The Man Within, p.20Graham Greene
And yet he must do something, even the grudging flesh admitted that. The wisest course for both of them without a doubt was to go for help. She had said that there was a neighbour only a mile away. Cautiously he struck sideways from the wall towards the road, eyes growing tired with a meticulous, terrified watch, ears listening for the slightest sound from the cottage behind. It remained wrapped in a complete, puzzling and disturbing silence. ‘She has not even called out to me’ he thought and was illogically hurt even in his fear.
The flickering wings of a bat dived at him and he put up fingers, tingling and jumping with nerves, to guard his face. The wind blew past his ears and seemed to him the passage of time rushing by him. Minutes which had crawled flew. Seconds flew so swiftly that they could not be discerned but melted into one whirling belt of time driven by an engine whose beats were the beats of his own heart and the multitudinous noises of his brain. He dared not run, for to run was to abandon caution. Andrews caught a vision of himself, a small black figure lifting slow feet with the sluggish movements of a man trapped in a shallow bog, while seconds, minutes, surely hours, roared by with an accelerating speed. Once he was brought altogether to a standstill by the sight as it seemed to him of a figure which stood beneath a tree silently regarding him. With heart beating in panic brought to a climax Andrews stared back, afraid to move lest the figure had not yet observed him, trying through the darkness to fit familiar lineaments to the invisible face. Then the clouds parted for a moment to allow the passage of a proud orange moon and before they closed again the watching figure was shown to be no more than a strip of ivy hanging from a tree.
At last the road appeared, a faintly gleaming viscous track across the matt surface of the dark. Rutted and broken as it was, to Andrews’ feet it seemed hard, smooth and safe compared with the path they had left. He broke into a run. To run was comforting. He felt that at last he was really doing something to save Elizabeth. The physical exertion of trying to force more speed out of unwilling feet gave no room for any whinings of the conscience. He felt that he was back on the heels of time.
After about ten minutes a building raised itself on his left out of the dark. Low and squat it exuded on the laurel scented evening a smell of cattle and manure. As Andrews opened the gate and began to walk up the path towards a heavy nailed door, a dog, somewhere round the corner of the house, rattled its chain and broke the quiet with a hoarse sound, more bellow than bark. Before Andrews had time to knock, a window was flung up a few feet above his head and a sluggish voice asked him who the hell he was. Andrews thought that he recognized one of the voices which had paid the last respects to Mr Jennings a few days previously.
His voice breaking a little through lack of breath, he called, ‘I want help. Up at Jennings’. Smugglers. They are attacking the girl.’
Andrews felt that seconds passed between the moment when the words left the farmer’s mouth and the moment when they reached his ears. When they came they were not worth the time they took.
‘That’s a likely tale.’
Andrews’ breath had returned. He grew vehement. ‘It’s true. You must help. You’ve got men here. Horses.’
‘You said smugglers, didn’t you?’ the man said. ‘We don’t meddle with smugglers.’ Andrews remembered then that Elizabeth had warned him against expecting any help from her neighbours.
‘A woman,’ he begged desperately.
‘Nought but a bloody hoor,’ the farmer returned with crushing simplicity.
Andrews unwisely lost his temper. ‘You damned liar,’ he cried.
The man above stirred with a sleepy emotion. ‘Look here,’ he cried, ‘clear off. Spoilin’ a man’s supper. Why don’t you ’elp ’er yourself?’
The question struck straight at Andrews’ uneasy conscience. Why indeed? it echoed with a despairing grief. She believed in me, he thought, and then remembering her as he had last seen her, when she had hurried him off down the path to the well, he wondered. He heard again that faintly echoed ‘soon’, imploring, yes, but unbelieving. She was in a damned hurry to get me away, he thought. Until this moment fear had allowed him no opportunity for thought. He had been annoyed at the imprudence of the candle and the open door. Now for the first time he questioned the imprudence. Struck by fear as to the conclusion to which his thoughts were leading him he interrupted them. ‘If you won’t help yourself,’ he begged, ‘at least lend me a horse. I’ll ride into town and fetch the officers.’
‘Now ain’t that likely?’ the sluggish voice mocked him. ‘When’d I see that horse again, eh? Why don’t you help ’er yourself?’
‘I’m only one man unarmed.’
‘Well, why should I be shot for the bloody hoor?’ the man rejoined in a tone of aggrievement. ‘Leave ’er alone. They won’t ’urt ’er. Amiable lot – the Gentlemen.’
Leave her alone. Why, that, naturally, was the logical conclusion; it was only this blind, restless dissatisfied love which urged him to a bolder course. Leave her alone – and in a flash of revelation he knew that that was what she had consciously given him the chance to do. She had seen Joe coming and she had sent him away. That was the reason for her impatience and the disbelief in her whispered ‘soon’. He remembered how she had said to him, ‘I had no right to make you risk yourself.’ Cutting him across the face like the thong of a whip struck the thought, she put her trust in my cowardice. And she was right, right, right. Her sacrifice had been safe with him. And yet remembering that ‘soon’ he knew that she had hoped, however faintly, for his return, but a return of his own will, as her lover, accepting danger voluntarily. Clenching his hands he said to the man above, his body shrinking still in panic at his own words, ‘I’m going back now.’
He heard a movement as though the farmer were about to shut the window and played his last card. ‘There’s a reward out for these men,’ he said and added quickly, ‘They are on the run. They’ve lost their ship.’
The voice, less sluggish now, said, ‘Money’s not worth a skin.’
‘You needn’t risk that,’ Andrews said. ‘Send a man in on a horse to Shoreham to the officers.’
‘You’ll be askin’ fifty-fifty?’ the man asked reluctantly.
‘No,’ said Andrews, ‘only the loan of a horse back to the cottage.’ At his own words his heart became a battleground between exaltation and fear.
‘Stay there,’ the man said, ‘and I’ll come down to you.’
He was winning, winning after all, he felt, in this race to catch up time. ‘Oh God, God, God,’ he prayed, ‘give me courage to go through with this.’ The knife, Lewes, his return, and the fourth time, which was, Elizabeth said, to bring him the peace he craved. But it is not peace I want now, he thought, only her, O God, guard her till I come.
He allowed himself to be inspected closely in the light of a lamp. Even to the suspicious farmer his desperate impatience proved a passport of honesty. ‘I’ll ride to Shoreham myself,’ the man said. ‘D’you know the amount of the reward?’ He was opening the stable door as he spoke and grunted with approval at the prompt lie ‘Fifty pounds a head.’ Even now, however, the faint lurkings of suspicion induced him to choose the sorriest nag in the stable for Andrews to ride. But to Andrews it was a winged Pegasus compared with his weary feet.
The night for one instant, as he left the dim fluttering lights of the farm, was a pair of dark doors which opened only to enclose him. Then he was driving his horse, urging it forward with stick and passionately whispered words to knock its head against the black wall which receded always out of reach. Still in his heart was that strange mingling of exaltation, because he was doing at last what was right and dangerous, and fear. The two emotions left no room for planning. His only object was to reach the cottage as soon as might be and fling himself upon any whom he might find there. They would kill him probably and then they would go because their object was achieved. ‘You trusted in my cowardice to keep me safe,’ he cried through the dark. ‘You were wrong, wrong, wrong,’ but his heart felt si
A cry came from the bushes at the edge of the road a little in front. A figure shot into his path and held out both arms to stop the horse and rider. The horse shied to one side and halted. The figure approached and put one hand upon the rein. ‘Where are you going?’ a voice asked and Andrews recognized Tims.
He put his hand down to the wrist which held the rein and gave it a sudden twist. ‘Who’s at the cottage?’ he asked.
The boy, whimpering with pain, replied, ‘Joe and Carlyon.’
‘And what are you doing here?’
‘They told me to keep a look-out.’ He suddenly creased his face up in a puzzled frown. ‘It wasn’t true, Andrews, was it? You didn’t put me in that box?’
‘Why are they at the cottage?’ Andrews asked.
‘They said they’d meet you there. They want to talk to you.’
‘Let go of my rein.’
‘But Andrews, you haven’t told me. It’s not true, is it?’
Andrews struck his horse and forced it forward.
Persistently the boy clung to the rein and stumbled with it.
‘Let go,’ Andrews cried again.
‘But, Andrews …’ Andrews drew back his arm and struck the boy across the face with his stick. The mouth creased with a cry of pain, the hand loosed the rein, and for a brief instant before the darkness separated them, Andrews saw a dog’s eyes raised to him in pain and puzzlement. With an instinctive gesture of self-disgust Andrews flung the stick towards an invisible hedge and leaning forward over the horse’s head began to implore it, ‘Faster, old boy, faster, faster.’
Carlyon’s there, he told himself, all must be well. Enmity was forgotten in the relief of that knowledge. He was riding, riding to a friend and he urged his horse the faster the sooner to see his friend. She would be safe with Carlyon. What did Carlyon’s anger against him matter? He was Elizabeth’s guardian now, to keep her safe from the Joes and Hakes of an embittered world. The rattle of the hoofs upon the road sang themselves rhythmically into his brain until they became a poem which he whispered aloud to the night which was fleeing past him into banishment. Carlyon reading, Carlyon speaking slowly with rapt face stunned with the shock of beauty. Carlyon, my friend Carlyon. A face in a sunset on a hill speaking unimagined things. A God-like and heroic ape. ‘You can have anything you want, all except the ship.’ The voice falling on the last word as though it spoke of something holy and unsullied. The Good Chance.
Then Andrews remembered that Carlyon had lost his ship. It was not to a friend that he was riding but to a man whom he had robbed not only of livelihood and sole mistress but of his only dream, a foolish sentimental blind dream of adventure. It had not needed the loss of a ship to break the dream. Betrayal had done that. The loss only made the waking irrevocable. One of us will be dead tonight, he thought, and the horse as though in alliance with the shrinking body slowed its pace. ‘Faster, old boy, faster.’ Oh, to be there before his courage again departed. He must not think of the future, but the advice was an impossible one. ‘O God,’ he prayed, ‘let it not be me. He’s broken and finished. He will not mind death, but I’m only just beginning.’
The cottage light. It was less than a week since, fleeing over the down, he had seen it first. Now as then he was afraid, but with what a difference. A gulf of more than time separated the two figures. One had approached with shrinking caution. The other, leaving the horse untied to stray at will, ran with a desperate carelessness to outstrip fear and flung open the cottage door. Out of a gale fashioned of the roaring passage of time and his own tumultuous thoughts and fears he stepped into a quiet so deep that it formed a frozen block which kept him pressed against the door, unable to move or speak or for a moment feel.
At the table Carlyon sat facing him, eyes open, breathing, seeing, knowing, yet neither speaking nor moving nor showing hatred or surprise. Elizabeth’s back was turned, where she sat, but Andrews did not need to see her face, for her hunched shoulders and fallen head told him that she was dead. Told him but conveyed for a little no meaning of death, spoke, as it were, in images too hackneyed or conventional to stir the mind. He stared and stared at the extreme decrepitude of the dead body, which now had no more grace or beauty than a sawdust doll. His eyes passed on in a puzzled and still uncomprehending inquiry to Carlyon, who sat watching him without speech or movement. On the table out of Carlyon’s reach lay a pistol, trigger raised.
Pushing painfully against the cold barrier of silence Andrews approached. As feeling returns with agony to a frozen limb, so a small dull pain began to throb in his forehead, with a regular and maddening rhythm. With a kind of caution he stretched out his fingers and touched the body on the shoulder. The warm answer of the flesh smote its way to his brain, cleared his stunned mind and flung it into a passionate rebellion.
She could not be dead. It was impossible, too unfair, too final. The flesh had made to his fingers an exactly similar response to that of life. There was but one difference. The face had not turned to him. He was afraid to touch the face. She is only hurt, asleep, he thought. As long as he did not touch the face so she would remain. ‘Elizabeth, Elizabeth,’ he implored but under his breath not loud enough to wake her if indeed she slept. He shut out the knowledge which lay deep in his mind like an internal sore and clung with passionate persistency to hope. He began to pray out loud in a low voice, ignoring Carlyon’s presence. ‘Oh God, let her be asleep,’ he whispered, ‘let her be asleep.’ He felt that he could stand there immovable not for hours merely, but for days, weeks, years, never making a sound loud enough to wake her, believing that there was a chance she slept.
Carlyon said across the table, ‘What’s the use? She’s dead.’ The suddenness of the words made Andrews’ heart leap, and for the moment he felt that it would never begin to beat again. He gasped, robbed of air he hoped for ever. But his heart started again its regular, hateful rhythm of life, and Andrews jerked himself unwillingly into motion. He seized the pistol which lay upon the table and raised it. ‘Be quiet,’ was all he said, however, in a low trembling voice.
‘What’s the use?’ Carlyon repeated with an unfeeling voice which dropped the words slowly and heavily into the air like small pellets of lead. ‘She’s dead.’
‘You are lying,’ Andrews whispered, but then the suspense became too great and he turned and took the body in his arms. The face fell back against his shoulder and the eyes which he had thought were faultless stared into his with an unwinking and imbecile lack of expression. ‘My own knife,’ he said slowly, tracing the red stain on her clothes to its source.
He let the body down again into the seat and stood with hands pressed to his forehead. Despair and a kind of terror were advancing towards him down a long tunnel, but as yet he defended himself from the realization that Elizabeth would never speak to him again, that he would never feel her in his arms, though he lived for another fifty years. And then he would die and enter a blank eternity. He stared across the table at Carlyon, but his eyes were glazed and he saw him only through a shaking, hovering veil. He still held the pistol, but he felt no anger against Carlyon. Before this complete destruction of a life which had given a meaning and a possibility to holiness and divinity hatred seemed a child’s game. It was in any case, he felt dimly, not an act of the living which had crumbled life but of the dead, a victory for the old man who had preceded him in this cottage and for his father. There had been no struggle with Carlyon but only with his father. His father had made him a betrayer and his father had slain Elizabeth and his father was dead and out of reach. Out of reach. But was he? His father’s was not a roaming spirit. It ha
At the thought the dry, strained despair in which he dwelt gave way before a kind of blessed grief. He flung himself upon his knees beside the body and began to fondle it but without tears and over and over again he kissed the hands but not the face, for he feared to meet the imbecility of the eyes. If I had not run away – the thought doubled him with pain. ‘It was my father made me,’ he said aloud. But how could he prove it, kill that damaging spirit and show a self remaining?
Carlyon’s voice steadied him and brought him back to his feet. ‘Francis, I didn’t do this.’ It seemed in no way unnatural that his enemy should speak to him as Francis, for it was not his enemy. His enemy was his father and lay within himself, confusing him till he had struck his friend.
‘Joe came here first,’ Carlyon said. ‘I wasn’t here. She wouldn’t tell him, seemed to be waiting for someone. That made him nervous, he tried to find out where you were. He began to hurt her. She stabbed herself. He’s gone.’
‘Do you hate me, Carlyon?’ Andrews asked. A plan had entered his head for dealing with his father, and it was as though in fear his father’s spirit had shrunk into a small space leaving Andrews’ own brain more clear and simple than he had ever known it.
The Man Within by Graham Greene / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes