“I’m sure you’ll excuse my speaking to you,” he said. “Now, I wonder if you are in some little difficulty which, after all, we could settle very comfortably together? Now, you don’t mind my saying this, do you?”
The face of both combatants remained somewhat solid under this appeal. But the stranger, probably taking their silence for a gathering shame, continued with a kind of gaiety:
“So you are the young men I have read about in the papers. Well, of course, when one is young, one is rather romantic. Do you know what I always say to young people?”
A blank silence followed this gay inquiry. Then Turnbull said in a colourless voice:
“As I was forty-seven last birthday, I probably came into the world too soon for the experience.”
“Very good, very good,” said the friendly person. “Dry Scotch humour. Dry Scotch humour. Well now. I understand that you two people want to fight a duel. I suppose you aren’t much up in the modern world. We’ve quite outgrown duelling, you know. In fact, Tolstoy tells us that we shall soon outgrow war, which he says is simply a duel between nations. A duel between nations. But there is no doubt about our having outgrown duelling.”
Waiting for some effect upon his wooden auditors, the stranger stood beaming for a moment and then resumed:
“Now, they tell me in the newspapers that you are really wanting to fight about something connected with Roman Catholicism. Now, do you know what I always say to Roman Catholics?”
“No,” said Turnbull, heavily. “Do they?” It seemed to be a characteristic of the hearty, hygienic gentleman that he always forgot the speech he had made the moment before. Without enlarging further on the fixed form of his appeal to the Church of Rome, he laughed cordially at Turnbull’s answer; then his wandering blue eyes caught the sunlight on the swords, and he assumed a good-humoured gravity.
“But you know this is a serious matter,” he said, eyeing Turnbull and MacIan, as if they had just been keeping the table in a roar with their frivolities. “I am sure that if I appealed to your higher natures...your higher natures. Every man has a higher nature and a lower nature. Now, let us put the matter very plainly, and without any romantic nonsense about honour or anything of that sort. Is not bloodshed a great sin?”
“No,” said MacIan, speaking for the first time.
“Well, really, really!” said the peacemaker.
“Murder is a sin,” said the immovable Highlander. “There is no sin of bloodshed.”
“Well, we won’t quarrel about a word,” said the other, pleasantly.