08 October 2007

from Where Angels Fear to Tread, chapter 8 (E.M. Forster)

In time Philip went to the church also, leaving his
sister a little calmer and a little disposed to think over
his advice. What had come over Miss Abbott? He had always
thought her both stable and sincere. That conversation he
had had with her last Christmas in the train to Charing
Cross--that alone furnished him with a parallel. For the
second time, Monteriano must have turned her head. He was
not angry with her, for he was quite indifferent to the
outcome of their expedition. He was only extremely interested.

It was now nearly midday, and the streets were
clearing. But the intense heat had broken, and there was a
pleasant suggestion of rain. The Piazza, with its three
great attractions - the Palazzo Pubblico, the Collegiate
Church, and the Caffe Garibaldi: the intellect, the soul,
and the body - had never looked more charming. For a moment
Philip stood in its centre, much inclined to be dreamy, and
thinking how wonderful it must feel to belong to a city,
however mean. He was here, however, as an emissary of
civilization and as a student of character, and, after a
sigh, he entered Santa Deodata's to continue his mission.

There had been a festa two days before, and the church
still smelt of incense and of garlic. The little son of the
sacristan was sweeping the nave, more for amusement than for
cleanliness, sending great clouds of dust over the frescoes
and the scattered worshippers. The sacristan himself had
propped a ladder in the centre of the Deluge - which fills one
of the nave spandrels - and was freeing a column from its
wealth of scarlet calico. Much scarlet calico also lay upon
the floor - for the church can look as fine as any theatre - and
the sacristan's little daughter was trying to fold it up.
She was wearing a tinsel crown. The crown really belonged
to St. Augustine. But it had been cut too big: it fell down
over his cheeks like a collar: you never saw anything so
absurd. One of the canons had unhooked it just before the festa began, and had given it to the sacristan's daughter.

"Please," cried Philip, "is there an English lady here?"

The man's mouth was full of tin-tacks, but he nodded
cheerfully towards a kneeling figure. In the midst of this
confusion Miss Abbott was praying.

He was not much surprised: a spiritual breakdown was
quite to be expected. For though he was growing more
charitable towards mankind, he was still a little jaunty,
and too apt to stake out beforehand the course that will be
pursued by the wounded soul. It did not surprise him,
however, that she should greet him naturally, with none of
the sour self-consciousness of a person who had just risen
from her knees. This was indeed the spirit of Santa
Deodata's, where a prayer to God is thought none the worse
of because it comes next to a pleasant word to a neighbour.
"I am sure that I need it," said she; and he, who had
expected her to be ashamed, became confused, and knew not
what to reply.

"I've nothing to tell you," she continued. "I have
simply changed straight round. If I had planned the whole
thing out, I could not have treated you worse. I can talk
it over now; but please believe that I have been crying."

"And please believe that I have not come to scold you,"
said Philip. "I know what has happened."

"What?" asked Miss Abbott. Instinctively she led the
way to the famous chapel, the fifth chapel on the right,
wherein Giovanni da Empoli has painted the death and burial
of the saint. Here they could sit out of the dust and the
noise, and proceed with a discussion which promised to be important.

"What might have happened to me - he had made you believe
that he loved the child."

"Oh, yes; he has. He will never give it up."

"At present it is still unsettled."

"It will never be settled."

"Perhaps not. Well, as I said, I know what has
happened, and I am not here to scold you. But I must ask
you to withdraw from the thing for the present. Harriet is
furious. But she will calm down when she realizes that you
have done us no harm, and will do none."

"I can do no more," she said. "But I tell you plainly I
have changed sides."

"If you do no more, that is all we want. You promise
not to prejudice our cause by speaking to Signor Carella?"

"Oh, certainly. I don't want to speak to him again; I
shan't ever see him again."

"Quite nice, wasn't he?"


"Well, that's all I wanted to know. I'll go and tell
Harriet of your promise, and I think things'll quiet down now."

But he did not move, for it was an increasing pleasure
to him to be near her, and her charm was at its strongest
today. He thought less of psychology and feminine
reaction. The gush of sentimentalism which had carried her
away had only made her more alluring. He was content to
observe her beauty and to profit by the tenderness and the
wisdom that dwelt within her.

"Why aren't you angry with me?" she asked, after a pause.

"Because I understand you - all sides, I think, - Harriet,
Signor Carella, even my mother."

"You do understand wonderfully. You are the only one of
us who has a general view of the muddle."

He smiled with pleasure. It was the first time she had
ever praised him. His eyes rested agreeably on Santa
Deodata, who was dying in full sanctity, upon her back.
There was a window open behind her, revealing just such a
view as he had seen that morning, and on her widowed
mother's dresser there stood just such another copper pot.
The saint looked neither at the view nor at the pot, and at
her widowed mother still less. For lo! she had a vision:
the head and shoulders of St. Augustine were sliding like
some miraculous enamel along the rough-cast wall. It is a
gentle saint who is content with half another saint to see
her die. In her death, as in her life, Santa Deodata did
not accomplish much.

"So what are you going to do?" said Miss Abbott.

Philip started, not so much at the words as at the
sudden change in the voice. "Do?" he echoed, rather
dismayed. "This afternoon I have another interview."

"It will come to nothing. Well?"

"Then another. If that fails I shall wire home for
instructions. I dare say we may fail altogether, but we
shall fail honourably."

She had often been decided. But now behind her decision
there was a note of passion. She struck him not as
different, but as more important, and he minded it very much
when she said -

"That's not doing anything! You would be doing
something if you kidnapped the baby, or if you went straight
away. But that! To fail honourably! To come out of the
thing as well as you can! Is that all you are after?"

"Why, yes," he stammered. "Since we talk openly, that
is all I am after just now. What else is there? If I can
persuade Signor Carella to give in, so much the better. If
he won't, I must report the failure to my mother and then go
home. Why, Miss Abbott, you can't expect me to follow you
through all these turns -"

"I don't! But I do expect you to settle what is right
and to follow that. Do you want the child to stop with his
father, who loves him and will bring him up badly, or do you
want him to come to Sawston, where no one loves him, but
where he will be brought up well? There is the question put
dispassionately enough even for you. Settle it. Settle
which side you'll fight on. But don't go talking about an
'honourable failure,' which means simply not thinking and
not acting at all."

"Because I understand the position of Signor Carella and
of you, it's no reason that -"

"None at all. Fight as if you think us wrong. Oh,
what's the use of your fair-mindedness if you never decide
for yourself? Any one gets hold of you and makes you do
what they want. And you see through them and laugh at
them - and do it. It's not enough to see clearly; I'm
muddle-headed and stupid, and not worth a quarter of you,
but I have tried to do what seemed right at the time. And
you - your brain and your insight are splendid. But when you
see what's right you're too idle to do it. You told me once
that we shall be judged by our intentions, not by our
accomplishments. I thought it a grand remark. But we must
intend to accomplish - not sit intending on a chair."

"You are wonderful!" he said gravely.

"Oh, you appreciate me!" she burst out again. "I wish
you didn't. You appreciate us all - see good in all of us.
And all the time you are dead - dead - dead. Look, why aren't
you angry?" She came up to him, and then her mood suddenly
changed, and she took hold of both his hands. "You are so
splendid, Mr. Herriton, that I can't bear to see you
wasted. I can't bear - she has not been good to you - your

"Miss Abbott, don't worry over me. Some people are born
not to do things. I'm one of them; I never did anything at
school or at the Bar. I came out to stop Lilia's marriage,
and it was too late. I came out intending to get the baby,
and I shall return an 'honourable failure.' I never expect
anything to happen now, and so I am never disappointed. You
would be surprised to know what my great events are. Going
to the theatre yesterday, talking to you now - I don't suppose
I shall ever meet anything greater. I seem fated to pass
through the world without colliding with it or moving it - and
I'm sure I can't tell you whether the fate's good or evil.
I don't die - I don't fall in love. And if other people die
or fall in love they always do it when I'm just not there.
You are quite right; life to me is just a spectacle,
which - thank God, and thank Italy, and thank you - is now more
beautiful and heartening than it has ever been before."

She said solemnly, "I wish something would happen to
you, my dear friend; I wish something would happen to you."

"But why?" he asked, smiling. "Prove to me why I don't
do as I am."

She also smiled, very gravely. She could not prove it.
No argument existed. Their discourse, splendid as it had
been, resulted in nothing, and their respective opinions and
policies were exactly the same when they left the church as
when they had entered it.

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