All Hallows' Eve, by Charles Williams

Chapter Three

Clerk Simon

Jonathan spent the rest of the day in the abandoned studio. After the first hour he made three efforts to ring up Betty. He gave his own name the first time, but was told that Miss Wallingford was not in. The second time he gave Richard’s name, and for the third he invented a flight lieutenant. But neither was more successful. It was, of course, possible at first that the ladies had not returned from Holborn, but by half-past ten it seemed more likely that Lady Wallingford had simply secluded her daughter. He knew that if she had given orders that Miss Betty was not to be disturbed, it was very unlikely that anybody would disturb her. Between his two later calls he put in another. He knew that Sir Bartholomew had some small property in Hampshire, just as Lady Wallingford owned a house somewhere in Yorkshire, and he claimed to be speaking on behalf of the Hampshire County Council on some business of reconstruction. He asked if Sir Bartholomew had returned from Moscow or if not, when he was likely to return. The answer was that nothing could be said of Sir Bartholomew’s movements. He suggested that Lady Wallingford might be asked. The answer was that that would be useless; instructions had been issued that no other answer could be given. Jonathan at last gave up the telephone, and sat down to write letters.

He wrote to Betty; he wrote to Lady Wallingford. He offered, after a slight struggle with his admiration of himself, to suppress the picture; the admiration just managed to substitute “suppress” for “destroy”. It was still worth while trying to save Betty and the picture too. But he knew that if he were driven far enough, he would consent to — its destruction; though he could not quite avoid envisaging another picture in which something much more drastic should be deliberately done about Father Simon. He succeeded, however, in keeping this on the outskirts of his mind and even in mentioning to himself the word “dishonesty”. His virtue, with some difficulty, maintained itself in the uncertain centre of his mind. He told Betty he would be in his flat all the next day, in case she could ring up or indeed come. He proposed an aunt’s house in Tunbridge Wells as a shelter for her. He told her that he would write to Sir Bartholomew through the War Office. He was perfectly well aware that Lady Wallingford would read the letter, but it told her nothing she could not have guessed, and it would at least make clear that he had other channels of communication with the Air Marshal.

He put off going to the post with these letters until almost midnight, in case by any wild chance Betty should ring up. But at last he gave up hope, took the letters, went to the door, and as he opened it switched out the light. At that moment the front door bell rang. He caught his breath and almost ran to it. He opened it; it was not she. In the dim light of the landing he saw a tall figure, apparently wrapped in some kind of cloak, and in his fierce disappointment he almost banged the door shut. But as his hand tightened on it, a voice said: “Mr. Drayton?”

“Yes?” Jonathan said morosely. The voice was urbane, a little husky, and had the very slightest foreign accent which Jonathan did not at once recognize. He peered forward a little to see the face, but it was not easy, even though the caller wore no hat. The voice continued: “Lady Wallingford has been with me to — night to tell me of a painting. I am Simon the Clerk.”

“Oh!” saidjonathan; “yes. I see. . . . Look, won’t you come in?” He had been quite unprepared for this, and as he ushered his visitor into the studio, his only feeling was one of extreme gratitude that in a moment of peevishness he had flung the covering again over the canvas. It would have been awkward to show Simon straight in at it. He could not quite think why he had come. It must, of course, be about the painting, but unless to see if he agreed with Lady Wallingford . . . and it would be odd to be as urgent as all that, especially as he disliked being painted. Still, it would come out. He was very much on his guard, but as he closed the door he said, as friendlily as he could: “Do sit down. Have a drink?”

“No, thank you,” Simon answered. He remained standing with his eyes on the covered canvas. He was a tall man, with a smooth mass of grey — almost white-hair; his head was large; his face thin, almost emaciated. The face had about it a hint of the Jew — no more; so little indeed that Jonathan wondered if it were only Richard’s account that caused him to think he saw it. But, considering more carefully, he saw it was there. The skin was dark and Jonathan saw with a thrill of satisfaction that he had got in his painting almost the exact kind of dead hue which it in fact possessed. The eyes were more deeply set than he had thought; otherwise he had been pretty accurate in detail. The only thing in which he had been wrong was in producing any appearance of bewilderment or imbecility. There was nothing at all of either in the Clerk’s gaze. It was not exactly a noble face, nor a prophetic; priestly, rather. A remote sacerdotalism lived in it; the Clerk might have been some lonely hierarch out of a waste desert. He stood perfectly still, and Jonathan observed that he was indeed as near perfectly still as a man could be. There was no slightest visible motion, no faintest sound of breath. He was so quiet that quietness seemed to emanate from him. Jonathan felt his own disturbance quelled. It was in a softer voice than his usual one that he said, making what was almost an effort to move and speak at all: “Are you sure you won’t have a drink? . . . Well, I think I will, if you’ll excuse me.” The other had very slightly shaken his head. Outside the room, the bells of the City began to chime midnight. Jonathan said to himself, as he had made a habit of doing since he had first met Betty whenever he was awake at midnight, as he often was: “Benedicta sit, et benedicti onmes parvuli Tui.” He turned away and poured out his drink. With the glass in his hand, he came back. The hour was striking, near and far, wherever bells were still capable of sound, all over the wide reaches of London. Jonathan heard it through the new quiet. He said: “And now, Father Simon, Lady Wallingford?”

“Lady Wallingford was distressed about this painting,” Simon answered.

“Distressed?” Jonathan said nastily. “Exhilarated was more the word, I should have thought.” Then the sense of the quiet and of the other’s presence made him ashamed of his petulance. He went on: “I beg your pardon. But I can’t think she was altogether unhappy. She was very angry.”

“Show it to me,” the Clerk said. It was not perhaps quite a command, but very nearly; it almost sounded like a Marshal of the Air speaking to an official artist who ranked as a regular officer. Obedience was enforceable, though unenforced. Jonathan hesitated. If Simon took Lady Wallingford’s view, he would be in a worse state than he was now. Was it possible that Simon would not take Lady Wallingford’s view? In that case he might be very useful indeed; possibly he might persuade Lady Wallingford to alter her own. It was a great risk. The other saw the hesitation. The husky urbane voice said: “Come; you must not think I see things as she does.”

“No,” said Jonathan doubtfully. “Only . . . I mean she has talked to you. I don’t know what she’s told you, but she’s so damned convinced and convincing that she’d even persuade, me that a smudge of umber was a vermilion blot. Mind you, I think she’s made up her mind to find something wrong with it, in order to interfere with Betty and me, so she wasn’t disinterested.”

“It doesn’t matter what she told me,” the other said. “I never see things with other people’s eyes. If she’s wrong — I might be of use.”

“Yes,” said Jonathan, moving to the easel. “If you could convince her, of course.”

“She will think what I say,” the Clerk said, and there was such a sudden contempt in his voice that Jonathan looked round.

“I say, you are sure of her!” he said.

“I’m quite sure of her,” the Clerk answered, and waited. All this time he had not moved. The room itself, and it was large and by no means over-furnished, seemed almost full and busy beside him. Jonathan, as he threw back the cover, began to feel a warm attraction towards this unmoving figure, which had the entire power to direct Lady Wallingford what to think. He determined, if by any chance Simon should pass this painting as harmless, to do him another about which there should be no doubt whatever. He stepped aside, and for the third time that day the picture was exposed to study.

As Jonathan looked at it, he became extremely uneasy. The beetles, the blank gaze, the receding corridor, had not grown less striking since he had seen them last. If this was the Father, he could not think the Father would like himself. He wished again with all his heart that he had never begun to paint it. He knew exactly how he could have avoided it; he could have said he wasn’t worthy. It would have been a lie, for being worthy was not a thing that came in with painting; painting had nothing to do with your personal merit. You could do it or you couldn’t. But it would have been a convenient — and to that woman an easily credible — lie, and he wished he had told it, however difficult it would have been to say it convincingly. Betty, after all. . . . He rather wondered if he could say now that he realized he wasn’t worthy. But the Father did not look the sort of person who was taken in like that — anyhow, at the present stage, when he obviously had thought himself worthy. No; if things went wrong, he must argue again. By now he loathed and hated the entire painting; he would have cut it up or given it to the nation, if the nation had wanted it. He looked round.

Simon was still standing at gaze. The chimes rang a quarterpast twelve; otherwise the City was silent. Outside the large window beyond Simon the moon was high and cold. Her October chill interpenetrated the room. Jonathan shivered; something was colder — the atmosphere or his heart. Betty was far away, gone as lovers and wives do go, as Richard’s wife had gone, gone to her deathbed. Betty’s own bed was cold, even like her chastity. I would I were where Betty lies; no wedding-garment except this fear, in the quiet, in the quiet, in the quiet, where a figure of another world stood. All things rose fluttering round it; beetles? too light for beetles: moths, bright light moths round a flame — formed dark; the cloak of the dark and the hunger in the dark. The high moon a moth, and he, only not Betty, Betty dead like Richard’s wife, dead women in the streets of the City under the moon.

A distant husky voice, with a strange accent, broke the silence. It said: “That is I” Jonathan came to himself to see the Clerk staring. His head was a little forward; his eyes were fixed. He was so gratified that his voice let fall the words and ceased. The shock of them and of relief was so great that Jonathan felt a little light — headed. He took a step or two back to get his vision into focus. He began to say something, but Simon was so clearly not listening that he gave it up and wandered away towards the window. But even as he did so he listened for what else that other should say which might give him hope, hope of Betty, hope of his work. He looked out into the moonlight, he saw in it, below him, on the other side of the road, two girls walking — they the only living in the night; and as his eyes took them in he heard again the voice behind him saying, but now in more than gratification, in low triumph: “That is I”

Jonathan turned. He said: “You like it?”

The other answered: “No one has painted me so well for a hundred years. Everything’s there.”

Jonathan went back. He did not quite see how to carry on the conversation; the allusion to “a hundred years” baffled him. At last he said doubtfully: “And Lady Wallingford?”

The Clerk slowly looked round at him, as if he were recalled. He said, and his face twitched slightly, “Lady Wallingford? What has she to do with it?”

“She was rather annoyed with it,” said Jonathan. “In fact, she talked, as no doubt she told you, about insects and imbeciles.”

The Clerk, still looking at him, said: “They aren’t insects; they are something less. But insects is the nearest you can get. And as for imbecile, haven’t you read Sapientia adepti stultitia mundi? That is why your work is so wonderful.”

“Oh! “ said Jonathan.

“That”, the Clerk went on, turning his head again, “is what I am to these creatures, and Lady Wallingford (as you call her) is one of them. She thinks herself someone, but presently she’ll find out. It’s quite good for them to be hypnotized; they’re much happier. But you — you are different; you are a genius. You must paint me often. Now you have shown me as I am to them and to myself, you must paint me often as I am in myself.”

The chill sense of death was receding from Jonathan’s heart. He began to feel that life was still possible, even life with Betty. He also wondered what his own painting of the face was like. He had first thought it was an ordinary portrait; then he had been uneasy about the bewilderment that seemed to show in it. Richard had agreed. Lady Wallingford had spoken of imbecility. Now Simon seemed to see something else beyond that, something that was hidden in that and yet contradicted it. He might perhaps tell Lady Wallingford; he might make everything clear for him and Betty. In a second of silence Jonathan had married Betty, set up a house, painted Father Simon a stupendous portrait of himself without the beetles, painted several other shattering successes at the Peace Conferences and after, made a lot of money, become a father and an immortal at once, and was back again in the studio with the immediate necessity of explaining to Simon how all this was to be brought about. Better not go into farther details of the painting; better get on with the main job.

He began: “Then you’ll speak to — ” but the other was already speaking. He was saying: “You must come with me, Mr. Drayton. I must have one or two people with me who are something more than these other creatures. The Doctrine is good for them; one gets nowhere by fighting it. All your books have it — the Koran, the New Testament, the Law. Hitler fought it; where is Hitler? There is nothing better, for those who need it. But you are an exception. You belong to yourself — and to me. Great art is apostolic. You must not lessen yourself. You are to be a master. I can do something to help you, but then you must have courage to paint the right things.”

Jonathan listened to this with a certain warmth. He was a little shaken by great art being apostolic, but there was no doubt a sense in which it was true, though Sir Joshua’s “common observation and plain understanding” pleased him better. He did think he was a remarkable painter, and he did not care how often he was told so. But he did not lose sight of his main point. As soon as Simon paused, he said: “Then you’ll speak to Lady Wallingford?”

Simon’s voice had seemed to be closer and clearer. It receded again and grew huskier as he said: “What do you so want with Lady Wallingford?”

“I want to marry her daughter,” Jonathan said.

The Clerk dropped his eyes to the ground. He said, after a moment: “I am not sure that you’re wise. But it shall be as you like. I will talk to her — yes, in a few days, if you still wish. You shall have the girl, if you want her. Show me something else.”

“I haven’t much here,” Jonathan said. “The war-paintings —”

“Oh the war!” the Clerk said. “The war, like Hitler, was a foolery. I am the one who is to come, not Hitler! Not the war; something else.”

“Well, there’s this thing of London,” Jonathan said. “Wait; I’ll turn it for you.” He went round to the other easel, to the canvas on which he had not looked since the early afternoon, because of all that had since happened, but now he did, and saw it as he had seen it with Richard. He knew the validity of his own work — yet he knew also that he might so easily be wrong, as innumerable unfortunate bad painters had been. There was no way of being certain. But at least he believed that painting could be valid, could hold an experience related to the actuality of the world, and in itself valuable to mind and heart. He hoped this painting might be that; more he could not say. He saw beyond it the figure of the Clerk looming, and the window behind him, and it seemed almost as if he were now looking at the other painting made actual and released from canvas. The figure was there; the blank window behind; he could not at this distance and in this light see through it; it was but an opening into bleakness. And he himself the only other being there. He looked at the Clerk’s face, and it too hung blank as the window, empty of meaning. “I am being a fool,” he thought, and looked, as he stepped back after turning the easel again, at the light on the canvas. He said, with the least flash of arrogance in his voice: “There! What do you think of that?”

The Clerk looked, and flinched. Jonathan saw a quiver go through him; he shut his eyes and opened them. He said: “No, no; it’s too bright. I can’t see it properly. Move it.”

Jonathan said coldly: “I’m sorry you don’t like it. Myself, I think it’s better than the other.”

The Clerk said: “That is because you do not quite understand the meaning of your own work. This is a dream; that other is a fact. It is simply I who have come. I shall give all these little people peace because they believe in me. But these fancies of light would distract them. There is only one art, and that is to show them their master. You had better — well, I know how you painters love even your mistakes and I will not say you should destroy it. But hide it for a year, and come with me, and then look at it again, and you will see it as I do.”

Jonathan said cautiously: “Well, I’ll see what Betty says. Anyhow I shan’t have much time for views of the City during the next year or so.” The words, and the tone, of mastery did not seem altogether unsuitable to the towering form; he himself was on the defensive. The very hint that there was much more in the other picture than he had supposed, that he painted more greatly than he knew, subtly soothed him. He was the more ready to owe Betty to a man who saw so deeply. He added: “You won’t forget to speak to Lady Wallingford?”

“Presently,” the Clerk said. “But you must remember that you have a great work to do. When I am in union again, you shall paint me as I shall be. Soon.”

Jonathan murmured something. The conversation was getting beyond him. He wished his visitor would go away, before he said the wrong thing. The Clerk, almost as if he too felt that all had been said, turned. He said: “I’ll come to you again, or else I’ll send for you.”

“I may be moved about,” Jonathan said. “We of the Services, you know — ”

“Your service is with me,” the other answered. “I or — or Betty will let you know.” His eyes stared out through the blank window. “What you shall paint! Trust me. I will make you . . . never mind. But put the other thing away. The colour is wrong.”

He gave Jonathan no opportunity for a reply. He went towards the door, and Jonathan followed. At parting he raised his hand a little. He came out into the street and the moonlight, and began to walk.

He went towards Highgate, and he went easily though at great speed, and as he went the City seemed to dwindle around him. His mind was very earnestly set on himself. As he went the Jewish quality in his face seemed to deepen; the occasional policemen whom he passed thought they saw a Jew walking by night. Indeed that august race had reached in this being its second climax. Two thousand years of its history were drawing to a close; until this thing had happened it could not be free. its priesthood — the priesthood of a nation — had been since Abraham determined to one End. But when, after other terrible wars had shaken the Roman peace, and armies — had moved over Europe, and Caesar (being all that Caesar could be) had been stabbed in his own central place, when then that End had.been born,‘they were not aware of that End. It had been proposed that their lofty tradition should be made almost unbearably august; that they should be made the bloodcompanions of their Maker, the own peculiar house and family of its Incarnacy — no more than the Gentiles in the free equality of souls, but much more in the single hierarchy of kindred flesh. But deception had taken them; they had, bidding a scaffold for the blasphemer, destroyed their predestined conclusion, and the race which had been set for the salvation of the world became a judgment and even a curse to the world and to themselves. Yet the oaths sworn in heaven remained. It had been a Jewish girl who, at the command of the Voice which sounded in her ears, in her heart, along her blood, and through the central cells of her body, had uttered everywhere in herself the perfect Tetragrammaton. What the high priest vicariously spoke among the secluded mysteries of the Temple, she substantially pronounced to God. Redeemed from all division in herself, whole and identical in body and soul and spirit, she uttered the Word and the Word became flesh in her. Could It have been received by her own people, the grand Judean gate would have been opened for all peoples. It could not. They remained alien — to It and to all, and all to them and — too much!-to It. The Gentiles, summoned by that other Jew of Tarsus, could not bear their vicarious office. Bragging themselves to be the new Israel, they slandered and slew the old, and the old despised and hated the bragging new. Till at last there rose in Europe something which was neither, and set itself to destroy both.

And when that had been thwarted, this also which was to happen had at last happened. Jew and Christian alike had waited for the man who now walked through the empty London streets. He had been born in Paris, in one of those hiding — places of necromancy which all the energy of the Fourteenth Louis had not quite stamped out. He was a child of the nobility, but he was hardly yet a boy when the Revolution had broken out. His family had moved safely through it, protected by wealth and cunning and in extremes by another kind of cunning learned in very ancient schools. His father had been to the world a scholar as well as a nobleman, one of the early philologists, but to a different circle and to his son his philology had been quite other. He knew sounds and the roots of sounds, almost the beginnings of sounds; the vibrations that overthrew and the vibrations that built up. The son followed his father.

He remembered now, as he walked, how he had come to know himself. It was not often he permitted himself the indulgence of memory, but that painted face which Jonathan had supposed to be blank of meaning yet in which he had read all he wished to read, seeing it full of power and portent — that artificiality had opened up recollection within him. He remembered how he had seen the crowds in Paris, their poverty, their need, their rage, and (so small as he was) understood how men need both comfort and control. And he had seen Napoleon rise and fall, but before that mastery was done his childish dreams of being king or emperor had been better instructed. He had learnt three things from that small college of which his father was president — that there was another power to use, that there were ways of directing it, that many men would pay much to learn them. Could they be sold! but they could not be. They were private to those who had the right by nature, as all art is, but these especially to the high — priestly race. Only a Jew could utter the Jewish, which was the final, word of power.

There were not in the circles where he grew up any of the mere obscenities of magic — no spectacular outrages of the Black Mass or profane sensualities of the Sabbath. There were certain bloody disciplines to test the postulant — it was all. The mass of men were at once despised and pitied by the chaste sorcerers. He learnt to shelter, to feed, to console them, but at the same time that he was separate from them. He had watched a man starve, but he was not cruel; it was in his training. He was not lustful; only once in all his life had he lain with a woman, and that for a rational purpose. He had not been kept from talk with holy Rabbis and charitable priests; if he had chosen their way no one would have interfered with him unless he had become inconvenient to the great work. He did not so choose; he preferred his own.

He was not, in fact, much different from any man, but the possibilities slowly opened to him were more rare. There shaped itself gradually in his mind a fame beyond any poet’s and a domination beyond any king’s. But it was fame and domination that he desired, as they did. That his magical art extended where theirs could never reach was his luck. The understanding of his reach had come when he first assisted at a necromantic operation. As the dead body stood and spoke he felt the lordship of that other half of the world. Once, as he had learnt the tale, the attempt at domination had been made and failed. The sorcerer who had attempted it had also been a Jew, a descendant of the house of David, who clothed in angelic brilliance had compelled a woman of the same house to utter the Name, and something more than mortal had been born. But in the end the operation had failed. Of the end of the sorcerer himself there were no records; Joseph ben David had vanished! The living thing that had been born of his feminine counterpart had perished miserably. It had been two thousand years before anyone had dared to risk the attempt again.

He came up towards Highgate, and as he came he let his memories fade. He put away the recollection of the painting; the time for his spiritual enthronement was not quite come. But he felt the City lessen — not only London, but all bodies and souls of men. He lifted his head; his face was lean and hungry under the moon. He felt himself walking alone among tiny houses among which men and women ran about under his protection and by his will. There waited him, in the house to which he was going, the means of another operation than his coming empery in this world; of which his child was the instrument. For a moment he thought of Jonathan and Jonathan’s love. He smiled — or rather a sudden convulsion passed across his face, a kind of muscular spasm rather than a smile. It was not meant to be unkind; he did not dislike Jonathan, and he wished his genius to thrive and paint the grand master even more intensely. But Betty was for another purpose. Nor was he even aware that what had once been a smile was now a mere constriction. One cannot smile at no one, and there was no one at whom he could smile. He was alone. He went on, ignorantly grimacing.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/williams/charles/all-hallows-eve/chapter3.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30