Men Like Gods
Chapter 8: Early Morning in Utopia
Mr. Barnstaple awakened slowly out of profound slumber.
He had a vague feeling that a very delightful and wonderful dream was slipping from him. He tried to keep on with the dream and not to open his eyes. It was about a great world of beautiful people who had freed themselves from a thousand earthly troubles. But it dissolved and faded from his mind. It was not often nowadays that dreams came to Mr. Barnstaple. He lay very still with his eyes closed, reluctantly coming awake to the affairs of every day.
The cares and worries of the last fortnight resumed their sway.
Would he ever be able to get away for a holiday by himself? Then he remembered that he had already got his valise stowed away in the
Yellow Peril. But surely that was not last night; that was the night before last, and he had started--he remembered now starting and the little thrill of getting through the gate before Mrs. Barnstaple suspected anything. He opened his eyes and fixed them on a white ceiling, trying to recall that journey. He remembered turning into the Camberwell New Road and the bright exhilaration of the morning,
Vauxhall Bridge and that nasty tangle of traffic at Hyde Park
Corner. He always maintained that the west of London was far more difficult for motoring than the east. Then--had he gone to Uxbridge?
No. He recalled the road to Slough and then came a blank in his mind.
What a very good ceiling this was! Not a crack nor a stain!
But how had he spent the rest of the day? He must have got somewhere because here he was in a thoroughly comfortable bed--an excellent bed. With a thrush singing. He had always maintained that a good thrush could knock spots off a nightingale, but this thrush was a perfect Caruso. And another answering it! In July! Pangbourne and
Caversham were wonderful places for nightingales. In June. But this was July--and thrushes ... Across these drowsy thought-phantoms came the figure of Mr. Rupert Catskill, hands on hips, face and head thrust forward speaking, saying astonishing things. To a naked seated figure with a grave intent face. And other figures. One with a face like the Delphic Sibyl. Mr. Barnstaple began to remember that in some way he had got himself mixed up with a week-end party at
Taplow Court. Now had this speech been given at Taplow Court? At
Taplow Court they wear clothes. But perhaps the aristocracy in retirement and privacy--?
Utopia? ... But was it possible?
Mr. Barnstaple sat up in his bed in a state of extreme amazement.
"Impossible!" he said. He was lying in a little loggia half open to the air. Between the slender pillars of fluted glass he saw a range of snow-topped mountains, and in the foreground a great cluster of tall spikes bearing deep red flowers. The bird was still singing--a glorified thrush, in a glorified world. Now he remembered everything. Now it was all clear. The sudden twisting of the car, the sound like the snapping of a fiddle string and--Utopia! Now he had it all, from the sight of sweet dead Greenlake to the bringing in of Lord Barralonga under the strange unfamiliar stars. It was no dream. He looked at his hand on the exquisitely fine coverlet. He felt his rough chin. It was a world real enough for shaving--and for a very definite readiness for breakfast. Very--for he had missed his supper. And as if in answer to his thought a smiling girl appeared ascending the steps to his sleeping-place and bearing a little tray.
After all, there was much to be said for Mr. Burleigh. To his swift statesmanship it was that Mr. Barnstaple owed this morning cup of tea.
"Good morning," said Mr. Barnstaple.
"Why not?" said the young Utopian, and put down his tea and smiled at him in a motherly fashion and departed.
"Why not a good morning, I suppose," said Mr. Barnstaple and meditated for a moment, chin on knees, and then gave his attention to the bread-and-butter and tea.
The little dressing-room in which he found his clothes lying just as he had dumped them overnight, was at once extraordinarily simple and extraordinarily full of interest for Mr. Barnstaple. He paddled about it humming as he examined it.
The bath was much shallower than an ordinary earthly bath; apparently the Utopians did not believe in lying down and stewing.
And the forms of everything were different, simpler and more graceful. On earth he reflected art was largely wit. The artist had a certain limited selection of obdurate materials and certain needs, and his work was a clever reconciliation of the obduracy and the necessity and of the idiosyncrasy of the substance to the aesthetic preconceptions of the human mind. How delightful, for example, was the earthly carpenter dealing cleverly with the grain and character of this wood or that. But here the artist had a limitless control of material, and that element of witty adaptation had gone out of his work. His data were the human mind and body. Everything in this little room was unobtrusively but perfectly convenient--and difficult to misuse. If you splashed too much a thoughtful outer rim tidied things up for you.
In a tray by the bath was a very big fine sponge. So either Utopians still dived for sponges or they grew them or trained them (who could tell?) to come up of their own accord.
As he set out his toilet things a tumbler was pushed off a glass shelf on to the floor and did not break. Mr. Barnstaple in an experimental mood dropped it again and still it did not break.
He could not find taps at first though there was a big washing basin as well as a bath. Then he perceived a number of studs on the walls with black marks that might be Utopian writing. He experimented. He found very hot water and then very cold water filling his bath, a fountain of probably soapy warm water, and other fluids, --one with an odour of pine and one with a subdued odour of chlorine. The Utopian characters on these studs set him musing for a time; they were the first writing he had seen; they appeared to be word characters, but whether they represented sounds or were greatly simplified hieroglyphics he could not imagine. Then his mind went off at a tangent in another direction because the only metal apparent in this dressing-room was gold. There was, he noted, an extraordinary lot of gold in the room. It was set and inlaid in gold. The soft yellow lines gleamed and glittered. Gold evidently was cheap in Utopia.
Perhaps they knew how to make it.
He roused himself to the business of his toilet. There was no looking-glass in the room, but when he tried what he thought was the handle of a cupboard door, he found himself opening a triple full-length mirror. Afterwards he was to discover that there were no displayed mirrors in Utopia; Utopians, he was to learn, thought it indecent to be reminded of themselves in that way. The Utopian method was to scrutinize oneself, see that one was all right and then forget oneself for the rest of the day. He stood now surveying his pyjamaed and unshaven self with extreme disfavour. Why do respectable citizens favour such ugly pink-striped pyjamas? When he unpacked his nail-brush and tooth-brush, shaving-brush and washing-glove, they seemed to him to have the coarseness of a popular burlesque. His tooth-brush was a particularly ignoble instrument.
He wished now he had bought a new one at the chemist's shop near
And what nasty queer things his clothes were!
He had a fantastic idea of adopting Utopian ideas of costume, but a reflective moment before his mirror restrained him. Then he remembered that he had packed a silk tennis shirt and flannels.
Suppose he wore those, without a collar stud or tie--and went bare-footed?
He surveyed his feet. As feet went on earth they were not unsightly feet. But on earth they had been just wasted.
A particularly clean and radiant Mr. Barnstaple, white-clad, bare-necked and bare-footed, presently emerged into the Utopian sunrise. He smiled, stretched his arms and took a deep breath of the sweet air. Then suddenly his face became hard and resolute.
From another little sleeping house not two hundred yards away Father
Amerton was emerging. Intuitively Mr. Barnstaple knew he meant either to forgive or be forgiven for the overnight quarrel. It would be a matter of chance whether he would select the role of offender or victim; what was certain was that he would smear a dreary mess of emotional personal relationship over the jewel-like clearness and brightness of the scene. A little to the right of Mr. Barnstaple and in front of him were wide steps leading down towards the lake. Three strides and he was going down these steps two at a time. It may have been his hectic fancy, but it seemed to him that he heard the voice of Father Amerton, "Mr. Barn--staple," in pursuit.
Mr. Barnstaple doubled and doubled again and crossed a bridge across an avalanche gully, a bridge with huge masonry in back and roof and with delicate pillars of prismatic glass towards the lake. The sunlight entangled in these pillars broke into splashes of red and blue and golden light. Then at a turfy corner gay with blue gentians, he narrowly escaped a collision with Mr. Rupert Catskill.
Mr. Catskill was in the same costume that he had worn on the previous day except that he was without his grey top hat. He walked with his hands clasped behind him.
"Hullo!" he said. "What's the hurry? We seem to be the first people up."
"I saw Father Amerton--"
"That accounts for it. You were afraid of being caught up in a service, Matins or Prime or whatever he calls it. Wise man to run.
He shall pray for the lot of us. Me too."
He did not wait for any endorsement from Mr. Barnstaple, but went on talking.
"You have slept well? What did you think of the old fellow's answer to my speech. Eh? Evasive cliches. When in doubt, abuse the plaintiff's attorney. We don't agree with him because we have bad hearts."
"What old fellow do you mean?"
"The worthy gentleman who spoke after me."
"Urthred! But he's not forty."
"He's seventy-three. He told us afterwards. They live long here, a lingering business. Our lives are a fitful hectic fever from their point of view. But as Tennyson said, 'Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay!' H'm? He evaded my points. This is Lotus
Land, Sunset Land; we shan't be thanked for disturbing its slumbers."
"I doubt their slumbers."
"Perhaps the Socialist bug has bit you too. Yes--I see it has!
Believe me this is the most complete demonstration of decadence it would be possible to imagine. Complete. And we shall disturb their slumbers, never fear. Nature, you will see, is on our side--in a way no one has thought of yet."
"But I don't see the decadence," said Mr. Barnstaple.
"None so blind as those who won't see. It's everywhere. Their large flushed pseudo-health. Like fatted cattle. And their treatment of
Barralonga. They don't know how to treat him. They don't even arrest him. They've never arrested anyone for a thousand years. He careers through their land, killing and slaying and frightening and disturbing and they're flabbergasted, Sir, simply flabbergasted.
It's like a dog running amuck in a world full of sheep. If he hadn't had a side-slip I believe he would be hooting and snorting and careering along now--killing people. They've lost the instinct of social defence."
"A very good attitude of mind. If indulged in, in moderation. But when your wondering is over, you will begin to see that I am right.
H'm? Ah! There on that terrace! Isn't that my Lord Barralonga and his French acquaintance? It is. Inhaling the morning air. I think with your permission I will go on and have a word with them. Which way did you say Father Amerton was? I don't want to disturb his devotions. This way? Then if I go to the right--"
He grimaced amiably over his shoulder.
Mr. Barnstaple came upon two Utopians gardening. They had two light silvery wheelbarrows, and they were cutting out old wood and overblown clusters from a line of thickets that sprawled over a rough-heaped ridge of rock and foamed with crimson and deep red roses. These gardeners had great leather gauntlets and aprons of tanned skin, and they carried hooks and knives.
Mr. Barnstaple had never before seen such roses as they were tending here; their fragrance filled the air. He did not know that double roses could be got in mountains; bright red single sorts he had seen high up in Switzerland, but not such huge loose-flowered monsters as these. They dwarfed their leaves. Their wood was in long, thorny, snaky-red streaked stems that writhed wide and climbed to the rocky lumps over which they grew. Their great petals fell like red snow and like drifting moths and like blood upon the soft soil that sheltered amidst the brown rocks.
"You are the first Utopians I have actually seen at work," he said.
"This isn't our work," smiled the nearer of the two, a fair-haired, freckled, blue-eyed youth. "But as we are for these roses we have to keep them in order."
"Are they your roses?"
"Many people think these double mountain roses too much trouble and a nuisance with their thorns and sprawling branches, and many people think only the single sorts of roses ought to be grown in these high places and that this lovely sort ought to be left to die out up here. Are you for our roses?"
"Such roses as these?" said Mr. Barnstaple. "Altogether."
"Good! Then just bring me up my barrow closer for all this litter.
We're responsible for the good behaviour of all this thicket reaching right down there almost to the water."
"And you have to see to it yourselves?"
"But couldn't you get someone--pay someone to see to it for you?"
"Oh, hoary relic from the ancient past!" the young man replied. "Oh, fossil ignoramus from a barbaric universe! Don't you realize that there is no working class in Utopia? It died out fifteen hundred years or so ago. Wages-slavery, pimping and so forth are done with.
We read about them in books. Who loves the rose must serve the rose--himself."
"But you work."
"Not for wages. Not because anyone else loves or desires something else and is too lazy to serve it or get it himself. We work, part of the brain, part of the will, of Utopia."
"May I ask at what?"
"I explore the interior of our planet. I study high-pressure chemistry. And my friend--"
He interrogated his friend, whose dark face and brown eyes appeared suddenly over a foam of blossom. "I do Food."
"Of sorts. Just now I am seeing to your Earthling dietary. It's most interesting and curious--but I should think rather destructive.
I plan your meals ... I see you look anxious, but I saw to your breakfast last night." He glanced at a minute wrist-watch under the gauntlet of his gardening glove. "It will be ready in about an hour.
How was the early tea?"
"Excellent," said Mr. Barnstaple.
"Good," said the dark young man. "I did my best. I hope the breakfast will be as satisfactory. I had to fly two hundred kilometres for a pig last night and kill it and cut it up myself, and find out how to cure it. Eating bacon has gone out of fashion in
Utopia. I hope you will find my rashers satisfactory."
"It seems very rapid curing--for a rasher," said Mr. Barnstaple.
"We could have done without it."
"Your spokesman made such a point of it."
The fair young man struggled out of the thicket and wheeled his barrow away. Mr. Barnstaple wished the dark young man "Good morning."
"Why shouldn't it be?" asked the dark young man.
He discovered Ridley and Penk approaching him. Ridley's face and ear were still adorned with sticking-plaster and his bearing was eager and anxious. Penk followed a little way behind him, holding one hand to the side of his face. Both were in their professional dress, white-topped caps, square-cut leather coats and black gaiters; they had made no concessions to Utopian laxity.
Ridley began to speak as soon as he judged Mr. Barnstaple was within earshot.
"You don't 'appen to know, Mister, where these 'ere decadents shoved our car?"
"I thought your car was all smashed up."
"Not a Rolls-Royce--not like that. Wind-screen, mud-guards and the on-footboard perhaps. We went over sideways. I want to 'ave a look at it. And I didn't turn the petrol off. The carburettor was leaking a bit. My fault. I 'adn't been careful enough with the strainer. If she runs out of petrol, where's one to get more of it in this blasted
Elysium? I ain't seen a sign anywhere. I know if I don't get that car into running form before Lord Barralonga wants it there's going to be trouble."
Mr. Barnstaple had no idea where the cars were.
"'Aven't you a car of your own?" asked Ridley reproachfully.
"I have. But I've never given it a thought since I got out of it."
"Owner-driver," said Ridley bitterly.
"Anyhow, I can't help you find your cars. Have you asked any of the
"Not us. We don't like the style of 'em," said Ridley.
"They'll tell you."
"And watch us--whatever we do to our cars. They don't get a chance of looking into a Rolls-Royce every day in the year. Next thing we shall have them driving off in 'em. I don't like the place, and I don't like these people. They're queer. They ain't decent. His lordship says they're a lot of degenerates, and it seems to me his lordship is about right. I ain't a Puritan, but all this running about without clothes is a bit too thick for me. I wish I knew where they'd stowed those cars."
Mr. Barnstaple was considering Penk. "You haven't hurt your face?" he asked.
"Nothing to speak of," said Penk. "I suppose we ought to be getting on."
Ridley looked at Penk and then at Mr. Barnstaple. "He's had a bit of a contoosion," he remarked, a faint smile breaking through his sourness.
"We better be getting on if we're going to find those cars," said
A grin of intense enjoyment appeared upon Ridley's face. "'E's bumped against something."
"Oh--shut it!" said Penk.
But the thing was too good to keep back. "One of these girls
"What do you mean?" said Mr. Barnstaple. "You haven't been taking liberties--?"
"I 'ave not," said Penk. "But as Mr. Ridley's been so obliging as to start the topic I suppose I got to tell wot 'appened. It jest illustrates the uncertainties of being among a lot of 'arf-savage,
'arf-crazy people, like we got among."
Ridley smiled and winked at Mr. Barnstaple. "Regular 'ard clout she gave 'im. Knocked him over. 'E put 'is 'and on 'er shoulder and clop! over 'e went. Never saw anything like it."
"Rather unfortunate," said Mr. Barnstaple.
"It all 'appened in a second like."
"It's a pity it happened."
"Don't you go making any mistake about it, Mister, and don't you go running off with any false ideas about it," said Penk. "I don't want the story to get about--it might do me a lot of 'arm with Mr.
Burleigh. Pity Mr. Ridley couldn't 'old 'is tongue. What provoked her I do not know. She came into my room as I was getting up, and she wasn't what you might call wearing anything, and she looked a bit saucy, to my way of thinking, and--well, something come into my head to say to her, something--well, just the least little bit sporty, so to speak. One can't always control one's thoughts--can one? A man's a man. If a man's expected to be civil in his private thoughts to girls without a stitch, so to speak--well! I dunno. I really do not know. It's against nature. I never said it, whatever it was I thought of. Mr. Ridley 'ere will bear me out. I never said a word to her. I 'adn't opened my lips when she hit me. Knocked me over, she did--like a ninepin. Didn't even seem angry about it. A
'ook-'it--sideways. It was surprise as much as anything floored me."
"But Ridley says you touched her."
"Laid me 'and on 'er shoulder perhaps, in a sort of fatherly way. As she was turning to go--not being sure whether I wasn't going to speak to her, I admit. And there you are! If I'm to get into trouble because I was wantonly 'it--"
Penk conveyed despair of the world by an eloquent gesture.
Mr. Barnstaple considered. "I shan't make trouble," he said. "But all the same I think we must all be very careful with these
Utopians. Their ways are not our ways."
"Thank God!" said Ridley. "The sooner I get out of this world back to Old England, the better I shall like it."
He turned to go.
"You should 'ear 'is lordship," said Ridley over his shoulder. "'E says it's just a world of bally degenerates--rotten degenerates--in fact, if you'll excuse me--@ @ ! ! $ $ ! degenerates.
Eh? That about gets 'em."
"The young woman's arm doesn't seem to have been very degenerate," said Mr. Barnstaple, standing the shock bravely.