The Man Within, p.16Graham Greene
There was a small sigh, a yawn, and through the darkness a sleepy whisper, ‘How late you are.’
His hand felt down the bed till he reached a cool sheet and beneath it he felt her body. He snatched his hand away as though it had touched a flame. The note fell from it to the floor. Oh, if he could surrender to his heart for once and not his body, and if he could go now before it was too late. Three hours’ walk over the downs beneath the moon and he would be home again.
‘Where are you?’ she said. ‘I can’t see in the dark. Come here.’
‘I only came to say …’ he said and hesitated. His heart had spoken, given courage by an image of Elizabeth as she had faced Carlyon, his cup raised to her lips, and his body had cut his words short, for his hand retained the feel of her body.
‘That you were going again?’ she asked. ‘You fool.’
He felt his flesh rising to her whisper.
‘Will you ever get a chance like this again?’ she murmured with an air of unfeigned carelessness. ‘You know what you are missing, don’t you?’
He took a step away from the bed. ‘How common you are,’ he said. His hand felt behind him for the door handle, but he could not find it.
‘You know you enjoy that,’ she answered. She did not seem to argue but rather to advise him gently and dispassionately for his own good. Her quiet irritated and attracted him at the same time. ‘I’d like to make her squeal,’ he thought.
‘At least before you go,’ she said, ‘strike a light and see what you miss. Put out your hand.’ He obeyed her reluctantly. He felt her fingers touch his. ‘How symbolical,’ she laughed a little. ‘Here’s a flint and steel. Now strike a light. There is a candle here,’ and she guided his hand to a table beside her bed.
‘I won’t,’ he said.
‘Are you afraid?’ she asked curiously. ‘You’ve turned very pure since last night. Have you fallen in love?’
‘Not fallen,’ he replied more to himself than her.
‘And you boasted so of all the women you’ve known. Surely you aren’t afraid. You ought to be more used to us.’
He turned his back on her. ‘Very well,’ he said. ‘I’ll strike a light and then I’ll go. I know your sort. You won’t leave a man alone.’ Without looking in her direction he struck a light and lit the candle. It made a small yellow patch on the opposite wall and in that radiance he suddenly saw with extraordinary clarity the face of Elizabeth creased by fear till it was ugly, almost repulsive. Then it was blotted out by two other faces, that of Joe, the black-bearded mouth open in a laugh, and that of the mad youth Richard Tims, red and angry. Then there was only the yellow radiance again.
‘I can’t stay,’ Andrews cried, ‘she’s in danger,’ and he swung round candle in hand.
The girl was stretched on the outside of the bed. She had flung her nightdress on the floor. She was slim, long legged with small firm breasts. With a modesty which had no pretence of truth she spread her hands over her stomach and smiled at him.
‘Run away then,’ she said.
He came a little nearer and with his eyes fixed on her face, so as not to see her body, he began to make excuses, reason, even plead. ‘I must go,’ he said, ‘someone came to warn me tonight. A girl – I’ve got her into danger. I must go to her. Just now on that wall I thought I saw her scream.’
‘You are dreaming.’
‘But sometimes dreams come true. Don’t you see – I must go. I got her into this danger.’
‘Well go. I’m not stopping you, am I? But listen. What difference will it make if you stay here just for half an hour.’ She turned over on her side, and his eyes could not help but follow her body as it moved. ‘She’s cool now,’ he thought, ‘but I could make her warm.’
‘Go then,’ she said. ‘You won’t have another chance, but I don’t care. I’m feeling restless – this damn spring. I’ll go into Harry. He’s old and tired, but I believe he’s more of a man than you.’ Although she spoke of going she did not go, but watched him with faintly amused eyes. Andrews moistened his lips, which were dry. He felt thirsty. He no longer tried to keep his eyes off her body. He knew now that he could not move away.
‘I’ll stay,’ he said. He put his knee on the bed, but her hands held him away.
‘Not like that,’ she said. ‘I’m not a harlot. Take off those things.’ He hesitated for a moment and glanced at the candle.
‘No, there must be a little light,’ she whispered, a little run of excitement in her tone, ‘so that we can see each other.’
He obeyed her unwillingly. He felt that he was raising a barrier of time between Elizabeth and any help which he might bring. Even now he could not forget the dream, vision, fantasy, what you will, which he had seen in the candle’s light, it was conquered only when he felt the girl’s body stretched along his own.
‘Closer,’ she said. His fingers closed on her, pinching the flesh. He buried his mouth between her breasts. He could see nothing but he heard her laugh a little. ‘You cannot hurt me like that,’ she said …
He opened his eyes and thought at first how strange it was that a candle should burn with a silver flame. Then he saw that the candle was out and the light was the first of day. He sat up and looked at his companion. She slept with her mouth slightly open, breathing hard. He eyed first her body and then his own with disgust. He touched her shoulder gingerly with his hand, and she opened her eyes. ‘I should cover that,’ he said, and turning his back, put his feet over the side of the bed.
From her voice he judged that she was smiling, but her smile which in the dark had seemed the beckoning of a passionate mystery, he considered now a shallow mechanical thing. He was disgusted with himself and her. He had been treading, he felt, during the last few days on the border of a new life, in which he would learn courage and even self-forgetfulness, but now he had fallen back into the slime from which he had emerged.
‘Have you enjoyed yourself?’ she asked.
‘I’ve wallowed,’ he said, ‘if that’s what you mean.’
He could imagine her pouting at him and he hated that pout. ‘Aren’t I pleasanter than all the other women you’ve boasted about?’
‘You’ve made me feel myself dirtier,’ he answered. But is there no way out of this slime? he thought silently. I was a fool and imagined I was escaping, but now I have sunk so deep that surely I’ve reached the bottom.
‘I could kill myself,’ he said aloud.
The girl laughed contemptuously. ‘You haven’t the courage,’ she said, ‘and anyway what of that fair one who’s in danger?’
Andrews put his hand to his head. ‘You made me forget her,’ he said. ‘I can’t face her after this.’
‘How young you are,’ she said. ‘Surely you know by this time that the feeling won’t last. For a day we are disgusted and disappointed and disillusioned and feel dirty all over. But we are clean again in a very short time, clean enough to go back and soil ourselves all over again.’
‘One must reach an end some time.’
‘Are you a devil as well as a harlot?’ Andrews asked with interest, but without anger. ‘Do you mean to say that it’s no use trying to be clean?’
‘How often have you felt sick and disgusted and resolved never to sin again?’
‘I can’t count them. You are right. It’s no use. Why can’t I die?’
‘How curious. You are one of those people – I’ve met them before – who can’t rid themselves of a conscience. How talkative one becomes after a bout of this. I’ve noticed it often. I thought you were going to rescue that girl of yours from danger. Why don’t you go? It’s ridiculous to sit on the edge of a bed naked and philosophize.’
‘It may be a trap and they’ll kill me.’
‘I thought you wouldn’t go when it came to the point.’
‘You are wrong,’ Andrews stood up, ‘that’s the very reason why I’m going.’
When he left the hotel he took no precautions whatever, but walked dow
He reached the downs as a first orange glow lifted above the eastern horizon. Its fragile soaring beauty, like a butterfly with delicate powdered wings resting on a silver leaf, touched him and increased his shame. If he had not seen Lucy but had started direct for the cottage some hours before, how that glow would have heartened him. What a prelude it would have been to his return.
From where he walked it was not yet light enough to see the valley clearly. Only at intervals the red spark of a lighted window would make a crevice in the grey veil, and after he had walked some miles a cock crew. The downs were bare of life, save for the occasional brooding hunched form of a dark tree. He walked, and as he walked the first poignancy of his shame departed and the events of the night slipped a little way into shadow. When Andrews realized this, he stayed for a moment still and strove to drag them back. For this had happened many times before. It was the first stage towards a repetition of the sin, this forgetfulness. How could he ever keep clean if the sense of shame was so short lived? After all I enjoyed myself, he thought against his will, why repent? It’s a coward’s part. Go back and do it again. Why run my head into danger? With an effort he clenched his will and ran, to stifle thought, ran fast until he had no more breath and flung himself down upon the grass.
The grass grew in cool, crisp, salty tufts, on which he leant his forehead. If it were barren of desire and of the need of any action how sweet life would be. If it were only this coolness, this silver sky touched now with green, those unfurling wings of orange. If he could but sit and watch and listen – listen to Carlyon speaking, and watch the enthusiasm in his eyes, with no dangerous echo in his own. It was a strange, unrealizable thing that Carlyon was his enemy. Carlyon was seeking to kill him, and yet his heart still leapt a little at the sound of the name. Carlyon, who was all the things which Andrews wished to be – courageous, understanding, hopelessly romantic, not about women, but about life, Carlyon who hated well because he knew so clearly what he loved – truth, danger, poetry. If I hate him, Andrews thought, it is because I have done him an injury, but he hates me because he thinks I’ve injured life. He tried to laugh – the man was only a romantic fool with an ugly face. That was the real secret of his humility, his courage, even his love of beauty. He was always seeking a compensation for his face, as though an ape in purple and ermine were less an ape. The qualities he had built round himself were dreams only, which Andrews by one act had destroyed. There remained the large body, heavy, however lightly poised, thick wrists, misshapen skull. Strip off Carlyon’s dreams and the remainder is inferior to me, Andrews thought. A sudden longing came that he could trap Carlyon into some unworthy action, not consonant with the dreams which he followed. That would show him they were dreams and not himself.
How could one judge a man when all was said but by his body and his private acts, not by dreams he followed in the world’s eye? His father to his crew was a hero, a king, a man of dash, initiative. Andrews knew the truth – that he was a bully who killed his wife and ruined his son. And myself, Andrews thought, I have as good dreams as any man, of purity and courage and the rest, but I can only be judged by my body which sins and is cowardly. How do I know what Carlyon is in private. But as he spoke he wondered uneasily whether Carlyon might not follow his dreams even when alone. Suppose that after all a man, perhaps when a child, at any rate at some forgotten time, chose his dreams whether they were to be good or evil. Then, even though he were untrue to them, some credit was owing simply to the baseless dreaming. They were potentialities, aspects, and no man could tell whether suddenly and without warning they might not take control and turn the coward for one instant into the hero.
Carlyon and I are then on the same plane, he thought, with a wistful longing for belief. He follows his dreams and I do not follow mine, but the mere dreaming is good. And I am better than my father, for he had no dreams, and that part of him that men admired came not from following an ideal but from mere physical courage. But how he longed now for that mere physical valour, which would give him the power to fling himself blind-eyed upon the breast of his dream. He sometimes imagined that if courage could be granted him for a moment only to turn his back on fear, his dreams would have strength to seize him in their current and sweep him irrevocably on, with no need of further decision or further gallantry.
He rose and with a little melodramatic gesture opened his arms as though he would entice courage to his heart, but all that came was a cold sweep of early wind. He walked on. Why could he not, as Lucy said, kill his conscience and be content? Why if he was given these aspirations, softened and blurred by sentiment as they were, was he not given sinew to attain them? He was the son of his mother, he supposed. Her heart had been trapped by vague romantic longings. His father when he desired something which could not be attained by other means had the power of showing himself as a sort of rough, genial fellow – a sea dog of the old Elizabethan tradition. He was of Drake’s county and he spoke Drake’s tongue. The sea had even given him a little of Drake’s face and manner, the colour, lines, aggressive beard, loud voice, loud laugh, what those who did not know him in his black moods called ‘a way with him’. Tears of anger, self-pity and some of love pricked Andrews’ eyes. If I could revenge you on the dead, he thought. Is there no way to hurt the dead? Yet he knew that that foolish sentimental heart would not have desired revenge. Was it not even possible to please the dead, he wondered, and so softly it seemed to his superstitious mind a supernatural answer, came the thought ‘Do not do as your father and ruin a woman.’
Still walking swiftly in the direction of Hassocks he swore silently that he would not. ‘I will only warn her,’ he said, ‘and go.’ Only by not seeing her again he felt could he prevent her ruin.
And yet how different it would have been if Carlyon had been his father. It did not seem odd to him so to think of the man who was seeking to kill him. Carlyon would have satisfied his mother’s heart, and he himself would have been born with will and backbone. He remembered his first meeting with Carlyon.
He was walking by himself away from the school. He had one hour of freedom and exhilarated by it ran up the hill beyond the school, the sooner to escape the sight of the red brick barrack-like buildings, the sooner to see the moors stretching away, sweep beyond sweep of short heather, into the sunset. He ran with his eyes on the ground, for then he always seemed to move faster. He knew from experience that when he had counted two hundred and twenty-five he would be within a few feet of the summit. Two hundred and twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five. He raised his eyes. A man stood with his back to him, in much the same way as he had stood a few days before at the turn of the road beyond Hassocks. He was dressed in black and as then he gave the impression of bulk poised with incongruous lightness. He was staring at the sunset, but when he heard a step behind him he turned with remarkable swiftness, as though footsteps were associated in his mind with danger. Andrews saw then for the first time the broad shoulders, short thick neck, low receding ape-like brow and the dark eyes that in a flash tumbled to the ground the whole of the animal impression which the body had raised. The eyes could on occasion laugh, be merry, but their prevailing tone, Andrews found later, was a brooding sadness. They were smiling, however, when he first saw them with a kind of happy wonder.
‘Have you seen it?’
They stood in silence and stared at it, and then the stranger turned to him and said, ‘The school. I’m looking for the school.’ It was as though he had mentioned the word prison to an escaped convict. ‘I’ve come from there,’ Andrews said. ‘It’s down there.’
‘One can’t see the sun set from there,’ Carlyon remarked, and had the air in those few words of condemning the whole institution, masters, boys, buildings. He frowned a little and said contemptuously, ‘Do you belong there?’ Andrews nodded.
‘Do you like it?’ Andrews hearing the tone gazed at the stranger with a peculiar fascination. Others had asked him that question as it were rhetorically, assuming a fervent assent. They generally added some jolly reference to beatings and a dull anecdote of their schooldays. But the stranger spoke to him as though they were both of one age, with a slight contempt as though there would be something ignoble in answering ‘yes’.
‘I hate it,’ he said.
‘Why do you stay?’ the question, quietly put, was stunning to the boy in its implications of free will.
‘It’s worse at home,’ he said. ‘My mother’s dead.’
‘You should run away,’ the stranger said carelessly and turning his back stared again at the sunset. Andrews watched him. At that moment his heart, barren of any object of affection, was ready open to hero worship. The man stood in front of him with his legs a little apart as though balancing himself upon the spinning globe. A sailor, Andrews thought, remembering that his father stood so.
After a little the man turned again and seeing that the boy was still there asked him whether he happened to know a boy at school named Andrews.
Andrews looked at him in amazement. It was as though a figure from a dream had suddenly stepped into reality and claimed acquaintanceship with him. ‘I’m Andrews,’ he said.
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