MoboReader> Literature > None Other Gods

   Chapter 4 (I) No.4

None Other Gods By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 18357

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Frank awoke with a start and opened his eyes.

But it was still dark and he could see nothing. So he turned over on the other side and tried to go to sleep.

The three of them had come to this little town last night after two or three days' regular employment; they had sufficient money between them; they had found a quite tolerable lodging; they had their programme, such as it was, for the next day or so; and-by the standard to which he had learned to adjust himself-there was no sort of palpable cause for the horror that presently fell on him. I can only conjecture that the origin lay within, not without, his personality.

The trouble began with the consciousness that on the one side he was really tired, and on the other that he could not sleep and, to clinch it, the knowledge that a twenty-mile walk lay before him. He began to tell himself that sleep was merely a question of will-of will deliberately relaxing attention. He rearranged his position a little; shifted his feet, fitted himself a little more closely into the outlines of the bed, thrust one hand under the pillow and bade himself let go.

Then the procession of thoughts began as orderly as if by signal.

He found himself presently, after enumerating all the minor physical points of discomfort-the soreness of his feet, the knobbiness of the bed, the stuffiness of the room in which the three were sleeping, the sound of the Major's slow snoring-beginning to consider the wisdom of the whole affair. This was a point that he had not consciously yet considered, from the day on which he had left Cambridge. The impetus of his first impulse and the extreme strength of his purpose had, up to the present-helped along by novelty-kept him going. Of course, the moment had to come sooner or later; but it seems a little hard that he was obliged to face it in that peculiarly dreary clarity of mind that falls upon the sleepless an hour or two before the dawn.

For, as he looked at it all now, he saw it as an outsider would see it, no longer from the point of view of his own personality. He perceived a young man, of excellent abilities and prospects, sacrificing these things for an idea that fell to pieces the instant it was touched. He touched it now with a critical finger, and it did so fall to pieces; there was, obviously, nothing in it at all. It was an impulse of silly pride, of obstinacy, of the sort of romance that effects nothing. There was Merefield waiting for him-for he knew perfectly well that terms could be arranged; there was all that leisureliness and comfort and distinction in which he had been brought up and which he knew well how to use; there was Jenny; there was his dog, his horse ... there was, in fact, everything for which Merefield stood. He saw it all now, visualized and clear in the dark; and he had exchanged all this-well-for this room, and the Major's company, and back-breaking toil.... And for no reason.

So he regarded all this for a good long while; with his eyes closed, with the darkness round him, with every detail visible and insistent, seen as in the cold light of morning before colors reassert themselves and reconcile all into a reasonable whole....

"... I must really go to sleep!" said Frank to himself, and screwed up his eyes tight.

There came, of course, a reaction presently, and he turned to his religion. He groped for his rosary under his pillow, placed before him (according to the instructions given in the little books) the "Mystery of the Annunciation to Mary," and began the "Our Father." ... Half-way through it he began all over again to think about Cambridge, and Merefield and Jack Kirkby, and the auction in his own rooms, and his last dinner-party and the design on the menu-cards, and what a fool he was; and when he became conscious of the rosary again he found that he held in his fingers the last bead but three in the fifth decade. He had repeated four and a half decades without even the faintest semblance of attention. He finished them hopelessly, and then savagely thrust the string of beads under his pillow again; turned over once more, rearranged his feet, wished the Major would learn how to sleep like a gentleman; and began to think about his religion in itself.

* * *

After all, he began to say to himself, what proof was there-real scientific proof-that the thing was true at all? Certainly there was a great deal of it that was, very convincing-there was the curious ring of assertion and confidence in it, there was its whole character, composed (like personality) of countless touches too small to be definable; there was the definite evidence adduced from history and philosophy and all the rest. But underneath all that-was there, after all, any human evidence in the world sufficient to establish the astounding dogmas that lay at the root? Was it conceivable that any such evidence could be forthcoming?

He proceeded to consider the series of ancient dilemmas which, I suppose, have presented themselves at some time or another to every reasonable being-Free-will and Predestination; Love and Pain; Foreknowledge and Sin; and their companions. And it appeared to him, in this cold, emotionless mood, when the personality shivers, naked, in the presence of monstrous and unsympathetic forces, that his own religion, as much as every other, was entirely powerless before them.

He advanced yet further: he began to reflect upon the innumerable little concrete devotions that he had recently learned-the repetition of certain words, the performance of certain actions-the rosary for instance; and he began to ask himself how it was credible that they could possibly make any difference to eternal issues.

These things had not yet surrounded themselves with the atmosphere of experience and association, and they had lost the romance of novelty; they lay before him detached, so to say, and unconvincing.

I do not mean to say that during this hour he consciously disbelieved; he honestly attempted to answer these questions; he threw himself back upon authority and attempted to reassure himself by reflecting that human brains a great deal more acute than his own found in the dilemmas no final obstacles to faith; he placed himself under the shelter of the Church and tried to say blindly that he believed what she believed. But, in a sense, he was powerless: the blade of his adversary was quicker than his own; his will was very nearly dormant; his heart was entirely lethargic, and his intellect was clear up to a certain point and extraordinarily swift....

Half an hour later he was in a pitiable state; and had begun even to question Jenny's loyalty. He had turned to the thought of her as a last resort for soothing and reassurance, and now, in the chilly dawn, even she seemed unsubstantial.

He began by remembering that Jenny would not live for ever; in fact, she might die at any moment; or he might; and he ended by wondering, firstly, whether human love was worth anything at all, and, secondly, whether he possessed Jenny's. He understood now, with absolute certitude, that there was nothing in him whatever which could possibly be loved by anyone; the whole thing had been a mistake, not so much on his part as on Jenny's. She had thought him to be something he was not. She was probably regretting already the engagement; she would certainly not fulfill it. And could she possibly care for anyone who had been such an indescribable fool as to give up Merefield, and his prospects and his past and his abilities, and set out on this absurd and childish adventure? So once more he came round in a circle and his misery was complete.

* * *

He sat up in bed with a sudden movement as the train of thought clicked back into its own beginning, clasped his hands round his knees and stared round the room.

The window showed a faint oblong of gray now, beyond where the Major breathed, and certain objects were dingily and coldly visible. He perceived the broken-backed chair on which his clothes were heaped-with the exception of his flannel shirt, which he still wore; he caught a glimmer of white where Gertie's blouse hung up for an airing.

He half expected that things would appear more hopeful if he sat up in bed. Yet they did not. The sight of the room, such as it was, brought the concrete and material even more forcibly upon him-the gross things that are called Facts. And it seemed to him that there were no facts beyond them. These were the bones of the Universe-a stuffy bedroom, a rasping flannel suit, a cold dawn, a snoring in the gloom, and three bodies, heavy with weariness.... There once had been other facts: Merefield and Cambridge and Eton had once existed; Jenny had once been a living person who loved him; once there had been a thing called Religion. But they existed no longer. He had touched reality at last.

* * *

Frank drew a long, dismal sigh; he lay down; he knew the worst now; and in five minutes he was asleep.

(II)

Of course, the thing wore away by midday, and matters had readjusted themselves. But the effect remained as a kind of bruise below the surface. He was conscious that it had once b

een possible for him to doubt the value of everything; he was aware that there was a certain mood in which nothing seemed worth while.

It was practically his first experience of the kind, and he did not understand it. But it did its work; and I date from that day a certain increased sort of obstinacy that showed itself even more plainly in his character. One thing or the other must be the effect of such a mood in which-even though only for an hour or two-all things other than physical take on themselves an appearance of illusiveness: either the standard is lowered and these things are treated as slightly doubtful; or the will sets its teeth and determines to live by them, whether they are doubtful or not. And the latter I take to be the most utter form of faith.

* * *

About midday the twine round Frank's bundle broke abruptly, and every several article fell on to the road. He repressed a violent feeling of irritation, and turned round to pick them up. The Major and Gertie instinctively made for a gate in the hedge, rested down their bundles and leaned against it.

Frank gathered the articles-a shirt, a pair of softer shoes, a razor and brush, a tin of potted meat, a rosary, a small round cracked looking-glass and a piece of lead piping-and packed them once more carefully together on the bank. He tested his string, knotted it, drew it tight, and it broke again. The tin of potted meat-like some small intelligent animal-ran hastily off the path and dived into a small drain.

A short cry of mirth broke from the Major, and Gertie smiled.

Frank said nothing at all. He lay down on the road, plunged his arm into the drain and drew up the potted meat; it had some disagreeable-looking moist substance adhering to it, which he wiped off on to his sleeve, and then regretted having done so. Again he packed his things; again he drew the string tight, and again it snapped.

"Lord! man, don't be so hard on it."

Frank looked up with a kind of patient fury. His instinct was to kick every single object that lay before him on the path as hard as possible in every direction.

"Have you any more string?" he said.

"No. Stick the things in your pocket and come on."

Frank made no answer. He went to the hedge and drew out a long supple twig of hazel, stripped it of its leaves, and once more tried, with it, to tie up his parcel. But the angle was too acute, and just as the twig tightened satisfactorily it snapped, and this time the razor slid out sideways into a single minute puddle that lay on the path.

The Major snorted in mirthful impatience.

"But-"

"Kindly let me alone," said Frank icily. "The thing's got to go like this, or not at all."

He drew out the razor from the puddle, opened it and dried the blade on his sleeve. During the process Gertie moved suddenly, and he looked up. When he looked down again be perceived that he had slit a neat slice into the cloth of his jacket.

He remained quite still for one moment. Then he sat down on the bank, and examined the twine once more.

The Major began to make slightly offensive comments. Then Frank looked up.

"You can go to hell!" he said quite softly, "or anywhere else you like. But I'm going to do up the bundle in my way and not yours."

* * *

Now that is a sort of parable. It really happened, for it was reported to a witness by Frank himself exactly as I have told it, and it seems to me a very good little symbol of his state of mind. It is quite indefensible, of course-and especially his regrettable language that closed the interview; but it gives a pleasant little glimpse, I think, of Frank's character just now, in section. The things had to go in a certain way: he saw no adequate reason to change that way, and ultimately, of course, the twine held. It must have been a great satisfaction to him.

(III)

It seems that Frank must have been allowed just now to sample several different kinds of moods, for he had a very different kind of awakening a day or two later.

They had come to some piece of open country that I am unable to identify, and for some reason or other determined to spend the night out of doors. There was a copse a hundred yards away from the road, and in the copse a couple of small shelters built, probably, for wood-pigeon shooting. The Major and Gertie took possession of one, and Frank of the other, after they had supped in the dark under the beeches.

* * *

Frank slept deeply and well, half waking once, however, at that strange moment of the night when the earth turns and sighs in her sleep, when every cow gets up and lies down again. He was conscious of a shrill crowing, thin as a bugle, from some farm-yard out of sight; then he turned over and slept again.

When he awoke it was daylight. He lay on his back looking at the network of twigs overhead, the beech leaves beyond, and the sky visible only in glimpses-feeling extremely awake and extremely content. Certainly he was a little stiff when he moved, but there was a kind of interior contentment that caused that not to matter.

After a minute or two he sat up, felt about for his shoes and slipped them on. Then he unwound the wrapping about his neck, and crept out of the shelter.

It was that strange pause before the dawn when the light has broadened so far as to extinguish the stars, and to bring out all the colors of earth into a cold deliberate kind of tint. Everything was absolutely motionless about him as he went under the trees and came out above the wide park-land of which the copse was a sort of barrier. The dew lay soaking and thick on the grass slopes, but there was not yet such light as to bring out its sparkle; and everywhere, dotted on the green before him, sat hundreds of rabbits, the nearest not twenty yards away.

The silence and the solemnity of the whole seemed to him extraordinary. There was not a leaf that stirred-each hung as if cut of steel; there was not a bird which chirped nor a distant cock that crew; the rabbits eyed him unafraid in this hour of truce.

It seemed to him like some vast stage on to which he had wandered unexpectedly. The performance of the day before had been played to an end, the night scene-shifting was finished, and the players of the new eternal drama were not yet come. An hour hence they would be all about: the sounds would begin again; men would cross the field-paths, birds would be busy; the wind would awake and the ceaseless whisper of leaves answer its talking. But at present the stage was clear-swept, washed, clean and silent.

It was the solemnity then that impressed him most-solemnity and an air of expectation. Yet it was not mere expectation. There was a suggestion of the fundamental and the normal, as if perhaps movement and sound were, after all, no better than interruptions; as if this fixed poise of nature were something complete in itself; as if these trees hung out their leaves to listen to something that they could actually hear, as if these motionless creatures of the woodland were looking upon something that they could actually see; as if there were some great secret actually present and displayed in dead silence and invisibility before those only who possessed the senses necessary to perceive it.

* * *

It was odd to regard life from this standpoint-to look back upon the days and their incidents that were past, forward upon the days and incidents to come. Again it was possible for Frank to look upon these things as an outsider and a deliberate critic-as he had done in the stuffy room of the lodging-house in the town. Yet now, though he was again an outsider, though he was again out of the whirl of actual living, he seemed to be looking at things-staring out, as he was, almost unseeingly at the grass slopes before him-from exactly the opposite side. Then, they had seemed to him the only realities, these tangible physical things, and all else illusion: now it was the physical things that were illusive, and something else that was real. Once again the two elements of life lay detached-matter and spirit; but it was as obviously now spirit that was the reality as it had been matter a day or two before. It was obviously absurd to regard these outward things on which he looked as anything but a frame of something completely different. They were too silent, too still, too little self-sufficient to be complete in themselves. Something solid lay embraced within them....

So, then, he stared and ruminated, scarcely perceiving that he thought, so intensely conscious was he of that of which he thought. It was not that he understood anything of that on which he looked; he was but aware that there was something to be understood. And the trees hung rigid above him, and the clear blue sky still a hard stone beyond them, not yet flushed with dawn; and the grass lay before him, contracted, it seemed, with cold, and every blade soaked in wet; and the silence was profound....

Then a cock crew, a mile away, a thin, brazen cry; a rabbit sat up, then crouched and bolted, and the spell faded like a mist.

Frank turned and walked back under the trees, to see if the Major was awake.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares