The Blind Man by D. H. Lawrence
Maurice is blinded during the war and has a disfiguring facial scar. He is also depressed. Maurice and Isabel, his young wife, have become socially isolated since his injury. Bertie, Isabel’s old friend, pays them a visit. The three of them enjoy dinner together. Afterwards, Maurice becomes restless and leaves the house. When Bertie goes out to check on him, he finds Maurice in the barn. The blind man asks Bertie to touch his useless eyes and awful scar. The experience is a revelation for both men. Maurice understands the splendour of friendship while Bertie realises how much he fears intimacy.
The Blind Man by D. H. Lawrence
Maurice didn’t think much or worry much. While he had the power of touch, he was happy without sight.
Isabel Pervin was listening for two sounds – for the sound of wheels on the drive outside and for the noise of her husband’s footsteps in the hall. It was the late afternoon of a rainy November day. Her dearest and oldest friend was on his way from the station. Her husband, who had been blinded in the war in France, was outside somewhere.
Maurice had been home for a year now. He was badly scared and totally blind, but they had been very happy. Grange Farm was Maurice’s place. The farm workers lived at the back of the house, while Isabel lived with her husband in the comfortable rooms at the front. They had spent most of their time alone together since his return. They talked and sang and read. together. She wrote short pieces for a newspaper and he did some work on the farm _ simple work, it is true, but it gave him satisfaction. He milked the cows and looked after the pigs and horses. Life was still very full for the blind man, peaceful in darkness. With his wife he had a whole world, rich and real. But sometimes their happiness left them. In that silent house y Isabel sometimes felt she was going crazy. And sometimes her husband became despairing. She tried then to force the old cheerfulness to continue bat the effort was almost too much for her. At such times she would give anything, anything, to escape. She looked for a way out. She invited friends. She tried to give her husband some further connection with the outside world. But it was no good. Nobody could understand the depth of the experiences that they had shared in the past year. But now, in a few weeks’ time, her second baby would be born. The first had died while her husband was in France. She looked forward with pleasure to the coming of the second, but she also felt a little anxious. The child would take her love and attention. And then, what about Maurice? What would he do? It was at this time that Isabel’s old friend, Bertie Reid„ wrote to her. All her life he had been her friend – like a brother, but better than her own brothers. She loved him, though not in the same way as the man she had chosen to marry.
Bertie was a lawyer, a thoughtful type with a quick mind. Maurice was different. He was slow and sensitive – a big, heavy man. The two men had never been close. Isabel thought they should like each other. But they did not. So when Maurice was going out to France, she wrote to Bertie saying that she must end her friendship with him. For nearly two years there had been no communication between the two friends. Then a little note came from Bertie. He wrote of the real pain he felt about Maurice’s blindness. Isabel felt a nervous excitement again, and she read the letter to Maurice. ‘Ask him to come down,’ he said. ‘Ask Bertie to come here?’ ‘Yes – if he wants to.’ Isabel thought about this. ‘I know he wants to,’ she replied. ‘But what about you, Maurice? How would you like it?’ ‘I should like it.’ ‘Well – in that case – But I thought you didn’t care for him- ‘ “Oh, I don’t know. I might think differently of him now,” the blind man replied.
So Bertie was coming, coming this evening, in the November rain and darkness. Isabel looked nervously again at the high windows, where the rain was beating against the glass. Maurice was out in the stable. She stood up and looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was calm. Her neck made a beautiful line to her shoulder. She had a warm, motherly look. She passed down the wide hall and put on heavy shoes, a large coat and a man’s hat. Then she went outside. It was very dark and very windy. As she walked on, the darkness seemed deeper, and she was sorry she had not brought a lamp. Rain blew against her. She half liked it and she half felt that she did not want to light against it. She reached the door of the stable . There was no light anywhere. She opened the door and looked in, into total darkness. The sudden smell of horses shocked her. She listened but could only hear the night and the restless movement of a horse. ‘Maurice!’ she called softly. ‘Maurice – are you there?’
Nothing came from the darkness. The rain and the wind were blowing in, so she entered and shut the door. She was conscious of the horses, though she could not see them, and she was afraid. Then she heard a small noise in the distance. It was Maurice in the other part of the stable. The low sound of his voice as he spoke to the horses came to her in the darkness. She called quietly, ‘Maurice, Maurice – dear!’ ‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘Isabel?’ She saw nothing, and the sound of his voice seemed to touch her. ‘Won’t you come in, dear?’ she said. ‘Yes, I’m coming. Just half a minute. Bertie hasn’t arrived yet, has he?’ ‘Not yet,’ said Isabel. She wanted him to come to her. When she could not see him, she was frightened of him. ‘Bertie won’t much enjoy the drive in this weather,’ he said, as he closed the door. ‘No, he won’t!’ said Isabel calmly, watching the dark shape at the door. ‘Give me your arm, dear.’ Isabel was pleased to be back in the house. She was a little afraid of him out there in the darkness. In the hall he sat down heavily. As he bent down to take off his boots, he didn’t seem blind. When he stood up, the blood rushed to his face and neck, and she didn’t look at his eyes.
He went away upstairs. She saw him go into the darkness. He did not know that the lamps upstairs were not lit. She heard him in the bathroom. Maurice moved around almost unconsciously. He seemed to know where things were before he touched them. He didn’t think much or worry much. While he had the power of touch, he was happy without sight. It was a pleasure to stretch out his hands and pick up something that he couldn’t see, to hold it and to own it. He didn’t try to remember what it looked like. He didn’t want to. This new consciousness had become natural to him. He was generally happy and he had a burning love for Isabel. But at times despair swept over him and destroyed his happiness. Then he suffered. But tonight he was still calm, though his senses were a little sharp. His hearing was too sharp. He was conscious of all the sounds in the house. As he went to his room he heard a vehicle arrive. Then came Isabel’s voice, like a bell ringing. ‘Is it you, Bertie?’ And a man’s voice answered out of the wind. ‘Hello, Isabel. There you are. You’re looking as fit as ever.’ ‘Oh yes,’ said Isabel. ‘I’m very well. How are you? Rather thin, I think—’
‘Worked to death. But I’m all right. How’s Maurice? Isn’t he here?’ ‘Oh yes, he’s upstairs, changing his clothes. Yes, he’s well.’ They moved away. Maurice heard no more. But a childish sense of despair had come over him. He felt shut out — like a child in the company of adults. He dressed himself and went downstairs. Isabel was alone in the sitting room. She watched him enter. ‘Did you hear Bertie come, Maurice?’ she said. ‘Yes – isn’t he here?’ ‘He’s in his room. He looks very thin and tired.’ Bertie came down. He was a little dark man, with a very big forehead, thin hair, and sad, large eyes. He had strange, short legs. Isabel watched him pause at the door, and look nervously at her husband. Bertie went across to Maurice. The blind man put his hand out and Bertie took it. Isabel watched them anxiously, and then looked away again. ‘Come, ‘ she said. ‘Come to the table. Aren’t you both hungry?’ They sat down. Maurice felt for his place, his knife and fork. Bertie picked up a little bowl of flowers from the table, and held them to his nose. ‘They have a lovely sweet smell,’ he said. ‘Where do they come from?’ ‘From the garden – under the windows. Bertie, do you remember the flowers under Aunt Bell’s wall?’ The two friends looked at each other and smiled. The meal continued and Isabel and Bertie spoke easily together. The blind man was silent. He ate carefully but quickly. He could never accept any help.
After the meal, the three sat around the fire. Isabel put more wood on and Bertie noticed a slight slowness in her movements. ‘Will you be pleased when the child comes, Isabel?’ he said. She looked at him with a smile. ‘Yes, I shall be very pleased. So will you, Maurice , won’t you?’ she added. ‘Yes, I shall,’ replied her husband. ‘We are both looking forward to it so much, ‘ she said. ‘Yes, of course,’ said Bertie. He was three or four years older than Isabel and had never married. He had other women friends — but they were friends, not lovers. If they seemed to come too close, he pulled away. Isabel knew him very well, his kindness, but also his weakness, which made him unable ever to enter into any close human relationships. He was ashamed of himself because he couldn’t marry. He wanted to, but he couldn’t. Deep down inside he was afraid. He became a successful lawyer, a rich man and a great social success. But at the centre he felt that he was nothing. Isabel looked at his sad face and his short little legs. She looked at his dark grey eyes. There was something childlike in him and she loved him. At the same time she pitied and disliked his weakness. He understood this. Suddenly, Bertie spoke to Maurice . ‘Isabel tells me that you have not suffered too badly from losing your sight.’ Maurice straightened himself. ‘No, ‘ he said, ‘not too badly. You stop worrying about many things.’ ‘And that is good,’ said Bertie. ‘But what is it that takes the place of worry?’ Maurice was slow in replying. ‘There is something,’ Maurice said. ‘But I couldn’t tell you what it is.’ Then the blind man was silent. He stood up slowly, a big, uncomfortable figure. He wanted to go away. ‘Do you mind, ‘ he said, ‘if I go and speak to the farm manager? I won’t be long.’
‘No — go along, dear,’ said Isabel. A n d he went out. A silence came over the two friends. The wind blew loudly outside. Rain beat like a drum on the windows. The wood in the fireplace burned lowly with hot small flames. Bertie seemed uncomfortable. There were dark circles around his eyes. Isabel looked into the fire. ‘The child coming seems to make me calm. I feel there’s nothing to worry about,’ she said. ‘A good thing, I should say,’ Bertie replied slowly. ‘If I didn’t feel anxious about Maurice , I’d be quite happy.’ The evening passed slowly. Isabel looked at the clock. ‘It’s nearly ten o’clock,’ she said. ‘Where can Maurice be?’ Bertie looked at her. ‘Would you like me to go out and see?’ ‘Well – if you wouldn’t mind. I’d go, but-‘ She did not want to make the effort. Bertie put on an old coat and took a lamp. He left by the side door. He felt nervous and strangely empty. He walked slowly through the wet and stormy right. At last he opened the door of a stable and, looking in, he saw Maurice standing, listening. ‘Who is that?’ said Maurice . ‘It’s me, ‘ said Bertie. He entered and shut the door behind him. ‘You came to look for me?’ he asked.
‘Isabel was a little worried,’ said Bertie. ‘I’ll come in.’ ‘I hope I’m not in your way at all,’ said Bertie, rather shyly. ‘ My way?’ Maurice said. ‘Not a bit. I’m pleased Isabel has someone to talk to. I’m afraid that I am in the way. I know I’m not very good company. Is Isabel all right, do you think? She’s not unhappy, is she?’ ‘I don’t think so.’ ‘What does she say?’ ‘She says she’s very happy – only a little worried about you,’ said Bertie carefully. ‘She needn’t worry about me. I’m afraid that she’ll find me dull, always alone with me down here.’ Maurice lowered his voice and took a deep breath. ‘Bertie,’ he asked, ‘is my face a very ugly sight? Do you mind telling me?’
‘There is a scar,’ said Bertie, surprised. ‘But one feels pity more than shock at the sight of it.’ ‘A bad scar, though,’ said Maurice. ‘Oh, yes.’ There was a pause. ‘I don’t really know you, do I?’ Maurice said suddenly in a strange voice. ‘Probably not,’ said Bertie. ‘Do you mind if I touch you?’ Bertie stepped back but said, in a small voice, ‘Not at all.’ He suffered as the blind man stretched out a strong hand and felt his head. He covered the face of the smaller man, touching the forehead, the closed eyes, the small nose, the mouth, the strong chin. ‘You seem young, ‘ Maurice said quietly, at last.
Bertie stood, nearly destroyed, unable to answer. ‘Your head seems soft,’ Maurice continued. ‘So do your hands. Touch my eyes, will you? Touch my scar.’ Bertie was sickened by the idea, but he was under the power of the blind man. He lifted his hand, and touched the scar. Maurice suddenly covered it with his own hand, pressed the fingers of the other man onto his scarred eyes. He stayed in this position for a minute or more while Bertie froze, helpless. Then, suddenly, Maurice took the other man’s hand away and stood holding it in his own. ‘Oh my God,’ he said. ‘We shall know each other now, shan’t we? We shall know each other now.’ Bertie could not answer. He looked at the blind man silently and in terror, despairing at his own weakness. He knew that he could not answer. He had an unreasonable fear that the other man would suddenly destroy him. Maurice was actually filled with a burning desire for friendship — and Bertie only wanted to escape. ‘It’s all right now, as long as we live. We’re all right together now, aren’t we?’ Maurice said. ‘Yes,’ said Bertie. Maurice turned to pick up his coat. ‘Come, ‘ he said, ‘we’ll go to Isabel.’ Bertie took the lamp and opened the door. The two men went in silence. Isabel heard their footsteps and looked up anxiously as they entered. There seemed a strange happiness in Maurice. Bertie looked tired. His eyes were darker than before. ‘What is it?’ she asked. ‘We’ve become friends,’ said Maurice. She looked at Bertie. He met her eyes with a despairing look. I’m so pleased,’ she said, confused. ‘Yes,’ said Maurice. Isabel took his hand with both of hers and held it tight. ‘You’ll be happier now, dear,’ she said. But she was watching Bertie. She knew that he had one desire – to escape from this friendship which had been forced on him. He could not accept that he had been touched by the blind man.