A KNIGHT'S MOVE
 
I


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

feminist.


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

done."


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

maliciously.


"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

amiable.


"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

hint, anywhere."


"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

knowledge."


"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

own volition."


"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 ,

my boy--"


"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

complexion.


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."


"Go on."


Dupre  made himself comfortable.



II


"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.


"Why?"


"Because his life was really important to the world."


Dupre  might have been distributing tracts. His very voice sounded

falsetto.


"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

man."


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

question?"


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?"


"Yes, but--"


"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.



III


"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."


"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.


"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

tow-headed child."


"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

sharp.


"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."


"How--"


"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

deeper down.


"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."



IV


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

you."


"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

_she_ thought."


"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

it--"


"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

end."


"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."


"Why not?"


"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

amazing."


"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

letter explaining."


"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."


"Well, what?"


"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

coroner."


"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,

old man."


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

that."


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."


"About what?"


"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

to!"


"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?"


"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

Ferguson."


"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.