The Last Man 2.0, Book One: Chapter III
HAPPY were the times making up Adrian’s year long exile, as his unconditional friendship began to soften my heart. This, combined with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, left both my spirit and mind occupied and content.
No happiness is so true and unclouded as the overflowing delight of youth. While boating upon my native lake, I tossed my crook aside and found a nobler flock to tend than silly sheep – a flock of newborn ideas. I studied and listened to Adrian; his discourse, whether it concerned his love or his theories for the improvement of man, entranced me. Sometimes my lawless mood would return: my love of peril, my resistance to authority, but only in his absence. Under the his watch, I was like a small boy seeking his mother’s approval.
After his year with us, Adrian visited London, and came back full of plans for our future. “You must begin life,” he said “you are seventeen, and delaying any longer would render your training more and more difficult.” He foresaw that his own life would be one of struggle, and that I would share his labours. To prepare me for this task, I would go abroad. He had secured for me the duty of private secretary to the Ambassador at Vienna, where I would begin my career under the best auspices. In two years, I would return to my country, with a name well known and a reputation already founded.
And Perdita? Perdita was to become the pupil, friend and surrogate younger sister of Evadne, but of course she would still maintain her independence. How could we refuse the offers of our generous friend? In my heart of hearts, I made a vow to devote all the life, knowledge, and power which he had bestowed on me to both him and his cause.
I knew the time had now arrived when childish occupations would be laid aside, and I would truly begin to become a man. We are told by the wisest philosophers of the dangers of the world, the deceits of men, and the treason of our own hearts; but nonetheless, we each cast off from our ports fearlessly and spread sail to navigate the sea of life. Would I find myself docked on golden sands, collecting shells, or would I end my days on a deserted island, where I would die unmourned?
Right now, it matters not. Life is before me, full of possibilities, and I rush to possess it. Hope, glory, love, and blameless ambition are my guides, and my soul knows no dread. What has been, although sweet, is gone. The present is good only because it is about to change, and what comes next is all my own. I knew that I would see the fruition of my soul’s desires.
Before I could only dream of reaching the summit of life’s high edifice. Now that I have arrived at its base, the mighty stairs are before me, and step by step I must ascend the wondrous temple. Which door would open before me?
Never could I have imagined my life path changing from shepherd to diplomat, where I would soon become a favourite of the Ambassador. Astonished, I embraced all that was strange and admirable to a poor shepherd of Cumberland.
Without the guidance of Adrian, part of me began to fall back into my old ways. There was still this unnamed thing which I desperately sought. The sight of beauty entranced me, and the mere flow of animal spirits was paradise. At night’s close I only desired a renewal of the intoxicating delusion. The motions of a dance and the voluptuous tones of exquisite music cradled my senses in one delightful dream.
And was this new life, full of festivity, true happiness? The truth is that neither the lonely meditations of the hermit, nor the tumultuous raptures of the reveller, are capable of fully satisfying a man’s heart. From one we gather unquiet speculation, from the other satiety. The mind caves beneath the weight of thought, and sags in the heartless communion of those whose sole aim is amusement.
My stay in Vienna became one full of melancholy. Goethe has said, that in youth we cannot be happy unless we love. I did not love, but I was devoured by a restless wish to be loved by others. Even with the parties and my expanding social influence, I still felt alone. In a room crowded with Vienna’s elite, I still felt like the poor shepherd, which led me to reminisce on my father’s fate. Not the praise of the Ambassador, nor the companionship of others could make me happy the way my previous life had. I felt that my discontent gave me a right to hate the world, and so I receded to solitude. I found refuge in my books, waiting for the time when my post would end, so that I could rejoin my sister and friends in England.
During my appointment in Vienna, the exploits of one of my countrymen filled the world with admiration. Stories of his achievements, and speculation concerning his future actions, were the never-failing topics of the hour. I felt as if the praises which this darling of the masses received diminished the work of Adrian. The motives of this new hero appeared selfish, and I could not envision him leading the people of England to the same utopia that Adrian envisioned.
Lord Raymond was the sole remnant of a noble but impoverished family. From early on he had displayed his pedigree with smugness, and bitterly lamented his lack of wealth. His first wish was glorification; and the means to the end were secondary considerations. Some insult, real or imaginary, caused him to leave England with a vow not to return, until his power could be felt.
He became an adventurer in the Greek wars. His reckless courage and sweeping genius soon brought him into the notice of the Greek military commanders. He became the daring hero of a rising people. Only his foreign birth, and the refusal to throw off his allegiance to England, prevented him from filling key offices in the Greek state. While others ranked higher in title and ceremony, Lord Raymond held a station above and beyond all others. He led the Greek armies to victory time and again. When he appeared, entire towns poured forth to meet him. New songs were created to celebrate his glory, valour, and benevolence.
After a relatively short, albeit brutal war, a reluctant truce was struck between the Greeks and the Turks. Lord Raymond was showered with adoration, and rewards befitting the saviour of the Greek people. Shortly thereafter, Lord Raymond returned to England with an immense fortune, which could have easily allowed him to buy the honour and distinction previously denied him. His proud heart rebelled against this change: what was more valuable – power from wealth, or power earned on the battlefield? Lord Raymond knew that the respect he earned on the warfront eclipsed any material wealth. Regardless, power was the aim of all his endeavours. On the battlefield or behind closed doors, his goal was the same – to attain the highest station in all of England.
The accounts of Lord Raymond’s ambitions filled me with curiosity, and the events that followed his return to England made me anxious. I felt that he now had what he needed to conquer his homeland just as easily as he drove his enemies from Greece. Lord Raymond was supremely handsome and admired by all. He was courteous and honey tongued – an adept in fascinating arts. Nothing would be beyond his reach in the modern English world. Eventually, only parts of Raymond’s story reached me; for some unknown reason Adrian had ceased to write, and Perdita was a lazy correspondent – likely lost in her own world. Rumours stated that Adrian had gone mad, leaving Lord Raymond as the favourite of the ex-queen, and thus the destined husband of Idris.
In a matter of months, the ambitious Raymond had revived the claim of the house of Windsor to the crown, and with Adrian’s incurable disorder and an inevitable marriage to Idris, the brow of the ambitious Raymond might soon be encircled with the laurel wreath of sovereignty.
Such tales made my stay at Vienna intolerable, because if the rumours were true, my best friend desperately needed my help. Now I felt obligated to repay my debt to him; to be at his side, and do everything possible to bring him back to health. I would do this not only for myself, but to save all of England from the regal ambitions of Raymond.
Farewell to courtly pleasure, political intrigue and this confusing maze of passion and folly. I had learned and grew much during my time in Vienna, but an irresistible force drew me back to England. After an absence of two years I landed on its shores, fearful of what I would find. My first visit would be to Perdita, who inhabited a small cottage gifted to her by Adrian, on the borders of Windsor Forest. From her I would learn the truth about our protector, why she had withdrawn from the protection of Princess Evadne, and learn as to the influence which Raymond exercised over the fortunes of my friend.
I had never before visited Windsor; the beauty of the countryside struck me with admiration as I approached the ancient woods, where the ruins of majestic oaks had grown, flourished, and decayed over the centuries. Perdita’s humble dwelling was situated on the outskirts of the oldest portion, in a peaceful clearing in which the deer came to graze.
The cottage, low-roofed and surrounded by flowers, had an air of elegance, and seemed to submit to the majesty of nature. As I stood at the entrance, I heard her voice, melodious as ever, which assured me of her wellbeing.
Perdita appeared; she stood before me as a young woman, different, and yet the same as the mountain girl I had left behind. Her eyes could not be deeper than they were in childhood, nor her demeanour more expressive. When she smiled her face was embellished by sensibility, and her low, modulated voice seemed tuned by love. She was not tall, but her mountain life had given her strength, and she raced across the hall to greet me. I held her tight, amazed that when I left her we were children, and now we met as adults.
We sat together, talking for hours of the past and present. I asked her about the coldness of her letters, but soon she explained herself. While she loved me as her only family, she also felt that I had become a stranger to her. But seeing each other again renewed our bond as if we had never been apart. I detailed my sojourn abroad, and then asked her as to the changes that had taken place at home, the cause of Adrian’s absence, and about her secluded life.
The tears in my sister’s eyes when I mentioned our friend seemed to vouch for the truth of the reports that had reached me. Was there indeed anarchy in Adrian’s mind? Had we truly lost him to madness? In some ways I should not have been surprised. My beloved friend was too benevolent for this sick world. Gushing tears, I was overwhelmed by this unimaginable ruin.
Perdita detailed the tragic circumstances that led to this event.
The naive mind of Adrian, gifted as it was by every natural grace and transcendent intellect, was devoted as ever to Evadne. He entrusted her with the treasures of his soul, his aspirations, and his plans for a greater tomorrow. Through this wisdom, he saw that underneath its glossy veneer, England, like the rest of the world, was in decline. The brutal Greek War underscored the tensions which could flare at any moment, anywhere across the world. Reports of conflict, disease, and famine were never ending; there seemed to be no end to man’s capacity for violence, or to cause the suffering of another. But these reports were coming from points of origin so far away that they barely registered in England. This knowledge served only to strengthen Adrian’s resolve; he knew that he must work for the betterment of mankind. Each day he became more certain that while the path he pursued was a difficult one, it was also the one that would create a paradise which he would one day share with his true love.
In solitude and far from the haunts of men, Adrian developed his plan to transform the English government, and for the improvement of life for his people. Perhaps all would have gone according to his plan had he waited until he could secure the support needed to make it a reality. But he was impatient and fearless. Not only did he deny his mother’s schemes for the return of the monarchy, he made public his intention of using his influence to diminish the power of the aristocracy, to effect a greater equalization of wealth and privilege, and to introduce a system of popular government into England. At first his mother treated his theories as the wild ravings of inexperience, but they were so systematically arranged, and his arguments so well supported, that although still incredulous, they could not be easily ignored. Katharina’s reactions changed from irritation to fear. She tried to reason with Adrian, and finding him inflexible, learned to hate her own son.
Strangely, this hatred was infectious. His enthusiasm for creating equality, his contempt for the sacredness of authority and his recklessness were the antithesis of the usual routine of English politics. The elite feared him, while the young and inexperienced did not understand his lofty moral views, and disliked him for being so radically different. Evadne thought he did well to assert his own will, but she wished that his message had been more intelligible to the masses. She did not possess the spirit of a martyr, and did not wish to share the shame and defeat of a fallen patriot. She was aware of the purity of his motives, the generosity of his disposition, and his true and ardent love for her.
Around this time, Lord Raymond returned triumphantly from Greece. Finally I was able to see for myself what kind of man he truly was. Unfortunately, this only served to heighten my anxiety. His emotions were volatile and often controlled him. He had difficulty aligning his conduct to his self-interests, and his own pleasure was paramount to him. He looked on the structure of society as part of the machinery which would one day lead him to his glorious destiny. The entire world was spread out before him, ripe for the picking.
In contrast, Adrian felt that he was part of a greater whole. He had an affinity not only to mankind, but all of nature. He felt his soul mingle with the life force of the universe. He could not reconcile Raymond’s narrow views, especially when there was so much suffering in the world – some of which Raymond himself has witnessed first hand during the Greek War. A spirit of loathing soon rose between Adrian and Raymond. Adrian despised the narrow views of the politician, and Raymond held in supreme contempt the benevolent, but weak-minded visions of the philanthropist. The two seemed like natural enemies, who could not be further opposed to each other.
This conflict was not limited to them. The arrival of Raymond formed a storm that laid waste to Adrian’s vision for a Utopia. Evadne soon fell in love with Raymond, a graceful soldier and the deliverer of Greece. He was everything that Adrian was not. Overpowered by these feelings, Adrian’s love became distasteful to her. Evadne grew erratic and responded to his kindness with repulsive coldness. At times his pathetic appeals made her relent, and for a while she was able to resume some affection toward him. But these fluctuations shook Adrian to his core; he felt in every fibre of his being that something had changed forever, and he was beginning to lose faith in his vision to make England prosperous for all of its people.
Perdita, who lived with Evadne, saw the torture that Adrian endured. She loved Adrian as a kind older brother; someone to guide and protect her in my absence. She adored his virtues, and could not understand how Evadne could pile so much sorrow on him. In his solitary despair Adrian would often seek my sister to express his misery, while agony divided his mind. There was no place in him for Anger. With whom should he be angry? Not with Raymond, who did not even know of the misery he caused; not with Evadne – she was simply following her heart. A tear-blotted writing of his fell into Perdita’s hands:
Un dia llama a otro dia
y asi llama, y encadena
llanto a llanto, y pena a pena.
Gradually his body was shaken by misery and uncertainty, and then his mind yielded to the same despair. His mood would switch between wild, almost ferocious, to a speechless melancholy.
Suddenly, Evadne decided to leave London for Paris. Adrian followed, and met her as the vessel was about to set sail. In a moment of clarity, he was convinced that he could reach out to her, and make things as they once were. No one knew exactly what was said between them, but after a brief exchange Evadne left, and Perdita had not seen nor heard from Adrian since. It was said that he lived secluded in parts unknown, carefully guarded by the inner circle of his mother. With no information and no means to contact him, we did not even know how to begin to help him.
What would become of my only friend?