Listening Rowe thought, as he often did, that you couldn’t take such an odd world seriously, and yet all the time, in fact, he took it with mortal seriousness.The grand names stood permanently like statues in his mind: names like Justice and Retribution, though what they both boiled down to was simply Mr. Rennit, hundreds and hundreds of Mr. Rennits. But of course, if you believed in God – and the Devil – the thing wasn’t quite so comic. Because the Devil – and God too – had always used comic people, futile people, little suburban natures and the maimed and warped to serve his purposes. When God used them you talked emptily of Nobility and then when devil used them of Wickedness, but the material was only dull shabby human mediocrity in either case.
The beauty of good writing:
“Well, Mr. Rowe, if I were you, I should be unscrupulous. I should just “hang on” to the cake. When he used a colloquialism you could hear the inverted commas drop gently and apologetically around it.”
‘The difference,’ Hilfe said, ‘is that in these days it really pays to murder, and when a thing pays it becomes respectable. The rich abortionist becomes a gynaecologist and the rich thief a bank director. Your friend is out of date.’ ‘Your old-fashioned murderer killed from fear, from hate – or even from love, Mr Rowe, very seldom for substantial profit. None of these reasons is quite – respectable. But to murder for position – that’s different, because when you’ve gained the position nobody has the ‘right to criticise the means’. Nobody will refuse to meet you if the position’s high enough. Think of how many of your statesmen have shaken hands with Hitler. But, of course, to murder for fear or from love, Canon Topling wouldn’t do that. If he killed his wife, he’s lose his preferment,’ and he smiled at Rowe with blithe innocence of what he was saying.
The law had taken a merciful view: himself he took the merciless one. Perhaps if they had hanged him he would have found excuses for himself between the trap-door and the bottom of the drop, but they had given him a lifetime to analyse his motives in.
He analysed now – an unshaven man in dusty clothes sitting in the Tube between Stockwell and Tottenham Court Road. The dreams of the previous night had set his mind in reverse. He remembered himself twenty years ago daydreaming and in love; he remembered without self-pity, as one might watch the development of a biological specimen. He had in those days imagined himself capable of extraordinary heroisms and endurances which would make the girl he loved forget the awkward hands and the spotty chin of adolescence. Everything had seemed possible. One could laugh at daydreams but so long as you had the capacity to daydream, there was a chance that you might develop some of the qualities of which you dreamed. It was like the religious discipline: words however emptily repeated can in time form a habit, a kind of unnoticed sediment at the bottom of the mind – until one day to your own surprise you find yourself acting on the belief you thought you didn’t believe in.