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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Longest Journey - PART 3 - WILTSHIRE - Chapter 34
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The Longest Journey - PART 3 - WILTSHIRE - Chapter 34 Post by :Chillin Category :Long Stories Author :E M Forster Date :March 2011 Read :3493

Click below to download : The Longest Journey - PART 3 - WILTSHIRE - Chapter 34 (Format : PDF)

The Longest Journey - PART 3 - WILTSHIRE - Chapter 34

The carriage that Mrs. Failing had sent to meet her nephew
returned from Cadchurch station empty. She was preparing for a
solitary dinner when he somehow arrived, full of apologies, but
more sedate than she had expected. She cut his explanations
short. "Never mind how you got here. You are here, and I am quite
pleased to see you." He changed his clothes and they proceeded to
the dining-room.

There was a bright fire, but the curtains were not drawn. Mr.
Failing had believed that windows with the night behind are more
beautiful than any pictures, and his widow had kept to the
custom. It was brave of her to persevere, lumps of chalk having
come out of the night last June. For some obscure reason--not so
obscure to Rickie--she had preserved them as mementoes of an
episode. Seeing them in a row on the mantelpiece, he expected
that their first topic would be Stephen. But they never mentioned
him, though he was latent in all that they said.

It was of Mr. Failing that they spoke. The Essays had been a
success. She was really pleased. The book was brought in at her
request, and between the courses she read it aloud to her nephew,
in her soft yet unsympathetic voice. Then she sent for the press
notices--after all no one despises them--and read their comments
on her introduction. She wielded a graceful pen, was apt,
adequate, suggestive, indispensable, unnecessary. So the meal
passed pleasantly away, for no one could so well combine the
formal with the unconventional, and it only seemed charming when
papers littered her stately table.

"My man wrote very nicely," she observed. "Now, you read me
something out of him that you like. Read 'The True Patriot.'"

He took the book and found: "Let us love one another. Let our
children, physical and spiritual, love one another. It is all
that we can do. Perhaps the earth will neglect our love. Perhaps
she will confirm it, and suffer some rallying-point, spire,
mound, for the new generatons to cherish."

"He wrote that when he was young. Later on he doubted whether we
had better love one another, or whether the earth will confirm
anything. He died a most unhappy man."

He could not help saying, "Not knowing that the earth had
confirmed him."

"Has she? It is quite possible. We meet so seldom in these days,
she and I. Do you see much of the earth?"

"A little."

"Do you expect that she will confirm you?"

"It is quite possible."

"Beware of her, Rickie, I think."

"I think not."

"Beware of her, surely. Going back to her really is going back--
throwing away the artificiality which (though you young people
won't confess it) is the only good thing in life. Don't pretend
you are simple. Once I pretended. Don't pretend that you care for
anything but for clever talk such as this, and for books."

"The talk," said Leighton afterwards, "certainly was clever. But
it meant something, all the same." He heard no more, for his
mistress told him to retire.

"And my nephew, this being so, make up your quarrel with your
wife." She stretched out her hand to him with real feeling. "It
is easier now than it will be later. Poor lady, she has written
to me foolishly and often, but, on the whole, I side with her
against you. She would grant you all that you fought for--all the
people, all the theories. I have it, in her writing, that she
will never interfere with your life again."

"She cannot help interfering," said Rickie, with his eyes on the
black windows. "She despises me. Besides, I do not love her."

"I know, my dear. Nor she you. I am not being sentimental. I say
once more, beware of the earth. We are conventional people, and
conventions--if you will but see it--are majestic in their way,
and will claim us in the end. We do not live for great passions
or for great memories, or for anything great."

He threw up his head. "We do."

"Now listen to me. I am serious and friendly tonight, as you must
have observed. I have asked you here partly to amuse myself--you
belong to my March Past--but also to give you good advice. There
has been a volcano--a phenomenon which I too once greatly
admired. The eruption is over. Let the conventions do their work
now, and clear the rubbish away. My age is fifty-nine, and I tell
you solemnly that the important things in life are little things,
and that people are not important at all. Go back to your wife."

He looked at her, and was filled with pity. He knew that he would
never be frightened of her again. Only because she was serious
and friendly did he trouble himself to reply. "There is one
little fact I should like to tell you, as confuting your theory.
The idea of a story--a long story--had been in my head for a
year. As a dream to amuse myself--the kind of amusement you would
recommend for the future. I should have had time to write it, but
the people round me coloured my life, and so it never seemed
worth while. For the story is not likely to pay. Then came the
volcano. A few days after it was over I lay in bed looking out
upon a world of rubbish. Two men I know--one intellectual, the
other very much the reverse--burst into the room. They said,
'What happened to your short stories? They weren't good, but
where are they? Why have you stopped writing? Why haven't you
been to Italy? You must write. You must go. Because to write, to
go, is you." Well, I have written, and yesterday we sent the long
story out on its rounds. The men do not like it, for different
reasons. But it mattered very much to them that I should write
it, and so it got written. As I told you, this is only one fact;
other facts, I trust, have happened in the last five months. But
I mention it to prove that people are important, and therefore,
however much it inconveniences my wife, I will not go back to
her."

"And Italy?" asked Mrs. Failing.

This question he avoided. Italy must wait. Now that he had the
time, he had not the money.

"Or what is the long story about, then?"

"About a man and a woman who meet and are happy."

"Somewhat of a tour de force, I conclude."

He frowned. "In literature we needn't intrude our own
limitations. I'm not so silly as to think that all marriages turn
out like mine. My character is to blame for our catastrophe, not
marriage."

"My dear, I too have married; marriage is to blame."

But here again he seemed to know better.

"Well," she said, leaving the table and moving with her dessert
to the mantelpiece, "so you are abandoning marriage and taking to
literature. And are happy."

"Yes."

"Because, as we used to say at Cambridge, the cow is there. The
world is real again. This is a room, that a window, outside is
the night "

"Go on."

He pointed to the floor. "The day is straight below, shining
through other windows into other rooms."

"You are very odd," she said after a pause, "and I do not like
you at all. There you sit, eating my biscuits, and all the time
you know that the earth is round. Who taught you? I am going to
bed now, and all the night, you tell me, you and I and the
biscuits go plunging eastwards, until we reach the sun. But
breakfast will be at nine as usual. Good-night."

She rang the bell twice, and her maid came with her candle and
her walking-stick: it was her habit of late to go to her room as
soon as dinner was over, for she had no one to sit up with.
Rickie was impressed by her loneliness, and also by the mixture
in her of insight and obtuseness. She was so quick, so
clear-headed, so imaginative even. But all the same, she had
forgotten what people were like. Finding life dull, she had
dropped lies into it, as a chemist drops a new element into a
solution, hoping that life would thereby sparkle or turn some
beautiful colour. She loved to mislead others, and in the end her
private view of false and true was obscured, and she misled
herself. How she must have enjoyed their errors over Stephen! But
her own error had been greater, inasmuch as it was spiritual
entirely.

Leighton came in with some coffee. Feeling it unnecessary to
light the drawing-room lamp for one small young man, he persuaded
Rickie to say he preferred the dining-room. So Rickie sat down by
the fire playing with one of the lumps of chalk. His thoughts
went back to the ford, from which they had scarcely wandered.
Still he heard the horse in the dark drinking, still he saw the
mystic rose, and the tunnel dropping diamonds. He had driven away
alone, believing the earth had confirmed him. He stood behind
things at last, and knew that conventions are not majestic, and
that they will not claim us in the end.

As he mused, the chalk slipped from his fingers, and fell on the
coffee-cup, which broke. The china, said Leighton, was expensive.
He believed it was impossible to match it now. Each cup was
different. It was a harlequin set. The saucer, without the cup,
was therefore useless. Would Mr. Elliot please explain to Mrs.
Failing how it happened.

Rickie promised he would explain.

He had left Stephen preparing to bathe, and had heard him working
up-stream like an animal, splashing in the shallows, breathing
heavily as he swam the pools; at times reeds snapped, or clods of
earth were pulled in. By the fire he remembered it was again
November. "Should you like a walk?" he asked Leighton, and told
him who stopped in the village tonight. Leighton was pleased. At
nine o'clock the two young men left the house, under a sky that
was still only bright in the zenith. "It will rain tomorrow,"
Leighton said.

"My brother says, fine tomorrow."

"Fine tomorrow," Leighton echoed.

"Now which do you mean?" asked Rickie, laughing.

Since the plumes of the fir-trees touched over the drive, only a
very little light penetrated. It was clearer outside the lodge
gate, and bubbles of air, which Wiltshire seemed to have
travelled from an immense distance, broke gently and separately
on his face. They paused on the bridge. He asked whether the
little fish and the bright green weeds were here now as well as
in the summer. The footman had not noticed. Over the bridge they
came to the cross-roads, of which one led to Salisbury and the
other up through the string of villages to the railway station.
The road in front was only the Roman road, the one that went on
to the downs. Turning to the left, they were in Cadford.

"He will be with the Thompsons," said Rickie, looking up at dark
eaves. "Perhaps he's in bed already."

"Perhaps he will be at The Antelope."

"No. Tonight he is with the Thompsons."

"With the Thompsons." After a dozen paces he said, "The Thompsons
have gone away."

"Where? Why?"

"They were turned out by Mr. Wilbraham on account of our broken
windows."

"Are you sure?"

"Five families were turned out."

"That's bad for Stephen," said Rickie, after a pause. "He was
looking forward--oh, it's monstrous in any case!"

"But the Thompsons have gone to London," said Leighton. "Why,
that family--they say it's been in the valley hundreds of years,
and never got beyond shepherding. To various parts of London."

"Let us try The Antelope, then."

"Let us try The Antelope."

The inn lay up in the village. Rickie hastened his pace. This
tyranny was monstrous. Some men of the age of undergraduates had
broken windows, and therefore they and their families were to be
ruined. The fools who govern us find it easier to be severe. It
saves them trouble to say, "The innocent must suffer with the
guilty." It even gives them a thrill of pride. Against all this
wicked nonsense, against the Wilbrahams and Pembrokes who try to
rule our world Stephen would fight till he died. Stephen was a
hero. He was a law to himself, and rightly. He was great enough
to despise our small moralities. He was attaining love. This eve-
ning Rickie caught Ansell's enthusiasm, and felt it worth while
to sacrifice everything for such a man.

"The Antelope," said Leighton. "Those lights under the greatest
elm."

"Would you please ask if he's there, and if he'd come for a turn
with me. I don't think I'll go in."

Leighton opened the door. They saw a little room, blue with
tobacco-smoke. Flanking the fire were deep settles hiding all but
the legs of the men who lounged in them. Between the settles
stood a table, covered with mugs and glasses. The scene was
picturesque--fairer than the cutglass palaces of the town.

"Oh yes, he's there," he called, and after a moment's hesitation
came out.

"Would he come?"

"No. I shouldn't say so," replied Leighton, with a furtive
glance. He knew that Rickie was a milksop. "First night, you
know, sir, among old friends."

"Yes, I know," said Rickie. "But he might like a turn down the
village. It looks stuffy inside there, and poor fun probably to
watch others drinking."

Leighton shut the door.

"What was that he called after you?"

"Oh, nothing. A man when he's drunk--he says the worst he's ever
heard. At least, so they say."

"A man when he's drunk?"

"Yes, Sir."

"But Stephen isn't drinking?"

"No, no."

"He couldn't be. If he broke a promise--I don't pretend he's a
saint. I don't want him one. But it isn't in him to break a
promise."

"Yes, sir; I understand."

"In the train he promised me not to drink--nothing theatrical:
just a promise for these few days."

"No, sir."
"'No, sir,'" stamped Rickie. "'Yes! no! yes!' Can't you speak
out? Is he drunk or isn't he?"

Leighton, justly exasperated, cried, "He can't stand, and I've
told you so again and again."

"Stephen!" shouted Rickie, darting up the steps. Heat and the
smell of beer awaited him, and he spoke more furiously than he
had intended. "Is there any one here who's sober?" he cried. The
landlord looked over the bar angrily, and asked him what he
meant. He pointed to the deep settles. "Inside there he's drunk.
Tell him he's broken his word, and I will not go with him to the
Rings."

"Very well. You won't go with him to the Rings," said the
landlord, stepping forward and slamming the door in his face.

In the room he was only angry, but out in the cool air he
remembered that Stephen was a law to himself. He had chosen to
break his word, and would break it again. Nothing else bound him.
To yield to temptation is not fatal for most of us. But it was
the end of everything for a hero.

"He's suddenly ruined!" he cried, not yet remembering himself.
For a little he stood by the elm-tree, clutching the ridges of
its bark. Even so would he wrestle tomorrow, and Stephen,
imperturbable, reply, "My body is my own." Or worse still, he
might wrestle with a pliant Stephen who promised him glibly
again. While he prayed for a miracle to convert his brother, it
struck him that he must pray for himself. For he, too, was
ruined.

"Why, what's the matter?" asked Leighton. "Stephen's only being
with friends. Mr. Elliot, sir, don't break down. Nothing's
happened bad. No one's died yet, or even hurt themselves." Ever
kind, he took hold of Rickie's arm, and, pitying such a nervous
fellow, set out with him for home. The shoulders of Orion rose
behind them over the topmost boughs of the elm. From the bridge
the whole constellation was visible, and Rickie said, "May God
receive me and pardon me for trusting the earth."

"But, Mr. Elliot, what have you done that's wrong?"

"Gone bankrupt, Leighton, for the second time. Pretended again
that people were real. May God have mercy on me!"

Leighton dropped his arm. Though he did not understand, a chill
of disgust passed over him, and he said, "I will go back to The
Antelope. I will help them put Stephen to bed."

"Do. I will wait for you here." Then he leant against the parapet
and prayed passionately, for he knew that the conventions would
claim him soon. God was beyond them, but ah, how far beyond, and
to be reached after what degradation! At the end of this childish
detour his wife awaited him, not less surely because she was only
his wife in name. He was too weak. Books and friends were not
enough. Little by little she would claim him and corrupt him and
make him what he had been; and the woman he loved would die out,
in drunkenness, in debauchery, and her strength would be
dissipated by a man, her beauty defiled in a man. She would not
continue. That mystic rose and the face it illumined meant
nothing. The stream--he was above it now--meant nothing, though
it burst from the pure turf and ran for ever to the sea. The
bather, the shoulders of Orion-they all meant nothing, and were
going nowhere. The whole affair was a ridiculous dream.

Leighton returned, saying, "Haven't you seen Stephen? They say he
followed us: he can still walk: I told you he wasn't so bad."

"I don't think he passed me. Ought one to look?" He wandered a
little along the Roman road. Again nothing mattered. At the
level-crossing he leant on the gate to watch a slow goods train
pass. In the glare of the engine he saw that his brother had come
this way, perhaps through some sodden memory of the Rings, and
now lay drunk over the rails. Wearily he did a man's duty. There
was time to raise him up and push him into safety. It is also a
man's duty to save his own life, and therefore he tried. The
train went over his knees. He died up in Cadover, whispering,
"You have been right," to Mrs. Failing.

She wrote of him to Mrs. Lewin afterwards as "one who has failed
in all he undertook; one of the thousands whose dust returns to
the dust, accomplishing nothing in the interval. Agnes and I
buried him to the sound of our cracked bell, and pretended that
he had once been alive. The other, who was always honest, kept
away."

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>From the window they looked over a sober valley, whose sides werenot too sloping to be ploughed, and whose trend was followed by agrass-grown track. It was late on Sunday afternoon, and thevalley was deserted except for one labourer, who was coastingslowly downward on a rosy bicycle. The air was very quiet. A jayscreamed up in the woods behind, but the ring-doves, who roostearly, were already silent. Since the window opened westward, theroom was flooded with light, and Stephen, finding it hot, wasworking in his shirtsleeves."You guarantee they'll sell?" he asked, with a pen between histeeth. He was tidying up a
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That same day Rickie, feeling neither poor nor aimless, left theAnsells' for a night's visit to Cadover. His aunt had invitedhim--why, he could not think, nor could he think why he shouldrefuse the invitation. She could not annoy him now, and he wasnot vindictive. In the dell near Madingley he had cried, "I hateno one," in his ignorance. Now, with full knowledge, he hated noone again. The weather was pleasant, the county attractive, andhe was ready for a little change.Maud and Stewart saw him off. Stephen, who was down for theholiday, had been left with his chin on the luncheon table.
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