Much the best way out of this difficulty is to go in for separation between internal and external—subject and object—when we find this convenient, and unity between the same when we find unity convenient. This is illogical, but extremes are alone logical, and they are always absurd, the mean is alone practicable and it is always illogical. It is faith and not logic which is the supreme arbiter. They say all roads lead to Rome, and all philosophies that I have ever seen lead ultimately either to some gross absurdity, or else to the conclusion already more than once insisted on in these pages, that the just shall live by faith, that is to say that sensible people will get through life by rule of thumb as they may interpret it most conveniently without asking too many questions for conscience sake. Take any fact, and reason upon it to the bitter end, and it will ere long lead to this as the only refuge from some palpable folly.
But to return to my story. When Ernest got to the top of the street and looked back, he saw the grimy, sullen walls of his prison filling up the end of it. He paused for a minute or two. “There,” he said to himself, “I was hemmed in by bolts which I could see and touch; here I am barred by others which are none the less real—poverty and ignorance of the world. It was no part of my business to try to break the material bolts of iron and escape from prison, but now that I am free I must surely seek to break these others.”
He had read somewhere of a prisoner who had made his escape by cutting up his bedstead with an iron spoon. He admired and marvelled at the man’s mind, but could not even try to imitate him; in the presence of immaterial barriers, however, he was not so easily daunted, and felt as though, even if the bed were iron and the spoon a wooden one, he could find some means of making the wood cut the iron sooner or later.
He turned his back upon Eyre Street Hill and walked down Leather Lane into Holborn. Each step he took, each face or object that he knew, helped at once to link him on to the life he had led before his imprisonment, and at the same time to make him feel how completely that imprisonment had cut his life into two parts, the one of which could bear no resemblance to the other.
He passed down Fetter Lane into Fleet Street and so to the Temple, to which I had just returned from my summer holiday. It was about half past nine, and I was having my breakfast, when I heard a timid knock at the door and opened it to find Ernest.
I had begun to like him on the night Towneley had sent for me, and on the following day I thought he had shaped well. I had liked him also during our interview in prison, and wanted to see more of him, so that I might make up my mind about him. I had lived long enough to know that some men who do great things in the end are not very wise when they are young; knowing that he would leave prison on the 30th, I had expected him, and, as I had a spare bedroom, pressed him to stay with me, till he could make up his mind what he would do.