—Do you believe in the law of heredity?
—Are you drunk or what are you or what are you trying to say? asked Cranly, facing round on him with an expression of wonder.
—The most profound sentence ever written, Temple said with enthusiasm, is the sentence at the end of the zoology. Reproduction is the beginning of death.
He touched Stephen timidly at the elbow and said eagerly:
—Do you feel how profound that is because you are a poet?
Cranly pointed his long forefinger.
—Look at him! he said with scorn to the others. Look at Ireland’s hope!
They laughed at his words and gesture. Temple turned on him bravely, saying:
—Cranly, you’re always sneering at me. I can see that. But I am as good as you any day. Do you know what I think about you now as compared with myself?
—My dear man, said Cranly urbanely, you are incapable, do you know, absolutely incapable of thinking.
—But do you know, Temple went on, what I think of you and of myself compared together?
—Out with it, Temple! the stout student cried from the steps. Get it out in bits!
Temple turned right and left, making sudden feeble gestures as he spoke.
—I’m a ballocks, he said, shaking his head in despair. I am and I know I am. And I admit it that I am.
Dixon patted him lightly on the shoulder and said mildly:
—And it does you every credit, Temple.
—But he, Temple said, pointing to Cranly, he is a ballocks, too, like me. Only he doesn’t know it. And that’s the only difference I see.
A burst of laughter covered his words. But he turned again to Stephen and said with a sudden eagerness:
—That word is a most interesting word. That’s the only English dual number. Did you know?
—Is it? Stephen said vaguely.
He was watching Cranly’s firm-featured suffering face, lit up now by a smile of false patience. The gross name had passed over it like foul water poured over an old stone image, patient of injuries; and, as he watched him, he saw him raise his hat in salute and uncover the black hair that stood stiffly from his forehead like an iron crown.
She passed out from the porch of the library and bowed across Stephen in reply to Cranly’s greeting. He also? Was there not a slight flush on Cranly’s cheek? Or had it come forth at Temple’s words? The light had waned. He could not see.
Did that explain his friend’s listless silence, his harsh comments, the sudden intrusions of rude speech with which he had shattered so often Stephen’s ardent wayward confessions? Stephen had forgiven freely for he had found this rudeness also in himself. And he remembered an evening when he had dismounted from a borrowed creaking bicycle to pray to God in a wood near Malahide. He had lifted up his arms and spoken in ecstasy to the sombre nave of the trees, knowing that he stood on holy ground and in a holy hour. And when two constabulary men had come into sight round a bend in the gloomy road he had broken off his prayer to whistle loudly an air from the last pantomime.