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Our Library => Eden Phillpotts - Saurus (1938) => Topic started by: Admin on April 03, 2023, 07:48:41 am



Title: Chapter 13
Post by: Admin on April 03, 2023, 07:48:41 am
SAURUS could not go upon his uneventful way without causing a sensation.

"It is hateful," explained Norah to him, "but in the vulgar phrase, you continue to be 'news', and an immense deal is written and printed about you, which we spare you, because we know how it wearies you to read anything but philosophy. But you are still accepted as a most remarkable phenomenon and if you were not protected from them, journalists would worry you from morning till night and be a nuisance to us all."

"Men of learning and thoughtful people I am always ready to see," answered Saurus. "That is what you would call my duty, and I shall perform it as long as I can. The professor tells me that he will lecture upon me again presently, and he knows that I will help him to the best of my small powers."

Then Mrs. Hapgood broke the great news.

"You must prepare to see a prince," she said. "We have been informed that one of our royal dukes wishes that you should be presented to him, and he comes to pay you recognition from our sovereign himself. It is a most gracious gesture, for as a rule when the King wants to see anybody, he sends for them; but he knows all about you and understands that you cannot be reasonably asked to go to court. Therefore, with that urbanity for which the royal house is famed, he has directed one of his brothers to visit you in his name."

The iguana made no demur.

"Your dynasty," he wrote, "has long enjoyed the respect, devotion and reverence of the Empire."

"He comes in a fortnight," said Norah, "and on the occasion of such an honour, humble people like ourselves are put to prodigious inconvenience which we are proud to incur. But you always know precisely where you are with royalty, which is such a blessing. You are told when they will come, what refreshment they will require, how you are to pleasure them and when they will go again. One of the supreme blessings in a great social function is to know exactly when people will depart. The duke and his suite take lunch with us; then you will be presented to him by Felix. He will spend thirty minutes with you, and at three o'clock precisely he will return to his car and speed away."

"Shall I offer him some of my fruit?" asked Saurus.

"No; he will have lunched; but we intend to order a handsome silver frame for your cabinet photograph, and my brother thinks that it will be a seemly thing for you to sign the photograph in the duke's presence and beg him to be so good as to present it to His Majesty."

"I will do so," promised Saurus.

"We are already in the thick of the preparations," said Mrs. Hapgood. "The professor considers that his cigars are not up to royal quality and has bought a box of enormous ones costing half a crown each! We are getting very choice wines also and engaging a French chef from the city and trained waiters. Eight persons attend His Royal Highness, but while he is with you they will not be present. He wants just a personal chat and is most anxious to put you to no discomfort or trouble."

"I am never uncomfortable or troubled," replied the iguana. "The duke need be under no concern as to that."

"You'll like him," foretold Norah. "Everybody does; and I feel sure that he will like you, because he is a forthright prince with no humbug about him. There are certain formalities, I believe, on these occasions, but he won't expect them from you. Say just what you think, as you usually do. Don't lecture to him, but reply to his questions in your direct way. The royal family is made of tact, and you may be sure that he won't ask you any question you would not care to answer."

"I would answer any question to which I knew the answer," replied Saurus; "but I will leave the matter in his hands."

"Don't give him a lot of your wonderful little notes to read, and sit and watch him while he reads them," begged Norah. "That might bore him. You are so fond of preparing sheets and sheets of interesting things for visitors to read; but in this case, I should let him guide conversation into his own channels. He is highly intelligent and a man of the world. He won't bother you to tell him about your world, because he quite understands every detail of your wonderful story and knows your world is hidden from you; but what, I expect, he will like to know is all you think of our world. He may even tell you a little of what he himself thinks about it, which would be most interesting."

"Will he ask me to shake hands?" inquired Saurus.

"I couldn't say, but if he offers to, you must shake, for once in a way," replied Norah. "You can't direct a royal prince in matters of etiquette."

All was in readiness when the great day came and the duke arrived with royal punctuality. He was genial, gracious and affable. He enjoyed his luncheon, drank two glasses of champagne, praised the coffee, asked the brand of his cigar, and put many sagacious questions about Saurus.

With considerable imagination he envisaged the iguana from Mrs. Hapgood's angle of approach, realized the immense difficulties that the stranger's upbringing must have meant for her brother and herself, and congratulated them on their success.

"It was in a way a national duty," he said, "and adequate Government grants, I understand, were made."

The professor explained that various learned societies had assisted him, but not the Government.

"Ah!" said the prince. "Saurus hasn't got a vote. You talk to your Member of Parliament, Professor Toddleben, and tell him to raise the question. An astounding visitor of this kind should command the utmost attention and be an obligation on the country he has honoured with his presence."

An equerry reminded His Royal Highness of a point.

"You read, sir, that Saurus doesn't like shaking hands and you asked me to raise the question," he said.

"He entertains a great aversion from any human touch," explained the professor, "but will, of course, shake hands if Your Royal Highness desires to do so."

"As a matter of fact, I'd rather not—should be horribly nervous," declared the visitor.

In due course the prince and iguana bowed to each other. They then sat down and entered into conversation, the one talking aloud, the other tapping out his answers on his typewriter faster than most people talk. The prince quickly accepted this method of communion and Saurus perceived that he was well-disposed. He gazed upon royalty in his usual placid and unemotional fashion and appreciated the impersonal nature of the interview. For the courteous prince, having assured him of the sensation that he had caused, declared that England would always remember an event without parallel in the world's history and be proud of such a notable visitant, and proceeded to ask such questions only as he thought the lizard might care to answer.

"It is refreshing to learn that you utter your opinions without fear or favour, Mr. Saurus, and thus those who have the good fortune to see you, know that they are winning a more independent opinion of our race than was ever uttered before. I well understand that only our own human knowledge is at your command and, therefore, to some extent the human outlook must be yours also; but you bring to that outlook a point of view which was never until now united with consciousness on our planet, and that is a very wonderful event. You feel no bias and your opinions, emanating from an intellect outside our experience, must always possess deep interest for the human race."

"I can tell your royal highness nothing that man does not know already," wrote Saurus, "but, as you justly remark, the point of view may possess some passing novelty, so pray ask me what questions you may have a mind to."

"I will ask you what I should best like to learn myself," replied the prince. "You are, I hear, among your other gifts, an historian and philosopher. Tell me, then, what you think of our British Empire. What does Iguana Sapiens, as we venture to call you, make of it?"

Saurus began to tap away on his typewriter like lightning and swiftly handed a sheet to the distinguished visitor.

"So large a subject must be approached from three standpoints to do it justice," he began. "You have to consider what your Empire is, what it will be, and what it might have been. It is, in my opinion, the most amazing phenomenon of Earth's story—so far. Other Empires there have been—of Egypt and Babylonia, of Assyria, Greece and Rome; but they shrink into insignificance beside yours. We have the spectacle of a pin-point island in an inclement clime so charged with dynamic elements that it bursts its narrow bounds, penetrates to the ends of the planet, absorbs territories in both hemispheres, swallows nations and creates a vast commonwealth of united peoples, the like of which was never seen upon Earth until now, and will hardly again be seen.

"A master mind would be needed adequately to explain this wonder and it will be discovered that British rule, though founded on conquest and the customary villainies that conquest must always mean, was joined with a certain quality in the conquerors—a foggy sense of justice, a respect for the oath and an understanding of that abstraction they comprehended in the word 'Liberty'. The people who did these things had already created Habeas Corpus. Themselves nurtured in freedom, they valued this ideal and, having enslaved, offered the hand of friendship, made their word their bond, won a measure of trust and even amity, such as no conquerors had ever won before, and carried the national 'aidos', or spirit of truth and compassion, where lesser nations opposed 'hubris' and unfaith, cruelty and inhuman impositions upon the conquered.

"The concept of liberty would seem to be the highest form of civilization and, though not yet reached and probably impossible of human attainment under any of your existing ideologies, yet Britons still stick to the semblance of it and carry it with them where they chose to go. It argues self-control, respect for the law and a native goodwill that is part of your national genius. It permits a freedom of thought which dictatorships must slay to live. You do not imprison, or torture in secret, or condemn without public hearing; you perceive that to keep the oath is vital to honour and security; you strive to respect all honest convictions and your democratic ideals accord liberty of criticism, liberty of the Press and development of individuality in a manner quite alien to most other regimes. You welcome aliens and persecution is not one of your more shameful crimes, for you never were good haters. The wisdom of the world is at your service, as it is at the service of your fellow men, but as yet you wallow, like everybody else, in sloughs of selfishness—your universal bane—and know not how to banish it. But you have tried; you have offered to lessen your armaments and promote the cause of peace; you have made blundering attempts at goodwill; you have recognized your numberless errors and admitted many of them. The Empire—huge as it is—must work through united governments, and when any fail of sense or equity, the shock may cause the whole mighty machine to tremble; but as yet it continues fairly stable and when, if ever, you weigh yourselves in the scales of relativity and come to understand that principle, then mayhap you will also re-weigh and re-value your good and evil and thus enable your kingdom to enjoy a longer lease than that recorded of any other. Such an ideal may yet lie within the reach of all conscious life; it may well glorify greater planets than yours, or mine; but some closer approach to it should yet be achieved in the millions of years still left at Earth's disposal.

"So you stand," continued Saurus, "but must await the inevitable fate of all kindred empires, since the eternal progress of change and the ultimate certainty of death is at the root of every created institution. Your turn will come, and from the tide-rip of future time new nations will be born to toss upon its surface, while old nations vanish and are sucked down to the darkness of oblivion. The mightier the empire, the more certain that, like a sandhill in an hour-glass, its own development will crumble it away. Your salvation rests upon the light rein with which the mother country rides her prodigious steed; but freedom is as much a dream of each of the members as the whole body and already are apparent disintegrating forces. The gravitation that holds you together must yield anon, and there are active and potent elements at the heart of your venerable race, working unseen, like woodworms, that hate empire and would haste to dismember you with utmost vigour and enterprise once they win their people's will. Socialism toils ceaselessly for the powers your democratic constitution would grant, and that those who support Socialism will be in a position to apply it within some trifling number of years is inevitable. Then the axe must swiftly begin to lop and the saw to cut until all that is left will be a trunk robbed of its life-giving foliage, branch and bough—a stout ruin that may linger long, yet must submit to decay and destruction at the last. Shorn of empiry, deprived of wealth, under the control of those who know not your sources of greatness and whose rule has no traditions to support it, your liberty will vanish, your power will pass. You must then experience the ordinary infirmities of old age and sink into the limbo of history for another Gibbon to write your decline and fall. This is not to speak dishonourably concerning you, but to state a certainty beyond reach of question."

Saurus, who had occupied two pages in his reply, ceased tapping and the royal personage read all that he had written and smiled upon him.

"You tell me what we are and shall be, Mr. Saurus," he said. "But you have yet to mention your third point: what we might have been."

The iguana set another piece of paper in his typewriter and swiftly composed a reply.

"There was a time," he wrote, "when North America and the United Kingdom were as parent and child. And then you played the cruel step-mother and lost her love and trust. That England would have won the taxation struggle is certain, but for the fact that America had bred a giant, and under his leadership, against prodigious odds, his country conquered you. Greater than Alexander, Caesar, or Bonaparte is George Washington, for he was called to forge his own weapon and create a force potent enough to win the victory. An aristocrat himself, he knew that the base-born quarrel meant war, and inspired his people to throw off the yoke which a purblind gang of inferior statesmen demanded to set upon it. Everything was against him, yet that rare soldier conquered through a bloody campaign whose details are all too dimly remembered here. America would have crowned him and created a dynasty, but he was too wise to accept any throne save in the hearts of a grateful people. That was your far-flung tragedy: to make Washington your enemy—an error that altered the whole course of Earth's story.

"History repeats itself," concluded Saurus. "Spain found a like answer to her rapacity and lack of vision in South America. She, too, tried to keep a brave young world upon the chain; but her conquest crumbled under her greedy hands, to recreate itself in the great republics that you know."

"I have often thought that if the United States and ourselves could feel as one in trust and faith, we might yet put a girdle round the earth and help to bring about a civilization where war was for ever banned," declared the young prince. "Together we could even yet do it."

But Saurus shook his head.

"Too late," he replied. "Too late, your royal highness. England is old; America is young and cannot dismiss the past as quickly as you do. There are many spirits in that vast admixture of blood that will never forgive or forget, or learn to trust again. But may your Empire learn her tremendous lesson and keep the mother's apron-strings elastic, so that they shall not break too soon. Freedom is the eternal undying demand of your people, and to deny it is to lose all. Other nations prove happier without freedom and prefer to go in bonds, arguing that temporal efficiency is greater than spiritual liberty; but not so do you face your future fortunes, or see your duty."

"Most interesting," declared the listener. "Somewhat pessimistic, Mr. Saurus, but quite possibly true."

He looked at his watch and spoke again.

"Now be so good, if I am not wearying you, to tell me how you suspect your own civilization must differ from ours—difficult though that must be for you."

"Practically impossible," confessed Saurus. "One has no data to work upon. All that seems certain is that I come from a very tiny world—be it Hermes or Ceres, Pallas or another. A world so small that vast convulsions, conquests and wars of extermination can hardly have occurred there. The creature that you call a lizard is probably at the helm of civilization in that remote planet, and one may deduce that his life is far shorter than yours, but lived under utterly different conditions of law and order, because his reasoning powers are more developed than your own. His values are probably somewhat superior to yours, though doubtless far inferior to those of nobler conscious life in nobler worlds. Good and evil can hardly mean anything to him, but the society of this lizard world is evidently highly organized, and my arrival here represents a knowledge of science in certain directions to which as yet you have not attained. Iguana is without doubt nearer to his remote ancestors than man, and he may have come to a peaceful, tolerant and intelligent existence more swiftly and easily than you find it possible to do. The reptile was perhaps better suited to Nature's final triumph than the species from which you have emerged. Your propensities must give the universe great pain if they are known beyond your dwelling-place, and the discomfort would be combined with surprise to learn the panacea that you have discovered against them, yet decline so resolutely to employ. Doubtless the myriad homes of conscious life have all their own problems—some more thorny than those of Earth, or Hermes, some easier to solve. It is what consciousness brings to life, rather than what life brings to consciousness that spells the destiny of man, lizard and all other reasonable beings. By you the stupendous, abstract ideal of righteousness has been discovered; by greater than you it may have been attained; for us it may have come as part of our natural endowment and created no more comment than a hand with four fingers and a thumb. All that we share with our greater neighbours we cannot know; but that we share with them eternal change and the ultimate certainty of death must be impossible of question."

"You would consider that you were a step higher up the ladder than we are, then?" inquired the duke.

"Not for a moment," replied Saurus quickly. "You have, it is true, ruined your earth, fouled your sea and air and done many abominations; there is much that every other animal must find offensive about you, as I do; but one feels that, lacking reason, you might have been quite as harmless and agreeable as the other great apes. Yet reason is in a measure justified, for with its aid you have risen to such heights of goodness, such devotion, such self-sacrifice upon occasion, such noble causes, such generous and sublime dreams that you may far exceed our more modest status, devoid alike of your temptations to wickedness and your occasional displays of virtue. We probably have no martyrs, just as we have none capable of making martyrs. A mechanic perfection is likely to reign in my world without any inducements to noble conduct, violent villainy, or subversive and volcanic opinions leading to common extermination. Thus we gain and lose. I perceive that evil can be very beautiful and goodness very ugly, while the converse is also true. These facts breed your wonderland of art—an unknown world to us, no doubt. But what is unknown is unmissed, and though we experience neither happiness nor misery, we probably enjoy a measure of peace and absence from fear and want and care that would mean glorious happiness to most of you."

"If bidden to choose between the rainbow magic of good and evil and the more modest lustre of peace and security, one guesses which most of my brother's subjects would prefer," answered the visitor. "And now, before I leave you, Mr. Saurus, I have a message from the monarch. He is desirous to bestow upon you the Order of the British Empire, and though your opinions on that institution are a little depressing, I beg you may see your way to accept it, and believe me when I assure you that the Empire will last your time and my own."

But Saurus declined with his customary courtesy.

"I am honoured," he replied, "yet, if His Gracious Majesty would do me a favour, may I beg a distinction for my faithful supporter and the King's loyal subject, Professor Toddleben? To him I owe everything, and to him a worldly honour would signify recognition of the most gratifying nature, whereas to me it must mean nothing at all."

The prince promised to keep Felix in mind and then took a kindly farewell as Mrs. Hapgood and her brother appeared punctually to attend him to his motor car. Together they walked beside him and he commented on his unusual experience.

"One's emotion," he said, "is a sort of sorrow for this stranded and isolated little being. Yet there is a human side to him—a glimmer of benevolence that I had hardly expected."

"Not natural to him, but a result of his human upbringing, sir," explained the professor.

"He suspects that he is developing a sense of humour, Your Royal Highness," said Norah, and the prince thought it quite possible.

"To live in England, even for ten months, might be likely to awaken a gleam of that," he declared.

"None sees more to laugh at than a royal duke, no doubt," ventured Norah.

"Plenty," he agreed, "but all the very funniest things happen when laughing is out of the question. From infancy we are sternly trained never to laugh when we feel most like it."