G. K. Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday; a fant
The Man Who Was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton
Scanned and Edited by Harry Plantinga, firstname.lastname@example.org
This text is in the public domain
THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
G. K. CHESTERTON
To Edmund Clerihew Bentley
A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul when we were boys together.
Science announced nonentity and art admired decay;
The world was old and ended: but you and I were gay;
Round us in antic order their crippled vices came?
Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its shame.
Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom,
Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a plume.
Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.
They twisted even decent sin to shapes not to be named:
Men were ashamed of honour; but we were not ashamed.
Weak if we were and foolish, not thus we failed, not thus;
When that black Baal blocked the heavens he had no hymns from us
Children we were?our forts of sand were even as weak as eve,
High as they went we piled them up to break that bitter sea.
Fools as we were in motley, all jangling and absurd,
When all church bells were silent our cap and beds were heard.
Not all unhelped we held the fort, our tiny flags unfurled;
Some giants laboured in that cloud to lift it from the world.
I find again the book we found, I feel the hour that flings
Far out of fish-shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;
And the Green Carnation withered, as in forest fires that pass,
Roared in the wind of all the world ten million leaves of grass;
Or sane and sweet and sudden as a bird sings in the rain?
Truth out of Tusitala spoke and pleasure out of pain.
Yea, cool and clear and sudden as a bird sings in the grey,
Dunedin to Samoa spoke, and darkness unto day.
But we were young; we lived to see God break their bitter charms.
God and the good Republic come riding back in arms:
We have seen the City of Mansoul, even as it rocked, relieved?
Blessed are they who did not see, but being blind, believed.
This is a tale of those old fears, even of those emptied hells,
And none but you shall understand the true thing that it tells?
Of what colossal gods of shame could cow men and yet crash,
Of what huge devils hid the stars, yet fell at a pistol flash.
The doubts that were so plain to chase, so dreadful to withstand?
Oh, who shall understand but you; yea, who shall understand?
The doubts that drove us through the night as we two talked amain,
And day had broken on the streets e'er it broke upon the brain.
Between us, by the peace of God, such truth can now be told;
Yea, there is strength in striking root and good in growing old.
We have found common things at last and marriage and a creed,
And I may safely write it now, and you may safely read.
G. K. C.
THE TWO POETS OF SAFFRON PARK
THE suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London,
as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset. It was built of a bright
brick throughout; its sky-line was fantastic, and even its ground
plan was wild. It had been the outburst of a speculative builder,
faintly tinged with art, who called its architecture sometimes
Elizabethan and sometimes Queen Anne, apparently under the
impression that the two sovereigns were identical. It was
described with some justice as an artistic colony, though it never
in any definable way produced any art. But although its
pretensions to be an intellectual centre were a little vague, its
pretensions to be a pleasant place were quite indisputable. The
stranger who looked for the first time at the quaint red houses
could only think how very oddly shaped the people must be who
could fit in to them. Nor when he met the people was he
disappointed in this respect. The place was not only pleasant, but
perfect, if once he could regard it not as a deception but rather
as a dream. Even if the people were not "artists," the whole was
nevertheless artistic. That young man with the long, auburn hair
and the impudent face?that young man was not really a poet; but
surely he was a poem. That old gentleman with the wild, white
beard and the wild, white hat?that venerable humbug was not really
a philosopher; but at least he was the cause of philosophy in
others. That scientific gentleman with the bald, egg-like head and
the bare, bird-like neck had no real right to the airs of science
that he assumed. He had not discovered anything new in biology;
but what biological creature could he have discovered more
singular than himself? Thus, and thus only, the whole place had
properly to be regarded; it had to be considered not so much as a
workshop for artists, but as a frail but finished work of art. A
man who stepped into its social atmosphere felt as if he had
stepped into a written comedy.
More especially this attractive unreality fell upon it about
nightfall, when the extravagant roofs were dark against the
afterglow and the whole insane village seemed as separate as a
drifting cloud. This again was more strongly true of the many
nights of local festivity, when the little gardens were often
illuminated, and the big Chinese lanterns glowed in the dwarfish
trees like some fierce and monstrous fruit. And this was strongest
of all on one particular evening, still vaguely remembered in the
locality, of which the auburn-haired poet was the hero. It was not
by any means the only evening of which he was the hero. On many
nights those passing by his little back garden might hear his
high, didactic voice laying down the law to men and particularly
to women. The attitude of women in such cases was indeed one of
the paradoxes of the place. Most of the women were of the kind
vaguely called emancipated, and professed some protest against
male supremacy. Yet these new women would always pay to a man the
extravagant compliment which no ordinary woman ever pays to him,
that of listening while he is talking. And Mr. Lucian Gregory, the
red-haired poet, was really (in some sense) a man worth listening
to, even if one only laughed at the end of it. He put the old cant
of the lawlessness of art and the art of lawlessness with a
certain impudent freshness which gave at least a momentary
pleasure. He was helped in some degree by the arresting oddity of
his appearance, which he worked, as the phrase goes, for all it
was worth. His dark red hair parted in the middle was literally
like a woman's, and curved into the slow curls of a virgin in a
pre-Raphaelite picture. From within this almost saintly oval,
however, his face projected suddenly broad and brutal, the chin
carried forward with a look of cockney contempt. This combination
at once tickled and terrified the nerves of a neurotic population.
He seemed like a walking blasphemy, a blend of the angel and the
This particular evening, if it is remembered for nothing
else, will be remembered in that place for its strange sunset. It
looked like the end of the world. All the heaven seemed covered
with a quite vivid and palpable plumage; you could only say that
the sky was full of feathers, and of feathers that almost brushed
the face. Across the great part of the dome they were grey, with
the strangest tints of violet and mauve and an unnatural pink or
pale green; but towards the west the whole grew past description,
transparent and passionate, and the last red-hot plumes of it
covered up the sun like something too good to be seen. The whole
was so close about the earth, as to express nothing but a violent
secrecy. The very empyrean seemed to be a secret. It expressed
that splendid smallness which is the soul of local patriotism. The
very sky seemed small.
I say that there are some inhabitants who may remember the
evening if only by that oppressive sky. There are others who may
remember it because it marked the first appearance in the place of
the second poet of Saffron Park. For a long time the red-haired
revolutionary had reigned without a rival; it was upon the night
of the sunset that his solitude suddenly ended. The new poet, who
introduced himself by the name of Gabriel Syme was a very mild-
looking mortal, with a fair, pointed beard and faint, yellow hair.
But an impression grew that he was less meek than he looked. He
signalised his entrance by differing with the established poet,
Gregory, upon the whole nature of poetry. He said that he (Syme)
was poet of law, a poet of order; nay, he said he was a poet of
respectability. So all the Saffron Parkers looked at him as if he
had that moment fallen out of that impossible sky.
In fact, Mr. Lucian Gregory, the anarchic poet, connected the
"It may well be," he said, in his sudden lyrical manner, "it
may well be on such a night of clouds and cruel colours that there
is brought forth upon the earth such a portent as a respectable
poet. You say you are a poet of law; I say you are a contradiction
in terms. I only wonder there were not comets and earthquakes on
the night you appeared in this garden."
The man with the meek blue eyes and the pale, pointed beard
endured these thunders with a certain submissive solemnity. The
third party of the group, Gregory's sister Rosamond, who had her
brother's braids of red hair, but a kindlier face underneath them,
laughed with such mixture of admiration and disapproval as she
gave commonly to the family oracle.
Gregory resumed in high oratorical good humour.
"An artist is identical with an anarchist," he cried. "You
might transpose the words anywhere. An anarchist is an artist. The
man who throws a bomb is an artist, because he prefers a great
moment to everything. He sees how much more valuable is one burst
of blazing light, one peal of perfect thunder, than the mere
common bodies of a few shapeless policemen. An artist disregards
all governments, abolishes all conventions. The poet delights in
disorder only. If it were not so, the most poetical thing in the
world would be the Underground Railway."
"So it is," said Mr. Syme.
"Nonsense! " said Gregory, who was very rational when anyone
else attempted paradox. "Why do all the clerks and navvies in the
railway trains look so sad and tired, so very sad and tired? I
will tell you. It is because they know that the train is going
right. It is because they know that whatever place they have taken
a ticket for that place they will reach. It is because after they
have passed Sloane Square they know that the next station must be
Victoria, and nothing but Victoria. Oh, their wild rapture! oh,
their eyes like stars and their souls again in Eden, if the next
station were unaccountably Baker Street!"
"It is you who are unpoetical," replied the poet Syme. "If
what you say of clerks is true, they can only be as prosaic as
your poetry. The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the
gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man
with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical
when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is
dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to
Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole
magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is
Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me
read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who
commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who
commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!"
"Must you go?" inquired Gregory sarcastically.
"I tell you," went on Syme with passion, "that every time a
train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of
besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say
contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come
to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead,
and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of
hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word
'Victoria,' it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a
herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed 'Victoria'; it is
the victory of Adam."
Gregory wagged his heavy, red head with a slow and sad smile.
"And even then," he said, "we poets always ask the question,
'And what is Victoria now that you have got there ?' You think
Victoria is like the New Jerusalem. We know that the New Jerusalem
will only be like Victoria. Yes, the poet will be discontented
even in the streets of heaven. The poet is always in revolt."
"There again," said Syme irritably, "what is there poetical
about being in revolt ? You might as well say that it is poetical
to be sea-sick. Being sick is a revolt. Both being sick and being
rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate
occasions; but I'm hanged if I can see why they are poetical.
Revolt in the abstract is?revolting. It's mere vomiting."
The girl winced for a flash at the unpleasant word, but Syme
was too hot to heed her.
"It is things going right," he cried, "that is poetical I Our
digestions, for instance, going sacredly and silently right, that
is the foundation of all poetry. Yes, the most poetical thing,
more poetical than the flowers, more poetical than the stars?the
most poetical thing in the world is not being sick."
"Really," said Gregory superciliously, "the examples you
"I beg your pardon," said Syme grimly, "I forgot we had
abolished all conventions."
For the first time a red patch appeared on Gregory's
"You don't expect me," he said, "to revolutionise society on
this lawn ?"
Syme looked straight into his eyes and smiled sweetly.
"No, I don't," he said; "but I suppose that if you were
serious about your anarchism, that is exactly what you would do."
Gregory's big bull's eyes blinked suddenly like those of an
angry lion, and one could almost fancy that his red mane rose.
"Don't you think, then," he said in a dangerous voice, "that
I am serious about my anarchism?"
"I beg your pardon ?" said Syme.
"Am I not serious about my anarchism ?" cried Gregory, with
"My dear fellow!" said Syme, and strolled away.
With surprise, but with a curious pleasure, he found Rosamond
Gregory still in his company.
"Mr. Syme," she said, "do the people who talk like you and my
brother often mean what they say ? Do you mean what you say now ?"
"Do you ?" he asked.
"What do you mean ?" asked the girl, with grave eyes.
"My dear Miss Gregory," said Syme gently, "there are many
kinds of sincerity and insincerity. When you say 'thank you' for
the salt, do you mean what you say ? No. When you say 'the world
is round,' do you mean what you say ? No. It is true, but you
don't mean it. Now, sometimes a man like your brother really finds
a thing he does mean. It may be only a half-truth, quarter-truth,
tenth-truth; but then he says more than he means?from sheer force
of meaning it."
She was looking at him from under level brows; her face was
grave and open, and there had fallen upon it the shadow of that
unreasoning responsibility which is at the bottom of the most
frivolous woman, the maternal watch which is as old as the world.
"Is he really an anarchist, then?" she asked.
"Only in that sense I speak of," replied Syme; "or if you
prefer it, in that nonsense."
She drew her broad brows together and said abruptly?
"He wouldn't really use?bombs or that sort of thing?"
Syme broke into a great laugh, that seemed too large for his
slight and somewhat dandified figure.
"Good Lord, no!" he said, "that has to be done anonymously."
And at that the corners of her own mouth broke into a smile,
and she thought with a simultaneous pleasure of Gregory's
absurdity and of his safety.
Syme strolled with her to a seat in the corner of the garden,
and continued to pour out his opinions. For he was a sincere man,
and in spite of his superficial airs and graces, at root a humble
one. And it is always the humble man who talks too much; the proud
man watches himself too closely. He defended respectability with
violence and exaggeration. He grew passionate in his praise of
tidiness and propriety. All the time there was a smell of lilac
all round him. Once he heard very faintly in some distant street a
barrel-organ begin to play, and it seemed to him that his heroic
words were moving to a tiny tune from under or beyond the world.
He stared and talked at the girl's red hair and amused face
for what seemed to be a few minutes; and then, feeling that the
groups in such a place should mix, rose to his feet. To his
astonishment, he discovered the whole garden empty. Everyone had
gone long ago, and he went himself with a rather hurried apology.
He left with a sense of champagne in his head, which he could not
afterwards explain. In the wild events which were to follow this
girl had no part at all; he never saw her again until all his tale
was over. And yet, in some indescribable way, she kept recurring
like a motive in music through all his mad adventures afterwards,
and the glory of her strange hair ran like a red thread through
those dark and ill-drawn tapestries of the night. For what
followed was so improbable, that it might well have been a dream.
When Syme went out into the starlit street, he found it for
the moment empty. Then he realised (in some odd way) that the
silence was rather a living silence than a dead one. Directly
outside the door stood a street lamp, whose gleam gilded the
leaves of the tree that bent out over the fence behind him. About
a foot from the lamp-post stood a figure almost as rigid and
motionless as the lamp-post itself. The tall hat and long frock
coat were black; the face, in an abrupt shadow, was almost as
dark. Only a fringe of fiery hair against the light, and also
something aggressive in the attitude, proclaimed that it was the
poet Gregory. He had something of the look of a masked bravo
waiting sword in hand for his foe.
He made a sort of doubtful salute, which Syme somewhat more
"I was waiting for you," said Gregory. "Might I have a
"Certainly. About what?" asked Syme in a sort of weak wonder.
Gregory struck out with his stick at the lamp-post, and then
at the tree. "About this and this," he cried; "about order and
anarchy. There is your precious order, that lean, iron lamp, ugly
and barren; and there is anarchy, rich, living, reproducing
itself?there is anarchy, splendid in green and gold."
"All the same," replied Syme patiently, "just at present you
only see the tree by the light of the lamp. I wonder when you
would ever see the lamp by the light of the tree." Then after a
pause he said, "But may I ask if you have been standing out here
in the dark only to resume our little argument?"
"No," cried out Gregory, in a voice that rang down the
street, "I did not stand here to resume our argument, but to end
it for ever."
The silence fell again, and Syme, though he understood
nothing, listened instinctively for something serious. Gregory
began in a smooth voice and with a rather bewildering smile.
"Mr. Syme," he said, "this evening you succeeded in doing
something rather remarkable. You did something to me that no man
born of woman has ever succeeded in doing before."
"Now I remember," resumed Gregory reflectively, "one other
person succeeded in doing it. The captain of a penny steamer (if I
remember correctly) at Southend. You have irritated me."
"I am very sorry," replied Syme with gravity.
"I am afraid my fury and your insult are too shocking to be
wiped out even with an apology," said Gregory very calmly. "No
duel could wipe it out. If I struck you dead I could not wipe it
out. There is only one way by which that insult can be erased, and
that way I choose. I am going, at the possible sacrifice of my
life and honour, to prove to you that you were wrong in what you
"In what I said?"
"You said I was not serious about being an anarchist."
"There are degrees of seriousness," replied Syme. "I have
never doubted that you were perfectly sincere in this sense, that
you thought what you said well worth saying, that you thought a
paradox might wake men up to a neglected truth."
Gregory stared at him steadily and painfully.
"And in no other sense," he asked, "you think me serious? You
think me a flaneur who lets fall occasional truths. You do not
think that in a deeper, a more deadly sense, I am serious."
Syme struck his stick violently on the stones of the road.
"Serious! " he cried. "Good Lord! is this street serious? Are
these damned Chinese lanterns serious? Is the whole caboodle
serious? One comes here and talks a pack of bosh, and perhaps some
sense as well, but I should think very little of a man who didn't
keep something in the background of his life that was more serious
than all this talking?something more serious, whether it was
religion or only drink."
"Very well," said Gregory, his face darkening, "you shall see
something more serious than either drink or religion."
Syme stood waiting with his usual air of mildness until
Gregory again opened his lips.
"You spoke just now of having a religion. Is it really true
that you have one?"
"Oh," said Syme with a beaming smile, "we are all Catholics
"Then may I ask you to swear by whatever gods or saints your
religion involves that you will not reveal what I am now going to
tell you to any son of Adam, and especially not to the police?
Will you swear that! If you will take upon yourself this awful
abnegations if you will consent to burden your soul with a vow
that you should never make and a knowledge you should never dream
about, I will promise you in return?"
"You will promise me in return?" inquired Syme, as the other
"I will promise you a very entertaining evening." Syme
suddenly took off his hat.
"Your offer," he said, "is far too idiotic to be declined.
You say that a poet is always an anarchist. I disagree; but I hope
at least that he is always a sportsman. Permit me, here and now,
to swear as a Christian, and promise as a good comrade and a
fellow-artist, that I will not report anything of this, whatever
it is, to the police. And now, in the name of Colney Hatch, what
"I think," said Gregory, with placid irrelevancy, "that we
will call a cab."
He gave two long whistles, and a hansom came rattling down
the road. The two got into it in silence. Gregory gave through the
trap the address of an obscure public-house on the Chiswick bank
of the river. The cab whisked itself away again, and in it these
two fantastics quitted their fantastic town.
THE SECRET OF GABRIEL SYME
THE cab pulled up before a particularly dreary and greasy
beershop, into which Gregory rapidly conducted his companion. They
seated themselves in a close and dim sort of bar-parlour, at a
stained wooden table with one wooden leg. The room was so small
and dark, that very little could be seen of the attendant who was
summoned, beyond a vague and dark impression of something bulky
"Will you take a little supper?" asked Gregory politely. "The
pate de foie gras is not good here, but I can recommend the game."
Syme received the remark with stolidity, imagining it to be a
joke. Accepting the vein of humour, he said, with a well-bred
"Oh, bring me some lobster mayonnaise."
To his indescribable astonishment, the man only said
"Certainly, sir!" and went away apparently to get it.
"What will you drink?" resumed Gregory, with the same
careless yet apologetic air. "I shall only have a cr?pe de menthe
myself; I have dined. But the champagne can really be trusted. Do
let me start you with a half-bottle of Pommery at least?"
"Thank you!" said the motionless Syme. "You are very good."
His further attempts at conversation, somewhat disorganised
in themselves, were cut short finally as by a thunderbolt by the
actual appearance of the lobster. Syme tasted it, and found it
particularly good. Then he suddenly began to eat with great
rapidity and appetite.
"Excuse me if I enjoy myself rather obviously!" he said to
Gregory, smiling. "I don't often have the luck to have a dream
like this. It is new to me for a nightmare to lead to a lobster.
It is commonly the other way."
"You are not asleep, I assure you," said Gregory. "You are,
on the contrary, close to the most actual and rousing moment of
your existence. Ah, here comes your champagne! I admit that there
may be a slight disproportion, let us say, between the inner
arrangements of this excellent hotel and its simple and
unpretentious exterior. But that is all our modesty. We are the
most modest men that ever lived on earth."
"And who are we?" asked Syme, emptying his champagne glass.
"It is quite simple," replied Gregory. "We are the serious
anarchists, in whom you do not believe."
"Oh!" said Syme shortly. "You do yourselves well in drinks."
"Yes, we are serious about everything," answered Gregory.
Then after a pause he added?
"If in a few moments this table begins to turn round a
little, don't put it down to your inroads into the champagne. I
don't wish you to do yourself an injustice."
"Well, if I am not drunk, I am mad," replied Syme with
perfect calm; "but I trust I can behave like a gentleman in either
condition. May I smoke?"
"Certainly!" said Gregory, producing a cigar-case. "Try one
Syme took the cigar, clipped the end off with a cigar-cutter
out of his waistcoat pocket, put it in his mouth, lit it slowly,
and let out a long cloud of smoke. It is not a little to his
credit that he performed these rites with so much composure, for
almost before he had begun them the table at which he sat had
begun to revolve, first slowly, and then rapidly, as if at an
"You must not mind it," said Gregory; "it's a kind of screw."
"Quite so," said Syme placidly, "a kind of screw. How simple
The next moment the smoke of his cigar, which had been
wavering across the room in snaky twists, went straight up as if
from a factory chimney, and the two, with their chairs and table,
shot down through the floor as if the earth had swallowed them.
They went rattling down a kind of roaring chimney as rapidly as a
lift cut loose, and they came with an abrupt bump to the bottom.
But when Gregory threw open a pair of doors and let in a red
subterranean light, Syme was still smoking with one leg thrown
over the other, and had not turned a yellow hair.
Gregory led him down a low, vaulted passage, at the end of
which was the red light. It was an enormous crimson lantern,
nearly as big as a fireplace, fixed over a small but heavy iron
door. In the door there was a sort of hatchway or grating, and on
this Gregory struck five times. A heavy voice with a foreign
accent asked him who he was. To this he gave the more or less
unexpected reply, "Mr. Joseph Chamberlain." The heavy hinges began
to move; it was obviously some kind of password.
Inside the doorway the passage gleamed as if it were lined
with a network of steel. On a second glance, Syme saw that the
glittering pattern was really made up of ranks and ranks of rifles
and revolvers, closely packed or interlocked.
"I must ask you to forgive me all these formalities," said
Gregory; "we have to be very strict here."
"Oh, don't apologise," said Syme. "I know your passion for
law and order," and he stepped into the passage lined with the
steel weapons. With his long, fair hair and rather foppish
frock-coat, he looked a singularly frail and fanciful figure as he
walked down that shining avenue of death.
They passed through several such passages, and came out at
last into a queer steel chamber with curved walls, almost
spherical in shape, but presenting, with its tiers of benches,
something of the appearance of a scientific lecture-theatre. There
were no rifles or pistols in this apartment, but round the walls
of it were hung more dubious and dreadful shapes, things that
looked like the bulbs of iron plants, or the eggs of iron birds.
They were bombs, and the very room itself seemed like the inside
of a bomb. Syme knocked his cigar ash off against the wall, and
"And now, my dear Mr. Syme," said Gregory, throwing himself
in an expansive manner on the bench under the largest bomb, "now
we are quite cosy, so let us talk properly. Now no human words can
give you any notion of why I brought you here. It was one of those
quite arbitrary emotions, like jumping off a cliff or falling in
love. Suffice it to say that you were an inexpressibly irritating
fellow, and, to do you justice, you are still. I would break
twenty oaths of secrecy for the pleasure of taking you down a peg.
That way you have of lighting a cigar would make a priest break
the seal of confession. Well, you said that you were quite certain
I was not a serious anarchist. Does this place strike you as being
"It does seem to have a moral under all its gaiety," assented
Syme; "but may I ask you two questions? You need not fear to give
me information, because, as you remember, you very wisely extorted
from me a promise not to tell the police, a promise I shall
certainly keep. So it is in mere curiosity that I make my queries.
First of all, what is it really all about? What is it you object
to? You want to abolish Government?"
"To abolish God!" said Gregory, opening the eyes of a
fanatic. "We do not only want to upset a few despotisms and police
regulations; that sort of anarchism does exist, but it is a mere
branch of the Nonconformists. We dig deeper and we blow you
higher. We wish to deny all those arbitrary distinctions of vice
and virtue, honour and treachery, upon which mere rebels base
themselves. The silly sentimentalists of the French Revolution
talked of the Rights of Man! We hate Rights as we hate Wrongs. We
have abolished Right and Wrong."
"And Right and Left," said Syme with a simple eagerness, "I
hope you will abolish them too. They are much more troublesome to
"You spoke of a second question," snapped Gregory.
"With pleasure," resumed Syme. "In all your present acts and
surroundings there is a scientific attempt at secrecy. I have an
aunt who lived over a shop, but this is the first time I have
found people living from preference under a public-house. You have
a heavy iron door. You cannot pass it without submitting to the
humiliation of calling yourself Mr. Chamberlain. You surround
yourself with steel instruments which make the place, if I may say
so, more impressive than homelike. May I ask why, after taking all
this trouble to barricade yourselves in the bowels of the earth,
you then parade your whole secret by talking about anarchism to
every silly woman in Saffron Park?"
"The answer is simple," he said. "I told you I was a serious
anarchist, and you did not believe me. Nor do they believe me.
Unless I took them into this infernal room they would not believe
Syme smoked thoughtfully, and looked at him with interest.
Gregory went on.
"The history of the thing might amuse you," he said. "When
first I became one of the New Anarchists I tried all kinds of
respectable disguises. I dressed up as a bishop. I read up all
about bishops in our anarchist pamphlets, in Superstition the
Vampire and Priests of Prey. I certainly understood from them that
bishops are strange and terrible old men keeping a cruel secret
from mankind. I was misinformed. When on my first appearing in
episcopal gaiters in a drawing-room I cried out in a voice of
thunder, 'Down! down! presumptuous human reason!' they found out
in some way that I was not a bishop at all. I was nabbed at once.
Then I made up as a millionaire; but I defended Capital with so
much intelligence that a fool could see that I was quite poor.
Then I tried being a major. Now I am a humanitarian myself, but I
have, I hope, enough intellectual breadth to understand the
position of those who, like Nietzsche, admire violence?the proud,
mad war of Nature and all that, you know. I threw myself into the
major. I drew my sword and waved it constantly. I called out
'Blood!' abstractedly, like a man calling for wine. I often said,
'Let the weak perish; it is the Law.' Well, well, it seems majors
don't do this. I was nabbed again. At last I went in despair to
the President of the Central Anarchist Council, who is the
greatest man in Europe."
"What is his name?" asked Syme.
"You would not know it," answered Gregory. "That is his
greatness. Caesar and Napoleon put all their genius into being
heard of, and they were heard of. He puts all his genius into not
being heard of, and he is not heard of. But you cannot be for five
minutes in the room with him without feeling that Caesar and
Napoleon would have been children in his hands."
He was silent and even pale for a moment, and then resumed?
"But whenever he gives advice it is always something as
startling as an epigram, and yet as practical as the Bank of
England. I said to him, 'What disguise will hide me from the
world? What can I find more respectable than bishops and majors?'
He looked at me with his large but indecipherable face. 'You want
a safe disguise, do you? You want a dress which will guarantee you
harmless; a dress in which no one would ever look for a bomb?' I
nodded. He suddenly lifted his lion's voice. 'Why, then, dress up
as an anarchist, you fool!' he roared so that the room shook.
'Nobody will ever expect you to do anything dangerous then.' And
he turned his broad back on me without another word. I took his
advice, and have never regretted it. I preached blood and murder
to those women day and night, and ?by God!?they would let me wheel
Syme sat watching him with some respect in his large, blue
"You took me in," he said. "It is really a smart dodge."
Then after a pause he added?
"What do you call this tremendous President of yours?"
"We generally call him Sunday," replied Gregory with
simplicity. 'You see, there are seven members of the Central
Anarchist Council, and they are named after days of the week. He
is called Sunday, by some of his admirers Bloody Sunday. It is
curious you should mention the matter, because the very night you
have dropped in (if I may so express it) is the night on which our
London branch, which assembles in this room, has to elect its own
deputy to fill a vacancy in the Council. The gentleman who has for
some time past played, with propriety and general applause, the
difficult part of Thursday, has died quite suddenly. Consequently,
we have called a meeting this very evening to elect a successor."
He got to his feet and strolled across the room with a sort
of smiling embarrassment.
"I feel somehow as if you were my mother, Syme," he continued
casually. "I feel that I can confide anything to you, as you have
promised to tell nobody. In fact, I will confide to you something
that I would not say in so many words to the anarchists who will
be coming to the room in about ten minutes. We shall, of course,
go through a form of election; but I don't mind telling you that
it is practically certain what the result will be." He looked down
for a moment modestly. "It is almost a settled thing that I am to
"My dear fellow." said Syme heartily, "I congratulate you. A
Gregory smiled in deprecation, and walked across the room,
"As a matter of fact, everything is ready for me on this
table," he said, "and the ceremony will probably be the shortest
Syme also strolled across to the table, and found lying
across it a walking-stick, which turned out on examination to be a
sword-stick, a large Colt's revolver, a sandwich case, and a
formidable flask of brandy. Over the chair, beside the table, was
thrown a heavy-looking cape or cloak.
"I have only to get the form of election finished," continued
Gregory with animation, "then I snatch up this cloak and stick,
stuff these other things into my pocket, step out of a door in
this cavern, which opens on the river, where there is a steam-tug
already waiting for me, and then?then?oh, the wild joy of being
Thursday!" And he clasped his hands.
Syme, who had sat down once more with his usual insolent
languor, got to his feet with an unusual air of hesitation.
"Why is it," he asked vaguely, "that I think you are quite a
decent fellow? Why do I positively like you, Gregory?" He paused a
moment, and then added with a sort of fresh curiosity, "Is it
because you are such an ass?"
There was a thoughtful silence again, and then he cried out?
"Well, damn it all! this is the funniest situation I have
ever been in in my life, and I am going to act accordingly.
Gregory, I gave you a promise before I came into this place. That
promise I would keep under red-hot pincers. Would you give me, for
my own safety, a little promise of the same kind? "
"A promise?" asked Gregory, wondering.
"Yes," said Syme very seriously, "a promise. I swore before
God that I would not tell your secret to the police. Will you
swear by Humanity, or whatever beastly thing you believe in, that
you will not tell my secret to the anarchists?"
"Your secret?" asked the staring Gregory. "Have you got a
"Yes," said Syme, "I have a secret." Then after a pause,
"Will you swear?"
Gregory glared at him gravely for a few moments, and then
"You must have bewitched me, but I feel a furious curiosity
about you. Yes, I will swear not to tell the anarchists anything
you tell me. But look sharp, for they will be here in a couple of
Syme rose slowly to his feet and thrust his long, white hands
into his long, grey trousers' pockets. Almost as he did so there
came five knocks on the outer grating, proclaiming the arrival of
the first of the conspirators.
"Well," said Syme slowly, "I don't know how to tell you the
truth more shortly than by saying that your expedient of dressing
up as an aimless poet is not confined to you or your President. We
have known the dodge for some time at Scotland Yard."
Gregory tried to spring up straight, but he swayed thrice.
"What do you say?" he asked in an inhuman voice.
"Yes," said Syme simply, "I am a police detective. But I
think I hear your friends coming."
From the doorway there came a murmur of "Mr. Joseph
Chamberlain." It was repeated twice and thrice, and then thirty
times, and the crowd of Joseph Chamberlains (a solemn thought)
could be heard trampling down the corridor.
THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
BEFORE one of the fresh faces could appear at the doorway,
Gregory's stunned surprise had fallen from him. He was beside the
table with a bound, and a noise in his throat like a wild beast.
He caught up the Colt's revolver and took aim at Syme. Syme did
not flinch, but he put up a pale and polite hand.
"Don't be such a silly man," he said, with the effeminate
dignity of a curate. "Don't you see it's not necessary? Don't you
see that we're both in the same boat? Yes, and jolly sea-sick."
Gregory could not speak, but he could not fire either, and he
looked his question.
"Don't you see we've checkmated each other?" cried Syme. "I
can't tell the police you are an anarchist. You can't tell the
anarchists I'm a policeman. I can only watch you, knowing what you
are; you can only watch me, knowing what I am. In short, it's a
lonely, intellectual duel, my head against yours. I'm a policeman
deprived of the help of the police. You, my poor fellow, are an
anarchist deprived of the help of that law and organisation which
is so essential to anarchy. The one solitary difference is in your
favour. You are not surrounded by inquisitive policemen; I am
surrounded by inquisitive anarchists. I cannot betray you, but I
might betray myself. Come, come! wait and see me betray myself. I
shall do it so nicely."
Gregory put the pistol slowly down, still staring at Syme as
if he were a sea-monster.
"I don't believe in immortality," he said at last, "but if,
after all this, you were to break your word, God would make a hell
only for you, to howl in for ever."
"I shall not break my word," said Syme sternly, "nor will you
break yours. Here are your friends."
The mass of the anarchists entered the room heavily, with a
slouching and somewhat weary gait; but one little man, with a
black beard and glasses?a man somewhat of the type of Mr. Tim
Healy?detached himself, and bustled forward with some papers in
"Comrade Gregory," he said, "I suppose this man is a
Gregory, taken by surprise, looked down and muttered the name
of Syme; but Syme replied almost pertly?
"I am glad to see that your gate is well enough guarded to
make it hard for anyone to be here who was not a delegate."
The brow of the little man with the black beard was, however,
still contracted with something like suspicion.
"What branch do you represent?" he asked sharply.
"I should hardly call it a branch," said Syme, laughing; "I
should call it at the very least a root."
"What do you mean?"
"The fact is," said Syme serenely, "the truth is I am a
Sabbatarian. I have been specially sent here to see that you show
a due observance of Sunday."
The little man dropped one of his papers, and a flicker of
fear went over all the faces of the group. Evidently the awful
President, whose name was Sunday, did sometimes send down such
irregular ambassadors to such branch meetings.
"Well, comrade," said the man with the papers after a pause,
"I suppose we'd better give you a seat in the meeting?"
"If you ask my advice as a friend," said Syme with severe
benevolence, "I think you'd better."
When Gregory heard the dangerous dialogue end, with a sudden
safety for his rival, he rose abruptly and paced the floor in
painful thought. He was, indeed, in an agony of diplomacy. It was
clear that Syme's inspired impudence was likely to bring him out
of all merely accidental dilemmas. Little was to be hoped from
them. He could not himself betray Syme, partly from honour, but
partly also because, if he betrayed him and for some reason failed
to destroy him, the Syme who escaped would be a Syme freed from
all obligation of secrecy, a Syme who would simply walk to the
nearest police station. After all, it was only one night's
discussion, and only one detective who would know of it. He would
let out as little as possible of their plans that night, and then
let Syme go, and chance it.
He strode across to the group of anarchists, which was
already distributing itself along the benches.
"I think it is time we began," he said; "the steam-tug is
waiting on the river already. I move that Comrade Buttons takes
This being approved by a show of hands, the little man with
the papers slipped into the presidential seat.
"Comrades," he began, as sharp as a pistol-shot, "our meeting
to-night is important, though it need not be long. This branch has
always had the honour of electing Thursdays for the Central
European Council. We have elected many and splendid Thursdays. We
all lament the sad decease of the heroic worker who occupied the
post until last week. As you know, his services to the cause were
considerable. He organised the great dynamite coup of Brighton
which, under happier circumstances, ought to have killed everybody
on the pier. As you also know, his death was as self-denying as
his life, for he died through his faith in a hygienic mixture of
chalk and water as a substitute for milk, which beverage he
regarded as barbaric, and as involving cruelty to the cow.
Cruelty, or anything approaching to cruelty, revolted him always.
But it is not to acclaim his virtues that we are met, but for a
harder task. It is difficult properly to praise his qualities, but
it is more difficult to replace them. Upon you, comrades, it
devolves this evening to choose out of the company present the man
who shall be Thursday. If any comrade suggests a name I will put
it to the vote. If no comrade suggests a name, I can only tell
myself that that dear dynamiter, who is gone from us, has carried
into the unknowable abysses the last secret of his virtue and his
There was a stir of almost inaudible applause, such as is
sometimes heard in church. Then a large old man, with a long and
venerable white beard, perhaps the only real working-man present,
rose lumberingly and said?
"I move that Comrade Gregory be elected Thursday," and sat
lumberingly down again.
"Does anyone second?" asked the chairman.
A little man with a velvet coat and pointed beard seconded.
"Before I put the matter to the vote," said the chairman, "I
will call on Comrade Gregory to make a statement."
Gregory rose amid a great rumble of applause. His face was
deadly pale, so that by contrast his queer red hair looked almost
scarlet. But he was smiling and altogether at ease. He had made up
his mind, and he saw his best policy quite plain in front of him
like a white road. His best chance was to make a softened and
ambiguous speech, such as would leave on the detective's mind the
impression that the anarchist brotherhood was a very mild affair
after all. He believed in his own literary power, his capacity for
suggesting fine shades and picking perfect words. He thought that
with care he could succeed, in spite of all the people around him,
in conveying an impression of the institution, subtly and
delicately false. Syme had once thought that anarchists, under all
their bravado, were only playing the fool. Could he not now, in
the hour of peril, make Syme think so again?
"Comrades," began Gregory, in a low but penetrating voice,
"it is not necessary for me to tell you what is my policy, for it
is your policy also. Our belief has been slandered, it has been
disfigured, it has been utterly confused and concealed, but it has
never been altered. Those who talk about anarchism and its dangers
go everywhere and anywhere to get their information, except to us,
except to the fountain head. They learn about anarchists from
sixpenny novels; they learn about anarchists from tradesmen's
newspapers; they learn about anarchists from Ally Sloper's
Half-Holiday and the Sporting Times. They never learn about
anarchists from anarchists. We have no chance of denying the
mountainous slanders which are heaped upon our heads from one end
of Europe to another. The man who has always heard that we are
walking plagues has never heard our reply. I know that he will not
hear it tonight, though my passion were to rend the roof. For it
is deep, deep under the earth that the persecuted are permitted to
assemble, as the Christians assembled in the Catacombs. But if, by
some incredible accident, there were here to-night a man who all
his life had thus immensely misunderstood us, I would put this
question to him: 'When those Christians met in those Catacombs,
what sort of moral reputation had they in the streets above? What
tales were told of their atrocities by one educated Roman to
another? Suppose' (I would say to him), 'suppose that we are only
repeating that still mysterious paradox of history. Suppose we
seem as shocking as the Christians because we are really as
harmless as the Christians. Suppose we seem as mad as the
Christians because we are really as meek."'
The applause that had greeted the opening sentences had been
gradually growing fainter, and at the last word it stopped
suddenly. In the abrupt silence, the man with the velvet jacket
said, in a high, squeaky voice?
"I'm not meek!"
"Comrade Witherspoon tells us," resumed Gregory, "that he is
not meek. Ah, how little he knows himself! His words are, indeed,
extravagant; his appearance is ferocious, and even (to an ordinary
taste) unattractive. But only the eye of a friendship as deep and
delicate as mine can perceive the deep foundation of solid
meekness which lies at the base of him, too deep even for himself
to see. I repeat, we are the true early Christians, only that we
come too late. We are simple, as they revere simple?look at
Comrade Witherspoon. We are modest, as they were modest?look at
me. We are merciful?"
"No, no!" called out Mr. Witherspoon with the velvet jacket.
"I say we are merciful," repeated Gregory furiously, "as the
early Christians were merciful. Yet this did not prevent their
being accused of eating human flesh. We do not eat human flesh?"
"Shame!" cried Witherspoon. "Why not?"
"Comrade Witherspoon," said Gregory, with a feverish gaiety,
"is anxious to know why nobody eats him (laughter). In our
society, at any rate, which loves him sincerely, which is founded
"No, no!" said Witherspoon, "down with love."
"Which is founded upon love," repeated Gregory, grinding his
teeth, "there will be no difficulty about the aims which we shall
pursue as a body, or which I should pursue were I chosen as the
representative of that body. Superbly careless of the slanders
that represent us as assassins and enemies of human society, we
shall pursue with moral courage and quiet intellectual pressure,
the permanent ideals of brotherhood and simplicity."
Gregory resumed his seat and passed his hand across his
forehead. The silence was sudden and awkward, but the chairman
rose like an automaton, and said in a colourless voice?
"Does anyone oppose the election of Comrade Gregory?"
The assembly seemed vague and sub-consciously disappointed,
and Comrade Witherspoon moved restlessly on his seat and muttered
in his thick beard. By the sheer rush of routine, however, the
motion would have been put and carried. But as the chairman was
opening his mouth to put it, Syme sprang to his feet and said in a
small and quiet voice?
"Yes, Mr. Chairman, I oppose."
The most effective fact in oratory is an unexpected change in
the voice. Mr. Gabriel Syme evidently understood oratory. Having
said these first formal words in a moderated tone and with a brief
simplicity, he made his next word ring and volley in the vault as
if one of the guns had gone off.
"Comrades!" he cried, in a voice that made every man jump out
of his boots, "have we come here for this? Do we live underground
like rats in order to listen to talk like this? This is talk we
might listen to while eating buns at a Sunday School treat. Do we
line these walls with weapons and bar that door with death lest
anyone should come and hear Comrade Gregory saying to us, 'Be
good, and you will be happy,' 'Honesty is the best policy,' and
'Virtue is its own reward'? There was not a word in Comrade
Gregory's address to which a curate could not have listened with
pleasure (hear, hear). But I am not a curate (loud cheers), and I
did not listen to it with pleasure (renewed cheers). The man who
is fitted to make a good curate is not fitted to make a resolute,
forcible, and efficient Thursday (hear, hear)."
"Comrade Gregory has told us, in only too apologetic a tone,
that we are not the enemies of society. But I say that we are the
enemies of society, and so much the worse for society. We are the
enemies of society, for society is the enemy of humanity, its
oldest and its most pitiless enemy (hear, hear). Comrade Gregory
has told us (apologetically again) that we are not murderers.
There I agree. We are not murderers, we are executioners
Ever since Syme had risen Gregory had sat staring at him, his
face idiotic with astonishment. Now in the pause his lips of clay
parted, and he said, with an automatic and lifeless distinctness?
"You damnable hypocrite!"
Syme looked straight into those frightful eyes with his own
pale blue ones, and said with dignity?
"Comrade Gregory accuses me of hypocrisy. He knows as well as
I do that I am keeping all my engagements and doing nothing but my
duty. I do not mince words. I do not pretend to. I say that
Comrade Gregory is unfit to be Thursday for all his amiable
qualities. He is unfit to be Thursday because of his amiable
qualities. We do not want the Supreme Council of Anarchy infected
with a maudlin mercy (hear, hear). This is no time for ceremonial
politeness, neither is it a time for ceremonial modesty. I set
myself against Comrade Gregory as I would set myself against all
the Governments of Europe, because the anarchist who has given
himself to anarchy has forgotten modesty as much as he has
forgotten pride (cheers). I am not a man at all. I am a cause
(renewed cheers). I set myself against Comrade Gregory as
impersonally and as calmly as I should choose one pistol rather
than another out of that rack upon the wall; and I say that rather
than have Gregory and his milk-and-water methods on the Supreme
Council, I would offer myself for election?"
His sentence was drowned in a deafening cataract of applause.
The faces, that had grown fiercer and fiercer with approval as his
tirade grew more and more uncompromising, were now distorted with
grins of anticipation or cloven with delighted cries. At the
moment when he announced himself as ready to stand for the post of
Thursday, a roar of excitement and assent broke forth, and became
uncontrollable, and at the same moment Gregory sprang to his feet,
with foam upon his mouth, and shouted against the shouting.
"Stop, you blasted madmen!" he cried, at the top of a voice
that tore his throat. "Stop, you?"
But louder than Gregory's shouting and louder than the roar
of the room came the voice of Syme, still speaking in a peal of
"I do not go to the Council to rebut that slander that calls
us murderers; I go to earn it (loud and prolonged cheering). To
the priest who says these men are the enemies of religion, to the
judge who says these men are the enemies of law, to the fat
parliamentarian who says these men are the enemies of order and
public decency, to all these I will reply, 'You are false kings,
but you are true prophets. I am come to destroy you, and to fulfil
your prophecies.' "
The heavy clamour gradually died away, but before it had
ceased Witherspoon had jumped to his feet, his hair and beard all
on end, and had said?
"I move, as an amendment, that Comrade Syme be appointed to
"Stop all this, I tell you!" cried Gregory, with frantic face
and hands. "Stop it, it is all?"
The voice of the chairman clove his speech with a cold
"Does anyone second this amendment?" he said. A tall, tired
man, with melancholy eyes and an American chin beard, was observed
on the back bench to be slowly rising to his feet. Gregory had
been screaming for some time past; now there was a change in his
accent, more shocking than any scream. "I end all this!" he said,
in a voice as heavy as stone.
"This man cannot be elected. He is a?"
"Yes," said Syme, quite motionless, "what is he?" Gregory's
mouth worked twice without sound; then slowly the blood began to
crawl back into his dead face. "He is a man quite inexperienced in
our work," he said, and sat down abruptly.
Before he had done so, the long, lean man with the American
beard was again upon his feet, and was repeating in a high
"I beg to second the election of Comrade Syme."
"The amendment will, as usual, be put first," said Mr.
Buttons, the chairman, with mechanical rapidity.
"The question is that Comrade Syme?"
Gregory had again sprung to his feet, panting and passionate.
"Comrades," he cried out, "I am not a madman."
"Oh, oh!" said Mr. Witherspoon.
"I am not a madman," reiterated Gregory, with a frightful
sincerity which for a moment staggered the room, "but I give you a
counsel which you can call mad if you like. No, I will not call it
a counsel, for I can give you no reason for it. I will call it a
command. Call it a mad command, but act upon it. Strike, but hear
me! Kill me, but obey me! Do not elect this man." Truth is so
terrible, even in fetters, that for a moment Syme's slender and
insane victory swayed like a reed. But you could not have guessed
it from Syme's bleak blue eyes. He merely began?
"Comrade Gregory commands?"
Then the spell was snapped, and one anarchist called out to
"Who are you? You are not Sunday"; and another anarchist
added in a heavier voice, "And you are not Thursday."
"Comrades," cried Gregory, in a voice like that of a martyr
who in an ecstacy of pain has passed beyond pain, "it is nothing
to me whether you detest me as a tyrant or detest me as a slave.
If you will not take my command, accept my degradation. I kneel to
you. I throw myself at your feet. I implore you. Do not elect this
"Comrade Gregory," said the chairman after a painful pause,
"this is really not quite dignified."
For the first time in the proceedings there was for a few
seconds a real silence. Then Gregory fell back in his seat, a pale
wreck of a man, and the chairman repeated, like a piece of
clock-work suddenly started again?
"The question is that Comrade Syme be elected to the post of
Thursday on the General Council."
The roar rose like the sea, the hands rose like a forest, and
three minutes afterwards Mr. Gabriel Syme, of the Secret Police
Service, was elected to the post of Thursday on the General
Council of the Anarchists of Europe.
Everyone in the room seemed to feel the tug waiting on the
river, the sword-stick and the revolver, waiting on the table. The
instant the election was ended and irrevocable, and Syme had
received the paper proving his election, they all sprang to their
feet, and the fiery groups moved and mixed in the room. Syme found
himself, somehow or other, face to face with Gregory, who still
regarded him with a stare of stunned hatred. They were silent for
"You are a devil!" said Gregory at last.
"And you are a gentleman," said Syme with gravity.
"It was you that entrapped me," began Gregory, shaking from
head to foot, "entrapped me into?"
"Talk sense," said Syme shortly. "Into what sort of devils'
parliament have you entrapped me, if it comes to that? You made me
swear before I made you. Perhaps we are both doing what we think
right. But what we think right is so damned different that there
can be nothing between us in the way of concession. There is
nothing possible between us but honour and death," and he pulled
the great cloak about his shoulders and picked up the flask from
"The boat is quite ready," said Mr. Buttons, bustling up. "Be
good enough to step this way."
With a gesture that revealed the shop-walker, he led Syme
down a short, iron-bound passage, the still agonised Gregory
following feverishly at their heels. At the end of the passage was
a door, which Buttons opened sharply, showing a sudden blue and
silver picture of the moonlit river, that looked like a scene in a
theatre. Close to the opening lay a dark, dwarfish steam-launch,
like a baby dragon with one red eye.
Almost in the act of stepping on board, Gabriel Syme turned
to the gaping Gregory.
"You have kept your word," he said gently, with his face in
shadow. "You are a man of honour, and I thank you. You have kept
it even down to a small particular. There was one special thing
you promised me at the beginning of the affair, and which you have
certainly given me by the end of it."
"What do you mean?" cried the chaotic Gregory. "What did I
"A very entertaining evening," said Syme, and he made a
military salute with the sword-stick as the steamboat slid away.
THE TALE OF A DETECTIVE
GABRIEL SYME was not merely a detective who pretended to be a
poet; he was really a poet who had become a detective. Nor was his
hatred of anarchy hypocritical. He was one of those who are driven
early in life into too conservative an attitude by the bewildering
folly of most revolutionists. He had not attained it by any tame
tradition. His respectability was spontaneous and sudden, a
rebellion against rebellion. He came of a family of cranks, in
which all the oldest people had all the newest notions. One of his
uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an
unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else.
His father cultivated art and self-realisation; his mother went in
for simplicity and hygiene. Hence the child, during his tenderer
years, was wholly unacquainted with any drink between the extremes
of absinth and cocoa, of both of which he had a healthy dislike.
The more his mother preached a more than Puritan abstinence the
more did his father expand into a more than pagan latitude; and by
the time the former had come to enforcing vegetarianism, the
latter had pretty well reached the point of defending cannibalism.
Being surrounded with every conceivable kind of revolt from
infancy, Gabriel had to revolt into something, so he revolted into
the only thing left? sanity. But there was just enough in him of
the blood of these fanatics to make even his protest for common
sense a little too fierce to be sensible. His hatred of modern
lawlessness had been crowned also by an accident. It happened that
he was walking in a side street at the instant of a dynamite
outrage. He had been blind and deaf for a moment, and then seen,
the smoke clearing, the broken windows and the bleeding faces.
After that he went about as usual?quiet, courteous, rather gentle;
but there was a spot on his mind that was not sane. He did not
regard anarchists, as most of us do, as a handful of morbid men,
combining ignorance with intellectualism. He regarded them as a
huge and pitiless peril, like a Chinese invasion.
He poured perpetually into newspapers and their waste-paper
baskets a torrent of tales, verses and violent articles, warning
men of this deluge of barbaric denial. But he seemed to be getting
no nearer his enemy, and, what was worse, no nearer a living. As
he paced the Thames embankment, bitterly biting a cheap cigar and
brooding on the advance of Anarchy, there was no anarchist with a
bomb in his pocket so savage or so solitary as he. Indeed, he
always felt that Government stood alone and desperate, with its
back to the wall. He was too quixotic to have cared for it
He walked on the Embankment once under a dark red sunset. The
red river reflected the red sky, and they both reflected his
anger. The sky, indeed, was so swarthy, and the light on the river
relatively so lurid, that the water almost seemed of fiercer flame
than the sunset it mirrored. It looked like a stream of literal
fire winding under the vast caverns of a subterranean country.
Syme was shabby in those days. He wore an old-fashioned black
chimney-pot hat; he was wrapped in a yet more old-fashioned cloak,
black and ragged; and the combination gave him the look of the
early villains in Dickens and Bulwer Lytton. Also his yellow beard
and hair were more unkempt and leonine than when they appeared
long afterwards, cut and pointed, on the lawns of Saffron Park. A
long, lean, black cigar, bought in Soho for twopence, stood out
from between his tightened teeth, and altogether he looked a very
satisfactory specimen of the anarchists upon whom he had vowed a
holy war. Perhaps this was why a policeman on the Embankment spoke
to him, and said "Good evening."
Syme, at a crisis of his morbid fears for humanity, seemed
stung by the mere stolidity of the automatic official, a mere bulk
of blue in the twilight.
"A good evening is it?" he said sharply. "You fellows would
call the end of the world a good evening. Look at that bloody red
sun and that bloody river! I tell you that if that were literally
human blood, spilt and shining, you would still be standing here
as solid as ever, looking out for some poor harmless tramp whom
you could move on. You policemen are cruel to the poor, but I
could forgive you even your cruelty if it were not for your calm."
"If we are calm," replied the policeman, "it is the calm of
"Eh?" said Syme, staring.
"The soldier must be calm in the thick of the battle,"
pursued the policeman. "The composure of an army is the anger of a
"Good God, the Board Schools!" said Syme. "Is this
"No," said the policeman sadly, "I never had any of those
advantages. The Board Schools came after my time. What education I
had was very rough and old-fashioned, I am afraid."
"Where did you have it?" asked Syme, wondering.
"Oh, at Harrow," said the policeman
The class sympathies which, false as they are, are the truest
things in so many men, broke out of Syme before he could control
"But, good Lord, man," he said, "you oughtn't to be a
The policeman sighed and shook his head.
"I know," he said solemnly, "I know I am not worthy."
"But why did you join the police?" asked Syme with rude
"For much the same reason that you abused the police,"
replied the other. "I found that there was a special opening in
the service for those whose fears for humanity were concerned
rather with the aberrations of the scientific intellect than with
the normal and excusable, though excessive, outbreaks of the human
will. I trust I make myself clear."
"If you mean that you make your opinion clear," said Syme, "I
suppose you do. But as for making yourself clear, it is the last
thing you do. How comes a man like you to be talking philosophy in
a blue helmet on the Thames embankment?
"You have evidently not heard of the latest development in
our police system," replied the other. "I am not surprised at it.
We are keeping it rather dark from the educated class, because
that class contains most of our enemies. But you seem to be
exactly in the right frame of mind. I think you might almost join
"Join you in what?" asked Syme.
"I will tell you," said the policeman slowly. "This is the
situation: The head of one of our departments, one of the most
celebrated detectives in Europe, has long been of opinion that a
purely intellectual conspiracy would soon threaten the very
existence of civilisation. He is certain that the scientific and
artistic worlds are silently bound in a crusade against the Family
and the State. He has, therefore, formed a special corps of
policemen, policemen who are also philosophers. It is their
business to watch the beginnings of this conspiracy, not merely in
a criminal but in a controversial sense. I am a democrat myself,
and I am fully aware of the value of the ordinary man in matters
of ordinary valour or virtue. But it would obviously be
undesirable to employ the common policeman in an investigation
which is also a heresy hunt."
Syme's eyes were bright with a sympathetic curiosity.
"What do you do, then?" he said.
"The work of the philosophical policeman," replied the man in
blue, "is at once bolder and more subtle than that of the ordinary
detective. The ordinary detective goes to pot-houses to arrest
thieves; we go to artistic tea-parties to detect pessimists. The
ordinary detective discovers from a ledger or a diary that a crime
has been committed. We discover from a book of sonnets that a
crime will be committed. We have to trace the origin of those
dreadful thoughts that drive men on at last to intellectual
fanaticism and intellectual crime. We were only just in time to
prevent the assassination at Hartle pool, and that was entirely
due to the fact that our Mr. Wilks (a smart young fellow)
thoroughly understood a triolet."
"Do you mean," asked Syme, "that there is really as much
connection between crime and the modern intellect as all that?"
"You are not sufficiently democratic," answered the
policeman, "but you were right when you said just now that our
ordinary treatment of the poor criminal was a pretty brutal
business. I tell you I am sometimes sick of my trade when I see
how perpetually it means merely a war upon the ignorant and the
desperate. But this new movement of ours is a very different
affair. We deny the snobbish English assumption that the
uneducated are the dangerous criminals. We remember the Roman
Emperors. We remember the great poisoning princes of the
Renaissance. We say that the dangerous criminal is the educated
criminal. We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the
entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and
bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them.
They accept the essential ideal of man; they merely seek it
wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property
to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.
But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to
destroy the very idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect
marriage, or they would not go through the highly ceremonial and
even ritualistic formality of bigamy. But philosophers despise
marriage as marriage. Murderers respect human life; they merely
wish to attain a greater fulness of human life in themselves by
the sacrifice of what seems to them to be lesser lives. But
philosophers hate life itself, their own as much as other
Syme struck his hands together.
"How true that is," he cried. "I have felt it from my
boyhood, but never could state the verbal antithesis. The common
criminal is a bad man, but at least he is, as it were, a
conditional good man. He says that if only a certain obstacle be
removed?say a wealthy uncle?he is then prepared to accept the
universe and to praise God. He is a reformer, but not an
anarchist. He wishes to cleanse the edifice, but not to destroy
it. But the evil philosopher is not trying to alter things, but to
annihilate them. Yes, the modern world has retained all those
parts of police work which are really oppressive and ignominious,
the harrying of the poor, the spying upon the unfortunate. It has
given up its more dignified work, the punishment of powerful
traitors the in the State and powerful heresiarchs in the Church.
The moderns say we must not punish heretics. My only doubt is
whether we have a right to punish anybody else."
"But this is absurd!" cried the policeman, clasping his hands
with an excitement uncommon in persons of his figure and costume,
"but it is intolerable! I don't know what you're doing, but you're
wasting your life. You must, you shall, join our special army
against anarchy. Their armies are on our frontiers. Their bolt is
ready to fall. A moment more, and you may lose the glory of
working with us, perhaps the glory of dying with the last heroes
of the world."
"It is a chance not to be missed, certainly," assented Syme,
"but still I do not quite understand. I know as well as anybody
that the modern world is full of lawless little men and mad little
movements. But, beastly as they are, they generally have the one
merit of disagreeing with each other. How can you talk of their
leading one army or hurling one bolt. What is this anarchy?"
"Do not confuse it," replied the constable, "with those
chance dynamite outbreaks from Russia or from Ireland, which are
really the outbreaks of oppressed, if mistaken, men. This is a
vast philosophic movement, consisting of an outer and an inner
ring. You might even call the outer ring the laity and the inner
ring the priesthood. I prefer to call the outer ring the innocent
section, the inner ring the supremely guilty section. The outer
ring?the main mass of their supporters? are merely anarchists;
that is, men who believe that rules and formulas have destroyed
human happiness. They believe that all the evil results of human
crime are the results of the system that has called it crime. They
do not believe that the crime creates the punishment. They believe
that the punishment has created the crime. They believe that if a
man seduced seven women he would naturally walk away as blameless
as the flowers of spring. They believe that if a man picked a
pocket he would naturally feel exquisitely good. These I call the
"Oh! " said Syme.
"Naturally, therefore, these people talk about 'a happy time
coming'; 'the paradise of the future'; 'mankind freed from the
bondage of vice and the bondage of virtue,' and so on. And so also
the men of the inner circle speak? the sacred priesthood. They
also speak to applauding crowds of the happiness of the future,
and of mankind freed at last. But in their mouths"? and the
policeman lowered his voice?"in their mouths these happy phrases
have a horrible meaning. They are under no illusions; they are too
intellectual to think that man upon this earth can ever be quite
free of original sin and the struggle. And they mean death. When
they say that mankind shall be free at last, they mean that
mankind shall commit suicide. When they talk of a paradise without
right or wrong, they mean the grave.
They have but two objects, to destroy first humanity and then
themselves. That is why they throw bombs instead of firing
pistols. The innocent rank and file are disappointed because the
bomb has not killed the king; but the high-priesthood are happy
because it has killed somebody."
"How can I join you?" asked Syme, with a sort of passion.
"I know for a fact that there is a vacancy at the moment,"
said the policeman, "as I have the honour to be somewhat in the
confidence of the chief of whom I have spoken. You should really
come and see him. Or rather, I should not say see him, nobody ever
sees him; but you can talk to him if you like."
"Telephone?" inquired Syme, with interest.
"No," said the policeman placidly, "he has a fancy for always
sitting in a pitch-dark room. He says it makes his thoughts
brighter. Do come along."
Somewhat dazed and considerably excited, Syme allowed himself
to be led to a side-door in the long row of buildings of Scotland
Yard. Almost before he knew what he was doing, he had been passed
through the hands of about four intermediate officials, and was
suddenly shown into a room, the abrupt blackness of which startled
him like a blaze of light. It was not the ordinary darkness, in
which forms can be faintly traced; it was like going suddenly
"Are you the new recruit?" asked a heavy voice.
And in some strange way, though there was not the shadow of a
shape in the gloom, Syme knew two things: first, that it came from
a man of massive stature; and second, that the man had his back to
"Are you the new recruit?" said the invisible chief, who
seemed to have heard all about it. "All right. You are engaged."
Syme, quite swept off his feet, made a feeble fight against
this irrevocable phrase.
"I really have no experience," he began.
"No one has any experience," said the other, "of the Battle
"But I am really unfit?"
"You are willing, that is enough," said the unknown.
"Well, really," said Syme, "I don't know any profession of
which mere willingness is the final test."
"I do," said the other?"martyrs. I am condemning you to
death. Good day."
Thus it was that when Gabriel Syme came out again into the
crimson light of evening, in his shabby black hat and shabby,
lawless cloak, he came out a member of the New Detective Corps for
the frustration of the great conspiracy. Acting under the advice
of his friend the policeman (who was professionally inclined to
neatness), he trimmed his hair and beard, bought a good hat, clad
himself in an exquisite summer suit of light blue-grey, with a
pale yellow flower in the button-hole, and, in short, became that
elegant and rather insupportable person whom Gregory had first
encountered in the little garden of Saffron Park. Before he
finally left the police premises his friend provided him with a
small blue card, on which was written, "The Last Crusade," and a
number, the sign of his official authority. He put this carefully
in his upper waistcoat pocket, lit a cigarette, and went forth to
track and fight the enemy in all the drawing-rooms of London.
Where his adventure ultimately led him we have already seen. At
about half-past one on a February night he found himself steaming
in a small tug up the silent Thames, armed with swordstick and
revolver, the duly elected Thursday of the Central Council of
When Syme stepped out on to the steam-tug he had a singular
sensation of stepping out into something entirely new; not merely
into the landscape of a new land, but even into the landscape of a
new planet. This was mainly due to the insane yet solid decision
of that evening, though partly also to an entire change in the
weather and the sky since he entered the little tavern some two
hours before. Every trace of the passionate plumage of the cloudy
sunset had been swept away, and a naked moon stood in a naked sky.
The moon was so strong and full that (by a paradox often to be
noticed) it seemed like a weaker sun. It gave, not the sense of
bright moonshine, but rather of a dead daylight.
Over the whole landscape lay a luminous and unnatural
discoloration, as of that disastrous twilight which Milton spoke
of as shed by the sun in eclipse; so that Syme fell easily into
his first thought, that he was actually on some other and emptier
planet, which circled round some sadder star. But the more he felt
this glittering desolation in the moonlit land, the more his own
chivalric folly glowed in the night like a great fire. Even the
common things he carried with him?the food and the brandy and the
loaded pistol?took on exactly that concrete and material poetry
which a child feels when he takes a gun upon a journey or a bun
with him to bed. The sword-stick and the brandy-flask, though in
themselves only the tools of morbid conspirators, became the
expressions of his own more healthy romance. The sword-stick
became almost the sword of chivalry, and the brandy the wine of
the stirrup-cup. For even the most dehumanised modern fantasies
depend on some older and simpler figure; the adventures may be
mad, but the adventurer must be sane. The dragon without St.
George would not even be grotesque. So this inhuman landscape was
only imaginative by the presence of a man really human. To Syme's
exaggerative mind the bright, bleak houses and terraces by the
Thames looked as empty as the mountains of the moon. But even the
moon is only poetical because there is a man in the moon.
The tug was worked by two men, and with much toil went
comparatively slowly. The clear moon that had lit up Chiswick had
gone down by the time that they passed Battersea, and when they
came under the enormous bulk of Westminster day had already begun
to break. It broke like the splitting of great bars of lead,
showing bars of silver; and these had brightened like white fire
when the tug, changing its onward course, turned inward to a large
landing stage rather beyond Charing Cross.
The great stones of the Embankment seemed equally dark and
gigantic as Syme looked up at them. They were big and black
against the huge white dawn. They made him feel that he was
landing on the colossal steps of some Egyptian palace; and,
indeed, the thing suited his mood, for he was, in his own mind,
mounting to attack the solid thrones of horrible and heathen
kings. He leapt out of the boat on to one slimy step, and stood, a
dark and slender figure, amid the enormous masonry. The two men in
the tug put her off again and turned up stream. They had never
spoken a word.
THE FEAST OF FEAR
AT first the large stone stair seemed to Syme as deserted as
a pyramid; but before he reached the top he had realised that
there was a man leaning over the parapet of the Embankment and
looking out across the river. As a figure he was quite
conventional, clad in a silk hat and frock-coat of the more formal
type of fashion; he had a red flower in his buttonhole. As Syme
drew nearer to him step by step, he did not even move a hair; and
Syme could come close enough to notice even in the dim, pale
morning light that his face was long, pale and intellectual, and
ended in a small triangular tuft of dark beard at the very point
of the chin, all else being clean-shaven. This scrap of hair
almost seemed a mere oversight; the rest of the face was of the
type that is best shaven?clear-cut, ascetic, and in its way noble.
Syme drew closer and closer, noting all this, and still the figure
did not stir.
At first an instinct had told Syme that this was the man whom
he was meant to meet. Then, seeing that the man made no sign, he
had concluded that he was not. And now again he had come back to a
certainty that the man had something to do with his mad adventure.
For the man remained more still than would have been natural if a
stranger had come so close. He was as motionless as a wax-work,
and got on the nerves somewhat in the same way. Syme looked again
and again at the pale, dignified and delicate face, and the face
still looked blankly across the river. Then he took out of his
pocket the note from Buttons proving his election, and put it
before that sad and beautiful face. Then the man smiled, and his
smile was a shock, for it was all on one side, going up in the
right cheek and down in the left.
There was nothing, rationally speaking, to scare anyone about
this. Many people have this nervous trick of a crooked smile, and
in many it is even attractive. But in all Syme's circumstances,
with the dark dawn and the deadly errand and the loneliness on the
great dripping stones, there was something unnerving in it.
There was the silent river and the silent man, a man of even
classic face. And there was the last nightmare touch that his
smile suddenly went wrong.
The spasm of smile was instantaneous, and the man's face
dropped at once into its harmonious melancholy. He spoke without
further explanation or inquiry, like a man speaking to an old
"If we walk up towards Leicester Square," he said, "we shall
just be in time for breakfast. Sunday always insists on an early
breakfast. Have you had any sleep?"
"No," said Syme.
"Nor have I," answered the man in an ordinary tone. "I shall
try to get to bed after breakfast."
He spoke with casual civility, but in an utterly dead voice
that contradicted the fanaticism of his face. It seemed almost as
if all friendly words were to him lifeless conveniences, and that
his only life was hate. After a pause the man spoke again.
"Of course, the Secretary of the branch told you everything
that can be told. But the one thing that can never be told is the
last notion of the President, for his notions grow like a tropical
forest. So in case you don't know, I'd better tell you that he is
carrying out his notion of concealing ourselves by not concealing
ourselves to the most extraordinary lengths just now. Originally,
of course, we met in a cell underground, just as your branch does.
Then Sunday made us take a private room at an ordinary restaurant.
He said that if you didn't seem to be hiding nobody hunted you
out. Well, he is the only man on earth, I know; but sometimes I
really think that his huge brain is going a little mad in its old
age. For now we flaunt ourselves before the public. We have our
breakfast on a balcony?on a balcony, if you please? overlooking
"And what do the people say?" asked Syme.
"It's quite simple what they say," answered his guide.
"They say we are a lot of jolly gentlemen who pretend they
"It seems to me a very clever idea," said Syme.
"Clever! God blast your impudence! Clever!" cried out the
other in a sudden, shrill voice which was as startling and
discordant as his crooked smile. "When you've seen Sunday for a
split second you'll leave off calling him clever."
With this they emerged out of a narrow street, and saw the
early sunlight filling Leicester Square. It will never be known, I
suppose, why this square itself should look so alien and in some
ways so continental. It will never be known whether it was the
foreign look that attracted the foreigners or the foreigners who
gave it the foreign look. But on this particular morning the
effect seemed singularly bright and clear. Between the open square
and the sunlit leaves and the statue and the Saracenic outlines of
the Alhambra, it looked the replica of some French or even Spanish
public place. And this effect increased in Syme the sensation,
which in many shapes he had had through the whole adventure, the
eerie sensation of having strayed into a new world. As a fact, he
had bought bad cigars round Leicester Square ever since he was a
boy. But as he turned that corner, and saw the trees and the
Moorish cupolas, he could have sworn that he was turning into an
unknown Place de something or other in some foreign town.
At one corner of the square there projected a kind of angle
of a prosperous but quiet hotel, the bulk of which belonged to a
street behind. In the wall there was one large French window,
probably the window of a large coffee-room; and outside this
window, almost literally overhanging the square, was a formidably
buttressed balcony, big enough to contain a dining-table. In fact,
it did contain a dining-table, or more strictly a breakfast-table;
and round the breakfast-table, glowing in the sunlight and evident
to the street, were a group of noisy and talkative men, all
dressed in the insolence of fashion, with white waistcoats and
expensive button-holes. Some of their jokes could almost be heard
across the square. Then the grave Secretary gave his unnatural
smile, and Syme knew that this boisterous breakfast party was the
secret conclave of the European Dynamiters.
Then, as Syme continued to stare at them, he saw something
that he had not seen before. He had not seen it literally because
it was too large to see. At the nearest end of the balcony,
blocking up a great part of the perspective, was the back of a
great mountain of a man. When Syme had seen him, his first thought
was that the weight of him must break down the balcony of stone.
His vastness did not lie only in the fact that he was abnormally
tall and quite incredibly fat. This man was planned enormously in
his original proportions, like a statue carved deliberately as
colossal. His head, crowned with white hair, as seen from behind
looked bigger than a head ought to be. The ears that stood out
from it looked larger than human ears. He was enlarged terribly to
scale; and this sense of size was so staggering, that when Syme
saw him all the other figures seemed quite suddenly to dwindle and
become dwarfish. They were still sitting there as before with
their flowers and frock-coats, but now it looked as if the big man
was entertaining five children to tea.
As Syme and the guide approached the side door of the hotel,
a waiter came out smiling with every tooth in his head.
"The gentlemen are up there, sare," he said. "They do talk
and they do laugh at what they talk. They do say they will throw
bombs at ze king."
And the waiter hurried away with a napkin over his arm, much
pleased with the singular frivolity of the gentlemen upstairs.
The two men mounted the stairs in silence.
Syme had never thought of asking whether the monstrous man
who almost filled and broke the balcony was the great President of
whom the others stood in awe. He knew it was so, with an
unaccountable but instantaneous certainty. Syme, indeed, was one
of those men who are open to all the more nameless psychological
influences in a degree a little dangerous to mental health.
Utterly devoid of fear in physical dangers, he was a great deal
too sensitive to the smell of spiritual evil. Twice already that
night little unmeaning things had peeped out at him almost
pruriently, and given him a sense of drawing nearer and nearer to
the head-quarters of hell. And this sense became overpowering as
he drew nearer to the great President.
The form it took was a childish and yet hateful fancy. As he
walked across the inner room towards the balcony, the large face
of Sunday grew larger and larger; and Syme was gripped with a fear
that when he was quite close the face would be too big to be
possible, and that he would scream aloud. He remembered that as a
child he would not look at the mask of Memnon in the British
Museum, because it was a face, and so large.
By an effort, braver than that of leaping over a cliff, he
went to an empty seat at the breakfast-table and sat down. The men
greeted him with good-humoured raillery as if they had always
known him. He sobered himself a little by looking at their
conventional coats and solid, shining coffee-pot; then he looked
again at Sunday. His face was very large, but it was still
possible to humanity.
In the presence of the President the whole company looked
sufficiently commonplace; nothing about them caught the eye at
first, except that by the President's caprice they had been
dressed up with a festive respectability, which gave the meal the
look of a wedding breakfast. One man indeed stood out at even a
superficial glance. He at least was the common or garden
Dynamiter. He wore, indeed, the high white collar and satin tie
that were the uniform of the occasion; but out of this collar
there sprang a head quite unmanageable and quite unmistakable, a
bewildering bush of brown hair and beard that almost obscured the
eyes like those of a Skye terrier. But the eyes did look out of
the tangle, and they were the sad eyes of some Russian serf. The
effect of this figure was not terrible like that of the President,
but it had every diablerie that can come from the utterly
grotesque. If out of that stiff tie and collar there had come
abruptly the head of a cat or a dog, it could not have been a more
The man's name, it seemed, was Gogol; he was a Pole, and in
this circle of days he was called Tuesday. His soul and speech
were incurably tragic; he could not force himself to play the
prosperous and frivolous part demanded of him by President Sunday.
And, indeed, when Syme came in the President, with that daring
disregard of public suspicion which was his policy, was actually
chaffing Gogol upon his inability to assume conventional graces.
"Our friend Tuesday," said the President in a deep voice at
once of quietude and volume, "our friend Tuesday doesn't seem to
grasp the idea. He dresses up like a gentleman, but he seems to be
too great a soul to behave like one. He insists on the ways of the
stage conspirator. Now if a gentleman goes about London in a top
hat and a frock-coat, no one need know that he is an anarchist.
But if a gentleman puts on a top hat and a frock-coat, and then
goes about on his hands and knees?well, he may attract attention.
That's what Brother Gogol does. He goes about on his hands and
knees with such inexhaustible diplomacy, that by this time he
finds it quite difficult to walk upright."
"I am not good at goncealment," said Gogol sulkily, with a
thick foreign accent; "I am not ashamed of the cause."
"Yes you are, my boy, and so is the cause of you," said the
President good-naturedly. "You hide as much as anybody; but you
can't do it, you see, you're such an ass! You try to combine two
inconsistent methods. When a householder finds a man under his
bed, he will probably pause to note the circumstance. But if he
finds a man under his bed in a top hat, you will agree with me, my
dear Tuesday, that he is not likely even to forget it. Now when
you were found under Admiral Biffin's bed?"
"I am not good at deception," said Tuesday gloomily,
"Right, my boy, right," said the President with a ponderous
heartiness, "you aren't good at anything."
While this stream of conversation continued, Syme was looking
more steadily at the men around him. As he did so, he gradually
felt all his sense of something spiritually queer return.
He had thought at first that they were all of common stature
and costume, with the evident exception of the hairy Gogol. But as
he looked at the others, he began to see in each of them exactly
what he had seen in the man by the river, a demoniac detail
somewhere. That lop-sided laugh, which would suddenly disfigure
the fine face of his original guide, was typical of all these
types. Each man had something about him, perceived perhaps at the
tenth or twentieth glance, which was not normal, and which seemed
hardly human. The only metaphor he could think of was this, that
they all looked as men of fashion and presence would look, with
the additional twist given in a false and curved mirror.
Only the individual examples will express this half-concealed
eccentricity. Syme's original cicerone bore the title of Monday;
he was the Secretary of the Council, and his twisted smile was
regarded with more terror than anything, except the President's
horrible, happy laughter. But now that Syme had more space and
light to observe him, there were other touches. His fine face was
so emaciated, that Syme thought it must be wasted with some
disease; yet somehow the very distress of his dark eyes denied
this. It was no physical ill that troubled him. His eyes were
alive with intellectual torture, as if pure thought was pain.
He was typical of each of the tribe; each man was subtly and
differently wrong. Next to him sat Tuesday, the tousle-headed
Gogol, a man more obviously mad. Next was Wednesday, a certain
Marquis de St. Eustache, a sufficiently characteristic figure. The
first few glances found nothing unusual about him, except that he
was the only man at table who wore the fashionable clothes as if
they were really his own. He had a black French beard cut square
and a black English frock-coat cut even squarer. But Syme,
sensitive to such things, felt somehow that the man carried a rich
atmosphere with him, a rich atmosphere that suffocated. It
reminded one irrationally of drowsy odours and of dying lamps in
the darker poems of Byron and Poe. With this went a sense of his
being clad, not in lighter colours, but in softer materials; his
black seemed richer and warmer than the black shades about him, as
if it were compounded of profound colour. His black coat looked as
if it were only black by being too dense a purple. His black beard
looked as if it were only black by being too deep a blue. And in
the gloom and thickness of the beard his dark red mouth showed
sensual and scornful. Whatever he was he was not a Frenchman; he
might be a Jew; he might be something deeper yet in the dark heart
of the East. In the bright coloured Persian tiles and pictures
showing tyrants hunting, you may see just those almond eyes, those
blue-black beards, those cruel, crimson lips.
Then came Syme, and next a very old man, Professor de Worms,
who still kept the chair of Friday, though every day it was
expected that his death would leave it empty. Save for his
intellect, he was in the last dissolution of senile decay. His
face was as grey as his long grey beard, his forehead was lifted
and fixed finally in a furrow of mild despair. In no other case,
not even that of Gogol, did the bridegroom brilliancy of the
morning dress express a more painful contrast. For the red flower
in his button-hole showed up against a face that was literally
discoloured like lead; the whole hideous effect was as if some
drunken dandies had put their clothes upon a corpse. When he rose
or sat down, which was with long labour and peril, something worse
was expressed than mere weakness, something indefinably connected
with the horror of the whole scene. It did not express decrepitude
merely, but corruption. Another hateful fancy crossed Syme's
quivering mind. He could not help thinking that whenever the man
moved a leg or arm might fall off.
Right at the end sat the man called Saturday, the simplest
and the most baffling of all. He was a short, square man with a
dark, square face clean-shaven, a medical practitioner going by
the name of Bull. He had that combination of savoir-faire with a
sort of well-groomed coarseness which is not uncommon in young
doctors. He carried his fine clothes with confidence rather than
ease, and he mostly wore a set smile. There was nothing whatever
odd about him, except that he wore a pair of dark, almost opaque
spectacles. It may have been merely a crescendo of nervous fancy
that had gone before, but those black discs were dreadful to Syme;
they reminded him of half-remembered ugly tales, of some story
about pennies being put on the eyes of the dead. Syme's eye always
caught the black glasses and the blind grin. Had the dying
Professor worn them, or even the pale Secretary, they would have
been appropriate. But on the younger and grosser man they seemed
only an enigma. They took away the key of the face. You could not
tell what his smile or his gravity meant. Partly from this, and
partly because he had a vulgar virility wanting in most of the
others it seemed to Syme that he might be the wickedest of all
those wicked men. Syme even had the thought that his eyes might be
covered up because they were too frightful to see.
SUCH were the six men who had sworn to destroy the world.
Again and again Syme strove to pull together his common sense in
their presence. Sometimes he saw for an instant that these notions
were subjective, that he was only looking at ordinary men, one of
whom was old, another nervous, another short-sighted. The sense of
an unnatural symbolism always settled back on him again. Each
figure seemed to be, somehow, on the borderland of things, just as
their theory was on the borderland of thought. He knew that each
one of these men stood at the extreme end, so to speak, of some
wild road of reasoning. He could only fancy, as in some old-world
fable, that if a man went westward to the end of the world he
would find something?say a tree?that was more or less than a tree,
a tree possessed by a spirit; and that if he went east to the end
of the world he would find something else that was not wholly
itself?a tower, perhaps, of which the very shape was wicked. So
these figures seemed to stand up, violent and unaccountable,
against an ultimate horizon, visions from the verge. The ends of
the earth were closing in.
Talk had been going on steadily as he took in the scene; and
not the least of the contrasts of that bewildering breakfast-table
was the contrast between the easy and unobtrusive tone of talk and
its terrible purport. They were deep in the discussion of an
actual and immediate plot. The waiter downstairs had spoken quite
correctly when he said that they were talking about bombs and
kings. Only three days afterwards the Czar was to meet the
President of the French Republic in Paris, and over their bacon
and eggs upon their sunny balcony these beaming gentlemen had
decided how both should die. Even the instrument was chosen; the
black-bearded Marquis, it appeared, was to carry the bomb.
Ordinarily speaking, the proximity of this positive and
objective crime would have sobered Syme, and cured him of all his
merely mystical tremors. He would have thought of nothing but the
need of saving at least two human bodies from being ripped in
pieces with iron and roaring gas. But the truth was that by this
time he had begun to feel a third kind of fear, more piercing and
practical than either his moral revulsion or his social
responsibility. Very simply, he had no fear to spare for the
French President or the Czar; he had begun to fear for himself.
Most of the talkers took little heed of him, debating now with
their faces closer together, and almost uniformly grave, save when
for an instant the smile of the Secretary ran aslant across his
face as the jagged lightning runs aslant across the sky. But there
was one persistent thing which first troubled Syme and at last
terrified him. The President was always looking at him, steadily,
and with a great and baffling interest. The enormous man was quite
quiet, but his blue eyes stood out of his head. And they were
always fixed on Syme.
Syme felt moved to spring up and leap over the balcony. When
the President's eyes were on him he felt as if he were made of
glass. He had hardly the shred of a doubt that in some silent and
extraordinary way Sunday had found out that he was a spy. He
looked over the edge of the balcony, and saw a policeman, standing
abstractedly just beneath, staring at the bright railings and the
Then there fell upon him the great temptation that was to
torment him for many days. In the presence of these powerful and
repulsive men, who were the princes of anarchy, he had almost
forgotten the frail and fanciful figure of the poet Gregory, the
mere aesthete of anarchism. He even thought of him now with an old
kindness, as if they had played together when children. But he
remembered that he was still tied to Gregory by a great promise.
He had promised never to do the very thing that he now felt
himself almost in the act of doing. He had promised not to jump
over that balcony and speak to that policeman. He took his cold
hand off the cold stone balustrade. His soul swayed in a vertigo
of moral indecision. He had only to snap the thread of a rash vow
made to a villainous society, and all his life could be as open
and sunny as the square beneath him. He had, on the other hand,
only to keep his antiquated honour, and be delivered inch by inch
into the power of this great enemy of mankind, whose very
intellect was a torture-chamber. Whenever he looked down into the
square he saw the comfortable policeman, a pillar of common sense
and common order. Whenever he looked back at the breakfast-table
he saw the President still quietly studying him with big,
In all the torrent of his thought there were two thoughts
that never crossed his mind. First, it never occurred to him to
doubt that the President and his Council could crush him if he
continued to stand alone. The place might be public, the project
might seem impossible. But Sunday was not the man who would carry
himself thus easily without having, somehow or somewhere, set open
his iron trap. Either by anonymous poison or sudden street
accident, by hypnotism or by fire from hell, Sunday could
certainly strike him. If he defied the man he was probably dead,
either struck stiff there in his chair or long afterwards as by an
innocent ailment. If he called in the police promptly, arrested
everyone, told all, and set against them the whole energy of
England, he would probably escape; certainly not otherwise. They
were a balconyful of gentlemen overlooking a bright and busy
square; but he felt no more safe with them than if they had been a
boatful of armed pirates overlooking an empty sea.
There was a second thought that never came to him. It never
occurred to him to be spiritually won over to the enemy. Many
moderns, inured to a weak worship of intellect and force, might
have wavered in their allegiance under this oppression of a great
personality. They might have called Sunday the super-man. If any
such creature be conceivable, he looked, indeed, somewhat like it,
with his earth-shaking abstraction, as of a stone statue walking.
He might have been called something above man, with his large
plans, which were too obvious to be detected, with his large face,
which was too frank to be understood. But this was a kind of
modern meanness to which Syme could not sink even in his extreme
morbidity. Like any man, he was coward enough to fear great force;
but he was not quite coward enough to admire it.
The men were eating as they talked, and even in this they
were typical. Dr. Bull and the Marquis ate casually and
conventionally of the best things on the table?cold pheasant or
Strasbourg pie. But the Secretary was a vegetarian, and he spoke
earnestly of the projected murder over half a raw tomato and three
quarters of a glass of tepid water. The old Professor had such
slops as suggested a sickening second childhood. And even in this
President Sunday preserved his curious predominance of mere mass.
For he ate like twenty men; he ate incredibly, with a frightful
freshness of appetite, so that it was like watching a sausage
factory. Yet continually, when he had swallowed a dozen crumpets
or drunk a quart of coffee, he would be found with his great head
on one side staring at Syme.
"I have often wondered," said the Marquis, taking a great
bite out of a slice of bread and jam, "whether it wouldn't be
better for me to do it with a knife. Most of the best things have
been brought off with a knife. And it would be a new emotion to
get a knife into a French President and wriggle it round."
"You are wrong," said the Secretary, drawing his black brows
together. "The knife was merely the expression of the old personal
quarrel with a personal tyrant. Dynamite is not only our best
tool, but our best symbol. It is as perfect a symbol of us as is
incense of the prayers of the Christians. It expands; it only
destroys because it broadens; even so, thought only destroys
because it broadens. A man's brain is a bomb," he cried out,
loosening suddenly his strange passion and striking his own skull
with violence. "My brain feels like a bomb, night and day. It must
expand! It must expand! A man's brain must expand, if it breaks up
"I don't want the universe broken up just yet," drawled the
Marquis. "I want to do a lot of beastly things before I die. I
thought of one yesterday in bed."
"No, if the only end of the thing is nothing," said Dr. Bull
with his sphinx-like smile, "it hardly seems worth doing."
The old Professor was staring at the ceiling with dull eyes.
"Every man knows in his heart, " he said, "that nothing is
There was a singular silence, and then the Secretary said?
"We are wandering, however, from the point. The only question
is how Wednesday is to strike the blow. I take it we should all
agree with the original notion of a bomb. As to the actual
arrangements, I should suggest that tomorrow morning he should go
first of all to?"
The speech was broken off short under a vast shadow.
President Sunday had risen to his feet, seeming to fill the sky
"Before we discuss that," he said in a small, quiet voice,
"let us go into a private room. I have something vent particular
Syme stood up before any of the others. The instant of choice
had come at last, the pistol was at his head. On the pavement
before he could hear the policeman idly stir and stamp, for the
morning, though bright, was cold.
A barrel-organ in the street suddenly sprang with a jerk into
a jovial tune. Syme stood up taut, as if it had been a bugle
before the battle. He found himself filled with a supernatural
courage that came from nowhere. That jingling music seemed full of
the vivacity, the vulgarity, and the irrational valour of the
poor, who in all those unclean streets were all clinging to the
decencies and the charities of Christendom. His youthful prank of
being a policeman had faded from his mind; he did not think of
himself as the representative of the corps of gentlemen turned
into fancy constables, or of the old eccentric who lived in the
dark room. But he did feel himself as the ambassador of all these
common and kindly people in the street, who every day marched into
battle to the music of the barrel-organ. And this high pride in
being human had lifted him unaccountably to an infinite height
above the monstrous men around him. For an instant, at least, he
looked down upon all their sprawling eccentricities from the
starry pinnacle of the commonplace. He felt towards them all that
unconscious and elementary superiority that a brave man feels over
powerful beasts or a wise man over powerful errors. He knew that
he had neither the intellectual nor the physical strength of
President Sunday; but in that moment he minded it no more than the
fact that he had not the muscles of a tiger or a horn on his nose
like a rhinoceros. All was swallowed up in an ultimate certainty
that the President was wrong and that the barrel-organ was right.
There clanged in his mind that unanswerable and terrible truism in
the song of Roland?
"Pa?ens ont tort et Chretiens ont droit."
which in the old nasal French has the clang and groan of
great iron. This liberation of his spirit from the load of his
weakness went with a quite clear decision to embrace death. If the
people of the barrel-organ could keep their old-world obligations,
so could he. This very pride in keeping his word was that he was
keeping it to miscreants. It was his last triumph over these
lunatics to go down into their dark room and die for something
that they could not even understand. The barrel-organ seemed to
give the marching tune with the energy and the mingled noises of a
whole orchestra; and he could hear deep and rolling, under all the
trumpets of the pride of life, the drums of the pride of death.
The conspirators were already filing through the open window
and into the rooms behind. Syme went last, outwardly calm, but
with all his brain and body throbbing with romantic rhythm. The
President led them down an irregular side stair, such as might be
used by servants, and into a dim, cold, empty room, with a table
and benches, like an abandoned boardroom. When they were all in,
he closed and locked the door.
The first to speak was Gogol, the irreconcilable, who seemed
bursting with inarticulate grievance.
"Zso! Zso!" he cried, with an obscure excitement, his heavy
Polish accent becoming almost impenetrable. "You zay you nod 'ide.
You zay you show himselves. It is all nuzzinks. Ven you vant talk
importance you run yourselves in a dark box!"
The President seemed to take the foreigner's incoherent
satire with entire good humour.
"You can't get hold of it yet, Gogol," he said in a fatherly
way. "When once they have heard us talking nonsense on that
balcony they will not care where we go afterwards. If we had come
here first, we should have had the whole staff at the keyhole. You
don't seem to know anything about mankind."
"I die for zem," cried the Pole in thick excitement, "and I
slay zare oppressors. I care not for these games of gonzealment. I
would zmite ze tyrant in ze open square."
"I see, I see," said the President, nodding kindly as he
seated himself at the top of a long table. "You die for mankind
first, and then you get up and smite their oppressors. So that's
all right. And now may I ask you to control your beautiful
sentiments, and sit down with the other gentlemen at this table.
For the first time this morning something intelligent is going to
Syme, with the perturbed promptitude he had shown since the
original summons, sat down first. Gogol sat down last, grumbling
in his brown beard about gombromise. No one except Syme seemed to
have any notion of the blow that was about to fall. As for him, he
had merely the feeling of a man mounting the scaffold with the
intention, at any rate, of making a good speech.
"Comrades," said the President, suddenly rising, "we have
spun out this farce long enough. I have called you down here to
tell you something so simple and shocking that even the waiters
upstairs (long inured to our levities) might hear some new
seriousness in my voice. Comrades, we were discussing plans and
naming places. I propose, before saying anything else, that those
plans and places should not be voted by this meeting, but should
be left wholly in the control of some one reliable member. I
suggest Comrade Saturday, Dr. Bull."
They all stared at him; then they all started in their seats,
for the next words, though not loud, had a living and sensational
emphasis. Sunday struck the table.
"Not one word more about the plans and places must be said at
this meeting. Not one tiny detail more about what we mean to do
must be mentioned in this company."
Sunday had spent his life in astonishing his followers; but
it seemed as if he had never really astonished them until now.
They all moved feverishly in their seats, except Syme. He sat
stiff in his, with his hand in his pocket, and on the handle of
his loaded revolver. When the attack on him came he would sell his
life dear. He would find out at least if the President was mortal.
Sunday went on smoothly?
"You will probably understand that there is only one possible
motive for forbidding free speech at this festival of freedom.
Strangers overhearing us matters nothing. They assume that we are
joking. But what would matter, even unto death, is this, that
there should be one actually among us who is not of us, who knows
our grave purpose, but does not share it, who?"
The Secretary screamed out suddenly like a woman.
"It can't be!" he cried, leaping. "There can't?"
The President flapped his large flat hand on the table like
the fin of some huge fish.
"Yes," he said slowly, "there is a spy in this room. There is
a traitor at this table. I will waste no more words. His name?"
Syme half rose from his seat, his finger firm on the trigger.
"His name is Gogol," said the President. "He is that hairy
humbug over there who pretends to be a Pole."
Gogol sprang to his feet, a pistol in each hand. With the
same flash three men sprang at his throat. Even the Professor made
an effort to rise. But Syme saw little of the scene, for he was
blinded with a beneficent darkness; he had sunk down into his seat
shuddering, in a palsy of passionate relief.
THE UNACCOUNTABLE CONDUCT OF PROFESSOR DE WORMS
"SIT down!" said Sunday in a voice that he used once or twice
in his life, a voice that made men drop drawn swords.
The three who had risen fell away from Gogol, and that
equivocal person himself resumed his seat.
"Well, my man," said the President briskly, addressing him as
one addresses a total stranger, "will you oblige me by putting
your hand in your upper waistcoat pocket and showing me what you
The alleged Pole was a little pale under his tangle of dark
hair, but he put two fingers into the pocket with apparent
coolness and pulled out a blue strip of card. When Syme saw it
lying on the table, he woke up again to the world outside him. For
although the card lay at the other extreme of the table, and he
could read nothing of the inscription on it, it bore a startling
resemblance to the blue card in his own pocket, the card which had
been given to him when he joined the anti-anarchist constabulary.
"Pathetic Slav," said the President, "tragic child of Poland,
are you prepared in the presence of that card to deny that you are
in this company?shall we say de trop?"
"Right oh!" said the late Gogol. It made everyone jump to
hear a clear, commercial and somewhat cockney voice coming out of
that forest of foreign hair. It was irrational, as if a Chinaman
had suddenly spoken with a Scotch accent.
"I gather that you fully understand your position," said
"You bet," answered the Pole. "I see it's a fair cop. All I
say is, I don't believe any Pole could have imitated my accent
like I did his."
"I concede the point," said Sunday. "I believe your own
accent to be inimitable, though I shall practise it in my bath. Do
you mind leaving your beard with your card?"
"Not a bit," answered Gogol; and with one finger he ripped
off the whole of his shaggy head-covering, emerging with thin red
hair and a pale, pert face. "It was hot," he added.
"I will do you the justice to say," said Sunday, not without
a sort of brutal admiration, "that you seem to have kept pretty
cool under it. Now listen to me. I like you. The consequence is
that it would annoy me for just about two and a half minutes if I
heard that you had died in torments. Well, if you ever tell the
police or any human soul about us, I shall have that two and a
half minutes of discomfort. On your discomfort I will not dwell.
Good day. Mind the step."
The red-haired detective who had masqueraded as Gogol rose to
his feet without a word, and walked out of the room with an air of
perfect nonchalance. Yet the astonished Syme was able to realise
that this ease was suddenly assumed; for there was a slight
stumble outside the door, which showed that the departing
detective had not minded the step.
"Time is flying," said the President in his gayest manner,
after glancing at his watch, which like everything about him
seemed bigger than it ought to be. "I must go off at once; I have
to take the chair at a Humanitarian meeting."
The Secretary turned to him with working eyebrows.
"Would it not be better," he said a little sharply, "to
discuss further the details of our project, now that the spy has
"No, I think not," said the President with a yawn like an
unobtrusive earthquake. "Leave it as it is. Let Saturday settle
it. I must be off. Breakfast here next Sunday."
But the late loud scenes had whipped up the almost naked
nerves of the Secretary. He was one of those men who are
conscientious even in crime.
"I must protest, President, that the thing is irregular," he
said. "It is a fundamental rule of our society that all plans
shall be debated in full council. Of course, I fully appreciate
your forethought when in the actual presence of a traitor?"
"Secretary," said the President seriously, "if you'd take
your head home and boil it for a turnip it might be useful. I
can't say. But it might.
The Secretary reared back in a kind of equine anger.
"I really fail to understand?" he began in high offense.
"That's it, that's it," said the President, nodding a great
many times. "That's where you fail right enough. You fail to
understand. Why, you dancing donkey," he roared, rising, "you
didn't want to be overheard by a spy, didn't you? How do you know
you aren't overheard now?"
And with these words he shouldered his way out of the room,
shaking with incomprehensible scorn.
Four of the men left behind gaped after him without any
apparent glimmering of his meaning. Syme alone had even a
glimmering, and such as it was it froze him to the bone. If the
last words of the President meant anything, they meant that he had
not after all passed unsuspected. They meant that while Sunday
could not denounce him like Gogol, he still could not trust him
like the others.
The other four got to their feet grumbling more or less, and
betook themselves elsewhere to find lunch, for it was already well
past midday. The Professor went last, very slowly and painfully.
Syme sat long after the rest had gone, revolving his strange
position. He had escaped a thunderbolt, but he was still under a
cloud. At last he rose and made his way out of the hotel into
Leicester Square. The bright, cold day had grown increasingly
colder, and when he came out into the street he was surprised by a
few flakes of snow. While he still carried the sword-stick and the
rest of Gregory's portable luggage, he had thrown the cloak down
and left it somewhere, perhaps on the steam-tug, perhaps on the
balcony. Hoping, therefore, that the snow-shower might be slight,
he stepped back out of the street for a moment and stood up under
the doorway of a small and greasy hair-dresser's shop, the front
window of which was empty, except for a sickly wax lady in evening
Snow, however, began to thicken and fall fast; and Syme,
having found one glance at the wax lady quite sufficient to
depress his spirits, stared out instead into the white and empty
street. He was considerably astonished to see, standing quite
still outside the shop and staring into the window, a man. His top
hat was loaded with snow like the hat of Father Christmas, the
white drift was rising round his boots and ankles; but it seemed
as if nothing could tear him away from the contemplation of the
colourless wax doll in dirty evening dress. That any human being
should stand in such weather looking into such a shop was a matter
of sufficient wonder to Syme; but his idle wonder turned suddenly
into a personal shock; for he realised that the man standing there
was the paralytic old Professor de Worms. It scarcely seemed the
place for a person of his years and infirmities.
Syme was ready to believe anything about the perversions of
this dehumanized brotherhood; but even he could not believe that
the Professor had fallen in love with that particular wax lady. He
could only suppose that the man's malady (whatever it was)
involved some momentary fits of rigidity or trance. He was not
inclined, however, to feel in this case any very compassionate
concern. On the contrary, he rather congratulated himself that the
Professor's stroke and his elaborate and limping walk would make
it easy to escape from him and leave him miles behind. For Syme
thirsted first and last to get clear of the whole poisonous
atmosphere, if only for an hour. Then he could collect his
thoughts, formulate his policy, and decide finally whether he
should or should not keep faith with Gregory.
He strolled away through the dancing snow, turned up two or
three streets, down through two or three others, and entered a
small Soho restaurant for lunch. He partook reflectively of four
small and quaint courses, drank half a bottle of red wine, and
ended up over black coffee and a black cigar, still thinking. He
had taken his seat in the upper room of the restaurant, which was
full of the chink of knives and the chatter of foreigners. He
remembered that in old days he had imagined that all these
harmless and kindly aliens were anarchists. He shuddered,
remembering the real thing. But even the shudder had the
delightful shame of escape. The wine, the common food, the
familiar place, the faces of natural and talkative men, made him
almost feel as if the Council of the Seven Days had been a bad
dream; and although he knew it was nevertheless an objective
reality, it was at least a distant one. Tall houses and populous
streets lay between him and his last sight of the shameful seven;
he was free in free London, and drinking wine among the free. With
a somewhat easier action, he took his hat and stick and strolled
down the stair into the shop below.
When he entered that lower room he stood stricken and rooted
to the spot. At a small table, close up to the blank window and
the white street of snow, sat the old anarchist Professor over a
glass of milk, with his lifted livid face and pendent eyelids. For
an instant Syme stood as rigid as the stick he leant upon. Then
with a gesture as of blind hurry, he brushed past the Professor,
dashing open the door and slamming it behind him, and stood
outside in the snow.
"Can that old corpse be following me?" he asked himself,
biting his yellow moustache. "I stopped too long up in that room,
so that even such leaden feet could catch me up. One comfort is,
with a little brisk walking I can put a man like that as far away
as Timbuctoo. Or am I too fanciful? Was he really following me?
Surely Sunday would not be such a fool as to send a lame man? "
He set off at a smart pace, twisting and whirling his stick,
in the direction of Covent Garden. As he crossed the great market
the snow increased, growing blinding and bewildering as the
afternoon began to darken. The snow-flakes tormented him like a
swarm of silver bees. Getting into his eyes and beard, they added
their unremitting futility to his already irritated nerves; and by
the time that he had come at a swinging pace to the beginning of
Fleet Street, he lost patience, and finding a Sunday teashop,
turned into it to take shelter. He ordered another cup of black
coffee as an excuse. Scarcely had he done so, when Professor de
Worms hobbled heavily into the shop, sat down with difficulty and
ordered a glass of milk.
Syme's walking-stick had fallen from his hand with a great
clang, which confessed the concealed steel. But the Professor did
not look round. Syme, who was commonly a cool character, was
literally gaping as a rustic gapes at a conjuring trick. He had
seen no cab following; he had heard no wheels outside the shop; to
all mortal appearances the man had come on foot. But the old man
could only walk like a snail, and Syme had walked like the wind.
He started up and snatched his stick, half crazy with the
contradiction in mere arithmetic, and swung out of the swinging
doors, leaving his coffee untasted. An omnibus going to the Bank
went rattling by with an unusual rapidity. He had a violent run of
a hundred yards to reach it; but he managed to spring, swaying
upon the splash-board and, pausing for an instant to pant, he
climbed on to the top. When he had been seated for about half a
minute, he heard behind him a sort of heavy and asthmatic
Turning sharply, he saw rising gradually higher and higher up
the omnibus steps a top hat soiled and dripping with snow, and
under the shadow of its brim the short-sighted face and shaky
shoulders of Professor de Worms. He let himself into a seat with
characteristic care, and wrapped himself up to the chin in the
Every movement of the old man's tottering figure and vague
hands, every uncertain gesture and panic-stricken pause, seemed to
put it beyond question that he was helpless, that he was in the
last imbecility of the body. He moved by inches, he let himself
down with little gasps of caution. And yet, unless the
philosophical entities called time and space have no vestige even
of a practical existence, it appeared quite unquestionable that he
had run after the omnibus.
Syme sprang erect upon the rocking car, and after staring
wildly at the wintry sky, that grew gloomier every moment, he ran
down the steps. He had repressed an elemental impulse to leap over
Too bewildered to look back or to reason, he rushed into one
of the little courts at the side of Fleet Street as a rabbit
rushes into a hole. He had a vague idea, if this incomprehensible
old Jack-in-the-box was really pursuing him, that in that
labyrinth of little streets he could soon throw him off the scent.
He dived in and out of those crooked lanes, which were more like
cracks than thoroughfares; and by the time that he had completed
about twenty alternate angles and described an unthinkable
polygon, he paused to listen for any sound of pursuit. There was
none; there could not in any case have been much, for the little
streets were thick with the soundless snow. Somewhere behind Red
Lion Court, however, he noticed a place where some energetic
citizen had cleared away the snow for a space of about twenty
yards, leaving the wet, glistening cobble-stones. He thought
little of this as he passed it, only plunging into yet another arm
of the maze. But when a few hundred yards farther on he stood
still again to listen, his heart stood still also, for he heard
from that space of rugged stones the clinking crutch and labouring
feet of the infernal cripple.
The sky above was loaded with the clouds of snow, leaving
London in a darkness and oppression premature for that hour of the
evening. On each side of Syme the walls of the alley were blind
and featureless; there was no little window or any kind of eve. He
felt a new impulse to break out of this hive of houses, and to get
once more into the open and lamp-lit street. Yet he rambled and
dodged for a long time before he struck the main thoroughfare.
When he did so, he struck it much farther up than he had fancied.
He came out into what seemed the vast and void of Ludgate Circus,
and saw St. Paul's Cathedral sitting in the sky.
At first he was startled to find these great roads so empty,
as if a pestilence had swept through the city. Then he told
himself that some degree of emptiness was natural; first because
the snow-storm was even dangerously deep, and secondly because it
was Sunday. And at the very word Sunday he bit his lip; the word
was henceforth for hire like some indecent pun. Under the white
fog of snow high up in the heaven the whole atmosphere of the city
was turned to a very queer kind of green twilight, as of men under
the sea. The sealed and sullen sunset behind the dark dome of St.
Paul's had in it smoky and sinister colours?colours of sickly
green, dead red or decaying bronze, that were just bright enough
to emphasise the solid whiteness of the snow. But right up against
these dreary colours rose the black bulk of the cathedral; and
upon the top of the cathedral was a random splash and great stain
of snow, still clinging as to an Alpine peak. It had fallen
accidentally, but just so fallen as to half drape the dome from
its very topmost point, and to pick out in perfect silver the
great orb and the cross. When Syme saw it he suddenly straightened
himself, and made with his sword-stick an involuntary salute.
He knew that that evil figure, his shadow, was creeping
quickly or slowly behind him, and he did not care.
It seemed a symbol of human faith and valour that while the
skies were darkening that high place of the earth was bright. The
devils might have captured heaven, but they had not yet captured
the cross. He had a new impulse to tear out the secret of this
dancing, jumping and pursuing paralytic; and at the entrance of
the court as it opened upon the Circus he turned, stick in hand,
to face his pursuer.
Professor de Worms came slowly round the corner of the
irregular alley behind him, his unnatural form outlined against a
lonely gas-lamp, irresistibly recalling that very imaginative
figure in the nursery rhymes, "the crooked man who went a crooked
mile." He really looked as if he had been twisted out of shape by
the tortuous streets he had been threading. He came nearer and
nearer, the lamplight shining on his lifted spectacles, his
lifted, patient face. Syme waited for him as St. George waited for
the dragon, as a man waits for a final explanation or for death.
And the old Professor came right up to him and passed him like a
total stranger, without even a blink of his mournful eyelids.
There was something in this silent and unexpected innocence
that left Syme in a final fury. The man's colourless face and
manner seemed to assert that the whole following had been an
accident. Syme was galvanised with an energy that was something
between bitterness and a burst of boyish derision. He made a wild
gesture as if to knock the old man's hat off, called out something
like "Catch me if you can," and went racing away across the white,
open Circus. Concealment was impossible now; and looking back over
his shoulder, he could see the black figure of the old gentleman
coming after him with long, swinging strides like a man winning a
mile race. But the head upon that bounding body was still pale,
grave and professional, like the head of a lecturer upon the body
of a harlequin.
This outrageous chase sped across Ludgate Circus, up Ludgate
Hill, round St. Paul's Cathedral, along Cheapside, Syme
remembering all the nightmares he had ever known. Then Syme broke
away towards the river, and ended almost down by the docks. He saw
the yellow panes of a low, lighted public-house, flung himself
into it and ordered beer. It was a foul tavern, sprinkled with
foreign sailors, a place where opium might be smoked or knives
A moment later Professor de Worms entered the place, sat down
carefully, and asked for a glass of milk.
THE PROFESSOR EXPLAINS
WHEN Gabriel Syme found himself finally established in a
chair, and opposite to him, fixed and final also, the lifted
eyebrows and leaden eyelids of the Professor, his fears fully
returned. This incomprehensible man from the fierce council, after
all, had certainly pursued him. If the man had one character as a
paralytic and another character as a pursuer, the antithesis might
make him more interesting, but scarcely more soothing. It would be
a very small comfort that he could not find the Professor out, if
by some serious accident the Professor should find him out. He
emptied a whole pewter pot of ale before the professor had touched
One possibility, however, kept him hopeful and yet helpless.
It was just possible that this escapade signified something other
than even a slight suspicion of him. Perhaps it was some regular
form or sign. Perhaps the foolish scamper was some sort of
friendly signal that he ought to have understood. Perhaps it was a
ritual. Perhaps the new Thursday was always chased along
Cheapside, as the new Lord Mayor is always escorted along it. He
was just selecting a tentative inquiry, when the old Professor
opposite suddenly and simply cut him short. Before Syme could ask
the first diplomatic question, the old anarchist had asked
suddenly, without any sort of preparation?
"Are you a policeman?"
Whatever else Syme had expected, he had never expected
anything so brutal and actual as this. Even his great presence of
mind could only manage a reply with an air of rather blundering
"A policeman?" he said, laughing vaguely. "Whatever made you
think of a policeman in connection with me?"
"The process was simple enough," answered the Professor
patiently. "I thought you looked like a policeman. I think so
"Did I take a policeman's hat by mistake out of the
restaurant?" asked Syme, smiling wildly. "Have I by any chance got
a number stuck on to me somewhere? Have my boots got that watchful
look? Why must I be a policeman? Do, do let me be a postman."
The old Professor shook his head with a gravity that gave no
hope, but Syme ran on with a feverish irony.
"But perhaps I misunderstood the delicacies of your German
philosophy. Perhaps policeman is a relative term. In an
evolutionary sense, sir, the ape fades so gradually into the
policeman, that I myself can never detect the shade. The monkey is
only the policeman that may be. Perhaps a maiden lady on Clapham
Common is only the policeman that might have been. I don't mind
being the policeman that might have been. I don't mind being
anything in German thought."
"Are you in the police service?" said the old man, ignoring
all Syme's improvised and desperate raillery. "Are you a
Syme's heart turned to stone, but his face never changed.
"Your suggestion is ridiculous," he began. "Why on earth?"
The old man struck his palsied hand passionately on the
rickety table, nearly breaking it.
"Did you hear me ask a plain question, you pattering spy?" he
shrieked in a high, crazy voice. "Are you, or are you not, a
"No!" answered Syme, like a man standing on the hangman's
"You swear it," said the old man, leaning across to him, his
dead face becoming as it were loathsomely alive. "You swear it!
You swear it! If you swear falsely, will you be damned? Will you
be sure that the devil dances at your funeral? Will you see that
the nightmare sits on your grave? Will there really be no mistake?
You are an anarchist, you are a dynamiter! Above all, you are not
in any sense a detective? You are not in the British police?"
He leant his angular elbow far across the table, and put up
his large loose hand like a flap to his ear.
"I am not in the British police," said Syme with insane calm.
Professor de Worms fell back in his chair with a curious air
of kindly collapse.
"That's a pity," he said, "because I am."
Syme sprang up straight, sending back the bench behind him
with a crash.
"Because you are what?" he said thickly. "You are what?"
"I am a policeman," said the Professor with his first broad
smile. and beaming through his spectacles. "But as you think
policeman only a relative term, of course I have nothing to do
with you. I am in the British police force; but as you tell me you
are not in the British police force, I can only say that I met you
in a dynamiters' club. I suppose I ought to arrest you." And with
these words he laid on the table before Syme an exact facsimile of
the blue card which Syme had in his own waistcoat pocket, the
symbol of his power from the police.
Syme had for a flash the sensation that the cosmos had turned
exactly upside down, that all trees were growing downwards and
that all stars were under his feet. Then came slowly the opposite
conviction. For the last twenty-four hours the cosmos had really
been upside down, but now the capsized universe had come right
side up again. This devil from whom he had been fleeing all day
was only an elder brother of his own house, who on the other side
of the table lay back and laughed at him. He did not for the
moment ask any questions of detail; he only knew the happy and
silly fact that this shadow, which had pursued him with an
intolerable oppression of peril, was only the shadow of a friend
trying to catch him up. He knew simultaneously that he was a fool
and a free man. For with any recovery from morbidity there must go
a certain healthy humiliation. There comes a certain point in such
conditions when only three things are possible: first a
perpetuation of Satanic pride, secondly tears, and third laughter.
Syme's egotism held hard to the first course for a few seconds,
and then suddenly adopted the third. Taking his own blue police
ticket from his own waist coat pocket, he tossed it on to the
table; then he flung his head back until his spike of yellow beard
almost pointed at the ceiling, and shouted with a barbaric
Even in that close den, perpetually filled with the din of
knives, plates, cans, clamorous voices, sudden struggles and
stampedes, there was something Homeric in Syme's mirth which made
many half-drunken men look round.
"What yer laughing at, guv'nor?" asked one wondering labourer
from the docks.
"At myself," answered Syme, and went off again into the agony
of his ecstatic reaction.
"Pull yourself together," said the Professor, "or you'll get
hysterical. Have some more beer. I'll join you."
"You haven't drunk your milk," said Syme.
"My milk! " said the other, in tones of withering and
unfathomable contempt, "my milk! Do you think I'd look at the
beastly stuff when I'm out of sight of the bloody anarchists?
We're all Christians in this room, though perhaps," he added,
glancing around at the reeling crowd, "not strict ones. Finish my
milk? Great blazes! yes, I'll finish it right enough!" and he
knocked the tumbler off the table, making a crash of glass and a
splash of silver fluid.
Syme was staring at him with a happy curiosity.
"I understand now," he cried; "of course, you're not an old
man at all."
"I can't take my face off here," replied Professor de Worms.
"It's rather an elaborate make-up. As to whether I'm an old man,
that's not for me to say. I was thirty-eight last birthday."
"Yes, but I mean," said Syme impatiently, "there's nothing
the matter with you."
"Yes," answered the other dispassionately. "I am subject to
Syme's laughter at all this had about it a wild weakness of
relief. He laughed at the idea of the paralytic Professor being
really a young actor dressed up as if for the foot-lights. But he
felt that he would have laughed as loudly if a pepperpot had
The false Professor drank and wiped his false beard.
"Did you know," he asked, "that that man Gogol was one of
"I? No, I didn't know it," answered Syme in some surprise.
"But didn't you?"
"I knew no more than the dead," replied the man who called
himself de Worms. "I thought the President was talking about me,
and I rattled in my boots."
"And I thought he was talking about me," said Syme, with his
rather reckless laughter. "I had my hand on my revolver all the
"So had I," said the Professor grimly; "so had Gogol
Syme struck the table with an exclamation.
"Why, there were three of us there!" he cried. "Three out of
seven is a fighting number. If we had only known that we were
The face of Professor de Worms darkened, and he did not look
"We were three," he said. "If we had been three hundred we
could still have done nothing."
"Not if we were three hundred against four?" asked Syme,
jeering rather boisterously.
"No," said the Professor with sobriety, "not if we were three
hundred against Sunday."
And the mere name struck Syme cold and serious; his laughter
had died in his heart before it could die on his lips. The face of
the unforgettable President sprang into his mind as startling as a
coloured photograph, and he remarked this difference between
Sunday and all his satellites, that their faces, however fierce or
sinister, became gradually blurred by memory like other human
faces, whereas Sunday's seemed almost to grow more actual during
absence, as if a man's painted portrait should slowly come alive.
They were both silent for a measure of moments, and then
Syme's speech came with a rush, like the sudden foaming of
"Professor," he cried, "it is intolerable. Are you afraid of
The Professor lifted his heavy lids, and gazed at Syme with
large, wide-open, blue eyes of an almost ethereal honesty.
"Yes, I am," he said mildly. "So are you."
Syme was dumb for an instant. Then he rose to his feet erect,
like an insulted man, and thrust the chair away from him.
"Yes," he said in a voice indescribable, "you are right. I am
afraid of him. Therefore I swear by God that I will seek out this
man whom I fear until I find him, and strike him on the mouth. If
heaven were his throne and the earth his footstool, I swear that I
would pull him down."
"How?" asked the staring Professor. "Why?"
"Because I am afraid of him," said Syme; "and no man should
leave in the universe anything of which he is afraid."
De Worms blinked at him with a sort of blind wonder. He made
an effort to speak, but Syme went on in a low voice, but with an
undercurrent of inhuman exaltation?
"Who would condescend to strike down the mere things that he
does not fear? Who would debase himself to be merely brave, like
any common prizefighter? Who would stoop to be fearless?like a
tree? Fight the thing that you fear. You remember the old tale of
the English clergyman who gave the last rites to the brigand of
Sicily, and how on his death-bed the great robber said, 'I can
give you no money, but I can give you advice for a lifetime: your
thumb on the blade, and strike upwards.' So I say to you, strike
upwards, if you strike at the stars."
The other looked at the ceiling, one of the tricks of his
"Sunday is a fixed star," he said.
"You shall see him a falling star," said Syme, and put on his
The decision of his gesture drew the Professor vaguely to his
"Have you any idea," he asked, with a sort of benevolent
bewilderment, "exactly where you are going?"
"Yes," replied Syme shortly, "I am going to prevent this bomb
being thrown in Paris."
"Have you any conception how?" inquired the other.
"No," said Syme with equal decision.
"You remember, of course," resumed the soi-disant de Worms,
pulling his beard and looking out of the window, "that when we
broke up rather hurriedly the whole arrangements for the atrocity
were left in the private hands of the Marquis and Dr. Bull. The
Marquis is by this time probably crossing the Channel. But where
he will go and what he will do it is doubtful whether even the
President knows; certainly we don't know. The only man who does
know is Dr. Bull.
"Confound it!" cried Syme. "And we don't know where he is."
"Yes," said the other in his curious, absent-minded way, "I
know where he is myself."
"Will you tell me?" asked Syme with eager eyes.
"I will take you there," said the Professor, and took down
his own hat from a peg.
Syme stood looking at him with a sort of rigid excitement.
"What do you mean?" he asked sharply. "Will you join me? Will
you take the risk?"
"Young man," said the Professor pleasantly, "I am amused to
observe that you think I am a coward. As to that I will say only
one word, and that shall be entirely in the manner of your own
philosophical rhetoric. You think that it is possible to pull down
the President. I know that it is impossible, and I am going to try
it," and opening the tavern door, which let in a blast of bitter
air, they went out together into the dark streets by the docks.
Most of the snow was melted or trampled to mud, but here and
there a clot of it still showed grey rather than white in the
gloom. The small streets were sloppy and full of pools, which
reflected the flaming lamps irregularly, and by accident, like
fragments of some other and fallen world. Syme felt almost dazed
as he stepped through this growing confusion of lights and
shadows; but his companion walked on with a certain briskness,
towards where, at the end of the street, an inch or two of the
lamplit river looked like a bar of flame.
"Where are you going?" Syme inquired.
"Just now," answered the Professor, "I am going just round
the corner to see whether Dr. Bull has gone to bed. He is
hygienic, and retires early."
"Dr. Bull!" exclaimed Syme. "Does he live round the corner?"
"No," answered his friend. "As a matter of fact he lives some
way off, on the other side of the river, but we can tell from here
whether he has gone to bed."
Turning the corner as he spoke, and facing the dim river,
flecked with flame, he pointed with his stick to the other bank.
On the Surrey side at this point there ran out into the Thames,
seeming almost to overhang it, a bulk and cluster of those tall
tenements, dotted with lighted windows, and rising like factory
chimneys to an almost insane height. Their special poise and
position made one block of buildings especially look like a Tower
of Babel with a hundred eyes. Syme had never seen any of the
sky-scraping buildings in America, so he could only think of the
buildings in a dream.
Even as he stared, the highest light in this innumerably
lighted turret abruptly went out, as if this black Argus had
winked at him with one of his innumerable eyes.
Professor de Worms swung round on his heel, and struck his
stick against his boot.
"We are too late," he said, "the hygienic Doctor has gone to
"What do you mean?" asked Syme. "Does he live over there,
"Yes," said de Worms, "behind that particular window which
you can't see. Come along and get some dinner. We must call on him
Without further parley, he led the way through several
by-ways until they came out into the flare and clamour of the East
India Dock Road. The Professor, who seemed to know his way about
the neighbourhood, proceeded to a place where the line of lighted
shops fell back into a sort of abrupt twilight and quiet, in which
an old white inn, all out of repair, stood back some twenty feet
from the road.
"You can find good English inns left by accident everywhere,
like fossils," explained the Professor. "I once found a decent
place in the West End."
"I suppose," said Syme, smiling, "that this is the
corresponding decent place in the East End?"
"It is," said the Professor reverently, and went in.
In that place they dined and slept, both very thoroughly. The
beans and bacon, which these unaccountable people cooked well, the
astonishing emergence of Burgundy from their cellars, crowned
Syme's sense of a new comradeship and comfort. Through all this
ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words
to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may
be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two
is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. That is why, in
spite of a hundred disadvantages, the world will always return to
Syme was able to pour out for the first time the whole of his
outrageous tale, from the time when Gregory had taken him to the
little tavern by the river. He did it idly and amply, in a
luxuriant monologue, as a man speaks with very old friends. On his
side, also, the man who had impersonated Professor de Worms was
not less communicative. His own story was almost as silly as
"That's a good get-up of yours," said Syme, draining a glass
of Macon; "a lot better than old Gogol's. Even at the start I
thought he was a bit too hairy."
"A difference of artistic theory," replied the Professor
pensively. "Gogol was an idealist. He made up as the abstract or
platonic ideal of an anarchist. But I am a realist. I am a
portrait painter. But, indeed, to say that I am a portrait painter
is an inadequate expression. I am a portrait."
"I don't understand you," said Syme.
"I am a portrait," repeated the Professor. "I am a portrait
of the celebrated Professor de Worms, who is, I believe, in
"You mean you are made up like him," said Syme. "But doesn't
he know that you are taking his nose in vain?"
"He knows it right enough," replied his friend cheerfully.
"Then why doesn't he denounce you?"
"I have denounced him," answered the Professor.
"Do explain yourself," said Syme.
"With pleasure, if you don't mind hearing my story," replied
the eminent foreign philosopher. "I am by profession an actor, and
my name is Wilks. When I was on the stage I mixed with all sorts
of Bohemian and blackguard company. Sometimes I touched the edge
of the turf, sometimes the riff-raff of the arts, and occasionally
the political refugee. In some den of exiled dreamers I was
introduced to the great German Nihilist philosopher, Professor de
Worms. I did not gather much about him beyond his appearance,
which was very disgusting, and which I studied carefully. I
understood that he had proved that the destructive principle in
the universe was God; hence he insisted on the need for a furious
and incessant energy, rending all things in pieces. Energy, he
said, was the All. He was lame, shortsighted, and partially
paralytic. When I met him I was in a frivolous mood, and I
disliked him so much that I resolved to imitate him. If I had been
a draughtsman I would have drawn a caricature. I was only an
actor, I could only act a caricature. I made myself up into what
was meant for a wild exaggeration of the old Professor's dirty old
self. When I went into the room full of his supporters I expected
to be received with a roar of laughter, or (if they were too far
gone) with a roar of indignation at the insult. I cannot describe
the surprise I felt when my entrance was received with a
respectful silence, followed (when I had first opened my lips)
with a murmur of admiration. The curse of the perfect artist had
fallen upon me. I had been too subtle, I had been too true. They
thought I really was the great Nihilist Professor. I was a
healthy-minded young man at the time, and I confess that it was a
blow. Before I could fully recover, however, two or three of these
admirers ran up to me radiating indignation, and told me that a
public insult had been put upon me in the next room. I inquired
its nature. It seemed that an impertinent fellow had dressed
himself up as a preposterous parody of myself. I had drunk more
champagne than was good for me, and in a flash of folly I decided
to see the situation through. Consequently it was to meet the
glare of the company and my own lifted eyebrows and freezing eyes
that the real Professor came into the room.
"I need hardly say there was a collision. The pessimists all
round me looked anxiously from one Professor to the other
Professor to see which was really the more feeble. But I won. An
old man in poor health, like my rival, could not be expected to be
so impressively feeble as a young actor in the prime of life. You
see, he really had paralysis, and working within this definite
limitation, he couldn't be so jolly paralytic as I was. Then he
tried to blast my claims intellectually. I countered that by a
very simple dodge. Whenever he said something that nobody but he
could understand, I replied with something which I could not even
understand myself. 'I don't fancy,' he said, 'that you could have
worked out the principle that evolution is only negation, since
there inheres in it the introduction of lacuna, which are an
essential of differentiation.' I replied quite scornfully, 'You
read all that up in Pinckwerts; the notion that involution
functioned eugenically was exposed long ago by Glumpe.' It is
unnecessary for me to say that there never were such people as
Pinckwerts and Glumpe. But the people all round (rather to my
surprise) seemed to remember them quite well, and the Professor,
finding that the learned and mysterious method left him rather at
the mercy of an enemy slightly deficient in scruples, fell back
upon a more popular form of wit. 'I see,' he sneered, 'you prevail
like the false pig in ?sop.' 'And you fail,' I answered, smiling,
'like the hedgehog in Montaigne.' Need I say that there is no
hedgehog in Montaigne? 'Your claptrap comes off,' he said; 'so
would your beard.' I had no intelligent answer to this, which was
quite true and rather witty. But I laughed heartily, answered,
'Like the Pantheist's boots,' at random, and turned on my heel
with all the honours of victory. The real Professor was thrown
out, but not with violence, though one man tried very patiently to
pull off his nose. He is now, I believe, received everywhere in
Europe as a delightful impostor. His apparent earnestness and
anger, you see, make him all the more entertaining."
"Well," said Syme, "I can understand your putting on his
dirty old beard for a night's practical joke, but I don't
understand your never taking it off again."
"That is the rest of the story," said the impersonator. "When
I myself left the company, followed by reverent applause, I went
limping down the dark street, hoping that I should soon be far
enough away to be able to walk like a human being. To my
astonishment, as I was turning the corner, I felt a touch on the
shoulder, and turning, found myself under the shadow of an
enormous policeman. He told me I was wanted. I struck a sort of
paralytic attitude, and cried in a high German accent, 'Yes, I am
wanted?by the oppressed of the world. You are arresting me on the
charge of being the great anarchist, Professor de Worms.' The
policeman impassively consulted a paper in his hand, 'No, sir,' he
said civilly, 'at least, not exactly, sir. I am arresting you on
the charge of not being the celebrated anarchist, Professor de
Worms.' This charge, if it was criminal at all, was certainly the
lighter of the two, and I went along with the man, doubtful, but
not greatly dismayed. I was shown into a number of rooms, and
eventually into the presence of a police officer, who explained
that a serious campaign had been opened against the centres of
anarchy, and that this, my successful masquerade, might be of
considerable value to the public safety. He offered me a good
salary and this little blue card. Though our conversation was
short, he struck me as a man of very massive common sense and
humour; but I cannot tell you much about him personally, because?"
Syme laid down his knife and fork.
"I know," he said, "because you talked to him in a dark
Professor de Worms nodded and drained his glass.
THE MAN IN SPECTACLES
"BURGUNDY is a jolly thing," said the Professor sadly, as he
set his glass down.
"You don't look as if it were," said Syme; "you drink it as
if it were medicine."
"You must excuse my manner," said the Professor dismally, "my
position is rather a curious one. Inside I am really bursting with
boyish merriment; but I acted the paralytic Professor so well,
that now I can't leave off. So that when I am among friends, and
have no need at all to disguise myself, I still can't help
speaking slow and wrinkling my forehead?just as if it were my
forehead. I can be quite happy, you understand, but only in a
paralytic sort of way. The most buoyant exclamations leap up in my
heart, but they come out of my mouth quite different. You should
hear me say, 'Buck up, old cock!' It would bring tears to your
"It does," said Syme; "but I cannot help thinking that apart
from all that you are really a bit worried."
The Professor started a little and looked at him steadily.
"You are a very clever fellow," he said, "it is a pleasure to
work with you. Yes, I have rather a heavy cloud in my head. There
is a great problem to face," and he sank his bald brow in his two
Then he said in a low voice?
"Can you play the piano?"
"Yes," said Syme in simple wonder, "I'm supposed to have a
Then, as the other did not speak, he added?
"I trust the great cloud is lifted."
After a long silence, the Professor said out of the cavernous
shadow of his hands?
"It would have done just as well if you could work a
"Thank you," said Syme, "you flatter me."
"Listen to me," said the other, "and remember whom we have to
see tomorrow. You and I are going to-morrow to attempt something
which is very much more dangerous than trying to steal the Crown
Jewels out of the Tower. We are trying to steal a secret from a
very sharp, very strong, and very wicked man. I believe there is
no man, except the President, of course, who is so seriously
startling and formidable as that little grinning fellow in
goggles. He has not perhaps the white-hot enthusiasm unto death,
the mad martyrdom for anarchy, which marks the Secretary. But then
that very fanaticism in the Secretary has a human pathos, and is
almost a redeeming trait. But the little Doctor has a brutal
sanity that is more shocking than the Secretary's disease. Don't
you notice his detestable virility and vitality. He bounces like
an india-rubber ball. Depend on it, Sunday was not asleep (I
wonder if he ever sleeps?) when he locked up all the plans of this
outrage in the round, black head of Dr. Bull."
"And you think," said Syme, "that this unique monster will be
soothed if I play the piano to him?"
"Don't be an ass," said his mentor. "I mentioned the piano
because it gives one quick and independent fingers. Syme, if we
are to go through this interview and come out sane or alive, we
must have some code of signals between us that this brute will not
see. I have made a rough alphabetical cypher corresponding to the
five fingers?like this, see," and he rippled with his fingers on
the wooden table?"B A D, bad, a word we may frequently require."
Syme poured himself out another glass of wine, and began to
study the scheme. He was abnormally quick with his brains at
puzzles, and with his hands at conjuring, and it did not take him
long to learn how he might convey simple messages by what would
seem to be idle taps upon a table or knee. But wine and
companionship had always the effect of inspiring him to a farcical
ingenuity, and the Professor soon found himself struggling with
the too vast energy of the new language, as it passed through the
heated brain of Syme.
"We must have several word-signs," said Syme seriously?"words
that we are likely to want, fine shades of meaning. My favourite
word is ' coeval.' What's yours?"
"Do stop playing the goat," said the Professor plaintively.
"You don't know how serious this is."
" ' Lush,' too, " said Syme, shaking his head sagaciously,
"we must have ' lush'?word applied to grass, don't you know?"
"Do you imagine," asked the Professor furiously, "that we are
going to talk to Dr. Bull about grass?"
"There are several ways in which the subject could be
approached," said Syme reflectively, "and the word introduced
without appearing forced. We might say, ' Dr. Bull, as a
revolutionist, you remember that a tyrant once advised us to eat
grass; and indeed many of us, looking on the fresh lush grass of
"Do you understand," said the other, "that this is a
"Perfectly," replied Syme; "always be comic in a tragedy.
What the deuce else can you do? I wish this language of yours had
a wider scope. I suppose we could not extend it from the fingers
to the toes? That would involve pulling off our boots and socks
during the conversation, which however unobtrusively performed?"
"Syme," said his friend with a stern simplicity, "go to bed!"
Syme, however, sat up in bed for a considerable time
mastering the new code. He was awakened next morning while the
east was still sealed with darkness, and found his grey-bearded
ally standing like a ghost beside his bed.
Syme sat up in bed blinking; then slowly collected his
thoughts, threw off the bed-clothes, and stood up. It seemed to
him in some curious way that all the safety and sociability of the
night before fell with the bedclothes off him, and he stood up in
an air of cold danger. He still felt an entire trust and loyalty
towards his companion; but it was the trust between two men going
to the scaffold.
"Well," said Syme with a forced cheerfulness as he pulled on
his trousers, "I dreamt of that alphabet of yours. Did it take you
long to make it up?"
The Professor made no answer, but gazed in front of him with
eyes the colour of a wintry sea; so Syme repeated his question.
"I say, did it take you long to invent all this? I'm
considered good at these things, and it was a good hour's grind.
Did you learn it all on the spot?"
The Professor was silent; his eyes were wide open, and he
wore a fixed but very small smile.
"How long did it take you?"
The Professor did not move.
"Confound you, can't you answer?" called out Syme, in a
sudden anger that had something like fear underneath. Whether or
no the Professor could answer, he did not.
Syme stood staring back at the stiff face like parchment and
the blank, blue eyes. His first thought was that the Professor had
gone mad, but his second thought was more frightful. After all,
what did he know about this queer creature whom he had heedlessly
accepted as a friend? What did he know, except that the man had
been at the anarchist breakfast and had told him a ridiculous
tale? How improbable it was that there should be another friend
there beside Gogol! Was this man's silence a sensational way of
declaring war? Was this adamantine stare after all only the awful
sneer of some threefold traitor, who had turned for the last time?
He stood and strained his ears in this heartless silence. He
almost fancied he could hear dynamiters come to capture him
shifting softly in the corridor outside.
Then his eye strayed downwards, and he burst out laughing.
Though the Professor himself stood there as voiceless as a statue,
his five dumb fingers were dancing alive upon the dead table. Syme
watched the twinkling movements of the talking hand, and read
clearly the message?
"I will only talk like this. We must get used to it."
He rapped out the answer with the impatience of relief?
"All right. Let's get out to breakfast."
They took their hats and sticks in silence; but as Syme took
his sword-stick, he held it hard.
They paused for a few minutes only to stuff down coffee and
coarse thick sandwiches at a coffee stall, and then made their way
across the river, which under the grey and growing light looked as
desolate as Acheron. They reached the bottom of the huge block of
buildings which they had seen from across the river, and began in
silence to mount the naked and numberless stone steps, only
pausing now and then to make short remarks on the rail of the
banisters. At about every other flight they passed a window; each
window showed them a pale and tragic dawn lifting itself
laboriously over London. From each the innumerable roofs of slate
looked like the leaden surges of a grey, troubled sea after rain.
Syme was increasingly conscious that his new adventure had somehow
a quality of cold sanity worse than the wild adventures of the
past. Last night, for instance, the tall tenements had seemed to
him like a tower in a dream. As he now went up the weary and
perpetual steps, he was daunted and bewildered by their almost
infinite series. But it was not the hot horror of a dream or of
anything that might be exaggeration or delusion. Their infinity
was more like the empty infinity of arithmetic, something
unthinkable, yet necessary to thought. Or it was like the stunning
statements of astronomy about the distance of the fixed stars. He
was ascending the house of reason, a thing more hideous than
By the time they reached Dr. Bull's landing, a last window
showed them a harsh, white dawn edged with banks of a kind of
coarse red, more like red clay than red cloud. And when they
entered Dr. Bull's bare garret it was full of light.
Syme had been haunted by a half historic memory in connection
with these empty rooms and that austere daybreak. The moment he
saw the garret and Dr. Bull sitting writing at a table, he
remembered what the memory was?the French Revolution. There should
have been the black outline of a guillotine against that heavy red
and white of the morning. Dr. Bull was in his white shirt and
black breeches only; his cropped, dark head might well have just
come out of its wig; he might have been Marat or a more slipshod
Yet when he was seen properly, the French fancy fell away.
The Jacobins were idealists; there was about this man a murderous
materialism. His Dosition gave him a somewhat new appearance. The
strong, white light of morning coming from one side creating sharp
shadows, made him seem both more pale and more angular than he had
looked at the breakfast on the balcony. Thus the two black glasses
that encased his eyes might really have been black cavities in his
skull, making him look like a death's-head. And, indeed, if ever
Death himself sat writing at a wooden table, it might have been
He looked up and smiled brightly enough as the men came in,
and rose with the resilient rapidity of which the Professor had
spoken. He set chairs for both of them, and going to a peg behind
the door, proceeded to put on a coat and waistcoat of rough, dark
tweed; he buttoned it up neatly, and came back to sit down at his
The quiet good humour of his manner left his two opponents
helpless. It was with some momentary difficulty that the Professor
broke silence and began, "I'm sorry to disturb you so early,
comrade," said he, with a careful resumption of the slow de Worms
manner. "You have no doubt made all the arrangements for the Paris
affair?" Then he added with infinite slowness, "We have
information which renders intolerable anything in the nature of a
Dr. Bull smiled again, but continued to gaze on them without
speaking. The Professor resumed, a pause before each weary word?
"Please do not think me excessively abrupt; but I advise you
to alter those plans, or if it is too late for that, to follow
your agent with all the support you can get for him. Comrade Syme
and I have had an experience which it would take more time to
recount than we can afford, if we are to act on it. I will,
however, relate the occurrence in detail, even at the risk of
losing time, if you really feel that it is essential to the
understanding of the problem we have to discuss."
He was spinning out his sentences, making them intolerably
long and lingering, in the hope of maddening the practical little
Doctor into an explosion of impatience which might show his hand.
But the little Doctor continued only to stare and smile, and the
monologue was uphill work. Syme began to feel a new sickness and
despair. The Doctor's smile and silence were not at all like the
cataleptic stare and horrible silence which he had confronted in
the Professor half an hour before. About the Professor's makeup
and all his antics there was always something merely grotesque,
like a gollywog. Syme remembered those wild woes of yesterday as
one remembers being afraid of Bogy in childhood. But here was
daylight; here was a healthy, square-shouldered man in tweeds, not
odd save for the accident of his ugly spectacles, not glaring or
grinning at all, but smiling steadily and not saying a word. The
whole had a sense of unbearable reality. Under the increasing
sunlight the colours of the Doctor's complexion, the pattern of
his tweeds, grew and expanded outrageously, as such things grow
too important in a realistic novel. But his smile was quite
slight, the pose of his head polite; the only uncanny thing was
"As I say," resumed the Professor, like a man toiling through
heavy sand, "the incident that has occurred to us and has led us
to ask for information about the Marquis, is one which you may
think it better to have narrated; but as it came in the way of
Comrade Syme rather than me?"
His words he seemed to be dragging out like words in an
anthem; but Syme, who was watching, saw his long fingers rattle
quickly on the edge of the crazy table. He read the message, "You
must go on. This devil has sucked me dry!"
Syme plunged into the breach with that bravado of
improvisation which always came to him when he was alarmed.
"Yes, the thing really happened to me," he said hastily. "I
had the good fortune to fall into conversation with a detective
who took me, thanks to my hat, for a respectable person. Wishing
to clinch my reputation for respectability, I took him and made
him very drunk at the Savoy. Under this influence he became
friendly, and told me in so many words that within a day or two
they hope to arrest the Marquis in France.
So unless you or I can get on his track?"
The Doctor was still smiling in the most friendly way, and
his protected eyes were still impenetrable. The Professor
signalled to Syme that he would resume his explanation, and he
began again with the same elaborate calm.
"Syme immediately brought this information to me, and we came
here together to see what use you would be inclined to make of it.
It seems to me unquestionably urgent that?"
All this time Syme had been staring at the Doctor almost as
steadily as the Doctor stared at the Professor, but quite without
the smile. The nerves of both comrades-in-arms were near snapping
under that strain of motionless amiability, when Syme suddenly
leant forward and idly tapped the edge of the table. His message
to his ally ran, "I have an intuition."
The Professor, with scarcely a pause in his monologue,
signalled back, "Then sit on it."
Syme telegraphed, "It is quite extraordinary."
The other answered, "Extraordinary rot!"
Syme said, "I am a poet."
The other retorted, "You are a dead man."
Syme had gone quite red up to his yellow hair, and his eyes
were burning feverishly. As he said he had an intuition, and it
had risen to a sort of lightheaded certainty. Resuming his
symbolic taps, he signalled to his friend, "You scarcely realise
how poetic my intuition is. It has that sudden quality we
sometimes feel in the coming of spring."
He then studied the answer on his friend's fingers. The
answer was, "Go to hell! "
The Professor then resumed his merely verbal monologue
addressed to the Doctor.
"Perhaps I should rather say," said Syme on his fingers,
"that it resembles that sudden smell of the sea which may be found
in the heart of lush woods."
His companion disdained to reply.
"Or yet again," tapped Syme, "it is positive, as is the
passionate red hair of a beautiful woman."
The Professor was continuing his speech, but in the middle of
it Syme decided to act. He leant across the table, and said in a
voice that could not be neglected?
The Doctor's sleek and smiling head did not move, but they
could have sworn that under his dark glasses his eyes darted
"Dr. Bull," said Syme, in a voice peculiarly precise and
courteous, "would you do me a small favour? Would you be so kind
as to take off your spectacles?"
The Professor swung round on his seat, and stared at Syme
with a sort of frozen fury of astonishment. Syme, like a man who
has thrown his life and fortune on the table, leaned forward with
a fiery face. The Doctor did not move.
For a few seconds there was a silence in which one could hear
a pin drop, split once by the single hoot of a distant steamer on
the Thames. Then Dr. Bull rose slowly, still smiling, and took off
Syme sprang to his feet, stepping backwards a little, like a
chemical lecturer from a successful explosion. His eyes were like
stars, and for an instant he could only point without speaking.
The Professor had also started to his feet, forgetful of his
supposed paralysis. He leant on the back of the chair and stared
doubtfully at Dr. Bull, as if the Doctor had been turned into a
toad before his eyes. And indeed it was almost as great a
The two detectives saw sitting in the chair before them a
very boyish-looking young man, with very frank and happy hazel
eyes, an open expression, cockney clothes like those of a city
clerk, and an unquestionable breath about him of being very good
and rather commonplace. The smile was still there, but it might
have been the first smile of a baby.
"I knew I was a poet," cried Syme in a sort of ecstasy. "I
knew my intuition was as infallible as the Pope. It was the
spectacles that did it! It was all the spectacles. Given those
beastly black eyes, and all the rest of him his health and his
jolly looks, made him a live devil among dead ones."
"It certainly does make a queer difference," said the
Professor shakily. "But as regards the project of Dr. Bull?"
"Project be damned!" roared Syme, beside himself. "Look at
him! Look at his face, look at his collar, look at his blessed
boots! You don't suppose, do you, that that thing's an anarchist?"
"Syme!" cried the other in an apprehensive agony.
"Why, by God," said Syme, "I'll take the risk of that myself!
Dr. Bull, I am a police officer. There's my card," and he flung
down the blue card upon the table.
The Professor still feared that all was lost; but he was
loyal. He pulled out his own official card and put it beside his
friend's. Then the third man burst out laughing, and for the first
time that morning they heard his voice.
"I'm awfully glad you chaps have come so early," he said,
with a sort of schoolboy flippancy, "for we can all start for
France together. Yes, I'm in the force right enough," and he
flicked a blue card towards them lightly as a matter of form.
Clapping a brisk bowler on his head and resuming his goblin
glasses, the Doctor moved so quickly towards the door, that the
others instinctively followed him. Syme seemed a little distrait,
and as he passed under the doorway he suddenly struck his stick on
the stone passage so that it rang.
"But Lord God Almighty," he cried out, "if this is all right,
there were more damned detectives than there were damned
dynamiters at the damned Council!"
"We might have fought easily," said Bull; "we were four
The Professor was descending the stairs, but his voice came
up from below.
"No," said the voice, "we were not four against three ?we
were not so lucky. We were four against One."
The others went down the stairs in silence.
The young man called Bull, with an innocent courtesy
characteristic of him, insisted on going last until they reached
the street; but there his own robust rapidity asserted itself
unconsciously, and he walked quickly on ahead towards a railway
inquiry office, talking to the others over his shoulder.
"It is jolly to get some pals," he said. "I've been half dead
with the jumps, being quite alone. I nearly flung my arms round
Gogol and embraced him, which would have been imprudent. I hope
you won't despise me for having been in a blue funk."
"All the blue devils in blue hell," said Syme, "contributed
to my blue funk! But the worst devil was you and your infernal
The young man laughed delightedly.
"Wasn't it a rag?" he said. "Such a simple idea? not my own.
I haven't got the brains. You see, I wanted to go into the
detective service, especially the anti-dynamite business. But for
that purpose they wanted someone to dress up as a dynamiter; and
they all swore by blazes that I could never look like a dynamiter.
They said my very walk was respectable, and that seen from behind
I looked like the British Constitution. They said I looked too
healthy and too optimistic, and too reliable and benevolent; they
called me all sorts of names at Scotland Yard. They said that if I
had been a criminal, I might have made my fortune by looking so
like an honest man; but as I had the misfortune to be an honest
man, there was not even the remotest chance of my assisting them
by ever looking like a criminal. But as last I was brought before
some old josser who was high up in the force, and who seemed to
have no end of a head on his shoulders. And there the others all
talked hopelessly. One asked whether a bushy beard would hide my
nice smile; another said that if they blacked my face I might look
like a negro anarchist; but this old chap chipped in with a most
extraordinary remark. 'A pair of smoked spectacles will do it,' he
said positively. 'Look at him now; he looks like an angelic office
boy. Put him on a pair of smoked spectacles, and children will
scream at the sight of him.' And so it was, by George! When once
my eyes were covered, all the rest, smile and big shoulders and
short hair, made me look a perfect little devil. As I say, it was
simple enough when it was done, like miracles; but that wasn't the
really miraculous part of it. There was one really staggering
thing about the business, and my head still turns at it."
"What was that?" asked Syme.
"I'll tell you," answered the man in spectacles. "This big
pot in the police who sized me up so that he knew how the goggles
would go with my hair and socks?by God, he never saw me at all!"
Syme's eyes suddenly flashed on him.
"How was that?" he asked. "I thought you talked to him."
"So I did," said Bull brightly; "but we talked in a
pitch-dark room like a coalcellar. There, you would never have
"I could not have conceived it," said Syme gravely.
"It is indeed a new idea," said the Professor.
Their new ally was in practical matters a whirlwind. At the
inquiry office he asked with businesslike brevity about the trains
for Dover. Having got his information, he bundled the company into
a cab, and put them and himself inside a railway carriage before
they had properly realised the breathless process. They were
already on the Calais boat before conversation flowed freely.
"I had already arranged," he explained, "to go to France for
my lunch; but I am delighted to have someone to lunch with me. You
see, I had to send that beast, the Marquis, over with his bomb,
because the President had his eye on me, though God knows how.
I'll tell you the story some day. It was perfectly choking.
Whenever I tried to slip out of it I saw the President somewhere,
smiling out of the bow-window of a club, or taking off his hat to
me from the top of an omnibus. I tell you, you can say what you
like, that fellow sold himself to the devil; he can be in six
places at once."
"So you sent the Marquis off, I understand," asked the
Professor. "Was it long ago? Shall we be in time to catch him?"
"Yes," answered the new guide, "I've timed it all. He'll
still be at Calais when we arrive."
"But when we do catch him at Calais," said the Professor,
"what are we going to do?"
At this question the countenance of Dr. Bull fell for the
first time. He reflected a little, and then said?
"Theoretically, I suppose, we ought to call the police."
"Not I," said Syme. "Theoretically I ought to drown myself
first. I promised a poor fellow, who was a real modern pessimist,
on my word of honour not to tell the police. I'm no hand at
casuistry, but I can't break my word to a modern pessimist. It's
like breaking one's word to a child."
"I'm in the same boat," said the Professor. "I tried to tell
the police and I couldn't, because of some silly oath I took. You
see, when I was an actor I was a sort of all-round beast. Perjury
or treason is the only crime I haven't committed. If I did that I
shouldn't know the difference between right and wrong."
"I've been through all that," said Dr. Bull, "and I've made
up my mind. I gave my promise to the Secretary ?you know him, man
who smiles upside down. My friends, that man is the most utterly
unhappy man that was ever human. It may be his digestion, or his
conscience, or his nerves, or his philosophy of the universe, but
he's damned, he's in hell! Well, I can't turn on a man like that,
and hunt him down. It's like whipping a leper. I may be mad, but
that's how I feel; and there's jolly well the end of it."
"I don't think you're mad," said Syme. "I knew you would
decide like that when first you?"
"Eh?" said Dr. Bull.
"When first you took off your spectacles."
Dr. Bull smiled a little, and strolled across the deck to
look at the sunlit sea. Then he strolled back again, kicking his
heels carelessly, and a companionable silence fell between the
"Well," said Syme, "it seems that we have all the same kind
of morality or immorality, so we had better face the fact that
comes of it."
"Yes," assented the Professor, "you're quite right; and we
must hurry up, for I can see the Grey Nose standing out from
"The fact that comes of it," said Syme seriously, "is this,
that we three are alone on this planet. Gogol has gone, God knows
where; perhaps the President has smashed him like a fly. On the
Council we are three men against three, like the Romans who held
the bridge. But we are worse off than that, first because they can
appeal to their organization and we cannot appeal to ours, and
"Because one of those other three men," said the Professor,
"is not a man."
Syme nodded and was silent for a second or two, then he said?
"My idea is this. We must do something to keep the Marquis in
Calais till tomorrow midday. I have turned over twenty schemes in
my head. We cannot denounce him as a dynamiter; that is agreed. We
cannot get him detained on some trivial charge, for we should have
to appear; he knows us, and he would smell a rat. We cannot
pretend to keep him on anarchist business; he might swallow much
in that way, but not the notion of stopping in Calais while the
Czar went safely through Paris. We might try to kidnap him, and
lock him up ourselves; but he is a well-known man here. He has a
whole bodyguard of friends; he is very strong and brave, and the
event is doubtful. The only thing I can see to do is actually to
take advantage of the very things that are in the Marquis's
favour. I am going to profit by the fact that he is a highly
respected nobleman. I am going to profit by the fact that he has
many friends and moves in the best society."
"What the devil are you talking about?" asked the Professor.
"The Symes are first mentioned in the fourteenth century,"
said Syme; "but there is a tradition that one of them rode behind
Bruce at Bannockburn. Since 1350 the tree is quite clear."
"He's gone off his head," said the little Doctor, staring.
"Our bearings," continued Syme calmly, "are 'argent a chevron
gules charged with three cross crosslets of the field.' The motto
The Professor seized Syme roughly by the waistcoat.
"We are just inshore," he said. "Are you seasick or joking in
the wrong place?"
"My remarks are almost painfully practical," answered Syme,
in an unhurried manner. "The house of St. Eustache also is very
ancient. The Marquis cannot deny that he is a gentleman. He cannot
deny that I am a gentleman. And in order to put the matter of my
social position quite beyond a doubt, I propose at the earliest
opportunity to knock his hat off. But here we are in the harbour."
They went on shore under the strong sun in a sort of daze.
Syme, who had now taken the lead as Bull had taken it in London,
led them along a kind of marine parade until he came to some
cafes, embowered in a bulk of greenery and overlooking the sea. As
he went before them his step was slightly swaggering, and he swung
his stick like a sword. He was making apparently for the extreme
end of the line of cafes, but he stopped abruptly. With a sharp
gesture he motioned them to silence, but he pointed with one
gloved finger to a cafe table under a bank of flowering foliage at
which sat the Marquis de St. Eustache, his teeth shining in his
thick, black beard, and his bold, brown face shadowed by a light
yellow straw hat and outlined against the violet sea.
SYME sat down at a cafe table with his companions, his blue
eyes sparkling like the bright sea below, and ordered a bottle of
Saumur with a pleased impatience. He was for some reason in a
condition of curious hilarity. His spirits were already
unnaturally high; they rose as the Saumur sank, and in half an
hour his talk was a torrent of nonsense. He professed to be making
out a plan of the conversation which was going to ensue between
himself and the deadly Marquis. He jotted it down wildly with a
pencil. It was arranged like a printed catechism, with questions
and answers, and was delivered with an extraordinary rapidity of
"I shall approach. Before taking off his hat, I shall take
off my own. I shall say, 'The Marquis de Saint Eustache, I
believe.' He will say, ' The celebrated Mr. Syme, I presume.' He
will say in the most exquisite French, 'How are you?' I shall
reply in the most exquisite Cockney, 'Oh, just the Syme?' "
"Oh, shut it," said the man in spectacles. "Pull yourself
together, and chuck away that bit of paper. What are you really
going to do?"
"But it was a lovely catechism," said Syme pathetically. "Do
let me read it you. It has only forty-three questions and answers,
and some of the Marquis's answers are wonderfully witty. I like to
be just to my enemy."
"But what's the good of it all?" asked Dr. Bull in
"It leads up to my challenge, don't you see," said Syme,
beaming. "When the Marquis has given the thirty-ninth reply, which
"Has it by any chance occurred to you," asked the Professor,
with a ponderous simplicity, "that the Marquis may not say all the
forty-three things you have put down for him? In that case, I
understand, your own epigrams may appear somewhat more forced."
Syme struck the table with a radiant face.
"Why, how true that is," he said, "and I never thought of it.
Sir, you have an intellect beyond the common. You will make a
"Oh, you're as drunk as an owl!" said the Doctor.
"It only remains," continued Syme quite unperturbed, "to
adopt some other method of breaking the ice (if I may so express
it) between myself and the man I wish to kill. And since the
course of a dialogue cannot be predicted by one of its parties
alone (as you have pointed out with such recondite acumen), the
only thing to be done, I suppose, is for the one party, as far as
possible, to do all the dialogue by himself. And so I will, by
George!" And he stood up suddenly, his yellow hair blowing in the
slight sea breeze.
A band was playing in a cafe chantant hidden somewhere among
the trees, and a woman had just stopped singing. On Syme's heated
head the bray of the brass band seemed like the jar and jingle of
that barrel-organ in Leicester Square, to the tune of which he had
once stood up to die. He looked across to the little table where
the Marquis sat. The man had two companions now, solemn Frenchmen
in frock-coats and silk hats, one of them with the red rosette of
the Legion of Honour, evidently people of a solid social position.
Besides these black, cylindrical costumes, the Marquis, in his
loose straw hat and light spring clothes, looked Bohemian and even
barbaric; but he looked the Marquis. Indeed, one might say that he
looked the king, with his animal elegance, his scornful eyes, and
his proud head lifted against the purple sea. But he was no
Christian king, at any rate; he was, rather, some swarthy despot,
half Greek, half Asiatic, who in the days when slavery seemed
natural looked down on the Mediterranean, on his galley and his
groaning slaves. Just so, Syme thought, would the brown-gold face
of such a tyrant have shown against the dark green olives and the
"Are you going to address the meeting?" asked the Professor
peevishly, seeing that Syme still stood up without moving.
Syme drained his last glass of sparkling wine.
"I am," he said, pointing across to the Marquis and his
companions, "that meeting. That meeting displeases me. I am going
to pull that meeting's great ugly, mahogany-coloured nose."
He stepped across swiftly, if not quite steadily. The
Marquis, seeing him, arched his black Assyrian eyebrows in
surprise, but smiled politely.
"You are Mr. Syme, I think," he said.
"And you are the Marquis de Saint Eustache," he said
gracefully. "Permit me to pull your nose."
He leant over to do so, but the Marquis started backwards,
upsetting his chair, and the two men in top hats held Syme back by
"This man has insulted me!" said Syme, with gestures of
"Insulted you?" cried the gentleman with the red rosette,
"Oh, just now," said Syme recklessly. "He insulted my
"Insulted your mother!" exclaimed the gentleman
"Well, anyhow," said Syme, conceding a point, "my aunt."
"But how can the Marquis have insulted your aunt just now?"
said the second gentleman with some legitimate wonder. "He has
been sitting here all the time."
"Ah, it was what he said!" said Syme darkly.
"I said nothing at all," said the Marquis, "except something
about the band. I only said that I liked Wagner played well."
"It was an allusion to my family," said Syme firmly. "My aunt
played Wagner badly. It was a painful subject. We are always being
insulted about it."
"This seems most extraordinary," said the gentleman who was
decore, looking doubtfully at the Marquis.
"Oh, I assure you," said Syme earnestly, "the whole of your
conversation was simply packed with sinister allusions to my
"This is nonsense!" said the second gentleman. "I for one
have said nothing for half an hour except that I liked the singing
of that girl with black hair."
"Well, there you are again!" said Syme indignantly. "My
aunt's was red."
"It seems to me," said the other, "that you are simply
seeking a pretext to insult the Marquis."
"By George!" said Syme, facing round and looking at him,
"what a clever chap you are!"
The Marquis started up with eyes flaming like a tiger's.
"Seeking a quarrel with me!" he cried. "Seeking a fight with
me! By God! there was never a man who had to seek long. These
gentlemen will perhaps act for me. There are still four hours of
daylight. Let us fight this evening."
Syme bowed with a quite beautiful graciousness.
"Marquis," he said, "your action is worthy of your fame and
blood. Permit me to consult for a moment with the gentlemen in
whose hands I shall place myself."
In three long strides he rejoined his companions, and they,
who had seen his champagne-inspired attack and listened to his
idiotic explanations, were quite startled at the look of him. For
now that he came back to them he was quite sober, a little pale,
and he spoke in a low voice of passionate practicality.
"I have done it," he said hoarsely. "I have fixed a fight on
the beast. But look here, and listen carefully. There is no time
for talk. You are my seconds, and everything must come from you.
Now you must insist, and insist absolutely, on the duel coming off
after seven to-morrow, so as to give me the chance of preventing
him from catching the 7.45 for Paris. If he misses that he misses
his crime. He can't refuse to meet you on such a small point of
time and place. But this is what he will do. He will choose a
field somewhere near a wayside station, where he can pick up the
train. He is a very good swordsman, and he will trust to killing
me in time to catch it. But I can fence well too, and I think I
can keep him in play, at any rate, until the train is lost. Then
perhaps he may kill me to console his feelings. You understand?
Very well then, let me introduce you to some charming friends of
mine," and leading them quickly across the parade, he presented
them to the Marquis's seconds by two very aristocratic names of
which they had not previously heard.
Syme was subject to spasms of singular common sense, not
otherwise a part of his character. They were (as he said of his
impulse about the spectacles) poetic intuitions, and they
sometimes rose to the exaltation of prophecy.
He had correctly calculated in this case the policy of his
opponent. When the Marquis was informed by his seconds that Syme
could only fight in the morning, he must fully have realised that
an obstacle had suddenly arisen between him and his bomb-throwing
business in the capital. Naturally he could not explain this
objection to his friends, so he chose the course which Syme had
predicted. He induced his seconds to settle on a small meadow not
far from the railway, and he trusted to the fatality of the first
When he came down very coolly to the field of honour, no one
could have guessed that he had any anxiety about a journey; his
hands were in his pockets, his straw hat on the back of his head,
his handsome face brazen in the sun. But it might have struck a
stranger as odd that there appeared in his train, not only his
seconds carrying the sword-case, but two of his servants carrying
a portmanteau and a luncheon basket.
Early as was the hour, the sun soaked everything in warmth,
and Syme was vaguely surprised to see so many spring flowers
burning gold and silver in the tall grass in which the whole
company stood almost knee-deep.
With the exception of the Marquis, all the men were in sombre
and solemn morning-dress, with hats like black chimney-pots; the
little Doctor especially, with the addition of his black
spectacles, looked like an undertaker in a farce. Syme could not
help feeling a comic contrast between this funereal church parade
of apparel and the rich and glistening meadow, growing wild
flowers everywhere. But, indeed, this comic contrast between the
yellow blossoms and the black hats was but a symbol of the tragic
contrast between the yellow blossoms and the black business. On
his right was a little wood; far away to his left lay the long
curve of the railway line, which he was, so to speak, guarding
from the Marquis, whose goal and escape it was. In front of him,
behind the black group of his opponents, he could see, like a
tinted cloud, a small almond bush in flower against the faint line
of the sea.
The member of the Legion of Honour, whose name it seemed was
Colonel Ducroix, approached the Professor and Dr. Bull with great
politeness, and suggested that the play should terminate with the
first considerable hurt.
Dr. Bull, however, having been carefully coached by Syme upon
this point of policy, insisted, with great dignity and in very bad
French, that it should continue until one of the combatants was
disabled. Syme had made up his mind that he could avoid disabling
the Marquis and prevent the Marquis from disabling him for at
least twenty minutes. In twenty minutes the Paris train would have
"To a man of the well-known skill and valour of Monsieur de
St. Eustache," said the Professor solemnly, "it must be a matter
of indifference which method is adopted, and our principal has
strong reasons for demanding the longer encounter, reasons the
delicacy of which prevent me from being explicit, but for the just
and honourable nature of which I can?"
"Peste!" broke from the Marquis behind, whose face had
suddenly darkened, "let us stop talking and begin," and he slashed
off the head of a tall flower with his stick.
Syme understood his rude impatience and instinctively looked
over his shoulder to see whether the train was coming in sight.
But there was no smoke on the horizon.
Colonel Ducroix knelt down and unlocked the case, taking out
a pair of twin swords, which took the sunlight and turned to two
streaks of white fire. He offered one to the Marquis, who snatched
it without ceremony, and another to Syme, who took it, bent it,
and poised it with as much delay as was consistent with dignity.
Then the Colonel took out another pair of blades, and taking
one himself and giving another to Dr. Bull, proceeded to place the
Both combatants had thrown off their coats and waistcoats,
and stood sword in hand. The seconds stood on each side of the
line of fight with drawn swords also, but still sombre in their
dark frock-coats and hats. The principals saluted. The Colonel
said quietly, "Engage!" and the two blades touched and tingled.
When the jar of the joined iron ran up Syme's arm, all the
fantastic fears that have been the subject of this story fell from
him like dreams from a man waking up in bed. He remembered them
clearly and in order as mere delusions of the nerves?how the fear
of the Professor had been the fear of the tyrannic accidents of
nightmare, and how the fear of the Doctor had been the fear of the
airless vacuum of science. The first was the old fear that any
miracle might happen, the second the more hopeless modern fear
that no miracle can ever happen. But he saw that these fears were
fancies, for he found himself in the presence of the great fact of
the fear of death, with its coarse and pitiless common sense. He
felt like a man who had dreamed all night of falling over
precipices, and had woke up on the morning when he was to be
hanged. For as soon as he had seen the sunlight run down the
channel of his foe's foreshortened blade, and as soon as he had
felt the two tongues of steel touch, vibrating like two living
things, he knew that his enemy was a terrible fighter, and that
probably his last hour had come.
He felt a strange and vivid value in all the earth around
him, in the grass under his feet; he felt the love of life in all
living things. He could almost fancy that he heard the grass
growing; he could almost fancy that even as he stood fresh flowers
were springing up and breaking into blossom in the meadow?flowers
blood red and burning gold and blue, fulfilling the whole pageant
of the spring. And whenever his eyes strayed for a flash from the
calm, staring, hypnotic eyes of the Marquis, they saw the little
tuft of almond tree against the sky-line. He had the feeling that
if by some miracle he escaped he would be ready to sit for ever
before that almond tree, desiring nothing else in the world.
But while earth and sky and everything had the living beauty
of a thing lost, the other half of his head was as clear as glass,
and he was parrying his enemy's point with a kind of clockwork
skill of which he had hardly supposed himself capable. Once his
enemy's point ran along his wrist, leaving a slight streak of
blood, but it either was not noticed or was tacitly ignored. Every
now and then he riposted, and once or twice he could almost fancy
that he felt his point go home, but as there was no blood on blade
or shirt he supposed he was mistaken. Then came an interruption
and a change.
At the risk of losing all, the Marquis, interrupting his
quiet stare, flashed one glance over his shoulder at the line of
railway on his right. Then he turned on Syme a face transfigured
to that of a fiend, and began to fight as if with twenty weapons.
The attack came so fast and furious, that the one shining sword
seemed a shower of shining arrows. Syme had no chance to look at
the railway; but also he had no need. He could guess the reason of
the Marquis's sudden madness of battle ?the Paris train was in
But the Marquis's morbid energy over-reached itself. Twice
Syme, parrying, knocked his opponent's point far out of the
fighting circle; and the third time his riposte was so rapid, that
there was no doubt about the hit this time. Syme's sword actually
bent under the weight of the Marquis's body, which it had pierced.
Syme was as certain that he had stuck his blade into his
enemy as a gardener that he has stuck his spade into the ground.
Yet the Marquis sprang back from the stroke without a stagger, and
Syme stood staring at his own sword-point like an idiot. There was
no blood on it at all.
There was an instant of rigid silence, and then Syme in his
turn fell furiously on the other, filled with a flaming curiosity.
The Marquis was probably, in a general sense, a better fencer than
he, as he had surmised at the beginning, but at the moment the
Marquis seemed distraught and at a disadvantage. He fought wildly
and even weakly, and he constantly looked away at the railway
line, almost as if he feared the train more than the pointed
steel. Syme, on the other hand, fought fiercely but still
carefully, in an intellectual fury, eager to solve the riddle of
his own bloodless sword. For this purpose, he aimed less at the
Marquis's body, and more at his throat and head. A minute and a
half afterwards he felt his point enter the man's neck below the
jaw. It came out clean. Half mad, he thrust again, and made what
should have been a bloody scar on the Marquis's cheek. But there
was no scar.
For one moment the heaven of Syme again grew black with
supernatural terrors. Surely the man had a charmed life. But this
new spiritual dread was a more awful thing than had been the mere
spiritual topsy-turvydom symbolised by the paralytic who pursued
him. The Professor was only a goblin; this man was a devil?perhaps
he was the Devil! Anyhow, this was certain, that three times had a
human sword been driven into him and made no mark. When Syme had
that thought he drew himself up, and all that was good in him sang
high up in the air as a high wind sings in the trees. He thought
of all the human things in his story?of the Chinese lanterns in
Saffron Park, of the girl's red hair in the garden, of the honest,
beer-swilling sailors down by the dock, of his loyal companions
standing by. Perhaps he had been chosen as a champion of all these
fresh and kindly things to cross swords with the enemy of all
creation. "After all," he said to himself, "I am more than a
devil; I am a man. I can do the one thing which Satan himself
cannot do?I can die," and as the word went through his head, he
heard a faint and far-off hoot, which would soon be the roar of
the Paris train.
He fell to fighting again with a supernatural levity, like a
Mohammedan panting for Paradise. As the train came nearer and
nearer he fancied he could see people putting up the floral arches
in Paris; he joined in the growing noise and the glory of the
great Republic whose gate he was guarding against Hell. His
thoughts rose higher and higher with the rising roar of the train,
which ended, as if proudly, in a long and piercing whistle. The
Suddenly, to the astonishment of everyone the Marquis sprang
back quite out of sword reach and threw down his sword. The leap
was wonderful, and not the less wonderful because Syme had plunged
his sword a moment before into the man's thigh.
"Stop!" said the Marquis in a voice that compelled a
momentary obedience. "I want to say something."
"What is the matter?" asked Colonel Ducroix, staring. "Has
there been foul play?"
"There has been foul play somewhere," said Dr. Bull, who was
a little pale. "Our principal has wounded the Marquis four times
at least, and he is none the worse ."
The Marquis put up his hand with a curious air of ghastly
"Please let me speak," he said. "It is rather important. Mr.
Syme," he continued, turning to his opponent, "we are fighting
to-day, if I remember right, because you expressed a wish (which I
thought irrational) to pull my nose. Would you oblige me by
pulling my nose now as quickly as possible? I have to catch a
"I protest that this is most irregular," said Dr. Bull
"It is certainly somewhat opposed to precedent," said Colonel
Ducroix, looking wistfully at his principal. "There is, I think,
one case on record (Captain Bellegarde and the Baron Zumpt) in
which the weapons were changed in the middle of the encounter at
the request of one of the combatants. But one can hardly call
one's nose a weapon."
"Will you or will you not pull my nose?" said the Marquis in
exasperation. "Come, come, Mr. Syme! You wanted to do it, do it!
You can have no conception of how important it is to me. Don't be
so selfish! Pull my nose at once, when I ask you!" and he bent
slightly forward with a fascinating smile. The Paris train,
panting and groaning, had grated into a little station behind the
Syme had the feeling he had more than once had in these
adventures?the sense that a horrible and sublime wave lifted to
heaven was just toppling over. Walking in a world he half
understood, he took two paces forward and seized the Roman nose of
this remarkable nobleman. He pulled it hard, and it came off in
He stood for some seconds with a foolish solemnity, with the
pasteboard proboscis still between his fingers, looking at it,
while the sun and the clouds and the wooded hills looked down upon
this imbecile scene.
The Marquis broke the silence in a loud and cheerful voice.
"If anyone has any use for my left eyebrow," he said, "he can
have it. Colonel Ducroix, do accept my left eyebrow! It's the kind
of thing that might come in useful any day," and he gravely tore
off one of his swarthy Assyrian brows, bringing about half his
brown forehead with it, and politely offered it to the Colonel,
who stood crimson and speechless with rage.
"If I had known," he spluttered, "that I was acting for a
poltroon who pads himself to fight?"
"Oh, I know, I know!" said the Marquis, recklessly throwing
various parts of himself right and left about the field. "You are
making a mistake; but it can't be explained just now. I tell you
the train has come into the station!"
"Yes," said Dr. Bull fiercely, "and the train shall go out of
the station. It shall go out without you. We know well enough for
what devil's work?"
The mysterious Marquis lifted his hands with a desperate
gesture. He was a strange scarecrow standing there in the sun with
half his old face peeled off, and half another face glaring and
grinning from underneath.
"Will you drive me mad?" he cried. "The train?"
"You shall not go by the train," said Syme firmly, and
grasped his sword.
The wild figure turned towards Syme, and seemed to be
gathering itself for a sublime effort before speaking.
"You great fat, blasted, blear-eyed, blundering, thundering,
brainless, Godforsaken, doddering, damned fool!" he said without
taking breath. "You great silly, pink-faced, towheaded turnip!
"You shall not go by this train," repeated Syme.
"And why the infernal blazes," roared the other, "should I
want to go by the train?"
"We know all," said the Professor sternly. "You are going to
Paris to throw a bomb!"
"Going to Jericho to throw a Jabberwock!" cried the other,
tearing his hair, which came off easily.
"Have you all got softening of the brain, that you don't
realise what I am? Did you really think I wanted to catch that
train? Twenty Paris trains might go by for me. Damn Paris trains!"
"Then what did you care about?" began the Professor.
"What did I care about? I didn't care about catching the
train; I cared about whether the train caught me, and now, by God!
it has caught me."
"I regret to inform you," said Syme with restraint, "that
your remarks convey no impression to my mind. Perhaps if you were
to remove the remains of your original forehead and some portion
of what was once your chin, your meaning would become clearer.
Mental lucidity fulfils itself in many ways. What do you mean by
saying that the train has caught you? It may be my literary fancy,
but somehow I feel that it ought to mean something."
"It means everything," said the other, "and the end of
everything. Sunday has us now in the hollow of his hand."
"Us!" repeated the Professor, as if stupefied. "What do you
mean by 'us'?"
"The police, of course!" said the Marquis, and tore off his
scalp and half his face.
The head which emerged was the blonde, well brushed,
smooth-haired head which is common in the English constabulary,
but the face was terribly pale.
"I am Inspector Ratcliffe," he said, with a sort of haste
that verged on harshness. "My name is pretty well known to the
police, and I can see well enough that you belong to them. But if
there is any doubt about my position, I have a card " and he began
to pull a blue card from his pocket.
The Professor gave a tired gesture.
"Oh, don't show it us," he said wearily; "we've got enough of
them to equip a paper-chase."
The little man named Bull, had, like many men who seem to be
of a mere vivacious vulgarity, sudden movements of good taste.
Here he certainly saved the situation. In the midst of this
staggering transformation scene he stepped forward with all the
gravity and responsibility of a second, and addressed the two
seconds of the Marquis.
"Gentlemen," he said, "we all owe you a serious apology; but
I assure you that you have not been made the victims of such a low
joke as you imagine, or indeed of anything undignified in a man of
honour. You have not wasted your time; you have helped to save the
world. We are not buffoons, but very desperate men at war with a
vast conspiracy. A secret society of anarchists is hunting us like
hares; not such unfortunate madmen as may here or there throw a
bomb through starvation or German philosophy, but a rich and
powerful and fanatical church, a church of eastern pessimism,
which holds it holy to destroy mankind like vermin. How hard they
hunt us you can gather from the fact that we are driven to such
disguises as those for which I apologise, and to such pranks as
this one by which you suffer. "
The younger second of the Marquis, a short man with a black
moustache, bowed politely, and said?
"Of course, I accept the apology; but you will in your turn
forgive me if I decline to follow you further into your
difficulties, and permit myself to say good morning! The sight of
an acquaintance and distinguished fellow-townsman coming to pieces
in the open air is unusual, and, upon the whole, sufficient for
one day. Colonel Ducroix, I would in no way influence your
actions, but if you feel with me that our present society is a
little abnormal, I am now going to walk back to the town."
Colonel Ducroix moved mechanically, but then tugged abruptly
at his white moustache and broke out?
"No, by George! I won't. If these gentlemen are really in a
mess with a lot of low wreckers like that, I'll see them through
it. I have fought for France, and it is hard if I can't fight for
Dr. Bull took off his hat and waved it, cheering as at a
"Don't make too much noise," said Inspector Ratcliffe,
"Sunday may hear you."
"Sunday!" cried Bull, and dropped his hat.
"Yes," retorted Ratcliffe, "he may be with them."
"With whom?" asked Syme.
"With the people out of that train," said the other.
"What you say seems utterly wild," began Syme. "Why, as a
matter of fact?But, my God," he cried out suddenly, like a man who
sees an explosion a long way off, "by God! if this is true the
whole bally lot of us on the Anarchist Council were against
anarchy! Every born man was a detective except the President and
his personal secretary. What can it mean?"
"Mean!" said the new policeman with incredible violence. "It
means that we are struck dead! Don't you know Sunday? Don't you
know that his jokes are always so big and simple that one has
never thought of them? Can you think of anything more like Sunday
than this, that he should put all his powerful enemies on the
Supreme Council, and then take care that it was not supreme? I
tell you he has bought every trust, he has captured every cable,
he has control of every railway line?especially of that railway
line!" and he pointed a shaking finger towards the small wayside
station. "The whole movement was controlled by him; half the world
was ready to rise for him. But there were just five people,
perhaps, who would have resisted him . . . and the old devil put
them on the Supreme Council, to waste their time in watching each
other. Idiots that we are, he planned the whole of our idiocies!
Sunday knew that the Professor would chase Syme through London,
and that Syme would fight me in France. And he was combining great
masses of capital, and seizing great lines of telegraphy, while we
five idiots were running after each other like a lot of confounded
babies playing blind man's buff."
"Well?" asked Syme with a sort of steadiness.
"Well," replied the other with sudden serenity, "he has found
us playing blind man's buff to-day in a field of great rustic
beauty and extreme solitude. He has probably captured the world;
it only remains to him to capture this field and all the fools in
it. And since you really want to know what was my objection to the
arrival of that train, I will tell you. My objection was that
Sunday or his Secretary has just this moment got out of it."
Syme uttered an involuntary cry, and they all turned their
eyes towards the far-off station. It was quite true that a
considerable bulk of people seemed to be moving in their
direction. But they were too distant to be distinguished in any
"It was a habit of the late Marquis de St. Eustache," said
the new policeman, producing a leather case, "always to carry a
pair of opera glasses. Either the President or the Secretary is
coming after us with that mob. They have caught us in a nice quiet
place where we are under no temptations to break our oaths by
calling the police. Dr. Bull, I have a suspicion that you will see
better through these than through your own highly decorative
He handed the field-glasses to the Doctor, who immediately
took off his spectacles and put the apparatus to his eyes.
"It cannot be as bad as you say," said the Professor,
somewhat shaken. "There are a good number of them certainly, but
they may easily be ordinary tourists."
"Do ordinary tourists," asked Bull, with the fieldglasses to
his eyes, "wear black masks half-way down the face?"
Syme almost tore the glasses out of his hand, and looked
through them. Most men in the advancing mob really looked ordinary
enough; but it was quite true that two or three of the leaders in
front wore black half-masks almost down to their mouths. This
disguise is very complete, especially at such a distance, and Syme
found it impossible to conclude anything from the clean-shaven
jaws and chins of the men talking in the front. But presently as
they talked they all smiled and one of them smiled on one side.
THE CRIMINALS CHASE THE POLICE
SYME put the field-glasses from his eyes with an almost
"The President is not with them, anyhow," he said, and wiped
"But surely they are right away on the horizon," said the
bewildered Colonel, blinking and but half recovered from Bull's
hasty though polite explanation. "Could you possibly know your
President among all those people?"
"Could I know a white elephant among all those people!"
answered Syme somewhat irritably. "As you very truly say, they are
on the horizon; but if he were walking with them . . . by God! I
believe this ground would shake."
After an instant's pause the new man called Ratcliffe said
with gloomy decision?
"Of course the President isn't with them. I wish to Gemini he
were. Much more likely the President is riding in triumph through
Paris, or sitting on the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral."
"This is absurd!" said Syme. "Something may have happened in
our absence; but he cannot have carried the world with a rush like
that. It is quite true," he added, frowning dubiously at the
distant fields that lay towards the little station, "it is
certainly true that there seems to be a crowd coming this way; but
they are not all the army that you make out."
"Oh, they," said the new detective contemptuously; "no they
are not a very valuable force. But let me tell you frankly that
they are precisely calculated to our value?we are not much, my
boy, in Sunday's universe. He has got hold of all the cables and
telegraphs himself. But to kill the Supreme Council he regards as
a trivial matter, like a post card; it may be left to his private
secretary," and he spat on the grass.
Then he turned to the others and said somewhat austerely?
"There is a great deal to be said for death; but if anyone
has any preference for the other alternative, I strongly advise
him to walk after me."
With these words, he turned his broad back and strode with
silent energy towards the wood. The others gave one glance over
their shoulders, and saw that the dark cloud of men had detached
itself from the station and was moving with a mysterious
discipline across the plain. They saw already, even with the naked
eye, black blots on the foremost faces, which marked the masks
they wore. They turned and followed their leader, who had already
struck the wood, and disappeared among the twinkling trees.
The sun on the grass was dry and hot. So in plunging into the
wood they had a cool shock of shadow, as of divers who plunge into
a dim pool. The inside of the wood was full of shattered sunlight
and shaken shadows. They made a sort of shuddering veil, almost
recalling the dizziness of a cinematograph. Even the solid figures
walking with him Syme could hardly see for the patterns of sun and
shade that danced upon them. Now a man's head was lit as with a
light of Rembrandt, leaving all else obliterated; now again he had
strong and staring white hands with the face of a negro. The
ex-Marquis had pulled the old straw hat over his eyes, and the
black shade of the brim cut his face so squarely in two that it
seemed to be wearing one of the black half-masks of their
pursuers. The fancy tinted Syme's overwhelming sense of wonder.
Was he wearing a mask? Was anyone wearing a mask? Was anyone
anything? This wood of witchery, in which men's faces turned black
and white by turns, in which their figures first swelled into
sunlight and then faded into formless night, this mere chaos of
chiaroscuro (after the clear daylight outside), seemed to Syme a
perfect symbol of the world in which he had been moving for three
days, this world where men took off their beards and their
spectacles and their noses, and turned into other people. That
tragic self-confidence which he had felt when he believed that the
Marquis was a devil had strangely disappeared now that he knew
that the Marquis was a friend. He felt almost inclined to ask
after all these bewilderments what was a friend and what an enemy.
Was there anything that was apart from what it seemed? The Marquis
had taken off his nose and turned out to be a detective. Might he
not just as well take off his head and turn out to be a hobgoblin?
Was not everything, after all, like this bewildering woodland,
this dance of dark and light? Everything only a glimpse, the
glimpse always unforeseen, and always forgotten. For Gabriel Syme
had found in the heart of that sun-splashed wood what many modern
painters had found there. He had found the thing which the modern
people call Impressionism, which is another name for that final
scepticism which can find no floor to the universe.
As a man in an evil dream strains himself to scream and wake,
Syme strove with a sudden effort to fling off this last and worst
of his fancies. With two impatient strides he overtook the man in
the Marquis's straw hat, the man whom he had come to address as
Ratcliffe. In a voice exaggeratively loud and cheerful, he broke
the bottomless silence and made conversation.
"May I ask," he said, "where on earth we are all going to? "
So genuine had been the doubts of his soul, that he was quite
glad to hear his companion speak in an easy, human voice.
"We must get down through the town of Lancy to the sea," he
said. "I think that part of the country is least likely to be with
"What can you mean by all this?" cried Syme. "They can't be
running the real world in that way. Surely not many working men
are anarchists, and surely if they were, mere mobs could not beat
modern armies and police."
"Mere mobs!" repeated his new friend with a snort of scorn.
"So you talk about mobs and the working classes as if they were
the question. You've got that eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy
came it would come from the poor. Why should it? The poor have
been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more
interest than anyone else in there being some decent government.
The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man
hasn't; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have
sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always
objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always
anarchists, as you can see from the barons' wars."
"As a lecture on English history for the little ones," said
Syme, "this is all very nice; but I have not yet grasped its
"Its application is," said his informant, "that most of old
Sunday's right-hand men are South African and American
millionaires. That is why he has got hold of all the
communications; and that is why the last four champions of the
anti-anarchist police force are running through a wood like
"Millionaires I can understand," said Syme thoughtfully,
"they are nearly all mad. But getting hold of a few wicked old
gentlemen with hobbies is one thing; getting hold of great
Christian nations is another. I would bet the nose off my face
(forgive the allusion) that Sunday would stand perfectly helpless
before the task of converting any ordinary healthy person
"Well," said the other, "it rather depends what sort of
person you mean."
"Well, for instance," said Syme, "he could never convert that
person," and he pointed straight in front of him.
They had come to an open space of sunlight, which seemed to
express to Syme the final return of his own good sense; and in the
middle of this forest clearing was a figure that might well stand
for that common sense in an almost awful actuality. Burnt by the
sun and stained with perspiration, and grave with the bottomless
gravity of small necessary toils, a heavy French peasant was
cutting wood with a hatchet. His cart stood a few yards off,
already half full of timber; and the horse that cropped the grass
was, like his master, valorous but not desperate; like his master,
he was even prosperous, but yet was almost sad. The man was a
Norman, taller than the average of the French and very angular;
and his swarthy figure stood dark against a square of sunlight,
almost like some allegoric figure of labour frescoed on a ground
"Mr. Syme is saying," called out Ratcliffe to the French
Colonel, "that this man, at least, will never be an anarchist."
"Mr. Syme is right enough there," answered Colonel Ducroix,
laughing, "if only for the reason that he has plenty of property
to defend. But I forgot that in your country you are not used to
peasants being wealthy."
"He looks poor," said Dr. Bull doubtfully.
"Quite so," said the Colonel; "that is why he is rich."
"I have an idea," called out Dr. Bull suddenly; "how much
would he take to give us a lift in his cart? Those dogs are all on
foot, and we could soon leave them behind."
"Oh, give him anything! " said Syme eagerly. "I have piles of
money on me."
"That will never do," said the Colonel; "he will never have
any respect for you unless you drive a bargain."
"Oh, if he haggles!" began Bull impatiently.
"Erie haggles because he is a free man," said the other. "You
do not understand; he would not see the meaning of generosity. He
is not being tipped."
And even while they seemed to hear the heavy feet of their
strange pursuers behind them, they had to stand and stamp while
the French Colonel talked to the French wood-cutter with all the
leisurely badinage and bickering of market-day. At the end of the
four minutes, however, they saw that the Colonel was right, for
the wood-cutter entered into their plans, not with the vague
servility of a tout too-well paid, but with the seriousness of a
solicitor who had been paid the proper fee. He told them that the
best thing they could do was to make their way down to the little
inn on the hills above Lancy, where the innkeeper, an old soldier
who had become devot in his latter years, would be certain to
sympathise with them, and even to take risks in their support. The
whole company, therefore, piled themselves on top of the stacks of
wood, and went rocking in the rude cart down the other and steeper
side of the woodland. Heavy and ramshackle as was the vehicle, it
was driven quickly enough, and they soon had the exhilarating
impression of distancing altogether those, whoever they were, who
were hunting them. For, after all, the riddle as to where the
anarchists had got all these followers was still unsolved. One
man's presence had sufficed for them; they had fled at the first
sight of the deformed smile of the Secretary. Syme every now and
then looked back over his shoulder at the army on their track.
As the wood grew first thinner and then smaller with
distance, he could see the sunlit slopes beyond it and above it;
and across these was still moving the square black mob like one
monstrous beetle. In the very strong sunlight and with his own
very strong eyes, which were almost telescopic, Syme could see
this mass of men quite plainly. He could see them as separate
human figures; but he was increasingly surprised by the way in
which they moved as one man. They seemed to be dressed in dark
clothes and plain hats, like any common crowd out of the streets;
but they did not spread and sprawl and trail by various lines to
the attack, as would be natural in an ordinary mob. They moved
with a sort of dreadful and wicked woodenness, like a staring army
Syme pointed this out to Ratcliffe.
"Yes," replied the policeman, "that's discipline. That's
Sunday. He is perhaps five hundred miles off, but the fear of him
is on all of them, like the finger of God. Yes, they are walking
regularly; and you bet your boots that they are talking regularly,
yes, and thinking regularly. But the one important thing for us is
that they are disappearing regularly."
Syme nodded. It was true that the black patch of the pursuing
men was growing smaller and smaller as the peasant belaboured his
The level of the sunlit landscape, though flat as a whole,
fell away on the farther side of the wood in billows of heavy
slope towards the sea, in a way not unlike the lower slopes of the
Sussex downs. The only difference was that in Sussex the road
would have been broken and angular like a little brook, but here
the white French road fell sheer in front of them like a
waterfall. Down this direct descent the cart clattered at a
considerable angle, and in a few minutes, the road growing yet
steeper, they saw below them the little harbour of Lancy and a
great blue arc of the sea. The travelling cloud of their enemies
had wholly disappeared from the horizon.
The horse and cart took a sharp turn round a clump of elms,
and the horse's nose nearly struck the face of an old gentleman
who was sitting on the benches outside the little cafe of "Le
Soleil d'Or." The peasant grunted an apology, and got down from
his seat. The others also descended one by one, and spoke to the
old gentleman with fragmentary phrases of courtesy, for it was
quite evident from his expansive manner that he was the owner of
the little tavern.
He was a white-haired, apple-faced old boy, with sleepy eyes
and a grey moustache; stout, sedentary, and very innocent, of a
type that may often be found in France, but is still commoner in
Catholic Germany. Everything about him, his pipe, his pot of beer,
his flowers, and his beehive, suggested an ancestral peace; only
when his visitors looked up as they entered the inn-parlour, they
saw the sword upon the wall.
The Colonel, who greeted the innkeeper as an old friend,
passed rapidly into the inn-parlour, and sat down ordering some
ritual refreshment. The military decision of his action interested
Syme, who sat next to him, and he took the opportunity when the
old innkeeper had gone out of satisfying his curiosity.
"May I ask you, Colonel," he said in a low voice, "why we
have come here?"
Colonel Ducroix smiled behind his bristly white moustache.
"For two reasons, sir," he said; "and I will give first, not
the most important, but the most utilitarian. We came here because
this is the only place within twenty miles in which we can get
"Horses!" repeated Syme, looking up quickly.
"Yes," replied the other; "if you people are really to
distance your enemies it is horses or nothing for you, unless of
course you have bicycles and motor-cars in your pocket."
"And where do you advise us to make for?" asked Syme
"Beyond question," replied the Colonel, "you had better make
all haste to the police station beyond the town. My friend, whom I
seconded under somewhat deceptive circumstances, seems to me to
exaggerate very much the possibilities of a general rising; but
even he would hardly maintain, I suppose, that you were not safe
with the gendarmes."
Syme nodded gravely; then he said abruptly?
"And your other reason for coming here?"
"My other reason for coming here," said Ducroix soberly, "is
that it is just as well to see a good man or two when one is
possibly near to death."
Syme looked up at the wall, and saw a crudely-painted and
pathetic religious picture. Then he said?
"You are right," and then almost immediately afterwards, "Has
anyone seen about the horses?"
"Yes," answered Ducroix, "you may be quite certain that I
gave orders the moment I came in. Those enemies of yours gave no
impression of hurry, but they were really moving wonderfully fast,
like a well-trained army. I had no idea that the anarchists had so
much discipline. You have not a moment to waste."
Almost as he spoke, the old innkeeper with the blue eyes and
white hair came ambling into the room, and announced that six
horses were saddled outside.
By Ducroix's advice the five others equipped themselves with
some portable form of food and wine, and keeping their duelling
swords as the only weapons available, they clattered away down the
steep, white road. The two servants, who had carried the Marquis's
luggage when he was a marquis, were left behind to drink at the
cafe by common consent, and not at all against their own
By this time the afternoon sun was slanting westward, and by
its rays Syme could see the sturdy figure of the old innkeeper
growing smaller and smaller, but still standing and looking after
them quite silently, the sunshine in his silver hair. Syme had a
fixed, superstitious fancy, left in his mind by the chance phrase
of the Colonel, that this was indeed, perhaps, the last honest
stranger whom he should ever see upon the earth.
He was still looking at this dwindling figure, which stood as
a mere grey blot touched with a white flame against the great
green wall of the steep down behind him. And as he stared over the
top of the down behind the innkeeper, there appeared an army of
black-clad and marching men. They seemed to hang above the good
man and his house like a black cloud of locusts. The horses had
been saddled none too soon.
THE EARTH IN ANARCHY
URGING the horses to a gallop, without respect to the rather
rugged descent of the road, the horsemen soon regained their
advantage over the men on the march, and at last the bulk of the
first buildings of Lancy cut off the sight of their pursuers.
Nevertheless, the ride had been a long one, and by the time they
reached the real town the west was warming with the colour and
quality of sunset. The Colonel suggested that, before making
finally for the police station, they should make the effort, in
passing, to attach to themselves one more individual who might be
"Four out of the five rich men in this town," he said, "are
common swindlers. I suppose the proportion is pretty equal all
over the world. The fifth is a friend of mine, and a very fine
fellow; and what is even more important from our point of view, he
owns a motor-car."
"I am afraid," said the Professor in his mirthful way,
looking back along the white road on which the black, crawling
patch might appear at any moment, "I am afraid we have hardly time
for afternoon calls."
"Doctor Renard's house is only three minutes off," said the
"Our danger," said Dr. Bull, "is not two minutes off."
"Yes," said Syme, "if we ride on fast we must leave them
behind, for they are on foot."
"He has a motor-car," said the Colonel.
"But we may not get it," said Bull.
"Yes, he is quite on your side."
"But he might be out."
"Hold your tongue," said Syme suddenly. "What is that noise?"
For a second they all sat as still as equestrian statues, and
for a second?for two or three or four seconds? heaven and earth
seemed equally still. Then all their ears, in an agony of
attention, heard along the road that indescribable thrill and
throb that means only one thing?horses!
The Colonel's face had an instantaneous change, as if
lightning had struck it, and yet left it scatheless.
"They have done us," he said, with brief military irony.
"Prepare to receive cavalry!"
"Where can they have got the horses?" asked Syme, as he
mechanically urged his steed to a canter.
The Colonel was silent for a little, then he said in a
"I was speaking with strict accuracy when I said that the
'Soleil d'Or' was the only place where one can get horses within
"No!" said Syme violently, "I don't believe he'd do it. Not
with all that white hair."
"He may have been forced," said the Colonel gently. "They
must be at least a hundred strong, for which reason we are all
going to see my friend Renard, who has a motor-car."
With these words he swung his horse suddenly round a street
corner, and went down the street with such thundering speed, that
the others, though already well at the gallop, had difficulty in
following the flying tail of his horse.
Dr. Renard inhabited a high and comfortable house at the top
of a steep street, so that when the riders alighted at his door
they could once more see the solid green ridge of the hill, with
the white road across it, standing up above all the roofs of the
town. They breathed again to see that the road as yet was clear,
and they rang the bell.
Dr. Renard was a beaming, brown-bearded man, a good example
of that silent but very busy professional class which France has
preserved even more perfectly than England. When the matter was
explained to him he pooh-poohed the panic of the ex-Marquis
altogether; he said, with the solid French scepticism, that there
was no conceivable probability of a general anarchist rising.
"Anarchy," he said, shrugging his shoulders, "it is childishness!
"Et ca," cried out the Colonel suddenly, pointing over the
other's shoulder, "and that is childishness, isn't it?"
They all looked round, and saw a curve of black cavalry come
sweeping over the top of the hill with all the energy of Attila.
Swiftly as they rode, however, the whole rank still kept well
together, and they could see the black vizards of the first line
as level as a line of uniforms. But although the main black square
was the same, though travelling faster, there was now one
sensational difference which they could see clearly upon the slope
of the hill, as if upon a slanted map. The bulk of the riders were
in one block; but one rider flew far ahead of the column, and with
frantic movements of hand and heel urged his horse faster and
faster, so that one might have fancied that he was not the pursuer
but the pursued. But even at that great distance they could see
something so fanatical, so unquestionable in his figure, that they
knew it was the Secretary himself. "I am sorry to cut short a
cultured discussion," said the Colonel, "but can you lend me your
motor-car now, in two minutes?"
"I have a suspicion that you are all mad," said Dr. Renard,
smiling sociably; "but God forbid that madness should in any way
interrupt friendship. Let us go round to the garage."
Dr. Renard was a mild man with monstrous wealth; his rooms
were like the Musee de Cluny, and he had three motor-cars. These,
however, he seemed to use very sparingly, having the simple tastes
of the French middle class, and when his impatient friends came to
examine them, it took them some time to assure themselves that one
of them even could be made to work. This with some difficulty they
brought round into the street before the Doctor's house. When they
came out of the dim garage they were startled to find that
twilight had already fallen with the abruptness of night in the
tropics. Either they had been longer in the place than they
imagined, or some unusual canopy of cloud had gathered over the
town. They looked down the steep streets, and seemed to see a
slight mist coming up from the sea.
"It is now or never," said Dr. Bull. "I hear horses."
"No," corrected the Professor, "a horse."
And as they listened, it was evident that the noise, rapidly
coming nearer on the rattling stones, was not the noise of the
whole cavalcade but that of the one horseman, who had left it far
behind?the insane Secretary.
Syme's family, like most of those who end in the simple life,
had once owned a motor, and he knew all about them. He had leapt
at once into the chauffeur's seat, and with flushed face was
wrenching and tugging at the disused machinery. He bent his
strength upon one handle, and then said quite quietly?
"I am afraid it's no go."
As he spoke, there swept round the corner a man rigid on his
rushing horse, with the rush and rigidity of an arrow. He had a
smile that thrust out his chin as if it were dislocated. He swept
alongside of the stationary car, into which its company had
crowded, and laid his hand on the front. It was the Secretary, and
his mouth went quite straight in the solemnity of triumph.
Syme was leaning hard upon the steering wheel, and there was
no sound but the rumble of the other pursuers riding into the
town. Then there came quite suddenly a scream of scraping iron,
and the car leapt forward. It plucked the Secretary clean out of
his saddle, as a knife is whipped out of its sheath, trailed him
kicking terribly for twenty yards, and left him flung flat upon
the road far in front of his frightened horse. As the car took the
corner of the street with a splendid curve, they could just see
the other anarchists filling the street and raising their fallen
"I can't understand why it has grown so dark," said the
Professor at last in a low voice.
"Going to be a storm, I think," said Dr. Bull. "I say, it's a
pity we haven't got a light on this car, if only to see by."
"We have," said the Colonel, and from the floor of the car he
fished up a heavy, old-fashioned, carved iron lantern with a light
inside it. It was obviously an antique, and it would seem as if
its original use had been in some way semi-religious, for there
was a rude moulding of a cross upon one of its sides.
"Where on earth did you get that?" asked the Professor.
"I got it where I got the car," answered the Colonel,
chuckling, "from my best friend. While our friend here was
fighting with the steering wheel, I ran up the front steps of the
house and spoke to Renard, who was standing in his own porch, you
will remember. 'I suppose,' I said, 'there's no time to get a
lamp.' He looked up, blinking amiably at the beautiful arched
ceiling of his own front hall. From this was suspended, by chains
of exquisite ironwork, this lantern, one of the hundred treasures
of his treasure house. By sheer force he tore the lamp out of his
own ceiling, shattering the painted panels, and bringing down two
blue vases with his violence. Then he handed me the iron lantern,
and I put it in the car. Was I not right when I said that Dr.
Renard was worth knowing?"
"You were," said Syme seriously, and hung the heavy lantern
over the front. There was a certain allegory of their whole
position in the contrast between the modern automobile and its
strange ecclesiastical lamp. Hitherto they had passed through the
quietest part of the town, meeting at most one or two pedestrians,
who could give them no hint of the peace or the hostility of the
place. Now, however, the windows in the houses began one by one to
be lit up, giving a greater sense of habitation and humanity. Dr.
Bull turned to the new detective who had led their flight, and
permitted himself one of his natural and friendly smiles.
"These lights make one feel more cheerful."
Inspector Ratcliffe drew his brows together.
"There is only one set of lights that make me more cheerful,"
he said, "and they are those lights of the police station which I
can see beyond the town. Please God we may be there in ten
Then all Bull's boiling good sense and optimism broke
suddenly out of him.
"Oh, this is all raving nonsense!" he cried. "If you really
think that ordinary people in ordinary houses are anarchists, you
must be madder than an anarchist yourself. If we turned and fought
these fellows, the whole town would fight for us."
"No," said the other with an immovable simplicity, "the whole
town would fight for them. We shall see.'
While they were speaking the Professor had leant forward with
"What is that noise?" he said.
"Oh, the horses behind us, I suppose," said the Colonel. "I
thought we had got clear of them."
"The horses behind us! No," said the Professor, "it is not
horses, and it is not behind us."
Almost as he spoke, across the end of the street before them
two shining and rattling shapes shot past. They were gone almost
in a flash, but everyone could see that they were motor-cars, and
the Professor stood up with a pale face and swore that they were
the other two motor-cars from Dr. Renard's garage.
"I tell you they were his," he repeated, with wild eyes, "and
they were full of men in masks!"
"Absurd!" said the Colonel angrily. "Dr. Renard would never
give them his cars."
"He may have been forced," said Ratcliffe quietly. "The whole
town is on their side."
"You still believe that," asked the Colonel incredulously.
"You will all believe it soon," said the other with a
There was a puzzled pause for some little time, and then the
Colonel began again abruptly?
"No, I can't believe it. The thing is nonsense. The plain
people of a peaceable French town?"
He was cut short by a bang and a blaze of light, which seemed
close to his eyes. As the car sped on it left a floating patch of
white smoke behind it, and Syme had heard a shot shriek past his
"My God!" said the Colonel, "someone has shot at us."
"It need not interrupt conversation," said the gloomy
Ratcliffe. "Pray resume your remarks, Colonel. You were talking, I
think, about the plain people of a peaceable French town."
The staring Colonel was long past minding satire. He rolled
his eyes all round the street.
"It is extraordinary," he said, "most extraordinary."
"A fastidious person," said Syme, "might even call it
unpleasant. However, I suppose those lights out in the field
beyond this street are the Gendarmerie. We shall soon get there."
"No," said Inspector Ratcliffe, "we shall never get there."
He had been standing up and looking keenly ahead of him. Now
he sat down and smoothed his sleek hair with a weary gesture.
"What do you mean?" asked Bull sharply.
"I mean that we shall never get there," said the pessimist
placidly. "They have two rows of armed men across the road
already; I can see them from here. The town is in arms, as I said
I can only wallow in the exquisite comfort of my own
And Ratcliffe sat down comfortably in the car and lit a
cigarette, but the others rose excitedly and stared down the road.
Syme had slowed down the car as their plans became doubtful, and
he brought it finally to a standstill just at the corner of a side
street that ran down very steeply to the sea.
The town was mostly in shadow, but the sun had not sunk;
wherever its level light could break through, it painted
everything a burning gold. Up this side street the last sunset
light shone as sharp and narrow as the shaft of artificial light
at the theatre. It struck the car of the five friends, and lit it
like a burning chariot. But the rest of the street, especially the
two ends of it, was in the deepest twilight, and for some seconds
they could see nothing. Then Syme, whose eyes were the keenest,
broke into a little bitter whistle, and said
"It is quite true. There is a crowd or an army or some such
thing across the end of that street."
"Well, if there is," said Bull impatiently, "it must be
something else?a sham fight or the mayor's birthday or something.
I cannot and will not believe that plain, jolly people in a place
like this walk about with dynamite in their pockets. Get on a bit,
Syme, and let us look at them."
The car crawled about a hundred yards farther, and then they
were all startled by Dr. Bull breaking into a high crow of
"Why, you silly mugs!" he cried, "what did I tell you. That
crowd's as law-abiding as a cow, and if it weren't, it's on our
"How do you know?" asked the professor, staring.
"You blind bat," cried Bull, "don't you see who is leading
They peered again, and then the Colonel, with a catch in his
voice, cried out?
"Why, it's Renard!"
There was, indeed, a rank of dim figures running across the
road, and they could not be clearly seen; but far enough in front
to catch the accident of the evening light was stalking up and
down the unmistakable Dr. Renard, in a white hat, stroking his
long brown beard, and holding a revolver in his left hand.
"What a fool I've been! " exclaimed the Colonel. "Of course,
the dear old boy has turned out to help us."
Dr. Bull was bubbling over with laughter, swinging the sword
in his hand as carelessly as a cane. He jumped out of the car and
ran across the intervening space, calling out?
"Dr. Renard! Dr. Renard!"
An instant after Syme thought his own eyes had gone mad in
his head. For the philanthropic Dr. Renard had deliberately raised
his revolver and fired twice at Bull, so that the shots rang down
Almost at the same second as the puff of white cloud went up
from this atrocious explosion a long puff of white cloud went up
also from the cigarette of the cynical Ratcliffe. Like all the
rest he turned a little pale, but he smiled. Dr. Bull, at whom the
bullets had been fired, just missing his scalp, stood quite still
in the middle of the road without a sign of fear, and then turned
very slowly and crawled back to the car, and climbed in with two
holes through his hat.
"Well," said the cigarette smoker slowly, "what do you think
"I think," said Dr. Bull with precision, "that I am lying in
bed at No. 217 Peabody Buildings, and that I shall soon wake up
with a jump; or, if that's not it, I think that I am sitting in a
small cushioned cell in Hanwell, and that the doctor can't make
much of my case. But if you want to know what I don't think, I'll
tell you. I don't think what you think. I don't think, and I never
shall think, that the mass of ordinary men are a pack of dirty
modern thinkers. No, sir, I'm a democrat, and I still don't
believe that Sunday could convert one average navvy or counter-
jumper. No, I may be mad, but humanity isn't."
Syme turned his bright blue eyes on Bull with an earnestness
which he did not commonly make clear.
"You are a very fine fellow," he said. "You can believe in a
sanity which is not merely your sanity. And you're right enough
about humanity, about peasants and people like that jolly old
innkeeper. But you're not right about Renard. I suspected him from
the first. He's rationalistic, and, what's worse, he's rich. When
duty and religion are really destroyed, it will be by the rich."
"They are really destroyed now," said the man with a
cigarette, and rose with his hands in his pockets. "The devils are
The men in the motor-car looked anxiously in the direction of
his dreamy gaze, and they saw that the whole regiment at the end
of the road was advancing upon them, Dr. Renard marching furiously
in front, his beard flying in the breeze.
The Colonel sprang out of the car with an intolerant
"Gentlemen," he cried, "the thing is incredible. It must be a
practical joke. If you knew Renard as I do? it's like calling
Queen Victoria a dynamiter. If you had got the man's character
into your head?"
"Dr. Bull," said Syme sardonically, "has at least got it into
"I tell you it can't be!" cried the Colonel, stamping.
"Renard shall explain it. He shall explain it to me," and he
"Don't be in such a hurry," drawled the smoker. "He will very
soon explain it to all of us."
But the impatient Colonel was already out of earshot,
advancing towards the advancing enemy. The excited Dr. Renard
lifted his pistol again, but perceiving his opponent, hesitated,
and the Colonel came face to face with him with frantic gestures
"It is no good," said Syme. "He will never get anything out
of that old heathen. I vote we drive bang through the thick of
them, bang as the bullets went through Bull's hat. We may all be
killed, but we must kill a tidy number of them."
"I won't 'ave it," said Dr. Bull, growing more vulgar in the
sincerity of his virtue. "The poor chaps may be making a mistake.
Give the Colonel a chance."
"Shall we go back, then?" asked the Professor.
"No," said Ratcliffe in a cold voice, "the street behind us
is held too. In fact, I seem to see there another friend of yours,
Syme spun round smartly, and stared backwards at the track
which they had travelled. He saw an irregular body of horsemen
gathering and galloping towards them in the gloom. He saw above
the foremost saddle the silver gleam of a sword, and then as it
grew nearer the silver gleam of an old man's hair. The next
moment, with shattering violence, he had swung the motor round and
sent it dashing down the steep side street to the sea, like a man
that desired only to die.
"What the devil is up?" cried the Professor, seizing his arm.
"The morning star has fallen!" said Syme, as his own car went
down the darkness like a falling star.
The others did not understand his words, but when they looked
back at the street above they saw the hostile cavalry coming round
the corner and down the slopes after them; and foremost of all
rode the good innkeeper, flushed with the fiery innocence of the
"The world is insane!" said the Professor, and buried his
face in his hands.
"No," said Dr. Bull in adamantine humility, "it is I."
"What are we going to do?" asked the Professor.
"At this moment," said Syme, with a scientific detachment, "I
think we are going to smash into a lamppost."
The next instant the automobile had come with a catastrophic
jar against an iron object. The instant after that four men had
crawled out from under a chaos of metal, and a tall lean lamp-post
that had stood up straight on the edge of the marine parade stood
out, bent and twisted, like the branch of a broken tree.
"Well, we smashed something," said the Professor, with a
faint smile. "That's some comfort."
"You're becoming an anarchist," said Syme, dusting his
clothes with his instinct of daintiness.
"Everyone is," said Ratcliffe.
As they spoke, the white-haired horseman and his followers
came thundering from above, and almost at the same moment a dark
string of men ran shouting along the sea-front. Syme snatched a
sword, and took it in his teeth; he stuck two others under his
arm-pits, took a fourth in his left hand and the lantern in his
right, and leapt off the high parade on to the beach below.
The others leapt after him, with a common acceptance of such
decisive action, leaving the debris and the gathering mob above
"We have one more chance," said Syme, taking the steel out of
his mouth. "Whatever all this pandemonium means, I suppose the
police station will help us. We can't get there, for they hold the
way. But there's a pier or breakwater runs out into the sea just
here, which we could defend longer than anything else, like
Horatius and his bridge. We must defend it till the Gendarmerie
turn out. Keep after me."
They followed him as he went crunching down the beach, and in
a second or two their boots broke not on the sea gravel, but on
broad, flat stones. They marched down a long, low jetty, running
out in one arm into the dim, boiling sea, and when they came to
the end of it they felt that they had come to the end of their
story. They turned and faced the town.
That town was transfigured with uproar. All along the high
parade from which they had just descended was a dark and roaring
stream of humanity, with tossing arms and fiery faces, groping and
glaring towards them. The long dark line was dotted with torches
and lanterns; but even where no flame lit up a furious face, they
could see in the farthest figure, in the most shadowy gesture, an
organised hate. It was clear that they were the accursed of all
men, and they knew not why.
Two or three men, looking little and black like monkeys,
leapt over the edge as they had done and dropped on to the beach.
These came ploughing down the deep sand, shouting horribly, and
strove to wade into the sea at random. The example was followed,
and the whole black mass of men began to run and drip over the
edge like black treacle.
Foremost among the men on the beach Syme saw the peasant who
had driven their cart. He splashed into the surf on a huge
cart-horse, and shook his axe at them.
"The peasant!" cried Syme. "They have not risen since the
"Even if the police do come now," said the Professor
mournfully, "they can do nothing with this mob."
"Nonsence!" said Bull desperately; "there must be some people
left in the town who are human."
"No," said the hopeless Inspector, "the human being will soon
be extinct. We are the last of mankind."
"It may be," said the Professor absently. Then he added in
his dreamy voice, "What is all that at the end of the 'Dunciad'?
Nor public flame; nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human light is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos, is restored;
Light dies before thine uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall;
And universal darkness buries all."'
"Stop!" cried Bull suddenly, "the gendarmes are out."
The low lights of the police station were indeed blotted and
broken with hurrying figures, and they heard through the darkness
the clash and jingle of a disciplined cavalry.
' They are charging the mob!" cried Bull in ecstacy or alarm.
"No," said Syme, "they are formed along the parade."
"They have unslung their carbines," cried Bull dancing with
"Yes," said Ratcliffe, "and they are going to fire on us."
As he spoke there came a long crackle of musketry, and
bullets seemed to hop like hailstones on the stones in front of
'The gendarmes have joined them!" cried the Professor, and
struck his forehead.
"I am in the padded cell," said Bull solidly.
There was a long silence, and then Ratcliffe said, looking
out over the swollen sea, all a sort of grey purple?
"What does it matter who is mad or who is sane? We shall all
be dead soon."
Syme turned to him and said?
"You are quite hopeless, then?"
Mr. Ratcliffe kept a stony silence; then at last he said
"No; oddly enough I am not quite hopeless. There is one
insane little hope that I cannot get out of my mind. The power of
this whole planet is against us, yet I cannot help wondering
whether this one silly little hope is hopeless yet."
"In what or whom is your hope?" asked Syme with curiosity.
"In a man I never saw," said the other, looking at the leaden
"I know what you mean," said Syme in a low voice, "the man in
the dark room. But Sunday must have killed him by now."
"Perhaps," said the other steadily; "but if so, he was the
only man whom Sunday found it hard to kill."
"I heard what you said," said the Professor, with his back
turned. "I also am holding hard on to the thing I never saw."
All of a sudden Syme, who was standing as if blind with
introspective thought, swung round and cried out, like a man
waking from sleep?
"Where is the Colonel? I thought he was with us!"
"The Colonel! Yes," cried Bull, "where on earth is the
"He went to speak to Renard," said the Professor.
"We cannot leave him among all those beasts," cried Syme.
"Let us die like gentlemen if?"
"Do not pity the Colonel," said Ratcliffe, with a pale sneer.
"He is extremely comfortable. He is?"
"No! no! no!" cried Syme in a kind of frenzy, "not the
Colonel too! I will never believe it!"
"Will you believe your eyes?" asked the other, and pointed to
Many of their pursuers had waded into the water shaking their
fists, but the sea was rough, and they could not reach the pier.
Two or three figures, however, stood on the beginning of the stone
footway, and seemed to be cautiously advancing down it. The glare
of a chance lantern lit up the faces of the two foremost. One face
wore a black half-mask, and under it the mouth was twisting about
in such a madness of nerves that the black tuft of beard wriggled
round and round like a restless, living thing. The other was the
red face and white moustache of Colonel Ducroix. They were in
"Yes, he is gone too," said the Professor, and sat down on a
stone. "Everything's gone. I'm gone! I can't trust my own bodily
machinery. I feel as if my own hand might fly up and strike me."
"When my hand flies up," said Syme, "it will strike somebody
else," and he strode along the pier towards the Colonel, the sword
in one hand and the lantern in the other.
As if to destroy the last hope or doubt, the Colonel, who saw
him coming, pointed his revolver at him and fired. The shot missed
Syme, but struck his sword, breaking it short at the hilt. Syme
rushed on, and swung the iron lantern above his head.
"Judas before Herod!" he said, and struck the Colonel down
upon the stones. Then he turned to the Secretary, whose frightful
mouth was almost foaming now, and held the lamp high with so rigid
and arresting a gesture, that the man was, as it were, frozen for
a moment, and forced to hear.
"Do you see this lantern?" cried Syme in a terrible voice.
"Do you see the cross carved on it, and the flame inside? You did
not make it. You did not light it, Better men than you, men who
could believe and obey, twisted the entrails of iron and preserved
the legend of fire. There is not a street you walk on, there is
not a thread you wear, that was not made as this lantern was, by
denying your philosophy of dirt and rats. You can make nothing.
You can only destroy. You will destroy mankind; you will destroy
the world. Let that suffice you. Yet this one old Christian
lantern you shall not destroy. It shall go where your empire of
apes will never have the wit to find it."
He struck the Secretary once with the lantern so that he
staggered; and then, whirling it twice round his head, sent it
flying far out to sea, where it flared like a roaring rocket and
"Swords!" shouted Syme, turning his flaming face ; to the
three behind him. "Let us charge these dogs, for our time has come
His three companions came after him sword in hand. Syme's
sword was broken, but he rent a bludgeon from the fist of a
fisherman, flinging him down. In a moment they would have flung
themselves upon the face of the mob and perished, when an
interruption came. The Secretary, ever since Syme's speech, had
stood with his hand to his stricken head as if dazed; now he
suddenly pulled off his black mask.
The pale face thus peeled in the lamplight revealed not so
much rage as astonishment. He put up his hand with an anxious
"There is some mistake," he said. "Mr. Syme, I hardly think
you understand your position. I arrest you in the name of the
"Of the law?" said Syme, and dropped his stick.
"Certainly!" said the Secretary. "I am a detective from
Scotland Yard," and he took a small blue card from his pocket.
"And what do you suppose we are?" asked the Professor, and
threw up his arms.
"You," said the Secretary stiffly, "are, as I know for a
fact, members of the Supreme Anarchist Council. Disguised as one
of you, I?"
Dr. Bull tossed his sword into the sea.
"There never was any Supreme Anarchist Council," he said. "We
were all a lot of silly policemen looking at each other. And all
these nice people who have been peppering us with shot thought we
were the dynamiters. I knew I couldn't be wrong about the mob," he
said, beaming over the enormous multitude, which stretched away to
the distance on both sides. "Vulgar people are never mad. I'm
vulgar myself, and I know. I am now going on shore to stand a
drink to everybody here."
THE PURSUIT OF THE PRESIDENT
NEXT morning five bewildered but hilarious people took the
boat for Dover. The poor old Colonel might have had some cause to
complain, having been first forced to fight for two factions that
didn't exist, and then knocked down with an iron lantern. But he
was a magnanimous old gentleman, and being much relieved that
neither party had anything to do with dynamite, he saw them off on
the pier with great geniality.
The five reconciled detectives had a hundred details to
explain to each other. The Secretary had to tell Syme how they had
come to wear masks originally in order to approach the supposed
enemy as fellow-conspirators;
Syme had to explain how they had fled with such swiftness
through a civilised country. But above all these matters of detail
which could be explained, rose the central mountain of the matter
that they could not explain. What did it all mean? If they were
all harmless officers, what was Sunday? If he had not seized the
world, what on earth had he been up to? Inspector Ratcliffe was
still gloomy about this.
"I can't make head or tail of old Sunday's little game any
more than you can," he said. "But whatever else Sunday is, he
isn't a blameless citizen. Damn it! do you remember his face?"
"I grant you," answered Syme, "that I have never been able to
"Well," said the Secretary, "I suppose we can find out soon,
for to-morrow we have our next general meeting. You will excuse
me," he said, with a rather ghastly smile, "for being well
acquainted with my secretarial duties."
"I suppose you are right," said the Professor reflectively.
"I suppose we might find it out from him; but I confess that I
should feel a bit afraid of asking Sunday who he really is."
"Why," asked the Secretary, "for fear of bombs?"
"No," said the Professor, "for fear he might tell me."
"Let us have some drinks," said Dr. Bull, after a silence.
Throughout their whole journey by boat and train they were
highly convivial, but they instinctively kept together. Dr. Bull,
who had always been the optimist of the party, endeavoured to
persuade the other four that the whole company could take the same
hansom cab from Victoria; but this was over-ruled, and they went
in a four-wheeler, with Dr. Bull on the box, singing. They
finished their journey at an hotel in Piccadilly Circus, so as to
be close to the early breakfast next morning in Leicester Square.
Yet even then the adventures of the day were not entirely over.
Dr. Bull, discontented with the general proposal to go to bed, had
strolled out of the hotel at about eleven to see and taste some of
the beauties of London. Twenty minutes afterwards, however, he
came back and made quite a clamour in the hall. Syme, who tried at
first to soothe him, was forced at last to listen to his
communication with quite new attention.
"I tell you I've seen him!" said Dr. Bull, with thick
"Whom?" asked Syme quickly. "Not the President?"
"Not so bad as that," said Dr. Bull, with unnecessary
laughter, "not so bad as that. I've got him here."
"Got whom here?" asked Syme impatiently.
"Hairy man," said the other lucidly, "man that used to be
hairy man?Gogol. Here he is," and he pulled forward by a reluctant
elbow the identical young man who five days before had marched out
of the Council with thin red hair and a pale face, the first of
all the sham anarchists who had been exposed.
"Why do you worry with me?" he cried. "You have expelled me
as a spy."
"We are all spies!" whispered Syme.
"We're all spies!" shouted Dr. Bull. "Come and have a drink."
Next morning the battalion of the reunited six marched
stolidly towards the hotel in Leicester Square.
"This is more cheerful," said Dr. Bull; "we are six men going
to ask one man what he means."
"I think it is a bit queerer than that," said Syme. "I think
it is six men going to ask one man what they mean."
They turned in silence into the Square, and though the hotel
was in the opposite corner, they saw at once the little balcony
and a figure that looked too big for it. He was sitting alone with
bent head, poring over a newspaper. But all his councillors, who
had come to vote him down, crossed that Square as if they were
watched out of heaven by a hundred eyes.
They had disputed much upon their policy, about whether they
should leave the unmasked Gogol without and begin diplomatically,
or whether they should bring him in and blow up the gunpowder at
once. The influence of Syme and Bull prevailed for the latter
course, though the Secretary to the last asked them why they
attacked Sunday so rashly.
"My reason is quite simple," said Syme. "I attack him rashly
because I am afraid of him."
They followed Syme up the dark stair in silence, and they all
came out simultaneously into the broad sunlight of the morning and
the broad sunlight of Sunday's smile.
"Delightful!" he said. "So pleased to see you all. What an
exquisite day it is. Is the Czar dead?"
The Secretary, who happened to be foremost, drew himself
together for a dignified outburst.
"No, sir," he said sternly "there has been no massacre. I
bring you news of no such disgusting spectacles."
"Disgusting spectacles?" repeated the President, with a
bright, inquiring smile. "You mean Dr. Bull's spectacles?"
The Secretary choked for a moment, and the President went on
with a sort of smooth appeal?
"Of course, we all have our opinions and even our eyes, but
really to call them disgusting before the man himself?"
Dr. Bull tore off his spectacles and broke them on the table.
"My spectacles are blackguardly," he said, "but I'm not. Look
at my face."
"I dare say it's the sort of face that grows on one," said
the President, "in fact, it grows on you; and who am I to quarrel
with the wild fruits upon the Tree of Life? I dare say it will
grow on me some day."
"We have no time for tomfoolery," said the Secretary,
breaking in savagely. "We have come to know what all this means.
Who are you? What are you? Why did you get us all here? Do you
know who and what we are? Are you a half-witted man playing the
conspirator, or are you a clever man playing the fool? Answer me,
I tell you."
"Candidates," murmured Sunday, "are only required to answer
eight out of the seventeen questions on the paper. As far as I can
make out, you want me to tell you what I am, and what you are, and
what this table is, and what this Council is, and what this world
is for all I know. Well, I will go so far as to rend the veil of
one mystery. If you want to know what you are, you are a set of
highly well-intentioned young jackasses."
"And you," said Syme, leaning forward, "what are you?"
"I? What am I?" roared the President, and he rose slowly to
an incredible height, like some enormous wave about to arch above
them and break. "You want to know what I am, do you? Bull, you are
a man of science. Grub in the roots of those trees and find out
the truth about them. Syme, you are a poet. Stare at those morning
clouds. But I tell you this, that you will have found out the
truth of the last tree and the top-most cloud before the truth
about me. You will understand the sea, and I shall be still a
riddle; you shall know what the stars are, and not know what I am.
Since the beginning of the world all men have hunted me like a
wolf?kings and sages, and poets and lawgivers, all the churches,
and all the philosophies. But I have never been caught yet, and
the skies will fall in the time I turn to bay. I have given them a
good run for their money, and I will now."
Before one of them could move, the monstrous man had swung
himself like some huge ourang-outang over the balustrade of the
balcony. Yet before he dropped he pulled himself up again as on a
horizontal bar, and thrusting his great chin over the edge of the
balcony, said solemnly?
"There's one thing I'll tell you though about who I am. I am
the man in the dark room, who made you all policemen."
With that he fell from the balcony, bouncing on the stones
below like a great ball of india-rubber, and went bounding off
towards the corner of the Alhambra, where he hailed a hansom-cab
and sprang inside it. The six detectives had been standing
thunderstruck and livid in the light of his last assertion; but
when he disappeared into the cab, Syme's practical senses returned
to him, and leaping over the balcony so recklessly as almost to
break his legs, he called another cab.
He and Bull sprang into the cab together, the Professor and
the Inspector into another, while the Secretary and the late Gogol
scrambled into a third just in time to pursue the flying Syme, who
was pursuing the flying President. Sunday led them a wild chase
towards the north-west, his cabman, evidently under the influence
of more than common inducements, urging the horse at breakneck
speed. But Syme was in no mood for delicacies, and he stood up in
his own cab shouting, "Stop thief!" until crowds ran along beside
his cab, and policemen began to stop and ask questions. All this
had its influence upon the President's cabman, who began to look
dubious, and to slow down to a trot. He opened the trap to talk
reasonably to his fare, and in so doing let the long whip droop
over the front of the cab. Sunday leant forward, seized it, and
jerked it violently out of the man's hand. Then standing up in
front of the cab himself, he lashed the horse and roared aloud, so
that they went down the streets like a flying storm. Through
street after street and square after square went whirling this
preposterous vehicle, in which the fare was urging the horse and
the driver trying desperately to stop it. The other three cabs
came after it (if the phrase be permissible of a cab) like panting
hounds. Shops and streets shot by like rattling arrows.
At the highest ecstacy of speed, Sunday turned round on the
splashboard where he stood, and sticking his great grinning head
out of the cab, with white hair whistling in the wind, he made a
horrible face at his pursuers, like some colossal urchin. Then
raising his right hand swiftly, he flung a ball of paper in Syme's
face and vanished. Syme caught the thing while instinctively
warding it off, and discovered that it consisted of two crumpled
papers. One was addressed to himself, and the other to Dr. Bull,
with a very long, and it is to be feared partly ironical, string
of letters after his name. Dr. Bull's address was, at any rate,
considerably longer than his communication, for the communication
consisted entirely of the words:?
"What about Martin Tupper now?"
"What does the old maniac mean?" asked Bull, staring at the
words. "What does yours say, Syme?"
Syme's message was, at any rate, longer, and ran as follows:?
"No one would regret anything in the nature of an
interference by the Archdeacon more than I. I trust it will not
come to that. But, for the last time, where are your goloshes? The
thing is too bad, especially after what uncle said."
The President's cabman seemed to be regaining some control
over his horse, and the pursuers gained a little as they swept
round into the Edgware Road. And here there occurred what seemed
to the allies a providential stoppage. Traffic of every kind was
swerving to right or left or stopping, for down the long road was
coming the unmistakable roar announcing the fire-engine, which in
a few seconds went by like a brazen thunderbolt. But quick as it
went by, Sunday had bounded out of his cab, sprung at the
fire-engine, caught it, slung himself on to it, and was seen as he
disappeared in the noisy distance talking to the astonished
fireman with explanatory gestures.
"After him!" howled Syme. "He can't go astray now. There's no
mistaking a fire-engine."
The three cabmen, who had been stunned for a moment, whipped
up their horses and slightly decreased the distance between
themselves and their disappearing prey. The President acknowledged
this proximity by coming to the back of the car, bowing
repeatedly, kissing his hand, and finally flinging a neatly-folded
note into the bosom of Inspector Ratcliffe. When that gentleman
opened it, not without impatience, he found it contained the
"Fly at once. The truth about your trouser-stretchers is
The fire-engine had struck still farther to the north, into
a region that they did not recognise; and as it ran by a line of
high railings shadowed with trees, the six friends were startled,
but somewhat relieved, to see the President leap from the
fire-engine, though whether through another whim or the increasing
protest of his entertainers they could not see. Before the three
cabs, however, could reach up to the spot, he had gone up the high
railings like a huge grey cat, tossed himself over, and vanished
in a darkness of leaves.
Syme with a furious gesture stopped his cab, jumped out, and
sprang also to the escalade. When he had one leg over the fence
and his friends were following, he turned a face on them which
shone quite pale in the shadow.
"What place can this be?" he asked. "Can it be the old
devil's house? I've heard he has a house in North London."
"All the better," said the Secretary grimly, planting a foot
in a foothold, "we shall find him at home."
"No, but it isn't that," said Syme, knitting his brows. "I
hear the most horrible noises, like devils laughing and sneezing
and blowing their devilish noses!"
"His dogs barking, of course," said the Secretary.
"Why not say his black-beetles barking!" said Syme furiously,
"snails barking! geraniums barking! Did you ever hear a dog bark
He held up his hand, and there came out of the thicket a long
growling roar that seemed to get under the skin and freeze the
flesh?a low thrilling roar that made a throbbing in the air all
"The dogs of Sunday would be no ordinary dogs," said Gogol,
Syme had jumped down on the other side, but he still stood
"Well, listen to that," he said, "is that a dog?anybody's
There broke upon their ear a hoarse screaming as of things
protesting and clamouring in sudden pain; and then, far off like
an echo, what sounded like a long nasal trumpet.
"Well, his house ought to be hell! " said the Secretary; "and
if it is hell, I'm going in!" and he sprang over the tall railings
almost with one swing.
The others followed. They broke through a tangle of plants
and shrubs, and came out on an open path. Nothing was in sight,
but Dr. Bull suddenly struck his hands together.
"Why, you asses," he cried, "it's the Zoo!"
As they were looking round wildly for any trace of their wild
quarry, a keeper in uniform came running along the path with a man
in plain clothes.
"Has it come this way?" gasped the keeper.
"Has what?" asked Syme.
"The elephant!" cried the keeper. "An elephant has gone mad
and run away!"
"He has run away with an old gentleman," said the other
stranger breathlessly, "a poor old gentleman with white hair! "
"What sort of old gentleman?" asked Syme, with great
"A very large and fat old gentleman in light grey clothes,"
said the keeper eagerly.
"Well," said Syme, "if he's that particular kind of old
gentleman, if you're quite sure that he's a large and fat old
gentleman in grey clothes, you may take my word for it that the
elephant has not run away with him. He has run away with the
elephant. The elephant is not made by God that could run away with
him if he did not consent to the elopement. And, by thunder, there
he is! "
There was no doubt about it this time. Clean across the space
of grass, about two hundred yards away, with a crowd screaming and
scampering vainly at his heels, went a huge grey elephant at an
awful stride, with his trunk thrown out as rigid as a ship's
bowsprit, and trumpeting like the trumpet of doom. On the back of
the bellowing and plunging animal sat President Sunday with all
the placidity of a sultan, but goading the animal to a furious
speed with some sharp object in his hand.
"Stop him!" screamed the populace. "He'll be out of the
"Stop a landslide!" said the keeper. "He is out of the gate!"
And even as he spoke, a final crash and roar of terror
announced that the great grey elephant had broken out of the gates
of the Zoological Gardens, and was careening down Albany Street
like a new and swift sort of omnibus.
"Great Lord!" cried Bull, "I never knew an elephant could go
so fast. Well, it must be hansom-cabs again if we are to keep him
As they raced along to the gate out of which the elephant had
vanished, Syme felt a glaring panorama of the strange animals in
the cages which they passed. Afterwards he thought it queer that
he should have seen them so clearly. He remembered especially
seeing pelicans, with their preposterous, pendant throats. He
wondered why the pelican was the symbol of charity, except it was
that it wanted a good deal of charity to admire a pelican. He
remembered a hornbill, which was simply a huge yellow beak with a
small bird tied on behind it. The whole gave him a sensation, the
vividness of which he could not explain, that Nature was always
making quite mysterious jokes. Sunday had told them that they
would understand him when they had understood the stars. He
wondered whether even the archangels understood the hornbill.
The six unhappy detectives flung themselves into cabs and
followed the elephant sharing the terror which he spread through
the long stretch of the streets. This time Sunday did not turn
round, but offered them the solid stretch of his unconscious back,
which maddened them, if possible, more than his previous
mockeries. Just before they came to Baker Street, however, he was
seen to throw something far up into the air, as a boy does a ball
meaning to catch it again. But at their rate of racing it fell far
behind, just by the cab containing Gogol; and in faint hope of a
clue or for some impulse unexplainable, he stopped his cab so as
to pick it up. It was addressed to himself, and was quite a bulky
parcel. On examination, however, its bulk was found to consist of
thirty-three pieces of paper of no value wrapped one round the
other. When the last covering was torn away it reduced itself to a
small slip of paper, on which was written:?
"The word, I fancy, should be 'pink'."
The man once known as Gogol said nothing, but the movements
of his hands and feet were like those of a man urging a horse to
Through street after street, through district after district,
went the prodigy of the flying elephant, calling crowds to every
window, and driving the traffic left and right. And still through
all this insane publicity the three cabs toiled after it, until
they came to be regarded as part of a procession, and perhaps the
advertisement of a circus. They went at such a rate that distances
were shortened beyond belief, and Syme saw the Albert Hall in
Kensington when he thought that he was still in Paddington. The
animal's pace was even more fast and free through the empty,
aristocratic streets of South Kensington, and he finally headed
towards that part of the sky-line where the enormous Wheel of
Earl's Court stood up in the sky. The wheel grew larger and
larger, till it filled heaven like the wheel of stars.
The beast outstripped the cabs. They lost him round several
corners, and when they came to one of the gates of the Earl's
Court Exhibition they found themselves finally blocked. In front
of them was an enormous crowd; in the midst of it was an enormous
elephant, heaving and shuddering as such shapeless creatures do.
But the President had disappeared.
"Where has he gone to?" asked Syme, slipping to the ground.
"Gentleman rushed into the Exhibition, sir!" said an official
in a dazed manner. Then he added in an injured voice: "Funny
gentleman, sir. Asked me to hold his horse, and gave me this."
He held out with distaste a piece of folded paper, addressed:
"To the Secretary of the Central Anarchist Council."
The Secretary, raging, rent it open, and found written inside
"When the herring runs a mile,
Let the Secretary smile;
When the herring tries to fly,
Let the Secretary die.
"Why the eternal crikey," began the Secretary, "did you let
the man in? Do people commonly come to you Exhibition riding on
mad elephants? Do?"
"Look! " shouted Syme suddenly. "Look over there! '
"Look at what?" asked the Secretary savagely.
"Look at the captive balloon!" said Syme, and pointed in a
"Why the blazes should I look at a captive balloon?' demanded
the Secretary. "What is there queer about a captive balloon?"
"Nothing," said Syme, "except that it isn't captive!'
They all turned their eyes to where the balloon swung and
swelled above the Exhibition on a string, like a child's balloon.
A second afterwards the string came in two just under the car, and
the balloon, broken loose, floated away with the freedom of a soap
"Ten thousand devils!" shrieked the Secretary. "He's got into
it!" and he shook his fists at the sky.
The balloon, borne by some chance wind, came right above
them, and they could see the great white head of the President
peering over the side and looking benevolently down on them.
"God bless my soul!" said the Professor with the elderly
manner that he could never disconnect from his bleached beard and
parchment face. "God bless my soul! I seemed to fancy that
something fell on the top of my hat!"
He put up a trembling hand and took from that shelf a piece
of twisted paper, which he opened absently only to find it
inscribed with a true lover's knot and, the words:?
"Your beauty has not left me indifferent.?From LITTLE
There was a short silence, and then Syme said, biting his
"I'm not beaten yet. The blasted thing must come down
somewhere. Let's follow it!"
THE SIX PHILOSOPHERS
ACROSS green fields, and breaking through blooming hedges,
toiled six draggled detectives, about five miles out of London.
The optimist of the party had at first proposed that they should
follow the balloon across South England in hansom-cabs. But he was
ultimately convinced of the persistent refusal of the balloon to
follow the roads, and the still more persistent refusal of the
cabmen to follow the balloon. Consequently the tireless though
exasperated travellers broke through black thickets and ploughed
through ploughed fields till each was turned into a figure too
outrageous to be mistaken for a tramp. Those green hills of Surrey
saw the final collapse and tragedy of the admirable light grey
suit in which Syme had set out from Saffron Park. His silk hat was
broken over his nose by a swinging bough, his coat-tails were torn
to the shoulder by arresting thorns, the clay of England was
splashed up to his collar; but he still carried his yellow beard
forward with a silent and furious determination, and his eyes were
still fixed on that floating ball of gas, which in the full flush
of sunset seemed coloured like a sunset cloud.
"After all," he said, "it is very beautiful!"
"It is singularly and strangely beautiful!" said the
Professor. "I wish the beastly gas-bag would burst!"
"No," said Dr. Bull, "I hope it won't. It might hurt the old
"Hurt him!" said the vindictive Professor, "hurt him! Not as
much as I'd hurt him if I could get up with him. Little Snowdrop!"
"I don't want him hurt, somehow," said Dr. Bull.
"What!" cried the Secretary bitterly. "Do you believe all
that tale about his being our man in the dark room? Sunday would
say he was anybody."
"I don't know whether I believe it or not," said Dr. Bull.
"But it isn't that that I mean. I can't wish old Sunday's balloon
to burst because?"
"Well," said Syme impatiently, "because?"
"Well, because he's so jolly like a balloon himself," said
Dr. Bull desperately. "I don't understand a word of all that idea
of his being the same man who gave us all our blue cards. It seems
to make everything nonsense. But I don't care who knows it, I
always had a sympathy for old Sunday himself, wicked as he was.
Just as if he was a great bouncing baby. How can I explain what my
queer sympathy was? It didn't prevent my fighting him like hell!
Shall I make it clear if I say that I liked him because he was so
"You will not," said the Secretary.
"I've got it now," cried Bull, "it was because he was so fat
and so light. Just like a balloon. We always think of fat people
as heavy, but he could have danced against a sylph. I see now what
I mean. Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength
is shown in levity. It was like the old speculations?what would
happen if an elephant could leap up in the sky like a
"Our elephant," said Syme, looking upwards, "has leapt into
the sky like a grasshopper."
"And somehow," concluded Bull, "that's why I can't help
liking old Sunday. No, it's not an admiration of force, or any
silly thing like that. There is a kind of gaiety in the thing, as
if he were bursting with some good news. Haven't you sometimes
felt it on a spring day? You know Nature plays tricks, but somehow
that day proves they are good-natured tricks. I never read the
Bible myself, but that part they laugh at is literal truth, 'Why
leap ye, ye high hills?' The hills do leap ?-at least, they try
to.... Why do I like Sunday? . . . how can I tell you? . . .
because he's such a Bounder."
There was a long silence, and then the Secretary said in a
curious, strained voice?
"You do not know Sunday at all. Perhaps it is because you are
better than I, and do not know hell. I was a fierce fellow, and a
trifle morbid from the first. The man who sits in darkness, and
who chose us all, chose me because I had all the crazy look of a
conspirator?because my smile went crooked, and my eyes were
gloomy, even when I smiled. But there must have been something in
me that answered to the nerves in all these anarchic men. For when
I first saw Sunday he expressed to me, not your airy vitality, but
something both gross and sad in the Nature of Things. I found him
smoking in a twilight room, a room with brown blind down,
infinitely more depressing than the genial darkness in which our
master lives. He sat there on a bench, a huge heap of a man, dark
and out of shape. He listened to all my words without speaking or
even stirring. I poured out my most passionate appeals, and asked
my most eloquent questions. Then, after a long silence, the Thing
began to shake, and I thought it was shaken by some secret malady.
It shook like a loathsome and living jelly. It reminded me of
everything I had ever read about the base bodies that are the
origin of life?the deep sea lumps and protoplasm. It seemed like
the final form of matter, the most shapeless and the most
shameful. I could only tell myself, from its shudderings, that it
was something at least that such a monster could be miserable. And
then it broke upon me that the bestial mountain was shaking with a
lonely laughter, and the laughter was at me. Do you ask me to
forgive him that? It is no small thing to be laughed at by
something at once lower and stronger than oneself."
"Surely you fellows are exaggerating wildly," cut in the
clear voice of Inspector Ratcliffe. "President Sunday is a
terrible fellow for one's intellect, but he is not such a Barnum's
freak physically as you make out. He received me in an ordinary
office, in a grey check coat, in broad daylight. He talked to me
in an ordinary way. But I'll tell you what is a trifle creepy
about Sunday. His room is neat, his clothes are neat, everything
seems in order; but he's absent-minded. Sometimes his great bright
eyes go quite blind. For hours he forgets that you are there. Now
absent-mindedness is just a bit too awful in a bad man. We think
of a wicked man as vigilant. We can't think of a wicked man who is
honestly and sincerely dreamy, because we daren't think of a
wicked man alone with himself. An absentminded man means a
good-natured man. It means a man who, if he happens to see you,
will apologise. But how will you bear an absentminded man who, if
he happens to see you, will kill you? That is what tries the
nerves, abstraction combined with cruelty. Men have felt it
sometimes when they went through wild forests, and felt that the
animals there were at once innocent and pitiless. They might
ignore or slay. How would you like to pass ten mortal hours in a
parlour with an absent-minded tiger?"
"And what do you think of Sunday, Gogol?" asked Syme.
"I don't think of Sunday on principle," said Gogol simply,
"any more than I stare at the sun at noonday."
"Well, that is a point of view," said Syme thoughtfully.
"What do you say, Professor?"
The Professor was walking with bent head and trailing stick,
and he did not answer at all.
"Wake up, Professor!" said Syme genially. "Tell us what you
think of Sunday."
The Professor spoke at last very slowly.
"I think something," he said, "that I cannot say clearly. Or,
rather, I think something that I cannot even think clearly. But it
is something like this. My early life, as you know, was a bit too
large and loose.
Well, when I saw Sunday's face I thought it was too large?
everybody does, but I also thought it was too loose. The face was
so big, that one couldn't focus it or make it a face at all. The
eye was so far away from the nose, that it wasn't an eye. The
mouth was so much by itself, that one had to think of it by
itself. The whole thing is too hard to explain."
He paused for a little, still trailing his stick, and then
"But put it this way. Walking up a road at night, I have seen
a lamp and a lighted window and a cloud make together a most
complete and unmistakable face. If anyone in heaven has that face
I shall know him again. Yet when I walked a little farther I found
that there was no face, that the window was ten yards away, the
lamp ten hundred yards, the cloud beyond the world. Well, Sunday's
face escaped me; it ran away to right and left, as such chance
pictures run away. And so his face has made me, somehow, doubt
whether there are any faces. I don't know whether your face, Bull,
is a face or a combination in perspective. Perhaps one black disc
of your beastly glasses is quite close and another fifty miles
away. Oh, the doubts of a materialist are not worth a dump. Sunday
has taught me the last and the worst doubts, the doubts of a
spiritualist. I am a Buddhist, I suppose; and Buddhism is not a
creed, it is a doubt. My poor dear Bull, I do not believe that you
really have a face. I have not faith enough to believe in matter."
Syme's eyes were still fixed upon the errant orb, which,
reddened in the evening light, looked like some rosier and more
"Have you noticed an odd thing," he said, "about all your
descriptions? Each man of you finds Sunday quite different, yet
each man of you can only find one thing to compare him to?the
universe itself. Bull finds him like the earth in spring, Gogol
like the sun at noonday. The Secretary is reminded of the
shapeless protoplasm, and the Inspector of the carelessness of
virgin forests. The Professor says he is like a changing
landscape. This is queer, but it is queerer still that I also have
had my odd notion about the President, and I also find that I
think of Sunday as I think of the whole world."
"Get on a little faster, Syme," said Bull; "never mind the
"When I first saw Sunday," said Syme slowly, "I only saw his
back; and when I saw his back, I knew he was the worst man in the
world. His neck and shoulders were brutal, like those of some
apish god. His head had a stoop that was hardly human, like the
stoop of an ox. In fact, I had at once the revolting fancy that
this was not a man at all, but a beast dressed up in men's
"Get on," said Dr. Bull.
"And then the queer thing happened. I had seen his back from
the street, as he sat in the balcony. Then I entered the hotel,
and coming round the other side of him, saw his face in the
sunlight. His face frightened me, as it did everyone; but not
because it was brutal, not because it was evil. On the contrary,
it frightened me because it was so beautiful, because it was so
"Syme," exclaimed the Secretary, "are you ill?"
"It was like the face of some ancient archangel, judging
justly after heroic wars. There was laughter in the eyes, and in
the mouth honour and sorrow. There was the same white hair, the
same great, grey-clad shoulders that I had seen from behind. But
when I saw him from behind I was certain he was an animal, and
when I saw him in front I knew he was a god."
"Pan," said the Professor dreamily, "was a god and an
"Then, and again and always," went on Syme like a man talking
to himself, "that has been for me the mystery of Sunday, and it is
also the mystery of the world. When I see the horrible back, I am
sure the noble face is but a mask. When I see the face but for an
instant, I know the back is only a jest. Bad is so bad, that we
cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel
certain that evil could be explained. But the whole came to a kind
of crest yesterday when I raced Sunday for the cab, and was just
behind him all the way."
"Had you time for thinking then?" asked Ratcliffe.
"Time," replied Syme, "for one outrageous thought. I was
suddenly possessed with the idea that the blind, blank back of his
head really was his face?an awful, eyeless face staring at me! And
I fancied that the figure running in front of me was really a
figure running backwards, and dancing as he ran."
"Horrible!" said Dr. Bull, and shuddered.
"Horrible is not the word," said Syme. "It was exactly the
worst instant of my life. And yet ten minutes afterwards, when he
put his head out of the cab and made a grimace like a gargoyle, I
knew that he was only like a father playing hide-and-seek with his
"It is a long game," said the Secretary, and frowned at his
"Listen to me," cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis.
"Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we
have only known the back of the world. We see everything from
behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a
tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see
that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only
get round in front?"
"Look!" cried out Bull clamorously, "the balloon is coming
There was no need to cry out to Syme, who had never taken his
eyes off it. He saw the great luminous globe suddenly stagger in
the sky, right itself, and then sink slowly behind the trees like
a setting sun.
The man called Gogol, who had hardly spoken through all their
weary travels, suddenly threw up his hands like a lost spirit.
"He is dead!" he cried. "And now I know he was my friend?my
friend in the dark!"
"Dead!" snorted the Secretary. "You will not find him dead
easily. If he has been tipped out of the car, we shall find him
rolling as a colt rolls in a field, kicking his legs for fun."
"Clashing his hoofs," said the Professor. "The colts do, and
so did Pan."
"Pan again!" said Dr. Bull irritably. "You seem to think Pan
"So he is," said the Professor, "in Greek. He means
"Don't forget," said the Secretary, looking down, "that he
also means Panic."
Syme had stood without hearing any of the exclamations.
"It fell over there," he said shortly. "Let us follow it!"
Then he added with an indescribable gesture?
"Oh, if he has cheated us all by getting killed! It would be
like one of his larks."
He strode off towards the distant trees with a new energy,
his rags and ribbons fluttering in the wind. The others followed
him in a more footsore and dubious manner. And almost at the same
moment all six men realised that they were not alone in the little
Across the square of turf a tall man was advancing towards
them, leaning on a strange long staff like a sceptre. He was clad
in a fine but old-fashioned suit with knee-breeches; its colour
was that shade between blue, violet and grey which can be seen in
certain shadows of the woodland. His hair was whitish grey, and at
the first glance, taken along with his knee-breeches, looked as if
it was powdered. His advance was very quiet; but for the silver
frost upon his head, he might have been one to the shadows of the
"Gentlemen," he said, "my master has a carriage waiting for
you in the road just by."
"Who is your master?" asked Syme, standing quite still.
"I was told you knew his name," said the man respectfully.
There was a silence, and then the Secretary said?
"Where is this carriage?"
"It has been waiting only a few moments," said the stranger.
"My master has only just come home."
Syme looked left and right upon the patch of green field in
which he found himself. The hedges were ordinary hedges, the trees
seemed ordinary trees; yet he felt like a man entrapped in
He looked the mysterious ambassador up and down, but he could
discover nothing except that the man's coat was the exact colour
of the purple shadows, and that the man's face was the exact
colour of the red and brown and golden sky.
"Show us the place," Syme said briefly, and without a word
the man in the violet coat turned his back and walked towards a
gap in the hedge, which let in suddenly the light of a white road.
As the six wanderers broke out upon this thoroughfare, they
saw the white road blocked by what looked like a long row of
carriages, such a row of carriages as might close the approach to
some house in Park Lane. Along the side of these carriages stood a
rank of splendid servants, all dressed in the grey-blue uniform,
and all having a certain quality of stateliness and freedom which
would not commonly belong to the servants of a gentleman, but
rather to the officials and ambassadors of a great king. There
were no less than six carriages waiting, one for each of the
tattered and miserable band. All the attendants (as if in
court-dress) wore swords, and as each man crawled into his
carriage they drew them, and saluted with a sudden blaze of steel.
"What can it all mean?" asked Bull of Syme as they separated.
"Is this another joke of Sunday's?"
"I don't know," said Syme as he sank wearily back in the
cushions of his carriage; "but if it is, it's one of the jokes you
talk about. It's a good-natured one."
The six adventurers had passed through many adventures, but
not one had carried them so utterly off their feet as this last
adventure of comfort. They had all become inured to things going
roughly; but things suddenly going smoothly swamped them. They
could not even feebly imagine what the carriages were; it was
enough for them to know that they were carriages, and carriages
with cushions. They could not conceive who the old man was who had
led them; but it was quite enough that he had certainly led them
to the carriages.
Syme drove through a drifting darkness of trees in utter
abandonment. It was typical of him that while he had carried his
bearded chin forward fiercely so long as anything could be done,
when the whole business was taken out of his hands he fell back on
the cushions in a frank collapse.
Very gradually and very vaguely he realised into what rich
roads the carriage was carrying him. He saw that they passed the
stone gates of what might have been a park, that they began
gradually to climb a hill which, while wooded on both sides, was
somewhat more orderly than a forest. Then there began to grow upon
him, as upon a man slowly waking from a healthy sleep, a pleasure
in everything. He felt that the hedges were what hedges should be,
living walls; that a hedge is like a human army, disciplined, but
all the more alive. He saw high elms behind the hedges, and
vaguely thought how happy boys would be climbing there. Then his
carriage took a turn of the path, and he saw suddenly and quietly,
like a long, low, sunset cloud, a long, low house, mellow in the
mild light of sunset. All the six friends compared notes
afterwards and quarrelled; but they all agreed that in some
unaccountable way the place reminded them of their boyhood. It was
either this elm-top or that crooked path, it was either this scrap
of orchard or that shape of a window; but each man of them
declared that he could remember this place before he could
remember his mother.
When the carriages eventually rolled up to a large, low,
cavernous gateway, another man in the same uniform, but wearing a
silver star on the grey breast of his coat, came out to meet them.
This impressive person said to the bewildered Syme?
"Refreshments are provided for you in your room."
Syme, under the influence of the same mesmeric sleep of
amazement, went up the large oaken stairs after the respectful
attendant. He entered a splendid suite of apartments that seemed
to be designed specially for him. He walked up to a long mirror
with the ordinary instinct of his class, to pull his tie straight
or to smooth his hair; and there he saw the frightful figure that
he was?blood running down his face from where the bough had struck
him, his hair standing out like yellow rags of rank grass, his
clothes torn into long, wavering tatters. At once the whole enigma
sprang up, simply as the question of how he had got there, and how
he was to get out again. Exactly at the same moment a man in blue,
who had been appointed as his valet, said very solemnly?
"I have put out your clothes, sir."
"Clothes!" said Syme sardonically. "I have no clothes except
these," and he lifted two long strips of his frock-coat in
fascinating festoons, and made a movement as if to twirl like a
"My master asks me to say," said the attendant, that there is
a fancy dress ball to-night, and that he desires you to put on the
costume that I have laid out. Meanwhile, sir, there is a bottle of
Burgundy and some cold pheasant, which he hopes you will not
refuse, as it is some hours before supper."
"Cold pheasant is a good thing," said Syme reflectively, "and
Burgundy is a spanking good thing. But really I do not want either
of them so much as I want to know what the devil all this means,
and what sort of costume you have got laid out for me. Where is
The servant lifted off a kind of ottoman a long peacock-blue
drapery, rather of the nature of a domino, on the front of which
was emblazoned a large golden sun, and which was splashed here and
there with flaming stars and crescents.
"You're to be dressed as Thursday, sir," said the valet
"Dressed as Thursday!" said Syme in meditation. "It doesn't
sound a warm costume."
"Oh, yes, sir," said the other eagerly, "the Thursday costume
is quite warm, sir. It fastens up to the chin."
"Well, I don't understand anything," said Syme, sighing. "I
have been used so long to uncomfortable adventures that
comfortable adventures knock me out. Still, I may be allowed to
ask why I should be particularly like Thursday in a green frock
spotted all over with the sun and moon. Those orbs, I think, shine
on other days. I once saw the moon on Tuesday, I remember."
"Beg pardon, sir," said the valet, "Bible also provided for
you," and with a respectful and rigid finger he pointed out a
passage in the first chapter of Genesis. Syme read it wondering.
It was that in which the fourth day of the week is associated with
the creation of the sun and moon. Here, however, they reckoned
from a Christian Sunday.
"This is getting wilder and wilder," said Syme, as he sat
down in a chair. "Who are these people who provide cold pheasant
and Burgundy, and green clothes and Bibles? Do they provide
"Yes, sir, everything," said the attendant gravely. "Shall I
help you on with your costume?"
"Oh, hitch the bally thing on! " said Syme impatiently.
But though he affected to despise the mummery, he felt a
curious freedom and naturalness in his movements as the blue and
gold garment fell about him; and when he found that he had to wear
a sword, it stirred a boyish dream. As he passed out of the room
he flung the folds across his shoulder with a gesture, his sword
stood out at an angle, and he had all the swagger of a troubadour.
For these disguises did not disguise, but reveal.
AS Syme strode along the corridor he saw the Secretary
standing at the top of a great flight of stairs. The man had never
looked so noble. He was draped in a long robe of starless black,
down the centre of which fell a band or broad stripe of pure
white, like a single shaft of light. The whole looked like some
very severe ecclesiastical vestment. There was no need for Syme to
search his memory or the Bible in order to remember that the first
day of creation marked the mere creation of light out of darkness.
The vestment itself would alone have suggested the symbol; and
Syme felt also how perfectly this pattern of pure white and black
expressed the soul of the pale and austere Secretary, with his
inhuman veracity and his cold frenzy, which made him so easily
make war on the anarchists, and yet so easily pass for one of
them. Syme was scarcely surprised to notice that, amid all the
ease and hospitality of their new surroundings, this man's eyes
were still stern. No smell of ale or orchards could make the
Secretary cease to ask a reasonable question.
If Syme had been able to see himself, he would have realised
that he, too, seemed to be for the first time himself and no one
else. For if the Secretary stood for that philosopher who loves
the original and formless light, Syme was a type of the poet who
seeks always to make the light in special shapes, to split it up
into sun and star. The philosopher may sometimes love the
infinite; the poet always loves the finite. For him the great
moment is not the creation of light, but the creation of the sun
As they descended the broad stairs together they overtook
Ratcliffe, who was clad in spring green like a huntsman, and the
pattern upon whose garment was a green tangle of trees. For he
stood for that third day on which the earth and green things were
made, and his square, sensible face, with its not unfriendly
cynicism, seemed appropriate enough to it.
They were led out of another broad and low gateway into a
very large old English garden, full of torches and bonfires, by
the broken light of which a vast carnival of people were dancing
in motley dress. Syme seemed to see every shape in Nature imitated
in some crazy costume. There was a man dressed as a windmill with
enormous sails, a man dressed as an elephant, a man dressed as a
balloon; the two last, together, seemed to keep the thread of
their farcical adventures. Syme even saw, with a queer thrill, one
dancer dressed like an enormous hornbill, with a beak twice as big
as himself?the queer bird which had fixed itself on his fancy like
a living question while he was rushing down the long road at the
Zoological Gardens. There were a thousand other such objects,
however. There was a dancing lamp-post, a dancing apple tree, a
dancing ship. One would have thought that the untamable tune of
some mad musician had set all the common objects of field and
street dancing an eternal jig. And long afterwards, when Syme was
middle-aged and at rest, he could never see one of those
particular objects?a lamppost, or an apple tree, or a windmill?
without thinking that it was a strayed reveller from that revel of
On one side of this lawn, alive with dancers, was a sort of
green bank, like the terrace in such old-fashioned gardens.
Along this, in a kind of crescent, stood seven great chairs,
the thrones of the seven days. Gogol and Dr. Bull were already in
their seats; the Professor was just mounting to his. Gogol, or
Tuesday, had his simplicity well symbolised by a dress designed
upon the division of the waters, a dress that separated upon his
forehead and fell to his feet, grey and silver, like a sheet of
rain. The Professor, whose day was that on which the birds and
fishes?the ruder forms of life?were created, had a dress of dim
purple, over which sprawled goggle-eyed fishes and outrageous
tropical birds, the union in him of unfathomable fancy and of
doubt. Dr. Bull, the last day of Creation, wore a coat covered
with heraldic animals in red and gold, and on his crest a man
rampant. He lay back in his chair with a broad smile, the picture
of an optimist in his element.
One by one the wanderers ascended the bank and sat in their
strange seats. As each of them sat down a roar of enthusiasm rose
from the carnival, such as that with which crowds receive kings.
Cups were clashed and torches shaken, and feathered hats flung in
the air. The men for whom these thrones were reserved were men
crowned with some extraordinary laurels. But the central chair was
Syme was on the left hand of it and the Secretary on the
right. The Secretary looked across the empty throne at Syme, and
said, compressing his lips?
"We do not know yet that he is not dead in a field."
Almost as Syme heard the words, he saw on the sea of human
faces in front of him a frightful and beautiful alteration, as if
heaven had opened behind his head. But Sunday had only passed
silently along the front like a shadow, and had sat in the central
seat. He was draped plainly, in a pure and terrible white, and his
hair was like a silver flame on his forehead.
For a long time?it seemed for hours?that huge masquerade of
mankind swayed and stamped in front of them to marching and
exultant music. Every couple dancing seemed a separate romance; it
might be a fairy dancing with a pillar-box, or a peasant girl
dancing with the moon; but in each case it was, somehow, as absurd
as Alice in Wonderland, yet as grave and kind as a love story. At
last, however, the thick crowd began to thin itself. Couples
strolled away into the garden-walks, or began to drift towards
that end of the building where stood smoking, in huge pots like
fish-kettles, some hot and scented mixtures of old ale or wine.
Above all these, upon a sort of black framework on the roof of the
house, roared in its iron basket a gigantic bonfire, which lit up
the land for miles. It flung the homely effect of firelight over
the face of vast forests of grey or brown, and it seemed to fill
with warmth even the emptiness of upper night. Yet this also,
after a time, was allowed to grow fainter; the dim groups gathered
more and more round the great cauldrons, or passed, laughing and
clattering, into the inner passages of that ancient house. Soon
there were only some ten loiterers in the garden; soon only four.
Finally the last stray merry-maker ran into the house whooping to
his companions. The fire faded, and the slow, strong stars came
out. And the seven strange men were left alone, like seven stone
statues on their chairs of stone. Not one of them had spoken a
They seemed in no haste to do so, but heard in silence the
hum of insects and the distant song of one bird. Then Sunday
spoke, but so dreamily that he might have been continuing a
conversation rather than beginning one.
"We will eat and drink later," he said. "Let us remain
together a little, we who have loved each other so sadly, and have
fought so long. I seem to remember only centuries of heroic war,
in which you were always heroes?epic on epic, iliad on iliad, and
you always brothers in arms. Whether it was but recently (for time
is nothing), or at the beginning of the world, I sent you out to
war. I sat in the darkness, where there is not any created thing,
and to you I was only a voice commanding valour and an unnatural
virtue. You heard the voice in the dark, and you never heard it
again. The sun in heaven denied it, the earth and sky denied it,
all human wisdom denied it. And when I met you in the daylight I
denied it myself."
Syme stirred sharply in his seat, but otherwise there was
silence, and the incomprehensible went on.
"But you were men. You did not forget your secret honour,
though the whole cosmos turned an engine of torture to tear it out
of you. I knew how near you were to hell. I know how you,
Thursday, crossed swords with King Satan, and how you, Wednesday,
named me in the hour without hope."
There was complete silence in the starlit garden, and then
the black-browed Secretary, implacable, turned in his chair
towards Sunday, and said in a harsh voice?
"Who and what are you?"
"I am the Sabbath," said the other without moving. "I am the
peace of God."
The Secretary started up, and stood crushing his costly robe
in his hand.
"I know what you mean," he cried, "and it is exactly that
that I cannot forgive you. I know you are contentment, optimism,
what do they call the thing, an ultimate reconciliation. Well, I
am not reconciled. If you were the man in the dark room, why were
you also Sunday, an offense to the sunlight? If you were from the
first our father and our friend, why were you also our greatest
enemy? We wept, we fled in terror; the iron entered into our
souls?and you are the peace of God! Oh, I can forgive God His
anger, though it destroyed nations; but I cannot forgive Him His
Sunday answered not a word, but very slowly he turned his
face of stone upon Syme as if asking a question.
"No," said Syme, "I do not feel fierce like that. I am
grateful to you, not only for wine and hospitality here, but for
many a fine scamper and free fight. But I should like to know. My
soul and heart are as happy and quiet here as this old garden, but
my reason is still crying out. I should like to know."
Sunday looked at Ratcliffe, whose clear voice said?
"It seems so silly that you should have been on both sides
and fought yourself."
"l understand nothing, but I am happy. In fact, I am going to
"I am not happy," said the Professor with his head in his
hands, "because I do not understand. You let me stray a little too
near to hell."
And then Gogol said, with the absolute simplicity of a child?
"I wish I knew why I was hurt so much."
Still Sunday said nothing, but only sat with his mighty chin
upon his hand, and gazed at the distance. Then at last he said?
"I have heard your complaints in order. And here, I think,
comes another to complain, and we will hear him also."
The falling fire in the great cresset threw a last long
gleam, like a bar of burning gold, across the dim grass. Against
this fiery band was outlined in utter black the advancing legs of
a black-clad figure. He seemed to have a fine close suit with
knee-breeches such as that which was worn by the servants of the
house, only that it was not blue, but of this absolute sable. He
had, like the servants, a kind of word by his side. It was only
when he had come quite close to the crescent of the seven and
flung up his face to look at them, that Syme saw, with
thunder-struck clearness, that the face was the broad, almost
ape-like face of his old friend Gregory, with its rank red hair
and its insulting smile.
"Gregory!" gasped Syme, half-rising from his seat. "Why, this
is the real anarchist!"
"Yes," said Gregory, with a great and dangerous restraint, "I
am the real anarchist."
" 'Now there was a day,' " murmured Bull, who seemed really
to have fallen asleep, " 'when the sons of God came to present
themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them.' "
"You are right," said Gregory, and gazed all round. "I am a
destroyer. I would destroy the world if I could."
A sense of a pathos far under the earth stirred up in Syme,
and he spoke brokenly and without sequence.
"Oh, most unhappy man," he cried, "try to be happy! You have
red hair like your sister."
"My red hair, like red flames, shall burn up the world," said
Gregory. "I thought I hated everything more than common men can
hate anything; but I find that I do not hate everything so much as
I hate you! "
"I never hated you," said Syme very sadly.
Then out of this unintelligible creature the last thunders
"You! " he cried. "You never hated because you never lived. I
know what you are all of you, from first to last?you are the
people in power! You are the police?the great fat, smiling men in
blue and buttons! You are the Law, and you have never been broken.
But is there a free soul alive that does not long to break you,
only because you have never been broken? We in revolt talk all
kind of nonsense doubtless about this crime or that crime of the
Government. It is all folly! The only crime of the Government is
that it governs. The unpardonable sin of the supreme power is that
it is supreme. I do not curse you for being cruel. I do not curse
you (though I might) for being kind. I curse you for being safe!
You sit in your chairs of stone, and have never come down from
them. You are the seven angels of heaven, and you have had no
troubles. Oh, I could forgive you everything, you that rule all
mankind, if I could feel for once that you had suffered for one
hour a real agony such as I?"
Syme sprang to his feet, shaking from head to foot.
"I see everything," he cried, "everything that there is. Why
does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why
does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world
itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does
a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason
that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So
that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of
the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave
and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may
be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and
torture we may earn the right to say to this man, 'You lie!' No
agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser,
'We also have suffered.'
"It is not true that we have never been broken. We have been
broken upon the wheel. It is not true that we have never descended
from these thrones. We have descended into hell. We were
complaining of unforgettable miseries even at the very moment when
this man entered insolently to accuse us of happiness. I repel the
slander; we have not been happy. I can answer for every one of the
great guards of Law whom he has accused. At least?"
He had turned his eyes so as to see suddenly the great face
of Sunday, which wore a strange smile.
"Have you," he cried in a dreadful voice, "have you ever
As he gazed, the great face grew to an awful size, grew
larger than the colossal mask of Memnon, which had made him scream
as a child. It grew larger and larger, filling the whole sky; then
everything went black. Only in the blackness before it entirely
destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a
commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, "Can ye drink of the
cup that I drink of?"
* * *
When men in books awake from a vision, they commonly find
themselves in some place in which they might have fallen asleep;
they yawn in a chair, or lift themselves with bruised limbs from a
field. Syme's experience was something much more psychologically
strange if there was indeed anything unreal, in the earthly sense,
about the things he had gone through. For while he could always
remember afterwards that he had swooned before the face of Sunday,
he could not remember having ever come to at all. He could only
remember that gradually and naturally he knew that he was and had
been walking along a country lane with an easy and conversational
companion. That companion had been a part of his recent drama; it
was the red-haired poet Gregory. They were walking like old
friends, and were in the middle of a conversation about some
triviality. But Syme could only feel an unnatural buoyancy in his
body and a crystal simplicity in his mind that seemed to be
superior to everything that he said or did. He felt he was in
possession of some impossible good news, which made every other
thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality.
Dawn was breaking over everything in colours at once clear
and timid; as if Nature made a first attempt at yellow and a first
attempt at rose. A breeze blew so clean and sweet, that one could
not think that it blew from the sky; it blew rather through some
hole in the sky. Syme felt a simple surprise when he saw rising
all round him on both sides of the road the red, irregular
buildings of Saffron Park. He had no idea that he had walked so
near London. He walked by instinct along one white road, on which
early birds hopped and sang, and found himself outside a fenced
garden. There he saw the sister of Gregory, the girl with the
gold-red hair, cutting lilac before breakfast, with the great
unconscious gravity of a girl.
A WILD, MAD, HILARIOUS AND PROFOUNDLY MOVING TALE
THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
by G. K. Chesterton
author of the Father Brown stories
It is very difficult to classify THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY. It
is possible to say that it is a gripping adventure story of
murderous criminals and brilliant policemen; but it was to be
expected that the author of the Father Brown stories should tell a
detective story like no-one else. On this level, therefore, THE
MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY succeeds superbly; if nothing else, it is a
magnificent tour-de-force of suspense-writing.
However, the reader will soon discover that it is much more
than that. Carried along on the boisterous rush of the narrative
by Chesterton's wonderful high-spirited style, he will soon see
that he is being carried into much deeper waters than he had
planned on; and the totally unforeseeable denouement will prove
for the modern reader, as it has for thousands of others since
1908 when the book was first published, an inevitable and moving
experience, as the investigators finally discover who Sunday is.
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