Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Manalive by G. K. Chesterton

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Was the typewriter an Eskimo? So picturesque a circumstance would not
surely have escaped remark. Was Lady Bullingdon's dressmaker a negress?
A voice in my bosom answers, `No!' Lady Bullingdon, I am sure,
would think a negress so conspicuous as to be almost Socialistic,
and would feel something a little rakish even about an albino.

"But was there in Smith's taste any such variety as the learned
doctor describes? So far as our slight materials go,
the very opposite seems to be the case. We have only
one actual description of any of the prisoner's wives--
the short but highly poetic account by the aesthetic curate.
`Her dress was the colour of spring, and her hair of autumn leaves.'
Autumn leaves, of course, are of various colours, some of
which would be rather startling in hair (green, for instance);
but I think such an expression would be most naturally used of
the shades from red-brown to red, especially as ladies with their
coppery-coloured hair do frequently wear light artistic greens.
Now when we come to the next wife, we find the eccentric lover,
when told he is a donkey, answering that donkeys always go
after carrots; a remark which Lady Bullingdon evidently
regarded as pointless and part of the natural table-talk of a
village idiot, but which has an obvious meaning if we suppose
that Polly's hair was red. Passing to the next wife, the one
he took from the girls' school, we find Miss Gridley noticing
that the schoolgirl in question wore `a reddish-brown dress,
that went quietly enough with the warmer colour of her hair.'
In other words, the colour of the girl's hair was something redder
than red-brown. Lastly, the romantic organ-grinder declaimed
in the office some poetry that only got as far as the words,--

`O vivid, inviolate head,
Ringed --'

But I think that a wide study of the worst modern poets
will enable us to guess that `ringed with a glory of red,'
or `ringed with its passionate red,' was the line that rhymed
to `head.' In this case once more, therefore, there is good
reason to suppose that Smith fell in love with a girl with
some sort of auburn or darkish-red hair--rather," he said,
looking down at the table, "rather like Miss Gray's hair."

Cyrus Pym was leaning forward with lowered eyelids,
ready with one of his more pedantic interpellations;
but Moses Gould suddenly struck his forefinger on his nose,
with an expression of extreme astonishment and intelligence
in his brilliant eyes.

"Mr. Moon's contention at present," interposed Pym, "is not,
even if veracious, inconsistent with the lunatico-criminal view
of I. Smith, which we have nailed to the mast. Science has
long anticipated such a complication. An incurable attraction
to a particular type of physical woman is one of the commonest
of criminal per-versities, and when not considered narrowly,
but in the light of induction and evolution--"

"At this late stage," said Michael Moon very quietly, "I may perhaps
relieve myself of a simple emotion that has been pressing me
throughout the proceedings, by saying that induction and evolution
may go and boil themselves. The Missing Link and all that is
well enough for kids, but I'm talking about things we know here.
All we know of the Missing Link is that he is missing--and he won't
be missed either. I know all about his human head and his horrid tail;
they belong to a very old game called `Heads I win, tails you lose.'
If you do find a fellow's bones, it proves he lived a long while ago;
if you don't find his bones, it proves how long ago he lived.
That is the game you've been playing with this Smith affair.
Because Smith's head is small for his shoulders you call
him microcephalous; if it had been large, you'd have called it
water-on-the-brain. As long as poor old Smith's seraglio seemed
pretty various, variety was the sign of madness: now, because it's
turning out to be a bit monochrome--now monotony is the sign of madness.
I suffer from all the disadvantages of being a grown-up person,
and I'm jolly well going to get some of the advantages too;
and with all politeness I propose not to be bullied with long words
instead of short reasons, or consider your business a triumphant
progress merely because you're always finding out that you were wrong.
Having relieved myself of these feelings, I have merely to add
that I regard Dr. Pym as an ornament to the world far more beautiful
than the Parthenon, or the monument on Bunker's Hill, and that I
propose to resume and conclude my remarks on the many marriages
of Mr. Innocent Smith.

"Besides this red hair, thee is another unifying thread that
runs through these scattered incidents. There is something
very peculiar and suggestive about the names of these women.
Mr. Trip, you will remember, said he thought the typewriter's
name was Blake, but could not remember exactly.
I suggest that it might have been Black, and in that case we
have a curious series: Miss Green in Lady Bullingdon's village;
Miss Brown at the Hendon School; Miss Black at the publishers.
A chord of colours, as it were, which ends up with Miss Gray
at Beacon House, West Hampstead."

Amid a dead silence Moon continued his exposition.
"What is the meaning of this queer coincidence about colours?
Personally I cannot doubt for a moment that these names are purely
arbitrary names, assumed as part of some general scheme or joke.
I think it very probably that they were taken from a series of costumes--
that Polly Green only meant Polly (or Mary) when in green,
and that Mary Gray only means Mary (or Polly) when in gray.
This would explain--"

Cyrus Pym was standing up rigid and almost pallid.
"Do you actually mean to suggest--" he cried.

"Yes," said Michael; "I do mean to suggest that. Innocent Smith has had
many wooings, and many weddings for all I know; but he has had only one wife.
She was sitting on that chair an hour ago, and is now talking to Miss Duke
in the garden.

"Yes, Innocent Smith has behaved here, as he has on hundreds of
other occasions, upon a plain and perfectly blameless principle.
It is odd and extravagant in the modern world, but not more than any other
principle plainly applied in the modern world would be. His principle
can be quite simply stated: he refuses to die while he is still alive.
He seeks to remind himself, by every electric shock to the intellect,
that he is still a man alive, walking on two legs about the world.
For this reason he fires bullets at his best friends; for this reason
he arranges ladders and collapsible chimneys to steal his own property;
for this reason he goes plodding around a whole planet to get back to his
own home; and for this reason he has been in the habit of taking the woman
whom he loved with a permanent loyalty, and leaving her about (so to speak)
at schools, boarding-houses, and places of business, so that he might
recover her again and again with a raid and a romantic elopement.
He seriously sought by a perpetual recapture of his bride to keep alive
the sense of her perpetual value, and the perils that should be run
for her sake.

"So far his motives are clear enough; but perhaps his convictions are
not quite so clear. I think Innocent Smith has an idea at the bottom
of all this. I am by no means sure that I believe it myself, but I am
quite sure that it is worth a man's uttering and defending.

"The idea that Smith is attacking is this. Living in an entangled
civilization, he have come to think certain things wrong which are
not wrong at all. We have come to think outbreak and exuberance,
banging and barging, rotting and wrecking, wrong. In themselves they
are not merely pardonable; they are unimpeachable. There is nothing
wicked about firing a pistol off even at a friend, so long as you do not
mean to hit him and know you won't. It is no more wrong than throwing
a pebble at the sea--less, for you do occasionally hit the sea.
There is nothing wrong in bashing down a chimney-pot and breaking
through a roof, so long as you are not injuring the life or property
of other men. It is no more wrong to choose to enter a house from
the top than to choose to open a packing-case from the bottom.
There is nothing wicked about walking round the world and coming back
to your own house; it is no more wicked than walking round the garden
and coming back to your own house. And there is nothing wicked
about picking up your wife here, there, and everywhere, if, forsaking
all others, you keep only to her so long as you both shall live.
It is as innocent as playing a game of hide-and-seek in the garden.
You associate such acts with blackguardism by a mere snobbish association,
as you think there is something vaguely vile about going (or being
seen going) into a pawnbroker's or a public-house. You think there
is something squalid and commonplace about such a connection.
You are mistaken.

"This man's spiritual power has been precisely this,
that he has distinguished between custom and creed.
He has broken the conventions, but he has kept the commandments.
It is as if a man were found gambling wildly in a gambling hell,
and you found that he only played for trouser buttons.
It is as if you found a man making a clandestine appointment
with a lady at a Covent Garden ball, and then you found it
was his grandmother. Everything is ugly and discreditable,
except the facts; everything is wrong about him, except that
he has done no wrong.

"It will then be asked, `Why does Innocent Smith continued far into his
middle age a farcical existence, that exposes him to so many false charges?'
To this I merely answer that he does it because he really is happy,
because he really is hilarious, because he really is a man and alive.
He is so young that climbing garden trees and playing silly
practical jokes are still to him what they once were to us all.
And if you ask me yet again why he alone among men should be fed
with such inexhaustible follies, I have a very simple answer to that,
though it is one that will not be approved.

"There is but one answer, and I am sorry if you don't like it.
If Innocent is happy, it is because he IS innocent. If he can defy
the conventions, it is just because he can keep the commandments.
It is just because he does not want to kill but to excite to life
that a pistol is still as exciting to him as it is to a schoolboy.
It is just because he does not want to steal, because he does not covet
his neighbour's goods, that he has captured the trick (oh, how we all
long for it!), the trick of coveting his own goods. It is just because
he does not want to commit adultery that he achieves the romance of sex;
it is just because he loves one wife that he has a hundred honeymoons.
If he had really murdered a man, if he had really deserted a woman,
he would not be able to feel that a pistol or a love-letter was like a song--
at least, not a comic song."

"Do not imagine, please, that any such attitude is easy
to me or appeals in any particular way to my sympathies.
I am an Irishman, and a certain sorrow is in my bones, bred either
of the persecutions of my creed, or of my creed itself.
Speaking singly, I feel as if a man was tied to tragedy,
and there was no way out of the trap of old age and doubt.
But if there is a way out, then, by Christ and St. Patrick,
this is the way out. If one could keep as happy as a child or a dog,
it would be by being as innocent as a child, or as sinless as a dog.
Barely and brutally to be good--that may be the road,
and he may have found it. Well, well, well, I see a look
of skepticism on the face of my old friend Moses. Mr. Gould
does not believe that being perfectly good in all respects
would make a man merry."

"No," said Gould, with an unusual and convincing gravity;
"I do not believe that being perfectly good in all respects
would make a man merry."

"Well," said Michael quietly, "will you tell me one thing?
Which of us has ever tried it?"

A silence ensued, rather like the silence of some long geological
epoch which awaits the emergence of some unexpected type;
for there rose at last in the stillness a massive figure
that the other men had almost completely forgotten.

"Well, gentlemen," said Dr. Warner cheerfully, "I've been pretty
well entertained with all this pointless and incompetent tomfoolery
for a couple of days; but it seems to be wearing rather thin,
and I'm engaged for a city dinner. Among the hundred flowers
of futility on both sides I was unable to detect any sort of reason
why a lunatic should be allowed to shoot me in the back garden."

He had settled his silk hat on his head and gone out sailing placidly to
the garden gate, while the almost wailing voice of Pym still followed him:
"But really the bullet missed you by several feet." And another voice added:
"The bullet missed him by several years."

There was a long and mainly unmeaning silence, and then
Moon said suddenly, "We have been sitting with a ghost.
Dr. Herbert Warner died years ago."

Chapter V

How the Great Wind Went
from Beacon House

Mary was walking between Diana and Rosamund slowly up and down the garden;
they were silent, and the sun had set. Such spaces of daylight as remained
open in the west were of a warm-tinted white, which can be compared
to nothing but a cream cheese; and the lines of plumy cloud that ran
across them had a soft but vivid violet bloom, like a violet smoke.
All the rest of the scene swept and faded away into a dove-like gray,
and seemed to melt and mount into Mary's dark-gray figure until she seemed
clothed with the garden and the skies. There was something in these last
quiet colours that gave her a setting and a supremacy; and the twilight,
which concealed Diana's statelier figure and Rosamund's braver array,
exhibited and emphasized her, leaving her the lady of the garden, and alone.

When they spoke at last it was evident that a conversation long
fallen silent was being revived.

"But where is your husband taking you?" asked Diana in her practical voice.

"To an aunt," said Mary; "that's just the joke. There really
is an aunt, and we left the children with her when I arranged
to be turned out of the other boarding-house down the road.
We never take more than a week of this kind of holiday,
but sometimes we take two of them together."

"Does the aunt mind much?" asked Rosamund innocently. "Of course,
I dare say it's very narrow-minded and--what's that other word?--
you know, what Goliath was--but I've known many aunts who would
think it--well, silly."

"Silly?" cried Mary with great heartiness. "Oh, my Sunday hat!
I should think it was silly! But what do you expect?
He really is a good man, and it might have been snakes or something."

"Snakes?" inquired Rosamund, with a slightly puzzled interest.

"Uncle Harry kept snakes, and said they loved him," replied Mary
with perfect simplicity. "Auntie let him have them in his pockets,
but not in the bedroom."

"And you--" began Diana, knitting her dark brows a little.

"Oh, I do as auntie did," said Mary; "as long as we're not away
from the children more than a fortnight together I play the game.
He calls me `Manalive;' and you must write it all one word,
or he's quite flustered."

"But if men want things like that," began Diana.

"Oh, what's the good of talking about men?" cried Mary impatiently;
"why, one might as well be a lady novelist or some horrid thing.
There aren't any men. There are no such people. There's a man;
and whoever he is he's quite different."

"So there is no safety," said Diana in a low voice.

"Oh, I don't know," answered Mary, lightly enough;
"there's only two things generally true of them.
At certain curious times they're just fit to take care of us,
and they're never fit to take care of themselves."

"There is a gale getting up," said Rosamund suddenly.
"Look at those trees over there, a long way off, and the
clouds going quicker."

"I know what you're thinking about," said Mary; "and don't
you be silly fools. Don't you listen to the lady novelists.
You go down the king's highway; for God's truth, it is
God's. Yes, my dear Michael will often be extremely untidy.
Arthur Inglewood will be worse--he'll be untidy. But what else
are all the trees and clouds for, you silly kittens?"

"The clouds and trees are all waving about," said Rosamund. "There is
a storm coming, and it makes me feel quite excited, somehow. Michael is
really rather like a storm: he frightens me and makes me happy."

"Don't you be frightened," said Mary. "All over, these men
have one advantage; they are the sort that go out."

A sudden thrust of wind through the trees drifted the dying leaves along
the path, and they could hear the far-off trees roaring faintly.

"I mean," said Mary, "they are the kind that look outwards and get interested
in the world. It doesn't matter a bit whether it's arguing, or bicycling,
or breaking down the ends of the earth as poor old Innocent does. Stick to
the man who looks out of the window and tries to understand the world.
Keep clear of the man who looks in at the window and tries to understand you.
When poor old Adam had gone out gardening (Arthur will go out gardening),
the other sort came along and wormed himself in, nasty old snake."

"You agree with your aunt," said Rosamund, smiling: "no snakes
in the bedroom."

"I didn't agree with my aunt very much," replied Mary simply,
"but I think she was right to let Uncle Harry collect dragons
and griffins, so long as it got him out of the house."

Almost at the same moment lights sprang up inside the darkened house,
turning the two glass doors into the garden into gates of beaten gold.
The golden gates were burst open, and the enormous Smith, who had
sat like a clumsy statue for so many hours, came flying and turning
cart-wheels down the lawn and shouting, "Acquitted! acquitted!"
Echoing the cry, Michael scampered across the lawn to Rosamund and
wildly swung her into a few steps of what was supposed to be a waltz.
But the company knew Innocent and Michael by this time,
and their extravagances were gaily taken for granted; it was far
more extraordinary that Arthur Inglewood walked straight up to Diana
and kissed her as if it had been his sister's birthday. Even Dr. Pym,
though he refrained from dancing, looked on with real benevolence;
for indeed the whole of the absurd revelation had disturbed him
less than the others; he half supposed that such irresponsible
tribunals and insane discussions were part of the mediaeval mummeries
of the Old Land.

While the tempest tore the sky as with trumpets, window after window was
lighted up in the house within; and before the company, broken with laughter
and the buffeting of the wind, had groped their way to the house again,
they saw that the great apish figure of Innocent Smith had clambered
out of his own attic window, and roaring again and again, "Beacon House!"
whirled round his head a huge log or trunk from the wood fire below,
of which the river of crimson flame and purple smoke drove out on
the deafening air.

He was evident enough to have been seen from three counties;
but when the wind died down, and the party, at the top of
their evening's merriment, looked again for Mary and for him,
they were not to be found.

Book of the day: