18. The Further Brink
Wratislaw left betimes the next morning, and a long day faced Lewis with every hour
clamouring for a decision. George would be back by noon, and before his return he
must seek quiet and the chances of reflection. He was happy with a miserable
fluctuating happiness. Of a sudden his horizon was enlarged, but as he gazed it
seemed to narrow again. His mind was still unplumbed; somewhere in its depths might
lie the shrinking and unwillingness which would bind him to the dreary present.
He went out to the autumn hills and sought the ridge which runs for miles on the lip of
the glen. It was a grey day, with snow waiting in cloud-banks in the north sky and a thin
wind whistling through the pines. The scene matched his humour. He was in love for the
moment with the stony and stormy in life. He hungered morbidly for ill-fortune,
something to stamp out the ease in his soul, and weld him into the form of a man.
He had got his chance and the rest lay with himself. It was a chance of high adventure,
a great mission, a limitless future. At the thought the old fever began to rise in his blood.
The hot, clear smell of rock and sand, the brown depths of the waters, the far white
peaks running up among the stars, all spoke to him with the long-remembered call.
Once more he should taste life, and, alert in mind and body, hold up his chin among his
fellows. It would be a contest of wits, and for all his cowardice this was not the contest
he shrank from.
And then there came back on him, like a flood, the dumb misery of incompetence which
had weighed on heart and brain. The hatred of the whole struggling, sordid crew, all the
cant and ugliness and ignorance of a mad world, his weakness in the face of it, his fall
from common virtue, his nerveless indolence--all stung him like needle points, till he
cried out in agony. Anything to deliver his soul from such a bondage, and in his extreme
bitterness his mind closed with Wratislaw's offer.
He felt--and it is a proof of his weakness--a certain nameless feeling of content when he
had once forced himself into the resolution. Now at least he had found a helm and a
port to strain to. As his fancy dwelt upon the mission and drew airy pictures of the land,
he found to his delight a boyish enthusiasm arising. Old simple pleasures seemed for
the moment dear. There was a zest for toils and discomforts, a tolerance of failure,
which had been aforetime his chief traveller's heritage.
And then as he came to the ridge where the road passes from Glenavelin to Glen Adler,
he stopped as in duty bound to look at the famous prospect. You stand at the shedding
of two streams; behind, the green and woodland spaces of the pastoral Avelin; at the
feet, a land of stones and dwarf junipers and naked rifts in the hills, with white-falling