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The Land Of Mist - Doyle Arthur Conan - Страница 2

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«Well, that was another surprise. Atkinson has five hundred volumes, but complains that his psychic library is very imperfect. You see, there is French, German, Italian, as well as our own.»

«Well, thank God all the folly is not confined to poor old England. Pestilential nonsense!»

Have you read it up at all, Father?» asked Enid.

«Read it up! I, with all my interests and no time for one-half of them! Enid, you are too absurd.»

«Sorry, Father. You spoke with such assurance, I thought you knew something about it.»

Challenger's huge head swung round and his lion's glare rested upon his daughter.

«Do you conceive that a logical brain, a brain of the first order, needs to read and to study before it can detect a manifest absurdity? Am I to study mathematics in order to confute the man who tells me that two and two are five? Must I study physics once more and take down my Principia because some rogue or fool insists that a table can rise in the air against the law of gravity? Does it take five hundred volume to inform us of a thing which is proved in every police-court when an impostor is exposed? Enid, I am ashamed of you!»

His daughter laughed merrily.

«Well, Dad, you need not roar at me any more. I give in. In fact, I have the same feeling that you have.»

«None the less,» said Malone, «some good men support them. I don't see that you can laugh at Lodge and Crookes and the others.»

«Don't be absurd, Malone. Every great mind has its weaker side. It is a sort of reaction against all the good sense. You come suddenly upon a vein of positive nonsense. That is what is the matter with these fellows. No, Enid, I haven't read their reasons, and I don't mean to, either; some things are beyond the pale. If we re-open all the old questions, how can we ever get ahead with the new ones? This matter is settled by common sense, the law of England, and by the universal assent of every sane European.»

«So that's that!» said Enid.

«However,» he continued, «I can admit that there are occasional excuses for misunderstandings upon the point.» He sank his voice, and his great grey eyes looked sadly up into vacancy. « I have known cases where the coldest intellect – even my own intellect – might, for a moment have been shaken.»

Malone scented copy.

«Yes, sir?»

Challenger hesitated. He seemed to be struggling with himself. He wished to speak, and yet speech was painful. Then, with an abrupt, impatient gesture, he plunged into his story:

«I never told you, Enid. It was too . . . too intimate. Perhaps too absurd. I was ashamed to have been so shaken. But it shows how even the best balanced may be caught unawares.»

«Yes, sir?»

«It was after my wife's death. You knew her, Malone You can guess what it meant to me. It was the night after the cremation . . . horrible, Malone, horrible! I saw the dear little body slide down, down . . . and then the glare of flame and the door clanged to.» His great body shook and he passed his big, hairy hand over his eyes.

«I don't know why I tell you this; the talk seemed to lead up to it. It may be a warning to you. That night – the night after the cremation – I sat up in the hall. She was there,» he nodded at Enid. «She had fallen asleep in a chair, poor girl. You know the house at Rotherfield, Malone. It was in the big hall. I sat by the fireplace, the room all draped in shadow, and my mind draped In shadow also. I should have sent her to bed, but she was lying back in her chair and I did not wish to wake her. It may have been one in the morning – I remember the moon shining through the stained-glass window. I sat and I brooded. Then suddenly there came a noise.»

«Yes, sir?»

«It was low at first just a ticking. Then it grew louder and more distinct – it was a clear rat-tat-tat. Now comes the queer coincidence, the sort of thing out of which legends grow when credulous folk have the shaping of them. You must know that my wife had a peculiar way of knocking at a door. It was really a little tune which she played with her fingers. I got into the some way so that we could each know when the other knocked. Well, it seemed to me – of course my mind was strained and abnormal – that the taps shaped themselves into the well-known rhythm of her knock. I couldn't localize it. You can think how eagerly I tried. It was above me, somewhere on the woodwork. I lost sense of time. I daresay it was repeated a dozen times at least.»

«Oh, Dad, you never told me!»

«No, but I woke you up. I asked you to sit quiet with me for a little.»

«Yes, I remember that!»

«Well, we sat, but nothing happened. Not a sound more. Of course it was a delusion. Some insect in the wood; the ivy on the outer wall. My own brain furnished the rhythm. Thus do we make fools and children of ourselves. But it gave me an insight. I saw how even a clever man could be deceived by his own emotions.»

«But how do you know, sir, that it was not your wife.»

«Absurd, Malone! Absurd, I say! I tell you I saw her in the flames. What was there left?»

«Her soul, her spirit.»

Challenger shook his head sadly.

«When that dear body dissolved into its elements – when its gases went into the air and its residue of solids sank into a grey dust – it was the end. There was no more. She had played her part, played it beautifully, nobly. It was done. Death ends all, Malone. This soul talk is the Animism of savages. It is a superstition, a myth. As a physiologist I will undertake to produce crime or virtue by vascular control or cerebral stimulation. I will turn a Jekyll into a Hyde by a surgical operation. Another can do it by a psychological suggestion. Alcohol will do it. Drugs will do it. Absurd, Malone, absurd! As the tree falls, so does it lie. There is no next morning . . . night – eternal night . . . and long rest for the weary worker.»

«Well, it's a sad philosophy.»

«Better a sad than a false one.»

«Perhaps so. There is something virile and manly in facing the worst. I would not contradict. My reason is with you.»

«But my instincts are against!» cried Enid. «No, no, never can I believe it.» She threw her arms round the great bull neck. «Don't tell me, Daddy, that you with all your complex brain and wonderful self are a thing with no more life hereafter than a broken clock!»

«Four buckets of water and a bagful of salts,» said Challenger as he smilingly detached his daughter's grip. «That's your daddy, my lass, and you may as well reconcile your mind to it. Well, it's twenty to eight. – Come back, if you can, Malone, and let me hear your adventures among the insane.»

2. Which Describes an Evening in Strange Company

THE love-affair of Enid Challenger and Edward Malone is not of the slightest interest to the reader, for the simple reason that it is not of the slightest interest to the writer. The unseen, unnoticed lure of the unborn babe is common to all youthful humanity. We deal in this chronicle with matters which are less common and of higher interest. It is only mentioned in order to explain those terms of frank and intimate comradeship which the narrative discloses. If the human race has obviously improved in anything – in Anglo-Celtic countries, at least – it is that the prim affectations and sly deceits of the past are lessened, and that young men and women can meet in an equality of clean and honest comradeship.

A taxi took the adventurers down Edgware Road and into the side-street called «Helbeck Terrace.» Halfway down, the dull line of brick houses was broken by one glowing gap, where an open arch threw a flood of light into the street. The cab pulled up and the man opened the door.

«This is the Spiritualist Church, sir,» said he. Then, as he saluted to acknowledge his tip, he added in the wheezy voice of the man of all weathers: «Tommy-rot, I call it, sir.» Having eased his conscience thus, he climbed into his seat and a moment later his red rear-lamp was a waning circle in the gloom. Malone laughed.

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