The Longest Journey by E. M. Forster
From the window they looked over a sober valley, whose sides were not too sloping to be ploughed, and whose trend was followed by a grass-grown track. It was late on Sunday afternoon, and the valley was deserted except for one labourer, who was coasting slowly downward on a rosy bicycle. The air was very quiet. A jay screamed up in the woods behind, but the ring-doves, who roost early, were already silent. Since the window opened westward, the room was flooded with light, and Stephen, finding it hot, was working in his shirtsleeves.
"You guarantee they'll sell?" he asked, with a pen between his teeth. He was tidying up a pile of manuscripts.
"I guarantee that the world will be the gainer," said Mr. Pembroke, now a clergyman, who sat beside him at the table with an expression of refined disapproval on his face.
"I'd got the idea that the long story had its points, but that these shorter things didn't—what's the word?"
"'Convince' is probably the word you want. But that type of criticism is quite a thing of the past. Have you seen the illustrated American edition?"
"I don't remember."
"Might I send you a copy? I think you ought to possess one."
"Thank you." His eye wandered. The bicycle had disappeared into some trees, and thither, through a cloudless sky, the sun was also descending.
"Is all quite plain?" said Mr. Pembroke. "Submit these ten stories to the magazines, and make your own terms with the editors. Then—I have your word for it—you will join forces with me; and the four stories in my possession, together with yours, should make up a volume, which we might well call 'Pan Pipes.'"
"Are you sure `Pan Pipes' haven't been used up already?"
Mr. Pembroke clenched his teeth. He had been bearing with this sort of thing for nearly an hour. "If that is the case, we can select another. A title is easy to come by. But that is the idea it must suggest. The stories, as I have twice explained to you, all centre round a Nature theme. Pan, being the god of—"
"I know that," said Stephen impatiently.
"—Being the god of—"
"All right. Let's get furrard. I've learnt that."
It was years since the schoolmaster had been interrupted, and he could not stand it. "Very well," he said. "I bow to your superior knowledge of the classics. Let us proceed."
"Oh yes the introduction. There must be one. It was the introduction with all those wrong details that sold the other book."
"You overwhelm me. I never penned the memoir with that intention."
"If you won't do one, Mrs. Keynes must!"
"My sister leads a busy life. I could not ask her. I will do it myself since you insist."
"And the binding?"
"The binding," said Mr. Pembroke coldly, "must really be left to the discretion of the publisher. We cannot be concerned with such details. Our task is purely literary." His attention wandered. He began to fidget, and finally bent down and looked under the table. "What have we here?" he asked.
Stephen looked also, and for a moment they smiled at each other over the prostrate figure of a child, who was cuddling Mr. Pembroke's boots. "She's after the blacking," he explained. "If we left her there, she'd lick them brown."
"Indeed. Is that so very safe?"
"It never did me any harm. Come up! Your tongue's dirty."
"Can I—" She was understood to ask whether she could clean her tongue on a lollie.
"No, no!" said Mr. Pembroke. "Lollipops don't clean little girls' tongues."
"Yes, they do," he retorted. "But she won't get one." He lifted her on his knee, and rasped her tongue with his handkerchief.
"Dear little thing," said the visitor perfunctorily. The child began to squall, and kicked her father in the stomach. Stephen regarded her quietly. "You tried to hurt me," he said. "Hurting doesn't count. Trying to hurt counts. Go and clean your tongue yourself. Get off my knee." Tears of another sort came into her eyes, but she obeyed him. "How's the great Bertie?" he asked.
"Thank you. My nephew is perfectly well. How came you to hear of his existence?"
"Through the Silts, of course. It isn't five miles to Cadover."
Mr. Pembroke raised his eyes mournfully. "I cannot conceive how the poor Silts go on in that great house. Whatever she intended, it could not have been that. The house, the farm, the money,—everything down to the personal articles that belong to Mr. Failing, and should have reverted to his family!"
"It's legal. Interstate succession."
"I do not dispute it. But it is a lesson to one to make a will. Mrs. Keynes and myself were electrified."
"They'll do there. They offered me the agency, but—" He looked down the cultivated slopes. His manners were growing rough, for he saw few gentlemen now, and he was either incoherent or else alarmingly direct. "However, if Lawrie Silt's a Cockney like his father, and if my next is a boy and like me—" A shy beautiful look came into his eyes, and passed unnoticed. "They'll do," he repeated. "They turned out Wilbraham and built new cottages, and bridged the railway, and made other necessary alterations." There was a moment's silence.
Mr. Pembroke took out his watch. "I wonder if I might have the trap? I mustn't miss my train, must I? It is good of you to have granted me an interview. It is all quite plain?"
"A case of half and half-division of profits."
"Half and half?" said the young farmer slowly. "What do you take me for? Half and half, when I provide ten of the stories and you only four?"
"I—I—" stammered Mr. Pembroke.
"I consider you did me over the long story, and I'm damned if you do me over the short ones!"
"Hush! if you please, hush!—if only for your little girl's sake."
He lifted a clerical palm.
"You did me," his voice drove, "and all the thirty-nine Articles won't stop me saying so. That long story was meant to be mine. I got it written. You've done me out of every penny it fetched. It's dedicated to me—flat out—and you even crossed out the dedication and tidied me out of the introduction. Listen to me, Pembroke. You've done people all your life—I think without knowing it, but that won't comfort us. A wretched devil at your school once wrote to me, and he'd been done. Sham food, sham religion, sham straight talks—and when he broke down, you said it was the world in miniature." He snatched at him roughly. "But I'll show you the world." He twisted him round like a baby, and through the open door they saw only the quiet valley, but in it a rivulet that would in time bring its waters to the sea. "Look even at that—and up behind where the Plain begins and you get on the solid chalk—think of us riding some night when you're ordering your hot bottle—that's the world, and there's no miniature world. There's one world, Pembroke, and you can't tidy men out of it. They answer you back do you hear?—they answer back if you do them. If you tell a man this way that four sheep equal ten, he answers back you're a liar."
Mr. Pembroke was speechless, and—such is human nature—he chiefly resented the allusion to the hot bottle; an unmanly luxury in which he never indulged; contenting himself with nightsocks. "Enough—there is no witness present—as you have doubtless observed." But there was. For a little voice cried, "Oh, mummy, they're fighting—such fun—" and feet went pattering up the stairs. "Enough. You talk of 'doing,' but what about the money out of which you 'did' my sister? What about this picture"—he pointed to a faded photograph of Stockholm—"which you caused to be filched from the walls of my house? What about—enough! Let us conclude this disheartening scene. You object to my terms. Name yours. I shall accept them. It is futile to reason with one who is the worse for drink."
Stephen was quiet at once. "Steady on!" he said gently. "Steady on in that direction. Take one-third for your four stories and the introduction, and I will keep two-thirds for myself." Then he went to harness the horse, while Mr. Pembroke, watching his broad back, desired to bury a knife in it. The desire passed, partly because it was unclerical, partly because he had no knife, and partly because he soon blurred over what had happened. To him all criticism was "rudeness": he never heeded it, for he never needed it: he was never wrong. All his life he had ordered little human beings about, and now he was equally magisterial to big ones: Stephen was a fifth-form lout whom, owing to some flaw in the regulations, he could not send up to the headmaster to be caned.
This attitude makes for tranquillity. Before long he felt merely an injured martyr. His brain cleared. He stood deep in thought before the only other picture that the bare room boasted—the Demeter of Cnidus. Outside the sun was sinking, and its last rays fell upon the immortal features and the shattered knees. Sweet-peas offered their fragrance, and with it there entered those more mysterious scents that come from no one flower or clod of earth, but from the whole bosom of evening. He tried not to be cynical. But in his heart he could not regret that tragedy, already half-forgotten, conventionalized, indistinct. Of course death is a terrible thing. Yet death is merciful when it weeds out a failure. If we look deep enough, it is all for the best. He stared at the picture and nodded.
Stephen, who had met his visitor at the station, had intended to drive him back there. But after their spurt of temper he sent him with the boy. He remained in the doorway, glad that he was going to make money, glad that he had been angry; while the glow of the clear sky deepened, and the silence was perfected, and the scents of the night grew stronger. Old vagrancies awoke, and he resolved that, dearly as he loved his house, he would not enter it again till dawn. "Goodnight!" he called, and then the child came running, and he whispered, "Quick, then! Bring me a rug." "Good-night," he repeated, and a pleasant voice called through an upper window, "Why good-night?" He did not answer until the child was wrapped up in his arms.
"It is time that she learnt to sleep out," he cried. "If you want me, we're out on the hillside, where I used to be."
The voice protested, saying this and that.
"Stewart's in the house," said the man, "and it cannot matter, and I am going anyway."
"Stephen, I wish you wouldn't. I wish you wouldn't take her. Promise you won't say foolish things to her. Don't—I wish you'd come up for a minute—"
The child, whose face was laid against his, felt the muscles in it harden.
"Don't tell her foolish things about yourself—things that aren't any longer true. Don't worry her with old dead dreadfulness. To please me—don't."
"Just tonight I won't, then."
"Stevie, dear, please me more—don't take her with you."
At this he laughed impertinently. "I suppose I'm being kept in line," she called, and, though he could not see her, she stretched her arms towards him. For a time he stood motionless, under her window, musing on his happy tangible life. Then his breath quickened, and he wondered why he was here, and why he should hold a warm child in his arms. "It's time we were starting," he whispered, and showed the sky, whose orange was already fading into green. "Wish everything goodnight."
"Good-night, dear mummy," she said sleepily. "Goodnight, dear house. Good-night, you pictures—long picture—stone lady. I see you through the window—your faces are pink."
The twilight descended. He rested his lips on her hair, and carried her, without speaking, until he reached the open down. He had often slept here himself, alone, and on his wedding-night, and he knew that the turf was dry, and that if you laid your face to it you would smell the thyme. For a moment the earth aroused her, and she began to chatter. "My prayers—" she said anxiously. He gave her one hand, and she was asleep before her fingers had nestled in its palm. Their touch made him pensive, and again he marvelled why he, the accident, was here. He was alive and had created life. By whose authority? Though he could not phrase it, he believed that he guided the future of our race, and that, century after century, his thoughts and his passions would triumph in England. The dead who had evoked him, the unborn whom he would evoke he governed the paths between them. By whose authority?
Out in the west lay Cadover and the fields of his earlier youth, and over them descended the crescent moon. His eyes followed her decline, and against her final radiance he saw, or thought he saw, the outline of the Rings. He had always been grateful, as people who understood him knew. But this evening his gratitude seemed a gift of small account. The ear was deaf, and what thanks of his could reach it? The body was dust, and in what ecstasy of his could it share? The spirit had fled, in agony and loneliness, never to know that it bequeathed him salvation.
He filled his pipe, and then sat pressing the unlit tobacco with his thumb. "What am I to do?" he thought. "Can he notice the things he gave me? A parson would know. But what's a man like me to do, who works all his life out of doors?" As he wondered, the silence of the night was broken. The whistle of Mr. Pembroke's train came faintly, and a lurid spot passed over the land—passed, and the silence returned. One thing remained that a man of his sort might do. He bent down reverently and saluted the child; to whom he had given the name of their mother.