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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesErewhon Revisited - Chapter 5. My Father Meets A Son...
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Erewhon Revisited - Chapter 5. My Father Meets A Son... Post by :ispvipcorp Category :Long Stories Author :Samuel Butler Date :May 2012 Read :1237

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Erewhon Revisited - Chapter 5. My Father Meets A Son...

CHAPTER V. MY FATHER MEETS A SON, OF WHOSE EXISTENCE HE WAS IGNORANT; AND STRIKES A BARGAIN WITH HIM

The incidents recorded in the two last chapters had occupied about two hours, so that it was nearly midnight before my father could begin to retrace his steps and make towards the camp that he had left that morning. This was necessary, for he could not go any further in a costume that he now knew to be forbidden. At this hour no ranger was likely to meet him before he reached the statues, and by making a push for it he could return in time to cross the limits of the preserves before the Professors' permit had expired. If challenged, he must brazen it out that he was one or other of the persons therein named.

Fatigued though he was, he reached the statues as near as he could guess, at about three in the morning. What little wind there had been was warm, so that the tracks, which the Professors must have seen shortly after he had made them, had disappeared. The statues looked very weird in the moonlight but they were not chanting.

While ascending, he pieced together the information he had picked up from the Professors. Plainly, the Sunchild, or child of the sun, was none other than himself, and the new name of Coldharbour was doubtless intended to commemorate the fact that this was the first town he had reached in Erewhon. Plainly, also, he was supposed to be of superhuman origin--his flight in the balloon having been not unnaturally believed to be miraculous. The Erewhonians had for centuries been effacing all knowledge of their former culture; archaeologists, indeed, could still glean a little from museums, and from volumes hard to come by, and still harder to understand; but archaeologists were few, and even though they had made researches (which they may or may not have done), their labours had never reached the masses. What wonder, then, that the mushroom spawn of myth, ever present in an atmosphere highly charged with ignorance, had germinated in a soil so favourably prepared for its reception?

He saw it all now. It was twenty years next Sunday since he and my mother had eloped. That was the meaning of XIX. xii. 29. They had made a new era, dating from the day of his return to the palace of the sun with a bride who was doubtless to unite the Erewhonian nature with that of the sun. The New Year, then, would date from Sunday, December 7, which would therefore become XX. i. 1. The Thursday, now nearly if not quite over, being only two days distant from the end of a month of thirty- one days, which was also the last of the year, would be XIX. xii. 29, as on the Professors' permit.

I should like to explain here what will appear more clearly on a later page--I mean, that the Erewhonians, according to their new system, do not believe the sun to be a god except as regards this world and his other planets. My father had told them a little about astronomy, and had assured them that all the fixed stars were suns like our own, with planets revolving round them, which were probably tenanted by intelligent living beings, however unlike they might be to ourselves. From this they evolved the theory that the sun was the ruler of this planetary system, and that he must be personified, as they had personified the air-god, the gods of time and space, hope, justice, and the other deities mentioned in my father's book. They retain their old belief in the actual existence of these gods, but they now make them all subordinate to the sun. The nearest approach they make to our own conception of God is to say that He is the ruler over all the suns throughout the universe--the suns being to Him much as our planets and their denizens are to our own sun. They deny that He takes more interest in one sun and its system than in another. All the suns with their attendant planets are supposed to be equally His children, and He deputes to each sun the supervision and protection of its own system. Hence they say that though we may pray to the air-god, &c., and even to the sun, we must not pray to God. We may be thankful to Him for watching over the suns, but we must not go further.

Going back to my father's reflections, he perceived that the Erewhonians had not only adopted our calendar, as he had repeatedly explained it to the Nosnibors, but had taken our week as well, and were making Sunday a high day, just as we do. Next Sunday, in commemoration of the twentieth year after his ascent, they were about to dedicate a temple to him; in this there was to be a picture showing himself and his earthly bride on their heavenward journey, in a chariot drawn by four black and white horses--which, however, Professor Hanky had positively affirmed to have been only storks.

Here I interrupted my father. "But were there," I said, "any storks?"

"Yes," he answered. "As soon as I heard Hanky's words I remembered that a flight of some four or five of the large storks so common in Erewhon during the summer months had been wheeling high aloft in one of those aerial dances that so much delight them. I had quite forgotten it, but it came back to me at once that these creatures, attracted doubtless by what they took to be an unknown kind of bird, swooped down towards the balloon and circled round it like so many satellites to a heavenly body. I was fearful lest they should strike at it with their long and formidable beaks, in which case all would have been soon over; either they were afraid, or they had satisfied their curiosity--at any rate, they let us alone; but they kept with us till we were well away from the capital. Strange, how completely this incident had escaped me."

I return to my father's thoughts as he made his way back to his old camp.

As for the reversed position of Professor Panky's clothes, he remembered having given his own old ones to the Queen, and having thought that she might have got a better dummy on which to display them than the headless scarecrow, which, however, he supposed was all her ladies-in-waiting could lay their hands on at the moment. If that dummy had never been replaced, it was perhaps not very strange that the King could not at the first glance tell back from front, and if he did not guess right at first, there was little chance of his changing, for his first ideas were apt to be his last. But he must find out more about this.

Then how about the watch? Had their views about machinery also changed? Or was there an exception made about any machine that he had himself carried?

Yram too. She must have been married not long after she and he had parted. So she was now wife to the Mayor, and was evidently able to have things pretty much her own way in Sunch'ston, as he supposed he must now call it. Thank heaven she was prosperous! It was interesting to know that she was at heart a sceptic, as was also her light-haired son, now Head Ranger. And that son? Just twenty years of age! Born seven months after marriage! Then the Mayor doubtless had light hair too; but why did not those wretches say in which month Yram was married? If she had married soon after he had left, this was why he had not been sent for or written to. Pray heaven it was so. As for current gossip, people would talk, and if the lad was well begotten, what could it matter to them whose son he was? "But," thought my father, "I am glad I did not meet him on my way down. I had rather have been killed by some one else."

Hanky and Panky again. He remembered Bridgeford as the town where the Colleges of Unreason had been most rife; he had visited it, but he had forgotten that it was called "The city of the people who are above suspicion." Its Professors were evidently going to muster in great force on Sunday; if two of them had robbed him, he could forgive them, for the information he had gleaned from them had furnished him with a _pied a terre_. Moreover, he had got as much Erewhonian money as he should want, for he had resolved to retrace his steps immediately after seeing the temple dedicated to himself. He knew the danger he should run in returning over the preserves without a permit, but his curiosity was so great that he resolved to risk it.

Soon after he had passed the statues he began to descend, and it being now broad day, he did so by leaps and bounds, for the ground was not precipitous. He reached his old camp soon after five--this, at any rate, was the hour at which he set his watch on finding that it had run down during his absence. There was now no reason why he should not take it with him, so he put it in his pocket. The parrots had attacked his saddle-bags, saddle, and bridle, as they were sure to do, but they had not got inside the bags. He took out his English clothes and put them on--stowing his bags of gold in various pockets, but keeping his Erewhonian money in the one that was most accessible. He put his Erewhonian dress back into the saddle-bags, intending to keep it as a curiosity; he also refreshed the dye upon his hands, face, and hair; he lit himself a fire, made tea, cooked and ate two brace of quails, which he had plucked while walking so as to save time, and then flung himself on to the ground to snatch an hour's very necessary rest. When he woke he found he had slept two hours, not one, which was perhaps as well, and by eight he began to reascend the pass.

He reached the statues about noon, for he allowed himself not a moment's rest. This time there was a stiffish wind, and they were chanting lustily. He passed them with all speed, and had nearly reached the place where he had caught the quails, when he saw a man in a dress which he guessed at once to be a ranger's, but which, strangely enough, seeing that he was in the King's employ, was not reversed. My father's heart beat fast; he got out his permit and held it open in his hand, then with a smiling face he went towards the Ranger, who was standing his ground.

"I believe you are the Head Ranger," said my father, who saw that he was still smooth-faced and had light hair. "I am Professor Panky, and here is my permit. My brother Professor has been prevented from coming with me, and, as you see, I am alone."

My father had professed to pass himself off as Panky, for he had rather gathered that Hanky was the better known man of the two.

While the youth was scrutinising the permit, evidently with suspicion, my father took stock of him, and saw his own past self in him too plainly--knowing all he knew--to doubt whose son he was. He had the greatest difficulty in hiding his emotion, for the lad was indeed one of whom any father might be proud. He longed to be able to embrace him and claim him for what he was, but this, as he well knew, might not be. The tears again welled into his eyes when he told me of the struggle with himself that he had then had.

"Don't be jealous, my dearest boy," he said to me. "I love you quite as dearly as I love him, or better, but he was sprung upon me so suddenly, and dazzled me with his comely debonair face, so full of youth, and health, and frankness. Did you see him, he would go straight to your heart, for he is wonderfully like you in spite of your taking so much after your poor mother."

I was not jealous; on the contrary, I longed to see this youth, and find in him such a brother as I had often wished to have. But let me return to my father's story.

The young man, after examining the permit, declared it to be in form, and returned it to my father, but he eyed him with polite disfavour.

"I suppose," he said, "you have come up, as so many are doing, from Bridgeford and all over the country, to the dedication on Sunday."

"Yes," said my father. "Bless me!" he added, "what a wind you have up here! How it makes one's eyes water, to be sure;" but he spoke with a cluck in his throat which no wind that blows can cause.

"Have you met any suspicious characters between here and the statues?" asked the youth. "I came across the ashes of a fire lower down; there had been three men sitting for some time round it, and they had all been eating quails. Here are some of the bones and feathers, which I shall keep. They had not been gone more than a couple of hours, for the ashes were still warm; they are getting bolder and bolder--who would have thought they would dare to light a fire? I suppose you have not met any one; but if you have seen a single person, let me know."

My father said quite truly that he had met no one. He then laughingly asked how the youth had been able to discover as much as he had.

"There were three well-marked forms, and three separate lots of quail bones hidden in the ashes. One man had done all the plucking. This is strange, but I dare say I shall get at it later."

After a little further conversation the Ranger said he was now going down to Sunch'ston, and, though somewhat curtly, proposed that he and my father should walk together.

"By all means," answered my father.

Before they had gone more than a few hundred yards his companion said, "If you will come with me a little to the left, I can show you the Blue Pool."

To avoid the precipitous ground over which the stream here fell, they had diverged to the right, where they had found a smoother descent; returning now to the stream, which was about to enter on a level stretch for some distance, they found themselves on the brink of a rocky basin, of no great size, but very blue, and evidently deep.

"This," said the Ranger, "is where our orders tell us to fling any foreign devil who comes over from the other side. I have only been Head Ranger about nine months, and have not yet had to face this horrid duty; but," and here he smiled, "when I first caught sight of you I thought I should have to make a beginning. I was very glad when I saw you had a permit."

"And how many skeletons do you suppose are lying at the bottom of this pool?"

"I believe not more than seven or eight in all. There were three or four about eighteen years ago, and about the same number of late years; one man was flung here only about three months before I was appointed. I have the full list, with dates, down in my office, but the rangers never let people in Sunch'ston know when they have Blue-Pooled any one; it would unsettle men's minds, and some of them would be coming up here in the dark to drag the pool, and see whether they could find anything on the body."

My father was glad to turn away from this most repulsive place. After a time he said, "And what do you good people hereabouts think of next Sunday's grand doings?"

Bearing in mind what he had gleaned from the Professors about the Ranger's opinions, my father gave a slightly ironical turn to his pronunciation of the words "grand doings." The youth glanced at him with a quick penetrative look, and laughed as he said, "The doings will be grand enough."

"What a fine temple they have built," said my father. "I have not yet seen the picture, but they say the four black and white horses are magnificently painted. I saw the Sunchild ascend, but I saw no horses in the sky, nor anything like horses."

The youth was much interested. "Did you really see him ascend?" he asked; "and what, pray, do you think it all was?"

"Whatever it was, there were no horses."

"But there must have been, for, as you of course know, they have lately found some droppings from one of them, which have been miraculously preserved, and they are going to show them next Sunday in a gold reliquary."

"I know," said my father, who, however, was learning the fact for the first time. "I have not yet seen this precious relic, but I think they might have found something less unpleasant."

"Perhaps they would if they could," replied the youth, laughing, "but there was nothing else that the horses could leave. It is only a number of curiously rounded stones, and not at all like what they say it is."

"Well, well," continued my father, "but relic or no relic, there are many who, while they fully recognise the value of the Sunchild's teaching, dislike these cock and bull stories as blasphemy against God's most blessed gift of reason. There are many in Bridgeford who hate this story of the horses."

The youth was now quite reassured. "So there are here, sir," he said warmly, "and who hate the Sunchild too. If there is such a hell as he used to talk about to my mother, we doubt not but that he will be cast into its deepest fires. See how he has turned us all upside down. But we dare not say what we think. There is no courage left in Erewhon."

Then waxing calmer he said, "It is you Bridgeford people and your Musical Banks that have done it all. The Musical Bank Managers saw that the people were falling away from them. Finding that the vulgar believed this foreign devil Higgs--for he gave this name to my mother when he was in prison--finding that--But you know all this as well as I do. How can you Bridgeford Professors pretend to believe about these horses, and about the Sunchild's being son to the sun, when all the time you know there is no truth in it?"

"My son--for considering the difference in our ages I may be allowed to call you so--we at Bridgeford are much like you at Sunch'ston; we dare not always say what we think. Nor would it be wise to do so, when we should not be listened to. This fire must burn itself out, for it has got such hold that nothing can either stay or turn it. Even though Higgs himself were to return and tell it from the house-tops that he was a mortal--ay, and a very common one--he would be killed, but not believed."

"Let him come; let him show himself, speak out and die, if the people choose to kill him. In that case I would forgive him, accept him for my father, as silly people sometimes say he is, and honour him to my dying day."

"Would that be a bargain?" said my father, smiling in spite of emotion so strong that he could hardly bring the words out of his mouth.

"Yes, it would," said the youth doggedly.

"Then let me shake hands with you on his behalf, and let us change the conversation."

He took my father's hand, doubtfully and somewhat disdainfully, but he did not refuse it.

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