The Hampdenshire Wonder

by J D Beresford

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Book 22 of 11 in the
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I COULD not say at which station the woman and her baby entered the train. Since we had left London I had been engrossed in Henri Bergson's Time and Free Will, as it is called in the English translation. I had been conscious of various stoppages and changes of passengers, but my attention had been held by Bergson's argument. I agreed with his conclusion in advance, but I wished to master his reasoning. I looked up when the woman entered my compartment, though I did not notice the name of the station. I caught sight of the baby she was carrying, and turned back to my book. I thought the child was a freak, an abnormality; and such things disgust me. I returned to the study of my Bergson and read: "It is at the great and solemn crisis, decisive of our reputation with others, that we choose in defiance of what is conventionally called a motive, and this absence of any tangible reason is the more striking the deeper our freedom goes." I kept my eyes on the book—the train had started again—but the next passage conveyed no meaning to my mind, and as I attempted to re-read it an impression was interposed between me and the work I was studying. I saw projected on the page before me an image which I mistook at first for the likeness of Richard Owen. It was the conformation of the head that gave rise to the mistake, a head domed and massive, white and smooth—it was a head that had always interested me. But as I looked, my mind already searching for the reason of this hallucination, I saw that the lower part of the face was that of an infant. My eyes wandered from the book, and my gaze fluttered along the four persons seated opposite to me, till they rested on the reality of my vision. Even as these acts were being performed, I found myself foolishly saying, "I don't call this freedom."

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