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Title: A Commentary
Author: Galsworthy, John
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Commentary" ***


                             A COMMENTARY

                             _THE WORKS OF
                           JOHN GALSWORTHY_


                               _NOVELS_

                    VILLA RUBEIN: AND OTHER STORIES
                    THE ISLAND PHARISEES
                    THE MAN OF PROPERTY
                    THE COUNTRY HOUSE
                    FRATERNITY
                    THE PATRICIAN
                    THE DARK FLOWER
                    THE FREELANDS
                    BEYOND
                    FIVE TALES
                    SAINT’S PROGRESS
                    IN CHANCERY
                    TO LET
                    THE BURNING SPEAR
                    THE WHITE MONKEY
                    THE SILVER SPOON
                    SWAN SONG

                   *       *       *       *       *

                    THE FORSYTE SAGA
                    A MODERN COMEDY


                      _SHORT STORIES AND STUDIES_

                    A COMMENTARY
                    A MOTLEY
                    THE INN OF TRANQUILLITY
                    THE LITTLE MAN
                    A SHEAF
                    ANOTHER SHEAF
                    TATTERDEMALION
                    CAPTURES
                    CASTLES IN SPAIN AND OTHER SCREEDS
                    TWO FORSYTE INTERLUDES

                   *       *       *       *       *

                    CARAVAN

                   *       *       *       *       *

                    VERSES NEW AND OLD

                   *       *       *       *       *

                    MEMORIES (ILLUSTRATED)
                    AWAKENING (ILLUSTRATED)
                    ADDRESSES IN AMERICA


                                _PLAYS_

                    FIRST SERIES: THE SILVER BOX
                                  JOY
                                  STRIFE

                    SECOND SERIES: THE ELDEST SON
                                   THE LITTLE DREAM
                                   JUSTICE

                    THIRD SERIES: THE FUGITIVE
                                  THE PIGEON
                                  THE MOB

                    FOURTH SERIES: A BIT O’ LOVE
                                   FOUNDATIONS
                                   THE SKIN GAME

                    FIFTH SERIES: A FAMILY MAN
                                  LOYALTIES
                                  WINDOWS

                    SIXTH SERIES: THE FOREST
                                  OLD ENGLISH
                                  THE SHOW

                    ESCAPE


                  _The above Plays issued separately_

                    SIX SHORT PLAYS:

                    THE FIRST AND THE LAST
                    THE LITTLE MAN
                    HALL-MARKED
                    DEFEAT
                    THE SUN
                    PUNCH AND GO

                    PLAYS BY JOHN GALSWORTHY--1 VOL.


                          _THE GROVE EDITION_

_The Novels, Stories, and Studies of John Galsworthy in small volumes_



                             A COMMENTARY

                                  BY
                            JOHN GALSWORTHY

                               NEW YORK
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                Printed in the United States of America

                            [Illustration]

          “JUSTICE” APPEARED IN THE _Albany Review_ (LONDON);
           “POWER” IN THE _New Age_; ALL THE OTHER SKETCHES
             IN THIS VOLUME HAVE APPEARED IN _The Nation_
                (LONDON). THE AUTHOR THANKS THE EDITORS
                           OF THESE REVIEWS



CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

A COMMENTARY                                                           3

I. THE LOST DOG                                                       19

II. DEMOS                                                             31

III. OLD AGE                                                          45

IV. THE CAREFUL MAN                                                   59

V. FEAR                                                               73

VI. FASHION                                                           85

VII. SPORT                                                            95

VIII. MONEY                                                          107

IX. PROGRESS                                                         127

X. HOLIDAY                                                           139

XI. FACTS                                                            149

XII. POWER                                                           165

XIII. THE HOUSE OF SILENCE                                           177

XIV. ORDER                                                           191

XV. THE MOTHER                                                       203

XVI. COMFORT                                                         215

XVII. A CHILD                                                        231

XVIII. JUSTICE                                                       241

XIX. HOPE                                                            255



A COMMENTARY


The old man whose call in life was to warn the public against the
dangers of the steam-roller held a small red flag in his remaining hand,
for he had lost one arm. His brown face, through whose leathery skin
white bristles showed, had a certain dignity; so had his square
upstanding figure. And his light grey eyes, with tiny pupils, gazed with
a queer intentness, as if he saw beyond you. His clothes were old,
respectable, and stained with grease; his smile shrewd and rather sweet,
and his voice--of one who loved to talk, but whose profession kept him
silent--was deliberate and sonorous, with a whistling lisp in it,
because he had not many teeth.

“What’s your opinion?” he said one summer morning. “I’ll tell you _my_
experience: a lot o’ them that’s workin’ on road jobs like this are
fellers that the Vestries takes on, makin’ o’ work for them--the lowest
o’ the low. You can’t do nothing with them; here to-day and gone
to-morrow. Lost dogs I call ’em. Most of them goes on the drink the
moment they gets a chance, and the language that they’ll use--oh dear!
But you can’t blame them’s far as I can see--they’re born tired. They
ain’t up to what’s wanted of ’em nowadays. You might just as well put
their ’eads under this steam-roller and ’ave done with it.”

Then lowering his voice as though imparting information of a certain
value: “And that’s just what I think’s ’appened to them already; that
great thing”--he pointed to the roller--“that great thing goes on, and
on, and on--it’s gone over them! Life nowadays has got no more feelin’
for a man than for a beetle. See the way the poor live--like pigs,
crowded all together; to any one who knows, it’s awful! An’
morals--something dreadful! How can you have morals when you’ve got to
live like that--let alone humanity? You can’t, it stands to reason.
Talk about democracy--government by the people? There’s no sense in it;
the people’s kept like pigs; all they’ve got’s like pig-wash thrown ’em.
They know there’s no hope for them. Why, when all’s done, a working-man
can’t save enough to keep ’imself in his old age. Look at me! I’ve lost
my arm, all my savin’s was spent when I was gettin’ well; I’ve got this
job now, an’ very glad to get it--but the time ’ll come when I’ll be too
old to stand about all weathers; what ’ll happen? I’ll either ’ave to
starve or go into the ’Ouse--well, that’s a miserable ending for a man.
But then you say, what can you do? That’s just it--what _can_ you do?
Where’s the money to come from? People say Parliament ought to find it,
but I’ve not much ’opes of them; they’re very slow. All my life I’ve
noticed that. Very slow! Them fellers in Parliament, they’ve got their
positions and one thing and another to consider, the same as any other
people; they’re bound to be cautious, they don’t want to take no risks,
it stands to reason. Well, that’s all against reforms, I think. All
they do, why it’s no more than following after this ’ere roller,
treadin’ in the stones.”

He paused, looking dubiously at the roller, now close at hand. “See what
a lot o’ things the money’s wanted for. It’s not only old-age pensions,
there’s illness! When I lost my arm, and lay there in the ’orspital, it
worried me to think what I should do when I got out--put me in such a
stew; well, there’s thousands like that--people with consumption, people
with bad blood--’undreds an’ thousands, that’s got nothin’ to fall back
on; they’re in fear all their time.”

He came closer, and his voice seemed to whistle more than ever. “It’s a
dreadful thing, is fear. I thought that I’d come out a log, an’ just
’ave to rot away. I’ve got no family--but them fellers in consumption
with families an’ all, it’s an awful thing for them. Here’s a
carriage--I mustn’t get to talking!”

He moved forward to the barrier, and stood there holding up his flag. A
barouche and pair came sweeping up; the sun shone on its panels, on the
horses’ coats, the buttons of the coachman, and the egrets in two
ladies’ hats. It swerved at sight of the red flag, and swung round the
corner to the left.

The old man stood looking after it, and the silence was broken only by
the crunching of the roller. Rousing himself from reverie, he said:
“Fashion! D’you know, I can’t tell what them sort of people think of all
day long. It puzzles me. Sometimes I fancy they don’t think at all.
Thinking’s all done for them!” And again he seemed to lapse into his
reverie. “If you told them that they’d stare at you. Why, they fancy
they’re doin’ an awful lot, what with their bazaars an’ one thing an’
another. Them sort of people, they don’t mean any ’arm, but they ’aven’t
got the mind. You can’t expect it of them, livin’ their lives; you want
a lot o’ mind to think of other people.”

Suddenly his eyes brightened. “Why, take them street-walkers you see
about at night; now what d’you think ladies in their carriages thinks
of them--dirt! But them women ’alf the time’s no worse than what the
ladies are. They took their bit o’ sport, as you may call it--same as
lots o’ ladies take it. That’s where money comes in--they ’adn’t the
money to keep off the streets. But what are you to do? You can’t have
the creatures about.” A frown came on his brow, as though this question
had long been troubling him. “The rich,” he went on, “are able for to
educate their daughters, and look after them; I don’t blame them--it’s
human nature to do the best you can for your own family; but you’ve got
to think of others that haven’t got your money--you’ve got to be human
about it. The mischief is, when a man’s got money, it’s like a wall
between ’im an’ ’is fellows. That’s what I’ve found. What’s your
opinion? Look here! My father was a farm labourer, at eight shillin’s a
week, an’ brought up six of us. And ’owever ’e managed it I don’t know;
but I don’t think things are any better than they were then--I don’t--I
think they’re worse. This progress, or what do they call it, is
destroyin’ of us. You can’t keep it back, no more than you could keep
back that there roller if you pushed against it; all you can do’s to
keep ahead of it, I suppose. But talk about people’s increasin’ in the
milk of human kindness--I don’t see it, nor intelligence. Look at the
way they spend their ’olidays--it gives you stomach-ache to see them.
All a lot o’ rowdy fellers, never still a minute, that’s lost all
religion--a lot o’ town-bred monkeys. This ’ere modern life, it’s
hollowed of ’em out, that’s what it’s done, in my opinion. People’s got
so restless; they keep on tryin’ first one thing and then another;
anything so long as they can be doing something on their own. That’s a
fact. It’s like a man workin’ on a job like this road-mendin’; he just
sees the stones he’s puttin’ down himself, and he don’t see nothing
else. That’s what everybody’s doin’. But I don’t see how you can prevent
it; it looks as if ’twas in the blood. They talk about this Socialism;
well, but I’m not very sweet on it--it’s mostly all a-lookin’ after your
neighbour, ’s far’s I can see.”

He paused, staring hard, as though trying to see further. “Well,” he
went on suddenly; “that won’t work! Look at the police--never met such
meddlesome creatures; very nice men in themselves, I dare say, but just
because they’ve got a little power--! And they’re as thick as thieves
together. Take these fellers that they send to prison; they talk about
reformin’ of them, but when they get them there it’s all like that
roller, crushin’ the life out--awful, I call it. Them fellers come out
dead, with their minds squashed out o’ them; an’ all done with the best
intentions, so they tell me. I tell you what I think, there’s only one
man in a ’undred fit to ’ave power over other men put in his ’ands. Look
at the workhouses--why ain’t they popular? It’s all because you’ve got
to live by rule. I don’t find no fault with rules so long as you don’t
order people about; what you want to do’s to get people to keep rules of
their own accord--that’s what I think. But people don’t look at it that
way, ’s far ’s I can see. What’s your opinion? Mind ye,” he went on
suddenly, “I’m not saying as there isn’t lots o’ things Government might
do, that you’d call Socialism, I dare say. See the women in them
slums--poor things, they can’t hardly drag themselves along, and yet
they breed like rabbits. I don’t blame them, they don’t know no better.
But look ’ere!” and thrusting the handle of the flag into his pocket, he
took a button of his listener’s coat between his finger and his thumb;
“I’d pass a law, I would, to stop ’em. That’s going too far, you say!
Well, but what’s to be done? There’s no other way, in my opinion. Then,
of course, if you stop ’em, you won’t ’ave none o’ this cheap low-class
labour. That won’t please people. It’s a difficult matter!”

He sank his voice to a sort of whistling whisper. “’Alf the children in
them slums is brought about under the influence of drink. What d’ you
make of that? And that’s only the beginning--they feed them poor little
things on all sorts o’ mucky stuff--an’ lots o’ them ’alf fed at that.
Pretty state o’ things for a country like this--it’d disgrace the
savages, I think. I’d ’ave every child full-fed by law. I’d make it a
crime, I would, to ’ave half-starved children about the streets or
schools, or anywhere. I’d begin at the beginning. But then you say
that’s pauperising of the parents. That’s what they said when they began
this ’ere free education--nobody ain’t been pauperised by that. A
country that can’t keep its children fed ain’t fit to ’ave them, that’s
what I think; ’t isn’t fair to them little things. But then you say
that’d cost a mint o’ money--millions! Of course it would! Well, look at
the ’ouses in this road, look at them big flats--’undreds an’ thousands
of streets an’ ’ouses like that all over England. They say that sixpence
on the rates would feed the children, but they won’t put it on--of
course they won’t, it’s too much off their comfort. People don’t like
parting; that’s a fact, as you know yourself. But what’s the good of
raisin’ millions of these ’ere dry-rotted people--they’re so expensive,
you can’t do nothing with them----” He broke off to intercept a cart.
“But I dare say,” he said, returning, “they’d call that Socialism.
What’s your opinion? Shall I tell you what I think about it? These
Socialists are like men that keep a shop, an’ some one walks in an’
says: ‘How much for the coat there?’ he says. ‘Ten bob!’ they say. ‘I’ll
give you five,’ he says. ‘No, we wants ten,’ they say. ‘No,’ ’e says,
‘five!’ And both of them knows all the time they’re goin’ to do a deal
at seven an’ six!”

He sank his voice, as though imparting a State secret: “It wouldn’t
never do for them to say seven an’ six straight off; then ’e’d only give
’em six an’ three. See? If you want to get a proper price you’ve got to
keep hollerin’ for more--that’s human nature.”

Then, waving his flag towards the block of flats, he said: “Look at all
this class of comfortable people. They don’t see things the same as I
do, an’ I don’t know why they should. They’re comfortable themselves. It
stands to reason they’re not goin’ to think about such things. They’ve
been brought up to believe the world was made for them. They never see
no other people but their own sort; same as workin’ people never see no
other but workin’ people. That’s what makes the classes, in my opinion.
All these fellers here,” and he waved his hand towards the figures
working at the road, “talk very big about betterin’ their position, but
as soon as it comes to standin’ by each other it’s every man for
himself. It’s only what you can expect--if you don’t look out for
yourself, nobody else will, that’s as sure as eggs. They say, in England
all men’s equal under the law; well, but then you’ve only got to look
around--that isn’t true, how can it be? You’ve got to pay for law same
as you’ve got to pay for everything. That’s where it is! They talk about
Justice in the country, the same for rich and poor; that’s all very
fine, but there’s a ’undred ways where a man that’s poor has to suffer
for it, because he can’t pull the lawyers’ tails and make ’em jump.”

And with these words he tried to raise both arms, but he had only one.
“You haven’t told me what you think?” he said: “I’ll tell you my
opinion,” and his voice dropped to an emphatic whisper: “_There’s things
that want improvin’, and there’s things that stand in the way of things
improvin’_. But I’ve noticed one thing; it don’t matter how low people
get, they’re always proud of something, even if it’s only of their
troubles. There must be some good in human nature, or we’d never keep
ahead of that great thing at all;” he stretched his arm out to the
roller, approaching with its slow crunching sound like the sound of Life
crunching the bones of men; “we’d let it go right over us.” And nodding
his grey head twice, he stood holding up his red flag as still as stone,
with his eyes fixed intently on a coming milk-cart.



THE LOST DOG

I

THE LOST DOG


It was the first October frost. Outside a half-built house, before a
board on which was written, “Jolly Bros., Builders,” I saw a man, whose
eyes seemed saying: “In the winter building will stop; if I am homeless
and workless now, what shall I be in two months’ time?” Turning to me he
said: “Can you give me a job, sir? I don’t mind what I do.”

His face was in mourning for a shave, his clothes were very ragged, and
he was so thin that there seemed hardly any man behind those ragged
clothes. He smelt, not indeed of whiskey, but as though bereaved of it;
and his blue and watery eyes were like those of a lost dog.

We looked at each other, and this conversation passed between our eyes:

“What are you? Where did you work last? How did you get into this
condition? Are you married? How many children? Why don’t you apply to
the proper authorities? I have money, and you have none; it is my right
to ask these questions.”

“I am a lost dog.”

“But I have no work for you; if you are really hungry I can give you
sixpence; I can also refer you to a Society who will examine your
affairs, but if they find you a man for whom life has been too much,
they will tell me so, and warn me not to help you. Is that what you
want?”

“I am a lost dog.”

“I dare say; but what can I do? I can’t make work! I know nothing about
you, I daren’t recommend you to my friends. No man gets into the
condition you are in without the aid of his own folly. You say you fell
ill; yes, but you all say that. Why couldn’t you look ahead and save
some money? You see now that you ought to have? And yet you come to me!
I have a great many calls--societies, old people, and the sick; the
rates are very high--you know that--partly on your account!”

“I am a lost dog.”

“Ah! but I am told daily by the just, the orderly, the practical, who
have never been lost or hungry, that I must not give to casuals. You
know yourself it would be pure sentiment; you know yourself it would be
mere luxury. I wonder you can ask me!”

“I am a lost dog.”

“You have said that before. It’s not as if I didn’t know you! I have
seen and talked with you--with dozens of you. I have found you asleep on
the Thames Embankment. I have given you sixpence when you were shambling
empty away after running a mile behind a cab. One night, don’t you
remember, in the Cromwell Road--well, not you, but your twin brother--we
talked together in the rain, and the wind blew your story against the
shuttered windows of the tall, closed houses. Once you were with me
quite six weeks, cutting up a dead tree in my garden. Day after day you
sat there, working very slowly to keep the tree from coming to an end,
and showing me in gratitude each morning your waistbelt filling out.
With the saw in your hand and your weak smile you would look at me, and
your eyes would say, ‘You don’t know what a rest it is for me to come
here and cut up wood all day.’ At all events, you _must_ remember how
you kept yourself from whiskey until I went away, and how you excused
yourself when I returned and found you speaking thickly in the morning:
‘I can’t _help_ rememberin’ things!’ It was not you, you say? No; it was
your double.”

“I am a lost dog.”

“Yes, yes, yes! You are one of those men that our customs breed. You had
no business to be born--or at any rate you should have seen to it that
you were born in the upper classes. What right had you to imagine you
could ever tackle the working-man’s existence--up to the mark all day
and every day? You, a man with a soft spot? You knew, or your parents
ought to have known, that you couldn’t stand more than a certain
pressure from life. You are diseased, if not physically, then in your
disposition. Am I to excuse you because of that? Most probably I should
be the same if life pressed hard enough. Am I to excuse myself because
of that? Never--until it happens! Being what you are you chose
deliberately--or was it chosen for you--to run the risks of being born;
and now you complain of the consequences, and come to me for help? To
me--who may myself at some time be in need, if not of physical, of moral
bread? Is it right, or reasonable?”

“I am a lost dog.”

“You are getting on my nerves! Your chin is weak--I can see that through
your beard; your eyes are wistful, not like the professional beggar’s
pebbly eyes; you have a shuffling walk, due perhaps a little to the
nature of your boots; yes, there are all the marks of amiability about
you. Can you look me in the face and say it would be the slightest use
to put you on your legs and thrust you again, equipped, into the ranks
of battle? Can you now? Ah! if you could only get some food in you, and
some clothes on you, and some work to do! But don’t you know that, three
weeks hence, that work would be lost, those clothes in pawn, and you be
on the drink? Why should I waste my charity on _you_--‘the deserving’
are so many! There’s ‘something against you’ too? Oh! nothing
much--you’re not the sort that makes a criminal; if you were you would
not be in such a state. You would be glad enough to do your fellows a
good turn if ever you could do a good turn to yourself; and you are not
ungrateful, you would attach yourself to any one who showed you
kindness. But you are hopeless, hopeless, hopeless--aren’t you now?”

“I am a lost dog.”

“You know our methods with lost dogs? Have you never heard of the lethal
chamber? A real tramp, living from hand to mouth in sun and rain and
dirt and rags, enjoys his life. But _you_ don’t enjoy the state you’re
in. You’re afraid of the days when you’ve nothing to eat, afraid of the
nights when you’ve nowhere to sleep, afraid of crime, afraid even of
this begging; twice since we’ve been standing here I’ve seen you looking
round. If you knew you’d be afraid like this, what made you first desert
‘the narrow path’? Something came over you? How could you let it come
like that? It still comes over you? You were tired, you wanted something
new--something a little new. We all want that something, friend, and get
it if we can; but we can’t recognise that _your_ sort of human creature
is entitled, for you see what’s come of it?”

“I am a lost dog.”

“You say that as if you thought there was one law for the rich and
another for the poor. You are making a mistake. If I am had up for
begging as well as you, we shall both of us go to prison. The fact that
I have no need to steal or beg, can pay for getting drunk and taking
holidays, is hardly to the point--you must see that! Do not be led away
by sentimental talk; if we appear before a judge, we both must suffer
punishment. I am not so likely to appear as you perhaps, but that’s an
accident. No, please don’t say that dreadful thing again! I wish to help
you. There is Canada, but they don’t want you. I would send you anywhere
to stop your eyes from haunting me, but they don’t want you. Where do
they want you? Tell me, and you shall go.”

“I am a lost dog.”

“You remind me of that white shadow with little liver spots that my
spaniel dog and I picked up one night when we were going home.

“‘Master,’ he said, ‘there’s such an amusing cur out there in the middle
of the road.’

“‘Behave yourself! Don’t pick up with anything you come across like
this!’

“‘Master, I know it is a thin and dirty cur, but the creature follows
me.’

“‘Keep to heel! The poor dog will get lost if you entice him far from
home.’

“‘Oh, master! that’s just what’s so amusing. He hasn’t any.’

“And like a little ghost the white dog crept along behind. We looked to
read his collar; it was gone. We took him home--and how he ate, and how
he drank! But my spaniel said to me:

“‘Master, what is the use of bringing in a dog like this? Can’t you see
what he is like? He has eaten all my meat, drunk my bowl dry, and he is
now sleeping in my bed.’

“I said to him: ‘My dear, you ought to like to give this up to this poor
dog.’

“And he said to me: ‘Master, I _don’t_! He is no good, this dog; I am
cleaner and fatter than he. And don’t you know there’s a place on the
other side of the water for all this class of dog? When are we going to
take him there?’

“And I said to him: ‘My dear, don’t ask me; _I don’t know_.’

“And you are like that dog, standing there with those eyes of yours and
that weak chin and those weak knees, before this half-built house with
the winter coming on. And I am like my spaniel, who knows there is a
proper place for all your kind of creature. Man! what shall I do with
you?”

“I am a lost dog.”



DEMOS

II

DEMOS


“Well, she’s my wife, ain’t she?” He put his hands on the handles of his
barrow as though to take it away from one who could not see his point of
view, wheeled it two yards, and stopped.

“It’s no matter what I done to her. Look ’ere!” He turned his fish-white
face, and his dead eyes came suddenly to life, with a murky, yellow
glare, as though letting escape the fumes within his soul. “I ought to
ha’ put her to bed with a shovel long ago; and I will, too, first chance
I get.”

“You are talking like a madman.”

“Look ’ere, ’as a man a right to his own wife an’ children?” His thick
loose lower lip trembled. “You tell me that!”

“It depends on how he behaves himself. If you knock her about, you
can’t expect her to stay with you.”

“I never done no more to her than what she deserved. I never gave her
the ’alf o’ what she ought to ’ave.”

“I’ve seen her several times with your marks on her face.”

“Yes, an’ I’ll mark ’er again, I will.”

“So you have just said.”

“Because a man ’its ’is wife when he’s got a drop o’ liquor in ’im, that
don’t give ’er the right to go off like this and take a man’s children
from ’im, do it?”

“I think it does.”

“When I find her----”

“I hope you will not find her.”

He thrust his head forward, and the yellow in the whites of his eyes
deepened and spread till his whole face seemed suffused with it.

“Look ’ere, man an’ wife is man an’ wife, and don’t you or any one come
between ’em, or it’ll be the worse for you.”

“I have told you my opinion.”

“You think I don’t know the law; the law says his children belongs to a
man, not to a woman.”

“We needn’t go into that.”

“Needn’t we? You think, becos I’m not a torf, I got no rights. I know
what the law says. A man owns ’is wife, an’ ’e owns ’is children.”

“Do you deny that you drink?”

“You’d drink if you ’ad my life; d’you think I like this goin’ about all
day with a barrer?”

“Do you deny that you’ve often struck your wife?”

“What’s it to you or any one else, what I do to ’er in private? Why
don’t you come down to my place an’ order me about?”

“But I suppose you know your wife can get a separation order if she goes
down to the Court?”

On his face a grin stole up.

“Separation order! Do ’er a lot o’ good, that would! D’you think that’d
keep my ’ands off ’er afterwards? She knows what I’d do to ’er if she
went against me.”

“What _would_ you do?”

“She wouldn’t want to arsk for any more separation orders.”

“You would be locked up if you molested her afterwards.”

“Should I? _She_ wouldn’t be there to speak against me.”

“I understand.”

“She knows what I’d do to ’er.”

“You’ve scared her so that she daren’t go to the Court--she daren’t stay
with you; what can she do but leave you?”

“I don’t want _’er_, let ’er go; I want the children.”

“Do you really mean that you don’t want her?”

“I never ’ad a woman keep _me_.”

“You know that her earnings have kept you all.”

“I tell you I never ’ad a woman keep me.”

“Can you support the children?”

“If I could get a proper job----”

“But can you get a proper job?”

“Well, ’oo’s fault is that; it’s not my fault, is it?”

“You’ve had plenty of chances.”

“‘Oo cares if I ’ave! I’ve always been a good father to my children.
I’ve worked for ’em, an’ begged for ’em, an’ stole for ’em; I’m well
known to be a good father all about where I live.”

“But that won’t keep them off the parish, will it?”

“You let the parish alone! If I ’aven’t got money, I’ve got honour;
that’s better than all the money. I don’t want no money to tell me
what’s right and what isn’t.”

“Come, come!”

“The children’s mine--every one o’ them. Takin’ children away from their
father! that’s a fine thing to be backin’ up like this!”

His eyes moved from side to side, like the eyes of an animal in pain,
and his voice was hoarse as though a lump had risen in his throat.

“Look ’ere! I’m fonder of them children than what people might think.
I’ll never sleep again till I know where they are.”

“How can I tell you where they are without telling you where their
mother is?”

“They’re mine--the law gives ’em to me. ’Oo are you to go against the
law?”

“We went over that just now.”

“When she married me she took me for better or worse, didn’t she? Man
an’ wife should settle their own affairs. They don’t want no one else to
interfere with them!”

“You want her back so that you can do what you like to her. Do you
expect other people to help you to that?”

“Look ’ere! D’you think it’s pleasant for me when I go into the pub to
’ave ’em talk about _my wife_ goin’ off on ’er own? D’you think I
’aven’t got enough to bear without that?”

“You ought to have thought of that before you drove her to it.”

“‘Oo says I drove ’er? Noos-bearin’, talkin’ about ’er, like what they
are? She’s lost ’er honour; d’you think that’s pleasant for _me_?”

“No.”

“Well, then!” He came from between the handles of his barrow and stood
on the edge of the pavement, and the movement of his shoulders was like
the movement of a bull that is about to charge. “Look ’ere! She’s mine
to do what I like with. I never injured any one that didn’t injure me;
but any one that injures me’ll ’ave a funny piece o’ cake to cut, what
’e’ll never be able to swaller.”

“Who is injuring you?”

“An’ don’t you think I’m afraid o’ the police. Not all the police in the
world won’t stop _me_!”

“Well?”

“You only listens to one side; if I was to tell you all I’d got against
’er----”

“You beat her--and you ask me to help you find her?”

“I’m arskin’ you the whereabouts o’ my children.”

“It’s the same thing. Can’t you see that no decent man would tell you?”

He plucked at his throat and stood silent, with a groping movement like
a man suddenly realising that the darkness before him is not going to
lift.

“It’s all like a Secret Society to me! If I can’t get ’em back, I can’t
bear meself.”

“How can it be otherwise?”

“You’re all on ’er side. She’s a disgrace, that’s what _she_ is, takin’
’em away from their ’ome, takin’ ’em away from their father.”

“She brought them into the world.”

“When I find ’er, I’ll make _’er_ sorry she was ever brought into the
world ’erself. I’ll let ’er know ’oo’s ’er master! She sha’n’t forget a
second time! She’s mine, and the children’s mine!”

“Well, I can’t help you.”

“I stands on the law. The law gives ’em to me, and I’ll keep ’em. She
knows better than to go to the Court against me--it means ’er last
sleep.”

“Good-morning!”

He plucked at his neck again and ground the sole of his boot on the
pavement, and the movement of his eyes was pitiful to see.

“I’m ’alf out o’ meself, that’s what I am; I’ll never sleep until I find
’em. Look ’ere! _Tell_ me where they are, sir?”

“I am sorry, I cannot.”

In the unmoving fish-white face his dead eyes, straining in their
sockets, began to glow again with that queer yellow glare, as though
alive with the spirit that dwells where light has never come; the spirit
that possesses those dim multitudes who know no influence but that of
force, no reason, and no gentleness, since these have never come their
way; who know only that they must keep that little which they have,
since that which they have not is so great and so desirable; the dim
multitudes who, since the world began, have lived from hand to mouth,
like dogs crouched over their stale bones, snarling at such as would
take those poor bones from them.

“I’m ’er ’usband, an’ I mean to ’ave ’er, alive or dead.”

And I saw that this was not a man who spoke, but the very self of the
brute beast that lurks beneath the surface of our State; the very self
of the chained monster whom Nature tortures with the instinct for
possession, and man with whips drives from attainment. And behind his
figure in the broad flowery road I seemed to see the countless masses of
his fellows filing out of their dark streets, out of their alleys and
foul lodgings, in a never-ending river of half-human flesh, with their
faces set one way. They covered the whole road, and every inlet was
alive with them; and all the air was full of the dull surging of
thousands more. Of every age, in every sort of rags; on all their faces
the look that said: “All my life I have been given that which will keep
me alive, that, and no more. What I have got I have got; no one shall
wrench it from my teeth! I live as the dogs; as the dogs shall my
actions be! I am the brute beast; have I the time, the chance, the money
to learn gentleness and decency? Let me be! Touch not my gnawed bones!”

They stood there--a great dark sea stretching out to the farther limits
of the sight; no sound came from their lips, but all their eyes glowed
with that yellow glare, and I saw that if I took my glance off them they
would spring at me.

“You defy me, Guv’nor?”

“I am obliged to.”

“One day I’ll meet yer, then, for all your money, and I’ll let yer
know!”

He took up the handles of his barrow, and slowly, with a sullen lurch,
wheeled it away, looking neither to his right nor left. And behind him,
down the road with its gardens and tall houses, moved the millions of
his fellows; and, as they passed in silence, each seemed to say:

“One day I’ll meet you, and--I’ll let you know!”

The road lay empty again beneath the sun; nursemaids wheeled their
perambulators, the lilac-trees dropped blossom, the policemen at the
corners wrote idly in their little books.

There was no sign of what had passed.



OLD AGE

III

OLD AGE


He came running out of the darkness, and spoke at once: “Go an’ see my
poor mother, gentleman; go and see my poor father an’ mother!”

It was a snowy midnight; by the light of the street lamp he who made
this strange request looked ragged and distraught.

“They lives in Gold Street, 22; go an’ see ’em, gentleman. Mrs. James
White--my poor mother starvin’.”

In England no one starves.

“Go an’ see ’em, gentleman; it’s the book o’ truth I’m tellin’ you.
They’re old; they got no food, they got nothin’.”

“Very well, I will.”

He thrust out his face to see whether he might trust his ears, then
without warning turned and ran on down the road. His shape vanished
into darkness, whence it came....

Gold Street with its small grey houses whose doors are always open, and
its garbage-littered gutters, where children are at play.

“Mr. and Mrs. James White?”

“First floor back. Mr. White--wanted!”

My dog sniffed at the passage wall, that smelled unlike the walls
belonging to him, and presently an old man came. He looked at us
distrustfully, and we looked back distrustfully at him.

“Mr. James White?”

“Yes.”

“Last night some one calling himself your son asked me to come up and
see you.”

“Come up, sir.”

The room was unpapered, and not more than ten feet square; it contained
a double bed, over whose dirty mattress was stretched a black-brown rag;
a fireplace and no fire; a saucepan, but nothing in it; two cups, a tin
or two, no carpet, a knife and spoon, a basin, some photographs, and
rags of clothing; all blackish and discoloured.

On a wooden chair before the hearth was sitting an old woman whose
brown-skinned face was crowsfooted all over. Her hair was white, and she
had little bright grey eyes and a wart on one nostril. A dirty shawl was
pinned across her chest; this, with an old skirt and vest, seemed all
her clothing. The third finger of her left hand was encircled by a broad
gold ring. There were two chairs, and the old man placed the other one
for me, having rubbed it with his sleeve. My dog lay with his chin
pressed to the ground, for the sights and scents of poverty displeased
him.

“I’m afraid you’re down on your luck.”

“Yes, sir, we are down.”

Seated on the border of the bed, he was seen to be a man with features
coloured greyish-dun by lack of food; his weak hair and fringe of beard
were touched with grey; a dumb, long-suffering man from whom
discouragement and want had planed away expression.

“How have you got into this state?”

“The winter an’ my not gettin’ work.”

A whisper came from the old lady by the hearth:

“Father can work, sir; oh! ’e can work!”

“Yes, I can work; I’m good for a day’s work at any time.”

“I’m afraid you don’t look it!”

His hand was shaking violently, and he tried to stop its movement.

“It’s a bit chilly; I feels well enough in meself.”

More confidential came the old lady’s whisper:

“Father’s very good ’ealth, sir; oh! ’e can work. It’s not ’avin’ any
breakfast that makes ’im go like that this weather.”

“But how old are you?”

“Father’s seventy-one, sir, and I’m the same. Born within two months of
each other--wasn’t we, Father?”

“Forgive my saying so, Mr. White, but, with all this competition, is
there much chance of your getting work at that age? What _are_ you?”

“Painter I am, sir; take any work--I’m not particular. Mr. Williams
gives me a bit when times are good, but the winter----”

“Father can work, sir; oh! ’e can work!”

“Thirty-three years I worked for one firm--thirty-three years.”

“What firm was that?”

“Thirty-three years--till they gave up business----”

“But what firm----”

“Answer the gentleman’s question. Father’s very slow, sir.”

“Scotter’s, of John Street, that was--thirty-three years. Now they’ve
given up.”

“How long since they gave up?”

“Three years.”

“And how have you managed since?”

“Just managed along--get some jobs in the summer--just managed along.”

“You mustn’t mind Father, sir. Why don’t you tell the gentleman? Just
managed along, as you see, sir--everything’s gone now.”

She passed her hand over her mouth, and the sound of her whisper was
more intimate than ever:

“Dreadful things we’ve suffered in this room, sir; dreadful! I don’t
like to speak of ’em, if you’ll believe me.”

And, with that almost soundless whisper, that stealthy movement of her
hand before her mouth, all those things she spoke of seemed to be
happening in their deadly privacy to those two old people behind their
close-shut door.

There was a silence; my dog spoke with his eyes: “Master, we have been
here long enough; I smell no food; there is no fire!”

“You must feel the cold dreadfully this weather?”

“We stays in bed as long as we can, sir--to keep warm, you know--to keep
warm.”

The old man nodded from the black ruin of a bed.

“But I see you have no blankets.”

“All gone, sir--all gone.”

“Had you no savings out of that thirty-three years?”

“Family, sir--family; four sons an’ two daughters; never more than
thirty shillin’s a week. He always gave me his wages--Father always gave
me his wages.”

“I never was one to drink.”

“Sober man, Father; an’ now he’s old. But ’e can work, sir; ’e can
work.”

“But can’t your sons help you?”

“One’s dead, sir; died of fever. And one”--her withered finger touched
her forehead--“not quite--you know, not quite----”

“The one I saw last night, I suppose?”

“Not quite--not since he was in the Army. A bit--” Again she touched her
forehead.

“And the other two?”

“Good sons, sir; but large families, you know. Not able----”

“And the daughters?”

“One’s dead, sir; the other’s married--away.”

“Haven’t you any one to fall back on?”

The old man interrupted heavily:

“No, sir; we haven’t.”

“Father doesn’t put things right, sir--let me speak to the gentleman!
Tell you the truth, never ’ad the habit, sir; not accustomed to ask for
things; never done it--couldn’t!”

The old man spoke again:

“The Society looked into our case; ’ere’s their letter. Owin’ to my not
’avin’ any savin’s, we weren’t thought fit for bein’ ’elped, so they
says ’ere. All my savin’s is gone this year or more; what could I save,
with six children?”

“Father couldn’t save; ’e did ’is duty by them--’e couldn’t save. We’ve
not been in the ’abit of askin’ people, sir; wouldn’t do such a
thing--couldn’t!”

“Well! You see they’ve made a start with old-age pensions?”

The old man slowly answered:

“I ’eard something--I don’t trouble about politics.”

“Father never was one for the public-’ouse, sir; never.”

“But you used to have a vote, of course?”

A smile came on his lips, and faded; and in that smile, not even
ironical, he passed judgment on the centuries that had left him where he
was.

“I never bothered about them. I let that alone!”

And again he smiled. “I’ll be dead long before they reach _me_, I know
that.”

“The winter’s only half over. What are you going to do?”

“Well, sir, I don’t know _what_ we’re goin’ to do.”

“Don’t you think that, all things considered, you’d be better off in
the--in the Infirmary?”

Silence.

“You know they--they’re quite comfortable, and----”

Silence.

“It’s not as if there were any--any disgrace, or----”

Silence.

“Well?”

He rose and crossed over to the hearth, and my dog, disturbed, sniffed
at his trousers. “You are worn out,” he seemed to say; “go where you
ought to go, then my master will not have to visit you, and waste the
time he owes to me.” And he, too, rose and came and put his snout on my
knee; “When I am old, master, you will still take care of me--that is
understood between us. But this man has no one to take care of him. Let
us go!”

The old man spoke at last:

“No, sir. I don’t want to go there; I can work. I don’t want to go
there.”

Beyond him the whisper rose:

“Father can work, sir; ’e can work. So long as we get a crust of bread,
we’d rather stay ’ere.”

“I’ve got _this_, but I can’t bring meself to use it. I can work; I’ve
always worked.” He took out a piece of paper. It was an order admitting
James White, aged 71, and Eliza White his wife, aged 71, into the local
Workhouse; if used for purposes of begging to be destroyed.

“Father can work, sir; ’e can work. We seen dreadful times in this
room, believe, me, sir, before we came to getting that. We don’t want
to go. I tell Father I’d rather die out ’ere.”

“But you’d be so much more comfortable, Mrs. White; you must know that.”

“Yes, sir; but there it is--I don’t want to, and Father don’t want to.”

“I can work; I can go about with a barrer, or anything.”

“But can you _live_?”

“Well, sir, so long as we’re alive. After that, I can’t tell--they’ll
get us then, I suppose.”

And the whisper came:

“We can’t ’elp it after that. As you see, sir--there’s nothin’ left,
there’s nothin’ left.”

She raised her hand and pointed to the bed; and the sun, that had been
hidden all the morning, broke through and glittered on her wedding
ring.



THE CAREFUL MAN

IV

THE CAREFUL MAN


He came on one side of farmer stock who had married farmer stock since
the invasion of the Saxons, and on the other side of county families who
had married county families since the Norman conquest. He was born where
the town ended and country life began, educated at a public school, and
his father was a judge.

Being designed for a profession he had adopted it, keeping himself in
hand, so as not to be unpleasantly professional. For since the time when
he was wheeled in perambulators he had never wanted to do anything too
much. He had so completely seen the other side of being wheeled in
perambulators that he had ever afterwards been loth to put himself in a
position which made it needful for him to act with all his heart. His
organs were in fact remarkably adjusted. He had not too much head nor
too much heart. He had not too much appetite, but he had appetite
enough. When asked at lunch of which sweet he would partake, he would
answer: “A little of both, thanks”; for nothing seemed to him in life so
great a pity as to take one thing to the exclusion of another. The
instinct was so founded in the very roots of him that he knew nothing of
it; and it was this unconsciousness which lent a simple strength to what
might otherwise have seemed an undecided character.

His attitude to women was a guarded one. It was repugnant to him to have
too much wife, and yet, not wife enough was also very painful; and so he
had devised a way out of his embarrassment by saying to himself: “We two
are only married to the extent that we desire to be; we will do exactly
as we like.” And he found that by thinking this, and getting his wife,
who was a clever woman, to say she thought it too, he remained
extremely faithful. With regard to children, it had no doubt been
difficult, for--after a year or two--to have children and not to have
them had been found impossible. In this dilemma he had considered very
seriously what course he should adopt, and having carefully weighed the
pro’s and con’s had discovered them to be so very equal that he could
come to no conclusion. In consequence of this he had two children; after
which he found no difficulty in not wanting to have more.

The question of his residence had occasioned him some pain; for,
supposing that he lived in town he missed the country, and supposing
that he resided in the country he missed the town. He therefore lived a
little in both town and country; so regulating things that when in
London he wanted to be out, and when out of London he wanted to be in,
which kept him healthy.

A moderate meat diet gave him a hankering after other diets, making him
a vegetarian in theory, so that he was in accord with either school. He
drank wine at times; at times he drank no wine; he smoked one cigar
after every meal--no more, because more made him sick.

His feeling about money was that he ought to have enough, in order to
have no feeling about money; and, to attain this vacuum, he mechanically
restrained his wants, still more his wife’s--for, not being so
beautifully adjusted as himself, when she wanted things, she _wanted_
them.

In matters of religion he would not commit himself to any definite
opinions. If asked whether he thought there were a future life, he would
say: “I see no reason to believe there is; on the other hand, I see no
object in believing that there isn’t; there may be, or there may not be;
or, again, there may be a future life for some, no future life for
others--a little of both, perhaps.”

Dogma of any sort, of course, he found offensive--you were committed by
it, and to be committed was both repulsive and absurd.

Once or twice only in his life had he seriously felt careless, and
these were on occasions when he found his carelessness was threatened by
some person or event that tried to tie him down.

There was in him a sort of terror of being bound to anything; and when
he was returned to Parliament, which happened after he was forty, he
felt a natural uneasiness. Was he committed; if so, what was he
committed to? Could he still get down on either side; and suppose he did
get down, could he at once get up again? And he was happy when he found
he could.

_It was remarkable how national he was._

Yet he was not entirely conscious of his importance to the State, not
recognising perhaps sufficiently how many other men were like him in
every walk of life--not recognising that he was, in truth, the solid
centre of the nation’s pudding.

There was a word that he had early learnt to spell; it started with a C,
the second letter was an O, the third an M, the fourth a P, the fifth an
R, the sixth an O, the seventh M, the eighth an I, the ninth an S, the
last an E. Once learnt, soon after he escaped from perambulators, that
word was never more forgot. He took it to his office, he took it to his
church, he took it into bed with him at nights. And now that he had
become a public man he took it to the House. But, having a regard, a
veneration, for the figure of John Bull--that myth who never modified
his views, but held on fast to his ideals in spite of all the dogs of
war--he preferred, whenever he was forced to act, to _say_ that he had
acted on his principles--and so, in truth, he had, for the deepest of
his principles was the intimate belief that there was no such thing as
principle.

This it was that gave him his pre-eminence in politics, for, seated in
the very centre of the seesaw, being the first to feel and answer to, he
was the least affected by, its motion. By shifting just a little, and
instinctively, he kept the whole machine together, having all the time a
quiet contempt for the two ends that would keep swinging to the skies or
bumping on the ground. Nothing could be done without him in that House,
because he was so plentiful; and very little with him.

He had a sense of humour, and devoted it to seeing all the fun there was
in “cranks,” and in extravagance of every kind. Never was he more amused
than when he saw a person really give himself to anything; he would sit,
sometimes with his hat on and sometimes with it off, watching with a
quiet smile to see the fellow bump; and the bigger the bump was, the
funnier he found it! But for such as smiled at careful men he had a
feeling that you could not take them seriously; it was their little
joke, and not a very good one; and especially he wondered how people
could be found foolish enough to place these persons in an Institution
where care was of the essence of the atmosphere. Confident, however,
that their want of care would soon undo them, he did not trouble much.

Phrases such as “There is no middle policy” sometimes carried him away
for quite five minutes; but he invariably came back in time to find
there was. It had, in fact, long been a fixed and firm belief with him
that he could make omelettes without breaking eggs, and though he
clearly made no omelettes, on the other hand he broke no eggs. Nor did
he ever fracture his belief that he was just about to make an omelette.
And after all, an omelette, even if you made it, what did it amount to?
There it was! You ate it, and had to make another! Better far to fix an
omelette in your mind, and keep it there unmade. But discussion on the
omelette’s composition he was always ready to encourage; and, sitting
with his eye cocked at the ingredients, he would talk them over very
carefully, and now and then break off a sprig of parsley, so that the
omelette really did advance--but not too fast. Sometimes he was even
known to contemplate the omelette all the night, but this he only did
because he was so very much afraid that if he left it somebody would
cook the thing; and he would go home in the early morning to his wife,
complaining rather bitterly that with a little care all this excessive
cooking in the House might be avoided.

Take him for all in all, he was not original in mind, and yet he was no
flunkey, serving mortal masters; he served a nobler one than they--the
great god Opportunity. But it was not safe to tell him this, for though
there was no reason in the world why he should dislike its being known
that he acted in accordance with his nature, somehow he did not like it.
This was, no doubt, an instance of his care.

Hardly any social measure could be brought to his attention with which
he did not feel a certain meed of sympathy. If, for instance, somebody
proposed a scheme of Old-Age Pensions, he would give a careful nod, and
wait, because he knew that when somebody got up and said that this was
dangerous, he should agree with him; or, again, if it were suggested
that children should be made less hungry out of the public rates, he
approved, but not too much, because he felt that to approve too much
would interfere with his approval of the plan that they should not be
fed out of the public rates. “A little bit of both,” would be his
thought, and by this masterly decision, which was often called his
commonsense, he infallibly secured possession to the children of a
little bit of neither; but, as he very justly said, to grant the first
was too progressive; to grant the second, retrograde. And so with every
other measure.

His leaders on both sides had learned from long experience the
daintiness of his digestion; how very sensitive it was to motion; how,
if jolted, it revolted; and so they did not try too hard to jolt it now,
for they naturally hated to be cast into the air. They appreciated, too,
his sterling worth--without him they felt the country would improve too
fast.

And those leaders of his would look at him. With his eyelids lowered,
but his eyes a little anxious, with his lips pinched in, and yet
half-smiling, in an overcoat of medium weight, put on or taken off
according to the weather, he sat, not very often opening his mouth.
Behind his grey and unobtrusive figure they saw the masses of grey,
unobtrusive, careful men, and a little shiver would run down their
spines.

Too often had they awakened from their dreams and seen him sitting
there, under a tall grey tower with a clock that faced all ways, bench
upon bench, row after row, by day, by night, one eye of him on one side,
and one eye on the other, and his nose between them in the middle.



FEAR

V

FEAR


I saw him first on a spring day--one of those days when the limbs are
lazy with delicious tiredness, the air soft and warm against the face,
the heart full of a queer longing to know the hearts of other men.

He was quite a little man, with broad, high shoulders, and hardly any
neck; and what was noticeable in his square, wooden-looking figure,
dressed in light, shabby tweed, and patched, yellow boots, was that he
seemed to have no chest. He was flat--from his white face, with its
sandy hair, moustache, and eyebrows, under an old, narrow-brimmed straw
hat, right down to his feet. It was as though life had planed him. His
face, too, seemed to have lost all but its bones and skin of
yellow-white; there were no eyelashes to his reddish-brown round eyes;
there was no colour in his thin lips, compressed as though to keep the
secret of a mortal fear. Save for the wheeze and rustle of his
breathing, he stood very still, nervously rubbing his claw-like hands up
and down his trouser-legs. His voice was hoarse and faint.

“Yes, I was a baker,” he said. “They tell me as how that’s where I’ve
done myself the harm. But I never learnt another trade; I was afraid
that if I give it up I wouldn’t get no other work. Bakin’s not good
for----”

He laid his thin, yellow fingers where there was so little left to lay
them on.

“There’s my wife and child,” he went on in his matter-of-fact voice;
“I’m fair frightened. If I could give up thinking of what’s coming to
them, I believe that I’d feel better. But what am I to do? All my
savin’s have gone now; I’m selling off my things, an’ when I’m through
with that--there we shall be.”

His unlovely little face, with its hard-bitten lips and lashless eyes,
quivered all over suddenly, as though within him all his fear had risen
up, seized on his features, and set them to a dance of agony; but they
were soon still again. Stillness was the only possible condition for a
face covering such thoughts as he had had.

“I don’t sleep for thinkin’ of it--that’s against me!”

Yes--that was against him, considering the condition of his health. Any
doctor would have told him to sleep well; that sleep, in fact, was quite
essential. And I seemed to see him lying on his back, staring at the
darkness, with those lashless, red-rimmed eyes, trying to find in its
black depths something that was not there--the wan glow of a livelihood
of some kind for his wife and child.

“I gets in such a muck o’ sweat, worrying about what’s going to come to
them with me like this; it quite exhausts me, it does really. You
wouldn’t believe how weak I was!”

And one could not help reminding him that he ought not to worry--it was
very bad for him.

“Yes, I know that; I don’t think I can last long at this rate.”

“If you could give up worrying, you would get well much quicker!”

He answered by a look of such humble and unconscious irony as one may
see on the faces of the dead before their last wonder at the end has
faded from them.

“They tells me up at the hospital to eat well!”

And, looking at this meagre little man, it seemed that the advice was
sound. Good food, and plenty of it!

“I’ve been doing the best I can, of course.” He made this statement
without sarcasm, in a voice that seemed to say: “This world I live in
is, of course, a funny world; the sort of fun it likes may be
first-rate, but if I were once to begin to laugh at it, where could I
stop--I ask you--where?”

“Plenty of milk they tell me is the best thing I can take, but the child
she’s bound to have as much as we can manage to buy. At her age, you
see, she needs it. Of course, if I could get a job!--I’d take
anything--I’d drive a baker’s cart!”

He lifted his little pipes of arms, and let them fall again, and God
knows what he meant by such a motion, unless it were to show his
strength.

“Of course, some days,” he said, “I can hardly get my breath at all, and
that’s against me.”

It would be, as he said, against him; and, encouraged by a look, he
added:

“I know I kep’ on too long with my profession; but you know what it
is--when you’ve been brought up to a job you get to depend on it; to
give it up is like chuckin’ of yourself away. And that’s what I’ve
found--people don’t want such as I am now.”

And for a full half-minute we stood looking at each other; his bitten,
discoloured lips twitched twice, and a faint pink warmed the paper
whiteness of his cheeks.

“Up at the hospital they don’t seem to take no interest in my case any
more; seems as if they thought it ’opeless.”

Unconscious that he had gone beneath the depths of human nature, shown
up the human passion for definite success, illustrated human worship of
the idol strength, and human scorn for what is weak--he said these
simple words in an almost injured tone. Recovery might be impossible,
people did not want such as he was now; but he was still interested in
himself, still loth to find himself a useless bee ejected from the hive.
His lashless eyes seemed saying: “I believe I could get well--I do
believe I could!”

Yet he was not unreasonable, for he went on:

“When I first went there they took a lot of interest in me--but that’s a
year ago. Perhaps I’ve disappointed them!”

Perhaps he had!

“They kept on telling me to take plenty of fresh air. Where I live, of
course, there’s not so very much about, but I take all I can. Not bein’
able to get a job, I’ve been sitting in the Park. I take the child--they
tell me not to have her too near me in the house.”

And I had a vision of this man of leisure sitting in the Park, rubbing
his hand stealthily to keep them dry, and watching with red eyes the
other men of leisure; too preoccupied to wonder even why his leisure was
not like theirs.

“Days like this,” he said, “it’s warm enough; but I can’t enjoy them for
thinking of what’s coming.”

His glance wandered to the pear-trees in the garden--they were all in
blossom, and lighted by the sun; he looked down again a little hastily.
A blackbird sang beyond the further wall. The little baker passed his
tongue over his lips.

“I’m a countryman by birth,” he said: “it’s like the country here. If I
could get a job down in the country I should pick up, perhaps. Last time
I was in the country I put on ’alf a stone. But who’d take me?”

Again he raised his little pipes of arms; this time it was clearly not
to show his strength. No--he seemed to say: “No one would take me! I
have found that out--I have found out all there is to know. I am done
for!”

“That’s about where it is,” he said; “and I wouldn’t care so much, but
for the baby and my wife. I don’t see what I could ha’ done, other than
what I have done. God knows I kept on at it till I couldn’t keep on no
longer.”

And as though he knew that he was again near that point when a hundred
times he had broken into private agony, seen by no creature but himself,
he stared hard at me, and his red moustache bristled over his sunken,
indrawn lips.

A pigeon flew across; settling on a tree in the next garden it began to
call its mate; and suddenly there came into my mind the memory of a
thrush that, some months before, had come to the garden bed where we
were standing, and all day long would hide and hop there, avoiding other
birds, with its feathers all staring and puffed out. I remembered how it
would let us take it up, and the film that kept falling on its eyes, and
its sick heart beating so faintly beneath our hands; no bird of all the
other birds came near it--knowing that it could no longer peck its
living, and was going to die.

One day we could not find it; the next day we found it under a bush,
dead.

“I suppose it’s human nature not to take me on, seein’ the state I’m
in,” the little baker said. “I don’t want to be a trouble to no one, I’m
sure; I’ve always kept myself, ever since I was that high,” he put his
hand out level with his waist; “and now I can’t keep myself, let alone
the wife and child. It’s the coming to the end of everything--it’s the
seeing of it coming. Fear--that’s what it is! But I suppose I’m not the
only one.”

And for that moment he seemed comforted by this thought that there were
thousands of other working creatures, on whose shoulders sat the
grinning cat of mortal illness, all staring with him at utter
emptiness--thousands of other working creatures who were dying because
fear had made them work too long. His face brightened ever so little, as
though the sun had found a way to him. But suddenly that wooden look,
the only safe and perfect look, came back to his features. One could
have sworn that fear had never touched him, so expressionless, so still
was he!



FASHION

VI

FASHION


I have watched you this ten minutes, while your carriage has been
standing still, and have seen your smiling face change twice, as though
you were about to say; “I am not accustomed to be stopped like this”;
but what I have chiefly noticed is that you have not looked at anything
except the persons sitting opposite and the backs of your flunkeys on
the box. Clearly nothing has distracted you from following your thought:
“There is pleasure before me, I am told!” Yours is the three-hundredth
carriage in this row that blocks the road for half a mile. In the two
hundred and ninety-nine that come before it, and the four hundred that
come after, you are sitting too--with your face before you, and your
unseeing eyes.

Resented while you gathered being; brought into the world with the most
distinguished skill; remembered by your mother when the whim came to
her; taught to believe that life consists in caring for your clean,
well-nourished body, and your manner that nothing usual can disturb;
taught to regard Society as the little ring of men and women that you
see, and to feel your only business is to know the next thing that you
want and get it given you--_You have never had a chance!_

You take commands from no other creature; your heart gives you your
commands, forms your desires, your wishes, your opinions, and passes
them between your lips. From your heart well-up the springs that feed
the river of your conduct; but your heart is a stagnant pool that has
never seen the sun. Each year when April comes, and the earth smells
new, you have an odd aching underneath your corsets. What is it for? You
have a husband, or a lover, or both, or neither, whichever suits you
best; you have children, or could have them if you wished for them; you
are fed at stated intervals with food and wine; you have all you want of
country life and country sports; you have the theatre and the opera,
books, music, and religion! From the top of the plume, torn from a dying
bird, or the flowers, made at an insufficient wage, that decorate your
head, to the sole of the shoe that cramps your foot, you are decked out
with solemn care; a year of labour has been sewn into your garments and
forged into your rings--you are a breathing triumph!

You live in the centre of the centre of the world; if you wish you can
have access to everything that has been thought since the world of
thought began; if you wish you can see everything that has ever been
produced, for you can travel where you like; you are within reach of
Nature’s grandest forms and the most perfect works of art. You can hear
the last word that is said on everything, if you wish. When you do wish,
the latest tastes are servants of your palate, the latest scents attend
your nose--_You have never had a chance!_

For, sitting there in your seven hundred carriages, you are blind--in
heart, and soul, and voice, and walk; the blindest creature in the
world. Never for one minute of your life have you thought, or done, or
spoken for yourself. You have been prevented; and so wonderful is this
plot to keep you blind that you have not a notion it exists. To yourself
your sight seems good, such is your pleasant thought. Since you cannot
even see this hedge around you, how can there be anything the other
side? The ache beneath your corsets in the spring is all you are ever to
know of what there is beyond. And no one is to blame for this--you least
of all.

It was settled, long before the well-fed dullard’s kiss from which you
sprang. Forces have worked, in dim, inexorable progress, from the
remotest time till they have bred you, little blind creature, to be the
masterpiece of their creation. With the wondrous subtlety of Fate’s
selection, they have paired and paired all that most narrowly approaches
to the mean, all that by nature shirks the risks of living, all that by
essence clings to custom, till they have secured a state of things which
has assured your coming, in your perfection of nonentity. They have
planted you apart in your expensive mould, and still they are at
work--these gardeners never idle--pruning and tying night and day to
prevent your running wild. The Forces are proud of you--their waxen,
scentless flower!

The sun beats down, and still your carriage does not move; and this
delay is getting on your nerves. You cannot imagine what is blocking-up
your way! Do you ever imagine anything? If all those goodly coverings
that contain you could be taken off, what should we find within the last
and inmost shell--a little soul that has lost its power of speculation.
A soul that was born in you a bird and has become a creeping thing;
wings gone, eyes gone, groping, and clawing with its tentacles what is
given it.

You stand up, speaking to your coachman! And you are charming, standing
there, to us who, like your footman, cannot see the label “Blind.” The
cut of your gown is perfect, the dressing of your hair the latest, the
trimming of your hat is later still; your trick of speech the very
thing; you droop your eyelids to the life; you have not too much powder;
it is a lesson in grace to see you hold your parasol. The doll of
Nature! So, since you were born; so, until you die! And, with his
turned, clean-shaven face, your footman seems to say: “Madam, how you
have come to be it is not my province to inquire. You are! I am myself
dependent on you!” You are the heroine of the farce, but no one smiles
at you, for you are tragic, the most tragic figure in the world. No
fault of yours that ears and eyes and heart and voice are atrophied so
that you have no longer spirit of your own!

Fashion brought you forth, and she has seen to it that you are the image
of your mother, knowing that if she made you by a hair’s-breadth
different, you would see what she is like and judge her. You are
Fashion, Fashion herself, blind, fear-full Fashion! You do what you do
because others do it; think what you think because others think it; feel
what you feel because others feel it. You are the Figure without eyes.

And no one can reach you, no one can alter you, poor little bundle of
others’ thoughts; for there is nothing left to reach.

In your seven hundred carriages, you pass; and the road is bright with
you. Above that road, below it, and on either hand, are the million
things and beings that you cannot see; all that is organic in the world,
all that is living and creating, all that is striving to be free. You
pass, glittering, on your round, the sightless captive of your own
triumph; and the eyes of the hollow-chested work-girls on the pavement
fix on you a thousand eager looks, for you are strange to them. Many of
their hearts are sore with envy; they do not know that you are as dead
as snow around a crater; they cannot tell you for the nothing that you
are--Fashion! The Figure without eyes!



SPORT

VII

SPORT


Often in the ride of some Scotch wood I used to stand, clutching my gun,
with eyes moving from right to left, from left to right. Every nerve and
fibre of my body would receive and answer to the slightest movements,
the smallest noises, the faintest scents. The acrid sweetness of the
spruce-trees in the mist, the bite of innumerable midges, the feel of
the deep, wet, mossy heather underfoot, the brown-grey twilight of the
wood, the stillness--these were poignant as they never will be again.
And slowly, back of that stillness, the noises of the beaters would
begin. Gentle and regular, at first--like the ending of a symphony
rather than its birth--they would swell, then drop and fade away
completely. In that unexpected silence a squirrel scurried out along a
branch, sat a moment looking, and scurried back; or, with its soft,
blunt flight, an owl would fly across.

Then, with a shrill, far “Mar-r-rk!” the beaters’ chorus would rise
again, drowned for an instant by the crack of the keepers’ guns; louder
and louder it came, rhythmically, inexorably nearer. In the ride little
shivers of wind shook the drops of warm mist off the needles of the
spruce, and a half-veiled sun faintly warmed and coloured everything.
Stealing through heather and fern would come a rabbit, confiding in the
space before him and the ride where he was wont to sun himself. At a
shot he flung his mortal somersault, or disappeared into a burrow,
reached too soon. To see him lie there dead in the brown-grey twilight
of the trees would give one a strange pleasure--a feeling such as some
casual love affair will give a man, the pleasure of a primitive virility
expressed--but to watch him disappear into the earth would irritate, for
he had got his death, and, dead within the earth, he would not do one
any sort of credit. Nor was it nice to think that he was dying slowly,
so one forbore to think.

Sometimes we did not shoot at such small stuff, but waited for the
roedeer. These dun familiars of the wood were very shy, clinging to the
deepest thickets, treading with gentle steps, invisible as spirits, and
ever trying to break back. Now and then, leaping forward with
hindquarters higher than its shoulders, one of them would face the line
of beaters, and then would arise the strangest noises above the
customary sounds and tappings--cries of fierce resentment that such fine
“game” should thus escape the guns. When the creature crossed the line
these cries swelled into a long, continuous, excited shriek; and, as the
yells died out in muttering, I used to feel a hollow sense of
disappointment.

When the beat was over they would collect the birds and beasts which had
fulfilled their destiny, and place them all together. Half hidden by the
bracken or deep heather the little bodies lay abandoned to the ground
with the wonderful strange limpness of dead things. We stood looking at
them in the misty air, acrid with the fragrance of the spruce-trees; and
each of us would feel a vague strange thirst, a longing to be again
standing in the rides with the cries of the beaters in our ears, and
creatures coming closer, closer to our guns.

       *       *       *       *       *

Often in the police-courts I have sat, while they drove another kind of
“game.”

It would be quiet in there but for the whisperings and shufflings
peculiar to all courts of law. Through the high-placed windows a grey
light fell impartially, and in it everything looked hard and shabby. The
air smelled of old clothes, and now and then, when the women were
brought in, of the corpse of some sweet scent.

Through a door on the left-hand side they would drive these women, one
by one, often five or six, even a dozen, in one morning. Some of them
would come shuffling forward to the dock with their heads down; others
walked boldly; some looked as if they must faint; some were hard and
stoical as stone. They would be dressed in black, quite neatly; or in
cheap, rumpled finery; or in skimped, mud-stained garments. Their faces
were of every type--dark and short, with high cheek-bones; blowsy from
drink; long, worn, and raddled; one here and there like a wild fruit;
and many bestially insensible, devoid of any sort of beauty.

They stood, as in southern countries, one may see many mules or asses,
harnessed to too-heavy loads of wood or stone, stand, utterly unmoving,
with a mute submissive viciousness. Now and then a girl would turn half
round towards the public, her lips smiling defiantly, but her eyes never
resting for a moment, as though knowing well enough there was no place
where they _could_ rest. The next to her would seem smitten with a sort
of deathlike shame, but there were not many of this kind, for they were
those whom the beaters had driven in for the first time. Sometimes they
refused to speak. As a rule they gave their answers in hard voices,
their sullen eyes lowered; then, having received the meed of justice,
went shuffling or flaunting out.

They were used to being driven, it was their common lot; a little piece
of sport growing more frequent with each year that intervened between
their present and that moment when some sportsman first caught sight of
them and started out to bring them down. From most of them that day was
now distant by many thousand miles of pavement, so far off that it was
hard work to remember it. What sport they had afforded since! Yet not
one of all their faces seemed to show that they saw the fun that lay in
their being driven in like this. They were perhaps still grateful, some
of them, at the bottom of their hearts for that first moment when they
came shyly towards the hunter, who stood holding his breath for fear
they should not come; unable from their natures to believe that it was
not their business to attract and afford them sport. But suddenly in a
pair of greenish eyes and full lips sharpened at their corners, behind
the fading paint and powder on a face, one could see the huntress--the
soul as of a stealing cat, waiting to flesh its claws in what it could,
driven by some deep, insatiable instinct. This one too had known sport;
she had loved to spring and bring down the prey just as we who brought
her here had loved to hunt her. Nature had put sport into her heart and
into ours; and behind that bold or cringing face there seemed to lurk
this question: “I only did what you do--what nearly every man of you has
done a little, in your time. I only wanted a bit of sport, like you:
that’s human nature, isn’t it? Why do you bring me here, when you don’t
bring yourselves! Why do you allow me in certain bounds to give you
sport, and trap me outside those bounds like vermin? When I was
beautiful--and I _was_ beautiful--it was you who begged of me! I gave
until my looks were gone. Now that my looks are gone, I have to beg you
to come to me, or I must starve; and when I beg, you bring me here.
That’s funny isn’t it, d----d funny! I’d laugh, if laughter earned my
living; but I can’t afford to laugh, my fellow-sportsmen--the more there
are of you the better for me until I’m done for!”

Silently we men would watch--as one may watch rats let out of a cage to
be pounced upon by a terrier--their frightened, restless eyes cowed by
coming death; their short, frantic rush, soon ended; their tossed, limp
bodies! On some of our faces was a jeering curiosity, as though we were
saying: “Ah! we thought that you would come to this.” A few faces--not
used to such a show--were darkened with a kind of pity. The most were
fixed and hard and dull, as of men looking at hurtful things they own
and cannot do without. But in all our unmoving eyes could be seen that
tightening of fibre, that tenseness, which is the mark of sport. The
beaters had well done their work; the game was driven to the gun!

It was but the finish of the hunt, the hunt that we had started, one or
other of us, some fine day, the sun shining and the blood hot, wishing
no harm to any one, but just a little sport.



MONEY

VIII

MONEY


Every night between the hours of two and four he would wake, and lie
sleepless, and all his monetary ghosts would come and visit him. If, for
instance, he had just bought a house and paid for it, any doubt he had
conceived at any time about its antecedents or its future would suddenly
appear, squatting on the foot-rail of his bed, staring in his face.
There it would grow, until it seemed to fill the room; and terror would
grip his heart. The words: “I shall lose my money,” would leap to his
lips; but in the dark it seemed ridiculous to speak them. Presently
beside that doubt more doubts would squat. Doubts about his other
houses, about his shares; misgivings as to Water Boards; terrors over
Yankee Rails. They took, fantastically, the shape of owls, clinging in
a line and swaying, while from their wide black gaps of mouth would come
the silent chorus: “Money, money, you’ll lose all your money!” His heart
would start thumping and fluttering; he would turn his old white head,
bury his whisker in the pillow, shut his eyes, and con over such
investments as he really could not lose. Then, beside his head
half-hidden in the pillow, there would come and perch the spectral bird
of some unlikely liability, such as a lawsuit that might drive him into
bankruptcy; while, on the other side, touching his silver hair, would
squat the yellow fowl of Socialism. Between these two he would lie
unmoving, save for that hammering of his heart, till at last would come
a drowsiness, and he would fall asleep....

At such times it was always of his money and his children’s and
grandchildren’s money that he thought. It was useless to tell himself
how few his own wants were, or that it might be better for his children
to have to make their way. Such thoughts gave him no relief. His fears
went deeper than mere facts; they were religious, as it were, and
founded in an innermost belief that, by money only, Nature could be held
at bay.

Of this, from the moment when he first made money, his senses had
informed him, and slowly, surely, gone on doing so, till his very being
was soaked through with the conviction. He might be told on Sundays that
money was not everything, but he knew better. Seated in the left-hand
aisle, he seemed lost in reverence--a grandchild on either hand, his old
knees in quiet trousers, crossed, his white-fringed face a little turned
towards the preacher, one neat-gloved hand reposing on his thigh, the
other keeping warm a tiny hand thrust into it. But his old brain was far
away, busy amongst the Tables of Commandment, telling him how much to
spend to get his five per cent. and money back; his old heart was busy
with the little hand tucked into his. There was nothing in such sermons,
therefore, that could quarrel with his own religion, for he did not
hear them; and even had he heard them, they would not have quarrelled,
his own creed of money being but the natural modern form of a religion
that his fathers had interpreted as the laying-up of treasure in the
life to come. He was only able nowadays to _say_ that he believed in any
life to come, so that his commercialism had been forced to find another
outlet, and advance a step, in accordance with the march of knowledge.

His religious feeling about money did not make him selfish, or niggardly
in any way--it merely urged him to preserve himself--not to take risks
that he could reasonably avoid, either in his mode of life, his work, or
in the propagation of his children. He had not married until he had a
position to offer to the latter, sufficiently secure from changes and
chances in this mortal life, and even then he had not been too
precipitate, confining the number to three boys, and one welcome girl,
in accordance with the increase of his income. In the circles where he
moved, his course of action was so normal that no one had observed the
mathematical connection between increasing income and the production and
education of his family. Still less had any one remarked the deep and
silent process by which there passed from him to them the simple
elements of faith.

His children, subtly, and under cover of the manner of a generation
which did not mention money in so many words, had sucked in their
father’s firm religious instinct, his quiet knowledge of the value of
the individual life, his steady and unconscious worship of the means of
keeping it alive. Calmly they had sucked it in, and a thing or two
besides. So long as he was there they knew they could afford to make a
little free with what must come to them by virtue of his creed. When
quite small children, they had listened, rather bored, to his simple
statements about money and the things it bought; presently that
instinct--shared by the very young with dogs and other animals--for
having of the best and consorting with their betters, had helped them
to see the real sense of what he said. As time went on, they found
gentility insisting more and more that this instinct should be
concealed; and they began unconsciously to perfect their father’s creed,
draping its formal tenets in the undress of an apparent disregard. For
the dogma, “Not worth the money!” they would use the words, “Not good
enough!” The teaching, “Business first,” they formulated, “Not more
pleasure than your income can afford, your health can stand, or your
reputation can assimilate.” There was money waiting for them, and they
did not feel it necessary to undertake even those “safe” risks which
their father had been obliged to take, to make that money. But they were
quite to be depended on. In the choosing of their friends, their sports,
their clubs, and occupations, a religious feeling guided them. They knew
precisely just how much their income was, and took care neither to spend
more nor less. And so devoutly did they act up to their principles,
that, whether in the restaurant or country house, whether in the
saleroom of a curio shop, whether in their regiments or their offices,
they could always feel the presence of the godhead blessing their
discreet and comfortable worship. In one respect, indeed, they were more
religious than their father, who still preserved the habit of falling on
his knees at night, to name with Tibetan regularity a strange god; they
did not speak to him about this habit, but they wished he would not do
it, being fond of their old father, who continued them into the past.
They had gently laughed him out of talking about money, they had gently
laughed at him for thinking of it still; but they loved him, and it
worried them in secret that he should do this thing, which seemed to
them dishonest.

With their wives and husband--in course of time they had all
married--they very often came to see him, bringing their children. To
the old man these little visitors were worth more than all hydropathy;
to help in playing with the toys that he himself had given them, to
stroke his grandsons’ yellow heads, and ride them on his knee; to press
his silver whiskers to their ruddy cheeks, pinching their little legs to
feel how much there was of them, and loving them the more, the more
there was to love--this made his heart feel warm. The dearest moments,
he knew now, the consolation of his age, were those he spent reflecting
how--of the young things he loved, who seemed to love him too a
little--not one would have secured to him or her less than twelve or
thirteen hundred pounds a year; more, if he could manage to hold on a
little longer. For fifty years at least the flesh and blood he left
behind would be secure. His eye and mind, quick to notice things like
that, had soon perceived the difference of the younger generation’s
standards from his own; his children had perhaps a deeper veneration for
the means of living while they were alive, but certainly less faith in
keeping up their incomes after they were in their graves. And so,
unconsciously, his speculation passed them by, and travelled to his
grandchildren, telling itself that these small creatures who nestled up
against him, and sometimes took him walks, would, when they came to be
grown men and women, have his simpler faith, and save the money that he
left them, for their own grandchildren. Thus, and thus only, would he
live, not fifty years, but a hundred, after he was dead. But he was
rendered very anxious by the law, which refused to let him tie his money
up in perpetuity.

Firm in his determination to secure himself against the future, he
opposed this strenuous piety to those temptations which beset the
individual, refusing numberless appeals, often much against his
instincts of compassion; opposing with his vote and all his influence
movements to increase the rates or income-tax for such purposes as the
raising of funds to enable aged people without means to die more slowly.
He himself, who laid up yearly more and more for the greater safety of
his family, felt, no doubt--though cynicism shocked him--that these old
persons were only an encumbrance to _their_ families, and should be
urged to dwindle gently out. In such private cases as he came across,
feeling how hard it was, he prayed for strength to keep his hand out of
his pocket, and strength was often given him. So with many other
invitations to depart from virtue. He fixed a certain sum a year--a
hundred pounds--with half-a-crown in the velvet bag on Sundays--to be
offered as libations to all strange gods, so that they might leave him
undisturbed to worship the true god of money. This was effectual; the
strange gods, finding him a man of strong religious principle, yet no
crank--his name appeared in twenty charitable lists, five pounds
apiece--soon let him be, for fear of wasting postage stamps and the
under parts of boots.

After his wife’s death, which came about when he was seventy, he
continued to reside alone in the house that he had lived in since his
marriage, though it was now too large for him. Every autumn he resolved
to make a change next spring; but when spring came, he could not bring
himself to tear his old roots up, and put it off till the spring
following, with the hope, perhaps, that he might then feel more
inclined.

All through the years that he was living there alone, he suffered more
and more from those nightly visitations, of monetary doubts. They
seemed, indeed, to grow more concrete and insistent with every thousand
pounds he put between himself and their reality. They became more
owl-like, more numerous, with each fresh investment; they stayed longer
at a time. And he grew thinner, frailer, every year; pouches came
beneath his eyes.

When he was eighty, his daughter, with her husband and children, came to
live with him. This seemed to give him a fresh lease of life. He never
missed, if he could help it, a visit to the nursery at five o’clock.
There, surrounded by toy bricks, he would remain an hour or more,
building--banks or houses, ships or churches, sometimes
police-stations, sometimes cemeteries, but generally banks. And when
the edifice approached completion, in the glory of its long white
bricks, he waited with a sort of secret ecstasy to feel a small warm
body climb his back, and hear a small voice say in his ear: “What shall
we put in the bank to-day, Granddy?”

The first time this was asked, he had hesitated long before he answered.
During the thirty years that had elapsed since he built banks for his
own children, he had learned that one did not talk of money now,
especially before the young. One used a euphemism for it. The proper
euphemism had been slow to spring into his mind, but it had sprung at
last; and they had placed it in the bank. It was a very little china
dog. They placed it in the entrance hall.

The small voice said: “What is it guarding?”

He had answered: “The bank, my darling.”

The small voice murmured: “But nobody could steal the bank.”

Looking at the little euphemism, he had frowned. It lacked completeness
as a symbol. For a moment he had a wild desire to put a sixpence down,
and end the matter. Two small knees wriggled against his back, arms
tightened round his neck, a chin rubbed itself impatiently against his
whisker. He muttered hastily:

“But they could steal the papers.”

“What papers?”

“The wills, and deeds, and--and cheques.”

“Where are they?”

“In the bank.”

“I don’t see them.”

“They’re in a cupboard.”

“What are they for?”

“For--for grown-up people.”

“Are they to play with?”

“NO!”

“Why is he guarding them?”

“So that--so that everybody can always have enough to eat.”

“Everybody?”

“Everybody.”

“Me, too?”

“Yes, my darling; you, of course.”

Locked in each other’s arms they looked down sidelong at the little
euphemism. The small voice said:

“Now that _he’s_ there, they’re safe, aren’t they?”

“Quite safe.”

He had given up attending to his business, but almost every morning, at
nearly the same hour, he would walk down to his club, not looking very
much at things about the streets, partly because his thoughts were
otherwise engaged, partly because he had found it from the first a
deleterious habit, tending to the overcultivation of the social
instincts. Arriving, he would take the _Times_ and the _Financial News_,
and go to his pet armchair; here he would stay till lunch-time, reading
all that bore in any way on his affairs, and taking a grave view of
every situation. But at lunch a longing to express himself would come,
and he would tell his neighbours tales of his little grandsons, of the
extraordinary things they did, and of the future he was laying up for
them. In the pleasant warmth of mid-day, over his light but satisfying
lunch, surrounded by familiar faces, he would recount these tales in
cheerful tones, and his old grey eyes would twinkle; between him and his
struggle with those nightly apparitions, there were many hours of
daylight, there was his visit to the nursery. But, suddenly, looking up
fixedly with strained eyes, he would put a question such as this: “Do
you ever wake up in the night?” If the answer were affirmative, he would
say: “Do you ever find things worry you then out of--out of all
proportion?” And, if they did, he would clearly be relieved to hear it.
On one occasion, when he had elicited an emphatic statement of the
discomfort of such waking hours, he blurted out: “You don’t ever see a
lot of great owls sitting on your bed, I suppose?” Then, seemingly
ashamed of what he had just asked, he rose, and left his lunch
unfinished.

His fellow-members, though nearly all much younger than himself, had no
unkindly feeling for him. He seemed to them, perhaps, to overrate their
interest in his grandsons and the state of his investments; but they
knew he could not help preoccupation with these subjects; and when he
left them, usually at three o’clock, saying almost tremulously: “I must
be off; my grandsons will be looking out for me!” they would exchange
looks as though remarking: “The old chap thinks of nothing but his
grandchildren.” And they would sit down to “bridge,” taking care to play
within the means their fathers had endowed them with.

But the “old chap” would step into a hansom, and his spirit, looking
through his eyes beneath the brim of his tall hat, would travel home
before him. Yet, for all his hurry, he would find the time to stop and
buy a toy or something on the way.

One morning, at the end of a cold March, they found him dead in bed,
propped on his pillows, with his eyes wide open. Doctors, hastily called
in, decided that he had died from failure of heart action, and fixed
the hour of death at anything from two to four; by the appearance of his
staring pupils they judged that something must have frightened him. No
one had heard a noise, no one could find a sign of anything alarming; so
no one could explain why he, who seemed so well preserved, should thus
have suddenly collapsed. To his own family he had never told the fact,
that every night he woke between the hours of two and four, to meet a
row of owls squatting on the foot-rail of his bed--he was, no doubt,
ashamed of it. He had revealed much of his religious feeling, but not
the real depth of it; not the way his deity of money had seized on his
imagination; not his nightly struggles with the terrors of his spirit,
nor the hours of anguish spent, when vitality was low, trying to escape
the company of doubts. No one had heard the fluttering of his heart,
which, beginning many years ago, just as a sort of pleasant habit to
occupy his wakeful minutes in the dark, had grown to be like the beating
of a hammer on soft flesh. No one had guessed, he least of all, the
stroke of irony that Nature had prepared to avenge the desecration of
her law of balance. She had watched his worship from afar, and quietly
arranged that by his worship he should be destroyed; careless, indeed,
what god he served, knowing only that he served too much.

They brought the eldest of his little grandsons in. He stood a long time
looking, then asked if he might touch the cheek. Being permitted, he
kissed his little finger-tip and laid it on the old man’s whisker. When
he was led away and the door closed, he asked if “Granddy” were “quite
safe”; and twice again that evening he asked this question.

In the early light next morning, before the house was up, the
under-housemaid saw a white thing on the mat before the old man’s door.
She went, and stooping down, examined it. It was the little china dog.



PROGRESS

IX

PROGRESS


Motor cars were crossing the Downs to Goodwood Races. Slowly they
mounted, sending forth an oily reek, a jerky grinding sound; and a cloud
of dust hung over the white road. Since ten o’clock they had been
mounting, one by one, freighted with the pale conquerors of time and
space. None paused on the top of the green heights, but with a
convulsive shaking leaped, and glided swiftly down; and the tooting of
their valves and the whirring of their wheels spread on either hand
along the hills.

But from the clump of beech-trees on the very top nothing of their
progress could be heard, and nothing seen; only a haze of dust trailing
behind them like a hurried ghost.

Amongst the smooth grey beech-stems of that grove were the pallid forms
of sheep, and it was cool and still as in a temple. Outside, the day was
bright, and a hundred yards away in the hot sun the shepherd, a bent old
man in an aged coat, was leaning on his stick. His brown face wrinkled
like a walnut, was fringed round with a stubble of grey beard. He stood
very still, and waited to be spoken to.

“A fine day?”

“Aye, fine enough; a little sun won’t do no harm. ’Twon’t last!”

“How can you tell that?”

“I been upon the Downs for sixty year!”

“You must have seen some changes?”

“Changes in men--an’ sheep!”

“An’ wages, too, I suppose. What were they when you were twenty?”

“Eight shillin’ a week.”

“But living was surely more expensive?”

“So ’twas; the bread was mortial dear, I know, an’ the flour black! An’
piecrust, why, ’twas hard as wood!”

“And what are wages now?”

“There’s not a man about the Downs don’t get his sixteen shillin’; some
get a pound, some more.... There they go! Sha’n’t get ’em out now till
tew o’clock!” His sheep were slipping one by one into the grove of
beech-trees where, in the pale light, no flies tormented them. The
shepherd’s little dark-grey eyes seemed to rebuke his flock because they
would not feed the whole day long.

“It’s cool in there. Some say that sheep is silly. ’Tain’t so very much
that they don’t know.”

“So you think the times have changed?”

“Well! There’s a deal more money in the country.”

“And education?”

“Ah! Ejucation? They spend all day about it. Look at the railways too,
an’ telegraphs! See! That’s bound to make a difference.”

“So, things are better, on the whole?”

He smiled.

“I was married at twenty, on eight shillin’ a week; you won’t find them
doing such a thing as that these days--they want their comforts now.
There’s not the spirit of content about of forty or fifty years agone.
All’s for movin’ away an’ goin’ to the towns; an’ when they get there,
from what I’ve heard, they wish as they was back; but they don’t never
come.”

There was no complaining in his voice; rather, a matter-of-fact and
slightly mocking tolerance.

“You’ll see none now that live their lives up on the Downs an’ never
want to change. The more they get the more they want. They smell the
money these millioneers is spendin’--seems to make ’em think they can do
just anythin’ ’s long as they get some of it themselves. Times past, a
man would do his job, an’ never think because his master was rich that
he could cheat him; he gave a value for his wages, to keep well with
himself. Now, a man thinks because he’s poor he ought to ha’ been rich,
and goes about complainin’, doin’ just as little as he can. It’s my
belief they get their notions from the daily papers--hear too much of
all that’s goin’ on--it onsettles them; they read about this Sawcialism,
an’ these millioneers; it makes a pudden’ in their heads. Look at the
beer that’s drunk about it. For one gallon that was drunk when I was
young there’s twenty gallon now. The very sheep ha’ changed since I
remember; not one o’ them ewes you see before you there, that isn’t
pedigree--and the care that’s taken o’ them! They’d have me think that
men’s improvin’, too; richer they may be, but what’s the use o’ riches
if your wants are bigger than your purse? A man’s riches is the things
he does without an’ never misses.”

And crouching on his knee, he added:

“Ther’ goes the last o’ them; sha’n’t get ’em out now till tew o’clock.
One gone--all go!”

Then squatting down, as though responsibility were at an end, he leaned
one elbow on the grass, his eyes screwed up against the sun. And in his
old brown face, with its myriad wrinkles and square chin, there was a
queer contentment, as though approving the perversity of sheep.

“So riches don’t consist in man’s possessions, but in what he doesn’t
want? You are an enemy of progress?”

“These Downs don’t change--’tis only man that changes; what good’s he
doin’, that’s what I ask meself--he’s makin’ wants as fast as ever he
makes riches.”

“Surely a time must come when he will see that to be really rich his
supply must be in excess of his demand? When he sees that, he will go on
making riches, but control his wants.”

He paused to see if there were any meaning in such words, then answered:

“On these Downs I been, man an’ boy, for sixty year.”

“And are you happy?”

He wrinkled up his brows and smiled.

“What age d’ you think I am? Seventy-six!”

“You look as if you’d live to be a hundred.”

“Can’t expect it! My health’s good though, ’cept for these.”

Like wind-bent boughs all the fingers of both his hands from the top
joint to the tip were warped towards the thumb.

“Looks funny! But I don’t feel ’em. What you don’t feel don’t trouble
you.”

“What caused it?”

“Rheumatiz! I don’t make nothin’ of it. Where there’s doctors there’s
disease.”

“Then you think we make our ailments, too, as fast as we make remedies?”

He slowly passed his gnarled hand over the short grass.

“My missus ’ad the doctor when she died.... See that dust? That’s
motorcars bringin’ folks to Goodwood Races. Wonderful quick-travellin’
things.”

“Ah! That was a fine invention, surely?”

“There’s some believes in them. But if they folk weren’t doin’
everything and goin’ everywhere at once, there’d be no need for them
rampagin’ motors.”

“Have you ever been in one yourself?”

His eyes began to twinkle mockingly.

“I’d like to get one here on a snowy winter’s day, when ye’ve to find
your way by sound and smell; there’s things up here they wouldn’t make
so free with. They say from London ye can get to anywhere. But there’s
things no man can ride away from. Downs ’ll be left when they’re all
gone.... Never been off the Downs meself.”

“Don’t you ever feel you’d like to go?”

“There isn’t not hardly one as knows what these Downs are. I see the
young men growin’ up, but they won’t stay on ’em; I see folk comin’
down, same as yourself, to look at ’em.”

“What _are_ they, then--these Downs?”

His little eyes, that saw so vastly better than my eyes, deepened in his
walnut-coloured face. Fixed on those grey-green Downs, that reigned
serene above the country spread below in all its little fields, and
woods, and villages, they answered for him. It was long before he spoke.

“Healthiest spot in England!... Talkin’ you was of progress; but look at
bacon--four times the price now that ever it was when I were young. And
families--thirteen we had, my missus and meself; nowadays if they have
three or four it’s as much as ever they’ll put up with. The country’s
changed.”

“Does that surprise you? When you came up here this morning the sun was
just behind that clump of beech--it’s travelled on since then.”

He looked at it.

“There’s no puttin’ of it back, I guess, if that’s your meaning? It were
risin’ then, an’ now it’s gone past noon.”

“Joshua made the sun stand still; it was a great achievement!”

“May well say that; won’t never be done again, I’m thinkin’. And as to
knowin’ o’ the time o’ day, them ewes they know it better than ever
humans do; at tew o’clock exact you’ll see them comin’ out again to
feed.”

“Ah! well--I must be getting on. Good-bye!”

His little eyes began to twinkle with a sort of friendly mockery.

“Ye’re like the country, all for movin’ on your way! Well, keep on,
along the tops--ye can’t make no mistake!”

He gave me his old gnarled hand, whose finger-tips were so strangely
warped. Then, leaning on his stick, he fixed his eyes upon the beech
grove, where his ewes were lying in the cool.

Beyond him in the sun the hazy line of dust trailed across the
grey-green Downs, and on the rising breeze came the far-off music of the
cars.



HOLIDAY

X

HOLIDAY


The curtain whose colour changes from dawn to noon, from night to
dawn--the curtain which never lifts, is fastened to the dark horizon.

On the black beach, beneath a black sky with its few stars, the sea wind
blows a troubling savour from the west, as it did when man was not yet
on the earth. It sings the same troubling song as when the first man
heard it. And by this black beach man is collected in his hundreds,
trying with all his might to take his holiday. Here he has built a
theatre within the theatre of the night, and hung a canvas curtain to
draw up and down, and round about lit lights to show him as many as may
be of himself, and nothing of the encircling dark. Here he has brought
singers, and put a band, armed with pipes of noise, to drown the
troubling murmur of the wind. And behind his theatre he has made a fire
whose smoke has qualified the troubling savour of the sea.

Male and female, from all the houses where he sleeps, he has herded to
this music as close as he can herd. The lights fall on his faces,
attentive, white, and still--as wonderfully blank as bits of wood cut
out in round, with pencil marks for eyes. And every time the noises
cease, he claps his hands as though to say: “Begin again, you noises; do
not leave me lonely to the silence and the sighing of the night.”

Round the ring he circles, and each small group of him seems saying:
“Talk--laugh--this is my holiday!”

This is his holiday, his rest from the incessant round of toil that
fills his hours; to this he has looked forward all the year; to this he
will look back until it comes again. He walks and talks and laughs,
around this pavilion by the beach; he casts no glances at the pavilion
of the night, where Nature is playing her wind-music for the stars to
dance. Long ago he found he could not bear his mother Nature’s
inscrutable, ironic face, bending above him in the dark, and with a moan
he drew the clothes over his head. In Her who gave him being he has
perceived the only thing he cannot brave. And since there is courage and
pride in the feeblest of his hearts, he has made a compact with himself:
“Nature! There is no Nature! For what I cannot understand I cannot face,
and what I cannot face I will not think of, and what I will not think of
does not exist for me; thus, there is nothing that I cannot face.
And--deny it as I may--this is why I herd in my pavilion under my
lights, and make these noises against the sighing and the silence and
the blackness of the night.”

Back from the dark sea, across a grassy space, is his row of houses with
lighted windows; and behind it, stretching inland, a thousand more,
huddled, closer and closer, round the lighted railway shed, where, like
spider’s threads, the rails run in from the expanse of sleeping fields
and marshes and dim hills; of dark trees and moon-pale water fringed
with reeds. All over the land these rails have run, chaining his houses
into one great web so that he need never be alone.

For nothing is so dreadful to this man as solitude. In solitude he hears
the voice of Her he cannot understand: “Ah! the baby that you are, my
baby man!” And he sees Her smile, the ironic smile of evening over land
and sea. In solitude he feels so small, so very small; for solitude is
silence and silence irony, and irony he cannot bear, not even that of
Her who gave him birth.

And so he is neither careful of his beauty nor of his strength; not
careful to be clean or to be fine; his only care is not to be alone. To
all his young, from the first day, he teaches the same lesson: Dread
Her! Avoid Her! Look not on Her! Towns! more towns! There you can talk
and listen to your fellows’ talk! Crowd into the towns; the eyes in your
whitened faces need never see Her there! Fill every cranny of your
houses so that no moment of silence or of solitude can come to any one
of you. And if, by unhappy chance, in their parks you find yourself
alone, lie neither on your back, for then you will see the quiet
sunlight on the leaves, the quiet clouds, and birds with solitude within
their wings; nor on your face, or you will catch the savour of the
earth, and a faint hum, and for a minute live the life of tiny things
that straddle in the trodden grasses. Fly from such sights and scents
and sounds, for fear lest terror for your fate should visit you; fly to
the streets; fly to your neighbours’ houses; talk, and be brave! Or if,
and such times will come, your feet and brain and tongue are tired, then
sleep! For, next to the drug of fellowship is the anodyne of slumber!
And when it is your holiday, and time is all your own, be warned! The
lot of those few left among you who are forced to live alone--on the
sea, with the sheep of the green hills, guarding the trim wildness of
your woods, turning the lonely soil--may for a moment seem desirable.
Be sure it is not; the thought has come to you from books! Go to a spot
where, though the nights are clear and the sun burns hot, the sea wind
smells of salt, and the land wind smells of hay, you can avoid Her,
huddled in your throngs! Dread Her! Fly from Her! Hide from Her smile,
that seems to say: “Once, when you lived with me, you were a little
gentleman. You looked in my eyes and learned a measure of repose,
learned not to whimper at the dark, giggle, and jeer, and chatter
through your nose, learned to hold yourself up, to think your own
thoughts, and be content. And now you have gone from me to be a little
cockney man. But for all your airs of courage and your fear of me--I
shall get you back!” Dread Her! Avoid Her! Towns, more towns!

Such is the lesson man teaches, from the very birth, to every child of
his unstinted breeding. And well he teaches it. Of all his thousands
here to-night, drawn from his crowded, evil-smelling towns, not one has
gone apart on this black beach to spend a single minute with his shadow
and the wind and stars. His laughter fills the air, his ceaseless
chatter, songs, and fiddling, the clapping of his hands; so will it be
throughout his holiday.

And who so foolish as to say it is not good that man should talk and
laugh and clap his hands; who so blind as not to see that these are
antidotes to evils that his one great fear has brought to him? This ring
of him with vacant faces and staring eyes round that anæmic singer with
the worn-out voice, or the stout singer with the voice of brass, is but
an instance of Her irony: “This, then, is the medicine you have mixed,
my little man, to cure the pain of your fevered souls. Well done! But if
you had not left me you would have had no fever! There is none in the
wind and the stars and the rhythm of the sea; there is none in green
growth or fallen leaves; in my million courses it is not found. Fever is
fear--to you alone, my restless mannikin, has fever come, and this is
why, even in your holiday, you stand in your sick crowds gulping down
your little homœopathic draughts!”

The show is over. The pipes of noise are still, the lights fall dark,
and man is left by the black beach with nothing to look on but the sky,
or hear but the beat of wave-wings flighting on the sea. And suddenly in
threes and fours he scurries home, lest for one second he should see Her
face whose smile he cannot bear.



FACTS

XI

FACTS


Each morning a noise of poured-out water revived him from that state in
which his thoughts were occasionally irregular. Raising his face, with
its regular nose above a regular moustache just going grey, he asked the
time. Each morning he received the same answer, and would greet it with
a yawn. Without this opening to his day he would not have known for
certain that it had begun. Assured of the fact, he would leap from his
bed into his bath, and sponge himself with cold, clear water. “Straight
out of bed--never lose heat!” Such was his saying; and he would maintain
it against every other theory of the morning tub. It was his own
discovery--a fact on which, as on all facts, he set much store; and
every morning he kept his mind fixed on its value. Then, in that
underclothing, of which he said, “Never wear any other--lets the skin
act!” he would take his stand in a chosen light before a glass, dipping
in boiling water a razor on which was written the day’s name, and
without vanity inspect his face to see that it preserved its shade of
faintly mottled red against the encroachments of the town. Then, with a
slanting edge--“Always shave slanting”--he would remove such hairs as
seemed to him unnecessary. If he caught himself thinking, he would go to
a bottle on the washstand and pour out a little bitter water, which he
would drink; then, seizing a pair of Indian clubs, he would wave them.
“I believe in Indian clubs!” he often said. Tying his tie at the angle
he had tied it for nearly thirty years, and placing lavender water--the
only scent he ever used--about his handkerchief, he would open his
wife’s door, and say, “How are you, my dear?” Without waiting for an
answer he would shut it, and go down.

His correspondence was set out on his writing-table, and as he was not
a stupid man he soon disposed of it; then, with his daily paper--which
he had long selected out of every other--he would stand before the
hearth, reading, and believing that the news he read was of a definite
importance. He took care that this reading should not stimulate his
thoughts. He wanted facts, and the fact that the day’s facts were
swallowed by the morrow’s did not disturb him, for the more facts he
read the better he was pleased.

After his breakfast--eaten opposite his wife, and ended with some
marmalade--he would go forth at ten o’clock, and walk the two miles to
the Temple. He believed in walking, wet or fine, for, as he said: “It
keeps your liver acting!”

On his way he would think of many things, such as: Whether to lay down
Gruaud La Rose, 1900, or Château Margaux, 1899? And, though alive to its
importance, he would soon decide this question, since indecision was
repugnant to his nature. He walked by way of the Green Park and Thames
Embankment, expanding his chest quietly, and feeling inward
satisfaction. To the crossing-sweeper nearest to Big Ben he gave on
every day, save Saturdays, a nod, and on Saturdays sixpence; and,
because he thus assisted him, he believed the man to be worthy of
assistance. He passed all other crossing-sweepers without being
conscious of their presence; and if they had asked for pennies would
have put them down as lazy persons making an illicit living. They did
not ask, however, accepting his attitude towards them as correct, from
the vigour of its regularity. He walked always at the same pace, neither
fast nor slow, his head erect, looking before him with an air of: I am
getting there; this is salubrious!

And on getting there he looked at his watch--not because he did not know
what it would tell him, but to satisfy his craving for the ascertainment
of a fact. It took, he knew, thirty-two minutes between door and door.

Up the stone staircase he would pause half-way and glance through the
window at a certain tree. A magpie had once built there. It had been
gone now fifteen years, but the peculiar fact remained. Meeting his
clerk in the dark narrow passage beyond the oaken door, he would address
the young man thus: “Mornin’, Dyson. Anything fresh?” and pass on into
his light and airy room, with its faint scent of Law Reports. Here, in
an old Norfolk jacket, a meerschaum pipe, rarely alight, between his
teeth, he would remain seated before papers of all sorts, working hard,
and placing facts in order, ready for the conclusions of his chief, a
man of genius, but devoid of regularity.

At one o’clock he would go out and walk some little way to lunch. When
tempted to go elsewhere he would say, “No, no! Come with me; better grub
at Sim’s!” He knew this for a fact--no novelty of any kind could alter
it. Cigar in mouth, he would then walk for twenty minutes in the Temple
Gardens, his hands behind his back, alone or with some friend, and his
good-humoured laugh would frequently be heard--the laugh of a fat man;
for though by careful weighing he kept his body thin, he could not weigh
his soul, and having thus no facts to go by, could never check its bulk.

From two to four he would continue the arrangement of his facts, and on
the rising of the Courts place them before his chief. Strong in his
power of seeing them as facts with no disturbing relevance to other
things, he would show a shade of patronage to that disorderly
distinguished man. Then, washing with Pears’ soap, and saying to his
clerk, “Evenin’, Dyson; nothing that won’t keep,” he would take his
umbrella and walk west. And again he would reflect on many things, such
as: Whether to use the iron or cleek for the approach to that last hole?
and would soon decide on one or on the other.

Passing the portals of his Club, of which he used to say, “I’ve belonged
here twenty years; that shows you!” he would hang his hat upon a
certain peg and go into the card-room, where, for small stakes that
never varied, he played the game of Bridge till seven o’clock. Then in a
hansom cab he would go home resting body and brain, and looking straight
before him at the backs of cabs in front. Entering his drawing-room he
would go over to his wife, kiss her, and remark: “Well, old girl, what
have you been doing?” and at once relate what he himself had done,
finishing thus: “Time to dress for dinner! I’ve got a twist!” In a white
tie and swallow-tail if they were dining out, a black tie and tail-less
coat if they were dining in--for these were the proved facts of
suitability--he would go to his wife’s room, take up one of her toilet
bottles, examine the stamp on it, and tell her his programme for the
morrow.

His habits in dining out were marked by regularity. A sweet or ice he
never touched for fear of gout, of which he had felt twinges. He drank
brandy with his coffee, not for fear of sleeplessness, which he had
never had, but because he found it adjusted preceding facts more nicely
than liqueurs; after champagne he would consume a glass or two of port.
Some men drank claret, believing that it did less harm, but he would
say: “Port after champagne--proved it a dozen times.” For, though it was
really not important to his body which he drank, it concerned his soul
to make the choice, and place importance on it. When the ladies had
withdrawn, he would talk on the facts of politics and guns, of stocks
and women; and, chiefly in the form of stories--facts about facts. To
any one who linked these facts to an idea he would remark at once:
“Exactly!” and, staring slightly, restore order with another fact. At
last he would go home, and in the cab would touch his wife to see that
she was there.

On Sundays he played golf--a game in which, armed with a fact, he hit a
little fact long distances until he lodged it in a hole, when he would
pick it out again and place it on a little fact and hit it off once
more. And this was good for him. Returning in the train with other
players of the game, he would sit silently reviewing the details of the
business, and a particularly good and pleasant look would come upon his
face, with its blue eyes, red cheeks, and fair moustache just going
grey. And suddenly he would begin speaking to his neighbour, and tell
him how at certain moments he had hit the little fact with an unwonted
force, or an unusual gentleness.

Two days before the 12th of August he would take his guns and wife to
Scotland, where he rented annually a piece of ground inhabited by
grouse.

On arriving he would have a bath, then go out with his keeper and a
ferret to “get his eye in”; and his first remark was always this: “Well,
McNab, and how are you? Afraid I’m a bit above myself!” And his old
keeper would answer thus: “Aye, I’m no saying but ye’ll be as well for a
day on the hill.”

Each evening on returning from the moors he would cause the dead facts
to be turned out of the pony’s paniers and laid in rows before him,
and, touching them with the end of a stick so as to make sure, he would
count them up; and the more there were of them the better he was
pleased. Then, when they were removed and hung, he would enter their
numbers in a book. And as these numbers grew, he compared them day by
day and week by week with the numbers of each former year; thus,
according to whether they were more or less, he could tell at any moment
how much he was enjoying life.

On his return to London he would say: “First-class year--five hundred
brace.” Or, shake his head and murmur: “Two hundred and thirty brace--a
wretched year!”

Any particularly fine creature that he shot he would have stuffed, so
that the fact might be remarked for ever.

Once, or perhaps twice, each year, _malaise_ would come on him, a
feeling that his life was not quite all he wished, a desire for
something that he could not shape in words, a conviction that there
were facts which he was missing. At these times he was almost irritable,
and would say: “Mistake for a man to marry, depend on it--narrows his
life.” And suddenly one day he would know what he wanted, and, under
pretext perhaps of two days’ sport, would go to Paris. The fact
accomplished, of irregularity, that he would not have committed in
England for the world--was of advantage to his soul, and he would
return, more regular than ever.

For he was a man who must be doing, who respected only the thing done.
He had no use for schemes of life, theories, dreams, or fancies. Ideas
were “six a penny,” he would say. And the fact that facts without ideas
were “six a ha’penny” was perhaps the only fact that he did not
appreciate. He was made, in fact, for laying trains of little facts, in
almost perfect order, in almost all directions. Forced by his nature to
start laying without considering where they led to, he neither knew nor
cared when or what they would blow up; and when in fact they blew up
something unexpected, or led into a _cul de sac_, he would start at once
laying them again in the first direction that seemed open. Thus actively
employed, he kept from brooding, thinking, and nonsense of all kinds, so
busy that he had no time to look ahead and see where he was going; and
since, if he had got there he would not have known it, this was just as
well.

Beyond everything, he believed in freedom; he never saw the things that
his way of acting prevented him from doing, and so believed his life to
be the freest in the world.

Nothing occasioned him a more unfeigned surprise than to tell him his
ways were typical of the country where he lived. He answered with a
stare, knowing well enough that no such likeness could be shown him as a
fact. It was not his habit to be conscious; he was neither conscious of
himself nor of his country, and this enabled him to be the man he was.

When he met himself about the town (which hourly happened) he had no
knowledge that it was himself; on the contrary he looked on himself as
specially designed, finding most other people “rather funny.”

An attempt to designate him as belonging to a type or class he
mistrusted as some kind of Socialism. And yet he ate with himself in
restaurants and private houses, travelled with himself in trains, read
the speeches of himself in Parliament, and the accounts of how he had
been surrounded by persons of Dutch origin, or on some frontier punished
a tribe whose manners were not quite his own. He played golf with
himself, and shot with his very images. Nor was he confined to his own
class; but frequently drove himself home in cabs, watched himself
drilling in the barrack squares, or, walking up and down in blue,
protected his own house at night from burglars. If he required to send a
message from his Club, he sent himself; he sold himself his waistcoats,
and even laid the pavements of the streets that he trod daily in his
pilgrimage. From his neighbourhood Imagination stretched its wings and
flitted further on. Patron of precedent, pattern of order, upholder of
the law, where he dwelt an orderly disorder reigned. He was for ever
doing things, and out of everything he did there sprang up two more
things that wanted to be done, and these things he would do--in time!
Believing no real harm of others or himself, he kept young and green!
Oh! very green and young!

And in old age, past doing things, seated in the Club smoking-room, he
will recount behind his comely grey moustache that day’s shooting and
that day’s run; the marriage of that fine girl; the death of that dear
old chap; the details of that first-rate joke, or that bad dinner; and
dwelling with love on these isolated facts, his old blue eyes will
twinkle. Presently, when it is late and he is left alone, he will put
his old tired feet up on the sofa, remove the cigar from his old lips,
and, holding it a foot from off his eyes, look closely at the ash;
finding this fact a little yellow, he will frown.



POWER

XII

POWER


When he rose every morning, the first thing he would do was to fall on
his knees beside his bed. His figure in its white garment--for he wore a
nightshirt--was rather long and lean, and looked its longest thus bent
from the loins. His thick fair hair, little disturbed by sleep, together
with a glimpse of sanguine neck and cheek, was all that could be seen
above that figure, for his face was buried in the counterpane. Here he
would commune with the deity he had constructed for himself out of his
secret aspirations and desires, out of his most private consciousness.
In the long and subtle processes of contemplation this deity had come to
be a big white-clothed figure, whose face and head were shrouded from
his gaze in frosty dimness, but whose hands--great hands, a little
red--were always clearly visible, reposing motionless on knees parted
beneath the white and flowing garment. The figure appeared in his
imagination seated as it were on air ten or fifteen feet above the floor
of a white, wide, marble corridor, and its great hands seemed to be
pressing down and stilling all that came before them. So oddly concrete
was this image that sometimes he addressed no prayers to it, but knelt,
simply feeling that it was sitting there above him; and when at last he
raised his head, a strange aspiring look had come into his strained
eyes, and face suffused with blood. When he did pray, he himself hardly
knew for what he prayed, unless it were to be made like his deity, that
sat so quiet, above the marble corridor.

For, after all, this deity of his, like the deity of every other man,
was but his temperament exaggerated beyond life-size and put in perfect
order--it was but the concretion of his constant feeling that nothing
could be trusted to behave, freed from the still, cold hands of Power.
He had never trusted himself to act save under the authority of this
peculiar deity, much less, then, could he feel that others could be
trusted. This lack of trust--which was only, perhaps, a natural desire
for putting everything and everybody in their proper places--had made
him from a child eligible for almost any post of trust. And Nature,
recognising this, had used him a hundred thousand times, weeding him out
from among his more irregular and trustful fellows, and piling him in
layers, one on another, till she had built out of him in every division
of the State, temples of Power. Two qualifications alone had she
exacted; that he should not be trustful, and that he should be content
to lie beneath the layer above him, until he should come in time to be
that upper layer himself. She had marked him down as quite a tiny boy,
walking with his governess, chopping the heads off thistles with his
stick, and ordering his brothers’ games precisely, so that they should
all know what they were playing at. She had seen him take his dog, and,
squatting on the floor, hold it close to the biscuit that it did not
want to eat; and she had marked the expression in his grey eyes, fixed
on that little white fox-terrier, trying so hard to back out through her
collar. She saw at once that he did not trust the little creature to
know whether it required to eat the biscuit; it was her proper time for
eating it, and even though by holding her nose close he could not make
her eat it, he could put her in the corner for not eating it. And having
in due course seen him do so, Nature had felt ever since that he would
keep himself apart, year by year and step by step, till he was safely
serving in the cold, still corridors of Power. She watched him, then,
with interest, throughout his school and university career, considering
what division of the State she had best build with him, though whether
he should work at feeding soldiers, at supervising education, or
organizing the incarceration of his fellows, did not seem to her to
matter much. In all these things order was essential, and the love of
placing the hand kindly but firmly on the public head, desirable;
further, these were all things that must be done, and with her unerring
instinct for economy, Nature saw that he should do them.

He had accordingly entered the State’s service at a proper age, and had
remained there, rising.

Well aware that his was an occupation tending to the constriction of the
mind, he had early made a practice of keeping it elastic by reading,
argument, and a habit of presenting every case in every light, before
pronouncing judgment; indeed, he would often take another person’s point
of view, and, having improved on it, show that it was not really what
the person thought it. Only when he was contradicted did a somewhat ugly
look come into his eyes, and a peculiar smile contract his straight lips
between his little fair moustache and his little, carefully kept, fair
beard. At such moments he would raise his hands--red, and shapely,
though rather large--as though about to press them on the head or
shoulders of the presumptuous person. For, certain as he was that he
always took all points of view before deciding any matter, he knew he
must be right. But he was careful not to domineer in any way,
recognising that to domineer was peculiarly unbecoming in a bureaucrat.

Keeping his mind elastic, he was always ready to welcome any sort of
progress; the word indeed was often on his lips, and he regarded the
thing itself as essential to the well-being of any modern State; it was
only when some particular kind of progress happened to be mentioned that
he felt any doubt. Then, caressing his beard slowly, and, if possible,
taking up a pen, he would point out the difficulties. These were, it
seemed, more numerous than the lay mind had imagined.

In the first place one must clearly understand what was meant by this
word progress; he would personally not admit that it meant advancing
backwards. If this were established as a premise, it became imperative
to ask whether the public were in a fit condition to assimilate this
measure of so-called reform. Personally he had grave doubts; he was open
to conviction, but his doubts were grave. And a very little smile would
part his lips, seeming to say: “Yes, yes, my dear sir; progress--you use
the word most glibly, and we all of us admit that it is necessary; but
if you suppose that we are going to progress by trusting human
nature--well, pardon me, but is there any precedent? One could trust
oneself, no doubt, because of one’s sense of duty to one’s deity,
but--men at large! If you think a minute you will see that they have
practically no sense of duty or responsibility at all. You say you wish
to foster it, but, my dear sir, if we foster it, what becomes
of--Government? Depend on it, a sense of duty is only the possession of
a few who have been trained to have it; and I cannot think it wise to
take the slightest risk in a matter of this gravity. The bonds that
keep us all together, and me on the top--in my place, the machinery of
morals and the State, are being daily loosened by disintegrating forces,
and considering that I am here--by natural selection, not by
accident--to keep the ship together, I am not exactly likely to help
another wave to knock the ship to pieces. ‘It is,’ you say, ‘a question
of degree.’ I consider that a very dangerous saying. I have little doubt
that all so-called reforms at all times have been ushered in by the use
of that expression. You make the fundamental error of overtrusting human
nature. Believe me, if you lived here, and saw the machinery of things
as closely as I see it, and worked, as I do, in this powerful
atmosphere, and knew the worry and the difficulty of changing anything,
and the thanklessness of the public that one works for, you would soon
get a very different notion of the necessity of what you call reform.
You must bear in mind the fact that the State has carefully considered
what is best for all, and that I am only an official of the State. And
now I have three hours at least before I can get away, of important
details (which you, no doubt, despise), connected with the business of
the State, and which it is my duty and my pride to transact efficiently;
so that you will forgive me if I drop a subject, on which of course I am
still open to conviction. Progress, we must all admit, is necessary,
but, I assure you, in this case you are making a mistake.”

The little smile died off his lips, and preceding the intruder to the
door, he politely opened it. Then, in the marble corridor, he raised his
eyes above his visitor’s retiring back. There, with its great red hands
on the knees parted beneath a white and flowing robe, sat Power--his
deity; and a silent prayer, far too instinctive and inevitable to be
expressed in words, rose through the stagnant, dusty atmosphere:

“O great image that put me here, knowing as thou must the failings of
my fellow-beings, give me power to see that they do right; let me
provide for them the moral and the social diet they require. For, since
I have been here, I have daily, hourly, humbly felt more certain of what
it is they really want; more assured that, through thy help, I am the
person who can give it them. O great image, before thou didst put me
here I was not quite certain about anything, but now, thanks be to thee,
everything is daily clearer and more definite; and I am less and less
harassed by my spirit. Let this go on, great image, till my spirit is
utterly at rest, and I am cold and still and changeless as this marble
corridor.”



THE HOUSE OF SILENCE

XIII

THE HOUSE OF SILENCE


Within the circle of the high grey wall is silence.

Under a square of sky cut by high grey buildings nothing is to be seen
of Nature but the prisoners themselves, the men who guard the prisoners,
and a cat who eats the prison mice.

This house of perfect silence is in perfect order, as though God Himself
had been at work--no dirt, no hurry, no lingering, no laughter. It is
all like a well-oiled engine that goes--without a notion why. And each
human thing that moves within this circle goes, day after day, year
after year--as he has been set to go. The sun rises and the sun goes
down--so says tradition in the House of Silence.

In yellow clothing marked with arrows the inhabitants are working. Each
when he came in here was measured, weighed, and sounded; and, according
to the entries made against his number, he received his silent task, and
the proper quantity of food to keep his body able to fulfil it. He
resumes this silent task each day, and if his work be sedentary, paces
for an hour the speckless gravel yard from a number painted on the wall
to a number painted on a wall. Every morning, and on Sundays twice, he
marches in silence to the chapel, and, in the voice that he has nearly
lost, praises the silent God of prisoners; this is his debauch of
speech. Then, on his avid ears the words of the preacher fall; and
motionless, row on row he sits, in the sensual pleasure of this sound.
But the words are void of sense, for the music of speech has drugged his
hearing.

Before he was admitted to this House of Silence he had endured his six
months’ utter solitude, and now, in the small white-washed space, with a
black floor whence he has cleaned all dirt, he spends only fourteen
hours out of the twenty-four alone, except on Sundays, when he spends
twenty-one, because it is God’s day. He spends them walking up and down,
muttering to himself, listening for sound, with his eyes on the little
peephole in the door, through which he can be seen but cannot see. Above
his mug and plate of shining tin, his stiff, black-bristled brush and a
piece of soap, is raised a little pyramid of godly books; no sound or
scent, no living thing, no spider even, only his sense of humour comes
between him and his God. But nothing whatever comes between him and his
walking up and down, his listening for sound, his lying with his face
pressed to the floor; till darkness falls, that he may stare at it, and
beg for sleep, the only friend of prisoners, to touch him with her
wings. And so, from day to day, from week to week, and year to year,
according to the number of the years set opposite the name that once was
his.

The workshops of the House of Silence hear no sound but that of work;
the men in yellow, with arrows marked on them, are busy with a fearful
zest. Their hands and feet and eyes move all the time; their lips are
still. And on these lips, from mouth to mouth is seen no smile--so
perfect is the order.

And their faces have one look, as though they said: We care for
nothing--nothing; we hope for nothing--nothing; we work like this for
fear of horror! Their quick dull stare fastens on him who comes to watch
their silence; and all their eyes, curious, resentful, furtive, have in
the depths of them the same defiant meaning, as though they saw in their
visitor the world out of which they have been thrown, the millions of
the free, the millions not alone all day and every day, the millions who
can _talk_; as though they saw Society, which bred them, nurtured them,
and forced their steps to that exactly fitting point of physical or
mental stress, out of which they found no way but the crime rewarded
with these years of silence; as though they heard in the footsteps and
the muttered questions of this casual intruder the whole pronouncement
of man’s justice:

“You were dangerous! Your souls, born undersized, were dwarfed by Life
to the commission point of crime. For our protection, therefore, we have
placed you under lock and key. There you shall work--seeing, hearing,
feeling nothing, without responsibility, without initiative, bereft of
human contact with your kind. We shall see that you are clean, and have
a bare sufficiency to eat, we shall inspect and weigh your bodies, and
clothe them with a bare sufficiency of clothes by day and night; divine
service you shall have; your work shall be apportioned to your strength.
Corporal punishment we shall very seldom use. Lest you should give us
trouble, and contaminate each other, you shall be silent, and, as far as
possible, alone. You sinned against Society; your minds were bad; it
were better if in our process you should lose those minds! For some
reason which we cannot tell, you had but little social instinct at the
start; that little social instinct soon decayed. Therefore, through
bitter brooding and eternal silence, through horror of your lonely
cells, and certainty that you are lost--no good, no mortal good to man
or thing--_you shall emerge cleansed of all social instinct_. We are
humane and scientific, we have outgrown the barbarous theories of
old-fashioned law. We act for our protection and for your good. We
believe in reformation. We are no torturers. Through loneliness and
silence we will destroy your minds that we may form fresh minds within
the bodies of which we take such care. In silence and in solitude is no
real suffering--so we believe, for we ourselves have never passed one
single silent day, one single day alone!”

This, by the expression of their eyes, is what the men in yellow seem to
hear, and this, by the expression of their eyes, is what they seem to
answer:

“Guv’nor! You tell me I did wrong to get in here, brought up like what I
was--born in the purple--Brick Street, ’Ammersmith. My father was never
up against the police; epileptic fits is what he went in for--I oughtn’t
to have had him for a father; I oughtn’t to have had a mother that
liked her drop o’ trouble, leavin’ me what you might call violent from a
child. That’s where the little difficulty was, you see. The bloke that
came about my girl knows that, seein’ he laid two years upon his back
after I’d done with ’im. That set ’em on reformin’ me. To do the
business proper, guv’nor, they gave me six months solitary to start on.
All them six months I asks meself: ‘If I were out again, an’ he came
hangin’ round my girl--what would I do?’ And I answers: ‘Hit ’im like I
done!’ You tell me I oughtn’t to been thinkin’ that; guv’nor, I ’adn’t
nothin’ else to think on. Only that, an’ what was goin’ on outside, with
me there buried-up alive. You tell me that ther’ solitude ought to ha’
done a lot for me, an’ so it did. I ain’t never been the same man since.
Well, when I came out I made a big mistake, I find, to have that
sentence up against me, in the earnin’ of me livin’ honest, like as
though I’d never been in prison. I oughtn’t to ’ave been a carpenter, I
guess, or anythin’ where people ’as to trust yer, not likin’ them about
their houses ’as has been in quod; I ought to ha’ had a trade that
didn’t need no dealings with my fellow-creatures. You tell me what I
wanted was to love me neighbour? But guv’nor, after I come out, I go
regular wasted on _that_ job. When you get wasted, guv’nor, you take to
drink; your stomach feels a funny shiverin’; what it wants is warmth, a
bit of fire--so, when you gets a sixpence, you lays it out in warmth.
That’s wrong, you say. But, lucky guv’nor, drink puts heart into a man
as has to get his livin’ out of lovin’ of his neighbour.... Soon after
that I got another little lot, with six months’ solitude again, to put
me straight. When you eat your heart out for want o’ somethin’ else to
do, when your mind rots for the need of ever such a little bit to chew
on, when you feel all day and every day like a poor dumb varmint of a
caged-up rat--like as not you hit a warder, guv’nor. When you hit a
warder, it’s the cat. This time I ought to ha’ come out p’raps a
different man--an’ so I did. I ought to ha’ had a different mind, bein’
chastened and taught the love o’ God; but, seein’, guv’nor, that when I
come to think it over, which was all day and every day, I couldn’t
really find out what I had done which in my case any other man would ha’
stopped short o’ doin’--bein’, _not any other man, but me_--I come out
that time meanin’ to go upon my own. And on my own I went, and ever
since I’ve been--an out-an’-outer, as you can see with lookin’ at me
now. An’ if you ask me what I think of all o’ you outside, I can’t
reply, seein’ I’m not allowed to speak.”

This is the answer that they seem to make, their lips move, but no sound
comes.

The warder watches these moving lips, his eyes, the eyes of a keeper of
wild beasts, are saying: “Pass on, sir, please, and don’t excite the
convicts--you have seen all there is to see!”

And so the visitor goes out into the prison yard.

On to the grey old buildings a new grey block is being built; it runs up
high already towards the square of sky; and on the pale scaffolding are
prisoners cementing in the stones. A hundred feet up, they move with
silent zest, helping to make the little whitewashed spaces safe, to
hold--themselves; helping to make thick the walls, that they may hear
nothing, and their own moaning may be smothered; helping to join stone
to stone, and fill the cracks between, that no creature, however small,
may come to share their solitude; helping to make the window-spaces high
above their reach, that from them they shall look at--nothing; helping
to hide themselves away out of the minds of all who have not sinned
against man’s justice; for, to forget them in their silence and their
solitude is good for man, and to remember them, unpleasant. The sky is
grey above them, they are grey against the sky; no sound comes down but
the smothered tapping of their tools.

The visitor goes out towards the prison gate; and, meeting him, come
three convicts marching in--the tallest in the centre, an old man with
active step and grey bristles on his weather-darkened face. Light darts
into his eyes fixed on the visitor; he bares his yellow teeth and
smiles. His lips move, and out of them come words. So, when skies have
been dark all day, the sun gleams through, to prove the beauty of the
Earthly Scheme. These words--the precious evidence of purifying
solitude, the only words that have been spoken in the House of Silence,
come faintly on the prison air: “Ye ---- ----!”



ORDER

XIV

ORDER


Coming from where they cooked their food, we passed down a passage. The
old warder in the dark blue uniform and a cap whose peak hung over his
level iron-grey eyebrows, stopped.

“This,” he said, “is the jewel room;” and, taking a key that hung below
his belt, he opened an iron door. A convict with a yellow face, in
yellow clothing marked with arrows, and in his yellow hand a piece of
yellow leather, darted a look at us, dropped his glance, and with a
dreadful, silent, swift obsequiousness passed us and went out. We stood
alone amongst the jewels, that he had evidently been polishing.

“We call it the jewel room for fun,” the old warder said, and a smile,
the first of the morning, visited his face, but quickly left his eyes
again to that strange mournful look, which some eyes have in the depths
of them--a look, as if in strict attention to the outer things of life,
their owner had parted with his soul. He took one of the jewels from the
wall, and held it out. It was a light steel bangle joined by a light
steel chain to another light steel bangle.

“That’s what they wear now when it’s necessary to put them on.”

One may see in harness rooms, bits, and chains, and stirrups glisten,
but never was harness room so garnished as this little chamber. The four
walls were bright as diamonds to the very ceiling with jewels of every
kind; light and heavy bangles, long chains, short chains, thin chains,
and very thick iron chains.

“Those are old-fashioned,” said the warder; “we don’t use them now.”

“And this?”

It stood quite close, made of three very bright steel bars, joined at
the top, wide asunder at the bottom, and clamped together by cross bars
in the middle.

“That’s the triangles,” he said a little hurriedly.

“Do you flog much?”

He stared. You are lacking--he seemed to say--in delicacy.

“Very little,” he answered, “only when it’s necessary.” And unconscious
that he had proclaimed the spirit of the system that he served, the
spirit of all systems, he drew his heels together, as though saluting
discipline.

To his old figure standing there, tall, upright, and so orderly, and to
his grave and not unkindly face, it was impossible to feel aversion. But
in this little room there seemed to come and stand in line with him, and
at his back, in an ever-growing pyramid, shaped to an apex like the very
triangles themselves, the countless figures of officialdom. They stood
there, upright, and orderly, with the words: “Only when it’s necessary,”
coming from their mouths. And as one looked, one saw how chiselled in
its form, how smooth and slippery in surface, how impermeable in
structure, was that pyramid. Wedged in perfect symmetry, bound together
man to man by something common to their souls, this phalanx stood by the
force of its own shape, like dead masonry; stone on stone, each resting
on the other, solid and immovable, in terrifying stillness. And in the
eyes of all that phalanx--blue eyes, brown eyes, grey eyes, and mournful
hazel eyes, converging on one point--there was the same look: “Stand
away, please--don’t touch the pyramid!”

Turning his back on the triangles, the old warder said again:

“Only when it’s necessary.”

“And when is it necessary?”

“The rules decide that.”

“Of course. But who makes them?”

His smile faded. “The system,” he replied.

“And do you know how the system has come about?”

He frowned--a strange question, this, to ask him!

“That,” he said with slight impatience in his voice, “is not for me to
say.” And he jerked his neck, as though continuing:

“Ask that of him behind me!”

Involuntarily I looked, but there was no one there, behind him; only the
triangles, beautifully bright. Then, with the same uncanny suddenness
there sprang up again a vision of that solid pyramid of men, and the
head of each seemed turned over his shoulder, saying:

“Ask that of him behind me.”

With a sort of eagerness I tried to see the apex of that pyramid. It was
too far away.

“We’ve got to maintain order,” he said suddenly, as though repelling a
subtle onslaught on his point of view.

“Of course; everything in this room, I suppose, is for that purpose?”

“Everything--that’s in use.”

“Ah, yes! I think you said there are some things that are not used now?”

“Those big iron chains, and these weights here--they weighted the
prisoner down with those; that’s all out of date.”

“They look rather queer and barbarous, certainly.”

He smiled.

“You may say that,” he said.

“And can you tell me how they came to be disused?”

He seemed again to check the action of turning his head round.

“No,” he said, “I couldn’t tell you that. They found they weren’t
necessary, I suppose.”

“When they were used, I take it the authorities believed in them?”

“No doubt,” he answered, “or they wouldn’t have used them.”

“They never thought that we should be looking at these things, and
calling them barbarous, like this!”

He stared at the great manacles.

“They used them,” he said, “and never thought about it, I dare say.”

“They must have considered them necessary for discipline.”

“Just that.”

“And was discipline any better then than it is now?”

“Oh, no! Worse! They had a lot more trouble with the prisoners than we
have, from what I hear.”

“If any one had told the authorities then that those heavy things did no
good they’d have laughed at him.”

He answered with a smile: “Little doubt of that.”

“I wonder whether, a few years hence, people will be standing here and
saying the same thing about those triangles, and all these other jewels,
and calling us barbarians for using them. It would be interesting to
know.”

His brows contracted: “Not likely,” he said; “you can’t do without
_them_.”

“You think it would not be possible?”

Again he seemed to check his eyes from looking round.

“No,” he repeated stolidly, “you can’t do without them.”

“It would be dangerous to try?”

He shook his close-cropped head under the peaked cap.

“I shouldn’t like to see it tried. We must keep order.”

“At the time they left off using those heavy chains, they must have
thought they ran a risk?”

He answered coldly: “I don’t know anything about that.”

“The present state of things is final, then?”

He put the bangles back upon their nail, and turning rather suddenly, as
though fearing to be attacked behind, said:

“We don’t trouble about such things; we’re here to administer the system
as we find it. We don’t use these, except when it’s necessary.”

“Have you not begged the question?”

He said with dignity: “That is not my business,” laying his hand upon
the triangles. And as he did so there seemed to spring up once more that
solid phalanx, man linked to man, all with the same schoolmaster’s
eyes--a living pyramid, turned to stone by the force of its own shape.
And a sound came forth from them as though they were assenting, but it
was only the scraping of the triangles, as the old warder pushed them a
little farther back.

He went to the door and opened it; and going out in answer to this
invitation, I looked back at the jewels. They hung in perfect
brightness, round about the triangles; and suddenly, with that same
dreadful, silent, swift obsequiousness, the man in yellow clothing
marked with arrows, with the yellow face, and the yellow leather in his
hand, passed us and went in. The iron door closed on him with a clang;
but before it closed, I saw him at work already, polishing those shining
jewels.

In dreams I have seen him since, alone with those emblems of a perfect
order, working without sound! And in dreams too, guiding me away, I see
the old warder with his regular, grave face, and his eyes mourning for
something he has lost.



THE MOTHER

XV

THE MOTHER


She walked as though pressed for time, slipping like a shadow along the
railings of the houses. With her skimpy figure, in its shabby, wispy
black, she hardly looked as if she had borne six sons. She had beneath
her arm a little bundle which she always carried to and fro from the
houses where she worked. Her face, with tired brown eyes, and hair as
black and fine as silk under a black sailor hat, was skimpy too; creased
and angled like her figure, it seemed to deny that life had ever left
her strength for bearing children.

Though not yet nine o’clock, she had already done the work of her two
rooms, lighted the fire, washed the youngest boys, given the four at
home their breakfast, swept, made one bed--in the other her husband was
still lying--and to that husband she had served his tea. She had cut
the mid-day ration of the two eldest boys, and, wrapping it in paper,
had placed it on the window-sill in readiness for them to take to
school; had portioned out the firing for the day, given the eldest boy
the pence to buy the daily screws of tea and sugar, washed some ragged
cloths, mended a little pair of trousers, put on her hat without
consulting the cracked looking-glass, and hurried forth. And, since a
penny was important to her, she had walked.

Having taken off the black straw hat, and changed the black and scanty
dress for a blue linen frock which nearly hid her broken boots, worn to
the thickness of brown paper, she was deemed ready to begin her labours.
And while on her knees she scrubbed and polished, a certain sense of
pleasurable rest would come to her; gazing into the depths of brass that
she had made to shine, she thought of nothing. On some mornings she
worked a little stiffly. This was when her husband, returning from late
discussion at his public-house, had struck her with his belt, to show
he was her master. On such mornings she was longer polishing the brass,
often forced to clean it twice, having put her eyes too close to it. And
she would think, over and over again: “He didn’t ought to hit me, he
didn’t ought to treat me like he does, and me the mother of his
children.” Thus far her thoughts would carry her, but--she was a simple
soul--they carried her no further; nor did it ever penetrate her mind
that her sons, born to and brought up by a drunken father, would some
day carry on the glorious traditions of his life. But soon, because
these things had happened to her many times, she would stop brooding,
and over the mirroring brass, that gave a queer breadth and roundness to
her face, would once more think of nothing.

Down in the kitchen, where she had her dinner, she never mentioned such
unpleasant incidents, fearing they might harm her reputation. She
talked, in fact, but little, not having much to talk of that would do
her good in a social way of speaking. But every now and then something
would break within her, and she would pour out a monotonous epic on her
sons; as though, in spite of everything, she felt that to have borne
them was a credit. In consequence of these outpourings, which came not
less than once a week, it was usual to regard her as an incorrigible
talker.

In the afternoon, though she no longer polished brass, she polished
other things. She left at six o’clock. Then, in the dusk, once more
dressed in black, she slipped along the railings of the houses, still
hurrying, of course, and more like a shadow even than before. In one of
her reddened hands--hands of which, holding them out before some
fellow-woman whose soft, ringed fingers she admired, she would say,
apologetically: “I’ve such dreadful ’ands, m’m”--in one of those red,
roughened hands she grasped some little extra wrapped in newspaper, in
the other the money she had earned.

She would cross the High Street, and, diving down a dim and narrow
alley, make a purchase at a shop, and hurry on. Entering her door, she
would pause, trying to tell by listening whether her husband had
returned; this she always did, although in fact it made no difference to
her going up, since in any case her sons were there, waiting to be fed.
Silently passing up the narrow stairs, whose noticeable odour she never
noticed, she would enter the front room. Here her four sons, their eyes
fixed on the door, would be sitting or sprawling on the bed, teasing
each other angrily, like young birds waiting for a meal. Taking off her
hat, she would sit down to rest. But seeing her thus sitting, doing
nothing, her sons would try to rouse her to activity, pulling her by the
sleeve, jogging her chair, and the youngest, perhaps, kissing her with
his little dirty mouth. Rising, she would begin to peel potatoes. She
peeled them fast, working the upturned knife-blade close to her thin
bosom, and round her the boys, affecting not to care now that they saw
her working, resumed their restless teasing of each other, casting
impatient glances at the busy knife-blade, the falling yellow slips of
peel. At short intervals, when she was not too deadly tired, she would
snap at them a little, but her power of speech was limited; the things
she said had all been said before--her sons did not attend to them too
much. Yet, they were good to her according to their lights, preferring
her company to their father’s.

Presently her knife would stay suspended, the voices of her sons would
cease; the footsteps of their father had been heard.

He would come in, in an old green overcoat, a muffler, and heavy boots;
on his heavy face the look that says: My ways are what my life has made
them--the proper ways for me to go! And according to his mood, sometimes
jocular and sometimes sullen, there would be talk or silence, and
through those silences the clipping of the knife at the potatoes would
be heard, the sounds of cooking, and of washing, and of the making up
of beds, and latest of all, the tiny sound of stitching.

But on Saturdays it would be different, for on Saturdays her man would
not return until he was compelled by the closing of his public-house. On
these evenings her heart would begin to beat at eight o’clock, and it
would go on beating louder and louder as the hours went by, till, as she
would have expressed it, she felt “fit to drop.” And yet, all those
hours, while her sons were sleeping, there was at work a strange poison
in her soul, a dull fever of revolt, in preparation for the blows that
would be given her if he came in drunk--a sort of perverse spirit,
vouchsafed by Providence, bringing those blows nearer, almost inviting
them, yet keeping her alive beneath them. At the midnight striking of
the nearest clock her heart would give a sickening leap under the
malodorous and blackened quilt, and she would lie, trying to pretend to
sleep. So old was that device, so useless--yet she never gave it up, for
her brain was not a fertile one. Soon after would begin his footsteps,
slow, wavering, coming up and up, with pauses, with mutterings, with now
and then a heavy stumble. Her breath would come in gasps, and her eyes,
just opening, would glue themselves to where the door showed dimly by
the sputtering candlelight. Slowly that door would open, and he would
enter. Through her slits of eyes she would look at him as he stood
swaying there. And suddenly the angry thought that there he was--the sot
that had drunken up her earnings and his own--would give her a dull
buzzing in her head; and all fear left her. Not though he might tear
away the blackened quilt, pull her out of bed, and shower blows, was
there anything within her but a dull, shrill, waspish anger, shooting
from her tongue and eyes. Only when he had finished, and rolled on to
the bed to sleep like a dead man, did she feel the pains that he had
given her. Then, dragging her feet slowly, she would creep back beneath
the quilt, and cover up her face.

But some Saturdays he would come back before the clock had struck
twelve; and, standing by the door, with the light falling on his face,
would look at her, swaying but slightly with his lower lip hanging very
loose. Over his face, as he stood there, would spread a leering smile,
and he would call her by her name.

Then in her dingy bed she would know that she still had work to do. And
with no smile on her tired face, no joy in her thin body, no thought of
anything in her starved brain, not even of the countless children she
had borne in her dim alleys to this half-drunken man, nor of the
countless children she had still to bear--she would lie waiting.



COMFORT

XVI

COMFORT


They lived in a flat on the fifth floor, facing a park on one side, and,
on the other, through the branches of an elm tree, another block of
flats as lofty as their own. It was very pleasant living up so high,
where they were not disturbed by noises, scents, or the sight of other
people--except such people as themselves. For, quite unconsciously, they
had long found out that it was best not to be obliged to see, or hear,
or smell anything that made them feel uncomfortable. In this respect
they were not remarkable; nor was their adoption of such an attitude to
life unnatural. So will little Arctic animals grow fur that is very
thick and white, or pigeons have heads so small and breast feathers so
absurdly thick that sportsmen in despair have been known to shoot them
in the tail. They were indeed, in some respects not unlike pigeons, a
well-covered and personable couple. In one respect they differed from
these birds--not having wings, they never soared. But they were kindly
folk, good to each other, very healthy, doing their duty in the station
to which they had been called, and their three children, a boy and two
little daughters, were everything that could be wished for. And had the
world been made up entirely of themselves, their like, and progeny, it
would--one felt--have been Utopia.

At eight o’clock each morning, lying in their beds with a little pot of
tea between them, they read their letters, selecting first--by that
mysterious instinct which makes men keep what is best until the
end--those which looked as if they indicated the existence of another
side of life. Having glanced at these, they would remark that
Such-and-such seemed a deserving sort of charity; that So-and-so, they
were afraid, was hopeless; and it was only yesterday that this
subscription had been paid. These evidences of an outer world were not
too numerous; for, living in a flat, they had not the worry of rates,
with their perpetual reminder of social duties, even to the education of
other people’s children; the hall porter, too, would not let beggars use
the lift; and they had set their faces against belonging to societies,
of which they felt that there were far too many. They would pass on from
letters such as these to read how their boy at school was “well and
happy”; how Lady Bugloss would be so glad if they would dine on such a
day; and of the truly awful weather Netta had experienced in the south
of France.

Having dispersed, he to the bathroom, she to see if the children had
slept well, they would meet again at breakfast, and divide the
newspaper. They took a journal which, having studied the art of making
people comfortable, when compelled to notice things that had been
happening in a cosmic, not a classic sort of way, did so in a manner to
inspire a certain confidence, as who should say: “We, as an organ of
free thought and speech, invite you, gentle reader, to observe these
little matters with your usual classic eye. That they are always there,
we know; but as with meat, the well-done is well-done, and the
under-done is under-done--for one to lie too closely by the other would
be subversive of the natural order of the joint. This is why, although
we print this matter, we print it in a way that will enable you to read
it in a classic, not a cosmic, spirit.”

Having run their eyes over such pieces of intelligence, they turned to
things of more immediate interest, the speeches of an Opposition
statesman, which showed the man was probably a knave, and certainly a
fool; the advertisements of motorcars, for they were seriously thinking
of buying one; and a column on that international subject, the cricket
match between Australia and the Mother Country. The reviews of books and
plays they also read, noting carefully such as promised well, and those
that were likely to make them feel uncomfortable. “I think we might go
to that, dear; it seems nice,” she would say; and he would answer: “Yes!
And look here, don’t put this novel on the list, I’m not going to read
that.” Then they would sit silent once again, holding the journal’s
pages up before their breasts, as though sheltering their hearts. If, by
any chance the journal recommended books which, when read, gave them
pain--causing them to see that the world held people who were short of
comfort--they were more grieved than angry, for some little time not
speaking much, then suddenly asseverating that they did not see the use
of making yourself miserable over dismal matters; it was sad, but
everybody had their troubles, and if one looked into things, one almost
always found that the sufferings of others were really their own fault.
But their journal seldom failed them, and they seldom failed their
journal; and whether they had made it what it was, or it had made them
what they were, was one of those things no man knows.

They sat at right angles at the breakfast table, and when they glanced
up at each other’s cheeks their looks were kindly and affectionate. “You
are a comfort to me, my dear, and I am a comfort to you,” those glances
said.

Her cheek, in fact, was firm, and round, and fresh, and its strong
cheekbone mounted almost to the little dark niche of her grey eye. Her
hair, which had a sheen as though the sun were always falling on it,
seemed to caress the top curve of her clean pink ear. There was just the
suspicion of a chin beneath her rounded jaw. His cheek was not so strong
and moulded; it was flat, and coloured reddish brown, with a small patch
of special shaving just below the side growth of his hair, clipped close
in to the top lobe of the ear. The bristly wing of his moustache showed
sandy-brown above the corner of his lips, whose fullness was compressed.
About that sideview of his face there was the faint suggestion that his
appetites might some day get the better of his comfort.

Having finished breakfast they would separate; he to his vocation, she
to her shopping and her calls. Their pursuit of these was marked by a
direct and grave simplicity, a sort of genius for deciding what they
should avoid, a real knowledge of what they wanted, and a certain power
of getting it. They met again at dinner, and would recount all they had
done throughout that busy day: What risks he had taken at Lloyd’s, where
he was an underwriter; how she had ordered a skirt, been to a
picture-gallery, and seen a royal personage; how he had looked in at
Tattersall’s about the boy’s pony for the holidays; how she had
interviewed three cooks without result. It was a pleasant thing to hear
that talk, with its comfortable, home-like flavour, and its reliance on
a real sympathy and understanding of each other.

Every now and then they would come home indignant or distressed, having
seen a lost dog, or a horse dead from heat or overwork. They were
peculiarly affected by the sufferings of animals; and covering her pink
ears, she would cry: “Oh, Dick! how horrible!” or he would say: “Damn!
don’t rub it in, old girl!” If they had seen any human being in
distress, they rarely mentioned, or indeed remembered it, partly because
it was such a common sight, partly because their instincts reasoned
thus: “If I once begin to see what is happening before my eyes all day
and every day, I shall either feel uncomfortable and be compelled to
give time and sympathy and money, and do harm into the bargain,
destroying people’s independence; or I shall become cynical, which is
repulsive. But, if I stay in my own garden--as it were--and never look
outside, I shall not see what is happening, and if I do not see, it will
be as if there were nothing there to see!” Deeper than this, no doubt,
they had an instinctive knowledge that they were the fittest persons in
the State. They did not follow out this feeling in terms of reasoning,
but they dimly understood that it was because their fathers,
themselves, and children, had all lived in comfort, and that if they
once began diminishing that comfort they would become nervous, and
deteriorate. This deep instinct, for which Nature was responsible, made
them feel that it was no real use to concern themselves with anything
that did not help to preserve their comfort, and the comfort of all such
as they were likely to be breeding from, to a degree that would ensure
their nerves and their perceptions being coated, so that they literally
_could_ not see. It made them feel--with a splendid subtlety which kept
them quite unconscious--that this was their duty to Nature, to
themselves, and to the State.

Seated at dinner, they were more than ever like two pigeons, when those
comfortable home-like birds are seen close together on a lawn, looking
at each other between the movements of their necks towards the food
before them. And suddenly, pausing with sweetbread on his fork, he would
fix his round light eyes on the bowl of flowers in front of him, and
say: “I saw Helen to-day, looking as thin as a lath; she simply works
herself to death down there!”

When they had finished eating they would go down-stairs, and, summoning
a cab, be driven to the play. On the way, they looked straight before
them, digesting their food. In the streets the lamplight whitened the
wet pavements, and the wind blew impartially on starved faces, and faces
like their own. Without turning to him, she would murmur: “I can’t make
up my mind, dear, whether to get the children’s summer suits at once, or
wait till after Easter.” When he had answered, there would again be
silence. And as the cab turned into a by-street, some woman, with a
shawl over her head and a baby in her arms, would pass before the
horse’s nose, and, turning her deathly face, mutter an imprecation.
Throwing out the end of his cigar, he would say quietly: “Look here, if
we’re not going abroad this year, it’s time I looked out for a fishing
up in Skye.” Then, recovering the main thoroughfare, they would reach
their destination.

The theatre had for them a strange attraction. They experienced beneath
its roof a peculiar sense of rest, like some man-at-arms would feel in
the old days when, putting off his armour, he stretched his feet out in
the evening to the fire. It was a double process that produced in them
this feeling of repose. They must have had a dim suspicion that they had
been going about all day in armour; here, and here alone, they would be
safe against gaunt realities, and naked truths; nothing here could
assail their comfort, since the commercial value of the piece depended
on its pleasing them. Everything would therefore be presented in a
classic--not a cosmic--spirit, suitable to people of their status. But
this was only half the process which wrought in them the sense of ease.
For, seated side by side, their attentive eyes fixed on the stage, the
thrill of “seeing life” would come; and this “life”--that was so far
removed from life--seemed to bring to them a blessed absolution from
all need to look on it in other forms.

They would come out, subtly inspired, secretly strengthened. And whether
the play had made them what they were, or they had made the play, was
another of those things that no man knows. Their spiritual exaltation
would take them to their mansions, and elevate them till they reached
their floor.

But when--seldom, luckily--their journal was at fault, and they found
themselves confronted with a play subversive of their comfort, their
faces, at first attentive, would grow a little puzzled, then hurt, and
lastly angry; and they would turn to each other, as though by exchanging
anger they could minimize the harm that they were suffering. She would
say in a loud whisper: “I think it’s a perfectly disgusting play!” and
he would answer: “So dull--that’s what I complain of!”

After a play like this they talked a good deal in the cab on the way
home, of anything except the play, as though sending it to Coventry;
but every now and then a queer silence would fall between them. He would
break it by clucking his tongue against his palate, remarking: “Confound
that beastly play!” And she, with her arms folded on her breast, would
give herself a little hug of comfort. They felt how unfairly this play
had taken them to see it.

On evenings such as this, before going to their room, they would steal
into the nursery--she in advance, he following, as if it were queer of
him--and, standing side by side, watch their little daughters sleeping.
The pallid radiance of the nightlight fell on the little beds, and on
those small forms so confidently quiet; it fell too, on their own
watching faces, and showed the faintly smiling look about her lips, over
the feathered collar of her cloak; showed his face, above the whiteness
of his shirt-front, ruddy, almost shining, craning forward with a little
puzzled grin, which seemed to say: “They’re rather sweet; how the devil
did I come to have them?”

So, often, must two pigeons have stood, looking at their round, soft,
grey-white young! They would touch each other’s arms, and point out a
tiny hand crumpled together on the pillow, or a little mouth pouting at
sleep, and steal away on tiptoe.

In their own room, standing a minute at the window, they inhaled the
fresh night air, with a reviving sense of comfort. Out there, the
moonlight silvered the ragged branches of the elm tree, the dark block
of mansions opposite--what else it silvered in the town, they
fortunately could not see!



A CHILD

XVII

A CHILD


In Kensington Gardens, that February day, it was very still. Trees,
stripped of every leaf, raised their bare clean twigs towards a sky so
grey and so unstirring that there might never have been wind or sun. And
on those branches pigeons sat, silent, as though they understood that
there was no new life as yet; they seemed waiting, loth to spread their
wings lest they should miss the coming of the Spring.

Down in the grass the tiniest green flames were burning, a sign of the
fire of flowers that would leap up if the sun would feed them.

And on a seat there sat a child.

He sat between his father and his mother, looking straight before him.
It was plain that the reason why he looked so straight before him was
that he really had not strength to care to look to right or left--so
white his face was, so puny were his limbs. His clothes had evidently
been designed for others, and this was fortunate, for they prevented the
actual size of him from being seen. He was not, however, what is called
neglected; his face was clean, and the utmost of protection that Fate
and the condition of his parents had vouchsafed was evidently lavished
on him, for round his neck there was a little bit of draggled fur which
should have been round the neck of her against whose thin and shabby
side he leaned. This mother of his was looking at the ground; and from
the expression of her face she seemed to think that looking at the
ground was all life had to offer.

The father sat with his eyes shut. He had shabby clothes, a grey face,
and a grey collar that had once been white. Above the collar his thin
cheeks had evidently just been shaved--for it was Saturday, and by the
colour of those cheeks, and by his boots, whose soles, hardly thicker
than a paper sheet, still intervened between him and the ground, he was
seen not to be a tramp or outdoor person, but an indoor worker of some
sort, and very likely out of work, who had come out to rest in the
company of his wife and family. His eyes being shut, he sat without the
pain of looking at a single thing, moving his jaw at intervals from side
to side, as though he had a toothache.

And between this man who had begotten, and this woman who had borne him,
the child sat, very still, evidently on good terms with them, not
realising that they had brought him out of a warm darkness where he had
been happy, out of a sweet nothingness, into which, and soon perhaps, he
would pass again--not realising that they had so neglected to keep pace
with things, or that things had so omitted to keep pace with them, that
he himself had eaten in his time about one half the food he should have
eaten, and that of the wrong sort. By the expression of his face, that
pale small ghost had evidently grasped the truth that things were as
they had to be. He seemed to sit there reviewing his own life, and
taking for granted that it must be what it was, from hour to hour, and
day to day, and year to year.

And before me, too, the incidents of his small journey passed; I saw
him, in the morning, getting off the family bed, where it was sometimes
warm, and chewing at a crust of bread before he set off to school in
company with other children, some of whom were stouter than himself; saw
him carrying in his small fist the remnants of his feast, and dropping
it, or swopping it away for peppermints, because it tired him to consume
it, having no juices to speak of in his little stomach. I seemed to
understand that, accustomed as he was to eating little, he almost always
wanted to eat less, not because he had any wish to die--nothing so
extravagant--but simply that he nearly always felt a little sick; I felt
that his pale, despondent mother was always urging him to eat, when
there were things to eat, and that this bored him, since they did not
strike him as worth all that trouble with his jaws. She must have found
it difficult indeed to persuade him that there was any point at all in
eating; for, from his looks, he could manifestly not now enjoy anything
but peppermints and kippered herrings. I seemed to see him in his
school, not learning, not wanting to learn, anything, nor knowing why
this should be so, ignorant of the dispensations of a Providence
who--after hesitating long to educate him lest this should make his
parents paupers--now compelled his education, having first destroyed his
stomach that he might be incapable of taking in what he was taught. That
small white creature could not as yet have grasped the notion that the
welfare of the future lay, not with the future, but with the past. He
only knew that every day he went to school with little in his stomach,
and every day came back from school with less.

All this he seemed to be reviewing as he sat there, but not in thought;
his knowledge was too deep for words; he was simply feeling, as a child
that looked as he looked would naturally be feeling, on that bench
between his parents. He opened his little mouth at times, as a small
bird will open its small beak, without apparent purpose; and his lips
seemed murmuring:

“My stomach feels as if there were a mouse inside it; my legs are
aching; it’s all quite natural, no doubt!”

To reconcile this apathy of his with recollections of his unresting,
mirthless energy down alleys and on doorsteps, it was needful to
remember Human Nature, and its exhaustless cruse of courage. For, though
he might not care to live, yet, while he was alive he would keep his end
up, because he must--there was no other way. And why exhaust himself in
vain regrets and dreams of things he could not see, and hopes of being
what he could not be! That he had no resentment against anything was
certain from his patient eyes--not even against those two who sat, one
on either side of him--unaware that he was what he was, in order that
they who against his will had brought him into being, might be forced by
law to keep a self-respect they had already lost, and have the unsought
pride of giving him an insufficiency of things he could not eat. For he
had as yet no knowledge of political economy. He evidently did not view
his case in any petty, or in any party, spirit; he did not seem to look
on himself as just a half-starved child that should have cried its eyes
out till it was fed at least as well as the dogs that passed him; he
seemed to look on himself as that impersonal, imperial thing--the Future
of the Race.

So profound his apathy!

And, as I looked, the “Future of the Race” turned to his father:

“‘Ark at that b----y bird!” he said.

It was a pigeon, who high upon a tree, had suddenly begun to croon. One
could see his head outlined against the grey, unstirring sky, first
bending back, then down into his breast, then back again; and that soft
song of his filled all the air, like an invocation of fertility.

“The Future of the Race” watched him for a minute without moving, and
suddenly he laughed. That laugh was a little hard noise like the
clapping of two boards--there was not a single drop of blood in it, nor
the faintest sound of music; so might a marionette have laughed--a
figure made of wood and wire!

And in that laugh I seemed to hear innumerable laughter, the laughter in
a million homes of the myriad unfed.

So laughed the Future of the richest and the freest and the proudest
race that had ever lived on earth, that February afternoon, with the
little green flames lighted in the grass, under a sky that knew not wind
or sun--so he laughed at the pigeon that was calling for the Spring.



JUSTICE

XVIII

JUSTICE


Thinking of him as he had looked, sitting there in his worn clothes, a
cloth cap crumpled in his hand, leaning a little forward, and staring at
the wall with those eyes of his that looked like fire behind steel bars;
remembering his words: “She’s dead to me--I’ll never think of her again
where I’m going!” I wrote this letter:

“Dear ----,

“From something you said yesterday, I feel that I ought to tell you that
when you get to Canada you will not be free to marry again.

“I was present, as you know, when you told your story in the Police
Court--a story very often told there. I know that you were not to blame,
and that all you said was true. Owing to no fault of yours, your wife
has left you for a life of vice. Through this misfortune you have lost
your home, your children, and your work; and you are going to Canada as
a last resource. You and she will pass the rest of your lives in
different hemispheres. You are still a young man, strong, accustomed to
married life; you are going where married men are wanted, to a country
of great spaces and great loneliness, where your homestead may be miles
from any other.

“This is all true enough; nevertheless you are as closely bound to this
wife who has left you for a life of public shame as if she were the
truest wife and mother in this city.

“If, where you are going, you meet some girl that you would like to
marry, you must not, or you will be a bigamist--a criminal. If this girl
come to you unmarried, she will, of course, lose her good name. Your
children, if you have any, will be born in what is called a state of
shame; that they have had no voice in the matter of their birth won’t
help them, as you will find. If she refuses to come to you
unmarried--and you can hardly blame her--you will probably be driven,
like most men in your position, to get what comfort you can from women
who are like your wife. Society, of course, condemns these women, men of
heart regard them with compassion, men of science with dismay. They
breed canker in the nation; but as you cannot marry again, you will, I
fear, be driven to their company.

“There is nothing special in your case--thousands in this country are in
a similar position; you are all governed by an impartial Law.

“That Law is this: A woman can divorce a man who is faithless and treats
her with cruelty or deserts her. A man can divorce a woman who is
faithless. You could have divorced your wife! Why didn’t you? Let us
see!

“You were first a soldier, and then a working man. They paid you as a
soldier, I believe, one shilling and twopence a day; suppose you saved
the pence, allowing for your wife not being on your hands, and your
children living on air? Fourteenpence a week--three pounds and
eightpence a year, if you were lucky. As a workman your wages were
thirty shillings a week? With four children you could save perhaps your
subscription to the _Hearts of Oak_, and, say, twopence a day besides?
Three pounds and eightpence every year. A divorce in the High Court of
Justice, for to that you were undoubtedly entitled by the Law, would
have cost you from sixty to a hundred pounds. So, if you could have
arranged to keep your witnesses alive, you might, with strict economy,
have been granted your decree, if not yourself already dead, in, say,
twenty years.

“In this delay there is nothing peculiar or unjust. The Law, for rich or
poor, artisan or peer, is, as you know, identical. The Courts make no
distinction in favour of the wealthy over a man earning his seventy-odd
pounds a year, with five pounds in the Savings Bank--a decree for
millionaire, or clerk, or working man, costs just about the same.

“To this rule, however, there is one exception; it is of course in
favour of the poor. One who can prove that he is not worth the sum of
five-and-twenty pounds is entitled to the name of pauper, and can sue
for divorce _in formâ pauperis_. This does not indeed apply to working
men or clerks in work; but you, who, knocked out of time by the conduct
of your wife, had lost your work, and were sleeping in the parks at
night or in a common lodging house, not knowing where to turn, could not
have proved your worth at five-and-twenty pence. You could have sued _in
formâ pauperis_. This was a great privilege! You should have found a
lawyer who would undertake your case on no security, obtained your
evidence without the payment of a penny, got your witnesses to come to
the Court and give their time for nothing (when every idle hour meant
bread out of their mouths); you should have achieved these triumphs over
Nature, and you might have been divorced for anything from seven to
fifteen pounds. True, you had not seven to fifteen pence, but--you had
the privilege!

“It is admitted that you were a good husband to your wife, as good a
husband as a man could be; it is admitted that the fault was hers
entirely. It is admitted that you were entitled to relief. By the Law,
which is the same for all, however, this was not enough.

“For this is what I want you to fully understand: _A man of means_ may
drive his wife to loathe him, provided he stop short of certain definite
things--for the Law does not allow him to be ‘cruel’ to her; he may
entertain himself with other women provided that she does not know, for
the Law does not allow him to be ‘faithless’; he may be, in fact, at
heart a ruffian or a rascal, but--_having means_--if she leave him for
another, he can, unless he has bad luck, be sure of his decree. Thus, it
did not really matter whether you were false to her, so long as she did
not know; it was almost superfluous to be so kind; what really mattered
was that, either, as a working man with thirty shillings a week, you had
sixty to a hundred pounds--or, as a penniless pauper, you had seven to
fifteen.

“The Law of Divorce, like all our laws, is made without fear or favour,
for the protection and safety of us all; it is founded in justice and
equity, that grievances may be redressed, and all who are wrong may have
their remedy. It does not concern itself whether a man is rich or poor,
but administers its simple principles, requiring those who are not
destitute to pay for their decrees at a price that is the same for all,
whatever their means may be; requiring those who are destitute to pay
for their decrees at a price beyond their means.

“I seem to hear you asking: ‘Could I not have been granted a remedy at a
price proportioned to my means? Must I, and every working man whose wife
leaves him as mine did, to drink in public houses, and walk the streets
at night, be condemned for ever after to live alone, or to live in
immorality?’

“The answer is a simple one: ‘If all the clerks and working men, and all
those wives of clerks and working men--to whom, like you, divorce was
due by almost general consent, and was indeed by almost general consent
deemed of a desperate importance--were enabled to obtain it at a price
within their means, several thousand more divorces would each year be
granted in this country. This would have a disastrous effect upon the
statistics of the marriage tie. Public Opinion, formed, you must
remember, exclusively amongst your betters (for on such subjects working
men are, and always have been, dumb), formed exclusively by such as can
afford to pay for their decrees--this great Public Opinion would feel
that a backward step was being taken on the path of moral rectitude. It
would feel that, in granting what you, the People, in your dumbness and
short sight might be tempted to think was common justice, it would be
sacrificing the substance of morals to the shadow. The immorality to
which you and your like under the present law are, and ever will be,
forced, need never lie open to the light of day, never become a matter
of statistics, and offend the Public Eye. What is not a matter of
statistics can do no damage to the country’s morals or the country’s
name. Public Opinion is itself secure in the enjoyment of the rights and
privileges granted by the law, and it has decided by a simple sacrifice
to conserve the moral fame of all. There must--it reasons--be a
sacrifice; then let us sacrifice those without the means to pay! It is
an accident that they, in their thousands, are not included in
ourselves; some must suffer that we may all be moral!’

“This is the answer. It is too much, perhaps, to ask you, from the marsh
of suffering, with your low personal point of view, to appreciate the
heights of impersonality reached in this vicarious sacrifice. But you
may possibly respect its depths of common sense. Can you blame the
practical wisdom of this Public Opinion, in which you have no part? If
you had a part in it, would you not yourself endorse it? If _you_ were a
man of means, that is of means sufficient to enjoy the privileges of the
Law, would you seriously offer to exert yourself to upset your
conception of your country’s moral worth, and lose secretly a little of
your self-esteem, that you might extend those privileges to such of your
fellow-citizens as could not pay for them? Would you not rather feel: My
own position is secure; this idea is only sentiment, mere _abstract_
justice! If they want it they must pay for it!

“By no means think that this great principle of payment is confined
merely to divorce; it underlies all justice in a greater or a less
degree. It is ‘money makes the mare to go!’ It is money that dictates
the measure of justice and its methods. But this is so mingled with the
essence of our lives that we do not even notice it. Why, you could
hardly find a man who, if you went to him in private and put your case,
would not say at once that you were hardly used! To the Law you cannot
go privately; and the Law is the guardian of all justice.

“I have told you the requirements of the Law. You have not fulfilled
them. And, having made this error, you must, evidently, now go forth,
either to enjoy your own society for the remainder of your days, or, as
Nature drives you, to consort with those who at each touch will remind
you of what your wife has now become; and in this journey of enjoyment,
whichever of the two journeys it may be, you will be sustained, no
doubt, by the consciousness that you are serving the morality of your
country, and strengthening the esteem in which the marriage tie is held.
You will be inspired by the knowledge that you are sharing this voyage
of pleasure and of privilege with thousands of other men and women, as
decent and as kind as you. And you will feel, year by year, prouder and
prouder of your country that has reached these heights of justice....”



HOPE

XIX

HOPE


Wet or fine, hot or cold, nothing was more certain than that the lame
man would pass, leaning on his twisted oaken stick, his wicker basket
slung on his shoulder. In that basket, covered by a bit of sacking, was
groundsel, and rarely, in the season, a few mushrooms kept carefully
apart in a piece of newspaper.

His blunt, wholesome, weather-beaten face with its full brown beard, now
going grey, was lined and sad because his leg continually gave him pain.
That leg had shrivelled through an accident, and being now two inches
shorter than it should have been, did little save remind him of
mortality. He had a respectable, though not an affluent, appearance, for
his old blue overcoat, his trousers, waistcoat, hat, were ragged from
long use and stained by weather. He had been a deep-sea fisherman
before his accident, but now he made his living by standing on the
pavement at a certain spot, in Bayswater, from ten o’clock to seven in
the evening. And any one who wished to give her bird a luxury would stop
before his basket, and buy a pennyworth of groundsel.

Often--as he said--he had “a job to get it,” rising at five o’clock, and
going out of London by an early tram to the happy hunting grounds of
those who live on the appetites of caged canaries. Here, dragging his
injured limb with difficulty through ground that the heavens seldom
troubled to keep dry for him, he would stoop and toilfully amass the
small green plant with its close yellow-centred heads, though often--as
he mentioned--“there don’t seem no life like in the stuff, the frosts
ha’ spiled it!” Having collected all that Fate permitted him, he would
take the tram back home, and start out for his day’s adventure.

Now and again, when things had not gone well, his figure would be seen
stumping home through darkness as late as nine or ten o’clock at night.
On such occasions his grey-blue eyes, which had never quite lost their
look of gazing through sea-mists, would reflect the bottom of his soul,
where the very bird of weariness lay with its clipped wings, for ever
trying to regain the air.

In fact--as he had no need to tell you--he was a “trier” from year’s end
to year’s end, but he had no illusions concerning his profession--there
was “nothing in it”; though it was better on the whole than flowers,
where there was less than nothing. And, after all, having got accustomed
to the struggles of that bird of weariness within his soul, he would
even perhaps have missed it, had it at last succeeded in rising from the
ground and taking flight.

“An ’ard life!” he had been heard to say when groundsel was scarce,
customers scarcer, and the damp had struck up into his shrivelled leg.
This, stated as a matter of fact, was the extent of his general
complaint, though he would not unwillingly descant on the failings of
his groundsel, his customers, and leg, to the few who could appreciate
such things. But, as a rule, he stood or sat, silent, watching the world
go by, as in old days he had watched the waves drift against his
anchored fishing-smack; and the look of those blurred-blue, far-gazing
eyes of his, in their extraordinary patience, was like a constant
declaration of the simple and unconscious creed of man: “I hold on till
I drop.”

What he thought about while he stood there it was difficult to
say--possibly of old days round the Goodwins, of the yellow buttons of
his groundsel that refused to open properly, of his leg, and dogs that
would come sniffing at his basket and showing their contempt, of his
wife’s gouty rheumatism, and herrings for his tea, of his arrears of
rent, of how few people seemed to want his groundsel, and once more of
his leg.

Practically no one stopped to look at him, unless she wanted a
pennyworth of groundsel for her pale bird. And when they did look at
him they saw--nothing symbolic--simply a brown-bearded man, with deep
furrows in his face, and a lame leg, whose groundsel was often of a
quality that they did not dare to offer their canaries. They would tell
him so, adding that the weather was cold; to which, knowing a little
more about it than themselves, he would reply: “Yes, m’m--you wouldn’t
believe how I feel it in my leg.” In this remark he was extremely
accurate, but they would look away, and pass on rather hastily, doubting
whether a man should mention a lame leg--it looked too much as if he
wanted to make something out of it. In truth he had the delicacy of a
deep-sea fisherman, but he had owned his leg so long that it had got on
his nerves; it was too intimate a part of all his life, and speak of it
he must. And sometimes, but generally on warm and genial days, when his
groundsel was properly in bloom and he had less need of adventitious
help, his customers would let their feelings get the better of them and
give him pennies, when ha’pennies would have been enough. This,
unconsciously, had served to strengthen his habit of alluding to his
leg.

He had, of course, no holidays, but occasionally he was absent from his
stand. This was when his leg, feeling that he was taking it too much as
a matter of course, became what he would call “a mass o’ pain.” Such
occasions threw him behindhand with his rent; but, as he said: “If you
can’t get out, you can’t--can you?” After these vacations he would make
special efforts, going far afield for groundsel, and remaining on his
stand until he felt that if he did not get off it then, he never would.

Christmas was his festival, for at Christmas people were more indulgent
to their birds, and his regular customers gave him sixpence. This was
just as well, for, whether owing to high living, or merely to the cold,
he was nearly always laid up about that time. After this annual bout of
“brownchitis,” as he called it, his weather-beaten face looked strangely
pale, his blue eyes seemed to have in them the mist of many watches--so
might the drowned ghost of a deep-sea fisherman have looked; and his
pale roughened hand would tremble, hovering over the groundsel that had
so little bloom, trying to find something that a bird need not despise.

“You wouldn’t believe the job I had to find even this little lot,” he
would say. “Sometimes I thought I’d leave me leg be’ind, I was that weak
I couldn’ seem to drag it through the mud at all. An’ my wife, she’s got
the gouty rheumatiz. You’ll think that I’m all trouble!” And, summoning
God-knows-what spirit of hilarity, he smiled. Then, looking at the leg
he had nearly left behind, he added somewhat boastfully: “You see, it’s
got no strength in it at all--there’s not a bit o’ muscle left.... Very
few people,” his eyes and voice seemed proudly saying, “have got a leg
like this!”

To the dispassionate observer of his existence it was a little difficult
to understand what attraction life could have for him; a little
difficult to penetrate down through the blackness of his continual toil
and pains, to the still living eyes of that bird of weariness, lying
within his soul, moving always, if but slightly, its wounded stumps of
wings. It seemed, on the whole, unreasonable of this man to cling to
life, since he was without prospect of anything but what was worse in
this life; and, in the matter of a life to come, would dubiously remark:
“My wife’s always a-tellin’ me we can’t be no worse off where we’re
a-goin’. An’ she’s right, no doubt, if so be as we’re goin’ anywhere!”

And yet, so far as could be seen, the thought: “Why do I continue
living?” never came to him. It almost seemed as if it must be giving him
a secret joy to measure himself against his troubles. And this was
fortunate, for in a day’s march one could not come across a better omen
for the future of mankind.

In the crowded highway, beside his basket, he stood, leaning on his
twisted stick, with his tired, steadfast face--a ragged statue to the
great, unconscious human virtue, the most hopeful and inspiring of all
things on earth: Courage without Hope!


END.



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