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- The Ball and The Cross - 10/47 -
often sleep under the stars as if we were in Africa. Last and most important we must not dream of effecting our--our final settlement, which will be a thing as famous as the Phoenix Park murders, unless we have made real and precise arrangements for our isolation--I will not say our safety. We must not, in short, fight until we have thrown them off our scent, if only for a moment. For, take my word for it, Mr. MacIan, if the British Public once catches us up, the British Public will prevent the duel, if it is only by locking us both up in asylums for the rest of our days."
MacIan was looking at the horizon with a rather misty look.
"I am not at all surprised," he said, "at the world being against us. It makes me feel I was right to----"
"Yes?" said Turnbull.
"To smash your window," said MacIan. "I have woken up the world."
"Very well, then," said Turnbull, stolidly. "Let us look at a few final facts. Beyond that hill there is comparatively clear country. Fortunately, I know the part well, and if you will follow me exactly, and, when necessary, on your stomach, we may be able to get ten miles out of London, literally without meeting anyone at all, which will be the best possible beginning, at any rate. We have provisions for at least two days and two nights, three days if we do it carefully. We may be able to get fifty or sixty miles away without even walking into an inn door. I have the biscuits and the tinned meat, and the milk. You have the chocolate, I think? And the brandy?"
"Yes," said MacIan, like a soldier taking orders.
"Very well, then, come on. March. We turn under that third bush and so down into the valley." And he set off ahead at a swinging walk.
Then he stopped suddenly; for he realized that the other was not following. Evan MacIan was leaning on his sword with a lowering face, like a man suddenly smitten still with doubt.
"What on earth is the matter?" asked Turnbull, staring in some anger.
Evan made no reply.
"What the deuce is the matter with you?" demanded the leader, again, his face slowly growing as red as his beard; then he said, suddenly, and in a more human voice, "Are you in pain, MacIan?"
"Yes," replied the Highlander, without lifting his face.
"Take some brandy," cried Turnbull, walking forward hurriedly towards him. "You've got it."
"It's not in the body," said MacIan, in his dull, strange way. "The pain has come into my mind. A very dreadful thing has just come into my thoughts."
"What the devil are you talking about?" asked Turnbull.
MacIan broke out with a queer and living voice.
"We must fight now, Turnbull. We must fight now. A frightful thing has come upon me, and I know it must be now and here. I must kill you here," he cried, with a sort of tearful rage impossible to describe. "Here, here, upon this blessed grass."
"Why, you idiot," began Turnbull.
"The hour has come--the black hour God meant for it. Quick, it will soon be gone. Quick!"
And he flung the scabbard from him furiously, and stood with the sunlight sparkling along his sword.
"You confounded fool," repeated Turnbull. "Put that thing up again, you ass; people will come out of that house at the first clash of the steel."
"One of us will be dead before they come," said the other, hoarsely, "for this is the hour God meant."
"Well, I never thought much of God," said the editor of _The Atheist_, losing all patience. "And I think less now. Never mind what God meant. Kindly enlighten my pagan darkness as to what the devil _you_ mean."
"The hour will soon be gone. In a moment it will be gone," said the madman. "It is now, now, now that I must nail your blaspheming body to the earth--now, now that I must avenge Our Lady on her vile slanderer. Now or never. For the dreadful thought is in my mind."
"And what thought," asked Turnbull, with frantic composure, "occupies what you call your mind?"
"I must kill you now," said the fanatic, "because----"
"Well, because," said Turnbull, patiently.
"Because I have begun to like you."
Turnbull's face had a sudden spasm in the sunlight, a change so instantaneous that it left no trace behind it; and his features seemed still carved into a cold stare. But when he spoke again he seemed like a man who was placidly pretending to misunderstand something that he understood perfectly well.
"Your affection expresses itself in an abrupt form," he began, but MacIan broke the brittle and frivolous speech to pieces with a violent voice. "Do not trouble to talk like that," he said. "You know what I mean as well as I know it. Come on and fight, I say. Perhaps you are feeling just as I do."
Turnbull's face flinched again in the fierce sunlight, but his attitude kept its contemptuous ease.
"Your Celtic mind really goes too fast for me," he said; "let me be permitted in my heavy Lowland way to understand this new development. My dear Mr. MacIan, what do you really mean?"
MacIan still kept the shining sword-point towards the other's breast.
"You know what I mean. You mean the same yourself. We must fight now or else----"
"Or else?" repeated Turnbull, staring at him with an almost blinding gravity.
"Or else we may not want to fight at all," answered Evan, and the end of his speech was like a despairing cry.
Turnbull took out his own sword suddenly as if to engage; then planting it point downwards for a moment, he said, "Before we begin, may I ask you a question?"
MacIan bowed patiently, but with burning eyes.
"You said, just now," continued Turnbull, presently, "that if we did not fight now, we might not want to fight at all. How would you feel about the matter if we came not to want to fight at all?"
"I should feel," answered the other, "just as I should feel if you had drawn your sword, and I had run away from it. I should feel that because I had been weak, justice had not been done."
"Justice," answered Turnbull, with a thoughtful smile, "but we are talking about your feelings. And what do you mean by justice, apart from your feelings?"
MacIan made a gesture of weary recognition! "Oh, Nominalism," he said, with a sort of sigh, "we had all that out in the twelfth century."
"I wish we could have it out now," replied the other, firmly. "Do you really mean that if you came to think me right, you would be certainly wrong?"
"If I had a blow on the back of my head, I might come to think you a green elephant," answered MacIan, "but have I not the right to say now, that if I thought that I should think wrong?"
"Then you are quite certain that it would be wrong to like me?" asked Turnbull, with a slight smile.
"No," said Evan, thoughtfully, "I do not say that. It may not be the devil, it may be some part of God I am not meant to know. But I had a work to do, and it is making the work difficult."
"And I suppose," said the atheist, quite gently, "that you and I know all about which part of God we ought to know."
MacIan burst out like a man driven back and explaining everything.
"The Church is not a thing like the Athenaeum Club," he cried. "If the Athenaeum Club lost all its members, the Athenaeum Club would dissolve and cease to exist. But when we belong to the Church we belong to something which is outside all of us; which is outside everything you talk about, outside the Cardinals and the Pope. They belong to it, but it does not belong to them. If we all fell dead suddenly, the Church would still somehow exist in God. Confound it all, don't you see that I am more sure of its existence than I am of my own existence? And yet you ask me to trust my temperament, my own temperament, which can be turned upside down by two bottles of claret or an attack of the jaundice. You ask me to trust that when it softens towards you and not to trust the thing which I believe to be outside myself and more real than the blood in my body."
"Stop a moment," said Turnbull, in the same easy tone, "Even in the very act of saying that you believe this or that, you imply that there is a part of yourself that you trust even if there are many parts which you mistrust. If it is only you that like me, surely, also, it is only you that believe in the Catholic Church."
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