“If it is a good government, doctor, how can it be so bad for the people?” said the landlady.
The doctor’s eyes quivered for the fraction of a second, as he watched the other man. He did not look at the landlady.
“It would not matter what kind of mess they made—and they would make a mess, if they governed themselves, the people of India. They would probably make the greatest muddle possible—and start killing one another. But it wouldn’t matter if they exterminated half the population, so long as they did it themselves, and were responsible for it.”
Again his eyes dilated, utterly black, to the eyes of the other man, and an arch little smile flickered on his face.
“I think it would matter very much indeed,” said the landlady. “They had far better not govern themselves.”
She was, for some reason, becoming angry. The little greenish doctor emptied his glass, and smiled again.
“But what difference does it make,” said Aaron Sisson, “whether they govern themselves or not? They only live till they die, either way.” And he smiled faintly. He had not really listened to the doctor. The terms “British Government,” and “bad for the people—good for the people,” made him malevolently angry.
The doctor was nonplussed for a moment. Then he gathered himself together.
“It matters,” he said; “it matters.—People should always be responsible for themselves. How can any people be responsible for another race of people, and for a race much older than they are, and not at all children.”
Aaron Sisson watched the other’s dark face, with its utterly exposed eyes. He was in a state of semi-intoxicated anger and clairvoyance. He saw in the black, void, glistening eyes of the oriental only the same danger, the same menace that he saw in the landlady. Fair, wise, even benevolent words: always the human good speaking, and always underneath, something hateful, something detestable and murderous. Wise speech and good intentions—they were invariably maggoty with these secret inclinations to destroy the man in the man. Whenever he heard anyone holding forth: the landlady, this doctor, the spokesman on the pit bank: or when he read the all-righteous newspaper; his soul curdled with revulsion as from something foul. Even the infernal love and good-will of his wife. To hell with good-will! It was more hateful than ill-will. Self-righteous bullying, like poison gas!
The landlady looked at the clock.
“Ten minutes to, gentlemen,” she said coldly. For she too knew that Aaron was spoiled for her for that night.
The men began to take their leave, shakily. The little doctor seemed to evaporate. The landlady helped Aaron on with his coat. She saw the curious whiteness round his nostrils and his eyes, the fixed hellish look on his face.
“You’ll eat a mince-pie in the kitchen with us, for luck?” she said to him, detaining him till last.