A Modern Utopia

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The bubble bursts 1.

As I walk back along the river terrace to the hotel where the botanist awaits me, and observe the Utopians I encounter, I have no thought that my tenure of Utopia becomes every moment more precarious. There float in my mind vague anticipations of more talks with my double and still more, of a steady elaboration of detail, of interesting journeys of exploration. I forget that a Utopia is a thing of the imagination that becomes more fragile with every added circumstance, that, like a soap-bubble, it is most brilliantly and variously coloured at the very instant of its dissolution. This Utopia is nearly done. All the broad lines of its social organisation are completed now, the discussion of all its general difficulties and problems. Utopian individuals pass me by, fine buildings tower on either hand; it does not occur to me that I may look too closely. To find the people assuming the concrete and individual, is not, as I fondly imagine, the last triumph of realisation, but the swimming moment of opacity before the film gives way. To come to individual emotional cases, is to return to the earth.

I find the botanist sitting at a table in the hotel courtyard.

“Well?” I say, standing before him.

“I've been in the gardens on the river terrace,” he answers, “hoping I might see her again.”

“Nothing better to do?”

“Nothing in the world.”

“You'll have your double back from India to-morrow. Then you'll have conversation.”

“I don't want it,” he replies, compactly.

I shrug my shoulders, and he adds, “At least with him.”

I let myself down into a seat beside him.

For a time I sit restfully enjoying his companionable silence, and thinking fragmentarily of those samurai and their Rules. I entertain something of the satisfaction of a man who has finished building a bridge; I feel that I have joined together things that I had never joined before. My Utopia seems real to me, very real, I can believe in it, until the metal chair-back gives to my shoulder blades, and Utopian sparrows twitter and hop before my feet. I have a pleasant moment of unhesitating self-satisfaction; I feel a shameless exultation to be there. For a moment I forget the consideration the botanist demands; the mere pleasure of completeness, of holding and controlling all the threads possesses me.

“You will persist in believing,” I say, with an aggressive expository note, “that if you meet this lady she will be a person with the memories and sentiments of her double on earth. You think she will understand and pity, and perhaps love you. Nothing of the sort is the case.” I repeat with confident rudeness, “Nothing of the sort is the case. Things are different altogether here; you can hardly tell even now how different are―”

I discover he is not listening to me.

“What is the matter?” I ask abruptly.

He makes no answer, but his expression startles me.

“What is the matter?” and then I follow his eyes.

A woman and a man are coming through the great archway—and instantly I guess what has happened. She it is arrests my attention first—long ago I knew she was a sweetly beautiful woman. She is fair, with frank blue eyes, that look with a sort of tender receptivity into her companion's face. For a moment or so they remain, greyish figures in the cool shadow, against the sunlit greenery of the gardens beyond.

“It is Mary,” the botanist whispers with white lips, but he stares at the form of the man. His face whitens, it becomes so transfigured with emotion that for a moment it does not look weak. Then I see that his thin hand is clenched.

I realise how little I understand his emotions.

A sudden fear of what he will do takes hold of me. He sits white and tense as the two come into the clearer light of the courtyard. The man, I see, is one of the samurai, a dark, strong-faced man, a man I have never seen before, and she is wearing the robe that shows her a follower of the Lesser Rule.

Some glimmering of the botanist's feelings strikes through to my slow sympathies. Of course—a strange man! I put out a restraining hand towards his arm. “I told you,” I say, “that very probably, most probably, she would have met some other. I tried to prepare you.”

“Nonsense,” he whispers, without looking at me. “It isn't that. It's—that scoundrel―”

He has an impulse to rise. “That scoundrel,” he repeats.

“He isn't a scoundrel,” I say. “How do you know? Keep still! Why are you standing up?”

He and I stand up quickly, I as soon as he. But now the full meaning of the group has reached me. I grip his arm. “Be sensible,” I say, speaking very quickly, and with my back to the approaching couple. “He's not a scoundrel here. This world is different from that. It's caught his pride somehow and made a man of him. Whatever troubled them there―”

He turns a face of white wrath on me, of accusation, and for the moment of unexpected force. “This is your doing,” he says. “You have done this to mock me. He—of all men!” For a moment speech fails him, then; “You—you have done this to mock me.”

I try to explain very quickly. My tone is almost propitiatory.

“I never thought of it until now. But he's― How did I know he was the sort of man a disciplined world has a use for?”

He makes no answer, but he looks at me with eyes that are positively baleful, and in the instant I read his mute but mulish resolve that Utopia must end.

“Don't let that old quarrel poison all this,” I say almost entreatingly. “It happened all differently here—everything is different here. Your double will be back to-morrow. Wait for him. Perhaps then you will understand―”

He shakes his head, and then bursts out with, “What do I want with a double? Double! What do I care if things have been different here? This―”

He thrusts me weakly back with his long, white hand. “My God!” he says almost forcibly, “what nonsense all this is! All these dreams! All Utopias! There she is―! Oh, but I have dreamt of her! And now―”

A sob catches him. I am really frightened by this time. I still try to keep between him and these Utopians, and to hide his gestures from them.

“It's different here,” I persist. “It's different here. The emotion you feel has no place in it. It's a scar from the earth—the sore scar of your past―”

“And what are we all but scars? What is life but a scarring? It's you—you who don't understand! Of course we are covered with scars, we live to be scarred, we are scars! We are the scars of the past! These dreams, these childish dreams―!”

He does not need to finish his sentence, he waves an unteachable destructive arm.

My Utopia rocks about me.

For a moment the vision of that great courtyard hangs real. There the Utopians live real about me, going to and fro, and the great archway blazes with sunlight from the green gardens by the riverside. The man who is one of the samurai, and his lady, whom the botanist loved on earth, pass out of sight behind the marble flower-set Triton that spouts coolness in the middle of the place. For a moment I see two working men in green tunics sitting on a marble seat in the shadow of the colonnade, and a sweet little silver-haired old lady, clad all in violet, and carrying a book, comes towards us, and lifts a curious eye at the botanist's gestures. And then―

“Scars of the past! Scars of the past! These fanciful, useless dreams!”

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