The Longest Journey by E. M. Forster

CHAPTER XVIII

Meanwhile he was a husband. Perhaps his union should have been emphasized before. The crown of life had been attained, the vague yearnings, the misread impulses, had found accomplishment at last. Never again must he feel lonely, or as one who stands out of the broad highway of the world and fears, like poor Shelley, to undertake the longest journey. So he reasoned, and at first took the accomplishment for granted. But as the term passed he knew that behind the yearning there remained a yearning, behind the drawn veil a veil that he could not draw. His wedding had been no mighty landmark: he would often wonder whether such and such a speech or incident came after it or before. Since that meeting in the Soho restaurant there had been so much to do—clothes to buy, presents to thank for, a brief visit to a Training College, a honeymoon as brief. In such a bustle, what spiritual union could take place? Surely the dust would settle soon: in Italy, at Easter, he might perceive the infinities of love. But love had shown him its infinities already. Neither by marriage nor by any other device can men insure themselves a vision; and Rickie's had been granted him three years before, when he had seen his wife and a dead man clasped in each other's arms. She was never to be so real to him again.

She ran about the house looking handsomer than ever. Her cheerful voice gave orders to the servants. As he sat in the study correcting compositions, she would dart in and give him a kiss. "Dear girl—" he would murmur, with a glance at the rings on her hand. The tone of their marriage life was soon set. It was to be a frank good-fellowship, and before long he found it difficult to speak in a deeper key.

One evening he made the effort. There had been more beauty than was usual at Sawston. The air was pure and quiet. Tomorrow the fog might be here, but today one said, "It is like the country." Arm in arm they strolled in the side-garden, stopping at times to notice the crocuses, or to wonder when the daffodils would flower. Suddenly he tightened his pressure, and said, "Darling, why don't you still wear ear-rings?"

"Ear-rings?" She laughed. "My taste has improved, perhaps."

So after all they never mentioned Gerald's name. But he hoped it was still dear to her. He did not want her to forget the greatest moment in her life. His love desired not ownership but confidence, and to a love so pure it does not seem terrible to come second.

He valued emotion—not for itself, but because it is the only final path to intimacy. She, ever robust and practical, always discouraged him. She was not cold; she would willingly embrace him. But she hated being upset, and would laugh or thrust him off when his voice grew serious. In this she reminded him of his mother. But his mother—he had never concealed it from himself—had glories to which his wife would never attain: glories that had unfolded against a life of horror—a life even more horrible than he had guessed. He thought of her often during these earlier months. Did she bless his union, so different to her own? Did she love his wife? He tried to speak of her to Agnes, but again she was reluctant. And perhaps it was this aversion to acknowledge the dead, whose images alone have immortality, that made her own image somewhat transient, so that when he left her no mystic influence remained, and only by an effort could he realize that God had united them forever.

They conversed and differed healthily upon other topics. A rifle corps was to be formed: she hoped that the boys would have proper uniforms, instead of shooting in their old clothes, as Mr. Jackson had suggested. There was Tewson; could nothing be done about him? He would slink away from the other prefects and go with boys of his own age. There was Lloyd: he would not learn the school anthem, saying that it hurt his throat. And above all there was Varden, who, to Rickie's bewilderment, was now a member of Dunwood House.

"He had to go somewhere," said Agnes. "Lucky for his mother that we had a vacancy."

"Yes—but when I meet Mrs. Orr—I can't help feeling ashamed."

"Oh, Mrs. Orr! Who cares for her? Her teeth are drawn. If she chooses to insinuate that we planned it, let her. Hers was rank dishonesty. She attempted to set up a boarding-house."

Mrs. Orr, who was quite rich, had attempted no such thing. She had taken the boy out of charity, and without a thought of being unconstitutional. But in had come this officious "Limpet" and upset the headmaster, and she was scolded, and Mrs. Varden was scolded, and Mr. Jackson was scolded, and the boy was scolded and placed with Mr. Pembroke, whom she revered less than any man in the world. Naturally enough, she considered it a further attempt of the authorities to snub the day-boys, for whose advantage the school had been founded. She and Mrs. Jackson discussed the subject at their tea-parties, and the latter lady was sure that no good, no good of any kind, would come to Dunwood House from such ill-gotten plunder.

"We say, 'Let them talk,'" persisted Rickie, "but I never did like letting people talk. We are right and they are wrong, but I wish the thing could have been done more quietly. The headmaster does get so excited. He has given a gang of foolish people their opportunity. I don't like being branded as the day-boy's foe, when I think how much I would have given to be a day-boy myself. My father found me a nuisance, and put me through the mill, and I can never forget it particularly the evenings."

"There's very little bullying here," said Agnes.

"There was very little bullying at my school. There was simply the atmosphere of unkindness, which no discipline can dispel. It's not what people do to you, but what they mean, that hurts."

"I don't understand."

"Physical pain doesn't hurt—at least not what I call hurt—if a man hits you by accident or play. But just a little tap, when you know it comes from hatred, is too terrible. Boys do hate each other: I remember it, and see it again. They can make strong isolated friendships, but of general good-fellowship they haven't a notion."

"All I know is there's very little bullying here."

"You see, the notion of good-fellowship develops late: you can just see its beginning here among the prefects: up at Cambridge it flourishes amazingly. That's why I pity people who don't go up to Cambridge: not because a University is smart, but because those are the magic years, and—with luck—you see up there what you couldn't see before and mayn't ever see again.

"Aren't these the magic years?" the lady demanded.

He laughed and hit at her. "I'm getting somewhat involved. But hear me, O Agnes, for I am practical. I approve of our public schools. Long may they, flourish. But I do not approve of the boarding-house system. It isn't an inevitable adjunct—"

"Good gracious me!" she shrieked. "Have you gone mad?"

"Silence, madam. Don't betray me to Herbert, or I'll give us the sack. But seriously, what is the good of, throwing boys so much together? Isn't it building their lives on a wrong basis? They don't understand each other. I wish they did, but they don't. They don't realize that human beings are simply marvellous. When they do, the whole of life changes, and you get the true thing. But don't pretend you've got it before you have. Patriotism and esprit de corps are all very well, but masters a little forget that they must grow from sentiment. They cannot create one. Cannot-cannot—cannot. I never cared a straw for England until I cared for Englishmen, and boys can't love the school when they hate each other. Ladies and gentlemen, I will now conclude my address. And most of it is copied out of Mr. Ansell."

The truth is, he was suddenly ashamed. He had been carried away on the flood of his old emotions. Cambridge and all that it meant had stood before him passionately clear, and beside it stood his mother and the sweet family life which nurses up a boy until he can salute his equals. He was ashamed, for he remembered his new resolution—to work without criticizing, to throw himself vigorously into the machine, not to mind if he was pinched now and then by the elaborate wheels.

"Mr. Ansell!" cried his wife, laughing somewhat shrilly. "Aha! Now I understand. It's just the kind of thing poor Mr. Ansell would say. Well, I'm brutal. I believe it does Varden good to have his ears pulled now and then, and I don't care whether they pull them in play or not. Boys ought to rough it, or they never grow up into men, and your mother would have agreed with me. Oh yes; and you're all wrong about patriotism. It can, can, create a sentiment."

She was unusually precise, and had followed his thoughts with an attention that was also unusual. He wondered whether she was not right, and regretted that she proceeded to say, "My dear boy, you mustn't talk these heresies inside Dunwood House! You sound just like one of that reactionary Jackson set, who want to fling the school back a hundred years and have nothing but day-boys all dressed anyhow."

"The Jackson set have their points."

"You'd better join it."

"The Dunwood House set has its points." For Rickie suffered from the Primal Curse, which is not—as the Authorized Version suggests—the knowledge of good and evil, but the knowledge of good-and-evil.

"Then stick to the Dunwood House set."

"I do, and shall." Again he was ashamed. Why would he see the other side of things? He rebuked his soul, not unsuccessfully, and then they returned to the subject of Varden.

"I'm certain he suffers," said he, for she would do nothing but laugh. "Each boy who passes pulls his ears—very funny, no doubt; but every day they stick out more and get redder, and this afternoon, when he didn't know he was being watched, he was holding his head and moaning. I hate the look about his eyes."

"I hate the whole boy. Nasty weedy thing."

"Well, I'm a nasty weedy thing, if it comes to that."

"No, you aren't," she cried, kissing him. But he led her back to the subject. Could nothing be suggested? He drew up some new rules—alterations in the times of going to bed, and so on—the effect of which would be to provide fewer opportunities for the pulling of Varden's ears. The rules were submitted to Herbert, who sympathized with weakliness more than did his sister, and gave them his careful consideration. But unfortunately they collided with other rules, and on a closer examination he found that they also ran contrary to the fundamentals on which the government of Dunwood House was based. So nothing was done. Agnes was rather pleased, and took to teasing her husband about Varden. At last he asked her to stop. He felt uneasy about the boy—almost superstitious. His first morning's work had brought sixty pounds a year to their hotel.



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