There is no jerk, no sound, no hint of material shock. We are in London, and clothed in the fashion of the town. The sullen roar of London fills our ears… .
I see that I am standing beside an iron seat of poor design in that grey and gawky waste of asphalte—Trafalgar Square, and the botanist, with perplexity in his face, stares from me to a poor, shrivelled, dirt-lined old woman—my God! what a neglected thing she is!—who proffers a box of matches… .
He buys almost mechanically, and turns back to me.
“I was saying,” he says, “the past rules us absolutely. These dreams―”
His sentence does not complete itself. He looks nervous and irritated.
“You have a trick at times,” he says instead, “of making your suggestions so vivid―”
He takes a plunge. “If you don't mind,” he says in a sort of quavering ultimatum, “we won't discuss that aspect of the question—the lady, I mean—further.”
He pauses, and there still hangs a faint perplexity between us.
“But―” I begin.
For a moment we stand there, and my dream of Utopia runs off me like water from an oiled slab. Of course—we lunched at our club. We came back from Switzerland by no dream train but by the ordinary Bâle express. We have been talking of that Lucerne woman he harps upon, and I have made some novel comment on his story. I have touched certain possibilities.
“You can't conceivably understand,” he says.
“The fact remains,” he goes on, taking up the thread of his argument again with an air of having defined our field, “we are the scars of the past. That's a thing one can discuss—without personalities.”
“No,” I say rather stupidly, “no.”
“You are always talking as though you could kick the past to pieces; as though one could get right out from oneself and begin afresh. It is your weakness—if you don't mind my being frank—it makes you seem harsh and dogmatic. Life has gone easily for you; you have never been badly tried. You have been lucky—you do not understand the other way about. You are—hard.”
I answer nothing.
He pants for breath. I perceive that in our discussion of his case I must have gone too far, and that he has rebelled. Clearly I must have said something wounding about that ineffectual love story of his.
“You don't allow for my position,” he says, and it occurs to me to say, “I'm obliged to look at the thing from my own point of view… .”
One or other of us makes a move. What a lot of filthy, torn paper is scattered about the world! We walk slowly side by side towards the dirt-littered basin of the fountain, and stand regarding two grimy tramps who sit and argue on a further seat. One holds a horrible old boot in his hand, and gesticulates with it, while his other hand caresses his rag-wrapped foot. “Wot does Cham'lain si?” his words drift to us. “W'y, 'e says, wot's the good of 'nvesting your kepital where these 'ere Americans may dump it flat any time they like… .”
(Were there not two men in green sitting on a marble seat?)