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Authors: D. H. Lawrence

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The Man Who Died

BOOK: The Man Who Died
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The Man Who Died
Table of Contents
The Man Who Died
D. H.
Lawrence

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I

There was a peasant near Jerusalem who acquired a young gamecock which
looked a shabby little thing, but which put on brave feathers as spring
advanced, and was resplendent with arched and orange neck by the time the
fig trees were letting out leaves from their end–tips.

This peasant was poor, he lived in a cottage of mud–brick, and had only a
dirty little inner courtyard with a tough fig tree for all his territory.
He worked hard among the vines and olives and wheat of his master, then
came home to sleep in the mud–brick cottage by the path. But he was proud
of his young rooster. In the shut–in yard were three shabby hens which
laid small eggs, shed the few feathers they had, and made a
disproportionate amount of dirt. There was also, in a corner under a
straw roof, a dull donkey that often went out with the peasant to work,
but sometimes stayed at home. And there was the peasant's wife, a
black–browed youngish woman who did not work too hard. She threw a little
grain, or the remains of the porridge mess, to the fowls, and she cut
green fodder with a sickle for the ass.

The young cock grew to a certain splendour. By some freak of destiny, he
was a dandy rooster, in that dirty little yard with three patchy hens. He
learned to crane his neck and give shrill answers to the crowing of other
cocks, beyond the walls, in a world he knew nothing of. But there was a
special fiery colour to his crow, and the distant calling of the other
cocks roused him to unexpected outbursts.

"How he sings," said the peasant, as he got up and pulled his day–shirt
over his head.

"He is good for twenty hens," said the wife.

The peasant went out and looked with pride at his young rooster. A saucy,
flamboyant bird, that has already made the final acquaintance of the
three tattered hens. But the cockerel was tipping his head, listening to
the challenge of far–off unseen cocks, in the unknown world. Ghost
voices, crowing at him mysteriously out of limbo. He answered with a
ringing defiance, never to be daunted.

"He will surely fly away one of these days," said the peasant's wife.

So they lured him with grain, caught him, though he fought with all his
wings and feet, and they tied a cord round his shank, fastening it
against the spur; and they tied the other end of the cord to the post
that held up the donkey's straw pent–roof.

The young cock, freed, marched with a prancing stride of indignation away
from the humans, came to the end of his string, gave a tug and a hitch of
his tied leg, fell over for a moment, scuffled frantically on the unclean
earthen floor, to the horror of the shabby hens, then with a sickening
lurch, regained his feet, and stood to think. The peasant and the
peasant's wife laughed heartily, and the young cock heard them. And he
knew, with a gloomy, foreboding kind of knowledge that he was tied by the
leg.

He no longer pranced and ruffled and forged his feathers. He walked
within the limits of his tether sombrely. Still he gobbled up the best
bits of food. Still, sometimes, he saved an extra–best bit for his
favourite hen of the moment. Still he pranced with quivering, rocking
fierceness upon such of his harem as came nonchalantly within range, and
gave off the invisible lure. And still he crowed defiance to the
cock–crows that showered up out of limbo, in the dawn.

But there was now a grim voracity in the way he gobbled his food, and a
pinched triumph in the way he seized upon the shabby hens. His voice,
above all, had lost the full gold of its clangour. He was tied by the
leg, and he knew it. Body, soul and spirit were tied by that string.

Underneath, however, the life in him was grimly unbroken. It was the cord
that should break. So one morning, just before the light of dawn, rousing
from his slumbers with a sudden wave of strength, he leaped forward on
his wings, and the string snapped. He gave a wild, strange squawk, rose
in one lift to the top of the wall, and there he crowed a loud and
splitting crow. So loud, it woke the peasant.

At the same time, at the same hour before dawn, on the same morning, a
man awoke from a long sleep in which he was tied up. He woke numb and
cold, inside a carved hole in the rock. Through all the long sleep his
body had been full of hurt, and it was still full of hurt. He did not
open his eyes. Yet he knew that he was awake, and numb, and cold, and
rigid, and full of hurt, and tied up. His face was banded with cold
bands, his legs were bandaged together. Only his hands were loose.

He could move if he wanted: he knew that. But he had no want. Who would
want to come back from the dead? A deep, deep nausea stirred in him, at
the premonition of movement. He resented already the fact of the strange,
incalculable moving that had already taken place in him: the moving back
into consciousness. He had not wished it. He had wanted to stay outside,
in the place where even memory is stone dead.

But now, something had returned to him, like a returned letter, and in
that return he lay overcome with a sense of nausea. Yet suddenly his
hands moved. They lifted up, cold, heavy and sore. Yet they lifted up, to
drag away the cloth from his face, and push at the shoulder–bands. Then
they fell again, cold, heavy, numb, and sick with having moved even so
much, unspeakably unwilling to move further.

With his face cleared and his shoulders free, he lapsed again, and lay
dead, resting on the cold nullity of being dead. It was the most
desirable. And almost, he had it complete: the utter cold nullity of
being outside.

Yet when he was most nearly gone, suddenly, driven by an ache at the
wrists, his hands rose and began pushing at the bandages of his knees,
his feet began to stir, even while his breast lay cold and dead still.

And at last, the eyes opened. On to the dark. The same dark! Yet perhaps
there was a pale chink, of the all–disturbing light, prising open the
pure dark. He could not lift his head. The eyes closed. And again it was
finished.

Then suddenly he leaned up, and the great world reeled. Bandages fell
away. And narrow walls of rock closed upon him, and gave the new anguish
of imprisonment. There were chinks of light. With a wave of strength that
came from revulsion, he leaned forward, in that narrow well of rock, and
leaned frail hands on the rock near the chinks of light.

Strength came from somewhere, from revulsion; there was a crash and a
wave of light, and the dead man was crouching in his lair, facing the
animal onrush of light. Yet it was hardly dawn. And the strange, piercing
keenness of daybreak's sharp breath was on him. It meant full awakening.

Slowly, slowly he crept down from the cell of rock with the caution of
the bitterly wounded. Bandages and linen and perfume fell away, and he
crouched on the ground against the wall of rock, to recover oblivion. But
he saw his hurt feet touching the earth again, with unspeakable pain, the
earth they had meant to touch no more, and he saw his thin legs that had
died, and pain unknowable, pain like utter bodily disillusion, filled him
so full that he stood up, with one torn hand on the ledge of the tomb.

To be back! To be back again, after all that! He saw the linen
swathing–bands fallen round his dead feet, and stooping, he picked them
up, folded them, and laid them back in the rocky cavity from which he had
emerged. Then he took the perfumed linen sheet, wrapped it round him as a
mantle, and turned away, to the wanness of the chill dawn.

He was alone; and having died, was even beyond loneliness.

Filled still with the sickness of unspeakable disillusion, the man
stepped with wincing feet down the rocky slope, past the sleeping
soldiers, who lay wrapped in their woollen mantles under the wild
laurels. Silent, on naked scarred feet, wrapped in a white linen shroud,
he glanced down for a moment on the inert, heap–like bodies of the
soldiers. They were repulsive, a slow squalor of limbs, yet he felt a
certain compassion. He passed on towards the road, lest they should wake.

Having nowhere to go, he turned from the city that stood on her hills. He
slowly followed the road away from the town, past the olives, under which
purple anemones were drooping in the chill of dawn, and rich–green
herbage was pressing thick. The world, the same as ever, the natural
world, thronging with greenness, a nightingale winsomely, wistfully,
coaxingly calling from the bushes beside a runnel of water, in the world,
the natural world of morning and evening, forever undying, from which he
had died.

He went on, on scarred feet, neither of this world nor of the next.
Neither here nor there, neither seeing nor yet sightless, he passed dimly
on, away from the city and its precincts, wondering why he should be
travelling, yet driven by a dim, deep nausea of disillusion, and a
resolution of which he was not even aware.

Advancing in a kind of half–consciousness under the dry stone wall of the
olive orchard, he was roused by the shrill, wild crowing of a cock just
near him, a sound which made him shiver as if electricity had touched
him. He saw a black and orange cock on a bough above the road, then
running through the olives of the upper level, a peasant in a grey
woollen shirt–tunic. Leaping out of greenness, came the black and orange
cock with the red comb, his tail–feathers streaming lustrous.

"0, stop him, master!" called the peasant. "My escaped cock!"

The man addressed, with a sudden flicker of smile, opened his great white
wings of a shroud in front of the leaping bird. The cock fell back with a
squawk and a flutter, the peasant jumped forward, there was a terrific
beating of wings and whirring of feathers, then the peasant had the
escaped cock safely under his arm, its wings shut down, its face crazily
craning forward, its round eyes goggling from its white chops.

"It's my escaped cock!" said the peasant, soothing the bird with his left
hand, as he looked perspiringly up into the face of the man wrapped in
white linen.

The peasant changed countenance, and stood transfixed, as he looked into
the dead–white face of the man who had died. That dead–white face, so
still, with the black beard growing on it as if in death; and those
wide–open, black, sombre eyes, that had died! and those washed scars on
the waxy forehead! The slow–blooded man of the field let his jaw drop, in
childish inability to meet the situation.

"Don't be afraid," said the man in the shroud. "I am not dead. They took
me down too soon. So I have risen up. Yet if they discover me, they will
do it all over again…"

He spoke in a voice of old disgust. Humanity! Especially humanity in
authority! There was only one thing it could do. He looked with black,
indifferent eyes into the quick, shifty eyes of the peasant. The peasant
quailed, and was powerless under the look of deathly indifference and
strange, cold resoluteness. He could only say the one thing he was afraid
to say:

"Will you hide in my house, master?"

"I will rest there. But if you tell anyone, you know what will happen.
You will have to go before a judge."

"Me! I shan't speak. Let us be quick!"

The peasant looked round in fear, wondering sulkily why he had let
himself in for this doom. The man with scarred feet climbed painfully up
to the level of the olive garden, and followed the sullen, hurrying
peasant across the green wheat among the olive trees. He felt the cool
silkiness of the young wheat under his feet that had been dead, and the
roughishness of its separate life was apparent to him. At the edges of
rocks, he saw the silky, silvery–haired buds of the scarlet anemone
bending downwards. And they, too, were in another world. In his own world
he was alone, utterly alone. These things around him were in a world that
had never died. But he himself had died, or had been killed from out of
it, and all that remained now was the great void nausea of utter
disillusion.

They came to a clay cottage, and the peasant waited dejectedly for the
other man to pass.

"Pass!" he said. "Pass! We have not been seen."

The man in white linen entered the earthen room, taking with him the
aroma of strange perfumes. The peasant closed the door, and passed
through the inner doorway into the yard, where the ass stood within the
high walls, safe from being stolen. There the peasant, in great
disquietude, tied up the cock. The man with the waxen face sat down on a
mat near the hearth, for he was spent and barely conscious. Yet he heard
outside the whispering of the peasant to his wife, for the woman had been
watching from the roof.

Presently they came in, and the woman hid her face. She poured water, and
put bread and dried figs on a wooden platter.

"Eat, master!" said the peasant. "Eat! No one has seen."

But the stranger had no desire for food. Yet he moistened a little bread
in the water, and ate it, since life must be. But desire was dead in him,
even for food and drink. He had risen without desire, without even the
desire to live, empty save for the all–overwhelming disillusion that lay
like nausea where his life had been. Yet perhaps, deeper even than
disillusion, was a desireless resoluteness, deeper even than
consciousness.

The peasant and his wife stood near the door, watching. They saw with
terror the livid wounds on the thin, waxy hands and the thin feet of the
stranger, and the small lacerations in the still dead forehead. They
smelled with terror the scent of rich perfumes that came from him, from
his body. And they looked at the fine, snowy, costly linen. Perhaps
really he was a dead king, from the region of terrors. And he was still
cold and remote in the region of death, with perfumes coming from his
transparent body as if from some strange flower.

Having with difficulty swallowed some, the moistened bread, he lifted his
eyes to them. He saw them as they were: limited, meagre in their life,
without any splendour of gesture and of courage. But they were what they
were, slow, inevitable parts of the natural world. They had no nobility,
but fear made them compassionate.

BOOK: The Man Who Died
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