The Man Within, p.5Graham Greene
Where maids have spent their hours.
‘Andrews, Andrews,’ with a soft melancholy. ‘I must not, I must not,’ he said to himself, sobbing hysterically and yet with an effort retaining silence, though the effort was a tearing pain in throat and chest. ‘That’s over.’ Over for ever friendship, poetry, silence at the heart of noise; remained fear and a continual flight. And he had intended to win peace.
Carlyon, he realized, had not spoken now for many moments. He was surrounded again by silence save for the drip, drip, drip of the laden boughs. Space that had closed in on him during the sound of the voice calling spread away again on every side. He was alone in a wilderness of white mist hopelessly barren of companionship. He waited listening for a little while longer and then stumbled back into the mist the way that he had come. He thought that Carlyon had been deceived or had given up the search. It did not occur to him that Carlyon might wait patiently and listen to find the direction which he took. Andrews ran crookedly along invisible ruts with a slow strange lightening of the heart.
HE BECAME AWARE of the cottage again by the red glow of a hidden flame, which penetrated a little way into the white blanket of mist, with a promise of warmth and calm companionship and food. Fear had not dispelled his hunger, it had but overlaid it with a more fierce emotion. Now with the slow return of peace he remembered what his belly desired. He was not angry nor frightened now, only a little ill at ease. He advanced cautiously, with one arm of his spirit raised to ward off a blow.
Through the window he peered into a room deprived of daylight. A large fire burnt with a kind of subdued ferocity and its red rays, instead of bearing a light, spilt blacker pools of darkness in the room. Only in a small semi-circle before it was a space cleared, and the dark pushed back from there formed a more sombre and concentrated wall on the farther side. Squatting on the floor in the cleared space Elizabeth darned with a metallic flash – flash of the needle like sparks from a gaseous coal.
Her figure started so distinctly from the shadows, distorted though it was by the glass, that Andrews did not realize that his own face was veiled. He tapped with fingers which he intended to sound gentle and reassuring. She looked up and remained staring at him with a mixture of fear, perplexity and doubt, and let the darning fall upon her lap. He smiled but was unaware that she could not see his smile, or glimpsed at most a vague grimace from almost invisible lips. He tapped again and saw her lift whatever it was she had been darning to her breast and tightly press it to her. How slim, he thought, as she rose and stood (a dark Elizabeth, he wondered again) where the flicker of flames played up and down her body like the dazed, groping fingers of a lover. Her hand pressed so hard on her breast that it appeared to be reaching for the heart to hold it and still its beats. Only then did Andrews realize that she could not see him clearly, and that she was afraid. But at the moment when he prepared to reassure her, the small quiver of fear left her lips and she passed from the zone of the firelight and advanced to the window through the shadows.
He heard her fingers feeling not very certainly for the catch. Then the window swung open and he stepped away. ‘Is it really you back?’ she whispered, and he could not tell from her voice whether she was afraid or glad.
‘Yes, yes,’ he said, ‘it’s me.’
She said, ‘Oh, you,’ in a flat, disappointed tone. ‘What do you want?’ He became afraid that she would again shut the window, leaving him in the cold, deprived of the tossing fire.
‘Won’t you let me in?’ he asked. ‘You needn’t be afraid.’ And when she laughed ironically, he began to speak rapidly. ‘I did all that you told me,’ he said. ‘I got rid of all those wretched villagers.’
‘Was it necessary to come here to tell me that?’ she asked.
‘I want shelter,’ he said with despairing simplicity. He heard her leave the window and unbolt the door. ‘Come in then if you must,’ she called to him.
He came and moved at once to the fire, his momentary sentiment drowned in the mere desire to be warm, to drink heat with every pore of his body. He felt that he could with small encouragement have lifted the burning coals and pressed them to his breast. He twisted his figure into odd distorted shapes, so that every part of him might receive a blessing from gracefully gesticulating hands of flame.
‘Have you any food?’ he asked. With the cold acquiescence which he had feared she went and fetched a loaf of bread, and would have placed it on the table had he not stretched out his hands for it. Still crouching over the fire he broke off portions with his fingers. Only when his hunger was partly satisfied something uneasily stirring in his mind made him apologize.
‘I haven’t had food for fifteen hours,’ he said. ‘I was hungry and cold out there. It’s good of you …’
She came into the circle of firelight. ‘There’s no reason why I should shut you out,’ she said. ‘I’ve been alone. You are better than no one, even you.’
Warmed by the fire, hunger quenched by bread, he began to grow jocular.
‘You oughtn’t to find any difficulty in getting company,’ he laughed. ‘And who was it you expected to find outside the window?’
‘We’ve buried him,’ she said. ‘I don’t suppose that he’ll return.’
Andrews looked up in astonishment at a pale, set face, touched with a reluctant grief. ‘You don’t mean,’ he asked in awe-struck astonishment, ‘that you thought …’
‘Why shouldn’t I think that?’ she asked, not with indignation but with candid questioning. ‘He’s only a few days dead.’
‘But they don’t rise again,’ Andrews said in the kind of solemn whisper which he had used as a boy in the school chapel.
‘Their spirits do,’ she answered, and her white, still face continued to question him.
‘Do you believe in all that?’ he asked, not in mockery, but in a curiosity tinctured with longing.
‘Of course; you can read it in the Bible.’
‘Then,’ he hesitated a moment, ‘if men are not quite dead, when we bury them, we can still hurt them, make them suffer, revenge ourselves.’
‘You must be bad,’ she said fearfully, ‘to think of that. But don’t forget that they can hurt us, too.’
She came up to the fire and stood beside him, and he shifted a little under the clear, courageous gaze of her eyes. ‘I’m not afraid of you now,’ she said, ‘because you are just a person I know, but when you came last night you were a stranger and I was afraid. But then I thought to myself that he,’ and she pointed to the table as though the coffin still lay there, ‘would not let me be harmed. He was a bad man, but he wanted me, and he’d never let anyone else get me.’
‘I never meant any harm to you,’ Andrews muttered, and then added with a convulsive pleading: ‘It was only fear that made me come. You other people never seem to understand fear. You expect everyone to be brave like yourself. It’s not a man’s fault whether he’s brave or cowardly. It’s all in the way he’s born. My father and mother made me. I didn’t make myself.’
‘I never blamed you,’ she protested. ‘But you always seem to leave out God.’
‘Oh, that,’ he said. ‘That’s all on a par with your spirits. I don’t believe in that stuff. Though I’d like to believe in the spirits, that we could still hurt a man who is dead,’ he added with a mixture of passion and wistfulness.
‘You can’t if they are in heaven,’ she commented.
‘There’s no danger of that with the man I hate,’ Andrews laughed angrily. ‘It’s curious, isn’t it, how one can hate the dead. It makes one almost believe your stuff. If they are transparent like the air, perhaps we breathe them in.’ He screwed up his mouth as though at a bad taste.
She watched him curiously. ‘Tell me,’ she said, ‘where have you been since we buried him?’
He began to speak with resentful anger. ‘I told you it was only fear that drove me to you last night, didn’t I? Well, I don’t want to trouble you any more.’
‘And fear brought
‘Yes – at least not entirely.’ Looking down at her dark hair, pale face and calm eyes seemed to infuriate him. ‘You women,’ he said, ‘you are all the same. You are always on your guard against us. Always imagine that we are out to get you. You don’t know what a man wants.’
What do you want?’ she asked and added with a practicality which increased his meaningless anger. ‘Food? I have some more bread in a cupboard.’
He made a despairing motion with his hand, which she interpreted as a refusal. ‘We get tired of our own kind,’ he said, ‘the coarseness, hairiness – you don’t understand. Sometimes I’ve paid street women simply to talk to them, but they are like the rest of you. They don’t understand that I don’t want their bodies.’
‘You’ve taught us what to think,’ she interrupted with a faint bitterness breaking the peace of her mind.
He took no notice of what she said. ‘I’ll tell you,’ he said, ‘a reason why I came back. You can laugh at me. I was homesick for here.’
He turned his back on her. ‘I’m not making love to you. It wasn’t you. It was just the place. I slept here and I hadn’t slept before for three days.’ He waited with shoulders a little hunched for her laughter.
She did not laugh and after a little he turned. She had been gazing at his back. ‘Aren’t you amused?’ he asked ironically. His relations with her seemed necessarily compounded of suspicion. When he first came he had been suspicious of her acts and now he was suspicious of her thoughts.
‘I was wondering,’ she said, ‘whom you were frightened of and why I like you.’ Her eyes wandered down his body from face to feet and stayed at his right heel. ‘You’ve worn your stockings out,’ she said simply, but the way in which she turned the words on her tongue till they came out with a rounded sweetness gave to their simplicity a hidden significance.
‘They are not of silk,’ he said, still seeking for disguised mockery.
She held out a hand which she had kept pressed to her side. ‘Here is a stocking,’ she said; ‘see if it will fit you.’
He took it from her as cautiously as if it had been a strange reptile and turned it over and over. He saw that it had been partly darned and remembered how he had seen her from the window working in the firelit space.
‘You were mending this,’ he said, ‘when I came to the window.’ She made no answer and he examined it again. ‘A man’s stocking,’ he commented.
‘It was his,’ she replied.
He laughed. ‘Do your spirits wear stockings?’ he asked.
She clenched and unclenched her hands, as one nervously wrought up by another’s stupidity. ‘I had to do something,’ she murmured rapidly as though her breath had been nearly exhausted by a too long and fatiguing race. ‘I couldn’t just sit.’ She turned her back on him and walked to the window and leant her forehead against it, as though seeking coolness or perhaps support.
Andrews turned and turned the stocking in his hand. Once at the window Elizabeth’s figure was motionless. He could not even catch the sound of her breathing. A gap of shadow separated them, and the flickering of the flames made useless but persistent attempts to cross it. He was shamed by the patient obstinacy of their compassion, and was temporarily rapt from his own fear, hatred and self-abasement, touched for a lightning instant with a disinterested longing for self-sacrifice. He would not cross that bridge of shadows, for he feared that if he touched her he would lose the sense of something unapproachably beautiful, and his own momentary chivalry would vanish before the coward, the bully and the lustful sentimentalist to whom he was accustomed. For that instant his second criticising self was silent; indeed he was that self.
He was on the point of making some stumbling gesture of contrition, when the coward in him leaped up and closed his mouth. Be careful, it cautioned him. You are a fugitive; you must not tie yourself. Even as he surrendered to that prompting he regretted the surrender. He knew that for a few seconds he had been happy, with the same happiness, but a stronger, as he had gained momentarily in the past from music, from Carlyon’s voice, from a sudden sense of companionship with other men.
The mist which had been white was turning grey. The real dark was approaching, but it made no apparent difference to the room. Andrews, feeling the comfortable warmth of the fire behind him, wondered how Carlyon was faring in a colder and surely more alien world. And yet was it more alien? Carlyon had the friendship and the trust of his two fellow fugitives. He was not alone. The old self-pity began to crawl back into Andrews’ heart, as he watched the girl’s motionless back.
‘Can we light some candles,’ he asked, ‘and make this room more cheerful?’
‘There are two candlesticks on the table,’ she said, keeping her forehead pressed to the window, ‘and two on the dresser. You can light them if you like.’
Andrews made a spill from a playbill, which he found in his pocket, and lit it at the fire. Then he passed from candle to candle making little aspiring peaks of flame pierce the shadows. Slowly they rose higher and small haloes formed round their summits, a powdery glow like motes in sunlight. Cloaked from all draughts by the surrounding mist they burnt straight upwards, tapering to a point as fine as a needle. The shadows were driven back into the corners of the room where they crouched darkly like sulking dogs rebuked.
When Andrews had lit the last candle he turned and saw that Elizabeth was watching him. Joy and grief were both moods able to pass lightly across her face without disturbing the permanent thoughtfulness of her eyes, which seemed to regard life with a gaze devoid of emotion. The candles now tipped her face with gaiety. She made no reference to her short surrender to grief, but clapped her hands, so that he stared at her amazed by this rapid change of mood.
‘I like this,’ she said, ‘we’ll have tea. I’m glad to have someone to talk to – even you,’ and she moved to the dresser and began to take out plates, cups, a loaf of bread, some butter, a kettle which she filled and put upon the fire. With proud and reverent fingers she drew a caddy from the dresser, handling it as reverently as a gold casket.
‘I haven’t had tea,’ he said slowly, ‘like this since I left home … I’ve wanted it though.’ He hesitated. ‘It’s queer that you should be treating me like this, like a friend.’
Pulling the only two chairs which the room held up to the fire, she regarded him with sombre amusement. ‘Am I treating you like a friend?’ she asked. ‘I can’t tell. I’ve never had one.’
He had a sudden wish to tell her everything, from what he was fleeing and for what cause, but caution and a feeling of peace restrained him. He wished to forget it himself and cling only to this growing sense of intimacy, of two minds moving side by side, and watch the firelight gleam downwards into the dark amber of the tea.
‘It’s strange,’ he said, ‘how often I’ve longed for a tea like this. In a rough, hurrying sort of life with men, one longs sometimes for refinement – and tea seems to me a symbol of that – peace, security, women, idle talk – and the night outside.’
‘A loaf of bread,’ she said, ‘no jam, no cakes.’
That’s nothing,’ he brooded over the thick china cup, which he held awkwardly with an unaccustomed hand.
‘Why are you here?’ she asked. ‘You don’t belong. You should be a student, I think. You look like a man who day-dreams.’
‘Doesn’t even a student need courage?’ he questioned bitterly. ‘And I’m not a dreamer. I hate dreams.’
‘Is there anything you care for or want?’ She watched him as though he were a new and curious animal.
‘To be null and void,’ he said without hesitation.
The sound of the word seemed to draw his eyes to the window, which stared now on complete darkness.
‘No, no,’ he said, ‘not that.’ He gave a small shiver and spoke again. ‘When music plays, one does not see or think: one hardly hears. A bowl – and the music is poured in until there is no “I”, I am the music.’
‘My father did it before me,’ he replied.
‘Was that all?’ she asked.
‘No, I was fascinated,’ he said. ‘There’s a man I know with a voice as near to music as any voice I’ve ever heard,’ he hesitated and then looked up at her, ‘except for yours.’
She paid no attention to the compliment, but frowning a little at the fire nipped her lip between small sharp teeth.
‘Can’t he help you now that you are in trouble?’ she asked. ‘Can’t you go to him?’
He stared at her in amazement. He had forgotten that she was ignorant of his story and of his flight from Carlyon, and because he had forgotten, her remark came to him with the force of a wise suggestion. ‘Andrews, Andrews,’ an echo of a soft melancholy voice reached him. ‘Why are you frightened? It’s Carlyon, merely Carlyon.’ The voice was tipped always with the cool, pure poetry which it loved. Why, indeed, should he not go to Carlyon and confess the wrong he had done and explain? That voice could not help but understand. He would go as the woman who had sinned to Christ, and the comparison seemed to him to carry no blasphemy, so strong was the impulse to rise and go to the door and go out into the night.
‘Is it of him you are frightened?’ she asked, watching the changes in his face. He had thought her voice also near to music, and now he sat still, watching with a strange disinterestedness the two musics come in conflict for the mastery of his movements. One was subtle, a thing of suggestions and of memories; the other, plain, clear-cut, ringing. One spoke of a dreamy escape from reality; the other was reality, deliberately sane. If he stayed sooner or later he must face this fear; if he went he left calmness, clarity, instinctive wisdom for a vague and uncertain refuge. How would Carlyon greet his confession? Carlyon was a romantic with his face in the clouds, who hated any who gave him contact with a grubby earth. Andrews remembered suddenly, his mind still drifting between the two differing musics, another Carlyon, a Carlyon who had shot one of his own men in the back, because on a cargo-running night the man had raped a young girl. No trouble followed, for the man had been a coward and unpopular in a crew of men, who with all their faults and villainies, had the one virtue of courage. Andrews remembered Carlyon’s face, as he stepped back from the dark bundle where it lay on a beach silvered by the moon. The thoughtful eyes which peered from the ape-like skull had been suffused with disgust and a kind of disillusionment. They had re-embarked with the utmost speed, lest the shot should have aroused the revenue men, but Carlyon was the last to enter the boat. He came with evident reluctance like a man who had left a lover on land, and he had indeed left a lover, whom he did not see again for many weeks, a dear and romantic illusion of adventure.
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