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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1948



'Hurry up', he said looking at the sky, '—did you bring an umbrella? That's the idea. I think we'll be able to get back before the rain starts. C'mon.'

The speaker was an Anglican minister, Mr. Burtley, who was standing on a street corner speaking to his approaching friend, the town schoolmaster.

'I don't like the look of it,' said Kendle indicating the grey sky with his umbrella.

'Oh, it'll rain alright, don't you worry, it'll rain. But not until later, I don't think. Not for quite a while yet.'

They strode along the street in the direction of the cliffs. Country town shops, lampposts, fences, melting asphalt. They passed the bowser station. Spilt oil in pools. You can Be Sure of Shell. Burtley spoke first.

page 12

'What'll we deal with to-day?'

Kendle sucked his lip. 'The same thing,' he said.

'But we did that——'

'No,' said Kendle,' no. I'm not satisfied with what you said last week on Free Will. You didn't answer all my questions.'

And so the discussion began. Every Sunday these two friends would go for a walk along some local cliffs, and a discussion upon religious and philosophical questions would always be planned to occupy the walk.

For years now Kendle, the agnostic, and Burtley, the pantheist, had done this over almost the same piece of ground.

The discussion was always of a leisurely and reflective nature. Although their opinions were diametrically opposed neither experienced personal dislike. In spite of the long period of time they had done this, neither had modified his original mental furniture to any extent. Although both, during discussion, were willing to admit when wrong, they would start all over again next time as if the previous debate had been merely a game of skill.

'Indeed,' said Burtley once reflectively, 'I sometimes wonder if it is not a search for truth we are engaged upon, but a game of intellectual chess.'

* * *

Back at the town two men had arrived. They knocked on the door of the Church elders. When it was answered one of them stepped forward.

'I went to Mr. Burtley's house just now and he's not in. Do you know where he is?'

'Oh yes.' said the elder. 'He'll be up on the cliff with the Schoolteacher. That's where he usually goes on Sunday, anyway.'

'Thank you very much—is that the big cliff straight down the road?'

'Yes,—just go straight on past the bowser.'

'Thank you very much.'

They returned to their car. The elder watched them drive off. So did his wife who was peeping through the curtains.

* * *

Even if the behaviourists can point to examples of determined actions in the lower animals, does it follow that man in an identical environment could act in the same way? Even,' he said whacking at a sniffing dog with his umbrella, ' even if I were to admit, and I think in all fairness I must, that some actions in a human being are definitely determined by heredity and environment,—isn't, concluding from this that all actions are influenced similarly, arguing from the particular to the general?'

'No, not all,' replied the schoolteacher. 'Stapledon gives an illustration how an action attributed to one cause in an individual can be traced to either——'

This speech was interrupted by a car horn tooting down below on the beach road. They looked over the cliff. A car had just come to a standstill and two people got out and waved to them.

'It looks as if they want us,' said Burtley.

'Damnation!—who are they?'

I can't see from here,—they can't be any of the people from town. Look they're waving again.'

'We'd better go down.'

They began to walk. As they trudged down the path to the beach the two newcomers came up, so they all met about halfway down the path.

One of the men came forward and introduced himself explaining that he was from the British and Foreign Bible Society.

'We happened to be passing this way, Mr Burtley, so of course we did not want to lose the opportunity of meeting such an esteemed member of the movement as yourself.'

They shook hands.

'This—ah—is my friend Mr. Kendle,' said Burtley. More handshaking, and jokes on learning he was a schoolteacher.

'A great pleasure,' murmured the Bible man as they began to walk again up the path. 'A very great pleasure indeed.'

At the top of the cliff one of the men began to tell Kendle all the places they had visited that day.

'You certainly get around,—what do you do in these places?'

'Oh, we contact members of the Society, and keep an eye on the organization generally.'

Burtley and the other man were walking on ahead talking together quickly. Kendle was of a more leisurely pace, and soon dropped behind.

'Tell me,' said Kendle, 'what's this society's all about—what's it do?' His companion began to explain.

* * *

Burtley had become tired of his visitor page 13 already. He stopped presently.

'Ahh—we seem to have left the others behind.' They gazed back along the track. No sign of them.

'Never mind then, they'll soon catch us up.

The brisk walk began again.

'My friend and I,' said Mr. Burtley, 'have just been discussing the problem of Free-Will'.

'Oh.' replied the Bible man.

'He supports the determinist position.'

'Fancy that,' said the newcomer awkwardly.

'I—ah—have made some consessions to his case, but naturally as a Christian I stand on my fundamentals.'

'Yes, yes, Oh, naturally,' said the newcomer even more awkwardly.

A gleam came into Burtly's eyes. Perhaps this man wouldn't be so boring after all. Perhaps he would be interested......

He warmed to his subject, reveiwing the discussion from the begining. He told what Kendle had said, and how he had answered him, how Kendle hadn't explained this and that, his own doubts and difficulties, and so on. This was getting interesting......

He included his best jokes watching his companion expectantly as he told them—. He walked on and kept up the flow of words. His listener trotted alongside him politely, nodding and grunting and wishing the others would catch up and break this long address.

There is no stopping Burtley now, he was well into his subject. Half-an-hour went by. At last the newcomer spoke.

'The clouds are banking up over there.'

'Yes, yes,' said Burtley impatiantly. (Blast him interrupting me like that!). He continued with Free-Will eyeing his listener in a hostile manner. More time went by ...

The path led near the cliff edge now, but the view of the rocks and sea did not stop Burtley. His speech went on. He realised with growing anger that his listener was not paying attention, as once again he interrupted Burtley with a remark about the approaching rain.

'All right! All right! ' he snapped. 'Damn you! man I'm nearly finished! - we'll go back in a minute.'

With difficulty he resumed his subject. He was almost finished when the man spoke. 'I really am sorry to Interrupt you, Sir, - but the clouds are banking up over there.' Burtley spun round in a rage. 'Never mind the clouds! ! To hell with the clouds! ! This is more important! !

The sight of the man's silly face increased his wrath and before he could control his temper he had struck him on the head with his umbrella. The man sprawled onto the shingle and rolled over the cliff.

Burtley stood paralysed with his broken umbrella in his hand. His jaw dropped. He looked over the cliff. Sixty feet below a body lay sprawled on the rocks.

* * *

For a long time he wandered up and down in dismay. Then he turned back in the direction from which he had come. He found Kendle alone about a mile along the cliff. He was looking rather queer.

'We'd better get back now',

'Yes,' said Kendle as he looked at his broken umbrella.

The two figures walked off into the pouring rain.