As for his book, Queed could not bear to think of it in these days. Deliberately he had put a winding-sheet about his heart’s desire, and laid it away in a drawer, until such time as he had indisputably qualified himself to be editor of the Post. Having qualified, he could open that drawer again, with a rushing access of stifled ardor, and await the Colonel’s demise; but to do this, he figured now, would take him not less than two months and a half. Two months and a half wrenched from the Schedule! That sacred bill of rights not merely corrupted, but for a space nullified and cancelled! Yes, it was the ultimate sacrifice that outraged pride of intellect had demanded; but the young man would not flinch. And there were moments when Trainer Klinker was startled by the close-shut misery of his face.
The Scriptorium had been degraded into a sickening school of journalism. Day after day, night after night, Queed sat at his tiny table poring over back files of the Post, examining Colonel Cowles’s editorials as a geologist examines a Silurian deposit. He analyzed, classified, tabu164lated, computed averages, worked out underlying laws; and gradually, with great travail — for the journalese language was to him as Greek to another — he deduced from a thousand editorials a few broad principles, somewhat as follows: —
1. That the Colonel dealt with a very wide range of concrete topics, including many that appeared extremely trivial. (Whereas he, Queed, had dealt almost exclusively with abstract principles, rarely taking cognizance of any event that had happened later than 1850.)
2. That nearly all the Colonel’s “best” articles — i. e., best-liked, most popular: the kind that Major Brooke and Mr. Bylash, or even Miss Miller, were apt to talk about at the supper-table — dealt with topics of a purely local and ephemeral interest.
3. That the Colonel never went deeply or exhaustively into any group of facts, but that, taking one broad simple hypothesis as his text, he hammered that over and over saying the same thing again and again in different ways, but always with a wealth of imagery and picturesque phrasing.
4. That the Colonel invariably got his humorous effects by a good-natured but sometimes sharp ridicule, the process of which was to exaggerate the argument or travesty the cause he was attacking until it became absurd.
5. That the Colonel, no matter what his theme, always wrote with vigor and heat and color: so that even if he were dealing with something on the other side of the world, you might suppose that he, personally, was intensely gratified or extremely indignant about it, as the case might be.
These principles Queed was endeavoring, with his peculiar faculty for patient effort, to apply practically in his daily offerings. It is enough to say that he found the task harder than Klinker’s Exercises, and that the little article on the city’s method of removing garbage, which failed to appear in this morning’s Post, had stood him seven hours of time.
It was a warm rainy night in early May. Careful listening disclosed the fact that Buck Klinker, who had as usual walked up from the gymnasium with Queed, was changing his shoes in the next room, preparatory for supper. Otherwise the house was very still. Fifi had been steadily reported “not so well” for a long time and, for two days, very ill. Queed sitting before the table, his gas ablaze and his shade up, tilted back his chair and thought of her now. All at once, with no conscious volition on his part, he found himself saying over the startling little credo that Fifi had suggested for his taking, on the day he sent her the roses.
To like men and do the things that men do. To smoke. To laugh. To joke and tell funny stories. To take a . . .
The door of the Scriptorium-editorium opened and Buck Klinker, entering without formalities, threw himself, according to his habit, upon the tiny bed. This time he came by invitation, to complete the decidedly interesting conversation upon which the two men had walked up town: but talk did not at once begin. A book rowelled the small of Klinker’s back as he reclined upon the pillow, and plucking it from beneath him, he glanced at the back of it.
“Vanity Fair. Did n’t know you ever read story-books, Doc.”
The Doc did not answer. He was occupied with the thought that not one of the things that Fifi had urged upon him did he at present do. Smoking he could of course take up at any time. Buck Klinker worked in a tobacconist’s shop; it might be a good idea to consult him as to what was the best way to begin. As for telling funny stories — did he for the life of him know one to tell? He racked his brain in vain. There were two books that he remembered having seen in the Astor Library, The Percy Anecdotes, and Mark Lemon’s Jest Book; perhaps the State Library had them. . . . Stay! Did not Willoughby himself somewhere introduce an anecdote of a distinctly humorous nature?
“It ain’t much,” said Buck, dropping Thackeray to the floor. “I read the whole thing once. — No, I guess I’m 166thinkin’ of The County Fair, a drammer that I saw at the Bee-jou. But I guess they’re all the same, those Fairs.
“Say Doc,” he went on presently, “I’m going to double you on Number Seven, beginning to-morrow, hear?”
Number Seven was one of the stiffest of Klinker’s Exercises for All Parts of the Body. Queed looked up absently.
“That’s right,” said his trainer, inexorably. “It’s just what you need. I had a long talk with Smithy, last night.”
“Buck,” said the Doctor, clearing his throat, “have I ever — ahem — told you of the famous reply of Dr. Johnson to the Billingsgate fishwives?”
“Johnson? Who? Fat, sandy-haired man lives on Third Street?”
“No, Dr Samuel Johnson, the well-known English author and — character. It is related that on one occasion Dr. Johnson approached the fishwives at Billingsgate to purchase of their wares. The exact details of the story are not altogether clear in my memory, but, as I recall it, something the good Doctor said angered these women, for they began showering him with profane and blasphemous names. At this style of language the fishwives are said to be extremely proficient. What do you fancy that Dr. Johnson called them in return? But you could hardly guess. He called them parallelopipedons. I am not entirely certain whether it was parallelopipedons or isosceles triangles. Possibly there are two versions of the story.”
Buck stared at him, frankly and greatly bewildered, and noticed that the little Doctor was staring at him, with strong marks of anxiety on his face.
“I should perhaps say,” added Queed, “that parallelopipedons and isosceles triangles are not profane or swearing words at all. They are, in fact, merely the designations applied to geometrical figures.”
“Oh,” said Klinker. “Oh.”
There was a brief pause.
“Ah, well! . . . Go on with what you were telling me as we walked up, then!”
“Sure thing. But I don’t catch the conversation. What was all that con you were giving me —?”
“About Johnson and the triangles.”
“It simply occurred to me to tell you a funny story, of the sort that men are known to like, with the hope of amusing you — ”
“Why, that was n’t a funny story, Doc.”
“I assure you that it was.”
“Don’t see it,” said Klinker.
“That is not my responsibility, in any sense.”
Thus Doctor Queed, sitting stiffly on his hard little chair, and gazing with annoyance at Klinker through the iron bars at the foot of the bed.
“Blest if I pipe,” said Buck, and scratched his head.
“I cannot both tell the stories and furnish the brains to appreciate them. Kindly proceed with what you were telling me.”
So Buck, obliging but mystified, dropped back upon the bed and proceeded, tooth-pick energetically at work. His theme was a problem with which nearly every city is unhappily familiar. In Buck’s terminology, it was identified as “The Centre Street mashers”: those pimply, weak-faced, bad-eyed young men who congregate at prominent corners every afternoon, especially Saturdays, to smirk at the working-girls, and to pass, wherever they could, from their murmured, “Hello, Kiddo,” and “Where you goin’, baby?” to less innocent things.
Buck’s air of leisureliness dropped from him as he talked; his orange-stick worked ever more and more furiously; his honest voice grew passionate as he described conditions as he knew them.
“ . . And some fool of a girl, no more than a child for knowing what she’s doin’, laughs and answers back — just for the fun of it, not looking for harm, and right there’s where your trouble begins. Maybe that night after doin’ the picture shows; maybe another night: but it’s sure to 168 come. Dammit, Doc, I’m no saint nor sam-singer and I’ve done things I had n’t ought like other men, and woke up shamed the next morning, too, but I’ve got a sister who’s a decent good girl as there is anywhere, and by God, sir, I’d kill a man who just looked at her with the dirty eyes of them little soft-mouth blaggards!”
Queed, unaffectedly interested, asked the usual question — could not the girls be taught at home the dangers of such acquaintances? — and Buck pulverized it in the usual way.
“Who in blazes is goin’ to teach ’em? Don’t you know anything about what kind of homes they got? Why, man, they’re the sisters of the little blaggards!”
He painted a dark picture of the home-life of many of these girls: its hard work and unrelenting poverty; its cheerlessness; the absence of any fun; the irresistible allurement of the flashily-dressed stranger who jingles money in his picket and offers to “show a good time.” Then he told a typical story, the story of a little girl he knew, who worked in a department store for three dollars and a half a week, and whose drunken father took over the last cent of that every Saturday night. This girl’s name was Eva Bernheimer, and she was sixteen years old and “in trouble.”
“You know what, Doc?” Buck ended. “You’d ought to take it up in the Post — that’s what. There’s a fine piece to be written, showin’ up them little hunters.”
It was characteristic of Doctor Queed that such an idea had not and would not have occurred to him: applying his new science of editorial writing to a practical problem dipped from the stream of every-day life was still rather beyond him. But it was also characteristic of him that, once the idea had been suggested to him, he instantly perceived its value. He looked at Buck admiringly through the iron bars.
“You are quite right. There is.”
“You know they are trying to get up a reformatory — girls’ home, some call it. That’s all right, if you can’t do 169 better, but it don’t get to the bottom of it. The right way with a thing like this is to take it before it happens!”
“You are quite right, Buck.”
“Yes — but how’re you goin’ to do it? You sit up here all day and night with your books and studies, Doc — where’s your cure for a sorry trouble like this?”
“That’s a fair question. I cannot answer definitely until I have studied the situation out in a practical way. But I will say that the general problem is one of the most difficult with which social science has to deal.”
“I know what had ought to be done. The blaggards ought to be shot. Damn every last one of them, I say.”
Klinker conversed in his anger something like the ladies of Billingsgate, but Queed did not notice this. He sat back in his chair, absorbedly thinking that here, at all events, was a theme which had enough practical relation with life. He himself had seen of groups of the odious “mashers” with his own eyes; Buck had pointed them out as they walked up. Never had a social problem come so close home to him as this: not a thing of text-book theories, but a burning issue working around the corner on people that Klinker knew. And Klinker’s question had been an acute one, challenging the immediate value of social science itself.
His thought veered, swept out of its channel by an unwonted wave of bitterness. Klinker had offered him this material, Klinker had advised him to write an editorial about it, Klinker had pointed out for him, in almost a superior way, just where the trouble lay. Nor was this all. Of late everybody seemed to be giving him advice. Only the other week it was Fifi; and that same day, the young lady Charles Weyland. What was there about him that invited this sort of thing? . . . And he was going to take Klinker’s advice; he had seized upon it gratefully. Nor could he say that he was utterly insensate to Fifi’s: he had caught himself saying over part of it not ten minutes ago. As for Charles Weyland’s ripsaw criticisms, he had analyzed them dispassionately, as he had promised, and his reason rejected 170 them in toto. Yet he could not exactly say that he had wholly purged them out of his mind. No . . . the fact was that some of her phrases had managed to burn themselves into his brain.
Presently Klinker said another thing that his friend the little Doctor remembered for a long time.
“Do you know what’s the finest line in Scripture, Doc? But He spake of the temple of His body. I heard a minister get that off in a church once, in a sermon, and I don’t guess I’ll ever forget it. A dandy, ain’t it? . . . Exercise and live straight. Keep your temple strong and clean. If I was a parson, I tell you, I’d go right to Seventh and Centre next Saturday and give a talk to them blaggards on that. But He spake of . . .”
Klinker stopped as though he had been shot. A sudden agonized scream from downstairs jerked him off the bed and to his feet in a second, solemn as at the last trump. He stared at Queed wide-eyed, his honest red face suddenly white.
“God forgive me for talkin’ so loud. . . . I’d ought to have known. . . “
“What is it? Who was that?” demanded Queed, startled more by Klinker’s look than by the scream.
But Klinker only turned and slipped softly out of the door, tipping on his toes as though somebody near at hand were asleep.
Queed was left bewildered, and completely at a loss. Whatever the matter was, it clearly concerned Buck Klinker. Equally clearly, it did not concern him. People had a right to scream if they felt that way, without having a horde of boarders hurry out and call them to book.
However, his scientist’s fondness for getting at the underlying causes — or as some call it, curiosity — presently obtained control of him, and he went downstairs.
There is no privacy of grief in the communism of a middle-class boarding-house. It is ordered that your neighbor shall gaze upon your woe and you shall stare at his 171 anguish, when both are new and raw. That cry of pain had been instantly followed by a stir of movement; a little shiver ran through the house. Doors opened and shut; voices murmured; quick feet sounded on the stairs. Now the boarders were gathered in the parlor, very still and solemn, yet not to save their lives unaware that for them the humdrum round was to go on just the same. And here, of course, is no matter of a boarding-house: for queens must eat though kings lie high in state.
To Mrs. Paynter’s parlor came a girl, white-face and shadowy-eyed, but for those hours at least, calm and tearless and the mistress of herself. The boarders rose as she appeared in the door, and she saw that after all she had no need to tell them anything. They came and took her hand, one by one, which was the hardest to bear, and even Mr. Bylash seemed touched with a new dignity, and even Miss Miller’s pompadour looked human and sorry. But two faces Miss Weyland did not see among the kind-eyed boarders: the old professor, who had locked himself in his room, and the little Doctor who was at that moment coming down the steps.
“Supper’s very late,” said she. “Emma and Laura . . . have been much upset. I’ll have it on the table in a minute.”
She turned into the hall and saw Queed on the stairs. He halted his descent five steps from the bottom, and she came to the banisters and stood and looked up at him. And if any memory of their last meeting was with them then, neither of them gave any sign of it.
“You know — ?”
“No, I don’t know,” he replied, disturbed by her look, he did not know why, and involuntarily lowering his voice. “I came down expressly to find out.”
“Fifi — She — ”
“Is worse again?”
“She . . . stopped breathing a few minutes ago.”
Sharlee winced visibly at the word, as the fresh stricken always will.
The little Doctor turned his head vaguely away. The house was so still that the creaking of the stairs as his weight shifted from one foot to another, sounded horribly loud; he noticed it, and regretted having moved. The idea of Fifi’s dying had of course never occurred to him. Something put into his head the simple thought that he would never help the little girl with her algebra again, and at once he was conscious of an odd and decidedly unpleasant sensation, somewhere far away inside of him. He felt that he ought to say something, to sum up his attitude toward the unexpected event, but for once in his life he experienced a difficulty in formulating his thought in precise language. However, the pause was of the briefest.
“I think,” said Sharlee, “the funeral will be Monday afternoon. . . . You will go, won’t you?”
Queed turned upon her a clouded brow. The thought of taking personal part in such mummery as a funeral — “barbaric rites,” he called them in the forthcoming Work — was entirely distasteful to him. “No,” he said, hastily, “No, I could hardly do that — ”
“Fifi — would like it. It is the last time you will have to do anything for her.”
“Like it? It is hardly as if she would know —!”
“Might n’t you show your regard for a friend just the same, even if your friend was never to know about it? . . . Besides — I think of these things another way, and so did Fifi.”
He peered down at her over the banisters, oddly disquieted. The flaring gas lamp beat mercilessly upon her face, and it occurred to him that she looked tired around her eyes.
“I think Fifi will know . . . and be glad,” said Sharlee. “She liked you and admired you. Only day before yesterday she spoke of you. Now she . . . has gone, and this is the one way left for any of us to show that we are sorry.”
Long afterwards, Queed thought that if Charles Weyland’s lashes had not glittered with sudden tears at that moment he would have refused her. But her lashes did so glitter, and he capitulated at once, and turning instantly went heavy-hearted up the stairs.
Fifi’s funeral was in the country, at a little church set down in a beautiful grove which reminds all visitors of the saying about God’s first temples. Near here Mrs. Paynter was born and spent her girlhood; here Fifi, before her last illness, had come every Sabbath morning to the Sunday-school; here lay the little strip of God’s acre that the now childless widow called her own. You come by the new electric line, one of those high-speed suburban roads which, all over the country, are doing so much to persuade city people back to the land. The cars are steam-road size. Two of them had been provided for the mourners, and there was no room to spare; for the Paynter family connection was large, and it seemed that little Fifi had many friends.
From Stop 11, where the little station is, your course is by the woodland path; past the little springhouse, over the tiny rustic bridge, and so on up the shady slope to the cluster of ancient pines. In the grove stood carriages; buggy horses reined to the tall trees; even that abomination around a church, the motor of the vandals. In the walk through the woods, Queed found himself side by side with a fat, scarlet-faced man, who wore a vest with brass buttons and immediately began talking to him like a lifelong friend. He was a motorman on the suburban line, it seemed, and had known Fifi very well.
“No, sir, I would n’t believe it when my wife seen it in the paper and called it out to me, an’ I says there’s some mistake, you can be sure, and she says no, here it is in the paper, you can read it for y’self. But I would n’t believe it till I went by the house on the way to my run, and there was the crape on the door. An’ I tell you, suh, I could n’t a felt worse if ’t was one o’ my own kids. Why, it seems like only the other morning she skipped onto my car, laughin’ and sayin’, ‘How are you to-day, Mr. Barnes?’ Why she and me been buddies for nigh three years, and she took my 9.30 north car every Sunday morning, rain or shine, just as reg’lar, and was the only one I ever let stand out on my platform, bein’ strictly agin all rules, and my old partner Hornheim was fired for allowin’ it, it ain’t six months since. But what could I do when she asked me, please, Mr. Barnes, with that sweet face o’ hers, and her rememberin’ me every Christmas that came along just like I was her Pa. . . .”
The motorman talked too much, but he proved useful in finding seats up near the front, where, being fat, he took up considerably more than his share of room.
Unless Tim had taken him to the cathedral once, twenty years ago, it was the first time that Queed had ever been inside a church. He had read Renan at fourteen, finally discarding all religious beliefs in the same year. Approximately Spencer’s First Cause satisfied his reason, though he meant to buttress Spencer’s contention in its weakest place and carry it deeper than Spencer did. But in fact, the exact limits he should assign to religious beliefs as an evolutionary function were still indeterminate in his system. He, like all cosmic philosophers, found this the most baffling and elusive of all his problems. Meantime, here in this little country church, he was to witness the supreme rite of the supreme religious belief. There was some compensation for his enforced attendance in that thought. He looked about him with genuine and candid interest. The hush, the dim light, the rows upon rows of sober-faced people, seemed to him properly impressive. He was struck by the wealth 176of flowers massed all over the chancel, and wondered if that was its regular state. The pulpit and the lectern; the altar, which he easily identified; the stained-glass windows with their obviously symbolic pictures; the bronze pipes of the little organ; the unvested choir, whose function he vaguely made out — over all these his intelligent eye swept, curiously; and lastly it went out of the open window and lost itself in the quiet sunny woods outside.
Strange and full of wonder. This incredible instinct for adoration — this invincible insistence in believing, in defiance of all reason, that man was not born to die as the flesh dies. What, after all, was the full significance of this unique phenomenon?
I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. . . .
A loud resonant voice suddenly cut the hush with these words and immediately they were all standing. Queed was among the first to rise; the movement was like a reflex action. For there was something in the thrilling timbre of that voice that seemed to pull him to his feet regardless of his will; something, in fact, that impelled him to crane his neck around and peer down the dim aisle to discover immediately who was the author of it.
His eye fell on a young man advancing, clad in white robes the like of which he had never seen, and wearing the look of the morning upon his face. In his hands he bore an open book, but he did not glance at it. His head was thrown back; his eyes seemed fastened on something outside and beyond the church; and he rolled out the victorious words as though he would stake all that he held dearest in this world that their prophecy was true.
Whom I shall see for myself, and MINE eyes shall behold, and not another. . . .
But behind the young man rolled a little stand on wheels, on which lay a long box banked in flowers; and though the little Doctor had never been at a funeral before, and never in the presence of death, he knew that here must lie the 177 mortal remains of his little friend, Fifi. From this point onward Queed’s interest in the service became, so to say, less purely scientific.
There was some antiphonal reciting, and then a long selection which the young man in robes read with the same voice of solemn triumph. It is doubtful if anybody in the church followed him with the fascinated attention of the young evolutionist. Soon the organ rumbled, and the little choir, standing, broke into song.
For all the Saints who from their labors rest . . .
Saints! Well, well, was it imaginable that they thought of Fifi that way already? Why, it was only three weeks ago that he had sent her the roses and she . . .
A black-gloved hand, holding an open book, descended out of the dim space behind him. It came to him, as by an inspiration, that the book was being offered for his use in some mysterious connection. He grasped it gingerly, and his friend the motorman, jabbing at the text with a scarlet hand, whispered raucously: “’S what they’re singin’.” But the singers had traveled far before the young man was able to find and follow them.
The girls in the choir sang on, untroubled by a doubt: —
They marched outside following the flower-banked casket into the little cemetery, and Queed stood with bared head like the others, watching the committal of dust unto dust. In the forefront of the mournful gathering, nearest the grave’s edge, there stood three women heavily swathed in black. Through all the rite now, suppressed sobbing ran like a motif. Soon fell upon all ears the saddest of all 178 sounds, the pitiless thud of the first earth upon the stiff lid. On the other side of the irregular circle, Queed saw the coarse red motorman; tears were rolling down his fat cheeks; but never noticing them he was singing loudly, far off the key, from the book the black-gloved hand had given Queed. The hymn they were singing now also spoke surely and naturally of the saints. The same proud note, the young man observed, ran through the service from beginning to end. Hymn and prayer and reading all confidently assumed that Fifi was dead only to this mortal eye, but in another world, open to all those gathered about the grave for their seeking, she lived in some marvelously changed form — her body being made like unto his own glorious body. . . .
In the homeward-bound car, Queed fully recaptured his poise, and redirected his thoughts into rational channels.
The doctrine of immortality of the soul had not a rational leg to stand on. The anima, or spirit, being merely the product of certain elements combined in life, was wiped out when those elements dissolved their union in death. It was the flame of a candle blown out. Yet with what unbelievable persistence this doctrine had survived through history. Science had annihilated it again and again, but these people resolutely stopped their ears to science. They could not answer science with argument, so they had answered her with the axe and the stake; and they were still capable of doing that whenever they thought it desirable. Strange spectacle! What was the “conflict between Religion and Science” but man’s desperate struggle against his own reason? Benjamin Kidd had that right at any rate.
Yet did these people really believe their doctrine of the saved body and the saved soul? They said they did, but did they? If they believed it surely, as they believed that this night would be followed by a new day, if they believed it passionately as they believed that money is the great earthly good, then certainly the biggest of their worldly affairs would be less than a grain of sand by the sea against the everlasting glories that awaited them. Yet . . . look 179 at them all about him in the car, these people who told themselves that they had started Fifi on the way to be a saint, in which state they expected to remeet her. Did they so regard their worldly affairs? By to-morrow they would be at each other’s throats, squabbling, cheating, slandering, lying, fighting desperately to gain some ephemeral advantage — all under the eye of the magnificent guerdon they pretended to believe in and knew they were jeopardizing by such acts. No, it was pure self-hypnosis. Weak man demanded offsets for his earthly woes, and he had concocted them in a world of his own imagining. That was the history of man’s religions; the concoction of other worldly offsets for worldly woes. In their heart of hearts, all knew that they were concoctions, and the haruspices laughed when they met each other.
Supper was early at Mrs. Paynter’s, as though to atone for the tardiness of yesterday. The boarders dispatched it not without recurring cheerfulness, broken now and again by fits of decorous silence. You could see that by to-morrow, or it might be next day, the house would be back in its normal swing again.
Mr. Queed withdrew to his little chamber. He trod the steps softly for once, and perhaps this was why, as he passed Mrs. Paynter’s room, his usually engrossed ear caught the sound of weeping, quiet but unrestrained, ceaseless, racking weeping, running on evermore, the weeping of Rachel for her children, who would not be comforted.
The little Doctor shut the door of the Scriptorium and lit the gas. So far, his custom; but here his whim and his wont parted. Instead of seating himself at his table, where the bound Post for January-March, 1902, awaited his exploration, he laid himself down on his tiny bed.
If he were to die to-night, who would weep for him like that?
The thought had come unbidden to his mind and stuck in his metaphysics like a burr. Now he remembered that the question was not entirely a new one. Fifi had once asked 180 him who would be sorry if he died, and had answered herself by saying that she would. However, Fifi was dead, and therefore released from her promise.
Yes, Fifi was dead. He would never help her with her algebra again. The thought filled him with vague, unaccountable regrets. He felt that he would willingly take twenty minutes a night from the wrecked Schedule to have her come back, but unfortunately there was no way of arranging that now. He remembered the night he had sent Fifi out of the dining-room for coughing, and the remembrance made him distinctly uncomfortable. He rather wished that he had told Fifi he was sorry about that, but it was too late now. Still he had told her that he was her friend; he was glad to remember that. But here, from a new point of view, was the trouble about having friends. They took your time while they lived, and then they went off and died and upset your evening’s work.
Clearly, Fifi left behind many sorrowful friends, as shown by her remarkable funeral. If he himself were to die, Tim and Murphy Queed would probably feel sorrowful, but they would hardly come to the funeral. For one thing, Tim could not come because of his duties on the force, and Murphy, for all he knew, was undergoing incarceration. About the only person he could think of as a probable attendant at his graveside was William Klinker. Yes, Buck would certainly be there, though it was asking a good deal to expect him to weep. A funeral consisting of only one person would look rather odd to those who were familiar with such crowded churches as that he had seen to-day. People passing by would nudge each other and say that the dead must have led an eccentric life, indeed, to be so alone at the end. . . . Come to think of it, though, there would n’t be any funeral. He had nothing to do with those most interesting but clearly barbaric rites. Of course his body would be cremated by directions in the will. The operation would be private, attracting no attention from anybody. Buck would make the arrangements. He tried to picture Buck weeping near the incinerator, and failed.
Then there was his father, whom, in twenty-four years’ sharing of the world together, he had never met. The man’s behaviour was odd, to say the least. From the world’s point of view he had declined to own his son. For such an unusual breach of custom, there must be some adequate explanation, and the circumstances all pointed one way. This was that his mother (whom his boyhood had pictured as a woman of distinction who had eloped with somebody far beneath her) had failed to marry his father. The persistent mystery about his birth had always made him skeptical of Tim’s statement that he had been present at the marriage. But he rarely thought of the matter at all now. The moral responsibility was none of his; and as for a name, Queed was as good as any other. X or Y was a good enough name for a real man, whose life could demonstrate his utter independence of the labels so carefully pasted upon him by environment and circumstance.
Still, if he were to die, he felt that his father, if yet alive, should come forward and weep for him, even as Mrs. Paynter was weeping for Fifi down in the Second Front. He should stand out like a man and take from Buck’s hand the solemn ceremonies of cremation. He tried to picture his father weeping near the incinerator, and failed, partly owing to the mistiness surrounding that gentleman’s bodily appearance. He felt that his father was dodging his just responsibilities. For the first time in his life he perceived that, under certain circumstances, it might be an advantage to have some definite individual to whom you can point and say: “There goes my father.”
As it was, it all came down to him and Buck. He and Buck were alone in the world together. He rather clung to the thought of Buck, and instantly caught himself at it. Very well; let him take it that way then. Take Buck as a symbol of the world, of those friendships which played such certain havoc with a man’s Schedule. Was he glad that he had Buck or was he not?
The little Doctor lay on his back in the glare thinking 182 things out. The gas in his eyes was an annoyance, but he did not realize it, and so did not get up, as another man would have done, and put it out.
Certainly it was an extraordinary thing that the only critics he had ever had in his life had all three attacked his theory of living at precisely the same point. They had all three urged him to get in touch with his environment. He himself could unanswerably demonstrate that in such degree as he succeeded in isolating himself from his environment — at least until his great work was done — in just that degree would his life be successful. But these three seemed to declare, with the confidence of those who state an axiom, that in just that degree was his life a failure. Of course they could not demonstrate their contention as he could demonstrate his, but the absence of reasoning did not appear to shake their assurance in the smallest. Here then was another apparent conflict of instinct with reason: their instinct with his reason. Perhaps he might have dismissed the whole thing as merely their religion, but that his father, with that mysterious letter of counsel, was among them, He did not picture his father as a religious man. Besides, Fifi, asked point-blank if that was her religion, had denied, assuring him, singularly enough, that it was only common-sense.
And among them, among all the people that had touched him in this new life, there was no denying that he had had some curiously unsettling experiences.
He had been ready to turn the pages of the book of life for Fifi, an infant at his knee, and all at once Fifi had taken the book from his hands and read aloud, in a language which was quite new to him, a lecture on his own shortcomings. There was no denying that her question about his notions on altruism had given him an odd, arresting glimpse of himself from a new peak. He had set out in his pride to punish Mr. Pat, and Mr. Pat had severely punished him, revealing him humiliatingly to himself as a physical incompetent. He had dismissed Buck Klinker as a faintly 183 amusing brother to the ox, and now Buck Klinker was giving him valuable advice about his editorial work, to say nothing of jerking him by the ears toward physical competency. He had thought to honor the Post by contributing of his wisdom to it, and the Post had replied by contemptuously kicking him out. He had laughed at Colonel Cowles’s editorials, and now he was staying out of bed of nights slavishly struggling to imitate them. He had meant to give Miss Weyland some expert advice some day about the running of her department, and suddenly she had turned about and stamped him as an all-around failure, meet not for reverence, but the laughter and pity of men.
So far as he knew, nobody in the world admired him. They might admire his work, but him personally they felt sorry for or despised. Few even admired his work. The Post had given him satisfactory proof of that. Conant, Willoughby, and Smathers would admire it — yes, wish to the Lord that they had written it. But would that fill his cup to overflowing? By the way, had not Fifi asked him that very question, too — whether he would consider a life of that sort a successful life? Well — would he? Or could it imaginably be said that Fifi, rather, had had a successful life, as evidenced by her profoundly interesting funeral?
Was it possible that a great authority on human society could make himself an even greater authority by personally assuming a part in the society which he theoretically administered? Was it possible that he was missing some factor of large importance by his addiction to isolation and a schedule?
In short, was it conceivable that he had it all wrong from the beginning, as the young lady Charles Weyland had said?
The little Doctor lay still on his bed and his precious minutes slipped into hours. . . . If he finished his book at twenty-seven, what would he do with the rest of his life? Besides defending it from possible criticism, besides expounding and amplifying it a little further as need seemed to be, there would be no more work for him to do. Supreme 184 essence of philosophy, history, and all science as it was, it was the final word of human wisdom. You might say that with it the work of the world was done. How then should he spend the remaining thirty or forty years of his life? As matters stood now he had, so to say, twenty years start on himself. Through the peculiar circumstances of his life, he had reached a point in his reading and study at twenty-four which another man could not hope to reach before he was forty-five or fifty. Other men had done daily work for a livelihood, and had only their evenings for their heart’s desire. Spencer was a civil engineer. Mill was a clerk in an India house. Comte taught mathematics. But he, in all his life, had not averaged an hour a week’s enforced distraction: all had gone to his own work. You might say that he was entitled to a heavy arrears in this direction. If he liked, he could idle for ten years, twenty years, and still be more than abreast of his age.
And as it was, he could not pretend that he had kept the faith, that he was inviolably holding his Schedule unspotted from the world. No, he himself had outraged and deflowered the Schedule. Klinker’s Exercises and the Post were deliberate impieties. And he could not say that they had the sanction of his reason. The exercises had only a partial sanction; the Post no sanction at all. Both were but sops to wounded pride. Here, then, was a pretty situation: he, the triumphant rationalist, the toy of utterly irrational impulses — of an utterly irrational instinct. And this new impulse tugging at his inside, driving him to heed the irrational advice of his critics — what could it be but part and parcel of the same mysterious but apparently deep-seated instinct? And what was the real significance of this instinct, and what in the name of Jerusalem was the matter with him anyway?
He was twenty-four years old, without upbringing, and utterly alone in the world. He had raised himself, body and soul, out of printed books, and about all the education he 185 ever had was half an hour’s biting talk from Charles Weyland. Of course he did not recognize his denied youth when it rose and fell upon him, but he did recognize that his assailant was doughty. He locked arms with it and together they fell into undreamed depths.
Buck Klinker, returning from some stag devilry at the hour of two A.M., and attracted to the Scriptorium by the light under the door, found the little Doctor pacing the floor in his stocking feet, with the gas blazing and the shade up as high as it would go. He halted in his marchings to stare at Buck with wild unrecognition, and his face looked so white and fierce that honest Buck, like the good friend he was, only said, “Well — good-night, Doc,” and unobtrusively withdrew.