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HOME > Classical Novels > Kangaroo > CHAP: VIII. VOLCANIC EVIDENCE
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 Richard Lovat Somers registered a new : not to take things with too overwhelming an amount of emotional seriousness, but to accept everything that came along with a certain sang froid, and not to sit frenziedly in before he had heard the case. He had come to the end of his own tether, so why should he go off into tantrums if other folks strayed about with the broken bits of their tethers trailing from their ankles. Is it better to be at the end of your rope, or to wander at tetherless? Matter of choice!  
But the day of the absolute is over, and we’re in for the strange gods once more. “But when you get to the end of your tether you’ve nothing to do but die”—so sings an out-of-date vulgar song. But is it so? Why not all? When you come to the end of your tether you break the rope. When you come to the end of the lane you straggle on into the bush and beat about till you find a new way through, and no matter if you raise or goannas or wallabies, or even only a . And if you see a man beating about for a new track you don’t immediately shout, “Perverted !” or “Villain!” or “Vicious creature!” or even merely “The fool,” or mildly: “Poor dear!” You have to let him try. Anything is better than in your own juice, or grinding at the end of your tether, or tread-milling away at a career. Better a “wicked creature” any day, than a mechanical tread-miller of a careerist. Better anything on earth than the millions of human ants.
In this way Mr Somers had to take himself to task, for his Pommy stupidity and his pommigrant superiority, and kick himself rather , looking at the ends of the tether he presumed he had just broken. Why should people who are tethered to a post be so God- up about their posts? It seems queer. Yet there they are, going round and round at the ends of their tethers, and being immensely sniffy about the people who stray loose trailing the broken end of their old rope, and looking for a new way through the bush. Yet so men{165} are. They will set up inquisitions and every manner of torture to compel people to refrain from breaking their tethers. But once man has broken any old particular hobble-line, not God Himself can safely knot it together again.
Somers now left off on his head in front of the word love, and looking at it calmly, he didn’t care vastly either way. Harriet had on her dressing-table tray a painted wooden heart, painted red with dots round it, a Black Forest trifle which she had bought in Baden-Baden for a penny. On it was the motto:
“Dem Mutigen gehört die Welt.”
That was the motto to have on one’s red heart: not Love or Hope or any of those emotions: “The world belongs to the .” To be sure, it was a rather two-edged motto just now for Germany. And Somers was not quite sure that it was the “world” that he wanted.
Yes, it was. Not the tuppenny social world of present mankind: but the genuine world, full of life and eternal creative surprises, including of course destructive surprises: since destruction is part of creation. Somers did want the world. He did want to take it away from all the human ants, human slaves, and all the successful, empty careerists. He wanted little that the present society can give. But the lovely other world that is in spite of the social man of to-day: that he wanted, to clear it, to free it. Freedom! Not for this subnormal slavish humanity of democratic antics. But for the world itself, and the Mutigen.
Mut! Muth! A good word. Better even than courage. , virtus, . Mut—manliness. Not braggadaccio or . De l’audace, et de l’audace, et encore de l’audace! Danton’s word. But it was more than daring. It was Mut, profound manliness, that is not afraid of anything except of being cowardly or barren.
“Dem Mutigen gehört die Welt.”
“To the brave belongs the world.”
Somers wrote to Kangaroo, and enclosed the red wooden heart, which had a little loop of ribbon so that it could be hung on the wall.{166}
“Dear Kangaroo—I send you my red heart (never mind that it is wood, the wood once lived and was the tree of life) with its motto. I hope you will accept it, after all my annoying behaviour. It is not the love, but the Mut that I believe in, and join you in. Love may be an ingredient in Muth, so you have it all your own way. Anyhow, I send you my red motto-heart, and if you don’t want it you can send it back—I will be your , in for your virtue—Virtus. And you may command me.”
The following day came the answer, in Kangaroo’s difficult :
“Dear Lovat—Love is in your name, notwithstanding. I accept the red heart gladly, and when I win, I will wear it for my Order of Merit, pinned on my chest.
“But you are the one person in the world I can never command. I knew it would be so. Yet I am unspeakably glad to have your approval, and perhaps your allegiance.
“Come and see me as soon as it is your wish to do so: I won’t invite you, lest worse befall me. For you are either a terrible disappointment to me, or a great in store. I wait for you.”
Somers also wrote to , to ask him to come down with Victoria for the week-end. But Jack replied that he couldn’t get away this week-end, there was so much doing. Somers then invited him for the following one.
The newspapers were at this time full of the strike of coal-miners and shearers: that is, the Australian papers. The European papers were in a terrific about finance, and the German debt, and the more debt to America. Bolshevism, Communism, Labour, had all sunk into a sort of . The voice of mankind was against them for the time being, not now in hate and fear, as , but in a kind of bitter contempt: the kind of feeling one has when one has accepted a individual as a serious and man, only to find that he is a stupid vulgarian. Communism was a bubble that would never even float free and from the nasty pipe of the theorist.
What then? Nothing evident. There came and letters from friends in England, refined young men of the upper middle-class writing with a guarded kind of , gentle and sweet, of course, but as as{167} ripe pears in their laisser aller heaviness. That was what it amounted to: they were over-ripe, they had been in the sun of prosperity too long, and all their tissues were soft and sweetish. How could they react with any sharpness to any appeal on earth? They wanted just to hang against the warmest wall they could find, as long as ever they could, till some last wind of death or shook them down into earth, mushy and over-ripe. A letter from a Jewish friend in London, amusing but a bit dreadful. Letters from women in London, friendly but . “I have decided I am a comfort-loving conventional person, with just a dash of the other thing to keep me fidgetty”—then accounts of buying old furniture, and gossip about everybody: “Verden Grenfel in a restaurant with two bottles of , so he must be just now.” A girl taking her trip to Naples by one of the Orient boats, third class: “There are 800 people on board, but room for another 400, so that on account of the missing 400 we have a six-berth cabin to ourselves. It is a bit noisy and not , but clean and comfortable, and you can imagine what it is to me, to be on the glorious sea, and to go at wonderful Gibraltar, and to see the blue hills of Spain in the distance. Frederick is struggling with a mass of Italian irregular verbs at the moment.” And in spite of all Somers’ love of the , the thought of sitting on a third class deck with eight hundred , including babies, made him almost sick. “The glorious sea—wonderful Gibraltar.” It takes quite a good eyesight even to see the sea from the deck of a liner, let alone out of the piled mass of humanity on the third-class deck. A letter from Germany, about a wedding and a pending journey into Austria and friends, written with a touch of philosophy that comes to a man when he’s fallen down and bumped himself, and strokes the . A cheque for fifteen pounds seventeen shillings and fourpence, from a publisher: “ acknowledge.” A letter from a farming friend who had changed places: “A Major Ashworth has got the farm, and has spent about £600 putting it into order. He has started as a poultry-farm, but has had bad luck in losing 400 chicks straight away, with the cold weather. I hope our spell of bad luck doesn’t still hang over the place. I{168} wish you would come back to England for the summer. Viv. talks of getting a , and then we might get two. Cold and wet weather for weeks. All work and no play, not good enough.” A letter from Paris, artist friends: “I have sold one of the three pictures that are in the last .” A letter from Somers’ sister: “Louis has been looking round everywhere to buy a little farm, but there doesn’t seem to be a bit of land to be got anywhere. What do you think of our coming to Australia? I wish you would look for something for us, for we are terribly fed up with this place, nothing doing at all.” A letter from Sicily: “I have had my father and stepmother over from New York. I had got them rooms here, but when I said so, the face of Anna, my stepmother, was a sight. She took me aside and told me that father was spoiling the trip by his economies, and that she had set her heart on the Igeia. Then Dad took me aside and said that he didn’t wish to be reckless, but he didn’t want to Anna’s wishes entirely, and was there nothing in the way of compromise? It ended by their staying two days here, and Anna said she thought it was very nice for me. Then they went to the Palmes, which is entirely up to Anna’s ideas of luxury, and she is delighted.”
Somers had fourteen letters by this mail. He read them with a sort of , one after the other, piling them up on his left hand for Harriet, and throwing the envelopes in the fire. By the time he had done he wished that every mail-boat would go down that was bringing any letter to him, that a flood would rise and cover Europe entirely, that he could have a little operation performed that would remove from him for ever his memory of Europe and everything in it—and so on. Then he went out and looked at the Pacific. He hadn’t even the heart to bathe, and he felt so , with all those letters; he felt quite capable of saying “Good dog” to the sea: to quote one of the quips from the Bulletin. The sea that had been so full of , before the postman rode up on his and whistled with his policeman’s whistle for Somers to come to the gate for that mass of letters. Never had Richard Lovat Somers felt so filled with spite against everybody he had ever known in the old life, as now.{169}
“And there was I, , fool, and ninny, to go back to Europe, and abusing Australia for not being like it. That horrible, horrible staleness of Europe, and all their trite consciousness, and their . The dreariness! The of their feelings! And here was I carping at Kangaroo and at Jack Callcott, who are golden wonders compared with anything I have known in the old world. Australia has got some real, positive to ‘questions,’ but Europe is one big question and nothing else. A of quibbles. I’d rather be shot here next week, than quibble the rest of my life away in over-upholstered Europe.”
He left off kicking himself, and went down to the shore to get away from himself. After all, he knew the endless water would soon make him forget. It had a language which without concern of him, and this utter unconcern gradually him of himself and his world. He began to forget.
There had been a squall in the night. At the tip of the rock-shelves above the waves men and youths, with bare, reddish legs, were fishing with lines for blackfish. They looked like animal creatures perching there, and like creatures they were passive or in their movements. A big albatross swung slowly down the surf: albatross or mollyhawk, with wide, waving wings.
The sea had thrown up, all along the surf-line, queer glittery creatures that looked like thin blown glass. They were bright bladders of the most delicate ink-blue, with a long of deeper blue, and blind ends of purple. And they had bunches of blue, blue , and one long blue string that trailed almost a yard across the sand, straight and blue and translucent. They must have been some sort of little , with the bright glass bladder, big as smallish narrow pears, with a blue frill along the top to float them, and the strings to feel with—and perhaps the long string to anchor by. Who knows? Yet there they were, soft, brilliant, like of sea-glass. It reminded Somers of the glass they blow at Burano, at Venice. But there they never get the lovely soft and the colour.
The sky was tufted with cloud, and in the afternoon veils of rain swept here and there across the sea, in a{170} changing wind. But then it cleared again, and Somers and Harriet walked along the sands, watching the blue sky mirror purple and the white clouds mirror warm on the wet sand. The sea talked and talked all the time, in its , elemental language. And at last it talked its way into Somers’ soul, and he forgot the world again, the babel. The came back, and with it the inward peace. The world had left him again. He had been thinking, in his anger of the morning, that he would get Jack to teach him to shoot with a rifle and a revolver, so that he might take his part. He had never shot with a gun in his life, so he had thought it was high time to begin. But now he went back on his thoughts. What did he want with guns or revolvers? Nothing. He had nothing to do with them, as he had nothing to do with so much that is in the world of man. When he was truly himself he had a quiet stillness in his soul, an inward trust. Faith, undefined and undefinable. Then he was at peace with himself. Not content, but peace like a river, something flowing and full. A stillness at the very core.
But faith in what? In himself, in mankind, in the destiny of mankind? No, no. In , in Almighty God? No, not even that. He tried to think of the dark God he declared he served. But he didn’t want to. He shrank away from the effort. The fair morning seaward world, full of bubbles of life.
So again came back to him the ever-recurring warning that some men must of their own choice and will listen only to the living life that is a rising tide in their own being, and listen, listen, listen for the injunctions, and give and know and speak and obey all they can. Some men must live by this unremitting inwardness, no matter what the rest of the world does. They must not let the rush of the world’s “outwardness” sweep them away: or if they are swept away, they must struggle back. Somers realised that he had had a fright against being swept away, because he half wanted to be swept away: but that now, thank God, he was flowing back. Not like the poor, “ink-bubbles,” left high and dry on the sands.
Now he could remember the outward rushing of the vast masses of people, away from themselves, without being driven mad by it. But it seemed strange to him{171} that they should rush like this in their vast , , outwards, always frenziedly outwards, like souls with hydrophobia rushing away from the pool of water. He himself, when he was caught up in the rush, felt tortured and maddened, it was an agony of to him till he could feel himself drifting back again like a creature into the sea. The sea of his own inward soul, his own unconscious faith, over which his will had no exercise. Why did the mass of people not want this stillness and this peace with their own being? Why did they want cinemas and excitements? Excitements are as nauseous as sea-sickness. Why does the world want them?
It is their problem. They must go their way. But some men, some women must stay by their own inmost being, in peace, and without envy. And there in the stillness listen, listen, and try to know, and try to obey. From the innermost, not from the outside. It is so lovely, the peace. But poor dear Richard, he was only resting and in the old sunshine just now, after his . The fight would come again, and only in the fight would his soul burn its way once more to the knowledge, the intense knowledge of his “dark god.” The other was so much sweeter and easier, while it lasted.
At tea-time it began to rain again. Somers sat on the verandah looking at the dark green sea, with its films of floating yellow light between the waves. Far back, in the east, was a cloud that was a rainbow. It was a piece of rainbow, but not sharp, in a band; it was a tall far back among the clouds of the sea-wall.
“Who is there that you feel you are with, besides me—or who feel themselves with you?” Harriet was asking. “No one,” he replied. And at the same moment he looked up and saw the rainbow fume beyond the sea. But it was on a dark background, like a coloured darkness. The rainbow was always a symbol to him—a good symbol: of this peace. A pledge of unbroken faith, between the universe and the innermost. And the very moment he said “No one,” he saw the rainbow for an answer.
Many times in his life he had seen a rainbow. The last had been on his arrival in Sydney. For some reason he felt absolutely wretched and on that Saturday morning when the ship came into Sydney harbour. He{172} had an unspeakable desire not to get out of the ship, not to go down on to the and into that town. The having to do it was a of himself. When he came on deck after breakfast and the ship had stopped, it was pouring with rain, the P. and O. looked black and dismal, empty. It might almost have been an abandoned city. He walked round to the starboard side, to look towards the unimposing hillock of the city and the Circular Quay. Black, all black and unutterably dismal in the pouring rain, even the green grass of the Botanical Gardens, and the bits of battlement of the Conservatorium. Unspeakably forlorn. Yet over it all, spanning the harbour, the most magnificent great rainbow. His mood was so he didn’t want to see it. But it was unavoidable. A huge, brilliant, supernatural rainbow, spanning all Sydney.
He was thinking of this, and still watching the dark-green, yellow-reflecting sea, that was like a northern sea, a Whitby sea, and watching the far-off fume of a dark rainbow , when Harriet heard somebody at the door. It was William James, who had an hour to wait for his train, and thought they wouldn’t mind if he looked in. They were pleased, and Harriet brought him a cup and plate.
Thank goodness he, too, came in a certain stillness of spirit, saying very little, but being a quiet, grateful presence. When the tea was finished he and Somers sat back on the verandah out of the wind, and watched the yellow, cloudy evening sink. They hardly spoke, but lay lying back in the deck-chairs.
“I was wondering,” said Somers, “whom Kangaroo depends on mostly for his following.”
William James looked back at him, with quiet, steady eyes.
“On the diggers—the returned soldiers chiefly: and the sailors.”
“Of what class?”
“Of any class. But there aren’t many rich ones. Mostly like me and Jack, not quite simple working men. A few doctors and architects and that sort.”
“And do you think it means much to them?”
Jaz shifted his thick body uneasily in his chair.{173}
“You never can tell,” he said.
“That’s true,” said Somers. “I don’t really know how much Jack Callcott cares. I really can’t make out.”
“He cares as much as about anything,” said Jaz. “Perhaps a bit more. It’s more exciting.”
“Do you think it is the excitement they care about chiefly?”
“I should say so. You can die in Australia if you don’t get a bit of excitement.” There was silence for a minute or two.
“In my opinion,” said Somers, “it has to go deeper than excitement.” Again Jaz shifted uneasily in his chair.
“Oh, well—they don’t set much store on deepness over here. It’s easy come, easy go, as a rule. Yet they’re staunch chaps while the job lasts, you know. They are true to their mates, as a rule.”
“I believe they are. It’s the afterwards.”
“Oh, well—afterwards is afterwards, as Jack always says.” Again the two men were silent.
“If they cared deeply—” Somers began slowly—but he did not continue, it seemed fatuous. Jaz did not answer for some time.
“You see, it hasn’t come to that with them,” he said. “It might, perhaps, once they’d actually done the thing. It might come home to them then; they might have to care. It might be a force-put. Then they’d need a man.”
“They’ve got Kangaroo,” said Somers.
“You think Kangaroo would get them over the fence?” said Jaz carefully, looking up at Somers.
“He seems as if he would. He’s a wonderful person. And there seems no alternative to him.”
“Oh yes, he’s a wonderful person. Perhaps a bit too much of a wonder. A doesn’t look anything like so as a lawn-mower, does it now, but it’ll make a sight bigger clearing.”
“That’s true,” said Somers, laughing. “But Kangaroo isn’t a lawn-mower.”
“Oh, I don’t say so,” smiled Jaz, fidgetting on his chair. “I should like to hear your rock-bottom opinion of him though.”
“I should like to hear yours,” said Somers. “You{174} know him much better than I do. I haven’t got a rock-bottom opinion of him yet.”
“It’s not a matter of the time you’ve known him,” said Jaz. He was manifestly hedging, and trying to get at something. “You know I belong to his gang, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Somers, wondering at the word ‘gang.’
“And for that reason I oughtn’t to him, ought I?”
Somers reflected for some moments.
“There’s no oughts, if you feel critical,” he answered.
“I think you feel critical of him yourself at times,” said Jaz, looking up with a slow, subtle smile of cunning: like a woman’s disconcerting intuitive knowledge. It laid Somers’ soul bare for the moment. He reflected. He had pledged no allegiance to Kangaroo.
“Yet,” he said aloud to Jaz, “if I had joined him I wouldn’t want to hinder him.”
“No, we don’t want to hinder him. But we need to know where we are. Supposing you were in my position—and you didn’t feel sure of things! A man has to look things in the face. You yourself, now—you’re holding back, aren’t you?”
“I suppose I am,” said Richard. “But then I hold back from everything.”
Jaz looked at him searchingly.
“You don’t like to commit yourself?” he said, with a sly smile.
“Not altogether that. I’d commit myself, if I could. It’s just something inside me shakes its head and holds back.”
Jaz studied his for some time.
“Yes,” he said slowly. “Perhaps you can afford to stand out. You’ve got your life in other things. Some of us feel we haven’t got any life if we’re not—if we’re not mixed up in something.” He paused, and Richard waited. “But the point is this—” Jaz looked up again with his light-grey, serpent’s eyes. “Do you yourself see Kangaroo pulling it off?” There was a subtle mockery in the question.
“Why—you know. This revolution, and this new Aus{175}tralia. Do you see him figuring on the Australian postage stamps—and running the country like a new Jerusalem?”
The eyes watched Richard .
“If he’s got a proper backing, why not?” Somers answered.
“I don’t say why not. I ask you, will he? Won’t you say how you feel?”
Richard sat quite still, not even thinking, but suspending himself. And in the his heart went sad, oh so empty, inside him. He looked at Jaz, and the two men read the meaning in each other’s eyes.
“You think he won’t?” said Jaz, triumphing.
“No, I think he won’t,” said Richard.
“There now. I knew you felt like that.”
“And yet,” said Richard, “if men were men still—if they had any of that belief in love they pretend to have—if they were fit to follow Kangaroo,” he added fiercely, feeling grief in his heart.
Jaz dropped his head and studied his knuckles, a queer, blank smile setting round his mouth.
“You have to take things as they are,” he said in a small voice.
Richard sat silent, his heart for the moment broken again.
“And,” added Jaz, looking up with a slow, subtle smile, “if men aren’t what Kangaroo wants them to be, why should they be? If............
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