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    The Vortex

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    Chapter 12
    Previous Chapter
    (August 1914)

    'Thy Lord spoke by inspiration to the Bee.'

    AL KORAN.

    I have, to my grief and loss, suppressed several notable stories of my
    friend, the Hon. A.M. Penfentenyou[8], once Minister of Woods and
    Waysides in De Thouar's first administration; later, Premier in all but
    name of one of Our great and growing Dominions; and now, as always, the
    idol of his own Province, which is two and one-half the size of England.

    [Footnote 8: See 'The Puzzler,' _Actions and Reactions_.]

    For this reason I hold myself at liberty to deal with some portion of
    the truth concerning Penfentenyou's latest visit to Our shores. He
    arrived at my house by car, on a hot summer day, in a white waistcoat
    and spats, sweeping black frock-coat and glistening top-hat--a little
    rounded, perhaps, at the edges, but agile as ever in mind and body.

    'What is the trouble now?' I asked, for the last time we had met,
    Penfentenyou was floating a three-million pound loan for his beloved but
    unscrupulous Province, and I did not wish to entertain any more of his
    financial friends.

    'We,' Penfentenyou replied ambassadorially, 'have come to have a Voice
    in Your Councils. By the way, the Voice is coming down on the evening
    train with my Agent-General. I thought you wouldn't mind if I invited
    'em. You know We're going to share Your burdens henceforward. You'd
    better get into training.'

    'Certainly,' I replied. 'What's the Voice like?'

    'He's in earnest,' said Penfentenyou. 'He's got It, and he's got It bad.
    He'll give It to you,' he said.

    'What's his name?'

    'We call him all sorts of names, but I think you'd better call him Mr.
    Lingnam. You won't have to do it more than once.'

    'What's he suffering from?'

    'The Empire. He's pretty nearly cured us all of Imperialism at home.
    P'raps he'll cure you.'

    'Very good. What am I to do with him?'

    'Don't you worry,' said Penfentenyou. 'He'll do it.'

    And when Mr. Lingnam appeared half-an-hour later with the Agent-General
    for Penfentenyou's Dominion, he did just that.

    He advanced across the lawn eloquent as all the tides. He said he had
    been observing to the Agent-General that it was both politically immoral
    and strategically unsound that forty-four million people should bear the
    entire weight of the defences of Our mighty Empire, but, as he had
    observed (here the Agent-General evaporated), we stood now upon the
    threshold of a new era in which the self-governing _and_ self-respecting
    (bis) Dominions would rightly and righteously, as co-partners in Empery,
    shoulder their share of any burden which the Pan-Imperial Council of
    the Future should allot. The Agent-General was already arranging for
    drinks with Penfentenyou at the other end of the garden. Mr. Lingnam
    swept me on to the most remote bench and settled to his theme.

    We dined at eight. At nine Mr. Lingnam was only drawing abreast of
    things Imperial. At ten the Agent-General, who earns his salary, was
    shamelessly dozing on the sofa. At eleven he and Penfentenyou went to
    bed. At midnight Mr. Lingnam brought down his big-bellied despatch box
    with the newspaper clippings and set to federating the Empire in
    earnest. I remember that he had three alternative plans. As a dealer in
    words, I plumped for the resonant third--'Reciprocally co-ordinated
    Senatorial Hegemony'--which he then elaborated in detail for
    three-quarters of an hour. At half-past one he urged me to have faith
    and to remember that nothing mattered except the Idea. Then he retired
    to his room, accompanied by one glass of cold water, and I went into the
    dawn-lit garden and prayed to any Power that might be off duty for the
    blood of Mr. Lingnam, Penfentenyou, and the Agent-General.

    To me, as I have often observed elsewhere, the hour of earliest dawn is
    fortunate, and the wind that runs before it has ever been my most
    comfortable counsellor.

    'Wait!' it said, all among the night's expectant rosebuds. 'To-morrow is
    also a day. Wait upon the Event!'

    I went to bed so at peace with God and Man and Guest that when I waked I
    visited Mr. Lingnam in pyjamas, and he talked to me Pan-Imperially for
    half-an-hour before his bath. Later, the Agent-General said he had
    letters to write, and Penfentenyou invented a Cabinet crisis in his
    adored Dominion which would keep him busy with codes and cables all the
    forenoon. But I said firmly, 'Mr. Lingnam wishes to see a little of the
    country round here. You are coming with us in your own car.'

    'It's a hired one,' Penfentenyou objected.

    'Yes. Paid for by me as a taxpayer,' I replied.

    'And yours has a top, and the weather looks thundery,' said the
    Agent-General. 'Ours hasn't a wind-screen. Even our goggles were hired.'

    'I'll lend you goggles,' I said. 'My car is under repairs.'

    The hireling who had looked to be returned to London spat and growled on
    the drive. She was an open car, capable of some eighteen miles on the
    flat, with tetanic gears and a perpetual palsy.

    'It won't make the least difference,' sighed the Agent-General. 'He'll
    only raise his voice. He did it all the way coming down.'

    'I say,' said Penfentenyou suspiciously, 'what are you doing all this
    _for_?'

    'Love of the Empire,' I answered, as Mr. Lingnam tripped up in dust-coat
    and binoculars. 'Now, Mr. Lingnam will tell us exactly what he wants to
    see. He probably knows more about England than the rest of us put
    together.'

    'I read it up yesterday,' said Mr. Lingnam simply. While we stowed the
    lunch-basket (one can never make too sure with a hired car) he outlined
    a very pretty and instructive little day's run.

    'You'll drive, of course?' said Penfentenyou to him. 'It's the only
    thing you know anything about.'

    This astonished me, for your greater Federationists are rarely
    mechanicians, but Mr. Lingnam said he would prefer to be inside for the
    present and enjoy our conversation.

    Well settled on the back seat, he did not once lift his eyes to the
    mellow landscape around him, or throw a word at the life of the English
    road which to me is one renewed and unreasoned orgy of delight. The
    mustard-coloured scouts of the Automobile Association; their natural
    enemies, the unjust police; our natural enemies, the deliberate
    market-day cattle, broadside-on at all corners, the bicycling
    butcher-boy a furlong behind; road-engines that pulled giddy-go-rounds,
    rifle galleries, and swings, and sucked snortingly from wayside ponds in
    defiance of the notice-board; traction-engines, their trailers piled
    high with road metal; uniformed village nurses, one per seven statute
    miles, flitting by on their wheels; governess-carts full of pink
    children jogging unconcernedly past roaring, brazen touring-cars; the
    wayside rector with virgins in attendance, their faces screwed up
    against our dust; motor-bicycles of every shape charging down at every
    angle; red flags of rifle-ranges; detachments of dusty-putteed
    Territorials; coveys of flagrant children playing in mid-street, and the
    wise, educated English dog safe and quite silent on the pavement if his
    fool-mistress would but cease from trying to save him, passed and
    repassed us in sunlit or shaded settings. But Mr. Lingnam only talked.
    He talked--we all sat together behind so that we could not escape
    him--and he talked above the worn gears and a certain maddening swish of
    one badly patched tire--_and_ he talked of the Federation of the Empire
    against all conceivable dangers except himself. Yet I was neither
    brutally rude like Penfentenyou, nor swooningly bored like the
    Agent-General. I remembered a certain Joseph Finsbury who delighted the
    Tregonwell Arms on the borders of the New Forest with nine'--it should
    have been ten--'versions of a single income of two hundred pounds'
    placing the imaginary person in--but I could not recall the list of
    towns further than 'London, Paris, Bagdad, and Spitsbergen.' This last I
    must have murmured aloud, for the Agent-General suddenly became human
    and went on: 'Bussorah, Heligoland, and the Scilly Islands--'

    'What?' growled Penfentenyou.

    'Nothing,' said the Agent-General, squeezing my hand affectionately.
    'Only we have just found out that we are brothers.'

    'Exactly,' said Mr. Lingnam. 'That's what I've been trying to lead up
    to. We're _all_ brothers. D'you realise that fifteen years ago such a
    conversation as we're having would have been unthinkable? The Empire
    wouldn't have been ripe for it. To go back, even ten years--'

    'I've got it,' cried the Agent-General. '"Brighton, Cincinnati, and
    Nijni-Novgorod!" God bless R.L.S.! Go on, Uncle Joseph. I can endure
    much now.'

    Mr. Lingnam went on like our shandrydan, slowly and loudly. He admitted
    that a man obsessed with a Central Idea--and, after all, the only thing
    that mattered was the Idea--might become a bore, but the World's Work,
    he pointed out, had been done by bores. So he laid his bones down to
    that work till we abandoned ourselves to the passage of time and the
    Mercy of Allah, Who Alone closes the Mouths of His Prophets. And we
    wasted more than fifty miles of summer's vivid own England upon him
    the while.

    About two o'clock we topped Sumtner Rising and looked down on the
    village of Sumtner Barton, which lies just across a single railway line,
    spanned by a red brick bridge. The thick, thunderous June airs brought
    us gusts of melody from a giddy-go-round steam-organ in full blast near
    the pond on the village green. Drums, too, thumped and banners waved and
    regalia flashed at the far end of the broad village street. Mr. Lingnam
    asked why.

    'Nothing Imperial, I'm afraid. It looks like a Foresters' Fête--one of
    our big Mutual Benefit Societies,' I explained.

    'The Idea only needs to be co-ordinated to Imperial scale--' he began.

    'But it means that the pub. will be crowded,' I went on.

    'What's the matter with lunching by the roadside here?' said
    Penfentenyou. 'We've got the lunch-basket.'

    'Haven't you ever heard of Sumtner Barton ales?' I demanded, and be
    became the administrator at once, saying, '_I_ see! Lingnam can drive us
    in and we'll get some, while Holford'--this was the hireling chauffeur,
    whose views on beer we knew not--'lays out lunch here. That'll be better
    than eating at the pub. We can take in the Foresters' Fête as well, and
    perhaps I can buy some newspapers at the station.'

    'True,' I answered. 'The railway station is just under that bridge, and
    we'll come back and lunch here.'

    I indicated a terrace of cool clean shade beneath kindly beeches at the
    head of Sumtner Rise. As Holford got out the lunch-basket, a detachment
    of Regular troops on manoeuvres swung down the baking road.

    'Ah!' said Mr. Lingnam, the monthly-magazine roll in his voice. 'All
    Europe is an armed camp, groaning, as I remember I once wrote, under the
    weight of its accoutrements.'

    'Oh, hop in and drive,' cried Penfentenyou. 'We want that beer!'

    It made no difference. Mr. Lingnam could have federated the Empire from
    a tight rope. He continued his oration at the wheel as we trundled.

    'The danger to the Younger Nations is of being drawn into this vortex of
    Militarism,' he went on, dodging the rear of the soldiery.

    'Slow past troops,' I hinted. 'It saves 'em dust. And we overtake on the
    right as a rule in England.'

    'Thanks!' Mr. Lingnam slued over. 'That's another detail which needs to
    be co-ordinated throughout the Empire. But to go back to what I was
    saying. My idea has always been that the component parts of the Empire
    should take counsel among themselves on the approach of war, so that,
    after we have decided on the merits of the _casus belli_, we can
    co-ordinate what part each Dominion shall play whenever war is,
    unfortunately, a possibility.'

    We neared the hog-back railway bridge, and the hireling knocked
    piteously at the grade. Mr. Lingnam changed gears, and she hoisted
    herself up to a joyous _Youp-i-addy-i-ay!_ from the steam-organ. As we
    topped the arch we saw a Foresters' band with banners marching down
    the street.

    'That's all very fine,' said the Agent-General, 'but in real life things
    have a knack of happening without approaching--'

    * * * * *

    (Some schools of Thought hold that Time is not; and that when we attain
    complete enlightenment we shall behold past, present, and future as One
    Awful Whole. I myself have nearly achieved this.)

    * * * * *

    We dipped over the bridge into the village. A boy on a bicycle, loaded
    with four paper bonnet-boxes, pedalled towards us, out of an alley on
    our right. He bowed his head the better to overcome the ascent, and
    naturally took his left. Mr. Lingnam swerved frantically to the right.
    Penfentenyou shouted. The boy looked up, saw the car was like to squeeze
    him against the bridge wall, flung himself off his machine and across
    the narrow pavement into the nearest house. He slammed the door at the
    precise moment when the car, all brakes set, bunted the abandoned
    bicycle, shattering three of the bonnet-boxes and jerking the fourth
    over the unscreened dashboard into Mr. Lingnam's arms.

    There was a dead stillness, then a hiss like that of escaping steam, and
    a man who had been running towards us ran the other way.

    'Why! I think that those must be bees,' said Mr. Lingnam.

    They were--four full swarms--and the first living objects which he had
    remarked upon all day.

    Some one said, 'Oh, God!' The Agent-General went out over the back of
    the car, crying resolutely: 'Stop the traffic! Stop the traffic, there!'
    Penfentenyou was already on the pavement ringing a door-bell, so I had
    both their rugs, which--for I am an apiarist--I threw over my head.
    While I was tucking my trousers into my socks--for I am an apiarist of
    experience--Mr. Lingnam picked up the unexploded bonnet-box and with a
    single magnificent gesture (he told us afterwards he thought there was a
    river beneath) hurled it over the parapet of the bridge, ere he ran
    across the road towards the village green. Now, the station platform
    immediately below was crowded with Foresters and their friends waiting
    to welcome a delegation from a sister Court. I saw the box burst on the
    flint edging of the station garden and the contents sweep forward
    cone-wise like shrapnel. But the result was stimulating rather than
    sedative. All those well-dressed people below shouted like Sodom and
    Gomorrah. Then they moved as a unit into the booking-office, the
    waiting-rooms, and other places, shut doors and windows and declaimed
    aloud, while the incoming train whistled far down the line.

    I pivoted round cross-legged on the back seat, like a Circassian beauty
    beneath her veil, and saw Penfentenyou, his coat-collar over his ears,
    dancing before a shut door and holding up handfuls of currency to a
    silver-haired woman at an upper window, who only mouthed and shook her
    head. A little child, carrying a kitten, came smiling round a corner.
    Suddenly (but these things moved me no more than so many yards of
    three-penny cinematograph-film) the kitten leaped spitting from her
    arms, the child burst into tears, Penfentenyou, still dancing, snatched
    her up and tucked her under his coat, the woman's countenance blanched,
    the front door opened, Penfentenyou and the child pressed through, and I
    was alone in an inhospitable world where every one was shutting windows
    and calling children home.

    A voice cried: 'You've frowtened 'em! You've frowtened 'em! Throw dust
    on 'em and they'll settle!'

    I did not desire to throw dust on any created thing. I needed both hands
    for my draperies and two more for my stockings. Besides, the bees were
    doing me no hurt. They recognised me as a member of the County
    Bee-keepers' Association who had paid his annual subscription and was
    entitled to a free seat at all apicultural exhibitions. The quiver and
    the churn of the hireling car, or it might have been the lurching
    banners and the arrogant big drum, inclined many of them to go up
    street, and pay court to the advancing Foresters' band. So they went,
    such as had not followed Mr. Lingnam in his flight toward the green, and
    I looked out of two goggled eyes instead of half a one at the
    approaching musicians, while I listened with both ears to the delayed
    train's second whistle down the line beneath me.

    The Forester's band no more knew what was coming than do troops under
    sudden fire. Indeed, there were the same extravagant gestures and
    contortions as attend wounds and deaths in war; the very same uncanny
    cessations of speech--for the trombone was cut off at midslide, even as
    a man drops with a syllable on his tongue. They clawed, they slapped,
    they fled, leaving behind them a trophy of banners and brasses crudely
    arranged round the big drum. Then that end of the street also shut its
    windows, and the village, stripped of life, lay round me like a reef at
    low tide. Though I am, as I have said, an apiarist in good standing, I
    never realised that there were so many bees in the world. When they had
    woven a flashing haze from one end of the desert street to the other,
    there remained reserves enough to form knops and pendules on all
    window-sills and gutter-ends, without diminishing the multitudes in the
    three oozing bonnet-boxes, or drawing on the Fourth (Railway) Battalion
    in charge of the station below. The prisoners in the waiting-rooms and
    other places there cried out a great deal (I argued that they were dying
    of the heat), and at regular intervals the stationmaster called and
    called to a signalman who was not on duty, and the train whistled as it
    drew nearer.

    Then Penfentenyou, venal and adaptable politician of the type that
    survives at the price of all the higher emotions, appeared at the window
    of the house on my right, broken and congested with mirth, the woman
    beside him, and the child in his arms. I saw his mouth open and shut, he
    hollowed his hands round it, but the churr of the motor and the bees
    drowned his words. He pointed dramatically across the street many times
    and fell back, tears running down his face. I turned like a hooded
    barbette in a heavy seaway (not knowing when my trousers would come out
    of my socks again) through one hundred and eighty degrees, and in due
    time bore on the village green. There was a salmon in the pond, rising
    short at a cloud of midges to the tune of _Yip-i-addy_; but there was
    none to gaff him. The swing-boats were empty, cocoa-nuts sat still on
    their red sticks before white screens, and the gay-painted horses of the
    giddy-go-rounds revolved riderless. All was melody, green turf, bright
    water, and this greedy gambolling fish. When I had identified it by its
    grey gills and binoculars as Lingnam, I prostrated myself before Allah
    in that mirth which is more truly labour than any prayer. Then I turned
    to the purple Penfentenyou at the window, and wiped my eyes on the
    rug edge.

    He raised the window half one cautious inch and bellowed through the
    crack: 'Did you see _him_? Have they got _you_? I can see lots of
    things from here. It's like a three-ring circus!'

    'Can you see the station?' I replied, nodding toward the right rear
    mudguard.

    He twisted and craned sideways, but could not command that beautiful
    view.

    'No! What's it like?' he cried.

    'Hell!' I shouted. The silver-haired woman frowned; so did Penfentenyou,
    and, I think, apologised to her for my language.

    'You're always so extreme,' he fluted reproachfully. 'You forget that
    nothing matters except the Idea. Besides, they are this lady's bees.'

    He closed the window, and introduced us through it in dumb show; but he
    contrived to give the impression that _I_ was the specimen under glass.

    A spurt of damp steam saved me from apoplexy. The train had lost
    patience at last, and was coming into the station directly beneath me to
    see what was the matter. Happy voices sang and heads were thrust out all
    along the compartments, but none answered their songs or greetings. She
    halted, and the people began to get out. Then they began to get in
    again, as their friends in the waiting-rooms advised. All did not catch
    the warning, so there was congestion at the doors, but those whom the
    bees caught got in first.

    Still the bees, more bent on their own business than wanton torture,
    kept to the south end of the platform by the bookstall, and that was why
    the completely exposed engine-driver at the north end of the train did
    not at first understand the hermetically sealed stationmaster when the
    latter shouted to him many times to 'get on out o' this.'

    'Where are you?' was the reply. 'And what for?'

    'It don't matter where I am, an' you'll get what-for in a minute if you
    don't shift,' said the stationmaster. 'Drop 'em at Parson's Meadow and
    they can walk up over the fields.'

    That bare-armed, thin-shirted idiot, leaning out of the cab, took the
    stationmaster's orders as an insult to his dignity, and roared at the
    shut offices: 'You'll give me what-for, will you? Look 'ere, I'm not in
    the 'abit of--' His outstretched hand flew to his neck.... Do you know
    that if you sting an engine-driver it is the same as stinging his train?
    She starts with a jerk that nearly smashes the couplings, and runs,
    barking like a dog, till she is out of sight. Nor does she think about
    spilled people and parted families on the platform behind her. I had to
    do all that. There was a man called Fred, and his wife Harriet--a
    cheery, full-blooded couple--who interested me immensely before they
    battered their way into a small detached building, already densely
    occupied. There was also a nameless bachelor who sat under a half-opened
    umbrella and twirled it dizzily, which was so new a game that I
    applauded aloud.

    When they had thoroughly cleared the ground, the bees set about making
    comb for publication at the bookstall counter. Presently some bold
    hearts tiptoed out of the waiting-rooms over the loud gravel with the
    consciously modest air of men leaving church, climbed the wooden
    staircase to the bridge, and so reached my level, where the
    inexhaustible bonnet-boxes were still vomiting squadrons and platoons.
    There was little need to bid them descend. They had wrapped their heads
    in handkerchiefs, so that they looked like the disappointed dead
    scuttling back to Purgatory. Only one old gentleman, pontifically draped
    in a banner embroidered 'Temperance and Fortitude,' ran the gauntlet
    up-street, shouting as he passed me, 'It's night or Blücher, Mister.'
    They let him in at the White Hart, the pub. where I should have
    bought the beer.

    After this the day sagged. I fell to reckoning how long a man in a
    Turkish bath, weakened by excessive laughter, could live without food,
    and specially drink; and how long a disenfranchised bee could hold out
    under the same conditions.

    Obviously, since her one practical joke costs her her life, the bee can
    have but small sense of humour; but her fundamentally dismal and
    ungracious outlook on life impressed me beyond words. She had paralysed
    locomotion, wiped out trade, social intercourse, mutual trust, love,
    friendship, sport, music (the lonely steam-organ had run down at last),
    all that gives substance, colour or savour to life, and yet, in the
    barren desert she had created, was not one whit more near to the
    evolution of a saner order of things. The Heavens were darkened with the
    swarms' divided counsels; the street shimmered with their purposeless
    sallies. They clotted on tiles and gutter-pipes, and began frenziedly to
    build a cell or two of comb ere they discovered that their queen was
    not with them; then flung off to seek her, or whirled, dishevelled and
    insane, into another hissing nebula on the false rumour that she was
    there. I scowled upon them with disfavour, and a massy, blue
    thunder-head rose majestically from behind the elm-trees of Sumtner
    Barton Rectory, arched over and scowled with me. Then I realised that it
    was not bees nor locusts that had darkened the skies, but the on-coming
    of the malignant English thunderstorm--the one thing before which even
    Deborah the bee cannot express her silly little self.

    'Aha! _Now_ you'll catch it,' I said, as the herald gusts set the big
    drum rolling down the street like a box-kite. Up and up yearned the dark
    cloud, till the first lightning quivered and cut. Deborah cowered. Where
    she flew, there she fled; where she was, there she sat still; and the
    solid rain closed in on her as a book that is closed when the chapter is
    finished. By the time it had soaked to my second rug, Penfentenyou
    appeared at the window, wiping his false mouth on a napkin.

    'Are you all right?' he inquired. 'Then _that's_ all right! Mrs. Bellamy
    says that her bees don't sting in the wet. You'd better fetch Lingnam
    over. He's got to pay for them and the bicycle.'

    I had no words which the silver-haired lady could listen to, but paddled
    across the flooded street between flashes to the pond on the green. Mr.
    Lingnam, scarcely visible through the sheeting downpour, trotted round
    the edge. He bore himself nobly, and lied at the mere sight of me.

    'Isn't this wet?' he cried. 'It has drenched me to the skin. I shall
    need a change.'

    'Come along,' I said. 'I don't know what you'll get, but you deserve
    more.'

    Penfentenyou, dry, fed, and in command, let us in. 'You,' he whispered
    to me, 'are to wait in the scullery. Mrs. Bellamy didn't like the way
    you talked about her bees. Hsh! Hsh! She's a kind-hearted lady. She's a
    widow, Lingnam, but she's kept _his_ clothes, and as soon as you've paid
    for the damage she'll rent you a suit. I've arranged it all!'

    'Then tell him he mustn't undress in my hall,' said a voice from the
    stair-head.

    'Tell _her_--' Lingnam began.

    'Come and look at the pretty suit I've chosen,' Penfentenyou cooed, as
    one cajoling a maniac.

    I staggered out-of-doors again, and fell into the car, whose
    ever-running machinery masked my yelps and hiccups. When I raised my
    forehead from the wheel, I saw that traffic through the village had been
    resumed, after, as my watch showed, one and one-half hour's suspension.
    There were two limousines, one landau, one doctor's car, three
    touring-cars, one patent steam-laundry van, three tricars, one
    traction-engine, some motor-cycles, one with a side-car, and one brewery
    lorry. It was the allegory of my own imperturbable country, delayed for
    a short time by unforeseen external events but now going about her
    business, and I blessed Her with tears in my eyes, even though I knew
    She looked upon me as drunk and incapable.

    Then troops came over the bridge behind me--a company of dripping wet
    Regulars without any expression. In their rear, carrying the
    lunch-basket, marched the Agent-General and Holford the hired chauffeur.

    'I say,' said the Agent-General, nodding at the darkened khaki backs.
    'If _that's_ what we've got to depend on in event of war they're a
    broken reed. They ran like hares--ran like hares, I tell you.'

    'And you?' I asked.

    'Oh, I just sauntered back over the bridge and stopped the traffic that
    end. Then I had lunch. 'Pity about the beer, though. I say--these
    cushions are sopping wet!'

    'I'm sorry,' I said. 'I haven't had time to turn 'em.'

    'Nor there wasn't any need to 'ave kept the engine runnin' all this
    time,' said Holford sternly. 'I'll 'ave to account for the expenditure
    of petrol. It exceeds the mileage indicated, you see.'

    'I'm sorry,' I repeated. After all, that is the way that taxpayers
    regard most crises.

    The house-door opened and Penfentenyou and another came out into the now
    thinning rain.

    'Ah! There you both are! Here's Lingnam,' he cried. 'He's got a little
    wet. He's had to change.'

    'We saw that. I was too sore and weak to begin another laugh, but the
    Agent-General crumpled up where he stood. The late Mr. Bellamy must have
    been a man of tremendous personality, which he had impressed on every
    angle of his garments. I was told later that he had died in delirium
    tremens, which at once explained the pattern, and the reason why Mr.
    Lingnam, writhing inside it, swore so inspiredly. Of the deliberate and
    diffuse Federationist there remained no trace, save the binoculars and
    two damp whiskers. We stood on the pavement, before Elemental Man
    calling on Elemental Powers to condemn and incinerate Creation.

    'Well, hadn't we better be getting back?' said the Agent-General.

    'Look out!' I remarked casually. 'Those bonnet-boxes are full of bees
    still!'

    'Are they?' said the livid Mr. Lingnam, and tilted them over with the
    late Mr. Bellamy's large boots. Deborah rolled out in drenched lumps
    into the swilling gutter. There was a muffled shriek at the window where
    Mrs. Bellamy gesticulated.

    'It's all right. I've paid for them,' said Mr. Lingnam. He dumped out
    the last dregs like mould from a pot-bound flower-pot.

    'What? Are you going to take 'em home with you?' said the Agent-General.

    'No!' He passed a wet hand over his streaky forehead. 'Wasn't there a
    bicycle that was the beginning of this trouble?' said he.

    'It's under the fore-axle, sir,' said Holford promptly. 'I can fish it
    out from 'ere.'

    'Not till I've done with it, please.' Before we could stop him, he had
    jumped into the car and taken charge. The hireling leaped into her
    collar, surged, shrieked (less loudly than Mrs. Bellamy at the window),
    and swept on. That which came out behind her was, as Holford truly
    observed, no joy-wheel. Mr. Lingnam swung round the big drum in the
    market-place and thundered back, shouting: 'Leave it alone. It's
    my meat!'

    'Mince-meat, 'e means,' said Holford after this second trituration. 'You
    couldn't say now it 'ad ever _been_ one, could you?'

    Mrs. Bellamy opened the window and spoke. It appears she had only
    charged for damage to the bicycle, not for the entire machine which Mr.
    Lingnam was ruthlessly gleaning, spoke by spoke, from the highway and
    cramming into the slack of the hood. At last he answered, and I have
    never seen a man foam at the mouth before. 'If you don't stop, I shall
    come into your house--in this car--and drive upstairs and--kill you!'

    She stopped; he stopped. Holford took the wheel, and we got away. It was
    time, for the sun shone after the storm, and Deborah beneath the tiles
    and the eaves already felt its reviving influence compel her to her
    interrupted labours of federation. We warned the village policeman at
    the far end of the street that he might have to suspend traffic again.
    The proprietor of the giddy-go-round, swings, and cocoanut-shies wanted
    to know from whom, in this world or another, he could recover damages.
    Mr. Lingnam referred him most directly to Mrs. Bellamy.... Then we
    went home.

    After dinner that evening Mr. Lingnam rose stiffly in his place to make
    a few remarks on the Federation of the Empire on the lines of
    Co-ordinated, Offensive Operations, backed by the Entire Effective
    Forces, Moral, Military, and Fiscal, of Permanently Mobilised
    Communities, the whole brought to bear, without any respect to the
    merits of any _casus belli_, instantaneously, automatically, and
    remorselessly at the first faint buzz of war.

    'The trouble with Us,' said he, 'is that We take such an infernally long
    time making sure that We are right that We don't go ahead when things
    happen. For instance, I ought to have gone ahead instead of pulling up
    when I hit that bicycle.'

    'But you were in the wrong, Lingnam, when you turned to the right,' I
    put in.

    'I don't want to hear any more of your damned, detached, mugwumping
    excuses for the other fellow,' he snapped.

    'Now you're beginning to see things,' said Penfentenyou. 'I hope you
    won't backslide when the swellings go down.'

    THE SONG OF SEVEN CITIES

    I was Lord of Cities very sumptuously builded.
    Seven roaring Cities paid me tribute from afar.
    Ivory their outposts were--the guardrooms of them
    gilded,
    And garrisoned with Amazons invincible in war.

    All the world went softly when it walked before my
    Cities--
    Neither King nor Army vexed my peoples at their toil.
    Never horse nor chariot irked or overbore my Cities,
    Never Mob nor Ruler questioned whence they drew
    their spoil.

    Banded, mailed and arrogant from sunrise unto sunset,
    Singing while they sacked it, they possessed the land
    at large.
    Yet when men would rob them, they resisted, they
    made onset
    And pierced the smoke of battle with a thousand-sabred
    charge!

    So they warred and trafficked only yesterday, my Cities.
    To-day there is no mark or mound of where my Cities
    stood.
    For the River rose at midnight and it washed away my
    Cities.
    They are evened with Atlantis and the towns before the
    Flood.

    Rain on rain-gorged channels raised the water-levels
    round them,
    Freshet backed on freshet swelled and swept their
    world from sight,
    Till the emboldened floods linked arms and flashing forward
    drowned them--
    Drowned my Seven Cities and their peoples in one
    night!

    Low among the alders lie their derelict foundations,
    The beams wherein they trusted and the plinths whereon
    they built--
    My rulers and their treasure and their unborn populations,
    Dead, destroyed, aborted, and defiled with mud and
    silt!

    The Daughters of the Palace whom they cherished in
    my Cities,
    My silver-tongued Princesses, and the promise of their
    May--
    Their bridegrooms of the June-tide--all have perished
    in my Cities,
    With the harsh envenomed virgins that can neither
    love nor play.

    I was Lord of Cities--I will build anew my Cities,
    Seven, set on rocks, above the wrath of any flood.
    Nor will I rest from search till I have filled anew my Cities
    With peoples undefeated of the dark, enduring blood.

    To the sound of trumpets shall their seed restore my Cities.
    Wealthy and well-weaponed, that once more may I behold
    All the world go softly when it walks before my Cities,
    And the horses and the chariots fleeing from them as of old!

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    Chapter 12
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