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    My Utopian Self

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    Chapter 9
    Previous Chapter
    Section 1.

    It falls to few of us to interview our better selves. My Utopian self
    is, of course, my better self--according to my best endeavours--and
    I must confess myself fully alive to the difficulties of the
    situation. When I came to this Utopia I had no thought of any such
    intimate self-examination.

    The whole fabric of that other universe sways for a moment as I come
    into his room, into his clear and ordered work-room. I am trembling.
    A figure rather taller than myself stands against the light.

    He comes towards me, and I, as I advance to meet him, stumble
    against a chair. Then, still without a word, we are clasping
    hands.

    I stand now so that the light falls upon him, and I can see his face
    better. He is a little taller than I, younger looking and sounder
    looking; he has missed an illness or so, and there is no scar over
    his eye. His training has been subtly finer than mine; he has made
    himself a better face than mine.... These things I might have
    counted upon. I can fancy he winces with a twinge of sympathetic
    understanding at my manifest inferiority. Indeed, I come, trailing
    clouds of earthly confusion and weakness; I bear upon me all the
    defects of my world. He wears, I see, that white tunic with the
    purple band that I have already begun to consider the proper Utopian
    clothing for grave men, and his face is clean shaven. We forget to
    speak at first in the intensity of our mutual inspection. When at
    last I do gain my voice it is to say something quite different from
    the fine, significant openings of my premeditated dialogues.

    "You have a pleasant room," I remark, and look about a little
    disconcerted because there is no fireplace for me to put my back
    against, or hearthrug to stand upon. He pushes me a chair, into
    which I plump, and we hang over an immensity of conversational
    possibilities.

    "I say," I plunge, "what do you think of me? You don't think I'm an
    impostor?"

    "Not now that I have seen you. No."

    "Am I so like you?"

    "Like me and your story--exactly."

    "You haven't any doubt left?" I ask.

    "Not in the least, since I saw you enter. You come from the world
    beyond Sirius, twin to this. Eh?"

    "And you don't want to know how I got here?"

    "I've ceased even to wonder how I got here," he says, with a laugh
    that echoes mine.

    He leans back in his chair, and I in mine, and the absurd parody of
    our attitude strikes us both.

    "Well?" we say, simultaneously, and laugh together.

    I will confess this meeting is more difficult even than I
    anticipated.

    --

    Section 2.

    Our conversation at that first encounter would do very little to
    develop the Modern Utopia in my mind. Inevitably, it would be
    personal and emotional. He would tell me how he stood in his world,
    and I how I stood in mine. I should have to tell him things, I
    should have to explain things----.

    No, the conversation would contribute nothing to a modern
    Utopia.

    And so I leave it out.

    --

    Section 3.

    But I should go back to my botanist in a state of emotional
    relaxation. At first I should not heed the fact that he, too, had
    been in some manner stirred. "I have seen him," I should say,
    needlessly, and seem to be on the verge of telling the untellable.
    Then I should fade off into: "It's the strangest thing."

    He would interrupt me with his own preoccupation. "You know," he
    would say, "I've seen someone."

    I should pause and look at him.

    "She is in this world," he says.

    "Who is in this world?"

    "Mary!"

    I have not heard her name before, but I understand, of course, at
    once.

    "I saw her," he explains.

    "Saw her?"

    "I'm certain it was her. Certain. She was far away across those
    gardens near here--and before I had recovered from my amazement she
    had gone! But it was Mary."

    He takes my arm. "You know I did not understand this," he says. "I
    did not really understand that when you said Utopia, you meant I was
    to meet her--in happiness."

    "I didn't."

    "It works out at that."

    "You haven't met her yet."

    "I shall. It makes everything different. To tell you the truth I've
    rather hated this Utopia of yours at times. You mustn't mind my
    saying it, but there's something of the Gradgrind----"

    Probably I should swear at that.

    "What?" he says.

    "Nothing."

    "But you spoke?"

    "I was purring. I'm a Gradgrind--it's quite right--anything you can
    say about Herbert Spencer, vivisectors, materialistic Science or
    Atheists, applies without correction to me. Begbie away! But now you
    think better of a modern Utopia? Was the lady looking well?"

    "It was her real self. Yes. Not the broken woman I met--in the real
    world."

    "And as though she was pining for you."

    He looks puzzled.

    "Look there!" I say.

    He looks.

    We are standing high above the ground in the loggia into which our
    apartments open, and I point across the soft haze of the public
    gardens to a tall white mass of University buildings that rises with
    a free and fearless gesture, to lift saluting pinnacles against the
    clear evening sky. "Don't you think that rather more beautiful
    than--say--our National Gallery?"

    He looks at it critically. "There's a lot of metal in it," he
    objects. "What?"

    I purred. "But, anyhow, whatever you can't see in that, you can, I
    suppose, see that it is different from anything in your world--it
    lacks the kindly humanity of a red-brick Queen Anne villa residence,
    with its gables and bulges, and bow windows, and its stained
    glass fanlight, and so forth. It lacks the self-complacent
    unreasonableness of Board of Works classicism. There's something in
    its proportions--as though someone with brains had taken a lot of
    care to get it quite right, someone who not only knew what metal can
    do, but what a University ought to be, somebody who had found the
    Gothic spirit enchanted, petrified, in a cathedral, and had set it
    free."

    "But what has this," he asks, "to do with her?"

    "Very much," I say. "This is not the same world. If she is here, she
    will be younger in spirit and wiser. She will be in many ways more
    refined----"

    "No one----" he begins, with a note of indignation.

    "No, no! She couldn't be. I was wrong there. But she will be
    different. Grant that at any rate. When you go forward to speak to
    her, she may not remember--very many things _you_ may remember.
    Things that happened at Frognal--dear romantic walks through the
    Sunday summer evenings, practically you two alone, you in your
    adolescent silk hat and your nice gentlemanly gloves.... Perhaps
    that did not happen here! And she may have other memories--of
    things--that down there haven't happened. You noted her costume. She
    wasn't by any chance one of the samurai?"

    He answers, with a note of satisfaction, "No! She wore a womanly
    dress of greyish green."

    "Probably under the Lesser Rule."

    "I don't know what you mean by the Lesser Rule. She wasn't one of
    the samurai."

    "And, after all, you know--I keep on reminding you, and you keep on
    losing touch with the fact, that this world contains your
    double."

    He pales, and his countenance is disturbed. Thank Heaven, I've
    touched him at last!

    "This world contains your double. But, conceivably, everything may
    be different here. The whole romantic story may have run a different
    course. It was as it was in our world, by the accidents of custom
    and proximity. Adolescence is a defenceless plastic period. You are
    a man to form great affections,--noble, great affections. You might
    have met anyone almost at that season and formed the same
    attachment."

    For a time he is perplexed and troubled by this suggestion.

    "No," he says, a little doubtfully. "No. It was herself." ... Then,
    emphatically, "No!"

    --

    Section 4.

    For a time we say no more, and I fall musing about my strange
    encounter with my Utopian double. I think of the confessions I have
    just made to him, the strange admissions both to him and myself. I
    have stirred up the stagnations of my own emotional life, the pride
    that has slumbered, the hopes and disappointments that have not
    troubled me for years. There are things that happened to me in my
    adolescence that no discipline of reason will ever bring to a just
    proportion for me, the first humiliations I was made to suffer, the
    waste of all the fine irrecoverable loyalties and passions of my
    youth. The dull base caste of my little personal tragi-comedy--I
    have ostensibly forgiven, I have for the most part forgotten--and
    yet when I recall them I hate each actor still. Whenever it comes
    into my mind--I do my best to prevent it--there it is, and these
    detestable people blot out the stars for me.

    I have told all that story to my double, and he has listened with
    understanding eyes. But for a little while those squalid memories
    will not sink back into the deeps.

    We lean, side by side, over our balcony, lost in such egotistical
    absorptions, quite heedless of the great palace of noble dreams to
    which our first enterprise has brought us.

    --

    Section 5.

    I can understand the botanist this afternoon; for once we are in the
    same key. My own mental temper has gone for the day, and I know what
    it means to be untempered. Here is a world and a glorious world, and
    it is for me to take hold of it, to have to do with it, here and
    now, and behold! I can only think that I am burnt and scarred, and
    there rankles that wretched piece of business, the mean
    unimaginative triumph of my antagonist----

    I wonder how many men have any real freedom of mind, are, in truth,
    unhampered by such associations, to whom all that is great and noble
    in life does not, at times at least, if not always, seem secondary
    to obscure rivalries and considerations, to the petty hates that are
    like germs in the blood, to the lust for self-assertion, to dwarfish
    pride, to affections they gave in pledge even before they were
    men.

    The botanist beside me dreams, I know, of vindications for that
    woman.

    All this world before us, and its order and liberty, are no more
    than a painted scene before which he is to meet Her at last, freed
    from "that scoundrel."

    He expects "that scoundrel" really to be present and, as it were,
    writhing under their feet....

    I wonder if that man _was_ a scoundrel. He has gone wrong on earth,
    no doubt, has failed and degenerated, but what was it sent him
    wrong? Was his failure inherent, or did some net of cross purposes
    tangle about his feet? Suppose he is not a failure in Utopia!...

    I wonder that this has never entered the botanist's head.

    He, with his vaguer mind, can overlook--spite of my ruthless
    reminders--all that would mar his vague anticipations. That, too, if
    I suggested it, he would overcome and disregard. He has the most
    amazing power of resistance to uncongenial ideas; amazing that is,
    to me. He hates the idea of meeting his double, and consequently so
    soon as I cease to speak of that, with scarcely an effort of his
    will, it fades again from his mind.

    Down below in the gardens two children pursue one another, and one,
    near caught, screams aloud and rouses me from my reverie.

    I follow their little butterfly antics until they vanish beyond a
    thicket of flowering rhododendra, and then my eyes go back to the
    great facade of the University buildings.

    But I am in no mood to criticise architecture.

    Why should a modern Utopia insist upon slipping out of the hands of
    its creator and becoming the background of a personal drama--of such
    a silly little drama?

    The botanist will not see Utopia in any other way. He tests it
    entirely by its reaction upon the individual persons and things he
    knows; he dislikes it because he suspects it of wanting to lethal
    chamber his aunt's "dear old doggie," and now he is reconciled to it
    because a certain "Mary" looks much younger and better here than she
    did on earth. And here am I, near fallen into the same way of
    dealing!

    We agreed to purge this State and all the people in it of
    traditions, associations, bias, laws, and artificial entanglements,
    and begin anew; but we have no power to liberate ourselves. Our
    past, even its accidents, its accidents above all, and ourselves,
    are one.
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