The Ball and The Cross
Part 2 out of 5
Evan remained in an unmoved and grave attitude. "There is a part
of me which is divine," he answered, "a part that can be trusted,
but there are also affections which are entirely animal and
"And you are quite certain, I suppose," continued Turnbull, "that
if even you esteem me the esteem would be wholly animal and
idle?" For the first time MacIan started as if he had not
expected the thing that was said to him. At last he said:
"Whatever in earth or heaven it is that has joined us two
together, it seems to be something which makes it impossible to
lie. No, I do not think that the movement in me towards you
was...was that surface sort of thing. It may have been something
deeper...something strange. I cannot understand the thing at all.
But understand this and understand it thoroughly, if I loved you
my love might be divine. No, it is not some trifle that we are
fighting about. It is not some superstition or some symbol. When
you wrote those words about Our Lady, you were in that act a
wicked man doing a wicked thing. If I hate you it is because you
have hated goodness. And if I like you...it is because you are
Turnbull's face wore an indecipherable expression.
"Well, shall we fight now?" he said.
"Yes," said MacIan, with a sudden contraction of his black brows,
"yes, it must be now."
The bright swords crossed, and the first touch of them,
travelling down blade and arm, told each combatant that the heart
of the other was awakened. It was not in that way that the swords
rang together when they had rushed on each other in the little
garden behind the dealer's shop.
There was a pause, and then MacIan made a movement as if to
thrust, and almost at the same moment Turnbull suddenly and
calmly dropped his sword. Evan stared round in an unusual
bewilderment, and then realized that a large man in pale clothes
and a Panama hat was strolling serenely towards them.
V. THE PEACEMAKER
When the combatants, with crossed swords, became suddenly
conscious of a third party, they each made the same movement. It
was as quick as the snap of a pistol, and they altered it
instantaneously and recovered their original pose, but they had
both made it, they had both seen it, and they both knew what it
was. It was not a movement of anger at being interrupted. Say or
think what they would, it was a movement of relief. A force
within them, and yet quite beyond them, seemed slowly and
pitilessly washing away the adamant of their oath. As mistaken
lovers might watch the inevitable sunset of first love, these men
watched the sunset of their first hatred.
Their hearts were growing weaker and weaker against each other.
When their weapons rang and riposted in the little London garden,
they could have been very certain that if a third party had
interrupted them something at least would have happened. They
would have killed each other or they would have killed him. But
now nothing could undo or deny that flash of fact, that for a
second they had been glad to be interrupted. Some new and strange
thing was rising higher and higher in their hearts like a high
sea at night. It was something that seemed all the more
merciless, because it might turn out an enormous mercy. Was
there, perhaps, some such fatalism in friendship as all lovers
talk about in love? Did God make men love each other against
"I'm sure you'll excuse my speaking to you," said the stranger,
in a voice at once eager and deprecating.
The voice was too polite for good manners. It was incongruous
with the eccentric spectacle of the duellists which ought to have
startled a sane and free man. It was also incongruous with the
full and healthy, though rather loose physique of the man who
spoke. At the first glance he looked a fine animal, with curling
gold beard and hair, and blue eyes, unusually bright. It was only
at the second glance that the mind felt a sudden and perhaps
unmeaning irritation at the way in which the gold beard retreated
backwards into the waistcoat, and the way in which the finely
shaped nose went forward as if smelling its way. And it was only,
perhaps, at the hundredth glance that the bright blue eyes, which
normally before and after the instant seemed brilliant with
intelligence, seemed as it were to be brilliant with idiocy. He
was a heavy, healthy-looking man, who looked all the larger
because of the loose, light coloured clothes that he wore, and
that had in their extreme lightness and looseness, almost a touch
of the tropics. But a closer examination of his attire would have
shown that even in the tropics it would have been unique; but it
was all woven according to some hygienic texture which no human
being had ever heard of before, and which was absolutely
necessary even for a day's health. He wore a huge broad-brimmed
hat, equally hygienic, very much at the back of his head, and his
voice coming out of so heavy and hearty a type of man was, as I
have said, startlingly shrill and deferential.
"I'm sure you'll excuse my speaking to you," he said. "Now, I
wonder if you are in some little difficulty which, after all, we
could settle very comfortably together? Now, you don't mind my
saying this, do you?"
The face of both combatants remained somewhat solid under this
appeal. But the stranger, probably taking their silence for a
gathering shame, continued with a kind of gaiety:
"So you are the young men I have read about in the papers. Well,
of course, when one is young, one is rather romantic. Do you know
what I always say to young people?"
A blank silence followed this gay inquiry. Then Turnbull said in
a colourless voice:
"As I was forty-seven last birthday, I probably came into the
world too soon for the experience."
"Very good, very good," said the friendly person. "Dry Scotch
humour. Dry Scotch humour. Well now. I understand that you two
people want to fight a duel. I suppose you aren't much up in the
modern world. We've quite outgrown duelling, you know. In fact,
Tolstoy tells us that we shall soon outgrow war, which he says is
simply a duel between nations. A duel between nations. But there
is no doubt about our having outgrown duelling."
Waiting for some effect upon his wooden auditors, the stranger
stood beaming for a moment and then resumed:
"Now, they tell me in the newspapers that you are really wanting
to fight about something connected with Roman Catholicism. Now,
do you know what I always say to Roman Catholics?"
"No," said Turnbull, heavily. "Do _they_?" It seemed to be a
characteristic of the hearty, hygienic gentleman that he always
forgot the speech he had made the moment before. Without
enlarging further on the fixed form of his appeal to the Church
of Rome, he laughed cordially at Turnbull's answer; then his
wandering blue eyes caught the sunlight on the swords, and he
assumed a good-humoured gravity.
"But you know this is a serious matter," he said, eyeing Turnbull
and MacIan, as if they had just been keeping the table in a roar
with their frivolities. "I am sure that if I appealed to your
higher natures...your higher natures. Every man has a higher
nature and a lower nature. Now, let us put the matter very
plainly, and without any romantic nonsense about honour or
anything of that sort. Is not bloodshed a great sin?"
"No," said MacIan, speaking for the first time.
"Well, really, really!" said the peacemaker.
"Murder is a sin," said the immovable Highlander. "There is no
sin of bloodshed."
"Well, we won't quarrel about a word," said the other,
"Why on earth not?" said MacIan, with a sudden asperity. "Why
shouldn't we quarrel about a word? What is the good of words if
they aren't important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose
one word more than another if there isn't any difference between
them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel,
wouldn't there be a quarrel about a word? If you're not going to
argue about words, what are you going to argue about? Are you
going to convey your meaning to me by moving your ears? The
Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because
they are the only things worth fighting about. I say that murder
is a sin, and bloodshed is not, and that there is as much
difference between those words as there is between the word 'yes'
and the word 'no'; or rather more difference, for 'yes' and 'no',
at least, belong to the same category. Murder is a spiritual
incident. Bloodshed is a physical incident. A surgeon commits
"Ah, you're a casuist!" said the large man, wagging his head.
"Now, do you know what I always say to casuists...?"
MacIan made a violent gesture; and Turnbull broke into open
laughter. The peacemaker did not seem to be in the least annoyed,
but continued in unabated enjoyment.
"Well, well," he said, "let us get back to the point. Now Tolstoy
has shown that force is no remedy; so you see the position in
which I am placed. I am doing my best to stop what I'm sure you
won't mind my calling this really useless violence, this really
quite wrong violence of yours. But it's against my principles to
call in the police against you, because the police are still on a
lower moral plane, so to speak, because, in short, the police
undoubtedly sometimes employ force. Tolstoy has shown that
violence merely breeds violence in the person towards whom it is
used, whereas Love, on the other hand, breeds Love. So you see
how I am placed. I am reduced to use Love in order to stop you.
I am obliged to use Love."
He gave to the word an indescribable sound of something hard and
heavy, as if he were saying "boots". Turnbull suddenly gripped
his sword and said, shortly, "I see how you are placed quite
well, sir. You will not call the police. Mr. MacIan, shall we
engage?" MacIan plucked his sword out of the grass.
"I must and will stop this shocking crime," cried the Tolstoian,
crimson in the face. "It is against all modern ideas. It is
against the principle of love. How you, sir, who pretend to be a
MacIan turned upon him with a white face and bitter lip. "Sir,"
he said, "talk about the principle of love as much as you like.
You seem to me colder than a lump of stone; but I am willing to
believe that you may at some time have loved a cat, or a dog, or
a child. When you were a baby, I suppose you loved your mother.
Talk about love, then, till the world is sick of the word. But
don't you talk about Christianity. Don't you dare to say one
word, white or black, about it. Christianity is, as far as you
are concerned, a horrible mystery. Keep clear of it, keep silent
upon it, as you would upon an abomination. It is a thing that has
made men slay and torture each other; and you will never know
why. It is a thing that has made men do evil that good might
come; and you will never understand the evil, let alone the good.
Christianity is a thing that could only make you vomit, till you
are other than you are. I would not justify it to you even if I
could. Hate it, in God's name, as Turnbull does, who is a man.
It is a monstrous thing, for which men die. And if you will stand
here and talk about love for another ten minutes it is very
probable that you will see a man die for it."
And he fell on guard. Turnbull was busy settling something loose
in his elaborate hilt, and the pause was broken by the stranger.
"Suppose I call the police?" he said, with a heated face.
"And deny your most sacred dogma," said MacIan.
"Dogma!" cried the man, in a sort of dismay. "Oh, we have no
_dogmas_, you know!"
There was another silence, and he said again, airily:
"You know, I think, there's something in what Shaw teaches about
no moral principles being quite fixed. Have you ever read _The
Quintessence of Ibsenism_? Of course he went very wrong over the
Turnbull, with a bent, flushed face, was tying up the loose piece
of the pommel with string. With the string in his teeth, he said,
"Oh, make up your damned mind and clear out!"
"It's a serious thing," said the philosopher, shaking his head.
"I must be alone and consider which is the higher point of view.
I rather feel that in a case so extreme as this..." and he went
slowly away. As he disappeared among the trees, they heard him
murmuring in a sing-song voice, "New occasions teach new duties,"
out of a poem by James Russell Lowell.
"Ah," said MacIan, drawing a deep breath. "Don't you believe in
prayer now? I prayed for an angel."
"An hour ago," said the Highlander, in his heavy meditative
voice, "I felt the devil weakening my heart and my oath against
you, and I prayed that God would send an angel to my aid."
"Well?" inquired the other, finishing his mending and wrapping
the rest of the string round his hand to get a firmer grip.
"Well, that man was an angel," said MacIan.
"I didn't know they were as bad as that," answered Turnbull.
"We know that devils sometimes quote Scripture and counterfeit
good," replied the mystic. "Why should not angels sometimes come
to show us the black abyss of evil on whose brink we stand. If
that man had not tried to stop us...I might...I might have
"I know what you mean," said Turnbull, grimly.
"But then he came," broke out MacIan, "and my soul said to me:
'Give up fighting, and you will become like That. Give up vows
and dogmas, and fixed things, and you may grow like That. You may
learn, also, that fog of false philosophy. You may grow fond of
that mire of crawling, cowardly morals, and you may come to think
a blow bad, because it hurts, and not because it humiliates. You
may come to think murder wrong, because it is violent, and not
because it is unjust. Oh, you blasphemer of the good, an hour ago
I almost loved you! But do not fear for me now. I have heard the
word Love pronounced in _his_ intonation; and I know exactly what
it means. On guard!'"
The swords caught on each other with a dreadful clang and jar,
full of the old energy and hate; and at once plunged and
replunged. Once more each man's heart had become the magnet of a
mad sword. Suddenly, furious as they were, they were frozen for a
"What noise is that?" asked the Highlander, hoarsely.
"I think I know," replied Turnbull.
"What?... What?" cried the other.
"The student of Shaw and Tolstoy has made up his remarkable
mind," said Turnbull, quietly. "The police are coming up the
VI. THE OTHER PHILOSOPHER
Between high hedges in Hertfordshire, hedges so high as to create
a kind of grove, two men were running. They did not run in a
scampering or feverish manner, but in the steady swing of the
pendulum. Across the great plains and uplands to the right and
left of the lane, a long tide of sunset light rolled like a sea
of ruby, lighting up the long terraces of the hills and picking
out the few windows of the scattered hamlets in startling
blood-red sparks. But the lane was cut deep in the hill and
remained in an abrupt shadow. The two men running in it had an
impression not uncommonly experienced between those wild green
English walls; a sense of being led between the walls of a maze.
Though their pace was steady it was vigorous; their faces were
heated and their eyes fixed and bright. There was, indeed,
something a little mad in the contrast between the evening's
stillness over the empty country-side, and these two figures
fleeing wildly from nothing. They had the look of two lunatics,
possibly they were.
"Are you all right?" said Turnbull, with civility. "Can you keep
"Quite easily, thank you," replied MacIan. "I run very well."
"Is that a qualification in a family of warriors?" asked
"Undoubtedly. Rapid movement is essential," answered MacIan, who
never saw a joke in his life.
Turnbull broke out into a short laugh, and silence fell between
them, the panting silence of runners.
Then MacIan said: "We run better than any of those policemen.
They are too fat. Why do you make your policemen so fat?"
"I didn't do much towards making them fat myself," replied
Turnbull, genially, "but I flatter myself that I am now doing
something towards making them thin. You'll see they will be as
lean as rakes by the time they catch us. They will look like your
friend, Cardinal Manning."
"But they won't catch us," said MacIan, in his literal way.
"No, we beat them in the great military art of running away,"
returned the other. "They won't catch us unless----"
MacIan turned his long equine face inquiringly. "Unless what?" he
said, for Turnbull had gone silent suddenly, and seemed to be
listening intently as he ran as a horse does with his ears turned
"Unless what?" repeated the Highlander.
"Unless they do--what they have done. Listen." MacIan slackened
his trot, and turned his head to the trail they had left behind
them. Across two or three billows of the up and down lane came
along the ground the unmistakable throbbing of horses' hoofs.
"They have put the mounted police on us," said Turnbull, shortly.
"Good Lord, one would think we were a Revolution."
"So we are," said MacIan calmly. "What shall we do? Shall we turn
on them with our points?"
"It may come to that," answered Turnbull, "though if it does, I
reckon that will be the last act. We must put it off if we can."
And he stared and peered about him between the bushes. "If we
could hide somewhere the beasts might go by us," he said. "The
police have their faults, but thank God they're inefficient. Why,
here's the very thing. Be quick and quiet. Follow me."
He suddenly swung himself up the high bank on one side of the
lane. It was almost as high and smooth as a wall, and on the top
of it the black hedge stood out over them as an angle, almost
like a thatched roof of the lane. And the burning evening sky
looked down at them through the tangle with red eyes as of an
army of goblins.
Turnbull hoisted himself up and broke the hedge with his body. As
his head and shoulders rose above it they turned to flame in the
full glow as if lit up by an immense firelight. His red hair and
beard looked almost scarlet, and his pale face as bright as a
boy's. Something violent, something that was at once love and
hatred, surged in the strange heart of the Gael below him. He had
an unutterable sense of epic importance, as if he were somehow
lifting all humanity into a prouder and more passionate region of
the air. As he swung himself up also into the evening light he
felt as if he were rising on enormous wings.
Legends of the morning of the world which he had heard in
childhood or read in youth came back upon him in a cloudy
splendour, purple tales of wrath and friendship, like Roland and
Oliver, or Balin and Balan, reminding him of emotional
entanglements. Men who had loved each other and then fought each
other; men who had fought each other and then loved each other,
together made a mixed but monstrous sense of momentousness. The
crimson seas of the sunset seemed to him like a bursting out of
some sacred blood, as if the heart of the world had broken.
Turnbull was wholly unaffected by any written or spoken poetry;
his was a powerful and prosaic mind. But even upon him there came
for the moment something out of the earth and the passionate ends
of the sky. The only evidence was in his voice, which was still
practical but a shade more quiet.
"Do you see that summer-house-looking thing over there?" he asked
shortly. "That will do for us very well."
Keeping himself free from the tangle of the hedge he strolled
across a triangle of obscure kitchen garden, and approached a
dismal shed or lodge a yard or two beyond it. It was a
weather-stained hut of grey wood, which with all its desolation
retained a tag or two of trivial ornament, which suggested that
the thing had once been a sort of summer-house, and the place
probably a sort of garden.
"That is quite invisible from the road," said Turnbull, as he
entered it, "and it will cover us up for the night."
MacIan looked at him gravely for a few moments. "Sir," he said,
"I ought to say something to you. I ought to say----"
"Hush," said Turnbull, suddenly lifting his hand; "be still,
In the sudden silence, the drumming of the distant horses grew
louder and louder with inconceivable rapidity, and the cavalcade
of police rushed by below them in the lane, almost with the roar
and rattle of an express train.
"I ought to tell you," continued MacIan, still staring stolidly
at the other, "that you are a great chief, and it is good to go
to war behind you."
Turnbull said nothing, but turned and looked out of the foolish
lattice of the little windows, then he said, "We must have food
and sleep first."
When the last echo of their eluded pursuers had died in the
distant uplands, Turnbull began to unpack the provisions with the
easy air of a man at a picnic. He had just laid out the last
items, put a bottle of wine on the floor, and a tin of salmon on
the window-ledge, when the bottomless silence of that forgotten
place was broken. And it was broken by three heavy blows of a
stick delivered upon the door.
Turnbull looked up in the act of opening a tin and stared
silently at his companion. MacIan's long, lean mouth had shut
"Who the devil can that be?" said Turnbull.
"God knows," said the other. "It might be God."
Again the sound of the wooden stick reverberated on the wooden
door. It was a curious sound and on consideration did not
resemble the ordinary effects of knocking on a door for
admittance. It was rather as if the point of a stick were plunged
again and again at the panels in an absurd attempt to make a hole
A wild look sprang into MacIan's eyes and he got up half
stupidly, with a kind of stagger, put his hand out and caught one
of the swords. "Let us fight at once," he cried, "it is the end
of the world."
"You're overdone, MacIan," said Turnbull, putting him on one
side. "It's only someone playing the goat. Let me open the
But he also picked up a sword as he stepped to open it.
He paused one moment with his hand on the handle and then flung
the door open. Almost as he did so the ferrule of an ordinary
bamboo cane came at his eyes, so that he had actually to parry it
with the naked weapon in his hands. As the two touched, the point
of the stick was dropped very abruptly, and the man with the
stick stepped hurriedly back.
Against the heraldic background of sprawling crimson and gold
offered him by the expiring sunset, the figure of the man with
the stick showed at first merely black and fantastic. He was a
small man with two wisps of long hair that curled up on each
side, and seen in silhouette, looked like horns. He had a bow tie
so big that the two ends showed on each side of his neck like
unnatural stunted wings. He had his long black cane still tilted
in his hand like a fencing foil and half presented at the open
door. His large straw hat had fallen behind him as he leapt
"With reference to your suggestion, MacIan," said Turnbull,
placidly, "I think it looks more like the Devil."
"Who on earth are you?" cried the stranger in a high shrill
voice, brandishing his cane defensively.
"Let me see," said Turnbull, looking round to MacIan with the
same blandness. "Who are we?"
"Come out," screamed the little man with the stick.
"Certainly," said Turnbull, and went outside with the sword,
Seen more fully, with the evening light on his face, the strange
man looked a little less like a goblin. He wore a square
pale-grey jacket suit, on which the grey butterfly tie was the
only indisputable touch of affectation. Against the great sunset
his figure had looked merely small: seen in a more equal light it
looked tolerably compact and shapely. His reddish-brown hair,
combed into two great curls, looked like the long, slow curling
hair of the women in some pre-Raphaelite pictures. But within
this feminine frame of hair his face was unexpectedly impudent,
like a monkey's.
"What are you doing here?" he said, in a sharp small voice.
"Well," said MacIan, in his grave childish way, "what are _you_
"I," said the man, indignantly, "I'm in my own garden."
"Oh," said MacIan, simply, "I apologize."
Turnbull was coolly curling his red moustache, and the stranger
stared from one to the other, temporarily stunned by their
"But, may I ask," he said at last, "what the devil you are doing
in my summer-house?"
"Certainly," said MacIan. "We were just going to fight."
"To fight!" repeated the man.
"We had better tell this gentleman the whole business," broke in
Turnbull. Then turning to the stranger he said firmly, "I am
sorry, sir, but we have something to do that must be done. And I
may as well tell you at the beginning and to avoid waste of time
or language, that we cannot admit any interference."
"We were just going to take some slight refreshment when you
The little man had a dawning expression of understanding and
stooped and picked up the unused bottle of wine, eyeing it
"But that refreshment was preparatory to something which I fear
you will find less comprehensible, but on which our minds are
entirely fixed, sir. We are forced to fight a duel. We are forced
by honour and an internal intellectual need. Do not, for your own
sake, attempt to stop us. I know all the excellent and ethical
things that you will want to say to us. I know all about the
essential requirements of civil order: I have written leading
articles about them all my life. I know all about the sacredness
of human life; I have bored all my friends with it. Try and
understand our position. This man and I are alone in the modern
world in that we think that God is essentially important. I think
He does not exist; that is where the importance comes in for me.
But this man thinks that He does exist, and thinking that very
properly thinks Him more important than anything else. Now we
wish to make a great demonstration and assertion--something that
will set the world on fire like the first Christian persecutions.
If you like, we are attempting a mutual martyrdom. The papers
have posted up every town against us. Scotland Yard has fortified
every police station with our enemies; we are driven therefore to
the edge of a lonely lane, and indirectly to taking liberties
with your summer-house in order to arrange our..."
"Stop!" roared the little man in the butterfly necktie. "Put me
out of my intellectual misery. Are you really the two tomfools I
have read of in all the papers? Are you the two people who wanted
to spit each other in the Police Court? Are you? Are you?"
"Yes," said MacIan, "it began in a Police Court."
The little man slung the bottle of wine twenty yards away like a
"Come up to my place," he said. "I've got better stuff than that.
I've got the best Beaune within fifty miles of here. Come up.
You're the very men I wanted to see."
Even Turnbull, with his typical invulnerability, was a little
taken aback by this boisterous and almost brutal hospitality.
"Why...sir..." he began.
"Come up! Come in!" howled the little man, dancing with delight.
"I'll give you a dinner. I'll give you a bed! I'll give you a
green smooth lawn and your choice of swords and pistols. Why, you
fools, I adore fighting! It's the only good thing in God's world!
I've walked about these damned fields and longed to see somebody
cut up and killed and the blood running. Ha! Ha!"
And he made sudden lunges with his stick at the trunk of a
neighbouring tree so that the ferrule made fierce prints and
punctures in the bark.
"Excuse me," said MacIan suddenly with the wide-eyed curiosity of
a child, "excuse me, but..."
"Well?" said the small fighter, brandishing his wooden weapon.
"Excuse me," repeated MacIan, "but was that what you were doing
at the door?"
The little man stared an instant and then said: "Yes," and
Turnbull broke into a guffaw.
"Come on!" cried the little man, tucking his stick under his arm
and taking quite suddenly to his heels. "Come on! Confound me,
I'll see both of you eat and then I'll see one of you die. Lord
bless me, the gods must exist after all--they have sent me one of
my day-dreams! Lord! A duel!"
He had gone flying along a winding path between the borders of
the kitchen garden, and in the increasing twilight he was as hard
to follow as a flying hare. But at length the path after many
twists betrayed its purpose and led abruptly up two or three
steps to the door of a tiny but very clean cottage. There was
nothing about the outside to distinguish it from other cottages,
except indeed its ominous cleanliness and one thing that was out
of all the custom and tradition of all cottages under the sun.
In the middle of the little garden among the stocks and marigolds
there surged up in shapeless stone a South Sea Island idol. There
was something gross and even evil in that eyeless and alien god
among the most innocent of the English flowers.
"Come in!" cried the creature again. "Come in! it's better
Whether or no it was better inside it was at least a surprise.
The moment the two duellists had pushed open the door of that
inoffensive, whitewashed cottage they found that its interior was
lined with fiery gold. It was like stepping into a chamber in the
Arabian Nights. The door that closed behind them shut out England
and all the energies of the West. The ornaments that shone and
shimmered on every side of them were subtly mixed from many
periods and lands, but were all oriental. Cruel Assyrian
bas-reliefs ran along the sides of the passage; cruel Turkish
swords and daggers glinted above and below them; the two were
separated by ages and fallen civilizations. Yet they seemed to
sympathize since they were both harmonious and both merciless.
The house seemed to consist of chamber within chamber and created
that impression as of a dream which belongs also to the Arabian
Nights themselves. The innermost room of all was like the inside
of a jewel. The little man who owned it all threw himself on a
heap of scarlet and golden cushions and struck his hands
together. A negro in a white robe and turban appeared suddenly
and silently behind them.
"Selim," said the host, "these two gentlemen are staying with me
tonight. Send up the very best wine and dinner at once. And
Selim, one of these gentlemen will probably die tomorrow. Make
The negro bowed and withdrew.
Evan MacIan came out the next morning into the little garden to a
fresh silver day, his long face looking more austere than ever in
that cold light, his eyelids a little heavy. He carried one of
the swords. Turnbull was in the little house behind him,
demolishing the end of an early breakfast and humming a tune to
himself, which could be heard through the open window. A moment
or two later he leapt to his feet and came out into the sunlight,
still munching toast, his own sword stuck under his arm like a
Their eccentric host had vanished from sight, with a polite
gesture, some twenty minutes before. They imagined him to be
occupied on some concerns in the interior of the house, and they
waited for his emergence, stamping the garden in silence--the
garden of tall, fresh country flowers, in the midst of which the
monstrous South Sea idol lifted itself as abruptly as the prow of
a ship riding on a sea of red and white and gold.
It was with a start, therefore, that they came upon the man
himself already in the garden. They were all the more startled
because of the still posture in which they found him. He was on
his knees in front of the stone idol, rigid and motionless, like
a saint in a trance or ecstasy. Yet when Turnbull's tread broke a
twig, he was on his feet in a flash.
"Excuse me," he said with an irradiation of smiles, but yet with
a kind of bewilderment. "So sorry...family prayers...old
fashioned...mother's knee. Let us go on to the lawn behind."
And he ducked rapidly round the statue to an open space of grass
on the other side of it.
"This will do us best, Mr. MacIan," said he. Then he made a
gesture towards the heavy stone figure on the pedestal which had
now its blank and shapeless back turned towards them. "Don't you
be afraid," he added, "he can still see us."
MacIan turned his blue, blinking eyes, which seemed still misty
with sleep (or sleeplessness) towards the idol, but his brows
The little man with the long hair also had his eyes on the back
view of the god. His eyes were at once liquid and burning, and he
rubbed his hands slowly against each other.
"Do you know," he said, "I think he can see us better this way.
I often think that this blank thing is his real face, watching,
though it cannot be watched. He! he! Yes, I think he looks nice
from behind. He looks more cruel from behind, don't you think?"
"What the devil is the thing?" asked Turnbull gruffly.
"It is the only Thing there is," answered the other. "It is
"Oh!" said Turnbull shortly.
"Yes, my friends," said the little man, with an animated
countenance, fluttering his fingers in the air, "it was no chance
that led you to this garden; surely it was the caprice of some
old god, some happy, pitiless god. Perhaps it was his will, for
he loves blood; and on that stone in front of him men have been
butchered by hundreds in the fierce, feasting islands of the
South. In this cursed, craven place I have not been permitted to
kill men on his altar. Only rabbits and cats, sometimes."
In the stillness MacIan made a sudden movement, unmeaning
apparently, and then remained rigid.
"But today, today," continued the small man in a shrill voice.
"Today his hour is come. Today his will is done on earth as it
is in heaven. Men, men, men will bleed before him today." And
he bit his forefinger in a kind of fever.
Still, the two duellists stood with their swords as heavily as
statues, and the silence seemed to cool the eccentric and call
him back to more rational speech.
"Perhaps I express myself a little too lyrically," he said with
an amicable abruptness. "My philosophy has its higher ecstasies,
but perhaps you are hardly worked up to them yet. Let us confine
ourselves to the unquestioned. You have found your way,
gentlemen, by a beautiful accident, to the house of the only man
in England (probably) who will favour and encourage your most
reasonable project. From Cornwall to Cape Wrath this county is
one horrible, solid block of humanitarianism. You will find men
who will defend this or that war in a distant continent. They
will defend it on the contemptible ground of commerce or the more
contemptible ground of social good. But do not fancy that you
will find one other person who will comprehend a strong man
taking the sword in his hand and wiping out his enemy. My name
is Wimpey, Morrice Wimpey. I had a Fellowship at Magdalen. But I
assure you I had to drop it, owing to my having said something in
a public lecture infringing the popular prejudice against those
great gentlemen, the assassins of the Italian Renaissance. They
let me say it at dinner and so on, and seemed to like it. But in
a public lecture...so inconsistent. Well, as I say, here is your
only refuge and temple of honour. Here you can fall back on that
naked and awful arbitration which is the only thing that balances
the stars--a still, continuous violence. _Vae Victis!_ Down,
down, down with the defeated! Victory is the only ultimate fact.
Carthage _was_ destroyed, the Red Indians are being exterminated:
that is the single certainty. In an hour from now that sun will
still be shining and that grass growing, and one of you will be
conquered; one of you will be the conqueror. When it has been
done, nothing will alter it. Heroes, I give you the hospitality
fit for heroes. And I salute the survivor. Fall on!"
The two men took their swords. Then MacIan said steadily: "Mr.
Turnbull, lend me your sword a moment."
Turnbull, with a questioning glance, handed him the weapon.
MacIan took the second sword in his left hand and, with a violent
gesture, hurled it at the feet of little Mr. Wimpey.
"Fight!" he said in a loud, harsh voice. "Fight me now!"
Wimpey took a step backward, and bewildered words bubbled on his
"Pick up that sword and fight me," repeated MacIan, with brows as
black as thunder.
The little man turned to Turnbull with a gesture, demanding
judgement or protection.
"Really, sir," he began, "this gentleman confuses..."
"You stinking little coward," roared Turnbull, suddenly releasing
his wrath. "Fight, if you're so fond of fighting! Fight, if
you're so fond of all that filthy philosophy! If winning is
everything, go in and win! If the weak must go to the wall, go to
the wall! Fight, you rat! Fight, or if you won't fight--run!"
And he ran at Wimpey, with blazing eyes.
Wimpey staggered back a few paces like a man struggling with his
own limbs. Then he felt the furious Scotchman coming at him like
an express train, doubling his size every second, with eyes as
big as windows and a sword as bright as the sun. Something broke
inside him, and he found himself running away, tumbling over his
own feet in terror, and crying out as he ran.
"Chase him!" shouted Turnbull as MacIan snatched up the sword and
joined in the scamper. "Chase him over a county! Chase him into
the sea! Shoo! Shoo! Shoo!"
The little man plunged like a rabbit among the tall flowers, the
two duellists after him. Turnbull kept at his tail with savage
ecstasy, still shooing him like a cat. But MacIan, as he ran past
the South Sea idol, paused an instant to spring upon its
pedestal. For five seconds he strained against the inert mass.
Then it stirred; and he sent it over with a great crash among the
flowers, that engulfed it altogether. Then he went bounding after
In the energy of his alarm the ex-Fellow of Magdalen managed to
leap the paling of his garden. The two pursuers went over it
after him like flying birds. He fled frantically down a long lane
with his two terrors on his trail till he came to a gap in the
hedge and went across a steep meadow like the wind. The two
Scotchmen, as they ran, kept up a cheery bellowing and waved
their swords. Up three slanting meadows, down four slanting
meadows on the other side, across another road, across a heath of
snapping bracken, through a wood, across another road, and to the
brink of a big pool, they pursued the flying philosopher. But
when he came to the pool his pace was so precipitate that he
could not stop it, and with a kind of lurching stagger, he fell
splash into the greasy water. Getting dripping to his feet, with
the water up to his knees, the worshipper of force and victory
waded disconsolately to the other side and drew himself on to the
bank. And Turnbull sat down on the grass and went off into
reverberations of laughter. A second afterwards the most
extraordinary grimaces were seen to distort the stiff face of
MacIan, and unholy sounds came from within. He had never
practised laughing, and it hurt him very much.
VII. THE VILLAGE OF GRASSLEY-IN-THE-HOLE
At about half past one, under a strong blue sky, Turnbull got up
out of the grass and fern in which he had been lying, and his
still intermittent laughter ended in a kind of yawn.
"I'm hungry," he said shortly. "Are you?"
"I have not noticed," answered MacIan. "What are you going to
"There's a village down the road, past the pool," answered
Turnbull. "I can see it from here. I can see the whitewashed
walls of some cottages and a kind of corner of the church. How
jolly it all looks. It looks so--I don't know what the word
is--so sensible. Don't fancy I'm under any illusions about
Arcadian virtue and the innocent villagers. Men make beasts of
themselves there with drink, but they don't deliberately make
devils of themselves with mere talking. They kill wild animals in
the wild woods, but they don't kill cats to the God of Victory.
They don't----" He broke off and suddenly spat on the ground.
"Excuse me," he said; "it was ceremonial. One has to get the
taste out of one's mouth."
"The taste of what?" asked MacIan.
"I don't know the exact name for it," replied Turnbull. "Perhaps
it is the South Sea Islands, or it may be Magdalen College."
There was a long pause, and MacIan also lifted his large limbs
off the ground--his eyes particularly dreamy.
"I know what you mean, Turnbull," he said, "but...I always
thought you people agreed with all that."
"With all that about doing as one likes, and the individual, and
Nature loving the strongest, and all the things which that
cockroach talked about."
Turnbull's big blue-grey eyes stood open with a grave
"Do you really mean to say, MacIan," he said, "that you fancied
that we, the Free-thinkers, that Bradlaugh, or Holyoake, or
Ingersoll, believe all that dirty, immoral mysticism about
Nature? Damn Nature!"
"I supposed you did," said MacIan calmly. "It seems to me your
most conclusive position."
"And you mean to tell me," rejoined the other, "that you broke my
window, and challenged me to mortal combat, and tied a tradesman
up with ropes, and chased an Oxford Fellow across five
meadows--all under the impression that I am such an illiterate
idiot as to believe in Nature!"
"I supposed you did," repeated MacIan with his usual mildness;
"but I admit that I know little of the details of your belief--or
Turnbull swung round quite suddenly, and set off towards the
"Come along," he cried. "Come down to the village. Come down to
the nearest decent inhabitable pub. This is a case for beer."
"I do not quite follow you," said the Highlander.
"Yes, you do," answered Turnbull. "You follow me slap into the
inn-parlour. I repeat, this is a case for beer. We must have the
whole of this matter out thoroughly before we go a step farther.
Do you know that an idea has just struck me of great simplicity
and of some cogency. Do not by any means let us drop our
intentions of settling our differences with two steel swords.
But do you not think that with two pewter pots we might do what
we really have never thought of doing yet--discover what our
"It never occurred to me before," answered MacIan with
tranquillity. "It is a good suggestion."
And they set out at an easy swing down the steep road to the
village of Grassley-in-the-Hole.
Grassley-in-the-Hole was a rude parallelogram of buildings, with
two thoroughfares which might have been called two high streets
if it had been possible to call them streets. One of these ways
was higher on the slope than the other, the whole parallelogram
lying aslant, so to speak, on the side of the hill. The upper of
these two roads was decorated with a big public house, a
butcher's shop, a small public house, a sweetstuff shop, a very
small public house, and an illegible signpost. The lower of the
two roads boasted a horse-pond, a post office, a gentleman's
garden with very high hedges, a microscopically small public
house, and two cottages. Where all the people lived who supported
all the public houses was in this, as in many other English
villages, a silent and smiling mystery. The church lay a little
above and beyond the village, with a square grey tower dominating
But even the church was scarcely so central and solemn an
institution as the large public house, the Valencourt Arms. It
was named after some splendid family that had long gone bankrupt,
and whose seat was occupied by a man who had invented a hygienic
bootjack; but the unfathomable sentimentalism of the English
people insisted in regarding the Inn, the seat and the sitter in
it, as alike parts of a pure and marmoreal antiquity. And in the
Valencourt Arms festivity itself had some solemnity and decorum;
and beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be. Into the
principal parlour of this place entered two strangers, who found
themselves, as is always the case in such hostels, the object,
not of fluttered curiosity or pert inquiry, but of steady,
ceaseless, devouring ocular study. They had long coats down to
their heels, and carried under each coat something that looked
like a stick. One was tall and dark, the other short and
red-haired. They ordered a pot of ale each.
"MacIan," said Turnbull, lifting his tankard, "the fool who
wanted us to be friends made us want to go on fighting. It is
only natural that the fool who wanted us to fight should make us
friendly. MacIan, your health!"
Dusk was already dropping, the rustics in the tavern were already
lurching and lumbering out of it by twos and threes, crying
clamorous good nights to a solitary old toper that remained,
before MacIan and Turnbull had reached the really important part
of their discussion.
MacIan wore an expression of sad bewilderment not uncommon with
him. "I am to understand, then," he said, "that you don't believe
"You may say so in a very special and emphatic sense," said
Turnbull. "I do not believe in nature, just as I do not believe
in Odin. She is a myth. It is not merely that I do not believe
that nature can guide us. It is that I do not believe that nature
"Exists?" said MacIan in his monotonous way, settling his pewter
pot on the table.
"Yes, in a real sense nature does not exist. I mean that nobody
can discover what the original nature of things would have been
if things had not interfered with it. The first blade of grass
began to tear up the earth and eat it; it was interfering with
nature, if there is any nature. The first wild ox began to tear
up the grass and eat it; he was interfering with nature, if there
is any nature. In the same way," continued Turnbull, "the human
when it asserts its dominance over nature is just as natural as
the thing which it destroys."
"And in the same way," said MacIan almost dreamily, "the
superhuman, the supernatural is just as natural as the nature
which it destroys."
Turnbull took his head out of his pewter pot in some anger.
"The supernatural, of course," he said, "is quite another thing;
the case of the supernatural is simple. The supernatural does not
"Quite so," said MacIan in a rather dull voice; "you said the
same about the natural. If the natural does not exist the
supernatural obviously can't." And he yawned a little over his
Turnbull turned for some reason a little red and remarked
quickly, "That may be jolly clever, for all I know. But everyone
does know that there is a division between the things that as a
matter of fact do commonly happen and the things that don't.
Things that break the evident laws of nature----"
"Which does not exist," put in MacIan sleepily. Turnbull struck
the table with a sudden hand.
"Good Lord in heaven!" he cried----
"Who does not exist," murmured MacIan.
"Good Lord in heaven!" thundered Turnbull, without regarding the
interruption. "Do you really mean to sit there and say that you,
like anybody else, would not recognize the difference between a
natural occurrence and a supernatural one--if there could be such
a thing? If I flew up to the ceiling----"
"You would bump your head badly," cried MacIan, suddenly starting
up. "One can't talk of this kind of thing under a ceiling at all.
Come outside! Come outside and ascend into heaven!"
He burst the door open on a blue abyss of evening and they
stepped out into it: it was suddenly and strangely cool.
"Turnbull," said MacIan, "you have said some things so true and
some so false that I want to talk; and I will try to talk so that
you understand. For at present you do not understand at all. We
don't seem to mean the same things by the same words."
He stood silent for a second or two and then resumed.
"A minute or two ago I caught you out in a real contradiction. At
that moment logically I was right. And at that moment I knew I
was wrong. Yes, there is a real difference between the natural
and the supernatural: if you flew up into that blue sky this
instant, I should think that you were moved by God--or the devil.
But if you want to know what I really think...I must explain."
He stopped again, abstractedly boring the point of his sword into
the earth, and went on:
"I was born and bred and taught in a complete universe. The
supernatural was not natural, but it was perfectly reasonable.
Nay, the supernatural to me is more reasonable than the natural;
for the supernatural is a direct message from God, who is reason.
I was taught that some things are natural and some things divine.
I mean that some things are mechanical and some things divine.
But there is the great difficulty, Turnbull. The great difficulty
is that, according to my teaching, you are divine."
"Me! Divine?" said Turnbull truculently. "What do you mean?"
"That is just the difficulty," continued MacIan thoughtfully. "I
was told that there was a difference between the grass and a
man's will; and the difference was that a man's will was special
and divine. A man's free will, I heard, was supernatural."
"Rubbish!" said Turnbull.
"Oh," said MacIan patiently, "then if a man's free will isn't
supernatural, why do your materialists deny that it exists?"
Turnbull was silent for a moment. Then he began to speak, but
MacIan continued with the same steady voice and sad eyes:
"So what I feel is this: Here is the great divine creation I was
taught to believe in. I can understand your disbelieving in it,
but why disbelieve in a part of it? It was all one thing to me.
God had authority because he was God. Man had authority because
he was man. You cannot prove that God is better than a man; nor
can you prove that a man is better than a horse. Why permit any
ordinary thing? Why do you let a horse be saddled?"
"Some modern thinkers disapprove of it," said Turnbull a little
"I know," said MacIan grimly; "that man who talked about love,
Turnbull made a humorous grimace; then he said: "We seem to be
talking in a kind of shorthand; but I won't pretend not to
understand you. What you mean is this: that you learnt about all
your saints and angels at the same time as you learnt about
common morality, from the same people, in the same way. And you
mean to say that if one may be disputed, so may the other. Well,
let that pass for the moment. But let me ask you a question in
turn. Did not this system of yours, which you swallowed whole,
contain all sorts of things that were merely local, the respect
for the chief of your clan, or such things; the village ghost,
the family feud, or what not? Did you not take in those things,
too, along with your theology?"
MacIan stared along the dim village road, down which the last
straggler from the inn was trailing his way.
"What you say is not unreasonable," he said. "But it is not quite
true. The distinction between the chief and us did exist; but it
was never anything like the distinction between the human and the
divine, or the human and the animal. It was more like the
distinction between one animal and another. But----"
"Well?" said Turnbull.
MacIan was silent.
"Go on," repeated Turnbull; "what's the matter with you? What are
you staring at?"
"I am staring," said MacIan at last, "at that which shall judge
"Oh, yes," said Turnbull in a tired way, "I suppose you mean
"No, I don't," said MacIan, shaking his head. "I mean him."
And he pointed to the half-tipsy yokel who was ploughing down the
"What do you mean?" asked the atheist.
"I mean him," repeated MacIan with emphasis. "He goes out in the
early dawn; he digs or he ploughs a field. Then he comes back and
drinks ale, and then he sings a song. All your philosophies and
political systems are young compared to him. All your hoary
cathedrals, yes, even the Eternal Church on earth is new compared
to him. The most mouldering gods in the British Museum are new
facts beside him. It is he who in the end shall judge us all."
And MacIan rose to his feet with a vague excitement.
"What are you going to do?"
"I am going to ask him," cried MacIan, "which of us is right."
Turnbull broke into a kind of laugh. "Ask that intoxicated
turnip-eater----" he began.
"Yes--which of us is right," cried MacIan violently. "Oh, you
have long words and I have long words; and I talk of every man
being the image of God; and you talk of every man being a citizen
and enlightened enough to govern. But if every man typifies God,
there is God. If every man is an enlightened citizen, there is
your enlightened citizen. The first man one meets is always man.
Let us catch him up."
And in gigantic strides the long, lean Highlander whirled away
into the grey twilight, Turnbull following with a good-humoured
The track of the rustic was easy to follow, even in the faltering
dark; for he was enlivening his wavering walk with song. It was
an interminable poem, beginning with some unspecified King
William, who (it appeared) lived in London town and who after the
second rise vanished rather abruptly from the train of thought.
The rest was almost entirely about beer and was thick with local
topography of a quite unrecognizable kind. The singer's step was
neither very rapid, nor, indeed, exceptionally secure; so the
song grew louder and louder and the two soon overtook him.
He was a man elderly or rather of any age, with lean grey hair
and a lean red face, but with that remarkable rustic physiognomy
in which it seems that all the features stand out independently
from the face; the rugged red nose going out like a limb; the
bleared blue eyes standing out like signals.
He gave them greeting with the elaborate urbanity of the slightly
intoxicated. MacIan, who was vibrating with one of his silent,
violent decisions, opened the question without delay. He
explained the philosophic position in words as short and simple
as possible. But the singular old man with the lank red face
seemed to think uncommonly little of the short words. He fixed
with a fierce affection upon one or two of the long ones.
"Atheists!" he repeated with luxurious scorn. "Atheists! I
know their sort, master. Atheists! Don't talk to me about 'un.
The grounds of his disdain seemed a little dark and confused; but
they were evidently sufficient. MacIan resumed in some
"You think as I do, I hope; you think that a man should be
connected with the Church; with the common Christian----"
The old man extended a quivering stick in the direction of a
"There's the church," he said thickly. "Grassley old church that
is. Pulled down it was, in the old squire's time, and----"
"I mean," explained MacIan elaborately, "that you think that
there should be someone typifying religion, a priest----"
"Priests!" said the old man with sudden passion. "Priests! I
know 'un. What they want in England? That's what I say. What
they want in England?"
"They want you," said MacIan.
"Quite so," said Turnbull, "and me; but they won't get us.
MacIan, your attempt on the primitive innocence does not seem
very successful. Let me try. What you want, my friend, is your
rights. You don't want any priests or churches. A vote, a right
to speak is what you----"
"Who says I a'n't got a right to speak?" said the old man, facing
round in an irrational frenzy. "I got a right to speak. I'm a
man, I am. I don't want no votin' nor priests. I say a man's a
man; that's what I say. If a man a'n't a man, what is he? That's
what I say, if a man a'n't a man, what is he? When I sees a man,
I sez 'e's a man."
"Quite so," said Turnbull, "a citizen."
"I say he's a man," said the rustic furiously, stopping and
striking his stick on the ground. "Not a city or owt else. He's a
"You're perfectly right," said the sudden voice of MacIan,
falling like a sword. "And you have kept close to something the
whole world of today tries to forget."
And the old man went on wildly singing into the night.
"A jolly old creature," said Turnbull; "he didn't seem able to
get much beyond that fact that a man is a man."
"Has anybody got beyond it?" asked MacIan.
Turnbull looked at him curiously. "Are you turning an agnostic?"
"Oh, you do not understand!" cried out MacIan. "We Catholics are
all agnostics. We Catholics have only in that sense got as far as
realizing that man is a man. But your Ibsens and your Zolas and
your Shaws and your Tolstoys have not even got so far."
VIII. AN INTERLUDE OF ARGUMENT
Morning broke in bitter silver along the grey and level plain;
and almost as it did so Turnbull and MacIan came out of a low,
scrubby wood on to the empty and desolate flats. They had walked
They had walked all night and talked all night also, and if the
subject had been capable of being exhausted they would have
exhausted it. Their long and changing argument had taken them
through districts and landscapes equally changing. They had
discussed Haeckel upon hills so high and steep that in spite of
the coldness of the night it seemed as if the stars might burn
them. They had explained and re-explained the Massacre of St.
Bartholomew in little white lanes walled in with standing corn as
with walls of gold. They had talked about Mr. Kensit in dim and
twinkling pine woods, amid the bewildering monotony of the pines.
And it was with the end of a long speech from MacIan,
passionately defending the practical achievements and the solid
prosperity of the Catholic tradition, that they came out upon the
MacIan had learnt much and thought more since he came out of the
cloudy hills of Arisaig. He had met many typical modern figures
under circumstances which were sharply symbolic; and, moreover,
he had absorbed the main modern atmosphere from the mere presence
and chance phrases of Turnbull, as such atmospheres can always be
absorbed from the presence and the phrases of any man of great
mental vitality. He had at last begun thoroughly to understand
what are the grounds upon which the mass of the modern world
solidly disapprove of her creed; and he threw himself into
replying to them with a hot intellectual enjoyment.
"I begin to understand one or two of your dogmas, Mr. Turnbull,"
he had said emphatically as they ploughed heavily up a wooded
hill. "And every one that I understand I deny. Take any one of
them you like. You hold that your heretics and sceptics have
helped the world forward and handed on a lamp of progress. I deny
it. Nothing is plainer from real history than that each of your
heretics invented a complete cosmos of his own which the next
heretic smashed entirely to pieces. Who knows now exactly what
Nestorius taught? Who cares? There are only two things that we
know for certain about it. The first is that Nestorius, as a
heretic, taught something quite opposite to the teaching of
Arius, the heretic who came before him, and something quite
useless to James Turnbull, the heretic who comes after. I defy
you to go back to the Free-thinkers of the past and find any
habitation for yourself at all. I defy you to read Godwin or
Shelley or the deists of the eighteenth century of the
nature-worshipping humanists of the Renaissance, without
discovering that you differ from them twice as much as you differ
from the Pope. You are a nineteenth-century sceptic, and you are
always telling me that I ignore the cruelty of nature. If you had
been an eighteenth-century sceptic you would have told me that I
ignore the kindness and benevolence of nature. You are an
atheist, and you praise the deists of the eighteenth century.
Read them instead of praising them, and you will find that their
whole universe stands or falls with the deity. You are a
materialist, and you think Bruno a scientific hero. See what he
said and you will think him an insane mystic. No, the great
Free-thinker, with his genuine ability and honesty, does not in
practice destroy Christianity. What he does destroy is the
Free-thinker who went before. Free-thought may be suggestive, it
may be inspiriting, it may have as much as you please of the
merits that come from vivacity and variety. But there is one
thing Free-thought can never be by any possibility--Free-thought
can never be progressive. It can never be progressive because it
will accept nothing from the past; it begins every time again
from the beginning; and it goes every time in a different
direction. All the rational philosophers have gone along
different roads, so it is impossible to say which has gone
farthest. Who can discuss whether Emerson was a better optimist
than Schopenhauer was pessimist? It is like asking if this corn
is as yellow as that hill is steep. No; there are only two things
that really progress; and they both accept accumulations of
authority. They may be progressing uphill and down; they may be
growing steadily better or steadily worse; but they have steadily
increased in certain definable matters; they have steadily
advanced in a certain definable direction; they are the only two
things, it seems, that ever _can_ progress. The first is strictly
physical science. The second is the Catholic Church."
"Physical science and the Catholic Church!" said Turnbull
sarcastically; "and no doubt the first owes a great deal to the
"If you pressed that point I might reply that it was very
probable," answered MacIan calmly. "I often fancy that your
historical generalizations rest frequently on random instances; I
should not be surprised if your vague notions of the Church as
the persecutor of science was a generalization from Galileo. I
should not be at all surprised if, when you counted the
scientific investigations and discoveries since the fall of Rome,
you found that a great mass of them had been made by monks. But
the matter is irrelevant to my meaning. I say that if you want an
example of anything which has progressed in the moral world by
the same method as science in the material world, by continually
adding to without unsettling what was there before, then I say
that there _is_ only one example of it. And that is Us."
"With this enormous difference," said Turnbull, "that however
elaborate be the calculations of physical science, their net
result can be tested. Granted that it took millions of books I
never read and millions of men I never heard of to discover the
electric light. Still I can see the electric light. But I cannot
see the supreme virtue which is the result of all your theologies
"Catholic virtue is often invisible because it is the normal,"
answered MacIan. "Christianity is always out of fashion because
it is always sane; and all fashions are mild insanities. When
Italy is mad on art the Church seems too Puritanical; when
England is mad on Puritanism the Church seems too artistic. When
you quarrel with us now you class us with kingship and despotism;
but when you quarrelled with us first it was because we would not
accept the divine despotism of Henry VIII. The Church always
seems to be behind the times, when it is really beyond the times;
it is waiting till the last fad shall have seen its last summer.
It keeps the key of a permanent virtue."
"Oh, I have heard all that!" said Turnbull with genial contempt.
"I have heard that Christianity keeps the key of virtue, and that
if you read Tom Paine you will cut your throat at Monte Carlo. It
is such rubbish that I am not even angry at it. You say that
Christianity is the prop of morals; but what more do you do? When
a doctor attends you and could poison you with a pinch of salt,
do you ask whether he is a Christian? You ask whether he is a
gentleman, whether he is an M.D.--anything but that. When a
soldier enlists to die for his country or disgrace it, do you ask
whether he is a Christian? You are more likely to ask whether he
is Oxford or Cambridge at the boat race. If you think your creed
essential to morals why do you not make it a test for these
"We once did make it a test for these things," said MacIan
smiling, "and then you told us that we were imposing by force a
faith unsupported by argument. It seems rather hard that having
first been told that our creed must be false because we did use
tests, we should now be told that it must be false because we
don't. But I notice that most anti-Christian arguments are in the
same inconsistent style."
"That is all very well as a debating-club answer," replied
Turnbull good-humouredly, "but the question still remains: Why
don't you confine yourself more to Christians if Christians are
the only really good men?"
"Who talked of such folly?" asked MacIan disdainfully. "Do you
suppose that the Catholic Church ever held that Christians were
the only good men? Why, the Catholics of the Catholic Middle Ages
talked about the virtues of all the virtuous Pagans until
humanity was sick of the subject. No, if you really want to know
what we mean when we say that Christianity has a special power of
virtue, I will tell you. The Church is the only thing on earth
that can perpetuate a type of virtue and make it something more
than a fashion. The thing is so plain and historical that I
hardly think you will ever deny it. You cannot deny that it is
perfectly possible that tomorrow morning, in Ireland or in Italy,
there might appear a man not only as good but good in exactly the
same way as St. Francis of Assisi. Very well, now take the other
types of human virtue; many of them splendid. The English
gentleman of Elizabeth was chivalrous and idealistic. But can you
stand still here in this meadow and _be_ an English gentleman of
Elizabeth? The austere republican of the eighteenth century, with
his stern patriotism and his simple life, was a fine fellow. But
have you ever seen him? have you ever seen an austere republican?
Only a hundred years have passed and that volcano of
revolutionary truth and valour is as cold as the mountains of the
moon. And so it is and so it will be with the ethics which are
buzzing down Fleet Street at this instant as I speak. What phrase
would inspire the London clerk or workman just now? Perhaps that
he is a son of the British Empire on which the sun never sets;
perhaps that he is a prop of his Trades Union, or a
class-conscious proletarian something or other; perhaps merely
that he is a gentleman when he obviously is not. Those names and
notions are all honourable; but how long will they last? Empires
break; industrial conditions change; the suburbs will not last
for ever. What will remain? I will tell you. The Catholic Saint
"And suppose I don't like him?" said Turnbull.
"On my theory the question is rather whether he will like you: or
more probably whether he will ever have heard of you. But I grant
the reasonableness of your query. You have a right, if you speak
as the ordinary man, to ask if you will like the saint. But as
the ordinary man you do like him. You revel in him. If you
dislike him it is not because you are a nice ordinary man, but
because you are (if you will excuse me) a sophisticated prig of a
Fleet Street editor. That is just the funny part of it. The human
race has always admired the Catholic virtues, however little it
can practise them; and oddly enough it has admired most those of
them that the modern world most sharply disputes. You complain of
Catholicism for setting up an ideal of virginity; it did nothing
of the kind. The whole human race set up an ideal of virginity;
the Greeks in Athene, the Romans in the Vestal fire, set up an
ideal of virginity. What then is your real quarrel with
Catholicism? Your quarrel can only be, your quarrel really only
is, that Catholicism has _achieved_ an ideal of virginity; that
it is no longer a mere piece of floating poetry. But if you, and
a few feverish men, in top hats, running about in a street in
London, choose to differ as to the ideal itself, not only from
the Church, but from the Parthenon whose name means virginity,
from the Roman Empire which went outwards from the virgin flame,
from the whole legend and tradition of Europe, from the lion who
will not touch virgins, from the unicorn who respects them, and
who make up together the bearers of your own national shield,
from the most living and lawless of your own poets, from
Massinger, who wrote the _Virgin Martyr_, from Shakespeare, who
wrote _Measure for Measure_--if you in Fleet Street differ from
all this human experience, does it never strike you that it may
be Fleet Street that is wrong?"
"No," answered Turnbull; "I trust that I am sufficiently
fair-minded to canvass and consider the idea; but having
considered it, I think Fleet Street is right, yes--even if the
Parthenon is wrong. I think that as the world goes on new
psychological atmospheres are generated, and in these atmospheres
it is possible to find delicacies and combinations which in other
times would have to be represented by some ruder symbol. Every
man feels the need of some element of purity in sex; perhaps they
can only typify purity as the absence of sex. You will laugh if I
suggest that we may have made in Fleet Street an atmosphere in
which a man can be so passionate as Sir Lancelot and as pure as
Sir Galahad. But, after all, we have in the modern world erected
many such atmospheres. We have, for instance, a new and
imaginative appreciation of children."
"Quite so," replied MacIan with a singular smile. "It has been
very well put by one of the brightest of your young authors, who
said: 'Unless you become as little children ye shall in no wise
enter the kingdom of heaven.' But you are quite right; there is a
modern worship of children. And what, I ask you, is this modern
worship of children? What, in the name of all the angels and
devils, is it except a worship of virginity? Why should anyone
worship a thing merely because it is small or immature? No; you
have tried to escape from this thing, and the very thing you
point to as the goal of your escape is only the thing again. Am
I wrong in saying that these things seem to be eternal?"
And it was with these words that they came in sight of the great
plains. They went a little way in silence, and then James
Turnbull said suddenly, "But I _cannot_ believe in the thing."
MacIan answered nothing to the speech; perhaps it is
unanswerable. And indeed they scarcely spoke another word to
each other all that day.
IX. THE STRANGE LADY
Moonrise with a great and growing moon opened over all those
flats, making them seem flatter and larger than they were,
turning them to a lake of blue light. The two companions trudged
across the moonlit plain for half an hour in full silence. Then
MacIan stopped suddenly and planted his sword-point in the ground
like one who plants his tent-pole for the night. Leaving it
standing there, he clutched his black-haired skull with his great
claws of hands, as was his custom when forcing the pace of his
brain. Then his hands dropped again and he spoke.
"I'm sure you're thinking the same as I am," he said; "how long
are we to be on this damned seesaw?"
The other did not answer, but his silence seemed somehow solid as
assent; and MacIan went on conversationally. Neither noticed that
both had instinctively stood still before the sign of the fixed
and standing sword.
"It is hard to guess what God means in this business. But he
means something--or the other thing, or both. Whenever we have
tried to fight each other something has stopped us. Whenever we
have tried to be reconciled to each other, something has stopped
us again. By the run of our luck we have never had time to be
either friends or enemies. Something always jumped out of the
Turnbull nodded gravely and glanced round at the huge and
hedgeless meadow which fell away towards the horizon into a
glimmering high road.
"Nothing will jump out of bushes here anyhow," he said.
"That is what I meant," said MacIan, and stared steadily at the
heavy hilt of his standing sword, which in the slight wind swayed
on its tempered steel like some huge thistle on its stalk.
"That is what I meant; we are quite alone here. I have not heard
a horse-hoof or a footstep or the hoot of a train for miles. So I
think we might stop here and ask for a miracle."
"Oh! might we?" said the atheistic editor with a sort of gusto of
"I beg your pardon," said MacIan, meekly. "I forgot your
prejudices." He eyed the wind-swung sword-hilt in sad meditation
and resumed: "What I mean is, we might find out in this quiet
place whether there really is any fate or any commandment against
our enterprise. I will engage on my side, like Elijah, to accept
a test from heaven. Turnbull, let us draw swords here in this
moonlight and this monstrous solitude. And if here in this
moonlight and solitude there happens anything to interrupt us--if
it be lightning striking our sword-blades or a rabbit running
under our legs--I will take it as a sign from God and we will
shake hands for ever."
Turnbull's mouth twitched in angry humour under his red
moustache. He said: "I will wait for signs from God until I have
any signs of His existence; but God--or Fate--forbid that a man
of scientific culture should refuse any kind of experiment."
"Very well, then," said MacIan, shortly. "We are more quiet here
than anywhere else; let us engage." And he plucked his
sword-point out of the turf.
Turnbull regarded him for a second and a half with a baffling
visage almost black against the moonrise; then his hand made a
sharp movement to his hip and his sword shone in the moon.
As old chess-players open every game with established gambits,
they opened with a thrust and parry, orthodox and even frankly
ineffectual. But in MacIan's soul more formless storms were
gathering, and he made a lunge or two so savage as first to
surprise and then to enrage his opponent. Turnbull ground his
teeth, kept his temper, and waiting for the third lunge, and the
worst, had almost spitted the lunger when a shrill, small cry
came from behind him, a cry such as is not made by any of the
beasts that perish.
Turnbull must have been more superstitious than he knew, for he
stopped in the act of going forward. MacIan was brazenly
superstitious, and he dropped his sword. After all, he had
challenged the universe to send an interruption; and this was an
interruption, whatever else it was. An instant afterwards the
sharp, weak cry was repeated. This time it was certain that it
was human and that it was female.
MacIan stood rolling those great blue Gaelic eyes that contrasted
with his dark hair. "It is the voice of God," he said again and
"God hasn't got much of a voice," said Turnbull, who snatched at
every chance of cheap profanity. "As a matter of fact, MacIan, it
isn't the voice of God, but it's something a jolly sight more
important--it is the voice of man--or rather of woman. So I think
we'd better scoot in its direction."
MacIan snatched up his fallen weapon without a word, and the two
raced away towards that part of the distant road from which the
cry was now constantly renewed.
They had to run over a curve of country that looked smooth but
was very rough; a neglected field which they soon found to be
full of the tallest grasses and the deepest rabbit-holes.
Moreover, that great curve of the countryside which looked so
slow and gentle when you glanced over it, proved to be highly
precipitous when you scampered over it; and Turnbull was twice
nearly flung on his face. MacIan, though much heavier, avoided
such an overthrow only by having the quick and incalculable feet
of the mountaineer; but both of them may be said to have leapt
off a low cliff when they leapt into the road.
The moonlight lay on the white road with a more naked and
electric glare than on the grey-green upland, and though the
scene which it revealed was complicated, it was not difficult to
get its first features at a glance.
A small but very neat black-and-yellow motor-car was standing
stolidly, slightly to the left of the road. A somewhat larger
light-green motor-car was tipped half-way into a ditch on the
same side, and four flushed and staggering men in evening dress
were tipped out of it. Three of them were standing about the
road, giving their opinions to the moon with vague but echoing
violence. The fourth, however, had already advanced on the
chauffeur of the black-and-yellow car, and was threatening him
with a stick. The chauffeur had risen to defend himself. By
his side sat a young lady.
She was sitting bolt upright, a slender and rigid figure gripping
the sides of her seat, and her first few cries had ceased. She
was clad in close-fitting dark costume, a mass of warm brown hair
went out in two wings or waves on each side of her forehead; and
even at that distance it could be seen that her profile was of
the aquiline and eager sort, like a young falcon hardly free of
Turnbull had concealed in him somewhere a fund of common sense
and knowledge of the world of which he himself and his best
friends were hardly aware. He was one of those who take in much
of the shows of things absent-mindedly, and in an irrelevant
reverie. As he stood at the door of his editorial shop on Ludgate
Hill and meditated on the non-existence of God, he silently
absorbed a good deal of varied knowledge about the existence of
men. He had come to know types by instinct and dilemmas with a
glance; he saw the crux of the situation in the road, and what he
saw made him redouble his pace.
He knew that the men were rich; he knew that they were drunk; and
he knew, what was worst of all, that they were fundamentally
frightened. And he knew this also, that no common ruffian (such
as attacks ladies in novels) is ever so savage and ruthless as a
coarse kind of gentleman when he is really alarmed. The reason is
not recondite; it is simply because the police-court is not such
a menacing novelty to the poor ruffian as it is to the rich. When
they came within hail and heard the voices, they confirmed all
Turnbull's anticipations. The man in the middle of the road was
shouting in a hoarse and groggy voice that the chauffeur had
smashed their car on purpose; that they must get to the Cri that
evening, and that he would jolly well have to take them there.
The chauffeur had mildly objected that he was driving a lady.
"Oh! we'll take care of the lady," said the red-faced young man,
and went off into gurgling and almost senile laughter.
By the time the two champions came up, things had grown more
serious. The intoxication of the man talking to the chauffeur had
taken one of its perverse and catlike jumps into mere screaming
spite and rage. He lifted his stick and struck at the chauffeur,
who caught hold of it, and the drunkard fell backwards, dragging
him out of his seat on the car. Another of the rowdies rushed
forward booing in idiot excitement, fell over the chauffeur, and,
either by accident or design, kicked him as he lay. The drunkard
got to his feet again; but the chauffeur did not.
The man who had kicked kept a kind of half-witted conscience or
cowardice, for he stood staring at the senseless body and
murmuring words of inconsequent self-justification, making
gestures with his hands as if he were arguing with somebody. But
the other three, with a mere whoop and howl of victory, were
boarding the car on three sides at once. It was exactly at this
moment that Turnbull fell among them like one fallen from the
sky. He tore one of the climbers backward by the collar, and with
a hearty push sent him staggering over into the ditch upon his
nose. One of the remaining two, who was too far gone to notice
anything, continued to clamber ineffectually over the high back
of the car, kicking and pouring forth a rivulet of soliloquy. But
the other dropped at the interruption, turned upon Turnbull and
began a battering bout of fisticuffs. At the same moment the man
crawled out of the ditch in a masquerade of mud and rushed at his
old enemy from behind. The whole had not taken a second; and an
instant after MacIan was in the midst of them.
Turnbull had tossed away his sheathed sword, greatly preferring
his hands, except in the avowed etiquette of the duel; for he had
learnt to use his hands in the old street-battles of Bradlaugh.
But to MacIan the sword even sheathed was a more natural weapon,
and he laid about him on all sides with it as with a stick. The
man who had the walking-stick found his blows parried with
promptitude; and a second after, to his great astonishment, found
his own stick fly up in the air as by a conjuring trick, with a
turn of the swordsman's wrist. Another of the revellers picked
the stick out of the ditch and ran in upon MacIan, calling to his
companion to assist him.
"I haven't got a stick," grumbled the disarmed man, and looked
vaguely about the ditch.
"Perhaps," said MacIan, politely, "you would like this one." With
the word the drunkard found his hand that had grasped the stick
suddenly twisted and empty; and the stick lay at the feet of his
companion on the other side of the road. MacIan felt a faint stir
behind him; the girl had risen to her feet and was leaning
forward to stare at the fighters. Turnbull was still engaged in
countering and pommelling with the third young man. The fourth
young man was still engaged with himself, kicking his legs in
helpless rotation on the back of the car and talking with
At length Turnbull's opponent began to back before the battery of
his heavy hands, still fighting, for he was the soberest and
boldest of the four. If these are annals of military glory, it is
due to him to say that he need not have abandoned the conflict;
only that as he backed to the edge of the ditch his foot caught
in a loop of grass and he went over in a flat and comfortable
position from which it took him a considerable time to rise. By
the time he had risen, Turnbull had come to the rescue of MacIan,
who was at bay but belabouring his two enemies handsomely. The
sight of the liberated reserve was to them like that of Blucher
at Waterloo; the two set off at a sullen trot down the road,
leaving even the walking-stick lying behind them in the
moonlight. MacIan plucked the struggling and aspiring idiot off
the back of the car like a stray cat, and left him swaying
unsteadily in the moon. Then he approached the front part of the
car in a somewhat embarrassed manner and pulled off his cap.
For some solid seconds the lady and he merely looked at each
other, and MacIan had an irrational feeling of being in a picture
hung on a wall. That is, he was motionless, even lifeless, and
yet staringly significant, like a picture. The white moonlight on
the road, when he was not looking at it, gave him a vision of the
road being white with snow. The motor-car, when he was not
looking at it, gave him a rude impression of a captured coach in
the old days of highwaymen. And he whose whole soul was with the
swords and stately manners of the eighteenth century, he who was
a Jacobite risen from the dead, had an overwhelming sense of
being once more in the picture, when he had so long been out of
In that short and strong silence he absorbed the lady from head
to foot. He had never really looked at a human being before in
his life. He saw her face and hair first, then that she had long
suede gloves; then that there was a fur cap at the back of her
brown hair. He might, perhaps, be excused for this hungry
attention. He had prayed that some sign might come from heaven;
and after an almost savage scrutiny he came to the conclusion
that his one did. The lady's instantaneous arrest of speech
might need more explaining; but she may well have been stunned
with the squalid attack and the abrupt rescue. Yet it was she
who remembered herself first and suddenly called out with
"Oh, that poor, poor man!"
They both swung round abruptly and saw that Turnbull, with his
recovered sword under his arm-pit, was already lifting the fallen
chauffeur into the car. He was only stunned and was slowly
awakening, feebly waving his left arm.
The lady in long gloves and the fur cap leapt out and ran rapidly
towards them, only to be reassured by Turnbull, who (unlike many
of his school) really knew a little science when he invoked it to
redeem the world. "He's all right," said he; "he's quite safe.
But I'm afraid he won't be able to drive the car for half an hour
"I can drive the car," said the young woman in the fur cap with
"Oh, in that case," began MacIan, uneasily; and that paralysing
shyness which is a part of romance induced him to make a backward
movement as if leaving her to herself. But Turnbull was more
rational than he, being more indifferent.
"I don't think you ought to drive home alone, ma'am," he said,
gruffly. "There seem to be a lot of rowdy parties along this
road, and the man will be no use for an hour. If you will tell
us where you are going, we will see you safely there and say good
The young lady exhibited all the abrupt disturbance of a person
who is not commonly disturbed. She said almost sharply and yet
with evident sincerity: "Of course I am awfully grateful to you
for all you've done--and there's plenty of room if you'll come
Turnbull, with the complete innocence of an absolutely sound
motive, immediately jumped into the car; but the girl cast an eye
at MacIan, who stood in the road for an instant as if rooted like
a tree. Then he also tumbled his long legs into the tonneau,
having that sense of degradedly diving into heaven which so many
have known in so many human houses when they consented to stop to
tea or were allowed to stop to supper. The slowly reviving
chauffeur was set in the back seat; Turnbull and MacIan had
fallen into the middle one; the lady with a steely coolness had
taken the driver's seat and all the handles of that headlong
machine. A moment afterwards the engine started, with a throb and
leap unfamiliar to Turnbull, who had only once been in a motor
during a general election, and utterly unknown to MacIan, who in
his present mood thought it was the end of the world. Almost at
the same instant that the car plucked itself out of the mud and
whipped away up the road, the man who had been flung into the
ditch rose waveringly to his feet. When he saw the car escaping
he ran after it and shouted something which, owing to the
increasing distance, could not be heard. It is awful to reflect
that, if his remark was valuable, it is quite lost to the world.
The car shot on up and down the shining moonlit lanes, and there
was no sound in it except the occasional click or catch of its
machinery; for through some cause or other no soul inside it
could think of a word to say. The lady symbolized her feelings,
whatever they were, by urging the machine faster and faster until
scattered woodlands went by them in one black blotch and heavy
hills and valleys seemed to ripple under the wheels like mere
waves. A little while afterwards this mood seemed to slacken and
she fell into a more ordinary pace; but still she did not speak.
Turnbull, who kept a more common and sensible view of the case
than anyone else, made some remark about the moonlight; but
something indescribable made him also relapse into silence.
All this time MacIan had been in a sort of monstrous delirium,
like some fabulous hero snatched up into the moon. The difference
between this experience and common experiences was analogous to
that between waking life and a dream. Yet he did not feel in the
least as if he were dreaming; rather the other way; as waking was
more actual than dreaming, so this seemed by another degree more
actual than waking itself. But it was another life altogether,
like a cosmos with a new dimension.
He felt he had been hurled into some new incarnation: into the
midst of new relations, wrongs and rights, with towering
responsibilities and almost tragic joys which he had as yet had
no time to examine. Heaven had not merely sent him a message;
Heaven itself had opened around him and given him an hour of its
own ancient and star-shattering energy. He had never felt so much
alive before; and yet he was like a man in a trance. And if you
had asked him on what his throbbing happiness hung, he could only
have told you that it hung on four or five visible facts, as a
curtain hangs on four of five fixed nails. The fact that the lady
had a little fur at her throat; the fact that the curve of her
cheek was a low and lean curve and that the moonlight caught the
height of her cheek-bone; the fact that her hands were small but
heavily gloved as they gripped the steering-wheel; the fact that
a white witch light was on the road; the fact that the brisk
breeze of their passage stirred and fluttered a little not only
the brown hair of her head but the black fur on her cap. All
these facts were to him certain and incredible, like sacraments.
When they had driven half a mile farther, a big shadow was flung
across the path, followed by its bulky owner, who eyed the car
critically but let it pass. The silver moonlight picked out a
piece or two of pewter ornament on his blue uniform; and as they
went by they knew it was a sergeant of police. Three hundred
yards farther on another policeman stepped out into the road as
if to stop them, then seemed to doubt his own authority and
stepped back again. The girl was a daughter of the rich; and this
police suspicion (under which all the poor live day and night)
stung her for the first time into speech.
"What can they mean?" she cried out in a kind of temper; "this
car's going like a snail."
There was a short silence, and then Turnbull said: "It is
certainly very odd, you are driving quietly enough."
"You are driving nobly," said MacIan, and his words (which had no
meaning whatever) sounded hoarse and ungainly even in his own
They passed the next mile and a half swiftly and smoothly; yet
among the many things which they passed in the course of it was a
clump of eager policemen standing at a cross-road. As they
passed, one of the policemen shouted something to the others; but
nothing else happened. Eight hundred yards farther on, Turnbull
stood up suddenly in the swaying car.
"My God, MacIan!" he called out, showing his first emotion of
that night. "I don't believe it's the pace; it couldn't be the
pace. I believe it's us."
MacIan sat motionless for a few moments and then turned up at his
companion a face that was as white as the moon above it.
"You may be right," he said at last; "if you are, I must tell
"I will tell the lady if you like," said Turnbull, with his
unconquered good temper.
"You!" said MacIan, with a sort of sincere and instinctive
astonishment. "Why should you--no, I must tell her, of
And he leant forward and spoke to the lady in the fur cap.
"I am afraid, madam, that we may have got you into some trouble,"
he said, and even as he said it it sounded wrong, like everything
he said to this particular person in the long gloves. "The fact
is," he resumed, desperately, "the fact is, we are being chased
by the police." Then the last flattening hammer fell upon poor
Evan's embarrassment; for the fluffy brown head with the furry
black cap did not turn by a section of the compass.
"We are chased by the police," repeated MacIan, vigorously; then
he added, as if beginning an explanation, "You see, I am a
The wind whipped back a curl of the brown hair so as to
necessitate a new theory of aesthetics touching the line of the
cheek-bone; but the head did not turn.
"You see," began MacIan, again blunderingly, "this gentleman
wrote in his newspaper that Our Lady was a common woman, a bad
woman, and so we agreed to fight; and we were fighting quite a
little time ago--but that was before we saw you."
The young lady driving her car had half turned her face to
listen; and it was not a reverent or a patient face that she
showed him. Her Norman nose was tilted a trifle too high upon
the slim stalk of her neck and body.
When MacIan saw that arrogant and uplifted profile pencilled
plainly against the moonshine, he accepted an ultimate defeat.
He had expected the angels to despise him if he were wrong, but
not to despise him so much as this.
"You see," said the stumbling spokesman, "I was angry with him
when he insulted the Mother of God, and I asked him to fight a
duel with me; but the police are all trying to stop it."
Nothing seemed to waver or flicker in the fair young falcon
profile; and it only opened its lips to say, after a silence: "I
thought people in our time were supposed to respect each other's
Under the shadow of that arrogant face MacIan could only fall
back on the obvious answer: "But what about a man's irreligion?"
The face only answered: "Well, you ought to be more broadminded."
If anyone else in the world had said the words, MacIan would have
snorted with his equine neigh of scorn. But in this case he
seemed knocked down by a superior simplicity, as if his eccentric
attitude were rebuked by the innocence of a child. He could not
dissociate anything that this woman said or did or wore from an
idea of spiritual rarity and virtue. Like most others under the
same elemental passion, his soul was at present soaked in ethics.
He could have applied moral terms to the material objects of her
environment. If someone had spoken of "her generous ribbon" or
"her chivalrous gloves" or "her merciful shoe-buckle," it would
not have seemed to him nonsense.
He was silent, and the girl went on in a lower key as if she were
momentarily softened and a little saddened also. "It won't do,
you know," she said; "you can't find out the truth in that way.
There are such heaps of churches and people thinking different
things nowadays, and they all think they are right. My uncle was
MacIan sat with bowed head, listening hungrily to her voice but
hardly to her words, and seeing his great world drama grow
smaller and smaller before his eyes till it was no bigger than a
child's toy theatre.
"The time's gone by for all that," she went on; "you can't find
out the real thing like that--if there is really anything to
find----" and she sighed rather drearily; for, like many of the
women of our wealthy class, she was old and broken in thought,
though young and clean enough in her emotions.
"Our object," said Turnbull, shortly, "is to make an effective
demonstration"; and after that word, MacIan looked at his vision
again and found it smaller than ever.
"It would be in the newspapers, of course," said the girl.
"People read the newspapers, but they don't believe them, or
anything else, I think." And she sighed again.
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