The Ball and The Cross
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Ben Crowder
THE BALL AND THE CROSS
I. A Discussion Somewhat in the Air
II. The Religion of the Stipendiary Magistrate
III. Some Old Curiosities
IV. A Discussion at Dawn
V. The Peacemaker
VI. The Other Philosopher
VII. The Village of Grassley-in-the-Hole
VIII. An Interlude of Argument
IX. The Strange Lady
X. The Swords Rejoined
XI. A Scandal in the Village
XII. The Desert Island
XIII. The Garden of Peace
XIV. A Museum of Souls
XV. The Dream of MacIan
XVI. The Dream of Turnbull
XVII. The Idiot
XVIII. A Riddle of Faces
XIX. The Last Parley
XX. Dies Irae
I. A DISCUSSION SOMEWHAT IN THE AIR
The flying ship of Professor Lucifer sang through the skies like
a silver arrow; the bleak white steel of it, gleaming in the
bleak blue emptiness of the evening. That it was far above the
earth was no expression for it; to the two men in it, it seemed
to be far above the stars. The professor had himself invented
the flying machine, and had also invented nearly everything in
it. Every sort of tool or apparatus had, in consequence, to the
full, that fantastic and distorted look which belongs to the
miracles of science. For the world of science and evolution is
far more nameless and elusive and like a dream than the world of
poetry and religion; since in the latter images and ideas remain
themselves eternally, while it is the whole idea of evolution
that identities melt into each other as they do in a nightmare.
All the tools of Professor Lucifer were the ancient human tools
gone mad, grown into unrecognizable shapes, forgetful of their
origin, forgetful of their names. That thing which looked like an
enormous key with three wheels was really a patent and very
deadly revolver. That object which seemed to be created by the
entanglement of two corkscrews was really the key. The thing
which might have been mistaken for a tricycle turned upside-down
was the inexpressibly important instrument to which the corkscrew
was the key. All these things, as I say, the professor had
invented; he had invented everything in the flying ship, with the
exception, perhaps, of himself. This he had been born too late
actually to inaugurate, but he believed at least, that he had
considerably improved it.
There was, however, another man on board, so to speak, at the
time. Him, also, by a curious coincidence, the professor had not
invented, and him he had not even very greatly improved, though
he had fished him up with a lasso out of his own back garden, in
Western Bulgaria, with the pure object of improving him. He was
an exceedingly holy man, almost entirely covered with white hair.
You could see nothing but his eyes, and he seemed to talk with
them. A monk of immense learning and acute intellect he had made
himself happy in a little stone hut and a little stony garden in
the Balkans, chiefly by writing the most crushing refutations of
exposures of certain heresies, the last professors of which had
been burnt (generally by each other) precisely 1,119 years
previously. They were really very plausible and thoughtful
heresies, and it was really a creditable or even glorious
circumstance, that the old monk had been intellectual enough to
detect their fallacy; the only misfortune was that nobody in the
modern world was intellectual enough even to understand their
argument. The old monk, one of whose names was Michael, and the
other a name quite impossible to remember or repeat in our
Western civilization, had, however, as I have said, made himself
quite happy while he was in a mountain hermitage in the society
of wild animals. And now that his luck had lifted him above all
the mountains in the society of a wild physicist, he made himself
"I have no intention, my good Michael," said Professor Lucifer,
"of endeavouring to convert you by argument. The imbecility of
your traditions can be quite finally exhibited to anybody with
mere ordinary knowledge of the world, the same kind of knowledge
which teaches us not to sit in draughts or not to encourage
friendliness in impecunious people. It is folly to talk of this
or that demonstrating the rationalist philosophy. Everything
demonstrates it. Rubbing shoulders with men of all kinds----"
"You will forgive me," said the monk, meekly from under loads of
white beard, "but I fear I do not understand; was it in order
that I might rub my shoulder against men of all kinds that you
put me inside this thing?"
"An entertaining retort, in the narrow and deductive manner of
the Middle Ages," replied the Professor, calmly, "but even upon
your own basis I will illustrate my point. We are up in the sky.
In your religion and all the religions, as far as I know (and I
know everything), the sky is made the symbol of everything that
is sacred and merciful. Well, now you are in the sky, you know
better. Phrase it how you like, twist it how you like, you know
that you know better. You know what are a man's real feelings
about the heavens, when he finds himself alone in the heavens,
surrounded by the heavens. You know the truth, and the truth is
this. The heavens are evil, the sky is evil, the stars are evil.
This mere space, this mere quantity, terrifies a man more than
tigers or the terrible plague. You know that since our science
has spoken, the bottom has fallen out of the Universe. Now,
heaven is the hopeless thing, more hopeless than any hell. Now,
if there be any comfort for all your miserable progeny of morbid
apes, it must be in the earth, underneath you, under the roots of
the grass, in the place where hell was of old. The fiery crypts,
the lurid cellars of the underworld, to which you once condemned
the wicked, are hideous enough, but at least they are more homely
than the heaven in which we ride. And the time will come when you
will all hide in them, to escape the horror of the stars."
"I hope you will excuse my interrupting you," said Michael, with
a slight cough, "but I have always noticed----"
"Go on, pray go on," said Professor Lucifer, radiantly, "I really
like to draw out your simple ideas."
"Well, the fact is," said the other, "that much as I admire your
rhetoric and the rhetoric of your school, from a purely verbal
point of view, such little study of you and your school in human
history as I have been enabled to make has led me to--er--rather
singular conclusion, which I find great difficulty in expressing,
especially in a foreign language."
"Come, come," said the Professor, encouragingly, "I'll help you
out. How did my view strike you?"
"Well, the truth is, I know I don't express it properly, but
somehow it seemed to me that you always convey ideas of that kind
with most eloquence, when--er--when----"
"Oh! get on," cried Lucifer, boisterously.
"Well, in point of fact when your flying ship is just going to
run into something. I thought you wouldn't mind my mentioning it,
but it's running into something now."
Lucifer exploded with an oath and leapt erect, leaning hard upon
the handle that acted as a helm to the vessel. For the last ten
minutes they had been shooting downwards into great cracks and
caverns of cloud. Now, through a sort of purple haze, could be
seen comparatively near to them what seemed to be the upper part
of a huge, dark orb or sphere, islanded in a sea of cloud. The
Professor's eyes were blazing like a maniac's.
"It is a new world," he cried, with a dreadful mirth. "It is a
new planet and it shall bear my name. This star and not that
other vulgar one shall be 'Lucifer, sun of the morning.' Here we
will have no chartered lunacies, here we will have no gods. Here
man shall be as innocent as the daisies, as innocent and as
cruel--here the intellect----"
"There seems," said Michael, timidly, "to be something sticking
up in the middle of it."
"So there is," said the Professor, leaning over the side of the
ship, his spectacles shining with intellectual excitement. "What
can it be? It might of course be merely a----"
Then a shriek indescribable broke out of him of a sudden, and he
flung up his arms like a lost spirit. The monk took the helm in a
tired way; he did not seem much astonished for he came from an
ignorant part of the world in which it is not uncommon for lost
spirits to shriek when they see the curious shape which the
Professor had just seen on the top of the mysterious ball, but he
took the helm only just in time, and by driving it hard to the
left he prevented the flying ship from smashing into St. Paul's
A plain of sad-coloured cloud lay along the level of the top of
the Cathedral dome, so that the ball and the cross looked like a
buoy riding on a leaden sea. As the flying ship swept towards it,
this plain of cloud looked as dry and definite and rocky as any
grey desert. Hence it gave to the mind and body a sharp and
unearthly sensation when the ship cut and sank into the cloud as
into any common mist, a thing without resistance. There was, as
it were, a deadly shock in the fact that there was no shock. It
was as if they had cloven into ancient cliffs like so much
butter. But sensations awaited them which were much stranger than
those of sinking through the solid earth. For a moment their eyes
and nostrils were stopped with darkness and opaque cloud; then
the darkness warmed into a kind of brown fog. And far, far below
them the brown fog fell until it warmed into fire. Through the
dense London atmosphere they could see below them the flaming
London lights; lights which lay beneath them in squares and
oblongs of fire. The fog and fire were mixed in a passionate
vapour; you might say that the fog was drowning the flames; or
you might say that the flames had set the fog on fire. Beside the
ship and beneath it (for it swung just under the ball), the
immeasurable dome itself shot out and down into the dark like a
combination of voiceless cataracts. Or it was like some cyclopean
sea-beast sitting above London and letting down its tentacles
bewilderingly on every side, a monstrosity in that starless
heaven. For the clouds that belonged to London had closed over
the heads of the voyagers sealing up the entrance of the upper
air. They had broken through a roof and come into a temple of
They were so near to the ball that Lucifer leaned his hand
against it, holding the vessel away, as men push a boat off from
a bank. Above it the cross already draped in the dark mists of
the borderland was shadowy and more awful in shape and size.
Professor Lucifer slapped his hand twice upon the surface of the
great orb as if he were caressing some enormous animal. "This is
the fellow," he said, "this is the one for my money."
"May I with all respect inquire," asked the old monk, "what on
earth you are talking about?"
"Why this," cried Lucifer, smiting the ball again, "here is the
only symbol, my boy. So fat. So satisfied. Not like that scraggy
individual, stretching his arms in stark weariness." And he
pointed up to the cross, his face dark with a grin. "I was
telling you just now, Michael, that I can prove the best part of
the rationalist case and the Christian humbug from any symbol you
liked to give me, from any instance I came across. Here is an
instance with a vengeance. What could possibly express your
philosophy and my philosophy better than the shape of that cross
and the shape of this ball? This globe is reasonable; that cross
is unreasonable. It is a four-legged animal, with one leg longer
than the others. The globe is inevitable. The cross is arbitrary.
Above all the globe is at unity with itself; the cross is
primarily and above all things at enmity with itself. The cross
is the conflict of two hostile lines, of irreconcilable
direction. That silent thing up there is essentially a collision,
a crash, a struggle in stone. Pah! that sacred symbol of yours
has actually given its name to a description of desperation and
muddle. When we speak of men at once ignorant of each other and
frustrated by each other, we say they are at cross-purposes. Away
with the thing! The very shape of it is a contradiction in
"What you say is perfectly true," said Michael, with serenity.
"But we like contradictions in terms. Man is a contradiction in
terms; he is a beast whose superiority to other beasts consists
in having fallen. That cross is, as you say, an eternal
collision; so am I. That is a struggle in stone. Every form of
life is a struggle in flesh. The shape of the cross is
irrational, just as the shape of the human animal is irrational.
You say the cross is a quadruped with one limb longer than the
rest. I say man is a quadruped who only uses two of his legs."
The Professor frowned thoughtfully for an instant, and said: "Of
course everything is relative, and I would not deny that the
element of struggle and self-contradiction, represented by that
cross, has a necessary place at a certain evolutionary stage.
But surely the cross is the lower development and the sphere the
higher. After all it is easy enough to see what is really wrong
with Wren's architectural arrangement."
"And what is that, pray?" inquired Michael, meekly.
"The cross is on top of the ball," said Professor Lucifer,
simply. "That is surely wrong. The ball should be on top of the
cross. The cross is a mere barbaric prop; the ball is perfection.
The cross at its best is but the bitter tree of man's history;
the ball is the rounded, the ripe and final fruit. And the fruit
should be at the top of the tree, not at the bottom of it."
"Oh!" said the monk, a wrinkle coming into his forehead, "so you
think that in a rationalistic scheme of symbolism the ball should
be on top of the cross?"
"It sums up my whole allegory," said the professor.
"Well, that is really very interesting," resumed Michael slowly,
"because I think in that case you would see a most singular
effect, an effect that has generally been achieved by all those
able and powerful systems which rationalism, or the religion of
the ball, has produced to lead or teach mankind. You would see, I
think, that thing happen which is always the ultimate embodiment
and logical outcome of your logical scheme."
"What are you talking about?" asked Lucifer. "What would happen?"
"I mean it would fall down," said the monk, looking wistfully
into the void.
Lucifer made an angry movement and opened his mouth to speak, but
Michael, with all his air of deliberation, was proceeding before
he could bring out a word.
"I once knew a man like you, Lucifer," he said, with a maddening
monotony and slowness of articulation. "He took this----"
"There is no man like me," cried Lucifer, with a violence that
shook the ship.
"As I was observing," continued Michael, "this man also took the
view that the symbol of Christianity was a symbol of savagery and
all unreason. His history is rather amusing. It is also a perfect
allegory of what happens to rationalists like yourself. He began,
of course, by refusing to allow a crucifix in his house, or round
his wife's neck, or even in a picture. He said, as you say, that
it was an arbitrary and fantastic shape, that it was a
monstrosity, loved because it was paradoxical. Then he began to
grow fiercer and more eccentric; he would batter the crosses by
the roadside; for he lived in a Roman Catholic country. Finally
in a height of frenzy he climbed the steeple of the Parish Church
and tore down the cross, waving it in the air, and uttering wild
soliloquies up there under the stars. Then one still summer
evening as he was wending his way homewards, along a lane, the
devil of his madness came upon him with a violence and
transfiguration which changes the world. He was standing smoking,
for a moment, in the front of an interminable line of palings,
when his eyes were opened. Not a light shifted, not a leaf
stirred, but he saw as if by a sudden change in the eyesight that
this paling was an army of innumerable crosses linked together
over hill and dale. And he whirled up his heavy stick and went at
it as if at an army. Mile after mile along his homeward path he
broke it down and tore it up. For he hated the cross and every
paling is a wall of crosses. When he returned to his house he was
a literal madman. He sat upon a chair and then started up from it
for the cross-bars of the carpentry repeated the intolerable
image. He flung himself upon a bed only to remember that this,
too, like all workmanlike things, was constructed on the accursed
plan. He broke his furniture because it was made of crosses. He
burnt his house because it was made of crosses. He was found in
Lucifer was looking at him with a bitten lip.
"Is that story really true?" he asked.
"Oh, no," said Michael, airily. "It is a parable. It is a parable
of you and all your rationalists. You begin by breaking up the
Cross; but you end by breaking up the habitable world. We leave
you saying that nobody ought to join the Church against his will.
When we meet you again you are saying that no one has any will to
join it with. We leave you saying that there is no such place as
Eden. We find you saying that there is no such place as Ireland.
You start by hating the irrational and you come to hate
everything, for everything is irrational and so----"
Lucifer leapt upon him with a cry like a wild beast's. "Ah," he
screamed, "to every man his madness. You are mad on the cross.
Let it save you."
And with a herculean energy he forced the monk backwards out of
the reeling car on to the upper part of the stone ball. Michael,
with as abrupt an agility, caught one of the beams of the cross
and saved himself from falling. At the same instant Lucifer drove
down a lever and the ship shot up with him in it alone.
"Ha! ha!" he yelled, "what sort of a support do you find it, old
"For practical purposes of support," replied Michael grimly, "it
is at any rate a great deal better than the ball. May I ask if
you are going to leave me here?"
"Yes, yes. I mount! I mount!" cried the professor in ungovernable
excitement. "_Altiora peto_. My path is upward."
"How often have you told me, Professor, that there is really no
up or down in space?" said the monk. "I shall mount up as much as
"Indeed," said Lucifer, leering over the side of the flying ship.
"May I ask what you are going to do?"
The monk pointed downward at Ludgate Hill. "I am going," he said,
"to climb up into a star."
Those who look at the matter most superficially regard paradox as
something which belongs to jesting and light journalism. Paradox
of this kind is to be found in the saying of the dandy, in the
decadent comedy, "Life is much too important to be taken
seriously." Those who look at the matter a little more deeply or
delicately see that paradox is a thing which especially belongs
to all religions. Paradox of this kind is to be found in such a
saying as "The meek shall inherit the earth." But those who see
and feel the fundamental fact of the matter know that paradox is
a thing which belongs not to religion only, but to all vivid and
violent practical crises of human living. This kind of paradox
may be clearly perceived by anybody who happens to be hanging in
mid-space, clinging to one arm of the Cross of St. Paul's.
Father Michael in spite of his years, and in spite of his
asceticism (or because of it, for all I know), was a very healthy
and happy old gentleman. And as he swung on a bar above the
sickening emptiness of air, he realized, with that sort of dead
detachment which belongs to the brains of those in peril, the
deathless and hopeless contradiction which is involved in the
mere idea of courage. He was a happy and healthy old gentleman
and therefore he was quite careless about it. And he felt as
every man feels in the taut moment of such terror that his chief
danger was terror itself; his only possible strength would be a
coolness amounting to carelessness, a carelessness amounting
almost to a suicidal swagger. His one wild chance of coming out
safely would be in not too desperately desiring to be safe. There
might be footholds down that awful facade, if only he could not
care whether they were footholds or no. If he were foolhardy he
might escape; if he were wise he would stop where he was till he
dropped from the cross like a stone. And this antinomy kept on
repeating itself in his mind, a contradiction as large and
staring as the immense contradiction of the Cross; he remembered
having often heard the words, "Whosoever shall lose his life the
same shall save it." He remembered with a sort of strange pity
that this had always been made to mean that whoever lost his
physical life should save his spiritual life. Now he knew the
truth that is known to all fighters, and hunters, and climbers of
cliffs. He knew that even his animal life could only be saved by
a considerable readiness to lose it.
Some will think it improbable that a human soul swinging
desperately in mid-air should think about philosophical
inconsistencies. But such extreme states are dangerous things to
dogmatize about. Frequently they produce a certain useless and
joyless activity of the mere intellect, thought not only divorced
from hope but even from desire. And if it is impossible to
dogmatize about such states, it is still more impossible to
describe them. To this spasm of sanity and clarity in Michael's
mind succeeded a spasm of the elemental terror; the terror of the
animal in us which regards the whole universe as its enemy;
which, when it is victorious, has no pity, and so, when it is
defeated has no imaginable hope. Of that ten minutes of terror it
is not possible to speak in human words. But then again in that
damnable darkness there began to grow a strange dawn as of grey
and pale silver. And of this ultimate resignation or certainty it
is even less possible to write; it is something stranger than
hell itself; it is perhaps the last of the secrets of God. At the
highest crisis of some incurable anguish there will suddenly fall
upon the man the stillness of an insane contentment. It is not
hope, for hope is broken and romantic and concerned with the
future; this is complete and of the present. It is not faith, for
faith by its very nature is fierce, and as it were at once
doubtful and defiant; but this is simply a satisfaction. It is
not knowledge, for the intellect seems to have no particular part
in it. Nor is it (as the modern idiots would certainly say it is)
a mere numbness or negative paralysis of the powers of grief. It
is not negative in the least; it is as positive as good news. In
some sense, indeed, it is good news. It seems almost as if there
were some equality among things, some balance in all possible
contingencies which we are not permitted to know lest we should
learn indifference to good and evil, but which is sometimes shown
to us for an instant as a last aid in our last agony.
Michael certainly could not have given any sort of rational
account of this vast unmeaning satisfaction which soaked through
him and filled him to the brim. He felt with a sort of
half-witted lucidity that the cross was there, and the ball was
there, and the dome was there, that he was going to climb down
from them, and that he did not mind in the least whether he was
killed or not. This mysterious mood lasted long enough to start
him on his dreadful descent and to force him to continue it. But
six times before he reached the highest of the outer galleries
terror had returned on him like a flying storm of darkness and
thunder. By the time he had reached that place of safety he
almost felt (as in some impossible fit of drunkenness) that he
had two heads; one was calm, careless, and efficient; the other
saw the danger like a deadly map, was wise, careful, and useless.
He had fancied that he would have to let himself vertically down
the face of the whole building. When he dropped into the upper
gallery he still felt as far from the terrestrial globe as if he
had only dropped from the sun to the moon. He paused a little,
panting in the gallery under the ball, and idly kicked his heels,
moving a few yards along it. And as he did so a thunderbolt
struck his soul. A man, a heavy, ordinary man, with a composed
indifferent face, and a prosaic sort of uniform, with a row of
buttons, blocked his way. Michael had no mind to wonder whether
this solid astonished man, with the brown moustache and the
nickel buttons, had also come on a flying ship. He merely let his
mind float in an endless felicity about the man. He thought how
nice it would be if he had to live up in that gallery with that
one man for ever. He thought how he would luxuriate in the
nameless shades of this man's soul and then hear with an endless
excitement about the nameless shades of the souls of all his
aunts and uncles. A moment before he had been dying alone. Now
he was living in the same world with a man; an inexhaustible
ecstasy. In the gallery below the ball Father Michael had found
that man who is the noblest and most divine and most lovable of
all men, better than all the saints, greater than all the
In the confused colour and music of his new paradise, Michael
heard only in a faint and distant fashion some remarks that this
beautiful solid man seemed to be making to him; remarks about
something or other being after hours and against orders. He also
seemed to be asking how Michael "got up" there. This beautiful
man evidently felt as Michael did that the earth was a star and
was set in heaven.
At length Michael sated himself with the mere sensual music of
the voice of the man in buttons. He began to listen to what he
said, and even to make some attempt at answering a question which
appeared to have been put several times and was now put with some
excess of emphasis. Michael realized that the image of God in
nickel buttons was asking him how he had come there. He said that
he had come in Lucifer's ship. On his giving this answer the
demeanour of the image of God underwent a remarkable change. From
addressing Michael gruffly, as if he were a malefactor, he began
suddenly to speak to him with a sort of eager and feverish
amiability as if he were a child. He seemed particularly anxious
to coax him away from the balustrade. He led him by the arm
towards a door leading into the building itself, soothing him all
the time. He gave what even Michael (slight as was his knowledge
of the world) felt to be an improbable account of the sumptuous
pleasures and varied advantages awaiting him downstairs. Michael
followed him, however, if only out of politeness, down an
apparently interminable spiral of staircase. At one point a door
opened. Michael stepped through it, and the unaccountable man in
buttons leapt after him and pinioned him where he stood. But he
only wished to stand; to stand and stare. He had stepped as it
were into another infinity, out under the dome of another heaven.
But this was a dome of heaven made by man. The gold and green and
crimson of its sunset were not in the shapeless clouds but in
shapes of cherubim and seraphim, awful human shapes with a
passionate plumage. Its stars were not above but far below, like
fallen stars still in unbroken constellations; the dome itself
was full of darkness. And far below, lower even than the lights,
could be seen creeping or motionless, great black masses of men.
The tongue of a terrible organ seemed to shake the very air in
the whole void; and through it there came up to Michael the sound
of a tongue more terrible; the dreadful everlasting voice of man,
calling to his gods from the beginning to the end of the world.
Michael felt almost as if he were a god, and all the voices were
hurled at him.
"No, the pretty things aren't here," said the demi-god in
buttons, caressingly. "The pretty things are downstairs. You
come along with me. There's something that will surprise you
downstairs; something you want very much to see."
Evidently the man in buttons did not feel like a god, so Michael
made no attempt to explain his feelings to him, but followed him
meekly enough down the trail of the serpentine staircase. He had
no notion where or at what level he was. He was still full of the
cold splendour of space, and of what a French writer has
brilliantly named the "vertigo of the infinite," when another
door opened, and with a shock indescribable he found himself on
the familiar level, in a street full of faces, with the houses
and even the lamp-posts above his head. He felt suddenly happy
and suddenly indescribably small. He fancied he had been changed
into a child again; his eyes sought the pavement seriously as
children's do, as if it were a thing with which something
satisfactory could be done. He felt the full warmth of that
pleasure from which the proud shut themselves out; the pleasure
which not only goes with humiliation, but which almost is
humiliation. Men who have escaped death by a hair have it, and
men whose love is returned by a woman unexpectedly, and men whose
sins are forgiven them. Everything his eye fell on it feasted on,
not aesthetically, but with a plain, jolly appetite as of a boy
eating buns. He relished the squareness of the houses; he liked
their clean angles as if he had just cut them with a knife. The
lit squares of the shop windows excited him as the young are
excited by the lit stage of some promising pantomime. He
happened to see in one shop which projected with a bulging
bravery on to the pavement some square tins of potted meat, and
it seemed like a hint of a hundred hilarious high teas in a
hundred streets of the world. He was, perhaps, the happiest of
all the children of men. For in that unendurable instant when he
hung, half slipping, to the ball of St. Paul's, the whole
universe had been destroyed and re-created.
Suddenly through all the din of the dark streets came a crash of
glass. With that mysterious suddenness of the Cockney mob, a rush
was made in the right direction, a dingy office, next to the shop
of the potted meat. The pane of glass was lying in splinters
about the pavement. And the police already had their hands on a
very tall young man, with dark, lank hair and dark, dazed eyes,
with a grey plaid over his shoulder, who had just smashed the
shop window with a single blow of his stick.
"I'd do it again," said the young man, with a furious white face.
"Anybody would have done it. Did you see what it said? I swear
I'd do it again." Then his eyes encountered the monkish habit of
Michael, and he pulled off his grey tam-o'-shanter with the
gesture of a Catholic.
"Father, did you see what they said?" he cried, trembling. "Did
you see what they dared to say? I didn't understand it at first.
I read it half through before I broke the window."
Michael felt he knew not how. The whole peace of the world was
pent up painfully in his heart. The new and childlike world which
he had seen so suddenly, men had not seen at all. Here they were
still at their old bewildering, pardonable, useless quarrels,
with so much to be said on both sides, and so little that need be
said at all. A fierce inspiration fell on him suddenly; he would
strike them where they stood with the love of God. They should
not move till they saw their own sweet and startling existence.
They should not go from that place till they went home embracing
like brothers and shouting like men delivered. From the Cross
from which he had fallen fell the shadow of its fantastic mercy;
and the first three words he spoke in a voice like a silver
trumpet, held men as still as stones. Perhaps if he had spoken
there for an hour in his illumination he might have founded a
religion on Ludgate Hill. But the heavy hand of his guide fell
suddenly on his shoulder.
"This poor fellow is dotty," he said good-humouredly to the
crowd. "I found him wandering in the Cathedral. Says he came in
a flying ship. Is there a constable to spare to take care of him?"
There was a constable to spare. Two other constables attended to
the tall young man in grey; a fourth concerned himself with the
owner of the shop, who showed some tendency to be turbulent. They
took the tall young man away to a magistrate, whither we shall
follow him in an ensuing chapter. And they took the happiest man
in the world away to an asylum.
II. THE RELIGION OF THE STIPENDIARY MAGISTRATE
The editorial office of _The Atheist_ had for some years past
become less and less prominently interesting as a feature of
Ludgate Hill. The paper was unsuited to the atmosphere. It showed
an interest in the Bible unknown in the district, and a knowledge
of that volume to which nobody else on Ludgate Hill could make
any conspicuous claim. It was in vain that the editor of _The
Atheist_ filled his front window with fierce and final demands as
to what Noah in the Ark did with the neck of the giraffe. It was
in vain that he asked violently, as for the last time, how the
statement "God is Spirit" could be reconciled with the statement
"The earth is His footstool." It was in vain that he cried with
an accusing energy that the Bishop of London was paid L12,000 a
year for pretending to believe that the whale swallowed Jonah. It
was in vain that he hung in conspicuous places the most thrilling
scientific calculations about the width of the throat of a whale.
Was it nothing to them all they that passed by? Did his sudden
and splendid and truly sincere indignation never stir any of the
people pouring down Ludgate Hill? Never. The little man who
edited _The Atheist_ would rush from his shop on starlit evenings
and shake his fist at St. Paul's in the passion of his holy war
upon the holy place. He might have spared his emotion. The cross
at the top of St. Paul's and _The Atheist_ shop at the foot of it
were alike remote from the world. The shop and the Cross were
equally uplifted and alone in the empty heavens.
To the little man who edited _The Atheist_, a fiery little
Scotchman, with fiery, red hair and beard, going by the name of
Turnbull, all this decline in public importance seemed not so
much sad or even mad, but merely bewildering and unaccountable.
He had said the worst thing that could be said; and it seemed
accepted and ignored like the ordinary second best of the
politicians. Every day his blasphemies looked more glaring, and
every day the dust lay thicker upon them. It made him feel as if
he were moving in a world of idiots. He seemed among a race of
men who smiled when told of their own death, or looked vacantly
at the Day of Judgement. Year after year went by, and year after
year the death of God in a shop in Ludgate became a less and less
important occurrence. All the forward men of his age discouraged
Turnbull. The socialists said he was cursing priests when he
should be cursing capitalists. The artists said that the soul was
most spiritual, not when freed from religion, but when freed from
morality. Year after year went by, and at least a man came by who
treated Mr. Turnbull's secularist shop with a real respect and
seriousness. He was a young man in a grey plaid, and he smashed
He was a young man, born in the Bay of Arisaig, opposite Rum and
the Isle of Skye. His high, hawklike features and snaky black
hair bore the mark of that unknown historic thing which is
crudely called Celtic, but which is probably far older than the
Celts, whoever they were. He was in name and stock a Highlander
of the Macdonalds; but his family took, as was common in such
cases, the name of a subordinate sept as a surname, and for all
the purposes which could be answered in London, he called himself
Evan MacIan. He had been brought up in some loneliness and
seclusion as a strict Roman Catholic, in the midst of that little
wedge of Roman Catholics which is driven into the Western
Highlands. And he had found his way as far as Fleet Street,
seeking some half-promised employment, without having properly
realized that there were in the world any people who were not
Roman Catholics. He had uncovered himself for a few moments
before the statue of Queen Anne, in front of St. Paul's
Cathedral, under the firm impression that it was a figure of the
Virgin Mary. He was somewhat surprised at the lack of deference
shown to the figure by the people bustling by. He did not
understand that their one essential historical principle, the one
law truly graven on their hearts, was the great and comforting
statement that Queen Anne is dead. This faith was as fundamental
as his faith, that Our Lady was alive. Any persons he had talked
to since he had touched the fringe of our fashion or civilization
had been by a coincidence, sympathetic or hypocritical. Or if
they had spoken some established blasphemies, he had been unable
to understand them merely owing to the preoccupied satisfaction
of his mind.
On that fantastic fringe of the Gaelic land where he walked as a
boy, the cliffs were as fantastic as the clouds. Heaven seemed to
humble itself and come closer to the earth. The common paths of
his little village began to climb quite suddenly and seemed
resolved to go to heaven. The sky seemed to fall down towards the
hills; the hills took hold upon the sky. In the sumptuous sunset
of gold and purple and peacock green cloudlets and islets were
the same. Evan lived like a man walking on a borderland, the
borderland between this world and another. Like so many men and
nations who grow up with nature and the common things, he
understood the supernatural before he understood the natural. He
had looked at dim angels standing knee-deep in the grass before
he had looked at the grass. He knew that Our Lady's robes were
blue before he knew the wild roses round her feet were red. The
deeper his memory plunged into the dark house of childhood the
nearer and nearer he came to the things that cannot be named.
All through his life he thought of the daylight world as a sort
of divine debris, the broken remainder of his first vision. The
skies and mountains were the splendid off-scourings of another
place. The stars were lost jewels of the Queen. Our Lady had
gone and left the stars by accident.
His private tradition was equally wild and unworldly. His
great-grandfather had been cut down at Culloden, certain in his
last instant that God would restore the King. His grandfather,
then a boy of ten, had taken the terrible claymore from the hand
of the dead and hung it up in his house, burnishing it and
sharpening it for sixty years, to be ready for the next
rebellion. His father, the youngest son and the last left alive,
had refused to attend on Queen Victoria in Scotland. And Evan
himself had been of one piece with his progenitors; and was not
dead with them, but alive in the twentieth century. He was not
in the least the pathetic Jacobite of whom we read, left behind
by a final advance of all things. He was, in his own fancy, a
conspirator, fierce and up to date. In the long, dark afternoons
of the Highland winter, he plotted and fumed in the dark. He
drew plans of the capture of London on the desolate sand of
When he came up to capture London, it was not with an army of
white cockades, but with a stick and a satchel. London overawed
him a little, not because he thought it grand or even terrible,
but because it bewildered him; it was not the Golden City or even
hell; it was Limbo. He had one shock of sentiment, when he turned
that wonderful corner of Fleet Street and saw St. Paul's sitting
in the sky.
"Ah," he said, after a long pause, "that sort of thing was built
under the Stuarts!" Then with a sour grin he asked himself what
was the corresponding monument of the Brunswicks and the
Protestant Constitution. After some warning, he selected a
sky-sign of some pill.
Half an hour afterwards his emotions left him with an emptied
mind on the same spot. And it was in a mood of mere idle
investigation that he happened to come to a standstill opposite
the office of _The Atheist_. He did not see the word "atheist",
or if he did, it is quite possible that he did not know the
meaning of the word. Even as it was, the document would not have
shocked even the innocent Highlander, but for the troublesome and
quite unforeseen fact that the innocent Highlander read it
stolidly to the end; a thing unknown among the most enthusiastic
subscribers to the paper, and calculated in any case to create a
With a smart journalistic instinct characteristic of all his
school, the editor of _The Atheist_ had put first in his paper
and most prominently in his window an article called "The
Mesopotamian Mythology and its Effects on Syriac Folk Lore." Mr.
Evan MacIan began to read this quite idly, as he would have read
a public statement beginning with a young girl dying in Brighton
and ending with Bile Beans. He received the very considerable
amount of information accumulated by the author with that tired
clearness of the mind which children have on heavy summer
afternoons--that tired clearness which leads them to go on asking
questions long after they have lost interest in the subject and
are as bored as their nurse. The streets were full of people and
empty of adventures. He might as well know about the gods of
Mesopotamia as not; so he flattened his long, lean face against
the dim bleak pane of the window and read all there was to read
about Mesopotamian gods. He read how the Mesopotamians had a god
named Sho (sometimes pronounced Ji), and that he was described as
being very powerful, a striking similarity to some expressions
about Jahveh, who is also described as having power. Evan had
never heard of Jahveh in his life, and imagining him to be some
other Mesopotamian idol, read on with a dull curiosity. He learnt
that the name Sho, under its third form of Psa, occurs in an
early legend which describes how the deity, after the manner of
Jupiter on so many occasions, seduced a Virgin and begat a hero.
This hero, whose name is not essential to our existence, was, it
was said, the chief hero and Saviour of the Mesopotamian ethical
scheme. Then followed a paragraph giving other examples of such
heroes and Saviours being born of some profligate intercourse
between God and mortal. Then followed a paragraph--but Evan did
not understand it. He read it again and then again. Then he did
understand it. The glass fell in ringing fragments on to the
pavement, and Evan sprang over the barrier into the shop,
brandishing his stick.
"What is this?" cried little Mr. Turnbull, starting up with hair
aflame. "How dare you break my window?"
"Because it was the quickest cut to you," cried Evan, stamping.
"Stand up and fight, you crapulous coward. You dirty lunatic,
stand up, will you? Have you any weapons here?"
"Are you mad?" asked Turnbull, glaring.
"Are you?" cried Evan. "Can you be anything else when you plaster
your own house with that God-defying filth? Stand up and fight, I
A great light like dawn came into Mr. Turnbull's face. Behind his
red hair and beard he turned deadly pale with pleasure. Here,
after twenty lone years of useless toil, he had his reward.
Someone was angry with the paper. He bounded to his feet like a
boy; he saw a new youth opening before him. And as not
unfrequently happens to middle-aged gentlemen when they see a new
youth opening before them, he found himself in the presence of
The policemen, after some ponderous questionings, collared both
the two enthusiasts. They were more respectful, however, to the
young man who had smashed the window, than to the miscreant who
had had his window smashed. There was an air of refined mystery
about Evan MacIan, which did not exist in the irate little
shopkeeper, an air of refined mystery which appealed to the
policemen, for policemen, like most other English types, are at
once snobs and poets. MacIan might possibly be a gentleman, they
felt; the editor manifestly was not. And the editor's fine
rational republican appeals to his respect for law, and his
ardour to be tried by his fellow citizens, seemed to the police
quite as much gibberish as Evan's mysticism could have done. The
police were not used to hearing principles, even the principles
of their own existence.
The police magistrate, before whom they were hurried and tried,
was a Mr. Cumberland Vane, a cheerful, middle-aged gentleman,
honourably celebrated for the lightness of his sentences and the
lightness of his conversation. He occasionally worked himself up
into a sort of theoretic rage about certain particular offenders,
such as the men who took pokers to their wives, talked in a
loose, sentimental way about the desirability of flogging them,
and was hopelessly bewildered by the fact that the wives seemed
even more angry with him than with their husbands. He was a tall,
spruce man, with a twist of black moustache and incomparable
morning dress. He looked like a gentleman, and yet, somehow, like
a stage gentleman.
He had often treated serious crimes against mere order or
property with a humane flippancy. Hence, about the mere breaking
of an editor's window, he was almost uproarious.
"Come, Mr. MacIan, come," he said, leaning back in his chair, "do
you generally enter you friends' houses by walking through the
"He is not my friend," said Evan, with the stolidity of a dull
"Not your friend, eh?" said the magistrate, sparkling. "Is he
your brother-in-law?" (Loud and prolonged laughter.)
"He is my enemy," said Evan, simply; "he is the enemy of God."
Mr. Vane shifted sharply in his seat, dropping the eye-glass out
of his eye in a momentary and not unmanly embarrassment.
"You mustn't talk like that here," he said, roughly, and in a
kind of hurry, "that has nothing to do with us."
Evan opened his great, blue eyes; "God," he began.
"Be quiet," said the magistrate, angrily, "it is most undesirable
that things of that sort should be spoken about--a--in public,
and in an ordinary Court of Justice. Religion is--a--too personal
a matter to be mentioned in such a place."
"Is it?" answered the Highlander, "then what did those policemen
swear by just now?"
"That is no parallel," answered Vane, rather irritably; "of
course there is a form of oath--to be taken reverently--
reverently, and there's an end of it. But to talk in a public
place about one's most sacred and private sentiments--well, I
call it bad taste. (Slight applause.) I call it irreverent.
I call it irreverent, and I'm not specially orthodox either."
"I see you are not," said Evan, "but I am."
"We are wondering from the point," said the police magistrate,
pulling himself together.
"May I ask why you smashed this worthy citizen's window?"
Evan turned a little pale at the mere memory, but he answered
with the same cold and deadly literalism that he showed
"Because he blasphemed Our Lady."
"I tell you once and for all," cried Mr. Cumberland Vane, rapping
his knuckles angrily on the table, "I tell you, once and for all,
my man, that I will not have you turning on any religious rant or
cant here. Don't imagine that it will impress me. The most
religious people are not those who talk about it. (Applause.)
You answer the questions and do nothing else."
"I did nothing else," said Evan, with a slight smile.
"Eh," cried Vane, glaring through his eye-glass.
"You asked me why I broke his window," said MacIan, with a face
of wood. "I answered, 'Because he blasphemed Our Lady.' I had
no other reason. So I have no other answer." Vane continued to
gaze at him with a sternness not habitual to him.
"You are not going the right way to work, Sir," he said, with
severity. "You are not going the right way to work to--a--have
your case treated with special consideration. If you had simply
expressed regret for what you had done, I should have been
strongly inclined to dismiss the matter as an outbreak of temper.
Even now, if you say that you are sorry I shall only----"
"But I am not in the least sorry," said Evan, "I am very
"I really believe you are insane," said the stipendiary,
indignantly, for he had really been doing his best as a
good-natured man, to compose the dispute. "What conceivable right
have you to break other people's windows because their opinions
do not agree with yours? This man only gave expression to his
"So did I," said the Highlander.
"And who are you?" exploded Vane. "Are your views necessarily the
right ones? Are you necessarily in possession of the truth?"
"Yes," said MacIan.
The magistrate broke into a contemptuous laugh.
"Oh, you want a nurse to look after you," he said. "You must pay
Evan MacIan plunged his hands into his loose grey garment and
drew out a queer looking leather purse. It contained exactly
twelve sovereigns. He paid down the ten, coin by coin, in
silence, and equally silently returned the remaining two to the
receptacle. Then he said, "May I say a word, your worship?"
Cumberland Vane seemed half hypnotized with the silence and
automatic movements of the stranger; he made a movement with his
head which might have been either "yes" or "no". "I only wished
to say, your worship," said MacIan, putting back the purse in his
trouser pocket, "that smashing that shop window was, I confess, a
useless and rather irregular business. It may be excused,
however, as a mere preliminary to further proceedings, a sort of
preface. Wherever and whenever I meet that man," and he pointed
to the editor of _The Atheist_, "whether it be outside this door
in ten minutes from now, or twenty years hence in some distant
country, wherever and whenever I meet that man, I will fight him.
Do not be afraid. I will not rush at him like a bully, or bear
him down with any brute superiority. I will fight him like a
gentleman; I will fight him as our fathers fought. He shall
choose how, sword or pistol, horse or foot. But if he refuses, I
will write his cowardice on every wall in the world. If he had
said of my mother what he said of the Mother of God, there is not
a club of clean men in Europe that would deny my right to call
him out. If he had said it of my wife, you English would
yourselves have pardoned me for beating him like a dog in the
market place. Your worship, I have no mother; I have no wife. I
have only that which the poor have equally with the rich; which
the lonely have equally with the man of many friends. To me this
whole strange world is homely, because in the heart of it there
is a home; to me this cruel world is kindly, because higher than
the heavens there is something more human than humanity. If a man
must not fight for this, may he fight for anything? I would fight
for my friend, but if I lost my friend, I should still be there.
I would fight for my country, but if I lost my country, I should
still exist. But if what that devil dreams were true, I should
not be--I should burst like a bubble and be gone. I could not
live in that imbecile universe. Shall I not fight for my own
The magistrate recovered his voice and his presence of mind. The
first part of the speech, the bombastic and brutally practical
challenge, stunned him with surprise; but the rest of Evan's
remarks, branching off as they did into theoretic phrases, gave
his vague and very English mind (full of memories of the hedging
and compromise in English public speaking) an indistinct
sensation of relief, as if the man, though mad, were not so
dangerous as he had thought. He went into a sort of weary
"For Heaven's sake, man," he said, "don't talk so much. Let other
people have a chance (laughter). I trust all that you said about
asking Mr. Turnbull to fight, may be regarded as rubbish. In case
of accidents, however, I must bind you over to keep the peace."
"To keep the peace," repeated Evan, "with whom?"
"With Mr. Turnbull," said Vane.
"Certainly not," answered MacIan. "What has he to do with peace?"
"Do you mean to say," began the magistrate, "that you refuse
to..." The voice of Turnbull himself clove in for the first time.
"Might I suggest," he said, "That I, your worship, can settle to
some extent this absurd matter myself. This rather wild gentleman
promises that he will not attack me with any ordinary assault--
and if he does, you may be sure the police shall hear of it. But
he says he will not. He says he will challenge me to a duel; and
I cannot say anything stronger about his mental state than to say
that I think that it is highly probable that he will. (Laughter.)
But it takes two to make a duel, your worship (renewed laughter).
I do not in the least mind being described on every wall in the
world as the coward who would not fight a man in Fleet Street,
about whether the Virgin Mary had a parallel in Mesopotamian
mythology. No, your worship. You need not trouble to bind him
over to keep the peace. I bind myself over to keep the peace,
and you may rest quite satisfied that there will be no duel with
me in it."
Mr. Cumberland Vane rolled about, laughing in a sort of relief.
"You're like a breath of April, sir," he cried. "You're ozone
after that fellow. You're perfectly right. Perhaps I have taken
the thing too seriously. I should love to see him sending you
challenges and to see you smiling. Well, well."
Evan went out of the Court of Justice free, but strangely shaken,
like a sick man. Any punishment of suppression he would have felt
as natural; but the sudden juncture between the laughter of his
judge and the laughter of the man he had wronged, made him feel
suddenly small, or at least, defeated. It was really true that
the whole modern world regarded his world as a bubble. No cruelty
could have shown it, but their kindness showed it with a ghastly
clearness. As he was brooding, he suddenly became conscious of a
small, stern figure, fronting him in silence. Its eyes were grey
and awful, and its beard red. It was Turnbull.
"Well, sir," said the editor of _The Atheist_, "where is the
fight to be? Name the field, sir."
Evan stood thunderstruck. He stammered out something, he knew not
what; he only guessed it by the answer of the other.
"Do I want to fight? Do I want to fight?" cried the furious
Free-thinker. "Why, you moonstruck scarecrow of superstition, do
you think your dirty saints are the only people who can die?
Haven't you hung atheists, and burned them, and boiled them, and
did they ever deny their faith? Do you think we don't want to
fight? Night and day I have prayed--I have longed--for an atheist
revolution--I have longed to see your blood and ours on the
streets. Let it be yours or mine?"
"But you said..." began MacIan.
"I know," said Turnbull scornfully. "And what did you say? You
damned fool, you said things that might have got us locked up for
a year, and shadowed by the coppers for half a decade. If you
wanted to fight, why did you tell that ass you wanted to? I got
you out, to fight if you want to. Now, fight if you dare."
"I swear to you, then," said MacIan, after a pause. "I swear to
you that nothing shall come between us. I swear to you that
nothing shall be in my heart or in my head till our swords clash
together. I swear it by the God you have denied, by the Blessed
Lady you have blasphemed; I swear it by the seven swords in her
heart. I swear it by the Holy Island where my fathers are, by the
honour of my mother, by the secret of my people, and by the
chalice of the Blood of God."
The atheist drew up his head. "And I," he said, "give my word."
III. SOME OLD CURIOSITIES
The evening sky, a dome of solid gold, unflaked even by a single
sunset cloud, steeped the meanest sights of London in a strange
and mellow light. It made a little greasy street of St. Martin's
Lane look as if it were paved with gold. It made the pawnbroker's
half-way down it shine as if it were really that Mountain of
Piety that the French poetic instinct has named it; it made the
mean pseudo-French bookshop, next but one to it, a shop packed
with dreary indecency, show for a moment a kind of Parisian
colour. And the shop that stood between the pawnshop and the shop
of dreary indecency, showed with quite a blaze of old world
beauty, for it was, by accident, a shop not unbeautiful in
itself. The front window had a glimmer of bronze and blue steel,
lit, as by a few stars, by the sparks of what were alleged to be
jewels; for it was in brief, a shop of bric-a-brac and old
curiosities. A row of half-burnished seventeenth-century swords
ran like an ornate railing along the front of the window; behind
was a darker glimmer of old oak and old armour; and higher up
hung the most extraordinary looking South Sea tools or utensils,
whether designed for killing enemies or merely for cooking them,
no mere white man could possibly conjecture. But the romance of
the eye, which really on this rich evening, clung about the shop,
had its main source in the accident of two doors standing open,
the front door that opened on the street and a back door that
opened on an odd green square of garden, that the sun turned to a
square of gold. There is nothing more beautiful than thus to look
as it were through the archway of a house; as if the open sky
were an interior chamber, and the sun a secret lamp of the place.
I have suggested that the sunset light made everything lovely. To
say that it made the keeper of the curiosity shop lovely would be
a tribute to it perhaps too extreme. It would easily have made
him beautiful if he had been merely squalid; if he had been a Jew
of the Fagin type. But he was a Jew of another and much less
admirable type; a Jew with a very well-sounding name. For though
there are no hard tests for separating the tares and the wheat of
any people, one rude but efficient guide is that the nice Jew is
called Moses Solomon, and the nasty Jew is called Thornton Percy.
The keeper of the curiosity shop was of the Thornton Percy branch
of the chosen people; he belonged to those Lost Ten Tribes whose
industrious object is to lose themselves. He was a man still
young, but already corpulent, with sleek dark hair, heavy
handsome clothes, and a full, fat, permanent smile, which looked
at the first glance kindly, and at the second cowardly. The name
over his shop was Henry Gordon, but two Scotchmen who were in his
shop that evening could come upon no trace of a Scotch accent.
These two Scotchmen in this shop were careful purchasers, but
free-handed payers. One of them who seemed to be the principal
and the authority (whom, indeed, Mr. Henry Gordon fancied he had
seen somewhere before), was a small, sturdy fellow, with fine
grey eyes, a square red tie and a square red beard, that he
carried aggressively forward as if he defied anyone to pull it.
The other kept so much in the background in comparison that he
looked almost ghostly in his grey cloak or plaid, a tall, sallow,
silent young man.
The two Scotchmen were interested in seventeenth-century swords.
They were fastidious about them. They had a whole armoury of
these weapons brought out and rolled clattering about the
counter, until they found two of precisely the same length.
Presumably they desired the exact symmetry for some decorative
trophy. Even then they felt the points, poised the swords for
balance and bent them in a circle to see that they sprang
straight again; which, for decorative purposes, seems carrying
realism rather far.
"These will do," said the strange person with the red beard.
"And perhaps I had better pay for them at once. And as you are
the challenger, Mr. MacIan, perhaps you had better explain the
The tall Scotchman in grey took a step forward and spoke in a
voice quite clear and bold, and yet somehow lifeless, like a man
going through an ancient formality.
"The fact is, Mr. Gordon, we have to place our honour in your
hands. Words have passed between Mr. Turnbull and myself on a
grave and invaluable matter, which can only be atoned for by
fighting. Unfortunately, as the police are in some sense pursuing
us, we are hurried, and must fight now and without seconds. But
if you will be so kind as to take us into your little garden and
see far play, we shall feel how----"
The shopman recovered himself from a stunning surprise and burst
"Gentlemen, are you drunk? A duel! A duel in my garden. Go
home, gentlemen, go home. Why, what did you quarrel about?"
"We quarrelled," said Evan, in the same dead voice, "about
religion." The fat shopkeeper rolled about in his chair with
"Well, this is a funny game," he said. "So you want to commit
murder on behalf of religion. Well, well my religion is a little
respect for humanity, and----"
"Excuse me," cut in Turnbull, suddenly and fiercely, pointing
towards the pawnbroker's next door. "Don't you own that shop?"
"Why--er--yes," said Gordon.
"And don't you own that shop?" repeated the secularist, pointing
backward to the pornographic bookseller.
"What if I do?"
"Why, then," cried Turnbull, with grating contempt. "I will leave
the religion of humanity confidently in your hands; but I am
sorry I troubled you about such a thing as honour. Look here, my
man. I do believe in humanity. I do believe in liberty. My father
died for it under the swords of the Yeomanry. I am going to die
for it, if need be, under that sword on your counter. But if
there is one sight that makes me doubt it it is your foul fat
face. It is hard to believe you were not meant to be ruled like a
dog or killed like a cockroach. Don't try your slave's philosophy
on me. We are going to fight, and we are going to fight in your
garden, with your swords. Be still! Raise your voice above a
whisper, and I run you through the body."
Turnbull put the bright point of the sword against the gay
waistcoat of the dealer, who stood choking with rage and fear,
and an astonishment so crushing as to be greater than either.
"MacIan," said Turnbull, falling almost into the familiar tone of
a business partner, "MacIan, tie up this fellow and put a gag in
his mouth. Be still, I say, or I kill you where you stand."
The man was too frightened to scream, but he struggled wildly,
while Evan MacIan, whose long, lean hands were unusually
powerful, tightened some old curtain cords round him, strapped a
rope gag in his mouth and rolled him on his back on the floor.
"There's nothing very strong here," said Evan, looking about him.
"I'm afraid he'll work through that gag in half an hour or so."
"Yes," said Turnbull, "but one of us will be killed by that
"Well, let's hope so," said the Highlander, glancing doubtfully
at the squirming thing on the floor.
"And now," said Turnbull, twirling his fiery moustache and
fingering his sword, "let us go into the garden. What an
exquisite summer evening!"
MacIan said nothing, but lifting his sword from the counter went
out into the sun.
The brilliant light ran along the blades, filling the channels of
them with white fire; the combatants stuck their swords in the
turf and took off their hats, coats, waistcoats, and boots. Evan
said a short Latin prayer to himself, during which Turnbull made
something of a parade of lighting a cigarette which he flung away
the instant after, when he saw MacIan apparently standing ready.
Yet MacIan was not exactly ready. He stood staring like a man
stricken with a trance.
"What are you staring at?" asked Turnbull. "Do you see the
"I see Jerusalem," said Evan, "all covered with the shields and
standards of the Saracens."
"Jerusalem!" said Turnbull, laughing. "Well, we've taken the only
inhabitant into captivity."
And he picked up his sword and made it whistle like a boy's wand.
"I beg your pardon," said MacIan, dryly. "Let us begin."
MacIan made a military salute with his weapon, which Turnbull
copied or parodied with an impatient contempt; and in the
stillness of the garden the swords came together with a clear
sound like a bell. The instant the blades touched, each felt them
tingle to their very points with a personal vitality, as if they
were two naked nerves of steel. Evan had worn throughout an air
of apathy, which might have been the stale apathy of one who
wants nothing. But it was indeed the more dreadful apathy of one
who wants something and will care for nothing else. And this was
seen suddenly; for the instant Evan engaged he disengaged and
lunged with an infernal violence. His opponent with a desperate
promptitude parried and riposted; the parry only just succeeded,
the riposte failed. Something big and unbearable seemed to have
broken finally out of Evan in that first murderous lunge, leaving
him lighter and cooler and quicker upon his feet. He fell to
again, fiercely still, but now with a fierce caution. The next
moment Turnbull lunged; MacIan seemed to catch the point and
throw it away from him, and was thrusting back like a
thunderbolt, when a sound paralysed him; another sound beside
their ringing weapons. Turnbull, perhaps from an equal
astonishment, perhaps from chivalry, stopped also and forebore to
send his sword through his exposed enemy.
"What's that?" asked Evan, hoarsely.
A heavy scraping sound, as of a trunk being dragged along a
littered floor, came from the dark shop behind them.
"The old Jew has broken one of his strings, and he's crawling
about," said Turnbull. "Be quick! We must finish before he gets
his gag out."
"Yes, yes, quick! On guard!" cried the Highlander. The blades
crossed again with the same sound like song, and the men went to
work again with the same white and watchful faces. Evan, in his
impatience, went back a little to his wildness. He made
windmills, as the French duellists say, and though he was
probably a shade the better fencer of the two, he found the
other's point pass his face twice so close as almost to graze his
cheek. The second time he realized the actual possibility of
defeat and pulled himself together under a shock of the sanity of
anger. He narrowed, and, so to speak, tightened his operations:
he fenced (as the swordsman's boast goes), in a wedding ring; he
turned Turnbull's thrusts with a maddening and almost mechanical
click, like that of a machine. Whenever Turnbull's sword sought
to go over that other mere white streak it seemed to be caught in
a complex network of steel. He turned one thrust, turned another,
turned another. Then suddenly he went forward at the lunge with
his whole living weight. Turnbull leaped back, but Evan lunged
and lunged and lunged again like a devilish piston rod or
battering ram. And high above all the sound of the struggle there
broke into the silent evening a bellowing human voice, nasal,
raucous, at the highest pitch of pain. "Help! Help! Police!
Murder! Murder!" The gag was broken; and the tongue of terror
"Keep on!" gasped Turnbull. "One may be killed before they come."
The voice of the screaming shopkeeper was loud enough to drown
not only the noise of the swords but all other noises around it,
but even through its rending din there seemed to be some other
stir or scurry. And Evan, in the very act of thrusting at
Turnbull, saw something in his eyes that made him drop his sword.
The atheist, with his grey eyes at their widest and wildest, was
staring straight over his shoulder at the little archway of shop
that opened on the street beyond. And he saw the archway blocked
and blackened with strange figures.
"We must bolt, MacIan," he said abruptly. "And there isn't a
damned second to lose either. Do as I do."
With a bound he was beside the little cluster of his clothes and
boots that lay on the lawn; he snatched them up, without waiting
to put any of them on; and tucking his sword under his other arm,
went wildly at the wall at the bottom of the garden and swung
himself over it. Three seconds after he had alighted in his socks
on the other side, MacIan alighted beside him, also in his socks
and also carrying clothes and sword in a desperate bundle.
They were in a by-street, very lean and lonely itself, but so
close to a crowded thoroughfare that they could see the vague
masses of vehicles going by, and could even see an individual
hansom cab passing the corner at the instant. Turnbull put his
fingers to his mouth like a gutter-snipe and whistled twice. Even
as he did so he could hear the loud voices of the neighbours and
the police coming down the garden.
The hansom swung sharply and came tearing down the little lane at
his call. When the cabman saw his fares, however, two wild-haired
men in their shirts and socks with naked swords under their arms,
he not unnaturally brought his readiness to a rigid stop and
"You talk to him a minute," whispered Turnbull, and stepped back
into the shadow of the wall.
"We want you," said MacIan to the cabman, with a superb Scotch
drawl of indifference and assurance, "to drive us to St. Pancras
"Very sorry, sir," said the cabman, "but I'd like to know it was
all right. Might I arst where you come from, sir?"
A second after he spoke MacIan heard a heavy voice on the other
side of the wall, saying: "I suppose I'd better get over and look
for them. Give me a back."
"Cabby," said MacIan, again assuming the most deliberate and
lingering lowland Scotch intonation, "if ye're really verra
anxious to ken whar a' come fra', I'll tell ye as a verra great
secret. A' come from Scotland. And a'm gaein' to St. Pancras
Station. Open the doors, cabby."
The cabman stared, but laughed. The heavy voice behind the wall
said: "Now then, a better back this time, Mr. Price." And from
the shadow of the wall Turnbull crept out. He had struggled
wildly into his coat (leaving his waistcoat on the pavement), and
he was with a fierce pale face climbing up the cab behind the
cabman. MacIan had no glimmering notion of what he was up to, but
an instinct of discipline, inherited from a hundred men of war,
made him stick to his own part and trust the other man's.
"Open the doors, cabby," he repeated, with something of the
obstinate solemnity of a drunkard, "open the doors. Did ye no
hear me say St. Pancras Station?"
The top of a policeman's helmet appeared above the garden wall.
The cabman did not see it, but he was still suspicious and began:
"Very sorry, sir, but..." and with that the catlike Turnbull tore
him out of his seat and hurled him into the street below, where
he lay suddenly stunned.
"Give me his hat," said Turnbull in a silver voice, that the
other obeyed like a bugle. "And get inside with the swords."
And just as the red and raging face of a policeman appeared above
the wall, Turnbull struck the horse with a terrible cut of the
whip and the two went whirling away like a boomerang.
They had spun through seven streets and three or four squares
before anything further happened. Then, in the neighbourhood of
Maida Vale, the driver opened the trap and talked through it in a
manner not wholly common in conversations through that aperture.
"Mr. MacIan," he said shortly and civilly.
"Mr. Turnbull," replied his motionless fare.
"Under circumstances such as those in which we were both recently
placed there was no time for anything but very abrupt action. I
trust therefore that you have no cause to complain of me if I
have deferred until this moment a consultation with you on our
present position or future action. Our present position, Mr.
MacIan, I imagine that I am under no special necessity of
describing. We have broken the law and we are fleeing from its
officers. Our future action is a thing about which I myself
entertain sufficiently strong views; but I have no right to
assume or to anticipate yours, though I may have formed a decided
conception of your character and a decided notion of what they
will probably be. Still, by every principle of intellectual
justice, I am bound to ask you now and seriously whether you wish
to continue our interrupted relations."
MacIan leant his white and rather weary face back upon the
cushions in order to speak up through the open door.
"Mr. Turnbull," he said, "I have nothing to add to what I have
said before. It is strongly borne in upon me that you and I, the
sole occupants of this runaway cab, are at this moment the two
most important people in London, possibly in Europe. I have been
looking at all the streets as we went past, I have been looking
at all the shops as we went past, I have been looking at all the
churches as we went past. At first, I felt a little dazed with
the vastness of it all. I could not understand what it all meant.
But now I know exactly what it all means. It means us. This whole
civilization is only a dream. You and I are the realities."
"Religious symbolism," said Mr. Turnbull, through the trap, "does
not, as you are probably aware, appeal ordinarily to thinkers of
the school to which I belong. But in symbolism as you use it in
this instance, I must, I think, concede a certain truth. We
_must_ fight this thing out somewhere; because, as you truly say,
we have found each other's reality. We _must_ kill each other--or
convert each other. I used to think all Christians were
hypocrites, and I felt quite mildly towards them really. But I
know you are sincere--and my soul is mad against you. In the same
way you used, I suppose, to think that all atheists thought
atheism would leave them free for immorality--and yet in your
heart you tolerated them entirely. Now you _know_ that I am an
honest man, and you are mad against me, as I am against you. Yes,
that's it. You can't be angry with bad men. But a good man in the
wrong--why one thirsts for his blood. Yes, you open for me a
vista of thought."
"Don't run into anything," said Evan, immovably.
"There's something in that view of yours, too," said Turnbull,
and shut down the trap.
They sped on through shining streets that shot by them like
arrows. Mr. Turnbull had evidently a great deal of unused
practical talent which was unrolling itself in this ridiculous
adventure. They had got away with such stunning promptitude that
the police chase had in all probability not even properly begun.
But in case it had, the amateur cabman chose his dizzy course
through London with a strange dexterity. He did not do what would
have first occurred to any ordinary outsider desiring to destroy
his tracks. He did not cut into by-ways or twist his way through
mean streets. His amateur common sense told him that it was
precisely the poor street, the side street, that would be likely
to remember and report the passing of a hansom cab, like the
passing of a royal procession. He kept chiefly to the great
roads, so full of hansoms that a wilder pair than they might
easily have passed in the press. In one of the quieter streets
Evan put on his boots.
Towards the top of Albany Street the singular cabman again opened
"Mr. MacIan," he said, "I understand that we have now definitely
settled that in the conventional language honour is not
satisfied. Our action must at least go further than it has gone
under recent interrupted conditions. That, I believe, is
"Perfectly," replied the other with his bootlace in his teeth.
"Under those conditions," continued Turnbull, his voice coming
through the hole with a slight note of trepidation very unusual
with him, "I have a suggestion to make, if that can be called a
suggestion, which has probably occurred to you as readily as to
me. Until the actual event comes off we are practically in the
position if not of comrades, at least of business partners. Until
the event comes off, therefore I should suggest that quarrelling
would be inconvenient and rather inartistic; while the ordinary
exchange of politeness between man and man would be not only
elegant but uncommonly practical."
"You are perfectly right," answered MacIan, with his melancholy
voice, "in saying that all this has occurred to me. All duellists
should behave like gentlemen to each other. But we, by the
queerness of our position, are something much more than either
duellists or gentlemen. We are, in the oddest and most exact
sense of the term, brothers--in arms."
"Mr. MacIan," replied Turnbull, calmly, "no more need be said."
And he closed the trap once more.
They had reached Finchley Road before he opened it again.
Then he said, "Mr. MacIan, may I offer you a cigar. It will be a
touch of realism."
"Thank you," answered Evan. "You are very kind." And he began to
smoke in the cab.
IV. A DISCUSSION AT DAWN
The duellists had from their own point of view escaped or
conquered the chief powers of the modern world. They had
satisfied the magistrate, they had tied the tradesman neck and
heels, and they had left the police behind. As far as their own
feelings went they had melted into a monstrous sea; they were but
the fare and driver of one of the million hansoms that fill
London streets. But they had forgotten something; they had
forgotten journalism. They had forgotten that there exists in
the modern world, perhaps for the first time in history, a class
of people whose interest is not that things should happen well or
happen badly, should happen successfully or happen
unsuccessfully, should happen to the advantage of this party or
the advantage of that part, but whose interest simply is that
things should happen.
It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our
modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of
exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen
off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a
man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is
fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower
of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth.
That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more
sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But
journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the
permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on
their posters, "Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe," or "Mr. Jones, of
Worthing, Not Dead Yet." They cannot announce the happiness of
mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not
stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved.
Hence the complete picture they give of life is of necessity
fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However
democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the
The incident of the religious fanatic who broke a window on
Ludgate Hill was alone enough to set them up in good copy for the
night. But when the same man was brought before a magistrate and
defied his enemy to mortal combat in the open court, then the
columns would hardly hold the excruciating information, and the
headlines were so large that there was hardly room for any of the
text. The _Daily Telegraph_ headed a column, "A Duel on
Divinity," and there was a correspondence afterwards which lasted
for months, about whether police magistrates ought to mention
religion. The _Daily Mail_ in its dull, sensible way, headed the
events, "Wanted to fight for the Virgin." Mr. James Douglas, in
_The Star_, presuming on his knowledge of philosophical and
theological terms, described the Christian's outbreak under the
title of "Dualist and Duellist." The _Daily News_ inserted a
colourless account of the matter, but was pursued and eaten up
for some weeks, with letters from outlying ministers, headed
"Murder and Mariolatry." But the journalistic temperature was
steadily and consistently heated by all these influences; the
journalists had tasted blood, prospectively, and were in the mood
for more; everything in the matter prepared them for further
outbursts of moral indignation. And when a gasping reporter
rushed in in the last hours of the evening with the announcement
that the two heroes of the Police Court had literally been found
fighting in a London back garden, with a shopkeeper bound and
gagged in the front of the house, the editors and sub-editors
were stricken still as men are by great beatitudes.
The next morning, five or six of the great London dailies burst
out simultaneously into great blossoms of eloquent
leader-writing. Towards the end all the leaders tended to be the
same, but they all began differently. The _Daily Telegraph_, for
instance began, "There will be little difference among our
readers or among all truly English and law-abiding men touching
the, etc. etc." The _Daily Mail_ said, "People must learn, in the
modern world, to keep their theological differences to
themselves. The fracas, etc. etc." The _Daily News_ started,
"Nothing could be more inimical to the cause of true religion
than, etc. etc." The _Times_ began with something about Celtic
disturbances of the equilibrium of Empire, and the _Daily
Express_ distinguished itself splendidly by omitting altogether
so controversial a matter and substituting a leader about
And the morning after that, the editors and the newspapers were
in such a state, that, as the phrase is, there was no holding
them. Whatever secret and elvish thing it is that broods over
editors and suddenly turns their brains, that thing had seized on
the story of the broken glass and the duel in the garden. It
became monstrous and omnipresent, as do in our time the
unimportant doings of the sect of the Agapemonites, or as did at
an earlier time the dreary dishonesties of the Rhodesian
financiers. Questions were asked about it, and even answered, in
the House of Commons. The Government was solemnly denounced in
the papers for not having done something, nobody knew what, to
prevent the window being broken. An enormous subscription was
started to reimburse Mr. Gordon, the man who had been gagged in
the shop. Mr. MacIan, one of the combatants, became for some
mysterious reason, singly and hugely popular as a comic figure in
the comic papers and on the stage of the music hall. He was
always represented (in defiance of fact), with red whiskers, and
a very red nose, and in full Highland costume. And a song,
consisting of an unimaginable number of verses, in which his name
was rhymed with flat iron, the British Lion, sly 'un, dandelion,
Spion (With Kop in the next line), was sung to crowded houses
every night. The papers developed a devouring thirst for the
capture of the fugitives; and when they had not been caught for
forty-eight hours, they suddenly turned the whole matter into a
detective mystery. Letters under the heading, "Where are They,"
poured in to every paper, with every conceivable kind of
explanation, running them to earth in the Monument, the Twopenny
Tube, Epping Forest, Westminster Abbey, rolled up in carpets at
Shoolbreds, locked up in safes in Chancery Lane. Yes, the papers
were very interesting, and Mr. Turnbull unrolled a whole bundle
of them for the amusement of Mr. MacIan as they sat on a high
common to the north of London, in the coming of the white dawn.
The darkness in the east had been broken with a bar of grey; the
bar of grey was split with a sword of silver and morning lifted
itself laboriously over London. From the spot where Turnbull and
MacIan were sitting on one of the barren steeps behind Hampstead,
they could see the whole of London shaping itself vaguely and
largely in the grey and growing light, until the white sun stood
over it and it lay at their feet, the splendid monstrosity that
it is. Its bewildering squares and parallelograms were compact
and perfect as a Chinese puzzle; an enormous hieroglyphic which
man must decipher or die. There fell upon both of them, but upon
Turnbull more than the other, because he know more what the scene
signified, that quite indescribable sense as of a sublime and
passionate and heart-moving futility, which is never evoked by
deserts or dead men or men neglected and barbarous, which can
only be invoked by the sight of the enormous genius of man
applied to anything other than the best. Turnbull, the old
idealistic democrat, had so often reviled the democracy and
reviled them justly for their supineness, their snobbishness,
their evil reverence for idle things. He was right enough; for
our democracy has only one great fault; it is not democratic. And
after denouncing so justly average modern men for so many years
as sophists and as slaves, he looked down from an empty slope in
Hampstead and saw what gods they are. Their achievement seemed
all the more heroic and divine, because it seemed doubtful
whether it was worth doing at all. There seemed to be something
greater than mere accuracy in making such a mistake as London.
And what was to be the end of it all? what was to be the ultimate
transformation of this common and incredible London man, this
workman on a tram in Battersea, his clerk on an omnibus in
Cheapside? Turnbull, as he stared drearily, murmured to himself
the words of the old atheistic and revolutionary Swinburne who
had intoxicated his youth:
"And still we ask if God or man
Can loosen thee Lazarus;
Bid thee rise up republican,
And save thyself and all of us.
But no disciple's tongue can say
If thou can'st take our sins away."
Turnbull shivered slightly as if behind the earthly morning he
felt the evening of the world, the sunset of so many hopes. Those
words were from "Songs before Sunrise". But Turnbull's songs at
their best were songs after sunrise, and sunrise had been no such
great thing after all. Turnbull shivered again in the sharp
morning air. MacIan was also gazing with his face towards the
city, but there was that about his blind and mystical stare that
told one, so to speak, that his eyes were turned inwards. When
Turnbull said something to him about London, they seemed to move
as at a summons and come out like two householders coming out
into their doorways.
"Yes," he said, with a sort of stupidity. "It's a very big
There was a somewhat unmeaning silence, and then MacIan said
"It's a very big place. When I first came into it I was
frightened of it. Frightened exactly as one would be frightened
at the sight of a man forty feet high. I am used to big things
where I come from, big mountains that seem to fill God's
infinity, and the big sea that goes to the end of the world. But
then these things are all shapeless and confused things, not made
in any familiar form. But to see the plain, square, human things
as large as that, houses so large and streets so large, and the
town itself so large, was like having screwed some devil's
magnifying glass into one's eye. It was like seeing a porridge
bowl as big as a house, or a mouse-trap made to catch elephants."
"Like the land of the Brobdingnagians," said Turnbull, smiling.
"Oh! Where is that?" said MacIan.
Turnbull said bitterly, "In a book," and the silence fell
suddenly between them again.
They were sitting in a sort of litter on the hillside; all the
things they had hurriedly collected, in various places, for their
flight, were strewn indiscriminately round them. The two swords
with which they had lately sought each other's lives were flung
down on the grass at random, like two idle walking-sticks. Some
provisions they had bought last night, at a low public house, in
case of undefined contingencies, were tossed about like the
materials of an ordinary picnic, here a basket of chocolate, and
there a bottle of wine. And to add to the disorder finally, there
were strewn on top of everything, the most disorderly of modern
things, newspapers, and more newspapers, and yet again
newspapers, the ministers of the modern anarchy. Turnbull picked
up one of them drearily, and took out a pipe.
"There's a lot about us," he said. "Do you mind if I light up?"
"Why should I mind?" asked MacIan.
Turnbull eyed with a certain studious interest, the man who did
not understand any of the verbal courtesies; he lit his pipe and
blew great clouds out of it.
"Yes," he resumed. "The matter on which you and I are engaged is
at this moment really the best copy in England. I am a
journalist, and I know. For the first time, perhaps, for many
generations, the English are really more angry about a wrong
thing done in England than they are about a wrong thing done in
"It is not a wrong thing," said MacIan.
Turnbull laughed. "You seem unable to understand the ordinary use
of the human language. If I did not suspect that you were a
genius, I should certainly know you were a blockhead. I fancy we
had better be getting along and collecting our baggage."
And he jumped up and began shoving the luggage into his pockets,
or strapping it on to his back. As he thrust a tin of canned
meat, anyhow, into his bursting side pocket, he said casually:
"I only meant that you and I are the most prominent people in the
"Well, what did you expect?" asked MacIan, opening his great
grave blue eyes.
"The papers are full of us," said Turnbull, stooping to pick up
one of the swords.
MacIan stooped and picked up the other.
"Yes," he said, in his simple way. "I have read what they have to
say. But they don't seem to understand the point."
"The point of what?" asked Turnbull.
"The point of the sword," said MacIan, violently, and planted the
steel point in the soil like a man planting a tree.
"That is a point," said Turnbull, grimly, "that we will discuss
later. Come along."
Turnbull tied the last tin of biscuits desperately to himself
with string; and then spoke, like a diver girt for plunging,
short and sharp.
"Now, Mr. MacIan, you must listen to me. You must listen to me,
not merely because I know the country, which you might learn by
looking at a map, but because I know the people of the country,
whom you could not know by living here thirty years. That
infernal city down there is awake; and it is awake against us.
All those endless rows of windows and windows are all eyes
staring at us. All those forests of chimneys are fingers pointing
at us, as we stand here on the hillside. This thing has caught
on. For the next six mortal months they will think of nothing but
us, as for six mortal months they thought of nothing but the
Dreyfus case. Oh, I know it's funny. They let starving children,
who don't want to die, drop by the score without looking round.
But because two gentlemen, from private feelings of delicacy, do
want to die, they will mobilize the army and navy to prevent
them. For half a year or more, you and I, Mr. MacIan, will be an
obstacle to every reform in the British Empire. We shall prevent
the Chinese being sent out of the Transvaal and the blocks being
stopped in the Strand. We shall be the conversational substitute
when anyone recommends Home Rule, or complains of sky signs.
Therefore, do not imagine, in your innocence, that we have only
to melt away among those English hills as a Highland cateran
might into your god-forsaken Highland mountains. We must be
eternally on our guard; we must live the hunted life of two
distinguished criminals. We must expect to be recognized as much
as if we were Napoleon escaping from Elba. We must be prepared
for our descriptions being sent to every tiny village, and for
our faces being recognized by every ambitious policeman. We must
often sleep under the stars as if we were in Africa. Last and
most important we must not dream of effecting our--our final
settlement, which will be a thing as famous as the Phoenix Park
murders, unless we have made real and precise arrangements for
our isolation--I will not say our safety. We must not, in short,
fight until we have thrown them off our scent, if only for a
moment. For, take my word for it, Mr. MacIan, if the British
Public once catches us up, the British Public will prevent the
duel, if it is only by locking us both up in asylums for the rest
of our days."
MacIan was looking at the horizon with a rather misty look.
"I am not at all surprised," he said, "at the world being against
us. It makes me feel I was right to----"
"Yes?" said Turnbull.
"To smash your window," said MacIan. "I have woken up the world."
"Very well, then," said Turnbull, stolidly. "Let us look at a few
final facts. Beyond that hill there is comparatively clear
country. Fortunately, I know the part well, and if you will
follow me exactly, and, when necessary, on your stomach, we may
be able to get ten miles out of London, literally without meeting
anyone at all, which will be the best possible beginning, at any
rate. We have provisions for at least two days and two nights,
three days if we do it carefully. We may be able to get fifty or
sixty miles away without even walking into an inn door. I have
the biscuits and the tinned meat, and the milk. You have the
chocolate, I think? And the brandy?"
"Yes," said MacIan, like a soldier taking orders.
"Very well, then, come on. March. We turn under that third bush
and so down into the valley." And he set off ahead at a swinging
Then he stopped suddenly; for he realized that the other was not
following. Evan MacIan was leaning on his sword with a lowering
face, like a man suddenly smitten still with doubt.
"What on earth is the matter?" asked Turnbull, staring in some
Evan made no reply.
"What the deuce is the matter with you?" demanded the leader,
again, his face slowly growing as red as his beard; then he said,
suddenly, and in a more human voice, "Are you in pain, MacIan?"
"Yes," replied the Highlander, without lifting his face.
"Take some brandy," cried Turnbull, walking forward hurriedly
towards him. "You've got it."
"It's not in the body," said MacIan, in his dull, strange way.
"The pain has come into my mind. A very dreadful thing has just
come into my thoughts."
"What the devil are you talking about?" asked Turnbull.
MacIan broke out with a queer and living voice.
"We must fight now, Turnbull. We must fight now. A frightful
thing has come upon me, and I know it must be now and here. I
must kill you here," he cried, with a sort of tearful rage
impossible to describe. "Here, here, upon this blessed grass."
"Why, you idiot," began Turnbull.
"The hour has come--the black hour God meant for it. Quick, it
will soon be gone. Quick!"
And he flung the scabbard from him furiously, and stood with the
sunlight sparkling along his sword.
"You confounded fool," repeated Turnbull. "Put that thing up
again, you ass; people will come out of that house at the first
clash of the steel."
"One of us will be dead before they come," said the other,
hoarsely, "for this is the hour God meant."
"Well, I never thought much of God," said the editor of _The
Atheist_, losing all patience. "And I think less now. Never mind
what God meant. Kindly enlighten my pagan darkness as to what the
devil _you_ mean."
"The hour will soon be gone. In a moment it will be gone," said
the madman. "It is now, now, now that I must nail your
blaspheming body to the earth--now, now that I must avenge Our
Lady on her vile slanderer. Now or never. For the dreadful
thought is in my mind."
"And what thought," asked Turnbull, with frantic composure,
"occupies what you call your mind?"
"I must kill you now," said the fanatic, "because----"
"Well, because," said Turnbull, patiently.
"Because I have begun to like you."
Turnbull's face had a sudden spasm in the sunlight, a change so
instantaneous that it left no trace behind it; and his features
seemed still carved into a cold stare. But when he spoke again he
seemed like a man who was placidly pretending to misunderstand
something that he understood perfectly well.
"Your affection expresses itself in an abrupt form," he began,
but MacIan broke the brittle and frivolous speech to pieces with
a violent voice. "Do not trouble to talk like that," he said.
"You know what I mean as well as I know it. Come on and fight, I
say. Perhaps you are feeling just as I do."
Turnbull's face flinched again in the fierce sunlight, but his
attitude kept its contemptuous ease.
"Your Celtic mind really goes too fast for me," he said; "let me
be permitted in my heavy Lowland way to understand this new
development. My dear Mr. MacIan, what do you really mean?"
MacIan still kept the shining sword-point towards the other's
"You know what I mean. You mean the same yourself. We must
fight now or else----"
"Or else?" repeated Turnbull, staring at him with an almost
"Or else we may not want to fight at all," answered Evan, and the
end of his speech was like a despairing cry.
Turnbull took out his own sword suddenly as if to engage; then
planting it point downwards for a moment, he said, "Before we
begin, may I ask you a question?"
MacIan bowed patiently, but with burning eyes.
"You said, just now," continued Turnbull, presently, "that if we
did not fight now, we might not want to fight at all. How would
you feel about the matter if we came not to want to fight at
"I should feel," answered the other, "just as I should feel if
you had drawn your sword, and I had run away from it. I should
feel that because I had been weak, justice had not been done."
"Justice," answered Turnbull, with a thoughtful smile, "but we
are talking about your feelings. And what do you mean by justice,
apart from your feelings?"
MacIan made a gesture of weary recognition! "Oh, Nominalism," he
said, with a sort of sigh, "we had all that out in the twelfth
"I wish we could have it out now," replied the other, firmly. "Do
you really mean that if you came to think me right, you would be
"If I had a blow on the back of my head, I might come to think
you a green elephant," answered MacIan, "but have I not the right
to say now, that if I thought that I should think wrong?"
"Then you are quite certain that it would be wrong to like me?"
asked Turnbull, with a slight smile.
"No," said Evan, thoughtfully, "I do not say that. It may not be
the devil, it may be some part of God I am not meant to know. But
I had a work to do, and it is making the work difficult."
"And I suppose," said the atheist, quite gently, "that you and I
know all about which part of God we ought to know."
MacIan burst out like a man driven back and explaining
"The Church is not a thing like the Athenaeum Club," he cried.
"If the Athenaeum Club lost all its members, the Athenaeum Club
would dissolve and cease to exist. But when we belong to the
Church we belong to something which is outside all of us; which
is outside everything you talk about, outside the Cardinals and
the Pope. They belong to it, but it does not belong to them. If
we all fell dead suddenly, the Church would still somehow exist
in God. Confound it all, don't you see that I am more sure of its
existence than I am of my own existence? And yet you ask me to
trust my temperament, my own temperament, which can be turned
upside down by two bottles of claret or an attack of the
jaundice. You ask me to trust that when it softens towards you
and not to trust the thing which I believe to be outside myself
and more real than the blood in my body."
"Stop a moment," said Turnbull, in the same easy tone, "Even in
the very act of saying that you believe this or that, you imply
that there is a part of yourself that you trust even if there are
many parts which you mistrust. If it is only you that like me,
surely, also, it is only you that believe in the Catholic
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