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The man within, p.10
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       The Man Within, p.10

           Graham Greene
 
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  ‘I will wait a little if I may,’ the stranger moved his position, so that the full light of the oil lamp fell on Andrews’ face. The act thrust suspicion into the other’s mind. ‘I must be careful,’ he thought. ‘I must have no more to drink.’ And yet he was certainly not drunk. He saw his surroundings with perfect clarity, and his thoughts were more than usually vivid. He had longed for human companionship and now he had it, and the desire to fling his arm round the shoulder of the little man opposite him was nearly over-mastering. He had so longed to talk to someone, who knew nothing of his past, who would treat him with neither kindness nor contempt, and consider his words with the same respect as he would show to those of any other man.

  ‘You will take another glass?’ the stranger said stiffly and shyly, as though unaccustomed to the procedure of standing drinks.

  ‘What is your name?’ Andrews said quickly, with a feeling of pride at his own cunning.

  ‘Mr Farne,’ the other replied without hesitation.

  ‘Farne,’ Andrews said slowly. He pondered the name. That it was an honest one he could not doubt. ‘Thank you,’ he said, ‘I will.’

  When he had drunk, the world seemed a fairer place than it had seemed for a long while. There was companionship in it and Mr Farne, who listened to him without mockery and never once reminded him of his father.

  ‘Perhaps you did not know my father?’ he asked hopefully.

  ‘I had not that pleasure,’ said Mr Farne.

  Andrews laughed. Mr Farne was an ideal companion, for he was a wit. ‘Pleasure!’ he grimaced. ‘You can’t have known him.’

  ‘What was his name?’ Mr Farne asked.

  ‘The same as mine,’ Andrews retorted, with a laugh. It seemed to him that he had combined in a sentence of four words the quintessence of witty retort and of caution. For clearly he must not disclose his name to Mr Farne.

  ‘And what is that?’ asked Mr Farne.

  ‘Absalom,’ Andrews mocked.

  ‘I am sorry, but I am a little deaf…’

  ‘Absalom,’ Andrews repeated. Mr Farne, the sweet simpleton, was taking him seriously. To prolong the excellent joke he searched his pockets for a scrap of paper and a pencil, but could find neither. Mr Farne, however, supplied both. ‘I’ll write my name down,’ Andrews said. He wrote ‘Absalom, son of King David.’

  Mr Farne’s laugh suddenly ceased. He stared at the scrap of paper in front of him. ‘You make very curious capital letters,’ he said.

  ‘Long tails to them,’ Andrews answered. ‘I was always fond of women.’ He stared round him. ‘Isn’t there a woman in this place that’s worth looking at?’ he called angrily. ‘There’s no one here, Mr Farne,’ he said, ‘let’s go into the town.’

  ‘Women do not attract me,’ Mr Farne said coldly.

  ‘There’s one that would,’ Andrews stared at him with serious melancholy eyes. ‘Have you ever seen a saint surrounded with white birds? And yet a woman you know that could give a man pleasure. But she’s too good for that. You mustn’t laugh. I mean it. I call her Gretel. I don’t believe that any man will ever touch her.’

  ‘You are a very strange young man,’ Mr Farne said deprecatingly. Andrews was arousing attention. They were being stared at. A few men were pressing close, while a fat woman began to laugh shrilly and continuously.

  ‘You don’t believe me,’ Andrews said. ‘You would if you saw her. I’ll show you though. Give me that pencil and paper and I’ll draw her.’

  A tall loose-jointed man with a scrubby beard began to clear a circle on a table. ‘Look, folks,’ he said, ‘here’s an artist. He’s going to draw us a woman, a peach of a woman.’

  ‘Where’s the paper and the pencil?’ Andrews asked.

  Mr Farne shook his head. ‘Here is the pencil,’ he said. ‘I can’t find the paper. It must have fallen on the floor.’

  ‘Never mind, dearie,’ the fat woman called. ‘Here George, get us some paper,’ she implored the potman.

  ‘Any paper will do,’ Andrews cried, exhilarated by the attention he had aroused.

  They found him an old envelope and crowded close; Mr Farne, however, stood a little apart. Andrews knelt down at the table and tried to steady his hand. ‘Now, nothing indecent, mind,’ the potman called across with a laugh.

  ‘Here, give the boy a whisky on me,’ said the fat woman. ‘There, that will clear you, dearie. Now, show us your little friend.’

  Andrews drained the glass and picked up the pencil. Clearly in front of him he saw Elizabeth’s face, white, set and proud, as he had seen it first, when she pointed the gun at his breast. He knew that they were mocking him, but he had only to show them that face for them to fall quiet and understand. He held the pencil awkwardly in his fingers. How should he begin? He had never drawn a picture in his life, but when he could see her there so clearly, it must be easy. He would draw the candles first with their yellow flames.

  ‘She’s a bit of a stick, isn’t she, dearie,’ said the fat woman, ‘where are her arms?’

  ‘She wants more than arms,’ the loose-jointed man winked and grinned over Andrews’s head and made obscene gestures with his fingers. ‘Give him another drink.’

  ‘That’s not her,’ Andrews said, ‘those are candles. I’m going to start her now.’ He made a few strokes with the pencil and then, putting his head upon his hands, burst into tears. ‘I can’t,’ he said, ‘I can’t. She won’t come here.’ Her face was going away from him very far off. Soon only the glow of the candles would be left. ‘Don’t go,’ he implored aloud.

  He heard them laughing round him, but with his head bowed and eyes shut, he tried to bring back that vanishing image. Good God, he thought, I can’t even remember how her hair curls. I must be drunk.

  ‘Never mind, I’ll stay, dearie,’ said the fat woman, bending over him with a giggle, her whisky-laden breath driving like a fume of smoke between his eyes and what he sought.

  Andrews jumped to his feet. ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with me,’ he said unsteadily. ‘Haven’t had anything to eat today,’ he swayed a little on his feet. ‘Bring me some sandwiches.’ He felt in his pockets and found nothing there. He had spent his last penny. ‘No, don’t,’ he said and moved towards the door. A vague feeling of shame suffused his mind. He had tried to bring Elizabeth into this company and he had been fittingly punished. This laughter soiled the thought of her. ‘Be quiet, damn you,’ he cried.

  The cool air of the streets went to his head as though it were another glass of spirits. The pavement surged under his feet and he leant back against a wall, feeling sick and tired and ashamed. He closed his eyes and shut out the vision of the rolling street.

  Mr Farne’s quiet, sedate voice spoke through the dark. ‘You are a very foolish young man,’ he said, ‘to drink on an empty stomach.’

  ‘Oh, leave me alone,’ Andrews flung out his hand in the direction of the voice.

  ‘You had better go and have some food,’ Mr Farne said.

  ‘All right, but leave me.’

  ‘Have you any money?’ Mr Farne persisted.

  ‘No, damn you. Mind your own business.’ Andrews opened his eyes and scowled at Mr Farne, who stood watching him with a puzzled face.

  ‘I meant no harm,’ said Mr Farne. ‘Will you dine with me, Mr Absalom?’

  Against his own inclination Andrews laughed. The gullible fool really believes, he thought, that I am Absalom. ‘I’ll come,’ he said, ‘if you don’t mind holding my arm, my legs are weak. Hunger takes me like that.’

  He found himself walking down the High Street, held upright by a steady arm. Outside a public house three Bow-street Runners in red waistcoats watched their passage with superior contempt. ‘This town’s full of robin red-breasts,’ he commented with a grimace.

  ‘The Assizes,’ said Mr Farne. They stayed for a moment outside a square building above the window of which a fat female Justice held the inevitable scales. ‘Here,’ Mr Farne said, ‘is where your friends the smugglers will be dealt wi
th.’

  Andrews shook off his arm and turned to face him. ‘What in hell do you mean,’ he said, ‘by my friends? They are no friends of mine.’

  ‘A figure of speech only,’ Mr Farne protested.

  ‘You may hang the lot for me,’ Andrews exclaimed, sobered for the moment by suspicion.

  ‘We hope to,’ said Mr Farne gently. He put his arm round Andrews’ shoulder. ‘I am lodging just opposite the White Hart,’ he said. ‘Will you dine with me there?’

  Andrews looked down at his muddy clothes. ‘Drunk and dirty,’ he said, and added with a laugh a little self-consciously forlorn, ‘and damnably hungry.’

  ‘I have a private room,’ Mr Farne encouraged him. ‘They do a good steak,’ he added softly.

  ‘Take me to it,’ Andrews said. He put his hand to his head in a sudden longing to clear it. What was he doing dining with this Mr Farne? Who was Mr Farne? What had he said to him? ‘I must be careful,’ he thought, and at the sound of that word, which seemed to have haunted him for weeks, his desperate longing for peace returned, a peace which would be empty of caution and deception and in which he could draw back to him that image which drink had obscured. ‘I’m tired,’ he said aloud.

  ‘You can sleep here,’ Mr Farne said, nodding towards the inn on the other side of the road.

  In a despairing dream Andrews was led across the road and into a dimly lighted hall. ‘If they’ll let me sleep here tonight,’ he thought, ‘tomorrow I’ll return over the downs.’ He remembered the afternoon sun and the blue dewpond at which he drank watched by the lazy cows and on the other side of the downs Elizabeth sat alone before a fire mending a dead man’s stocking. Mr Farne was leading him up a dark staircase, and in the ancient mirror at its head he saw a dirty, bedraggled youth stagger towards him. ‘What charity to shelter that,’ he thought.

  Mr Farne gently turned the handle of a door and ushered Andrews in. The door closed behind him. ‘Forgive my disturbing you, Sir Henry,’ Mr Farne said.

  7

  A TALL, THIN man with sharp pointed face sat at a table laid for dinner. He had been at most picking at the food, for he raised, not from his plate but from a stack of papers beside it, a pair of dark, tired eyes. From a high forehead the hair receded in a grey curling wave.

  It was not at him that Andrews stared but at the lady who sat with him and who now gazed at Andrews with a particular challenging air that he knew well from pothouse women. She was pretty and richly dressed with a small red pouting impertinent mouth and curious eyes.

  ‘What is it, Mr Farne?’ the man said, while the woman, resting a round chin on two small fists, stared steadily at Andrews in frank amazement.

  Andrews put a hand on Mr Farne’s shoulder and steadied himself. ‘Invited to dinner,’ he said, ‘but I really thought Mr Farne would be alone. Not dressed for company. I’ll be going,’ and removing his hand, he turned to the door.

  ‘Stay where you are, my man,’ Mr Farne said sharply. Andrews stared at him for a moment in amazement, so changed was that gentle voice. ‘My man.’ That was what one called a servant. ‘Look here,’ he said, anger rising slowly through a brain dizzy with drink, ‘who do you think you are talking to? Just because you know I haven’t a penny. How dare you “my man” me?’ He clasped and unclasped his fingers, exercising them before they should play their part in shaking Mr Farne. Mr Farne paid no attention, but crossed to the man at the table and began to whisper.

  ‘Suppose that I called you “my man”?’ the woman said in a soft, rather sugary voice. She reminded Andrews of a young and desirable Mrs Butler.’

  ‘For heaven’s sake, Lucy,’ her companion murmured, ‘can’t you keep your fingers off any man?’

  She shrugged her shoulders and pouted at Andrews. ‘You see,’ she said, ‘what a bear he is? Can’t you imagine what it’s like living with him?’

  Andrews, catching sight above a low-cut dress of fine shoulders and the beginnings of two firm young breasts, smiled back. I must be very drunk, he thought. Here was a young and easy woman. Oh, to have a clear brain.

  ‘Will you come and sit down here, Mr Absalom?’ the man with the tired eyes said, and Mr Farne pulled out a chair opposite the girl. Andrews sat down and found a glass of muscatel at his hand. He sipped a little. ‘It’s good of you,’ he said and repeated his earlier statement, ‘not dressed for company.’ He scowled at Mr Farne who had taken a chair on his other side nearer the door. ‘Introduce me,’ he said.

  ‘This is Sir Henry Merriman,’ Mr Farne said. The name seemed somehow familiar to Andrews. ‘Your good health, Sir Henry,’ he said and spilt a little wine on the table cloth. Mr Farne fidgeted.

  ‘And I,’ said the girl opposite him, smiling maliciously at Mr Farne, ‘am the not very respectable appendage of Sir Henry. Mr Farne does not approve of me. Mr Farne, you know, is a regular churchgoer.’

  ‘Hold your tongue, Lucy,’ said Sir Henry sharply. He raised his glass to Andrews. ‘And your health, Mr –,’ he stopped and waited. The eyes were dark rimmed, as though he spent too few of his hours in sleep. Somewhere very deep in them lay a sharp gleam like a candle shining at the end of a succession of long, dim halls.

  ‘Mr Absalom,’ Andrews said.

  Sir Henry laughed courteously. ‘Yes, but your real name?’ When Andrews did not answer, he asked with an air of polite, indifferent inquiry, ‘Is it perhaps Mr Carlyon?’ The candle was growing larger and brighter. It was being carried forward by an unseen hand through the long dusty chambers.

  Oh, but this was comic, Andrews thought. To be mistaken for Carlyon of all people. He began to laugh so loudly and uncontrollably that he found it hard to answer. ‘No, no, not Carlyon,’ he spluttered.

  Straight on top of his own words came Sir Henry’s. ‘But you know Carlyon?’ The air of indifference had gone. Something urgent and fanatical had taken its place. The voice cut through the mist of drink straight to Andrews’ understanding. ‘What do you mean?’ he cried. He got un-steadily to his feet. ‘I’m going. I won’t stay here to be insulted. Of course I don’t know him. What should I know a damned smuggler for?’ He put his hand to his head and cursed himself. He was not so drunk that he did not know that he had betrayed himself again. Drink and hunger had confused him. He was no match for sober wits. ‘I’m going,’ he repeated.

  ‘Sit down,’ Mr Farne said sharply. He rose and locked the door. Andrews watched him in amazement and then sat down. They were too much for him.

  ‘Lucy, you’d better go to bed,’ said Sir Henry.

  She made a grimace at him. ‘I won’t be sent to bed,’ she said. ‘I’ll either stay here or go down to the bar and find some company.’

  ‘Oh, stay then,’ Sir Henry replied, as though too tired to argue. He turned to Andrews. ‘Now, young man, you may as well tell us everything. We are friends. We only want to help you.’

  ‘This is a free country,’ Andrews protested mechanically, ‘you can’t keep me here if I want to go.’

  ‘Why no,’ Sir Henry said, ‘but there is nothing to prevent my handing you over to the Runners.’

  ‘Oh, I don’t fear that,’ Andrews answered. ‘On what charge?’

  ‘Smuggling,’ said Mr Farne, ‘and murder.’

  ‘Why should you give us that trouble?’ Sir Henry continued. ‘You are innocent, I know, of the second charge.’

  ‘Well, then, why can’t you leave me alone?’ Andrews muttered with sulky tearfulness.

  ‘I am here,’ Sir Henry said with unexpected energy, ‘to hang these murderers. You want that, too, don’t you?’

  I must be careful, Andrews told himself, give away nothing. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he said aloud.

  Mr Farne sniffed impatiently and Sir Henry fidgeted with his fingers. ‘You informed against these men,’ he said. ‘An anonymous letter to the Customs,’ he looked up at Andrews with contempt and curiosity.

  ‘Why do you say I did it?’ Andrews asked.

  ‘Oh, there’s no doubt. No doubt at all.’ He s
pread a dirty envelope on the table. ‘Absolom, son of King David. Look at this capital A and this K. You gave yourself away finely, my friend. I have your letter to the Customs in my pocket. You wrote it with your left hand, but you can’t destroy those twirls and twists.’

  ‘All right,’ Andrews gave a gesture of surrender, ‘I’ll admit it. Only give me something to eat.’

  ‘Go and find a waiter, Lucy,’ Sir Henry said, ‘and tell him to bring up a steak for Mr –’

  ‘Andrews.’

  ‘And tell him also that he must find a bed in the hotel. Mr Andrews is staying here for the next few days.’

  They did not speak to him again, until he had eaten. He felt then not only refreshed but clearer in the brain. He was caught, and deep beneath his superficial fear, he was thankful. The initiative had been taken out of his hands. He was being driven remorselessly along the right road, and it was no use to struggle any more. He glanced surreptitiously round him. Mr Farne was reading and Sir Henry was deep in his papers, his long, white, unringed hands moving nervously in rhythm with his thoughts. The girl was dozing in her chair. He watched her with greedy interest. ‘What fun can she get out of that man?’ he thought. ‘He thinks of nothing but his work. He can’t make her wriggle as I could.’ For one moment he was perturbed by the thought of Elizabeth. She was more desirable and more lovely, but infinitely more distant. ‘It’s hopeless,’ he thought. ‘What’s the use of thinking of her?’ He could not believe that she was intended for any man and least of all for himself. Besides it was because of her that he found himself here and why should he not take the fun when he must needs take the risk? Here was someone who was not too good for him, formed of the same lustful body and despicable heart.

  She opened her eyes and found him watching her. She smiled. ‘We must find you some clean clothes,’ she said. ‘I’m sure Mr Farne would lend you some of his. They are very sober of course. Mr Farne is a churchgoer.’ Mr Farne jumped out of his chair and walked with little irritated steps towards the window, where he stood, his back turned to them, watching the High Street with a forced interest. ‘Mr Farne and I have never been true friends,’ she said, her small lips twisting at the corners with annoyance that there should be any man who did not desire her and contempt that Mr Farne should be so lacking in what she considered manhood.

 
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