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Chapter 19

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« on: April 03, 2023, 10:15:14 am »

NORAH divided her time between the professor and their guest, conveying the progress of each to the other; but she found Sir Felix much more concerned for Saurus than the iguana on his account. Physical illness at no time interested the visitor, and he continued to concentrate on philosophy while evincing some preoccupation with politics—a new phase for him.

"It is natural," he wrote for Mrs. Hapgood on one occasion, "that the fate of Europe, and more especially this country, should occupy my thoughts, for though the English have done evil in past time, they may claim a balance of righteous dealing to their credit during the present century. You stand for the Law and have developed a steadfast instinct towards justice. Why, then, should willingness to bring radical differences to the arbitrament of Law be ruled out, and what is there in the Covenant of the League of Nations that renders it obnoxious to so many of you? The principle of the Law should be universal. No nation, great or small, weak or powerful, can justly claim to be above the domain of international Law. Then wherefore is arbitration scouted and war preferred? Such choice casts a grave shadow on the kingdom that ventures to declare it, for if arbitrament were agreed upon, then those competent to be the assessors could surely be discovered. Such men exist in every nation and might be trusted to lift vexed questions, that quicken the pulse and deaden the reason, into a higher domain beyond the reach of passion or threat of mass-murder—the only recognized solution for your major troubles."

"I don't know much about such knotty problems," answered Norah; "but I am afraid that when a strong nation is up against some vital question, she would always prefer to settle it her own way if she could and not let other people, however wise and impartial, do it for her. Take the question of the German colonies, for example. During her attempt to secure the domination of Europe she lost her colonial possessions, which were divided for future administration among the conquering powers. Now she wants them back. What she would have restored to the original owners had she won the Great War, it is not difficult to guess; but even supposing we were content to let their return, or otherwise, be decided by an independent tribunal, do you suppose that Germany would consent to abide by its ruling if decision went against her?"

"Why not?" inquired Saurus.

"I haven't the slightest idea," replied Norah, "but I feel perfectly certain she wouldn't."

"The bellicose possess very few friends, but great destructive power," returned Saurus. "Their attitude renders it necessary for the peaceful to take expensive precautions and devote precious wealth and industry to the degradation of armaments. It is strange that you suffer this universal distraction and impoverishment at one nation's frown. Did but the rest of earth make common cause for peace, unite and proclaim that war was the universal enemy, and that nobody could ever win another war, then neither the Teuton nor anybody else would longer be able to threaten earth. If it were but known that the combined might of the world was against aggression, the war-minded could only seek his salvation in peace, perceiving that further ostentatious preparations for war were idle."

"The Prussian instinct is to terrify everybody and keep the weaker nations in an atmosphere of omnipresent fear," said Norah. "It always has been so. Of course, if we could all pull together, as you suggest, we might convince them that their attitude is mistaken. Indeed, to be overbearing and truculent is always a mistake in the long run. It breeds nothing but hate. Neither Mussolini nor Hitler knows what Italy really thought about the rape of Austria, because both Italians and Austrians are frightened to tell them; but their rampant friendship is very shaky in reality. It can't go on for ever, and when thieves fall out, you know, the honest sometimes come into their own."

Saurus considered this statement.

"The virtues of dictators may live after them," he wrote, "but the quality of cruelty is not a virtue and can never be condoned. All men of goodwill invariably detest it and the cruelty of your present great dictatorial rulers is very marked. They aim not only at the body, but the soul. Above all else, they fear the spiritual in their people. That politics should trample over religion, after the German and Russian manner, is subversive of all freedom, for coercion in sacred matters should belong to your past alone. Cruelty in truth destroys the least respect for those who practise it, for only the coward is cruel."

"Their attitude to Jewry——" began Norah; but Saurus held up his hand and stopped her.

"You remind me of an incident," he wrote. "To a memory like mine human history is one long irony, and a trifle occurs to me that may entertain you. When Germany found herself hard pressed for explosives during your Great War, she turned to a chemist of genius who extracted nitrogen from the air of heaven and thus enabled her to pursue her purpose. But no Prussian mind accomplished this triumph. She had to thank a Jew for it."

No sooner did he begin to recover than Sir Felix declared his sickness a blessing in disguise.

"It is an ill wind that blows good to none," he told Norah. "My attack has made it impossible that I should go to the conversazione and, between ourselves, I am exceedingly thankful for it. Only duty would have taken me, as it should have taken Saurus. But I was prepared to do mine, and I shall never understand what mental aberration prevented him from following my example."

"He chose to discuss this delicate question himself a few days ago," answered his sister. "I didn't raise it, of course. I'd taken him the last of the late nectarines and he reminded me of the intense annoyance that he had created for both of us. He didn't say that he was sorry or anything like that. He evidently didn't feel in the least sorry, being unable to experience sorrow; but he wrote that he had not failed to observe our indignation and hoped that, at a future time, our intelligence would be equal to seeing how right he was to be firm and how wrong we were to be cross. Then he settled down to the fruit."

"There is a veiled insolence in remarks of that kind and I much resent them," replied Sir Felix. "He was always inclined to be patronizing and, in his old age, he will often permit himself to say quite insufferable things. It is a common fault of the intelligentzia of all countries where liberty of speech happens to be permitted. His action involved just those virtues which he is so fond of advocating for the salvation of mankind: altruism and the will to serve your neighbour, even at cost of personal inconvenience. But if these qualities are desirable for us, then they are quite equally desirable for the iguana family, however gifted they imagine themselves to be."

"He never patronizes—he couldn't," said Norah; "but perhaps some day we may find out what he was driving at."

Whereon her brother answered that what the fellow might mean, or not mean, was a matter of sublime indifference to him.

A few days later, however, Mrs. Hapgood's hope became verified and on the morning after the Zoological Gardens festa, they learned the little that remained to know. Sir Felix, who was now once more downstairs and had made a good breakfast, sat reading an ample account of the conversazione in the Times, when suddenly he became confronted by a new and strange Norah. She hastened into his study white and trembling. Her actions were wild and unpremeditated; her voice—as a rule so musical and well modulated—was quite out of control.

"He's gone!" she cried. "Saurus has gone, darling!"

The professor cast down his newspaper and leapt to his feet.

"Restrain yourself and be explicit," he begged. "Even if that is so, there is no need for you to become theatrical. Has he escaped?"

Mrs. Hapgood strove to be calm.

"Yes," she answered, "he has escaped. He's dead. The poor little fellow passed away in the night."

"Are you sure? You might very easily be mistaken," he told her; but she declared that no doubt existed.

"The moment I went in I was conscious of something unusual," she replied. "In a way the room had changed. You know he leaves his table somewhat untidy and everything awaits his hand when he awakes and gets up. But now all is in order—the books back on the bookshelf, the papers tidied and in their places, the cover on the typewriter. His sheaf of notes is made up into a pile. The room seemed empty of all the usual indications that it was inhabited by rather an untidy person. One felt as though he had gone away, even before one knew it."

"If he is no longer there, how can you affirm that he is dead?" asked the professor.

"He is there—in his chair drawn up by the fire. The book he had been reading lay open upon the floor—the only untidy thing in the room. It was that beautiful translation of the Upanishads by Mascaró, 'Himalayas of the Soul'. Supposing him to be asleep, I approached and touched his shoulder, then wished him 'good morning' and picked up his book. But he took no notice and I bent down and looked into his face and knew that he was gone. He sat in his usual position with his hands folded in his lap; but his eyes told me, for their irradiant light was out and though open, they were glazed and sightless."

Sir Felix hastened down the covered way that communicated directly with Saurus. He doubted not that Norah's tale was true and felt no little moved when the dead iguana confronted him. His thoughts ran on. Much now devolved upon him and for a moment he felt almost helpless; but his mind operated quickly and he gleaned support from the spectacle of the tidy chamber. 'He knew that he was going to die,' reflected the professor. 'Hence this orderly dispensation of his affairs. It follows that he will have left some indication of his wishes to guide us.'

He guessed rightly for, at the top of voluminous notes, there appeared a sealed envelope directed to 'Sir Felix Toddleben, F.R.S.'. He picked it up, satisfied himself that any attempt to restore life must be in vain, then turned off the electric stove, picked up Saurus, who weighed but little now, put him upon his bed and drew an eider-down quilt over him. A deep-drawn howl from the garden told that 'Rex' was aware of his personal loss; but the professor left him to mourn, picked up his letter and returned to Norah.

"It is as you say. He has ceased to live, my love," he told her, then found to his amazement that his sister wept.

"Good powers! What are you crying about?" he asked.

"If I don't cry for him, nobody will," she said. "I had to cry. His death—all alone out there—is horribly sad and I will cry."

"We must be reasonable as he would wish us to be," replied her brother. "One should instinctively turn to his virtues at a moment like this, but he hadn't got any. He expressly denied the possibility of being good, and the consequent impossibility of being naughty. One must approach his memory from a different angle and the difficulty is to reach, or find a foothold for fair criticism. The poor creature defied exact scientific classification or moral valuation. Unconsciously, no doubt, I have acquired some of his own detached attitude to existence and am therefore prevented from feeling the smallest emotion at his decease."

"Don't you believe it," sobbed Norah. "You think you won't; but I know jolly well you will. You'll never look at a pine-apple again without thinking of him and feeling miserable."

"Imagine no such nonsense," replied Sir Felix. "One is only moved to know what he died from and why he died at all. I shall insist upon a post-mortem, for science demands it."

"Read his letter then," directed Norah. "He won't have forgotten anything and you needn't worry, because if you don't respect his wishes in every particular, I shall leave you, darling. I don't care a button about science at a time like this; but I dare say he did. He always said that when science recognized the meaning of morality, it would conquer the earth."

"It is evident that he knew he was going," answered the professor, "and to his orderly mind the fact may have awakened some belated sense of duty to mankind and even obligation to us; but I can hardly believe it. However, we will learn."

He sat down and read the last words that Saurus had written.

"Misunderstandings, though a matter of daily occurrence between members of the human family, I have never become concerned with to my knowledge. But now, when about to cease existence, I devote a moment to your recent wrath directed against me. The situation was created in the following manner. It is evidently a property of Iguana Sapiens (as you name us) to be aware when his end is near, and I became conscious some weeks ago that I should die upon the fourteenth of November. This fact will explain, first, why I denied my diary to the inspection of Mrs. Hapgood, because I had already chronicled the date in it and guessed that she would read and feel regret; and, secondly, why I declined to go to London, believing that my sudden death in the middle of the conversazione might cause inconvenience. It must inevitably have happened in the midst of your festivities, for the time is now ten o'clock and I have but two hours to live.

"Concerning the disposal of my body I desire to present it to Science. The skeleton should be extracted and exhibited separately; the skin skilfully stuffed, arranged in a sitting position and coloured to represent me in the prime of life. Attention should be paid to the eyes and their brilliance simulated to the best of your power. It is not your custom to treat your own dead in this fashion; but since you display the corpses of defunct Egyptian monarchs and eminent Muscovite dictators to the public gaze, there can be no objection to treating my dust in like manner. If human heroes may become museum specimens, why not Saurus?

"There remains to take my farewell of mankind. It were idle to make a final appeal to his cosmic sympathies, because he lacks them, and whether any such principle will enlarge his outlook upon the universe in future time, none can predict; but it is enough to hope that Charity will some day enjoy the sun of his favours and that love for man may develop and be discovered as the crown of reason. Charity must reign for ever above all other ideologies within the compass of your intelligence, for no human theory of action surpasses it, no covenant can embrace a higher righteousness. Indeed, I would go further and suspect that within the ambit of time and space, wheresoever conscious beings are gathered together, your Golden Rule might well prove their enduring palladium, sheet anchor and tower of strength.

"From the Rule for you earth-born mortals there springs the vital principle of trust and faith in man as man, and out of that root and branch is born a flower more noble still and a fruit beyond compare. For from doing to others as you would have them do unto you, there emerges the supreme concept of doing better to others than it may be in their power to do for you, of bearing one another's burdens, of creating a world wherein the strong out of their strength succour the weak, the compassionate hasten to those who have not known compassion. Then are the granaries open, to cast their manna upon many a hungry human wilderness; then are your sorrows shared and halved, and your joys shared and doubled. The need is everywhere, only the will neglected. Rest no more, therefore, until you shall have created that will and recognized it for the goal you seek; remember the rare spirits who have already found it and are doing single-handed what all might do together. Oh, you men and women, waken and welcome the will to love each other, and believe that only so can your eternal quest for happiness win any answer worthy of the name.

"You are but a tiny cluster upon the vines of heaven, where the grapes are worlds; yet you hold the power to ripen your bitter berries and add to the eternal vintage of cosmic sweetness if so you will."

"There!" wept Norah. "And if he'd only lived a year longer he would have been as nice as any of us. And he ought to have a proper little grave for me to look after. I hate to think of him in a glass case at South Kensington for every fool on earth to stare at."

"Science must come first," answered Sir Felix. "Where are the telegram forms?"

THE END

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