The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond/Chapter III
|Chapter II||The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond
Chapter III. When Doctors Agree
written by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Mr. Ponds paradoxes were of a very peculiar kind. They were indeed paradoxical defiances even of the law of paradox. Paradox has been defined as "Truth standing on her head to attract attention." Paradox has been defended; on the ground that so many fashionable fallacies still stand firmly on their feet, because they have no heads to stand on. But it must be admitted that writers, like other mendicants and mountebanks, frequently do try to attract attention. They set out conspicuously, in a single line in a play, or at the head or tail of a paragraph, remarks of this challenging kind; as when Mr. Bernard Shaw wrote: "The Golden Rule is that there is no Golden Rule"; or Oscar Wilde observed: "I can resist everything except temptation"; or a duller scribe (not to be named with these and now doing penance for his earlier vices in the nobler toil of celebrating the virtues of Mr. Pond) said in defence of hobbies and amateurs and general duffers like himself: "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." To these things do writers sink; and then the critics tell them that they "talk for effect"; and then the writers answer: "What the devil else should we talk for? Ineffectualness?" It is a sordid scene.
But Mr. Pond belonged to a more polite world and his paradoxes were quite different. It was quite impossible to imagine Mr. Pond standing on his head. But it was quite as easy to imagine him standing on his head as to imagine him trying to attract attention. He was the quietest man in the world to be a man of the world; he was a small, neat Civil Servant; with nothing notable about him except a beard that looked not only old-fashioned but vaguely foreign, and perhaps a little French, though he was as English as any man alive. But, for that matter, French respectability is far more respectable than English; and Mr. Pond, though in some ways cosmopolitan, was completely respectable. Another thing that was faintly French about him was the level ripple of his speech: a tripping monotone that never tripped over a single vowel. For the French carry their sense of equality even to the equality of syllables. With this equable flow, full of genteel gossip on Vienna, he was once entertaining a lady; and five minutes later she rejoined her friends with a very white face; and whispered to them the shocking secret that the mild little man was mad.
The peculiarity of his conversation was this: in the middle of a steady stream of sense, there would suddenly appear two or three words which seemed simply to be nonsense. It was as if something had suddenly gone wrong with the works of a gramophone. It was nonsense which the speaker never seemed to notice himself; so that sometimes his hearers also hardly noticed that speech so natural was nonsensical. But to those who did notice, he seemed to be saying something like, "Naturally, having no legs, he won the walking-race easily," or "As there was nothing to drink, they all got tipsy at once." Broadly speaking, two kinds of people stopped him with stares or questions: the very stupid and the very clever. The stupid because the absurdity alone stuck out from a level of intelligence that baffled them; it was indeed in itself an example of the truth in paradox. The only part of his conversation they could understand was the part they could not understand. And the clever stopped him because they knew that, behind each of these queer compact contradictions, there was a very queer story--like the queer story to be narrated here.
His friend Gahagan, that ginger-haired giant and somewhat flippant Irish dandy, declared that Pond put in these senseless phrases merely to find out whether his listeners were listening. Pond never said so; and his motive remained rather a mystery. But Gahagan declared that there is a whole tribe of modern intellectual ladies, who have learned nothing except the art of turning on a talker a face of ardour and attention, while their minds are so very absent that some little phrase like, "Finding himself in India, he naturally visited Toronto," will pass harmlessly in at one ear and out at the other, without disturbing the cultured mind within.
It was at a little dinner given by old Wotton to Gahagan and Pond and others, that we first got a glimpse of the real meaning of these wild parentheses of so tame a talker. The truth was, to begin with, that Mr. Pond, in spite of his French beard, was very English in his habit of assuming that he ought to be a little dull, in deference to other people. He disliked telling long and largely fantastic stories about himself, such as his friend Gahagan told, though Pond thoroughly enjoyed them when Gahagan told them. Pond himself had had some very curious experiences; but, as he would not turn them into long stories, they appeared only as short stories; and the short stories were so very short as to be quite unintelligible. In trying to explain the eccentricity, it is best to begin with the simplest example, like a diagram in a primer of logic. And I will begin with the short story, which was concealed in the shorter phrase, which puzzled poor old Wotton so completely on that particular evening. Wotton was an old-fashioned diplomatist, of the sort that seemed to grow more national by trying to be international. Though far from militarist, he was very military. He kept the peace by staccato sentences under a stiff grey moustache. He had more chin than forehead.
"They tell me," Wotton was saying, "that the Poles and Lithuanians have come to an agreement about Wilno. It was an old row, of course; and I expect it was six to one and half a dozen to the other."
"You are a real Englishman, Wotton," said Gahagan, "and you say in your heart, 'All these foreigners are alike.' You're right enough if you mean that we're all unlike you. The English are the lunatics of the earth, who know that everybody else is mad. But we do sometimes differ a little from each other, you know. Even we in Ireland have been known to differ from each other. But you see the Pope denouncing the Bolshevists, or the French Revolution rending the Holy Roman Empire, and you still say in your hearts, 'What can the difference be betwixt Tweedledum and Tweedledee?'"
"There was no difference," said Pond, "between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. You will remember that it is distinctly recorded that they agreed. But remember what they agreed about."
Wotton looked a little baffled and finally grunted: "Well, if these fellows have agreed, I suppose there will be a little peace."
"Funny things, agreements," said Pond. "Fortunately people generally go on disagreeing, till they die peacefully in their beds. Men very seldom do fully and finally agree. I did know two men who came to agree so completely that one of them naturally murdered the other; but as a rule . . ."
"'Agreed so completely,'" said Wotton thoughtfully. "Don't you--are you quite sure you don't mean: 'Disagreed so completely'?"
Gahagan uttered a sort of low whoop of laughter. "Oh, no," he said, "he doesn't mean that. I don't know what the devil he does mean; but he doesn't mean anything so sensible as that."
But Wotton, in his ponderous way, still attempted to pin down the narrator to a more responsible statement; and the upshot of it was that Mr. Pond was reluctantly induced to explain what he really meant and let us hear the whole story.
The mystery was involved at first in another mystery: the strange murder of Mr. James Haggis, of Glasgow, which filled the Scottish and English newspapers not many years ago. On the face of it, the thing was a curious story; to introduce a yet more curious sequel. Haggis had been a prominent and wealthy citizen, a bailie of the city and an elder of the kirk. Nobody denied that even in these capacities he had sometimes been rather unpopular; but, to do him justice, he had often been unpopular through his loyalty to unpopular causes. He was the sort of old Radical who is more rigid and antiquated than any Tory; and, maintaining in theory the cause of Retrenchment and Reform, he managed to suggest that almost any Reform was too expensive for the needs of Retrenchment. Thus he had stood alone in opposition to the universal support given to old Dr. Campbell's admirable campaign for fighting the epidemic in the slums during the slump. But to deduce from his economics that he was a demon delighting in the sight of poor children dying of typhoid was perhaps an exaggerated inference. Similarly, he was prominent in the Presbyterian councils as refusing all modern compromise with the logic of Calvinism; but to infer that he actually hoped all his neighbours were damned before they were born is too personal an interpretation of theological theory.
On the other side, he was admittedly honest in business and faithful to his wife and family; so that there was a general reaction in favour of his memory when he was found stabbed to the heart in the meagre grass of the grim little churchyard that adjoined his favourite place of worship. It was impossible to imagine Mr. Haggis as involved in any romantic Highland feud calling for the dirk, or any romantic assignation interrupted with the stiletto; and it was generally fell that to be knifed and left unburied among the buried dead was an exaggerated penalty for being a rather narrow Scottish merchant of the old school.
It happened that Mr. Pond himself had been present at a little party where there was high debate about the murder as a mystery. His host, Lord Glenorchy, had a hobby of reading books on criminology; his hostess, Lady Glenorchy, had the less harmful hobby of reading those much more solid and scientific books which are called detective stories. There were present, as the society papers say, Major MacNabb, the Chief Constable, and Mr. Lancelot Browne, a brilliant London barrister who found it much more of a bore to be a lawyer than to pretend to be a detective; also, among those present, was the venerable and venerated Dr. Campbell, whose work among the poor has already been inadequately commended, and a young friend of his named Angus, whom he was understood to be coaching and instructing generally for his medical examinations and his scientific career.
Responsible people naturally love to be irresponsible. All these persons delighted to throw theories about in private which they need not answer for in public. The barrister, being a humane man, was delighted to prosecute somebody whom he would not have to hang. The criminologist was enchanted to analyse the lunacy of somebody he could never have proved to be a lunatic. And Lady Glenorchy was charmed at the chance of considering poor Mr. Haggis (of all people) as the principal character in a shocker. Hilarious attempts were made to fix the crime on the United Presbyterian minister, a notorious Sublapsarian, naturally, nay inevitably, impelled to stick a dirk in a Supralapsarian. Lord Glenorchy was more serious, not to say monotonous. Having learnt from his books of criminology the one great discovery of that science, that mental and moral deformity are found only among poor people, he suspected a plot of local Communists (all with the wrong-shaped thumb and ear) and picked for his fancy a Socialist agitator of the city. Mr. Angus made bold to differ; his choice was an old lag, or professional criminal, known to be in the place, who had been almost everything that is alarming except a Socialist agitator. Then it was that the point was referred, not without a certain reverence, to the white-haired and wise old physician, who had now behind him a whole lifetime of charity and good works. One of the many ways in which Dr. Campbell seemed to have emerged from an elder and perhaps honester world was the fact that he not only spoke with a Scottish accent but he spoke Scottish. His speech will, therefore, be rendered here with difficulty and in doubt and trembling.
"Weel, ye will a' be asking wha dirked Jamie Haggis? And I'll tell ye fair at the start that I winna gie a bawbee to ken wha dirked Jamie Haggis. Gin I kent, I wadna' say. It's a sair thing, na doot, that the freens and benefactors o' puir humanity should no be named and fitly celebrated; but like the masons that built our gran' cathedral and the gran' poets that wrote our ballads of Otterburn and Sir Patrick Spens, the man that achieved the virtuous act o' killing Jamie Haggis will ha'e nae pairsonal credit for't in this world; it is even possible he might be a wee bit inconvenienced. So ye'll get nae guesses out of me; beyond saying I've lang been seekin' a man of sic prudence and public spirit."
There followed that sort of silence in which people are not certain whether to laugh, at a deliberate stroke of wit; but before they could do so, young Angus, who kept his eyes fixed on his venerable preceptor, had spoken with the eagerness of the ardent student.
"But you'll not say, Dr. Campbell, that murder is right because some acts or opinions of the murdered man are wrong?"
"Aye, if they're wrang enough," replied the benevolent Dr. Campbell blandly. "After all, we've nae ither test o' richt and wrang. Salus populi suprema lex."
"Aren't the Ten Commandments a bit of a test?" asked the young man, with a rather heated countenance, emphasized by his red hair, that stood up on his head like stiff flames.
The silver-haired saint of sociology continued to regard him with a wholly benevolent smile; but there was an odd gleam in his eye as he answered:
"Aye, the Ten Commandments are a test. What we doctors are beginning to ca' an Intelligence Test."
Whether it was an accident, or whether the intuitions of Lady Glenorchy were a little alarmed by the seriousness of the subject, it was at this point that she struck in.
"Well, if Dr. Campbell won't pronounce for us, I suppose we must all stick to our own suspicions. I don't know whether you like cigarettes in the middle of dinner; it's a fashion I can't get used to myself."
At this point in his narrative, Mr. Pond threw himself back in his chair with a more impatient movement than he commonly permitted himself.
"Of course, they will do it," he said, with a mild explosiveness. "They're admired and thought very tactful when they do it."
"When who do what?" said Wotton. "What on earth are you talking about now?"
"I'm talking about hostesses," said Pond, with an air of pain. "Good hostesses. Really successful hostesses. They will cut into conversation, on the theory that it can be broken off anywhere. Just as it's quite the definition of a good hostess to make two people talk when they hate it, and part them when they are beginning to like it. But they sometimes do the most deadly and awful damage. You see, they stop conversations that are not worth starting again. And that's horrible, like murder."
"But if the conversation's not worth starting again, why is it horrible to stop it?" asked the conscientious Wotton, still laboriously in pursuit.
"Why, that's why it's horrible to stop it," answered Pond, almost snappishly for so polite a person. "Talk ought to be sacred because it is so light, so tenuous, so trivial, if you will; anyhow, so frail and easy to destroy. Cutting short its life is worse than murder; it's infanticide. It's like killing a baby that's trying to come to life. It can never be restored to life, though one rose from the dead. A good light conversation can never be put together again when it's broken to pieces; because you can't get all the pieces. I remember a splendid talk at Trefusis's place, that began because there was a crack of thunder over the house and a cat howled in the garden, and somebody made a rather crude joke about a catastrophe. And then Gahagan here had a perfectly lovely theory that sprang straight out of cats and catastrophes and everything, and would have started a splendid talk about a political question on the Continent."
"The Catalonian question, I suppose," said Gahagan, laughing, "but I fear I've quite forgotten my lovely theory."
"That's just what I say," said Pond, gloomily. "It could only have been started then; it ought to have been sacred because it wasn't worth starting again. The hostess swept it all out of our heads, and then had the cheek to say afterwards that we could talk about it some other time. Could we? Could we make a contract with a cloud to break just over the roof, and tie a cat up in the garden and pull its tail at the right moment, and give Gahagan just enough champagne to inspire him with a theory so silly that he's forgotten it already? It was then or never with that debate being started; and yet bad results enough followed from it being stopped. But that, as they say, is another story."
"You must tell it to us another time," said Gahagan. "At present I am still curious about the man who murdered another man because he agreed with him."
"Yes," assented Wotton, "we've rather strayed from the subject, haven't we?"
"So Mrs. Trefusis said," murmured Mr. Pond sadly. "I suppose we can't all feel the sanctity of really futile conversation. But if you're really interested in the other matter, I don't mind telling you all about it; though I'd rather not tell you exactly how I came to know all about it. That was rather a confidential matter--what they call a confession. Pardon my little interlude on the tactful hostess; it had something to do with what followed and I have a reason for mentioning it.
"Lady Glenorchy quite calmly changed the subject from murder to cigarettes; and everybody's first feeling was that we had been done out of a very entertaining little tiff about the Ten Commandments. A mere trifle, too light and airy to recur to our minds at any other time. But there was another trifle that did recur to my own mind afterwards; and kept my attention on a murder of which I might have thought little enough at the time, as De Quincey says. I remembered once looking up Glenorchy in Who's Who, and seeing that he had married the daughter of a very wealthy squire near Lowestoft in Suffolk."
"Lowestoft, Suffolk. These are dark hints," said Gahagan. "Do these in themselves point to some awful and suspicious fact?"
"They point," said Pond, "to the awful fact that Lady Glenorchy is not Scottish. If she had introduced the cigarettes at her father's dinner-table in Suffolk, such trifles as the Ten Commandments would instantly have been tossed away from everyone's mind and memory. But I knew I was in Scotland and that the story had only just begun. I have told you that old Campbell was tutoring or coaching young Angus for his medical degree. It was a great honour for a lad like Angus to have Campbell for a coach; but it must have been quite agreeable even to an authority like Campbell to have Angus for a pupil. For he had always been a most industrious and ambitious and intelligent pupil, and one likely to do the old man credit; and after the time I speak of, he seemed to grow more industrious and ambitious than ever. In fact, he shut himself up so exclusively with his coach that he failed in his examination. That was what first convinced me that my guess was right."
"And very lucid, too," said Gahagan with a grin. "He worked so hard with his coach that he failed in his examination. Another statement that might seem to some to require expansion."
"It's very simple, really," said Mr. Pond innocently. "But in order to expand it, we must go back for a moment to the mystery of Mr. Haggis's murder. It had already spread a sort of detective fever in the neighbourhood; for all the Scots love arguing and it really was rather a fascinating riddle. One great point in the mystery was the wound, which seemed at first to have been made by a dirk or dagger of some kind but was afterwards found by the experts to demand a different instrument of rather peculiar shape. Moreover, the district had been combed for knives and daggers; and temporary suspicion fixed on any wild youths from beyond the Highland line, who might retain an historic tenderness for the possession of dirks. All the medical authorities agreed that the instrument had been something more subtle than a dirk, though no medical authorities would consent even to guess what it was. People were perpetually ransacking the churchyard and the church in search of clues. And just about this time young Angus, who had been a strict supporter of this particular church, and had even once induced his old tutor and friend to sit under its minister for one evening service, suddenly left off going there; indeed, he left off going to any church at all. So I realized that I was still on the right track."
"Oh," said Wotton blankly, "so you realized that you were still on the right track."
"I fear I did not realize that you were on any track," said Gahagan. "To speak with candour, my dear Pond, I should say that of all the trackless and aimless and rambling human statements I have ever heard, the most rambling was the narrative we have just been privileged to hear from you. First you tell us that two Scotsmen began a conversation about the morality of murder and never finished it; then you go off on a tirade against society hostesses; then you reveal the horrid fact that one of them came from Lowestoft; then you go back to one of the Scotsmen and say he failed to pass his examination because he worked so hard with his tutor; then, pausing for a moment upon the peculiar shape of an undiscovered dagger, you tell us that the Scotsman has left off going to church and you are on the right track. Frankly, if you really do find something sacred about futile conversation, I should say that you were on the track of that all right."
"I know," said Mr. Pond patiently, "all I've said is quite relevant to what really happened; but, of course, you don't know what really happened. A story always does seem rambling and futile if you leave out what really happened. That's why newspapers are so dull. All the political news, and much of the polite news (though rather higher in tone than the other), is made quite bewildering and pointless by the necessity of telling stories without telling the story."
"Well, then," said Gahagan, "let us try to get some sense out of all this nonsense, which has not even the excuses of newspaper nonsense. To take one of your nonsense remarks as a test, why do you say that Angus failed to pass because he worked so much with his coach?"
"Because he didn't work with his coach," replied Pond. "Because I didn't say he worked with his coach. At least I didn't say he worked for the examination. I said he was with his coach. I said he spent days and nights with his coach; but they weren't preparing for any examination."
"Well, what were they doing?" asked Wotton gruffly.
"They were going on with the argument," cried Pond, in a squeak that was almost shrill. "They hardly stopped to sleep or eat; but they went on with the argument; the argument interrupted at the dinner-table. Have you never known any Scotsmen? Do you suppose that a woman from Suffolk with a handful of cigarettes, and a mouthful of irrelevance, can stop two Scotsmen from going on with an argument when they've started it? They began it again when they were getting their hats and coats; they were at it hammer and tongs as they went out of the gate, and only a Scottish poet can describe what they did then:
And the tane went hame with the ither; and then, The tither went hame with the ither again.
"And for hours and weeks and months they never turned aside from the same interminable debate on the thesis first propounded by Dr. Campbell: that when a good man is well and truly convinced that a bad man is actively bad for the community, and is doing evil on a large scale which cannot be checked by law or any other action, the good man has a moral right to murder the bad man, and thereby only increases his own goodness."
Pond paused a moment, pulling his beard and staring at the table; then he began again:
"For reasons I've already mentioned but not explained--"
"That's what's the matter with you, my boy," said Gahagan genially. "There are always such a damned lot of things you have mentioned but not explained."
"For those reasons," went on Pond deliberately, "I happen to know a great deal about the stages of that stubborn and forcible controversy, about which nobody else knew anything at all. For Angus was a genuine truth-seeker who wished to satisfy his soul and not merely to make his name; and Campbell was enough of a great man to be quite as anxious to convince a pupil as to convince a crowd in a lecture-room. But I am not going to tell you about those stages of the controversy at any great length. To tell the truth, I am not what people call impartial on this controversy. How any man can form any conviction, and remain what they call impartial on any controversy, is more than I have ever understood. But I suppose they would say I couldn't describe the debate fairly; because the side I sympathize with was not the side that won.
"Society hostesses, especially when they come from near Lowestoft, do not know where an argument is tending. They will drop not only bricks but bombshells; and then expect them not to explode. Anyhow, I knew where that argument at Glenorchy's table was tending. When Angus made a test of the Ten Commandments, and Campbell said they were an Intelligence Test, I knew what would come next. In another minute, he would be saying that nobody of intelligence now troubles about the Ten Commandments.
"What a disguise there is in snowy hair and the paternal stoop of age! Dickens somewhere describes a patriarch who needed no virtue except his white hair. As Dr. Campbell smiled across the table at Angus, most people saw nothing in that smile but patriarchal and parental kindness. But I happened to see also a glint in the eye. which told me that the old man was quite as much of a fighter as the red-haired boy who had rashly challenged him. In some odd way, indeed, I seemed suddenly to see old age itself as a masquerade. The white hair had turned into a white wig, the powder of the eighteenth century; and the smiling face underneath it was the face of Voltaire.
"Dr. Andrew Glenlyon Campbell was a real philanthropist; so was Voltaire. It is not always certain whether philanthropy means a love of men, or of man, or of mankind. There is a difference. I think he cared less about the individual than about the public or the race; hence doubtless his gentle eccentricity of defending an act of private execution. But anyhow, I knew he was one of the grim line of Scottish sceptics, from Hume down to Ross or Robertson. And, whatever else they are, they are stubborn and stick to their point. Angus also was stubborn, and as I have already said, he was a devout worshipper in the same dingy kirk as the late James Haggis; that is, one of the extreme irreconcilable sectaries of the seventeenth-century Puritanism. And so the Scottish atheist and the Scottish Calvinist argued and argued and argued, until milder races might have expected them to drop down dead with fatigue. But it was not of disagreement that either of them died.
"But the advantage was with the older and more learned man in his attack; and you must remember that the younger man had only a rather narrow and provincial version of the creed to defend. As I say, I will not bore you with the arguments; I confess they rather bore me. Doubtless Dr. Campbell said that the Ten Commandments could not be of divine origin, because two of them are mentioned by the virtuous Emperor Foo Chi, in the Second Dynasty; or one of them is paraphrased by Synesius of Samothrace and attributed to the lost code of Lycurgus."
"Who was Synesius of Samothrace?" inquired Gahagan, with an appearance of sudden and eager curiosity.
"He was a mythical character of the Minoan Age first discovered in the twentieth century A.D.," replied the unruffled Pond. "I made him up just now; but you know the sort of thing I mean--the mythical nature of Mount Sinai proved from the parallel myth that the ark rested on Mount Ararat, and the mountain that would not come to Mahomet. But all this textual criticism really affects a religion only founded on texts. I knew how the fight was going; and I knew when it ended. I knew when Robert Angus left off going to kirk on the Sabbath."
The end of the debate may best be described more directly; for, indeed, Mr. Pond described it himself with a strange sort of directness; almost as if he had unaccountably been present, or had seen it in a vision. Anyhow, it appears that the operating-theatre of the medical schools was the scene of the final phase of disagreement and agreement. They had gone back there very late at night, when the schools were closed and the theatre deserted, because Angus fancied he had left some of his instruments there, which it would be more neat and proper to lock up. There was no sound in that hollow place but the echo of their own footsteps, and very little light save a faint moonshine that trickled through the cracks between the curtained windows. Angus had retrieved his operating-tool, and was turning again towards the steep stairs that climbed through the semi-circular rows of seats, when Campbell said to him casually.
"Ye'll find the facts I mentioned aboot the Aztec hymns in the--"
Angus tossed the tool on the table like a man throwing down his sword, and turned on his companion with a new and transfigured air of candour and finality.
"You needn't trouble about hymns any more; I may as well tell you that I've done with them, for one. You're too strong for me--or, rather, the truth is too strong for me. I've defended my own nursery nightmare as long as I could; but you've woken me up at last. You are right, you must be right; I don't see any way out of it."
After a silence, Campbell answered very softly: "I'll no mak' apologies for fighting for the truth; but, man, ye made a real bonny fight for the falsehood."
It might well have seemed that the old blasphemer had never spoken on the topic in a tone so delicate and respectful; and it seemed strange that his new convert did not respond to the appeal. Looking up, Campbell saw that his new convert's attention had been abruptly abstracted; he was standing staring at the implement in his hand: a surgical knife made upon an odd pattern for special purposes. At last he said in a hoarse and almost inaudible voice:
"A knife of an unusual shape."
"See report o' inquest on Jamie Haggis," said the old man, nodding benevolently. "Aye, ye've guessed richt, I'm thinking." Then, after a pause, he added, with equal calm:
"Noo that we are agreed, and a' of one mind, aboot the need for sic social surgery, it's as weel ye should know the hale truth. Aye, lad, I did it mysel'; and with a blade like yon. That nicht ye took me to the kirk--weel, it's the fairst time, I hope, I've ever been hypocreetical; but I stayed behind to pray, and I think ye had hopes of my convairsion. But I prayed because Jamie prayed; and when he rose from his prayers, I followed him and killed him i' the kirkyard."
Angus was still looking at the knife in silence; then he said suddenly: "Why did you kill him?"
"Ye needna ask, noo we are agreed in moral philosophy," replied the old doctor simply. "It was just plain surgery. As we sacrifice a finger to save the body, so we maun sacrifice a man to save the body politic. I killed him because he was doing evil, and inhumanly preventing what was guid for humanity: the scheme for the slums and the lave. And I understand that, upon reflection, ye tak the same view."
Angus nodded grimly.
The proverb asks: "Who shall decide when doctors disagree?" But in that dark and ominous theatre of doctoring the doctors agreed.
"Yes," said Angus, "I take the same view. Also, I have had the same experience."
"And what's that?" inquired the other.
"I have had daily dealings with a man I thought was doing nothing but evil," answered Angus. "I still think you were doing evil; even though you were serving truth. You have convinced me that my beliefs were dreams; but not that dreaming is worse than waking up. You brutally broke the dreams of the humble, sneered at the weak hopes of the bereaved. You seem cruel and inhuman to me, just as Haggis seemed cruel and inhuman to you. You are a good man by your own code, but so was Haggis a good man by his code. He did not pretend to believe in salvation by good works, any more than you pretended to believe in the Ten Commandments. He was good to individuals, but the crowd suffered; you are good to the crowd and an individual suffered. But, after all, you also are only an individual."
Something in the last words, that were said very softly, made the old doctor stiffen suddenly and then start backwards towards the steps behind. Angus sprang like a wildcat and pinned him to his place with a choking violence; still talking, but now at the top of his voice.
"Day after day, I have itched and tingled to kill you; and been held back only by the superstition you have destroyed tonight. Day after day, you have been battering down the scruples which alone defended you from death. You wise thinker; you wary reasoner; you fool! It would be better for you to-night if I still believed in God and in his Commandment against murder."
The old man twisted speechlessly in the throttling grip, but he was too feeble, and Angus flung him with a crash across the operating-table, where he lay as if fainting. Round them and above them the empty tiers of concentric seats glimmered in the faint and frigid moonlight as desolate as the Colosseum under the moon; a deserted amphitheatre where there was no human voice to cry "Habet!" The red-haired slayer stood with the knife uplifted, as strange in shape as the flint knife of some prehistoric sacrifice; and still he talked on in the high tones of madness.
"One thing alone protected you and kept the peace between us: that we disagreed. Now we agree, now we are at one in thought--and deed, I can do as you would do. I can do as you have done. We are at peace."
And with the sound of that word he struck; and Andrew Campbell moved for the last time. In his own cold temple, upon his own godless altar . . . he stirred and then lay still; and the murderer bent and fled from the building and from the city and across the Highland line at night, to hide himself in the hills.
When Pond had told this story, Gahagan rose slowly to his gigantic height and knocked out his cigar in an ashtray: "I darkly suspect, Pond," he said, "that you are not quite so irrelevant as you sound. Not quite irrelevant, I mean, even to our opening talk about European affairs."
"Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreed--to have a battle," said Pond. "We are rather easily satisfied with saying that some people like Poles or Prussians or other foreigners have agreed. We don't often ask what they've agreed on. But agreement can be rather risky, unless it's agreement with the truth."
Wotton looked at him with a smouldering suspicion; but finally decided, with a sigh of relief, that it was only metaphysics.