The Man Within, p.11Graham Greene
Sir Henry looked up from his papers. ‘Go to bed, Lucy,’ he said with asperity.
She watched him mischievously. ‘And you?’ she said.
‘I am busy,’ he said.
Her face was momentarily touched with a very faint tenderness. ‘You are not going to work again all night, Henry?’ she asked. ‘You must get some sleep.’
He said, ‘I’m all right,’ with a slight tone of astonishment, as though he were surprised at an unaccustomed anxiety. ‘Go along now. I’ve got a lot of work to do before tomorrow.’
She got up, but before she went to the door, paused for a moment at the table. ‘You are overworking,’ she said.
He smiled. ‘It’s my career. Besides, I particularly want to win this case.’
‘You’ll kill yourself sooner or later,’ she said.
‘Oh you needn’t be afraid,’ he said drily and impatiently. ‘I’ll find you a new keeper first.’
She flushed and glanced at Andrews with an angry smile. ‘I can find one for myself at any time,’ she replied.
‘I should not advise you to choose Mr Andrews,’ Sir Henry said with an amused smile, as though he were watching an angry and ridiculous child. ‘Mr Andrews lacks means.’ She went out and slammed the door behind her.
Andrews was confused, but not this time with drink. He felt as if he had come suddenly out of a mysterious wind-swept silence into a place of hurried noise and movement and crowds. A temporary homesickness for the cottage and Elizabeth was banished by Lucy’s smile, which promised fun. If she intends to play me off against this man Merriman, he thought, I’m game. Drink no longer blurred his brain, but it had left a small restless feeling of desire and a strong belief in his own fascination. He longed to follow Lucy out of the room.
‘Look here,’ he said, ‘what do you want with me?’
Sir Henry looked up. ‘Are you sober now?’ he asked.
‘I was never drunk,’ Andrews said angrily. ‘Only hungry.’
‘Well, then, what I want is to see you in the witness box. I’m leading for the Crown. If you are not a witness you must see for yourself that there’s only one other place for you.’
‘What use am I to you?’ Andrews protested. ‘I’d gone before the fight began.’
‘That doesn’t matter,’ Sir Henry said. ‘All I want is your evidence that these men landed, that you were with them when they landed.’
‘But the risk?’ Andrews said.
‘You should have thought of that when you sent the letter. But I’ll do my best for you. I’ll have you watched as long as you stay in Lewes. You can remain at this inn. I’ve had a room taken for you. Afterwards it’s your own lookout, but you’ll have the whole of England to drop into. You exaggerate the risk. I advise you, however, after this to give up smuggling.’ He looked at Andrews curiously. ‘I can’t imagine why you ever started. You talk like an educated young man.’
‘I can read Latin and Greek, if you call that education. I haven’t been taught how to live. What can I do when this is over?’
Sir Henry tapped the table impatiently with his fingers. ‘You are a lucky find for me,’ he said. ‘There’s no cause to be grateful to you, but I’ll give you some introductions in London when this trial is over. You ought to be able to get a job as a clerk. But you had better act honestly in the future or you’ll end where I hope your companions will end.’
‘Don’t prate to me,’ Andrews cried, ‘about honesty. You are not risking your life in this trial as I am. You are paid for it’
‘Don’t be impertinent,’ Mr Farne returned from the window. ‘You are doing this to save your own skin, not for justice.’
‘For neither, I think,’ Andrews replied, his anger dispelled by the vision of Elizabeth raising his cup to her lips. But I can never return there, he thought. When this is over I must clear out. I don’t suppose I shall ever see her again. The thought was a sharp pain, which made him clench his hands and long for the relief of tears. Deliberately he turned his back in mind upon the cottage and shut out all sight and sound and remembrance of it, and fixed instead his eyes upon the danger in front of him which he must be cunning to evade. In this quiet room over the High Street, in the presence of the two barristers, all fear of violence seemed absurd. The peace which he had experienced the night before was like a dream, and into a dream nightmare could easily enter. But now he was awake, amid real surroundings, among calm, ordinary people, and it was impossible to believe that he was really haunted by a sudden death. His flight seemed no longer to be necessarily eternal. When it was over he would go to London and leave the past behind and live like an ordinary man, working daily for his bread. I shall be able to buy books, he thought, his heart leaping, and go in and listen to the music at St Paul’s and the Abbey. The streets would be full of cabs and the pavements crowded with people. He would walk here and there and be no more conspicuous than an ant in an ant hill. It would be a pain to be so happy, he thought, and then realized that that ache was not a prophecy of bliss but of vacancy. He put his head on his hands. What will be the use, he wondered, with my life empty of her for ever? When it was warm, he would want her to be with him to bask in the warmth and when cold to crouch with him over the fire. Always in his brain when he woke would be the thought, she is only a few hours away. Go and see if she is in the cottage. She may have moved or be lost or dying or hungry or lonely. And every morning fear would struggle with the thought and win. There could be no more peace for him in that constant struggle than in flight. What then am I to do? he asked himself with a tired gesture of the hands.
The two barristers were speaking to each other, ignoring Andrews.
‘And Parkin?’ Mr Farne said. ‘What do you think of Parkin?’
‘He’s the best judge the prisoners could have. He’s a conceited windbag who likes to hear the sound of his own voice. If there’s one honest man on the jury Parkin will alienate him by his snobbery or else confuse him by the length of his summing up. Farne, you ought to be going to bed. You’ve got a long day in front of you and the best part of the evening too if I know Parkin. He’ll sit till there are no more candles to burn.’
‘And you, Sir Henry?’ Mr Farne asked with a trace of anxiety.
‘Oh I, Farne, I’ve still a little more work to do. I need less sleep. I’m older. Farne, shall we get a conviction?’
‘Not unless you get some sleep, Sir Henry.’
‘I don’t know why you are all worrying like this – you and Lucy. Farne, will there ever be a time when a jury can be trusted to give a verdict according to the evidence in a smuggling case? It makes one tired of justice and long for martial law.’
‘Don’t say that, Sir Henry. Justice is justice. What about this man, Sir Henry? Do you want him any more tonight?’
They are treating me like a servant again, Andrews thought, but his anger had no time to rise before it was quenched by Merriman’s tired, courteous tones. ‘A waiter will show you to your room, Mr Andrews,’ he said. ‘Sleep well. Tomorrow we face the guns.’ He passed his hand across his face as though he were trying to remember all those things which are necessary to the comfort of men to whom work was not the great and most abiding pleasure. ‘If you are thirsty, Mr Andrews,’ he said, ‘order what you like.’ Mr Farne grunted disapprovingly, and holding open the door waited for Andrews to pass through.
‘I should advise you to drink no more tonight,’ he said, when they stood in the dark passage without. ‘Good night.’
Andrews watched his small trim figure in its dark clothes move down the passage, turn a corner and vanish from sight. ‘Tomorrow we face the guns.’ He had not expected to be called upon so soon. Panic buffeted against his resignation to fate. I could slip out of the hotel tonight, he thought. But what then? An endless repetition of last week. And if he stayed? Danger will at least be plain and in front of me, he considered, fear nevertheless catching at his throat. His mouth and lips were dry. It would be easier to decide what he should do over a glass. He moved to th
‘Looking at yourself?’ he said with a forced, embarrassed laugh.
‘To see whether I am beautiful,’ she answered challengingly.
‘You needn’t do that,’ he said.
‘Are you a judge?’ she asked.
‘I’ve known a lot of women,’ Andrews said boastfully, ‘but none as lovely as you are – in face,’ he added with a sudden sense of loyalty to Elizabeth.
‘Or in body?’ she said, flashing the candle from her head to her feet.
‘Nor in body,’ he repeated reluctantly.
‘But then you are so young,’ she came a little nearer to him. ‘An older man would not think so.’
Andrews thought of the man working, working, working above his head. ‘Are you in love with that old man?’ he asked.
She leant against the baluster. ‘How do I know?’ she murmured. ‘He’s been kind to me. I’ve been with him for three years. But he’s getting more and more tied up in his work. He’ll turn me off soon, I expect. No, I’m not in love with him, but after three years one has a sort of fondness for a man.’
‘It must be a dull life for you,’ Andrews said.
‘You mean,’ she laughed, ‘that you want to make love to me.’ She looked him up and down between narrowed lids. ‘It would be dull if I troubled to be faithful. You are staying in the hotel, aren’t you? We must really find you some clean clothes.’
Andrews shifted his gaze a little. ‘I shouldn’t trouble,’ he said and began to move down the stairs. She watched him closely and shrewdly and then barred his passage. ‘Where are you going?’ she asked.
‘Only to have a drink.’
‘And aren’t you enough of a gentleman to ask me to join you?’ Her voice was mocking with an aftertaste of suspicion. ‘All right. Come along,’ he said. He did not look at her as they descended the stairs, but told himself over and over again that his position was too serious to think about fun, that he must come to his decision to go or stay uninfluenced by the restless prick of desire which grew on him at every step.
She led him into a room where a fire still sent out desultory tongues of flames at lengthening intervals. It was empty. All the other visitors had gone to their rooms. She rang for a waiter and gave an order and he returned with a glass of port and a glass of whisky.
Andrews watched her as she sipped the port. ‘Your lips are the lovelier colour,’ he said.
‘Pretty,’ she laughed, and turning to the fire stirred it with her foot so that shadows were driven into life and danced across her face. ‘Tell me, why did you betray those men?’
‘You wouldn’t understand,’ he said with conviction. ‘It was jealousy of a dead man and because I was despised by them.’
‘It doesn’t sound sense to me,’ she said, ‘but I suppose you got something out of it.’
‘Is that all? I’d have made certain of something more. And Henry’s putting you into the witness box tomorrow? I shall come and see. You mustn’t be as reticent as you are with me.’ She looked at him more closely. ‘You are going, aren’t you?’ she asked.
‘Of course,’ he said abstractedly. She stepped back from the fire, glass in hand, to his side, so that his leg felt the shape and touch of her thigh beneath the velvet. His reason gave way beneath a sudden access of desire. He took her in his arms and kissed her lips and throat and breast, and as she remained unresisting with the passivity of the women whom he had met in common bars, his own desire grew, his hands strayed about her, till finally he stepped aside panting and half-way to tears.
‘You are a funny boy,’ was all she said.
He damned himself for a swine as he thought of Elizabeth. But that was all over and why should he not have fun where he found it? That other air is too rarefied for me, he thought. Let me stick in my own sty.
‘I want you,’ he said aloud.
She leant a little towards him. ‘And you expect me to fall into your bed at your wish?’ she asked. ‘You’d be a funny choice for me, wouldn’t you? A penniless smuggler, who’s betrayed his fellows. And a mere boy.’ She smiled. ‘That’s the one attraction,’ she murmured, with an appraising glance. ‘You have a cool impertinence. I feel half inclined – It must be this damned spring weather beginning.’ She came close to him and suddenly pressed her lips on his mouth. They tasted sweet with port. ‘How he bores me with his work,’ she said. ‘When all’s said there’s only one amusement while one’s young.’
Andrews’ lips and mouth felt dry with excitement. ‘Can I come up with you?’ he asked.
She pouted her lips. ‘No, not tonight, I’m sleepy. Not inclined.’
Desire and caution could not live at one time in Andrews’ brain. ‘You won’t see me again,’ he said.
She laughed at him. ‘Do you think that I mind? One doesn’t discriminate in spring. It would be fun to hook Mr Farne. Do you think that these sober churchgoing people behave like everyone else? But I doubt if the trial will be over tomorrow.’
‘I’ll be gone tomorrow,’ he said.
She looked up in quick suspicion. ‘You mean you are running away?’ she asked.
‘Why should I stay? It only means danger for me.’
‘What on earth is he to me?’
She watched him thoughtfully. ‘He’s set his heart on winning this case,’ she said.
‘Is that where his heart is?’
‘Oh, I may hate him for it,’ she exclaimed, ‘but it’s great anyway. I shall be leaving him soon. I want excitement. I shall grow old too quickly with him or else he’ll find me out. But I’d like him to win this case. He has worked so hard for it.’
‘Well, let him win it without me.’
‘Listen,’ she stood in front of him with small chin raised challengingly in the air, ‘you can have me – tomorrow night, if you’ll pay for me. And the payment I want is your evidence for Henry. You can boast afterwards that you’ve got me at a cheaper rate than any other man has done.’
‘Too high,’ he said.
‘How can you tell?’ she answered. ‘Give me your hand. Now feel here and here and here. Now give me your mouth. Can you feel me here close to you? That is right. Hold me so. You may have me closer than this if you will. You know I am young – as young as you are. Don’t you think it would be worth a little danger?’
‘Tonight, tonight,’ he implored.
‘No, not tonight. Tomorrow night or never at all. What a trifling danger. This is England, a civilized country. The danger is worse for me. Suppose Henry should find us like this – or tomorrow night. How would he find us then? He will be working late. You may come to my room. They have given me a fine, soft bed. You are so young, I am sure that there are still things that I can show you. It will be fun. I shall enjoy myself.’
‘Tonight. I can’t wait.’
She released herself and stood away watching him with a cool, amused glance. ‘Never unless you do what I say,’ she said. ‘Think of that never. Will you ever have
He watched her closely. Never before had he desired a woman so much – no, not Elizabeth. There was a kind of mystery in Elizabeth, a kind of sanctity which blurred and obscured his desire with love. Here was no love and no reverence. The animal in him could ponder her beauty crudely and lustfully, as it had pondered the charms of common harlots, but with the added spice of a reciprocated desire. It is true, he thought, what danger can there be? This is a civilized land. I will go to London and I shall not be lonely without Elizabeth for I shall have many other such adventures as this.
‘Do you agree?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘And you – it shall be tomorrow night?’
‘Unless the Court sits too late. Nothing will make me stay awake for you.’ She yawned. ‘How naughty of me it is. Henry would be furious with me,’ she murmured with a smile of very faint amusement. ‘But I am so deathly bored. It is a mistake to live with a man for three years. He almost regards me as his wife, is virtuous with me, continent. I can’t bear that. Good night.’ She held out her hand, but he ignored it. ‘I have bought her,’ he thought, ‘why should I be polite? I have touched a better hand.’
‘Good night,’ he said.
She shrugged her shoulders, grimaced at him and passed through the door. Shadows swept round her, drowned her dress and body in darkness, so that for a brief moment her white face alone was visible and seemed to be floating disembodied in the dark. Then that too vanished and he heard the stairs creak under her running footsteps.
‘Tomorrow we face the guns.’ He was doing for a wrong reason what he had refused to do for a right. He had turned a deaf ear to what his heart, supported by the critic within, had asked of him, but he had capitulated at the first hungry wail his dirty, lusting body had uttered. His body had feared death and shrunk from danger. ‘If you had conquered that fear,’ the reproachful critic murmured, ‘when Elizabeth spoke, I would have upheld you. Now your body has chosen and your body shall stand alone.’
The Man Within by Graham Greene / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes