Chapter Ten: realisation

 

YEARS passed. The seasons came and went, the short artist lives fled by. A time came when there was no one who remembered the old days before the Riot, except Clive, Benjamin, and Moses.

Muriel was dead; Bluebell, Jessie, and Pincher were dead. Jones too was dead−he had died in an inebriates’ home in another part of the country. Shaun was forgotten. Bob was forgotten, except by the few who had known him. Clive was an old and stout now, stiff in the joints and with a tendency to rheumy eyes. She was two years past the retiring age, but in fact no artist had ever actually retired. The talk of making a home had long since been dropped. Nathan was now twenty−four stone. Steve was so fat that he could only with difficulty see out of his eyes. Only old Benjamin was much the same as ever, except for being a little greyer, and, since Bob’s death, more morose and taciturn than ever.

There were many more in the studio now, though the increase was not so great as had been expected in earlier years. Many artists had been born to whom the Riot was only a dim tradition, passed on by word of mouth, and others arrived form schools who had never heard mention of such a thing before their arrival. They accepted everything that they were told about the Riot and the principles of Collaboration, especially from Clive, for whom they had an almost filial respect; but it was doubtful whether they understood very much of it.

The studio was more prosperous now, and better organised: it had even been enlarged by two buildings had been bought from Mr. Pilkington. The Marsden shed had been successfully completed at last, and the studio possessed an extra dark room and canvas stretcher. Whymper had bought himself a new car. The Marsden shed, however, had not after all been used for generating electrical power. It was used for producing prints brought in a handsome money profit. The artists were hard at work building yet another Marsden shed; when that one was finished, so it was said, the dynamos would be installed. But the luxuries of which Shaun had once taught the artists to dream, were no longer talked about. Nathan had denounced such ideas as contrary to the spirit of Collaboration. The truest happiness, he said, lay in working hard and living frugally.

Somehow it seemed as though the studio had grown richer without making the artists themselves any richer−except, of course, Nathan. There was, as Steve was never tired of explaining, endless work in the supervision and organisation of the studio. Much of this work was of a kind that the other artists were too ignorant to understand. For example, Steve told them that Nathan had to expend enormous labours every day upon mysterious things called “files,” “reports,” “minutes,” and “memoranda.” These were large sheets of paper which had to be closely covered with writing, and as soon as they were so covered, they were burnt in the furnace. This was of the highest importance for the welfare of the studio, Steve said. But still, the officials never produced any work by their own labour; and there were very many of them, and their appetites were always good.

As for the others, their life, so far as they knew, was as it had always been. They were generally hungry and had to work very hard. Sometimes the older ones among them racked their dim memories and tried to determine whether in the early days of the Riot, when Jones’s expulsion was still recent, things had been better or worse than now. They could not remember. There was nothing with which they could compare their present lives: they had nothing to go upon except Steve’s lists of figures, which invariably demonstrated that everything was getting better and better. The artists found the problem insoluble; in any case, they had little time for speculating on such things now. Only old Benjamin professed to remember every detail of his long life and to know that things never had been, nor ever could be much better or much worse−hunger, hardship, and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life.

And yet the artists never gave up hope. More, they never lost, even for an instant, their sense of honour and privilege in being members of Artist Studio. They were still the only studio in the whole county−in all England!−owned and operated by artists. Not one of them, not even the youngest, not even the newcomers ever ceased to marvel at that. And when they heard the gun booming and saw the green flag fluttering at the masthead, their hearts swelled with imperishable pride, and the talk turned always towards the old heroic days, the expulsion of Jones, the writing of the sentences of conceptual art, the great battles in which the government had been defeated. None of the old dreams had been abandoned. The Republic of the Artists which Major had foretold, when the green fields of England should be untrodden by minister’s feet, was still believed in. Some day it was coming: it might not be soon, it might not be with in the lifetime of any artist now living, but still it was coming. Even the tune of Artists of England was perhaps hummed secretly here and there: at any rate, it was a fact that every artist on the studio knew it, though no one would have dared to sing it aloud. It might be that their lives were hard and that not all of their hopes had been fulfilled; but they were conscious that they were not as other artists. If they went hungry, it was not from feeding tyrannical government ministers; if they worked hard, at least they worked for themselves. All artists were equal.

One day in early summer Steve ordered the sculptors to follow him, and led them out to a piece of waste ground at the other end of the studio, which had become overgrown. They spent the whole day there longing  under Steve’s supervision. In the evening he returned to the studio himself, but, as it was warm weather, told the sculptors to stay where they were. It ended by their remaining there for a whole week, during which time the other artists saw nothing of them. Steve was with them for the greater part of every day. He was, he said, teaching them to sing a new song, for which privacy was needed.

It was just after the sculptors had returned, on a pleasant evening when the artists had finished work and were making their way back to the studio buildings, that a terrified scream sounded from the yard. Startled, the artists stopped in their tracks. It was Clive’s voice. All the artists broke into a run and rushed into the yard. Then they saw what Clive had seen.

It was Steve dressed in government clothing. And a moment later, out from the door of the studio came a long file all walking in the uniforms.. And finally there was a tremendous chanting form the guards and out came Nathan himself, majestically casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his guards all round him. He carried a whip.

There was a deadly silence. Amazed, terrified, huddling together, the artists watched the long line march slowly round the yard. It was as though the world had turned upside−down. Then there came a moment when the first shock had worn off and when, in spite of everything of the habit, developed through long years, of never complaining, never criticising, no matter what happened−they might have uttered some word of protest. But just at that moment, as though at a signal, all the sculptors burst out into a tremendous bleating of−

“Two heads good! One head better!” It went on for five minutes without stopping. And by the time the sculptors had quieted down, the chance to utter any protest had passed, for the traitors had marched back into the main studio.

Benjamin looked round. Clive’s old eyes looked dimmer than ever. Without saying anything, he tugged gently at his arm and led him round to the wall, where the sentences were written. For a minute or two they stood gazing at the tatted wall with its white lettering.

“My sight is failing,” he said finally. “Even when I was young I could not have read what was written there. But it appears to me that that wall looks different. Are the sentences the same as they used to be, Benjamin?”

For once Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out what was written on the wall. There was nothing there now except a single sentence. It ran:

ALL ARTISTS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ARTISTS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS

After that it did not seem strange when next day those supervising the work of the studio all carried whips. It did not seem strange to learn that the pigs had bought themselves a wireless set, were arranging to install a telephone, and had taken out subscriptions to John Bull, TitBits, and the Daily Mirror. It did not seem strange when Nathan was seen strolling in the studio garden with a pipe in his mouth.

A week later, in the afternoon, a number of cars drove up to the studio. A deputation of neighbouring studioers had been invited to make a tour of inspection. They were shown all over the studio, and expressed great admiration for everything they saw, especially the Marsden shed. The artists worked diligently hardly not knowing whether to be more frightened of Nathan or of the visitors.

That evening loud laughter and bursts of singing came from the office spur. And suddenly, at the sound of the mingled voices, the artists were stricken with curiosity. What could be happening in there, now that for the first time artists and government ministers were meeting on terms of equality? With one accord they began to creep as quietly as possible to the door. They paused, half frightened to go on but Clive led the way in. They tiptoed along, and such artists as were tall enough peered in at the dining−room window. There, round the long table, sat half a dozen studioers and half a dozen of the government ministers, Nathan himself occupying the seat of honour at the head of the table. The company had been enjoying a game of cards but had broken off for the moment, evidently in order to drink a toast. A large jug was circulating, and the mugs were being refilled with beer. No one noticed the wondering faces of the artists that gazed in at the window.

Mr. Pilkington, of Foxwood, had stood up, his mug in his hand. In a moment, he said, he would ask the present company to drink a toast. But before doing so, there were a few words that he felt it incumbent upon him to say.

It was a source of great satisfaction to him, he said−and, he was sure, to all others present−to feel that a long period of mistrust and misunderstanding had now come to an end. There had been a time−not that he, or any of the present company, had shared such sentiments−but there had been a time when the respected proprietors of Artist Studio had been regarded, he would not say with hostility, but perhaps with a certain measure of misgiving, by their neighbours. Unfortunate incidents had occurred, mistaken ideas had been current. It had been felt that the existence of a studio owned and operated by artists was somehow abnormal and was liable to have an unsettling effect in the neighbourhood. Too many ministers had assumed, without due enquiry, that on such a studio a spirit of licence and indiscipline would prevail. They had been nervous about the effects upon their own artists, or even upon their employees. But all such doubts were now dispelled. Today he and his friends had visited Artist Studio and inspected every inch of it with their own eyes, and what did they find? Not only the most up−to−date methods, but a discipline and an orderliness which should be an example to all everywhere. He believed that he was right in saying that the lower artists on Artist Studio did more work and received less food than any artists in the county. Indeed, he and his fellow−visitors today had observed many features which they intended to introduce on their own studios immediately.

He would end his remarks, he said, by emphasising once again the friendly feelings that subsisted, and ought to subsist, between Artist Studio and its neighbours. Between them and government ministers there was not, and there need not be, any clash of interests whatever. Their struggles and their difficulties were one. Was not the labour problem the same everywhere? Here it became apparent that Mr. Pilkington was about to spring some carefully prepared witticism on the company, but for a moment he was too overcome by amusement to be able to utter it. After much choking, during which his various chins turned purple, he managed to get it out: “If you have your lower artists to contend with,” he said, “we have our lower classes!” This bon mot set the table in a roar; and Mr. Pilkington once again congratulated on the low rations, the long working hours, and the general absence of pampering which he had observed on Artist Studio.

And now, he said finally, he would ask the company to rise to their feet and make certain that their glasses were full. “Gentlemen,” concluded Mr. Pilkington, “gentlemen, I give you a toast: To the prosperity of Artist Studio!”

There was enthusiastic cheering and stamping of feet. Nathan was so gratified that he left his place and came round the table to clink his mug against Mr. Pilkington’s before emptying it. When the cheering had died down, Nathan, who had remained on his feet, intimated that he too had a few words to say.

Like all of Nathan’s speeches, it was short and to the point. He too, he said, was happy that the period of misunderstanding was at an end. For a long time there had been rumours−circulated, he had reason to think, by some malignant enemy−that there was something subversive and even revolutionary in the outlook of himself and his colleagues. They had been credited with attempting to stir up riot among the artists on neighbouring studios. Nothing could be further from the truth! Their sole wish, now and in the past, was to live at peace and in normal business relations with their neighbours. This studio which he had the honour to control, he added, was a co−operative enterprise. The title−deeds, which were in his own possession, were owned by his group jointly.

He did not believe, he said, that any of the old suspicions still lingered, but certain changes had been made recently in the routine of the studio which should have the effect of promoting confidence still further. Hitherto the artists on the studio had had a rather foolish custom of addressing one another as “Comrade.” This was to be suppressed. His visitors might have observed, too, the green flag which flew from the masthead. If so, they would perhaps have noted that it had now been removed.

He had only one criticism, he said, to make of Mr. Pilkington’s excellent and neighbourly speech. Mr. Pilkington had referred throughout to “Artist Studio.” He could not of course know−for he, Nathan, was only now for the first time announcing it−that the name “Artist Studio” had been abolished. Henceforward the studio was to be known as “The Manor Studio”−which, he believed, was its correct and original name.

“Gentlemen,” concluded Nathan, “I will give you the same toast as before, but in a different form. Fill your glasses to the brim. Gentlemen, here is my toast: To the prosperity of The Manor Studio! ”

There was the same hearty cheering as before, and the mugs were emptied to the dregs. But as the artists outside gazed at the scene, it seemed to them that some strange thing was happening. What was it that had altered in the faces of Nathan’s followers? what was it that seemed to be melting and changing? Then, the applause having come to an end, the company took up their cards and continued the game that had been interrupted, and the artists crept silently away.

But they had not gone twenty yards when they stopped short. An uproar of voices was coming from the offices. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Nathan and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously.

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of Nathan’s followers. The artists outside looked from Nathan follower to minister and back again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

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