Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 13

I was at the Hôtel de Luynes--or Granger--early on the following
morning. The mists were still hanging about the dismal upper windows of
the inscrutable Faubourg; the toilet of the city was being completed;
the little hoses on wheels were clattering about the quiet larger
streets. I had not much courage thus early in the day. I had started
impulsively; stepping with the impulse of immediate action from the
doorstep of the dairy where I had breakfasted. But I made detours; it
was too early, and my pace slackened into a saunter as I passed the row
of porters' lodges in that dead, inscrutable street. I wanted to fly;
had that impulse very strongly; but I burnt my boats with my inquiry of
the incredibly ancient, one-eyed porteress. I made my way across the
damp court-yard, under the enormous portico, and into the chilly stone
hall that no amount of human coming and going sufficed to bring back to
a semblance of life. Mademoiselle was expecting me. One went up a great
flight of stone steps into one of the immensely high, narrow, impossibly
rectangular ante-rooms that one sees in the frontispieces of old plays.
The furniture looked no more than knee-high until one discovered that
one's self had no appreciable stature. The sad light slanted in ruled
lines from the great height of the windows; an army of motes moved
slowly in and out of the shadows. I went after awhile and looked
disconsolately out into the court-yard. The porteress was making her way
across the gravelled space, her arms, her hands, the pockets of her
black apron full of letters of all sizes. I remembered that the
_facteur_ had followed me down the street. A noise of voices came
confusedly to my ears from between half-opened folding-doors; the thing
reminded me of my waiting in de Mersch's rooms. It did not last so long.
The voices gathered tone, as they do at the end of a colloquy, succeeded
each other at longer intervals, and at last came to a sustained halt.
The tall doors moved ajar and she entered, followed by a man whom I
recognized as the governor of a province of the day before. In that
hostile light he looked old and weazened and worried; seemed to have
lost much of his rotundity. As for her, she shone with a light of her
own.

He greeted me dejectedly, and did not brighten when she let him know
that we had a mutual friend in Callan. The Governor, it seemed, in his
capacity of Supervisor of the Système, was to conduct that distinguished
person through the wilds of Greenland; was to smooth his way and to
point out to him excellences of administration.

I wished him a good journey; he sighed and began to fumble with his hat.

"_Alors, c'est entendu_," she said; giving him leave to depart. He
looked at her in an odd sort of way, took her hand and applied it to his
lips.

"_C'est entendu_," he said with a heavy sigh, drops of moisture
spattering from beneath his white moustache, "_mais_ ..."

He ogled again with infinitesimal eyes and went out of the room. He had
the air of wishing to wipe the perspiration from his brows and to
exclaim, "_Quelle femme_!" But if he had any such wish he mastered it
until the door hid him from sight.

"Why the ..." I began before it had well closed, "do you allow that
thing to make love to you?" I wanted to take up my position before she
could have a chance to make me ridiculous. I wanted to make a long
speech--about duty to the name of Granger. But the next word hung, and,
before it came, she had answered:

"He?--Oh, I'm making use of him."

"To inherit the earth?" I asked ironically, and she answered gravely:

"To inherit the earth."

She was leaning against the window, playing with the strings of the
blinds, and silhouetted against the leaden light. She seemed to be,
physically, a little tired; and the lines of her figure to interlace
almost tenderly--to "compose" well, after the ideas of a certain school.
I knew so little of her--only just enough to be in love with her--that
this struck me as the herald of a new phase, not so much in her attitude
to me as in mine to her; she had even then a sort of gravity, the
gravity of a person on whom things were beginning to weigh.

"But," I said, irresolutely. I could not speak to her; to this new
conception of her, in the way I had planned; in the way one would talk
to a brilliant, limpid--oh, to a woman of sorts. But I had to take
something of my old line. "How would flirting with that man help you?"

"It's quite simple," she answered, "he's to show Callan all Greenland,
and Callan is to write ... Callan has immense influence over a great
class, and he will have some of the prestige of--of a Commissioner."

"Oh, I know about Callan," I said.

"And," she went on, "this man had orders to hide things from Callan; you
know what it is they have to hide. But he won't now; that is what I was
arranging. It's partly by bribery and partly because he has a belief in
his _beaux yeux_--so Callan will be upset and will write an ...
exposure; the sort of thing Callan would write if he were well upset.
And he will be, by what this man will let him see. You know what a
little man like Callan will feel ... he will be made ill. He would faint
at the sight of a drop of blood, you know, and he will see--oh, the very
worst, worse than what Radet saw. And he will write a frightful article,
and it will be a thunderclap for de Mersch.... And de Mersch will be
getting very shaky by then. And your friend Churchill will try to carry
de Mersch's railway bill through in the face of the scandal. Churchill's
motives will be excellent, but everyone will say ... You know what
people say ... That is what I and Gurnard want. We want people to talk;
we want them to believe...."

I don't know whether there really was a hesitation in her voice, or
whether I read that into it. She stood there, playing with the knots of
the window-cords and speaking in a low monotone. The whole thing, the
sad twilight of the place, her tone of voice, seemed tinged with
unavailing regret. I had almost forgotten the Dimensionist story, and I
had never believed in it. But now, for the first time I began to have my
doubts. I was certain that she had been plotting _something_ with one of
the Duc de Mersch's lieutenants. The man's manner vouched for that; he
had not been able to look me in the face. But, more than anything, his
voice and manner made me feel that we had passed out of a realm of
farcical allegory. I knew enough to see that she might be speaking the
truth. And, if she were, her calm avowal of such treachery proved that
she _was_ what she had said the Dimensionists were; cold, with no
scruples, clear-sighted and admirably courageous, and indubitably
enemies of society.

"I don't understand," I said. "But de Mersch then?"

She made a little gesture; one of those movements that I best remember
of her; the smallest, the least noticeable. It reduced de Mersch to
nothing; he no longer even counted.

"Oh, as for him," she said, "he is only a detail." I had still the idea
that she spoke with a pitying intonation--as if she were speaking to a
dog in pain. "He doesn't really count; not really. He will crumble up
and disappear, very soon. You won't even remember him."

"But," I said, "you go about with him, as if you.... You are getting
yourself talked about.... Everyone thinks--" ... The accusation that I
had come to make seemed impossible, now I was facing her. "I believe," I
added, with the suddenness of inspiration. "I'm certain even, that _he_
thinks that you ..."

"Well, they think that sort of thing. But it is only part of the game.
Oh, I assure you it is no more than that."

I was silent. I felt that, for one reason or another, she wished me to
believe.

"Yes," she said, "I want you to believe. It will save you a good deal of
pain."

"If you wanted to save me pain," I maintained, "you would have done with
de Mersch ... for good." I had an idea that the solution was beyond me.
It was as if the controlling powers were flitting, invisible, just above
my head, just beyond my grasp. There was obviously something vibrating;
some cord, somewhere, stretched very taut and quivering. But I could
think of no better solution than: "You must have done with him." It
seemed obvious, too, that that was impossible, was outside the range of
things that could be done--but I had to do my best. "It's a--it's vile,"
I added, "vile."

"Oh, I know, I know," she said, "for you.... And I'm even sorry. But it
has to be gone on with. De Mersch has to go under in just this way. It
can't be any other."

"Why not?" I asked, because she had paused. I hadn't any desire for
enlightenment.

"It isn't even only Churchill," she said, "not even only that de Mersch
will bring down Churchill with him. It is that he must bring down
everything that Churchill stands for. You know what that is--the sort of
probity, all the old order of things. And the more vile the means used
to destroy de Mersch the more vile the whole affair will seem.
People--the sort of people--have an idea that a decent man cannot be
touched by tortuous intrigues. And the whole thing will be--oh,
malodorous. You understand."

"I don't," I answered, "I don't understand at all."

"Ah, yes, you do," she said, "you understand...." She paused for a long
while, and I was silent. I understood vaguely what she meant; that if
Churchill fell amid the clouds of dust of such a collapse, there would
be an end of belief in probity ... or nearly an end. But I could not see
what it all led up to; where it left us.

"You see," she began again, "I want to make it as little painful to you
as I can; as little painful as explanations _can_ make it. I can't feel
as you feel, but I can see, rather dimly, what it is that hurts you. And
so ... I want to; I really want to."

"But you won't do the one thing," I returned hopelessly to the charge.

"I cannot," she answered, "it must be like that; there isn't any way.
You are so tied down to these little things. Don't you see that de
Mersch, and--and all these people--don't really count? They aren't
anything at all in the scheme of things. I think that, even for you,
they aren't worth bothering about. They're only accidents; the accidents
that--"

"That what?" I asked, although I began to see dimly what she meant.

"That lead in the inevitable," she answered. "Don't you see? Don't you
understand? We _are_ the inevitable ... and you can't keep us back. We
have to come and you, you will only hurt yourself, by resisting." A
sense that this was the truth, the only truth, beset me. It was for the
moment impossible to think of anything else--of anything else in the
world. "You must accept us and all that we mean, you must stand back;
sooner or later. Look even all round you, and you will understand
better. You are in the house of a type--a type that became impossible.
Oh, centuries ago. And that type too, tried very hard to keep back the
inevitable; not only because itself went under, but because everything
that it stood for went under. And it had to suffer--heartache ... that
sort of suffering. Isn't it so?"

I did not answer; the illustration was too abominably just. It was just
that. There were even now all these people--these Legitimists--sneering
ineffectually; shutting themselves away from the light in their mournful
houses and suffering horribly because everything that they stood for had
gone under.

"But even if I believe you," I said, "the thing is too horrible, and
your tools are too mean; that man who has just gone out and--and
Callan--are they the weapons of the inevitable? After all, the
Revolution ..." I was striving to get back to tangible ideas--ideas that
one could name and date and label ... "the Revolution was noble in
essence and made for good. But all this of yours is too vile and too
petty. You are bribing, or something worse, that man to betray his
master. And that you call helping on the inevitable...."

"They used to say just that of the Revolution. That wasn't nice of its
tools. Don't you see? They were the people that went under.... They
couldn't see the good...."

"And I--I am to take it on trust," I said, bitterly.

"You couldn't see the good," she answered, "it isn't possible, and there
is no way of explaining. Our languages are different, and there's no
bridge--no bridge at all. We _can't_ meet...."

It was that revolted me. If there was no bridge and we could not meet,
we must even fight; that is, if I believed her version of herself. If I
did not, I was being played the fool with. I preferred to think that. If
she were only fooling me she remained attainable. If it was as she said,
there was no hope at all--not any.

"I don't believe you," I said, suddenly. I didn't want to believe her.
The thing was too abominable--too abominable for words, and incredible.
I struggled against it as one struggles against inevitable madness,
against the thought of it. It hung over me, stupefying, deadening. One
could only fight it with violence, crudely, in jerks, as one struggles
against the numbness of frost. It was like a pall, like descending
clouds of smoke, seemed to be actually present in the absurdly lofty
room--this belief in what she stood for, in what she said she stood for.

"I don't believe you," I proclaimed, "I won't.... You are playing the
fool with me ... trying to get round me ... to make me let you go on
with these--with these--It is abominable. Think of what it means for me,
what people are saying of me, and I am a decent man--You shall not. Do
you understand, you _shall_ not. It is unbearable ... and you ... you
try to fool me ... in order to keep me quiet ..."

"Oh, no," she said. "Oh, no."

She had an accent that touched grief, as nearly as she could touch it. I
remember it now, as one remembers these things. But then I passed it
over. I was too much moved myself to notice it more than subconsciously,
as one notices things past which one is whirled. And I was whirled past
these things, in an ungovernable fury at the remembrance of what I had
suffered, of what I had still to suffer. I was speaking with intense
rage, jerking out words, ideas, as floodwater jerks through a sluice
the _débris_ of once ordered fields.

"You are," I said, "you _are_--you--you--dragging an ancient name
through the dust--you ..."

I forget what I said. But I remember, "dragging an ancient name." It
struck me, at the time, by its forlornness, as part of an appeal to her.
It was so pathetically tiny a motive, so out of tone, that it stuck in
my mind. I only remember the upshot of my speech; that, unless she
swore--oh, yes, swore--to have done with de Mersch, I would denounce her
to my aunt at that very moment and in that very house.

And she said that it was impossible.

Joseph Conrad

Sorry, no summary available yet.