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The Vortex

(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!


Rudyard Kipling

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