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Chapter 3

  • He came to with a start. His mouth was dry and hard, his heart beat heavily,
  • but he had not the energy to get up. His heart beat heavily. Where was he?—th_arracks—at home? There was something knocking. And, making an effort, h_ooked round—trees, and litter of greenery, and reddish, bright, still piece_f sunshine on the floor. He did not believe he was himself, he did no_elieve what he saw. Something was knocking. He made a struggle toward_onsciousness, but relapsed. Then he struggled again. And gradually hi_urroundings fell into relationship with himself. He knew, and a great pang o_ear went through his heart. Somebody was knocking. He could see the heavy,
  • black rags of a fir tree overhead. Then everything went black. Yet he did no_elieve he had closed his eyes. He had not. Out of the blackness sight slowl_merged again. And someone was knocking. Quickly, he saw the blood-disfigure_ace of his Captain, which he hated. And he held himself still with horror.
  • Yet, deep inside him, he knew that it was so, the Captain should be dead. Bu_he physical delirium got hold of him. Someone was knocking. He lay perfectl_till, as if dead, with fear. And he went unconscious.
  • When he opened his eyes again, he started, seeing something creeping swiftl_p a tree-trunk. It was a little bird. And the bird was whistling overhead.
  • Tap-tap-tap—it was the small, quick bird rapping the tree-trunk with its beak,
  • as if its head were a little round hammer. He watched it curiously. It shifte_harply, in its creeping fashion. Then, like a mouse, it slid down the bar_runk. Its swift creeping sent a flash of revulsion through him. He raised hi_ead. It felt a great weight. Then, the little bird ran out of the shado_cross a still patch of sunshine, its little head bobbing swiftly, its whit_egs twinkling brightly for a moment. How neat it was in its build, s_ompact, with pieces of white on its wings. There were several of them. The_ere so pretty—but they crept like swift, erratic mice, running here and ther_mong the beech-mast.
  • He lay down again exhausted, and his consciousness lapsed. He had a horror o_he little creeping birds. All his blood seemed to be darting and creeping i_is head. And yet he could not move.
  • He came to with a further ache of exhaustion. There was the pain in his head,
  • and the horrible sickness, and his inability to move. He had never been ill i_is life. He did not know where he was or what he was. Probably he had go_unstroke. Or what else?—he had silenced the Captain for ever—some tim_go—oh, a long time ago. There had been blood on his face, and his eyes ha_urned upwards. It was all right, somehow. It was peace. But now he had go_eyond himself. He had never been here before. Was it life, or not life? H_as by himself. They were in a big, bright place, those others, and he wa_utside. The town, all the country, a big bright place of light: and he wa_utside, here, in the darkened open beyond, where each thing existed alone.
  • But they would all have to come out there sometime, those others. Little, an_eft behind him, they all were. There had been father and mother an_weetheart. What did they all matter? This was the open land.
  • He sat up. Something scuffled. It was a little, brown squirrel running i_ovely, undulating bounds over the floor, its red tail completing th_ndulation of its body—and then, as it sat up, furling and unfurling. H_atched it, pleased. It ran on again, friskily, enjoying itself. It fle_ildly at another squirrel, and they were chasing each other, and makin_ittle scolding, chattering noises. The soldier wanted to speak to them. Bu_nly a hoarse sound came out of his throat. The squirrels burst away— the_lew up the trees. And then he saw the one peeping round at him, half-way up _ree-trunk. A start of fear went through him, though, in so far as he wa_onscious, he was amused. It still stayed, its little, keen face staring a_im halfway up the tree-trunk, its little ears pricked up, its clawey littl_ands clinging to the bark, its white breast reared. He started from it i_anic.
  • Struggling to his feet, he lurched away. He went on walking, walking, lookin_or something—for a drink. His brain felt hot and inflamed for want of water.
  • He stumbled on. Then he did not know anything. He went unconscious as h_alked. Yet he stumbled on, his mouth open.
  • When, to his dumb wonder, he opened his eyes on the world again, he no longe_ried to remember what it was. There was thick, golden light behind golden-
  • green glitterings, and tall, grey-purple shafts, and darknesses further off,
  • surrounding him, growing deeper. He was conscious of a sense of arrival. H_as amid the reality, on the real, dark bottom. But there was the thirs_urning in his brain. He felt lighter, not so heavy. He supposed it wa_ewness. The air was muttering with thunder. He thought he was walkin_onderfully swiftly and was coming straight to relief— or was it to water?
  • Suddenly he stood still with fear. There was a tremendous flare of gold,
  • immense—just a few dark trunks like bars between him and it. All the youn_evel wheat was burnished gold glaring on its silky green. A woman, full-
  • skirted, a black cloth on her head for head-dress, was passing like a block o_hadow through the glistening, green corn, into the full glare. There was _arm, too, pale blue in shadow, and the timber black. And there was a churc_pire, nearly fused away in the gold. The woman moved on, away from him. H_ad no language with which to speak to her. She was the bright, soli_nreality. She would make a noise of words that would confuse him, and he_yes would look at him without seeing him. She was crossing there to the othe_ide. He stood against a tree.
  • When at last he turned, looking down the long, bare grove whose flat bed wa_lready filling dark, he saw the mountains in a wonder-light, not far away,
  • and radiant. Behind the soft, grey ridge of the nearest range the furthe_ountains stood golden and pale grey, the snow all radiant like pure, sof_old. So still, gleaming in the sky, fashioned pure out of the ore of the sky,
  • they shone in their silence. He stood and looked at them, his fac_lluminated. And like the golden, lustrous gleaming of the snow he felt hi_wn thirst bright in him. He stood and gazed, leaning against a tree. And the_verything slid away into space.
  • During the night the lightning fluttered perpetually, making the whole sk_hite. He must have walked again. The world hung livid round him for moments,
  • fields a level sheen of grey-green light, trees in dark bulk, and the range o_louds black across a white sky. Then the darkness fell like a shutter, an_he night was whole. A faint flutter of a half-revealed world, that could no_uite leap out of the darkness!—Then there again stood a sweep of pallor fo_he land, dark shapes looming, a range of clouds hanging overhead. The worl_as a ghostly shadow, thrown for a moment upon the pure darkness, whic_eturned ever whole and complete.
  • And the mere delirium of sickness and fever went on inside him— his brai_pening and shutting like the night—then sometimes convulsions of terror fro_omething with great eyes that stared round a tree—then the long agony of th_arch, and the sun decomposing his blood—then the pang of hate for th_aptain, followed by a pang of tenderness and ease. But everything wa_istorted, born of an ache and resolving into an ache.
  • In the morning he came definitely awake. Then his brain flamed with the sol_orror of thirstiness! The sun was on his face, the dew was steaming from hi_et clothes. Like one possessed, he got up. There, straight in front of him,
  • blue and cool and tender, the mountains ranged across the pale edge of th_orning sky. He wanted them—he wanted them alone—he wanted to leave himsel_nd be identified with them. They did not move, they were still soft, wit_hite, gentle markings of snow. He stood still, mad with suffering, his hand_risping and clutching. Then he was twisting in a paroxysm on the grass.
  • He lay still, in a kind of dream of anguish. His thirst seemed to hav_eparated itself from him, and to stand apart, a single demand. Then the pai_e felt was another single self. Then there was the clog of his body, anothe_eparate thing. He was divided among all kinds of separate beings. There wa_ome strange, agonized connection between them, but they were drawing furthe_part. Then they would all split. The sun, drilling down on him, was drillin_hrough the bond. Then they would all fall, fall through the everlasting laps_f space. Then again, his consciousness reasserted itself. He roused on to hi_lbow and stared at the gleaming mountains. There they ranked, all still an_onderful between earth and heaven. He stared till his eyes went black, an_he mountains, as they stood in their beauty, so clean and cool, seemed t_ave it, that which was lost in him.