The man within, p.9
The Man Within, p.9Graham Greene
The room where Elizabeth and he had told their stories the previous night was empty. He looked round for some scrap of paper on which he could write his gratitude, but there was none, nor had he any pen or ink. He did not dare to go up to where she slept, feeling that if he saw her face again he could not leave her. And yet to go without a word or sign seemed impossible. He felt in his pockets. They were empty, save for some ancient crumbs, hard as shot, and his knife. He stared at his knife hesitatingly. His heart told him to leave it as a gift which might help her, a sign that he was grateful; his mind told him that very soon in Lewes he would need it. He opened the blade and stroked it. It was clean and sharp and on it, very roughly engraved, a schoolboy’s first experiment with acids, was his name. It’s my only weapon, he thought. It’s of more use to me than to her. What could she use it for but toasting and cutting bread? I shall be defenceless without it. Leave it for that very reason, his heart appealed. A sacrifice. But to his fingers running along the blade it was so comfortingly sharp.
I’ll leave nothing, he decided. After all she is driving me into this risk, and he moved to the door. Leaning in one corner beside it was the gun, with which she had overcome him. He remembered her laugh, ‘I haven’t an idea how to load it.’ Suppose that Carlyon – but Carlyon would do nothing against a woman. There could be no danger for her, and yet he felt uneasy. He returned with lagging, unwilling steps to the table, and suddenly, drawing the knife from his pocket, plunged it into the wood, so that it stood there quivering like an arrow. I can get another in Lewes, he told himself, and he shut the door of the cottage behind him. But it is far to Lewes, he thought, robbed suddenly of four sheltering walls, alone in a bare, chill, hostile world.
The morning was cold and sharp and sunny. The bare coppice at the edge of which the cottage stood was bathed in a slow yellow surge. Above it lay the down over which he had come two nights before in scurrying terror. His danger now was greater than ever, for was he not pledged at last to visit Lewes? And yet his fear was not so great. Before it had drowned reason. Now through contact with one firm spirit his reason was predominant. He knew that this was only for a time, that his full blinding cowardice would return, but he would make the most of this respite by deciding on his course of action. His quickest route to Lewes was by road, and quickness he desired. Like a runner in a relay race he wished to touch but the fringes of Lewes and retire, his duty fulfilled. The sooner he reached the town, the sooner he could escape. But though the road was the quickest route, he was very unwilling to trust to it. He imagined himself as a clear-cut conspicuous figure thrown up against a white, bare road, and behind every hedge the possibility of Carlyon or his two companions. No, by way of the downs was longer, but safer. There, if he could be seen, he could at least see others with equal clearness. And the down would take him by Ditchling Beacon and Harry’s Mount to the very threshold of Lewes. He could lie out on the last slope until dark came. He glanced at the sun with hate, his heart desirous of that dark.
On the slopes of the down the grass grew in long tufts, so that each foot that fell was clogged as though it had been plunged in treacle. When he reached the summit Andrews was out of breath and he lay down to rest. He wondered what hour it was. The sun seemed to indicate late morning, for as he faced inland it shone nearly full upon his back. We have both been tired, he thought, and have slept long, and he was glad that he had not wakened her. The down all around him was empty and refreshingly safe, and though danger might be lurking in the world below, it was dwarfed by distance. Somewhere twelve miles away lay Lewes, but for a little he need have no care of that. He was perched high up upon a safe instant of time and he clung hard to that instant, drowning all thought in mere sensation, the sight of the country unrolled like a coloured map below him, the feel of warmth creeping from neck to spine. In that long wash of sun, which left the moon an indistinct wraith in the transparent, fragile blue, lay a first hint of spring, and in the breeze, salt from the Channel, hidden from sight by yet another ridge of down, gorse-laden, prophesying green. There was no green yet in the coppice, which lay like a band of soft brown fur fringing the hill, but green crept cautiously, afraid still of an ambush from winter, into the flat ploughed fields below, advancing from pastures where small white sheep were grazing. Dotted across the distance were toy farms, which displayed how far from the isolation he had imagined was the cottage where Elizabeth slept. Along a white road a scarlet cart crawled like a ladybird along the rim of a leaf. The Surrey hills peered through a silver veil, as though they were an old man’s face, austere, curious and indestructibly chaste. A cock a mile away crowed with frosty clarity and a lamb bewildered and invisible cried aloud. The turf on which he lay was fresh with the previous rain and mist, yet crisp with salt from the sea.
At the sound of a horse behind him Andrews turned, his mind again harried by fear. There was no cause. Some unknown farmer from the lands below, riding with uncovered head, passed across the brow of Ditchling Beacon, the horse stepping high and delicately, in the manner of a great lady conscious of a crowd. With ears pricked it watched its rider out of the corner of one desirous eye, heart yearning for the gallop, and was gone. The olive green slopes lay bare once more to the spring, which came as Jove to Danae in a shower of gold. A mile of grass and thirty miles of sea were carried in the breeze down over Plumpton and Ditchling and on past Lindfield and Ardingly to fade only before that quiet, impassive silver veil. Save for the passing wind and the small dots of moving men and cattle safely far, the world was motionless. Above a round blue dewpond a singing bird floated in the air like a scrap of charred paper, too light to stir.
She will be awake now, he thought, and coming down the stairs into the kitchen. I wish I had stayed to thank her. Will she realize what the knife means? He watched the cottage intensely, and as though it were a signal of remembrance to him upon the down a puff of white smoke emerged from the single chimney, hung whole for a moment in the sky and then was broken into fragments. Some the sun caught, so that they seemed like a drift of birds, wheeling and flashing their white underwings. He found in the crevice of his mind, where childhood harboured, the faint memory of a pictured saint, a young girl with a pale, set face, round whose head a flock of doves turned and twisted. He rebuked the uneasiness which had made him leave his knife. She says there is a God, he thought, and no God could help but guard her. Yet what strange ideas of guarddianship gods had, for those who were most their own they often paid with death, as though the failure of life itself was not a branch of guardianship. Andrews instinctively stretched out his arms, as though he would gather the white birds to his breast, as though, if he had indeed been given the power, they would not have dissolved into the flecks of smoke which they were.
I would rather trust a devil to look after his own than a god, he thought, for there seemed to him nothing more final and irrevocable than death. It did not occur to him that Elizabeth’s death might be irrevocable only to him and his desire. Thinking of the devil, he thought too of the stubbled face of dead Mr Jennings. Perhaps he would guard her, as she believed, through the crude force of jealousy. If love survived the body, as church people believed, why not also jealousy, spilt like a bitter wine into the unhoused spirit? Keep her, he implored, till I return, not noticing the paradox of his appeal. He would return the next day or the day after, having fulfilled the letter of his promise.
It was hard to leave this point of the down, where he could watch the cottage. He wanted by the intensity of his gaze to pierce the walls, make a breach through which, even if he were still robbed of sight, the slow sound of her feet might come to him.
‘I will return,’ he said out loud, but the inner critic who had been still for so long roused himself as though at a challenge and taunted him. You coward, what use? What are you that she should look twice at you? At least a fool, he protested, who may be running himself into a trap for her. The mocker spoke suddenly as though in the heart itself, denuded for the once of reproach. Would she not be w
Yet his quick walk soon slackened, for the day was warm, and he was in no hurry to reach Lewes. He paused here to watch the valley and the light on a small squat church, there to drink with a herd of black and white cows at a dewpond on the downs, bright blue from the reflected sky as though it were part of an illuminated Missal. The cows raised their soft eyes, too drowsy for suspicion, and then made room for him. They were contented and at peace and so for a short while was he. But at every reiterated summit on the downs his heart filled with apprehension, lest below him he should see the object of his journey, and filled again with blessed relief as he gazed before him at the inevitable slopes rising in the distance to yet another crest. At the edge of one such summit he heard voices and dropped cautiously into a narrow gorge of chalk, the cold walls on either side gleaming like blue icicles. The voices, however, belonged only to two dark-skinned gipsy youths, trotting intently over the rise followed by a couple of flippant black puppies, who journeyed over each other and rolled in the grass mocking their master’s serious purpose. Andrews asked the boys whether he was on the right way to Lewes, and they nodded their heads, watching him with the same dark drowsy peace as had the cattle. Then, like all else, they left him to comforting solitude. The minutes and the hours passed him almost unnoticed. He even forgot his fear of reaching the final summit, so inevitable the relief seemed. He was aware only of the warm day dying when he was no longer able to rest so long upon the slopes before chill gripped him.
Slowly the moon which swam far out over the Surrey hills grew more distinct, breasting a tide grown darker blue with the approach of evening. Somewhere out by Hassocks the sun sank level with the downs, which lay, barred with the last parallel gold rays pointing to Lewes. Up Harry’s Mount he climbed, his fear forgotten, and reaching its crest looked down with shocked surprise on Lewes, crouching in the valley like a fierce remnant of old winter.
He stood and watched, sick and suddenly tired at heart, half ready to perceive it stretch out an arm to sweep him down. This is the end then, he thought. Must I go down and talk with people again, and be everlastingly careful? Tears of the old self-pity pricked his eyes. There’s no rest for me in England, he thought. I’d better go to France and beg. It was not the begging, however, which raised his heart in instant revolt at the suggestion, but the idea of ceding once and for all sight and sound of Elizabeth.
The sun dived with sudden decision into night from the edge of a distant down. The faint gold powder which had strewn the air was brushed away leaving a still, transparent silver. Andrews walked back and forth with puzzled straying steps that he might keep warm till a deeper darkness came. He looked every now and then at the castle which dominated Lewes from its hill. When it should be cloaked from sight he would go down. It seemed an endless while and it was very cold. The prospect of returning that night the way he had come, his promise fulfilled, grew uninviting. Besides, what welcome would he get from Elizabeth after so literal a fulfilment? There could be no great danger, he persuaded himself, in staying one night in Lewes. He knew from experience that there were many inns, and fortune could hardly deal so ill with him as to bring him face to face with anyone he knew. Carlyon would not dare to enter Lewes when the Assizes were so imminent and the town full of officers.
The shadows had fallen over the town and he could no longer see the castle, save as an indistinct hump or a shrugged shoulder. He began to walk down by a path longer than it had seemed in the silver light. By the time he had reached the first straggling houses, darkness was complete, pierced here and there by the yellow flicker of oil lamps, crowned by dingy pinnacles of smoke from the lengthening wicks. Cautiously he made his way into the High Street, and stood for a while in the shadow of a doorway, probing his mind for the position of the various inns. There were few persons about in the street, which was like the deck of a sleeping ship lit by two lamps, fore and aft, and on each side a sudden fall into a dark sea. Opposite him two old houses leant crazily towards each other, almost touching above the narrow lane called Keerie Street, which dived chaotically into the night – a few confused squares and oblongs of inn signs, six steep feet of cobbles and then vacancy. Out beyond, but he could not see, was Newhaven and the Channel, France. Even there lay no complete freedom for him. Along the coasts were scrubby little men, with squinting eyes, hard wrists and a sharp mispronounced knowledge of the English coinage who knew his face well and Carlyon’s better.
His shoulders falling from force of habit into a self-pitying droop, Andrews moved farther down the street. Here and there shops were still open, and their lit windows showed old white-bearded men peering at their ledgers with little lines of content around their eyes. Never, not even at school nor under the pain of the smugglers’ hardly veiled contempt, had Andrews felt so alone. He passed on. Two voices speaking softly in a doorway made him pause. He could not see the speakers. ‘Come tonight,’ ‘Shall I? I oughtn’t to.’ ‘I love you, love you, love you.’
Andrews, to his own surprise, smote the wall against which he stood with his fist and said aloud with a crazy fury, ‘You damned lechers,’ walked on weeping with anger and loneliness. ‘I’ll be drunk if I can’t be content in any other way,’ he thought. ‘I’ve still enough money for that, thank God.’
With sudden resolve he dived down a side street, stumbling at its unexpected steepness, and came to rest with unerring instinct at the door of an inn. Two windows were cracked and stuffed with rags, the sign was long past the possibility of repair. Of the goat, which was the inn’s name, remained only the two horns, as though a mocking warning to husbands not to enter. Loneliness and the desire to forget his loneliness drove away even the instincts of fear and caution, and Andrews flung the door carelessly open and stumbled, eyes red and blind with childish tears, within. The air was thick with smoke, and a roar of human voices, each trying to drown the others and make its opinions heard, smote him in the face like a wave. A tall thin man with small eyes and a red flabby mouth, who was standing by the door, caught his elbow. ‘What do you want, son?’ he asked and immediately began to shoulder his way through the throng, calling out to an invisible potman, ‘Two double brandies for a gentleman here,’ and presently re-emerged with what he sought, and vanished again with his own quota leaving Andrews to pay. His brandy drunk, Andrews looked round the room with a clearer mind. He chose a small, respectable man, who stood alone, asked him to join him in a drink. Looking deprecatingly at the empty glass in Andrews’ hand, the stranger replied that he would not mind a glass of sherry.
Andrews fetched it and himself revived by fresh brandy began to question his new acquaintance.
‘I’m looking for a night’s lodging,’ he said. ‘I suppose that won’t be easy now. The town will be full for the Assizes?’
‘I can’t tell that,’ the man replied, eyeing him a little askance as though he feared that Andrews was about to ask him for money. ‘I’m more or less a stranger here myself.’
‘And these Assizes,’ Andrews considered, ‘what are they for anyway? To bring money to the tradespeople. There’s no need for such a fuss to hang a few poor skunks.’
‘I don’t agree with you at all – not at all,’ said the little man sipping his sherry and eyeing Andrews suspiciously. ‘Justice must be done in the proper order.’
‘Yes, but what is the proper order?’ Andrews asked, raising his voice so as to be heard above the din around him and at the same time signalling to the potman that his glass was empty. ‘Surely the crime and then retribution.’
‘You must prove the guilt,’ the st
‘Isn’t it proved well enough without a judge and jury?’ Andrews’ caution vanished still further out of sight at the stinging touch of a third glass. ‘They were caught by the revenue in the act and you can’t dispose of a dead body.’
The stranger put down his glass of sherry carefully on the edge of the table and eyed Andrews even more curiously. ‘You are referring to the smugglers and the alleged murder?’ he asked.
Andrews laughed. ‘Alleged!’ he cried. ‘Why, it’s patent.’
‘No man is guilty until he is proved so,’ the little man commented as though he were repeating a well-learnt lesson.
‘Then you must wait till Doomsday in this case,’ Andrews murmured, with a sudden bitter sense of divine injustice. He who was innocent suffered persecution, while they…
‘You could not form a jury in Lewes which would convict them.’ He waved his hand round the inn parlour. ‘They are all in it,’ he said, ‘for fear or profit. If you searched the crypt of Southover Church you’d find barrels there, and the parson winks an eye. Do you think he wants to lose his whole congregation or perhaps be whipped at one of his own pillars? If you want to stamp out smuggling you must do away with the idea of justice. Have another drink.’
The Man Within by Graham Greene / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes