He had known such different deep fears. In Sicily, a sudden fear, in the night of some single murderer, some single thing hovering as it were out of the violent past, with the intent of murder. Out of the old Greek past, that had been so vivid, sometimes an unappeased spirit of murderous-hate against the usurping moderns. A sudden presence of murder in the air, because of something which the modern psyche had excluded, some old and vital thing which Christianity has cut out. An old spirit, waiting for vengeance. But in England, during the later years of the war, a true and deadly fear of the criminal LIVING spirit which arose in all the stay-at-home bullies who governed the country during those years. From 1916 to 1919 a wave of criminal lust rose and possessed England, there was a reign of terror, under a set of indecent bullies like Bottomley of John Bull and other bottom-dog members of the House of Commons. Then Somers had known what it was to live in a perpetual state of semi-fear: the fear of the criminal public and the criminal government. The torture was steadily applied, during those years after Asquith fell, to break the independent soul in any man who would not hunt with the criminal mob. A man must identify himself with the criminal mob, sink his sense of truth, of justice, and of human honour, and bay like some horrible unclean hound, bay with a loud sound, from slavering, unclean jaws.
This Richard Lovat Somers had steadily refused to do. The deepest part of a man is his sense of essential truth, essential honour, essential justice. This deepest self makes him abide by his own feelings, come what may. It is not sentimentalism. It is just the male human creature, the thought-adventurer, driven to earth. Will he give in or won’t he?
Many men, carried on a wave of patriotism and true belief in democracy, entered the war. Many men were driven in out of belief that it was necessary to save their property. Vast numbers of men were just bullied into the army. A few remained. Of these, many became conscientious objectors.
Somers tiresomely belonged to no group. He would not enter the army, because his profoundest instinct was against it. Yet he had no conscientious objection to war. It was the whole spirit of the war, the vast mob-spirit, which he could never acquiesce in. The terrible, terrible war, made so fearful because in every country practically every man lost his head, and lost his own centrality, his own manly isolation in his own integrity, which alone keeps life real. Practically every man being caught away from himself, as in some horrible flood, and swept away with the ghastly masses of other men, utterly unable to speak, or feel for himself, or to stand on his own feet, delivered over and swirling in the current, suffocated for the time being. Some of them to die for ever. Most to come back home victorious in circumstance, but with their inner pride gone: inwardly lost. To come back home, many of them, to wives who had egged them on to this downfall in themselves: black bitterness. Others to return to a bewildered wife who had in vain tried to keep her man true to himself, tried and tried, only to see him at last swept away. And oh, when he was swept away, how she loved him. But when he came back, when he crawled out like a dog out of a dirty stream, a stream that had suddenly gone slack and turbid: when he came back covered with outward glory and inward shame, then there was the price to pay.
And there IS this bitter and sordid after-war price to pay because men lost their heads, and worse, lost their inward, individual integrity. And when a man loses his inward, isolated, manly integrity, it is a bad day for that man’s true wife. A true man should not lose his head. The greater the crisis, the more intense should be his isolated reckoning with his own soul. And THEN let him act, of his own whole self. Not fling himself away: or much worse, let himself be DRAGGED away, bit by bit.
Awful years —’16, ’17, ’18, ’19 — the years when the damage was done. The years when the world lost its real manhood. Not for lack of courage to face death. Plenty of superb courage to face death. But no courage in any man to face his own isolated soul, and abide by its decision. Easier to sacrifice oneself. So much easier!
Richard Lovat was one of those utterly unsatisfactory creatures who just would not. He had no conscientious objections. He knew that men MUST fight, some time in some way or other. He was no Quaker, to believe in perpetual peace. He had been in Germany times enough to know HOW much he detested the German military creatures: mechanical bullies they were. They had once threatened to arrest him as a spy, and had insulted him more than once. Oh, he would never forgive THEM, in his inward soul. But then the industrialism and commercialism of England, with which patriotism and democracy became identified: did not these insult a man and hit him pleasantly across the mouth? How much humiliation had Richard suffered, trying to earn his living! How had they tried, with their beastly industrial self-righteousness, to humiliate him as a separate, single man? They wanted to bring him to heel even more than the German militarist did. And if a man is to be brought to any heel, better a spurred heel than the heel of a Jewish financier. So Richard decided later, when the years let him think things over, and see where he was.
Therefore when the war came, his instinct was against it. When the Asquith government so softly foundered, he began to suffer agonies. But when the Asquith government went right under, and in its place came that John Bull government of ’16, ’17, ’18, then agonies gave way to tortures. He was summoned to join the army: and went. Spent a night in barracks with forty other men, and not one of these other men but felt like a criminal condemned, bitter in dejection and humiliation. Was medically examined in the morning by two doctors, both gentlemen, who knew the sacredness of another naked man: and was rejected.
So, that was over. He went back home. And he made up his mind what he would do. He would never voluntarily make a martyr of himself. His feeling was private to himself, he didn’t want to force it on any other man. He would just act alone. For the moment, he was rejected as medically unfit. If he was called up again, he would go again. But he would never serve.
“Once,” he said to Harriet, “that they have really conscripted me, I will never obey another order, if they kill me.”
Poor Harriet felt scared, and didn’t know what else to say.
“If ever,” he said, looking up from his own knees in their old grey flannel trousers, as he sat by the fire, “if ever I see my legs in khaki, I shall die. But they shall never put my legs into khaki.”
That first time, at the barracks in the country town in the west, they had treated him with that instinctive regard and gentleness which he usually got from men who were not German militarist bullies, or worse, British commercial bullies. For instance, in the morning in that prison barracks room, these unexamined recruits were ordered to make their beds and sweep the room. In obedience, so far, Richard Lovat took one of the heavy brooms. He was pale, silent, isolated: a queer figure, a young man with a beard. The other soldiers — or must-be soldiers — had looked at him as a queer fish, but that he was used to.
“Say, Dad,” said a fattish young fellow older than himself, the only blatherer, a loose fellow who had come from Canada to join up and was already cursing: he was a good deal older than Somers.
“Say, Dad,” said this fellow, as they sat in the train coming up, “all that’ll come off to-morrow — Qck, Qck!”— and he made two noises, and gave two long swipes with his finger round his chin, to intimate that Richard’s beard would be cut off to-morrow.
“We’ll see,” said Richard, smiling with pale lips.
He said in his heart, the day his beard was shaven he was beaten, lost. He identified it with his isolate manhood. He never forgot that journey up to Bodmin, with the other men who were called up. They were all bitterly, desperately miserable, but still manly: mostly very quiet, yet neither sloppy nor frightened. Only the fat, loose fellow who had given up a damned good job in Canada to come and serve this bloody country, etc., etc., was a ranter and a bragger. Somers saw him afterwards naked: strange, fat, soft, like a woman. But in another carriage the men sang all the time, or howled like dogs in the night:
I’ll be your sweetheart, if you will be mine,
All my life I’ll be you-o-o-ur Valentine.
Bluebells I’ll gather, take them and be true,
When I’m a man, my plan will be to marry you.
Wailing down the lost corridors of hell, surely, those ghastly melancholy notes —
All my li-i-i-ife — I’ll be you-u-r Valentine.
Somers could never recall it without writhing. It is not death that matters, but the loss of the integral soul. And these men howled as if they were going to their doom, helplessly, ghastly. It was not the death in front. It was the surrender of all their old beliefs, and all their sacred liberty.
Those bluebells! They were worse than the earlier songs. In 1915, autumn, Hampstead Heath, leaves burning in heaps, in the blue air, London still almost pre-war London: but by the pond on the Spaniards Road, blue soldiers, wounded soldiers in their bright hospital blue and red, always there: and earth-coloured recruits with pale faces drilling near Parliament Hill. The pre-war world still lingering, and some vivid strangeness, glamour thrown in. At night all the great beams of the searchlights, in great straight bars, feeling across the London sky, feeling the clouds, feeling the body of the dark overhead. And then Zeppelin raids: the awful noise and the excitement. Somers was never afraid then. One evening he and Harriet walked from Platts Lane to the Spaniards Road, across the Heath: and there, in the sky, like some god vision, a Zeppelin, and the searchlights catching it, so that it gleamed like a manifestation in the heavens, then losing it, so that only the strange drumming came down out of the sky where the searchlights tangled their feelers. There it was again, high, high, high, tiny, pale, as one might imagine the Holy Ghost, far, far above. And the crashes of guns, and the awful hoarseness of shells bursting in the city. Then gradually, quiet. And from Parliament Hill, a great red glare below, near St. Paul’s. Something ablaze in the city. Harriet was horribly afraid. Yet as she looked up at the far-off Zeppelin she said to Somers:
“Think, some of the boys I played with when I was a child are probably in it.”
And he looked up at the far, luminous thing, like a moon. Were there men in it? Just men, with two vulnerable legs and warm mouths. The imagination could not go so far.
Those days, that autumn . . . people carried about chrysanthemums, yellow and brown chrysanthemums: and the smell of burning leaves: and the wounded, bright blue soldiers with their red cotton neckties, sitting together like macaws on the seats, pale and different from other people. And the star Jupiter very bright at nights over the cup hollow of the Vale, on Hampstead Heath. And the war news coming, the war horror drifting in, drifting in, prices rising, excitement growing, people going mad about the Zeppelin raids. And always the one song:
Keep the home fires burning,
Though your hearts be yearning.
It was in 1915 the old world ended. In the winter 1915-1916 the spirit of the old London collapsed; the city, in some way, perished, perished from being a heart of the world, and became a vortex of broken passions, lusts, hopes, fears, and horrors. The integrity of London collapsed, and the genuine debasement began, the unspeakable baseness of the press and the public voice, the reign of that bloated ignominy, John Bull.
No man who has really consciously lived through this can believe again absolutely in democracy. No man who has heard reiterated in thousands of tones from all the common people during the crucial years of the war: “I believe in John Bull. Give me John Bull,” can ever believe that in any crisis a people can govern itself, or is ever fit to govern itself. During the crucial years of the war, the people chose, and chose Bottomleyism. Bottom enough.
The well-bred, really cultured classes were on the whole passive resisters. They shirked their duty. It is the business of people who really know better to fight tooth and nail to keep up a standard, to hold control of authority. Laiser-aller is as guilty as the actual, stinking mongrelism it gives place to.
It was in mid-winter 1915 that Somers and Harriet went down to Cornwall. The spirit of the war — the spirit of collapse and of human ignominy, had not travelled so far yet. It came in advancing waves.
We hear so much of the bravery and horrors at the front. Brave the men were, all honour to them. It was at home the world was lost. We hear too little of the collapse of the proud human spirit at home, the triumph of sordid, rampant, raging meanness. “The bite of a jackal is blood-poisoning and mortification.” And at home stayed all the jackals, middle-aged, male and female jackals. And they bit us all. And blood-poisoning and mortification set in.
We should never have let the jackals loose, and patted them on the head. They were feeding on our death all the while.
Away in the west Richard and Harriet lived alone in their cottage by the savage Atlantic. He hardly wrote at all, and never any propaganda. But he hated the war, and said so to the few Cornish people around. He laughed at the palpable lies of the press, bitterly. And because of his isolation and his absolute separateness, he was marked out as a spy.
“I am not a spy,” he said, “I leave it to dirtier people. I am myself, and I won’t have popular lies.”
So, there began the visits from the policeman. A large, blue, helmeted figure at the door.
“Excuse me, sir, I have just a few enquiries to make.”
The police-sergeant always a decent, kindly fellow, driven by the military.
Somers and Harriet lived now with that suspense about them in the very air they breathed. They were suspects.
“Then let them suspect,” said he. “I do nothing to them, so what can they do to me.”
He still believed in the constitutional liberty of an Englishman.
“You know,” said Harriet, “you DO say things to these Cornish people.”
“I only say, when they tell me newspaper lies, that they ARE lies.”
But now the two began to be hated, hated far more than they knew.
“You want to be careful,” warned one of the Cornish friends. “I’ve heard that the coast-watchers have got orders to keep very strict watch on you.”
“Let them, they’ll see nothing.”
But it was not till afterwards that he learned that the watchers had lain behind the stone fence, to hear what he and Harriet talked about.
So, he was called up the first time and went. He was summoned to Penzance, and drove over with Harriet, expecting to return for the time at least. But he was ordered to proceed the same afternoon to Bodmin, along with sixteen or seventeen other fellows, farm hands and working men. He said good-bye to Harriet, who was to be driven back alone across the moors, to their lonely cottage on the other side.
“I shall be back to-morrow,” he said.
England was still England, and he was not finally afraid.
The train journey from Penzance to Bodmin with the other men: the fat, bragging other man: the tall man who felt as Somers did: the change at the roadside station, with the porters chaffing the men that the handcuffs were on them. Indeed, it was like being one of a gang of convicts. The great, prison-like barracks — the disgusting evening meal of which he could eat nothing — the little terrier-like sergeant of the regulars, who made them a little encouraging speech: not a bad chap. The lounging about that barracks yard, prisoners, till bed-time: the other men crowding to the canteen, himself mostly alone. The brief talks with men who were for a moment curious as to who and what he was. For a moment only. They were most of them miserable and bitter.
Gaol! It was like gaol. He thought of Oscar Wilde in prison. Night came, and the beds to be made.
“They’re good beds, clean beds, you’ll sleep quite comfortable in them,” said the elderly little sergeant with a white moustache. Nine o’clock lights out. Somers had brought no night clothes, nothing. He slept in his woollen pants, and was ashamed because they had patches on the knees, for he and Harriet were very poor these years. In the next bed was a youth, a queer fellow, in a sloppy suit of black broadcloth, and down-at-heel boots. He had a degenerate sort of handsomeness too. He had never spoken a word. His face was long and rather fine, but like an Apache, his straight black hair came in a lock over his forehead. And there was an Apache sort of sheepishness, stupidity, in everything he did. He was a long time getting undressed. Then there he stood, and his white cotton day-shirt was long below his knees, like a woman’s nightgown. A restless, bitter night, with one man cough, cough, coughing, a hysterical cough, and others talking, making noises in their sleep. Bugle at six, and a scramble to wash themselves at the zinc trough in the wash house. Somers could not crowd in, did not get in till towards the end. Then he had to borrow soap, and afterwards a piece of comb. The men were all quiet and entirely inoffensive, common, but gentle, by nature decent. A sickening breakfast, then wash-up and sweep the floors. Somers took one of the heavy brooms, as ordered, and began. He swept his own floors nearly every day. But this was heavier work. The sergeant stopped him. “Don’t you do that. You go and help to wipe the pots, if you like. Here, you boy, YOU— take that sweeping brush.”
And Somers relinquished his broom to a bigger man.
They were kindly, and, in the essential sense, gentlemen, the little terrier of a sergeant too. Englishmen, his own people.
When it came to Somer’s turn to be examined, and he took off his clothes and sat in his shirt in the cold lobby: the fat fellow pointed to his thin, delicate legs with a jeer. But Somers looked at him, and he was quiet again. The queer, soft, pale-bodied fellow, against Somers’ thin delicate whiteness. The little sergeant kept saying:
“Don’t you catch cold, you chaps.”
In the warm room behind a screen, Richard took off his shirt and was examined. The doctor asked him where he lived — where was his home — asked as a gentleman asks, treated him with that gentle consideration Somers usually met with, save from business people or official people.
“We shall reject you, leave you free,” said the doctor, after consulting with the more elderly, officious little man, “but we leave it to you to do what you can for your country.”
“Thank you,” said Richard, looking at him.
“Every man must do what he can,” put in the other doctor, who was elderly and officious, but a gentleman. “The country needs the help of every man, and though we leave you free, we expect you to apply yourself to SOME service.”
“Yes,” said Somers, looking at him, and speaking in an absolutely neutral voice. Things said like that to him were never real to him: more like the noise of a cart passing, just a noise.
The two doctors looked from his face down his thin nakedness again.
“Put your shirt on,” said the younger one.
And Somers could hear the mental comment, “Rum sort of a fellow,” as he did so.
There was still a wait for the card. It was one of those cards: A— Called up for military service. B— Called up for service at the front, but not in the lines. C— Called up for non-military service. R— Rejected. A, B, and C were ruled out in red ink, leaving the Rejected. He still had to go to another office for his pay — two shillings and fourpence, or something like that. He signed for this and was free. Free — with two shillings and fourpence, and pass for a railway ticket — and God’s air. The moment he stepped out with his card, he realised that it was Saturday morning, that the sun was shining, filling the big stone yard of the barracks, from which he could look to the station and the hill with its grass, beyond. That hill beyond — he had seemed to look at it through darkened glass, before. Till now, the morning had been a timeless greyness. Indeed, it had rained at seven o’clock, as they stood lounging miserably about in the barracks yard with its high wall, cold and bitter. And the tall man had talked to him bitterly.
But now the sun shone, the dark-green, Cornish hill, hard-looking, was just a near hill. He walked through the great gates. Ah God, he was out, he was free. The road with trees went downhill to the town. He hastened down, a free human being, on Saturday morning, the grey glaze gone from his eyes.
He telegraphed the ignominious word Rejected, and the time of his arrival, to Harriet. Then he went and had dinner. Some of the other men came in. They were reserved now — there was a distance between him and them — he was not of their social class.
“What are you?” they asked him.
“Rejected,” he said.
And they looked at him grudgingly, thinking it was because he was not a working man he had got special favour. He knew what they thought, and he tried not to look so glad. But glad he was, and in some mysterious way, triumphant.
It was a wonderful journey on the Saturday afternoon home — sunny, busy, lovely. He changed at Truro and went into town. On the road he met some of the other fellows, who were called up, but not summoned for service immediately. They had some weeks, or months, of torment and suspense before them. They looked at Somers, and grinned rather jeeringly at him. They envied him — no wonder. And already he was a stranger, in another walk of life.
Rejected as unfit. One of the unfit. What did he care? The Cornish are always horrified of any ailment or physical disablement. “What’s amiss then?” they would ask. They would SAY that you might as well be shot outright as labelled unfit. But most of them tried hard to find constitutional weaknesses in themselves, that would get them rejected also, notwithstanding. And at the same time they felt they must be horribly ashamed of their physical ignominy if they were LABELLED unfit.
Somers did not care. Let them label me unfit, he said to himself. I know my own body is fragile, in its way, but also it is very strong, and it’s the only body that would carry my particular self. Let the fools peer at it and put me down undeveloped chest and what they like, so long as they leave me to my own way.
Then the kindly doctor’s exhortation that he should find some way for himself for serving his country. He thought about that many times. But always, as he came near to the fact of committing himself, he knew that he simply could not commit himself to any service whatsoever. In no shape or form could he serve the war, either indirectly or directly. Yet it would have been so easy. He had quite enough influential friends in London to put him into some job, even some quite congenial, literary job, with a sufficient salary. They would be only too glad to do it, for there in his remoteness, writing occasionally an essay that only bothered them, he was a thorn in their flesh. And men and women with sons, brothers, husbands away fighting, it was small pleasure for them to read Mr. Somers and his denunciation. “This trench and machine warfare is a blasphemy against life itself, a blasphemy which we are all committing.” All very well, they said, but we are in for a war, and what are we to do? We hate it as much as he does. But we can’t all sit safely in Cornwall.
That was true too, and he knew it, and he felt the most a dreary misery, knowing how many brave, generous men were being put through this slaughter-machine of human devilishness. They were doing their best, and there was nothing else to do. But even that was no reason why he should go and do likewise.
If men had kept their souls firm and integral through the years, the war would never have come on. If, in the beginning, there had been enough strong, proud souls in England to concentrate the English feeling into stern, fierce, honourable fighting,, the war would never have gone as it went. But England slopped and wobbled, and the tide of horror accumulated.
And now, if circumstances had roped nearly all men into the horror, and it was a case of adding horror to horror, or dying well, on the other hand, the irremediable circumstance of his own separate soul made Richard Lovat’s inevitable standing out. If there is outward, circumstantial unreason and fatality, there is inward unreason and inward fate. He would have to dare to follow his inward fate. He must remain alone, outside of everything, everything, conscious of what was going on, conscious of what he was doing and not doing. Conscious he must be, and consciously he must stick to it. To be forced into nothing.
For, above all things, man is a land animal and a thought-adventurer. Once the human consciousness really sinks and is swamped under the tide of events — as the best English consciousness was swamped, pacifist and patriotic alike — then the adventure is doomed. The English soul went under in the war, and, as a conscious, proud, adventurous, self-responsible soul, it was lost. We all lost the war: perhaps Germany least. Lost all the lot. The adventure is always lost when the human conscious soul gives way under the stress, fails to keep control, and is submerged. Then out swarm the rats and the Bottomleys and crew, and the ship of human adventure is a horrible piratic affair, a dirty sort of freebooting.
Richard Lovat had nothing to hang on to but his own soul. So he hung on to it, and tried to keep his wits. If no man was with him, he was hardly aware of it, he had to grip on so desperately, like a man on a plank in a shipwreck. The plank was his own individual self.
Followed that period of suspense which changed his life for ever. If the postman was coming plunging downhill through the bushes over the moor, the first thought was: What is he bringing now? The postman was over military age, and had a chuckle of pleasure in handing out those accursed On His Majesty’s Service envelopes which meant that a man was summoned for torture. The postman was a great Wesleyan and a chapel preacher, and the thought of hell for other men was sweet in him: he had a religious zest added to his natural Cornish zest in other people’s disasters.
Again, if there was the glint of a bicycle on the moor road, and if it turned down the bypath towards the cottage, then Somers strained his eyes to see if the rider were fat and blue, or tall and blue. Was it the police sergeant, or the police constable, coming for more identification proofs.
“We want your birth certificate,” said the sergeant. “They’ve written from Bodmin asking you to produce your birth certificate.”
“Then tell them to get it. No, I haven’t got it. You’ve had my marriage certificate. You know who I am and where I was born and all the rest. Now let them get the birth certificate themselves.”
Richard Lovat was at the end of all patience. They persisted he was a foreigner — poor Somers, just because he had a beard. One of the most intensely English little men England ever produced, with a passion for his country, even if it were often a passion of hatred. But no, they persisted he was a foreigner. Pah!
He and Harriet did all their own work, their own shopping. One wintry afternoon they were coming home with a knapsack, along the field path above the sea, when two khaki individuals, officers of some sort, strode after them.
“Excuse me,” said one, in a damnatory officious voice. “What have you got in that sack?”
“A few groceries,” said Lovat.
“I would like to look.”
Somers put the sack down on the path. The tall and lofty officer stooped and groped nobly among a pound of rice and a piece of soap and a dozen candles.
“Ha!” he cried, exultant. “What’s this? A camera!”
Richard peeped in the bag at the groping red military hands. For a moment he almost believed that a camera had spirited itself in among his few goods, the implication of his guilt was so powerful. He saw a block in brown paper.
“A penn’orth of salt,” he said quietly, though pale to the lips with anger and insult.
But the gentlemanly officer — a Captain — tore open the paper. Yes, a common block of salt. He pushed the bag aside.
“We have to be careful,” said the other, lesser man.
“Of course,” said Richard, tying up his bag.
“Good afternoon!” said Harriet.
The fellows half saluted, and turned hastening away. Richard and Harriet had the advantage of sauntering behind them and looking at their noble backs. Oh, they were gentlemen, true English gentlemen: perhaps Cornish.
Harriet gave a pouf of laughter.
“The poor innocent salt!” she exclaimed.
And no doubt that also was chalked up against her.
It was Christmas time, and two friends came down to stay at the cottage with the Somers. Those were the days before America joined the Allies. The man friend arrived with a whole parcel of American dainties, buckwheat meal and sweet potatoes and maple sugar: the woman friend brought a good basket of fruit. They were to have a Christmas in the lonely cottage in spite of everything.
It was Christmas Eve, and a pouring black wet night outside. Nowhere can it be so black as on the edge of a Cornish moor, above the western sea, near the rocks where the ancient worshippers used to sacrifice. The darkness of menhirs. The American woman friend was crouching at the fire making fudge, the man was away in his room, when a thundering knock at the door. Ah Lord!
The burly police-sergeant, and his bicycle.
“Sorry to trouble you sir, but is an American, a Mr. Monsell, stopping here with you? He is. Can I have a word with him?”
“Yes. Won’t you come in?”
Into the cosy cottage room, with the American girl at the fire, her face flushed with the fudge-making, entered the big, burly police-sergeant, his black mackintosh-cape streaming wet.
“We give you a terrible lot of trouble, I’m sorry to say,” said Harriet ironically. “What an awful night for you to have to come all these miles. I’m sure it isn’t OUR doing.”
“No, ma’m, I know that. It’s the doing of people who like to meddle. These military orders, they take some keeping pace with.”
“I’m sure they do.”
Harriet was all sympathy. So he, too, was goaded by these military canaille.
Somers fetched the American friend, and he was asked to produce papers, and give information. He gave it, being an honourable citizen and a well-bred American, with complete sang froid. At that moment Somers would have given a lot to be American too, and not English. But wait — those were early days, when America was still being jeered at for standing out and filling her pockets. She was not yet the intensely loved Ally. The police-sergeant was pleasant as ever. He apologised again, and went out into the black and pouring night. So much for Christmas Eve.
“But that’s not the end of the horrid affair,” as the song says. When Monsell got back to London he was arrested, and conveyed to Scotland Yard: there examined, stripped naked, his clothes taken away. Then he was kept for a night in a cell — next evening liberated and advised to return to America.
Poor Monsell, and he was so very anti-German, so very pro-British. It was a blow for him. He did not leave off being anti-German, but he was much less pro-British. And after all, it was war-time, when these things must happen, we are told. Such a war-time that let loose the foulest feelings of a mob, particularly of ‘gentlemen’, to torture any single, independent man as a mob always tortures the isolated and independent.
In despair, Somers thought he would go to America. He had passports, he was Rejected. They had no use for him, and he had no use for them. So he posted his passports to the Foreign Office, for the military permit to depart.
It was January, and there was a thin film of half-melted snow, like silver, on the fields and the path. A white, static, arrested morning, away there in the west of Cornwall, with the moors looking primeval, and the huge granite boulders bulging out of the earth like presences. So easy to realise men worshipping stones. It is not the stone. It is the mystery of the powerful, pre-human earth, showing its might. And all, this morning, static, arrested in a cold, milky whiteness, like death, the west lost in the sea.
A man culminates in intense moments. This was one of Somers’ white, deathlike moments, as he walked home from the tiny post-office in the hamlet, on the wintry morning, after he had posted his passports asking for visas to go to New York. It was like walking in death: a strange, arrested land of death. Never had he known that feeling before: as if he were a ghost in the after-death, walking a strange, pale, static, cold world. It almost frightened him. “Have I done wrong?” he asked himself. “Am I wrong, to leave my country and go to America?”
It was then as if he HAD left his country: and that was like death, a still, static, corporate death. America was the death of his own country in him, he realised that.
But he need not have bothered. The Foreign Office kept his passports, and did not so much as answer him. He waited in vain.
Spring came — and one morning the news that Asquith was out of the government, that Lloyd George was in. And this was another of Somers’ crises. He felt he must go away from the house, away from everywhere. And as he walked, clear as a voice out of the moors, came a voice saying: “It is the end of England. It is the end of the old England. It is finished. England will never be England any more.”
Cornwall is a country that makes a man psychic. The longer he stayed, the more intensely it had that effect on Somers. It was as if he were developing second sight, and second hearing. He would go out into the blackness of night and listen to the blackness, and call, call softly, for the spirits, the presences he felt coming downhill from the moors in the night. “Tuatha De Danaan!” he would call softly. “Tuatha De Danaan! Be with me. Be with me.” And it was as if he felt them come.
And so this morning the voice struck into his consciousness. “It is the end of England.” So he walked along blindly, up the valley and on the moors. He loved the country intensely. It seemed to answer him. But his consciousness was all confused. In his mind, he did not at all see why it should be the end of England. Mr. Asquith was called Old Wait-and-See. And truly, English Liberalism had proved a slobbery affair, all sad sympathy with everybody, and no iron backbone, these years. Repulsively humble, too, on its own account. It was no time for Christian humility. And yet, it was true to its great creed.
Whereas Lloyd George! Somers knew nothing about Lloyd George. A little Welsh lawyer, not an Englishman at all. He had no real significance in Richard Lovat’s soul. Only, Somers gradually came to believe that all Jews, and all Celts, even whilst they espoused the cause of England, subtly lived to bring about the last humiliation of the great old England. They could never do so if England WOULD NOT BE humiliated. But with an England fairly offering herself to ignominy, where was the help? Let the Celts work out their subtlety. If England WANTED to be betrayed, in the deeper issues. Perhaps Jesus wanted to be betrayed. He did. He chose Judas.
Well, the story could have no other ending.
The war-wave had broken right over England, now: right over Cornwall. Probably throughout the ages Cornwall had not been finally swept, submerged by any English spirit. Now it happened — the accursed later war spirit. Now the tales began to go round full-tilt against Somers. A chimney of his house was tarred to keep out the damp: that was a signal to the Germans. He and his wife carried food to supply German submarines. They had secret stores of petrol in the cliff. They were watched and listened to, spied on, by men lying behind the low stone fences. It is a job the Cornish loved. They didn’t even mind being caught at it: lying behind a fence with field-glasses, watching through a hole in the drystone wall a man with a lass, on the edge of the moors. Perhaps they were proud of it. If a man wanted to hear what was said about him — or anything — he lay behind a wall at the field-corners, where the youths talked before they parted and went indoors, late of a Saturday night. A whole intense life of spying going on all the time.
Harriet could not hang out a towel on a bush, or carry out the slops, in the empty landscape of moors and sea, without her every movement being followed by invisible eyes. And at evening, when the doors were shut, valiant men lay under the windows to listen to the conversation in the cosy little room. And bitter enough were the things they said: and damnatory, the two Somers. Richard did not hold himself in. And he talked too with the men on the farm: openly. For they had exactly the same anti-military feeling as himself, and they simply loathed the thought of being compelled to serve. Most men in the west, Somers thought, would have committed murder to escape, if murder would have helped them. It wouldn’t. He loved the people at the farm, and the men kindled their rage together. And again Somers’ farmer friend warned him, how he was being watched. But Somers WOULD not heed. “What can they do to me!” he said. “I am not a spy in any way whatsoever. There is nothing they can do to me. I make no public appearance at all. I am just by myself. What can they do to me? Let them go to hell.”
He refused to be watchful, guarded, furtive, like the people around, saying double things as occasion arose, and hiding their secret thoughts and secret malignancy. He still believed in the freedom of the individual. — Yes, freedom of the individual!
He was aware of the mass of secret feeling against him. Yet the people he came into daily contact with liked him — almost loved him. So he kept on defying the rest, and went along blithe and open as ever, saying what he really felt, or holding his tongue. Enemies! How could he have any PERSONAL enemies? He had never done harm to any of these people, had never even felt any harm. He did not believe in personal enemies. It was just the military.
Enemies he had, however, people he didn’t know and hadn’t even spoken to. Enemies who hated him like poison. They hated him because he was free, because of his different, unafraid face. They hated him because he wasn’t cowed, as they were all cowed. They hated him for his intimacy at the farm, in the hamlet. For each farm was bitter jealous of each other.
Yet he never believed he had any PERSONAL enemies. And he had all the west hating him like poison. He realized once, when two men came down the moorland by-road — officers in khaki — on a motor-bicycle, and went trying the door of the next cottage, which was shut up. Somers went to the door, in all simplicity.
“Did you want me?” he asked.
“No, we didn’t want YOU,” replied one of the fellows, in a genteel voice and a tone like a slap in the face. Somers spoken to as if he were the lowest of the low. He shut his cottage door. Was it so? Had they wilfully spoken to him like that? He would not believe it.
But inwardly, he knew it was so. That was what they intended to convey to him: that he was the lowest of the low. He began even to feel guilty, under this mass of poisonous condemnation. And he realised that they had come, on their own, to get into the other cottage and see if there were some wireless installation or something else criminal. But it was fastened tight, and apparently they gave up their design of breaking in, for they turned the motor-cycle and went away.
Day followed day in this tension of suspense. Submarines were off the coast; Harriet saw a ship sunk, away to sea. Horrible excitement, and the postman asking sly questions to try to catch Somers out. Increased rigour of coast watching, and NO light must be shown. Yet along the high-road on the hillside above, plainer than any house-light, danced the lights of a cart, moving, or slowly sped the light of a bicycle, on the blackness. Then a Spanish coal-vessel, three thousand tons, ran on the rocks in a fog, straight under the cottage. She was completely wrecked. Somers watched the waves break over her. Her coal washed ashore, and the farmers carried it up the cliffs in sacks.
There was to be a calling-up now and a re-examination of every man — Somers felt the crisis approaching. The ordeal was to go through, once more. The first rejection meant nothing. There were certain reservations. He had himself examined again by a doctor. The strain told. on his heart as well as his breathing. He sent in this note to the authorities. A reply: “You must present yourself for examination, as ordered.”
He knew that if he was really ever summoned to any service, and finally violated, he would be broken, and die. But patience. In the meanwhile he went to see his people: the long journey up the west, changing at Plymouth and Bristol and Birmingham, up to Derby. Glamorous west of England: if a man were free. He sat through the whole day, very still, looking at the world. Very still, gone very far inside himself, travelling through this England in spring. He loved it so much. But it was in the grip of something monstrous, not English, and he was almost gripped too. As it was, by making himself far away inside himself, he contained himself, and was still.
He arrived late in Derby: Saturday night, and no train for the next ten miles. But luckily, there was a motor-bus going out to the outlying villages. Derby was very dark, like a savage town, a feeling of savagery. And at last the bus was ready: full of young miners, more or less intoxicated. The bus was crammed, a solid jam of men, sitting on each other’s knees, standing blocked and wedged. There was no outside accommodation. And inside were jammed eighteen more men than was allowed. It was like being pressed into one block of corned beef.
The bus ran six miles without stopping, through an absolutely dark country, Zeppelin black, and having one feeble light of its own. The roads were unmended, and very bad. But the bus charged on, madly, at full speed, like a dim consciousness madly charging through the night. And the mass of colliers swayed with the bus, intoxicated into a living block, and with high, loud, wailing voices they sang:
There’s a long, long trail a-winding
Into the land of my dreams —
Where the nightingales are singing and the —
This ghastly trailing song, like death itself. The colliers seemed to tear it out of their bowels, in a long, wild chant. They, too, all loathed the war: loathed it. And this awful song! They subsided, and somebody started “Tipperary”.
It’s a long, long way to Tipperary,
It’s a long way to go —.
But Tipperary was already felt as something of a Jonah: a bad-luck song, so it did not last long. The miserable songs — with their long, long ways that ended in sheer lugubriousness: real death-wails! These for battle songs. The wail of a dying humanity.
Good-bye — eeee
Don’t cry — eee
Wipe the tear, baby dear, from your eye — eee —
For it’s hard to part I know.
I’ll — be — tickled-to-death to go,
Good-bye — eeee
Don’t cry — eee —.
But the others didn’t know this ragtime, and they weren’t yet in the mood. They drifted drunkenly back to the ineffable howl of
There’s a long, long trail —.
A black, wild Saturday night. These were the collier youths Somers had been to school with — approximately. As they tore their bowels with their singing, they tore his. But as he sat squashed far back among all that coated flesh, in the dimmest glim of a light, that only made darkness more substantial, he felt like some strange isolated cell in some tensely packed organism that was hurtling through chaos into oblivion. The colliers. He was more at one with them. But they were blind, ventral. Once they broke loose heaven knows what it would be.
The Midlands — the theatre in Nottingham — the pretence of amusement, and the feeling of murder in the dark, dreadful city. In the daytime these songs — this horrible long trail, and “Good-byeeee” and “Way down in Tennessee.” They tried to keep up their spirits with this rag-time Tennessee. But there was murder in the air in the Midlands, among the colliers. In the theatre particularly, a shut-in, awful feeling of souls fit for murder.
London — mid-war London, nothing but war, war. Lovely sunny weather, and bombs at midday in the Strand. Summery weather. Berkshire — aeroplanes — springtime. He was as if blind; he must hurry the long journey back to Harriet and Cornwall.
Yes — he had his papers — he must present himself again at Bodmin barracks. He was just simply summoned as if he were already conscripted. But he knew he must be medically examined. He went — left home at seven in the morning to catch the train. Harriet watched him go across the field. She was left alone, in a strange country.
“I shall be back to-night,” he said.
It was a still morning, as if one were not in the world. On the hill down to the station he lingered. “Shall I not go! Shall I not go!” he said to himself. He wanted to break away. But what good? He would only be arrested and lost. Yet he had dawdled his time, he had to run hard to catch the train in the end.
This time things went much more quickly. He was only two hours in the barracks. He was examined. He could tell they knew about him and disliked him. He was put in class C3 — unfit for military service, but conscripted for light non-military duties. There were no rejections now. Still, it was good enough. There were thousands of C men, men who WANTED to have jobs as C men, so they were not very likely to fetch him up. He would only be a nuisance anyhow. That was clear all round.
Through the little window at the back of their ancient granite cottage, Harriet, peeping wistfully out to sea — poor Harriet, she was always frightened now — saw Richard coming across the fields, home, walking fast, and with that intent look about him that she half feared. She ran out in a sort of fear, then waited. She would wait.
He saw her face very bright with fear and joy at seeing him back: very beautiful in his eyes. The only real thing, perhaps, left in his world.
“Here you are! So early!” she cried. “I didn’t expect you. The dinner isn’t ready yet. Well?”
“C3,” he replied. “It’s all right.”
“I KNEW it would be,” she cried, seizing his arm and hugging it to her. They went in to the cottage to finish cooking the evening meal. And immediately one of the farm girls came running up to see what it was.
“Oh, C3 — so you’re all right, Mr. Somers. Glad, I’m glad.”
Harriet never forgot the straight, intent bee-line for home which he was making when she peeped out of that little window unaware.
So, another respite. They were not going to touch him. They knew he would be a firebrand in their army, a dangerous man to put with any group of men. They would leave him alone. C3.
He had almost entirely left off writing now, and spent most of his days working on the farm. Again the neighbours were jealous.
“Buryan gets his labour cheap. He’d never have got his hay in but for Mr. Somers,” they said. And that was another reason for wishing to remove Richard Lovat. Work went like steam when he was on Trendrinnan farm, and he was too thick with the Buryans. Much too thick. And John Thomas Buryan rather bragged of Mr. Somers at market, and how he, Richard Lovat, wasn’t afraid of any of them, etc., etc. — that he wasn’t going to serve anybody, etc. — and that nobody could make him — etc., etc.
But Richard drifted away this summer, on to the land, into the weather, into Cornwall. He worked out of doors all the time — he ceased to care inwardly — he began to drift away from himself. He was very thick with John Thomas, and nearly always at the farm. Harriet was a great deal alone. And he seemed to be drifting away, drifting back to the common people, becoming a working man, of the lower classes. It had its charm for Harriet, this aspect of him — careless, rather reckless, in old clothes and an old battered hat. He kept his sharp wits, but his SPIRIT became careless, lost its concentration.
“I declare!” said John Thomas, as Somers appeared in the cornfield, “you look more like one of us every day.” And he looked with a bright Cornish eye at Somers’ careless, belted figure and old jacket. The speech struck Richard: it sounded half triumphant, half mocking. “He thinks I’m coming down in the world — it is half a rebuke,” thought Somers to himself. But he was half pleased: and half he WAS rebuked.
Corn harvest lasted long, and was a happy time for them all. It went well, well. Also from London occasionally a young man came down and stayed at the inn in the church town, some young friend of Somers who hated the army and the Government and was generally discontented, and so fitfully came as an adherent to Richard Lovat. One of these was James Sharpe, a young Edinburgh man with a moderate income of his own, interested in music. Sharpe was hardly more than a lad — but he was the type of lowland Scotsman who is half an artist, not more, and so can never get on in the ordinary respectable life, rebels against it all the time, and yet can never get away from it or free himself from its dictates.
Sharpe had taken a house further along the coast, brought his piano down from London and sufficient furniture and a housekeeper, and insisted, like a morose bird, that he wanted to be alone. But he wasn’t really morose, and he didn’t want really to be alone. His old house, rather ramshackle, stood back a little way from the cliffs, where the moor came down savagely to the sea, past a deserted tin mine. It was lonely, wild, and in a savage way, poetic enough. Here Sharpe installed himself for the moment: to be alone with his music and his general discontent.
Of course he excited the wildest comments. He had window-curtains of different colours, so of course, HERE was plain signalling to the German submarines. Spies, the lot of them. When still another young man of the same set came and took a bungalow on the moors, West Cornwall decided that it was being delivered straight into German hands. Not that West Cornwall would really have minded that so terribly. No; it wasn’t that it feared the Germans. It was that it hated the sight of these recalcitrant young men. And Somers the instigator, the arch-spy, the responsible little swine with his beard.
Somers, meanwhile, began to chuckle a bit to himself. After all he was getting the better of the military canaille. Canaille! Canaglia! Schweinerie! He loathed them in all the languages he could lay his tongue to.
So Somers and Harriet went to stay a week-end with Sharpe at Trevenna, as the house was called. Sharpe was a C2 man, on perpetual tenterhooks. He had decided that if ever HE were summoned to serve, he would just disappear. The Somers drove over, only three or four miles, on the Saturday afternoon, and the three wandered on the moor and down the cliff. No one was in sight. But how many pairs of eyes were watching, who knows? Sharpe lighting a cigarette for Harriet was an indication of untold immorality.
Evening came, the lamps were lit, and the incriminating curtains carefully drawn. The three sat before the fire in the long music room, and tried to be cosy and jolly. But there was something wrong with the mood. After dinner it was even worse. Harriet curled herself up on the sofa with a cigarette. Sharpe spread himself in profound melancholy in his big chair, Somers sat back, nearer the window. They talked in occasional snatches, in mockery of the enemy that surrounded them. Then Somers sang to himself, in an irritating way, one German folksong after another, not in a songful, but in a defiant way.
“Annchen von Tharau”—“Schatz, meun Schatz, reite nicht so weit von mir.” “Zu Strasburg auf der Schanz, da fiel mein Ungluck ein.” This went on till Sharpe asked him to stop.
And in the silence, the tense and irritable silence that followed, came a loud bang. All got up in alarm, and followed Sharpe through the dining-room to the small entrance-room, where a dim light was burning. A lieutenant and three sordid men in the dark behind him, one with a lantern.
“Mr. Sharpe?”— the authoritative and absolutely-in-the-right voice of the puppy lieutenant.
Sharpe took his pipe from his mouth and said laconically, “Yes.”
“You’ve a light burning in your window facing the sea.”
“I think not. There is only one window, and that’s on the passage where I never go, upstairs.”
“A light was showing from that window ten minutes ago.”
“I don’t think it can have been.”
“It was.” And the stern, puppy lieutenant turned to his followers, who clustered there in the dark.
“Yes, there was a light there ten minutes since,” chimed the followers.
“I don’t see how it’s possible,” persisted Sharpe.
“Oh, well — there is sufficient evidence that it was. What other persons have you in the house —? and this officer and gentleman stepped into the room, followed by his three Cornish weeds, one of whom had fallen into a ditch in his assiduous serving of his country, and was a sorry sight. Of course Harriet saw chiefly him, and had to laugh.
“There’s Mrs. Waugh, the housekeeper — but she’s in bed.”
The party now stood and eyed one another — the lieutenant with his three sorry braves on one hand, Sharpe, Somers, and Harriet in an old dress of soft silk on the other.
“Well, Mr. Sharpe, the light was seen.”
“I don’t see how it was possible. We’ve none of us been upstairs, and Mrs. Waugh has been in bed for half an hour.”
“Is there a curtain to the passage window?” put in Somers quietly. He had helped Sharpe in setting up house.
“I don’t believe there is,” said Sharpe. “I forgot all about it, as it wasn’t in a room, and I never go to that side of the house. Even Mrs. Waugh is supposed to go up the kitchen stairs, and so she doesn’t have to pass it.”
“She must have gone across with a candle as she went to bed,” said Somers.
But the lieutenant didn’t like being pushed into unimportance while these young men so quietly and naturally spoke together, excluding him as if he were an inferior: which they meant to do.
“You have an uncurtained window overlooking the sea, Mr. Sharpe?” he said, in his military counter-jumper voice.
“You’ll have to put a curtain to it to-morrow,” said Somers to Sharpe.
“What is your name?” chimed the lieutenant.
“Somers — I wasn’t speaking to you,” said Richard coldly. And then to Sharpe, with a note of contempt: “That’s what it is. Mrs. Waugh must have just passed with a candle.”
There was a silence. The wonderful watchers did not contradict.
“Yes, I suppose that’s it,” said Sharpe, fretfully.
“We’ll put a curtain up to-morrow,” said Somers.
The lieutenant would have liked to search the house. He would have liked to destroy its privacy. He glanced down to the music room. But Harriet, so obviously a lady, even if a hateful one; and Somers with his pale look of derision; and Sharpe so impassive with his pipe; and the weedy watchers in the background, knowing just how it all was, and ALMOST ready to take sides with the “gentleman” against the officer: they were too much for the lieutenant.
“Well, the light was there, Mr. Sharpe. Distinctly visible from the sea,” and he turned to his followers for confirmation.
“Oh, yes, a light plain enough,” said the one who had fallen into a ditch, and wanted a bit of his own back.
“A candle!” said Sharpe, with his queer, musical note of derision and fretfulness. “A candle just passing —.”
“You have an uncurtained window to the sea, and lights were showing. I shall have to report this to headquarters. Perhaps if you write and apologise to Major Caerlyon it may be passed over, if nothing of the like occurs again —.”
So they departed, and the three went back to their room, fuming with rage and mockery. They mocked the appearance and voice of the lieutenant, the appearance of the weeds, and Harriet rejoiced over the one who had fallen into a ditch. This regardless of the fact that they knew now that SOME of the watchers were lying listening in the gorse bushes under the windows, and had been lying there all the evening.
“Shall you write and apologise?” said Somers.
“Apologise! no!” replied Sharpe, with peevish contempt.
Harriet and Somers went back home on the Monday. On the Tuesday appeared Sharpe, the police had been and left him a summons to appear at the market town, charged under the Defence of the Realm Act.
“I suppose you’ll have to go,” said Somers.
“Oh, I shall go,” said he.
They waited for the day. In the afternoon Sharpe came with a white face and tears of rage and mortification in his eyes. The magistrate had told him he ought to be serving his country, and not causing mischief and skulking in an out-of-the-way corner. And he fined him twenty pounds.
“I shan’t pay it,” cried Sharpe.
“Your mother will,” said Somers.
And so it was. What was the good of putting oneself in their power in ANY way, if it could be avoided?
So the lower fields were cleared of corn, and they started on the two big fields above on the moors. Sharpe cycled over to say a farmer had asked HIM to go and help at Westyr; and for once he had gone; but he felt spiteful to Somers for letting him in for this.
But Somers was very fond of the family at Buryan farm, and he loved working with John Thomas and the girls. John Thomas was a year or two older than Somers, and at this time his dearest friend. And so he loved working all day among the corn beyond the high-road, with the savage moors all round, and the hill with its pre-christian granite rocks rising like a great dark pyramid on the left, the sea in front. Sometimes a great airship hung over the sea, watching for submarines. The work stopped in the field, and the men watched. Then it went on again, and the wagon rocked slowly down the wild, granite road, rocked like a ship past Harriet’s sunken cottage. But Somers stayed above all day, loading or picking, or resting, talking in the intervals with John Thomas, who loved a half-philosophical, mystical talking about the sun, and the moon, the mysterious powers of the moon at night, and the mysterious change in man with the change of season, and the mysterious effects of sex on a man. So they talked, lying in the bracken or on the heather as they waited for a wain. Or one of the girls came with dinner in a huge basket, and they ate all together, so happy with the moors and sky and touch of autumn. Somers loved these people. He loved the sensitiveness of their intelligence. They were not educated. But they had an endless curiosity about the world, and an endless interest in what was RIGHT.
“Now do you think it’s right, Mr. Somers?” The times that Somers heard that question, from the girls, from Arthur, from John Thomas. They spoke in the quick Cornish way, with the West Cornish accent. Sometimes it was:
“Now do’ee think it right?”
And with their black eyes they watched the ethical issue in his face. Queer it was. Right and wrong was not fixed for them as for the English. There was still a mystery for them in what was right and what was wrong. Only one thing was wrong — any sort of PHYSICAL compulsion or hurt. That they were sure of. But as for the rest of behaviour — it was all a flux. They had none of the ethics of chivalry or of love.
Sometimes Harriet came also to tea: but not often. They loved her to come: and yet they were a little uneasy when she was there. Harriet was so definitely a lady. She liked them all. But it was a bit noli me tangere, with her. Somers was so VERY intimate with them. She couldn’t be. And the girls said: “Mrs. Somers don’t mix in wi the likes o’ we like Mr. Somers do.” Yet they were always very pleased when Harriet came.
Poor Harriet spent many lonely days in the cottage. Richard was not interested in her now. He was only interested in John Thomas and the farm people, and he was growing more like a labourer every day. And the farm people didn’t mind how long SHE was left alone, at night too, in that lonely little cottage, and with all the tension of fear upon her. Because she felt that it was SHE whom these authorities, these English, hated, even more than Somers. Because she made them feel she despised them. And as they were really rather despicable, they hated her at sight, her beauty, her reckless pride, her touch of derision. But Richard — even he neglected her and hated her. She was driven back on herself like a fury. And many a bitter fight they had, he and she.
The days grew shorter before the corn was all down from the moors. Sometimes Somers alone lay on the sheaves, waiting for the last wain to come to be loaded, while the others were down milking. And then the Cornish night would gradually come down upon the dark, shaggy moors, that were like the fur of some beast, and upon the pale-grey granite masses, so ancient and Druidical, suggesting blood-sacrifice. And as Somers sat there on the sheaves in the underdark, seeing the light swim above the sea, he felt he was over the border, in another world. Over the border, in that twilight, awesome world of the previous Celts. The spirit of the ancient, pre-Christian world, which lingers still in the truly Celtic places, he could feel it invade him in the savage dusk, making him savage too, and at the same time, strangely sensitive and subtle, understanding the mystery of blood-sacrifice: to sacrifice one’s victim, and let the blood run to the fire, there beyond the gorse upon the old grey granite: and at the same time to understand most sensitively the dark flicker of animal life about him, even in a bat, even in the writhing of a maggot in a dead rabbit. Writhe then, Life, he seemed to say to the things — and he no longer saw its sickeningness.
The old Celtic countries have never had our Latin-Teutonic consciousness, never will have. They have never been Christian, in the blue-eyed, or even in the truly Roman, Latin sense of the word. But they have been overlaid by our consciousness and our civilisation, smouldering underneath in a slow, eternal fire, that you can never put out till it burns itself out.
And this autumn Richard Lovat seemed to drift back. He had a passion, a profound nostalgia for the place. He could feel himself metamorphosing. He no longer wanted to struggle consciously along, a thought adventurer. He preferred to drift into a sort of blood-darkness, to take up in his veins again the savage vibrations that still lingered round the secret rocks, the place of the pre-Christian human sacrifice. Human sacrifice! he could feel his dark, blood-consciousness tingle to it again, the desire of it, the mystery of it. Old presences, old awful presences round the black moor-edge, in the thick dust, as the sky of light was pushed pulsing upwards, away. Then an owl would fly and hoot, and Richard lay with his soul departed back, back into the blood-sacrificial pre-world, and the sun-mystery, and the moon-power, and the mistletoe on the tree, away from his own white world, his own white, conscious day. Away from the burden of intensive mental consciousness. Back, back into semi-dark, the half-conscious, the clair-obscur, where consciousness pulsed as a passional vibration, not as mind-knowledge.
Then would come John Thomas with the wain, and the two men would linger putting up the sheaves, linger, talking, till the dark, talking of the half-mystical things with which they both were filled. John Thomas, with his nervous ways and his quick brown eyes, was full of fear: fear of the unseen, fear of the unknown malevolencies, above all, fear of death. So they would talk of death, and the powers of death. And the farmer, in a non-mental way, understood, understood even more than Somers.
And then in the first dark they went down the hill with the wain, to part at the cottage door. And to Harriet, with her pure Teutonic consciousness, John Thomas’ greeting would sound like a jeer, as he called to her. And Somers seemed to come home like an enemy, like an enemy, with that look on his face, and that pregnant malevolency of Cornwall investing him. It was a bitter time, to Harriet. Yet glamorous too.
Autumn drew on, corn-harvest was over, it was October. John Thomas drove every Thursday over the moors to market — a two hours’ drive. To-day Somers would go with him — and Ann the sister also, to do some shopping. It was a lovely October morning. They passed the stony little huddle of the church-town, and on up the hill, where the great granite boulders shoved out the land, and the barrenness was ancient and inviolable. They could see the gulls under the big cliffs beyond — and there was a buzzard circling over the marshy place below church-town. A Cornish, magic morning. John Thomas and Somers were walking up the hill, leaving the reins to Ann, seated high in the trap.
“One day, when the war ends, before long,” said Somers as they climbed behind the trap in the sun, past the still-flickering gorse-bushes, “we will go far across the sea — to Mexico, to Australia — and try living there. You must come too, and we will have a farm.”
“Me!” said John Thomas. “Why however should I come?”
But the Cornishman smiled with that peculiar sceptical smile.
They reached town at length, over the moors and down the long hill. John Thomas was always late. Somers went about doing his shopping — and then met Ann at an eating house. John Thomas was to have been there too. But he failed them. Somers walked about the Cornish seaport — he knew it now — and by sight he too was known, and execrated. Yet the tradespeople were always so pleasant and courteous to him. And it was such a sunny day.
The town was buzzing with a story. Two German submarine officers had come into the town, dressed in clothes they had taken from an English ship they had sunk. They had stayed a night at the Mounts Bay Hotel. And two days later they had told the story to some fisherman whose fishing boat they stopped. They had shown the incredulous fisherman the hotel bill. Then they had sunk the fishing boat, sending the three fishermen ashore in the row-boat.
John Thomas, the chatterbox, should have been at the stables at five. He was an endless gossip, never by any chance punctual. Somers and Ann waited till six — all the farmers drove home, theirs was the last trap.
“Buryan’s trap — always the last,” said the ostler.
It became dark — the shops were all closing — it was night. And now the town, so busy at noon and all the afternoon, seemed cold, stony, deserted, with the wind blowing down its steep street. Nearly seven, and still no John Thomas. Ann was furious, but she knew him. Somers was more quiet: but he knew that this was a sort of deliberate insult on John Thomas’ part, and that he must never trust him again.
It was well after seven when the fellow came — smiling with subtle malevolence and excusing himself so easily.
“I shall never come with you again,” said Somers, quietly.
“I should think not, Mr. Somers,” cried Ann.
It was a two hours’ drive home — a long climb to the dark stretch of the moors — then across the moors in the cold of the night, to the steep, cliff-like descent on the north, where church-town lay, and the sea beyond. As they drew near to the north descent, the home face, and the darkness was below them, Somers suddenly said:
“I don’t think I shall ever drive this way again.”
“Don’t you? Why, what makes you say that?” cried the facile John Thomas.
Past nine o’clock as they came down the rocky road and saw the yellow curtain of the cottage glowing. Poor Harriet. Somers was stiff with cold as he rose to jump down.
“I’ll come down for my parcels later,” he said. Easier to take them out at the farm, and he must fetch the milk.
Harriet opened the door.
“At last you’ve come,” she said. “Something has happened, Lovat!” One of John Thomas’ sisters came out too — she had come up with Mrs. Somers out of sympathy.
“What?” he said. And up came all the fear.
It was evident Harriet had had a bad shock. She had walked in the afternoon across to Sharpe’s place, three miles away: and had got back just at nightfall, expecting Somers home by seven. She had left the doors unlocked, as they usually did. The moment she came in, in the dusk, she knew something had happened. She made a light, and looked round. Things were disturbed. She looked in her little treasure boxes — everything there, but moved. She looked in the drawers — everything turned upside down. The whole house ransacked, searched.
A terrible fear came over her. She knew she was antagonistic to the government people: in her soul she hated the fixed society with its barrenness and its barren laws. She had always been afraid — always shrunk from the sight of a policeman, as if she were guilty of heaven knows what. And now the horror had happened: all the black animosity of authority was encompassing her. The unknown of it: and the horror.
She fled down to the farm. Yes, three men had come, asking for Mr. and Mrs. Somers. They had told the one who came to the farm that Mr. Somers had driven to town, and Mrs. Somers they had seen going across the fields to churchtown. Then the men had gone up to the cottage again, and gone inside.
“And they’ve searched everything — everything,” said Harriet, shocked right through with awful fear.
“Well, there was nothing to find. They must have been disappointed,” said Richard.
But it was a shock to him also: great consternation at the farm.
“It must have been something connected with Sharpe — it must have been that,” said Somers, trying to reassure himself.
“Thank goodness the house was so clean and tidy,” said Harriet. But it was a last blow to her.
What had they taken? They had not touched Somers’ papers. But they had been through has pockets — they had taken the few loose letters from the pocket of his day-jacket — they had taken a book — and a sort of note-book with scraps of notes for essays in it — and his address book — yes, a few things like that.
“But it’ll be nothing. It’ll be something to do with Sharpe’s bother.”
But he felt sick and sullen, and wouldn’t get up early in the morning. Harriet was more prepared. She was down, dressed and tidy, making the breakfast. It was eight o’clock in the morning. Suddenly Somers heard her call:
“Lovat, they’re here. Get up.”
He heard the dread in her voice, and sprang into his clothes and came downstairs: a young officer, the burly police-sergeant, and two other loutish looking men. Somers came down without a collar.
“I have here a warrant to search your house,” said the young officer.
“But you searched it yesterday, didn’t you,” cried Harriet.
The young officer looked at her coldly, without replying. He read the search-warrant, and the two lout-detectives, in civilian clothes, began to nose round.
“And the police-sergeant will read this order to you.”
Somers, white, and very still, spoke no word, but waited. Then the police-sergeant, in rather stumbling fashion, began to read an order from the military authorities that Richard Lovat Somers and Harriet Emma Marianna Johanna Somers, of Trevetham Cottage, etc., should leave the county of Cornwall within the space of three days. And further, within the space of twenty-four hours of their arrival in any place they must report themselves at the police station of the said place, giving their address. And they were forbidden to enter any part of the area of Cornwall, etc., etc., etc.
Somers listened in silence.
“But why?” cried Harriet. “Why? What have we done?”
“I can’t say what you have done,” said the young officer in a cold tone, “but it must be something sufficiently serious. They don’t send out these orders for nothing.”
“But what is it then? What is it? I don’t know what we’ve done. Have we no right to know what you accuse us of?”
“No, you have no right to know anything further than what is said in the order.” And he folded up the said official foolscap, and handed it officially to Somers. Richard silently took it and read it again.
“But it’s monstrous! What have they against us? We live here simply — we do nothing at all that they can charge us with. What have we done?” cried Harriet.
“I don’t know what you’ve done. But we can take no risks in these times — and evidently there is a risk in leaving you here.”
“But I should like to know WHAT?” cried Harriet.
“That I cannot tell you.”
“But you do KNOW?” woman-like, she persisted.
“No, I don’t even know,” he replied coldly.
Harriet broke into a few tears of fright, fear, and chagrin.
“Have we no rights at all?” she cried, furious.
“Be quiet,” said Richard to her.
“Yes. It is your duty to serve your country, if it is your country, by every means in your power. If you choose to put yourself under suspicion —.”
“Suspicion of what?”
“I tell you, I do not know, and could not tell you even if I did know.”
The foul, loutish detectives meanwhile were fumbling around, taking the books off the shelves and looking inside the clock. Somers watched them with a cold eye.
“Is this yours?” said one of the louts, producing a book with queer diagrams.
“Yes, it’s a botany notebook,” said Somers coldly.
The man secured it.
“He can learn the structure of moulds and parasites,” said Richard bitterly to Harriet.
“The house is all open, the men can search everything?” asked the officer coldly.
“You know it is,” said Somers. “You tried yesterday while we were out.” Then he asked: “Who is responsible for this? Whom can I write to?”
“You can write to Major Witham, Headquarters Southern Division, Salisbury, if it will do any good,” was the answer.
There was a pause. Somers wrote it down: not in his address book because that was gone.
“And one is treated like this, for nothing,” cried Harriet, again in tears. “For nothing, but just because I wasn’t born English. Yet one has married an Englishman, and they won’t let one live anywhere but in England.”
“It is more than that. It is more than the fact that you are not English born,” said the officer.
“Then what? What?” she cried.
He refused to answer this time. The police-sergeant looked on with troubled blue eyes.
“Nothing. It’s nothing but that, because it CAN’T be,” wept Harriet. “It can’t be anything else, because we’ve never done anything else. Just because one wasn’t born in England — as if one could help that. And to be persecuted like this, for nothing, for nothing else. And not even openly accused! Not even that.” She wiped her tears, half enjoying it now. The police-sergeant looked into the road. One of the louts clumped downstairs and began to look once more among the books.
“That’ll do here!” said the officer quietly, to the detective lout. But the detective lout wasn’t going to be ordered, and persisted.
“This your sketch-book, Mr. Somers?” said the lout.
“No, those are Lady Hermione Rogers’ sketches,” said Somers, with derision. And the lout stuffed the book back.
“And why don’t they let us go away?” cried Harriet. “Why don’t they let us go to America? We don’t WANT to be here if we are a nuisance. We want to go right away. Why won’t they even let us do that!” She was all tear-marked now.
“They must have their reasons,” said the young officer, who was getting more and more uncomfortable. He again tried to hurry up the detective lout. But they were enjoying nosing round among other people’s privacies.
“And what’ll happen to us if we don’t go, if we just stay?” said Harriet, being altogether a female.
“You’d better not try,” said the young man, grimly, so utterly confident in the absoluteness of the powers and the rightness he represented. And Somers would have liked to hit him across the mouth for that.
“Hold your tongue, Harriet,” he said, turning on her fiercely. “You’ve said enough now. Be still, and let them do what they like, since they’ve the power to do it.”
And Harriet was silent. And in the silence only the louts rummaging among the linen, and one looking into the bread-tin and into the tea caddy. Somers watched them with a cold eye, and that queer slight lifting of his nose, rather like a dog when it shows disgust. And the officer again tried to hurry the louts, in his low tone of command, which had so little effect.
“Where do you intend to go?” said the officer to Somers.
“Oh, just to London,” said Somers, who did not feel communicative.
“I suppose they will send the things back that they take?” he said, indicating the louts.
“I should think so — anything that is not evidence.”
The louts were drawing to an end: it was nearly over.
“Of course this has nothing to do with me: I have to obey orders, no matter what they are,” said the young officer, half apologising.
Somers just looked at him, but did not answer. His face was pale and still and distant, unconscious that the other people were real human beings. To him they were not: they were just THINGS, obeying orders. And his eyes showed that. The young officer wanted to get out.
At last it was over: the louts had collected a very few trifles. The officer saw them on to the road, bade them good-morning, and got out of the house as quick as he could.
“Good-morning, sir! Good-morning, mam!” said the police sergeant in tones of sympathy.
Yes, it was over. Harriet and Lovat looked at one another in silent consternation.
“Well, we must go,” she said.
“Oh, yes,” he replied.
And she studied the insolent notice to quit the area of Cornwall. In her heart of hearts she was not sorry to quit it. It had become too painful.
In a minute up came one of the farm girls to hear the news: then later Somers went down. Arthur, the boy, had heard the officer say to the police-sergeant as he went up the hill:
“Well, that’s a job I’d rather not have had to do.”
Harriet was alternately bitter and mocking: but badly shocked. Somers had had in his pocket the words of one of the Hebridean folk songs which Sharpe had brought down, and which they all thought so wonderful. On a bit of paper in his jacket-pocket, the words which have no meaning in any language apparently, but are just vocal, almost animal sounds: the Seal Woman’s Song — this they had taken.
Ver mi hiu — ravo na la vo —
Ver mi hiu — ravo hovo i —
Ver mi hiu — ravo na la vo — an catal —
Traum — san jechar —.
What would the investigation make of this? What, oh, what? Harriet loved to think of it. Somers really expected to be examined under torture, to make him confess. The only obvious word — Traum — pure German.
The day was Friday: they must leave on Monday by the Great Western express. Started a bitter rush of packing. Somers, so sick of things, had a great fire of all his old manuscripts. They decided to leave the house as it was, the books on the shelves, to take only their personal belongings. For Somers was determined to come back. Until he had made up his mind to this, he felt paralysed. He loved the place so much. Ever since the conscription suspense began he had said to himself, when he walked up the wild, little road from his cottage to the moor: shall I see the foxgloves come out? If only I can stay till the foxgloves come. And he had seen the foxgloves come. Then it was the heather — would he see the heather? And then the primroses in the hollow down to the sea: the tufts and tufts of primroses, where the fox stood and looked at him.
Lately, however, he had begun to feel secure, as if he had sunk some of himself into the earth there, and were rooted for ever. His soul seemed to have sunk into that Cornwall, that wild place under the moors. And now he must tear himself out. He was quite paralysed, could scarcely move. And at the farm they all looked at him with blank faces. He went back to the cottage to burn more manuscripts and pack up.
And then, like a revelation, he decided he would come back. He would use all his strength, put himself against all the authorities, and in a month or two he would come back. Before the snow-drops came in the farm garden.
“I shall be back in a month or two — three months,” he said to everybody, and they looked at him.
But John Thomas said to him:
“You remember you said you would never drive to town again. Eh?” And in the black, bright eyes Somers saw that it was so. Yet he persisted.
“It only meant not yet awhile.”
On the Monday morning he went down to say good-bye at the farm. It was a bitter moment, he was so much attached to them. And they to him. He could not bear to go. Only one was not there — the Uncle James. Many a time Somers wondered why Uncle James had gone down the fields, so as not to say good-bye.
John Thomas was driving them down in the trap — Arthur had taken the big luggage in the cart. The family at the farm did everything they could. Somers never forgot that while he and Harriet were slaving, on the Sunday, to get things packed, John Thomas came up with their dinners, from the farm Sunday dinner.
It was a lovely, lovely morning as they drove across the hill-slopes above the sea: Harriet and Somers and John Thomas. In spite of themselves they felt cheerful. It seemed like an adventure.
“I don’t know,” said John Thomas, “but I feel in myself as If it was all going to turn out for the best.” And he smiled in his bright, wondering way.
“So do I,” cried Harriet. “As if we were going to be more free.”
“As if we were setting out on a long adventure,” said Somers.
They drove through the town, where, of course, they were marked people. But it was curious how little they cared, how indifferent they felt to everybody.
At the station Somers bade good-bye to John Thomas, with whom he had been such friends.
“Well, I wonder when we shall see each other again,” said the young farmer.
“Soon. We will MAKE it soon,” said Somers. “We will MAKE it soon. And you can come to London to see us.”
“Well — if I can manage it — there’s nothing would please me better,” replied the other. But even as he said it, Somers was thinking of the evening in town, when he and Ann had been kept waiting so long. And he knew he would not see John Thomas again soon.
During the long journey up to London Somers sat facing Harriet, quite still. The train was full: soldiers and sailors from Plymouth. One naval man talked to Harriet: bitter like all the rest. As soon as a man began to talk seriously, it was in bitterness. But many were beginning to make a mock of their own feelings even. Songs like “Good-byeeee” had taken the place of “Bluebells,” and marked the change.
But Somers sat there feeling he had been killed: perfectly still, and pale, in a kind of after death, feeling he had been killed. He had always BELIEVED so in everything — society, love, friends. This was one of his serious deaths in belief. So he sat with his immobile face of a crucified Christ who makes no complaint, only broods silently and alone, remote. This face distressed Harriet horribly. It made her feel lost and shipwrecked, as if her heart was destined to break also. And she was in rather good spirits really. Her horror had been that she would be interned in one of the horrible camps, away from Somers. She had far less belief than he in the goodness of mankind. And she was rather relieved to get out of Cornwall. She had felt herself under a pressure there, long suffering. That very pressure he had loved so much. And so, while his still, fixed, crucified face distressed her horribly, at the same time it made her angry. What did he want to look like that for? Why didn’t he show fight?
They came to London, and he tried taxi after taxi before he could get one to take them up to Hampstead. He had written to a staunch friend, and asked her to wire if she would receive them for a day or two. She wired that she would. So they went to her house. She was a little delicate lady who reminded Somers of his mother, though she was younger than his mother would have been. She and her husband had been friends of William Morris in those busy days of incipient Fabianism. Now her husband was sick, and she lived with him and a nurse and her grown-up daughter in a little old house in Hampstead.
Mrs. Redburn was frightened, receiving the tainted Somers. But she had pluck. Everybody in London was frightened at this time, everybody who was not a rabid and disgusting so-called patriot. It was a reign of terror. Mrs. Redburn was a staunch little soul, but she was bewildered: and she was frightened. They did such horrible things to you, the authorities. Poor tiny Hattie, with her cameo face, like a wise child, and her grey, bobbed hair. Such a frail little thing to have gone sailing these seas of ideas, and to suffer the awful breakdown of her husband. A tiny little woman with grey, bobbed hair, and wild, unyielding eyes. She had three great children. It all seemed a joke and a tragedy mixed, to her. And now the war. She was just bewildered, and would not live long. Poor, frail, tiny Hattie, receiving the Somers into her still, tiny old house. Both Richard and Harriet loved her. He had pledged himself, in some queer way, to keep a place in his heart for her forever, even when she was dead. Which he did.
But he suffered from London. It was cold, heavy, foggy weather, and he pined for his cottage, the granite strewn, gorse-grown slope from the moors to the sea. He could not bear Hampstead Heath now. In his eyes he saw the farm below — grey, naked, stony, with the big, pale-roofed new barn — and the network of dark green fields with the pale-grey walls — and the gorse and the sea. Torture of nostalgia. He craved to be back, his soul was there. He wrote passionately to John Thomas.
Richard and Harriet went to a police-station for the first time in their lives. They went and reported themselves. The police at the station knew nothing about them and said they needn’t have come. But next day a great policeman thumping at Hattie’s door, and were some people called Somers staying there? It was explained to the policeman that they had already reported — but he knew nothing of it.
Somers wanted as quickly as possible to find rooms, to take the burden from Hattie. The American wife of an English friend, a poet serving in the army, offered her rooms in Mecklenburgh Square, and the third day after their arrival in London Somers and Harriet moved there: very grateful indeed to the American girl. They had no money. But the young woman tossed the rooms to them, and food and fuel, with a wild free hand. She was beautiful, reckless, one of the poetesses whose poetry Richard feared and wondered over.
Started a new life: anguish of nostalgia for Cornwall, from Somers. Wandering in the King’s Cross Road or Theobald’s Road, seeing his cottage and the road going up to the moors. He wrote twice to the headquarters at Salisbury insisting on being allowed to return. Came a reply, this could not be permitted. Then one day a man called and left a book and the little bundle of papers — a handful only — which the detectives had confiscated. A poor little show. Even the scrap of paper with Ver mi hiu. Again Somers wrote — but to no effect. Came a letter from John Thomas describing events in the west — the last Somers ever had from his friend.
Then Sharpe came up to London: it was too lonely down there. And they had some gay evenings. Many people came to see Somers. But Sharpe said to him:
“They’re watching you still. There were two policemen near the door watching who came in.”
There was an atmosphere of terror all through London, as under the Tsar when no man dared open his mouth. Only this time it was the lowest orders of mankind spying on the upper orders, to drag them down.
One evening there was a gorgeous commotion in Somers’ rooms: four poets and three non-poets, all fighting out poetry: a splendid time. Somers ran down the stairs in the black dark — no lights in the hall — to open the door. He opened quickly — three policemen in the porch. They slipped out before they could be spoken to.
Harriet and Somers had reported at Bow Street — wonderful how little heed the police took of them. Somers could tell how the civil police loathed being under the military orders.
But watched and followed he knew he was. After two months the American friend needed her rooms. The Somers transferred to Kensington, to a flat belonging to Sharpe’s mother. Again many friends came. One evening Sharpe was called out from the drawing-room: detectives in the hall enquiring about Somers, where he got his money from, etc., etc., such clowns, louts, mongrels of detectives. Even Sharpe laughed in their faces: such canaille. At the same time detectives enquiring for them at the old address: though they reported the change. Such a confusion in the official mind!
It was becoming impossible. Somers wrote bitterly to friends who had been all-influential till lately, but whom the canaille were now trying to taint also. And then he and Harriet moved to a little cottage he rented from his dear Hattie, in Oxfordshire. Once more they reported to the police in the market-town: once more the police sympathetic.
“I will report no more,” said Somers.
But still he knew he was being watched all the time. Strange men questioning the cottage woman next door, as to all his doings. He began to FEEL a criminal. A sense of guilt, of self-horror began to grow up in him. He saw himself set apart from mankind, a Cain, or worse. Though of course he had committed no murder. But what might he not have done? A leper, a criminal! The foul, dense, carrion-eating mob were trying to set their teeth in him. Which meant mortification and death.
It was Christmas — winter — very cold. He and Harriet were very poor. Then he became ill. He lay in the tiny bedroom looking at the wintry sky and the deep, thatched roof of the cottage beyond. Sick. But then his soul revived. “No,” he said to himself. “No. Whatever I do or have done, I am not wrong. Even if I commit what they call a crime, why should I accept THEIR condemnation or verdict? Whatever I do, I do of my own responsible self. I refuse their imputations. I despise them. They are canaille, carrion-eating, filthy-mouthed canaille, like dead-man-devouring jackals. I wish to God I could kill them. I wish I had power to blight them, to slay them with a blight, slay them in thousands and thousands. I wish to God I could kill them off, the masses of canaille. Would they make me feel in the wrong? Would they? They shall not. Never. I will watch that they never set their unclean teeth in me, for a bite is blood-poisoning. But fear them! Feel in the wrong because of them? Never. Not if I were Cain several times over, and had killed several brothers and sisters as well. Not if I had committed all the crimes in their calendar. I will not be put in the wrong by them, God knows I will not. And I will report myself no more at their police-stations.”
So, whenever the feeling of terror came over him, the feeling of being marked-out, branded, a criminal marked out by society, marked out for annihilation, he pulled himself together, saying to himself:
“I am letting them make me feel in the wrong. I am degrading myself by feeling guilty, marked-out, and I have convulsions of fear. But I am NOT wrong. I have done no wrong, whatever I have done. That is, no wrong that society has to do with. Whatever wrongs I have done are my own, and private between myself and the other person. One may be wrong, yes, one is often wrong. But not for THEM to judge. For my own soul only to judge. Let me know them for human filth, all these pullers-down, and let me watch them, as I would watch a reeking hyaena, but never fear them. Let me watch them, to keep them at bay. But let me never admit for one single moment that THEY may be MY judges. That, never. I have judged them: they are canaille. I am a man, and I abide by my own soul. Never shall they have a chance of judging me.”
So he discovered the great secret: to stand alone as his own judge of himself, absolutely. He took his stand absolutely on his own judgment of himself. Then, the mongrel-mouthed world would say and do what it liked. This is the greatest secret of behaviour: to stand alone, and judge oneself from the deeps of one’s own soul. And then, to know, to hear what the others say and think: to refer their judgment to the touchstone of one’s own soul-judgment. To fear one’s own inward soul, and never to fear the outside world, nay, not even one single person, nor even fifty million persons.
To learn to be afraid of nothing but one’s own deepest soul: but to keep a sharp eye on the millions of the others. Somers would say to himself: “There are fifty million people in Great Britain, and they would nearly all be against me. Let them.”
So a period of quiet followed. Somers got no answers to his letters to John Thomas: it was like the evening when he had been kept waiting. The man was scared. It was an end.
And the authorities still would allow of no return to Cornwall. So let that be an end too. He wrote for his books and household linen to be sent up, the rest could be sold.
Bitter, in Oxfordshire, to unpack the things he had loved so dearly in Cornwall. Life would never be quite the same again. Then let it be otherwise. He hardened his heart and his soul.
It was a lovely spring: and here, in the heart of England — Shakespeare’s England — there was a sweetness and a humanness that he had never known before. The people were friendly and unsuspicious, though they knew all about the trouble. The police too were delicate and kindly. It was a human world once more, human and lovely: though the gangs of wood-men were cutting down the trees, baring the beautiful spring woods, making logs for trench-props.
And there was always the suspense of being once more called up for military service. “But surely,” thought Somers, “if I am so vile they will be glad to leave me alone.”
Spring passed on. Somers’ sisters were alone, their husbands at the war. His younger sister took a cottage for him in their own bleak Derbyshire. And so he returned, after six years, to his own country. A bitter stranger too, he felt. It was northern, and the industrial spirit was permeated through everything: the alien spirit of coal and iron. People living for coal and iron, nothing else. What good was it all?
This time he would not go to the police-station to report. So one day a police-inspector called. But he was a kindly man, and a little bitter too. Strange that among the civil police, everyone that Somers met was kindly and understanding. But the so-called, brand-new military, they were insolent jackanapes, especially the stay-at-home military who had all the authority in England.
In September, on his birthday, came the third summons: On His Majesty’s Service. His Majesty’s Service, God help us! Somers was bidden present himself at Derby on a certain date, to join the colours. He replied: “If I am turned out of my home, and forbidden to enter the area of Cornwall: if I am forced to report myself to the police wherever I go, and am treated like a criminal, you surely cannot wish me to present myself to join the colours.”
There was an interval: much correspondence with Bodmin, where they seemed to have forgotten him again. Then he received a notice that he was to present himself as ordered.
What else was there to do? But he was growing devilish inside himself. However, he went: and Harriet accompanied him to the town. The recruiting place was a sort of big Sunday School — you went down a little flight of steps from the road. In a smallish ante-room like a basement he sat on a form and waited while all his papers were filed. Beside him sat a big collier, about as old as himself. And the man’s face was a study of anger and devilishness growing under humiliation. After an hour’s waiting Somers was called. He stripped as usual, but this time was told to put on his jacket over his complete nakedness.
And so — he was shown into a high, long schoolroom, with various sections down one side — bits of screens where various doctor-fellows were performing — and opposite, a long writing table where clerks and old military buffers in uniform sat in power: the clerks dutifully scribbling, glad to be in a safe job, no doubt, the old military buffers staring about. Near this Judgment-Day table a fire was burning, and there was a bench where two naked men sat ignominiously waiting, trying to cover their nakedness a little with their jackets, but too much upset to care really.
“Good God!” thought Somers. “Naked civilised men in their Sunday jackets and nothing else make the most heaven-forsaken sight I have ever seen.”
The big stark-naked collier was being measured: a big, gaunt, naked figure, with a gruesome sort of nudity. “Oh God, oh God,” thought Somers, “why do the animals none of them look like this? It doesn’t look like life, like a living creature’s figure. It is gruesome, with no life-meaning.”
In another section a youth of about twenty-five, stark naked too, was throwing out his chest while a chit of a doctor-fellow felt him between the legs. This naked young fellow evidently thought himself an athlete, and that he must make a good impression, so he threw his head up in a would-be noble attitude, and coughed bravely when the doctor-buffoon said cough! Like a piece of furniture waiting to be sat on, the athletic young man looked.
Across the room the military buffers looked on at the operette; occasionally a joke, incomprehensible, at the expense of the naked, was called across from the military papas to the fellows who may have been doctors. The place was full of an indescribable tone of jeering, gibing shamelessness. Somers stood in his street jacket and thin legs and beard — a sight enough for any gods — and waited his turn. Then he took off the jacket and was cleanly naked, and stood to be measured and weighed — being moved about like a block of meat, in the atmosphere of corrosive derision.
Then he was sent to the next section for eye-tests, and jokes were called across the room. Then after a time to the next section, where he was made to hop on one foot — then on the other foot — bend over — and so on: apparently to see if he had any physical deformity.
In due course to the next section where a fool of a little fellow, surely no doctor, eyed him up and down and said:
“Anything to complain of?”
“Yes,” said Somers. “I’ve had pneumonia three times and been threatened with consumption.”
“Oh. Go over there then.”
So in his stalky, ignominious nakedness he was sent over to another section, where an elderly fool turned his back on him for ten minutes, before looking round and saying:
“Yes. What have you to say?”
“When did you have pneumonia?”
Somers answered — he could hardly speak, he was in such a fury of rage and humiliation.
“What doctor said you were threatened with consumption? Give his name.” This in a tone of sneering scepticism.
The whole room was watching and listening. Somers knew his appearance had been anticipated, and they wanted to count him out. But he kept his head. The elderly fellow then proceeded to listen to his heart and lungs with a stethoscope, jabbing the end of the instrument against the flesh as if he wished to make a pattern on it. Somers kept a set face. He knew what he was out against, and he just hated and despised them all.
The fellow at length threw the stethoscope aside as if he were throwing Somers aside, and went to write. Somers stood still, with a set face, and waited.
Then he was sent to the next section, and the stethoscoping doctor strolled over to the great judgment table. In the final section was a young puppy, like a chemist’s assistant, who made most of the jokes. Jokes were all the time passing across the room — but Somers had the faculty of becoming quite deaf to anything that might disturb his equanimity.
The chemist-assistant puppy looked him up and down with a small grin as if to say, “Law-lummy, what a sight of a human scare-crow!” Somers looked him back again, under lowered lids, and the puppy left off joking for the moment. He told Somers to take up other attitudes. Then he came forward close to him, right till their bodies almost touched, the one in a navy blue serge, holding back a little as if from the contagion of the naked one. He put his hand between Somers’ legs, and pressed upwards, under the genitals. Somers felt his eyes going black.
“Cough,” said the puppy. He coughed.
“Again,” said the puppy. He made a noise in his throat, then turned aside in disgust.
“Turn round,” said the puppy. “Face the other way.”
Somers turned and faced the shameful monkey-faces at the long table. So, he had his back to the tall window: and the puppy stood plumb behind him.
“Put your feet apart.”
He put his feet apart.
“Bend forward — further — further —.”
Somers bent forward, lower, and realised that the puppy was standing aloof behind him to look into his anus. And that this was the source of the wonderful jesting that went on all the time.
“That will do. Get your jacket and go over there.” Somers put on his jacket and went and sat on the form that was placed endwise at the side of the fire, facing the side of the judgment table. The big, gaunt collier was still being fooled. He apparently was not very intelligent, and didn’t know what they meant when they told him to bend forward. Instead of bending with stiff knees — not knowing at all what they wanted — he crouched down, squatting on his heels as colliers do. And the doctor puppy, amid the hugest amusement, had to start him over again. So the game went on, and Somers watched them all.
The collier was terrible to him. He had a sort of Irish face with a short nose and a thin black head. This snub-nose face had gone quite blank with a ghastly voidness, void of intelligence, bewildered and blind. It was as if the big, ugly, powerful body could not OBEY words any more. Oh God, such an ugly body — not as if it belonged to a living creature.
Somers kept himself hard and in command, face set, eyes watchful. He felt his cup had been filled now. He watched these buffoons in this great room, as he sat there naked save for his jacket, and he felt that from his heart, from his spine went out vibrations that should annihilate them — blot them out, the canaille, stamp them into the mud they belonged to.
He was called at length to the table.
“What is your name?” asked one of the old parties. Somers looked at him.
“Somers,” he said, in a very low tone.
“Somers — Richard Lovat?” with an indescribable sneer.
Richard Lovat realised that they had got their knife into him. So! He had his knife in them, and it would strike deeper at last.
“You describe yourself as a writer.” He did not answer.
“A writer of what? — with a perfect sneer.
“Books — essays.”
The old buffer went on writing. Oh, yes, they intended to make him feel they had got their knife into him. They would have his beard off, too! But would they! He stood there with his ridiculous thin legs, in his ridiculous jacket, but he did not feel a fool. Oh, God, no. The white composure of his face, the slight lifting of his nose, like a dog’s disgust, the heavy, unshakable watchfulness of his eyes brought even the judgment-table to silence: even the puppy doctors. It was not till he was walking out of the room, with his jacket about his thin legs, and his beard in front of him, that they lifted their heads for a final jeer.
He dressed and waited for his card. It was Saturday morning, and he was almost the last man to be examined. He wondered what instructions they had had about him. Oh, foul dogs. But they were very close on him now, very close. They were grinning very close behind him, like hyaenas just going to bite. Yes, they were running him to earth. They had exposed all his nakedness to gibes. And they were pining, almost whimpering to give the last grab at him, and haul him to earth, a victim. Finished!
But not yet! Oh, no, not yet. Not yet, not now, nor ever. Not while life was life, should they lay hold of him. Never again. Never would he be touched again. And because they had handled his private parts, and looked into them, their eyes should burst and their hands should wither and their hearts should rot. So he cursed them in his blood, with an unremitting curse, as he waited.
They gave him his card: C2. Fit for non-military service. He knew what they would like to make him do. They would like to seize him and compel him to empty latrines in some camp. They had that in mind for him. But he had other things in mind.
He went out into accursed Derby, to Harriet. She was reassured again. But he was not. He hated the Midlands now, he hated the North. They were viler than the South, even than Cornwall. They had a universal desire to take life and down it: these horrible machine people, these iron and coal people. They wanted to set their foot absolutely on life, grind it down, and be master. Masters, as they were of their foul machines. Masters of life, as they were masters of steam-power and electric-power and above all, of money-power. Masters of money-power, with an obscene hatred of life, true spontaneous life.
Another flight. He was determined not to stop in the Derby Military Area. He would move one stage out of their grip, at least. So he and Harriet prepared to go back with their trunks to the Oxfordshire cottage, which they loved. He would not report, nor give any sign of himself. Fortunately in the village everybody was slack and friendly.
Derby had been a crisis. He would obey no more: not one more stride. If they summoned him he would disappear: or find some means of fighting them. But no more obedience: no more presenting himself when called up. By God, no! Never while he lived, again, would he be at the disposal of society.
So they moved south — to be one step removed. They had been living in this remote cottage in the Derbyshire hills: and they must leave at half-past seven in the morning, to complete their journey in a day. It was a black morning, with a slow dawn. Somers had the trunks ready. He stood looking at the dark gulf of the valley below. Meanwhile heavy clouds sank over the bare, Derbyshire hills, and the dawn was blotted out before it came. Then broke a terrific thunderstorm, and hail lashed down with a noise like insanity. He stood at the big window over the valley, and watched. Come hail, come rain, he would go: forever.
This was his home district — but from the deepest soul he now hated it, mistrusted it even more than he hated it. As far as LIFE went, he mistrusted it utterly, with a black soul. Mistrusted it and hated it, with its smoke and its money-power, and its squirming millions who aren’t human any more.
Ah, how lovely the South-west seemed, after it all. There was hardly any food, but neither he nor Harriet minded. They could pick up and be wonderfully happy again, gathering the little chestnuts in the woods, and the few last bilberries. Men were working harder than ever felling trees for trench-timber, denuding the land. But their brush fires were burning in the woods, and when they had gone, in the cold dusk, Somers went with a sack to pick up the unburnt faggots and the great chips of wood the axes had left golden against the felled logs. Flakes of sweet, pale gold oak. He gathered them in the dusk, in a sack, along with the other poor villagers. For he was poorer even than they. Still, it made him very happy to do these things — to see a big, glowing pile of wood-flakes in his shed — and to dig the garden, and set the rubbish burning in the late, wistful autumn — or to wander through the hazel copses, away to the real old English hamlets, that are still like Shakespeare — and like Hardy’s Woodlanders.
Then, in November, the Armistice. It was almost too much to believe. The war was over! It WAS too much to believe. He and Harriet sat and sang German songs, in the cottage, that strange night of the Armistice, away there in the country: and she cried — and he wondered what now, now the walls would come no nearer. It had been like Edgar Allan Poe’s story of the Pit and the Pendulum — where the walls come in, in, in, till the prisoner is almost squeezed. So the black walls of the war — and he had been trapped, and very nearly squeezed into the pit where the rats were. So nearly! So very nearly! And now the black walls had stopped, and he was NOT pushed into the pit, and the rats. And he knew it in his soul. What next then?
He insisted on going back to Derbyshire. Harriet, who hated him for the move, refused to go. So he went alone: back to his sisters, and to finish the year in the house which they had paid for him. Harriet refused to go. She stayed with Hattie in London.
At St. Pancras, as Somers left the taxi and went across the pavement to the station, he fell down: fell smack down on the pavement. He did not hurt himself. But he got up rather dazed, saying to himself, “Is that a bad omen? Ought I not to be going back?” But again he thought of Scipio Africanus, and went on.
The cold, black December days, alone in the cottage on the cold hills — Adam Bede country, Snowfields, Dinah Morris’ home. Such heavy, cold, savage, frustrated blackness. He had known it when he was a boy. Then Harriet came — and they spent Christmas with his sister. And when January came he fell ill with the influenza, and was ill for a long time. In March the snow was up to the window-sills of their house.
“Will the winter never end?” he asked his soul.
May brought the year’s house-rent of the Derbyshire cottage to an end: and back they went to Oxfordshire. But now the place seemed weary to him, tame, after the black iron of the North. The walls had gone — and now he felt nowhere.
So they applied for passports — Harriet to go to Germany, himself to Italy. A lovely summer went by, a lovely autumn came. But the meaning had gone out of everything for him. He had lost his meaning. England had lost its meaning for him. The free England had died, this England of the peace was like a corpse. It was the corpse of a country to him.
In October came the passports. He saw Harriet off to Germany — said good-bye at the Great Eastern Station, while she sat in the Harwich-Hook of Holland express. She had a look of almost vindictive triumph, and almost malignant love, as the train drew out. So he went back to his meaninglessness at the cottage.
Then, finding the meaninglessness too much, he gathered his few pounds together and in November left for Italy. Left England, England which he had loved so bitterly, bitterly — and now was leaving, alone, and with a feeling of expressionlessness in his soul. It was a cold day. There was snow on the Downs like a shroud. And as he looked back from the boat, when they had left Folkestone behind and only England was there, England looked like a grey, dreary-grey coffin sinking in the sea behind, with her dead grey cliffs and the white, worn-out cloth of snow above.
Memory of all this came on him so violently now in the Australian night, that he trembled helplessly under the shock of it. He ought to have gone up to Jack’s place for the night. But no, he could not speak to anybody. Of all the black throng in the dark Sydney streets, he was the most remote. He strayed round in a torture of fear, and then at last suddenly went to the Carlton Hotel, got a room, and went to bed, to be alone and think.
Detail for detail he thought out his experiences with the authorities, during the war, lying perfectly still and tense. Till now, he had always kept the memory at bay, afraid of it. Now it all came back, in a rush. It was like a volcanic eruption in his consciousness. For some weeks he had felt the great uneasiness in his unconscious. For some time he had known spasms of that same fear that he had known during the war: the fear of the base and malignant power of the mob-like authorities. Since he had been in Italy the fear had left him entirely. He had not even remembered it, in India. Only in the quiet of Coo-ee, strangely enough, it had come back in spasms: the dread, almost the horror, of democratic society, the mob. Harriet had been feeling it too. Why? Why, in this free Australia? Why? Why should they both have been feeling this same terror and pressure that they had known during the war, why should it have come on again in Mullumbimby? Perhaps in Mullumbimby they were suspect again, two strangers, so much alone. Perhaps the secret service was making investigations about them. Ah, canaille!
Richard faced out all his memories like a nightmare in the night, and cut clear. He felt broken off from his fellow-men. He felt broken off from the England he had belonged to. The ties were gone. He was loose like a single timber of some wrecked ship, drifting over the face of the earth. Without a people, without a land. So be it. He was broken apart, apart he would remain.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10