Turnbull looked down and saw that the polished car was literally lit up from underneath by the far-flung fires from below. Underneath whole squares and solid districts were in flames, like prairies or forests on fire.
“Dr. Hertz has convinced everybody,” said Turnbull’s cicerone in a smooth voice, “that nothing can really be done with the real slums. His celebrated maxim has been quite adopted. I mean the three celebrated sentences: ’No man should be unemployed. Employ the employables. Destroy the unemployables.’”
There was a silence, and then Turnbull said in a rather strained voice: “And do I understand that this good work is going on under here?”
“Going on splendidly,” replied his companion in the heartiest voice. “You see, these people were much too tired and weak even to join the social war. They were a definite hindrance to it.”
“And so you are simply burning them out?”
“It does seem absurdly simple,” said the man, with a beaming smile, “when one thinks of all the worry and talk about helping a hopeless slave population, when the future obviously was only crying to be rid of them. There are happy babes unborn ready to burst the doors when these drivellers are swept away.”
“Will you permit me to say,” said Turnbull, after reflection, “that I don’t like all this?”
“And will you permit me to say,” said the other, with a snap, “that I don’t like Mr. Evan MacIan?”
Somewhat to the speaker’s surprise this did not inflame the sensitive sceptic; he had the air of thinking thoroughly, and then he said: “No, I don’t think it’s my friend MacIan that taught me that. I think I should always have said that I don’t like this. These people have rights.”
“Rights!” repeated the unknown in a tone quite indescribable. Then he added with a more open sneer: “Perhaps they also have souls.”
“They have lives!” said Turnbull, sternly; “that is quite enough for me. I understood you to say that you thought life sacred.”
“Yes, indeed!” cried his mentor with a sort of idealistic animation. “Yes, indeed! Life is sacred—but lives are not sacred. We are improving Life by removing lives. Can you, as a free-thinker, find any fault in that?”
“Yes,” said Turnbull with brevity.
“Yet you applaud tyrannicide,” said the stranger with rationalistic gaiety. “How inconsistent! It really comes to this: You approve of taking away life from those to whom it is a triumph and a pleasure. But you will not take away life from those to whom it is a burden and a toil.”
Turnbull rose to his feet in the car with considerable deliberation, but his face seemed oddly pale. The other went on with enthusiasm.
“Life, yes, Life is indeed sacred!” he cried; “but new lives for old! Good lives for bad! On that very place where now there sprawls one drunken wastrel of a pavement artist more or less wishing he were dead—on that very spot there shall in the future be living pictures; there shall be golden girls and boys leaping in the sun.”