Two things seemed to me rather odd about this festival: why was it that the Emperor allowed such adulation to be paid to a former subject; and why was the commemoration of Prince Mechow, who had done so much to introduce the strictest discipline, the one occasion when licence was allowed? I put these questions to Mr. Johnson as we sat talking in the smoke-room, where we could faintly hear the murmur of the crowd in the streets in the distance.
"It is just as well you did not ask these questions of any of your Meccanian conductors," replied Johnson. "The real reason is one which I don't believe any Meccanian would avow. This Mechow Festival is a genuine expression of national character. They used to' enthuse' about Bludiron in almost the same way, some eighty years ago. I have heard my father tell of some of the scenes he saw here. They have a childish belief in national heroes. Then, the upper classes have a very special reason for encouraging this cult of Mechowism. They realise how completely he did their work for them and made their power secure, and it suits them to cultivate the superstition that there is something sacred about everything he established. Perhaps you know that the Military Class are the real power behind the Throne here. They let the Emperor play his part on the stage in public, but he takes good care not to do anything to offend them; and this worship of Mechow is a sort of symbol of their power. The real effect of Mechow's reforms was not to make the Emperor himself supreme, but to make the Military Caste all-powerful. They take care, therefore, to make this festival popular. I don't suppose the Emperor altogether enjoys the part he has to play on an occasion like to-day."
"What you say about the Military is rather interesting," I replied, "for only a day or two ago I was trying to get Lickrod to tell me what the Government really is. I couldn't make out whether he knew or not, but he certainly didn't enlighten me much."
"Of course it's the Military Class," said Johnson, with a laugh. "I thought everybody knew that. It's a very open secret."
"I have heard that theory put forward," I said, "but I can't quite make it square with the facts."
"Why not?" asked Johnson.
"Well, if the Military are the supreme power, why should they have such an elaborate Bureaucracy and make such a parade of culture in every direction?" I said.
"Ah," replied Johnson, "you must remember we are living in the twentieth century; in fact, you must remember all that this wonderful rascal of a Mechow taught his countrymen. The clumsy methods of the Military Autocracy of a barbarous age would not be of the slightest use in our times. Human society in modern times, even under an Autocracy, is tremendously complex. An elaborate Bureaucracy is a necessary part of the machine. Suppose, for instance, that you were an autocrat, and you wanted to be able to wield the whole force of the nation over which you ruled, how could you give effect to your will unless the whole nation were organised with that end in view? Suppose you had absolute power, as far as the law could give it you, and suppose you wanted a powerful army; you would want also the best equipment. How would you get it unless your industries were already organised and under control? There is no doubt at all that the nation that can control and mobilise all its resources for whatever purposes it happens to require them, has a great advantage, from the military standpoint, over other nations not so organised."
"But," I said, "they organise all sorts of things that have nothing to do with military efficiency. Look at the theatres, and at Art, and Music: their organisation of these is carried to an absurd point."
"That is quite true, but did you ever know any big organisation that did just exactly what it ought to do, and stopped short of the things it ought not to do? Once set up a Bureaucracy and it will inevitably extend its functions. People are dirty, so the bureaucrat says, let us make them wash. Then, he says, let us make them keep their houses clean. Then, he says, let us make them keep their clothes tidy. He doesn't like the way they walk, so he makes them march in step. You can see that there was a tremendous advantage in having a wellinstructed middle class and a well-instructed working class. To secure this, a powerful department to organise and enforce education was necessary. Once the Bureaucracy was created there was hardly any limit to its functions. Besides, and this seems to me rather important, the more widely extended are the functions of the Bureaucracy, the more effectually is its main purpose disguised. The people are accustomed to being directed and 'organised.' They imagine, in a vague sort of way, that it is all for their good. Another little turn of the screw is not felt. If the State tells me what to eat, why shouldn't it tell me what to wear, and what to read, and what to think?
"There is another reason why it' organises' all this culture. In every nation some kind of intellectual life goes on. It must be either free or controlled. If it is let alone, the force of ideas is such that, in the long run, they will shape the political structure. The State, if it means to preserve itself as an Autocracy, must get control over the intellectual life of the nation. In ancient times it succeeded for a time. In the Middle Ages the Church tried the same thing. In modern times most States have not made the attempt, but this State has made the attempt. It has done no more than Plato would have done. It has done it rather differently perhaps, but it has followed the same idea."
"They would feel rather flattered, don't you think," I said, "if you told them they were carrying out Plato's principles?"
"Perhaps they would, but that only means they have learnt nothing from twenty centuries of political experience."
"On the contrary, it looks as if they have learnt a good deal," I said.
"They have learnt how to make a nation of slaves and tyrants."
"And yet they don't seem to mind being slaves, if they are slaves."
"I wonder," replied Johnson. "A hundred years in the life of a nation is not a long time. Human nature is a strange thing. They kiss the rod so affectionately that I don't mind how long ihey remain in bondage: all I care about is that they should not make slaves of the rest of us."
"Do you think there is any danger?" I asked.
"I do indeed," replied Johnson. "A great danger."
"Why, how could it be brought about?" I said.
"In all sorts of ways. Liberty is the most precarious possession of the human race. Very few nations have possessed it for long together."
"But surely," I said, "Meccania is so unpopular, to put it mildly, with almost all other nations, that her influence can hardly be dangerous."
"Oh, but it is," insisted Johnson. "The danger takes several forms. Meccania is tremendously strong as a military power. She knows it, and other nations know it. Suppose a great war took place, and she were successful; she would bring other nations under her power, as she has done in the past. These would soon be compelled to adopt her institutions. Then, in self-defence, other nations would feel themselves compelled to resort to the same means as have proved successful in her case, to make themselves strong too. To a certain degree that has already taken place. Lots of our military people now are always agitating to introduce what they call reforms, to place us on a level with Meccania. Then all sorts of cranks come over here: Sanitary Reformers, Eugenists, Town Planners, Educationists, Physical Culturists, Temperance Reformers, Scientific Industrialists, and so forth. Each of them finds some idea he wants to push. There are people who think that if they could only cure unemployment they would bring in the millennium, and they are willing to reconstruct society for the sole purpose of doing away with unemployment. And so we get disconnected bits of Bureaucracy set up, first for this and then for that. By and by some one will come along who will try to co-ordinate the whole thing."
I had evidently set Mr. Johnson on to a train of thought that excited him, for he usually took things very calmly. After a short pause he went on: "And yet I don't think the greatest danger comes from these would-be bureaucrats of ours. With us the bureaucrat only gets his chance when we have played the fool so badly that somebody has got to step in and set things right. For instance, we had what we called magistrates at one time. They were supposed to be the prominent citizens with common sense and initiative; but they became so incompetent, and the authorities chose them so foolishly, that they lost the public confidence; so we had to replace them partly by officials and partly by paid judges. Then look at our manufacturers; they hadn't the sense to apply a reasonable proportion of their profits to developing their business on scientific lines, so the State had to step in and compel them to. They hadn't the sense, either, to encourage their workpeople to become educated, nor even to pay them any more than they could help. Consequently the State had to step in again. No, what I am most afraid of is our disinclination to set things right ourselves. We can't let mothers go on murdering their babies, we can't let food dealers poison the public, we can't let seducers of children traffic in obscenity; and as the public is apathetic about all these things the bureaucrat steps in and adds another Department to the fabric. What I am afraid of chiefly is that we shall get into a bad mess that will place us at the mercy either of the Meccanians over here or of our own Meccanians at home."
WHEN I came to reflect that night upon the experience of the last few days, I was much impressed by three things which somehow seemed to hang together. There was first my conversation with Lickrod. If all Meccanians, or even a majority, took the same view of the State that he did, there could be no limit to the functions of the State. He seemed to claim for it all the moral authority of the Mediaeval Church, and although in other countries theories are put forward for academic discussion without having much influence upon practical politics, in Meccania the powers that be are able to carry out their ideas without the obstruction which necessarily arises in countries where public opinion is more spontaneous. He had evaded the question as to the control of the Government, and had maintained that such a question had no meaning in a country where the people were not conscious of any difference between the State and themselves. Then there was this Mechow Festival. Now, it was either a sincere manifestation of a national admiration of Prince Mechow, and an approval of his work in creating a Super-State with unlimited powers, or it was a proof that the ruling class, whatever that was, could manipulate the whole life of the nation as it pleased. Lastly, there was the idea that Johnson had thrown out. He was quite confident of the accuracy of his own view that the Military Class was the power behind everything, and that the whole elaborate bureaucratic organisation of society had for its motive and driving force the desire and the will to make Meccania a perfect instrument of militarism.
Up to this time I had been partly amused and partly annoyed by what I had seen and heard and experienced. I was amused by the meticulous regulation and organisation of all the petty details of life, by the pedantic precision of all the officials I had met, and by the utter absence of a sense of humour in the mentality of the Meccanian people. I had been annoyed by the meddlesome interference with my private habits, but I tried to disregard this, because, as an experienced traveller, I had sufficient experience to tell me that in every country one has to accommodate oneself to the customs and prejudices of the community. But most of all, I felt baffled by my failure to find out anything about the real life and thought and feeling of the people.
I determined that I would make a more serious attempt to get behind the screen which all this officialism set up between the people and a wellintentioned Foreign Observer like myself or Mr. Johnson. I would find out whether the screen was erected only between the foreigner and the people, or whether the people themselves were so' organised' that, even for them, intercourse was made difficult. I promised myself that Lickrod, with his genuine enthusiasm for every feature of Meccanian culture, would be much more likely to enlighten me than any person I had come in contact with before. We had still some days to spend in completing our general survey of industry in Mecco. As President of an important Literary Society, I expressed a desire to see how the whole business of literary production was conducted in Meccania, for I understood that several features in the system were quite unlike what could be found anywhere else in the world. Conductor Lickrod was almost eager to gratify my curiosity--at any rate up to a certain point.
"The printing industry," said he in answer to my questions, "is a perfect example of the effect of Prince Mechow's reforms. It would be impossible in any other country to do what we do, even if they employed three times the number of men. In other countries the waste of labour, not only manual labour but brain labour and business enterprise, is ridiculous. Look at the amount of advertising, the number of rival newspapers and magazines, the number of rival publishers of all sorts. It is a perfect chaos. Now we have no advertising, as advertising is understood abroad. Every commodity can be classified, whether it be a hair restorer or a mansion for sale. Our system of commerce gets rid of advertising miscellaneous commodities. The wholesale merchants have their regular catalogues issued to the trade, and the same system is extended to retail trade. For example, if you want to buy an article of clothing, apart from your regular uniform, you consult a directory of the retail dealers. Then you consult a catalogue of any particular firm at the bureau for retail trade, where you will find a catalogue of every shop in the town you happen to be in. There are no hoardings covered with posters tempting people, out of mere curiosity, to buy things they don't want. Now look at a typical newspaper in any foreign country. Half of it is covered with advertisements of concerts, theatrical performances, other amusements, sales, situations vacant and wanted, clothing, patent medicines, books-- every imaginable thing. With us that is all unnecessary. The bureaux of employment do away with all advertisements for employment--but in any case we should require few of these, because our system of employment is so much better organised. As to concerts and theatres, everybody knows, through the official gazettes, what amusements are available for months in advance."
"You have not only got rid of the advertisements," I remarked, "but even of the newspapers themselves, I understand. I have certainly seen none except the local gazettes."
"Exactly; I was coming to that," he continued. "Look at the enormous waste of effort that goes to the production of forty or fifty big newspapers. What is the use of them? Every item of information can be classified. It may be a crime, an accident, an event in foreign politics, a new law, a trial, a new discovery in some branch of science or industry, and so on. Now look at all the ingenuity displayed in getting hold of some sort of account of these things at the earliest moment, in order to gratify the mere curiosity of crowds of ignorant people. Then look at the special articles, all or nearly all produced in haste, and the so-called leading articles, all designed to influence the mind of the public by giving some particular colour or interpretation to the alleged facts. Our official gazettes give the public all they require to know. The Law Gazette, issued each week, gives information about all the breaches of the law committed, all the important processes before the Law Courts, all the changes in the Law. All the' articles' which are necessary to throw light upon legal matters are written by real experts. As you know, the journalist is extinct in Meccania. The Industrial Gazettes--one for each of the main branches of industry, with a general Industrial Gazette for matters affecting industry generally, contain everything required in a much more complete form than can be given in a daily newspaper. So you see that, applying the same principle to the various aspects of our public life, we are able to substitute one well-organised publication, dealing completely with all matters and issued with all the authority of the State, for the miscellaneous jumble of scraps which are called newspapers in other countries.
"Then look at the number of magazines; they represent a stage of culture which we have left entirely behind. We have our Literary Gazettes to keep the public informed about all the recent publications. We have our Quarterly Records for every department of knowledge. If you want the latest contributions to history or archaeology, philology, ethnology, or anthropology, you know where to go for them. Everything is done by experts, and we do not go to the trouble of printing anything by anyone else on such subjects."
"Then you have no popular magazines such as would interest people who are not strictly students, but who take an interest in things?" I asked.
"No. As I said a moment ago, we have left that stage of culture behind. We provide a good education for all those who, we think, are able to utilise it for the good of the State. After that, every one is encouraged to pursue that branch of knowledge which will be most useful to him in his calling. In a certain sense every man is a specialist. We do not encourage people to dabble in things they only half understand,"
"But is there not also a need," I said, "for what I may call general knowledge on the part of the public? For instance, suppose a new law is to be introduced which is to affect people's lives, everybody is concerned, whether he is a specialist or not. Or suppose some question of public morals, or some question of political interest arises, you surely want the public to discuss such things. How, indeed, can your authorities keep in touch with the public mind unless there is some medium by which the general public can express itself?"
"What you say," answered Lickrod, "only serves to demonstrate the truth of what I am trying to convey to you, namely, that our Culture is so differently conceived that you foreigners cannot understand our attitude. You use the expression 'public opinion.' Our psychologists will tell you exactly how that public opinion is formed. They made a careful study of it before we decided to replace it by something better. It was one of the superstitions of the nineteenth century, which has not only lingered on but has become a serious hinderance to the development of scientific government in all countries except Meccania. They actually allow their fiscal policy to be determined by 'public opinion.' Fiscal policy is entirely a matter for the State, and the only persons qualified to advise the State are the experts. You speak of public morals, but the business of guiding the morals of the nation is the highest function of the State itself. Now the organs through which every nation or State functions are determined and developed by the national consciousness: this consciousness expresses itself just as legitimately through experts as through an uninstructed public opinion."
"So you would be prepared to say, then," I said, "that your people fully acquiesce in the suppression or abolition of one of the institutions which most foreigners consider almost the last safeguard of liberty? I mean, of course, the daily press."
"The present generation of Meccanians, that is, the young people, say between twenty and thirty, have never known the Press. The older men were, I confess, bitterly opposed for some years, or at least a section of them were; but if anyone proposed to revive the Press nowadays he would be regarded as one would be who wished to revive steam-trams, or wigs, or general elections."
"But suppose some people were mad enough to want to publish a newspaper, could they not do so?" I asked.
"Well, there is no positive law against it, but it would be impossible, all the same."
"The expense would be very great, for one thing. There would be no advertisements, remember. They would not be allowed to publish news before it had been submitted to the censor, or before it was given to the public through the official gazettes...."
"You need say no more," I said. "I quite see it would be impossible. The censorship extends to all printed matter, I gather?"
"Certainly," he replied. "The State would be guilty of a grave neglect of its function as guardian of the Meccanian spirit if it permitted any scribbler who wished to seduce the minds of the people to mislead them."
"But," I could not help replying, "I thought that your people were on the whole so well educated that there would be less danger of their being misled in Meccania than in any country. Also I have been informed that all the best writers are already in the employ of the State; and, further, that the people generally are so completely at one in sentiment with the spirit and policy of the State that there could be no real danger from the free expression of opinion."
Conductor Lickrod smiled. It was a benevolent, almost a pitying smile.
"I perceive," he said, "that some of the most commonplace axioms of our policy seem like abstruse doctrines to people whose culture is less advanced. But I think I can make all this clear. Your argument is that our people are well instructed, our writers--the best of them--are employed by the State, and our common loyalty to the Meccanian ideal is so firmly established that even a free Press, or at least the free expression of opinion in books, would give rise to no danger. Now do you not see that it is only by means of our system--so wisely conceived by the greatest statesman who ever lived aai that we have this instructed public, that we have all the best writers in the service of the State, that we possess this common allegiance to the Meccanian spirit? When we have achieved what no other nation has achieved, should we not be fools to introduce an entirely contrary principle, and for the sake of what? In order to provide an opportunity for the few people who are not loyal to Meccania to attack the very State whose children they are. For, examine what it is you propose. No one who is a loyal Meccanian finds the least fault with our present system. It has the enormous advantage over all the systems of other countries that, without any waste, it provides the most authentic information about every conceivable subject, it gives the public the benefit of the services of such a body of experts as no other country possesses. And the people who would write such books as you are thinking of; who would support them? They are already fully employed in some manner, and in the manner considered by the State to be the most useful. I assure you this is a purely academic discussion, for no one would dream of putting into practice such a proposal."
"There must be something in the mentality of the Meccanians very different from that of other nations, and that is all the more surprising because, at least according to the ethnologists, they are not racially different from several of the surrounding nations."
"That is quite true, with some slight reservations. We are not a pure race by any means. We have racial elements within our nation which are indeed distinct from those of the surrounding nations, and they have perhaps contributed to the final result much more than in proportion to their actual numbers. What you call Latin culture has never done more than furnish us with the material for such elements of our culture as we wished to utilise. You see it has hardly affected our language. No, the Meccanian culture of to-day is the result of education and scientific statesmanship."
"Excuse my putting the question so bluntly," I said, "but it seems to me that the principles you have put forward would justify even a revival of an institution known in mediaeval times, and even later, as the Inquisition. I suppose there is no institution corresponding to that in Meccania?"
"It is quite unnecessary. And that is one powerful argument in favour of our system of controlling the Press. That control, together with our other institutions of which it forms part--our whole polity is a perfect harmony--makes an' Inquisition,' as you call it, an anachronism."
"But," I said, "I was told by one of your own people of something that seems to a mere outsider to resemble an incipient Inquisition."
"Indeed," he said, "and what is that?"
"Well, I gathered that in certain cases the Special Medical Board uses its discretionary power to incarcerate persons whose opinions or convictions make it impossible for them to embrace what I may call the Meccanian ideals of life."
I felt I was treading on delicate ground, but as Prigge on a previous occasion had openly approved of putting people into lunatic asylums if they did not accept the Authority of the Super-State I felt justified in sounding Lickrod on the point. To my surprise he betrayed no embarrassment.
"You are probably not aware," he said, "of the remarkable strides that have been made by our medical scientists in Meccania during the last fifty years. The pathological side of psychology has received great attention, with the consequence that our specialists are able to detect mental disease in cases where it would not be suspected by less skilled doctors. I believe I am right in saying that our experts detected the disease now widely recognised as Znednettlapseiwz (Chronic tendency to Dissent) long before it was known in other countries that such a characteristic was in any way connected with brain disease. The microbe has been fully described in the twenty-seventh volume of the Report of the Special Medical Board. The first clue to the existence of this disease was discovered during the great war, or perhaps a little later. A number of people persisted in putting forward views concerning the origin of the war, which were totally at variance with the official, and even the Imperial, explanatory statements made for the enlightenment of the public. At the time, it was regarded as just mental perversity. But what led to the discovery was that, after ten, and even fifteen years in some cases, notwithstanding every natural inducement to desist from such perversity, these people deliberately and persistently maintained the objectivity of their hallucinations. Experiments were made; they were under close observation for some years, and at length Doctor Sikofantis- Sangwin produced his theory and confidently predicted that the bacillus would be found in a few years. From that time the path was clear. The disease was most rife some forty years ago, soon after the beginning of Prince Mechow's premiership; but since then it has almost disappeared. You see it is not hereditary, and the normal conditions of Meccanian life are very unfavourable to its development. But coming back to your point, although no doubt this is what has given rise to the calumny that the Special Medical Board uses its powers as an Inquisition, there is not a vestige of truth in the charge. Each case--and the cases are becoming very rare indeed--is investigated on strictly psycho-physiological lines. The patients in all cases are isolated, and placed under observation for some months before any pronouncement is made."
"Your explanation is as usual most illuminating,"
I replied, "and the patience with which you deal with my questions emboldens me to put to you some further difficulties that have been puzzling me."
"Proceed," replied Lickrod encouragingly.
"Well now," I said, "your whole national culture is so elaborately perfect, from the standpoint of its basic principles, that it is certainly well worth studying by any student of sociology or politics or economics; yet we foreigners find ourselves hampered at many points whenever we wish to get into contact with certain kinds of facts. For instance, we may wish to find out what are the ideas, the current thoughts and feelings, of the various groups, and even individuals, who make up society. We cannot go and live with people and converse freely with them. I have not been able to understand why your Government takes such precautions to keep secret, as it were, facts which in any other country are as open as the day."
"That is not at all difficult to answer by anyone who really understands the principles of our Culture, and I am surprised that none of the conductors who have instructed you have explained it--that is, if you have asked them," he answered. "You have been hampered, you say. Yes, but you have been assisted too. You have been shown things in a way that would be impossible in most other countries within such a short time. Our Government has paid great attention to the instruction of foreigners. Instead of leaving them to gather all sorts of erroneous impressions, it provides them with authentic information. If, on the other hand, there are things which it does not wish foreigners to know, it takes care, and quite rightly, that they shall not obtain the information by any illicit means. For instance, if you were foolish enough to attempt to obtain information about our military affairs, you would find yourself against a blank wall; and, if I may say so, you might hurt your head against the wall. But then there are matters which, without being secret, cannot well be investigated by the individual inquirer. Take such a thing as the current thought of any particular class or group. Only a trained and well-equipped social-psychologist is capable of making such an inquiry. The liability to error is tremendous. All the books written by travellers reveal this. We do not wish to be exploited by casual and irresponsible travellers. We provide opportunities, under proper conditions, for expert investigators; but very few are willing to comply with the conditions. Besides, our Culture, like all the finest products of the human intellect, is a very delicate thing. When we have carefully educated our people in the Meccanian spirit we are not prepared to expose them to the insidious influences of irresponsible busybodies. Every Meccanian is valuable in our eyes, and just as we protect him from infection in the shape of physical disease, so we protect him from the more insidious but not less injurious influence of foreign ideas. You will find plenty of philosophical justification for that policy in the writings of Plato and Aristotle--two philosophers who are studied in all the foreign universities but whose systems of thought are utterly misunderstood except in Meccania."
IT must have been more than a week after my long talk with Conductor Lickrod that I was sitting one evening in the hotel with Mr. Johnson and a certain Francarian gentleman to whom he had introduced me, when the latter made a suggestion that has since proved very useful to me. Mr. Villele the Francarian is a short and rather stout man of middle age, with a pair of merry black eyes, a swarthy complexion, and dark hair beginning to turn grey. He professes to find Meccania and the Meccanians amusing, but I suspect from the nature of his sarcasms that he entertains a deep hatred of them. We were talking of my journal when he said, "And what is the use of it?"
"Well," I said, "I do not flatter myself that I can produce a great literary work, but the facts I have been able to place on record are so interesting in themselves that I believe my countrymen would welcome a plain straightforward account of my visit to this most extraordinary country."
"I have heard," he said, "that the Chinese have very good verbal memories. Have you committed your record to memory in its entirety?"
"Why should I?" I replied; "it is to save my memory that I am taking the trouble of making such full notes, even of such things as conversations."
"And how do you propose to get your journal out of the country?"
"I propose to take it with me when I return," I said.
At this he turned to Johnson and laughed, but immediately apologised for his apparent rudeness.
"And what about the Censor?" he asked.
"Surely," I replied, "these people take such precautions not to let us foreigners see anything they do not want us to see, that they cannot object to a faithful record being made of what they do permit us to see!"
"Then you have not even read Regulation 79 of the Law concerning Foreign Observers."
"What is that?" I asked.
"Simply that foreigners are not allowed to take out of the country anything they have not been permitted to bring in, except with the consent of the Chief Inspector of Foreign Observers."
"And you think they will object?"
"I have not the slightest doubt."
"But it is written partly in Chinese; they would have to translate it."
"All the more reason for detaining it. If you ever get it again, it will be in a few years, after it has been translated for the benefit of the Sociological Section of the Ministry of Culture."
"What do you advise me to do, then?" I asked. "Have you any friends at the Chinese Embassy?" he asked.
"I have no personal friends. At least I have not troubled to inquire. I have had no business at the Embassy; there seemed no reason why I should trouble them."
"There is a fellow-countryman of yours here in Mecco who is persona grata with the Authorities," said Villele, "but he is rather a dark horse." "A dark horse?" I said.
"He is a sort of convert to Meccanianism. He has written books in appreciation of Meccanian principles, Meccanian ideals, Meccanian institutions, and so forth. They are eagerly read by the Meccanians. They even use them in their colleges. I have read them, and they seem to me very clever indeed. I translated them for the benefit of my countrymen, and I am not exactly an admirer of things Meccanian."
I must have looked rather puzzled, for Mr. Johnson came to my rescue.
"Mr. Villele means," he said, "that these books have a double meaning. I have read one of them. Under cover of the most exuberant flattery he gives such an impression of the cold-blooded devilishness of the system, that some of us suspect his real purpose to be that of exposing the whole business."
"He knows more of Meccania than anyone who is not a high official," said Villele; "and if you want to pursue your investigations any further, and incidentally get your manuscript conveyed out of the country, I should advise you to seek an interview with him."
"Will that be possible," I asked, "without arousing suspicion?"
"Oh, quite easily," answered Villele. "He is above suspicion, if you are not," he added, smiling. "He holds a weekly salon for foreigners, and you can easily get permission to attend. After that I leave it to you, and him."
That evening we went on talking a long time. Mr. Villele related some remarkable things, but I was not sure whether he was merely making fun of the Meccanians.
"You have not seen much of the Meccanian women?" he remarked.
"No," I said; "I have had no opportunity."
"They are quite as wonderful as the men," he said. "You never heard, for instance, of the great Emancipation Act, Regulation 19 of the Marital Law?"
"No," I replied; "what is it?"