The Man Within, p.6Graham Greene
‘Andrews, Andrews,’ the voice had lost its charm. That music was spell-less, for Andrews remembered now that it was with the same soft melancholy regret that Carlyon had spoken to the offending smuggler. Pointing out to the sea he had said, ‘Look there. Can you tell me what that is?’ and the man had turned his back to scan a waste of small ridges, which formed, advanced, fell and receded, and continued so to form, advance, fall and recede, as his eyes glazed in death.
‘I can’t go to him,’ he said aloud.
‘But if he came to you?…’ she asked, as though she intended to make up a quarrel between two schoolboys on their dignity.
‘No, no,’ he said, and suddenly rose with a poignant, stabbing sense of fear. ‘What’s that?’ he whispered. Elizabeth leant forward in her chair listening. ‘You are imagining things,’ she said.
With unexpected brutality he struck her hand, as it lay on the table, with his fist, so that she caught her breath with pain. ‘Can’t you whisper?’ he asked. ‘Do you want to tell the whole world there’s someone here? There, didn’t you hear that?’ And this time she thought that she could hear a very faint stir of gravel no louder than a rustle of leaves. She nodded her head slowly. ‘There’s someone moving on the path,’ she murmured. The hand which he had struck stiffened into a small and resolute fist.
‘For God’s sake,’ Andrews muttered, staring round him. She jerked a finger at the door which led to the shed where he had slept the previous night. He half ran to it on tiptoe, and as he looked back, he saw that she had again taken up the stocking which he had dropped unused upon the floor. The red glow of the fire struck upwards and tinged with colour her serene, pale face. Then he closed the door and stood in the dark of the shed, giving occasional rapid shivers like a man in a fever.
The next sound he heard was Carlyon’s voice. Its suddenness pierced him. He had expected at least to have been given warning, and time to brace his knees and heart, if by no more than a knock or the click of a lifting latch.
It penetrated to him through keyhole and crack, kindly and reassuring. ‘Forgive me,’ it said. ‘I’m completely lost in this fog.’
Countering the deceptive music with its own clear tone, Elizabeth’s voice struck against Carlyon’s like sword against sword. ‘Why didn’t you knock?’ it said.
Had she realized Andrews wondered, listening intently in the dark, that this was the man he feared. He searched a frightened mind in vain for some way of warning her. He could imagine Carlyon’s ape-like face gazing at her with a disarming frankness. ‘One can’t be too careful around here,’ he said. His voice sounded a little nearer as though he had come over to the fire. ‘You are not alone?’ he asked.
Andrews put his hand to his throat. Something had betrayed him. Perhaps as he stood like a blind man in the dark she was giving away his hiding place soundlessly with a wink, a lift of the eyebrow. He had a momentary impulse to fling open the door and rush at Carlyon. It would at least be man against man with no odds, he thought, until the unsleeping inner critic taunted him: ‘You are not a man.’ At least a coward can have cunning, he protested, and kneeling down on the floor, he put his eye to the keyhole. It was a moment before he could find the position of the speakers. Elizabeth was sitting in her chair, hand thrust in the stocking, calmly looking for holes. She is over-acting her calmness, he thought fearfully. Carlyon stood over her, watching her with an apparent mixture of reverence and regret. He made a small motion towards the two cups, which stood with brazen effrontery upon the table.
She finished her search of the stocking and laid it on her lap. ‘I am alone,’ she said. ‘My brother has just gone out. He is not far,’ she added. ‘I can easily call to him, if you don’t go.’
Carlyon smiled. ‘You must not be afraid of me,’ he smiled. ‘Perhaps I know your brother. Is he a little over the middle height, slightly built, dark, with frightened obstinate eyes?’
‘That’s not my brother,’ Elizabeth said. ‘He is short and squat – and very strong.’
‘Then I am not looking for your brother.’ He picked up one of the cups. ‘He must have been here very lately,’ he said. ‘The tea is hot. And he left in a hurry with his tea unfinished. Curious that we did not meet.’ He gazed round the room with no attempt to hide his curiosity.
‘That is my cup you have,’ Elizabeth said, and added with sarcasm; ‘Will you allow me to finish it?’
Andrews kneeling by the keyhole put up his hand to ease his collar as Elizabeth’s lips touched the cup and drained what he had left. A strange loving cup, he thought bitterly, but his bitterness vanished before a wave of humility which for one moment even cleared his mind of its consciousness of fear. He had been kneeling to gain a view of the room beyond, but now in heart he knelt to her. She is a saint, he thought. The charity and courage with which she hid him from his enemy he had taken for granted; but to his muddled unstraight mind the act of drinking from the same cup came with a surprising nobility. It touched him where he was most open to impression; it struck straight at his own awareness of cowardice. Kneeling in the dark not only of the room but of his spirit he imagined that with unhesitating intimacy she had touched his lips and defiled her own.
‘I didn’t meet your brother,’ Carlyon repeated, still with a touch of regretful tenderness.
‘There is another door,’ she said without hesitation. Carlyon turned, and to Andrews watching through the keyhole their eyes seemed to meet. His humility and trust vanished as quickly as they had arisen. Carlyon made a step towards the door. She’s betrayed me, Andrews thought, and with fumbling panic-stricken fingers he sought for his knife. Yet he did not dare to open it, even when he had found it, lest the click should make itself heard through the closed door. Carlyon seemed to be staring straight at him. It was incredible that he could not see the eye which watched him through the keyhole, yet he hesitated, nonplussed perhaps as Andrews had been by the girl’s courage, thinking she must have help somewhere, that there must be a trap laid. Then she spoke again carelessly and without hurry, leaning forward to warm her hands at the fire. ‘It’s no use going there,’ she said. ‘He locked the door as he went out.’
For the man in the dark there was a moment of suspense, while Carlyon hesitated. He had only to try the door for all to be discovered. Finally, he refrained. In part perhaps it was because he feared a trap, but his chief reason must have been that embarrassing streak of chivalry which would not allow him to show openly his doubt of a woman’s word. He turned away and stood in the middle of the room in almost pathetic perplexity. If he had known beforehand that there was a woman to be dealt with, he would have sent one of his companions to the cottage in his place, the small, cunning cockney Harry, or the elephantine Joe.
She regarded him with faint amusement from his receding forehead and deep sunk eyes to the strange contrast of his small lightly poised feet. ‘You are very muddy,’ she commented and cast a pathetic glance towards the floor, still fresh and clean from Mrs Butler’s scrubbing.
‘I am sorry,’ he said, ‘very sorry. The fact is …’
‘Don’t trouble to invent a lie,’ she murmured abstractedly, her attention seeming to wander to the glowing heart of the fire. ‘You are looking for someone. Anybody can tell that. Unless you are flying from someone like the other man.’
‘The other man?’ he leant a little forward with excitement, and Andrews once again prepared himself for betrayal. The act of drinking from his cup, which had filled him with such humility, seemed now to underline what he considered the vileness of her treachery.
‘The man you described,’ she said, ‘the frightened, obstinate man.’
‘He’s here?’ Andrews could hardly catch Carlyon’s whisper. Carlyon’s right hand had hidden itself in an inner pocket.
‘He slept here last night,’ she said.
‘He went with the morning, north, I think, but I don’t know.’
‘Yes, that’s true,’ Carlyon murmured. ‘He nearly ran into
She laughed. ‘I don’t think so,’ and pointed to the corner where the unloaded gun stood. ‘Fear,’ she added, ‘and shame.’
‘And your brother?’ he asked with a sudden, quick remnant of suspicion.
‘He was not here last night, but I warned your friend that he would be here tonight. Shall I warn you?’ she added.
‘I am not afraid,’ Carlyon answered, ‘nor ashamed.’
She looked again at his muddy clothes. ‘But you too are flying,’ she asked, ‘from something?’
‘From the law,’ Carlyon replied with unhesitating frankness, ‘not from my friends – or from myself,’ he added with brooding thoughtfulness.
‘Why all this fuss?’ she asked, her eyes, kindled in the red reflected glow of the fire, gazing up at him with passionate sincerity and condemning, in an equal judgement, his mud, his flight, his search.
He watched her with fascination and with a kind of difficulty, as though trying to cling with his eyes to some bright object obscurely shining at the bottom of a dark and deep well. ‘He’s a sort of Judas,’ he said softly and reluctantly.
‘He didn’t seem to be a man with money,’ she said. ‘Are you certain?’
‘No. But if I could meet him, I should know in a moment. He hasn’t the courage to hide anything.’ He shivered slightly as a cold draught insinuated itself under the door.
‘You are cold,’ Elizabeth said. ‘Come to the fire.’ He looked at her for a moment as though amazed at her friendliness and then advanced to the fire and let the heat and flame stain his hands a red gold. ‘Why can’t you leave him alone?’ she asked. ‘Is he worth the trouble and risk?’
Out of their deep sockets Carlyon’s eyes peered cautiously, as though he wondered how far it was possible to make this serene stranger understand. ‘I know him very well,’ he said hesitatingly. ‘We were friends. He must have known me well. Now I hate him. I’m certain that this is hate.’
Her voice touched him like a slow warm flame. ‘Tell me,’ she said.
He looked at her again with that impression of amazement slowly welling up from a dark, deeply hidden source. ‘You have a lovely voice,’ he said. ‘It is just as though you were ready to play music to any stranger. You know who I am?’ he asked.
‘One of the Gentlemen,’ she said, and waited.
‘So was the man who was here last night. We were friends. I told him things I would not tell anyone now – what things I loved and why. And after three years with us he betrayed us to the law.’
‘Are you sure of that?’
‘Someone must have done,’ he said. ‘Six men are in gaol on a charge of murder. There was a fight and a gauger was shot, poor devil. Four of us escaped; the two men who are with me, and Andrews, who has done his best to avoid us. And when did he escape? Before we were surprised. I’m certain of that. Why is he afraid of meeting me? I know he is.’ His eyes, having taken a sad, suspicious gaze at the world, seemed to hide themselves yet deeper in his skull. ‘You will not understand,’ he said, ‘how he has spoilt everything. It was a rough life, but there seemed something fine in it – adventure, courage, high stakes. Now we are a lot of gaol-birds, murderers. Doesn’t it seem mean to you,’ he cried suddenly, ‘that a man should be shot dead over a case of spirits? What a dull, dirty game it makes it all appear.’
She looked at him with pity but not with sympathy. ‘It must have been that all along,’ she said.
He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Yes, but I didn’t know,’ he said. ‘Should I thank him for my enlightenment?’
She smiled at the tendrils of the fire uncurling themselves and folding again in bud. ‘Is a man’s death and your dream broken worth all this fuss?’ she demanded with voice raised a little as though she would carry her protest against man’s stupidity beyond the room and out into the shrouding mist and night.
‘You are so sane,’ he said sadly. ‘You women are all so sane. A dream is often all there is to a man. I think that you are lovely, good and full of pity, but that is only a dream. You know all about yourself, how you are greedy for this and that, afraid of insects, full of disgusting physical needs. You’ll never find a man who will love you for anything but a bare, unfilled-in outline of yourself. A man will even forget his own details when he can, until he appears an epic hero, and it needs his woman to see that he’s a fool. Only a woman can love a real person.’
‘You may be right,’ she said, ‘though I don’t understand most of it. I once knew a man, though, who so forgot his own details as you call them, that he believed himself a coward and nothing else.’
‘That’s less common,’ Carlyon answered. ‘Women generally show us up to ourselves and we hate them for it. I suppose that man would love the woman who showed him up.’
She suddenly dropped her seriousness and laughed. ‘Poor man,’ she mocked, ‘and you hate this friend of yours because he’s shown you up. What a fool you are to waste your time on such a hate.’
He made a small motion with his hands towards the fire, as though he wished to seize its light and heat, and bear them to his brain. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I hate him,’ and then waited, with his eyes peeping, as it were beseechingly, from his low skull in a longing to be convinced of his own futility and of his own hate.
‘But what, after all, could you do if you met him?’ she protested.
‘I should make sure that I was right,’ he answered, ‘and then I should kill him.’
‘And what would be the use of that?’ she asked.
He edged a little away from her and threw back his head, as though he were protecting something infinitely dear. ‘There would be no use,’ he said, ‘no use, but I have a mission.’
He saw her lift her eyes full of a pleading friendship. ‘You are in danger of something worse than the law,’ she said.
He looked at her with suspicion. ‘Why all these arguments?’ he asked. ‘Did you like the man?’ He eyed her with regret and disgust as he would have done a lovely picture soiled with ordure. ‘Did you get fond of him in a night?’
‘No,’ she said simply. ‘But I have lived with hate since I was a child. Why don’t you escape from the country? If you stay you’ll only injure yourself or else something you never intended to harm. That’s always the way.’
He took no notice of her words, but watched her face with curiosity and fascination. ‘If I could take you with me,’ he murmured, ‘I should have with me peace and charity. Have you noticed,’ he said softly, his eyes peering like a dog’s between the bars of a cage, ‘how in the middle of a storm there’s always a moment of silence?’ He half raised his arms as though he were about to protest at the necessity which drove him back into the storm, and then let them drop in a kind of tired despair.
‘You are free,’ she whispered, her eyes watching him not through bars but through the gold mist which the flames of the fire shed, ‘you are not bound.’
He shrugged his shoulders and said with a resentful carelessness. ‘Oh, there’s no peace for me.’ He turned on his heel decisively, but he had taken only three steps to the door, when he came back.
He did not look at her but said with a touch of embarrassment:
‘You say he went north?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘Of course. I know that,’ he commented. ‘We nearly met.’ He shifted a little on his feet. ‘I don’t know your name,’ he continued. If he should come back, you mustn’t shelter him or warn him.’
‘Is that a command?’ she asked with gentle mockery.
‘Yes,’ he said, and then added in stumbling haste, ‘but I will beg you, too. You cannot be mixed up in this. You don’t belong to our world, noise, hate. Stay with peace.’
‘Are the two so separate?’ she asked.
He listened with his head a little on one side and eyes half-closed, like a man in the presence of a faint music. Then he covered his eyes for a moment with his hand. ‘You muddle me,’ he said.
‘Are they so separate?’ she repeated.
‘Let them remain separate,’ he said vehemently and bitterly, ‘you can’t come to us, and it’s too easy for us to come to you.’
‘Where are you going?’ she asked.
‘To look for him,’ he answered. ‘I’ll find him. I know him too well to lose him.’
‘And he knows you,’ she added.
Carlyon came nearer to her again. ‘Was he laughing at me the whole time,’ he asked, ‘while we were friends? He’s a coward and cowards are cunning. I told him all the things I liked. I read him things, shared what I loved with him. I can only make him forget what I told him by killing him,’ he added with an incongruous pathos.
Elizabeth said, ‘Were they as secret as that?’
He backed away from her suspiciously, as though he feared that she too had designs on his most intimate thoughts. ‘I’ve warned you,’ he said abruptly. ‘I won’t bother you any longer. You had better not tell your brother that I have been. I don’t wish any harm to him either.’ He turned and walked very quickly to the door, as though he were afraid that some word might delay him further. When he opened the door a cold draught filled the room with smoke and mist. He shivered a little. As he closed it he shut away from himself the sight of Elizabeth’s face, its serenity troubled by a faint and obscure pity.
The Man Within by Graham Greene / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes