Turnbull was moodily balancing his sword in his hand as the other spoke; then he started, for a mouth whispered quite close to his ear. With a softness incredible in any cat, the huge, heavy man in the black hat and frock-coat had crept across the lawn from his own side and was saying in his ear: “Don’t trust that second of yours. He’s mad and not so mad, either; for he frightfully cunning and sharp. Don’t believe the story he tells you about why I hate him. I know the story he’ll tell; I overheard it when the housekeeper was talking to the postman. It’s too long to talk about now, and I expect we’re watched, but——”
Something in Turnbull made him want suddenly to be sick on the grass; the mere healthy and heathen horror of the unclean; the mere inhumane hatred of the inhuman state of madness. He seemed to hear all round him the hateful whispers of that place, innumerable as leaves whispering in the wind, and each of them telling eagerly some evil that had not happened or some terrific secret which was not true. All the rationalist and plain man revolted within him against bowing down for a moment in that forest of deception and egotistical darkness. He wanted to blow up that palace of delusions with dynamite; and in some wild way, which I will not defend, he tried to do it.
He looked across at MacIan and said: “Oh, I can’t stand this!”
“Can’t stand what?” asked his opponent, eyeing him doubtfully.
“Shall we say the atmosphere?” replied Turnbull; “one can’t use uncivil expressions even to a—deity. The fact is, I don’t like having God for my second.”
“Sir!” said that being in a state of great offence, “in my position I am not used to having my favours refused. Do you know who I am?”
The editor of The Atheist turned upon him like one who has lost all patience, and exploded: “Yes, you are God, aren’t you?” he said, abruptly, “why do we have two sets of teeth?”
“Teeth?” spluttered the genteel lunatic; “teeth?”
“Yes,” cried Turnbull, advancing on him swiftly and with animated gestures, “why does teething hurt? Why do growing pains hurt? Why are measles catching? Why does a rose have thorns? Why do rhinoceroses have horns? Why is the horn on the top of the nose? Why haven’t I a horn on the top of my nose, eh?” And he struck the bridge of his nose smartly with his forefinger to indicate the place of the omission and then wagged the finger menacingly at the Creator.
“I’ve often wanted to meet you,” he resumed, sternly, after a pause, “to hold you accountable for all the idiocy and cruelty of this muddled and meaningless world of yours. You make a hundred seeds and only one bears fruit. You make a million worlds and only one seems inhabited. What do you mean by it, eh? What do you mean by it?”
The unhappy lunatic had fallen back before this quite novel form of attack, and lifted his burnt-out cigarette almost like one warding off a blow. Turnbull went on like a torrent.