Part 1 out of 7
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson,
THE RESEARCH MAGNIFICENT
by H. G. Wells (1915)
ON FEAR AND ARISTOCRACY
I. THE BOY GROWS UP
II. THE YOUNG MAN ABOUT TOWN
IV. THE SPIRITED HONEYMOON
V. THE ASSIZE OF JEALOUSY
VI. THE NEW HAROUN AL RASCHID
THE RESEARCH MAGNIFICENT
ON FEAR AND ARISTOCRACY
The story of William Porphyry Benham is the story of a man who was
led into adventure by an idea. It was an idea that took possession
of his imagination quite early in life, it grew with him and changed
with him, it interwove at last completely with his being. His story
is its story. It was traceably germinating in the schoolboy; it was
manifestly present in his mind at the very last moment of his
adventurous life. He belonged to that fortunate minority who are
independent of daily necessities, so that he was free to go about
the world under its direction. It led him far. It led him into
situations that bordered upon the fantastic, it made him ridiculous,
it came near to making him sublime. And this idea of his was of
such a nature that in several aspects he could document it. Its
logic forced him to introspection and to the making of a record.
An idea that can play so large a part in a life must necessarily
have something of the complication and protean quality of life
itself. It is not to be stated justly in any formula, it is not to
be rendered by an epigram. As well one might show a man's skeleton
for his portrait. Yet, essentially, Benham's idea was simple. He
had an incurable, an almost innate persuasion that he had to live
life nobly and thoroughly. His commoner expression for that
thorough living is "the aristocratic life." But by "aristocratic"
he meant something very different from the quality of a Russian
prince, let us say, or an English peer. He meant an intensity, a
clearness. . . . Nobility for him was to get something out of his
individual existence, a flame, a jewel, a splendour--it is a thing
easier to understand than to say.
One might hesitate to call this idea "innate," and yet it comes soon
into a life when it comes at all. In Benham's case we might trace
it back to the Day Nursery at Seagate, we might detect it stirring
already at the petticoat stage, in various private struttings and
valiant dreamings with a helmet of pasteboard and a white-metal
sword. We have most of us been at least as far as that with Benham.
And we have died like Horatius, slaying our thousands for our
country, or we have perished at the stake or faced the levelled
muskets of the firing party--"No, do not bandage my eyes"--because
we would not betray the secret path that meant destruction to our
city. But with Benham the vein was stronger, and it increased
instead of fading out as he grew to manhood. It was less obscured
by those earthy acquiescences, those discretions, that saving sense
of proportion, which have made most of us so satisfactorily what we
are. "Porphyry," his mother had discovered before he was seventeen,
"is an excellent boy, a brilliant boy, but, I begin to see, just a
The interest of him, the absurdity of him, the story of him, is
Most of us are--balanced; in spite of occasional reveries we do come
to terms with the limitations of life, with those desires and dreams
and discretions that, to say the least of it, qualify our nobility,
we take refuge in our sense of humour and congratulate ourselves on
a certain amiable freedom from priggishness or presumption, but for
Benham that easy declension to a humorous acceptance of life as it
is did not occur. He found his limitations soon enough; he was
perpetually rediscovering them, but out of these interments of the
spirit he rose again--remarkably. When we others have decided that,
to be plain about it, we are not going to lead the noble life at
all, that the thing is too ambitious and expensive even to attempt,
we have done so because there were other conceptions of existence
that were good enough for us, we decided that instead of that
glorious impossible being of ourselves, we would figure in our own
eyes as jolly fellows, or sly dogs, or sane, sound, capable men or
brilliant successes, and so forth--practicable things. For Benham,
exceptionally, there were not these practicable things. He
blundered, he fell short of himself, he had--as you will be told--
some astonishing rebuffs, but they never turned him aside for long.
He went by nature for this preposterous idea of nobility as a linnet
hatched in a cage will try to fly.
And when he discovered--and in this he was assisted not a little by
his friend at his elbow--when he discovered that Nobility was not
the simple thing he had at first supposed it to be, he set himself
in a mood only slightly disconcerted to the discovery of Nobility.
When it dawned upon him, as it did, that one cannot be noble, so to
speak, IN VACUO, he set himself to discover a Noble Society. He
began with simple beliefs and fine attitudes and ended in a
conscious research. If he could not get through by a stride, then
it followed that he must get through by a climb. He spent the
greater part of his life studying and experimenting in the noble
possibilities of man. He never lost his absurd faith in that
conceivable splendour. At first it was always just round the corner
or just through the wood; to the last it seemed still but a little
way beyond the distant mountains.
For this reason this story has been called THE RESEARCH MAGNIFICENT.
It was a real research, it was documented. In the rooms in
Westhaven Street that at last were as much as one could call his
home, he had accumulated material for--one hesitates to call it a
book--let us say it was an analysis of, a guide to the noble life.
There after his tragic death came his old friend White, the
journalist and novelist, under a promise, and found these papers; he
found them to the extent of a crammed bureau, half a score of patent
files quite distended and a writing-table drawer-full, and he was
greatly exercised to find them. They were, White declares, they are
still after much experienced handling, an indigestible aggregation.
On this point White is very assured. When Benham thought he was
gathering together a book he was dreaming, White says. There is no
book in it. . . .
Perhaps too, one might hazard, Benham was dreaming when he thought
the noble life a human possibility. Perhaps man, like the ape and
the hyaena and the tapeworm and many other of God's necessary but
less attractive creatures, is not for such exalted ends. That doubt
never seems to have got a lodgment in Benham's skull; though at
times one might suppose it the basis of White's thought. You will
find in all Benham's story, if only it can be properly told, now
subdued, now loud and amazed and distressed, but always traceable,
this startled, protesting question, "BUT WHY THE DEVIL AREN'T WE?"
As though necessarily we ought to be. He never faltered in his
persuasion that behind the dingy face of this world, the earthy
stubbornness, the baseness and dulness of himself and all of us,
lurked the living jewels of heaven, the light of glory, things
unspeakable. At first it seemed to him that one had only just to
hammer and will, and at the end, after a life of willing and
hammering, he was still convinced there was something, something in
the nature of an Open Sesame, perhaps a little more intricate than
one had supposed at first, a little more difficult to secure, but
still in that nature, which would suddenly roll open for mankind the
magic cave of the universe, that precious cave at the heart of all
things, in which one must believe.
And then life--life would be the wonder it so perplexingly just
isn't. . . .
Benham did not go about the world telling people of this consuming
research. He was not the prophet or preacher of his idea. It was
too living and intricate and uncertain a part of him to speak freely
about. It was his secret self; to expose it casually would have
shamed him. He drew all sorts of reserves about him, he wore his
manifest imperfections turned up about him like an overcoat in
bitter wind. He was content to be inexplicable. His thoughts led
him to the conviction that this magnificent research could not be,
any more than any other research can be, a solitary enterprise, but
he delayed expression; in a mighty writing and stowing away of these
papers he found a relief from the unpleasant urgency to confess and
explain himself prematurely. So that White, though he knew Benham
with the intimacy of an old schoolfellow who had renewed his
friendship, and had shared his last days and been a witness of his
death, read the sheets of manuscript often with surprise and with a
sense of added elucidation.
And, being also a trained maker of books, White as he read was more
and more distressed that an accumulation so interesting should be so
entirely unshaped for publication. "But this will never make a
book," said White with a note of personal grievance. His hasty
promise in their last moments together had bound him, it seemed, to
a task he now found impossible. He would have to work upon it
tremendously; and even then he did not see how it could be done.
This collection of papers was not a story, not an essay, not a
confession, not a diary. It was--nothing definable. It went into
no conceivable covers. It was just, White decided, a proliferation.
A vast proliferation. It wanted even a title. There were signs
that Benham had intended to call it THE ARISTOCRATIC LIFE, and that
he had tried at some other time the title of AN ESSAY ON
ARISTOCRACY. Moreover, it would seem that towards the end he had
been disposed to drop the word "aristocratic" altogether, and adopt
some such phrase as THE LARGER LIFE. Once it was LIFE SET FREE. He
had fallen away more and more from nearly everything that one
associates with aristocracy--at the end only its ideals of
fearlessness and generosity remained.
Of all these titles THE ARISTOCRATIC LIFE seemed at first most like
a clue to White. Benham's erratic movements, his sudden impulses,
his angers, his unaccountable patiences, his journeys to strange
places, and his lapses into what had seemed to be pure
adventurousness, could all be put into system with that. Before
White had turned over three pages of the great fascicle of
manuscript that was called Book Two, he had found the word "Bushido"
written with a particularly flourishing capital letter and twice
repeated. "That was inevitable," said White with the comforting
regret one feels for a friend's banalities. "And it dates . . .
[unreadable] this was early. . . ."
"Modern aristocracy, the new aristocracy," he read presently, "has
still to be discovered and understood. This is the necessary next
step for mankind. As far as possible I will discover and understand
it, and as far as I know it I will be it. This is the essential
disposition of my mind. God knows I have appetites and sloths and
habits and blindnesses, but so far as it is in my power to release
myself I will escape to this. . . ."
White sat far into the night and for several nights turning over
papers and rummaging in untidy drawers. Memories came back to him
of his dead friend and pieced themselves together with other
memories and joined on to scraps in this writing. Bold yet
convincing guesses began to leap across the gaps. A story shaped
itself. . . .
The story began with the schoolfellow he had known at
Benham had come up from his father's preparatory school at Seagate.
He had been a boy reserved rather than florid in his acts and
manners, a boy with a pale face, incorrigible hair and brown eyes
that went dark and deep with excitement. Several times White had
seen him excited, and when he was excited Benham was capable of
tensely daring things. On one occasion he had insisted upon walking
across a field in which was an aggressive bull. It had been put
there to prevent the boys taking a short cut to the swimming place.
It had bellowed tremendously and finally charged him. He had dodged
it and got away; at the time it had seemed an immense feat to White
and the others who were safely up the field. He had walked to the
fence, risking a second charge by his deliberation. Then he had sat
on the fence and declared his intention of always crossing the field
so long as the bull remained there. He had said this with white
intensity, he had stopped abruptly in mid-sentence, and then
suddenly he had dropped to the ground, clutched the fence, struggled
with heaving shoulders, and been sick.
The combination of apparently stout heart and manifestly weak
stomach had exercised the Minchinghampton intelligence profoundly.
On one or two other occasions Benham had shown courage of the same
rather screwed-up sort. He showed it not only in physical but in
mental things. A boy named Prothero set a fashion of religious
discussion in the school, and Benham, after some self-examination,
professed an atheistical republicanism rather in the manner of
Shelley. This brought him into open conflict with Roddles, the
History Master. Roddles had discovered these theological
controversies in some mysterious way, and he took upon himself to
talk at Benham and Prothero. He treated them to the common
misapplication of that fool who "hath said in his heart there is no
God." He did not perceive there was any difference between the fool
who says a thing in his heart and one who says it in the dormitory.
He revived that delectable anecdote of the Eton boy who professed
disbelief and was at once "soundly flogged" by his head master.
"Years afterwards that boy came back to thank ----"
"Gurr," said Prothero softly. "STEW--ard !"
"Your turn next, Benham," whispered an orthodox controversialist.
"Good Lord! I'd like to see him," said Benham with a forced
loudness that could scarcely be ignored.
The subsequent controversy led to an interview with the head. From
it Benham emerged more whitely strung up than ever. "He said he
would certainly swish me if I deserved it, and I said I would
certainly kill him if he did."
"He told me to go away and think it over. Said he would preach
about it next Sunday. . . . Well, a swishing isn't a likely thing
anyhow. But I would. . . . There isn't a master here I'd stand a
thrashing from--not one. . . . And because I choose to say what I
think! . . . I'd run amuck."
For a week or so the school was exhilarated by a vain and ill-
concealed hope that the head might try it just to see if Benham
would. It was tantalizingly within the bounds of possibility. . . .
These incidents came back to White's mind as he turned over the
newspapers in the upper drawer of the bureau. The drawer was
labelled "Fear--the First Limitation," and the material in it was
evidently designed for the opening volume of the great unfinished
book. Indeed, a portion of it was already arranged and written up.
As White read through this manuscript he was reminded of a score of
schoolboy discussions Benham and he and Prothero had had together.
Here was the same old toughness of mind, a kind of intellectual
hardihood, that had sometimes shocked his schoolfellows. Benham had
been one of those boys who do not originate ideas very freely, but
who go out to them with a fierce sincerity. He believed and
disbelieved with emphasis. Prothero had first set him doubting, but
it was Benham's own temperament took him on to denial. His youthful
atheism had been a matter for secret consternation in White. White
did not believe very much in God even then, but this positive
disbelieving frightened him. It was going too far. There had been
a terrible moment in the dormitory, during a thunderstorm, a
thunderstorm so vehement that it had awakened them all, when Latham,
the humourist and a quietly devout boy, had suddenly challenged
Benham to deny his Maker.
"NOW say you don't believe in God?"
Benham sat up in bed and repeated his negative faith, while little
Hopkins, the Bishop's son, being less certain about the accuracy of
Providence than His aim, edged as far as he could away from Benham's
cubicle and rolled his head in his bedclothes.
"And anyhow," said Benham, when it was clear that he was not to be
struck dead forthwith, "you show a poor idea of your God to think
he'd kill a schoolboy for honest doubt. Even old Roddles--"
"I can't listen to you," cried Latham the humourist, "I can't listen
to you. It's--HORRIBLE."
"Well, who began it?" asked Benham.
A flash of lightning lit the dormitory and showed him to White
white-faced and ablaze with excitement, sitting up with the bed-
clothes about him. "Oh WOW!" wailed the muffled voice of little
Hopkins as the thunder burst like a giant pistol overhead, and he
buried his head still deeper in the bedclothes and gave way to
Latham's voice came out of the darkness. "This ATHEISM that you and
Billy Prothero have brought into the school--"
He started violently at another vivid flash, and every one remained
silent, waiting for the thunder. . . .
But White remembered no more of the controversy because he had made
a frightful discovery that filled and blocked his mind. Every time
the lightning flashed, there was a red light in Benham's eyes. . . .
It was only three days after when Prothero discovered exactly the
same phenomenon in the School House boothole and talked of cats and
cattle, that White's confidence in their friend was partially
restored. . . .
"Fear, the First Limitation"--his title indicated the spirit of
Benham's opening book very clearly. His struggle with fear was the
very beginning of his soul's history. It continued to the end. He
had hardly decided to lead the noble life before he came bump
against the fact that he was a physical coward. He felt fear
acutely. "Fear," he wrote, "is the foremost and most persistent of
the shepherding powers that keep us in the safe fold, that drive us
back to the beaten track and comfort and--futility. The beginning
of all aristocracy is the subjugation of fear."
At first the struggle was so great that he hated fear without any
qualification; he wanted to abolish it altogether.
"When I was a boy," he writes, "I thought I would conquer fear for
good and all, and never more be troubled by it. But it is not to be
done in that way. One might as well dream of having dinner for the
rest of one's life. Each time and always I have found that it has
to be conquered afresh. To this day I fear, little things as well
as big things. I have to grapple with some little dread every day--
urge myself. . . . Just as I have to wash and shave myself every
day. . . . I believe it is so with every one, but it is difficult
to be sure; few men who go into dangers care very much to talk about
fear. . . ."
Later Benham found some excuses for fear, came even to dealings with
fear. He never, however, admits that this universal instinct is any
better than a kindly but unintelligent nurse from whose fostering
restraints it is man's duty to escape. Discretion, he declared,
must remain; a sense of proportion, an "adequacy of enterprise," but
the discretion of an aristocrat is in his head, a tactical detail,
it has nothing to do with this visceral sinking, this ebb in the
nerves. "From top to bottom, the whole spectrum of fear is bad,
from panic fear at one extremity down to that mere disinclination
for enterprise, that reluctance and indolence which is its lowest
phase. These are things of the beast, these are for creatures that
have a settled environment, a life history, that spin in a cage of
instincts. But man is a beast of that kind no longer, he has left
his habitat, he goes out to limitless living. . . ."
This idea of man going out into new things, leaving securities,
habits, customs, leaving his normal life altogether behind him,
underlay all Benham's aristocratic conceptions. And it was natural
that he should consider fear as entirely inconvenient, treat it
indeed with ingratitude, and dwell upon the immense liberations that
lie beyond for those who will force themselves through its
remonstrances. . . .
Benham confessed his liability to fear quite freely in these notes.
His fear of animals was ineradicable. He had had an overwhelming
dread of bears until he was twelve or thirteen, the child's
irrational dread of impossible bears, bears lurking under the bed
and in the evening shadows. He confesses that even up to manhood he
could not cross a field containing cattle without keeping a wary eye
upon them--his bull adventure rather increased than diminished that
disposition--he hated a strange dog at his heels and would manoeuvre
himself as soon as possible out of reach of the teeth or heels of a
horse. But the peculiar dread of his childhood was tigers. Some
gaping nursemaid confronted him suddenly with a tiger in a cage in
the menagerie annexe of a circus. "My small mind was overwhelmed."
"I had never thought," White read, "that a tiger was much larger
than a St. Bernard dog. . . . This great creature! . . . I could
not believe any hunter would attack such a monster except by stealth
and with weapons of enormous power. . . .
"He jerked himself to and fro across his cramped, rickety cage and
looked over my head with yellow eyes--at some phantom far away.
Every now and then he snarled. The contempt of his detestable
indifference sank deeper and deeper into my soul. I knew that were
the cage to vanish I should stand there motionless, his helpless
prey. I knew that were he at large in the same building with me I
should be too terror-stricken to escape him. At the foot of a
ladder leading clear to escape I should have awaited him paralyzed.
At last I gripped my nurse's hand. 'Take me away,' I whispered.
"In my dreams that night he stalked me. I made my frozen flight
from him, I slammed a door on him, and he thrust his paw through a
panel as though it had been paper and clawed for me. The paw got
longer and longer. . . .
"I screamed so loudly that my father came up from his study.
"I remember that he took me in his arms.
"'It's only a big sort of pussy, Poff,' he said. 'FELIS TIGRIS.
FELIS, you know, means cat.'
"But I knew better. I was in no mood then for my father's
"'And my little son mustn't be a coward.' . . .
"After that I understood I must keep silence and bear my tigers
"For years the thought of that tiger's immensity haunted my mind.
In my dreams I cowered before it a thousand times; in the dusk it
rarely failed me. On the landing on my way to bed there was a patch
of darkness beyond a chest that became a lurking horror for me, and
sometimes the door of my father's bedroom would stand open and there
was a long buff and crimson-striped shape, by day indeed an ottoman,
but by night--. Could an ottoman crouch and stir in the flicker of
a passing candle? Could an ottoman come after you noiselessly, and
so close that you could not even turn round upon it? No!"
When Benham was already seventeen and, as he supposed, hardened
against his fear of beasts, his friend Prothero gave him an account
of the killing of an old labouring man by a stallion which had
escaped out of its stable. The beast had careered across a field,
leapt a hedge and come upon its victim suddenly. He had run a few
paces and stopped, trying to defend his head with the horse rearing
over him. It beat him down with two swift blows of its fore hoofs,
one, two, lifted him up in its long yellow teeth and worried him as
a terrier does a rat--the poor old wretch was still able to make a
bleating sound at that--dropped him, trampled and kicked him as he
tried to crawl away, and went on trampling and battering him until
he was no more than a bloody inhuman bundle of clothes and mire.
For more than half an hour this continued, and then its animal rage
was exhausted and it desisted, and went and grazed at a little
distance from this misshapen, hoof-marked, torn, and muddy remnant
of a man. No one it seems but a horror-stricken child knew what was
happening. . . .
This picture of human indignity tortured Benham's imagination much
more than it tortured the teller of the tale. It filled him with
shame and horror. For three or four years every detail of that
circumstantial narrative seemed unforgettable. A little lapse from
perfect health and the obsession returned. He could not endure the
neighing of horses: when he saw horses galloping in a field with him
his heart stood still. And all his life thereafter he hated horses.
A different sort of fear that also greatly afflicted Benham was due
to a certain clumsiness and insecurity he felt in giddy and unstable
places. There he was more definitely balanced between the
hopelessly rash and the pitifully discreet.
He had written an account of a private struggle between himself and
a certain path of planks and rock edges called the Bisse of Leysin.
This happened in his adolescence. He had had a bad attack of
influenza and his doctor had sent him to a little hotel--the only
hotel it was in those days--at Montana in Valais. There, later,
when he had picked up his strength, his father was to join him and
take him mountaineering, that second-rate mountaineering which is so
dear to dons and schoolmasters. When the time came he was ready for
that, but he had had his experiences. He had gone through a phase
of real cowardice. He was afraid, he confessed, before even he
reached Montana; he was afraid of the steepness of the mountains.
He had to drive ten or twelve miles up and up the mountain-side, a
road of innumerable hairpin bends and precipitous banks, the horse
was gaunt and ugly with a disposition to shy, and he confesses he
clutched the side of the vehicle and speculated how he should jump
if presently the whole turnout went tumbling over. . . .
"And afterwards I dreamt dreams of precipices. I made strides over
precipices, I fell and fell with a floating swiftness towards remote
valleys, I was assailed by eagles upon a perilous ledge that
crumbled away and left me clinging by my nails to nothing."
The Bisse of Leysin is one of those artificial water-courses which
bring water from some distant source to pastures that have an
insufficient or uncertain supply. It is a little better known than
most because of a certain exceptional boldness in its construction;
for a distance of a few score yards it runs supported by iron
staples across the front of a sheer precipice, and for perhaps half
a mile it hangs like an eyebrow over nearly or quite vertical walls
of pine-set rock. Beside it, on the outer side of it, runs a path,
which becomes an offhand gangway of planking at the overhanging
places. At one corner, which gives the favourite picture postcard
from Montana, the rocks project so sharply above the water that the
passenger on the gangway must crouch down upon the bending plank as
he walks. There is no hand-hold at all.
A path from Montana takes one over a pine-clad spur and down a
precipitous zig-zag upon the middle of the Bisse, and thither Benham
came, fascinated by the very fact that here was something of which
the mere report frightened him. He had to walk across the cold
clear rush of the Bisse upon a pine log, and then he found himself
upon one of the gentler interludes of the Bisse track. It was a
scrambling path nearly two feet wide, and below it were slopes, but
not so steep as to terrify. At a vast distance below he saw through
tree-stems and blue haze a twisted strand of bright whiteness, the
river that joins the Rhone at Sion. It looped about and passed out
of sight remotely beneath his feet. He turned to the right, and
came to a corner that overhung a precipice. He craned his head
round this corner and saw the evil place of the picture-postcards.
He remained for a long time trying to screw himself up to walk along
the jagged six-inch edge of rock between cliff and torrent into
which the path has shrunken, to the sagging plank under the
overhanging rock beyond.
He could not bring himself to do that.
"It happened that close to the corner a large lump of rock and earth
was breaking away, a cleft was opening, so that presently, it seemed
possible at any moment, the mass would fall headlong into the blue
deeps below. This impending avalanche was not in my path along the
Bisse, it was no sort of danger to me, but in some way its
insecurity gave a final touch to my cowardice. I could not get
myself round that corner."
He turned away. He went and examined the planks in the other
direction, and these he found less forbidding. He crossed one
precipitous place, with a fall of twoscore feet or less beneath him,
and found worse ahead. There also he managed. A third place was
still more disagreeable. The plank was worn and thin, and sagged
under him. He went along it supporting himself against the rock
above the Bisse with an extended hand. Halfway the rock fell back,
so that there was nothing whatever to hold. He stopped, hesitating
whether he should go back--but on this plank there was no going back
because no turning round seemed practicable. While he was still
hesitating there came a helpful intervention. Behind him he saw a
peasant appearing and disappearing behind trees and projecting rock
masses, and coming across the previous plank at a vigorous trot. . . .
Under the stimulus of a spectator Benham got to the end of this
third place without much trouble. Then very politely he stood aside
for the expert to go ahead so that he could follow at his own pace.
There were, however, more difficulties yet to come, and a
disagreeable humiliation. That confounded peasant developed a
parental solicitude. After each crossing he waited, and presently
began to offer advice and encouragement. At last came a place where
everything was overhanging, where the Bisse was leaking, and the
plank wet and slippery. The water ran out of the leak near the brim
of the wooden channel and fell in a long shivering thread of silver.
THERE WAS NO SOUND OF ITS FALL. It just fell--into a void. Benham
wished he had not noted that. He groaned, but faced the plank; he
knew this would be the slowest affair of all.
The peasant surveyed him from the further side.
"Don't be afraid!" cried the peasant in his clumsy Valaisian French,
and returned, returning along the plank that seemed quite
sufficiently loaded without him, extending a charitable hand.
"Damn!" whispered Benham, but he took the hand.
Afterwards, rather ignobly, he tried to explain in his public-school
French. "Pas de peur," he said. "Pas de peur. Mais la tete, n'a
The peasant, failing to understand, assured him again that there was
Benham was led over all the other planks, he was led as if he was an
old lady crossing a glacier. He was led into absolute safety, and
shamefacedly he rewarded his guide. Then he went a little way and
sat down, swore softly, and watched the honest man go striding and
plunging down towards Lens until he was out of sight.
"Now," said Benham to himself, "if I do not go back along the planks
my secret honour is gone for ever."
He told himself that he had not a good head, that he was not well,
that the sun was setting and the light no longer good, that he had a
very good chance indeed of getting killed. Then it came to him
suddenly as a clear and simple truth, as something luminously plain,
that it is better to get killed than go away defeated by such fears
and unsteadiness as his. The change came into his mind as if a
white light were suddenly turned on--where there had been nothing
but shadows and darkness. He rose to his feet and went swiftly and
intently the whole way back, going with a kind of temperate
recklessness, and, because he was no longer careful, easily. He
went on beyond his starting place toward the corner, and did that
supreme bit, to and fro, that bit where the lump was falling away,
and he had to crouch, as gaily as the rest. Then he recrossed the
Bisse upon the pine log, clambered up through the pines to the
crest, and returned through the meadows to his own hotel.
After that he should have slept the sleep of contentment, but
instead he had quite dreadful nightmares, of hanging in frozen fear
above incredible declivities, of ill-aimed leaps across chasms to
slippery footholds, of planks that swayed and broke suddenly in the
middle and headed him down and down. . . .
The next day in the sunshine he walked the Bisse again with those
dreams like trailing mists in his mind, and by comparison the path
of the Bisse was nothing, it was like walking along a kerbstone, it
was an exercise for young ladies. . . .
In his younger days Benham had regarded Fear as a shameful secret
and as a thing to be got rid of altogether. It seemed to him that
to feel fear was to fall short of aristocracy, and in spite of the
deep dreads and disgusts that haunted his mind, he set about the
business of its subjugation as if it were a spiritual amputation.
But as he emerged from the egotism of adolescence he came to realize
that this was too comprehensive an operation; every one feels fear,
and your true aristocrat is not one who has eliminated, but one who
controls or ignores it. Brave men are men who do things when they
are afraid to do them, just as Nelson, even when he was seasick, and
he was frequently seasick, was still master of the sea. Benham
developed two leading ideas about fear; one that it is worse at the
first onset, and far worse than any real experience, and the other
that fear is essentially a social instinct. He set himself upon
these lines to study--what can we call it?--the taming of fear, the
nature, care, and management of fear. . . .
"Fear is very like pain in this, that it is a deterrent thing. It
is superficial. Just as a man's skin is infinitely more sensitive
than anything inside. . . . Once you have forced yourself or have
been forced through the outward fear into vivid action or
experience, you feel very little. The worst moment is before things
happen. Rowe, the African sportsman, told me that he had seen
cowardice often enough in the presence of lions, but he had never
seen any one actually charged by a lion who did not behave well. I
have heard the same thing of many sorts of dangers.
"I began to suspect this first in the case of falling or jumping
down. Giddiness may be an almost intolerable torture, and falling
nothing of the sort. I once saw the face of an old man who had
flung himself out of a high window in Rome, and who had been killed
instantly on the pavement; it was not simply a serene face, it was
glad, exalted. I suspect that when we have broken the shell of
fear, falling may be delightful. Jumping down is, after all, only a
steeper tobogganing, and tobogganing a milder jumping down. Always
I used to funk at the top of the Cresta run. I suffered sometimes
almost intolerably; I found it almost impossible to get away. The
first ten yards was like being slashed open with a sharp sword. But
afterwards there was nothing but joyful thrills. All instinct, too,
fought against me when I tried high diving. I managed it, and began
to like it. I had to give it up because of my ears, but not until I
had established the habit of stepping through that moment of
"I was Challoner's passenger when he was killed at Sheerness. That
was a queer unexpected experience, you may have supposed it an agony
of terror, but indeed there was no fear in it at all. At any rate,
I do not remember a moment of fear; it has gone clean out of my
memory if ever it was there. We were swimming high and fast, three
thousand feet or so, in a clear, sweet air over the town of
Sheerness. The river, with a string of battleships, was far away to
the west of us, and the endless grey-blue flats of the Thames to the
north. The sun was low behind a bank of cloud. I was watching a
motor-car, which seemed to be crawling slowly enough, though, no
doubt, it was making a respectable pace, between two hedges down
below. It is extraordinary how slowly everything seems to be going
when one sees it from such an height.
"Then the left wing of the monoplane came up like a door that slams,
some wires whistled past my head, and one whipped off my helmet, and
then, with the seat slipping away from me, down we went. I snatched
unavailingly for the helmet, and then gripped the sides. It was
like dropping in a boat suddenly into the trough of a wave--and
going on dropping. We were both strapped, and I got my feet against
the side and clung to the locked second wheel.
"The sensation was as though something like an intermittent electric
current was pouring through me. It's a ridiculous image to use, I
can't justify it, but it was as if I was having cold blue light
squirted through every pore of my being. There was an astonishment,
a feeling of confirmation. 'Of course these things do happen
sometimes,' I told myself. I don't remember that Challoner looked
round or said anything at all. I am not sure that I looked at
him. . . .
"There seemed to be a long interval of intensely excited curiosity,
and I remember thinking, 'Lord, but we shall come a smash in a
minute!' Far ahead I saw the grey sheds of Eastchurch and people
strolling about apparently unaware of our disaster. There was a
sudden silence as Challoner stopped the engine. . . .
"But the point I want to insist upon is that I did not feel afraid.
I was simply enormously, terribly INTERESTED. . . .
"There came a tremendous jolt and a lunge, and we were both tipped
forward, so that we were hanging forehead down by our straps, and it
looked as if the sheds were in the sky, then I saw nothing but sky,
then came another vast swerve, and we were falling sideways,
sideways. . . .
"I was altogether out of breath and PHYSICALLY astonished, and I
remember noting quite intelligently as we hit the ground how the
green grass had an effect of POURING OUT in every direction from
below us. . . .
"Then I remember a jerk and a feeling that I was flying up again. I
was astonished by a tremendous popping--fabric, wires, everything
seemed going pop, pop, pop, like a machine-gun, and then came a
flash of intense pain as my arm crumpled up. It was quite
impersonal pain. As impersonal as seeing intense colour.
SPLINTERS! I remember the word came into my head instantly. I
remember that very definitely.
"I thought, I suppose, my arm was in splinters. Or perhaps of the
scraps and ends of rods and wires flying about us. It is curious
that while I remember the word I cannot recall the idea. . . .
"When I became conscious again the chief thing present in my mind
was that all those fellows round were young soldiers who wouldn't at
all understand bad behaviour. My arm was--orchestral, but still far
from being real suffering IN me. Also I wanted to know what
Challoner had got. They wouldn't understand my questions, and then
I twisted round and saw from the negligent way his feet came out
from under the engine that he must be dead. And dark red stains
with bright red froth--
"There again the chief feeling was a sense of oddity. I wasn't
sorry for him any more than I was for myself.
"It seemed to me that it was all right with us both, remarkable,
vivid, but all right. . . ."
"But though there is little or no fear in an aeroplane, even when it
is smashing up, there is fear about aeroplanes. There is something
that says very urgently, 'Don't,' to the man who looks up into the
sky. It is very interesting to note how at a place like Eastchurch
or Brooklands the necessary discretion trails the old visceral
feeling with it, and how men will hang about, ready to go up,
resolved to go up, but delaying. Men of indisputable courage will
get into a state between dread and laziness, and waste whole hours
of flying weather on any excuse or no excuse. Once they are up that
inhibition vanishes. The man who was delaying and delaying half an
hour ago will now be cutting the most venturesome capers in the air.
Few men are in a hurry to get down again. I mean that quite apart
from the hesitation of landing, they like being up there."
Then, abruptly, Benham comes back to his theory.
"Fear, you see, is the inevitable janitor, but it is not the ruler
of experience. That is what I am driving at in all this. The bark
of danger is worse than its bite. Inside the portals there may be
events and destruction, but terror stays defeated at the door. It
may be that when that old man was killed by a horse the child who
watched suffered more than he did. . . .
"I am sure that was so. . . ."
As White read Benham's notes and saw how his argument drove on, he
was reminded again and again of those schoolboy days and Benham's
hardihood, and his own instinctive unreasonable reluctance to follow
those gallant intellectual leads. If fear is an ancient instinctive
boundary that the modern life, the aristocratic life, is bound to
ignore and transcend, may this not also be the case with pain? We
do a little adventure into the "life beyond fear"; may we not also
think of adventuring into the life beyond pain? Is pain any saner a
warning than fear? May not pain just as much as fear keep us from
possible and splendid things? But why ask a question that is
already answered in principle in every dentist's chair? Benham's
idea, however, went much further than that, he was clearly
suggesting that in pain itself, pain endured beyond a certain pitch,
there might come pleasure again, an intensity of sensation that
might have the colour of delight. He betrayed a real anxiety to
demonstrate this possibility, he had the earnestness of a man who is
sensible of dissentient elements within. He hated the thought of
pain even more than he hated fear. His arguments did not in the
least convince White, who stopped to poke the fire and assure
himself of his own comfort in the midst of his reading.
Young people and unseasoned people, Benham argued, are apt to
imagine that if fear is increased and carried to an extreme pitch it
becomes unbearable, one will faint or die; given a weak heart, a
weak artery or any such structural defect and that may well happen,
but it is just as possible that as the stimulation increases one
passes through a brief ecstasy of terror to a new sane world,
exalted but as sane as normal existence. There is the calmness of
despair. Benham had made some notes to enforce this view, of the
observed calm behaviour of men already hopelessly lost, men on
sinking ships, men going to execution, men already maimed and
awaiting the final stroke, but for the most part these were merely
references to books and periodicals. In exactly the same way, he
argued, we exaggerate the range of pain as if it were limitless. We
think if we are unthinking that it passes into agony and so beyond
endurance to destruction. It probably does nothing of the kind.
Benham compared pain to the death range of the electric current. At
a certain voltage it thrills, at a greater it torments and
convulses, at a still greater it kills. But at enormous voltages,
as Tesla was the first to demonstrate, it does no injury. And
following on this came memoranda on the recorded behaviour of
martyrs, on the self-torture of Hindoo ascetics, of the defiance of
Red Indian prisoners.
"These things," Benham had written, "are much more horrible when one
considers them from the point of view of an easy-chair";--White gave
an assenting nod--"ARE THEY REALLY HORRIBLE AT ALL? Is it possible
that these charred and slashed and splintered persons, those Indians
hanging from hooks, those walkers in the fiery furnace, have had
glimpses through great windows that were worth the price they paid
for them? Haven't we allowed those checks and barriers that are so
important a restraint upon childish enterprise, to creep up into and
distress and distort adult life? . . .
"The modern world thinks too much as though painlessness and freedom
from danger were ultimate ends. It is fear-haunted, it is troubled
by the thoughts of pain and death, which it has never met except as
well-guarded children meet these things, in exaggerated and
untestable forms, in the menagerie or in nightmares. And so it
thinks the discovery of anaesthetics the crowning triumph of
civilization, and cosiness and innocent amusement, those ideals of
the nursery, the whole purpose of mankind. . . ."
"Mm," said White, and pressed his lips together and knotted his
brows and shook his head.
But the bulk of Benham's discussion of fear was not concerned with
this perverse and overstrained suggestion of pleasure reached
through torture, this exaggeration of the man resolved not to shrink
at anything; it was an examination of the present range and use of
fear that led gradually to something like a theory of control and
discipline. The second of his two dominating ideas was that fear is
an instinct arising only in isolation, that in a crowd there may be
a collective panic, but that there is no real individual fear.
Fear, Benham held, drives the man back to the crowd, the dog to its
master, the wolf to the pack, and when it is felt that the danger is
pooled, then fear leaves us. He was quite prepared to meet the
objection that animals of a solitary habit do nevertheless exhibit
fear. Some of this apparent fear, he argued, was merely discretion,
and what is not discretion is the survival of an infantile
characteristic. The fear felt by a tiger cub is certainly a social
emotion, that drives it back to the other cubs, to its mother and
the dark hiding of the lair. The fear of a fully grown tiger sends
it into the reeds and the shadows, to a refuge, that must be "still
reminiscent of the maternal lair." But fear has very little hold
upon the adult solitary animal, it changes with extreme readiness to
resentment and rage.
"Like most inexperienced people," ran his notes, "I was astonished
at the reported feats of men in war; I believed they were
exaggerated, and that there was a kind of unpremeditated conspiracy
of silence about their real behaviour. But when on my way to visit
India for the third time I turned off to see what I could of the
fighting before Adrianople, I discovered at once that a thousand
casually selected conscripts will, every one of them, do things
together that not one of them could by any means be induced to do
alone. I saw men not merely obey orders that gave them the nearly
certain prospect of death, but I saw them exceeding orders; I saw
men leap out of cover for the mere sake of defiance, and fall shot
through and smashed by a score of bullets. I saw a number of
Bulgarians in the hands of the surgeon, several quite frightfully
wounded, refuse chloroform merely to impress the English onlooker,
some of their injuries I could scarcely endure to see, and I watched
a line of infantry men go on up a hill and keep on quite manifestly
cheerful with men dropping out and wriggling, and men dropping out
and lying still until every other man was down. . . . Not one man
would have gone up that hill alone, without onlookers. . . ."
Rowe, the lion hunter, told Benham that only on one occasion in his
life had he given way to ungovernable fear, and that was when he was
alone. Many times he had been in fearful situations in the face of
charging lions and elephants, and once he had been bowled over and
carried some distance by a lion, but on none of these occasions had
fear demoralized him. There was no question of his general pluck.
But on one occasion he was lost in rocky waterless country in
Somaliland. He strayed out in the early morning while his camels
were being loaded, followed some antelope too far, and lost his
bearings. He looked up expecting to see the sun on his right hand
and found it on his left. He became bewildered. He wandered some
time and then fired three signal shots and got no reply. Then
losing his head he began shouting. He had only four or five more
cartridges and no water-bottle. His men were accustomed to his
going on alone, and might not begin to remark upon his absence until
sundown. . . . It chanced, however, that one of the shikari noted
the water-bottle he had left behind and organized a hunt for him.
Long before they found him he had passed to an extremity of terror.
The world had become hideous and threatening, the sun was a pitiless
glare, each rocky ridge he clambered became more dreadful than the
last, each new valley into which he looked more hateful and
desolate, the cramped thorn bushes threatened him gauntly, the rocks
had a sinister lustre, and in every blue shadow about him the night
and death lurked and waited. There was no hurry for them, presently
they would spread out again and join and submerge him, presently in
the confederated darkness he could be stalked and seized and slain.
Yes, this he admitted was real fear. He had cracked his voice,
yelling as a child yells. And then he had become afraid of his own
voice. . . .
"Now this excess of fear in isolation, this comfort in a crowd, in
support and in a refuge, even when support or refuge is quite
illusory, is just exactly what one would expect of fear if one
believed it to be an instinct which has become a misfit. In the
ease of the soldier fear is so much a misfit that instead of saving
him for the most part it destroys him. Raw soldiers under fire
bunch together and armies fight in masses, men are mowed down in
swathes, because only so is the courage of the common men sustained,
only so can they be brave, albeit spread out and handling their
weapons as men of unqualified daring would handle them they would be
infinitely safer and more effective. . . .
"And all of us, it may be, are restrained by this misfit fear from a
thousand bold successful gestures of mind and body, we are held back
from the attainment of mighty securities in pitiful temporary
shelters that are perhaps in the end no better than traps. . . ."
From such considerations Benham went on to speculate how far the
crowd can be replaced in a man's imagination, how far some
substitute for that social backing can be made to serve the same
purpose in neutralizing fear. He wrote with the calm of a man who
weighs the probabilities of a riddle, and with the zeal of a man
lost to every material consideration. His writing, it seemed to
White, had something of the enthusiastic whiteness of his face, the
enthusiastic brightness of his eyes. We can no more banish fear
from our being at present than we can carve out the fleshy pillars
of the heart or the pineal gland in the brain. It is deep in our
inheritance. As deep as hunger. And just as we have to satisfy
hunger in order that it should leave us free, so we have to satisfy
the unconquerable importunity of fear. We have to reassure our
faltering instincts. There must be something to take the place of
lair and familiars, something not ourselves but general, that we
must carry with us into the lonely places. For it is true that man
has now not only to learn to fight in open order instead of in a
phalanx, but he has to think and plan and act in open order, to live
in open order. . . .
Then with one of his abrupt transitions Benham had written, "This
brings me to God."
"The devil it does!" said White, roused to a keener attention.
"By no feat of intention can we achieve courage in loneliness so
long as we feel indeed alone. An isolated man, an egoist, an
Epicurean man, will always fail himself in the solitary place.
There must be something more with us to sustain us against this vast
universe than the spark of life that began yesterday and must be
extinguished to-morrow. There can be no courage beyond social
courage, the sustaining confidence of the herd, until there is in us
the sense of God. But God is a word that covers a multitude of
meanings. When I was a boy I was a passionate atheist, I defied
God, and so far as God is the mere sanction of social traditions and
pressures, a mere dressing up of the crowd's will in canonicals, I
do still deny him and repudiate him. That God I heard of first from
my nursemaid, and in very truth he is the proper God of all the
nursemaids of mankind. But there is another God than that God of
obedience, God the immortal adventurer in me, God who calls men from
home and country, God scourged and crowned with thorns, who rose in
a nail-pierced body out of death and came not to bring peace but a
With something bordering upon intellectual consternation, White, who
was a decent self-respecting sceptic, read these last clamberings of
Benham's spirit. They were written in pencil; they were unfinished
when he died.
(Surely the man was not a Christian!)
"You may be heedless of death and suffering because you think you
cannot suffer and die, or you may be heedless of death and pain
because you have identified your life with the honour of mankind and
the insatiable adventurousness of man's imagination, so that the
possible death is negligible and the possible achievement altogether
outweighs it." . . .
White shook his head over these pencilled fragments.
He was a member of the Rationalist Press Association, and he had
always taken it for granted that Benham was an orthodox unbeliever.
But this was hopelessly unsound, heresy, perilous stuff; almost, it
seemed to him, a posthumous betrayal. . . .
One night when he was in India the spirit of adventure came upon
Benham. He had gone with Kepple, of the forestry department, into
the jungle country in the hills above the Tapti. He had been very
anxious to see something of that aspect of Indian life, and he had
snatched at the chance Kepple had given him. But they had scarcely
started before the expedition was brought to an end by an accident,
Kepple was thrown by a pony and his ankle broken. He and Benham
bandaged it as well as they could, and a litter was sent for, and
meanwhile they had to wait in the camp that was to have been the
centre of their jungle raids. The second day of this waiting was
worse for Kepple than the first, and he suffered much from the
pressure of this amateurish bandaging. In the evening Benham got
cool water from the well and rearranged things better; the two men
dined and smoked under their thatched roof beneath the big banyan,
and then Kepple, tired out by his day of pain, was carried to his
tent. Presently he fell asleep and Benham was left to himself.
Now that the heat was over he found himself quite indisposed to
sleep. He felt full of life and anxious for happenings.
He went back and sat down upon the iron bedstead beneath the banyan,
that Kepple had lain upon through the day, and he watched the soft
immensity of the Indian night swallow up the last lingering colours
of the world. It left the outlines, it obliterated nothing, but it
stripped off the superficial reality of things. The moon was full
and high overhead, and the light had not so much gone as changed
from definition and the blazing glitter and reflections of solidity
to a translucent and unsubstantial clearness. The jungle that
bordered the little encampment north, south, and west seemed to have
crept a little nearer, enriched itself with blackness, taken to
(Surely it had been silent during the day.)
A warm, faintly-scented breeze just stirred the dead grass and the
leaves. In the day the air had been still.
Immediately after the sunset there had been a great crying of
peacocks in the distance, but that was over now; the crickets,
however, were still noisy, and a persistent sound had become
predominant, an industrious unmistakable sound, a sound that took
his mind back to England, in midsummer. It was like a watchman's
So there were nightjars here in India, too! One might have expected
something less familiar. And then came another cry from far away
over the heat-stripped tree-tops, a less familiar cry. It was
repeated. Was that perhaps some craving leopard, a tiger cat, a
"HUNT, HUNT"; that might be a deer.
Then suddenly an angry chattering came from the dark trees quite
close at hand. A monkey? . . .
These great, scarce visible, sweeping movements through the air were
bats. . . .
Of course, the day jungle is the jungle asleep. This was its waking
hour. Now the deer were arising from their forms, the bears
creeping out of their dens amidst the rocks and blundering down the
gullies, the tigers and panthers and jungle cats stalking
noiselessly from their lairs in the grass. Countless creatures that
had hidden from the heat and pitiless exposure of the day stood now
awake and alertly intent upon their purposes, grazed or sought
water, flitting delicately through the moonlight and shadows. The
jungle was awakening. Again Benham heard that sound like the
belling of a stag. . . .
This was the real life of the jungle, this night life, into which
man did not go. Here he was on the verge of a world that for all
the stuffed trophies of the sportsman and the specimens of the
naturalist is still almost as unknown as if it was upon another
planet. What intruders men are, what foreigners in the life of this
He looked over his shoulder, and there were the two little tents,
one that sheltered Kepple and one that awaited him, and beyond, in
an irregular line, glowed the ruddy smoky fires of the men. One or
two turbaned figures still flitted about, and there was a voice--
low, monotonous--it must have been telling a tale. Further, sighing
and stirring ever and again, were tethered beasts, and then a great
pale space of moonlight and the clumsy outlines of the village well.
The clustering village itself slept in darkness beyond the mango
trees, and still remoter the black encircling jungle closed in. One
might have fancied this was the encampment of newly-come invaders,
were it not for the larger villages that are overgrown with thickets
and altogether swallowed up again in the wilderness, and for the
deserted temples that are found rent asunder by the roots of trees
and the ancient embankments that hold water only for the drinking of
the sambur deer. . . .
Benham turned his face to the dim jungle again. . . .
He had come far out of his way to visit this strange world of the
ancient life, that now recedes and dwindles before our new
civilization, that seems fated to shrivel up and pass altogether
before the dry advance of physical science and material
organization. He was full of unsatisfied curiosities about its
fierce hungers and passions, its fears and cruelties, its instincts
and its well-nigh incommunicable and yet most precious
understandings. He had long ceased to believe that the wild beast
is wholly evil, and safety and plenty the ultimate good for men. . . .
Perhaps he would never get nearer to this mysterious jungle life
than he was now.
It was intolerably tantalizing that it should be so close at hand
and so inaccessible. . . .
As Benham sat brooding over his disappointment the moon, swimming on
through the still circle of the hours, passed slowly over him. The
lights and shadows about him changed by imperceptible gradations and
a long pale alley where the native cart track drove into the forest,
opened slowly out of the darkness, slowly broadened, slowly
lengthened. It opened out to him with a quality of invitation. . . .
There was the jungle before him. Was it after all so inaccessible?
"Come!" the road said to him.
Benham rose and walked out a few paces into the moonlight and stood
Was he afraid?
Even now some hungry watchful monster might lurk in yonder shadows,
watching with infinite still patience. Kepple had told him how they
would sit still for hours--staring unblinkingly as cats stare at a
fire--and then crouch to advance. Beneath the shrill overtone of
the nightjars, what noiseless grey shapes, what deep breathings and
cracklings and creepings might there not be? . . .
Was he afraid?
That question determined him to go.
He hesitated whether he should take a gun. A stick? A gun, he
knew, was a dangerous thing to an inexperienced man. No! He would
go now, even as he was with empty hands. At least he would go as
far as the end of that band of moonlight. If for no other reason
than because he was afraid. NOW!
For a moment it seemed to him as though his feet were too heavy to
lift and then, hands in pockets, khaki-clad, an almost invisible
figure, he strolled towards the cart-track.
Come to that, he halted for a moment to regard the distant fires of
the men. No one would miss him. They would think he was in his
tent. He faced the stirring quiet ahead. The cart-track was a
rutted path of soft, warm sand, on which he went almost noiselessly.
A bird squabbled for an instant in a thicket. A great white owl
floated like a flake of moonlight across the track and vanished
without a sound among the trees.
Along the moonlit path went Benham, and when he passed near trees
his footsteps became noisy with the rustle and crash of dead leaves.
The jungle was full of moonlight; twigs, branches, creepers, grass-
clumps came out acutely vivid. The trees and bushes stood in pools
of darkness, and beyond were pale stretches of misty moonshine and
big rocks shining with an unearthly lustre. Things seemed to be
clear and yet uncertain. It was as if they dissolved or retired a
little and then returned to solidity.
A sudden chattering broke out overhead, and black across the great
stars soared a flying squirrel and caught a twig, and ran for
shelter. A second hesitated in a tree-top and pursued. They chased
each other and vanished abruptly. He forgot his sense of insecurity
in the interest of these active little silhouettes. And he noted
how much bigger and more wonderful the stars can look when one sees
them through interlacing branches.
Ahead was darkness; but not so dark when he came to it that the
track was invisible. He was at the limit of his intention, but now
he saw that that had been a childish project. He would go on, he
would walk right into the jungle. His first disinclination was
conquered, and the soft intoxication of the subtropical moonshine
was in his blood. . . . But he wished he could walk as a spirit
walks, without this noise of leaves. . . .
Yes, this was very wonderful and beautiful, and there must always be
jungles for men to walk in. Always there must be jungles. . . .
Some small beast snarled and bolted from under his feet. He stopped
sharply. He had come into a darkness under great boughs, and now he
stood still as the little creature scuttled away. Beyond the track
emerged into a dazzling whiteness. . . .
In the stillness he could hear the deer belling again in the
distance, and then came a fuss of monkeys in a group of trees near
at hand. He remained still until this had died away into
Then on the verge of movement he was startled by a ripe mango that
slipped from its stalk and fell out of the tree and struck his hand.
It took a little time to understand that, and then he laughed, and
his muscles relaxed, and he went on again.
A thorn caught at him and he disentangled himself.
He crossed the open space, and the moon was like a great shield of
light spread out above him. All the world seemed swimming in its
radiance. The stars were like lamps in a mist of silvery blue.
The track led him on across white open spaces of shrivelled grass
and sand, amidst trees where shadows made black patternings upon the
silver, and then it plunged into obscurities. For a time it lifted,
and then on one hand the bush fell away, and he saw across a vast
moonlit valley wide undulations of open cultivation, belts of
jungle, copses, and a great lake as black as ebony. For a time the
path ran thus open, and then the jungle closed in again and there
were more thickets, more levels of grass, and in one place far
overhead among the branches he heard and stood for a time perplexed
at a vast deep humming of bees. . . .
Presently a black monster with a hunched back went across his path
heedless of him and making a great noise in the leaves. He stood
quite still until it had gone. He could not tell whether it was a
boar or hyaena; most probably, he thought, a boar because of the
heaviness of its rush.
The path dropped downhill for a time, crossed a ravine, ascended.
He passed a great leafless tree on which there were white flowers.
On the ground also, in the darkness under the tree, there were these
flowers; they were dropping noiselessly, and since they were visible
in the shadows, it seemed to him that they must be phosphorescent.
And they emitted a sweetish scent that lay heavily athwart the path.
Presently he passed another such tree. Then he became aware of a
tumult ahead of him, a smashing of leaves, a snorting and
slobbering, grunting and sucking, a whole series of bestial sounds.
He halted for a little while, and then drew nearer, picking his
steps to avoid too great a noise. Here were more of those white-
blossomed trees, and beneath, in the darkness, something very black
and big was going to and fro, eating greedily. Then he found that
there were two and then more of these black things, three or four of
Curiosity made Benham draw nearer, very softly.
Presently one showed in a patch of moonlight, startlingly big, a
huge, black hairy monster with a long white nose on a grotesque
face, and he was stuffing armfuls of white blossom into his mouth
with his curved fore claws. He took not the slightest notice of the
still man, who stood perhaps twenty yards away from him. He was too
blind and careless. He snorted and smacked his slobbering lips, and
plunged into the shadows again. Benham heard him root among the
leaves and grunt appreciatively. The air was heavy with the reek of
the crushed flowers.
For some time Benham remained listening to and peering at these
preoccupied gluttons. At last he shrugged his shoulders, and left
them and went on his way. For a long time he could hear them, then
just as he was on the verge of forgetting them altogether, some
dispute arose among them, and there began a vast uproar, squeals,
protests, comments, one voice ridiculously replete and
authoritative, ridiculously suggestive of a drunken judge with his
mouth full, and a shrill voice of grievance high above the others. . . .
The uproar of the bears died away at last, almost abruptly, and left
the jungle to the incessant night-jars. . . .
For what end was this life of the jungle?
All Benham's senses were alert to the sounds and appearances about
him, and at the same time his mind was busy with the perplexities of
that riddle. Was the jungle just an aimless pool of life that man
must drain and clear away? Or is it to have a use in the greater
life of our race that now begins? Will man value the jungle as he
values the precipice, for the sake of his manhood? Will he preserve
Man must keep hard, man must also keep fierce. Will the jungle keep
For life, thought Benham, there must be insecurity. . . .
He had missed the track. . . .
He was now in a second ravine. He was going downward, walking on
silvery sand amidst great boulders, and now there was a new sound in
the air--. It was the croaking of frogs. Ahead was a solitary
gleam. He was approaching a jungle pool. . . .
Suddenly the stillness was alive, in a panic uproar. "HONK!" cried
a great voice, and "HONK!" There was a clatter of hoofs, a wild
rush--a rush as it seemed towards him. Was he being charged? He
backed against a rock. A great pale shape leaped by him, an
antlered shape. It was a herd of big deer bolting suddenly out of
the stillness. He heard the swish and smash of their retreat grow
distant, disperse. He remained standing with his back to the rock.
Slowly the strophe and antistrophe of frogs and goat-suckers resumed
possession of his consciousness. But now some primitive instinct
perhaps or some subconscious intimation of danger made him
He went on down a winding sound-deadening path of sand towards the
drinking-place. He came to a wide white place that was almost
level, and beyond it under clustering pale-stemmed trees shone the
mirror surface of some ancient tank, and, sharp and black, a dog-
like beast sat on its tail in the midst of this space, started
convulsively and went slinking into the undergrowth. Benham paused
for a moment and then walked out softly into the light, and, behold!
as if it were to meet him, came a monster, a vast dark shape drawing
itself lengthily out of the blackness, and stopped with a start as
if it had been instantly changed to stone.
It had stopped with one paw advanced. Its striped mask was light
and dark grey in the moonlight, grey but faintly tinged with
ruddiness; its mouth was a little open, its fangs and a pendant of
viscous saliva shone vivid. Its great round-pupilled eyes regarded
him stedfastly. At last the nightmare of Benham's childhood had
come true, and he was face to face with a tiger, uncaged,
For some moments neither moved, neither the beast nor the man. They
stood face to face, each perhaps with an equal astonishment,
motionless and soundless, in that mad Indian moonlight that makes
all things like a dream.
Benham stood quite motionless, and body and mind had halted
together. That confrontation had an interminableness that had
nothing to do with the actual passage of time. Then some trickle of
his previous thoughts stirred in the frozen quiet of his mind.
He spoke hoarsely. "I am Man," he said, and lifted a hand as he
spoke. "The Thought of the world."
His heart leapt within him as the tiger moved. But the great beast
went sideways, gardant, only that its head was low, three noiseless
instantaneous strides it made, and stood again watching him.
"Man," he said, in a voice that had no sound, and took a step
"Wough!" With two bounds the monster had become a great grey streak
that crackled and rustled in the shadows of the trees. And then it
had vanished, become invisible and inaudible with a kind of
For some seconds or some minutes Benham stood rigid, fearlessly
expectant, and then far away up the ravine he heard the deer repeat
their cry of alarm, and understood with a new wisdom that the tiger
had passed among them and was gone. . . .
He walked on towards the deserted tank and now he was talking aloud.
"I understand the jungle. I understand. . . . If a few men die
here, what matter? There are worse deaths than being killed. . . .
"What is this fool's trap of security?
"Every time in my life that I have fled from security I have fled
from death. . . .
"Let men stew in their cities if they will. It is in the lonely
places, in jungles and mountains, in snows and fires, in the still
observatories and the silent laboratories, in those secret and
dangerous places where life probes into life, it is there that the
masters of the world, the lords of the beast, the rebel sons of Fate
come to their own. . . .
"You sleeping away there in the cities! Do you know what it means
for you that I am here to-night?
"Do you know what it means to you?
"I am just one--just the precursor.
"Presently, if you will not budge, those hot cities must be burnt
about you. You must come out of them. . . ."
He wandered now uttering his thoughts as they came to him, and he
saw no more living creatures because they fled and hid before the
sound of his voice. He wandered until the moon, larger now and
yellow tinged, was low between the black bars of the tree stems.
And then it sank very suddenly behind a hilly spur and the light
He stumbled and went with difficulty. He could go no further among
these rocks and ravines, and he sat down at the foot of a tree to
wait for day.
He sat very still indeed.
A great stillness came over the world, a velvet silence that wrapped
about him, as the velvet shadows wrapped about him. The corncrakes
had ceased, all the sounds and stir of animal life had died away,
the breeze had fallen. A drowsing comfort took possession of him.
He grew more placid and more placid still. He was enormously
content to find that fear had fled before him and was gone. He
drifted into that state of mind when one thinks without ideas, when
one's mind is like a starless sky, serene and empty.
Some hours later Benham found that the trees and rocks were growing
visible again, and he saw a very bright star that he knew must be
Lucifer rising amidst the black branches. He was sitting upon a
rock at the foot of a slender-stemmed leafless tree. He had been
asleep, and it was daybreak. Everything was coldly clear and
He must have slept soundly.
He heard a cock crow, and another answer--jungle fowl these must be,
because there could be no village within earshot--and then far away
and bringing back memories of terraced houses and ripe walled
gardens, was the scream of peacocks. And some invisible bird was
making a hollow beating sound among the trees near at hand.
TUNK. . . . TUNK, and out of the dry grass came a twittering.
There was a green light in the east that grew stronger, and the
stars after their magnitudes were dissolving in the blue; only a few
remained faintly visible. The sound of birds increased. Through
the trees he saw towering up a great mauve thing like the back of a
monster,--but that was nonsense, it was the crest of a steep
hillside covered with woods of teak.
He stood up and stretched himself, and wondered whether he had
dreamed of a tiger.
He tried to remember and retrace the course of his over-night
A flight of emerald parakeets tore screaming through the trees, and
then far away uphill he heard the creaking of a cart.
He followed the hint of a footmark, and went back up the glen slowly
Presently he came to a familiar place, a group of trees, a sheet of
water, and the ruins of an old embankment. It was the ancient tank
of his overnight encounter. The pool of his dream?
With doubt still in his mind, he walked round its margin to the
sandy level beyond, and cast about and sought intently, and at last
found, and then found clearly, imposed upon the tracks of several
sorts of deer and the footprints of many biggish birds, first the
great spoor of the tiger and then his own. Here the beast had
halted, and here it had leapt aside. Here his own footmarks
stopped. Here his heels had come together.
It had been no dream.
There was a white mist upon the water of the old tank like the bloom
upon a plum, and the trees about it seemed smaller and the sand-
space wider and rougher than they had seemed in the moonshine. Then
the ground had looked like a floor of frosted silver.
And thence he went on upward through the fresh morning, until just
as the east grew red with sunrise, he reached the cart-track from
which he had strayed overnight. It was, he found, a longer way back
to the camp than he remembered it to be. Perhaps he had struck the
path further along. It curved about and went up and down and
crossed three ravines. At last he came to that trampled place of
littered white blossom under great trees where he had seen the
The sunlight went before him in a sheaf of golden spears, and his
shadow, that was at first limitless, crept towards his feet. The
dew had gone from the dead grass and the sand was hot to his dry
boots before he came back into the open space about the great banyan
and the tents. And Kepple, refreshed by a night's rest and coffee,
was wondering loudly where the devil he had gone.
CHAPTER THE FIRST
THE BOY GROWS UP
Benham was the son of a schoolmaster. His father was assistant
first at Cheltenham, and subsequently at Minchinghampton, and then
he became head and later on sole proprietor of Martindale House, a
high-class preparatory school at Seagate. He was extremely
successful for some years, as success goes in the scholastic
profession, and then disaster overtook him in the shape of a
divorce. His wife, William Porphyry's mother, made the acquaintance
of a rich young man named Nolan, who was recuperating at Seagate
from the sequelae of snake-bite, malaria, and a gun accident in
Brazil. She ran away with him, and she was divorced. She was,
however, unable to marry him because he died at Wiesbaden only three
days after the Reverend Harold Benham obtained his decree absolute.
Instead, therefore, being a woman of great spirit, enterprise and
sweetness, she married Godfrey Marayne, afterwards Sir Godfrey
Marayne, the great London surgeon.
Nolan was a dark, rather melancholy and sentimental young man, and
he left about a third of his very large fortune entirely to Mrs.
Benham and the rest to her in trust for her son, whom he deemed
himself to have injured. With this and a husband already
distinguished, she returned presently to London, and was on the
whole fairly well received there.
It was upon the reverend gentleman at Seagate that the brunt of this
divorce fell. There is perhaps a certain injustice in the fact that
a schoolmaster who has lost his wife should also lose the more
valuable proportion of his pupils, but the tone of thought in
England is against any association of a schoolmaster with
matrimonial irregularity. And also Mr. Benham remarried. It would
certainly have been better for him if he could have produced a
sister. His school declined and his efforts to resuscitate it only
hastened its decay. Conceiving that he could now only appeal to the
broader-minded, more progressive type of parent, he became an
educational reformer, and wrote upon modernizing the curriculum with
increasing frequency to the TIMES. He expended a considerable
fraction of his dwindling capital upon a science laboratory and a
fives court; he added a London Bachelor of Science with a Teaching
Diploma to the school staff, and a library of about a thousand
volumes, including the Hundred Best Books as selected by the late
Lord Avebury, to the school equipment. None of these things did
anything but enhance the suspicion of laxity his wife's escapade had
created in the limited opulent and discreet class to which his
establishment appealed. One boy who, under the influence of the
Hundred Best Books, had quoted the ZEND-AVESTA to an irascible but
influential grandfather, was withdrawn without notice or
compensation in the middle of the term. It intensifies the tragedy
of the Reverend Harold Benham's failure that in no essential respect
did his school depart from the pattern of all other properly-
conducted preparatory schools.
In appearance he was near the average of scholastic English
gentlemen. He displayed a manifest handsomeness somewhat weakened
by disregard and disuse, a large moustache and a narrow high
forehead. His rather tired brown eyes were magnified by glasses.
He was an active man in unimportant things, with a love for the
phrase "ship-shape," and he played cricket better than any one else
on the staff. He walked in wide strides, and would sometimes use
the tail of his gown on the blackboard. Like so many clergymen and
schoolmasters, he had early distrusted his natural impulse in
conversation, and had adopted the defensive precaution of a rather
formal and sonorous speech, which habit had made a part of him. His
general effect was of one who is earnestly keeping up things that
might otherwise give way, keeping them up by act and voice, keeping
up an atmosphere of vigour and success in a school that was only too
manifestly attenuated, keeping up a pretentious economy of
administration in a school that must not be too manifestly
impoverished, keeping up a claim to be in the scientific van and
rather a flutterer of dovecots--with its method of manual training
for example--keeping up ESPRIT DE CORPS and the manliness of himself
and every one about him, keeping up his affection for his faithful
second wife and his complete forgetfulness of and indifference to
that spirit of distracting impulse and insubordination away there in
London, who had once been his delight and insurmountable difficulty.
"After my visits to her," wrote Benham, "he would show by a hundred
little expressions and poses and acts how intensely he wasn't noting
that anything of the sort had occurred."
But one thing that from the outset the father seemed to have failed
to keep up thoroughly was his intention to mould and dominate his
The advent of his boy had been a tremendous event in the reverend
gentleman's life. It is not improbable that his disposition to
monopolize the pride of this event contributed to the ultimate
disruption of his family. It left so few initiatives within the
home to his wife. He had been an early victim to that wave of
philoprogenitive and educational enthusiasm which distinguished the
closing decade of the nineteenth century. He was full of plans in
those days for the education of his boy, and the thought of the
youngster played a large part in the series of complicated emotional
crises with which he celebrated the departure of his wife, crises in
which a number of old school and college friends very generously
assisted--spending weekends at Seagate for this purpose, and
mingling tobacco, impassioned handclasps and suchlike consolation
with much patient sympathetic listening to his carefully balanced
analysis of his feelings. He declared that his son was now his one
living purpose in life, and he sketched out a scheme of moral and
intellectual training that he subsequently embodied in five very
stimulating and intimate articles for the SCHOOL WORLD, but never
put into more than partial operation.
"I have read my father's articles upon this subject," wrote Benham,
"and I am still perplexed to measure just what I owe to him. Did he
ever attempt this moral training he contemplated so freely? I don't
think he did. I know now, I knew then, that he had something in his
mind. . . . There were one or two special walks we had together, he
invited me to accompany him with a certain portentousness, and we
would go out pregnantly making superficial remarks about the school
cricket and return, discussing botany, with nothing said.
"His heart failed him.
"Once or twice, too, he seemed to be reaching out at me from the
"I think that my father did manage to convey to me his belief that
there were these fine things, honour, high aims, nobilities. If I
did not get this belief from him then I do not know how I got it.
But it was as if he hinted at a treasure that had got very dusty in
an attic, a treasure which he hadn't himself been able to spend. . . ."
The father who had intended to mould his son ended by watching him
grow, not always with sympathy or understanding. He was an
overworked man assailed by many futile anxieties. One sees him
striding about the establishment with his gown streaming out behind
him urging on the groundsman or the gardener, or dignified,
expounding the particular advantages of Seagate to enquiring
parents, one sees him unnaturally cheerful and facetious at the
midday dinner table, one imagines him keeping up high aspirations in
a rather too hastily scribbled sermon in the school pulpit, or
keeping up an enthusiasm for beautiful language in a badly-prepared
lesson on Virgil, or expressing unreal indignation and unjustifiably
exalted sentiments to evil doers, and one realizes his disadvantage
against the quiet youngster whose retentive memory was storing up
all these impressions for an ultimate judgment, and one understands,
too, a certain relief that mingled with his undeniable emotion when
at last the time came for young Benham, "the one living purpose" of
his life, to be off to Minchinghampton and the next step in the
mysterious ascent of the English educational system.
Three times at least, and with an increased interval, the father
wrote fine fatherly letters that would have stood the test of
publication. Then his communications became comparatively hurried
and matter-of-fact. His boy's return home for the holidays was
always rather a stirring time for his private feelings, but he
became more and more inexpressive. He would sometimes lay a hand on
those growing shoulders and then withdraw it. They felt braced-up
shoulders, stiffly inflexible or--they would wince. And when one
has let the habit of indefinite feelings grow upon one, what is
there left to say? If one did say anything one might be asked
questions. . . .
One or two of the long vacations they spent abroad together. The
last of these occasions followed Benham's convalescence at Montana
and his struggle with the Bisse; the two went to Zermatt and did
several peaks and crossed the Theodule, and it was clear that their
joint expeditions were a strain upon both of them. The father
thought the son reckless, unskilful, and impatient; the son found
the father's insistence upon guides, ropes, precautions, the
recognized way, the highest point and back again before you get a
chill, and talk about it sagely but very, very modestly over pipes,
tiresome. He wanted to wander in deserts of ice and see over the
mountains, and discover what it is to be benighted on a precipice.
And gradually he was becoming familiar with his father's repertory
of Greek quotations. There was no breach between them, but each
knew that holiday was the last they would ever spend together. . . .
The court had given the custody of young William Porphyry into his
father's hands, but by a generous concession it was arranged that
his mother should have him to see her for an hour or so five times a
year. The Nolan legacy, however, coming upon the top of this,
introduced a peculiar complication that provided much work for
tactful intermediaries, and gave great and increasing scope for
painful delicacies on the part of Mr. Benham as the boy grew up.
"I see," said the father over his study pipe and with his glasses
fixed on remote distances above the head of the current sympathizer,
"I see more and more clearly that the tale of my sacrifices is not
yet at an end. . . . In many respects he is like her. . . . Quick.
Too quick. . . . He must choose. But I know his choice. Yes,
yes,--I'm not blind. She's worked upon him. . . . I have done what
I could to bring out the manhood in him. Perhaps it will bear the
strain. . . . It will be a wrench, old man--God knows."
He did his very best to make it a wrench.
Benham's mother, whom he saw quarterly and also on the first of May,
because it was her birthday, touched and coloured his imagination
far more than his father did. She was now Lady Marayne, and a
prominent, successful, and happy little lady. Her dereliction had
been forgiven quite soon, and whatever whisper of it remained was
very completely forgotten during the brief period of moral
kindliness which followed the accession of King Edward the Seventh.
It no doubt contributed to her social reinstatement that her former
husband was entirely devoid of social importance, while, on the
other hand, Sir Godfrey Marayne's temporary monopoly of the caecal
operation which became so fashionable in the last decade of Queen
Victoria's reign as to be practically epidemic, created a strong
feeling in her favour.
She was blue-eyed and very delicately complexioned, quick-moving,
witty, given to little storms of clean enthusiasm; she loved
handsome things, brave things, successful things, and the respect
and affection of all the world. She did quite what she liked upon
impulse, and nobody ever thought ill of her.
Her family were the Mantons of Blent, quite good west-country
people. She had broken away from them before she was twenty to
marry Benham, whom she had idealized at a tennis party. He had
talked of his work and she had seen it in a flash, the noblest work
in the world, him at his daily divine toil and herself a Madonna
surrounded by a troupe of Blessed Boys--all of good family, some of
quite the best. For a time she had kept it up even more than he
had, and then Nolan had distracted her with a realization of the
heroism that goes to the ends of the earth. She became sick with
desire for the forests of Brazil, and the Pacific, and--a peak in
Darien. Immediately the school was frowsty beyond endurance, and
for the first time she let herself perceive how dreadfully a
gentleman and a scholar can smell of pipes and tobacco. Only one
course lay open to a woman of spirit. . . .
For a year she did indeed live like a woman of spirit, and it was at
Nolan's bedside that Marayne was first moved to admiration. She was
plucky. All men love a plucky woman.
Sir Godfrey Marayne smelt a good deal of antiseptic soap, but he
talked in a way that amused her, and he trusted as well as adored
her. She did what she liked with his money, her own money, and her
son's trust money, and she did very well. From the earliest
Benham's visits were to a gracious presence amidst wealthy
surroundings. The transit from the moral blamelessness of Seagate
had an entirely misleading effect of ascent.
Their earlier encounters became rather misty in his memory; they
occurred at various hotels in Seagate. Afterwards he would go,
first taken by a governess, and later going alone, to Charing Cross,
where he would be met, in earlier times by a maid and afterwards by
a deferential manservant who called him "Sir," and conveyed,
sometimes in a hansom cab and later in a smart brougham, by
Trafalgar Square, Lower Regent Street, Piccadilly, and streets of
increasing wealth and sublimity to Sir Godfrey's house in Desborough
Street. Very naturally he fell into thinking of these discreet and
well-governed West End streets as a part of his mother's atmosphere.
The house had a dignified portico, and always before he had got down
to the pavement the door opened agreeably and a second respectful
manservant stood ready. Then came the large hall, with its
noiseless carpets and great Chinese jars, its lacquered cabinets and
the wide staircase, and floating down the wide staircase, impatient
to greet him, light and shining as a flower petal, sweet and
welcoming, radiating a joyfulness as cool and clear as a dewy
morning, came his mother. "WELL, little man, my son," she would cry
in her happy singing voice, "WELL?"
So he thought she must always be, but indeed these meetings meant
very much to her, she dressed for them and staged them, she
perceived the bright advantages of her rarity and she was quite
determined to have her son when the time came to possess him. She
kissed him but not oppressively, she caressed him cleverly; it was
only on these rare occasions that he was ever kissed or caressed,
and she talked to his shy boyishness until it felt a more spirited
variety of manhood. "What have you been doing?" she asked, "since I
saw you last."
She never said he had grown, but she told him he looked tall; and
though the tea was a marvellous display it was never an obtrusive
tea, it wasn't poked at a fellow; a various plenty flowed well
within reach of one's arm, like an agreeable accompaniment to their
"What have you done? All sorts of brave things? Do you swim now?
I can swim. Oh! I can swim half a mile. Some day we will swim
races together. Why not? And you ride? . . .
"The horse bolted--and you stuck on? Did you squeak? I stick on,
but I HAVE to squeak. But you--of course, No! you mustn't. I'm
just a little woman. And I ride big horses. . . ."
And for the end she had invented a characteristic little ceremony.
She would stand up in front of him and put her hands on his
shoulders and look into his face.
"Clean eyes?" she would say. "--still?"
Then she would take his ears in her little firm hands and kiss very
methodically his eyes and his forehead and his cheeks and at last
his lips. Her own eyes would suddenly brim bright with tears.
"GO," she would say.
That was the end.
It seemed to Benham as though he was being let down out of a sunlit
fairyland to this grey world again.
The contrast between Lady Marayne's pretty amenities and the good
woman at Seagate who urged herself almost hourly to forget that
William Porphyry was not her own son, was entirely unfair. The
second Mrs. Benham's conscientious spirit and a certain handsome
ability about her fitted her far more than her predecessor for the
onerous duties of a schoolmaster's wife, but whatever natural
buoyancy she possessed was outweighed by an irrepressible conviction
derived from an episcopal grandparent that the remarriage of
divorced persons is sinful, and by a secret but well-founded doubt
whether her husband loved her with a truly romantic passion. She
might perhaps have borne either of these troubles singly, but the
two crushed her spirit.
Her temperament was not one that goes out to meet happiness. She
had reluctant affections and suspected rather than welcomed the
facility of other people's. Her susceptibility to disagreeable
impressions was however very ample, and life was fenced about with
protections for her "feelings." It filled young Benham with
inexpressible indignations that his sweet own mother, so gay, so
brightly cheerful that even her tears were stars, was never to be
mentioned in his stepmother's presence, and it was not until he had
fully come to years of reflection that he began to realize with what
honesty, kindness and patience this naturally not very happy lady
had nursed, protected, mended for and generally mothered him.
As Benham grew to look manly and bear himself with pride, his
mother's affection for him blossomed into a passion. She made him
come down to London from Cambridge as often as she could; she went
about with him; she made him squire her to theatres and take her out
to dinners and sup with her at the Carlton, and in the summer she
had him with her at Chexington Manor, the Hertfordshire house Sir
Godfrey had given her. And always when they parted she looked into
his eyes to see if they were still clean--whatever she meant by
that--and she kissed his forehead and cheeks and eyes and lips. She
began to make schemes for his career, she contrived introductions
she judged would be useful to him later.
Everybody found the relationship charming. Some of the more
conscientious people, it is true, pretended to think that the
Reverend Harold Benham was a first husband and long since dead, but
that was all. As a matter of fact, in his increasingly futile way
he wasn't, either at Seagate or in the Educational Supplement of the
TIMES. But even the most conscientious of us are not obliged to go
to Seagate or read the Educational Supplement of the TIMES.
Lady Marayne's plans for her son's future varied very pleasantly.
She was an industrious reader of biographies, and more particularly
of the large fair biographies of the recently contemporary; they
mentioned people she knew, they recalled scenes, each sowed its
imaginative crop upon her mind, a crop that flourished and flowered
until a newer growth came to oust it. She saw her son a diplomat, a
prancing pro-consul, an empire builder, a trusted friend of the
august, the bold leader of new movements, the saviour of ancient
institutions, the youngest, brightest, modernest of prime ministers--
or a tremendously popular poet. As a rule she saw him unmarried--
with a wonderful little mother at his elbow. Sometimes in romantic
flashes he was adored by German princesses or eloped with Russian
grand-duchesses! But such fancies were HORS D'OEUVRE. The modern
biography deals with the career. Every project was bright, every
project had GO--tremendous go. And they all demanded a hero,
debonnaire and balanced. And Benham, as she began to perceive,
wasn't balanced. Something of his father had crept into him, a
touch of moral stiffness. She knew the flavour of that so well. It
was a stumbling, an elaboration, a spoil-sport and weakness. She
tried not to admit to herself that even in the faintest degree it
was there. But it was there.
"Tell me all that you are doing NOW," she said to him one afternoon
when she had got him to herself during his first visit to Chexington
Manor. "How do you like Cambridge? Are you making friends? Have
you joined that thing--the Union, is it?--and delivered your maiden
speech? If you're for politics, Poff, that's your game. Have you
She lay among splashes of sunshine on the red cushions in the punt,
a little curled-up figure of white, with her sweet pale animated
face warmed by the reflection of her red sunshade, and her eyes like
little friendly heavens. And he, lean, and unconsciously graceful,
sat at her feet and admired her beyond measure, and rejoiced that
now at last they were going to be ever so much together, and doubted
if it would be possible ever to love any other woman so much as he
He tried to tell her of Cambridge and his friends and the
undergraduate life he was leading, but he found it difficult. All
sorts of things that seemed right and good at Trinity seemed out of
drawing in the peculiar atmosphere she created about her. All sorts
of clumsiness and youthfulness in himself and his associates he felt
she wouldn't accept, couldn't accept, that it would be wrong of her
to accept. Before they could come before her they must wear a
bravery. He couldn't, for instance, tell her how Billy Prothero,
renouncing vanity and all social pretension, had worn a straw hat
into November and the last stages of decay, and how it had been
burnt by a special commission ceremonially in the great court. He
couldn't convey to her the long sessions of beer and tobacco and
high thinking that went on in Prothero's rooms into the small hours.
A certain Gothic greyness and flatness and muddiness through which
the Cambridge spirit struggles to its destiny, he concealed from
her. What remained to tell was--attenuated. He could not romance.
So she tried to fill in his jejune outlines. She tried to inspire a
son who seemed most unaccountably up to nothing.
"You must make good friends," she said. "Isn't young Lord Breeze at
your college? His mother the other day told me he was. And Sir
Freddy Quenton's boy. And there are both the young Baptons at
He knew one of the Baptons.
"Poff," she said suddenly, "has it ever occurred to you what you are
going to do afterwards. Do you know you are going to be quite well
Benham looked up with a faint embarrassment. "My father said
something. He was rather vague. It wasn't his affair--that kind of
"You will be quite well off," she repeated, without any complicating
particulars. "You will be so well off that it will be possible for
you to do anything almost that you like in the world. Nothing will
tie you. Nothing. . . ."
"But--HOW well off?"
"You will have several thousands a year."
"Yes. Why not?"
"But--Mother, this is rather astounding. . . . Does this mean there
are estates somewhere, responsibilities?"
"It is just money. Investments."
"You know, I've imagined--. I've thought always I should have to DO