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Chapter 18

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« on: April 03, 2023, 10:00:34 am »

TWO extraordinary things happened at this season involving Mrs. Hapgood, Sir Felix and Saurus. Brother and sister both clashed with the iguana on totally different issues, and for the first and last time in his career, their visitor differed from each of them and displayed a strong preference between opposite courses of action.

"He might have been human," said Mrs. Hapgood, when relating her experience.

"I asked him to do something in my usual friendly way, and instead of instantly complying, as one expected, he demurred, gazed at me a moment out of his extraordinary eyes, then took up his pen and said that he would not oblige me!"

"What on earth did you want from him?" asked the professor. "And what could you have wanted that he felt a shadow of reason to refuse?"

"Only the loan of his little diary," she answered. "You may remember that I gave him a diary and explained its use as soon as he could write. He indicated satisfaction when I did so, and he has gone out of his way to tell me that he keeps it most carefully and writes each day's doings from his point of view. He notes down what fruits he has eaten, who visited him, and what new books he has read and so on. One never felt there was anything private about it, poor dear fellow, yet when I asked him to lend it to me, that I might verify some dates and see when certain eminent people visited us, he reflected a moment and refused to oblige me."

Sir Felix, whose personal defeat had yet to come, felt no doubt of the reason for this rebuff.

"It is in a sense human, as you say," he explained. "To be strictly in character, Saurus should have no sense or understanding of what we call 'privacy'. His diary might contain the sharpest strictures upon us, or the heartiest applause, but he is perfectly indifferent as to what human beings think of him and his opinions. Yet now it appears that some dim sense of propriety has made him feel there are things in his diary which would give you pain. Because he knows what mental agonies all human beings can suffer. This is to explain his refusal in a manner charitable to himself and credit him with some shadowy proper feeling, or possibly an emotion of doubt, or even fear, as to what might be your response to things set down in his diary. But if in truth there are impressions recorded concerning you or me of a subversive or derogatory kind, then Saurus ceases to be a subject for charity at all—quite the contrary, in fact. To traduce you would be an unthinkable action and proclaim him quite the basest iguana in the history of the species. Such an act could only mean that Nature had terribly erred in permitting self-consciousness to enter the lizard world. But, far more likely, he may have disparaged me and allowed himself some private freedom of criticism which he well knew would anger you. In any case, something all too human must have inspired the refusal."

"He may have declined from quite a high motive, and we must give him the benefit of the doubt," thought Norah.

"He may," replied the professor. "In any case, only a purely human instinct must be at the bottom of it, because it is not natural to him to fear anything. The psychology of Saurus is a matter entirely outside my province and I have thought sometimes that certain famous psychologists should be invited to inspect him; but, as against that, you know how I distrust the whole business and dislike the gentlemen who practise it."

"You don't believe in psycho-analysis at all," answered Norah. "We all know that. You say that it is as yet an infant science and takes far too much for granted. You laugh at its pretentious terminology and you point out that no two psycho-analysts ever arrive at the same results about anybody."

"There is in my opinion a good deal of quackery," admitted Sir Felix. "I will say no more; but when they claim that only psychologists are competent to give the verdict in criminal cases, then I hope that the law will continue to carry on its business without them, at any rate for the present. Saurus might, however, think differently. He has studied the subject, needless to say, and believes that there is a good deal more in it than I am prepared to grant."

"He is a bit of a psychologist himself," she replied. "Racial impulses and national traits of character interest him exceedingly. In fact, he told me that it is impossible to write history without these things. But the fact remains that he doesn't wish me to consult his little diary. He leaves it about as usual and would, no doubt, make no effort to oppose me if I insisted on reading it; but since he doesn't wish it, of course, he knows I won't."

"A time will come, in all probability," said Sir Felix, "when he must decease; and then it is going to be my duty to write a complete account of his life as far as I am able to do so. It may sound morbid and rather mean to anticipate his end even in thought, and nothing is farther from my wish that this abnormal personality should pass into the void; but one cannot hide the facts of existence, and my knowledge of his species tells me that he may not be with us much longer."

"Don't say that!" begged Norah. "I know how difficult he is sometimes and how, as a scientist, you hate mysteries and often find him a source of irritation; but I should be more than sorry if he were gone. You can't deny that he is the most interesting thing that ever happened to either of us—tiresome though he may be."

"I should be the last to deny it," he answered. "I speak now of his physical circumstances. They are altering and we must remember that he lives under a time schedule different from our own and also different from that of the terrestrial lacerta. He eats less; he tends in consequence to grow thinner. You can see his little ribs through his integument, and his old brilliant colours are growing dim. He is, in fact, passing through a healthy and normal old age at his usual headlong speed; but old age—healthy or otherwise—can only end in one way. He is not human, but he is mortal, and must finish his brief career—probably before the end of the year."

"How sad," murmured Mrs. Hapgood.

"For that reason," continued Sir Felix, "I propose inviting his co-operation at no distant date and asking him to oblige me in the matter of our forthcoming conversazione at the Zoological Gardens. The opportunity is an exceptional one and cannot, I fear, recur. The Society much desires that he should be present and is prepared to pay all expenses. I shall, of course, travel with him upon the Great Western Railway. A heated compartment will be reserved upon the train and a corner of the new reptile house in Regent's Park is to be specially arranged for his comfort. Needless to say that everything will be done and nothing neglected to ensure his health and safety."

"He will be the star piece of the conversazione," said Norah. "I'm glad, because I know what infinite care will be taken of him. But I think that I'll come too. Then he can always have one of us close to him."

"By this gracious act he will be able to repay our devotion," explained the professor. "Saurus has often regretted that he could not serve us—another human gesture, by the way—but now he will be in a position to oblige without subjecting himself to any inconvenience whatever."

Mrs. Hapgood was at once full of plans for the journey and a day later her brother broke his wishes to their guest.

"You are now in the fortunate position of being able to do me a considerable service, my friend, while at the same time enjoying a very interesting and illuminating experience yourself," he began. "I know your famous aversion from foreign travel and remember that you have declined opportunities to see the world, preferring the peace, seclusion and watchful consideration it was my privilege to offer you. I know that our literature and our exotic fruits and vegetables have sufficed your modest requirements and kept you in good fettle of mind and body; but now I want you to do a kind and highly desirable action—emerge from your hermitage for four-and-twenty hours, accept the invitation of the Royal Zoological Society and consent to attend their forthcoming conversazione as the guest of honour. The date is the fourteenth day of next November. We go up on the thirteenth, and every possible precaution will be taken, every arrangement made for your comfort and convenience from the moment you leave your apartments to the time you return to them. You will travel like a king. My sister and myself accompany you and you will have the satisfaction of feeling that you have given great pleasure to both of us and a demonstration of goodwill and friendship to our scientific leaders and the body of serious people who support them."

Sir Felix expected Saurus to pick up his writing-tablet instantly and record a favourable response; but, much to his surprise, the iguana made no swift reply. He looked at the professor, then shut his great eyes for a moment and indicated that he must reflect before he came to any decision. Then he opened them again and picked up his pencil very slowly. The fact that he should do this familiar deed in so tardy a fashion was itself of a startling nature, for as a rule he performed the feat of answering questions with extreme rapidity.

Now Saurus wrote, handed his answer to the other and marked the mournful result.

"I decline to go to the metropolis on the thirteenth day of next November," he said. "It lies in your power to take me if so you will, because it cannot lie in my power to oppose you, but not willingly should I go—for personal reasons that I must withhold from you."

Sir Felix stared, rose from his chair and prepared to depart. He grew a little hot, and his big shaggy eye-brows came down like a storm upon his eyes.

"An unmannerly and unreasonable refusal," he said sternly, "and I much wonder how you can deliberately wound me and offend the Society in such a trifling particular. You are indeed right to say that you do not share in any of our higher human emotions; but let me tell you that, despite your assertions to the contrary, you are not exempt from the fault of selfishness or the frailty of ingratitude. Here was your first opportunity to repay something of our devotion and, for senseless reasons you decline to give, you bluntly and brutally refuse it. You are a bad iguana, and I feel much tempted to wash my hands of you altogether and transfer you to the keeping of Science. Then you might perhaps begin to realize your good fortune and learn what you have lost by your own faulty conduct."

He waited for the delinquent to reply, but Saurus made no attempt to do so. He looked at Sir Felix with his customary, lustrous stare and the professor left him, strode away and banged the door.

Her brother related his reverse to Norah at a later time and she endeavoured to calm his outraged spirit. When the professor was pleased with his guest, he called him by his appointed name; but should he become annoyed, as now, he would allude to Saurus as 'the iguana', or even 'the lizard'. For the moment he could find no expression of contempt strong enough.

"I am sorely tempted," he said, "to take this reptile at his word and assert my authority. One would be quite justified in accepting our own relation to time and remembering that, after all, he is little more than a year old. When was it heard that any creature at such an age defied his lawful guardians?"

"I will go and chat with him," answered Mrs. Hapgood. "He may explain the situation to me; but if he has no good reason for such a curt refusal, I shall be quite as cross with him as you have evidently been. There is some hidden mystery here, I feel sure, for it is utterly unlike him to be so unpleasant. One would have expected him to oblige instantly."

But Norah could get nothing out of Saurus. After a long and eloquent appeal he merely wrote the words: "I do not wish to go," and left her to digest them as best she might.

The lady could hardly believe her eyes.

"This is the first time in your life that you have ever wished anything at all, or expressed any emotion save utter indifference about all that happens," she said, "and now, when you get a chance to repay some of the professor's ceaseless kindness and consideration, you deny him. Do try and see how this must look from his point of view, dear Saurus. You're not human, but you know now quite well what it is to be human and how easy it is to satisfy a reasonable, moderate man like Sir Felix. And not only my brother. The whole world of British science would feel it a compliment. If, therefore, against such a weight of opinion, you still decline to go to London for a few hours, with every provision made for your comfort, then we have at least the right to ask your reason. Perhaps, if I knew it, I might convince you that your objections can be removed; and if I found they were serious and demanded consideration, then I should be on your side at once. But it is wilful and quite unlike you to be so obstinate about nothing at all."

Saurus, however, continued quite unmoved.

"My reasons," he wrote, "are of a personal nature and I am not going to impart them to you, or anybody. In my opinion they are justified, and I will go so far as to say that did the professor insist upon taking me to his conversazione, he would be the first to regret it."

"Never blame any of us for being selfish again, then," she said. "You are a thankless little person, and your heart is as cold as your head. And if you were going to learn our ways and become humanized, then it's a great pity you didn't try to imitate my dear brother, who is always ready and willing to pleasure his fellow creatures when it lies in his power to do so."

"You invited my opinion," he answered, "and I have given it. I should strongly object to go; but the power is his, and he can exercise it if he will."

"Of course he won't," she answered. "You know that perfectly well. You're not a child, and if you don't want to go to a party you have the right to refuse, at your age. You're at least seventy-five of our years and must be treated accordingly. Only it's shocking and disappointing and a very bad advertisement for Hermes."

He turned to a dish of green figs and made no reply; while Norah added a word or two before she left him.

"You ought really to be punished," she declared, "and I very much wish I knew how to punish you."

She left him then, and later in the day submitted a course of action to her brother.

"It will be a reasonable thing to send him to Coventry for a time," she said. "He takes us so entirely for granted and expects us to wait upon him day and night and study his interminable notes and be his audience. He knows now perfectly well that we are both justly annoyed—in fact outraged—by his behaviour; but no doubt he thinks that we shall soon calm down and treat him as usual. Well, we won't. We'll give him a quiet little lesson and neither of us go near him again for a week at least. Peters can wait upon him entirely, and I venture to think that nothing will serve better to show him the nature of his lapse, when day after day passes and he doesn't see either of us. Everybody is so apt to take good things for granted and make such a fuss over bad things. And I'm sure that Saurus has taken you for granted far too easily and utterly failed to realize his immense privileges."

The professor agreed to this course.

"Goodness knows I don't want to see him," he replied. "One has to watch him closely in the interests of science and, of course, this development along familiar human lines must be recorded. It is another example of how much easier we find wrong than right. However, we can leave him to his conscience, if he's got one, for a few days. Peters knows all that he wants."

"I have spoken to Peters, who is, of course, very indignant," replied Norah. "He thinks that Saurus really doesn't deserve to see your face again for several weeks, and he suggested that we should keep him on a diet of nothing but his own tomatoes—the thing he brought with him—just to remind him of all he owes us."

"No," replied Sir Felix. "We must not be petty. When his story comes to be told—and no doubt I shall have to tell it—then it must not be recorded that any irresponsible or revengeful act ever marred his proper scientific treatment. Let his table be richly plied as usual; but for the present we will withhold ourselves from him."

"Be sure," prophesied Norah, "he is soon going to write a letter of apology. He is lightning-quick now to understand our moods, and when he realizes that he has gone too far and saddened us, he will communicate and beg us to forgive and forget. He quite understands the importance of forgiveness, and though he never forgets anything himself, he knows that we are apt to do so. He may even change his mind and consent to go, when he finds what a difference his conduct has made to our regard for him."

But Saurus did none of these things, and gave no sign that he was conscious-stricken or even perturbed. He noted briefly for Peters the nature of his requirements and directed him to remove a dish of medlars, which he could not eat; but he neither wrote to Sir Felix nor his sister, and advanced no inquiry concerning them.

"He's directed for me to get a thermometer, so as he can regulate the temperature a bit, and he'd be glad of some of they musk melons," explained Peters. "He sits by the fire all day, seemingly, and he don't write no more, but just reads and reads. He don't want no more newspapers; but his nose is always buried in a book. He sleeps a lot, seemingly, yet always wakes up when I come in the room. 'Rex' goes to see him and sit with him and cheer the varmint up."

When the butler was gone with the professor's thermometer, Norah showed strong inclinations to relent.

"It's getting horribly sad," she said, "and I'm not going on with it. We're being too human, darling, and he can't understand. It must mystify him dreadfully, because I feel sure now that he doesn't know in the least that he has done wrong. Perhaps he hasn't done wrong. You know how often we are bewildered to find people in a temper with us, when we are absolutely ignorant of any reason why they should be. And nobody can ever have lived a more puzzling life than he has."

Sir Felix also found himself in a condition to pardon.

"One of two things must happen," he said. "Either we yield, do not return to the subject and let him understand that his wishes will be respected, or I take the initiative and tell him that he accompanies me to London on the thirteenth of November."

"Too late," she reminded him. "You have let them know that Saurus declines to attend the conversazione and they are arranging other attractions. Though, of course, they'd welcome him, and he'd make far more sensation than anything else they could get."

In the event, however, neither the man nor the iguana went to town. But Sir Felix and his sister renewed relations with their guest and proceeded as usual in his company. He showed neither surprise nor gratification at their reappearance, but welcomed them in his polite fashion and listened to their talk. The past was not mentioned and they visited him together, spent an hour with him, commented on the weather and the first frost and trusted that he was warm and well. In his turn he inquired for their prosperity and hoped that it had not vexed them when he refused to eat medlars.

"They were rotten," he wrote, "and offended my sense of taste and smell."

The professor detected deterioration in Saurus when again alone with his sister.

"He's not all that he should be, in my opinion," he declared.

"Nobody can judge better than you when a lizard is off colour, of course," she answered. "Do you suggest some physic, or would you like Dr. Wilson to see him?"

"He is too thin—much too thin," declared Felix. "We have not seen him for a fortnight and he has fallen away considerably. His colours are fading fast. He looks shabby and his eyes lack the old lustre. His age, whatever it may really be, is weighing heavily upon him."

"What about a tonic?" asked Norah.

"There is no tonic but rest for old age," answered Sir Felix. "His mind is active still, I should say. The ordinary lizard simply passes from life to death in a calm and dignified fashion when his time is told, as most animals are used to do. The temperature of an iguana in his native land is eighty degrees Fahrenheit. I will ascertain his next time we meet."

"He must be kept very warm and have a hot-water bottle in his bed," said Mrs. Hapgood.

"If he became really unwell, I should judge it my duty to engage a night nurse," declared the professor; but a few days after the reconciliation with Saurus, he himself became indisposed. Going from the iguana's exceedingly heated sitting-room into a frosty air, Sir Felix caught a cold and found it necessary to keep his bed under threat of bronchitis.

"Now you're both done for and neither of you will go to the conversazione," sighed Norah.
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