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The Man Who Was Thursday

6. The Exposure
SUCH were the six men who had sworn to destroy the world. Again and again
Syme strove to pull together his common sense in their presence. Sometimes he
saw for an instant that these notions were subjective, that he was only looking at
ordinary men, one of whom was old, another nervous, another short-sighted. The
sense of an unnatural symbolism always settled back on him again. Each figure
seemed to be, somehow, on the borderland of things, just as their theory was on
the borderland of thought. He knew that each one of these men stood at the
extreme end, so to speak, of some wild road of reasoning. He could only fancy,
as in some old-world fable, that if a man went westward to the end of the world
he would find something--say a tree--that was more or less than a tree, a tree
possessed by a spirit; and that if he went east to the end of the world he would
find something else that was not wholly itself--a tower, perhaps, of which the very
shape was wicked. So these figures seemed to stand up, violent and
unaccountable, against an ultimate horizon, visions from the verge. The ends of
the earth were closing in.
Talk had been going on steadily as he took in the scene; and not the least of the
contrasts of that bewildering breakfast-table was the contrast between the easy
and unobtrusive tone of talk and its terrible purport. They were deep in the
discussion of an actual and immediate plot. The waiter downstairs had spoken
quite correctly when he said that they were talking about bombs and kings. Only
three days afterwards the Czar was to meet the President of the French Republic
in Paris, and over their bacon and eggs upon their sunny balcony these beaming
gentlemen had decided how both should die. Even the instrument was chosen;
the black-bearded Marquis, it appeared, was to carry the bomb.
Ordinarily speaking, the proximity of this positive and objective crime would have
sobered Syme, and cured him of all his merely mystical tremors. He would have
thought of nothing but the need of saving at least two human bodies from being
ripped in pieces with iron and roaring gas. But the truth was that by this time he
had begun to feel a third kind of fear, more piercing and practical than either his
moral revulsion or his social responsibility. Very simply, he had no fear to spare
for the French President or the Czar; he had begun to fear for himself. Most of
the talkers took little heed of him, debating now with their faces closer together,
and almost uniformly grave, save when for an instant the smile of the Secretary
ran aslant across his face as the jagged lightning runs aslant across the sky. But
there was one persistent thing which first troubled Syme and at last terrified him.
The President was always looking at him, steadily, and with a great and baffling
interest. The enormous man was quite quiet, but his blue eyes stood out of his
head. And they were always fixed on Syme.