The Man Within, p.17Graham Greene
‘That’s strange,’ the man said, watching him with a mixture of apprehension and curiosity, ‘you are pale. You don’t look strong. Unlike your father. I was your father’s friend,’ he said.
The past tense caught Andrews’ attention. ‘I’m glad you are not his friend now,’ he said. ‘I hate him.’
‘He’s dead,’ Carlyon said.
There was a pause and then Andrews said slowly, ‘I suppose you’d be shocked if I said I was glad.’
The stranger laughed. ‘Not in the least. I imagine that he’d be a particularly unlovely character on shore. He was a great sailor though. Let me introduce myself – my name’s Carlyon, skipper and owner of the Good Chance, your father’s ship.’ He held out his hand. Andrews took it. The grip was firm, brief and dry.
‘How did he die?’ he asked.
‘Shot. You knew what your father was?’
‘I guessed,’ Andrews said.
‘And now,’ Carlyon asked, ‘what do you want to do?’ He suddenly made a twisted embarrassed motion with his hands. ‘Your father left me everything.’ He added quickly, turning a little away, ‘Of course you have only to ask. You can have anything but the ship.’ His voice dropped on the last word to the same hushed note which he had used in speaking of the sunset. His voice was extraordinarily musical, even in the shortest, most careless entence. It had a concentration, a clear purity suggesting depth and tautness, which while utterly unlike in timbre, yet suggested the note of a violin. Andrews listened to it with a kind of hunger.
‘Will you stay here?’ Carlyon asked, making a gesture with his hand down the hill.
‘I hate it,’ Andrews said. ‘It’s ugly.’
‘Why did you come up here?’ Carlyon asked suddenly.
‘It’s all red brick down there. And a gravel playground. Every few yards there’s something in the way. Up here there’s nothing for miles and miles.’
Carlyon nodded. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you come with me?’
That was all that passed before the decision was made. Andrews from that moment would have followed Carlyon to the ends of the world, and yet it was Carlyon who was ridiculously impetuous and desired simply to walk away then with no more said or done. It was Andrews who insisted that Carlyon must come down to the school and make arrangements.
That night Carlyon stayed at an inn in the town and Andrews, as he said good night, asked the question he had been longing to ask all the evening. ‘Do you want me to come?’ ‘Yes,’ Carlyon had answered. ‘We both love the same things. They do not love them at this school, and my men, fine men, mind you, do not love them. We are made to be friends.’
‘Made to be friends,’ Andrews laughed, walking over the downs. What a mess he had made of that friendship. He wondered whether if he had the power, he would undo what he had done; have back the covert jeers, his father’s example constantly thrown up, the hated, noisy sea, the danger, but also Carlyon’s friendship, the cabin, shut out from the eyes of the crew, Carlyon speaking, Carlyon reading, Carlyon’s clear, refreshing certainty of what he followed. He had not by his act destroyed his shame nor his fear, but had increased them both, and he had lost Carlyon. And yet if he was able to return through time he must leave behind Elizabeth and this reawakened, defeated, but persistent longing to raise himself from the dirt.
Absorbed in drifting thoughts of the past an hour had fled. The day had begun and a pale crocus yellow light had absorbed the first silver. The lights in the valley had again gone out save for a few which still burned not brightly but like dull, rusty blossoms of a wild bush. Coming to a rise Andrews was startled to see the cottage below him, small, barren of light or movement, The faint sunlight was unable to pierce the trees in whose shelter the cottage lay, so that while the world was bathed in a light shower of gold, the cottage was in shadow. But to Andrews watching from the down, his heart beating with the suddenness of the sight, it lay in the deeper shadow of danger and of death. He did not know in the confusion into which his heart had been thrown, when thus unexpectedly woken from the past, whether it was fear or love that made the beats. He gazed hard at the cottage as though by intensity he might force it to declare any secrets which it might hold. No smoke came from the chimney, no light from the windows. This absence of life signified nothing, for the hour could hardly be later than seven, yet it frightened Andrews. Suppose that Carlyon and his men had already visited the cottage and that it now hid their revenge. It was useless to tell himself that Carlyon would not allow a woman to be hurt. Hake and Joe were with him. He wondered where Carlyon had left the Good Chance. If he had lost the ship his leadership was over. It seemed to Andrews that centuries had passed since he had watched, with a heart exalted as compared with now, the smoke rise from the cottage chimneys.
Very slowly he walked to the brink of the down, his eyes fixed on the cottage. There was yet another possibility to fear, that inside the cottage the smugglers were waiting for him to fall into the trap set by Cockney Harry. But was it a trap? It was his duty to warn Elizabeth, but when had he ever done anything for the sake of duty? He might in opening that cottage door find himself face to face with Carlyon, Joe, Hake and the rest of them. He remembered the vision he had seen in the yellow candlelight in Lucy’s room. He stood there in what seemed even to himself a pitiable hesitation. If only he had not fallen to that woman, he thought, how easy it would have been to have gone swinging blindly down the hill. His duty fulfilled, he would have been clean, exultant, confident of the future, confident that he had risen once and for all from his past. He returned now defeated by his body, dispirited, hopeless, to give a warning and then go. Why not abandon this attempt to be better than I am and escape now and never give the warning? I’m only beginning over again this weary, hopeless business of attempting to rise. I shall be disappointed again. Why not save myself that bitterness? The cowardly suggestion drove in on him with too great a force. If it had come quietly, insidiously, it might have won, but this brazen confident attempt defeated its own purpose. His heart rose in revolt. He half ran down the hill, careless of cover, intent only on putting it out of his power to draw back.
As he reached the edge of the trees and the cottage appeared again before him, as it had appeared on his first arrival, caution returned. His eyes on the window, he ran on tiptoe across the bare space between the coppice and the wall. Pressing his body hard against the wall, as though he hoped to be absorbed into its firmness, he put one eye to the corner of the window. The room within seemed empty. Surely all was well. He took three strides along the wall to the door and gently raised the latch. To his surprise the door opened. How careless she is, he thought. She should bolt this door. Seeing the room empty he knelt down himself and drew the bottom bolt. The top was broken.
He looked round him and sighed a little with relief to see no sign of disturbance. It was not a trap then, he thought. I must get her away from here this morning. In the middle of the room was the kitchen table on which the coffin had lain. Do not be afraid, old man, Andrews said under his breath, I will not touch her. I am going to save her from the others, that is all. He shivered a little. The morning air now that he had ceased to walk was cold. It seemed to him very possible that the room might hold a jealous, bitter and suspicious ghost. I don’t want any interference from the spirits, he thought, and smiled wearily at his own superstition. The room and house were very still. Should he go up and wake her? He longed, only now he realized to the full with what passion and what impatience, to see her again. If only he had returned unsullied, a conqueror of himself for her. I will try again, I will try again, he thought, beating down his own self-mockery. I don’t care how often I fall. I will try again. For the second time within twenty-four hours and for the second time in three years he prayed. ‘O God, help me.’ He turned hastily round. It was as though a warm draught had been blown on to the back of his neck. He found himself again facing the table and the imagined, but disquieting, presence of a coffin. Don’t be afraid, old man, he implored. I
He shook himself a little, like a dog. He was becoming foolish. I will get breakfast, he thought, and surprise her. A row of cups were hanging above the sink. He took one down and then stood, the tips of his fingers caressing the edge, but his mind on the past, his eyes fixed to a key-hole, his heart trembling as though at a saint. Then the small door which led to the upper floor opened and he looked up. ‘Is it you at last?’ he said. His voice was hushed and trembling in the presence of a mystery. The room was gold with sunlight, but he had not noticed it till now.
ELIZABETH STOOD AT THE bottom step of the stairs, her hand on the open door, her eyes sleepy and astonished. ‘You,’ she said.
Andrews turned the cup round and round in his hands, embarrassed now, almost wordless. ‘I’ve come back,’ he said.
She stepped down into the room and Andrews watched with fascinated eyes the swing of her gait, the manner in which she flung her chin up as she moved. ‘Oh, yes, I can see that,’ she said with a slight smile. ‘Here, give me that cup. You’ll break it.’
Andrews put his hand with sudden resolution behind his back. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I want this cup. This was the cup we both drank from.’
‘That’s not the one,’ Elizabeth answered quickly, and as Andrews gazed at her in astonishment, she twisted her lower lip between her teeth. ‘I remember that one,’ she added, ‘because it had a chip out of the rim. Tell me – what are you doing here?’
‘I’ve got news,’ Andrews said. He spoke with reluctance. A great unwillingness to tell her swept over him. For when he had given her his news what possible excuse had he to stay?
‘Will it wait till after breakfast?’ she asked, and when he nodded she began with no more said to lay the table.
Only when they were seated did she speak again. ‘You must have been up early?’ He grunted assent, afraid to hear the question which would bring out his news.
‘Has anything happened since I’ve been away?’ he asked.
‘No,’ she said, ‘nothing ever happens here.’
‘The door was unbolted. Do you think that’s safe?’
‘It was unbolted when you first came,’ she replied, and watching him with candid eyes, ‘I did not want you to have a less warm welcome when you came back.’
He looked up sharply in a kind of poignant hope, but her candour repelled it. All her meaning seemed on the surface, none beneath it. ‘Did you know I would come back?’
She frowned a little as though puzzled. ‘But surely that was the understanding. We parted friends, didn’t we?’
‘You are very generous.’ Her voice for some reason made him bitter, but she did not notice his sarcasm. ‘I don’t understand you,’ she answered. ‘You say very puzzling things.’
‘Oh, I am not like you,’ Andrews said. ‘I don’t know that I want to be. You are so clear, so terribly sane. I’m twisted.’
‘Am I very clear?’ she asked. She laid down her knife and, resting her chin on one hand, stared at him curiously across the table. ‘Could you tell, for instance, that I was anxious for you to return? It’s lonely here. When I came down the other morning I was sorry that you’d gone. I felt guilty. I shouldn’t have persuaded you to go to Lewes. I had no right to make you risk yourself. Do you forgive me?’
Andrews jumped up from the table and, walking over to the fireplace, turned his back on her. ‘You are laughing at me,’ he said.
Elizabeth smiled. ‘You are twisted,’ she said. ‘Why should you think that? No, we are friends.’
He turned round with scarlet face. ‘If you say that word again –’ he threatened. Watching her white, puzzled, yet calm, face quietened him. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I have only had one friend and I betrayed him. I don’t want to betray you.’
‘You will not betray me,’ she said. ‘You left your knife.’
‘I thought you might need it.’
‘You knew that you might need it.’
He turned his back again and kicked the coals in the fire.
‘I was a fool,’ he muttered. ‘Just sentimentality. That means nothing.’
‘I thought it brave,’ she said. ‘I admired you tremendously for that.’
Again Andrews coloured. ‘You are laughing at me,’ he said. ‘You know that you despise me, that I’m a coward.’ He laughed. ‘Why, I’ve betrayed you twice in Lewes, and I’m betraying you now if you only knew it. Don’t mock me by pretending admiration. You women are cunning. No one but a woman would think of that turn to the screw.’ His voice broke. ‘You win. You see it’s successful.’
Elizabeth rose from the table and came and stood beside him at the fire. ‘How have you betrayed me?’ she asked.
Andrews without looking up answered, ‘Once with a woman.’
There was a pause. Then Elizabeth said coldly, ‘I don’t understand how that’s a betrayal of me. Of yourself perhaps. What other betrayal?’
‘It came out in Court that you sheltered me.’
‘In Court?’ she asked. Her voice trembled for a reason which he could not understand. ‘Were you there?’
‘I was in the witness box,’ he said gloomily. ‘Don’t praise me. It was only partly you. And the other parts were drink and a harlot. What do you say to that?’
‘Well done,’ she said.
He shrugged his shoulders. ‘You go on too long. You are not as cunning as I thought you. I’m getting used to that mockery. You must change your tack.’
‘That woman,’ Elizabeth asked, ‘who was she? What was she like?’
‘She was my equal.’
‘I thought you said she was a harlot. Tell me – was she better looking than I?’
Andrews looked up in astonishment. Elizabeth was watching him with an anxious smile. ‘I’d never compare you,’ he said. ‘You belong to different worlds.’
‘Yet I should like to know.’
He shook his head. ‘I can’t. I could only compare your bodies, and I can’t see yours for you.’
‘I’m like other women, surely?’ she asked sadly.
‘No,’ he said, his voice soaring in sudden enthusiasm. ‘Like no other woman.’
‘I see,’ her voice was cold again. ‘Well, tell me more of your betrayals. Why am I betrayed because you loved this woman? You are the kind of man who does that frequently, I imagine.’
‘Not love,’ he said.
‘Is there any difference? Men are very fond of splitting hairs.’ She glanced as he had done at the kitchen table as though to her also it stood for a certain ever-present jealous spirit.
‘Which did he feel?’ she asked.
‘Did he wish to hurt you or did he wish, even if unsuccessful, to do unselfishly?’
‘Then his was both,’ she said. ‘Tell me – you spoke of a third betrayal. What was that?’
The moment had come. ‘I came here to warn you, and I’ve been putting it off and putting it off.’
‘To warn me?’ Her chin went up in a kind of defiance. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘Carlyon and the rest mean to punish you for sheltering me. They are coming here today or tomorrow.’ He told her Cockney Harry’s message. ‘Apparently it was not a trap,’ he added.
‘But you thought it was,’ she said curiously, ‘and yet you came?’
He interrupted her. ‘You must go now at once.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me before?’
‘I hated the idea of your going,’ he said simply, ‘and so I spoilt the only decent thing I’ve done.’
‘And did you think I should really go?’
‘You must,’ he said, and then seeing her flash to meet the unwelcome word, he added quickly. ‘You must take what money you have and go anywhere – to London perhaps – until this blows over.’
‘No,’ Elizabeth said, ‘I don’t see the necessity.’
‘Good God,’ Andrews protested, ‘must I make you go?’
‘Why should I run away? I have that,’ and she pointed at the empty gun where it stood in its accustomed corner.
‘I have cartridges.’
‘You don’t know how to use it. You told me so.’
‘But you do,’ she said.
Andrews stamped his foot furiously. ‘No,’ he said, ‘no. I’ve run enough risks for you. You women are all the same, never satisfied.’
‘You mean you won’t stay and help.’
‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid of them. I’m more afraid of pain than of anything else in the world. I’m a coward. I’m not ashamed of it, I tell you.’
She smiled with a sad yet humorous twist to the mouth. ‘Forget that idea,’ she said.
He stamped his foot again with childish petulance. ‘It’s not an idea. It’s a fact. I’ve warned you. Now I’m going.’ He did not look at her, lest his resolution might waver, but walked like a drunken man with exaggerated straightness to the door.
‘I stay,’ he heard her say behind him. He swung round and said with desperation, ‘You can’t use the gun without me.’
‘I had no need to use it on you,’ she answered.
‘Those men are different. They are not cowards.’
‘They must be cowards,’ she said with unanswerable logic, ‘if they intend to revenge themselves on me.’
Outside the sun allured him with pale gold. What woman dared to compete with the sun in beauty and yet in sense of peace? Its colour seemed to sleep along the ground and in its sleep to glow with an untranslatable and secret dream of an exalted place. Go, go, go, reason told him, and watching the dozing countryside even his heart felt the same urge. He appealed to that critic which had so often in the past tried in vain to drive him along a noble course, but the critic was silent, stood aside, seemed to say, ‘Here is your last and great decision. I will not influence you.’ Before his eyes like a shoulder turned on him in disdain rose the down over which he had first come in blind terror a century ago. If only I could be blind with fear again, he thought, how happily could I fly from here. Even the girl behind him was silent now, leaving him, as all the world seemed to leave him, to make his own decision. And he was not accustomed thus to use his will. ‘I’m going,’ he said again irresolutely, in the vain hope that Elizabeth might waver, but she remained silent. He wondered a little at himself. He was surely bewitched, for never before had his feet found it so hard to leave danger behind him. To help them he tried to call up before his eyes a vision of what might happen to him if he fell into the hands of Hake or Joe, when even into Carlyon’s meant death. But instead he saw again the glow of yellow candlelight and Elizabeth’s face contorted in a scream. It was no good. He could not leave her. The door which he had opened he again slammed to, shot the bolt and came back into the centre of the room with hanging head.
The Man Within by Graham Greene / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes