“There’s a village down the road, past the pool,” answered Turnbull. “I can see it from here. I can see the whitewashed walls of some cottages and a kind of corner of the church. How jolly it all looks. It looks so—I don’t know what the word is—so sensible. Don’t fancy I’m under any illusions about Arcadian virtue and the innocent villagers. Men make beasts of themselves there with drink, but they don’t deliberately make devils of themselves with mere talking. They kill wild animals in the wild woods, but they don’t kill cats to the God of Victory. They don’t——” He broke off and suddenly spat on the ground.
“Excuse me,” he said; “it was ceremonial. One has to get the taste out of one’s mouth.”
“The taste of what?” asked MacIan.
“I don’t know the exact name for it,” replied Turnbull. “Perhaps it is the South Sea Islands, or it may be Magdalen College.”
There was a long pause, and MacIan also lifted his large limbs off the ground—his eyes particularly dreamy.
“I know what you mean, Turnbull,” he said, “but...I always thought you people agreed with all that.”
“With all that about doing as one likes, and the individual, and Nature loving the strongest, and all the things which that cockroach talked about.”
Turnbull’s big blue-grey eyes stood open with a grave astonishment.
“Do you really mean to say, MacIan,” he said, “that you fancied that we, the Free-thinkers, that Bradlaugh, or Holyoake, or Ingersoll, believe all that dirty, immoral mysticism about Nature? Damn Nature!”
“I supposed you did,” said MacIan calmly. “It seems to me your most conclusive position.”
“And you mean to tell me,” rejoined the other, “that you broke my window, and challenged me to mortal combat, and tied a tradesman up with ropes, and chased an Oxford Fellow across five meadows—all under the impression that I am such an illiterate idiot as to believe in Nature!”
“I supposed you did,” repeated MacIan with his usual mildness; “but I admit that I know little of the details of your belief—or disbelief.”
Turnbull swung round quite suddenly, and set off towards the village.
“Come along,” he cried. “Come down to the village. Come down to the nearest decent inhabitable pub. This is a case for beer.”
“I do not quite follow you,” said the Highlander.
“Yes, you do,” answered Turnbull. “You follow me slap into the inn-parlour. I repeat, this is a case for beer. We must have the whole of this matter out thoroughly before we go a step farther. Do you know that an idea has just struck me of great simplicity and of some cogency. Do not by any means let us drop our intentions of settling our differences with two steel swords. But do you not think that with two pewter pots we might do what we really have never thought of doing yet—discover what our difference is?”