The Other Side of the Hedge by E. M. Forster
My pedometer told me that I was twenty-five; and, though it is a
shocking thing to stop walking, I was so tired that I sat down on a
milestone to rest. People outstripped me, jeering as they did so, but I
was too apathetic to feel resentful, and even when Miss Eliza Dimbleby,
the great educationist, swept past, exhorting me to persevere, I only
smiled and raised my hat.
At first I thought I was going to be like my brother, whom I had had to
leave by the road-side a year or two round the corner. He had wasted his
breath on singing, and his strength on helping others. But I had
travelled more wisely, and now it was only the monotony of the highway
that oppressed me—dust under foot and brown crackling hedges on either
side, ever since I could remember.
And I had already dropped several things—indeed, the road behind was
strewn with the things we all had dropped; and the white dust was
settling down on them, so that already they looked no better than
stones. My muscles were so weary that I could not even bear the weight
of those things I still carried. I slid off the milestone into the road,
and lay there prostrate, with my face to the great parched hedge,
praying that I might give up.
A little puff of air revived me. It seemed to come from the hedge; and,
when I opened my eyes, there was a glint of light through the tangle of
boughs and dead leaves. The hedge could not be as thick as usual. In my
weak, morbid state, I longed to force my way in, and see what was on the
other side. No one was in sight, or I should not have dared to try. For
we of the road do not admit in conversation that there is another side
I yielded to the temptation, saying to myself that I would come back in
a minute. The thorns scratched my face, and I had to use my arms as a
shield, depending on my feet alone to push me forward. Halfway through I
would have gone back, for in the passage all the things I was carrying
were scraped off me, and my clothes were torn. But I was so wedged that
return was impossible, and I had to wriggle blindly forward, expecting
every moment that my strength would fail me, and that I should perish in
Suddenly cold water closed round my head, and I seemed sinking down for
ever. I had fallen out of the hedge into a deep pool. I rose to the
surface at last, crying for help, and I heard someone on the opposite
bank laugh and say: "Another!" And then I was twitched out and laid
panting on the dry ground.
Even when the water was out of my eyes, I was still dazed, for I had
never been in so large a space, nor seen such grass and sunshine. The
blue sky was no longer a strip, and beneath it the earth had risen
grandly into hills—clean, bare buttresses, with beech trees in their
folds, and meadows and clear pools at their feet. But the hills were not
high, and there was in the landscape a sense of human occupation—so
that one might have called it a park, or garden, if the words did not
imply a certain triviality and constraint.
As soon as I got my breath, I turned to my rescuer and said:
"Where does this place lead to?"
"Nowhere, thank the Lord!" said he, and laughed. He was a man of fifty
or sixty—just the kind of age we mistrust on the road—but there was no
anxiety in his manner, and his voice was that of a boy of eighteen.
"But it must lead somewhere!" I cried, too much surprised at his answer
to thank him for saving my life.
"He wants to know where it leads!" he shouted to some men on the hill
side, and they laughed back, and waved their caps.
I noticed then that the pool into which I had fallen was really a moat
which bent round to the left and to the right, and that the hedge
followed it continually. The hedge was green on this side—its roots
showed through the clear water, and fish swam about in them—and it was
wreathed over with dog-roses and Traveller's Joy. But it was a barrier,
and in a moment I lost all pleasure in the grass, the sky, the trees,
the happy men and women, and realized that the place was but a prison,
for all its beauty and extent.
We moved away from the boundary, and then followed a path almost
parallel to it, across the meadows. I found it difficult walking, for I
was always trying to out-distance my companion, and there was no
advantage in doing this if the place led nowhere. I had never kept step
with anyone since I left my brother.
I amused him by stopping suddenly and saying disconsolately, "This is
perfectly terrible. One cannot advance: one cannot progress. Now we of
"Yes. I know."
"I was going to say, we advance continually."
"We are always learning, expanding, developing. Why, even in my short
life I have seen a great deal of advance—the Transvaal War, the Fiscal
Question, Christian Science, Radium. Here for example—"
I took out my pedometer, but it still marked twenty-five, not a degree
"Oh, it's stopped! I meant to show you. It should have registered all
the time I was walking with you. But it makes me only twenty-five."
"Many things don't work in here," he said, "One day a man brought in a
Lee-Metford, and that wouldn't work."
"The laws of science are universal in their application. It must be the
water in the moat that has injured the machinery. In normal conditions
everything works. Science and the spirit of emulation—those are the
forces that have made us what we are."
I had to break off and acknowledge the pleasant greetings of people whom
we passed. Some of them were singing, some talking, some engaged in
gardening, hay-making, or other rudimentary industries. They all seemed
happy; and I might have been happy too, if I could have forgotten that
the place led nowhere.
I was startled by a young man who came sprinting across our path, took a
little fence in fine style, and went tearing over a ploughed field till
he plunged into a lake, across which he began to swim. Here was true
energy, and I exclaimed: "A cross-country race! Where are the others?"
"There are no others," my companion replied; and, later on, when we
passed some long grass from which came the voice of a girl singing
exquisitely to herself, he said again: "There are no others." I was
bewildered at the waste in production, and murmured to myself, "What
does it all mean?"
He said: "It means nothing but itself"—and he repeated the words
slowly, as if I were a child.
"I understand," I said quietly, "but I do not agree. Every achievement
is worthless unless it is a link in the chain of development. And I must
not trespass on your kindness any longer. I must get back somehow to the
road, and have my pedometer mended."
"First, you must see the gates," he replied, "for we have gates, though
we never use them."
I yielded politely, and before long we reached the moat again, at a
point where it was spanned by a bridge. Over the bridge was a big gate,
as white as ivory, which was fitted into a gap in the boundary hedge.
The gate opened outwards, and I exclaimed in amazement, for from it ran
a road—just such a road as I had left—dusty under foot, with brown
crackling hedges on either side as far as the eye could reach.
"That's my road!" I cried.
He shut the gate and said: "But not your part of the road. It is through
this gate that humanity went out countless ages ago, when it was first
seized with the desire to walk."
I denied this, observing that the part of the road I myself had left was
not more than two miles off. But with the obstinacy of his years he
repeated: "It is the same road. This is the beginning, and though it
seems to run straight away from us, it doubles so often, that it is
never far from our boundary and sometimes touches it." He stooped down
by the moat, and traced on its moist margin an absurd figure like a
maze. As we walked back through the meadows, I tried to convince him of
"The road sometimes doubles, to be sure, but that is part of our
discipline. Who can doubt that its general tendency is onward? To what
goal we know not—it may be to some mountain where we shall touch the
sky, it may be over precipices into the sea. But that it goes forward
—who can doubt that? It is the thought of that that makes us strive to
excel, each in his own way, and gives us an impetus which is lacking
with you. Now that man who passed us—it's true that he ran well, and
jumped well, and swam well; but we have men who can run better, and men
who can jump better, and who can swim better. Specialization has
produced results which would surprise you. Similarly, that girl——"
Here I interrupted myself to exclaim: "Good gracious me! I could have
sworn it was Miss Eliza Dimbleby over there, with her feet in the
He believed that it was.
"Impossible! I left her on the road, and she is due to lecture this
evening at Tunbridge Wells. Why, her train leaves Cannon Street in—of
course my watch has stopped like everything else. She is the last person
to be here."
"People always are astonished at meeting each other. All kinds come
through the hedge, and come at all times—when they are drawing ahead in
the race, when they are lagging behind, when they are left for dead. I
often stand near the boundary listening to the sounds of the road—you
know what they are—and wonder if anyone will turn aside. It is my great
happiness to help someone out of the moat, as I helped you. For our
country fills up slowly, though it was meant for all mankind."
"Mankind have other aims," I said gently, for I thought him
well-meaning; "and I must join them." I bade him good evening, for the
sun was declining, and I wished to be on the road by nightfall. To my
alarm, he caught hold of me, crying: "You are not to go yet!" I tried to
shake him off, for we had no interests in common, and his civility was
becoming irksome to me. But for all my struggles the tiresome old man
would not let go; and, as wrestling is not my speciality, I was obliged
to follow him.
It was true that I could have never found alone the place where I came
in, and I hoped that, when I had seen the other sights about which he
was worrying, he would take me back to it. But I was determined not to
sleep in the country, for I mistrusted it, and the people too, for all
their friendliness. Hungry though I was, I would not join them in their
evening meals of milk and fruit, and, when they gave me flowers, I flung
them away as soon as I could do so unobserved. Already they were lying
down for the night like cattle—some out on the bare hillside, others in
groups under the beeches. In the light of an orange sunset I hurried on
with my unwelcome guide, dead tired, faint for want of food, but
murmuring indomitably: "Give me life, with its struggles and victories,
with its failures and hatreds, with its deep moral meaning and its
At last we came to a place where the encircling moat was spanned by
another bridge, and where another gate interrupted the line of the
boundary hedge. It was different from the first gate; for it was half
transparent like horn, and opened inwards. But through it, in the waning
light, I saw again just such a road as I had left—monotonous, dusty,
with brown crackling hedges on either side, as far as the eye could
I was strangely disquieted at the sight, which seemed to deprive me of
all self-control. A man was passing us, returning for the night to the
hills, with a scythe over his shoulder and a can of some liquid in his
hand. I forgot the destiny of our race. I forgot the road that lay
before my eyes, and I sprang at him, wrenched the can out of his hand,
and began to drink.
It was nothing stronger than beer, but in my exhausted state it overcame
me in a moment. As in a dream, I saw the old man shut the gate, and
heard him say: "This is where your road ends, and through this gate
humanity—all that is left of it—will come in to us."
Though my senses were sinking into oblivion, they seemed to expand ere
they reached it. They perceived the magic song of nightingales, and the
odour of invisible hay, and stars piercing the fading sky. The man whose
beer I had stolen lowered me down gently to sleep off its effects, and,
as he did so, I saw that he was my brother.