A sense of reality and o.., p.12
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       A Sense of Reality: And Other Stories, p.12

           Graham Greene
 
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  Something went twang with a high musical sound and then there was a sigh which faded into silence. He turned and saw that Number Three was busy at yet another mound—the second biggest mound in the hall. He had unearthed a long box full of the oblongs they called dominoes, but every time he touched a piece a sound came, each a little different, and when he touched one a second time it remained silent. Number Two, in the hope of further treasure, groped in the mound and found only rusty wires which scratched his hands. No more sounds were to be coaxed out of the box, and no one ever discovered why at the beginning it seemed to sing to them.

  6

  Had they ever experienced a longer day even at the height of mid-summer? The sun, of course, stayed longer on the high plateau, and they could not tell how far night was already encroaching on the woods and valleys below them. There were two long narrow passages in the house down which they raced, tripping sometimes on the broken floor—Liz kept to the rear, unable to run fast for fear of spilling the forfeits from her skirt. The passages were lined with rooms, each one large enough to contain a family from Bottom, with strange tarnished twisted fixtures of which the purpose remained a mystery. There was another great hall, this one without pillars, which had a great square sunk in the floor lined with coloured stone; it shelved upwards, so that at one end it was ten feet deep and at the other so shallow that they could drop down to the drift of dead leaves and the scraps of twigs blown there by winter winds, and everywhere the droppings of birds like splashes of soiled snow.

  At the end of yet a third hall they came, all of them, to a halt, for there in front of them, in bits and pieces, were five children staring back, a half-face, a head cut in two as though by a butcher’s hatchet, a knee severed from a foot. They stared at the strangers and one of them defiantly raised a fist—it was Number Three. At once one of the strange flat children lifted his fist in reply. Battle was about to be joined; it was a relief in this empty world to find real enemies to fight, so they advanced slowly like suspicious cats, Liz a little in the rear, and there on the other side was another girl with skirts drawn up in the same fashion as hers to hold the same forfeits, with a similar little crack under the mount below the belly, but her face obscured with a green rash, one eye missing. The strangers moved their legs and arms and yet remained flat against the wall, and suddenly they were touching nose to nose, and there was nothing there at all but the cold smooth wall. They backed away and approached and backed away: this was something not one of them could understand. So without saying anything to each other, in a private awe, they moved away to where steps led down to the floors below; there they hesitated again, listening and peering, their voices twittering against the unbroken silence, but they were afraid of the darkness, where the side of the mountain cut off all light, so they ran away and screamed defiantly down the long passages, where the late sun slanted in, until they came to rest at last in a group on the great stairs which led upwards into brighter daylight where the enormous chimneys stood.

  ‘Let’s go home,’ Number One said. ‘If we don’t go, soon it will be dark.’

  ‘Who’s a Fainty now?’ Number Three said.

  ‘It’s only a house. It’s a big house, but it’s only a house.’

  Pete said, ‘It’s not a house,’ and they all turned and looked their questions at him.

  ‘What do you mean, not a house?’ Number Two asked.

  ‘It’s a boat,’ Pete said.

  ‘You are crazy. Whoever saw a boat as big as this?’

  ‘Whoever saw a house as big as this?’ Liz asked.

  ‘What’s a boat doing on top of a mountain? Why would a boat have chimneys? What would a boat have forfeits for? When did a boat have rooms and passages?’ They threw their sharp objections at him, like handfuls of gravel to sting him into sense.

  ‘It’s Noh’s boat,’ Pete said.

  ‘You’re nuts,’ Number One said. ‘Noh’s a game. There was never anyone called Noh.’

  ‘How can we tell? Maybe he did live hundreds of years ago. And if he had all the beasts with him, what could he do without lots of cages? Perhaps those aren’t rooms along the passage there; perhaps they are cages.’

  ‘And that hole in the floor?’ Liz asked. ‘What’s that for?’

  ‘I’ve been thinking about it. It might be a tank for water. Don’t you see, he’d have to have somewhere to keep the water-rats and the tadpoles.’

  ‘I don’t believe it,’ Number One said. ‘How would a boat get up here?’

  ‘How would a house as big as this get up here? You know the story. It floated here, and then the waters went down again and left it.’

  ‘Then Bottom was at the bottom of the sea once?’ Liz asked. Her mouth fell open and she scratched her buttocks stung with briars and scraped with rock and smeared with bird-droppings.

  ‘Bottom didn’t exist then. It was all so long ago …’

  ‘He might be right,’ Number Two said. Number Three made no comment: he began to mount the stairs towards the roof, and Pete followed quickly and overtook him. The sun lay flat across the tops of the hills which looked like waves, and in all the world there seemed to be nobody but themselves. The great chimney high above shot out a shadow like a wide black road. They stood silent, awed by its size and power, where it tilted towards the cliff above them. Then Number Three said, ‘Do you really believe it?’

  ‘I think so.’

  ‘What about all our other games? “Ware that Cloud”?’

  ‘It may have been the cloud which frightened Noh.’

  ‘But where did everybody go? There aren’t any corpses.’

  ‘There wouldn’t be. Remember the game. When the water went down, they all climbed off the boat two by two.’

  ‘Except the water-rats. The water went down too quickly and one of them was stranded. We ought to find his corpse.’

  ‘It was hundreds of years ago. The ants would have eaten him.’

  ‘Not the bones, they couldn’t eat those.’

  ‘I’ll tell you something I saw—in those cages. I didn’t say anything to the others because Liz would have been scared.’

  ‘What did you see?’

  ‘I saw snakes.’

  ‘No!’

  ‘Yes, I did. And they’re all turned to stone. They curled along the floor, and I kicked one and it was hard like one of those stone fish they found above Bottom.’

  ‘Well,’ Number Three said, ‘that seems to prove it,’ and they were silent again, weighed down by the magnitude of their discovery. Above their heads, between them and the great chimney, rose yet another house in this nest of houses, and a ladder went up to it from a spot close to where they stood. On the front of the house twenty feet up was a meaningless design in tarnished yellow. Pete memorized the shape, to draw it later in the dust for his father who would never, he knew, believe their story, who would think they had dug the forfeits—their only proof—up in the ruins at the edge of Bottom. The design was like this:

  ‘Perhaps that’s where Noh lived,’ Number Three whispered, gazing at the design as if it contained a clue to the time of legends, and without another word they both began to climb the ladder, just as the other children came on to the roof below them.

  ‘Where are you going?’ Liz called, but they didn’t bother to answer her. The thick yellow rust came off on their hands as they climbed and climbed.

  The other children came chattering up the stairs and then they saw the man too and were silent.

  ‘Noh,’ Pete said.

  ‘A giant,’ Liz said.

  He was a white clean skeleton, and his skull had rolled on to the shoulder-bone and rested there as though it had been laid on a shelf. All round him lay forfeits brighter and thicker than the forfeits in the hall, and the leaves had drifted against the skeleton, so that they had the impression that he was lying stretched in sleep in a green field. A shred of faded blue material, which the birds had somehow neglected to take at nesting-time, still lay, as though for modesty, across the lo
ins, but when Liz took it up in her fingers it crumbled away to a little powder. Number Three paced the length of the skeleton. He said, ‘He was nearly six feet tall.’

  ‘So there were giants,’ Liz said.

  ‘And they played forfeits,’ Number Two said, as though that reassured him of their human nature.

  ‘Moon ought to see him,’ Number One said; ‘that would take him down a peg.’ Moon was the tallest man ever known in Bottom, but he was more than a foot shorter than this length of white bone. They stood around the skeleton with eyes lowered as though they were ashamed of something.

  At last Number Two said suddenly, ‘It’s late. I’m going home,’ and he made his hop-and-skip way to the ladder, and after a moment’s hesitation Number One and Number Three limped after him. A forfeit went crunch under a foot. No one had picked these forfeits up, nor any other of the strange objects which lay gleaming among the leaves. Nothing here was treasure-trove; everything belonged to the dead giant.

  At the top of the ladder Pete turned to see what Liz was up to. She sat squatting on the thigh-bones of the skeleton, her naked buttocks rocking to and fro as though in the act of possession. When he went back to her he found that she was weeping.

  ‘What is it, Liz?’ he asked.

  She leaned forward towards the gaping mouth. ‘He’s beautiful,’ she said, ‘he’s so beautiful. And he’s a giant. Why aren’t there giants now?’ She began to keen over him like a little old woman at a funeral. ‘He’s six feet tall,’ she cried, exaggerating a little, ‘and he has beautiful straight legs. No one has straight legs in Bottom. Why aren’t there giants now? Look at his lovely mouth with all the teeth. Who has teeth like that in Bottom?’

  ‘You are pretty, Liz,’ Pete said, shuffling around in front of her, trying in vain to straighten his own spine like the skeleton’s, beseeching her to notice him, feeling jealousy for those straight white bones upon the floor and for the first time a sensation of love for the little bandy-legged creature bucketing to and fro.

  ‘Why aren’t there any giants now?’ she repeated for the third time, with her tears falling among the bird-droppings. He went sadly to the window and looked out. Below him the red rock split the floor, and up the long slope of the roof he could see the three children scrambling towards the cliff; awkward, with short uneven limbs, they moved like little crabs. He looked down at his own stunted and uneven legs and heard her begin to keen again for a whole world lost.

  ‘He’s six feet tall and he has beautiful straight legs.’

  About the Author

  Graham Greene (1904–1991) is recognized as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century, achieving both literary acclaim and popular success. His best known works include Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, The Quiet American, and The Power and the Glory. After leaving Oxford, Greene first pursued a career in journalism before dedicating himself full-time to writing with his first big success, Stamboul Train. He became involved in screenwriting and wrote adaptations for the cinema as well as original screenplays, the most successful being The Third Man. Religious, moral, and political themes are at the root of much of his work, and throughout his life he traveled to some of the wildest and most volatile parts of the world, which provided settings for his fiction. Greene was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour.

  All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this ebook or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

  These are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 1972 by Graham Greene

  Cover design by Ian Koviak

  ISBN: 978-1-5040-5430-0

  This edition published in 2018 by Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.

  180 Maiden Lane

  New York, NY 10038

  www.openroadmedia.com

  GRAHAM GREENE

  FROM OPEN ROAD MEDIA

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  Graham Greene, A Sense of Reality: And Other Stories

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