Trouble with lichen, p.21
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       Trouble With Lichen, p.21

           John Wyndham
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  Ten minutes later, and somewhat restored, she said:

  ‘But how did you know, Francis?… And how did you know where to look?’

  ‘My dear, I was not, as they say, born yesterday. There was nothing wrong with the act. It was a superb piece of sharp practice. But there were indications – your sudden visit to Darr, for instance, your manner, certain choices of phrase. Finding out about Mrs Ingles who lived here was more difficult, and complicated to begin with by my misapprehension that I was looking for an unnamed lady who had recently gone abroad.’

  ‘I’ve taken some trouble over getting Mrs Ingles well established here,’ said Diana. ‘It was less difficult than it might have been, though, because I am Mrs Ingles.’

  Francis stared at her, taken aback.

  ‘That certainly did not occur to me. In fact, I understood you to tell me you were not married. Is he – are you–?’

  Diana shook her head.

  ‘When I say I am Mrs Ingles, I mean I could be by common parlance – though I must say the practice of divorcing one’s husband, but hanging on to his surname strikes me as pretty moot.’ She paused, then went on: ‘It was a long time ago. When you are young, when you have been shocked, when what you really wanted has gone beyond your reach, you’re apt to look rather desperately for a new way of living. That doesn’t make a good basis for marriage. It was brief – and unhappy while it lasted… So I didn’t try marriage again… I had set myself a job – and, mostly, I stuck to it… It’s kept me pretty busy….’

  ‘And are you satisfied with the job, now?’ Francis asked.

  She turned her grey eyes steadily on him.

  ‘I know you disapprove. “Sharp practice” you said just now – and I’m aware that that is a mild, polite term compared with what a lot of people would be saying, if they knew…

  ‘All right: it was an unscrupulous piece of manipulation. I don’t care what names it is called. There are things that are too important, too necessary, for a few conventional scruples to stand in their way; and, for me, this is one of them. I’m not proud of the means, but I’m satisfied with the job – so far. There could have been bloodshed – even something like civil war – but we’ve got this far without any of that.

  ‘When people have had time to think it over there’ll be more trouble, lots of it probably; but it’s too late for that to matter much – the children have been promised their sweets, and they’ll raise hell if they’re not forthcoming. But they will forthcome. Both the Americans and the Russians have now made bigger allocations for research than we have; they must have hated doing it, but, there you are; we started it, and a nation’s science simply has to keep up with the Jones’s these days.

  ‘The real trouble will come later on. We may get through that without bloodshed too, but it won’t be easy. If we wake up to the famine problem now, if we work flat out on ways to increase food supplies, if something can be done to discourage the suicidal birthrate, we might just manage it with no more trouble than discomforts and short rations for a time. We shall see. All I care about is that we’ve got homo diuturnus, or homo vivax, or whatever they’ll call him, on stage, and waiting in the wings.’

  She paused. She regarded Francis’s face carefully for nearly half a minute, and then turned her own away.

  ‘You’re shocked! You!’ she exclaimed. ‘I wonder how your shock compares with the shock to a young woman who finds that, or thinks she finds that – oh, I’m still not really clear which – finds that the – the central ethic of her calling is being – being violated by – by… Oh, God, are you going to make me say it, Francis…?’


  When the sun, setting behind the opposite mountains, brought shadows creeping across the lake, Francis’s car was still parked beside Glen Farm. Within the house, the really important decisions had been taken, but, on the couch before the fire, lesser points of merely general importance continued to raise themselves.

  ‘This ten millions,’ Diana said pensively. ‘I don’t trust politicians.’

  ‘All right, I think,’ Francis told her. ‘For one thing, there are some good individual awards to be won. But, more importantly, Lydia Washington has got Janet Tewley as well as herself on to the Committee. I don’t see either of those two letting any fiddling get by.’

  ‘In the meantime, though, have you any reserves of lichenin?’

  ‘Enough to keep Zephanie, Paul, Richard, and myself going for some time. I gave you the rest for research purposes. And you?’

  ‘Quite a bit. It’s got to do for Sarah and Lucy, and several others. Also, there are Janet, and Lydia, and some more that I shall have to do something about unless the researches produce results within two or three years. I can’t let them down altogether.’

  ‘Which would mean letting them know you’re still alive.’

  ‘They’d be almost bound to find out, sooner or later.’

  ‘When were you going to let me know?’

  ‘Oh, Francis, don’t! That was the worst part. I don’t think I could have held out very long.’

  ‘And if there are no results in, say, three years, you will have a new supply?’ he asked.

  ‘Oh, you noticed that, did you? Yes, it seems to have taken here quite well, but, of course, it won’t be possible to produce more than a very little – the same old problem.’

  They sat looking at the flames licking the logs. Francis said:

  ‘All the way through this I heard no expectation mentioned but two hundred years – no suggestion of anything else. Why did you stick to that?’

  ‘Why did you use a factor of three for Zephanie and Paul?’

  ‘Mostly because a bigger factor would certainly have aroused their suspicions sooner. It could have been increased later, if I’d managed the synthesis, and been able to publish.’

  ‘For much the same reason I kept the factor down with the clients. Then when it came to publicizing it – well, two hundred seemed a nice, comprehensible sort of number. Enough improvement to make them want it, but not so much that it would intimidate them.’

  ‘Does it intimidate you, Diana?’

  ‘It used to, sometimes. But now not. Nothing could intimidate me now, Francis – except the prospect of not having long enough…’

  Francis reached for her hand.

  ‘This isn’t going to be very easy, you know,’ he told her. ‘You certainly can’t simply reappear again after all this. Heaven knows what would happen to you. So, even if I were to decide to rebuild Darr, we couldn’t go there. I suppose it means that we shall have to go abroad somewhere….’

  ‘Oh, I’ve got all that arranged,’ said Diana. ‘We can stay here. It’s a nice house, don’t you think? You’ll have married Mrs Ingles. You did it quietly because if it were known that Mrs Ingles was Diana Brackley’s younger sister, there would naturally be a lot of publicity, which neither of you wanted. For the same reason, you both decided to go on living here quietly for a few years. There’s lots of room, Francis; I’ll show you round after dinner. I’ve often thought the room over the dining-room would make a lovely nursery. Well, then when you become a public figure again, we’ve only got to stick quite firmly to the poor-Diana’s-younger-sister line. People will get used to it, and –’

  ‘Incidentally. Poor Diana was shot three times. What of her wounds?’

  ‘Blanks, darling – And a little thing they sometimes use on television. You wear it under your clothes, and when you press it, red ink spurts out, frightfully gruesome-looking. Well, as I was saying –’

  ‘What you were saying, Diana, was something about my becoming “a public figure again”. Now, in the first place I never was, as far as I know, a public figure at all –’

  ‘Well, you’re terribly well-known, Francis. I should have thought – oh, we won’t argue about that. The point is that we can’t both sit down here and do nothing for two or three hundred years, can we? That’s what everyone’s going to find out. In fact, it’s the whole object of the exercise.

/>   ‘I’ve got quite a nice lab fixed up in the barn, so we can work there. That’s where you are going to determine the basic molecule of the antigerone – which will certainly make you a public figure… Come along, darling. I’ll show you…’

  ∗ululation — a wailing, or howling.

  † The funeral of Emily Wilding Davison took place 14 June 1913. She was a member of the Women’s Suffrage movement who died as a result of injuries received when she threw herself in front of the King’s horse during the Derby, run on 4 June that year.



  John Wyndham, Trouble With Lichen

  (Series: # )




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