Were you in love with her?
The question is in a way meaningless, she knows, but one must ask. Love in such situations is rarely real. Sex is the engine, exalting and ruining people, sex and frustration. Love is what people believe is worth the path of devastation.
Christ, he thinks, by my age I ought to know. You don’t get on by being original. You don’t get on by being bright. You don’t get on by being strong. You get on by being a subtle crook; somehow he thinks that’s what Norris is, and he feels an irrational dislike taking root, and he tries to dismiss it, because he prefers his dislikes rational, but after all, these circumstances are extreme, the cardinal in the mud, the humiliating tussle to get him back in the saddle, the talking, talking on the barge, and worse, the talking, talking on his knees, as if Wolsey’s unravelling, in a great unweaving of scarlet thread that might lead you back into a scarlet labyrinth, with a dying monster at its heart.
He once thought it himself, that he might die with grief: for his wife, his daughters, his sisters, his father and master the cardinal. But pulse, obdurate, keeps its rhythm. You think you cannot keep breathing, but your ribcage has other ideas, rising and falling, emitting sighs. You must thrive in spite of yourself; and so that you may do it, God takes out your heart of flesh, and gives you a heart of stone.
I was disconcerted, for I had broken away without quite seeing where I was going to. It was not to be shuffled off now, however, and I answered, `The beautiful young lady at Miss Havisham’s, and she’s more beautiful than anybody ever was, and I admire her dreadfully, and I want to be a gentleman on her account.’ Having made this lunatic confession, I began to throw my torn-up grass into the river, as if I had some thoughts of following it.
`Do you want to be a gentleman, to spite her or to gain her over?’ Biddy quietly asked me, after a pause.
`I don’t know,’ I moodily answered.
`Because, if it is to spite her,’ Biddy pursued, `I should think – but you know best – that might be better and more independently done by caring nothing for her words. And if it is to gain her over, I should think – but you know best – she was not worth gaining over.’
Exactly what I myself had thought, many times. Exactly what was perfectly manifest to me at the moment. But how could I, a poor dazed village lad, avoid that wonderful inconsistency into which the best and wisest of men fall every day?
`It may be all quite true,’ said I to Biddy, `but I admire her dreadfully.’
In short, I turned over on my face when I came to that, and got a good grasp on the hair on each side of my head, and wrenched it well. All the while knowing the madness of my heart to be so very mad and misplaced, that I was quite conscious it would have served my face right, if I had lifted it up by my hair, and knocked it against the pebbles as a punishment for belonging to such an idiot.
What was I after all? Near enough what Conchis had had me told: nothing but the net sum of countless wrong turnings. I dismissed most of the Freudian jargon of the trial; but all my life I had tried to turn life to fiction, to hold reality away; always I had acted as if a third person was watching and listening and giving me marks for good or bad behaviour – a god like a novelist, to whom I turned, like a character with the power to please, the sensitivity to feel slighted, the ability to adapt himself to whatever he believed the novelist-god wanted. This leechlike variation of the super-ego I had created myself, fostered myself, and because of it I had always been incapable of acting freely. It was not my defence; but my despot. And now I saw it, I saw it a death too late.
When a woman withdraws to give birth the sun may be shining but the shutters of her room are closed so she can make her own weather. She is kept in the dark so she can dream. Her dreams drift her far away, from terra firma to a marshy tract of land, to a landing stage, to a river where a mist closes over the further bank, and earth and sky are inseparate; there she must embark towards life and death, a muffled figure in the stern directing the oars. In this vessel prayers are said that men never hear. Bargains are struck between a woman and her God. The river is tidal, and between one feather-stroke and the next, the tide may turn.
It was but a hurried parting in a common street, yet it was a sacred remembrance to these two common people. Utilitarian economists, skeletons of schoolmasters, Commissioners of Fact, genteel and used-up infidels, gabblers of many little dog’s-eared creeds, the poor you will have always with you. Cultivate in them, while there is yet time, the utmost graces of the fancies and affections, to adorn their lives so much in need of ornament; or, in the day of your triumph, when romance is utterly driven out of their souls, and they and a bare existence stand face to face, Reality will take a wolfish turn, and make an end of you.
I knew that on the island one was driven back into the past. There was so much space, so much silence, so few meetings that one too easily saw out of the present, and then the past seemed ten times closer than it was. It was likely that Alison hadn’t given me a thought for weeks, and that she had had half a dozen more affaires. So I posted the letter rather as one throws a message in a bottle into the sea; not quite as a joke, perhaps, but almost.
Imagine the silence now, in that place which is no-place, that anteroom to God where each hour is ten thousand years long. Once you imagined the souls held in a great net, a web spun by God, held safe till their release into his radiance. But if the net is cut and the web broken, do they spill into freezing space, each year falling further into silence, until there is no trace of them at all?
When they leave the church, the last light is vanishing into the sky, and a stray snowflake drifts along towards the south. They remount; it has been a long day; his clothes feel heavy on his back. He doesn’t believe the dead need our prayers, nor can they use them. But anyone who knows the Bible as he does, knows that our God is a capricious God, and there’s no harm in hedging your bets. When the woodcock flew up in its flash of reddish brown, his heart had knocked hard. As they rode he was aware of it, each beat a heavy wing-beat; as the bird found the concealment of trees, its tracing of feathers inked out to black.