Fisher glanced at his friend’s face and went on. “You look horrified, and the thing is horrible. But other things are horrible, too. If some obscure man had been hag-ridden by a blackmailer and had his family life ruined, you wouldn’t think the murder of his persecutor the most inexcusable of murders. Is it any worse when a whole great nation is set free as well as a family? By this warning to Sweden we shall probably prevent war and not precipitate it, and save many thousand lives rather more valuable than the life of that viper. Oh, I’m not talking sophistry or seriously justifying the thing, but the slavery that held him and his country was a thousand times less justifiable. If I’d really been sharp I should have guessed it from his smooth, deadly smiling at dinner that night. Do you remember that silly talk about how old Isaac could always play his fish? In a pretty hellish sense he was a fisher of men.”
Harold March took the oars and began to row again.
“I remember,” he said, “and about how a big fish might break the line and get away.”
Two men, the one an architect and the other an archaeologist, met on the steps of the great house at Prior’s Park; and their host, Lord Bulmer, in his breezy way, thought it natural to introduce them. It must be confessed that he was hazy as well as breezy, and had no very clear connection in his mind, beyond the sense that an architect and an archaeologist begin with the same series of letters. The world must remain in a reverent doubt as to whether he would, on the same principles, have presented a diplomatist to a dipsomaniac or a ratiocinator to a rat catcher. He was a big, fair, bull-necked young man, abounding in outward gestures, unconsciously flapping his gloves and flourishing his stick.
“You two ought to have something to talk about,” he said, cheerfully. “Old buildings and all that sort of thing; this is rather an old building, by the way, though I say it who shouldn’t. I must ask you to excuse me a moment; I’ve got to go and see about the cards for this Christmas romp my sister’s arranging. We hope to see you all there, of course. Juliet wants it to be a fancy-dress affair—abbots and crusaders and all that. My ancestors, I suppose, after all.”
“I trust the abbot was not an ancestor,” said the archaeological gentleman, with a smile.
“Only a sort of great-uncle, I imagine,” answered the other, laughing; then his rather rambling eye rolled round the ordered landscape in front of the house; an artificial sheet of water ornamented with an antiquated nymph in the center and surrounded by a park of tall trees now gray and black and frosty, for it was in the depth of a severe winter.
“It’s getting jolly cold,” his lordship continued. “My sister hopes we shall have some skating as well as dancing.”
“If the crusaders come in full armor,” said the other, “you must be careful not to drown your ancestors.”