Theodore Savage (21)
July 29, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the twenty-first 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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And word by word, and line by line, Theodore repeated the formula that cut him off from the world of his youth and the heritage of all the ages. It was a rhythmical formula, its phrasing often Biblical; instinctively the prophet, when he framed his new ritual, had followed the music of the old…. Written pages and the stonework of churches might perish, but the word that was spoken endured….
“I do swear and take oath, before God and before man, that I will walk humbly all my days and put from me the pride of the intellect. Remembering that the meek shall inherit the earth and that the poor in spirit are acceptable in the sight of the Most High. Therefore, I do swear and take oath that I will purify my heart of that which is forbidden, that I will renounce and drive out all memory of the learning which it is not meant for me, who am sinful man, to know. What I know and remember of that which is forbidden shall be dead to me and as if it had never been born…. May my hands be struck off before I set them to the making of that which is forbidden; and may blindness smite me if I seek to pry into the hidden mysteries of God. Into the secrets of the earth, into the secrets of the air, the secrets of water or fire. For the Lord our God is a jealous God and the secrets of earth, air, water and fire are sacred to Him Who made them and must not be revealed to sinners…. Therefore, I pray that my tongue may rot in my mouth before I speak one word that shall kindle the desire of others for that which must not be revealed.
“I call upon the Lord Most High, Who made heaven and earth and all that in them is, to hear this oath that I have sworn; and, in the day that I am false to it, I call on Him to blast me with His utmost wrath…. And I call upon my fellow-men to hear this oath that I have sworn; may they shed my blood without mercy, in the day that I am false to it, by thought, word or deed. In the day that I am false to it may they visit my sin on my head; as I will visit their sin on man, woman or child who, in my sight or in my hearing, shall hanker after that which is forbidden.
“For so only shall we cleanse and purify our hearts; so only shall we live without devil’s knowledge and bring up our children without it. That the land may have peace in our days and that the wrath of the Most High may be averted from us.
“So help me God. Amen.”
“Amen!” came back in a chorus from the shadowy group on either hand; and when the echo of their voices had died in the night the headman loosed Theodore’s hands.
He rose and looked round him on the faces that were near enough to see — searched them in the firelight for regret or a memory of the past… and, beyond and behind the ring of stolid expressionless faces and the desert silence, saw Markham toasting the centuries, heard the moving thunder of a multitude and the prayer of the Westminster bells…. Lord — through — this — hour.…
The old man stretched out a hand in token of comradeship admitted — and Theodore took it mechanically.
With dawn Theodore and a stolid companion, appointed by the headman, set out on their journey to the camp where Ada awaited them. They reached it only after weatherbound delays; as they towed their boat against a current that was almost too strong for their paddling they were overtaken by a blinding snowstorm and escaped from it barely with their lives. They made fast their boat to the stump of a tree and groped through the smother to a shed near the river’s edge; and there, for the better part of a day, they sheltered while the storm lasted. When it moderated and they pushed on through the dead village, a thick sheet of snow had obliterated the minor landmarks whereby Theodore had been wont to guide his way. It was close upon sunset on the third day of their journey when they trudged into the hidden valley and the familiar tree-clump came in sight — and dusk was thickening into moonless dark when Ada, hearing voices, ran forward with a scream of welcome. She sobbed and laughed incoherently as she clung round her husband’s neck; hysterical, perhaps near insanity, through loneliness and the terror of loneliness.
In the intensity of her relief at the ending of her ordeal she forgot, at first, to be greatly disappointed because the world of Theodore’s discovery was a world without a cinema or char-a-banc; with her craving for company, it was sheer delight to know that in a few days more she would be in the midst of some two score human beings, whatever their manner of living. It took time and explanation to make her understand that the desire for char-a-banc and cinema must no longer be openly expressed; she stared uncomprehendingly when Theodore strove to make clear to her the religious, as well as the practical, idea that lay behind the prohibition.
The need for caution was the more urgent since he had learned in the course of the return journey that his appointed companion was a fanatic in the new faith, a penitent who groaned to his offended Deity; savagely pure-hearted in the cult of ignorance and savagely suspicious of the backslider.
The religious temperament was something so far removed from Ada’s experience that he found it impossible at a first hearing to convince her of the unknown danger of intolerant and distorted faith. His mention of a religious aspect to their new difficulties brought the vague rejoinder that her mother was a Baptist but her aunt had been married in a Catholic church to an Irishman; and in the end he gave up his attempt at explanation and snapped out an order instead.
“You’re to be careful how you talk to them. Until you get to know them, you’d better say nothing about what you used to do in the old times. Nothing at all — do you hear?…”
She stared, uncomprehending, but realized the order was an order. What she did understand and tremble at was the lack of provision for her coming ordeal of childbirth, and there was a burst of loud weeping and terrified protest when Theodore admitted, in answer to her questions, that he had found no trace of either hospitals, nurses or doctors. For the time being he soothed her with a hurried promise of seeking them further afield — pushing on to find them (they were sure to be found) when she was settled in comfort and safety with other women to look after her…. For the time being, he told himself, the soothing deceit was a necessity; she would understand later — see for herself what was possible — settle down and accept the inevitable.
She was all eagerness to start, but it took two full days before the requisite number of journeys had been made to the river — their stores packed on an improvised sled, dragged heavily across the miles of frozen snow and stowed in the flat-bottomed boat. Then, on the third day, Ada herself made the journey; helped along by the men who, when the ground was smooth enough, set her on the sled and dragged her. In spite of their help she needed many halts for rest, and the distance between camp and river took most of the hours of daylight to accomplish; hence they sheltered for the night in a cottage not far from the river’s bank, and with morning dropped downstream in the boat — paddling cautiously as they rounded each bend and always on their guard against the possibility of unfriendly meetings. The long desolation they passed through was a no-man’s land; any stray hunter, therefore, might deem himself at liberty to attack whom he saw and seize what he found in their possession. But throughout the short day was neither sight nor sound of man and by sunset the current, running swollen and rapidly, had brought them to their destined landing…. After that came the mooring of the boat in the reeds and the hiding, on the bank of the river, of the stores they could not carry; then the long uphill tramp over snow, in the gathering darkness — with Ada shivering, crying from weariness and clinging to her husband’s arm. And — at last — the glow of fires, through tree-trunks; with figures moving round them, shaggy men and unkempt women…. Their home!
The unkempt women met their fellow not unkindly. They drew her to the fire and rubbed her frozen hands; then, while one brought a bowl of steaming mess, another laid dry moss and heather in the bed-place of her unfinished dwelling. A protesting baby was wakened from its sleep and dandled for her comfort and inspection — its mother giving frank and loud-voiced details concerning the manner of its birth. There was a rough and good-natured attempt to raise her drooping spirits, and Ada, fed and warmed, brightened visibly and responded to the clack of tongues. This, at least, the new world had restored to her — the blessing of loud voices raised in chatter…. All the same, on the second night of their new life Theodore, awake in the darkness, heard her sniffing and swallowing her tears.
“What is it?” he asked and she clung to him miserably and wept her forebodings on his shoulder. Not only forebodings of her coming ordeal in the absence of hospitals and doctors, but — was this, in truth, to be the world? These people — so they told her — knew of no other existing; but what had become of all the towns? The trams, the shops, the life of the towns — her life — where was it? It must be somewhere — a little way off — where was it?… He soothed her with difficulty, repeating his warnings on the danger of open regrets for the past and reminding her that to-morrow she also would be called on for the oath.
“I know,” she whimpered. “Of course I’ll take an oath if I must. But you can’t ’elp thinking — if you swear yourself black in the face, you can’t ’elp thinking.”
“Whatever you think,” he insisted, “you mustn’t say it — to anyone.”
“I know,” she snuffled obediently, “I shan’t say nothing…. but, oh Gawd, oh Gawd — aren’t we ever going to be ’appy again?”
He knew what she was weeping for — shaking with miserable sobs; the evenings at the pictures, the little bits of machine-made finery, the petty products of “devil’s knowledge” that had made up her daily life. The cry to her “Gawd” was a prayer for the return of these things and the hope of them had so far sustained her in peril, hardship and loneliness. Pictures and finery had always been there, just a mile or two beyond the horizon — awaiting her enjoyment so soon as it was safe to reach them. Now, in her overpowering misery and darkness of soul, she was facing the dread possibility that they no longer awaited her, that the horizon was immeasurable, infinite…. Guns and bombs and poisons — nobody wanted them and she understood people making up their minds to do without ’em. But the other things — you couldn’t go on living without the other things — shops and proper houses and railways….
“It can’t be for always,” she persisted, “it can’t be” — and was cheered by the sudden heat of his agreement, the sudden note of protest in his voice. The knowledge that he sympathized encouraged her and, with her head on his shoulder, sniffing, but comforted, she began to plan out their deliverance.
“They must be somewhere — the people that live like they used to. Keepin’ quiet, I dessay, till things gets more settled. When things is settled they’ll get a move on and come along and find us. It stands to reason they can’t be so very far off, because I remember the teacher tellin’ us when we ’ad our jography lesson that England’s quite a small country. So they ’aven’t got so very far to come…. I expect an aeroplane’ll come first.”
He felt her thrill in expectation of the moment when she sighted the swiftly moving speck aloft, the bearer of deliverance drawing nigh. Wouldn’t it be heavenly when they saw one at last — after all these awful months and years!… In the war they were beastly, but, now that the war was over, what had become of all the passenger ’planes and the airships? She was always looking out for one — always; every morning when she came out of the hut the first thing she did was to look up at the sky…. And some day one was bound to come. When things had settled down and got straight, it was bound to….
But it never did; and in the end she ceased to look for it.
His attempts — they were many in the first few years — to break away from his world and his bondage of ignorance were made always with cunning precaution and subterfuge; not even the pitiable need of his wife would have served as excuse for the backsliding which was search after the forbidden. To a fanaticism dominated by the masculine element the pains of childbirth were once more an ordinance of God; and when, a few weeks before Ada’s time of trial, Theodore absented himself from the camp for a night or two, he gave no one (save Ada) warning of his journey, and later accounted for his absence by a plausible story of straying and a hunter’s misfortunes. He had ceased, since he took up his dwelling with the tribe, to believe in the neighbourhood of a civilization in being; all he hoped for was the neighbourhood, not too distant, of men who had not acquiesced in ruin and put hope of recovery behind them. What he sought primarily was that aid and comfort in child-birth for which his wife appealed to him with insistence that grew daily more terrified; what he sought fundamentally was escape from a people vowed to ignorance.
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.
READ GORGEOUS PAPERBACKS: HiLoBooks has reissued the following 10 obscure but amazing Radium Age science fiction novels in beautiful print editions: 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’ The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, 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: 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’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable |
Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire.”