Copyright (C) 2012 by David Wyllie.
The Absolute at Large
Translated by David Wyllie
Pubblicato in italiano col titolo
La fabbrica dell’Assoluto
a cura di Annelisa Alleva (sia benedetta fra le donne)
Edizioni Theoria, Roma-Napoli 1983
I wanted to write this preface to go with the first edition of The Absolute at Large, but I didn’t, partly, I suppose, because of a fit of laziness that I’ve forgotten all about now, and partly because of a sense of fatalism. By that, I mean writing a preface doesn’t correct anything. When the book first went out there were several well-deserved criticisms published about it: they said it didn’t compare with Balzac’s Quest of the Absolute, that a fry-up in a pub was an undignified end to it, and, most of all, that it wasn’t really a proper novel. This last criticism hit the nail on the head. I confess, it is not really a proper novel. Now, as a form of apology, I’d like to explain the circumstances under which the book was written and why it’s not a proper novel.
One Spring day, at four in the afternoon, I finished writing RUR; with relief I put down my pen and went out for a walk. At first I felt a pleasant sense of release at having got a chore over with; but this sense then developed into one of emptiness and I gradually became aware that I was unbearably bored. I told myself that the day had been spoiled, so it would be best if I went home and wrote an article for the paper. When someone makes a decision like that it usually means he has no idea of what he’s actually going to write about; that he will walk up and down the room for a while, he will whistle a tune to himself which he can’t get out of his head, he will swat a fly or two; and then something will come into his head and he will start writing. What came into my head was an idea I had had long before, so I cut myself some paper and started writing the article.
By the time I had started on the third page I noticed I had written too much for an article of this sort, that I could make six articles out of all this, and so the whole thing became bogged down.
After two months in the countryside I was overcome by loneliness and the constant rain; there was no getting away from it; so I got some paper and sat down to write these six articles. The rain was incessant, and I clearly must have liked my subject, as I had soon written twelve chapters and divided the material into another six prospective articles. Then I sent these twelve chapters to the newspaper so that they could publish them, one at a time each Monday, swearing that I would write the final chapters in the meantime.
But, you can never tell what is going to happen; eleven chapters had already been published and I still had not written another line; I had forgotten it was due to be published and, worst of all, I had forgotten what happened next. The printers chivvied me to send them the final parts; so, like the girl in the fairy story, I quickly let them have another chapter so that they would leave me in peace for a few days. In the effort to escape their persecution I tossed off one chapter after another; I tried to get ahead of them but they stayed right on my heels. I jumped about like a hare being chased; I threw myself in all directions just in order to gain more time and get the chance to put right the errors I had commited while being chased. You can judge for yourselves whether I gained enough time. It took another eighteen chapters before I could hoist the white flag and declare the work finished. So why is it that the chapters of this book don’t form a connected whole? Well, is it not an exciting and epic story when the author, persecuted by the Erinyes, flees into the solitude of the mountains or the quiet of the editorial room, onto Saint Kilda, to a Pacific atoll, to the city of Hradec Králové or the village of Seven Chalets, and finally finds himself sitting with a beer in U Damohorských, where, his arms crossed and throwing his closing arguments in his persecutors’ faces, he eventually surrenders? Follow with baited breath how the author, despite the ruthlessness of his persecutors, presses on to the end and remains firm in his belief that he can reach his objective and pursue his ideas; he may have lost his breath in chapter XXX, but he did not lose the remarkable faith that drove him through tortuous paths and kept a single idea alive in his breast. If there is a story in this novel – which really is not a novel but a series of articles you might read in a Sunday paper – then this is it, whatever description you might want to attach to it yourselves.
October 1926 Karel Čapek
A Classified Ad.
On New Year’s Day, 1943, Mister G.H. Bondy, the president of MEAS manufacturing industries, read the newspaper just as he did any other day; he ignored reports about the war, avoided the crisis in the government and, with all sails unfurled (as “The People’s News” had long since increased its page size to five times what it had been, so that one sheet of it could have been used as the sail on a ship), went straight to the business section. He cruised along the columns for a good while, then he furled his sails and drifted into reverie.
“Coal crisis,” he muttered to himself, “pits exhausted; north Moravian coalfields stop operation for summer. Disaster everywhere. We’ll have to import coal from Upper Silesia; now, try and work out how much that’ll raise the costs of our products, and they talk to me about competition! We’re facing disaster; and if the Germans raise their tariffs we might as well just shut up shop. And bank shares have gone down. Oh God, these are tough circumstances! Straitened circumstances, stupid circumstances, circumstances when it’s impossible to produce anything! Damn this crisis!”
Mister G.H. Bondy, president of the board of directors, stopped himself. There was something annoying him, and he could not put it off any longer. He wondered what it could be and looked down at the newspaper he had discarded. On the last page he saw three letters that spelt out ION. It must have been just half a word, as the paper had been folded over just in front of these three letters, but he realised that it was these three letters that had been bothering him so oddly. “My God, that must be something to do with inflation,” Bondy surmised, “or creation. Or perhaps refrigeration. Shares in the nitrogen industry must have fallen. More recession, that’s awful. Petty, ridiculous straitened times. But that’s nonsense, who’d put an advert in the paper about refrigeration ? More likely it’s something that’s been lost. It’ll say something’s been lost, yes, that’ll be it.”
Still in his bad mood, Mister G.H. Bondy opened his paper once again so that he could dispell the annoyance caused by this unpleasant word, and the word was immediately lost in the chessboard of classified advertisements. He looked hurriedly down one column after another; the word was deliberately hiding from him and that made him all the more cross. Now Mister Bondy started again from the bottom, and finally he was looking in the right place. This vexatious ION was in there somewhere.
G.H. Bondy did not give up. He folded the paper once more and there was the hateful word, clear to see on the edge of the page; he put his finger on the place, hurriedly re-opened the paper and found … Mister Bondy cursed under his breath. It was nothing more than a very short, very mundane announcement:
very lucrative, suitable for any production process, quick sale for personal reasons. Enquiries, R. Marka, Břevnov 1651.
“All that effort just for this!” Mister G.H. Bondy said to himself. “Some kind of patenting joke; some kind of confidence trick or stupid game; and I wasted five minutes looking for it! More fool me. Bad times. And no sign anywhere of coming out of them!”
President Bondy went to sit in his rocking chair so that he could appreciate these bad times in a little more comfort. True, MEAS had ten factories and thirty-four thousand employee, MEAS led the field in iron working, none could compete with MEAS in making boilers, the MEAS brand was known all round the world, but after twenty years of operation, for God’s sake, there should be somewhere with bigger …
G.H, Bondy suddenly sat upright. “R. Marek, R. Marek! Hold on, could that be Gingerhead Marek? What was he called again? Rudolf, Ruda Marek. We studied science and technology together. It is! It’s him in this advert, R. Marek, Ruda you blighter, is it really possible? Poor old Ruda, hit on hard times, have you? ‘Very lucrative invention for sale’, ha, ‘personal reasons’, we all know what your personal reasons will be; got no money, have you? Trying to lure some industrialist into some crafty deal you’ve thought up; but you were always obsessed with trying to change the world. Ruda, what happened to all our high ideas? All the idealism and delusions of youth?”
President Bondy sat back down. “It really could be Marek,” he considered. “But Marek had such a scientific talent. He talked a bit too much, but there was a hint of genius about him. He had some great ideas. Hopelessly impractical in other ways though. Complete nutcase in fact. How come he isn’t a professor by now somewhere?”, Mister Bondy said to himself. “Haven’t seen him for more than twenty years, God knows what he’s been doing all this time; maybe he’s simply lost it. Yes, that’ll be it, he’s simply lost all that promise that he had; lived out in the provinces somewhere, poor lad .. and now he’s trying to make a living by selling inventions! What a way to end up!”
Mister Bondy tried to imagine what hard times the inventor could have sunk to. The image came to his mind of a man with an amazing beard and unkempt shock of hair; living in dismal conditions, walls as flimsy as a film set. No furniture; mattress in the corner, some pitiful model of something on the table made of spools and bobbins and combs and spent matches, a dirty window looking out on a yard. And this inexpressible penury was about to receive a visit from someone in a fur coat; “I’ll come and have a look at this invention of yours, Ruda”. This inventor, half blind, wouldn’t even recognise his old college friend; he’ll sink his uncombed head, look round to see where he can offer his guest a seat, and then, dear God, with his poor, frozen, trembling fingers he’ll try to start up his pitiful invention, some ridiculous perpetual motion machine, he’ll mutter confusedly about how it worked last time he tried it, he’s sure it works, if only, if only he could buy himself … The visitor in his fur coat would look distractedly around the garret; then suddenly reach into his pocket, draw out his wallet and place a thousand korun note on the table, then another one (“That’s enough now!” Mister Bondy admonished himself) and then a third one. (“One thousand ought to be enough to be getting on with for the time being,” something from within Mister Bondy said to him.) “Something … something to help you with your work, Mister Marek; no no, you don’t owe me anything. What’s that? Who am I? Don’t worry about that Mister Marek, just think of me as a friend.”
President Bondy was very satisfied and touched by this image. “I’ll send my secretary out to Marek,” he thought, “I’ll do it straight away, or perhaps tomorrow. And so what shall I do now? It’s a bank holiday, no point in going to the factory; in fact my diary’s empty – Oh these are difficult times! Nothing to do all day long! What if … ” G.H. Bondy considered, “what if … it would be a bit of an adventure … what if I went to see about Marek’s hard conditions personally? We were good friends, after all! Memories like that have their benefits. I will do!” Mister Bondy decided. And off he went.
Sitting in his car, cruising about that provincial town looking for number 1651, the poorest little house in the city, he became slighty bored, and finally had to go and ask at the police station. “Marek, Marek,” the policeman tried to remember, “that must be Mister Marek at the factory, Marek and Co. Ltd., manufacturers of lighting equipment. Mixova Street, 1651.”
A factory for lighting equipment! President Bondy was disappointed – even slightly cross. So Ruda marek doesn’t live in a garret! He’s a manufacturer, and for some reasons of his own he’s selling some kind of invention! Something smells fishy here, lad, some kind of business trick, or my name’s not ‘Bondy’. “Do you know, perhaps, whether Mister Marek is, er, well off?” he asked the policeman as he went back to his car, trying to seem casual.
“Oh, he’s certainly well off!” the policeman replied. “Lovely big factory like that, a famous brand-name!” The policeman was clearly proud of his neighbour. “He’s a rich gentleman, Mister Marek,” he continued, “and everyone’s got a lot of respect for him. Spends all his time doing experiments.”
“Mixova Street!” Mister Bondy told his chauffeur.
“Third street on the right,” the policeman called after them as the car drove off.
Mister Bondy soon found himself outside a small but substantial factory, where he rang at the door of the residential wing. “It’s clean here; flowers in the front garden, vines growing up the walls. Hm,” Mister Bondy thought, “Marek always did have a strong humanitarian and reformist side, the blighter.” And there coming out on the steps to meet him was Marek himself, Ruda Marek; he’s lost a lot of weight, and he looks very serious, noble in some way; something deep inside of Mister Bondy was uneasy that Ruda was no longer as young as he had been, and nor was he amazingly shaggy like that inventor. Everything about him was quite different from what Mister Bondy had been expecting, he could hardly recognise him. But before he had time to become fully aware of his disappointment Marek was offering his hand and saying, as if it were a matter of course:
“So you’ve finally got here, Bondy! I’ve been expecting you!”
“Been expecting you!” Marek repeated as he directed his guest to a leather armchair.
By this time, Bondy would not have admitted to his illusions about a downtrodden inventor for anything in the world. “Well there’s a coincidence,” he said with slightly forced jollity. “I was just thinking this morning that it must be twenty years since we saw each other! Twenty years, just think of that, Ruda!”
“Hm,” Marek replied. “Do you want to buy my invention then?”
“Buy it?” replied G.H. Bondy hesitantly. “I, er, don’t really know, er, haven’t really thought about it. I wanted to see you and …”
“Oh stop faffing about!” Marek interrupted him. “I knew you’d come. For something like this it was obvious you’d come. An invention like this is just the thing for you. You can make a lot of money out of it,” he said as he waved his hand, cleared his throat and began to speak to the point: “The invention I’m about to show you is the biggest technological breakthrough since Watt invented the steam engine. The theory, to put it simply, is that it’s a way of fully and perfectly exploiting atomic energy …”
Bondy stifled a yawn. “Tell me Ruda, what have you been doing for all these twenty years?”
Marek seemed slightly taken aback. “According to modern science, matter, that’s to say atoms, is made of an astonishing amount of energy; the atom is actually a collection of electrons, and electrons are the smallest particles of electricity ..”
“This is all very interesting,” President Bondy interrupted him, “but, you know, I never was all that good at physics. You’re not looking well, Marek! How did you get into this game, er, this factory?”
“Me? Totally by chance. It’s just that I invented a new sort of element for use inside a light bulb. Nothing really, I discovered it by accident. I have been working on combustion technology for twenty years now. So Bondy, you tell me, what is the biggest problem facing modern technology?”
“Business,” the president replied. “And are you married yet?”
“I’m a widower,” Marek answered and jumped up excitedly. “It isn’t business, don’t you understand? It’s combustion. Finding a way to make use of all the heat energy bound up in matter! Consider this; when we burn a piece of coal we obtain less that a hundred-thousandth of the heat energy we could! Do you realise that?”
“Oh yes, coal is terribly expensive,” was Mister Bondy’s wise opinion.
Marek sat back down in some irritation and said, “If you haven’t come here to see my carburator you might as well go.”
“Please just continue what you were saying,” said the businessman to reassure his friend.
Marek put his face in his hands. “Twenty years I’ve been working on this,” he uttered painfully, “and now, here I am selling it to the first buyer to come along! My dream. My astonishing dream! The greatest invention ever! Literally! Bondy, this is something that will astonish you!”
“Oh I’m sure it will,” said Bondy to humour him, ” especially in these difficult times.”
“It really will astonish you! Think about it, making such full use of the energy in the atom that there’s nothing remaining!”
“Aha,” said the businessman. “So we can have atomic-powered heating. Well, why not? You’ve got it nice here, Ruda, nice and cosy. How many workers do you employ?”
Marek wasn’t listening. “You see,” he said slowly and carefully, “it doesn’t matter what you call it: ‘atomic energy’ or ‘burning matter’ or ‘destroying matter’. You can call it whatever you like.”
“I like to call it ‘fire’,” said Mister Bondy. “It sounds so cosy.”
“But ‘nuclear fission’ is more precise. Splitting an atom into its electrons, then harnessing these electrons to do work. Do you see?”
“Perfectly,” the businessman assented. “Simply harnessing them!”
“Think of two horses, for instance, attached by a rope and pulling as hard as they can in opposite directions. Do you know what that is?”
“Must be some kind of sport,” Mister Bondy opined.
“No, but never mind. The horses keep pulling, but they never get anywhere. But what if you cut the rope?”
“The horses will fall over!” G.H. Bondy called out with enthusiasm.
“No. What they’ll do is run off in opposite directions; their energy will be released. And now think of this; these horses tied together with a rope are matter. If the rope holding the electrons together is broken they will …”
“They’ll rush away from each other!”
“Yes, but we can catch these electrons and harness their energy, do you see? Or think of this; we obtain heat from, for instance, a piece of coal. We can get a little bit of heat in this way, but we also get ash, coalgas and soot. The matter is still there, do you see?”
“Yes. Would you like a cigarette?”
“No thanks. But the matter remaining still contains an enormous amount of unused atomic energy. If we used up all the atomic energy available in the piece of coal we would also use up the atoms it’s made of. In short, the matter would disappear:”
“Ah, now I see.”
“It’s as if we didn’t grind the grain properly to make flour; throwing coal ash away is like grinding just a tiny outer surface of the wheat and threw the rest away. When wheat is ground properly there’s nothing left of the grain at all, or almost nothing. In the same way, if something is burned properly there will be almost nothing left behind. It’s ground up completely. It’s used up. It returns to the nothing from which it came. You see, matter needs an awful lot of energy just in order to exist; if you take away its existence, if you force it not to exist, you release an enormous amount of power. And that, Bondy, is how it works.”
“Ah, what a good idea.”
“Pflüger, for instance, has calculated that one kilogram of coal contains twenty-three billion calories, although I find that figure rather high.”
“I’ve worked it out at seven billion. But even that would mean the one kilogram, fully burned, could power a fair-sized factory for several hundred hours!”
“Good God!” Mister Bondy yelled as he jumped up out of his chair.
“I can’t give you an exact number of hours, but for the last six weeks I’ve been burning half a kilogram of coal at a pressure of thirty kilograms per square meter and, believe me, that piece of coal just keeps burning, and burning and burning ..” Marek’s voice sank to a whisper and his face went pale.
Mister Bondy was placed in some confusion and he stroked his chin, which was as smooth and round as a baby’s bottom. “Listen Marek,” he began hesitantly, “surely you’ve … you must have … made some mistake.”
Marek waved his hand in the air. “No. Not at all. If you knew a bit more about physics I’d tell you exactly how my carburator (1) works and how it’s burning this coal. It’s all to do with higher physics you see, but you can see it for yourself down in the cellar. I put half a kilo of coal in the machine, closed it and had it sealed by a commissioner for oaths in front of witnesses so that no-one could put any more coal in. Go and have a look, go on, go on! You still won’t understand it, but go on. Just go!”
“Aren’t you coming too?” asked Bondy in surprise.
“No, go by yourself and – listen! – don’t stay down there too long.”
“Why not?” asked Bondy with some slight suspicion.
“Just don’t. I’m not sure …. not sure it’s very good for your health down there. And put the light on when you’re there, the switch is right by the door. The noise you’ll hear in the cellar isn’t my machine, that just keeps going without any noise or any smell. The noise is, er, just a sort of ventilator. Anyway, go on down, I’ll wait here. Then you can tell me …”
Mr. Bondy went down into the cellar in some relief that he had got away from this madman for a while (there was no doubt abut it, he was quite mad), although he was still slightly worried he might not be able to get away from the place quickly enough at all. Downstairs he saw that the door to the cellar was reinforced and very thick, just like the armoured door to the strongroom in a bank. So, put the lights on. Switch just by the door. A vaulted, concrete cellar as clean as a monk’s cell, and in the middle of it an enormous copper cylinder on concrete supports. It was closed on all sides except the top, where there was just a grating closed with a seal. Inside the device it was dark and silent. A piston ran out from the cylinder in a smooth and regular movement, slowly turning a heavy flywheel. That’s all there was. The only noise was the untiring hum of a ventilator in the cellar window.
Maybe it was the draught from the ventilator or something, but Mister Bondy felt a strange breeze on his forehead, and a kind of feeling that his hair was standing on end; then the feeling that he was being lifted into infinite space; then as if he was flying and had no sense of his own weight. G.H. Bondy knelt down in a kind of amazement, a kind of ecstasy, he felt like shouting and singing he seemed to hear the flutterings of countless unfathomable wings. Then suddenly something grabbed him by the hand and yanked him out of the cellar. It was Marek, on his head was some kind of cowl or diving helmet, and he dragged Bondy up the steps. Upstairs, he took the metal helmet off and wiped the pearls of sweat from his brow.
“That was quite long enough,” he gasped in great excitement.
(1) This is the name that Marek gave to his atomic boiler, but it is obviously quite incorrect; this is one of the sad consequences of the fact that technicians do not learn Latin. A more appropriate name might be “combinator”, “atomkettle”, “carbowatt”, “disintegrator”, “M motor”, “Bondymover”, “hylergon”, “Molekularstoffzersetzungskraftrad”, “E.W.” or any of the other terms suggested later; they were, of course, not well received.
Mister Bondy almost felt he was dreaming. Marek very gently put him in an armchair and hurried to fetch some brandy. “Quick, drink this,” he sputtered as, with trembling hand, he gave him the glass: “See? It went bad for you too!”
“On the contrary,” said Bondy uncertainly. “It was .. it was beautiful! I felt like I was flying or something.”
“Yes, yes, that’s just was I thought,” said Marek bruskly. ” As if you were flying or levitating. That’s it, isn’t it.”
“Such a blissful feeling,” said Mister Bondy. “That must be what you call ecstasy. As if there were something …. something …”
“Something holy?” asked Marek hesitantly.
“Maybe. Yes, certainly! I’ve never been a churchgoer, Ruda, never, but down in that cellar it felt like being in a church. Tell me, what was I doing down there?”
“You were kneeling,” shouted Marek as he began to pace up and down the room.
In some confusion, Bondy began to rub his bald patch. “That’s very odd. I was kneeling, was I? But tell me, what … what exactly is it, down in that cellar, what is it that has such a strange effect on people?”
“It’s the carburator,” Marek snapped back at him. He bit his lips and his face was even more pale and anxious.
“Hell! What is it about it?” wondered Bondy.
Marek just shrugged his shoulders, hung his head and continued to walk up and down the room.
G.H. Bondy watched him in wonderment like a child. Marek is mad, he said to himself; but what on Earth could it be that affects people down in that cellar? That painful bliss, that astonishing certainty, amazement, humbling glimpse of God, or what? Mister Bondy stood up and poured himself another glass of brandy. “Marek, listen, I know what it is.”
“What is it you know?” Marek threw back at him and stopped pacing.
“Down in the cellar, that strange spiritual feeling. I must be some kind of poisoning.”
“Oh, it’s certainly a kind of poisoning,” Marek laughed angrily.
“Yes, I knew it straight away,” declared Bondy, suddenly very satisfied with himself. “That apparatus of yours, it produces, er, something like ozone, see? Or rather some kind of poisonous gas. And when anybody breathes it, erm, well, …. in short it poisons them or it makes them very happy, doesn’t it. Yes, that’s what it is, it’s just poisonous gas, that’s all; it must be produced when you burn coal in that, er, in that carburator of yours. Some kind of coal gas, or laughing gas, or phosgen, or something of that sort. That’s why you’ve got that ventilator there. And that’s why you wear a gas mask to go down there, isn’t it. You’ve got some kind of damned gas down there.”
“If only it were as simple as that,” Marek said, shaking his fists in his outburst. “Don’t you see, Bondy? That’s why I’ve got to sell this carburator! I simply can’t bear it, can’t bear it, can’t bear it,” he shouted, almost in tears. “I had no idea my carburator was going to do something like this! Terrible harm like this! Think about it, it’s been doing this to me ever since it first started! Everyone feels the same thing, anyone who goes near it. You still don’t know anything about it, Bondy. My caretaker was completely destroyed by it.”
“Poor man,” sympathised the businessman in surprise. “You mean it killed him?”
“No, but it turned him completely,” Marek shouted in despair. “You’re someone I can tell it to, Bondy: My invention, my carburator, has one horrible drawback. But I know you’ll buy it anyway, or at least accept it from me as a gift: you’d buy it even if demons came running out of it. It doesn’t matter you, just as long as you can make your millions from it – and you will make millions from it. It’s awful, and I want nothing more to do with it. Your conscience isn’t as sensitive as mine, do you hear me, Bondy? You’ll make millions, thousands of millions; but the terrible evil it creates will be on your conscience. So make your mind up!”
“Don’t give me that!” Bondy defended himself. “If it produces poisonous gases they’ll ban it and that’ll be that. You know what they’re like here. But in America though …”
“It’s nothing to do with poisonous gases,” Marek yelled at him. “It’s something a thousand times worse. Listen carefully to what I tell you, Bondy, this is something beyond human understanding, there’s not the slightest trick or dishonesty about it. This carburator of mine can burn matter completely, it burns it so perfectly that there’s not even a speck of dust left behind; or I suppose you’d say it smashes matter, pulverises it, takes it apart electron by electron, it consumes it, grinds it – I don’t know what to call it. In short, it consumes it entirely. You’ve no idea just what enormous power there is in atoms. With half a hundredweight of coal in its boiler a liner could sail all the way round the world, keep the lights on in all of Prague, power a huge factory, whatever you like; with a piece of coal the size of a walnut you could heat and cook for a whole family. And it needn’t even be coal at all; you can fuel my carburator with the first pebble or handful of dust you come across by your front door. Every crumb of matter contains more energy within it than the biggest steam boiler; it simply has to be digested! It simply has to be burned entirely! Bondy, I can do it; my carburator can do it; you’ll be forced to admit that twenty years of hard work were well spent.”
“You see, Ruda,” began the businessman slowly, “it’s very strange: but in some way I believe you. I swear it, I believe you. You see, when I was standing in front of that carburator of yours I had a sense of something immense and great, something that could crush a man. I can’t help it: I believe you. Down there in the cellar you’ve got something mysterious. Something that will overturn the world.”
“Ah, Bondy,” said Marek in a hushed and anxious voice, “that’s just where the catch is. Listen, I’ll tell you all about it. Have you ever read Spinoza?”
“No, nor have I; but now, you see, now I have begun to read that sort of thing. I don’t understand what I read, that sort of thing is very hard for a technician like me, but I think there’s something in it. Do you believe in God?”
“Me? Well,” G.H. Bondy considered, “to be honest I don’t know. Maybe God does exist, but on some distant star somewhere. Not here. Definitely not here! God just couldn’t fit in with times like these. What do you think God would do here?”
“I don’t believe,” said Marek harshly. “I don’t want to believe. I’ve always been an atheist. I believed in matter and in progress and nothing else. I’m a scientist, Bondy, and science has no place for God.”
“As far as business is concerned,” Mister Bondy declared, “it doesn’t matter one way or the other. If God wants to exist, let Him. We can both exist at the same time.”
“But, Bondy, from the point of view of science,” said Marek loudly and sharply, “God is absolutely unacceptable. Either He can exist or science can exist. I don’t insist God doesn’t exist; all I say is that He ought not to, or at least that He ought not to show himself. And I believe that science, step by step, is pushing Him aside, or at least that it’s limiting the ways He can show himself; and I believe that is its greatest function of science.”
“You could be right,” answered the businessman languidly. “So let’s just continue to progress.”
“Now, Bondy, imagine that … no, wait. Let me put it like this: Do you know what’s meant by ‘pantheism’? That’s the belief that everything that exists is a manifestation of God or the Absolute or whatever you want to call it. People, stones, grass, water, all are manifestions of God. And do you know what Spinoza says? That matter is nothing more than a manifestation of one aspect of God, while the other aspect is spirit. And do you know what Fechner says?”
“I don’t,” the businessman admitted.
“According to Fechner, everything has its spirit, that God has put a soul into every piece of matter in the world. And do you know Leibniz? According to Leibniz, matter is made up of points of spirit, monads, which are the substance of God. What do you think of that?”
“I don’t know,” said G.H. Bondy, “I don’t understand any of it.”
“No, nor do I; it gets very complicated. But suppose all matter really does contain something of God, that God really is in some way enclosed within it. Then if that matter is completely destroyed God will suddenly be released and leap out of it like a jack-in-the-box, He’ll flow out of matter like gas and smoke from hot coal. If you burn one atom you suddenly have your cellar filled up with the Absolute. It’s amazing how it fills the whole space immediately.”
“Hold on,” Mister Bondy interrupted. “Say all that again, but slowly this time.”
“Imagine the Absolute,” Marek repeated, “enclosed within any and every piece of matter, bound within it in some way. Bound, inert energy you could call it. Or, to put it more simply, if God is everywhere He’s inside every piece and every fragment of matter. Now imagine you annihilate that piece of matter, destroy it so fully that there seems to be nothing left; but if every piece of matter is actually matter plus the Absolute, all you’ve destoyed is the matter and the part that cannot be destroyed will remain; the pure, active Absolute. You’re left with a residuum which is not material and cannot be decomposed chemically, it has no spectral line or atomic weight, no chemical valency, it doesn’t obey Boyle’s law and doesn’t have any of the characteristics of matter whatsoever. None at all. What remains is pure God. Chemically it’s nothing, but it has immense power. Because it isn’t matter, it isn’t bound by the laws of nature, and that means it will show itself in ways that are against nature, it will perform miracles. All this follows from the premiss that God is present within matter. Can you conceive of that, that God is within matter?”
“Yes, I can,” said Bondy. “And then what?”
“Well,” said Marek as he stood up, “it really is all true.”
God in the Basement
The businessman sucked deteminedly on his cigar. “And how did you find out about all this yourself?” he asked.
“By its effects on me,” answered Marek, once more pacing about the room. “By perfectly decomposing matter, my carburator creates a by-product: the Absolute, pure and unbound. God in all His chemical purity. You could say it chucks out mechanical energy at one end and the essence of God at the other. Just like separating water into hydrogen and oxygen, only on a much larger scale.”
“Hm,” grunted Mister Bondy. “Carry on.”
“What I think,” Marek went on cautiously, “is that there are some exceptional individuals who are able to separate matter and divine substance themselves: in some way, they can remove the Absolute from matter like putting it through a sieve. People like Jesus, miracle workers, fakirs, mediums and prophets, there’s some kind of psychic power that they have. My carburator does the same thing in a purely mechanical way. It’s a kind of factory for the Absolute.”
“Really?” said G.H. Bondy. “But do let’s stay with the facts.”
“The fact is that I have made the perfect carburator: first just in theory, then I made a small non-working model, and then the fourth model started to run properly. It wasn’t very big but it ran like a dream. And it was while I was working with it, however little, that I began to notice a strange spiritual sort of effect. A sort of elation or enchantment. I thought it must be because I was so happy with my invention, or perhaps just overwork. But then I started making prophesies and performing miracles.”
“What?” Mister Bondy yelled.
“Making prophesies and performing miracles,” Marek groaned earnestly. “There was a period that felt like an amazing enlightenment, and it felt wonderful. I simply knew, for instance, completely clearly what was going to happen in the future. I even knew in advance that you were going to come here. And then one day my nail was torn off one finger while I was working at a lathe. I looked at the injured finger and as I watched, the nail grew back. I was obviously glad to see it happen, but it was a very strange feeling – and there was something horrible about it. Or can you believe that I could walk in the air? Levitation, they call it. I never used to believe in nonsense like that. Think what a shock that was for me!”
“I’m sure it was,” said Bondy seriously. “That must have been a terrible experience.”
“It was terrible. I thought I must have some nervous problem, autosuggestion or something. Meanwhile, I’d built that big carburator in the basement and got it started. As I told you just now, it’s been running for six weeks now, day and night. And it was only then that I began to realise just how big this might turn out. Within a day the basement was full to bursting with the Absolute and it was starting to creep its way round the whole house. The pure Absolute can pass through any material of course, but it takes longer going through strong solids. In the open air it travels as fast as light. When I stepped down into it it came over me like some kind of fit, it made me shout out, and I don’t know how I got the strength to run away from it. Back upstairs I had the chance to start thinking about it. My first thought was it must be some sort of new inebriating gas, like laughing gas, created by the complete burning. That’s why I had that ventilator fitted. Two of the workmen were overcome with enlightenment while they were doing it and had visions, the third one was an alcoholic though, and that could have even made him immune to it in some way. While I still thought it was some kind of gas I did a series of experiments: and one interesting finding was that in the Absolute any light shines a lot brighter. If it could be held in glass I’d put it inside the light bulbs but it just escapes from whatever you try to put it in, however well sealed. Then I thought it must be something like X-rays, but it leaves no electric trace or any trace on photographic paper. On the third day we had to put the caretaker into hospital, he lives right over the cellar, and his wife with him.”
“Why was that?” Bondy asked. “It turned him. He was inpired. He started giving religious speeches and performing miracles. His wife started making prophesies. My caretaker was a thoroughly solid person, an atheist and a freethinker, an extremely sensible man. Imagine, all of a sudden he started healing people by a touch of the hand. The police were told straight away of course, and the local doctor, a friend of mine, was extrememly angry about it; I had to have the caretaker put into hospital so that it wouldn’t get any worse. They tell me he’s doing well in hospital, he’s better now and he’s lost his miraculous powers. I’ll send him out in the country somewhere where he can convalesce. I started performing miracles myself, I started knowing what was happening at a distance, and kept on seeing forests of enormous ferns with bogs and strange animals walking about. This must have been because I was burning coal from Upper Silesia, the oldest sort. The god in that coal was the god of the Carboniferous age.”
Mister Bondy shuddered. “Marek, this is awful!”
“It is,” said Marek gloomily. “It slowly dawned on me that it wasn’t any kind of gas, it was the Absolute. I began to see things, horrible things, I could read people’s minds, I shone with light. It was all I could do to stop myself falling into prayer or go out and preach the love of God on the street. I thought of covering up the carburator with sand, but when I tried it I started to levitate. There’s nothing that can stop it. I can’t sleep at home any more. Even in the factory, among the workers, there have been some serious cases of enlightenment. I don’t know what to do, Bondy. I’ve tried everything you can think of to keep the Absolute in the cellar and isolated from the outside world – ash, sand, metal walls – but there’s nothing that can stop it. I tried covering the cellar with the writings of Professor Krejčí, Spencer, Haeckel, any sort of positivist but – can you believe it? – the Absolute can even withstand that! Newspapers, prayer books, Saint Adalbert, patriotic songs, university lectures, the works of Q.M. Vyskočil, political pamphlets, parliamentary records – the Absolute can withstand them all. I just don’t know what to do. It can’t be enclosed and it can’t be cleared away. It’s an evil that’s been set loose on the world.”
“Now then, now then,” said Mister Bondy, “is it really as bad as all that? Even if all of this were true would it really be such a great misfortune? ” “Bondy, my carburator is a terrible thing. It will change everything we know, it will change the whole of society; everything we buy will be a fraction of the cost; it will mean an end to poverty and hunger; it means there will never be another ice age. But on the other hand it will hurl God into the world as its by-product at the same time. Bondy, I beg of you, don’t underestimate its force; God, the real God, is not something we’ve ever had to get used to; we can’t imagine what the presence of God in the world could do to our culture or our ethics or anything else. We’re talking here about human civilisation itself!” Mister Bondy, the businessman, thought for a short while, and said, “Wait, maybe it’s just some kind of curse. Have you called in a priest to have a look at it?”
“What sort of priest?”
“Any sort. It doesn’t matter what denomination they belong to. Maybe a priest could put some kind of ban on it.”
“Superstition,” exclaimed Marek. “Don’t waste my time with rubbish like that! They’d want to turn my cellar into one of their places of pilgrimage and have miracles happen there! I don’t want that, not with my views!”
“As you like,” declared Mister Bondy. “I’ll call a priest myself. You never know, and it can’t do any harm. At least I’ve got nothing against God, just as long as He doesn’t interfere in business. Have you ever tried speaking to him nicely?”
“No,” replied Marek indignantly.
“That was a mistake,” said G.H. Bondy drily. “You might be able to come to some kind of agreement wih Him. A nice tight contract. It might read something like: We agree to continue with your discreet manufacture, without interruption, up to a volume to be negotiated: on your part, you agree to abstain from any manifestations of the Divine within so and so many meters of the place of production. How does that sound, do you think He’d find that acceptable?” “No idea,” answered Marek in disgust. “He seems to like existing independently of matter. Maybe … maybe in His own interest … He’d be willing to talk to you, but leave me out of it.”
“As you like,” the businessman agreed, “I’ll send my lawyer round first thing. He’s a very clever and tactful man. And then, thirdly, it might be worth offering Him a church somewhere. The cellar of a factory and all that surrounds it might be, er, might be a little undignified for Him. We ought really to find out what sort of thing He would like. Have you tried that?”
“No, I’d rather flood the cellar with water.”
“Don’t get carried away now, Marek. I expect I’ll want to buy this invention of yours. You do understand, of course, that … I will have my technicians look at it … this is something that needs to be examined. It could just turn out to be poisonous gas after all, but if it really is God Himself, if the carburator really works …”
Marek stood up. “You mean you would dare to set up the carburator in the MEAS factory?”
“Yes. I would dare,” said G.H. Bondy as he stood up. “We can put the carburator into mass production. Carburators for trains and ships, carburators for central heating in every home and office, every factory and school. Within ten years there’ll be nobody left in the world who heats any other way. I can offer you three procent of gross profits. It might be no more than a few million in the first year, but in the mean time you can move out so that I can send my people in. I’ll get a consecrating bishop here first thing in the morning. Try and stay out of his way, Ruda, I don’t like to see you like this, you seem so nervous. There’s no point in insulting the Absolute before we even get started.”
Marek was aghast. “Bondy,” he whispered, “I warn you now: you’ll be bringing God into the world!”
“That’s that settled then,” said Bondy with dignity, “and you have my word on the matter. And I only hope I don’t come to regret it.”
The Consecrating Bishop.
About a fortnight into the new year, Marek was sitting in Mister Bondy’s office.
“How far have you got?” asked Mister Bondy, raising his head from some papers.
“I’ve finished,” answered Marek. “I’ve given your engineers detailed drawings of the carburator. That bald one … what’s his name again?”
“Ah yes, Krolmus. It was wonderful how he simplified my atomic motor; the part that turns the electron energy into work. He’s a very clever engineer, that Krolmus. What else is new?”
President G.H. Bondy kept on writing and said nothing. “We’re building,” he told Marek after a while. “Seven thousand bricklayers. A factory for carburators.”
“North east of Prague. And we’ve increased our share capital by one and a half billion. The papers have been saying something about our new invention. Look at that,” he added as he lay half a hundredweight of Czech and foreign newspapers on Marek’s lap. Then he immersed himself once more in some paperwork.
“It’s already been two weeks now that, er ..” began Marek uneasily.
“Two weeks already, that I’ve not been near my factory in Břevnov. I … I just don’t dare go near it. What’s been happening there?”
“And … and what about my carburator?” Marek asked, overcoming his anxiety.
“And .. and what about the other one?”
President Bondy sighed and put down his pen. “You know we had to have Mixova Street closed off, do you?”
“What was that for?”
“People were going there to pray. Crowds of them. When the police tried to disperse them there were seven people left dead. They just let them beat them like sheep.”
“That’s exactly what you’d expect, just what you’d expect,” muttered Marek in despair.
“We closed the street off with barbed wire,” Bondy continued. “And we had to make everyone move out of the houses in the area; just the same religious manifestations you see. There’s a commission from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Information there now.”
“I think they’ll just ban my carburator,” sighed Marek with a sense of relief.
“Course they won’t,” said G.H. Bondy. “The priests are making an enormous fuss about it, and so the progressive parties are trying to keep it all secret. Nobody really knows what it’s all about. I can tell you don’t read the papers. The polemic against the Church is getting stronger all the time, although there’s really no need for it. And, as it happens, the Church isn’t entirely wrong in this case. That damned consecrating bishop informed the cardinal …”
“Consecrating bishop? What bishop?”
“Bishop Linda, or something. He seems quite reasonable really. I took him to Břevnov to have a look at this miraculous Absolute of yours and give an expert opinion. He spent three days there examining it, all the time down in the cellar and … “
“Did it turn him?” exclaimed Marek.
“Not at all! Maybe he’s had too much training about God, or maybe he’s a more hard-bitten atheist than you are, I don’t know; but anyway, after these three days he came to me and said that, as far as the Catholic Church was concerned, any talk of God was out of the question, that the Church simply denied any pantheistic theory and banned them as heresy. In a word, that the Church had never given its support to any legal, authorised god. As a priest, he would have to declare the carburator a fraud, a delusion and a heresy. He talks a lot of sense, that priest.”
“He didn’t feel any kind of supernatural effects, then?”
“He felt everything: enlightenment, performing miracles, ecstasty, everything. He doesn’t deny that those things happen.”
“How does he explain it all then?”
“He doesn’t. The Church doesn’t explain, he said, it commands or condemns. In short, he resolutely refused to compromise the Church with any god that was new and untested. And I could see his point. You know I’ve bought a church, do you?”
“It was the nearest one to Břevnov. Three hundred thousand it cost me! I offered it to the absolute, gave my word in writing that it could move in there. It’s a nice little baroque church, and I even adapted it beforehand so that the Absolute would have everything He might want. And then the odd thing was that although a few steps from the church, at number 457, there was a plumber who went into a fine case of ecstasy, in the church itself there’s been nothing! Nothing miraculous there at all! There was one case as far away as Vokovice, and even two in Košíře, on the funicular railway up Petřín hill there was a real epidemic of religiosity. All the radiotelegraphers working there suddenly started sending out ecstatic telegrams everywhere, some kind of new evangelium. God has come back down to Earth, they said, come to save us all, and all that sort of thing; think how embarrassing that is! All the progressive papers have started pestering the Ministry of Posts and really made the feathers fly; ‘the priests are growing horns’ they’re shouting, and all sorts of daft things like that. No-one, so far, has any idea that it’s anything to do with the carburator. Marek,” Bondy continued, dropping to a whisper, “I’ll tell you something, but it’s strictly secret; a week ago, the minister of defence was affected.”
“What?!” Marek exclaimed.
“Quiet. The minister of defence. It suddenly came over him while he was at home. The next day he called up Prague Barracks and started talking to them about eternal peace, called on the soldiers to become martyrs. He had to resign straight away, of course. In the papers they said he’d suddenly fallen ill. That’s how it’s going, my friend.”
Marek was worried. “Already in Prague,” he muttered. “This is terrible, Bondy, it’s spreading so fast!”
“It’s boundless,” President Bondy said. “There was someone who moved a piano into Prague from Mixova Street, where all the infection was, and within twenty-four hours the whole house was going mad …”
The businessman did not finish his sentence. A servant entered and announced that Bishop Linda was at the door. Marek was going to hurry away, but Bondy sat him back down and told him, “Just sit down and be quiet. This bishop is a charming man.”
Then Bishop Linda came in the room. He was a jolly little man with golden spectacle frames and a mouth that liked to laugh, although, as a member of the Church he kept it pursed in a way that befitted a priest. Bondy introduced Marek to him as the owner of that unfortunate basement in Břevnov. The bishop rubbed his hands in glee, whereas Marek angrily stuttered something it being a pleasure although it could be seen on his face that it wasn’t: just get me away from here, you fool. The bishop rinsed his mouth and turned nimbly to Bondy.
Linda was as lively as ever, but hesitated slightly. “Mister Bondy,” he finally began, “I’ve come to you on a very delicate matter. Very delicate,” he repeated, savouring the words as he repeated them. “We have been discussing your, er, your case in the consistory. His Eminence the archbishop is inclined to settle this awkward matter as quietly as possible. You see, this undignified matter of working miracles. Please forgive me, I have no wish to hurt the feelings of this gentleman, the owner of …”
“Please just get on with it,” Marek told him curtly.
“Well, in short, all this scandal. His Eminence has given his view that, from the point of view of reason or of faith, there is nothing more disturbing than these godless violations and downright heretical violations of the laws of nature …”
“Let me say something,” threw in Marek, showing his resentment . “You can kindly leave the laws of nature to us. And in return we won’t interfere with your dogmas”
“Oh, but I fear you are mistaken,” returned the bishop with a big smile. “You are mistaken. Science without dogmas is nothing more than a collection of doubts. And what is worse, this Absolute of yours is violating the laws of the Church. It is denying teachings about holiness. It has no respect for Church traditions. It disrupts doctrines of the Trinity – and does so in a rather coarse way. It pays no attention to the apostolic succession. It doesn’t even respond to exorcism. And so on. In short, it behaves in a way that leaves us with no choice other than to simply and firmly reject it.”
“Now, now,” interjected Mister Bondy in an attempt to calm things down. “Up until now the Absolute has behaved itself in a way that has been quite … dignified.”
The consecrating bishop raised a finger in admonishment. “Up until now; but we don’t know how it will behave in the future. Mister Bondy, listen,” he continued, suddenly becoming more intimate, “it’s very important for you that things shouldn’t turn out badly. It’s very important for us too. As a practical man I’m sure you will want to put a quiet end to the matter. That is also what we want as the representatives and servants of God. We cannot allow some new god to appear, not even a new religion.”
“Thank God for that,” said Bondy in relief. “I knew we could come to some arrangement.”
“Excellent!” exclaimed the bishop, his eyes sparkling with glee through the lenses of his glasses. “Come to some arrangement! The venerable consistory has already decided that, for the sake of Church interests, it would be willing to take on this er, this Absolute of yours as a ward of the Church; it will make every effort to guide it in accordance with the tenets of the Catholic faith; it will acknowledge the miracles at the house in Břevnov and declare it a place of pilgrimage …”
“Oh no!” exploded Marek as he jumped up out of his chair.
“Please allow me,” said the bishop with quiet authority. “A place of pilgrimage but, of course, with certain conditions attached. The first condition is that manufacture of the Absolute at the aforementioned address will be kept to a minimum, in order that it manifest itself only in a diluted form which will be weaker, less virulent. In this way its effects will be easier to keep under control and appear only sporadically, much the sme as at Lourdes. I’m afraid we cannot take on this responsibility otherwise.”
“That will be alright,” Mister Bondy agreed. “What next?”
“Next,” the bishop continued, “the Absolute should be created only using coal from Malé Svatoňonice. I’m sure you are aware that that is already a place where Our Lady has performed miracles, so with the help of coal from that location we can turn the house in Břevnov into a place of pilgrimage for the cult of Mary.”
“By all means,” Mister Bondy acceded. “Is there anything else?”
“Thirdly, you must agree never to manufacture the Absolute at any other site, neither now nor in the future.”
“What?” the businessman exclaimed. “But our carburators… “
“… will never be put into operation, apart from the single one at Břevnov, which will be the property of the holy Church and be operated by her.”
“Nonsense,” G.H. Bondy objected. “Carburators will continue to be made. There are ten of them due to be installed in the next three weeks. Over the next six months twelve hundred, and ten thousand of them over the next year. We’ve already committed ourselves to that.”
“And I have to tell you,” said the consecrating bishop quietly and sweetly, “that within a year, there will be no carburator operating anywhere.”
“Because nobody, be they believers or non-believers, could have any use for a real, active god. It simply cannot be, gentlemen. It’s out of the question.”
“And I have to tell you,” Marek put in with a passion, “that there will be carburators! Now, now I’m in favour of them myself, and I’m in favour of them because you are not. Just to spite you, Your Grace the Bishop! Just to spite you and all your superstitions, just to spite Rome and all it stands for! And I will be the first to proclaim …” Here the engineer paused to take breath, and then declared with unmelodious enthusiasm: “Long Live the Perfect Carburator!”
The bishop sighed. “We shall see,” he said. “You will see that the honourable consistory was quite right. Within a year you will stop the manufacture of carburators youself. But what harm – so much harm! – will have been done in the meantime? Gentlemen, please don’t think the holy Church is opposed to seeing the appearance of God here on Earth. The Church merely considers and regulates Him. But you, gentlemen, you unbelievers, you would unleash Him like a flood. The Ship of Peter did warn us about this new Deluge. Noah’s Ark was able to float above the waters of the Absolute, but this modern society of yours,” the bishop’s voice became stern and powerful, “your modern society will be swept away!”
“Gentlemen,” said President G.H. Bondy at the meeting of company directors of MEAS that took place on the 20. February, “I can inform you that the first building of our new factory complex in north-east Prague started operation yesterday. The mass production of carburators will begin in the next few day, starting at the rate of eighteen per day. By April we expect to be producing sixty-five carburators per day and by the end of July it will be two hundred. Fifty kilometers of our own railway line have been laid down, its main function will be to bring in coal, and twelve steam boilers are currently being assembled. Construction of a new housing estate for our workers is underway.”
“Twelve steam boilers?” asked Doctor Hubka wearily, the leader of the opposition.
“Yes, twelve for the time being,” President Bondy confirmed.
“Seems odd,” Doctor Hubka thought.
“What is odd about twelve steam boilers?” asked Mister Bondy. “For a manufacturing plant of this size …”
“Of course,” several voices were heard saying.
Doctor Hubka smiled sarcastically. “And what are these fifty kilometers of railway track for?”
“For the supply of coal and materials. Once in full operation we expect to use eight wagon-loads of coal per day. I’m afraid I don’t quite see what objection Doctor Hubka has to a supply of coal.”
“This is my objection,” said Doctor Hubka, standing up from his chair and raising his voice, “I find this whole thing highly suspicious. Yes, gentlemen, extremely suspicious. The president of our firm has compelled us to build a factory making carburators. Carburators, he assures us, are the sole energy of the future. Carburators, he tells us quite explicitly, can generate a thousand horse-power from one bucket of coal. And now he tells us about a dozen steam boilers and whole wagon-loads of coal to feed them. Gentlemen, please tell my why it is that we can’t power our factory on just one bucket of coal. Why are we building steam boilers when we can have atomic motors? Gentlemen, if this whole carburator thing is anything but a cheap swindle then I don’t understand why our president hasn’t ordered a new factory run by them. I don’t understand that, and no-one else ever will either. Why is it that our president has so little faith in these carburators of his that he’s not even willing to use them in our own factories? This, gentlemen, is a terrible advertisement for our carburators if we can’t use them ourselves in their manufacture. I urge you, gentlemen, to ask Mister Bondy what his reasons are. As for myself, I’ve already made my decision. That is all I have to say!”
At which Doctor Hubka resolutely sat back down in his seat and blew his nose in triumph.
“There was an uneasy silence in the board room. Doctor Hubka’s accusations had been too clear. President Bondy kept his eyes on his papers and showed nothing on his face.
“Mnyeu, well, er,” old Rosenthal began in an attempt to quieten matters, “well, the president has explained all this. Mnyes, well gentlemen, er, explained it, he has. I, mnyeu, er, well in my opinion, yes, in, er the best sense. Doctor, er, Hubka, he, er, well yes, with, er, with regard to what we have been told.”
Mister Bondy finally raised his eyes. “Gentlemen,” he began quietly, “I have presented you what our engineers have to say about the carburator and all of it is encouraging. The matter is, in fact, just as you have been told. The carburator is not a swindle. We have built ten prototypes and all of them are operating perfectly. Here are the reports about them: Carburator number 1, operating an extraction pump near Sázava, operating continuouslyfor fourteen days. Number 2, dredger on the River Vltava, operating extremely well. Number 3, in an experimental laboratory at a technical college. Number 4, damaged in transit. Number 5, powering the lighting in the city of Hradec Králové. That’s the ten kilogram model. Number 6, the five kilogram model, is at a mill thirty kilometers west of Prague. Number 7, installed for the central heating in a block of flats. The owner of the building is here with us now, Mister Machát. Mister Machát, if you please!”
The elderly gentleman of this name jumped awake, as if from a dream. “Oh, er, sorry, what was that?”
“We were asking you how your new central heating was doing?”
“Central heating? What central heating?”
“In your new block of flats,” said Mister Bondy patiently.
“What block of flats?”
“The new one you had built.”
“New block of flats? I haven’t got a new block of flats.”
“Mnyeu, well, er,” Mister Rosenthal came in, “the ones, er, you had built last year.”
“Me?” asked Machát in surprise. “Oh, yes, you’re quite right, the ones I had built last year; but, you see, I’ve already given them away.”
Bondy looked at him carefully: “Who did you give them to, Machát?”
Mister Machát blushed slightly: “Well, to the poor people, you see. I let some poor people move in there. I .. that is … I became convinced that … well, in short, poor people, you see?”
Mister Bondy kept his eyes fixed on him like an examining magistrate: “Why did you do that Machát?”
“I .. somehow I just had to,” said Machát confusedly. “It just came to me. We have to do as the saints do, you see?”
The president drummed his fingers nervously on the table. “What about your family, Machát?”
A beautiful smile came over Mister Machát’s face: “Oh, please understand, we’re all in perfect agreement about this. Poor people are holy. Some of them are ill, and my daughter is helping them, you see? We’ve all changed so much of late.”
G.H. Bondy lowered his eyes. Machát’s daughter Elen, fair-haired Elen, Elen with seventy million in the bank, Elen was nursing the sick! Elen who could have been, who should have been, who had almost agreed to be Mrs. Bondy! Bondy bit his lips. Fine state of affairs this was!
“Mister Machát,” he began with choking voice , “all I wanted to know was how the heating is doing, with the new carburator installed.”
“Oh, it’s wonderful! It’s so lovely and warm in all those homes! It’s as if they were heated with eternal love! You see,” said Machát with enthusiasm, wiping his eyes, “everyone who goes in those flats is suddenly a quite different person. It’s just like paradise there. Life for us there is like Heaven, all of us. Oh, Mister Bondy, do come and join us!”
“So you see, gentlemen,” said Bondy, struggling to control himself, “the carburators are operating just as I promised. Let us now, please, have no more questions.”
“All we want to know,” called out the belligerent Doctor Hubka, “is why our new factory isn’t fitted out with carburator power. Why do we have to burn expensive coal while we’re providing atomic energy for others? Does the president intend to inform us of his reasons?”
“No, I don’t intend to,” Mister Bondy declared. “The factory will be powered by coal. There are some facts that I am aware of that mean carburator power would not be suitable for our manufacturing processes. And that, gentlemen, is enough! I consider this whole affair a matter of confidence in myself.”
“If only you knew,” put in Mister Machát, “how beautiful it is to be in a state of holiness! Gentlemen, I sincerely urge you; give away all your belongings! Join the poor and the holy, renounce Mammon and give yourselves over to the one God!”
“Well, now, er,” began Mister Rosenthal to soothe matters, “Mister Machát, you are, erm, a most gentle and admirable man, mnyeu, yes, most admirable. But, er, Mister Bondy, I have faith in you, so, erm, this is what I, er, suggest; let me have one of these carburators for my own central heating! Gentlemen, I shall, mnyeu, I shall try it out, shall I? How about that then? How would, mnyeu, how would that be, Mister Bondy?”
“We are all brethren before God,” Machát continued, his face aglow. “Gentlemen, let us make a gift of the factory to the poor! I propose we rename MEAS and call it ‘The Religious Community of the Humble Heart’! We will be the trunk and roots – you see? – the trunk and roots from which grows the tree of God. The Kingdom of God here on Earth.”
“There’s something I’d like to say,” shouted Doctor Hubka.
“Mnyeu, yes, er, Mister Bondy,” old Rosenthal resumed, “I’m with you in this. Mnyeu, yes, let me have one of these carburators, Mister Bondy!”
“For God himself will come down to Earth,” said Machát, getting more excited. “Listen to his word, live simply as do the saints, open your hearts to eternity, be absolute in your love! You see, gentlemen ..”
“I am entitled to speak ” growled Doctor Hubka.
“Quiet!” shouted the president, his face pale and his eyes ablaze as he stood up to his full height and showed the power of a man weighing a hundred kilos. “Gentlemen, if a factory making carburators is not to your taste I can take it into my own, personal hands. I can pay you penny for penny for everything you have invested so far. I will bring my function here to an end. Gentlemen, that is all I have to say. “
Doctor Hubka jumped up: “But gentlemen, I protest! We all protest! Our share in carburator production is not up for sale! An important product such as this? We won’t allow you to bluster us into giving up something as profitable as this! Gentlemen, if you please …”
Mister Bondy rang the bell. “My friends,” he said sadly, “for the time being, let us leave matters as they stand. I get the impression that our friend, Machát, is a little, hm, a little unwell. As far as the carburators are concerned, I can guarantee you dividends of a hundred and fifty percent. Now I suggest we bring this board meeting to an end.”
“And I suggest,” announced Doctor Hubka, “that every member of this board receives one of these carburators, just to try it out, as it were.”
Bondy looked at all the men sat around him. He pursed his lips, was about to say something, but then he shrugged his shoulders and through gritted teeth said merely, “Very well.”
“How are we doing in London?”
“MEAS shares at 1,470 yesterday. Before that, at 720.”
“Rudolf Marek named as honorary member of seventy respected societies. He’s bound to get the Nobel Prize.”
“A run of orders from Germany. More than five thousand carburators.”
“Nine hundred orders from Japan.”
“Well I never!”
“Interest from Czechoslovakia is negligible. Three new orders.”
“Hm. It’s what you’d expect, I suppose. Difficult times, you see!”
“The Russian government has ordered two hundred carburators, immediate delivery.”
“Very good. What’s that in total?”
“Thirteen thousand orders.”
“Very good. How are we doing with construction?”
“They’ve put the roof on the department for atomic cars now. The department for atomic aeroplanes starts work in a week. We’re putting the basics together for atomic locomotives. One wing of the department for ship engines is already working.”
“Wait. Let’s introduce a name such as ‘atomobil’, ‘atomotor’, ‘atomotive’, something like that. What’s Krolmus doing with the atomic cannons?”
“He’s got a model under construction at the foundries. Our atomic cyclecar has already done thirty thousand kilometers at the Brussels Autodrome; it’s been at speeds of more than 270 an hour. In the last two days we’ve had seventy thousand orders for the half-kilogram atomotorbike.”
“You said just now thirty thousand in total.”
“Thirty thousand static atomic boilers. Eight thousand units for central heating. Nearly ten thousand cars. Six hundred and twenty atomic aeroplanes. Our model A plane flew from Prague to Melbourne non-stop; everyone on board in good health. Here’s the report.”
The company president sat up in his chair: “Why, this is wonderful!”
“There’ve been five thousand orders in the department for industrial machinery. The department for small propulsion engines has had twenty-two thousand. A hundred and fifty atomic pumps. Three atomic presses. Twelve atomic locomotives, including some going to Russia. We’ve established offices in four of the world’s eight main cities. American Steel Trust, AEG in Berlin, Fiat in Italy, Mannesmann, Creusot and a Swedish steel works all want a merger with us. And Krupp is buying all of our shares it can get, whatever the price.”
“New share issues?”
“Over subscribed by a factor of thirty-five. The press predict a super-divident of two hundred percent. And what’s more, the papers aren’t writing about anything but our affairs; social affairs, politics, sport, technology, science, everything is about the carburator. Our man in Germany has sent us seven tonnes of cuttings, from France we’ve got four metric hundredweights, from England a whole wagonload. It’s estimated that the specialist and scientific literature published this year about the atomic motor will weigh about seventy tons. The Anglo-Japanese war has been suspended for lack of public interest. In England alone there are 900,000 coalminers without work. There have been riots in the Belgian coalfields; about four thousand dead. More than half the pits around the world have stopped work. In Pennsylvania they’re burning off their excess stocks, and the fire’s still burning.”
“The fire’s still burning,” repeated Bondy dreamily. “The fire’s still burning! My God, we’ve won it!”
“The president of one mining company has shot himself. The stock markets have gone comepletely mad. We stood at 8,000 in Berlin this morning. The cabinet has gone into permanent session and wants to declare a state of emergency. Mister Bondy, this isn’t just an invention, it’s a revolution.”
The company president and its general manager looked at each other in silence. Neither one nor the other was a poet, but at that moment their hearts were singing.
The general manager pulled up his chair and said in a whisper, “Mister Bondy, Rosenthal’s gone mad.”
“Rosenthal?” exclaimed G.H. Bondy.
The manager glumly confirmed it. “They’ve made an orthodox Jew out of him. He’s practising Talmudic mysticism and Cabalism. He’s donated ten million to the Zionists. The other day he had a terrible row with Doctor Hubka. You see, Hubka’s gone and joined the Bohemian Brethren.”
“Even Hubka now?!”
“Yes. I think it was Machát who brought all this in among the board members. You weren’t at the last meeting, Mister Bondy. It was awful. They were all talking about religion right through till the small hours. Hubka suggested we should give our factories to the workers. Fortunately, they forgot to put that to a vote. They all seemed to have gone mad:”
Mister Bondy bit on his knuckles. “What are we going to do with them?”
“Hm, nothing at all. It’s just a nervous time. Something comes up in the papers now and then, but they don’t connect it with the carburators. There’s been an awful lot of incidents to do with religion, and a psychic manifestion or something. I saw Doctor Hubka in the street the other day. He was preaching to a crowd in front of a bank, something about letting light into their hearts and preparing the way to God. All hopelessly confused. He even did a few miracles. Forst has gone the same way. Rosenthal’s gone entirely crackers. Miller, Homola and Kolátor came up with the idea of choosing poverty. We certainly can’t hold any more board meetings, it’s like a madhouse. You’ll have to run the whole thing personally.”
“This is awful,” said G.H. Bondy with a sigh.
“It is. Did you hear about Cukrobank? It took hold of all their staff all at once. They opened the cash boxes and gave the money away to anyone who came in. Finally they took piles of banknotes made a bonfire of them outside the main entrance. Religious bolshevism, I call it.”
“Cukrobank. Don’t they have one of our carburators?
“They do. For the central heating. They were the first to install one. It’s been closed down by the police now. It had even taken hold of the chief clerks and management.”
“Well then, I forbid the supply of carburators to any more banks.”
“I forbid it! That’s all! They can heat their premises with coal!”
“It’s a little too late for that. There are carburators being installed in all the banks. We’re currently setting them up in parliament and all the government ministries. The central carburator for Prague is all set to start providing the lighting for the whole city. It’s a wonderful, colossal machine, fifty kilos. They’re holding a celebratory inauguration of it in two days’ time, at six o’clock. Heads of state will be there, mayors, city councillors and representatives of MEAS. You’ll have to come along to it. You especially.”
“God forbid!” exclaimed Bondy in alarm. “No, no! God save me from that! I won’t go.”
“You will have to go, Mister Bondy. We can’t send Rosenthal or Hubka in your place. They’ve gone raving made. If they gave a speech it would be horrifying. It’s a matter of the company’s honour. The mayor of Prague has prepared a speech in praise of what we do. Representatives of foreign states and foreign press will be there. A great celebration. As soon as the lights come on in the streets a military band will start up and play fanfares and entrades for everyone, Hlahol will be there to sing, Křížkovský, experimental theatre companies, fireworks, a hundred and one gun salute, lights shone on the castle and I don’t know what else. Mister Bondy, you’ve simply got to be there.”
G.H. Bondy stood there in a state of anguish. “My God, oh my God,” he muttered, “take this chalice away from me …”
“Well are you going to come then?” the general manager insisted.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
On the Dredger
Motionless in the evening twilight lay dredger number ME28 near the village of Štěchovice. Its paternoster shovels had long since stopped lifting the cold sand up from the bed of the River Vltava; the evening was warm and without wind, the air was filled with the scent of cut hay and the breath of the woods. A sweet orange light still shone from the north west. Here and there the ripples on the water glittered as they reflected the light of God’s Heaven; they sparkled, they whispered and they shone with natural luminscence as they flowed downstream.
A boat came out from the village and towards the dredger. It moved slowly against the current, black against the luminosity of the river like a water beetle.
“There’s somebody coming,” called out Kuzenda, the diver, contentedly from where he sat in the stern.
“Two,” replied the engineer, Brych, after a while.
“I know who that is,” said Mister Kuzenda.
“A pair of young lovers from the village,” said Mister Brych.
“I’d better go and put the kettle on for them,” Mister Kuzenda decided, and he went below.
“Well now, children!” Mister Brych called out to the boat. “To the left, the left. Give me your hand, miss, yes. Up you come!”
“Joe and me,” the girl declared when she was on deck, “we … we just wanted …”
“Good evening,” the young worker greeted him as he came up after her. “Where’s Mister Kuzenda gone?”
“Mister Kuzenda’s just gone to make some coffee,” said the engineer. “Sit down. Oh look, there’s someone else coming. Is that you, baker?”
“Yes, it’s me,” a voice replied. “Good evening Mister Brych. I’ve brought the postman and the game-keeper out to meet you.”
“Come on board, brothers,” said Mister Brych. “Once Mister Kuzenda’s finished making the coffee we can start. Is there anyone else coming?”
“I am,” a voice came up from the side of the dredger. “Mister Hudec. I’d like to come and hear you.”
“Welcome, Mister Hudec,” the engineer called down to him. “Come on up, here’s the ladder. Let me shake your hand, Mister Hudec, you haven’t been here before.”
“Mister Brych,” three people called out from the shore, “can you send a boat out here for us? We’d like to come and join you.”
“Can you go and get them, Mister Hudec?” he called down. “Everyone should be able to hear the word of God. Sit down where you can, brothers and sisters. It isn’t dirty, not since we’ve been using the carburator. Brother Kuzenda will bring some coffee and then we can start. Welcome, young people. Come up on board.” Then Mister Brych went to the opening where a ladder led down to the inside of the dredger. “Hallo, Kuzenda, ten people on board now.”
“Fine!” Mister Kuzenda replied from the depths of his beard. “Be up with the coffee soon.”
“So, sit down everyone,” he said eagerly as he turned back to them. “We haven’t got anything more than coffee to offer you, Mister Hudec. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” retorted Mister Hudec. “I only came here to see your … your .. your session.”
“Our religious service,” Brych gently corrected him. “We’re all brothers here, you see. I suppose I’d better tell you that I used to be an alcoholic and Kuzenda was involved in politics before the grace of God came on us. And these other brothers and sisters,” he continued as he gestured to the others, “come to us each evening to pray that they, too, might receive the same gift of the spirit. The baker here suffered from asthma until Mister Kuzenda healed him. Tell us what it was like, baker.”
“Kuzenda put his hands on me,” said the baker with quiet enthusiasm, “and a kind of warmth suddenly flowed up and around in my chest. Something in me suddenly snapped, and I began to breathe freely as if I was flying in Heaven itself.”
“Hold on a minute,” Brych corrected him. “Kuzenda didn’t put his hands on you. He didn’t even know he was going to work a miracle. All he did was reach his hand out to you and you said you could breathe. That’s what happened.”
“We were there,” the girl from the village told them. “The baker, he had light shining all round his head. And then Mister Kuzenda made my TB go away, didn’t he Joe.”
“That’s all completely true, Mister Hudec,” said the lad. “But what happened to me was even stranger. I didn’t use to be a very nice person you see, Mister Hudec. I’ve even been in prison for stealing things, and for something else too. Mister Brych here can tell you all about it.”
“It was nothing,” said Brych with a wave of his hand. “The Grace of God came upon you, that’s all. But there are some very strange things that happen here, Mister Hudec. I expect you can feel it yourself. Brother Kuzenda can tell you about that, as he was the first to go to a meeting. Look, here he is now.”
Everyone turned to look at the hatchway that led from the deck down into the engine room. A bearded face appeared bearing a forced, embarrassed smile, like someone who has been shoved from behind and wants to pretend nothing has happened. Only the upper half of Kuzenda could be seen so far. In his hands was a large sheet of metal carrying cups and tins of milk. He grinned uncertainly, and continued to rise. His feet now could be seen at the level of the deck and he still continued to rise, cups and all. He did not stop until he hovered half a meter above the hatchway, his feet paddling the air although he clearly wished they were on firm ground.
Mister Hudec thought he must be dreaming. “What’s happened to you, Mister Kuzenda?” he exclaimed, almost in a panic.
“Nothing, nothing,” Kuzenda excused himself, still trying to find firm air to stand on. Mister Hudec was reminded of a picture of the Ascension that had hung over his bed when he was a child; in that picture, Christ and the apostles hung in the air, paddling their feet in exactly the same way, although the expressions on their faces had not been so anxious.
Mister Kuzenda suddenly started moving forward over the deck. He floated, and floated through the evening air as if carried by a gentle breeze; briefly he raised his leg as if wanting to take a step forward, and he was clearly worried about the cups he was carrying. “Please, take this tray from me,” he urged. Brych, the engineer, raised both his hands and took the metal sheet bearing the cups of coffee. Then Kuzenda let his legs hang down, crossed his arms and hung there without moving. With his head slightly to one side he said, “Welcome, brothers. Don’t let it worry you that I’m flying like this. It’s only a sign. Perhaps you’d like this cup, miss, the one with the flowers on it.”
Brych handed round the cups and offered the tinned milk. Nobody dared speak; those who had not been there before stared inquisitively at Kuzenda as he hovered in the air, older guests sipped patiently at their coffee and between each mouthful it was as if they were praying.
“Finished your coffee yet?” asked Kuzenda after a pause, and he opened wide his pale, enraptured eyes. “I’ll start then.” He cleared his throat, thought for a little while, and began: “In the name of the Father! Brothers and sisters, we’ve come together for this religious meeting on the dredger, where the gift of grace is made manifest. There’s no need for me to send anyone away who doesn’t believe, or who’s come to laugh at us and think he’s being witty. Mister Hudec came here as a non-believer, and the game-keeper came expecting to have some fun. You’re both very welcome, but you ought to be aware that the gift of grace means I know one or two things about you. I know for instance that you like getting drunk, game-keeper, and you chase poor people away out of the wood and you shout insults at them when there’s no need for any of that. Stop doing it. And Mister Hudec, you’re an accomplished thief – well you know what I think about that – and you get cross with people much more quickly than you should do. Faith will correct you and save you.”
A deep silence reigned on the deck. Mister Hudec stared firmly at the ground. The game-keeper shed a tear, sniffled, and, with a trembling hand, reached into his pocket.
“I realise you’d like to have a smoke, now,” said Kuzenda gently, still floating in the air. “Light up if you want to. Just make yourself at home.”
“Fish,” whispered the girl, pointing down at the surface of the river. “Look Joe, even the carp have come to listen”
“They’re not carp,” the blessed Kuzenda told her. “They’re ruffes, a kind of perch. Mister Hudec, you don’t need to suffer for your sins. Look at me: I didn’t care about anything but politics, and, believe me, even that is sin of a sort. And game-keeper, don’t cry, I didn’t mean to be nasty. Once anyone’s got the gift of grace he can see right through people. You can see right down into people’s souls, can’t you Brych.”
“I can,” Mister Brych confirmed. “The postman here, he’s wondering just now if you could help his little daughter too. She’s getting baptised. That’s right, isn’t it? And Mister Kuzenda will help her if you bring her here.”
“Superstition, they call it,” said Kuzenda. “Brothers, if anyone had told me about miracle working or about God when I was like I used to be I’d have laughed in their face. That’s how corrupt I was. Then we got this new engine here on the dredger, the one that runs without needing stoking all the time, and all our dirty work came to an end. Yes, Mister Hudec, that was the first miracle that happened here, the carburator does everything all by itself, like a thinking being. Even the dredger does everything by itself, it knows where it’s to go to, and just you look how it’s staying in one place now. Look at the anchors, Mister Hudec, they’re not even in the water. The dredger just stays in one place without anchors and then it moves along when it needs to dredge another bit of the river bed. It starts work by itself, and it stops work by itself. Mister Brych and me, we don’t need to lift a finger. And you can’t tell me that’s not a miracle. When we saw what was happening it got us thinking, and then it became clear to us. The dredger is divine, it’s an iron church, and we’re only here as its priests. If the Lord God used to appear in spring water, or in a grove of oak trees like the Greeks had, or sometimes in a woman, why shouldn’t He appear on a dredger? Why on Earth would he have any aversion to something just because it’s a machine? A machine can sometimes be purer than a nun, and Brych keeps this machine polished up like something you’d put on your sideboard. But that’s by the by. And just so as you know, God isn’t infinite like the Catholics say; He’s about six hundred meters wide and He gets weaker near the edges. The strongest place is here on the dredger. It’s here that He does his miracles, but on the bank he only gives second-sight and conversions to the faith. In the village, when the wind’s in the right direction, you can only smell him like a kind of holy scent. One time some boats from the rowing club came by, and all of the rowers were given the gift of grace. That’s how powerful it it. And what God wants of us, that’s something you can only feel here, inside,” preached Kuzenda, pointing to his heart. “I know He can’t stand politics or money, reason or pride or social climbing; and I know He loves people and animals, that He’s very glad to see you all here, and he likes to see good acts. He’s a real democrat, brothers. If we can’t – that is, Brych and me – if we don’t spend our money on coffee for everyone then every penny we have burns us in our pockets. One day, a Sunday it was, there was a couple of hundred people here, sitting on both banks they were, and what do you think? That coffee increased in quantity so that there was enough for everyone, and what coffee it was! But all these things are just signs, brothers. The greatest miracle of all is the influence He has on how we feel. It’s such a wonderful feeling it makes you shudder. Sometimes you seem to have so much love and happiness in you you think you’re going to die, it’s as if you were at one with that water down there, and with all the animals and the earth and the stones, or it’s as if you were being held in some magnificent embrace; well, I can never really tell you what it’s like. Everything around you is singing and shouting, you understand everything without words, the water and the wind, you can see right inside everything around you, how they’re all connected with each other and with you, everything all and at once, you understand it all better than if you had it down in black and white. Sometimes it comes over you like a fit, you almost think you must be foaming at the mouth; but other times, it comes on you slowly and creeps gradually till it’s penetrated into your tiniest veins. Brothers and sister, there’s nothing to be afraid of, but there’s a boat coming here with two policemen in it. They want to make us disperse because this meeting hasn’t been given official approval. But just wait, just be patient and trust in the god of the dredger.”
It was already dark, but the whole deck of the dredger and all the faces of the people on it shone with a gentle glow. Down on the water the oars of a boat could be heard as they soughed through the water and came to a halt. “Hello,” a man’s voice shouted up at them, “is there a Mister Kuzenda there?”
“Here I am,” said Kuzenda in a voice like a cherub. “Just come up on board, brothers. I already know that the landlord in the village told the police about me.”
The two policemen climbed up onto the dredger’s deck. “Which of you is Kuzenda?” the sergeant asked.
“I’m Kuzenda, officer,” he said, as he floated up higher above the deck. “Please, come up here and join me.”
The two policemen promptly rose into the air to where Kuzenda hovered. Their feet paddled the air in vain for some kind of firm support, their hands grasped at the empty air, their anxious gasps could be heard by all.
“Don’t be afraid, officers,” Kuzenda generously reassured them, “join with me in prayer: Dear Father God, who has come to be present in this ship …”
“Dear Father God, who has come to be present in this ship,” the sergeant repeated in a strangulated voice.
“Dear Father God, who has come to be present in this ship ,” hurriedly joined in Mister Hudec, as he threw himself down on his knees, and a choir of voices on the deck of the dredger all joined in.
Cyril Kéval, Prague reporter for an important newspaper, jumped into a taxi and hurried off to Štvanice – even though it was past six in the evening – where the grand opening of the new Central Electricity Carburator was to take place. The new carburator was to power the whole of the Prague region, and there was a dense crowd of onlookers, even penetrating the three-deep line of policemen and reaching the walls of the little concrete building hung with flags. From inside, the swearing of the workmen could be heard as – needless to say – they were behind schedule and now were in a rush to get the installation ready on time. The whole building was no bigger than a public toilet. Another newspaper man, old Mister Čvančara from a little nearby town ambled past lost in thought, looking somewhat like a heron deep in philosophy.
When Mister Čvančara saw his younger colleague he gave him a friendly greeting. “You can be sure something is going to happen here today, Mister Kéval. I’ve never yet seen a parade like this where someone didn’t do something stupid, and that’s over forty years’ experience of them.”
“Isn’t this amazing?” answered Kéval. “A little building like this, and it’ll be lighting the whole of Prague and powering all the trams and trains within seventy kilometers and thousands of factories and … “
The skeptical Mister Čvančara shook his head. “We shall see, my friend, we shall see. “When you’re as old as I am there’s not much left to surprise you: but … ” and here Mister Čvančara lowered his voice to a whisper, “perhaps you haven’t noticed, but nobody has thought to build a reserve carburator. If this one breaks down or, perhaps, somebody blows it up then, er, do you understand my point?”
Kéval felt ashamed that he had not thought of this point himself. “But that’s out of the question,” he began to object. “I’ve been reliably informed that this generator is only a decoy. The real generator is really in .. in … ” his voice dropped to a whisper as he pointed underground. “I’m not at liberty to tell you exactly where, but you may have noticed that they’ve been replacing a lot of the pavements in Prague lately.”
“They’ve been doing that for the past forty years,” said Mister Čvančara thoughtfully.
“Yes, exactly!” retorted Cyril Kéval triumphantly. “Military purposes, you see! An enormous system of underground passageways. Storerooms, armouries, all that sort of thing. My informants are very precise on this matter. There are sixteen strongrooms holding underground carburators all round the city. Not a sign of them above ground, all you see are football grounds, lemonade stalls, a monument to some patriot but, ha ha, beginning to see what I mean, are you? Why do you think they’ve been putting up so many of these monuments?”
“Young man,” Mister Čvančara objected, “what does the young generation know about war?! There’s a thing or two that we could tell you. Ah, here comes the mayor.”
“The new minister of war, too. There, you see? I told you. The technical director. The managing director of MEAS. The chief rabbi.”
“The French ambassador. The minister for public works. Perhaps it’s time for us to go inside. The archbishop. The Italian ambassador. The speaker of the upper house. The head of the national sports association. You see, my friend, there’s nobody they’ve left out.”
Just then, Cyril Kéval allowed a lady to step in front of him, separating him both from the senior journalist and from the crowd of invited personalities continuously flowing in at the entrance. Then the national anthem was heard, an order was given to the guard of honour, and the head of state appeared accompanied by men in top hats and uniforms as he went up the red carpet into the concrete structure. Mister Kéval stood on tiptoe, cursing the gallantry he had shown to that lady and aware that now he had no chance of entering the building. Čvančara was right, he thought, there’s always someone who does something stupid: how could an opening ceremony as big as this fit into such a small building? So he would report the speeches to the news agency and the rest he’d just have to make up: touching moment, great progress, spontaneous ovation for the head of state …
Inside the building everything suddenly went quiet, and somebody began to recite the celebratory speech. Mister Kéval yawned and, his hands in his pockets, walked all round the little building. It was getting dark. The policemen were wearing white gloves and carried ceremonial batons. There was a press of people on the banks of the river. The speech went on too long, as always. Who was even giving it?
Then Kéval saw a little window, about two meters above the ground, in the concrete wall of the generator building. He did not hesitate, but jumped up, caught hold of the iron bars and pressed his clever face in at the window. Ah, so it was the mayor of Greater Prague who was speaking, his face as red as a roast pig: next to him stood G.H. Bondy, the president of MEAS, his lips pressed tightly together. The head of state had his hand on the lever ready to start the machine as soon as the signal was given: at that moment the whole of Prague would be lit up by the new generator, celebratory music would ring out and fireworks would shoot into the sky. The minister for public works fidgeted in irritation: it would clearly be his turn to speak once the mayor had finished. A junior army officer pulled at his moustache, ambassadors pretended to be giving devoted attention to the speech of which they understood not a word, two delegates from the trade unions didn’t even blink. In short, everything was going smoothly thought Mister Kéval as he jumped down from the window.
So he walked round the streets for a while, came back to the generator and jumped back up at the window. The mayor was still speaking. When Kéval listened hard he could hear, “… at this point in the history of our nation …”, so he quickly jumped back down, found a place to sit down and lit himself a cigarette. It was already quite dark. Above him the stars sparkled between the branches of the trees: I wonder why the stars didn’t wait till the head of state pulled the lever before lighting up, he thought. Apart from the stars, Prague was dark. The River Vltava flowed through the blackness with no glitter of lamplight to reflect on its waters: everything lay in anticipation of the festive moment when the lights would come on. Once Kéval had finished his cigarette he went back to the generator and pulled himself back up at the window. The mayor was still speaking, and his face was now so purple it was almost black: the head of state stood with his hand on the lever, all the personages present were talking quietly among themselves, and only the foreign ambassadors were listening motionless. Right at the back of the room Kéval could see the head of Mister Čvančara swaying uncertainly on his shoulders.
Physically unable to go on any longer, the mayor finished his speech: his position was taken by the minister for public works, and it could be seen that he was truncating his sentences to make his own speech as short as possible. The head of state took hold of the lever in his left hand. Old Billington, doyen of the diplomatic corps, died on his feet but, even in death, continued to give the impression of giving close attention. The minister finished his speech abruptly.
G.H. Bondy lifted his head, he looked gloomily round the room and said a few words: clearly something about MEAS dedicating its work to the public for the good of the city and that was it. The head of state stood upright and pulled the lever. The whole of Prague was lit up with boundless light, the crowd cheered, all the bells in all the churches rang out and the cannons in the fort thundered. Kéval looked round from the bars of the window he was hanging on to and viewed the city. From Střelecký Island in the Vltava, rockets shot into the air and sparkled, Hradčany, Petřín and Letná all shone with garlands of light bulbs, in the distance music could just be heard, above him circled illuminated biplanes, an enormous car passed by hung with Chinese lanterns: the crowd took off their hats, policemen raised their hands to their helmets as still as statues: two batteries of guns were now firing salutes from the fort, followed soon after by a reply from Karlín. Kéval pressed his face back to the window to see the conclusion of the ceremonies around the carburator, but when he did so he boggled at what he saw and shouted in alarm. First unable to turn away from the window he said something like “Oh God”, but then somebody running away from what he had seen knocked into him as he fled so that Kéval let go of the bars and fell heavily to the ground. Kéval caught hold of his coat before he could get away and the man looked round. It was G.H. Bondy, and his face was deathly pale.
“What’s happened?” jabbered Kéval. “What’s going on in there?”
“Let go of me,” gasped Bondy, “for God’s sake let go of me! Get yourself out of here.”
“But what’s happened in there?”
“Let go of me,” shouted Bondy as he knocked Kéval back with his fist and disappeared between the trees.
Somewhat shaken, Kéval leant against the trunk of one of them. There seemed to be some kind of barbaric chanting coming from inside the concrete building.
A few days later the papers bore this vague announcement: “Contrary to reports in one Czech newspaper and repeated abroad, we have been reliably informed that no untoward events occurred at the festive inauguration of the Central Carburator in Prague. In connection with these events the mayor of Greater Prague has closed his office and is receiving medical treatment, but Mister Billington, on the other hand, is alive and active. The truth of the matter is that all present declared they had never before experienced anything as powerful as this. It is the right of every citizen to fall to his knees in praise of God, and in a democratic state there is no official restriction on the performance of miracles. It is certainly most inappropriate to suppose the head of state was involved in any way with these regretable events which were merely the result of inadequate ventilation and nervous strain.”
The Blessed Elen
Some days after these events G.H. Bondy was wandering round the streets of Prague, a cigar between his teeth, and thinking. Anyone who saw him would have supposed he was looking at the pavement: but Mister Bondy was looking into the future. Marek was right, he told himself. And that Bishop Linda was even more right. It simply wasn’t possibly to bring God to Earth without enormous consequences, whatever anyone does, whatever they think. And this will have serious effects on the banking system, the Devil knows what effect that might have on industry. There was another religious strike at one of the major banks today: we installed a carburator and two days later the workers declared that all the bank’s funds belonged to the poor. That would never have happened in Preiss’s day. No, that would certainly never have happened.
Bondy drew anxiously on his cigar. So what, he asked himself, are we supposed to do about all this? Today, orders reached twenty-three million. We can’t stop it now. It’s going to lead to the end of the world or something. In a couple of years everything will be in a terrible mess.
There are a few thousand carburators operating around the world now, and each one of them is chucking out the Absolute day and night. And the intelligence of this Absolute is amazing. The way it always wants to do work is insane. Well, it’s had nothing to do, I suppose, it was idle for thousands of years and now we’ve let it off its chain. Like what it did at the bank. Does the books all by itself, does the accounts, deals with the correspondence. Gives orders, in writing, to the management. Writes fiery letters to the contractors about the workings of love. So now the bank’s shares aren’t worth the paper they’re written on: a thousand for a piece of smelly cheese. That’s what happens when you let God got involved in banking.
There’s a textiles factory that keeps bombarding us with desperate messages. A month ago they replaced their boiler with a carburator: alright, the machine’s running well. But all of a sudden the spinning machines and looms started working by themselves. If a thread breaks it mends itself and the machine carries on. The workers just look on with their hands in their pockets. Work is supposed to end at six o’clock, and the spinners and weavers go home, but the looms continue to run all by themselves all night, all day, three weeks so far, they just weave and weave and weave without ever stopping. The firm writes to us: for God’s sake, take our products, send more raw materials, stop the machines! Now the same thing’s happened to Buxbaum’s, Morawitz, and other companies, they’ve been infected at a distance. They’ve got no more materials on site: in panic they’re chucking rags and straw and mud and anything else they can get hold of into the spinning machine: and now, believe it or not, the machines are weaving kilometers of towelling and calico and anything else you can think of even out of this. It’s causing a Hell of a row: textile prices have collapsed: England has raised import duties: neighbouring states have threatened a boycott. And the factories are complaining: for God’s sake, please just take our products! Take them anywhere, send people here, waggons, trains, stop the machines! And then they sue you for loss of profits. Damn it! And reports like this come in from everywhere where we’ve installed carburators. The Absolute wants work. It has a lust for life. In the beginning it made the world: now it’s thrown itself into manufacturing. It’s taken over cities and factories all over the country, cotton works, sawmills, sugar refineries, breweries: even Škoda’s under threat: it’s working the uranium mines. In some places they’re making workers redudant: in others they’re locking the doors of the factories, saying they’ll let them run behind locked doors. Over-production is crazy. Any factory that doesn’t have the Absolute is closing down. It’s a revolution.
And I, Mister Bondy said to himself, I’m a patriot. I can’t see our homeland fall into ruin: if only because this is where our own factories are. Right then, no more orders accepted for Czechoslovakia. What’s done is done, but from now on there will be no more carburators installed in Czech lands, not one. We can flood the French and Germans with them: and then we can bombard England with them. England is conservative, they keep our carburators out: we’ll have to drop them on England from aeroplanes like great big bombs. We can infect the whole industrial and financial world with God and just leave ourselves as an island of honest labour, free of the effects of God. It’s our patriotic duty, if I can put it like that, and what’s more, it affects our own factories.
G.H. Bondy’s mood was lifted by this prospect. We will at least buy time to invent some kind of mask to protect us from the Absolute. Devil take it, I’ll set aside three million for research into protection from God. Two million, let’s say, for the time being. Everyone in Czech land will walk about with masks on their face and everyone else, ha ha, meantime everyone else can drown in God. It’ll destroy their industry if nothing else.
It seemed to Mister Bondy that everything was looking brighter. He noticed a young woman walking in front of him: her movements were fluid and rather pleasing. I wonder what she looks like from the front. Mister Bondy quickened his step, overtook her and suddenly turned in a respectful curve: but he clearly thought immediately better of it and turned on his heel so quickly that he nearly hit her on the nose.
“Elen, it’s you,” he sputtered. “I had no idea you … you …”
“I knew you were behind me,” said the girl with her eyes lowered as she stopped.
“You already knew it?” said Bondy, pleased at the news. “I was just thinking about you.”
“I could feel your animal desire,” said Elen quietly.
“Your animal desire. You didn’t know who I was. You were merely groping at me with you eyes, as if I’d been for sale.”
G.H. Bondy became serious. “Elen, why do you want to insult me?”
Elen shook her head. “They all do it. All of them. They’re all the same. It’s so rare to find someone whose eyes are pure.”
Mister Bondy pursed his lips as if to whistle. Ah, here we go: old Machát’s religious community.
“Yes,” Elen answered his thought. “You should come and join us.”
“Oh, yes, course I should!” Mister Bondy declared, and as he did so he thought what a pity it was, such a nice girl.
“Why is it a pity?” asked Elen gently.
“Elen, listen,” Bondy protested, “you’re reading my thoughts. That’s not fair. If people could read each other’s thoughts they couldn’t be polite to each other. This is indiscreet of you to know what I’m thinking.”
“What am I supposed to do then?” asked Elen. “Everyone who knows God has this gift: each of your thoughts is thought by me at the same time: I’m not reading them, I’m having them myself. If you only knew how it cleanses you if you can judge every hidden depravity!”
“Hm,” Mister Bondy retorted, shaking with the effort not to think anything.
“Of course it does,” Elen assured him. “With the help of God it cured me of the love of money. I’d be very glad if you were helped too.”
“God forbid,” said G.H. Bondy in some alarm. “But tell me, do you understand everything you, er, that you see in people in this way?”
“Elen, listen,” said Bondy, “I can tell you everything: you’d read it in my thoughts anyway. I could never marry a woman who could read my thoughts. She could be as holy as she likes: she could give as much charity to the poor as she likes, I earn enough for that and it gives a good impression. I could even stand her being virtuous, Elen, if only because of I love you so much. I could stand anything. I loved you in my way, Elen. I’m telling you this because you can read it anyway. Elen, business is impossible without private thoughts, society couldn’t function. And above all, marriage couldn’t function without private thoughts. Elen, it’s out of the question. And if you ever find a man who’s the holiest man in the world don’t marry him if you can read his thoughts. A little deceit here and there is the only thing you can depend on to hold two people together. Elen, holy Elen, never get married.”
“Why not?” holy Elen asked sweetly. “”Our God has nothing against nature. He only sanctifies it. He doesn’t ask us to have no feelings. He tells us to go forth and be fruitful. He wants us to … “
“Prr,” Mister Bondy interrupted her. “This God of yours doesn’t understand. If He stops us deceiving one-another He’s going against nature. It’s simply impossible, Elen, simply impossible. If He’s an understanding God He’ll see that for himself. If He’s not going to remain naïve forever He’ll remain evil and destructive forever. I’m sorry, Elen: I’ve got nothing against religion but this God doesn’t know what He should be wanting. Go and live in the desert, Elen, go there and take your clairvoyance with you. Something like that doesn’t belong among people. Goodbye, holy Elen. I think it’s best if we never see each other again.
The First Conflict
Nobody has ever found out how it happened, but just when the factory owned by R. Marek, 1651 Mixova Street, Břevnov, was occupied by detectives and surrounded by police, Marek’s prototype carburator was stolen. Despite vigorous investigations the device disappeared without a trace.
A little while later, Jan Binder, the owner of a fairground roundabout, bought a petrol engine from a scrap metal dealer. The dealer offered him a big copper cylinder with regulator and told him it was very good value for the price: it would only need a small amount fuel, he said, and it would keep running for months. Jan Binder felt a peculiar, even blind, faith in the copper cylinder and bought it for three hundred korun. He took it personally to his roundabout, which at that time had broken down.
Jan Binder took off his coat, assembled the copper cylinder and, quietly whistling to himself, set to work. He replaced the regulator with a drive-wheel, put a belt around it leading to another shaft which, at one end, would drive the music player and, at the other, make the roundabout turn. Then he oiled the connection pins, inserted them into one of the wheels and, his hands in his pockets and pursing his lips to whistle, stood there in his stripey tee-shirt wondering what to do next. The wheel span round three times and stopped: then it juddered, rocked, and then, slowly at first, it began to turn in earnest. The music box started up with all its drums and whistles, the carousel shook itself as if waking from a long sleep, all its joints creaked and, with a sure and steady elegance it began to rotate; the silver tassles jingled, the white horses with their gaily coloured reins and saddles seemed to be drawing kings and princes in their coaches, a stag with wild and staring eyes twisted round ready to leap, a swan with her elegant neck drew her pure white boat round the circle. All was a-glitter, all jingled with music and all the glory of Paradise as the carousel went round music box at its centre, watched by the unmoving eyes of the three Graces painted on it.
Jan Binder, his lips still pursed, stood there with his hands in his pockets and watched the carousel as it went round. There was something new and beautiful about it and he stood as if in a dream. He was no longer alone. A tearful, runny-nosed child had dragged its young nanny along and stopped in amazement in front of the carousel, its eyes boggling and its mouth wide open. Even the young nanny stared and stood there as if seeing an apparition. The carousel turned. Its motion was oddly vigorous, grand, celebratory: one moment it span as if in a passion, the next it swang like a cradle or a boat laden with all the aromas of India, the next moment it glided like a golden cloud high up in the sky: it seemed to be lifted high above the ground, to be afire, to be singing. No, it was the music box that was singing: now with a clear woman’s voice, the tones of the harp falling on it like a silver rain: then it roared like a jungle or an organ, but from the depths of the jungle were the flute-like tones of the birds that seemed to come and settle on your shoulder: the golden bugles sang with the tones of victory, or perhaps an entire army with it fiery swords a-glitter. And who was it singing this triumphant anthem? Thousands of branches waved, the Heavens were open and, to the rattle of drums, flew down the song of God himself.
Jan Binder raised his hand, the carousel stopped and leant down to welcome the child on board. He stepped clumsily on board as if walking into the open gates of Paradise and the nurse, as if in a dream, followed him and settled into the boat of the swan. “No charge today,” said Binder in his gravelly voice. The music box sang out and the carousel began to turn as if lifting itself to Heaven. Jan Binder felt dizzy: What’s happening? It’s not the roundabout turning, it’s the whole world turning around it, the church in Zlíchov is describing an enormous circle, the sanatorium is moving with the whole of Vyšehrad and spinning over to the other side of the river. Yes, the whole world is spinning round the carousel, turning faster and faster, spinning like a turbine: but the roundabout stands frirmly in the middle, gently swaying like a ship with white horses strolling about the deck, deer and swans and the little child who takes his nanny by the hand and leads her to smooth the animals. Yes, the world is spinning wildly, the roundabout alone is a beautiful island of peace and calm. Jan Binder staggered, his stomach unsettled from the spinning of the world, opened his arms wide and ran to the carousel where he caught one of the bars and leapt on board, onto the deck where there was peace.
From his position on the carousel he could see how the world was turning and tossing like an angry sea. And look over there, startled people were running from their houses, waving their hands, staggering and falling as if an enormous spindle had taken control of them. Binder, keeping firm hold of the bar, leant forward and shouted to them: “This way, come this way!” The people saw the carousel as it sparkled and lifted itself above the dizzying rush of the world and staggered their way towards it. Binder, one hand firmly holding the bar, offered the other hand out to them and pulled them up from the ever-moving ground: children, old women, old men, all now stood on the deck of the roundabout and caught their breath back after such surprise and amazement when they saw the world turning round. Binder pulled all the people on board, but there was still a little black dog, squealing with fear and the wish to be on the roundabout, but the earth carried him faster and faster all around it. Binder squatted down, reached out, and caught the dog by the collar to lift him on board.
The music box now began to play an anthem of thanksgiving. It was as if the people on the roundabout were stranded on an island, the music like a chorale of castaways in which the rough voices of the swimmers blended with those of children at prayer: the storm that landed them there also created a rainbow which itself sang a melody (in B minor) as the sky poured forth with glittering pizzicato from the strings of the Heavens. The castaways on Binder’s carousel stood bareheaded and in silence: the women whispered quiet prayers and the children, forgetting what horrors thay had gone through before, bravely stroked the solid jaws of the stag and the curving neck of the swan. The white horses patiently allowed the children to kick and scratch them as they clawed their way into the saddles, some of them whinnied or calmly struck at the ground with their hooves. The world around them began to spin less wildly and although he was not an experienced speaker Jan Binder, looking tall in his stripey, sleeveless tee-shirt, began to say something:
“Well everyone, we’ve all come here out of the turmoil and disorder of the world. We’ve found the peace of God here in the middle of the storm, the Lord has laid us down here to rest. This is a sign that we have to get away from the rush and bustle of the world and turn to the lap of God. Amen.” Jan Binder continued to speak in this way and the people on the carousel listened to him as if they had been in church. Finally, the world stopped turning, the music box played a quiet and holy anthem, and everyone jumped off. Jan Binder told them once again that the ride had been free and they left feeling that they had been elevated. Then, at four o’clock, when old people and mothers with their children were out walking, the music box started up again and the world began to turn. Once again Jan Binder rescued them all and soothed them with an appropriate sermon on his roundabout: at six o’clock the workers were coming home from work, at eight lovers came out walking, and again, at ten o’clock, merry-makers came out of the pubs and cinemas: each group after the other was caught unawares when the world began to spin and was rescued by Jan Binder who took them onto the blissful deck of his roundabout and sent them on their way again with his words to stay with them for the rest of their lives.
After a week of saving people in this way Binder’s roundabout moved on and started to travel to new places up the River Vltava. It had been performing its spiritual work with great success for four days in the town of Štěchovice when something rather sombre happened.
Jan Binder had just finished his sermon and sent his new converts on their way with a blessing. Then a dark and silent crowd approached: at his head was a tall, bearded man who came straight up to Binder.
“Well?” he said, with some effort to control his anger. “Are you going to pack it in then or …”
Binder’s converts heard this, turned round and came back to their teacher. Binder felt that his own people were close behind him and declared firmly, “When the time comes.”
“Calm down,” said another angry man. “It’s Mister Kuzenda you’re talking to.”
“You leave him alone, Mister Hudec,” the bearded man said. “I can deal with him myself. For the second time, if you don’t pack it in now then, in the name of the Lord, I’ll smash your head in.”
“And you,” said Jan Binder, “you get off home, or else, in the name of the Lord, I’ll knock your teeth out.”
“Bloody Hell!” exclaimed Brych, the mechanic as he pushed himself forward. “Just let him try!”
“Brothers,” said Kuzenda gently, ” first let’s try to settle this amicably. Binder, what you’re doing here is a disgrace, it’s just magic, and we’re not going to tolerate something like that this close to our holy dredger.”
“Your dredger is a con trick,” asserted Binder.
“What did you say?” exclaimed Kuzenda, insulted.
“A con trick.”
It’s hard to separate out the events that followed next. It seems that the first blow was struck by the baker who was on Kuzenda’s side, but Binder smashed his fist into his head. The gamekeeper thumped Binder in the chest with the butt of his gun but dropped the gun in the process, a young man from Štěchovice (on Binder’s side) used it to knock out Brych’s front teeth and knocked off Mister Hudec’s hat. The postman (Kuzenda’s side) throttled a lad on Binder’s side. Binder ran to help him, but a girl from Štěchovice jumped on his back and bit his upper arm, right where Binder has his tattoo of the heraldic Czech lion. Someone on Binder’s side pulled out a knife, the people on Kuzenda’s side seemed to draw back but a few of them leapt on the roundabout, knocked off the stag’s antlers and the elegant neck of one of the swans. The roundabout gave a sigh
, it leant to one side and its roof fell down onto the mob as they struggled with each other. Kuzenda was injured as one of the bars hit him and lost consciousness. Everything seemed to be dark and silent. By the time help finally arrived Binder had a broken collar bone, Kuzenda lay half-conscious, Brych was spitting blood and some of his teeth and the girl from Štěchovic was sobbing hysterically. Everyone else had fled.
The Private Tutor
The learned young Doctor Blahouš, just fifty-five years old and already private tutor in comparative religion at Charles University in Prague, wrung his hands as he sat down to the quartos of paper ready-cut and waiting for him. He quickly wrote the title, Manifestations of Religion in Recent Days, and began his article with the words “The meaning of the term ‘religion’ has been disputed at least since the time of Cicero”, but then stopped to think. I’ll have this article published, and then, my colleagues, just see what a sensation it’ll cause! I’m lucky that this religious fever has broken out just at the right time! My article will be right up to date. All the papers will say, “Our learned young Doctor Blahouš has written a study which is highly penetrating”, and lots of comments like that. Then I’ll be given an exceptional professorship and Regner will burst with rage.
Here, the young scholar rubbed his wrinkly hands till they cracked with joy and set down to the job of writing. By evening when his landlady came to ask what he would like for dinner he was already on his sixtieth quarto of paper and writing on the subject of the Church Fathers. By eleven o’clock (page 115) he had arrived at his own definition of the term “religion”, in which just one word was different from the definiton set down by his predecessor: he briefly discussed (with several cutting remarks) the exact methods of religious science, and by then the brief intoduction to his article was completed.
Shortly after midnight our scholar wrote, “It is in very recent times that a number of religious and cult phenomena have manifested that require the attention of the exact science of religion. To be sure, their primary function is the study of religion in nations long defunct, but the living present can also offer the modern (Doctor Blahouš underlined this word) researcher various data which, mutatis mutandis throw a certain light on the cults of the ancient world about which we can offer nought but surmisals.”
He went on to describe Kuzendism, according to newspaper and eyewitness reports, in which he found traces of fetishism and even totemism (the dredger being the totemic god of Štěchovice). He asserted that followers of the Binder cult showed similarities with the whirling dervishes and ancient orgiastic cults. The events at the grand opening of the power station were quickly placed in context and compared with the Parsee fire worshippers. Machát’s religious community, he said, showed traces of asceticism and fakirism: he cited various incidents of clairvoyance and miracle healing which he compared very favourably with the magic performed by ancient negro tribes in central Africa. He mentioned the extent of psychic phenomena and remote suggestion: he cited the historical occurrence of parades of flagellants, the Crusades, millenarianism and the amoks of Malaysia. He explained the religious movements of recent days from two psychological points of view: from the pathological point of view as degenerate hysterics and from the point of view there there was a collective psychological epidemic of believers, the mass of people of less intellectual ability: in both explanations he demonstrated the atavistic appearance of primitive cult form, their tendency to animism-pantheism and shamanism, religious communism reminiscent of neo-baptism and, in general, the weakening of reasonable thoughts and activities in favour of the crudest drives and superstitions, magic, occultism, mysticism and idolatry.
“We are not faced with the task,” Doctor Blahouš continued, “of determining how far we are dealing with charlatans and cheats speculating on human credulity, as there is no doubt that any scientific examination would show that the supposed “miracles” of these present-day thamaturgs are nothing more than attempts at the deceits and suggestions that have long been familiar. This aspect of the new “religious communities”, sects and circles that spring up every day is more the concern of the security forces and psychiatry than ourselves. The study of religion is an exact science, and limited to ascertaining that all these religious manifestations are basically no more than barbaric atavism and mumbo-jumbo dating back to the most primitive elements of cults that arise from the fantasies that live in the human unconscious: it requires no more than a few fanatics, charlatans and downright maniacs to bring out the prehistoric motives for religious faith that live beneath the veneer of European civilisation.”
Doctor Blahouš got up from his desk after writing three hundred and forty sixth quarto of his article, although he was still not tired. I need to work out an effective conclusion, he said to himself: a few thoughts about progress and science, about the rather suspect toleration towards this religous obscurantism shown by governments, about the need to establish a vigorous defence against reaction, and so on.
Here the young scholar, lifted on the wings of his own enthusiasm, went over to the window and leant out into the quiet of the night. It was half past four in the morning. Doctor Blahouš looked down into the dark streets, and shivered slightly in the chilly air. Around him all was dead, not a single tiny light shone from anyone’s window. The private tutor raised his eyes to the sky: it had already begun to turn pale, but the stars still sparkled in its boundless glory. He realised how long it had been since he had looked at the sky: Good Lord, it must be nearly thirty years!
A cool and pleasant breeze stroked his brow, as if someone had taken his head into a pair of cold, clean hands. I’m so alone, the old man thought with regret, always so alone. Yes, stroke my hair a little: oh, it’s thirty years since anyone put their hand on my brow!
Anxious and aquiver, Doctor Blahouš stood at the window. Something’s here, he suddenly felt with sweet and fearful startlement, oh God, I’m not here alone after all! There’s an arm that’s holding me, someone is here beside me: don’t go!
If the doctor’s housekeeper had come into the room a few moments later she would have seen him standing at the window with both hands raised up high, his head thrown back and, on his face, an expression of the greatest rapture. But now he shook shook himself, opened his eyes and, as if in a dream, went back to his desk.
“On the other hand, however, there can be do doubt,” he wrote quickly and with no thought of what he had written earlier, “that it is only by means of these primitive cults that God can manifest in the modern world. With the decline of faith in recent times the connection with the spiritual life of the ancients has been broken: God needs to start again from the beginning, bringing us back to him as, at one time, he did with the savages: he must start with with idols and fetishes: minor deities, groups, clans and tribes: bring nature to life and work through witchcraft. This historical development of religion is repeating itself before our eyes, starting with the prehistoric forms and gradually progressing to higher levels. The modern wave of religiosity is quite likely to branch out in many different directions, each of which will strive to become dominant at the expense of the others. We can expect a period of religious wars which, in their fervour and persistence, will surpass the Crusades and, in their size, will surpass the recent World Wars. In this godless world of ours the Kingdom of God will not come without great sacrifices and dogmatic confusion. This is why I tell you: Give yourselves over to the Absolute with all your being: believe in God so that He can speak to you in any way possible. Know that He is already on His way to make the Earth, and perhaps other planets in our solar system too, part of of His eternal empire, the Empire of the Absolute. Again I tell you: Repent before it’s too late!”
This article by Doctor Blahouš, the private tutor, really was published, although some cuts were made. The editors printed only part of his analysis of new sects but the whole of his conclusion, and they did take the precaution of adding a note saying that this young academic’s views are certainly an indication of the mood of the age.
There was no scandal when it was published, because, as it turned out, it was suppressed in another way. Doctor Regner, private tutor of philosophy, however, did read it, upon which he announced in various places:
“Blahouš is impossible. Simply impossible. How can you possibly take someone seriously who dares to write academic articles about religion when he believes in God himself?”
The Chronicler Apologises
Now please, allow the chronicler of the Absolute to draw attention to the difficulty of his situation. He has just written “Chapter XIII”, and is aware that this unhappy number will have a decisive influence on the clarity and fullness of his account. There will be something in this baneful chapter which will cause confusion, of this you can be sure: the author could have written (as if it didn’t matter) “Chapter XIV”, but the attentive reader would then feel himself cheated of Chapter XIII, and with good reason: he has, after all paid his money and can expect to receive the account in full. But, if you are afraid of the number thirteen you should skip this chapter: to be honest you won’t lose much of the light shed on the gloomy matter of the Absolute at Large.
And this is not the worst to cause embarassment for the chronicler. He has already outlined to you, as coherently as he can, how the initial factory was created and how it flourished. he has drawn your attention to the effects of a number of carburators such as Mister Machát’s, the one in Živno, in the textile works in Úpice, on Kuzenda’s dredger and in Binder’s roundabout: he has described the tragic case of Blahouš, caused by the Absolute’s ability to flow freely and infect people at long distance after, as we have seen, it had begun to spread inexorably, albeit without any perceptible plan.
But now consider this horrifying fact: since this whole affair began a thousand different carburators of many different types have been made. Trains, aeroplanes, cars and ships powered by this most inexpensive of motors have been leaving whole clouds of the Absolute in their wake in just the same way as they used to leave clouds of dust smoke and stench. Consider that thousands of factories all round the world have already thrown out their old boilers and converted to carburator power: that hundreds of ministries and offices, hotels and barracks, schools and theatres and workers hostels, thousands of editorial offices and clubouses, cabarets and homes were all being centrally heated with the latest MEAS carburator. Consider that MEAS was absorbing other companies and that Ford, in America, threw itself into mass production of carburators spewing thirty thousand new carburators into the world every day.
Yes, consider all this, and consider what effect the carburator has had on anyone you’ve been told about so far. Multiply these effects by a hundred thousand, and you will quickly understand what sort of problem the chronicler is faced with. He would love to come with you and wander round to each new caruburator as it appears, watch as it is placed on a waggon, given some hay, a piece of bread or a cube of sugar to the massive horses with their majestic broad backs as they pull the rattling cart to the factory with new copper cylinder: how he would love to stand with his arms on his hips and help to install each one, giving the workmen his advice and stay long enough to see each one begin to turn: then how keen he would be to watch people’s faces as “it” begins to take effect as the Absolute enters them through the nose, through the ears or whatever, as it dismantles the hardness of their natures, breaks their inclinations, heals their moral wounds: how it ploughs deep into their character and turns their earth, as it lights them up, grinds them down, changes what they are: how the world of miracles opens up before them, astonishing but so natural to mankind, the world of ecstasy, inspiration, holiness and faith! As please believe the chronicler when he tells you that describing these events is beyond him: a historian will make use of a compendium of his knowledge of events, heuristics, diplomacy, abstractions, syntheses, statistics and other techniques of his discipline all in conjuction, he will compress thousands and hundreds of thousands of detailed, live personal events into a dense material to be shaped in whatever way might appeal to him, then he will take the result and call it “historical fact”, “social evidence”, “cumulative events”, “development”, “culturual flow” or even “historical truth”. All the chronicler can do is look at individual events, but, after all, this is what a chronicler likes doing.
Now let us suppose he ought to be pragmatic, create and develop ideas, describe things synthetically and offer an explanation for the “flow of religion” that shook the world in the late nineteen-forties: aware of the enormity of his task, he will proceed to collecting and compiling the “religious manifestations” of that period: but on this heuristic route he might find, for instance, Jan Binder, emeritus variety perfomer in his stripey tee shirt, travelling from village to village with his atomic roundabout. Because of historical synthesis, the chronicler will clearly be prevented from taking the stripey tee shirt and the roundabout and even Jan Binder himself and drawing any inferences from them: he will be obliged to keep to the “historical kernel” and assert no more than that “from its earliest stages, the religious phenomenon shook all levels of society”. Here, the chronicler really ought to admit that he cannot tear himself away from Jan Binder, he is enchanted by his roundabout and even finds Binder’s stripey tee-shirt much more interesting than any “synthetic feature”. This is simply scientific incompetence, you might say, sheer dilletantism, too narrow a historic perspective or anything else you might think of: but if the chronicler were at liberty to indulge his own inclinations he would take up with Jan Binder, travel on with him down to České Budějovice and on to Klatovy, Pilsen, Žlutice and so on: it is only with regret that he can take his leave of him in Štěchovice give him a farewell- wave: goodbye Mister Binder, you’re a nice man, goodbye roundabout, we won’t be seeing each other again.
God help me, I even left Kuzenda and Brych on their dredger on the Vltava: I’d like to have spent many more evenings there with them, as I like the River Vltava, in fact water courses of any sort, and evenings by the water are especially nice, and I’ve become very fond of Mister Kuzenda and Mister Brych: as for Mister Hudec, the baker, the postman, the gamekeeper and the lovers from Štěchovice, I think even they would be worth closer attention, just like anyone, any one of you or any living person. But instead I have to hurry on and hardly even have the time to wave them goodbye with my hat. Goodbye, Mister Kuzenda, Goodnight, Mister Brych: thank you for that one night we spend on the dredger. And Doctor Blahouš, I even have to take my leave of you, too: I would love to spend many years with you and describe the whole of your life – after all, is the life of a private tutor not, in its own way, rich and exciting? Pass my greetings to your housekeper, at least.
Everything that is is worth observing.
And that’s why I’d like to go along with every new carburator on its way: I would meet, and you would meet with me, many new people, and that’s always worth doing: just to get a glimpse of their lives, see a tiny part of what’s in their hearts, watch as their personal faith is born and see their personal salvation, linger by each new miracle when someone becomes holy, that would be an experience for me! Think of the beggar, the big-businessman, the bank manager, the engine driver, warehouseman, rabbi, major, business manager, cabaret comedian, any sort of human occupation you can think of: think of the miser, the lecher, the snob, the skeptic, the sycophant, the careerist, and any sort of human character: now think of the various, endlessly different, peculiar and surprising cases where the grace of God has been shown (or, if you insist, cases of poisoning by the Absolute), and how difficult it would be to take an interest in every one of them! Think of the degrees of faith, ranging from the simple believer to the fanatic, from the penitent to the miracle worker, from the convert to the fervent apostle! To cover all of this! Put my hand to all of it! It would be in vain, this work would never be finished, there would be so much historical material that the chronicler would be forced to relinquish the honour of making a scientific distillation of it all, in a state of anguish he would be forced to turn away from cases which he is not required to report on.
I wish I could stay with the blessed Elen! I wish I were not forced to abandon R. Marek who is undergoing treatment in a spa town for his shattered nerves! I wish I could uncover Mister Bondy’s industrial strategy and the workings of his mind! But I have no choice in the matter. The Absolute has now inundated the world and become a mass phenomenon: the chronicler can only look back with regret and devote himself to giving a summary outline of some of the social and political events which inexorably took place.
So: let us embark on the examination of a new set of facts.
Land of Plenty
The chronicler – and certainly many of yourselves too – has often looked up at the stars in the night sky for whatever reason and become aware, in dumb amazement, of their enormous number and inconceivable size and distance, and reminded himself that each of those points is an immense world of fire or even an entire, living, solar system, and that these points could number in the billions: or when he has looked down from a high mountain (it happened to me in the Tatras Mountains in Slovakia) at the wide spread of meadows and woods and hills, and close in front of him the dense forest and grassland, everything in abundance, tangled, vigorous and astonishingly full of life, when he saw how the grass was thick with flowers and beetles and butterflies, and this dizzying abundance was repeated all over the panorama spread out before him to God knows where, and this panorama was like countless other panoramas all over the world, just as full and bountiful, covering the surface of our entire planet: when the chronicler has been faced with a spectacle such as this he has often thought of the Creator and said to himself:
If there was someone who made or created all this then, to put it plainly, it was a work of amazing, wasteful extravagance. If anyone was to demonstrate his right to call himself the Creator there was no need to create in such insane quantities. Abundance is chaos, and chaos is something like drunkenness or insanity. Yes, the human mind is offended at the superfluity of creation. There is simply too much of it. An insane boundlessness. Anyone who’s been eternal since birth will have become used to all these large scales, of course, and won’t have the right measure (as all measures will be based on infinity), or, more likely, He won’t have any measure at all.
Please don’t suppose I’m committing blasphemy: I’m simply trying to express the disproportion between human understanding and cosmic abundance. This pointless, abundant, fanatical excess of everything that exists. Looked at with a sober eye it seems more like an unleashing than any conscious or methodical creation. I just thought I’d better say that, for the sake of decency, before we go back to the subject at hand.
You will be already aware that the perfect burning invented by Marek all but proved the existence of the Absolute in all matter. It can be imagined thus (this is, of course, all hypothetical): before the creation, all that existed was the Absolute as limitless free energy: this free energy, for some important physical or moral reason, started to create: it was transformed into working energy, and, precisely in accordance with the laws of inversion, it was changed into a state of infinite bound energy: in this way it lost some of its power of work to create matter, in which it remained caged in latent form. And if that’s hard to understand there is nothing I can do about it.
So, it seems that burning material in Marek’s atomic motor would release this energy from the bounds that held it: it became Free Energy or the active Absolute, just as it had been before the Creation. It was a sudden liberation of the inscrutable working Power that had already been seen at the creation of the world.
If the whole of the universe were suddenly and perfectly burned it would become possible to reproduce the primaeval act of creation: it would certainly be the end of the world, a perfect liquidation that would make it possible to found a new world order, Cosmos II. But, as you know, Marek’s carburator was still only able to burn matter one kilo at a time. The Absolute, released in this way little by little, either did not feel strong enough to start a new creation straight away or maybe did not want to repeat what it had already done: in short, it somehow decided to manifest itself in two different ways, one that was somewhat traditional, and the other was decidedly modern.
The traditional way in which it made itself felt was, as you know, religious. It was the cause of various inspirations and conversions, moral effects and miracles, levitation, ecstasy, prophecies and, above all, religious faith. Here, the Absolute broke into the personal and cultural life of mankind in ways that were already well trodden, albeit to an extent unprecedented. After a few months there was hardly anyone on Earth who had not been smitten with religion for a least a short time, whose soul the Absolute had not laid claim to. We will return to this psychological manifestation of the Absolute later, once it becomes necessary to describe its catastrophic consequences.
The other way the Free Absolute showed its existence brought something entirely new. The boundless energy which had once been occupied with the creation of the world threw itself, clearly with regard to the changed circumstances, into industry. It did not create, it manufactured. Instead of pure creation it set to work at machines, and made itself the Infinite Workman.
Consider that every factory in the world, a factory making nails for instance, had by this time replaced its steam engines with a perfect carburator as the cheapest source of energy. The Absolute was continuously emerging from these atomic motors, and with its innate intelligence glanced, as it were, at means of production by day and then, perhaps because of its unstoppable urge to create or perhaps because of ambition, threw itself into production: it began making nails on its own initiative. Once it had started there was no stopping it. The machine, with nobody there to operate it, spewed out nails and ever larger quantities of iron were supplied for making them. At first sight it was horrifying. When materials were used up, iron surged up to replace them, the ground around the factory sweated pure iron as if sucked up from the depths of the Earth: then the iron rose about a meter in the air and glid rapidly into the machines as if something had shoved it there. Do be careful here: I use the phrase “the iron rose” and “glid”, but all the eye witnesses say they got the impression that the iron was lifted by an invisible but irresistible force, something with such an obvious concentration of power that it made you shudder: there was clearly some mighty horror doing it all. Yes, some of you may have played around with spiritualism and seen “the table rise”: I have been assured that the table does not rise with the ease of something immaterial but with a kind of jerky effort: it bursts from all its bonds, shudders, is forced up by degrees until it is thrown into the air as if struggling against some kind of force. But how am I to descrbe this horrible, mute struggle whereby iron is lifted from the depths of the earth, beaten into rods and inserted into the machines that will chop them into nails? The rods coil round like whips, rattle and scrape in their efforts to resist the silent, immaterial force that moves them. Every account given at the time describes the horror felt at this sight: it’s true that it was a miracle, but don’t imagine that a miracle must be something light and easy like in a fairy tale: it seems, rather, that a real miracle is based on something startling, enervating, tense. But whatever effort the Absolute had to apply to this work it was overshadowed by the sheer, astonishing quantity produced: the number of nails produced by one factory, as that is the branch of industry we are talking about at present, was enough to create whole mountains of them in the yard, they were churned out day and night so that mountains would rise beyond the factory yards and fill the streets around it.
Let us stay on the subject of nails, as the manufacture of nails shows the wasteful but inexhaustible nature of the Absolute, just as it was at the creation of the world. Once it had thrown itself into production it showed no concern for distribution, demand, market, purpose, no concern for anything whatsoever: all of its tremendous energy was devoted simply to spewing out nails. It was, at its heart, eternal, and had no concept of adequacy or limits in anything, not even nails.
Try to imagine the astonishment of the workers in nail factory such as this when they saw the production levels after the new engine had been installed. For them it was unexpected and unfair competition, something that would render their own labour superfluous, it was Manchester capitalism mounting an attack on the working man and they would have good reason to set themselves in opposition to it. They would at least have been justified in demolishing the factory and hanging its owners had they not been taken by surprise and overcome by the Absolute, so that every form of religious enlightenment appeared among them. Instead of unrest, they manifested levitation, prophesying, miracle working, clairvoyance, healing of the sick, holiness, love for their neighbours and other such unnatural acts and wonders.
On the other hand, you might well imagine how the factory owners viewed this God-given mass manufacture. You might well think they would celebrate, sack all the workers, who already annoyed them half to death anyway, and rub their hands with glee at the heaps of nails which had not cost them a penny to produce. But they too were subject to the mental effects of the Absolute and immediately made the entire factory over to the workers, their brothers in God, to form an industrial co-operative. It was not long, though, before they realised these heaps of nails were totally worthless because there was no way of getting rid of them.
It was true that the workers would no longer have to stand at the machines with rods of iron in their hand, and that they were now co-owners of the works, but within a few days it became obvious they would need to find some way of removing the hundreds of tons of nails which, by now, could no longer be seen as goods. First they tried sending wagonloads of nails to false addresses: then all they could do was dump them in enormous heaps outside the town. Removing the nails in this way kept all the workers occupied for fourteen hours a day but they made no complaint as they had been enlightened with the spirit of God and service to their neighbours.
Forgive me for having spent so much time on the subject of nails. The Absolute did not specialise in any one branch of industry. It threw itself with the same vigour into the manufacture of textiles where it performed a miracle not only by weaving rope out of sand but even fine thread: the machines for spinning and weaving and knitting threw out millions of kilometers of all kinds of textiles and did so without stopping, causing upheaval in the whole of the industry. It took control of the iron works, the foundries, the engineering works, the factories making machinery, the sawmills, the timber works, rubber works, sugar producers, chemical industries, fertiliser industries, nitrate works, printers, paper works, dye works, glass works, ceramic works, shoemakers, weavers, all the kilns, all the mines, all the breweries distillers and dairies, the mills were taken over, the mints were taken over the car works were taken over and the grinding shops were taken over. It span, it knitted, it wove, it smelted, it hammered, it assembled, it sewed, it planed, it sawed, it soldered, it pressed, it bleached, it refined, it cooked, it filtered, it printed through all the twenty-four hours of the day – and sometimes twenty-six! Where it took the place of tractors it ploughed, it sowed, it harrowed, it weeded, it reaped, it harvested, and it threshed. Wherever the Absolute was put to use it obtained ten times more material and made a hundred times more products than before. It was inexhaustible. It was a volcano of productivity. Its boundlessness was expressed as abundance.
The miraculous feeding of the five-thousand with a few loaves and fishes was repeated on a monumental scale, and became the miraculous supply of nails, boards, nitric fertilisers, tyres, printing-paper and any and every other industrial product.
The world entered a period of boundless plenty. Everything was there that mankind needed, except that boundless plenty was just what mankind did not need.
In the well ordered times – I might even say blessed times – we now live in, when everything has its proper price, it’s impossible for us to imagine what a social evil unbounded plenty could represent. We suppose it would be nothing less than paradise, Heaven on Earth, if everything were suddenly available in unlimited abundance. Wonderful, we would think, to have enough for everybody, and everything so cheap!
But in the time we are describing, when the Absolute had begun to take a hand in industrial production, everything that anyone could possibly need was not just cheap but entirely free, and the result was an economic disasaster. Not only could you take a handful of nails for nothing to bang into your floorboards, but you could take a whole wagonload of nails. But then, tell me, what would you do with a whole wagonload? Would you transport them somewhere a hundred miles away to be distributed – again for nothing? You would not do that because if you were standing on a whole mountain of nails you would no longer see them as nails, that is as something fairly useful, but as something entirely worthless and meaningless, simply because of their abundance. They would be of no more use than the stars in the sky. There was indeed a time when a pile of shiney new nails was seen as something noble that would inspire the poet, just like the stars, they seemed made simply for our mute admiration. The heaps of nails seemed, in their way, to be a part of the landscape and they added to its beauty, just like the sea. But, again like the sea, they were not loaded onto wagons and transported inland where there was no sea. There is no commercial distribution of seawater, and now there was none for nails either.
So while one place was inundated with a shining sea of nails, just a few miles away there were none to be found. They had no commercial value, and so they disappeared from the shops. If you needed a nail or two to fix the heel heel on your shoe , or to play a trick on your neighbour you would search for them in vain. There were no more nails than there is sea in Bohemia. Where are the merchants of yesteryear, the traders who bought the goods we need cheap and sold them dear? Alas, they have disappeared, for the grace of God has fallen upon them: they have become ashamed of their profits and closed their shops. Now they contemplate the brotherhood of man and give away their belongings, now they never ever try to become rich by distributing the goods their brothers need. Where there is no price there is no market. Where there is no market there is no distribution. Where there is no distribution there are no goods. And where there are no goods there is poverty, prices rise, profits rise, share prices rise. But the businessmen have turned away from the profit motive in disgust, an insuperable aversion to money and the counting of it. They stopped seeing the world in terms of consumption, markets and turnover. They put their hands together and admired the holiness and beauty of the world. And meanwhile there were no more nails. No more nails, even though not very far away there were mountains of them.
And the bakers too. The bakers went out in front of their shops and called, “Come, good people, come with the love of Christ and take the loaves you need, take flour, take cakes and pastries: praise the Lord and take all for nothing!” And the cloth merchants rolled bales of material and straight out onto the street, with tears of joy they cut off five or ten meters of cloth to give to each passer-by, begging them to accept their little present. Only once their shops were quite empty did they fall on their knees and thank the Lord for giving them the task of dressing their neighbours like the lilies of the field. The butchers put baskets on their heads full of meat and sausages and cooked meat and carried them from door to door, urging each householder to take whatever she wanted. The sellers of shoes, furniture, tobacco, baggage, spectacles, jewellery, carpets, whips, ropes, hardware, porcelain, books, false teeth, vegetables, medicines, whatever goods you can think of, all of them, inspired by the breath of God, rushed out onto the streets and distributed all they had in the noble ecstasy of the grace of God. When all their goods and possessions had been given away they stood in the doorways of their empty shops and storerooms and, their eyes shining with joy, told each other, “Well, brother, that is a great weight off my conscience!”
After a few days of this there was nothing more anywhere to be given away. And there was nothing more to be bought, either. The Absolute had plundered and emptied all the shops of everything.
Meanwhile, far from the cities, millions of tons of cloth was churning out from the looms, niagaras of sugar cubes from the machines, a burgeoning and inexhaustible cornucopia of every kind of product created by God’s over-production. Any feeble attempt to distribute this flood of goods to where it could be used soon came to a halt. It simply couldn’t be done.
It’s even possible that this economic disaster also caused something else: monetary inflation. The Absolute, you see, had also taken over the national mints and printing works. Every day hundreds of millions of banknotes and coins and letters of credit were churned out into the world, so that devaluation was a matter of course. Soon a bundle of five-thousand korun notes was nothing more than rather hard toilet paper. If you wanted to buy a child’s lollipop it was all the same if you offered one koruna or half a million, you still wouldn’t get your lollipop as lollipops had disappeared. All the numbers used by accountants lost their meaning. The entire system of accountancy was overturned which was, of course, no more than a natural consequence of divine boundlessness and omnipotence.
About this time shortages and even famines began to appear in the cities. Because of the reasons just outlined, the entire apparatus for the supply goods had collapsed.
The government ministries were still there, ministries of trade and industry, social security, transport: it would have been possible to gather the tremendous flow of products spewing out from the factories, to prevent their decay, and organise their distribution to the areas devastated by God’s generosity. Unfortunately, though, this did not happen. Ministry staff spent all the time when they could have been working engrossed in prayer, enraptured by a grace stronger than anything known before. The ministry of supply was controlled by one of the clerks, Miss Šárová, who preached about the Seven Stages: in the ministry of trade the department manager, Mister Winkler, devoted himself to an asceticism similar to Indian yoga. This mania, however, lasted only a fortnight before, as miraculously as it had disappeared, the staff regained their sense of duty. It must have been the Absolute that reminded them of it. In the effort to resolve the catastrophe afflicting the distribution of goods they worked feverishly by day and night, but it was clearly too late. The only result was that each ministry issued fifteen to fifty-three thousand documents every day, which an inter-ministerial commission then ordered to be taken away in lorries and dumped in the river.
Worst of all was the situation affecting food, but fortunately (at least as far as the Czech lands were concerned) we had OUR STOUT-HEARTED FARMERS! Gentlemen, this is the time to remember that we have always honoured our farm workers, the heart of the nation. There is even an ancient song in their praise: “Who is that man? What is he called? The farmer of Czech land, who feeds us all!” . The fever of waste and squandering caused by the Absolute did not come near him. Who is that man? He stood firm while the markets of the world fell into panic. Who is that man. He did not fold his hands in his lap, did not succumb to alarm and panic, he remained faithful to his calling. “Who is that man? What is he called? The farmer of Czech land, who feeds us all!”
Yes, it was the farmers, here and elsewhere, who in their way saved the world from starvation. Imagine if they had been struck with the mania of giving all they had away to the poor and needy like the people in the cities; if they had given all their grain away, their cattle and their calves, their chickens and their geese and their potatoes: within two weeks the cities would have been hungry and the country would have been emptied, sucked dry, without any supplies and itself facing starvation. Thanks to our jolly farmers this did not need to happen. In retrospect, we might try to explain this miracle in terms of the farm workers’ instincts, or we might talk about their faithful, pure and deeply grounded tradition, or we might merely try to explain it by pointing out that carburators were not used in the same enormous numbers in small farms as they were in industry. In short, however you want to explain it, the Absolute was less virulent in the countryside and the farmers were not taken over by it, the farms did not suffer the same general economic and commercial collapse as happened in the cities. The farmers did not give away a single piece of straw or a single grain of oats. The old commercial and industrial order was in ruins, but the farmers remained calm and unperturbed and sold what they had. And they sold it dear. They had some secret instinct that let them foresee what disasters would be caused by over-abundance, and they slowed production in time. They slowed production so that prices would rise however full their granaries were. This is an indication of the amazing, good sense at the heart of our countryfolk; without a word, without organisation, led to salvation by nothing more than their inner voice, and wherever they were, they put up the prices. Because everything had become so dear, nothing was wasted. In the middle of insane abundance of everything, there was an enclave of scarcity and high prices. There is no doubt they somehow knew they that in this way were saving the world .
Goods that had been given away for nothing quickly lost their value – as they had to as a natural consequence of their being available for free- and disappeared from the market, but the buying and selling of foodstuffs continued. You did, of course, have to travel out to the country to get it. Your local butcher and baker and grocer had nothing more to give you than his brotherly love and the word of the Lord, so you put on you rucksack and went out a hundred and twenty kilometers, from farm to farm, and finally you would be able to buy a kilo of potatoes in return for a gold watch, or an egg for a pair of binoculars, or a kilo of bran for an accordion or a typewriter. And there was food to eat. Do understand, if each farmer had given it all away you would soon have perished, but he took a pound of butter and put it to one side for you, waiting for you to arrive and give him a Persian carpet for it, or a rare and costly folk costume.
So tell me; who was it who stopped the insane communist experiments of the Absolute from going too far? Who was it who did not lose his head in a pandaemonium of virtue? Who resisted the disastrous flood of plenty and, with no thought for our lives or property, saved us from destruction?
“Who is that man? What is he called?
The farmer of Czech land, who feeds us all!”
In the Mountains
Afternoon in a hut in Bear Valley. Rudolf Marek sits hunched on the veranda, looks at the newspaper, puts it away again, and looks out at the broad sweep of the Giant’s Mountains. It’s quiet, the wide and crystalline quiet of the mountains, and the man sits up from his huddled position to take in some deep breaths.
Below him he notices a small figure making its way up towards the hut. “The air is so clean here,” says Marek to himself on the veranda. “Here, thank God, the Absolute is just an abstract idea, He’s trapped inside everything, He’s hidden inside these woods and mountains, inside this lovely grass and this blue sky; He isn’t loose in this part of the world, He doesn’t spread terror here, doesn’t perform any magic, He’s just bound up as a part of all matter, God is here, deep inside everything, but He’s quiet, doesn’t even breathe, simply silent and watching …” Marek put his hands together in a silent prayer of thanks. “God, the air is so clean here!”
The man who had been climbing his way up from below stopped under the veranda. “At last Marek, I’ve found you!” Marek, not very pleased, looked up. Standing in front of him was G.H. Bondy.
“Found you at last!” Mister Bondy repeated.
“Come on up,” said Marek, clearly displeased. “What brings you here, of all places? Look at the state of you!”
G.H. Bondy did indeed look haggard and yellow; his temples had turned grey and there were clusters of tired wrinkles around his eyes. Without speaking, he sat down next to Marek and put his hands between his knees.
“Well, what’s been happening to you then?” insisted Marek after a tense pause.
Bondy waved his hand. “I’m going to retire. It … you see … it happened to me too.”
“The grace of God?” exclaimed Marek, and he sat back weakly, as if suddenly ill.
Bondy nodded. Could that have been a tear of shame quivering there on his eyelashes?
Marek quietly whistled. “Even you, then. I pity you!”
“No,” objected Bondy promptly as he wiped his eyes. “Don’t get the idea that I’m still … Ruda, I, I somehow overcame it. I bit through it, but when it came to me it really was the happiest time of my life. You’ve no idea how much effort it takes to get rid of it.”
“I’m sure it does,” said Marek seriously. “So tell me, what sort of … symptoms did you have?”
“Love for my neighbour,” Bondy whispered. “Ruda, I was insane with love. I would never have believed it was possible to feel love like that.”
There was a period of silence. “So, now then …,” Marek resumed.
“Now I’ve got over it. It was felt just like when a fox bites off its own foot to get out of a trap. And it’s left me damned weak, too. I’m a complete ruin. As if I’d had typhus. That’s why I’ve come up here, to recuperate … Is it clean here?”
“Perfectly clean. So far there’s been no sign at all of … of Him. You can sense God in the landscape and nature and everywhere, just like you always have in the mountains, but that’s all.”
Bondy was silent and grim. “And what,” he said confusedly after a while, “what do you think of it all then? Do you even know what’s actually been going on down there?”
“I get the papers. Even from newspapers it’s possible to work out what’s going on to some extent. It’s all very confused but, if you can read between the lines … Bondy, tell me, is it really as horrifying as it sounds?”
G.H. Bondy shook his head. “It’s worse than you think. It’s just hopeless. Listen,” he whispered in his despair, “He’s simply everywhere. I think He’s got some kind of clear plan.”
“Plan?” exclaimed Marek, jumping up from his seat.
“Don’t keep shouting. He’s got some kind of plan, I tell you. He’s as sly as the Devil. Marek, tell me, what’s the greatest power on Earth?”
“England,” replied Marek unhesitatingly.
“Not at all. The greatest power on Earth is industry. Industry and the mass of the common people, they’re the greatest power on Earth. Can you see His plan now?”
“He’s taken hold of both of them. He’s taken hold and He’s in control of both of them, and that means He has a hand in everything. Everything shows that He wants to take control of the whole world. That’s what He’s doing, Marek.”
Marek sat back down. “Listen, Bondy,” he said. “I’ve had plenty of time to think things over up here in the mountains. I keep an eye on what’s going on and I compare all the evidence. In fact I don’t think about anything else. I don’t know what it’s all leading to, but one thing I’m sure of is that He doesn’t have any kind of plan. He still doesn’t have any idea what He’s doing. Perhaps He hopes to do something big but He doesn’t know how to go about it. Let me tell you, Bondy, all He is so far is a natural force. He’s hopelessly uninformed about politics. He’s a complete barbarian about economics. He should have taken over the Church, they do have some experience in … Sometimes He seems to me just like a child.”
“Don’t you believe that, Ruda,” Bondy warned him earnestly. “He knows perfectly well what He wants. That’s why He threw Himself into industry. He’s more modern that we previously thought.
“Industry is just a plaything for Him,” Marek objected. “He just wants something to do. He’s like some kind of divine childhood. But I think I can see what you’re trying to say. He can do an enormous amount of work, what He’s capable of is overwhelming. But everything He does is just nonsense: there can’t be any kind of plan behind it.”
“Even the most nonsensical things in history have been carried out according to carefully laid plans,” G.H. Bondy declared.
“Bondy, look at these papers I’ve got here,” said Marek, speaking fast. “Look at each of the steps He’s made. I’m telling you, there’s no coherenece to it at all. It’s all just improvisation and a display of what He can do. The tricks He performs are enormous, but they’re somehow blind, incoherent, confused. Can’t you see? There’s not a speck of organisation in anything He does. He came into the world unprepared, and that’s His weakness. I’m impressed by Him too, but I can still see His weaknesses. He’s a bad organiser and probably always has been. He has ideas of genius, but they’re incoherent. I can’t understand why you still can’t see this, Bondy, somebody as sly as you are!”
“There’s nothing you can do against Him,” thought Bondy. He takes hold of your soul and you’ve had it. If He can’t persuade you by reason He sends some miraculous enlightenment to take you. You know what happened to Šavel.”
“You think you can run away from Him,” said Marek, “but I’m going to hunt Him down and I’m already close on His heels. I’ve already got to know Him well enough and I might be able to prepare a warrant for His arrest. Appearance: infinite, invisible, faceless. Place of Abode: everywhere in proximity of an atomic motor. Occupation: mystic communism. Offences Warranting Arrest: theft, unauthorised activity as a medical doctor, illegal assembly, impeding official activity, etc. Distinguishing characteristic: omnipotence. To be arrested on sight.”
“Now you’re making a joke of it,” said Bondy with a sigh. “It’s not a laughing matter. He’s overpowered us.”
“Not yet!” exclaimed Marek. “Listen, Bondy, He still doesn’t know how to govern. When He’s tried to do something new He’s made a complete mess of it, such as throwing Himself straight into massive over-production instead of first building some miraculous railway system. Now He’s got Himself into a real mess, and all the things He’s made are no good for anything. All this miraculous abundance has been a complete waste. Secondly, He penetrated all the offices with His mysticism and stopped all the administration work just when it’s most needed to keep order. You can have a revolution any time you want, but leave officialdom alone; even if you want the end of the world, you first destroy the universe and leave officialdom till last. That’s just how it is, Bondy. And thirdly, just like some hopelessly naive armchair communist, He’s destroyed the money system, and thus, at a stroke, crippled the distribution of goods. He didn’t know that the laws of the market are stronger than the laws of God. He didn’t know that manufacturing without commerce is simply nonsense. He didn’t know anything. He went about it like … like … Well, in short, He destroys with one hand what He makes with the other. We have miraculous abundance, and at the same time catastrophic need. He’s omnipotent, and all He’s created is chaos. I can believe that at one time He really did create the laws of nature and the dinosaurs and the mountains and anything else you might name; but commerce, Bondy, I can guarantee you He did not create our modern system of industry and commerce because He clearly doesn’t have the slightest idea about it. No, Bondy, industry and commerce are definitely not from God.”
“Wait,” G.H. Bondy interrupted him, “I know that what He’s done has been a catastrophe, a boundless catastrophe … But what can we do about it?”
“For now, nothing. All I’m doing for the time being, my dear Bondy, is watching and comparing. It’s a new Babylon. Look at these papers here, they’re published by the Church and suggest ‘the present confusion in matters of religion might well have originated, with Diabolic sophistication, from the Freemasons’. The national press puts the blame on the Jews, the right is blaming the left, farmers are hurling themselves at liberals. It’s all about to burst. And believe me, even this still won’t be the main battle. I think the real muddle is only just beginning to get started. Come closer, Bondy, I want to tell you something.”
“Do you think He … you know what I mean by ‘He’ … Do you think there’s just one of them.
“I don’t know,” Bondy replied. “Does it matter?”
“Everything depends on it,” answered Marek. “Come closer, Bondy. Listen.”
The Hammer and the Star
“Brother of the First Watch, what do you see to the East?” asked the Venerable Master, dressed all in black but for his white leather apron and a silver hammer in his hand.
“I see the Master Masons assembled in the Workshop and Ready to Work,” said the First Watch.
The Venerable Master struck with his hammer. “Brother of the Second Watch, what do you see to the West?”
“I see the Master Masons assembled in the Workshop and Ready to Work.”
The Venerable Master struck three times with his hammer: “Let Work Commence.”
The brothers of the “Hammer and Star” lodge of the Free French Masons sat, their eyes fixed on their Venerable Master, Mister G.H. Bondy, who had called this extraordinary meeting. The Workshop was as quiet as a church. Its walls were hung with black drapes in which were embroidered the Fundamental Tenets. Bondy, the Venerable Master, looked pale and thoughtful.
“Brothers,” he began after a while, “I have called this extraordinary … extraordinary meeting in order … in order to … against the secrept precepts of our order … more than just a formality. I know … know this is a violation of the ceremonial … the holy character or our mission … I call on you to pass … to pass a motion … on a matter of great seriousness … a matter facing the public … a matter of enormous scope.”
There was general agitation. “The Venerable Master is entitled to lay this task on us,” the Judex Formidabilis declared.
“So,” G.H. Bondy began, “this is because .. our order … our order is faced with a concerted attack from the Church. They claim that our centuries-old …. our secret activities … are in some way connected with the peculiar … with the regrettable events .. which have been taking place in the fields of industry and religion. Papers supporting the Church contend that the free-thinking lodges … deliberately … deliberately summoned up demonic powers. They claim … that what we do …. our actions … in the face of the current catastrophe … for the benefit of mankind … in honour of the Supreme Being. I … I open the floor.”
There was a period of ceremonial silence and then the Second Watch got to his feet.
“Brothers, at this historical moment I welcome these, as it were, profound words from our Venerable Master. He tells us, so to speak, of ‘regrettable events’. Yes! We who, as it were, strive solely for the benefit of mankind, it is our duty to declare that all these regrettable miracles, enlightenments, fits of neighbourly love and other disturbances are events which, so to speak, are highly regrettable. It is our duty, with all the secrecy appropriate to our order, to deny, as it were, any connection with the regrettable facts which, so to speak, are not a part of the traditions or the progressive principles of our great order. Brothers, these regrettable principles are, so to speak, fundamentally opposed to that which, as our Venerable Master quite rightly expressed it, and because the Church, as it were, has taken up arms against us, and if we bear in mind, if I may express myself thus, the highest benefit of mankind, and I therefore propose, in the fullest sense of the word, that we show our full support for these regrettable events, as our Venerable Master so rightly put it.”
The Judex Formidabilis stood.
“Venerable Master, I would like to say something if I may. I would certainly agree that certain events have been spoken of here, and in a regrettable way. I, however, take the view that these events are not as regrettable as our brother, the Second Watch, seems to think. It is true that I am not clear as to which events our brother, the Second Watch, has in mind, but if he is thinking of the religious assemblies which I attend myself then I forced to the opinion that he is mistaken, or even, to put it plainly, that he is wrong.”
“I propose,” said another brother, “that the matter should be put to a vote to decide whether the aforementioned events are regrettable or not.”
“I suggest,” said another voice, “we appoint a select committee to examine these regrettable events. Three members should be about the right size.”
“Brothers, please!” The Judex Formidabilis said, “I have still to finish speaking.”
The Venerable Master struck with his hammer. “Brother Judex Formidabilis has the floor.”
“Brothers,” the Judex began gently, “let us not squabble over words. The events that have provoked these regrettable opinions are of a nature that deserves our interest, our observation and even our attention. I do not deny that I have taken part in a number of religious circles through which the special grace of God has been conferred. I hope this is in no way in any conflict with the rules or discipline of the Freemasons.”
“Not at all,” several voices agreed.
“Further, I admit that I have myself had the honour of carrying out a number of small miracles. I do not believe that this is in conflict with my rank or my position.”
“I can therefore assure you, based on my own experience, that these events, far from being regrettable, are dignified, elevating and honourable, that they contribute to the well-being of mankind and the glory of the Supreme Being, and that, from the Freemasons’ point of view, there cannot be any objection to them. I propose that this lodge declare its neutrality towards all these manifestations of the presence of God.”
The First Watch stood and said:
“Brothers, I myself don’t quite believe all of these things, I haven’t seen anything and I don’t know anything, but I do believe it’s better for us be in favour of something religious than against. I think there’s nothing in it, myself, but why do we have to go and make an announcement about it? So I suggest we let it be known, secretly, that we have the best information about this and that we agree that things should stay as they are.”
The Venerable Master raised his eyes and said, “Brothers, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that the Confederation of Industry has elected the Absolute its honorary president. I’d also like to point out that shares in MEAS, known as ‘shares in the Absolute’ might well continue to rise. There is also a donor who wishes not to be named who has given a thousand of these shares to the Widows and Orphans Fund of our lodge. Please carry on.”
“In this case,” the Second Watch declared, “I would like to take back, so to speak, these regrettable events. Seen from the highest point of view, I am totally in agreement. I urge us all to discuss the matter, as it were, from the highest point of view.”
The Venerable Master raised his eyes and said, “I need to point out that the Supreme Lodge intends to issue its own instructions about recent events. It recommends masons to join these religious circles and organise them along Freemason lines as apprentice workshops. In this way, new workshops will operate in a spirit of enlightenment and opposition to the Church. I recomment you look into denominations of various kinds: monistic, temperance, Fletscherian, vegetarian, and so on. Each of these circles follows a different faith, and we can gain practical experience as to which of them is best for the benefit of mankind and the glory of the Supreme being. The Supreme Lodge instructs all masons to carry out these commands. Please, carry on with the discussion.”
Night Time in the Editing Room
The People’s Friend had a wider circulation than any other Catholic or popular journal, but the editorial staff was nonetheless very limited; which is why at half past nine in the evening the only people in the office were the night editor, Mister Košťál (God knows why night editors always smell so strongly of pipe tobacco) and Father Jošt, whistling through his teeth as he wrote the leader article for the following day.
Just then Mister Novotný, the typesetter came in with some fresh proofs in his hand. “What about this leader, then, what about this leader?” he growled. “How soon can we set it?”
Father Jošt stopped whistling. “Very soon now, Mister Novotný,” he said hurriedly. “There’s one word, though, I need to think of first. Have we already had ‘machine from Hell’?”
“Two days ago.”
“Aha. And have we had ‘vicious scheme’?”
” ‘Villainous trick’?”
“We used that one today.”
” ‘Godless invention’?”
“At least six times,” said Košťál.
“Oh, that’s a pity,” said Father Jošt with a sigh. “I do think we could have put our ideas to better use. How do you like today’s leader, Mister Novotný?”
“It’s good,” the typesetter replied. But we need to get it into print.”
“you’ll have it right away,” Father Jošt told him. ” I think they were quite satisfied with the early issue upstairs. His Grace the bishop will come down, you’ll see. ‘Jošt,’ he’ll say, ‘a nice piece of invective, Jošt’, he’ll say. Have we already had ‘insane funfair’?”
“Oh, that’s a pity. We’ll have to put some new batteries in and hurry. His Grace did tell me we would have to hurry! Everything has its time, but we don’t have eternity. Mister Novotný, can you think of a suitable phrase?”
“How about ‘malicious folly’. Or ‘perverse malevolence’?”
“That will be alright,” said Father Jošt with relief. “Where do you get such good ideas from, Mister Novotný?”
“From old copies of The People’s Friend. But this leader, Father!”
“It won’t be long now, just wait a little while. ‘The malicious folly and perverse malevolence shown by members of some circles who, with their worship of Baal, pollute the pure waters that flow from the rock of Saint Peter …’ ah, yes, soon be ready, ‘Rock of Saint Peter, pollute the pure waters,’ yes, ‘and put in their place the golden calf that serves the Devil or the Absolute ….”
“Have you got that leader yet?” came a voice from the doorway.
“Praise the Lord, it’s his Grace,” Father Jošt exclaimed.
“Have you got that leader yet?” Consecrating Bishop Linda repeated as he strode into the room. “And who the Hell wrote that leader in the early edition? you made a right mess of things there! What bloody fool wrote that?”
“Th..that was me,” Father Jošt stuttered. “y..your Grace,” he cowered, “I … I only thought…”
“It’s not your job to think,” Bishop Linda snarled as sparks of light reflected horribly from his glasses. “Just look at this,” he said as he crumpled an early copy of The People’s Friend in his fist and threw it down at Father Jošt. “He only thought! Look at him. He only thought! Why didn’t you phone and ask? You should have asked what you were supposed to write. And what about you, Košťál, what were you thinking of, letting this go to print? You only thought too, did you? Novotný?”
“Yes sir,” the typesetter groaned, his knees shaking.
“Why did you put this into print? You only thought too, I suppose.”
“Er, no sir”, the typesetter protested. “I just have to set whatever I’m given, sir.”
“No-one has to do anything unless I tell them to,” the bishop declared conclusively. “Jošt! Sit down and read this rubbish you put out this morning. Go on, read!”
“The public in this country …,” Father Jošt read with tremulous voice, “The public in this country has long been disturbed by …. villainous trick ….”
“Villainous trick, your Grace,” Father Jošt groaned. “I .. I only thought …. I … I can see now that …”
“Maybe that was a little bit strong: ‘villainous trick’.”
“I should say it was a bit strong. Carry on reading!”
“…’villainous trick with what they call the Absolute… that freemasons, Jews and other progressives use to fool the world. It has been scientifically proven … ‘ “
“Well, fancy that, Jošt!” the bishop shouted. “Something’s been scientifically proven! Carry on reading!”
“… scientifically proven,” stuttered poor Father Jošt, ” that this so-called Absolute … is just a swindle perpetrated by unbelievers … just as attempts by the media …”
“That’s enough now, Father Jošt,” said the consecrating bishop, suddenly becoming gentle. “Write down this leader: ‘it has been scientifically proven …’ , got that so far?… ‘proven that I, Father Jošt, am an ass, a noodle, an incompetent …’ . Got that, have you?”
“Yes your Grace,” whispered the humiliated Father Jošt. “Please carry on, sir.”
“Throw that in the bin, sone,” the bishop said, and see if you can get your stupid head around this. Have you seen today’s papers?”
“Yes, your Gr…”
“I’m not so sure about that. This morning, Father Jošt, the first publication to come out was written by the monists. According to them, the Absolute is that single entity that the monists have always acknowledged as the true god, and so the cult of the Absolute is perfectly in accord with their teachings. Read it, have you?”
“I have r…”
“And the freemasons too, they tell their members they should do what they can to encourage and develop the Absolute. Read it?”
“And at the Lutheran synod, Superintendent Maartens gave a five hour long speech proving that the Absolute was identical with God the Provider. Read that, have you?”
“I did r …”
“And at the Seventh International the Russian delegate, Paruskin-Rebenfeld, urged that Comrade God should be honoured because He had shown His sympathy for the working man by going into the factories with him. He adds that we should offer thanks to the Supreme Comrade for deciding to go to work himself instead of exploiting the workers. He proposes there should be a general strike in all His factories as a sign of solidarity – at least, until a secret meeting of the presidium cancelled the proposal because it wasn’t the right time. Read that, did you?”
” I d…”
“In the end, they passed a resolution that the Absolute is the exclusive property of the working classes, and the burgeoisie have no right to praise Him or to benefit from any of His miracles. They resolved to cultivate the cult of the Absolute for the workers, and to build up a secret stock of weapons, just in case the capitalists try to exploit the Absolute for themselves. Did you read that?”
“Yes your G…”
“There’s been a speech by the Freethinkers, a publication by the Salvation Army, a communiqué from the Theosophical Society Adyar, an open letter addressed to the Absolute and signed by the Small Land-owners’ Association, a declaration by the Society of Carousel Owners signed by its president, J. Binder, a special edition of the undertakers’ magazine and a special edition of Voices from the Underworld, The Anabaptist Reader and The Abstinent. Read all of this, have you?”
“So, my son, you can see that everyone everywhere is celebrating the Absolute and claiming it for themselves, bestowing honours on it and making wonderful offers to it, making it an honorary member of theirs and saying it’s their benefactor, their protector, their God and I don’t know what else. Meanwhile, here, there’s some lunatic Father Jošt – our very own Father Jošt, if you please, our own little Father Jošt – who goes round shouting that it’s all a big con trick and scientifically proven swindle! You’ve really dropped us in it for Christ’s sake!”
“But your Grace, I had been ordered to … to write against … against these … apparitions …”
“So you had,” the consecrating bishop interrupted him sternly. “But how the Hell didn’t you see the situation had changed? Jošt,” the bishop shouted as he stood erect. “Our churches are empty, and their flocks are running to the Absolute. Are you too bloody stupid to see that if we want to keep our flocks for ourselves we need to get the Absolute on our side. We need to get atomic carburators in all our churches. But you, your Reverence, that’s something you can’t understand. Just remember this: the Absolute has to be working for us; it has to be something we own, id est, something we own and no-one else does. Capiscis, mi fili?”
“Capisco,” Father Jošt whispered.
“Deo gratias! Now Jošt, what you do now is you turn right around. You’re going to write a nice little leader for us, you’re going to tell everyone that the Holy Congregation hears the wishes of them that have faith and has accepted the Absolute into the bosom of the Church. Novotný, here’s an apostolic decree dealing with the matter; get it on the front page – large and heavy print. Košťál, write something for the City pages that G.H. Bondy is taking holy baptism from the supreme pastor on Sunday, and that we’re delighted to have him; understand? And Jošt, little Jošt, sit down and start writing … Wait, you’ll need some kind of strong words for the opening.”
Yes, your Grace: perhaps something like ‘malicious folly and perverse malevolence shown by members of some circles …’ ?”
“Good. Now, write this: ‘The malicious folly and perverse malevolence shown by members of some circles has been attempting to lead our people along the wrong path for many months now. These heretics have been declaring publicly that the Absolute is something other than the one true God to which we have been praying since we were children …’ . Got that? ‘Praying to with the faith of a child … faith and love of a child … ‘. Got that? Next …”
The Canonisation Process
I’m sure you will understand that accepting the Absolute into the bosom of the Church was, in the circumstances, quite surprising. It was achieved simply by Papal edict, and the College of Cardinals, faced with a fait accompli, was left with nothing more to decide than whether the Absolute could be given holy baptism. It was decided not to take this step. Baptism of God was, after all, a clear part of Church tradition (viz John the Baptist) but it would be necessary for the baptised to be present. And not only would He need to be present, but there was also the politically sensitive question of what authority would be the Absolute’s godfather. So the holy congregation decided to recommend that, at the next pontifical mass, the Holy Father should pray for a new wing of the Chuch, which was created with great celebration. It also became Church doctrine to acknowledge baptism by holiness, by service and by honourable deeds as well as baptism by sacrament and by blood.
In other words, three days before the edict was issued the Pope granted another audience with Mister G.H. Bondy who had already spent forty hours in discussion with the papal secretary, Monsignor Culatti.
A simplified procedure was introduced to beatify the Absolute by “super cultu immemorabili” in acknowledgement of the His holiness, and at almost the same time an orderly, but accelerated procedure was implemented to canonise the now Blessed Absolute. There was, of course another important difference, in that the Absolute was not declared a saint but declared God. A deification commission was appointed, made up of members of the best teachers and pastors the Church had to offer; Procurator Dei was the famous archbishop of Venice, Cardinal Doctor Varesi, and the Advocatus Diaboli was Monsignor Culatti.
Cardinal Varesi cited seventeen thousand testimonies of miracles performed by the Absolute, almost all of them signed by cardinals, patriarchs, primates, bishops, princes of the Church, archbishops, representatives of orders and abbots. Each testimony was supported by appendices containing confirmation of medical expertise, expert appraisal, opinions from professors of natural science, technology and economics and finally concluded with eye-witnesses’ signatures, all properly and legally documented by a commissioner for oaths. As the monsignor explained, these seventeen thousand documents showed just a tiny fraction of the miracles actually performed by the Absolute, which, according to conservative estimates, was now already well over thirty million.
The Procurator Dei also procured a wide range of expert appraisals from the best scientific specialists in the world. Professor Gardien for instance, rector of the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, finished a thorough analysis by saying: “… many of the cases presented to us for examination were, from a medical point of view, entirely without hope and could not be cured in any way known to science (paralysis, cancer of the throat, blindness after both eyes were surgically removed, disability resulting from both lower limbs having been removed, death caused by severance of the head from the body, strangulation with the victim left hanging for two days, etc.). With this in mind, the medical faculty at the Sorbonne concludes that attributing these healings to a miracle – as they call it – can only be the result of a complete lack of knowledge of anatomical and pathological conditions, a lack of clinical experience, and total unfamiliarity with medical practice. On the other hand – and this is not a possibility we would wish to exclude – they may have been the work of higher forces, unlimited by the laws of nature or any knowledge of them.”
Professor Meadow, a psychologist at Glasgow wrote: “It is clear that these incidents could not have taken place without the involvement of a thinking being, capable of association, memory, and even logical judgement, a being which carries out these mental operations without the means of a brain or nervous system. This offers splendid confirmation of my crushing critique of Professor Mayer, in which I put forward the idea of psychophysical parallelism. I assert that the so-called Absolute is a thinking being possessed of consciousness and intelligence, albeit of a sort little researched by science so far.”
Professor Lupen at the Brno Institute of Technology wrote: “Considering its its productive capacity, the Absolute is a force deserving of our highest deference.”
Wilibald, the famous chemist at Tübingen, wrote: “The Absolute has all the conditions needed for existence and scientific development, as it clearly meets all the conditions of Einstein’s theory of relativity.”
The chronicler will not bother you any further with the expert appraisals contributed by the world’s scientific authorities; and it’s all been published by the Vatican anyway.
The canonisation process continued at high speed, and an assembly of dogmatists and exegesists prepared a paper based on the writings of the founding fathers of the Church that showed that the Absolute was identical with the Third Person of God.
But before the deification of God could be celebrated the patriarch of Istanbul declared, as head of the eastern Church, the identity of the Absolute with the First Person of God, the Creator. This opinion was clearly heretical, but it was adopted by certain old-school Catholics, the circumcised Christians of the Church in Ethiopia, the Swiss evangelicals, conconformists and some of the larger American sects, with the result that a lively theological debate flared up. As for the Jews, a secret doctrine began to spread among them claiming that the Absolute was the ancient god Baal; liberal Jews acknowledged quite openly that in that case they were worshippers of Baal.
Two thousand delegates of Free Thinkers met in Basel where the Absolute was declared their god. They began an incredibly fierce diatribe against priests of all denominations who, as the resolution put it, “wish to exploit the god of science and drag it into the filthy cage of Church dogmas and priestly sophistries where it will be left to starve”. God however, visible to of every progressive, modern thinker, “will have nothing to do with the mediaeval nonsense of these Pharisees; His domain will permit no thought but free thought, only the Congress of Basel is authorised to set the beliefs and rituals around Free Religion.”
About the same time, the Union of Monists in Germany laid the foundation stone for The Cathedral of God the Atomic in Leipzig. The event was one of festival and celebration, but there were some scuffles in which sixteen people were injured and Lüttgen, the famous physicist, had his glasses broken.
By the way, that Autumn some religious revelations also took place in Belgian Congo and French Senegambia. With no forewarning, a number of negroes attacked and ate some missionaries and began to bow down to some new idols which they called ‘Ato’ or ‘Alolto'; it turned out later that these were atomic motors and that German officers and agents had had a hand in the matter. In Arabia, during the outburst of Islamic passion that erupted in Mecca in December of that year, it was shown that a number of French emissaries had hidden twenty light atomic motors near the Ka’aba. The resulting riots of Mohammedans in Egypt and Tripoli, and the massacres in Arabia, cost the lives of around thirty thousand Europeans.
The final deification of the Absolute took place in Rome on the 12th December. Seven thousand priests carrying lighted candes accompanied the Holy Father into Saint Peter’s Cathedral, where a twelve ton carburator had been installed behind the main altar, donated to the Holy See by MEAS. The ceremony lasted five hours, and 2,000 believers and onlookers were crushed to death. Exactly at midday, the pope proclaimed “In nomine Dei Deus”, and at that moment all the bells in all the Catholic churches in all the world rang out in joy, all the bishops and all the priests turned away from their altars and declared to the believers: “Habemus Deum.”
St. Kilda is a small island, hardly more than a piece of volcanic rock left over from the Pliocene, some way to the west of the Hebrides; a few stunted bushes, some patches of heather and grass you don’t find anywhere else, many nesting seagulls and semi-arctic butterflies of the polyommatus family. That, in short, is all the life on this forsaken guardpost of our continent, stuck between the incessant pounding of the sea and the equally incessant rain of the clouds. Apart from that, St. Kilda has always been uninhabited and always will be.
However, toward the end of December, His Majesty’s Ship, Dragon dropped anchor there; a swarm of woodworkers came out from the ship carrying beams and boards, and by evening they had built a large, low wooden hut. The next day came painters and decorators bearing with them the very best and most comfortable furniture. On the third day, the bowels of the ship gave forth stewards and cooks and wine-waiters who equipped the hut with crockery, wine, preserved foods and everything else needed for a man of culture who was also both powerful and particular.
On the morning of the fourth day, the English prime-minister, Sir O’Patterney, arrived on HMS Edwin; half an hour later the American ambassador, Horatio Bumm, arrived; then, each in turn and each on a warship, came the Chinese plenipotentiary, Mr. Kei, the French prime-minister, Monsieur Dudieu, General Buchtin from the Russian Empire, the Imperial German chancellor, Dr. Wurm, the Italian minister, Prince Trivellino and the Japanese ambassador, Baron Yanato. There were sixteen English gunboats cruising around the island to prevent any journalists landing, as this meeting of the world’s supreme powers, promptly called by the all-powerful Sir O’Patterney, had to take place in the greatest secrecy. Indeed, there was even a Danish whaling schooner, the Nyls Hans, that was sunk by torpedo after it had tried to slide past the blockade of gunboats by night; not only the twelve man crew were drowned that night, but also the political correspondent of the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Joe Hashek. Nonetheless, Mr. Bill Prittom, reporter for the “New York Herald” was on St. Kilda all that time and hard at work disguised as a wine waiter, and we have him to thank for the few reports about this historic meeting that survived the catastrophic events that were to follow.
In Mr. Bill Prittom’s opinion, this meeting of political leaders took place in such an isolated spot so that the the Absolute could have no direct influence on it. Anywere else it would have been possible for the Absolute to creep its way into this assembly of eminent men in the form of inspiration, enlightenment or even as a miracle, and that, of course, is something unheard of in higher political circles. The conference’s primary objective seems to have been to achieve agreement between the colonial powers; nations had to agree not to support religious movements on the territory of other states. This was in response to the agitation instigated by Germany in Congo and Senegambia, as well as the covert French influence on the Mehdi uprising in Mohammedan areas governed by the English, and in particular the Japanese carburators sent to Bengal where the revolt committed by a number of different sects was horrifying. Meetings took place behind closed doors, and the only report published was one saying that Germany would acknowledge spheres of influence in Kurdistan and that Japan would acknowledge spheres of influence in a number of Greek islands. The Anglo-Japanese alliance, and the French-German-Russian alliance seemed to settled this matter with an unusual level of friendly agreement, or even enthusiasm.
That afternoon, G.H. Bondy arrived at the Supreme Council on his private gunboat.
It was not until five o’clock (English time) that the celebrated diplomats adjourned for lunch and that Bill Prittom first had the chance to hear what the representatives of the highest powers had to say with his own ears. Over lunch they tallked about sport and actresses. Sir O’Patterney, with his mane of white hair like a poet and and his alert eyes, talked excitedly about salmon fishing with His Excellency Monsieur Dudieu, the prime-minister of France, whose lively movements, loud speech and a certain “je ne sais quoi” betrayed him as the former lawyer that he was. Baron Yanato refused any drink offered to him and merely smiled and listened as if his mouth were full of water; Doctor Wurm looked through his documents, General Buchtin walked up and down the room with Prince Trivellino, Horatio Bumm performed a series of caramboles by himself on the billiard table (I have seen his excellent overhand triple-buzar with my own eyes, a move which any connoisseur of the game could only admire), while Mr. Kei, a mandarin in the Empire of the Sun and looking like a very dry and yellow old man, was going through some kind of Buddhist rosary.
Suddenly all the diplomats formed a group around Monsieur Dudieu who was saying, “Yes gentlemen, c’est ça. We cannot remain indifferent to the Absolute. Either we acknowledge it or we deny it. We in France are more inclined to the latter approach.”
“That is because in your country it seems to be antimilitarist,” said Prince Trivellino spitefully.
“No gentlemen,” Dudieu exclaimed, “we cannot depend on this! The army of France is unaffected. Antimilitarist, bah! In France there have been so many antimilitarists! Gentlemen, this Absolute is something of which you must be careful; it is a demagogue, a communist, a bigot and the Devil knows what else – but always it is a radical. Oui, un rabouliste, c’est ça. It goes by the strangest of popular names. It associates with the crowd. In your country, Your Excellency,” he said, suddenly turning to Prince Trivellino, “it is a nationalist, drunk with delusions of the Roman Empire; but you should be careful, Your Excellency, that is what it does in the cities but in the country it associates with the Church and performs miracles in the name of the Virgin. With one hand it works for the Vatican and with the other for the Quirinale. Either it has some scheme or other or … or I don’t know. Gentlemen, we can all say quite openly that the Absolute causes difficulties for all of us.”
“It takes an interest in sport too in America,” said Horatio Bumm thoughtfully as he leant on his billiard cue. “Indeed, it’s a great sportsman and likes every kind of game. It’s achieved some fantastic records in sport as well as in religion. It’s a socialist. It’s in with the drinkers, and changes water into wine. One time, at a banquet in the White House it, er, it got everyone really drunk; no-one was drinking anything but water, but it turned the water into liquor in their stomachs.”
“That is remarkable,” said Sir O’Patterney with surprise, “to us British it seems rather more to be a conservative. It behaves like an all-powerful clergyman. Meetings, parades, preaching on the street and such things. I rather get the impression it doesn’t like us liberals very much.”
Baron Yanato smiled and told the other diplomats that the Absolute was very much at home in his country. “A very, very lovable god. Has adapted very well. Very great Japanese.”
“How you mean, Japanese?” expostulated General Buchtin. “What you are talking about? The absolute is a Russian, a proper Russian, a Slav. The broad Russian soul, Your Excellency. It keep company with us lads. Our archimandrit, he organise procession for Absolute, ten thousand candles, many people, thick as seeds of poppy. All Christian souls from all over Russia meet together. He do also miracles for us, our father,” the general added as he made the sign of the cross and bowed from the waist.
The chancellor of the German Empire approached, listened in silence for a while, and said, “Yes, it knows how to give people what they want. Everywhere it goes it takes on the mentality of that place. It seems remarkably adaptable for its age. We have seen how it works among our neighbours. In the Czech lands, for instance, it behaves like a collossal individualist. Every individual in that country has whatever Absolute he wants. In Germany we have an Absolute that is part of the state . It immediately became highly aware of the importance of the state. In Poland it has an effect like that of alcohol, but in Germany its effect is … as if … höhere Verordnung, verstehen Sie mich?”
“Even in the Catholic areas of your country?” asked Prince Trivellino with a smile.
“There are some local variations,” Dr. Wurm thought. “Gentlemen, you need attach no weight to this matter. Germany now is more united than ever in the past. But thank you, Prince Trivellino, for the Catholic carburators that you smuggle into our land. Fortunately they are of very low quality, just like all Italian products.”
“Order gentlemen, order,” Sir O’Patterney intervened. “Do let us remain neutral in matters of religion. As far as I am concerned, I catch salmon using a double rod. One time I caught one as long as this, do you see? Fourteen pounds.”
“And what of the Papal nonce … ?” Dr. Wurm asked quietly.
“The Holy See requires us to maintain peace at whatever cost. It requests that mysticism be forbidden by law. In England that cannot be done, and even … Fourteen pounds it was, I tell you. Heaven, it was all I could do to stop it jumping back into the water!”
The smile on Baron Yanato’s face became even more polite. “But neutrality is not something that we wish for. The Absolute is a great Japanese. The whole world will be able to adopt Japanese faith. We also intend to send out missionaries to teach our faith.”
“Baron,” began Sir O’Patterney seriously, “you are aware that we have excellent relations between our two states …”
“England can adopt Japanese faith,” Baron Yanato smiled, ” and relations will be even more excellent.”
“Wait one minute!” General Buchtin said loudly. “No Japanese faith! If any faith, then orthodox faith. And you know why? Firstly because is orthodox faith, and secondly because is Russian faith, and thirdly because the Lordwant it, and fourthly, lad, because Russia have biggest army. I tell you straight, I always support army, just as we should do. So, if any faith, then our orthodox faith.”
“Gentlemen, this will not be possible,” said Sir O’Patterney crossly. “This is not what we’re here for!”
“Quite right,” said Dr. Wurm. “We need to agree on a unified approach to God.”
“Which one?” said Mr. Kei, the Chinese plenipotentiary, suddenly as he finally raised his wrinkly eyelid.
“Which one?” a startled Dr. Wurm repeated. “But there is only one god.”
“Our Japanese god,” said Baron Yanato smiling sweetly.
“The orthodox god.” shouted the general, as red as a turkey. “There is no other.”
“Buddha,” said Mr. Kei, allowing his eyelid to droop once more so that he was now indistinguishable from a desiccated mummy.
Sir O’Patterney stood up sharply. “Gentlemen,” he said, “all of you please come with me.”
And with that their excellencies went back into the debating chamber.
At eight o’clock General Buchtin ran out of the chamber with his fists clenched and his face purple. Dr. Wurm came after him, crossly arranging his documents. A red-faced Sir O’Patterney, in complete disregard for decorum, left the chamber with his hat on his head. Next, Monsieur Dudieu came out in silence, Prince Trivellino came out looking very pale and Baron Yanato came out with a fixed smile on is face. The last to leave was Mr. Kei, his eyes downcast and his fingers working over his very long black rosary.
So ended the report that Mister Bill Prittom published in “The Herald”. There was no official communiqué issued about this conference – apart from the one mentioned above about spheres of influence – and so if any resolution was agreed on it had little effect. Not least because, to use a gynaecological phrase, the womb of destiny was about to produce something unexpected.
Snow falls on the mountains. It falls in large, silent flakes all through the night building up without cease to a blanket that lies half a meter deep on the ground. Silence falls on the woods. The only sound is the infrequent snap of a branch that can no longer bear the weight of snow on it, a sound that penetrates only a short distance through the thick blanket of silence.
Then it becomes harsher, and an icy wind sweeps in from the north. The gentle flakes give way to hailstones that fly in your face and pierce your cheeks. The fallen snow whirls up from the ground as sharp needles. White clouds of it tumble down from the trees and and throw a blizzard upwards, twisting round and striving to reach the darkness of the sky. It snows from the earth to the sky.
In the darkness of the woods, the branches groan and screech; a tree breaks with a crash and scatters the undergrowth as it falls; but these harsh noises seem to evaporate into the howling of the wind, they are dispersed by its whistlings, its fitful thunderings and its cutting screams. When, for a short interlude, it pauses, the squeals and scrapes of the frozen snow can be heard underfoot like powdered glass.
In the hills above Spindler’s Mill a postman is hurrying with a telegram. He struggles hard to make his way throught the deep snow. His cap is down over his ears and held in place with a red scarf, woollen gloves are on his hands and a colourful muffler around his neck, but he is nonetheless cold. Well, he thought to himself, in an hour and a half I’ll get to Bear Valley and I can hire a sleigh for the way down. What the Hell made anyone want to send a telegram in weather like this!
About to make his way across a footbridge the postman was assaulted by a swirl of wind that twisted him round and round. His hands numb with the cold, he caught hold of a sign showing tourist information. For God’s sake, he said to himself, I can’t go on like this! A mass of snow swirled its way throught the air towards him; it flew closer, then it came at him and he could do nothing but hold his breath. A thousand needles pierced the skin of his face, intruded under the scarf round his neck, somewhere in his trousers the snow found a place to enter and reach his body; under his frozen clothes he was wet. The flurry passed on and the messenger wished he could go back to the post office. “Marek”, he said, repeating the address to himself. “He’s not even from here!” But it was an express telegram; how was he to know it wasn’t a family matter or …
It became slightly calmer, and the postman set out across the footbridge and up the hill alongside the stream. The snow scraped under his heavy boots and made the terrible cold even worse. The wind howled again, snow fell from the trees in large masses and the postman received one load on his head and the back of his neck; a stream of icy water ran down his back. But the worst was the way his damned feet kept slipping on the snow and the steepness of the track as he made his way upward. And just then a whirlwind of snow unleashed itself.
It burst down on him like a wall of whiteness. Before he had time to turn his back to it, it struck him hard in the face even though he ducked down, gasping for breath. He fell forward; he sat with his back to the wind but became afraid he would become buried under the snow. He stood up and tried to climb higher; but once again he slipped and fell on both hands, tried to stand up and slid several meters down. Hardly able to breathe he caught hold of a tree. Damn it, he said to himself, I’ve just got to get up this hill! He succeeded in going up a few paces but fell again and slid down the slope on his belly. Now he climbed up on all fours; his gloves were soaked, his leggings let the snow in, but he had to go on up! Above all, he could not stay where he was! Sweat and melting snow ran down his face; he could see nothing through the snow and seemed to have lost his way, he wept out loud and clawed his way upwards. But it is hard to climb on all fours when you are wearing a long overcoat; he stood upright and struggled forward against the force of the wind. For each half a step upward he slid two steps back down; he seemed to make some progress but his feet slipped out from under him and, the snow stabbing needles into his face, he was back down again. When he stood up he saw that he had lost his stick.
And all the time clouds of snow flew across the hills, snatching at the crags, swirling, whirling, howling. The postman sobbed and coughed with fear and the effort of his journey, he climbed upwards, stopped, made another step, stopped, turned and gasped for breath, then another step upwards, Jesus Christ! He took hold of a tree. What time could it be? He drew his watch, in its yellow transluscent case, out from the pocket of his waistcoat; it was sealed shut with snow. It might be getting dark soon. Should he go back? But he must be near the top by now!
The wind stopped coming at him in gusts and became a continuous gale. The clouds rushed straight at the hillside, a grey and dirty fog filled with hurtling flakes of snow. The snow flung itself horizontally through the air, straight into his face and gluing his eyes, nose and mouth shut; to clear it, half-thawed, from his ears and eye sockets he had only fingers which were wet and numb with the cold. All down his front he was covered in a layer of snow five centimeters thick; his coat was almost too stiff to move, as stiff as a board and just as heavy; his shoes, too, were heavy, and gathering a thicker layer of snow on their soles with every step. And in the woods darkness was falling. But it’s hardly two in the afternoon, for God’s sake!
Suddenly a yellow-greenish darkness fell and the snowfall became very heavy. The flakes were as big as your hand, wet and heavy, so many of them twisting and flying around him that it became impossible to tell earth from sky. He could not see where he put his feet, each breath drew in flakes of snow, he was wading through a swirling veil that enveloped him to well above his head and he made each step blind, tunneling his way through the storm. Just one instinct: to keep on going. Just one desperate wish: to breath something other than snow. The snow, half way up his thighs, sucked at his boots as he tried to draw his feet out of it, he struggled on through the whiteness, digging out his own path which closed again behind him.
Back down in the cities the snow was falling in fine little flakes that melted on the black mud. Lights came on in the shops, people sat under lamps in bright cafés and grumbled about what a dark and gloomy day it was. Countless bulbs shone their light out far and wide all across the city and sparkled in the watery mud.
In the upland meadow, under its coating of snow, there was just one light shining. Through the blizzard it was hardly perceptible, it danced from side to side, it disappeared and reappeared, but it was there and it was life. In the hut in Bear Valley there was light.
It was five o’clock and already quite dark when something shapeless came to a stop in front of the hut. That “something” spread out its thick white wings and began to beat itself and shed layers of snow tens of centimeters thick. An overcoat became visible from under the snow, and under the coat two legs which kicked at the stone doorstep, dropping piles of snow. This was the postman.
He entered the hut, and sitting at the table he saw a thin man. He was going to offer a polite greeting, but his voice failed him completely. He could only wheeze a couple of words, as if steam were being released.
The man stood up: “My God, what’s brought you out in an onslaught like this? You might well never have got through it!” The postman nodded and gasped. “That was madness,” the man admonished him. “You need some tea! Where were you trying to get to, old man? Martin’s hut?”
The postman shook his head and opened his leather bag; it was full of snow, but he drew the telegram out from it, frozen solid so that it crackled when bent.
“M.. m … marek?” he gasped.
“What’s that you say?” the man asked.
“Is Mis-ster Ma-rek here,” said the postman one syllable at a time and looking accusingly at the man.
“Yes, that’s me,” he exclaimed. “You’ve got something for me? Let me see it, quick!”
Marek opened the dispatch. It read: “YOUR ASSUMPTIONS CONFIRMED. BONDY.”
An Elderly Patriot
All the staff in the newspaper office were working hard. The telephonist was quarreling loudly down the line with the operator. Scissors clicked, typewriters clacked, and Mister Cyril Kéval sat on the table, his feet dangling down the side.
“There was a man preaching down in Wenceslas Square,” he was saying quietly. “Some communist urging a life of poverty. Telling people they should be like the lilies of the field. Had a beard right down here, down to his waist. I find it quite revolting, the number of men with long beards going about these days. They all look like apostles.”
“Mhm,” old Mister Rejzek replied as he pored through the archives of the Czech Press Agency.
“How do they get their beards to grow like that?” Mister Kéval mused. “Rejzek, listen, I think it must be the Absolute that has something to do with it. I’m even getting worried my beard might grow like that too. Just think of it, right down to the waist!”
“Mhm,” said Mister Rejzek thoughtfully.
“There’s a celebration on Havlíčkův Square today to declare the deification of the Free Mouse. And Father Nováček is still performing his miracles on Tylovo Square. Just wait and see what comes of that. Yesterday he cured someone who’d been a cripple from birth. Then there was a march and that cripple beat up a Jew, broke three of his ribs or something. He was a Zionist, you see.”
“Mhm,” Mister Rejzek observed as he crossed out a few reports.
“I’m sure there will be more disturbances of some kind of today too, Rejzek,” Mister Cyril Kéval considered. “The progressives are meeting on Old Town Square. Calling for separation from Rome again. And Father Nováček has founded the Maccabeans – you know? – a sort of armed guard for Catholics. Oh, there will be lots of fun there, just you see! The archbishop told Nováček not to do any more miracles but he’s like a man possessed, that priest; he’s even brought people back from the dead before now.”
“Mhm”, thought Mister Rejzek, and continued with his crossing out.
“I received a letter from my mother,” Cyril Kéval quietly explained . “Down there in south Moravia they’re all very cross about the people in Bohemia; they say they’re godless and pagans and idolaters and that they invent new gods and I don’t know what else. They shot a gamekeeper there because he was from Bohemia. I’m telling you, Rejzek, it’s boiling over everywhere you look.”
“Mhm,” Mister Rejzek agreed.
“They’ve even been fighting in the synagogues,” Mister Kéval added. “The ones who wanted to worship Baal were badly beaten up by the Zionists. Even three dead, there were. And do you know the communists have split apart? You’d better keep an eye on them (I’ll only forget about it), they’re going to be fighting there as well. Now there are the mystical communists, the left, as it were; then there are the Christians, the Marians, the scientists, the resurrectionists, the textile workers’ Society of St. John , the iron workers’ Society of St. John, the mine workers’ Society of St. John, and something like another seven parties as well. They’re squabbling now about how health care should be financed and homes for the workers. Listen Rejzek, I’ll be going down into town today, they sent some troops down there this afternoon. One barracks sent an ultimatum to another barracks telling them they’d have to accept their doctrine of the Three Stages of Salvation. If they don’t accept it there’s going to be a battle. So a third barracks sent troops down to disarm the first, which barricaded itself in, drew its machine guns up to the windows and declared war. Now they’re surrounded by the Seventh Dragoons, the Castle Guard and four columns of light artillery. They start shooting at six o’clock, they say. Rejzek, Rejzek, what joy it is to be in the world today!”
“Mhm,” said Mister Rejzek.
“Yes, and at the university today,” Mister Kéval continued quietly, “the natural science faculty had a fight with the history faculty. The scientists, you see, deny the truth of the Epiphany because they’re pantheists, or something. The professors were at the front and Deacon Rádl carried the flag himself. The historians occupied the university library at the Klementinum and defended themselves desperately, mainly with the books. Deacon Rádl was hit on the head with the collected works of Velenovský and was dead on the spot. A clear case of concussion. Arne Novák was seriously injured by one volume of “Inventions and Developments”. Finally the historians threw the collected works of Jan Vrba at their attackers. Rescue workers are there now. They’ve dug out seven dead bodies so far, including three professors, although I don’t think there can be more than thirty of them buried alive down there. .”
“Mhm,” thought Mister Rejzek.
“And there’s the football ground too,” sputtered Kéval as he became more excited. “Sparta have declared that the one true god is Dia, from ancient Greece, whereas the other team, Slávie, want Svantovit, the Slavonic god. The two clubs are going to play a match against each other on behalf of their respective gods on Sunday , they’ll both be equipped with hand grenades as well as football boots, and they say Slávie have got machine guns as well, and Sparta a twelve centimetre cannon. There’s a tremendous rush for tickets, and both sides’ supporters are arming themselves up. Rejzek, it’s going to be an enormous row! I think it’ll be Zeus who wins, myself.”
“Mhm,” said Mister Rejzek, “but now do you think you could have a look at these reports that have come in?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Cyril Kéval agreed. “See? You can even get used to god. What’s come in new from the Czech Press Agency, then?”
“Nothing in particular,” Mister Rejzek grumbled. “A violent demonstration in Rome. Things have got going in Ulster, Irish Catholics, see? St. Kilda has gone quite mad. Pogroms in Pest. Schism in France because the Waldensians have re-emerged there. Neo-baptists in Münster. Some Father Martin of the Barefoot Brothers has been elected as an alternative pope in Bologne. And so on. Nothing local. See what’s in the letters, will you?”
Cyril Kéval stopped talking and opened the mail; there was a couple of hundred letters there. He had hardly read through six of them before he could take no more. “Look at them, Rejzek,” he began, “they’re all the same. This one, for instance, from Chrudim: ‘Dear Sir, I have been a subscriber to your respected publication for many years, and I am sure your other readers, and society at large who stir up fruitless quarrels, will be …’ here he’s forgotten to write the word ‘interested’,” interjected Mister Kéval, ” ‘… great wonder performed by our local pastor, Father Zakoupil.’ And so on. In Jičín it was a cellar keeper, in Benešov it was a driving instructor, in Chotěboř it was even a tobacconist. How am I supposed to read all of this?”
For a while, it was once more quiet in the office . “Rejzek, listen!” Kéval began again, “Do you know what would be a real sensation? If something somewhere happened entirely naturally, without any sort of miracle. But I don’t suppose anyone would believe us if we told them that. Wait, I’ll try to think up something that happens entirely naturally.
There was another period of quiet.
“Rejzek,” Kéval lamented, “there’s not a thing I can think of that’s happened naturally. The more I think about it, the more I see that everything has happened by magic. Everything is that happens is some kind of miracle.”
Just then the editor in chief came in. “Who was it who reviewed the ‘Tribune’? They’ve got a report here about something and we’ve got no mention of it!”
“What report’s that, then?” Rejzek asked.
“A business report. Some consortium in America has bought up some islands in the Pacific and is renting them out. Coral atolls, or something, for fifty thousand dollars a year. Shares are already at two thousand seven hundred. G.H. Bondy’s put a hundred and twenty million into it. And in our paper there’s nothing at all about it,” the editor complained, and slammed the door as he left.
“Rejzek,” Kéval said, “here’s an interesting letter: ‘Dear Sir, As an elderly patriot with memories of hard and oppressive times when our nation was in a state of dark and dismal servitude I hope you will allow me to raise my voice in complaint. I beg to request that you make use of your most subtle and erudite prose to convey the anxious concerns of us elderly patriots to the Czech nation in order … ‘ and so on. Then it goes: ‘I see, in this ancient and glorious nation of ours, that brother rises up against brother; that countless factions, sects and churches now persecute and vomit their hatred on one another like wolves.’ This is a very old man, I should think, the handwriting is very shakey. ‘All this when our ancient enemy surrounds us like a pack of roaring lions and shout their Germanic slogan, “Separation from Rome” at our people. This enemy is supported by enemies from within who show more concern for their own parties than for the national unity for which we have yearned so long. We even see, with both anxiety and sorrow, the approach of Neo-Lipanists, causing Czech to raise arms against Czech under the banner of religious slogans of one sort or another and leaving each other lying dead on the murderous fields. The word of Scripture tells us of a kingdom divided against itself, and even this we see fulfilled. There will be combat, there will be bloodshed, just as our just, heroic and glorious manuscripts foretold. ‘ “
“Stop it there,” said Mister Rejzek.
“But wait, he goes on to tell us about the hypertrophy of church and state. It’s the Czechs’ hereditary disease, he says. ‘There cannot be the slightest doubt about it, just as we were informed by Doctor Kramář. For this reason, we urge you at this twelfth hour when great and horrifying dangers threaten us from all sides to call on our entire nation to come together in defence of itself. If it is deemed necessary to have a church as cohesive force in this union, let it not be a protestant church, nor a catholic church, nor monism, nor even agnostic, but let us accept the powerful and fraternal faith of the one Slavonic orthodox church. In these stormy times it is this church alone that can cement us into one great Slavonic family and give us the protection of the mighty Slavonic kingdom. Those however, who fail to unite willingly and wholeheartedly into this single pan-Slavonic mind, should be compelled by the power of the state, or whatever exceptional pressure circumstances might justify, to put aside whatever party or sectarian interests he may have embraced and act for the benefit of the nation as an indivisible whole.’ And so on. Signed, ‘An elderly patriot’. What do you think of that, then?”
“Nothing,” Mister Rejzek replied.
“I think there’s something in it,” Mister Kéval began, but just then the telephonist entered.
“A call just in from Munich,” he said. “In Germany some kind of religious or internecine war has broken out. Think it’s worth printing?”
Conspiracy in Augsburg
Before eleven o’clock in the evening, the editorial office received the following message by telephone:
“Czech Press Agency. Munich, 12. Feb. Reports have been received of bloody demonstrations taking place in Augsburg. Seventy protestants killed. Demonstrations continue.”
“Czech Press Agency. Berlin. 12. Feb. Official report that the number of dead and injured in Augsburg is no more than twelve. Police maintaining order.”
“Special report. Lugao. 12. Feb. Reliable reports that number of victims in Augsburg already exceeds five thousand. Railway communications to the north suspended. Bavarian ministry in permanent session. German emperor cancelled hunting trip to return to Berlin.”
“Czech Press Agency. Reuters, 12. Feb. At 3 a.m. today, government of Bavaria declared holy war against Prussia.”
Cyril Kéval was in Bavaria by the following day, and the following lines were taken from his relatively reliable description:
“In the Schöller pencil factory in Augsburg, on the 10. Feb., at six in the evening, a Protestant cleric was beaten up by working class Catholics in a dispute to do with the Cult of Mary. The night passed without incident, but the following day at ten in the morning Catholic workers walked out of all factories and workplaces and loudly demanded the dismissal of all Protestant employees. Schöller, the factory owner beaten to death, two managers shot. Cleric violently forced to carry montrance at head of procession. Archbishop Lenz arrived to attempt to calm demonstrators, but thrown into River Lech. Leaders of Social Democrat party tried to speak, but forced to flee into synagogue. 3 p.m., synagogue blown up with dynamite while Jewish and Protestant shops looted. Gunfire heard and several fires burning, city council voted in support of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and called fervently to all Catholics of the world to grasp the fiery sword and defend their faith. Other towns in Bavaria responded to this call. Munich, 7 p.m., a group of people enthusiastically supported a resolution for the southern regions to separate from the German Empire. Government in Munich notified Berlin that it would be taking on all responsibilites. The imperial chancellor, Doctor Wurm went immediately to the Ministry of War, which sent 10,000 infantry men into Bavaria from Saxony and the Rhineland. 1 a.m., the train carrying these troops is derailed at the Bavarian border, injured men machine-gunned down. 3 a.m., the government in Munich, in alliance with the Alpine lands, declares holy war on Lutherans.
“In Berlin, it seems they still have not lost hope that the whole misunderstanding might be resolved peaceably. The emperor is at present speaking in parliament, saying that he knows neither Catholic nor Protestant but only Germans. Armies from north Germany are said to be concentrated along a line from Erfutt to Gotha to Kassel; Catholic forces are converging on the cities of Cvikov and Rudolstadt, meeting resistance only from civilians. Greiz has been burned to the ground, many residents killed, others taken into slavery. rumours of major battle so far unconfirmed. Refugees from Bayreuth report hearing cannonfire from the north. Railway station in Magdeburg said to have been bombed to ruins from Bavarian aircraft. Weimar in flames.
“Indescribable enthusiasm here in Munich. Recruitment offices operating in all schools, queues of volunteers waiting in the street for up to twelve hours. Flag of the twelve pastors hoisted above the town hall. Catholic priests have to perform mass day and night in churches crammed with celebrants; Father Grosshuber, the member of parliament, collapses and dies at the altar. Jews, monists, abstinents and other members of different faiths have barricaded themselves in their homes. Rosenheim, the banker and leader of the Jewish community, publicly burned this morning.
“The ambassadors of Holland and Denmark have had their passports taken. Representative of the USA submitted formal protest at the breach of the peace, whereas the Italian government assured Bavaria of its neutrality and its good wishes.
“Armies of new recruits marching down the streets carrying flags of a white cross on red background and proclaiming ‘The Will of God’. Almost all women entering nursing service and preparing hospitals. Shops and offices mostly closed. Stock exchange likewise. “
That was the 14. February. On the fifteenth a major battle took place on the banks of the River Werry, causing the protestant forces to retreat. On the same day the first shots were fired on the border between Belgium and Holland. England ordered mobilisation of its navy.
16. February: Italy allows Spanish forces free passage across its territory to come to the aid of Bavaria. Tyrolean peasants, armed with scythes, hurl themselves at the Swiss.
18. February: Anti-Pope Martin sends a telegram giving his blessing to the Bavarian army. Undecisive battle ner Meiningen. Russia declares war on Catholics in Poland.
19. February: Ireland declares war on England. Anti-caliph emerges in Brussels, unfurling the green flag of the prophets. Balkan states mobilise, massacre in Macedonia.
23. February: North Germans’ front line broken through. General uprising in India. Moslems declare holy war agains Christians.
27. February: War between Italy and Greece, first conflicts on Albanian territory.
3. . March: Japanese fleet sets out eastwards against America.
15. March: Crusaders (Catholic) lay siege to Berlin. Union of Protestant States established in Stettin. German Emperor Caspar I takes personal command.
16. March: Army of two million Chinese attack across border into Siberia and Manchuria. Army of Anti-Pope Martin conquers Rome, Pope Urban flees to Portugal.
18. March: Spain demands that Portuguese government surrender Pope Urban to them. Refusal leads to de facto war between those countries.
26. March: South American states issue ultimatum to USA; they demand an end to Prohibition and an end to freedom of religion
27. March: Japanese forces disembark on the coasts of California and British Columbia.
This, roughly speaking, was the world situation on the 1. April: Central Europe was undergoing major conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The Protestnt Union ousted the Crusaders from Berlin, maintained hold of Saxony and occupied Bohemia (which had been neutral); the headquarters in Prague enjoyed the peculiar advantage of having Major-General Wrangel from Sweden among them, who may well have been descended from the General Wrangel who took part in the Thirty Years War. On the other hand, the Crusader took control of the Netherlands, which they then flooded with seawater by digging through the dykes. From the Netherlands they went on to take possession of Hanover, Holstein and Lübeck and on into Denmark. War was waged without mercy. Cities were razed to the ground, men were killed, any woman under fifty was raped; but the first thing invading armies did was destroy the enemy’s carburators. Those who remember this exceptionally bloody war assure us that both sides fought with supernatural strength; there seemed, sometimes, to be an invisible hand that would take hold of enemy aircraft and hurl them to the ground; or a 54-centimeter shell would be caught in mid air and thrown back where it had come from. Some of the most horrifying scenes took place when carburators were being destroyed; as soon as any enemy city was occupied there would be an invisible but desperate battle around the local carburators; sooner or later there would be a whirl of bricks and beams and roofing tiles thrown into the air above the carburator as if you had blown into a pile of feathers, leaving the carburator and the building that had housed it completely destroyed. This whirlwind would usually conclude with a tremendous explosion which leveled all the trees and buildings within a radius of up to twelve kilometers and left a hole in the ground more than two hundred meters deep; the size of the explosion, of course, varied according to the size of the carburator.
Suffocating gases were released that spread to a distance of three hundred kilometers, leaving vegetation a burnt brown colour; this cloud , though, would often stop spreading out and frequently returned to the place where it had started – again because of the strategic application of supernatural forces – making this strategy unreliable and it soon stopped being used. It was seen that the Absolute could attack, but it could also defend; weapons previously unheard of (earthquakes, tornadoes, acid rain, floods, angels, plague, locusts etc.) were used in combat, and it became essential to invent new stratgies. Mass attacks, lines of trenches, front lines, fortified stations and similar nonsense passed out of use; each soldier was given a knife, bullets and a few bombs and went out independently to attack any soldier wearing a cross of a different colour on his breast. There were no longer two armies face to face against each other; there was simply a given area that was the theatre of war where both sides advanced and soldiers killed each other one by one until it could be seen who that land now belonged to. It was, of course, an especially bloody way of waging war but it showed its strength in the end.
That was the situation in central Europe; early in April the Protestant armies penetrated through Bohemia and into Austria and Bavaria, while the Catholics overran Denmark and Pomerania. Holland, as stated above, had by this time disappeared from the map of Europe altogether.
In Italy there was a furious internal war between the supporters of Pope Urban and those of Pope Martin; while Sicily found itself in the hands of the Greek light infantry. The Portuguese occupied Asturia and Castille, but lost Estremadura where, down in the south, the fighting was fiercest of all. England fought on Irish soil and then in its colonies, but by the start of April held no more than the coastal strip of Egypt. Other settlements were lost and the colonists were massacred by the natives. With the help of forces from Arabia, Sudan and Persia, Turkey overran the whole of the Balkans and had taken control of Hungary before a disagreement broke out between the Shiites and the Sunnis over some matter to do with Ali, the fourth caliph, which clearly must have been of the highest importance. Both sects had moved from Istanbul to Slovakia with the greatest speed, but also with the greatest bloodshed which, unfortunately, affected the Christians. So it was that this part of Europe once again suffered worse hardship than anywhere else.
Poland disappeared, swept away by the Russian army which was now directing its attention to the yellow peril moving north-westwards. At the same time there were ten brigades of the Japanese army disembarking on the coast of north America.
You may have noticed that there has been no mention so far of France. The chronicler has reserved this subject for Chapter XXIV.
Napoleon of the Mountain Brigade
Bobinet, if you please, Toni Bobinet, a twenty-three year old lieutentant in the mountain artillery, based in Annecy (Haute Savoie), but currently on exercise for six weeks in the Aiguilles Mountains, where, on a nice day, you can see all the way to Lake Annecy and Geneva to the west, and to the east there is a view of the rounded summit of Mount Dobrák and the peak of Mont Blanc. So, Lieutenant Toni Bobinet sits on a rock and pulls at his meagre moustache, partly because he is bored, and partly also because he has already read the two week old newspaper five times and now he is thinking.
At this point, the chronicler ought really to be following the thoughts of this future Napoleon; but for the time being, his thoughts (ie. the chronicler’s) slide down the icy slopes to the Arles Valley, where the thaw is already underway and where his attention is drawn to the little towns of Megève, Flumet and Ugines where the spires on the churches appear like a jumble of children’s toys – ah, dreams of childhood! Oh, those memories of tiny building blocks
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Bobinet … but no. Let us first try to understand the psychology of this great man, examine the first embryonic thoughts of this titan and put them into words. But this is more than we are capable of, and even if we were capable we might well find these thoughts disappointing. In short, simply imagine someone such as little Lieutenant Bobinet, sitting up there in the mountains while Europe falls into a state of collapse all around him, he has a battery of mountain artillery with him, and at his feet he can see the tiny world which, from where he is sitting, he could very comfortable bombard with his guns. In that outdated issue of the Moniteur d’Annecy he has just read a leader article in which some Monsieur Babillard calls for a strong hand to take the rudder and guide the ship of France out of these insane tempests and on to new glories and new powers, imagine the lieutenant here, in the pure mountain air, more than two thousand meters above the sea, where your thoughts are limpid and free; imagine all of this, and understand that Lieutenant Bobinet, sitting here on his rock, ruminates and then writes to his venerable, wizened, white-haired mother a somewhat confused letter, telling her she we soon be hearing about her Toni, and that her Toni has ideas of magnificence. Then he did a few small jobs, slept well that night, and in the morning he called the troops of his battery together, deposed the old and incompetent captain, took command of the police station down in Sallanches, declared war on the Absolute just as Napoleon would have done, and then he went back to bed; the next day he destroyed the carburator in the bakery in Thônes, occupied the railway station in Bonneville, and took control of the military headquarters in Annecy, by which time he was in command of three thousand men. Within a week he had destroyed more than two hundred carburators and was commander of fifteen thousand infantry and swordsmen in Grenoble. Declared commander in chief of Grenoble, he had a small army of forty thousand men behind him. Then he used his long-range guns to carefully clear the territory of all the atomic motors ahead of him and marched down into the Rhone Valley. On the road to Chambéry he captured the minister of war, who had come out in a car to talk some sense into him. The following day, the minister had clearly been entirely won over by Bobinet’s plans and appointed him to the rank of general. By the 1st. April, the Absolute had been eradicated from Lyon.
Until this point, Bobinet’s victorious ascent has been achieved without a great deal of bloodshed. It was only once he had crossed the River Loire that he met with resistance, mostly from dedicated Catholics and in areas devoted to the Grand Régime. It was fortunate for Bobinet that many people in France had remained skeptical about the Absolute, even in the towns and villages which used its carburators, in fact there were many whose skepticism and belief in Enlightenment values was a wild fanaticism. After so many deaths and repeats of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, “les Bobinets” were welcomed as liberators everywhere they went, and they did indeed try to achieve a gradual return to peaceful conditions once they had smashed all the carburators.
So, in July of that year, the French parliament declared that “Toni Bobinet has performed a great service to la Patrie”, appointed him marshal, and awarded him the title of First Consul. France had been consolidated. Bobinet declared France an atheist state; any sign of religion would be punishable by death in accordance with martial law.
There are some scenes from the life of this great man that we could not possibly pass over in silence.
Bobinet and his mother. One day in at Versailles Bobinet was in council with his chiefs of staff. It was a warm day, so he was sitting near the open window; suddenly, out in the park, he saw an old woman warming herself in the sun. Bobinet interrupted what Marshal Jollivet was saying and called out: Oh, look, there’s my mother! All the men present, even generals hardened by war, had a tear in their eyes at this sign of filial love.
Bobinet and his love for his homeland. One day, in the rain, Bobinet was inspecting his troops on the Champs de Mars. While a brigade of heavy artillery was passing by, one of the vehicles drove through a large puddle, splashing muddy water onto Bobinet’s coat. Marshal Jollivet wanted to punish the commander of the unfortunate battery and ordered him to be demoted on the spot, but Bobinet held him back: “It doesn’t matter Marshal; this is, after all, the mud of France.”
Bobinet and the invalid. One time Bobinet went to Chartres incognito. On the way, one of the tyres burst and while the driver was changing it they were approached by a one-legged beggar asking for alms. “How did this man lose his leg?” Bobinet asked. The invalid told him that he had lost it as a soldier in Indochina, and that he had a poor old mother, and that they often had to go without food for days at a time. “Marshal, make a note of this man’s name,” Bobinet said, clearly touched. And indeed, a week later Bobinet’s personal courier knocked on the door of the man’s hovel and handed the poor invalid a parcel “from the First Consul”. Imagine the joy and amazement on the invalid’s face when he opened the parcel and found there a bronze medal!
With all the qualities of this outstanding mind it is no wonder that Bobinet finally yielded to the yearnings of all his people, and on the 14th. July he declared himself, to wild public applause, Emperor of the French .
The period that followed was certainly very disturbing for the whole world, but it was also a period of greatness. All parts of the globe were at war, and all of them literally glittered with acts of heroism. Seen from Mars, our planet must have shone like a star of the first magnitude and Martian astronomers would have supposed it was still in the stage of being red-hot. And you should understand that France, with its knights and with its leader, Emperor Toni Bobinet, was in no way less resplendent than other countries. Perhaps, also, some remaining traces of the Absolute played a part here, if they had not all evaporated into space, and drove the French nation on to a spirit that went ever higher and ever more fiery. In short, when the Great Caesar made an announcement two days after his coronation declaring that the hour had come for France to plant its flag on every part of the world, the nation answered him with a unanimous and enthusiastic shout.
Bobinet’s plan was thus:
1. Occupy Spain, and gain control of the entrance to the Mediterranean by conquering Gibraltar;
2. Occupy the valley of the Danube as far as Pest, and thus control the entrance to the European interior;
3. Occupy Denmark, and thus control the northern seas.
And as gaining control of territory usually costs blood, France sent out three different armies, all of whom brought her great fame and glory.
A fourth army was sent out to Asia Minor to control the way to the Orient.
A fifth took control of the St. Lawrence River, as the key to north America.
A sixth was drowned in a naval battle off the coast of England.
A seventh lay siege to Sevastopol.
By New Year’s Eve, 1944, in the pocket of his artillery trousers, Emperor Bobinet had the keys to all parts of the world.
The Greatest War Ever (as they called it)
It’s part of the character of us humans that, when we come across something very bad, we take special pleasure in calling it “the greatest”. If, for instance, the weather is very hot we are grateful to the papers if they tell us it’s “the highest temperature reached since the year 1881″, and we’re even a little peeved at the year 1881 for having trumped us. Or if it’s cold enough to freeze our ears off we’re filled wish joy if we learn that it’s “the cruelest frost recorded since 1786″. The same applies to wars. Either the current war is the most just ever, or it’s the bloodiest ever, or it’s the most successful ever, or its the longest war since such and such a time; there is always some superlative or other at hand to provide us a certain proud satisfaction that we are living through something special and record-breaking.
Now, the war that lasted from the 12th. February 1944 to the Autumn of 1953 really was, I swear it, quite easily the greatest war ever; those who lived through the war deserve the joy of knowing this fact and please let’s not take it from them. 198 million men fought in the war, and all these men apart from thirty of them, died in it. I could cite you the figures, and show how statisticians and officials tried to convey the enormity of the losses; I could tell you, for instance, how many thousand kilometers they would reach if all the bodies were laid next to each other, or how many hours a fast train would take to pass over them all if all these corpses were laid down in the place of railway sleepers; or how many hundred train waggons would be filled if the forefingers of all the dead men were cut off and packed into sardine tines, and so on; but I have a bad memory for figures and I wouldn’t want to mislead you, not even by one miserable railway waggon. So I’ll simply repeat that it was the greatest armed conflict since the creation of the world, both in terms of loss of life and of geographic reach.
Here, again, the chronicler feels the need to apologise for his inability to describe great events in all their grandeur. He certainly ought to describe how armies swept across from the Rhine to the Euphrates, from Korea to Denmark, from Lugano to Haparand and so on, but instead of this he would rather outline, for example, the arrival of Bedouins into Geneva, white burnouses on their heads and with the heads of their enemies impaled on their lances two meters high; or the charming stories of hairy Frenchmen in Tibet; the cavalcades of Russian cossacks in the Sahara; pilgrims from Macedonia and snipers from Senegal on the shores of the lakes of Finland. As you can see, there is material from many different places. The victorious regiments of Bobinet flew, so to speak, with élan across both India and China in the steps of Alexander the Great; while the yellow flood of Chinese fought their way through Siberia and Russian to reach France and Spain, cutting off, on the way, the Moslems operating in Sweden and preventing their communication with their motherlands. Russian regiments, retreating from the overwhelming power of China, found themselves in north Africa, where Sergei Nikolayevitch Zlotchin established himself as Tsar; he was soon killed, however, because his Bavarian generals formed a conspiracy against his atamans from Prussia. He was succeeded as Tsar on the throne of Timbuktu by Sergei Fyodorovitch Zlosin.
Our own Czech homeland was occupied in succession by Swedes, French, Turks, Russians and Chinese, each new conqueror murdering the previous one, down to the last soul. During this period, masses were held in Saint Vitus’ Cathedral by a pastor, an advocate, an imam, a archimandrite and a bonz, none of them of course, staying very long . The only welcome change was that Stavov Theatre was always full; albeit only because it was used as a military storeroom.
In 1951, the Japanese were pushed out of eastern Europe by the Chinese and for a time there was a new Empire of the Centre (which is what the Chinese call their homeland). Just by chance, this new empire had the same boundaries as the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and there was once again an elderly potentate on the throne in Schönbrunn Castle, the hundred and six year old mandarin, Yaya Wir Weana. The Wiener Mittagszeitung assured us every day that “the nations rejoiced and looked up to his holy head with child-like veneration”. The official language was Chinese, which put an end to nationalist disputes at a stroke. The state religion was Buddhism, and obstinate Catholics in Bohemia and Moravia, falling victim to Chinese dragonades and confiscations, moved abroad. In this way an exceptionally high number of national martyrs was created. On the other hand there were some outstanding and courageous Czech patriots who were generously appointed to the rank of mandarin, such as Tobolka, who became known as ‘To-Bol-Kai’, Groš, who became known as ‘Gro-Shi’, and certainly many others. This Chinese régime introduced many progressive innovations, such as issuing tickets instead of food; the Empire of the Centre nonetheless collapsed not long after it had been established as supplies of lead for munitions were quickly exhausted, and without munitions there was no authority. A few Chinese who had escaped the massacre remained in Europe in the period of peace that followed, most of them serving as a government official of some kind.
Meanwhile, news came to Emperor Bobinet at his new seat in Simla, India, that the unexplored upper reaches of the Irawadi, Seluin and Mekong Rivers were under the control of an empire of Amazon women, so he led an expedition there with his old guard but never returned. Some say that he got married there, others say that Amalia, the queen of the Amazons, cut off his head in combat and threw it bog with the bloody cry of “Satia te sanguine, quem tantum sitiisti.” This latter version is certainly the less alarming.
In the end Europe became the theatre for fruitless struggle between the negro races who came rolling in from the African interior and the Mongol hordes; it is better not to speak of what went on during those two years. The last traces of civilisation were erased. The number of bears living in Hradčany, for instance, on the left bank of the Vltava, rose to such a level that the few remaining residents of Prague demolished all the bridges, even Charles Bridge, to stop these bloody predators crossing to the other side. The population was reduced to a tiny fraction of what it had been; the forces in Vyšehrad castle were put to death, the cup final between Sparta and Viktoria Žižkov was watched by a mere hundred and ten spectators.
Other continents were no better off. North America, torn apart by astonishingly bloody battles between prohibitionists and anti-prohibitionists, became a colony of Japan. South America was under the control of empires based, in succession, in Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Brandenburg and Patagonia. As soon as the ideal state established there by the English has collapsed, Australia did not meet its promise but returned to being an uninhabitable desert. In Africa, once the negroes had eaten more than two million whites they hurled themselved from the Congo Basin into Europe, while other parts of Africa were convulsed in battles between 186 different empires, sultanates, kingdoms, principalities and republics.
Such is history. Each one of those hundreds of millions of people at war had gone through their childhood, their first loves, their hopes for the future; sometimes they were afraid, sometimes they acted as heroes, but most of them were sick to death of the whole thing and would rather have just been allowed to go to bed and lie down in peace. Certainly, those who died had no wish to do so. All that is left of all of this is a handful of dry facts; a battle here and there, losses of so and so much, the outcome this or that – and whatever the outcome it made no real difference to anything.
And that is why I say you should not listen to those people when they proudly say what they lived through was the greatest war of all time. We all know, of course, that in a few decades’ time we will manage to create a war which is even greater. Even in that respect, man’s achievements mount ever and ever higher.
The Battle of Hradec Králové
At this point the chronicler will take the advice of August Sedláček, Josef Pekař and other authorities in the writing of history who point out that an important source for understanding history is the events that take place locally and reflect world events in a nutshell.
This nutshell, better known as the city of Hradec Králové, is especially memorable for the chronicler as it was here that he ran about as a nipper, where he went to high school, and at that time of course it was the whole world to him; but enough about that.
Hradec Králové entered into the Greatest War equipped with just one carburator, and that was in the brewery which can still be seen behind the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, just next to the church residences. Perhaps it was the holiness of this neighbourhood that made the carburator produce beer in such quantities and of such a fiercely Catholic nature that it led the people of Hradec into a state that would have brought the late Bishop Brynych indescribable happiness.
Hradec Králové, however, is too far from the centre, and so it quickly found itself in the power of the Prussians who, in a fury of Lutheran ardour, smashed the carburator in the brewery. But then the city’s new consecrating bishop was the enlightened Bishop Linda, so that the diocese was granted some historical continuity and maintained a pleasant religious temperature. Even when the Bobinets, the Turks and the Chinese arrived, Hradec Králové was proudly aware that: 1. it had the best amateur theatre in the whole of eastern Bohemia, 2. the highest bell tower in eastern Bohemia and 3. the pages of its local history show that it had biggest battle ever in eastern Bohemia. Strengthened by these thoughts, the city of Hradec Králové expected to be tested tested terribly in the course of the Greatest War of All Time.
After the collapse of the mandarins’ empire the city was led by the careful Mayor Skočdopole. Even in the middle of all this anarchy his turn of office was blessed with relative peace, thanks to the wise counsel of Bishop Linda and other venerable elders. Until, that is, a certain young tailor came to the city. Hampl, his name was, born in Hradec, unfortunately, but from an early age he had been a wanderer all round the world and had even served in the Foreign Legion in Algeria. That’s the sort of adventurer he was. He had gone with Bobinet to conquer India but deserted somewhere near Baghdad and slipped like a needle past the French, the Swedes and the Chinese all the way back to his native city.
So this tailor, this Hampl, had been in some way infected with Bobinetism, and he had hardly arrived back in Hradec Králové before he starting thinking of nothing but how he might gain power just like his hero. The thought of sewing clothes now seemed very unappealing to him, so he started to complain and criticise this and that, he declared that everyone in the town hall was a time-waster, that Mister Skočdopole was a hopeless old fool and so on. Sad to say, in any time of war there is a breakdown of morals and all forms of authority are shaken, so that Hampl soon found a few people to support him and with them he founded the Socialist Revolutionary Party.
One day in July, this Hampl called a group of people together in one of the town squares and, taking up position by the fountain, urged the need for, amongst other things, insurrection .
Mister Skočdopole responded by posting announcements that no-one had the right to give orders to him, the duly elected mayor, especially not some deserter who had just drifted into town; that it would not be right to announce a new election in these unsettled time, and that the courts are aware that … and so on.
Hampl, however, had been expecting this, and it was what he wanted in order, just like Bobinet, to strike. He came out of his flat on the square waving a red flag, followed by two lads thumping with all their might on a pair of drums. Thus they proceeded past the main square, halted briefly outside the bishop’s residence, and went on, all the time to the march of the drums, to the field known as “Na mlejnku”, on the bank of the River Orlice. There he thrust his flagstaff into the ground, sat himself on one of the drums, and wrote down a declaration of war. He gave it to the two boys and sent them back into the town with their drums where they were to read out his declaration at every suitable place. It read:
In the Name of His Majesty, Emperor Bobinet,
the royal city of Hradec Králové is hereby commanded to place the keys to all city defences and fortifications into my hands. Failure to comply with this command before sunset will force me to proceed with my plans of attack, and at the break of day the city will come under attack from cannonfire, cavalry and infantry. The lives and property will be spared only of those citizens who, before break of day, will have presented themselves to myself at my camp on the bank of the River Orlice, bearing with them all arms and weaponry as may be needed and swearing allegiance to His Majesty Emperor Bobinet. Parliamentarians will be shot. The Emperor does not negotiate.
The declaration was read, and caused a deal of consternation, especially after the verger at the Church of the Holy Spirit had rung the bells out from the white tower to sound the alarm. Mister Skočdopole went to see Bishop Linda, who simply laughed at him. Then he convened the city council to a special meeting where he urged giving General Hampl the keys to the city defences. It transpired that no such keys existed; there had used to be a few old locks and keys in the town museum but they had been taken away by the Swedes. At this worrisome stage in the proceedings, night began to fall.
All that afternoon, and even more in the evening, people had been making their way through the charming alleyways down to the river bank. “I’m only going down there to see what this madman, Hampl, looks like,” they all said to one another when they met, “just the same as you”. When they arrived at the camp they saw the meadows already full of people, and a lieutenant of Hampl’s stood by the two drummers receiving the oaths of allegiance to Emperor Bobinet. Here and there burned fires, people’s shadows moving around between them and, in short, it all looked very picturesque. There were some who made their way back into town, clearly disappointed.
In the night, the spectacle was even greater. Some time after midnight Mayor Skočdopole climbed the steps of the white tower. To the east, alongside the river, he saw a hundred guardposts, and thousands of figures moving between the fires which shed their blood-red light all around. They were obviously digging trenches. The mayor made his way back down very anxious. It was clear that General Hampl had not been lying about the strengh of his forces.
General Hampl spent the night poring over maps of the city, and when dawn came he strode out from the woods. Several thousand men had already formed into ranks of four. They still had no uniforms, but at least one in four was armed. To one side there were clusters of women, old people and children.
Hampl ordered the advance, and the air was instantly alive with the sound of bugles from Mister Červený’s world-famous trumpet factory. Hampl’s forces marched out towards the town to the sound of a joyous march while the women went by the road.
At the foot of the city Hampl halted his regiments and sent a trumpeter and a herald ahead to present his demands: non-combatants were to leave their homes. No-one, however, emerged. The houses were already empty.
The streets were empty.
The squares were empty.
The whole city was empty.
General Hampl twisted his moustache, and made his way to the town hall. Its doors were open. He went into the debating chamber. He sat in the mayoral chair. In front of him on the green cloth there lay sheets of writing paper waiting for him, and each sheet bore the following, beautifully written words:
In the name of His Majesty Emperor Bobinet.
General Hampl strode to the window and yelled: Soldiers, the battle is ended. You have broken the armed hand wielded by the clique of pen-pushers who governed in the town hall. Our beloved town is about to enter an era of progress and liberty. You have discharged yourselves with greatness. Farewell!”
“Farewell!” the army replied, and began to disperse. There was also one of Hampl’s warriors (who came later to be known as ‘the Hamplmen’) who proudly returned to the mayor’s house carrying a rifle on his shoulder that had been taken from a Chinese soldier.
So it was that Mister Hampl became mayor; although it must be said that it was thanks to the wise advice of Bishop Linda and the venerable elders of the city that even his cautious style of governing was blessed with relative peace in the midst of general anarchy.
A Pacific Atoll
“What the Hell …,” Captain Trouble began. “Isn’t that their leader, that lanky one?”
“That’s Jimmy,” G.H. Bondy observed. “He used to work here. I thought we’d entirely tamed him.”
“And I had to dock at a damned place like this,” the captain concluded. “This miserable … Hereheretua!!! What?”
“LIsten,” said G.H. Bondy, putting his rifle down on the veranda table. “Is it the same everywhere?”
“I think it is, yes!” the captain laughed. “Over on Rawaiwai, that’s where they ate Captain Barker, along with all his crew. And on Mangayi, that’s where they guzzled three millionaires, millionaires like you are.”
“The Sutherland brothers?” Bondy asked.
“Think it was, yes. On Starbuck Island they took the government commissioner and baked him. That fat bloke, MacDeon. Know him?”
“No, I don’t know him.”
“Don’t know MacDeon?” the captain exclaimed. “How long have you been out here, then?”
“Nearly nine years now,” Mister Bondy replied.
“You should have met him by now then,” the captain thought. “Nine years, eh? Here on business, are you? Or thought you’d get yourself some nice little hideaway? Somewhere to soothe your nerves?”
“No,” said Mister Bondy. “I could see it was going to get a bit lively back up there, so I left. I thought things would be quieter here.”
“Ah, quiet! You don’t know what our black boys are like. They’re always fighting about something or other somewhere.”
“Oh?” G.H. Bondy defended himself. “It really was quiet here earlier. They’re decent lads these Papuans, or whatever you call them. It’s only lately that it sort of … began. You know, I don’t really understand them very well, what is it they want?”
“Nothing in particular,” the captain thought, “they just want to eat us.”
“Because they’re hungry?” asked Bondy in surprise.
“I don’t know. More likely their religion. Some kind of rite or something. Some kind of holy communion. Whatever it is, they’ve started doing it again.”
“I see,” said Mister Bondy, thoughtfully.
“They’ve got their customs anywhere you go,” the captain grumbled. “The custom here is to eat strangers and shrink their heads.”
“They even shrink their heads?” said Bondy with disgust.
“Only once they’re dead,” the captain reassured him. “They keep the shrunken head as a souvenir. Ever seen those shrunken heads in the Ethnographic Museum in Auckland?”
“No,” said Bondy. “I … I don’t think my head would look very nice shrunken.”
“You’re a bit too fat for that,” the captain observed critically. “Makes hardly any difference to someone thin though.”
Bondy did not seem at all placated by this thought. He sat despondently on the veranda of his bungalow on the coral island of Hereheretua which he had bought just before the Greatest War. Captain Trouble scowled thoughtfully out at the thick woods of mangroves and bananas that surrounded the bungalow.
“How many of these natives are there here?” he suddenly asked.
“About a hundred and twenty,” G.H. Bondy replied.
“And how many of us here in the bungalow?”
“Seven, including the Chinese cook.”
The captain sighed and looked out at the sea where his ship, the Papeete, lay at anchor. To get to the ship he would have to go along the narrow track between the mangroves, and that was not altogether to be recommended.
“Tell me,” he asked after a pause, “what is it they’re actually fighting about? Some territory dispute or something?”
“Less than that.”
“Some kind of business deal?”
“No. They’re simply fighting over what’s right.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What’s absolutely right. Don’t you know? Every nation wants to know it’s right.”
“Hm,” the captain grunted. “And what is right?”
“Nothing. Just a passion of mankind. I suppose you’ve heard that in Europe, and everwhere else there’s some kind of … some kind of god that’s come to Earth.”
“Well that’s what it’s all about. Understand?”
“No, I don’t understand. I’d have thought any proper god would make things right on Earth, tidy things up. This god can’t be any proper or normal god.”
“Well no, it isn’t,” G.H. Bondy replied. He was clearly pleased he finally had the chance to talk with someone unbiased and experienced. “That is, it is the real God. But I’ll tell you something else: He’s too big.”
“You think so?”
“He’s too big. He’s infinite. And that’s what’s causing all the trouble. Everyone measures Him against his own size, and supposes that’s all the God there is. They take hold of some little scrap or speck of God and think they’ve got the whole thing.”
“Ah,” the captain said, “so they’re angry at everyone else who’s got a different scrap.”
“Exactly. And to convince themselves they’ve got all of God to themselves they have to kill all the others. It’s because it’s so important to them – you see? – so important to have all of God to themselves and all the truth to themselves. That’s why they can’t stand it for anyone else to have a different god or a different truth. If they allowed that they’d have to acknowledge that all they’ve got is a miserable couple of meters of God’s truth, just a couple of gallons, just a couple of sackfuls. Suppose Mister Snippers thinks Snippers’ factory makes the best knitted underwear in the world, he’ll have to destroy Masson and all the underwear from Masson’s factory; it’s just as stupid as that when it’s a matter of theology or English politics. If they thought God were something as solid and useful as knitted underwear they’d let everyone have whatever god they want. But they don’t have enough faith in God’s business sense for that, that’s why they force everyone to have Snippers’ god and Snippers’ truth, that’s why they slander and fight wars and spread propaganda. I’m a businessman, I understand competition, but …”
“Wait!” the captain stopped him. He picked up his gun, took aim and shot into the mangrove forest. “There! I think that’s one less of them now.”
“He died for his faith,” observed Bondy thoughtfully. “You used force to stop him eating me. He died for the national ideal of the cannibal. They’ve always been eating each other for the same ideals in Europe too. You’re a decent man, captain, but I think you’d eat me if it were for the sake of some fundamental seaman’s principle. I can’t even trust you anymore.”
“You’re right,” the captain growled. “Whenever I look at you I think to myself …”
“Yes, I know, you’re a fanatical anti-semite. That doesn’t matter, I’ve had myself baptised. And do you know what it is that’s got into those black idiots, captain? Two days ago they fished a Japanese atomic torpedo out of the sea. They set it up over there, under the coconut palms, and started bowing to it. They’ve got their own god now. That’s why they’ve got to eat us.”
Shouts of war were heard from the mangroves.
“Hear them?” the captain grumbled. “I swear it, I’d rather do be doing something like another geometry exam than …”
“Listen,” Bondy whispered. “How about if we went over to their religion? As far as I’m concerned …”
Just then a cannon shot thundered out from the Papeete.
The captain let out a quiet shout of joy.
While the armies of the world were forging world history by battling with each other, while the borders of states moved back and forth like worms, while the world was being reduced to rubble, old Mrs. Blahouš in the village of Seven Chalets was digging up potatoes. Mister Blahouš sat on the doorstep smoking beech leaves, and their neighbour, Mrs. Prouza leant against the fence saying:
“Well then, well then.”
“That’s right,” agreed Mister Blahouš after a pause.
“I think it is,” said Mrs. Blahouš.
“That’s just how it is,” Mrs. Prouza continued.
“What’s it all for then?” thought old Mister Blahouš.
“That’s just what it’s all about,” Mrs. Blahouš added as she pulled up another potato.
“They say Italy got it the other day,” Blahouš reminded them.
“Who was that from then?”
“Turks, I think.”
“That mean the end of the war then, do it?”
“Course it don’t. Prussians be going in next, I reckon.”
“Who they gonna start attackin, then?”
“‘Gainst the French, they say.”
“Oh my God, right mess that’ll be, all over again!”
“I think it is.”
“What’s it all for then?”
“There’s some bloke in Switzerland, they say, some Swiss who says they all ought to just stop it.”
“That’s what I say.”
“I had to pay two and ‘alf thousand the other day, just for a candle. Just for a smelly old candle, Blahouš, to go in the cowshed.”
“‘Two and ‘alf thousand, you say?”
“Best part of. Bloomin dear that is, I say!”
“I think it is.”
“That’s what I think.”
“Who’d have thought it? Two and ‘alf thousand!”
“You could get a nice candle for a couple of ‘undred, used to.”
“Good few years ago that was, missis. You could even get an egg for five ‘undred.”
“And butter was just three thousand a pound.”
“Good butter it were and all.”
“And a pair of shoes for eight thousand.”
“That’s right, cheap it was in them days.”
“But now though …”
“I just wish they’d all just stop it!!”
They stopped talking. Old Mister Blahouš stood up, straightened himself out into a hunch, and picked up some straw in the yard.
“What’s it all for then?” he said, and unscrewed the head of his pipe in order to push the straw through it.
“Always did stink, that pipe,” remarked Mrs. Blahouš taking an interest.
“Course it stinks,” Mister Blahouš agreed. “It always did stink. If you can’t get any baccy for it, not anywhere in the world, course it’s gonna stink. Last time I got a bit of baccy for it was from me son, when he was made a professor. When was that then; ’49 was it?”
“Be about four years come Easter.”
“That sounds about right,” Mister Blahouš agreed. “We’re gettin old, my love. Gettin very old.”
“But what I want to know is,” Mrs. Prouza, the neighbour began, “what’s it all for then?”
“What’s all what for?”
“All this war, and all that?”
“How should I know?” answered Mister Blahouš,and he blew through his pipe hard enough to make it whistle. “I don’t suppose anyone knows that. Some’ing to do with religion, they say.”
“Our religion, Helvitian religion, … I’n’t no-one knows what religion. Used to be just the one relgion, they say.”
“There only ever was one religion round here.”
“Yes, but there were other religions in different places. Then they gave out an order or some’ing, saying there had to be just the one.”
“Order? Who gave this order then?”
“No-one knows who gave the order. Some machine for making faith or something. Some boiler or something.”
“What did they want to go and make a boiler for?”
“No-one knows why they made it. Just some boiler. And then God came and appeared among the people so that they would have faith, or something. You see, there used to be lots of people without faith in those days. You’ve got to have some’ing to believe in, or else what’s life for? And if people had believed in Him He wouldn’t have needed to appear among them. So He came, and He appeared on Earth all because of all this godlessness, see?”
“So where did this enormous great war come from then?”
“No-one knows where this war came from. They say it was the Chinese or the Turks that started it all. Took their own god along with them in this boiler or some’ing. ‘Cause they’re supposed to be very religious, these Turks and Chinamen. So they wanted all of us to believe in the same thing like they did, in their way.”
“Well why should we all believe in the same thing like they do?”
“No-one knows why they wanted all of us to believe in the same thing like they do. I think it must have been the Prussians that started it. ‘Specially them Swedes.”
“Oh dear God,” lamented Mrs. Prouza. “And these prices these days! Two and ‘alf thousand, just for a candle!”
“If you ask me,” Mister Blahouš asserted, “it’s cause of them Jews, gave the army away they did, make some money out of it. That’s what I think.”
“We need some rain,” Mrs. Blahouš observed. “These spuds are tiny. Like walnuts, they are.”
“And what’s more,” Mister Blahouš continued, “they’ve been studying all about God they have, so that they know who to put the blame on. They’re sly like that. Wanted to have the army and an excuse for it. Had it all worked out, they did.”
“Who’s that then?”
“No-one knows who that is. I think it’s the pope, got together with them Jews he did, worked it all out, all of it! These … these … calburatists!” The words burst out of Mister Blahouš’s mouth angrily. “I’d tell it them straight to their face, I would! What the heck did they need a new god for? The old god’s been good enough for us on the farms. All we needed, He was, good to us He was! He was decent to us, He was just! He never came and appeared to anyone, and at least we had some peace in …”
“How much do you sell your eggs for these days, Mrs. Prouza?”
” ‘Bout two thousand, usually.”
“I’ve heard they’re selling them for three, over in Trutnov.”
“And if you ask me,” old Mister Blahouš continued as he became crosser, “it’s something that had to happen. People were always doing nasty things to each other. Your dead husband though, Mrs. Prouza, may he rest in peace, he was always a thoughtful and spiritual man, and I said to him one day, just as a joke like, “Here, Prouza, call back that evil spirit of mine, it’s escaped again!”. And he took it seriously and from that day on he never spoke another word to me. Good neighbour, he was. And that Tony Vlček, he’s been goin on about those phosphates again, what he uses for fertiliser, and anyone who doesn’t use ‘em has to keep diggin and diggin. And my son, talking like some professor like he always does, he says everyone else is doing the same. Once they get something into their heads, they want everyone else to do the same. And they just won’t leave you in peace. And it’s all because of that”
“I think you’re right,” Mrs. Prouza opined as she yawned. “It’s all the same anywhere you go.”
“I think it is,” Mrs. Blahouš sighed.
“We’re all agreed on that then,” Mrs. Prouza added.
“And all you want to do, you women, you just want to stand around yacking all day,” grumbled old Mister Blahouš to conclude the matter, and he shuffled inside.
And meanwhile, all around the globe, armies were battling and forging world history to create “a better tomorrow”, as all the thinkers in all the camps assured us.
The Final Battle
By the spring of 1953 the Greatest War was declining to its end. There were no armies left. Forces of occupation, mostly cut off from their homelands, diminished in number and disappeared like water into sand. Self-appointed generals moved about from city to city, or rather from rubble heap to rubble heap, with a vanguard of five men, one drummer, one thief, one schoolboy, one man with a gramophone and one man whom nobody knew very well. Their function was to distract fire, or at least to put on a benefit concert “for invalids, their widows and their orphans”. Nobody had any idea any more of how many sides were still fighting.
It was in this state of general and unspoken collapse that the Greatest War came to its end. The end came with such suddenness that nobody now knows where the final, and supposedly decisive, battle took place. Even now, historians still dispute which conflict meant the end of the war and brought the global conflagration to its conclusion. There are some (such as Dührich, Assbridge and, in particular, Moroni) who are inclined to the view that it was the Battle of Linz, which was a major operation involving sixty soldiers from various hostile sides. It took place in the function hall of The Rose pub and its objective was Hilda, the barmaid (who was actually Mařena Růžičková from the town of Nový Bydžov). The final victor was an Italian called “Giuseppe” who took Hilda away with him. The following day, however, she ran away with a Czech, Václav Hruška, so that the outcome of even this battle has to be seen as uncertain.
Usinski cites a similar battle that took place at Gorochovka, Leblond the Battle of Batignolles, van Groo a skirmish near Nieuwport, but it seems that their choices were influenced more by their sense of patriotism than genuine historical reasons. In short, the name of the final battle in the Greatest War is simply not known. Nonetheless, it can probably be ascertained from a large number of prophecies from the time before the Greatest War which are remarkably in agreement with each other.
Printed in archaic script, and preserved since 1845, one document prophecies that “manifestions of great horror will come to pass, many folk will perish in battle”. It goes on to say that “nations numbering thirteen will, for months numbering one hundred, meet in combat in the field below the birch tree, and there will they in desperate battle shed much blood”. This however would be followed by fifty years of peace.
In 1893, Wali Schön (?), a prophetess in Turkey, foretold that “five times one dozen years will pass before peace returns to the world, for in this year will thirteen emperors meet in combat below the birch tree. Peace will follow, peace which had not been known before and which will not be known again”.
In 1909, a negress in Massachusetts had a vision of “a black ogre, with two horns, a yellow ogre with three horns, and a red ogre with eight horns. The ogres fought together under a tree [birch?], till the whole world was red with their blood”. The interesting point is that the total number of horns is thirteen, which clearly refers to the thirteen nations.
In 1920 the Right-Reverend Arnold predicted that “a war will come which will last nine years and shake the whole world. One great emperor will die in this war, three great empires will collape, ninety-nine capital cities will be overturned and the final battle of this war will be the last battle of the century.”
In the same year, the “Vision of Jonathan” was printed in Stockholm: “Ninety-nine countries will be emaciated by war and famine, ninety-nine empires will be be ended ; the final battle will last ninety-nine hours and cause such bloodshed that all of its victors will gather under the shade of a birch tree.”
A popular legend heard in Germany in 1923 predicted a battle on a birch field (Birkenfeld).
In his budget speech in 1924, Bubník told parliament that “… we cannot expect any improvement until the last soldier has left the birch tree.”
There are more than two hundred such documents and prophecies preserved, rangeing from 1845 to 1944; forty of them mention the figure thirteen, seventy mention the birch tree and fifteen others merely mention a tree. We can infer from all this that the last battle was fought somewhere near a birch tree; we do not know who the combattants were, but a total of thirteen men from various armies survived it and gathered under the shade of a birch. That was the moment when the Greatest War came to its end.
It is also possible, however, that “birch” was meant only symbolically to refer to the name of a place such as Březany, Březenec, Březhrad, Březí (there are 24 communities of that name in Bohemia), Březina (13), Březnoves, Březinka (4), Březinky, Březiny (3), Březka (4) or even Březko, Březná (2), Březnice (5), Březník, Březno (10), Březová (11), Březové Hory, Březovice (6), Březovík, Březůvky, Břežany (9) or even Březolupy. In Germany we can find Birk, Birkenberg, -feld, -haid, -hammer, Birkicht and so on. In England there are Birkenhead, Birkenham, Birch etc., and in France Boullainville, Boulay and so on. In this way, the number of towns, villages and other locations where the final battle took place can be narrowed down to just a few thousand (assuming, that is, the battle took place in Europe, as Europe certainly has prior right to claim that honour), and detailed scientific research will be able to establish where it was, if not show who was the victor.
We are told though – and let us not forget that appearances can be deceptive – that there was a slender silver birch standing near the theatre of the last act of this world tragedy; there may have been a lark above the battlefield singing out its song and perhaps these rough-hewn warriors had a white butterfly fluttering in the wind over their heads. And suddenly, there is hardly anyone left to kill; it is a warm October day, and one hero after another turns his back to the battle and goes to one side, he lets his body rest and, yearning for peace, goes to lie in the shade of the birch. Eventually there are thirteen of them lying there, the thirteen who were the survivors of the Final Battle. One lays his weary head on the boot of his neighbour, another on his back, undisturbed by his sighs (which are, of course, the sighs of a soldier). The last thirteen soldiers in the world, all asleep together under the shade of a single birch tree.
As evening falls they wake, look around themselves in disbelief and reach for their weapons. And one of them – history does not tell us his name – says:
“For God’s sake lads, can’t we just give it a rest.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” the other responds, putting his rifle back down.
“Let’s have some o’ that bacon, can I?,” a third soldier asks, a hint of tenderness in his voice.
A fourth joins in: “I could murder for a smoke. Got any fags, someone?”
“We’ve stopped working now lads,” opines the fifth. “Not playing the game now.”
“I can give you a fag,” says the sixth, “if you’ll let me have a bit of that bread.”
“Home! Just think of it, we’re going home,” put in the seventh.
“Got your old woman waiting for you back there, have you?” the eighths asks.
“Christ, it must be at least six years since I slept in a proper bed,” the ninth recollected.
“What a stupid waste of time it’s all been,” said the tenth, and he spat on the ground.
“Yeah, that’s what I think,” agreed the eleventh. “But from now on, we’re not going to lift a finger.”
“Not a finger,” the twelfth repeated. “We’re not mad, are we! Lads, we’re going home!”
“I glad it’s all over,” the thirteenth informed them all, and he rolled over onto his other side.
We can imagine that this, or something like this, was what happened in the final moments of the Greatest War.
Many years passed. In an inn, U Damohorských, sat Mister Brych, the engineer, reading the newspaper. He was now a successful locksmith.
“Nice fry-up, coming up soon,” announced the landlord as he stepped out from the kitchen. And look who it is! It’s Jan Binder who had been the owner of the roundabout. He’s fatter now, and he’s not wearing his stripey shirt any more, but it’s certainly him!
“Plenty of time,” says Mister Brych, slowly. “Father Jošt isn’t even here yet. Rejzek, the newspaper editor, he’s not here yet either.”
“And … what about Mister Kuzenda? How’s he now?” Mister Binder asks.
“Well, you know about him. He’s getting slowly worse all the time. A very decent man that is, Mister Binder.”
“Well yes,” thought the landlord. “I don’t know …Mister Brych … how about if I give some of these sausages and you take them round to him? They’re really nice, they are, so if you wouldn’t mind …”
“I’d be glad to, Mister Binder, and I’m sure he’ll be glad you’ve thought of him. Yes, I’d be glad to.”
Just then a cry of “Praise the Lord” was heard from the doorway, and Father Jošt, his face made fresh and ruddy by the frost, came in and hung up his hat and his fur coat.
“Good evening, Reverend,” Mister Brych replied cheerfully. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Father Jošt pursed his lips with joy and rubbed his stiff fingers. “What’s in the papers, Mister Brych, what have they got to say?”
“I’ll read it straight out to you: ‘The President of the Republic has appointed the youthful lecturer and private tutor, Doctor Blahouš, to the position of professor extraordinary.’ Do you remember, Reverend, that’s the same Doctor Blahouš who wrote about Mister Kuzenda that time.”
“Ah, yes, yes,” said Father Jošt, polishing his glasses. “He’s a non-believer, you see. All those university people are non-believers. And you’re a non-believer yourself, Mister Brych.”
“Well, I’m sure you’re praying for us, Father,” put in Mister Binder. “He wants us to go to Heaven so that we can play cards with him. Two and one then, Father?
“Of course, two and one.
He opened the door into the kitchen and shouted, “Two sausage and one black pudding.”
“G’d evening,” grunted Rejzek, the editor, as he entered the pub. “It’s really cold out there!.”
“‘Evening,” Mister Binder responded. “Got a great bunch in tonight!”
“What’s new then?” asked Father Jošt “What’s come into the newsroom? I used to read the papers when I was a lad too, you know.”
Blahouš even mentioned me in the paper once in those days,” said Mister Brych. “I cut it out, and I’ve got it somewhere. ‘The apostle of the cult of Kuzenda’, or something like that, he wrote about me. Yes, those were the days.”
“Here’s dinner!” Mister Rejzek declared.
Mister Binder and his daughter were already bringing the sausages to table; they still sizzled and blew foamy bubbles of fat as they lay on their rich bed of cabbage, like a Turkish odalisk on his cushions. Father Jošt smacked his lips loudly and cut the first gorgeous slice.
“Here you are then,” he said to Mister Brych.
“Mm,” Mister Rejzek agreed when it was his turn.
“Binder, you’ve done us proud, said the preacher in gratitude.
All was quiet, as all of them were united in their appreciation.
“Mace,” Mister Brych said. “I love the flavour of mace.”
“Shouldn’t put too much in, though.”
“No, but this is just right.”
“You need some nice crackling on the skin, too.”
“Mm,” and they were all silent again.
“And the cabbage should be nice and white, too.”
“Down in Moravia,” said Mister Brych, “they make cabbage into a sort of mush. I used to work down there. Almost liquid, it is.”
“Don’t like the sound of that,” said Father Jošt in surprise. “You need to strain cabbage before you serve it. That can’t be right, you can’t eat cabbage like that.”
“Well they do eat it like that. Eat it with a spoon, they do.”
“That sounds horrible,” the preacher shuddered. “They’re strange people down in Moravia. All you need for cooking cabbage is a bit of grease. That’s right, isn’t it Mister Binder. I can’t understand why anyone would want to do it any other way.”
Mister Brych thought for a little while, and said, “I suppose it’s like religion really. One man can’t understand how another could believe in something different either.”
“Don’t talk rubbish,” Father Jošt defended himself. “I’d as soon start believing in Mohamed as start eating cabbage like that. It stands to reason, all you need to do with cabbage is cook it in a bit of grease.”
“And what about faith? Doesn’t that stand to reason?”
“Our faith yes, it does,” said the preacher decisively. “But none of those other religions do.”
“So now we’re back where we were before the war,” said Mister Brych with a sigh.
“People are always the same as they always used to be,” put in Mister Binder. “It’s just like Mister Kuzenda always says. ‘Binder,’ he says, ‘no truth is worth fighting over. Listen, Binder,’ he says, ‘that god we had back on the dredger, he wasn’t such a bad god, and the one you had on the roundabout, he wasn’t bad either, but they still both disappeared. Everyone thinks his god is the best of all, but he can’t believe somebody else who thinks he’s got a god that’s just as good. First of all, you have to believe in people, and all the rest will follow.’ That’s what Mister Kuzenda says.”
“Well, yes,” thought Mister Brych. “Someone might think someone else’s faith is bad, but he shouldn’t suppose that means he’s a bad person, or that he’s crude or dishonest. That’s just politics; it gets into everything.”
“And that’s why so many people hate and kill each other,” put in Father Jošt. “The stronger a person’s faith is the more he’ll get all excited about it and despise those who don’t share it. The strongest faith is faith in people.”
“Everyone seems to think very highly of mankind, but not about individual men. I’ll kill you, but I’ll save mankind. And that’s not good, Reverend. It’ll be bad for the world if people don’t start believing in people.”
“Mister Binder,” said Father Jošt thoughtfully, “perhaps you’d be so kind as to prepare some of this cabbage in the Moravian style for me tomorrow. I think I would like to try it.”
“First you have to fry it very quickly, and then you steam it. Then you eat it with sausages and it’s really good! There’s something good in every faith and in every truth, even if it’s only that someone somewhere likes it.”
The outside door opened and a policeman came in. He was very cold and wanted a glass of rum.
“Ah, Constable Hruška, nice to see you,” said Brych. “Where have you been then?”
“Out in Žižkov,” the policeman told him as he took off his enormous gloves. “Had to carry out a raid.”
“And what were you looking for?”
“Couple of rough characters. Couple of villains. And at number 1006, down in the cellar, we found a den.”
” ‘A den’? What sort of den?” Rejzek asked.
“A carburator den, Mister Rejzek. They had a little carburator there from an old motor-bike from before the war. All the lowlife were going there and holding orgies.”
“Orgies? What sort of orgies?”
“Well, getting up to mischief. Praying and singing and having visions. Making prophecies they were, performing miracles; all that sort of thing.”
“Is that not allowed, then?”
“No. The police have forbidden that sort of thing. They’re no different to opium dens really, you see. There was another of these dens down in the Old Town. That’s seven of these carburator dens we’ve dug out so far. Used to attract all the rif-raf, they did, all the tramps and the whores and such like. That’s why we had to ban them, see? It was a breach of public order.”
“Are there many of these carburator dens, then?”
“Not any more, there aren’t! I think that what we got today was the very last carburator.”