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The Return of Don Quixote/Chapter XVI

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Chapter XV The Return of Don Quixote
Chapter XVI: The Judgment of the King
written by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Chapter XVII




Lord Seawood and Lord Eden were seated in their favourite summer-house on the lawn, the same into which the arrow had once entered like the first shaft of a new sunrise; and to judge by their faces they were doubtful whether the sun were not in eclipse. Lord Eden's rigidity of expression might indeed have many meanings; but old Seawood was shaking his head in an openly disconsolate manner.

"If they had availed themselves of my intervention," he said. "I could I think have made clear the impossibility of their position; a position quite unparalleled in the whole of my public life. The restoration of our fine old historical forms must have the profound sympathy of every cultivated man; but it is against all precedent that they should use these forms for the practical suppression of material menace. What would Peel have said, had it been proposed to use only the antiquated halberds of a few Beefeaters in the Tower instead of the excellent and effective Constabulary which he had the genius and imagination to conceive? What would Palmerston have said, had anyone suggested to him that the Mace lying on the table of Parliament could be used as a club with which to quell a riot in Parliament Square? Impossible as it is for us to project upon the future the actions of the mighty dead of the past, I conceive it as likely that he would have made it the subject of a jest. But men in the present generation are devoid of humour."

"Our friend the King-at-Arms is devoid of humour all right," drawled Eden. "I sometimes wonder whether he is not the happier for it."

"There," said the other nobleman with firmness. "I cannot agree. Our English humour, such as that to be found in the best pages of _Punch_ is--."

At this moment a footman appeared silently and abruptly in the entrance of the hut, murmured some ritual words and handed a note to his master. The reading of it changed his master's dolorous expression to one of unaffected astonishment.

"God bless my soul," said Lord Seawood; and remained gazing at the paper in his hand.

For upon that paper was scrawled in a large and bold hand a message destined in the next few days to change the whole face of England; as nothing for centuries had ever been changed by a battle upon English soil.

"Either our young friend is really suffering from delusions," he said at last, "or else--"

"Or else," said Lord Eden gazing at the roof of the summer-house, "he has surrounded and taken the town of Milldyke, captured the Bolshevist headquarters and is bringing the leaders here to the trial."

"This is most remarkable," said the other nobleman. "Were you informed of this before?"

"I was not informed of it at all," answered Eden, "but in any case I thought it highly probable."

"Curious," repeated Seawood, "and I thought it so highly improbable; so highly improbable as to merge itself in what we call the impossible. That a mere stage army of that description--why I thought all educated and enlightened people were aware that such weapons are quite obsolete."

"That," answered Eden, "is because educated and enlightened people never think. Your enlightened man is always taking away the number he first thought of. It seems to be a sign of education first to take a thing for granted and then to forget to see if it is still there. Weapons are a very good working example. The man says he won't go on wearing a sword because it is no longer any good against a gun. Then he throws away all the guns as relics of barbarism; and then he is surprised when a barbarian sticks him through with a sword. You say that pikes and halberds are not weapons against modern conditions. I say pikes are excellent weapons against no pikes. You say it is all antiquated medieval armament. But I put my money on men who make medieval armament against men who only disapprove of modern armament. And what have any of these political parties ever done about armament except profess to disapprove of it? They renounce it and neglect it and never think of the part it played in political history; and yet they go about with a vague security as if they were girt about with invisible guns that would go off at the first hint of danger. They're doing what they always do; mixing up their Utopia that never comes with their old Victorian security that's already gone. I for one am not at all surprised that a pack of pantomime halberdiers can poke them off the stage. I've always thought a _coup d'├ętat_ could be effected with very small forces against people who won't learn to use the force they've got. But I never had the moral courage to do it myself; it needs somebody very different from our sort."

"Perhaps," remarked the other aristocrat, "it was due to our being, to quite a very recent political formula, too proud to fight."

"Yes," replied the old statesman. "It is the humble who fight."

"I am not sure that I quite follow your meaning," said Lord Seawood.

"I mean I am too wicked to fight," said Lord Eden. "It is the innocent who kill and burn and break the peace. It is children who rush and smash and knock each other about and of such is the kingdom of heaven."

It is not certain that even then his venerable Victorian companion was wholly and lucidly of one mind with him; but there was no more to be got out of him on the subject; and he remained with a face of flint looking up the long path towards the gates of the park. And indeed that road and that entrance were already shaken with the tumult and triumph of which he spoke; and the songs of young men who come back from battle.

"I apologise to Herne," said Julian Archer with hearty generosity. "He is a strong man. I've always said that what we wanted to see was a Strong Man in England."

"I once saw a Strong Man at Olympia," said Murrel reminiscently. "I believe people often apologised to him."

"You know what I mean," answered the other good-humouredly. "A statesman. A man who knows his own mind."

"Well, I suppose a madman knows his own mind," answered Murrel. "I rather fancy a statesman ought to know a little about other people's minds."

"My dear Monkey, what's the matter with you," demanded Archer. "You seem to be quite sulky when everybody else is pleased."

"It's not so offensive as being pleased when everybody else is sulky," answered Murrel. "But if you mean am I satisfied, I will admit your penetration in perceiving that I'm not. You said just now that we wanted a strong man in England. Now I should say that the one place where we never have wanted a strong man is England. I can only remember one person who went into the profession, poor old Cromwell; and the consequence was that we dug him up to hang him after he was dead and went mad with joy for a month because the throne was going back to a weak man-- or one we thought was a weak man. These high-handed ways don't suit us a bit, either revolutionary or reactionary. The French and the Italians have frontiers and they all feel like soldiers. So the word of command doesn't seem humiliating to them; the man is only a man but he commands because he is the commander. But we are not democratic enough to have a dictator. Our people like to be ruled by gentlemen, in a general sort of way. But nobody could stand being ruled by one gentleman. The idea is too horrible."

"I don't know what you mean exactly," said Archer discontentedly, "but I am glad to say that I think Herne knows what he means all right. And he'll jolly well make these fellows understand what he means as well."

"My dear fellow," said Murrel, "it takes all sorts to make a world. I don't gush about gentlemen, as you know; they're a stuffy lot, often enough. But gentlemen have managed to rule this island pretty successfully for about three hundred years; and they've done it because nobody ever did understand what they meant. They could make a mistake to-day and undo it to-morrow, without anybody knowing anything about it. But they never went too far in any direction to make it quite impossible to go back. They were always yielding here and modifying there; and patching things up somehow. Now it may be a jolly fine sight to see old Herne charging with all his chivalry. But if he will charge, he can't retreat. If he figures as a hero to you, he will figure as a tyrant to the other fellows. Now it was the very soul of our old aristocratic policy that even a tyrant must never figure as a tyrant. He may break down everybody's fences and steal everybody's land, but he must do it by Act of Parliament and not with a great two-handed sword. And if he meets the people he's disposed, he must be very polite to them and enquire after their rheumatism. That's what kept the British Constitution going--enquiring after the rheumatism. If he begins giving people black eyes or bloody scars, those things will be remembered in quite another way, whether he was right or wrong in the quarrel. And Herne isn't by a hell of a long way so right in this quarrel as he thinks he is; being a simple-minded sort."

"Well," remarked Archer, "You're not a very enthusiastic comrade-in-arms."

"As to that," said Murrel gloomily, "I don't know whether I'm a comrade-in-arms; but I'm not an infant in arms. And Herne is."

"There you go again," remarked the aggravated Archer. "You were always defending him so long as he was futile."

"And you were always abusing him so long as he was harmless," replied Murrel. "You were always calling him a lunatic. Well, that may be; personally I rather like lunatics. What I complain of is that you have swung clean round to his side, merely because he is a dangerous lunatic."

"Pretty successful for a lunatic," said the other.

"That is the only dangerous sort," said Murrel. "That's what I mean by his being an infant; and an infant that shouldn't be allowed to bear arms. Everything is too simple to him. Even his success is too simple. He sees everything in black and white; with the need of restoring holy order and a hierarchy of chivalry on the one side and nothing but howling barbarians and blind anarchy on the other. He will succeed; he has already succeeded. He will hold his court and impose his judgment and bring the mutiny to an end; and you will not see that a new sort of history will have begun. Our party leaders have always been reconciled by history; and Pitt and Fox had statues side by side. But you are starting two histories, one told by the conquerors and the other by the conquered. Herne will deliver his judgment, which will be praised by all organs of the State like a judgment of Mansfield; but Braintree will make a defence or defiance that will be remembered by all rebels like the dying speech of Emmett. You are making something new; at once a sword that divides and a shield with two sides to it. It is not England; it is not ourselves. It is Alva a hero for Catholics and a hobgoblin for Protestants; it is Frederick the father of Prussia and the murderer of Poland. When you see Braintree condemned by this tribunal, you won't understand how much is being condemned with him; how much that you like as much as I do."

"Are you a Bolshevist?" enquired his friend, staring at him in a puzzled fashion.

"I am the last Liberal," said Murrel. "In fact I've escaped from Madame Tussand's."

. . . . . . . .

Michael Herne took all his duties seriously, but it was soon apparent to some that he took one of them sadly. It was apparent at least to Rosamund Severne, and she guessed quickly at the cause. She was a woman of the sort that is very much of a mother; that sort of lady is often found attached to that sort of lunatic. She knew that he took the other and more external functions seriously, and strangely without a smile. She knew that he could lead his men as Commander of the Hundreds and then give judgment as President of the Court of Arbitrament, without ever once thinking of Pooh-Bah. She knew that he could lay aside the red cape and crest he wore as a Commander and put on over his green suit dark purple robes and a high cap of strange shape, like that of Doge before ascending the judgment seat, and never for a moment remember the hundred uniforms of the German Emperor. But in this later case of the Court of Arbitrament she could see there was something a little graver than gravity. To begin with, there seemed to be an immense load of labour. Herne worked all day and sat up nearly all night over mountains of books and bales of papers; and grew pale with wakefulness and concentration. She knew in a general way that it was his business to lay down the law, the old feudal law or whatever it was that was now being reconstituted, and apply it to the crushing of all this industrial anarchy and delay. She heartily approved of that; indeed it had been almost the basis of her approval. But she had not realised that it would mean so much research and codification out of the queer old codes and charters. Nor indeed were the queer old codes alone involved; there were things she thought queerer still. New documents on what seemed the most irrelevant subjects, chiefly scientific subjects, were handed in to swell the pile; one was endorsed on the back with the signature of Douglas Murrel. What in the world Monkey could have to do with it she could not conceive. But though there were all these things to weary and even worry the Arbiter, she knew well enough that something else made his duty somewhat distressing to him.

"I know what you are feeling like, Michael," she said. "It is hateful to have to triumph over people we like. And I know you like John Braintree."

He looked at her for a moment over his shoulder and she was quite startled by the expression of his face.

"I didn't know you liked him so much as that," she said.

He turned his head away abruptly; indeed there was something strangely abrupt in his whole manner.

"But I know the other part of you as well," she said. "You will do justice."

"Yes," he answered. "I shall do justice." And he put his head on his hands.

She felt a fine reverence for his broken friendship and silently left the library.

A minute or two after he picked up his pen again and continued to annotate documents and turn over reports; but before doing so he looked for a moment at the vast roof of the library where he had laboured so long; and especially at that high corner of the bookcase to which he had climbed in the beginning of this story.

John Braintree, who had never preferred any particular reverence for the romantic pageantry of the hour, even when it was praised by the person for whom he cared most, was not likely to admire it when it came arrayed with all the terrors of judgment against him, and adorned with the purple robes and golden sword-hilts of all the people he cared about least. His demeanour was openly contemptuous; but contempt is never contemptible in those who are defeated and defiant. When asked whether he wished to add any preliminary statement to the documents placed before the Court, he had appeared as defiantly detached as Charles the First.

"I see no Court," he said. "I only see a lot of people who seem to be dressed up as court cards. I know of no reason why I should recognise the brute force of the brigands, merely because they are stage brigands. I suppose I shall have to listen while the mummery proceeds; but I do not propose to say anything until you bring out the racks and the thumb-screws and the faggots to burn us alive. For I presume you have revived these also with all the vanished beauties of the Middle Ages. You are a scholar of admitted learning and I suppose you will give us a complete historical reconstruction of medievalism."

"Yes," replied Herne with complete gravity. "Not in detail perhaps, for no one would defend every detail of any system, but in general plan we do desire to reconstruct the medieval scheme. You are not, however, charged with any conduct which could in any case involve the punishment of burning; and that question therefore does not arise."

"Oh thank you," said Braintree agreeably. "But is not this favouritism?"

"Order, order," cried Julian Archer indignantly. "How can we proceed if the Court is not respected?"

"But for these things," continued the Arbiter, "for which you can be shown to be responsible, in relation to any public peril, for these you and any other persons will be judged by this Court and this Court alone. It is not I who speak: it is the Law."

Michael Herne cut short in midair, with a gesture sharp as the slash of a sword, the cry of acclaim and applause that greeted his words. The men who applauded him, anticipating his words with radiant faces, had always hitherto found those words like the words of a leader ringing and rousing and militant and even flamboyant. But he had too serious a sense of all the new parts he played to be flamboyant on the seat of judgment. Whatever condemnations he had to deliver against the enemies of his new realm, must be weighted with the composure and even coldness of impersonal justice. The applause simmered down into silence; but it was still an eager and even an enthusiastic silence. He proceeded in a voice singularly level and even monotonous.

"It has been our task," he said, "to recover an ancient order. We would remake an old law, but in this we cannot wholly escape the duty of making a new one. The great ages from which we draw our life were rich in variety and even in exception; and we must abstract from them general principles apart from contradictory details. In the case before us of the quarrels arising out of what are called the products of Coal, especially the work necessary for the production of dyes and colours from Coal-Tar, we must begin by recurring to certain general principles that once governed the necessary labour of the world. Those principles were very different from those of which we hear most in the more modern times, and in the movements of a restless and often lawless epoch. They were marked by order and, I will add, by obedience."

A murmur of approval broke out among his followers; and Braintree, on the other side, uttered a harsh laugh.

"In the old guild organisation," continued Herne, "this obedience was expected from apprentices and from journeymen towards a class that may broadly be called, as in our modern system, the Masters. A Master was one who produced a Masterpiece. That is, he had passed an examination by the guild in a complete piece of work of the craft; and the guild insisted on a serious standard of craftsmanship. It was normally with this Master's tools and shop and private capital that the work was done; the apprentice was one to whom this craft was being taught and the journeyman one who had not completely learnt it, but was finishing his education by hiring himself out to different masters, often in the course of a journey through different places. Men could eventually become Masters by producing Masterpieces in due course. That is, in general outline, the ancient organization of Labour. Applying it to the present case, we find the following situation. There are, in the large field covered by this work, practically three Masters; in the sense of men with whose tools and capital the craft is conducted. I have ascertained their names and I find that between them they practically share that ownership. 0ne is Sir Howard Pryce, formerly a Master in the manufacture of soap, but having in some rapid fashion become in turn a Master in the matter of Paints and Dyes. The second is Hubert Arthur Severne, now Baron Seawood. The third is John Henry Heriot Eames, now known as the Earl of Eden. But I have no note of the date or occasion of their presenting Masterpieces in the manufacture of dyes or pigments. And I have been unable to obtain any evidence of their labouring personally in the craft, or of their educating their apprentices to do so."

The face of Douglas Murrel had worn for some time a lively and alert expression; but by this time an expression of an entirely new kind began to flicker upon some of the faces around him. Indeed the look of blank mystification, which had been fixed for a moment on the fine features of Julian Archer, had already given place to that smouldering protest which always lay so near the surface of his social self-expression; and he had already reached the point of ejaculating, "Oh! I say--."

"In this matter," went on the Arbiter, "we must be careful to distinguish the intellectual principle involved from any emotional differences about the tone and terms of discussion. I will not refer to the language used here by the Leader of the Labour organisation, especially in its reference to myself. But if he states that the Craft should be controlled by those who completely and competently practise it, I have no hesitation in saying that he states the ancient medieval ideal and states it correctly."

For the first time in the proceedings Braintree himself seemed to be brought to a standstill; staring and having nothing to say. If it was a compliment to be called a correct medievalist, it was one that he seemed to have a difficulty in receiving with proper grace. But among the changed and restless groups on the other side murmurs had already grown louder and more articulate; and Julian Archer, not yet prepared to interrupt the speaker, was conducting an indignant conversation with Murrel in very resounding whispers.

"Of course," continued Herne, "it is open to Lord Eden and Lord Seawood to take advantage of this system and present a Masterpiece of this form of manual labour. I do not know whether they would be resuming a craft, with which they were occupied at some time of which I have no record; or whether it would be necessary for them to be entered under articles; and act as two apprentices to some existing labourer. . . ."

"Pardon me," said the sturdy and sensible Mr. Hanbury suddenly standing up, "but are we all having a joke? I only ask for information; because I like jokes."

Herne looked at him and he sat down; and the former went on as steadily as ever.

"In the third case, that of the gentleman once interested in the making of Soap, I confess I can see my way less clearly. I do not quite understand by what process he passed from one Craft and Mystery to another; a proceeding by no means easy under the old order and organisation we are trying to restore. But that in its turn brings me to another matter; also immediately connected with the cause we are trying; about which I am compelled to speak more severely. Upon this first point, however, let the decision be clear. It is the judgment of the Arbiter and the Court of Arbitrament that the contention of John Braintree, that the Craft should be governed solely by Master Craftsmen, is in accordance with our tradition, is just and is approved."

"I'm damned if it is," said Hanbury, continuing to look quite stolid after uttering the remark.

"Hang it all, it's the whole question," cried Archer, in a highly reasonable voice that rose to something like a shriek. "Why, a decision like that--"

"The decision is given," said the Arbiter steadily.

"No, but--" began Sir Julian Archer not at all steadily, "you simply can't--"

"Order, order," said Braintree sardonically. "How can we get on if the Court is not respected?"

The Court appeared to take no notice of the interruption or the rebuke; but anyone looking closely at the man delivering its decision would have seen that his gravity grew more and more severe, like a strain, and that he was pale with the effort to be thus concentrated and cold.

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