Direktlänk till inlägg 9 maj 2011

old-fashioned fellows

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 9 maj 2011 07:12

The statue, when at last after many ineffective tugs at the controlling cord it was undraped and stood clear, stonily, insolently unabashed under the fierce Neutralian sun, while the populace huzzaed and, according to their custom, threw firecrackers under the feet of the notables, as the pigeons fluttered above in high alarm and the full weight of the band followed the opening trumpets—the statue was appalling. There are no contemporary portraits of Bellorius still extant. In their absence some sharp business had been done in the Ministry of Rest and Culture. The figure now so frankly brought to view had lain long years in a mason’s yard. It had been commissioned in an age of free enterprise for the tomb of a commercial magnate whose estate, on his death, had proved to be illusory. It was not Bellorius; it was not the fraudulent merchant prince; it was not even unambiguously male; it was scarcely human; it represented perhaps one of the virtues. Scott-King stood aghast at the outrage he had unwittingly committed on that gracious square. But he had already spoken and his speech had been a success. He had spoken in Latin; he had spoken from the heart. He had said that a torn and embittered world was that day united in dedicating itself to the majestic concept of Bellorius, in rebuilding itself first in Neutralia, then among all the yearning peoples of the West, on the foundations Bellorius had so securely laid. He had said that they were lighting a candle that day which by the Grace of God should never be put out. And after the oration came a prodigious luncheon at the University. And after the luncheon he was invested with a Doctorate of International Law. And after the investiture he was put into a bus and driven with Dr. Fe, Dr. Antonic and the Poet, back to Bellacita. By the direct road the journey took barely five hours. It was not yet midnight when they drove down the brilliant boulevard of the capital city. Little had been said on the road. When they drew up at the Ministry, Dr. Fe said: “So our little expedition is over. I can only hope, Professor, that you have enjoyed it a particle as much as we.” He held out his hand and smiled under the arc-lamps. Dr. Antonic and the Poet collected their modest luggage. “Good-night,” they said. “Good-night. We shall walk from here. The taxis are so expensive—the double fare operates after nine o’clock.” They walked. Dr. Fe ascended the steps of the Ministry. “Back to work,” he said. “I have had an urgent summons to report to my chief. We work late in the New Neutralia.” There was nothing furtive about his ascent but it was swift. Scott-King caught him as he was about to enter a lift. “But, I say, where am I to go?” “Professor, our humble town is yours. Where would you like to go?” “Well, I suppose I must go to an hotel. We were at the Ritz before.” “I am sure you will be comfortable there. Tell the porter to get you a taxi and see he does not try to overcharge you. Double fare but not more.” “But I shall see you tomorrow?” “I hope very often.” Dr. Fe bowed and the doors of the lift shut upon his bow and his smile. There was in his manner something more than the reserve proper to a man of delicate feeling who had in emotion revealed too much of himself. IV Officially,” said Mr. Horace Smudge, “we don’t even know you’re here.” He gazed at Scott-King through hexagonal spectacles across the Pending Tray and twiddled a new-fangled fountain pen; a multiplicity of pencils protruding from his breast pocket and his face seemed to suggest that he expected one of the telephones on his desk to ring at any moment with a message about something far more important than the matter under discussion; he was for all the world, Scott-King thought, like the clerk in the food office at Granchester. Scott-King’s life had been lived far from chanceries, but once, very many years ago at Stockholm, he had been asked to luncheon, by mistake for someone else, at the British Embassy. Sir Samson Courtenay had been chargé d’affaires at the time and Scott-King gratefully recalled the air of nonchalant benevolence with which he had received a callow undergraduate where he had expected a Cabinet Minister. Sir Samson had not gone far in his profession but for one man at least, for Scott-King, he remained the fixed type of English diplomat. Smudge was not as Sir Samson; he was the child of sterner circumstances and a more recent theory of public service; no uncle had put in a bland word for Smudge in high places; honest toil, a clear head in the examination room, a genuine enthusiasm for Commercial Geography, had brought him to his present position as second secretary at Bellacita. “You’ve no conception,” said Smudge, “what a time we have with Priorities. I’ve had to put the Ambassadress off the plane twice, at the last moment, to make room for I.C.I men. As it is I have four electrical engineers, two British Council lecturers and a trades unionist all wanting passages. Officially we have not heard of Bellorius. The Neutralians brought you here. It’s their business to get you back.”

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They drove out of the town into the land of cork-oak and almond. After an hour they were stopped and an escort of armoured cars formed up before and behind them. “A little token of our esteem,” said Dr. Fe. “It is for fear of the partisans,” whispered Dr. Antonic. Dust from the military enveloped the bus and hid the landscape. After two hours they halted. Here on a bare hillock stood the National Memorial. Like all modern state-architecture it was a loveless, unadorned object saved from insignificance only by its bulk; a great truncated pyramid of stone. A squad of soldiers were at work seeking lethargically to expunge a message daubed across the inscribed face in red paint: “Death to the Marshal.” Dr. Fe ignored their activities and led his party to the further side which was innocent of any legend, patriotic or subversive. Here under a fierce sun they left their wreaths, Scott-King stepping forward, when called, to represent Great Britain. The poet-journalist crouched and snapped with his camera. The escort cheered. The fatigue-men came round with their mops to see what was going on. Dr. Fe said a few words in Neutralian. The ceremony was over. They had luncheon in a neighbouring town at what seemed to be a kind of barrack-canteen, a bare room decorated only by a large photograph of the Marshal; a substantial but far from sumptuous meal eaten at narrow tables on thick earthenware plates. Scott-King drank several glasses of the heavy, purplish wine. The bus had stood long in the sun and was scorching hot. The wine and the thick stew induced sleep, and Scott-King lolled away the hours of the return journey unconscious of the jungle-whispering which prevailed around him in that tropic air. Whispering, however, there was, and it found full voice when at length the party returned to Simona. Scott-King awoke to it as he entered the hotel. “We must call a meeting,” the American professor was saying. “We must vote a resolution.” “We want a showdown,” said Miss Bombaum. “Not here,” she added, taking stock of the stamp collectors who still squatted in the public rooms. “Upstairs.” It would be tedious in the extreme to recount all that was said in Miss Bombaum’s bedroom after the expulsion of two philatelists who had taken refuge there. It was tedious to sit there, thought Scott-King, while the fountains were splashing in the square and the breeze stirring among the orange leaves on the city walls. Speeches were made, repeated, translated and mis-translated; there were calls for order and small private explosions of ill-temper. Not all the delegates were present. The Swiss Professor and the Chinese could not be found; the Peruvian and Argentine students refused to come, but there were six savants in the little bedroom besides Miss Bombaum, all of them, except Scott-King, very indignant about something. The cause of offence emerged through many words and the haze of tobacco smoke. In brief it was this: the Bellorius Association had been made dupes of the politicians. But for Miss Bombaum’s insatiable curiosity nothing need ever have been known of it. She had nosed out the grim truth like a truffle and the fact was plain. The National Monument was nothing more or less than a fetish of civil strife. It commemorated the massacre, execution, liquidation —what you will—ten years back on that sunny spot of some fifty leaders of the now dominant Neutralian party by those then dominant. The delegates of the Bellorius Association had been tricked into leaving wreaths there and, worse than this, had been photographed in the act. Miss Bombaum’s picture was at that moment, she said, being rushed out to the newspapers of the world. More than this they had lunched at the party Headquarters at the very tables where the ruffians of the party were wont to refresh themselves after their orgies of terrorization. What was more, Miss Bombaum said, she had just learned from a book in her possession that Bellorius had never had any connection with Neutralia at all; he had been a Byzantine general. Scott-King petulantly joined issue on this point. Strong words were used of him. “Fascist beast.”—“Reactionary cannibal.”—“Bourgeois escapist.” Scott-King withdrew from the meeting. Dr. Fe was in the passage. He took Scott-King’s arm and silently led him downstairs and out into the arcaded street. “They are not content,” said Dr. Fe. “It is a tragedy of the first magnitude.” “You shouldn’t have done it, you know,” said Scott-King. “I should not have done it? My dear Professor, I wept when it was first suggested. I delayed our journey two days on the road precisely to avoid this. But would they listen? I said to the Minister of Popular Enlightenment: ‘Excellency, this is an international occasion. It is in the realm of pure scholarship. These great men have not come to Neutralia for political purposes.’ He replied coarsely: ‘They are eating and drinking at our expense. They should show their respect for the Régime. The Physical Training delegates have all saluted the Marshal in the Sports Stadium. The philatelists have been issued with the party badge and many of them wear it. The professors, too, must help the New Neutralia.’ What could I say? He is a person of no delicacy, of the lowest origins. It was he, I have no doubt, who induced the Ministry of Rest and Culture to delay sending the statue. Professor, you do not understand politics. I will be frank with you. It was all a plot.” “So Miss Bombaum says.” “A plot against me. For a long time now they have been plotting my downfall. I am not a party man. You think because I wear the badge and give the salute I am of the New Neutralia. Professor, I have six children, two of them girls of marriageable age. What can one do but seek one’s fortune? And now I think I am ruined.” “Is it as bad as that?” “I cannot express how bad it is. Professor, you must go back to that room and persuade them to be calm. You are English. You have great influence. I have remarked during our journey together how they have all respected you.” “They called me ‘a fascist beast.’ “Yes,” said Dr. Fe simply, “I heard it through the keyhole. They were very discontented.” After Miss Bombaum’s bedroom, the streets were cool and sweet; the touch of Dr. Fe’s fingers on Scott-King’s sleeve was light as a moth. They walked on in silence. At a dewy flower-stall Dr. Fe chose a buttonhole, haggled fiercely over the price, presented it with Arcadian grace to Scott-King and then resumed the sorrowful promenade. “You will not go back?” “It would do no good, you know.” “An Englishman admits himself beaten,” said Dr. Fe desperately. “It amounts to that.” “But you yourself will stay with us to the end?” “Oh certainly.” “Why, then, we have lost nothing of consequence. The celebrations can proceed.” He said it politely, gallantly, but he sighed as they parted. Scott-King climbed the worn steps of the ramparts and sat alone under the orange trees watching the sun set. The hotel was tranquil that evening. The philatelists had been collected and carted off; they left dumbly and glumly for an unknown destination like Displaced Persons swept up in the machinery of “social engineering.” The six dissident delegates went with them, in default of other transport. The Swiss, the Chinese, the Peruvian and the Argentine alone remained. They dined together, silently, lacking a common tongue, but in good humour. Dr. Fe, Dr. Antonic and the Poet dined at another table, also silent, but sorrowful. Next day the errant effigy arrived by lorry and the day following was fixed for the unveiling. Scott-King passed the time happily. He studied the daily papers, all of which, true to Miss Bombaum’s forecast, displayed large photographs of the ceremony at the National Monument. He pieced together the sense of a leading article on the subject, he ate, he dozed, he visited the cool and glowing churches of the town, he composed the speech which, he was told, was expected of him on the morrow. Dr. Fe, when they met, showed the reserve proper to a man of delicate feeling who had in emotion revealed too much of himself. It was a happy day for Scott-King. Not so for his colleagues. Two disasters befell them severally, while he was pottering around. The Swiss Professor and the Chinese went for a little drive together in the hills. Their companionship was grounded on economy rather than mutual liking. An importunate guide; insensibility to the contemplative pleasures of Western architecture; a seemingly advantageous price; the promise of cool breezes, a wide panorama, a little restaurant; these undid them. When at evening they had not returned, their fate was certain. “They should have consulted Dr. Fe,” said Dr. Antonic. “He would have chosen a more suitable road and found them an escort.” “What will become of them?” “With the partisans you cannot say. Many of them are worthy, old-fashioned fellows who will treat them hospitably and wait for a ransom. But some are occupied with politics. If our friends have fallen among those, I am afraid they will certainly be murdered.” “I did not like the Swiss.” “Nor I. A Calvinist. But the Ministry will not be pleased that he is murdered.” The fate of the South Americans was less romantic. The police took them off during luncheon. “It seems they were not Argentine or Peruvian,” said Dr. Antonic. “Not even students.” “What had they done?” “I suppose they were informed against.” “They certainly had a villainous appearance.” “Oh yes, I suppose they were desperate fellows—spies, bimetallists, who can say? Nowadays it is not what you do that counts, but who informs against you. I think someone very high up must have informed against that pair. Otherwise Dr. Fe could have had the business postponed until after our little ceremony. Or perhaps Dr. Fe’s influence is on the wane.” So in the end, as was indeed most fitting, one voice only was raised to honour Bellorius.


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