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Tikera; or, Children of the Queen of Oceania

Chapter IX The troubles of a Teutonic Don Juan

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Chapter IX The troubles of a Teutonic Don Juan

I thought I would never see her again. I felt empty, and as if I had lost part of my strength. My heart seemed to ache. Was it remorse at the memory of my false promises, or did I genuinely miss her? I could not analyse my feelings. So often the mysteries of one's own heart are the most difficult to understand.

Yet I strained my gaze after her, for as long as I could see the plumed fern trees parting as they were pushed aside by her sturdy shoulders, and could hear the stalks and twigs snapping beneath her swift tread. I counted her retreating steps. Their number speedily increased. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred. Finally we were separated by too great a number of paces. I could see her no longer.

‘Adieu, Tikera!’ I shouted. ‘In spite of what you say, I shall remember your Maori name. Tomorrow they may greet you as Miss Jenny, but she's no girl of mine.’

Then I set off. After I had gone a few paces, I instinctively turned round and looked towards the place where I had last seen the bushes moving.

Good God! They were moving again! Their trembling rapidly approached me. Was it the girl returning, or a search party catching up with me? Should I wait and see who it was, or run and hide?

I chose the latter course. Lying behind a bush I waited with held breath to see who was following me. There soon appeared the squat shape of the grey-haired tohunga closely followed by my friend Schaeffer struggling beneath his bulky pack.

They halted. The old Maori pointed the way and pushed his companion unceremoniously in my direction. Then the tohunga turned back and gradually disappeared. The German rushed along as though a whole horde of Valkyries were in pursuit. When he was level with me I called out ‘Halt!’

He started nervously but quickly recognized me. He embraced me, repeating several times: ‘Come on! Time is precious.’

‘It's precious all right,’ I said. ‘I feel as if that self-righteous teacher was breathing down my neck. I'm in a hurry too!’

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‘If you knew him as well as I do, you'd be in even more of a hurry,’ said he, without slackening his pace. ‘What would you have done if you'd found yourself between him and a dozen brown devils all brandishing their hatchets so close to your ears that the swish seemed to pierce your skull and made you tremble all over? If you want to know what these fiends are really like, you should hear them howling “utu! utu!”’

‘What! They wanted blood money from you? Whatever for?’

‘They wanted to torture me to death—to kill me! And don't forget that these cannibals have not yet forgotten the taste of human flesh. Their ovens were so close that I feel hot all over when I think of it.’

‘Whatever caused such a scene?’

‘Can't you guess? Women.’

‘Why don't you just say “a woman”. I know you too well to ask the details of each of your affairs but a woman must have been involved. Where is she?’

‘Not a woman—women. The plural. Two of them.’

‘So you couldn't make do with one? Whom else did you play about with, apart from the teacher's sister?’

‘I didn't play about with anyone. I simply got engaged in a conversation with the teacher's wife.’

‘It must have been an edifying conversation. Why did she meddle with your affairs?’

‘I'm damned if I know. I kept saying to myself “Karl, Karl, you should know better than to boil milk in two saucepans at once. One will boil over.” This time both did, and the cook nearly had his throat cut.’

‘Stop talking in riddles. Tell me the story properly.’

‘Well, here it is. I'd finally succeeded in conveying to the girl, all in sign language, that I adored her, and we'd received the doubtful blessing of that brown-skinned Protestant Jesuit, when suddenly the other woman tells me, also in sign language, that she loves me to distraction. This time it wouldn't have done to ask for a blessing. I knew all about Mr Potiphar. Besides, quite honestly I found the woman utterly repulsive. All the same, civility, vanity, or plain cussedness wouldn't let me show her how I felt. I thought she might be useful, and ….’

‘And you paid compliments to both.’

“That's right. I murmured sweet nothings to one and let the other make up to me. It was extremely difficult to carry on such a complicated intrigue, but for a few days I managed incredibly well. page 99 Yesterday was the runanga. My Dulcinea invited me in sign language to attend. Touching my head, I made her understand that I didn't feel well. She repeated her invitation, so I wrapped my head in a towel. She asked if I had a headache. I nodded. She explained that, most reluctantly, she had to go to the runanga to cook the warriors' food. I released her, begging her to return as soon as she could to her suffering lover. Off she went, and I didn't expect her back for some time.”

‘If you worked that trick to be alone with the teacher's wife, you fully deserved to be cooked by the Maoris—and eaten, unsalted.’

‘I really did feel a little off colour,’ he continued, quite disregarding my remarks. ‘I went outside to enjoy the fresh air. By sheer bad luck, my hostess was out too, chopping wood. I sat on a log near her, surrounded by grubby children, and completely oblivious to the growing maize, which was high enough to conceal a man on horseback or my suspicious Dulcinea should she want to be my guardian angel.’

‘And you were just sitting on the log?’

‘Yes, with no ulterior motive at all. I played with the children and conversed with their mother, as well as I could. It wasn't my fault that she couldn't understand and dropped her work to sit down beside me. It wasn't my fault either that the wind was in her direction so that I couldn't smell her rank odour. Nor was it my fault that despite her dark complexion her face was marvellously smooth and her eyes so piercing that they reached my heart. So when she put her baby on my knees to show me how pretty he was, I somehow lost my bearings, and instead of bestowing a kiss on his forehead I kissed his mother's lips.’

‘I thought you said you found her repulsive. What on earth tempted you?’

‘Really, she teased me. I saw from her eyes that she was begging for a kiss for herself, not for the child at all. It wasn't my first encounter with coloured women. I know how they appreciate a white man's attentions. You can say easily enough that they smell or that you can't bear them, but the fact of the matter is that women are women, and they are attractive. The first kiss is easy, but the next is more difficult—for they certainly smell.’

‘So it all ended with the first kiss?’

‘Well, the second followed after some delay. And that would have been the end of it, even if a deus ex machina had not prevented me from taking a third.’

Deus ex machina?’

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‘Her husband, followed by his sister. He showed up first, bursting in on us like a thunder clap. I felt as if all the cells in my brain had exploded. Then I was beaten to the ground.’

‘Were you struck without any warning?’

‘Without any warning—and quite pitilessly too! He bashed me on the head with a block of wood.’

‘Who did?’

‘The husband. The other hussy went straight to him when she saw me fondling the children. Both of them had hidden in the maize to spy on me. After that second smelly kiss, I had no time to make a face before they fell on me.’

‘Then what happened?’

‘The first thing I became aware of when I regained consciousness was that my tongue hurt. I must have bitten it when he hit me. Then I realized that my head ached. Look what a lump he gave me!’

‘I can see that. Then what?’

‘Hundreds—thousands—of pains all over me. He really had beaten me unmercifully.’

‘Didn't you defend yourself?’

‘What with?’

‘Fists, teeth, anything you could use.’

‘I couldn't do much against him. All Maoris are strong as bears and agile as monkeys.’

‘And courageous,’ I interjected, ‘which all Europeans most certainly are not. So he gave you a proper thrashing?’

‘He did indeed. But that wasn't all. He grabbed me, pretty well strangled me, and dragged me in front of the chief. You see, he was after ransom. He might have killed me, but he didn't—because he thought I had money in Auckland. According to the law and the treaties between the English and the Maoris, the native chiefs’ verdicts are usually confirmed by the English judges. You know perfectly well that the English would condemn a man convicted of kissing a married woman, and would insist on compensation for the injury to her husband's feelings.’

‘Why on earth did you tell them you had money when you have nothing at all except what you hope will be sent to you?’

‘That's partly your fault. Apparently you'd described me as an atheist and both of us as paupers. I had to improve my standing in the eyes of my future brother-in-law. I told him I had a regular income, and was an Anglican churchgoer. I shall be obliged if in future you never mention my views on anything to anybody. In this country, as in North America, no one wants to know what you believe page 101 in, but everyone is interested in what church you belong to. Being pious on Sunday is like putting on one's best clothes. Going to church helps business. It makes one respectable. The Englishman's greatest concern is to convince the whole world of his respectability. He wants everybody to know that he respects the rules of a respectable society, and does his business exclusively with respectable people. Please remember that and don't make me out to be less than respectable. I am extremely respectable.’

‘I'll remember. But how did the story end?’

‘They blamed me and threatened me. In the end I had to give them a signed confession and a promise to pay three times as much as I had expected. These Maoris look like savages but they are born lawyers and as cunning as foxes.’

‘How could you promise what you don't possess?’

‘I would have promised the Kingdom of Heaven at that moment. They proposed to send me and my confession to the nearest English judge. Even the sending of messengers of war was postponed until my case had been cleared up. The hope of getting three hundred pounds completely upset their plans for declaring war.’

‘Did they lock you up?’

‘They did, and I'd be there still if it had not been for the intervention of the worthy tohunga. He woke me before dawn, gave me back my belongings, and brought me here.’

‘How did he manage to get hold of them?’

‘As far as I could understand, the silly girl regretted her treachery. He fed her remorse by explaining that my kisses sprang from my absentmindedness. He assured her that I really cared for her, and pleaded for me so eloquently that she gave him my belongings and helped him to set me free. Believe it or not, after weeping and wailing and begging for forgiveness, she wanted to come with me. I shall never understand these Maori women—their mad jealousies and equally mad self-sacrifices! I only persuaded her to stay with her own people by promising that once I had fetched the money for the utu I would return to marry her.’

His story led me to speculate about what Tikera would do if ever we met again. What scenes of jealousy and rage would be my lot if destiny allowed our paths to cross in the future!

I was unwilling to risk the danger. I decided to choose a route which would take us away from the mission where her father was staying. Consequently, when we came to the crossroads and my companion turned to the left, I asked him where he was off to.

‘Eastwards—to the mission.’

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‘I've no intention of going there. You've got rid of your tigress—I don't want to meet mine again.’

‘Let's go south then. I'll go wherever you want, provided we put as many miles as we can between us and those hatchet carriers. I tremble when I think of them.’

The southern territory was not in European hands. Several times during that day we came to Maori villages surrounded by well-tilled gardens and protected by defensive pas on nearby hilltops. In every village, and often along the road as well, we were closely questioned about our reasons for being there. The tone of these questions struck us as being suspicious and hostile. The tohunga's letter lightened the unfriendly faces. Doors were opened to us which had been shut in our faces, we were hospitably entertained and plentifully fed. The safe conduct was written in Maori, in a well-formed Roman hand, on a sheet of paper which had obviously been torn from a Bible. It may be translated as follows:

Our friends and neighbours!

This is my letter. You know me, Tairaurau—tohunga. I inherited my office from my ancestors. Treat this pakeha gently. He stood under the long pole (the flagstaff on which the King's standard had been hoisted) and swore friendship. The Queen's soldiers are still far away. He is no soldier but our friend.


My companion had a copy of the same letter. We passed one village after another without hindrance. We made such good time that before evening fell we reckoned we had covered some thirty-five miles from Gate Pa. The Maoris here seemed more peaceable. They evidently belonged to a tribe which did not as yet subscribe to the King Movement. We came down to the sea. In one small bay which we passed we saw not only beautifully carved war canoes, inlaid with sea shells, but schooners and ketches capable of making long sea voyages, which were used for whaling. Maori hands built them, Maori hands sailed them God only knows where, and Maori pockets were enriched by them.

‘Who would think, looking at these excellent vessels,’ I said, ‘that we're walking along the coast of the Bay of Plenty where less than forty years ago a boat was wrecked among the rocks, plundered, and her crew killed, baked, and eaten—with the sole exception of one man who was saved by his Maori mistress!’

‘I believe that this coast used to have another name.’

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‘It was called “Poverty Bay” because of the cannibals who lived here. If the ovens which we have seen along our path could tell us what they once held what hair-raising stories we should hear! Since gold has been discovered here, the region has been given its present name.’

‘Unless I am very much mistaken,’ said the German, glancing about him, ‘there are large mineral deposits hidden in this area from the mountains beyond the Waikato River and the sources of the Thames right down to the sea. Look at these schist formations, spotted with silver mica and shaken by former earth movements. They thrust everywhere through the speckled gravel and red clay. See how each white vein of quartz points north like a magnetic needle, and is covered with a copper verdigris which looks like green moss—or holds glinting pyrites within its streaks! If it wasn't for those sinister hatchets, I'd linger here a while and spend a few days on geological exploration. I'd like to make a closer examination of these rich mineral veins.’

‘But this is Maori country. They don't want minerals themselves, and they won't let us meddle with what is stored underground.’

‘It would be stupid to ask for permission. Metals are indispensable for the advance of civilization. Any tribe which resists the march of civilization and progress must be exterminated.’

Having pronounced this Teutonic dogma my friend reverted to his scientific speculations.

‘See how the hills are shaped rather like Egyptian pyramids, smooth and pointed, pushed upwards by subterranean forces. Their shape alone indicates that they abound in precious metals.’

Unexpectedly he changed the subject and began philosophizing about the future.

‘What will happen to our world if oxidization and mining exhaust its metal deposits? Looking back we see men in the depths of spiritual darkness and physical misery because they were ignorant of metals and their uses. Slowly, mankind learnt of the existence of metals, and of their practical qualities, until today we have risen to the summit of intelligence and prosperity. But what will happen if we exploit the metals out of existence? Shall we sink again into darkness and misery? In my opinion the progress of mankind is like an immense ellipse. Its curve rises quickly and remains at almost the same level for a long, long time until it breaks suddenly and plunges down. That is the arc of humanity. Its history, once the whole species is extinct, will show three epochs: barbarism, civilization, and barbarism again. The three stages correspond to the time when metals page 104 were not known, the time when they were exploited, and the time when they were exhausted.’

‘My prognostication for the future of mankind is not like that at all,’ I interrupted. ‘I feel that your conclusions have no factual basis and no empiric substance. If I have to reason about matters which go beyond the circle of human experience, I prefer to be guided by instinct—a nobler measure than your pessimistic philosophy. My instinct tells me that the progress of mankind does not bend in an arc, but moves like an arrow towards a zenith which it will never reach, though it constantly rises. The exhaustion of metal deposits and all the other hurdles it encounters will not halt mankind, because its innate genius lies in making use first of what is within its range, and then, when that is spent, discovering new ways to storm the heavens.’

“You're a dreamer,” muttered my friend.

‘And you're a pessimist,’ I replied.

We would have begun one of our frequent philosophical arguments if we had not been distracted. We passed an old oven. In its stone-lined pit, still red from old fires, lay a white object. I lifted it up. It was a huge piece of eggshell. If I could have found all the missing fragments and assembled them they would have made an egg about nine inches long and seven across. It was greyish-white in colour, perhaps because of its age, and spotted with pale sepia.

‘That's a moa egg. The moa has been extinct for less than a hundred years,’ lectured my companion as though from a professorial chair. He, like most Germans, had a strong inclination towards pedantry. ‘It was the biggest bird in existence, larger even than the ostrich. I say it was because we suppose that it no longer exists, although a few stray specimens may still be knocking about somewhere in the Middle Island. What wouldn't I give to find at least one such bird and offer it to the Berlin Zoo!’

‘That would certainly be a triumph for us!’ I said. ‘If we can, we'll go in search of it.’ My youthful naivete made everything seem possible, and scanty funds were never a hindrance to my plans. Obstacles in my path spurred me on rather than discouraged me.

‘Imagine us both in our glory, standing in the centre of Berlin, I on the right and you on the left, with our moa between us. All the scientists who for the last fifty years have fattened their reputations by studying microscopic molluscs, petrified mastodons, and other trivialities discovered in the outskirts of the city would be there. Many years ago they arbitrarily decided to include this bird among the extinct creatures. And here's how the crowd will be arranged.

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Here, he said, pointing to his right, ‘will be the geologists, paleontologists, and all the other ologists. There,’ pointing to his left, ‘will stand the zoologists. There will be a general debate on the authenticity of the specimen, and on its existence. The zoologists will win and persuade everyone that the moa exists, and that it comes within their sphere of interest. They will call out …’

‘Beer!’ I interpolated.

‘Yes, beer first,’ continued my friend, adopting my suggestion as his own. ‘And after the beer, what? That Charles von Schaeffer has rendered extremely important services to humanity. Then I shall write four volumes about the moa, and each chapter will describe one little tiny part of its body. In time I will receive one hundred charters, nominating me an ordinary member of the most illustrious scientific societies. Finally, His Gracious Majesty, the King of Prussia, will deign to see the moa; then, casting a glance at the cover of my magnum opus, he will decorate the discoverer and author with the Order of the Black Eagle, fourth class, making me Karl Freiherr von Moa.’

‘And what shall I get for sacrificing thirty pounds—all my worldly possessions—to make the discovery possible? Not to mention the fact that I did all the running to catch the bird while you, as usual, sat comfortably criticizing my clumsiness.’

‘We'd have to think about you. You're a Pole, but I'm sure something could be arranged for you too.’

‘Thanks very much. You can be sure that even if I did manage to sprinkle some salt on a moa's tail and to catch it, I wouldn't send it to Berlin.’

We approached another Maori village. I entered it to buy some milk. My comrade lay on the grass and rested, as was his custom, while I attended to the chores. I lit a fire near a crystal spring, framed by fresh greenery. Our retreating army of two bivouacked here, trusting that the distance we had covered since that morning had put us beyond pursuit.

To celebrate our strategy, which I compared to the exploits of Xenophon, Moreau, and a certain general nearer our own times (Napoleon), I bought the aforementioned milk and heated a billy of water. When the water was bubbling and the milk hissing I uncorked the bottle of brandy—a last gift from my tender mistress—filled my nostrils with its fragrance, tasted it, licked my lips, and began to prepare a milk punch according to the best English recipe, which I had once cut out from a newspaper and carefully preserved. My crony, having finished frying his pancakes, watched my preparations—far page 106 more closely than he had examined the geological formations of the landscape a little earlier.

The Maori girl's gift, now made up into punch, was speedily gulped down. And though my last souvenir of Tikera disappeared, the contentment which it gave remained.

A feeling of security, comfort, and boldness, infused by the punch, inclined me, for the first time since I had met Mr Schaeffer, to learn something of his past. In turn, it made him less secretive than usual.

In the colonies, even established friendships do not always permit such cross-examination. People may have known each other for years as Tom A. and John B. without showing any inquisitiveness about their respective pasts, so long as they behave themselves and pay their debts. The thin disguise of an assumed name may conceal a painful sore; an attempt to probe it often breaks a friendship for good. I shall never forget how after two years of daily contact my Australian partner asked me for my real name. I gave it to him. It was the one by which he had known me all along.

‘I know that's what you call yourself,’ he said, ‘but I'd like to know the name you had in the Old Country. Don't be embarrassed— I'll keep it to myself. In any case, you're too young to be an ex-convict. So what are you hesitating for?’

Despite all my assurances he would not believe that I did not have some other name which might have spelt trouble for me if I had revealed it. In such a suspicious world I had to act very cautiously to break silence.

Having told Mr Schaeffer of the motives which had brought me to this lonely place and made me prefer all the discomforts of Oceania to the abandoned luxuries of Europe, I asked him why he—a man of learning, polish, and good family—had come to the colonies. Was it only a lust for adventure?

‘Wanderlust seldom takes people away from their families, though it's true that most people have the germs of adventure in them. You'll find proof of that in the way boys read stories about Sinbad the Sailor or Robinson Crusoe, or in the nomadic life of primitive tribes. A primitive upbringing encourages the development of the flair for adventure and sends the young boy into the world as a wanderer. Each of us prepares for a journey to an unknown country with a kind of alarm. That feeling soon vanishes. Experience teaches us that imagined dangers are not so frightful as they seem to a stay-at-home, that human beings everywhere are more or less the same, that one can live, and amuse oneself, almost anywhere. Once we page 107 have learnt that, why should we be afraid of travelling? On the contrary, we want to change the scenery more often … Yes,’ he added, his voice growing softer, ‘we have our roots, too. It is not easy to shift us from well-known surroundings. Once a man has been propelled from his rut, he will go on like a comet, at home in no place he goes to, living in himself and for himself, constantly rubbing against new objects but sticking to none—a hermit in a crowd, a refugee from his own memories, sighing for rest but disdaining it when it is available, sending his thoughts towards home in a vain hope that a friendly wind will carry them to the Old Country and let them hover over the graves and homesteads of the people he loves. Despite his homesickness he does not hurry to return. Indeed, he will shrug his shoulders if someone offers him the means to speed back. He is a wilful Wandering Jew, a willing exile, a beggar without cause, who has cut all his ties with the rest of the human species and runs headlong from his own people, the further the better.’

He made these remarks in a slow, soft voice, like an actor so living his part that he forgets his audience and seems to be betraying his most secret thoughts.

‘It takes a powerful shove to make one set out on that journey,’ he went on. ‘But you can go spinning on for ever, like a planet, if the initial impetus is sufficiently great and painful. The man who leaves his country because of unbearable political conditions, of bad blood or ill will in his own family, or a disappointment in love, practically never settles down. Though as a child he tasted the sweetness of family life and the protection of a guardian angel in his loving and forgiving mother, he rolls ceaselessly round the world. He does not long for his home. He does not value it, because it never taught him the qualities which a home should have.

There are other wanderers, the vagabonds by compulsion—emigrants driven from home by want and misery. These wander until they find a land of plenty. Then there are those who leave their home to escape the sword of justice. They have no desire to keep changing their place of habitation. As soon as the hue and cry has died down, they willingly stay put in a new place and build fresh relationships with their future victims, whom they disarm by their temporarily decent behaviour. The genuine wanderer is a man who constantly moves from one country to another for no obvious cause. He has been pushed into choosing this life through no fault of his own.’

‘What turned you into such a one?’

‘Many things. I had more than my share of adversities as a child. My parents died. My guardian led a nomadic life, and taught me to page 108 do likewise. I had none of the brothers or sisters who, as you must know, contribute greatly to one's character. Without them a man is only partly formed—and weakened. Early rivalry with brothers prepares him for the serious competition of the world, and in taking care of his sisters he learns to be less selfish and less rough in his manner. Almost all the men who have made a success of their lives and served the world well have come from large families. Lack of domestic care and love as a child sent me astray, as so often happens. Nobody told me how to avoid pitfalls, and yet every time I fell into one I was chastised mercilessly. I began by hating the hand which punished me and went on by defying it until I was beyond redemption. My unusually sensitive mind early understood the wrong I had suffered and the way in which my heritage had been abused. Strangers benefited from it, while I was known as the most neglected among my young equals, and not just in appearance. This Spartan treatment was an inherent part of my education, and lowered me so much that I envied my playmates for each little trifle they had. The mere sight of their toys was torture to me. I ended by hating them—just as, later, I hated the whole world, to which I had hoped to escape from hatred and despotism. From that time on, I never missed a chance to hit out for myself as I had seen others hit out at me. Eventually the world's schooling cooled my hatred of mankind a little. Experience taught me how difficult it is to live without sympathy, that if one wants a helping hand one must be ready to lend a hand oneself. So I have swung between the poles, along constantly changing courses, in search of new places and new people … no man's friend, an unwanted citizen, neither wholly good nor wholly bad, amusing myself with sciences but never taking them seriously, wasting my time, and resenting the world for allowing me to do it. My past is a long, stained scroll of parchment. I can glimpse no light in the future.’

After this confession, he gazed for a long time at the flickering blue flames of the dying fire. Only once did he interrupt the prolonged silence with a complaint:

‘Why is it that destiny did not allow me to control my talents … why had I no mother?’

Then he hid his face in his hands to hide his bitter expression.

I saw this expression again on a number of occasions when, later, he had tried my friendship and patience so greatly that I had finally rejected him and made him my enemy.

Later on I was forced to recognize that he was an incorrigible page 109 egoist who laughed at the most sacred sentiments, who crushed other people without a second thought, as a child destroys his playthings. Yet even as I was compelled to act against him or to curb him I did it with a trace of the sympathy which was born that evening. An orphan from the cradle, who used his great talents to the detriment of others, who did not know how to love or respect anybody, he was less guilty than those who had made him what he was. Nobody had taught him by example. He had simply been subjected to dry moralizing and punishments, designed to teach him that love was the holiest duty in this life. Nobody loved him or let him experience the sweetness of love. He had no mother, no brothers, no sisters to show him family love. He did not understand its nature. He did not cling to anybody, and no one clung to this selfish man who polluted everything he touched. Nonetheless, he was not responsible so much as those who had turned him into an egoist.