In the Train
ONE DAY at this time Birkin was called to London. He was not very fixed in his abode. He had rooms in Nottingham, because his work lay chiefly in that town. But often he was in London, or in Oxford. He moved about a great deal, his life seemed uncertain, without any definite rhythm, any organic meaning.
On the platform of the railway station he saw Gerald Crich, reading a newspaper, and evidently waiting for the train. Birkin stood some distance off, among the people. It was against his instinct to approach anybody.
From time to time, in a manner characteristic of him, Gerald lifted his head and looked round. Even though he was reading the newspaper closely, he must keep a watchful eye on his external surroundings. There seemed to be a dual consciousness running in him. He was thinking vigorously of something he read in the newspaper, and at the same time his eye ran over the surfaces of the life round him, and he missed nothing. Birkin, who was watching him, was irritated by his duality. He noticed too, that Gerald seemed always to be at bay against everybody, in spite of his queer, genial, social manner when roused.
Now Birkin started violently at seeing this genial look flash on to Gerald's face, at seeing Gerald approaching with hand outstretched.
`Hallo, Rupert, where are you going?'
`London. So are you, I suppose.'
Gerald's eyes went over Birkin's face in curiosity.
`We'll travel together if you like,' he said.
`Don't you usually go first?' asked Birkin.
`I can't stand the crowd,' replied Gerald. `But third'll be all right. There's a restaurant car, we can have some tea.'
The two men looked at the station clock, having nothing further to say.
`What were you reading in the paper?' Birkin asked.
Gerald looked at him quickly.
`Isn't it funny, what they do put in the newspapers,' he said. `Here are two leaders --' he held out his Daily Telegraph, `full of the ordinary newspaper cant --' he scanned the columns down -- `and then there's this little -- I dunno what you'd call it, essay, almost -- appearing with the leaders, and saying there must arise a man who will give new values to things, give us new truths, a new attitude to life, or else we shall be a crumbling nothingness in a few years, a country in ruin --'
`I suppose that's a bit of newspaper cant, as well,' said Birkin.
`It sounds as if the man meant it, and quite genuinely,' said Gerald.
`Give it to me,' said Birkin, holding out his hand for the paper.
The train came, and they went on board, sitting on either side a little table, by the window, in the restaurant car. Birkin glanced over his paper, then looked up at Gerald, who was waiting for him.
`I believe the man means it,' he said, `as far as he means anything.'
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