|Chapter I||Contents etc.||Chapter III|
FROM the garden party, Cartwright proceeded to a meeting of some of the most active members of the oligarchy which really directed the affairs of Unæa. On his countenance was not the expression of content which befitted one who had attained the summit of his ambition. Starting in life as a lawyer without fortune, his counsels had proved valuable to the great company by which he was employed, and his own business ventures had been successful; latterly there had been some talk between him and the greatest capitalist of the land—Forest, of an alliance between the families. Being a man of infinite watchfulness he had made no decided answer, but had begun to prepare the way. He sounded his daughter artfully, watched her closely, and discovered to his consternation and surprise that she thought more of Harold Wall than was in any way befitting. Consequently he judged it best that young Wall should disappear, and that the old ties which dated from the earliest state of his fortune should be definitely severed. Now Wall was going. That preliminary was settled, nevertheless his countenance was forbidding, and he responded in a curt, pre-occupied manner to the welcome he received from his colleagues in their informal council. The members were more versed in the arts of acquiring riches than administering a State, but their increasing responsibilities had been met by them in the same spirit of resolute activity with which they had advanced their own fortunes. With an insight born of long experience in the selection of human instruments they recognised in Cartwright an intellectual penetration, a width of view, and a profound and watchful caution in which they could place implicit confidence, hence his position of predominance.
The proceedings of real moment were delayed, as in every assembly is sometimes the case, by the intrusion of a personal idiosyncrasy. A young man who had recently come into the inheritance of his millions spoke long and earnestly, dwelling on the straightened condition of the masses, the increasing concentration of wealth, and advocated a system of religious communism.
The speech wearied all present by its repetition of impracticable views, the chairman looked at Cartwright with an enquiring expression. The latter having something to say, not connected with any business in hand, took the opportunity of his reply to introduce it.
"We welcome to-night," he said, "a new accession to our body, and welcome no less the opportunity of reviewing the fundamental propositions of social science which has been given us, for we are generally too much absorbed in the contemplation of the next step forward to question the expediency of altering our whole path. For my own part, to take my own rough and ready way of looking at these questions, I think that the weekly wage is the greatest force in the world. Give a man his weekly wage, put him at his task, he asks no questions but goes straight ahead. Multiply that man by thousands, you can level mountains, cross seas, make science and art. Nothing is too great to be accomplished. We have the power of directing that force and we should be cowards to shrink from the responsibility of it. I have no wish to see Astria a world of idlers voting themselves each year shorter hours and more pay. That will never come to pass—if the power passes from our hands it will but fall after a period of struggle and bloodshed into other hands. Human nature requires the iron bonds of compulsion, and the necessity of earning the weekly wage has taken the place of the primitive struggle with nature and the warfare of later times. If you have any notions of benevolent import it is open to you to carry them out by your private resources—the structure of society is too vast for you to do much harm. The whole efficiency of our race depends on the drive which some of us, at any rate, intend to keep up. Our safety depends on it too." And then he turned scowling to the whole body assembled there. "You, all of you, know that there has been once every fifteen years a periodic disturbance of our climate, the winters becoming colder, the summers hotter." At this remark every one bent forward in interest. "This change has been attributed to the influence on our orbit effected by our conjunction with Ardaea. For the past five years I have had a number of astronomers working at the problem, and they make out that the next conjunction will have a still more pronounced effect. It is no empty theory. I sent the figures to my brother, and crank though he is, he is well able to tell what they mean. He wrote me a lot of nonsense about his own theories, trying to make an occasion to have them considered, but the essential fact is that he can find no flaw in the conclusions. This is the epitome of the danger. The winters will be so cold that we shall need an enormously. increased supply of fuel to make life endurable. On this account I have checked our present consumption by increasing the price of oil and coal. The heat of the summers will rise, lakes and oceans will be licked up as by a tongue of fire, our crops will be seriously affected; we may have to change the source of our food, certainly the supply will be short. In view of this, as it tends to relieve the congestion of our population, I am glad to say that the prospects of colonization are favourable. I have secured young Wall as leader; his name carries weight with the masses, who, despite their poverty, have a singular reluctance to travel to new regions."
Pausing a moment, he gazed with his intellectual vision at the prospect in its nakedness. The danger as he knew it, loomed so vast in comparison with the picture he had drawn that a sudden emotion seized him. He gave vent to it by turning on the occasion of his remarks:
"Meanwhile, with kind heart and benevolent feelings, you preach universal comfort and ease. I tell you it is, as in times past, only the desperate necessity of the individual and his final struggle, whether it be in labour of his hands or in science, that our world will live. Do you suppose that, in the regime you would introduce, anything difficult at all would be done?" The members knew Cartwright too well to look on him as an empty alarmist, and accepted his warning as one to be seriously considered.
"The prospect," said one, "is threatening, and we must take all due precautions; as one of them I would suggest the inadvisability of letting these prognostications be generally known."
"They are absolutely confined to ourselves. I will answer for the men who have made the calculations," said Cartwright, "in the minds of the public is nothing more than the experience of the climatic changes and a vague connection of them with the neighbouring planet. There is a notion of a providential equilibrium of our system which has prevented any general apprehension."
The meeting then broke up as a whole, but Cartwright remained till morning discussing with a committee the formation of a corps, composed of the descendants of the aboriginal Scythians, who could be relied upon as mere blind instruments. Armed with a new explosive which the chemists employed by the board had invented, he showed how these men would be able to carry out the decrees of the executive even if the regular army could not be relied on—a contingency not probable, but to be guarded against, since there were signs of a freedom of opinion and a discussion of topics entirely discordant with the old traditions of the service.
|Chapter I||Contents etc.||Chapter III|