Take down: it is beginning. The spirit and the message of the season (as they communicated themselves to him) began, as opiate among enfevered senses, to steal about his thoughts. Had anything happened? His feeling was rather that he was at the beginning of something; or at the end of something, which was the same thing. The place whereon he stood entered into his thoughts. He had left the main road and was skirting through the school precincts. He was crossing The Strip, historic sward whereon were played the First XV football matches. Impossible to be upon The Strip without peopling it again with the tremendous battles that had been here, the giants of football who here had made their fame and the school’s fame; the crowded, tumultuous touch lines; the silent, tremendous combat in between. Memories came to him of his own two seasons in the XV; his own name from a thousand throats upon the wintry air. His muscles tautened as again he fought some certain of those enormous moments when the whole of life was bound up solely in the unspeakable necessity to win. Astounding trick of thought from what beset him! He was alone upon The Strip, in an overcoat, on the way to forty, not a sound, not a soul, and with that brooding sense of being upon the edge and threshold of something vast, dark, threatening, unfathomable.
Down the steep hill flanked by masters’ houses. Twilight merging now into darkness. Boys passing in and out of the gateways. Past Telfer’s which had been his own house. All this youth was preparing for life; all these houses eternally, generation after generation, pouring boys out into life as at Shotley iron foundry he had seen molten metal poured out of a cauldron. And every boy, poured out, imagined he was going to live his own life. O hapless delusion! Lo, as the same moulds awaited and confined the metal, so the same moulds awaited and confined the living stuff. Mysterious conventions, laws, labours; imperceptibly receiving; implacably binding and shaping. The last day he had come down the steps of Telfer’s—jumped down—how distinctly he remembered it! It was his own life he was coming down, eagerly jumping down, into.—Well, here he was, passing those very steps, and whose life was he living? Mabel’s? Old Fortune’s? And to what end?
Whose life was Nona living?
He had asked her, “Tell me about you and Tybar.”
With pitiable gentleness of voice she had approached that quantity which had been missing from her first statement of her position. And she had done tribute to her husband’s parts with generosity, nay with pride. “Tony does everything better than any one else.” She had said it on that occasion of their first reencounter; its burthen had been the opening of her recital of what else she had for him.