The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond/Chapter V
|Chapter IV||The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond
Chapter V. The Unmentionable Man
written by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Mr. Pond was eating oysters--a serious and improving sight. His friend Wotton did not care for oysters; saying he could not see the sense of swallowing something you could hardly taste. He often said he could not see the sense of things; and was deaf to the wistful questions of his friend Gahagan, about whether he might perhaps see the nonsense. There was no nonsense about Sir Hubert Wotton; and there was a great deal of nonsense about Captain Gahagan. Gahagan enjoyed oysters, yet one could not say he cared for them, being a careless card; and the towers of oyster-shells before him showed that he had enjoyed them rapidly and recklessly, as a mere hors d'œuvre. But Mr. Pond was really caring for oysters: counting them like sheep and consuming them with the utmost care.
"It is comparatively little known," observed Gahagan, "that Pond actually is an oyster. He builds up out of oysters the permanent type or image. Hasty naturalists (I need only name the impetuous Pilk) have repeated the report that he resembles a fish. But what a fish! It was left to the researches of Nibbles, in his epoch-making work, Pondus Ostroanthropus, or The Human Oyster Revealed, to give our friend his high and rightful rank in the biological order. I need not trouble you with the arguments. Pond wears a beard. He and the oyster alone confront the world of modern fashions with such a decoration. When he shuts up his head he is as close as an oyster. When he persuades us to swallow something, it is only afterwards (as we have often agreed) that we realize what a monster of the deep we have swallowed. But, above all, within that oyster are the paradoxes; which are pearls of great price." And he waved a glass towards Pond, as if concluding a speech and proposing a toast.
Mr. Pond bowed gravely and swallowed another oyster. "As a matter of fact, I was reminded of something relevant to the discussion by the sight of the oysters; or, more strictly, of the oyster-shells. This question of deporting dangerous characters, even when they are only suspects, has some curious and baffling problems. I remember one rather queer case, in which a government had to consider the deporting of a desirable alien--"
"I suppose you mean an undesirable alien," said Wotton.
Mr. Pond digested another oyster with an unobtrusive gulp and continued: ". . . the deporting of a desirable alien; and it found that the difficulties were really quite insurmountable. I assure you I am describing the peculiar position in perfectly appropriate terms. If any point might be questioned, it is not so much the word 'desirable' as the word 'alien.' In one sense, he might have been described as a very desirable native."
"Oysters," said Gahagan mournfully. "The Mind is still brooding upon oysters. They are certainly very desirable natives."
"If he was not desirable, he was at least desired," continued the unruffled Pond. "No, my dear Gahagan, when I say 'desired,' I do not mean 'wanted by the police.' I mean that nearly everybody wanted him to stay, and that was why it seemed obvious that he must go. He was something which, without profanity, I trust, I might call the desire of all nations; or what poets have described as the world's desire. And yet he was not deported. Although he was desired, he was not deported. That is the only real paradox."
"Oh," said the staring Wotton. "So that's the real paradox."
"You should remember something of the case, Wotton," went on Mr. Pond. "It was about that time when we went over to Paris together about a rather delicate--"
"Pond in Paris," murmured Gahagan. "Pond in his Pagan Youth, when (as Swinburne says so beautifully) 'Love was the pearl of his oyster and Venus rose red out of wine.'"
"Paris is on the way to many capitals," replied Pond with diplomatic reserve. "In any case, there is no need to define the precise scene of this little international problem. Suffice it to say that it was one of those many modern States in which a Republic, resting on representative and democratic claims, has now long replaced a Monarchy which disappeared somehow amid all the modern wars and revolutions. Like many such, it did not find all its troubles were over with the establishment of political equality; in face of a world deeply disturbed about economic equality. When I went there, a strike in the transport services had brought the life of the capital to a deadlock; the Government was accused of being under the influence of a millionaire named Kramp, who controlled the lines involved; and the crisis was the more alarming because it was insisted (on the Government side) that the strike was secretly engineered by the famous terrorist, Tarnowski, sometimes called the Tiger of Tartary, who having been exiled from his own part of Eastern Europe, was believed to be spreading conspiracies from some unknown hiding-place in the West." Mr. Pond then proceeded to narrate his little experience, which, when purged of Gahagan's interruptions and Pond's somewhat needless exactitudes, was substantially this.
Pond was rather lonely in this strange capital; for Wotton had gone elsewhere on the other delicate mission; and, having no friends, Pond picked up only a few acquaintances. But he picked up at least three acquaintances who turned out to be rather interesting in various ways. The first case was commonplace enough, it might seem; consisting merely of talking to a bookseller who was otherwise a fairly ordinary shopkeeper, but well acquainted with early eighteenth-century scientific books; and the period was a hobby with Pond. Otherwise Mr. Huss was highly bourgeois, with a heavy frockcoat and long, antiquated whiskers which met under his chin in a patriarchal beard. When he went outside his shop, which was not often, he wore a funereal chimney-pot hat. Scientific studies seemed to have left in him the sort of stagnant atheism that is at once respectable and depressing; but beyond that there was nothing to distinguish him from countless Continental shopkeepers. The next man with whom Pond fell into any sort of conversation, in a café, was much more vigorous and vigilant, and belonged to a younger world. But he also was very serious; a dark, strenuous young man who was a Government official actually believing in the Government; or at least in the principles of the Government; and he was the sort of man who thinks first about principles. He denounced the strike and even the trade union; not because he was a snob, for he lived as simply as a workman; but because he really did believe in the old individualistic theory of what he called free contract. The type is almost unknown in England; the theory is more common in America. But nobody who looked at the baldish, rather corrugated brow that bulged between the streaks of black hair, and the anxious, though angry, eyes, could doubt that he was in fanatical good faith. His name was Marcus, and he held a minor Government office, in which he could survey with satisfaction the principles of the Republic, without being admitted to its counsels. It was while talking outside a café with this second acquaintance, that Mr. Pond became conscious of the third, who was by far the most extraordinary of the three.
This man was a sort of magnet for the human eye; Pond soon realized that this was true of everybody's eyes and not merely his own. One way or another, a current of communications seemed to be always circling round the little table where the man sat smoking a cigarette and sipping black coffee and benedictine. At the moment when Pond first saw him, a group of young men was breaking up after some tangle of talk and laughter; they seemed to have stopped by the table merely for the sake of the talk. The next moment a string of gutter-children invaded his solitude and received the pieces of sugar not used for his coffee; then a hulking and rather sulky-looking labourer came up and talked to him, for a much longer time than any of the others. Strangest of all, a lady, of the stiff aristocratic sort seldom seen outside the house in such countries, actually got out of a carriage and stood staring at the strange gentleman; and then got into the carriage again. These things alone might have led Pond to look at the person in question; but in fact, for some reason or other, he had looked at him with great curiosity from the first.
The man wore a wide white hat and a rather shabby dark blue suit; he had a high-bridged nose and a pale yellow beard brushed to a point. He had long, bony, but elegant, hands, on one of which was a ring with a stone coloured like a kingfisher, the only spot of luxury on what was otherwise a rather threadbare appearance; and in the grey shadow of the white hat his eyes shone as blue as the stone. There was nothing in his position that claimed prominence; he did not sit in the front but up against the wall of the café, just under a creeper and a fire-escape. Despite the little crowds that clustered round him, he had in the intervals an odd air of preferring to be alone. Pond made many inquiries, then and afterwards, about his name; but learnt nothing except that he was commonly called M. Louis; but whether that was his real surname, or perhaps the adaptation of some foreign surname, or whether his queer and eccentric popularity led everybody to use his Christian name, did not very clearly emerge.
"Marcus," said Mr. Pond to his young companion, "who is this man?"
"Everybody knows him and nobody knows who he is," replied Marcus in a rather grating voice. "But I'm jolly well going to find out."
As he spoke, the hawkers of the revolutionary paper, published by the strikers and conspicuous by being printed on vivid scarlet paper, were distributing it among a considerable number of purchasers in the crowd outside the café; a black block thus rapidly diversified with blots of blood-red colour. Some, indeed, looked at the paper only to jeer at it; some with a colder curiosity; perhaps only a few with the respect of real sympathizers. Among those reading it with detachment, but not apparently with definite disapproval, was the gentleman with the beard and the blue ring: M. Louis.
"Well," said Marcus, with a darkening brow. "Let them. It's their last chance, I suppose."
"Why, what do you mean?" inquired Pond.
The brow of Marcus became still more corrugated and troubled; at length he said in a gruff and rather reluctant manner: "I'm bound to say I don't approve of it myself. I can't see how the Republic can reconcile it with its liberal principles to suppress newspapers. But they're going to suppress that newspaper. They've been a good deal goaded. I don't believe the Prime Minister himself really likes the suppression; but the Minister of the Interior is a fiery little devil and generally gets his own way. Anyhow, they're going to raid the offices with police to-morrow; and that's probably the last issue."
M. Marcus proved himself a true prophet, so far as concerned the general situation next morning.
There had apparently been another issue; but if it had ever been displayed it had not been successfully distributed; the police had seized all copies of it everywhere; and the black-clad bourgeoisie sitting outside the café were now blameless and unspotted with any hues of blood; save in one corner under the fire-escape and the creeper, where M. Louis was reading his copy of the sanguinary sheet in complete indifference to the change. Some of those around him eyed him slightly askance; and Pond specially noticed Mr. Huss, the bookseller, complete with black top-hat and white whiskers, seated at a table close by and eyeing the reader of the red paper with bristling suspicion.
Marcus and Pond took their seats at their own original table; and even as they did so, a contingent of police came by, marching very rapidly, cleaning up the streets. There marched with them, with yet more furious rapidity, a squat, square man with arrogant moustaches, wearing an official decoration and flourishing an umbrella like a sabre. This was the eminent and highly militant Dr. Koch, the Minister of the Interior; he had been presiding over the police raid, and his rolling eye instantly spotted the one red spot in the corner of the crowded café. He planted himself before M. Louis; and shouted as if on parade:
"You are forbidden to read that paper. It contains direct incitement to crime."
"And how," asked M. Louis courteously, "and how can I discover this deplorable fact except by reading it?"
Something in that polite tone seemed, for some odd reason, to cause the Minister of the Interior to fly, as the phrase goes, right off the handle. Pointing his umbrella at the man in the café, he vociferated with a violent distinctness:
"You could be arrested, you could be deported; and you know why. Not for all that bloody nonsense. You don't need that scrap of a scarlet rag to mark you out among decent citizens."
"Because my own sins are as scarlet," said the other, gently inclining his head, "the scandal of my presence here is indeed highly scandalous. And why don't you arrest me?"
"You wait and see whether we arrest you," said the Minister grinding his teeth. "Anyhow, you shan't arrest us or hold up the whole machinery of society by a trick like this. Do you think we will let that sort of dirty little red rusty nail in the road stop all the wheels of progress?"
"And do you think," answered the other sternly, "that all the wheels of your sort of progress have ever done anything yet but grind the faces of the poor? No; I have not the honour of being one of the citizens of your State; one of those happy, joyful, well-fed, wealthy citizens one sees standing about in the street, on whom you wage war by hunger. But I am not a subject of any foreign State; and you will have quite a peculiar difficulty in deporting me back to my own country."
The Minister took one furious step forward; and then stopped. Then he walked off twirling his moustaches, as if suddenly forgetting the very existence of the other; and followed in the track of the police.
"There seem to be a number of mysteries here," said Mr. Pond to his friend. "First, why should he be deported? Second, why shouldn't he be deported?"
"I don't know," said Marcus, and stood up stiff and frowning.
"All the same," said Mr. Pond, "I am beginning to have a sort of fancy about who he is."
"Yes," said Marcus grimly, "and I'm beginning to have a fancy about what he is. Not a nice fancy." And he strode abruptly away from the table and up the street alone.
Mr. Pond remained seated in a condition of profound thought. After some minutes he rose and made his way towards the table where his friend the bookseller, the excellent Huss, was still seated in somewhat darkling majesty.
Even as he crossed the crowded trottoir, a roar broke from the street behind him, which was filling with twilight; and he realized that the great grey crowd of the strikers was on the march past, following the same route as the police who had just cleared out their offices. But the cause of the cry was more particular and even personal. The sardonic eyes of the semi-starving mob had swept the whole dark and decorous crowd of respectable people outside the café, and marked the absence of their proscribed paper; then they had suddenly perceived the familiar red flare of its fluttering pages in the hands of M. Louis, who was continuing to read it with unaltered calm. All the strikers stood still, halting and saluting like an army; and a great shout, seeming to shake the lamp-posts and little trees, went up for the one man who remained faithful to the red rag. M. Louis rose and gravely bowed to the applauding mob. Mr. Pond sat down opposite his friend the bookseller and scrutinized his whiskered face with interest.
"Well," said Mr. Pond, "our friend over there looks as if he might soon be the leader of the revolutionary party."
This remark had a rather strange effect on Mr. Huss; he started as in disorder by saying: "No, no"; controlled his countenance, and then enunciated a number of short sentences with an extraordinary exactitude.
"Myself of the bourgeoisie, I have yet remained apart from politics. I have taken no part in any class-war proceeding under present conditions. I have no reason to identify myself either with the protest of the proletariat or with the present phase of capitalism."
"Oh," said Mr. Pond; and an understanding began to dawn in his eyes. After a moment he said: "I apologize most sincerely, old man. I didn't know you were a Communist."
"I have confessed to nothing of the sort," said Huss heatedly; then he added abruptly: "You will say somebody has betrayed me."
"Your speech betrays you, like the Galilean," said Pond. "Every sect talks its own language. You could tell a man was a Buddhist from his way of saying he was not a Buddhist. It's no business of mine; and I won't mention it to a soul, if you prefer not. I only ventured to say that the man over there seems to be very popular with the strikers, and might lead the movement."
"No, no, no," cried Huss, beating on the table with his two fists. "Never, never, shall he lead the movement! Understand me! We are a scientific movement. We are not moral. We have done with bourgeois ideologies of right and wrong. We are Realpolilik. What helps the program of Marx is alone good. What hinders the program of Marx is alone evil. But there are limits. There are names so infamous, there are persons so infamous, that they must always be excluded from the Party."
"You mean somebody is so wicked that he has awakened a dormant moral sense even in a Bolshevist bookseller," said Pond. "Why, what has he done?"
"It is not only what he does but what he is," said Mr. Huss.
"Curious that you should say that," said Pond. "For I have just made a sort of a guess about what he is."
He took a newspaper-cutting from his waistcoat pocket and pushed it across to the other, remarking casually: "You will note that Tarnowski the Terrorist is now said to be fomenting strikes and revolutions not only in this country but definitely in this capital. Well, our friend in the white hat seems to me to be rather an old hand."
Huss was still drumming faintly on the table and obscurely muttering: "Never, never, shall he be the leader."
"But suppose he is the leader?" said Pond. "He obviously has a sort of habit of old leadership about him; a sort of gesture of authority. Isn't he going on exactly as Tarnowski the Tiger probably would go on?"
Mr. Pond may have expected to surprise the bookseller; but it was Mr. Pond who got the surprise. The effect on the bookseller was such that surprise would be a comically inadequate description. Mr. Huss stiffened and sat as still as a stone idol; but the change in the face of the graven image was appalling. It suggested some nightmare story of a man at a solitary table finding he was dining with a devil.
"My God," said the atheist at last, in a small, weak rather squeaky voice, "and so you think he is Tarnowski!" And with that, the bookseller in the top-hat suddenly went off into hoots of hollow laughter, like the dismal noises of an owl, shrill and monotonous and apparently to be repeated indefinitely without control.
"Well," interrupted Pond, mildly exasperated, "how can you possibly know that he is not Tarnowski?"
"Only because I am Tarnowski," said the bookseller, with sudden sobriety. "You say you are not a spy. But you can betray me if you choose."
"I assure Your Excellency," said Mr. Pond, "that I am not a spy or even, what is worse, a gossip. I am only a tourist who is not talkative and a traveller who tells no traveller's tales. Besides, I owe a debt to Your Excellency, for having illuminated my mind with an important principle. I never saw it so clearly before. A man always says exactly what he means; but especially when he hides it."
"That," observed the other with guttural slowness, "is what I think you call a paradox."
"Oh, don't say that," groaned Mr. Pond. "Everybody in England says that. And I have honestly no notion of what it means."
"But in that case," said Mr. Pond to himself, "who on earth is the man in the white hat? What crime has he committed? What crime is it for which he can be arrested or deported? Or again, what crime is it for which he can't be arrested or deported?"
It was in a burst of splendid sunshine, on the following morning, that Pond sat at his little table in the café ruminating on the renewed difficulties of the problem. The sun gave a sort of golden gaiety to a scene that had lately looked rather sombre, and even black, bloodshot with the glimpses of the Bolshevist journal. In the social sense at least, there seemed to be a clearance in the storm, of the strikers if not the strike; the threat of riots had been outmanœuvred; and the police were picketed at intervals down the street; but seemed in the tranquil sunshine as harmless as the toy trees and the painted lamp-posts. Mr. Pond felt an irrational return of that vague exhilaration which an Englishman sometimes feels in the mere fact of being abroad; the smell of the French coffee affected him as some are affected by the smell of hayfields or the sea. M. Louis had resumed his amiable hobby of distributing sugar to the gamins; and the very shape of those oblong blocks of beetroot-sugar pleased Mr. Pond in the same manner. He had a hazy feeling that he was looking at the scene through the eyes of one of the children. Even the gendarmes posted along the pavement amused him in a merely nonsensical manner, as if they had been dolls or dummies in some delightful puppet-play; their cocked hats carrying a vague memory of the beadle in a Punch-and-Judy show. Through all this coloured comedy there advanced the rigid figure of M. Marcus, with a visage which announced vividly that that political Puritan did not believe in puppet-shows.
"Well," he said, glaring at Pond with a sort of controlled rage, "I fancy I can guess the truth about him."
Pond made polite inquiries; and was answered by an unexpectedly ugly and jeering laugh.
"What sort of man is it," asked Marcus, "who is received everywhere with bows and smiles? Who is it to whom everybody is always so courteous and complimentary? What generous Friend of the People? What holy Father of the Poor? Deported! That sort of fellow ought to be hanged."
"I fear I do not understand anything yet," answered Pond mildly, "except that for some reason he cannot even be deported."
"Looks very patriarchal, doesn't he, sitting in the sunshine and playing with the children? It was darker last night and I caught him in a darker piece of business. . . . Listen to this, first of all. It was at the end of dusk, yesterday evening; and but for myself, he was alone in the café; I don't think he saw me; but I don't know if he would care. There drove up a dark, closely curtained carriage; and that lady we saw once before got out; a very grand lady, I am sure, though I fancy not so rich as she had been. She had an interview with this man, in which she actually went on her knees to him on the muddy pavement, begging him for something; and he only sat there and smiled. What sort of a man is it who sees ladies grovelling before him and only grins like a demon and doesn't even take off his hat? What sort of man is it who can play the Sultan in society and be sure that everybody will smile and be polite? Only the very basest sort of criminal."
"In plain words," said Mr. Pond, "you mean he ought to be arrested because he's a blackmailer. You also mean he can't be arrested because he's a blackmailer."
For the first time the rage of Marcus seemed mixed with a sort of embarrassment, almost amounting to shame, as he looked down scowling at the table.
"It has no doubt occurred to you," proceeded Pond placidly, "that the second inference involves some suggestions that are rather delicate; especially if I may say so, for a man in your position."
Marcus remained in a silence swollen with anger; then at last he broke out abruptly, as if beyond control: "I'll swear the Prime Minister is perfectly honest."
"I do not think," said Mr. Pond, "that I have ever regaled you with any scandals about the Prime Minister."
"And I can't believe the little doctor is really in it," went on Marcus savagely. "I've always thought it was just sincerity that made him spluttering and spiteful. It was just trying to be straight amid all this--"
"All this what?" asked Mr. Pond.
Marcus turned in his chair with an abrupt gesture of the elbow, saying: "Oh, you don't understand."
"On the contrary," replied Pond. "I think I do understand."
There was a lengthy silence and then Pond resumed:
"I understand the horrid truth that you yourself are a perfectly honourable and high-minded person and that your own problem is extremely difficult to solve. I assure you that I am quite incapable of taunting you with it. It was to the Republic, to the idea of equality and justice, that you swore loyalty; and to that you have been loyal."
"You had better say what you think." said Marcus gloomily. "You mean that I am really only serving a gang of crooks, whom any blackguard can blackmail."
"No, I will not ask you to admit that now," answered Pond. "Just now I wanted to ask you quite another question. Can't you imagine a man sympathizing with the strikers, or even being a sincere Socialist?"
"Well," replied Marcus, after a spasm of concentration, "I suppose one ought to imagine. I suppose he might hold that, the Republic resting on the Social Contract, it might supersede even free contracts."
"Thank you," said Mr. Pond with satisfaction, "that is exactly what I wanted. It is an important contribution to Pond's Law of Paradox, if I may be pardoned for expressing myself so playfully. And now let us go and talk to M. Louis."
He stood up before the astonished official, who had no apparent alternative but to follow him as he passed swiftly across the café. Some vivacious and talkative young men were taking leave of M. Louis, who courteously invited the newcomers to the empty chairs, saying something about "my young friends often enliven my solitude with their rather Socialistic views."
"I should not agree with your young friends," said Marcus curtly, "I am so old-fashioned as to believe in free contract."
"I, being older, perhaps believe in it even more," answered M. Louis smiling. "But surely it is a very old principle of law that a leonine contract is not a free contract. And it is hypocrisy to pretend that a bargain between a starving man and a man with all the food is anything but a leonine contract." He glanced up at the fire-escape, a ladder leading up to the balcony of a very high attic above. "I live in that garret; or rather on that balcony. If I fell off the balcony and hung on a spike, so far from the steps that somebody with a ladder could offer to rescue me if I gave him a hundred million francs, I should be quite morally justified in using his ladder and then telling him to go to hell for his hundred million. Hell, indeed, is not out of the picture; for it is a sin of injustice to force an advantage against the desperate. Well, all those poor men are desperate; they all hang starving on spikes. If they must not bargain collectively, they cannot bargain at all. You are not supporting contract; you are opposing all contract; for yours cannot be a real contract at all."
While the smoke of his cigarette mounted towards the balcony, Mr. Pond's eye followed it and found the balcony fitted out with what looked like a bedstead, a screen, and an old looking-glass, all very shabby. The only other object was a dusty old cross-hilted sword, such as might have come from a curiosity shop. Mr. Pond eyed this last object with considerable curiosity.
"Please permit me to play the host," said M. Louis affably. "Perhaps you would like a cocktail or something; I stick to a little benedictine."
As he turned in his chair towards the waiter, a shot rang through the café and the little glass before him lay in a star of splinters. The bullet that spilt the drink had missed the drinker by half a yard. Marcus looked wildly round; the café was deserted, for it was already late; no figure was in sight but the solid back of the gendarme standing outside. But Marcus went white with horror; for M. Louis made one quaint little gesture which, if it meant anything, could only mean that the policeman himself had turned for an instant and fired.
"A little reminder, perhaps, that it is time to go to bed," said M. Louis gaily. "I go up by the fire-escape and I sleep on the balcony. Doctors think so much of this open-air treatment. Well, my people have always gone to bed in public; so many tramps do, don't they? Good night, gentlemen."
He lightly scaled the iron ladder and began on the balcony, before their astonished eyes, to assume a capacious dressing-gown and prepare for slumber.
"Pond," said Marcus, "we are in a nightmare of nonsense."
"No," replied Pond, "for the first lime it begins to make sense. I have been stupid; but I am beginning at last to see what it all means." After ruminating a moment, he resumed rather apologetically:
"Forgive me if I refer again to my foolish jest about Pond's Law. I think I have discovered a rather useful principle. It is this. Men may argue for principles not entirely their own, for various reasons; as a joke in a rag debate, or covered by professional etiquette, like a barrister, or merely exaggerating something neglected and needing emphasis; long before we come to those who do it hypocritically or for hire. A man can argue for principles not his own. But a man cannot argue from principles not his own; the first principles he assumes, even for sophistry or advocacy, will probably be his own fundamental first principles. The very language he uses will betray him. That Bolshevist bookseller professed to be a bourgeois; but he talked like a Bolshevist about a bourgeois. He talked about exploitation and the class-war. So you tried to imagine yourself a Socialist; but you did not talk like a Socialist. You talked about the Social Contract, like old Rousseau. Now our friend M. Louis was defending his sympathy with strikers and even Socialists. But he used the oldest and most traditional argument of all, older than the Roman Law. The idea about leonine contract is as old as Leo and a long sight older than Leo XIII. Therefore, he represents something even older than your Rousseau and your Revolution. I knew after five words that he was not the blackmailing blackguard of romance; and yet he is romantic. And he could be legally arrested; but only for a rather curious crime. And yet again, he cannot be arrested. He can only be assassinated.
"The blackmail charge rests on one scene, in which a lady knelt to him in the street. You argued truly that ladies in your country think so much of formality and propriety, that they could never do this except in some extreme of agony and despair. It did not occur to you that, perhaps, it might be only an extreme of formality and propriety."
Marcus began slowly: "What the devil--" And then Mr. Pond rapped out quite smartly: "And then the sword. What is a sword for? It's absurd to say for fighting; he wouldn't wave a mediæval sword against people shooting him with guns. If it were for duels he would have a duelling-sword; and probably two in a case. What else can you do with a sword? Well, you can swallow it; and at one time I really had a fancy he might be a conjurer. But it's too big a swallow; so is the notion. What can be done with a sword, but not with a spear or gun or battle-axe? Have you heard of the Accolade? Long ago a man could be knighted by any knight; but by all modern custom it can only be done--"
"Only--" began Marcus, beginning to stare.
"Only by a King," said Pond. And the young Republican sprang up rigid at the challenge.
"Yes," continued Pond, "the King has crept back among you. It is not your fault. Republics might be all right if Republicans were as honourable as you are; but you have confessed that they are not . . . and that's what he meant about going to bed in public. You know the old kings really did. But he had another reason. He had one real fear; that they might deport him secretly. They could deport him technically, of course; all these Republics have laws against Royalist claimants remaining in the realm. But if they did it publicly, he would proclaim himself and--"
"Why don't they do it publicly?" asked the Republican explosively.
"Politicians do not understand much; but politicians do understand politics," said Pond pensively. "I mean they do understand the immediate effect on mobs and movements. Somehow he had slipped in and started a campaign of private popularity before they even knew who he was. When once he was popular, they were helpless. How could they say: 'Yes, he is popular, he is on the side of the people and the poor; the young men accept his leadership; but he is the King and therefore he must go'? They know how horribly near the world is to answering: 'Yes; he is the King and, by God, he shall stay.'"
Mr. Pond had told this story, at somewhat greater length but in far more classic diction; and by that time had actually finished the oysters. He gazed pensively at the shells and added: "You will of course recall the meaning of the word ostracism. It meant that in ancient Athens a man was sometimes exiled merely for being important; and the votes were recorded by oyster-shells. In this case he should have been exiled for being important; but he was so very important that nobody could be told of his importance."