‘Well?’ I hazarded, ‘as for ideas—?’
We went through the old gateway and I cast a glance over my shoulder. The noon sun was shining over the masonry, over the little saints’ effigies, over the little fretted canopies, the grime and the white streaks of bird-dropping.
‘There,’ I said, pointing toward it, ‘doesn’t that suggest something to you?’
She made a motion with her head—half negative, half contemptuous.
‘But,’ I stuttered, ‘the associations—the ideas—the historical ideas—’
She said nothing.
‘You Americans,’ I began, but her smile stopped me. It was as if she were amused at the utterances of an old lady shocked by the habits of the daughters of the day. It was the smile of a person who is confident of superseding one fatally.
In conversations of any length one of the parties assumes the superiority—superiority of rank, intellectual or social. In this conversation she, if she did not attain to tacitly acknowledged temperamental superiority, seemed at least to claim it, to have no doubt as to its ultimate according. I was unused to this. I was a talker, proud of my conversational powers.
I had looked at her before; now I cast a sideways, critical glance at her. I came out of my moodiness to wonder what type this was. She had good hair, good eyes, and some charm. Yes. And something besides—a something—a something that was not an attribute of her beauty. The modelling of her face was so perfect and so delicate as to produce an effect of transparency, yet there was no suggestion of frailness; her glance had an extraordinary strength of life. Her hair was fair and gleaming, her cheeks coloured as if a warm light had fallen on them from somewhere. She was familiar till it occurred to you that she was strange.
“Which way are you going?” she asked.
“I am going to walk to Dover,” I answered.
“And I may come with you?”
I looked at her—intent on divining her in that one glance. It was of course impossible. “There will be time for analysis,” I thought.
“The roads are free to all,” I said. “You are not an American?”
She shook her head. No. She was not an Australian either, she came from none of the British colonies.
“You are not English,” I affirmed. “You speak too well.” I was piqued. She did not answer. She smiled again and I grew angry. In the cathedral she had smiled at the verger’s commendation of particularly abominable restorations, and that smile had drawn me toward her, had emboldened me to offer deferential and condemnatory remarks as to the plaster-of-Paris mouldings. You know how one addresses a young lady who is obviously capable of taking care of herself. That was how I had come across her. She had smiled at the gabble of the cathedral guide as he showed the obsessed troop, of which we had formed units, the place of martyrdom of Blessed Thomas, and her smile had had just that quality of superseder’s contempt. It had pleased me then; but, now that she smiled thus past me—it was not quite at me—in the crooked highways of the town, I was irritated. After all, I was somebody; I was not a cathedral verger. I had a fancy for myself in those days—a fancy that solitude and brooding had crystallised into a habit of mind. I was a writer with high—with the highest—ideals. I had withdrawn myself from the world, lived isolated, hidden in the countryside, lived as hermits do, on the hope of one day doing something—of putting greatness on paper. She suddenly fathomed my thoughts: “You write,” she affirmed. I asked how she knew, wondered what she had read of mine—there was so little.
“Are you a popular author?” she asked.
“Alas, no!” I answered. “You must know that.”
“You would like to be?”
“We should all of us like,” I answered; “though it is true some of us protest that we aim for higher things.”
“I see,” she said, musingly. As far as I could tell she was coming to some decision. With an instinctive dislike to any such proceeding as regarded myself, I tried to cut across her unknown thoughts.
“But, really—” I said, “I am quite a commonplace topic. Let us talk about yourself. Where do you come from?”
It occurred to me again that I was intensely unacquainted with her type.
Here was the same smile—as far as I could see, exactly the same smile.
There are fine shades in smiles as in laughs, as in tones of voice. I
seemed unable to hold my tongue.
“Where do you come from?” I asked. “You must belong to one of the new nations. You are a foreigner, I’ll swear, because you have such a fine contempt for us. You irritate me so that you might almost be a Prussian. But it is obvious that you are of a new nation that is beginning to find itself.”
“Oh, we are to inherit the earth, if that is what you mean,” she said.
“The phrase is comprehensive,” I said. I was determined not to give myself away. “Where in the world do you come from?” I repeated. The question, I was quite conscious, would have sufficed, but in the hope, I suppose, of establishing my intellectual superiority, I continued:
“You know, fair play’s a jewel. Now I’m quite willing to give you information as to myself. I have already told you the essentials—you ought to tell me something. It would only be fair play.”
“Why should there be any fair play?” she asked.
“What have you to say against that?” I said. “Do you not number it among your national characteristics?”
“You really wish to know where I come from?”
I expressed light-hearted acquiescence.
“Listen,” she said, and uttered some sounds. I felt a kind of unholy emotion. It had come like a sudden, suddenly hushed, intense gust of wind through a breathless day. “What—what!” I cried.
“I said I inhabit the Fourth Dimension.”
I recovered my equanimity with the thought that I had been visited by some stroke of an obscure and unimportant physical kind.
“I think we must have been climbing the hill too fast for me,” I said, “I have not been very well. I missed what you said.” I was certainly out of breath.
“I said I inhabit the Fourth Dimension,” she repeated with admirable gravity.
“Oh, come,” I expostulated, “this is playing it rather low down. You walk a convalescent out of breath and then propound riddles to him.”
I was recovering my breath, and, with it, my inclination to expand. Instead, I looked at her. I was beginning to understand. It was obvious enough that she was a foreigner in a strange land, in a land that brought out her national characteristics. She must be of some race, perhaps Semitic, perhaps Sclav—of some incomprehensible race. I had never seen a Circassian, and there used to be a tradition that Circassian women were beautiful, were fair-skinned, and so on. What was repelling in her was accounted for by this difference in national point of view. One is, after all, not so very remote from the horse. What one does not understand one shies at—finds sinister, in fact. And she struck me as sinister.
“You won’t tell me who you are?” I said.
“I have done so,” she answered.
“If you expect me to believe that you inhabit a mathematical monstrosity, you are mistaken. You are, really.”
She turned round and pointed at the city.
“Look!” she said.
We had climbed the western hill. Below our feet, beneath a sky that the wind had swept clean of clouds, was the valley; a broad bowl, shallow, filled with the purple of smoke-wreaths. And above the mass of red roofs there soared the golden stonework of the cathedral tower. It was a vision, the last word of a great art. I looked at her. I was moved, and I knew that the glory of it must have moved her.
She was smiling. “Look!” she repeated. I looked.
There was the purple and the red, and the golden tower, the vision, the last word. She said something—uttered some sound.
What had happened? I don’t know. It all looked contemptible. One seemed to see something beyond, something vaster—vaster than cathedrals, vaster than the conception of the gods to whom cathedrals were raised. The tower reeled out of the perpendicular. One saw beyond it, not roofs, or smoke, or hills, but an unrealised, an unrealisable infinity of space.
It was merely momentary. The tower filled its place again and I looked at her.
“What the devil,” I said, hysterically—”what the devil do you play these tricks upon me for?”
“You see,” she answered, “the rudiments of the sense are there.”
“You must excuse me if I fail to understand,” I said, grasping after fragments of dropped dignity. “I am subject to fits of giddiness.” I felt a need for covering a species of nakedness. “Pardon my swearing,” I added; a proof of recovered equanimity.
We resumed the road in silence. I was physically and mentally shaken; and I tried to deceive myself as to the cause. After some time I said:
“You insist then in preserving your—your incognito.”
“Oh, I make no mystery of myself,” she answered.
“You have told me that you come from the Fourth Dimension,” I remarked, ironically.
“I come from the Fourth Dimension,” she said, patiently. She had the air of one in a position of difficulty; of one aware of it and ready to brave it. She had the listlessness of an enlightened person who has to explain, over and over again, to stupid children some rudimentary point of the multiplication table.
She seemed to divine my thoughts, to be aware of their very wording. She even said “yes” at the opening of her next speech.
“Yes,” she said. “It is as if I were to try to explain the new ideas of any age to a person of the age that has gone before.” She paused, seeking a concrete illustration that would touch me. “As if I were explaining to Dr. Johnson the methods and the ultimate vogue of the cockney school of poetry.”
“I understand,” I said, “that you wish me to consider myself as relatively a Choctaw. But what I do not understand is; what bearing that has upon—upon the Fourth Dimension, I think you said?”
“I will explain,” she replied.
“But you must explain as if you were explaining to a Choctaw,” I said, pleasantly, “you must be concise and convincing.”
She answered: “I will.”
She made a long speech of it; I condense. I can’t remember her exact words—there were so many; but she spoke like a book. There was something exquisitely piquant in her choice of words, in her expressionless voice. I seemed to be listening to a phonograph reciting a technical work. There was a touch of the incongruous, of the mad, that appealed to me—the commonplace rolling-down landscape, the straight, white, undulating road that, from the tops of rises, one saw running for miles and miles, straight, straight, and so white. Filtering down through the great blue of the sky came the thrilling of innumerable skylarks. And I was listening to a parody of a scientific work recited by a phonograph.
I heard the nature of the Fourth Dimension—heard that it was an inhabited plane—invisible to our eyes, but omnipresent; heard that I had seen it when Bell Harry had reeled before my eyes. I heard the Dimensionists described: a race clear-sighted, eminently practical, incredible; with no ideals, prejudices, or remorse; with no feeling for art and no reverence for life; free from any ethical tradition; callous to pain, weakness, suffering and death, as if they had been invulnerable and immortal. She did not say that they were immortal, however. “You would—you will—hate us,” she concluded. And I seemed only then to come to myself. The power of her imagination was so great that I fancied myself face to face with the truth. I supposed she had been amusing herself; that she should have tried to frighten me was inadmissible. I don’t pretend that I was completely at my ease, but I said, amiably: “You certainly have succeeded in making these beings hateful.”
“I have made nothing,” she said with a faint smile, and went on amusing herself. She would explain origins, now.
“Your”—she used the word as signifying, I suppose, the inhabitants of the country, or the populations of the earth—”your ancestors were mine, but long ago you were crowded out of the Dimension as we are to-day, you overran the earth as we shall do to-morrow. But you contracted diseases, as we shall contract them,—beliefs, traditions; fears; ideas of pity … of love. You grew luxurious in the worship of your ideals, and sorrowful; you solaced yourselves with creeds, with arts—you have forgotten!”
She spoke with calm conviction; with an overwhelming and dispassionate assurance. She was stating facts; not professing a faith. We approached a little roadside inn. On a bench before the door a dun-clad country fellow was asleep, his head on the table.
“Put your fingers in your ears,” my companion commanded.
I humoured her.
I saw her lips move. The countryman started, shuddered, and by a clumsy, convulsive motion of his arms, upset his quart. He rubbed his eyes. Before he had voiced his emotions we had passed on.
“I have seen a horse-coper do as much for a stallion,” I commented. “I know there are words that have certain effects. But you shouldn’t play pranks like the low-comedy devil in Faustus.”
“It isn’t good form, I suppose?” she sneered.
“It’s a matter of feeling,” I said, hotly, “the poor fellow has lost his beer.”
“What’s that to me?” she commented, with the air of one affording a concrete illustration.
“It’s a good deal to him,” I answered.
“But what to me?”
I said nothing. She ceased her exposition immediately afterward, growing silent as suddenly as she had become discoursive. It was rather as if she had learnt a speech by heart and had come to the end of it. I was quite at a loss as to what she was driving at. There was a newness, a strangeness about her; sometimes she struck me as mad, sometimes as frightfully sane. We had a meal somewhere—a meal that broke the current of her speech—and then, in the late afternoon, took a by-road and wandered in secluded valleys. I had been ill; trouble of the nerves, brooding, the monotony of life in the shadow of unsuccess. I had an errand in this part of the world and had been approaching it deviously, seeking the normal in its quiet hollows, trying to get back to my old self. I did not wish to think of how I should get through the year—of the thousand little things that matter. So I talked and she—she listened very well.
But topics exhaust themselves and, at the last, I myself brought the talk round to the Fourth Dimension. We were sauntering along the forgotten valley that lies between Hardves and Stelling Minnis; we had been silent for several minutes. For me, at least, the silence was pregnant with the undefinable emotions that, at times, run in currents between man and woman. The sun was getting low and it was shadowy in those shrouded hollows. I laughed at some thought, I forget what, and then began to badger her with questions. I tried to exhaust the possibilities of the Dimensionist idea, made grotesque suggestions. I said: “And when a great many of you have been crowded out of the Dimension and invaded the earth you will do so and so—” something preposterous and ironical. She coldly dissented, and at once the irony appeared as gross as the jocularity of a commercial traveller. Sometimes she signified: “Yes, that is what we shall do;” signified it without speaking—by some gesture perhaps, I hardly know what. There was something impressive—something almost regal—in this manner of hers; it was rather frightening in those lonely places, which were so forgotten, so gray, so closed in. There was something of the past world about the hanging woods, the little veils of unmoving mist—as if time did not exist in those furrows of the great world; and one was so absolutely alone; anything might have happened. I grew weary of the sound of my tongue. But when I wanted to cease, I found she had on me the effect of some incredible stimulant.
We came to the end of the valley where the road begins to climb the southern hill, out into the open air. I managed to maintain an uneasy silence. From her grimly dispassionate reiterations I had attained to a clear idea, even to a visualisation, of her fantastic conception—allegory, madness, or whatever it was. She certainly forced it home. The Dimensionists were to come in swarms, to materialise, to devour like locusts, to be all the more irresistible because indistinguishable. They were to come like snow in the night: in the morning one would look out and find the world white; they were to come as the gray hairs come, to sap the strength of us as the years sap the strength of the muscles. As to methods, we should be treated as we ourselves treat the inferior races. There would be no fighting, no killing; we—our whole social system—would break as a beam snaps, because we were worm-eaten with altruism and ethics. We, at our worst, had a certain limit, a certain stage where we exclaimed: “No, this is playing it too low down,” because we had scruples that acted like handicapping weights. She uttered, I think, only two sentences of connected words: “We shall race with you and we shall not be weighted,” and, “We shall merely sink you lower by our weight.” All the rest went like this:
“But then,” I would say … “we shall not be able to trust anyone. Anyone may be one of you….” She would answer: “Anyone.” She prophesied a reign of terror for us. As one passed one’s neighbour in the street one would cast sudden, piercing glances at him.
I was silent. The birds were singing the sun down. It was very dark among the branches, and from minute to minute the colours of the world deepened and grew sombre.
“But—” I said. A feeling of unrest was creeping over me. “But why do you tell me all this?” I asked. “Do you think I will enlist with you?”
“You will have to in the end,” she said, “and I do not wish to waste my strength. If you had to work unwittingly you would resist and resist and resist. I should have to waste my power on you. As it is, you will resist only at first, then you will begin to understand. You will see how we will bring a man down—a man, you understand, with a great name, standing for probity and honour. You will see the nets drawing closer and closer, and you will begin to understand. Then you will cease resisting, that is all.”
I was silent. A June nightingale began to sing, a trifle hoarsely. We seemed to be waiting for some signal. The things of the night came and went, rustled through the grass, rustled through the leafage. At last I could not even see the white gleam of her face….
I stretched out my hand and it touched hers. I seized it without an instant of hesitation. “How could I resist you?” I said, and heard my own whisper with a kind of amazement at its emotion. I raised her hand. It was very cold and she seemed to have no thought of resistance; but before it touched my lips something like a panic of prudence had overcome me. I did not know what it would lead to—and I remembered that I did not even know who she was. From the beginning she had struck me as sinister and now, in the obscurity, her silence and her coldness seemed to be a passive threatening of unknown entanglement. I let her hand fall.
“We must be getting on,” I said.
The road was shrouded and overhung by branches. There was a kind of translucent light, enough to see her face, but I kept my eyes on the ground. I was vexed. Now that it was past the episode appeared to be a lost opportunity. We were to part in a moment, and her rare mental gifts and her unfamiliar, but very vivid, beauty made the idea of parting intensely disagreeable. She had filled me with a curiosity that she had done nothing whatever to satisfy, and with a fascination that was very nearly a fear. We mounted the hill and came out on a stretch of soft common sward. Then the sound of our footsteps ceased and the world grew more silent than ever. There were little enclosed fields all round us. The moon threw a wan light, and gleaming mist hung in the ragged hedges. Broad, soft roads ran away into space on every side.
‘And now …’ I asked, at last, ‘shall we ever meet again?’ My voice came huskily, as if I had not spoken for years and years.
‘Oh, very often,’ she answered.
‘Very often?’ I repeated. I hardly knew whether I was pleased or dismayed. Through the gate-gap in a hedge, I caught a glimmer of a white house front. It seemed to belong to another world; to another order of things.
‘Ah … here is Callan’s,’ I said. ‘This is where I was going….’
‘I know,’ she answered; ‘we part here.’
‘To meet again?’ I asked.
‘Oh … to meet again; why, yes, to meet again.’ …
Her figure faded into the darkness, as pale things waver down into deep water, and as soon as she disappeared my sense of humour returned. The episode appeared more clearly, as a flirtation with an enigmatic, but decidedly charming, chance travelling companion. The girl was a riddle, and a riddle once guessed is a very trivial thing. She, too, would be a very trivial thing when I had found a solution. It occurred to me that she wished me to regard her as a symbol, perhaps, of the future—as a type of those who are to inherit the earth, in fact. She had been playing the fool with me, in her insolent modernity. She had wished me to understand that I was old-fashioned; that the frame of mind of which I and my fellows were the inheritors was over and done with. We were to be compulsorily retired; to stand aside superannuated. It was obvious that she was better equipped for the swiftness of life. She had a something—not only quickness of wit, not only ruthless determination, but a something quite different and quite indefinably more impressive. Perhaps it was only the confidence of the superseder, the essential quality that makes for the empire of the Occidental. But I was not a negro—not even relatively a Hindoo. I was somebody, confound it, I was somebody.
As an author, I had been so uniformly unsuccessful, so absolutely unrecognised, that I had got into the way of regarding myself as ahead of my time, as a worker for posterity. It was a habit of mind—the only revenge that I could take upon despiteful Fate. This girl came to confound me with the common herd—she declared herself to be that very posterity for which I worked.
She was probably a member of some clique that called themselves Fourth Dimensionists—just as there had been pre-Raphaelites. It was a matter of cant allegory. I began to wonder how it was that I had never heard of them. And how on earth had they come to hear of me!
“She must have read something of mine,” I found myself musing: “the Jenkins story perhaps. It must have been the Jenkins story; they gave it a good place in their rotten magazine. She must have seen that it was the real thing, and….” When one is an author one looks at things in that way, you know.
By that time I was ready to knock at the door of the great Callan. I seemed to be jerked into the commonplace medium of a great, great—oh, an infinitely great—novelist’s home life. I was led into a well-lit drawing-room, welcomed by the great man’s wife, gently propelled into a bedroom, made myself tidy, descended and was introduced into the sanctum, before my eyes had grown accustomed to the lamp-light. Callan was seated upon his sofa surrounded by an admiring crowd of very local personages. I forget what they looked like. I think there was a man whose reddish beard did not become him and another whose face might have been improved by the addition of a reddish beard; there was also an extremely moody dark man and I vaguely recollect a person who lisped.
They did not talk much; indeed there was very little conversation. What there was Callan supplied. He—spoke—very—slowly—and—very —authoritatively, like a great actor whose aim is to hold the stage as long as possible. The raising of his heavy eyelids at the opening door conveyed the impression of a dark, mental weariness; and seemed somehow to give additional length to his white nose. His short, brown beard was getting very grey, I thought. With his lofty forehead and with his superior, yet propitiatory smile, I was of course familiar. Indeed one saw them on posters in the street. The notables did not want to talk. They wanted to be spell-bound—and they were. Callan sat there in an appropriate attitude—the one in which he was always photographed. One hand supported his head, the other toyed with his watch-chain. His face was uniformly solemn, but his eyes were disconcertingly furtive. He cross-questioned me as to my walk from Canterbury; remarked that the cathedral was a—magnificent—Gothic—Monument and set me right as to the lie of the roads. He seemed pleased to find that I remembered very little of what I ought to have noticed on the way. It gave him an opportunity for the display of his local erudition.
“In your ‘Boldero?'” the chorus chorussed.
Remembrance of the common at Stelling—of the glimmering white faces of the shadowy cottages—was like a cold waft of mist to me. I forgot to say “Indeed!”
“She was—a very—remarkable—woman—She——”
I found myself wondering which was real; the common with its misty hedges and the blurred moon; or this room with its ranks of uniformly bound books and its bust of the great man that threw a portentous shadow upward from its pedestal behind the lamp.
Before I had entirely recovered myself, the notables were departing to catch the last train. I was left alone with Callan.
He did not trouble to resume his attitude for me, and when he did speak, spoke faster.
“Interesting man, Mr. Jinks?” he said; “you recognised him?”
“No,” I said; “I don’t think I ever met him.”
Callan looked annoyed.
“I thought I’d got him pretty well. He’s Hector Steele. In my
‘Blanfield,'” he added.
“Indeed!” I said. I had never been able to read “Blanfield.” “Indeed, ah, yes—of course.”
There was an awkward pause.
“The whiskey will be here in a minute,” he said, suddenly. “I don’t have it in when Whatnot’s here. He’s the Rector, you know; a great temperance man. When we’ve had a—a modest quencher—we’ll get to business.”
“Oh,” I said, “your letters really meant—”
“Of course,” he answered. “Oh, here’s the whiskey. Well now, Fox was down here the other night. You know Fox, of course?”
“Didn’t he start the rag called—?”
“Yes, yes,” Callan answered, hastily, “he’s been very successful in launching papers. Now he’s trying his hand with a new one. He’s any amount of backers—big names, you know. He’s to run my next as a feuilleton. This—this venture is to be rather more serious in tone than any that he’s done hitherto. You understand?”
“Why, yes,” I said; “but I don’t see where I come in.”
Callan took a meditative sip of whiskey, added a little more water, a little more whiskey, and then found the mixture to his liking.
“You see,” he said, “Fox got a letter here to say that Wilkinson had died suddenly—some affection of the heart. Wilkinson was to have written a series of personal articles on prominent people. Well, Fox was nonplussed and I put in a word for you.”
“I’m sure I’m much—” I began.
“Not at all, not at all,” Callan interrupted, blandly. “I’ve known you and you’ve known me for a number of years.”
A sudden picture danced before my eyes—the portrait of the Callan of the old days—the fawning, shady individual, with the seedy clothes, the furtive eyes and the obliging manners.
“Why, yes,” I said; “but I don’t see that that gives me any claim.”
Callan cleared his throat.
“The lapse of time,” he said in his grand manner, “rivets what we may call the bands of association.”
He paused to inscribe this sentence on the tablets of his memory. It would be dragged in—to form a purple patch—in his new serial.
“You see,” he went on, “I’ve written a good deal of autobiographical matter and it would verge upon self-advertisement to do more. You know how much I dislike that. So I showed Fox your sketch in the Kensington.”
“The Jenkins story?” I said. “How did you come to see it?”
“Then send me the Kensington,” he answered. There was a touch of sourness in his tone, and I remembered that the Kensington I had seen had been ballasted with seven goodly pages by Callan himself—seven unreadable packed pages of a serial.
“As I was saying,” Callan began again, “you ought to know me very well, and I suppose you are acquainted with my books. As for the rest, I will give you what material you want.”
“But, my dear Callan,” I said, “I’ve never tried my hand at that sort of thing.”
Callan silenced me with a wave of his hand.
“It struck both Fox and myself that your—your ‘Jenkins’ was just what was wanted,” he said; “of course, that was a study of a kind of broken-down painter. But it was well done.”
I bowed my head. Praise from Callan was best acknowledged in silence.
“You see, what we want, or rather what Fox wants,” he explained, “is a kind of series of studies of celebrities chez eux. Of course, they are not broken down. But if you can treat them as you treated Jenkins —get them in their studies, surrounded by what in their case stands for the broken lay figures and the faded serge curtains—it will be exactly the thing. It will be a new line, or rather—what is a great deal better, mind you—an old line treated in a slightly, very slightly different way. That’s what the public wants.”
“Ah, yes,” I said, “that’s what the public wants. But all the same, it’s been done time out of mind before. Why, I’ve seen photographs of you and your arm-chair and your pen-wiper and so on, half a score of times in the sixpenny magazines.”
Callan again indicated bland superiority with a wave of his hand.
“You undervalue yourself,” he said.
“This is to be—not a mere pandering to curiosity—but an attempt to get at the inside of things—to get the atmosphere, so to speak; not merely to catalogue furniture.”
He was quoting from the prospectus of the new paper, and then cleared his throat for the utterance of a tremendous truth.
“Photography—is not—Art,” he remarked.
The fantastic side of our colloquy began to strike me.
“After all,” I thought to myself, “why shouldn’t that girl have played at being a denizen of another sphere? She did it ever so much better than Callan. She did it too well, I suppose.”
“The price is very decent,” Callan chimed in. “I don’t know how much per thousand, …but….”
I found myself reckoning, against my will as it were.
“You’ll do it, I suppose?” he said.
I thought of my debts … “Why, yes, I suppose so,” I answered. “But who are the others that I am to provide with atmospheres?”
Callan shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh, all sorts of prominent people—soldiers, statesmen, Mr. Churchill, the Foreign Minister, artists, preachers—all sorts of people.”
“All sorts of glory,” occurred to me.
“The paper will stand expenses up to a reasonable figure,” Callan reassured me.
“It’ll be a good joke for a time,” I said. “I’m infinitely obliged to you.”
He warded off my thanks with both hands.
‘I’ll just send a wire to Fox to say that you accept,’ he said, rising. He seated himself at his desk in the appropriate attitude. He had an appropriate attitude for every vicissitude of his life. These he had struck before so many people that even in the small hours of the morning he was ready for the kodak wielder. Beside him he had every form of labour-saver; every kind of literary knick-knack. There were book-holders that swung into positions suitable to appropriate attitudes; there were piles of little green boxes with red capital letters of the alphabet upon them, and big red boxes with black small letters. There was a writing-lamp that cast an æsthetic glow upon another appropriate attitude—and there was one typewriter with note-paper upon it, and another with MS. paper already in position.
‘My God!’ I thought—’to these heights the Muse soars.’
As I looked at the gleaming pillars of the typewriters, the image of my own desk appeared to me; chipped, ink-stained, gloriously dusty. I thought that when again I lit my battered old tin lamp I should see ashes and match-ends; a tobacco-jar, an old gnawed penny penholder, bits of pink blotting-paper, match-boxes, old letters, and dust everywhere. And I knew that my attitude—when I sat at it—would be inappropriate.
Callan was ticking off the telegram upon his machine. ‘It will go in the morning at eight,’ he said.” Ford Madox Ford (as Ford M. Hueffer) & Joseph Conrad, The Inheritors–an Extravagant Story; Chapters One & Two, 1901.
opening his eyes in the blackness of the curtains about his
bed, he could not think why the dawn seemed different
from any other. The house was still except for the faint,
gasping cough of his old father, whose room was opposite
to his own across the middle room. Every morning the old
man’s cough was the first sound to be heard. Wang Lung
usually lay listening to it, and moved only when he heard
it approaching nearer and when he heard the door of his
father’s room squeak upon its wooden hinges.
But this morning he did not wait. He sprang up and
pushed aside the curtains of his bed. It was a dark, ruddy
dawn, and through a small square hole of a window, where
the tattered paper fluttered, a glimpse of bronze sky
gleamed. He went to the hole and tore the paper away.
‘It is spring and I do not need this,’ he muttered.
He was ashamed to say aloud that he wished the house
to look neat on this day. The hole was barely large enough
to admit his hand, and he thrust it out to feel of the air.
A small soft wind blew gently from the east, a wind mild
and murmurous and full of rain. It was a good omen. The
fields needed rain for fruition. There would be no rain
this day, but within a few days, if this wind continued,
there would be water. It was good. Yesterday he had said
to his father that if this brazen, glittering sunshine continued, the wheat could not fill in the ear. Now it was as if Heaven had chosen this day to wish him well. Earth would bear fruit.
He hurried out into the middle room, drawing on his
blue outer trousers as he went, and knotting about the fullness at his waist his girdle of blue cotton cloth. He left his upper body bare until he had heated water to bathe himself. He went into the shed which was the kitchen, leaning
against the house, and out of its dusk an ox twisted its
head from behind the corner next the door and lowed at
him deeply. The kitchen was made of earthen bricks:
the house was, great squares of earth dug from their cow
fields, and thatched with straw from their own wheat. Out
of their own earth had his grandfather in his youth fashioned
also the oven, baked and black with many years of
meal-preparing. On top of this earthen structure stood a
deep, round, iron cauldron.
This cauldron he filled partly full of water, dipping it
with a half-gourd from an earthen jar that stood neat, but
he dippped cautiously, for water was precious. Then, after a
hesitation, he suddenly lifted the jar and emptied all the
water into the cauldron. This day he would bathe his whole
body. Not since he was a child upon his mother’s knee had
any one looked upon his body. To-day one would, and he
would have it clean.
He went around the oven to the rear, and selecting a
handful of the dry grass and stalks standing in the corner
of the kitchen, he arranged it delicately in the mouth of
the oven, making the most of every leaf. Then from an old
flint and iron he caught a flame and thrust it into the straw
and there was a blaze.
This was the last morning he would have to light the,
fire.. He had lit it every morning since his mother died six
years before. He had lit the fire, boiled water, and poured
the water into a bowl and taken it into the room where
his father sat upon his bed, coughing and fumbling for his
(“shoes upon the floor. Every morning for these six years
the old man had waited for his son to bring in hot water
to ease him of his morning coughing. Now father and son
1 could rest. There was a woman coming to the house. Never
again would Wang Lung have to rise summer and winter
at dawn to light the fire. He could lie in his bed and wait,
! and he also would have a bowl of water brought to him,
\ and if the earth were fruitful there would be tea-leaves in
‘ the water. Once in some years it was so.
-~ And if the woman wearied there would be her children
! to light the fire, the many children she would bear to
I Wang Lung. Wang Lung stopped, struck by the thought
of children running in and out of their three rooms. Three
rooms had always seemed much to them, a house half-empi y
since his mother died. They were always having to resist
relatives who were more crowded — his uncle, with his end-
less brood of children, coaxing.
‘Now, how can two lone men need so much room? Can-
not father and son sleep together? The warmth of the
young one’s body will comfort the old one’s cough.’
But the father always replied, ‘I am saving my bed for
my grandson. He wil} warm my bones in my age.’
Now the grandsons were coming — grandsons upon
grandsons ! They would have to put beds along the walls
and in the middle room. The house would be full of beds.
The blaze of the oven died down while Wang Lung thought
of all the beds there would be in the half-empty house, and
the water began to chill in the cauldron. The shadowy fig-
ure of the old man appeared in the doorway, holding his
unbuttoned garments about him. He was coughing and
spitting, and he gasped :
‘How is it that there is not water yet to heat my lungs ?’
Wang Lung stared and recalled himself and was ashamed.
‘This fuel is damp,’ he muttered from behind the stove.
‘The damp wind. ‘
The old man continued to cough perseveringly, and
would not cease until the water boiled. Wang Lung dipped
some into a bowl, and then, after a moment, he opened a
glazed jar that stood upon a ledge of the stove and took
from it a dozen or so of the curled dried leaves and sprin-
kled them upon the surface of the water, The old man’s eyes
opened greedily and immediately he began to complain.
‘Why are you wasteful? Tea is like eating silver.’
‘It is the day,’ replied Wang Lung with a short laugh.
‘Eat and be comforted.’
The old man grasped the bowl in his shrivelled, knotty
fingers, muttering, uttering little grunts. He watched the
leaves uncurl and spread upon the surface of the water,
unable to bear drinking the precious stuff.
‘It will be cold,’ said Wang Lung.
‘True — true,’ said the old man in alarm, and he began
to take great gulps of the hot tea. He passed into an animal
satisfaction, like a child fixed upon its feeding. But he was
jot too forgetful to see Wang Lung dipping the water reck-
lessly from the cauldron into a deep wooden tub. He lifted I
his head and stared at his son.
‘Now there is water enough to bring a crop to fruit,’ hel
Wang Lung continued to dip the water to the last drop. 1
He did not answer.
‘Now then!’ cried his father loudly.
M have not washed my body all at once since the Newl
Year,’ said Wang Lung in a low voice.
He was ashamed to say to his father that he wished hisl
body to be clean for a woman to see. He hurried out, carry- 1
ing the tub to his own room, The door was hung looselyl
upon a warped wooden frame and it did not shut closely,!
and the old man tottered into the middle room and put hisl
mouth to the opening and bawled.
‘It will be ill if we start the woman like this — tea in th el
morning water and all this washing!’
c It is only one day/ shouted Wang Lung. And then hef
added, ‘I will throw the water oh the earth when I am finJ
ished and it is not all waste.’
The old man was silent at this, and Wang Lung unfasten-8
ed his girdle and stepped out of his clothing. In the HghtB
that streamed in a square block from the hole he wrung al}
small towel from the steaming water and he scrubbed
his dark, slender body vigorously. Warm though he had
thought the air, when his flesh was wet he was cold, and he
moved quickly, passing the towel in and out of the water
until from his whole body there went up a delicate cloud
of steam. Then he went to a box that had been his mother’s
and drew from it a fresh suit of blue cotton cloth. He might
be a little cold this day without the wadding of the winter I
garments, but he suddenly could not bear to put them on
against his clean flesh. The covering of them was torn and
filthy and the wadding stuck out of the holes, grey and sod-
den. He did not want this woman to see him for the first
time with the wadding sticking out of his clothes. Later
she would have to wash and mend, but not the first day. \
He drew over the blue cotton coat and trousers a long robe
made of the same material — his one long robe, which he
wore on feast days only, ten days or so in the year, dil
told. Then with swift fingers he unplaited the long braid
of hair that hung down his back, and taking a wooden
comb from the drawer of the small, unsteady table, he be-
gan to comb out his hair.
His father drew near again and put his mouth to the
crack of the door.
‘Am I to have nothing to eat this day?’ he complained.
‘At my age the bones are water in the morning until food
is given them.’
‘I am coming,’ said Wang Lung, braiding his hair quick-
ly and smoothly and weaving into the strands a tasselled,
black silk cord.
Then after a moment he removed his long gown and
wound his braid about his head and went out, carrying
the tub of water. He had quite forgotten the breakfast. He
would stir a little water into corn meal and give it to his
father. For himself he could not eat. He staggered with the
tub to the threshold and poured the water upon the earth
nearest the door, and as he did so he remembered he had
used all the water in the cauldron for his bathing and he
would have to start the fire again. A wave of anger passed
over him at his father.
‘That old head thinks of nothing except his eating and
his drinking,’ he muttered into the mouth of the oven;
but aloud he said nothing. It was the last morning he would
have to prepare food for the old man. He put a very little
water into the cauldron, drawing it in a bucket from the
well near the door, and it boiled quickly and he stirred meal
together and took it to the old man.
‘We will have rice this night, my father,’ he said. ‘Mean-
while, here is corn.’
‘There is only a little rice left in the basket,’ said the
old man, seating himself at the table in the middle room
and stirring with his chopsticks the thick yellow gruel.
‘We will eat a little less then at the spring festival,’ said
Wang Lung. But the old man did not hear. He was supping
loudly at his bowl.
Wang Lung went into his own room, then, and drew
about him again the long blue robe and let down the braid
of his hair. He passed his hand over his shaven brow and
over his cheeks. Perhaps he had better he newly shaven?
It was scarcely sunrise yet. He could pass through the Street
of the Barbers and be shaved before he went to the house
where the woman waited for him. If he had the money he
would do it.
He took from his girdle a small, greasy pouch of grey
cloth and counted the money in it. There were six silver
dollars and a double handful of copper coins. He had not,
yet told his father he had asked friends to sup that night.
He had asked his male cousin, the young son of his uncle,
and his uncle for his father’s sake, and three neighbouring
farmers who lived in the village with him. He had planned
to bring back from the town that morning pork, a small
pond fish, and a handful of chestnuts. He might even buy
a few of the bamboo sprouts from the south and a little
beef to stew with the cabbage he had raised in his own
garden. But this only if there were any money left after
the bean oil and the soy-bean sauce had been bought. If .
he shaved his head he could not, perhaps, buy the beef.
Well, he would shave his head, he decided suddenly.
He left the old man without speech and went out into
the early morning. In spite of the dark red dawn the sun
was mounting the horizon clouds and sparkled upon the
dew on the rising wheat and barley. The farmer in Wang
Lung was diverted for an instant and he stooped to ex-
amine the budding heads. They were empty as yet and wait-
ing for the rain. He smelled the air and looked anxiously at
the sky. Rain was there, dark in the clouds, heavy upon the
wind. He would buy a stick of incense and place it in the
little temple to the Earth God. On a day like this he would
He wound his way in among the fields upon the narrow
path. In the near distance the grey city wall arose. .Within
that gate in the wall through which he would pass stood
the great house where the woman had been a slave girl
since her childhood, the House of Hwang. There were
those who said, Tt is better to live alone than to marry a
woman who has been slave in a great house.’ But when
he had said to his father, ‘Am I never to have a woman?’
his father replied, ‘With weddings costing as they do in
these evil days and every woman wanting gold rings and
silk clothes before she will take a man, there remain only
slaves to be had for the poor.’
His father had stirred himself then, and gone to the
House of Hwang and asked if there were a slave to spare.
‘Not a slave too young, and above all, not a pretty one,’
he had said.
Wang Lung had suffered because she must not be pretty;
it would have been something to have had a pretty wife
that other men would congratulate him upon having. His
father, seeing his mutinous face, cried out at him:
‘And what will we do with a pretty woman? We must
have a ^OTnw^hr>-will tend the house and bear children
as she works in the fields, and will a pretty woman do
these things? She will be for ever thinking about clothes
to go with her face! No, n ot a pretty woman in our house.
We are farmers. Moreover,~wEo has heard of a pretty slave
who was virgin in a wealthy house? All the young lords
have had their fill of her. It is better to be first with an
ugly woman than the hundredth with a beauty. Do you
imagine a pretty woman will think your farmer’s hands as
pleasing as the soft hands of a rich man’s son, and your ;
sun-black face as beautiful as the golden skin of the others
who have had her for their pleasure?’
Wang Lung knew his father spoke well. Nevertheless,
he had “to struggle with his flesh before he could answer.
And then he said violently:
‘At least, I will not have a woman who is pock-marked,
or who has a split upper lip.’
‘ We will have to see what is to be had,’ his father replied.
Well, the woman was not pock-marked, nor had she a
split upper lip. This much he knew, but nothing more.
He and his father had bought two silver rings, washed with
gold, and silver ear-rings, and these his father had taken
to the woman’s owner^in acknowledgment of betrothal.
Beyond this, he knew nothing of the woman who was to
be his, except that on this day he could go and get her.
He walked into the cool darkness of the city gate. Wa-
ter-carriers, just outside, their barrows laden with great
tubs of water, passed to and fro all day, the water splash-
ing out of the tubs upon the stones. It was always wet and
cool in the tunnel of the gate under the thick wall of earth
and brick — cool even upon a summer’s day — so that the
melon vendors spread their fruits upon the stones, melons
split open to drink in the moist coolness. There were none
yet, for the season was too early, but baskets of small, Tiard
green peaches stood along the walls, and the vendors cried
c The first peaches of spring — the first peaches! Buy, eat,
purge your bowels of the poisons of winter!’
Wang Lung said to himself :
If she likes them, I will buy her a handful when we re-
turn.’ He could not realise that when he walked back
through the gate there would be a woman walking behind
He turned to the right within the gate and after a mo-,
ment was in the Street of Barbers. There were few before
him so early, only some farmers who had carried their pro-
duce into the town the night before in order that they
might sell their vegetables at the dawn markets and return
for the day’s work in the fields. They had slept shivering
and crouching over their baskets, the baskets now empty at
their feet. Wang Lung avoided them lest some recognise
him, for he wanted none of their joking on this day. All
down the street in a long line the barbers stood behind
their small stalls, and Wang Lung went to the farthest one
and sat down upon the stool and motioned to the barber
who stood chattering to his neighbour. The barber came
at once and began quickly to pour hot water, from a kettle
on his pot of charcoal, into his brass basin.
‘Shave everything?’ he said in a professional tone.
‘My head and my face,’ replied Wang Lung.
‘Ears and nostrils cleaned?’ asked the barber.
‘How much will that cost extra?’ asked Wang Lung
‘Fourpence,’ said the barber, beginning to pass a black
cloth in and out of the hot water.
‘I will give you two,’ said Wang Lung.
‘The > I will clean one ear and one nostril/ rejoined the
barber promptly. ‘On which side of the face do you wish
it done?’ He grimaced at the next barber as he spoke, and
the other burst into a guffaw. Wang Lung perceived that [
he had fallen into the hands of a joker, and feeling inferior \
in some unaccountable way, as he always did, to these town- >
dwellers, even though they were only barbers and the low-
est of persons, he said quickly:
‘As you will — as you will ‘
Then he submitted himself to the barber’s soaping and
rubbing and shaving, and being after all a generous fellow
enough, the barber gave him without extra charge a series
of skilful poundings upon his shoulders and back to loosen
his muscles. He commented upon Wang Lung as he shaved
his upper forehead :
‘This would not be a bad-looking farmer if he would
cut off his hair. The new fashion is to take off the braid.’
His razor hovered so near the circle of hair upon Wang
Lung’s crown that Wang Lung cried out:
‘I cannot cut it off without asking my father!’ And the
barber laughed and skirted the round spot of hair.
When it was finished and the money counted into the
barber’s wrinkled, water-soaked hand, Wang Lung had a
moment of horror. So much money! But walking down
the street again with the wind fresh upon his shaven skin,
he said to himself:
‘It is only once.’
He went to the market, then, and bought two pounds
of pork and watched the butcher as he wrapped it in a
dried lotus leaf, and then, hesitating, he bought- also six
ounces of beef. When all had been bought, even two fresh
squares of bean-curd, shivering in a jelly upon its leaf, he
went to a candlemaker’s shop and there he bought a pair
of incense sticks. Then he turned his steps with great shy-
ness toward the House of Hwang.
Once at the gate of the house he was seized with terror. ]
How had he come alone? He should have asked his father — ‘
his uncle — even his nearest neighbour, Ching — any one to
come with him. He had never been in a great house before.
How could he go in with his wedding feast on his arm,
and say, ‘I have come for a woman?’
He stood at the gate for a long time, looking at it. It
was closed fast; two great wooden gates, painted black and
bound and studded with iron, closed upon each other.
Two lions made of stone stood on guard, one at either side.
There was no one else. He turned away. It was impossible.
He felt suddenly faint. He would go first and buy a
little food. He had eaten nothing — had forgotten food. He
went into a small street-restaurant, and putting twopence
upon the table he sat down. A dirty waiting-boy with a
shiny black apron came near and he called out to him,
‘Two bowls of noodles!’ And when they were come, he
ate them down greedily, pushing them into his mouth with
his bamboo chopsticks, while the boy stood and spun the
coppers between his black thumb and forefinger.
‘Will you have more?’ asked the boy indifferently.
Wang Lung shook his head. He sat up and looked a-J
bout. There was no one he knew in the small, dark, crowd-
ed room full of tables. Only a few men sat eating or drink-
ing tea. It was a place for poor men, and among them he
looked neat and clean and almost well-to-do, so that a
beggar passing, whined at him:
‘Have a good heart, teacher, and give me a small cash —
Wang Lung had never had a beggar ask of him before,
nor had any even called him “teacher”. He was pleased and
he threw into the beggar’s bowl two small cash, which are
one-fifth of a penny, and the beggar pulled back with swift-
ness his black claw of a hand, and grasping the cash, fum-
bled them within his rags.
Wang Lung sat and the sun climbed upwards. The wait-
ing-boy lounged about impatiently. ‘If you are buying no-
thing more,’ he said at last with much impudence, ‘you
will have to pay rent for the stool.’
Wang Lung was incensed at such impudence, and he
would have risen except that when he. thought of going
into the great House of Hwang and of asking there for a
woman, sweat broke out over his whole body as though he
were working in a field.
‘Bring me tea,’ he said weakly to the boy. Before he
could turn it was there and the small boy demanded sharply :
‘Where is the penny?’
And Wang Lung, to his horror, found there was nothing
to do but to produce from his girdle yet another penny.
‘It is robbery/ he muttered, unwilling. Then he saw
entering the shop his neighbour whom he had invited to
the feast, and he put the penny hastily upon the table and
drank the tea at a gulp and went out quickly by the side
door and was once more upon the street.
‘It is to be done/ he said to himself desperately, and
slowly he turned his way to the great gates.
This time, since it was after nigh noon, the gates were
ajar and the keeper of the gate idled upon the threshold,
picking his teeth with a bamboo sliver after his meal. He
was a tall fellow with a large mole upon his left cheek, and
from the mole hung three long black hairs which had never
been cut. When Wang Lung appeared he shouted roughly,
thinking from the basket that he had come to sell something.
‘Now then, what?’
With great difficulty Wang Lung replied :
‘I am Wang Lung, the farmer.’
‘Well, and Wang Lung, the farmer, what?’ retorted the •
gateman, who was polite to none except the rich friends
of his master and mistress.
‘I am come — I am come ‘ faltered Wang Lung.
‘That I see/ said the gateman with elaborate patience,
twisting the long hairs of his mole.
‘There is a woman/ said Wang Lung, his voice sink-
ing, in spite of himself, to a whisper. In the sunshine his
face was wet.
The gateman gave a great laugh.
‘So you are he!’ he roared. ‘I was told to expect a bride-
groom to-day. But I did not recognise you with a basket
on your arm.’
‘It is only a few meats/ said Wang Lung apologetically,
waiting for the gateman to lead him within. But the gate-
man did not move. At last Wang Lung said with anxiety:
‘Shall I go alone?’
The gateman affected a start of horror. ‘The Old Lord
would kill you!’
Then seeing that Wang Lung was too innocent he said:
‘A little silver is a good key.’
Wang Lung saw at last that the man wanted money of
‘I am a poor man,’ he said pleadingly.
‘Let me see what you have in your girdle,’ said the gate-]
And he grinned when Wang Lung in his simplicity >
j actually put his basket upon the stones and lifting his robel
took out the small bag from his girdle and shook into his
left hand what money was left after his purchases. There
was one silver piece and fourteen copper pence.
‘I will take the silver,’ said the gateman coolly, and be-
fore Wang Lung could protest the man had the silver in
his sleeve and was striding through the gate bawling
‘The bridegroom — the bridegroom!’.
Wang Lung, in spite of anger at what had just hap-
pened and horror at this loud announcing of his coming,
could do nothing but follow, and this he did, picking up
his basket and looking neither to the right nor to the left.
Afterwards, although it was the first time he had ever
been in a great family’s house, he could remember nothing.
With his face burning and his head bowed, he walked
through court after court, hearing that voice roaring ahead
of him, hearing tinkles of laughter on every side. Then
suddenly when it seemed to him he had gone through a
hundred courts, the gateman fell silent and pushed him
into a small waiting-room. There he stood alone while the
gateman went into some inner place, returning in a mo-
ment to say:
‘The Old Mistress says you are to appear before her.’
Wang Lung started forward, but the gateman stopped
him, crying in disgust:
‘You cannot appear before a great lady with a basket
on your arm — a basket of pork and bean-curd! How will
‘True — true ‘ said Wang Lung in agitation. But he
did not dare to put the basket down because he was afraid
something might be stolen from it. It did not occur to-
him that all the world might not desire such delicacies as
two pounds of pork and six ounces of beef and a small
pond-fish. The gateman saw his fear and cried out in great
‘In a house like this we feed these meats to the dogs!’
and seizing the basket he thrust it behind the door and
pushed Wang Lung ahead of him.
Down a long, narrow veranda they went, the roofs sup-
ported by delicate carven posts, and into a hall the like of
which Wang Lung had never seen. A score of houses such
as his whole house could have been put into it and have
disappeared, so wide were the spaces, so high the roofs.
Lifting his head in wonder to see the great carven and
painted beams above him, he stumbled upon the high
threshold of the door and would have fallen except that
the gateman caught his arm and cried out:
‘Now will you be so polite as to fall on your face like
this before the Old Mistress?’
And collecting himself in great shame Wang Lung look-
ed ahead of him, and upon a dais in the centre of the
room he saw a very old lady, her small, fine body clothed
in lustrous, pearly grey satin, and upon the low bench be-
side her a pipe of opium stood burning over its little
lamp. She looked at him out of small, sharp, black eyes,
as sunken and sharp as a monkey’s eyes, in her thin and
wrinkled face. The skin of her hand that held the pipe’s
end was stretched over her little bones as smooth and as
yellow as the gilt upon an idol. Wang Lung fell to his
knees and knocked his head on the tiled floor.
‘Raise him,’ said the old lady gravely to the gateman;
‘these obeisances are not necessary. Has he come for the
‘Yes, Ancient One,’ replied the gateman.
‘Why does he not speak for himself?’ asked the old
‘Because he is a fool, Ancient One/ said the gateman,
twirling the hairs of his mole.
This roused Wang Lung and he looked with indigna-
tion at the gateman.
‘I am only a coarse person, Great and Ancient Lady,’ he
said. ‘I do not know what words to use in such a presence.’
The old lady looked at him carefully and with perfect
gravity and made as though she would have spoken, except
that her hand closed upon the pipe which a slave had been
tending for her and at once she seemed to forget him. She
bent and sucked greedily at the pipe for a moment and the
sharpness passed from her eyes and a film of forgetfulness
came over them. Wang Lung remained standing before
her until, in passing, her eyes caught his figure.
‘ What is this man doing here?’ she asked with sudden
anger. It was as though she had forgotten everything. The
gateman’s face was immovable. He said nothing.
C I am waiting for the woman, Great Lady,’ said Wang
Lung in much astonishment.
‘The woman? What woman ‘ the old lady began,
but the slave girl at her side stooped and whispered and
the lady recovered herself. ‘Ah, yes, I forgot for the mo-
ment — a small affair — you have come for the slave called
O-lan. I remember we promised her to some farmer in
marriage. You are that farmer?’
‘I am he/ replied Wang Lung.
‘Call O-lan quickly,’ said the old lady to Jber slave. It
was as though she was suddenly impatient to be done with
all this and to be left alone in the stillness of the great room
with her opium pipe.
And in an instant the slave appeared leading by the hand
a square, rather tall figure, clothed in clean blue cotton
coat and trousers. Wang Lung glanced once and then away,
his heart beating. This was his woman.
‘Come here, slave,’ said the old lady carelessly. ‘This,
man has come for you.’
The woman went before the lady and stood with bowed
head and hands clasped,
p ‘Are you ready?’ asked the lady.
The woman answered slowly as an echo, ‘Ready.’
‘ Wang Lung, hearing her voice for the first time, looked
! at her back as she stood before him. It was a good enough
voice, not loud, not soft, plain, and not ill-tempered. The
; woman’s hair was neat and smooth and her coat clean.
I He saw with an instant’s disappointement that her feet were
not bound. But this he could not dwell upon, for the old
lady was saying to the gateman.
“Carry her box out to the gate and let them begone.’
And then she called Wang Lung and said, ‘Stand beside
her while I speak.’ And when Wang had come forward
she said to him, e This woman came into our house when
she was a child of ten and here she has lived until now,
when she is twenty years old. I bought her in a year of
famine when her parents came south because they had
nothing to eat. They were from the north in Shantung
and there they returned, and I know nothing further of
them. You see she has the strong body and the square
cheeks of her kind. She will work well for you in the field
and drawing water and all else that you wish. She is not
beautiful, but that you do not need. Only men of leisure
have the need for beautiful women to divert them. Neither
is she clever. But she does well what she is told to do and
she has a good temper. So far as I know she is virgin. She
has not beauty enough to tempt my sons and grandsons
even if she had not been in the kitchen. If there has been
anything it has been only a serving man. But with the innu-
merable and pretty slaves running freely about the courts,
I doubt if there has been any one. Take her and use her
well. She is a good slave, although somewhat slow and
stupid, and had I not wished to acquire merit at the temple
for my future existence by bringing more life into the world
I should have kept her, for she is good enough for the
kitchen. But I marry my slaves off if any will have them
and the lords do not want them.’
And to the woman she said :
‘Obey him and bear him sons and yet more sons. Bring
the first child to me to see.’
‘Yes, Ancient Mistress,’ said the woman submissively.
They stood hesitating, and Wang Lung was greatly
embarrassed, not knowing whether he should speak or what.
‘Well, go, will you!’ said the old lady in irritation,
and Wang Lung, bowing hastily, turned and went out, the
woman after him, and after her the gateman, carrying on his
shoulder the box. This box he dropped down in the room
where Wang Lung returned to find his basket and would
carry it no farther, and indeed he disappeared without
Then Wang Lung turned to the woman and looked at
her for the first time. She had a square, honest face, a
short, broad nose with large black nostrils, and her mouth
was wide, a gash in her face. Her eyes were small and of
a dull black in colour, and were filled with some sadness
that was not clearly expressed. It was a face that seemed
habitually silent and unspeaking* as though it could not
speak if it would. She bore patiently Wang Lung’s look,
without embarrassment or response, simply waiting until he
had seen her. He saw that it was true there was not beauty
of any kind in her face — a brown, common, patient face.
But there were no pock-marks on her dark skin, nor was
her lip split. In her ears he saw his rings hanging, the
gold-washed rings he had bought, and on her hands were
the rings he had given her. He turned away with secret
exultation. Well, he had his woman!
‘Here is this box and this basket,’ he said gruffly.
Without a word she bent over and picking up one end
of the box she placed it upon her shoulder and, staggering
under its weight, tried to rise. He watched her at this and
suddenly he said:
‘I will take the box. Here is the basket.’
And he shifted the box to his own back, regardless of
the best robe he wore, and she, still speechless, took the
handle of the basket. He thought of the hundred courts
he had come through and of his figure, absurd under its
‘If there were a side gate ‘ he muttered, and she
nodded after a little thought, as though she did not under-
stand too quickly what he said. Then she led the way
through a small, unused court that was grown up with
weeds, its pool choked, and there under a bent pine tree
was an old round gate that she pulled loose from its bar,
and they went through and into the street.
Once or twice he looked back at her. She plodded along
steadily on her big feet as though she had walked there
all her life, her wide face expressionless. In the gate of the
wall he stopped uncertainly and fumbled in his girdle with
one hand for the pennies he had left, holding the box
steady on his shoulder with the other hand. He took out
twopence and with these he bought six small green peaches.
‘Take these and eat them for yourself,’ he said gruffly.
She clutched them greedily, as a child might, and held
them in her hand without speech. When next he looked
at her as they walked along the margin of the wheat-fields
she was nibbling one cautiously, but when she saw him
looking at her she covered it again with her hand and
kept her jaws motionless. .
And thus they went until they reached the western
field where stood the temple to the earth. This temple was ‘
a small structure, not higher in all than a man’s shoulder
and made of grey bricks and roofed with tile. Wang Lung’s
grandfather, who had farmed the very fields upon which
Wang Lung now spent his life, had built it, hauling the
bricks from the town upon his wheelbarrow. The walls
were covered with plaster on the outside and a village
artist had been hired in a good year once to paint upon
the white plaster a scene of hills and bamboo. But the rain
of generations had poured upon this painting until now
there was only a faint feathery shadow of bamboos left,
and the hills were almost wholly gone.
Within the temple, snugly under the roof, sat two small,
solemn figures, earthen, for they were formed from the
earth of the fields about the temple. These were the god
himself and his lady. They wore robes of red and gilt
paper, and the god had a scant, drooping moustache of
real hair. Each year at the New Year, Wang Lung’s father
bought sheets of red paper and carefully cut and pasted
new robes for the pair. And each year rain and snow beat
in and the sun of summer shone in and spoiled their robes.
At this moment, however, the robes were still new,
since the year was but well begun, and Wang Lung was
proud of their spruce appearance. He took the basket
from the woman’s arm and carefully he looked about under
the pork for the sticks of incense he had bought. He was
anxious lest they were broken and thus make an evil
omen; but they were whole, and when he had found them
he stuck them side by side in the ashes of other sticks of
incense that were heaped before the gods, for the whole
neighbourhood worshipped these two small figures. Then
fumbling for his flint and iron he caught, with a dried leaf
for tinder, a flame to light the incense.
Together this man and this woman stood before the
gods of their fields. The woman watched the ends of the
incense redden and turn grey. When the ash grew heavy
she leaned over and with her forefinger she pushed the
head of ash away. Then as though fearful for what she
had done, she looked quickly at Wang Lung, her eyes
dumb. But there was something he liked in her movement.
It was as though she felt that the incense belonged to them
both; it was a moment of marriage. They stood there in
complete silence, side by side, while incense smouldered
into ashes; and then because the sun was sinking, Wang
Lung shouldered the box and they went home.
At the door of the house the old man stood to catch
the last rays of the sun upon him. He made no movement
as Wang Lung, approached with the woman. It would
have been beneath him to notice her. Instead, he feigned
great interest in the clouds and he cried:
‘That cloud which hangs upon the left horn of the new
moon speaks of rain. It will not come later than to-morrow
night.’ And then as he saw Wang Lung take the basket
from the woman he cried out again, c And have you spent
Wang Lung set the basket on the table. ‘There will be
guests to-night,’ he said briefly, and he carried the box
into the room where he slept and set it down beside the
box where his own clothes were. He looked at it strangely.
But the old man came to the door and said volubly:
‘There is no end to the money spent in this house!’
Secretly he was pleased that his son had invited guests,
jbut he felt it would not do to give, out anything but
^complaints before his new daughter-in-law lest she be set
from the first in ways of extravagance. Wang Lung said
nothing, but he went out and took the basket into the
kitchen, and the woman followed him there. He took the
food piece by piece from the basket and laid it upon the
ledge of the cold stove and he said to her:
‘Here is pork and here is beef and fish. There ? re seven
to eat. Can you prepare food?’
He did not look at the woman as he spoke. It would
not have been seemly. The woman answered in her plain
‘I have been kitchen slave since I went into the House
of Hwang. There were meats at every meal.’
Wang Lung nodded and left her, and did not see her
again until the guests came crowding in, his uncle jovial
and sly and hungry, his uncle’s son an impudent lad of
fifteen, and the farmers clumsy and grinning with shyness.
Two were men from the village, with whom Wang Lung
exchanged seed and labour at harvest-time, and one was
his next-door neighbour, Ching, a small, quiet man, ever
unwilling to speak unless he were compelled to it. After
they had been seated about the middle room with demurring
and unwillingness to take seats, for politeness, Wang Lung
went into the kitchen to bid the woman serve. Then he
was pleased when she said to him:
‘I will hand you the bowls if you will place them upon
the table. I do not like to come out before men.’
Wang Lung felt in him a great pride that this woman
was his and did not fear to appear before him, but would
not before other men. He took the bowls from her hands
at the kitchen door and he set them upon the table in the
middle room and called loudly:
‘fiat my uncle and my brothers/ And when the uncle,
who was fond of jokes, said, ‘Are we not to see the moth-
browed bride?’ Wang Lung replied firmly, ‘We are not
yet dfSfe. It is not meet that other men see her until the
marriage is consummated.’
And he urged them to eat, and they ate heartily of the
good fare, heartily and in silence, and this one praised the
brown sauce on the fish and that one the well-done pork,
and Wang Lung said over and over in reply:
‘It is poor stuff — it is badly prepared.’
But in his heart he was proud of the dishes, for with
what meats she had the woman had combined sugar and
vinegar and a little wine and soy sauce, and she had skil-
fully brought forth all the force of the meat itself, so that
Wang Lung himself had never tasted such dishes upon the
tables of his friends.
That night, after the guests had tarried long over their
tea and had done with their jokes, the woman still lingered
behind the stove, and when Wang Lung had seen the last
guest away he went in and she cowered there in the straw-
piles asleep beside the ox. There was straw in her hair
when he roused her, and when he called her she put up
her arm suddenly in her sleep as though to defend herself
from a blow. When she opened her eyes at last, she looked
at him with her strange, speechless gaze, and he felt as
though he faced a child. He took her by the hand and led
her into the room where that morning he had bathed himself for her, and he lit a red candle upon the table. In this light he was suddenly shy when he found himself alone with the woman and he was compelled to remind himself :
‘There is this woman of mine. The thing is to be done.’
And he began to undress himself doggedly. As for the
woman, she crept around the corner of the curtain and
began without a sound to prepare for the bed. Wang Lung
‘When you lie down, put the light out first.’
Then he lay down and drew the thick quilt about his
shoulders and pretended to sleep. But he was not sleeping.
He lay quivering, every nerve of his flesh awake. And
when, after a long time, the room went dark, and there was
the slow, silent, creeping movement of the woman beside
him, an exultation filled him fit to break his body. He gave
a hoarse laugh into the darkness and seized her.” Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth; 1931.
Two thousand years ago — Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum.’ Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’
(I appreciate my interpreter translating my German.)
There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world.
Let them come to Berlin.
There are some who say — There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future.
Let them come to Berlin.
And there are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists.
Let them come to Berlin.
And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress.
Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen.
Let them come to Berlin.
Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in — to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say on behalf of my countrymen who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride, that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope, and the determination of the city of West Berlin.
While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system — for all the world to see — we take no satisfaction in it; for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.
What is — What is true of this city is true of Germany: Real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people.
You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you, as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.
Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we look — can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.
All — All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin.
And, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words —
‘Ich bin ein Berliner.'” John F. Kennedy, “Ich Bin Ein Berliner!”; American Rhetoric, 1963. http://www.americanrhetoric.
Those whose lives the winners snuffed out, sometimes in a hail of bullets and other times through hunger and more protracted forms of attrition, had many different hopes and dreams. Though one might easily have chosen differently, this essay focuses on some of those ‘losers’ who believed in social justice and social democracy, particularly in Chile during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The ‘winners,’ on the other hand, possessed a much more uniform consciousness and set of goals. They sought profit over all else; most importantly, they organized to crush the merest hints of any workable expression of sharing, of mutuality, of popular empowerment. They organized themselves in trust-funded operations that served a single purpose: the promotion and persistence of monopoly empire. Understanding these points about the commonly-held attitudes among history’s victors is at least half the problem of understanding why these travails have played out as they have.
As always with the Spindoctor’s profferrals, this article is lengthy. One may alleviate the burden by noting that the analysis here occurs in many sections. One a day, or one a week, might seem more manageable than any idea of gulping down the whole in one slurp.
With very few exceptions, the dramas and conflicts, the heroics and horror, that took place in and around Santiago Chile during the thirty years from 1960-1990 did not happen to the readers of this document. Thus, in order to dig into the heart and soul of these struggles for human decency and the battles of the above ‘winners’ against them, one needs a willingness to identify with both sides of the ‘class war’ that unfolded in these environs plus-or-minus forty years ago.
Identification with those who prevailed is much easier, since they own or control, along with most everything else on our fair planet, the means of production of information and knowledge. They hold the keys to the secrets that they still hide away. Identification with those who lost, often dying for their actions and beliefs and songs, presents a thornier problem. We have to try harder to see and feel what they underwent.
Such empathy, however, clearly does depend on imagination. Verses like these necessitate a fierce delving of plausible meaning, for example, while we fight to maintain our composure and avoid nervous distraction that borders on fear.
“How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment.”
One might picture a large stadium in one’s mind’s eye, at the cusp of a Southern Hemisphere Spring, ten days from the Vernal Equinox. The pitch has a huge table in the very center, its top splotched with mottled blood and pieces of flesh, patches of hair and tissue. At all the exits and facing the stands are uniformed men, most carrying assault rifles, all their faces grim and sleep-deprived except when the occasional joke or comment elicits derision and cackles; a few gather in groups around .30 and .50 caliber machine guns. They point these instruments of management and death casually at the stands.
These weapons have already killed a few score of the many thousands—some say only 5,000 or so, others that more than 10,000 were present, under arrest and awaiting their fate—who face their captors like cattle that are conscious of hamburger. One of the men among the captives, in what would be a sparse crowd for either a soccer finale or a ‘friendly’ with visiting gringos, seeks to give comfort to those present. Though fear constrains his voice, he sometimes leads songs.
At one point during the third day of this ‘spontaneous’ upwelling of fascism that took place in Santiago de Chile in the period after September 11, 1973, this man, whose name is Victor, approaches one of the commandantes with a request from an ailing comrade. The officer, at first impassive, grins with sadistic glee when he recognizes the speaker, mimicking a simpering guitarist, eyes arched inquisitively.
Victor’s face blanches. He must sense what is pending. At a signal from their leader, soldiers seize him by the elbows and lead him to the central stage.
Seated at the grimy table spattered with slime and fluid, he finds himself surrounded. Two men restrain him from rising. A third man extends his right arm, a fourth his left, into the bloody mess on the sturdy wooden surface where he sits, trembling. Another teniente smacks him in the head each time that he balls his fists. Ultimately, he splays his fingers, and the pistol-whipping stops.
Already battered and bruised from ‘interrogation,’ he breathes unevenly. He begins to weep. Standing nearby, a man with a machete—or is it a hand-axe of some sort?—whistles a tuneless, psychotic dirge.
At times, the verities of real-politick are so hideous and noisome that even mentioning them—let alone studying them thoroughly—brings on attacks of nausea and vertigo. One simply wants to flee, find a safe haven or asylum that doesn’t require noting and pondering the murder in the name of justice, depredation in the name of ‘development,’ and violent repression in the name of ‘freedom’ that have characterized imperial adventures in the modern sphere, with the United States—its vaunted ‘bastion-of-liberty’ notwithstanding—the leading villain.
On the other hand, an inability to deal with the real—to this day, “reality orientation” is a critical part of how ‘professionals’ evaluate one’s mental health—not only impedes effectiveness, but it might also result in more and more of exactly the types of events that we would rather deny existed. Nowhere in the immediately-prior-to-
Whatever social description of this vast Hispanic Diaspora has become apropos in the present moment, the U.S. has continued to persist in seeking to apply Monroe’s righteous doctrine. This shows up in Venezuela, in Argentina, and of course in Cuba, as well as elsewhere.
This Yankee morass of ‘magical’ pleasure and nightmarish torment has endured for a century-and-a-half or more. Over this entire period, arguably no event or series of occurrences has more clearly illustrated this locus of luxuriant horror than did the crushing of Salvador Allende’s idealistic Chilean experiment in electoral socialism. In any case, that outpouring of homicidal conspiracy is the context for the topic of the day.
The particular focus in these pages is the culture of love and optimism in which President Allende’s miracle came to fruition, how that popular expression of music and artistic passion has continued despite the imperial slaying of its primary proponents—men such as Victor Jara. Jara’s magnificent life and heroic death, then, are the center around which this narrative turns as it develops the thesis that this magnificence and heroism continue and are more crucial than ever to human survival.
Before we take an inevitably too brief—and also, for many readers, too lengthy—foray into this realm of art and power in faraway Chile, however, both in the remainder of this section and in the preface that follows, readers may view the violent heart of the brutal patterns that have characterized both this region’s relations with the United States and Latin American society’s internal dynamics generally for the centuries during which colonialism has evolved into the complexities of modern empire.
The overall idea about North America’s Latin American nexus is straightforward. For the better part of two centuries—since at least the War with Mexico—top administrators of the United States, at a minimum the President and the military establishment, have been likely culpable for mass homicide and conspiracy in Spanish speaking countries of the hemisphere. Such indictments may not be incontrovertible and might now and again fail to yield a conviction, but the accusations would be universally reasonable.
Especially in regard to Chile’s destruction on September 11th, 1973, the prosecutorial stance becomes even clearer and more pointed. With virtually no doubt, Richard Nixon is a murderer, a conspirator and accessory before and after the fact. With a similar degree of certitude, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Richard Helms is also a probable murderer. So too, in the same elliptical way, is National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger just about certainly guilty of conspiracy and aiding and abetting homicide.
Given facts both direct and circumstantial, both the result of documentation and eyewitness accounts, even lacking the still vast troves of inculpatory evidence that the U.S. refuses to release, no rational jury would likely find these men blameless or fail to reach a unanimous verdict. In the arena that this essay examines, therefore, with a degree of probability that approaches exactitude, Richard Nixon, Richard Helms, and Henry Kissinger are as responsible for the savage torture and killing of Victor Jara as if they had personally wielded the blade that chopped off his fingers, as if they had individually pulled the triggers that riddled his body with forty-four bullets.
The same would be also almost definitely true of a small army of ‘Yankee’ operatives, from various agencies of empire, who have all—like these ‘leaders of the free world’—escaped judgment. Quite plausibly, in any case, each of the primary actors would also be complicit in crimes against humanity.
These pronouncements are quite specific. They are also, except by those whose fatuous commitment to propaganda and falsehood permits supercilious debate, close enough to indisputable to do as Chile and other jurisdictions have done, seeking the extradition of Henry Kissinger to question him about his role in these sorts of horrific crimes. Or, a scholar might examine Richard Helm’s conviction for lying to Congress about this countrywide torture and slaughter in the Andean nation. Anyhow, along with these more or less exact condemnations, we could also offer a more general statement in regard to Santiago and its environs.
To state this overview succinctly, we might employ a more or less definitive clause here: That the United States Proceeded in Chile as Elsewhere With MALICE Aforethought. This combination of subject and verb and modifiers itself contains an acronym: MALICE—Murder, Antipathy, Lies, Individualism, Conspiracy, Emiseration—that perfectly and more or less completely summarizes the period from 1960 till now in Chile and the so-called ‘Southern Cone. In fact, this is one of the many environments where John F. Kennedy disingenuously called for continuing a ‘good neighbor policy’ that had arguably not existed when Franklin Roosevelt advanced it during the 1930’s and had close to zero correspondence to actuality during JFK’s Presidency or the administrations that followed.
An arguably crucial point in this regard is as follows. As Victor Jara, hands dripping gore and painful beyond sore, croaked out a last song—he had stood, stumps of fingers that spurted blood, and the leader of the butchers had commanded ‘sing for us now, poet’—in a voice choked with pain and fear, as he stared down the barrels of the automatic weapons that would end his life, he understood these things about empire and power and knew their central place in any future resistance to such events’ transpiring again.” Jim Hickey, “‘United in Blood’ Against Empire: Neruda, Jara & Chile’s Social Solidarity Impact;” Southeast Review of Media Culture and Politics, Overture, 2014.