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ALBERGO EMPEDOCLE (1903)
THE STORY OF A PANIC (1904)
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HEDGE (1904)
THE ROAD FROM COLONUS (1904)
THE ETERNAL MOMENT (1905)
THE CURATE’S FRIEND (1907)
THE CELESTIAL OMNIBUS (1908)
OTHER KINGDOM (1909)
THE MACHINE STOPS (1909)
THE POINT OF IT (1911)
MR ANDREWS (1911)
THE STORY OF THE SIREN (1920)
E. M. FORSTER
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The stories were originally published as follows:
ALBERGO EMPEDOCLE, Temple Bar Magazine, December 1903
THE STORY OF A PANIC, Independent Review, August 1904
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HEDGE, Independent Review, November 1904
THE ROAD FROM COLONUS, Independent Review, June 1904
THE ETERNAL MOMENT, Independent Review, 1905
THE CURATE’S FRIEND, Pall Mall Magazine, October 1907
THE CELESTIAL OMNIBUS, Albany Review, January 1908
OTHER KINGDOM, English Review, July 1909
THE MACHINE STOPS, Oxford and Cambridge Review, 1909
THE POINT OF IT, English Review, November 1911
MR ANDREWS, Open Window, April 1911
CO-ORDINATION, English Review, June 1912
THE STORY OF THE SIREN, Hogarth Press, 1920
The last letter I had from Harold was from Naples.
We’ve just come back from Pompeii (he wrote). On the whole it’s decidedly no go and very tiring. What with the smells and the beggars and the mosquitoes we’re rather off Naples altogether, and we’ve changed our plans and are going to Sicily. The guidebooks say you can run through it in no time; only four places you have to go to, and very little in them. That suits us to a T. Pompeii and the awful Museum here have fairly killed us— except of course Mildred, and perhaps Sir Edwin.
Now why don’t you come too? I know you’re keen on Sicily, and we all would like it. You would be able to spread yourself no end with your archaeology. For once in my life I should have to listen while you jaw. You’d enjoy discussing temples, gods, etc., with Mildred. She’s taught me a lot, but of course it’s no fun for her, talking to us. Send a wire; I’ll stand the cost. Start at once and we’ll wait for you. The Peaslakes say the same, especially Mildred.
My not sleeping at night, and my headaches are all right now, thanks very much. As for the blues, I haven’t had any since I’ve been engaged, and don’t intend to. So don’t worry any more.
Dear Tommy, if you aren’t an utter fool you’ll let me pay your ticket out.
I did not go. I could just have managed it, but Sicily was then a very sacred name to me, and the thought of running through it in no time, even with Harold, deterred me. I went afterwards, and as I am well acquainted with all who went then, and have had circumstantial information of all that happened, I think that my account of the affair will be as intelligible as anyone’s.
I am conceited enough to think that, if I had gone, the man I love most in the world would not now be in an asylum.
The Peaslake party was most harmonious in its composition. Four out of the five were Peaslakes, which partly accounted for the success, but the fifth, Harold, seemed to have been created to go with them. They had started from England soon after his engagement to Mildred Peaslake, and had been flying over Europe for two months. At first they were a little ashamed of their rapidity, but the delight of continual custom-house examinations soon seized them, and they had hardly learned what “Come in” and “Hot water, please” were in one language, before they crossed the frontier and had to learn them in another.
But, as Harold truly said, “People say we don’t see things properly, and are globe-trotters, and all that, but after all one travels to enjoy oneself, and no one can say that we aren’t having a ripping time.”
Every party, to be really harmonious, must have a physical and an intellectual centre. Harold provided one, Mildred the other. He settled whether a mountain had to be climbed or a walk taken, and it was his fists that were clenched when a porter was insolent, or a cabman tried to overcharge. Mildred, on the other hand, was the fount of information. It was she who generally held the Baedeker and explained it. She had been expecting her continental scramble for several years, and had read a fair amount of books for it, which a good memory often enabled her to reproduce.
But they all agreed that she was no dry encyclopaedia. Her appetite for facts was balanced by her reverence for imagination.
“It is imagination,” she would say, “that makes the past live again. It sets the centuries at naught.”
“Rather!” was the invariable reply of Harold, who was notoriously deficient in it. Recreating the past was apt to give him a headache, and his thoughts obstinately returned to the unromantic present, which he found quite satisfactory. He was fairly rich, fairly healthy, very much in love, very fond of life, and he was content to worship in
Mildred those higher qualities which he did not possess himself.
These two between them practically ran the party, and both Sir Edwin and Lady Peaslake were glad that the weight of settling or explaining anything should be lifted off their shoulders. Sir Edwin sometimes held the Baedeker, but his real function was the keeping of a diary in which he put down the places they went to, the people they met, and the times of the trains. Lady Peaslake’s department was packing, hotels, and the purchasing of presents for a large circle of acquaintance. As for Lilian, Mildred’s sister, whatever pleased other people pleased her. Altogether it was a most delightful party.
They were, however, just a little subdued and quiet during that journey from Palermo to Girgenti. They had done Palermo in even less time than Baedeker had allowed for it, and such audacity must tell on the most robust of tourists. Furthermore they had made an early start, as they had to get to Girgenti for lunch, do the temples in the afternoon, and go on the next morning to Syracuse.
It was no wonder that Lady Peaslake was too weary to look out of the window, and that Harold yawned when Mildred explained at some length how it was that a Greek temple came to be built out of Greece.
“Poor boy! You’re tired,” she said, without bitterness, and without surprise.
Harold blushed at his impoliteness.
“We really do too much,” said Lady Peaslake. “I never bought that Sicilian cart for Mrs Popham. It would have been the very thing. She will have something out of the way. If a thing’s at all ordinary she will hardly say thank you. Harold, would you try at Girgenti? Mind you beat them down. Four francs is the outside.”
“Certainly, Lady Peaslake.” His method of purchasing for her was to pay whatever was asked, and to make good the difference out of his own pocket.
“Girgenti will produce more than Sicilian carts,” said Mildred, smoothing down the pages of the guidebook. “In Greek times it was the second city of the island, wasn’t it? It was famous for the ability, wealth and luxury of its inhabitants. You remember, Harold, it was called Acragas.” “Acragas, Acragas,” chanted Harold, striving to rescue one word from the chaos. The effort was too much for him, and he gave another yawn.
“Really, Harold!” said Mildred, laughing. “You’re very much exhausted.”
“I’ve scarcely slept for three nights,” he replied in rather an aggrieved voice.
“Oh, my dear boy! I’m very sorry. I had no idea.”
“Why did not you tell me?” said Sir Edwin. “We would have started later. Yes, I see you do look tired.”
“It’s so queer. It’s ever since I’ve been in Sicily. Perhaps Girgenti will be better.”
“Have you never slept since Naples?”
“Oh, I did sleep for an hour or so last night. But that was because I used my dodge.”
“Dodge!” said Sir Edwin. “What ever do you mean?”
“You know it, don’t you? You pretend you’re someone else, and then you go asleep in no time.”
“Indeed I do not know it,” said Sir Edwin emphatically. Mildred’s curiosity was aroused. She had never heard Harold say anything unexpected before, and she was determined to question him.
“How extremely interesting! How very interesting! I don’t know it either. Who do you imagine yourself to be?”
“Oh, no one—anyone. I just say to myself, ‘That’s someone lying awake. Why doesn’t he go to sleep if he’s tired?’ Then he—I mean I—do, and it’s all right.”
“But that is a very wonderful thing. Why didn’t you do it all three nights?”
“Well, to tell the truth,” said Harold, rather confused, “I promised Tommy I’d never do it again. You see, I used to do it, not only when I couldn’t sleep, but also when I was in the blues about something—or nothing—as one is, I don’t know why. It doesn’t get rid of them, but it kind of makes me so strong that I don’t care for them—I can’t explain. One morning Tommy came to see me, and I never knew him till he shook me. Naturally he was horribly sick, and made me promise never to do it again.”
“And why have you done it again?” said Sir Edwin.
“Well, I did hold out two nights. But last night I was so dead tired, I couldn’t think what I wanted to—of course you understand that; it’s rather beastly. All the night I had to keep saying, ‘ I’m lying awake, I’m lying awake, I’m lying awake,’ and it got more and more difficult. And when it was almost time to get up I made a slip and said, ‘He’s lying awake’—and then off I went.”
“How very, very interesting,” said Mildred, and Lilian cried that it was a simply splendid idea, and that she should try it next time she had the toothache.
“Indeed, Lilian,” said her mother, “I beg you’ll do no such thing.”
“No, indeed,” said Sir Edwin, who was looking grave. “Harold, your friend was quite right. It is never safe to play tricks with the brain. I must say I’m astonished: you of all people!”
“Yes,” said Harold, looking at a very substantial hand. “I’m such a stodgy person. It is odd. It isn’t brain or imagination or anything like that. I simply pretend.”
“It is imagination,” said Mildred in alow determined voice. “Whatever it is, it must stop,” said Sir Edwin. “It’s a dangerous habit. You must break yourself of it before it is fully formed.”
“Yes. I promised Tommy. I shall try again tonight,” said Harold, with a pitiful little sigh of fatigue.
“I’ll arrange to have a room communicating with yours. If you can’t sleep tonight, call me.”
“Thanks very much, I’m sure not to do it if you’re near. It only works when one’s alone. Tommy stopped it by taking rooms in the same house, which was decent of him.”
The conversation had woken them up. The girls were quiet, Lilian being awed, and Mildred being rather annoyed with her parents for their want of sympathy with imagination. She felt that Harold had so little, that unless it was nourished it would disappear. She crossed over to him, and managed to say in a low voice:
“You please me very much. I had no idea you were like this before. We live in a world of mystery.”
Harold smiled complacently at the praise, and being sure that he could not say anything sensible held his tongue. Mildred at once began to turn his newly found powers to the appreciation of Girgenti.
“Think,” she said, “of the famous men who visited her in her prime. Pindar, Aeschylus, Plato—and as for Empedocles, of course he was born there.”
“The disciple, you know, of Pythagoras, who believed in the transmigration of souls.”
“It’s a beautiful idea, isn’t it, that the soul should have several lives.”
“But, Mildred darling,” said the gentle voice of Lady Peaslake, “we know that it is not so.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean that, mamma. I only said it was a beautiful idea.”
“But not a true one, darling.”
Their voices had sunk into that respectful monotone which is always considered suitable when the soul is under discussion. They all looked awkward and ill at ease. Sir Edwin played tunes on his waistcoat buttons, and Harold blew into the bowl of his pipe. Mildred, a little confused at her temerity, passed on to the terrible sack of Acragas by the Romans. Whereat their faces relaxed, and they regained their accustomed spirits.
“But what are dates?” said Mildred. “What are facts, or even names of persons? They carry one a very little way. In a place like this one must simply feel.”
“Rather,” said Harold, trying to fix his attention.
“You must throw yourself into a past age if you want to appreciate it thoroughly. Today you must imagine you are a Greek.”
“Really, Mildred,” said Sir Edwin, “you’re almost too fanciful.”
“No, father, I’m not. Harold understands. He must forget all these modern horrors of railways and Cook’s tours, and think that he’s living over two thousand years ago, among palaces and temples. He must think and feel and act like a Greek. It’s the only way. He must—well, he must be a Greek.”
“The sea! The sea!” interrupted Harold. “How absolutely ripping! I swear I’ll put in a bathe!”
“Oh, you incorrigible boy!” said Mildred, joining in the laugh at the failure of her own scheme. “Show me the sea, then.”
They were still far away from it, for they had hardly crossed the watershed of the island. It was the country of the mines, barren and immense, absolutely destitute of grass or trees, producing nothing but cakes of sallow sulphur, which were stacked on the platform of every wayside station. Human beings were scanty, and they were stunted and dry, mere withered vestiges of men. And far below at the bottom of the yellow waste was the moving living sea, which embraced Sicily when she was green and delicate and young, and embraces her now, when she is brown and withered and dying.
“I see something more interesting than the sea,” said Mildred. “I see Girgenti.”
She pointed to a little ridge of brown hill far beneath them, on the summit of which a few gray buildings were huddled together.
“Oh, what a dreadful place!” cried poor Lady Peaslake. “How uncomfortable we are going to be!”
“Oh dearest mother, it’s only for one night. What are a few drawbacks, when we are going to see temples! Temples, Greek temples! Doesn’t the word make you thrill?”
“Well, no, dear, it doesn’t. I should have thought the Pesto ones would have been enough. These can’t be very different.”
“I consider you are a recreant party,” said Mildred in a sprightly voice. “First it’s Harold, now it’s you. I’m the only worthy one among you. Today I mean to be a Greek. What hotel do we go to?”
Lady Peaslake produced her notebook and said: “Grand Hotel des Temples. Recommended by Mr Dimbleby. Ask for a back room, as those have the view.”
But at the Girgenti railway station, the man from the Temples told them that his hotel was full, and Mildred, catching sight of the modest omnibus of the Albergo Empedocle, suggested that they should go there, because it sounded so typical.
“You remember what the doctrine of Empedocles was, Harold?”
The wretched Harold had forgotten.
Sir Edwin was meanwhile being gently urged into the omnibus by the man from the Empedocle.
“We know nothing about it, absolutely nothing. Are you—have you clean beds?”
The man from the Empedocle raised his eyes and hands to heaven, so ecstatic was his remembrance of the purity of the blankets, the spotlessness of the sheets. At last words came, and he said, “The beds of the Empedocle! They are celestial. One spends one night there, and one remembers it for ever!”
Sir Edwin and Lady Peaslake were sitting in the Temple of Juno Lacinia and leaning back on a Doric column—which is a form of architecture neither comfortable as a cushion nor adequate as a parasol. They were as cross as it was possible for good-tempered people to be. Their lunch at the dirty hotel had disagreed with them, and the wine that was included with it had made them heavy. The drive to the temples had joggled them up and one of the horses had fallen down. They had been worried to buy flowers, figs, shells, sulphur crystals, and new-laid antiquities, they had been pestered by the beggars and bitten by the fleas. Had they been Sicilian-born they would have known what was the matter, and lying down on the grass, on the flowers, on the road, on the temple steps—on anything, would have sunk at once into that marvellous midday sleep which is fed by light and warmth and air. But being northern-born they did not know—nor could they have slept if they had.
“Where on earth are Harold and Mildred?” asked Lady Peaslake. She did not want to know, but she was restless with fatigue.
“I can’t think why we couldn’t all keep together,” said Sir Edwin.
“You see, papa,” said Lilian, “Mildred wants to see the temples that have tumbled down as well as these, and Harold is taking her.”
“He’s a poor guide,” said Sir Edwin. “Really, Lilian, I begin to think that Harold is rather stupid. Of course I’m very fond of him, he’s a thoroughly nice fellow, honest as the day, and he’s good-looking and well-made—I value all that extremely—but after all brains are something. He is so slow—so lamentably slow—at catching one’s meaning.”
“But, father dear,” replied Lilian, who was devoted to Harold, “he’s tired.”
“I am tired, too, but I can keep my wits about me. He seems in a dream; when the horse fell he never attempted to get down and sit on its head. It might have kicked us to pieces. He’s as helpless as a baby with beggars. He’s too idle to walk properly; three times he trod on my toes, and he fell up the temple steps and broke your camera. He’s blind, he’s deaf—I may say he’s dumb, too. Now this is pure stupidity, and I believe that stupidity can be cured just like anything else, if you make the effort.”
Lilian continued the defence, and repeated that he had hardly slept for three nights.
“Ridiculous. Why can’t he sleep? It’s stupidity again. An effort is needed—that is all. He can cure it if he chooses.”
“He does know how to cure it,” said Lilian, “but you thought—and so did he—that—”
She produced an explosion of ill-temper in her father, which was quite unprecedented.
“I’m very much annoyed with him. He has no right to play tricks with his brain. And what’s more I am annoyed with Mildred, too.”
“She encourages him in his silliness—makes him think he’s clever. I’m extremely annoyed, and I shall speak to them both, as soon as I get the opportunity.”
Lilian was surprised and pained. Her father had never blamed anyone so strongly before. She did not know— indeed, he did not know himself—that neither the indigestion nor the heat, nor the beggars, nor the fleas, were the real cause of his irritation. He was annoyed because he failed to understand.
Mildred he could pardon; she had merely been indiscreet, and as she had gone in for being clever when quite a child such things were to be expected from her. Besides, he shrewdly guessed that, although she might sometimes indulge in fancies, yet when it came to action she could be trusted to behave in a thoroughly conventional manner. Thank heaven! she was seldom guilty of confusing books with life.
But Harold did not escape so easily, for Sir Edwin absolutely failed to understand him, for the first time. Hitherto he had believed that he understood him perfectly. Harold’s character was so simple; it consisted of little more than two things, the power to love and the desire for truth, and Sir Edwin, like many a wiser thinker, concluded that what was not complicated could not be mysterious. Similarly, because Harold’s intellect did not devote itself to the acquisition of facts or to the elaboration of emotions, he had concluded that he was stupid. But now, just because he could send himself to sleep by an unexplained device, he spied a mystery in him, and was aggrieved.
He was right. There was a mystery, and a great one. Yet it was trivial and unimportant in comparison with the power to love and the desire for truth—things which he saw daily, and, because he had seen daily, ignored.
His meditations took shape, and he flung this challenge at the unknown: “I’ll have no queerness in a son-in-law!” He was sitting in a Doric temple with a sea of gold and purple flowers tossing over its ruins, and his eyes looked out to the moving, living sea of blue. But his ears caught neither the echo of the past nor the cry of the present, for he was suddenly paralysed with the fear that after all he had not done so well for his daughter as he hoped.
Meanwhile, Mildred, at the other end of the line of temples, was concentrated on the echoes of the past. Harold was even more inattentive to them than usual. He was very sleepy, and would only say that the flowers were rather jolly and that the sea looked in prime condition if only one could try it. To the magnificence and pathos of the ruined Temple of Zeus he was quite dead. He only valued it as a chair.
“Suppose you go back and rest in the carriage?” said Mildred, with a shade of irritation in her voice.
He shook his head and sat yawning at the sea, thinking how wonderfully the water would fizz up over his body and how marvellously cold would be the pale blue pools among the rocks. Mildred endeavoured to recall him to higher pleasures by reading out of her Baedeker.
She turned round to explain something and he was gone.
At first she thought it was a mild practical joke, such as they did not disdain to play on each other; then that he had changed his mind and gone back to the carriage. But the custodian at the gate said that no one had gone out, and she returned to search the ruins.
The Temple of Zeus—the third greatest temple of the Greek world—has been overthrown by an earthquake, and now resembles a ruined mountain rather than a ruined building. There is a well-made path, which makes a circuit over the mass, and is amply sufficient for all rational tourists. Those who wish to see more have to go mountaineering over gigantic columns and pilasters, and squeeze their way through passes of cut stone.
Harold was not on the path, and Mildred was naturally annoyed. Few things are more vexatious for a young lady than to go out with an escort and return without. It argues remissness on her own part quite as much as on that of her swain.
Having told the custodian to stop Harold if he tried to come out, she began a systematic hunt. She saw an enormous block of stone from which she would get a good view of die chaos, and, wading through the gold and purple flowers that separated her from it, scrambled up.
On its further side were two fallen columns, lying close together, and the space that separated them had been silted up and was covered with flowers. On it, as on a bed, lay Harold, fast asleep, his cheek pressed against the hot stone of one of the columns, and his breath swaying a little blue iris that had rooted in one of its cracks.
The indignant Mildred was about to wake him but, seeing the dark line that still showed beneath his eyes, stayed her voice. Besides, he looked so picturesque, and she herself, sitting on the stone watching him, must look picturesque, too. She knew that there was no one to look at her, but from her mind the idea of a spectator was never absent for a moment. It was the price she had paid for becoming cultivated.
Sleep has little in common with death, to which men have compared it. Harold’s limbs lay in utter relaxation, but he was tingling with life, glorying in the bounty of the earth and the warmth of the sun, and the little blue flower bent and fluttered like a tree in a gale. The light beat upon his eyelids and the grass leaves tickled his hair, but he slept on, and the lines faded out of his face as he grasped the greatest gift that the animal life can offer. And Mildred watched him, thinking what a picture might be made of the scene.
Then her meditation changed. “What a wonderful thing is sleep ! How I would like to know what is passing through his brain as he lies there. He looks so peaceful and happy. Poor boy! When he is awake he often looks worried. I think it is because he can’t follow the conversation, though I try to make it simple, don’t I? Yet some things he sees quite quickly. And I’m sure he has lots of imagination, if only he would let it come out. At all events I love him very much, and I believe I shall love him more, for it seems to me that there will be more in him than I expected.”
She suddenly remembered his “dodge” for going to sleep, and her interest and her agitation increased.
“Perhaps, even now, he imagines himself to be someone else. What a marvellous idea! What will he say if he wakes? How mysterious everything is if only one could realize it. Harold, of all people, who seemed so ordinary—though, of course, I love him. But I am going to love him more.”
She longed to reach him in his sleep, to guide the course of his dreams, to tell him that she approved of him and loved him. She had read of such a thing. In accordance with the advice of the modern spiritualistic novel she pressed her hands on her temples and made a mental effort. At the end of five minutes she had a slight headache and had effected nothing. He had not moved, he had not even sighed in his sleep, and the little blue flower still bent and fluttered, bent and fluttered in the regular onslaught of his breath.
The awakening, when it did come, found her thoughts unprepared. They had wandered to earthly things, as thoughts will do at times. At the supreme moment, she was wondering whether her stockings would last till she got back to England. And Harold, all unobserved, had woken up, and the little blue flower had quivered and was still. He had woken up because he was no longer tired, woken up to find himself in the midst of beautiful flowers, beautiful columns, beautiful sunshine, with Mildred, whom he loved, sitting by him. Life at that moment was too delicious for him to speak.
Mildred saw all the romance melting away; he looked so natural and so happy; there was nothing mysterious about him after all. She waited for him to speak.
Ten minutes passed, and still he had not spoken. His eyes were fixed steadily upon her, and she became nervous and uncomfortable. Why would he not speak? She determined to break the silence herself, and at last, in a tremulous voice, called him by his name.
The result was overwhelming, for his answer surpassed all that her wildest flights of fancy had imagined, and fulfilled beyond all dreaming her cravings for the unimagined and the unseen.
He said, “I’ve lived here before.”
Mildred was choking. She could not reply.
He was quite calm. “I always knew it, 55 he said, “but it was too far down in me. Now that I 5ve slept here it is at the top. I 5ve lived here before. 55
“Oh, Harold!” she gasped.
“Mildred!” he cried, in sudden agitation, “are you going to believe it—that I have lived before—lived such a wonderful life—I can’t remember it yet—lived it here? It’s no good answering to please me.”
Mildred did not hesitate a moment. She was carried away by the magnificence of the idea, the glory of the scene and the earnest beauty of his eyes, and in an ecstasy of rapture she cried, “I do believe.”
“Yes,” said Harold, “you do. If you hadn’t believed now you never would have. I wonder what would have happened to me.”
“More, more!” cried Mildred, who was beginning to find her words. “How could you smile? How could you be so calm? O marvellous idea! That your soul has lived before! I should run about, shriek, sing. Marvellous! Overwhelming! How can you be so calm? The mystery! And the poetry, oh, the poetry! How can you support it? Oh, speak again!”
“I don’t see any poetry,” said Harold. “It just has happened, that’s all. I lived here before.”
“You are a Greek! You have been a Greek! Oh, why do you not die when you remember it?”
“Why should I? I might have died if you hadn’t believed me. It’s nothing to remember.”
“Aren’t you shattered, exhausted?”
“No: I’m awfully fit. I know that you must have believed me now or never. Remembering has made me so strong. I see myself to the bottom now.”
“Marvellous! Marvellous!” she repeated.
He leapt up onto the stone beside her. “You’ve believed me. That’s the only thing that’s marvellous. The rest’s nothing.”He flung his arms round her, and embraced her— an embrace very different from the decorous peck by which he had marked the commencement of their engagement. Mildred, clinging to him, murmured “I do believe you,” and they gazed without flinching into each other’s eyes.
Harold broke the silence, saying, “How very happy life is going to be.”
But Mildred was still wrapped in the glamour of the past.
“More! More!” she cried. “Tell me more! What was the city like—and the people in it? Who were you?”
“I don’t remember yet—and it doesn’t matter.”
“Harold, keep nothing from me! I will not breathe a word. I will be silent as the grave.”
“I shall keep nothing. As soon as I remember things, I will tell them. And why should you tell no one? There’s nothing wrong.”
“They would not believe.”
“I shouldn’t mind. I only minded about you.”
“Still—I think it is best a secret. Will you agree?”
“Yes—for you may be right. It’s nothing to do with the others. And it wouldn’t interest them.”
“And think—think hard who you were.”
“I do just remember this—that I was a lot greater then than I am now. I’m greater now than I was this morning, I think—but then!”
“I knew it! I knew it from the first! I have known it always. You have been a king—a king! You ruled here when Greece was free!”
“Oh! I don’t mean that—at least I don’t remember it. And was I a Greek?”
“A Greek!” she stammered indignantly. “Of course you were a Greek, a Greek of Acragas.”
“Oh, I daresay I was. Anyhow it doesn’t matter. To be believed! Just fancy! You’ve believed me. You needn’t have, but you did. How happy life is!”
He was in an ecstasy of happinesss in which all time except the present had passed away. But Mildred had a tiny thrill of disappointment. She reverenced the past as well.
“What do you mean then, Harold, when you say you were greater?”
“I mean I was better, I saw better, heard better, thought better.”
“Oh, I see,” said Mildred, fingering her watch. Harold, in his most prosaic manner, said they must not keep the carriage waiting, and they regained the path.
The tide of rapture had begun to ebb away from Mildred. His generalities bored her. She longed for detail, vivid detail, that should make the dead past live. It was of no interest to her that he had once been greater.
“Don’t you remember the temples?”
“Nor the people?”
“Don’t you at all recollect what century you lived in?”
“How on earth am I to know?” he laughed.
Mildred was silent. She had hoped he would have said the fifth B.C.—the period in which she was given to understand that the Greek race was at its prime. He could tell her nothing; he did not even seem interested, but began talking about Mrs Popham’s .present.
At last she thought of a question he might be able to answer.”Did you also love better?” she asked in a low voice.
“I loved very differently.” He was holding back the brambles to prevent them from tearing her dress as he spoke. One of the thorns scratched him on the hand. “Yes, I loved better too,” he continued, watching the little drops of blood swell out.
“What do you mean? Tell me more.”
“I keep saying I don’t know any more. It is fine to remember that you’ve been better than you are. You know, Mildred, I’m much more worth you than I’ve ever been before. I do believe I am fairly great.”
“Oh!” said Mildred, who was getting bored.
They had reached the Temple of Concord, and he retrieved his tactlessness by saying, “After all I’m too happy to go back yet. I love you too much. Let’s rest again.”
They sat down on the temple steps, and at the end of ten minutes Mildred had forgotten all her little disappointments, and only remembered this mysterious sleep, and his marvellous awakening. Then, at the very height of her content, she felt, deep down within her, the growth of a new wonder.
“Harold, how is it you can remember?”
“The lid can’t have been put on tight last time I was sent out.”
“And that,” she murmured, “might happen to anyone.”
“I should think it has—to lots. They only want reminding.”
“It might happen to me.”
“I too,” she said slowly, “have often not been able to sleep. Oh, Harold, is it possible?”
“That I have lived before.”
“Of course it is.”
“Oh, Harold, I too may remember.”
“I hope you will. It’s wonderful to remember a life better than this one. I can’t explain how happy it makes you: there’s no need to try or to worry. It’ll come if it is coming.”
“Oh, Harold! I am remembering!”
He grasped her hands crying, “Remember only what is good. Remember that you were greater than you are now! I would give my life to help you.”
“You have helped me,” she cried, quivering with excitement. “All fits together. I remember all. It is not the first time I have known you. We have met before. Oh, how often have I dimly felt it! I felt it when I watched you sleeping— but then I didn’t understand. Our love is not new. Here in this very place when there was a great city full of gorgeous palaces and snow-white marble temples, full of poets and music, full of marvellous pictures, full of sculptures of which we can hardly dream, full of noble men and noble thoughts, bounded by the sapphire sea, covered by the azure sky, here in the wonderful youth of Greece did I speak to you and know you and love you. We walked through the marble streets, we led solemn sacrifices, I armed you for the battle, I welcomed you from the victory. The centuries have parted us, but not for ever. Harold, I too have lived at Acragas!” Round the corner swept the Peaslakes’ carriage, full of excited occupants. He had only time to whisper in her ear, “No, Mildred darling, you have not.”
There was a dirty little sitting-room in the Albergo Em- pedocle, and Mildred was sitting there after dinner waiting for her father. He had met some friends at the temples, and he and she had agreed to pay them a visit. It was a cold night, and the room smelt of mustiness and lamp-oil. The only other occupant was a stiff-backed lady who had found a three-year-old number of Home Chat. Lady Peaslake, Lilian and Harold were all with Sir Edwin, hunting for the key of his Gladstone bag. Till it was found he could not go out with her, for all his clean collars were inside.
Mildred was thoroughly miserable. After long torture she had confessed to herself that she was self-deceived. She had never lived in Acragas. She remembered nothing. All her glowing description was pure imagination, the result of sentimental excitement. For instance, she had spoken of “snow- white marble temples”. That was nonsense, sheer nonsense. She had seen the remains of those temples, and they were built of porous stone, not marble. And she remembered now that the Sicilian Greeks always covered their temples with coloured stucco. At first she had tried to thrust such objections away and to believe that she had found a truth to which archaeology must yield. But what pictures or music did she remember? When had she buckled on Harold’s armour, and what was it like? Was it probable that they had led a sacrifice together? The visions, always misty, faded away. She had never lived in Acragas.
But that was only the beginning of her mortification. Harold had proved her wrong. He had seen that she was a shifty, shallow hypocrite. She had not dared to be alone with him since her exposure. She had never looked at him and had hardly spoken. He seemed cheerful, but what was he thinking? He would never forgive her.
Had she only realized that it is only hypocrites who cannot forgive hypocrisy, whereas those who search for truth are too conscious of the maze to be hard on others—then the bitter flow of her thoughts might have been stopped and the catastrophe averted. But it was not conceivable to her that he should forgive—or that she should accept forgiveness, for to her forgiveness meant a triumph of one person over another.
So she went still further towards sorrow. She felt that Harold had scored off her, and she determined to make the score as little as she could. Was he really as sincere as he had seemed? Sincere he might be, but he might be self-deceived even as she was. That would explain all. He too had been moved by the beauty of the scene, by its wonderful associations. Worn out, he had fallen asleep, and, conscious perhaps that she was in a foolish sympathetic state, had indulged in a fit of imagination on awaking. She had fallen in with it, and they had encouraged each other to fresh deeds of folly. All was clear. And how was she to hide it from her father?
Each time she restated the question it took a more odious form. Even though she believed Harold had been as foolish as herself, she was still humiliated before him, for her folly had been revealed, and his had not. The last and worst thought pressed itself upon her. Was he really as simple as he seemed? Had he not been trying to deceive her? He had been so careful in speaking of his old life: would only say that he had been “greater”, “better”—never gave one single detail by which archaeology might prove him wrong. It was very clever of him. He had never lost his head once. Jealous of her superior acquirements, he had determined to put her to ridicule. He had laid a cunning bait and she had swallowed it. How cleverly he had lured her on to make the effort of recollection! How patiently he had heard her rapturous speech, in order that he might prove her silly to the core! How diabolically worded was his retort—“No, Mildred darling, you have not lived at Acragas.” It implied: “I will be kind to you and treat you well when you are my wife, but recollect that you are silly, emotional, hypocritical; that your pretensions to superiority are gone for ever; that I have proved you inferior to me, even as all women are inferior to all men. Dear Mildred, you are a fool!”
“Intolerable! Intolerable!” she gasped to herself. “If only I could expose him! I never dreamt it of him! I was never on my guard!”
Harold came quickly into the room, and she was at once upon the defensive. He told her that her father was ready and she got up to go, her ears aching in expectation of some taunt. It came—a very subtle one. She heard him say, “Kiss me before you go,” and felt his hands grasp her elbows.
“No!” she said, shrinking from his touch, and frowning towards the stiff-backed lady, who sat a little stiffer.
“You’ll have to,” was his reply, and catching hold of her —he was very strong—he lifted her right above his head, and broke the feathers in her hat against the ceiling. He never completed his embrace, for she shrieked aloud, inarticulate with passion, and the voice of Sir Edwin was heard saying, “Come, come, Harold, my boy—come, come!”
He set her down, and white with rage she hissed at him, “I never thought I should live to find you both charlatan and cad,” and left the room.
Had she stayed, she would have been gratified at the prompt effect of her rebuke. Harold stood where she left him, dumb with misery, and then, without further warning, began to cry. He cried without shame or restraint, not even turning his head or covering his face with his hands, but letting the tears run down his cheeks till they caught in his moustache, or dropped onto the floor. Sir Edwin, not unmoved, stood before him for a moment, stammering as he tried to think of something that should both rebuke and console.
But the world has forgotten what to say to men of twenty- four who cry. Sir Edwin followed his daughter, giving a despairing look at Lady Peaslake and Lilian as he departed.
Lady Peaslake took up the line of behaving as if nothing had happened, and began talking in a high voice about the events of the day. Harold did not attempt to leave the room, but still stood near the table, sobbing and gulping for breath.
Lilian, moved by a more human impulse, tremulously asked him why he cried, and at this point the stiff-backed lady, who had sat through everything, gathered up her skirts as if she had seen a beetle, and slipped from the room.
“I cry because I’m unhappy: because Mildred’s angry with me.”
“Er—er,” said Lady Peaslake, “I’m sure that it would be Mildred’s wish that you should stop.”
“I thought at dinner,” he gasped, “that she was not pleased. Why? Why? Nothing had happened. Nothing but happiness, I mean. The best way, I thought, of showing I love her is to kiss her, and that will make her understand again. You know, she understood everything.”
“Oh yes,” said Lady Peaslake. “Look,” she added to divert him, “how do you like my new embroidery?”
“It’s hideous—perfectly hideous!” was his vigorous reply. “Well, here is a particular gentleman!” said good- natured Lady Peaslake. “Why, it’s Liberty!”
“Frightful,” said Harold. He had stopped crying. His face was all twisted with pain, but such a form of expressing emotion is fairly suitable for men, and Lady Peaslake felt easier.
But he returned to Mildred. “She called me a cad and a charlatan.”
“Oh, never mind!” said Lilian.
“I may be a cad. I never did quite see what a cad is, and no one ever quite explained to me. But a charlatan! Why did she call me a charlatan? I can’t quite see what I’ve done.”
He began to walk up and down the little room. Lady Peaslake gently suggested a stroll, but he took no notice and kept murmuring,”Charlatan.”
“Why are pictures like this allowed?” he suddenly cried. He had stopped in front of a coloured print in which the martyrdom of St Agatha was depicted with all the fervour that incompetence could command.
“It’s only a saint,” said Lady Peaslake, placidly raising her head.
“How disgusting—and how ugly!”
“Yes, very. It’s Roman Catholic.”
He turned away, shuddering, and began his everlasting question—“Why did she call me a charlatan?”
Lady Peaslake felt compelled to say, “You see, Harold, you annoyed her, and when people are annoyed they will say anything. I know it by myself.”
“But a charlatan! I know for certain that she understands me. Only this afternoon I told
“Oh, yes,” said Lady Peaslake.
“Told her that I had lived before—lived here over two thousand years ago, she thinks.”
“Harold! My dear Harold! What nonsense are you talking?” Lady Peaslake had risen from her chair.
“Over two thousand years ago, when the place had another name.”
“Good heavens; he is mad!”
“Mildred didn’t think so. It’s she who matters. Lilian, do you believe me?”
“No,” faltered Lilian, edging towards the door.
He smiled, rather contemptuously.
“Now, Harold,” said Lady Peaslake, “go and lie down, there’s a good boy. You want rest. Mildred will call you charlatan with reason if you say such silly, such wicked things—good gracious me! He’s fainting! Lilian! Water from the dining-room! Oh, what has happened? We were all so happy this morning.”
The stiff-backed lady re-entered the room, accompanied by a thin little man with a black beard.
“Are you a doctor?” cried Lady Peaslake.
He was not, but he helped them to lay Harold on the sofa. He had not really fainted, for he was talking continually.
“You might have killed me,” he said to Lady Peaslake, “you have said such an awful thing. You mean she thinks I never lived before. I know you’re wrong, but it nearly kills me if you even say it. I have lived before—such a wonderful life. You will hear—Mildred will say it again. She won’t like talking about it, but she’ll say it if I want her to. That will save me from—from—from being a charlatan. Where is Mildred?”
“Hush!” said the little man.
“I have lived before—I have lived before, haven’t I? Do you believe me?”
“Yes,” said the little man.
“You lie,” said Harold. “Now I’ve only to see people and I can tell. Where is Mildred?”
“You must come to bed.”
“I don’t speak or move till she comes.”
So he lay silent and motionless on the sofa, while they stood around him whispering.
Mildred returned in a very different mood. A few questions from her father, followed by a few grave words of rebuke, had brought her to a sober mind. She was terribly in fault; she had nourished Harold’s insanity, first by encouraging it, then by rebuffing it. Sir Edwin severely blamed her disordered imagination, and bade her curb it; its effects might be disastrous, and he told her plainly that unless Harold entirely regained his normal condition he would not permit the marriage to take place. She acknowledged her fault, and returned determined to repair it; she was full of pity and contrition, but at the same time she was very matter-of-fact.
He heard them return and rushed to meet her, and she rushed to meet him. They met in the long passage, where it was too dark to see each other’s faces.
“Harold,” she said hurriedly, “I said two dreadful words to you. Will you forgive me?”