"Render Unto Caesar”
A dramatic story of cleric and congregation and their worship of the Golden Calf
THE big man—big as judged by the size of his combined bank accounts, the big shot, to indicate his status still more clearly —glanced at the card his secretary handed him with instant recognition.
“Show him in,” he said, and as he let the card fall on his desk he glanced through his window at the lake front far beneath him, a cynical smile on his lips.
High in his office under the roof of the city’s tallest building, like an eagle in its eyrie, there were more points of resemblance between the king of birds and Simon Reckal than the
mere location of stronghold. There was the beak-like nose, the ruddy folds of flesh beneath his chin, and, above all, his habit of cocking his eye downward with a seeking, considering gaze. But he looked up sharply enough as the dixir opened.
The clergyman who was ushered in could not have looked more the opposite of the so-called financier. He was jiale, scholarly, asetic looking; narrow where Simon Reckal was broad, that is. across the head, neck, shoulders and middle, and broad where Reckal was narrow—between the eyes.
"Mr. Wilbert, I believe,” he said, nodding. “Have a chair.”
The visitor sat down, balancing his hat uixm his knees.
Perplexity and resentment registered on the clerical countenance.
“I thought you understood from my letter,” he answered rather curtly. “You replied by asking me to call. I supposed you had something to say.”
“That’s right,” said Reckal. He looked as though he appreciated Wilbert's frankness. “I have your letter here.” he went on after a momentary pause, and he waved it lightly to and fro between his index finger and thumb. “I turn down stacks of these even,year. I get hundreds of ’em. Your letter isn’t any different from the rest except that most of ’em, when they want money from me for charity and such like, don’t call me names. But I’ve been thinking of these letters quite a lot lately, perhaps because just now I’m getting more of them than usual, and when yours came the other day I thought I’d liave you in to get your point of view.
“What I want to know is this,” the financier continued, his voice rising as he came to the point. “Why, when all of you people feel that I’m such a sinner and make my money by such rotten methods, as your sort call it, why do you want to have anything to do with it? Especially you? I was bom in your town, as you know, and before I was thirty they practically ran me out.”
The clergyman was ready with his answer. Apparently he had come prepared to answer such a question.
"Money,” he said quickly, leaning forward in his seat, “is merely a medium of exchange, a force like electricity. It is the purposes for which it is used that make it good or evil. I don’t see how money in itself can be contaminated. In my hands, some of that money which you have taken from the poor of the world will be returned to them.”
"I see,” said Reckal, eyeing the clergyman sideways. "That’s why you feel at liberty to pan me loud and long, and yet at the same time try to touch me for charity and the church and so on.”
“I’m not a hypocrite. Mr. Reckal.” said the clergyman calmly. “I can’t help saying what I believe to be true. 1 think tliat a man who has led your sort of life and has done the things everybody says you have done ought to give thanks for the opportunity of giving. Have you no conscience, Mr. Reckal?”
“I see,” said Reckal once again. “I begin to catch on.” He paused, still cocking his eye at his visitor. “Now give me a cliance to get my ideas across,” and he leaned back in his swivel chair, his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat. “I believe,” he declared with emphasis, "that every man lias a right to wliat he can legally eam. no more and no less. It’s his, and it’s nobody’s dam business what he does with it. It’s my philosophy that even,man, one way or another, gets just as much as he deserves. I’ve got no use for this sentiment stuff—a lesson that I learned right in my own home town. For that reason I’ve never given to charity just to ease what you call my conscienceand I’m not going to do it now.”
HTHE clergyman stared with surprise and disappointment.
“But I’ll tell you what I’ll do,”
Reckal added slowly, showing his teeth in a smile which this time betrayed no cynicism. “I’m going to make you a proposition. I’ll give you a cha nee to make money for your church or whatever you want it for. The market isn’t anything to get excited about, on the whole, these days, but all the same I can give you a sure-fire tip. Something is going to—”
“Mr. Reckal—” broke in the clergyman sharply. He was sitting bolt upright, gripping the arms of his chair.
The financier, still smiling, held up a ponderous hand. “It’s a simple enough matter,” he said. “There’s no use getting all het up about it. Rockefeller would have jumped at it in his early days, and I understand that now he builds churches as a side line. It’s queer, the kinks some men get.” Wilbert’s face bore a strained, horrified look.
“Do you mean to say you expect me to gamble for money—me?” he demanded.
“Why not?” said Reckal easily. He drew a cigar from one waistcoat pocket and a lighter from another. “According to your own words,” he went on, “it doesn’t matter how the money comes so long as it goes in the right direction.”
“Mr. Reckal,” the other cried in a high-pitched voice, “you misquote me maliciously. What I said was that the money itself remains untainted.”
“You said,” returned Reckal, unperturbed, “that it was the purpose for which the money was spent that made it
good or bad. Can you think of a better purpose than the one you’ve got your mind on?” He watched the clergyman closely, and followed through with his argument. ‘‘I’ve heard that in one church there’s a good old motto that the end justifies the means. Is that right?”
After gazing fixedly at Reckal for a few seconds, Wilbert rose and strolled over to the nearest window, where he stood for a few moments looking out over the lake. Then he turned to the man who had been good-humoredly observing his mental contortions.
“Suppose,” said Wilbert, looking doubtful and very ill at ease, “suppose I didn’t accept the proposal—tip, you
call it—would someone else put in the money and gain the amount I would get?”
“A solid thing like this doesn’t go begging long these days,” Reckal answered quickly through a cloud of smoke.
“There doesn’t seem much difference, then, between that and taking your money.”
“Not much,” admitted Reckal, a trace of pique in his voice.
"Anybody like yourself who put in the money would keep on gambling,” suggested the clergyman. “But I—”
“You’ll invest the profits in charity,” Reckal finished for him.
“But I can’t afford to risk the money,” Wilbert said faintly.
“I’ll guarantee you won’t lose. You’ll be safe. As for what you may make”—Reckal peered with a dry smile at the other’s eager, halffrightened face—“well, that we can’t tell.” He waited with seeming disinterest. Then: “How about it?” The clergyman looked into his hat as if it were a well that held the answer at the bottom, then at Reckal.
“How much would it take?” he asked presently.
“As much as you want to put up. The more you scrape together, the more you make. What could be fairer than that? And you needn’t have your money out for more than a week. What do you say? Take it or leave it. That’s all I can do for charity.”
“I’ll take it.”
and “Good,” said Reckal. “Pull your
chair up here. But listen, there’s one thing more on your side of the bargain. I’m going to give you confidential information. You understand it’s not to be passed to anyone. You’ve got to be sure of that.”
“Oh, quite sure,” Wilbert said instantly. “I think you can trust me for that.”
WHEN Reverend Mr. Wilbert reached his home early in the evening, his wife met him in the small entrance hall of the parsonage. Her eyes, usually so placid and patient, travelled over him with a wondering, half-startled look.
“Is anything the matter, Henry?” she asked.
“Matter? Not that I know of.” But his reply was
slightly strained. Mrs. Wilbert was far from satisfied.
"Ypu look strange,” she jxrsisted. "There’s something odd about you.” She took hold of his arm anxiously. “Ido hope there’s been nothing disagreeable about the church.”
"What makes you suppose there's been anything disagreeable?” he asked uneasily. "Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact; very excellent, indeed.” He tried to be light and airy.
“What?” she pressed eagerly.
He looked at her with a start. He realized that the situation was getting dangerous, and his expression became that of a harassed man groping for an explanation.
“Oh, nothing, nothing,” was the best he could muster.
His wife showed increasing perplexity and wonder.
“But you said something was excellent. What was excellent?”
“Nothing of practical importance.” he floundered. “I merely went to the musical affair at the university this afternoon. That English organist played, the one the paj)ers have been talking about. It was most inspiring.”
“Oh,” said Mrs. Wilbert with a falling inflection.
“You should havé heard him, dear,” he went on, failing to see the flimsiness of his alibi. He enlarged upon the theme as he followed his wife into the dining room. It was a fact that he had been in the audience at the musicale. He had sought distraction following his nerve-racking interview with Reckal and his quick following of the financier’s advice. His system had demanded an antidote for the poison of simulation that had suddenly found a channel into his blood. He seized upon it as a legitimate means of allaying his wife’s curiosity.
But when they were opjxjsite each other at the table, he saw she was not listening to him. She was studying his face, his gestures. He tried to subdue himself to his natural demeanor; tried to screen himself behind a flow of small talk, asking her questions on the local news of the day.
"Henry,” she said at last, laying down her knife and fork, “you are keeping something from me. You know you are and I know it.”
Wilbert contrived an expression of surprise.
“Why, Mary,” he exclaimed, “why on earth—”
“You’re not yourself,” she interrupted. “You can’t deceive me—and you needn’t try.”
“Deceive you!” he echoed. As he fought for self-control his brain telegraphed an order for simulated indignation. “Because I come home in an unusually happy and serene
frame of mind, you conclude that something strange and disagreeable has happened. And when I can't immediately tell you what has caused my g humor—the musicale— you accuse me of deceptum. Is that reasonable? Is it kind?”
leaving his wife crushed by this circumstantial statement of the case, Wilbert rose abruptly from the table. His wife called after him as he went into the hall, but he replied that he had suddenly remembered an engagement on some church matters and hurried out of the house. He hastened along the street with an excitement that heightened as he proceeded, as if he were trying to escape, not only from his wife but from himself as well, trying to walk off and leave behind him his bursting secret knowledge. Though he followed streets at random and turned comers haphazardly. there was something in his consciousness, a delinite mental influence, that led him to the home of Elbert Ginley, town clerk, and perhaps the chief pillar of the church.
Wilbert hesitated at the gate, then with an effort composed himself and went resolutely up the steps and rang the bell.
GINLEY was in the front room, indulging in luxurious after-supper relaxation, his stockinged feet to a fire which took the chill from the autumn evening. His expansive presence was a relief to the clergyman’s overstrung nerves. The conversation turned upon the weather, then on Ginley’s new police pup which eyed Wilbert alertly from its position on the rug, then on through local economic conditions to unemployment relief. From that it was but a step to the matter of the church fund for the needy.
"How did things go in the city?” asked Ginley. "Get any subscriptions? Did Reckal come through?” He had been aware of the clergyman’s purpose, and after some argument about its propriety had finally endorsed it.
Wilbert fidgetted. “N-no,” he said, and averted his eyes.
Ginley looked sharply at his excited face and the tense pose of his angular figure.
"Hope nothing went wrong there,” he observed. "Reckal’s a sly cuss.”
“Wrong?” Wilbert rapped out irritably.
“Do l look as if something was wrong?”
"Well, not in the sense of sin,” Ginley replied with a fat chuckle, “but you do look upset, for a fact. Don’t ever remember seeing you look so worried. What’s on your mind?"
Wilbert leaned forward abruptly.
“What would you think,” he said, slowly and impressively, “if I should tell you it was something good?”
Ginley's eyes widened with curiosity.
“Something for a good end,” Wilbert went on with growing excitement, “for an end that is sacred, but something in itself so extraordinary for me that I never dreamed of doing such a thing in my life."
Ginley sat upright.
“This sounds serious," he said ponderously.
“And you’ve come to me for advice. That’s good.”
Wilbert looked embarrassed and awkward.
"Ginley,” he said weakly, "you know how I esteem your advice upon every point.
Usually we act together, but this particular case is different. I’m in an odd position. The fact is —I can’t tell you.”
Ginley’s mouth opened in astonishment.
"Not tell me!” he echoed. "Why—but—”
He gathered himself together with an effort.
"Wilbert, I never heard that from you before.
It hurts me a good deal.”
"I’ve promised not to tell anyone,” the clergyman protested, “and I ain't break my word."
Ginley looked at Wilbert with all the injury and pique of balked curiosity.
“Well, don’t if you don’t want to,” he declared brusquely. “I ain’t the man to pry into other folks’ secrets. If you think you ain’t trust me “It isn't that,” said Wilbert wretchedly. “You see. I have what they call inside information, and it's a point of honor among business men " He broke off, horrified to find that already he had revealed half his secret.
“Oh, if that’s it” —Ginley caught at the hint eagerly — "secrecy is a gixxl rule among business men, but what's it got to do with you? You ain’t a business man. and as far as I'm concerned I'm retired. What'd be the harm in telling me? You've almost told me already."
Perhaps the Reverend Mr. Wilbert was led on by these arguments; perhaps he was overwhelmed by the passion of revelation that consumed him. However that might be, in the course of a few minutes their chairs were drawn close together, and the clergyman’s transaction in the market that afternoon passed to the ears of his astonished friend.
Ginley was honestly shocked.
“But it’s gambling,” he cried; and with a sudden turn of thought added: "Suppose you lose?”
"It’s perfectly safe in this case,” Wilbert explained. “Reckal guaranteed the stock to lxsafe, and he must know. He may have something to do with it himself.”
Ginley was more impressed, but still lie shook his head.
"It looks dangerous to me,” he said. “Looks like tempting the devil.”
“If I had not,” the clergyman argued, “some other man with an unworthy end in view would have bought the stock. It amounts to rescuing a little money from a bad purpose for a good purpose. And think of how much we need it. Think of the unemployed.”
A sharp rap at the door startled the men apart guiltily like two conspirators. It was Mrs. Ginley who entered. She was a thin, long-waisted woman, with a narrow, abutting chin, and cold grey eyes set close together. She looked sharply at the men, greeted the minister in a penetrating, rasping voice, and, collecting her knitting from the mantelpiece, withdrew with a backward glance at her husband.
The men looked at each other a little constrainedly.
“There’s something in what you say,” Ginley remarked, taking up the conversation again with an effort. “Yet it’s a dangerous business, and I can't say 1 think it’s right for a minister. What would the folks think?”
“But you won’t mention it to anyone surely,” Wilbert remonstrated, his expression one of concentrated warning. “You mustn’t breathe a word.”
“Don’t be afraid,” the other returned, a serious look in
his eyes. "I wouldn’t dare tell. I agree with you that the idea, the motive, might be misunderstood. Trust me to keep my mouth shut.”
As the clergyman passed through the hall on his way out, he thought he caught a glimpse of a woman’s head peering over the banisters.
r"PHE following morning Ginley stopped Wilbert as the -*■ latter was i>assing the post-office.
"1 see by the paper that the stock's rising," he said cautiously. "1 hope everything will turn out lor the best."
The members of Mr. W ilbert's congregation were not. as a rule, supplied with more diverting or entertaining subjects for conversation than the rest of the town, but all at once they seemed to have acquired a special interest in what was going on about them. Items that seemed trivial to outsiders were discussed with avid interest. It was said
that Mr. Wilbert had gone to the city the previous day and had spent the evening at the Ginleys; stray sentences had reaciied the ears of Mrs. Ginley; Mrs. Wilbert looked worried about something, was not quite herself at the meeting of the Helping Hand Guide. Conversations at the sewing circle had never been so interesting. Mrs. Wilbert became a target for looks; some shocked, some amused, all of them curious. Her manner was discussed among the members after the circle had broken up and in groups of twos and threes they hurried away.
Mrs. Barclay, the grocer's wife, went to see her husband at his store. Miss Jones changed her mind about going to tea with Mrs. Ginley and crossed the street to call on Myra Billing, who had been absent on account of a heavy cold.
As the week advanced, Wilbert’s high elation had declined to nervous expectancy, and his congregation in their turn reflected his change of mood. Never had his movements and actions excited so much interest, nor had his words been so attentively heeded. Once he was obliged to extricate himself from a conversation with Mr. Barclay which the latter had guided toward the subject of stocks and investments.
The Sunday following Wilbert’s market transaction, the attendance at church was almost a record. He spoke on the beauty of giving with unusual energy and conviction, his face flushed, his thin hair tossed on his forehead, and the people listened with rapt attention. Ginley observed after the service that the discourse seemed to have touched a responsive chord.
“It was a triumph,” Mrs. Wilbert told her husband as they walked home, “and now that it’s over, I hope you’ll be easier in your mind.”
She had not questioned Wilbert since that first evening nor had he given her any information, and her eyes still held that perplexed, annoyed look. ,
“Nothing is troubling me,” ht'said, but he dropped his high exultation and was irritable and moody all evening.
All day Monday he worked hard among the needy of his congregation and of the town in general, seeking all the while to get his mind off his adventure in the world of finance. He looked so worn that Mrs. Wilbert decided not to wake him on Tuesday morning, and he was still asleep at the unheard-of hour of nine-thirty when Ginley arrived in a tempestuous state of mind and obliged her to summon him.
Wilbert hurried into his clothes, his face betraying his anxiety, and, but half awake, went down to the library. Ginley was walking up and down the room with rapid steps, the newspaper he held in his hand, almost crushed to a wisp. Mrs. Wilbert stood by, speechless with alarm.
Ginley whirled about as the clergyman came into the room, and Wilbert stopped in dismay at the sight of his visitor’s face. It was pale and set in forbidding lines, under wild, upstanding tufts of grey hair.
“Tell me what this means?’’ Ginley demanded angrily, advancing on Wilbert and shaking the newspaper. ♦
“Mr. Ginley!’’ Wilbert expostulated, involuntarily stepping back.
“Don’t mister me,” the other shouted. “Look at that. Read that! His fat forefinger pointed.
VWTLBERT READ. He read the article twice before the figures brought any meaning to his mind.
“Why—why—” he stammered in piteous bewilderment.
“Yes,” Ginley roared, “the bottom’s dropped out of it!”
“But he said it was safe—safe!” Wilbert’s voice rose to a wail of despair.
“Then he lied.” Ginley brought his fist down on the table. “Five hundred dollars— every darned cent I put in—I’ve lost!”
“Every cent you put in,” Wilbert cried. “What were you doing in it?”
“I guess I’d as much right in it as you,” the other retorted furiously. “What harm could it have done to me? What harm could it have done to any of us if it hadn’t been a crooked deal?”
"Any of us?" Wilbert echoed, with a sharp movement toward Ginley. “What do you mean?”
"I’ll tell you what he means.” A husky voice sounded behind the clergyman.
Turning. Wilbert saw the burly form of Barclay in the doorway. The grocer's face was dark red and his little blue eyes were snapping.
"Ginley means me,” Barclay said. “And he means Peters, the druggist, and old Miss Jones who put in all she
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owned, and the Billings with six kids to keep—God knows how they’ll get through the winter. You. our minister—you deceived us, led us all astray.”
Wilbert, white as paper, turned to Ginley. "Did you tell him?” he said, pointing a trembling finger at Barclay.
Ginley’s mouth opened and shut, but no i sound escaped him.
I “His wife told my wife,” Barclay spoke
up roughly. Shame and humiliation were in his eyes, but he brazened it out. “If you didn’t want anyone to know, what business had you to tell, yourself, in the first place?”
Wilbert put his hand to his forehead and groaned.
“Henry,” his wife called in a horrified voice. She pushed past Barclay and ran to where her husband stood. “Oh, Henry! Are you ill?”
He shook her hand off his arm.
“It isn’t true. It can't be. There's some mistake!” he said wildly. “Get my hat, Mary, and my coat. Still clutching the newspaper in his nerveless hand, he felt rather than saw his way into the hall. To his wife’s entreaties for him to lie down, to tell her what had happened, he answered in a high, excited voice: “I must go to the city. I’m going to the city.”
“I shall go with you, then,” she insisted. Paying no attention. Wilbert seized his hat and coat and hurried headlong out of the house. His wife followed him as quickly as she could, and caught up with him as he turned the corner near the station.
On the way to the city she got the story out of him in incoherent sentences. After her first exclamation she did not speak, though at every step in the recital she grew paler. Amazement, incredulity and anguish were in her eyes. But she only tried to quiet his hysterical excitement, urging him to command himself, to speak lower, until the elevator finally let them out at Simon Reckal’s eyrie under the roof.
THEY waited but a few minutes before the office functionary who had taken Wilbert’s card returned and motioned them to follow.
Reckal sat tipped back in his chair. His eyes opened in surprise, first at the clergyman’s dishevelment and then at the woman who accompanied him. He bent his head in acknowledgment of her presence, but before he could offer her a chair she had drawn one up to the window as if she wanted them to understand that she left them alone.
“Well,” said Reckal, turning to the minister.
Wilbert still was suffering from agitation, and he spoke jerkily.
"Mr. Reckal,” he began, “I don’t understand. I should like to know what this means?” And with a shaking finger he pointed to the column in the newspaper which he still held in his hand.
Reckal cocked his eye down at it.
"H’m yes— I’m afraid it’s gone blooey,” he said coolly.
“But you said I wouldn’t lose," the minister cried accusingly.
“Why, so I did." Reckal agreed, “and you're not go—going to. I always keep my word.”
The financier reached for his cheque bcxik, filled out a blank to the amount of $400, tore it out and handed it to Wilbert.
"That squares us. doesn't it?” he asked. The clergyman’s face flashed from pure amazement to horrified incredulity.
"But you said the stock was safe,” Wilbert blurted.
"I said nothing of the sort,” returned Reckal calmly. “I said I'd guarantee you didn't lose.”
“But you let me think it was safe. You deceived me.”
“Well, what difference does it make since you’ve got your money back? You’ve got no kick coming.”
Wilbert looked at the cheque, tried to speak, looked at Reckal and swallowed convulsively.
“But he’s not the only one,” broke in Mrs. Wilbert in her quiet voice. She rose from her chair and came to her husband's side. “There are the poor people wrho put their money into it without knowing. Some of them have lost all they had.”
Reckal’s eyebrows shot up to a peak of sarcasm and astonishment.
“So that’s it,” he exclaimed. “He told!” Wilbert flinched before the financier’s amused scorn.
“My dear madam.” said Reckal, turning to Mrs. Wilbert, “your husband gave me his word not to repeat the information. Can you hold me responsible?”
“I’m not defending my husband,” she said, fixing her eyes dauntlessly upon Reckal’s face. “He did a very wrong thing when he broke his word, and he did a very wrong thing when he accepted your proposal. There is no excuse for him. But he is weak, as you probably saw, and you are
strong. He was carried away with the ; prospect of what he might be able to do for ; the people of our district who are in need ! of food and shelter and clothing. In normal ! times I think he would have spurned your tip; wouldn’t even have come, most likely. | He asked you to give ’ to the church’s unemployment fund because you are rich. You refused, but instead of simply sending him away, as you ought to have done, you took advantage of his eagerness to help unfortunate people and tempted him.” Reckal’s browshot up again.
“I? Tempted? But. my dear madam —’’ “You tempted him,’’ she repeated steadily. “You can deny it, but in your heart you know it’s true. He never would have thought of such a thing if you hadn’t put it into his head. You can’t shift the whole responsibility to his shoulders. You can’t deny that the misery of these people is on your shoulders as well.”
Reckal had risen. His disclaiming expres; sion had faded. He was listening at ten-1 tively, admitting and accepting her accusation by his demeanor. Yet there v'as a shade of satire in his face.
“I won't say you are wrong—that is. all j wrong,” he said quietly. “Say, I tempted your husband; say, I gave him a chance to show he’s just like other men and those other people have suffered for it. Supposing it’s true, what d’ye want me to do about it?” There was a sly smile in his eyes as if he guessed what it would be, and his hand moved toward his cheque book.
APPARENTLY she did not see the 4* motion.
“What can you do about it?” Her eyes were fixed on him. eyes grave and full of denunciation. “Can you make matters right between those people and their consciences for what they have done gambled with their resources, with the means of feeding and clothing themselves and their children? Can you make things right with my husband? Can you take away his shame or make it possible for him to forget he broke his word? All the money in the world can’t do that. No one can set that right but God.”
Reckal’s hand dropped from the table. A faint red spot appeared upon his forehead.
“As for this,” she said, putting her finger on the $400 cheque, “do you think my husband would take that?”
“Oh, that’s all right.” said Reckal brusquely. “That was in the bargain.” “Which my husband didn’t keep," she retorted.
Mechanically Wilbert pushed the cheque across the table toward Reckal.
Reckal gazed steadfastly at Mrs. Wilbert for a moment. He looked nonplussed, as if he didn’t quite grasp her attitude. The situation was new to him. Never before had ¡ he been brought face to face with the kind of discount which she had put on money. To him, money was all powerful, the one | remedy, the one solace.
He stood frowning at her. trying to make | up his mind; then, as if with a fresh thought. ! he filled out another cheque and held it toward lier.
“Mrs. Wilbert,” he said in a tone of defeat, “you make it hard for me.”
She read the four figures on the cheque and drew back.
“Oh, no! That is worse. That is more— I’m sure it is more—than all of us lost together.”
“It is not to square either your husband or the other people,” Reckal said. “And it’s not to square me. Let’s put it this way: It’s just to see that nobody suffers. You said something about children, and this is going to be a hard winter. And it’s not for charity either.” he added. “They’re just getting back something you think belongs to them. It’s no more for charity than it is to put me right with —my conscience.
“And if it makes you feel any better to know it,” he added, with a queer smile, “nothing can square that now—as you said a minute ago—except God.”