A Modern Utopia

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The voice of nature 1.

Presently we recognise the fellow of the earthly Devil's Bridge, still intact as a footway, spanning the gorge, and old memories turn us off the road down the steep ruin of an ancient mule track towards it. It is our first reminder that Utopia too must have a history. We cross it and find the Reuss, for all that it has already lit and warmed and ventilated and cleaned several thousands of houses in the dale above, and for all that it drives those easy trams in the gallery overhead, is yet capable of as fine a cascade as ever it flung on earth. So we come to a rocky path, wild as one could wish, and descend, discoursing how good and fair an ordered world may be, but with a certain unformulated qualification in our minds about those thumb marks we have left behind.

“Do you recall the Zermatt valley?” says my friend, “and how on earth it reeks and stinks with smoke?”

“People make that an argument for obstructing change, instead of helping it forward!”

And here perforce an episode intrudes. We are invaded by a talkative person.

He overtakes us and begins talking forthwith in a fluty, but not unamiable, tenor. He is a great talker, this man, and a fairly respectable gesticulator, and to him it is we make our first ineffectual tentatives at explaining who indeed we are; but his flow of talk washes that all away again. He has a face of that rubicund, knobby type I have heard an indignant mineralogist speak of as botryoidal, and about it waves a quantity of disorderly blond hair. He is dressed in leather doublet and knee breeches, and he wears over these a streaming woollen cloak of faded crimson that give him a fine dramatic outline as he comes down towards us over the rocks. His feet, which are large and handsome, but bright pink with the keen morning air, are bare, except for sandals of leather. (It was the only time that we saw anyone in Utopia with bare feet.) He salutes us with a scroll-like waving of his stick, and falls in with our slower paces.

“Climbers, I presume?” he says, “and you scorn these trams of theirs? I like you. So do I! Why a man should consent to be dealt with as a bale of goods holding an indistinctive ticket—when God gave him legs and a face—passes my understanding.”

As he speaks, his staff indicates the great mechanical road that runs across the gorge and high overhead through a gallery in the rock, follows it along until it turns the corner, picks it up as a viaduct far below, traces it until it plunges into an arcade through a jutting crag, and there dismisses it with a spiral whirl. “No!” he says.

He seems sent by Providence, for just now we had been discussing how we should broach our remarkable situation to these Utopians before our money is spent.

Our eyes meet, and I gather from the botanist that I am to open our case.

I do my best.

“You came from the other side of space!” says the man in the crimson cloak, interrupting me. “Precisely! I like that—it's exactly my note! So do I! And you find this world strange! Exactly my case! We are brothers! We shall be in sympathy. I am amazed, I have been amazed as long as I can remember, and I shall die, most certainly, in a state of incredulous amazement, at this remarkable world. Eh?… You found yourselves suddenly upon a mountain top! Fortunate men!” He chuckled. “For my part I found myself in the still stranger position of infant to two parents of the most intractable dispositions!”

“The fact remains,” I protest.

“A position, I can assure you, demanding Tact of an altogether superhuman quality!”

We desist for a space from the attempt to explain our remarkable selves, and for the rest of the time this picturesque and exceptional Utopian takes the talk entirely under his control… .

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