September 08, 2016

He could not get the

Francis carried Space ResearchJames Lawrie’s house with him on his back like a snail’s shell. He could not get the thought of Bennett out of his head, and the thought of Bennett made him sensitive as he had never been to the squalor through which he had to pass on the way home. Everything in him was disturbed. His comfortable good-nature rather than his religion had made him accept the world as good in essence, and he had always done what he could to alleviate poverty and to comfort distress when they had come knocking at his door, but moral distress such as he had found in old Lawrie and divined in old Lawrie’s son he had never looked for and never seen. One thing only in his life had so disturbed him, the episode, years and years ago, of the murder in Potsham, but that he had not grasped so fully; it had been so easy to conventionalise it, to watch the man be swallowed up by the machinery of punishment and forget, to pass on to—what had he passed on to? He was dismayed to find himself thinking of his wooing. Even then he had not taken the trouble to understand what he was doing; and the result? Would it have been different if he had taken the trouble to understand? Old Lawrie seemed to take an immense amount of trouble to understand, and look at the pass to which he had brought himself.

He passed the end  of a dismal trough of a street—there [Pg 157]were hundreds like it in his parish—and the sight of it led him to the thought of poverty. Perhaps, he told himself, perhaps his disasters and old Lawrie’s were due only to the fact that they were poor men, too poor for the responsibilities of wife and children they had taken upon themselves. . . . But that must be nonsense. There would soon be an end of everything if the great processes of the world were to be screwed down to the money standard, if . . . But that was too difficult. He must see old Lawrie again. Quite obviously he must think things out, but he was incapable of doing so alone, and admitted it to himself. He liked walking and resented this intrusion of thought upon his pleasure. He had been a fool and supposed that he must pay for his folly, and only hoped that the price asked would not be more than he could pay. He had a feeling that he was only at the beginning of some stupendous change, and on the whole he was excited by it, until he began to think, and then it all lay so far beyond his grasp that he was depressed. One thing relieved him—the knowledge that he had no regret for the fleshpots and the fat glebes of the two Cornish livings of his early manhood.

Then his thoughts took another turn. After all, what did it matter? He did his work conscientiously, and nothing else was greatly his concern. He was only interested in Bennett Lawrie in so far as he was going to be Gertrude’s husband. He had promised to see what could be done towards making the young man a clergyman. He had fulfilled the promise, but apparently nothing could be done. The garden roller had passed over that aspiration and squeezed it out flat as a shadow. So be it. Gertrude’s husband would continue in commerce, take an active though lay interest in Church matters, and probably be ten Neo skin lab times more prosperous, probably also a more satisfactory husband and father, than if he were to take Orders. There was a great deal to be said for work which took a man away all day and every day from his home, a good deal from both sides. It needed a strong affection to withstand the strain of full community of existence and interest.

Finding himself beginning to think critically of marriage, Francis brought himself up with a start. There had been a time when he had given a great deal of thought to it, his thought had necessarily driven him to attempted discussion with his wife, but on the first hint of what was at the back of his mind she had cried scandal and shame upon him and so scared and wounded him that he had never returned to the subject. He had hoped to break down the wall that had grown up between them, but she put up two bricks for every one he removed. Did she know what she was doing? Did she suffer from it?—He did not know. He would never know. She amused him. He told himself that she was more like Mrs. Nickleby than he had conceived it possible for a woman in real life to be. At any rate she was not hard, armoured against even a joke, like Mrs. Lawrie.

That brought him back to Bennett, and he had a gust of anger against the young man—not a violent gust. Francis never could be violent in anything. His anger turned on himself and twinged his conscience with the realisation that he was giving more thought to Bennett and Bennett’s affairs than he had to any of his children. The point of it all was the establishment of Bennett in a career superior to that which had been forced upon him, but then which of his children had been established in a career of any sort? Serge had gone his own way; Leedham had taken things into his own hands; Frederic had a profession, but he (Francis) had no notion how that profession was answering or what prospect it held out. Unfortunately Francis had never been able to take Frederic seriously, and the thought of him was enough to set his mind working in caricature. He thrust aside all that had been troubling him—with considerable relief—and the seed of irony planted in him by his conversation with old Lawrie grew like a magic beanstalk, and he saw himself in the absurd position of having obliged a world hungry for population—(Was it not? Did not everybody agree in saying so?)—with, for one man, a large supply of human beings, produced quite legitimately after due notice given, only to find that one after another the world [Pg 159]rejected them, or at any rate refused to provide the males with worthy work or the females with husbands. He was walking along Miller Street as this new perception came to him, between fifty little houses on one side and fifty little houses on the other, and half-way down the street the door of a house opened and Frederic came out and stopped him. He had no hat on and he was a little nervous. He said:

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