no survivors; there might possibly have been no planet..
"And now contrast our situation. The Earth is intact, Un-scarred, still fruitful. It can provide us with food
and raw materials. We have repositories of knowledge that can teach us to do anything that has been
done before-though there are some things that may be better unremembered. And we have the means,
the health, and the strength to begin to build again."
He did not make a long speech, but it bad effect. It must have made quite a number of the members of
his audience begin to feel that perhaps they were at the beginning of something, after all, rather than at the
end of everything. In spite of his offering little but generalities, there was a more alert air in the place when
he sat down.
The Colonel, who followed him, was practical and factual. He reminded us that for reasons of health it
would be advisable for us to get away from all built-up areas as soon as practicable-which was expected
to be at about 1200 hours on the following day. Almost all the primary necessities, as well as extras
enough to give a reasonable standard of comfort, had now been collected. In considering our stocks, our
aim must be to make ourselves as nearly independent of outside sources as possible for a minimum of
one year. We should spend that period in virtually a state of siege. There were, no doubt, many things we
should all like to take besides those on our lists, but they would have to wait until the medical staff (and
here the girl on the committee blushed deeply) considered it safe for parties to leave isolation and fetch
them. As for the scene of our isolation, the committee had given it considerable thought, and, bearing in
mind the desiderata of compactness, self-sufficiency, and detachment, had come to the conclusion that a
country hoarding school, or, failing that, some large country mansion, would best serve our purposes.
Whether the committee had, in fact, not yet decided on any particular place, or whether the military
notion that secrecy has some intrinsic value persisted in the Colonel's mind, I cannot say, but I have no
doubt that his failure to name the place, or even the probable locality, was the gravest mistake made that
evening. At the time, however, his practical manner had a further reassuring effect.
As he sat down, Michael rose again. He spoke encouragingly to the girl and then introduced her. It had,
he said, been one of our greatest worries that we had no one among us with medical knowledge;
therefore it was with great relief that he welcomed Miss Berr. It was true that she did not hold medical
degrees with impressive letters, but she did have high nursing qualifications. For himself, he thought that
knowledge recently attained might be worth more than degrees acquired years ago.
The girl, blushing again, said a little piece about her determination to carry the job through, and ended a
trifle abruptly with the information that she would inoculate us all against a variety of things before we left
A small, sparrowlike man whose name I did not catch rubbed it in that the health of each was the
concern of all, and that any suspicion of illness should be reported at once, since the effects of a
contagious disease among us would he serious.
When he had finished, Sandra rose and introduced the last speaker of the group: Dr. E. H. Vorless,
D.Sc., of Edinburgh, professor of sociology at the University of Kingston.
The white-haired man walked to the desk. He stood there a few moments with his finger tips resting
upon it and his head bent down as if he were studying it. Those behind regarded him carefully, with a
trace of anxiety. The Colonel leaned over to whisper something to Michael, who nodded without taking
his eyes off the doctor. The old man looked up. He passed a hand over his hair.
"My friends," he said, "I think I may claim to be the oldest among you. In nearly seventy years I have
learned, and had to unlearn, many things-though not nearly so many as I could have wished. But if, in the
course of a long study of man's institutions, one thing has struck me more than their stubbornness, it is
"Well, indeed do the French say autres temps, autres maurs. We must all see, if we pause to think, that
one kind of community's virtue may well be another kind of community's crime; that what is frowned
upon here may be considered laudable elsewhere; that customs condemned in one century are condoned
in another. And we must also see that in each community and each period there is a widespread belief in
the moral rightness of its own customs.
"Now, clearly, since many of these beliefs conflict, they cannot all be 'right' in an absolute sense. The
most judgment one can pass on them-if one has to pass judgments at all is to say that they have at some
period been 'right' for those communities that bold them. It may be that they still are, but it frequently is
found that they are not, and that the communities who continue to follow them blindly without heed to
changed circumstances do so to their own disadvantage-perhaps to their ultimate destruction."
The audience did not perceive where this introduction might be leading. It fidgeted. Most of it was
accustomed, when it encountered this kind of thing, to turn the radio off at once. Now it felt tapped. The
speaker decided to make himself clearer.
"Thus," he continued, "you would not expect to find the same manners, customs, and forms in a
penurious Indian village living on the edge of starvation as you would in, say. Mayfair. Similarly, the
people in a warm country, where life is easy, are going to differ quite a deal from the people of an
overcrowded, hard-working country as to the nature of the principle virtues. In other words, different
environments set different standards.
"I point this out to you because the world we knew is gone-finished.
"The conditions which framed and taught us our standards have gone with it. Our needs are now
different, and our aims must be different. If you want an example. I would point out to you that we have
all spent the day indulging with perfectly easy consciences in what two days ago would have been
housebreaking and theft. With the old pattern broken, we have now to find out what mode of life is best
suited to the new. We have not simply to start building again; we have to start thinking again-which is
much more difficult, and far more distasteful.
"Man remains physically adaptable to a remarkable degree.
But it is the custom of each community to form the minds of its young in a mold, introducing a binding
agent of prejudice. The result is a remarkably tough substance capable of withstanding successfully even
the pressure of many innate tendencies and instincts. In this way it has been possible to produce a man
who against all his basic sense of self-preservation will voluntarily risk death for an ideal-but also in this
way is produced the dolt who is sure of everything and knows what is 'right.'
"In the time now ahead of us a great many of these prejudices we have been given will have to go, or be
radically altered. We can accept and retain only one primary prejudice, and that is that the race is worth
preserving. To that consideration all else will, for a time at least, be subordinate. We must look at all we
do, with this question in mind: 'Is this going to help our race survive-or will it hinder us?' If it will help, we
must do it, whether or not it conflicts with the ideas in which we were brought up. If not, we must avoid
it, even though the omission may clash with our previous notions of duty and even of justice.
"It will not be easy; old prejudices die hard. The simple rely on a bolstering mass of maxim and precept;
so do the timid; so do the mentally lazy-and so do all of us, more than we imagine. Now that the
organization has gone, our ready reckoners for conduct within it no longer Live the right answers. We
must have the moral courage to think and to plan for ourselves."
He paused to survey his audience thoughtfully. Then he said:
"There is one thing to be made quite clear to you before you decide to join our community. It is that
those of us who start on this task will all have our parts to play. The men must work-the women must
have babies. Unless you can agree to that, there can be no place for you in our community."
After an interval of dead silence, he added:
"We can afford to support a limited number of women who cannot see, because they will have babies
who can see. We cannot afford to support men who cannot see. In our new world, then, babies become
very much more important than husbands."
For some seconds after he stopped speaking, silence continued, then isolated murmurs grew quickly into
a general buzz.
I looked at Josella. To my astonishment, she was grinning impishly.
"What do you find funny about this?" I asked a trifle shortly.
"People's expressions mostly," she replied.
I had to admit it as a reason. I looked round the place, and then across at Michael. His eyes were
moving from one section to another of the audience as he tried to sum up the reaction.
"Michael's looking a bit anxious," I observed.
"He should worry," said Josella. "If Brigham Young could bring it off in the middle of the nineteenth
century, this ought to be a pushover."
"What a crude young woman you are at times," I said. "Were you in on this before?"
"Not exactly, but I'm not quite dumb, you know. Besides, while you were away someone drove in a bus
with most of these blind girls on board. They all came from some institution. I said to myself, why collect
them from there when you could gather up thousands in a few streets round here?
The answer obviously was that (a) being blind before this happened, they had been trained to do work
of some kind, and (b) they were all girls. The deduction wasn't terribly difficult."
"H'm," I said. "Depends on one's outlook, I suppose. I must say, it wouldn't have struck me. Do you-"
"Sh-sh," she told me as a quietness came over the hail. A tail, dark, purposeful-looking, youngish woman
had risen. While she waited, she appeared to have a mouth not made to open, but later it did.
"Are we to understand," she inquired, using a kind of carbon-steel voice, "are we to understand that the
last speaker is advocating free love?" And she sat down, with spine-jarring decision.
Dr. Vorless smoothed back his hair as he regarded her.
"I think the questioner must be aware that I never mentioned love, free, bought, or bartered. Will she
please make her question clearer?"
The woman stood up again.
"I think the speaker understood me. I am asking if he suggests the abolition of the marriage law?"
"The laws we knew have been abolished by circumstances. It now falls to us to make laws suitable to
the conditions, and to enforce them if necessary."
"There is still God's law, and the law of decency."
"Madam. Solomon had three hundred-or was it five hundred?-wives, and God did not apparently hold
them against him. A Mohammedan preserves rigid respectability with three wives. These are matters of
local custom. Just what our laws in these matters, and in others, will be is for us all to decide later for the
greatest benefit of the community.
"This committee, after discussion, has decided that if we are to build a new state of things and avoid a
relapse into barbarism-which is an appreciable danger-we must have certain undertakings from those
who wish to join us.
"Not one of us is going to recapture the conditions we have lost. What we offer is a busy life in the best
conditions we can contrive, and the happiness which will come of achievement against odds. In return we
ask willingness and fruitfulness. There is no compulsion. The choice is yours. Those to whom our offer
does not appeal are at perfect liberty to go elsewhere and start a separate community on such lines as
"But I would ask you to consider very carefully whether or not you do hold a warrant from God to
deprive any woman of the happiness of carrying out her natural functions."
The discussion which followed was a rambling affair, descending frequently to points of detail and
hypothesis on which there could as yet be no answers. But there was no move to cut it short. The longer
it went on, the less strangeness the idea would have.
Josella and I moved over to the table where Nurse Berr had set up her paraphernalia. We took several
shots in our arms and then sat down again to listen to the wrangling.
"How many of them will decide to come, do you think?" I asked her.
She glanced round.
"Nearly all of them-by the morning," she told me.
I felt doubtful. There was a lot of objecting and questioning going on. Josella said:
"If you were a woman who was going to spend an hour or two before you went to sleep tonight
considering whether you would choose babies and an organization to look after you or adherence to a
principle which might quite likely mean no babies and no one to look after you, you'd not really be very
doubtful, you know. And after all, most women want babies anyway-the husband's just what Dr. Vorless
might call the local means to the end."
"That's rather cynical of you."
"If you really think that's cynical, you must be a very sentimental character. I'm talking about real women,
not those in the world."
"Oh," I said.
She sat pensively awhile, and gradually acquired a frown. At last she said;
"The thing that worries me is how many will they expect? I like babies, all right, but there are limits."
After the debate had gone on raggedly for an hour or so it was wound up. Michael asked that the names
of all those willing to join in his plan should be left in his office by ten o'clock the next morning. The
Colonel requested all who could drive a truck to report to him by 700 hours, and the meeting broke up.
Josella and I wandered out of doors. The evening was mild. The light on the tower was again stabbing
hopefully into the sky. The moon had just risen clear of the museum roof. We found a low wall and sat on
it, looking into the shadows of the Square garden and listening to the faint sound of the wind in the
branches of the trees there. We smoked a cigarette each almost in silence. When I reached the end of
mine I threw it away and drew a breath.
"Josella," I said.
"M'm?" she replied, scarcely emerging from her thoughts. Josella," I said again. "Er-those babies.
I'd-er-I'd be sort of terribly proud and happy if they could be mine as well as yours."
She sat quite still for a moment, saying nothing. Then she turned her head. The moonlight was glinting on
her fair hair, but her face and eyes were in shadow. I waited, with a hammered and slightly sick feeling
inside me. She said, with surprising calm:
"Thank you, Bill dear. I think I would too."
I sighed. The hammering did not ease up much, and I saw that my hand was trembling as it reached for,
hers. I didn't have any words, for the moment. Josella, however, did. She said:
"But it isn't quite as easy as that now."
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