Here, in the effect upon him of beauty and of ideas communicated to his mind by his reading—first manifested to him by the Byron revelation—was the mark and label of his individuality: here was the linking up of the boy who as Puzzlehead Sabre would wrinkle up his nut and say, “Well, I can’t quite see that, sir,” with the man in whom the same habit persisted; he saw much more clearly and infinitely more intensely with his mind than with his eye. Beauty of place imagined was to him infinitely more vivid than beauty seen. And so in all affairs: it was not what the eye saw or the ear heard that interested him; it was what his mind saw, questing behind the scene and behind the speech, that interested him, and often, by the intensity of its perception, shook him. And precisely as beauty touched in him the most exquisite and poignant depths, so evil surroundings, evil faces dismayed him to the point of mysterious fear, almost terror—
On a Sunday of his honeymoon in London he had conceived with Mabel the idea of a bus ride through the streets,—“anywhere, the first bus that comes.” The first bus that came took them through South London, dodged between main roads and took them through miles of mean and sordid dwelling houses. At open windows high up sat solitary women, at others solitary, shirt-sleeved men; behind closed windows were the faces of children. All staring,—women and men and children, impassively prisoned, impassively staring. Each house door presented, one above the other, five or six iron bell-knobs, some hanging out and downwards, as if their necks were broken. On the pavements hardly a soul. Just street upon street of these awful houses with their imprisoned occupants and the doors with their string of crazy bells.
An appalling and abysmal depression settled upon Sabre. He imagined himself pulling the dislocated neck of one of those bells and stepping into what festered behind those sinister doors: the dark and malodorous stairways, the dark and malodorous rooms, their prisoned occupants opening their prisons and staring at him,—those women, those men, those children. He imagined himself in one of those rooms, saw it, felt it, smelt it. He imagined himself cutting his throat in one of those rooms.
At tea in their hotel on their return Mabel chattered animatedly on all they had seen. “I’m awfully glad we went. I think it’s a very good thing to know for oneself just how that side of life lives. Those awful people at the windows!”—and she laughed. He noticed for the first time what a sudden laugh she had, rather loud.
Sabre agreed. “Yes, I think it’s a good thing to have an idea of their lives. I can’t say I’m glad I went, though. You’ve no idea how awfully depressed that kind of thing makes me feel.”
She laughed again. “Depressed! How ever can it? How funny you must be!”
Then she said, “Yes, I’m glad I’ve seen for myself. You know, when those sort of people come into your service—the airs they give themselves and the way they demand the best of everything—and then when you see the kind of homes they come from—!”