A Modern Utopia

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5.

After we have paid for our lunch in the little inn that corresponds to Wassen, the botanist and I would no doubt spend the rest of the forenoon in the discussion of various aspects and possibilities of Utopian labour laws. We should examine our remaining change, copper coins of an appearance ornamental rather than reassuring, and we should decide that after what we had gathered from the man with the blond hair, it would, on the whole, be advisable to come to the point with the labour question forthwith. At last we should draw the deep breath of resolution and arise and ask for the Public Office. We should know by this time that the labour bureau sheltered with the post-office and other public services in one building.

The public office of Utopia would of course contain a few surprises for two men from terrestrial England. You imagine us entering, the botanist lagging a little behind me, and my first attempts to be offhand and commonplace in a demand for work.

The office is in charge of a quick-eyed little woman of six and thirty perhaps, and she regards us with a certain keenness of scrutiny.

“Where are your papers?” she asks.

I think for a moment of the documents in my pocket, my passport chequered with visas and addressed in my commendation and in the name of her late Majesty by We, Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoigne Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, Earl of Salisbury, Viscount Cranborne, Baron Cecil, and so forth, to all whom it may concern, my Carte d'Identité (useful on minor occasions) of the Touring Club de France, my green ticket to the Reading Room of the British Museum, and my Lettre d'Indication from the London and County Bank. A foolish humour prompts me to unfold all these, hand them to her and take the consequences, but I resist.

“Lost,” I say, briefly.

“Both lost?” she asks, looking at my friend.

“Both,” I answer.

“How?”

I astonish myself by the readiness of my answer.

“I fell down a snow slope and they came out of my pocket.”

“And exactly the same thing happened to both of you?”

“No. He'd given me his to put with my own.” She raised her eyebrows. “His pocket is defective,” I add, a little hastily.

Her manners are too Utopian for her to follow that up. She seems to reflect on procedure.

“What are your numbers?” she asks, abruptly.

A vision of that confounded visitors' book at the inn above comes into my mind. “Let me see,” I say, and pat my forehead and reflect, refraining from the official eye before me. “Let me see.”

“What is yours?” she asks the botanist.

“A. B.,” he says, slowly, “little a, nine four seven, I think―”

“Don't you know?”

“Not exactly,” says the botanist, very agreeably. “No.”

“Do you mean to say neither of you know your own numbers?” says the little post-mistress, with a rising note.

“Yes,” I say, with an engaging smile and trying to keep up a good social tone. “It's queer, isn't it? We've both forgotten.”

“You're joking,” she suggests.

“Well,” I temporise.

“I suppose you've got your thumbs?”

“The fact is―” I say and hesitate. “We've got our thumbs, of course.”

“Then I shall have to send a thumb-print down to the office and get your number from that. But are you sure you haven't your papers or numbers? It's very queer.”

We admit rather sheepishly that it's queer, and question one another silently.

She turns thoughtfully for the thumb-marking slab, and as she does so, a man enters the office. At the sight of him she asks with a note of relief, “What am I to do, sir, here?”

He looks from her to us gravely, and his eye lights to curiosity at our dress. “What is the matter, madam?” he asks, in a courteous voice.

She explains.

So far the impression we have had of our Utopia is one of a quite unearthly sanity, of good management and comprehensive design in every material thing, and it has seemed to us a little incongruous that all the Utopians we have talked to, our host of last night, the post-mistress and our garrulous tramp, have been of the most commonplace type. But suddenly there looks out from this man's pose and regard a different quality, a quality altogether nearer that of the beautiful tramway and of the gracious order of the mountain houses. He is a well-built man of perhaps five and thirty, with the easy movement that comes with perfect physical condition, his face is clean shaven and shows the firm mouth of a disciplined man, and his grey eyes are clear and steady. His legs are clad in some woven stuff deep-red in colour, and over this he wears a white shirt fitting pretty closely, and with a woven purple hem. His general effect reminds me somehow of the Knights Templars. On his head is a cap of thin leather and still thinner steel, and with the vestiges of ear-guards—rather like an attenuated version of the caps that were worn by Cromwell's Ironsides.

He looks at us and we interpolate a word or so as she explains and feel a good deal of embarrassment at the foolish position we have made for ourselves. I determine to cut my way out of this entanglement before it complicates itself further.

“The fact is―” I say.

“Yes?” he says, with a faint smile.

“We've perhaps been disingenuous. Our position is so entirely exceptional, so difficult to explain―”

“What have you been doing?”

“No,” I say, with decision; “it can't be explained like that.”

He looks down at his feet. “Go on,” he says.

I try to give the thing a quiet, matter-of-fact air. “You see,” I say, in the tone one adopts for really lucid explanations, “we come from another world. Consequently, whatever thumb-mark registration or numbering you have in this planet doesn't apply to us, and we don't know our numbers because we haven't got any. We are really, you know, explorers, strangers―”

“But what world do you mean?”

“It's a different planet—a long way away. Practically at an infinite distance.”

He looks up in my face with the patient expression of a man who listens to nonsense.

“I know it sounds impossible,” I say, “but here is the simple fact—we appear in your world. We appeared suddenly upon the neck of Lucendro—the Passo Lucendro—yesterday afternoon, and I defy you to discover the faintest trace of us before that time. Down we marched into the San Gotthard road and here we are! That's our fact. And as for papers―! Where in your world have you seen papers like this?”

I produce my pocket-book, extract my passport, and present it to him.

His expression has changed. He takes the document and examines it, turns it over, looks at me, and smiles that faint smile of his again.

“Have some more,” I say, and proffer the card of the T.C.F.

I follow up that blow with my green British Museum ticket, as tattered as a flag in a knight's chapel.

“You'll get found out,” he says, with my documents in his hand. “You've got your thumbs. You'll be measured. They'll refer to the central registers, and there you'll be!”

“That's just it,” I say, “we sha'n't be.”

He reflects. “It's a queer sort of joke for you two men to play,” he decides, handing me back my documents.

“It's no joke at all,” I say, replacing them in my pocket-book.

The post-mistress intervenes. “What would you advise me to do?”

“No money?” he asks.

“No.”

He makes some suggestions. “Frankly,” he says, “I think you have escaped from some island. How you got so far as here I can't imagine, or what you think you'll do… . But anyhow, there's the stuff for your thumbs.”

He points to the thumb-marking apparatus and turns to attend to his own business.

Presently we emerge from the office in a state between discomfiture and amusement, each with a tramway ticket for Lucerne in his hand and with sufficient money to pay our expenses until the morrow. We are to go to Lucerne because there there is a demand for comparatively unskilled labour in carving wood, which seems to us a sort of work within our range and a sort that will not compel our separation.

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