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His Examination

From: The Wonder


Challis's first visit was paid to Sir Deane Elmer,[4] that man of many
activities, whose name inevitably suggests his favourite phrase of
"Organised Progress"--with all its variants.

This is hardly the place in which to criticise a man of such diverse
abilities as Deane Elmer, a man whose name still figures so prominently
in the public press in connection with all that is most modern in
eugenics; with the Social Reform programme of the moderate party; with
the reconstruction of our penal system; with education, and so many
kindred interests; and, finally, of course, with colour photography and
process printing. This last Deane Elmer always spoke of as his hobby,
but we may doubt whether all his interests were not hobbies in the same
sense. He is the natural descendant of those earlier amateur
scientists--the adjective conveys no reproach--of the nineteenth
century, among whom we remember such striking figures as those of Lord
Avebury and Sir Francis Galton.

In appearance Deane Elmer was a big, heavy, rather corpulent man, with a
high complexion, and his clean-shaven jowl and his succession of chins
hung in heavy folds. But any suggestion of material grossness was
contradicted by the brightness of his rather pale-blue eyes, by his
alertness of manner, and by his ready, whimsical humour.

As chairman of the Ailesworth County Council, and its most prominent
unpaid public official--after the mayor--Sir Deane Elmer was certainly
the most important member of the Local Authority, and Challis wisely
sought him at once. He found him in the garden of his comparatively
small establishment on the Quainton side of the town. Elmer was very
much engaged in photographing flowers from nature through the ruled
screen and colour filter--in experimenting with the Elmer process, in
fact; by which the intermediate stage of a coloured negative is rendered
unnecessary. His apparatus was complicated and cumbrous.

"Show Mr. Challis out here," he commanded the man who brought the

"You must forgive me, Challis," said Elmer, when Challis appeared. "We
haven't had such a still day for weeks. It's the wind upsets us in this
process. Screens create a partial vacuum."

He was launched on a lecture upon his darling process before Challis
could get in a word. It was best to let him have his head, and Challis
took an intelligent interest.

It was not until the photographs were taken, and his two assistants
could safely be trusted to complete the mechanical operations, that
Elmer could be divorced from his hobby. He was full of jubilation. "We
should have excellent results," he boomed--he had a tremendous
voice--"but we shan't be able to judge until we get the blocks made. We
do it all on the spot. I have a couple of platens in the shops here; but
we shan't be able to take a pull until to-morrow morning, I'm afraid.
You shall have a proof, Challis. We should get magnificent results."
He looked benignantly at the vault of heaven, which had been so
obligingly free from any current of air.

Challis was beginning to fear that even now he would be allowed no
opportunity to open the subject of his mission. But quite suddenly Elmer
dropped the shutter on his preoccupation, and with that ready
adaptability which was so characteristic of the man, forgot his hobby
for the time being, and turned his whole attention to a new subject.

"Well?" he said, "what is the latest news in anthropology?"

"A very remarkable phenomenon," replied Challis. "That is what I have
come to see you about."

"I thought you were in Paraguay pigging it with the Guaranis----"

"No, no; I don't touch the Americas," interposed Challis. "I want all
your attention, Elmer. This is important."

"Come into my study," said Elmer, "and let us have the facts. What will
you have--tea, whisky, beer?"

Challis's resume of the facts need not be reported. When it was
accomplished, Elmer put several keen questions, and finally delivered
his verdict thus:

"We must see the boy, Challis. Personally I am, of course, satisfied,
but we must not give Crashaw opportunity to raise endless questions, as
he can and will. There is Mayor Purvis, the grocer, to be reckoned with,
you must remember. He represents a powerful Nonconformist influence.
Crashaw will get hold of him--and work him if we see Purvis first.
Purvis always stiffens his neck against any breach of conventional
procedure. If Crashaw saw him first, well and good, Purvis would
immediately jump to the conclusion that Crashaw intended some subtle
attack on the Nonconformist position, and would side with us."

"I don't think I know Purvis," mused Challis.

"Purvis & Co. in the Square," prompted Elmer. "Black-and-white fellow;
black moustache and side whiskers, black eyes and white face. There's a
suggestion of the Methodist pulpit about him. Doesn't appear in the shop
much, and when he does, always looks as if he'd sooner sell you a Bible
than a bottle of whisky."

"Ah, yes! I know," said Challis. "I daresay you're right, Elmer; but it
will be difficult to persuade this child to answer any questions his
examiners may put to him."

"Surely he must be open to reason," roared Elmer. "You tell me he has an
extraordinary intelligence, and in the next sentence you imply that the
child's a fool who can't open his mouth to serve his own interests.
What's your paradox?"

"Sublimated material. Intellectual insight and absolute spiritual
blindness," replied Challis, getting to his feet. "The child has gone
too far in one direction--in another he has made not one step. His mind
is a magnificent, terrible machine. He has the imagination of a
mathematician and a logician developed beyond all conception, he has not
one spark of the imagination of a poet. And so he cannot deal with men;
he can't understand their weaknesses and limitations; they are geese and
hens to him, creatures to be scared out of his vicinity. However, I will
see what I can do. Could you arrange for the members of the Authority to
come to my place?"

"I should think so. Yes," said Elmer. "I say, Challis, are you sure
you're right about this child? Sounds to me like some--some freak."

"You'll see," returned Challis. "I'll try and arrange an interview. I'll
let you know."

"And, by the way," said Elmer, "you had better invite Crashaw to be
present. He will put Purvis's back up, and that'll enlist the difficult
grocer on our side probably."

When Challis had gone, Elmer stood for a few minutes, thoughtfully
scratching the ample red surface of his wide, clean-shaven cheek. "I
don't know," he ejaculated at last, addressing his empty study, "I don't
know." And with that expression he put all thought of Victor Stott away
from him, and sat down to write an exhaustive article on the necessity
for a broader basis in primary education.


Challis called at the rectory of Stoke-Underhill on the way back to his
own house.

"I give way," was the characteristic of his attitude to Crashaw, and the
rector suppled his back again, remembered the Derby office-boy's
tendency to brag, and made the amende honorable. He even overdid his
magnanimity and came too near subservience--so lasting is the influence
of the lessons of youth.

Crashaw did not mention that in the interval between the two interviews
he had called upon Mr. Purvis in the Square. The ex-mayor had refused to
commit himself to any course of action.

But Challis forgot the rectory and all that it connoted before he was
well outside the rectory's front door. Challis had a task before him
that he regarded with the utmost distaste. He had warmly championed a
cause; he had been heated by the presentation of a manifest injustice
which was none the less tyrannical because it was ridiculous. And now he
realised that it was only the abstract question which had aroused his
enthusiastic advocacy, and he shrank from the interview with Victor
Stott--that small, deliberate, intimidating child.

Henry Challis, the savant, the man of repute in letters, the respected
figure in the larger world; Challis, the proprietor and landlord;
Challis, the power among known men, knew that he would have to plead, to
humble himself, to be prepared for a rebuff--worst of all, to
acknowledge the justice of taking so undignified a position. Any
aristocrat may stoop with dignity when he condescends of his own free
will; but there are few who can submit gracefully to deserved contempt.

Challis was one of the few. He had many admirable qualities.
Nevertheless, during that short motor ride from Stoke to his own house,
he resented the indignity he anticipated, resented it intensely--and


He was allowed no respite. Victor Stott was emerging from the library
window as Challis rolled up to the hall door. It was one of Ellen Mary's
days--she stood respectfully in the background while her son descended;
she curtsied to Challis as he came forward.

He hesitated a moment. He would not risk insult in the presence of his
chauffeur and Mrs. Stott. He confronted the Wonder; he stood before him,
and over him like a cliff.

"I must speak to you for a moment on a matter of some importance," said
Challis to the little figure below him, and as he spoke he looked over
the child's head at the child's mother. "It is a matter that concerns
your own welfare. Will you come into the house with me for a few

Ellen Mary nodded, and Challis understood. He turned and led the way. At
the door, however, he stood aside and spoke again to Mrs. Stott. "Won't
you come in and have some tea, or something?" he asked.

"No, sir, thank you, sir," replied Ellen Mary; "I'll just wait 'ere till
'e's ready."

"At least come in and sit down," said Challis, and she came in and sat
in the hall. The Wonder had already preceded them into the house. He had
walked into the morning-room--probably because the door stood open,
though he was now tall enough to reach the handles of the Challis Court
doors. He stood in the middle of the room when Challis entered.

"Won't you sit down?" said Challis.

The Wonder shook his head.

"I don't know if you are aware," began Challis, "that there is a system
of education in England at the present time, which requires that every
child should attend school at the age of five years, unless the parents
are able to provide their children with an education elsewhere."

The Wonder nodded.

Challis inferred that he need proffer no further information with regard
to the Education Act.

"Now, it is very absurd," he continued, "and I have, myself, pointed out
the absurdity; but there is a man of some influence in this
neighbourhood who insists that you should attend the elementary school."
He paused, but the Wonder gave no sign.

"I have argued with this man," continued Challis, "and I have also seen
another member of the Local Education Authority--a man of some note in
the larger world--and it seems that you cannot be exempted unless you
convince the Authority that your knowledge is such that to give you a
Council school education would be the most absurd farce."

"Cannot you stand in loco parentis?" asked the Wonder suddenly, in his
still, thin voice.

"You mean," said Challis, startled by this outburst, "that I am in a
sense providing you with an education? Quite true; but there is Crashaw
to deal with."

"Inform him," said the Wonder.

Challis sighed. "I have," he said, "but he can't understand." And then,
feeling the urgent need to explain something of the motives that govern
this little world of ours--the world into which this strangely logical
exception had been born--Challis attempted an exposition.

"I know," he said, "that these things must seem to you utterly absurd,
but you must try to realise that you are an exception to the world about
you; that Crashaw or I, or, indeed, the greatest minds of the present
day, are not ruled by the fine logic which you are able to exercise. We
are children compared to you. We are swayed even in the making of our
laws by little primitive emotions and passions, self-interests, desires.
And at the best we are not capable of ordering our lives and our
government to those just ends which we may see, some of us, are
abstractly right and fine. We are at the mercy of that great mass of the
people who have not yet won to an intellectual and discriminating
judgment of how their own needs may best be served, and whose
representatives consider the interests of a party, a constituency, and
especially of their own personal ambitions and welfare, before the needs
of humanity as a whole, or even the humanity of these little islands.

"Above all, we are divided man against man. We are split into parties
and factions, by greed and jealousies, petty spites and self-seeking, by
unintelligence, by education, and by our inability--a mental
inability--'to see life steadily and see it whole,' and lastly, perhaps
chiefly, by our intense egotisms, both physical and intellectual.

"Try to realise this. It is necessary, because whatever your wisdom, you
have to live in a world of comparative ignorance, a world which cannot
appreciate you, but which can and will fall back upon the compelling
power of the savage--the resort to physical, brute force."

The Wonder nodded. "You suggest----?" he said.

"Merely that you should consent to answer certain elementary questions
which the members of the Local Authority will put to you," replied
Challis. "I can arrange that these questions be asked here--in the
library. Will you consent?"

The Wonder nodded, and made his way into the hall, without another word.
His mother rose and opened the front door for him.

As Challis watched the curious couple go down the drive, he sighed
again, perhaps with relief, perhaps at the impotence of the world of


There were four striking figures on the Education Committee selected by
the Ailesworth County Council.

The first of these was Sir Deane Elmer, who was also chairman of the
Council at this time. The second was the vice-chairman, Enoch Purvis,
the ex-mayor, commonly, if incorrectly, known as "Mayor" Purvis.

The third was Richard Standing, J.P., who owned much property on the
Quainton side of the town. He was a bluff, hearty man, devoted to sport
and agriculture; a Conservative by birth and inclination, a staunch
upholder of the Church and the Tariff Reform movement.

The fourth was the Rev. Philip Steven, a co-opted member of the
Committee, head master of the Ailesworth Grammar School. Steven was a
tall, thin man with bent shoulders, and he had a long, thin face, the
length of which was exaggerated by his square brown beard. He wore
gold-mounted spectacles which, owing to his habit of dropping his head,
always needed adjustment whenever he looked up. The movement of lifting
his head and raising his hand to his glasses had become so closely
associated, that his hand went up even when there was no apparent need
for the action. Steven spoke of himself as a Broad Churchman, and in his
speech on prize-day he never omitted some allusion to the necessity for
"marching" or "keeping step" with the times. But Elmer was inclined to
laugh at this assumption of modernity. "Steven," he said, on one
occasion, "marks time and thinks he is keeping step. And every now and
then he runs a little to catch up." The point of Elmer's satire lay in
the fact that Steven was usually to be seen either walking very slowly,
head down, lost in abstraction; or--when aroused to a sense of present
necessity--going with long-strides as if intent on catching up with the
times without further delay. Very often, too, he might be seen running
across the school playground, his hand up to those elusive glasses of
his. "There goes Mr. Steven, catching up with the times," had become an
accepted phrase.

There were other members of the Education Committee, notably Mrs. Philip
Steven, but they were subordinate. If those four striking figures were
unanimous, no other member would have dreamed of expressing a contrary
opinion. But up to this time they had not yet been agreed upon any
important line of action.

This four, Challis and Crashaw met in the morning-room of Challis Court
one Thursday afternoon in November. Elmer had brought a stenographer
with him for scientific purposes.

"Well," said Challis, when they were all assembled. "The--the subject--I
mean, Victor Stott is in the library. Shall we adjourn?" Challis had not
felt so nervous since the morning before he had sat for honours in the
Cambridge Senate House.

In the library they found a small child, reading.


He did not look up when the procession entered, nor did he remove his
cricket cap. He was in his usual place at the centre table.

Challis found chairs for the Committee, and the members ranged
themselves round the opposite side of the table. Curiously, the effect
produced was that of a class brought up for a viva voce examination, and
when the Wonder raised his eyes and glanced deliberately down the line
of his judges, this effect was heightened. There was an audible
fidgeting, a creak of chairs, an indication of small embarrassments.

"Her--um!" Deane Elmer cleared his throat with noisy vigour; looked at
the Wonder, met his eyes and looked hastily away again; "Hm!--her--rum!"
he repeated, and then he turned to Challis. "So this little fellow has
never been to school?" he said.

Challis frowned heavily. He looked exceedingly uncomfortable and
unhappy. He was conscious that he could take neither side in this
controversy--that he was in sympathy with no one of the seven other
persons who were seated in his library.

He shook his head impatiently in answer to Sir Deane Elmer's question,
and the chairman turned to the Rev. Philip Steven, who was gazing
intently at the pattern of the carpet.

"I think, Steven," said Elmer, "that your large experience will probably
prompt you to a more efficient examination than we could conduct. Will
you initiate the inquiry?"

Steven raised his head slightly, put a readjusting hand up to his
glasses, and then looked sternly at the Wonder over the top of them.
Even the sixth form quailed when the head master assumed this
expression, but the small child at the table was gazing out of the

Doubtless Steven was slightly embarrassed by the detachment of the
examinee, and blundered. "What is the square root of 226?" he asked--he
probably intended to say 225.

"15.03329--to five places," replied the Wonder.

Steven started. Neither he nor any other member of the Committee was
capable of checking that answer without resort to pencil and paper.

"Dear me!" ejaculated Squire Standing.

Elmer scratched the superabundance of his purple jowl, and looked at
Challis, who thrust his hands into his pockets and stared at the

Crashaw leaned forward and clasped his hands together. He was biding his

"Mayor" Purvis alone seemed unmoved. "What's that book he's got open in
front of him?" he asked.

"May I see?" interposed Challis hurriedly, and he rose from his chair,
picked up the book in question, glanced at it for a moment, and then
handed it to the grocer. The book was Van Vloten's Dutch text and Latin
translation of Spinoza's Short Treatise.

The grocer turned to the title-page. "Ad--beany--dick--ti--de--Spy--nozer,"
he read aloud and then: "What's it all about, Mr. Challis?" he asked.
"German or something, I take it?"

"In any case it has nothing to do with elementary arithmetic," replied
Challis curtly, "Mr. Steven will set your mind at ease on that point."

"Certainly, certainly," murmured Steven.

Grocer Purvis closed the book carefully and replaced it on the desk.
"What does half a stone o' loaf sugar at two-three-farthings come to?"
he asked.

The Wonder shook his head. He did not understand the grocer's

"What is seven times two and three quarters?" translated Challis.

"19.25," answered the Wonder.

"What's that in shillin's?" asked Purvis.


"Wrong!" returned the grocer triumphantly.

"Er--excuse me, Mr. Purvis," interposed Steven, "I think not.
The--the--er--examinee has given the correct mathematical answer to five
places of decimals--that is, so far as I can check him mentally."

"Well, it seems to me," persisted the grocer, "as he's gone a long way
round to answer a simple question what any fifth-standard child could do
in his head. I'll give him another."

"Cast it in another form," put in the chairman. "Give it as a
multiplication sum."

Purvis tucked his fingers carefully into his waistcoat pockets. "I put
the question, Mr. Chairman," he said, "as it'll be put to the youngster
when he has to tot up a bill. That seems to be a sound and practical
form for such questions to be put in."

Challis sighed impatiently. "I thought Mr. Steven had been delegated to
conduct the first part of the examination," he said. "It seems to me
that we are wasting a lot of time."

Elmer nodded. "Will you go on, Mr. Steven?" he said.

Challis was ashamed for his compeers. "What children we are," he

Steven got to work again with various arithmetical questions, which were
answered instantly, and then he made a sudden leap and asked: "What is
the binomial theorem?"

"A formula for writing down the coefficient of any stated term in the
expansion of any stated power of a given binomial," replied the Wonder.

Elmer blew out his cheeks and looked at Challis, but met the gaze of Mr.
Steven, who adjusted his glasses and said, "I am satisfied under this

"It's all beyond me," remarked Squire Standing frankly.

"I think, Mr. Chairman, that we've had enough theoretical arithmetic,"
said Purvis. "There's a few practical questions I'd like to put."

"No more arithmetic, then," assented Elmer, and Crashaw exchanged a
glance of understanding with the grocer.

"Now, how old was our Lord when He began His ministry?" asked the

"Uncertain," replied the Wonder.

Mr. Purvis smiled. "Any Sunday-school child knows that!" he said.

"Of course, of course," murmured Crashaw.

But Steven looked uncomfortable. "Are you sure you understand the
purport of the answer, Mr. Purvis?" he asked.

"Can there be any doubt about it?" replied the grocer. "I asked how old
our Lord was when He began His ministry, and he"--he made an indicative
gesture with one momentarily released hand towards the Wonder--"and he
says he's 'uncertain.'"

"No, no," interposed Challis impatiently, "he meant that the answer to
your question was uncertain."

"How's that?" returned the grocer. "I've always understood----"

"Quite, quite," interrupted Challis. "But what we have always understood
does not always correspond to the actual fact."

"What did you intend by your answer?" put in Elmer quickly, addressing
the Wonder.

"The evidence rests mainly on Luke's Gospel," answered the Wonder, "but
the phrase '{archomenos hosei eton triakonta}' is vague--it allows
latitude in either direction. According to the chronology of John's
Gospel the age might have been about thirty-two."

"It says 'thirty' in the Bible, and that's good enough for me," said the
grocer, and Crashaw muttered "Heresy, heresy," in an audible under tone.

"Sounds very like blarsphemy to me," said Purvis, "like doubtin' the
word of God. I'm for sending him to school."

Deane Elmer had been regarding the face of the small abstracted child
with considerable interest. He put aside for the moment the grocer's
intimation of his voting tendency.

"How many elements are known to chemists?" asked Elmer of the examinee.

"Eighty-one well characterised; others have been described," replied the

"Which has the greatest atomic weight?" asked Elmer.


"And that weight is?"

"On the oxygen basis of 16--238.5."

"Extraordinary powers of memory," muttered Elmer, and there was silence
for a moment, a silence broken by Squire Standing, who, in a loud voice,
asked suddenly and most irrelevantly, "What's your opinion of Tariff

"An empirical question that cannot be decided from a theoretical basis,"
replied the Wonder.

Elmer laughed out, a great shouting guffaw. "Quite right, quite right,"
he said, his cheeks shaking with mirth. "What have you to say to that,

"I say that Tariff Reform's the only way to save the country," replied
Squire Standing, looking very red and obstinate, "and if this

Challis rose to his feet. "Oh! aren't you all satisfied?" he said. "Is
this Committee here to argue questions of present politics? What more
evidence do you need?"

"I'm not satisfied," put in Purvis resolutely, "nor is the Rev. Mr.
Crashaw, I fancy."

"He has no vote," said Challis. "Elmer, what do you say?"

"I think we may safely say that the child has been, and is being,
provided with an education elsewhere, and that he need not therefore
attend the elementary school," replied Elmer, still chuckling.

"On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, is that what you put to the
meeting?" asked Purvis.

"This is quite informal," replied Elmer. "Unless we are all agreed, the
question must be put to the full Committee."

"Shall we argue the point in the other room?" suggested Challis.

"Certainly, certainly," said Elmer. "We can return, if necessary."

And the four striking figures of the Education Committee filed out,
followed by Crashaw and the stenographer.

Challis, coming last, paused at the door and looked back.

The Wonder had returned to his study of Spinoza.

Challis waved a hand to the unconscious figure. "I must join my
fellow-children," he said grimly, "or they will be quarrelling."


But when he joined his fellow-children, Challis stood at the window of
the morning-room, attending little to the buzz of voices and the clatter
of glasses which marked the relief from the restraint of the
examination-room. Even the stenographer was talking; he had joined
Crashaw and Purvis--a lemonade group; the other three were drinking
whisky. The division, however, is arbitrary, and in no way significant.

Challis caught a fragment of the conversation here and there: a
bull-roar from Elmer or Squire Standing; an occasional blatancy from
Purvis; a vibrant protest from Crashaw; a hesitating tenor pronouncement
from Steven.

"Extraordinary powers of memory.... It isn't facts, but what they stand
for that I.... Don't know his Bible--that's good enough for me....
Heresy, heresy.... An astounding memory, of course, quite astounding,

The simple exposition of each man's theme was dogmatically asserted, and
through it all Challis, standing alone, hardly conscious of each
individual utterance, was still conscious that the spirits of those six
men were united in one thing, had they but known it. Each was
endeavouring to circumscribe the powers of the child they had just
left--each was insistent on some limitation he chose to regard as vital.

They came to no decision that afternoon. The question as to whether the
Authority should prosecute or not had to be referred to the Committee.

At the last, Crashaw entered his protest and announced once more that he
would fight the point to the bitter end.

Crashaw's religious hatred was not, perhaps, altogether free from a
sense of affronted dignity, but it was nevertheless a force to be
counted; and he had that obstinacy of the bigot which has in the past
contributed much fire and food to the pyre of martyrdom. He had, too, a
power of initiative within certain limits. It is true that the bird on a
free wing could avoid him with contemptuous ease, but along his own path
he was a terrifying juggernaut. Crashaw, thus circumscribed, was a
power, a moving force.

But now he was seeking to crush, not some paralysed rabbit on the road,
but an elusive spirit of swiftness which has no name, but may be figured
as the genius of modernity. The thing he sought to obliterate ran ahead
of him with a smiling facility and spat rearwards a vaporous jet of

Crashaw might crush his clerical wideawake over his frowning eyebrows,
arm himself with a slightly dilapidated umbrella, and seek with long,
determined strides the members of the Local Education Authority, but far
ahead of him had run an intelligence that represented the instructed
common sense of modernity.

It was for Crashaw to realise--as he never could and never did
realise--that he was no longer the dominant force of progress; that he
had been outstripped, left toiling and shouting vain words on a road
that had served its purpose, and though it still remained and was used
as a means of travel, was becoming year by year more antiquated and

Crashaw toiled to the end, and no one knows how far his personal purpose
and spite were satisfied, but he could never impede any more that
elusive spirit of swiftness; it had run past him.

Next: His Interview With Herr Grossmann

Previous: His Pastors And Masters

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