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Chapter 14

MR. LAGUNE'S POINT OF VIEW.


For three days the Laboratory at South Kensington saw nothing of
Lagune, and then he came back more invincibly voluble than
ever. Everyone had expected him to return apostate, but he brought
back an invigorated faith, a propaganda unashamed. From some source he
had derived strength and conviction afresh. Even the rhetorical
Smithers availed nothing. There was a joined battle over the
insufficient tea-cups, and the elderly young assistant demonstrator
hovered on the verge of the discussion, rejoicing, it is supposed,
over the entanglements of Smithers. For at the outset Smithers
displayed an overweening confidence and civility, and at the end his
ears were red and his finer manners lost to him.

Lewisham, it was remarked by Miss Heydinger, made but a poor figure in
this discussion. Once or twice he seemed about to address Lagune, and
thought better of it with the words upon his lips.

Lagune's treatment of the exposure was light and vigorous. "The man
Chaffery," he said, "has made a clean breast of it. His point of
view--"

"Facts are facts," said Smithers.

"A fact is a synthesis of impressions," said Lagune; "but that you
will learn when you are older. The thing is that we were at cross
purposes. I told Chaffery you were beginners. He treated you as
beginners--arranged a demonstration."

"It _was_ a demonstration," said Smithers.

"Precisely. If it had not been for your interruptions ..."

"Ah!"

"He forged elementary effects ..."

"You can't but admit that."

"I don't attempt to deny it. But, as he explained, the thing is
necessary--justifiable. Psychic phenomena are subtle, a certain
training of the observation is necessary. A medium is a more subtle
instrument than a balance or a borax bead, and see how long it is
before you can get assured results with a borax bead! In the
elementary class, in the introductory phase, conditions are
too crude...."

"For honesty."

"Wait a moment. _Is_ it dishonest--rigging a demonstration?"

"Of course it is."

"Your professors do it."

"I deny that in toto," said Smithers, and repeated with satisfaction,
"in toto."

"That's all right," said Lagune, "because I have the facts. Your
chemical lecturers--you may go downstairs now and ask, if you
disbelieve me--always cheat over the indestructibility of matter
experiment--always. And then another--a physiography thing. You know
the experiment I mean? To demonstrate the existence of the earth's
rotation. They use--they use--"

"Foucault's pendulum," said Lewisham. "They use a rubber ball with a
pin-hole hidden in the hand, and blow the pendulum round the way it
ought to go."

"But that's different," said Smithers.

"Wait a moment," said Lagune, and produced a piece of folded printed
paper from his pocket. "Here is a review from _Nature_ of the work of
no less a person than Professor Greenhill. And see--a convenient pin
is introduced in the apparatus for the demonstration of virtual
velocities! Read it--if you doubt me. I suppose you doubt me."

Smithers abruptly abandoned his position of denial "in toto." "This
isn't my point, Mr. Lagune; this isn't my point," he said. "These
things that are done in the lecture theatre are not to prove facts,
but to give ideas."

"So was my demonstration," said Lagune.

"We didn't understand it in that light."

"Nor does the ordinary person who goes to Science lectures understand
it in that light. He is comforted by the thought that he is seeing
things with his own eyes."

"Well, I don't care," said Smithers; "two wrongs don't make a
right. To rig demonstrations is wrong."

"There I agree with you. I have spoken plainly with this man
Chaffery. He's not a full-blown professor, you know, a highly salaried
ornament of the rock of truth like your demonstration-rigging
professors here, and so I can speak plainly to him without offence.
He takes quite the view they would take. But I am more rigorous. I
insist that there shall be no more of this...."

"Next time--" said Smithers with irony.

"There will be no next time. I have done with elementary
exhibitions. You must take the word of the trained observer--just as
you do in the matter of chemical analysis."

"Do you mean you are going on with that chap when he's been caught
cheating under your very nose?"

"Certainly. Why not?"

Smithers set out to explain why not, and happened on confusion. "I
still believe the man has powers," said Lagune.

"Of deception," said Smithers.

"Those I must eliminate," said Lagune. "You might as well refuse to
study electricity because it escaped through your body. All new
science is elusive. No investigator in his senses would refuse to
investigate a compound because it did unexpected things. Either this
dissolves in acid or I have nothing more to do with it--eh? That's
fine research!"

Then it was the last vestiges of Smithers' manners vanished. "I don't
care _what_ you say," said Smithers. "It's all rot--it's all just
rot. Argue if you like--but have you convinced anybody? Put it to the
vote."

"That's democracy with a vengeance," said Lagune. "A general election
of the truth half-yearly, eh?"

"That's simply wriggling out of it," said Smithers. "That hasn't
anything to do with it at all."

Lagune, flushed but cheerful, was on his way downstairs when Lewisham
overtook him. He was pale and out of breath, but as the staircase
invariably rendered Lagune breathless he did not remark the younger
man's disturbance. "Interesting talk," panted Lewisham. "Very
interesting talk, sir."

"I'm glad you found it so--very," said Lagune.

There was a pause, and then Lewisham plunged desperately. "There is a
young lady--she is your typewriter...."

He stopped from sheer loss of breath.

"Yes?" said Lagune.

"Is she a medium or anything of that sort?"

"Well," Lagune reflected, "She is not a medium, certainly. But--why do
you ask?"

"Oh!... I wondered."

"You noticed her eyes perhaps. She is the stepdaughter of that man
Chaffery--a queer character, but indisputably mediumistic. It's odd
the thing should have struck you. Curiously enough I myself have
fancied she might be something of a psychic--judging from her face."

"A what?"

"A psychic--undeveloped, of course. I have thought once or twice. Only
a little while ago I was speaking to that man Chaffery about her."

"Were you?"

"Yes. He of course would like to see any latent powers developed. But
it's a little difficult to begin, you know."

"You mean--she won't?"

"Not at present. She is a good girl, but in this matter she
is--timid. There is often a sort of disinclination--a queer sort of
feeling--one might almost call it modesty."

"I see," said Lewisham.

"One can override it usually. I don't despair."

"No," said Lewisham shortly. They were at the foot of the staircase
now. He hesitated. "You've given me a lot to think about," he said
with an attempt at an off-hand manner. "The way you talked upstairs;"
and turned towards the book he had to sign.

"I'm glad you don't take up quite such an intolerant attitude as
Mr. Smithers," said Lagune; "very glad. I must lend you a book or
two. If your _cramming_ here leaves you any time, that is."

"Thanks," said Lewisham shortly, and walked away from him. The
studiously characteristic signature quivered and sprawled in an
unfamiliar manner.

"I'm _damned_ if he overrides it," said Lewisham, under his breath.

H.G. Wells