His face shone with extraordinary sweetness as he spoke; and I saw he’d got hold of the secret we’re all after. No, the setting isn’t worthy of her, if you like. The rooms are as shabby and mean as those we used to see him in years ago over the wine shop. I’m not sure they’re not shabbier and meaner. But she rules there at last, she shines and hovers there above him, and there at night, I doubt not, steals down from her cloud to give him the Latmian kiss.
YOU remember—it’s not so long ago—the talk there was about Dredge’s “Arrival of the Fittest”? The talk has subsided, but the book of course remains: stands up, in fact, as the tallest thing of its kind since—well, I’d almost said since “The Origin of Species.”
I’m not wrong, at any rate, in calling it the most important contribution yet made to the development of the Darwinian theory, or rather to the solution of the awkward problem about which that theory has had to make such a circuit. Dredge’s hypothesis will be contested, may one day be disproved; but at least it has swept out of the way all previous conjectures, including of course Lanfear’s magnificent attempt; and for our generation of scientific investigators it will serve as the first safe bridge across a murderous black whirlpool.
It’s all very interesting—there are few things more stirring to the imagination than that sudden projection of the new hypothesis, light as a cobweb and strong as steel, across the intellectual abyss; but, for an idle observer of human motives, the other, the personal, side of Dredge’s case is even more interesting and arresting.
Personal side? You didn’t know there was one? Pictured him simply as a thinking machine, a highly specialized instrument of precision, the result of a long series of “adaptations,” as his own jargon would put it? Well, I don’t wonder—if you’ve met him. He does give the impression of being something out of his own laboratory: a delicate scientific instrument that reveals wonders to the initiated, and is absolutely useless in an ordinary hand.
In his youth it was just the other way. I knew him twenty years ago, as an awkward lout whom young Archie Lanfear had picked up at college, and brought home for a visit. I happened to be staying at the Lanfears’ when the boys arrived, and I shall never forget Dredge’s first appearance on the scene. You know the Lanfears always lived very simply. That summer they had gone to Buzzard’s Bay, in order that Professor Lanfear might be near the Biological Station at Wood’s Holl, and they were picnicking in a kind of sketchy bungalow without any attempt at elegance. But Galen Dredge couldn’t have been more awe-struck if he’d been suddenly plunged into a Fifth Avenue ball-room. He nearly knocked his shock head against the low doorway, and in dodging this peril trod heavily on Mabel Lanfear’s foot, and became hopelessly entangled in her mother’s draperies—though how he managed it I never knew, for Mrs. Lanfear’s dowdy muslins ran to no excess of train.