Their minds, lately estranged, seemed suddenly to have been drawn closer, one to the other.
— Do you believe in the eucharist? Cranly asked.
— I do not, Stephen said.
— Do you disbelieve then?
— I neither believe in it nor disbelieve in it, Stephen answered.
— Many persons have doubts, even religious persons, yet they overcome them or put them aside, Cranly said. Are your doubts on that point too strong?
— I do not wish to overcome them, Stephen answered.
Cranly, embarrassed for a moment, took another fig from his pocket and was about to eat it when Stephen said:
— Don't, please. You cannot discuss this question with your mouth full of chewed fig.
Cranly examined the fig by the light of a lamp under which he halted. Then he smelt it with both nostrils, bit a tiny piece, spat it out and threw the fig rudely into the gutter.
Addressing it as it lay, he said:
— Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire!
Taking Stephen's arms, he went on again and said:
— Do you not fear that those words may be spoken to you on the day of Judgement?
— What is offered me on the other hand? Stephen asked. An eternity of bliss in the company of the dean of studies?
— Remember, Cranly said, that he would be glorified.
— Ay, Stephen said somewhat bitterly, bright, agile, impassible and, above all, subtle.
— It is a curious thing, do you know, Cranly said dispassionately, how your mind is supersaturated with the religion in which you say you disbelieve. Did you believe in it when you were at school? I bet you did.
— I did, Stephen answered.
— And were you happier then? Cranly asked softly, happier than you are now, for instance?
— Often happy, Stephen said, and often unhappy. I was someone else then.
— How someone else? What do you mean by that statement?
— I mean, said Stephen, that I was not myself as I am now, as I had to become.
— Not as you are now, not as you had to become, Cranly repeated. Let me ask you a question. Do you love your mother?
Stephen shook his head slowly.
— I don't know what your words mean, he said simply.
— Have you never loved anyone? Cranly asked.
— Do you mean women?
— I am not speaking of that, Cranly said in a colder tone. I ask you if you ever felt love towards anyone or anything?
Stephen walked on beside his friend, staring gloomily at the footpath.
— I tried to love God, he said at length. It seems now I failed. It is very difficult. I tried to unite my will with the will of God instant by instant. In that I did not always fail. I could perhaps do that still —
Cranly cut him short by asking:
— Has your mother had a happy life?
— How do I know? Stephen said.
— How many children had she?
— Nine or ten, Stephen answered. Some died.
— Was your father . . . Cranly interrupted himself for an instant, and then said: I don't want to pry into your family affairs. But was your father what is called well-to-do? I mean, when you were growing up?
— Yes, Stephen said.
— What was he? Cranly asked after a pause.
Stephen began to enumerate glibly his father's attributes.
— A medical student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting politician, a small landlord, a small investor, a drinker, a good fellow, a story-teller, somebody's secretary, something in a distillery, a tax-gatherer, a bankrupt and at present a praiser of his own past.
Cranly laughed, tightening his grip on Stephen's arm, and said:
— The distillery is damn good.
— Is there anything else you want to know? Stephen asked.
— Are you in good circumstances at present?
— Do I look it? Stephen asked bluntly.
— So then, Cranly went on musingly, you were born in the lap of luxury.
He used the phrase broadly and loudly as he often used technical expressions, as if he wished his hearer to understand that they were used by him without conviction.
— Your mother must have gone through a good deal of suffering, he said then. Would you not try to save her from suffering more even if . . . or would you?
— If I could, Stephen said, that would cost me very little.
— Then do so, Cranly said. Do as she wishes you to do. What is it for you? You disbelieve in it. It is a form: nothing else. And you will set her mind at rest.
He ceased and, as Stephen did not reply, remained silent. Then, as if giving utterance to the process of his own thought, he said:
— Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother's love is not. Your mother brings you into the world, carries you first in her body. What do we know about what she feels? But whatever she feels, it, at least, must be real. It must be. What are our ideas or ambitions? Play. Ideas! Why, that bloody bleating goat Temple has ideas. MacCann has ideas too. Every jackass going the roads thinks he has ideas.
Stephen, who had been listening to the unspoken speech behind the words, said with assumed carelessness:
— Pascal, if I remember rightly, would not suffer his mother to kiss him as he feared the contact of her sex.
— Pascal was a pig, said Cranly.
— Aloysius Gonzaga, I think, was of the same mind, Stephen said.
— And he was another pig then, said Cranly.
— The church calls him a saint, Stephen objected.
— I don't care a flaming damn what anyone calls him, Cranly said rudely and flatly. I call him a pig.
Stephen, preparing the words neatly in his mind, continued:
— Jesus, too, seems to have treated his mother with scant courtesy in public but Suarez, a jesuit theologian and Spanish gentleman, has apologized for him.
— Did the idea ever occur to you, Cranly asked, that Jesus was not what he pretended to be?
— The first person to whom that idea occurred, Stephen answered, was Jesus himself.
— I mean, Cranly said, hardening in his speech, did the idea ever occur to you that he was himself a conscious hypocrite, what he called the jews of his time, a whited sepulchre? Or, to put it more plainly, that he was a blackguard?
— That idea never occurred to me, Stephen answered. But I am curious to know are you trying to make a convert of me or a pervert of yourself?
He turned towards his friend's face and saw there a raw smile which some force of will strove to make finely significant.
Cranly asked suddenly in a plain sensible tone:
— Tell me the truth. Were you at all shocked by what I said?
— Somewhat, Stephen said.