Theodore Savage (15)

By: Cicely Hamilton
June 17, 2013

HILOBROW is pleased to present the fifteenth 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.

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ALL EXCERPTS: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25

***

The irritation came to a head one afternoon in the early days of autumn when, with persistent ill-luck, he had been fishing a mile or so from home. Various causes combined to bring about the actual outbreak; a growing anxiety with regard to the winter supply of provisions, sharpened by the discovery, the night before, that a considerable proportion of his store of vegetables was a failure and already malodorous; the ill-success of several hours’ fishing, and gusty, unpleasant weather that chilled him as he huddled by the water. The weather worsened after mid-day, the gusts bringing rain in their wake; a cold slanting shower that sent him, in all haste, to the clump of trees where Ada had sheltered since the morning. The sight of her sitting there to keep an eye on him — uselessly watchful and shivering to no purpose — annoyed him suddenly and violently; he turned on her sharply, as the shower passed, and bade her go home on the instant. She was to keep a good fire, a blazing fire — he would be drenched and chilled by the evening. She was to have water boiling that the meal might be cooked the moment he returned with the wherewithal…. While he spoke she eyed him with questioning, distrustful sullenness; then, convinced that he meant what he said, half rose — only, after a moment of further hesitation, to slide down to her former position with her back against the trunk of a beech-tree.

“I don’t want to,” she said doggedly. “I want to stay ’ere. I don’t see why I shouldn’t. What d’yer want to get rid of me for?”

The suspicion that lay at the back of the refusal infuriated him: it was suddenly intolerable to be followed and spied on, and he lost his temper badly. The rough-tongued vehemence of his anger surprised himself as much as it frightened his wife; he swore at her, threatened to duck her in the stream, and poured out his grievances abusively. What good was she? — a clog on him, who could not even tend a fire, a helpless idiot who had to be waited on, a butter-fingered idler without brains! Let her do what he told her and make herself of use, unless she wanted to be turned out to fend for herself…. Much of what he said was justified, but it was put savagely and coarsely; and when — cowed, perhaps, by the suggestion of a ducking — Ada had taken to her heels in tears, he was remorseful as well as surprised at his own vehemence. He had not known himself as a man who could rail brutally and use threats to a woman; the revelation of his new possibilities troubled him; and when, towards sundown, he gathered up his meagre prey and stepped out homeward, it was with the full intention of making amends to Ada for the roughness of his recent outburst.

ruins

His path took him through a copse of brush-wood into what had been a cart-track; now grass-grown and crumbling between hedges that straggled and encroached. The wind, rising steadily, was sweeping ragged clouds before it and as he emerged from the shelter of the copse he was met by a stinging rain. He bent his head to it, in shivering discomfort, thrusting chilled hands under his cloak for warmth and longing for the blaze and the good warm meal that should thaw them; he had left the copse a good minute behind him when, from the further side of the overgrown hedge, he heard sudden rending of brambles, a thud, and a human cry. A yard or two on was a gap in the hedge where a gate still swung on its hinges; he rushed to it, quivering at the thought of possibilities — and found Ada struggling to her knees!

She began to cry loudly when she saw him, like a child caught in flagrant transgression; protesting, with bawling and angry tears, that “she wasn’t going to be ordered about” and “she should stay just where she liked!” It did not take him long to gather that her previous flight had been a semblance only and that, shivering and haunted by ridiculous suspicion, she had watched him all the afternoon from behind the screen of the copsewood — for company partly, but chiefly to make sure he was there. Seeing him gather up his tackle and depart homeward, she had tried to outpace him unseen; keeping the hedge between them as she ran and hoping to avert a second explosion of his wrath by blowing up the ashes of the lire before his arrival at the camp. An unsuspected rabbit-burrow had tripped her hurrying feet and brought about disaster and discovery; and she made unskilful efforts to turn the misfortune to account by rubbing her leg and complaining of damage sustained.

In contact with her stubborn folly his repentance and kindly resolutions were forgotten; he cut short her bid for sympathy with a curt “Get along with you,” caught her by the arm and started her with a push along the road — too angry to notice that, for the first time, he had handled her with actual violence. Then, bending his head to the sweep of the rain, he strode on, leaving her to follow as she would.

Perhaps her leg really pained her, perhaps she judged it best to keep her distance from his wrath; at any rate she was a hundred yards or more behind him when he reached the camp and, stirring the ashes that should have been a fire, found only a flicker alive. He cursed Ada’s idiocy between his chattering teeth as he set to work to re-kindle the fire; his hands shaking, half from anger, half from cold, as he gathered the fuel together. When, after a long interval of coaxing and cursing, the flame quivered up into the twilight, it showed him Ada sitting humped at the entrance to their shelter; and at sight of her, inert and watching him — watching him! — his wrath flared sudden and furious.

“Have you filled the cookpot?” he asked, standing over her. “No?… Then what were you doing — sitting there staring while I worked?”

She began to whimper, “You’re crool to me!” — and repeated her parrot-like burden of futile suspicion and grievance; that she knew he wanted to get her out of the way so as he could leave her, and she couldn’t be left alone for the night! He had a sense of being smothered by her foolish, invertebrate persistence, and as he caught her by the shoulders he trembled and sputtered with rage.

farm

“God in Heaven, what’s the good of talking to you? If you take me for a liar, you take me — that’s all. Do you think I care a curse for your opinion?… But one thing’s certain — you’ll do what I tell you, and you’ll work. Work, do you hear? — not sit in a lump and idle and stare while I wait on you! Learn to use your silly hands, not expect me to light the fire and feed you. And you’ll obey, I tell you — you’ll do what you’re told. If not — I’ll teach you…”

He was wearied, thwarted, wet through and unfed since the morning; baulked of fire and a meal by the folly that had irked him for days; a man living primitively, in contact with nature and brought face to face with the workings of the law of the strongest. It chanced that she had lumped herself down by the bundle of osier-rods he had laid together for his basket-making; so that when he gripped her by the nape of the neck a weapon lay ready to his hand. He used it effectively, while she wriggled, plunged and howled; there was nothing of the Spartan in her temperament, and each swooping stroke produced a yell. He counted a dozen and then dropped her, leaving her to rub and bemoan her smarts while he filled the cookpot at the stream.

When he came back with the cookpot filled, her noisy blubbering had died into gulps and snuffles. The heat of his anger was likewise over, having worked itself off by the mere act of chastisement, and with its cooling he was conscious of a certain embarrassment. If he did not repent he was at least uneasy — not sure how to treat her and speak to her — and he covered his uneasiness, as best he might, by a busy scraping and cleaning of fish and a noisy snapping of firewood…. A wiser woman might have guessed his embarrassment from his bearing and movements and known how to wrest an advantage by transforming it into remorse; Ada, sitting huddled and smarting on her moss-bed, found no more effective protest against ill-treatment than a series of unbecoming sniffs. With every silent moment his position grew stronger, hers weaker; unconsciously he sensed her acquiescence in the new and brutal relation, and when — over his shoulder — he bade her “Come along, if you want any supper,” he knew, without looking, that she would come at his word, take the food that he gave her and eat.

They discussed the subject once and very briefly — at the latter end of a meal consumed in silence. A full stomach gives courage and confidence; and Ada, having supped and been heartened, tried a sulky “You’ve been very crool to me.”

In answer, she was told, “You deserved it.”

After this unpromising beginning it took her two or three minutes to decide on her next observation.

“I believe,” she quavered tearfully, “you’ve taken the skin off my back.”

“Nonsense!” he said curtly. Which was true.

The episode marked his acceptance of a new standard, his definite abandonment of the code of civilization in dealings between woman and man. With another wife than Ada the lapse into primitive relations would have been less swift and certainly far less complete; she was so plainly his mental inferior, so plainly amenable to the argument of force and no other, that she facilitated his conversion to the barbaric doctrine of marriage. And his conversion was the more thorough and lasting from the success of his uncivilized methods of ruling a household; where reasoning and kindliness had failed of their purpose, the sting of the rod had worked wonders…. Ada sulked through the evening and sniffed herself to sleep; but in the morning, when he woke, she had filled the cookpot and was busied at the breakfast fire.

They had adapted themselves to their environment, the environment of primitive humanity. That morning when he started for his snaring he started alone; Ada stayed, without remonstrance, to dry moss, collect firewood and perform the small duties of the camp.

XIV

It was a solid fact that from the day of her subjection to the rod and rule of her overlord, Ada found life more bearable; and watching her, at first in puzzlement, Theodore came by degrees to understand the reason for the change in her which was induced — so it seemed — by the threat and magic of an osier-wand. In the end he realized that the fundamental cause of her sodden, stupid wretchedness had been lack of effective interest — and that in finding an interest, however humble, she had found herself a place in the world. Her interest, in the beginning, was nothing more exalted than the will to avoid a second switching; but, undignified as it was in its origin, it implied a stimulus to action which had hitherto been wanting, and a process of adaptation to the new relationship between herself and her man. By accepting him as master, with the right unquestioned of reward and punishment, she had provided herself with that object in life to which she had been unable to attain by the light of her own mentality.

With an eye on the osier-heap she worked that she might please and, finding occupation, brooded less; learning imperceptibly to look-on the new world primitive as a reality whose hardships could be mitigated by effort,” instead of an impossible nightmare. As she wrestled with present difficulties — the daily tasks she dared no longer neglect — the trams, shop-windows and chiffons of the past receded on her mental horizon. Not, fundamentally, that they were any less dear to her; but the need of placating an overlord at hand took up part of her thoughts and time. Too slothful, both in mind and in body, to acquire of her own intelligence and initiative the changed habits demanded by her changed surroundings, she was unconsciously relieved — because instantly more comfortable — when the necessary habits were forced on her.

kitchen

With the allotment of her duties and the tacit definition of her status that followed on the night of her chastisement, their life on the whole became easier, better regulated; and the mere fact of their frequent separation during part of the day made their coming together more pleasant. Companionship in any but the material sense it was out of her power to offer; but she could give her man a welcome at the end of the day and take lighter work off his hands. Her cooking was always a matter of guesswork and to the last she was stupid, unresourceful and clumsy with her fingers; but she fetched and carried, washed pots and garments in the stream, was hewer of wood and drawer of water and kept their camp clean and in order. In time she even learned to take a certain amount of pleasure in the due fulfilment of her task-work; when Theodore, having discovered a Spanish chestnut-tree not far from their dwelling, set her the job of storing nuts against the winter, she pointed with pride in the evening to the size of the heap she had collected.

Now that she was admittedly his underling, subdued to his authority, he found it infinitely easier to be patient with her many blunders; and though there were still moments when her brainlessness and limitations galled him to anger, on the whole he grew fonder of her — with a patronizing, kindly affection. He still cherished his plans of exploration unhampered by her company but, from pity for the fears she no longer dared to talk of, refrained from present mention thereof; while the nights were long and dark it would be cruel to leave her, and by the time spring came round again she might have grown less fearful of solitude…. Or, before spring came, the world might make a sign and plans of exploration be needless.

Meanwhile, resigning himself to his daily and solitary round, he worked hard and anxiously to provision his household for a second winter of loneliness.

***

Stay tuned!

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.

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