I thought this shrewd of Archie, as well as generous; and I saw the wisdom of Dredge’s course. As Lanfear himself had said, his theory was safe enough till somebody found a more attractive one; and before that day Dredge would probably have accumulated sufficient proof to crystallize the fluid hypothesis.
THE third winter I was off collecting in Central America, and didn’t get back till Dredge’s course had been going for a couple of months. The very day I turned up in town Archie Lanfear descended on me with a summons from his mother. I was wanted at once at a family council.
I found the Lanfear ladies in a state of incoherent distress, which Archie’s own indignation hardly made more intelligible. But gradually I put together their fragmentary charges, and learned that Dredge’s lectures were turning into an organized assault on his master’s doctrine.
“It amounts to just this,” Archie said, controlling his women with the masterful gesture of the weak man. “Galen has simply turned round and betrayed my father.”
“Just for a handful of silver he left us,” Mabel sobbed in parenthesis, while Mrs. Lanfear tearfully cited Hamlet.
Archie silenced them again. “The ugly part of it is that he must have had this up his sleeve for years. He must have known when he was asked to succeed my father what use he meant to make of his opportunity. What he’s doing isn’t the result of a hasty conclusion: it means years of work and preparation.”
Archie broke off to explain himself. He had returned from Europe the week before, and had learned on arriving that Dredge’s lectures were stirring the world of science as nothing had stirred it since Lanfear’s “Utility and Variation.” And the incredible outrage was that they owed their sensational effect to the fact of being an attempted refutation of Lanfear’s great work.
I own that I was staggered: the case looked ugly, as Archie said. And there was a veil of reticence, of secrecy, about Dredge, that always kept his conduct in a half-light of uncertainty. Of some men one would have said off-hand: “It’s impossible!” But one couldn’t affirm it of him.
Archie hadn’t seen him as yet; and Mrs. Lanfear had sent for me because she wished me to be present at the interview between the two men. The Lanfear ladies had a touching belief in Archie’s violence: they thought him as terrible as a natural force. My own idea was that if there were any broken bones they wouldn’t be Dredge’s; but I was too curious as to the outcome not to be glad to offer my services as moderator.
First, however, I wanted to hear one of the lectures; and I went the next afternoon. The hall was jammed, and I saw, as soon as Dredge appeared, what increased security and ease the interest of his public had given him. He had been clear the year before, now he was also eloquent. The lecture was a remarkable effort: you’ll find the gist of it in Chapter VII of “The Arrival of the Fittest.” Archie sat at my side in a white rage; he was too clever not to measure the extent of the disaster. And I was almost as indignant as he when we went to see Dredge the next day.