Theodore Savage (3)
March 25, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the third installment of our serialization of Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage (also known as Lest Ye Die). New installments will appear each Monday for 25 weeks.
When war breaks out in Europe — war which aims successfully to displace entire populations — British civilization collapses utterly and overnight. The ironically named Theodore Savage, an educated and dissatisfied idler, must learn to survive by his wits in the new England, where 20th-century science, technology, and culture are regarded with superstitious awe and terror.
The book — by a writer best known today for her suffragist plays, treatises, and activism — was published in 1922. In September 2013, HiLoBooks will publish it in a gorgeous paperback edition, with an Introduction by Gary Panter.
“We had exactly the same scare three — or was it four?— years ago. This is the trouble about Transylvania all over again — just the same alarums and excursions. That fizzled out quietly in a month or six weeks and the chances are that Karthania will fizzle out, too.”
“Of course it will,” Holt declared with emphasis — and proceeded to demolish Markham’s theories. Theodore left before he had finished his argument; as explained dogmatically in Holt’s penetrating voice, the intrigues and dissensions of the Federal Council were once more unreal and frankly boring. The argument satisfied, but no longer interested — and ten minutes after Markham’s departure his thoughts had drifted away from politics to the private world he shared with Phillida Rathbone.
For very delight of it he lingered over his courtship, finding charm in the pretence of uncertainty long after it had ceased to exist. To Phillida also there was pleasure not only in the winning, but in the exquisite game itself; once or twice when Theodore was hovering near avowal, she deferred the inevitable, eluded him with laughter, asked tacitly to play a little longer…. In the end the avowal came suddenly, on the flash and impulse of a moment — when Phillida hesitated over one of his gifts, a print she had admired on the wall of his sitting-room, duly brought the next day for her acceptance.
“No, I oughtn’t to take it — it’s one of your treasures,” she remonstrated.
“If you’d take all I have — and me with it,” he stammered…. That was the crisis of the exquisite game — and pretence of uncertainty was over.
One impression of those first golden hours that stayed with him always was the certainty with which they had dwelt on the details of their common future; he could see Phillida with her hands on his shoulders explaining earnestly that they must live very near to the Dad — the dear old boy had no one but herself and they mustn’t let him miss her too much. And when Theodore asked, “You don’t think he’ll object to me?” Rathbone’s disapproval was the only possible cloud — which lifted at Phillida’s amused assurance that the old dear wasn’t as blind as all that and, having objections, would have voiced them before it was too late.
“You don’t suppose he hasn’t noticed — just because he hasn’t said anything!” … Whereupon Theodore caught at her hands and demanded how long she had noticed?— and they fell to a happy retracing of this step and that in their courtship.
When they heard Rathbone enter she ran down alone, telling Theodore to stay where he was till she called him; returning in five minutes or so, half-tearful and half-smiling, to say the dear old thing was waiting in the library. Then Theodore, in his turn, went down to the library where, red to the ears and stammering platitudes, he shook hands with his future father-in-law — proceeding eventually to details of his financial position and the hope that Rathbone would not insist upon too lengthy an engagement? … The answer was so slow in coming that he repeated his question nervously.
“No,” said Rathbone at last, “I don’t know that I”—(he laid stress on the pronoun)—“I don’t know that I should insist upon a very lengthy engagement. Only…”
Again he paused so long that Theodore repeated “Only?”
“Only — there may be obstacles — not of my making or Phillida’s. Connected with the office — your work… I dare say you’ve been too busy with your own affairs to give very much attention to the affairs of the world in general; still I conclude the papers haven’t allowed you to forget that the Federal Council was to vote to-day on the resolution to take punitive action? Result is just through — half-an-hour ago. Resolution carried, by a majority of one only.”
“Was it?” said Theodore — and remembered a vague impulse of resentment, a difficulty in bringing down his thoughts from Phillida to the earthiness of politics. It took him an effort and a moment to add: “Close thing — but they’ve pulled it off.”
“They have,” said Rathbone. “Just pulled it off — but it remains to be seen if that’s matter for congratulation…. The vote commits us to action — definitely — and the minority have entered a protest against punitive action…. It seems unlikely that the protest is only formal.”
He was dry and curiously deliberate — leaning back in his chair, speaking quietly, with fingers pressed together…. To the end Theodore remembered him like that; a square-jawed man, leaning back in his chair, speaking slowly, unemotionally — the harbinger of infinite misfortune…. And himself, the listener, a young man engrossed by his own new happiness; irritated, at first, by the intrusion of that which did not concern it; then (as once before in Vallance’s rooms) uneasy and conscious of a threat.
He heard himself asking, “You think it’s — serious?” and saw Rathbone’s mouth twist into the odd semblance of a smile.
“I think so. One way or other we shall know within a week.”
“You can’t mean — war?” Theodore asked again — remembering Holt and his “Impossible!”
“It doesn’t seem unlikely,” said Rathbone.
He had risen, with his hands thrust deep into his pockets, and begun to pace backwards and forwards. “Something may happen at the last minute — but it’s difficult to see how they can draw back. They have gone too far. They’re committed, just as we are — committed to a principle…. If we yield the Council abdicates its authority once for all; it’s an end of the League — a plain break, and the Lord knows what next. And the other side daren’t stop at verbal protest. They will have to push their challenge; there’s too much clamour behind them….”
“There was Transylvania,” Theodore reminded him.
“I know — and nothing came of it. But that wasn’t pushed quite so far…. They threatened, but never definitely — they left themselves a possibility of retreat. Now… as I said, something may happen… and, meanwhile, to go back to what I meant about you, personally, how this might affect you…”
He dropped into swift explanation. “Considerable rearrangement in the work of the Department — if it should be necessary to place it on a war-footing.” Theodore’s duties — if the worst should happen — would certainly take him out of London and therefore part him from Phillida. “I can tell you that definitely — now.”
Perhaps he realized that the announcement, on a day of betrothal, was brutal; for he checked himself suddenly in his walk to and fro, clapped the young man good-naturedly on the shoulder, repeated that “Something might happen” and supposed he would not be sorry to hear that a member of the Government required his presence —“So you and Phillida can dine without superfluous parents.” … And he said no word of war or parting to Phillida — who came down with Theodore to watch her father off, standing arm-in-arm upon the doorstep in the pride of her new relationship.
The threat lightened as they dined alone deliciously, as a foretaste of housekeeping in common; Phillida left him no thoughts to stray and only once, while the evening lasted, did they look from their private Paradise upon the world of common humanity. Phillida, as the clock neared ten, wondered vaguely what Henderson had wanted with her father? Was there anything particular, did Theodore know, any news about the Federal Council? … He hesitated for a moment, then told her the bare facts only — the vote and the minority protest.
“A protest,” she repeated. “That’s what they’ve all been afraid of…. It looks bad, doesn’t it?”
He agreed it looked bad; thinking less, it may be, of the threat of red ruin and disaster than of Rathbone’s warning that his duties would part him from Phillida.
“I hope it doesn’t mean war,” she said.
At the time her voice struck him as serious, even anxious; later it amazed him that she had spoken so quietly, that there was no trembling of the slim white fingers that played with her chain of heavy beads.
“Do you think it does?” she asked him.
Because he remembered the threat of parting and had need of her daily presence, he was stubborn in declaring that it did not, and could not, mean war; quoting Holt that modern war was impossible, that statesmen and soldiers knew it, and insisting that this was the Transylvanian business over again and would be settled as that was settled. She shook her head thoughtfully, having heard other views from her father; but her voice (he knew later) was thoughtful only — not a quiver, not a hint of real fear in it.
“It’ll have to come sometime — now or in a year or two. At least, that’s what everybody says. I wonder if it’s time.”
“No,” he said, “it isn’t — unless we make it true. This sort of thing — it’s a kind of common nightmare we have now and then. Every few years — and when it’s over we turn round and wake up and wonder what the devil we were frightened about.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “when you come to think of it, it is rather like that. I don’t remember in the least what the fuss was all about last time — but I know the papers were full of Transylvania and the poor old Dad was worked off his head for a week or two…. And then it was over and we forgot all about it.”
And at that they turned and went back to their golden solitude, shutting out, for the rest of the evening, a world that made protests and sent ominous telegrams. Before Theodore left her, to walk home restless with delight, they had decided on the fashion of Phillida’s ring and planned the acquisition of a Georgian house — with powder-closet.
It was his restless delight that made sleep impossible — and he sat at his window and smoked till the east was red…. While Henderson and Rathbone, a mile or two away, planned Distribution on a war-footing.
Events in the next few days moved rapidly in an atmosphere of tense and rising life; races and peoples were suddenly and acutely conscious of their life collective, and the neighbourly quarrel and bitterness of yesterday was forgotten in the new comradeship born of common hatred and common passion for self-sacrifice. There was talk at first, with diplomatists and leader-writers, of a possibility of localizing the conflict; but within forty-eight hours of the issue of the minority protest it was clear that the League would be rent. On one side, as on the other, statesmen were popular only when known to be unyielding in the face of impossible demands; crowds gathered when ministers met to take counsel and greeted them with cries to stand fast. Behind vulgar effervescence and music-hall thunder was faith in a righteous cause; and, as ever, man believed in himself and his cause with a hand on the hilt of his sword. Freedom and justice were suddenly real and attainable swiftly — through violence wrought on their enemies…. Humanity, once more, was inspired by ideals that justified the shedding of blood and looked death in the face without fear.
As always, there were currents and crosscurrents, and those who were not seized by the common, splendid passion denounced it. Some meanly, by distortion of motive — crying down faith as cupidity and the impulse to self-sacrifice as arrogance; and others, more worthy of hearing, who realized that the impulse to self-sacrifice is passing and the idealism of to-day the bestial cunning of tomorrow…. On one side and the other there was an attempt on the part of those who foresaw something, at least, of the inevitable, to pit fear against the impulse to self-sacrifice and make clear to a people to whom war was a legend only the extent of disaster ahead. The attempt was defeated, almost as begun, by the sudden launching of an ultimatum with twenty-four hours for reply.
At the news young men surged to the recruiting-stations, awaiting their turn for admission in long shouting, jesting lines; the best blood and honour of a generation that had not yet sated its inborn lust of combat. Women stood to watch them as their ranks moved slowly to the goal — some proud to tears, others giggling a foolish approval. Great shifting crowds — men and women who could not rest — gathered in public places and awaited the inevitable news. In the last few hours — all protest being useless — even the loudest of the voices that clamoured against war had died down; and in the life collective was the strange, sudden peace which comes with the cessation of internal feud and the focusing of hatred on those who dwell beyond a nation’s borders.
Theodore Savage, in the days that followed his betrothal, was kept with his nose to the Distributive grindstone, working long hours of overtime in an atmosphere transformed out of knowledge. The languid and formal routine of departments was succeeded by a fever of hurried innovation; gone were the lazy, semi-occupied hours when he had been wont to play with his thoughts of Phillida and the long free evenings that were hers as a matter of course. In the beginning he felt himself curiously removed from the strong, heady atmosphere that affected others like wine. Absorption in Phillida counted for something in his aloofness, but even without it his temperament was essentially averse from the crowd-life; he was stirred by the common desire to be of service, but was conscious of no mounting of energy restless and unsatisfied…. Having little conviction or bias in politics, he accepted without question the general version of the origins of conflict and resented, in orthodox fashion, the gross breach of faith and agreement which betrayed long established design. “It had got to be” and “They’ve been getting ready for years” were phrases on the general lip which he saw no reason to discredit; and, with acceptance of the inevitability of conflict, he ceased to find conflict “unthinkable.” In daily intercourse with those to whom it was thinkable, practical, a certainty — to some, in the end, a desirable certainty —Holt’s phrase lost its meaning and became a symbolic extravagance…. So far he was caught in the swirl of the crowd-life; but he was never one with it and remained conscious of it always as something that flowed by him, something apart from himself.
RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HILOBROW’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.
HILOBOOKS: The mission of HiLoBooks is to serialize novels on HiLobrow; and also, as of 2012, operating as an imprint of Richard Nash’s Cursor, to reissue Radium Age science fiction in beautiful new print editions. So far, we have published Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, Edward Shanks’s The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, and J.D. Beresford’s Goslings. Forthcoming: E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.
SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | serialized between March and August 2012; Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, serialized between May and September 2012; William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, serialized between June and December 2012; J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, serialized between September 2012 and May 2013; and Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, serialized between March and August 2013.