Thanks to goat_song for this!
"Epilogue (1914)," Maurice, by E. M. Forster
First published in 1999 by Andre Deutsch Ltd
Copyright 1999 The Provost and Scholars of King's College, Cambridge
NOTE: Forster wrote of this "Epilogue": "…one wants to know more about him and Alec for every reason, and there was an epilogue, featuring them x-years later, but all who read it thought it bad, so did I, so I scrapped it in the final version." –from a letter to Stephen Spender, dated 25 August 1933.
"The axe is laid unto the root of the trees…" This text, so well expressing her own state, rose unbidden into Kitty's mind. It had been induced by a distant sound of wood-cutting but she was unconscious of this. She was bicycling alone through a haggard country. All leaves had been stripped from the branches by an earlier gale, and now the wind boomed in monotonous triumph under a light brown sky. In such weather, the world seems emptied of good; warmth has gone, ice and snow, splendid in their own fashion, have not yet arrived. And Kitty had nothing to do, did not know where she was going, and did not care. She had left the high road because it wearied her, and turned into plantations; the track sloped, but into the wind, so that she still had to pedal, and over a worse surface. After an hour more she would get back to the inn where she was stopping, and eat her solitary tea.
"The axe is laid…therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down…but no one wants to be barren," she thought. "No one asks to be cross and sad, or five years older. Some of us might have brought forth fruit if we'd been nourished properly." And sighing she cycled on, while the sound of the chopping grew more distinct. At twenty seven Kitty was as old as most women at forty; youth had found no resting place either in her body or mind. Since Violet Tonks had married—that rather than her brother's disgrace had been the crisis—she had lost her vigour, no longer attended concerts, lectures on hygiene &c, or cared for the improvement of the world; but looked after her mother or helped the Chapmans wearily. Now and then she "struck," as she termed it; must have a "real holiday alone," as on the present occasion. But she never came home refreshed. She could not strike against her own personality.
"Can I get out this way?" she called to the woodman.
He nodded, and replied in an independent voice "If you see my mate, Miss, will you ask him to bring up a saw he has, please."
"Yes, if I see him," said Kitty, who felt that a liberty had been taken with her. But speech had interrupted her thoughts, and when the axe recommenced, it was as a human sound.
Half a mile on, she saw the second man. He was piling logs at the side of a clearing. She called to him, and as he approached, she recognized her brother. He seemed a common labourer—not as trim as he who had accosted her. His trousers were frayed, his shirt open at the throat: he began to button it with hard brown fingers as she cried "Maurice." But beneath the exterior a new man throbbed—tougher, more centralised, in as good form as ever, but formed in a fresh mould, where muscles and sunburn proceed from an inward health.
"What, you're never still in England…disgraceful…abominable…" She spoke not what she felt, but what her training ordained, and as if he understood this he did not reply, nor look her in the face. He seemed to be waiting—like the woods—till her sterile reproofs were over. "We none of us miss you," she continued. "We never even mention you. Arthur tells us not to even ask what you did. I shall not tell mother I've seen you for she's had enough to bear. A man further up gave me a message to you about a saw, or I wouldn't have spoken otherwise."
"Which saw?" These were the only words he uttered: his voice was rougher, but still low, and very charming.
"I don't know and I don't care," she said, flying into a rage. Maurice picked up two saws, listened to the noise the axe made, and moved away carrying the smaller. It was her last view of him. The road twisted out of the wind, and before she had recovered her temper she was coasting away far below. The evening grew more dreary, and sky tree hedges acquired a granulated appearance, as though rust were forming on them, and announcing the earth's extinction.
As the tea brought warmth to her mind, Kitty began recalling her brother's disappearance. She had never thrashed it out. "Something too awful" had been hinted by her brother-in-law, who knew most, and had been in secret communication with Clive. Clive would make no pronouncement, and had refused point blank to see Mrs Hall and be questioned by her. The two families drifted apart—the more quickly because old Mrs Durham and Pippa spread a rumour that Maurice had speculated on the Stock Exchange. This annoyed the Halls, for the boy, like his father, had always been most careful, and Kitty was allowed to write one of her sharp letters; she remembered its wording very clearly now, in the solitude of this Yorkshire inn.
But what was the "awful thing"? Why should a sane wealthy unspiritual young man drop overboard like a stone into the sea, and vanish?—drop without preparation or farewell? The night of the wonderful sunset he had not returned—to the vexation of Aunt Ida, now dead, who desired a motor-ride, and on the morrow he was not at the office, nor at a dinner appointment with Clive. Beyond that she knew nothing, for masculinity had intervened. It was a man's business, Arthur had implied: women may weep but must not ask to understand, and he warned them against communicating with the Police. She had wept duly, and comforted poor mother, but emotion had now been dead there—many years, and Oh what was it? She longed to know. What force could have driven her brother into the wilderness?
Then she thought "He's not alone there: he's working under that other man," and with a flash but without the slightest shock the truth was revealed to her. "He must be very fond of his mate, he must have given up us on his account, I should imagine they are practically in love." It seemed a very odd situation to her, once which she had never heard of and had better not mention, but the varieties of development are endless: it did not seem a disgusting situation, nor one that society should have outlawed. Maurice looked happy and proud despite his cheap clothes and the cold. She remembered how his face had changed when she spoke of the saw: it was the only remark that had moved him: abuse, entreaties, sermons, were all powerless against his desire to work properly with his friend. "Which saw?" Nothing else mattered, and he had left her.
Well, and she didn't mind. He could if he liked. She had never cared for him, and didn't now, but she did understand him, and could dwell on him at last without irritation. She saw why he had always repelled her, in spite of surface generosities, why she and her sister, and even her [ }m, and lived in a state of war. What were their thoughts now? And as the evening drew on, and the carpet bulged up in the wind, Kitty's own thoughts grew less sociological. In particular, she began to think of the unknown friend as a human being, and to be interested in him. She felt that though commoner than her brother, he might be nicer to a woman, she liked his strong loose body and the softness of his brave eyes, and wanted to see him again. He was "the sort of person in whom all meet"—so with unconscious felicity she expressed Alec's nature, and she found herself asking the landlady about the men who worked in the woods through which she had bicycled. Her question was vague, as was the landlady's answer: there were so many woods, she implied, and so many men, and some came and others went.
"It must be much too cold up there alone," said Kitty, whose idea of love, though correct, remained withered: for Maurice and Alec were at that moment neither lonely nor cold. Their favourite time for talking had been reached. Couched in a shed near their work—to sleep rough had proved safer—they shared in whispered review the events of the day before falling asleep. Kitty was included, and they decided to leave their present job and find work in a new district, in case she told the Police, or returned. In the glow of manhood "There we shall be safe" they thought. They were never to be that. But they were together for the moment, they had stayed disintegration and combined daily work with love; and who can hope for more?