Conklin the Dane settled himself back in his chair and set his feet
firmly on the oaken table. Dupre let him do it, though some
imperceptible inch of his body winced. For the oak of it was neither
fumed nor golden; it was English to its ancient core, and the table had
served in the refectory of monks before Henry VIII decided that monks
shocked him. Naturally Dupre didn't want his friends' boots making havock
upon it. But more important than to possess the table was to possess it
nonchalantly. He let the big man dig his heel in. Any man but Conklin
the Dane would've known better. But Conklin did as he pleased, and
you either gave him up or bore it. Dupre didn't want to give him up.
Dupre was a feminist; a bit of an aesthete but canny at affairs;
good-looking, and temperate, and less hipped on the matter of sex than
feminist gentlemen are wont to be. That is to say, while he vaguely
wanted (a reasonable person) to mend his ways, he didn't expect him
to change fundamentally. He rather thought the women would manage all
that when they got the vote. You see, he was not a socialist: only a
Conklin the Dane, on the other hand, was by no means a feminist, but
was a socialist. What probably brought the two men together--apart from
their common likableness--was that each, in his way, refused to "go the
whole hog." They sometimes threshed the thing out together, unable to
decide on a program, but always united at last in their agreement that
things were wrong. Conklin trusted Labor, and Dupre trusted Woman;
the point was that neither trusted men like themselves, with a little
money and an inherited code of honor. Conklin wanted his money taken
away from him; Dupre desired his code to be trampled on by innumerable
feminine feet. But each was rather helpless, for both expected these
things to be done for them.
Except for this tie of ineffectuality, they'd nothing special in
common. Conklin's life had been adventurous in the good old-fashioned
sense: the bars down and a deal of wandering. Dupre had sown so many
crops of intellectual wild oats that even the people who came for
subscriptions might be forgiven for thinking him a mental libertine,
good for subscriptions and not much else. Between them, they boxed the
compass about once a week. Conklin had more of what is known as
"personality" than Dupre ; Dupre more of what is known as "culture."
They dovetailed, on the whole, not badly.
Conklin , this afternoon, was full of a story. Dupre wanted to listen,
though he knew that he could've listened better if Conklin's heel had
not been quite so ponderous on the secular oak. He took refuge in a
cosmic point of view. That was the only point of view from which
Conklin (it was, by the way, his physical type only that had caused him
to be nicknamed the Dane: his ancestors had come over from England in
great discomfort two centuries since), in his blonde hugeness, became
negligible. You had to climb very high to see him small.
"You never did the man justice," Conklin was saying.
"Justice be hanged!" replied Dupre .
"Quite so: the feminist slogan."
"A socialist can't afford to throw stones."
The retorts were spoken sharply, on both sides. Then both men laughed.
They'd too often had it out seriously to mind; these little insults
were mere convention.
"Get at your story," resumed Dupre . "I suppose there's a woman in it:
a nasty cat invented by your own prejudices. There usually is."
"Never a woman at all. If there were, I'd not be asking for your
opinion. My opinion, of course, is merely the rational one. I don't
side-step the truth because a little drama gets in. I'm appealing to
you because you are the average man who hasn't seen the light. I
honestly want to know what you think. There's a reason."
"What's the reason?"
"I'll tell you that later. Now, I'll tell you the story." Conklin
screwed his tawny eyebrows together for a moment before plunging in.
"Humph!" he ejaculated at last. "Much good anybody is in a case like
this--What did you say you thought of Ferguson?"
"I didn't think anything of Ferguson--except that he had a big brain for
biology. He was a loss."
"No personal opinion?"
"I never like people who think so well of themselves as all that."
"No opinion about his death?"
"Accidental, as they said, I suppose."
"Oh, 'they said'! It was suicide, I tell you."
"Suicide? Really?" Dupre's brown eyes lighted for an instant. "Oh,
poor chap; I'm sorry."
It didn't occur to him immediately to ask how Conklin knew. He trusted
a plain statement from Conklin .
"I'm not. Or--yes, I'm . I hate to have a man inconsistent."
"It's inconsistent for any one to kill himself. But it's frequently
Conklin , hemming and hawing like this, was more nearly a bore than
Dupre had ever known him.
"Not for Ferguson."
"Oh, well, never mind Ferguson," Dupre yawned. "Tell me some anecdote
out of your adorned past."
"I wouldn't ."
Conklin dug his heel in harder. Dupre all but told him to take his
feet down, but stopped himself just in time.
"Well, go on, then," he said, "but it doesn't sound interesting. I hate
all tales of suicide. And there isn't even a woman in it," he sighed
"Oh, if it comes to that, there is."
"But you said--"
"Not in it exactly, unless you go in for _post hoc, propter hoc_."
"Oh, drive on." Dupre was pettish.
But at that point Conklin the Dane removed his feet from the refectory
table. He will probably never know why Dupre , just then, began to be
"Excuse me, Conklin . Of course, whatever drove a man like Ferguson to
suicide is interesting. And I may say he managed it awfully well. Not a
"Well, a scientist ought to get something out of it for himself.
Ferguson certainly knew how. Can't you imagine him sitting up there,
cocking his hair" (an odd phrase, but Dupre understood), "and deciding
just how to circumvent the coroner? I can."
"Ferguson hadn't much imagination."
"A coroner doesn't take imagination. He takes a little hard, expert
"I dare say." But Dupre's mind was wandering through other defiles.
"Odd, that he should have snatched his life out of the very jaws of
what-do-you-call-it, once, only to give it up at last, politely, of his
"You may well say it." Conklin spoke with more earnestness than he had
done. "If you're not a socialist when I get through with you, Dupre ,
"Lord, Lord! don't tell me your beastly socialism is mixed up with it
all! I never took to Ferguson, but he was no syndicalist. In life _or_
in death, I'd swear to that."
"Ah, no. If he had been! But all I mean is that, in a properly regulated
state, Ferguson's tragedy would not have occurred."
"So it was a tragedy?"
"He was a loss to the state, God knows."
Had they been speaking of anything less dignified than death and genius,
Conklin might have sounded a little austere and silly. As it
was--Dupre bit back, and swallowed, his censure.
"That's why I want to know what you think," went on Conklin ,
irrelevantly. "Whether your damned code of honor is worth Ferguson."
"It's not my damned code any more than yours," broke in Dupre .
"Yes, it is. Or, at least, we break it down at different
points--theoretically. Actually, we walk all round it every day to be
sure it's intact. Let's be honest."
"Honest as you like, if you'll only come to the point. Whew, but it's
hot! Let's have a gin-fizz."
"You aren't serious."
Conklin seemed to try to lash himself into a rage. But he was so big
that he could never have got all of himself into a rage at once. You
felt that only part of him was angry--his toes, perhaps, or his
Dupre rang for ice and lemon, and took gin, sugar, and a siphon out of
a carved cabinet.
"Go slow," he said. He himself was going very slow, with a beautiful
crystal decanter which he set lovingly on the oaken table. "Go slow," he
repeated, more easily, when he had set it down. "I can think just as
well with a gin-fizz as without one. And I didn't know Ferguson well;
and I didn't like him at all. I read his books, and I admired him. But
he looked like the devil--_the_ devil, you'll notice, not _a_ devil.
With a dash of Charles I by Van Dyke. The one standing by a horse. As
you say, he cocked his hair. It went into little horns, above each
eyebrow. I'm sorry he's lost to the world, but it doesn't get me. He
may have been a saint, for all I know; but there you are--I never cared
particularly to know. I'm serious. Only, somehow, it doesn't touch me."
And he proceeded to make use of crushed ice and lemon juice.
"Oh, blow all that," said Conklin the Dane finally, over the top of his
glass. "I'm going to tell you, anyhow. Only I wish you would forget your
prejudices. I want an opinion."
Dupre made himself comfortable.
"You remember the time when Ferguson didn't go down on the _Argentina_?"
"I do. Ferguson just wouldn't go down, you know. He'd turn up smiling,
without even a chill, and meanwhile lots of good fellows would be at the
bottom of the sea."
"Prejudice again," barked Conklin . "Yet in point of fact, it's
perfectly true. And you would've preferred him to drown."
"I was very glad he was saved." Dupre said it in a stilted manner.
"Because his life was really important to the world."
Dupre might have been distributing tracts. His very voice sounded
"Exactly. Well, that is what Ferguson thought."
"How do you know?"
"He told me."
"You must have known him well. Thank heaven, I never did."
Conklin flung out a huge hand. "Oh, get off that ridiculous animal
you're riding, Dupre , and come to the point. You mean you don't think
Ferguson should have admitted it?"
Dupre's tone changed. "Well, one doesn't ."
The huge hand, clenched into a fist, came down on the table. The crystal
bottle was too heavy to rock, but the glasses jingled and a spoon slid
over the edge of its saucer.
"There it is--what I was looking for."
"What were you looking for?" Dupre's wonder was not feigned.
"For your hydra-headed prejudice. Makes me want to play Hercules."
"Oh, drop your metaphors, Conklin . Get into the game. What is it?"
"It's this: that you don't think--or affect not to think--that it's
decent for a man to recognize his own worth."
Dupre didn't retort. He dropped his chin on his chest and thought for
a moment. Then he spoke, very quietly and apologetically.
"Well--I don't see you telling another man how wonderful you are. It
isn't immoral, it simply isn't manners. And if Ferguson boasted to you
that he was saved when so many went down, it was worse than bad manners.
He ought to have been kicked for it. It's the kind of phenomenal luck
that it would've been decent to regret."
Conklin set his massive lips firmly together. You couldn't say that he
pursed that Cyclopean mouth.
"Ferguson didn't boast. He merely told me. He was, I think, a modest
Incredulity beyond any power of laughter to express settled on Dupre's
countenance. "Modest? And he _told_ you?"
"The whole thing." Conklin's voice was heavy enough for tragedy.
"Listen. Don't interrupt me once. Ferguson told me that, when the
explosion came, he looked round--considered, for fully a minute, his
duty. He never lost control of himself once, he said, and I believe him.
The _Argentina_ was a small boat, making a winter passage. There were
very few cabin passengers. No second cabin, but plenty of steerage. She
sailed, you remember, from Naples. He had been doing some work, some
very important work, in the Aquarium. The only other person of
consequence--I'm speaking in the most literal and un-snobbish sense--in
the first cabin, was Benson. No" (with a lifted hand), "_don't interrupt
me_. Benson, as we all know, was an international figure. But Benson was
getting old. His son could be trusted to carry on the House of Benson.
In fact, every one suspected that the son had become more important than
the old man. He had put through the last big loan while his father was
taking a rest-cure in Italy. That is how Benson _père_ happened to be on
the _Argentina_. The newspapers never sufficiently accounted for that. A
private deck on the _Shekel_ would've been more his size.
Ferguson made it out: the old man got wild, suddenly, at the notion of
their putting anything through without him. He trusted his gouty bones
to the _Argentina_."
"Sounds plausible, but--" Dupre broke in.
"If you interrupt again," said Conklin , "I'll hit you, with all the
strength I've got."
Dupre grunted. You had to take Conklin the Dane as you found him.
"Ferguson saw the whole thing clear. Old Benson had just gone into the
smoking-room. Ferguson was on the deck outside his own stateroom. The
only person on board who could possibly be considered as important as
Ferguson was Benson; and he had good reason to believe that every one
would get on well enough without Benson. He had just time, then, to put
on a life-preserver, melt into his stateroom, and get a little pile of
notes, very important ones, and drop into a boat. No, don't interrupt. I
know what you are going to say. 'Women and children.' What do you
suppose a lot of Neapolitan peasants meant to Ferguson--or to you and
me, either? He didn't do anything outrageous; he just dropped into a
boat. As a result, we'd the big book a year later. No" (again
crushing down a gesture of Dupre's ), "don't say anything about the
instincts of a gentleman. If Ferguson hadn't been perfectly cool, his
instincts would've governed him. He would've dashed about trying to
save people, and then met the waves with a noble gesture. He had time to
be reasonable; not instinctive. The world was the gainer, as he jolly
well knew it would be--or where would've been the reasonableness? I
don't believe Ferguson cared a hang about keeping his individual machine
going for its own sake. But he knew he was a valuable person. His mind
was a Diamond among minds. It stands to reason that you save the
Diamond and let the little stones go. Well, that's not the story. Only
I wanted to get that out of the way first, or the story wouldn't have
meant anything. Did you wish," he finished graciously, "to ask a
Dupre made a violent gesture of denial. "Ask a question about a hog
like that? God forbid!"
"Um-m-m." Conklin seemed to muse within himself. "You will admit that
if a jury of impartial men of sense could've sat, just then, on that
slanting deck, they would've agreed that Ferguson's life was worth
more to the world than all the rest of the boiling put together?"
"Well, there wasn't any jury. Ferguson had to be it. I'm perfectly sure
that if there had been a super-Ferguson on board, our Ferguson would
have turned his hand to saving him first. In fact, I honestly believe he
was sorry there hadn't been a super-Ferguson. For he had all the
instincts of a gentleman; and it's never a pleasant job making your
reason inhibit your instincts. You can't look at this thing perfectly
straight, probably. But if you can't , who can? I don't happen to want an
enlightened opinion; I've got one, right here at home. You don't care
about the State: you want to put it into white petticoats and see it
cross a muddy street."
"I don't wonder the socialists wouldn't have anything to do with you."
"Because I'm not a feminist? I know. Just as the feminists wouldn't have
anything to do with you because you're so reactionary. We're both out of
it. Fifty years ago; either of us could've been a real prophet, for
the price of a hall and cleaning the rotten eggs off our clothes. Now
we're too timid for any use. But this is a digression."
"Distinctly. Is there anything more about Ferguson?"
"I'd say there was. About a year ago, he became engaged. She's a
very nice girl, and I'm sure you never heard of her. The engagement
wasn't to be announced until just before the marriage, for family
reasons of some sort--coddling the older generation somehow. I've
forgotten; it's not important. But they would've been married by now,
if Ferguson hadn't stepped out."
"You seem to have been very intimate with Ferguson."
"He talked to me once--just once. The girl was a distant connection of
my own. I think that was why. Now I've got some more things to tell you.
I've let you interrupt a good lot, and if you're through, I'd like to
start in on the next lap. It isn't easy for me to tell this thing in
bits. It's an effort."
Conklin the Dane set down his second emptied glass and drew a long
breath. He proceeded, with quickened pace.
"He didn't see the girl very often. She lives at some little distance.
He was busy,--you know how he worked,--and she was chained at home, more
or less. Occasionally he slipped away for a week-end, to see her. One
time--the last time, about two months ago--he managed to get in a whole
week. It was as near happiness as Ferguson ever got, I imagine; for they
were able to fix a date. Good heaven, how he loved that girl! Just
before he went, he told me of the engagement. I barely knew her, but, as
I said, she's some sort of kin. Then, after he came back, he sent for me
to come and see him. I didn't like his cheek, but I went as though I'd
been a laboratory boy. I'm not like you. Ferguson always did get me. He
wanted the greatest good of the greatest number. Nothing petty about
him. He was a big man.
"I went, as I say. And Ferguson told me, the very first thing, that the
engagement was off. He began by cocking his hair a good deal. But he
almost lost control of himself. He didn't cock it long: he ruffled it
instead, with his hands. I thought he was in a queer state, for he
seemed to want to give me, with his beautiful scientific precision--as
if he'd been preparing a slide--the details of a country walk he and she
had taken the day before he left. It began with grade-crossings, and I
simply couldn't imagine what he was getting at. It wasn't his business
to fight grade-crossings--though they might be a very pretty symbol for
the kind of thing he was fighting, tooth and nail, all the time. I
couldn't seem to see it, at first; but finally it came out. There was a
grade-crossing, with a 'Look out for the Engine' sign, and there was a
tow-headed infant in rags. They'd noticed the infant before. It had
bandy legs and granulated eyelids, and seemed to be dumb. It had started
them off on eugenics. She was very keen on the subject; Ferguson, being
a big scientist, had some reserves. It was a real argument.
"Then everything happened at once. Tow-head with the sore eyes rocked
onto the track simultaneously with the whistle. They were about fifty
yards off. Ferguson sprinted back down the hill, the girl screaming
pointlessly meanwhile. There was just time--you'll have to take my word
for this; Ferguson explained it all to me in the most meticulous detail,
but I can't repeat that masterpiece of exposition--for Ferguson to
decide. To decide again, you understand, precisely as he had decided on
the _Argentina_. Rotten luck, wasn't it? He could just have flung
tow-head out of the way by getting under the engine himself. He grabbed
for tow-head, but he didn't roll onto the track. So tow-head was killed.
If he had got there ten seconds earlier, he could've done the trick.
He was ten seconds too late to save both Ferguson and tow-head. So--once
more--he saved Ferguson. Do you get the situation?"
"I'd say I did!" shouted Dupre . "Twice in a man's life--good
Lord! I hope you walked out of his house at that point."
"I didn't . I was very much interested. And by the way, Dupre , if
Ferguson had given his life for tow-head, you would've been the first
man to write a pleasant little article for some damned highbrow review,
to prove that it was utterly wrong that Ferguson should have exchanged
his life for that of a little Polish defective. I can even see you
talking about the greatest good of the greatest number. You would've
loved the paradox of it; the mistaken martyr, self-preservation the
greatest altruism, and all the rest of it. But because Ferguson did
exactly what you would've said in your article that he ought to have
done, you are in a state of virtuous chill."
"I'd have written no such article. I don't see how you can be so
"Flippant--I? Have I the figure of a flippant man? Can't you
see--honestly, now, can't you see?--that it was a hideous misfortune for
that situation to come to Ferguson twice? Can't you see that it was
about as hard luck as a man ever had? Look at it just once from his
point of view."
"I can't ," said Dupre frankly. "I can understand a man's being a
coward, saving his own skin because he wants to. But to save his own
skin on principle--humph! Talk of paradoxes: there's one for you.
There's not a principle on earth that tells you to save your own life
at some one's else expense. If he thought it was principle, he was the
bigger defective of the two. Of course it would've been a pity; of
course we should all have regretted it; but there's not a human being in
this town, high or low, who wouldn't have applauded, with whatever
regret--who wouldn't have said he did the only thing a self-respecting
man could do. Of course it's a shame; but that is the only way the race
has ever got on: by the strong, because they were strong, going under
for the weak, because they were weak. Otherwise we'd all be living, to
this day, in hell."
"I know; I know." Conklin's voice was touched with emotion. "That's the
convention--invented by individualists, for individualists. All sorts of
people would see it that way, still. But you've got more sense than
most; and I'll make you at least see the other point of view. Suppose
Ferguson to have been a good Catholic--or a soldier in the ranks. If his
confessor or his commanding officer had told him to save his own skin,
you'd consider Ferguson justified; you might even consider the priest or
the officer justified. The one thing you can't stand is the man's giving
himself those orders. But let's not argue over it now--let's go back to
the story. I'll make you 'get' Ferguson, anyhow--even if I can't make
him 'get' you.
"Well, here comes in the girl."
"And you said there was no girl in it!"
Dupre couldn't resist that. He believed that Conklin's assertion had
been made only because he didn't want the girl in it--resented her being
"There isn't , as I see it," replied Conklin the Dane quietly. "From my
point of view, the story is over. Ferguson's decision: that is the whole
thing--made more interesting, more valuable, because the repetition of
the thing proves beyond a doubt that he acted on principle, not on
impulse. If he had flung himself into the life-boat because he was a
coward, he would've been ashamed of it; and whatever he might have
done afterwards, he would never have done that thing again. He would
have been sensitive: not saving his own life would've turned into an
obsession with him. But there is left, I admit, the murder. And murders
always take the public. So I'll give you the murder--though it throws no
light on Ferguson, who is the only thing in the whole accursed affair
that really counts."
"The murder? I don't see--unless you mean the murdering of the
"I mean the murder of Ferguson by the girl he loved."
"You said 'suicide' a little while ago," panted Dupre .
"Technically, yes. She was a hundred miles away when it happened. But
she did it just the same. Oh, I suppose I've got to tell you, as
Ferguson told me."
"Did he tell you he was going to kill himself?" Dupre's voice was
"He didn't . Ferguson wasn't a fool. But it was plain as day to me after
it happened, that he had done it himself."
"I'm telling you this, am I not? Let me tell it, then. The thing
happened in no time, of course. The girl got over screaming, and ran
down to the track, frightened out of her wits. The train managed to
stop, about twice its own length farther down, round a bend in the
track, and the conductor and brakeman came running back. The mother came
out of her hovel, carrying twins. The--the--thing was on the track,
across the rails. It was a beastly mess, and Ferguson got the girl away;
set her down to cry in a pasture, and then went back and helped out, and
gave his testimony, and left money, a lot of it, with the mother,
and--all the rest. You can imagine it. No one there considered that
Ferguson ought to have saved the child; no one but Ferguson dreamed that
he could've . Indeed, an ordinary man, in Ferguson's place, wouldn't
have supposed he could. It was only that brain, working like lightning,
working as no plain man's could, that had made the calculation and
_seen_. There were no preliminary seconds lost in surprise or shock, you
see. Ferguson's mind hadn't been jarred from its pace for an instant.
The thing had happened too quickly for any one--except Ferguson--to
understand what was going on. Therefore he ought to have laid that
super-normal brain under the wheels, of course!
"Ferguson was so sane, himself, that he couldn't understand, even after
he had been engaged six months, our little everyday madness. It never
occurred to him, when he got back to the girl and she began all sorts of
hysterical questions, not to answer them straight. It was by way of
describing the event simply, that he informed her that he would just
have had time to pull the creature out, but not enough to pull himself
back afterwards. Ferguson was used to calculating things in millionths
of an inch; she wasn't . I dare say the single second that had given
Ferguson time to turn round in his mind, she conceived of as a minute,
at least. It would've taken her a week to turn round in her own mind,
no doubt--a month, a year, perhaps. How do I know? But she got the
essential fact: that Ferguson had made a choice. Then she rounded on
him. It would've killed her to lose him, but she would rather have
lost him than to see him standing before her, etc., etc. Ferguson quoted
a lot of her talk straight to me, and I can remember it; but you needn't
ask me to soil my mouth with it. 'And half an hour before, She'd been
saying with a good deal of heat that little runt ought never to
have been born, and that if we'd decent laws it never would've been
allowed to live." Ferguson said that to me, with a kind of bewilderment.
You see, he had made the mistake of taking that little fool seriously.
Well, he loved her. You can't go below that: that's rock-bottom.
Ferguson couldn't dig any deeper down for his way out. There _was_ no
"Apparently Ferguson still thought he could argue it out with her. She
so believed in eugenics, you see--a very radical, compared with
Ferguson. It was she who had no doubt about tow-head. And the
love-part of it seemed to him fixed: it didn't occur to him that
was debatable. So he stuck to something that could be discussed.
Then--and this was his moment of exceeding folly--he caught at the old
episode of the _Argentina_. _That_ hadn't anything to do with her present
state of shock. She'd seen tow-head; but She'd not seen the sprinkled
Mediterranean. And she'd accepted that. At least, She'd spoken of
his survival as though it had been one of the few times when God had
done precisely the right thing. So he took that to explain with. The
fool! The reasonable fool!
"Then--oh, then she went wild. (Yet she must have known there were a
thousand chances on the _Argentina_ for him to throw his life away, and
precious few to save it.) She backed up against a tree and stretched her
arms out like this"--Conklin made a clumsy stage-gesture of aversion
from Dupre , the villain. "And for an instant he thought she was afraid
of a Jersey cow that had come up to take part in the discussion. So he
threw a twig at its nose."
Dupre's wonder grew, swelled, and burst.
"Do you mean to say that safety-deposit vault of a Ferguson told
you all this?"
"As I'm telling it to you. Only much more detail, of course--and much,
much faster. It wasn't like a story at all: it was like--like a
hemorrhage. I didn't interrupt him as you've been interrupting me. Well,
the upshot of it was that she spurned him quite in the grand manner. She
found the opposites of all the nice things She'd been saying for six
months, and said them. And Ferguson--your cocky Ferguson--stood and
listened, until She'd talked herself out, and then went away. He never
saw her again; and when he sent for me, he had made up his mind that
she never intended to take any of it back. So he stepped out, I tell
"As hard hit as that," Dupre mused.
"Just as hard hit as that. Ferguson had no previous affairs; she was
very literally the one woman; and he managed, at forty, to combine the
illusions of the boy of twenty and the man of sixty."
"But if he thought he was so precious to the world, wasn't it more than
ever his duty to preserve his existence? He could see other people die
in his place, but he couldn't see himself bucking up against a broken
heart. Isn't that what the strong man does? Lives out his life when he
doesn't at all like the look of it? Say what you like, he was a coward,
Conklin --at the last, anyhow."
"I wouldn't ask for your opinion just yet, thank you. Perhaps if Ferguson
had been sure he would ever do good work again, he wouldn't have taken
himself off. That might have held him. He might have stuck by on the
chance. But I doubt it. Don't you see? He loved the girl too much."
"Thought he couldn't live without her," snorted Dupre .
"Oh, no--not that. But if she was right, he was the meanest skunk alive.
He owed the world at least two deaths, so to speak. The only approach
you can make to dying twice is to die in your prime, of your own
volition." Conklin spoke very slowly. "At least, that's the way I've
worked it out. He didn't say so. He was careful as a cat."
"You think"--Dupre leaned forward, very eager at last--"that he
decided she was right? That I'm right--that we're all of us right?"
Conklin the Dane bowed his head in his huge hands. "No. If you ask me,
I think he kept his own opinion untarnished to the end. When I told him
I thought he was right, he just nodded, as if one took that for granted.
But it didn't matter to him. I'm pretty sure that he cared only what
"If he didn't agree with her? And if She'd treated him like a
criminal? He must have despised her, in that case."
"He never said one word of her--bar quoting some of _her_ words--that
wasn't utterly gentle. You could see that he loved her with his whole
soul. And--it's my belief--he gave her the benefit of the doubt. In
killing himself, he acted on the hypothesis that She'd been right. It
was the one thing he could do for her."
"But if no one except you thinks it was suicide--and you can't prove
"Oh, he had to take that chance--the chance of her never knowing--or
else create a scandal. And that would've been very hard on her and on
his family. But there were straws she could easily clutch at--as I've
clutched at them. The perfect order in which everything happened to be
left--even the last notes he had made. His laboratory was a scientist's
paradise, they tell me. And the will, made after she threw him over,
leaving everything to her. Not a letter unanswered, all little bills
paid, and little debts liquidated. He came as near suggesting it as he
could, in decency. But I dare say she will never guess it."
"Then what did it profit him?"
"It didn't profit him, in your sense. He took a very long chance on her
guessing. That wasn't what concerned him."
"I hope she will never guess, anyhow. It would ruin her life, to no good
"Oh, no." Conklin was firm. "I doubt if she would take it that way. If
she grasped it at all, she'd believe he thought her right. And if he
thought her right, of course he wouldn't want to live, would he? She
would never think he killed himself simply for love of her."
"Well, she wouldn't ? She wouldn't be able to conceive of Ferguson's
killing himself merely for that--with _his_ notions about survival."
"As he did."
"As he did--and didn't ."
"Ah, she'd scarcely refine on it as you are doing, Conklin . You're
"Well, he certainly never expected her to know that he did it himself.
If he had been the sort of weakling that dies because he can't have a
particular woman, he'd have been also the sort of weakling that leaves a
"What then did he die for? You'll have to explain to me. Not because he
couldn't have her; not because he felt guilty. Why, then? You haven't
left him a motive."
"Oh, haven't I? The most beautiful motive in the whole world, my dear
fellow. A motive that puts all your little simple motives in the shade."
"Don't you see? Why, I told you. He simply assumed, for all practical
purposes, that She'd been right. He gave himself the fate he knew she
considered him to deserve. He preferred--loving her as he did--to do
what she would've had him do. He knew she was wrong; but he knew also
that she was made that way, that she would never be right. And he took
her for what she was, and loved her as she was. His love--don't you
see?--was too big. He couldn't revolt from her: She'd the whole of
him--except, perhaps, his excellent judgment. He couldn't drag about a
life which she felt that way about. He destroyed it, as he would've
destroyed anything she found loathsome. He was merely justifying himself
to his love. He couldn't hope she would know. Nor, I believe, could he
have lied to her. That is, he couldn't have admitted in words that she
was right, when he felt her so absolutely wrong; but he could make that
magnificent silent act of faith."
Dupre still held out. "I don't believe he did it. I hold with the
"I don't . He came as near telling me as he could without making me an
accessory before the fact. There were none of the loose ends that the
most orderly man would leave if he died suddenly. Take my word for it,
A long look passed between them. Each seemed to be trying to find out
with his eyes something that words hadn't helped him to.
Finally Dupre protested once more. "But Ferguson couldn't love like
Conklin the Dane laid one hand on the arm of Dupre's chair and spoke
sternly. "He not only could, but did. And there I'm a better authority
than you. Think what you please, but I'll not have that fact
challenged. Perhaps you could count up on your fingers the women who are
loved like that; but, anyhow, she was. My second cousin once removed,
damn her!" He ended with a vicious twang.
"And now"--Conklin rose--"I'd like your opinion."
"Well, can't you see the beautiful sanity of Ferguson?"
"No, I can't ," snapped Dupre . "I think he was wrong, both in the
beginning and in the end. But I'll admit he was not a coward. I
respect him, but I don't think, at any point, he was right--except
perhaps in 'doing' the coroner."
"That settles it, then," said Conklin . And he started towards the door.
"Settles what, in heaven's name?"
"What I came to have settled. I shan't tell her. If I could've got one
other decent citizen--and I confess you were my only chance--to agree
with me that Ferguson was right,--right about his fellow passengers on
the _Argentina_, right about tow-head on the track,--I'd have gone to
her, I think. I'd rather like to ruin her life, if I could."
A great conviction approached Dupre just then. He felt the rush of it
through his brain.
"No," he cried. "Ferguson loved her too much. He wouldn't like that--not
as you'd put it to her."
Conklin thought a moment. "No," he said in turn; but his "no" was very
humble. "He wouldn't . I'll never do it. But, my God, how I wanted
"And I'll tell you another thing, too." Dupre's tone was curious. "You
may agree with Ferguson all you like; you may admire him as much as you
say; but you, Conklin , would never have done what he did. Not even"--he
lifted a hand against interruption--"if you knew you had the brain you
think Ferguson had. You'd have been at the bottom of the sea, or under
the engine wheels, and you know it."
He folded his arms with a hint of truculence.
But Conklin the Dane, to Dupre's surprise, was meek. "Yes," he said,
"I know it. Now let me out of here."
"Well, then,"--Dupre's voice rang out triumphant,--"what does that
"Prove?" Conklin's great fist crashed down on the table. "It proves
that Ferguson's a better man than either of us. I can think straight,
but he had the sand to act straight. You haven't even the sand to think
straight. You and your reactionary rot! The world's moving, Dupre .
Ferguson was ahead of it, beckoning. You're an ant that got caught in
the machinery, I'd not wonder."
"Oh, stow the rhetoric! We simply don't agree. It's happened before."
Dupre laughed scornfully. "I tell you I respect him; but God Almighty
wouldn't make me agree with him."
"You're too mediaeval by half," Conklin mused. "Now, Ferguson was a
knight of the future--a knight of Humanity."
"Don't !" shouted Dupre . His nerves were beginning to feel the strain.
"Leave chivalry out of it. The _Argentina_ business may or may not have
been wisdom, but it certainly wasn't cricket."
"No," said Conklin . "Chess, rather. The game where chance hasn't a
show--the game of the intelligent future. That very irregular and
disconcerting move of his.... And he got taken, you might say. She's an
irresponsible beast, your queen."
"Drop it, will you!" Then Dupre pulled himself together, a little
ashamed. "It's fearfully late. Better stop and dine."
"No, thanks." The big man opened the door of the room and rested a foot
on the threshold. "I feel like dining with some one who appreciates
"I don't know where you'll find him." Dupre smiled and shook hands.
"Oh, I carry him about with me. Good-night," said Conklin the Dane.