She thought to herself, How curious it is walking like this … there's nowhere to walk to. It was a novel and rather interesting idea. Walking on the downs, on moorland, on a beach, down a road – there was always some objective in view. Over that hill, to that clump of trees, to that patch of heather, down this lane to the farm, along the high road to the next town, by the side of the waves to the next cove. But here it was from – not to. Away from the rest house – that was all. Right hand, left hand, straight ahead – just bare dun-coloured horizon.
Ten years was what writers called a dangerous period in married life. A time when one or the other party had a tendency to run off the rails. A time to get through warily until you settled down beyond it into comfortable, set ways.
‘Life, Joan, must be a continual progress – a rising on the stepping stones of our dead selves to higher things. Pain and suffering will come. They come to all. Even Our Lord was not immune from the sufferings of our mortal life. As he knew the agony of Gethsemane, so you will know it – and if you do not know that, Joan, then it will mean that your path has veered far from the true way. Remember this when the hour of doubt and travail comes.
Sherston is one of those extraordinary people who live entirely on the esteem in which other people hold them.
If you had nothing but yourself to think about what would you find out about yourself? ‘I don't want to know,' said Joan aloud. The sound of her voice astonished her. What was it that she didn't want to know? A battle, she thought, I'm fighting a losing battle. But against whom? Against what? Never mind, she thought. I don't want to know – Hang on to that. It was a good phrase.
All the little bits and pieces of truth. They'd been showing themselves to her ever since she'd arrived here. All she needed to do was to piece them together. The whole story of her life – the real story of Joan Scudamore … It was here waiting for her … She had never needed to think about it before. It had been quite easy to fill her life with unimportant trivialities that left her no time for self-knowledge.
Christ, she thought, was alone in the desert. For forty days and forty nights … … No, no, nobody could do that – nobody could bear it … The silence, the sun, the loneliness … Fear came upon her again – the fear of the vast empty spaces where man is alone except for God …
She had had – as others had had in days gone by – a Vision. A vision of herself. And although she might seem now the commonplace English traveller, intent on the minor details of travel, her heart and mind were held in that abasement of self reproach that had come to her out there in the silence and the sunlight.
I speak eight, nine languages – some well, some not so well. It is a pleasure, do you not think, to converse? All human beings are interesting, and one lives such a short time on this earth! One should exchange ideas – experiences.
‘Ah but that is so English. You think it impertinent if I ask the questions that we Russians feel are so natural. It is curious that. If I were to ask you where you had been, to what hotels, and what scenery you had seen, and if you have children and what do they do, and have you travelled much, and do you know a good hairdresser in London – all that you would answer with pleasure. But if I ask something that comes into my mind – have you a sorrow, is your husband faithful – do you sleep much with men – what has been your most beautiful experience in life – are you conscious of the love of God? All those things would make you draw back – affronted – and yet they are much more interesting than the others, nicht wahr?'
Your experience was real – it has happened to many – to St Paul – to others of the Saints of God – and to ordinary mortals and sinners. It is conversion. It is vision. It is the soul knowing its own bitterness.