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Chapter 22

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« on: March 09, 2023, 02:05:35 am »

THE big oxen sweated and strained pulling a heavily loaded haycart up the field towards the barn.

From the west, large puffs of shining cloud rolled up across the unspent blue. The flies stung with fury, as if they knew the lifeless air threatened them with extinction.

Dragging the oxen forward with ruthless force and from time to time lending them the strength of his great shoulder was a flaxen-haired giant whom Mark had never seen before.

“One of our patients in your new group,” Felix, who was tossing the hay next him, explained. “He is a full-blown Nazi leader, from one of their filthy schools for leadership in the Reich, where men are trained in evil as if it were a profession. This one was naturally a good murderer so that even to the Nazis he soon became a danger. He killed dogs and other useful animals for sport; then a woman---finally one of his comrades---just such a well-trained useful sadist as himself! The Reich cannot afford to lose two such pillars of its household, and so this gentleman was sent to us. For a year before you came he was in the fractious ward with the other homicidals. You should hear your old friends Johann and Fritz discussing their adventures with him! The Gräfin too, no doubt, had such adventures though she never discusses them. We all suffered; and even Herr Rennenkampf himself was not without mementoes of his favourite sport---black eyes and cauliflower ears were the order of the day. I must admit for the last six months he has behaved exemplarily. Now we can trust him even with the horses.”

“But how on earth did she change him?” Mark asked, eyeing the disappearing figure of the tamed gladiator with curiosity.

“Well, I couldn’t say exactly,” Felix admitted. “She survived---which must have surprised him to begin with! She showed no fear---I even fancy that she succeeded in frightening him! But she has never told me how she does these things. This one---to my relief---never put his nose into my workshop. The fields---when he ceased to need murder as his particular form of self-expression---were his natural choice. But I should not say that he is yet cured. Look at his face and you will see that murder is still his aim; and force his favourite method. But now, I should say, he is concentrating entirely on the idea of murdering the enemies of the Reich, and for the sake of this great ideal, has consented to give up killing anyone else; until he has proved his fitness to rejoin the Wehrmacht, where his peculiar gifts can still be of service to his still more peculiar country!”

“Then he is not really cured?” Mark asked with disappointment.

“Not yet,” agreed Felix, “but a killer controlled; and in control of himself---is safer than an uncontrolled and uncontrollable killer. To change a man’s nature is possible only if he chooses to change it; but it takes longer than the Reich is prepared to give us, to develop such a choice! All the Gräfin can do with such a man as Rennenkampf is to make him reasonably safe to work with those whose aims are similar to his own. Watch him come back with his empty wagon---he’s still stupid with his animals for he has not given his oxen time to breathe quietly before turning! Talk to him yourself. You will find him ready to talk, because he thinks he has a mission to teach Austrians how to become Germans; it is a thing that the Lord God has so far carefully avoided. Then you will see for yourself how far his cure has got!”

The giant advanced across the field with terrific speed. Mark thought he had never before seen so perfect a physical specimen of manhood. Rennenkampf topped Mark by several inches; and his great width of shoulder gave him twice Mark’s breadth. Yet he was built and trained with such economy of strength and sinew that nothing about him seemed out of proportion.

Under a thatch of pale flaxen hair his hard eyes burned with a deep uncanny blue. His features were large and not unshapely though without sensitiveness. His face looked as if it were carved out of some hard unyielding substance rather than flesh and blood. Yet he did not remind Mark of a statue, though he was handsome in a curious impersonal way; since a statue has the artist’s soul in it even if its own soul is missing. This great figure of a man had everything a human figure needs---at its best and largest---only the significance was lacking. There was no spiritual value in the man urging his exhausted oxen up the field, neither his own nor his Creator’s. “If we do win this war,” Mark said thoughtfully, “it will be a terrible problem to deal with a whole generation like that!”

“The most formidable of all our problems,” Felix agreed, “nor do I think it can be met except by a counter training of our own, equally thorough, in the opposite direction! This would solve our problem; but of course the temptation will be to try to hurry the process by the use of wrong methods---such as the Nazis themselves have used to produce this monster---force; segregation; cruelty---and this will but produce other monsters! Also we shall then have underground movements all over the world---abscesses full of poison which will start up everywhere. The contrary method to that of the Nazis should be our technique---persuasion, freedom to talk their silly heads off while the world is still sick of their crimes---the open life and as much courageous friendliness from those who wholly disagree with them (and are not afraid to prove it) as possible.”

“But would such methods be safe against such monsters?” Mark demanded.

“Oh no---not particularly safe,” Felix agreed with his quick friendly grin, “but I assure you safety will not be possible in the immediate after-war world. The worst of all our dangers, however, would be to take too many precautions. Have you asked yourself---is safety in itself desirable? What is necessary for the future is a training towards courage---universally applied. For in a world where all men were courageous and prepared to accept personal responsibility for the laws they live by---such a brute would know his scope so limited that he would find it an advantage to give up his cruelties. It is surprising to see what our patients willingly give up, once we have succeeded in proving to them that it is to their own interest to make the sacrifice! Heil Hitler! Herr Rennenkampf, shall we get the hay in before the storm bursts?”

“If we work rather than talk!” shouted the giant.

The huge figure held back his oxen for a moment with one large hand grasping their yoke. “Heil Hitler!” his brazen voice boomed at them. “At your service, Herr Mannheim! What is it you want of me?”

“Only to meet our Austrian friend here,” Felix told him, “who is helping us get in the hay. He has just joined your group. Perhaps you will show him round the farm for us when you have finished work?”

“Willingly, Herr Mannheim,” Rennenkampf replied with a politeness that seemed as external to him as the pitchfork with which he received their contributions and hurled them to the top of his already loaded wagon; then he swept on past them, with a tug at his oxen, leading them forward, as if the pace he had forced upon them was still less than he hoped to induce in them, by his own superlative energy.

As the giant’s eyes for one brief moment rested upon him, Mark felt a curious chilling sensation at the roots of his spine. It was as if he had come into contact with an element that was anti-human. Had a mastodon risen suddenly out of that heavy thunderous air, and made its way towards him between the foothills of the giant peaks, it would have given Mark just such a shock of startled fear. The mastodon need not have seen Mark, or even had (against such a frail and insignificant atom) any hostile intent; and yet the beauty of the world would have been spoilt, its peace for ever shaken. Perhaps a scholar, above all men, is most horrified by finding a power that is unreasonable and incapable of human justice. In Rennenkampf’s cold and crafty eyes there was just such a power.

This dense image of a man, splendid in height, perfect in shape and health, with all his physical powers trained to destroy was more sinister and repulsive in its effect on Mark, than the sight of the most sickly and misshapen dwarf, who had within his heart the quality of mercy. “To be unkind, is to be mad,” Felix said quietly when they were alone again. “But unfortunately not many human beings have yet discovered this fact; so few of the really mad, outside a mental hospital, are ever retrained towards sanity.”

Felix left him, but Mark worked on. An intense curiosity kept him near the object of his dislike. The storm collected itself slowly, gathering the clouds in serrated ranks; and hurling them against each other. Every worker in the field worked feverishly to get the last hay in. Rennenkampf performed prodigies of strength and swiftness, he drove his oxen forward as if they were kittens---pushing and pulling at them, almost lifting them over the steep ground, flogging them mercilessly to use their last ounce of strength in union with his own.

At last, the first great drops from the embattled clouds began to break; the last load was rushed into the barn, the workers ran towards the Schloss, and Rennenkampf, approaching Mark, said: “Let us take shelter in the barn. It will only be a short storm probably since the rain has come soon---there is no great danger when a storm is a wet one! See the lightning running up and down the hills; it is scarcely naked lightning---one could almost play with it. Have you heard the news? Paris is ours! France is ours! I can hardly bear not to be with my comrades! So great a day! Such a crown to our long preparation! Yet all is not over yet! I may still be permitted to help break up that accursed small island that gets in the way of our swallowing the world. Britain has always been like a fishbone in the throat of the great Reich. But at last---this time we shall swallow it down with the rest!”

“When will you attack England?” Mark asked. “Do you think you will invade it this summer?”

“Why not---they are at our mercy,” Herr Rennenkampf answered. “Do you think that two little divisions and a half mixed up with a few half-hearted Belgians will stand in our way for long? They will be exterminated---and then! But why do you not say ‘we’?” Rennenkampf demanded, swinging suddenly round upon Mark, with a dark significant look. “You are no longer an Austrian! You are a German! Never forget it, brother! For there is no such destiny as to be a German. It is worth any and every sacrifice. Even that of our blood and our homes! The private wishes of our hearts---what are they to such a wish---as that Germany should be triumphant over all? Here in this pest house of softness and disgrace I have learned one useful thing---and I pass it on to you for what it is worth---the wishes of our hearts rule us. A man thinks with his wishes; he feels with his wishes; he acts on his wishes. So we must discover exactly what our wishes are! We cannot be Germans unless we wish to be German. And we shall only be sure that we wish to be German when we find that we are obeying all that Germany teaches. Then our short and small desires will be swallowed up by this one great desire---like minnows streaming down the wide gullet of a whale!”

“It is certainly a great idea,” Mark said, feeling his eyes slide away from the hard fixed ecstasy of Rennenkampf’s gaze, “but you see I have been an Austrian for a long time. One does not easily drop the habit of belonging even to a small and harmless land!”

“But you must drop it!” Rennenkampf warned him severely. “Nor will it be difficult if you realize two things! One---that you are already by God’s mercy---German! It is your heritage. I grant, you have been grievously cut off---softened---blunted---rotted one might well say by centuries of unfortunate separation from the healthy core of Prussia. This is a fact---yet still the blood in you is German! Next remember also that the whole future of the world is ours! It belongs solely to the German race. Rome, long ago---by superhuman efforts---held a great fragment of this planet---but she lost it. The swift communications and the control of space given us by modernity will save us from any such misadventure. Once we have got the world in our mailed fist---and with Europe we shall have the world---it will never come out again!” Rennenkampf opened his enormous powerful hands before Mark’s disgusted eyes; and slowly closed them like a vice.

While they talked, both men had been attending to the needs of the exhausted oxen. Mark noticed that his companion never once glanced at the sweating, panting beasts that had served him so well all day and had made such heroic efforts for him. He carried out what had to be done for them, as if they were not alive. When a loud prolonged rattle of thunder made them snort and back away from him, he kicked savagely at the nearest ox; and laughed scornfully at Mark who called out “Moment!” and gentled the nearest beast with hands and voice, till he was quiet again.

“I do not approve of all that softness,” he told Mark. “You should get rid of it! Everyone in this place is tainted with it. Perverse---emotional---womanish! I shall make a very bad report on this institution when I get out. There is no proper teaching, no discipline, no orders! Why you are---unless in the worst wards---actually allowed freedom! You are supposed to learn by observation and experiment, without so much as a good clout on the ear. Intolerable waste of time! Where there is fear of punishment, and therefore instant obedience to the orders of authority, there will be no mistakes. Where I was trained in the first of our Leader Schools near München, we went all day long from one sharply ordered lesson to another. Severe? Yes! and we learned to take punishment. But the results! There we grew tough---tough as it were without question. Perfect mastery of perfect means was taught us. The waste there is here! The inadequate tools! I am shocked; daily I am shocked at the carelessness---the horrible freedom---the pitiful softness of those who should control us! ‘If you please.’ ‘Will you come this way?’ ‘Can you do so and so?’ What discipline you Austrians have to learn before you can be of the slightest use to us! And when I tell the Frau Gräfin that it is only by the sharpest and most forcible of methods that any lessons can be learnt profitably, she only laughs and says: ‘How true! but we are such nonsensical people we lunatics! We must therefore use the silly methods that suit us!’ ‘Well,’ I say to her, ‘I am not nonsensical any more---if ever I was---and I desire other methods!’ ”

“What does she say then?” Mark asked with interest.

Rennenkampf frowned and shook his head. “To tell the truth,” he admitted, “what she says has a certain logic. She says, ‘Those who cease to behave like children can then be treated as adults,’ and then she points out this business about one’s wishes. I have already told you that one learns something here---but now that I have learned it---I shall soon be gone.”

Mark said nothing. It was obvious to him that there was a certain unwilling respect in Rennenkampf’s voice when he spoke of Ida.

Their task finished, they strolled down the Farm lands together towards the Schloss. The fragrance of the cut grass, the gathered harvest of June flowers, was part of every breath they drew. The light that shone out over the glistening world was clear and delicate as if it had never before touched a living thing; and dare not come too close to it. The distant peaks were shaded from palest delphinium blue to darkest purple. “How beautiful the world is!” Mark murmured half-involuntarily. He met the blank stare of his companion with an astonished sense of separateness.

“Such thoughts are not worthy of a man!” Rennenkampf told him sternly. “Girls have fancies about fields and flowers; but we men should think of nothing but how we can grow in these fields, with the best economy, what the Reich needs!”

“But the culture we are to give the world!” Mark objected. “Will this be all it is?”

“What more should you wish it to be?” his companion asked, with a formidable thrust of his great chin. “This is a new world that we are making founded on material facts. In our hands lies its history. What we can produce from it and that only is our business!”

Mark had a sudden vision that took the place of the landmarks about them---it was a vision of blackened sheep under emerald green trees, of the little park he had crossed between the railings of Piccadilly and the gates of Buckingham Palace. Instead of the gaunt golden walls of the Schloss, he saw the squat and pleasant ugliness of the palace, the gay geraniums in front of it. The slim, neat figure of Reggie replaced the companion at his side, he almost heard the gentle diffident voice pointing out the dangers that lay ahead of them---as if they were the momentary inconveniences of a careless housemaid, which they were called on, without making too much fuss about it, to set right.

How in the world could there be, Mark asked himself, two such different men as Reggie and Rennenkampf both belonging to the same species? And to which did the world itself really belong---or---and this thought was to Mark the strangest, did it perhaps belong to neither of them after all but to every man who had so far never been allowed any real control of it?

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