It may have been one in the morning -- I remember the moon shining through the stained-glass window. I sat and I brooded. Then suddenly there came a noise."
"It was low at first just a ticking. Then it grew louder and more distinct -- it was a clear rat-tat-tat. Now comes the queer coincidence, the sort of thing out of which legends grow when credulous folk have the shaping of them. You must know that my wife had a peculiar way of knocking at a door. It was really a little tune which she played with her fingers. I got into the some way so that we could each know when the other knocked. Well, it seemed to me -- of course my mind was strained and abnormal -- that the taps shaped themselves into the well-known rhythm of her knock. I couldn't localize it. You can think how eagerly I tried. It was above me, somewhere on the woodwork. I lost sense of time. I daresay it was repeated a dozen times at least."
"Oh, Dad, you never told me!"
"No, but I woke you up. I asked you to sit quiet with me for a little."
"Yes, I remember that!"
"Well, we sat, but nothing happened. Not a sound more. Of course it was a delusion. Some insect in the wood; the ivy on the outer wall. My own brain furnished the rhythm. Thus do we make fools and children of ourselves. But it gave me an insight. I saw how even a clever man could be deceived by his own emotions."
"But how do you know, sir, that it was not your wife."
"Absurd, Malone! Absurd, I say! I tell you I saw her in the flames. What was there left?"
"Her soul, her spirit."
Challenger shook his head sadly.
"When that dear body dissolved into its elements -- when its gases went into the air and its residue of solids sank into a grey dust -- it was the end. There was no more. She had played her part, played it beautifully, nobly. It was done. Death ends all, Malone. This soul talk is the Animism of savages. It is a superstition, a myth. As a physiologist I will undertake to produce crime or virtue by vascular control or cerebral stimulation. I will turn a Jekyll into a Hyde by a surgical operation. Another can do it by a psychological suggestion. Alcohol will do it. Drugs will do it. Absurd, Malone, absurd! As the tree falls, so does it lie. There is no next morning . . . night -- eternal night . . . and long rest for the weary worker."
"Well, it's a sad philosophy."
"Better a sad than a false one."
"Perhaps so. There is something virile and manly in facing the worst. I would not contradict. My reason is with you."
"But my instincts are against!" cried Enid. "No, no, never can I believe it." She threw her arms round the great bull neck. "Don't tell me, Daddy, that you with all your complex brain and wonderful self are a thing with no more life hereafter than a broken clock!"
"Four buckets of water and a bagful of salts," said Challenger as he smilingly detached his daughter's grip. "That's your daddy, my lass, and you may as well reconcile your mind to it. Well, it's twenty to eight. -- Come back, if you can, Malone, and let me hear your adventures among the insane."
2. Which Describes an Evening in Strange Company
THE love-affair of Enid Challenger and Edward Malone is not of the slightest interest to the reader, for the simple reason that it is not of the slightest interest to the writer. The unseen, unnoticed lure of the unborn babe is common to all youthful humanity. We deal in this chronicle with matters which are less common and of higher interest. It is only mentioned in order to explain those terms of frank and intimate comradeship which the narrative discloses. If the human race has obviously improved in anything -- in Anglo-Celtic countries, at least -- it is that the prim affectations and sly deceits of the past are lessened, and that young men and women can meet in an equality of clean and honest comradeship.
A taxi took the adventurers down Edgware Road and into the side-street called "Helbeck Terrace." Halfway down, the dull line of brick houses was broken by one glowing gap, where an open arch threw a flood of light into the street.