"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
This is the fourth and final part of The Perfect Eugenic State.
Within an hour Smith re-entered the breakfast-room at H/99 Hampstead, where Mrs. Smith was solemnly reading aloud to Jane and Henry the Act of Parliament concerning those who die for the State. as soon as she saw her comrade, Mrs. Smith screamed: “Oh, I thought you were dead! We had the official news on the radio an hour ago. The Commissioner himself spoke to all Hampstead: ‘Comrade Smith, H/99 Hampstead, has left the Lethal Institute, where his last words were, “I hail the blue Empyrean, and may less worthy Units follow my lead.”’ It sounded lovely. And now, in spite of everything, you’re back.”
“So, that’s what he said, is it? Well, Mrs. Smith, I can tell you it was a lie.”
“Oh, you’ll be the death of me, and the death of us all.”
“Not glad to see me back — that’s what it is!”
“No, it isn’t,” sobbed Mrs. Smith, “but I did think you were dead. My poor mother, whom you always despised, told me how to respect the dead. I don’t need to know — know — know — Acts of Parliament to do — do — do — that,” and with this final outburst Smith’s comrade wept bitter tears and became hysterical.
Scenes such as these are not good for children. Henry sat, his elbow on the table, his cheek resting on his hand, and a frown on his face. To do the lad justice, he was thinking of his Shakespeare’s sonnets (confiscated under Secret Search Commission Index Expurgatorius, Article V, Section One, Clause A). Jane had no such thoughts. She rushed to Smith, threw her arms around his neck, and shouted: “Daddy I’m glad you’re back, and your ferrets will be glad too.”
The sound of a Chinese gong on the loudspeaker put an end to the scene which was likely to generate into sheer bathos.
“Commissioner speaking to H?99 Hampstead. Most secret and confidential. Under pain of instant death, no member of the Smith family to leave their home to-night. No communion with neighbours. Your house now surrounded by members of the Poisoned Darts Deaf-Mute Brigade. Anyone who attempts to leave dies instanter, without benefit of Act of Parliament. Entire family to parade in breakfast room at 4 a.m. to-morrow, without carbohydrates or water. At that hour, I, the Commissioner for all Hampstead, acting by and/or through the authority of Our Totality, will decide whether the sentence on you all now present will be death or exile. Now each and all to his or her bed. There shall be no talking in bed. Every pillow is overheard. To-morrow, all depends on Smith speaking the truth. Now, to your beds without a word, or at your peril. Amen.”
At 4 a.m. next day the family of H/99 Hampstead stood at attention around their breakfast-table, having eaten no breakfast. At one minute past four, because even Commissioners may be late, a charabanc slowed down and stopped outside their gate. Within a minute the Commissioner was in the breakfast-room, where they stood waiting.
“Sit down, everyone,” he ordered, and all the Smiths sat down.
“Now find a chair for me,” said the Commissioner.
Smith sprang to his feet. “Please take mine, sir. There’s not another in their house.”
“Sit down, Smith. No other chair! That’s to your credit. You obey the Law of No Hospitality. Some don’t. Sit down, I will stand. All your lives are in my hand, or rather in the hand of Smith, the head of this benighted family. He shall answer one question. Stop! Is that radio on or off?”
“I don’t know, sir. We’re not allowed to interfere with it.”
“Quite right, my friend. Stand up.”
The Commissioner seized the empty chair and smashed the wireless.
“Now, Smith, I can ask, and you can answer in the presence of your family, a simple question on which, because I’m always fair, your life and the lives of those about you depend. Answer within four seconds, please, the psychological limit,” and the Commissioner produced a stop-watch, “the question is: did Sympathiser Kind make a mistake, or did you change the gas-masks?”
“I changed the masks, sir.”
“Good! You said it within two seconds, and therefore it’s true. Now, Smith, you and yours are to be exiled.”
“No, sir, we’d rather not.”
“You fool, you don’t know what you’re talking about. When we find that a Unit, his comrade, and offspring are unfit, we destroy them. Yet when, as in your case, unfitness is allied to cunning, we deport or exile them to Ireland, in the hope that they and their progeny may flourish in Ireland, and so breed degeneracy among our enemies. Now, all of you get into the charabanc that’s to take us to the aerodrome.
“Well Smith, as we are on the way to the aerodrome, you may tell me a thing or two. No physical force used at the Lethal? No. That’s good. Any — any — well, shall we say, mental torture applied in the Tunnel, so far as your experience goes?”
“Yes, sir, he was a fiend, although I was sorry for him at the end.”
“Never mind about your being sorry for him. The less you say about that sort of thing the better — until you and yours are safe in Ireland. Only a degenerate would waste sympathy — a forbidden emotion — on Sympathiser Kind. He was guilty of grave dereliction of duty. To tell you the truth I’ve had my eye on Comrade Eve for quite a time. What do you think all that beautiful scenery in the tunnel is for?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“To interest the Units on the way along the Tunnel. For the first and last time in his life the condemned Unit sees beauty. He thinks he’s got a real gas-mask, and is interested all the way. In the larch forest he breathes the sweet gas, goes to sleep, and never wakes up. Could anything be more humane than that?”
“Seems to me the Lethal needs a comb out. I’ll send some of my best Agents-Provocateurs down this afternoon.”
“They may get killed, sir.”
“Not they. They never get hurt. When they go down the Tunnel with the Sympathisers there will be no gas on. I’ll see to that. But I shall await the trolleys at the end of the Tunnels, and if any mental cruelty be reported — what do you think I’ll do?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Why, I’ll stop the release of the clamps. Take the real gas mask off the face of the Sympathiser in question, stick it on the face the Agent-Provocateur, switch on the grey gas, and send the trolley backwards through the Tunnel. Well, here we are at the aerodrome. It’s a fine day.”
At the aerodrome an aeroplane was waiting on the centre of the ground, and the charabanc drove alongside. The pilots saluted the Commissioner, who showed him a card, which he read carefully and nodded. “Deaf mute,” explained the Commissioner to Smith. “No temptations to lead him away from home.” Four groundsmen, also deaf-mutes, strapped parachutes on each of the Smiths and then placed four ladders against the side of the ‘plane. “Up you go,” said the Commissioner to Smith, “into Barrel Number One, your comrade into Barrel Two, and the children into Three and Four.” All obeyed, and Smith found himself standing in a large barrel with smooth sides, over the top of which he could not see.
“Now,” explained the Commissioner, before the groundsmen fitted on the lids, “there’s no risk of suffocation. The lids are perforated with small holes, enough to let the air in and out, but not large enough for fingers to get through for holding on. At a given destination the pilot will pull a lever, and one by one the bottoms will drop out of the barrels. After that, each of you should say, ‘Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, which takes three seconds, before pulling the rip cord. That means you’re clear of the machine before the parachute opens. And, by the way, Smith, these parachutes work all right. Not like certain dud masks of which you had a little experience yesterday.”
The lids were fitted. Smith heard the ladders being removed, the engine splutter, then roar. In his closed barrel he felt the ‘plane jolting, then the steadiness of the air. A great fear possessed him. What did the Commissioner mean by saying the parachutes were not like the dud masks? He said the parachutes worked. Did that mean they killed you? Were the parachutes real? On these doubts his mind worked incessantly, until suddenly he and the bottom fell out of the barrel. A gale of wind struck his body, and blew him backwards on his back in the air. He forgot to count until he saw Mrs. Smith dropped out of the ‘plane, in front and some distance above him. Then, without counting, he pulled the cord.
Something like a large white handkerchief fluttered past the left side of his head and he closed his eyes. He was falling. Then came a wrench under his armpits, and he was swung vertically in the air. He looked up, and the great parachute was open. So also were three other parachutes. Soon he was steady in the air, for the day was calm. He looked down. The kindly earth was rising slowly to meet him. It was a country of lakes, green fields, and hills — and oh, how green was the grass on those hills coming nearer and nearer!