The Longest Journey by E. M. Forster
Love, say orderly people, can be fallen into by two methods: (1) through the desires, (2) through the imagination. And if the orderly people are English, they add that (1) is the inferior method, and characteristic of the South. It is inferior. Yet those who pursue it at all events know what they want; they are not puzzling to themselves or ludicrous to others; they do not take the wings of the morning and fly into the uttermost parts of the sea before walking to the registry office; they cannot breed a tragedy quite like Rickie's.
He is, of course, absurdly young—not twenty-one and he will be engaged to be married at twenty-three. He has no knowledge of the world; for example, he thinks that if you do not want money you can give it to friends who do. He believes in humanity because he knows a dozen decent people. He believes in women because he has loved his mother. And his friends are as young and as ignorant as himself. They are full of the wine of life. But they have not tasted the cup—let us call it the teacup—of experience, which has made men of Mr. Pembroke's type what they are. Oh, that teacup! To be taken at prayers, at friendship, at love, till we are quite sane, efficient, quite experienced, and quite useless to God or man. We must drink it, or we shall die. But we need not drink it always. Here is our problem and our salvation. There comes a moment—God knows when—at which we can say, "I will experience no longer. I will create. I will be an experience." But to do this we must be both acute and heroic. For it is not easy, after accepting six cups of tea, to throw the seventh in the face of the hostess. And to Rickie this moment has not, as yet, been offered.
Ansell, at the end of his third year, got a first in the Moral Science Tripos. Being a scholar, he kept his rooms in college, and at once began to work for a Fellowship. Rickie got a creditable second in the Classical Tripos, Part I., and retired to sallow lodgings in Mill bane, carrying with him the degree of B.A. and a small exhibition, which was quite as much as he deserved. For Part II. he read Greek Archaeology, and got a second. All this means that Ansell was much cleverer than Rickie. As for the cow, she was still going strong, though turning a little academic as the years passed over her.
"We are bound to get narrow," sighed Rickie. He and his friend were lying in a meadow during their last summer term. In his incurable love for flowers he had plaited two garlands of buttercups and cow-parsley, and Ansell's lean Jewish face was framed in one of them. "Cambridge is wonderful, but—but it's so tiny. You have no idea—at least, I think you have no idea—how the great world looks down on it."
"I read the letters in the papers."
"It's a bad look-out."
"Cambridge has lost touch with the times."
"Was she ever intended to touch them?"
"She satisfies," said Rickie mysteriously, "neither the professions, nor the public schools, nor the great thinking mass of men and women. There is a general feeling that her day is over, and naturally one feels pretty sick."
"Do you still write short stories?"
"Because your English has gone to the devil. You think and talk in Journalese. Define a great thinking mass."
Rickie sat up and adjusted his floral crown.
"Estimate the worth of a general feeling."
"And thirdly, where is the great world?"
"Yes. That," exclaimed Ansell, rising from his couch in violent excitement. "Where is it? How do you set about finding it? How long does it take to get there? What does it think? What does it do? What does it want? Oblige me with specimens of its art and literature." Silence. "Till you do, my opinions will be as follows: There is no great world at all, only a little earth, for ever isolated from the rest of the little solar system. The earth is full of tiny societies, and Cambridge is one of them. All the societies are narrow, but some are good and some are bad—just as one house is beautiful inside and another ugly. Observe the metaphor of the houses: I am coming back to it. The good societies say, `I tell you to do this because I am Cambridge.' The bad ones say, `I tell you to do that because I am the great world, not because I am 'Peckham,' or `Billingsgate,' or `Park Lane,' but `because I am the great world.' They lie. And fools like you listen to them, and believe that they are a thing which does not exist and never has existed, and confuse 'great,' which has no meaning whatever, with 'good,' which means salvation. Look at this great wreath: it'll be dead tomorrow. Look at that good flower: it'll come up again next year. Now for the other metaphor. To compare the world to Cambridge is like comparing the outsides of houses with the inside of a house. No intellectual effort is needed, no moral result is attained. You only have to say, 'Oh, what a difference!' and then come indoors again and exhibit your broadened mind."
"I never shall come indoors again," said Rickie. "That's the whole point." And his voice began to quiver. "It's well enough for those who'll get a Fellowship, but in a few weeks I shall go down. In a few years it'll be as if I've never been up. It matters very much to me what the world is like. I can't answer your questions about it; and that's no loss to you, but so much the worse for me. And then you've got a house—not a metaphorical one, but a house with father and sisters. I haven't, and never shall have. There'll never again be a home for me like Cambridge. I shall only look at the outside of homes. According to your metaphor, I shall live in the street, and it matters very much to me what I find there."
"You'll live in another house right enough," said Ansell, rather uneasily. "Only take care you pick out a decent one. I can't think why you flop about so helplessly, like a bit of seaweed. In four years you've taken as much root as any one."
"I should say you've been fortunate in your friends."
"Oh—that!" But he was not cynical—or cynical in a very tender way. He was thinking of the irony of friendship—so strong it is, and so fragile. We fly together, like straws in an eddy, to part in the open stream. Nature has no use for us: she has cut her stuff differently. Dutiful sons, loving husbands, responsible fathers these are what she wants, and if we are friends it must be in our spare time. Abram and Sarai were sorrowful, yet their seed became as sand of the sea, and distracts the politics of Europe at this moment. But a few verses of poetry is all that survives of David and Jonathan.
"I wish we were labelled," said Rickie. He wished that all the confidence and mutual knowledge that is born in such a place as Cambridge could be organized. People went down into the world saying, "We know and like each other; we shan't forget." But they did forget, for man is so made that he cannot remember long without a symbol; he wished there was a society, a kind of friendship office, where the marriage of true minds could be registered.
"To know each other again."
"I have taught you pessimism splendidly." He looked at his watch.
Rickie got up.
"Why go?" He stretched out his hand and caught hold of Rickie's ankle.
"I've got that Miss Pembroke to lunch—that girl whom you say never's there."
"Then why go? All this week you have pretended Miss Pembroke awaited you. Wednesday—Miss Pembroke to lunch. Thursday—Miss Pembroke to tea. Now again—and you didn't even invite her."
"To Cambridge, no. But the Hall man they're stopping with has so many engagements that she and her friend can often come to me, I'm glad to say. I don't think I ever told you much, but over two years ago the man she was going to marry was killed at football. She nearly died of grief. This visit to Cambridge is almost the first amusement she has felt up to taking. Oh, they go back tomorrow! Give me breakfast tomorrow."
"But I shall see you this evening. I shall be round at your paper on Schopenhauer. Lemme go."
"Don't go," he said idly. "It's much better for you to talk to me."
"Lemme go, Stewart."
"It's amusing that you're so feeble. You—simply—can't—get—away. I wish I wanted to bully you."
Rickie laughed, and suddenly over balanced into the grass. Ansell, with unusual playfulness, held him prisoner. They lay there for few minutes, talking and ragging aimlessly. Then Rickie seized his opportunity and jerked away.
"Go, go!" yawned the other. But he was a little vexed, for he was a young man with great capacity for pleasure, and it pleased him that morning to be with his friend. The thought of two ladies waiting lunch did not deter him; stupid women, why shouldn't they wait? Why should they interfere with their betters? With his ear on the ground he listened to Rickie's departing steps, and thought, "He wastes a lot of time keeping engagements. Why will he be pleasant to fools?" And then he thought, "Why has he turned so unhappy? It isn't as it he's a philosopher, or tries to solve the riddle of existence. And he's got money of his own." Thus thinking, he fell asleep.
Meanwhile Rickie hurried away from him, and slackened and stopped, and hurried again. He was due at the Union in ten minutes, but he could not bring himself there. He dared not meet Miss Pembroke: he loved her.
The devil must have planned it. They had started so gloriously; she had been a goddess both in joy and sorrow. She was a goddess still. But he had dethroned the god whom once he had glorified equally. Slowly, slowly, the image of Gerald had faded. That was the first step. Rickie had thought, "No matter. He will be bright again. Just now all the radiance chances to be in her." And on her he had fixed his eyes. He thought of her awake. He entertained her willingly in dreams. He found her in poetry and music and in the sunset. She made him kind and strong. She made him clever. Through her he kept Cambridge in its proper place, and lived as a citizen of the great world. But one night he dreamt that she lay in his arms. This displeased him. He determined to think a little about Gerald instead. Then the fabric collapsed.
It was hard on Rickie thus to meet the devil. He did not deserve it, for he was comparatively civilized, and knew that there was nothing shameful in love. But to love this woman! If only it had been any one else! Love in return—that he could expect from no one, being too ugly and too unattractive. But the love he offered would not then have been vile. The insult to Miss Pembroke, who was consecrated, and whom he had consecrated, who could still see Gerald, and always would see him, shining on his everlasting throne this was the crime from the devil, the crime that no penance would ever purge. She knew nothing. She never would know. But the crime was registered in heaven.
He had been tempted to confide in Ansell. But to what purpose? He would say, "I love Miss Pembroke." and Stewart would reply, "You ass." And then. "I'm never going to tell her." "You ass," again. After all, it was not a practical question; Agnes would never hear of his fall. If his friend had been, as he expressed it, "labelled"; if he had been a father, or still better a brother, one might tell him of the discreditable passion. But why irritate him for no reason? Thinking "I am always angling for sympathy; I must stop myself," he hurried onward to the Union.
He found his guests half way up the stairs, reading the advertisements of coaches for the Long Vacation. He heard Mrs. Lewin say, "I wonder what he'll end by doing." A little overacting his part, he apologized nonchalantly for his lateness.
"It's always the same," cried Agnes. "Last time he forgot I was coming altogether." She wore a flowered muslin—something indescribably liquid and cool. It reminded him a little of those swift piercing streams, neither blue nor green, that gush out of the dolomites. Her face was clear and brown, like the face of a mountaineer; her hair was so plentiful that it seemed banked up above it; and her little toque, though it answered the note of the dress, was almost ludicrous, poised on so much natural glory. When she moved, the sunlight flashed on her ear-rings.
He led them up to the luncheon-room. By now he was conscious of his limitations as a host, and never attempted to entertain ladies in his lodgings. Moreover, the Union seemed less intimate. It had a faint flavour of a London club; it marked the undergraduate's nearest approach to the great world. Amid its waiters and serviettes one felt impersonal, and able to conceal the private emotions. Rickie felt that if Miss Pembroke knew one thing about him, she knew everything. During this visit he took her to no place that he greatly loved.
"Sit down, ladies. Fall to. I'm sorry. I was out towards Coton with a dreadful friend."
Mrs. Lewin pushed up her veil. She was a typical May-term chaperon, always pleasant, always hungry, and always tired. Year after year she came up to Cambridge in a tight silk dress, and year after year she nearly died of it. Her feet hurt, her limbs were cramped in a canoe, black spots danced before her eyes from eating too much mayonnaise. But still she came, if not as a mother as an aunt, if not as an aunt as a friend. Still she ascended the roof of King's, still she counted the balls of Clare, still she was on the point of grasping the organization of the May races. "And who is your friend?" she asked.
"His name is Ansell."
"Well, now, did I see him two years ago—as a bedmaker in something they did at the Foot Lights? Oh, how I roared."
"You didn't see Mr. Ansell at the Foot Lights," said Agnes, smiling.
"How do you know?" asked Rickie.
"He'd scarcely be so frivolous."
"Do you remember seeing him?"
"For a moment."
What a memory she had! And how splendidly during that moment she had behaved!
"Isn't he marvellously clever?"
"I believe so."
"Oh, give me clever people!" cried Mrs. Lewin. "They are kindness itself at the Hall, but I assure you I am depressed at times. One cannot talk bump-rowing for ever."
"I never hear about him, Rickie; but isn't he really your greatest friend?"
"I don't go in for greatest friends."
"Do you mean you like us all equally?"
"All differently, those of you I like."
"Ah, you've caught it!" cried Mrs. Lewin. "Mr. Elliot gave it you there well."
Agnes laughed, and, her elbows on the table, regarded them both through her fingers—a habit of hers. Then she said, "Can't we see the great Mr. Ansell?"
"Oh, let's. Or would he frighten me?"
"He would frighten you," said Rickie. "He's a trifle weird."
"My good Rickie, if you knew the deathly dullness of Sawston—every one saying the proper thing at the proper time, I so proper, Herbert so proper! Why, weirdness is the one thing I long for! Do arrange something."
"I'm afraid there's no opportunity. Ansell goes some vast bicycle ride this afternoon; this evening you're tied up at the Hall; and tomorrow you go."
"But there's breakfast tomorrow," said Agnes. "Look here, Rickie, bring Mr. Ansell to breakfast with us at Buoys."
Mrs. Lewin seconded the invitation.
"Bad luck again," said Rickie boldly; "I'm already fixed up for breakfast. I'll tell him of your very kind intention."
"Let's have him alone," murmured Agnes.
"My dear girl, I should die through the floor! Oh, it'll be all right about breakfast. I rather think we shall get asked this evening by that shy man who has the pretty rooms in Trinity."
"Oh, very well. Where is it you breakfast, Rickie?"
He faltered. "To Ansell's, it is—" It seemed as if he was making some great admission. So self-conscious was he, that he thought the two women exchanged glances. Had Agnes already explored that part of him that did not belong to her? Would another chance step reveal the part that did? He asked them abruptly what they would like to do after lunch.
"Anything," said Mrs. Lewin,—"anything in the world."
A walk? A boat? Ely? A drive? Some objection was raised to each. "To tell the truth," she said at last, "I do feel a wee bit tired, and what occurs to me is this. You and Agnes shall leave me here and have no more bother. I shall be perfectly happy snoozling in one of these delightful drawing-room chairs. Do what you like, and then pick me up after it."
"Alas, it's against regulations," said Rickie. "The Union won't trust lady visitors on its premises alone."
"But who's to know I'm alone? With a lot of men in the drawing-room, how's each to know that I'm not with the others?"
"That would shock Rickie," said Agnes, laughing. "He's frightfully high-principled."
"No, I'm not," said Rickie, thinking of his recent shiftiness over breakfast.
"Then come for a walk with me. I want exercise. Some connection of ours was once rector of Madingley. I shall walk out and see the church."
Mrs. Lewin was accordingly left in the Union.
"This is jolly!" Agnes exclaimed as she strode along the somewhat depressing road that leads out of Cambridge past the observatory. "Do I go too fast?"
"No, thank you. I get stronger every year. If it wasn't for the look of the thing, I should be quite happy."
"But you don't care for the look of the thing. It's only ignorant people who do that, surely."
"Perhaps. I care. I like people who are well-made and beautiful. They are of some use in the world. I understand why they are there. I cannot understand why the ugly and crippled are there, however healthy they may feel inside. Don't you know how Turner spoils his pictures by introducing a man like a bolster in the foreground? Well, in actual life every landscape is spoilt by men of worse shapes still."
"You sound like a bolster with the stuffing out." They laughed. She always blew his cobwebs away like this, with a puff of humorous mountain air. Just now the associations he attached to her were various—she reminded him of a heroine of Meredith's—but a heroine at the end of the book. All had been written about her. She had played her mighty part, and knew that it was over. He and he alone was not content, and wrote for her daily a trivial and impossible sequel.
Last time they had talked about Gerald. But that was some six months ago, when things felt easier. Today Gerald was the faintest blur. Fortunately the conversation turned to Mr. Pembroke and to education. Did women lose a lot by not knowing Greek? "A heap," said Rickie, roughly. But modern languages? Thus they got to Germany, which he had visited last Easter with Ansell; and thence to the German Emperor, and what a to-do he made; and from him to our own king (still Prince of Wales), who had lived while an undergraduate at Madingley Hall. Here it was. And all the time he thought, "It is hard on her. She has no right to be walking with me. She would be ill with disgust if she knew. It is hard on her to be loved."
They looked at the Hall, and went inside the pretty little church. Some Arundel prints hung upon the pillars, and Agnes expressed the opinion that pictures inside a place of worship were a pity. Rickie did not agree with this. He said again that nothing beautiful was ever to be regretted.
"You're cracked on beauty," she whispered—they were still inside the church. "Do hurry up and write something."
"I believe you can. I'm going to lecture you seriously all the way home. Take care that you don't waste your life."
They continued the conversation outside. "But I've got to hate my own writing. I believe that most people come to that stage—not so early though. What I write is too silly. It can't happen. For instance, a stupid vulgar man is engaged to a lovely young lady. He wants her to live in the towns, but she only cares for woods. She shocks him this way and that, but gradually he tames her, and makes her nearly as dull as he is. One day she has a last explosion—over the snobby wedding presents—and flies out of the drawing-room window, shouting, 'Freedom and truth!' Near the house is a little dell full of fir-trees, and she runs into it. He comes there the next moment. But she's gone."
"Awfully exciting. Where?"
"Oh Lord, she's a Dryad!" cried Rickie, in great disgust. "She's turned into a tree."
"Rickie, it's very good indeed. The kind of thing has something in it. Of course you get it all through Greek and Latin. How upset the man must be when he sees the girl turn."
"He doesn't see her. He never guesses. Such a man could never see a Dryad."
"So you describe how she turns just before he comes up?"
"No. Indeed I don't ever say that she does turn. I don't use the word 'Dryad' once."
"I think you ought to put that part plainly. Otherwise, with such an original story, people might miss the point. Have you had any luck with it?"
"Magazines? I haven't tried. I know what the stuff's worth. You see, a year or two ago I had a great idea of getting into touch with Nature, just as the Greeks were in touch; and seeing England so beautiful, I used to pretend that her trees and coppices and summer fields of parsley were alive. It's funny enough now, but it wasn't funny then, for I got in such a state that I believed, actually believed, that Fauns lived in a certain double hedgerow near the Cog Magogs, and one evening I walked a mile sooner than go through it alone."
"Good gracious!" She laid her hand on his shoulder.
He moved to the other side of the road. "It's all right now. I've changed those follies for others. But while I had them I began to write, and even now I keep on writing, though I know better. I've got quite a pile of little stories, all harping on this ridiculous idea of getting into touch with Nature."
"I wish you weren't so modest. It's simply splendid as an idea. Though—but tell me about the Dryad who was engaged to be married. What was she like?"
"I can show you the dell in which the young person disappeared. We pass it on the right in a moment."
"It does seem a pity that you don't make something of your talents. It seems such a waste to write little stories and never publish them. You must have enough for a book. Life is so full in our days that short stories are the very thing; they get read by people who'd never tackle a novel. For example, at our Dorcas we tried to read out a long affair by Henry James—Herbert saw it recommended in 'The Times.' There was no doubt it was very good, but one simply couldn't remember from one week to another what had happened. So now our aim is to get something that just lasts the hour. I take you seriously, Rickie, and that is why I am so offensive. You are too modest. People who think they can do nothing so often do nothing. I want you to plunge."
It thrilled him like a trumpet-blast. She took him seriously. Could he but thank her for her divine affability! But the words would stick in his throat, or worse still would bring other words along with them. His breath came quickly, for he seldom spoke of his writing, and no one, not even Ansell, had advised him to plunge.
"But do you really think that I could take up literature?"
"Why not? You can try. Even if you fail, you can try. Of course we think you tremendously clever; and I met one of your dons at tea, and he said that your degree was not in the least a proof of your abilities: he said that you knocked up and got flurried in examinations. Oh!"—her cheek flushed,—"I wish I was a man. The whole world lies before them. They can do anything. They aren't cooped up with servants and tea parties and twaddle. But where's this dell where the Dryad disappeared?"
"We've passed it." He had meant to pass it. It was too beautiful. All he had read, all he had hoped for, all he had loved, seemed to quiver in its enchanted air. It was perilous. He dared not enter it with such a woman.
"How long ago?" She turned back. "I don't want to miss the dell. Here it must be," she added after a few moments, and sprang up the green bank that hid the entrance from the road. "Oh, what a jolly place!"
"Go right in if you want to see it," said Rickie, and did not offer to go with her. She stood for a moment looking at the view, for a few steps will increase a view in Cambridgeshire. The wind blew her dress against her. Then, like a cataract again, she vanished pure and cool into the dell.
The young man thought of her feelings no longer. His heart throbbed louder and louder, and seemed to shake him to pieces. "Rickie!"
She was calling from the dell. For an answer he sat down where he was, on the dust-bespattered margin. She could call as loud as she liked. The devil had done much, but he should not take him to her.
"Rickie!"—and it came with the tones of an angel. He drove his fingers into his ears, and invoked the name of Gerald. But there was no sign, neither angry motion in the air nor hint of January mist. June—fields of June, sky of June, songs of June. Grass of June beneath him, grass of June over the tragedy he had deemed immortal. A bird called out of the dell: "Rickie!"
A bird flew into the dell.
"Did you take me for the Dryad?" she asked. She was sitting down with his head on her lap. He had laid it there for a moment before he went out to die, and she had not let him take it away.
"I prayed you might not be a woman," he whispered.
"Darling, I am very much a woman. I do not vanish into groves and trees. I thought you would never come."
"Did you expect—?"
"I hoped. I called hoping."
Inside the dell it was neither June nor January. The chalk walls barred out the seasons, and the fir-trees did not seem to feel their passage. Only from time to time the odours of summer slipped in from the wood above, to comment on the waxing year. She bent down to touch him with her lips.
He started, and cried passionately, "Never forget that your greatest thing is over. I have forgotten: I am too weak. You shall never forget. What I said to you then is greater than what I say to you now. What he gave you then is greater than anything you will get from me."
She was frightened. Again she had the sense of something abnormal. Then she said, "What is all this nonsense?" and folded him in her arms.