The Man Within, p.4Graham Greene
The coffin had been carried from the cottage in a farm cart. Elizabeth beside him he had walked into a wall of white that at every step melted before him and closed behind him. The villagers and their wives followed after, their footsteps sounding no louder than the drip of misty rain that fell from trees and bushes along their road. The silence was greater for the regular small tap tap of feet and drip drop of water. They could see the back of the cart which they followed but not the horse that drew it. Andrews looked behind him and saw a ghostly platoon. Faces and hands thrown forward in front of invisible bodies appeared and disappeared. He felt suddenly that all danger had been remitted until the funeral was over. Disembodied faces, hands that swam unattached in a white sea could not hurt him. He longed – not passionately, his mind was too asleep for passion – but with a small elusive ache that they would never reach the graveyard. This ache had crept into his sleep and also a sense of friendship with the girl who paced slowly beside him. He was asleep and longed a little that he might not awake. In his sleep one lay with him who would be gone when there was daylight in the brain.
They reached the burying place, and as the service went on fatigue grew and threatened to strip away his unconsciousness. He became aware that somewhere, as yet outside his mind but ready, opportunity given, to leap within, lay the fear to which he had grown accustomed. He held it at bay outside himself, but the struggle, as the minutes passed and the priest’s voice droned on, grew more intense.
They had taken the coffin to the edge of the grave, and the service must be drawing to an end. The priest’s voice grew rapid like the feet of a horse when its head is turned to home, faster and faster with the faintest trace of excitement at the thought of food and a rest from journeying: ‘O holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not at our last hour for any pains of death to fall from thee.’ They had lowered the coffin into the grave and began laboriously to shovel earth upon it. Spades slipped on the ground which was hard with cold. To Andrews the falling clods were a measurement of time, recording the vanishing moments of his peace. He would be happy to stand in the cold and the mist through eternity watching the shovelling spades. Fear was pressing in upon his mind. He could not keep it outside himself for long.
Bundles of mist disintegrated. A low chatter of voices began, replete with the blessing which had just been pronounced and moved towards the grave. Farmers stood in a ring and stared with interest at a hillock of earth judging its points. The women watched the chief mourner. By the rules of village life Elizabeth should now break down. Then after a brief struggle for the privilege one would put her arm round the girl and weep with her. Later they would be asked to accompany her back for refreshment. Their suspicions regarding Elizabeth’s birth and her moral character were confirmed when she abruptly turned her back on the grave.
She said to Andrews in a voice like frozen straw, ‘For God’s sake get rid of these people. I don’t want them. I don’t want them.’ The mist opened a little, closed again and she was gone.
Andrews stood alone. He wanted to turn and run and put a wall of mist between him and that gathering of amazed eyes. Loneliness and fear were like the emptiness of hunger to his belly. If he took six steps away he would be lost to all the world in a blanket of white wool. He could find a childish comfort, bury his head beneath the bed-clothes and fear no more the creaking of old furniture, deep in a darkness within a darkness. Why should any man be plagued as he had ever been plagued, with all the instincts – desires, fears, comforts – of a child and yet possess the wisdom of the man? In these moments of crisis he felt physically drawn in two – an agonizing stretch of the nerves. One part of him said, ‘Hide yourself in this mist. You will see no one and nothing can hurt you. You will be comforted.’ The other part said, ‘Fool! How they would talk.’ He was the girl’s brother. He must act on a little longer as her brother. That was the only safe way.
He said to them – yet not to them but only to those amazed and offended eyes, ‘My sister’s upset. Forgive us if we don’t invite you back. She must be alone for a little. You will understand that it has been a great shock.’ Very unconvincing and stiff his voice sounded to himself. He watched for any relaxation of the inquiry in the ring of eyes. Then he waited no longer but walked away. He stumbled as he went on a stone, which had fallen before its time from a gravedigger’s spade.
When he had walked a dozen yards he struck against an iron railing and the chill of the metal brought him part of the way towards consciousness. He felt his way along the rail gingerly with the tips of his fingers, finding relief in the slight pain he suffered from the stinging cold. When his feet, groping through an invisible gap, felt the broken ruts of the road beneath them, he waited. He had but to follow it half a mile to his left hand, so he calculated, to come upon the lights of the cottage. Yet there was no possible excuse to return. He should be thankful for the shelter of a night and the bare charity that had left him free. Bare charity enough, he thought, growing slowly aware of hunger. He had had no food for more than fifteen hours. There was a little breeding left in him under the double influence of fear and hunger, but the small relic made him unwilling to thrust himself back as an unwanted guest. That she would accept him with an uninterested acquiescence deterred him. If she would only meet him again with resistance, he would be happy to seize shelter by force. He knew how easily he could work himself into a righteous anger and forget himself. It’s this damned Christianity, he thought, or else not enough of it. He would welcome her as an enemy, or as a friend who would pity him and understand his fear. It was her cold neutrality he hated.
With unexpected resolution he turned his back on the way he had come that morning and half ran as it were into an obscure future. The more he thought of the girl the more he hated her and pitied himself. If I had been a cat, he considered, she’d have given me something to eat. That he had not been offered food was the idea that now grated on his mind. The thought of her became so hateful, such an incarnation of inhuman indifference, that he nearly turned back to find her. He wanted to give her pain, beat her, make her cry out. She doesn’t know what it is to be alone and frightened, he thought. If I had been a cat … A tree brushed his face with a branch of wet twigs; even inanimate nature seemed to treat him with casual scorn. ‘I can’t be a coward, not altogether a coward,’ he pleaded in a carefully hushed whisper. It needed courage to write that letter and go on living with them. And it was on the side of justice, he added, before his mind could murmur of jealousy.
He became aware after a little of an uneasy feeling, which was not fear, nor shame, nor hunger. It would be dangerous to return, he said to himself. I can get clear away from the neighbourhood while this fog lasts. He walked on a little farther, but hesitatingly. Carlyon’s quick, he thought. He’d search every shelter. I’m safer in this fog walking. When hunger forced itself again upon his notice he comforted himself illogically. After all there’s other shelter besides that cottage. He discovered that it was comforting to speak aloud. The small sound of his own voice was companionship in this white darkness and at the same time muffled by the fog, it was not loud enough to be overheard. He began to imagine fresh shelter; impelled by an empty stomach he returned but less convincingly to the thought of kindly old women. But there was something lacking in these dreams that had not been lacking the previous day. There was an ache in his mind as well as his belly, although he refused to take note of it. There was something very dissatisfying about the kindliest welcome which he imagined, but how could he recognize a fact, too ridiculous for expression, that he was homesick for the cottage in which he had spent a few uncomfortable hours? He fought hard against that realization, and even quickened his step as though to remove himself out of the influence of a malign enchantment. In his struggle, for about the first time in the last three days, he forgot his danger and his fear. He did not even notice that he was walking uphill and that the fog was thinning very gradually in front of him. If he had ears to hear, his own speech
‘A cat,’ he said, ‘she’d have given a cat food,’ but anger was disconcertingly confined to his voice. For as far as he knew the girl had had no food herself. He dwelt on the idea of a cat as constantly as he was able, but that image of inhumanity began rapidly to be scored over by fresh lines of thought, struggle as he would to preserve it intact. He remembered how she had led him to the dead man, awakening thus a brief feeling of intimacy between himself and her, and he remembered her words about the peace of God.
Andrews’ character was built of superficial dreams, sentimentality, cowardice, and yet he was constantly made aware beneath all these of an uncomfortable questioning critic. So now this other inhabitant of his body wondered whether he had not mistaken peace for inhumanity. Peace was not cowardly nor sentimental nor filled with illusion. Peace was a sanity which he did not believe that he had ever known. He remembered how once, becalmed at sea day after endless day, he had grown to loathe the water’s smooth unstirred surface as a symbol of a hatefully indifferent deity. And yet in the week of storm that followed he had longed to regain that quality which he began to regard as peace.
It was the sun shining on his eyes that woke him to the surroundings and an immediate knowledge of danger. He had been walking uphill and now emerged from the thickest fog as from a tunnel. It stood concrete at his back like a white wall. In front of him only faint floating wisps softened hedgerows, projecting boughs, the sun’s rays. It was not, however, the mere abstract fear of light which startled Andrews. A tall man, with dark hair uncovered by a hat, stood in the middle of the road. His back was turned and his hands were clasped behind him. Andrews could not mistake the light poise of the legs and shoulders that seemed to symbolize a spirit on tiptoe. He had been walking so fast up the hill that when he suddenly checked himself he nearly stumbled forward on his hands and knees. Although he had spent the last three days in almost continuous fear of Carlyon, now when the moment he had dreaded seemed to have arrived, his first instinct was not that of flight. It appeared incredible that he should so fear Carlyon, the man to whom he had turned continually for companionship in an alien and brutal life. He was only saved from stepping forward and touching Carlyon’s elbow by the sight of the man’s hands. Their clasp was tense, strained. They were the hands of a man holding himself as still as he was able in order to listen. Andrews half shifted a foot and the shoulders in front of him stiffened. He remembered a remark that Carlyon had once made to him, prompted by a sudden friendliness, ‘I’d know your step, Andrews, in a thousand.’ He could see quite clearly the strange ugly face of Carlyon as it had looked at him then shaded with an abstract tenderness. The face was a little swarthy, and very angular. A low brow belied the intelligence within. It would have been a crude, almost criminal face if divorced from the quick but heavy body and the eyes which seemed brooding always on indefinable things, save when they lit with a kind of contempt at the body which housed them. The face had once been described as that of a chivalrous ape.
The hands like the hands of an ape would be strong. Andrews, moving as softly as he was able, took three steps backward and was swallowed in the mist. He waited listening with a racing heart; the sound of its beats he felt would drown any noise there might be. He could no longer see Carlyon and therefore he was certain that Carlyon could not see him. The anxiety that pecked at his nerve was the uncertainty whether or not Carlyon had recognized his tread. He waited, afraid to run, because in doing so he would be forced to turn his back.
No sound came, except a gentle, reiterated drip from a bough behind his right ear. He tried to persuade himself that Carlyon had heard nothing, and yet he could not banish the image of the tightly clenched hands. His mind changed tack and protested that even if Carlyon had heard and recognized his tread there was no cause for fear. Carlyon had, after all, no reason for supposing that he, Andrews, had been the cause of a certain disastrous fight. Carlyon was his friend. ‘My friend, my friend, my friend,’ he repeated to try to soothe the panic in his heart.
Minutes must have passed before a sound broke the stillness. It was not a sound which Andrews had expected to hear. It was that of a low whistle, no louder than a man unconsciously might give in amazement. Andrews had counted six louder heartbeats when the whistle was repeated. Then there was silence. Andrews very cautiously withdrew himself to the side of the road and a little farther into the mist. His movements sounded terribly loud to his own ears. He bent forward and listened. A vague orange glow showed where the tunnel of mist came to an abrupt end. A few yards beyond stood the invisible Carlyon. Andrews did not believe that he had shifted so much as a foot.
Andrews bent a little farther forward. He thought that he could hear a gentle whisper. He shivered. There was something uncanny in the thought of Carlyon with sad, ape-like face standing very still with back turned and tensed clenched hands, whistling and whispering to himself. For a moment Andrews wondered whether his friend (he found it impossible even in flight and fear to think of Carlyon other than as a friend) had been driven mad by the events of the last few days. He wanted to advance out of his tunnel and take Carlyon’s arm. He thought, as he had often thought before, how different everything would have been, if Carlyon had been his father. Last night in the dark of the wood and far from Carlyon he had feared him. Now in more imminent danger he was torn between his fear, precipitate, unreasoning fear, and a friendship that was almost a grudging, soured love.
Andrews believed afterwards that in another moment he would have stepped out and greeted Carlyon, but as he stared into the orange glow, fear was given an opportunity to assert itself over friendship. A shadow for an instant striped vertically the glow and vanished again without a sound. Someone had entered the mist. Andrews cowered back against the hedge and listened. There was complete stillness. Andrews felt certain that somewhere within a few feet Carlyon also was listening, striving perhaps to catch those heartbeats which sounded so betrayingly loud. Then a stone was kicked and rumbled slowly a little way down the hill. A second shadow broke the glow and disappeared.
It was probably this second, more careless shadow, that Andrews next heard feeling along the hedge, with the noise of a small breeze through stubble. Progress was slow in a pathetic effort to be silent, pathetic with the pathos of a hippopotamus treading cautiously on dry twigs. The pathos, however, did not appeal to Andrews, who realized very clearly that in a few minutes he would inevitably be discovered. He could not fly without betraying himself, and his only hope was to step soundlessly into the middle of the road. But where was the first shadow? Carlyon? It needed a courage he was not accustomed to exercise to remove his back from the friendly firmness of the hedge and place himself defenceless in the road. He feared that if he moved he would come in contact with Carlyon. Only the slow pressure of necessity symbolized by the cautious crackling in the hedge creeping closer to him at every moment forced him at last to move.
The two paces which he took into the road seemed soundless even to himself, but he was not comforted. He felt completely exposed. Although he could see nothing, he felt, standing there ridiculously with slack, impotent arms, that anyone could see him. He thought he could hear them coming towards him and had a wild longing to cry out to them, ‘Stop, stop, stop, please stop.’ There was a game which he had played at school, where one boy, too often himself, stood with back turned counting ten, while the other boys advanced to touch his back. Andrews had perhaps forgotten, but he had never lost, the strain of waiting, hurriedly counting, for a hand to fall upon his back. So now he began to count in haste ‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten,’ as though there might be some remission for him at ten. He did not know why he counted and there was no remission.
He had a knife he remembered, in one pocket, but he could not remember which, and he did not dare to look. He was afraid even to raise a hand, lest it should make a sound in passing through the air. He let his arms
After an interval Carlyon’s voice blew like a melancholy wind through the mist. ‘Andrews,’ it said, ‘Andrews.’ And then ‘Why are you frightened? What’s the matter with you? It’s Carlyon, merely Carlyon.’
The fascination of the voice! It seemed to hold for Andrews everything which he so much desired – peace, friendship, the end of a useless struggle. He wanted to say, ‘Here I am, Carlyon,’ and lie down there in the mist and sleep; and wake to find Carlyon sitting beside him talking of this and that with brooding kindliness, drowning the nauseating fatigue of danger, the acrid smell of smoke, the monotony of winds with the cool beauty of his voice. Above the eternally reiterated clatter of feet on deck, the beat, beat, beat of flapping canvas, the curses, movement, scurry, unrest; below Carlyon’s ape-like face transfigured with peace –
Ye have been fresh and green,
Ye have been filled with flowers,
And ye the walks have been,
The Man Within by Graham Greene / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes