Part 7 out of 7
An hour later Benham returned in an extraordinarily dishevelled and
battered condition to his hotel. He found his friend in anxious
consultation with the hotel proprietor.
"We were afraid that something had happened to you," said his
"I got a little involved," said Benham.
"Hasn't some one clawed your cheek?"
"Very probably," said Benham.
"And torn your coat? And hit you rather heavily upon the neck?"
"It was a complicated misunderstanding," said Benham. "Oh! pardon!
I'm rather badly bruised upon that arm you're holding."
Benham told the story to White as a jest against himself.
"I see now of course that they could not possibly understand my
point of view," he said. . . .
"I'm not sure if they quite followed my German. . . .
"It's odd, too, that I remember saying, 'Let's burn these
mortgages,' and at the time I'm almost sure I didn't know the German
for mortgage. . . ."
It was not the only occasion on which other people had failed to
grasp the full intention behind Benham's proceedings. His
aristocratic impulses were apt to run away with his conceptions of
brotherhood, and time after time it was only too manifest to White
that Benham's pallid flash of anger had astonished the subjects of
his disinterested observations extremely. His explorations in Hayti
had been terminated abruptly by an affair with a native policeman
that had necessitated the intervention of the British Consul. It
was begun with that suddenness that was too often characteristic of
Benham, by his hitting the policeman. It was in the main street of
Cap Haytien, and the policeman had just clubbed an unfortunate youth
over the head with the heavily loaded wooden club which is the
normal instrument of Haytien discipline. His blow was a repartee,
part of a triangular altercation in which a large, voluble,
mahogany-coloured lady whose head was tied up in a blue handkerchief
played a conspicuous part, but it seemed to Benham an entirely
He allowed an indignation with negro policemen in general that had
been gathering from the very moment of his arrival at Port-au-Prince
to carry him away. He advanced with the kind of shout one would
hurl at a dog, and smote the policeman to the earth with the stout
stick that the peculiar social atmosphere of Hayti had disposed him
to carry. By the local standard his blow was probably a trivial
one, but the moral effect of his indignant pallor and a sort of
rearing tallness about him on these occasions was always very
considerable. Unhappily these characteristics could have no effect
on a second negro policeman who was approaching the affray from
behind, and he felled Benham by a blow on the shoulder that was
meant for the head, and with the assistance of his colleague
overpowered him, while the youth and the woman vanished.
The two officials dragged Benham in a state of vehement protest to
the lock-up, and only there, in the light of a superior officer's
superior knowledge, did they begin to realize the grave fact of his
The memory of the destruction of the Haytien fleet by a German
gunboat was still vivid in Port-au-Prince, and to that Benham owed
it that in spite of his blank refusal to compensate the man he had
knocked over, he was after two days of anger, two days of extreme
insanitary experience, and much meditation upon his unphilosophical
Quite a number of trivial incidents of a kindred sort diversified
his enquiries into Indian conditions. They too turned for the most
part on his facile exasperation at any defiance of his deep-felt
desire for human brotherhood. At last indeed came an affair that
refused ultimately to remain trivial, and tangled him up in a coil
that invoked newspaper articles and heated controversies.
The effect of India upon Benham's mind was a peculiar mixture of
attraction and irritation. He was attracted by the Hindu spirit of
intellectualism and the Hindu repudiation of brutality, and he was
infuriated by the spirit of caste that cuts the great world of India
into a thousand futile little worlds, all aloof and hostile one to
the other. "I came to see India," he wrote, "and there is no India.
There is a great number of Indias, and each goes about with its chin
in the air, quietly scorning everybody else."
His Indian adventures and his great public controversy on caste
began with a tremendous row with an Indian civil servant who had
turned an Indian gentleman out of his first-class compartment, and
culminated in a disgraceful fracas with a squatting brown holiness
at Benares, who had thrown aside his little brass bowlful of dinner
because Benham's shadow had fallen upon it.
"You unendurable snob!" said Benham, and then lapsing into the
forceful and inadvisable: "By Heaven, you SHALL eat it! . . ."
Benham's detestation of human divisions and hostilities was so deep
in his character as to seem almost instinctive. But he had too a
very clear reason for his hostility to all these amazing breaks in
human continuity in his sense of the gathering dangers they now
involve. They had always, he was convinced, meant conflict, hatred,
misery and the destruction of human dignity, but the new conditions
of life that have been brought about by modern science were making
them far more dangerous than they had ever been before. He believed
that the evil and horror of war was becoming more and more
tremendous with every decade, and that the free play of national
prejudice and that stupid filching ambitiousness that seems to be
inseparable from monarchy, were bound to precipitate catastrophe,
unless a real international aristocracy could be brought into being
to prevent it.
In the drawer full of papers labelled "Politics," White found a
paper called "The Metal Beast." It showed that for a time Benham
had been greatly obsessed by the thought of the armaments that were
in those days piling up in every country in Europe. He had gone to
Essen, and at Essen he had met a German who had boasted of Zeppelins
and the great guns that were presently to smash the effete British
fleet and open the Imperial way to London.
"I could not sleep," he wrote, "on account of this man and his talk
and the streak of hatred in his talk. He distressed me not because
he seemed exceptional, but because he seemed ordinary. I realized
that he was more human than I was, and that only killing and killing
could come out of such humanity. I thought of the great ugly guns I
had seen, and of the still greater guns he had talked about, and how
gloatingly he thought of the destruction they could do. I felt as I
used to feel about that infernal stallion that had killed a man with
its teeth and feet, a despairing fear, a sense of monstrosity in
life. And this creature who had so disturbed me was only a beastly
snuffy little man in an ill-fitting frock-coat, who laid his knife
and fork by their tips on the edge of his plate, and picked his
teeth with gusto and breathed into my face as he talked to me. The
commonest of representative men. I went about that Westphalian
country after that, with the conviction that headless, soulless,
blood-drinking metal monsters were breeding all about me. I felt
that science was producing a poisonous swarm, a nest of black
dragons. They were crouching here and away there in France and
England, they were crouching like beasts that bide their time, mewed
up in forts, kennelled in arsenals, hooded in tarpaulins as hawks
are hooded. . . . And I had never thought very much about them
before, and there they were, waiting until some human fool like that
frock-coated thing of spite, and fools like him multiplied by a
million, saw fit to call them out to action. Just out of hatred and
nationalism and faction. . . ."
Then came a queer fancy.
"Great guns, mines, battleships, all that cruelty-apparatus; I see
it more and more as the gathering revenge of dead joyless matter for
the happiness of life. It is a conspiracy of the lifeless, an
enormous plot of the rebel metals against sensation. That is why in
particular half-living people seem to love these things. La
Ferriere was a fastness of the kind of tyranny that passes out of
human experience, the tyranny of the strong man over men. Essen
comes, the new thing, the tyranny of the strong machine. . . .
"Science is either slave or master. These people--I mean the German
people and militarist people generally--have no real mastery over
the scientific and economic forces on which they seem to ride. The
monster of steel and iron carries Kaiser and Germany and all Europe
captive. It has persuaded them to mount upon its back and now they
must follow the logic of its path. Whither? . . . Only kingship
will ever master that beast of steel which has got loose into the
world. Nothing but the sense of unconquerable kingship in us all
will ever dare withstand it. . . . Men must be kingly aristocrats--
it isn't MAY be now, it is MUST be--or, these confederated metals,
these things of chemistry and metallurgy, these explosives and
mechanisms, will trample the blood and life out of our race into
mere red-streaked froth and filth. . . ."
Then he turned to the question of this metallic beast's release.
Would it ever be given blood?
"Men of my generation have been brought up in this threat of a great
war that never comes; for forty years we have had it, so that it is
with a note of incredulity that one tells oneself, 'After all this
war may happen. But can it happen?'"
He proceeded to speculate upon the probability whether a great war
would ever devastate western Europe again, and it was very evident
to White that he wanted very much to persuade himself against that
idea. It was too disagreeable for him to think it probable. The
paper was dated 1910. It was in October, 1914, that White, who was
still working upon the laborious uncertain account of Benham's life
and thought he has recently published, read what Benham had written.
Benham concluded that the common-sense of the world would hold up
this danger until reason could get "to the head of things."
"There are already mighty forces in Germany," Benham wrote, "that
will struggle very powerfully to avoid a war. And these forces
increase. Behind the coarseness and the threatenings, the melodrama
and the display of the vulgarer sort there arises a great and noble
people. . . . I have talked with Germans of the better kind. . . .
You cannot have a whole nation of Christophes. . . . There also the
true knighthood discovers itself. . . . I do not believe this war
will overtake us."
"WELL!" said White.
"I must go back to Germany and understand Germany better," the notes
But other things were to hold Benham back from that resolve. Other
things were to hold many men back from similar resolves until it was
too late for them. . . .
"It is preposterous that these monstrous dangers should lower over
Europe, because a certain threatening vanity has crept into the
blood of a people, because a few crude ideas go inadequately
controlled. . . . Does no one see what that metallic beast will do
if they once let it loose? It will trample cities; it will devour
nations. . . ."
White read this on the 9th of October, 1914. One crumpled evening
paper at his feet proclaimed in startled headlines: "Rain of
Incendiary Shells. Antwerp Ablaze." Another declared untruthfully
but impressively: "Six Zeppelins drop Bombs over the Doomed City."
He had bought all the evening papers, and had read and re-read them
and turned up maps and worried over strategic problems for which he
had no data at all--as every one did at that time--before he was
able to go on with Benham's manuscripts.
These pacific reassurances seemed to White's war-troubled mind like
finding a flattened and faded flower, a girl's love token, between
the pages of some torn and scorched and blood-stained book picked
out from a heap of loot after rapine and murder had had their
fill. . . .
"How can we ever begin over again?" said White, and sat for a long
time staring gloomily into the fire, forgetting forgetting,
forgetting too that men who are tired and weary die, and that new
men are born to succeed them. . . .
"We have to begin over again," said White at last, and took up
Benham's papers where he had laid them down. . . .
One considerable section of Benham's treatment of the Fourth
Limitation was devoted to what he called the Prejudices of Social
Position. This section alone was manifestly expanding into a large
treatise upon the psychology of economic organization. . . .
It was only very slowly that he had come to realize the important
part played by economic and class hostilities in the disordering of
human affairs. This was a very natural result of his peculiar
social circumstances. Most people born to wealth and ease take the
established industrial system as the natural method in human
affairs; it is only very reluctantly and by real feats of sympathy
and disinterestedness that they can be brought to realize that it is
natural only in the sense that it has grown up and come about, and
necessary only because nobody is strong and clever enough to
rearrange it. Their experience of it is a satisfactory experience.
On the other hand, the better off one is, the wider is one's outlook
and the more alert one is to see the risks and dangers of
international dissensions. Travel and talk to foreigners open one's
eyes to aggressive possibilities; history and its warnings become
conceivable. It is in the nature of things that socialists and
labour parties should minimize international obligations and
necessities, and equally so that autocracies and aristocracies and
plutocracies should be negligent of and impatient about social
But Benham did come to realize this broader conflict between worker
and director, between poor man and possessor, between resentful
humanity and enterprise, between unwilling toil and unearned
opportunity. It is a far profounder and subtler conflict than any
other in human affairs. "I can foresee a time," he wrote, "when the
greater national and racial hatreds may all be so weakened as to be
no longer a considerable source of human limitation and misery, when
the suspicions of complexion and language and social habit are
allayed, and when the element of hatred and aggression may be clean
washed out of most religious cults, but I do not begin to imagine a
time, because I cannot imagine a method, when there will not be
great friction between those who employ, those who direct collective
action, and those whose part it is to be the rank and file in
industrialism. This, I know, is a limitation upon my confidence due
very largely to the restricted nature of my knowledge of this sort
of organization. Very probably resentment and suspicion in the mass
and self-seeking and dishonesty in the fortunate few are not so
deeply seated, so necessary as they seem to be, and if men can be
cheerfully obedient and modestly directive in war time, there is no
reason why ultimately they should not be so in the business of
peace. But I do not understand the elements of the methods by which
this state of affairs can be brought about.
"If I were to confess this much to an intelligent working man I know
that at once he would answer 'Socialism,' but Socialism is no more a
solution of this problem than eating is a solution when one is lost
in the wilderness and hungry. Of course everybody with any
intelligence wants Socialism, everybody, that is to say, wants to
see all human efforts directed to the common good and a common end,
but brought face to face with practical problems Socialism betrays a
vast insufficiency of practical suggestions. I do not say that
Socialism would not work, but I do say that so far Socialists have
failed to convince me that they could work it. The substitution of
a stupid official for a greedy proprietor may mean a vanished
dividend, a limited output and no other human advantage whatever.
Socialism is in itself a mere eloquent gesture, inspiring,
encouraging, perhaps, but beyond that not very helpful, towards the
vast problem of moral and material adjustment before the race. That
problem is incurably miscellaneous and intricate, and only by great
multitudes of generous workers, one working at this point and one at
that, secretly devoted knights of humanity, hidden and dispersed
kings, unaware of one another, doubting each his right to count
himself among those who do these kingly services, is this elaborate
rightening of work and guidance to be done."
So from these most fundamental social difficulties he came back to
his panacea. All paths and all enquiries led him back to his
conception of aristocracy, conscious, self-disciplined, devoted,
self-examining yet secret, making no personal nor class pretences,
as the supreme need not only of the individual but the world.
It was the Labour trouble in the Transvaal which had brought the two
schoolfellows together again. White had been on his way to
Zimbabwe. An emotional disturbance of unusual intensity had driven
him to seek consolations in strange scenery and mysterious
desolations. It was as if Zimbabwe called to him. Benham had come
to South Africa to see into the question of Indian immigration, and
he was now on his way to meet Amanda in London. Neither man had
given much heed to the gathering social conflict on the Rand until
the storm burst about them. There had been a few paragraphs in the
papers about a dispute upon a point of labour etiquette, a question
of the recognition of Trade Union officials, a thing that impressed
them both as technical, and then suddenly a long incubated quarrel
flared out in rioting and violence, the burning of houses and
furniture, attacks on mines, attempts to dynamite trains. White
stayed in Johannesburg because he did not want to be stranded up
country by the railway strike that was among the possibilities of
the situation. Benham stayed because he was going to London very
reluctantly, and he was glad of this justification for a few days'
delay. The two men found themselves occupying adjacent tables in
the Sherborough Hotel, and White was the first to recognize the
other. They came together with a warmth and readiness of intimacy
that neither would have displayed in London.
White had not seen Benham since the social days of Amanda at
Lancaster Gate, and he was astonished at the change a few years had
made in him. The peculiar contrast of his pallor and his dark hair
had become more marked, his skin was deader, his features seemed
more prominent and his expression intenser. His eyes were very
bright and more sunken under his brows. He had suffered from yellow
fever in the West Indies, and these it seemed were the marks left by
that illness. And he was much more detached from the people about
him; less attentive to the small incidents of life, more occupied
with inner things. He greeted White with a confidence that White
was one day to remember as pathetic.
"It is good to meet an old friend," Benham said. "I have lost
friends. And I do not make fresh ones. I go about too much by
myself, and I do not follow the same tracks that other people are
following. . . ."
What track was he following? It was now that White first heard of
the Research Magnificent. He wanted to know what Benham was doing,
and Benham after some partial and unsatisfactory explanation of his
interest in insurgent Hindoos, embarked upon larger expositions.
"It is, of course, a part of something else," he amplified. He was
writing a book, "an enormous sort of book." He laughed with a touch
of shyness. It was about "everything," about how to live and how
not to live. And "aristocracy, and all sorts of things." White was
always curious about other people's books. Benham became earnest
and more explicit under encouragement, and to talk about his book
was soon to talk about himself. In various ways, intentionally and
inadvertently, he told White much. These chance encounters, these
intimacies of the train and hotel, will lead men at times to a stark
frankness of statement they would never permit themselves with
About the Johannesburg labour trouble they talked very little,
considering how insistent it was becoming. But the wide
propositions of the Research Magnificent, with its large
indifference to immediate occurrences, its vast patience, its
tremendous expectations, contrasted very sharply in White's memory
with the bitterness, narrowness and resentment of the events about
them. For him the thought of that first discussion of this vast
inchoate book into which Benham's life was flowering, and which he
was ultimately to summarize, trailed with it a fringe of vivid
little pictures; pictures of crowds of men hurrying on bicycles and
afoot under a lowering twilight sky towards murmuring centres of
disorder, of startling flares seen suddenly afar off, of the muffled
galloping of troops through the broad dusty street in the night, of
groups of men standing and watching down straight broad roads, roads
that ended in groups of chimneys and squat buildings of corrugated
iron. And once there was a marching body of white men in the
foreground and a complicated wire fence, and a clustering mass of
Kaffirs watching them over this fence and talking eagerly amongst
"All this affair here is little more than a hitch in the machinery,"
said Benham, and went back to his large preoccupation. . . .
But White, who had not seen so much human disorder as Benham, felt
that it was more than that. Always he kept the tail of his eye upon
that eventful background while Benham talked to him.
When the firearms went off he may for the moment have even given the
background the greater share of his attention. . . .
It was only as White burrowed through his legacy of documents that
the full values came to very many things that Benham said during
these last conversations. The papers fitted in with his memories of
their long talks like text with commentary; so much of Benham's talk
had repeated the private writings in which he had first digested his
ideas that it was presently almost impossible to disentangle what
had been said and understood at Johannesburg from the fuller
statement of those patched and corrected manuscripts. The two
things merged in White's mind as he read. The written text took
upon itself a resonance of Benham's voice; it eked out the hints and
broken sentences of his remembered conversation.
But some things that Benham did not talk about at all, left by their
mere marked absence an impression on White's mind. And occasionally
after Benham had been talking for a long time there would be an
occasional aphasia, such as is often apparent in the speech of men
who restrain themselves from betraying a preoccupation. He would
say nothing about Amanda or about women in general, he was reluctant
to speak of Prothero, and another peculiarity was that he referred
perhaps half a dozen times or more to the idea that he was a "prig."
He seemed to be defending himself against some inner accusation,
some unconquerable doubt of the entire adventure of his life. These
half hints and hints by omission exercised the quick intuitions of
White's mind very keenly, and he drew far closer to an understanding
of Benham's reserves than Benham ever suspected. . . .
At first after his parting from Amanda in London Benham had felt
completely justified in his treatment of her. She had betrayed him
and he had behaved, he felt, with dignity and self-control. He had
no doubt that he had punished her very effectively, and it was only
after he had been travelling in China with Prothero for some time
and in the light of one or two chance phrases in her letters that he
began to have doubts whether he ought to have punished her at all.
And one night at Shanghai he had a dream in which she stood before
him, dishevelled and tearful, his Amanda, very intensely his Amanda,
and said that she was dirty and shameful and spoilt for ever,
because he had gone away from her. Afterwards the dream became
absurd: she showed him the black leopard's fur as though it was a
rug, and it was now moth-eaten and mangey, the leopard skin that had
been so bright and wonderful such a little time ago, and he awoke
before he could answer her, and for a long time he was full of
unspoken answers explaining that in view of her deliberate
unfaithfulness the position she took up was absurd. She had spoilt
her own fur. But what was more penetrating and distressing in this
dream was not so much the case Amanda stated as the atmosphere of
unconquerable intimacy between them, as though they still belonged
to each other, soul to soul, as though nothing that had happened
afterwards could have destroyed their common responsibility and the
common interest of their first unstinted union. She was hurt, and
of course he was hurt. He began to see that his marriage to Amanda
was still infinitely more than a technical bond.
And having perceived that much he presently began to doubt whether
she realized anything of the sort. Her letters fluctuated very much
in tone, but at times they were as detached and guarded as a
schoolgirl writing to a cousin. Then it seemed to Benham an
extraordinary fraud on her part that she should presume to come into
his dream with an entirely deceptive closeness and confidence. She
began to sound him in these latter letters upon the possibility of
divorce. This, which he had been quite disposed to concede in
London, now struck him as an outrageous suggestion. He wrote to ask
her why, and she responded exasperatingly that she thought it was
"better." But, again, why better? It is remarkable that although
his mind had habituated itself to the idea that Easton was her lover
in London, her thought of being divorced, no doubt to marry again,
filled him with jealous rage. She asked him to take the blame in
the divorce proceedings. There, again, he found himself ungenerous.
He did not want to do that. Why should he do that? As a matter of
fact he was by no means reconciled to the price he had paid for his
Research Magnificent; he regretted his Amanda acutely. He was
regretting her with a regret that grew when by all the rules of life
it ought to be diminishing.
It was in consequence of that regret and his controversies with
Prothero while they travelled together in China that his concern
about what he called priggishness arose. It is a concern that one
may suppose has a little afflicted every reasonably self-conscious
man who has turned from the natural passionate personal life to
religion or to public service or any abstract devotion. These
things that are at least more extensive than the interests of flesh
and blood have a trick of becoming unsubstantial, they shine
gloriously and inspiringly upon the imagination, they capture one
and isolate one and then they vanish out of sight. It is far easier
to be entirely faithful to friend or lover than it is to be faithful
to a cause or to one's country or to a religion. In the glow of
one's first service that larger idea may be as closely spontaneous
as a handclasp, but in the darkness that comes as the glow dies away
there is a fearful sense of unreality. It was in such dark moments
that Benham was most persecuted by his memories of Amanda and most
distressed by this suspicion that the Research Magnificent was a
priggishness, a pretentious logomachy. Prothero could indeed hint
as much so skilfully that at times the dream of nobility seemed an
insult to the sunshine, to the careless laughter of children, to the
good light in wine and all the warm happiness of existence. And
then Amanda would peep out of the dusk and whisper, "Of course if
you could leave me--! Was I not LIFE? Even now if you cared to
come back to me-- For I loved you best and loved you still, old
Cheetah, long after you had left me to follow your dreams. . . .
Even now I am drifting further into lies and the last shreds of
dignity drop from me; a dirty, lost, and shameful leopard I am now,
who was once clean and bright. . . . You could come back, Cheetah,
and you could save me yet. If you would love me. . . ."
In certain moods she could wring his heart by such imagined
speeches, the very quality of her voice was in them, a softness that
his ear had loved, and not only could she distress him, but when
Benham was in this heartache mood, when once she had set him going,
then his little mother also would rise against him, touchingly
indignant, with her blue eyes bright with tears; and his frowsty
father would back towards him and sit down complaining that he was
neglected, and even little Mrs. Skelmersdale would reappear, bravely
tearful on her chair looking after him as he slunk away from her
through Kensington Gardens; indeed every personal link he had ever
had to life could in certain moods pull him back through the door of
self-reproach Amanda opened and set him aching and accusing himself
of harshness and self-concentration. The very kittens of his
childhood revived forgotten moments of long-repented hardness. For
a year before Prothero was killed there were these heartaches. That
tragedy gave them their crowning justification. All these people
said in this form or that, "You owed a debt to us, you evaded it,
you betrayed us, you owed us life out of yourself, love and
services, and you have gone off from us all with this life that was
ours, to live by yourself in dreams about the rule of the world, and
with empty phantoms of power and destiny. All this was
intellectualization. You sacrificed us to the thin things of the
mind. There is no rule of the world at all, or none that a man like
you may lay hold upon. The rule of the world is a fortuitous result
of incalculably multitudinous forces. But all of us you could have
made happier. You could have spared us distresses. Prothero died
because of you. Presently it will be the turn of your father, your
mother--Amanda perhaps. . . ."
He made no written note of his heartaches, but he made several
memoranda about priggishness that White read and came near to
understanding. In spite of the tugging at his heart-strings, Benham
was making up his mind to be a prig. He weighed the cold
uningratiating virtues of priggishness against his smouldering
passion for Amanda, and against his obstinate sympathy for
Prothero's grossness and his mother's personal pride, and he made
his choice. But it was a reluctant choice.
One fragment began in the air. "Of course I had made myself
responsible for her life. But it was, you see, such a confoundedly
energetic life, as vigorous and as slippery as an eel. . . . Only
by giving all my strength to her could I have held Amanda. . . . So
what was the good of trying to hold Amanda? . . .
"All one's people have this sort of claim upon one. Claims made by
their pride and their self-respect, and their weaknesses and
dependences. You've no right to hurt them, to kick about and demand
freedom when it means snapping and tearing the silly suffering
tendrils they have wrapped about you. The true aristocrat I think
will have enough grasp, enough steadiness, to be kind and right to
every human being and still do the work that ought to be his
essential life. I see that now. It's one of the things this last
year or so of loneliness has made me realize; that in so far as I
have set out to live the aristocratic life I have failed. Instead
I've discovered it--and found myself out. I'm an overstrung man. I
go harshly and continuously for one idea. I live as I ride. I
blunder through my fences, I take off too soon. I've no natural
ease of mind or conduct or body. I am straining to keep hold of a
thing too big for me and do a thing beyond my ability. Only after
Prothero's death was it possible for me to realize the prig I have
always been, first as regards him and then as regards Amanda and my
mother and every one. A necessary unavoidable priggishness. . . ."
I do not see how certain things can be done without prigs, people,
that is to say, so concentrated and specialized in interest as to be
a trifle inhuman, so resolved as to be rather rhetorical and
forced. . . . All things must begin with clumsiness, there is
no assurance about pioneers. . . .
"Some one has to talk about aristocracy, some one has to explain
aristocracy. . . . But the very essence of aristocracy, as I
conceive it, is that it does not explain nor talk about itself. . . .
"After all it doesn't matter what I am. . . . It's just a private
vexation that I haven't got where I meant to get. That does not
affect the truth I have to tell. . . .
"If one has to speak the truth with the voice of a prig, still one
must speak the truth. I have worked out some very considerable
things in my research, and the time has come when I must set them
out clearly and plainly. That is my job anyhow. My journey to
London to release Amanda will be just the end of my adolescence and
the beginning of my real life. It will release me from my last
entanglement with the fellow creatures I have always failed to make
happy. . . . It's a detail in the work. . . . And I shall go on.
"But I shall feel very like a man who goes back for a surgical
"It's very like that. A surgical operation, and when it is over
perhaps I shall think no more about it.
"And beyond these things there are great masses of work to be done.
So far I have but cleared up for myself a project and outline of
living. I must begin upon these masses now, I must do what I can
upon the details, and, presently, I shall see more clearly where
other men are working to the same ends. . . ."
Benham's expedition to China with Prothero was essentially a wrestle
between his high resolve to work out his conception of the noble
life to the utmost limit and his curiously invincible affection and
sympathy for the earthliness of that inglorious little don.
Although Benham insisted upon the dominance of life by noble
imaginations and relentless reasonableness, he would never
altogether abandon the materialism of life. Prothero had once said
to him, "You are the advocate of the brain and I of the belly.
Only, only we respect each other." And at another time, "You fear
emotions and distrust sensations. I invite them. You do not drink
gin because you think it would make you weep. But if I could not
weep in any other way I would drink gin." And it was under the
influence of Prothero that Benham turned from the haughty
intellectualism, the systematized superiorities and refinements, the
caste marks and defensive dignities of India to China, that great
teeming stinking tank of humorous yellow humanity.
Benham had gone to Prothero again after a bout of elevated idealism.
It was only very slowly that he reconciled his mind to the idea of
an entirely solitary pursuit of his aristocratic dream. For some
time as he went about the world he was trying to bring himself into
relationship with the advanced thinkers, the liberal-minded people
who seemed to promise at least a mental and moral co-operation. Yet
it is difficult to see what co-operation was possible unless it was
some sort of agreement that presently they should all shout
together. And it was after a certain pursuit of Rabindranath
Tagore, whom he met in Hampstead, that a horror of perfect manners
and perfect finish came upon him, and he fled from that starry calm
to the rich uncleanness of the most undignified fellow of Trinity.
And as an advocate and exponent of the richness of the lower levels
of life, as the declared antagonist of caste and of the uttermost
refinements of pride, Prothero went with Benham by way of Siberia to
the Chinese scene.
Their controversy was perceptible at every dinner-table in their
choice of food and drink. Benham was always wary and Prothero
always appreciative. It peeped out in the distribution of their
time, in the direction of their glances. Whenever women walked
about, Prothero gave way to a sort of ethnological excitement.
"That girl--a wonderful racial type." But in Moscow he was
sentimental. He insisted on going again to the Cosmopolis Bazaar,
and when he had ascertained that Anna Alexievna had vanished and
left no trace he prowled the streets until the small hours.
In the eastward train he talked intermittently of her. "I should
have defied Cambridge," he said.
But at every stopping station he got out upon the platform
ethnologically alert. . . .
Theoretically Benham was disgusted with Prothero. Really he was not
disgusted at all. There was something about Prothero like a
sparrow, like a starling, like a Scotch terrier. . . . These, too,
are morally objectionable creatures that do not disgust. . . .
Prothero discoursed much upon the essential goodness of Russians.
He said they were a people of genius, that they showed it in their
faults and failures just as much as in their virtues and
achievements. He extolled the "germinating disorder" of Moscow far
above the "implacable discipline" of Berlin. Only a people of
inferior imagination, a base materialist people, could so maintain
its attention upon precision and cleanliness. Benham was roused to
defence against this paradox. "But all exaltation neglects," said
Prothero. "No religion has ever boasted that its saints were spick
and span." This controversy raged between them in the streets of
Irkutsk. It was still burning while they picked their way through
the indescribable filth of Pekin.
"You say that all this is a fine disdain for material things," said
Benham. "But look out there!"
Apt to their argument a couple of sturdy young women came shuffling
along, cleaving the crowd in the narrow street by virtue of a single
word and two brace of pails of human ordure.
"That is not a fine disdain for material things," said Benham.
"That is merely individualism and unsystematic living."
"A mere phase of frankness. Only frankness is left to them now.
The Manchus crippled them, spoilt their roads and broke their
waterways. European intervention paralyses every attempt they make
to establish order on their own lines. In the Ming days China did
not reek. . . . And, anyhow, Benham, it's better than the silly
waste of London. . . ."
And in a little while Prothero discovered that China had tried
Benham and found him wanting, centuries and dynasties ago.
What was this new-fangled aristocratic man, he asked, but the ideal
of Confucius, the superior person, "the son of the King"? There you
had the very essence of Benham, the idea of self-examination, self-
preparation under a vague Theocracy. ("Vaguer," said Benham, "for
the Confucian Heaven could punish and reward.") Even the elaborate
sham modesty of the two dreams was the same. Benham interrupted and
protested with heat. And this Confucian idea of the son of the
King, Prothero insisted, had been the cause of China's paralysis.
"My idea of nobility is not traditional but expectant," said Benham.
"After all, Confucianism has held together a great pacific state far
longer than any other polity has ever lasted. I'll accept your
Confucianism. I've not the slightest objection to finding China
nearer salvation than any other land. Do but turn it round so that
it looks to the future and not to the past, and it will be the best
social and political culture in the world. That, indeed, is what is
happening. Mix Chinese culture with American enterprise and you
will have made a new lead for mankind."
From that Benham drove on to discoveries. "When a man thinks of the
past he concentrates on self; when he thinks of the future he
radiates from self. Call me a neo-Confucian; with the cone opening
forward away from me, instead of focussing on me. . . ."
"You make me think of an extinguisher," said Prothero.
"You know I am thinking of a focus," said Benham. "But all your
thought now has become caricature. . . . You have stopped thinking.
You are fighting after making up your mind. . . ."
Prothero was a little disconcerted by Benham's prompt endorsement of
his Chinese identification. He had hoped it would be exasperating.
He tried to barb his offence. He amplified the indictment. All
cultures must be judged by their reaction and fatigue products, and
Confucianism had produced formalism, priggishness, humbug. . . . No
doubt its ideals had had their successes; they had unified China,
stamped the idea of universal peace and good manners upon the
greatest mass of population in the world, paved the way for much
beautiful art and literature and living. "But in the end, all your
stern orderliness, Benham," said Prothero, "only leads to me. The
human spirit rebels against this everlasting armour on the soul.
After Han came T'ang. Have you never read Ling Po? There's scraps
of him in English in that little book you have--what is it?--the
LUTE OF JADE? He was the inevitable Epicurean; the Omar Khayyam
after the Prophet. Life must relax at last. . . ."
"No!" cried Benham. "If it is traditional, I admit, yes; but if it
is creative, no. . . ."
Under the stimulation of their undying controversy Benham was driven
to closer enquiries into Chinese thought. He tried particularly to
get to mental grips with English-speaking Chinese. "We still know
nothing of China," said Prothero. "Most of the stuff we have been
told about this country is mere middle-class tourists' twaddle. We
send merchants from Brixton and missionaries from Glasgow, and what
doesn't remind them of these delectable standards seems either funny
to them or wicked. I admit the thing is slightly pot-bound, so to
speak, in the ancient characters and the ancient traditions, but for
all that, they KNOW, they HAVE, what all the rest of the world has
still to find and get. When they begin to speak and write in a
modern way and handle modern things and break into the soil they
have scarcely touched, the rest of the world will find just how much
it is behind. . . . Oh! not soldiering; the Chinese are not such
fools as that, but LIFE. . . ."
Benham was won to a half belief in these assertions.
He came to realize more and more clearly that while India dreams or
wrestles weakly in its sleep, while Europe is still hopelessly and
foolishly given over to militant monarchies, racial vanities,
delirious religious feuds and an altogether imbecile fumbling with
loaded guns, China, even more than America, develops steadily into a
massive possibility of ordered and aristocratic liberalism. . . .
The two men followed their associated and disconnected paths.
Through Benham's chance speeches and notes, White caught glimpses,
as one might catch glimpses through a moving trellis, of that
bilateral adventure. He saw Benham in conversation with liberal-
minded mandarins, grave-faced, bald-browed persons with disciplined
movements, who sat with their hands thrust into their sleeves
talking excellent English; while Prothero pursued enquiries of an
intenser, more recondite sort with gentlemen of a more confidential
type. And, presently, Prothero began to discover and discuss the
merits of opium.
For if one is to disavow all pride and priggishness, if one is to
find the solution of life's problem in the rational enjoyment of
one's sensations, why should one not use opium? It is art
materialized. It gives tremendous experiences with a minimum of
exertion, and if presently its gifts diminish one need but increase
the quantity. Moreover, it quickens the garrulous mind, and
steadies the happiness of love. Across the varied adventures of
Benham's journey in China fell the shadow first of a suspicion and
then of a certainty. . . .
The perfected and ancient vices of China wrapped about Prothero like
some tainted but scented robe, and all too late Benham sought to
drag him away. And then in a passion of disgust turned from him.
"To this," cried Benham, "one comes! Save for pride and
"Better this than cruelty," said Prothero talking quickly and
clearly because of the evil thing in his veins. "You think that you
are the only explorer of life, Benham, but while you toil up the
mountains I board the house-boat and float down the stream. For you
the stars, for me the music and the lanterns. You are the son of a
mountaineering don, and I am a Chinese philosopher of the riper
school. You force yourself beyond fear of pain, and I force myself
beyond fear of consequences. What are we either of us but children
groping under the black cloak of our Maker?--who will not blind us
with his light. Did he not give us also these lusts, the keen knife
and the sweetness, these sensations that are like pineapple smeared
with saltpetre, like salted olives from heaven, like being flayed
with delight. . . . And did he not give us dreams fantastic beyond
any lust whatever? What is the good of talking? Speak to your own
kind. I have gone, Benham. I am lost already. There is no
resisting any more, since I have drugged away resistance. Why then
should I come back? I know now the symphonies of the exalted
nerves; I can judge; and I say better lie and hear them to the end
than come back again to my old life, to my little tin-whistle solo,
my--effort! My EFFORT! . . . I ruin my body. I know. But what of
that? . . . I shall soon be thin and filthy. What of the grape-
skin when one has had the pulp?"
"But," said Benham, "the cleanness of life!"
"While I perish," said Prothero still more wickedly, "I say good
things. . . ."
White had a vision of a great city with narrow crowded streets, hung
with lank banners and gay with vertical vermilion labels, and of a
pleasant large low house that stood in a garden on a hillside, a
garden set with artificial stones and with beasts and men and
lanterns of white porcelain, a garden which overlooked this city.
Here it was that Benham stayed and talked with his host, a man robed
in marvellous silks and subtle of speech even in the European
languages he used, and meanwhile Prothero, it seemed, had gone down
into the wickedness of the town below. It was a very great town
indeed, spreading for miles along the banks of a huge river, a river
that divided itself indolently into three shining branches so as to
make islands of the central portion of the place. And on this river
swarmed for ever a vast flotilla of ships and boats, boats in which
people lived, boats in which they sought pleasure, moored places of
assembly, high-pooped junks, steamboats, passenger sampans, cargo
craft, such a water town in streets and lanes, endless miles of it,
as no other part of the world save China can display. In the
daylight it was gay with countless sunlit colours embroidered upon a
fabric of yellow and brown, at night it glittered with a hundred
thousand lights that swayed and quivered and were reflected
quiveringly upon the black flowing waters.
And while Benham sat and talked in the garden above came a messenger
who was for some reason very vividly realized by White's
imagination. He was a tall man with lack-lustre eyes and sunken
cheeks that made his cheek bones very prominent, and gave his thin-
lipped mouth something of the geniality of a skull, and the arm he
thrust out of his yellow robe to hand Prothero's message to Benham
was lean as a pole. So he stood out in White's imagination, against
the warm afternoon sky and the brown roofs and blue haze of the
great town below, and was with one exception the distinctest thing
in the story. The message he bore was scribbled by Prothero himself
in a nerveless scrawl: "Send a hundred dollars by this man. I am in
a frightful fix."
Now Benham's host had been twitting him with the European patronage
of opium, and something in this message stirred his facile
indignation. Twice before he had had similar demands. And on the
whole they had seemed to him to be unreasonable demands. He was
astonished that while he was sitting and talking of the great world-
republic of the future and the secret self-directed aristocracy that
would make it possible, his own friend, his chosen companion, should
thus, by this inglorious request and this ungainly messenger,
disavow him. He felt a wave of intense irritation.
"No," he said, "I will not."
And he was too angry to express himself in any language
understandable by his messenger.
His host intervened and explained after a few questions that the
occasion was serious. Prothero, it seemed, had been gambling.
"No," said Benham. "He is shameless. Let him do what he can."
The messenger was still reluctant to go.
And scarcely had he gone before misgivings seized Benham.
"Where IS your friend?" asked the mandarin.
"I don't know," said Benham.
"But they will keep him! They may do all sorts of things when they
find he is lying to them."
"Lying to them?"
"About your help."
"Stop that man," cried Benham suddenly realizing his mistake. But
when the servants went to stop the messenger their intentions were
misunderstood, and the man dashed through the open gate of the
garden and made off down the winding road.
"Stop him!" cried Benham, and started in pursuit, suddenly afraid
The Chinese are a people of great curiosity, and a small pebble
sometimes starts an avalanche. . . .
White pieced together his conception of the circles of disturbance
that spread out from Benham's pursuit of Prothero's flying
For weeks and months the great town had been uneasy in all its ways
because of the insurgent spirits from the south and the disorder
from the north, because of endless rumours and incessant intrigue.
The stupid manoeuvres of one European "power" against another, the
tactlessness of missionaries, the growing Chinese disposition to
meet violence and force with violence and force, had fermented and
brewed the possibility of an outbreak. The sudden resolve of Benham
to get at once to Prothero was like the firing of a mine. This
tall, pale-faced, incomprehensible stranger charging through the
narrow streets that led to the pleasure-boats in the south river
seemed to many a blue-clad citizen like the White Peril embodied.
Behind him came the attendants of the rich man up the hill; but they
surely were traitors to help this stranger.
Before Benham could at all realize what was happening he found his
way to the river-boat on which he supposed Prothero to be detained,
barred by a vigorous street fight. Explanations were impossible; he
joined in the fight.
For three days that fight developed round the mystery of Prothero's
It was a complicated struggle into which the local foreign traders
on the river-front and a detachment of modern drilled troops from
the up-river barracks were presently drawn. It was a struggle that
was never clearly explained, and at the end of it they found
Prothero's body flung out upon a waste place near a little temple on
the river bank, stabbed while he was asleep. . . .
And from the broken fragments of description that Benham let fall,
White had an impression of him hunting for all those three days
through the strange places of a Chinese city, along narrow passages,
over queer Venetian-like bridges, through the vast spaces of empty
warehouses, in the incense-scented darkness of temple yards, along
planks that passed to the dark hulls of secret barges, in quick-
flying boats that slipped noiselessly among the larger craft, and
sometimes he hunted alone, sometimes in company, sometimes black
figures struggled in the darkness against dim-lit backgrounds and
sometimes a swarm of shining yellow faces screamed and shouted
through the torn paper windows. . . . And then at the end of this
confused effect of struggle, this Chinese kinematograph film, one
last picture jerked into place and stopped and stood still, a white
wall in the sunshine come upon suddenly round a corner, a dirty
flagged passage and a stiff crumpled body that had for the first
time an inexpressive face. . . .
Benham sat at a table in the smoking-room of the Sherborough Hotel
at Johannesburg and told of these things. White watched him from an
armchair. And as he listened he noted again the intensification of
Benham's face, the darkness under his brows, the pallor of his skin,
the touch of red in his eyes. For there was still that red gleam in
Benham's eyes; it shone when he looked out of a darkness into a
light. And he sat forward with his arms folded under him, or moved
his long lean hand about over the things on the table.
"You see," he said, "this is a sort of horror in my mind. Things
like this stick in my mind. I am always seeing Prothero now, and it
will take years to get this scar off my memory again. Once before--
about a horse, I had the same kind of distress. And it makes me
tender, sore-minded about everything. It will go, of course, in the
long run, and it's just like any other ache that lays hold of one.
One can't cure it. One has to get along with it. . . .
"I know, White, I ought to have sent that money, but how was I to
know then that it was so imperative to send that money? . . .
"At the time it seemed just pandering to his vices. . . .
"I was angry. I shall never subdue that kind of hastiness
altogether. It takes me by surprise. Before the messenger was out
of sight I had repented. . . .
"I failed him. I have gone about in the world dreaming of
tremendous things and failing most people. My wife too. . . ."
He stopped talking for a little time and folded his arms tight and
stared hard in front of himself, his lips compressed.
"You see, White," he said, with a kind of setting of the teeth,
"this is the sort of thing one has to stand. Life is imperfect.
Nothing can be done perfectly. And on the whole--" He spoke still
more slowly, "I would go through again with the very same things
that have hurt my people. If I had to live over again. I would try
to do the things without hurting the people, but I would do the
things anyhow. Because I'm raw with remorse, it does not follow
that on the whole I am not doing right. Right doing isn't balm. If
I could have contrived not to hurt these people as I have done, it
would have been better, just as it would be better to win a battle
without any killed or wounded. I was clumsy with them and they
suffered, I suffer for their suffering, but still I have to stick to
the way I have taken. One's blunders are accidents. If one thing
is clearer than another it is that the world isn't accident-proof. . . .
"But I wish I had sent those dollars to Prothero. . . . God! White,
but I lie awake at night thinking of that messenger as he turned
away. . . . Trying to stop him. . . .
"I didn't send those dollars. So fifty or sixty people were killed
and many wounded. . . . There for all practical purposes the thing
ends. Perhaps it will serve to give me a little charity for some
other fool's haste and blundering. . . .
"I couldn't help it, White. I couldn't help it. . . .
"The main thing, the impersonal thing, goes on. One thinks, one
learns, one adds one's contribution of experience and understanding.
The spirit of the race goes on to light and comprehension. In spite
of accidents. In spite of individual blundering.
"It would be absurd anyhow to suppose that nobility is so easy as to
come slick and true on every occasion. . . .
"If one gives oneself to any long aim one must reckon with minor
disasters. This Research I undertook grows and grows. I believe in
it more and more. The more it asks from me the more I give to it.
When I was a youngster I thought the thing I wanted was just round
the corner. I fancied I would find out the noble life in a year or
two, just what it was, just where it took one, and for the rest of
my life I would live it. Finely. But I am just one of a multitude
of men, each one going a little wrong, each one achieving a little
right. And the noble life is a long, long way ahead. . . . We are
working out a new way of living for mankind, a new rule, a new
conscience. It's no small job for all of us. There must be
lifetimes of building up and lifetimes of pulling down and trying
again. Hope and disappointments and much need for philosophy. . . .
I see myself now for the little workman I am upon this tremendous
undertaking. And all my life hereafter goes to serve it. . . ."
He turned his sombre eyes upon his friend. He spoke with a grim
enthusiasm. "I'm a prig. I'm a fanatic, White. But I have
something clear, something better worth going on with than any
adventure of personal relationship could possibly be. . . ."
And suddenly he began to tell White as plainly as he could of the
faith that had grown up in his mind. He spoke with a touch of
defiance, with the tense force of a man who shrinks but overcomes
his shame. "I will tell you what I believe."
He told of his early dread of fear and baseness, and of the slow
development, expansion and complication of his idea of self-respect
until he saw that there is no honour nor pride for a man until he
refers his life to ends and purposes beyond himself. An aristocrat
must be loyal. So it has ever been, but a modern aristocrat must
also be lucid; there it is that one has at once the demand for
kingship and the repudiation of all existing states and kings. In
this manner he had come to his idea of a great world republic that
must replace the little warring kingdoms of the present, to the
conception of an unseen kingship ruling the whole globe, to his King
Invisible, who is the Lord of Truth and all sane loyalty. "There,"
he said, "is the link of our order, the new knighthood, the new
aristocracy, that must at last rule the earth. There is our Prince.
He is in me, he is in you; he is latent in all mankind. I have
worked this out and tried it and lived it, and I know that outwardly
and inwardly this is the way a man must live, or else be a poor
thing and a base one. On great occasions and small occasions I have
failed myself a thousand times, but no failure lasts if your faith
lasts. What I have learnt, what I have thought out and made sure, I
want now to tell the world. Somehow I will tell it, as a book I
suppose, though I do not know if I shall ever be able to make a
book. But I have away there in London or with me here all the
masses of notes I have made in my search for the life that is worth
while living. . . . We who are self-appointed aristocrats, who are
not ashamed of kingship, must speak to one another. . . .
"We can have no organization because organizations corrupt. . . .
"No recognition. . . .
"But we can speak plainly. . . ."
(As he talked his voice was for a space drowned by the jingle and
voices of mounted police riding past the hotel.)
"But on one side your aristocracy means revolution," said White.
"It becomes a political conspiracy."
"Manifestly. An open conspiracy. It denies the king upon the
stamps and the flag upon the wall. It is the continual proclamation
of the Republic of Mankind."
The earlier phases of violence in the Rand outbreak in 1913 were
manifest rather in the outskirts of Johannesburg than at the centre.
"Pulling out" was going on first at this mine and then that, there
were riots in Benoni, attacks on strike breakers and the smashing up
of a number of houses. It was not until July the 4th that, with the
suppression of a public meeting in the market-place, Johannesburg
itself became the storm centre.
Benham and White were present at this marketplace affair, a confused
crowded occasion, in which a little leaven of active men stirred
through a large uncertain multitude of decently dressed onlookers.
The whole big square was astir, a swaying crowd of men. A
ramshackle platform improvised upon a trolley struggled through the
swarming straw hats to a street corner, and there was some speaking.
At first it seemed as though military men were using this platform,
and then it was manifestly in possession of an excited knot of
labour leaders with red rosettes. The military men had said their
say and got down. They came close by Benham, pushing their way
across the square. "We've warned them," said one. A red flag, like
some misunderstood remark at a tea-party, was fitfully visible and
incomprehensible behind the platform. Somebody was either pitched
or fell off the platform. One could hear nothing from the speakers
except a minute bleating. . . .
Then there were shouts that the police were charging. A number of
mounted men trotted into the square. The crowd began a series of
short rushes that opened lanes for the passage of the mounted police
as they rode to and fro. These men trotted through the crowd,
scattering knots of people. They carried pick-handles, but they did
not seem to be hitting with them. It became clear that they aimed
at the capture of the trolley. There was only a feeble struggle for
the trolley; it was captured and hauled through the scattered
spectators in the square to the protection of a small impassive body
of regular cavalry at the opposite corner. Then quite a number of
people seemed to be getting excited and fighting. They appeared to
be vaguely fighting the foot-police, and the police seemed to be
vaguely pushing through them and dispersing them. The roof of a
little one-story shop became prominent as a centre of vigorous
It was no sort of battle. Merely the normal inconsecutiveness of
human affairs had become exaggerated and pugnacious. A meeting was
being prevented, and the police engaged in the operation were being
pelted or obstructed. Mostly people were just looking on.
"It amounts to nothing," said Benham. "Even if they held a meeting,
what could happen? Why does the Government try to stop it?"
The drifting and charging and a little booing went on for some time.
Every now and then some one clambered to a point of vantage, began a
speech and was pulled down by policemen. And at last across the
confusion came an idea, like a wind across a pond.
The strikers were to go to the Power Station.
That had the effect of a distinct move in the game. The Power
Station was the centre of Johannesburg's light and energy. There if
anywhere it would be possible to express one's disapproval of the
administration, one's desire to embarrass and confute it. One could
stop all sorts of things from the Power Station. At any rate it was
a repartee to the suppression of the meeting. Everybody seemed
gladdened by a definite project.
Benham and White went with the crowd.
At the intersection of two streets they were held up for a time; the
scattered drift of people became congested. Gliding slowly across
the mass came an electric tram, an entirely unbattered tram with
even its glass undamaged, and then another and another. Strikers,
with the happy expression of men who have found something expressive
to do, were escorting the trams off the street. They were being
meticulously careful with them. Never was there less mob violence
in a riot. They walked by the captured cars almost deferentially,
like rough men honoured by a real lady's company. And when White
and Benham reached the Power House the marvel grew. The rioters
were already in possession and going freely over the whole place,
and they had injured nothing. They had stopped the engines, but
they had not even disabled them. Here too manifestly a majority of
the people were, like White and Benham, merely lookers-on.
"But this is the most civilized rioting," said Benham. "It isn't
rioting; it's drifting. Just as things drifted in Moscow. Because
nobody has the rudder. . . .
"What maddens me," he said, "is the democracy of the whole thing.
White! I HATE this modern democracy. Democracy and inequality!
Was there ever an absurder combination? What is the good of a
social order in which the men at the top are commoner, meaner stuff
than the men underneath, the same stuff, just spoilt, spoilt by
prosperity and opportunity and the conceit that comes with
advantage? This trouble wants so little, just a touch of
aristocracy, just a little cultivated magnanimity, just an inkling
of responsibility, and the place might rise instantly out of all
this squalor and evil temper. . . . What does all this struggle
here amount to? On one side unintelligent greed, unintelligent
resentment on the other; suspicion everywhere. . . .
"And you know, White, at bottom THEY ALL WANT TO BE DECENT!
"If only they had light enough in their brains to show them
how. It's such a plain job they have here too, a new city, the
simplest industries, freedom from war, everything to make a good
life for men, prosperity, glorious sunshine, a kind of happiness in
the air. And mismanagement, fear, indulgence, jealousy, prejudice,
stupidity, poison it all. A squabble about working on a Saturday
afternoon, a squabble embittered by this universal shadow of miner's
phthisis that the masters were too incapable and too mean to
"Oh, God!" cried Benham, "when will men be princes and take hold of
life? When will the kingship in us wake up and come to its own? . . .
Look at this place! Look at this place! . . . The easy,
accessible happiness! The manifest prosperity. The newness and the
sunshine. And the silly bitterness, the rage, the mischief and
miseries! . . ."
And then: "It's not our quarrel. . . ."
"It's amazing how every human quarrel draws one in to take sides.
Life is one long struggle against the incidental. I can feel my
anger gathering against the Government here in spite of my reason.
I want to go and expostulate. I have a ridiculous idea that I ought
to go off to Lord Gladstone or Botha and expostulate. . . . What
good would it do? They move in the magic circles of their own
limitations, an official, a politician--how would they put it?--
'with many things to consider. . . .'
"It's my weakness to be drawn into quarrels. It's a thing I have to
guard against. . . .
"What does it all amount to? It is like a fight between navvies in
a tunnel to settle the position of the Pole star. It doesn't
concern us. . . . Oh! it doesn't indeed concern us. It's a scuffle
in the darkness, and our business, the business of all brains, the
only permanent good work is to light up the world. . . . There will
be mischief and hatred here and suppression and then forgetfulness,
and then things will go on again, a little better or a little
worse. . . ."
"I'm tired of this place, White, and of all such places. I'm tired
of the shouting and running, the beating and shooting. I'm sick of
all the confusions of life's experience, which tells only of one
need amidst an endless multitude of distresses. I've seen my fill
of wars and disputes and struggles. I see now how a man may grow
weary at last of life and its disorders, its unreal exacting
disorders, its blunders and its remorse. No! I want to begin upon
the realities I have made for myself. For they are the realities.
I want to go now to some quiet corner where I can polish what I have
learnt, sort out my accumulations, be undisturbed by these
transitory symptomatic things. . . .
"What was that boy saying? They are burning the STAR office. . . .
Well, let them. . . ."
And as if to emphasize his detachment, his aversion, from the things
that hurried through the night about them, from the red flare in the
sky and the distant shouts and revolver shots and scuffling flights
down side streets, he began to talk again of aristocracy and the
making of greatness and a new great spirit in men. All the rest of
his life, he said, must be given to that. He would say his thing
plainly and honestly and afterwards other men would say it clearly
and beautifully; here it would touch a man and there it would touch
a man; the Invisible King in us all would find himself and know
himself a little in this and a little in that, and at last a day
would come, when fair things and fine things would rule the world
and such squalor as this about them would be as impossible any more
for men as a Stone Age Corroboree. . . .
Late or soon?
Benham sought for some loose large measure of time.
"Before those constellations above us have changed their shapes. . . .
"Does it matter if we work at something that will take a hundred
years or ten thousand years? It will never come in our lives,
White. Not soon enough for that. But after that everything will be
soon--when one comes to death then everything is at one's
fingertips--I can feel that greater world I shall never see as one
feels the dawn coming through the last darkness. . . ."
The attack on the Rand Club began while Benham and White were at
lunch in the dining-room at the Sherborough on the day following the
burning of the STAR office. The Sherborough dining-room was on the
first floor, and the Venetian window beside their table opened on to
a verandah above a piazza. As they talked they became aware of an
excitement in the street below, shouting and running and then a
sound of wheels and the tramp of a body of soldiers marching
quickly. White stood up and looked. "They're seizing the stuff in
the gunshops," he said, sitting down again. "It's amazing they
haven't done it before."
They went on eating and discussing the work of a medical mission at
Mukden that had won Benham's admiration. . . .
A revolver cracked in the street and there was a sound of glass
smashing. Then more revolver shots. "That's at the big club at the
corner, I think," said Benham and went out upon the verandah.
Up and down the street mischief was afoot. Outside the Rand Club in
the cross street a considerable mass of people had accumulated, and
was being hustled by a handful of khaki-clad soldiers. Down the
street people were looking in the direction of the market-place and
then suddenly a rush of figures flooded round the corner, first a
froth of scattered individuals and then a mass, a column, marching
with an appearance of order and waving a flag. It was a poorly
disciplined body, it fringed out into a swarm of sympathizers and
spectators upon the side walk, and at the head of it two men
disputed. They seemed to be differing about the direction of the
whole crowd. Suddenly one smote the other with his fist, a blow
that hurled him sideways, and then turned with a triumphant gesture
to the following ranks, waving his arms in the air. He was a tall
lean man, hatless and collarless, greyhaired and wild-eyed. On he
came, gesticulating gauntly, past the hotel.
And then up the street something happened. Benham's attention was
turned round to it by a checking, by a kind of catch in the breath,
on the part of the advancing procession under the verandah.
The roadway beyond the club had suddenly become clear. Across it a
dozen soldiers had appeared and dismounted methodically and lined
out, with their carbines in readiness. The mounted men at the club
corner had vanished, and the people there had swayed about towards
this new threat. Quite abruptly the miscellaneous noises of the
crowd ceased. Understanding seized upon every one.
These soldiers were going to fire. . . .
The brown uniformed figures moved like automata; the rifle shots
rang out almost in one report. . . .
There was a rush in the crowd towards doorways and side streets, an
enquiring pause, the darting back of a number of individuals into
the roadway and then a derisive shouting. Nobody had been hit. The
soldiers had fired in the air.
"But this is a stupid game," said Benham. "Why did they fire at
The tall man who had led the mob had run out into the middle of the
road. His commando was a little disposed to assume a marginal
position, and it had to be reassured. He was near enough for Benham
to see his face. For a time it looked anxious and thoughtful. Then
he seemed to jump to his decision. He unbuttoned and opened his
coat wide as if defying the soldiers. "Shoot," he bawled, "Shoot,
if you dare!"
A little uniform movement of the soldiers answered him. The small
figure of the officer away there was inaudible. The coat of the man
below flapped like the wings of a crowing cock before a breast of
dirty shirt, the hoarse voice cracked with excitement, "Shoot, if
you dare. Shoot, if you dare! See!"
Came the metallic bang of the carbines again, and in the instant the
leader collapsed in the road, a sprawl of clothes, hit by half a
dozen bullets. It was an extraordinary effect. As though the
figure had been deflated. It was incredible that a moment before
this thing had been a man, an individual, a hesitating complicated
"Good God!" cried Benham, "but--this is horrible!"
The heap of garments lay still. The red hand that stretched out
towards the soldiers never twitched.
The spectacular silence broke into a confusion of sounds, women
shrieked, men cursed, some fled, some sought a corner from which
they might still see, others pressed forward. "Go for the swine!"
bawled a voice, a third volley rattled over the heads of the people,
and in the road below a man with a rifle halted, took aim, and
answered the soldiers' fire. "Look out!" cried White who was
watching the soldiers, and ducked. "This isn't in the air!"
Came a straggling volley again, like a man running a metal hammer
very rapidly along iron corrugations, and this time people were
dropping all over the road. One white-faced man not a score of
yards away fell with a curse and a sob, struggled up, staggered for
some yards with blood running abundantly from his neck, and fell and
never stirred again. Another went down upon his back clumsily in
the roadway and lay wringing his hands faster and faster until
suddenly with a movement like a sigh they dropped inert by his side.
A straw-hatted youth in a flannel suit ran and stopped and ran
again. He seemed to be holding something red and strange to his
face with both hands; above them his eyes were round and anxious.
Blood came out between his fingers. He went right past the hotel
and stumbled and suddenly sprawled headlong at the opposite corner.
The majority of the crowd had already vanished into doorways and
side streets. But there was still shouting and there was still a
remnant of amazed and angry men in the roadway--and one or two angry
women. They were not fighting. Indeed they were unarmed, but if
they had had weapons now they would certainly have used them.
"But this is preposterous!" cried Benham. "Preposterous. Those
soldiers are never going to shoot again! This must stop."
He stood hesitating for a moment and then turned about and dashed
for the staircase. "Good Heaven!" cried White. "What are you going
Benham was going to stop that conflict very much as a man might go
to stop a clock that is striking unwarrantably and amazingly. He
was going to stop it because it annoyed his sense of human dignity.
White hesitated for a moment and then followed, crying "Benham!"
But there was no arresting this last outbreak of Benham's all too
impatient kingship. He pushed aside a ducking German waiter who was
peeping through the glass doors, and rushed out of the hotel. With
a gesture of authority he ran forward into the middle of the street,
holding up his hand, in which he still held his dinner napkin
clenched like a bomb. White believes firmly that Benham thought he
would be able to dominate everything. He shouted out something
Haroun al Raschid was flinging aside all this sublime indifference
to current things. . . .
But the carbines spoke again.
Benham seemed to run unexpectedly against something invisible. He
spun right round and fell down into a sitting position. He sat
After one moment of blank funk White drew out his pocket
handkerchief, held it arm high by way of a white flag, and ran out
from the piazza of the hotel.
"Are you hit?" cried White dropping to his knees and making himself
as compact as possible. "Benham!"
Benham, after a moment of perplexed thought answered in a strange
voice, a whisper into which a whistling note had been mixed.
"It was stupid of me to come out here. Not my quarrel. Faults on
both sides. And now I can't get up. I will sit here a moment and
pull myself together. Perhaps I'm--I must be shot. But it seemed
to come--inside me. . . . If I should be hurt. Am I hurt? . . .
Will you see to that book of mine, White? It's odd. A kind of
faintness. . . . What?"
"I will see after your book," said White and glanced at his hand
because it felt wet, and was astonished to discover it bright red.
He forgot about himself then, and the fresh flight of bullets down
The immediate effect of this blood was that he said something more
about the book, a promise, a definite promise. He could never
recall his exact words, but their intention was binding. He
conveyed his absolute acquiescence with Benham's wishes whatever
they were. His life for that moment was unreservedly at his
friend's disposal. . . .
White never knew if his promise was heard. Benham had stopped
speaking quite abruptly with that "What?"
He stared in front of him with a doubtful expression, like a man who
is going to be sick, and then, in an instant, every muscle seemed to
give way, he shuddered, his head flopped, and White held a dead man
in his arms.