“Or kissing,” Kelson interrupted.
“Or any of the other so-called vices,” Hamar continued. “So we can manage that all right. As to cheating—having nothing to cheat with—according to instructions we’ve got to keep in with each other, so present company is excepted—we must pass over that. Now—how about thieving!”
“Never done any yet, so can’t say,” Curtis exclaimed.
“Nor I either,” Kelson put in rather hurriedly.
“Well, I didn’t suppose you had!” Hamar laughed; “though, after all, more than half the world does thieve—all employers steal labour from their employes, all tradesmen steal a profit—the wholesale man from the middleman—the middleman from the retailer. Every Government thieves. Look at England—righteous England! At one time or another she has stolen land in every part of the world. But theft is an ugly word. When statesmen steal it’s called diplomacy, when the rich steal it’s called kleptomania or business, and it’s only when the poor steal that stealing is termed theft. We who have every excuse—we who are starving—will be content with—that is to say—we will only take—just enough to keep us alive—a few lumps of sugar, a handful of raisins, or a loaf of bread. How about that?”
“I might manage that,” Curtis said. “I might—but I don’t want to get caught.”
“And you, Matt?”
“I don’t mind stealing food so much,” Kelson said. “In the face of so much wealth—and waste too—it seems a bigger sin to starve than to steal a loaf of bread.”
“The lying and stealing are fixed then,” Hamar laughed. “What you have to do, too, is to make the most of every opportunity you can find of doing people—present company excepted—bad turns.”
“I don’t see how—in our present condition—we can do any one much harm,” Curtis remarked. “We haven’t even the means to buy a tin sword, let alone a bomb or pistol. If we wish them ill, perhaps, that will do instead.”
“Possibly—but don’t be such an ass as to wish any one any good!” Hamar said. “Do your best to carry out the injunctions I have given you, and we will meet here, this day week, to discuss the tests.”
Seven days later, Hamar again knocked at Curtis’s and Kelson’s door and walked in. A faint sigh of relief escaped him.
“I see we are all right so far,” he said. “I wondered whether I should find you both flown, or lying stretched in the icy hands of death. Have you experimented?”
“We have,” Curtis said. “We’ve done our best. In what way, we prefer not to say.”