Lord of the World
By Robert Hugh Benson
Public Domain Books
Oliver let himself into his house, and went straight upstairs to Mabel’s room. It would not do to let her hear the news from any but his own lips. She was not there, and on inquiry he heard that she had gone out an hour before.
He was disconcerted at this. The decree had been signed half-an-hour earlier, and in answer to an inquiry from Lord Pemberton it had been stated that there was no longer any reason for secrecy, and that the decision might be communicated to the press. Oliver had hurried away immediately in order to make sure that Mabel should hear the news from him, and now she was out, and at any moment the placards might tell her of what had been done.
He felt extremely uneasy, but for another hour or so was ashamed to act. Then be went to the tube and asked another question or two, but the servant had no idea of Mabel’s movements; it might be she had gone to the church; sometimes she did at this hour. He sent the woman off to see, and himself sat down again in the window-seat of his wife’s room, staring out disconsolately at the wide array of roofs in the golden sunset light, that seemed to his eyes to be strangely beautiful this evening. The sky was not that pure gold which it had been every night during this last week; there was a touch of rose in it, and this extended across the entire vault so far as he could see from west to east. He reflected on what he had lately read in an old book to the effect that the abolition of smoke had certainly changed evening colours for the worse.... There had been a couple of severe earthquakes, too, in America–he wondered whether there was any connection.... Then his thoughts flew back to Mabel....
It was about ten minutes before he heard her footstep on the stairs, and as he stood up she came in.
There was something in her face that told him that she knew everything, and his heart sickened at her pale rigidity. There was no fury there–nothing but white, hopeless despair, and an immense determination. Her lips showed a straight line, and her eyes, beneath her white summer hat, seemed contracted to pinpricks. She stood there, closing the door mechanically behind her, and made no further movement towards him.
“Is it true?” she said.
Oliver drew one steady breath, and sat down again.
“Is what true, my dear?”
“Is it true,” she said again, “that all are to be questioned as to whether they believe in God, and to be killed if they confess it?”
Oliver licked his dry lips.
“You put it very harshly,” he said. “The question is, whether the world has a right–-”
She made a sharp movement with her head.
“It is true then. And you signed it?”
“My dear, I beg you not to make a scene. I am tired out. And I will not answer that until you have heard what I have to say.”
“Say it, then.”
“Sit down, then.”
She shook her head.
“Very well, then.... Well, this is the point. The world is one now, not many. Individualism is dead. It died when Felsenburgh became President of the World. You surely see that absolutely new conditions prevail now–there has never been anything like it before. You know all this as well as I do.”
Again came that jerk of impatience.
“You will please to hear me out,” he said wearily. “Well, now that this has happened, there is a new morality; it is exactly like a child coming to the age of reason. We are obliged, therefore, to see that this continues–that there is no going back–no mortification–that all the limbs are in good health. ’If thy hand offend thee, cut it off,’ said Jesus Christ. Well, that is what we say.... Now, for any one to say that they believe in God–I doubt very much whether there is any one who really does believe, or understand what it means–but for any one even to say so is the very worst crime conceivable: it is high treason. But there is going to be no violence; it will all be quite quiet and merciful. Why, you have always approved of Euthanasia, as we all do. Well, it is that that will be used; and–-”
Once more she made a little movement with her hand. The rest of her was like an image.
“Is this any use?” she asked.
Oliver stood up. He could not bear the hardness of her voice.
“Mabel, my darling–-”
For an instant her lips shook; then again she looked at him with eyes of ice.
“I don’t want that,” she said. “It is of no use.. Then you did sign it?”
Oliver had a sense of miserable desperation as he looked back at her. He would infinitely have preferred that she had stormed and wept.
“Mabel–-” he cried again.
“Then you did sign it?”
“I did sign it,” he said at last.
She turned and went towards the door. He sprang after her.
“Mabel, where are you going?”
Then, for the first time in her life, she lied to her husband frankly and fully.
“I am going to rest a little,” she said. “I shall see you presently at supper.”
He still hesitated, but she met his eyes, pale indeed, but so honest that he fell back.
“Very well, my dear.... Mabel, try to understand.”
He came down to supper half-an-hour later, primed with logic, and even kindled with emotion. The argument seemed to him now so utterly convincing; granted the premises that they both accepted and lived by, the conclusion was simply inevitable.
He waited a minute or two, and at last went to the tube that communicated with the servants’ quarters.
“Where is Mrs. Brand?” he asked.
There was an instant’s silence, and then the answer came:
“She left the house half-an-hour ago, sir. I thought you knew.”