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Part II: The Explanations of Innocent Smith Gilbert K. Chesterton

Chapter III. The Round Road; or, the Desertion Charge

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Table Of Contents: Manalive

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"Yet when he reached me, after so abrupt an assertion of his aim, he could only say rather dubiously in French that he wanted a house.

"`There are not many houses to be had round here,' I answered in the same language, `the district has been very disturbed. A revolution, as you know, has recently been suppressed. Any further building--'

"`Oh! I don't mean that,' he cried; `I mean a real house--a live house. It really is a live house, for it runs away from me.'

"`I am ashamed to say that something in his phrase or gesture moved me profoundly. We Russians are brought up in an atmosphere of folk-lore, and its unfortunate effects can still be seen in the bright colours of the children's dolls and of the ikons. For an instant the idea of a house running away from a man gave me pleasure, for the enlightenment of man moves slowly.

"`Have you no other house of your own?' I asked.

"`I have left it,' he said very sadly. `It was not the house that grew dull, but I that grew dull in it. My wife was better than all women, and yet I could not feel it.'

"`And so,' I said with sympathy, `you walked straight out of the front door, like a masculine Nora.'

"`Nora?' he inquired politely, apparently supposing it to be a Russian word.

"`I mean Nora in "The Doll's House,"' I replied.

"At this he looked very much astonished, and I knew he was an Englishman; for Englishmen always think that Russians study nothing but `ukases.'

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"`"The Doll's House"?' he cried vehemently; `why, that is just where Ibsen was so wrong! Why, the whole aim of a house is to be a doll's house. Don't you remember, when you were a child, how those little windows WERE windows, while the big windows weren't. A child has a doll's house, and shrieks when a front door opens inwards. A banker has a real house, yet how numerous are the bankers who fail to emit the faintest shriek when their real front doors open inwards.'

"Something from the folk-lore of my infancy still kept me foolishly silent; and before I could speak, the Englishman had leaned over and was saying in a sort of loud whisper, `I have found out how to make a big thing small. I have found out how to turn a house into a doll's house. Get a long way off it: God lets us turn all things into toys by his great gift of distance. Once let me see my old brick house standing up quite little against the horizon, and I shall want to go back to it again. I shall see the funny little toy lamp-post painted green against the gate, and all the dear little people like dolls looking out of the window. For the windows really open in my doll's house.'

"`But why?' I asked, `should you wish to return to that particular doll's house? Having taken, like Nora, the bold step against convention, having made yourself in the conventional sense disreputable, having dared to be free, why should you not take advantage of your freedom? As the greatest modern writers have pointed out, what you called your marriage was only your mood. You have a right to leave it all behind, like the clippings of your hair or the parings of your nails. Having once escaped, you have the world before you. Though the words may seem strange to you, you are free in Russia.'

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Gilbert K. Chesterton

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