Very few words are needed to explain
why London, a hundred years hence, will be very like
it is now, or rather, since I must slip into a prophetic
past, why London, when my story opens, was very like
it was in those enviable days when I was still alive.
The reason can be stated in one sentence.
The people had absolutely lost faith in revolutions.
All revolutions are doctrinal - such as the
French one, or the one that introduced Christianity.
For it stands to common sense that you cannot upset
all existing things, customs, and compromises, unless
you believe in something outside them, something positive
and divine. Now, England, during this century,
lost all belief in this. It believed in a thing
called Evolution. And it said, “All theoretic
changes have ended in blood and ennui. If we change,
we must change slowly and safely, as the animals do.
Nature’s revolutions are the only successful
ones. There has been no conservative reaction
in favour of tails.”
And some things did change. Things
that were not much thought of dropped out of sight.
Things that had not often happened did not happen
at all. Thus, for instance, the actual physical
force ruling the country, the soldiers and police,
grew smaller and smaller, and at last vanished almost
to a point. The people combined could have swept
the few policemen away in ten minutes: they did
not, because they did not believe it would do them
the least good. They had lost faith in revolutions.
Democracy was dead; for no one minded
the governing class governing. England was now
practically a despotism, but not an hereditary one.
Some one in the official class was made King.
No one cared how: no one cared who. He was
merely an universal secretary.
In this manner it happened that everything
in London was very quiet. That vague and somewhat
depressed reliance upon things happening as they have
always happened, which is with all Londoners a mood,
had become an assumed condition. There was really
no reason for any man doing anything but the thing
he had done the day before.
There was therefore no reason whatever
why the three young men who had always walked up to
their Government office together should not walk up
to it together on this particular wintry and cloudy
morning. Everything in that age had become mechanical,
and Government clerks especially. All those clerks
assembled regularly at their posts. Three of
those clerks always walked into town together.
All the neighbourhood knew them: two of them
were tall and one short. And on this particular
morning the short clerk was only a few seconds late
to join the other two as they passed his gate:
he could have overtaken them in three strides; he
could have called after them easily. But he did
For some reason that will never be
understood until all souls are judged (if they are
ever judged; the idea was at this time classed with
fetish worship) he did not join his two companions,
but walked steadily behind them. The day was
dull, their dress was dull, everything was dull; but
in some odd impulse he walked through street after
street, through district after district, looking at
the backs of the two men, who would have swung round
at the sound of his voice. Now, there is a law
written in the darkest of the Books of Life, and it
is this: If you look at a thing nine hundred and
ninety-nine times, you are perfectly safe; if you
look at it the thousandth time, you are in frightful
danger of seeing it for the first time.
So the short Government official looked
at the coat-tails of the tall Government officials,
and through street after street, and round corner
after corner, saw only coat-tails, coat-tails, and
again coat-tails - when, he did not in the
least know why, something happened to his eyes.
Two black dragons were walking backwards
in front of him. Two black dragons were looking
at him with evil eyes. The dragons were walking
backwards it was true, but they kept their eyes fixed
on him none the less. The eyes which he saw were,
in truth, only the two buttons at the back of a frock-coat:
perhaps some traditional memory of their meaningless
character gave this half-witted prominence to their
gaze. The slit between the tails was the nose-line
of the monster: whenever the tails flapped in
the winter wind the dragons licked their lips.
It was only a momentary fancy, but the small clerk
found it imbedded in his soul ever afterwards.
He never could again think of men in frock-coats except
as dragons walking backwards. He explained afterwards,
quite tactfully and nicely, to his two official friends,
that (while feeling an inexpressible regard for each
of them) he could not seriously regard the face of
either of them as anything but a kind of tail.
It was, he admitted, a handsome tail - a tail
elevated in the air. But if, he said, any true
friend of theirs wished to see their faces, to look
into the eyes of their soul, that friend must be allowed
to walk reverently round behind them, so as to see
them from the rear. There he would see the two
black dragons with the blind eyes.
But when first the two black dragons
sprang out of the fog upon the small clerk, they had
merely the effect of all miracles - they changed
the universe. He discovered the fact that all
romantics know - that adventures happen on
dull days, and not on sunny ones. When the chord
of monotony is stretched most tight, then it breaks
with a sound like song. He had scarcely noticed
the weather before, but with the four dead eyes glaring
at him he looked round and realised the strange dead
The morning was wintry and dim, not
misty, but darkened with that shadow of cloud or snow
which steeps everything in a green or copper twilight.
The light there is on such a day seems not so much
to come from the clear heavens as to be a phosphorescence
clinging to the shapes themselves. The load of
heaven and the clouds is like a load of waters, and
the men move like fishes, feeling that they are on
the floor of a sea. Everything in a London street
completes the fantasy; the carriages and cabs themselves
resemble deep-sea creatures with eyes of flame.
He had been startled at first to meet two dragons.
Now he found he was among deep-sea dragons possessing
the deep sea.
The two young men in front were like
the small young man himself, well-dressed. The
lines of their frock-coats and silk hats had that
luxuriant severity which makes the modern fop, hideous
as he is, a favourite exercise of the modern draughtsman;
that element which Mr. Max Beerbohm has admirably
expressed in speaking of “certain congruities
of dark cloth and the rigid perfection of linen.”
They walked with the gait of an affected
snail, and they spoke at the longest intervals, dropping
a sentence at about every sixth lamp-post.
They crawled on past the lamp-posts; their mien was so
immovable that a fanciful description might almost say, that the lamp-posts
crawled past the men, as in a dream. Then the small man suddenly ran after
them and said -
“I want to get my hair cut.
I say, do you know a little shop anywhere where they
cut your hair properly? I keep on having my hair
cut, but it keeps on growing again.”
One of the tall men looked at him
with the air of a pained naturalist.
“Why, here is a little place,”
cried the small man, with a sort of imbecile cheerfulness,
as the bright bulging window of a fashionable toilet-saloon
glowed abruptly out of the foggy twilight. “Do
you know, I often find hair-dressers when I walk about
London. I’ll lunch with you at Cicconani’s.
You know, I’m awfully fond of hair-dressers’
shops. They’re miles better than those nasty
butchers’.” And he disappeared into
The man called James continued to
gaze after him, a monocle screwed into his eye.
“What the devil do you make
of that fellow?” he asked his companion, a pale
young man with a high nose.
The pale young man reflected conscientiously for some
minutes, and then said -
“Had a knock on his head when
he was a kid, I should think.”
“No, I don’t think it’s
that,” replied the Honourable James Barker.
“I’ve sometimes fancied he was a sort of
“Bosh!” cried Mr. Lambert, briefly.
“I admit I can’t make
him out,” resumed Barker, abstractedly; “he
never opens his mouth without saying something so indescribably
half-witted that to call him a fool seems the very
feeblest attempt at characterisation. But there’s
another thing about him that’s rather funny.
Do you know that he has the one collection of Japanese
lacquer in Europe? Have you ever seen his books?
All Greek poets and mediÃ¦val French and that
sort of thing. Have you ever been in his rooms?
It’s like being inside an amethyst. And
he moves about in all that and talks like - like
“Well, damn all books.
Your blue books as well,” said the ingenuous
Mr. Lambert, with a friendly simplicity. “You
ought to understand such things. What do you
make of him?”
“He’s beyond me,”
returned Barker. “But if you asked me for
my opinion, I should say he was a man with a taste
for nonsense, as they call it - artistic
fooling, and all that kind of thing. And I seriously
believe that he has talked nonsense so much that he
has half bewildered his own mind and doesn’t
know the difference between sanity and insanity.
He has gone round the mental world, so to speak, and
found the place where the East and the West are one,
and extreme idiocy is as good as sense. But I
can’t explain these psychological games.”
“You can’t explain them
to me,” replied Mr. Wilfrid Lambert, with candour.
As they passed up the long streets
towards their restaurant the copper twilight cleared
slowly to a pale yellow, and by the time they reached
it they stood discernible in a tolerable winter daylight.
The Honourable James Barker, one of the most powerful
officials in the English Government (by this time
a rigidly official one), was a lean and elegant young
man, with a blank handsome face and bleak blue eyes.
He had a great amount of intellectual capacity, of
that peculiar kind which raises a man from throne
to throne and lets him die loaded with honours without
having either amused or enlightened the mind of a
single man. Wilfrid Lambert, the youth with the
nose which appeared to impoverish the rest of his
face, had also contributed little to the enlargement
of the human spirit, but he had the honourable excuse
of being a fool.
Lambert would have been called a silly
man; Barker, with all his cleverness, might have been
called a stupid man. But mere silliness and stupidity
sank into insignificance in the presence of the awful
and mysterious treasures of foolishness apparently
stored up in the small figure that stood waiting for
them outside Cicconani’s. The little man,
whose name was Auberon Quin, had an appearance compounded
of a baby and an owl. His round head, round eyes,
seemed to have been designed by nature playfully with
a pair of compasses. His flat dark hair and preposterously
long frock-coat gave him something of the look of
a child’s “Noah.” When he entered
a room of strangers, they mistook him for a small
boy, and wanted to take him on their knees, until he
spoke, when they perceived that a boy would have been
“I have been waiting quite a
long time,” said Quin, mildly. “It’s
awfully funny I should see you coming up the street
“Why?” asked Lambert,
staring. “You told us to come here yourself.”
“My mother used to tell people
to come to places,” said the sage.
They were about to turn into the restaurant
with a resigned air, when their eyes were caught by
something in the street. The weather, though
cold and blank, was now quite clear, and across the
dull brown of the wood pavement and between the dull
grey terraces was moving something not to be seen
for miles round - not to be seen perhaps at
that time in England - a man dressed in bright
colours. A small crowd hung on the man’s
He was a tall stately man, clad in
a military uniform of brilliant green, splashed with
great silver facings. From the shoulder swung
a short green furred cloak, somewhat like that of
a Hussar, the lining of which gleamed every now and
then with a kind of tawny crimson. His breast
glittered with medals; round his neck was the red ribbon
and star of some foreign order; and a long straight
sword, with a blazing hilt, trailed and clattered
along the pavement. At this time the pacific
and utilitarian development of Europe had relegated
all such customs to the Museums. The only remaining
force, the small but well-organised police, were attired
in a sombre and hygienic manner. But even those
who remembered the last Life Guards and Lancers who
disappeared in 1912 must have known at a glance that
this was not, and never had been, an English uniform;
and this conviction would have been heightened by
the yellow aquiline face, like Dante carved in bronze,
which rose, crowned with white hair, out of the green
military collar, a keen and distinguished, but not
an English face.
The magnificence with which the green-clad
gentleman walked down the centre of the road would
be something difficult to express in human language.
For it was an ingrained simplicity and arrogance, something
in the mere carriage of the head and body, which made
ordinary moderns in the street stare after him; but
it had comparatively little to do with actual conscious
gestures or expression. In the matter of these
merely temporary movements, the man appeared to be
rather worried and inquisitive, but he was inquisitive
with the inquisitiveness of a despot and worried as
with the responsibilities of a god. The men who
lounged and wondered behind him followed partly with
an astonishment at his brilliant uniform, that is
to say, partly because of that instinct which makes
us all follow one who looks like a madman, but far
more because of that instinct which makes all men follow
(and worship) any one who chooses to behave like a
king. He had to so sublime an extent that great
quality of royalty - an almost imbecile unconsciousness
of everybody, that people went after him as they do
after kings - to see what would be the first
thing or person he would take notice of. And
all the time, as we have said, in spite of his quiet
splendour, there was an air about him as if he were
looking for somebody; an expression of inquiry.
Suddenly that expression of inquiry
vanished, none could tell why, and was replaced by
an expression of contentment. Amid the rapt attention
of the mob of idlers, the magnificent green gentleman
deflected himself from his direct course down the
centre of the road and walked to one side of it.
He came to a halt opposite to a large poster of Colman’s
Mustard erected on a wooden hoarding. His spectators
almost held their breath.
He took from a small pocket in his uniform a little penknife;
with this he made a slash at the stretched paper. Completing the rest of
the operation with his fingers, he tore off a strip or rag of paper, yellow in
colour and wholly irregular in outline. Then for the first time the great
being addressed his adoring onlookers -
“Can any one,” he said,
with a pleasing foreign accent, “lend me a pin?”
Mr. Lambert, who happened to be nearest,
and who carried innumerable pins for the purpose of
attaching innumerable buttonholes, lent him one, which
was received with extravagant but dignified bows, and
hyperboles of thanks.
The gentleman in green, then, with
every appearance of being gratified, and even puffed
up, pinned the piece of yellow paper to the green
silk and silver-lace adornments of his breast.
Then he turned his eyes round again, searching and
“Anything else I can do, sir?”
asked Lambert, with the absurd politeness of the Englishman
when once embarrassed.
“Red,” said the stranger, vaguely, “red.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I beg yours also, SeÃ±or,”
said the stranger, bowing. “I was wondering
whether any of you had any red about you.”
“Any red about us? - well
really - no, I don’t think I have - I
used to carry a red bandanna once, but -
“Barker,” asked Auberon
Quin, suddenly, “where’s your red cockatoo?
Where’s your red cockatoo?”
“What do you mean?” asked
Barker, desperately. “What cockatoo?
You’ve never seen me with any cockatoo!”
“I know,” said Auberon,
vaguely mollified. “Where’s it been
all the time?”
Barker swung round, not without resentment.
“I am sorry, sir,” he
said, shortly but civilly, “none of us seem to
have anything red to lend you. But why, if one
may ask -
“I thank you, SeÃ±or, it is
nothing. I can, since there is nothing else,
fulfil my own requirements.”
And standing for a second of thought
with the penknife in his hand, he stabbed his left
palm. The blood fell with so full a stream that
it struck the stones without dripping. The foreigner
pulled out his handkerchief and tore a piece from
it with his teeth. The rag was immediately soaked
“Since you are so generous,
SeÃ±or,” he said, “another pin, perhaps.”
Lambert held one out, with eyes protruding
like a frog’s.
The red linen was pinned beside the
yellow paper, and the foreigner took off his hat.
“I have to thank you all, gentlemen,”
he said; and wrapping the remainder of the handkerchief
round his bleeding hand, he resumed his walk with
an overwhelming stateliness.
While all the rest paused, in some disorder, little Mr.
Auberon Quin ran after the stranger and stopped him, with hat in hand.
Considerably to everybodys astonishment, he addressed him in the purest Spanish
“SeÃ±or,” he said in that
language, “pardon a hospitality, perhaps indiscreet,
towards one who appears to be a distinguished, but
a solitary guest in London. Will you do me and
my friends, with whom you have held some conversation,
the honour of lunching with us at the adjoining restaurant?”
The man in the green uniform had turned
a fiery colour of pleasure at the mere sound of his
own language, and he accepted the invitation with
that profusion of bows which so often shows, in the
case of the Southern races, the falsehood of the notion
that ceremony has nothing to do with feeling.
“SeÃ±or,” he said, “your
language is my own; but all my love for my people
shall not lead me to deny to yours the possession of
so chivalrous an entertainer. Let me say that
the tongue is Spanish but the heart English.”
And he passed with the rest into Cicconani’s.
“Now, perhaps,” said Barker,
over the fish and sherry, intensely polite, but burning
with curiosity, “perhaps it would be rude of
me to ask why you did that?”
“Did what, SeÃ±or?” asked
the guest, who spoke English quite well, though in
a manner indefinably American.
“Well,” said the Englishman,
in some confusion, “I mean tore a strip off
a hoarding and ... er ... cut yourself ... and....”
“To tell you that, SeÃ±or,”
answered the other, with a certain sad pride, “involves
merely telling you who I am. I am Juan del
Fuego, President of Nicaragua.”
The manner with which the President
of Nicaragua leant back and drank his sherry showed
that to him this explanation covered all the facts
observed and a great deal more. Barker’s
brow, however, was still a little clouded.
“And the yellow paper,”
he began, with anxious friendliness, “and the
“The yellow paper and the red
rag,” said Fuego, with indescribable grandeur,
“are the colours of Nicaragua.”
“But Nicaragua ...” began
Barker, with great hesitation, “Nicaragua is
no longer a....”
“Nicaragua has been conquered
like Athens. Nicaragua has been annexed like
Jerusalem,” cried the old man, with amazing fire.
“The Yankee and the German and the brute powers
of modernity have trampled it with the hoofs of oxen.
But Nicaragua is not dead. Nicaragua is an idea.”
Auberon Quin suggested timidly, “A brilliant
“Yes,” said the foreigner,
snatching at the word. “You are right,
generous Englishman. An idea brillant,
a burning thought. SeÃ±or, you asked me why,
in my desire to see the colours of my country, I snatched
at paper and blood. Can you not understand the
ancient sanctity of colours? The Church has her
symbolic colours. And think of what colours mean
to us - think of the position of one like
myself, who can see nothing but those two colours,
nothing but the red and the yellow. To me all
shapes are equal, all common and noble things are in
a democracy of combination. Wherever there is
a field of marigolds and the red cloak of an old woman,
there is Nicaragua. Wherever there is a field
of poppies and a yellow patch of sand, there is Nicaragua.
Wherever there is a lemon and a red sunset, there is
my country. Wherever I see a red pillar-box and
a yellow sunset, there my heart beats. Blood
and a splash of mustard can be my heraldry. If
there be yellow mud and red mud in the same ditch,
it is better to me than white stars.”
“And if,” said Quin, with
equal enthusiasm, “there should happen to be
yellow wine and red wine at the same lunch, you could
not confine yourself to sherry. Let me order
some Burgundy, and complete, as it were, a sort of
Nicaraguan heraldry in your inside.”
Barker was fiddling with his knife,
and was evidently making up his mind to say something,
with the intense nervousness of the amiable Englishman.
“I am to understand, then,”
he said at last, with a cough, “that you, ahem,
were the President of Nicaragua when it made its - er - one
must, of course, agree - its quite heroic
resistance to - er -
The ex-President of Nicaragua waved his hand.
“You need not hesitate in speaking
to me,” he said. “I’m quite
fully aware that the whole tendency of the world of
to-day is against Nicaragua and against me. I
shall not consider it any diminution of your evident
courtesy if you say what you think of the misfortunes
that have laid my republic in ruins.”
Barker looked immeasurably relieved and gratified.
“You are most generous, President,”
he said, with some hesitation over the title, “and
I will take advantage of your generosity to express
the doubts which, I must confess, we moderns have about
such things as - er - the Nicaraguan
“So your sympathies are,”
said Del Fuego, quite calmly, “with the big
nation which -
“Pardon me, pardon me, President,”
said Barker, warmly; “my sympathies are with
no nation. You misunderstand, I think, the modern
intellect. We do not disapprove of the fire and
extravagance of such commonwealths as yours only to
become more extravagant on a larger scale. We
do not condemn Nicaragua because we think Britain ought
to be more Nicaraguan. We do not discourage small
nationalities because we wish large nationalities
to have all their smallness, all their uniformity
of outlook, all their exaggeration of spirit.
If I differ with the greatest respect from your Nicaraguan
enthusiasm, it is not because a nation or ten nations
were against you; it is because civilisation was against
you. We moderns believe in a great cosmopolitan
civilisation, one which shall include all the talents
of all the absorbed peoples -
“The SeÃ±or will forgive me,”
said the President. “May I ask the SeÃ±or
how, under ordinary circumstances, he catches a wild
“I never catch a wild horse,”
replied Barker, with dignity.
“Precisely,” said the
other; “and there ends your absorption of the
talents. That is what I complain of your cosmopolitanism.
When you say you want all peoples to unite, you really
mean that you want all peoples to unite to learn the
tricks of your people. If the Bedouin Arab does
not know how to read, some English missionary or schoolmaster
must be sent to teach him to read, but no one ever
says, ’This schoolmaster does not know how to
ride on a camel; let us pay a Bedouin to teach him.’
You say your civilisation will include all talents.
Will it? Do you really mean to say that at the
moment when the Esquimaux has learnt to vote for a
County Council, you will have learnt to spear a walrus?
I recur to the example I gave. In Nicaragua we
had a way of catching wild horses - by lassooing
the fore feet - which was supposed to be
the best in South America. If you are going to
include all the talents, go and do it. If not,
permit me to say what I have always said, that something
went from the world when Nicaragua was civilised.”
replied Barker, “but that something a mere barbarian
dexterity. I do not know that I could chip flints
as well as a primeval man, but I know that civilisation
can make these knives which are better, and I trust
“You have good authority,”
answered the Nicaraguan. “Many clever men
like you have trusted to civilisation. Many clever
Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men
at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world
that is flagrant with the failures of civilisation,
what there is particularly immortal about yours?”
“I think you do not quite understand,
President, what ours is,” answered Barker.
“You judge it rather as if England was still
a poor and pugnacious island; you have been long out
of Europe. Many things have happened.”
“And what,” asked the
other, “would you call the summary of those
“The summary of those things,”
answered Barker, with great animation, “is that
we are rid of the superstitions, and in becoming so
we have not merely become rid of the superstitions
which have been most frequently and most enthusiastically
so described. The superstition of big nationalities
is bad, but the superstition of small nationalities
is worse. The superstition of reverencing our
own country is bad, but the superstition of reverencing
other people’s countries is worse. It is
so everywhere, and in a hundred ways. The superstition
of monarchy is bad, and the superstition of aristocracy
is bad, but the superstition of democracy is the worst
The old gentleman opened his eyes with some surprise.
“Are you, then,” he said, “no longer
a democracy in England?”
“The situation invites paradox,”
he said. “We are, in a sense, the purest
democracy. We have become a despotism. Have
you not noticed how continually in history democracy
becomes despotism? People call it the decay of
democracy. It is simply its fulfilment. Why
take the trouble to number and register and enfranchise
all the innumerable John Robinsons, when you can take
one John Robinson with the same intellect or lack
of intellect as all the rest, and have done with it?
The old idealistic republicans used to found democracy
on the idea that all men were equally intelligent.
Believe me, the sane and enduring democracy is founded
on the fact that all men are equally idiotic.
Why should we not choose out of them one as much as
another. All that we want for Government is a
man not criminal and insane, who can rapidly look
over some petitions and sign some proclamations.
To think what time was wasted in arguing about the
House of Lords, Tories saying it ought to be preserved
because it was clever, and Radicals saying it ought
to be destroyed because it was stupid, and all the
time no one saw that it was right because it was stupid,
because that chance mob of ordinary men thrown there
by accident of blood, were a great democratic protest
against the Lower House, against the eternal insolence
of the aristocracy of talents. We have established
now in England, the thing towards which all systems
have dimly groped, the dull popular despotism without
illusions. We want one man at the head of our
State, not because he is brilliant or virtuous, but
because he is one man and not a chattering crowd.
To avoid the possible chance of hereditary diseases
or such things, we have abandoned hereditary monarchy.
The King of England is chosen like a juryman upon an
official rotation list. Beyond that the whole
system is quietly despotic, and we have not found
it raise a murmur.”
“Do you really mean,”
asked the President, incredulously, “that you
choose any ordinary man that comes to hand and make
him despot - that you trust to the chance
of some alphabetical list....”
“And why not?” cried Barker.
“Did not half the historical nations trust to
the chance of the eldest sons of eldest sons, and did
not half of them get on tolerably well? To have
a perfect system is impossible; to have a system is
indispensable. All hereditary monarchies were
a matter of luck: so are alphabetical monarchies.
Can you find a deep philosophical meaning in the difference
between the Stuarts and the Hanoverians? Believe
me, I will undertake to find a deep philosophical
meaning in the contrast between the dark tragedy of
the A’s, and the solid success of the B’s.”
“And you risk it?” asked
the other. “Though the man may be a tyrant
or a cynic or a criminal.”
“We risk it,” answered
Barker, with a perfect placidity. “Suppose
he is a tyrant - he is still a check on a
hundred tyrants. Suppose he is a cynic, it is
to his interest to govern well. Suppose he is
a criminal - by removing poverty and substituting
power, we put a check on his criminality. In
short, by substituting despotism we have put a total
check on one criminal and a partial check on all the
The Nicaraguan old gentleman leaned
over with a queer expression in his eyes.
“My church, sir,” he said,
“has taught me to respect faith. I do not
wish to speak with any disrespect of yours, however
fantastic. But do you really mean that you will
trust to the ordinary man, the man who may happen
to come next, as a good despot?”
“I do,” said Barker, simply.
“He may not be a good man. But he will be
a good despot. For when he comes to a mere business
routine of government he will endeavour to do ordinary
justice. Do we not assume the same thing in a
The old President smiled.
“I don’t know,”
he said, “that I have any particular objection
in detail to your excellent scheme of Government.
My only objection is a quite personal one. It
is, that if I were asked whether I would belong to
it, I should ask first of all, if I was not permitted,
as an alternative, to be a toad in a ditch. That
is all. You cannot argue with the choice of the
“Of the soul,” said Barker,
knitting his brows, “I cannot pretend to say
anything, but speaking in the interests of the public -
Mr. Auberon Quin rose suddenly to his feet.
“If you’ll excuse me,
gentlemen,” he said, “I will step out for
a moment into the air.”
“I’m so sorry, Auberon,”
said Lambert, good-naturedly; “do you feel bad?”
“Not bad exactly,” said
Auberon, with self-restraint; “rather good, if
anything. Strangely and richly good. The
fact is, I want to reflect a little on those beautiful
words that have just been uttered. ‘Speaking,’
yes, that was the phrase, ’speaking in the interests
of the public.’ One cannot get the honey
from such things without being alone for a little.”
“Is he really off his chump,
do you think?” asked Lambert.
The old President looked after him
with queerly vigilant eyes.
“He is a man, I think,”
he said, “who cares for nothing but a joke.
He is a dangerous man.”
Lambert laughed in the act of lifting
some maccaroni to his mouth.
“Dangerous!” he said.
“You don’t know little Quin, sir!”
“Every man is dangerous,”
said the old man without moving, “who cares
only for one thing. I was once dangerous myself.”
And with a pleasant smile he finished
his coffee and rose, bowing profoundly, passed out
into the fog, which had again grown dense and sombre.
Three days afterwards they heard that he had died quietly
in lodgings in Soho.
Drowned somewhere else in the dark
sea of fog was a little figure shaking and quaking,
with what might at first sight have seemed terror
or ague: but which was really that strange malady,
a lonely laughter. He was repeating over and
over to himself with a rich accent - “But
speaking in the interests of the public....”