Lord of the World
By Robert Hugh Benson
Public Domain Books
Oliver was in a panic of terror as his mother, half an hour later, ran in with the news that one of the Government volors had fallen in the station square at Brighton just after the 14-1/2 train had discharged its passengers. He knew quite well what that meant, for be remembered one such accident ten years before, just after the law forbidding private volors had been passed. It meant that every living creature in it was killed and probably many more in the place where it fell–and what then? The message was clear enough; she would certainly be in the square at that time.
He sent a desperate wire to her aunt asking for news; and sat, shaking in his chair, awaiting the answer. His mother sat by him.
“Please God–-” she sobbed out once, and stopped confounded as he turned on her.
But Fate was merciful, and three minutes before Mr. Phillips toiled up the path with the answer, Mabel herself came into the room, rather pale and smiling.
“Christ!” cried Oliver, and gave one huge sob as he sprang up.
She had not a great deal to tell him. There was no explanation of the disaster published as yet; it seemed that the wings on one side had simply ceased to work.
She described the shadow, the hiss of sound, and the crash.
Then she stopped.
“Well, my dear?” said her husband, still rather white beneath the eyes as he sat close to her patting her hand.
“There was a priest there,” said Mabel. “I saw him before, at the station.”
Oliver gave a little hysterical snort of laughter.
“He was on his knees at once,” she said, “with his crucifix, even before the doctors came. My dear, do people really believe all that?”
“Why, they think they do,” said her husband.
“It was all so–so sudden; and there he was, just as if he had been expecting it all. Oliver, how can they?”
“Why, people will believe anything if they begin early enough.”
“And the man seemed to believe it, too–the dying man, I mean. I saw his eyes.”
“Well, my dear?”
“Oliver, what do you say to people when they are dying?”
“Say! Why, nothing! What can I say? But I don’t think I’ve ever seen any one die.”
“Nor have I till to-day,” said the girl, and shivered a little. “The euthanasia people were soon at work.”
Oliver took her hand gently.
“My darling, it must have been frightful. Why, you’re trembling still.”
“No; but listen.... You know, if I had had anything to say I could have said it too. They were all just in front of me: I wondered; then I knew I hadn’t. I couldn’t possibly have talked about Humanity.”
“My dear, it’s all very sad; but you know it doesn’t really matter. It’s all over.”
“And–and they’ve just stopped?”
Mabel compressed her lips a little; then she sighed. She had an agitated sort of meditation in the train. She knew perfectly that it was sheer nerves; but she could not just yet shake them off. As she had said, it was the first time she had seen death.
“And that priest–that priest doesn’t think so?”
“My dear, I’ll tell you what he believes. He believes that that man whom he showed the crucifix to, and said those words over, is alive somewhere, in spite of his brain being dead: he is not quite sure where; but he is either in a kind of smelting works being slowly burned; or, if he is very lucky, and that piece of wood took effect, he is somewhere beyond the clouds, before Three Persons who are only One although They are Three; that there are quantities of other people there, a Woman in Blue, a great many others in white with their heads under their arms, and still more with their heads on one side; and that they’ve all got harps and go on singing for ever and ever, and walking about on the clouds, and liking it very much indeed. He thinks, too, that all these nice people are perpetually looking down upon the aforesaid smelting-works, and praising the Three Great Persons for making them. That’s what the priest believes. Now you know it’s not likely; that kind of thing may be very nice, but it isn’t true.”
Mabel smiled pleasantly. She had never heard it put so well.
“No, my dear, you’re quite right. That sort of thing isn’t true. How can he believe it? He looked quite intelligent!”
“My dear girl, if I had told you in your cradle that the moon was green cheese, and had hammered at you ever since, every day and all day, that it was, you’d very nearly believe it by now. Why, you know in your heart that the euthanatisers are the real priests. Of course you do.”
Mabel sighed with satisfaction and stood up.
“Oliver, you’re a most comforting person. I do like you! There! I must go to my room: I’m all shaky still.”
Half across the room she stopped and put out a shoe.
“Why–-” she began faintly.
There was a curious rusty-looking splash upon it; and her husband saw her turn white. He rose abruptly.
“My dear,” he said, “don’t be foolish.”
She looked at him, smiled bravely, and went out.
When she was gone, he still sat on a moment where she bad left him. Dear me! how pleased he was! He did not like to think of what life would have been without her. He had known her since she was twelve–that was seven years ago-and last year they had gone together to the district official to make their contract. She had really become very necessary to him. Of course the world could get on without her, and he supposed that he could too; but he did not want to have to try. He knew perfectly well, for it was his creed of human love, that there was between them a double affection, of mind as well as body; and there was absolutely nothing else: but he loved her quick intuitions, and to hear his own thought echoed so perfectly. It was like two flames added together to make a third taller than either: of course one flame could burn without the other–in fact, one would have to, one day–but meantime the warmth and light were exhilarating. Yes, he was delighted that she happened to be clear of the falling volor.
He gave no more thought to his exposition of the Christian creed; it was a mere commonplace to him that Catholics believed that kind of thing; it was no more blasphemous to his mind so to describe it, than it would be to laugh at a Fijian idol with mother-of-pearl eyes, and a horse-hair wig; it was simply impossible to treat it seriously. He, too, had wondered once or twice in his life how human beings could believe such rubbish; but psychology had helped him, and he knew now well enough that suggestion will do almost anything. And it was this hateful thing that had so long restrained the euthanasia movement with all its splendid mercy.
His brows wrinkled a little as he remembered his mother’s exclamation, “Please God"; then he smiled at the poor old thing and her pathetic childishness, and turned once more to his table, thinking in spite of himself of his wife’s hesitation as she had seen the splash of blood on her shoe. Blood! Yes; that was as much a fact as anything else. How was it to be dealt with? Why, by the glorious creed of Humanity–that splendid God who died and rose again ten thousand times a day, who had died daily like the old cracked fanatic Saul of Tarsus, ever since the world began, and who rose again, not once like the Carpenter’s Son, but with every child that came into the world. That was the answer; and was it not overwhelmingly sufficient?
Mr. Phillips came in an hour later with another bundle of papers.
“No more news from the East, sir,” he said.