Chapter Eight: Parrot Disease
Every day a jailor brought the prisoners their food, and as he laid down the dishes he would say a word to them. If their meal was flesh he would remind them that they were eating corpses, or give them some account of the slaughtering; or, if it was the inwards of some beast, he would read them a lecture in anatomy and show the likeness or the mess to the same parts in themselves -- which was the more easily done because the giant's eyes were always staring into the dungeon at dinner time. Or if the meal were eggs he would recall tot hem that they were eating the menstruum off a verminous fowl, and crack a few jokes with the female prisoners So he went on day by day. Then I dreamed that one day there was nothing but milk for them, and the jailor said as he put down the pipkin:
'Our relations with the cow are not delicate -- as you can easily see if you imagine eating any of her other secretions.'
Now John had been in the pit a shorter time than any of the others; and at these words something seemed to snap in his head and he gave a great sigh and suddenly spoke out in a loud, clear voice:
'Thank heaven! Now at last I know that you are talking nonsense.'
'What do you mean?' said the jailor, wheeling round upon him.
'You are trying to pretend that unlike things are like. You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of thing as sweat or dung.'
'And pray, what difference is there except by custom?'
'Are you a liar or only a fool, that you see no difference between that which Nature casts out as refuse and that which she stores up as food?'
'So Nature is a person, then, with purposes and consciousness,'said the jailor with a sneer. 'In fact, a Landlady. No doubt it comforts you to imagine you can believe that sort of thing;' and he turned to leave the prison with his nose in the air.
'I know nothing about that,' shouted John after him. 'I am talking of what happens. Milk does feed calves and dung does not.'
'Look here,' cried the jailor, coming back, 'we have had enough of this. It is high treason and I shall bring you before the Master.' Then he jerked John up by his chain and began to drag him towards the door; but John as he was being dragged, cried out to the others, 'Can't you see it's all a cheat?' Then the jailor struck him in the teeth so hard that his mouth was filled with blood and he became unable to speak; and while he was silent the jailor addressed the prisoners and said:
'You see he is trying to argue. Now tell me, someone, what is argument?'
There was a confused murmur.
'Come, come,' said the jailor. 'You must know your catechisms by now. You, there' (and he pointed to a prisoner little older than a boy whose name was Master Parrot), 'what is argument?'
'Argument,' said Master Parrot, 'is the attempted rationalization of the arguer's desires.'
'Very good,' replied the jailor, 'but you should turn out your toes and put your hands behind your back. That is better. Now: what is the proper answer to an argument proving the existence of the Landlord?'
'The proper answer is, "You say that because you are a Steward."'
'Good boy. But hold your head up. That's right. And what is the answer to an argument proving that Mr. Phally's songs are just as brown as Mr. Halfway's?'
'There are two only generally necessary to damnation,' said Master Parrot. 'The first is, "You say that because you are a Puritanian," and the second is, 'You say that because you are a sensualist."'
'Good. Now just one more. what is the answer to an argument turning on the belief that two and two make four?'
'The answer is, "You say that because you are a mathematician."'
'You are a very good boy,' said the jailor. 'And when I come back I shall bring you something nice. And now for you,' he added, giving John a kick and opening the grating.