The Dynamiter

Page 04

It is, in short, the only profession for a gentleman.'

'The proposition is perhaps excessive,' replied Challoner; 'for hitherto I own I have regarded it as of all dirty, sneaking, and ungentlemanly trades, the least and lowest.'

'To defend society?' asked Somerset; 'to stake one's life for others? to deracinate occult and powerful evil? I appeal to Mr. Godall. He, at least, as a philosophic looker-on at life, will spit upon such philistine opinions. He knows that the policeman, as he is called upon continually to face greater odds, and that both worse equipped and for a better cause, is in form and essence a more noble hero than the soldier. Do you, by any chance, deceive yourself into supposing that a general would either ask or expect, from the best army ever marshalled, and on the most momentous battle-field, the conduct of a common constable at Peckham Rye?' {1}

'I did not understand we were to join the force,' said Challoner.

'Nor shall we. These are the hands; but here--here, sir, is the head,' cried Somerset. 'Enough; it is decreed. We shall hunt down this miscreant in the sealskin coat.'

'Suppose that we agreed,' retorted Challoner, 'you have no plan, no knowledge; you know not where to seek for a beginning.'

'Challoner!' cried Somerset, 'is it possible that you hold the doctrine of Free Will? And are you devoid of any tincture of philosophy, that you should harp on such exploded fallacies? Chance, the blind Madonna of the Pagan, rules this terrestrial bustle; and in Chance I place my sole reliance. Chance has brought us three together; when we next separate and go forth our several ways, Chance will continually drag before our careless eyes a thousand eloquent clues, not to this mystery only, but to the countless mysteries by which we live surrounded. Then comes the part of the man of the world, of the detective born and bred. This clue, which the whole town beholds without comprehension, swift as a cat, he leaps upon it, makes it his, follows it with craft and passion, and from one trifling circumstance divines a world.'

'Just so,' said Challoner; 'and I am delighted that you should recognise these virtues in yourself. But in the meanwhile, dear boy, I own myself incapable of joining. I was neither born nor bred as a detective, but as a placable and very thirsty gentleman; and, for my part, I begin to weary for a drink. As for clues and adventures, the only adventure that is ever likely to occur to me will be an adventure with a bailiff.'

'Now there is the fallacy,' cried Somerset. 'There I catch the secret of your futility in life. The world teems and bubbles with adventure; it besieges you along the street: hands waving out of windows, swindlers coming up and swearing they knew you when you were abroad, affable and doubtful people of all sorts and conditions begging and truckling for your notice. But not you: you turn away, you walk your seedy mill round, you must go the dullest way. Now here, I beg of you, the next adventure that offers itself, embrace it in with both your arms; whatever it looks, grimy or romantic, grasp it. I will do the like; the devil is in it, but at least we shall have fun; and each in turn we shall narrate the story of our fortunes to my philosophic friend of the divan, the great Godall, now hearing me with inward joy. Come, is it a bargain? Will you, indeed, both promise to welcome every chance that offers, to plunge boldly into every opening, and, keeping the eye wary and the head composed, to study and piece together all that happens? Come, promise: let me open to you the doors of the great profession of intrigue.'

'It is not much in my way,' said Challoner, 'but, since you make a point of it, amen.'

'I don't mind promising,' said Desborough, 'but nothing will happen to me.'

'O faithless ones!' cried Somerset. 'But at least I have your promises; and Godall, I perceive, is transported with delight.'

'I promise myself at least much pleasure from your various narratives,' said the salesman, with the customary calm polish of his manner.

The Dynamiter Page 05

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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