Still, the two duellists stood with their swords as heavily as statues, and the silence seemed to cool the eccentric and call him back to more rational speech.
“Perhaps I express myself a little too lyrically,” he said with an amicable abruptness. “My philosophy has its higher ecstasies, but perhaps you are hardly worked up to them yet. Let us confine ourselves to the unquestioned. You have found your way, gentlemen, by a beautiful accident, to the house of the only man in England (probably) who will favour and encourage your most reasonable project. From Cornwall to Cape Wrath this county is one horrible, solid block of humanitarianism. You will find men who will defend this or that war in a distant continent. They will defend it on the contemptible ground of commerce or the more contemptible ground of social good. But do not fancy that you will find one other person who will comprehend a strong man taking the sword in his hand and wiping out his enemy. My name is Wimpey, Morrice Wimpey. I had a Fellowship at Magdalen. But I assure you I had to drop it, owing to my having said something in a public lecture infringing the popular prejudice against those great gentlemen, the assassins of the Italian Renaissance. They let me say it at dinner and so on, and seemed to like it. But in a public lecture...so inconsistent. Well, as I say, here is your only refuge and temple of honour. Here you can fall back on that naked and awful arbitration which is the only thing that balances the stars—a still, continuous violence. Vae Victis! Down, down, down with the defeated! Victory is the only ultimate fact. Carthage was destroyed, the Red Indians are being exterminated: that is the single certainty. In an hour from now that sun will still be shining and that grass growing, and one of you will be conquered; one of you will be the conqueror. When it has been done, nothing will alter it. Heroes, I give you the hospitality fit for heroes. And I salute the survivor. Fall on!”
The two men took their swords. Then MacIan said steadily: “Mr. Turnbull, lend me your sword a moment.”
Turnbull, with a questioning glance, handed him the weapon. MacIan took the second sword in his left hand and, with a violent gesture, hurled it at the feet of little Mr. Wimpey.
“Fight!” he said in a loud, harsh voice. “Fight me now!”
Wimpey took a step backward, and bewildered words bubbled on his lips.
“Pick up that sword and fight me,” repeated MacIan, with brows as black as thunder.
The little man turned to Turnbull with a gesture, demanding judgement or protection.
“Really, sir,” he began, “this gentleman confuses...”
“You stinking little coward,” roared Turnbull, suddenly releasing his wrath. “Fight, if you’re so fond of fighting! Fight, if you’re so fond of all that filthy philosophy! If winning is everything, go in and win! If the weak must go to the wall, go to the wall! Fight, you rat! Fight, or if you won’t fight—run!”