Part 3 out of 5
She drove in silence a third of a mile before she added, as if
completing the sentence: "Anyhow, the whole thing's quite
"I don't think," began Turnbull, "that you quite realize----
Hullo! hullo--hullo--what's this?"
The amateur chauffeur had been forced to bring the car to a
staggering stoppage, for a file of fat, blue policemen made a
wall across the way. A sergeant came to the side and touched his
peaked cap to the lady.
"Beg your pardon, miss," he said with some embarrassment, for he
knew her for a daughter of a dominant house, "but we have reason
to believe that the gentlemen in your car are----" and he
hesitated for a polite phrase.
"I am Evan MacIan," said that gentleman, and stood up in a sort
of gloomy pomp, not wholly without a touch of the sulks of a
"Yes, we will get out, sergeant," said Turnbull, more easily; "my
name is James Turnbull. We must not incommode the lady."
"What are you taking them up for?" asked the young woman, looking
straight in front of her along the road.
"It's under the new act," said the sergeant, almost
apologetically. "Incurable disturbers of the peace."
"What will happen to them?" she asked, with the same frigid
"Westgate Adult Reformatory," he replied, briefly.
"Until they are cured," said the official.
"Very well, sergeant," said the young lady, with a sort of tired
common sense. "I am sure I don't want to protect criminals or go
against the law; but I must tell you that these gentlemen have
done me a considerable service; you won't mind drawing your men a
little farther off while I say good night to them. Men like that
The sergeant was profoundly disquieted from the beginning at the
mere idea of arresting anyone in the company of a great lady; to
refuse one of her minor requests was quite beyond his courage.
The police fell back to a few yards behind the car. Turnbull took
up the two swords that were their only luggage; the swords that,
after so many half duels, they were now to surrender at last.
MacIan, the blood thundering in his brain at the thought of that
instant of farewell, bent over, fumbled at the handle and flung
open the door to get out.
But he did not get out. He did not get out, because it is
dangerous to jump out of a car when it is going at full speed.
And the car was going at full speed, because the young lady,
without turning her head or so much as saying a syllable, had
driven down a handle that made the machine plunge forward like a
buffalo and then fly over the landscape like a greyhound. The
police made one rush to follow, and then dropped so grotesque and
hopeless a chase. Away in the vanishing distance they could see
the sergeant furiously making notes.
The open door, still left loose on its hinges, swung and banged
quite crazily as they went whizzing up one road and down another.
Nor did MacIan sit down; he stood up stunned and yet staring, as
he would have stood up at the trumpet of the Last Day. A black
dot in the distance sprang up a tall black forest, swallowed them
and spat them out again at the other end. A railway bridge grew
larger and larger till it leapt upon their backs bellowing, and
was in its turn left behind. Avenues of poplars on both sides of
the road chased each other like the figures in a zoetrope. Now
and then with a shock and rattle they went through sleeping
moonlit villages, which must have stirred an instant in their
sleep as at the passing of a fugitive earthquake. Sometimes in an
outlying house a light in one erratic, unexpected window would
give them a nameless hint of the hundred human secrets which they
left behind them with their dust. Sometimes even a slouching
rustic would be afoot on the road and would look after them, as
after a flying phantom. But still MacIan stood up staring at
earth and heaven; and still the door he had flung open flapped
loose like a flag. Turnbull, after a few minutes of dumb
amazement, had yielded to the healthiest element in his nature
and gone off into uncontrollable fits of laughter. The girl had
not stirred an inch.
After another half mile that seemed a mere flash, Turnbull leant
over and locked the door. Evan staggered at last into his seat
and hid his throbbing head in his hands; and still the car flew
on and its driver sat inflexible and silent. The moon had already
gone down, and the whole darkness was faintly troubled with
twilight and the first movement of beasts and fowls. It was that
mysterious moment when light is coming as if it were something
unknown whose nature one could not guess--a mere alteration in
everything. They looked at the sky and it seemed as dark as ever;
then they saw the black shape of a tower or tree against it and
knew that it was already grey. Save that they were driving
southward and had certainly passed the longitude of London, they
knew nothing of their direction; but Turnbull, who had spent a
year on the Hampshire coast in his youth, began to recognize the
unmistakable but quite indescribable villages of the English
south. Then a white witch fire began to burn between the black
stems of the fir-trees; and, like so many things in nature,
though not in books on evolution, the daybreak, when it did come,
came much quicker than one would think. The gloomy heavens were
ripped up and rolled away like a scroll, revealing splendours, as
the car went roaring up the curve of a great hill; and above them
and black against the broadening light, there stood one of those
crouching and fantastic trees that are first signals of the sea.
X. THE SWORDS REJOINED
As they came over the hill and down on the other side of it, it
is not too much to say that the whole universe of God opened over
them and under them, like a thing unfolding to five times its
size. Almost under their feet opened the enormous sea, at the
bottom of a steep valley which fell down into a bay; and the sea
under their feet blazed at them almost as lustrous and almost as
empty as the sky. The sunrise opened above them like some cosmic
explosion, shining and shattering and yet silent; as if the world
were blown to pieces without a sound. Round the rays of the
victorious sun swept a sort of rainbow of confused and conquered
colours--brown and blue and green and flaming rose-colour; as
though gold were driving before it all the colours of the world.
The lines of the landscape down which they sped, were the simple,
strict, yet swerving, lines of a rushing river; so that it was
almost as if they were being sucked down in a huge still
whirlpool. Turnbull had some such feeling, for he spoke for the
first time for many hours.
"If we go down at this rate we shall be over the sea cliff," he
"How glorious!" said MacIan.
When, however, they had come into the wide hollow at the bottom
of that landslide, the car took a calm and graceful curve along
the side of the sea, melted into the fringe of a few trees, and
quietly, yet astonishingly, stopped. A belated light was burning
in the broad morning in the window of a sort of lodge- or
gate-keepers' cottage; and the girl stood up in the car and
turned her splendid face to the sun.
Evan seemed startled by the stillness, like one who had been born
amid sound and speed. He wavered on his long legs as he stood up;
he pulled himself together, and the only consequence was that he
trembled from head to foot. Turnbull had already opened the door
on his side and jumped out.
The moment he had done so the strange young woman had one more
mad movement, and deliberately drove the car a few yards farther.
Then she got out with an almost cruel coolness and began pulling
off her long gloves and almost whistling.
"You can leave me here," she said, quite casually, as if they had
met five minutes before. "That is the lodge of my father's place.
Please come in, if you like--but I understood that you had some
Evan looked at that lifted face and found it merely lovely; he
was far too much of a fool to see that it was working with a
final fatigue and that its austerity was agony. He was even fool
enough to ask it a question. "Why did you save us?" he said,
The girl tore off one of her gloves, as if she were tearing off
her hand. "Oh, I don't know," she said, bitterly. "Now I come
to think of it, I can't imagine."
Evan's thoughts, that had been piled up to the morning star,
abruptly let him down with a crash into the very cellars of the
emotional universe. He remained in a stunned silence for a long
time; and that, if he had only known, was the wisest thing that
he could possibly do at the moment.
Indeed, the silence and the sunrise had their healing effect, for
when the extraordinary lady spoke again, her tone was more
friendly and apologetic. "I'm not really ungrateful," she said;
"it was very good of you to save me from those men."
"But why?" repeated the obstinate and dazed MacIan, "why did you
save us from the other men? I mean the policemen?"
The girl's great brown eyes were lit up with a flash that was at
once final desperation and the loosening of some private and
"Oh, God knows!" she cried. "God knows that if there is a God He
has turned His big back on everything. God knows I have had no
pleasure in my life, though I am pretty and young and father has
plenty of money. And then people come and tell me that I ought to
do things and I do them and it's all drivel. They want you to do
work among the poor; which means reading Ruskin and feeling
self-righteous in the best room in a poor tenement. Or to help
some cause or other, which always means bundling people out of
crooked houses, in which they've always lived, into straight
houses, in which they often die. And all the time you have inside
only the horrid irony of your own empty head and empty heart. I
am to give to the unfortunate, when my whole misfortune is that I
have nothing to give. I am to teach, when I believe nothing at
all that I was taught. I am to save the children from death, and
I am not even certain that I should not be better dead. I suppose
if I actually saw a child drowning I should save it. But that
would be from the same motive from which I have saved you, or
destroyed you, whichever it is that I have done."
"What was the motive?" asked Evan, in a low voice.
"My motive is too big for my mind," answered the girl.
Then, after a pause, as she stared with a rising colour at the
glittering sea, she said: "It can't be described, and yet I am
trying to describe it. It seems to me not only that I am unhappy,
but that there is no way of being happy. Father is not happy,
though he is a Member of Parliament----" She paused a moment and
added with a ghost of a smile: "Nor Aunt Mabel, though a man from
India has told her the secret of all creeds. But I may be wrong;
there may be a way out. And for one stark, insane second, I felt
that, after all, you had got the way out and that was why the
world hated you. You see, if there were a way out, it would be
sure to be something that looked very queer."
Evan put his hand to his forehead and began stumblingly: "Yes, I
suppose we do seem----"
"Oh, yes, you look queer enough," she said, with ringing
sincerity. "You'll be all the better for a wash and brush up."
"You forget our business, madam," said Evan, in a shaking voice;
"we have no concern but to kill each other."
"Well, I shouldn't be killed looking like that if I were you,"
she replied, with inhuman honesty.
Evan stood and rolled his eyes in masculine bewilderment. Then
came the final change in this Proteus, and she put out both her
hands for an instant and said in a low tone on which he lived for
days and nights:
"Don't you understand that I did not dare to stop you? What you
are doing is so mad that it may be quite true. Somehow one can
never really manage to be an atheist."
Turnbull stood staring at the sea; but his shoulders showed that
he heard, and after one minute he turned his head. But the girl
had only brushed Evan's hand with hers and had fled up the dark
alley by the lodge gate.
Evan stood rooted upon the road, literally like some heavy statue
hewn there in the age of the Druids. It seemed impossible that he
should ever move. Turnbull grew restless with this rigidity, and
at last, after calling his companion twice or thrice, went up and
clapped him impatiently on one of his big shoulders. Evan winced
and leapt away from him with a repulsion which was not the hate
of an unclean thing nor the dread of a dangerous one, but was a
spasm of awe and separation from something from which he was now
sundered as by the sword of God. He did not hate the atheist; it
is possible that he loved him. But Turnbull was now something
more dreadful than an enemy: he was a thing sealed and devoted--a
thing now hopelessly doomed to be either a corpse or an
"What is the matter with you?" asked Turnbull, with his hearty
hand still in the air; and yet he knew more about it than his
innocent action would allow.
"James," said Evan, speaking like one under strong bodily pain,
"I asked for God's answer and I have got it--got it in my vitals.
He knows how weak I am, and that I might forget the peril of the
faith, forget the face of Our Lady--yes, even with your blow upon
her cheek. But the honour of this earth has just this about it,
that it can make a man's heart like iron. I am from the Lords of
the Isles and I dare not be a mere deserter. Therefore, God has
tied me by the chain of my worldly place and word, and there is
nothing but fighting now."
"I think I understand you," said Turnbull, "but you say
everything tail foremost."
"She wants us to do it," said Evan, in a voice crushed with
passion. "She has hurt herself so that we might do it. She has
left her good name and her good sleep and all her habits and
dignity flung away on the other side of England in the hope that
she may hear of us and that we have broken some hole into
"I thought I knew what you mean," said Turnbull, biting his
beard; "it does seem as if we ought to do something after all she
has done this night."
"I never liked you so much before," said MacIan, in bitter
As he spoke, three solemn footmen came out of the lodge gate and
assembled to assist the chauffeur to his room. The mere sight of
them made the two wanderers flee as from a too frightful
incongruity, and before they knew where they were, they were well
upon the grassy ledge of England that overlooks the Channel. Evan
said suddenly: "Will they let me see her in heaven once in a
thousand ages?" and addressed the remark to the editor of _The
Atheist_, as on which he would be likely or qualified to answer.
But no answer came; a silence sank between the two.
Turnbull strode sturdily to the edge of the cliff and looked out,
his companion following, somewhat more shaken by his recent
"If that's the view you take," said Turnbull, "and I don't say
you are wrong, I think I know where we shall be best off for the
business. As it happens, I know this part of the south coast
pretty well. And unless I am mistaken there's a way down the
cliff just here which will land us on a stretch of firm sand
where no one is likely to follow us."
The Highlander made a gesture of assent and came also almost to
the edge of the precipice. The sunrise, which was broadening over
sea and shore, was one of those rare and splendid ones in which
there seems to be no mist or doubt, and nothing but a universal
clarification more and more complete. All the colours were
transparent. It seemed like a triumphant prophecy of some perfect
world where everything being innocent will be intelligible; a
world where even our bodies, so to speak, may be as of burning
glass. Such a world is faintly though fiercely figured in the
coloured windows of Christian architecture. The sea that lay
before them was like a pavement of emerald, bright and almost
brittle; the sky against which its strict horizon hung was almost
absolutely white, except that close to the sky line, like scarlet
braids on the hem of a garment, lay strings of flaky cloud of so
gleaming and gorgeous a red that they seemed cut out of some
strange blood-red celestial metal, of which the mere gold of this
earth is but a drab yellow imitation.
"The hand of Heaven is still pointing," muttered the man of
superstition to himself. "And now it is a blood-red hand."
The cool voice of his companion cut in upon his monologue,
calling to him from a little farther along the cliff, to tell him
that he had found the ladder of descent. It began as a steep and
somewhat greasy path, which then tumbled down twenty or thirty
feet in the form of a fall of rough stone steps. After that,
there was a rather awkward drop on to a ledge of stone and then
the journey was undertaken easily and even elegantly by the
remains of an ornamental staircase, such as might have belonged
to some long-disused watering-place. All the time that the two
travellers sank from stage to stage of this downward journey,
there closed over their heads living bridges and caverns of the
most varied foliage, all of which grew greener, redder, or more
golden, in the growing sunlight of the morning. Life, too, of the
more moving sort rose at the sun on every side of them. Birds
whirred and fluttered in the undergrowth, as if imprisoned in
green cages. Other birds were shaken up in great clouds from the
tree-tops, as if they were blossoms detached and scattered up to
heaven. Animals which Turnbull was too much of a Londoner and
MacIan too much of a Northerner to know, slipped by among the
tangle or ran pattering up the tree-trunks. Both the men,
according to their several creeds, felt the full thunder of the
psalm of life as they had never heard it before; MacIan felt God
the Father, benignant in all His energies, and Turnbull that
ultimate anonymous energy, that _Natura Naturans_, which is the
whole theme of Lucretius. It was down this clamorous ladder of
life that they went down to die.
They broke out upon a brown semicircle of sand, so free from
human imprint as to justify Turnbull's profession. They strode
out upon it, stuck their swords in the sand, and had a pause too
important for speech. Turnbull eyed the coast curiously for a
moment, like one awakening memories of childhood; then he said
abruptly, like a man remembering somebody's name: "But, of
course, we shall be better off still round the corner of Cragness
Point; nobody ever comes there at all." And picking up his sword
again, he began striding towards a big bluff of the rocks which
stood out upon their left. MacIan followed him round the corner
and found himself in what was certainly an even finer fencing
court, of flat, firm sand, enclosed on three sides by white walls
of rock, and on the fourth by the green wall of the advancing
"We are quite safe here," said Turnbull, and, to the other's
surprise, flung himself down, sitting on the brown beach.
"You see, I was brought up near here," he explained. "I was sent
from Scotland to stop with my aunt. It is highly probable that I
may die here. Do you mind if I light a pipe?"
"Of course, do whatever you like," said MacIan, with a choking
voice, and he went and walked alone by himself along the wet,
Ten minutes afterwards he came back again, white with his own
whirlwind of emotions; Turnbull was quite cheerful and was
knocking out the end of his pipe.
"You see, we have to do it," said MacIan. "She tied us to it."
"Of course, my dear fellow," said the other, and leapt up as
lightly as a monkey.
They took their places gravely in the very centre of the great
square of sand, as if they had thousands of spectators. Before
saluting, MacIan, who, being a mystic, was one inch nearer to
Nature, cast his eye round the huge framework of their heroic
folly. The three walls of rock all leant a little outward, though
at various angles; but this impression was exaggerated in the
direction of the incredible by the heavy load of living trees and
thickets which each wall wore on its top like a huge shock of
hair. On all that luxurious crest of life the risen and
victorious sun was beating, burnishing it all like gold, and
every bird that rose with that sunrise caught a light like a star
upon it like the dove of the Holy Spirit. Imaginative life had
never so much crowded upon MacIan. He felt that he could write
whole books about the feelings of a single bird. He felt that for
two centuries he would not tire of being a rabbit. He was in the
Palace of Life, of which the very tapestries and curtains were
alive. Then he recovered himself, and remembered his affairs.
Both men saluted, and iron rang upon iron. It was exactly at the
same moment that he realized that his enemy's left ankle was
encircled with a ring of salt water that had crept up to his
"What is the matter?" said Turnbull, stopping an instant, for he
had grown used to every movement of his extraordinary
MacIan glanced again at that silver anklet of sea-water and then
looked beyond at the next promontory round which a deep sea was
boiling and leaping. Then he turned and looked back and saw heavy
foam being shaken up to heaven about the base of Cragness Point.
"The sea has cut us off," he said, curtly.
"I have noticed it," said Turnbull with equal sobriety. "What
view do you take of the development?"
Evan threw away his weapon, and, as his custom was, imprisoned
his big head in his hands. Then he let them fall and said: "Yes,
I know what it means; and I think it is the fairest thing. It is
the finger of God--red as blood--still pointing. But now it
points to two graves."
There was a space filled with the sound of the sea, and then
MacIan spoke again in a voice pathetically reasonable: "You see,
we both saved her--and she told us both to fight--and it would
not be just that either should fail and fall alone, while the
"You mean," said Turnbull, in a voice surprisingly soft and
gentle, "that there is something fine about fighting in a place
where even the conqueror must die?"
"Oh, you have got it right, you have got it right!" cried out
Evan, in an extraordinary childish ecstasy. "Oh, I'm sure that
you really believe in God!"
Turnbull answered not a word, but only took up his fallen sword.
For the third time Evan MacIan looked at those three sides of
English cliff hung with their noisy load of life. He had been
at a loss to understand the almost ironical magnificence of all
those teeming creatures and tropical colours and smells that
smoked happily to heaven. But now he knew that he was in the
closed court of death and that all the gates were sealed.
He drank in the last green and the last red and the last gold,
those unique and indescribable things of God, as a man drains
good wine at the bottom of his glass. Then he turned and saluted
his enemy once more, and the two stood up and fought till the
foam flowed over their knees.
Then MacIan stepped backward suddenly with a splash and held up
his hand. "Turnbull!" he cried; "I can't help it--fair fighting
is more even than promises. And this is not fair fighting."
"What the deuce do you mean?" asked the other, staring.
"I've only just thought of it," cried Evan, brokenly. "We're very
well matched--it may go on a good time--the tide is coming up
fast--and I'm a foot and a half taller. You'll be washed away
like seaweed before it's above my breeches. I'll not fight foul
for all the girls and angels in the universe."
"Will you oblige me," said Turnbull, with staring grey eyes and a
voice of distinct and violent politeness; "will you oblige me by
jolly well minding your own business? Just you stand up and
fight, and we'll see who will be washed away like seaweed. You
wanted to finish this fight and you shall finish it, or I'll
denounce you as a coward to the whole of that assembled company."
Evan looked very doubtful and offered a somewhat wavering weapon;
but he was quickly brought back to his senses by his opponent's
sword-point, which shot past him, shaving his shoulder by a hair.
By this time the waves were well up Turnbull's thigh, and what
was worse, they were beginning to roll and break heavily around
MacIan parried this first lunge perfectly, the next less
perfectly; the third in all human probability he would not have
parried at all; the Christian champion would have been pinned
like a butterfly, and the atheistic champion left to drown like a
rat, with such consolation as his view of the cosmos afforded
him. But just as Turnbull launched his heaviest stroke, the sea,
in which he stood up to his hips, launched a yet heavier one. A
wave breaking beyond the others smote him heavily like a hammer
of water. One leg gave way, he was swung round and sucked into
the retreating sea, still gripping his sword.
MacIan put his sword between his teeth and plunged after his
disappearing enemy. He had the sense of having the whole universe
on top of him as crest after crest struck him down. It seemed to
him quite a cosmic collapse, as if all the seven heavens were
falling on him one after the other. But he got hold of the
atheist's left leg and he did not let it go.
After some ten minutes of foam and frenzy, in which all the
senses at once seemed blasted by the sea, Evan found himself
laboriously swimming on a low, green swell, with the sword still
in his teeth and the editor of _The Atheist_ still under his arm.
What he was going to do he had not even the most glimmering idea;
so he merely kept his grip and swam somehow with one hand.
He ducked instinctively as there bulked above him a big, black
wave, much higher than any that he had seen. Then he saw that it
was hardly the shape of any possible wave. Then he saw that it
was a fisherman's boat, and, leaping upward, caught hold of the
bow. The boat pitched forward with its stern in the air for just
as much time as was needed to see that there was nobody in it.
After a moment or two of desperate clambering, however, there
were two people in it, Mr. Evan MacIan, panting and sweating, and
Mr. James Turnbull, uncommonly close to being drowned. After ten
minutes' aimless tossing in the empty fishing-boat he recovered,
however, stirred, stretched himself, and looked round on the
rolling waters. Then, while taking no notice of the streams of
salt water that were pouring from his hair, beard, coat, boots,
and trousers, he carefully wiped the wet off his sword-blade to
preserve it from the possibilities of rust.
MacIan found two oars in the bottom of the deserted boat and
began somewhat drearily to row.
* * *
A rainy twilight was clearing to cold silver over the moaning
sea, when the battered boat that had rolled and drifted almost
aimlessly all night, came within sight of land, though of land
which looked almost as lost and savage as the waves. All night
there had been but little lifting in the leaden sea, only now and
then the boat had been heaved up, as on a huge shoulder which
slipped from under it; such occasional sea-quakes came probably
from the swell of some steamer that had passed it in the dark;
otherwise the waves were harmless though restless. But it was
piercingly cold, and there was, from time to time, a splutter of
rain like the splutter of the spray, which seemed almost to
freeze as it fell. MacIan, more at home than his companion in
this quite barbarous and elemental sort of adventure, had rowed
toilsomely with the heavy oars whenever he saw anything that
looked like land; but for the most part had trusted with grim
transcendentalism to wind and tide. Among the implements of their
first outfit the brandy alone had remained to him, and he gave it
to his freezing companion in quantities which greatly alarmed
that temperate Londoner; but MacIan came from the cold seas and
mists where a man can drink a tumbler of raw whisky in a boat
without it making him wink.
When the Highlander began to pull really hard upon the oars,
Turnbull craned his dripping red head out of the boat to see the
goal of his exertions. It was a sufficiently uninviting one;
nothing so far as could be seen but a steep and shelving bank of
shingle, made of loose little pebbles such as children like, but
slanting up higher than a house. On the top of the mound, against
the sky line, stood up the brown skeleton of some broken fence or
breakwater. With the grey and watery dawn crawling up behind it,
the fence really seemed to say to our philosophic adventurers
that they had come at last to the other end of nowhere.
Bent by necessity to his labour, MacIan managed the heavy boat
with real power and skill, and when at length he ran it up on a
smoother part of the slope it caught and held so that they could
clamber out, not sinking farther than their knees into the water
and the shingle. A foot or two farther up their feet found the
beach firmer, and a few moments afterwards they were leaning on
the ragged breakwater and looking back at the sea they had
They had a dreary walk across wastes of grey shingle in the grey
dawn before they began to come within hail of human fields or
roads; nor had they any notion of what fields or roads they would
be. Their boots were beginning to break up and the confusion of
stones tried them severely, so that they were glad to lean on
their swords, as if they were the staves of pilgrims. MacIan
thought vaguely of a weird ballad of his own country which
describes the soul in Purgatory as walking on a plain full of
sharp stones, and only saved by its own charities upon earth.
If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon
Every night and all,
Sit thee down and put them on,
And Christ receive thy soul.
Turnbull had no such lyrical meditations, but he was in an even
At length they came to a pale ribbon of road, edged by a shelf of
rough and almost colourless turf; and a few feet up the slope
there stood grey and weather-stained, one of those big wayside
crucifixes which are seldom seen except in Catholic countries.
MacIan put his hand to his head and found that his bonnet was not
there. Turnbull gave one glance at the crucifix--a glance at once
sympathetic and bitter, in which was concentrated the whole of
Swinburne's poem on the same occasion.
O hidden face of man, whereover
The years have woven a viewless veil,
If thou wert verily man's lover
What did thy love or blood avail?
Thy blood the priests mix poison of,
And in gold shekels coin thy love.
Then, leaving MacIan in his attitude of prayer, Turnbull began to
look right and left very sharply, like one looking for something.
Suddenly, with a little cry, he saw it and ran forward. A few
yards from them along the road a lean and starved sort of hedge
came pitifully to an end. Caught upon its prickly angle, however,
there was a very small and very dirty scrap of paper that might
have hung there for months, since it escaped from someone tearing
up a letter or making a spill out of a newspaper. Turnbull
snatched at it and found it was the corner of a printed page,
very coarsely printed, like a cheap novelette, and just large
enough to contain the words: "_et c'est elle qui_----"
"Hurrah!" cried Turnbull, waving his fragment; "we are safe at
last. We are free at last. We are somewhere better than England
or Eden or Paradise. MacIan, we are in the Land of the Duel!"
"Where do you say?" said the other, looking at him heavily and
with knitted brows, like one almost dazed with the grey doubts of
desolate twilight and drifting sea.
"We are in France!" cried Turnbull, with a voice like a trumpet,
"in the land where things really happen--_Tout arrive en France_.
We arrive in France. Look at this little message," and he held
out the scrap of paper. "There's an omen for you superstitious
hill folk. _C'est elle qui--Mais oui, mais oui, c'est elle qui
sauvera encore le monde_."
"France!" repeated MacIan, and his eyes awoke again in his head
like large lamps lighted.
"Yes, France!" said Turnbull, and all the rhetorical part of him
came to the top, his face growing as red as his hair. "France,
that has always been in rebellion for liberty and reason. France,
that has always assailed superstition with the club of Rabelais
or the rapier of Voltaire. France, at whose first council table
sits the sublime figure of Julian the Apostate. France, where a
man said only the other day those splendid unanswerable
words"--with a superb gesture--"'we have extinguished in heaven
those lights that men shall never light again.'"
"No," said MacIan, in a voice that shook with a controlled
passion. "But France, which was taught by St. Bernard and led to
war by Joan of Arc. France that made the crusades. France that
saved the Church and scattered the heresies by the mouths of
Bossuet and Massillon. France, which shows today the conquering
march of Catholicism, as brain after brain surrenders to it,
Brunetière, Coppée, Hauptmann, Barrès, Bourget, Lemaître."
"France!" asserted Turnbull with a sort of rollicking
self-exaggeration, very unusual with him, "France, which is one
torrent of splendid scepticism from Abelard to Anatole France."
"France," said MacIan, "which is one cataract of clear faith from
St. Louis to Our Lady of Lourdes."
"France at least," cried Turnbull, throwing up his sword in
schoolboy triumph, "in which these things are thought about and
fought about. France, where reason and religion clash in one
continual tournament. France, above all, where men understand the
pride and passion which have plucked our blades from their
scabbards. Here, at least, we shall not be chased and spied on by
sickly parsons and greasy policemen, because we wish to put our
lives on the game. Courage, my friend, we have come to the
country of honour."
MacIan did not even notice the incongruous phrase "my friend",
but nodding again and again, drew his sword and flung the
scabbard far behind him in the road.
"Yes," he cried, in a voice of thunder, "we will fight here and
_He_ shall look on at it."
Turnbull glanced at the crucifix with a sort of scowling
good-humour and then said: "He may look and see His cross
"The cross cannot be defeated," said MacIan, "for it is Defeat."
A second afterwards the two bright, blood-thirsty weapons made
the sign of the cross in horrible parody upon each other.
They had not touched each other twice, however, when upon the
hill, above the crucifix, there appeared another horrible parody
of its shape; the figure of a man who appeared for an instant
waving his outspread arms. He had vanished in an instant; but
MacIan, whose fighting face was set that way, had seen the shape
momentarily but quite photographically. And while it was like a
comic repetition of the cross, it was also, in that place and
hour, something more incredible. It had been only instantaneously
on the retina of his eye; but unless his eye and mind were going
mad together, the figure was that of an ordinary London
He tried to concentrate his senses on the sword-play; but one
half of his brain was wrestling with the puzzle; the apocalyptic
and almost seraphic apparition of a stout constable out of
Clapham on top of a dreary and deserted hill in France. He did
not, however, have to puzzle long. Before the duellists had
exchanged half a dozen passes, the big, blue policeman appeared
once more on the top of the hill, a palpable monstrosity in the
eye of heaven. He was waving only one arm now and seemed to be
shouting directions. At the same moment a mass of blue blocked
the corner of the road behind the small, smart figure of
Turnbull, and a small company of policemen in the English uniform
came up at a kind of half-military double.
Turnbull saw the stare of consternation in his enemy's face and
swung round to share its cause. When he saw it, cool as he was,
he staggered back.
"What the devil are you doing here?" he called out in a high,
shrill voice of authority, like one who finds a tramp in his own
"Well, sir," said the sergeant in command, with that sort of
heavy civility shown only to the evidently guilty, "seems to me
we might ask what are you doing here?"
"We are having an affair of honour," said Turnbull, as if it were
the most rational thing in the world. "If the French police like
to interfere, let them interfere. But why the blue blazes should
you interfere, you great blue blundering sausages?"
"I'm afraid, sir," said the sergeant with restraint, "I'm afraid
I don't quite follow you."
"I mean, why don't the French police take this up if it's got to
be taken up? I always heard that they were spry enough in their
"Well, sir," said the sergeant reflectively, "you see, sir, the
French police don't take this up--well, because you see, sir,
this ain't France. This is His Majesty's dominions, same as
"Not France?" repeated Turnbull, with a sort of dull incredulity.
"No, sir," said the sergeant; "though most of the people talk
French. This is the island called St. Loup, sir, an island in the
Channel. We've been sent down specially from London, as you were
such specially distinguished criminals, if you'll allow me to say
so. Which reminds me to warn you that anything you say may be
used against you at your trial."
"Quite so," said Turnbull, and lurched suddenly against the
sergeant, so as to tip him over the edge of the road with a crash
into the shingle below. Then leaving MacIan and the policemen
equally and instantaneously nailed to the road, he ran a little
way along it, leapt off on to a part of the beach, which he had
found in his journey to be firmer, and went across it with a
clatter of pebbles. His sudden calculation was successful; the
police, unacquainted with the various levels of the loose beach,
tried to overtake him by the shorter cut and found themselves,
being heavy men, almost up to their knees in shoals of slippery
shingle. Two who had been slower with their bodies were quicker
with their minds, and seeing Turnbull's trick, ran along the edge
of the road after him. Then MacIan finally awoke, and leaving
half his sleeve in the grip of the only man who tried to hold
him, took the two policemen in the small of their backs with the
impetus of a cannon-ball and, sending them also flat among the
stones, went tearing after his twin defier of the law.
As they were both good runners, the start they had gained was
decisive. They dropped over a high breakwater farther on upon the
beach, turned sharply, and scrambled up a line of ribbed rocks,
crowned with a thicket, crawled through it, scratching their
hands and faces, and dropped into another road; and there found
that they could slacken their speed into a steady trot. In all
this desperate dart and scramble, they still kept hold of their
drawn swords, which now, indeed, in the vigorous phrase of
Bunyan, seemed almost to grow out of their hands.
They had run another half mile or so when it became apparent that
they were entering a sort of scattered village. One or two
whitewashed cottages and even a shop had appeared along the side
of the road. Then, for the first time, Turnbull twisted round his
red bear to get a glimpse of his companion, who was a foot or two
behind, and remarked abruptly: "Mr. MacIan, we've been going the
wrong way to work all along. We're traced everywhere, because
everybody knows about us. It's as if one went about with Kruger's
beard on Mafeking Night."
"What do you mean?" said MacIan, innocently.
"I mean," said Turnbull, with steady conviction, "that what we
want is a little diplomacy, and I am going to buy some in a
XI. A SCANDAL IN THE VILLAGE
In the little hamlet of Haroc, in the Isle of St. Loup, there
lived a man who--though living under the English flag--was
absolutely untypical of the French tradition. He was quite
unnoticeable, but that was exactly where he was quite himself. He
was not even extraordinarily French; but then it is against the
French tradition to be extraordinarily French. Ordinary
Englishmen would only have thought him a little old-fashioned;
imperialistic Englishmen would really have mistaken him for the
old John Bull of the caricatures. He was stout; he was quite
undistinguished; and he had side-whiskers, worn just a little
longer than John Bull's. He was by name Pierre Durand; he was by
trade a wine merchant; he was by politics a conservative
republican; he had been brought up a Catholic, had always thought
and acted as an agnostic, and was very mildly returning to the
Church in his later years. He had a genius (if one can even use
so wild a word in connexion with so tame a person) a genius for
saying the conventional thing on every conceivable subject; or
rather what we in England would call the conventional thing. For
it was not convention with him, but solid and manly conviction.
Convention implies cant or affectation, and he had not the
faintest smell of either. He was simply an ordinary citizen with
ordinary views; and if you had told him so he would have taken it
as an ordinary compliment. If you had asked him about women, he
would have said that one must preserve their domesticity and
decorum; he would have used the stalest words, but he would have
in reserve the strongest arguments. If you had asked him about
government, he would have said that all citizens were free and
equal, but he would have meant what he said. If you had asked him
about education, he would have said that the young must be
trained up in habits of industry and of respect for their
parents. Still he would have set them the example of industry,
and he would have been one of the parents whom they could
respect. A state of mind so hopelessly central is depressing to
the English instinct. But then in England a man announcing these
platitudes is generally a fool and a frightened fool, announcing
them out of mere social servility. But Durand was anything but a
fool; he had read all the eighteenth century, and could have
defended his platitudes round every angle of eighteenth-century
argument. And certainly he was anything but a coward: swollen and
sedentary as he was, he could have hit any man back who touched
him with the instant violence of an automatic machine; and dying
in a uniform would have seemed to him only the sort of thing that
sometimes happens. I am afraid it is impossible to explain this
monster amid the exaggerative sects and the eccentric clubs of my
country. He was merely a man.
He lived in a little villa which was furnished well with
comfortable chairs and tables and highly uncomfortable classical
pictures and medallions. The art in his home contained nothing
between the two extremes of hard, meagre designs of Greek heads
and Roman togas, and on the other side a few very vulgar Catholic
images in the crudest colours; these were mostly in his
daughter's room. He had recently lost his wife, whom he had loved
heartily and rather heavily in complete silence, and upon whose
grave he was constantly in the habit of placing hideous little
wreaths, made out of a sort of black-and-white beads. To his only
daughter he was equally devoted, though he restricted her a good
deal under a sort of theoretic alarm about her innocence; an
alarm which was peculiarly unnecessary, first, because she was an
exceptionally reticent and religious girl, and secondly, because
there was hardly anybody else in the place.
Madeleine Durand was physically a sleepy young woman, and might
easily have been supposed to be morally a lazy one. It is,
however, certain that the work of her house was done somehow, and
it is even more rapidly ascertainable that nobody else did it.
The logician is, therefore, driven back upon the assumption that
she did it; and that lends a sort of mysterious interest to her
personality at the beginning. She had very broad, low, and level
brows, which seemed even lower because her warm yellow hair
clustered down to her eyebrows; and she had a face just plump
enough not to look as powerful as it was. Anything that was heavy
in all this was abruptly lightened by two large, light china-blue
eyes, lightened all of a sudden as if it had been lifted into the
air by two big blue butterflies. The rest of her was less than
middle-sized, and was of a casual and comfortable sort; and she
had this difference from such girls as the girl in the motor-car,
that one did not incline to take in her figure at all, but only
her broad and leonine and innocent head.
Both the father and the daughter were of the sort that would
normally have avoided all observation; that is, all observation
in that extraordinary modern world which calls out everything
except strength. Both of them had strength below the surface;
they were like quiet peasants owning enormous and unquarried
mines. The father with his square face and grey side whiskers,
the daughter with her square face and golden fringe of hair, were
both stronger than they know; stronger than anyone knew. The
father believed in civilization, in the storied tower we have
erected to affront nature; that is, the father believed in Man.
The daughter believed in God; and was even stronger. They neither
of them believed in themselves; for that is a decadent weakness.
The daughter was called a devotee. She left upon ordinary people
the impression--the somewhat irritating impression--produced by
such a person; it can only be described as the sense of strong
water being perpetually poured into some abyss. She did her
housework easily; she achieved her social relations sweetly; she
was never neglectful and never unkind. This accounted for all
that was soft in her, but not for all that was hard. She trod
firmly as if going somewhere; she flung her face back as if
defying something; she hardly spoke a cross word, yet there was
often battle in her eyes. The modern man asked doubtfully where
all this silent energy went to. He would have stared still more
doubtfully if he had been told that it all went into her prayers.
The conventions of the Isle of St. Loup were necessarily a
compromise or confusion between those of France and England; and
it was vaguely possible for a respectable young lady to have
half-attached lovers, in a way that would be impossible to the
_bourgeoisie_ of France. One man in particular had made himself
an unmistakable figure in the track of this girl as she went to
church. He was a short, prosperous-looking man, whose long, bushy
black beard and clumsy black umbrella made him seem both shorter
and older than he really was; but whose big, bold eyes, and step
that spurned the ground, gave him an instant character of youth.
His name was Camille Bert, and he was a commercial traveller who
had only been in the island an idle week before he began to
hover in the tracks of Madeleine Durand. Since everyone knows
everyone in so small a place, Madeleine certainly knew him to
speak to; but it is not very evident that she ever spoke. He
haunted her, however; especially at church, which was, indeed,
one of the few certain places for finding her. In her home she
had a habit of being invisible, sometimes through insatiable
domesticity, sometimes through an equally insatiable solitude. M.
Bert did not give the impression of a pious man, though he did
give, especially with his eyes, the impression of an honest one.
But he went to Mass with a simple exactitude that could not be
mistaken for a pose, or even for a vulgar fascination. It was
perhaps this religious regularity which eventually drew Madeleine
into recognition of him. At least it is certain that she twice
spoke to him with her square and open smile in the porch of the
church; and there was human nature enough in the hamlet to turn
even that into gossip.
But the real interest arose suddenly as a squall arises with the
extraordinary affair that occurred about five days after. There
was about a third of a mile beyond the village of Haroc a large
but lonely hotel upon the London or Paris model, but commonly
almost entirely empty. Among the accidental group of guests who
had come to it at this season was a man whose nationality no one
could fix and who bore the non-committal name of Count Gregory.
He treated everybody with complete civility and almost in
complete silence. On the few occasions when he spoke, he spoke
either French, English, or once (to the priest) Latin; and the
general opinion was that he spoke them all wrong. He was a large,
lean man, with the stoop of an aged eagle, and even the eagle's
nose to complete it; he had old-fashioned military whiskers and
moustache dyed with a garish and highly incredible yellow. He had
the dress of a showy gentleman and the manners of a decayed
gentleman; he seemed (as with a sort of simplicity) to be trying
to be a dandy when he was too old even to know that he was old.
Ye he was decidedly a handsome figure with his curled yellow hair
and lean fastidious face; and he wore a peculiar frock-coat of
bright turquoise blue, with an unknown order pinned to it, and he
carried a huge and heavy cane. Despite his silence and his
dandified dress and whiskers, the island might never have heard
of him but for the extraordinary event of which I have spoken,
which fell about in the following way:
In such casual atmospheres only the enthusiastic go to
Benediction; and as the warm blue twilight closed over the little
candle-lit church and village, the line of worshippers who went
home from the former to the latter thinned out until it broke. On
one such evening at least no one was in church except the quiet,
unconquerable Madeleine, four old women, one fisherman, and, of
course, the irrepressible M. Camille Bert. The others seemed to
melt away afterwards into the peacock colours of the dim green
grass and the dark blue sky. Even Durand was invisible instead of
being merely reverentially remote; and Madeleine set forth
through the patch of black forest alone. She was not in the least
afraid of loneliness, because she was not afraid of devils. I
think they were afraid of her.
In a clearing of the wood, however, which was lit up with a last
patch of the perishing sunlight, there advanced upon her suddenly
one who was more startling than a devil. The incomprehensible
Count Gregory, with his yellow hair like flame and his face like
the white ashes of the flame, was advancing bareheaded towards
her, flinging out his arms and his long fingers with a frantic
"We are alone here," he cried, "and you would be at my mercy,
only that I am at yours."
Then his frantic hands fell by his sides and he looked up under
his brows with an expression that went well with his hard
breathing. Madeleine Durand had come to a halt at first in
childish wonder, and now, with more than masculine self-control,
"I fancy I know your face, sir," she said, as if to gain time.
"I know I shall not forget yours," said the other, and extended
once more his ungainly arms in an unnatural gesture. Then of a
sudden there came out of him a spout of wild and yet pompous
phrases. "It is as well that you should know the worst and the
best. I am a man who knows no limit; I am the most callous of
criminals, the most unrepentant of sinners. There is no man in my
dominions so vile as I. But my dominions stretch from the olives
of Italy to the fir-woods of Denmark, and there is no nook of all
of them in which I have not done a sin. But when I bear you away
I shall be doing my first sacrilege, and also my first act of
virtue." He seized her suddenly by the elbow; and she did not
scream but only pulled and tugged. Yet though she had not
screamed, someone astray in the woods seemed to have heard the
struggle. A short but nimble figure came along the woodland path
like a humming bullet and had caught Count Gregory a crack across
the face before his own could be recognized. When it was
recognized it was that of Camille, with the black elderly beard
and the young ardent eyes.
Up to the moment when Camille had hit the Count, Madeleine had
entertained no doubt that the Count was merely a madman. Now she
was startled with a new sanity; for the tall man in the yellow
whiskers and yellow moustache first returned the blow of Bert, as
if it were a sort of duty, and then stepped back with a slight
bow and an easy smile.
"This need go no further here, M. Bert," he said. "I need not
remind you how far it should go elsewhere."
"Certainly, you need remind me of nothing," answered Camille,
stolidly. "I am glad that you are just not too much of a
scoundrel for a gentleman to fight."
"We are detaining the lady," said Count Gregory, with politeness;
and, making a gesture suggesting that he would have taken off his
hat if he had had one, he strode away up the avenue of trees and
eventually disappeared. He was so complete an aristocrat that he
could offer his back to them all the way up that avenue; and his
back never once looked uncomfortable.
"You must allow me to see you home," said Bert to the girl, in a
gruff and almost stifled voice; "I think we have only a little
way to go."
"Only a little way," she said, and smiled once more that night,
in spite of fatigue and fear and the world and the flesh and the
devil. The glowing and transparent blue of twilight had long been
covered by the opaque and slatelike blue of night, when he
handed her into the lamp-lit interior of her home. He went out
himself into the darkness, walking sturdily, but tearing at his
All the French or semi-French gentry of the district considered
this a case in which a duel was natural and inevitable, and
neither party had any difficulty in finding seconds, strangers as
they were in the place. Two small landowners, who were careful,
practising Catholics, willingly undertook to represent that
strict church-goer Camille Burt; while the profligate but
apparently powerful Count Gregory found friends in an energetic
local doctor who was ready for social promotion and an accidental
Californian tourist who was ready for anything. As no particular
purpose could be served by delay, it was arranged that the affair
should fall out three days afterwards. And when this was settled
the whole community, as it were, turned over again in bed and
thought no more about the matter. At least there was only one
member of it who seemed to be restless, and that was she who was
commonly most restful. On the next night Madeleine Durand went to
church as usual; and as usual the stricken Camille was there
also. What was not so usual was that when they were a bow-shot
from the church Madeleine turned round and walked back to him.
"Sir," she began, "it is not wrong of me to speak to you," and
the very words gave him a jar of unexpected truth; for in all the
novels he had ever read she would have begun: "It is wrong of me
to speak to you." She went on with wide and serious eyes like an
animal's: "It is not wrong of me to speak to you, because your
soul, or anybody's soul, matters so much more than what the world
says about anybody. I want to talk to you about what you are
going to do."
Bert saw in front of him the inevitable heroine of the novels
trying to prevent bloodshed; and his pale firm face became
"I would do anything but that for you," he said; "but no man can
be called less than a man."
She looked at him for a moment with a face openly puzzled, and
then broke into an odd and beautiful half-smile.
"Oh, I don't mean that," she said; "I don't talk about what I
don't understand. No one has ever hit me; and if they had I
should not feel as a man may. I am sure it is not the best thing
to fight. It would be better to forgive--if one could really
forgive. But when people dine with my father and say that
fighting a duel is mere murder--of course I can see that is not
just. It's all so different--having a reason--and letting the
other man know--and using the same guns and things--and doing it
in front of your friends. I'm awfully stupid, but I know that men
like you aren't murderers. But it wasn't that that I meant."
"What did you mean?" asked the other, looking broodingly at the
"Don't you know," she said, "there is only one more celebration?
I thought that as you always go to church--I thought you would
communicate this morning."
Bert stepped backward with a sort of action she had never seen in
him before. It seemed to alter his whole body.
"You may be right or wrong to risk dying," said the girl, simply;
"the poor women in our village risk it whenever they have a baby.
You men are the other half of the world. I know nothing about
when you ought to die. But surely if you are daring to try and
find God beyond the grave and appeal to Him--you ought to let Him
find you when He comes and stands there every morning in our
And placid as she was, she made a little gesture of argument, of
which the pathos wrung the heart.
M. Camille Bert was by no means placid. Before that incomplete
gesture and frankly pleading face he retreated as if from the
jaws of a dragon. His dark black hair and beard looked utterly
unnatural against the startling pallor of his face. When at last
he said something it was: "O God! I can't stand this!" He did not
say it in French. Nor did he, strictly speaking, say it in
English. The truth (interesting only to anthropologists) is that
he said it in Scotch.
"There will be another mass in a matter of eight hours," said
Madeleine, with a sort of business eagerness and energy, "and you
can do it then before the fighting. You must forgive me, but I
was so frightened that you would not do it at all."
Bert seemed to crush his teeth together until they broke, and
managed to say between them: "And why should you suppose that I
shouldn't do as you say--I mean not to do it at all?"
"You always go to Mass," answered the girl, opening her wide blue
eyes, "and the Mass is very long and tiresome unless one loves
Then it was that Bert exploded with a brutality which might have
come from Count Gregory, his criminal opponent. He advanced upon
Madeleine with flaming eyes, and almost took her by the two
shoulders. "I do not love God," he cried, speaking French with
the broadest Scotch accent; "I do not want to find Him; I do not
think He is there to be found. I must burst up the show; I must
and will say everything. You are the happiest and honestest thing
I ever saw in this godless universe. And I am the dirtiest and
Madeleine looked at him doubtfully for an instant, and then said
with a sudden simplicity and cheerfulness: "Oh, but if you are
really sorry it is all right. If you are horribly sorry it is all
the better. You have only to go and tell the priest so and he
will give you God out of his own hands."
"I hate your priest and I deny your God!" cried the man, "and I
tell you God is a lie and a fable and a mask. And for the first
time in my life I do not feel superior to God."
"What can it all mean?" said Madeleine, in massive wonder.
"Because I am a fable also and a mask," said the man. He had been
plucking fiercely at his black beard and hair all the time; now
he suddenly plucked them off and flung them like moulted feathers
in the mire. This extraordinary spoliation left in the sunlight
the same face, but a much younger head--a head with close
chestnut curls and a short chestnut beard.
"Now you know the truth," he answered, with hard eyes. "I am a
cad who has played a crooked trick on a quiet village and a
decent woman for a private reason of his own. I might have played
it successfully on any other woman; I have hit the one woman on
whom it cannot be played. It's just like my damned luck. The
plain truth is," and here when he came to the plain truth he
boggled and blundered as Evan had done in telling it to the girl
in the motor-car.
"The plain truth is," he said at last, "that I am James Turnbull
the atheist. The police are after me; not for atheism but for
being ready to fight for it."
"I saw something about you in a newspaper," said the girl, with a
simplicity which even surprise could never throw off its balance.
"Evan MacIan said there was a God," went on the other,
stubbornly, "and I say there isn't. And I have come to fight for
the fact that there is no God; it is for that that I have seen
this cursed island and your blessed face."
"You want me really to believe," said Madeleine, with parted
lips, "that you think----"
"I want you to hate me!" cried Turnbull, in agony. "I want you to
be sick when you think of my name. I am sure there is no God."
"But there is," said Madeleine, quite quietly, and rather with
the air of one telling children about an elephant. "Why, I
touched His body only this morning."
"You touched a bit of bread," said Turnbull, biting his knuckles.
"Oh, I will say anything that can madden you!"
"You think it is only a bit of bread," said the girl, and her
lips tightened ever so little.
"I know it is only a bit of bread," said Turnbull, with violence.
She flung back her open face and smiled. "Then why did you refuse
to eat it?" she said.
James Turnbull made a little step backward, and for the first
time in his life there seemed to break out and blaze in his head
thoughts that were not his own.
"Why, how silly of them," cried out Madeleine, with quite a
schoolgirl gaiety, "why, how silly of them to call _you_ a
blasphemer! Why, you have wrecked your whole business because you
would not commit blasphemy."
The man stood, a somewhat comic figure in his tragic
bewilderment, with the honest red head of James Turnbull sticking
out of the rich and fictitious garments of Camille Bert. But the
startled pain of his face was strong enough to obliterate the
"You come down here," continued the lady, with that female
emphasis which is so pulverizing in conversation and so feeble at
a public meeting, "you and your MacIan come down here and put on
false beards or noses in order to fight. You pretend to be a
Catholic commercial traveller from France. Poor Mr. MacIan has to
pretend to be a dissolute nobleman from nowhere. Your scheme
succeeds; you pick a quite convincing quarrel; you arrange a
quite respectable duel; the duel you have planned so long will
come off tomorrow with absolute certainty and safety. And then
you throw off your wig and throw up your scheme and throw over
your colleague, because I ask you to go into a building and eat a
bit of bread. And _then_ you dare to tell me that you are sure
there is nothing watching us. Then you say you know there is
nothing on the very altar you run away from. You know----"
"I only know," said Turnbull, "that I must run away from you.
This has got beyond any talking." And he plunged along into the
village, leaving his black wig and beard lying behind him on the
As the market-place opened before him he saw Count Gregory, that
distinguished foreigner, standing and smoking in elegant
meditation at the corner of the local café. He immediately made
his way rapidly towards him, considering that a consultation was
urgent. But he had hardly crossed half of that stony quadrangle
when a window burst open above him and a head was thrust out,
shouting. The man was in his woollen undershirt, but Turnbull
knew the energetic, apologetic head of the sergeant of police. He
pointed furiously at Turnbull and shouted his name. A policeman
ran excitedly from under an archway and tried to collar him. Two
men selling vegetables dropped their baskets and joined in the
chase. Turnbull dodged the constable, upset one of the men into
his own basket, and bounding towards the distinguished foreign
Count, called to him clamorously: "Come on, MacIan, the hunt is
The prompt reply of Count Gregory was to pull off his large
yellow whiskers and scatter them on the breeze with an air of
considerable relief. Then he joined the flight of Turnbull, and
even as he did so, with one wrench of his powerful hands rent and
split the strange, thick stick that he carried. Inside it was a
naked old-fashioned rapier. The two got a good start up the road
before the whole town was awakened behind them; and half-way up
it a similar transformation was seen to take place in Mr.
Turnbull's singular umbrella.
The two had a long race for the harbour; but the English police
were heavy and the French inhabitants were indifferent. In any
case, they got used to the notion of the road being clear; and
just as they had come to the cliffs MacIan banged into another
gentleman with unmistakable surprise. How he knew he was another
gentleman merely by banging into him, must remain a mystery.
MacIan was a very poor and very sober Scotch gentleman. The other
was a very drunk and very wealthy English gentleman. But there
was something in the staggered and openly embarrassed apologies
that made them understand each other as readily and as quickly
and as much as two men talking French in the middle of China. The
nearest expression of the type is that it either hits or
apologizes; and in this case both apologized.
"You seem to be in a hurry," said the unknown Englishman, falling
back a step or two in order to laugh with an unnatural
heartiness. "What's it all about, eh?" Then before MacIan could
get past his sprawling and staggering figure he ran forward again
and said with a sort of shouting and ear-shattering whisper: "I
say, my name is Wilkinson. _You_ know--Wilkinson's Entire was my
grandfather. Can't drink beer myself. Liver." And he shook his
head with extraordinary sagacity.
"We really are in a hurry, as you say," said MacIan, summoning a
sufficiently pleasant smile, "so if you will let us pass----"
"I'll tell you what, you fellows," said the sprawling gentleman,
confidentially, while Evan's agonized ears heard behind him the
first paces of the pursuit, "if you really are, as you say, in a
hurry, I know what it is to be in a hurry--Lord, what a hurry I
was in when we all came out of Cartwright's rooms--if you really
are in a hurry"--and he seemed to steady his voice into a sort of
solemnity--"if you are in a hurry, there's nothing like a good
yacht for a man in a hurry."
"No doubt you're right," said MacIan, and dashed past him in
despair. The head of the pursuing host was just showing over the
top of the hill behind him. Turnbull had already ducked under the
intoxicated gentleman's elbow and fled far in front.
"No, but look here," said Mr. Wilkinson, enthusiastically running
after MacIan and catching him by the sleeve of his coat. "If you
want to hurry you should take a yacht, and if"--he said, with a
burst of rationality, like one leaping to a further point in
logic--"if you want a yacht--you can have mine."
Evan pulled up abruptly and looked back at him. "We are really in
the devil of a hurry," he said, "and if you really have a yacht,
the truth is that we would give our ears for it."
"You'll find it in harbour," said Wilkinson, struggling with his
speech. "Left side of harbour--called _Gibson Girl_--can't think
why, old fellow, I never lent it you before."
With these words the benevolent Mr. Wilkinson fell flat on his
face in the road, but continued to laugh softly, and turned
towards his flying companion a face of peculiar peace and
benignity. Evan's mind went through a crisis of instantaneous
casuistry, in which it may be that he decided wrongly; but about
how he decided his biographer can profess no doubt. Two minutes
afterwards he had overtaken Turnbull and told the tale; ten
minutes afterwards he and Turnbull had somehow tumbled into the
yacht called the _Gibson Girl_ and had somehow pushed off from
the Isle of St. Loup.
XII. THE DESERT ISLAND
Those who happen to hold the view (and Mr. Evan MacIan, now alive
and comfortable, is among the number) that something
supernatural, some eccentric kindness from god or fairy had
guided our adventurers through all their absurd perils, might
have found his strongest argument perhaps in their management or
mismanagement of Mr. Wilkinson's yacht. Neither of them had the
smallest qualification for managing such a vessel; but MacIan had
a practical knowledge of the sea in much smaller and quite
different boats, while Turnbull had an abstract knowledge of
science and some of its applications to navigation, which was
worse. The presence of the god or fairy can only be deduced from
the fact that they never definitely ran into anything, either a
boat, a rock, a quicksand, or a man-of-war. Apart from this
negative description, their voyage would be difficult to
describe. It took at least a fortnight, and MacIan, who was
certainly the shrewder sailor of the two, realized that they were
sailing west into the Atlantic and were probably by this time
past the Scilly Isles. How much farther they stood out into the
western sea it was impossible to conjecture. But they felt
certain, at least, that they were far enough into that awful gulf
between us and America to make it unlikely that they would soon
see land again. It was therefore with legitimate excitement that
one rainy morning after daybreak they saw that distinct shape of
a solitary island standing up against the encircling strip of
silver which ran round the skyline and separated the grey and
green of the billows from the grey and mauve of the morning
"What can it be?" cried MacIan, in a dry-throated excitement. "I
didn't know there were any Atlantic islands so far beyond the
Scillies--Good Lord, it can't be Madeira, yet?"
"I thought you were fond of legends and lies and fables," said
Turnbull, grimly. "Perhaps it's Atlantis."
"Of course, it might be," answered the other, quite innocently
and gravely; "but I never thought the story about Atlantis was
very solidly established."
"Whatever it is, we are running on to it," said Turnbull,
equably, "and we shall be shipwrecked twice, at any rate."
The naked-looking nose of land projecting from the unknown island
was, indeed, growing larger and larger, like the trunk of some
terrible and advancing elephant. There seemed to be nothing in
particular, at least on this side of the island, except shoals of
shellfish lying so thick as almost to make it look like one of
those toy grottos that the children make. In one place, however,
the coast offered a soft, smooth bay of sand, and even the
rudimentary ingenuity of the two amateur mariners managed to run
up the little ship with her prow well on shore and her bowsprit
pointing upward, as in a sort of idiotic triumph.
They tumbled on shore and began to unload the vessel, setting the
stores out in rows upon the sand with something of the solemnity
of boys playing at pirates. There were Mr. Wilkinson's
cigar-boxes and Mr. Wilkinson's dozen of champagne and Mr.
Wilkinson's tinned salmon and Mr. Wilkinson's tinned tongue and
Mr. Wilkinson's tinned sardines, and every sort of preserved
thing that could be seen at the Army and Navy stores. Then MacIan
stopped with a jar of pickles in his hand and said abruptly:
"I don't know why we're doing all this; I suppose we ought really
to fall to and get it over."
Then he added more thoughtfully: "Of course this island seems
rather bare and the survivor----"
"The question is," said Turnbull, with cheerful speculation,
"whether the survivor will be in a proper frame of mind for
MacIan looked down at the rows of tins and bottles, and the cloud
of doubt still lowered upon his face.
"You will permit me two liberties, my dear sir," said Turnbull at
last: "The first is to break open this box and light one of Mr.
Wilkinson's excellent cigars, which will, I am sure, assist my
meditations; the second is to offer a penny for your thoughts; or
rather to convulse the already complex finances of this island by
betting a penny that I know them."
"What on earth are you talking about?" asked MacIan, listlessly,
in the manner of an inattentive child.
"I know what you are really thinking, MacIan," repeated Turnbull,
laughing. "I know what I am thinking, anyhow. And I rather fancy
it's the same."
"What are you thinking?" asked Evan.
"I am thinking and you are thinking," said Turnbull, "that it is
damned silly to waste all that champagne."
Something like the spectre of a smile appeared on the unsmiling
visage of the Gael; and he made at least no movement of dissent.
"We could drink all the wine and smoke all the cigars easily in a
week," said Turnbull; "and that would be to die feasting like
"Yes, and there is something else," said MacIan, with slight
hesitation. "You see, we are on an almost unknown rock, lost in
the Atlantic. The police will never catch us; but then neither
may the public ever hear of us; and that was one of the things we
wanted." Then, after a pause, he said, drawing in the sand with
his sword-point: "She may never hear of it at all."
"Well?" inquired the other, puffing at his cigar.
"Well," said MacIan, "we might occupy a day or two in drawing up
a thorough and complete statement of what we did and why we did
it, and all about both our points of view. Then we could leave
one copy on the island whatever happens to us and put another in
an empty bottle and send it out to sea, as they do in the books."
"A good idea," said Turnbull, "and now let us finish unpacking."
As MacIan, a tall, almost ghostly figure, paced along the edge of
sand that ran round the islet, the purple but cloudy poetry which
was his native element was piled up at its thickest upon his
soul. The unique island and the endless sea emphasized the thing
solely as an epic. There were no ladies or policemen here to give
him a hint either of its farce or its tragedy.
"Perhaps when the morning stars were made," he said to himself,
"God built this island up from the bottom of the world to be a
tower and a theatre for the fight between yea and nay."
Then he wandered up to the highest level of the rock, where there
was a roof or plateau of level stone. Half an hour afterwards,
Turnbull found him clearing away the loose sand from this
table-land and making it smooth and even.
"We will fight up here, Turnbull," said MacIan, "when the time
comes. And till the time comes this place shall be sacred."
"I thought of having lunch up here," said Turnbull, who had a
bottle of champagne in his hand.
"No, no--not up here," said MacIan, and came down from the height
quite hastily. Before he descended, however, he fixed the two
swords upright, one at each end of the platform, as if they were
human sentinels to guard it under the stars.
Then they came down and lunched plentifully in a nest of loose
rocks. In the same place that night they supped more plentifully
still. The smoke of Mr. Wilkinson's cigars went up ceaseless and
strong smelling, like a pagan sacrifice; the golden glories of
Mr. Wilkinson's champagne rose to their heads and poured out of
them in fancies and philosophies. And occasionally they would
look up at the starlight and the rock and see the space guarded
by the two cross-hilted swords, which looked like two black
crosses at either end of a grave.
In this primitive and Homeric truce the week passed by; it
consisted almost entirely of eating, drinking, smoking, talking,
and occasionally singing. They wrote their records and cast loose
their bottle. They never ascended to the ominous plateau; they
had never stood there save for that single embarrassed minute
when they had had no time to take stock of the seascape or the
shape of the land. They did not even explore the island; for
MacIan was partly concerned in prayer and Turnbull entirely
concerned with tobacco; and both these forms of inspiration can
be enjoyed by the secluded and even the sedentary. It was on a
golden afternoon, the sun sinking over the sea, rayed like the
very head of Apollo, when Turnbull tossed off the last half-pint
from the emptied Wilkinsonian bottle, hurled the bottle into the
sea with objectless energy, and went up to where his sword stood
waiting for him on the hill. MacIan was already standing heavily
by his with bent head and eyes reading the ground. He had not
even troubled to throw a glance round the island or the horizon.
But Turnbull being of a more active and birdlike type of mind did
throw a glance round the scene. The consequence of which was that
he nearly fell off the rock.
On three sides of this shelly and sandy islet the sea stretched
blue and infinite without a speck of land or sail; the same as
Turnbull had first seen it, except that the tide being out it
showed a few yards more of slanting sand under the roots of the
rocks. But on the fourth side the island exhibited a more
extraordinary feature. In fact, it exhibited the extraordinary
feature of not being an island at all. A long, curving neck of
sand, as smooth and wet as the neck of the sea serpent, ran out
into the sea and joined their rock to a line of low, billowing,
and glistening sand-hills, which the sinking sea had just bared
to the sun. Whether they were firm sand or quicksand it was
difficult to guess; but there was at least no doubt that they lay
on the edge of some larger land; for colourless hills appeared
faintly behind them and no sea could be seen beyond.
"Sakes alive!" cried Turnbull, with rolling eyes; "this ain't an
island in the Atlantic. We've butted the bally continent of
MacIan turned his head, and his face, already pale, grew a shade
paler. He was by this time walking in a world of omens and
hieroglyphics, and he could not read anything but what was
baffling or menacing in this brown gigantic arm of the earth
stretched out into the sea to seize him.
"MacIan," said Turnbull, in his temperate way, "whatever our
eternal interrupted tete-a-tetes have taught us or not taught us,
at least we need not fear the charge of fear. If it is essential
to your emotions, I will cheerfully finish the fight here and
now; but I must confess that if you kill me here I shall die with
my curiosity highly excited and unsatisfied upon a minor point of
"I do not want to stop now," said the other, in his elephantine
simplicity, "but we must stop for a moment, because it is a
sign--perhaps it is a miracle. We must see what is at the end of
the road of sand; it may be a bridge built across the gulf by
"So long as you gratify my query," said Turnbull, laughing and
letting back his blade into the sheath, "I do not care for what
reason you choose to stop."
They clambered down the rocky peninsula and trudged along the
sandy isthmus with the plodding resolution of men who seemed
almost to have made up their minds to be wanderers on the face of
the earth. Despite Turnbull's air of scientific eagerness, he was
really the less impatient of the two; and the Highlander went on
well ahead of him with passionate strides. By the time they had
walked for about half an hour in the ups and downs of those
dreary sands, the distance between the two had lengthened and
MacIan was only a tall figure silhouetted for an instant upon the
crest of some sand-dune and then disappearing behind it. This
rather increased the Robinson Crusoe feeling in Mr. Turnbull, and
he looked about almost disconsolately for some sign of life. What
sort of life he expected it to be if it appeared, he did not very
clearly know. He has since confessed that he thinks that in his
subconsciousness he expected an alligator.
The first sign of life that he did see, however, was something
more extraordinary than the largest alligator. It was nothing
less than the notorious Mr. Evan MacIan coming bounding back
across the sand-heaps breathless, without his cap and keeping the
sword in his hand only by a habit now quite hardened.
"Take care, Turnbull," he cried out from a good distance as he
ran, "I've seen a native."
"A native?" repeated his companion, whose scenery had of late
been chiefly of shellfish, "what the deuce! Do you mean an
"No," said MacIan, stopping and breathing hard, "I mean a savage.
A black man."
"Why, where did you see him?" asked the staring editor.
"Over there--behind that hill," said the gasping MacIan. "He put
up his black head and grinned at me."
Turnbull thrust his hands through his red hair like one who gives
up the world as a bad riddle. "Lord love a duck," said he, "can
it be Jamaica?"
Then glancing at his companion with a small frown, as of one
slightly suspicious, he said: "I say, don't think me rude--but
you're a visionary kind of fellow--and then we drank a great
deal. Do you mind waiting here while I go and see for myself?"
"Shout if you get into trouble," said the Celt, with composure;
"you will find it as I say."
Turnbull ran off ahead with a rapidity now far greater than his
rival's, and soon vanished over the disputed sand-hill. Then five
minutes passed, and then seven minutes; and MacIan bit his lip
and swung his sword, and the other did not reappear. Finally,
with a Gaelic oath, Evan started forward to the rescue, and
almost at the same moment the small figure of the missing man
appeared on the ridge against the sky.
Even at that distance, however, there was something odd about his
attitude; so odd that MacIan continued to make his way in that
direction. It looked as if he were wounded; or, still more, as if
he were ill. He wavered as he came down the slope and seemed
flinging himself into peculiar postures. But it was only when he
came within three feet of MacIan's face, that that observer of
mankind fully realized that Mr. James Turnbull was roaring with
"You are quit right," sobbed that wholly demoralized journalist.
"He's black, oh, there's no doubt the black's all right--as far
as it goes." And he went off again into convulsions of his
"What ever is the matter with you?" asked MacIan, with stern
impatience. "Did you see the nigger----"
"I saw the nigger," gasped Turnbull. "I saw the splendid
barbarian Chief. I saw the Emperor of Ethiopia--oh, I saw him all
right. The nigger's hands and face are a lovely colour--and the
nigger----" And he was overtaken once more.
"Well, well, well," said Evan, stamping each monosyllable on the
sand, "what about the nigger?"
"Well, the truth is," said Turnbull, suddenly and startlingly,
becoming quite grave and precise, "the truth is, the nigger is a
Margate nigger, and we are now on the edge of the Isle of Thanet,
a few miles from Margate."
Then he had a momentary return of his hysteria and said: "I say,
old boy, I should like to see a chart of our fortnight's cruise
in Wilkinson's yacht."
MacIan had no smile in answer, but his eager lips opened as if
parched for the truth. "You mean to say," he began----
"Yes, I mean to say," said Turnbull, "and I mean to say something
funnier still. I have learnt everything I wanted to know from the
partially black musician over there, who has taken a run in his
war-paint to meet a friend in a quiet pub along the coast--the
noble savage has told me all about it. The bottle containing our
declaration, doctrines, and dying sentiments was washed up on
Margate beach yesterday in the presence of one alderman, two
bathing-machine men, three policemen, seven doctors, and a
hundred and thirteen London clerks on a holiday, to all of whom,
whether directly or indirectly, our composition gave enormous
literary pleasure. Buck up, old man, this story of ours is a
switchback. I have begun to understand the pulse and the time of
it; now we are up in a cathedral and then we are down in a
theatre, where they only play farces. Come, I am quite
reconciled--let us enjoy the farce."
But MacIan said nothing, and an instant afterwards Turnbull
himself called out in an entirely changed voice: "Oh, this is
damnable! This is not to be borne!"
MacIan followed his eye along the sand-hills. He saw what looked
like the momentary and waving figure of the nigger minstrel, and
then he saw a heavy running policeman take the turn of the
sand-hill with the smooth solemnity of a railway train.
XIII. THE GARDEN OF PEACE
Up to this instant Evan MacIan had really understood nothing; but
when he saw the policeman he saw everything. He saw his enemies,
all the powers and princes of the earth. He suddenly altered from
a staring statue to a leaping man of the mountains.
"We must break away from him here," he cried, briefly, and went
like a whirlwind over the sand ridge in a straight line and at a
particular angle. When the policeman had finished his admirable
railway curve, he found a wall of failing sand between him and
the pursued. By the time he had scaled it thrice, slid down
twice, and crested it in the third effort, the two flying figures
were far in front. They found the sand harder farther on; it
began to be crusted with scraps of turf and in a few moments they
were flying easily over an open common of rank sea-grass. They
had no easy business, however; for the bottle which they had so
innocently sent into the chief gate of Thanet had called to life
the police of half a county on their trail. From every side
across the grey-green common figures could be seen running and
closing in; and it was only when MacIan with his big body broke
down the tangled barrier of a little wood, as men break down a
door with the shoulder; it was only when they vanished crashing
into the underworld of the black wood, that their hunters were
even instantaneously thrown off the scent.
At the risk of struggling a little longer like flies in that
black web of twigs and trunks, Evan (who had an instinct of the
hunter or the hunted) took an incalculable course through the
forest, which let them out at last by a forest opening--quite
forgotten by the leaders of the chase. They ran a mile or two
farther along the edge of the wood until they reached another and
somewhat similar opening. Then MacIan stood utterly still and
listened, as animals listen, for every sound in the universe.
Then he said: "We are quit of them." And Turnbull said: "Where
shall we go now?"
MacIan looked at the silver sunset that was closing in, barred by
plumy lines of purple cloud; he looked at the high tree-tops that
caught the last light and at the birds going heavily homeward,
just as if all these things were bits of written advice that he
Then he said: "The best place we can go to is to bed. If we can
get some sleep in this wood, now everyone has cleared out of it,
it will be worth a handicap of two hundred yards tomorrow."
Turnbull, who was exceptionally lively and laughing in his
demeanour, kicked his legs about like a schoolboy and said he did
not want to go to sleep. He walked incessantly and talked very
brilliantly. And when at last he lay down on the hard earth,
sleep struck him senseless like a hammer.
Indeed, he needed the strongest sleep he could get; for the earth
was still full of darkness and a kind of morning fog when his
fellow-fugitive shook him awake.
"No more sleep, I'm afraid," said Evan, in a heavy, almost
submissive, voice of apology. "They've gone on past us right
enough for a good thirty miles; but now they've found out their
mistake, and they're coming back."
"Are you sure?" said Turnbull, sitting up and rubbing his red
eyebrows with his hand.
The next moment, however, he had jumped up alive and leaping like
a man struck with a shock of cold water, and he was plunging
after MacIan along the woodland path. The shape of their old
friend the constable had appeared against the pearl and pink of
the sunrise. Somehow, it always looked a very funny shape when
seen against the sunrise.
* * *
A wash of weary daylight was breaking over the country-side, and
the fields and roads were full of white mist--the kind of white
mist that clings in corners like cotton wool. The empty road,
along which the chase had taken its turn, was overshadowed on one
side by a very high discoloured wall, stained, and streaked
green, as with seaweed--evidently the high-shouldered sentinel of
some great gentleman's estate. A yard or two from the wall ran
parallel to it a linked and tangled line of lime-trees, forming a
kind of cloister along the side of the road. It was under this
branching colonnade that the two fugitives fled, almost concealed
from their pursuers by the twilight, the mist and the leaping
zoetrope of shadows. Their feet, though beating the ground
furiously, made but a faint noise; for they had kicked away their
boots in the wood; their long, antiquated weapons made no jingle
or clatter, for they had strapped them across their backs like
guitars. They had all the advantages that invisibility and
silence can add to speed.
A hundred and fifty yards behind them down the centre of the
empty road the first of their pursuers came pounding and
panting--a fat but powerful policeman who had distanced all the
rest. He came on at a splendid pace for so portly a figure; but,
like all heavy bodies in motion, he gave the impression that it
would be easier for him to increase his pace than to slacken it
suddenly. Nothing short of a brick wall could have abruptly
brought him up. Turnbull turned his head slightly and found
breath to say something to MacIan. MacIan nodded.
Pursuer and pursued were fixed in their distance as they fled,
for some quarter of a mile, when they came to a place where two
or three of the trees grew twistedly together, making a special
obscurity. Past this place the pursuing policeman went thundering
without thought or hesitation. But he was pursuing his shadow or
the wind; for Turnbull had put one foot in a crack of the tree
and gone up it as quickly and softly as a cat. Somewhat more
laboriously but in equal silence the long legs of the Highlander
had followed; and crouching in crucial silence in the cloud of
leaves, they saw the whole posse of their pursuers go by and die
into the dust and mists of the distance.
The white vapour lay, as it often does, in lean and palpable
layers; and even the head of the tree was above it in the
half-daylight, like a green ship swinging on a sea of foam. But
higher yet behind them, and readier to catch the first coming of
the sun, ran the rampart of the top of the wall, which in their
excitement of escape looked at once indispensable and
unattainable, like the wall of heaven. Here, however, it was
MacIan's turn to have the advantage; for, though less
light-limbed and feline, he was longer and stronger in the arms.
In two seconds he had tugged up his chin over the wall like a
horizontal bar; the next he sat astride of it, like a horse of
stone. With his assistance Turnbull vaulted to the same perch,
and the two began cautiously to shift along the wall in the
direction by which they had come, doubling on their tracks to
throw off the last pursuit. MacIan could not rid himself of the
fancy of bestriding a steed; the long, grey coping of the wall
shot out in front of him, like the long, grey neck of some
nightmare Rosinante. He had the quaint thought that he and
Turnbull were two knights on one steed on the old shield of the
The nightmare of the stone horse was increased by the white fog,
which seemed thicker inside the wall than outside. They could
make nothing of the enclosure upon which they were partial
trespassers, except that the green and crooked branches of a big
apple-tree came crawling at them out of the mist, like the
tentacles of some green cuttlefish. Anything would serve,
however, that was likely to confuse their trail, so they both
decided without need of words to use this tree also as a
ladder--a ladder of descent. When they dropped from the lowest
branch to the ground their stockinged feet felt hard gravel
They had alighted in the middle of a very broad garden path, and
the clearing mist permitted them to see the edge of a
well-clipped lawn. Though the white vapour was still a veil, it
was like the gauzy veil of a transformation scene in a pantomime;
for through it there glowed shapeless masses of colour, masses
which might be clouds of sunrise or mosaics of gold and crimson,
or ladies robed in ruby and emerald draperies. As it thinned yet
farther they saw that it was only flowers; but flowers in such
insolent mass and magnificence as can seldom be seen out of the
tropics. Purple and crimson rhododendrons rose arrogantly, like
rampant heraldic animals against their burning background of
laburnum gold. The roses were red hot; the clematis was, so to
speak, blue hot. And yet the mere whiteness of the syringa seemed
the most violent colour of all. As the golden sunlight gradually
conquered the mists, it had really something of the sensational
sweetness of the slow opening of the gates of Eden. MacIan, whose
mind was always haunted with such seraphic or titanic parallels,
made some such remark to his companion. But Turnbull only cursed
and said that it was the back garden of some damnable rich man.
When the last haze had faded from the ordered paths, the open
lawns, and the flaming flower-beds, the two realized, not without
an abrupt re-examination of their position, that they were not
alone in the garden.
Down the centre of the central garden path, preceded by a blue
cloud from a cigarette, was walking a gentleman who evidently
understood all the relish of a garden in the very early morning.
He was a slim yet satisfied figure, clad in a suit of pale-grey
tweed, so subdued that the pattern was imperceptible--a costume
that was casual but not by any means careless. His face, which
was reflective and somewhat over-refined, was the face of a quite
elderly man, though his stringy hair and moustache were still
quite yellow. A double eye-glass, with a broad, black ribbon,
drooped from his aquiline nose, and he smiled, as he communed
with himself, with a self-content which was rare and almost
irritating. The straw panama on his head was many shades shabbier
than his clothes, as if he had caught it up by accident.
It needed the full shock of the huge shadow of MacIan, falling
across his sunlit path, to rouse him from his smiling reverie.
When this had fallen on him he lifted his head a little and
blinked at the intruders with short-sighted benevolence, but with
far less surprise than might have been expected. He was a
gentleman; that is, he had social presence of mind, whether for
kindness or for insolence.
"Can I do anything for you?" he said, at last.
MacIan bowed. "You can extend to us your pardon," he said, for he
also came of a whole race of gentlemen--of gentlemen without
shirts to their backs. "I am afraid we are trespassing. We have
just come over the wall."
"Over the wall?" repeated the smiling old gentleman, still
without letting his surprise come uppermost.
"I suppose I am not wrong, sir," continued MacIan, "in supposing
that these grounds inside the wall belong to you?"
The man in the panama looked at the ground and smoked
thoughtfully for a few moments, after which he said, with a sort
of matured conviction:
"Yes, certainly; the grounds inside the wall really belong to me,
and the grounds outside the wall, too."
"A large proprietor, I imagine," said Turnbull, with a truculent
"Yes," answered the old gentleman, looking at him with a steady
smile. "A large proprietor."
Turnbull's eye grew even more offensive, and he began biting his
red beard; but MacIan seemed to recognize a type with which he
could deal and continued quite easily:
"I am sure that a man like you will not need to be told that one
sees and does a good many things that do not get into the
newspapers. Things which, on the whole, had better not get into
The smile of the large proprietor broadened for a moment under
his loose, light moustache, and the other continued with
"One sometimes wants to have it out with another man. The police
won't allow it in the streets--and then there's the County
Council--and in the fields even nothing's allowed but posters of
pills. But in a gentleman's garden, now----"
The strange gentleman smiled again and said, easily enough: "Do
you want to fight? What do you want to fight about?"
MacIan had understood his man pretty well up to that point; an
instinct common to all men with the aristocratic tradition of
Europe had guided him. He knew that the kind of man who in his
own back garden wears good clothes and spoils them with a bad hat
is not the kind of man who has an abstract horror of illegal
actions of violence or the evasion of the police. But a man may
understand ragging and yet be very far from understanding
religious ragging. This seeming host of theirs might comprehend a
quarrel of husband and lover or a difficulty at cards or even
escape from a pursuing tailor; but it still remained doubtful
whether he would feel the earth fail under him in that earthquake
instant when the Virgin is compared to a goddess of Mesopotamia.
Even MacIan, therefore (whose tact was far from being his strong
point), felt the necessity for some compromise in the mode of
approach. At last he said, and even then with hesitation:
"We are fighting about God; there can be nothing so important as
The tilted eye-glasses of the old gentleman fell abruptly from
his nose, and he thrust his aristocratic chin so far forward that
his lean neck seemed to shoot out longer like a telescope.
"About God?" he queried, in a key completely new.
"Look here!" cried Turnbull, taking his turn roughly, "I'll tell
you what it's all about. I think that there's no God. I take it
that it's nobody's business but mine--or God's, if there is one.
This young gentleman from the Highlands happens to think that
it's his business. In consequence, he first takes a walking-stick
and smashes my shop; then he takes the same walking-stick and
tries to smash me. To this I naturally object. I suggest that if
it comes to that we should both have sticks. He improves on the
suggestion and proposes that we should both have steel-pointed
sticks. The police (with characteristic unreasonableness) will
not accept either of our proposals; the result is that we run
about dodging the police and have jumped over our garden wall
into your magnificent garden to throw ourselves on your
The face of the old gentleman had grown redder and redder during
this address, but it was still smiling; and when he broke out it
was with a kind of guffaw.
"So you really want to fight with drawn swords in my garden," he
asked, "about whether there is really a God?"
"Why not?" said MacIan, with his simple monstrosity of speech;
"all man's worship began when the Garden of Eden was founded."
"Yes, by----!" said Turnbull, with an oath, "and ended when the
Zoological Gardens were founded."
"In this garden! In my presence!" cried the stranger, stamping up
and down the gravel and choking with laughter," whether there is
a God!" And he went stamping up and down the garden, making it
echo with his unintelligible laughter. Then he came back to them
more composed and wiping his eyes.
"Why, how small the world is!" he cried at last. "I can settle
the whole matter. Why, I am God!"
And he suddenly began to kick and wave his well-clad legs about
"You are what?" repeated Turnbull, in a tone which is beyond