“Well?” said Turnbull.
MacIan was silent.
“Go on,” repeated Turnbull; “what’s the matter with you? What are you staring at?”
“I am staring,” said MacIan at last, “at that which shall judge us both.”
“Oh, yes,” said Turnbull in a tired way, “I suppose you mean God.”
“No, I don’t,” said MacIan, shaking his head. “I mean him.”
And he pointed to the half-tipsy yokel who was ploughing down the road.
“What do you mean?” asked the atheist.
“I mean him,” repeated MacIan with emphasis. “He goes out in the early dawn; he digs or he ploughs a field. Then he comes back and drinks ale, and then he sings a song. All your philosophies and political systems are young compared to him. All your hoary cathedrals, yes, even the Eternal Church on earth is new compared to him. The most mouldering gods in the British Museum are new facts beside him. It is he who in the end shall judge us all.”
And MacIan rose to his feet with a vague excitement.
“What are you going to do?”
“I am going to ask him,” cried MacIan, “which of us is right.”
Turnbull broke into a kind of laugh. “Ask that intoxicated turnip-eater——” he began.
“Yes—which of us is right,” cried MacIan violently. “Oh, you have long words and I have long words; and I talk of every man being the image of God; and you talk of every man being a citizen and enlightened enough to govern. But if every man typifies God, there is God. If every man is an enlightened citizen, there is your enlightened citizen. The first man one meets is always man. Let us catch him up.”
And in gigantic strides the long, lean Highlander whirled away into the grey twilight, Turnbull following with a good-humoured oath.
The track of the rustic was easy to follow, even in the faltering dark; for he was enlivening his wavering walk with song. It was an interminable poem, beginning with some unspecified King William, who (it appeared) lived in London town and who after the second rise vanished rather abruptly from the train of thought. The rest was almost entirely about beer and was thick with local topography of a quite unrecognizable kind. The singer’s step was neither very rapid, nor, indeed, exceptionally secure; so the song grew louder and louder and the two soon overtook him.
He was a man elderly or rather of any age, with lean grey hair and a lean red face, but with that remarkable rustic physiognomy in which it seems that all the features stand out independently from the face; the rugged red nose going out like a limb; the bleared blue eyes standing out like signals.
He gave them greeting with the elaborate urbanity of the slightly intoxicated. MacIan, who was vibrating with one of his silent, violent decisions, opened the question without delay. He explained the philosophic position in words as short and simple as possible. But the singular old man with the lank red face seemed to think uncommonly little of the short words. He fixed with a fierce affection upon one or two of the long ones.