I went home to my house in triumph; but I had much to do before noon on the following day, but very little time in which to do it. I had spent the morning of that day in preparing for my departure, and in so arranging matters with my clerks that the entrance of Sir Ferdinando on his new duties might be easy. I had said nothing, and had endeavoured to think as little as possible, of the Fixed Period. An old secretary of mine,—old in years of work, though not as yet in age,—had endeavoured to comfort me by saying that the college up the hill might still be used before long. But I had told him frankly that we in Britannula had all been too much in a hurry, and had foolishly endeavoured to carry out a system in opposition to the world's prejudices, which system, when successful, must pervade the entire world. "And is nothing to be done with those beautiful buildings?" said the secretary, putting in the word beautiful by way of flattery to myself. "The chimneys and the furnaces may perhaps be used," I replied. "Cremation is no part of the Fixed Period. But as for the residences, the less we think about them the better." And so I determined to trouble my thoughts no further with the college. And I felt that there might be some consolation to me in going away to England, so that I might escape from the great vexation and eyesore which the empty college would have produced.
But I had to bid farewell to my wife and my son, and to Eva and Crasweller. The first task would be the easier, because there would be no necessity for any painful allusion to my own want of success. In what little I might say to Mrs Neverbend on the subject, I could continue that tone of sarcastic triumph in which I had replied to Sir Ferdinando. What was pathetic in the matter I might altogether ignore. And Jack was himself so happy in his nature, and so little likely to look at anything on its sorrowful side, that all would surely go well with him. But with Eva, and with Eva's father, things would be different. Words must be spoken which would be painful in the speaking, and regrets must be uttered by me which could not certainly be shared by him. "I am broken down and trampled upon, and all the glory is departed from my name, and I have become a byword and a reproach rather than a term of honour in which future ages may rejoice, because I have been unable to carry out my long-cherished purpose by—depositing you, and insuring at least your departure!" And then Crasweller would answer me with his general kindly feeling, and I should feel at the moment of my leaving him the hollowness of his words. I had loved him the better because I had endeavoured to commence my experiment on his body. I had felt a vicarious regard for the honour which would have been done him, almost regarding it as though I myself were to go in his place. All this had received a check when he in his weakness had pleaded for another year. But he had yielded; and though he had yielded without fortitude, he had done so to comply with my wishes, and I could not but feel for the man an extraordinary affection. I was going to England, and might probably never see him again; and I was going with aspirations in my heart so very different from those which he entertained!
From the hours intended for slumber, a few minutes could be taken for saying adieu to my wife. "My dear," said I, "this is all very sudden. But a man engaged in public life has to fit himself to the public demands. Had I not promised to go to-day, I might have been taken away yesterday or the day before."
"Oh, John," said she, "I think that everything has been put up to make you comfortable."
"Thanks; yes, I'm sure of it. When you hear my name mentioned after I am gone, I hope that they'll say of me that I did my duty as President of the republic."
"Of course they will. Every day you have been at these nasty executive chambers from nine till five, unless when you've been sitting in that wretched Assembly."
"I shall have a holiday now, at any rate," said I, laughing gently under the bedclothes.
"Yes; and I am sure it will do you good, if you only take your meals regular. I sometimes think that you have been encouraged to dwell upon this horrid Fixed Period by the melancholy of an empty stomach."
It was sad to hear such words from her lips after the two speeches to which she had listened, and to feel that no trace had been left on her mind of the triumph which I had achieved over Sir Ferdinando; but I put up with that, and determined to answer her after her own heart. "You have always provided a sandwich for me to take to the chambers."
"Sandwiches are nothing. Do remember that. At your time of life you should always have something warm,—a frizzle or a cutlet, and you shouldn't eat it without thinking of it. What has made me hate the Fixed Period worse than anything is, that you have never thought of your victuals. You gave more attention to the burning of these pigs than to the cooking of any food in your own kitchen."
"Well, my dear, I'm going to England now," said I, beginning to feel weary of her reminiscences.
"Yes, my dear, I know you are; and do remember that as you get nearer and nearer to that chilly country the weather will always be colder and colder. I have put you up four pairs of flannel drawers, and a little bag which you must wear upon your chest. I observed that Sir Ferdinando, when he was preparing himself for his speech, showed that he had just such a little bag on. And all the time I endeavoured to spy how it was that he wore it. When I came home I immediately went to work, and I shall insist on your putting it on the first thing in the morning, in order that I may see that it sits flat. Sir Ferdinando's did not sit flat, and it looked bulgy. I thought to myself that Lady Brown did not do her duty properly by him. If you would allow me to come with you, I could see that you always put it on rightly. As it is, I know that people will say that it is all my fault when it hangs out and shows itself." Then I went to sleep, and the parting words between me and my wife had been spoken.
Early on the following morning I had Jack into my dressing-room, and said good-bye to him. "Jack," said I, "in this little contest which there has been between us, you have got the better in everything."
"Nobody thought so when they heard your answer to Sir Ferdinando last night."
"Well, yes; I think I managed to answer him. But I haven't got the better of you."
"I didn't mean anything," said Jack, in a melancholy tone of voice. "It was all Eva's doing. I never cared twopence whether the old fellows were deposited or not, but I do think that if your own time had come near, I shouldn't have liked it much."
"Why not? why not? If you will only think of the matter all round, you will find that it is all a false sentiment."
"I should not like it," said Jack, with determination.
"Yes, you would, after you had got used to it." Here he looked very incredulous. "What I mean is, Jack, that when sons were accustomed to see their fathers deposited at a certain age, and were aware that they were treated with every respect, that kind of feeling which you describe would wear off. You would have the idea that a kind of honour was done to your parents."
"When I knew that somebody was going to kill him on the next day, how would it be then?"
"You might retire for a few hours to your thoughts,—going into mourning, as it were." Jack shook his head. "But, at any rate, in this matter of Mr Crasweller you have got the better of me."
"That was for Eva's sake."
"I suppose so. But I wish to make you understand, now that I am going to England, and may possibly never return to these shores again—"
"Don't say that, father."
"Well, yes; I shall have much to do there, and of course it may be that I shall not come back, and I wish you to understand that I do not part from you in the least in anger. What you have done shows a high spirit, and great devotion to the girl."
"It was not quite altogether for Eva either."
"What then?" I demanded.
"Well, I don't know. The two things went together, as it were. If there had been no question about the Fixed Period, I do think I could have cut out Abraham Grundle. And as for Sir Kennington Oval, I am beginning to believe that that was all Eva's pretence. I like Sir Kennington, but Eva never cared a button for him. She had taken to me because I had shown myself an anti-Fixed-Period man. I did it at first simply because I hated Grundle. Grundle wanted to fix-period old Crasweller for the sake of the property; and therefore I belonged naturally to the other side. It wasn't that I liked opposing you. If it had been Tallowax that you were to begin with, or Exors, you might have burnt 'em up without a word from me."
"I am gratified at hearing that."
"Though the Fixed Period does seem to be horrible, I would have swallowed all that at your bidding. But you can see how I tumbled into it, and how Eva egged me on, and how the nearer the thing came the more I was bound to fight. Will you believe it?—Eva swore a most solemn oath, that if her father was put into that college she would never marry a human being. And up to that moment when the lieutenant met us at the top of the hill, she was always as cold as snow."
"And now the snow is melted?"
"Yes,—that is to say, it is beginning to thaw!" As he said this I remembered the kiss behind the parlour-door which had been given to her by another suitor before these troubles began, and my impression that Jack had seen it also; but on that subject I said nothing. "Of course it has all been very happy for me," Jack continued; "but I wish to say to you before you go, how unhappy it makes me to think that I have opposed you."
"All right, Jack; all right. I will not say that I should not have done the same at your age, if Eva had asked me. I wish you always to remember that we parted as friends. It will not be long before you are married now."
"Three months," said Jack, in a melancholy tone.
"In an affair of importance of this kind, that is the same as to-morrow. I shall not be here to wish you joy at your wedding."
"Why are you to go if you don't wish it?"
"I promised that I would go when Captain Battleax talked of carrying me off the day before yesterday. With a hundred soldiers, no doubt he could get me on board."
"There are a great many more than a hundred men in Britannula as good as their soldiers. To take a man away by force, and he the President of the republic! Such a thing was never heard of. I would not stir if I were you. Say the word to me, and I will undertake that not one of these men shall touch you."
I thought of his proposition; and the more I thought of it, the more unreasonable it did appear that I, who had committed no offence against any law, should be forced on board the John Bright. And I had no doubt that Jack would be as good as his word. But there were two causes which persuaded me that I had better go. I had pledged my word. When it had been suggested that I should at the moment be carried on board,—which might no doubt then have been done by the soldiers,—I had said that if a certain time were allowed me I would again be found in the same place. If I were simply there, and were surrounded by a crowd of Britannulans ready to fight for me, I should hardly have kept my promise. But a stronger reason than this perhaps actuated me. It would be better for me for a while to be in England than in Britannula. Here in Britannula I should be the ex-President of an abolished republic, and as such subject to the notice of all men; whereas in England I should be nobody, and should escape the constant mortification of seeing Sir Ferdinando Brown. And then in England I could do more for the Fixed Period than at home in Britannula. Here the battle was over, and I had been beaten. I began to perceive that the place was too small for making the primary efforts in so great a cause. The very facility which had existed for the passing of the law through the Assembly had made it impossible for us to carry out the law; and therefore, with the sense of failure strong upon me, I should be better elsewhere than at home. And the desire of publishing a book in which I should declare my theory,—this very book which I have so nearly brought to a close,—made me desire to go. What could I do by publishing anything in Britannula? And though the manuscript might have been sent home, who would see it through the press with any chance of success? Now I have my hopes, which I own seem high, and I shall be able to watch from day to day the way in which my arguments in favour of the Fixed Period are received by the British public. Therefore it was that I rejected Jack's kind offer. "No, my boy," said I, after a pause, "I do not know but that on the whole I shall prefer to go."
"Of course if you wish it."
"I shall be taken there at the expense of the British public, which is in itself a triumph, and shall, I presume, be sent back in the same way. If not, I shall have a grievance in their parsimony, which in itself will be a comfort to me; and I am sure that I shall be treated well on board. Sir Ferdinando with his eloquence will not be there, and the officers are, all of them, good fellows. I have made up my mind, and I will go. The next that you will hear of your father will be the publication of a little book that I shall write on the journey, advocating the Fixed Period. The matter has never been explained to them in England, and perhaps my words may prevail." Jack, by shaking his head mournfully, seemed to indicate his idea that this would not be the case; but Jack is resolute, and will never yield on any point. Had he been in my place, and had entertained my convictions, I believe that he would have deposited Crasweller in spite of Sir Ferdinando Brown and Captain Battleax. "You will come and see me on board, Jack, when I start."
"They won't take me off, will they?"
"I should have thought you would have liked to have seen England."
"And leave Eva! They'd have to look very sharp before they could do that. But of course I'll come." Then I gave him my blessing, told him what arrangements I had made for his income, and went down to my breakfast, which was to be my last meal in Britannula.
When that was over, I was told that Eva was in my study waiting to see me. I had intended to have gone out to Little Christchurch, and should still do so, to bid farewell to her father. But I was not sorry to have Eva here in my own house, as she was about to become my daughter-in-law. "Eva has come to bid you good-bye," said Jack, who was already in the room, as I entered it.
"Eva, my dear," said I.
"I'll leave you," said Jack. "But I've told her that she must be very fond of you. Bygones have to be bygones,—particularly as no harm has been done." Then he left the room.
She still had on the little round hat, but as Jack went she laid it aside. "Oh, Mr Neverbend," she said, "I hope you do not think that I have been unkind."
"It is I, my dear, who should express that hope."
"I have always known how well you have loved my dear father. I have been quite sure of it. And he has always said so. But—"
"Well, Eva, it is all over now."
"Oh yes, and I am so happy! I have got to tell you how happy I am."
"I hope you love Jack."
"Oh!" she exclaimed, and in a moment she was in my arms and I was kissing her. "If you knew how I hate that Mr Grundle; and Jack is all,—all that he ought to be. One of the things that makes me like him best is his great affection for you. There is nothing that he would not do for you."
"He is a very good young man," said I, thinking of the manner in which he had spoken against me on the Town Flags.
"Nothing!" said Eva.
"And nothing that he would not do for you, my dear. But that is all as it should be. He is a high-spirited, good boy; and if he will think a little more of the business and a little less of cricket, he will make an excellent husband."
"Of course he had to think a little of the match when the Englishmen were here; and he did play well, did he not? He beat them all there." I could perceive that Eva was quite as intent upon cricket as was her lover, and probably thought just as little about the business. "But, Mr Neverbend, must you really go?"
"I think so. It is not only that they are determined to take me, but that I am myself anxious to be in England."
"You wish to—to preach the Fixed Period?"
"Well, my dear, I have got my own notions, which at my time of life I cannot lay aside. I shall endeavour to ventilate them in England, and see what the people there may say about them."
"You are not angry with me?"
"My child, how could I be angry with you? What you did, you did for your father's sake."
"And papa? You will not be angry with papa because he didn't want to give up Little Christchurch, and to leave the pretty place which he has made himself, and to go into the college,—and be killed!"
I could not quite answer her at the moment, because in truth I was somewhat angry with him. I thought that he should have understood that there was something higher to be achieved than an extra year or two among the prettinesses of Little Christchurch. I could not but be grieved because he had proved himself to be less of a man than I had expected. But as I remained silent for a few moments, Eva held my hand in hers, and looked up into my face with beseeching eyes. Then my anger went, and I remembered that I had no reason to expect heroism from Crasweller, simply because he had been my friend. "No, dear, no; all feeling of anger is at an end. It was natural that he should wish to remain at Little Christchurch; and it was better than natural, it was beautiful, that you should wish to save him by the use of the only feminine weapon at your command."
"Oh, but I did love Jack," she said.
"I have still an hour or two before I depart, and I shall run down to Little Christchurch to take your father by the hand once more. You may be sure that what I shall say to him will not be ill-natured. And now good-bye, my darling child. My time here in Britannula is but short, and I cannot give up more of it even to my chosen daughter." Then again she kissed me, and putting on her little hat, went away to Mrs Neverbend,—or to Jack.
It was now nearly ten o'clock, and I had out my tricycle in order to go down as quickly as possible to Little Christchurch. At the door of my house I found a dozen of the English soldiers with a sergeant. He touched his hat, and asked me very civilly where I was going. When I told him that it was but five or six miles out of town, he requested my permission to accompany me. I told him that he certainly might if he had a vehicle ready, and was ready to use it. But as at that moment my luggage was brought out of the house with the view of being taken on board ship, the man thought that it would be as well and much easier to follow the luggage; and the twelve soldiers marched off to see my portmanteaus put safely on board the John Bright.
And I was again,—and I could not but say to myself, probably for the last time,—once again on the road to Little Christchurch. During the twenty minutes which were taken in going down there, I could not but think of the walks I had had up and down with Crasweller in old times, talking as we went of the glories of a Fixed Period, and of the absolute need which the human race had for such a step in civilisation. Probably on such occasions the majority of the words spoken had come from my own mouth; but it had seemed to me then that Crasweller had been as energetic as myself. The period which we had then contemplated at a distance had come round, and Crasweller had seceded wofully. I could not but feel that had he been stanch to me, and allowed himself to be deposited not only willingly but joyfully, he would have set an example which could not but have been efficacious. Barnes and Tallowax would probably have followed as a matter of course, and the thing would have been done. My name would have gone down to posterity with those of Columbus and Galileo, and Britannula would have been noted as the most prominent among the nations of the earth, instead of having become a by-word among countries as a deprived republic and reannexed Crown colony. But all that on the present occasion had to be forgotten, and I was to greet my old friend with true affection, as though I had received from his hands no such ruthless ruin of all my hopes.
"Oh, Mr President," he said, as he met me coming up the drive towards the house, "this is kind of you. And you who must be so busy just before your departure!"
"I could not go without a word of farewell to you." I had not spoken with him since we had parted on the top of the hill on our way out to the college, when the horses had been taken from the carriage, and he had walked back to life and Little Christchurch instead of making his way to his last home, and to find deposition with all the glory of a great name.
"It is very kind of you. Come in. Eva is not at home."
"I have just parted with her at my own house. So she and Jack are to make a match of it. I need not tell you how more than contented I shall be that my son should have such a wife. Eva to me has been always dear, almost as a daughter. Now she is like my own child."
"I am sure that I can say the same of Jack."
"Yes; Jack is a good lad too. I hope he will stick to the business."
"He need not trouble himself about that. He will have Little Christchurch and all that belongs to it as soon as I am gone. I had made up my mind only to allow Eva an income out of it while she was thinking of that fellow Grundle. That man is a knave."
I could not but remember that Grundle had been a Fixed-Periodist, and that it would not become me to abuse him; and I was aware that though Crasweller was my sincere friend, he had come to entertain of late an absolute hatred of all those, beyond myself, who had advocated his own deposition.
"Jack, at any rate, is happy," said I, "and Eva. You and I, Crasweller have had our little troubles to imbitter the evenings of our life."
"You are yet in the full daylight."
"My ambition has been disappointed. I cannot conceal the fact from myself,—nor from you. It has come to pass that during the last year or two we have lived with different hopes. And these hopes have been founded altogether on the position which you might occupy."
"I should have gone mad up in that college, Neverbend."
"I would have been with you."
"I should have gone mad all the same. I should have committed suicide."
"To save yourself from an honourable—deposition!"
"The fixed day, coming at a certain known hour; the feeling that it must come, though it came at the same time so slowly and yet so fast; every day growing shorter day by day, and every season month by month; the sight of these chimneys—"
"That was a mistake, Crasweller; that was a mistake. The cremation should have been elsewhere."
"A man should have been an angel to endure it,—or so much less than a man. I struggled,—for your sake. Who else would have struggled as I did to oblige a friend in such a matter?"
"I know it—I know it."
"But life under such a weight became impossible to me. You do not know what I endured even for the last year. Believe me that man is not so constituted as to be able to make such efforts."
"He would get used to it. Mankind would get used to it."
"The first man will never get used to it. That college will become a madhouse. You must think of some other mode of letting them pass their last year. Make them drunk, so that they shall not know what they are doing. Drug them and make them senseless; or, better still, come down upon them with absolute power, and carry them away to instant death. Let the veil of annihilation fall upon them before they know where they are. The Fixed Period, with all its damnable certainty, is a mistake. I have tried it and I know it. When I look back at the last year, which was to be the last, not of my absolute life but of my true existence, I shudder as I think what I went through. I am astonished at the strength of my own mind in that I did not go mad. No one would have made such an effort for you as I made. Those other men had determined to rebel since the feeling of the Fixed Period came near to them. It is impossible that human nature should endure such a struggle and not rebel. I have been saved now by these Englishmen, who have come here in their horror, and have used their strength to prevent the barbarity of your benevolence. But I can hardly keep myself quiet as I think of the sufferings which I have endured during the last month."
"But, Crasweller, you had assented."
"True; I did assent. But it was before the feeling of my fate had come near to me. You may be strong enough to bear it. There is nothing so hard but that enthusiasm will make it tolerable. But you will hardly find another who will not succumb. Who would do more for you than I have done? Who would make a greater struggle? What honester man is there whom you know in this community of ours? And yet even me you drove to be a liar. Think how strong must have been the facts against you when they have had this effect. To have died at your behest at the instant would have been as nothing. Any danger,—any immediate certainty,—would have been child's-play; but to have gone up into that frightful college, and there to have remained through that year, which would have wasted itself so slowly, and yet so fast,—that would have required a heroism which, as I think, no Greek, no Roman, no Englishman ever possessed."
Then he paused, and I was aware that I had overstayed my time. "Think of it," he continued; "think of it on board that vessel, and try to bring home to yourself what such a phase of living would mean." Then he grasped me by the hand, and taking me out, put me upon my tricycle, and returned into the house.
As I went back to Gladstonopolis, I did think of it, and for a moment or two my mind wavered. He had convinced me that there was something wrong in the details of my system; but not,—when I came to argue the matter with myself,—that the system itself was at fault. But now at the present moment I had hardly time for meditation. I had been surprised at Crasweller's earnestness, and also at his eloquence, and I was in truth more full of his words than of his reasons. But the time would soon come when I should be able to devote tranquil hours to the consideration of the points which he had raised. The long hours of enforced idleness on board ship would suffice to enable me to sift his objections, which seemed at the spur of the moment to resolve themselves into the impatience necessary to a year's quiescence. Crasweller had declared that human nature could not endure it. Was it not the case that human nature had never endeavoured to train itself? As I got back to Gladstonopolis, I had already a glimmering of an idea that we must begin with human nature somewhat earlier, and teach men from their very infancy to prepare themselves for the undoubted blessings of the Fixed Period. But certain aids must be given, and the cremating furnace must be removed, so as to be seen by no eye and smelt by no nose.
As I rode up to my house there was that eternal guard of soldiers,—a dozen men, with abominable guns and ungainly military hats or helmets on their heads. I was so angered by their watchfulness, that I was half minded to turn my tricycle, and allow them to pursue me about the island. They could never have caught me had I chosen to avoid them; but such an escape would have been below my dignity. And moreover, I certainly did wish to go. I therefore took no notice of them when they shouldered their arms, but went into the house to give my wife her last kiss. "Now, Neverbend, remember you wear the flannel drawers I put up for you, as soon as ever you get out of the opposite tropics. Remember it becomes frightfully cold almost at once; and whatever you do, don't forget the little bag." These were Mrs Neverbend's last words to me. I there found Jack waiting for me, and we together walked down to the quay. "Mother would like to have gone too," said Jack.
"It would not have suited. There are so many things here that will want her eye."
"All the same, she would like to have gone." I had felt that it was so, but yet she had never pressed her request.
On board I found Sir Ferdinando, and all the ship's officers with him, in full dress. He had come, as I supposed, to see that I really went; but he assured me, taking off his hat as he addressed me, that his object had been to pay his last respects to the late President of the republic. Nothing could now be more courteous than his conduct, or less like the bully that he had appeared to be when he had first claimed to represent the British sovereign in Britannula. And I must confess that there was absent all that tone of domineering ascendancy which had marked his speech as to the Fixed Period. The Fixed Period was not again mentioned while he was on board; but he devoted himself to assuring me that I should be received in England with every distinction, and that I should certainly be invited to Windsor Castle. I did not myself care very much about Windsor Castle; but to such civil speeches I could do no other than make civil replies; and there I stood for half an hour grimacing and paying compliments, anxious for the moment when Sir Ferdinando would get into the six-oared gig which was waiting for him, and return to the shore. To me it was of all half-hours the weariest, but to him it seemed as though to grimace and to pay compliments were his second nature. At last the moment came when one of the junior officers came up to Captain Battleax and told him that the vessel was ready to start. "Now, Sir Ferdinando," said the captain, "I am afraid that the John Bright must leave you to the kindness of the Britannulists."
"I could not be left in more generous hands," said Sir Ferdinando, "nor in those of warmer friends. The Britannulists speak English as well as I do, and will, I am sure, admit that we boast of a common country."
"But not a common Government," said I, determined to fire a parting shot. "But Sir Ferdinando is quite right in expecting that he personally will receive every courtesy from the Britannulists. Nor will his rule be in any respect disobeyed until the island shall, with the agreement of England, again have resumed its own republican position." Here I bowed, and he bowed, and we all bowed. Then he departed, taking Jack with him, leaning on whose arm he stepped down into the boat; and as the men put their oars into the water, I jumped with a sudden start at the sudden explosion of a subsidiary cannon, which went on firing some dozens of times till the proper number had been completed supposed to be due to an officer of such magnitude.