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Chapter 16

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« on: April 03, 2023, 09:00:20 am »

WHEN the professor returned and again appeared before Saurus, the iguana rose from his little chair, bowed and then took up his pencil.

"I salute Sir Felix Toddleben," he wrote, "and trust that he may live long to enjoy being a knight."

It was the most human achievement that Felix could remember to the visitor's credit and he expressed cordial thanks, then entered into a description of his experience.

"The solemn rite that accompanied my reception of this dignity exalted it," he declared, "for to stand in the presence of your sovereign is a memorable event. Dictators may rule and in that capacity demand your obedience and respect; but a king reigns, which is quite another matter; and while he continues to enjoy the love and respect of his people, he is the heart of his empire. The throne still denotes a symbol, a cynosure, and standard, a rallying-point which no base-born being, whatever his genius, can represent."

"Archaic, but quite comprehensible," replied Saurus.

He then listened to his host without further comment and, when the professor had finished, informed him of his own present interests.

"There are two matters concerning which I must invite your attention," he began. "One directly concerns myself and is therefore of no importance to me, but may challenge you; while the other and far more attractive consideration belongs to philosophy. I have set forth on a new survey and envisaged new ideas; but when it came to means by which the human plight was to be bettered and the general oppressive atmosphere sweetened, I could find no better remedy to take the place of your old neglected prescription."

He handed Felix a sheet, and seeing that it was not very lengthy, the professor, in a benignant mood, sat down to peruse it. Meantime the iguana squatted upon the hearth-rug close to his electric stove, for the day was cold.

"The problem is to find the sources of this universal poison," had written Saurus. "From the East came your high thinking while the West was still in mental infancy; but whereas Oriental thought made no deep mark upon you, your culture, when it came, vitiated the East and your new wine burst the old bottles. To-day men like Gandhi and your Lord Halifax, who is the British Gandhi, speak to the void, for righteousness is at bitter odds with the leaders of mankind just now, and those who seek to enforce dictatorships of Right or Left are no longer concerned with questions of morality.

"Take Japan. Of old, honour was her watchword and art her glory. She was poor, distinguished and very wise. The world respected her. But the West poisoned her wisdom with its glittering examples of wealth, conquest and temporal power. She leapt at the virus with good appetite and she stands to-day soaked in European culture, robbed of her honour, dead to her great traditions and under the heel of her butchers after the Occidental fashion. While earth sets brute force higher than reason, your future is dark indeed, and it might be an attractive dream, for the artist possessed of sufficient imagination, to picture a human Utopia ruled by reason alone—a world where the demand for increasing population had ceased, where man-power was measured in terms of brain-power, where quality counted higher than quantity, where the problem of distribution was solved and where cleanliness and decency and self-respect had become matters of course. Such a world would pass from peace to freedom—a condition alien to its present plight. At present the one can only be enjoyed at the cost of the other and freedom must be fought for, or surrendered in exchange for peace. Ninety-nine of every hundred among you probably desire peace, while the balance may hold war a condition to be preferred; but what can be the mental norm of statesmanship where such a minority conquer the peace-lovers? What shall be thought of a generation that sees in competition rather than co-operation a way to happiness and contentment? You won your Great War by pooling your resources, and only by pooling does it appear possible to avoid another. Is a Parliament of Mankind beyond your powers? No Hague tribunal of lawyers, which interprets but cannot legislate; no League of Nations, seeking to control forces that know it not; but a new union born of your universal needs and created upon principles of righteousness so sublime that none could abstain from a place therein without shame.

"Geneva has read the riot act so often, and only seen those desirous to riot desert her. Ideas of an international police have occupied your minds—a body to serve great and small states alike, as your policemen are always ready and willing to do at every street corner. But the League of Nations possesses no power to create such a body, because no mandate exists for it in the minds of men. Your League was still-born, for you forbade your beaten foe to enter it and, from its inception, Wilson was powerless to win his own great nation's support. It died when the United States of America declined to join, and at no time did it possess other than moral value, worthless upon an amoral earth. The writ of the Covenant never ran in the bloody and smarting spirits of victor or vanquished, for the League was but a new religion among the old, and since religion has ever been a divider, for all its grandeur of conception, your League only awakened troublesome problems where none existed, created confusion and grief, aroused false hopes, confounded exalted principles and still places many of the just and high-minded spirits who support it in a position that must be odious to them.

"You have accepted as yet no rules of conduct or principles of action common to all men and vital alike to your heads and hearts. There is no philosophy in sight—no emergent evolution of pure righteousness—capable of opposing and composing your militant ideologies; and no overwhelming inspiration equal to killing the dragon of war, as your knights of old set forth to slay the monsters of those days, and so restore peace to humble and distracted countrysides. No; it would seem that war is not to be destroyed, and you must be content to hope that it may soon die a natural death. Evolution is willing, life is willing, reason is willing to let it die, and your virtues, if practised, would swiftly create an atmosphere wherein charity and ruth might flourish, but war lose all motive to exist."

Sir Felix dropped the document.

"Very interesting but unfortunately quite inconclusive," he said, "for the reason that long before war dies a natural death, it will have condemned the bulk of humanity to a sudden one. 'Emergent righteousness' sounds a very fine phrase, but whence is it going to emerge? The evolution of morals is seriously doubted to-day, and with very good reasons in my opinion. We elderly people—you and I alike—must not, of course, make the mistake of supposing that the good old past was much superior to the harsh and bad present; but I at least can remember a time when war itself was fought in a gentlemanly manner, subject to its own rules—a beast, but more or less a just beast. To-day the filthy thing is as a pestilence brooding over the mind and soul of humanity, a threat confounding our international progress and prosperity, and the handful of individuals responsible for this threat should be treated like the madmen they are and incarcerated or destroyed. Only in nations with the heart of lice are they bred, and whatever you may say about democracy, it is at least proof so far against dictatorial infection. Democratic ideals if they produce no national heroes can point to many a national saint and reveal our only hope of human freedom."

After these vigorous sentiments the professor turned to Saurus.

"Now let me hear about yourself, which will interest me much more than your endless lamentations over us," he said.

The iguana bowed and handed him another page of writing.

"My instinct is to avoid the personal as being of no possible importance in the cosmic scheme," he wrote, "but while the danger at present hanging over me causes me no inconvenience of mind and my own future conditions and duration of life possess very small material for interest, to you I believe they may. Briefly then, it is proposed to kidnap me, remove me in secret from my present surroundings and exploit me to the advantage of persons unknown. Your first concern must be to hear how I have learned this fact. As a student of human nature this was the real challenge, and from it one arrived at interesting conclusions. A woman informed me of the proposed adventure and passed the matter into my brain. She communicated her knowledge in the usual way, approached me directly through the channels of thought and laid the intention of these plotters before me. But she was silent as to their personality while she made their purpose clear. She also furnished no particulars concerning herself, save that she was a woman, knew all about the business in hand and felt a keen desire to save me from a future which she regarded as likely to be of an unpleasant nature. She could not, of course, know that nothing is either pleasant or unpleasant from my standpoint; but there is no question that she meant well and declared her goodwill in this manner.

"After midnight, on Friday next, it is proposed to raid my dwelling and remove me from Applewood to a destination she did not know. She suspected, however, that I should be shipped in secret to some South American republic, where the abductors would endeavour to make considerable money by employing me as an exhibition, or source of entertainment. They argue, rightly no doubt, that I am not a 'national', since no recognized nation has any legal claims in connection with me, and that, once safely out of England, the law would have no power to demand my return. Hermes alone could order my repatriation. One sees the force of this reasoning. I was in doubt to mention the matter and considered whether it might be well to let humanity do as it willed with me; but I felt that you should be informed and, if such an event would cause you inconvenience, then you may prefer to prevent it."

Sir Felix stared.

"You never cease to astound me," he answered, while Saurus felt no occasion for surprise.

"Indifferent as I am to my circumstances during my balance of life," he wrote, "the programme planned hardly signifies, save when I think of you, Professor. For a human being you have always struck me as unusually honest—doubtless thanks to your scientific training. I can trust you therefore to say whether you would wish to intervene, or prefer that I should be abducted and taken to South America or elsewhere. But consider the problem from your own point of view alone. It is all one to me and I shall quite understand if you think this idea a good one."

"You are a cold-blooded little fellow, and such indifference to your fate is utterly inhuman," replied Sir Felix. "However, I am glad that you had the grace to think of my feelings. A more scandalous piece of rascality was never planned and I shall have the greatest satisfaction in laying these scoundrels by the heels."

"You will be interfering with elaborate hopes for their future happiness," argued Saurus. "For me the interesting thought is that female of your species who wishes me well and probably imagines that my future would be subject to discomfort and tribulation—conditions that mean nothing to me."

"As you have never been called to endure them, you are not in a position to say whether they would mean nothing, but probably find that they meant a great deal," responded the professor. "You must be reasonable and use your common sense, my dear Saurus. You have led what we should call a sheltered life, and suddenly to find yourself in the hands of a gang of blackguards only concerned to make money out of you might be a rude awakening."

"My time is short," the iguana replied, "and I should regret to spend it in a manner unbecoming. It is enough to know that you would prefer to oppose these people. Legally I belong to nobody and cannot therefore be stolen; but you would have the right to resist their entry upon your premises, because that is house-breaking—an indictable offence. No doubt you will consider might to be right in a case of this kind and conquer these persons by force of arms."

"Rest assured that I shall," replied Sir Felix, "and I should imagine you may live to thank me, for if you cannot condone our vices, you at least admit the occasional occurrence of our virtues. Gratitude is a rare virtue, doubtless, but there is no reason in the nature of things why a conscious iguana should not practise it."

"I see your point," admitted Saurus, "yet to feel gratitude is a purely human attribute—entirely desirable in you—though meaningless to me. I will, however, consider the possibility of attempting your virtues. The difficulty seems to be that, once capable of any kind of goodness, I should also have acquired the art of wickedness, which takes such terrible forms that it may be wiser to preserve my natural and neutral attitude."

"Go on with your bananas," replied the professor, "and leave this matter to me. I find no temptation to a neutral attitude before these shameful facts. Cunning and resolute ruffians have planned them, no doubt, but Scotland Yard will quite fail to see why their courage and ingenuity should be rewarded. Your indifference to law and order is difficult to understand."

Saurus considered this.

"One hardly knows enough about either to be critical," he pointed out. "Your police have their own theories of conduct, however, and will bring these unknown persons to the judgment seat in fullness of time."

"Every one of them is going to be locked up within half an hour of their promised raid," declared the professor. "And don't mention this to my sister, or anybody. Secrecy must be preserved and their defeat fall upon these plotters like a thunderbolt."

He then left his guest and once more communicated with the authorities. A commissioner, remembering the previous display of the iguana's powers, paid a visit to Applewood and heard the story again. He laid his plans accordingly and, soon after midnight on the following Friday, an ambush of armed constables under highly efficient leadership captured six men. Their arrival in a powerful motor car was duly signalled to the watchers, and while they stole silent-footed upon the dwelling of Saurus, night suddenly became as day under a blaze of electric light, police emerged from every bush, Sir Felix among them, and the marauders were handcuffed two by two.

From his bedroom window the iguana peered out upon them, judged that they were Asiatics and pondered over their purpose.

"They may," he thought, "have harboured a design to take me to the East, whence the old, crystal fountains of human wisdom sprang. Perhaps, after all, I have done ill in confounding their hopes, for in secret amid the fastnesses of India or China, or hidden amid the fruit-bearing groves of islands unknown, there still may linger deathless wisdom that, if discovered and proclaimed, might better the lot of man."

He watched the culprits being hustled away, and when they were gone, Sir Felix knocked and entered in triumph.

"The rascals appear to be highly educated Eastern thugs," he explained. "They state that their purpose was to convey you to their own country, where you would have been appreciated and your worth recognized. They assert that you would have been far happier, more contented and better understood among them; and they have an insane idea that, once in thoroughly congenial surroundings, you would have put off your lizard shape and presently set up business as a reformer."

"What will happen to these romantic and ill-advised persons?" inquired Saurus.

"Our police have not the slightest idea," replied the professor. "It is a case for the law, but complicated because without precedent."

"I should be disposed to dismiss them—perhaps with a caution," suggested Saurus. "They meant well, and though meaning well is a performance often attended with evil results among you, in this case motive should be recognized."

"Their real intentions have yet to be discovered," declared Sir Felix. "This nonsense is, of course, a blind. The police can be trusted to ferret them out and learn all there is to know about them. We have far too many undesirable aliens in this country. Now, good night. You can sleep in peace and safety."

Saurus scribbled a final word.

"Allay the uneasiness of 'Rex' before you retire," he directed. "He is making frantic signals from his chain and assuring me I am in peril. Pray tell him that all is well and the danger past."
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