Theodore Savage (4)
April 1, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the fourth 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.
Above all he knew it as something apart when he saw how it had seized and mastered Phillida. She was curiously alive to its sweep and emotion, and beneath her outward daintiness lay the power of fervid partisanship. “If it weren’t for you,” she told him once, “I should break my heart because I’m only a woman”; and he saw that she pitied him, that she was even resentful for his sake, when she learned from her father that there was no question of allowing the clerks of the Distribution Office to volunteer for military service.
“He says the Department will need all its trained men and that modern war is won by organization even more than by fighting. I’m glad you won’t have to go, my dear —I’m glad —” and, saying it, she clung to him as to one who stood in need of consolation.
He felt the implied consolation and sympathy — with a twinge of conscience, not entirely sure of deserving it. But for the rigid departmental order, he knew he should have thought it his duty to volunteer and take his share of the danger that others were clamouring to face; but he had not cursed vehemently, like his junior, Cassidy, when Holies, equally blasphemous, burst into the room with the news that enlistment was barred. He thought of Cassidy’s angry blue eyes as he swore that, by hook or by crook, he would find his way into the air-service…. Phillida would have sympathized with Cassidy and the flash of her eyes answered his; she too, for the moment, was one with the crowd-life, and there were moments when he felt it was sweeping her away from his hold.
He felt it most on their last evening, on the night the ultimatum expired ; when he came from the office, after hours of overtime, uncertain whether he should find her, wondering whether her excited restlessness had driven her out into the crowds that surged round Whitehall. As he ran up the stairs the sound of a piano drifted from the room above; no definite melody but a vague, irregular striking of chords that came to an end as he entered the room and Phillida looked up, expectant.
“At last,” she said as she ran to him. “You don’t know how I have wanted you. I can’t be alone — if you hadn’t turned up I should have had to find someone to talk to.”
“Anyone — didn’t matter who?” he suggested.
She laughed, caught his hand and rubbed her cheek against it. “Yes, anyone — you know what I mean. It’s just — when you think of what’s happening, how can you keep still? … As for father, I never see him nowadays. I suppose there isn’t any news?”
“There can’t be,” he answered. “Not till twelve.”
“No — and even at twelve it won’t really be news. Just no answer — and the time will be up … We’re at peace now — till midnight … What’s the time?”
He longed to be alone with her — alone with her in thought as well as in outward seeming — but her talk slipped restlessly away from his leading and she moved uncertainly about the room, returning at last to her vague striking of the piano — sharp, isolated notes, and then suddenly a masterful chord.
“Play to me,” he asked, “play properly.”
She shook her head and declared it was impossible.
“Anything connected is beyond me; I can only strum and make noises.” She crashed in the bass, rushed a swift arpeggio to the treble, then turned to him, her eyes wide and glowing. “If you hold your breath, can’t you feel them all waiting?— thousands on thousands — all through the world? … Waiting till midnight … can’t you feel it?”
“You make me feel it,” he answered. “Tell me — you want war?”
The last words came out involuntarily, and it was only the startled, sudden change in her face that brought home to him what he had said.
“I want war,” she echoed…. “I want men to be killed … Theodore, what makes you say that?”
He fumbled for words, not sure of his own meaning — sure only that her eyes would change and lose their fervour if, at the last moment and by God-sent miracle, the sword were returned to its sheath.
“Not that, of course — not the actual fighting. I didn’t mean that … But isn’t there something in you — in you and in everyone — that’s too strong to be arrested? Too swift? … If nothing happened — if we drew back — you couldn’t be still now; you couldn’t endure it…”
She looked at him thoughtfully, puzzled, half-assenting; then protested again: “I don’t want it — but we can’t be still and endure evil.”
“No,” he said, “we can’t — but isn’t there a gladness in the thought that we can’t?”
“Because we’re right,” she flashed. “It’s not selfish — you know it isn’t selfish. We see what is right and, whatever it costs us, we stand for it. The greatest gladness of all is the gladness of giving — everything, even life…. That’s what makes me wish I were a man!”
“The passion for self-sacrifice,” he said, quoting Markham. “I was told the other day it was one of the causes of war…. Don’t look at me so reproachfully —I’m not a pacifist. Give me a kiss and believe me.”
She laughed and gave him the kiss he asked for, and for a minute or two he drew her out of the crowd-life and they were alone together as they had been on the night of their betrothal. Then the spirit of restlessness took hold of her again and she rose suddenly, declaring they must find out what was happening — they must go out and see for themselves.
“It’s only just past ten,” he argued. “What can be happening for another two hours? There’ll only be a crowd — walking up and down and waiting.”
It was just the crowd and its going to and fro that she needed, and she set to work to coax him out of his reluctance. There would never be another night like this one — they must see it together and remember it as long as they lived…. Perhaps, her point gained, she was remorseful, for she rewarded his assent with a caress and a coaxing apology.
“We shall have so many evenings to ourselves,” she told him —” and tonight — tonight we don’t only belong to ourselves.”
He could feel her arm tremble and thrill on his own as they came in sight of the Clock Tower and the swarm of expectant humanity that moved and murmured round Westminster. On him the first impression was of seething insignificance that the Clock Tower dwarfed and the dignity of night reproved; on her, as he knew by the trembling of her fingers, a quickening of life and sensation….
They were still at the shifting edges of the crowd when a man’s voice called “Phillida!” and one of her undergraduate cousins linked himself on to their company. For nearly an hour the three moved backwards and forwards — through the hum and mutter of voices, the ceaseless turning of eyes to Big Ben and the shuffling of innumerable feet…. When the quarters chimed, there was always a hush ; when eleven throbbed solemnly, no man stirred till the last beat died…. With silence and arrested movement the massed humanity at the base of the Clock Tower was no longer a seething insignificance; without speech, without motion, it was suddenly dignified — life faced with its destiny and intent upon a Moving Finger….
“Only one more hour,” whispered Phillida as the silence broke; and the Rathbone boy, to show he was not moved, wondered if it was worth their while to stay pottering about for an hour? … No one answered his question, since it needed no answer; and, the dignity of silence over, they drifted again with the crowd.
The Moving Finger had written off another five minutes or so when police were suddenly active and sections of the crowd lunged uncomfortably; way was being made for the passing of an official car — and in the backward swirl of packed humanity Theodore was thrust one way, Phillida and the Rathbone boy another. For a moment he saw them as they looked round and beckoned him; the next, the swirl had carried him yet further — and when it receded they were lost amongst the drifting, shifting thousands. After ten minutes more of pushing to and fro in search of them, Theodore gave up the chase as fruitless and made his way disconsolately to the Westminster edge of the crowd…. Phillida, if he knew her, would stay till the stroke of midnight, later if the spirit moved her; and he had an escort in the Rathbone boy, who, in due time, would see her home…. There was no need to worry — but he cursed the luck of what might be their last evening.
For a time he lingered uncertainly on the edge of the pushing, shuffling mass; perhaps would have lingered till the hour struck, if there had not drifted to his memory the evening at Vallance’s when Holt had declared this night to be impossible — and when Markham had “made it war.” And, with that, he remembered also that Markham had rooms near by — in one of the turnings off Great Smith Street.
There was a light in the room that he knew for Markham’s and it was only after, he had rung that he wondered what had urged him to come. He was still wondering when the door opened and could think of no better explanation than “I saw you were up — by your light.”
“If you’d passed five minutes ago,” said Markham, as he led the way upstairs, “you wouldn’t have seen any light. I’m only just back from the lab — and dining off biscuits and whisky.”
“Is this making any difference to you, then?” Theodore asked. “I mean, in the way of work?”
Markham nodded as he poured out his visitor’s whisky. “Yes, I’m serving the country — the military people have taken me over, lock and stock: with everyone else, apparently, who has ever done chemical research. I’ve been pretty hard at it the last few days, ever since the scare was serious…. And you — are you soldiering?”
“No,” said Theodore and told him of the departmental prohibition.
“It mayn’t make much difference in the end,” said Markham. … “You see, I was right — the other evening.”
“Yes,” Theodore answered, “I believe that was why I came in. The crowd to-night reminded me of what you said at Vallance’s — though I don’t think I believed you then…. How long is it going to last?”
“God knows,” said Markham, with his mouth full of biscuit. “We shall have had enough of it — both sides — before very long; but it’s one thing to march into hell with your head up and another to find a way out…. There’s only one thing I’m fairly certain about —I ought to have been strangled at birth.”
Theodore stared at him, not sure he had caught the last words.
“You ought to?”
“Yes — you heard me right. If the human animal must fight — and nothing seems to stop it — it should kill off its scientific men. Stamp out the race of ’em, forbid it to exist…. Holt was also right that evening, fundamentally. You can’t combine the practice of science and the art of war; in the end, it’s one or the other. We, I think, are going to prove that — very definitely.”
“And when you’ve proved it — we stop fighting?”
Markham shrugged his shoulders, thrust aside his plate and filled his pipe.
“Curious, the failure to understand the influence on ourselves of what we make and use. We just make and use and damn the consequence…. When Lavoisier invented the chemical balance, did he stop to consider the possibilities of chemical action in combination with outbursts of human emotion? If he had…!”
In the silence that followed they heard the chiming of three-quarters — and there flashed inconsequently into Theodore’s memory, a vision of himself, a small boy with his hand in his mother’s, staring up, round-eyed, at Big Ben of London — while his mother taught him the words that were fitted to the chime.
Lord — through — this — hour
Be —Thou — our — guide,
So — by —Thy — power
No — foot — shall — slide.
…That, or something like that…. Odd, that he should remember them now — when for years he had not remembered…. “Lord — through — this — hour —”
He realized suddenly that Markham was speaking — in jerks, between pulls at his pipe. “… And the same with mechanics — not the engine but the engine plus humanity. Take young James Watt and his interest in the lid of a tea-kettle! In France, by the way, they tell the same story of Papin; but, so far as the rest of us are concerned it doesn’t much matter who first watched the lid of a kettle with intelligence — the point is that somebody watched it and saw certain of its latent possibilities. Only its more immediate possibilities — and we may take it for granted that amongst those which he did not foresee were the most important. The industrial system — the drawing of men into crowds where they might feed the machine and be fed by it — the shrinkage of the world through the use of mechanical transport. That — the shrinkage — when we first saw it coming, we took to mean union of peoples and the clasping of distant hands — forgetting that it also meant the cutting of distant throats…. Yet it might have struck us that we are all potential combatants — and the only known method of preventing a fight is to keep the combatants apart! These odd, simple facts that we all of us know — and lose sight of … the drawing together of peoples has always meant the clashing of their interests … and so new hatreds. Inevitably new hatreds.”
Theodore quoted: “‘All men hate each other naturally’ … You believe that?”
“Of individuals, no — but of all communities, yes. Is there any form of the life collective that is capable of love for its fellow — for another community? Is there any church that will stand aside that another church may be advantaged? … You and I are civilized, as man and man; but collectively we are part of a life whose only standard and motive is self-interest, its own advantage … a beast-life, morally. If you understand that, you understand tonight … Which demands from us sacrifices, makes none itself…. That’s as far as we have got in the mass.”
* Denis Papin (1647-1712) was a French physicist, mathematician and inventor, best known for his pioneering invention of the steam digester, the forerunner of the steam engine and of the pressure cooker.
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.