A deep bass note in response came from the upper tier, followed by coughs of protest along the other benches.
The professor paused in his reading and called the next name:
— Mr Cranly!
A smile flew across Stephen's face as he thought of his friend's studies.
— Try Leopardstown! Said a voice from the bench behind.
Stephen glanced up quickly but Moynihan's snoutish face, outlined on the grey light, was impassive. A formula was given out. Amid the rustling of the notebooks Stephen turned back again and said:
— Give me some paper for God's sake.
— Are you as bad as that? asked Moynihan with a broad grin.
He tore a sheet from his scribbler and passed it down, whispering:
— In case of necessity any layman or woman can do it.
The formula which he wrote obediently on the sheet of paper, the coiling and uncoiling calculations of the professor, the spectre-like symbols of force and velocity fascinated and jaded Stephen's mind. He had heard some say that the old professor was an atheist freemason. O the grey dull day! It seemed a limbo of painless patient consciousness through which souls of mathematicians might wander, projecting long slender fabrics from plane to plane of ever rarer and paler twilight, radiating swift eddies to the last verges of a universe ever vaster, farther and more impalpable.
— So we must distinguish between elliptical and ellipsoidal. Perhaps some of you gentlemen may be familiar with the works of Mr W. S. Gilbert. In one of his songs he speaks of the billiard sharp who is condemned to play:
On a cloth untrue
With a twisted cue
And elliptical billiard balls.
— He means a ball having the form of the ellipsoid of the principal axes of which I spoke a moment ago.
Moynihan leaned down towards Stephen's ear and murmured:
— What price ellipsoidal balls! chase me, ladies, I'm in the cavalry!
His fellow student's rude humour ran like a gust through the cloister of Stephen's mind, shaking into gay life limp priestly vestments that hung upon the walls, setting them to sway and caper in a sabbath of misrule. The forms of the community emerged from the gust-blown vestments, the dean of studies, the portly florid bursar with his cap of grey hair, the president, the little priest with feathery hair who wrote devout verses, the squat peasant form of the professor of economics, the tall form of the young professor of mental science discussing on the landing a case of conscience with his class like a giraffe cropping high leafage among a herd of antelopes, the grave troubled prefect of the sodality, the plump round-headed professor of Italian with his rogue's eyes. They came ambling and stumbling, tumbling and capering, kilting their gowns for leap frog, holding one another back, shaken with deep false laughter, smacking one another behind and laughing at their rude malice, calling to one another by familiar nicknames, protesting with sudden dignity at some rough usage, whispering two and two behind their hands.
The professor had gone to the glass cases on the side wall, from a shelf of which he took down a set of coils, blew away the dust from many points and, bearing it carefully to the table, held a finger on it while he proceeded with his lecture. He explained that the wires in modern coils were of a compound called platinoid lately discovered by F. W. Martino.
He spoke clearly the initials and surname of the discoverer. Moynihan whispered from behind:
— Good old Fresh Water Martin!
— Ask him, Stephen whispered back with weary humour, if he wants a subject for electrocution. He can have me.
Moynihan, seeing the professor bend over the coils, rose in his bench and, clacking noiselessly the fingers of his right hand, began to call with the voice of a slobbering urchin.
— Please teacher! This boy is after saying a bad word, teacher.
— Platinoid, the professor said solemnly, is preferred to German silver because it has a lower coefficient of resistance by changes of temperature. The platinoid wire is insulated and the covering of silk that insulates it is wound on the ebonite bobbins just where my finger is. If it were wound single an extra current would be induced in the coils. The bobbins are saturated in hot paraffin wax . . .
A sharp Ulster voice said from the bench below Stephen:
— Are we likely to be asked questions on applied science?
The professor began to juggle gravely with the terms pure science and applied science. A heavy-built student, wearing gold spectacles, stared with some wonder at the questioner. Moynihan murmured from behind in his natural voice:
— Isn't MacAlister a devil for his pound of flesh?
Stephen looked coldly on the oblong skull beneath him overgrown with tangled twine-coloured hair. The voice, the accent, the mind of the questioner offended him and he allowed the offence to carry him towards wilful unkindness, bidding his mind think that the student's father would have done better had he sent his son to Belfast to study and have saved something on the train fare by so doing.
The oblong skull beneath did not turn to meet this shaft of thought and yet the shaft came back to its bowstring; for he saw in a moment the student's whey-pale face.
— That thought is not mine, he said to himself quickly. It came from the comic Irishman in the bench behind. Patience. Can you say with certitude by whom the soul of your race was bartered and its elect betrayed — by the questioner or by the mocker? Patience. Remember Epictetus. It is probably in his character to ask such a question at such a moment in such a tone and to pronounce the word SCIENCE as a monosyllable.
The droning voice of the professor continued to wind itself slowly round and round the coils it spoke of, doubling, trebling, quadrupling its somnolent energy as the coil multiplied its ohms of resistance.
Moynihan's voice called from behind in echo to a distant bell:
— Closing time, gents!
The entrance hall was crowded and loud with talk. On a table near the door were two photographs in frames and between them a long roll of paper bearing an irregular tail of signatures. MacCann went briskly to and fro among the students, talking rapidly, answering rebuffs and leading one after another to the table. In the inner hall the dean of studies stood talking to a young professor, stroking his chin gravely and nodding his head.
Stephen, checked by the crowd at the door, halted irresolutely. From under the wide falling leaf of a soft hat Cranly's dark eyes were watching him.
— Have you signed? Stephen asked.
Cranly closed his long thin-lipped mouth, communed with himself an instant and answered:
— EGO HABEO.
— What is it for?
— What is it for?
Cranly turned his pale face to Stephen and said blandly and bitterly:
— PER PAX UNIVERSALIS.
Stephen pointed to the Tsar's photograph and said:
— He has the face of a besotted Christ.
The scorn and anger in his voice brought Cranly's eyes back from a calm survey of the walls of the hall.
— Are you annoyed? he asked.
— No, answered Stephen.
— Are you in bad humour?
— CREDO UT VOS SANGUINARIUS MENDAX ESTIS, said Cranly, QUIA FACIES VOSTRA MONSTRAT UT VOS IN DAMNO MALO HUMORE ESTIS.