A Modern Utopia

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But I should go back to my botanist in a state of emotional relaxation. At first I should not heed the fact that he, too, had been in some manner stirred. “I have seen him,” I should say, needlessly, and seem to be on the verge of telling the untellable. Then I should fade off into: “It's the strangest thing.”

He would interrupt me with his own preoccupation. “You know,” he would say, “I've seen someone.”

I should pause and look at him.

“She is in this world,” he says.

“Who is in this world?”


I have not heard her name before, but I understand, of course, at once.

“I saw her,” he explains.

“Saw her?”

“I'm certain it was her. Certain. She was far away across those gardens near here—and before I had recovered from my amazement she had gone! But it was Mary.”

He takes my arm. “You know I did not understand this,” he says. “I did not really understand that when you said Utopia, you meant I was to meet her—in happiness.”

“I didn't.”

“It works out at that.”

“You haven't met her yet.”

“I shall. It makes everything different. To tell you the truth I've rather hated this Utopia of yours at times. You mustn't mind my saying it, but there's something of the Gradgrind―”

Probably I should swear at that.

“What?” he says.


“But you spoke?”

“I was purring. I'm a Gradgrind—it's quite right—anything you can say about Herbert Spencer, vivisectors, materialistic Science or Atheists, applies without correction to me. Begbie away! But now you think better of a modern Utopia? Was the lady looking well?”

“It was her real self. Yes. Not the broken woman I met—in the real world.”

“And as though she was pining for you.”

He looks puzzled.

“Look there!” I say.

He looks.

We are standing high above the ground in the loggia into which our apartments open, and I point across the soft haze of the public gardens to a tall white mass of University buildings that rises with a free and fearless gesture, to lift saluting pinnacles against the clear evening sky. “Don't you think that rather more beautiful than—say—our National Gallery?”

He looks at it critically. “There's a lot of metal in it,” he objects. “What?”

I purred. “But, anyhow, whatever you can't see in that, you can, I suppose, see that it is different from anything in your world—it lacks the kindly humanity of a red-brick Queen Anne villa residence, with its gables and bulges, and bow windows, and its stained glass fanlight, and so forth. It lacks the self-complacent unreasonableness of Board of Works classicism. There's something in its proportions—as though someone with brains had taken a lot of care to get it quite right, someone who not only knew what metal can do, but what a University ought to be, somebody who had found the Gothic spirit enchanted, petrified, in a cathedral, and had set it free.”

“But what has this,” he asks, “to do with her?”

“Very much,” I say. “This is not the same world. If she is here, she will be younger in spirit and wiser. She will be in many ways more refined―”

“No one―” he begins, with a note of indignation.

“No, no! She couldn't be. I was wrong there. But she will be different. Grant that at any rate. When you go forward to speak to her, she may not remember—very many things you may remember. Things that happened at Frognal—dear romantic walks through the Sunday summer evenings, practically you two alone, you in your adolescent silk hat and your nice gentlemanly gloves… . Perhaps that did not happen here! And she may have other memories—of things—that down there haven't happened. You noted her costume. She wasn't by any chance one of the samurai?”

He answers, with a note of satisfaction, “No! She wore a womanly dress of greyish green.”

“Probably under the Lesser Rule.”

“I don't know what you mean by the Lesser Rule. She wasn't one of the samurai.”

“And, after all, you know—I keep on reminding you, and you keep on losing touch with the fact, that this world contains your double.”

He pales, and his countenance is disturbed. Thank Heaven, I've touched him at last!

“This world contains your double. But, conceivably, everything may be different here. The whole romantic story may have run a different course. It was as it was in our world, by the accidents of custom and proximity. Adolescence is a defenceless plastic period. You are a man to form great affections,—noble, great affections. You might have met anyone almost at that season and formed the same attachment.”

For a time he is perplexed and troubled by this suggestion.

“No,” he says, a little doubtfully. “No. It was herself.” … Then, emphatically, “No!”

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