The Ball and The Cross
Part 5 out of 5
beginning on this earth."
And with that the Master laughed and swung away from them, almost
as if his laugh was a bad thing for people to see.
"Might I speak to you a moment?" said Turnbull, stepping forward
with a respectful resolution. But the shoulders of the Master
only seemed to take on a new and unexpected angle of mockery as
he strode away.
Turnbull swung round with great abruptness to the other two
doctors, and said, harshly: "What in snakes does he mean--and who
"My name is Hutton," said the short, stout man, "and I am--well,
one of those whose business it is to uphold this establishment."
"My name is Turnbull," said the other; "I am one of those whose
business it is to tear it to the ground."
The small doctor smiled, and Turnbull's anger seemed suddenly to
"But I don't want to talk about that," he said, calmly; "I only
want to know what the Master of this asylum really means."
Dr. Hutton's smile broke into a laugh which, short as it was, had
the suspicion of a shake in it. "I suppose you think that quite a
simple question," he said.
"I think it a plain question," said Turnbull, "and one that
deserves a plain answer. Why did the Master lock us up in a
couple of cupboards like jars of pickles for a mortal month, and
why does he now let us walk free in the garden again?"
"I understand," said Hutton, with arched eyebrows, "that your
complaint is that you are now free to walk in the garden."
"My complaint is," said Turnbull, stubbornly, "that if I am fit
to walk freely now, I have been as fit for the last month. No one
has examined me, no one has come near me. Your chief says that I
am only free because he has made other arrangements. What are
The young man with the round face looked down for a little while
and smoked reflectively. The other and elder doctor had gone
pacing nervously by himself upon the lawn. At length the round
face was lifted again, and showed two round blue eyes with a
certain frankness in them.
"Well, I don't see that it can do any harm to tell you know," he
said. "You were shut up just then because it was just during that
month that the Master was bringing off his big scheme. He was
getting his bill through Parliament, and organizing the new
medical police. But of course you haven't heard of all that; in
fact, you weren't meant to."
"Heard of all what?" asked the impatient inquirer.
"There's a new law now, and the asylum powers are greatly
extended. Even if you did escape now, any policeman would take
you up in the next town if you couldn't show a certificate of
sanity from us."
"Well," continued Dr. Hutton, "the Master described before both
Houses of Parliament the real scientific objection to all
existing legislation about lunacy. As he very truly said, the
mistake was in supposing insanity to be merely an exception or an
extreme. Insanity, like forgetfulness, is simply a quality which
enters more or less into all human beings; and for practical
purposes it is more necessary to know whose mind is really
trustworthy than whose has some accidental taint. We have
therefore reversed the existing method, and people now have to
prove that they are sane. In the first village you entered, the
village constable would notice that you were not wearing on the
left lapel of your coat the small pewter S which is now necessary
to any one who walks about beyond asylum bounds or outside asylum
"You mean to say," said Turnbull, "that this was what the Master
of the asylum urged before the House of Commons?"
Dr. Hutton nodded with gravity.
"And you mean to say," cried Turnbull, with a vibrant snort,
"that that proposal was passed in an assembly that calls itself
The doctor showed his whole row of teeth in a smile. "Oh, the
assembly calls itself Socialist now," he said, "But we explained
to them that this was a question for men of science."
Turnbull gave one stamp upon the gravel, then pulled himself
together, and resumed: "But why should your infernal head
medicine-man lock us up in separate cells while he was turning
England into a madhouse? I'm not the Prime Minister; we're not
the House of Lords."
"He wasn't afraid of the Prime Minister," replied Dr. Hutton; "he
isn't afraid of the House of Lords. But----"
"Well?" inquired Turnbull, stamping again.
"He is afraid of you," said Hutton, simply. "Why, didn't you
MacIan, who had not spoken yet, made one stride forward and stood
with shaking limbs and shining eyes.
"He was afraid!" began Evan, thickly. "You mean to say that
"I mean to say the plain truth now that the danger is over," said
Hutton, calmly; "most certainly you two were the only people he
ever was afraid of." Then he added in a low but not inaudible
voice: "Except one--whom he feared worse, and has buried deeper."
"Come away," cried MacIan, "this has to be thought about."
Turnbull followed him in silence as he strode away, but just
before he vanished, turned and spoke again to the doctors.
"But what has got hold of people?" he asked, abruptly. "Why
should all England have gone dotty on the mere subject of
Dr. Hutton smiled his open smile once more and bowed slightly.
"As to that also," he replied, "I don't want to make you vain."
Turnbull swung round without a word, and he and his companion
were lost in the lustrous leafage of the garden. They noticed
nothing special about the scene, except that the garden seemed
more exquisite than ever in the deepening sunset, and that there
seemed to be many more people, whether patients or attendants,
walking about in it.
From behind the two black-coated doctors as they stood on the
lawn another figure somewhat similarly dressed strode hurriedly
past them, having also grizzled hair and an open flapping
frock-coat. Both his decisive step and dapper black array marked
him out as another medical man, or at least a man in authority,
and as he passed Turnbull the latter was aroused by a strong
impression of having seen the man somewhere before. It was no one
that he knew well, yet he was certain that it was someone at
whom he had at sometime or other looked steadily. It was neither
the face of a friend nor of an enemy; it aroused neither
irritation nor tenderness, yet it was a face which had for some
reason been of great importance in his life. Turning and
returning, and making detours about the garden, he managed to
study the man's face again and again--a moustached, somewhat
military face with a monocle, the sort of face that is
aristocratic without being distinguished. Turnbull could not
remember any particular doctors in his decidedly healthy
existence. Was the man a long-lost uncle, or was he only somebody
who had sat opposite him regularly in a railway train? At that
moment the man knocked down his own eye-glass with a gesture of
annoyance; Turnbull remembered the gesture, and the truth sprang
up solid in front of him. The man with the moustaches was
Cumberland Vane, the London police magistrate before whom he and
MacIan had once stood on their trial. The magistrate must have
been transferred to some other official duties--to something
connected with the inspection of asylums.
Turnbull's heart gave a leap of excitement which was half hope.
As a magistrate Mr. Cumberland Vane had been somewhat careless
and shallow, but certainly kindly, and not inaccessible to common
sense so long as it was put to him in strictly conventional
language. He was at least an authority of a more human and
refreshing sort than the crank with the wagging beard or the
fiend with the forked chin.
He went straight up to the magistrate, and said: "Good evening,
Mr. Vane; I doubt if you remember me."
Cumberland Vane screwed the eye-glass into his scowling face for
an instant, and then said curtly but not uncivilly: "Yes, I
remember you, sir; assault or battery, wasn't it?--a fellow broke
your window. A tall fellow--McSomething--case made rather a noise
"MacIan is the name, sir," said Turnbull, respectfully; "I have
him here with me."
"Eh!" said Vane very sharply. "Confound him! Has he got anything
to do with this game?"
"Mr. Vane," said Turnbull, pacifically, "I will not pretend that
either he or I acted quite decorously on that occasion. You were
very lenient with us, and did not treat us as criminals when you
very well might. So I am sure you will give us your testimony
that, even if we were criminals, we are not lunatics in any legal
or medical sense whatever. I am sure you will use your influence
"My influence!" repeated the magistrate, with a slight start. "I
don't quite understand you."
"I don't know in what capacity you are here," continued Turnbull,
gravely, "but a legal authority of your distinction must
certainly be here in an important one. Whether you are visiting
and inspecting the place, or attached to it as some kind of
permanent legal adviser, your opinion must still----"
Cumberland Vane exploded with a detonation of oaths; his face was
transfigured with fury and contempt, and yet in some odd way he
did not seem specially angry with Turnbull.
"But Lord bless us and save us!" he gasped, at length; "I'm not
here as an official at all. I'm here as a patient. The cursed
pack of rat-catching chemists all say that I've lost my wits."
"You!" cried Turnbull with terrible emphasis. "You! Lost your
In the rush of his real astonishment at this towering unreality
Turnbull almost added: "Why, you haven't got any to lose." But he
fortunately remembered the remains of his desperate diplomacy.
"This can't go on," he said, positively. "Men like MacIan and I
may suffer unjustly all our lives, but a man like you must have
"There is only one man who has any influence in England now,"
said Vane, and his high voice fell to a sudden and convincing
"Whom do you mean?" asked Turnbull.
"I mean that cursed fellow with the long split chin," said the
"Is it really true," asked Turnbull, "that he has been allowed to
buy up and control such a lot? What put the country into such a
Mr. Cumberland Vane laughed outright. "What put the country into
such a state?" he asked. "Why, you did. When you were fool enough
to agree to fight MacIan, after all, everybody was ready to
believe that the Bank of England might paint itself pink with
"I don't understand," answered Turnbull. "Why should you be
surprised at my fighting? I hope I have always fought."
"Well," said Cumberland Vane, airily, "you didn't believe in
religion, you see--so we thought you were safe at any rate. You
went further in your language than most of us wanted to go; no
good in just hurting one's mother's feelings, I think. But of
course we all knew you were right, and, really, we relied on
"Did you?" said the editor of _The Atheist_ with a bursting
heart. "I am sorry you did not tell me so at the time."
He walked away very rapidly and flung himself on a garden seat,
and for some six minutes his own wrongs hid from him the huge and
hilarious fact that Cumberland Vane had been locked up as a
The garden of the madhouse was so perfectly planned, and answered
so exquisitely to every hour of daylight, that one could almost
fancy that the sunlight was caught there tangled in its tinted
trees, as the wise men of Gotham tried to chain the spring to a
bush. Or it seemed as if this ironic paradise still kept its
unique dawn or its special sunset while the rest of the earthly
globe rolled through its ordinary hours. There was one evening,
or late afternoon, in particular, which Evan MacIan will remember
in the last moments of death. It was what artists call a daffodil
sky, but it is coarsened even by reference to a daffodil. It was
of that innocent lonely yellow which has never heard of orange,
though it might turn quite unconsciously into green. Against it
the tops, one might say the turrets, of the clipt and ordered
trees were outlined in that shade of veiled violet which tints
the tops of lavender. A white early moon was hardly traceable
upon that delicate yellow. MacIan, I say, will remember this
tender and transparent evening, partly because of its virgin gold
and silver, and partly because he passed beneath it through the
most horrible instant of his life.
Turnbull was sitting on his seat on the lawn, and the golden
evening impressed even his positive nature, as indeed it might
have impressed the oxen in a field. He was shocked out of his
idle mood of awe by seeing MacIan break from behind the bushes
and run across the lawn with an action he had never seen in the
man before, with all his experience of the eccentric humours of
this Celt. MacIan fell on the bench, shaking it so that it
rattled, and gripped it with his knees like one in dreadful pain
of body. That particular run and tumble is typical only of a man
who has been hit by some sudden and incurable evil, who is bitten
by a viper or condemned to be hanged. Turnbull looked up in the
white face of his friend and enemy, and almost turned cold at
what he saw there. He had seen the blue but gloomy eyes of the
western Highlander troubled by as many tempests as his own west
Highland seas, but there had always been a fixed star of faith
behind the storms. Now the star had gone out, and there was only
Yet MacIan had the strength to answer the question where
Turnbull, taken by surprise, had not the strength to ask it.
"They are right, they are right!" he cried. "O my God! they are
right, Turnbull. I ought to be here!"
He went on with shapeless fluency as if he no longer had the
heart to choose or check his speech. "I suppose I ought to have
guessed long ago--all my big dreams and schemes--and everyone
being against us--but I was stuck up, you know."
"Do tell me about it, really," cried the atheist, and, faced with
the furnace of the other's pain, he did not notice that he spoke
with the affection of a father.
"I am mad, Turnbull," said Evan, with a dead clearness of speech,
and leant back against the garden seat.
"Nonsense," said the other, clutching at the obvious cue of
benevolent brutality, "this is one of your silly moods."
MacIan shook his head. "I know enough about myself," he said, "to
allow for any mood, though it opened heaven or hell. But to see
things--to see them walking solid in the sun--things that can't
be there--real mystics never do that, Turnbull."
"What things?" asked the other, incredulously.
MacIan lowered his voice. "I saw _her_," he said, "three minutes
ago--walking here in this hell yard."
Between trying to look scornful and really looking startled,
Turnbull's face was confused enough to emit no speech, and Evan
went on in monotonous sincerity:
"I saw her walk behind those blessed trees against that holy sky
of gold as plain as I can see her whenever I shut my eyes. I did
shut them, and opened them again, and she was still there--that
is, of course, she wasn't---- She still had a little fur round
her neck, but her dress was a shade brighter than when I really
"My dear fellow," cried Turnbull, rallying a hearty laugh, "the
fancies have really got hold of you. You mistook some other poor
girl here for her."
"Mistook some other----" said MacIan, and words failed him
They sat for some moments in the mellow silence of the evening
garden, a silence that was stifling for the sceptic, but utterly
empty and final for the man of faith. At last he broke out again
with the words: "Well, anyhow, if I'm mad, I'm glad I'm mad on
Turnbull murmured some clumsy deprecation, and sat stolidly
smoking to collect his thoughts; the next instant he had all his
nerves engaged in the mere effort to sit still.
Across the clear space of cold silver and a pale lemon sky which
was left by the gap in the ilex-trees there passed a slim, dark
figure, a profile and the poise of a dark head like a bird's,
which really pinned him to his seat with the point of
coincidence. With an effort he got to his feet, and said with a
voice of affected insouciance: "By George! MacIan, she is
"What!" cried MacIan, with a leap of eagerness that was
heart-breaking, "do you see her, too?" And the blaze came back
into the centre of his eyes.
Turnbull's tawny eyebrows were pulled together with a peculiar
frown of curiosity, and all at once he walked quickly across the
lawn. MacIan sat rigid, but peered after him with open and
parched lips. He saw the sight which either proved him sane or
proved the whole universe half-witted; he saw the man of flesh
approach that beautiful phantom, saw their gestures of
recognition, and saw them against the sunset joining hands.
He could stand it no longer, but ran across to the path, turned
the corner and saw standing quite palpable in the evening
sunlight, talking with a casual grace to Turnbull, the face and
figure which had filled his midnights with frightfully vivid or
desperately half-forgotten features. She advanced quite
pleasantly and coolly, and put out her hand. The moment that he
touched it he knew that he was sane even if the solar system was
She was entirely elegant and unembarrassed. That is the awful
thing about women--they refuse to be emotional at emotional
moments, upon some such ludicrous pretext as there being someone
else there. But MacIan was in a condition of criticism much less
than the average masculine one, being in fact merely overturned
by the rushing riddle of the events.
Evan does not know to this day what particular question he asked,
but he vividly remembers that she answered, and every line or
fluctuation of her face as she said it.
"Oh, don't you know?" she said, smiling, and suddenly lifting her
level brown eyebrows. "Haven't you heard the news? I'm a
Then she added after a short pause, and with a sort of pride:
"I've got a certificate."
Her manner, by the matchless social stoicism of her sex, was
entirely suited to a drawing-room, but Evan's reply fell somewhat
far short of such a standard, as he only said: "What the devil in
hell does all this nonsense mean?"
"Really," said the young lady, and laughed.
"I beg your pardon," said the unhappy young man, rather wildly,
"but what I mean is, why are you here in an asylum?"
The young woman broke again into one of the maddening and
mysterious laughs of femininity. Then she composed her features,
and replied with equal dignity: "Well, if it comes to that, why
The fact that Turnbull had strolled away and was investigating
rhododendrons may have been due to Evan's successful prayers to
the other world, or possibly to his own pretty successful
experience of this one. But though they two were as isolated as a
new Adam and Eve in a pretty ornamental Eden, the lady did not
relax by an inch the rigour of her badinage.
"I am locked up in the madhouse," said Evan, with a sort of stiff
pride, "because I tried to keep my promise to you."
"Quite so," answered the inexplicable lady, nodding with a
perfectly blazing smile, "and I am locked up because it was to me
"It is outrageous!" cried Evan; "it is impossible!"
"Oh, you can see my certificate if you like," she replied with
MacIan stared at her and then at his boots, and then at the sky
and then at her again. He was quite sure now that he himself was
not mad, and the fact rather added to his perplexity.
Then he drew nearer to her, and said in a dry and dreadful voice:
"Oh, don't condescend to play the fool with such a fool as me.
Are you really locked up here as a patient--because you helped us
"Yes," she said, still smiling, but her steady voice had a shake
Evan flung his big elbow across his forehead and burst into
The pure lemon of the sky faded into purer white as the great
sunset silently collapsed. The birds settled back into the trees;
the moon began to glow with its own light. Mr. James Turnbull
continued his botanical researches into the structure of the
rhododendron. But the lady did not move an inch until Evan had
flung up his face again; and when he did he saw by the last gleam
of sunlight that it was not only his face that was wet.
Mr. James Turnbull had all his life professed a profound interest
in physical science, and the phenomena of a good garden were
really a pleasure to him; but after three-quarters of an hour or
so even the apostle of science began to find rhododendrus a bore,
and was somewhat relieved when an unexpected development of
events obliged him to transfer his researches to the equally
interesting subject of hollyhocks, which grew some fifty feet
farther along the path. The ostensible cause of his removal was
the unexpected reappearance of his two other acquaintances
walking and talking laboriously along the way, with the black
head bent close to the brown one. Even hollyhocks detained
Turnbull but a short time. Having rapidly absorbed all the
important principles affecting the growth of those vegetables, he
jumped over a flower-bed and walked back into the building. The
other two came up along the slow course of the path talking and
talking. No one but God knows what they said (for they certainly
have forgotten), and if I remembered it I would not repeat it.
When they parted at the head of the walk she put out her hand
again in the same well-bred way, although it trembled; he seemed
to restrain a gesture as he let it fall.
"If it is really always to be like this," he said, thickly, "it
would not matter if we were here for ever."
"You tried to kill yourself four times for me," she said,
unsteadily, "and I have been chained up as a madwoman for you.
I really think that after that----"
"Yes, I know," said Evan in a low voice, looking down. "After
that we belong to each other. We are sort of sold to each
other--until the stars fall." Then he looked up suddenly, and
said: "By the way, what is your name?"
"My name is Beatrice Drake," she replied with complete gravity.
"You can see it on my certificate of lunacy."
XIX. THE LAST PARLEY
Turnbull walked away, wildly trying to explain to himself the
presence of two personal acquaintances so different as Vane and
the girl. As he skirted a low hedge of laurel, an enormously tall
young man leapt over it, stood in front of him, and almost fell
on his neck as if seeking to embrace him.
"Don't you know me?" almost sobbed the young man, who was in the
highest spirits. "Ain't I written on your heart, old boy? I say,
what did you do with my yacht?"
"Take your arms off my neck," said Turnbull, irritably. "Are you
The young man sat down on the gravel path and went into ecstasies
of laughter. "No, that's just the fun of it--I'm not mad," he
replied. "They've shut me up in this place, and I'm not mad." And
he went off again into mirth as innocent as wedding-bells.
Turnbull, whose powers of surprise were exhausted, rolled his
round grey eyes and said, "Mr. Wilkinson, I think," because he
could not think of anything else to say.
The tall man sitting on the gravel bowed with urbanity, and said:
"Quite at your service. Not to be confused with the Wilkinsons of
Cumberland; and as I say, old boy, what have you done with my
yacht? You see, they've locked me up here--in this garden--and a
yacht would be a sort of occupation for an unmarried man."
"I am really horribly sorry," began Turnbull, in the last stage
of bated bewilderment and exasperation, "but really----"
"Oh, I can see you can't have it on you at the moment," said Mr.
Wilkinson with much intellectual magnanimity.
"Well, the fact is----" began Turnbull again, and then the phrase
was frozen on his mouth, for round the corner came the goatlike
face and gleaming eye-glasses of Dr. Quayle.
"Ah, my dear Mr. Wilkinson," said the doctor, as if delighted at
a coincidence; "and Mr. Turnbull, too. Why, I want to speak to
Mr. Turnbull made some movement rather of surrender than assent,
and the doctor caught it up exquisitely, showing even more of his
two front teeth. "I am sure Mr. Wilkinson will excuse us a
moment." And with flying frock-coat he led Turnbull rapidly round
the corner of a path.
"My dear sir," he said, in a quite affectionate manner, "I do not
mind telling you--you are such a very hopeful case--you
understand so well the scientific point of view; and I don't like
to see you bothered by the really hopeless cases. They are
monotonous and maddening. The man you have just been talking to,
poor fellow, is one of the strongest cases of pure _idee fixe_
that we have. It's very sad, and I'm afraid utterly incurable. He
keeps on telling everybody"--and the doctor lowered his voice
confidentially--"he tells everybody that two people have taken is
yacht. His account of how he lost it is quite incoherent."
Turnbull stamped his foot on the gravel path, and called out:
"Oh, I can't stand this. Really----"
"I know, I know," said the psychologist, mournfully; "it is a
most melancholy case, and also fortunately a very rare one. It is
so rare, in fact, that in one classification of these maladies it
is entered under a heading by itself--Perdinavititis, mental
inflammation creating the impression that one has lost a ship.
Really," he added, with a kind of half-embarrassed guilt, "it's
rather a feather in my cap. I discovered the only existing case of
"But this won't do, doctor," said Turnbull, almost tearing his
hair, "this really won't do. The man really did lose a ship.
Indeed, not to put too fine a point on it, I took his ship."
Dr. Quayle swung round for an instant so that his silk-lined
overcoat rustled, and stared singularly at Turnbull. Then he said
with hurried amiability: "Why, of course you did. Quite so, quite
so," and with courteous gestures went striding up the garden
path. Under the first laburnum-tree he stopped, however, and
pulling out his pencil and notebook wrote down feverishly:
"Singular development in the Elenthero-maniac, Turnbull. Sudden
manifestation of Rapinavititis--the delusion that one has stolen
a ship. First case ever recorded."
Turnbull stood for an instant staggered into stillness. Then he
ran raging round the garden to find MacIan, just as a husband,
even a bad husband, will run raging to find his wife if he is
full of a furious query. He found MacIan stalking moodily about
the half-lit garden, after his extraordinary meeting with
Beatrice. No one who saw his slouching stride and sunken head
could have known that his soul was in the seventh heaven of
ecstasy. He did not think; he did not even very definitely
desire. He merely wallowed in memories, chiefly in material
memories; words said with a certain cadence or trivial turns of
the neck or wrist. Into the middle of his stationary and
senseless enjoyment were thrust abruptly the projecting elbow and
the projecting red beard of Turnbull. MacIan stepped back a
little, and the soul in his eyes came very slowly to its windows.
When James Turnbull had the glittering sword-point planted upon
his breast he was in far less danger. For three pulsating seconds
after the interruption MacIan was in a mood to have murdered his
And yet his whole emotional anger fell from him when he saw
Turnbull's face, in which the eyes seemed to be bursting from the
head like bullets. All the fire and fragrance even of young and
honourable love faded for a moment before that stiff agony of
"Are you hurt, Turnbull?" he asked, anxiously.
"I am dying," answered the other quite calmly. "I am in the quite
literal sense of the words dying to know something. I want to
know what all this can possibly mean."
MacIan did not answer, and he continued with asperity: "You are
still thinking about that girl, but I tell you the whole thing is
incredible. She's not the only person here. I've met the fellow
Wilkinson, whose yacht we lost. I've met the very magistrate you
were hauled up to when you broke my window. What can it
mean--meeting all these old people again? One never meets such
old friends again except in a dream."
Then after a silence he cried with a rending sincerity: "Are you
really there, Evan? Have you ever been really there? Am I simply
MacIan had been listening with a living silence to every word,
and now his face flamed with one of his rare revelations of life.
"No, you good atheist," he cried; "no, you clean, courteous,
reverent, pious old blasphemer. No, you are not dreaming--you are
"What do you mean?"
"There are two states where one meets so many old friends," said
MacIan; "one is a dream, the other is the end of the world."
"And you say----"
"I say this is not a dream," said Evan in a ringing voice.
"You really mean to suggest----" began Turnbull.
"Be silent! or I shall say it all wrong," said MacIan, breathing
hard. "It's hard to explain, anyhow. An apocalypse is the
opposite of a dream. A dream is falser than the outer life. But
the end of the world is more actual than the world it ends. I
don't say this is really the end of the world, but it's something
like that--it's the end of something. All the people are crowding
into one corner. Everything is coming to a point."
"What is the point?" asked Turnbull.
"I can't see it," said Evan; "it is too large and plain."
Then after a silence he said: "I can't see it--and yet I will try
to describe it. Turnbull, three days ago I saw quite suddenly
that our duel was not right after all."
"Three days ago!" repeated Turnbull. "When and why did this
"I knew I was not quite right," answered Evan, "the moment I saw
the round eyes of that old man in the cell."
"Old man in the cell!" repeated his wondering companion. "Do you
mean the poor old idiot who likes spikes to stick out?"
"Yes," said MacIan, after a slight pause, "I mean the poor old
idiot who likes spikes to stick out. When I saw his eyes and
heard his old croaking accent, I knew that it would not really
have been right to kill you. It would have been a venial sin."
"I am much obliged," said Turnbull, gruffly.
"You must give me time," said MacIan, quite patiently, "for I am
trying to tell the whole truth. I am trying to tell more of it
than I know."
"So you see I confess"--he went on with laborious distinctness--
"I confess that all the people who called our duel mad were right
in a way. I would confess it to old Cumberland Vane and his
eye-glass. I would confess it even to that old ass in brown
flannel who talked to us about Love. Yes, they are right in a
way. I am a little mad."
He stopped and wiped his brow as if he were literally doing heavy
labour. Then he went on:
"I am a little mad; but, after all, it is only a little madness.
When hundreds of high-minded men had fought duesl about a jostle
with the elbow or the ace of spades, the whole world need not
have gone wild over my one little wildness. Plenty of other
people have killed themselves between then and now. But all
England has gone into captivity in order to take us captive. All
England has turned into a lunatic asylum in order to prove us
lunatics. Compared with the general public, I might positively be
He stopped again, and went on with the same air of travailing
with the truth:
"When I saw that, I saw everything; I saw the Church and the
world. The Church in its earthly action has really touched morbid
things--tortures and bleeding visions and blasts of
extermination. The Church has had her madnesses, and I am one of
them. I am the massacre of St. Bartholomew. I am the Inquisition
of Spain. I do not say that we have never gone mad, but I say
that we are fit to act as keepers to our enemies. Massacre is
wicked even with a provocation, as in the Bartholomew. But your
modern Nietzsche will tell you that massacre would be glorious
without a provocation. Torture should be violently stopped,
though the Church is doing it. But your modern Tolstoy will tell
you that it ought not to be violently stopped whoever is doing
it. In the long run, which is most mad--the Church or the world?
Which is madder, the Spanish priest who permitted tyranny, or the
Prussian sophist who admired it? Which is madder, the Russian
priest who discourages righteous rebellion, or the Russian
novelist who forbids it? That is the final and blasting test. The
world left to itself grows wilder than any creed. A few days ago
you and I were the maddest people in England. Now, by God! I
believe we are the sanest. That is the only real question--
whether the Church is really madder than the world. Let the
rationalists run their own race, and let us see where _they_ end.
If the world has some healthy balance other than God, let the
world find it. Does the world find it? Cut the world loose," he
cried with a savage gesture. "Does the world stand on its own
end? Does it stand, or does it stagger?"
Turnbull remained silent, and MacIan said to him, looking once
more at the earth: "It staggers, Turnbull. It cannot stand by
itself; you know it cannot. It has been the sorrow of your life.
Turnbull, this garden is not a dream, but an apocalyptic
fulfilment. This garden is the world gone mad."
Turnbull did not move his head, and he had been listening all the
time; yet, somehow, the other knew that for the first time he was
"The world has gone mad," said MacIan, "and it has gone mad about
Us. The world takes the trouble to make a big mistake about every
little mistake made by the Church. That is why they have turned
ten counties to a madhouse; that is why crowds of kindly people
are poured into this filthy melting-pot. Now is the judgement of
this world. The Prince of this World is judged, and he is judged
exactly because he is judging. There is at last one simple
solution to the quarrel between the ball and the cross----"
Turnbull for the first time started.
"The ball and----" he repeated.
"What is the matter with you?" asked MacIan.
"I had a dream," said Turnbull, thickly and obscurely, "in which
I saw the cross struck crooked and the ball secure----"
"I had a dream," said MacIan, "in which I saw the cross erect and
the ball invisible. They were both dreams from hell. There must
be some round earth to plant the cross upon. But here is the
awful difference--that the round world will not consent even to
continue round. The astronomers are always telling us that it is
shaped like an orange, or like an egg, or like a German sausage.
They beat the old world about like a bladder and thump it into a
thousand shapeless shapes. Turnbull, we cannot trust the ball to
be always a ball; we cannot trust reason to be reasonable. In the
end the great terrestrial globe will go quite lop-sided, and only
the cross will stand upright."
There was a long silence, and then Turnbull said, hesitatingly:
"Has it occurred to you that since--since those two dreams, or
whatever they were----"
"Well?" murmured MacIan.
"Since then," went on Turnbull, in the same low voice, "since
then we have never even looked for our swords."
"You are right," answered Evan almost inaudibly. "We have found
something which we both hate more than we ever hated each other,
and I think I know its name."
Turnbull seemed to frown and flinch for a moment. "It does not
much matter what you call it," he said, "so long as you keep out
of its way."
The bushes broke and snapped abruptly behind them, and a very
tall figure towered above Turnbull with an arrogant stoop and a
projecting chin, a chin of which the shape showed queerly even in
its shadow upon the path.
"You see that is not so easy," said MacIan between his teeth.
They looked up into the eyes of the Master, but looked only for a
moment. The eyes were full of a frozen and icy wrath, a kind of
utterly heartless hatred. His voice was for the first time devoid
of irony. There was no more sarcasm in it than there is in an
"You will be inside the building in three minutes," he said, with
pulverizing precision, "or you will be fired on by the artillery
at all the windows. There is too much talking in this garden; we
intend to close it. You will be accommodated indoors."
"Ah!" said MacIan, with a long and satisfied sigh, "then I was
And he turned his back and walked obediently towards the
building. Turnbull seemed to canvass for a few minutes the notion
of knocking the Master down, and then fell under the same almost
fairy fatalism as his companion. In some strange way it did seem
that the more smoothly they yielded, the more swiftly would
events sweep on to some great collision.
XX. DIES IRAE
As they advanced towards the asylum they looked up at its rows on
rows of windows, and understood the Master's material threat. By
means of that complex but concealed machinery which ran like a
network of nerves over the whole fabric, there had been shot out
under every window-ledge rows and rows of polished-steel
cylinders, the cold miracles of modern gunnery. They commanded
the whole garden and the whole country-side, and could have blown
to pieces an army corps.
This silent declaration of war had evidently had its complete
effect. As MacIan and Turnbull walked steadily but slowly towards
the entrance hall of the institution, they could see that most,
or at least many, of the patients had already gathered there as
well as the staff of doctors and the whole regiment of keepers and
assistants. But when they entered the lamp-lit hall, and the high
iron door was clashed to and locked behind them, yet a new
amazement leapt into their eyes, and the stalwart Turnbull almost
fell. For he saw a sight which was indeed, as MacIan had
said--either the Day of Judgement or a dream.
Within a few feet of him at one corner of the square of standing
people stood the girl he had known in Jersey, Madeleine Durand.
She looked straight at him with a steady smile which lit up the
scene of darkness and unreason like the light of some honest
fireside. Her square face and throat were thrown back, as her
habit was, and there was something almost sleepy in the geniality
of her eyes. He saw her first, and for a few seconds saw her
only; then the outer edge of his eyesight took in all the other
staring faces, and he saw all the faces he had ever seen for
weeks and months past. There was the Tolstoyan in Jaeger flannel,
with the yellow beard that went backward and the foolish nose and
eyes that went forward, with the curiosity of a crank. He was
talking eagerly to Mr. Gordon, the corpulent Jew shopkeeper whom
they had once gagged in his own shop. There was the tipsy old
Hertfordshire rustic; he was talking energetically to himself.
There was not only Mr. Vane the magistrate, but the clerk of Mr.
Vane, the magistrate. There was not only Miss Drake of the
motor-car, but also Miss Drake's chauffeur. Nothing wild or
unfamiliar could have produced upon Turnbull such a nightmare
impression as that ring of familiar faces. Yet he had one
intellectual shock which was greater than all the others. He
stepped impulsively forward towards Madeleine, and then wavered
with a kind of wild humility. As he did so he caught sight of
another square face behind Madeleine's, a face with long grey
whiskers and an austere stare. It was old Durand, the girls'
father; and when Turnbull saw him he saw the last and worst
marvel of that monstrous night. He remembered Durand; he
remembered his monotonous, everlasting lucidity, his stupefyingly
sensible views of everything, his colossal contentment with
truisms merely because they were true. "Confound it all!" cried
Turnbull to himself, "if _he_ is in the asylum, there can't be
anyone outside." He drew nearer to Madeleine, but still
doubtfully and all the more so because she still smiled at him.
MacIan had already gone across to Beatrice with an air of fright.
Then all these bewildered but partly amicable recognitions were
cloven by a cruel voice which always made all human blood turn
bitter. The Master was standing in the middle of the room
surveying the scene like a great artist looking at a completed
picture. Handsome as he looked, they had never seen so clearly
what was really hateful in his face; and even then they could
only express it by saying that the arched brows and the long
emphatic chin gave it always a look of being lit from below, like
the face of some infernal actor.
"This is indeed a cosy party," he said, with glittering eyes.
The Master evidently meant to say more, but before he could say
anything M. Durand had stepped right up to him and was speaking.
He was speaking exactly as a French bourgeois speaks to the
manager of a restaurant. That is, he spoke with rattling and
breathless rapidity, but with no incoherence, and therefore with
no emotion. It was a steady, monotonous vivacity, which came not
seemingly from passion, but merely from the reason having been
sent off at a gallop. He was saying something like this:
"You refuse me my half-bottle of Medoc, the drink the most
wholesome and the most customary. You refuse me the company and
obedience of my daughter, which Nature herself indicates. You
refuse me the beef and mutton, without pretence that it is a fast
of the Church. You now forbid me the promenade, a thing necessary
to a person of my age. It is useless to tell me that you do all
this by law. Law rests upon the social contract. If the citizen
finds himself despoiled of such pleasures and powers as he would
have had even in the savage state, the social contract is
"It's no good chattering away, Monsieur," said Hutton, for the
Master was silent. "The place is covered with machine-guns. We've
got to obey our orders, and so have you."
"The machinery is of the most perfect," assented Durand, somewhat
irrelevantly; "worked by petroleum, I believe. I only ask you to
admit that if such things fall below the comfort of barbarism,
the social contract is annulled. It is a pretty little point of
"Oh! I dare say," said Hutton.
Durand bowed quite civilly and withdrew.
"A cosy party," resumed the Master, scornfully, "and yet I
believe some of you are in doubt about how we all came together.
I will explain it, ladies and gentlemen; I will explain
everything. To whom shall I specially address myself? To Mr.
James Turnbull. He has a scientific mind."
Turnbull seemed to choke with sudden protest. The Master seemed
only to cough out of pure politeness and proceeded: "Mr. Turnbull
will agree with me," he said, "when I say that we long felt in
scientific circles that great harm was done by such a legend as
that of the Crucifixion."
Turnbull growled something which was presumably assent.
The Master went on smoothly: "It was in vain for us to urge that
the incident was irrelevant; that there were many such fanatics,
many such executions. We were forced to take the thing thoroughly
in hand, to investigate it in the spirit of scientific history,
and with the assistance of Mr. Turnbull and others we were happy
in being able to announce that this alleged Crucifixion never
occurred at all."
MacIan lifted his head and looked at the Master steadily, but
Turnbull did not look up.
"This, we found, was the only way with all superstitions,"
continued the speaker; "it was necessary to deny them
historically, and we have done it with great success in the case
of miracles and such things. Now within our own time there arose
an unfortunate fuss which threatened (as Mr. Turnbull would say)
to galvanize the corpse of Christianity into a fictitious
life--the alleged case of a Highland eccentric who wanted to
fight for the Virgin."
MacIan, quite white, made a step forward, but the speaker did not
alter his easy attitude or his flow of words. "Again we urged
that this duel was not to be admired, that it was a mere brawl,
but the people were ignorant and romantic. There were signs of
treating this alleged Highlander and his alleged opponent as
heroes. We tried all other means of arresting this reactionary
hero worship. Working men who betted on the duel were imprisoned
for gambling. Working men who drank the health of a duellist were
imprisoned for drunkenness. But the popular excitement about the
alleged duel continued, and we had to fall back on our old
historical method. We investigated, on scientific principles, the
story of MacIan's challenge, and we are happy to be able to
inform you that the whole story of the attempted duel is a fable.
There never was any challenge. There never was any man named
MacIan. It is a melodramatic myth, like Calvary."
Not a soul moved save Turnbull, who lifted his head; yet there
was the sense of a silent explosion.
"The whole story of the MacIan challenge," went on the Master,
beaming at them all with a sinister benignity, "has been found to
originate in the obsessions of a few pathological types, who are
now all fortunately in our care. There is, for instance, a person
here of the name of Gordon, formerly the keeper of a curiosity
shop. He is a victim of the disease called Vinculomania--the
impression that one has been bound or tied up. We have also a
case of Fugacity (Mr. Whimpey), who imagines that he was chased
by two men."
The indignant faces of the Jew shopkeeper and the Magdalen Don
started out of the crowd in their indignation, but the speaker
"One poor woman we have with us," he said, in a compassionate
voice, "believes she was in a motor-car with two such men; this
is the well-known illusion of speed on which I need not dwell.
Another wretched woman has the simple egotistic mania that she
has caused the duel. Madeleine Durand actually professes to have
been the subject of the fight between MacIan and his enemy, a
fight which, if it occurred at all, certainly began long before.
But it never occurred at all. We have taken in hand every person
who professed to have seen such a thing, and proved them all to
be unbalanced. That is why they are here."
The Master looked round the room, just showing his perfect teeth
with the perfection of artistic cruelty, exalted for a moment in
the enormous simplicity of his success, and then walked across
the hall and vanished through an inner door. His two lieutenants,
Quayle and Hutton, were left standing at the head of the great
army of servants and keepers.
"I hope we shall have no more trouble," said Dr. Quayle
pleasantly enough, and addressing Turnbull, who was leaning
heavily upon the back of a chair.
Still looking down, Turnbull lifted the chair an inch or two from
the ground. Then he suddenly swung it above his head and sent it
at the inquiring doctor with an awful crash which sent one of its
wooden legs loose along the floor and crammed the doctor gasping
into a corner. MacIan gave a great shout, snatched up the loose
chair-leg, and, rushing on the other doctor, felled him with a
blow. Twenty attendants rushed to capture the rebels; MacIan
flung back three of them and Turnbull went over on top of one,
when from behind them all came a shriek as of something quite
fresh and frightful.
Two of the three passages leading out of the hall were choked
with blue smoke. Another instant and the hall was full of the fog
of it, and red sparks began to swarm like scarlet bees.
"The place is on fire!" cried Quayle with a scream of indecent
terror. "Oh, who can have done it? How can it have happened?"
A light had come into Turnbull's eyes. "How did the French
Revolution happen?" he asked.
"Oh, how should I know!" wailed the other.
"Then I will tell you," said Turnbull; "it happened because some
people fancied that a French grocer was as respectable as he
Even as he spoke, as if by confirmation, old Mr. Durand
re-entered the smoky room quite placidly, wiping the petroleum
from his hands with a handkerchief. He had set fire to the
building in accordance with the strict principles of the social
But MacIan had taken a stride forward and stood there shaken and
terrible. "Now," he cried, panting, "now is the judgement of the
world. The doctors will leave this place; the keepers will leave
this place. They will leave us in charge of the machinery and the
machine-guns at the windows. But we, the lunatics, will wait to
be burned alive if only we may see them go."
"How do you know we shall go?" asked Hutton, fiercely.
"You believe nothing," said MacIan, simply, "and you are
insupportably afraid of death."
"So this is suicide," sneered the doctor; "a somewhat doubtful
sign of sanity."
"Not at all--this is vengeance," answered Turnbull, quite calmly;
"a thing which is completely healthy."
"You think the doctors will go," said Hutton, savagely.
"The keepers have gone already," said Turnbull.
Even as they spoke the main doors were burst open in mere brutal
panic, and all the officers and subordinates of the asylum rushed
away across the garden pursued by the smoke. But among the
ticketed maniacs not a man or woman moved.
"We hate dying," said Turnbull, with composure, "but we hate you
even more. This is a successful revolution."
In the roof above their heads a panel shot back, showing a strip
of star-lit sky and a huge thing made of white metal, with the
shape and fins of a fish, swinging as if at anchor. At the same
moment a steel ladder slid down from the opening and struck the
floor, and the cleft chin of the mysterious Master was thrust
into the opening. "Quayle, Hutton," he said, "you will escape
with me." And they went up the ladder like automata of lead.
Long after they had clambered into the car, the creature with the
cloven face continued to leer down upon the smoke-stung crowd
below. Then at last he said in a silken voice and with a smile of
"By the way, I fear I am very absent minded. There is one man
specially whom, somehow, I always forget. I always leave him
lying about. Once I mislaid him on the Cross of St. Paul's. So
silly of me; and now I've forgotten him in one of those little
cells where your fire is burning. Very unfortunate--especially
for him." And nodding genially, he climbed into his flying ship.
MacIan stood motionless for two minutes, and then rushed down one
of the suffocating corridors till he found the flames. Turnbull
looked once at Madeleine, and followed.
* * *
MacIan, with singed hair, smoking garments, and smarting hands
and face, had already broken far enough through the first
barriers of burning timber to come within cry of the cells he had
once known. It was impossible, however, to see the spot where the
old man lay dead or alive; not now through darkness, but through
scorching and aching light. The site of the old half-wit's cell
was now the heart of a standing forest of fire--the flames as
thick and yellow as a cornfield. Their incessant shrieking and
crackling was like a mob shouting against an orator. Yet through
all that deafening density MacIan thought he heard a small and
separate sound. When he heard it he rushed forward as if to
plunge into that furnace, but Turnbull arrested him by an elbow.
"Let me go!" cried Evan, in agony; "it's the poor old beggar's
voice--he's still alive, and shouting for help."
"Listen!" said Turnbull, and lifted one finger from his clenched
"Or else he is shrieking with pain," protested MacIan. "I will
not endure it."
"Listen!" repeated Turnbull, grimly. "Did you ever hear anyone
shout for help or shriek with pain in that voice?"
The small shrill sounds which came through the crash of the
conflagration were indeed of an odd sort, and MacIan turned a
face of puzzled inquiry to his companion.
"He is singing," said Turnbull, simply.
A remaining rampart fell, crushing the fire, and through the
diminished din of it the voice of the little old lunatic came
clearer. In the heart of that white-hot hell he was singing like
a bird. What he was singing it was not very easy to follow, but
it seemed to be something about playing in the golden hay.
"Good Lord!" cried Turnbull, bitterly, "there seem to be some
advantages in really being an idiot." Then advancing to the
fringe of the fire he called out on chance to the invisible
singer: "Can you come out? Are you cut off?"
"God help us all!" said MacIan, with a shudder; "he's laughing
At whatever stage of being burned alive the invisible now found
himself, he was now shaking out peals of silvery and hilarious
laughter. As he listened, MacIan's two eyes began to glow, as if
a strange thought had come into his head.
"Fool, come out and save yourself!" shouted Turnbull.
"No, by Heaven! that is not the way," cried Evan, suddenly.
"Father," he shouted, "come out and save us all!"
The fire, though it had dropped in one or two places, was, upon
the whole, higher and more unconquerable than ever. Separate tall
flames shot up and spread out above them like the fiery cloisters
of some infernal cathedral, or like a grove of red tropical trees
in the garden of the devil. Higher yet in the purple hollow of
the night the topmost flames leapt again and again fruitlessly at
the stars, like golden dragons chained but struggling. The towers
and domes of the oppressive smoke seemed high and far enough to
drown distant planets in a London fog. But if we exhausted all
frantic similes for that frantic scene, the main impression about
the fire would still be its ranked upstanding rigidity and a sort
of roaring stillness. It was literally a wall of fire.
"Father," cried MacIan, once more, "come out of it and save us
all!" Turnbull was staring at him as he cried.
The tall and steady forest of fire must have been already a
portent visible to the whole circle of land and sea. The red
flush of it lit up the long sides of white ships far out in the
German Ocean, and picked out like piercing rubies the windows in
the villages on the distant heights. If any villagers or sailors
were looking towards it they must have seen a strange sight as
MacIan cried out for the third time.
That forest of fire wavered, and was cloven in the centre; and
then the whole of one half of it leaned one way as a cornfield
leans all one way under the load of the wind. Indeed, it looked
as if a great wind had sprung up and driven the great fire
aslant. Its smoke was no longer sent up to choke the stars, but
was trailed and dragged across county after county like one
dreadful banner of defeat.
But it was not the wind; or, if it was the wind, it was two
winds blowing in opposite directions. For while one half of the
huge fire sloped one way towards the inland heights, the other
half, at exactly the same angle, sloped out eastward towards the
sea. So that earth and ocean could behold, where there had been a
mere fiery mass, a thing divided like a V--a cloven tongue of
flame. But if it were a prodigy for those distant, it was
something beyond speech for those quite near. As the echoes of
Evan's last appeal rang and died in the universal uproar, the
fiery vault over his head opened down the middle, and, reeling
back in two great golden billows, hung on each side as huge and
harmless as two sloping hills lie on each side of a valley. Down
the centre of this trough, or chasm, a little path ran, cleared
of all but ashes, and down this little path was walking a little
old man singing as if he were alone in a wood in spring.
When James Turnbull saw this he suddenly put out a hand and
seemed to support himself on the strong shoulder of Madeleine
Durand. Then after a moment's hesitation he put his other hand on
the shoulder of MacIan. His blue eyes looked extraordinarily
brilliant and beautiful. In many sceptical papers and magazines
afterwards he was sadly or sternly rebuked for having abandoned
the certainties of materialism. All his life up to that moment he
had been most honestly certain that materialism was a fact. But
he was unlike the writers in the magazines precisely in this--
that he preferred a fact even to materialism.
As the little singing figure came nearer and nearer, Evan fell on
his knees, and after an instant Beatrice followed; then Madeleine
fell on her knees, and after a longer instant Turnbull followed.
Then the little old man went past them singing down that corridor
of flames. They had not looked at his face.
When he had passed they looked up. While the first light of the
fire had shot east and west, painting the sides of ships with
fire-light or striking red sparks out of windowed houses, it had
not hitherto struck upward, for there was above it the ponderous
and rococo cavern of its own monstrous coloured smoke. But now
the fire was turned to left and right like a woman's hair parted
in the middle, and now the shafts of its light could shoot up
into empty heavens and strike anything, either bird or cloud. But
it struck something that was neither cloud nor bird. Far, far
away up in those huge hollows of space something was flying
swiftly and shining brightly, something that shone too bright and
flew too fast to be any of the fowls of the air, though the red
light lit it from underneath like the breast of a bird. Everyone
knew it was a flying ship, and everyone knew whose.
As they stared upward the little speck of light seemed slightly
tilted, and two black dots dropped from the edge of it. All the
eager, upturned faces watched the two dots as they grew bigger
and bigger in their downward rush. Then someone screamed, and no
one looked up any more. For the two bodies, larger every second
flying, spread out and sprawling in the fire-light, were the dead
bodies of the two doctors whom Professor Lucifer had carried with
him--the weak and sneering Quayle, the cold and clumsy Hutton.
They went with a crash into the thick of the fire.
"They are gone!" screamed Beatrice, hiding her head. "O God! The
Evan put his arm about her, and remembered his own vision.
"No, they are not lost," he said. "They are saved. He has taken
away no souls with him, after all."
He looked vaguely about at the fire that was already fading, and
there among the ashes lay two shining things that had survived
the fire, his sword and Turnbull's, fallen haphazard in the
pattern of a cross.
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