island do. Don’t try to behave as though you were essentially sane and naturally good. We’re all demented sinners in the same cosmic boat — and the boat is perpetually sinking.”

“In spite of which, no rat is justified in leaving it. Is that what you’re saying?”

“A few of them may sometimes try to leave. But they never get very far. History and the other rats will always see to it that they drown with the rest of us. That’s why Pala doesn’t have the ghost of a chance.”

Carrying a tray, the little nurse re-entered the room.

“Buddhist food,” she said, as she tied a napkin round Will’s neck. “All except the fish. But we’ve decided that fishes are vegetables within the meaning of the act.”

Will started to eat.

“Apart from the Rani and Murugan and us two here,” he asked after swallowing the first mouthful, “how many people from the outside have you ever met?”

“Well, there was that group of American doctors,” she answered. “They came to Shivapuram last year, while I was working at the Central Hospital.”

“What were they doing here?”

“They wanted to find out why we have such a low rate of neurosis and cardiovascular trouble. Those doctors!” She shook her head. “I tell you, Mr Farnaby, they really made my hair stand on end — made everybody’s hair stand on end in the whole hospital.”

“So you think our medicine’s pretty primitive?”

“That’s the wrong word. It isn’t primitive. It’s fifty per cent terrific and fifty per cent non-existent. Marvellous antibiotics — but absolutely no methods for increasing resistance, so that antibiotics won’t be necessary. Fantastic operations — but when it comes to teaching people the way of going through life without having to be chopped up, absolutely nothing. And it’s the same all along the line. Alpha Plus for patching you up when you’ve started to fall apart; but Delta Minus for keeping you healthy. Apart from sewage systems and synthetic vitamins, you don’t seem to do anything at all about prevention. And yet you’ve got a proverb: prevention is better than cure.”

“But cure,” said Will, “is so much more dramatic than prevention. And for the doctors it’s also a lot more profitable.”

“Maybe for your doctors,” said the little nurse. “Not for ours. Ours get paid for keeping people well.”

“How is it done?”

“We’ve been asking that question for a hundred years, and we’ve found a lot of answers. Chemical answers, psychological answers, answers in terms of what you eat, how you make love, what you see and hear, how you feel about being who you are in this kind of world.”

“And which are the best answers?”

“None of them is best without the others.”

“So there’s no panacea.”

“How can there be?” And she quoted the little rhyme that every student nurse had to learn by heart on the first day of her training.

“‘I’ am a crowd, obeying as many laws

As it has members. Chemically impure

Are all ‘my’ beings. There’s no single cure

For what can never have a single cause.

So whether it’s prevention or whether it’s cure, we attack on all the fronts at once. All the fronts,” she insisted, “from diet to auto-suggestion, from negative ions to meditation.”

“Very sensible,” was Will’s comment.

“Perhaps a little too sensible,” said Mr Bahu. “Did you ever try to talk sense to a maniac?” Will shook his head. “I did once.” He lifted the greying lock that slanted obliquely across his forehead. Just below the hair-line a jagged scar stood out, strangely pale against the brown skin. “Luckily for me, the bottle he hit me with was pretty flimsy.” Smoothing his ruffled hair, he turned to the little nurse. “Don’t ever forget, Miss Radha: to the senseless nothing is more maddening than sense. Pala is a small island completely surrounded by twenty-nine hundred million mental cases. So beware of being too rational. In the country of the insane, the integrated man doesn’t become king.” Mr Bahu’s face was positively twinkling with Voltairean glee. “He gets lynched.”

Will laughed perfunctorily, then turned again to the little nurse.

“Don’t you have any candidates for the asylum?” he asked.

“Just as many as you have — I mean in proportion to the population. At least that’s what the textbook says.”

“So living in a sensible world doesn’t seem to make any difference.”

“Not to the people with the kind of body-chemistry that’ll turn them into psychotics. They’re born vulnerable. Little troubles that other people hardly notice can bring them down. We’re just beginning to find out what it is that makes them so vulnerable. We’re beginning to be able to spot them in advance of a breakdown. And once they’ve been spotted, we can do something to raise their resistance. Prevention again — and, of course, on all the fronts at once.”

“So being born into a sensible world will make a difference even for the predestined psychotic.”

“And for the neurotics it has already made a difference. Your neurosis rate is about one in five or even four. Ours is about one in twenty. The one that breaks down gets treatment, on all fronts, and the nineteen who don’t break down have had prevention on all the fronts. Which brings me back to those American doctors. Three of them were psychiatrists, and one of the psychiatrists smoked cigars without stopping and had a German accent. He was the one that was chosen to give us a lecture. What a lecture!” The little nurse held her head between her hands. “I never heard anything like it.”

“What was it about?”

“About the way they treat people with neurotic symptoms. We just couldn’t believe our ears. They never attack on all the fronts; they only attack on about half of one front. So far as they’re concerned, the physical fronts don’t exist. Except for a mouth and an anus, their patient doesn’t have a body. He isn’t an organism, he wasn’t born with a constitution or a temperament. All he has is the two ends of a digestive tube, a family and a psyche. But what sort of a psyche? Obviously not the whole mind, not the mind as it really is. How could it be that when they take no account of a person’s anatomy, or biochemistry or physiology? Mind abstracted from body — that’s the only front they attack on. And not even on the whole of that front. The man with the cigar kept talking about the unconscious. But the only unconscious they ever pay attention to is the negative unconscious, the garbage that people have tried to get rid of by burying it in the basement. Not a single word about the positive unconscious. No attempt to help the patient to open himself up to the life force or the Buddha Nature. And no attempt even to teach him to be a little more conscious in his everyday life. You know: ‘Here and now, boys.’ ‘Attention.’” She gave an imitation of the mynah birds. “These people just leave the unfortunate neurotic to wallow in his old bad habits of never being all there in present time. The whole thing is just pure idiocy! No, the man with the cigar didn’t even have that excuse; he was as clever as clever can be. So it’s not idiocy. It must be something voluntary, something self-induced — like getting drunk, or talking yourself into believing some piece of foolishness because it happens to be in the Scriptures. And then look at their idea of what’s normal. Believe it or not, a normal human being is one who can have an orgasm and is adjusted to his society.” Once again the little nurse held her head between her hands. “It’s unimaginable! No question about what you do with your orgasms. No question about the quality of your feelings and thoughts and perceptions. And then what about the society you’re supposed to be adjusted to? Is it a mad society or a sane one? And even if it’s pretty sane, is it right that anybody should be completely adjusted to it?”

With another of his twinkling smiles, “Those whom God would destroy,” said the Ambassador, “He first makes mad. Or alternatively, and perhaps even more effectively, He first makes them sane.” Mr Bahu rose and walked to the window. “My car has come for me. I must be getting back to Shivapuram and my desk.” He turned to Will and treated him to a long and flowery farewell. Then, switching off the ambassador, “Don’t forget to write that letter,” he said. “It’s very important.” He smiled conspiratorially and, passing his thumb back and forth across the first two fingers of his right hand, he counted out invisible money.

“Thank goodness,” said the little nurse when he had gone.

“What was his offence?” Will enquired. “The usual thing?”

“Offering money to someone you want to go to bed with — but she doesn’t like you. So you offer more. Is that usual where he comes from?”

“Profoundly usual,” Will assured her.

“Well, I didn’t like it.”

“So I could see. And here’s another question. What about Murugan?”

“What makes you ask?”

“Curiosity. I noticed that you’d met before. Was that when he was here two years ago without his mother?”

“How did you know about that?”

“A little bird told me — or rather an extremely massive bird.”

“The Rani! She must have made it sound like Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“But unfortunately I was spared the lurid details. Dark hints — that was all she gave me. Hints, for example, about veteran Messalinas giving lessons in love to innocent young boys.”

“And did he need those lessons!”

“Hints, too, about a precocious and promiscuous girl of his own age.”

Nurse Appu burst out laughing.

“Did you know her?”

“The precocious and promiscuous girl was me.”

“You? Does the Rani know it?”

“Murugan only gave her the facts, not the names. For which I’m very grateful. You see, I’d behaved pretty badly. Losing my head about someone I didn’t really love and hurting someone I did. Why is one so stupid?”

“The heart has its reasons,” said Will, “and the endocrines have theirs.”

There was a long silence. He finished the last of his cold boiled fish and vegetables. Nurse Appu handed him a plate of fruit salad.

“You’ve never seen Murugan in white satin pyjamas,” she said.

“Have I missed something?”

“You’ve no idea how beautiful he looks in white satin pyjamas. Nobody has any right to be so beautiful. It’s indecent. It’s taking an unfair advantage.”

It was the sight of him in those white satin pyjamas from Sulka that had finally made her lose her head. Lose it so completely that for two months she had been someone else — an idiot who had gone chasing after a person who couldn’t bear her and had turned her back on the person who had always loved her, the person she herself had always loved.

“Did you get anywhere with the pyjama boy?” Will asked.

“As far as a bed,” she answered. “But when I started to kiss him, he jumped out from between the sheets and locked himself into the bathroom. He wouldn’t come out until I’d passed his pyjamas through the transom and given him my word of honour that he wouldn’t be molested. I can laugh about it now; but at the time, I tell you, at the time …” She shook her head. “Pure tragedy. They must have guessed, from the way I carried on, what had happened. Precocious and promiscuous girls, it was obvious, were no good. What he needed was regular lessons.”

“And the rest of the story I know,” said Will. “Boy writes to mother, mother flies home and whisks him off to Switzerland.”

“And they didn’t come back until about six months ago. And for at least half of that time they were in Rendang, staying with Murugan’s aunt.”

Will was on the point of mentioning Colonel Dipa, then remembered that he had promised Murugan to be discreet and said nothing.

From the garden came the sound of a whistle.

“Excuse me,” said the little nurse and went to the window. Smiling happily at what she saw, she waved her hand. “It’s Ranga.”

“Who’s Ranga?”

“That friend of mine I was talking about. He wants to ask you some questions. May he come in for a minute?”

“Of course.”

She turned back to the window and made a beckoning gesture.

“This means, I take it, that the white satin pyjamas are completely out of the picture.”

She nodded. “It was only a one-act tragedy. I found my head almost as quickly as I’d lost it. And when I’d found it, there was Ranga, the same as ever, waiting for me.” The door swung open and a lanky young man in gym shoes and khaki shorts came into the room.

“Ranga Karakuran,” he announced as he shook Will’s hand.

“If you’d come five minutes earlier,” said Radha, “you’d have had the pleasure of meeting Mr Bahu.”

“Was he here?” Ranga made a grimace of disgust.

“Is he as bad as all that?” Will asked.

Ranga listed the indictments. “A: He hates us. B: He’s Colonel Dipa’s tame jackal. C: He’s the unofficial ambassador of all the oil companies. D: The old pig made passes at Radha, and E: He goes about giving lectures about the need for a religious revival. He’s even published a book about it. Complete with preface by someone at the Harvard Divinity School. It’s all part of the campaign against Palanese independence. God is Dipa’s alibi. Why can’t criminals be frank about what they’re up to? All this disgusting idealistic hogwash — it makes one vomit.”

Radha stretched out her hand and gave his ear three sharp tweaks.

“You little …” he began angrily; then broke off and laughed. “You’re quite right,” he said. “All the same, you didn’t have to pull quite so hard.”

“Is that what you always do when he gets worked up?” Will enquired of Radha.

“Whenever he gets worked up at the wrong moment, or over things he can’t do anything about.”

Will turned to the boy. “And do you ever have to tweak her ear?”

Ranga laughed. “I find it more satisfactory,” he said, “to smack her bottom. Unfortunately, she rarely needs it.”

“Does that mean she’s better balanced than you are?”

“Better balanced? I tell you, she’s abnormally sane.”

“Whereas you’re merely normal?”

“Maybe a little left of centre.” He shook his head. “I get horribly depressed sometimes — feel I’m no good for anything.”

“Whereas in fact,” said Radha, “he’s so good that they’ve given him a scholarship to study biochemistry at the University of Manchester.”

“What do you do with him when he plays these despairing, miserable-sinner tricks on you? Pull his ears?”

“That,” she said, “and … well, other things.” She looked at Ranga and Ranga looked at her. Then they both burst out laughing.

“Quite,” said Will. “Quite. And these other things being what they are,” he went on, “is Ranga looking forward to the prospect of leaving Pala for a couple of years?”

“Not much,” Ranga admitted.

“But he has to go,” said Radha firmly.

“And when he gets there,” Will wondered, “is he going to be happy?”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you,” said Ranga.

“Well, you won’t like the climate, you won’t like the food, you won’t like the noises or the smells or the architecture. But you’ll almost certainly like the work and you’ll probably find that you can like quite a lot of the people.”

“What about the girls?” Radha enquired.

“How do you want me to answer that question?” he asked. “Consolingly, or truthfully?”

“Truthfully.”

“Well, my dear, the truth is that Ranga will be a wild success. Dozens of girls are going to find him irresistible. And some of those girls will be charming. How will you feel if he can’t resist?”

“I’ll be glad for his sake.”

Will turned to Ranga. “And will you be glad if she consoles herself, while you’re away, with another boy?”

“I’d like to be,” he said. “But whether I actually shall be glad — that’s another question.”

“Will you make her promise to be faithful?”

“I won’t make her promise anything.”

“Even though she’s your girl?”

“She’s her own girl.”

“And Ranga’s his own boy,” said the little nurse. “He’s free to do what he likes.”

Will thought of Babs’s strawberry pink alcove and laughed ferociously. “And free above all,” he said, “to do what he doesn’t like.” He looked from one young face to the other and saw that he was being eyed with a certain astonishment. In another tone and with a different kind of smile, “But I’d forgotten,” he added. “One of you is abnormally sane and the other is only a little left of centre. So how can you be expected to understand what this mental case from the outside is talking about?” And without leaving them time to answer his question, “Tell me,” he asked, “how long is it …” He broke off. “But perhaps I’m being indiscreet. If so, just tell me to mind my own business. But I would like to know, just as a matter of anthropological interest, how long you two have been friends.”

“Do you mean ‘friends’?” asked the little nurse. “Or do you mean ‘lovers’?”

“Why not both, while we’re about it?”

“Well, Ranga and I have been friends since we were babies. And we’ve been lovers — except for that miserable white pyjama episode — since I was fifteen and a half and he was seventeen — ust about two and a half years.”

“And nobody objected?”

“Why should they?”

“Why indeed,” Will echoed. “But the fact remains that, in my part of the world, practically everybody would have objected.”

“What about other boys?” Ranga asked.

“In theory they were even more out of bounds than girls. In practice … Well, you can guess what happens when five or six hundred male adolescents are cooped up together in a boarding school. Does that sort of thing ever go on here?”

“Of course.”

“I’m surprised.”

“Surprised? Why?”

“Seeing that girls aren’t out of bounds.”

“But one kind of love doesn’t exclude the other.”

“And both are legitimate?”

“Naturally.”

“So that nobody would have minded if Murugan had been interested in another pyjama boy?”

“Not if it was a good sort of relationship.”

“But unfortunately,” said Radha, “the Rani had done such a thorough job that he couldn’t be interested in anyone but her — and, of course, himself.”

“No boys?”

“Maybe now. I don’t know. All I know is that in my day there was nobody in his universe. No boys and, still more emphatically, no girls. Only Mother and masturbation and the Ascended Masters. Only jazz records and sports cars and Hitlerian ideas about being a Great Leader and turning Pala into what he calls a Modern State.”

“Three weeks ago,” said Ranga, “he and the Rani were at the palace, in Shivapuram. They invited a group of us from the University to come and listen to Murugan’s ideas — on oil, on industrialization, on television, on armaments, on the Crusade of the Spirit.”

“Did he make any converts?”

Ranga shook his head. “Why would anyone want to exchange something rich and good and endlessly interesting for something bad and thin and boring? We don’t feel any need for your speedboats or your television. Still less for your wars and revolutions, your revivals, your political slogans, your metaphysical nonsense from Rome and Moscow. Did you ever hear of Maithuna,” he asked.

“Maithuna? What’s that?”

“Let’s start with the historical background,” Ranga answered; and with the engaging pedantry of an undergraduate delivering a lecture about matters which he himself has only lately heard of, he launched forth. “Buddhism came to Pala about twelve hundred years ago, and it came not from Ceylon, which is what one would have expected, but from Bengal, and through Bengal, later on, from Tibet. Result: we’re Mahayanists, and our Buddhism is shot through and through with Tantra. Do you know what Tantra is?”

Will had to admit that he had only the haziest notion.

“And to tell you the truth,” said Ranga, with a laugh that broke irrepressibly through the crust of his pedantry, “I don’t really know much more than you do. Tantra’s an enormous subject and most of it, I guess, is just silliness and superstition — not worth bothering about. But there’s a hard core of sense. If you’re a Tantrik, you don’t renounce the world or deny its value; you don’t try to escape into a Nirvana apart from life, as the monks of the Southern School do. No, you accept the world, and you make use of it; you make use of everything you do, of everything that happens to you, of all the things you see and hear and taste and touch, as so many means to your liberation from the prison of yourself.”

“Good talk,” said Will in a tone of polite scepticism.

“And something more beside,” Ranga insisted. “That’s the difference,” he added — and youthful pedantry modulated the eagerness of youthful proselytism, “that’s the difference between your philosophy and ours. Western philosophers, even the best of them — they’re nothing more than good talkers. Eastern philosophers are often rather bad talkers, but that doesn’t matter. Talk isn’t the point. Their philosophy is pragmatic and operational. Like the philosophy of modern physics — except that the operations in question are psychological and the results transcendental. Your metaphysicians make statements about the nature of man and the universe; but they don’t offer the reader any way of testing the truth of those statements. When we make statements, we follow them up with a list of operations that can be used for testing the validity of what we’ve been saying. For example, Tat tvam asi, ‘thou art That’ — the heart of all our philosophy. Tat tvam asi,” he repeated. “It looks like a proposition in metaphysics; but what it actually refers to is a psychological experience, and the operations by means of which the experience can be lived through are described by our philosophers, so that anyone who’s willing to perform the necessary operations can test the validity of Tat tvam asi for himself. The operations are called yoga, or dhyana, or Zen — or, in certain special circumstances, maithuna.”

“Which brings us back to my original question. What is maithuna?”

“Maybe you’d better ask Radha.”

Will turned to the little nurse. “What is it?”

“Maithuna,” she answered gravely, “is the yoga of love.”

“Sacred or profane?”

“There’s no difference.”

“That’s the whole point,” Ranga put in. “When you do maithuna, profane love is sacred love.”

“Buddhatvan yoshidyonisansritan,” the girl quoted.

“None of your Sanskrit,! What does it mean?”

“How would you translate Buddhatvan, Ranga?”

“Buddhaness, Buddheity, the quality of being enlightened.”

Radha nodded and turned back to Will. “It means that Buddhaness is in the yoni.”

“In the yoni?” Will remembered those little stone emblems of the Eternal Feminine that he had bought, as presents for the girls at the office, from a hunchbacked vendor of bondieuseries at Benares. Eight annas for a black yoni; twelve for the still more sacred image of the yoni-lingam. “Literally in the yoni?” he asked. “Or metaphorically.”

“What a ridiculous question!” said the little nurse, and she laughed her clear unaffected laugh of pure amusement. “Do you think we make love metaphorically? Buddhatvan yoshidyonianaritan,” she repeated. “It couldn’t be more completely and absolutely literal.”

“Did you ever hear of the Oneida Community?” Ranga now asked.

Will nodded. He had known an American historian who specialized in nineteenth-century communities. “But why do you know about it?” he asked.

“Because it’s mentioned in all our textbooks of applied philosophy. Basically, maithuna is the same as what the Oneida people called Male Continence. And that was the same as what Roman Catholics mean by coitus reservatus.”

“Reservatus,” the little nurse repeated. “It always makes me want to laugh. ‘Such a reserved young man’!” The dimples reappeared and there was a flash of white teeth.

“Don’t be silly,” said Ranga severely. “This is serious.”

She expressed her contrition. But ‘reservatus’ was really too funny.

“In a word,” Will concluded, “it’s just birth control without contraceptives.”

“But that’s only the beginning of the story,” said Ranga. “Maithuna is also something else. Something even more important.” The undergraduate pedant had reasserted himself. “Remember,” he went on earnestly, “remember the point that Freud was always harping on.”

“Which point? There were so many.”

“The point about the sexuality of children. What we’re born with, what we experience all through infancy and childhood, is a sexuality that isn’t concentrated on the genitals; it’s a sexuality diffused throughout the whole organism. That’s the paradise we inherit. But the paradise gets lost as the child grows up. Maithuna is the organized attempt to regain that paradise.” He turned to Radha. “You’ve got a good memory,” he said. “What’s that phrase of Spinoza’s that they quote in the applied philosophy book?”

“‘Make the body capable of doing many things,’” she recited. “This will help you to perfect the mind and so to come to the intellectual love of God.’”

“Hence all the yogas,” said Ranga. “Including maithuna.”

“And it’s a real yoga,” the girl insisted. “As good as raja yoga, or karma yoga, or bhakti yoga. In fact, a great deal better, so far as most people are concerned. Maithuna really gets them there.”

“What’s ‘there’?” Will asked.

“‘There’ is where you know.”

“Know what?”

“Know who in fact you are — and believe it or not,” she added, “Tat tvam asi — thou art That, and so am I; That is me.” The dimples came to life, the teeth flashed. “And That’s also him.” She pointed at Ranga. “Incredible, isn’t it?” She stuck out her tongue at him. “And yet it’s a fact.”

Ranga smiled, reached out and with an extended forefinger touched the tip of her nose. “And not merely a fact,” he said. “A revealed truth.” He gave the nose a little tap. “A revealed truth,” he repeated. “So mind your P’s and Q’s, young woman.”

“What I’m wondering,” said Will, “is why we aren’t all enlightened — I mean, if it’s just a question of making love with a rather special kind of technique. What’s the answer to that?”

“I’ll tell you,” Ranga began.

But the girl cut him short. “Listen,” she said, “listen!”

Will listened. Faint and far off, but still distinct, he heard the strange inhuman voice that had first welcomed him to Pala. “Attention,” it was saying. “Attention. Attention …”

“That bloody bird again!”

“But that’s the secret.”

“Attention? But a moment ago you were saying it was something else. What about that young man who’s so reserved?”

“That’s just to make it easier to pay attention.”

“And it does make it easier,” Ranga confirmed. “And that’s the whole point of maithuna. It’s not the special technique that turns love-making into yoga; it’s the kind of awareness that the technique makes possible. Awareness of one’s sensations and awareness of the not-sensation in every sensation.”

“What’s a not-sensation?”

“It’s the raw material for sensation that my not-self provides me with.”

“And you can pay attention to your not-self?”

“Of course.”

Will turned to the little nurse. “You too?”

“To myself,” she answered, “and at the same time to my not-self. And to Ranga’s not-self, and to Ranga’s self, and to Ranga’s body, and to my body and everything it’s feeling. And to all the love and the friendship. And to the mystery of the other person — the perfect stranger, who’s the other half of your own self, and the same as your not-self. And all the while one’s paying attention to all the things that, if one were sentimental, or worse, if one were spiritual like the poor old Rani, one would find so unromantic and gross and sordid even. But they aren’t sordid, because one’s also paying attention to the fact that, when one’s fully aware of them, those things are just as beautiful as all the rest, just as wonderful.”

“Maithuna is dhyana,” Ranga concluded. A new word, he evidently felt, would explain everything.

“But what is dhyana?” Will asked.

“Dhyana is contemplation.”

“Contemplation.”

Will thought of that strawberry-pink alcove above the Charing Cross Road. Contemplation was hardly the word he would have chosen. And yet even there, on second thoughts, even there he had found a kind of deliverance. Those alienations in the changing light of Porter’s Gin were alienations from his odious daytime self. They were also, unfortunately, alienations from all the rest of his being — alienations from love, from intelligence, from common decency, from all consciousness but that of an excruciating frenzy by corpse-light or in the rosy glow of the cheapest, vulgarest illusion. He looked again at Radha’s shining face. What happiness! What a manifest conviction, not of the sin that Mr Bahu was so determined to make the world safe for, but of its serene and blissful opposite! It was profoundly touching. But he refused to be touched. Noli me tangere — it was a categorical imperative. Shifting the focus of his mind, he managed to see the whole thing as reassuringly ludicrous. What shall we do to be saved? The answer is in four letters.

Smiling at his own little joke, “Were you taught maithuna at school?” he asked ironically.

“At school,” Radha answered with a simple matter-of-factness that took all the Rabelaisian wind out of his sails.

“Everybody’s taught it,” Ranga added.

“And when does the teaching begin?”

“About the same time as trigonometry and advanced biology. That’s between fifteen and fifteen and a half.”

“And after they’ve learned maithuna, after they’ve gone out into the world and got married — that is if you ever do get married.”

“Oh, we do, we do,” Radha assured him.

“Do they still practice it?”

“Not all of them, of course. But a good many do.”

“All the time?”

“Except when they want to have a baby.”

“And those who don’t want to have babies, but who might like to have a little change from maithuna — what do they do?”

“Contraceptives,” said Ranga laconically.

“And are the contraceptives available?”

“Available! They’re distributed by the government. Free, gratis and for nothing — except of course that they have to be paid for out of taxes.”

“The postman,” Radha added, “delivers a thirty-night supply at the beginning of each month.”

“And the babies don’t arrive?”

“Only those we want. Nobody has more than three, and most people stop at two.”

“With the result,” said Ranga, reverting, with the statistics, to his pedantic manner, “that our population is increasing at less than a third of one per cent per annum. Whereas Rendang’s increase is as big as Ceylon’s — almost three per cent. And China’s is two per cent, and India’s about one point seven.”

“I was in China only a month ago,” said Will. “Terrifying! And last year I spent four weeks in India. And before India in Central America, which is outbreeding even Rendang and Ceylon. Have either of you been in Rendang-Lobo?”

Ranga nodded affirmatively.

“Three days in Rendang,” he explained. “If you get into the Upper Sixth, it’s part of the advanced sociology course. They let you see for yourself what the Outside is like.”

“And what did you think of the Outside?” Will enquired.

He answered with another question. “When you were in Rendang-Lobo, did they show you the slums?”

“On the contrary, they did their best to prevent me from seeing the slums. But I gave them the slip.”

Gave them the slip, he was vividly remembering, on his way back to the hotel from that grisly cocktail party at the Rendang Foreign Office. Everybody who was anybody was there. All the local dignitaries and their wives — uniforms and medals, Dior and emeralds. All the important foreigners — diplomats galore, British and American oilmen, six members of the Japanese trade mission, a lady pharmacologist from Leningrad, two Polish engineers, a German tourist who just happened to be a cousin of Krupp von Bohlen, an enigmatic Armenian representing a very important financial consortium in Tangiers, and, beaming with triumph, the fourteen Czech technicians who had come with last month’s shipment of tanks and cannon and machine guns from Skoda. “And these are the people,” he had said to himself as he walked down the marble steps of the Foreign Office into Liberty Square, “these are the people who rule the world. Twenty-nine hundred millions of us at the mercy of a few scores of politicians, a few thousands of tycoons and generals and money-lenders. Ye are the cyanide of the earth — and the cyanide will never, never lose its savour.”

After the glare of the cocktail party, after the laughter and the luscious smells of canapés and Chanel-sprayed women, those alleys behind the brand new Palace of Justice had seemed doubly dark and noisome, those poor wretches camping out under the palm trees of Independence Avenue more totally abandoned by God and man than even the homeless, hopeless thousands he had seen sleeping like corpses in the streets of Calcutta. And now he thought of that little boy, that tiny pot-bellied skeleton, whom he had picked up, bruised and shaken by a fall from the back of the little girl, scarcely larger than himself, who was carrying him — had picked up and, led by the other child, had carried back, carried down, to the windowless cellar that, for nine of them (he had counted the dark ringwormy heads) was home.

“Keeping babies alive,” he said, “healing the sick, preventing the sewage from getting into the water supply — one starts with doing things that are obviously and intrinsically good. And how does one end? One ends by increasing the sum of human misery and jeopardizing civilization. It’s the kind of cosmic practical joke that God seems really to enjoy.”

He gave the young people one of his flayed, ferocious grins.

“God has nothing to do with it,” Ranga retorted, “and the joke isn’t cosmic, it’s strictly man-made. These things aren’t like gravity or the second law of thermo-dynamics; they don’t have to happen. They happen only if people are stupid enough to allow them to happen. Here in Pala we haven’t allowed them to happen, so the joke hasn’t been played on us. We’ve had good sanitation for the best part of a century — and still we’re not overcrowded, we’re not miserable, we’re not under a dictatorship. And the reason is very simple: we chose to behave in a sensible and realistic way.”

“How on earth were you able to choose?” Will asked.

“The right people were intelligent at the right moment,” said Ranga. “But it must be admitted — they were also very lucky. In fact Pala as a whole has been extraordinarily lucky. It’s had the luck, first of all, never to have been anyone’s colony. Rendang has a magnificent harbour. That brought them an Arab invasion in the Middle Ages. We have no harbour, so the Arabs left us alone and we’re still Buddhists or Shivaites — that is, when we’re not Tantrik agnostics.”

“Is that what you are?” Will enquired. “A Tantrik agnostic?”

“With Mahayana trimmings,” Ranga qualified. “Well, to return to Rendang. After the Arabs it got the Portuguese. We didn’t. No harbour, no Portuguese. Therefore no Catholic minority, no blasphemous nonsense about its being God’s will that people should breed themselves into subhuman misery, no organized resistance to birth control. And that isn’t our only blessing: after a hundred and twenty years of the Portuguese, Ceylon and Rendang got the Dutch. And after the Dutch came the English. We escaped both those infestations. No Dutch, no English, and therefore no planters, no coolie labour, no cash crops for export, no systematic exhaustion of our soil. Also no whisky, no Calvinism, no syphilis, no foreign administrators. We were left to go our own way and take responsibility for our own affairs.”

“You certainly were lucky.”

“And on top of that amazing good luck,” Ranga went on, “there was the amazing good management of Murugan the Reformer and Andrew MacPhail. Has Dr Robert talked to you about his great-grandfather?”

“Just a few words, that’s all.”

“Did he tell you about the founding of the Experimental Station?”

Will shook his head.

“The Experimental Station,” said Ranga, “had a lot to do with our population policy. It all began with a famine. Before he came to Pala, Dr Andrew spent a few years in Madras. The second year he was there, the monsoon failed. The crops were burnt up, the tanks and even the wells went dry. Except for the English and the rich, there was no food. People died like flies. There’s a famous passage in Dr Andrew’s memoirs about the famine. A description and then a comment. He’d had to listen to a lot of sermons when he was a boy, and there was one he kept remembering now, as he worked among the starving Indians. ‘Man cannot live by bread alone’ — that was the text, and the preacher had been so eloquent that several people were converted. ‘Man cannot live by bread alone.’ But without bread, he now saw, there is no mind, no spirit, no inner light, no Father in Heaven. There is only hunger, there is only despair and then apathy and finally death.”

“Another of the cosmic jokes,” said Will. “And this one was formulated by Jesus himself. ‘To those who have shall be given, and from those who have not shall be taken away even that which they have’ — the bare possibility of being human. It’s the cruellest of all God’s jokes, and also the commonest. I’ve seen it being played on millions of men and women, millions of small children — all over the world.”

“So you can understand why that famine made such an indelible impression on Dr Andrew’s mind. He was resolved, and so was his friend the Raja, that in Pala, at least, there should always be bread. Hence their decision to set up the Experimental Station. Rothamsted-in-the-Tropics was a great success. In a few years we had new strains of rice and maize and millet and breadfruit. We had better breeds of cattle and chickens. Better ways of cultivating and composting; and in the fifties, we built the first superphosphate factory east of Berlin. Thanks to all these things people were eating better, living longer, losing fewer children. Ten years after the founding of Rothamsted-in-the-Tropics the Raja took a census. The population had been stable, more or less, for a century. Now it had started to rise. In fifty or sixty years, Dr Andrew foresaw, Pala would be transformed into the kind of festering slum that Rendang is today. What was to be done? Dr Andrew had read his Malthus. ‘Food production increases arithmetically; population increases geometrically. Man has only two choices: he can either leave the matter to Nature, who will solve the population problem in the old familiar way, by famine, pestilence and war: or else (Malthus being a clergyman) he can keep down his numbers by moral restraint.’”

“Mor-ral R-restr-raint,” the little nurse repeated rolling her r’s in the Indonesian parody of a Scottish divine. “Mor-ral r-restr-raint! Incidentally,” she added, “Dr Andrew had just married the Raja’s sixteen-year-old niece.”

“And that,” said Ranga, “was yet another reason for revising Malthus. Famine on this side, restraint on that. Surely there must be some better, happier, humaner way between the Malthusian horns. And of course there was such a way even then, even before the age of rubber and spermicides. There were sponges, there was soap, there were condoms made of every known waterproof material from oiled silk to the blind gut of sheep. The whole armoury of Paleo-Birth Control.”

“And how did the Raja and his subjects react to Paleo-Birth Control? With horror?”

“Not at all. They were good Buddhists, and every good Buddhist knows that begetting is merely postponed assassination. Do your best to get off the Wheel of Birth and Death, and for heaven’s sake don’t go about putting superfluous victims on to the Wheel. For a good Buddhist, birth control makes metaphysical sense. And for a village community of rice growers, it makes social and economic sense. There must be enough young people to work the fields and support the aged and the little ones. But not too many of them; for then neither the old nor the workers nor their children will have enough to eat. In the old days, couples had to have six children in order to raise two or three. Then came clean water and the Experimental Station. Out of six children five now survived. The old patterns of breeding had ceased to make sense. The only objection to Paleo-Birth Control was its crudity. But fortunately there was a more aesthetic alternative. The Raja was a Tantrik initiate and had learned the yoga of love. Dr Andrew was told about maithuna and, being a true man of science, agreed to try it. He and his young wife were given the necessary instruction.”

“With what results?”

“Enthusiastic approval.”

“That’s the way everybody feels about it,” said Radha.

“Now, now, none of your sweeping generalizations! Some people feel that way, others don’t. Dr Andrew was one of the enthusiasts. The whole matter was lengthily discussed. In the end they decided that contraceptives should be like education — free, tax-supported and, though not compulsory, as nearly as possible universal. For those who felt the need for something more refined, there would be instruction in the yoga of love.”

“Do you mean to tell me that they got away with it?”

“It wasn’t really so difficult. Maithuna was orthodox. People weren’t being asked to do anything against their religion. On the contrary, they were being given a flattering opportunity to join the elect by learning something esoteric.”

“And don’t forget the most important point of all,” the little nurse chimed in. “For women — all women, and I don’t care what you say about sweeping generalizations — the yoga of love means perfection, means being transformed and taken out of themselves and completed.” There was a brief silence. “And now,” she resumed in another, brisker tone, “it’s high time we left you to your siesta.”

“Before you go,” said Will, “I’d like to write a letter. Just a brief note to my boss to say that I’m alive and in no immediate danger of being eaten by the natives.”

Radha went foraging in Dr Robert’s study and came back with paper, pencil and an envelope.

“Veni, vidi,” Will scrawled. “I was wrecked, I met the Rani and her collaborator from Rendang, who implies that he can deliver the goods in return for baksheesh to the tune (he was specific) of twenty thousand pounds. Shall I negotiate on this basis? If you cable, Proposed article OK, I shall go ahead. If No hurry for article I shall let the matter drop. Tell my mother I am safe and shall soon be writing.”

“There,” he said as he handed the envelope, sealed and addressed, to Ranga. “May I ask you to buy me a stamp and get this off in time to catch tomorrow’s plane.”

“Without fail,” the boy promised.

Watching them go, Will felt a twinge of conscience. What charming young people! And here he was, plotting with Bahu and the forces of history, to subvert their world. He comforted himself with the thought that, if he didn’t do it, somebody else would. And even if Joe Aldehyde did get his concession, they could still go on making love in the style to which they were accustomed. Or couldn’t they?

From the door the little nurse turned back for a final word. “No reading now,” she wagged her finger at him. “Go to sleep.”

“I never sleep during the day,” Will assured her with a certain perverse satisfaction.

Chapter Seven


HE COULD NEVER go to sleep during the day; but when he looked next at his watch, the time was twenty-five past four, and he was feeling wonderfully refreshed. He picked up Notes on What’s What, and resumed his interrupted reading.

“Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.”

This was as far as he had got this morning; and now here was a new section, the fifth.

“Me as I think I am and me as I am in fact — sorrow, in other words, and the ending of sorrow. One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that the person I think I am must endure is unavoidable. It is the sorrow inherent in the human condition, the price we must pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time, through a world wholly indifferent to our well-being, towards decrepitude and the certainty of death. The remaining two thirds of all sorrow is home-made and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.

Will turned the page. A sheet of notepaper fluttered on to the bed. He picked it up and glanced at it. Twenty lines of small clear writing and at the bottom of the page the initials S.M. Not a letter evidently; a poem and therefore public property. He read:

Somewhere between brute silence and last

Sunday’s

Thirteen hundred thousand sermons;

Somewhere between

Calvin on Christ (God help us!) and the lizards;

Somewhere between seeing and speaking,

somewhere

Between our soiled and greasy currency of words

And the first star, the great moths fluttering

About the ghosts of flowers,

Lies the clear place where I, no longer I,

Nevertheless remember

Love’s nightlong wisdom of the other shore;

And, listening to the wind, remember too

That other night, that first of widowhood,

Sleepless, with death beside me in the dark.

Mine, mine, all mine, mine inescapably!

But I, no longer I,

In this clear place between my thought and

silence

See all I had and lost, anguish and joys,

Glowing like gentians in the Alpine grass,

Blue, unpossessed and open.

‘Like gentians,’ Will repeated to himself, and thought of that summer holiday in Switzerland when he was twelve; thought of the meadow, high above Grindelwald, with its unfamiliar flowers, its wonderful un-English butterflies; thought of the dark blue sky and the sunshine and the huge shining mountains on the other side of the valley. And all his father had found to say was that it looked like an advertisement for Nestlé’s milk chocolate. “Not even real chocolate,” he had insisted with a grimace of disgust. “Milk chocolate.” After which there had been an ironic comment on the water colour his mother was painting — so badly (poor thing!) but with such loving and conscientious care. “The milk chocolate advertisement that Nestlé rejected.” And now it was his turn. “Instead of just mooning about with your mouth open, like the village idiot, why not do something intelligent for a change? Put in some work on your German grammar, for example.” And diving into the rucksack, he had pulled out, from among the hardboiled eggs and the sandwiches, the abhorred little brown book. What a detestable man! And yet, if Susila was right, one ought to be able to see him now, after all these years, glowing like a gentian — Will glanced again at the last line of the poem— ‘blue, unpossessed and open.’

“Well …” said a familiar voice.

He turned towards the door. “Talk of the devil,” he said. “Or rather read what the devil has written.” He held up the sheet of notepaper for her inspection.

Susila glanced at it. “Oh, that,” she said. “If only good intentions were enough to make good poetry!” She sighed and shook her head.

“I was trying to think of my father as a gentian,” he went on. “But all I get is the persistent image of the most enormous turd.”

“Even turds,” she assured him, “can be seen as gentians.”

“But only, I take it, in the place you were writing about — the clear place between thought and silence?”

Susila nodded.

“How do you get there?”

“You don’t get there. There comes to you. Or rather there is really here.”

“You’re just like little Radha,” he complained. “Parroting what the Old Raja says at the beginning of this book.”

“If we repeat it,” she said, “it’s because it happens to be true. If we didn’t repeat it, we’d be ignoring the facts.”

“Whose facts?” he asked. “Certainly not mine.”

“Not at the moment,” she agreed. “But if you were to do the kind of things that the Old Raja recommends, they might be yours.”

“Did you have parent trouble?” he asked after a little silence. “Or could you always see turds as gentians?”

“Not at that age,” she answered. “Children have to be Manichean dualists. It’s the price we must all pay for learning the rudiments of being human. Seeing turds as gentians, or rather seeing both gentians and turds as Gentians with a capital G — that’s a post-graduate accomplishment.”

“So what did you do about your parents? Just grin and bear the unbearable? Or did your father and mother happen to be bearable?”

“Bearable separately,” she answered. “Especially my father. But quite unbearable together — unbearable because they couldn’t bear one another. A bustling, cheerful, outgoing woman married to a man so fastidiously introverted that she got on his nerves all the time — even, I suspect, in bed. She never stopped communicating, and he never started. With the result that he thought she was shallow and insincere, she thought he was heartless, contemptuous and without normal human feelings.”

“I’d have expected that you people would know better than to walk into that kind of trap.”

“We do know better,” she assured him. “Boys and girls are specifically taught what to expect of people whose temperament and physique are very different from their own. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that the lessons don’t seem to have much effect. Not to mention the fact that in some cases the psychological distance between the people involved is really too great to be bridged. Anyhow, the fact remains that my father and mother never managed to make a go of it. They’d fallen in love with one another — goodness knows why. But when they came to close quarters, she found herself being constantly hurt by his inaccessibility, while her uninhibited good fellowship made him fairly cringe with embarrassment and distaste. My sympathies were always with my father. Physically and temperamentally I’m very close to him, not in the least like my mother. I remember, even as a tiny child, how I used to shrink away from her exuberance. She was like a permanent invasion of one’s privacy. She still is.”

“Do you have to see a lot of her?”

“Very little. She has her own job and her own friends. In our part of the world ‘Mother’ is strictly the name of a function. When the function has been duly fulfilled, the title lapses; the ex-child and the woman who used to be called ‘mother’ establish a new kind of relationship. If they get on well together, they continue to see a lot of one another. If they don’t, they drift apart. Nobody expects them to cling, and clinging isn’t equated with loving — isn’t regarded as anything particularly creditable.”

“So all’s well now. But what about then? What happened when you were a child, growing up between two people who couldn’t bridge the gulf that separated them? I know what that means — the fairy-story ending in reverse, ‘And so they lived unhappily ever after’.”

“And I’ve no doubt,” said Susila, “that if we hadn’t been born in Pala, we would have lived unhappily ever after. As it was, we got on, all things considered, remarkably well.”

“How did you manage to do that?”

“We didn’t; it was all managed for us. Have you read what the Old Raja says about getting rid of the two thirds of sorrow that’s home-made and gratuitous?”

Will nodded. “I was just reading it when you came in.”

“Well, in the bad old days,” she went on, “Palanese families could be just as victimizing, tyrant-producing and liar-creating as yours can be today. In fact they were so awful that Dr Andrew and the Raja of the Reform decided that something had to be done about it. Buddhist ethics and primitive village communism were skilfully made to serve the purposes of reason, and in a single generation the whole family system was radically changed.” She hesitated for a moment. “Let me explain,” she went on, “in terms of my own particular case — the case of an only child of two people who couldn’t understand one another and were always at cross purposes or actually quarrelling. In the old days, a little girl brought up in those surroundings would have emerged as either a wreck, a rebel, or a resigned hypocritical conformist. Under the new dispensation I didn’t have to undergo unnecessary suffering, I wasn’t wrecked or forced into rebellion or resignation. Why? Because from the moment I could toddle, I was free to escape.”

“To escape?” he repeated. “To escape?” It seemed too good to be true.

“Escape,” she explained, “is built into the new system. Whenever the parental Home Sweet Home becomes too unbearable, the child is allowed, is actively encouraged — and the whole weight of public opinion is behind the encouragement — to migrate to one of its other homes.”

“How many homes does a Palanese child have?”

“About twenty on the average.”

“Twenty? My God!”

“We all belong,” Susila explained, “to an MAC — a Mutual Adoption Club. Every MAC consists of anything from fifteen to twenty-five assorted couples. Newly elected brides and bridegrooms, old timers with growing children, grandparents and great-grandparents — everybody in the club adopts everyone else. Besides our own blood relations, we all have our quota of deputy mothers, deputy fathers, deputy aunts and uncles, deputy brothers and sisters, deputy babies and toddlers and teen-agers.”

Will shook his head. “Making twenty families grow where only one grew before.”

“But what grew before was your kind of family. The twenty are all our kind.” As though reading instructions from a cookery book, “‘Take one sexually inept wage-slave,’” she went on, “‘one dissatisfied female, two or (if preferred) three small television-addicts; marinate in a mixture of Freudism and dilute Christianity; then bottle up tightly in a four-room flat and stew for fifteen years in their own juice.’ Our recipe is rather different. ‘Take twenty sexually satisfied couples and their offspring; add science, intuition and humour in equal quantities; steep in Tantrik Buddhism and simmer indefinitely in an open pan in the open air over a brisk flame of affection.’”

“And what comes out of your open pan?” he asked.

“An entirely different kind of family. Not exclusive, like your families, and not predestined, not compulsory. An inclusive, unpredestined and voluntary family. Twenty pairs of fathers and mothers, eight or nine ex-fathers and ex-mothers, and forty or fifty assorted children of all ages.”

“Do people stay in the same adoption club all their lives?”

“Of course not. Grown-up children don’t adopt their own parents or their own brothers and sisters. They go out and adopt another set of elders, a different group of peers and juniors. And the members of the new club adopt them and, in due course, their children. Hybridization of micro-cultures — that’s what our sociologists call the process. It’s as beneficial, on its own level, as the hybridization of different strains of maize or chickens. Healthier relationships in more responsible groups, wider sympathies and deeper understandings. And the sympathies and understandings are for everyone in the MAC from babies to centenarians.”

“Centenarians? What’s your expectation of life?”

“A year or two more than yours,” she answered. “Ten per cent of us are over sixty-five. The old get pensions, if they can’t earn. But obviously pensions aren’t enough. They need something useful and challenging to do; they need people they can care for and be loved by in return. The MAC’s fulfill those needs.”

“It all sounds,” said Will, “suspiciously like the propaganda for one of the new Chinese Communes.”

“Nothing,” she assured him, “could be less like a Commune than an MAC. An MAC isn’t run by the government, it’s run by its members. And we’re not militaristic. We’re not interested in turning out good party members; we’re only interested in turning out good human beings. We don’t inculcate dogmas. And finally we don’t take the children away from their parents; on the contrary, we give the children additional parents and the parents additional children. That means that even in the nursery we enjoy a certain degree of freedom; and our freedom increases as we grow older and can deal with a wider range of experience and take on greater responsibilities. Whereas in China there’s no freedom at all. The children are handed over to official baby-tamers, whose business it is to turn them into obedient servants of the State. Things are a great deal better in your part of the world — better, but still quite bad enough. You escape the state-appointed baby-tamers; but your society condemns you to pass your childhood in an exclusive family, with only a single set of siblings and parents. They’re foisted on you by hereditary predestination. You can’t get rid of them, can’t take a holiday from them, can’t go to anyone else for a change of moral or psychological air. It’s freedom, if you like — but freedom in a telephone booth.”

“Locked in,” Will elaborated, “(and I’m thinking now of myself) with a sneering bully, a Christian martyr and a little girl who’d been frightened by the bully and blackmailed by the martyr’s appeal to her better feelings into a state of quivering imbecility. That was the home from which, until I was fourteen and my Aunt Mary came to live next door, I never escaped.”

“And your unfortunate parents never escaped from you.”

“That’s not quite true. My father used to escape into brandy and my mother into High Anglicanism. I had to serve out my sentence without the slightest mitigation. Fourteen years of family servitude. How I envy you! Free as a bird!”

“Not so lyrical! Free, let’s say, as a developing human being, free as a future woman — but no freer. Mutual Adoption guarantees children against injustice and the worst consequences of parental ineptitude. It doesn’t guarantee them against discipline, or against having to accept responsibilities. On the contrary, it increases the number of their responsibilities; it exposes them to a wide variety of disciplines. In your predestined and exclusive families children, as you say, serve a long prison term under a single set of parental jailers. These parental jailers may, of course, be good, wise and intelligent. In that case the little prisoners will emerge more or less unscathed. But in point of fact most of your parental jailers are not conspicuously good, wise or intelligent. They’re apt to be well-meaning but stupid, or not well-meaning and frivolous, or else neurotic, or occasionally downright malevolent, or frankly insane. So God help the young convicts committed by law and custom and religion to their tender mercies! But now consider what happens in a large, inclusive, voluntary family. No telephone booths, no predestined jailers. Here the children grow up in a world that’s a working model of society at large, a small-scale but accurate version of the environment in which they’re going to have to live when they’re grown up. ‘Holy’, ‘Healthy’, ‘whole’ — they all come from the same root and carry different overtones of the same meaning. Etymologically and in fact, our kind of family, the inclusive and voluntary kind, is the genuine holy family. Yours is the unholy family.”

“Amen,” said Will, and thought again of his own childhood, thought too of poor little Murugan in the clutches of the Rani. “What happens,” he asked after a pause, “when the children migrate to one of their other homes? How long do they stay there?”

“It all depends. When my children get fed up with me, they seldom stay away for more than a day or two. That’s because, fundamentally, they’re very happy at home. I wasn’t, and so when I walked out, I’d sometimes stay away for a whole month.”

“And did your deputy parents back you up against your real mother and father?”

“It’s not a question of doing anything against anybody. All that’s being backed up is intelligence and good feeling, and all that’s being opposed is unhappiness and its avoidable causes. If a child feels unhappy in his first home, we do our best for him in fifteen or twenty second homes. Meanwhile the father and mother get some tactful therapy from the other members of their Mutual Adoption Club. In a few weeks the parents are fit to be with their children again, and the children are fit to be with their parents. But you mustn’t think,” she added, “that it’s only when they’re in trouble that children resort to their deputy parents and grandparents. They do it all the time, whenever they feel the need for a change or some kind of new experience. And it isn’t just a social whirl. Wherever they go, as deputy children, they have their responsibilities as well as their rights — brushing the dog, for example, cleaning out the bird cages, minding the baby while the mother’s doing something else. Duties as well as privileges — but not in one of your airless little telephone booths. Duties and privileges in a big, open, unpredestined, inclusive family, where all the seven ages of man and a dozen different skills and talents are represented, and in which children have experience of all the important and significant things that human beings do and suffer — working, playing, loving, getting old, being sick, dying …” She was silent, thinking of Dugald and Dugald’s mother; then, deliberately changing her tone, “But what about you?” she went on. “I’ve been so busy talking about families that I haven’t even asked you how you’re feeling. You certainly look a lot better than when I saw you last.”

“Thanks to Dr MacPhail. And also thanks to someone who, I suspect, was definitely practising medicine without a licence. What on earth did you do to me yesterday afternoon?”

Susila smiled. “You did it to yourself,” she assured him. “I merely pressed the buttons.”

“Which buttons?”

“Memory buttons, imagination buttons.”

“And that was enough to put me into a hypnotic trance?”

“If you like to call it that.”

“What else can one call it?”

“Why call it anything? Names are such question-beggars. Why not be content with just knowing that it happened?”

“But what did happen?”

“Well, to begin with, we made some kind of contact, didn’t we?”

“We certainly did,” he agreed. “And yet I don’t believe I even so much as looked at you.”

He was looking at her now, though — looking and wondering, as he looked, who this strange little creature really was, what lay behind the smooth grave mask of the face, what the dark eyes were seeing as they returned his scrutiny, what she was thinking.

“How could you look at me?” she said. “You’d gone off on your vacation.”

“Or was I pushed off?”

“Pushed? No.” She shook her head. “Let’s say seen off, helped off.” There was a moment of silence. “Did you ever,” she resumed, “try to do a job of work with a child hanging around?”

Will thought of the small neighbour who had offered to help him paint the dining-room furniture, and laughed at the memory of his exasperation.

“Poor little darling!” Susila went on. “He means so well, he’s so anxious to help.”

“But the paint’s on the carpet, the finger prints are all over the walls …”

“So that in the end you have to get rid of him. ‘Run along, little boy! Go and play in the garden!’”

There was a silence.

“Well?” he questioned at last.

“Don’t you see?”

Will shook his head.

“What happens when you’re ill, when you’ve been hurt? Who does the repairing? Who heals the wounds and throws off the infection? DO you?”

“Who else?”

“You?” she insisted. “You? The person that feels the pain and does the worrying and thinks about sin and money and the future! Is that you capable of doing what has to be done?”

“Oh, I see what you’re driving at.”

“At last!” she mocked.

“Send me to play in the garden so that the grown-ups can do their work in peace. But who are the grown-ups?”

“Don’t ask me,” she answered. “That’s a question for a neurotheologian.”

“Meaning what?” he asked.

“Meaning precisely what it says. Somebody who thinks about people in terms, simultaneously, of the Clear Light of the Void and the vegetative nervous system. The grown-ups are a mixture of Mind and physiology.”

“And the children?”

“The children are the little fellows who think they know better than the grown-ups.”

“And so must be told to run along and play.”

“Exactly.”

“Is your sort of treatment standard procedure in Pala?” he asked.

“Standard procedure,” she assured him. “In your part of the world doctors get rid of the children by poisoning them with barbiturates. We do it by talking to them about cathedrals and jackdaws.” Her voice had modulated into a chant. “About white clouds floating in the sky, white swans floating on the dark, smooth, irresistible river of life …”

“Now, now,” he protested. “None of that!”

A smile lit up the grave dark face, and she began to laugh. Will looked at her with astonishment. Here, suddenly, was a different person, another Susila MacPhail, gay, mischievous, ironical.

“I know your tricks,” he added, joining in the laughter.

“Tricks?” Still laughing, she shook her head. “I was just explaining how I did it.”

“I know exactly how you did it. And I also know that it works. What’s more, I give you leave to do it again — whenever it’s necessary.”

“If you like,” she said more seriously, “I’ll show you how to press your own buttons. We teach it in all our elementary schools. The three R’s plus rudimentary S.D.”

“What’s that?”

“Self-Determination. Alias Destiny Control.”

“Destiny Control?” He raised his eyebrows.

“No, no,” she assured him, “we’re not quite such fools as you seem to think. We know perfectly well that only a part of our destiny is controllable.”

“And you control it by pressing your own buttons?”

“Pressing our own buttons and then visualizing what we’d like to happen.”

“But does it happen?”

“In many cases it does.”

“Simple!” There was a note of irony in his voice.

“Wonderfully simple,” she agreed. “And yet, so far as I know, we’re the only people who systematically teach DC to their children. you just tell them what they’re supposed to do and leave it at that. Behave well, you say. But how? You never tell them. All you do is give them pep talks and punishments. Pure idiocy.”

“Pure unadulterated idiocy,” he agreed, remembering Mr Crabbe, his housemaster, on the subject of masturbation, remembering the canings and the weekly sermons and the Commination Service on Ash Wednesday. “Cursed is he that lieth with his neighbour’s wife. Amen.”

“If your children take the idiocy seriously, they grow up to be miserable sinners. And if they don’t take it seriously, they grow up to be miserable cynics. And if they react from miserable cynicism, they’re apt to go Papist or Marxist. No wonder you have to have all those thousands of jails and churches and Communist cells.”

“Whereas in Pala, I gather, you have very few.”

Susila shook her head.

“No Alcatrazes here,” she said. “No Billy Grahams or Mao Tse-tungs or Madonnas of Fatima. No hells on earth and no Christian pie in the sky, no Communist pie in the twenty-second century. Just men and women and their children trying to make the best of the here and now, instead of living somewhere else, as you people mostly do, in some other time, some other home-made imaginary universe. And it really isn’t your fault. You’re almost compelled to live that way because the present is so frustrating. And it’s frustrating because you’ve never been taught how to bridge the gap between theory and practice, between your New Year’s resolutions and your actual behaviour.”

“‘For the good that I would,’” he quoted, “‘I do not; and the evil that I would not, that I do.’”

“Who said that?”

“The man who invented Christianity — St Paul.”

“You see,” she said, “the highest possible ideals, and no methods for realizing them.”

“Except the supernatural method of having them realized by Somebody Else.”

Throwing back his head, Will Farnaby burst into song.

“There is a fountain fill’d with blood,

Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,

And sinners plunged beneath that flood

Are cleansed of all their stains.”

Susila had covered her ears. “It’s really obscene,” she said.

“My housemaster’s favourite hymn,” Will explained. “We used to sing it about once a week, all the time I was at school.”

“Thank goodness,” she said, “there was never any blood in Buddhism! Gautama lived till eighty and died from being too courteous to refuse bad food. Violent death always seems to call for more violent death. ‘If you won’t believe that you’re redeemed by my redeemer’s blood, I’ll drown you in your own.’ Last year I took a course at Shivapuram in the history of Christianity.” Susila shuddered at the memory. “What a horror! And all because that poor ignorant man didn’t know how to implement his good intentions.”

“And most of us,” said Will, “are still in the same old boat. The evil that we would not, that we do. And how!”

Reacting unforgivably to the unforgivable, Will Farnaby laughed derisively. Laughed because he had seen the goodness of Molly and then, with open eyes, had chosen the pink alcove and, with it, Molly’s unhappiness, Molly’s death, his own gnawing sense of guilt and then the pain, out of all proportion to its low and essentially farcical cause, the agonizing pain that he had felt when Babs in due course did what any fool must have known she inevitably would do — turned him out of her infernal gin-illumined paradise, and took another lover.

“What’s the matter?” Susila asked.

“Nothing. Why do you ask?”

“Because you’re not very good at hiding your feelings. You were thinking of something that made you unhappy.”

“You’ve got sharp eyes,” he said, and looked away.

There was a long silence. Should he tell her? Tell her about Babs, about poor Molly, about himself, tell her all the dismal and senseless things he had never, even when he was drunk, told even his oldest friends? Old friends knew too much about one, too much about the other parties involved, too much about the grotesque and complicated game which (as an English gentleman who was also a Bohemian, also a would-be poet, also — in mere despair, because he knew he could never be a good poet — a hard boiled journalist, and the private agent, very well paid, of a rich man whom he despised) he was always so elaborately playing. No, old friends would never do. But from this dark little outsider, this stranger to whom he already owed so much and with whom, though he knew nothing about her, he was already so intimate, there would come no foregone conclusions, no ex parte judgments — would come perhaps, he found himself hoping (he who had trained himself never to hope!) some unexpected enlightenment, some positive and practical help. (And, God knew, he needed help — though God also knew, only too well, that he would never say so, never sink so low as to ask for it.)

Like a muezzin in his minaret, one of the talking birds began to shout from the tall palm beyond the mango trees, “Here and now, boys. Here and now, boys.”

Will decided to take the plunge — but to take it indirectly, by talking first, not about his problems, but hers. Without looking at Susila (for that, he felt, would be indecent), he began to speak.

“Dr MacPhail told me something about … about what happened to your husband.”

The words turned a sword in her heart; but that was to be expected, that was right and inevitable. “It’ll be four months next Wednesday,” she said. And then, meditatively, “Two people,” she went on after a little silence, “two separate individuals — but they add up to something like a new creation. And then suddenly half of this new creature is amputated; but the other half doesn’t die — can’t die, mustn’t die.”

“Mustn’t die?”

“For so many reasons — the children, oneself, the whole nature of things. But needless to say,” she added with a little smile that only accentuated the sadness in her eyes, “needless to say the reasons don’t lessen the shock of the amputation or make the aftermath any more bearable. The only thing that helps is what we were talking about just now — Destiny Control. And even that …” She shook her head. “DC can give you a completely painless childbirth. But a completely painless bereavement — no. And of course that’s as it should be. It wouldn’t be right if you could take away all the pain of a bereavement; you’d be less than human.”

“Less than human,” he repeated. “Less than human …” Three short words; but how completely they summed him up! “The really terrible thing,” he said aloud, “is when you know it’s your fault that the other person died.”

“Were you married?” she asked.

“For twelve years. Until last spring …”

“And now she’s dead?”

“She died in an accident.”

“In an accident? Then how was it your fault?”

“The accident happened because … well, because the evil that I didn’t want to do, I did. And that day it came to a head. The hurt of it confused and distracted her, and I let her drive away in the car — let her drive away into a head-on collision.”

“Did you love her?”

He hesitated for a moment, then slowly shook his head.

“Was there somebody else — somebody you cared for more?”

“Somebody I couldn’t have cared for less.” He made a grimace of sardonic self-mockery.

“And that was the evil you didn’t want to do, but did?”

“Did and went on doing until I’d killed the woman I ought to have loved, but didn’t. Went on doing it even after I’d killed her, even though I hated myself for doing it — yes, and really hated the person who made me do it.”

“Made you do it, I suppose, by having the right kind of body?”

Will nodded, and there was a silence.

“Do you know what it’s like,” he asked at length, “to feel that nothing is quite real — including yourself?”

Susila nodded. “It sometimes happens when one’s just on the point of discovering that everything, including oneself, is much more real than one ever imagined. It’s like shifting gears: you have to go into neutral before you change into high.”

“Or low,” said Will. “In my case, the shift wasn’t up, it was down. No, not even down; it was into reverse. The first time it happened I was waiting for a bus to take me home from Fleet Street. Thousands upon thousands of people, all on the move, and each of them unique, each of them the centre of the universe. Then the sun came out from behind a cloud. Everything was extraordinarily bright and clear; and suddenly, with an almost audible click, they were all maggots.”

“Maggots?”

“You know, those little pale worms with black heads that one sees on rotten meat. Nothing had changed, of course; people’s faces were the same, their clothes were the same. And yet they were all maggots. Not even real maggots — just the ghosts of maggots, just the illusion of maggots. And I was the illusion of a spectator of maggots. I lived in that maggot-world for months. Lived in it, worked in it, went out to lunch and dinner in it — all without the least interest in what I was doing. Without the least enjoyment or relish, completely desireless and, as I discovered when I tried to make love to a young woman I’d had occasional fun with in the past, completely impotent.”

“What did you expect?”

“Precisely that.”

“Then why on earth …?”

Will gave her one of his flayed smiles and shrugged his shoulders. “As a matter of scientific interest. I was an entomologist investigating the sex-life of the phantom maggot.”

“After which, I suppose, everything seemed even more unreal.”

“Even more,” he agreed, “if that was possible.”

“But what brought on the maggots in the first place?”

“Well, to begin with,” he answered, “I was my parents’ son. By Bully Boozer out of Christian Martyr. And on top of being my parents’ son,” he went on after a little pause, “I was my Aunt Mary’s nephew.”

“What did your Aunt Mary have to do with it?”

“She was the only person I ever loved, and when I was sixteen she got cancer. Off with the right breast; then, a year later, off with the left. And after that nine months of X-rays and radiation sickness. Then it got into the liver, and that was the end. I was there from start to finish. For a boy in his teens it was a liberal education — but liberal.”

“In what?” Susila asked.

“In Pure and Applied Pointlessness. And a few weeks after the close of my private course in the subject came the grand opening of the public course. World War II. Followed by the non-stop refresher course of Cold War I. And all this time I’d been wanting to be a poet and finding out that I simply don’t have what it takes. And then, after the War, I had to go into journalism to make money. What I wanted was to go hungry, if necessary, but try to write something decent — good prose at least, seeing that it couldn’t be good poetry. But I’d reckoned without those darling parents of mine. By the time he died, in January forty-six, my father had got rid of all the little money our family had inherited and by the time she was blessedly a widow, my mother was crippled with arthritis and had to be supported. So there I was in Fleet Street, supporting her with an ease and a success that were completely humiliating.”

“Why humiliating?”

“Wouldn’t you be humiliated if you found yourself making money by turning out the cheapest, flashiest kind of literary forgery? I was a success because I was so irremediably second-rate.”

“And the net result of it all was maggots?”

He nodded. “Not even real maggots: phantom maggots. And here’s where Molly came into the picture. I met her at a high-class maggot-party in Bloomsbury. We were introduced, we made some politely inane conversation about non-objective painting. Not wanting to see any more maggots, I didn’t look at her; but she must have been looking at me. Molly had very pale grey-blue eyes,” he added parenthetically, “eyes that saw everything — she was incredibly observant, but observed without malice or censoriousness, seeing the evil, if it was there, but never condemning it, just feeling enormously sorry for the person who was under compulsion to think those thoughts and do that odious kind of thing. Well, as I say, she must have been looking at me while we talked; for suddenly she asked me why I was so sad. I’d had a couple of drinks and there was nothing impertinent or offensive about the way she asked the question; so I told her about the maggots. ‘And you’re one of them,’ I finished up, and for the first time I looked at her. ‘A blue-eyed maggot with a face like one of the holy women in attendance at a Flemish crucifixion’.”

“Was she flattered?”

“I think so. She’d stopped being a Catholic; but she still had a certain weakness for crucifixions and holy women. Anyhow, next morning she called me at breakfast time. Would I like to drive down into the country with her? It was Sunday and, by a miracle, fine. I accepted. We spent an hour in a hazel copse, picking primroses and looking at the little white windflowers. One doesn’t pick the windflowers,” he explained, “because in an hour they’re withered. I did a lot of looking in that hazel copse — looking at flowers with the naked eye and then looking into them through the magnifying glass that Molly had brought with her. I don’t know why, but it was extraordinarily therapeutic — just looking into the hearts of primroses and anemones. For the rest of the day I saw no maggots. But Fleet Street was still there, waiting for me, and by lunch time on Monday the whole place was crawling with them as thickly as ever. Millions of maggots. But now I knew what to do about them. That evening I went to Molly’s studio.”

“Was she a painter?”

“Not a real painter, and she knew it. Knew it and didn’t resent it, just made the best of having no talent. She didn’t paint for art’s sake; she painted because she liked looking at things, liked the process of trying meticulously to reproduce what she saw. That evening she gave me a canvas and a palette, and told me to do likewise.”

“And did it work?”

“It worked so well that when a couple of months later, I cut open a rotten apple, the worm at its centre wasn’t a maggot — not subjectively, I mean. Objectively, yes; it was all that a maggot should be, and that’s how I portrayed it, how we both portrayed it — for we always painted the same things at the same time.”

“What about the other maggots, the phantom maggots outside the apple?”

“Well, I still had relapses, especially in Fleet Street and at cocktail parties; but the maggots were definitely fewer, definitely less haunting. And meanwhile something new was happening in the studio. I was falling in love — falling in love because love is catching and Molly was so obviously in love with me — why, God only knows.”

“I can see several possible reasons why. She might have loved you because …” Susila eyed him appraisingly and smiled, “Well, because you’re quite an attractive kind of queer fish.”

He laughed. “Thank you for a handsome compliment.”

“On the other hand,” Susila went on, “(and this isn’t quite so complimentary), she might have loved you because you made her feel so damned sorry for you.”

“That’s the truth, I’m afraid. Molly was a born Sister of Mercy.”

“And a Sister of Mercy, unfortunately, isn’t the same as a Wife of Love.”

“Which I duly discovered,” he said.

“After your marriage, I suppose.”

Will hesitated for a moment. “Actually,” he said, “it was before. Not because, on her side, there had been any urgency of desire, but only because she was so eager to do anything to please me. Only because, on principle, she didn’t believe in conventions and was all for freely loving, and more surprisingly” (he remembered the outrageous things she would so casually and placidly give utterance to even in his mother’s presence) “all for freely talking about that freedom.”

“You knew it beforehand,” Susila summed up, “and yet you still married her.”

Will nodded his head without speaking.

“Because you were a gentleman, I take it, and a gentleman keeps his word.”

“Partly for that rather old-fashioned reason, but also because I was in love with her.”

“Were you in love with her?”

“Yes. No, I don’t know. But at the time I did know. At least I thought I knew. I was really convinced that I was really in love with her. And I knew, I still know, why I was convinced. I was grateful to her for having exorcised those maggots. And besides the gratitude there was respect. There was admiration. She was so much better and honester than I was. But unfortunately, you’re right: a Sister of Mercy isn’t the same as a Wife of Love. But I was ready to take Molly on her own terms, not on mine. I was ready to believe that her terms were better than mine.”

“How soon,” Susila asked, after a long silence, “did you start having affairs on the side?”

Will smiled his flayed smile. “Three months to the day after our wedding. The first time was with one of the secretaries at the office. Goodness, what a bore! After that there was a young painter, a curly-headed little Jewish girl that Molly had helped with money while she was studying at the Slade. I used to go to her Studio twice a week, from five to seven. It was almost three years before Molly found out about it.”

“And, I gather, she was upset?”

“Much more than I’d ever thought she’d be.”

“So what did you do about it?”

Will shook his head. “This is where it begins to get complicated,” he said. “I had no intention of giving up my cocktail hours with Rachel; but I hated myself for making Molly so unhappy. At the same time I hated her for being unhappy. I resented her suffering and the love that had made her suffer; I felt that they were unfair, a kind of blackmail to force me to give up my innocent fun with Rachel. By loving me so much and being so miserable about what I was doing — what she really forced me to do — she was putting pressure on me, she was trying to restrict my freedom. But meanwhile she was genuinely unhappy; and though I hated her for blackmailing me with her unhappiness, I was filled with pity for her. Pity,” he repeated, “not compassion. Compassion is suffering-with, and what I wanted at all costs was to spare myself the pain her suffering caused me, and avoid the painful sacrifices by which I could put an end to her suffering. Pity was my answer, being sorry for her from the outside, if you see what I mean — sorry for her as a spectator, an aesthete, a connoisseur in excruciations. And this aesthetic pity of mine was so intense, every time her unhappiness came to a head, that I could almost mistake it for love. Almost, but never quite. For when I expressed my pity in physical tenderness (which I did because that was the only way of putting a temporary stop to her unhappiness and to the pain her unhappiness was inflicting on me) that tenderness was always frustrated before it could come to its natural consummation. Frustrated because, by temperament, she was only a Sister of Mercy, not a wife. And yet, on every level but the sensual, she loved me with a total commitment — a commitment that called for an answering commitment on my part. But I wouldn’t commit myself, maybe I genuinely couldn’t. So instead of being grateful for her self-giving, I resented it. It made claims on me, claims that I refused to acknowledge. So there we were, at the end of every crisis, back at the beginning of the old drama — the drama of a love incapable of sensuality self-committed to a sensuality incapable of love and evoking strangely mixed responses of guilt and exasperation, of pity and resentment, sometimes of real hatred (but always with an undertone of remorse), the whole accompanied by, contrapuntal to, a succession of furtive evenings with my little curly-headed painter.”

“I hope at least they were enjoyable,” said Susila.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Only moderately. Rachel could never forget that she was an intellectual. She had a way of asking what one thought of Piero di Cosimo at the most inopportune moments. The real enjoyment and of course the real agony — I never experienced them until Babs appeared on the scene.”

“When was that?”

“Just over a year ago. In Africa.”

“Africa?”

“I’d been sent there by Joe Aldehyde.”

“That man who owns newspapers?”

“And all the rest. He was married to Molly’s Aunt Eileen. An exemplary family man, I may add. That’s why he’s so serenely convinced of his own righteousness, even when he’s engaged in the most nefarious financial operations.”

“And you’re working for him?”

Will nodded. “That was his wedding present to Molly — a job for me on the Aldehyde papers at almost twice the salary I’d been getting from my previous employers. Princely! But then he was very fond of Molly.”

“How did he react to Babs?”

“He never knew about her — never knew that there was any reason for Molly’s accident.”

“So he goes on employing you for your dead wife’s sake?”

Will shrugged his shoulders. “The excuse,” he said, “is that I have my mother to support.”

“And of course you wouldn’t enjoy being poor.”

“I certainly wouldn’t.”

There was a silence.

“Well,” said Susila at last, “let’s get back to Africa.”

“I’d been sent there to do a series on Negro Nationalism. Not to mention a little private hanky-panky in the business line for Uncle Joe. It was on the plane, flying home from Nairobi. I found myself sitting next to her.”

“Next to the young woman you couldn’t have liked less?”

“Couldn’t have liked less,” he repeated, “or disapproved of more. But if you’re an addict you’ve got to have your dope — the dope that you know in advance is going to destroy you.”

“It’s a funny thing,” she said reflectively, “but in Pala we have hardly any addicts.”

“Not even sex-addicts?”

“The sex-addicts are also person-addicts. In other words, they’re lovers.”

“But even lovers sometimes hate the people they love.”

“Naturally. Because I always have the same name and the same nose and eyes, it doesn’t follow that I’m always the same woman. Recognizing that fact and reacting to it sensibly — that’s part of the Art of Loving.”

As succinctly as he could, Will told her the rest of the story. It was the same story, now that Babs had come on the scene, as it had been before — the same but much more so. Babs had been Rachel raised, so to speak, to a higher power — Rachel squared, Rachel to the nth. And the unhappiness that, because of Babs, he had inflicted upon Molly was proportionately greater than anything she had had to suffer on account of Rachel. Proportionately greater, too, had been his own exasperation, his own resentful sense of being blackmailed by her love and suffering, his own remorse and pity, his own determination, in spite of the remorse and the pity, to go on getting what he wanted, what he hated himself for wanting, what he resolutely refused to do without. And meanwhile Babs had become more demanding, was claiming ever more and more of his time — time not only in the strawberry-pink alcove, but also outside, in restaurants, and nightclubs, at her horrible friends’ cocktail parties, on week-ends in the country. “Just you and me, darling,” she would say, “all alone together.” All alone together in an isolation that gave him the opportunity to plumb the almost unfathomable depths of her mindlessness and vulgarity. But through all his boredom and distaste, all his moral and intellectual repugnance, the craving persisted. After one of those dreadful week-ends, he was as hopelessly a Babs-addict as he had been before. And on her side, on her own Sister-of-Mercy level, Molly had remained, in spite of everything, no less hopelessly a Will Farnaby-addict. Hopelessly so far as he was concerned — for his one wish was that she should love him less and allow him to go to hell in peace. But, so far as Molly herself was concerned, the addiction was always and irrepressibly hopeful. She never ceased to expect the transfiguring miracle that would change him into the kind, unselfish, loving Will Farnaby whom (in the teeth of all the evidence, all the repeated disappointments) she stubbornly insisted on regarding as his true self. It was only in the course of that last fatal interview, only when (stifling his pity and giving free rein to his resentment of her blackmailing unhappiness) he had announced his intention of leaving her and going to live with Babs — it was only then that hope had finally given place to hopelessness. “Do you mean it, Will — do you really mean it?” “I really mean it.” It was in hopelessness that she had walked out to the car, in utter hopelessness had driven away into the rain — into her death. At the funeral, when the coffin was lowered into the grave, he had promised himself that he would never see Babs again. Never, never, never again. That evening, while he was sitting at his desk, trying to write an article on “What’s Wrong With Youth”, trying not to remember the hospital, the open grave and his own responsibility for everything that had happened, he was startled by the shrill buzzing of the doorbell. A belated message of condolence, no doubt … He had opened, and there, instead of the telegram, was Babs — dramatically without make-up and all in black.

“My poor, poor Will!” They had sat down on the sofa in the living room, and she had stroked his hair and both of them had cried. An hour later, they were naked and in bed. Within three months, as any fool could have foreseen, Babs had begun to tire of him; within four, an absolutely divine man from Kenya had turned up at a cocktail party. One thing had led to another and when, three days later, Babs came home, it was to prepare the alcove for a new tenant and give notice to the old.

“Do you really mean it, Babs?”

She really meant it.

There was a rustling in the bushes outside the window and an instant later, startlingly loud and slightly out of tune, “Here and now, boys,” shouted a talking bird.

“Shut up!” Will shouted back.

“Here and now, boys,” the mynah repeated. “Here and now, boys. Here and …”

“Shut up!”

There was silence.

“I had to shut him up,” Will explained, “because of course he’s absolutely right. Here, boys; now, boys. Then and there are absolutely irrelevant. Or aren’t they? What about your husband’s death, for example? Is that irrelevant?”

Susila looked at him for a moment in silence, then slowly nodded her head. “In the context of what I have to do now — yes, completely irrelevant! That’s something I had to learn.”

“Does one learn how to forget?”

“It isn’t a matter of forgetting. What one has to learn is how to remember and yet be free of the past. How to be there with the dead and yet still be here, on the spot, with the living.” She gave him a sad little smile and added, “It isn’t easy.”

“It isn’t easy,” Will repeated. And suddenly all his defences were down, all his pride had left him. “Will you help me?” he asked.

“It’s a bargain,” she said, and held out her hand.

A sound of footsteps made them turn their heads. Dr MacPhail had entered the room.

Chapter Eight


“GOOD EVENING, MY dear. Good evening, Mr Farnaby.”

The tone was cheerful — not, Susila was quick to notice, with any kind of synthetic cheerfulness, but naturally, genuinely. And yet, before coming here, he must have stopped at the hospital, must have seen Lakshmi as Susila herself had seen her only an hour or two since, more dreadfully emaciated than ever, more skull-like and discoloured. Half a long life-time of love and loyalty and mutual forgiveness — and in another day or two it would be all over; he would be alone. But sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof — sufficient unto the place and the person. “One has no right,” her father-in-law had said to her one day as they were leaving the hospital together, “one has no right to inflict one’s sadness on other people. And no right, of course, to pretend that one isn’t sad. One just has to accept one’s grief and one’s absurd attempts to be a stoic. Accept, accept …” His voice broke. Looking up at him, she saw that his face was wet with tears. Five minutes later they were sitting on a bench, at the edge of the lotus pool, in the shadow of the huge stone Buddha. With a little plop, sharp and yet liquidly voluptuous, an unseen frog dived from its round leafy platform into the water. Thrusting up from the mud, the thick green stems with their turgid buds broke through into the air, and here and there the blue or rosy symbols of enlightenment had opened their petals to the sun and the probing visitations of flies and tiny beetles and the wild bees from the jungle. Darting, pausing in mid-flight, darting again, a score of glittering blue and green dragon flies were hawking for midges.

“Tathata,” Dr Robert had whispered. “Suchness.”

For a long time they sat there in silence. Then, suddenly, he had touched her shoulder.

“Look!”

She lifted her eyes to where he was pointing. Two small parrots had perched on the Buddha’s right hand and were going through the ritual of courtship.

“Did you stop again at the lotus pool?” Susila asked aloud.

Dr Robert gave her a little smile and nodded his head.

“How was Shivapuram?” Will enquired.

“Pleasant enough in itself,” the doctor answered. “Its only defect is that it’s so close to the outside world. Up here one can ignore all those organized insanities, and get on with one’s work. Down there, with all the antennae and listening posts and channels of communication that a government has to have, the outside world is perpetually breathing down one’s neck. One hears it, feels it, smells it — yes, smells it.” He wrinkled up his face into a grimace of comic disgust.

“Has anything more than usually disastrous happened since I’ve been here?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary at your end of the world. I wish I could say the same about our end.”

“What’s the trouble?”

“The trouble is our next door neighbour, Colonel Dipa. To begin with, he’s made another deal with the Czechs.”

“More armaments?”

“Sixty million dollars’ worth. It was on the radio this morning.”

“But what on earth for?”

“The usual reasons. Glory and power. The pleasures of vanity and the pleasures of bullying. Terrorism and military parades at home; conquests and Te Deums abroad. And that brings me to the second item of unpleasant news. Last night the Colonel delivered another of his celebrated Greater Rendang speeches.”

“Greater Rendang? What’s that?”

“You may well ask,” said Dr Robert. “Greater Rendang is the territory controlled by the Sultans of Rendang-Lobo between 1447 and 1483. It included Rendang, the Nicobar Islands, about thirty per cent of Sumatra and the whole of Pala. Today, it’s Colonel Dipa’s Irredenta.”

“Seriously?”

“With a perfectly straight face. No, I’m wrong. With a purple, distorted face and at the top of a voice that he has trained, after long practice, to sound exactly like Hitler’s. Greater Rendang or death!”

“But the great powers would never allow it.”

“Maybe they wouldn’t like to see him in Sumatra. But Pala — that’s another matter.” He shook his head. “Pala, unfortunately, is in nobody’s good books. We don’t want the Communists; but neither do we want the Capitalists. Least of all do we want the wholesale industrialization that both parties are so anxious to impose on us — for different reasons, of course. The West wants it because our labour costs are low and investors’ dividends will be correspondingly high. And the East wants it because industrialization will create a proletariat, open fresh fields for Communist agitation and may lead in the long run to the setting up of yet another People’s Democracy. We say no to both of you, so we’re unpopular everywhere. Regardless of their ideologies, all the Great Powers may prefer a Rendang-controlled Pala with oil fields to an independent Pala without. If Dipa attacks us, they’ll say it’s most deplorable; but they won’t lift a finger. And when he takes us over and calls the oil-men in, they’ll be delighted.”

“What can you do about Colonel Dipa?” Will asked.

“Except for passive resistance, nothing. We have no army and no powerful friends. The Colonel has both. The most we can do, if he starts making trouble, is to appeal to the United Nations. Meanwhile we shall remonstrate with the Colonel about this latest Greater Rendang effusion. Remonstrate through our minister in Rendang-Lobo, and remonstrate with the great man in person when he pays his state visit to Pala ten days from now.”

“A state visit?”

“For the young Raja’s coming-of-age celebrations. He was asked a long time ago, but he never let us know for certain whether he was coming or not. Today it was finally settled. We’ll have a summit meeting as well as a birthday party. But let’s talk about something more rewarding. How did you get on today, Mr Farnaby?”

“Not merely well — gloriously. I had the honour of a visit from your reigning monarch.”

“Murugan?”

“Why didn’t you tell me he was your reigning monarch?”

Dr Robert laughed. “You might have asked for an interview.”

“Well, I didn’t. Nor from the Queen Mother.”

“Did the Rani come too?”

“At the command of her Little Voice. And, sure enough, the Little Voice sent her to the right address. My boss, Joe Aldehyde is one of her dearest friends.”

“Did she tell you that she’s trying to bring your boss here, to exploit our oil?”

“She did indeed.”

“We turned down his latest offer less than a month ago. Did you know that?”

Will was relieved to be able to answer quite truthfully that he didn’t. Neither Joe Aldehyde nor the Rani had told him of this most recent rebuff. “My job,” he went on, a little less truthfully, “is in the wood-pulp department, not in petroleum.” There was a silence. “What’s my status here?” he asked at last. “Undesirable alien?”

“Well, fortunately you’re not an armament salesman.”

“Nor a missionary,” said Susila.

“Nor an oil-man — though on that count you might be guilty by association.”

“Nor even, so far as we know, a uranium prospector.”

“Those,” Dr Robert concluded, “are the Alpha Plus undesirables. As a journalist you rank as a Beta. Not the kind of person we should ever dream of inviting to Pala. But also not the kind who, having managed to get here, requires to be summarily deported.”

“I’d like to stay here for as long as it’s legally possible,” said Will.

“May I ask why?”

Will hesitated. As Joe Aldehyde’s secret agent and a reporter with a hopeless passion for literature, he had to stay long enough to negotiate with Bahu and earn his year of freedom. But there were other, more avowable reasons. “If you don’t object to personal remarks,” he said, “I’ll tell you.”

“Fire away,” said Dr Robert.

“The fact is that, the more I see of you people, the better I like you. I want to find out more about you. And in the process,” he added, glancing at Susila, “I might find out some interesting things about myself. How long shall I be allowed to stay?”

“Normally we’d turn you out as soon as you’re fit to travel. But if you’re seriously interested in Pala, above all if you’re seriously interested in yourself — well, we might stretch a point. Or shouldn’t we stretch that point? What do you say, Susila? After all, he does work for Lord Aldehyde.”

Will was on the point of protesting again that his job was in the wood-pulp department; but the words stuck in his throat and he said nothing. The seconds passed. Dr Robert repeated his question.

“Yes,” Susila said at last, “we’d be taking a certain risk. But personally … personally I’d be ready to take it. Am I right?” she turned to Will.

“Well, I think you can trust me. At least I hope you can.” He laughed, trying to make a joke of it; but to his annoyance and embarrassment, he felt himself blushing. Blushing for what, he demanded resentfully of his conscience? If anybody was being double-crossed, it was Standard of California. And once Dipa had moved in, what difference would it make who got the concession? Which would you rather be eaten by — a wolf or a tiger? So far as the lamb is concerned, it hardly seems to matter. Joe would be no worse than his competitors. All the same, he wished he hadn’t been in such a hurry to send off that letter. And why, why couldn’t that dreadful woman have left him in peace?

Through the sheet he felt a hand on his undamaged knee. Dr Robert was smiling down at him.

“You can have a month here,” he said. “I’ll take full responsibility for you. And we’ll do our best to show you everything.”

“I’m very grateful to you.”

“When in doubt,” said Dr Robert, “always act on the assumption that people are more honourable than you have any solid reason for supposing they are. That was the advice the Old Raja gave me when I was a young man.” Turning to Susila, “Let’s see,” he said, “how old were you when the Old Raja died?”

“Just eight.”

“So you remember him pretty well.”

Susila laughed. “Could anyone ever forget the way he used to talk about himself. ‘Quote “I” (unquote) like sugar in my tea.’ What a darling man.”

“And what a great one!”

Dr MacPhail got up and crossing to the bookcase that stood between the door and the wardrobe, pulled out of its lowest shelf a thick red album, much the worse for tropical weather and fish insects. “There’s a picture of him somewhere,” he said as he turned over the pages. “Here we are.”

Will found himself looking at the faded snapshot of a little old Hindu in spectacles and a loin cloth, engaged in emptying the contents of an extremely ornate silver sauceboat over a small squat pillar.

“What is he doing?” he asked.

“Anointing a phallic symbol with melted butter,” the doctor answered. “It was a habit my poor father could never break him of.”

“Did your father disapprove of phalluses?”

“No, no,” said Dr MacPhail. “My father was all for them. It was the symbol that he disapproved of.”

“Why the symbol?”

“Because he thought that people ought to take their religion warm from the cow, if you see what I mean. Not skimmed or pasteurized or homogenized. Above all not canned in any kind of theological or liturgical container.”

“And the Raja had a weakness for containers?”

“Not for containers in general. Just this one particular tin can. He’d always felt a special attachment to the family lingam. It was made of black basalt, and was at least eight hundred years old.”

“I see,” said Will Farnaby.

“Buttering the family lingam — it was an act of piety, it expressed a beautiful sentiment about a sublime idea. But even the sublimest of ideas is totally different from the cosmic mystery it’s supposed to stand for. And the beautiful sentiments connected with the sublime idea — what do they have in common with the direct experience of the mystery? Nothing whatsoever. Needless to say, the Old Raja knew all this perfectly well. Better than my father. He’d drunk the milk as it came from the cow, he’d actually been the milk. But the buttering of lingams was a devotional practice he just couldn’t bear to give up. And, I don’t have to tell you, he should never have been asked to give it up. But where symbols were concerned, my father was a puritan. He’d amended Goethe — Alles vergängliche ist NICHT ein Gleinchnis. His ideal was pure experimental science at one end of the spectrum, and pure experimental mysticism at the other. Direct experience on every level and then clear, rational statements about those experiences. Lingams and crosses, butter and holy water, sutras, gospels, images, chanting — he’d have liked to abolish them all.”

“Where would the arts have come in?” Will questioned.

“They wouldn’t have come in at all,” Dr MacPhail answered. “And that was my father’s blindest spot — poetry. He said he liked it; but in fact he didn’t. Poetry for its own sake, poetry as an autonomous universe, out there, in the space between direct experience and the symbols of science — that was something he simply couldn’t understand. Let’s find his picture.”

Dr MacPhail turned back the pages of the album and pointed to a craggy profile with enormous eyebrows.

“What a Scotsman!” Will commented.

“And yet his mother and his grandmother were Palanese.”

“One doesn’t see a trace of them.”

“Whereas his grandfather who hailed from Perth, might almost have passed for a Rajput.”

Will peered into the ancient photograph of a young man with an oval face and black side whiskers, leaning his elbow on a marble pedestal on which, bottom upwards, stood his inordinately tall top-hat.

“Your great-grandfather?”

“The first MacPhail of Pala. Dr Andrew. Born 1822, in the Royal Burgh, where his father, James MacPhail, owned a rope mill. Which was properly symbolical; for James was a devout Calvinist, and being convinced that he himself was one of the elect, derived a deep and glowing satisfaction from the thought of all those millions of his fellow men going through life with the noose of predestination about their necks, and Old Nobodaddy Aloft counting the minutes to spring the trap.”

Will laughed.

“Yes,” Dr Robert agreed, “it does seem pretty comic. But it didn’t then. Then it was serious — much more serious than the H-bomb is today. It was known for certain that ninety-nine point nine per cent of the human race were condemned to everlasting brimstone. Why? Either because they’d never heard of Jesus; or, if they had, because they couldn’t believe sufficiently strongly that Jesus had delivered them from the brimstone. And the proof that they didn’t believe sufficiently strongly was the empirical, observable fact that their souls were not at peace. Perfect faith is defined as something that produces perfect peace of mind. But perfect peace of mind is something that practically nobody possesses. Therefore practically nobody possesses perfect faith. Therefore practically everybody is predestined to eternal punishment. Quod erat demonstrandum.”

“One wonders,” said Susila, “why they didn’t all go mad.”

“Fortunately most of them believed only with the tops of their heads. Up here.” Dr MacPhail tapped his bald spot. “With the tops of their heads they were convinced it was the Truth with the largest possible T. But their glands and their guts knew better — knew that it was all sheer bosh. For most of them, Truth was true only on Sundays, and then only in a strictly Pickwickian sense. James MacPhail knew all this and was determined that his children should not be mere Sabbath-day believers. They were to believe every word of the sacred nonsense even on Mondays, even on half-holiday afternoons; and they were to believe with their whole being, not merely up there, in the attic. Perfect faith and the perfect peace that goes with it were to be forced into them. How? By giving them hell now and threatening them with hell hereafter. And if, in their devilish perversity, they refused to have perfect faith, and be at peace, give them more hell and threaten hotter fires. And meanwhile tell them that good works are as filthy rags in the sight of God; but punish them ferociously for every misdemeanour. Tell them that by nature they’re totally depraved, then beat them for being what they inescapably are.”

Will Farnaby turned back to the album.

“Do you have a picture of this delightful ancestor of yours?”

“We had an oil painting,” said Dr MacPhail. “But the dampness was too much for the canvas, and then the fish insects got into it. He was a splendid specimen. Like a High Renaissance picture of Jeremiah. You know — majestic, with an inspired eye and the kind of prophetic beard that covers such a multitude of physiognomic sins. The only relic of him that remains is a pencil drawing of his house.”

He turned back another page and there it was.

“Solid granite,” he went on, “with bars on all the windows. And, inside that cosy little family Bastille, what systematic inhumanity! Systematic inhumanity in the name, needless to say, of Christ and for righteousness’ sake. Dr Andrew left an unfinished autobiography, so we know all about it.”

“Didn’t the children get any help from their mother?”

Dr MacPhail shook his head.

“Janet MacPhail was a Cameron and as good a Calvinist as James himself. Maybe an even better Calvinist than he was. Being a woman, she had further to go, she had more instinctive decencies to overcome. But she did overcome them — heroically. Far from restraining her husband, she urged him on, she backed him up. There were homilies before breakfast and at the mid-day dinner; there was the catechism on Sundays and learning the epistles by heart; and every evening, when the day’s delinquencies had been added up and assessed, methodical whipping, with a whalebone riding switch on the bare buttocks, for all six children, girls as well as boys, in order of seniority.”

“It always makes me feel slightly sick,” said Susila. “Pure sadism.”

“No, not pure,” said Dr MacPhail. “Applied sadism. Sadism with an ulterior motive, sadism in the service of an ideal, as the expression of a religious conviction. And that’s a subject,” he added, turning to Will, “that somebody ought to make a historical study of — the relations between theology and corporal punishment in childhood. I have a theory that, wherever little boys and girls are systematically flagellated, the victims grow up to think of God as ‘Wholly Other’ — isn’t that the fashionable argot in your part of the world? Wherever, on the contrary, children are brought up without being subjected to physical violence, God is immanent. A people’s theology reflects the state of its children’s bottoms. Look at the Hebrews — enthusiastic child-beaters. And so were all good Christians in the Ages of Faith. Hence Jehovah, hence Original Sin and the infinitely offended Father of Roman and Protestant orthodoxy. Whereas among Buddhists and Hindus education has always been non-violent. No laceration of little buttocks — therefore Tat tvam asi, thou art That, mind from Mind is not divided. And look at the Quakers. They were heretical enough to believe in the Inner Light, and what happened? They gave up beating their children and were the first Christian denomination to protest against the institution of slavery.”

“But child-beating,” Will objected, “has quite gone out of fashion nowadays. And yet it’s precisely at this moment that it has become modish to hold forth about the Wholly Other.”

Dr MacPhail waved the objection away. “It’s just a case of reaction following action. By the second half of the nineteenth century free-thinking humanitarianism had become so strong that even good Christians were influenced by it and stopped beating their children. There were no weals on the younger generation’s posterior; consequently it ceased to think of God as the Wholly Other and proceeded to invent New Thought, Unity, Christian Science — all the semi-Oriental heresies in which God is the Wholly Identical. The movement was well under way in William James’ day, and it’s been gathering momentum ever since. But thesis always invites antithesis and in due course the heresies begat Neo-Orthodoxy. Down with the Wholly Identical and back to the Wholly Other! Back to Augustine, back to Martin Luther — back, in a word, to the two most relentlessly flagellated bottoms in the whole history of Christian thought. Read the Confessions, read the Table Talk. Augustine was beaten by his schoolmaster and laughed at by his parents when he complained. Luther was systematically flogged not only by his teachers and his father, but even by his loving mother. The world has been paying for the scars on his buttocks ever since. Prussianism and the Third Reich — without Luther and his flagellation-theology these monstrosities could never have come into existence. Or take the flagellation-theology of Augustine, as carried to its logical conclusions by Calvin and swallowed whole by pious folk like James MacPhail and Janet Cameron. Major premise: God is Wholly Other. Minor premise: man is totally depraved. Conclusion: Do to your children’s bottoms what was done to yours, what your Heavenly Father has been doing to the collective bottom of humanity ever since the Fall: whip, whip, whip!”

There was a silence. Will Farnaby looked again at the drawing of the granite person in the rope-walk, and thought of all the grotesque and ugly phantasies promoted to the rank of supernatural facts, all the obscene cruelties inspired by those phantasies, all the pain inflicted and the miseries endured because of them. And when it wasn’t Augustine with his ‘benignant asperity’, it was Robespierre, it was Stalin; when it wasn’t Luther exhorting the princes to kill the peasants, it was a genial Mao reducing them to slavery.

“Don’t you sometimes despair?” he asked.

Dr MacPhail shook his head. “We don’t despair,” he said, “because we know that things don’t necessarily have to be as bad as in fact they’ve always been.”

“We know that they can be a great deal better,” Susila added. “Know it because they already are a great deal better, here and now, on this absurd little island.”

“But whether we shall be able to persuade you people to follow our example, or whether we shall even be able to preserve our tiny oasis of humanity in the midst of your world-wide wilderness of monkeys — that, alas,” said Dr MacPhail, “is another question. One’s justified in feeling extremely pessimistic about the current situation. But despair, radical despair — no, I can’t see any justification for that.”

“Not even when you read history?”

“Not even when I read history.”

“I envy you. How do you manage to do it?”

“By remembering what history is — the record of what human beings have been impelled to do by their ignorance and the enormous bumptiousness that makes them canonize their ignorance as a political or religious dogma. He turned again to the album. “Let’s get back to that house in the Royal Burgh, back to James and Janet, and the six children whom Calvin’s God, in his inscrutable malevolence, had condemned to their tender mercies. ‘The rod and reproof bring wisdom; but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.’ Indoctrination reinforced by psychological stress and physical torture — the perfect Pavlovian set-up. But, unfortunately for organized religion and political dictatorship, human beings are much less reliable as laboratory animals than dogs. On Tom, Mary and Jean the conditioning worked as it was meant to work. Tom became a minister, and Mary married a minister and duly died in childbirth. Jean stayed at home, nursed her mother through a long grim cancer and for the next twenty years was slowly sacrificed to the ageing and finally senile and drivelling patriarch. So far, so good. But with Annie, the fourth child, the pattern changed. Annie was pretty. At eighteen she was proposed to by a captain of dragoons. But the captain was an Anglican and his views on total depravity and God’s good pleasure were criminally incorrect. The marriage was forbidden. It looked as though Annie were predestined to share the fate of Jean. She stuck it out for ten years; then, at twenty-eight, she got herself seduced by the second mate of an East Indiaman. There were seven weeks of almost frantic happiness — the first she had ever known. Her face was transfigured by a kind of supernatural beauty, her body glowed with life. Then the Indiaman sailed for a two-year voyage for Madras and Macao. Four months later, pregnant, friendless and despairing, Annie threw herself into the Tay. Meanwhile Alexander, the next in line, had run away from school and joined a company of actors. In the house by the rope-walk nobody, thenceforward, was ever allowed to refer to his existence. And finally there was Andrew, the youngest, the Benjamin. What a model child! He was obedient, he loved his lessons, he learned the Epistles by heart faster and more accurately than any of the other children had done. Then, just in time to restore her faith in human wickedness, his mother caught him one evening playing with his genitals. He was whipped till the blood came; was caught again a few weeks later and again whipped, sentenced to solitary confinement on bread and water, told that he had almost certainly committed the sin against the Holy Ghost and that it was undoubtedly on account of that sin that his mother had been afflicted with cancer. For the rest of his childhood Andrew was haunted by recurrent nightmares of hell. Haunted, too, by recurrent temptations and, when he succumbed to them — which of course he did, but always in the privacy of the latrine at the bottom of the garden — by yet more terrifying visions of the punishments in store for him.”

“And to think,” Will Farnaby commented, “to think that people complain about modern life having no meaning! Look at what life was like when it did have a meaning. A tale told by an idiot, or a tale told by a Calvinist? Give me the idiot every time.”

“Agreed,” said Dr MacPhail. “But mightn’t there be a third possibility? Mightn’t there be a tale told by somebody who is neither an imbecile nor a paranoiac?”

“Somebody, for a change, completely sane,” said Susila.

“Yes, for a change,” Dr MacPhail repeated. “For a blessed change. And luckily, even under the old dispensation, there were always plenty of people whom even the most diabolic upbringing couldn’t ruin. By all the rules of the Freudian and Pavlovian games, my great-grandfather ought to have grown up to be a mental cripple. In fact, he grew up to be a mental athlete. Which only shows,” Dr Robert added parenthetically, “how hopelessly inadequate your two highly touted systems of psychology really are. Freudism and Behaviourism — poles apart but in complete agreement when it comes to the facts of the built-in, congenital differences between individuals. How do your pet psychologists deal with these facts? Very simply. They ignore them. They blandly pretend that the facts aren’t there. Hence their complete inability to cope with the human situation as it really exists, or even to explain it theoretically. Look at what happened, for example, in this particular case. Andrew’s brothers and sisters were either tamed by their conditioning, or destroyed. Andrew was neither destroyed nor tamed. Why? Because the roulette wheel of heredity had stopped turning at a lucky number. He had a more resilient constitution than the others, a different anatomy, different biochemistry and different temperament. His parents did their worst, as they had done with all the rest of their unfortunate brood. Andrew came through with flying colours, almost without a scar.”

“In spite of the sin against the Holy Ghost?”

“That, happily, was something he got rid of during his first year of medical studies at Edinburgh. He was only a boy — just over seventeen. (They started young in those days.) In the dissecting room the boy found himself listening to the extravagant obscenities and blasphemies with which his fellow students kept up their spirits among the slowly rotting cadavers. Listening at first with horror, with a sickening fear that God would surely take vengeance. But nothing happened. The blasphemers flourished, the loud-mouthed fornicators escaped with nothing worse than a dose, every now and then, of the clap. Fear gave place in Andrew’s mind to a wonderful sense of relief and deliverance. Greatly daring, he began to risk a few ribald jokes of his own. His first utterance of a four-letter word — what a liberation, what a genuinely religious experience! And meanwhile, in his spare time, he read Tom Jones, he read Hume’s Essay on Miracles, he read the infidel Gibbon. Putting the French he had learned at school to good account, he read La Mettrie, he read Dr Cabanis. Man is a machine, the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile. How simple it all was, how luminously obvious! With all the fervour of a convert at a revival meeting, he decided for atheism. In the circumstances it was only to be expected. You can’t stomach St Augustine any more, you can’t go on repeating the Athanasian rigmarole. So you pull the plug and send them down the drain. What bliss! But not for very long. Something, you discover, is missing. The experimental baby was flushed out with the theological dirt and soapsuds. But nature abhors a vacuum. Bliss gives place to a chronic discomfort, and now you’re afflicted, generation after generation, by a succession of Wesleys, Puseys, Moodies and Billies — Sunday and Graham — all working like beavers to pump the theology back out of the cesspool. They hope, of course, to recover the baby. But they never succeed. All that a revivalist can do is to siphon up a little of the dirty water. Which, in due course, has to be thrown out again. And so on, indefinitely. It’s really too boring and, as Dr Andrew came at last to realize, wholly unnecessary. Meanwhile here he was, in the first flush of his new-found freedom. Excited, exultant — but quietly excited, exultant behind that appearance of grave and courteous detachment which he habitually presented to the world.”

“What about his father?” Will asked. “Did they have a battle?”

“No battle. Andrew didn’t like battles. He was the sort of man who always goes his own way, but doesn’t advertise the fact, doesn’t argue with people who prefer another road. The old man was never given the opportunity of putting on his Jeremiah act. Andrew kept his mouth shut about Hume and La Mettrie, and went through the traditional motions. But when his training was finished, he just didn’t come home. Instead, he went to London and signed up, as surgeon and naturalist on HMS Melampus, bound for the South Seas with orders to chart, survey, collect specimens and protect Protestant missionaries and British interests. The cruise of the Melampus lasted for a full three years. They called at Tahiti, they spent two months on Samoa and a month in the Marquesas group. After Perth, the islands seemed like Eden — but an Eden innocent unfortunately not only of Calvinism and capitalism and industrial slums, but also of Shakespeare and Mozart, also of scientific knowledge and logical thinking. It was paradise, but it wouldn’t do, it wouldn’t do. They sailed on. They visited Fiji and the Carolines and the Solomons. They charted the northern coast of New Guinea and, in Borneo, a party went ashore, trapped a pregnant orang-utan and climbed to the top of Mount Kinabalu. Then followed a week at Pannoy, a fortnight in the Mergui Archipelago. After which they headed West to the Andamans and from the Andamans to the mainland of India. While ashore, my great-grandfather was thrown from his horse and broke his right leg. The captain of the Melampus found another surgeon and sailed for home. Two months later, as good as new, Andrew was practising medicine at Madras. Doctors were scarce in those days and sickness fearfully common. The young man began to prosper. But life among the merchants and officials of the Presidency was oppressively boring. It was an exile, but an exile without any of the compensations of exile, an exile without adventure or strangeness, a banishment merely to the provinces, to the tropical equivalent of Swansea or Huddersfield. But still he resisted the temptation to book a passage on the next home-bound ship. If he stuck it out for five years, he would have enough money to buy a good practice in Edinburgh — no, in London, in the West End. The future beckoned, rosy and golden. There would be a wife, preferably with auburn hair and a modest competence. There would be four or five children — happy, unwhipped and atheistic. And his practice would grow, his patients would be drawn from circles ever more exalted. Wealth, reputation, dignity, even a knighthood. Sir Andrew MacPhail stepping out of his brougham in Belgrave Square. The great Sir Andrew, physician to the Queen. Summoned to St Petersburg to operate on the Grand Duke, to the Tuileries, to the Vatican, to the Sublime Porte. Delightful phantasies! But the facts, as it turned out, were to be far more interesting. One fine morning a brown-skinned stranger called at the surgery. In halting English he gave an account of himself. He was from Pala and had been commanded by His Highness, the Raja, to seek out and bring back with him a skilful surgeon from the West. The rewards would be princely. Princely, he insisted. There and then Dr Andrew accepted the invitation. Partly, of course, for the money; but mostly because he was bored, because he needed a change, needed a taste of adventure. A trip to the Forbidden Island — the lure was irresistible.”

“And remember,” Susila interjected, “in those days Pala was much more forbidden than it is now.”

“So you can imagine how eagerly young Dr Andrew jumped at the opportunity now offered by the Raja’s ambassador. Ten days later his ship dropped anchor off the north coast of the forbidden island. With his medicine chest, his bag of instruments and a small tin trunk containing his clothes and a few indispensable books, he was rowed in an outrigger canoe through the pounding surf, carried in a palanquin through the streets of Shivapuram and set down in the inner courtyard of the royal palace. His royal patient was eagerly awaiting him. Without being given time to shave or change his clothes, Dr Andrew was ushered into the presence — the pitiable presence of a small brown man in his early forties, terribly emaciated under his rich brocades, his face so swollen and distorted as to be barely human, his voice reduced to a hoarse whisper. Dr Andrew examined him. From the maxillary antrum, where it had its roots, a tumour had spread in all directions. It had filled the nose, it had pushed up into the socket of the right eye, it had half-blocked the throat. Breathing had become difficult, swallowing acutely painful and sleep an impossibility — for whenever he dropped off, the patient would choke and wake up frantically struggling for air. Without radical surgery, it was obvious, the Raja would be dead within a couple of months. With radical surgery, much sooner. Those were the good old days, remember — the good old days of septic operations without benefit of chloroform. Even in the most favourable circumstances surgery was fatal to one patient out of four. Where conditions were less propitious, the odds declined — fifty-fifty, thirty to seventy, zero to a hundred. In the present case the prognosis could hardly have been worse. The patient was already weak and the operation would be long, difficult and excruciatingly painful. There was a good chance that he would die on the operating table and a virtual certainty that, if he survived, it would only be to die a few days later of blood poisoning. But if he should die, Dr Andrew now reflected, what would be the fate of the alien surgeon who had killed a king? And, during the operation, who would hold the royal patient down while he writhed under the knife? Which of his servants or courtiers would have the strength of mind to disobey, when the master screamed in agony or positively commanded them to let him go?

Perhaps the wisest thing would be to say, here and now, that the case was hopeless, that he could do nothing, and ask to be sent back to Madras forthwith. Then he looked again at the sick man. Through the grotesque mask of his poor deformed face the Raja was looking at him intently — looking with the eyes of a condemned criminal begging the judge for mercy. Touched by the appeal, Dr Andrew gave him a smile of encouragement and all at once, as he patted the thin hand, he had an idea. It was absurd, crack-brained, thoroughly discreditable; but all the same, all the same …

Five years before, he suddenly remembered, while he was still at Edinburgh, there had been an article in The Lancet, an article denouncing the notorious Professor Elliotson for his advocacy of animal magnetism. Elliotson had had the effrontery to talk of painless operations performed on patients in the mesmeric trance

The man was either a gullible fool or an unscrupulous knave. The so-called evidence for such nonsense was manifestly worthless. It was all sheer humbug, quackery, downright fraud — and so on for six columns of righteous indignation. At the time — for he was still full of La Mettrie and Hume and Cabanis — Dr Andrew had read the article with a glow of orthodox approval. After which he had forgotten about the very existence of animal magnetism. Now, at the Raja’s bedside, it all came back to him — the mad Professor, the magnetic passes, the amputations without pain, the low death-rate and rapid recoveries. Perhaps, after all, there might be something in it. He was deep in these thoughts, when, breaking a long silence, the sick man spoke to him. From a young sailor who had deserted his ship at Rendang-Lobo and somehow made his way across the strait, the Raja had learned to speak English with remarkable fluency, but also, in faithful imitation of his teacher, with a strong cockney accent. That cockney accent,” Dr MacPhail repeated with a little laugh. “It turns up again and again in my great-grandfather’s memoirs. There was something, to him, inexpressibly improper about a king who spoke like Sam Weller. And in this case the impropriety was more than merely social. Besides being a king, the Raja was a man of intellect and the most exquisite refinement; a man, not only of deep religious convictions (any crude oaf can have deep religious convictions), but also of deep religious experience and spiritual insight. That such a man should express himself in cockney was something that an Early Victorian Scotsman who had read The Pickwick Papers could never get over. Nor, in spite of all my great-grandfather’s tactful coaching, could the Raja ever get over his impure diphthongs and dropped aitches. But all that was in the future. At their first tragic meeting, that shocking, lower-class accent seemed strangely touching. Laying the palms of his hands together in a gesture of supplication, the sick man whispered, “‘Elp me, Dr MacPhile, ‘elp me.”

The appeal was decisive. Without any further hesitation, Dr Andrew took the Raja’s thin hands between his own and began to speak in the most confident tone about a wonderful new treatment recently discovered in Europe and employed as yet by only a handful of the most eminent physicians. Then, turning to the attendants who had been hovering all this time in the background, he ordered them out of the room. They did not understand the words; but his tone and accompanying gestures were unmistakably clear. They bowed and withdrew. Dr Andrew took off his coat, rolled up his shirt sleeves and started to make those famous magnetic passes, about which he had read with so much sceptical amusement in The Lancet. From the crown of the head, over the face and down the trunk to the epigastrium, again and again until the patient falls into a trance— ‘or until’ (he remembered the derisive comments of the anonymous writer of the article) ‘until the presiding charlatan shall choose to say that his dupe is now under the magnetic influence.’ Quackery, humbug and fraud. But all the same, all the same … He worked away in silence. Twenty passes, fifty passes. The sick man sighed and closed his eyes. Sixty, eighty, a hundred, a hundred and twenty. The heat was stifling, Dr Andrew’s shirt was drenched with sweat, and his arms ached. Grimly he repeated the same absurd gesture. A hundred and fifty, a hundred and seventy-five, two hundred. It was all fraud and humbug; but all the same he was determined to make this poor devil go to sleep, even if it took him the whole day to do it. “You are going to sleep,” he said aloud as he made the two hundred and eleventh pass. “You are going to sleep.” The sick man seemed to sink more deeply into his pillows, and suddenly Dr Andrew caught the sound of a rattling wheeze. “This time,” he added quickly, “you are not going to choke. There’s plenty of room for the air to pass, and you’re not going to choke.” The Raja’s breathing grew quiet. Dr Andrew made a few more passes, then decided that it would be safe to take a rest. He mopped his face, then rose, stretched his arms and took a couple of turns up and down the room. Sitting down again by the bed, he took one of the Raja’s stick-like wrists and felt for the pulse. An hour before it had been running at almost a hundred; now the rate had fallen to seventy. He raised the arm; the hand hung limp like a dead man’s. He let go, and the arm dropped by its own weight and lay, inert and unmoving, where it had fallen. “Your Highness,” he said, and again, more loudly, “Your Highness.” There was no answer. It was all quackery, humbug and fraud, but all the same it worked, it obviously worked.”

A large, brightly coloured mantis fluttered down on to the rail at the foot of the bed, folded its pink and white wings, raised its small flat head and stretched out its incredibly muscular front legs in the attitude of prayer. Dr MacPhail pulled out a magnifying glass and bent forward to examine it.

“Gongylus gongyloides,” he pronounced. “It dresses itself up to look like a flower. When unwary flies and moths come sailing in to sip the nectar, it sips them. And if it’s a female, she eats her lovers.” He put the glass away and leaned back in his chair. “What one likes most about the universe,” he said to Will Farnaby, “is its wild improbability. Gongylus gongyloides, Homo sapiens, my great-grandfather’s introduction to Pala and hypnosis — what could be more unlikely?”

“Nothing,” said Will. “Except perhaps my introduction to Pala and hypnosis, Pala via a shipwreck and a precipice; hypnosis by way of a soliloquy about an English cathedral.”

Susila laughed. “Fortunately I didn’t have to make all those passes over you. In this climate! I really admire Dr Andrew. It sometimes takes three hours to anaesthetize a person with the passes.”

“But in the end he succeeded?”

“Triumphantly.”

“And did he actually perform the operation?”

“Yes, he actually performed the operation,” said Dr MacPhail. “But not immediately. There had to be a long preparation. Dr Andrew began by telling his patient that henceforward he would be able to swallow without pain. Then, for the next three weeks, he fed him up. And between meals he put him into trance and kept him asleep until it was time for another feeding. It’s wonderful what your body will do for you if you only give it a chance. The Raja gained twelve pounds and felt like a new man. A new man full of new hope and confidence. He knew he was going to come through his ordeal. And so, incidentally, did Dr Andrew. In the process of fortifying the Raja’s faith, he had fortified his own. It was not a blind faith. The operation, he felt quite certain, was going to be successful. But this unshakable confidence did not prevent him from doing everything that might contribute to its success. Very early in the proceedings he started to work on the trance. The trance, he kept telling his patient, was becoming deeper every day, and on the day of the operation it would be much deeper than it had ever been before. It would also last longer. ‘You’ll sleep,’ he assured the Raja, ‘for four full hours after the operation’s over; and when you awake, you won’t feel the slightest pain.’ Dr Andrew made these affirmations with a mixture of total scepticism and complete confidence. Reason and past experience assured him that all this was impossible. But in the present context past experience had proved to be irrelevant. The impossible had already happened, several times. There was no reason why it shouldn’t happen again. The important thing was to say that it would happen — so he said it, again and again. All this was good; but better still was Dr Andrew’s invention of the rehearsal.”

“Rehearsal of what?”

“Of the surgery. They ran through the procedure half a dozen times. The last rehearsal was on the morning of the operation. At six, Dr Andrew came to the Raja’s room and, after a little cheerful talk, began to make the passes. In a few minutes the patient was in deep trance. Stage by stage, Dr Andrew described what he was going to do. Touching the cheekbone near the Raja’s right eye, he said, “I begin by stretching the skin, And now, with this scalpel,” (and he drew the tip of a pencil across the cheek) “I make an incision. You feel no pain, of course — not even the slightest discomfort. And now the underlying tissues are being cut and you still feel nothing at all. You just lie there, comfortably asleep, while I dissect the cheek back to the nose. Every now and then I stop to tie a blood vessel; then I go on again. And when that part of the work is done, I’m ready to start on the tumour. It has its roots there in the antrum and it has grown upwards, under the cheekbone, into the eye socket, and downwards into the gullet. And as I cut it loose, you lie there as before, feeling nothing, perfectly comfortable, completely relaxed. And now I lift your head.” Suiting his action to the words, he lifted the Raja’s head and bent it forward on the limp neck. “I lift it and bend it so that you can get rid of the blood that’s run down into your mouth and throat. Some of the blood has got into your windpipe, and you cough a little to get rid of it; but it doesn’t wake you.” The Raja coughed once or twice, then, when Dr Andrew released his hold, dropped back on to the pillows, still fast asleep. “And you don’t choke even when I work on the lower end of the tumour in your gullet.” Dr Andrew opened the Raja’s mouth and thrust two fingers down his throat. “It’s just a question of pulling it loose, that’s all. Nothing in that to make you choke. And if you have to cough up the blood, you can do it in your sleep. Yes, in your sleep, in this deep, deep sleep.”

“That was the end of the rehearsal. Ten minutes later, after making some more passes and telling his patient to sleep still more deeply, Dr Andrew began the operation. He stretched the skin, he made the incision, he dissected the cheek, he cut the tumour away from its roots in the antrum. The Raja lay there perfectly relaxed, his pulse firm and steady at seventy-five, feeling no more pain than he had felt during the make-believe of the rehearsal. Dr Andrew worked on the throat; there was no choking. The blood flowed into the windpipe; the Raja coughed but did not awake. Four hours after the operation was over, he was still sleeping; then, punctual to the minute, he opened his eyes, smiled at Dr Andrew between his bandages and asked, in his sing-song cockney, when the operation was to start. After a feeding and a sponging, he was given some more passes and told to sleep for four more hours and to get well quickly. Dr Andrew kept it up for a full week. Sixteen hours of trance each day, eight of waking. The Raja suffered almost no pain and, in spite of the thoroughly septic conditions under which the operation had been performed and the dressings renewed, the wounds healed without suppuration. Remembering the horrors he had witnessed in the Edinburgh Infirmary, the yet more frightful horrors of the surgical wards at Madras, Dr Andrew could hardly believe his eyes. And now he was given another opportunity to prove to himself what animal magnetism could do. The Raja’s eldest daughter was in the ninth month of her first pregnancy. Impressed by what he had done for her husband, the Rani sent for Dr Andrew. He found her sitting with a frail frightened girl of sixteen, who knew just enough broken cockney to be able to tell him she was going to die — she and her baby too. Three black birds had confirmed it by flying on three successive days across her path. Dr Andrew did not try to argue with her. Instead, he asked her to lie down, then started to make the passes. Twenty minutes later the girl was in a deep trance. In his country, Dr Andrew now assured her, black birds were lucky — a presage of birth and joy. She would bear her child easily and without pain. Yes, with no more pain than her father had felt during his operation. No pain at all, he promised, no pain whatsoever.

“Three days later, and after three or four more hours of intensive suggestion, it all came true. When the Raja woke up for his evening meal, he found his wife sitting by his bed. ‘We have a grandson,’ she said, ‘and our daughter is well. Dr Andrew has said that tomorrow you may be carried to her room, to give them both your blessing.’ At the end of a month the Raja dissolved the Council of Regency and resumed his royal powers. Resumed them, in gratitude to the man who had saved his life and (the Rani was convinced of it) his daughter’s life as well, with Dr Andrew as his chief adviser.”

“So he didn’t go back to Madras?”

“Not to Madras. Not even to London. He stayed here in Pala.”

“Trying to change the Raja’s accent?”

“And trying, rather more successfully, to change the Raja’s kingdom.”

“Into what?”

“That was a question he couldn’t have answered. In those early days he had no plan — only a set of likes and dislikes. There were things about Pala that he liked, and plenty of others that he didn’t like at all. Things about Europe that he detested and things he passionately approved of. Things he had seen on his travels that seemed to make good sense, and things that filled him with disgust. People, he was beginning to understand, are at once the beneficiaries and the victims of their culture. It brings them to flower; but it also nips them in the bud or plants a canker at the heart of the blossom. Might it not be possible, on this forbidden island, to avoid the cankers, minimize the nippings and make the individual blooms more beautiful? That was the question to which, implicitly at first, then with a growing awareness of what they were really up to, Dr Andrew and the Raja were trying to find an answer.”

“And did they find an answer?”

“Looking back,” said Dr MacPhail, “one’s amazed by what those two men accomplished. The Scottish doctor and the Palanese king, the Calvinist-turned-atheist and the pious Mahayana Buddhist — what a strangely assorted pair! But a pair, very soon, of firm friends; a pair, moreover, of complementary temperaments and talents, with complementary philosophies and complementary stocks of knowledge, each man supplying the other’s deficiencies, each stimulating and fortifying the other’s native capacities. The Raja’s was an acute and subtle mind; but he knew nothing of the world beyond the confines of his island, nothing of physical science, nothing of European technology, European art, European ways of thinking. No less intelligent, Dr Andrew knew nothing, of course, about Indian painting and poetry and philosophy. He also knew nothing, as he gradually discovered, about the science of the human mind and the art of living. In the months that followed the operation each became the other’s pupil and the other’s teacher. And of course that was only a beginning. They were not merely private citizens concerned with their private improvement. The Raja had a million subjects and Dr Andrew was virtually his Prime Minister. Private improvement was to be the preliminary to public improvement. If the king and the doctor were now teaching one another to make the best of both worlds — the Oriental and the European, the ancient and the modern — it was in order to help the whole nation to do the same. To make the best of both worlds — what am I saying? To make the best of all the worlds — the worlds already realized within the various cultures and, beyond them, the worlds of still unrealized potentialities. It was an enormous ambition, an ambition totally impossible of fulfilment; but at least it had the merit of spurring them on, of making them rush in where angels feared to tread — with results that sometimes proved, to everybody’s astonishment, that they had not been quite such fools as they looked. They never succeeded, of course, in making the best of all the worlds; but by dint of boldly trying, they made the best of many more worlds than any merely prudent or sensible person would have dreamed of being able to reconcile and combine.”

“‘If the fool would persist in his folly,’” Will quoted from The Proverbs of Hell, “‘he would become wise.’”

“Precisely,” Dr Robert agreed. “And the most extravagant folly of all is the folly described by Blake, the folly that the Raja and Dr Andrew were now contemplating — the enormous folly of trying to make a marriage between hell and heaven. But if you persist in that enormous folly, what an enormous reward! Provided, of course, that you persist intelligently. Stupid fools get nowhere; it’s only the knowledgeable and clever ones whose folly can make them wise or produce good results. Fortunately these two fools were clever. Clever enough, for example to embark on their folly in a modest and appealing way. They began with pain relievers. The Palanese were Buddhists. They knew how misery is related to mind. You cling, you crave, you assert yourself — and you live in a home-made hell. You become detached — and you live in peace. ‘I show you sorrow,’ the Buddha had said, ‘and I show you the ending of sorrow.’ Well, here was Dr Andrew with a special kind of mental detachment which would put an end at least to one kind of sorrow, namely physical pain. With the Raja himself or, for the woman, the Rani and her daughter acting as interpreters, Dr Andrew gave lessons in his new-found art to groups of midwives and physicians, of teachers, mothers, invalids. Painless childbirth — and forthwith all the women of Pala were enthusiastically on the side of the innovators. Painless operations for stone and cataract and haemorrhoids — and they had won the approval of all the old and the ailing. At one stroke more than half the adult population became their allies, prejudiced in their favour, friendly in advance, or at least open-minded, towards the next reform.”

“Where did they go from pain?” Will asked.

“To agriculture and language. They got a man out from England to establish Rothamsted-in-the-Tropics, and they set to work to give the Palanese a second language. Pala was to remain a forbidden island; for Dr Andrew wholeheartedly agreed with the Raja that missionaries, planters and traders were far too dangerous to be tolerated. But while the foreign subversives must not be allowed to come in, the natives must somehow be helped to get out — if not physically, at least with their minds. But their language and their archaic version of the Brahmi alphabet were a prison without windows. There could be no escape for them, no glimpse of the outside world until they had learned English and could read the Latin script. Among the courtiers, the Raja’s linguistic accomplishments had already set a fashion. Ladies and gentlemen larded their conversation with scraps of cockney, and some of them had even sent to Ceylon for English-speaking tutors. What had been a mode was now transformed into a policy. English schools were set up and a staff of Bengali printers, with their presses and their founts of Caslon and Bodoni were imported from Calcutta. The first English book to be published at Shivapuram was a selection from The Arabian Nights, the second, a translation of The Diamond Sutra, hitherto available only in Sanskrit and in manuscript. For those who wished to read about Sinbad and Marouf, and for those who were interested in the Wisdom of the Other Shore, there were now two cogent reasons for learning English. That was the beginning of the long educational process that turned us at last into a bi-lingual people. We speak Palanese when we’re cooking, when we’re telling funny stories, when we’re talking about love or making it. (Incidentally, we have the richest erotic and sentimental vocabulary in South-East Asia.) But when it comes to business, or science, or speculative philosophy, we generally speak English. And most of us prefer to write in English. Every writer needs a literature as his frame of reference; a set of models to conform to or depart from. Pala had good painting and sculpture, splendid architecture, wonderful dancing, subtle and expressive music — but no real literature, no national poets or dramatists or story tellers. Just bards reciting Buddhist and Hindu myths; just a lot of monks preaching sermons and splitting metaphysical hairs. Adopting English as our stepmother tongue, we gave ourselves a literature with one of the longest pasts and certainly the widest of presents. We gave ourselves a background, a spiritual yardstick, a repertory of styles and techniques, an inexhaustible source of inspiration. In a word, we gave ourselves the possibility of being creative in a field where we had never been creative before. Thanks to the Raja and my great-grandfather, there’s an Anglo-Palanese literature — of which, I may add, Susila here is a contemporary light.”

“On the dim side,” she protested.

Dr MacPhail shut his eyes, and, smiling to himself, began to recite:

“Thus-Gone to Thus-Gone, I with a Buddha’s hand

Offer the unplucked flower, the frog’s soliloquy

Among the lotus leaves, the milk-smeared mouth

At my full breast and love and, like the cloudless

Sky that makes possible mountains and setting

moon.

This emptiness that is the womb of love,

This poetry of silence.”

He opened his eyes again. “And not only this poetry of silence,’ he said. “This science, this philosophy, this theology of silence. And now it’s high time you went to sleep.” He rose and moved towards the door. “I’ll go and get you a glass of fruit juice.”

Chapter Nine


PATRIOTISM IS NOT enough. But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.’

“Attention!” shouted a far-away bird.

Will looked at his watch. Five to twelve. He closed his Notes on What’s What and picking up the bamboo alpenstock which had once belonged to Dugald MacPhail, he set out to keep his appointment with Vijaya and Dr Robert. By the short cut the main building of the Experimental Station was less than a quarter of a mile from Dr Robert’s bungalow. But the day was oppressively hot, and there were two flights of steps to be negotiated. For a convalescent with his right leg in a splint, it was a considerable journey.

Slowly, painfully, Will made his way along the winding path and up the steps. At the top of the second flight he halted to take breath and mop his forehead; then keeping close to the wall, where there was still a narrow strip of shade, he moved on towards a signboard marked LABORATORY.

The door beneath the board was ajar; he pushed it open and found himself on the threshold of a long, high-ceilinged room. There were the usual sinks and work tables, the usual glass-fronted cabinets full of bottles and equipment, the usual smells of chemicals and caged mice. For the first moment Will was under the impression that the room was untenanted, but no — almost hidden from view by a book case that projected at right angles from the wall, young Murugan was seated at a table, intently reading. As quietly as he could — for it was always amusing to take people by surprise — Will advanced into the room. The whirring of an electric fan covered the sound of his approach, and it was not until he was within a few feet of the bookcase that Murugan became aware of his presence. The boy started guiltily, shoved his book with panic haste into a leather briefcase and, reaching for another, smaller volume that lay open on the table beside the briefcase, drew it within reading range. Only then did he turn to face the intruder.

Will gave him a reassuring smile. “It’s only me.”

The look of angry defiance gave place, on the boy’s face to one of relief.

“I thought it was …” He broke off, leaving the sentence unfinished.

“You thought it was someone who would bawl you out for not doing what you’re supposed to do — is that it?”

Murugan grinned and nodded his curly head.

“Where’s everyone else?” Will asked.

“They’re out in the fields — pruning or pollinating or something.” His tone was contemptuous.

“And so, the cats being away, the mouse duly played. What were you studying so passionately?”

With innocent disingenuousness, Murugan held up the book he was now pretending to read. “It’s called ‘Elementary Ecology,’” he said.

“So I see,” said Will. “But what I asked you was what were you reading?”

“Oh, that,” Murugan shrugged his shoulders. “You wouldn’t be interested.”

“I’m interested in everything that anyone tries to hide, Will assured him. “Was it pornography?”

Murugan dropped his play-acting and looked genuinely offended. “Who do you take me for?”

Will was on the point of saying that he took him for an average boy, but checked himself. To Colonel Dipa’s pretty young friend, ‘average boy’ might sound like an insult or an innuendo. Instead he bowed with mock politeness. “I beg your Majesty’s pardon,” he said. “But I’m still curious,” he added in another tone. “May I?” He laid a hand on the bulging briefcase.

Murugan hesitated for a moment, then forced a laugh. “Go ahead.”

“What a tome!” Will pulled the ponderous volume out of the bag and laid it on the table. “Sears, Roebuck and Co., Spring and Summer Catalog” he read aloud.

“It’s last year’s,” said Murugan apologetically. “But I don’t suppose there’s been much change since then.”

“There,” Will assured him, “you’re mistaken. If the styles weren’t completely changed every year, there’d be no reason for buying new things before the old ones are worn out. You don’t understand the first principles of modern consumerism.” He opened at random. “‘Soft Platform Wedgies in Wide Widths.’”

Opened at another place and found the description and image of a Whisper-Pink Bra in Dacron and Pima Cotton. Turned the page and here, memento mori, was what the Bra-buyer would be wearing twenty years later — A Strap-Controlled Front, Cupped to Support Pendulous Abdomen.

“It doesn’t get really interesting,” said Murugan, “until near the end of the book. It has thirteen hundred and fifty-eight pages,” he added parenthetically. “Imagine! Thirteen hundred and fifty-eight!”

Will skipped the next seven hundred and fifty pages.

“Ah, this is more like it,” he said. “‘Our Famous 22 Revolvers and Automatics.’” And here, a little further on, were the Fibre Glass Boats, here were the High Thrust Inboard Engines, here was a 12 h.p. Outboard for only $234.95 — and the Fuel Tank was included. “That’s extraordinarily generous!”

But Murugan, it was evident, was no sailor. Taking the book, he leafed impatiently through a score of additional pages.

“Look at this Italian Style Motor Scooter!” And while Will looked, Murugan read aloud. “‘This sleek Speedster gives up to 110 Miles per Gallon of Fuel.’ Just imagine!” His normally sulky face was glowing with enthusiasm. “And you can get up to sixty miles per gallon even on this 14.5 h.p. Motor Cycle. And it’s guaranteed to do seventy-five miles an hour — guaranteed!”

“Remarkable!” said Will. Then, curiously, “Did somebody in America send you this glorious book?” he asked.

Murugan shook his head. “Colonel Dipa gave it to me.”

“Colonel Dipa?” What an odd kind of present from Hadrian to Antinous! He looked again at the picture of the motor bike, then back at Murugan’s glowing face. Light dawned; the Colonels purpose revealed itself. The serpent tempted me and I did eat. The tree in the midst of the garden was called the Tree of Consumer Goods, and to the inhabitants of every underdeveloped Eden, the tiniest taste of its fruit, and even the sight of its thirteen hundred and fifty-eight leaves, had power to bring the shameful knowledge that, industrially speaking, they were stark naked. The future Raja of Pala was being made to realize that he was no more than the untrousered ruler of a tribe of savages.

“You ought,” Will said aloud, “to import a million of these catalogues and distribute them — gratis, of course, like contraceptives — to all your subjects.”

“What for?”

“To whet their appetite for possessions. Then they’ll start clamouring for Progress — oil wells, armaments, Joe Aldehyde, Soviet technicians.”

Murugan frowned and shook his head. “It wouldn’t work.”

“You mean, they wouldn’t be tempted? Not even by Sleek Speedsters and Whisper-Pink Bras? But that’s incredible!”

“It may be incredible,” said Murugan bitterly; “but it’s a fact. They’re just not interested.”

“Not even the young ones?”

“I’d say especially the young ones.”

Will Farnaby pricked up his ears. This lack of interest was profoundly interesting. “Can you guess why?” he asked.

“I don’t guess,” the boy answered. “I know.” And as though he had suddenly decided to stage a parody of his mother, he began to speak in a tone of righteous indignation that was absurdly out of keeping with his age and appearance. “To begin with, they’re much too busy with …” He hesitated, then the abhorred word was hissed out with a disgustful emphasis. “With sex.”

“But everybody’s busy with sex. Which doesn’t keep them from whoring after sleek speedsters.”

“Sex is different here,” Murugan insisted.

“Because of the yoga of love?” Will asked, remembering the little nurse’s rapturous face.

The boy nodded. “They’ve got something that makes them think they’re perfectly happy, and they don’t want anything else.”

“What a blessed state!”

“There’s nothing blessed about it,” Murugan snapped. “It’s just stupid and disgusting. No progress, only sex, sex, sex. And of course that beastly dope they’re all given.”

“Dope?” Will repeated in some astonishment. Dope in a place where Susila had said there were no addicts? “What kind of dope?”

“It’s made out of toadstools. Toadstools!” He spoke in a comical caricature of the Rani’s most vibrant tone of outraged spirituality.

“Those lovely red toadstools that gnomes used to sit on?”

“No, these are yellow. People used to go out and collect them in the mountains. Nowadays the things are grown in special fungus beds at the High Altitude Experimental Station. Scientifically cultivated dope. Pretty, isn’t it?”

A door slammed and there was a sound of voices, of footsteps approaching along a corridor. Abruptly, the indignant spirit of the Rani took flight, and Murugan was once again the conscience-stricken schoolboy furtively trying to cover up his delinquencies. In a trice ‘Elementary Ecology’ had taken the place of Sears Roebuck, and the suspiciously bulging briefcase was under the table. A moment later, stripped to the waist and shining like oiled bronze with the sweat of labour in the noonday sun, Vijaya came striding into the room. Behind him came Dr Robert. With the air of a model student, interrupted in the midst of his reading by trespassers from the frivolous outside world, Murugan looked up from his book. Amused, Will threw himself at once wholeheartedly into the part that had been assigned to him.

“It was I who got here too early,” he said in response to Vijaya’s apologies for their being so late. “With the result that our young friend here hasn’t been able to get on with his lessons. We’ve been talking our heads off.”

“What about?” Dr Robert asked.

“Everything, Cabbages, kings, motor scooters, pendulous abdomens. And when you came in, we’d just embarked on toadstools. Murugan was telling me about the fungi that are used here as a source of dope.”

“What’s in a name?” said Dr Robert with a laugh. “Answer, practically everything. Having had the misfortune to be brought up in Europe, Murugan calls it dope and feels about it all the disapproval that, by conditioned reflex, the dirty word evokes. We, on the contrary, give the stuff good names — the moksha-medicine, the reality-revealer, the truth-and-beauty pill. And we know, by direct experience, that the good names are deserved. Whereas our young friend here has no first-hand knowledge of the stuff and can’t be persuaded even to give it a try. For him, it’s dope and dope is something that, by definition, no decent person ever indulges in.”

“What does His Highness say to that?” Will asked.

Murugan shook his head. “All it gives you is a lot of illusions,” he muttered. “Why should I go out of my way to be made a fool of?”

“Why indeed?” said Vijaya with good-humoured irony. “Seeing that, in your normal condition, you alone of the human race are never made a fool of and never have illusions about anything!”

“I never said that,” Murugan protested. “All I mean is that I don’t want any of your false samadhi.”

“How do you know it’s false?” Dr Robert enquired.

“Because the real thing only comes to people after years and years of meditation and tapas and … well, you know — not going with women.”

“Murugan,” Vijaya explained to Will, “is one of the Puritans. He’s outraged by the fact that, with four hundred milligrammes of moksha-medicine in their bloodstreams, even beginners — yes, and even boys and girls who make love together — can catch a glimpse of the world as it looks to someone who has been liberated from his bondage to the ego.”

“But it isn’t real,” Murugan insisted.

“Not real!” Dr Robert repeated. “You might as well say that the experience of feeling well isn’t real.”

“You’re begging the question,” Will objected. “An experience can be real in relation to something going on inside your skull, but completely irrelevant to anything outside.”

“Of course,” Dr Robert agreed.

“Do you know what goes on inside your skull, when you’ve taken a dose of the mushroom?”

“We know a little.”

“And we’re trying all the time to find out more,” Vijaya added.

“For example,” said Dr Robert, “We’ve found that the people whose EEG doesn’t show any alpha-wave activity when they’re relaxed, aren’t likely to respond significantly to the moksha-medicine. That means that, for about fifteen per cent of the population, we have to find other approaches to liberation.”

“Another thing we’re just beginning to understand,” said Vijaya, “is the neurological correlate of these experiences. What’s happening in the brain when you’re having a vision? And what’s happening when you pass from a pre-mystical to a genuinely mystical state of mind?”

“Do you know?” Will asked.

“‘Know’ is a big word. Let’s say we’re in a position to make some plausible guesses. Angels and New Jerusalems and Madonnas and Future Buddhas — they’re all related to some kind of unusual stimulation of the brain areas of primary projection — the visual cortex, for example. Just how the moksha-medicine produces those unusual stimuli we haven’t yet found out. The important fact is that, somehow or other, it does produce them. And somehow or other, it also does something unusual to the silent areas of the brain, the areas not specifically concerned with perceiving, or moving, or feeling.”

“And how do the silent areas respond?” Will enquired.

“Let’s start with what they don’t respond with. They don’t respond with visions or auditions, they don’t respond with telepathy or clairvoyance or any other kind of parapsychological performance. None of that amusing pre-mystical stuff. Their response is the full-blown mystical experience. You know — One in all and All in one. The basic experience with its corollaries — boundless compassion, fathomless mystery and meaning.”

“Not to mention joy,” said Dr Robert, “inexpressible joy.”

“And the whole caboodle is inside your skull,” said Will. “Strictly private. No reference to any external fact except a toadstool.”

“Not real,” Murugan chimed in. “That’s exactly what I was trying to say.”

“You’re assuming,” said Dr Robert, “that the brain produces consciousness. I’m assuming that it transmits consciousness. And my explanation is no more far-fetched than yours. How on earth can a set of events belonging to one order be experienced as a set of events belonging to an entirely different and incommensurable order? Nobody has the faintest idea. All one can do is to accept the facts and concoct hypotheses. And one hypothesis is just about as good, philosophically speaking, as another. You say that the moksha-medicine does something to the silent areas of the brain which causes them to produce a set of subjective events to which people have given the name ‘mystical experience.’ I say that the moksha-medicine does something to the silent areas of the brain which opens some kind of neurological sluice and so allows a larger volume of Mind with a large ‘M’ to flow into your mind with a small ‘m’. You can’t demonstrate the truth of your hypothesis, and I can’t demonstrate the truth of mine. And even if you could prove that I’m wrong, would it make any practical difference?”

“I’d have thought it would make all the difference,” said Will.

“Do you like music,” Dr Robert asked.

“More than most things.”

“And what, may I ask, does Mozart’s G-Minor Quintet refer to? Does it refer to Allah? Or Tao? Or the second person of the Trinity? Or the Atman-Brahman?”

Will laughed. “Let’s hope not.”

“But that doesn’t make the experience of the G-Minor Quintet any less rewarding. Well, it’s the same with the kind of experience that you get with the moksha-medicine, or through prayer and fasting and spiritual exercises. Even if it doesn’t refer to anything outside itself, it’s still the most important thing that ever happened to you. Like music, only incomparably more so. And if you give the experience a chance, if you’re prepared to go along with it, the results are incomparably more therapeutic and transforming. So maybe the whole thing does happen inside one’s skull. Maybe it is private and there’s no unitive knowledge of anything but one’s own physiology. Who cares? The fact remains that the experience can open one’s eyes and make one blessed and transform one’s whole life.” There was a long silence. “Let me tell you something,” he resumed, turning to Murugan. “Something I hadn’t intended to talk about to anybody. But now I feel that perhaps I have a duty, a duty to the throne, a duty to Pala and all its people — an obligation to tell you about this very private experience. Perhaps the telling may help you to be a little more understanding about your country and its ways.” He was silent for a moment; then in a quietly matter-of-fact tone, “I suppose you know my wife,” he went on.

His face still averted, Murugan nodded. “I was sorry,” he mumbled, “to hear she was so ill.”

“It’s a matter of a few days now,” said Dr Robert. “Four or five at the most. But she’s still perfectly lucid, perfectly conscious of what’s happening to her. Yesterday she asked me if we could take the moksha-medicine together. We’d taken it together,” he added parenthetically, “once or twice each year for the last thirty-seven years — ever since we decided to get married. And now once more — for the last time, the last, last time. There was a risk involved, because of the damage to the liver. But we decided it was a risk worth taking. And as it turned out, we were right. The moksha-medicine — the dope, as you prefer to call it — hardly upset her at all. All that happened to her was the mental transformation.”

He was silent, and Will suddenly became aware of the squeak and scrabble of caged rats and, through the open window, the babel of tropical life and the call of a distant mynah-bird. “Here and now, boys. Here and now …”

“You’re like that mynah,” said Dr Robert at last, “Trained to repeat words you don’t understand or know the reason for, ‘It isn’t real. It isn’t real.’ But if you’d experienced what Lakshmi and I went through yesterday, you’d know better. You’d know it was much more real than what you call reality. More real than what you’re thinking and feeling at this moment. More real than the world before your eyes. But not real is what you’ve been taught to say. Not real, not real.” Dr Robert laid a hand affectionately on the boy’s shoulder. “You’ve been told that we’re just a set of self-indulgent dope-takers, wallowing in illusions and false samadhis. Listen, Murugan — forget all the bad language that’s been pumped into you. Forget it at least to the point of making a single experiment. Take four hundred milligrammes of moksha-medicine and find out for yourself what it does, what it can tell you about your own nature, about this strange world you’ve got to live in, learn in, suffer in and finally die in. Yes, even you will have to die one day — maybe fifty years from now, maybe tomorrow. Who knows? But it’s going to happen, and one’s a fool if one doesn’t prepare for it.” He turned to Will. “Would you like to come along while we take our shower and get into some clothes?”

Without waiting for an answer, he walked out through the door that led into the central corridor of the long building. Will picked up his bamboo staff and, accompanied by Vijaya, followed him out of the room.

“Do you suppose that made any impression on Murugan?” he asked Vijaya when the door had closed behind them.

Vijaya shrugged his shoulders, “I doubt it.”

“What with his mother,” said Will, “and his passion for internal combustion engines, he’s probably impervious to anything you people can say. You should have heard him on the subject of motor scooters!”

“We have heard him,” said Dr Robert, who had halted in front of a blue door and was waiting for them to come up with him. “Frequently. When he comes of age, scooters are going to become a major political issue.”

Vijaya laughed. “To scoot or not to scoot, that is the question.”

“And it isn’t only in Pala that it’s the question,” Dr Robert added. “It’s the question that every underdeveloped country has to answer one way or the other.”

“And the answer,” said Will, “is always the same. Wherever I’ve been — and I’ve been almost everywhere — they’ve opted wholeheartedly for scooting. All of them.”

“Without exception,” Vijaya agreed. “Scooting for scooting’s sake, and to hell with all considerations of fulfilment, self-knowledge, liberation. Not to mention common or garden health or happiness.”

“Whereas we,” said Dr Robert, “have always chosen to adapt our economy and technology to human beings — not our human beings to somebody else’s economy and technology. We import what we can’t make; but we make and import only what we can afford. And what we can afford is limited not merely by our supply of pounds and marks and dollars, but also and primarily — primarily,” he insisted— “by our wish to be happy, our ambition to become fully human. Scooters, we’ve decided after carefully looking into the matter, are among the things — the very numerous things — we simply can’t afford. Which is something poor little Murugan will have to learn the hard way — seeing that he hasn’t learned, and doesn’t want to learn, the easy way.”

“Which is the easy way?” Will asked.

“Education and reality-revealers. Murugan has had neither. Or rather he’s had the opposite of both. He’s had miseducation in Europe — Swiss governesses, English tutors, American movies, everybody’s advertisements — and he’s had reality eclipsed for him by his mother’s brand of spirituality. So it’s no wonder he pines for scooters.”

“But his subjects, I gather, do not.”

“Why should they? They’ve been taught from infancy to be fully aware of the world, and to enjoy their awareness. And, on top of that, they have been shown the world and themselves and other people as these are illumined and transfigured by reality-revealers. Which helps them, of course, to have an in tenser awareness and a more understanding enjoyment, so that the most ordinary things, the most trivial events, are seen as jewels and miracles. Jewels and miracles,” he repeated emphatically. “So why should we resort to scooters or whisky or television or Billy Graham or any other of your distractions and compensations.”

“‘Nothing short of everything will really do,’” Will quoted. “I see now what the Old Raja was talking about. You can’t be a good economist unless you’re also a good psychologist. Or a good engineer without being the right kind of metaphysician.”

“And don’t forget all the other sciences,” said Dr Robert. “Pharmacology, sociology, physiology, not to mention pure and applied autology, neurotheology, metachemistry, mycomysticism, and the ultimate science,” he added, looking away so as to be more alone with his thoughts of Lakshmi in the hospital, “the science that sooner or later we shall all have to be examined in — thanatology.” He was silent for a moment; then, in another tone, “Well, let’s go and get washed up,” he said and, opening the blue door, led the way into a long changing room with a row of showers and wash basins at one end and, on the opposite wall, tiers of lockers and a large hanging cupboard.

Will took a seat and while his companions lathered themselves at the basins, went on with their conversation.

“Would it be permissible,” he asked, “for a miseducated alien to try a truth-and-beauty pill?”

The answer was another question. “Is your liver in good order?” Dr Robert enquired.

“Excellent.”

“And you don’t seem to be more than mildly schizophrenic. So I can’t see any counter-indication.”

“Then I can make the experiment?”

“Whenever you like.”

He stepped into the nearest shower stall and turned on the water. Vijaya followed suit.

“Aren’t you supposed to be intellectuals?” Will asked when the two men had emerged again and were drying themselves.

“We do intellectual work,” Vijaya answered.

“Then why all this horrible honest toil?”

“For a very simple reason: this morning I had some spare time.”

“So did I.” said Dr Robert.

“So you went out into the fields and did a Tolstoy act.”

Vijaya laughed. “You seem to imagine we do it for ethical reasons.”

“Don’t you?”

“Certainly not. I do muscular work, because I have muscles; and if I don’t use my muscles I shall become a bad-tempered sitting-addict.”

“With nothing between the cortex and the buttocks,” said Dr Robert. “Or rather with everything — but in a condition of complete unconsciousness and toxic stagnation. Western intellectuals are all sitting-addicts. That’s why most of you are so repulsively unwholesome. In the past even a duke had to do a lot of walking, even a money-lender, even a metaphysician. And when they weren’t using their legs, they were jogging about on horses. Whereas now, from the tycoon to his typist, from the logical positivist to the positive thinker, you spend nine-tenths of your time on foam rubber. Spongy seats for spongy bottoms — at home, in the office, in cars and bars, in planes and trains and buses. No moving of legs, no struggles with distance and gravity — just lifts and planes and cars, just foam rubber and an eternity of sitting. The life force that used to find an outlet through striped muscle gets turned back on the viscera and the nervous system, and slowly destroys them.”

“So you take to digging and delving as a form of therapy?”

“As prevention — to make therapy unnecessary. In Pala even a professor, even a government official generally puts in two hours of digging and delving each day.”

“As part of his duties?”

“And as part of his pleasure.”

Will made a grimace. “It wouldn’t be part of my pleasure.”

“That’s because you weren’t taught to use your mind-body in the right way.” Vijaya explained. “If you’d been shown how to do things with the minimum of strain and the maximum of awareness, you’d enjoy even honest toil.”

“I take it that your children all get this kind of training.”

“From the first moment they start doing for themselves. For example, what’s the proper way of handling yourself while you’re buttoning your clothes?” And suiting action to words, Vijaya started to button the shirt he had just slipped into. “We answer the question by actually putting their heads and bodies into the physiologically best position. And we encourage them at the same time to notice how it feels to be in the physiologically best position, to be aware of what the process of doing up buttons consists of in terms of touches and pressures and muscular sensations. By the time they’re fourteen they’ve learned how to get the most and the best — objectively and subjectively — out of any activity they may undertake. And that’s when we start them working. Ninety minutes a day at some kind of manual job.”

“Back to good old child labour!”

“Or rather,” said Dr Robert, “forward from bad new child-idleness. You don’t allow your teen-agers to work; so they have to blow off steam in delinquency or else throttle down steam till they’re ready to become domesticated sitting-addicts. And now,” he added, “it’s time to be going. I’ll lead the way.”

In the laboratory, when they entered, Murugan was in the act of locking his briefcase against all prying eyes. “I’m ready,” he said and, tucking the thirteen hundred and fifty-eight pages of the Newest Testament under his arm, he followed them out into the sunshine. A few minutes later, crammed into an ancient jeep, the four of them were rolling along the road that led, past the paddock of the white bull, past the lotus pool and the huge stone Buddha, out through the gate of the Station Compound to the highway. “I’m sorry we can’t provide more comfortable transportation,” said Vijaya as they bumped and rattled along.

Will patted Murugan’s knee. “This is the man you should be apologizing to,” he said. “The one whose soul yearns for Jaguars and Thunderbirds.”

“It’s a yearning, I’m afraid,” said Dr Robert from the back seat, “that will have to remain unsatisfied.”

Murugan made no comment, but smiled the secret contemptuous smile of one who knows better.

“We can’t import toys,” Dr Robert went on. “Only essentials.”

“Such as?”

“You’ll see in a moment.” They rounded a curve, and there beneath them were the thatched roofs and tree-shaded gardens of a considerable village. Vijaya pulled up at the side of the road and turned off the motor. “You’re looking at New Rothamsted,” he said. “Alias Madalia. Rice, vegetables, poultry, fruit. Not to mention two potteries and a furniture factory. Hence those wires.” He waved his hand in the direction of the long row of pylons that climbed up the terraced slope behind the village, dipped out of sight over the ridge, and reappeared, far away, marching up from the floor of the next valley towards the green belt of mountain jungle and the cloudy peaks beyond and above. “That’s one of the indispensable imports — electric equipment. And when the waterfalls have been harnessed and you’ve strung up the transmission lines, here’s something else with a high priority.” He directed a pointing finger at a windowless block of cement that rose incongruously from among the wooden houses near the upper entrance to the village.

“What is it?” Will asked. “Some kind of electric oven?”

“No, the kilns are over on the other side of the village. This is the communal freezer.”

“In the old days,” Dr Robert explained, “we used to lose about half of all the perishables we produced. Now we lose practically nothing. Whatever we grow is for us, not for the circumambient bacteria.”

“So now you have enough to eat.”

“More than enough. We eat better than any other country in Asia, and there’s a surplus for export. Lenin used to say that electricity plus socialism equals communism. Our equations are rather different. Electricity minus heavy industry plus birth control equals democracy and plenty. Electricity plus heavy industry minus birth control equals misery, totalitarianism and war.”

“Incidentally,” Will asked, “who owns all this? Are you capitalists or state socialists?”

“Neither. Most of the time we’re co-operators. Palanese agriculture has always been an affair of terracing and irrigation. But terracing and irrigation call for pooled efforts and friendly agreements. Cut throat competition isn’t compatible with rice-growing in a mountainous country. Our people found it quite easy to pass from mutual aid in a village community to streamlined co-operative techniques for buying and selling and profit-sharing and financing.”

“Even co-operative financing?”

Dr Robert nodded. “None of those blood-sucking usurers that you find all over the Indian countryside. And no commercial banks in your Western style. Our borrowing and lending system was modelled on those credit unions that Wilhelm Raiffeisen set up more than a century ago in Germany. Dr Andrew persuaded the Raja to invite one of Raiffeisen’s young men to come here and organize a co-operative banking system. It’s still going strong.”

“And what do you use for money?” Will asked.

Dr Robert dipped into his trouser pocket and pulled out a handful of silver, gold and copper.

“In a modest way,” he explained, “Pala’s a gold-producing country. We mine enough to give our paper a solid metallic backing. And the gold supplements our exports. We can pay spot cash for expensive equipment like those transmission lines and the generators at the other end.”

“You seem to have solved your economic problems pretty successfully.”

“Solving them wasn’t difficult. To begin with, we never allowed ourselves to produce more children than we could feed, clothe, house, and educate into something like full humanity. Not being over-populated, we have plenty. But although we have plenty, we’ve managed to resist the temptation that the West has now succumbed to — the temptation to over-consume. We don’t give ourselves coronaries by guzzling six times as much saturated fat as we need. We don’t hypnotize ourselves into believing that two television sets will make us twice as happy as one television set. And finally we don’t spend a quarter of the gross national product preparing for World War III or even World War’s baby brother, Local War MMMCCXXXIII. Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence — those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you’d collapse. And while you people are over-consuming, the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster. Ignorance, militarism and breeding, these three — and the greatest of these is breeding. No hope, not the slightest possibility, of solving the economic problem until that’s under control. As population rushes up, prosperity goes down.” He traced the descending curve with an outstretched finger. “And as prosperity goes down, discontent and rebellion” (the forefinger moved up again), “political ruthlessness and one-party rule, nationalism and bellicosity begin to rise. Another ten or fifteen years of uninhibited breeding, and the whole world, from China to Peru via Africa and the Middle East will be fairly crawling with Great Leaders, all dedicated to the suppression of freedom, all armed to the teeth by Russia or America or, better still, by both at once, all waving flags, all screaming for lebensraum.”

“What about Pala?” Will asked. “Will you be blessed with a Great Leader ten years from now?”

“Not if we can help it.” Dr Robert answered. “We’ve always done everything possible to make it very difficult for a Great Leader to arise.”

Out of the corner of his eye Will saw that Murugan was making a face of indignant and contemptuous disgust. In his fancy Antinous evidently saw himself as a Carlylean Hero. Will turned back to Dr Robert.

“Tell me how you do it.” he said.

“Well, to begin with we don’t fight wars or prepare for them. Consequently we have no need for conscription, or military hierarchies, or a unified command. Then there’s our economic system: it doesn’t permit anybody to become more than four or five times as rich as the average. That means that we don’t have any captains of industry or omnipotent financiers. Better still, we have no omnipotent politicians or bureaucrats. Pala’s a federation of self-governing units, geographical units, professional units, economic units — so there’s plenty of scope for small-scale initiative and democratic leaders, but no place for any kind of dictator at the head of a centralized government. Another point: we have no established church, and our religion stresses immediate experience and deplores belief in unverifiable dogmas and the emotions which that belief inspires. So we’re preserved from the plagues of popery on the one hand and fundamentalist revivalism on the other. And along with transcendental experience we systematically cultivate scepticism. Discouraging children from taking words too seriously, teaching them to analyze whatever they hear or read — this is an integral part of the school curriculum. Result: the eloquent rabble-rouser, like Hitler or our neighbour across the Strait, Colonel Dipa, just doesn’t have a chance here in Pala.”

This was too much for Murugan. Unable to contain himself, “But look at the energy Colonel Dipa generates in his people,” he burst out. “Look at all the devotion and self-sacrifice! We don’t have anything like that here.”

“Thank God,” said Dr Robert devoutly.

“Thank God,” Vijaya echoed.

“But these things are good,” the boy protested. “I admire them.”

“I admire them too,” said Dr Robert. “Admire them in the same way as I admire a typhoon. Unfortunately that kind of energy and devotion and self-sacrifice happens to be incompatible with liberty, not to mention reason and human decency. But decency, reason and liberty are what Pala has been working for, ever since the time of your namesake, Murugan the Reformer.”

From under his seat Vijaya pulled out a tin box and, lifting the lid, distributed a first round of cheese and avocado sandwiches. “We’ll have to eat as we go.” He started the motor and with one hand, the other being busy with his sandwich, swung the little car on to the road. “Tomorrow,” he said to Will, “I’ll show you the sights of the village, and the still more remarkable sight of my family eating their lunch. Today we have an appointment in the mountains.”

Near the entrance to the village he turned the jeep into a side road that went winding steeply up between terraced fields of rice and vegetables, interspersed with orchards and, here and there, plantations of young trees destined, Dr Robert explained, to supply the pulp mills of Shivapuram with their raw material.

“How many papers does Pala support?” Will enquired and was surprised to learn that there was only one. “Who enjoys the monopoly? The government? The party in power? The local Joe Aldehyde?”

“Nobody enjoys a monopoly,” Dr Robert assured him. There’s a panel of editors representing half a dozen different parties and interests. Each of them gets his allotted space for comment and criticism. The reader’s in a position to compare their arguments and make up his own mind. I remember how shocked I was, the first time I read one of your big-circulation newspapers. The bias of the headlines, the systematic one-sidedness of the reporting and the commentaries, the catchwords and slogans instead of argument. No serious appeal to reason. Instead, a systematic effort to install conditioned reflexes in the minds of the voters — and, for the rest, crime, divorce, anecdotes, twaddle, anything to keep them distracted, anything to prevent them from thinking.”

The car climbed on and now they were on a ridge between two headlong descents, with a tree-fringed lake down at the bottom of a gorge to their left and, to the right a broader valley where, between two tree-shaded villages, like an incongruous piece of pure geometry, sprawled a huge factory.

“Cement?” Will questioned.

Dr Robert nodded. “One of the indispensable industries. We produce all we need and a surplus for export.”

“And those villages supply the man-power?”

“In the intervals of agriculture and work in the forest and the sawmills.”

“Does that kind of part-time system work well?”

“It depends what you mean by ‘well’. It doesn’t result in maximum efficiency. But then in Pala maximum efficiency isn’t the categorical imperative that it is with you. You think first of getting the biggest possible output in the shortest possible time. We think first of human beings and their satisfactions. Changing jobs doesn’t make for the biggest output in the fewest days. But most people like it better than doing one kind of job all their lives. If it’s a choice between mechanical efficiency and human satisfaction, we choose satisfaction.”

“When I was twenty,” Vijaya now volunteered, “I put in four months at that cement plant — and after that ten weeks making superphosphates and then six months in the jungle, as a lumberjack.”

“All this ghastly honest toil!”

“Twenty years earlier,” said Dr Robert, “I did a stint at the copper smelters. After which I had a taste of the sea on a fishing boat. Sampling all kinds of work — it’s part of everybody’s education. One learns an enormous amount that way — about things and skills and organizations, about all kinds of people and their ways of thinking.”

Will shook his head. “I’d still rather get it out of a book.”

“But what you can get out of a book is never it. At bottom,” Dr Robert added, “all of you are still Platonists. You worship the word and abhor matter!”

“Tell that to the clergymen,” said Will. “They’re always reproaching us with being crass materialists.”

“Crass,” Dr Robert agreed, “but crass precisely because you’re such inadequate materialists. Abstract materialism — that’s what you profess. Whereas we make a point of being materialists concretely — materialistic on the wordless levels of seeing and touching and smelling, of tensed muscles and dirty hands. Abstract materialism is as bad as abstract idealism, it makes immediate spiritual experience almost impossible. Sampling different kinds of work as concrete materialists is the first, indispensable step in our education for concrete spirituality.”

“But even the most concrete materialism,” Vijaya qualified, “won’t get you very far unless you’re fully conscious of what you’re doing and experiencing. You’ve got to be completely aware of the bits of matter you’re handling, the skills you’re practising, the people you’re working with.”

“Quite right,” said Dr Robert “I ought to have made it clear that concrete materialism is only the raw stuff of a fully human life. It’s through awareness, complete and constant awareness, that we transform it into concrete spirituality. Be fully aware of what you’re doing, and work becomes the yoga of work, play becomes the yoga of play, everyday living becomes the yoga of everyday living.”

Will thought of Ranga and the little nurse. “And what about love?”

Dr Robert nodded. “That too. Awareness transfigures it, turns love-making into the yoga of love-making.”

Murugan gave an imitation of his mother looking shocked.

“Psycho-physical means to a transcendental end,” said Vijaya, raising his voice against the grinding screech of the low gear into which he had just shifted, “that, primarily, is what all these yogas are. But they’re also something else, they’re also devices for dealing with the problems of power.” He shifted back to a quieter gear and lowered his voice to its normal tone. “The problems of power,” he repeated. “And they confront you on every level of organization — every level, from national governments down to nurseries and honeymooning couples. For it isn’t merely a question of making things hard for the Great Leaders. There are all the millions of small-scale tyrants and persecutors, all the mute inglorious Hitlers, the village Napoleons, the Calvins and Torquemadas of the family. Not to mention all the brigands and bullies stupid enough to get themselves labelled as criminals. How does one harness the enormous power these people generate and set it to work in some useful way — or at least prevent it from doing harm?”

“That’s what I want you to tell me,” said Will. “Where do you start?”

“We start everywhere at once,” Vijaya answered. “But since one can’t say more than one thing at a time, let’s begin by talking about the anatomy and physiology of power. Tell him about your biochemical approach to the subject, Dr Robert.”

“It started,” said Dr Robert, “nearly forty years ago, while I was studying in London. Started with prison visiting on week-ends and reading history whenever I had a free evening. History and prisons,” he repeated. “I discovered that they were closely related. The record of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind (that’s Gibbon, isn’t it?) and the place where unsuccessful crimes and follies are visited with a special kind of misfortune. Reading my books and talking to my jailbirds, I found myself asking questions. What kind of people became dangerous delinquents — the grand delinquents of the history books, the little ones of Pentonville and Wormwood Scrubbs? What kinds of people are moved by the lust for power, the passion to bully and domineer? And the ruthless ones, the men and women who know what they want and have no qualms about hurting and killing in order to get it, the monsters who hurt and kill, not for profit, but gratuitously, because hurting and killing are such fun — who are they? I used to discuss these questions with the experts — doctors, psychologists, social scientists, teachers. Mantegazza and Galton had gone out of fashion, and most of my experts assured me that the only valid answers to these questions were answers in terms of culture, economics and the family. It was all a matter of mothers and toilet training, of early conditioning and traumatic environments. I was only half convinced. Mothers and toilet training and the circumambient nonsense — these were obviously important. But were they all-important? In the course of my prison visiting I’d begun to see evidence of some kind of a built-in pattern — or rather of two kinds of built-in pattern; for dangerous delinquents and power-loving trouble-makers don’t belong to a single species. Most of them, as I was beginning to realize even then, belong to one or other of two distinct and dissimilar species — the Muscle People and the Peter Pans. I’ve specialized in the treatment of Peter Pans.”

“The boys who never grow up?” Will queried.

“‘Never’ is the wrong word. In real life Peter Pan always ends by growing up. He merely grows up too late — grows up physiologically more slowly than he grows up in terms of birthdays.”

“What about girl Peter Pans?”

“They’re very rare. But the boys are as common as blackberries You can expect one Peter Pan among every five or six male children. And among problem children, among the boys who can’t read, won’t learn, don’t get on with anyone and finally turn to the more violent forms of delinquency, seven out of ten turn out, if you take an X-ray of the bones of the wrist, to be Peter Pans. The rest are mostly Muscle People of one sort or another.”

“I’m trying to think,” said Will, “of a good historical example of a delinquent Peter Pan.”

“You don’t have to go far afield. The most recent, as well as the best and biggest, was Adolf Hitler.”

“Hitler?” Murugan’s tone was one of shocked astonishment. Hitler was evidently one of his heroes.

“Read The Führer’s biography,” said Dr Robert. “A Peter Pan if ever there was one. Hopeless at school. Incapable either of competing or co-operating. Envying all the normally successful boys — and, because he envied, hating them and, to make himself feel better, despising them as inferior beings. Then came the time for puberty. But Adolf was sexually backward. Other boys made advances to girls, and the girls responded. Adolf was too shy, too uncertain of his manhood. And all the time incapable of steady work, at home only in the compensatory Other World of his fancy. There, at the very least, he was Michelangelo. Here, unfortunately, he couldn’t draw. His only gifts were hatred, low cunning, a set of indefatigable vocal cords and a talent for non-stop talking at the top of his voice from the depths of his Peter-Panic paranoia. Thirty or forty million deaths and heaven knows how many billions of dollars — that was the price the world had to pay for little Adolf’s retarded maturation. Fortunately most of the boys who grow up too slowly never get a chance of being more than minor delinquents. But even minor delinquents if there are enough of them, can exact a pretty stiff price. That’s why we try to nip them in the bud — or rather, since we’re dealing with Peter Pans, that’s why we try to make their nipped buds open out and grow.”

“And do you succeed?”

Dr Robert nodded. “It isn’t hard. Particularly if you start early enough. Between four and a half and five all our children get a thorough examination. Blood tests, psychological tests, somatotyping; then we X-ray their wrists and give them an EEG. All the cute little Peter Pans are spotted without fail, and appropriate treatment is started immediately. Within a year practically all of them are perfectly normal. A crop of potential failures and criminals, potential tyrants and sadists, potential misanthropes and revolutionaries for revolution’s sake, has been transformed into a crop of useful citizens who can be governed adandena asatthena — without punishment and without a sword. In your part of the world, delinquency is still left to clergymen, social workers and the police. Non-stop sermons and supportive therapy; prison sentences galore. With what results? The delinquency rate goes steadily up and up. No wonder. Words about sibling rivalry and hell and the personality of Jesus are no substitutes for biochemistry. A year in jail won’t cure a Peter Pan of his endocrine disbalance or help the ex-Peter Pan to get rid of its psychological consequences. For Peter Panic delinquency, what you need is early diagnosis and three pink capsules a day before meals. Given a tolerable environment, the result will be sweet reasonableness and a modicum of the cardinal virtues within eighteen months. Not to mention a fair chance, where before there hadn’t been the faintest possibility, of eventual prajnaparamita and karuna, eventual wisdom and compassion. And now get Vijaya to tell you about the Muscle People. As you may perhaps have observed, he’s one of them.” Leaning forward, Dr Robert thumped the giant’s broad back. “Solid beef!” And he added, “How lucky for us poor shrimps that the animal isn’t savage.”

Vijaya took one hand off the wheel, beat his chest and uttered a loud ferocious roar. “Don’t tease the gorilla,” he said, and laughed good-humouredly. Then, “Think of the other great dictator”, he said to Will, “think of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin. Hitler’s the supreme example of the delinquent Peter Pan. Stalin’s the supreme example of the delinquent Muscle Man. Predestined, by his shape, to be an extravert. Not one of your soft, round, spill-the-beans extraverts who pine for indiscriminate togetherness. No — the trampling, driving extravert, the one who always feels impelled to Do Something and is never inhibited by doubts or qualms, by sympathy or sensibility. In his will, Lenin advised his successors to get rid of Stalin: the man was too fond of power and too apt to abuse it. But the advice came too late. Stalin was already so firmly entrenched that he couldn’t be ousted. Ten years later his power was absolute. Trotsky had been scotched; all his old friends had been bumped off. Now, like God among the choiring angels, he was alone in a cosy little heaven peopled only by flatterers and yes-men. And all the time he was ruthlessly busy, liquidating kulaks, organizing collectives, building an armament industry, shifting reluctant millions from farm to factory. Working with a tenacity, a lucid efficiency of which the German Peter Pan, with his apocalyptic phantasies and his fluctuating moods, was utterly incapable. And in the last phase of the War, compare Stalin’s strategy with Hitler’s. Cool calculation pitted against compensatory day-dreams, clear-eyed realism against the rhetorical nonsense that Hitler had finally talked himself into believing. Two monsters, equal in delinquency, but profoundly dissimilar in temperament, in unconscious motivation, and finally in efficiency. Peter Pans are wonderfully good at starting wars and revolutions; but it takes Muscle Men to carry them through to a successful conclusion. Here’s the jungle,” Vijaya added in another tone, waving a hand in the direction of a great cliff of trees that seemed to block their further ascent.

A moment later they had left the glare of the open hillside and had plunged into a narrow tunnel of green twilight that zigzagged up between walls of tropical foliage. Creepers dangled from the over-arching branches and between the trunks of huge trees grew ferns and dark-leaved rhododendrons with a dense profusion of shrubs and bushes that for Will, as he looked about him, were namelessly unfamiliar. The air was stiflingly damp and there was a hot, acrid smell of luxuriant green growth and of that other kind of life which is decay. Muffled by the thick foliage, Will heard the ringing of distant axes, the rhythmic screech of a saw. The road turned yet once more and suddenly the green darkness of the tunnel gave place to sunshine. They had entered a clearing in the forest. Tall and broad-shouldered, half a dozen almost naked woodcutters were engaged in lopping the branches from a newly felled tree. In the sunshine hundreds of blue and amethyst butterflies chased one another, fluttering and soaring in an endless random dance. Over a fire at the further side of the clearing an old man was slowly stirring the contents of an iron cauldron. Near by a small tame deer, fine-limbed and elegantly dappled, was quietly grazing.

“Old friends,” said Vijaya, and shouted something in Palanese. The wood cutters shouted back and waved their hands. Then the road swung sharply to the left and they were climbing again up the green tunnel between the trees.

“Talk of Muscle Men,” said Will as they left the clearing. “Those were really splendid specimens.”

“That kind of physique,” said Vijaya, “is a standing temptation. And yet among all these men — and I’ve worked with scores of them — I’ve never met a single bully, a single potentially dangerous power-lover.”

“Which is just another way,” Murugan broke in contemptuously, “of saying that nobody here has any ambition.”

“What’s the explanation?” Will asked.

“Very simple, so far as the Peter Pans are concerned. They’re never given a chance to work up an appetite for power. We cure them of their delinquency before it’s had time to develop. But the Muscle Men are different. They’re just as muscular here, just as tramplingly extraverted, as they are with you. So why don’t they turn into Stalins or Dipas, or at the least into domestic tyrants? First of all, our social arrangements offer them very few opportunities for bullying their families, and our political arrangements make it practically impossible for them to domineer on any larger scale. Second, we train the Muscle Men to be aware and sensitive, we teach them to enjoy the commonplaces of everyday existence. This means that they always have an alternative — innumerable alternatives — to the pleasure of being the boss. And finally we work directly on the love of power and domination that goes with this kind of physique in almost all its variations. We canalize this love of power and we deflect it — turn it away from people and on to things. We give them all kinds of difficult tasks to perform — strenuous and violent tasks that exercise their muscles and satisfy their craving for domination — but satisfy it at nobody’s expense and in ways that are either harmless or positively useful.”

“So these splendid creatures fell trees instead of felling people — is that it?”

“Precisely. And when they’ve had enough of the woods, they can go to sea, or try their hands at mining, or take it easy, relatively speaking, on the rice paddies.”

Will Farnaby suddenly laughed.

“What’s the joke?”

“I was thinking of my father. A little wood chopping might have been the making of him — not to mention the salvation of his wretched family. Unfortunately he was an English gentleman. Wood chopping was out of the question.”

“Didn’t he have any physical outlet for his energies?”

Will shook his head. “Besides being a gentleman,” he explained “my father thought he was an intellectual. But an intellectual doesn’t hunt or shoot or play golf; he just thinks and drinks. Apart from brandy, my father’s only amusements were bullying, auction bridge and the theory of politics. He fancied himself as a twentieth-century version of Lord Acton — the last, lonely philosopher of Liberalism. You should have heard him on the iniquities of the modern omnipotent State! ‘Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Absolutely.’ After which he’d down another brandy and go back with renewed gusto to his favourite pastime — trampling on his wife and children.”

“And if Acton himself didn’t behave in that way,” said Dr Robert, “it was merely because he happened to be virtuous and intelligent. There was nothing in his theories to restrain a delinquent Muscle Man or an untreated Peter Pan from trampling on anyone he could get his feet on. That was Acton’s fatal weakness. As a political theorist he was altogether admirable. As a practical psychologist he was almost non-existent. He seems to have thought that the power problem could be solved by good social arrangements, supplemented, of course, by sound morality and a spot of revealed religion. But the power problem has its roots in anatomy and biochemistry and temperament. Power has to be curbed on the legal and political levels; that’s obvious. But it’s also obvious that there must be prevention on the individual level. On the level of instinct and emotion, on the level of the glands and the viscera, the muscles and the blood. If I can ever find the time, I’d like to write a little book on human physiology in relation to ethics, religion, politics and law.”

“Law,” Will echoed. “I was just going to ask you about law. Are you completely swordless and punishmentless? Or do you still need judges and policemen?”

“We still need them,” said Dr Robert. “But we don’t need nearly so many of them as you do. In the first place, thanks to preventive medicine and preventive education, we don’t commit many crimes. And in the second place most of the few crimes that are committed are dealt with by the criminal’s MAC. Group therapy within a community that has assumed group responsibility for the delinquent. And in difficult cases the group therapy is supplemented by medical treatment and a course of moksha-medicine experiences, directed by somebody with an exceptional degree of insight.”

“So where do the judges come in?”

“The judge listens to the evidence, decides whether the accused person is innocent or guilty, and if he’s guilty, remands him to his MAC and, where it seems advisable, to the local panel of medical and mycomystical experts. At stated intervals the experts and the MAC report back to the judge. When the reports are satisfactory, the case is closed.”

“And if they’re never satisfactory?”

“In the long run,” said Dr Robert, “they always are.”

There was a silence.

“Did you ever do any rock climbing?” Vijaya suddenly asked.

Will laughed. “How do you think I came by my game leg?”

“That was forced climbing. Did you ever climb for fun?”

“Enough,” said Will, “to convince me that I wasn’t much good at it.”

Vijaya glanced at Murugan. “What about you, while you were in Switzerland?”

The boy blushed deeply and shook his head. “You can’t do any of those things,” he muttered, “if you have a tendency to TB.”

“What a pity!” said Vijaya. “It would have been so good for you.”

Will asked, “Do people do a lot of climbing in these mountains?”

“Climbing’s an integral part of the school curriculum.”

“For everybody?”

“A little for everybody. With more advanced rock work for the full-blown Muscle People — that’s about one in twelve of the boys and one in twenty-seven of the girls. We shall soon be seeing some youngsters tackling their first post-elementary climb.”

The green tunnel widened, brightened, and suddenly they were out of the dripping forest on a wide shelf of almost level ground, walled in on three sides by red rocks that towered up two thousand feet and more into a succession of jagged crests and isolated pinnacles. There was a freshness in the air and, as they passed from sunshine into the shadow of a floating island of cumulus, it was almost cool. Dr Robert leaned forward and pointed, through the windshield, at a group of white buildings on a little knoll near the centre of the plateau.

“That’s the High Altitude Station,” he said, “seven thousand feet up, with more than five thousand acres of good flat land, where we can grow practically anything that grows in southern Europe. Wheat and barley; green peas and cabbages, lettuce and tomatoes (the fruit won’t set where night temperatures are over sixty-eight); gooseberries, strawberries, walnuts, greengages, peaches, apricots. Plus all the valuable plants that are native to high mountains at this latitude — including the mushrooms that our young friend here so violently disapproves of.”

“Is this the place we’re bound for?” Will asked.

“No, we’re going higher.” Dr Robert pointed to the last outpost of the range, a ridge of dark red rock from which the land sloped down on one side to the jungle, and, on the other, mounted precipitously towards an unseen summit lost in the clouds. “Up to the old Shiva temple where the pilgrims used to come every spring and autumn equinox. It’s one of my favourite places in the whole island. When the children were small, we used to go up there for picnics, Lakshmi and I, almost every week. How many years ago!” A note of sadness had come into his voice. He sighed and, leaning back in his seat, closed his eyes.

They turned off the road that led to the High Altitude Station and began to climb again.

“Entering the last, worst lap,” said Vijaya. “Seven hairpin turns and half a mile of unventilated tunnel.”

He shifted into first gear and conversation became impossible. Ten minutes later they had arrived.

Chapter Ten


CAUTIOUSLY MANŒUVRING HIS immobilized leg, Will climbed out of the car and looked about him. Between the red soaring crags to the south and the headlong descents in every other direction the crest of the ridge had been levelled, and at the mid-point of this long narrow terrace stood the temple — a great red tower of the same substance as the mountains, massive, four-sided, vertically ribbed. A thing of symmetry in contrast with the rocks, but regular not as Euclidean abstractions are regular; regular with the pragmatic geometry of a living thing. Yes, of a living thing; for all the temple’s richly textured surfaces, all its bounding contours against the sky curved organically inwards, narrowing as they mounted towards a ring of marble, above which the red stone swelled out again, like the seed capsule of a flowering plant, into a flattened, many-ribbed dome that crowned the whole.

“Built about fifty years before the Norman Conquest,” said Dr Robert.

“And looks,” Will commented, “as though it hadn’t been built by anybody — as though it had grown out of the rock. Grown like the bud of an agave, on the point of rocketing up into a twelve-foot stalk and an explosion of flowers.”

Vijaya touched his arm, “Look,” he said. “A party of Elementaries coming down.”

Will turned towards the mountain and saw a young man in nailed boots and climbing clothes working his way down a chimney in the face of the precipice. At a place where the chimney offered a convenient resting place he halted and, throwing back his head, gave utterance to a loud Alpine yodel. Fifty feet above him a boy came out from behind a buttress of rock, lowered himself from the ledge on which he was standing and started down the chimney.

“Does it tempt you?” Vijaya asked, turning to Murugan.

Heavily overacting the part of the bored, sophisticated adult who has something better to do than watch the children at play, Murugan shrugged his shoulders. “Not in the slightest.” He moved away and, sitting down on the weather-worn carving of a lion, pulled a gaudily bound American magazine out of his pocket and started to read.

“What’s the literature?” Vijaya asked.

“Science Fiction.” There was a ring of defiance in Murugan’s voice.

Dr Robert laughed. “Anything to escape from Fact.”

Pretending not to have heard him, Murugan turned a page and went on reading.

“He’s pretty good,” said Vijaya, who had been watching the young climber’s progress. “They have an experienced man at each end of the rope,” he added. “You can’t see the number one man. He’s behind that buttress in a parallel chimney thirty or forty feet higher up. There’s a permanent iron spike up there, where you can belay the rope. The whole party could fall, and they’d be perfectly safe.”

Spread-eagled between footholds in either wall of the narrow chimney, the leader kept shouting up instructions and encouragement. Then, as the boy approached, he yielded his place, climbed down another twenty feet and, halting, yodelled again. Booted and trousered, a tall girl with her hair in pigtails appeared from behind the buttress and lowered herself into the chimney.

“Excellent!” said Vijaya approvingly as he watched her.

Meanwhile, from a low building at the foot of the cliff — the tropical version, evidently, of an Alpine hut — a group of young people had come out to see what was happening. They belonged, Will was told, to three other parties of climbers who had taken their Post-Elementary Test earlier in the day.

“Does the best team win a prize?” Will asked.

“Nobody wins anything,” Vijaya answered. “This isn’t a competition. It’s more like an ordeal.”

“An ordeal,” Dr Robert explained, “which is the first stage of their initiation out of childhood into adolescence. An ordeal that helps them to understand the world they’ll have to live in, helps them to realize the omnipresence of death, the essential precariousness of all existence. But after the ordeal comes the revelation. In a few minutes these boys and girls will be given their first experience of the moksha-medicine. They’ll all take it together, and there’ll be a religious ceremony in the temple.”

“Something like the Confirmation Service?”

“Except that this is more than just a piece of theological rigmarole. Thanks to the moksha-medicine, it includes an actual experience of the real thing.”

“The real thing?” Will shook his head. “Is there such a thing? I wish I could believe it.”

“You’re not being asked to believe it,” said Dr Robert. “The real thing isn’t a proposition; it’s a state of being. We don’t teach our children creeds or get them worked up over emotionally charged symbols. When it’s time for them to learn the deepest truths of religion, we set them to climb a precipice and then give them four hundred milligrammes of revelation. Two firsthand experiences of reality, from which any reasonably intelligent boy or girl can derive a very good idea of what’s what.”

“And don’t forget the dear old power problem,” said Vijaya. “Rock climbing’s a branch of applied ethics; it’s another preventive substitute for bullying.”

“So my father ought to have been an alpinist as well as a wood-chopper.”

“One may laugh,” said Vijaya, duly laughing. “But the fact remains that it works. It works. First and last I’ve climbed my way out of literally scores of the ugliest temptations to throw my weight around — and my weight being considerable,” he added, “incitements were correspondingly strong.”

“There seems to be only one catch,” said Will. “In the process of climbing your way out of temptation, you might fall and …” Suddenly remembering what had happened to Dugald MacPhail, he broke off.

It was Dr Robert who finished the sentence. “Might fall,” he said slowly, “and kill yourself. Dugald was climbing alone,” he went on after a little pause. “Nobody knows what happened. The body wasn’t found till the next day.” There was a long silence.

“Do you still think this is a good idea?” Will asked, pointing with his bamboo staff at the tiny figures crawling so laboriously on the face of that headlong wilderness of naked rock.

“I still think it’s a good idea,” said Dr Robert.

“But poor Susila.…”

“Yes, poor Susila,” Dr Robert repeated. “And poor children, poor Lakshmi, poor me. But if Dugald hadn’t made a habit of risking his life, it might have been poor everybody for other reasons. Better court the danger of killing yourself than court the danger of killing other people, or at the very least making them miserable. Hurting them because you’re naturally aggressive and too prudent, or too ignorant, to work off your aggression on a precipice. And now,” he continued in another tone, “I want to show you the view.”

“And I’ll go and talk to those boys and girls.” Vijaya walked away towards the group at the foot of the red crags.

Leaving Murugan to his Science Fiction, Will followed Dr Robert through a pillared gateway and across the wide stone platform that surrounded the temple. At one corner of this platform stood a small domed pavilion. They entered and, crossing to the wide unglazed window, looked out. Rising to the line of the horizon, like a solid wall of jade and lapis, was the sea. Below them, after a sheer fall of a thousand feet, lay the green of the jungle. Beyond the jungle, folded vertically into combe and buttress, terraced horizontally into a huge man-made staircase of innumerable fields, the lower slopes went steeply down into a wide plain, at whose furthest verge, between the market gardens and the palm-fringed beach, stretched a considerable city. Seen from this high vantage point in its shining completeness, it looked like the tiny, meticulous painting of a city in a medieval book of hours.

“There’s Shivapuram,” said Dr Robert. “And that complex of buildings on the hill beyond the river — that’s the great Buddhist temple. A little earlier than Borobudur and the sculpture is as fine as anything in Further India.” There was a silence. “This little summer-house,” he resumed, “is where we used to eat our picnics when it was raining. I shall never forget the time when Dugald (he must have been about ten) amused himself by climbing up here on the window ledge and standing on one leg in the attitude of the dancing Shiva. Poor Lakshmi, she was scared out of her wits. But Dugald was a born steeplejack. Which only makes the accident even more incomprehensible.” He shook his head; then, after another silence, “The last time we all came up here,” he said, “was eight or nine months ago. Dugald was still alive and Lakshmi wasn’t yet too weak for a day’s outing with her grandchildren. He did that Shiva stunt again for the benefit of Tom Krishna and Mary Sarojini. On one leg; and he kept his arms moving so fast that one could have sworn there were four of them.” Dr Robert broke off. Picking up a flake of mortar from the floor, he tossed it out of the window. “Down, down, down … Empty space. Pascal avait son gouffre. How strange that this should be at once the most powerful symbol of death and the most powerful symbol of the fullest, intensest life.” Suddenly his face lighted up. “Do you see that hawk?”

“A hawk?”

Dr Robert pointed to where, half way between their eyrie and the dark roof of the forest, a small brown incarnation of speed and rapine lazily wheeled on unmoving wings. “It reminds me of a poem that the Old Raja once wrote about this place.” Dr Robert was silent for a moment, then started to recite.

“‘Up here, you ask me,

Up here aloft where Shiva

Dances above the world,

What the devil do I think I’m doing?

No answer, friend — except

That hawk below us turning,

Those black and arrowy swifts

Trailing long silver wires across the air —

The shrillness of their crying,

How far, you say, from the hot plains,

How far, reproachfully, from all my people!

And yet how close! For here between the cloudy

Sky and the sea below, suddenly visible,

I read their luminous secret and my own.’”

“And the secret, I take it, is this empty space.”

“Or rather what this empty space is the symbol of — the Buddha Nature in all our perpetual perishing. Which reminds me …” He looked at his watch.

“What’s next on the programme?” Will asked as they stepped out into the glare.

“The service in the temple,” Dr Robert answered. “The young climbers will offer their accomplishment to Shiva — in other words, to their own Suchness visualized as God. After which they’ll go on to the second part of their initiation — the experience of being liberated from themselves.

“By means of the moksha-medicine?”

Dr Robert nodded. “Their leaders give it them before they leave the Climbing Association’s hut. Then they come over to the temple. The stuff starts working during the service. Incidentally,” he added, “the service is in Sanskrit, so you won’t understand a word of it. Vijaya’s address will be in English — he speaks in his capacity as President of the Climbing Association. So will mine. And of course the young people will mostly talk in English.”

Inside the temple there was a cool, cavernous darkness, tempered only by the faint daylight filtering in through a pair of small latticed windows and by the seven lamps that hung, like a halo of yellow, quivering stars, above the head of the image on the altar. It was a copper statue, no taller than a child, of Shiva. Surrounded by a flame-fringed glory, his four arms gesturing, his braided hair wildly flying, his right foot treading down a dwarfish figure of the most hideous malignity, his left foot gracefully lifted, the god stood there, frozen in mid-ecstasy. No longer in their climbing dress, but sandalled, bare-breasted and in shorts or brightly coloured skirts, a score of boys and girls, together with the six young men who had acted as their leaders and instructors, were sitting cross-legged on the floor. Above them, on the highest of the altar steps, an old priest, shaven and yellow-robed, was intoning something sonorous and incomprehensible. Leaving Will installed on a convenient ledge, Dr Robert tiptoed over to where Vijaya and Murugan were sitting and squatted down beside them.

The splendid rumble of Sanskrit gave place to a high nasal chant, and the chanting in due course was succeeded by a litany, priestly utterance alternating with congregational response.

And now incense was burned in a brass thurible. The old priest held up his two hands for silence, and through a long pregnant time of the most perfect stillness the thread of grey incense smoke rose straight and unwavering before the god, then as it met the draught from the windows broke and was lost to view in an invisible cloud that filled the whole dim space with the mysterious fragrance of another world. Will opened his eyes and saw that, alone of all the congregation, Murugan was restlessly fidgeting. And not merely fidgeting — making faces of impatient disapproval. He himself had never climbed; therefore climbing was merely silly. He himself had always refused to try the moksha-medicine; therefore those who used it were beyond the pale. His mother believed in the Ascended Masters and chatted regularly with Koot Hoomi; therefore the image of Shiva was a vulgar idol. What an eloquent pantomine, Will thought as he watched the boy. But alas for poor little Murugan, nobody was paying the slightest attention to his antics.

“Shivanayama,” said the old priest, breaking the long silence, and again, “Shivanayama.” He made a beckoning gesture.

Rising from her place, the tall girl whom Will had seen working her way down the precipice, mounted the altar steps. Standing on tiptoe, her oiled body gleaming like a second copper statue in the light of the lamps, she hung a garland of pale yellow flowers on the uppermost of Shiva’s two left arms. Then, laying palm to palm, she looked up into the god’s serenely smiling face and, in a voice that faltered at first, but gradually grew steadier, began to speak.

O you the creator, you the destroyer, you who sustain and make an end,

Who in sunlight dance among the birds and the children at their play,

Who at midnight dance among corpses in the burning grounds,

You Shiva, you dark and terrible Bhairava,

You Suchness and Illusion, the Void and All Things,

You are the lord of life, and therefore I have brought you flowers;

You are the lord of death, and therefore I have brought you my heart —

This heart that is now your burning-ground.

Ignorance there and self shall be consumed with fire.

That you may dance, Bhairava, among the ashes.

That you may dance, Lord Shiva, in a place of flowers,

And I dance with you.

Raising her arms, the girl made a gesture that hinted at the ecstatic devotion of a hundred generations of dancing worshippers, then turned away and walked back into the twilight. “Shivanayama,” somebody cried out. Murugan snorted contemptuously as the refrain was taken up by other young voices. “Shivanayama, Shivanayama …” The old priest started to intone another passage from the scriptures. Half way through his recitation a small grey bird with a crimson head flew in through one of the latticed windows, fluttered wildly around the altar lamps then, chattering in loud indignant terror, darted out again. The chanting continued, swelled to a climax, and ended in the whispered prayer for peace: Shanti shanti shanti. The old priest now turned towards the altar, picked up a long taper and, borrowing flame from one of the lamps above Shiva’s head, proceeded to light seven other lamps that hung within a deep niche beneath the slab on which the dancer stood. Glinting on polished convexities of metal, their light revealed another statue — this time of Shiva and Parvati, of the Arch-Yogin seated and, while two of his four hands held aloft the symbolic drum and fire, caressing with the second pair the amorous Goddess, with her twining legs and arms, by whom, in this eternal embrace of bronze, he was bestridden. The old priest waved his hand. This time it was a boy, dark-skinned and powerfully muscled, who stepped into the light. Bending down, he hung the garland he was carrying about Parvati’s neck; then, twisting the long flower chain, dropped a second loop of white orchids over Shiva’s head.

“Each is both,” he said.

“Each is both,” the chorus of young voices repeated.

Murugan violently shook his head.

“O you who are gone,” said the dark-skinned boy, “who are gone, who are gone to the other shore, who have landed on the other shore, O you enlightenment and you other enlightenment, you liberation made one with liberation, you compassion in the arms of infinite compassion.”

“Shivanayama.”

He went back to his place. There was a long silence. Then Vijaya rose to his feet and began to speak.

“Danger,” he said, and again, “danger. Danger deliberately and yet lightly accepted. Danger shared with a friend, a group of friends. Shared consciously, shared to the limits of awareness so that the sharing and the danger become a yoga. Two friends roped together on a rock face. Sometimes three friends or four. Each totally aware of his own straining muscles, his own skill, his own fear and his own spirit transcending the fear. And each, of course, aware at the same time of all the others, concerned for them, doing the right things to make sure that they’ll be safe. Life at its highest pitch of bodily and mental tension, life more abundant, more inestimably precious, because of the ever-present threat of death. But after the yoga of danger there’s the yoga of the summit, the yoga of rest and letting go, the yoga of complete and total receptiveness, the yoga that consists in consciously accepting what is given as it is given, without censorship by your busy moralistic mind, without any additions from your stock of second-hand ideas, your even larger stock of wishful phantasies. You just sit there with muscles relaxed and a mind open to the sunlight and the clouds, open to distance and the horizon, open in the end to that formless, wordless Not-Thought which the stillness of the summit permits you to divine, profound and enduring, within the twittering flux of your everyday thinking.

“And now it’s time for the descent, time for a second bout of the yoga of danger, time for a renewal of tension and the awareness of life in its glowing plenitude as you hang precariously on the brink of destruction. Then at the foot of the precipice you unrope, you go striding down the rocky path towards the first trees. And suddenly you’re in the forest, and another kind of yoga is called for — the yoga of the jungle, the yoga that consists of being totally aware of life at the near-point, jungle life in all its exuberance and its rotting, crawling squalor, all its melodramatic ambivalence of orchids and centipedes, of leeches and sunbirds, of the drinkers of nectar and the drinkers of blood. Life bringing order out of chaos and ugliness, life performing its miracles of birth and growth, but performing them, it seems, for no other purpose than to destroy itself. Beauty and horror, beauty,” he repeated, “and horror. And then suddenly, as you come down from one of your expeditions in the mountains, suddenly you know that there’s a reconciliation. And not merely a reconciliation. A fusion, and identity. Beauty made one with horror in the yoga of the jungle. Life reconciled with the perpetual imminence of death in the yoga of danger. Emptiness identified with selfhood in the Sabbath yoga of the summit.”

There was silence. Murugan yawned ostentatiously. The old priest lighted another stick of incense and, muttering, waved it before the dancer, waved it again around the cosmic love-making of Shiva and the Goddess.

“Breathe deeply,” said Vijaya, “and as you breathe, pay attention to this smell of incense. Pay your whole attention to it; know it for what it is — an ineffable fact beyond words, beyond reason and explanation. Know it in the raw. Know it as a mystery. Perfume, women and prayer — those were the three things that Mohammed loved above all others. The inexplicable data of breathed incense, touched skin, felt love and beyond them, the mystery of mysteries, the One in plurality, the Emptiness that is all, the Suchness totally present in every appearance, at every point and instant. So breathe,” he repeated, “breathe,” and in a final whisper, as he sat down, “breathe.”

“Shivanayama,” murmured the old priest ecstatically.

Dr Robert rose and started towards the altar, then halted, turned back and beckoned to Will Farnaby.

“Come and sit with me,” he whispered, when Will had caught up with him. “I’d like you to see their faces.”

“Shan’t I be in the way?”

Dr Robert shook his head, and together they moved forward, climbed and, three-quarters of the way up the altar stair, sat down side by side in the penumbra between darkness and the light of the lamps. Very quietly Dr Robert began to talk about Shiva-Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance.

“Look at his image,” he said. “Look at it with these new eyes that the moksha-medicine has given you. See how it breathes and pulses, how it grows out of brightness into brightnesses ever more intense. Dancing through time and out of time, dancing everlastingly and in the eternal now. Dancing and dancing in all the worlds at once. Look at him.”

Scanning those upturned faces, Will noted, now in one, now in another, the dawning illuminations of delight, recognition, understanding, the signs of worshipping wonder that quivered on the brinks of ecstasy or terror.

“Look closely,” Dr Robert insisted. “Look still more closely.” Then, after a long minute of silence, “Dancing in all the worlds at once,” he repeated. “In all the worlds. And first of all in the world of matter. Look at the great round halo, fringed with the symbols of fire, within which the god is dancing. It stands for Nature, for the world of mass and energy. Within it Shiva-Nataraja dances the dance of endless becoming and passing away. It’s his lila, his cosmic play. Playing for the sake of playing, like a child. But this child is the Order of Things. His toys are galaxies, his playground is infinite space and between finger and finger every interval is a thousand million light years. Look at him there on the altar. The image is man-made, a little contraption of copper only four feet high. But Shiva-Nataraja fills the universe, is the universe. Shut your eyes and see him towering into the night, follow the boundless stretch of those arms and the wild hair infinitely flying. Nataraja at play among the stars and in the atoms. But also,” he added, “also at play within every living thing, every sentient creature, every child and man and woman. Play for play’s sake. But now the playground is conscious, the dance-floor is capable of suffering. To us, this play without purpose seems a kind of insult. What we would really like is a God who never destroys what he has created. Or if there must be pain and death, let them be meted out by a God of righteousness, who will punish the wicked and reward the good with everlasting happiness. But in fact the good get hurt, the innocent suffer. Then let there be a God who sympathizes and brings comfort. But Nataraja only dances. His play is a play impartially of death and of life, of all evils as well as of all goods. In the uppermost of his right hands he holds the drum that summons being out of not-being. Rub-a-dub-dub — the creation tattoo, the cosmic reveille. But now look at the uppermost of his left hands. It brandishes the fire by which all that has been created is forthwith destroyed. He dances this way — what happiness! Dances that way — and oh, the pain, the hideous fear, the desolation! Then hop, skip and jump. Hop into perfect health. Skip into cancer and senility. Jump out of the fulness of life into nothingness, out of nothingness again into life. For Nataraja it’s all play, and the play is an end in itself, everlastingly purposeless. He dances because he dances, and the dancing is his maha-sukha, his infinite and eternal bliss. Eternal Bliss,” Dr Robert repeated and again, but questioningly, “Eternal Bliss?” He shook his head. “For us there’s no bliss, only the oscillation between happiness and terror and a sense of outrage at the thought that our pains are as integral a part of Nataraja’s dance as our pleasures, our dying as our living. Let’s quietly think about that for a little while.”

The seconds passed, the silence deepened. Suddenly, startlingly one of the girls began to sob. Vijaya left his place and, kneeling down beside her, laid a hand on her shoulder. The sobbing died down.

“Suffering and sickness,” Dr Robert resumed at last, “old age, decrepitude, death. I show you sorrow. But that wasn’t the only thing the Buddha showed us. He also showed us the ending of sorrow.”

“Shivanayama,” the old priest cried triumphantly.

“Open your eyes again and look at Nataraja up there on the altar. Look closely. In his upper right hand, as you’ve already seen, he holds the drum that calls the world into existence, and in his upper left hand he carries the destroying fire. Life and death, order and disintegration, impartially. But now look at Shiva’s other pair of hands. The lower right hand is raised and the palm is turned outwards. What does that gesture signify? It signifies, ‘Don’t be afraid; it’s All Right.’ But how can anyone in his senses fail to be afraid? How can anyone pretend that evil and suffering are all right, when it’s so obvious that they’re all wrong? Nataraja has the answer. Look now at his lower left hand. He’s using it to point down at his feet. And what are his feet doing? Look closely and you’ll see that the right foot is planted squarely on a horrible little subhuman creature — the demon, Muyalaka. A dwarf, but immensely powerful in his malignity, Muyalaka is the embodiment of ignorance, the manifestation of greedy, possessive selfhood. Stamp on him, break his back! And that’s precisely what Nataraja is doing. Trampling the little monster down under his right foot. But notice that it isn’t at this trampling right foot that he points his finger; it’s at the left foot, the foot that, as he dances, he’s in the act of raising from the ground. And why does he point at it? Why? That lifted foot, that dancing defiance of the force of gravity — it’s the symbol of release, of moksha, of liberation. Nataraja dances in all the worlds at once — in the world of physics and chemistry, in the world of ordinary, all-too-human experience, in the world finally of Suchness, of Mind, of the Clear Light. And now,” Dr Robert went on after a moment of silence, “I want you to look at the other statue, the image of Shiva and the Goddess. Look at them there in their little cave of light. And now shut your eyes and see them again — shining, alive, glorified. How beautiful! And in their tenderness what depths of meaning! What wisdom beyond all spoken wisdoms in that sensual experience of spiritual fusion and atonement! Eternity in love with time. The One joined in marriage to the many, the relative made absolute by its union with the One. Nirvana identified with samsara, the manifestation in time and flesh and feeling of the Buddha Nature.”

“Shivanayama.” The old priest lighted another stick of incense and softly, in a succession of long-drawn melismata, began to chant something in Sanskrit. On the young faces before him Will could read the marks of a listening serenity, the hardly perceptible, ecstatic smile that welcomes a sudden insight, a revelation of truth or of beauty. In the background, meanwhile, Murugan sat wearily slumped against a pillar, picking his exquisitely Grecian nose.

“Liberation,” Dr Robert began again, “the ending of sorrow, ceasing to be what you ignorantly think you are and becoming what you are in fact. For a little while, thanks to the moksha-medicine, you will know what it’s like to be what in fact you are, what in fact you always have been. What a timeless bliss! But, like everything else, this timelessness is transient. Like everything else, it will pass. And when it has passed, what will you do with this experience? What will you do with all the other similar experiences that the moksha-medicine will bring you in the years to come? Will you merely enjoy them as you would enjoy an evening at the puppet show, and then go back to business as usual, back to behaving like the silly delinquents you imagine yourselves to be? Or, having glimpsed, will you devote your lives to the business, not at all as usual, of being what you are in fact? All that we older people can do with our teachings, all that Pala can do for you with its social arrangements, is to provide you with techniques and opportunities. And all that the moksha-medicine can do is to give you a succession of beatific glimpses, an hour or two, every now and then, of enlightening and liberating grace. It remains for you to decide whether you’ll co-operate with the grace and take those opportunities. But that’s for the future. Here and now, all you have to do is to follow the mynah bird’s advice: Attention! Pay attention and you’ll find yourselves, gradually or suddenly, becoming aware of the great primordial facts behind these symbols on the altar.”

“Shivanayama!” The old priest waved his stick of incense. At the foot of the altar steps the boys and girls sat motionless as statues. A door creaked, there was a sound of footsteps. Will turned his head and saw a short, thick-set man picking his way between the young contemplatives. He mounted the steps and, bending down, murmured something in Dr Robert’s ear, then turned and walked back towards the door.

Dr Robert laid a hand on Will’s knee. “It’s a royal command,” he whispered, with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders. “That was the man in charge of the Alpine hut. The Rani has just telephoned to say that she has to see Murugan as soon as possible. It’s urgent.” Laughing noiselessly, he rose and helped Will to his feet.

Chapter Eleven


WILL FARNABY HAD made his own breakfast and, when Dr Robert returned from his early morning visit to the hospital, was drinking his second cup of Palanese tea and eating toasted breadfruit with pumelo marmalade.

“Not too much pain in the night,” was Dr Robert’s response to his enquiries. “Lakshmi had four or five hours of good sleep, and this morning she was able to take some broth.”

They could look forward, he continued, to another day of respite. And so, since it tired the patient to have him there all the time, and since life, after all, had to go on and be made the best of, he had decided to drive up to the High Altitude Station and put in a few hours work on the research team in the pharmaceutical laboratory.

“Work on the moksha-medicine?”

Dr Robert shook his head. “That’s just a matter of repeating a standard operation — something for technicians, not for the researchers. They’re busy with something new.”

And he began to talk about the indoles recently isolated from the ololiuqui seeds that had been brought in from Mexico last year and were now being grown in the Station’s botanic garden. At least three different indoles, of which one seemed to be extremely potent. Animal experiments indicated that it affected the reticular system. …

Left to himself, Will sat down under the overhead fan and went on with his reading of the Notes on What’s What.

We cannot reason ourselves out of our basic irrationality. All we can do is to learn the art of being irrational in a reasonable way.

In Pala, after three generations of Reform, there are no sheep-like flocks and no ecclesiastical Good Shepherds to shear and castrate; there are no bovine or swinish herds and no licensed drovers, royal or military, capitalistic or revolutionary, to brand, confine and butcher. There are only voluntary associations of men and women on the road to full humanity.

Tunes or pebbles, processes or substantial things? ‘Tunes’, answer Buddhism and modern science. ‘Pebbles’, say the classical philosophers of the West. Buddhism and modern science think of the world in terms of music. The image that comes to mind when one reads the philosophers of the West, is a figure in a Byzantine mosaic, rigid, symmetrical, made up of millions of little squares of some stony material and firmly cemented to the walls of a windowless basilica.

The dancer’s grace and, forty years on, her arthritis — both are functions of the skeleton. It is thanks to an inflexible framework of bones that the girl is able to do her pirouettes, thanks to the same bones, grown a little rusty, that the grandmother is condemned to a wheel chair. Analogously, the firm support of a culture is the prime condition of all individual originality and creativeness; it is also their principal enemy. The thing in whose absence we cannot possibly grow into complete human beings is, all too often, the thing that prevents us from growing.

A century of research on the moksha-medicine has clearly shown that quite ordinary people are perfectly capable of having visionary or even fully liberating experiences. In this respect the men and women who make and enjoy high culture are no better off than the low-brows. High experience is perfectly compatible with low symbolic expression. The expressive symbols created by Palanese artists are no better than the expressive symbols created by artists elsewhere. Being the products of happiness and a sense of fulfilment, they are probably less moving, perhaps less satisfying aesthetically, than the tragic or compensatory symbols created by victims of frustration and ignorance, of tyranny, war and guilt-fostering crime-inciting superstitions. Palanese superiority does not lie in symbolic expression but in an art which, though higher and far more valuable than all the rest, can yet be practised by everyone — the art of adequately experiencing, the art of becoming more intimately acquainted with all the worlds that, as human beings, we find ourselves inhabiting. Palanese culture is not to be judged as (for lack of any better criterion) we judge other cultures. It is not to be judged by the accomplishments of a few gifted manipulators of artistic or philosophical symbols. No, it is to be judged by what all the members of the community, the ordinary as well as the extraordinary, can and do experience in every contingency and at each successive intersection of time with eternity.

The telephone bell had started to ring. Should he let it ring, or would it be better to answer and let the caller know that Dr Robert was out for the day? Deciding on the second course, Will lifted the receiver.

“Dr MacPhail’s bungalow,” he said, in a parody of secretarial efficiency. “But the doctor is out for the day.”

“Tant mieux,” said the rich royal voice at the other end of the wire. “How are you, mon cher Farnaby?”

Taken aback, Will stammered out his thanks for Her Highness’s gracious enquiry.

“So they took you,” said the Rani, “to see one of their so-called initiations yesterday afternoon.”

Will had recovered sufficiently from his surprise to respond with a neutral word and in the most non-committal of tones. “It was most remarkable,” he said.

“Remarkable,” said the Rani, dwelling emphatically on the spoken equivalents of pejorative and laudatory capital letters, “but only as the Blasphemous Caricature of TRUE Initiation. They’ve never learned to make the elementary distinction between the Natural Order and the Supernatural.”

“Quite,” Will murmured, “Quite …”

“What did you say?” the voice at the other end of the line demanded.

“Quite,” Will repeated more loudly.

“I’m glad you agree. But I didn’t call you,” the Rani went on, “to discuss the difference between the Natural and the Supernatural — Supremely Important as that difference is. No, I called you about a more urgent matter.”

“Oil?”

“Oil,” she confirmed. “I’ve just received a very disquieting communication from my Personal Representative in Rendang. Very Highly Placed,” she added parenthetically, “and invariably Well Informed.”

Will found himself wondering which of all those sleek and much be-medalled guests at the Foreign Office cocktail party had double-crossed his fellow double-crossers — himself, of course, included.

“Within the last few days,” the Rani went on, “representatives of no less than three Major Oil Companies, European and American, have flown into Rendang-Lobo. My informant tells me that they’re already working on the four or five Key Figures in the Administration who might, at some future date, be influential in deciding who is to get the concession for Pala.”

Will clicked his tongue disapprovingly.

Considerable sums, she hinted, had been, if not directly offered, at least named and temptingly dangled.

“Nefarious,” he commented.

Nefarious, the Rani agreed, was the word. And that was why Something must be Done About It, and Done Immediately. From Bahu she had learned that Will had already written to Lord Aldehyde, and within a few days a reply would doubtless be forthcoming. But a few days were too long. Time was of the essence — not only because of what those rival companies were up to, but also (and the Rani lowered her voice mysteriously) for Other Reasons. ‘Now, now!’ her Little Voice kept exhorting. ‘Now, without delay!’ Lord Aldehyde must be informed by cable of what was happening (the faithful Bahu, she added parenthetically, had offered to transmit the message in code by way of the Rendang Legation in London) and along with the information must go an urgent request that he empower his Special Correspondent to take such steps — at this stage the appropriate steps would be predominantly of a financial nature — as might be necessary to secure the triumph of their Common Cause.

“So with your permission,” the voice concluded, “I’ll tell Bahu to send the cable immediately. In our joint names, Mr Farnaby, yours and Mine. I hope, mon cher, that this will be agreeable to you.”

It wasn’t at all agreeable, but there seemed to be no excuse, seeing that he had already written that letter to Joe Aldehyde, for demurring. And so, “Yes, of course,” he cried with a show of enthusiasm belied by his long dubious pause, before the words were uttered, in search of an alternative answer. “We ought to get the reply some time tomorrow,” he added.

“We shall get it tonight,” the Rani assured him.

“Is that possible?”

“With God” (con espressione) “all things are possible.”

“Quite,” he said, “quite. But still. …”

“I go by what my Little Voice tells me. ‘Tonight,’ it’s saying. And ‘he will give Mr Farnaby carte blanche,’ carte blanche.” she repeated with gusto. “‘And Farnaby will be completely successful.’”

“I wonder?” he said doubtfully.

“You must be successful.”

“Must be?”

“Must be,” she insisted.

“Why?”

“Because it was God who inspired me to launch the Crusade of the Spirit.”

“I don’t quite get the connection.”

“Perhaps I oughtn’t to tell you,” she said. Then, after a moment of silence, “But after all, why not? If our Cause triumphs, Lord Aldehyde has promised to back the Crusade with all his resources. And since God wants the Crusade to succeed, our Cause cannot fail to triumph.”

“QED,” he wanted to shout, but restrained himself. It wouldn’t be polite. And anyhow this was no joking matter.

“Well I must call Bahu,” said the Rani. “A bientôt, my dear Farnaby.” And she rang off.

Shrugging his shoulders, Will turned back to the Notes on What’s What. What else was there to do?

Dualism … Without it there can hardly be good literature. With it, there most certainly can be no good life.

“I” affirms a separate and abiding me-substance, “am” denies the fact that all existence is relationship and change. “I am.”

Two tiny words; but what an enormity of untruth!

The religiously minded dualist calls home-made spirits from the vasty deep: The non-dualist calls the vasty deep into his spirit or, to be more accurate, he finds that the vasty deep is already there.

There was the noise of an approaching car, then silence as the motor was turned off, then the slamming of a door and the sound of footsteps on gravel, on the steps of the verandah.

“Are you ready?” called Vijaya’s deep voice.

Will put down the Notes on What’s What, picked up his bamboo staff and, hoisting himself to his feet walked to the front door.

“Ready and champing at the bit,” he said as he stepped out on to the verandah.

“Then let’s go.” Vijaya took his arm. “Careful of these steps,” he recommended.

Dressed all in pink and with corals round her neck and in her ears, a plump, round-faced woman in her middle forties was standing beside the jeep.

“This is Leela Rao,” said Vijaya. “Our librarian, secretary, treasurer and general keeper-in-order. Without her we’d be lost.”

She looked, Will thought as he shook hands with her, like a browner version of one of those gentle but inexhaustibly energetic English ladies who, when their children are grown, go in for good works or organized culture. Not too intelligent, poor dears; but how selfless, how devoted, how genuinely good — and, alas, how boring!

“I was hearing of you,” Mrs Rao volunteered as they rattled along past the lotus pond and out on to the highway, “from my young friends, Radha and Ranga.”

“I hope,” said Will, “that they approved of me as heartily as I approved of them.”

Mrs Rao’s face brightened with pleasure. “I’m so glad you like them!”

“Ranga’s exceptionally bright,” Vijaya put in.

And so delicately balanced, Mrs Rao elaborated, between introversion and the outside world. Always tempted — and how strongly! — to escape into the Arhat’s Nirvana or the scientist’s beautifully tidy little paradise of pure abstraction. Always tempted, but often resisting temptation, for Ranga, the arhat-scientist, was also another kind of Ranga, a Ranga capable of compassion, ready, if one knew how to make the right kind of appeal, to lay himself open to the concrete realities of life, to be aware, concerned and actively helpful. How fortunate for him and for everyone else that he had found a girl like little Radha, a girl so intelligently simple, so humorous and tender, so richly endowed for love and happiness! Radha and Ranga, Mrs Rao confided, had been among her favourite pupils.

Pupils, Will patronizingly assumed, in some kind of Buddhist Sunday School. But in fact, as he was now flabbergasted to learn, it was in the yoga of love that this devoted Settlement Worker had been, for the past six years and in the intervals of librarian-ship, instructing the young. By the kind of methods, Will supposed, that Murugan had shrunk from and the Rani, in her all but incestuous possessiveness, had found so outrageous. He opened his mouth to question her. But his reflexes had been conditioned in higher latitude and by Settlement Workers of another species. The questions simply refused to pass his lips. And now it was too late to ask them. Mrs Rao had begun to talk about her other avocation.

“If you knew,” she was saying, “what trouble we have with books in this climate! The paper rots, the glue liquefies, the bindings disintegrate, the insects devour. Literature and the tropics are really incompatible.”

“And if one’s to believe your Old Raja,” said Will, “literature is incompatible with a lot of other local features besides your climate — incompatible with human integrity, incompatible with philosophical truth, incompatible with individual sanity and a decent social system, incompatible with everything except dualism, criminal lunacy, impossible aspiration and unnecessary guilt. But never mind.” He grinned ferociously. “Colonel Dipa will put everything right. After Pala has been invaded and made safe for war and oil and heavy industry, you’ll undoubtedly have a Golden Age of literature and theology.”

“I’d like to laugh,” said Vijaya. “The only trouble is that you’re probably right. I have an uncomfortable feeling that my children will grow up to see your prophecy come true.”

They left their jeep, parked between an oxcart and a brand new Japanese lorry, at the entrance to the village, and proceeded on foot. Between thatched houses, set in gardens shaded by palms and papayas and bread-fruit trees, the narrow street led to a central market place. Will halted and, leaning on his bamboo staff, looked around him. On one side of the square stood a charming piece of oriental rococo with a pink stucco façade and gazebos at the four corners — evidently the town hall. Facing it, on the opposite side of the square, rose a small temple of reddish stone, with a central tower on which, tier after tier, a host of sculptured figures recounted the legends of the Buddha’s progress from spoiled child to Tathagata. Between these two monuments, more than half of the open space was covered by a huge banyan tree. Along its winding and shadowy aisles were ranged the stalls of a score of merchants and market women. Slanting down through chinks in the green vaulting overhead, the long probes of sunlight picked out here a row of black and yellow water jars, there a silver bracelet, a painted wooden toy, a bolt of cotton print; here a pile of fruits, and a girl’s gaily flowered bodice, there the flash of laughing teeth and eyes, the ruddy gold of a naked torso.

“Everybody looks so healthy,” Will commented, as they made their way between the stalls under the great tree.

“They look healthy because they are healthy,” said Mrs Rao.

“And happy — for a change.” He was thinking of the faces he had seen in Calcutta, in Manila, in Rendang-Lobo — the faces, for that matter, one saw every day in Fleet Street and the Strand. “Even the women,” he noted, glancing from face to face, “even the women look happy.”

“They don’t have ten children,” Mrs Rao explained.

“They don’t have ten children where I come from,” said Will. “In spite of which … ‘Marks of weakness, marks of woe’.” He halted for a moment to watch a middle-aged market woman weighing out slices of sun-dried bread-fruit for a very young mother with a baby in a carrying bag on her back. “There’s a kind of radiance,” he concluded.

“Thanks to maithuna,” said Mrs Rao triumphantly. “Thanks to the yoga of love.” Her face shone with a mixture of religious fervour and professional pride.

They walked out from under the shade of the banyan, across a stretch of fierce sunlight, up a flight of worn steps and into the gloom of the temple. A golden Bodhisattva loomed, gigantic, out of the darkness. There was a smell of incense and fading flowers, and from somewhere behind the statue the voice of an unseen worshipper was muttering an endless litany. Noiselessly, on bare feet, a little girl came hurrying in from a side door. Paying no attention to the grown-ups she climbed with the agility of a cat on to the altar and laid a spray of white orchids on the statue’s upturned palm. Then, looking up into the huge golden face, she murmured a few words, shut her eyes for a moment, murmured again, then turned, scrambled down and, softly singing to herself, went out by the door through which she had entered.

“Charming,” said Will, as he watched her go. “Couldn’t be prettier. But precisely what does a child like that think she’s doing? What kind of religion is she supposed to be practising?”

“She’s practising,” Vijaya explained, “the local brand of Mahayana Buddhism, with a bit of Shivaism, probably, on the side.”

“And do you high-brows encourage this kind of thing?”

“We neither encourage nor discourage. We accept it. Accept it as we accept that spider web up there on the cornice. Given the nature of spiders, webs are inevitable. And given the nature of human beings, so are religions. Spiders can’t help making flytraps, and men can’t help making symbols. That’s what the human brain is there for — to turn the chaos of given experience into a set of manageable symbols. Sometimes the symbols correspond fairly closely to some of the aspects of the external reality behind our experience; then you have science and common sense. Sometimes, on the contrary, the symbols have almost no connection with external reality; then you have paranoia and delirium. More often there’s a mixture, part realistic and part fantastic; that’s religion. Good religion or bad religion — it depends on the blending of the cocktail. For example, in the kind of Calvinism that Dr Andrew was brought up in, you’re given only the tiniest jigger of realism to a whole jug-full of malignant fancy. In other cases the mixture is more wholesome. Fifty-fifty, or even sixty-forty, even seventy-thirty in favour of truth and decency. Our local Old Fashioned contains a remarkably small admixture of poison.”

Will nodded. “Offerings of white orchids to an image of compassion and enlightenment — it certainly seems harmless enough. And after what I saw yesterday, I’d be prepared to put in a good word for cosmic dancing and divine copulations.”

“And remember,” said Vijaya, “this sort of thing isn’t compulsory. Everybody’s given a chance to go further. You asked what that child thinks she’s doing. I’ll tell you. With one part of her mind, she thinks she’s talking to a person — an enormous, divine person who can be cajoled with orchids into giving her what she wants. But she’s already old enough to have been told about the profounder symbols behind Amitabha’s statue and about the experiences that give birth to those profounder symbols. Consequently with another part of her mind she knows perfectly well that Amitabha isn’t a person. She even knows, because it’s been explained to her, that if prayers are sometimes answered it’s because, in this very odd psycho-physical world of ours, ideas have a tendency, if you concentrate your mind on them, to get themselves realized. She knows too that this temple isn’t what she still likes to think it is — the house of Buddha. She knows it’s just a diagram of her own unconscious mind — a dark little cubby-hole with lizards crawling upside down on the ceiling, and cockroaches in all the crevices. But at the heart of the verminous darkness sits Enlightenment. And that’s another thing the child is doing — she’s unconsciously learning a lesson about herself, she’s being told that if she’d only stop giving herself suggestions to the contrary, she might discover that her own busy little mind is also Mind with a large M.”

“And how soon will the lesson be learned? When will she stop giving herself those suggestions?”

“She may never learn. A lot of people don’t. On the other hand, a lot of people do.”

He took Will’s arm and led him into the deeper darkness behind the image of Enlightenment. The chanting grew more distinct, and there, hardly visible in the shadows, sat the chanter — a very old man, naked to the waist and, except for his moving lips, as rigidly still as Amitabha’s golden statue.

“What’s he intoning?” Will asked.

“Something in Sanskrit.”

Seven incomprehensible syllables, again and again.

“Good old vain repetition!”

“Not necessarily vain,” Mrs Rao objected. “Sometimes it really gets you somewhere.”

“It gets you somewhere,” Vijaya elaborated, “not because of what the words mean or suggest, but simply because they’re being repeated. You could repeat Hey Diddle Diddle and it would work just as well as Om or Kyrie Eleison or La ila illa ‘llah. It works because when you’re busy with the repetition of Hey Diddle Diddle or the name of God, you can’t be entirely preoccupied with yourself. The only trouble is that you can Hey-Diddle-Diddle yourself downwards as well as upwards — down into the not-thought of idiocy as well as up into the not-thought of pure awareness.”

“So, I take it, you wouldn’t recommend this kind of thing,” said Will, “to our little friend with the orchids?”

“Not unless she were unusually jittery or anxious. Which she isn’t. I know her very well; she plays with my children.”

“Then what would you do in her case?”

“Among other things,” said Vijaya, “I’d take her, in another year or so, to the place we’re going to now.”

“What place?”

“The meditation room.”

Will followed him through an archway and along a short corridor. Heavy curtains were parted and they stepped into a large whitewashed room with a long window, to their left, that opened on to a little garden planted with banana and bread-fruit trees. There was no furniture, only a scattering on the floor of small square cushions. On the wall opposite the window hung a large oil painting. Will gave it a glance, then approached to look into it more closely.

“My word!” he said at last. “Who is it by?”

“Gobind Singh.”

“And who’s Gobind Singh?”

“The best landscape painter Pala ever produced. He died in ‘forty-eight.”

“Why haven’t we ever seen anything by him?”

“Because we like his work too well to export any of it.”

“Good for you,” said Will. “But bad for us.” He looked again at the picture. “Did this man ever go to China?”

“No; but he studied with a Cantonese painter who was living in Pala. And of course he’d seen plenty of reproductions of Sung landscapes.”

“A Sung master,” said Will, “who chose to paint in oils and was interested in chiaroscuro.”

“Only after he went to Paris. That was in 1910. He struck up a friendship with Vuillard.”

Will nodded. “One might have guessed as much from this extraordinary richness of texture.” He went on looking at the picture in silence. “Why do you hang it in the meditation room?” he asked at last.

“Why do you suppose?” Vijaya countered.

“Is it because this thing is what you call a diagram of the mind?”

“The temple was a diagram. This is something much better. It’s an actual manifestation. A manifestation of Mind with a large M in an individual mind in relation to a landscape, to canvas and to the experience of painting. It’s a picture, incidentally, of the next valley to the west. Painted from the place where the power lines disappear over the ridge.”

“What clouds!” said Will. “And the light!”

“The light,” Vijaya elaborated, “of the last hour before dusk. It’s just stopped raining and the sun has come out again, brighter than ever. Bright with the praeternatural brightness of slanting light under a ceiling of cloud, the last, doomed, afternoon brightness that stipples every surface it touches and deepens every shadow.”

‘Deepens every shadow,’ Will repeated to himself, as he looked into the picture. The shadow of that huge, high continent of cloud, darkening whole mountain ranges almost to blackness; and in the middle distance the shadows of island clouds. And between dark and dark was the blaze of young rice, or the red heat of ploughed earth, the incandescence of naked limestone, the sumptuous darks and diamond glitter of evergreen foliage. And here at the centre of the valley stood a group of thatched houses, remote and tiny, but how clearly seen, how perfect and articulate, how profoundly significant! Yes, significant. But when you asked yourself, ‘Of what?’ you found no answer. Will put the question into words.

“What do they mean?” Vijaya repeated. “They mean precisely what they are. And so do the mountains, so do the clouds, so do the lights and darks. And that’s why this is a genuinely religious image. Pseudo-religious pictures always refer to something else, something beyond the things they represent — some piece of metaphysical nonsense, some absurd dogma from the local theology. A genuinely religious image is always intrinsically meaningful. So that’s why we hang this kind of painting in our meditation room.”

“Always landscapes?”

“Almost always. Landscapes can really remind people of who they are.”

“Better than scenes from the life of a Saint or Saviour?”

Vijaya nodded. “It’s the difference, to begin with, between objective and subjective. A picture of Christ or Buddha is merely the record of something observed by a Behaviourist and interpreted by a theologian. But when you’re confronted with a landscape like this, it’s psychologically impossible for you to look at it with the eyes of a J. B. Watson or the mind of a Thomas Aquinas. You’re almost forced to submit to your immediate experience; you’re practically compelled to perform an act of self-knowing.”

“Self-knowing?”

“Self-knowing,” Vijaya insisted. “This view of the next valley is a view, at one remove, of your own mind, of everybody’s mind as it exists above and below the level of personal history. Mysteries of darkness; but the darkness teems with life. Apocalypses of light; and the light shines out as brightly from the flimsy little houses as from the trees, the grass, the blue spaces between the clouds. We do our best to disprove the fact, but a fact it remains; man is as divine as nature, as infinite as the Void. But that’s getting perilously close to theology, and nobody was ever saved by a notion. Stick to the data, stick to the concrete facts.” He pointed a finger at the picture. “The fact of half a village in sunshine and half in shadow and in secret. The fact of those indigo mountains and of the more fantastic mountains of vapour above them. The fact of blue lakes in the sky, lakes of pale green and raw sienna on the sunlit earth. The fact of this grass in the foreground, this clump of bamboos only a few yards down the slope, and the fact, at the same time, of those far-away peaks and the absurd little houses two thousand feet below in the valley. Distance,” he added, parenthetically, “their ability to express the fact of distance — that’s yet another reason why landscapes are the most genuinely religious pictures.”

“Because distance lends enchantment to the view?”

“No; because it lends reality. Distance reminds us that there’s a lot more to the universe than just people — that there’s even a lot more to people than just people. It reminds us that there are mental spaces inside our skulls as enormous as the spaces out there. The experience of distance, of inner distance and outer distance, of distance in time and distance in space — it’s the first and fundamental religious experience. ‘O Death in life, the days that are no more’ — and O the places, the infinite number of places that are not this place! Past pleasures, past unhappinesses and insights — all so intensely alive in our memories and yet all dead, dead without hope of resurrection. And the village down there in the valley so clearly seen even in the shadow, so real and indubitable, and yet so hopelessly out of reach, incommunicado. A picture like this is the proof of man’s capacity to accept all the deaths in life, all the yawning absences surrounding every presence. To my mind,” Vijaya added, “the worst feature of your non-representational art is its systematic two-dimensionality, its refusal to take account of the universal experience of distance. As a coloured object, a piece of abstract expressionism can be very handsome. It can also serve as a kind of glorified Rohrshach ink blot. Everybody can find in it a symbolic expression of his own fears, lusts, hatreds, and daydreams. But can one ever find in it those more than human (or should one say those other than all too human) facts that one discovers in oneself when the mind is confronted by the outer distances of nature, or by the simultaneously inner and outer distances of a painted landscape like this one we’re looking at? All I know is that in your abstractions I don’t find the realities that reveal themselves here, and I doubt if anyone else can. Which is why this fashionable abstract non-objective expressionism of yours is so fundamentally irreligious — and also, I may add, why even the best of it is so profoundly boring, so bottomlessly trivial.”

“Do you come here often?” Will asked after a silence.

“Whenever I feel like meditating in a group rather than alone.”

“How often is that?”

“Once every week or so. But of course some people like to do it oftener — and some much more rarely, or even never. It depends on one’s temperament. Take our friend Susila, for example — she needs big doses of solitude; so she hardly ever comes to the meditation room. Whereas Shanta (that’s my wife) likes to look in here almost every day.”

“So do I,” said Mrs Rao. “But that’s only to be expected,” she added with a laugh. “Fat people enjoy company — even when they’re meditating.”

“And do you meditate on this picture?” Will asked.

“Not on it. From it, if you see what I mean. Or rather parallel with it. I look at it, and the other people look at it, and it reminds us all of who we are and what we aren’t, and how what we aren’t might turn into who we are.”

“Is there any connection,” Will asked, “between what you’ve been talking about and what I saw up there in the Shiva temple?”

“Of course there is,” she answered. “The moksha-medicine takes you to the same place as you get to in meditation.”

“So why bother to meditate?”

“You might as well ask, Why bother to eat your dinner?”

“But, according to you, the moksha-medicine is dinner.”

“It’s a banquet,” she said emphatically. “And that’s precisely why there has to be meditation. You can’t have banquets every day. They’re too rich and they last too long. Besides banquets are provided by a caterer; you don’t have any part in the preparation of them. For your everyday diet you have to do your own cooking. The moksha-medicine comes as an occasional treat.”

“In theological terms,” said Vijaya, “the moksha-medicine prepares one for the reception of gratuitous graces — pre-mystical visions or the full-blown mystical experiences. Meditation is one of the ways in which one co-operates with those gratuitous graces.”

“How?”

“By cultivating the state of mind that makes it possible for the dazzling ecstatic insights to become permanent and habitual illuminations. By getting to know oneself to the point where one won’t be compelled by one’s unconscious to do all the ugly, absurd, self-stultifying things that one so often finds oneself doing.”

“You mean, it helps one to be more intelligent?”

“Not more intelligent in relation to science or logical argument — more intelligent on the deeper level of concrete experiences and personal relationships.”

“More intelligent on that level,” said Mrs Rao, “even though one may be very stupid upstairs.” She patted the top of her head. “I’m too dumb to be any good at the things that Dr Robert and Vijaya are good at — genetics and biochemistry and philosophy and all the rest. And I’m no good at painting or poetry or acting. No talents and no cleverness. So I ought to feel horribly inferior and depressed. But in fact I don’t — thanks entirely to the moksha-medicine and meditation. No talents or cleverness. But when it comes to living, when it comes to understanding people and helping them, I feel myself growing more and more sensitive and skilful. And when it comes to what Vijaya calls gratuitous graces …” She broke off. “You could be the greatest genius in the world, but you wouldn’t have anything more than what I’ve been given. Isn’t that true, Vijaya?”

“Perfectly true.”

She turned back to Will. “So you see, Mr Farnaby, Pala’s the place for stupid people. The greatest happiness of the greatest number — and we stupid ones are the greatest number. People like Dr Robert and Vijaya and my darling Ranga — we recognize their superiority, we know very well that their kind of intelligence is enormously important. But we also know that our kind of intelligence is just as important. And we don’t envy them, because we’re given just as much as they are. Sometimes even more.”

“Sometimes,” Vijaya agreed, “even more. For the simple reason that a talent for manipulating symbols tempts its possessors into habitual symbol-manipulation, and habitual symbol-manipulation is an obstacle in the way of concrete experiencing and the reception of gratuitous graces.”

“So you see,” said Mrs Rao, “you don’t have to feel too sorry for us.” She looked at her watch. “Goodness, I shall be late for Dillip’s dinner if I don’t hurry.”

She started briskly towards the door.

“Time, time, time,” Will mocked. “Time even in this place of timeless meditation. Time for dinner breaking incorrigibly into eternity.” He laughed. Never take yes for an answer. The nature of things is always no.

Mrs Rao halted for a moment and looked back at him.

“But sometimes,” she said with a smile,” it’s eternity that miraculously breaks into time — even into dinner time. Goodbye.” She waved her hand and was gone.

“Which is better,” Will wondered aloud as he followed Vijaya through the dark temple, out into the noonday glare, “which is better — to be born stupid into an intelligent society or intelligent into an insane one?”

Chapter Twelve


“HERE WE ARE,” said Vijaya, when they had reached the end of the short street that led downhill from the market place. He opened a wicket gate and ushered his guest into a tiny garden, at the further end of which, on its low stilts, stood a small thatched house.

From behind the bungalow a yellow mongrel dog rushed out and greeted them with a frenzy of ecstatic yelps and jumps and tail-waggings. A moment later a large green parrot, with white cheeks and a bill of polished jet, came swooping down from nowhere and landed with a squawk and a noisy fluttering of wings on Vijaya’s shoulder.

“Parrots for you,” said Will, “mynahs for little Mary Sarojini. You people seem to be on remarkably good terms with the local fauna.”

Vijaya nodded. “Pala is probably the only country in which an animal theologian would have no reason for believing in devils. For animals everywhere else, Satan, quite obviously, is Homo sapiens.”

They climbed the steps to the verandah and walked through the open front door into the bungalow’s main living-room. Seated on a low chair near the window, a young woman in blue was nursing her baby son. She lifted a heart-shaped face that narrowed down from a broad forehead to a delicately pointed chin, and gave them a welcoming smile.

“I’ve brought Will Farnaby,” said Vijaya as he bent down to kiss her.

Shanta held out her free hand to the stranger.

“I hope Mr Farnaby doesn’t object to nature in the raw,” she said. As though to give point to her words, the baby withdrew his mouth from the brown nipple, and belched. A white bubble of silk appeared between his lips, swelled up and burst. He belched again, then resumed his sucking. “Even at eight months,” she added “Rama’s table manners are still rather primitive.”

“A fine specimen,” said Will politely. He was not much interested in babies and had always been thankful for those repeated miscarriages which had frustrated all Molly’s hopes and longings for a child. “Who’s he going to look like — you or Vijaya?”

Shanta laughed and Vijaya joined in, enormously, an octave lower.

“He certainly won’t look like Vijaya,” she answered.

“Why not?”

“For the sufficient reason,” said Vijaya, “that I’m not genetically responsible.”

“In other words, the baby isn’t Vijaya’s son.”

Will looked from one laughing face to the other, then shrugged his shoulders. “I give up.”

“Four years ago,” Shanta explained, “we produced a pair of twins who are the living image of Vijaya. This time we thought it would be fun to have a complete change. We decided to enrich the family with an entirely new physique and temperament. Did you ever hear of Gobind Singh?”

“Vijaya has just been showing me his painting in your meditation room.”

“Well, that’s the man we chose for Rama’s father.”

“But I understood he was dead.”

Shanta nodded. “But his soul goes marching along.”

“What do you mean?”

“DF and AI.”

“DF and AI?”

“Deep Freeze and Artificial Insemination.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Actually,” said Vijaya, “we developed the techniques of AI about twenty years before you did. But of course we couldn’t do much with it until we had electric power and reliable refrigerators. We got those in the late twenties. Since when we’ve been using AI in a big way.”

“So you see,” Shanta chimed in, “my baby might grow up to be a painter — that is, if that kind of talent is inherited. And even if it isn’t, he’ll be a lot more endomorphic and viscerotonic than his brothers or either of his parents. Which is going to be very interesting and educative for everybody concerned.”

“Do many people go in for this kind of thing?” Will asked.

“More and more. In fact I’d say that practically all the couples who decide to have a third child now go in for AI. So do quite a lot of those who mean to stop at number two. Take my family, for example. There’s been some diabetes among my father’s people; so they thought it best — he and my mother — to have both their children by AI. My brother’s descended from three generations of dancers and, genetically, I’m the daughter of Dr Robert’s first cousin, Malcolm Chakravarti-MacPhail, who was the o d Raja’s private secretary.”

“And the author,” Vijaya added, “of the best history of Pala. Chakravarti-MacPhail was one of the ablest men of his generation.”

Will looked at Shanta, then back again at Vijaya.

“And has the ability been inherited?” he asked.

“So much so,” Vijaya answered, “that I have the greatest difficulty in maintaining my position of masculine superiority. Shanta has more brains than I have; but fortunately she can’t compete with my brawn.”

“Brawn,” Shanta repeated sarcastically, “brawn … I seem to remember a story about a young lady called Delilah.”

“Incidentally,” Vijaya went on, “Shanta has thirty-two half-brothers and twenty-nine half-sisters. And more than a third of them are exceptionally bright.”

“So you’re improving the race.”

“Very definitely. Give us another century, and our average IQ will be up to a hundred and fifteen.”

“Whereas ours, at the present rate of progress, will be down to about eighty-five. Better medicine — more congenital deficiencies preserved and passed on. It’ll make things a lot easier for future dictators.” At the thought of this cosmic joke he laughed aloud. Then, after a silence, “What about the ethical and religious aspects of AI?” he asked.

“In the early days,” said Vijaya, “there were a good many conscientious objectors. But now the advantages of AI have been so clearly demonstrated, most married couples feel that it’s more moral to take a shot at having a child of superior quality than to run the risk of slavishly reproducing whatever quirks and defects may happen to run in the husband’s family. Meanwhile the theologians have got busy. AI has been justified in terms of reincarnation and the theory of karma. Pious fathers now feel happy at the thought that they’re giving their wife’s children a chance of creating a better destiny for themselves and their posterity.”

“A better destiny?”

“Because they carry the germ plasm of a better stock. And the stock is better because it’s the manifestation of a better karma. We have a central bank of superior stocks. Superior stocks of every variety of physique and temperament. In your kind of environment, most people’s heredity never gets a fair chance. In ours, it does. And incidentally we have excellent genealogical and anthropometric records going back as far as the eighteen-seventies. So you see we’re not working entirely in the dark. For example, we know that Gobind Singh’s maternal grandmother was a gifted medium and lived to ninety-six.”

“So you see,” said Shanta, “we may even have a centenarian clairvoyant in the family.” The baby belched again. She laughed. “The oracle has spoken — as usual, very enigmatically.” Turning to Vijaya, “If you want lunch to be ready on time,” she added, “you’d better go and do something about it. Rama’s going to keep me busy for at least another ten minutes.”

Vijaya rose, laid one hand on his wife’s shoulder and with the other gently rubbed the baby’s brown back.

Shanta bent down and passed her cheek across the top of the child’s downy head. “It’s father,” she whispered “Good father, good, good. …”

Vijaya administered a final pat, then straightened himself up. “You were wondering,” he said to Will, “how it is that we get on so well with the local fauna. I’ll show you.” He raised his hand. “Polly. Polly.” Cautiously, the big bird stepped from his shoulder to the extended forefinger. “Polly’s a good bird,” he chanted. “Polly’s a very good bird.” He lowered his hand to the point where a contact was made between the bird’s body and the child’s, then moved it slowly, feathers against brown skin, back and forth, back and forth. “Polly’s a good bird,” he repeated, “a good bird.”

The parrot uttered a succession of low chuckles, then leaned forward from its perch on Vijaya’s finger and very gently nibbled at the child’s tiny ear.

“Such a good bird,” Shanta whispered, taking up the refrain. “Such a good bird.”

“Dr Andrew picked up the idea,” said Vijaya, “while he was serving as a naturalist on the Melampus. From a tribe in northern New Guinea. Neolithic people; but like you Christians and us Buddhists, they believed in love. And unlike us and you, they’d invented some very practical ways of making their belief come true. This technique was one of their happiest discoveries. Stroke the baby while you’re feeding him; it doubles his pleasure. Then, while he’s sucking and being caressed, introduce him to the animal or person you want him to love. Rub his body against theirs; let there be a warm physical contact between child and love-object. At the same time repeat some word like ‘good’. At first he’ll understand only your tone of voice. Later on, when he learns to speak, he’ll get the full meaning. Food plus caress plus contact plus ‘good’ equals love. And love equals pleasure, love equals satisfaction.”

“Pure Pavlov.”

“But Pavlov purely for a good purpose. Pavlov for friendliness and trust and compassion. Whereas you prefer to use Pavlov for brain washing, Pavlov for selling cigarettes and vodka and patriotism. Pavlov for the benefit of dictators, generals, and tycoons.”

Refusing any longer to be left out in the cold, the yellow mongrel had joined the group and was impartially licking every piece of sentient matter within its reach — Shanta’s arm, Vijaya’s hand, the parrot’s feet, the baby’s backside. Shanta drew the dog closer and rubbed the child against its furry flank.

“And this is a good good dog,” she said. “Dog Toby, good good dog Toby.”

Will laughed. “Oughtn’t I to get into the act?”

“I was going to suggest it,” Shanta answered, “only I was afraid you’d think it was beneath your dignity.”

“You can take my place,” said Vijaya. “I must go and see about our lunch.”

Still carrying the parrot, he walked out through the door that led into the kitchen. Will pulled up his chair and, leaning forward, began to stroke the child’s tiny body.

“This is another man,” Shanta whispered. “A good man, baby. A good man.”

“How I wish it were true!” he said with a rueful little laugh.

“Here and now it is true.” And bending down again over the child, “He’s a good man,” she repeated. “A good good man.”

He looked at her blissfully, secretly smiling face, he felt the smoothness and warmth of the child’s tiny body against his finger tips. Good, good, good … He too might have known this goodness — but only if his life had been completely different from what in fact, in senseless and disgusting fact, it was. So never take yes for an answer, even when, as now, yes is self-evident. He looked again with eyes deliberately attuned to another wavelength of value, and saw the caricature of a Memling altarpiece. ‘Madonna with Child, Dog, Pavlov and Casual Acquaintance.’ And suddenly he could almost understand, from the inside, why Mr Bahu so hated these people. Why he was so bent — in the name, as usual and needless to say, of God — on their destruction.

“Good,” Shanta was still murmuring to her baby, “good, good, good.”

Too good — that was their crime. It simply wasn’t permissible. And yet how precious it was! And how passionately he wished that he might have had a part in it! Pure sentimentality! he said to himself; and then aloud, “Good, good, good,” he echoed ironically. “But what happens when the child grows a little bigger and discovers that a lot of things and people are thoroughly bad, bad, bad?”

“Friendliness evokes friendliness,” she answered.

“From the friendly — yes. But not from the greedy, not from the power-lovers, not from the frustrated and embittered. For them, friendliness is just weakness, just an invitation to exploit, to bully, to take vengeance with impunity.”

“But one has to run the risk, one has to make a beginning. And luckily no one’s immortal. The people who’ve been conditioned to swindling and bullying and bitterness will all be dead in a few years. Dead, and replaced by men and women brought up in the new way. It happened with us; it can happen with you.”

“It can happen,” he agreed. “But in the context of H-bombs and nationalism and fifty million more people every single year, it almost certainly won’t.”

“You can’t tell till you try.”

“And we shan’t try as long as the world is in its present state. And, of course, it will remain in its present state until we do try. Try and, what’s more, succeed at least as well as you’ve succeeded. Which brings me back to my original question. What happens when good, good, good discovers that, even in Pala, there’s a lot of bad, bad, bad? Don’t the children get some pretty unpleasant shocks?”

“We try to inoculate them against those shocks.”

“How? By making things unpleasant for them while they’re still young?”

“Not unpleasant. Let’s say real. We teach them love and confidence, but we expose them to reality, reality in all its aspects. And then give them responsibilities. They’re made to understand that Pala isn’t Eden or the Land of Cockayne. It’s a nice place all right. But it will remain nice only if everybody works and behaves decently. And meanwhile the facts of life are the facts of life. Even here.”

“What about such facts of life as those bloodcurdling snakes I met half way up the precipice? You can say ‘good, good, good’ as much as you like; but snakes will still bite.”

“You mean, they still can bite. But will they in fact make use of their ability?”

“Why shouldn’t they?”

“Look over there,” said Shanta. He turned his head and saw that what she was pointing at was a niche in the wall behind him. Within the niche was a stone Buddha, about half life size, seated upon a curiously grooved cylindrical pedestal and surmounted by a kind of lead-shaped canopy that tapered down behind him into a broad pillar. “It’s a small replica,” she went on, “of the Buddha in the station compound — you know, the huge figure by the lotus pool.”

“Which is a magnificent piece of sculpture,” he said. “And the smile really gives one an inkling of what the Beatific Vision must be like. But what has it got to do with snakes?”

“Look again.”

He looked. “I don’t see anything specially significant.”

“Look harder.”

The seconds passed. Then, with a shock of surprise, he noticed something strange and even disquieting. What he had taken for an oddly ornamented cylindrical pedestal had suddenly revealed itself as a huge coiled snake. And that downward tapering canopy under which the Buddha was sitting, was the expanded hood, with the flattened head at the centre of its leading edge, of a giant cobra.

“My God!” he said. “I hadn’t noticed. How unobservant can one be?”

“Is this the first time you’ve seen the Buddha in this context?”

“The first time. Is there some legend?”

She nodded. “One of my favourites. You know about the Bodhi Tree, of course?”

“Yes, I know about the Bodhi Tree.”

“Well, that wasn’t the only tree that Gotama sat under at the time of his Enlightenment. After the Bodhi Tree, he sat for seven days under a banyan, called the Tree of the Goatherd. And after that he moved on to the Tree of Muchalinda.”

“Who was Muchalinda?”

“Muchalinda was the King of the Snakes and, being a god, he knew what was happening. So when the Buddha sat down under his tree, the Snake King crawled out of his hole, yards and yards of him, to pay Nature’s homage to Wisdom. Then a great storm blew up from the West. The divine cobra wrapped its coils round the more than divine man’s body, spread its hood over his head and, for the seven days his contemplation lasted, sheltered the Tathagata from the wind and rain. So there he sits to this day, with cobra beneath him, cobra above him, conscious simultaneously of cobra and the Clear Light and their ultimate identity.”

“How very different,” said Will, “from our view of snakes!”

“And your view of snakes is supposed to be God’s view — remember Genesis.”

“‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman,’” he quoted, “‘and between her seed and thy seed.’”

“But Wisdom never puts enmity anywhere. All those senseless, pointless cockfights between Man and Nature, between Nature and God, between the Flesh and the Spirit! Wisdom doesn’t make those insane separations.”

“Nor does Science.”

“Wisdom takes Science in its stride and goes a stage further.”

“And what about Totemism?” Will went on. “What about the fertility cults? They didn’t make any separations. Were they Wisdom?”

“Of course they were — primitive Wisdom, Wisdom on the neolithic level. But after a time people begin to get self-conscious and the old Dark Gods come to seem disreputable. So the scene changes. Enter the Gods of Light, enter the Prophets, enter Pythagoras and Zoroaster, enter the Jains and the early Buddhists. Between them they usher in the Age of the Cosmic Cockfight — Ormuzd versus Ahriman, Jehovah versus Satan and the Baalim, Nirvana as opposed to Samsara, appearance over against Plato’s Ideal Reality. And except in the minds of a few Tankriks and Mahayanists and Taoists and heretical Christians, the cockfight went on for the best part of two thousand years.”

“After which?” he questioned.

“After which you get the beginnings of modern biology.”

Will laughed. “‘God said, Let Darwin be’, and there was Nietzsche, Imperialism and Adolf Hitler.”

“All that,” she agreed. “But also the possibility of a new kind of Wisdom for everybody. Darwin took the old Totemism and raised it to the level of biology. The fertility cults reappeared as genetics and Havelock Ellis. And now it’s up to us to take another half turn up the spiral. Darwinism was the old Neolithic Wisdom turned into scientific concepts. The new conscious Wisdom — the kind of Wisdom that was prophetically glimpsed in Zen and Taoism and Tantra — is biological theory realized in living practice, is Darwinism raised to the level of compassion and spiritual insight. So you see,” she concluded, “there isn’t any earthly reason — much less any heavenly reason — why the Buddha or anyone else for that matter, shouldn’t contemplate the Clear Light as manifested in a snake!”

“Even though the snake might kill him?”

“Even though it might kill him.”

“And even though it’s the oldest and most universal of phallic symbols?”

Shanta laughed. “‘Meditate under the Tree of Muchalinda’ — that’s the advice we give to every pair of lovers. And in the intervals between those loving meditations remember what you were taught as children; snakes are your brothers; snakes have a right to your compassion and your respect; snakes, in a word, are good, good, good.”

“Snakes are also poisonous, poisonous, poisonous.”

“But if you remember that they’re just as good as they’re poisonous, and act accordingly, they won’t use their poison.”

“Who says so?”

“It’s an observable fact. People who aren’t frightened of snakes, people who don’t approach them with the fixed belief that the only good snake is a dead snake, hardly ever get bitten. Next week I’m borrowing our neighbour’s pet python. For a few days I’ll be giving Rama his lunch and dinner in the coils of the Old Serpent.”

From outside the house came the sound of high-pitched laughter, then a confusion of children’s voices interrupting one another in English and Palanese. A moment later, looking very tall and maternal by comparison with her charges, Mary Sarojini walked into the room flanked by a pair of identical four-year-olds and followed by the sturdy cherub who had been with her when Will first opened his eyes on Pala.

“We picked up Tara and Arjuna at the kindergarten,” Mary Sarojini explained as the twins hurled themselves upon their mother.

With the baby in one arm and the other round the two little boys, Shanta smiled her thanks. “That was very kind of you.”

It was Tom Krishna who said, “You’re welcome.” He stepped forward and, after a moment of hesitation, “I was wondering …” he began, then broke off and looked appealingly at his sister. Mary Sarojini shook her head.

“What were you wondering?” Shanta enquired.

“Well, as a matter of fact, we were both wondering … I mean, could we come and have dinner with you?”

“Oh, I see.” Shanta looked from Tom Krishna’s face to Mary Sarojini’s and back again. “Well, you’d better go and ask Vijaya if there’s enough to eat. He’s doing the cooking today.”

“Okay,” said Tom Krishna without enthusiasm. With slow reluctant steps he crossed the room and went out through the door into the kitchen. Shanta turned to Mary Sarojini. “What happened?”

“Well, Mother’s told him at least fifty times that she doesn’t like his bringing lizards into the house. But this morning he did it again. So she got very cross with him.”

“And you decided you’d better come and have dinner here?”

“If it isn’t convenient, Shanta, we could try the Raos or the Rajajinnadasas.”

“I’m quite sure it will be convenient,” Shanta assured her. “I only thought it would be good for Tom Krishna to have a little talk with Vijaya.”

“You’re perfectly right,” said Mary Sarojini gravely. Then, very business-like, “Tara, Arjuna,” she called. “Come with me to the bathroom and we’ll get washed up. They’re pretty grubby,” she said to Shanta as she led them away.

Will waited until they were out of earshot, then turned to Shanta. “I take it that I’ve just been seeing a Mutual Adoption Club in action.”

“Fortunately,” said Shanta, “in very mild action. Tom Krishna and Mary Sarojini get on remarkably well with their mother. There’s no personal problem there — only the problem of destiny, the enormous and terrible problem of Dugald’s being dead.”

“Will Susila marry again?” he asked.

“I hope so. For everybody’s sake. Meanwhile, it’s good for the children to spend a certain amount of time with one or other of their deputy fathers. Specially good for Tom Krishna. Tom Krishna’s just reaching the age when little boys discover their maleness. He still cries like a baby; but the next moment he’s bragging and showing off and bringing lizards into the house — just to prove he’s two hundred per cent a he-man. That’s why I sent him to Vijaya. Vijaya’s everything Tom Krishna likes to imagine he is. Three yards high, two yards wide, terrifically strong, immensely competent. When he tells Tom Krishna how he ought to behave, Tom Krishna listens — listens as he would never listen to me or his mother saying the same things. And Vijaya does say the same things as we would say. Because, on top of being two hundred per cent male, he’s almost fifty per cent sentitive-feminine. So, you see, Tom Krishna is really getting the works. And now,” she concluded, looking down at the sleeping child in her arms, “I must put this young man to bed and get ready for lunch.”

Chapter Thirteen


WASHED AND BRUSHED, the twins were already in their high chairs. Mary Sarojini hung over them like a proud but anxious mother. At the stove Vijaya was ladling rice and vegetables out of an earthenware pot. Cautiously and with an expression on his face of focused concentration, Tom Krishna carried each bowl, as it was filled, to the table.

“There!” said Vijaya when the last brimming bowl had been sent on its way. He wiped his hands, walked over to the table and took his seat. “Better tell our guest about grace,” he said to Shanta.

Turning to Will, “In Pala,” she explained, “we don’t say grace before meals. We say it with meals. Or rather we don’t say grace; we chew it.”

“Chew it?”

“Grace is the first mouthful of each course — chewed and chewed until there’s nothing left of it. And all the time you’re chewing you pay attention to the flavour of the food, to its consistency and temperature, to the pressures on your teeth and the feel of the muscles in your jaws.”

“And meanwhile, I suppose, you give thanks to the Enlightened One, or Shiva, or whoever it may be?”

Shanta shook her head emphatically. “That would distract your attention, and attention is the whole point. Attention to the experience of something given, something you haven’t invented. Not the memory of a form of words addressed to somebody in your imagination.” She looked round the table. “Shall we begin?”

“Hurrah!” the twins shouted in unison, and picked up their spoons.

For a long minute there was a silence, broken only by the twins who had not yet learned to eat without smacking their lips.

“May we swallow now?” asked one of the little boys at last.

Shanta nodded. Everyone swallowed. There was a clinking of spoons and a burst of talk from full mouths.

“Well,” Shanta enquired, “what did your grace taste like?”

“It tasted,” said Will, “like a long succession of different things. Or rather a succession of variations on the fundamental theme of rice and turmeric and red peppers and zucchini and something leafy that I don’t recognize. It’s interesting how it doesn’t remain the same. I’d never really noticed that before.”

“And while you were paying attention to these things, you were momentarily delivered from daydreams, from memories, from anticipations, from silly notions — from all the symptoms of you.”

“Isn’t tasting me?”

Shanta looked down the length of the table to her husband. “What would you say, Vijaya?”

“I’d say it was half way between me and not-me. Tasting is not-me doing something for the whole organism. And at the same time tasting is me being conscious of what’s happening. And that’s the point of our chewing-grace — to make the me more conscious of what the not-me is up to.”

“Very nice,” was Will’s comment. “But what’s the point of the point?”

It was Shanta who answered. “The point of the point,” she said, “is that when you’ve learned to pay closer attention to more of the not-you in the environment (that’s the food) and more of the not-you in your own organism (that’s your taste sensations), you may suddenly find yourself paying attention to the not-you on the further side of consciousness, or perhaps it would be better,” Shanta went on, “to put it the other way round. The not-you on the further side of consciousness will find it easier to make itself known to a you that has learned to be more aware of its not-you on the side of physiology.” She was interrupted by a crash, followed by a howl from one of the twins. “After which,” she continued as she wiped up the mess on the floor, “one has to consider the problem of me and not-me in relation to people less than forty-two inches high. A prize of sixty-four thousand crores of rupees will be given to anyone who comes up with a fool-proof solution.” She wiped the child’s eyes, had him blow his nose, then gave him a kiss and went to the stove for another bowl of rice.

“What are your chores for this afternoon?” Vijaya asked when lunch was over.

“We’re on scarecrow duty,” Tom Krishna answered importantly.

“In the field just below the school house,” Mary Sarojini added.

“Then I’ll take you there in the car,” said Vijaya. Turning to Will Farnaby, “Would you like to come along?” he asked.

Will nodded. “And if it’s permissible,” he said, “I’d like to see the school, while I’m about it — sit in, maybe, at some of the classes.”

Shanta waved good-bye to them from the verandah and a few minutes later they came in sight of the parked jeep.

“The school’s on the other side of the village,” explained Vijaya as he started the motor. “We have to take the by-pass. It goes down and then up again.”

Down through terraced fields of rice and maize and sweet potatoes, then on the level, along a contour line, with a muddy little fish pond on the left and an orchard of bread-fruit trees on the right, and finally up again through more fields, some green, some golden — and there was the school house, white and spacious under its towering shade trees.

“And down there,” said Mary Sarojini, “are our scarecrows.”

Will looked in the direction she was pointing. In the nearest of the terraced fields below them the yellow rice was almost ready to harvest. Two small boys in pink loin cloths and a little girl in a blue skirt were taking turns at pulling the strings that set in motion two life-sized marionettes attached to poles at either end of the narrow field. The puppets were of wood, beautifully carved and clothed, not in rags, but in the most splendid draperies. Will looked at them in astonishment.

“Solomon in all his glory,” he exclaimed, “was not arrayed like one of these.”

But then Solomon, he went on to reflect, was only a king; these gorgeous scarecrows were beings of a higher order. One was a Future Buddha, the other a delightfully gay, East Indian version of God the Father as one sees him in the Sistine Chapel, swooping down over the newly created Adam. With each tug of the string the Future Buddha wagged his head, uncrossed his legs from the lotus posture, danced a brief fandango in the air, then crossed them again and sat motionless for a moment until another jerk of the string once more disturbed his meditations. God the Father, meanwhile, waved his outstretched arm, wagged his forefinger in portentous warning, opened and shut his horsehair-fringed mouth and rolled a pair of eyes which, being made of glass, flashed comminatory fire at any bird that dared to approach the rice. And all the time a brisk wind was fluttering his draperies, which were bright yellow, with a bold design — in brown, white and black — of tigers and monkeys, while the Future Buddha’s magnificent robes of red and orange rayon bellied and flapped around him with an Aeolian jingling of dozens of little silver bells.

“Are all your scarecrows like this?” Will asked.

“It was the Old Raja’s idea,” Vijaya answered. “He wanted to make the children understand that all gods are home-made, and that it’s we who pull their strings and so give them the power to pull ours.”

“Make them dance,” said Tom Krishna, “make them wiggle.” He laughed delightedly.

Vijaya stretched out an enormous hand and patted the child’s dark curly head. “That’s the spirit!” And turning back to Will, “Quote ‘gods’ unquote,” he said in what was evidently an imitation of the Old Raja’s manner, “ — their one great merit (apart from scaring birds and quote ‘sinners’ unquote, and occasionally, perhaps, consoling the miserable, consists in this: being raised aloft on poles, they have to be looked up at; and when anyone looks up, even at a god, he can hardly fail to see the sky beyond. And what’s the sky? Air and scattered light; but also a symbol of that boundless and (excuse the metaphor) pregnant emptiness out of which everything, the living and the inanimate, the puppet-makers and their divine marionettes, emerge into the universe we know — or rather that we think we know.”

Mary Sarojini, who had been listening intently, nodded her head. “Father used to say,” she volunteered, “that looking up at birds in the sky was even better. Birds aren’t words, he used to say. Birds are real. Just as real as the sky.” Vijaya brought the car to a standstill. “Have a good time,” he said as the children jumped out. “Make them dance and wiggle.”

Shouting, Tom Krishna and Mary Sarojini ran down to join the little group in the field below the road.

“And now for the more solemn aspects of education.” Vijaya turned the jeep into the driveway that led up to the school house. “I’ll leave the car here and walk back to the Station. When you’ve had enough, get someone to drive you home.” He turned off the ignition and handed Will the key.

In the school office Mrs Narayan, the Principal, was talking across her desk to a white-haired man with a long, rather doleful face like the face of a lined and wrinkled bloodhound.

“Mr Chandra Menon,” Vijaya explained when the introductions had been made, “is our Under-Secretary of Education.”

“Who is paying us,” said the Principal, “one of his periodical visits of inspection.”

“And who thoroughly approves of what he sees,” the Under-Secretary added with a courteous bow in Mrs Narayan’s direction.

Vijaya excused himself. “I have to get back to my work,” he said and moved towards the door.

“Are you specially interested in education?” Mr Menon enquired.

“Specially ignorant would be more like it,” Will answered. “I was merely brought up, never educated. That’s why I’d like to have a look at the genuine article.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” the Under-Secretary assured him. “New Rothamsted is one of our best schools.”

“What’s your criterion of a good school?” Will asked.

“Success.”

“In what. Winning scholarships? Getting ready for jobs? Obeying the local categorical imperatives?”

“All that, of course,” said Mr Menon. “But the fundamental question remains. What are boys and girls for?”

Will shrugged his shoulders. “The answer depends on where you happen to be domiciled. For example, what are boys and girls for in America? Answer: for mass consumption. And the corollaries of mass consumption are mass communications, mass advertising, mass opiates in the form of television, meprobamate, positive thinking and cigarettes. And now that Europe has made the breakthrough into mass production, what will its boys and girls be for? For mass consumption and all the rest — just like the boys and girls in America. Whereas in Russia there’s a different answer. Boys and girls are for strengthening the national state. Hence all those engineers and science teachers, not to mention fifty divisions ready for instant combat and equipped with everything from tanks to H-bombs and long-range rockets. And in China it’s the same, but a good deal more so. What are boys and girls for there? For cannon fodder, industry fodder, agriculture fodder, road-building fodder. So East is East and West is West — for the moment. But the twain may meet in one or other of two ways. West may get so frightened of East that it will give up thinking that boys and girls are for mass consumption and decide instead that they’re for cannon fodder and strengthening the state. Alternatively East may find itself under such pressure from the appliance-hungry masses who long to go Western, that it will have to change its mind and say that boys and girls are really for mass consumption. But that’s for the future. As of now, the current answers to your question are mutually exclusive.”

“And both of the answers,” said Mr Menon, “are different from ours. What are Palanese boys and girls for? Neither for mass consumption, nor for strengthening the state. The state has to exist, of course. And there has to be enough for everybody. That goes without saying. It’s only on those conditions that boys and girls can discover what in fact they are for — only on those conditions that we can do anything about it.”

“And what in fact are they for?”

“For actualization, for being turned into full-blown human beings.”

Will nodded. “Notes on What’s What,” he commented. “Become what you really are.”

“The Old Raja,” said Mr Menon, “was mainly concerned with what people really are on the level that’s beyond individuality. And of course we’re just as much interested in that as he was. But our first business is elementary education, and elementary education has to deal with individuals in all their diversity of shape, size, temperament, gifts and deficiencies. Individuals in their transcendent unity are the affair of higher education. That begins in adolescence and is given concurrently with advanced elementary education.”

“Begins, I take it,” said Will, “with the first experience of the moksha-medicine.”

“So you’ve heard about the moksha-medicine?”

“I’ve even seen it in action.”

“Dr Robert,” the Principal explained, “took him yesterday to see an initiation.”

“By which,” added Will, “I was profoundly impressed. When I think of my religious training …” He left the sentence eloquently unfinished.

“Well, as I was saying,” Mr Menon continued, “adolescents get both kinds of education concurrently. They’re helped to experience their transcendental unity with all other sentient beings and at the same time they’re learning, in their psychology and physiology classes, that each one of us has his own constitutional uniqueness, everybody’s different from everybody else.”

“When I was at school,” said Will, “the pedagogues did their best to iron out those differences, or at least to plaster them over with the same Late Victorian ideal — the ideal of the scholarly but Anglican football-playing gentleman. But now tell me what you do about the fact that everybody’s different from everybody else.”

“We begin,” said Mr Menon, “by assessing the differences. Precisely who or what, anatomically, biochemically and psychologically, is this child? In the organic hierarchy, which takes precedence — his gut, his muscles, or his nervous system? How near does he stand to the three polar extremes? How harmonious or how disharmonious is the mixture of his component elements, physical and mental? How great is his inborn wish to dominate, or to be sociable, or to retreat into his inner world? And how does he do his thinking and perceiving and remembering? Is he a visualizer or a non-visualizer? Does his mind work with images or with words, with both at once, or with neither? How close to the surface is his story-telling faculty? Does he see the world as Wordsworth and Traherne saw it when they were children? And, if so, what can be done to prevent the glory and the freshness from fading into the light of common day? Or, in more general terms, how can we educate children on the conceptual level without killing their capacity for intense non-verbal experience? How can we reconcile analysis with vision? And there are dozens of other questions that must be asked and answered. For example, does this child absorb all the vitamins in his food, or is he subject to some chronic deficiency that, if it isn’t recognized and treated, will lower his vitality, darken his mood, make him see ugliness, feel boredom and think foolishness or malice? And what about his blood sugar? What about his breathing? What about his posture and the way he uses his organism when he’s working, playing, studying? And there are all the questions that have to do with special gifts. Does he show signs of having a talent for music, for mathematics, for handling words, for observing accurately and for thinking logically and imaginatively about what he has observed? And finally how suggestible is he going to be when he grows up? All children are good hypnotic subjects — so good that four out of five of them can be talked into somnambulism. In adults the proportion is reversed. Four out of five of them can never be talked into somnambulism. Out of any hundred children, which are the twenty who will grow up to be suggestible to the pitch of somnambulism?”

“Can you spot them in advance?” Will asked. “And if so, what’s the point of spotting them?”

“We can spot them,” Mr Menon answered. “And it’s very important that they should be spotted. Particularly important in your part of the world. Politically speaking, the twenty per cent that can be hypnotized easily and to the limit is the most dangerous element in your societies.”

“Dangerous?”

“Because these people are the propagandist’s predestine victims. In an old-fashioned, pre-scientific democracy, any spell-binder with a good organization behind him can turn that twenty per cent of potential somnambulists into an army of regimented fanatics dedicated to the greater glory and power of their hypnotist. And under a dictatorship these same potential somnambulists can be talked into implicit faith and mobilized as the hard core of the omnipotent party. So you see it’s very important for any society that values liberty to be able to spot the future somnambulists when they’re young. Once they’ve been spotted, they can be hypnotized and systematically trained not to be hypnotizable by the enemies of liberty. And at the same time, of course, you’d be well advised to re-organize your social arrangements so as to make it difficult or impossible for the enemies of liberty to arise or have any influence.”

“Which is the state of things, I gather, in Pala?”

“Precisely,” said Mr Menon. “And that’s why our potential somnambulists don’t constitute a danger.”

“Then why do you go to the trouble of spotting them in advance?”

“Because, if it’s properly used, their gift is so valuable.”

“For destiny control?” Will questioned, remembering those therapeutic swans and all the things that Susila had said about pressing one’s own buttons.

The Under-Secretary shook his head. “Destiny Control doesn’t call for anything more than a light trance. Practically everybody’s capable of that. The potential somnambulists are the twenty per cent who can go into very deep trance. And it’s in very deep trance — and only in very deep trance — that a person can be taught how to distort time.”

“Can you distort time?” Will enquired.

Mr Menon shook his head. “Unfortunately I could never go deep enough. Everything I know had to be learned the long, slow way. Mrs Narayan was more fortunate. Being one of the privileged twenty per cent, she could take all kinds of educational short cuts that were completely closed to the rest of us.”

“What sort of short cuts?” Will asked, turning to the Principal.

“Short cuts to memorizing,” she answered, “short cuts to calculating and thinking and problem-solving. One starts by learning how to experience twenty seconds as ten minutes, a minute as half an hour. In deep trance it’s really very easy. You listen to the teacher’s suggestions and you sit there quietly for a long, long time. Two full hours — you’d be ready to take your oath on it. When you’ve been brought back, you look at your watch. Your experience of two hours was telescoped into exactly four minutes of clock time.”

“How?”

“Nobody knows how,” said Mr Menon. “But all those anecdotes about drowning men seeing the whole of their life unfolding before them in a few seconds are substantially true. The mind and the nervous system — or rather some minds and some nervous systems — happen to be capable of this curious feat; that’s all that anybody knows. We discovered the fact about sixty years ago, and ever since we’ve been exploiting it. Exploiting it, among other things, for educational purposes.”

“For example,” Mrs Narayan resumed, “here’s a mathematical problem. In your normal state it might take you the best part of half an hour to solve. But now you distort time to the point where one minute is subjectively the equivalent of thirty minutes. Then you set to work on your problem. Thirty subjective minutes later it’s solved. But thirty subjective minutes are one clock minute. Without the least sense of rush or strain you’ve been working as fast as one of those extraordinary calculating boys, who turn up from time to time. Future geniuses like Ampère and Gauss, or future idiots like Dase — but all of them, by some built-in trick of time distortion, capable of getting through an hour’s hard work in a couple of minutes — sometimes in a matter of seconds. I’m only an average student; but I could go into deep trance, which meant that I could be taught how to telescope my time into a thirtieth of its normal span. Result: I was able to cover far more intellectual ground than I could possibly have covered if I’d had to do all my learning in the ordinary way. You can imagine what happens when somebody with a genius IQ, is also capable of time distortion. The results are fantastic!”

“Unfortunately,” said Mr Menon, “they’re not very common. In the last two generations we’ve had precisely two time-distorters of real genius, and only five or six runners-up. But what Pala owes to those few is incalculable. So it’s no wonder that we keep a sharp look out for potential somnambulists!”

“Well, you certainly ask plenty of searching questions about your little pupils,” Will concluded after a brief silence. “What do you do when you’ve found the answers?”

“We start educating accordingly,” said Mr Menon. “For example, we ask questions about every child’s physique and temperament. When we have the answers, we sort out all the shyest, tensest, most over-responsive and introverted children, and assemble them in a single group. Then, little by little, the group is enlarged. First a few children with tendencies towards indiscriminate sociability are introduced. Then one or two little muscle-men and muscle-women — children with tendencies towards aggressiveness and love of power. It’s the best method, we’ve found, for getting little boys and girls at the three polar extremes to understand and tolerate one another. After a few months of carefully controlled mixing, they’re ready to admit that people with a different kind of hereditary make-up have just as good a right to exist as they have.”

“And the principle,” said Mrs Narayan, “is explicitly taught as well as progressively applied. In the lower forms we do the teaching in terms of analogies with familiar animals. Cats like to be by themselves. Sheep like being together. Martens are fierce and can’t be tamed. Guinea-pigs are gentle and friendly. Are you a cat person or a sheep person, a guinea-pig person or a marten person? Talk about it in animal parables, and even very small children can understand the fact of human diversity and the need for mutual forbearance, mutual forgiveness.”

“And later on,” said Mr Menon, “when they come to read the Gita, we tell them about the link between constitution and religion. Sheep-people and guinea-pig-people love ritual and public ceremonies and revivalistic emotion; their temperamental preferences can be directed into the Way of Devotion. Cat-people like to be alone, and their private broodings can become the Way of Self-Knowledge. Marten-people want to do things, and the problem is how to transform their driving aggressiveness into the Way of Disinterested Action.”

“And the way to the Way of Disinterested Action is what I was looking at yesterday,” said Will. “The way that leads through wood-chopping and rock-climbing — is that it?”

“Wood-chopping and rock-climbing,” said Mr Menon, “are special cases. Let’s generalize and say that the way to all the Ways leads through the re-direction of power.”

“What’s that?”

“The principle is very simple. You take the power generated by fear or envy or too much noradrenalin, or else by some built-in urge that happens, at the moment, to be out of place — you take it and, instead of using it to do something unpleasant to someone else, instead of repressing it and so doing something unpleasant to yourself, you consciously direct it along a channel where it can do something useful, or, if not useful, at least harmless.”

“Here’s a simple case,” said the Principal. “An angry or frustrated child has worked up enough power for a burst of crying, or bad language, or a fight. If the power generated is sufficient for any of those things, it’s sufficient for running, or dancing, more than sufficient for five deep breaths. I’ll show you some dancing later on. For the moment, let’s confine ourselves to breathing. Any irritated person who takes five deep breaths releases a lot of tension and so makes it easier for himself to behave rationally. So we teach our children all kinds of breathing games, to be played whenever they’re angry or upset. Some of the games are competitive. Which of two antagonists can inhale most deeply and say ‘OM’ on the outgoing breath for the longest time? It’s a duel that ends, almost without fail, in reconciliation. But of course there are many occasions when competitive breathing is out of place. So here’s a little game that an exasperated child can play on his own, a game that’s based on the local folklore. Every Palanese child has been brought up on Buddhist legends, and in most of these pious fairy stories somebody has a vision of a celestial being. A Bodhisattva, say, in an explosion of lights, jewels and rainbows. And along with the glorious vision there’s always an equally glorious olfaction; the fireworks are accompanied by an unutterably delicious perfume. Well, we take these traditional phantasies — which are all based, needless to say, on actual visionary experiences of the kind induced by fasting, sensory deprivation or mushrooms — and we set them to work. Violent feelings, we tell the children, are like earthquakes. They shake us so hard that cracks appear in the wall that separates our private selves from the shared, universal Buddha Nature. You get cross, something inside of you cracks and, through the crack, out comes a whiff of the heavenly smell of enlightenment. Like champak, like ylang-ylang, like gardenias — only infinitely more wonderful. So don’t miss this heavenliness that you’ve accidentally released. It’s there every time you get cross. Inhale it, breathe it in, fill your lungs with it. Again and again.”

“And they actually do it?”

“After a few weeks of teaching, most of them do it as a matter of course. And, what’s more, a lot of them really smell that perfume. The old repressive ‘Thou shalt not’ has been translated into a new expressive and rewarding ‘Thou shalt.’ Potentially harmful power has been redirected into channels where it’s not merely harmless, but may actually do some good. And meanwhile, of course, we’ve been giving the children systematic and carefully graduated training in perception and the proper use of language. They’re taught to pay attention to what they see and hear, and at the same time they’re asked to notice how their feelings and desires affect what they experience of the outer world, and how their language habits affect not only their feelings and desires but even their sensations. What my ears and my eyes record is one thing; what the words I use and the mood I’m in and the purposes I’m pursuing allow me to perceive, make sense of and act upon is something quite different. So you see it’s all brought together into a single educational process. What we give the children is simultaneously a training in perceiving and imagining, a training in applied physiology and psychology, a training in practical ethics and practical religion, a training in the proper use of language, and a training in self-knowledge. In a word, a training of the whole mind-body in all its aspects.”

“What’s the relevance,” Will asked, “of all this elaborate training of the mind-body to formal education? Does it help a child to do sums, or write grammatically, or understand elementary physics?”

“It helps a lot,” said Mr Menon. “A trained mind-body learns more quickly and more thoroughly than an untrained one. It’s also more capable of relating facts to ideas, and both of them to its own ongoing life.” Suddenly and surprisingly — for that long melancholy face gave one the impression of being incompatible with any expression of mirth more emphatic than a rather weary smile — he broke into a loud long peal of laughter.

“What’s the joke?”

“I was thinking of two people I met last time I was in England. At Cambridge. One of them was an atomic physicist, the other was a philosopher. Both extremely eminent. But one had a mental age, outside the laboratory, of about eleven and the other was a compulsive eater with a weight problem that he refused to face. Two extreme examples of what happens when you take a clever boy, give him fifteen years of the most intensive formal education and totally neglect to do anything for the mind-body which has to do the learning and the living.”

“And your system, I take it, doesn’t produce that kind of academic monster?”

The Under-Secretary shook his head. “Until I went to Europe, I’d never seen anything of the kind. They’re grotesquely funny,” he added. “But, goodness, how pathetic! And, poor things, how curiously repulsive!”

“Being pathetically and curiously repulsive — that’s the price we pay for specialization.”

“For specialization,” Mr Menon agreed, “but not in the sense you people ordinarily use the word. Specialization in that sense is necessary and inevitable. No specialization, no civilization. And if one educates the whole mind-body along with the symbol-using intellect, that kind of necessary specialization won’t do much harm. But you people don’t educate the mind-body. Your cure for too much scientific specialization is a few more courses in the humanities. Excellent! Every education ought to include courses in the humanities. But don’t let’s be fooled by the name. By themselves, the humanities don’t humanize. They’re simply another form of specialization on the symbolic level. Reading Plato or listening to a lecture on T. S. Eliot doesn’t educate the whole human being; like courses in physics or chemistry, it merely educates the symbol-manipulator and leaves the rest of the living mind-body in its pristine state of ignorance and ineptitude. Hence all those pathetic and repulsive creatures that so astonished me on my first trip abroad.”

“What about formal education?” Will now asked. “What about indispensable information and the necessary intellectual skills? Do you teach the way we do?”

“We teach the way you’re probably going to teach in another ten or fifteen years. Take mathematics, for example. Historically mathematics began with the elaboration of useful tricks, soared up into metaphysics and finally explained itself in terms of structure and logical transformations. In our schools we reverse the historical process. We begin with structure and logic; then, skipping the metaphysics, we go on from general principles to particular applications.”

“And the children understand?”

“Far better than they understand when one starts with utilitarian tricks. From about five onwards practically any intelligent child can learn practically anything, provided always that you present it to him in the right way. Logic and structure in the form of games and puzzles. The children play and, incredibly quickly, they catch the point. After which you can go on to practical applications. Taught in this way, most children can learn at least three times as much, four times as thoroughly, in half the time. Or consider another field where one can use games to implant an understanding of basic principles. All scientific thinking is in terms of probability. The old eternal verities are merely a high degree of likeliness; the immutable laws of nature are just statistical averages. How does one get these profoundly un-obvious notions into children’s heads. By playing roulette with them, by spinning coins and drawing lots. By teaching them all kinds of games with cards and boards and dice.”

“Evolutionary Snakes and Ladders — that’s the most popular game with the little ones,” said Mrs Narayan. “Another great favourite is Mendelian Happy Families.”

“And a little later,” Mr Menon added, “we introduce them to a rather complicated game played by four people with a pack of sixty specially designed cards divided into three suits. Psychological bridge, we call it. Chance deals you your hand, but the way you play it is a matter of skill, bluff and co-operation with your partner.”

“Psychology, Mendelism, Evolution — your education seems to be heavily biological,” said Will.

“It is,” Mr Menon agreed. “Our primary emphasis isn’t on physics and chemistry; it’s on the sciences of life.”

“Is that a matter of principle?”

“Not entirely. It’s also a matter of convenience and economic necessity. We don’t have the money for large-scale research in physics and chemistry, and we don’t really have any practical need for that kind of research — no heavy industries to be made more competitive, no armaments to be made more diabolical, not the faintest desire to land on the backside of the moon. Only the modest ambition to live as fully human beings in harmony with the rest of life on this island at this latitude on this planet. We can take the results of your researches in physics and chemistry and apply them, if we want to or can afford it, to our own purposes. Meanwhile we’ll concentrate on the research which promises to do us the greatest good — in the sciences of life and mind. If the politicians in the newly independent countries had any sense,” he added, “they’d do the same. But they want to throw their weight around; they want to have armies, they want to catch up with the motorized television-addicts of America and Europe. You people have no choice,” he went on. “You’re irretrievably committed to applied physics and chemistry, with all their dismal consequences, military, political and social. But the underdeveloped countries aren’t committed. They don’t have to follow your example. They’re still free to take the road we’ve taken — the road of applied biology, the road of fertility control and the limited production and selective industrialization which fertility control make possible, the road that leads towards happiness from the inside out, through health, through awareness, through a change in one’s attitude towards the world; not towards the mirage of happiness from the outside in, through toys and pills and non-stop distractions. They could still choose our way; but they don’t want to, they want to be exactly like you, God help them. And as they can’t possibly do what you’ve done — at any rate within the time they’ve set themselves — they’re foredoomed to frustration and disappointment, predestined to the misery of social breakdown and anarchy, and then to the misery of enslavement by tyrants. It’s a completely foreseeable tragedy, and they’re walking into it with their eyes open.”

“And we can’t do anything about it,” the Principal added.

“Can’t do anything,” said Mr Menon, “except go on doing what we’re doing now and hoping against hope that the example of a nation that has found a way of being happily human may be imitated. There’s very little chance of it; but it just might happen.”

“Unless Greater Rendang happens first.”

“Unless Greater Rendang happens first,” Mr Menon gravely agreed. “Meanwhile we have to get on with our job, which is education. Is there anything more that you’d like to hear about, Mr Farnaby?”

“Lots more,” said Will. “For example, how early do you start your science teaching?”

“We start it at the same time as we start multiplication and division. First lessons in ecology.”

“Ecology? Isn’t that a bit complicated?”

“That’s precisely the reason why we begin with it. Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very first that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and the country around it. Rub it in.”

“And let me add,” said the Principal, “that we always teach the science of relationship in conjunction with the ethics of relationship. Balance, give and take, no excesses — it’s the rule in nature and, translated out of fact into morality, it ought to be the rule among people. As I said before, children find it very easy to understand an idea when it’s presented to them in a parable about animals. We give them an up-to-date version of Aesop’s Fables. Not the old anthropomorphic fictions, but true ecological fables with built-in, cosmic morals. And another wonderful parable for children is the story of erosion. We don’t have any good examples of erosion here; so we show them photographs of what has happened in Rendang, in India and China, in Greece and the Levant, in Africa and America — all the places where greedy, stupid people have tried to take without giving, to exploit without love or understanding. Treat Nature well, and Nature will treat you well. Hurt or destroy Nature, and Nature will soon destroy you. In a Dust Bowl, ‘Do as you would be done by’ is self-evident — much easier for a child to recognize and understand than in an eroded family or village. Psychological wounds don’t show — and anyhow children know so little about their elders. And, having no standards of comparison, they tend to take even the worst situation for granted, as though it were part of the nature of things. Whereas the difference between ten acres of meadow and ten acres of gullies and blowing sand is obvious. Sand and gullies are parables. Confronted by them, it’s easy for the child to see the need for conservation and then to go on from conservation to morality — easy for him to go on from the Golden Rule in relation to plants and animals and the earth that supports them to the Golden Rule in relation to human beings. And here’s another important point. The morality to which a child goes on from the facts of ecology and the parables of erosion is a universal ethic. There are no Chosen People in nature, no Holy Lands, no Unique Historical Revelations. Conservation-morality gives nobody an excuse for feeling superior, or claiming special privileges. ‘Do as you would be done by’ applies to our dealings with all kinds of life in every part of the world. We shall be permitted to live on this planet only for as long as we treat all nature with compassion and intelligence. Elementary ecology leads straight to elementary Buddhism.”

“A few weeks ago,” said Will after a moment of silence, “I was looking at Thorwald’s book about what happened in Eastern Germany between January and May of 1945. Have either of you read it?”

They shook their heads.

“Then don’t,” Will advised. “I was in Dresden five months after the February bombing. Fifty or sixty thousand civilians — mostly refugees running away from the Russians — burned alive in a single night. And all because little Adolf had never learned ecology,” he smiled his flayed ferocious smile, “never been taught the first principles of conservation.” One made a joke of it because it was too horrible to be talked about seriously.

Mr Menon rose and picked up his briefcase.

“I must be going.” He shook hands with Will. It had been a pleasure, and he hoped that Mr Farnaby would enjoy his stay in Pala. Meanwhile, if he wanted to know more about Palanese education, he had only to ask Mrs Narayan. Nobody was better qualified to act as a guide and instructor.

“Would you like to visit some of the classrooms?” Mrs Narayan asked, when the Under-Secretary had left.

Will rose and followed her out of the room and along a corridor.

“Mathematics,” said the Principal as she opened a door. “And this is the Upper Fifth. Under Mrs Anand.”

Will bowed as he was introduced. The white-haired teacher gave a welcoming smile and whispered, “We’re deep, as you see, in a problem.”

He looked about him. At their desks a score of boys and girls were frowning, in a concentrated, pencil-biting silence, over their note-books. The bent heads were sleek and dark. Above the white or khaki shorts, above the long gaily coloured skirts, the golden bodies glistened in the heat. Boys’ bodies that showed the cage of the ribs beneath the skin, girls’ bodies, fuller, smoother, with the swell of small breasts, firm, high-set, elegant as the inventions of a rococo sculptor of nymphs. And everyone took them completely for granted. What a comfort, Will reflected, to be in a place where the Fall was an exploded doctrine!

Meanwhile Mrs Anand was explaining — sotto voce so as not to distract the problem-solvers from their task — that she always divided her classes into two groups. The group of the visualizers, who thought in geometrical terms, like the ancient Greeks, and the group of the non-visualizers who preferred algebra and imageless abstractions. Somewhat reluctantly Will withdrew his attention from the beautiful unfallen world of young bodies and resigned himself to taking an intelligent interest in human diversity and the teaching of mathematics.

They took their leave at last. Next door, in a pale blue classroom decorated with paintings of tropical animals, Bodhisattvas and their bosomy Shaktis, the Lower Fifth were having their bi-weekly lesson in Elementary Applied Philosophy. Breasts here were smaller, arms thinner and less muscular. These were only a year away from childhood.

“Symbols are public,” the young man at the blackboard was saying as Will and Mrs Narayan entered the room. He drew a row of little circles, numbered them 1, 2, 3, 4, n. “These are people,” he explained. Then from each of the little circles he drew a line that connected it with a square at the left of the board. S he wrote in the centre of the square. “S is the system of symbols that the people use when they want to talk to one another. They all speak the same language — English, Palanese, Eskimo, it depends where they happen to live. Words are public; they belong to all the speakers of a given language: they’re listed in dictionaries. And now let’s look at the things that happen out there.” He pointed through the open window. Gaudy against a white cloud, half a dozen parrots came sailing into view, passed behind a tree and were gone. The teacher drew a second square at the opposite side of the board, labelled it E for ‘events’ and connected it by lines to the circles. “What happens out there is public — or at least fairly public,” he qualified. “And what happens when somebody speaks or writes words — that’s also public. But the things that go on inside these little circles are private. Private.” He laid a hand on his chest. “Private.” He rubbed his forehead. “Private.” He touched his eyelids and the tip of his nose with a brown forefinger. “Now let’s make a simple experiment. Say the word ‘pinch.’”

“Pinch,” said the class in ragged unison. “Pinch …”

“P-I-N-C-H — pinch. That’s public, that’s something you can look up in the dictionary. But now pinch yourselves. Hard! Harder!”

To an accompaniment of giggles, of aies and ows, the children did as they were told.

“Can anybody feel what the person sitting next to him is feeling?”

There was a chorus of No’s.

“So it looks,” said the young man, “as though there were — let’s see, how many are we?” He ran his eyes over the desks before him. “It looks as though there were twenty-three distinct and separate pains. Twenty-three in this one room. Nearly three thousand million of them in the whole world. Plus the pains of all the animals. And each of these pains is strictly private. There’s no way of passing the experience from one centre of pain to another centre of pain. No communication except indirectly through S.” He pointed to the square at the left of the board, then to the circles at the centre. “Private pains here in 1, 2, 3, 4, and n. News about private pains out here at S, where you can say ‘pinch’, which is a public word listed in a dictionary. And notice this: there’s only one public word, ‘pain’, for three thousand million private experiences, each of which is probably about as different from all the others as my nose is different from your noses and your noses are different from one another. A word only stands for the ways in which things or happenings of the same general kind are like one another. That’s why the word is public. And, being public, it can’t possibly stand for the ways in which happenings of the same general kind are unlike one another.”

There was a silence. Then the teacher looked up and asked a question.

“Does anyone here know about Mahakasyapa?”

Several hands were raised. He pointed his finger at a little girl in a blue skirt and a necklace of shells sitting in the front row.

“You tell us, Amiya.”

Breathlessly and with a lisp, Amiya began.

“Mahakathyapa,” she said, “Wath the only one of the dithciples that underthtood what the Buddha wath talking about.”

“And what was he talking about?”

“He wathn’t talking. That’th why they didn’t underthand.”

“But Mahakasyapa understood what he was talking about even though he wasn’t talking — is that it?”

The little girl nodded. That was it exactly. “They thought he wath going to preach a thermon,” she said, “But he didn’t. He jutht picked a flower and held it up for everybody to look at.”

“And that was the sermon,” shouted a small boy in a yellow loincloth, who had been wriggling in his seat, hardly able to contain his desire to impart what he knew.

“But nobody could underthtand that kind of a thermon. Nobody but Mahakathyapa.”

“So what did Mahakasyapa say when the Buddha held up that flower?”

“Nothing!” the yellow loincloth shouted triumphantly.

“He jutht thmiled,” Amiya elaborated. “And that thowed the Buddha that he underthtood what it wath all about. Tho he thmiled back, and they jutht that there, thmiling and thmiling.”

“Very good,” said the teacher. “And now,” he turned to the yellow loincloth, “let’s hear what you think it was that Mahakasyapa understood.”

There was a silence. Then, crestfallen, the child shook his head. “I don’t know,” he mumbled.

“Does anyone else know?”

There were several conjectures. Perhaps he’d understood that people get bored with sermons — even the Buddha’s sermons. Perhaps he liked flowers as much as the Compassionate One did. Perhaps it was a white flower, and that made him think of the Clear Light. Or perhaps it was blue, and that was Shiva’s colour.

“Good answers,” said the teacher. “Especially the first one. Sermons are pretty boring — especially for the preacher. But here’s a question. If any of your answers had been what Mahakasyapa understood when Buddha held up the flower, why didn’t he come out with it in so many words?”

“Perhapth he wathn’t a good thpeaker.”

“He was an excellent speaker.”

“Maybe he had a sore throat.”

“If he’d had a sore throat, he wouldn’t have smiled so happily.”

“You tell us,” called a shrill voice from the back of the room.

“Yes, you tell us,” a dozen other voices chimed in.

The teacher shook his head. “If Mahakasyapa and the Compassionate One couldn’t put it into words, how can I? Meanwhile let’s take another look at these diagrams on the blackboard. Public words, more or less public events and then people, completely private centres of pain and pleasure. Completely private?” he questioned. “But perhaps that isn’t quite true. Perhaps, after all, there is some kind of communication between the circles — not in the way I’m communicating with you now, through words, but directly. And maybe that was what the Buddha was talking about when his wordless flower-sermon was over. ‘I have the treasure of the unmistakable teachings,’ he said to his disciples, ‘the wonderful Mind of Nirvana, the true form without form, beyond all words, the teaching to be given and received outside of all doctrines. This I have now handed to Mahakasyapa.’” Picking up the chalk again, he traced a rough ellipse that enclosed within its boundaries all the other diagrams on the board — the little circles representing human beings, the square that stood for events and the other square that stood for words and symbols. “All separate,” he said, “and yet all one. People, events, words — they’re all manifestations of Mind, of Suchness, of the Void. What Buddha was implying and what Mahakasyapa understood was that one can’t speak these teachings, one can only be them. Which is something you’ll all discover when the moment comes for your initiation.”

“Time to move on.” the Principal whispered. And when the door had closed behind them, and they were standing again in the corridor, “We use this same kind of approach,” she said to Will, “in our science teaching, beginning with botany.”

“Why with botany?”

“Because it can be related so easily to what was being talked about just now — the Mahakasyapa story.”

“Is that your starting point?”

“No, we start prosaically with the textbook. The children are given all the obvious, elementary facts, tidily arranged in the standard pigeon-holes. Undiluted botany — that’s the first stage. Six or seven weeks of it. After which they get a whole morning of what we call bridge-building. Two and a half hours during which we try to make them relate everything they’ve learned in the previous lessons to art, language, religion, self-knowledge.”

“Botany and self-knowledge — how do you build that bridge?”

“It’s really quite simple,” Mrs Narayan assured him. “Each of the children is given a common flower — a hibiscus for example, or better still (because the hibiscus has no scent), a gardenia. Scientifically speaking, what is a gardenia? What does it consist of? Petals, stamens, pistil, ovary and all the rest of it. The children are asked to write a full analytical description of the flower, illustrated by an accurate drawing. When that’s done there’s a short rest period, at the close of which the Mahakasyapa story is read to them and they’re asked to think about it. Was Buddha giving a lesson in botany? Or was he teaching his disciples something else? And, if so, what?”

“What indeed?”

“And of course, as the story makes clear, there’s no answer that can be put into words. So we tell the boys and girls to stop thinking and just look. ‘But don’t look analytically,’ we tell them, ‘Don’t look as scientists, even as gardeners. Liberate yourselves from everything you know and look with complete innocence at this infinitely improbable thing before you. Look at it as though you’d never seen anything of the kind before, as though it had no name and belonged to no recognizable class. Look at it alertly but passively, receptively, without labelling or judging or comparing. And as you look at it, inhale its mystery, breathe in the spirit of sense, the smell of the wisdom of the other shore.’”

“All this,” Will commented, “sounds very like what Dr Robert was saying at the initiation ceremony.”

“Of course it does,” said Mrs Narayan. “Learning to take the Mahakasyapa’s-eye view of things is the best preparation for the moksha-medicine experience. Every child who comes to initiation comes to it after a long education in the art of being receptive. First the gardenia as a botanical specimen. Then the same gardenia in its uniqueness, the gardenia as the artist sees it, the even more miraculous gardenia seen by the Buddha and Mahakasyapa. And it goes without saying,” she added, “that we don’t confine ourselves to flowers. Every course the children take is punctuated by periodical bridge-building sessions. Everything from dissected frogs to the spiral nebulae, it all gets looked at receptively as well as conceptually, as a fact of aesthetic or spiritual experience as well as in terms of science or history or economics. Training in receptivity is the complement and anti-dote to training in analysis and symbol-manipulation. Both kinds of training are absolutely indispensable. If you neglect either of them you’ll never grow into a fully human being.”

There was a silence. “How should one look at other people?” Will asked at last. “Should one take the Freud’s-eye view or the Cézanne’s-eye view? The Proust’s-eye view or the Buddha’s-eye view?”

Mrs Narayan laughed. “Which view are you taking of me?” she asked.

“Primarily, I suppose, the sociologist’s-eye view,” he answered. “I’m looking at you as the representative of an unfamiliar culture. But I’m also being aware of you receptively. Thinking, if you don’t mind my saying so, that you seem to have aged remarkably well. Well aesthetically, well intellectually and psychologically, and well spiritually, whatever that word means — and if I make myself receptive it means something important. Whereas, if I choose to project instead of taking in, I can conceptualize it into pure nonsense.” He uttered a mildly hyena-like laugh.

“If one chooses to,” said Mrs Narayan, “one can always substitute a bad ready-made notion for the best insights of receptivity. The question is, why should one want to make that kind of choice? Why shouldn’t one choose to listen to both parties and harmonize their views? The analysing tradition-bound concept-maker and the alertly passive insight-receiver — neither is infallible; but both together can do a reasonably good job.”

“Just how effective is your training in the art of being receptive?” Will now enquired.

“There are degrees of receptivity,” she answered. “Very little of it in a science lesson, for example. Science starts with observation; but the observation is always selective. You have to look at the world through a lattice of projected concepts. Then you take the moksha-medicine, and suddenly there are hardly any concepts. You don’t select and immediately classify what you experience; you just take it in. It’s like that poem of Wordsworth’s. ‘Bring with you a heart that watches and receives’. In these bridge-building sessions I’ve been describing there’s still quite a lot of busy selecting and projecting, but not nearly so much as in the preceding science lessons. The children don’t suddenly turn into little Tathagatas; they don’t achieve the pure receptivity that comes with the moksha-medicine. Far from it. All one can say is that they learn to go easy on names and notions. For a little while they’re taking in a lot more than they give out.”

“What do you make them do with what they’ve taken in?”

“We merely ask them,” Mrs Narayan answered with a smile, “to attempt the impossible. The children are told to translate their experience into words. As a piece of pure, unconceptualized givenness, what is this flower, this dissected frog, this planet at the other end of the telescope? What does it mean? What does it make you think, feel, imagine, remember? Try to put it down on paper. You won’t succeed, of course; but try all the same. It’ll help you to understand the difference between words and events, between knowing about things and being acquainted with them. ‘And when you’ve finished writing’, we tell them, ‘Look at the flower again and, after you’ve looked, shut your eyes for a minute or two. Then draw what came to you when your eyes were closed. Draw whatever it may have been — something vague or vivid, something like the flower itself or something entirely different. Draw what you saw or even what you didn’t see, draw it and colour it with your paints or crayons. Then take another rest and, after that, compare your first drawing with the second; compare the scientific description of the flower with what you wrote about it when you weren’t analysing what you saw, when you behaved as though you didn’t know anything about the flower and just permitted the mystery of its existence to come to you, like that, out of the blue. Then compare your drawings and writings with the drawings and writings of the other boys and girls in the class. You’ll notice that the analytical descriptions and illustrations are very similar, whereas the drawings and writings of the other kind are very different one from another. How is all this connected with what you have learned in school, at home, in the jungle, in the temple?’ Dozens of questions, and all of them insistent. The bridges have to be built in all directions. One starts with botany — or any other subject in the school curriculum — and one finds oneself, at the end of a bridge-building session, thinking about the nature of language, about different kinds of experience, about metaphysics and the conduct of life, about analytical knowledge and the wisdom of the Other Shore.”

“How on earth,” Will asked. “did you ever manage to teach the teachers who now teach the children to build these bridges?”

“We began teaching teachers a hundred and seven years ago,” said Mrs Narayan. “Classes of young men and women who had been educated in the traditional Palanese way. You know — good manners, good agriculture, good arts and crafts, tempered by folk medicine, old wives’ physics and biology and a belief in the power of magic and the truth of fairy tales. No science, no history, no knowledge of anything going on in the outside world. But these future teachers were pious Buddhists; most of them practised meditation and all of them had read or listened to quite a lot of Mahayana philosophy. That meant that in the fields of applied metaphysics and psychology, they’d been educated far more thoroughly and far more realistically than any group of future teachers in your part of the world. Dr Andrew was a scientifically trained, anti-dogmatic humanist, who had discovered the value of pure and applied Mahayana. His friend, the Raja, was a Tantrik Buddhist who had discovered the value of pure and applied science. Both, consequently, saw very clearly that, to be capable of teaching children to become fully human in a society fit for fully human beings to live in, a teacher would first have to be taught how to make the best of both worlds.”

“And how did those early teachers feel about it? Didn’t they resist the process?”

Mrs Narayan shook her head. “They didn’t resist, for the good reason that nothing precious had been attacked. Their Buddhism was respected. All they were asked to give up was the old wives’ science and the fairy tales. And in exchange for those they got all kinds of much more interesting facts and much more useful theories. And these exciting things from your Western world of knowledge and power and progress were now to be combined with, and in a sense subordinated to, the theories of Buddhism and the psychological facts of applied metaphysics. There was really nothing in that best-of-both-worlds programme to offend the susceptibilities of even the touchiest and most ardent of religious patriots.”

“I’m wondering about our future teachers,” said Will after a silence. “At this late stage, would they be teachable? Could they possibly learn to make the best of both worlds?”

“Why not? They wouldn’t have to give up any of the things that are really important to them. The non-Christian could go on thinking about man and the Christians could go on worshipping God. No change, except that God would have to be thought of as immanent and man would have to be thought of as potentially self-transcendent.”

“And you think they’d make those changes without any fuss?” Will laughed. “You’re an optimist.”

“An optimist,” said Mrs Narayan, “for the simple reason that, if one tackles a problem intelligently and realistically, the results are apt to be fairly good. This island justifies a certain optimism. And now let’s go and have a look at the dancing class.”

They crossed a tree-shaded courtyard and, pushing through a swing door, passed out of silence into the rhythmic beat of a drum and the screech of fifes repeating over and over again a short pentatonic tune that to Will’s ears sounded vaguely Scotch.

“Live music or canned?” he asked.

“Japanese tape,” Mrs Narayan answered laconically. She opened a second door that gave access to a large gymnasium where two bearded young men and an amazingly agile little old lady in black satin slacks were teaching some twenty or thirty little boys and girls the steps of a lively dance.

“What’s this?” Will asked. “Fun or education?”

“Both,” said the Principal. “And it’s also applied ethics. Like those breathing exercises we were talking about just now — only more effective because so much more violent.”

“So stamp it out,” the children were chanting in unison. And they stamped their small sandalled feet with all their might. “So stamp it out!” A final furious stamp and they were off again, jigging and turning, into another movement of the dance.

“This is called the Rakshasi Hornpipe,” said Mrs Narayan.

“Rakshasi?” Will questioned. “What’s that?”

“A Rakshasi is a species of demon. Very large, and exceedingly unpleasant. All the ugliest passions personified. The Rakshasi Hornpipe is a device for letting off those dangerous heads of steam raised by anger and frustration.”

“So stamp it out!” The music had come round again to the choral refrain. “So stamp it out!”

“Stamp again,” cried the little old lady setting a furious example. “Harder! Harder!”

“Which did more,” Will speculated, “for morality and rational behaviour — the Bacchic orgies or the Republic? the Nicomachean Ethics or corybantic dancing?”

“The Greeks,” said Mrs Narayan, “were much too sensible to think in terms of either-or. For them, it was always not-only-but-also. Not only Plato and Aristotle, but also the maenads. Without those tension-reducing hornpipes, the moral philosophy would have been impotent, and without the moral philosophy the horn-pipers wouldn’t have known where to go next. All we’ve done is to take a leaf out of the old Greek book.”

“Very good!” said Will approvingly. Then remembering (as sooner or later, however keen his pleasure and however genuine his enthusiasm, he always did remember) that he was the man who wouldn’t take yes for an answer, he suddenly broke into laughter. “Not that it makes any difference in the long run,” he said, “Corybantism couldn’t stop the Greeks from cutting one another’s throats. And when Colonel Dipa decides to move, what will your Rakshasi Hornpipes do for you? Help you to reconcile yourselves to your fate, perhaps — that’s all.”

“Yes, that’s all,” said Mrs Narayan. “But being reconciled to one’s fate — that’s already a great achievement.”

“You seem to take it all very calmly.”

“What would be the point of taking it hysterically? It wouldn’t make our political situation any better; it would merely make our personal situation a good deal worse.”

“So stamp it out,” the children shouted again in unison, and the boards trembled under their pounding feet. “So stamp it out.”

“Don’t imagine,” Mrs Narayan resumed, “that this is the only kind of dancing we teach. Redirecting the power generated by bad feelings is important. But equally important is directing good feelings and right knowledge into expression. Expressive movements, in this case, expressive gesture. If you had come yesterday, when our visiting master was here, I could have shown you how we teach that kind of dancing. Not today unfortunately. He won’t be here again before Tuesday.”

“What sort of dancing does he teach?”

Mrs Narayan tried to describe it. No leaps, no high kicks, no running. The feet always firmly on the ground. Just bendings and sideways motions of the knees and hips. All expression confined to the arms, wrists and hands, to the neck and head, the face and, above all the eyes. Movement from the shoulders upwards and outwards — movement intrinsically beautiful and at the same time charged with symbolic meaning. Thought taking shape in ritual and stylized gesture. The whole body transformed into a hieroglyph, a succession of hieroglyphs, of attitudes modulating from significance to significance like a poem or a piece of music. Movements of the muscles representing movements of Consciousness, the passage of Suchness into the many, of the many into the immanent and ever-present One.

“It’s meditation in action,” she concluded. “It’s the metaphysics of the Mahayana expressed, not in words, but through symbolic movements and gestures.”

They left the gymnasium by a different door from that through which they had entered and turned left along a short corridor.

“What’s the next item?” Will asked.

“The Lower Fourth,” Mrs Narayan answered, “and they’re working on Elementary Practical Psychology.”

She opened a green door.

“Well, now you know,” Will heard a familiar voice saying. “Nobody has to feel pain. You told yourselves that the pin wouldn’t hurt — and it didn’t hurt.”

They stepped into the room and there, very tall in the midst of a score of plump or skinny little brown bodies, was Susila MacPhail. She smiled at them, pointed to a couple of chairs in a corner of the room and turned back to the children. “Nobody has to feel pain,” she repeated. “But never forget: pain always means that something is wrong. You’ve learned to shut pain off, but don’t do it thoughtlessly, don’t do it without asking yourselves the question: What’s the reason for this pain? And if it’s bad, or if there’s no obvious reason for it, tell your mother about it, or your teacher, or any grown-up in your Mutual Adoption Club. Then shut off the pain. Shut it off knowing that, if anything needs to be done, it will be done. Do you understand? And now,” she went on, after all the questions had been asked and answered. “Now let’s play some pretending games. Shut your eyes and pretend you’re looking at that poor old mynah bird with one leg that comes to school every day to be fed. Can you see him?”

Of course they could see him. The one-legged mynah was evidently an old friend.

“See him just as clearly as you saw him today at lunch time. And don’t stare at him, don’t make any effort. Just see what comes to you, and let your eyes shift — from his beak to his tail, from his bright little round eye to his one orange leg.”

“I can hear him too,” a little girl volunteered. “He’s saying ‘Karuna, Karuna!’”

“That’s not true,” another child said indignantly. “He’s saying ‘Attention!’”

“He’s saying both those things,” Susila assured them. “And probably a lot of other words besides. But now we’re going to do some real pretending. Pretend that there are two one-legged mynah birds. Three one-legged mynah birds. Four one-legged mynah birds. Can you see all four of them?”

They could.

“Four one-legged mynah birds at the four corners of a square, and a fifth one in the middle. And now let’s make them change their colour. They’re white now. Five white mynah birds with yellow heads and one orange leg. And now the heads are blue. Bright blue — and the rest of the bird is pink. Five pink birds with blue heads. And they keep changing. They’re purple now. Five purple birds with white heads and each of them has one pale green leg. Goodness, what’s happening! There aren’t five of them; there are ten. No, twenty, fifty, a hundred. Hundreds and hundreds. Can you see them?” Some of them could — without the slightest difficulty; and for those who couldn’t go the whole hog, Susila proposed more modest goals.

“Just make twelve of them,” she said. “Or if twelve is too many, make ten, make eight. That’s still an awful lot of mynahs. And now,” she went on, when all the children had conjured up all the purple birds that each was capable of creating, “now they’re gone.” She clapped her hands. “Gone! Every single one of them. There’s nothing there. And now you’re not going to see mynahs, you’re going to see me. One me in yellow. Two mes in green. Three mes in blue with pink spots. Four mes in the brightest red you ever saw.” She clapped her hands again. “All gone. And this time it’s Mrs Narayan and that funny-looking man with a stiff leg who came in with her. Four of each of them. Standing in a big circle in the gymnasium. And now they’re dancing the Rakshasi Hornpipe. ‘So stamp it out, so stamp it out.’”

There was a general giggle. The dancing Wills and Principals must have looked richly comical.

Susila snapped her fingers.

“Away with them! Vanish! And now each of you sees three of your mothers and three of your fathers running round the playground. Faster, faster, faster! And suddenly they’re not there any more. And then they are there. But next moment they aren’t. They are there, they aren’t. They are, they aren’t …”

The giggles swelled into squeals of laughter and at the height of the laughter a bell rang. The lesson in Elementary Practical Psychology was over.

“What’s the point of it all?” Will asked when the children had run off to play and Mrs Narayan had returned to her office.

“The point,” Susila answered, “is to get people to understand that we’re not completely at the mercy of our memory and our phantasies. If we’re disturbed by what’s going on inside our heads, we can do something about it. It’s all a question of being shown what to do and then practising — the way one learns to write or play the flute. What those children you saw here were being taught is a very simple technique — a technique that we’ll develop later on into a method of liberation. Not complete liberation, of course. But half a loaf is a great deal better than no bread. This technique won’t lead you to the discovery of your Buddha Nature: but it may help you to prepare for that discovery — help you by liberating you from the hauntings of your own painful memories, your remorses, your causeless anxieties about the future.”

“‘Hauntings’,” Will agreed, “is the word.”

“But one doesn’t have to be haunted. Some of the ghosts can be laid quite easily. Whenever one of them appears, just give it the imagination treatment. Deal with it as we dealt with those mynahs, as we dealt with you and Mrs Narayan. Change its clothes, give it another nose, multiply it, tell it to go away, call it back again and make it do something ridiculous. Then abolish it. Just think what you could have done about your father, if someone had taught you a few of these simple little tricks when you were a child! You thought of him as a terrifying ogre. But that wasn’t necessary. In your fancy you could have turned the ogre into a grotesque. Into a whole chorus of grotesques. Twenty of them doing a tap dance and singing, ‘I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls.’ A short course in Elementary Practical Psychology, and your whole life might have been different.”

How would he have dealt with Molly’s death, Will wondered as they walked out towards the parked jeep? What rites of imaginative exorcism could he have practised on that white, musk-scented succubus who was the incarnation of his frantic and abhorred desires?

But here was the jeep. Will handed Susila the keys and laboriously hoisted himself into his seat. Very noisily, as though it were under some neurotic compulsion to overcompensate for its diminutive stature, a small and aged car approached from the direction of the village, turned into the driveway and, still clattering and shuddering, came to a halt beside the jeep.

They turned. There, leaning out of the window of the royal Baby Austin was Murugan and beyond him, vast in white muslin and billowy like a cumulus cloud, sat the Rani. Will bowed in her direction and evoked the most gracious of smiles, which was switched off as soon as she turned to Susila, whose greeting was acknowledged only with the most distant of nods.

“Going for a drive?” Will asked politely.

“Only as far as Shivapuram,” said the Rani.

“If this wretched little crate will hold together that long,” Murugan added bitterly. He turned the ignition key. The motor gave a last obscene hiccup and died.

“There are some people we have to see,” the Rani went on. “Or rather One Person,” she added in a tone charged with conspiratorial significance. She smiled at Will and very nearly winked.

Pretending not to understand that she was talking about Bahu, Will uttered a non-committal, “Quite”, and commiserated with her on all the work and worry that the preparations for next week’s coming-of-age party must entail.

Murugan interrupted him. “What are you doing out here?” he asked.

“I’ve spent the afternoon, taking an intelligent interest in Palanese education.”

“Palanese education,” the Rani echoed. And again, sorrowfully, “Palanese” (pause) “Education.” She shook her head.

“Personally,” said Will, “I liked everything I saw and heard of it — from Mr Menon and the Principal to Elementary Practical Psychology, as taught,” he added, trying to bring Susila into the conversation, “by Mrs MacPhail here.”

Still studiedly ignoring Susila, the Rani pointed a thick accusing finger at the scarecrows in the field below.

“Have you seen those, Mr Farnaby?”

He had indeed. “And where but in Pala,” he asked, “can one find scarecrows which are simultaneously beautiful, efficient and metaphysically significant?”

“And which,” said the Rani in a voice that was vibrant with a kind of sepulchral indignation, “not only scare the birds away from the rice; they also scare little children away from the very idea of God and His Avatars.” She raised her hand, “Listen!”

Trom Krishna and Mary Sarojini had been joined by five or six small companions and were making a game of tugging at the strings that worked the supernatural marionettes. From the group came a sound of shrill voices piping in unison. At their second repetition, Will made out the words of the chantey.

Pully, hauly, tug with a will;

The gods wiggle-waggle, but the sky stands still.

“Bravo!” he said, and laughed.

“I’m afraid I can’t be amused,” said the Rani severely. “It isn’t funny. It’s Tragic, Tragic.”

Will stuck to his guns. “I understand,” he said, “that these charmings carecrows were an invention of Murugan’s great grandfather.”

“Murugan’s great grandfather,” said the Rani, “was a very remarkable man. Remarkably intelligent, but no less remarkably perverse. Great gifts — but, alas, how maleficently used! And what made it all so much worse, he was full of False Spirituality.”

“False Spirituality?” Will eyed the enormous specimen of True Spirituality and, through the reek of hot petroleum products, inhaled the incense-like, other-worldly smell of sandalwood. “False Spirituality?” And suddenly he found himself wondering — wondering and then, with a shudder, imagining — what the Rani would look like if suddenly divested of her mystic’s uniform and exposed, exuberantly and steatopygously naked, to the light. And now multiply her into a trinity of undressed obesities, into two trinities, ten trinities. Applied Practical Psychology — with a vengeance!

“Yes, False Spirituality,” the Rani was repeating, “Talking about Liberation; but always, because of his obstinate refusal to follow the True Path, always working for greater Bondage. Acting the part of humility. But in his heart, he was so full of pride, Mr Farnaby, that he refused to recognize any Spiritual Authority Higher than his own. The Masters, the Avatare, the Great Tradition — they meant nothing to him. Nothing at all. Hence those dreadful scarecrows. Hence that blasphemous rhyme that the children have been taught to sing. When I think of those Poor Innocent Little Ones being deliberately perverted, I find it hard to contain myself, Mr Farnaby, I find it …”

“Listen, mother,” said Murugan who had been glancing impatiently and ever more openly at his wrist watch, “if we want to be back by dinner time, we’d better get going.” His tone was rudely authoritative. Being at the wheel of a car — even of this senile Baby Austin — made him feel, it was evident, considerably larger than life. Without waiting for the Rani’s answer he started the motor, shifted into low and with a wave of the hand, drove off.

“Good riddance,” said Susila.

“Don’t you love your dear Queen?”

“She makes my blood boil.”

“So stamp it out,” Will chanted teasingly.

“You’re quite right,” she agreed with a laugh. “But unfortunately this was an occasion when it just wasn’t feasible to do a Rakshasi Hornpipe.” Her face brightened with a sudden flash of mischief, and without warning she punched him, surprisingly hard, in the ribs. “There!” she said. “Now I feel much better.”

Chapter Fourteen


SHE STARTED THE motor and they drove off — down to the bypass, up again to the high road beyond the other end of the village, and on into the compound of the Experimental Station. Susila pulled up at a small thatched bungalow like all the others. They climbed the six steps that led up to the verandah and entered a whitewashed living-room.

To the left was a wide window with a hammock slung between the two wooden pillars at either side of the projecting bay. “For you,” she said, pointing to the hammock. “You can put your leg up.” And when Will had lowered himself into the net, “What shall we talk about?” she asked as she pulled up a wicker chair and sat down beside him.

“What about the good, the true and the beautiful? Or maybe,” he grinned, “the ugly, the bad and the even truer.”

“I’d thought,” she said, ignoring his attempt at a witticism, “that we might go on where we left off last time — go on talking about you.”

“That was precisely what I was suggesting — the ugly, the bad and the truer than all official truth.”

“Is this just an exhibition of your conversational style?” she asked. “Or do you really want to talk about yourself?”

“Really,” he assured her, “desperately. Just as desperately as I don’t want to talk about myself. Hence, as you may have noticed, my unflagging interest in art, science, philosophy, politics, literature — any damned thing rather than the only thing that ultimately has any importance.”

There was a long silence. Then in a tone of casual reminiscence, Susila began to talk about Wells Cathedral, about the calling of the jackdaws, about the white swans floating between the reflections of the floating clouds. In a few minutes he too was floating.

“I was very happy all the time I was at Wells,” she said. “Wonderfully happy. And so were you, weren’t you?”

Will made no answer. He was remembering those days in the green valley, years ago, before he and Molly were married, before they were lovers. What peace! What a solid, living maggotless world of springing grass and flowers! And between them had flowed the kind of natural, undistorted feeling that he hadn’t experienced since those far-off days when Aunt Mary was alive. The only person he had ever really loved — and here, in Molly, was her successor. What blessedness! Love transposed into another key — but the melody, the rich and subtle harmonies were the same. And then, on the fourth night of their stay, Molly had knocked on the wall that separated their rooms, and he had found her door ajar, had groped his way in darkness to the bed where, conscientiously naked, the Sister of Mercy was doing her best to play the part of the Wife of Love. Doing her best and (how disastrously!) failing.

Suddenly, as happened almost every afternoon, there was a loud rushing of wind and, muffled by distance, a hollow roaring of rain on thick foliage — a roaring that grew louder and louder as the shower approached. A few seconds passed, and then the raindrops were hammering insistently on the window panes. Hammering as they had hammered on the windows of his study that day of their last interview. “Do you really mean it, Will?”

The pain and shame of it made him want to cry aloud. He bit his lip.

“What are you thinking of?” Susila asked.

It wasn’t a matter of thinking. He was actually seeing her, actually hearing her voice. “Do you really mean it, Will?” And through the sound of the rain he heard himself answering, “I really mean it.”

On the window pane — was it here? Or was it there, was it then? — the roar had diminished, as the gust spent itself to a pattering whisper.

“What are you thinking of?” Susila insisted.

“I’m thinking of what I did to Molly.”

“What was it that you did to Molly?”

He didn’t want to answer; but Susila was inexorable.

“Tell me what it was that you did.”

Another violent gust made the windows rattle. It was raining harder now — raining, it seemed to Will Farnaby, on purpose, raining in such a way that he would have to go on remembering what he didn’t want to remember, would be compelled to say out loud the shameful things he must at all costs keep to himself.

“Tell me.”

Reluctantly and in spite of himself, he told her.

“‘Do you really mean it, Will?’” And because of Babs — Babs, God help him! Babs, believe it or not! — he really did mean it, and she had walked out into the rain.

“The next time I saw her was in the hospital.”

“Was it still raining?” Susila asked.

“Still raining.”

“As hard as it’s raining now?”

“Very nearly.” And what Will heard was no longer this afternoon shower in the tropics, but the steady drumming on the window of the little room where Molly lay dying.

“It’s me,” he was saying through the sound of the rain, “It’s Will.” Nothing happened; and then suddenly he felt the almost imperceptible movement of Molly’s hand within his own. The voluntary pressure and then, after a few seconds, the involuntary release, the total limpness.

“Tell me again, Will.”

He shook his head. It was too painful, too humiliating.

“Tell me again,” she insisted. “It’s the only way.”

Making an enormous effort, he started to tell the odious story yet once more. Did he really mean it? Yes, he really meant it — meant to hurt, meant perhaps (did one ever know what one really intended?) to kill. All for Babs, or the World well Lost. Not his world, of course — Molly’s world, and, at the centre of that world, the life that had created it. Snuffed out for the sake of that delicious smell in the darkness, of those muscular reflexes, that enormity of enjoyment, those consummate and intoxicatingly shameless skills.

“Goodbye, Will.” And the door had closed behind her with a faint, dry click.

He wanted to call her back. But Babs’s lover remembered the skills, the reflexes, and, within its aura of musk, a body agonizing in the extremity of pleasure. Remembered these things and, standing at the window, watched the car move away through the rain, watched and was filled as it turned the corner, with a shameful exultation. Free at last! Even freer, as he discovered three hours later in the hospital, than he had supposed. For now he was feeling the last faint pressure of her fingers; feeling the final message of her love. And then the message was interrupted. The hand went limp and now, suddenly, appallingly, there was no sound of breathing. “Dead,” he whispered, and felt himself choking. “Dead.”

“Suppose it hadn’t been your fault,” said Susila, breaking a long silence. “Suppose that she’d suddenly died without your having had anything to do with it. Wouldn’t that have been almost as bad?”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean, it’s more than just feeling guilty about Molly’s death. It’s death itself, death as such, that you find so terrible.” She was thinking of Dugald now. “So senselessly evil.”

“Senselessly evil,” he repeated. “Yes, perhaps that’s why I had to be a professional execution-watcher. Just because it was all so senseless, so utterly bestial. Following the smell of death from one end of the earth to the other. Like a vulture. Nice comfortable people just don’t have any idea what the world is like. Not exceptionally, as it was during the War, but all the time. All the time.” And as he spoke he was seeing, in a vision as brief and comprehensive and intensely circumstantial as a drowning man’s, all the hateful scenes he had witnessed in the course of those well-paid pilgrimages to every hell-hole and abattoir revolting enough to qualify as News. Negroes in South Africa, the man in the San Quentin gas chamber, mangled bodies in an Algerian farmhouse, and everywhere mobs, everywhere policemen and paratroopers, everywhere those dark-skinned children, stick-legged, pot-bellied, with flies on their raw eyelids, everywhere the nauseating smells of hunger and disease, the awful stench of death. And then suddenly, through the stench of death, mingled and impregnated with the stench of death, he was breathing the musky essence of Babs. Breathing the essence of Babs and remembering his little joke about the chemistry of purgatory and paradise. Purgatory is tetraethylene diamine and sulphuretted hydrogen; paradise, very definitely, is symtrinitropsi-butyl toluene, with an assortment of organic impurities — ha — ha — ha! (Oh, the delights of social life!) And then, quite suddenly, the odours of love and death gave place to a rank animal smell — a smell of dog.

The wind swelled up again into violence and the driving rain drops hammered and splashed against the panes.

“Are you still thinking of Molly?” Susila asked.

“I was thinking of something I’d completely forgotten,” he answered. “I can’t have been more than four years old when it happened, and now it’s all come back to me. Poor Tiger.”

“Who was poor Tiger?” she questioned.

Tiger, his beautiful red setter. Tiger, the only source of light in that dismal house where he had spent his childhood. Tiger, dear dear Tiger. In the midst of all that fear and misery, between the two poles of his father’s sneering hate of everything and everybody and his mother’s self-conscious self-sacrifice, what effortless good will, what spontaneous friendliness, what a bounding, barking, irrepressible joy! His mother used to take him on her knee and tell him about God and Jesus. But there was more God in Tiger than in all her Bible stories. Tiger, so far as he was concerned, was the Incarnation. And then one day the Incarnation came down with distemper.

“What happened then?” Susila asked.

“His basket’s in the kitchen, and I’m there, kneeling beside it. And I’m stroking him — but his fur feels quite different from what it felt like before he was sick. Kind of sticky. And there’s a bad smell. If I didn’t love him so much, I’d run away, I couldn’t bear to be near him. But I do love him, I love him more than anything or anybody. And while I stroke him, I keep telling him that he’ll soon be well again. Very soon — tomorrow morning. And then all of a sudden he starts to shudder, and I try to stop the shuddering by holding his head between my hands. But it doesn’t do any good. The trembling turns into a horrible convulsion. It makes me feel sick to look at it, and I’m frightened. I’m dreadfully frightened. Then the shuddering and the twitching die down and in a little while he’s absolutely still. And when I lift his head and then let go, the head falls back — thump, like a piece of meat with a bone inside.”

Will’s voice broke, the tears were streaming down his cheeks, he was shaken by the sobs of a four-year-old grieving for his dog and confronted by the awful, inexplicable fact of death. With the mental equivalent of a click and a little jerk, his consciousness seemed to change gear. He was an adult again, and he had ceased to float.

“I’m sorry,” He wiped his eyes and blew his nose. “Well, that was my first introduction to the Essential Horror. Tiger was my friend, Tiger was my only consolation. That was something, obviously that the Essential Horror couldn’t tolerate. And it was the same with my Aunt Mary. The only person I ever really loved and admired and completely trusted; and, Christ, what the Essential Horror did to her!”

“Tell me,” said Susila.

Will hesitated, then, shrugging his shoulders, “Why not?” he said. “Mary Frances Farnaby, my father’s younger sister. Married at eighteen, just a year before the outbreak of World War I, to a professional soldier. Frank and Mary, Mary and Frank — what harmony, what happiness!” He laughed. “Even outside of Pala one can find occasional islands of decency. Tiny little atolls, or even, every now and then, a full-blown Tahiti — but always totally surrounded by the Essential Horror. Two young people on their private Pala. Then, one fine morning, it was August 4th, 1914. Frank went overseas with the Expeditionary Force, and on Christmas Eve Mary gave birth to a deformed child that survived long enough for her to see for herself what the E.H. can do when it really tries. Only God can make a microcephalous idiot. Three months later, needless to say, Frank was hit by a piece of shrapnel and died in due course of gangrene. “All that,” Will went on after a little silence, “was before my time. When I first knew her, in the ‘twenties, Aunt Mary was devoting herself to the aged. Old people in institutions, old people cooped up in their own homes, old people living on and on as a burden to their children and grandchildren. Struldbrugs, Tithonuses. And the more hopeless the decrepitude, the more crotchety and querulous the character, the better. As a child, how I hated Aunt Mary’s old people! They smelt bad, they were frighteningly ugly, they were always boring and generally cross. But Aunt Mary really loved them — loved them through thick and thin, loved them in spite of everything. My mother used to talk a lot about Christian charity; but somehow one never believed what she said, just as one never felt any love in all the self-sacrificing things she was always forcing herself to do — no love, only duty. Whereas with Aunt Mary one was never in the slightest doubt. Her love was like a kind of physical radiation, something one could almost sense as heat or light. When she took me to stay with her in the country and later, when she came to town and I used to go and see her almost every day, it was like escaping from a refrigerator into the sunshine. I could feel myself coming alive in that light of hers, that radiating warmth. Then the Essential Horror got busy again. At the beginning she made a joke of it. ‘Now I’m an Amazon,’ she said after the first operation.”

“Why an Amazon?” Susila asked.

“The Amazons had their right breast amputated. They were warriors and the breast got in the way when they were shooting with the long bow. ‘Now I’m an Amazon,’” he repeated, and with his mind’s eye could see the smile on that strong aquiline face, could hear, with his mind’s ear, the tone of amusement in that clear, ringing voice. “But a few months later the other breast had to be cut off. After that there were the X-rays, the radiation sickness and then, little by little, the degradation.” Will’s face took on its look of flayed ferocity. “If it weren’t so unspeakably hideous, it would really be funny. What a masterpiece of irony! Here was a soul that radiated goodness and love and heroic charity. Then, for no known reason, something went wrong. Instead of flouting it, a little piece of her body started to obey the second law of thermodynamics. And as the body broke down, the soul began to lose its virtue, its very identity. The heroism went out of her, the love and the goodness evaporated. For the last months of her life, she was no more the Aunt Mary I had loved and admired; she was somebody else, somebody (and this was the ironist’s final and most exquisite touch) almost indistinguishable from the worst and weakest of the old people she had once befriended and been a tower of strength to. She had to be humiliated and degraded; and when the degradation was complete, she was slowly, and with a great deal of pain, put to death in solitude. In solitude,” he insisted. “For of course nobody can help, nobody can ever be present. People may stand by while you’re suffering and dying; but they’re standing by in another world. In your world you’re absolutely alone. Alone in your suffering and your dying, just as you’re alone in love, alone even in the most completely shared pleasure.”

The essences of Babs and of Tiger, and when the cancer had gnawed a hole in the liver and her wasted body was impregnated with that strange, aromatic smell of contaminated blood, the essence of Aunt Mary dying. And in the midst of those essences, sickeningly or intoxicatedly aware of them, was an isolated consciousness, a child’s, a boy’s, a man’s, forever isolated, irremediably alone. “And on top of everything else,” he went on, “this woman was only forty-two. She didn’t want to die. She refused to accept what was being done to her. The Essential Horror had to drag her down by main force. I was there; I saw it happening.”

“And that’s why you’re the man who won’t take yes for an answer?”

“How can anyone take yes for an answer?” he countered. “Yes is just pretending, just positive thinking. The facts, the basic and ultimate facts, are always no. Spirit? No! Love? No! Sense, meaning, achievement? No!”

Tiger exuberantly alive and joyful and full of God. And then Tiger transformed by the Essential Horror into a packet of garbage, which the vet had to come and be paid for removing. And after Tiger, Aunt Mary. Maimed and tortured, dragged in the mud, degraded and finally, like Tiger, transformed into a packet of garbage — only this time it was the undertaker who had removed it, and a clergyman was hired to make believe that it was all, in some sublime and Pickwickian sense, perfectly O.K. Twenty years later another clergyman had been hired to repeat the same strange rigmarole over Molly’s coffin. ‘If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’

Will uttered another of his hyena laughs. “What impeccable logic, what sensibility, what ethical refinement!”

“But you’re the man who won’t take yes for an answer. So why raise any objections?”

“I oughtn’t to,” he agreed. “But one remains an aesthete, one likes to have the no said with style. ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” He screwed up his face in an expression of disgust.

“And yet,” said Susila, “in a certain sense the advice is excellent. Eating, drinking, dying — three primary manifestations of the universal and impersonal life. Animals live that impersonal and universal life without knowing its nature. Ordinary people know its nature but don’t live it and, if ever they think seriously about it, refuse to accept it. An enlightened person knows it, lives it and accepts it completely. He eats, he drinks and in due course he dies — but he eats with a difference, drinks with a difference, dies with a difference.”

“And rises again from the dead?” he asked sarcastically.

“That’s one of the questions the Buddha always refused to discuss. Believing in eternal life never helped anybody to live in eternity. Nor, of course, did disbelieving. So stop all your pro-ing and con-ing (that’s the Buddha’s advice) and get on with the job.”

“Which job?”

“Everybody’s job — enlightenment. Which means, here and now, the preliminary job of practising all the yogas of increased awareness.”

“But I don’t want to be more aware,” said Will. “I want to be less aware. Less aware of horrors like Aunt Mary’s death and the slums of Rendang-Lobo. Less aware of hideous sights and loathsome smells — even of some delicious smells,” he added as he caught through the remembered essences of dog and cancer of the liver, a civet-like whiff of the pink alcove: “Less aware of my fat income and other people’s subhuman poverty. Less aware of my own excellent health in an ocean of malaria and hookworm, of my own safely sterilized sex-fun in the ocean of starving babies. ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ What a blessed state of affairs! But unfortunately I do know what I’m doing. Only too well. And here you go, asking me to be even more aware than I am already.”

“I’m not asking anything,” she said. “I’m merely passing on the advice of a succession of shrewd old birds, beginning with Gautana and ending with the Old Raja. Start by being fully aware of what you think you are. It’ll help you to become aware of what you are in fact.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “One thinks one’s something unique and wonderful at the centre of the universe. But in fact one’s merely a slight delay in the ongoing march of entropy.”

“And that precisely, is the first half of the Buddha’s message. Transience, no permanent soul, inevitable sorrow. But he didn’t stop there, the message had a second half. This temporary slowdown of entropy is also pure undiluted Suchness. This absence of a permanent soul is also the Buddha Nature.”

“Absence of a soul — that’s easy to cope with. But what about the presence of cancer, the presence of slow degradation? What about hunger and overbreeding and Colonel Dipa? Are they pure Suchness?”

“Of course. But, needless to say, it’s desperately difficult for the people who are deeply involved in any of those evils to discover their Buddha Nature. Public health and social reform are the indispensable preconditions of any kind of general enlightenment.”

“But in spite of public health and social reform, people still die. Even in Pala,” he added ironically.

“Which is why the corollary of welfare has to be dhyana — all the yogas of living and dying, so that you can be aware, even in the final agony, of who in fact, and in spite of everything, you really are.”

There was a sound of footsteps on the planking of the verandah and a childish voice called, “Mother!”

“Here I am, darling,” Susila called back.

The front door was flung open and Mary Sarojini came hurrying into the room.

“Mother,” she said breathlessly, “they want you to come at once. It’s Granny Lakshmi. She’s …” Catching sight for the first time of the figure in the hammock, she started and broke off. “Oh! I didn’t know you were here.”

Will waved his hand to her without speaking. She gave him a perfunctory smile, then turned back to her mother. “Granny Lakshmi suddenly got much worse,” she said, “and Grandpa Robert is still up at the High Altitude Station, and they can’t get through to him on the telephone.”

“Did you run all the way?”

“Except where it’s really too steep.”

Susila put her arm round the child and kissed her, then very brisk and business-like, rose to her feet.

“It’s Dugald’s mother,” she said.

“Is she …?” He glanced at Mary Sarojini, then back at Susila. Was death taboo? Could one mention it before children?

“You mean, is she dying?”

He nodded.

“We’ve been expecting it, of course,” Susila went on. “But not today. Today she seemed a little better.” She shook her head. “Well, I have to go and stand by — even if it is in another world. And actually,” she added, “it isn’t quite so completely other as you think. I’m sorry we had to leave our business unfinished; but there’ll be other opportunities. Meanwhile what do you want to do? You can stay here. Or I’ll drop you at Dr Robert’s. Or you can come with me and Mary Sarojini.”

“As a professional execution-watcher?”

“Not as a professional execution-watcher,” she answered emphatically. “As a human being, as someone who needs to know how to live and then how to die. Needs it as urgently as we all do.”

“Needs it,” he said, “a lot more urgently than most. But shan’t I be in the way?”

“If you can get out of your own way, you won’t be in anyone else’s.”

She took his hand and helped him out of the hammock. Two minutes later they were driving past the lotus pool and the huge Buddha meditating under the cobra’s hood, past the white bull, out through the main gate of the compound. The rain was over, in a green sky enormous clouds glowed like archangels. Low in the West the sun was shining with a brightness that seemed almost supernatural.

Soles occidere et redire possunt;

nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,

nox est perpetua una dormienda.

Da mi basia mille.

Sunsets and death; death and therefore kisses; kisses and consequently birth and then death for yet another generation of sunset-watchers.

“What do you say to people who are dying?” he asked. “Do you tell them not to bother their heads about immortality and get on with the job?”

“If you like to put it that way — yes, that’s precisely what we do. Going on being aware — it’s the whole art of dying.”

“And you teach the art?”

“I’d put it another way. We help them to go on practising the art of living even while they’re dying. Knowing who in fact one is, being conscious of the universal and impersonal life that lives itself through each of us — that’s the art of living, and that’s what one can help the dying to go on practising. To the very end. Maybe beyond the end.”

“Beyond?” he questioned. “But you said that was something that the dying aren’t supposed to think about.”

“They’re not being asked to think about it. They’re being helped, if there is such a thing, to experience it. If there is such a thing,” she repeated, “if the universal life goes on, when the separate me-life is over.”

“Do you personally think it does go on?”

Susila smiled. “What I personally think is beside the point. All that matters is what I may impersonally experience — while I’m living, when I’m dying, maybe when I’m dead.”

She swung the car into a parking space and turned off the engine. On foot they entered the village. Work was over for the day and the main street was so densely thronged that it was hard for them to pass.

“I’m going ahead by myself,” Susila announced. Then to Mary Sarojini, “Be at the hospital in about an hour,” she said. “Not before.” She turned and, threading her way between the slowly promenading groups, was soon lost to view.

“You’re in charge now,” said Will, smiling down at the child by his side.

Mary Sarojini nodded gravely and took his hand. “Let’s go and see what’s happening in the Square,” she said.

“How old is your Granny Lakshmi?” Will asked as they started to make their way along the crowded street.

“I don’t really know,” Mary Sarojini answered. “She looks terribly old. But maybe that’s because she’s got cancer.”

“Do you know what cancer is?” he asked.

Mary Sarojini knew perfectly well. “It’s what happens when part of you forgets all about the rest of you and carries on the way people do when they’re crazy — just goes on blowing itself up and blowing itself up as if there was nobody else in the whole world. Sometimes you can do something about it. But generally it just goes on blowing itself up until the person dies.”

“And that’s what has happened, I gather, to your Granny Lakshmi.”

“And now she needs someone to help her die.”

“Does your mother often help people die?”

The child nodded. “She’s awfully good at it.”

“Have you ever seen anyone die?”

“Of course,” Mary Sarojini answered, evidently surprised that such a question should be asked. “Let me see.” She made a mental calculation. “I’ve seen five people die. Six, if you count babies.”

“I hadn’t seen anyone die when I was your age.”

“You hadn’t?”

“Only a dog.”

“Dogs die easier than people. They don’t talk about it before-hand.”

“How do you feel about … about people dying?”

“Well, it isn’t nearly so bad as having babies. That’s awful. Or at least it looks awful. But then you remind yourself that it doesn’t hurt at all. They’ve turned off the pain.”

“Believe it or not,” said Will, “I’ve never seen a baby being born.”

“Never?” Mary Sarojini was astonished. “Not even when you were at school?”

Will had a vision of his headmaster in full canonicals conducting three hundred black-coated boys on a tour of the Lying-In Hospital. “Not even at school,” he said aloud.

“You never saw anybody dying, and you never saw anybody having a baby. How did you get to know things?”

“In the school I went to,” he said, “we never got to know things, we only got to know words.”

The child looked up at him, shook her head and, lifting a small brown hand, significantly tapped her forehead. “Crazy,” she said. “Or were your teachers just stupid?”

Will laughed. “They were high-minded educators dedicated to mens sana in corpore sano and the maintenance of our sublime Western Tradition. But meanwhile tell me something. Weren’t you ever frightened?”

“By people having babies?”

“No, by people dying. Didn’t that scare you?”

“Well, yes — it did,” she said after a moment of silence.

“So what did you do about it?”

“I did what they teach you to do — tried to find out which of me was frightened and why she was frightened.”

“And which of you was it?”

“This one.” Mary Sarojini pointed a forefinger into her open mouth. “The one that does all the talking. Little Miss Gibber — that’s what Vijaya calls her. She’s always talking about all the nasty things I remember, all the huge, wonderful impossible things I imagine I can do. She’s the one that gets frightened.”

“Why is she so frightened?”

“I suppose it’s because she gets talking about all the awful things that might happen to her. Talking out loud or talking to herself. But there’s another one who doesn’t get frightened.”

“Which one is that?”

“The one that doesn’t talk — just looks and listens and feels what’s going on inside. And sometimes,” Mary Sarojini added, “sometimes she suddenly sees how beautiful everything is. No, that’s wrong. She sees it all the time, but I don’t — not unless she makes me notice it. That’s when it suddenly happens. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Even dogs’ messes.” She pointed at a formidable specimen almost at their feet.

From the narrow street they had emerged into the market place. The last of the sunlight still touched the sculptured spire of the temple, the little pink gazebos on the roof of the town hall; but here in the square there was a premonition of twilight and under the great banyan tree it was already night. On the stalls between its pillars and hanging ropes the market women had turned on their lights. In the leafy darkness there were islands of form and colour, and from hardly visible nonentity brown-skinned figures stepped for a moment into brilliant existence, then back again into nothingness. The spaces between the tall buildings echoed with a confusion of English and Palanese, of talk and laughter, of street cries and whistled tunes, of dogs barking, parrots screaming. Perched oh one of the pink gazebos, a pair of mynah birds calling indefatigably for attention and compassion. From an open-air kitchen at the centre of the square rose the appetizing smell of food on the fire. Onions, peppers, turmeric, fish frying, cakes baking, rice on the boil — and through these good gross odours, like a reminder from the Other Shore, drifted the perfume, thin and sweet and ethereally pure, of the many-coloured garlands on sale beside the fountain.

Twilight deepened and suddenly, from high overhead, the arc lamps were turned on. Bright and burnished against the rosy copper of oiled skin, the women’s necklaces and rings and bracelets came alive with glittering reflections. Seen in the downward-striking light, every contour became more dramatic, every form seemed to be more substantial, more solidly there. In eye sockets, under nose and chin, the shadows deepened. Modelled by light and darkness young breasts grew fuller and the faces of the old were more emphatically lined and hollowed.

Hand in hand they made their way through the crowd.

A middle-aged woman greeted Mary Sarojini, then turned to Will, “Are you that man from the Outside?” she asked.

“Almost infinitely from the outside,” he assured her.

She looked at him for a moment in silence, then smiled encouragingly and patted his cheek.

“We’re all very sorry for you,” she said.

They moved on, and now they were standing on the fringes of a group assembled at the foot of the temple steps to listen to a young man who was playing a long-necked, lute-like instrument and singing in Palanese. Rapid declamation alternated with long-drawn, almost bird-like melismata on a single vowel sound, and then a cheerful and strongly accented tune that ended in a shout. A roar of laughter went up from the crowd. A few more bars, another line or two of recitative and the singer struck his final chord. There was applause and more laughter and a chorus of incomprehensible commentary.

“What’s it all about?” Will asked.

“It’s about girls and boys sleeping together,” Mary Sarojini answered.

“Oh — I see.” He felt a pang of guilty embarrassment; but looking down into the child’s untroubled face, he could see that his concern was uncalled for. It was evident that boys and girls sleeping together were as completely to be taken for granted as going to school or eating three meals a day — or dying.

“And the part that made them laugh,” Mary Sarojini went on, “was where he said the Future Buddha won’t have to leave home and sit under the Bodhi Tree. He’ll have his Enlightenment while he’s in bed with the princess.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Will asked.

She nodded emphatically. “It would mean that the princess would be enlightened too.”

“You’re perfectly right,” said Will. “Being a man, I hadn’t thought of the princess.”

The lute player plucked a queer unfamiliar progression of chords, followed them with a ripple of arpeggios and began to sing, this time in English.

Everyone talks of sex; take none of them

seriously —

Not whore nor hermit, neither Paul nor Freud.

Love — and your lips, her breasts will change

mysteriously

Into Themselves, the Suchness and the Void.

The door of the temple swung open. A smell of incense mingled with the ambient onions and fried fish. An old woman emerged and very cautiously lowered her unsteady weight from stair to stair.

“Who were Paul and Freud?” Mary Sarojini asked as they moved away.

Will began with a brief account of Original Sin and the Scheme of Redemption. The child heard him out with concentrated attention.

“No wonder the song says, Don’t take them seriously,” she concluded.

“After which,” said Will, “we come to Dr Freud and the Oedipus Complex.”

“Oedipus?” Mary Sarojini repeated. “But that’s the name of a marionette show. I saw it last week, and they’re giving it again tonight. Would you like to see it? It’s nice.”

“Nice?” he repeated. “Nice? Even when the old lady turns out to be his mother and hangs herself? Even when Oedipus puts out his eyes?”

“But he doesn’t put out his eyes,” said Mary Sarojini.

“He does where I hail from.”

“Not here. He only says he’s going to put out his eyes, and she only tries to hang herself. They’re talked out of it.”

“Who by?”

“The boy and girl from Pala.”

“How do they get into the act?” Will asked.

“I don’t know. They’re just there. ‘Oedipus in Pala’ — that’s what the play is called. So why shouldn’t they be there?”

“And you say they talk Jocasta out of suicide and Oedipus out of blinding himself?”

“Just in the nick of time. She’s slipped the rope round her neck and he’s got hold of two huge pins. But the boy and girl from Pala tell them not to be silly. After all, it was an accident. He didn’t know that the old man was his father. And anyhow the old man began it, hit him over the head, and that made Oedipus lose his temper — and nobody had ever taught him to dance the Rakshasi Hornpipe. And when they made him a king, he had to marry the old queen. She was really his mother; but neither of them knew it. And of course all they had to do when they did find out was just to stop being married. That stuff about marrying his mother being the reason why everybody had to die of a virus — all that was just nonsense, just made up by a lot of poor stupid people who didn’t know any better.”

“Dr Freud thought that all little boys really want to marry their mothers and kill their fathers. And the other way round for little girls — they want to marry their fathers.”

“Which fathers and mothers?” Mary Sarojini asked. “We have such a lot of them.”

“You mean, in your Mutual Adoption Club?”

“There’s twenty-two of them in our MAC.”

“Safety in numbers!”

“But of course poor old Oedipus never had an MAC. And besides they’d taught him all that horrible stuff about God getting furious with people every time they made a mistake.”

They had pushed their way through the crowd and now found themselves at the entrance to a small roped-off enclosure, in which a hundred or more spectators had already taken their seats. At the further end of the enclosure the gaily painted proscenium of a puppet theatre glowed red and gold in the light of powerful floodlamps. Pulling out a handful of the small change with which Dr Robert had provided him, Will paid for two tickets. They entered and sat down on a bench.

A gong sounded, the curtain of the little proscenium noiselessly rose and there, white pillars on a pea-green ground, was the façade of the royal palace of Thebes with a much-whiskered divinity sitting in a cloud above the pediment. A priest exactly like the god, except that he was somewhat smaller and less exuberantly draped, entered from the right, bowed to the audience, then turned towards the palace and shouted “Oedipus” in piping tones that seemed comically incongruous with his prophetic beard. To a flourish of trumpets the door swung open and, crowned and heroically buskined, the king appeared. The priest made obeisance, the royal puppet gave him leave to speak.

“Give ear to our afflictions,” the old man piped.

The king cocked his head and listened.

“I hear the groans of dying men,” he said. “I hear the shriek of widows, the sobbing of the motherless, the mutterings of prayer and supplication.”

“Supplication!” said the deity in the clouds. “That’s the spirit.” He patted himself on the chest.

“They had some kind of a virus,” Mary Sarojini explained in a whisper. “Like Asian flu, only a lot worse.”

“We repeat the appropriate litanies,” the old priest querulously piped, “we offer the most expensive sacrifices, we have the whole population living in chastity and flagellating itself every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But the flood of death spreads ever more widely, rises higher and ever higher. So help us, King Oedipus, help us.”

“Only a god can help.”

“Hear, hear!” shouted the presiding deity.

“But by what means?”

“Only a god can say.”

“Correct,” said the god in his basso profondo, “absolutely correct.”