"I tell you what I can. And what I can tell you is the doctor is engaged in very important work and he needs my help."
"But I do not? You force me into sin, James."
"Sin? What sin are you talking about?"
"The sin of false witness! The neighbors ask, 'Where is your husband, Mary Henry? Where is James?' and I must lie for you—for him. Oh, how it galls me to lie for him!"
"Then don't. Tell them the truth. Tell them you don't know where I am."
"That would be worse than a lie. What would they say about me—a wife who doesn't know where her husband's gone?"
"I don't understand why it should gall you, Mary. If it weren't for him, what would you have? We owe everything to him."
She could not deny that, so she ignored it. "You don't trust me."
"No. I simply cannot betray his trust."
"An honorable man has no need for secrets."
"You don't know what you're talking about, Mary. Dr. Warthrop is the most honorable man I have ever known. It is a privilege to serve him." (2.46-53)
This is when splitting hairs on word usage can get interesting. There's lying, and then there's the "sin of omission," which isn't exactly lying, but it's refraining from revealing everything that would be considered the truth. Who do you think has the moral upper hand in this argument?
"Do you see it now, Will Henry?"
"I—I think so, sir."
"Nonsense!" he cried. "Clearly you do not! Do not lie to me, Will Henry. To me or to anyone else—ever. Lying is the worst kind of buffoonery!" (2.110-112)
Dr. Warthrop has quite the way with words, doesn't he? "Buffoonery" is one of those terms that just makes us chuckle. (Use it once a day, and your life will be vastly improved.) It's interesting that Pellinore Warthrop, of all people, is telling Will Henry to never lie.
"Never tell me what you think I wish to hear, Will Henry. Never! I cannot rely upon you if you chose to be a parrot. It is a detestable vice not entirely limited to children. Always speak the truth, all the truth in all things at all times! No man ever rose to greatness on the wings of obsequious deceit. Now be honest. You've really no idea whether there were thirty or fifty or two hundred and fifty." (4.21)
Once again, Dr. Warthrop is chiding Will Henry for trying to please him, which seems hypocritical, doesn't it? He admonishes him to only tell the truth—and always tell the truth—which seems strange considering the secrecy that surrounds his particular calling. It's extremely hard to keep a big secret without venturing into fib territory here and there.
"To the market if you like, but straight there and straight back, Will Henry. Speak to no one, and if anyone speaks to you, all is well; I am busy with my latest treatise, whatever seems most natural to you, as long as it is not the truth. Remember, Will Henry, some falsehoods are borne of necessity, not foolishness." (7.29)
Ah, okay, now we have a direct contradiction to his previous orders. Dr. Warthrop goes from "always speak the truth, all the truth in all things at all times" to "some falsehoods are borne of necessity." But who has the right to determine when it is necessary? Probably only Dr. Warthrop.
"I shall decide what's best here. How long have you known, Warthrop?"
The doctor hesitated. Then he said, "Since the morning of the fifteenth."
"Since the…" Morgan was aghast. "You have known four days, and yet you told no one?"
"I did not believe the situation—"
"You did not believe!"
"It was my judgment that—"
"Based on all the data available to me, it was my judgment and my belief that the… the infestation could be addressed with dispassionate deliberation without inciting unnecessary panic and… and unreasonable, disproportionate force."
"I asked you this morning," Morgan said, apparently unmoved by the doctor's rationalization.
"And I told the truth, Robert."
"You said you were shocked by their presence here."
"I was… and I am. The attack last night certainly did come as a shock, and in that sense I did not lie. Are you placing me under arrest?" (9.23-33)
Dr. Warthrop is, once again, manipulating the truth to fit his needs. Of course you can't really blame him—he doesn't want to have to carry the blame for the gruesome deaths of an innocent family—but it doesn't quite mesh with his "the truth at all times" policy he enforces with Will Henry.
I looked away, into Malachi's eyes, red-rimmed and wide open. He whispered, "Did you know too?"
I nodded. Lying, the doctor had taught me, was the worst kind of buffoonery. "Yes." (9.61-62)
This is a pretty critical moment for Malachi and Will Henry. Had Will Henry lied, Malachi wouldn't have turned to him as his one true friend after his terrible ordeal. It's his brutal honesty, combined with their shared experiences, which cause Malachi to fully trust Will Henry.
"Until your heartstrings tug you back. Come now, Pellinore, do you honestly believe in this claptrap theory of yours? They wander ashore, undetected, and for the next twenty-four years manage to feed off the local populace and make little Anthro-poppies, leaving behind no direct evidence, no survivors, no eyewitnesses, until they miraculously arrive at the doorstep of the very person who requested the pleasure of their company? You're like the priests in the temple: You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!"
"It's possible; the facts do fit," insisted the doctor.
"Adaptation, natural selection, and some luck, I'll admit that. It's conceivable—"
"Oh, Pellinore," said Kearns. "Really. It's conceivable the moon is made of blue cheese."
"I can't conceive of that," Morgan argued.
"You can't prove it isn't," retorted Kearns. (10.89-95)
Kearns isn't necessarily the first person we'd turn to for ethical advice, but he raises an interesting perspective. Is something true if you can't prove that it isn't? Is that how we establish truth if there's no other method?
"You're going to arrest him? For what?" I was appalled.
"And that abhorrent Cory or Kearns or whatever his name is. I don't think I've ever encountered a more loathsome human being. He better pray that poor woman survives the unthinkable ordeal he put her through. Why, I believe he actually enjoyed doing it. I think seeing her suffer gave him pleasure. Well, it shall give me the utmost pleasure to see him standing upon the gallows! Let him crack his profane jokes and smirk his damnable blasphemies with the noose around his neck! If it costs my entire allotment of moments, I will gladly spend them to witness the morality of that one." (12.124-125)
Tsk, tsk Constable Morgan. You gave your word to Dr. Kearns that you would, under no circumstances, hold anyone accountable to the law during the fight against the Anthropophagus. The reason Kearns is so adamant about that is because he's very aware that his methods are unconventional (to say the least), but still—what is Constable Morgan's word worth if the minute he gets a chance he's going to relish going back on it?
I cannot say I grasped the full meaning of that moment then, the import of the disparate elements, which seems so obvious now: the two pathways marked, one straight and wide, the other crooked and narrow; the tunnel leading downward, ever downward; the sound of something following me; the baring of my wounds to let them 'breathe a bit.' Such profound perfidy is beyond the comprehension of most men, let alone the trusting naïveté of a child! No, I was merely confused and frightened, not suspicious, as I kneeled, lamp thrust before me in one hand while I clutched the gun in the quivering other. (12.235)
"Perfidy" is the perfect word to describe what Kearns has done to Will Henry. He has orchestrated a terrible scenario that puts Will Henry into an unthinkable situation, all while under the guise of being under his protection. He really is a dastardly character, especially because when he's caught he shows exactly zero remorse.
"Oh, no," agreed Kearns. He crossed the room to stand before the withered, wheezing old man. With great tenderness he said, "To the contrary, you are a humanitarian, Dr. Starr. Let no one tell you otherwise! An anthropological alchemist, turning lead into gold! The chains that bind most men do not bind you, and in this you and I are brothers, dear Jeremiah. We are the new men of a new and glorious age, free of lies and unbound by any ridiculous rectitude." He placed his hands on either side of Starr's weathered pate, cupping his face while he bent low to purr into his oversize ear, "The only truth is the truth of the now. 'There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.' There is no morality, is there, Jeremiah, but the morality of the moment." (13.131)
What, exactly, do you think Dr. Kearns means when he says "the morality of the moment"? We think it is a phrase that allows him infinite flexibility to make judgment calls that lack any sense of ethical or moral compunction.
If you only consider the present moment—and therefore don't have to consider any ramifications of your actions—then sure, whatever you decide will be fine. It is this kind of reasoning that allows Kearns to do the terrible things that he does without any guilt or doubt, and in that sense, he is a lot like Dr. Starr. They both march to the beat of their own sociopathic drummer, that's for sure.