"Seeing no help, I said if one must sit by me at any feast of theirs, it should be Attila the Hun, so should I be spared their rudeness and intrusion. Some accounted it a good answer, and laughed, but he that had sneered at me scowled and said they had none at their feasts but those they might have good of, and I must name another, since Attila was a monstrous beast that none could have any good of, being curst and altogether abominable.
"At this, I, being part drunk myself, said he lied, for good might be had of the worst that ever were, in certain cases. At this he swore that if I could not prove it by logic, I should pay double forfeit and swim in the Cam for my impudence, so let me say how one could have good of Attila or any like him. His fellows grinned and gleeked about me, and some cried, 'At him, old Papist!' but others 'Confound the Jesuit, he mocks us, to the river with him!' and bade me make good mine argument.
"First, I told them, they should name any two from whom they might hope to have the greatest good (other than Our Lord, for it was not fit to name Him in such a question). They that had named Aristotle and St Francis as their chosen guests again cried out their names, and with those I was content, saying that against them I would justify Attila and another like him, as Chingis Khan or Hulagu (of whom I doubt these scholars had heard, though they cried aye to him).
"I would do it, I said, on an hypothesis, as thus: 'Here is any one of you, in a lonely place, as a little cabin in the wilderness, with no neighbours or friends by, and ye are sick and feeble, and with you your wife and two fair daughters.' Hereon they cried that being young they had no daughters, and would other men’s daughters do, to give them solace in that lonely place, whereof they doubted not they would soon be enfeebled if not sick! I let them bray it out, and when they were quiet, continued: 'As ye lie there helpless, there approach three great thieves and murderers that ye know to be crueller than any devils, who will surely torment and slay you and ravish your wife and fair daughters, and take and burn all besides. There is no help for you at all, being at their mercy if they come in, but as ye lie in terror for what is to come, a knock falls on the nether door of your poor cabin, as it may be some wayfarer seeking lodging or refreshment. Aye, and it may be he will lend you aid against your enemies approaching! You bid your wife open in haste. Now tell me, scholars, what men do you hope to see there when she opens? The learned, gentle Aristotle and St Francis the meek, or Attila the great Hun armed cap-a-pie with Chingis at his elbow? From which pair, in your sore need, shall you hope to have the greater good, the saintly philosophers or the lusty men of war?'
"They cried out with scorn that between the enemies before and Attila at their back, it was all one, they should have nothing but evil at the hands of either. 'Not so,' says I, and bade them look in the chronicles, 'for there you shall read that the Scythian and the Mungul both, though in their conquests they were monsters of cruelty that put whole nations to the sword, yet in their private and domestic ways were zealous for good order and discipline of law, being such as would not suffer weak or poor folk to be despoiled or hurt by thieves and ravishers. Aye, of that Chingis was it said that while he carpeted all Asia with bones, yet might a virgin with a bag of gold walk the length of his dominions without harm, so perfect was his governance. So, again I say, who shall better serve you in time of peril, the philosophers who wish you well but cannot front the murderers save with words, or the bloody ravagers of empires who are yet ready to turn their weapons against common spoilers?'
"At this they fell to babbling and dispute, and one fell down drunk crying 'Paradox! Paradox!' while another said that for all he knew Aristotle might be a right swashing boy when it came to a fray. I asked would he wager on him with sword and buckler against my two savages, let roaring Francis give what aid he might, and he said, no, not at any odds. And while a few of them held that such as Attila and Chingis would do no good service to any, the more held that I had made my case, and should not be fined or insulted, but pressed more drink upon me that I durst not refuse for fear of their rough merriment, and called me a jolly old Pope, and how I came home I know not, for they found me sodden among the cabbages in the almshouse garden, and I was two weeks abed thereafter with the sciatica.
"And lying there, and not able to read more than a little for the infirmity of mine eyes that are worn with looking on the world’s wickedness four score years, I fell to meditating on the good that evil men may do, by design or more commonly by chance…. I remembered sundry instances that I had seen, and in especial the man Waitabout, that I knew only for a little season, yet it changed my life’s course, and indeed had been like to lose my poor life for me, yet was I spared, 'by God’s grace', a phrase I speak now but by habit and long use, for if He hath any grace (or indeed any being at all save in men’s minds only) I have long been removed from it. Which is a blasphemy, as they say, yet I have known worse.
"No, I am no priest, nor ever was except to the outer eye, for what priest ever doubted, and with long doubting, gave over his belief at last? As to the Waitabout, he was no Attila yet had done ill enough in his time, and if he did good it was upon compulsion and for a brief hour only, and still I know not whether it was good or no. But certain it is he was no common man, though common seeming, a robber and slayer and broken wanderer that had in him, I think, the making of a sage if not a saint. He read me a lesson, aye, and so too did my Lady Dacre, though what it was I can hardly tell even now.
"Yet I would tell of them both that have been out of my mind these many years, saving that visit my lady paid me five years agone, fair and smiling still and brought me a gift of candles of fine Italian wax, though not scented, 'for we shall burn no incense between us, nor make graven images neither,' as she said, which was an old jest between us. 'A remembrance of Candlemass,' says she, 'aye, of the Candlemass road,' and told me they had made a ballad of it, and of what befell betwixt the fires at Triermain, which I marvelled to hear her speak of so lightly. But of Waitabout she spake not at all…"
--George MacDonald Fraser, The Candlemass Road