“Have you got the courage to become a traitor?”
The light of the flickering candle distorted the features of the three people huddled together on the floor of Huges small hut. He looked across at the two pair of eyes staring at him. A traitor? How could they possibly demand such a thing of him. He met their gaze but remained silent as the two pairs of eyes kept up their expectant bore.
“If I’m going to become a traitor, I need to know why. I need a cause, I can’t work without one.”
“Your work is your cause.” Jean’s voice was buoyant, seeking to reassure. “You are under obligation to nobody but yourself and your work. Your discoveries belong to you. You give them to the world but you owe the world nothing. You owe only to yourself.”
“Huges.” He looked across at Marguerite. She was tranquil, more measured than usual. “Just think how this one discovery could benefit so many of us. A human propelled riding machine. It’s unheard of. Why in a hundred years it could even replace the horse.”
“But why not develop it here, why go over to the Germanic tribes.”
“Huges, your central mechanism is the work of a genius, but it needs a strong material or it will just come apart each time. The best we can offer here, won’t stand the tension. But over the hills, they have developed a way of heating and working with metal which suits your purposes exactly. If you want to continue your work, you must leave us and go there. For my part, I can promise to take your part with his Lordship, try and explain, try and forge a way for you to return. But…” He left the words unsaid. They knew their tyrant only to well. No pleading on their behalf could bring him to change their mind.
And Marguerite? She could take the burden of deciding from him. What did she really want? But he didn’t ask. It would be wrong to force her into making a decision that only he could shoulder. Remain faithful to his work, submit himself to science. Was science a worthy cause? Would science remain faithful to him. Yet, how could he do otherwise? Stay here? Embrace the fame that brought riches and Marguerite’s love that fortune had already granted him. Stay here and die. With a heavy sigh, he acquiesced.
Three nights later Huges left the Prince’s New Moon party and made his way home. Arriving at the hollowed out oak he took out the bundle he had prepared beforehand and continued on up the hill and away from his cottage. He sought shelter . It wasn’t long before a torch approached the watchtower. It was Marguerite with flesh and wine from the party. Did she feel like a traitor now? Or was she going to enjoy those things she had to do to get Hunker drunk and in a state of slumber? Huges didn’t dare answer this question which kept beating its way into his mind with the persistence of a homing pigeon. It took almost an hour before the bridge was lowered inch by aching inch. He crossed but once on the other side felt no exaltation. Marguerite’s torch shone through the slit of the tower. She was watching. Was she crying?
Late the next day, Huges reached Toemorta, the main village of the Germanic tribes. He was greeted with scepticism. It wasn’t often people came from the valley to them. He showed them Huges’ letter, tried to explain. He showed them his drawings. They laughed. Huges had sold his soul to an unworthy master.
It took another two hundred years for the human propelled riding machine, aka bicycle to be developed. But Huges became the ancestor to a whole line of scientists who following in his footsteps discovered science to be an unworthy master. Maybe his spiritual ancestor, Berthold Brecht, had Huges in mind when he changed the ending to his most famous play, the Life of Galileo Galilei, having Galileo recant after seeing the savagery inflicted by the scientists’ nuclear bomb on Japan.