Part 2 out of 4
of Bull. He had that combination of savoir-faire with a sort of
well-groomed coarseness which is not uncommon in young doctors. He
carried his fine clothes with confidence rather than ease, and he
mostly wore a set smile. There was nothing whatever odd about him,
except that he wore a pair of dark, almost opaque spectacles. It
may have been merely a crescendo of nervous fancy that had gone
before, but those black discs were dreadful to Syme; they reminded
him of half-remembered ugly tales, of some story about pennies
being put on the eyes of the dead. Syme's eye always caught the
black glasses and the blind grin. Had the dying Professor worn
them, or even the pale Secretary, they would have been appropriate.
But on the younger and grosser man they seemed only an enigma. They
took away the key of the face. You could not tell what his smile or
his gravity meant. Partly from this, and partly because he had a
vulgar virility wanting in most of the others it seemed to Syme
that he might be the wickedest of all those wicked men. Syme even
had the thought that his eyes might be covered up because they were
too frightful to see.
SUCH were the six men who had sworn to destroy the world. Again
and again Syme strove to pull together his common sense in their
presence. Sometimes he saw for an instant that these notions were
subjective, that he was only looking at ordinary men, one of whom
was old, another nervous, another short-sighted. The sense of an
unnatural symbolism always settled back on him again. Each figure
seemed to be, somehow, on the borderland of things, just as their
theory was on the borderland of thought. He knew that each one of
these men stood at the extreme end, so to speak, of some wild road
of reasoning. He could only fancy, as in some old-world fable,
that if a man went westward to the end of the world he would find
something--say a tree--that was more or less than a tree, a tree
possessed by a spirit; and that if he went east to the end of the
world he would find something else that was not wholly itself--a
tower, perhaps, of which the very shape was wicked. So these
figures seemed to stand up, violent and unaccountable, against an
ultimate horizon, visions from the verge. The ends of the earth
were closing in.
Talk had been going on steadily as he took in the scene; and not
the least of the contrasts of that bewildering breakfast-table was
the contrast between the easy and unobtrusive tone of talk and its
terrible purport. They were deep in the discussion of an actual and
immediate plot. The waiter downstairs had spoken quite correctly
when he said that they were talking about bombs and kings. Only
three days afterwards the Czar was to meet the President of the
French Republic in Paris, and over their bacon and eggs upon their
sunny balcony these beaming gentlemen had decided how both should
die. Even the instrument was chosen; the black-bearded Marquis, it
appeared, was to carry the bomb.
Ordinarily speaking, the proximity of this positive and objective
crime would have sobered Syme, and cured him of all his merely
mystical tremors. He would have thought of nothing but the need of
saving at least two human bodies from being ripped in pieces with
iron and roaring gas. But the truth was that by this time he had
begun to feel a third kind of fear, more piercing and practical
than either his moral revulsion or his social responsibility. Very
simply, he had no fear to spare for the French President or the
Czar; he had begun to fear for himself. Most of the talkers took
little heed of him, debating now with their faces closer together,
and almost uniformly grave, save when for an instant the smile of
the Secretary ran aslant across his face as the jagged lightning
runs aslant across the sky. But there was one persistent thing
which first troubled Syme and at last terrified him. The President
was always looking at him, steadily, and with a great and baffling
interest. The enormous man was quite quiet, but his blue eyes
stood out of his head. And they were always fixed on Syme.
Syme felt moved to spring up and leap over the balcony. When the
President's eyes were on him he felt as if he were made of glass.
He had hardly the shred of a doubt that in some silent and
extraordinary way Sunday had found out that he was a spy. He
looked over the edge of the balcony, and saw a policeman, standing
abstractedly just beneath, staring at the bright railings and the
Then there fell upon him the great temptation that was to torment
him for many days. In the presence of these powerful and repulsive
men, who were the princes of anarchy, he had almost forgotten the
frail and fanciful figure of the poet Gregory, the mere aesthete of
anarchism. He even thought of him now with an old kindness, as if
they had played together when children. But he remembered that he
was still tied to Gregory by a great promise. He had promised never
to do the very thing that he now felt himself almost in the act of
doing. He had promised not to jump over that balcony and speak to
that policeman. He took his cold hand off the cold stone
balustrade. His soul swayed in a vertigo of moral indecision. He
had only to snap the thread of a rash vow made to a villainous
society, and all his life could be as open and sunny as the square
beneath him. He had, on the other hand, only to keep his antiquated
honour, and be delivered inch by inch into the power of this great
enemy of mankind, whose very intellect was a torture-chamber.
Whenever he looked down into the square he saw the comfortable
policeman, a pillar of common sense and common order. Whenever he
looked back at the breakfast-table he saw the President still
quietly studying him with big, unbearable eyes.
In all the torrent of his thought there were two thoughts that
never crossed his mind. First, it never occurred to him to doubt
that the President and his Council could crush him if he continued
to stand alone. The place might be public, the project might seem
impossible. But Sunday was not the man who would carry himself
thus easily without having, somehow or somewhere, set open his
iron trap. Either by anonymous poison or sudden street accident,
by hypnotism or by fire from hell, Sunday could certainly strike
him. If he defied the man he was probably dead, either struck
stiff there in his chair or long afterwards as by an innocent
ailment. If he called in the police promptly, arrested everyone,
told all, and set against them the whole energy of England, he
would probably escape; certainly not otherwise. They were a
balconyful of gentlemen overlooking a bright and busy square; but
he felt no more safe with them than if they had been a boatful of
armed pirates overlooking an empty sea.
There was a second thought that never came to him. It never
occurred to him to be spiritually won over to the enemy. Many
moderns, inured to a weak worship of intellect and force, might
have wavered in their allegiance under this oppression of a great
personality. They might have called Sunday the super-man. If any
such creature be conceivable, he looked, indeed, somewhat like it,
with his earth-shaking abstraction, as of a stone statue walking.
He might have been called something above man, with his large
plans, which were too obvious to be detected, with his large face,
which was too frank to be understood. But this was a kind of
modern meanness to which Syme could not sink even in his extreme
morbidity. Like any man, he was coward enough to fear great force;
but he was not quite coward enough to admire it.
The men were eating as they talked, and even in this they were
typical. Dr. Bull and the Marquis ate casually and conventionally
of the best things on the table--cold pheasant or Strasbourg pie.
But the Secretary was a vegetarian, and he spoke earnestly of the
projected murder over half a raw tomato and three quarters of a
glass of tepid water. The old Professor had such slops as suggested
a sickening second childhood. And even in this President Sunday
preserved his curious predominance of mere mass. For he ate like
twenty men; he ate incredibly, with a frightful freshness of
appetite, so that it was like watching a sausage factory. Yet
continually, when he had swallowed a dozen crumpets or drunk a
quart of coffee, he would be found with his great head on one side
staring at Syme.
"I have often wondered," said the Marquis, taking a great bite out
of a slice of bread and jam, "whether it wouldn't be better for me
to do it with a knife. Most of the best things have been brought
off with a knife. And it would be a new emotion to get a knife into
a French President and wriggle it round."
"You are wrong," said the Secretary, drawing his black brows
together. "The knife was merely the expression of the old personal
quarrel with a personal tyrant. Dynamite is not only our best tool,
but our best symbol. It is as perfect a symbol of us as is incense
of the prayers of the Christians. It expands; it only destroys
because it broadens; even so, thought only destroys because it
broadens. A man's brain is a bomb," he cried out, loosening
suddenly his strange passion and striking his own skull with
violence. "My brain feels like a bomb, night and day. It must
expand! It must expand! A man's brain must expand, if it breaks up
"I don't want the universe broken up just yet," drawled the
Marquis. "I want to do a lot of beastly things before I die.
I thought of one yesterday in bed."
"No, if the only end of the thing is nothing," said Dr. Bull with
his sphinx-like smile, "it hardly seems worth doing."
The old Professor was staring at the ceiling with dull eyes.
"Every man knows in his heart," he said, "that nothing is worth
There was a singular silence, and then the Secretary said--
"We are wandering, however, from the point. The only question is
how Wednesday is to strike the blow. I take it we should all agree
with the original notion of a bomb. As to the actual arrangements,
I should suggest that tomorrow morning he should go first of all
The speech was broken off short under a vast shadow. President
Sunday had risen to his feet, seeming to fill the sky above them.
"Before we discuss that," he said in a small, quiet voice, "let us
go into a private room. I have something very particular to say."
Syme stood up before any of the others. The instant of choice had
come at last, the pistol was at his head. On the pavement before
he could hear the policeman idly stir and stamp, for the morning,
though bright, was cold.
A barrel-organ in the street suddenly sprang with a jerk into a
jovial tune. Syme stood up taut, as if it had been a bugle before
the battle. He found himself filled with a supernatural courage
that came from nowhere. That jingling music seemed full of the
vivacity, the vulgarity, and the irrational valour of the poor, who
in all those unclean streets were all clinging to the decencies and
the charities of Christendom. His youthful prank of being a
policeman had faded from his mind; he did not think of himself as
the representative of the corps of gentlemen turned into fancy
constables, or of the old eccentric who lived in the dark room.
But he did feel himself as the ambassador of all these common and
kindly people in the street, who every day marched into battle to
the music of the barrel-organ. And this high pride in being human
had lifted him unaccountably to an infinite height above the
monstrous men around him. For an instant, at least, he looked down
upon all their sprawling eccentricities from the starry pinnacle
of the commonplace. He felt towards them all that unconscious and
elementary superiority that a brave man feels over powerful beasts
or a wise man over powerful errors. He knew that he had neither the
intellectual nor the physical strength of President Sunday; but in
that moment he minded it no more than the fact that he had not the
muscles of a tiger or a horn on his nose like a rhinoceros. All was
swallowed up in an ultimate certainty that the President was wrong
and that the barrel-organ was right. There clanged in his mind that
unanswerable and terrible truism in the song of Roland--
"Pagens ont tort et Chretiens ont droit."
which in the old nasal French has the clang and groan of great
iron. This liberation of his spirit from the load of his weakness
went with a quite clear decision to embrace death. If the people of
the barrel-organ could keep their old-world obligations, so could
he. This very pride in keeping his word was that he was keeping it
to miscreants. It was his last triumph over these lunatics to go
down into their dark room and die for something that they could not
even understand. The barrel-organ seemed to give the marching tune
with the energy and the mingled noises of a whole orchestra; and he
could hear deep and rolling, under all the trumpets of the pride of
life, the drums of the pride of death.
The conspirators were already filing through the open window and
into the rooms behind. Syme went last, outwardly calm, but with all
his brain and body throbbing with romantic rhythm. The President
led them down an irregular side stair, such as might be used by
servants, and into a dim, cold, empty room, with a table and
benches, like an abandoned boardroom. When they were all in, he
closed and locked the door.
The first to speak was Gogol, the irreconcilable, who seemed
bursting with inarticulate grievance.
"Zso! Zso!" he cried, with an obscure excitement, his heavy Polish
accent becoming almost impenetrable. "You zay you nod 'ide. You zay
you show himselves. It is all nuzzinks. Ven you vant talk
importance you run yourselves in a dark box!"
The President seemed to take the foreigner's incoherent satire with
entire good humour.
"You can't get hold of it yet, Gogol," he said in a fatherly way.
"When once they have heard us talking nonsense on that balcony they
will not care where we go afterwards. If we had come here first, we
should have had the whole staff at the keyhole. You don't seem to
know anything about mankind."
"I die for zem," cried the Pole in thick excitement, "and I slay
zare oppressors. I care not for these games of gonzealment. I would
zmite ze tyrant in ze open square."
"I see, I see," said the President, nodding kindly as he seated
himself at the top of a long table. "You die for mankind first, and
then you get up and smite their oppressors. So that's all right.
And now may I ask you to control your beautiful sentiments, and sit
down with the other gentlemen at this table. For the first time
this morning something intelligent is going to be said."
Syme, with the perturbed promptitude he had shown since the
original summons, sat down first. Gogol sat down last, grumbling
in his brown beard about gombromise. No one except Syme seemed to
have any notion of the blow that was about to fall. As for him,
he had merely the feeling of a man mounting the scaffold with the
intention, at any rate, of making a good speech.
"Comrades," said the President, suddenly rising, "we have spun out
this farce long enough. I have called you down here to tell you
something so simple and shocking that even the waiters upstairs
(long inured to our levities) might hear some new seriousness in
my voice. Comrades, we were discussing plans and naming places. I
propose, before saying anything else, that those plans and places
should not be voted by this meeting, but should be left wholly in
the control of some one reliable member. I suggest Comrade
Saturday, Dr. Bull."
They all stared at him; then they all started in their seats, for
the next words, though not loud, had a living and sensational
emphasis. Sunday struck the table.
"Not one word more about the plans and places must be said at this
meeting. Not one tiny detail more about what we mean to do must be
mentioned in this company."
Sunday had spent his life in astonishing his followers; but it
seemed as if he had never really astonished them until now. They
all moved feverishly in their seats, except Syme. He sat stiff in
his, with his hand in his pocket, and on the handle of his loaded
revolver. When the attack on him came he would sell his life dear.
He would find out at least if the President was mortal.
Sunday went on smoothly--
"You will probably understand that there is only one possible
motive for forbidding free speech at this festival of freedom.
Strangers overhearing us matters nothing. They assume that we
are joking. But what would matter, even unto death, is this,
that there should be one actually among us who is not of us,
who knows our grave purpose, but does not share it, who--"
The Secretary screamed out suddenly like a woman.
"It can't be!" he cried, leaping. "There can't--"
The President flapped his large flat hand on the table like the
fin of some huge fish.
"Yes," he said slowly, "there is a spy in this room. There is a
traitor at this table. I will waste no more words. His name--"
Syme half rose from his seat, his finger firm on the trigger.
"His name is Gogol," said the President. "He is that hairy humbug
over there who pretends to be a Pole."
Gogol sprang to his feet, a pistol in each hand. With the same
flash three men sprang at his throat. Even the Professor made
an effort to rise. But Syme saw little of the scene, for he was
blinded with a beneficent darkness; he had sunk down into his
seat shuddering, in a palsy of passionate relief.
THE UNACCOUNTABLE CONDUCT OF PROFESSOR DE WORMS
"SIT down!" said Sunday in a voice that he used once or twice in
his life, a voice that made men drop drawn swords.
The three who had risen fell away from Gogol, and that equivocal
person himself resumed his seat.
"Well, my man," said the President briskly, addressing him as one
addresses a total stranger, "will you oblige me by putting your
hand in your upper waistcoat pocket and showing me what you have
The alleged Pole was a little pale under his tangle of dark hair,
but he put two fingers into the pocket with apparent coolness and
pulled out a blue strip of card. When Syme saw it lying on the
table, he woke up again to the world outside him. For although
the card lay at the other extreme of the table, and he could read
nothing of the inscription on it, it bore a startling resemblance
to the blue card in his own pocket, the card which had been given
to him when he joined the anti-anarchist constabulary.
"Pathetic Slav," said the President, "tragic child of Poland, are
you prepared in the presence of that card to deny that you are in
this company--shall we say de trop?"
"Right oh!" said the late Gogol. It made everyone jump to hear a
clear, commercial and somewhat cockney voice coming out of that
forest of foreign hair. It was irrational, as if a Chinaman had
suddenly spoken with a Scotch accent.
"I gather that you fully understand your position," said Sunday.
"You bet," answered the Pole. "I see it's a fair cop. All I say is,
I don't believe any Pole could have imitated my accent like I did
"I concede the point," said Sunday. "I believe your own accent to
be inimitable, though I shall practise it in my bath. Do you mind
leaving your beard with your card?"
"Not a bit," answered Gogol; and with one finger he ripped off the
whole of his shaggy head-covering, emerging with thin red hair and
a pale, pert face. "It was hot," he added.
"I will do you the justice to say," said Sunday, not without a sort
of brutal admiration, "that you seem to have kept pretty cool under
it. Now listen to me. I like you. The consequence is that it would
annoy me for just about two and a half minutes if I heard that you
had died in torments. Well, if you ever tell the police or any
human soul about us, I shall have that two and a half minutes of
discomfort. On your discomfort I will not dwell. Good day. Mind the
The red-haired detective who had masqueraded as Gogol rose to his
feet without a word, and walked out of the room with an air of
perfect nonchalance. Yet the astonished Syme was able to realise
that this ease was suddenly assumed; for there was a slight stumble
outside the door, which showed that the departing detective had not
minded the step.
"Time is flying," said the President in his gayest manner, after
glancing at his watch, which like everything about him seemed
bigger than it ought to be. "I must go off at once; I have to
take the chair at a Humanitarian meeting."
The Secretary turned to him with working eyebrows.
"Would it not be better," he said a little sharply, "to discuss
further the details of our project, now that the spy has left us?"
"No, I think not," said the President with a yawn like an
unobtrusive earthquake. "Leave it as it is. Let Saturday settle
it. I must be off. Breakfast here next Sunday."
But the late loud scenes had whipped up the almost naked nerves
of the Secretary. He was one of those men who are conscientious
even in crime.
"I must protest, President, that the thing is irregular," he said.
"It is a fundamental rule of our society that all plans shall be
debated in full council. Of course, I fully appreciate your
forethought when in the actual presence of a traitor--"
"Secretary," said the President seriously, "if you'd take your head
home and boil it for a turnip it might be useful. I can't say. But
The Secretary reared back in a kind of equine anger.
"I really fail to understand--" he began in high offense.
"That's it, that's it," said the President, nodding a great many
times. "That's where you fail right enough. You fail to understand.
Why, you dancing donkey," he roared, rising, "you didn't want to be
overheard by a spy, didn't you? How do you know you aren't
And with these words he shouldered his way out of the room, shaking
with incomprehensible scorn.
Four of the men left behind gaped after him without any apparent
glimmering of his meaning. Syme alone had even a glimmering, and
such as it was it froze him to the bone. If the last words of the
President meant anything, they meant that he had not after all
passed unsuspected. They meant that while Sunday could not denounce
him like Gogol, he still could not trust him like the others.
The other four got to their feet grumbling more or less, and betook
themselves elsewhere to find lunch, for it was already well past
midday. The Professor went last, very slowly and painfully. Syme
sat long after the rest had gone, revolving his strange position.
He had escaped a thunderbolt, but he was still under a cloud. At
last he rose and made his way out of the hotel into Leicester
Square. The bright, cold day had grown increasingly colder, and
when he came out into the street he was surprised by a few flakes
of snow. While he still carried the sword-stick and the rest of
Gregory's portable luggage, he had thrown the cloak down and left
it somewhere, perhaps on the steam-tug, perhaps on the balcony.
Hoping, therefore, that the snow-shower might be slight, he stepped
back out of the street for a moment and stood up under the doorway
of a small and greasy hair-dresser's shop, the front window of
which was empty, except for a sickly wax lady in evening dress.
Snow, however, began to thicken and fall fast; and Syme, having
found one glance at the wax lady quite sufficient to depress his
spirits, stared out instead into the white and empty street. He was
considerably astonished to see, standing quite still outside the
shop and staring into the window, a man. His top hat was loaded
with snow like the hat of Father Christmas, the white drift was
rising round his boots and ankles; but it seemed as if nothing
could tear him away from the contemplation of the colourless wax
doll in dirty evening dress. That any human being should stand in
such weather looking into such a shop was a matter of sufficient
wonder to Syme; but his idle wonder turned suddenly into a personal
shock; for he realised that the man standing there was the
paralytic old Professor de Worms. It scarcely seemed the place for
a person of his years and infirmities.
Syme was ready to believe anything about the perversions of this
dehumanized brotherhood; but even he could not believe that the
Professor had fallen in love with that particular wax lady. He
could only suppose that the man's malady (whatever it was) involved
some momentary fits of rigidity or trance. He was not inclined,
however, to feel in this case any very compassionate concern. On
the contrary, he rather congratulated himself that the Professor's
stroke and his elaborate and limping walk would make it easy to
escape from him and leave him miles behind. For Syme thirsted first
and last to get clear of the whole poisonous atmosphere, if only
for an hour. Then he could collect his thoughts, formulate his
policy, and decide finally whether he should or should not keep
faith with Gregory.
He strolled away through the dancing snow, turned up two or three
streets, down through two or three others, and entered a small Soho
restaurant for lunch. He partook reflectively of four small and
quaint courses, drank half a bottle of red wine, and ended up over
black coffee and a black cigar, still thinking. He had taken his
seat in the upper room of the restaurant, which was full of the
chink of knives and the chatter of foreigners. He remembered that
in old days he had imagined that all these harmless and kindly
aliens were anarchists. He shuddered, remembering the real thing.
But even the shudder had the delightful shame of escape. The wine,
the common food, the familiar place, the faces of natural and
talkative men, made him almost feel as if the Council of the Seven
Days had been a bad dream; and although he knew it was nevertheless
an objective reality, it was at least a distant one. Tall houses
and populous streets lay between him and his last sight of the
shameful seven; he was free in free London, and drinking wine among
the free. With a somewhat easier action, he took his hat and stick
and strolled down the stair into the shop below.
When he entered that lower room he stood stricken and rooted to the
spot. At a small table, close up to the blank window and the white
street of snow, sat the old anarchist Professor over a glass of
milk, with his lifted livid face and pendent eyelids. For an
instant Syme stood as rigid as the stick he leant upon. Then with a
gesture as of blind hurry, he brushed past the Professor, dashing
open the door and slamming it behind him, and stood outside in the
"Can that old corpse be following me?" he asked himself, biting his
yellow moustache. "I stopped too long up in that room, so that even
such leaden feet could catch me up. One comfort is, with a little
brisk walking I can put a man like that as far away as Timbuctoo.
Or am I too fanciful? Was he really following me? Surely Sunday
would not be such a fool as to send a lame man?"
He set off at a smart pace, twisting and whirling his stick, in
the direction of Covent Garden. As he crossed the great market the
snow increased, growing blinding and bewildering as the afternoon
began to darken. The snow-flakes tormented him like a swarm of
silver bees. Getting into his eyes and beard, they added their
unremitting futility to his already irritated nerves; and by the
time that he had come at a swinging pace to the beginning of Fleet
Street, he lost patience, and finding a Sunday teashop, turned
into it to take shelter. He ordered another cup of black coffee
as an excuse. Scarcely had he done so, when Professor de Worms
hobbled heavily into the shop, sat down with difficulty and
ordered a glass of milk.
Syme's walking-stick had fallen from his hand with a great clang,
which confessed the concealed steel. But the Professor did not look
round. Syme, who was commonly a cool character, was literally
gaping as a rustic gapes at a conjuring trick. He had seen no cab
following; he had heard no wheels outside the shop; to all mortal
appearances the man had come on foot. But the old man could only
walk like a snail, and Syme had walked like the wind. He started up
and snatched his stick, half crazy with the contradiction in mere
arithmetic, and swung out of the swinging doors, leaving his coffee
untasted. An omnibus going to the Bank went rattling by with an
unusual rapidity. He had a violent run of a hundred yards to reach
it; but he managed to spring, swaying upon the splash-board and,
pausing for an instant to pant, he climbed on to the top. When he
had been seated for about half a minute, he heard behind him a sort
of heavy and asthmatic breathing.
Turning sharply, he saw rising gradually higher and higher up
the omnibus steps a top hat soiled and dripping with snow, and
under the shadow of its brim the short-sighted face and shaky
shoulders of Professor de Worms. He let himself into a seat with
characteristic care, and wrapped himself up to the chin in the
Every movement of the old man's tottering figure and vague hands,
every uncertain gesture and panic-stricken pause, seemed to put
it beyond question that he was helpless, that he was in the last
imbecility of the body. He moved by inches, he let himself down
with little gasps of caution. And yet, unless the philosophical
entities called time and space have no vestige even of a practical
existence, it appeared quite unquestionable that he had run after
Syme sprang erect upon the rocking car, and after staring wildly
at the wintry sky, that grew gloomier every moment, he ran down
the steps. He had repressed an elemental impulse to leap over the
Too bewildered to look back or to reason, he rushed into one of
the little courts at the side of Fleet Street as a rabbit rushes
into a hole. He had a vague idea, if this incomprehensible old
Jack-in-the-box was really pursuing him, that in that labyrinth of
little streets he could soon throw him off the scent. He dived in
and out of those crooked lanes, which were more like cracks than
thoroughfares; and by the time that he had completed about twenty
alternate angles and described an unthinkable polygon, he paused
to listen for any sound of pursuit. There was none; there could
not in any case have been much, for the little streets were thick
with the soundless snow. Somewhere behind Red Lion Court, however,
he noticed a place where some energetic citizen had cleared away
the snow for a space of about twenty yards, leaving the wet,
glistening cobble-stones. He thought little of this as he passed
it, only plunging into yet another arm of the maze. But when a few
hundred yards farther on he stood still again to listen, his heart
stood still also, for he heard from that space of rugged stones
the clinking crutch and labouring feet of the infernal cripple.
The sky above was loaded with the clouds of snow, leaving London
in a darkness and oppression premature for that hour of the
evening. On each side of Syme the walls of the alley were blind
and featureless; there was no little window or any kind of eve. He
felt a new impulse to break out of this hive of houses, and to get
once more into the open and lamp-lit street. Yet he rambled and
dodged for a long time before he struck the main thoroughfare.
When he did so, he struck it much farther up than he had fancied.
He came out into what seemed the vast and void of Ludgate Circus,
and saw St. Paul's Cathedral sitting in the sky.
At first he was startled to find these great roads so empty, as if
a pestilence had swept through the city. Then he told himself that
some degree of emptiness was natural; first because the snow-storm
was even dangerously deep, and secondly because it was Sunday. And
at the very word Sunday he bit his lip; the word was henceforth for
hire like some indecent pun. Under the white fog of snow high up in
the heaven the whole atmosphere of the city was turned to a very
queer kind of green twilight, as of men under the sea. The sealed
and sullen sunset behind the dark dome of St. Paul's had in it
smoky and sinister colours--colours of sickly green, dead red or
decaying bronze, that were just bright enough to emphasise the
solid whiteness of the snow. But right up against these dreary
colours rose the black bulk of the cathedral; and upon the top of
the cathedral was a random splash and great stain of snow, still
clinging as to an Alpine peak. It had fallen accidentally, but just
so fallen as to half drape the dome from its very topmost point,
and to pick out in perfect silver the great orb and the cross. When
Syme saw it he suddenly straightened himself, and made with his
sword-stick an involuntary salute.
He knew that that evil figure, his shadow, was creeping quickly or
slowly behind him, and he did not care.
It seemed a symbol of human faith and valour that while the skies
were darkening that high place of the earth was bright. The
devils might have captured heaven, but they had not yet captured
the cross. He had a new impulse to tear out the secret of this
dancing, jumping and pursuing paralytic; and at the entrance of
the court as it opened upon the Circus he turned, stick in hand,
to face his pursuer.
Professor de Worms came slowly round the corner of the irregular
alley behind him, his unnatural form outlined against a lonely
gas-lamp, irresistibly recalling that very imaginative figure in
the nursery rhymes, "the crooked man who went a crooked mile." He
really looked as if he had been twisted out of shape by the
tortuous streets he had been threading. He came nearer and nearer,
the lamplight shining on his lifted spectacles, his lifted,
patient face. Syme waited for him as St. George waited for the
dragon, as a man waits for a final explanation or for death. And
the old Professor came right up to him and passed him like a total
stranger, without even a blink of his mournful eyelids.
There was something in this silent and unexpected innocence that
left Syme in a final fury. The man's colourless face and manner
seemed to assert that the whole following had been an accident.
Syme was galvanised with an energy that was something between
bitterness and a burst of boyish derision. He made a wild gesture
as if to knock the old man's hat off, called out something like
"Catch me if you can," and went racing away across the white, open
Circus. Concealment was impossible now; and looking back over his
shoulder, he could see the black figure of the old gentleman coming
after him with long, swinging strides like a man winning a mile
race. But the head upon that bounding body was still pale, grave
and professional, like the head of a lecturer upon the body of a
This outrageous chase sped across Ludgate Circus, up Ludgate Hill,
round St. Paul's Cathedral, along Cheapside, Syme remembering all
the nightmares he had ever known. Then Syme broke away towards the
river, and ended almost down by the docks. He saw the yellow panes
of a low, lighted public-house, flung himself into it and ordered
beer. It was a foul tavern, sprinkled with foreign sailors, a
place where opium might be smoked or knives drawn.
A moment later Professor de Worms entered the place, sat down
carefully, and asked for a glass of milk.
THE PROFESSOR EXPLAINS
WHEN Gabriel Syme found himself finally established in a chair,
and opposite to him, fixed and final also, the lifted eyebrows and
leaden eyelids of the Professor, his fears fully returned. This
incomprehensible man from the fierce council, after all, had
certainly pursued him. If the man had one character as a paralytic
and another character as a pursuer, the antithesis might make him
more interesting, but scarcely more soothing. It would be a very
small comfort that he could not find the Professor out, if by some
serious accident the Professor should find him out. He emptied a
whole pewter pot of ale before the professor had touched his milk.
One possibility, however, kept him hopeful and yet helpless. It was
just possible that this escapade signified something other than
even a slight suspicion of him. Perhaps it was some regular form or
sign. Perhaps the foolish scamper was some sort of friendly signal
that he ought to have understood. Perhaps it was a ritual. Perhaps
the new Thursday was always chased along Cheapside, as the new Lord
Mayor is always escorted along it. He was just selecting a
tentative inquiry, when the old Professor opposite suddenly and
simply cut him short. Before Syme could ask the first diplomatic
question, the old anarchist had asked suddenly, without any sort of
"Are you a policeman?"
Whatever else Syme had expected, he had never expected anything so
brutal and actual as this. Even his great presence of mind could
only manage a reply with an air of rather blundering jocularity.
"A policeman?" he said, laughing vaguely. "Whatever made you think
of a policeman in connection with me?"
"The process was simple enough," answered the Professor patiently.
"I thought you looked like a policeman. I think so now."
"Did I take a policeman's hat by mistake out of the restaurant?"
asked Syme, smiling wildly. "Have I by any chance got a number
stuck on to me somewhere? Have my boots got that watchful look?
Why must I be a policeman? Do, do let me be a postman."
The old Professor shook his head with a gravity that gave no hope,
but Syme ran on with a feverish irony.
"But perhaps I misunderstood the delicacies of your German
philosophy. Perhaps policeman is a relative term. In an
evolutionary sense, sir, the ape fades so gradually into the
policeman, that I myself can never detect the shade. The monkey is
only the policeman that may be. Perhaps a maiden lady on Clapham
Common is only the policeman that might have been. I don't mind
being the policeman that might have been. I don't mind being
anything in German thought."
"Are you in the police service?" said the old man, ignoring all
Syme's improvised and desperate raillery. "Are you a detective?"
Syme's heart turned to stone, but his face never changed.
"Your suggestion is ridiculous," he began. "Why on earth--"
The old man struck his palsied hand passionately on the rickety
table, nearly breaking it.
"Did you hear me ask a plain question, you pattering spy?" he
shrieked in a high, crazy voice. "Are you, or are you not, a
"No!" answered Syme, like a man standing on the hangman's drop.
"You swear it," said the old man, leaning across to him, his dead
face becoming as it were loathsomely alive. "You swear it! You
swear it! If you swear falsely, will you be damned? Will you be
sure that the devil dances at your funeral? Will you see that the
nightmare sits on your grave? Will there really be no mistake? You
are an anarchist, you are a dynamiter! Above all, you are not in
any sense a detective? You are not in the British police?"
He leant his angular elbow far across the table, and put up his
large loose hand like a flap to his ear.
"I am not in the British police," said Syme with insane calm.
Professor de Worms fell back in his chair with a curious air of
"That's a pity," he said, "because I am."
Syme sprang up straight, sending back the bench behind him with a
"Because you are what?" he said thickly. "You are what?"
"I am a policeman," said the Professor with his first broad smile.
and beaming through his spectacles. "But as you think policeman
only a relative term, of course I have nothing to do with you. I
am in the British police force; but as you tell me you are not in
the British police force, I can only say that I met you in a
dynamiters' club. I suppose I ought to arrest you." And with these
words he laid on the table before Syme an exact facsimile of the
blue card which Syme had in his own waistcoat pocket, the symbol
of his power from the police.
Syme had for a flash the sensation that the cosmos had turned
exactly upside down, that all trees were growing downwards and
that all stars were under his feet. Then came slowly the opposite
conviction. For the last twenty-four hours the cosmos had really
been upside down, but now the capsized universe had come right side
up again. This devil from whom he had been fleeing all day was only
an elder brother of his own house, who on the other side of the
table lay back and laughed at him. He did not for the moment ask
any questions of detail; he only knew the happy and silly fact that
this shadow, which had pursued him with an intolerable oppression
of peril, was only the shadow of a friend trying to catch him up.
He knew simultaneously that he was a fool and a free man. For with
any recovery from morbidity there must go a certain healthy
humiliation. There comes a certain point in such conditions when
only three things are possible: first a perpetuation of Satanic
pride, secondly tears, and third laughter. Syme's egotism held hard
to the first course for a few seconds, and then suddenly adopted
the third. Taking his own blue police ticket from his own waist
coat pocket, he tossed it on to the table; then he flung his head
back until his spike of yellow beard almost pointed at the ceiling,
and shouted with a barbaric laughter.
Even in that close den, perpetually filled with the din of knives,
plates, cans, clamorous voices, sudden struggles and stampedes,
there was something Homeric in Syme's mirth which made many
half-drunken men look round.
"What yer laughing at, guv'nor?" asked one wondering labourer from
"At myself," answered Syme, and went off again into the agony of
his ecstatic reaction.
"Pull yourself together," said the Professor, "or you'll get
hysterical. Have some more beer. I'll join you."
"You haven't drunk your milk," said Syme.
"My milk!" said the other, in tones of withering and unfathomable
contempt, "my milk! Do you think I'd look at the beastly stuff when
I'm out of sight of the bloody anarchists? We're all Christians in
this room, though perhaps," he added, glancing around at the
reeling crowd, "not strict ones. Finish my milk? Great blazes! yes,
I'll finish it right enough!" and he knocked the tumbler off the
table, making a crash of glass and a splash of silver fluid.
Syme was staring at him with a happy curiosity.
"I understand now," he cried; "of course, you're not an old man at
"I can't take my face off here," replied Professor de Worms. "It's
rather an elaborate make-up. As to whether I'm an old man, that's
not for me to say. I was thirty-eight last birthday."
"Yes, but I mean," said Syme impatiently, "there's nothing the
matter with you."
"Yes," answered the other dispassionately. "I am subject to colds."
Syme's laughter at all this had about it a wild weakness of relief.
He laughed at the idea of the paralytic Professor being really a
young actor dressed up as if for the foot-lights. But he felt that
he would have laughed as loudly if a pepperpot had fallen over.
The false Professor drank and wiped his false beard.
"Did you know," he asked, "that that man Gogol was one of us?"
"I? No, I didn't know it," answered Syme in some surprise. "But
"I knew no more than the dead," replied the man who called himself
de Worms. "I thought the President was talking about me, and I
rattled in my boots."
"And I thought he was talking about me," said Syme, with his rather
reckless laughter. "I had my hand on my revolver all the time."
"So had I," said the Professor grimly; "so had Gogol evidently."
Syme struck the table with an exclamation.
"Why, there were three of us there!" he cried. "Three out of seven
is a fighting number. If we had only known that we were three!"
The face of Professor de Worms darkened, and he did not look up.
"We were three," he said. "If we had been three hundred we could
still have done nothing."
"Not if we were three hundred against four?" asked Syme, jeering
"No," said the Professor with sobriety, "not if we were three
hundred against Sunday."
And the mere name struck Syme cold and serious; his laughter had
died in his heart before it could die on his lips. The face of
the unforgettable President sprang into his mind as startling as
a coloured photograph, and he remarked this difference between
Sunday and all his satellites, that their faces, however fierce
or sinister, became gradually blurred by memory like other human
faces, whereas Sunday's seemed almost to grow more actual during
absence, as if a man's painted portrait should slowly come alive.
They were both silent for a measure of moments, and then Syme's
speech came with a rush, like the sudden foaming of champagne.
"Professor," he cried, "it is intolerable. Are you afraid of this
The Professor lifted his heavy lids, and gazed at Syme with large,
wide-open, blue eyes of an almost ethereal honesty.
"Yes, I am," he said mildly. "So are you."
Syme was dumb for an instant. Then he rose to his feet erect, like
an insulted man, and thrust the chair away from him.
"Yes," he said in a voice indescribable, "you are right. I am
afraid of him. Therefore I swear by God that I will seek out this
man whom I fear until I find him, and strike him on the mouth. If
heaven were his throne and the earth his footstool, I swear that
I would pull him down."
"How?" asked the staring Professor. "Why?"
"Because I am afraid of him," said Syme; "and no man should leave
in the universe anything of which he is afraid."
De Worms blinked at him with a sort of blind wonder. He made an
effort to speak, but Syme went on in a low voice, but with an
undercurrent of inhuman exaltation--
"Who would condescend to strike down the mere things that he does
not fear? Who would debase himself to be merely brave, like any
common prizefighter? Who would stoop to be fearless--like a tree?
Fight the thing that you fear. You remember the old tale of the
English clergyman who gave the last rites to the brigand of Sicily,
and how on his death-bed the great robber said, 'I can give you no
money, but I can give you advice for a lifetime: your thumb on the
blade, and strike upwards.' So I say to you, strike upwards, if you
strike at the stars."
The other looked at the ceiling, one of the tricks of his pose.
"Sunday is a fixed star," he said.
"You shall see him a falling star," said Syme, and put on his hat.
The decision of his gesture drew the Professor vaguely to his feet.
"Have you any idea," he asked, with a sort of benevolent
bewilderment, "exactly where you are going?"
"Yes," replied Syme shortly, "I am going to prevent this bomb being
thrown in Paris."
"Have you any conception how?" inquired the other.
"No," said Syme with equal decision.
"You remember, of course," resumed the soi-disant de Worms, pulling
his beard and looking out of the window, "that when we broke up
rather hurriedly the whole arrangements for the atrocity were left
in the private hands of the Marquis and Dr. Bull. The Marquis is by
this time probably crossing the Channel. But where he will go and
what he will do it is doubtful whether even the President knows;
certainly we don't know. The only man who does know is Dr. Bull."
"Confound it!" cried Syme. "And we don't know where he is."
"Yes," said the other in his curious, absent-minded way, "I know
where he is myself."
"Will you tell me?" asked Syme with eager eyes.
"I will take you there," said the Professor, and took down his own
hat from a peg.
Syme stood looking at him with a sort of rigid excitement.
"What do you mean?" he asked sharply. "Will you join me? Will you
take the risk?"
"Young man," said the Professor pleasantly, "I am amused to observe
that you think I am a coward. As to that I will say only one word,
and that shall be entirely in the manner of your own philosophical
rhetoric. You think that it is possible to pull down the President.
I know that it is impossible, and I am going to try it," and
opening the tavern door, which let in a blast of bitter air, they
went out together into the dark streets by the docks.
Most of the snow was melted or trampled to mud, but here and there
a clot of it still showed grey rather than white in the gloom. The
small streets were sloppy and full of pools, which reflected the
flaming lamps irregularly, and by accident, like fragments of some
other and fallen world. Syme felt almost dazed as he stepped
through this growing confusion of lights and shadows; but his
companion walked on with a certain briskness, towards where, at
the end of the street, an inch or two of the lamplit river looked
like a bar of flame.
"Where are you going?" Syme inquired.
"Just now," answered the Professor, "I am going just round the
corner to see whether Dr. Bull has gone to bed. He is hygienic,
and retires early."
"Dr. Bull!" exclaimed Syme. "Does he live round the corner?"
"No," answered his friend. "As a matter of fact he lives some way
off, on the other side of the river, but we can tell from here
whether he has gone to bed."
Turning the corner as he spoke, and facing the dim river, flecked
with flame, he pointed with his stick to the other bank. On the
Surrey side at this point there ran out into the Thames, seeming
almost to overhang it, a bulk and cluster of those tall tenements,
dotted with lighted windows, and rising like factory chimneys to
an almost insane height. Their special poise and position made one
block of buildings especially look like a Tower of Babel with a
hundred eyes. Syme had never seen any of the sky-scraping buildings
in America, so he could only think of the buildings in a dream.
Even as he stared, the highest light in this innumerably lighted
turret abruptly went out, as if this black Argus had winked at him
with one of his innumerable eyes.
Professor de Worms swung round on his heel, and struck his stick
against his boot.
"We are too late," he said, "the hygienic Doctor has gone to bed."
"What do you mean?" asked Syme. "Does he live over there, then?"
"Yes," said de Worms, "behind that particular window which you
can't see. Come along and get some dinner. We must call on him
Without further parley, he led the way through several by-ways
until they came out into the flare and clamour of the East India
Dock Road. The Professor, who seemed to know his way about the
neighbourhood, proceeded to a place where the line of lighted
shops fell back into a sort of abrupt twilight and quiet, in which
an old white inn, all out of repair, stood back some twenty feet
from the road.
"You can find good English inns left by accident everywhere, like
fossils," explained the Professor. "I once found a decent place in
the West End."
"I suppose," said Syme, smiling, "that this is the corresponding
decent place in the East End?"
"It is," said the Professor reverently, and went in.
In that place they dined and slept, both very thoroughly. The
beans and bacon, which these unaccountable people cooked well,
the astonishing emergence of Burgundy from their cellars, crowned
Syme's sense of a new comradeship and comfort. Through all this
ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words
to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may
be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two
is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. That is why, in
spite of a hundred disadvantages, the world will always return to
Syme was able to pour out for the first time the whole of his
outrageous tale, from the time when Gregory had taken him to
the little tavern by the river. He did it idly and amply, in a
luxuriant monologue, as a man speaks with very old friends. On
his side, also, the man who had impersonated Professor de Worms
was not less communicative. His own story was almost as silly as
"That's a good get-up of yours," said Syme, draining a glass of
Macon; "a lot better than old Gogol's. Even at the start I thought
he was a bit too hairy."
"A difference of artistic theory," replied the Professor pensively.
"Gogol was an idealist. He made up as the abstract or platonic
ideal of an anarchist. But I am a realist. I am a portrait painter.
But, indeed, to say that I am a portrait painter is an inadequate
expression. I am a portrait."
"I don't understand you," said Syme.
"I am a portrait," repeated the Professor. "I am a portrait of the
celebrated Professor de Worms, who is, I believe, in Naples."
"You mean you are made up like him," said Syme. "But doesn't he
know that you are taking his nose in vain?"
"He knows it right enough," replied his friend cheerfully.
"Then why doesn't he denounce you?"
"I have denounced him," answered the Professor.
"Do explain yourself," said Syme.
"With pleasure, if you don't mind hearing my story," replied the
eminent foreign philosopher. "I am by profession an actor, and my
name is Wilks. When I was on the stage I mixed with all sorts of
Bohemian and blackguard company. Sometimes I touched the edge of
the turf, sometimes the riff-raff of the arts, and occasionally the
political refugee. In some den of exiled dreamers I was introduced
to the great German Nihilist philosopher, Professor de Worms. I did
not gather much about him beyond his appearance, which was very
disgusting, and which I studied carefully. I understood that he had
proved that the destructive principle in the universe was God;
hence he insisted on the need for a furious and incessant energy,
rending all things in pieces. Energy, he said, was the All. He was
lame, shortsighted, and partially paralytic. When I met him I was
in a frivolous mood, and I disliked him so much that I resolved to
imitate him. If I had been a draughtsman I would have drawn a
caricature. I was only an actor, I could only act a caricature. I
made myself up into what was meant for a wild exaggeration of the
old Professor's dirty old self. When I went into the room full of
his supporters I expected to be received with a roar of laughter,
or (if they were too far gone) with a roar of indignation at the
insult. I cannot describe the surprise I felt when my entrance was
received with a respectful silence, followed (when I had first
opened my lips) with a murmur of admiration. The curse of the
perfect artist had fallen upon me. I had been too subtle, I had
been too true. They thought I really was the great Nihilist
Professor. I was a healthy-minded young man at the time, and I
confess that it was a blow. Before I could fully recover, however,
two or three of these admirers ran up to me radiating indignation,
and told me that a public insult had been put upon me in the next
room. I inquired its nature. It seemed that an impertinent fellow
had dressed himself up as a preposterous parody of myself. I had
drunk more champagne than was good for me, and in a flash of folly
I decided to see the situation through. Consequently it was to meet
the glare of the company and my own lifted eyebrows and freezing
eyes that the real Professor came into the room.
"I need hardly say there was a collision. The pessimists all round
me looked anxiously from one Professor to the other Professor to
see which was really the more feeble. But I won. An old man in poor
health, like my rival, could not be expected to be so impressively
feeble as a young actor in the prime of life. You see, he really
had paralysis, and working within this definite limitation, he
couldn't be so jolly paralytic as I was. Then he tried to blast my
claims intellectually. I countered that by a very simple dodge.
Whenever he said something that nobody but he could understand, I
replied with something which I could not even understand myself.
'I don't fancy,' he said, 'that you could have worked out the
principle that evolution is only negation, since there inheres in
it the introduction of lacuna, which are an essential of
differentiation.' I replied quite scornfully, 'You read all that up
in Pinckwerts; the notion that involution functioned eugenically
was exposed long ago by Glumpe.' It is unnecessary for me to say
that there never were such people as Pinckwerts and Glumpe. But the
people all round (rather to my surprise) seemed to remember them
quite well, and the Professor, finding that the learned and
mysterious method left him rather at the mercy of an enemy slightly
deficient in scruples, fell back upon a more popular form of wit.
'I see,' he sneered, 'you prevail like the false pig in Aesop.'
'And you fail,' I answered, smiling, 'like the hedgehog in
Montaigne.' Need I say that there is no hedgehog in Montaigne?
'Your claptrap comes off,' he said; 'so would your beard.' I had no
intelligent answer to this, which was quite true and rather witty.
But I laughed heartily, answered, 'Like the Pantheist's boots,' at
random, and turned on my heel with all the honours of victory. The
real Professor was thrown out, but not with violence, though one
man tried very patiently to pull off his nose. He is now, I
believe, received everywhere in Europe as a delightful impostor.
His apparent earnestness and anger, you see, make him all the more
"Well," said Syme, "I can understand your putting on his dirty old
beard for a night's practical joke, but I don't understand your
never taking it off again."
"That is the rest of the story," said the impersonator. "When I
myself left the company, followed by reverent applause, I went
limping down the dark street, hoping that I should soon be far
enough away to be able to walk like a human being. To my
astonishment, as I was turning the corner, I felt a touch on the
shoulder, and turning, found myself under the shadow of an enormous
policeman. He told me I was wanted. I struck a sort of paralytic
attitude, and cried in a high German accent, 'Yes, I am wanted--by
the oppressed of the world. You are arresting me on the charge of
being the great anarchist, Professor de Worms.' The policeman
impassively consulted a paper in his hand, 'No, sir,' he said
civilly, 'at least, not exactly, sir. I am arresting you on the
charge of not being the celebrated anarchist, Professor de Worms.'
This charge, if it was criminal at all, was certainly the lighter
of the two, and I went along with the man, doubtful, but not
greatly dismayed. I was shown into a number of rooms, and
eventually into the presence of a police officer, who explained
that a serious campaign had been opened against the centres of
anarchy, and that this, my successful masquerade, might be of
considerable value to the public safety. He offered me a good
salary and this little blue card. Though our conversation was
short, he struck me as a man of very massive common sense and
humour; but I cannot tell you much about him personally, because--"
Syme laid down his knife and fork.
"I know," he said, "because you talked to him in a dark room."
Professor de Worms nodded and drained his glass.
THE MAN IN SPECTACLES
"BURGUNDY is a jolly thing," said the Professor sadly, as he set
his glass down.
"You don't look as if it were," said Syme; "you drink it as if it
"You must excuse my manner," said the Professor dismally, "my
position is rather a curious one. Inside I am really bursting with
boyish merriment; but I acted the paralytic Professor so well, that
now I can't leave off. So that when I am among friends, and have no
need at all to disguise myself, I still can't help speaking slow
and wrinkling my forehead--just as if it were my forehead. I can be
quite happy, you understand, but only in a paralytic sort of way.
The most buoyant exclamations leap up in my heart, but they come
out of my mouth quite different. You should hear me say, 'Buck up,
old cock!' It would bring tears to your eyes."
"It does," said Syme; "but I cannot help thinking that apart from
all that you are really a bit worried."
The Professor started a little and looked at him steadily.
"You are a very clever fellow," he said, "it is a pleasure to work
with you. Yes, I have rather a heavy cloud in my head. There is a
great problem to face," and he sank his bald brow in his two hands.
Then he said in a low voice--
"Can you play the piano?"
"Yes," said Syme in simple wonder, "I'm supposed to have a good
Then, as the other did not speak, he added--
"I trust the great cloud is lifted."
After a long silence, the Professor said out of the cavernous
shadow of his hands--
"It would have done just as well if you could work a typewriter."
"Thank you," said Syme, "you flatter me."
"Listen to me," said the other, "and remember whom we have to see
tomorrow. You and I are going tomorrow to attempt something which
is very much more dangerous than trying to steal the Crown Jewels
out of the Tower. We are trying to steal a secret from a very
sharp, very strong, and very wicked man. I believe there is no man,
except the President, of course, who is so seriously startling and
formidable as that little grinning fellow in goggles. He has not
perhaps the white-hot enthusiasm unto death, the mad martyrdom for
anarchy, which marks the Secretary. But then that very fanaticism
in the Secretary has a human pathos, and is almost a redeeming
trait. But the little Doctor has a brutal sanity that is more
shocking than the Secretary's disease. Don't you notice his
detestable virility and vitality. He bounces like an india-rubber
ball. Depend on it, Sunday was not asleep (I wonder if he ever
sleeps?) when he locked up all the plans of this outrage in the
round, black head of Dr. Bull."
"And you think," said Syme, "that this unique monster will be
soothed if I play the piano to him?"
"Don't be an ass," said his mentor. "I mentioned the piano because
it gives one quick and independent fingers. Syme, if we are to go
through this interview and come out sane or alive, we must have
some code of signals between us that this brute will not see. I
have made a rough alphabetical cypher corresponding to the five
fingers--like this, see," and he rippled with his fingers on the
wooden table--"B A D, bad, a word we may frequently require."
Syme poured himself out another glass of wine, and began to study
the scheme. He was abnormally quick with his brains at puzzles,
and with his hands at conjuring, and it did not take him long to
learn how he might convey simple messages by what would seem to
be idle taps upon a table or knee. But wine and companionship had
always the effect of inspiring him to a farcical ingenuity, and
the Professor soon found himself struggling with the too vast
energy of the new language, as it passed through the heated brain
"We must have several word-signs," said Syme seriously--"words that
we are likely to want, fine shades of meaning. My favourite word is
'coeval'. What's yours?"
"Do stop playing the goat," said the Professor plaintively. "You
don't know how serious this is."
"'Lush' too," said Syme, shaking his head sagaciously, "we must
have 'lush'--word applied to grass, don't you know?"
"Do you imagine," asked the Professor furiously, "that we are going
to talk to Dr. Bull about grass?"
"There are several ways in which the subject could be approached,"
said Syme reflectively, "and the word introduced without appearing
forced. We might say, 'Dr. Bull, as a revolutionist, you remember
that a tyrant once advised us to eat grass; and indeed many of us,
looking on the fresh lush grass of summer"'
"Do you understand," said the other, "that this is a tragedy?"
"Perfectly," replied Syme; "always be comic in a tragedy. What
the deuce else can you do? I wish this language of yours had a
wider scope. I suppose we could not extend it from the fingers
to the toes? That would involve pulling off our boots and socks
during the conversation, which however unobtrusively performed--"
"Syme," said his friend with a stern simplicity, "go to bed!"
Syme, however, sat up in bed for a considerable time mastering the
new code. He was awakened next morning while the east was still
sealed with darkness, and found his grey-bearded ally standing like
a ghost beside his bed.
Syme sat up in bed blinking; then slowly collected his thoughts,
threw off the bed-clothes, and stood up. It seemed to him in some
curious way that all the safety and sociability of the night before
fell with the bedclothes off him, and he stood up in an air of cold
danger. He still felt an entire trust and loyalty towards his
companion; but it was the trust between two men going to the
"Well," said Syme with a forced cheerfulness as he pulled on his
trousers, "I dreamt of that alphabet of yours. Did it take you
long to make it up?"
The Professor made no answer, but gazed in front of him with eyes
the colour of a wintry sea; so Syme repeated his question.
"I say, did it take you long to invent all this? I'm considered
good at these things, and it was a good hour's grind. Did you
learn it all on the spot?"
The Professor was silent; his eyes were wide open, and he wore a
fixed but very small smile.
"How long did it take you?"
The Professor did not move.
"Confound you, can't you answer?" called out Syme, in a sudden
anger that had something like fear underneath. Whether or no the
Professor could answer, he did not.
Syme stood staring back at the stiff face like parchment and the
blank, blue eyes. His first thought was that the Professor had gone
mad, but his second thought was more frightful. After all, what did
he know about this queer creature whom he had heedlessly accepted
as a friend? What did he know, except that the man had been at the
anarchist breakfast and had told him a ridiculous tale? How
improbable it was that there should be another friend there beside
Gogol! Was this man's silence a sensational way of declaring war?
Was this adamantine stare after all only the awful sneer of some
threefold traitor, who had turned for the last time? He stood and
strained his ears in this heartless silence. He almost fancied he
could hear dynamiters come to capture him shifting softly in the
Then his eye strayed downwards, and he burst out laughing. Though
the Professor himself stood there as voiceless as a statue, his
five dumb fingers were dancing alive upon the dead table. Syme
watched the twinkling movements of the talking hand, and read
clearly the message--
"I will only talk like this. We must get used to it."
He rapped out the answer with the impatience of relief--
"All right. Let's get out to breakfast."
They took their hats and sticks in silence; but as Syme took his
sword-stick, he held it hard.
They paused for a few minutes only to stuff down coffee and coarse
thick sandwiches at a coffee stall, and then made their way across
the river, which under the grey and growing light looked as
desolate as Acheron. They reached the bottom of the huge block of
buildings which they had seen from across the river, and began in
silence to mount the naked and numberless stone steps, only pausing
now and then to make short remarks on the rail of the banisters. At
about every other flight they passed a window; each window showed
them a pale and tragic dawn lifting itself laboriously over London.
From each the innumerable roofs of slate looked like the leaden
surges of a grey, troubled sea after rain. Syme was increasingly
conscious that his new adventure had somehow a quality of cold
sanity worse than the wild adventures of the past. Last night, for
instance, the tall tenements had seemed to him like a tower in a
dream. As he now went up the weary and perpetual steps, he was
daunted and bewildered by their almost infinite series. But it was
not the hot horror of a dream or of anything that might be
exaggeration or delusion. Their infinity was more like the empty
infinity of arithmetic, something unthinkable, yet necessary to
thought. Or it was like the stunning statements of astronomy about
the distance of the fixed stars. He was ascending the house of
reason, a thing more hideous than unreason itself.
By the time they reached Dr. Bull's landing, a last window showed
them a harsh, white dawn edged with banks of a kind of coarse red,
more like red clay than red cloud. And when they entered Dr. Bull's
bare garret it was full of light.
Syme had been haunted by a half historic memory in connection with
these empty rooms and that austere daybreak. The moment he saw the
garret and Dr. Bull sitting writing at a table, he remembered what
the memory was--the French Revolution. There should have been the
black outline of a guillotine against that heavy red and white of
the morning. Dr. Bull was in his white shirt and black breeches
only; his cropped, dark head might well have just come out of its
wig; he might have been Marat or a more slipshod Robespierre.
Yet when he was seen properly, the French fancy fell away. The
Jacobins were idealists; there was about this man a murderous
materialism. His position gave him a somewhat new appearance. The
strong, white light of morning coming from one side creating sharp
shadows, made him seem both more pale and more angular than he had
looked at the breakfast on the balcony. Thus the two black glasses
that encased his eyes might really have been black cavities in his
skull, making him look like a death's-head. And, indeed, if ever
Death himself sat writing at a wooden table, it might have been he.
He looked up and smiled brightly enough as the men came in, and
rose with the resilient rapidity of which the Professor had
spoken. He set chairs for both of them, and going to a peg behind
the door, proceeded to put on a coat and waistcoat of rough, dark
tweed; he buttoned it up neatly, and came back to sit down at his
The quiet good humour of his manner left his two opponents
helpless. It was with some momentary difficulty that the
Professor broke silence and began, "I'm sorry to disturb you so
early, comrade," said he, with a careful resumption of the slow
de Worms manner. "You have no doubt made all the arrangements for
the Paris affair?" Then he added with infinite slowness, "We have
information which renders intolerable anything in the nature of a
Dr. Bull smiled again, but continued to gaze on them without
speaking. The Professor resumed, a pause before each weary word--
"Please do not think me excessively abrupt; but I advise you to
alter those plans, or if it is too late for that, to follow your
agent with all the support you can get for him. Comrade Syme and
I have had an experience which it would take more time to recount
than we can afford, if we are to act on it. I will, however,
relate the occurrence in detail, even at the risk of losing time,
if you really feel that it is essential to the understanding of
the problem we have to discuss."
He was spinning out his sentences, making them intolerably long
and lingering, in the hope of maddening the practical little
Doctor into an explosion of impatience which might show his hand.
But the little Doctor continued only to stare and smile, and the
monologue was uphill work. Syme began to feel a new sickness and
despair. The Doctor's smile and silence were not at all like the
cataleptic stare and horrible silence which he had confronted in
the Professor half an hour before. About the Professor's makeup
and all his antics there was always something merely grotesque,
like a gollywog. Syme remembered those wild woes of yesterday as
one remembers being afraid of Bogy in childhood. But here was
daylight; here was a healthy, square-shouldered man in tweeds,
not odd save for the accident of his ugly spectacles, not glaring
or grinning at all, but smiling steadily and not saying a word.
The whole had a sense of unbearable reality. Under the increasing
sunlight the colours of the Doctor's complexion, the pattern of
his tweeds, grew and expanded outrageously, as such things grow
too important in a realistic novel. But his smile was quite
slight, the pose of his head polite; the only uncanny thing was
"As I say," resumed the Professor, like a man toiling through
heavy sand, "the incident that has occurred to us and has led
us to ask for information about the Marquis, is one which you
may think it better to have narrated; but as it came in the
way of Comrade Syme rather than me--"
His words he seemed to be dragging out like words in an anthem;
but Syme, who was watching, saw his long fingers rattle quickly
on the edge of the crazy table. He read the message, "You must
go on. This devil has sucked me dry!"
Syme plunged into the breach with that bravado of improvisation
which always came to him when he was alarmed.
"Yes, the thing really happened to me," he said hastily. "I had
the good fortune to fall into conversation with a detective who
took me, thanks to my hat, for a respectable person. Wishing to
clinch my reputation for respectability, I took him and made him
very drunk at the Savoy. Under this influence he became friendly,
and told me in so many words that within a day or two they hope
to arrest the Marquis in France.
"So unless you or I can get on his track--"
The Doctor was still smiling in the most friendly way, and his
protected eyes were still impenetrable. The Professor signalled to
Syme that he would resume his explanation, and he began again with
the same elaborate calm.
"Syme immediately brought this information to me, and we came here
together to see what use you would be inclined to make of it. It
seems to me unquestionably urgent that--"
All this time Syme had been staring at the Doctor almost as
steadily as the Doctor stared at the Professor, but quite without
the smile. The nerves of both comrades-in-arms were near snapping
under that strain of motionless amiability, when Syme suddenly
leant forward and idly tapped the edge of the table. His message
to his ally ran, "I have an intuition."
The Professor, with scarcely a pause in his monologue, signalled
back, "Then sit on it."
Syme telegraphed, "It is quite extraordinary."
The other answered, "Extraordinary rot!"
Syme said, "I am a poet."
The other retorted, "You are a dead man."
Syme had gone quite red up to his yellow hair, and his eyes were
burning feverishly. As he said he had an intuition, and it had
risen to a sort of lightheaded certainty. Resuming his symbolic
taps, he signalled to his friend, "You scarcely realise how poetic
my intuition is. It has that sudden quality we sometimes feel in
the coming of spring."
He then studied the answer on his friend's fingers. The answer
was, "Go to hell!"
The Professor then resumed his merely verbal monologue addressed
to the Doctor.
"Perhaps I should rather say," said Syme on his fingers, "that it
resembles that sudden smell of the sea which may be found in the
heart of lush woods."
His companion disdained to reply.
"Or yet again," tapped Syme, "it is positive, as is the passionate
red hair of a beautiful woman."
The Professor was continuing his speech, but in the middle of it
Syme decided to act. He leant across the table, and said in a
voice that could not be neglected--
The Doctor's sleek and smiling head did not move, but they could
have sworn that under his dark glasses his eyes darted towards
"Dr. Bull," said Syme, in a voice peculiarly precise and
courteous, "would you do me a small favour? Would you be so kind
as to take off your spectacles?"
The Professor swung round on his seat, and stared at Syme with a
sort of frozen fury of astonishment. Syme, like a man who has
thrown his life and fortune on the table, leaned forward with a
fiery face. The Doctor did not move.
For a few seconds there was a silence in which one could hear a
pin drop, split once by the single hoot of a distant steamer on
the Thames. Then Dr. Bull rose slowly, still smiling, and took
off his spectacles.
Syme sprang to his feet, stepping backwards a little, like a
chemical lecturer from a successful explosion. His eyes were like
stars, and for an instant he could only point without speaking.
The Professor had also started to his feet, forgetful of his
supposed paralysis. He leant on the back of the chair and stared
doubtfully at Dr. Bull, as if the Doctor had been turned into a
toad before his eyes. And indeed it was almost as great a
The two detectives saw sitting in the chair before them a very
boyish-looking young man, with very frank and happy hazel eyes, an
open expression, cockney clothes like those of a city clerk, and
an unquestionable breath about him of being very good and rather
commonplace. The smile was still there, but it might have been the
first smile of a baby.
"I knew I was a poet," cried Syme in a sort of ecstasy. "I knew my
intuition was as infallible as the Pope. It was the spectacles that
did it! It was all the spectacles. Given those beastly black eyes,
and all the rest of him his health and his jolly looks, made him a
live devil among dead ones."
"It certainly does make a queer difference," said the Professor
shakily. "But as regards the project of Dr. Bull--"
"Project be damned!" roared Syme, beside himself. "Look at him!
Look at his face, look at his collar, look at his blessed boots!
You don't suppose, do you, that that thing's an anarchist?"
"Syme!" cried the other in an apprehensive agony.
"Why, by God," said Syme, "I'll take the risk of that myself! Dr.
Bull, I am a police officer. There's my card," and he flung down
the blue card upon the table.
The Professor still feared that all was lost; but he was loyal. He
pulled out his own official card and put it beside his friend's.
Then the third man burst out laughing, and for the first time that
morning they heard his voice.
"I'm awfully glad you chaps have come so early," he said, with
a sort of schoolboy flippancy, "for we can all start for France
together. Yes, I'm in the force right enough," and he flicked a
blue card towards them lightly as a matter of form.
Clapping a brisk bowler on his head and resuming his goblin
glasses, the Doctor moved so quickly towards the door, that the
others instinctively followed him. Syme seemed a little distrait,
and as he passed under the doorway he suddenly struck his stick
on the stone passage so that it rang.
"But Lord God Almighty," he cried out, "if this is all right, there
were more damned detectives than there were damned dynamiters at
the damned Council!"
"We might have fought easily," said Bull; "we were four against
The Professor was descending the stairs, but his voice came up from
"No," said the voice, "we were not four against three--we were not
so lucky. We were four against One."
The others went down the stairs in silence.
The young man called Bull, with an innocent courtesy characteristic
of him, insisted on going last until they reached the street; but
there his own robust rapidity asserted itself unconsciously, and he
walked quickly on ahead towards a railway inquiry office, talking
to the others over his shoulder.
"It is jolly to get some pals," he said. "I've been half dead with
the jumps, being quite alone. I nearly flung my arms round Gogol
and embraced him, which would have been imprudent. I hope you won't
despise me for having been in a blue funk."
"All the blue devils in blue hell," said Syme, "contributed to my
blue funk! But the worst devil was you and your infernal goggles."
The young man laughed delightedly.
"Wasn't it a rag?" he said. "Such a simple idea--not my own. I
haven't got the brains. You see, I wanted to go into the detective
service, especially the anti-dynamite business. But for that
purpose they wanted someone to dress up as a dynamiter; and they
all swore by blazes that I could never look like a dynamiter. They
said my very walk was respectable, and that seen from behind I
looked like the British Constitution. They said I looked too
healthy and too optimistic, and too reliable and benevolent; they
called me all sorts of names at Scotland Yard. They said that if I
had been a criminal, I might have made my fortune by looking so
like an honest man; but as I had the misfortune to be an honest
man, there was not even the remotest chance of my assisting them by
ever looking like a criminal. But as last I was brought before some
old josser who was high up in the force, and who seemed to have no
end of a head on his shoulders. And there the others all talked
hopelessly. One asked whether a bushy beard would hide my nice
smile; another said that if they blacked my face I might look like
a negro anarchist; but this old chap chipped in with a most
extraordinary remark. 'A pair of smoked spectacles will do it,' he
said positively. 'Look at him now; he looks like an angelic office
boy. Put him on a pair of smoked spectacles, and children will
scream at the sight of him.' And so it was, by George! When once my
eyes were covered, all the rest, smile and big shoulders and short
hair, made me look a perfect little devil. As I say, it was simple
enough when it was done, like miracles; but that wasn't the really
miraculous part of it. There was one really staggering thing about
the business, and my head still turns at it."
"What was that?" asked Syme.
"I'll tell you," answered the man in spectacles. "This big pot in
the police who sized me up so that he knew how the goggles would
go with my hair and socks--by God, he never saw me at all!"
Syme's eyes suddenly flashed on him.
"How was that?" he asked. "I thought you talked to him."
"So I did," said Bull brightly; "but we talked in a pitch-dark
room like a coalcellar. There, you would never have guessed that."
"I could not have conceived it," said Syme gravely.
"It is indeed a new idea," said the Professor.
Their new ally was in practical matters a whirlwind. At the
inquiry office he asked with businesslike brevity about the trains
for Dover. Having got his information, he bundled the company into
a cab, and put them and himself inside a railway carriage before
they had properly realised the breathless process. They were
already on the Calais boat before conversation flowed freely.
"I had already arranged," he explained, "to go to France for my
lunch; but I am delighted to have someone to lunch with me. You
see, I had to send that beast, the Marquis, over with his bomb,
because the President had his eye on me, though God knows how.
I'll tell you the story some day. It was perfectly choking.
Whenever I tried to slip out of it I saw the President somewhere,
smiling out of the bow-window of a club, or taking off his hat to
me from the top of an omnibus. I tell you, you can say what you
like, that fellow sold himself to the devil; he can be in six
places at once."
"So you sent the Marquis off, I understand," asked the Professor.
"Was it long ago? Shall we be in time to catch him?"
"Yes," answered the new guide, "I've timed it all. He'll still be
at Calais when we arrive."
"But when we do catch him at Calais," said the Professor, "what are
we going to do?"
At this question the countenance of Dr. Bull fell for the first
time. He reflected a little, and then said--
"Theoretically, I suppose, we ought to call the police."
"Not I," said Syme. "Theoretically I ought to drown myself first. I
promised a poor fellow, who was a real modern pessimist, on my word
of honour not to tell the police. I'm no hand at casuistry, but I
can't break my word to a modern pessimist. It's like breaking one's
word to a child."
"I'm in the same boat," said the Professor. "I tried to tell the
police and I couldn't, because of some silly oath I took. You see,
when I was an actor I was a sort of all-round beast. Perjury or
treason is the only crime I haven't committed. If I did that I
shouldn't know the difference between right and wrong."
"I've been through all that," said Dr. Bull, "and I've made up my
mind. I gave my promise to the Secretary--you know him, man who
smiles upside down. My friends, that man is the most utterly
unhappy man that was ever human. It may be his digestion, or his
conscience, or his nerves, or his philosophy of the universe, but
he's damned, he's in hell! Well, I can't turn on a man like that,
and hunt him down. It's like whipping a leper. I may be mad, but
that's how I feel; and there's jolly well the end of it."
"I don't think you're mad," said Syme. "I knew you would decide
like that when first you--"
"Eh?" said Dr. Bull.
"When first you took off your spectacles."
Dr. Bull smiled a little, and strolled across the deck to look at
the sunlit sea. Then he strolled back again, kicking his heels
carelessly, and a companionable silence fell between the three men.
"Well," said Syme, "it seems that we have all the same kind of
morality or immorality, so we had better face the fact that comes
"Yes," assented the Professor, "you're quite right; and we must
hurry up, for I can see the Grey Nose standing out from France."
"The fact that comes of it," said Syme seriously, "is this, that we
three are alone on this planet. Gogol has gone, God knows where;
perhaps the President has smashed him like a fly. On the Council we
are three men against three, like the Romans who held the bridge.
But we are worse off than that, first because they can appeal to
their organization and we cannot appeal to ours, and second
"Because one of those other three men," said the Professor, "is not
Syme nodded and was silent for a second or two, then he said--
"My idea is this. We must do something to keep the Marquis in
Calais till tomorrow midday. I have turned over twenty schemes in
my head. We cannot denounce him as a dynamiter; that is agreed. We
cannot get him detained on some trivial charge, for we should have
to appear; he knows us, and he would smell a rat. We cannot pretend
to keep him on anarchist business; he might swallow much in that
way, but not the notion of stopping in Calais while the Czar went
safely through Paris. We might try to kidnap him, and lock him up
ourselves; but he is a well-known man here. He has a whole
bodyguard of friends; he is very strong and brave, and the event is
doubtful. The only thing I can see to do is actually to take
advantage of the very things that are in the Marquis's favour. I am
going to profit by the fact that he is a highly respected nobleman.
I am going to profit by the fact that he has many friends and moves
in the best society."
"What the devil are you talking about?" asked the Professor.
"The Symes are first mentioned in the fourteenth century," said
Syme; "but there is a tradition that one of them rode behind Bruce
at Bannockburn. Since 1350 the tree is quite clear."
"He's gone off his head," said the little Doctor, staring.
"Our bearings," continued Syme calmly, "are 'argent a chevron gules
charged with three cross crosslets of the field.' The motto
The Professor seized Syme roughly by the waistcoat.
"We are just inshore," he said. "Are you seasick or joking in the
"My remarks are almost painfully practical," answered Syme, in an
unhurried manner. "The house of St. Eustache also is very ancient.
The Marquis cannot deny that he is a gentleman. He cannot deny
that I am a gentleman. And in order to put the matter of my social
position quite beyond a doubt, I propose at the earliest
opportunity to knock his hat off. But here we are in the harbour."
They went on shore under the strong sun in a sort of daze. Syme,
who had now taken the lead as Bull had taken it in London, led
them along a kind of marine parade until he came to some cafes,
embowered in a bulk of greenery and overlooking the sea. As he
went before them his step was slightly swaggering, and he swung
his stick like a sword. He was making apparently for the extreme
end of the line of cafes, but he stopped abruptly. With a sharp
gesture he motioned them to silence, but he pointed with one
gloved finger to a cafe table under a bank of flowering foliage
at which sat the Marquis de St. Eustache, his teeth shining in
his thick, black beard, and his bold, brown face shadowed by a
light yellow straw hat and outlined against the violet sea.
SYME sat down at a cafe table with his companions, his blue eyes
sparkling like the bright sea below, and ordered a bottle of
Saumur with a pleased impatience. He was for some reason in a
condition of curious hilarity. His spirits were already
unnaturally high; they rose as the Saumur sank, and in half an
hour his talk was a torrent of nonsense. He professed to be
making out a plan of the conversation which was going to ensue
between himself and the deadly Marquis. He jotted it down wildly
with a pencil. It was arranged like a printed catechism, with
questions and answers, and was delivered with an extraordinary
rapidity of utterance.
"I shall approach. Before taking off his hat, I shall take off my
own. I shall say, 'The Marquis de Saint Eustache, I believe.' He
will say, 'The celebrated Mr. Syme, I presume.' He will say in the
most exquisite French, 'How are you?' I shall reply in the most
exquisite Cockney, 'Oh, just the Syme--' "
"Oh, shut it," said the man in spectacles. "Pull yourself
together, and chuck away that bit of paper. What are you really
going to do?"
"But it was a lovely catechism," said Syme pathetically. "Do let
me read it you. It has only forty-three questions and answers, and
some of the Marquis's answers are wonderfully witty. I like to be
just to my enemy."
"But what's the good of it all?" asked Dr. Bull in exasperation.
"It leads up to my challenge, don't you see," said Syme, beaming.
"When the Marquis has given the thirty-ninth reply, which runs--"
"Has it by any chance occurred to you," asked the Professor, with
a ponderous simplicity, "that the Marquis may not say all the
forty-three things you have put down for him? In that case, I
understand, your own epigrams may appear somewhat more forced."
Syme struck the table with a radiant face.
"Why, how true that is," he said, "and I never thought of it. Sir,
you have an intellect beyond the common. You will make a name."
"Oh, you're as drunk as an owl!" said the Doctor.
"It only remains," continued Syme quite unperturbed, "to adopt
some other method of breaking the ice (if I may so express it)
between myself and the man I wish to kill. And since the course of
a dialogue cannot be predicted by one of its parties alone (as you
have pointed out with such recondite acumen), the only thing to be
done, I suppose, is for the one party, as far as possible, to do
all the dialogue by himself. And so I will, by George!" And he
stood up suddenly, his yellow hair blowing in the slight sea
A band was playing in a cafe chantant hidden somewhere among the
trees, and a woman had just stopped singing. On Syme's heated head
the bray of the brass band seemed like the jar and jingle of that
barrel-organ in Leicester Square, to the tune of which he had once
stood up to die. He looked across to the little table where the
Marquis sat. The man had two companions now, solemn Frenchmen in
frock-coats and silk hats, one of them with the red rosette of the
Legion of Honour, evidently people of a solid social position.
Besides these black, cylindrical costumes, the Marquis, in his
loose straw hat and light spring clothes, looked Bohemian and even
barbaric; but he looked the Marquis. Indeed, one might say that he
looked the king, with his animal elegance, his scornful eyes, and
his proud head lifted against the purple sea. But he was no
Christian king, at any rate; he was, rather, some swarthy despot,
half Greek, half Asiatic, who in the days when slavery seemed
natural looked down on the Mediterranean, on his galley and his
groaning slaves. Just so, Syme thought, would the brown-gold face
of such a tyrant have shown against the dark green olives and the
"Are you going to address the meeting?" asked the Professor
peevishly, seeing that Syme still stood up without moving.
Syme drained his last glass of sparkling wine.
"I am," he said, pointing across to the Marquis and his companions,
"that meeting. That meeting displeases me. I am going to pull that
meeting's great ugly, mahogany-coloured nose."
He stepped across swiftly, if not quite steadily. The Marquis,
seeing him, arched his black Assyrian eyebrows in surprise, but
"You are Mr. Syme, I think," he said.
"And you are the Marquis de Saint Eustache," he said gracefully.
"Permit me to pull your nose."
He leant over to do so, but the Marquis started backwards,
upsetting his chair, and the two men in top hats held Syme back
by the shoulders.
"This man has insulted me!" said Syme, with gestures of
"Insulted you?" cried the gentleman with the red rosette, "when?"
"Oh, just now," said Syme recklessly. "He insulted my mother."
"Insulted your mother!" exclaimed the gentleman incredulously.
"Well, anyhow," said Syme, conceding a point, "my aunt."
"But how can the Marquis have insulted your aunt just now?" said
the second gentleman with some legitimate wonder. "He has been
sitting here all the time."
"Ah, it was what he said!" said Syme darkly.
"I said nothing at all," said the Marquis, "except something
about the band. I only said that I liked Wagner played well."
"It was an allusion to my family," said Syme firmly. "My aunt
played Wagner badly. It was a painful subject. We are always
being insulted about it."
"This seems most extraordinary," said the gentleman who was
decore, looking doubtfully at the Marquis.
"Oh, I assure you," said Syme earnestly, "the whole of your
conversation was simply packed with sinister allusions to my
"This is nonsense!" said the second gentleman. "I for one have
said nothing for half an hour except that I liked the singing of
that girl with black hair."
"Well, there you are again!" said Syme indignantly. "My aunt's was
"It seems to me," said the other, "that you are simply seeking a
pretext to insult the Marquis."
"By George!" said Syme, facing round and looking at him, "what a
clever chap you are!"
The Marquis started up with eyes flaming like a tiger's.
"Seeking a quarrel with me!" he cried. "Seeking a fight with me! By
God! there was never a man who had to seek long. These gentlemen
will perhaps act for me. There are still four hours of daylight.
Let us fight this evening."
Syme bowed with a quite beautiful graciousness.
"Marquis," he said, "your action is worthy of your fame and blood.
Permit me to consult for a moment with the gentlemen in whose
hands I shall place myself."
In three long strides he rejoined his companions, and they, who
had seen his champagne-inspired attack and listened to his idiotic
explanations, were quite startled at the look of him. For now that
he came back to them he was quite sober, a little pale, and he
spoke in a low voice of passionate practicality.
"I have done it," he said hoarsely. "I have fixed a fight on the
beast. But look here, and listen carefully. There is no time for
talk. You are my seconds, and everything must come from you. Now
you must insist, and insist absolutely, on the duel coming off
after seven tomorrow, so as to give me the chance of preventing him