One Man's Initiation-1917 - novelonlinefull.com
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"And I used to believe in liberty," said Martin. He raised his tumbler and looked at the candle through the pale yellow champagne. On the wall behind him, his arm and hand and the tumbler were shadowed huge in dusky lavender blue. He noticed that his was the only tumbler.
"I am honoured," he said; "mine is the only gla.s.s."
"And that's looted," said Merrier.
"It's funny ..." Martin suddenly felt himself filled with a desire to talk. "All my life I've struggled for my own liberty in my small way.
Now I hardly know if the thing exists."
"Exists? Of course it does, or people wouldn't hate it so," cried Lully.
"I used to think," went on Martin, "that it was my family I must escape from to be free; I mean all the conventional ties, the worship of success and the respectabilities that is drummed into you when you're young."
"I suppose everyone has thought that...."
"How stupid we were before the war, how we prated of small revolts, how we sn.i.g.g.e.red over little jokes at religion and government. And all the while, in the infinite greed, in the infinite stupidity of men, this was being prepared." Andre Dubois was speaking, puffing nervously at a cigarette between phrases, now and then pulling at his beard with a long, sinewy hand.
"What terrifies me rather is their power to enslave our minds," Martin went on, his voice growing louder and surer as his idea carried him along. "I shall never forget the flags, the menacing, exultant flags along all the streets before we went to war, the gradual unbaring of teeth, gradual lulling to sleep of people's humanity and sense by the phrases, the phrases.... America, as you know, is ruled by the press.
And the press is ruled by whom? Who shall ever know what dark forces bought and bought until we should be ready to go blinded and gagged to war?... People seem to so love to be fooled. Intellect used to mean freedom, a light struggling against darkness. Now the darkness is using the light for its own purposes.... We are slaves of bought intellect, willing slaves."
"But, Howe, the minute you see that and laugh at it, you're not a slave.
Laugh and be individually as decent as you can, and don't worry your head about the rest of the world; and have a good time in spite of the G.o.d-d.a.m.ned scoundrels," broke out Randolph in English. "No use worrying yourself into the grave over a thing you can't help."
"There is one solution and one only, my friends," said the blonde Norman; "the Church...." He sat up straight in his chair, speaking slowly with expressionless face. "People are too weak and too kindly to shift for themselves. Government of some sort there must be. Lay Government has proved through all the tragic years of history to be merely a ruse of the strong to oppress the weak, of the wicked to fool the confiding. There remains only religion. In the organisation of religion lies the natural and suitable arrangement for the happiness of man. The Church will govern not through physical force but through spiritual force."
"The force of fear." Lully jumped to his feet impatiently, making the bottles sway on the table.
"The force of love.... I once thought as you do, my friend," said the Norman, pulling Lully back into his chair with a smile.
Lully drank a gla.s.s of champagne greedily and undid the b.u.t.tons of his blue jacket.
"Go on," he said; "it's madness."
"All the evil of the Church," went on the Norman's even voice, "comes from her struggles to attain supremacy. Once a.s.sured of triumph, established as the rule of the world, it becomes the natural channel through which the wise rule and direct the stupid, not for their own interest, not for ambition for worldly things, but for the love that is in them. The freedom the Church offers is the only true freedom. It denies the world, and the slaveries and rewards of it. It gives the love of G.o.d as the only aim of life."
"But think of the Church to-day, the cardinals at Rome, the Church turned everywhere to the worship of tribal G.o.ds...."
"Yes, but admit that that can be changed. The Church has been supreme in the past; can it not again be supreme? All the evil comes from the struggle, from the compromise. Picture to yourself for a moment a world conquered by the Church, ruled through the soul and mind, where force will not exist, where instead of all the mult.i.tudinous tyrannies man has choked his life with in organising against other men, will exist the one supreme thing, the Church of G.o.d. Instead of many hatreds, one love.
Instead of many slaveries, one freedom."
"A single tyranny, instead of a million. What's the choice?" cried Lully.
"But you are both violent, my children." Merrier got to his feet and smilingly filled the gla.s.ses all round. "You go at the matter too much from the heroic point of view. All this sermonising does no good. We are very simple people who want to live quietly and have plenty to eat and have no one worry us or hurt us in the little span of sunlight before we die. All we have now is the same war between the cla.s.ses: those that exploit and those that are exploited. The cunning, unscrupulous people control the humane, kindly people. This war that has smashed our little European world in which order was so painfully taking the place of chaos, seems to me merely a gigantic battle fought over the plunder of the world by the pirates who have grown fat to the point of madness on the work of their own people, on the work of the millions in Africa, in India, in America, who have come directly or indirectly under the yoke of the insane greed of the white races. Well, our edifice is ruined.
Let's think no more of it. Ours is now the duty of rebuilding, reorganising. I have not faith enough in human nature to be an anarchist.... We are too like sheep; we must go in flocks, and a flock to live must organise. There is plenty for everyone, even with the huge growth in population all over the world. What we want is organisation from the bottom, organisation by the ungreedy, by the humane, by the uncunning, socialism of the ma.s.ses that shall spring from the natural need of men to help one another; not socialism from the top to the ends of the governors, that they may clamp us tighter in their fetters. We must stop the economic war, the war for existence of man against man.
That will be the first step in the long climb to civilisation. They must co-operate, they must learn that it is saner and more advantageous to help one another than to hinder one another in the great war against nature. And the tyranny of the feudal money lords, the unspeakable misery of this war is driving men closer together into fraternity, co-operation. It is the lower cla.s.ses, therefore, that the new world must be founded on. The rich must be extinguished; with them wars will die. First between rich and poor, between the exploiter and the exploited...."
"They have one thing in common," interrupted the blonde Norman, smiling.
"Humanity.... That is, feebleness, cowardice."
"No, indeed. All through the world's history there has been one law for the lord and another for the slave, one humanity for the lord and another humanity for the slave. What we must strive for is a true universal humanity."
"True," cried Lully, "but why take the longest, the most difficult road?
You say that people are sheep; they must be driven. I say that you and I and our American friends here are not sheep. We are capable of standing alone, of judging all for ourselves, and we are just ordinary people like anyone else."
"Oh, but look at us, Lully!" interrupted Merrier. "We are too weak and too cowardly ..."
"An example," said Martin, excitedly leaning across the table. "We none of us believe that war is right or useful or anything but a hideous method of mutual suicide. Have we the courage of our own faith?"
"As I said," Merrier took up again, "I have too little faith to be an anarchist, but I have too much to believe in religion." His tin cup rapped sharply on the table as he set it down.
"No," Lully continued, after a pause, "it is better for man to worship G.o.d, his image on the clouds, the creation of his fancy, than to worship the vulgar apparatus of organised life, government. Better sacrifice his children to Moloch than to that society for the propagation and protection of commerce, the nation. Oh, think of the cost of government in all the ages since men stopped living in marauding tribes! Think of the great men martyred. Think of the thought trodden into the dust....
Give man a chance for once. Government should be purely utilitarian, like the electric light wires in a house. It is a method for attaining peace and comfort--a bad one, I think, at that; not a thing to be worshipped as G.o.d. The one reason for it is the protection of property.
Why should we have property? That is the central evil of the world....
That is the cancer that has made life a h.e.l.l of misery until now; the inflated greed of it has spurred on our nations of the West to throw themselves back, for ever, perhaps, into the depths of savagery.... Oh, if people would only trust their own fundamental kindliness, the fraternity, the love that is the strongest thing in life. Abolish property, and the disease of the desire for it, the desire to grasp and have, and you'll need no government to protect you. The vividness and resiliency of the life of man is being fast crushed under organisation, tabulation. Over-organisation is death. It is disorganisation, not organisation, that is the aim of life."
"I grant that what all of you say is true, but why say it over and over again?" Andre Dubois talked, striding back and forth beside the table, his arms gesticulating. His compound shadow thrown by the candles on the white wall followed him back and forth, mocking him with huge blurred gestures. "The Greek philosophers said it and the Indian sages. Our descendants thousands of years from now will say it and wring their hands as we do. Has not someone on earth the courage to act?..." The men at the table turned towards him, watching his tall figure move back and forth.
"We are slaves. We are blind. We are deaf. Why should we argue, we who have no experience of different things to go on? It has always been the same: man the slave of property or religion, of his own shadow.... First we must burst our bonds, open our eyes, clear our ears. Now we know nothing but what we are told by the rulers. Oh, the lies, the lies, the lies, the lies that life is smothered in! We must strike once more for freedom, for the sake of the dignity of man. Hopelessly, cynically, ruthlessly we must rise and show at least that we are not taken in; that we are slaves but not willing slaves. Oh, they have deceived us so many times. We have been such dupes, we have been such dupes!"
"You are right," said the blonde Norman sullenly; "we have all been dupes."
A sudden self-consciousness chilled them all to silence for a while.
Without wanting to, they strained their ears to hear the guns. There they were, throbbing loud, unceasing, towards the north, like hasty m.u.f.fled drum-beating.
_Cease; drain not to its dregs the wine, Of bitter Prophecy.
The world is weary of its past.
Oh, might it die or rest at last._
All through the talk s.n.a.t.c.hes from _h.e.l.las_ had been running through Howe's head.
After a long pause he turned to Merrier and asked him how he had fared in the attack.
"Oh, not so badly. I brought my skin back," said Merrier, laughing. "It was a dull business. After waiting eight hours under gas bombardment we got orders to advance, and so over we went with the barrage way ahead of us. There was no resistance where we were. We took a lot of prisoners and blew up some dugouts and I had the good luck to find a lot of German chocolate. It came in handy, I can tell you, as no ravitaillement came for two days. We just had biscuits and I toasted the biscuits and chocolate together and had quite good meals, though I nearly died of thirst afterwards.... We lost heavily, though, when they started counter-attacking."
"An' no one of you were touched?"
"Luck.... But we lost many dear friends. Oh, it's always like that."
"Look what I brought back--a German gun," said Andre Dubois, going to the corner of the room.
"That's some souvenir," said Tom Randolph, sitting up suddenly, shaking himself out of the reverie he had been sunk in all through the talk of the evening.
"And I have three hundred rounds. They'll come in handy some day."
"In the revolution--after the war."