Chapter 14 - Bits
The following day Somers felt savage with himself again. "Fool that I am, fool!" he said, mentally kicking himself. And he looked at the big pink spread of his Sydney Bulletin viciously. The Bulletin was the only periodical in the world that really amused him. The horrible stuffiness of English newspapers he could not stand: they had the same effect on him as fish-balls in a restaurant, loathsome stuffy fare. English magazines were too piffling, too imbecile. But the "Bully", even if it was made up all of bits, and had neither head nor tail nor feet nor wings, was still a lively creature. He liked its straightforwardness and the kick in some of its tantrums. It beat no solemn drums. It had no deadly earnestness. It was just stoical, and spitefully humorous. Yes, at the moment he liked the Bulletin better than any paper he knew, though even the Bulletin tried a dowdy bit of swagger sometimes, especially on the pink page. But then the pink page was just "literary", and who cares?
Who cares, anyhow? Perhaps a bit sad, after all. But more fool you for being sad.
So he rushed to read the "bits". They would make Bishop Latimer forget himself and his martyrdom at the stake.
1805: The casual Digger of war-days has carried it into civvies. Sighted one of the original Tenth at the Outer Harbour (Adelaide) wharf last week fishing. His sinker was his 1914 Star.
Yes, couldn't Somers just see that forlorn Outer Harbour at Adelaide, and the digger, like some rag of sea-weed dripping over the edge of the wharf fishing, and using his medal for a weight?
Wilfrido: A recent advertisement for the Wellington (New Zealand) Art Gallery attracted 72 applicants. Among them were two solicitors (One an Oxford M.A.); five sheepfarmers, on whose lands the mortgagee had foreclosed; and a multitude of clerks. The post is not exactly a sinecure, either; it demands attendance on seven days a week at 150 pounds per annum.
Then a little cartoon of Ivan, the Russian workman, going for a tram-drive, and taking huge bundles of money with him, sackfuls of roubles, to pay the fare. The "Bully" was sardonic about Bolshevism.
Ned Kelly: Hearing the deuce of a racket in the abo (aborigines) camp near our place, we strolled over to see what was wrong, and saw a young Binghi giving his gin a father of a hiding for making eyes at another buck. Every respectable Binghi has the right to wallop his missis, but this one laid it on so much that he knocked her senseless. This enraged her relatives, and they went for him en masse, while two or three gins applied restoratives to the battered wife. She soon came round, and, seeing how things were, grabbed a waddy and went to the assistance of her lord and master. In the end the twain routed the phalanxed relations. Same old woman, whatever her line.
Bits about bullock drivers and the biggest loads on record, about the biggest piece of land ploughed by a man in a day, recipes for mange in horses, twins, turnips, accidents to reverend clergymen, and so on.
Pick: In the arid parts out back the wild birds infallibly indicate to the wayfarer when the water in his bag must be vigorously conserved. If in the early morning they descend in flocks to the plain, and there collect the globules of dew among the dry stalks of grass, it means that every tank, gilgal and puddle-hole within a bird's drinking flight has gone dry.
Cellu Lloyd: Before you close down on mangey horses here's a cure I've never known to fail. To one bullock's gall add kerosene to make up a full pint. Heat sufficiently to enable it to mix well, not forgetting, of course, that half of it is kerosene. When well mixed add one teaspoonful of chrysophanic acid. Bottle and shake well. Before applying take a hard scrubbing brush and thoroughly scrub the part with carbolic soap and hot water, and when applying the mixture use the brush again. In one case I struck a pair of buggie ponies that had actually bitten pieces from each other, and rubbed down a hundred yards or so of fence in trying to allay the burning itch. Two months afterwards they were growing hair and gaining condition, and not a trace of mange remained. It is wonderful, however, how lightly some horse-owners treat the matter. When a horse works hard all day, and spends the night rubbing a fence flat in his itch frenzy, he at once loses condition and usefulness; but in most cases the owner builds the fence stronger instead of giving the unfortunate animal the necessary attention.
This recipe brought many biting comments in later issues.
Somers liked the concise, laconic style. It seemed to him manly and without trimmings. Put ship-shape in the office, no doubt. Sometimes the drawings were good, and sometimes they weren't.
Lady (who has just opened door to country girl carrying suitcase): "I am suited. A country girl has been engaged, and I'm getting her to-morrow."
Girl: "I'm her; and you're not. The 'ouse is too big."
There, thought Somers, you have the whole spirit of Australian labour.
K. Sped: A week or two back a Mildura (Victoria) motor-cyclist ran over a tiger-snake while travelling at 35 m.p.h. Ten minutes later the leg became itchy, and shortly afterwards, feeling giddy, he started back to the local hospital. He made a wobbly passage and collapsed at the hospital gates. He was bad for a week, and was told that if the reptile had not struck him on the bone he would never have reached the ward. The snake must have doubled up when the wheel struck it, and by the merest fluke struck the rider's leg in mid-air.
Fraoch: I knew another case of a white girl marrying an aboriginal about an years ago on the Northern Rivers (New South Wales). She was rather pretty, a descendant of an English family. Binghi was a landed proprietor, having acquired a very decent estate on the death of a former spinster employer. (Binghi must have had "a way wid 'im"). He owned a large, well-furnished house, did himself well, and had a fair education, and was a good rough-rider. But every year the "call of the wild" came to him, and he would leave his wife and kids (they had three) and take himself to an old tumble-down hut in the bush, and there for a month or two live in solitude on his natural tucker. Under the will of the aforesaid spinster, upon Binghi's demise the estate was to revert to her relatives. With an optimism that was not without a pathos of its own, they used to trot out every outlaw in the district for their dusky friend to ride; but his neck was still intact when I left.
Sucre: Peering through her drawing-room window shortly before lunch, the benevolent old suburban lady saw a shivering man in a ruined overcoat. Not all the members of the capitalist classes are iron-souled creatures bent on grinding the faces of the afflicted, yet virtuous poor. Taking a ten shilling note from a heavily-beaded bag, she scribbled on a piece of paper the words: "Cheer Up", put both in an envelope, and told the maid to give it to the outcast from her. While the family was at dinner that evening a ring sounded at the front door. Argument followed in the hall between a hoarse male voice and that of the maid. "You can't come in. They're at dinner." "I'd RATHER come in miss. Always like for to fix these things up in person." "You can't come." Another moment and the needy wayfarer was in the diningroom. He carefully laid five filthy 1 pound notes on the table before his benefactress. "There you are, mum," he said, with a rough salute. "Cheer Up won all right. I'm mostly on the corner, race days, as your cook will tell you; an' I'd like to say that if any uv your FRIENDS - ."
Bits, bits, bits. Yet Richard Lovat read on. It was not mere anecdotage. It was the sheer momentaneous life of the continent. There was no consecutive thread. Only the laconic courage of experience.
All the better. He could have kicked himself for wanting to help mankind, join in revolutions or reforms or any of that stuff. And he kicked himself still harder thinking of his frantic struggles with the "soul" and the "dark god" and the "listener" and the "answerer". Blarney - blarney - blarney! He was a preacher and a blatherer, and he hated himself for it. Damn the "soul", damn the "dark god", damn the "listener" and the "answerer", and above all, damn his own interfering, nosy self.
What right had he to go nosing round Kangaroo, and making up to Jaz or to Jack? Why couldn't he keep off it all? Let the whole show go its own gay course to hell, without Mr. Richard Lovat Somers trying to show it the way it should go.
A very strong wind had got up from the west. It blew down from the dark hills in a fury, and was cold as flat ice. It blew the sea back until the great water looked like dark, ruffled mole-fur. It blew it back till the waves got littler and littler, and could hardly uncurl the least swish of a rat-tail of foam.
On such a day his restlessness had driven them on a trip along the coast to Wolloona. They got to the lost little town just before mid-day, and looked at the shops. The sales were on, and prices were "smashed to bits", "Prices Smashed to Bits", in big labels. Harriet, of course, fascinated in the Main Street, that ran towards the sea, with the steep hills at the back. "Hitch your motor to a star - Star Motor Company." "Your piano is the most important article of furniture in your drawing-room. You will not be proud of your drawing-room unless your piano has a HANDSOME APPEARANCE and a BEAUTIFUL TONE. Both these requisites - ."
It was a wonderful Main Street, and, thank heaven, out of the wind. There were several large but rather scaring brown hotels; with balconies all round: there was a yellow stucco church with a red-painted tin steeple, like a weird toy: there were high roofs and low roofs, all corrugated iron: and you came to an opening, and there, behold, were one or two forlorn bungalows inside their wooden palings, and then the void. The naked bush, sinking in a hollow to a sort of marsh, and then down the coast some sort of "works", brick-works or something, smoking. All as if it had tumbled haphazard off the pantechnicon of civilisation as it dragged round the edges of this wild land, and there lay, busy but not rooted in. As if none of the houses had any foundations.
Bright the sun, the air of marvellous clarity, tall stalks of cabbage palms rising in the hollow, and far off, tufted gum trees against a perfectly new sky, the tufts at the end of wire branches. And farther off, blue, blue hills. In the Main Street, large and expensive motor-cars and women in fuzzy fur coats; long, quiescent Australian men in tired-out-looking navy blue suits trotting on brown ponies, with a carpet-bag in one hand, doing the shopping; girls in very much-made hats, also flirtily shopping; three boys with big, magnificent bare legs, lying in a sunny corner in the dust; a lonely white pony hitched as if forever to a post at a street-corner.
"I like it," said Harriet. "It doesn't feel FINISHED."
"Not even begun," he laughed.
But he liked it too: even the slummyness of some of the bungalows inside their wooden palings, drab-wood, decrepit houses, old tins, broken pots, a greeny-white pony reminding one of a mildewed old shoe, two half-naked babies sitting like bits of live refuse in the dirt, but with bonny, healthy bare legs: the awful place called "The Travellers' Rest - Mrs. Coddy's Boarding Home" - a sort of blind, squalid, corner building made of wood and tin, with flat pieces of old lace curtain nailed inside the windows, and the green blinds hermetically drawn. What must it have been like inside? Then an open space, and coral-trees bristling with red crest-flowers on their bare, cold boughs: and the hollow space of the open country, and the marvellous blue hills of the distance.
The wind was cold enough to make you die. Harriet was disgusted at having been dragged away from home. They trailed to the sea to try and get out of it, for it blew from the land, and the sun was hot. On the bay one lone man flinging a line into the water, on the edge of the conch-shaped, sloping sands. Dark-blue water, ruffled like mole-fur, and flicked all over with froth as with bits of feather-fluff. And many white gannets turning in the air like a snow-storm and plunging down into the water like bombs. And fish leaped in the furry water, as if the wind had turned them upside-down. And the gannets dropping and exploding into the wave, and disappearing. On the sea's horizon, so perfectly clear, a steamer like a beetle walking slowly along. Clear, with a non-earthly clarity.
Harriet and Somers sat and ate sandwiches with a little sand, she dazed but still expostulating. Then they went to walk on the sea's edge, where the sands might be firm. But the beach sloped too much, and they were not firm. The lonely fisherman held up his thin silvery line for them to pass under.
"Don't bother," said Somers.
"Right O!" said he.
He had a sad, beery moustache, a very cold-looking face, and, of course, a little boy, his son, no doubt, for a satellite.
There were little, exquisite pink shells, like Venetian pink glass with white veins or black veins round their sharp little steeples. Harriet loved them, among her grumbles, and they began to gather them: "for trimmings", said Harriet. So, in the flat-icy wind, that no life had ever softened and no god ever tempered, they crouched on the sea's edge picking these marvellous little shells.
Suddenly, with a cry, to find the water rushing round their ankles and surging up their legs, they dragged their way wildly forward with the wave, and out and up the sand. Where immediately a stronger blast seized Lovat's hat and sent it spinning to the sea again, and he after it like a bird. He caught it as the water lifted it, and then the waste of waters enveloped him. Above his knees swirled the green flood, there was water all around him swaying, he looked down at it in amazement, reeling and clutching his hat.
Then once more he clambered out. Harriet had fallen on her knees on the sand in a paroxysm of laughter, and there she was doubled up like a sack, shrieking between her gasps:
"His hat! His hat! He wouldn't let it go" - shrieks, and her head like a sand-bag flops to the sand - "no - not if he had to swim" - shrieks - "swim to Samoa."
He was looking at his wet legs and chuckling with his inward laughter. Vivid, the blue sky: intensely clear, the dark sea, the yellow sands, the swoop of the bay, the low headlands: clear like a miracle. And the water bubbling in his shoes as he walked rolling up the sands.
At last she recovered enough to crawl after him. They sat in a sand-hollow under a big bush with odd red berries, and he wrung out his socks, and all he could of his underpants and trousers. Then he put on his socks and shoes again, and they set off for the station.
"The Pacific water," he said, "is so very seaey, it is almost warm."
At which, looking at his wet legs and wet hat, she went off into shrieks again. But she made him be quick, because there was a train they could catch.
However in the Main Street they thought they would buy another pair of socks. So he bought them, and changed in the shop. And they missed the train, and Harriet expostulated louder.
They went home in a motor-bus and a cloud of dust, with the heaven bluer than blue above, the hills dark and fascinating, and the land so remote seeming. Everything so clear, so very distinct, and yet so marvellously aloof.
All the miles alongside the road tin bungalows in their paling fences: and a man on a pony, in a long black overcoat and a cold nose, driving three happy, fleecy cows, long men in jerseys and white kerchiefs round their necks, a la Buffalo Bill, riding nice slim horses; a woman riding astride top speed on the roadside grass. A motor-car at the palings of one of the bungalows. A few carts coming.
And the occupants of the bus bouncing and bobbing like a circus, because of the very bumpy road.
"Shakes your dinner down," said the old woman with the terribly home-made hat - oh, such difficult, awful hats.
"It does, if you've had any," laughed Harriet.
"Why, you've 'ad your dinner, 'aven't you?"
As concerned as if Harriet was her own stomach, such a nice old woman. And a lovely little boy with the bright, wide, gentle eyes of these Australians. So alert and alive and with that lovableness that almost hurts one. Absolute trust in the "niceness" of the world. A tall, stalky, ginger man with the same bright eyes and a turned-up nose and long stalky legs. An elderly man with bright, friendly, elderly eyes and careless hair and careless clothing. He was Joe, and the other was Alf. Real careless Australians, careless of their appearance, careless of their speech, of their money, of everything - except of their happy-go-lucky, democratic friendliness. Really nice, with bright, quick, willing eyes. Then a young man, perhaps a commercial traveller, with a suit-case. He was quite smartly dressed, and had fancy socks. He was one of those with the big, heavy legs, heavy thighs and calves that showed even in his trousers. And he was physically very self-conscious, very self-conscious of Lovat and Harriet. The driver's face was long and deep red. He was absolutely laconic. And yet, absolutely willing, as if life held no other possibility than that of being an absolutely willing citizen. A fat man with a fat little girl waiting at one of the corners.
"Up she goes!" he said as he lifted her in.
A perpetual, unchanging willingness, and an absolute equality. The same good-humoured, right-you-are approach from everybody to everybody. "Right-you-are! Right-O!" Somers had been told so many hundreds of times, Right-he-was, Right-O!, that he almost had dropped into the way of it. It was like sleeping between blankets - so cosy. So cosy.
They were really awfully nice. There was a winsome charm about them. They none of them seemed mean, or tight, or petty.
The young man with the fine suit and the great legs put down his money, gently and shyly as a girl, beside the driver on the little window-ledge. Then he got out and strode off, shy and quick, with his suit-case.
The young man turned at the driver's summons, and came back.
"Did yer pay me?"
The question was put briskly, good-humouredly, with a touch even of tenderness. The young man pointed to the money. The driver glanced round and saw it.
"Oh! Right you are! Right-O!"
A faint little smile of almost tender understanding, and the young man turned again. And the driver bustled to carry out some goods. The way he stooped to pick up the heavy wooden box in his arms; so WILLING to stoop to burdens. So long, of course, as his Rights of Man were fully recognised. You mustn't try any superior tricks with him.
Well, it was really awfully nice. It was touching. And it made life so easy, so easy.
Of course these were not government servants. Government servants have another sort of feeling. They feel their office, even in New South Wales - even a railway-clerk. Oh, yes.
So nice, so nice, so gentle. The strange, bright-eyed gentleness. Of course, really rub him the wrong way, and you've got a Tartar. But not before you've asked for one. Gentle as a Kangaroo, or a wallaby, with that wide-eyed, bright-eyed alert, RESPONSIBLE gentleness Somers had never known in Europe. It had a great beauty. And at the same time it made his spirits sink.
It made him feel so sad underneath, or uneasy, like an impending disaster. Such a charm. He was so tempted to commit himself to this strange continent and its strange people. It was so fascinating. It seemed so free, an absence of any form of stress whatsoever. No strain in any way, once you could accept it.
He was so tempted, save for a sense of impending disaster at the bottom of his soul. And there a voice kept saying: "No, no. No, no. It won't do. You've got to have a reversion. You can't carry this mode any further. You've got to have a recognition of the innate, sacred separateness."
So when they were walking home in a whirl of the coldest, most flat-edged wind they had ever known, he stopped in front of her to remark:
"Of course you can't go on with a soft, oh-so-friendly life like this here. You've got to have an awakening of the old recognition of the aristocratic principle, the INNATE difference between people."
"Aristocratic principle!" she shrieked on the wind. "You should have seen yourself, flying like a feather into the sea after your hat. Aristocratic PRINCIPLE!" She shrieked with laughter.
"There you are, you see," he said to himself. "I'm at it again". And he laughed too.
The wind blew them home. He made a big fire, and changed, and they drank coffee made with milk, and ate buns.
"Thank heaven for a home," he said, as they sat in the dark, big rooms at Coo-ee, and ate their buns, and looked out of the windows and saw here as well a whirl of gannets like a snowstorm, and a dark sea littered with white fluffs. The wind roared in the chimney, and for the first time the sea was inaudible.
"You see," she said, "how thankful you are for a home."
"Chilled to the bone!" he said. "I'm chilled to the bone with my day's pleasure-outing."
So they drew up the couch before the fire, and he piled rugs on her and jarrah chunks on the fire, and at last it was toastingly warm. He sat on a little barrel which he had discovered in the shed, and in which he kept the coal for the fire. He had been at a loss for a lid to this barrel, till he had found a big tin-lid thrown out on the waste lot. And now the wee barrel with the slightly rusty tin lid was his perch when he wanted to get quite near the fire. Harriet hated it, and had moments when she even carried the lid to the cliff to throw it in the sea. But she brought it back, because she knew he would be so indignant. She reviled him, however.
"Shameful! Hideous! Old tin lids! How can you SIT on it? How you can bring yourself to sit on such a thing, and not feel humiliated. Is that your aristocratic principle?"
"I put a cushion on it," he said.
As he squatted on his tub this evening in the fire-corner, she suddenly turned from her book and cried:
"There he is, on his throne! Sitting on his aristocratic principle!" And again she roared with laughter.
He, however, shook some coal out of the little tub on to the fire, replaced the tin lid and the cushion, and resumed his thoughts. The fire was very warm. She lay stretched in front of it on the sofa, covered with an eiderdown, and reading a Nat Gould novel, to get the real tang of Australia.
"Of course," he said, "this land always gives me the feeling that it doesn't WANT to be touched, it doesn't WANT men to get hold of it."
She looked up from her Nat Gould.
"Yes," she admitted slowly. "And my ideal has always been a farm. But I know now. The farms don't really belong to the land. They only scratch it and irritate it, and are never at one with it."
Whereupon she returned to her Nat Gould, and there was silence save for the hollow of the wind. When she had finished her paper-backed book she said:
"It's just like them - just like they THINK they are."
"Yes," he said vaguely.
"But, bah!" she added, "they make me sick. So absolutely dull - worse than an 'At Home' in the middle classes."
And after a silence, another shriek of laughter suddenly.
"Like a flying-fish! Like a flying-fish dashing into the waves! Dashing into the waves after his hat - ."
He giggled on his tub.
"Fancy, that I'm here in Coo-ee after my day's outing! I can't believe it. I shall call you the flying-fish. It's hard to believe that one was so many things in one day. Suddenly the water! Won't you go now and do the tailor? Twenty to eight! The bold buccaneer!"
The tailor was a fish that had cost a shilling, and which he was to prepare for supper.
Globe: There can't be much telepathy about bullocks, anyhow. In Gippsland (Victoria) last season a score of them were put into a strange paddock, and the whole 20 were found drowned in a hole next morning. Tracks showed that they had gone each on his own along a path, overbalanced one after the other, and were unable to clamber up the rocky banks.
That, thought Richard at the close of the day, is a sufficient comment on herd-unity, equality, domestication, and civilisation. He felt he would have liked to climb down into that hole in which the bullocks were drowning and beat them all hard before they expired, for being such mechanical logs of life.
Telepathy! Think of the marvellous vivid communication of the huge sperm whales. Huge, grand, phallic beasts! Bullocks! Geldings! Men! R.L. wished he could take to the sea and be a whale, a great surge of living blood: away from these all-too-white people, who ought ALL to be called Cellu Lloyd, not only the horse-mange man.
Man is a thought-adventurer. Man is more, he is a life-adventurer. Which means he is a thought-adventurer, an emotion-adventurer, and a discoverer of himself and of the outer universe. A discoverer.
"I am a fool," said Richard Lovat, which was the most frequent discovery he made. It came, moreover, every time with a new shock of surprise and chagrin. Every time he climbed a new mountain range and looked over, he saw, not only a new world, but a big anticipatory fool on this side of it, namely, himself.
Now a novel is supposed to be a mere record of emotion-adventures, flounderings in feelings. We insist that a novel is, or should be, also a thought-adventure, if it is to be anything at all complete.
"I am a fool," thought Richard to himself, "to imagine that I can flounder in a sympathetic universe like a fly in the ointment." We think of ourselves, we think of the ointment, but we do not consider the fly. It fell into the ointment, crying: "Ah, here is a pure and balmy element in which all is unalloyed goodness. Here is attar of roses without a thorn." Hence the fly in the ointment: embalmed in balm. And our repugnance.
"I am a fool," said Richard to himself, "to be floundering round in this easy, cosy, all-so-friendly world. I feel like a fly in the ointment. For heaven's sake let me get out. I suffocate."
Where to? If you're going to get out you must have something to get out on to. Stifling in unctuous sympathy of a harmless humanity.
"Oh," cried the stifling R. "Where is my Rock of Ages?"
He knew well enough. It was where it always has been: in the middle of him.
"Let me get back to my own self," he panted, "hard and central in the centre of myself. I am drowning in this merge of harmlessness, this sympathetic humanity. Oh, for heaven's sake let me crawl out of the sympathetic smear, and get myself clean again."
Back to his own centre - back - back. The inevitable recoil.
"Everything," said R. to himself, in one of those endless conversations with himself which were his chief delight, "everything is relative."
And flop he went into the pot of spikenard.
"Not quite," he gasped, as he crawled out. "Let me drag my isolate and absolute individual self out of this mess."
Which is the history of relativity in man. All is relative as we go flop into the ointment: or the treacle or the flame. But as we crawl out, or flutter out with a smell of burning, the ABSOLUTE holds us spellbound. Oh to be isolate and absolute, and breathe clear.
So that even relativity is only relative. Relative to the absolute.
I am sorry to have to stand, a sorry sight, preening my wings on the brink of the ointment-pot, thought Richard. But from this vantage ground let me preach to myself. He preached, and the record was taken down for this gramophone of a novel.
No, the self is absolute. It may be relative to everything else in the universe. But to itself it is an absolute.
Back to the central self, the isolate, absolute self.
"Now," thought Richard to himself, waving his front paws with gratification: "I must sound the muezzin and summon all men back to their central, isolate selves."
So he drew himself up, when - urch!! He was sluthering over the brim of the ointment pot into the balm of humanity once more.
"Oh, Lord, I nearly did it again," he thought as he clambered out with a sick heart. "I shall do it once too often. The bulk of mankind haven't got any central selves: haven't got any. They're all bits."
Nothing but his fright would have struck this truth out of him. So he crouched still, like a fly very tired with crawling out of the ointment, to think about it.
"The bulk of people haven't got any central selves. They're all bits."
He knew it was true, and he felt rather sick of the sweet odour of the balm of human beatitudes, in which he had been so nearly lost.
"It takes how many thousand facets to make the eye of a fly - or a spider?" he asked himself, being rather hazy scientifically. "Well, all these people are just facets: just bits, that fitted together make a whole. But you can fit the bits together time after time, yet it won't bring the bug to life."
The people of this terrestrial sphere are all bits. Isolate one of them, and he is still only a bit. Isolate your man in the street, and he is just a rudimentary fragment. Supposing you have the misfortune to have your little toe cut off. That little toe won't at once rear on its hind legs and begin to announce: "I'm an isolated individual with an immortal soul." It won't. But your man in the street will. And he is a liar. He's only a bit, and he's only got a minute share of the collective soul. Soul of his own he has none: and never will have. Just a share in the collective soul, no more. Never a thing by himself.
Damn the man in the street, said Richard to himself. Damn the collective soul, it's a dead rat in a hole. Let humanity scratch its own lice.
Now I'll sound my muezzin again. THE MAN BY HIMSELF. "Allah bismallah! God is God and man is man and has a soul of his own. Each man to himself! Each man back to his own soul! Alone, alone, with his own soul alone. God is God and man is man and the man in the street is a louse."
Whatever your relativity, that's the starting point and the finishing point: a man alone with his own soul: and the dark God beyond him.
A man by himself.
Let the men in the street - ugh, horrid millions, crawl the face of the earth like lice or ants or some other ignominy.
The man by himself.
That was one of the names of Erasmus of Rotterdam.
The man by himself.
That is the beginning and end, the alpha and the omega, the one absolute: the man alone by himself, alone with his own soul, alone with his eyes on the darkness which is the dark god of life. Alone like a pythoness on her tripod, like the oracle alone above the fissure into the unknown. The oracle, the fissure down into the unknown, the strange exhalations from the dark, the strange words that the oracle must utter. Strange, cruel, pregnant words: the new term of consciousness.
This is the innermost symbol of man: alone in the darkness of the cavern of himself, listening to soundlessness of inflowing fate. Inflowing fate, inflowing doom, what does it matter? The man by himself - that is the absolute - listening - that is the relativity - for the influx of his fate, or doom.
The man by himself. The listener.
But most men can't listen any more. The fissure is closed up. There is no soundless voice. They are deaf and dumb, ants, scurrying ants.
That is their doom. It is a new kind of absolute. Like riffraff, which has fallen out of living relativity, on to the teeming absolute of the dust-heap, or the ant-heap. Sometimes the dust-heap becomes huge, huge, huge, and covers nearly all the world. Then it turns into a volcano, and all starts again.
"It has nothing to do with me," said Richard to himself. I hope, dear reader, you like plenty of CONVERSATION in a novel: it makes it so much lighter and brisker.
"It has nothing to do with me," said Richard to himself. "They do as they like. But since, after all, I AM a kind-hearted dear creature, I will just climb the minaret of myself and sound my muezzin."
So behold the poor dear on his pinnacle lifting his hands.
"God is God and man is man; and every man by himself. Every man by himself, alone with his own soul. Alone as if he were dead. Dead to himself. He is dead and alone. He is dead; alone. His soul is alone. Alone with God, with the dark God. God is God."
But if he likes to shout muezzins, instead of hawking fried fish or newspapers or lottery tickets, let him.
Poor dear, it was rather an anomalous call: "Listen to me, and be alone." Yet he felt called upon to call it.
To be alone, to be alone, and to rest on the unknown God alone.
The God must be unknown. Once you have defined him or described him, he is the most chummy of pals, as you'll know if you listen to preachers. And once you've chummed up with your God, you'll never be alone again, poor you. For that's the end of you. You and your God chumming it through time and eternity.
Poor Richard saw himself in funny situations.
"My dear young lady, let me entreat you, be alone, only be alone."
"Oh, Mr. Somers, I should love to, if you'd hold my hand."
"There is a gulf," growing sterner, "surrounds each solitary soul. A gulf surrounds you - a gulf surrounds me - ."
"I'M FALLING!" shrieks and flings her arms around his neck. Or Kangaroo.
"Why am I so beastly to Kangaroo?" said Richard to himself. "For beastly I am. I am a detestable little brat to them all round."
A detestable little brat he felt.
But Kangaroo wanted to be a queen-bee of another hive, with all the other bees clustering on him like some huge mulberry. Sickening! Why couldn't he be alone? At least for ONCE. For once withdraw entirely.
And a queen bee buzzing with beatitudes. Beatitudes, beatitudes. Bee attitudes or any other attitudes, it made Richard feel tired. More benevolence, more nauseating benevolence. "Charity suffereth long."
Yet one cannot live a life of entire loneliness, like a monkey on a stick, up and down one's own obstacle. There's got to be meeting: even communion. Well, then, let us have the other communion. "This is thy body which I take from thee and eat" as the priest, also the God, says in the ritual of blood sacrifice. The ritual of supreme responsibility, and offering. Sacrifice to the dark God, and to the men in whom the dark God is manifest. Sacrifice to the strong, not to the weak. In awe, not in dribbling love. The communion in power, the assumption into glory. La gloire.