The Dream is a 1924 novel by H. G. Wells about a man from a Utopian future who dreams the entire life of an Englishman from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Harry Mortimer Smith.
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Liczba stron: 418
by H.G. Wells
Published 2018 by Blackmore Dennett
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART 1. HOW HARRY MORTIMER SMITH WAS MADE
I. — THE EXCURSION
II. — THE BEGINNING OF THE DREAM
III. — MISFORTUNES COME UPON THE SMITH Family
IV. — WIDOW SMITH MOVES TO LONDON
PART 2. THE LOVES AND DEATH OF HARRY MORTIMER SMITH
V. — FANNY DISCOVERS HERSELF
VI. — MARRIAGE IN WAR TIME
VII. — LOVE AND DEATH
VIII. — THE EPILOGUE
Sarnac had worked almost continuously for the better part of a year upon some very subtle chemical reactions of the nervous cells of the sympathetic system. His first enquiries had led to the opening out of fresh and surprising possibilities, and these again had lured him on to still broader and more fascinating prospects. He worked perhaps too closely; he found his hope and curiosity unimpaired, but there was less delicacy of touch in his manipulation, and he was thinking less quickly and accurately. He needed a holiday. He had come to the end of a chapter in his work and wished to brace himself for a new beginning. Sunray had long hoped to be away with him; she too was at a phase in her work when interruption was possible, and so the two went off together to wander among the lakes and mountains.
Their companionship was at a very delightful stage. Their close relationship and their friendship was of old standing, so that they were quite at their ease with one another, yet they were not too familiar to have lost the keen edge of their interest in each other's proceedings. Sunray was very much in love with Sarnac and glad, and Sarnac was always happy and pleasantly exalted when Sunray was near him. Sunray was the richer-hearted and cleverer lover. They talked of everything in the world but Sarnac's work, because that had to rest and grow fresh again. Of her own work Sunray talked abundantly. She had been making stories and pictures of happiness and sorrow in the past ages of the world, and she was full of curious speculations about the ways in which the ancestral mind has thought and felt.
They played with boats upon the great lake for some days, they sailed and paddled and drew up their canoe among the sweet-scented rushes of the islands and bathed and swam. They went from one guest-house to another upon the water and met many interesting and refreshing people. In one house an old man of ninety-eight was staying: he was amusing his declining years by making statuettes of the greatest beauty and humour; it was wonderful to see the clay take shape in his hands. Moreover, he had a method of cooking the lake fish that was very appetising, and he made a great dish of them so that everyone who was dining in the place could have some. And there was a musician who made Sunray talk about the days gone by, and afterwards he played music with his own hands on a clavier to express the ancient feelings of men. He played one piece that was, he explained, two thousand years old; it was by a man named Chopin, and it was called the Revolutionary Etude. Sunray could not have believed a piano capable of such passionate resentment. After that he played grotesque and angry battle music and crude marching tunes from those half-forgotten times, and then he invented wrathful and passionate music of his own.
Sunray sat under a golden lantern and listened to the musician and watched his nimble hands, but Sarnac was more deeply moved. He had not heard very much music in his life, and this player seemed to open shutters upon deep and dark and violent things that had long been closed to mankind. Sarnac sat, cheek on hand, his elbow on the parapet of the garden wall, looking across the steely blue of the lake at the darkling night sky at the lower end. The sky had been starry, but a monstrous crescent of clouds like a hand that closes was now gathering all the stars into its fist of darkness. Perhaps there would be rain to-morrow. The lanterns hung still, except that ever and again a little shiver of the air set them swaying. Now and then a great white moth would come fluttering out of the night and beat about among the lanterns for a time and pass away. Presently it would return again or another moth like it would come. Sometimes there would be three or four of these transitory phantoms; they seemed to be the only insects abroad that night.
A faint ripple below drew his attention to the light of a boat, a round yellow light like a glowing orange, which came gliding close up to the terrace wall out of the blue of the night. There was the sound of a paddle being shipped and a diminishing drip of water, but the people in the boat sat still and listened until the musician had done altogether. Then they came up the steps to the terrace and asked the master of the guest-house for rooms for the night. They had dined at a place farther up the lake.
Four people came by this boat. Two were brother and sister, dark handsome people of southern origin, and the others were fair women, one blue-eyed and one with hazel eyes, who were clearly very much attached to the brother and sister. They came and talked about the music and then of a climbing expedition they had promised themselves in the great mountains above the lakes. The brother and sister were named Radiant and Starlight, and their work in life, they explained, was to educate animals; it was a business for which they had an almost instinctive skill. The two fair girls, Willow and Firefly, were electricians. During the last few days Sunray had been looking ever and again at the glittering snowfields and desiring them; there was always a magic call for her in snowy mountains. She joined very eagerly in the mountain talk, and it was presently suggested that she and Sarnac should accompany these new acquaintances up to the peaks they had in mind. But before they went on to the mountains, she and Sarnac wanted to visit some ancient remains that had recently been excavated in a valley that came down to the lake from the east. The four new-comers were interested in what she told them about these ruins, and altered their own plans to go with her and Sarnac to see them. Then afterwards all six would go into the mountains.
These ruins were rather more than two thousand years old.
There were the remains of a small old town, a railway-station of some importance, and a railway tunnel which came right through the mountains. The tunnel had collapsed, but the excavators had worked along it and found several wrecked trains in it which had evidently been packed with soldiers and refugees. The remains of these people, much disturbed by rats and other vermin, lay about in the trains and upon the railway tracks. The tunnel had apparently been blocked by explosives and these trainloads of people entombed. Afterwards the town itself and all its inhabitants had been destroyed by poison-gas, but what sort of poison-gas it was the Investigators had still to decide. It had had an unusual pickling effect, so that many of the bodies were not so much skeletons as mummies; and there were books, papers, papier mâché objects or the like in a fair state of preservation in many of the houses. Even cheap cotton goods were preserved, though they had lost all their colour. For some time after the great catastrophe this part of the world must have remained practically uninhabited. A Landslide had presently blocked the lower valley and banked back the valley waters so as to submerge the town and cover it with a fine silt and seal up the tunnel very completely. Now the barrier had been cut through and the valley drained again, and all these evidences of one of the characteristic disasters of the last war period in man's history had been brought back to the light once more.
The six holiday-makers found the visit to this place a very vivid experience, almost too vivid for their contentment. On Sarnac's tired mind it made a particularly deep impression. The material collected from the town had been arranged in a long museum gallery of steel and glass. There were many almost complete bodies; one invalid old woman, embalmed by the gas, had been replaced in the bed from which the waters had floated her, and there was a shrivelled little baby put back again in its cradle. The sheets and quilts were bleached and browned, but it was quite easy to see what they had once been like. The people had been taken by surprise, it seemed, while the midday meal was in preparation; the tables must have been set in many of the houses; and now, after a score of centuries beneath mud and weeds and fishes, the antiquaries had disinterred and reassembled these old machine-made cloths and plated implements upon the tables. There were great stores of such pitiful discoloured litter from the vanished life of the past.
The holiday-makers did not go far into the tunnel; the suggestion of things there were too horrible for their mood, and Sarnac stumbled over a rail and cut his hand upon the jagged edge of a broken railway-carriage window. The wound pained him later, and did not heal so quickly as it should have done. It was as if some poison had got into it. It kept him awake in the night.
For the rest of the day the talk was all of the terrible days of the last wars in the world and the dreadfulness of life in that age. It seemed to Firefly and Starlight that existence must have been almost unendurable, a tissue of hate, terror, want and discomfort, from the cradle to the grave. But Radiant argued that people then were perhaps no less happy and no happier than himself; that for everyone in every age there was a normal state, and that any exaltation of hope or sensation above that was happiness and any depression below it misery. It did not matter where the normal came. "They went to great intensities in both directions," he said. There was more darkness in their lives and more pain, but not more unhappiness. Sunray was inclined to agree with him.
But Willow objected to Radiant's psychology. She said that there could be permanently depressed states in an unhealthy body or in a life lived under restraint. There could be generally miserable creatures just as there could be generally happy creatures.
"Of course," interjected Sarnac, "given a standard outside themselves."
"But why did they make such wars?" cried Firefly. "Why did they do such horrible things to one another? They were people like ourselves."
"No better," said Radiant, "and no worse. So far as their natural quality went. It is not a hundred generations ago."
"Their skulls were as big and well shaped."
"Those poor creatures in the tunnel!" said Sarnac. "Those poor wretches caught in the tunnel! But everyone in that age must have felt caught in a tunnel."
After a time a storm overtook them and interrupted their conversation. They were going up over a low pass to a guest-house at the head of the lake, and it was near the crest of the pass that the storm burst. The lightning was tremendous and a pine-tree was struck not a hundred yards away. They cheered the sight. They were all exhilarated by the elemental clatter and uproar; the rain was like a whip on their bare, strong bodies and the wind came in gusts that held them staggering and laughing, breathlessly unable to move forward. They had doubts and difficulties with the path; for a time they lost touch with the blazes upon the trees and rocks. Followed a steady torrent of rain, through which they splashed and stumbled down the foaming rocky pathway to their resting-place. They arrived wet as from a swim and glowing; but Sarnac, who had come behind the others with Sunray, was tired and cold. The master of this guest-house drew his shutters and made a great fire for them with pine-knots and pine-cones while he prepared a hot meal.
After a while they began to talk of the excavated town again and of the shrivelled bodies lying away there under the electric light of the still glass-walled museum, indifferent for evermore to the sunshine and thunderstorms of life without.
"Did they ever laugh as we do?" asked Willow. "For sheer happiness of living?"
Sarnac said very little. He sat close up to the fire, pitching pine-cones into it and watching them flare and crackle. Presently he got up, confessed himself tired, and went away to his bed.
It rained hard all through the night and until nearly midday, and then the weather cleared. In the afternoon the little party pushed on up the valley towards the mountains they designed to climb, but they went at a leisurely pace, giving a day and a half to what was properly only one day's easy walking. The rain had refreshed everything in the upper valley and called out a great multitude of flowers.
The next day was golden and serene.
In the early afternoon they came to a plateau and meadows of asphodel, and there they sat down to eat the provisions they had brought with them. They were only two hours' climb from the mountain-house in which they were to pass the night, and there was no need to press on. Sarnac was lazy; he confessed to a desire for sleep; in the night he had been feverish and disturbed by dreams of men entombed in tunnels and killed by poison-gas. The others were amused that anyone should want to sleep in the daylight, but Sunray said she would watch over him. She found a place for him on the sward, and Sarnac laid down beside her and went to sleep with his cheek against her side as suddenly and trustfully as a child goes to sleep. She sat up—as a child's nurse might do—enjoining silence on the others by gestures.
"After this he will be well again," laughed Radiant, and he and Firefly stole off in one direction, while Willow and Starlight went off in another to climb a rocky headland near at hand, from which they thought they might get a very wide and perhaps a very beautiful view of the lakes below.
For some time Sarnac lay quite still in his sleep and then he began to twitch and stir. Sunray bent down attentively with her warm face close to his. He was quiet again for a time and then he moved and muttered, but she could not distinguish any words. Then he rolled away from her and threw his arms about and said, "I can't stand it. I can't endure it. Nothing can alter it now. You're unclean and spoilt." She took him gently and drew him into a comfortable attitude again, just as a nurse might do. "Dear," he whispered, and in his sleep reached out for her hand...
When the others came back he had just awakened.
He was sitting up with a sleepy expression and Sunray was kneeling beside him with her hand on his shoulder. "Wake up!" she said.
He looked at her as if he did not know her and then with puzzled eyes at Radiant. "Then there is another life!" he said at last.
"Sarnac!" cried Sunray, shaking him. "Don't you know me?"
He passed a hand over his face, "Yes," he said slowly. "Your name is Sunray. I seem to remember. Sunray...Not Hetty—No. Though you are very like Hetty. Queer! And mine—mine is Sarnac.
"Of course! I am Sarnac." He laughed at Willow. "But I thought I was Harry Mortimer Smith," he said. "I did indeed. A moment ago I was Henry Mortimer Smith...Henry Mortimer Smith."
He looked about him. "Mountains," he said, "sunshine, white narcissus. Of course, we walked up here this very morning. Sunray splashed me at a waterfall...I remember it perfectly...And yet I was in bed—shot. I was in bed...A dream?...Then I have had a dream, a whole lifetime, two thousand years ago!"
"What do you mean?" said Sunray.
"A lifetime—childhood, boyhood, manhood. And death. He killed me. Poor rat!—he killed me!"
"A dream—but a very vivid dream. The realest of dreams. If it was a dream...I can answer all your questions now, Sunray. I have lived through a whole life in that Old world. I know...
"It is as though that life was still the real one and this only a dream...I was in a bed. Five minutes ago I was in bed. I was dying...The doctor said, 'He is going.' And I heard the rustle of my wife coming across the room..."
"Your wife!" cried Sunray.
Sunray looked at Willow with raised eyebrows and a helpless expression.
Sarnac stared at her, dreamily puzzled. "Milly," he repeated very faintly. "She was by the window."
For some moments no one spoke.
Radiant stood with his arm on Firefly's shoulder.
"Tell us about it, Sarnac. Was it hard to die?"
"I seemed to sink down and down into quiet—and then I woke up here."
"Tell us now, while it is still so real to you."
"Have we not planned to reach the mountain-house before nightfall?" said Willow, glancing at the sun. "There is a little guest-house here, within five minutes' walk of us," said Firefly.
Radiant sat down beside Sarnac. "Tell us your dream now. If it fades out presently or if it is uninteresting, we can go on; but if it is entertaining, we can hear it out and sleep down here to-night. It is a very pleasant place here, and there is a loveliness about those mauve-coloured crags across the gorge, a faint mistiness in their folds, that I could go on looking at for a week without impatience. Tell us your dream, Sarnac."
He shook his friend. "Wake up, Sarnac!"
Sarnac rubbed his eyes. "It is so queer a story. And there will be so much to explain."
He took thought for a while.
"It will be a long story."
"Naturally, if it is a whole life."
"First let me get some cream and fruit from the guest-house for us all," said Firefly, "and then let Sarnac tell us his dream. Five minutes, Sarnac, and I will be back here."
"I will come with you," said Radiant, hurrying after her.
This that follows is the story Sarnac told.
"This dream of mine began," he said, "as all our lives begin, in fragments, in a number of disconnected impressions. I remember myself lying on a sofa, a sofa covered with a curious sort of hard, shiny material with a red and black pattern on it, and I was screaming, but I do not know why I screamed. I discovered my father standing in the doorway of the room looking at me. He looked very dreadful; he was partially undressed in trousers and a flannel shirt and his fair hair was an unbrushed shock; he was shaving and his chin was covered with lather. He was angry because I was screaming. I suppose I stopped screaming, but I am not sure. And I remember kneeling upon the same hard red and black sofa beside my mother and looking out of the window—the sofa used to stand with its back to the windowsill—at the rain falling on the roadway outside. The window-sill smelt faintly of paint; soft bad paint that had blistered in the sun. It was a violent storm of rain and the road was an ill-made road of a yellowish sandy clay. It was covered with muddy water and the storming rainfall made a multitude of flashing bubbles, that drove along before the wind and burst and gave place to others.
"'Look at 'em, dearie,' said my mother. 'Like sojers.'
"I think I was still very young when that happened, but I was not so young that I had not often seen soldiers with their helmets and bayonets marching by."
"That," said Radiant, "was some time before the Great War then, and the Social Collapse."
"Some time before," said Sarnac. He considered. "Twenty-one years before. This house in which I was born was less than two miles from the great military camp of the British at Lowcliff in England, and Lowcliff railway-station was only a few hundred yards away. 'Sojers' were the most conspicuous objects in my world outside my home. They were more brightly coloured than other people. My mother used to wheel me out for air every day in a thing called a perambulator, and whenever there were soldiers to be seen she used to say, 'Oh! PRITTY sojers!'
"'Sojers' must have been one of my earliest words. I used to point my little wool-encased finger—for they wrapped up children tremendously in those days and I wore even gloves—and I would say: 'Sosher.'
"Let me try and describe to you what sort of home this was of mine and what manner of people my father and mother were. Such homes and houses and places have long since vanished from the world, not many relics of them have been kept, and though you have probably learnt most of the facts concerning them, I doubt if you can fully realise the feel and the reality of the things I found about me. The name of the place was Cherry Gardens; it was about two miles from the sea at Sandbourne, one way lay the town of Cliffstone from which steamboats crossed the sea to France, and the other way lay Lowcliff and its rows and rows of ugly red brick barracks and its great drilling-plain, and behind us inland was a sort of plateau covered with raw new roads of loose pebbles—you cannot imagine such roads!—and vegetable gardens and houses new-built or building, and then a line of hills, not very high but steep and green and bare, the Downs. The Downs made a graceful skyline that bounded my world to the north as the sapphire line of the sea bounded it to the south, and they were almost the only purely beautiful things in that world. All the rest was touched and made painful by human confusion. When I was a very little boy I used to wonder what lay behind those Downs, but I never went up them to see until I was seven or eight years old."
"This was before the days of aeroplanes?" asked Radiant.
"They came into the world when I was eleven or twelve. I saw the first that ever crossed the Channel between the mainland of Europe and England. That was considered a very wonderful thing indeed. ("It was a wonderful thing," said Sunray.) I went with a lot of other boys, and we edged through a crowd that stood and stared at the quaint old machine; it was like a big canvas grasshopper with outspread wings; in a field—somewhere beyond Cliffstone. It was being guarded, and the people were kept away from it by stakes and a string.
"I find it hard to describe to you what sort of places Cherry Gardens and Cliffstone were like—even though we have just visited the ruins of Domodossola. Domodossola was a sprawling, aimless town enough, but these sprawled far more and looked with a far emptier aimlessness into the face of God. You see in the thirty or forty years before my birth there had been a period of comparative prosperity and productivity in human affairs. It was not of course in those days the result of any statesmanship or forethought; it just happened,—as now and then in the course of a rain-torrent there comes a pool of level water between the rapids. But the money and credit system was working fairly well; there was much trade and intercourse, no extensive pestilences, exceptionally helpful seasons, and few very widespread wars. As a result of this conspiracy of favourable conditions there was a perceptible rise in the standards of life of the common people, but for the most part it was discounted by a huge increase of population. As our school books say, 'In those days Man was his own Locust.' Later in my life I was to hear furtive whispers of a forbidden topic called Birth Control, but in the days of my childhood the whole population of the world, with very few exceptions, was in a state of complete and carefully protected ignorance about the elementary facts of human life and happiness. The surroundings of my childhood were dominated by an unforeseen and uncontrollable proliferation. Cheap proliferation was my scenery, my drama, my atmosphere."
"But they had teachers and priests and doctors and rulers to tell them better," said Willow.
"Not to tell them better," said Sarnac. "These guides and pilots of life were wonderful people. They abounded, and guided no one. So far from teaching men and women to control births or avoid diseases or work generously together, they rather prevented such teaching. This place called Cherry Gardens had mostly come into existence in the fifty years before my birth. It had grown from a minute hamlet into what we used to call an urban district.' In that old world in which there was neither freedom nor direction, the land was divided up into patches of all sorts and sizes and owned by people who did what they liked with it, subject to a few vexatious and unhelpful restrictions. And in Cherry Gardens, a sort of men called speculative builders bought pieces of land, often quite unsuitable land, and built houses for the swarming increase of population that had otherwise nowhere to go. There was no plan about this building. One speculative builder built here and another there, and each built as cheaply as possible and sold or let what he had built for as much as possible. Some of the houses they built in rows and some stood detached each with a little patch of private garden—garden they called it, though it was either a muddle or a waste—fenced in to keep people out."
"Why did they keep people out?"
"They liked to keep people out. It was a satisfaction for them. They were not secret gardens. People might look over the fence if they chose. And each house had its own kitchen where food was cooked—there was no public eating-place in Cherry Gardens—and each, its separate store of household gear. In most houses there was a man who went out to Work and earn a living—they didn't so much live in those days as earn a living—and came home to eat and sleep, and there was a woman, his wife, who did all the services, food and cleaning and everything, and also she bore children, a lot of unpremeditated children—because she didn't know any better. She was too busy to look after them well, and many of them died. Most days she cooked a dinner. She cooked it...It was cooking!"
Sarnac paused—his brows knit. "Cooking I Well, well. That's over, anyhow," he said.
Radiant laughed cheerfully.
"Almost everyone suffered from indigestion. The newspapers were full of advertisements of cures," said Sarnac, still darkly retrospective.
"I've never thought of that aspect of life in the old world," said Sunray.
"It was—fundamental," said Sarnac. "It was a world, in every way, out of health.
"Every morning, except on the Sunday, after the man had gone off to his day's toil and the children had been got up and dressed and those who were old enough sent off to school, the woman of the house tidied up a bit and then came the question of getting in food. For this private cooking of hers. Every day except Sunday a number of men with little pony carts or with barrows they pushed in front of them, bearing meat and fish and vegetables and fruit, all of it exposed to the weather and any dirt that might be blowing about, came bawling along the roads of Cherry Gardens, shouting the sort of food they were selling. My memory goes back to that red and black sofa by the front window and I am a child once again. There was a particularly splendid fish hawker. What a voice he had! I used to try to reproduce his splendid noises in my piping childish cries: 'Mackroo-E-y'are Macroo! Fine Macroo! Thee a Sheen. Macroo!'
"The housewives would come out from their domestic mysteries to buy or haggle and, as the saying went, 'pass the time of day with their neighbours. But everything they wanted was not to be got from the hawkers, and that was where my father came in. He kept a little shop. He was what was called a greengrocer; he sold fruits and vegetables, such poor fruits and vegetables as men had then learnt to grow—and also he sold coals and paraffin (which people burnt in their lamps) and chocolate and ginger-beer and other things that were necessary to the barbaric housekeeping of the time. He also sold cut-flowers and flowers in pots, and seeds and sticks and string and weed-killer for the little gardens. His shop stood in a row with a lot of other shops; the row was like a row of the ordinary houses with the lower rooms taken out and replaced by the shop, and he 'made his living' and ours by buying his goods as cheaply as he could and getting as much as he could for them. It was a very poor living because there were several other able-bodied men in Cherry Gardens who were also greengrocers, and if he took too much profit then his customers would go away and buy from these competitors and he would get no profit at all.
"I and my brother and sisters—for my mother had been unable to avoid having six babies and four of us were alive—lived by and in and round about this shop. In the summer we were chiefly out of doors or in the room above the shop; but in the cold weather it cost too much trouble and money to have a fire in that room—all Cherry Gardens was heated by open coal fires—and we went down into a dark underground kitchen where my mother, poor dear! cooked according to her lights."
"You were troglodytes!" said Willow.
"Practically. We always ate in that downstairs room. In the summer we were sunburnt and ruddy, but in the winter, because of this—inhumation, we became white and rather thin. I had an elder brother who was monstrous in my childish memory; he was twelve years older than I; and I had two sisters, Fanny and Prudence. My elder brother Ernest went out to work, and then he went away to London and I saw very little of him until I too went to London. I was the youngest of the lot; and when I was nine years old, my father, taking courage, turned my mother's perambulator into a little push-cart for delivering sacks of coals and suchlike goods.
"Fanny, my elder sister, was a very pretty girl, with a white face from which her brown hair went back in graceful, natural waves and curls, and she had very dark blue eyes. Prudence was also white but of a duller whiteness, and her eyes were grey. She would tease me and interfere with me, but Fanny was either negligent or gracefully kind to me and I adored her. I do not, strangely enough, remember my mother's appearance at all distinctly, though she was, of course, the dominant fact of my childish life. She was too familiar, I suppose, for the sort of attention that leaves a picture on the mind.
"I learnt to speak from my family and chiefly from my mother. None of us spoke well; our common idioms were poor and bad, we mispronounced many words, and long words we avoided as something dangerous and pretentious. I had very few toys: a tin railway-engine I remember, some metal soldiers, and an insufficient supply of wooden building-bricks. There was no special place for me to play, and if I laid out my toys on the living-room table, a meal was sure to descend and sweep them away. I remember a great longing to play with the things in the shop, and especially with the bundles of firewood and some fire-kindlers that were most seductively shaped like wheels, but my father discouraged such ambitions. He did not like to have me about the shop until I was old enough to help, and the indoor part of most of my days was spent in the room above it or in the underground room below it. After the shop was closed it became a very cold, cavernous, dark place to a little boy's imagination; there were dreadful shadows in which terrible things might lurk, and even holding fast to my mother's hand on my way to bed, I was filled with fear to traverse it. It had always a faint, unpleasant smell, a smell of decaying vegetation varying with the particular fruit or vegetable that was most affected, and a constant element of paraffin. But on Sundays when it was closed all day the shop was different, no longer darkly threatening but very very still. I would be taken through it on my way to church or Sunday school. (Yes—will tell you about church and Sunday school in a minute.) When I saw my mother lying dead—she died when I was close upon sixteen—I was instantly reminded of the Sunday shop...
"Such, my dear Sunray, was the home in which I found myself. I seemed to have been there since my beginning. It was the deepest dream I have ever had. I had forgotten even you."
"And how was this casually begotten infant prepared for the business of life?" asked Radiant. "Was he sent away to a Garden?"
"There were no Children's Gardens such as we know them, in that world," said Sarnac. "There was a place of assembly called an elementary school. Thither I was taken, twice daily, by my sister Prudence, after I was six years old.
"And here again I find it hard to convey to you what the reality was like. Our histories tell you of the beginning of general education in that distant time and of the bitter jealousy felt by the old priest-hoods and privileged people for the new sort of teachers, but they give you no real picture of the ill-equipped and understaffed schoolhouses and of the gallant work of the underpaid and ill-trained men and women who did the first rough popular teaching. There was in particular a gaunt dark man with a cough who took the older boys, and a little freckled woman of thirty or so who fought with the lower children, and, I see now, they were holy saints. His name I forget, but the little woman was called Miss Merrick. They had to handle enormous classes, and they did most of their teaching by voice and gesture and chalk upon a blackboard. Their equipment was miserable. The only materials of which there was enough to go round were a stock of dirty reading-books, bibles, hymn-books, and a lot of slabs of slate in frames on which we wrote with slate pencils to economise paper. Drawing materials we had practically none; most of us never learnt to draw. Yes. Lots of sane adults in that old world never learnt to draw even a box. There was nothing to count with in that school and no geometrical models. There were hardly any pictures except a shiny one of Queen Victoria and a sheet of animals, and there were very yellow wall-maps of Europe and Asia twenty years out of date. We learnt the elements of mathematics by recitation. We used to stand in rows, chanting a wonderful chant called our Tables:—
"'Twi-swun-two.Twi-stewer four.Twi-sfree'r six.Twi-sfour'rate.'
"We used to sing—in unison—religious hymns for the most part. The school had a second-hand piano to guide our howlings. There had been a great fuss in Cliffstone and Cherry Gardens when this piano was bought. They called it a luxury, and pampering the working classes."
"Pampering the working-classes!" Firefly repeated. "I suppose it's all right. But I'm rather at sea."
"I can't explain everything," said Sarnac. "The fact remains that England grudged its own children the shabbiest education, and so for the matter of fact did every other country. They saw things differently in those days. They were still in the competitive cave. America, which was a much richer country than England, as wealth went then, had if possible meaner and shabbier schools for her common people...My dear! it was so. I'm telling you a story, not explaining the universe...And naturally, in spite of the strenuous efforts of such valiant souls as Miss Merrick, we children learnt little and we learnt it very badly. Most of my memories of school are memories of boredom. We sat on wooden forms at long, worn, wooden desks, rows and rows of us—I can see again all the little heads in front of me—and far away was Miss Merrick with a pointer trying to interest us in the Rivers of England:—
"Ty. Wear. Teasumber."
"Is that what they used to call swearing?" asked Willow.
"No. Only Jogriphy. And History was:—
"Wi-yum the Conqueror. Tessisstysiss.Wi-yum Ruefiss. Ten eighty-seven."
"What did it mean?"
"To us children? Very much what it means to you—gibberish. The hours, those interminable hours of childhood in school! How they dragged I Did I say I lived a life in my dream? In school I lived eternities. Naturally we sought such amusement as was possible. One thing was to give your next-door neighbour a pinch or a punch and say, 'Pass it on.' And we played furtive games with marbles. It is rather amusing to recall that I learnt to count, to add and subtract and so forth, by playing marbles in despite of discipline."
"But was that the best your Miss Merrick and your saint with the cough could do?" asked Radiant.
"Oh! they couldn't help themselves. They were in a machine, and there were periodic Inspectors and examinations to see that they kept in it."
"But," said Sunray, "that Incantation about 'Wi-yum the Conqueror' and the rest of it. It meant something? At the back of it, lost to sight perhaps, there was some rational or semi-rational idea?"
"Perhaps," reflected Sarnac. "But I never detected it."
"They called it history," said Firefly helpfully.
"They did," Sarnac admitted. "Yes, I think they were trying to interest the children of the land in the doings of the Kings and Queens of England, probably as dull a string of monarchs as the world has ever seen. If they rose to interest at times it was through a certain violence; there was one delightful Henry VIII with such a craving for love and such a tender conscience about the sanctity of marriage that he always murdered one wife before he took another. And there was one Alfred who burnt some cakes—I never knew why. In some way it embarrassed the Danes, his enemies."
"But was that all the history they taught you?" cried Sunray.
"Queen Elizabeth of England wore a ruff and James the First of England and Scotland kissed his men favourites."
Sarnac laughed. "It is odd. I see that—now that I am awake again. But indeed that was all they taught us."
"Did they tell you nothing of the beginnings of life and the ends of life, of its endless delights and possibilities?"
Sarnac shook his head.
"Not at school," said Starlight, who evidently knew her books; "they did that at church. Sarnac forgets the churches. It was, you must remember, an age of intense religious activity. There were places of worship everywhere. One whole day in every seven was given up to the Destinies of Man and the study of God's Purpose. The worker ceased from his toil. From end to end of the land the air was full of the sound of church bells and of congregations singing. Wasn't there a certain beauty in that, Sarnac?"
Sarnac reflected and smiled. "It wasn't quite like that," he said. "Our histories, in that matter, need a little revision."
"But one sees the churches and chapels in the old photographs and cinema pictures. And we still have many of their cathedrals. And some of those are quite beautiful."
"And they have all had to be shored up and underpinned and tied together with steel," said Sunray, "because they were either so carelessly or so faithlessly built. And anyhow, these were not built in Sarnac's time."
"Mortimer Smith's time," Sarnac corrected.
"They were built hundreds of years earlier than that."
"You must not judge the religion of an age by its temples and churches," said Sarnac. "An unhealthy body may have many things in it that it cannot clear away, and the weaker it is the less it can prevent abnormal and unserviceable growths...Which sometimes may be in themselves quite bright and beautiful growths.
"But let me describe to you the religious life of my home and upbringing. There was a sort of State Church in England, but it had lost most of its official standing in regard to the community as a whole; it had two buildings in Cherry Gardens—one an old one dating from the hamlet days with a square tower and rather small as churches went, and the other new and spacious with a spire. In addition there were the chapels of two other Christian communities, the Congregationalists and the Primitive Methodists, and also one belonging to the old Roman Catholic communion. Each professed to present the only true form of Christianity and each maintained a minister, except the larger Church of England place, which had two, the vicar and the curate. You might suppose that, like the museums of history and the Temples of Vision we set before our young people, these places would display in the most moving and beautiful forms possible the history of our race and the great adventure of life in which we are all engaged, they would remind us of our brotherhood and lift us out of selfish thoughts...But let me tell you how I saw it:—
"I don't remember my first religious instruction. Very early I must have learnt to say a rhymed prayer to—
"'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,Look on me, a little child.'
"And also another prayer about 'Trespassing' which I thought referred to going into fields or woods where there was no public footpath, and which began with the entirely incomprehensible words, 'Our Father Charting Heaven, Haloed B thy Name.' Also one asked for one's 'daily bread' and that God's Kingdom should come. I learnt these two prayers from my mother at an incredibly early age, and said them every night and sometimes in the morning. She held these words in far too great reverence to explain them, and when I wanted to ask for my 'daily bread and butter,' she scolded me bitterly. I also wanted to ask what would happen to good Queen Victoria when God's Kingdom came, but I never mustered courage to ask my mother that. I had a curious idea that there could be a marriage but that nobody had thought of that solution. This must have been very early in my life, because Victoria the Good died when I was five, during the course of a long, far-away, and now almost-forgotten struggle called the Boer War.
"These infantile perplexities deepened and then gave way to a kind of self-protective apathy when I was old enough to go to church and Sunday school.
"Sunday morning was by far the most strenuous part of all the week for my mother. We had all had a sort of bath overnight in the underground kitchen, except my father and mother, who I don't think ever washed all over—I don't know for certain—and on Sunday morning we rose rather later than usual and put on our 'clean things' and our best clothes. (Everybody in those days wore a frightful lot of clothes. You see, they were all so unhealthy they could not stand the least exposure to wet or cold.) Breakfast was a hurried and undistinguished meal on the way to greater things. Then we had to sit about, keeping out of harm's way, avoiding all crumpling or dirt, and pretending to be interested in one of the ten or twelve books our home possessed, until church time. Mother prepared the Sunday meal, almost always a joint of meat in a baking-dish which my elder sister took in to the baker's next door but one to be cooked while we worshipped. Father rose later than anyone and appeared strangely transformed in a collar, dickey and cuffs and a black coat and his hair smoothed down and parted. Usually some unforeseen delay arose; one of my sisters had a hole in her stocking, or my boots wouldn't button and nobody could find the buttonhook, or a prayer-book was mislaid. This engendered an atmosphere of flurry. There were anxious moments when the church bell ceased to ring and began a monotonous 'tolling-in.'
"'Oh I we shall be late again!' said my mother. 'We shall be late again.'
"'I'll go on with Prue!' my father would say.
"'Me too!' said Fanny.
"'Not till you've found that button-'ook, Miss Huzzy,' my mother would cry. 'For well I know you've 'ad it.'
"Fanny would shrug her shoulders.
"'Why 'e carn't 'ave lace-up shoes to 'is feet like any other kid, I carn't understand,' my father would remark unhelpfully.
"My mother, ashen white with flurry, would wince and say, 'Lace-up shoes at 'is age! Let alone that 'e'd break the laces.'
"'What's that on the chiffoneer?' Fanny would ask abruptly.
"'Ah! Naturally you know.'
"'Naturally I use my eyes.'
"'Tcha! Got your answer ready! Oh, you wicked girl!'
"Fanny would shrug her shoulders again and stare out of the window. There was more trouble afoot than a mislaid buttonhook between her and my mother. Overnight 'Miss Huzzy' had been abroad long after twilight, a terrible thing from a mother's point of view, as I will make plain to you later.
"My mother, breathing hard, would button my boots in a punitive manner and then off we would go, Prue hanging on to father ahead, Fanny a little apart and scornful, and I trying to wriggle my little white-cotton-gloved hand out of my mother's earnest grip.
"We had what was called a 'sitting' at church, a long seat with some hassocks and a kind of little praying-ledge at the back of the seat in front. We filed into our sitting and knelt and rose up, and were ready for the function known as morning service."
"And this service again was a strange thing. We read about these churches and their services in our histories and we simplify and idealise the picture; we take everything in the account, as we used to say in that old world, at its face value. We think that the people understood and believed completely the curious creeds of those old-world religions; that they worshipped with a simple ardour; that they had in their hearts a secret system of comforts and illusions which some of us even now try to recover. But life is always more complicated than any account or representation of it can be. The human mind in those days was always complicating and overlaying its ideas, forgetting primary in secondary considerations, substituting repetition and habit for purposive acts, and forgetting and losing its initial intentions. Life has grown simpler for men as the ages have passed because it has grown clearer. We were more complicated in our lives then because we were more confused. And so we sat in our pews on Sunday, in a state of conforming inattention, not really thinking out what we were doing, feeling rather than knowing significances and with our thoughts wandering like water from a leaky vessel. We watched the people about us furtively and minutely and we were acutely aware that they watched us. We stood up, we half knelt, we sat, as the ritual of the service required us to do. I can still recall quite vividly the long complex rustle of the congregation as it sat down or rose up in straggling unison.
"This morning service was a mixture of prayers and recitations by the priests—vicar and curate we called them—and responses by the congregation, chants, rhymed hymns, the reading of passages from the Hebrew-Christian Bible, and at last a discourse. Except for this discourse all the service followed a prescribed course set out in a prayer-book. We hopped from one page of the prayer-book to another, and 'finding your place' was a terrible mental exercise for a small boy with a sedulous mother on one side and Prue on the other.
"The service began lugubriously and generally it was lugubrious. We were all miserable sinners, there was no health in us; we expressed our mild surprise that our Deity did not resort to violent measures against us. There was a long part called the Litany in which the priest repeated with considerable gusto every possible human misfortune, war, pestilence, famine, and so on, and the congregation interjected at intervals, 'Good Lord deliver us!' although you might have thought that these were things within the purview of our international and health and food administrators rather than matters for the Supreme Being. Then the officiating priest went on to a series of prayers for the Queen, the rulers of the State, heretics, unfortunate people, travellers, and the harvest, all of which I concluded were being dangerously neglected by Divine Providence, and the congregation reinforced the priest's efforts by salvos of 'We beseech Thee to hear us, Good Lord.' The hymns were of very variable quality, but the greater part were effusive praises of our Maker, with frequent false rhymes and bad quantities. We thanked Heaven for our 'blessings,' and that without a thought of irony. Yet you would imagine that a Deity of Infinite Power might easily have excused our gratitude for the precarious little coal and greengrocery business in Cherry Gardens and all my mother's toil and anxieties and my father's worries.
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