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Titel: The Man Who Was Thursday, a nightmare
von William Shakespeare, H. G. Wells, Henry Van Dyke, Thomas Carlyle, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, Anthony Hope, Henry Fielding, Giraldus Cambrensis, Daniel Defoe, Grammaticus Saxo, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Hugh Lofting, Agatha Christie, Sinclair Lewis, Eugène Brieux, Upton Sinclair, Booth Tarkington, Sax Rohmer, Jack London, Anna Katharine Green, Sara Jeannette Duncan, Xenophon, Alexandre Dumas père, John William Draper, Alice Christiana Thompson Meynell, Bram Stoker, Honoré de Balzac, William Congreve, Louis de Rougemont, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, Rolf Boldrewood, François Rabelais, Lysander Spooner, B. M. Bower, Henry Rider Haggard, William Hickling Prescott, Lafcadio Hearn, Robert Herrick, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Charles Babbage, Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin, Frank L. Packard, George Meredith, John Merle Coulter, Irvin S. Cobb, Edwin Mims, John Tyndall, Various, Charles Darwin, Sidney Lanier, Henry Lawson, Niccolò Machiavelli, George W. Crile, Théophile Gautier, Noah Brooks, James Thomson, Zane Grey, J. M. Synge, Virginia Woolf, Conrad Aiken, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Helen Cody Wetmore, Ayn Rand, Sir Thomas Malory, Gustave Flaubert, Edmond Rostand, Charlotte Brontë, Edith Wharton, Giles Lytton Strachey, Myrtle Reed, Ernest Bramah, Jules Verne, H. L. Mencken, H. Stanley Redgrove, Victor Lefebure, Edna Lyall, John Masefield, Charles Kingsley, Robert Burns, Edgar Lee Masters, Victor [pseud.] Appleton, Ellis Parker Butler, Mary Lamb, Charles Lamb, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Kenneth Grahame, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, John Galt, James J. Davis, Owen Wister, William Blades, Sir Hall Caine, Sir Max Beerbohm, Baron Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett Dunsany, Bret Harte, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Thomas Henry Huxley, A. B. Paterson, John N. Reynolds, Walter Dill Scott, Hans Gustav Adolf Gross, T. S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, Arthur Ransome, Jane Addams, Elizabeth, David Lindsay, Helen Bannerman, Charles A. Oliver, J. M. Barrie, Robert F. Murray, Andrew Lang, Jerome K. Jerome, Francis Thompson, Sydney Waterlow, Andrew Dickson White, Benjamin N. Cardozo, Karl Marx, Edouard Louis Emmanuel Julien Le Roy, Margaret Hill McCarter, Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace, Howard Trueman, L. M. Montgomery, Frank T. Bullen, Baron Alfred Tennyson Tennyson, Jonathan Nield, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Charles Reade, Ouida, Washington Irving, Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville, Sir Walter Scott, Stewart Edward White, Arthur Hugh Clough, Baron Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton, C.-F. Volney, T. Troward, graf Leo Tolstoy, Christopher Morley, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Gilbert White, Percival Lowell, Frederick Marryat, Robert Graves, Thomas Holmes, Wilkie Collins, Maria Edgeworth, Katherine Mansfield, E. Nesbit, Olive Schreiner, Jeronimo Lobo, O. Henry, James Slough Zerbe, Donald Ogden Stewart, Johanna Spyri, Eleanor H. Porter, William Tatem Tilden, Sol Plaatje, Rafael Sabatini, William Makepeace Thackeray, George Gissing, Maksim Gorky, Baron Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay, H. G. Keene, Saki, R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Thomas Hughes, David Nunes Carvalho, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Carry Amelia Nation, John Fiske, Bernard Shaw, Elbridge Streeter Brooks, William Holmes McGuffey, Edward Everett Hale, Louis Ginzberg, Chester K. Steele, Christopher Marlowe, Plato, John Lord, Shakespeare, Martin Luther, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Howard Pyle, Charles Morris, Edward Carpenter, Maurice Leblanc, James Boswell, William Osler, William Ernest Henley, Theron Q. Dumont, Horatio Alger, Abraham Myerson, Joel Benton, Eden Phillpotts, Anonymous, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lloyd Osbourne, Cleland Boyd McAfee, Robert Williams Wood, H. C. Andersen, Edna Ferber, James Stephens, John Jacob Astor, Alexandre Dumas fils, Hilda Conkling, J. Storer Clouston, Julian Hawthorne, Ernest Albert Savage, Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman, Fernando de Rojas, Richard Harding Davis, Charles Whibley, Thomas Dixon, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George MacDonald, Thomas H. Burgoyne, Belle M. Wagner, Émile Gaboriau, à Kempis Thomas, United States. Central Intelligence Agency, Herbert Darling Foster, John Chipman Farrar, Lucius Apuleius, Olive Gilbert, Sojourner Truth, Arthur Judson Brown, Burbank L. Todd, Gaston Leroux, Margaret Sanger, Jr. Martin Luther King, Mary Johnston, S. A. Reilly, G. K. Chesterton
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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.
To Edmund Clerihew Bentley
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 ape.
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 two events.
"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! 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 choose—"
"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 forehead.
"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 knotted fists.
"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 formally returned.
"I was waiting for you," said Gregory. "Might I have a moment's conversation?"
"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 said."
"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 now."
"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 abnegation 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 paused.
"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 is it?"
"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 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 and bearded.
"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 indifference—
"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 crepe 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 of mine."
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 insane seance.
"You must not mind it," said Gregory; "it's a kind of screw."
"Quite so," said Syme placidly, "a kind of screw. How simple that is!"
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 went in.
"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 serious?"
"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 me."
"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 me."
Syme smoked thoughtfully, and looked at him with interest. Gregory went on.
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