"You must let me help you," I said, "you must let me give you money."
"But I do not want your money," she replied. "It would only postpone my troubles. Even if I do accept your money, I would have to accept money from other men also, for you cannot pay for the whole of a woman's living."
"Why not," I asked, "does any rule forbid it?"
"No rule, but can so young a man as you afford it?"
"How much does it take for you to live here?"
"About five marks a day."
I glanced rather proudly at my insignia as a research chemist of the first rank. "Do you know," I asked, "how much income that insignia carries?"
"Well, no," she admitted, "I know the income of military officers, but there are so many of the professional ranks and classes that I get all mixed up."
"That means," I said, "ten thousand marks a year."
"So much as that!" she exclaimed in astonishment. "And I can live here on two hundred a month, but no, I did not mean that—you wouldn't,—I couldn't—let you give me so much."
"Much!" I exclaimed; "you may have five hundred if you need it."
"You make love very nicely," she replied with aloofness.
"But I am not making love," I protested.
"Then why do you say these things? Do you prefer some one else? If so why waste your funds on me?"
"No, no!" I cried, "it is not that; but you see I want to tell you things; many things that you do not know. I want to see you often and talk to you. I want to bring you books to read. And as for money, that is so you will not starve while you read my books and listen to me talk. But you are to remain mistress of your own heart and your own person. You see, I believe there are ways to win a woman's love far better than buying her cheap when she is starved into selling in this brutal fashion."
She looked at me dubiously. "You are either very queer," she said, "or else a very great liar."
"But I am neither," I protested, piqued that the girl in her innocence should yet brand me either mentally deficient or deceitful. "It is impossible to make you understand me," I went on, "and yet you must trust me. These other men, they approve the system under which you live, but I do not. I offer you money, I insist on your taking it because there is no other way, but it is not to force you to accept me but only to make it unnecessary for you to accept some one else. You have been very brave, to stand out so long. You must accept my money now, but you need never accept me at all—unless you really want me. If I am to make love to you I want to make love to a woman who is really free; a woman free to accept or reject love, not starved into accepting it in this so-called freedom."
"It is all very wonderful," she repeated; "a minute ago I thought you deceitful, and now I want to believe you. I can not stand out much longer and what would be the use for just a few more days?"
"There will be no need," I said gently, "your courage has done its work well—it has saved you for yourself. And now," I continued, "we will bind this bargain before you again decide me crazy."
Taking out my check book I filled in a check for two hundred marks payable to—"To whom shall I make it payable?" I asked.
"To Bertha, 34 R 6," she said, and thus I wrote it, cursing the prostituted science and the devils of autocracy that should give an innocent girl a number like a convict in a jail or a mare in a breeder's herd book.
And so I bought a German girl with a German check—bought her because I saw no other way to save her from being lashed by starvation to the slave block and sold piecemeal to men in whom honour had not even died, but had been strangled before it was born.
With my check neatly tucked in her bosom, Bertha walked out of the cafe clinging to my arm, and so, passing unheeding through the throng of indifferent revellers, we came to her apartment.
At the door I said, "Tomorrow night I come again. Shall it be at the cafe or here?"
"Here," she whispered, "away from them all."
I stooped and kissed her hand and then fled into the multitude.
I had promised Bertha that I would bring her books, but the narrow range of technical books permitted me were obviously unsuitable, nor did I feel that the unspeakably morbid novels available on the Level of Free Women would serve my purpose of awakening the girl to more wholesome aspirations. In this emergency I decided to appeal to my friend, Zimmern.
Leaving the laboratory early, I made my way toward his apartment, puzzling my brain as to what kind of a book I could ask for that would be at once suitable to Bertha's child-like mind and also be a volume which I could logically appear to wish to read myself. As I walked along the answer flashed into my mind—I would ask for a geography of the outer world.
Happily I found Zimmern in. "I have come to ask," I said, "if you could loan me a book of description of the outer world, one with maps, one that tells all that is known of the land and seas and people."
"Oh, yes," smiled Zimmern, "you mean a geography. Your request," he continued, "does me great honour. Books telling the truth about the world without are very carefully guarded. I shall be pleased to get the geography for you at once. In fact I had already decided that when you came again I would take you with me to our little secret library. Germany is facing a great crisis, and I know no better way I can serve her than doing my part to help prepare as many as possible of our scientists to cope with the impending problems. Unless you chemists avert it, we shall all live to see this outer world, or die that others may."
Dr. Zimmern led the way to the elevator. We alighted on the Level of Free Women. Instead of turning towards the halls of revelry we took our course in the opposite direction along the quiet streets among the apartments of the women. We turned into a narrow passage-way and Dr. Zimmern rang the bell at an apartment door. But after waiting a moment for an answer he took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door.
"I am sorry Marguerite is out," he said, as he conducted me into a reception room. The walls were hung with seal-brown draperies. There were richly upholstered chairs and a divan piled high with fluffy pillows. In one corner stood a bookcase of burnished metal filigree.
Zimmern waved his hand at the case with an expression of disdain. "Only the conventional literature of the level, to keep up appearances," he said; "our serious books are in here"; and he thrust open the door of a room which was evidently a young lady's boudoir.
Conscious of a profane intrusion, I followed Dr. Zimmern into the dainty dressing chamber. Stepping across the room he pushed open a spacious wardrobe, and thrusting aside a cleverly arranged shield of feminine apparel he revealed, upon some improvised shelves, a library of perhaps a hundred volumes. He ran his hand fondly along the bindings. "No other man of your age in Berlin," he said, "has ever had access to such a complete fund of knowledge as is in this library."
I hope the old doctor took for appreciation the smile that played upon my face as I contrasted his pitiful offering with the endless miles of book stacks in the libraries of the outer world where I had spent so many of my earlier days.
"Our books are safer here," said Zimmern, "for no one would suspect a girl on this level of being interested in serious reading. If perchance some inspector did think to perform his neglected duties we trust to him being content to glance over the few novels in the case outside and not to pry into her wardrobe closet. There is still some risk, but that we must take, since there is no absolute privacy anywhere. We must trust to chance to hide them in the place least likely to be searched."
"And how," I asked, "are these books accumulated?"
"It is the result of years of effort," explained Zimmern. "There are only a few of us who are in this secret group but all have contributed to the collection, and we come here to secure the books that the others bring. We prefer to read them here, and so avoid the chance of being detected carrying forbidden books. There is no restriction on the callers a girl may have at her apartment; the authorities of the level are content to keep records only of her monetary transactions, and that fact we take advantage of. Should a man's apartment on another level be so frequently visited by a group of men an inquiry would be made."
All this was interesting, but I inferred that I would again have opportunity to visit the library and now I was impatient to keep my appointment with Bertha. Making an excuse for haste, I asked Zimmern to get the geography for me. The stiff back of the book had been removed, and Zimmern helped me adjust the limp volume beneath my waistcoat.
"I am sorry you cannot remain and meet Marguerite tonight," he said as I stepped toward the door. "But tomorrow evening I will arrange for you to meet Colonel Hellar of the Information Staff, and Marguerite can be with us then. You may go directly to my booth in the cafe where you last dined with me."
After a brief walk I came to Bertha's apartment, and nervously pressed the bell. She opened the door stealthily and peered out, then recognizing me, she flung it wide.
"I have brought you a book," I said as I entered; and, not knowing what else to do, I went through the ridiculous operation of removing the geography from beneath my waistcoat.
"What a big book," exclaimed Bertha in amazement. However, she did not open the geography but laid it on the table, and stood staring at me with her child-like blue eyes.
"Do you know," she said, "that you are the first visitor I ever had in my apartment? May I show you about?"
As I followed her through the cosy rooms, I chafed to see the dainty luxury in which she was permitted to live while being left to starve. The place was as well adapted to love-making as any other product of German science is adapted to its end. The walls were adorned with sensual prints; but happily I recalled that Bertha, having no education in the matter, was immune to the insult.
Anticipating my coming she had ordered dinner, and this was presently delivered by a deaf-and-dumb mechanical servant, and we set it forth on the dainty dining table. Since the world was young, I mused, woman and man had eaten a first meal together with all the world shut out, and so we dined amid shy love and laughter in a tiny apartment in the heart of a city where millions of men never saw the face of woman—and where millions of babies were born out of love by the cold degree of science. And this same science, bartering with licentious iniquity, had provided this refuge and permitted us to bar the door, and so we accepted our refuge and sanctified it with the purity that was within our own hearts—such at least was my feeling at the time.
And so we dined and cleared away, and talked joyfully of nothing. As the evening wore on Bertha, beside me upon the divan, snuggled contentedly against my shoulder. The nearness and warmth of her, and the innocence of her eyes thrilled yet maddened me.
With fast beating heart, I realized that I as well as Bertha was in the grip of circumstances against which rebellion was as futile as were thoughts of escape. There was no one to aid and no one to forbid or criticize. Whatever I might do to save her from the fate ordained for her would of necessity be worked out between us, unaided and unhampered by the ethics of civilization as I had known it in a freer, saner world.
In offering Bertha money and coming to her apartment I had thrust myself between her and the crass venality of the men of her race, but I had now to wrestle with the problem that such action had involved. If, I reasoned, I could only reveal to her my true identity the situation would be easier, for I could then tell her of the rules of the game of love in the world I had known. Until she knew of that world and its ideals, how could I expect her to understand my motives? How else could I strengthen her in the battle against our own impulses?
And yet, did I dare to confess to her that I was not a German? Would not deep-seated ideals of patriotism drilled into the mind of a child place me in danger of betrayal at her hands? Such a move might place my own life in jeopardy and also destroy my opportunity of being of service to the world, could I contrive the means of escape from Berlin with the knowledge I had gained. Small though the possibilities of such escape might be, it was too great a hope for me to risk for sentimental reasons. And could she be expected to believe so strange a tale?
And so the temptation to confess that I was not Karl Armstadt passed, and with its passing, I recalled the geography that I had gone to so much trouble to secure, and which still lay unopened upon the table. Here at least was something to get us away from the tumultuous consciousness of ourselves and I reached for the volume and spread it open upon my knees.
"What a funny book!" exclaimed Bertha, as she gazed at the round maps of the two hemispheres. "Of what is that a picture?"
"The world," I answered.
She stared at me blankly. "The Royal World?" she asked.
"No, no," I replied. "The world outside the walls of Berlin."
"The world in the sun," exclaimed Bertha, "on the roof where they fight the airplanes? A roof-guard officer" she paused and bit her lip—
"The world of the inferior races," I suggested, trying to find some common footing with her pitifully scant knowledge.
"The world underground," she said, "where the soldiers fight in the mines?"
Baffled in my efforts to define this world to her, I began turning the pages of the geography, while Bertha looked at the pictures in child-like wonder, and I tried as best I could to find simple explanations.
Between the lines of my teaching, I scanned, as it were, the true state of German ignorance. Despite the evident intended authoritativeness of the book—for it was marked "Permitted to military staff officers"—I found it amusingly full of erroneous conceptions of the true state of affairs in the outer world.
This teaching of a child-like mind the rudiments of knowledge was an amusing recreation, and so an hour passed pleasantly. Yet I realized that this was an occupation of which I would soon tire, for it was not the amusement of teaching a child that I craved, but the companionship of a woman of intelligence.
As we turned the last page I arose to take my departure. "If I leave the book with you," I said, "will you read it all, very carefully? And then when I come again I will explain those things you can not understand."
"But it is so big, I couldn't read it in a day," replied Bertha, as she looked at me appealingly.
I steeled myself against that appeal. I wanted very much to get my mind back on my chemistry, and I wanted also to give her time to read and ponder over the wonders of the great unknown world. Moreover, I no longer felt so grievously concerned, for the calamity which had overshadowed her had been for the while removed. And I had, too, my own struggle to cherish her innocence, and that without the usual help extended by conventional society. So I made brave resolutions and explained the urgency of my work and insisted that I could not see her for five days.
Hungrily she pleaded for a quicker return; and I stubbornly resisted the temptation. "No," I insisted, "not tomorrow, nor the next day, but I will come back in three days at the same hour that I came tonight."
Then taking her in my arms, I kissed her in feverish haste and tore myself from the enthralling lure of her presence.
When I reached the cafe the following evening to keep my appointment with Zimmern, the waiter directed me to one of the small enclosed booths. As I entered, closing the door after me, I found myself confronting a young woman.
"Are you Col. Armstadt?" she asked with a clear, vibrant voice. She smiled cordially as she gave me her hand. "I am Marguerite. Dr. Zimmern has gone to bring Col. Hellar, and he asked me to entertain you until his return."
The friendly candour of this greeting swept away the grey walls of Berlin, and I seemed again face to face with a woman of my own people. She was a young woman of distinctive personality. Her features, though delicately moulded, bespoke intelligence and strength of character that I had not hitherto seen in the women of Berlin. Framing her face was a luxuriant mass of wavy brown hair, which fell loosely about her shoulders. Her slender figure was draped in a cape of deep blue cellulose velvet.
"Dr. Zimmern tells me," I said as I seated myself across the table from her, "that you are a dear friend of his."
A swift light gleamed in her deep brown eyes. "A very dear friend," she said feelingly, and then a shadow flitted across her face as she added, "Without him life for me would be unbearable here."
"And how long, if I may ask, have you been here?"
"About four years. Four years and six days, to be exact. I can keep count you know," and she smiled whimsically, "for I came on the day of my birth, the day I was sixteen."
"That is the same for all, is it not?"
"No one can come here before she is sixteen," replied Marguerite, "and all must come before they are eighteen."
"But why did you come at the first opportunity?" I asked, as I mentally compared her confession with that of Bertha who had so courageously postponed as long as she could the day of surrender to this life of shamefully commercialized love.
"And why should I not come?" returned Marguerite. "I had a chance to come, and I accepted it. Do you think life in the school for girls of forbidden birth is an enjoyable one?"
I wanted to press home the point of my argument, to proclaim my pride in Bertha's more heroic struggle with the system, for this girl with whom I now conversed was obviously a woman of superior intelligence, and it angered me to know that she had so easily surrendered to the life for which German society had ordained her. But I restrained my speech, for I realized that in criticizing her way of life I would be criticizing her obvious relation to Zimmern, and like all men I found myself inclined to be indulgent with the personal life of a man who was my friend. Moreover, I perceived the presumptuousness of assuming a superior air towards an established and accepted institution. Yet, strive as I might to be tolerant, I felt a growing antagonism towards this attractive and cultured girl who had surrendered without a struggle to a life that to me was a career of shame—and who seemed quite content with her surrender.
"Do you like it here?" I asked, knowing that my question was stupid, but anxious to avoid a painful gap in what was becoming, for me, a difficult conversation.
Marguerite looked at me with a queer penetrating gaze. "Do I like it here?" she repeated. "Why should you ask, and how can I answer? Can I like it or not like it, when there was no choice for me? Can I push out the walls of Berlin?"—and she thrust mockingly into the air with a delicately chiselled hand—"It is a prison. All life is a prison."
"Yes," I said, "it is a prison, but life on this level is more joyful than on many others."
Her lip curled in delicate scorn. "For you men—of course—and I suppose it is for these women too—perhaps that is why I hate it so, because they do enjoy it, they do accept it. They sell their love for food and raiment, and not one in all these millions seems to mind it."
"In that," I remarked, "perhaps you are mistaken. I have not come here often as most men do, but I have found one other who, like you, rebels at the system—who in fact, was starving because she would not sell her love."
Marguerite flashed on me a look of pitying suspicion as she asked: "Have you gone to the Place of Records to look up this rebel against the sale of love?"
A fire of resentment blazed up in me at this question. I did not know just what she meant by the Place of Records, but I felt that this woman who spoke cynically of rebellion against the sale of love, and yet who had obviously sold her love to an old man, was in no position to discredit a weaker woman's nobler fight.
"What right," I asked coldly, "have you to criticize another whom you do not know?"
"I am sorry," replied Marguerite, "if I seem to quarrel with you when I was left here to entertain you, but I could not help it—it angers me to have you men be so fond of being deceived, such easy prey to this threadbare story of the girl who claims she never came here until forced to do so. But men love to believe it. The girls learn to use the story because it pays."
A surge of conflicting emotion swept through me as I recalled the child-like innocence of Bertha and compared it with the critical scepticism of this superior woman. "It only goes to show," I thought, "what such a system can do to destroy a woman's faith in the very existence of innocence and virtue."
Marguerite did not speak; her silence seemed to say: "You do not understand, nor can I explain—I am simply here and so are you, and we have our secrets which cannot be committed to words."
With idle fingers she drummed lightly on the table. I watched those slender fingers and the rhythmic play of the delicate muscles of the bare white arm that protruded from the rich folds of the blue velvet cape. Then my gaze lifted to her face. Her downcast eyes were shielded by long curving lashes; high arched silken brows showed dark against a skin as fresh and free from chemist's pigment as the petal of a rose. In exultant rapture my heart within me cried that here was something fine of fibre, a fineness which ran true to the depths of her soul.
In my discovery of Bertha's innocence and in my faith in her purity and courage I had hoped to find relief from the spiritual loneliness that had grown upon me during my sojourn in this materialistic city. But that faith was shaken, as the impression Bertha had made upon my over-sensitized emotions, now dimmed by a brighter light, flickered pale on the screen of memory. The mere curiosity and pity I had felt for a chance victim singled out among thousands by the legend of innocence on a pretty face could not stand against the force that now drew me to this woman who seemed to be not of a slavish race—even as Dr. Zimmern seemed a man apart from the soulless product of the science he directed. But as I acknowledged this new magnet tugging at the needle of my floundering heart, I also realized that my friendship for the lovable and courageous Zimmern reared an unassailable barrier to shut me into outer darkness.
The thought proved the harbinger of the reality, for Dr. Zimmerman himself now entered. He was accompanied by Col. Hellar of the Information Staff, a man of about Zimmern's age. Col. Hellar bore himself with a gracious dignity; his face was sad, yet there gleamed from his eye a kindly humor.
Marguerite, after exchanging a few pleasantries with Col. Hellar and myself, tenderly kissed the old doctor on the forehead, and slipped out.
"You shall see much of her," said Zimmern, "she is the heart and fire of our little group, the force that holds us together. But tonight I asked her not to remain"—the old doctor's eyes twinkled with merriment,—"for a young man cannot get acquainted with a beautiful woman and with ideas at the same time."
"And now," said Zimmern, after we had finished our dinner, "I want Col. Hellar to tell you more of the workings of the Information Service."
"It is a very complex system," began Hellar. "It is old. Its history goes back to the First World War, when the military censorship began by suppressing information thought to be dangerous and circulating fictitious reports for patriotic purposes. Now all is much more elaborately organized; we provide that every child be taught only the things that it is decided he needs to know, and nothing more. Have you seen the bulletins and picture screens in the quarters for the workers?"
"Yes," I replied, "but the lines were all in old German type."
"And that," said Hellar, "is all that the workers and soldiers can read. The modern type could be taught them in a few days, but we see to it that they have no opportunity to learn it. As it is now, should they find or steal a forbidden book, they cannot read it."
"But is it not true," I asked, "that at one time the German workers were most thoroughly educated?"
"It is true," said Hellar, "and because of that universal education Germany was defeated in the First World War. The English contaminated the soldiers by flooding the trenches with democratic literature dropped from airplanes. Then came the Bolshevist regime in Russia with its passion for revolutionary propaganda. The working men and soldiers read this disloyal literature and they forced the abdication of William the Great. It was because of this that his great grandson, when the House of Hohenzollern was restored to the throne, decided to curtail universal education.
"But while William III curtailed general education he increased the specialized education and established the Information Staff to supervise the dissemination of all knowledge."
"It is an atrocious system," broke in Zimmern, "but if we had not abolished the family, curtailed knowledge and bred soldiers and workers from special non-intellectual strains this sunless world of ours could not have endured."
"Quite so," said Hellar, "whether we approve of it or not certainly there was no other way to accomplish the end sought. By no other plan could German isolation have been maintained."
"But why was isolation deemed desirable?" I enquired.
"Because," said Zimmern, "it was that or extermination. Even now we who wish to put an end to this isolation, we few who want to see the world as our ancestors saw it, know that the price may be annihilation."
"So," repeated Hellar, "so annihilation for Germany, but better so—and yet I go on as Director of Information; Dr. Zimmern goes on as Chief Eugenist; and you go on seeking to increase the food supply, and so we all go on as part of the diabolic system, because as individuals we cannot destroy it, but must go on or be destroyed by it. We have riches here and privileges. We keep the labourers subdued below us, Royalty enthroned above us, and the World State at bay about us, all by this science and system which only we few intellectuals understand and which we keep going because we can not stop it without being destroyed by the effort."
"But we shall stop it," declared Zimmern, "we must stop it—with Armstadt's help we can stop it. You and I, Hellar, are mere cogs; if we break others can take our places, but Armstadt has power. What he knows no one else knows. He has power. We have only weakness because others can take our place. And because he has power let us help him find a way."
"It seems to me," I said, "that the way must be by education. More men must think as we do."
"But they can not think," replied Hellar, "they have nothing to think with."
"But the books," I said, "there is power in knowledge."
"But," said Hellar, "the labourer can not read the forbidden book and the intellectual will not, for if he did he would be afraid to talk about it, and what a man can not talk about he rarely cares to read. The love or hatred of knowledge is a matter of training. It was only last week that I was visiting a boy's school in order to study the effect of a new reader of which complaint had been made that it failed sufficiently to exalt the virtue of obedience. I was talking with the teacher while the boys assembled in the morning. We heard a great commotion and a mob of boys came in dragging one of their companions who had a bruised face and torn clothing. "Master, he had a forbidden book," they shouted, and the foremost held out the tattered volume as if it were loathsome poison. It proved to be a text on cellulose spinning. Where the culprit had found it we could not discover but he was sent to the school prison and the other boys were given favours for apprehending him."
"But how is it," I asked, "that books are not written by free-minded authors and secretly printed and circulated?"
At this question my companions smiled. "You chemists forget," said Hellar, "that it takes printing presses to make books. There is no press in all Berlin except in the shops of the Information Staff. Every paper, every book, and every picture originates and is printed there. Every news and book distributor must get his stock from us and knows that he must have only in his possession that which bears the imprint for his level. That is why we have no public libraries and no trade in second-hand books.
"In early life I favoured this system, but in time the foolishness of the thing came to perplex, then to annoy, and finally to disgust me. But I wanted the money and honour that promotion brought and so I have won to my position and power; with my right hand I uphold the system and with my left hand I seek to pull out the props on which it rests. For twenty years now I have nursed the secret traffic in books and risked my life many times thereby, yet my successes have been few and scattered. Every time the auditors check my stock and accounts I tremble in fear, for embezzling books is more dangerous than embezzling credit at the bank."
"But who," I asked, "write the books?"
"For the technical books it is not hard to find authors," explained Hellar, "for any man well schooled in his work can write of it. But the task of getting the more general books written is not so easy. For then it is not so much a question of the author knowing the things of which he writes but of knowing what the various groups are to be permitted to know.
"That writing is done exclusively by especially trained workers of the Information Service. I myself began as such a writer and studied long under the older masters. The school of scientific lying, I called it, but strange to say I used to enjoy such work and did it remarkably well. As recognition of my ability I was commissioned to write the book 'God's Anointed.' Through His Majesty's approval of my work I now owe my position on the Staff.
"His Majesty," continued Hellar, "was only twenty-six years of age when he came to the throne, but he decided at once that a new religious book should be written in which he would be proclaimed as 'God's Anointed ruler of the World.'
"I had never before spoken with the high members of the Royal House, and I was trembling with eagerness and fear as I was ushered into His Majesty's presence. The Emperor sat at his great black table; before him was an old book. He turned to me and said, 'Have you ever heard of the Christian Bible?'
"My Chief had informed me that the new book was to be based on the old Bible that the Christians had received from the Hebrews. So I said, 'Yes, Your Majesty, I am familiar with many of its words.'
"He looked at me with a gloating suspicion. 'Ah, ha,' he said, 'then there is something amiss in the Information Service—you are in the third rank of your service and the Bible is permitted only to the first rank.'
"I saw that my statement unless modified would result in an embarrassing investigation. 'I have never read the Christian Bible,' I said, 'but my mother must have read it for when as a child I visited her she quoted to me long passages from the Bible.'
"His Majesty smiled in a pleased fashion. 'That is it,' he said, 'women are essentially religious by nature, because they are trusting and obedient. It was a mistake to attempt to stamp out religion. It is the doctrine of obedience. Therefore I shall revive religion, but it shall be a religion of obedience to the House of Hohenzollern. The God of the Hebrews declared them to be his chosen people. But they proved a servile and mercenary race. They traded their swords for shekels and became a byword and a hissing among the nations—and they were scattered to the four corners of the earth. I shall revive that God. And this time he shall chose more wisely, for the Germans shall be his people. The idea is not mine. William the Great had that idea, but the revolution swept it away. It shall be revived. We shall have a new Bible, based upon the old one, a third dispensation, to replace the work of Moses and Jesus. And I too shall be a lawgiver—I shall speak the word of God.'"
Hellar paused; a smile crept over his face. Then he laughed softly and to himself—but Dr. Zimmern only shook his head sadly.
"Yes, I wrote the book," continued Hellar. "It required four years, for His Majesty was very critical, and did much revising. I had a long argument with him over the question of retaining Hell. I was bitterly opposed to it and represented to His Majesty that no religion had ever thrived on fear of punishment without a corresponding hope of reward. 'If you are to have no Heaven,' I insisted, 'then you must have no Hell.'
"'But we do not need Heaven,' argued His Majesty, 'Heaven is superfluous. It is an insult to my reign. Is it not enough that a man is a German, and may serve the House of Hohenzollern?'
"'Then why,' I asked, 'do you need a Hell?' I should have been shot for that but His Majesty did not see the implication. He replied coolly:
"'We must have a Hell because there is one way that my subjects can escape me. It is a sin of our race that the Eugenics Office should have bred out—but they have failed. It is an inborn sin for it is chiefly committed by our children before they come to comprehend the glory of being German. How else, if you do not have a Hell in your religion, can you check suicide?'
"Of course there was logic in his contention and so I gave in and made the Children's Hell. It is a gruesome doctrine, that a child who kills himself does not really die. It is the one thing in the whole book that makes me feel most intellectually unclean for writing it. But I wrote it and when the book was finished and His Majesty had signed the manuscript, for the first time in over a century we printed a bible on a German press. The press where the first run was made we named 'Old Gutenberg.'"
"Gutenberg invented the printing press," explained Zimmern, fearing I might not comprehend.
"Yes," said Hellar with a curling lip, "and Gutenberg was a German, and so am I. He printed a Bible which he believed, and I wrote one which I do not believe."
"But I am glad," concluded Hellar as he arose, "that I do not believe Gutenberg's Bible either, for I should very much dislike to think of meeting him in Paradise."
After taking leave of my companions I walked on alone, oblivious to the gay throng, for I had many things on which to ponder. In these two men I felt that I had found heroic figures. Their fund of knowledge, which they prized so highly, seemed to me pitifully circumscribed and limited, their revolutionary plans hopelessly vague and futile. But the intellectual stature of a man is measured in terms of the average of his race, and, thus viewed, Zimmern and Hellar were intellectual giants of heroic proportions.
As I walked through a street of shops. I paused before the display window of a bookstore of the level. Most of these books I had previously discovered were lurid-titled tales of licentious love. But among them I now saw a volume bearing the title "God's Anointed," and recalled that I had seen it before and assumed it to be but another like its fellows.
Entering the store I secured a copy and, impatient to inspect my purchase, I bent my steps to my favourite retreat in the nearby Hall of Flowers. In a secluded niche near the misty fountain I began a hasty perusal of this imperially inspired word of God who had anointed the Hohenzollerns masters of the earth. Hellar's description had prepared me for a preposterous and absurd work, but I had not anticipated anything quite so audacious could be presented to a race of civilized men, much less that they could have accepted it in good faith as the Germans evidently did.
"God's Anointed," as Hellar had scoffingly inferred, not only proclaimed the Germans as the chosen race, but also proclaimed an actual divinity of the blood of the House of Hohenzollern. That William II did have some such notions in his egomania I believe is recorded in authentic history. But the way Eitel I had adapted that faith to the rather depressing facts of the failure of world conquest would have been extremely comical to me, had I not seen ample evidence of the colossal effect of such a faith working in the credulous child-mind of a people so utterly devoid of any saving sense of humour.
Not unfamiliar with the history of the temporal reign of the Popes of the middle ages, I could readily comprehend the practical efficiency of such a mixture of religious faith with the affairs of earth. For the God of the German theology exacted no spiritual worship of his people, but only a very temporal service to the deity's earthly incarnation in the form of the House of Hohenzollern.
The greatest virtue, according to this mundane theology, was obedience, and this doctrine was closely interwoven with the caste system of German society. The virtue of obedience required the German to renounce discontent with his station, and to accept not only the material status into which he was born, with science aforethought, but the intellectual limits and horizons of that status. The old Christian doctrine of heresy was broadened to encompass the entire mental life. To think forbidden thoughts, to search after forbidden knowledge, that was at once treason against the Royal House and rebellion against the divine plan.
German theology, confounding divine and human laws, permitted no dual overlapping spheres of mundane and celestial rule as had all previous religious and, social orders since Christ had commanded his disciples to "Render unto Caesar—" There could be no conscientious objection to German law on religious grounds; no problem of church and state, for the church was the state.
In this book that masqueraded as the word of God, I looked in vain for some revelation of future life. But it was essentially a one-world theology; the most immortal thing was the Royal House for which the worker was asked to slave, the soldier to die that Germany might be ruled by the Hohenzollerns and that the Hohenzollerns might sometime rule the world.
As the freedom of conscience and the institution of marriage had been discarded so this German faith had scrapped the immortality of the soul, save for the single incongruous doctrine that a child taking his own life does not die but lives on in ceaseless torment in a ghoulish Children's Hell.
As I closed the cursed volume my mind called up a picture of Teutonic hordes pouring from the forests of the North and blotting out what Greece and Rome had builded. From thence my roving fancy tripped over the centuries and lived again with men who cannot die. I stood with Luther at the Diet of Worms. With Kant I sounded the deeps of philosophy. I sailed with Humboldt athwart uncharted seas. I fought with Goethe for the redemption of a soul sold to the Devil. And with Schubert and Heine I sang:
Du bist wie eine Blume, So hold und schoen und rein,
* * * * *
Betend dass Gott dich erhalte, So rein und schoen und hold.
But what a cankerous end was here. This people which the world had once loved and honoured was now bred a beast of burden, a domesticated race, saddled and trained to bear upon its back the House of Hohenzollern as the ass bore Balaam. But the German ass wore the blinders that science had made—and saw no angel.
As I sat musing thus and gazing into the spray of the fountain I glimpsed a grey clad figure, standing in the shadows of a viney bower. Although I could not distinguish her face through the leafy tracery I knew that it was Bertha, and my heart thrilled to think that she had returned to the site of our meeting. Thoroughly ashamed of the faithless doubts that I had so recently entertained of her innocence and sincerity, I arose and hastened toward her. But in making the detour about the pool I lost sight of the grey figure, for she was standing well back in the arbour. As I approached the place where I had seen her I came upon two lovers standing with arms entwined in the path at the pool's edge. Not wishing to disturb them, I turned back through one of the arbours and approached by another path. As I slipped noiselessly along in my felt-soled shoes I heard Bertha's voice, and quite near, through the leafy tracery, I glimpsed the grey of her gown.
"Why with your beauty," came the answering voice of a man, "did you not find a lover from the Royal Level?"
"Because," Bertha's voice replied, "I would not accept them. I could not love them. I could not give myself without love."
"But surely," insisted the man, "you have found a lover here?"
"But I have not," protested the innocent voice, "because I have sought none."
"Now long have you been here?" bluntly asked the man.
"Thirty days," replied the girl.
"Then you must have found a lover, your debut fund would all be gone."
"But," cried Bertha, in a tearful voice, "I only eat one meal a day—do you not see how thin I am?"
"Now that's clever," rejoined the man, "come, I'll accept it for what it is worth, and look you up afterwards," and he laughingly led her away, leaving me undiscovered in the neighbouring arbour to pass judgment on my own simplicity.
As I walked toward the elevator, I was painfully conscious of two ideas. One was that Marguerite had been quite correct with her information about the free women who found it profitable to play the role of maidenly innocence. The other was that Dr. Zimmern's precious geography was in the hands of the artful, child-eyed hypocrite who had so cleverly beguiled me with her role of heroic virtue. Clearly, I was trapped, and to judge better with what I had to deal I decided to go at once to the Place of Records, of which I had twice heard.
The Place of Records proved to be a public directory of the financial status of the free women. Since the physical plagues that are propagated by promiscuous love had been completely exterminated, and since there were no moral standards to preserve, there was no need of other restrictions on the lives of the women than an economic one.
The rules of the level were prominently posted. As all consequential money exchanges were made through bank checks, the keeping of the records was an easy matter. These rules I found forbade any woman to cash checks in excess of one thousand marks a month, or in excess of two hundred marks from any one man. That was simple enough, and I smiled as I recalled that I had gone the legal limit in my first adventure.
Following the example of other men, I stepped to the window and gave the name: "Bertha 34 R 6." A clerk brought me a book opened to the page of her record. At the top of the page was entered this statement, "Bred for an actress but rejected for both professional work and maternity because found devoid of sympathetic emotions." I laughed as I read this, but when on the next line I saw from the date of her entrance to the level that Bertha's thirty days was in reality nearly three years, my mirth turned to anger. I looked down the list of entries and found that for some time she had been cashing each month the maximum figure of a thousand marks. Evidently her little scheme of pensive posing in the Hall of Flowers was working nicely. In the current month, hardly half gone, she already had to her credit seven hundred marks; and last on the list was my own contribution, freshly entered.
"She has three hundred marks yet," commented the clerk.
"Yes, I see,"—and I turned to go. But I paused and stepped again to the window. "There is another girl I would like to look up," I said, "but I have only her name and no number."
"Do you know the date of her arrival?" asked the clerk.
"Yes, she has been here four years and six days. The name is Marguerite."
The clerk walked over to a card file and after some searching brought back a slip with half a dozen numbers. "Try these," he said, and he brought me the volumes. The second record I inspected read: "Marguerite, 78 K 4, Love-child." On the page below was a single entry for each month of two hundred marks and every entry from the first was in the name of Ludwig Zimmern.
I kept my appointment with Bertha, but found it difficult to hide my anger as she greeted me. Wishing to get the interview over, I asked abruptly, "Have you read the book I left?"
"Not all of it," she replied, "I found it rather dull."
"Then perhaps I had better take it with me."
"But I think I shall keep it awhile," she demurred.
"No," I insisted, as I looked about and failed to see the geography, "I wish you would get it for me. I want to take it back, in fact it was a borrowed book."
"Most likely," she smiled archly, "but since you are not a staff officer, and had no right to have that book, you might as well know that you will get it when I please to give it to you."
Seeing that she was thoroughly aware of my predicament, I grew frightened and my anger slipped from its moorings. "See here," I cried, "your little story of innocence and virtue is very clever, but I've looked you up and—"
"And what—," she asked, while through her child-like mask the subtle trickery of her nature mocked me with a look of triumph—"and what do you propose to do about it?"
I realized the futility of my rage. "I shall do nothing. I ask only that you return the book."
"But books are so valuable," taunted Bertha.
Dejectedly I sank to the couch. She came over and sat on a cushion at my feet. "Really Karl," she purred, "you should not be angry. If I insist on keeping your book it is merely to be sure that you will not forget me. I rather like you; you are so queer and talk such odd things. Did you learn your strange ways of making love from the book about the inferior races in the world outside the walls? I really tried to read some of it, but I could not understand half the words."
I rose and strode about the room. "Will you get me the book?" I demanded.
"And lose you?"
"Well, what of it? You can get plenty more fools like me."
"Yes, but I would have to stand and stare into that fountain for hours at a time. It is very tiresome."
"Just what do you want?" I asked, trying to speak calmly.
"Why you," she said, placing her slender white hands upon my arm, and holding up an inviting face.
But anger at my own gullibility had killed her power to draw me, and I shook her off. "I want that book," I said coldly, "what are your terms?" And I drew my check book from my pocket.
"How many blanks have you there?" she asked with a greedy light in her eyes—"but never mind to count them. Make them all out to me at two hundred marks, and date each one a month ahead."
Realizing that any further exhibition of fear or anger would put me more within her power, I sat down and began to write the checks. The fund I was making over to her was quite useless to me but when I had made out twenty checks I stopped. "Now," I said, "this is enough. You take these or nothing." Tearing out the written checks I held them toward her.
As she reached out her hand I drew them back—"Go get the book," I demanded.
"But you are unfair," said Bertha, "you are the stronger. You can take the book from me. I cannot take the checks from you."
"That is so," I admitted, and handed the checks to her. She looked at them carefully and slipped them into her bosom, and then, reaching under the pile of silken pillows, she pulled forth the geography.
I seized it and turned toward the door, but she caught my arm. "Don't," she pleaded, "don't go. Don't be angry with me. Why should you dislike me? I've only played my part as you men make it for us—but I do not want your money for nothing. You liked me when you thought me innocent. Why hate me when you find that I am clever?"
Again those slender arms stole around my neck, and the entrancing face was raised to mine. But the vision of a finer, nobler face rose before me, and I pushed away the clinging arms. "I'm sorry," I said, "I am going now—going back to my work and forget you. It is not your fault. You are only what Germany has made you—but," I added with a smile, "if you must go to the Hall of Flowers, please do not wear that grey gown."
She stood very still as I edged toward the door, and the look of baffled child-like innocence crept back into her eyes, a real innocence this time of things she did not know, and could not understand.
THE SUN SHINES UPON A KING AND A GIRL READS OF THE FALL OF BABYLON
Embittered by this unhappy ending of my romance, I turned to my work with savage zeal, determined not again to be diverted by a personal effort to save the Germans from their sins. But this application to my test-tubes was presently interrupted by a German holiday which was known as The Day of the Sun.
From the conversation of my assistants I gathered that this was an annual occasion of particular importance. It was, in fact, His Majesty's birthday, and was celebrated by permitting the favoured classes to see the ruler himself at the Place in the Sun. For this Royal exhibition I received a blue ticket of which my assistants were curiously envious. They inspected the number of it and the hour of my admittance to the Royal Level. "It is the first appearance of the day," they said. "His Majesty will be fresh to speak; you will be near; you will be able to see His Face without the aid of a glass; you will be able to hear His Voice, and not merely the reproducing horns."
In the morning our news bulletin was wholly devoted to announcements and patriotic exuberances. Across the sheet was flamed a headline stating that the meteorologist of the Roof Observatory reported that the sun would shine in full brilliancy upon the throne. This seemed very puzzling to me. For the Place in the Sun was clearly located on the Royal Level and some hundred metres beneath the roof of the city.
I went, at the hour announced on my ticket, to the indicated elevator; and, with an eager crowd of fellow scientists, stepped forth into a vast open space where the vaulted ceiling was supported by massive fluted columns that rose to twice the height of the ordinary spacing of the levels of the city.
An enormous crowd of men of the higher ranks was gathering. Closely packed and standing, the multitude extended to the sides and the rear of my position for many hundred metres until it seemed quite lost under the glowing lights in the distance. Before us a huge curtain hung. Emblazoned on its dull crimson background of subdued socialism was a gigantic black eagle, the leering emblem of autocracy. Above and extending back over us, appeared in the ceiling a deep and unlighted crevice.
As the crowd seemed complete the men about me consulted their watches and then suddenly grew quiet in expectancy. The lights blinked twice and went out, and we were bathed in a hush of darkness. The heavy curtain rustled like the mantle of Jove while from somewhere above I heard the shutters of the windows of heaven move heavily on their rollers. A flashing brilliant beam of light shot through the blackness and fell in wondrous splendour upon a dazzling metallic dais, whereon rested the gilded throne of the House of Hohenzollern.
Seated upon the throne was a man—a very little man he seemed amidst such vast and vivid surroundings. He was robed in a cape of dazzling white, and on his head he wore a helmet of burnished platinum. Before the throne and slightly to one side stood the round form of a paper globe.
His Majesty rose, stepped a few paces forward; and, as he with solemn deliberation raised his hand into the shaft of burning light, from the throng there came a frenzied shouting, which soon changed into a sort of chanting and then into a throaty song.
His Majesty lowered his hand; the song ceased; a great stillness hung over the multitude. Eitel I, Emperor of the Germans, now raised his face and stared for a moment unblinkingly into the beam of sunlight, then he lowered his gaze toward the sea of upturned faces.
"My people," he said, in a voice which for all his pompous effort, fell rather flat in the immensity, "you are assembled here in the Place of the Sun to do honour to God's anointed ruler of the world."
From ten thousand throats came forth another raucous shout.
"Two and a half centuries ago," now spoke His Majesty, "God appointed the German race, under William the Great, of the House of Hohenzollern, to be the rulers of the world.
"For nineteen hundred years, God in his infinite patience, had awaited the outcome of the test of the Nazarene's doctrine of servile humility and effeminate peace. But the Christian nations of the earth were weighed in the balance of Divine wrath and found wanting. Wallowing in hypocrisy and ignorance, wanting in courage and valour; behind a pretence of altruism they cloaked their selfish greed for gold.
"Of all the people of the earth our race alone possessed the two keys to power, the mastery of science and the mastery of the sword. So the Germans were called of God to instil fear and reverence into the hearts of the inferior races. That was the purpose of the First World War under my noble ancestor, William II.
"But the envious nations, desperate in their greed, banded together to defy our old German God, and destroy His chosen people. But this was only a divine trial of our worth, for the plans of God are for eternity. His days to us are centuries. And we did well to patiently abide the complete unfoldment of the Divine plan.
"Before two generations had passed our German ancestors cast off the yoke of enslavement and routed the oppressors in the Second World War. Lest His chosen race be contaminated by the swinish herds of the mongrel nations God called upon His people to relinquish for a time the fruits of conquest, that they might be further purged by science and become a pure-bred race of super-men.
"That purification has been accomplished for every German is bred and trained by science as ordained by God. There are no longer any mongrels among the men of Germany, for every one of you is created for his special purpose and every German is fitted for his particular place as a member of the super-race.
"The time now draws near when the final purpose of our good old German God is to be fulfilled. The day of this fulfilment is known unto me. The sun which shines upon this throne is but a symbol of that which has been denied you while all these things were being made ready. But now the day draws near when you shall, under my leadership, rule over the world and the mongrel peoples. And to each of you shall be given a place in the sun."
The voice had ceased. A great stillness hung over the multitude. Eitel I, Emperor of the Germans, threw back his cape and drew his sword. With a sweeping flourish he slashed the paper globe in twain.
From the myriad throated throng came a reverberating shout that rolled and echoed through the vaulted catacomb. The crimson curtain dropped. The shutters were thrown athwart the reflected beam of sunlight. The lights of man again glowed pale amidst the maze of columns.
Singing and marching, the men filed toward the elevators. The guards urged haste to clear the way, for the God of the Germans could not stay the march of the sun across the roof of Berlin, and a score of paper globes must yet be slashed for other shouting multitudes before the sun's last gleam be twisted down to shine upon a king.
Although the working hours of the day were scarcely one-fourth gone, it was impossible for me to return to my laboratory for the lighting current was shut off for the day. I therefore decided to utilize the occasion by returning the geography which I had rescued from Bertha.
Dr. Zimmern's invitation to make use of his library had been cordial enough, but its location in Marguerite's apartment had made me a little reticent about going there except in the Doctor's company. Yet I did not wish to admit to Zimmern my sensitiveness in the matter—and the geography had been kept overlong.
This occasion being a holiday, I found the resorts on the Level of Free Women crowded with merrymakers. But I sought the quieter side streets and made my way towards Marguerite's apartment.
"I thought you would be celebrating today," she said as I entered.
"I feel that I can utilize the time better by reading," I replied. "There is so much I want to learn, and, thanks to Dr. Zimmern, I now have the opportunity."
"But surely you are to see the Emperor in the Place in the Sun," said Marguerite when she had returned the geography to the secret shelf.
"I have already seen him," I replied, "my ticket was for the first performance."
"It must be a magnificent sight," she sighed. "I should so love to see the sunlight. The pictures show us His Majesty's likeness, but what is a picture of sunlight?"
"But you speak only of a reflected beam; how would you like to see real sunshine?"
"Oh, on the roof of Berlin? But that is only for Royalty and the roof guards. I've tried to imagine that, but I know that I fail as a blind man must fail to imagine colour."
"Close your eyes," I said playfully, "and try very hard."
Solemnly Marguerite closed her eyes.
For a moment I smiled, and then the smile relaxed, for I felt as one who scoffs at prayer.
"And did you see the sunlight?" I asked, as she opened her eyes and gazed at me with dilated pupils.
"No," she answered hoarsely, "I only saw man-light as far as the walls of Berlin, and beyond that it was all empty blackness—and it frightens me."
"The fear of darkness," I said, "is the fear of ignorance."
"You try," and she reached over with a soft touch of her finger tips on my closing eyelids. "Now keep them closed and tell me what you see. Tell me it is not all black."
"I see light," I said, "white light, on a billowy sea of clouds, as from a flying plane.... And now I see the sun—it is sinking behind a rugged line of snowy peaks and the light is dimming.... It is gone now, but it is not dark, for moonlight, pale and silvery, is shimmering on a choppy sea.... Now it is the darkest hour, but it is never black, only a dark, dark grey, for the roof of the world is pricked with a million points of light.... The grey of the east is shot with the rose of dawn.... The rose brightens to scarlet and the curve of the sun appears—red like the blood of war.... And now the sky is crystal blue and the grey sands of the desert have turned to glittering gold."
I had ceased my poetic visioning and was looking into Marguerite's face. The light of worship I saw in her eyes filled me with a strange trembling and holy awe.
"And I saw only blackness," she faltered. "Is it that I am born blind and you with vision?"
"Perhaps what you call vision is only memory," I said—but, as I realized where my words were leading, I hastened to add—"Memory, from another life. Have you ever heard of such a thing as the reincarnation of the soul?"
"That means," she said hesitatingly, "that there is something in us that does not die—immortality, is it not?"
"Well, it is something like that," I answered huskily, as I wondered what she might know or dream of that which lay beyond the ken of the gross materialism of her race. "Immortality is a very beautiful idea," I went on, "and science has destroyed much that is beautiful. But it is a pity that Col. Hellar had to eliminate the idea of immortality from the German Bible. Surely such a book makes no pretence of being scientific."
"So Col. Hellar has told you that he wrote 'God's Anointed'?" exclaimed Marguerite with eager interest.
"Yes, he told me of that and I re-read the book with an entirely different viewpoint since I came to understand the spirit in which it was written."
"Ah—I see." Marguerite rose and stepped toward the library. "We have a book here," she called, "that you have not read, and one that you cannot buy. It will show you the source of Col. Hellar's inspiration."
She brought out a battered volume. "This book," she stated, "has given the inspectors more trouble than any other book in existence. Though they have searched for thirty years, they say there are more copies of it still at large than of all other forbidden books combined."
I gazed at the volume she handed me—I was holding a copy of the Christian Bible translated six centuries previous by Martin Luther. It was indeed the very text from which as a boy I had acquired much of my reading knowledge of the language. But I decided that I had best not reveal to Marguerite my familiarity with it, and so I sat down and turned the pages with assumed perplexity.
"It is a very odd book," I remarked presently. "Have you read it?"
"Oh, yes," exclaimed Marguerite. "I often read it; I think it is more interesting than all these modern books, but perhaps that is because I cannot understand it; I love mysterious things."
"There is too much of it for a man as busy as I am to hope to read," I remarked, after turning a few more pages, "and so I had better not begin. Will you not choose something and read it aloud to me?"
Marguerite declined at first; but, when I insisted, she took the tattered Bible and turned slowly through its pages.
And when she read, it was the story of a king who revelled with his lords, and of a hand that wrote upon a wall.
Her voice was low, and possessed a rhythm and cadence that transmuted the guttural German tongue into musical poetry.
Again she read, of a man who, though shorn of his strength by the wiles of a woman and blinded by his enemies, yet pushed asunder the pillars of a city.
At random she read other tales, of rulers and of slaves, of harlots and of queens—the wisdom of prophets—the songs of kings.
Together we pondered the meanings of these strange things, and exulted in the beauty of that which was meaningless. And so the hours passed; the day drew near its close and Marguerite read from the last pages of the book, of a voice that cried mightily—"Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit."
FINDING THEREIN ONE RIGHTEOUS MAN I HAVE COMPASSION ON BERLIN
My first call upon Marguerite had been followed by other visits when we had talked of books and read together. On these occasions I had carefully suppressed my desire to speak of more personal things. But, constantly reminded by my own troubled conscience, I grew fearful lest the old doctor should discover that the books were the lesser part of the attraction that drew me to Marguerite's apartment, and my fear was increased as I realized that my calls on Zimmern had abruptly ceased.
Thinking to make amends I went one evening to the doctor's apartment.
"I was going out shortly," said Zimmern, as he greeted me. "I have a dinner engagement with Hellar on the Free Level. But I still have a little time; if it pleases you we might walk along to our library."
I promptly accepted the invitation, hoping that it would enable me better to establish my relation to Marguerite and Zimmern in a safe triangle of mutual friendship. As we walked, Zimmern, as if he read my thoughts, turned the conversation to the very subject that was uppermost in my mind.
"I am glad, Armstadt," he said with a gracious smile, "that you and Marguerite seem to enjoy each other's friendship. I had often wished there were younger men in our group, since her duties as caretaker of our books quite forbids her cultivating the acquaintance of any men outside our chosen few. Marguerite is very patient with the dull talk of us old men, but life is not all books, and there is much that youth may share."
For these words of Zimmern's I was quite unprepared. He seemed to be inviting me to make love to Marguerite, and I wondered to what extent the prevailing social ethics might have destroyed the finer sensibilities that forbid the sharing of a woman's love.
When we reached the apartment Marguerite greeted us with a perfect democracy of manner. But my reassurance of the moment was presently disturbed when she turned to Zimmern and said: "Now that you are here, I am going for a bit of a walk; I have not been out for two whole days."
"Very well," the doctor replied. "I cannot remain long as I have an engagement with Hellar, but perhaps Armstadt will remain until you return."
"Then I shall have him all to myself," declared Marguerite with quiet seriousness.
Though I glanced from the old doctor to the young woman in questioning amazement, neither seemed in the least embarrassed or aware that anything had been said out of keeping with the customary propriety of life.
Marguerite, throwing the blue velvet cape about her bare white shoulders, paused to give the old doctor an affectionate kiss, and with a smile for me was gone.
For a few moments the doctor sat musing; but when he turned to me it was to say: "I hope that you are making good use of our precious accumulation of knowledge."
In reply I assured him of my hearty appreciation of the library.
"You can see now," continued Zimmern, "how utterly the mind of the race has been enslaved, how all the vast store of knowledge, that as a whole makes life possible, is parcelled out for each. Not one of us is supposed to know of those vital things outside our own narrow field. That knowledge is forbidden us lest we should understand the workings of our social system and question the wisdom of it all. And so, while each is wiser in his own little cell than were the men of the old order, yet on all things else we are little children, accepting what we are taught, doing what we are told, with no mind, no souls of our own. Scientists have ceased to be men, and have become thinking machines, specialized for their particular tasks."
"That is true," I said, "but what are we to do about it? You have by these forbidden books acquired a realization of the enslavement of the race—but the others, all these millions of professional men, are they not hopelessly rendered impotent by the systematic Suppression of knowledge?"
"The millions, yes," replied Zimmern, "but there are the chosen few; we who have seen the light must find a way for the liberation of all."
"Do you mean," I asked eagerly, "that you are planning some secret rebellion—that you hope for some possible rising of the people to overthrow the system?"
Zimmern looked at me in astonishment. "The people," he said, "cannot rise. In the old order such a thing was possible—revolutions they called them—the people led by heroes conceived passions for liberty. But such powers of mental reaction no longer exist in German minds. We have bred and trained it out of them. One might as well have expected the four-footed beasts of burden in the old agricultural days to rebel against their masters."
"But," I protested, "if the people could be enlightened?"
"How," exclaimed Zimmern impatiently, "can you enlighten them? You are young, Armstadt, very young to talk of such things—even if a rebellion was a possibility what would be the gain? Rebellion means disorder—once the ventilating machinery of the city and the food processes were disturbed we should all perish in this trap—we should all die of suffocation and starvation."
"Then why," I asked, "do you talk of this thing? If rebellion is impossible and would, if possible, destroy us all, then is there any hope?"
Zimmern paced the floor for a time in silence and then, facing me squarely, he said, "I have confessed to you my dissatisfaction with the existing state. In doing this I placed myself in great danger, but I risked that and now I shall risk more. I ask you now, Are you with us to the end?"
"Yes," I replied very gravely, "I am with you although I cannot fully understand on what you base your hope."
"Our hope," replied Zimmern, "is out there in the world from whence come those flying men who rain bombs on the roof of Berlin and for ever keep us patching it. We must get word to them. We must throw ourselves upon the humanity of our enemies and ask them to save us."
"But," I questioned, in my excitement, "what can Germany expect of the enemy? She has made war against the world for centuries—will that world permit Germany to live could they find a way to destroy her?"
"As a nation, no, but as men, yes. Men do not kill men as individuals, they only make war against a nation of men. As long as Germany is capable of making war against the world so long will the world attempt to destroy her. You, Colonel Armstadt, hold in your protium secret the power of Germany to continue the war against the world. Because you were about to gain that power I risked my own life to aid you in getting a wider knowledge. Because you now hold that power I risk it again by asking you to use it to destroy Germany and save the Germans. The men who are with me in this cause, and for whom I speak, are but a few. The millions materially alive, are spiritually dead. The world alone can give them life again as men. Even though a few million more be destroyed in the giving have not millions already been destroyed? What if you do save Germany now—what does it mean merely that we breed millions more like we now have, soulless creatures born to die like worms in the ground, brains working automatically, stamping out one sort of idea, like machines that stamp out buttons—or mere mouths shouting like phonographs before this gaudy show of royalty?"
"But," I said, "you speak for the few emancipated minds; what of all these men who accept the system—you call them slaves, yet are they not content with their slavery, do they want to be men of the world or continue here in their bondage and die fighting to keep up their own system of enslavement?"
"It makes no difference what they want," replied Zimmern, in a voice that trembled with emotion; "we bred them as slaves to the kultur of Germany, the thing to do is to stop the breeding."
"But how," I asked, "can men who have been beaten into the mould of the ox ever be restored to their humanity?"
"The old ones cannot," sighed Zimmern; "it was always so; when a people has once fallen into evil ways the old generation can never be wholly redeemed, but youth can always be saved—youth is plastic."
"But the German race," I said, "has not only been mis-educated, it has been mis-bred. Can you undo inheritance? Can this race with its vast horde of workers bred for a maximum of muscle and a minimum of brains ever escape from that stupidity that has been bred into the blood?"
"You have been trained as a chemist," said Zimmern, "you despair of the future because you do not understand the laws of inheritance. A specialized type of man or animal is produced from the selection of the extreme individuals. That you know. But what you do not know is that the type once established does not persist of its own accord. It can only be maintained by the rigid continuance of the selection. The average stature of man did not change a centimetre in a thousand years, till we came in with our meddlesome eugenics. Leave off our scientific meddling and the race will quickly revert to the normal type.
"That applies to the physical changes; in the mental powers the restoration will be even more rapid, because we have made less change in the psychic elements of the germ plasm. The inborn capacity of the human brain is hard to alter. Men are created more nearly equal than even the writers of democratic constitutions have ever known. If the World State will once help us to free ourselves from these shackles of rigid caste and cultured ignorance, this folly of scientific meddling with the blood and brains of man, there is yet hope for this race, for we have changed far less than we pretend, in the marrow we are human still."
The old man sank back in his chair. The fire in his soul had burned out. His hand fumbled for his watch. "I must leave you now," he said; "Marguerite should be back shortly. From her you need conceal nothing. She is the soul of our hopes and our dreams. She keeps our books safe and our hearts fine. Without her I fear we should all have given up long ago."
With a trembling handclasp he left me alone in Marguerite's apartment. And alone too with my conflicting and troubled emotions. He was a lovable soul, ripe with the wisdom of age, yet youthful in his hopes to redeem his people from the curse of this unholy blend of socialism and autocracy that had prostituted science and made a black Utopian nightmare of man's millennial dream.
Vaguely I wondered how many of the three hundred millions of German souls—for I could not accept the soulless theory of Zimmern—were yet capable of a realization of their humanity. To this query there could be no answer, but of one conclusion I was certain, it was not my place to ask what these people wanted, for their power to decide was destroyed by the infernal process of their making—but here at least, my democratic training easily gave the answer that Dr. Zimmern had achieved by sheer genius, and my answer was that for men whose desire for liberty has been destroyed, liberty must be thrust upon them.
But it remained for me to work out a plan for so difficult a salvation. Of this I was now assured that I need no longer work alone, for as I had long suspected, Dr. Zimmern and his little group of rebellious souls were with me. But what could so few do amidst all the millions? My answer, like Zimmern's, was that the salvation of Germany lay in the enemies' hands—and I alone was of that enemy. Yet never again could I pray for the destruction of the city at the hands of the outraged god—Humanity. And I thought of Sodom and Gomorrah which the God of Abraham had agreed to spare if there be found ten righteous men therein.
From these far-reaching thoughts my mind was drawn sharply back to the fact of my presence in Marguerite's apartment and the realization that she would shortly return to find me there alone. I resented the fact that the old doctor and the young woman could conspire to place me in such a situation. I resented the fact that a girl like Marguerite could be bound to a man three times her age, and yet seem to accept it with perfect grace. But I resented most of all the fact that both she and Zimmern appeared to invite me to share in a triangle of love, open and unashamed.
My bitter brooding was disturbed by the sound of a key turning in the lock, and Marguerite, fresh and charming from the exhilaration of her walk, came into the room.
"I am so glad you remained," she said. "I hope no one else comes and we can have the evening to ourselves."
"It seems," I answered with a touch of bitterness, "that Dr. Zimmern considers me quite a safe playmate for you."
At my words Marguerite blushed prettily. "I know you do not quite understand," she said, "but you see I am rather peculiarly situated. I cannot go out much, and I can have no girl friends here, and no men either except those who are in this little group who know of our books. And they, you see, are all rather old, mostly staff officers like the doctor himself, and Col. Hellar. You rank quite as well as some of the others, but you are ever so much younger. That is why the doctor thinks you are so wonderful—I mean because you have risen so high at so early an age—but perhaps I think you are rather wonderful just because you are young. Is it not natural for young people to want friends of their own age?"
"It is," I replied with ill-concealed sarcasm.
"Why do you speak like that?" asked Marguerite in pained surprise.
"Because a burnt child dreads the fire."
"I do not understand," she said, a puzzled look in her eyes. "How could a child be burned by a fire since it could never approach one. They only have fires in the smelting furnaces, and children could never go near them."
Despite my bitter mood I smiled as I said: "It is just a figure of speech that I got out of an old book. It means that when one is hurt by something he does not want to be hurt in the same way again. You remember what you said to me in the cafe about looking up the girl who played the innocent role? I did look her up, and you were right about it. She has been, here three years and has a score of lovers."
"And you dropped her?"
"Of course I dropped her."
"And you have not found another?"
"No, and I do not want another, and I had not made love to this girl either, as you think I had; perhaps I would have done so, but thanks to you I was warned in time. I may be even younger than you think I am, young at least in experience with the free women of Berlin. This is the second apartment I have ever been in on this level."
"Why do you tell me this?" questioned Marguerite.
"Because," I said doggedly, "because I suppose that I want you to know that I have spent most of my time in a laboratory. I also want you to know that I do not like the artful deceit that you all seem to cultivate."
"And do you think I am trying to deceive you?" cried Marguerite reproachfully.
"Your words may be true," I said, "but the situation you place me in is a false one. Dr. Zimmern brings me here that I may read your books. He leaves me alone here with you and urges me to come as often as I choose. All that is hard enough, but to make it harder for me, you tell me that you particularly want my company because you have no other young friends. In fact you practically ask me to make love to you and yet you know why I cannot."
In the excitement of my warring emotions I had risen and was pacing the floor, and now as I reached the climax of my bitter speech, Marguerite, with a choking sob, fled from the room.
Angered at the situation and humiliated by what I had said, I was on the point of leaving at once. But a moment of reflection caused me to turn back. I had forced a quarrel upon Marguerite and the cause for my anger she perhaps did not comprehend. If I left now it would be impossible to return, and if I did not come back, there would be explanations to make to Zimmern and perhaps an ending of my association with him and his group, which was not only the sole source of my intellectual life outside my work, but which I had begun to hope might lead to some enterprise of moment and possibly to my escape from Berlin.
So calming my anger, I turned to the library and doggedly pulled down a book and began scanning its contents. I had been so occupied for some time, when there was a ring at the bell. I peered out into the reception-room in time to see Marguerite come from another door. Her eyes revealed the fact that she had been crying. Quickly she closed the door of the little library, shutting me in with the books. A moment later she came in with a grey-haired man, a staff officer of the electrical works. She introduced us coolly and then helped the old man find a book he wanted to take out, and which she entered on her records.
After the visitor had gone Marguerite again slipped out of the room and for a time I despaired of a chance to speak to her before I felt I must depart. Another hour passed and then she stole into the library and seated herself very quietly on a little dressing chair and watched me as I proceeded with my reading.
I asked her some questions about one of the volumes and she replied with a meek and forgiving voice that made me despise myself heartily. Other questions and answers followed and soon we were talking again of books as if we had no overwhelming sense of the personal presence of each other.
The hours passed; by all my sense of propriety I should have been long departed, but still we talked of books without once referring to my heated words of the earlier evening.
She had stood enticingly near me as we pulled down the volumes. My heart beat wildly as she sat by my side, while I mechanically turned the pages. The brush of her garments against my sleeve quite maddened me. I had not dared to look into her eyes, as I talked meaningless, bookish words.
Summoning all my self-control, I now faced her. "Marguerite," I said hoarsely, "look at me."
She lifted her eyes and met my gaze unflinchingly, the moisture of fresh tears gleaming beneath her lashes.
"Forgive me," I entreated.
"For what?" she asked simply, smiling a little through her tears.
"For being a fool," I declared fiercely, "for believing your cordiality toward me as Dr. Zimmern's friend to mean more than—than it should mean."
"But I do not understand," she said. "Should I not have told you that I liked you because you were young? Of course if you don't want me to—to—" She paused abruptly, her face suffused with a delicate crimson.
I stepped toward her and reached out my arms. But she drew back and slipped quickly around the table. "No," she cried, "no, you have said that you did not want me."
"But I do," I cried. "I do want you."
"Then why did you say those things to me?" she asked haughtily.
I gazed at her across the narrow table. Was it possible that such a woman had no understanding of ideals of honour in love? Could it be that she had no appreciation of the fight I had waged, and so nearly lost, to respect the trust and confidence that the old doctor had placed in me. With these thoughts the ardour of my passion cooled and a feeling of pity swept over me, as I sensed the tragedy of so fine a woman ethically impoverished by false training and environment. Had she known honour, and yet discarded it, I too should have been unable to resist the impulse of youth to deny to age its less imperious claims.
But either she chose artfully to ignore my struggle or she was truly unaware of it. In either case she would not share the responsibility for the breach of faith. I was puzzled and confounded.
It was Marguerite who broke the bewildering silence. "I wish you would go now," she said coolly; "I am afraid I misunderstood."
"And shall I come again?" I asked awkwardly.
She looked up at me and smiled bravely. "Yes," she said, "if—you are sure you wish to."
A resurge of passionate longing to take her in my arms swept over me, but she held out her hand with such rare and dignified grace that I could only take the slender fingers and press them hungrily to my fevered lips and so bid her a wordless adieu.
But despite wild longing to see her again, I did not return to Marguerite's apartment for many weeks. A crisis in my work at the laboratory denied me even a single hour of leisure outside brief snatches of food and sleep.
I had previously reported to the Chemical Staff that I had found means to increase materially the extraction percentage of the precious element protium from the crude imported ore. I had now received word that I should prepare to make a trial demonstration before the Staff.
Already I had revealed certain results of my progress to Herr von Uhl, as this had been necessary in order to get further grants of the rare material and of expensive equipment needed for the research, but in these smaller demonstrations, I had not been called upon to disclose my method. Now the Staff, hopeful that I had made the great discovery, insisted that I prepare at once to make a large scale demonstration and reveal the method that it might immediately be adopted for the wholesale extraction in the industrial works.
If I now gave away the full secret of my process, I would receive compensation that would indeed seem lavish for a man whose mental horizon was bounded by these enclosing walls; yet to me for whom these walls would always be a prison, credit at the banks of Berlin and the baubles of decoration and rank and social honour would be sounding brass. But I wanted power; and, with the secret of protium extraction in my possession, I would have control of life or death over three hundred million men. Why should I sacrifice such power for useless credit and empty honour? If Eitel I of the House of Hohenzollern would lengthen the days of his rule, let him deal with me and meet whatever terms I chose to name, for in my chemical retorts I had brewed a secret before which vaunted efficiency and hypocritical divinity could be made to bend a hungry belly and beg for food!
It was a laudable and rather thrilling ambition, and yet I was not clear as to just what terms I would dictate, nor how I could enforce the dictation. To ask for an audience with the Emperor now, and to take any such preposterous stand would merely be to get myself locked up for a lunatic. But I reasoned that if I could make the demonstration so that it would be accepted as genuine and yet not give away my secret, the situation would be in my hands. Yet I was expected to reveal the process step by step as the demonstration proceeded. There was but one way out and that was to make a genuine demonstration, but with falsely written formulas.
To plan and prepare such a demonstration required more genuine invention than had the discovery of the process, but I set about the task with feverish enthusiasm. I kept my assistants busy with the preparation of the apparatus and the more simple work which there was no need to disguise, while night after night I worked alone, altering and disguising the secret steps on which my great discovery hinged. As these preparations were nearing completion I sent for Dr. Zimmern and Col. Hellar to meet me at my apartment.
"Comrades," I said, "you have endangered your own lives by confiding in me your secret desires to overthrow the rule of the House of Hohenzollern as it was overthrown once before. You have done this because you believed that I would have power that others do not have."
The two old men nodded in grave assent.
"And you have been quite fortunate in your choice," I concluded, "for not only have I pledged myself to your ends, but I shall soon possess the coveted power. In a few days I shall demonstrate my process on a large scale before the Chemical Staff. But I shall do this thing without revealing the method. The formulas I shall give them will be meaningless. As long as I am in charge in my own laboratory the process will be a success; when it is tried elsewhere it will fail, until I choose to make further revelations.
"So you see, for a time, unless I be killed or tortured into confession, I shall have great power. How then may I use that power to help you in the cause to which we are pledged?"
The older men seemed greatly impressed with my declaration and danced about me and cried with joy. When they had regained their composure Zimmern said: "There is but one thing you can do for us and that is to find some way to get word of the protium mines to the authorities of the World State. Berlin will then be at their mercy, but whatever happens can be no worse than the continuance of things as they are."
"But how," I said, "can a message be sent from Berlin to the outer world?"
"There is only one way," replied Hellar, "and that is by the submarines that go out for this ore. The Submarine Staff are members of the Royal House. So, indeed, are the captains. We have tried for years to gain the confidence of some of these men, but without avail. Perhaps through your work on the protium ore you can succeed where we have failed."
"And how," I asked eagerly, "do the ore-bringing vessels get from Berlin to the sea?"
My visitors glanced at each other significantly. "Do you not know that?" exclaimed Zimmern. "We had supposed you would have been told when you were assigned to the protium research."
By way of answer I explained that I knew the source of the ore but not the route of its coming.
"All such knowledge is suppressed in books," commented Hellar; "we older men know of this by word of mouth from the days when the submarine tunnel was completed to the sea, but you are younger. Unless this was told you at the time you were assigned the work it is not to be expected that you would know."
I questioned Hellar and Zimmern closely but found that all they knew was that a submarine tunnel did exist leading from Berlin somewhere into the open sea; but its exact location they did not know. Again I pressed my question as to what I could do with the power of my secret and they could only repeat that they staked their hopes on getting word to the outer world by way of submarines.
Much as I might admire the strength of character that would lead men to rebel against the only life they knew because they sensed that it was hopeless, I now found myself a little exasperated at the vagueness of their plans. Yet I had none better. To defy the Emperor would merely be to risk my life and the possible loss of my knowledge to the world. Perhaps after all the older heads were wiser than my own rebellious spirit; and so, without making any more definite plans, I ended the interview with a promise to let them know of the outcome of the demonstration.
Returning once more to my work I finished my preparations and sent word to the Chemical Staff that all was ready. They came with solemn faces. The laboratory was locked and guards were posted. The place was examined thoroughly, the apparatus was studied in detail. All my ingredients were tested for the presence of extracted protium, lest I be trying to "salt the mine." But happily for me they accepted my statement as to their chemical nature in other respects. Then when all had been approved the test lot of ore was run. It took us thirty hours to run the extraction and sample and weigh and test the product. But everything went through exactly as I had planned.
With solemn faces the Chemical Staff unanimously declared that the problem had been solved and marvelled that the solution should come from the brain of so young a man. And so I received their adulation and worship, for I could not give credit to the chemists of the world outside to whom I was really indebted for my seeming miraculous genius. Telling me to take my rest and prepare myself for an audience with His Majesty three days later, the Chemical Staff departed, carrying, with guarded secrecy, my false formulas.
Exultant and happy I left the laboratory. I had not slept for forty hours and scarcely half my regular allotment for many weeks. And yet I was not sleepy now but awake and excited. I had won a great victory, and I wanted to rejoice and share my conquest with sympathetic ears. I could go to Zimmern, but instead I turned my steps toward the elevator and, alighting on the Level of the Free Women, I went straightway to Marguerite's apartment.
Despite my feeling of exhilaration, my face must have revealed something of my real state of exhaustion, for Marguerite cried in alarm at the sight of me.
"A little tired," I replied, in answer to her solicitous questions; "I have just finished my demonstration before the Chemical Staff."
"And you won?" cried Marguerite in a burst of joy. "You deceived them just as the doctor said you would. And they know you have solved the protium problem and they do not know how you did it?"
"That is correct," I said, sinking back into the cushions of the divan. "I have done all that. I came here first to tell you. You see I could not come before, all these weeks, I have had no time for sleep or anything. I would have telephoned or written but I feared it would not be safe. Did you think I was not coming again?"
"I missed you at first,—I mean at first I thought you were staying away because you did not want to see me, and then Dr. Zimmern told me what you were doing, and I understood—and waited, for I somehow knew you would come as soon as you could."
"Yes, of course you knew. Of course, I had to come—Marguerite—" But Marguerite faded before my vision. I reached out my hand for her—and it seemed to wave in empty space....