Part 1 out of 4
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The Man Who Was Thursday
by G. K. Chesterton
A WILD, MAD, HILARIOUS AND PROFOUNDLY MOVING TALE
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.
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 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
"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
"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
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
For the first time a red patch appeared on Gregory's forehead.
"You don't expect me," he said, "to revolutionise society on this
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
"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 moment's
"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
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 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 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 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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
Syme smoked thoughtfully, and looked at him with interest. Gregory
"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 their perambulators."
Syme sat watching him with some respect in his large, blue eyes.
"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
"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 be
"My dear fellow." said Syme heartily, "I congratulate you. A great
Gregory smiled in deprecation, and walked across the room, talking
"As a matter of fact, everything is ready for me on this table," he
said, "and the ceremony will probably be the shortest possible."
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 secret?"
"Yes," said Syme, "I have a secret." Then after a pause, "Will you
Gregory glared at him gravely for a few moments, and then said
"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 minutes."
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 his hand.
"Comrade Gregory," he said, "I suppose this man is a delegate?"
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
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 the chair."
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
tonight 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 tonight 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
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
"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 upon love--"
"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 (cheers)."
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
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 pitiless
"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
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 the post."
"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 accent.
"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 American
"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 Gregory--
"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 man."
"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
"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 many minutes.
"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
"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 promise
"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 nation."
"Good God, the Board Schools!" said Syme. "Is this undenominational
"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 policeman!"
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 curiosity.
"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 us."
"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
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
"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 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 stone-blind.
"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 him.
"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
"I really have no experience," he began.
"No one has any experience," said the other, "of the Battle of
"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.
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 Anarchists.
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 colleague.
"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 Leicester
"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 are
"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
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 idiotic contrast.
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, flushing.
"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