Chapter 7 - The Battle Of Tongues
As a rule the jetty on its poles straddling a little way into the sea was as deserted as if it were some relic left by an old invader. Then it had spurts of activity, when steamer after steamer came blorting and hanging miserably round, like cows to the cowshed on a winter afternoon. Then a little engine would chuff along the pier, shoving a string of tip-up trucks, and little men would saunter across the sky-line, and there would be a fine dimness of black dust round the low, red ship and the end of the jetty. Luckily it was far enough away, so that Harriet need not fear for her beautiful white washing. She washed her linen herself for the sheer joy of it, and loved nothing so much as thinking of it getting whiter and whiter, like the Spenserian maid, in the sun and sea, and visiting it on the grass every five minutes, and finding it every time really whiter, till Somers said it would reach a point of whiteness where the colours would break up, and she'd go out and find pieces of rainbow on the grass and bushes, instead of towels and shirts.
"Shouldn't I be startled!" she said, accepting it as quite a possible contingency, and adding thoughtfully: "No, not really."
One of these afternoons when Somers was walking down on the sands, looking at the different shells, their sea-colours of pink and brown and rainbow and brilliant violet and shrimp-red, and when the boats were loading coal on the moderately quiet sea, he noticed the little engine standing steaming on the jetty, just overhead where he was going to pass under. Then his attention was drawn away to the men picking up the rounded, sea-smooth pebbles of coal in one little place where the beach was just a black slope of perfectly clean coal-pebbles: just like any other pebbles. There were usually some men, or women or children, picking here, putting the bigger pebbles of sea-coal into sacks. From the edge of the small waves Somers heard one man talking to another, and the English tones - unconsciously he expected a foreign language - and particularly the peculiar educated-artisan quality, almost a kind of uppishness that there is in the speech of Australian working men, struck him as incongruous with their picking up the coal-cobs from the shore. He watched them, in the chill of the shadow. Yes, they thought as much of themselves as anybody. But one was palpably a Welshman, and loved picking up something for nothing; and the other mixed his democratic uppishness with a queer lousy quality, like a bushranger. "They are ten times more foreign to me," said Somers, "than Italian scoundrels, or even Indians. They are so FOREIGN to me. And yet their manner of life, their ordinary way of living is almost exactly what I was used to as a boy. Why are they so foreign to me?"
They silently objected to his looking, so he went on. He had come to the huge, high timbers of the tall jetty. There stood the little engine still overhead: and in the gloom among the timbers underneath water was dripping down from her, which gave Somers a distaste for passing just then. He looked up. There was the engine-driver in his dirty shirt and dirty bare arms, talking to another man. The other man saluted - and to Somers' surprise it was William James. He stood quite still, and a surprised smile of recognition greeted the other man, who saluted.
"Why, what are you doing here?" called Somers.
William James came to the edge of the jetty, but could not hear, because of the noise of the sea. His face had that small, subtle smile that was characteristic of him, and which Somers was never quite sure of, whether it was really jeering or in a cunning way friendly.
"Won't you come up a minute?" roared William James.
So Somers scrambled round up the banks, on to the railway track.
"I couldn't come down for the moment," said William James. "I'll have to see the manager, then I'm off on this boat. We're ready to go. You heard her blowing."
"Where are you going? Back to Sydney."
"Yes. I come down occasionally on this coal-business, and if I like I go back on the collier. The sea is quiet, and I needn't wait for a train. Well, an' how're you gettin' on, like? Pleased with it down here all by yourselves?"
"A bit lonely for you. I suppose you wouldn't like to know the manager here - Mr. Thomas? He's a decent chap - from South Wales originally."
"No. I like it best when I don't know anybody."
"That's a compliment for some of us. However - I know what you mean. I know what you mean. Jack tells me you saw Kangaroo. Made quite a fuss of you, I hear. I knew he would. Oh, Kangaroo knew all about you: all he wanted to know, anyhow. I say, if ye think of stoppin' down here, you might get in a ton of coal. It looks as if this strike might come off. That Arbitration Board's a fine failure, what?"
"As far as I can gather."
"Oh, bound to be. Bound to be. They talk about scraps of paper, why, every agreement that's ever come to in this country, you could wrap your next red herring in it, for all it's worth."
"I suppose it's like Ireland, they don't want to agree."
"That's about it. The Labour people want this revolution of theirs. What?" - and he looked at Somers with a long, smiling, sardonic leer, like a wink. "There's a certain fact," he continued, "as far as any electioneering success goes, they're out of the running for a spell. What do you think of Trades Unions, one way and another?"
"I dislike them on the whole rather intensely. They're just the nastiest profiteering side of the working man - they make a fool of him too, in my opinion."
"Just my opinion. They make a fool of him. Wouldn't it be nice to have them for bosses of the whole country? They very nearly are. But I doubt very much if they'll ever cover the last lap - what?"
"Not if Kangaroo can help it," said Somers.
"No!" William James flashed a quick look at him from his queer grey eyes. "What did you make of him then? Could you make him out?"
"Not quite. I never met anyone like him. The wonder to me is, he seems to have as much spare time for entertaining and amusing his guests, as if he had no work at all on hand."
"Oh, that was just a special occasion. But he's a funny sort of Saviour, isn't he? Not much crown of thorns about him. Why, he'd look funny on a cross, what?"
"He's no intention of being on one, I think," said Somers stiffly.
"Oh, I don't know. If the wrong party got hold of him. There's many mites in a pound of cheese, they say."
"Then I'll toast my cheese."
"Ha-ha! Oh yes, I like a bit of toasted cheese myself - or a Welsh rabbit, as well as any man."
"But you don't think they'd ever let him down, do you? - these Australians?"
"No-o," said William James. "I doubt if they'd ever let him down. But if he happened to FALL down, you know, they'd soon forget him."
"You don't sound a very warm follower yourself."
"Oh, warm isn't my way, in anything. I like to see what I'm about. I can see that Kangaroo's a wonder. Oh yes, he's a world wonder. And I'd rather be in with him than anybody, if it was only for the sake of the spree, you know. Bound to be a spree some time - and before long, I should say, things going as they are. I wouldn't like to be left out of the fun."
"But you don't feel any strong devotion to your leader?"
"Why, no; I won't say it's exactly strong devotion. But I think he's a world wonder. He's not quite the SHAPE of a man that I should throw away my eyes for, that's all I mean." Again William James looked at Somers with that long, perhaps mocking little smile in his grey eyes.
"I thought even his shape beautiful, when he talked to me."
"Oh yes, it's wonderful what a spell he can cast over you. But I'm a stuggy fellow myself, maybe that's how it is I can't ever quite see him in the same light as the thin chaps do. But that's just the looks of the thing. I can see there isn't another man in the world like him, and I'd cross the seas to join in with him, if only for the fun of the thing!"
"But what about the end of the fun?" asked Somers.
"Oh, that I don't know. And nobody does, for that matter."
"But surely if one believes - ."
"One believes a lot, and one believes very little, seems to me. Taking all in all, seems to me we live from hand to mouth, as far as beliefs go."
"You never WOULD believe," said Somers, laughing.
"Not till I was made to," replied Jaz, twisting his face in his enigmatic smile.
Somers looked at the thick, stocky, silent figure in the well-made dark clothes that didn't in the least belong to him. There was something about him like a prisoner in prison uniform, in his town clothes - and something of that in his bearing. A stocky, silent, unconquerable prisoner. And in his imprisoned soul another kind of mystery, another sort of appeal.
The two men stood still in the cold wind that came up the sands to the south-west. To the left, as they faced the wind, went the black railway track on the pier, and the small engine stood dribbling. On the right the track ran curiously black past a little farm-place with a corrugated iron roof, and past a big field where the stubble of maize or beans stood ragged and sere, on into the little hollow of bush, where the mine was, beyond the stagnant creek. It was curious how intensely black, velvety and unnatural, the railway-track looked on this numb coast-front. The steamer hooted again.
"Cold it is up here," said Somers.
"It is cold. He's coming now, though," replied William James.
They stood together still another minute, looking down the pale sands at the foam and the dark-blue sea, the sere grass scattered with bungalows.
It was a strange, different bond of sympathy united them, from that that subsisted between Somers and Jack, or Somers and Kangaroo. Hardly sympathy at all, but an ancient sort of root-knowledge.
"Well, good-bye," said Somers, wanting to be gone before the manager came up with the papers. He shook hands with William James - but as usual, Jaz gave him a slack hand. Their eyes met - and the look, something like a taunt, in Trewhella's secretive grey eye, made Somers stiffen his back, and a kind of haughtiness flew into his soul.
"Different men, different ways, Mr. Trewhella," he said.
William James did not answer, but smiled rather stubbornly. It seemed to Somers the man would be smiling that stubborn, taunting smile till the crack of doom.
"I told Mrs. Somers what I think about it," said Jaz, with a very Cornish accent. "I doubt if she'll ever do much more believin' than I shall." And the taunt was forked this time.
"She says she believes entirely in Kangaroo."
"Does she now? Who did she tell it to?"
Trewhella still stood with that faint grin on his face, short and stocky and erect like a little post left standing. Somers looked at him again, frowning, and turned abruptly down the bank. The smile left the face of the Cornishman, and he just looked obstinate, indifferent, and curiously alone, as if he stood there all alone in the world. He watched Somers emerge on the sands below, and go walking slowly among the sea-ragged flat shelves of the coast-bed rocks, his head dropping, looking in the pools, his hands in his pockets. And the obstinate light never changed in the eyes of the watcher, not even when he turned to the approaching manager.
Perhaps it was this meeting which made Somers want to see Kangaroo once more. Everything had suddenly become unreal to him. He went to Sydney and to Cooley's rooms. But during the first half hour, the revulsion from the First persisted. Somers disliked his appearance, and the kangaroo look made him feel devilish. And then the queer, slow manner of approach. Kangaroo was not really ready for his visitor, and he seemed dense, heavy, absent, clownish. It was that kangarooish clownishness that made a vicious kind of hate spring into Somers' face. He talked in a hard, cutting voice.
"Whom can you depend on, in this world?" he was saying. "Look at these Australians - they're awfully nice, but they've got no inside to them. They're hollow. How are you going to build on such hollow stalks? They may well call them corn-stalks. They're marvellous and manly and independent and all that, outside. But inside, they are not. When they're QUITE alone, they don't exist."
"Yet many of them have been alone a long time, in the bush," said Kangaroo, watching his visitor with slow, dumb, unchanging eyes.
"Alone, what sort of alone? Physically alone. And they've just gone hollow. They're never alone in spirit: quite, quite alone in spirit. And the people who are are the only people you can depend on."
"Where shall I find them?"
"Not here. It seems to me, least of all here. The Colonies make for OUTWARDNESS. Everything is outward - like hollow stalks of corn. The life makes this inevitable: all that struggle with bush and water and what-not, all the mad struggle with the material necessities and conveniences - the inside soul just withers and goes into the outside, and they're all just lusty robust stalks of people."
"The corn-stalks bear the corn. I find them generous to recklessness - the greatest quality. The old world is cautious and forever bargaining about its soul. Here they don't bother to bargain."
They've no soul to bargain about. But they're even more full of conceit. What do you expect to do with such people. Build a straw castle?"
"You see I believe in them - perhaps I know them a little better than you do."
"Perhaps you do. It'll be cornstalk castle, for all that. What DO you expect to build on?"
"They're generous - generous to recklessness," shouted Kangaroo. "And I love them. I love them. Don't you come here carping to me about them. They are my children, I love them. If I'm not to believe in their generosity, am I to believe in your cautious, old-world carping, do you think, I WON'T!" he shouted fiercely. "I WON'T. Do you hear that!" And he sat hulked in his chair glowering like some queer dark god at bay. Somers paused, and his heart failed.
"Then make me believe in them and their generosity," he said dryly. "They're nice. But they haven't got the last everlasting central bit of soul, solitary soul, that makes a man himself. The central bit of himself. They all merge to the outside, away from the centre. And what can you do, PERMANENTLY, with such people? You can have a fine corn-stalk blaze. But as for anything permanent - .
"I tell you I HATE permanency," barked Kangaroo. "The phoenix rises out of the ashes." He rolled over angrily in his chair.
"Let her! Like Rider Haggard's 'She', I don't feel like risking it a second time," said Somers, like the venomous serpent he was.
"Generous, generous men!" Kangaroo muttered to himself. "At least you can get a blaze out of them. Not like European wet matches, that will never again strike alight - as you've said yourself."
"But a blaze for what? What's your blaze for?"
"I don't care," yelled Kangaroo, springing with sudden magnificent swiftness to his feet, and facing Somers, and seizing him by the shoulders and shaking him till his head nearly fell off, yelling all the time: "I don't care, I tell you, I don't care. Where there's fire there's change. And where the fire is love, there's creation. Seeds of fire. That's enough for me! Fire, and seeds of fire, and love. That's all I care about. Don't carp at me, I tell you. Don't carp at me with your old, European, damp spirit. If you can't take fire, WE CAN. That's all. Generous, passionate men - and you dare to carp at them. You. What have you to show?" And he went back to his chair like a great, sulky bear-god.
Somers sat rather stupefied than convinced. But he found himself again WANTING to be convinced, wanting to be carried away. The desire hankered in his heart. Kangaroo had become again beautiful: huge and beautiful like some god that sways and seems clumsy, then suddenly flashes with all the agility of thunder and lightning. Huge and beautiful as he sat hulked in his chair. Somers DID wish he would get up again, and carry him quite away.
But where to? Where to? Where is one carried to when one is carried away? He had a bitter mistrust of seventh heavens and all heavens in general. But then the experience. If Kangaroo had got up at that moment Somers would have given him heart and soul and body, for the asking, and damn all consequences. He longed to do it. He knew that by just going over and laying a hand on the great figure of the sullen god he could achieve it. Kangaroo would leap like a thunder-cloud and catch him up - catch him up and away into a transport. A transport that should last for life. He knew it.
But alas, it was just too late. In some strange way Somers felt he had come to the end of transports: they had no more mystery for him; at least this kind: or perhaps no more charm. Some bubble or other had burst in his heart. All his body and fibres wanted to go over and touch the other great being into a storm of response. But his soul wouldn't. The coloured bubble had burst.
Kangaroo sat up and adjusted his eyeglasses.
"Don't you run away with the idea, though," he said, "that I am just an emotional fool." His voice was almost menacing, and with a strange cold, intellectual quality that Somers had never heard before.
"I believe in the one fire of love. I believe it is the one inspiration of all creative activity. I trust myself entirely to the fire of love. This I do with my reason also. I don't discard my reason. I use it at the service of love, like a sharp weapon. I try to keep it very sharp - and very dangerous. Where I don't love, I use only my will and my wits. Where I love, I trust to love alone." The voice came cold and static.
Somers sat rather blank. The change frightened him almost as something obscene. This was the reverse to the passionate thunder-god.
"But is love the only inspiration of creative activity?" he asked, rather feebly.
"This is the first time I have heard it questioned. Do you know of any other?"
Somers thought he did, but he was not going to give himself away to that sharp weapon of a voice, so he did not answer.
"IS there any other inspirational force than the force of love?" continued Kangaroo. "There is no other. Love makes the trees flower and shed their seed, love makes the animals mate and birds put on their best feather, and sing their best songs. And all that man has ever created on the face of the earth, or ever will create - if you will allow me the use of the word create, with regard to man's highest productive activities."
"It's the word I always use myself," said Somers.
"Naturally, since you know how to think inspiredly. Well then, all that man ever has created or ever will create, while he remains man, has been created in the inspiration and by the force of love. And not only man - all the living creatures are swayed to creation, to new creation, to the creation of song and beauty and lovely gesture, by love. I will go further. I believe the sun's attraction for the earth is a form of love."
"Then why doesn't the earth fly into the sun?" said Somers.
"For the same reason. Love is mutual. Each attracts the other. But in natural love each tries at the same time to withhold the other, to keep the other true to its own beloved nature. To any true lover, it would be the greatest disaster if the beloved broke down from her own nature and self and began to identify herself with him, with his nature and self. I say, to any genuine lover this is the greatest disaster, and he tries by every means in his power to prevent this. The earth and sun, on their plane, have discovered a perfect equilibrium. But man has not yet begun. His lesson is so much harder. His consciousness is at once so complicated and so cruelly limited. This is the lesson before us. Man has loved the beloved for the sake of love, so far, but rarely, rarely has he CONSCIOUSLY known that he could only love her for her own separate, strange self: forever strange and a joyful mystery to him. Lovers henceforth have got to KNOW one another. A terrible mistake, and a self-delusion. True lovers only learn that as they know less, and less, and less of each other, the mystery of each grows more startling to the other. The tangible unknown: that is the magic, the mystery, and the grandeur of love, that it puts the tangible unknown in our arms, and against our breast: the beloved. We have made a fatal mistake. We have got to know so much ABOUT things, that we think we know the actuality, and contain it. The sun is as much outside us, and as eternally unknown, as ever it was. And the same with each man's beloved: like the sun. What do the facts we know ABOUT a man amount to? Only two things we can know of him, and this by pure soul-intuition: we can know if he is true to the flame of life and love which is inside his heart, or if he is false to it. If he is true, he is friend. If he is wilfully false, and inimical to the fire of life and love in his own heart, then he is my enemy as well as his own."
Somers listened. He seemed to see it all and hear it all with marvellous clarity. And he believed that it was all true.
"Yes," he said, "I believe that is all true."
"What is it then that you disbelieve?"
"I don't quite believe that love is the one and only exclusive force or mystery of living inspiration. I don't quite believe that. There is something else."
Kangaroo looked at him for once overbearingly and with a sort of contempt.
"Tell me what it is," he replied briefly.
"I am not very clear myself. And, you see, what I want to say, you don't want to hear."
"Yes, I do," snapped Kangaroo.
"With your ears and your critical mind only."
"Say it anyhow, say it."
Richard sat feeling very stupid. The communicative soul is like the ass, you can lead him to the water, but you can't make him drink.
"Why," he said, "it means an end of us and what we are, in the first place. And then a re-entry into us of the great God, who enters us from below, not from above."
Kangaroo sat bunched up like some creature watching round-eyed out of a darker corner.
"How do you mean, enters us from below?" he barked.
"Not through the spirit. Enters us from the lower self, the dark self, the phallic self, if you like."
"Enters us from the phallic self?" snapped Kangaroo sharply.
"Sacredly. The god you can never see or visualise, who stands dark on the threshold of the phallic me."
"The phallic you, my dear young friend, what is that but love?"
Richard shook his head in silence.
"No," he said, in a slow, remote voice. "I know your love, Kangaroo. Working everything from the spirit, from the head. You work the lower self as an instrument of the spirit. Now it is time for the spirit to leave us again; it is time for the Son of Man to depart, and leave us dark, in front of the unspoken God: who is just beyond the dark threshold of the lower self, my lower self. There is a great God on the threshold of my lower self, whom I fear while he is my glory. And the spirit goes out like a spent candle."
Kangaroo watched with a heavy face like a mask.
"It is time for the spirit to leave us," he murmured in a somnambulist voice. "Time for the spirit to leave us."
Somers, who had dropped his face, hiding it as he spoke, watched the other man from under his brows. Kangaroo, who still sat impassive, like a frozen, antagonised Buddha, gave himself a jerk of recovery.
"Ah well!" he sighed, with a weary, impatient, condescending sigh. "I was never able to follow mysticism and metaphysics. One of my many limitations. I don't know what you mean."
"But what is your 'love' but a mystical thing?" asked Richard indignantly.
"My love? Why, that is something I FEEL, as plain as toothache."
"Well, so do I feel the other: and love has become like cardboard to me," said Richard, still indignant.
"Like cardboard? Well, I don't quite see love like cardboard, dear boy. For you ARE a dear boy, in spite of yourself. Oh yes, you are. There's some demon inside you makes you perverse, and won't let you be the dear, beautiful thing you are. But I'm going to exorcise that demon."
Somers gave a short laugh, the very voice of the demon speaking.
"Oh yes I am," said Kangaroo, in a steely voice. "I'm going to exorcise that demon, and release your beautiful Andromeda soul."
"Try," ejaculated Richard dryly, turning aside his face in distaste.
Kangaroo leapt to his feet and stood towering over the little enemy as if he would stoop over him and smother him in violent warmth and drive out the demon in that way. But Richard sat cold and withheld, and Kangaroo had not the power to touch him.
"I'm going to try," shouted the lawyer, in his slightly husky roar. "You've made it my prerogative by telling me to try. I'm going to love you, and you won't get away from that. I'm the hound of heaven after you, my boy, and I'm fatal to the hell hound that's leading you. Do you know I love you? - that I loved you long before I met you?"
Richard, curled narrow in his chair like a snake, glanced up at the big man projecting over him. A sort of magnetic effusion seemed to come out of Kangaroo's body, and Richard's hand was almost drawn in spite of himself to touch the other man's body. He had deliberately to refrain from laying his hand on the near, generous stomach of the Kangaroo, because automatically his hand would have lifted and sought that rest. But he prevented himself, and the eyes of the two men met. Kangaroo searched Lovat's eyes: but they seemed to be of cloudy blue like hell-smoke, impenetrable and devilish. Kangaroo watched a long time: but the other man was the unchangeable. Kangaroo turned aside suddenly.
"Ah well," he said. "I can see there is a beast in the way. There is a beast in your eyes, Lovat, and if I can't conquer him then - then, woe betide you, my dear. But I love you, you see."
"Sounds like a threat," laughed Somers.
Kangaroo leaned and laid his hand gently on Lovat's shoulder.
"Don't say that," his voice was small now, and very gentle. "I loved you before I knew you. My soul cries for you. And you hurt me with the demon that is in you."
Richard became very pale, and was silent for some moments. The hand sank heavier, nearer, on his shoulder.
"You see," said Somers, trying hard to be fair, "what you call my demon is what I identify myself with. It's my best me, and I stick to it. I think love, all this love of ours, is a devilish thing now: a slow poison. Really, I know the dark god at the lower threshold - even if I have to repeat it like a phrase. And in the sacred dark men meet and touch, and it is a great communion. But it isn't this love. There's no love in it. But something deeper. Love seems to me somehow trivial: and the spirit seems like something that belongs to paper. I can't help it - I know another God."
The pressure of the hand became inert.
"But aren't you merely inventing other terms for the same thing that I mean, and that I call love?" said Kangaroo, in a strange, toneless voice, looking aside.
"Does it seem to you that I am?" asked Lovat, gently and dispassionately.
The strange, great passionate cloud of Kangaroo still hung there, hovering over the pale, sharp isolation of Somers, who lay looking up. And then it seemed as if the glow and vibration left Kangaroo's body, the cloud became grey and heavy. He sighed, and removed his hand, and turned away.
"Ah well?" he said. "Ah well!"
Somers rose, trembling now, and feeling frail.
"I'll go," he said.
"Yes, do go," said Kangaroo.
And without another word Somers went, leaving the other man sunk in a great heap in his chair, as if defeated. Somers did not even pity him. His heart felt queer and cave-like and devoid of emotion.
He was spending the night at the Callcotts. Harriet, too, was there. But he was in no hurry to get back there. It was a clear and very starry night. He took the tram-car away from the centre of the town, then walked. As was always the case with him, in this country, the land and the world disappeared as night fell, as if the day had been an illusion, and the sky came bending down. There was the Milky Way, in clouds of star-fume, bending down right in front of him, right down till it seemed as if he would walk on to it, if he kept going. The pale, fumy drift of the Milky Way drooped down and seemed so near, straight in front, that it seemed the obvious road to take. And one would avoid the strange dark gaps, gulfs, in the way overhead. And one would look across to the floating isles of star-fume, to the south, across the gulfs where the sharp stars flashed like lighthouses, and one would be in a new way denizen of a new plane, walking by oneself. There would be a real new way to take. And the mechanical earth quite obliterated, sunk out.
Only he saw, on the sea's high black horizon, the various reddish sore-looking lights of a ship. There they were - the signs of the ways of men - hot-looking and weary. He turned quickly away from the marks of the far-off ship, to look again at the downward slope of the great hill of the Milky Way. He wanted so much to get out of this lit-up cloy of humanity, and the exhaust of love, and the fretfulness of desire. Why not swing away into cold separation? Why should desire always be fretting, fretting like a tugged chain? Why not break the bond and be single, take a fierce stoop and a swing back, as when a gannet plunges like a white, metallic arrow into the sea, raising a burst of spray, disappearing, completing the downward curve of the parabola in the invisible underwater where it seizes the object of desire, then away, away with success upwards, back flashing into the air and white space? Why not? Why want to urge, urge, urge oneself down the causeways of desirous love, hard pavements of love? Even like Kangaroo. Why shouldn't meeting be a stoop as a gannet stoops into the sea, or a hawk, or a kite, in a swift rapacious parabola downwards, to touch at the lowermost turn of the curve, then up again?
It is a world of slaves: all love-professing. Why unite with them? Why pander to them? Why go with them at all? Why not strike at communion out of the unseen, as the gannet strikes into the unseen underwater, or the kite from above at a mouse? One seizure, and away again, back away into isolation. A touch, and away. Always back, away into isolation. Why be cloyed and clogged down like billions of fish in water, or billions of mice on land? It is a world of slaves. Then why not gannets in the upper air, having two worlds? Why only one element? If I am to have a meeting it shall be down, down in the invisible, and the moment I re-emerge it shall be alone. In the visible world I am alone, an isolate instance. My meeting is in the underworld, the dark. Beneath every gannet that jumps from the water ten thousand fish are swimming still. But they are swimming in a shudder of silver fear. That is the magic of the ocean. Let them shudder the huge ocean aglimmer.
He arrived at Wyewurk at last, and found a little party. William James was there, and Victoria had made, by coincidence, a Welsh rarebit. The beer was on the table.
"Just in time," said Jack. "As well you're not half an hour later, or there might a' been no booze. How did you come - tram?"
"Yes - and walked part of the way."
"What kind of an evening did you have?" said Harriet.
He looked at her. A chill fell upon the little gathering, from his presence.
"We didn't agree," he replied.
"I knew you wouldn't - not for long, anyhow," she replied. "I don't see you agreeing and playing second fiddle for long."
"Do you see me as a fiddler at all?"
"I've seen you fiddling away hard enough many times," retorted Harriet. "Why, what else do you do, all your life, but fiddle some tune or other?"
He did not reply, and there was a pause. His face was pale and very definite, as if it were some curious seashell.
"What did you get the wind up about, between you?" said Jack soothingly, pouring Somers a glass of beer.
"No wind. We're only not the same pair of shoes."
"I could have told you that before you went," said Jaz with quiet elation in his tones.
Victoria looked at Somers with dark, bright eyes. She was quite fascinated by him, as an Australian bird by some adder.
"Isn't Mr. Somers queer?" she said. "He doesn't seem to mind a bit."
Somers looked at her quickly, a smile round his eyes, and a curious, smiling devil inside them, cold as ice.
"Oh yes, he minds. Don't take any notice of his pretence. He's only in a bad temper," cried Harriet. "I know him by now. He's been in a temper for days."
"Oh why?" cried Victoria. "I thought he was lovely this afternoon when he was here."
"Yes," said Harriet grimly. "Lovely! You should live with him."
But again Victoria looked at his clear, fixed face, with the false smile round the eyes, and her fascination did not diminish.
"What an excellent Welsh rarebit," he said. "If there were a little red pepper."
"Red pepper?" cried Victoria. "There is!" And she sprang up to get it for him. As she handed it to him he looked into her dilated, dark bright eyes, and thanked her courteously. When he was in this state his voice and tone in speaking were very melodious. Of course it set Harriet on edge. But Victoria stood fluttering with her hands over the table, bewildered.
"What are you feeling for?" asked Jack.
She only gave a little blind laugh, and remembered that she was going to sit down. So she sat down, and then wondered what it was she was going to do after that.
"So you don't cotton on to Kangaroo either?" said Jack easily.
"I have the greatest admiration for him."
"You're not alone there. But you don't fall over yourself, loving him."
"I only trip, and recover my balance for the moment."
Jaz gave a loud laugh, across his cheese.
"That's good!" he said.
"You trip, and recover your balance," said Jack. "You're a wary one. The rest of us falls right in, flop, and are never heard of again. And how did you part then?"
"We parted in mutual esteem. I said I would go, and he asked me please to do so as quickly as possible."
Jack made round eyes, and even Jaz left off eating.
Did you QUARREL?" cried Harriet.
"Oh yes, violently. But, of course, not vulgarly. We parted, as I said, in mutual esteem, bowing each other out."
"You ARE awful. You only went on purpose to upset him. I knew that all along. Why must you be so spiteful?" said Harriet. "You're never happy unless you're upsetting somebody's apple-cart."
"Am I doomed to agree with everybody, then?"
"No. But you needn't SET OUT to be disagreeable. And to Mr. Cooley especially, who likes you and is such a warm, big man. You ought to be flattered that he CARES what you think. No, you have to go and try and undermine him. Ah - why was I ever pestered with such a viperish husband as you!" said Harriet.
Victoria made alert, frightened eyes. But Somers sat on with the same little smile and courteous bearing.
"I am, of course, immensely flattered at his noticing me," he replied. "Otherwise, naturally, I should have resented being told to leave. As it was I didn't resent it a bit."
"Didn't you!" cried Harriet. "I know you and your pretences. That is what has put you in such a temper."
"But you remember I've been in a temper for days," he replied calmly and gravely. "Therefore there could be no putting."
"Oh, it only made you worse. I'm tired of your temper, really."
"But Mr. Somers isn't in a temper at all!" cried Victoria. "He's nicer than any of us, really. Jack would be as angry as anything if I said all those things to him. Shouldn't you, Jack?" And she cuddled his arm.
"You'd be shut up in the coal-shed for the night before you got half way through with it, if ever you started trying it on," he replied, with marital humour.
"No, I shouldn't either: or it would be the last door you'd shut on ME, so there. But anyhow you'd be in a waxy old temper."
And she smiled at Somers as she cuddled her husband's arm.
"If my hostess says I'm nice," said Somers, "I am not going to feel guilty whatever my WIFE may say."
"Oh yes, you do feel guilty," said Harriet.
"Your hostess doesn't find any fault with you at all," cried Victoria. She was looking very pretty, in a brown chiffon dress. "She thinks you're the nicest of anybody here, there."
"What?" cried Jack. "When I'm here as well?"
"Whether you're here or not. You're not very nice to me to-night, and William James never is. But Mr. Somers is AWFULLY nice." She blushed suddenly quite vividly, looking under her long lashes at him. He smiled a little more intensely to himself.
"I tell you what, Mrs. Somers," said Jack. "We'd better make a swap of it, till they alter their opinion. You and me had better strike up a match, and let them two elope with one another for a bit."
"And what about William James?" cried Victoria, with hurried, vivid excitement.
"Oh nobody need trouble themselves about William James," replied that individual. "It's about time he was rolling home."
"No," said Harriet, in answer to Jack. "I'm striking off no more matches, thank you. The game's not worth the candle."
"Why, maybe you've only struck on the rough side, you know," said Jack. "You might strike on the smooth next time."
"No," said Harriet. "I'm going to bed, and leave you all to your striking and your bad tempers. Good-night!"
She rose roughly. Victoria jumped up to accompany her to her room. The Somers had had a room each in Torestin, so Victoria had put them each separately into a nice little room in her house.
"Is it right," said Jack, "that you got the wind up to-night?"
"No," said Somers. "At least we only quite lovingly agreed to differ. Nothing else."
"I thought it would be like that," said Jack. "He thinks the world of you, I can see that."
William James stood ready to leave. He looked at Somers cunningly, as if reading into him with his light-grey, sceptical eyes.
"Mr. Somers doesn't care to commit himself so easily," he said.
"No," said Jack. "You blighters from the old country are so mighty careful of risking yourselves. That's what I'm not. When I feel a thing I jump up and go for it, and damn the consequences. There's always plenty of time to think about a thing after you've done it. And then if you're fool enough to wish you hadn't done it, why, that shows you SHOULDN'T have. I don't go in for regrets, myself. I do what I want. And if I wanted to do a thing, then it's ALL RIGHT when it's done. All a man's got to do is to keep his mouth shut and his fist ready, and go down on his knees to NOTHING. Then he can damn well do as he pleases. And all he asks is that other folks shall do as they please, men or women. Damn all this careful stunt. I'll step along as far as the tram with you, Jaz, I feel like walking the Welsh rabbit down into his burrow. Vicky prefers Mr. Somers to me pro tem. - and I don't begrudge it her. Why should I?"
Victoria was putting away the dishes, and seemed not to hear. The two men went. Somers still sat in his chair. He was truly in a devil of a temper, with everybody and everything: a wicked, fiendish mood that made him LOOK quite handsome, as fate would have it. He had heard Jack's hint. He knew Victoria was attracted to him: that she imagined no nonsense about love, she was too remote from the old world, and too momentary for that. The moment - that was all her feelings were to her. And at this moment she was fascinated, and when she said, in her slightly contralto voice:
"You're not in a temper with ME, though, are you Mr. Somers?" she was so comely, like a maiden just ready for love, and like a comely, desirous virgin offering herself to the wayfarer, in the name of the god of bright desire, that Somers stretched out his hand and stroked her hot cheek very delicately with the tips of his fingers, replying:
"I could never be angry with you. You're much too winsome."
She looked at him with her dark eyes dilated into a glow, a glow of offering. He smiled faintly, rising to his feet, and desire in all his limbs like a power. The moment - and the power of the moment. Again he felt his limbs full of desire, like a power. And his days of anger seemed to culminate now in this moment, like bitter smouldering that at last leaps into flame. Not love - just weapon-like desire. He knew it. The god Bacchus. Iacchos! Iacchos! Bacchanals with weapon hands. She had the sacred glow in her eyes. Bacchus, the true Bacchus. Jack would not begrudge the god. And the fire was very clean and steely, after the smoke. And he felt the velvety fire from her face in his finger-tips.
And still his old stubborn self intervened. He decided almost involuntarily. Perhaps it was fear.
"Good-night," he said to her. "Jack will be back in a moment. You look bonnie to-night."
And he went to his room. When he had shut the door, he wondered if it was merely a sort of cowardice. Honour? No need as far as Jack was concerned, apparently. And Harriet? She was too honest a female. She would know that the dishonour, as far as she felt it, lay in the desire, not in the act. For her, too, honour did not consist in a pledged word kept according to pledge, but in a genuine feeling faithfully followed. He had not to reckon with honour there.
What then? Why not follow the flame, the moment sacred to Bacchus? Why not, if it was the way of life? He did not know why not. Perhaps only old moral habit, or fear, as Jack said, of committing himself. Perhaps only that. It was Victoria's high moment; all her high moments would have this Bacchic, weapon-like momentaneity: since Victoria was Victoria. Why then deny it?
The pagan way, the many gods, the different service, the sacred moments of Bacchus. Other sacred moments: Zeus and Hera, for example, Ares and Aphrodite, all the great moments of the gods. Why not know them all, all the great moments of the gods, from the major moment with Hera to the swift short moments of Io or Leda or Ganymede? Should not a man know the whole range? And especially the bright, swift, weapon-like Bacchic occasion, should not any man seize it when it offered?
But his heart of hearts was stubbornly puritanical. And his innermost soul was dark and sullen, black with a sort of scorn. These moments bred in the head and born in the eye: he had enough of them. These flashes of desire for a visual object would no longer carry him into action. He had no use for them. There was a downslope into Orcus, and a vast, phallic, sacred darkness, where one was enveloped into the greater god as in an Egyptian darkness. He would meet there or nowhere. To the visual travesty he would lend himself no more.
Pondering and turning recklessly he heard Jack come back. Then he began to doze. He did not sleep well in Australia, it seemed as if the aboriginal daimon entered his body as he slept, to destroy its old constitution. Sleep was almost pain, and too full of dreams. This night he woke almost at once from a vivid little dream. The fact of the soonness troubled him too, for at home he never dreamed till morning.
But the dream had been just this. He was standing in the living room at Coo-ee, bending forward doing some little thing by the couch, perhaps folding the newspaper, making the room tidy at the last moment before going to bed, when suddenly a violent darkness came over him, he felt his arms pinned, and he heard a man's voice speaking mockingly behind him, with a laugh. It was as if he saw the man's face too - a stranger, a rough, strong sort of Australian. And he realised with horror: "Now they have put a sack over my head, and fastened my arms, and I am in the dark, and they are going to steal my little brown handbag from the bedroom, which contains all the money we have." The shock of intense reality made him fight his way out of the depths of the first sleep, but it was some time before he could really lay hold of facts, like: "I am not at Coo-ee. I am not at Mullumbimby. I am in Sydney at Wyewurk, and the Callcotts are in the next room." So he came really awake. But if the thing had really happened, it could hardly have happened to him more than in this dream.
In the morning they were returning to the South Coast. But Jack said to Somers, a little sarcastically:
"You aren't altogether pleased with us, then?"
Somers hesitated before replying:
"I'm not altogether pleased with myself, am I?"
"You don't have to be so particular, in this life," said Jack.
"I may have to be."
"You can't have it all perfect beforehand, you know. You've got to sink a few times before you can swim."
"Sink in what?"
"Why, it seems to me you want to have a thing all ready in your hand, know all about it, before you'll try it. And there's some things you can't do that with. You've just got to flop into them, like when you chuck a dog into water."
Somers received this rebuke rather sourly. This was the first wintry day they had really had. There was a cold fog in Sydney in the morning, and rain in the fog. In the hills it would be snow - away in the Blue Mountains. But the fog lifted, and the rain held off, and there was a wash of yellowish sunshine.
Harriet of course had to talk to a fellow-passenger in the train, because Lovat was his glummest. It was a red-moustached Welshman with a slightly injured look in his pale blue eyes, as if everything hadn't been as good to him as he thought it ought, considering his merit. He said his name was Evans, and he kept a store. He had been sixteen years in the country.
And is it VERY hot in the summer?" said Harriet. "I suppose it is."
"Yes," he said, "it's very hot. I've known the days when I've had to lie down at two o'clock in the afternoon, and not been able to move. Overpowered, that's what it is, overpowered."
Harriet was suitably impressed, having tried heat in India.
"And do you think it takes one long to get used to this country?" she asked after a while.
"Well, I should say it takes about four or five years for your blood properly to thin down. You can't say you've begun, under two years."
"Four or five years!" re-echoed Harriet. But what she was really turning over in her mind was this phrase: "For your blood to thin down." To thin down! how queer! Lovat also heard the sentence, and realized that his blood took this thinning very badly, and still about four years of simmering ahead, apparently, if he stayed in this country. And when the blood had finished its thinning, what then? He looked at Mr. Evans, with the sharp pale nose and the reddish hair and the injured look in his pale-blue eyes. Mr. Evans seemed to find it sweet still to talk to people from the "old country". "You're from the old country?" - the inevitable question. The thinning down had left him looking as if he felt he lacked something. Yet he wouldn't go back to South Wales. Oh no, he wouldn't go back.
"The blood is thinner out here than in the old country." The Australians seemed to accept this as a scientific fact. Richard felt he didn't want his blood thinned down to the Australian constituency. Yet no doubt in the night, in his sleep, the metabolic change was taking place fast and furious.
It was raining a little in the late afternoon when Somers and Harriet got back to Coo-ee. With infinite relief she stepped across her own threshold.
"Ah!" she said, taking a long breath. "Thank God to be back." She looked round, and went to rearrange on the sofa the cushions that they had whacked so hard to get the dust out.
Somers went to the edge of the grass to be near the sea. It was raving in long, rasping lines of hissing breakers - not very high ones, but very long. The sky hung grey, with veils of dark rain out to sea, and in the south a blackness of much rain blowing nearer in the wind. At the end of the jetty, in the mist of the sea-wind's spray, a long, heavy coal-steamer was slowly toiling to cast loose and get away. The waves were so long and the current so strong, they would hardly let her turn and get clear of the misty-black jetty.
Under the dark-grey sky the sea looked bright, but coldly bright, with its yellow-green waves and its ramparts of white foam. There were usually three white ramparts, one behind the other, of rasping surf: and sometimes four. Then the long swish and surge of the shoreward wash. The coast was quite deserted: the steep sand wet as the backwash slid away: the rocks wet with rain: the low, long black steamer still laboured in the fume of the wind, indistinctly.
Somers turned indoors, and suddenly began taking off his clothes. In a minute he was running naked in the rain which fell with lovely freshness on his skin. Ah, he felt so stuffy after that sort of emotional heat in town. Harriet in amazement saw him whitely disappearing over the edge of the low cliff-bank, and came to the edge to look.
He ran quickly over the sands, where the wind blew cold but velvety, and the raindrops fell loosely. He walked straight into the fore-wash, and fell into an advancing ripple. At least it looked a ripple, but was enough to roll him over so that he went under and got a little taste of the Pacific. Ah, the fresh cold wetness! - the fresh cold wetness! The water rushed in the back-wash and the sand melted under him, leaving him stranded like a fish. He turned again to the water. The walls of surf were some distance off, but near enough to look rather awful as they raced in high white walls shattering towards him. And above the ridge of the raving whiteness the dimness of the labouring steamer, as if it were perched on a bough.
Of course he did not go near the surf. No, the last green ripples of the broken swell were enough to catch him by the scruff of the neck and tumble him rudely up the beach, in a pell-mell. But even the blow did one good, as the sea struck one heavily on the back, if one were fleeing; full on the chest, if one were advancing.
It was raining quite heavily as he walked out, and the skies hung low over the sea, dark over the green and white vigour of the ocean. The shore was so foam-white it almost suggested sun. The rain felt almost warm.
Harriet came walking across the grass with a towel.
"What a good idea!" she said. "If I'd known I'd have come. I wish I had."
But he ignored the towel, and went into the little wash-place and under the shower, to wash off the sticky, strong Pacific. Harriet came along with the towel, and he put his hand to her face and nodded to her. She knew what he meant, and went wondering, and when he had rubbed the wet off himself he came to her.
To the end she was more wondering than anything. But when it was the end, and the night was falling outside, she laughed and said to him:
"That was done in style. That was chic. Straight from the sea, like another creature."
Style and chic seemed to him somewhat ill suited to the occasion, but he brought her a bowl of warm water and went and made the tea. The wind was getting noisier, and the sea was shut out but still calling outside the house. They had tea and toast and quince jam, and one of the seven brown teapots with a bit off the spout shone quite nicely and brightly at a corner of the little red-and-white check tea-cloth, which itself occupied a corner of the big, polished jarrah table. But, thank God, he felt cool and fresh and detached, not cosy and domestic. He was so thankful not to be feeling cosy and "homely". The room felt as penetrable to the outside influence as if it were a sea-shell lying on the beach, cool with the freshness and insistence of the sea, not a snug, cosy box to be secured inside.
And Jack Callcott's rebuke stuck in his throat. Perhaps after all he was just a Pommy, prescribing things with overmuch emphasis, and wanting to feel God-Almighty in the face of unborn events. A Pommy is a newcomer in Australia, from the Old Country.
Teacher: Why did you hit him, Georgie?
Georgie: Please miss, he called me a Pommy.
Aussie (with a discoloured eye): Well, you're one, ain'cher? Can I help it that ch'are one?
Pommy is supposed to be short for pomegranate. Pomegranate, pronounced invariably pommygranate, is a near enough rhyme to immigrant, in a naturally rhyming country. Furthermore, immigrants are known in their first months, before their blood "thins down," by their round and ruddy cheeks. So we are told. Hence again, pomegranate, and hence Pommy. Let etymologists be appeased: it is the authorised derivation.
Perhaps, said Somers to himself, I am just a Pommy and a fool. If my blood had thinned down, I shouldn't make all this fuss over sharing in with Kangaroo or being mates with Jack Callcott. If I am not a ruddy Pommy, I am a green one. Of course they take the thing as it comes to them, and they expect me to do the same. Yet there I am hopping and hissing like a fish in a frying-pan. Putting too much "soul" into it. Far too much. When your blood has thinned down, out here, there's nothing but the merest sediment of a soul left, and your wits and your feelings are clear of it. You take things as they come, as Jack says. Isn't that the sanest way to take them, instead of trying to drive them through the exact hole in the hedge that you've managed to poke your head through? Oh, you unlearn a lot as your blood thins down. But there's an awful lot to be unlearnt. And when you've unlearnt it, you never say so. In the first place, because it's dead against the sane old British tradition. And in the second place, because you don't really care about telling what you feel, once your blood has thinned down and is clear of soul.
"Thin, you Australian burgundy," said Somers to his own body, when he caught a glimpse of it unawares, reflected in the glass as he was going to bed. "You're thin enough as a bottle, but the wine needs a lot of maturing. I've made a fool of myself latterly."
Yet he said to himself: "Do I want my blood to thin down like theirs? - that peculiar emptiness that is in them, because of the thinning that's gone out of them? Do I want this curious transparent blood of the antipodes, with its momentaneous feelings, and its sort of ABSENTNESS? But of course till my blood has thinned down I shan't see with their eyes. And how in the name of heaven is this world-brotherhood mankind going to see with one eye, eye to eye, when the very blood is of different thickness on different continents, and with the difference in blood, the inevitable psychic difference? Different vision!"