Meanwhile, by H. G. Wells

§ 4

Mrs. Rylands found herself at last at peace and with nothing between her and her green leather book. Catherine had hardly gone from the room before she was forgotten.

The couch on which Mrs. Rylands was lying was a very comfortable couch and the jambs of the tall window, the lower border of the orange sun-blind and the parapet of her balcony framed a still picture of the crowning fronds of three palm trees, a single more distant cypress and the light-flood of the sky. The day outside was intensely bright and real and everything within cool, faint-coloured and unsubstantial. Mrs. Rylands’ sensations floated on a great restfulness and contentment; she was sustained by this deep life stream that had entered into her and taken control of her once uneasy self, a self in the profoundest contrast now to Lady Catherine’s restless activity. She had never felt so little disposed to hurry or so serene. This high resolve to think out all her world for Phil and have it clear and plain was quite unruffled by any fret of urgency.

To begin with, she asked herself, “What do I know? What have I that is fundamental?”

“Nothing,” she told herself, with perfect calm.

“Do I believe anything?”

That she thought over. God? Nothing that would have passed for a God in any time but this. No trace of that old gentleman, the God of our Fathers. At the dinner table of the Warwickshire rectory she had been allowed to listen to much modern theology and it had left her with phrases about the Absolute and Comprehensive Love that were hardly more human than the square root of minus one. Yet as her father used to say, the most impossible hypothesis of all was a universe ruled by blind chance. And the most incredible, an evil world. It was something to believe that if one could see it whole, as one never could, and if one could see it through, the everything, was all right. She did believe that. Or was her conviction deeper than belief?

It might be the mere mental reflection of the physical well-being that had succeeded the first resistances of her body to her surrender to destiny. But in a mirror can there ever be any truth more profound than reflection? That floated in her mind like some noiseless moth and soared and passed beyond her.

Should she write this for the first entry in her book: “There is no need to hurry. There is nothing in the whole world to justify fear.”

So far from believing in nothing, this was a tremendous act of faith.

She lay criticising these projected first propositions, indolently and yet clearly. Was this act of faith of hers just then the purring of a well-fed cat upon its cushions? No insect grub was ever cradled in so silky and secure a cocoon as she. For her indeed there might be no hurry and no fear, but what of the general case, the common experience? Wasn’t all the world hurrying, all the world driven by fear? But one hurried to make a speedy end to hurrying, and fear was just an emotional phase in the search for security. A man running from a tiger might be mentally nothing but a passion of fear but, one way or the other, that passion ended. A man running from a tiger was in no fit circumstances to apprehend fundamental truths; a woman caught up for a little while from the intenser stresses of life seemed more happily posed. Fear was an unendurable reality but it was incidental. It was a condition of travel. Just as haste and all struggle were incidental. The final rightness of things was wider; you might only see it incidentally in resting moments, but it was always there. Faith could be more than incidental and was more than incidental. While the water was troubled it couldn’t reflect the sky, but that didn’t prevent the sky being there to await reflection. All religions and philosophies since the world began had insisted that one must get out of the turmoil, somehow, to catch any vision of true realities. And as soon as you got that vision — serenity.

That should be the first entry then, so soon as she got up and could sit down to write it: “There is no need to hurry. There is nothing in the whole world to justify fear.”

After that the Thinker on the sofa rested for a while.

Presently she found a queer little aphorism drifting through her mind with an air of wanting to get into the green leather book: “Faith in good, Faith in God.” Just as easy to believe as deny that there was something directive and friendly and sure of itself, above all the contradictions and behind all the screens. Immense, incomprehensible, stupendous, silent, something that smiled in the starry sky. . . .

Then her mind drifted to the idea that everyone was too troubled about life, so very largely because they had no faith in good. They hurried. Everyone was hurrying. If there was nothing whatever to hurry about then they hurried about games, about politics, about personal disputes. They invented complications to trouble themselves. They accepted conventions and would not look thoroughly into anything because of this uncontrollable hurry. If only they would take longer views and larger views, they would escape from all this stress. It was just there that the importance of Mr. Sempack came in. He did take longer views and larger views and help other people to take them. He presented Progress as large and easy, swift and yet leisurely, sweeping forward by and through and in spite of all the disputations and hasty settlements and patchings up and running to and fro. He conveyed his conviction of a vast forward drive carrying the ordinary scurryings of life upon its surface, great and worth while, that comprehended a larger human life, a finer individual life, a happier life than at present we permitted ourselves to realise. His vision of mankind working its way, albeit still blindly and with tragic blunderings, to a world civilisation and the attainment of ever increasing creative power, gave a standard by which all the happenings of to-day, that swirled us about so confusedly and filled the newspapers so blindingly, could be judged and measured. He must come back to Casa Terragena and he must talk some more; and into the frame of progress he would evoke, his hostess, with her green leather book close at hand and receptive for all the finer phrases, would fit her interpretation of the coal question and the strike question and all the riddles and conflicts of the arena into which Philip had gone down. And Philip would begin writing those letters he had promised and she would get books and read. . . .

At this point Mrs. Rylands’ mind was pervaded by a feeling that work time was over and that it ought to be let out to play. It went off at once like a monkey and ran up and down and about the still palm fronds outside. They were like large feathers, except that the leaflets did not lock together. Was there any reason why they should be so like feathers? Next the stem the leaflets were extraordinarily narrow; she wondered why? Each frond curved over to its end harmoniously and evenly, so that to follow it was like hearing a long cadence, and the leaflets stood up at the arch of the curve and then slanted and each was just the least little bit in the world smaller and slanted the fraction of an inch more steeply than the one below it. Each had a twist so that it was bright bright green and then came round to catch the light and became dazzling silver to its point. Each frond was a keyboard along which the roving eye made visual music. Each played a witty variation on the common theme.

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