I have sometimes been inclined to think the Meccanians like organising just for the love of it, but you are satisfied that there is more in it than that." 'My dear child," said Kwang, "there are some people who can't see a stone wall till they knock their heads against it, and who can't tell that a mad bull is dangerous till he tosses them in the air; and from what I learn you are almost as bad," he said, laughing. "You have been here, how long? Four or five months at any rate. Well, you have a very unsuspicious mind. But I am going to give you an interesting experience. I am going to take you to see a friend of mine who has been a prisoner in an asylum for the mentally afflicted for the last fifteen years. I enjoy the privilege of talking to him alone, and I have permission to take you. I won't stop to explain how I obtained the privilege, but it has been very useful."
In another quarter of an hour we were rolling along in Kwang's motor-car to a place about forty miles outside Mecco. The roads were as smooth as glass and the car made no noise, so we could converse without raising our voices. Kwang observed that if I wished to stay in Meccania there was only one way of getting behind the screen, and that was to become a convert. The role of a convert, however, was becoming more difficult to play. He had lately begun to suspect that he was being watched, or at any rate that one or two people at the Foreign Office were jealous of his privileges. Some years ago, the Head of the Foreign Office had given him practically the free run of the country, and had utilised him as a sort of missionary of Meccania. His books on the Triumphs of Meccanian Culture and on Meccania's World Mission had been given the widest possible publicity, both in Meccania and abroad. He still enjoyed all his privileges, for Count Krafft was a powerful friend at the Foreign Office. Consequently the Police Department had orders not to interfere with him, and he had free passes for almost everything. But another Under-Secretary had lately begun to question the wisdom of his colleague, not openly but secretly, and was trying to get hold of evidence.
"They lie so wonderfully and so systematically themselves," said Kwang, "that they naturally suspect everybody else of lying too. But this suspicion very often defeats its own object. Still, they can't expect to have a monopoly of lying. I have seen official pamphlets for circulation in the departments, on the methods of testing the bona fides of foreigners; and elaborate rules for finding out whether foreign Governments are trying to deceive them."
"And you have satisfied all their tests?" I said.
"Absolutely," replied Kwang, with a smile; "but I am not yet out of the country, and I don't propose to risk it much longer, or I may not be able to get out. However," he added, "there is not the slightest risk in taking you to visit the Asylum for Znednettlapseiwz. I have made a special study of these asylums, of which there are only about half a dozen in the whole country. I got permission some years ago. I had been discussing with Count Krafft the difficulty of dealing with a certain class of persons, to be found in every modern State, who act as a focus for all opposition. They cling obstinately to certain ethical and political doctrines quite out of harmony with those of the Super-State, and profess to regard Bureaucracy and Militarism as inconsistent with liberty. He told me a good deal about the methods employed, and suggested that I should visit one of these asylums. I did so and asked permission to make a study of a few individual cases. Eventually I wrote a monograph on the case of the very man we are going to see, and although it was never published Count Krafft was much pleased with it. The man we shall see, Mr. Stillman, represents a type that has almost entirely disappeared from Meccania. He has had a remarkable history. At one time, for two or three years, he was the chief political opponent of the great Prince Mechow. He belongs to an older generation altogether, a generation older than his contemporaries, if you understand what I mean. Nearly all his contemporaries are 'Good Meccanians,' but there are still the remnants of the opposition left. When Stillman was a boy there were left alive only a handful of men who had stood up to Prince Bludiron. Most of these former opponents had emigrated, some to Transatlantica, some to Luniland and elsewhere. The rest ultimately died out. Stillman attempted to create a new opposition, but it was a hopeless task. If you want to understand the political history of Meccania you cannot do better than get him to talk to you if he is in the mood."
We approached the asylum, which stood upon a lonely moorland, far away from any village. The gates were guarded by a single sentinel. As we walked along the path, after leaving our car in a yard near the lodge, we passed little groups of men working upon patches of garden. They looked up eagerly as we passed, and then turned back to their tasks. I noticed they were dressed in ordinary black clothes. It struck me at once, because I had become so used to seeing everybody in the familiar colours of one of the classes. On my mentioning this to Kwang, he said, "That is perfectly in accordance with the Meccanian system. These men now belong to no class; they are shut off from the rest of the world, and their only chance of returning to it is for them to renounce, formally and absolutely, all the errors of which they have been guilty."
"And do many of them 'recant'?" I asked.
"Very few. Most of them do not want to return to the ordinary life of Meccania, but occasionally the desire to be with some member of their family proves too strong for them. They are nearly all old people here now. None of the younger generation are attacked by the disease, and the authorities hope "aai he smiled sardonically--"that in a few years the disease will have disappeared entirely."
We first went to call upon Hospital-Governor Canting. He was in his office, which was comfortably furnished in very characteristic Meccanian taste. The chairs were all adjustable, and covered with' Art' tapestry. The large table had huge legs like swollen pillars--they were really made of thin cast-iron. There were the usual large portraits of the Emperor and Empress, and busts of Prince Me chow and Prince Bludiron. There was the usual large bookcase, full of volumes of reports bound in leather-substitute, and stamped with the arms of Meccania. Governor Canting wore the green uniform of the Fourth Class, with various silver facings and buttons, and a collar of the special kind worn by all the clergy of the Meccanian Church. He was writing at his table when we were shown in. He greeted Kwang almost effusively and bowed to me, with the usual Meccanian attitudes, as I was introduced.
"So you have brought your friend to see our system of treatment," he said, smiling. "It is very unusual for us to receive visits at all,"--here he turned to me,aai" but Mr. Kwang is quite a privileged person in Meccania. If only there were more people like Mr. Kwang we should not be so much misunderstood, and the victims of so much envy, malice and uncharitableness. Still, it is a sad experience for you."
"Do many of the patients suffer acutely?" I asked, hardly knowing what was the right cue.
"Oh, I did not mean that. No, no, they don't suffer much. But it is sad to think that men who might have been worthy citizens, some of them as writers, some as teachers, some even as doctors-- men who might have served the State in a hundred ways--are wasting their talents and hindering the spread of our Culture."
"It must be a terrible affliction," I said. "Do they not sometimes feel it themselves in their moments of clearness of mind?"
He looked at me, a little in doubt as to my meaning, but my face must have reassured him. "The strange thing about this disease," he said, "is that the patients suffer no pain directly from it; and you must remember that in practically all cases--just as in alcoholism--it is self-induced. There may be some little hereditary tendency, but the disease itself is certainly not inherited, and can be counteracted in its early stages by prophylactic treatment, as we have now fully demonstrated. As I say, it is self-induced, and it is therefore very difficult, even for a Christian minister who realises his duties to the State as well as to the Church, always to feel charitably towards these patients. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact of moral responsibility, and when I think of the obstinacy of these men I am tempted to lose patience. And their conceit! To presume that they--a few hundreds of them at most--know better than all the wise and loyal statesmen of Meccania, better than all the experts, better than all the millions of loyal citizens. But it is when I see what a poor miserable handful of men they are after all that I can find in my heart to pity them."
"And how is my special case?" asked Kwang, when he could get a word in.
"Just the same," said Canting--"just the same. You will find him perhaps a little weaker. I will not go with you. You seem to succeed best with him by yourself; and no doubt you have instructed your friend as to the peculiar nature of his malady." "Yes," said Kwang; "my friend has read my little monograph, and he thought the case so remarkable that with the consent and approval of Dr. Narrowman I brought him to see Patient Stillman in the flesh. I shall get him to talk a little."
"Good," replied Canting; "but you will never cure him. You were quite right in what you once said--Prevention is the only cure. If we had developed our prophylactic system earlier it might have saved him, but he is too old now."
After some preliminary formalities we were taken by one of the warders, who was evidently acquainted with Kwang through his many previous visits, to a room at the end of a long corridor, where we found Mr. Stillman, who greeted us cordially but with old-fashioned dignity. His manner struck me as being very different from that of the modern Meccanians. Clearly be belonged to another generation. The room, which was about twenty feet by ten, was a bed-sitting-room, furnished with one of those contrivances which becomes a bed by night and a false cupboard by day. There was an easy chair with the usual mechanical adjustments, a table, two bedroom chairs, a small sideboard and cupboard, a few other articles of necessity and a shelf of books. There were no bolts or bars or chains--the room suggested a hospital rather than a prison. Mr. Stillman was a fine old man, and, although growing feeble in body, was still vigorous in mind. When seated he held his head erect, and looked us frankly in the face, but with a wistful expression. He had evidently been a good-looking man, but his face bore traces of long suffering. Except that he did not pace about his cell, he reminded me of a caged Hon. One of the orderlies brought in a tray of tea for the three of us. Mr. Stillman said what a pleasure it was to see a human being now and then, and, turning to me, explained that, except to Mr. Kwang and the officials and the doctors, he had not spoken to anyone for five years. "Until five years ago," he said, "I was able to do a little work in the gardens, and could converse with my fellow-prisoners-- patients, I mean--but only about our work, and in the presence of a warder. Still, that was some relief. Indeed, it was a great relief, for every one of the patients is a kind of brother--otherwise he would not be here. There are only a few hundreds of us left--perhaps a couple of thousands altogether--I don't know. We have about two hundred here, and this is one of the largest hospitals, or prisons, in the country--so at least I was told."
"But why is conversation not permitted?" I said. "To be deprived of conversation must surely aggravate any tendency to mental instability."
"The theory is that communication with our fellow-patients would hinder our recovery," he replied, with a significant smile.
"But what are you supposed to be suffering from?" I said.
"A mental disease known only to the Government of Meccania," he answered. "You must have heard of it. Mr. Kwang knows all about it. The real name for it is' heresy,' but they call it Znednettlapseiwz. I suffer very badly from it and am incurable--at least I hope so," he added bitterly.
At this point Kwang announced that he wished to visit another patient, and that he would leave us together so that I might have a long talk undisturbed. It was evident that he occupied a privileged position, or he would never have been able to have such access to these patients. When he had left the room I did my best to get Mr. Stillman to talk, but I hardly knew how to induce him to tell me his story. I said, "I suppose you are not treated badly, apart from this prohibition about conversing with your fellow-sufferers?"
"We are fed with the exact amount of food we require," he replied; "we are clothed--and thank God we do not wear any of the seven uniforms; and we are decently warm, except sometimes in winter when, I suppose, something goes wrong with the apparatus."
"What?" I said. "Can any apparatus go wrong in Meccania?"
"Well," he said, "perhaps the fact is that I want to be warmer than the experts think is necessary. Yes; that is probably the explanation."
"And for the rest," I said. "Have you no occupation? How do you spend the time?"
"In trying to preserve the last remains of my sanity," he answered.
"And by what means?" I asked gently.
"Chiefly by prayer and meditation," he replied after a short pause.
He used the old-fashioned expressions which I had not heard from the lips of any Meccanian before. "But it is difficult," he went on, "to keep one's faith, cut off from one's fellow-believers."
"But they allow you to attend religious services surely?" I said.
"The Meccanian State Church keeps a chaplain here, and holds a service every day which is attended by all the officials and a few of the patients; but you have heard the maxim Cujus regio ejus religio, have you not?" I nodded. "It has acquired a new significance during the last fifty years. I have not attended any of the services since they ceased to be compulsory about ten years ago."
"That sounds very remarkable," I said.
"It is the first time I have heard of anything ceasing to be compulsory in Meccania," I said.
"The fact was that they discovered it had a very bad effect upon the disease. My chief relief now is reading, which is permitted for three hours a day."
"And you are allowed to choose your own books?"
"As a concession to our mental infirmity," he said, "we have been granted the privilege of reading some of the old authors. It came about in this way. Dr. Weakling, who is in charge of this hospital, is the son of one of my oldest friends--a man who spent several years in this place as a patient. He came in about the same time as I did, but his health gave way and he' recanted,' or, as they say, he' recovered.' But while he was here he begged to have a few of the old books to save him from going mad. The authorities refused to let him have any books except those specially provided, and I believe it was this that made him give way. Anyhow he used his influence with his son afterwards, for his son had become one of the leading medical specialists, to obtain for the older patients at any rate a number of the books of the old literature which nobody else wanted to read. He only got the concession through on the ground that it was a psychological experiment. He has had to write a report on the experiment every year since its introduction. That is our greatest positive privilege, but we have a few negative privileges."
"What do you mean exactly?" I said.
"We have no compulsory attendances; we have no forms to fill up; we are not required to keep a diary; we are not required to read the Monthly Gazette of Instructions, nor play any part in State ceremonies. Indeed, if I could talk to my friends who are here I should have little to complain of on the score of personal comfort."
"Then why do you speak of the difficulty of preserving your sanity?" I said, rather thoughtlessly, I am afraid.
"Why do you think I am here at all?" he replied, for the first time speaking fiercely. "I could have my liberty to-day if I chose, could I not?" Then he went on, not angrily but more bitterly, "Did I say I could have my liberty? No; that is not true. I could go out of here tomorrow, but I should not be at liberty. I stay here, because here I am only a prisoner--outside I should be a slave. How long have you been in Meccania did you say?"
"About five months," I said.
"And you are free to go back to your own country?"
"Certainly," I said--"at least, I hope so."
"Then go as soon as you can. This is no fit place for human beings. It is a community of slaves, who do not even know they are slaves because they have never tasted liberty, ruled over by a caste of super-criminals who have turned crime into a science."
"I have not heard the ruling classes called criminals before," I said. "I am not sure that I understand what you mean."
"Then you must have been woefully taken in by all this hocus-pocus of law and constitution and patriotism. The whole place is one gigantic prison, and either the people themselves are criminals, or those who put them there must be. There is such a thing as legalised crime. Crime is not merely the breaking of a statute. Murder and rape are crimes, statute or no statute."
"But what are the crimes these rulers of Meccania have committed?" I said.
"In all civilised countries," he replied passionately, "if you steal from a man, if you violate his wife or his daughters, if you kidnap his children, you are a criminal and outlawed from all decent society. These rulers of ours have done worse than that. They have robbed us of everything; we have nothing of our own. They feed us, clothe us, house us--oh no, there is no poverty--every beast of burden in the country is provided with stall and fodder--ay, and harness too; they measure us, weigh us, doctor us, instruct us, drill us, breed from us, experiment on us, protect us, pension us and bury us. Nay, that is not the end; they dissect us and analyse us and use our carcasses for the benefit of Science and the Super-State. I called them a nation. They are not a nation; they are an' organism.' You have been here five months, you say. You have seen a lot of spectacles, no doubt. You have seen buildings, institutions, organisations, systems, machinery for this and machinery for that, but you have not seen a single human beingaai unless you have visited our prisons and asylums. You have not been allowed to talk to anybody except' authorised persons.' You have been instructed by officials. You have read books selected by the Super-State, and written by the Super-State. You have seen plays selected by the Super-State, and heard music selected by the Super-State, and seen pictures selected by the Super-State, and no doubt heard sermons preached by the Super-State.
"Your friend tells me other nations are still free. What drives me to the verge of madness is to think that we, who once were free, are enslaved by bonds of our own making. Can you wonder, after what you have seen--a whole nation consenting to be slaves if only they may make other nations slaves tooaai that I ask myself sometimes whether this is a real lunatic asylum; whether I am here because I have these terrible hallucinations; whether all that I think has happened this last fifty years is just a figment of my brain, and that really, if I could only see it, the world is just as it used to be when I was a boy?"
Presently he became calmer and began to tell me something of his life story.
"Until I was about twelve," he said, "I lived with my parents in one of the old-fashioned parts of Meccania. My father was a well-to-do merchant who had travelled a good deal. He was something of a scholar too, and took interest in art and archaeology, and as I, who was his youngest son, gave signs of similar tastes, he took me abroad with him several times. This made a break in my schooling, and although I probably learnt more from these travels, especially as I had the companionship of my father, it was not easy to fit me into the regular system again. So my father decided to send me to some relatives who had settled in Luniland, and a few years after, when I was ready to go to the University of Bridgeford, he and my mother came to live for a few years in Luniland.
"Up to that time I had taken no interest in politics, but I can distinctly recall now how my father used to lament over the way things were tending. He said it was becoming almost impossible to remain a good citizen. He had always thought himself a sane and sober person, not given to quarrelling, but he found it impossible to attach himself to any of the political parties or cliques in Meccania. He was not a follower of Spotts, who, he said, was a kind of inverted Bludiron, but he disliked still more the politicians and so-called statesmen who were preaching the Meccanian spirit as a new gospel. I think it was his growing uneasiness with politics that caused him to drift gradually into the position of a voluntary exile. But we were very happy. Every year or so I used to go over to Meccania, and in spite of my cosmopolitan education I retained a strong affection for the land of my birth. I was full of its old traditions, and not even the peaceful charms of Bridgeford-- an island that seemed like a vision of Utopia-- could stifle my passion for the pine forests of Bergerland, our old home in Meccania. When I had finished my course at Bridgeford I had to decide whether I would return to serve my two years in the army. It was a great worry to my mother that I had not, like my brothers, passed the Meccanian examination which reduced the time of service to one year, but I made light of the matter; and although, after my life in Luniland, it was very distasteful to me, I went through my two years as cheerfully as I could. I learnt a great deal from it. I was nicknamed' the Lunilander,' and was unpopular because I did not share the silly enthusiasm and boasting which at that time was prevalent. I had got out of touch with the youthful life of Meccania, and this two years opened my eyes.
But I will not dwell on that time. At the end of it I joined my father, who had remained in Luniland when he was not travelling. It was time to choose a career. I had little taste for business and I was determined that I would not become an official of any kind, and when I proposed to devote some years to following up the work that my father had planned for himself, but had never been able to carry out, he gave his consent. We had just planned a long archaeological tour in Francaria when the great war broke out.
"I shall never forget the state of agitation into which this catastrophe threw him. I was about to return to Meccania in obedience to the instruction I had received, when he begged me not to go back at any cost. He had spent two sleepless nights, and his agony of mind was terrible. What he had feared for years had come to pass. He had thought it would be somehow avoided. He had been watching events very closely for the few weeks before the crisis. The day that war was declared between Luniland and Meccania, he declared his intention of going back to Meccania; but not to join in the madness of his country. He could not do much; probably he would not be allowed to do anything, but at any rate he would fight for sanity and right. My mother was eager to go back, but for other reasons. She burst out into a frenzy of abuse of Luniland. She repeated all the lies that I had heard in Meccania about the country in which she had been perfectly happy for years. She called me a coward for not being with my brothers. She said she had always been against my having come to Luniland. I knew she was hysterical, but I could hardly believe my ears. My father stood firm. He insisted on my staying. He said he should regard himself as a murderer if he consented to my going to fight for what he knew to be a monstrous crime. What my mother had said, although of course it pained me, did more to convince me that my father was right than anything he could have said. I had seen already the accounts of the Meccanian crowds shouting for war in a frenzy of martial pride. I had seen also the streets of Lunopolis, full of serious faces, awed by the thought of war and yet never wavering a moment. I had heard my own countrymen jeering at the craven spirit of the Lunilanders. It was a cruel position to be in, and in the years that followed I was tempted sometimes to regret that I had not gone back and sought peace of mind in a soldier's grave. But in my heart I was so revolted by the thought that all this horror was the work of my countrymen that I grew ashamed of being a Meccanian. For the first two years my father wrote to me constantly, and if I had had any doubts of the Tightness of my conduct, what he said would have sustained me.
"But that is a long story. All I need say is that it was in those years of suffering and horror that I discovered where my duty lay, and took a vow to follow it. When the war ended I would go back, and if I were the only man left in Meccania I would fight for truth and liberty. It was a quixotic vow, but I was a young man of thirty.
"Well, I came back. I had to wait three years, even after the war was over, until there was an amnesty for such as I. And when I did set foot here again, the cause I had come to fight for was already lost. But I did not know it.
"My father had already spent two years in prison, and was only released in time to die. But through him I knew that there were still some left who felt as we did. The idea of Liberty had been lost. Although the war had been over three years, everybody was still under martial law. The military professed that the country was in danger of a revolution. The newspapers preached the necessity for everybody to be organised to repair the ravages of the war. The socialists said the economic revolution, so long predicted, was accomplishing itself. For a few years we could make no headway. Then things began to settle down a little. The fever seemed to be spending itself. That was the moment when Prince Mechow became Chief Minister of the Interior. Some semblance of constitutional government was restored, and we began to hope for better things. We started a newspaper, and established societies in all the big towns. What we were out for was, first and foremost, political liberty. We had three or four brilliant writers and speakers. But the only papers that would take our articles were a few of the socialist papers which wrote leaders criticising our ideas as' unscientific,' and the only people who came to our meetings were socialists who used them to speechify about the economic revolution. Then Mechow's reforms began. All education was completely controlled. The Press was bought up, and gradually suppressed. The right of public meeting was curtailed, till it disappeared altogether. The censorship of printing was made complete. New regulations accumulated year by year, and month by month. The seven classes were established. And all the time the socialists went on prating about the economic revolution. Prince Mechow was doing their work, they said. All they would have to do would be to step into his place when he had completed it. A few hundreds of us, scattered in various parts of the country, tried to keep up the struggle. We got into prison several times, but nobody cared a straw for our' Luniland' party, as they called it. I fell ill, and then I tried to go abroad for a rest. I was arrested for an alleged plot, and sentenced to a term of imprisonment and degradation to the Fifth Class! After that I was forbidden to communicate with my children, for fear of infecting them. As they grew up in their teens, even they grew to look on me as an eccentric. Need I say more? The time came when I had either to recant from all my convictions, or be treated as a person of unsound mind. I came here determined to hold out to the last. What I fearedaai and I think I feared nothing else--was that some of their diabolical medical experiments would undermine my will. Fortunately I was sent here, where after a time Dr. Weakling--who is at any rate not a scoundrel-- has done his best to protect me. He represents a type we have in Meccania--perhaps the most common type of all--a man who conforms to the system because he finds himself in it and part of it, but who is not actively wicked, and who has some good nature left. He regards me and those like me as simple-minded fanatics who are harmless so long as we are only few in number."
"So you think your cause is lost?" I said.
"No," he said quickly, "our cause is not lost. It is Meccania that is lost."
"But is there no hope even for Meccania?"
"There is no hope from within: hope can only come from without."
"That is a hard saying. How can it come from without?"
"Fifty years ago our neighbours--not our enemies, our neighbours--fought for liberty: they set themselves free, but they did not set us free. They said they would make the world safe for democracy."
"Well, did they not do so?" I asked.
He was quiet for a minute. "I wonder if they did," he said. "I wonder if either Liberty or Democracy can be safe so long as there is a Super-State. If a tragedy like this can happen to one nation it can happen to the whole world. Meccania will never become free whilst the Meccanian Spirit remains alive; and Liberty will never be secure until the whole world is free."
He sank back in his chair looking very tired after the excitement of our interview. At this moment a gong sounded. It was the signal for supper, and he got up mechanically to wash his hands in a bowl by the side of his bed-cupboard. Kwang then knocked at the door and came to bid good-bye. We left our' patient' preparing to cross the quadrangle. It was growing dark, and we could see the lights in the great hall of the hospital. We were just about to walk back to the lodge when Kwang suddenly said, "Come with me." I followed him through a long corridor, and he led the way to a door which opened into the great dining-hall. There we saw, seated at long tables, nearly two hundred old men. They had just begun their evening meal. There was a strange silence, oppressive and almost sinister. There were no servants to wait on them, but some of the more active men handed the dishes, while a couple of warders in green uniforms seemed to be patrolling the room for the purpose of checking all attempts at conversation. But there was not even a whisper. The men did not look sullen or rebellious. Perhaps they had got past that. I could see them interchanging looks of friendly greeting across the room, and no doubt from long practice they had learnt to convey some simple messages by a glance or a smile; but there was an air of quiet courtesy about them, so different from what I had learnt to know as the typical Meccanian manner. I looked at the faces of those nearest me. Many of them might have sat for the portraits of senators, or have served as models for some of those old-fashioned paintings of assemblies of statesmen and ambassadors of bygone centuries. The surroundings were not altogether wanting in dignity. The hall was large and lofty, and although bare-- save for the inevitable Imperial portraits which greet one everywhere--was not unsightly. Indeed, the absence of ornament was a relief from the perpetual reminders of the latest phases of Meccanian Art. Governor Canting aa had apparently been present at the beginning of the meal and was going off to his own dinner. He joined us for a moment. "Do you notice," he said, "how ungracious their expression is? One would think they had never come under the influence of the Meccanian spirit. Their whole bearing is characteristic of their attitude of studied disloyalty. They never even give the salute. It has not been insisted upon because--you know..." and he tapped his forehead. "They would not meet with such consideration in many countries, but we have respect for age and infirmity, no matter what provocation we receive."
We left the hall and took our leave of Hospital Governor Canting. As we started on our journey it was dark, and a cool wind was blowing. We could see before us the dull glow of light from the great city in the distance. The road was perfect, and we passed fe'w vehicles of any kind; but we were stopped three times by the police, to whom Kwang showed his pass. As we entered the outer ring we slowed down. Although we were passing along the main roadway only a few persons were to be seen. Here and there near the outer ring in the Business Quarter we passed a few groups of workmen marching in step on their way home. The trams were running, but there was no bustle and no excitement. No boisterous groups of young people filled the streets. No sound of laughter or merry-making fell on our ears. Where were the people? Where were those crowds that make the streets of all cities in the world a spectacle to move the heart of man? This might have been a plaguestricken town, a city of the dead. We passed the great station with its lofty dome, and the towering pile of the Time Department with the great clock above it. As we slowly swung through the great square, the colossal statue of Prince Mechow looked down on us like the grim and menacing image of this city of Power. Was he some evil Genius that had slain the souls of men, leaving their bodies only to inhabit the vast prison-house he had built for them with their own labour?
Kwang put me down at the hotel and drove on to his rooms. I found a letter awaiting me. It was from my father, and contained painful news. My mother was seriously ill and he urged me to return at once. Early next morning I hastened to visit Kwang--first obtaining permission from the manager of the hotel--and found him busy with his preparations also. "Don't be alarmed," he said, when I told him my news. "Your mother is not ill. At any rate we do not know that she is. I thought it was time for you to be getting ready to leave this country and I had that letter sent. It will be a good reason in the eyes of the 'Authorities.' I go the day after to-morrow. I have a secret mission for the Government to the Chinese Embassy at Prisa' (the capital of Francana). "I may not return. I may fall suddenly ill."
I expressed some surprise that Kwang, the most privileged stranger in Meccania, the persona grata with all the official world, should think it necessary to slip out of the country by a back door, and provide for my sudden departure as well.
"You have been here five months," he said. "I have been here fifteen years. It is always best in this country to take as little risk as possible-- consistent with your objectives. A word to the wise.... If you have anything that you wish to take out with you, you had better let me have it. You will be examined when you go out as you were when you came in. I do not propose to be examined when I leave. That is why I am going via Prisa on a special mission."
I DID not see Kwang again until we met some weeks after, in Prisa. He had begun to suspect that one or two persons in the Foreign Department had guessed the nature of the role he had been playing. There was practically no evidence against him, because all the information he had obtained, and it was a great deal, had been furnished to him willingly by the Meccanian Government under the impression that he had become a sort of missionary of Meccanian Culture. All the same, as he observed to me, without arresting him as a spy (a course of procedure which for many reasons would have been inconvenient to the Government) he might have been made the victim of an 'accident.' He could no longer play his part in safety. Anyhow, he succeeded in making his exit in a manner that aroused no suspicion, and he managed to return to his own country a short time afterwards. Consequently I need say no more about Kwang.
My own departure was also rather a tame affair. I had an interview, on the day I received my letter, with Inspector of Foreigners Bulley. Although I knew that the letter had been censored, and I was morally certain its contents had been made known to him, he betrayed no knowledge of the facts. I explained the circumstances and showed him the letter. I asked if the three days' notice could be dispensed with, as I wished to leave at the earliest moment. He said I might possibly leave the day after to-morrow, but not before, as it would be necessary to see that all my affairs were in order before issuing the certificate of absolution as it was called--a certificate which all foreigners must obtain before the issue of the ticket authorising them to be conveyed across the frontier. There would be a charge of ai for the extra trouble involved. One little difficulty had not occurred to me: there might not be a conveyance to Graves, via Bridgetown, for several days--perhaps not for a week. Inspector Bulley, who had all such matters at his finger-ends, told me there was no conveyance for five days by that route, but that he would arrange for me to travel by another route, via Primburg and Durven, which lay convenient for a journey to Prisa. After that I could either return home direct or go first to Lunopolis.
He was sorry my visit had been cut short almost before my serious study had begun, and hoped I should find it possible to return. He arranged for me to undergo my necessary medical examination on the afternoon of the same day, and this turned out to be almost a formality. Dr. Pincher was much more polite, and much less exacting, than on a former occasion. Clearly the influence of Kwang--for I was now regarded as a sort of protege of his--was evident in all this. Altogether my exit was made quite pleasant, and I almost began to regret my precipitancy, but when I reflected on what I had to gain by staying longer I saw that Kwang was right. I turned over in my mind what I had seen and learnt during five months. I had seen a provincial town (or some aspects of it), and the capital, under the close supervision of well-informed warders. I had talked to a score of officials and a few professors, and received a vast amount of instruction from them. I had seen a great public ceremony. I had visited a large number of institutions. But I had only got into contact with a single native Meccanian who was free from the influence of the all-pervading Super-State, and this person was in an asylum only accessible by a dangerous ruse. I knew little more of the people, perhaps less, than I could have got from reading a few books; but I had at any rate got an impression of the Meccanian' System' which no book could have given me. That impression was the most valuable result of my tour, but it seemed unlikely that a further stay would do anything more than deepen it. For unless I were prepared to play the role that Kwang had played I was not likely to learn anything the Meccanian Government did not wish me to learn, and, however much I might be sustained by my curiosity, the actual experience of living in the atmosphere of the Meccanian Super-State was not pleasant.
I said good-bye to my friends at the hotel, and, after an uneventful journey by express train, reached Primburg. Except that it bore a general resemblance to Bridgetown, I can say nothing of it, for we were not permitted to go out of the station whilst waiting for the motor-van to take us across the frontier. I say' us,' because there were about half a dozen other travellers. The fact that not more than half a dozen persons a week travelled from Mecco to Prisa--for this was the main route to the capital of Francaria--was in itself astounding. Even of these, three looked like persons on official business. At Primburg I was spared the indignity of a further medical examination, as I had already obtained the necessary certificate from Dr. Pincher, but nothing could exempt me from the examination which all foreigners had to submit to in order to ensure that they carried nothing out of the country except by leave of the chief inspector of Foreign Observers. My journal had been entrusted to Kwang, and I had nothing else of any importance. I was thoroughly searched, and my clothes and my baggage were closely examined by an official called the Registrar of Travellers.
Although I had spent a considerable time in Francaria I had never before seen Durven. There was now no reason for hurrying on to Prisa, so I decided to spend a day there to look round. I had to report myself to the police, owing to the fact that I had arrived from Meccania, but my credentials proving perfectly satisfactory I was at liberty to go where I liked. It was about four o'clock when I stepped out of the police station, and as it was a bright September afternoon there was still time to walk about for some hours before dark. At first, for about an hour, I could hardly help feeling that I was dreaming. Here I was in the old familiar life of Europe again. The streets of the town seemed full of people, some sauntering about and gossiping with their friends, others shop-gazing, others carrying parcels containing their purchases, some making their way home from business, others standing in groups near the theatres. There were tram-cars and omnibuses and all sorts of vehicles jostling in the central part of the town. A little later I saw people streaming out from a popular matinee. There were old men selling the first issues of the evening papers, and crying some sensational news which was not of the slightest importance but which somehow seemed good fun. I was delighted with everything I saw. It was a positive joy not to see any green uniforms, nor any grey uniforms, nor any yellow uniforms. Green and grey and yellow are beautiful colours, but the plain black of the civilian dress of the men in the streets of Durven seemed pleasanter, and the costumes of the women seemed positively beautiful. There were children walking with their mothers, and little urchins racing about in the side streets. I could have laughed with joy at the sight of them: I had seen no children for five months, only little future-Meccanians. There were old women selling flowers. I wondered if they were poor; they looked fat and happy at any rate, and they were free to sell flowers or do anything else they liked. I turned into a cafe. A little band was playing some rollicking frivolous music that I recognised. I remembered some of my former friends making sarcastic remarks about this kind of music. It was not good music, yet it made me feel like laughing or dancing. There was such a babel of talk I could hardly hear the band. Not that I wanted to! I was quite content to hear the happy voices round me, to watch the simple comedies of human intercourse, and to feel that I was out of prison. I strolled out again. This time I looked at the streets themselves, at the buildings and houses and shops. I dived down a side street or two and found myself by the river among little wharves and docks, all on the tiniest scale. The streets were rather untidy and not too clean; the houses were irregularly built. I was in the old town apparently. As I walked farther I noticed that by far the greater part of the town had been built during the last fifty years or so, yet the place looked as if it were trying to preserve the appearance of age. At another time I should probably have thought the town rather dull and uninteresting, for there was nothing noteworthy about it. If there had once been any genuine mediaeval churches or guild halls or places of architectural interest they must have been destroyed, yet I discovered a strange joy and delight in everything I saw.
After dark, when I had dined at the little hotel where I was to sleep that night, I went off at once to the nearest theatre, which happened to be a music hall. I laughed at the turns until people looked at me to see if I were drunk or demented. When they saw I was only a little excited they made good-humoured remarks. They were rather pleased that I should be so easily amused. "Perhaps he has just come out of prison," said one; "no doubt it is rather dull there." "Perhaps he is a friend of one of the actors," said another, "and wants to encourage him." "Perhaps he has come from the land where jokes are prohibited," said a third. "Perhaps he is a deaf man who has recovered his hearing," said another. "Or a blind man who has recovered his sight." "Anyhow, he knows how to enjoy himself." Such were the remarks they made.
When I came out I strolled about the streets until after midnight. It seemed so jolly to be able to go just where one pleased.
In the morning I looked up the trains to Prisa and found that I could reach it in a few hours. So I decided to spend the morning in Durven and go on to Prisa in the afternoon. I strolled into the open market-place. How strange it seemed! People in all sorts of simple costumes were going round to the various stalls picking up one thing here and another there. The usual little comedies of bargaining were going on. There were all sorts of trifles for sale, including toys for children--real toys, not disguised mathematical problems, or exercises in mechanical ingenuity. There were dolls and rattles and hoops and balls and whistles and fishing-rods and marbles and pegtops and dolls' houses and furniture and bricks and a hundred things besides. Then there were gingerbread stalls, ice-cream stalls, cocoa-nut shies, swings and even a little merry-go-round. I felt I should like to ride on that merry-go-round, but as it was early in the forenoon there were only a few children--good heavens! what were children doing here? They ought to have been at school, or at any rate being instructed in the use of Stage II. B toys. I turned into the street where the best shops were. Even the grocers' shops looked interesting. There were goods from all over the world. There were cheeses packed in dainty little cases, and dates in little boxes covered with pictures; tea in packets and canisters representing absurd Chinamen and Hindoo coolies. The clothing shops were full of the latest fashions, although this was a small provincial town; and very dainty and charming they looked. Then there were antique shops and bric-a-brac shops, print shops and jewellers' shops. I could have spent days wandering about like a child at a fair. I had never realised before that the meanest European town--outside Meccania--is a sort of perennial bazaar.
I tore myself away, and after luncheon took train to Prisa. The confusion and bustle at the stations was delightful; the chatter of the passengers was most entertaining. There were people in shabby clothes and people in smart costumes. There were ticketcollectors and guards in rather dirty-looking uniforms, and an occasional gendarme who looked as if he had come off the comic-opera stage. The villages on the route were like the villages I had seen before in Europe--fragments of bygone ages mixed up with the latest devices in farm buildings and model cottages; churches built in the twelfth century and post offices built in the twentieth; mediaeval barns and modern factories. At length we reached Prisa, which needs no description from me.
It looked like an old friend, and I lost no time in resuming the habits I had adopted during my previous stay. I looked up some of my old acquaintances, and we spent days in endless talk about everything under the sun. What a delight it was to read the newspapers, no matter how silly they were! How delightful to hear the latest gossip about the latest political crisis, the latest dramatic success, the latest social scandal, the latest literary quarrel! In a week or two I had almost forgotten the existence of Meccania. I had seen nothing to remind me of it. I began to understand why the people in Francaria and Luniland were so ignorant of that country. Why should they bother their heads about it? It seemed to me now like a bad dream, a nightmare. They were quite right to ignore it, to forget it. And yet, suppose Meccania should startle Europe again? And with a chemical war this time! Would they be able to escape? Or would the Super-Insects finally conquer the human race? I confess I felt some doubt. It seemed not impossible that the nightmare I had escaped from was a doom impending over the whole world. And it is because I could not dismiss this doubt that I have written a faithful account of what I saw and heard in Meccania, the Super-State.
by James E. Gunn
The ship was proof against any test, but the men inside her could be strained and warped, individually and horribly. Unfortunately, while the men knew that, they couldn't really believe it. The Aliens could--and did.
They sent the advance unit out to scout the new planet in the Ambassador, homing down on the secret beeping of a featureless box dropped by an earlier survey party. Then they sat back at GHQ and began the same old pattern of worry that followed every advance unit.
Not about the ship. The Ambassador was a perfect machine, automatic, self-adjusting, self-regulating. It was built to last and do its job without failure under any and all conditions, as long as there was a universe around it. And it could not fail. There was no question about that.
But an advance unit is composed of men. The factors of safety are indeterminable; the duplications of their internal mechanisms are conjectural, variable. The strength of the unit is the sum of the strengths of its members. The weakness of the unit can be a single small failing in a single man.
Beep ... boop ...