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Chapter the Second The Castle on the Crag
Section 1

The quarantine place to which the Earthlings were taken must have been at a very considerable distance from the place of the Conference, because they were nearly six hours upon their journey, and all the time they were flying high and very swiftly. They were all together in one flying ship; it was roomy and comfortable and could have held perhaps four times as many passengers. They were accompanied by about thirty Utopians in gas-masks, among whom were two women. The aviators wore dresses of a white fleecy substance that aroused the interest and envy of both Miss Grey and Lady Stella. The flying ship passed down the valley and over the great plain and across a narrow sea and another land with a rocky coast and dense forests, and across a great space of empty sea. There was scarcely any shipping to be seen upon this sea at all; it seemed to Mr. Barnstaple that no earthly ocean would be so untravelled; only once or twice did he see very big drifting vessels quite unlike any earthly ships, huge rafts or platforms they seemed to be rather than ships, and once or twice he saw what was evidently a cargo boat — one with rigged masts and sails. And the air was hardly more frequented. After he was out of sight of land he saw only three aeroplanes until the final landfall.

They crossed a rather thickly inhabited, very delightful-looking coastal belt and came over what was evidently a rainless desert country, given over to mining and to vast engineering operations. Far away were very high snowy mountains, but the aeroplane descended before it came to these. For a time the Earthlings were flying over enormous heaps of slaggy accumulations, great mountains of them, that seemed to be derived from a huge well-like excavation that went down into the earth to an unknown depth. A tremendous thunder of machinery came out of this pit and much smoke. Here there were crowds of workers and they seemed to be living in camps among the debris. Evidently the workers came to this place merely for spells of work; there were no signs of homes. The aeroplane of the Earthlings skirted this region and flew on over a rocky and almost treeless desert deeply cut by steep gorges of the canyon type. Few people were to be seen, but there were abundant signs of engineering activity. Every torrent, every cataract was working a turbine, and great cables followed the cliffs of the gorges and were carried across the desert spaces. In the wider places of the gorges there were pine woods and a fairly abundant vegetation.

The high crag which was their destination stood out, an almost completely isolated headland, in the fork between two convergent canyons. It towered up to a height of perhaps two thousand feet above the foaming clash of the torrents below, a great mass of pale greenish and purple rocks, jagged and buttressed and cleft deeply by joint planes and white crystalline veins. The gorge on one side of it was much steeper than that on the other, it was so overhung indeed as to be darkened like a tunnel, and here within a hundred feet or so of the brow a slender metallic bridge had been flung across the gulf. Some yards above it were projections that might have been the remains of an earlier bridge of stone. Behind, the crag fell steeply for some hundreds of feet to a long slope covered with a sparse vegetation which rose again to the main masses of the mountain, a wall of cliffs with a level top.

It was on this slope that the aeroplane came down alongside of three or four smaller machines. The crag was surmounted by the tall ruins of an ancient castle, within the circle of whose walls clustered a number of buildings which had recently harboured a group of chemical students. Their researches, which had been upon some question of atomic structure quite incomprehensible to Mr. Barnstaple, were finished now and the place had become vacant. Their laboratory was still stocked with apparatus and material; and water and power were supplied to it from higher up the gorge by means of pipes and cables. There was also an abundant store of provisions. A number of Utopians were busily adapting the place to its new purpose of isolation and disinfection when the Earthlings arrived.

Serpentine appeared in the company of a man in a gas-mask whose name was Cedar. This Cedar was a cytologist, and he was in charge of the arrangements for this improvised sanatorium.

Serpentine explained that he himself had flown to the crag in advance, because he understood the equipment of the place and the research that had been going on there, and because his knowledge of the Earthlings and his comparative immunity to their infections made him able to act as an intermediary between them and the medical men who would now take charge of their case. He made these explanations to Mr. Burleigh, Mr. Barnstaple, Lord Barralonga and Mr. Hunker. The other Earthlings stood about in small groups beside the aeroplane from which they had alighted, regarding the castellated summit of the crag, the scrubby bushes of the bleak upland about them and the towering cliffs of the adjacent canyons with no very favourable expressions.

Mr. Catskill had gone apart nearly to the edge of the great canyon, and was standing with his hands behind his back in an attitude almost Napoleonic, lost in thought, gazing down into those sunless depths. The roar of the unseen waters below, now loud, now nearly inaudible, quivered in the air.

Miss Greeta Grey had suddenly produced a Kodak camera; she had been reminded of its existence when packing for this last journey, and she was taking a snapshot of the entire party.

Cedar said that he would explain the method of treatment he proposed to follow, and Lord Barralonga called “Rupert!” to bring Mr. Catskill into the group of Cedar’s hearers.

Cedar was as explicit and concise as Urthred had been. It was evident, he said, that the Earthlings were the hosts of a variety of infectious organisms which were kept in check in their bodies by immunizing counter substances, but against which the Utopians had no defences ready and could hope to secure immunity only after a painful and disastrous epidemic. The only way to prevent this epidemic devastating their whole planet indeed, was firstly to gather together and cure all the cases affected, which was being done by converting the Conference Park into a big hospital, and next to take the Earthlings in hand and isolate them absolutely from the Utopians until they could be cleaned of their infections. It was, he confessed, an inhospitable thing to do to the Earthlings, but it seemed the only possible thing to do, to bring them into this peculiarly high and dry desert air and there to devise methods for their complete physical cleansing. If that was possible it would be done, and then the Earthlings would again be free to go and come as they pleased in Utopia.

“But suppose it is not possible?” said Mr. Catskill abruptly.

“I think it will be.”

“But if you fail?”

Cedar smiled at Serpentine. “Physical research is taking up the work in which Arden and Greenlake were foremost, and it will not be long before we are able to repeat their experiment. And then to reverse it.”

“With us as your raw material?”

“Not until we are fairly sure of a safe landing for you.”

“You mean,” said Mr. Mush, who had joined the circle about Cedar and Serpentine, “that you are going to send us back?”

“If we cannot keep you,” said Cedar, smiling.

“Delightful prospect!” said Mr. Mush unpleasantly. “To be shot across space in a gun. Experimentally.”

“And may I ask,” came the voice of Father Amerton, “may I ask the nature of this treatment of yours, these experiments of which we are to be the — guinea pigs, so to speak. Is it to be anything in the nature of vaccination?”

“Injections,” explained Mr. Barnstaple.

“I have hardly decided yet,” said Cedar. “The problem raises questions this world has forgotten for ages.”

“I may say at once that I am a confirmed anti-vaccinationist,” said Father Amerton. “Absolutely. Vaccination is an outrage on nature. If I had any doubts before I came into this world of — of vitiation, I have no doubts now. Not a doubt! If God had meant us to have these serums and ferments in our bodies he would have provided more natural and dignified means of getting them there than a squirt.”

Cedar did not discuss the point. He went on to further apologies. For a time he must ask the Earthlings to keep within certain limits, to confine themselves to the crag and the slopes below it as far as the mountain cliffs. And further, it was impossible to set young people to attend to them as had hitherto been done. They must cook for themselves and see to themselves generally. The appliances were all to be found above upon the crest of the crag and he and Serpentine would make any explanations that were needful. They would find there was ample provision for them.

“Then are we to be left alone here?” asked M. Catskill.

“For a time. When we have our problem clearer we will come again and tell you what we mean to do.”

“Good,” said Mr. Catskill. “Good.”

“I wish I hadn’t sent my maid by train,” said Lady Stella.

“I have come to my last clean collar,” said M. Dupont with a little humorous grimace. “It is no joke this week-end with Lord Barralonga.”

Lord Barralonga turned suddenly to his particular minion. “I believe that Ridley has the makings of a very good cook.”

“I don’t mind trying my hand,” said Ridley. “I’ve done most things — and once I used to look after a steam car.”

“A man who can keep one of those — those things in order can do anything,” said Mr. Penk with unusual emotion. “I’ve no objection to being a temporary general utility along of Mr. Ridley. I began my career in the pantry and I ain’t ashamed to own it.”

“If this gentleman will show us the gadgets,” said Mr. Ridley, indicating Serpentine.

“Exactly,” said Mr. Penk.

“And if all of us give as little trouble as possible,” said Miss Greeta bravely.

“I think we shall be able to manage,” said Mr. Burleigh to Cedar. “If at first you can spare us a little advice and help.”
Section 2

Cedar and Serpentine remained with the Earthlings upon Quarantine Crag until late in the afternoon. They helped to prepare a supper and set it out in the courtyard of the castle. They departed with a promise to return on the morrow, and the Earthlings watched them and their accompanying aeroplanes soar up into the sky.

Mr. Barnstaple was surprised to find himself distressed at their going. He had a feeling that mischief was brewing amongst his companions and that the withdrawal of these Utopians removed a check upon this mischief. He had helped Lady Stella in the preparation of an omelette; he had to carry back a dish and a frying-pan to the kitchen after it was served, so that he was the last to seat himself at the supper-table. He found the mischief he dreaded well afoot.

Mr. Catskill had finished his supper already and was standing with his foot upon a bench orating to the rest of the company.

“I ask you, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Mr. Catskill was saying; “I ask you: Is not Destiny writ large upon this day’s adventure? Not for nothing was this place a fortress in ancient times. Here it is ready to be a fortress again. M’m — a fortress. . . . In such an adventure as will make the stories of Cortez and Pizarro pale their ineffectual fires!”

“My dear Rupert!” cried Mr. Burleigh. “What have you got in that head of yours now?”

Mr. Catskill waved two fingers dramatically. “The conquest of a world!”

“Good God!” cried Mr. Barnstaple. “Are you mad?”

“As Clive,” said Mr. Catskill, “or Sultan Baber when he marched to Panipat.”

“It’s a tall proposition,” said Mr. Hunker, who seemed to have had his mind already prepared for these suggestions, “but I’m inclined to give it a hearing. The alternative so far as I can figure it out is to be scoured and whitewashed inside and out and then fired back into our own world — with a chance of hitting something hard on the way. You tell them, Mr. Catskill.”

“Tell them,” said Lord Barralonga, who had also been prepared. “It’s a gamble, I admit. But there’s situations when one has to gamble — or be gambled with. I’m all for the active voice.”

“It’s a gamble — certainly,” said Mr. Catskill. “But upon this narrow peninsula, upon this square mile or so of territory, the fate, Sir, of two universes awaits decision. This is no time for the faint heart and the paralyzing touch of discretion. Plan swiftly — act swiftly. . . . ”

“This is simply thrilling!” cried Miss Greeta Grey clasping her hands about her knees and smiling radiantly at Mr. Mush.

“These people,” Mr. Barnstaple interrupted, “are three thousand years ahead of us. We are like a handful of Hottentots in a showman’s van at Earl’s Court, planning the conquest of London.”

Mr. Catskill, hands on hips, turned with extraordinary good humour upon Mr. Barnstaple. “Three thousand years away from us — yes! Three thousand years ahead of us — no! That is where you and I join issue. You say these people are super-men. M’m — super-men. . . . I say they are degenerate men. Let me call your attention to my reasons for this belief — in spite of their beauty, their very considerable material and intellectual achievements and so forth. Ideal people, I admit. . . . What then? . . . My case is that they have reached a summit — and passed it, that they are going on by inertia and that they have lost the power not only of resistance to disease — that weakness we shall see develop more and more — but also of meeting strange and distressing emergencies. They are gentle. Altogether too gentle. They are ineffectual. They do not know what to do. Here is Father Amerton. He disturbed that first meeting in the most insulting way. (You know you did, Father Amerton. I’m not blaming you. You are morally — sensitive. And there were things to outrage you.) He was threatened — as a little boy is threatened by a feeble old woman. Something was to be done to him. Has anything been done to him?”

“A man and a woman came and talked to me,” said Father Amerton.

“And what did you do?”

“Simply confuted them. Lifted up my voice and confuted them.”

“What did they say?”

“What could they say?”

“We all thought tremendous things were going to be done to poor Father Amerton. Well, and now take a graver case. Our friend Lord Barralonga ran amuck with his car — and killed a man. M’m. Even at home they’d have endorsed your licence you know. And fined your man. But here? . . . The thing has scarcely been mentioned since. Why? Because they don’t know what to say about it or do about it. And now they have put us here and begged us to be good. Until they are ready to come and try experiments upon us and inject things into us and I don’t know what. And if we submit, Sir, if we submit, we lose one of our greatest powers over these people, our power of at once giving and resisting malaise, and in addition, I know not what powers of initiative that may very well be associated with that physiological toughness of which we are to be robbed. They may trifle with our ductless glands. But science tells us that these very glands secrete our personalities. Mentally, morally we shall be dissolved. If we submit, Sir — if we submit. But suppose we do not submit; what then?”

“Well,” said Lord Barralonga, “what then?”

“They will not know what to do. Do not be deceived by any outward shows of beauty and prosperity. These people are living, as the ancient Peruvians were living in the time of Pizarro, in an enervating dream. They have drunken the debilitating draught of Socialism and, as in ancient Peru, there is no health nor power of will left in them any more. A handful of resolute men and women who can dare — may not only dare but triumph in the face of such a world. And thus it is I lay my plans before you.”

“You mean to jump this entire Utopian planet?” said Mr. Hunker.

“Big order,” said Lord Barralonga.

“I mean, Sir, to assert the rights of a more vigorous form of social life over a less vigorous form of social life. Here we are — in a fortress. It is a real fortress and quite defensible. While you others have been unpacking, Barralonga and Hunker and I have been seeing to that. There is a sheltered well so that if need arises we can get water from the canyon below. The rock is excavated into chambers and shelters; the wall on the land side is sound and high, glazed so that it cannot be scaled. This great archway can easily be barricaded when the need arises. Steps go down through the rock to that little bridge which can if necessary be cut away. We have not yet explored all the excavations. In Mr. Hunker we have a chemist — he was a chemist before the movie picture claimed him as its master — and he says there is ample material in the laboratory for a store of bombs. This party, I find, can muster five revolvers with ammunition. I scarcely dared hope for that. We have food for many days.”

“Oh! This is ridiculous!” cried Mr. Barnstaple standing up and then sitting down again. “This is preposterous! To turn on these friendly people! But they can blow this little headland to smithereens whenever they want to.”

“Ah!” said Mr. Catskill and held him with his outstretched finger. “We’ve thought of that. But we can take a leaf from the book of Cortez — who, in the very centre of Mexico, held Montezuma as his prisoner and hostage. We too will have our hostage. Before we lift a finger —. First our hostage. . . . ”

“Aerial bombs!”

“Is there such a thing in Utopia? Or such an idea? And again — we must have our hostage.”

“Somebody of importance,” said Mr. Hunker.

“Cedar and Serpentine are both important people,” said Mr. Burleigh in tones of disinterested observation.

“But surely, Sir, you do not countenance this schoolboy’s dream of piracy!” cried Mr. Barnstaple, sincerely shocked.

“Schoolboys!” cried Father Amerton. “A cabinet minister, a peer and a great entrepreneur!”

“My dear Sir,” said Mr. Burleigh, “we are, after all, only envisaging eventualities. For the life of me, I do not see why we should not thresh out these possibilities. Though I pray to Heaven we may never have to realize them. You were saying, Rupert —?”

“We have to establish ourselves here and assert our independence and make ourselves felt by these Utopians.”

“‘Ear, ‘ear!” said Mr. Ridley cordially. “One or two I’d like to make feel personally.”

“We have to turn this prison into a capitol, into the first foothold of mankind in this world. It is like a foot thrust into a reluctant door that must never more close upon our race.”

“It is closed,” said Mr. Barnstaple. “Except by the mercy of these Utopians we shall never see our world again. And even with their mercy, it is doubtful.”

“That’s been keeping me awake nights,” said Mr. Hunker.

“It’s an idea that must have occurred to all of us,” said Mr. Burleigh.

“And it’s an idea that’s so thundering disagreeable that one hasn’t cared to talk about it,” said Lord Barralonga.

“I never ‘ad it until this moment,” said Penk. “You don’t reely mean to say, Sir, we can’t get back?”

“Things will be as they will be,” said Mr. Burleigh. “That is why I............
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