All Hallows' Eve, by Charles Williams

Chapter Five

The Hall by Holborn

Richard Furnival was as wakeful that night in his manner as Betty in hers. Once he had again reached his flatit was taking him a long time to get used to saying “my flat” instead of “our flat”-and as the night drew on, he found himself chilled and troubled. He knew of a score of easy phrases to explain his vision; none convinced him. Nor had he any conviction of metaphysics into which, retaining its own nature, it might easily pass. He thought of tales of ghosts; he even tried to pronounce the words; but the word was silly. A ghost was a wraith, a shadow; his vision had been of an actual Lester. The rooms were cold and empty — as empty as any boarding-house rooms where the beloved has been and from which (never to return) she has gone. The afternoon with Jonathan had, when he left, renewed in him the tide of masculine friendship. But that tide had always swelled against the high cliff of another element, on which a burning beacon had once stood — and now suddenly had again stood. The sound of deep waves was in his ears, and even then his eyes had again been filled with the ancient fiery light. He had not, since he had first met Lester, lost at all the sense of great Leviathans, disputes and laughter, things native and natural to the male, but beyond them, and shining towards them had been that other less natural, and as it were more archangelic figure — remote however close, terrifying however sustaining, that which was his and not his, more intimate than all that was his, the shape of the woman and his wife. He had yet, for all his goodwill, so neglected her that he had been content to look at her so from his sea; he had never gone in and lived in that strange turret. He had admired, visited, used it. But not till this afternoon had he seen her as simply living. The noise of ocean faded; rhetoric ceased. This that he had seen had been in his actual house, and now it was not, and the house was cold and dark. He lit a fire to warm himself; he ate and drank; he went from room to room; he tried to read. But every book he opened thrust one message at him — from modern novels (“Aunt Rachel can’t live much longer —") to old forgotten volumes (“The long habit of living indisposeth us for dying”; “But she is dead, she’s dead . . . “). His teeth chattered; his body shook. He went to bed and dozed and woke and walked and again lay down, and so on. Till that night he had not known how very nearly he had loved her.

In the morning he made haste to leave. He was indeed on the point of doing so when Jonathan rang him up. Jonathan wanted to tell him about the Clerk’s visit, and the Clerk’s approval of the painting. Richard did his best to pay attention, and was a little arrested by the mere unexpectedness of the tale. He said, with a serious sympathy: “But that makes everything much simpler, doesn’t it? He’ll deal with Lady Wallingford, I suppose?”

“Yes,” said Jonathan’s voice, “yes. If I want him to. I don’t believe I do want him to.”

“But why not?” asked Richard.

“Because. . . . The fact is, I don’t like him. I don’t like the way he talks about Betty or the way he looks at paintings. You go and see him or hear him or whatever you can, and come on here and tell me. God knows I . . . well, never mind. I shall be here all day, unless Betty sends for Me.”

After this conversation, Richard was about to leave the flat, when he paused and went back. He would not seem to run away; if, by any chance, that presence of his wife should again appear, he would not be without all he could accumulate from her environs with which to greet her. Nor would he now seem to fly. He walked through the rooms. He submitted to memory, and in some poignant sense to a primitive remorse, for he was not yet spiritually old enough to repent. Then, quietly, he went out, and (unable quite to control his uselessly expectant eyes) walked through the streets till he reached Holborn.

It did not take him long to find the place of which he was in search. Behind Holborn, close to Great James Street, in a short street undamaged by the raids, were three buildings, one the largest, of a round shape, in the middle with a house on each side. They were not marked by any board, but as Richard came to the farther house, he saw that the door was open. A small exquisite carving of a hand, so delicate as to be almost a woman’s or a child’s hand, was fastened to the door — post, its fingers pointing into the house. Richard had never seen any carving that so nearly achieved the colour of flesh; he thought at the first glance that it was flesh, and that a real dismembered hand pointed him to the Clerk’s lodging. He touched it cautiously with a finger as he went by and was a little ashamed of his relief when he found it was hard and artificial.

He walked on as far as the end of the street; then he walked back. It was a warm sunny morning for October, and as he paced it seemed to him that the air was full of the scent of flowers. The noise of the streets had died away; it was very quiet. He thought, as he paused before turning, how pleasant it was here. It was even pleasant in a way not to have anyone in his mind, or on his mind. People who were in your mind were so often on your mind, and that was a slight weariness. One would, of course, rather have it so than not. He had never grudged Lester anything, but here, where the air was so fresh and yet so full of a scent he just did not recognize, and London was as silent as the wood in Berkshire where he and Lester had been for a few days after their marriage, it was almost pleasant to be for a moment without Lester. His eyes averted themselves from where she was not lest she should unexpectedly be there. It was sufficient now to remember her in that wood — and even so, eclectically, for she had one day been rather difficult even in that wood, when she had wanted to go into the nearest town to get a particular magazine, in case by the time they did go on their return, it should be sold out, and he had not, for (as he had rightly and rationally pointed out) she could at a pinch wait for it till they got to London. But she had insisted, and because he always wished to consider her and be as unselfish as possible, they had gone. He was surprised, as he stood there, to remember how much he had considered Lester. A score of examples rushed vividly through his mind, and each of those he remembered was actual and true. He really had considered her; he had been, in that sense, a very good husband. He almost wondered if he had been too indulgent, too kind. No; if it were to do again, he would do it. Now she was gone, he was content to remember it. But also now she was gone, he could attend to himself. Luxuriating — more than he knew in the thought, he turned. Luxury stole gently out within him, and in that warm air flowed about him; luxury, luxuria, the quiet distilled luxuria of his wishes and habits, the delicate sweet lechery of idleness, the tasting of unhallowed peace.

He remembered with equal distaste that he was on an errand, and felt sorry that Jonathan was not doing his own errand. Jonathan could, just as well as not; after all, it was Jonathan who wanted to marry Betty. However, as he had promised, as he was committed . . . it would be more of a nuisance to explain to Jonathan — and to himself, but he did not add that — than to go in. He contemplated the carved hand with admiration, almost with affection; it really was the Most exquisite thing. There was nothing of Jonathan’s shouting colours about it. Jonathan — was so violent. Art, he thought, should be persuasive. This, however, was too much even for his present state of dreaming luxury. He came to, or almost came to, and found himself in the hall.

It was a rather larger hall than he had expected. On his left hand were the stairs; before him, the passage ran, with another ascending staircase farther on, to a kind of garden door. There was apparently another passage at the end turning off to the left. On his right was the door into the front room, which was open, and beyond it another door, which was shut. Richard hesitated, and began to approach the open door. As he did so, a short rather fat man came out of it, and said in a tone of much good humour: “Yes, sir?”

Richard said: “Oh good morning. Is this Father Simon’s place?”

The short man answered: “That’s right, sir. Can I do anything for you?”

“I just wanted to get some particulars for a friend,” Richard said. “Is there anyone I could see?”

“Come in here, sir,” said the other, retreating into the room. “I’m here to answer, as you may say, the first questions. My name’s Plankin; I’m a kind of doorkeeper. Come in, sir, and sit down. They all come to me first, sir, and no one knows better than I do what the Father’s done. A tumour on the brain, sir; that’s what he cured me of, a year ago. And many another poor creature since.”

“Did he?” said Richard, a little sceptically. He was in the front room by now. He had vaguely expected something like an 6ffice, but it was hardly that; a waiting-room perhaps. There was a table with a telephone, a few chairs, and that was all. Richard was maneeuvred to a chair; the short man sat down on another by the table, put his hands on his knees, and looked benevolently at the visitor. Richard saw that, beside the telephone, there was also on the table a large-sized album and a pot of paste. He thought, but he knew one could not judge, that it looked as if — Plankin had an easy job. But after a tumour on the brain —! He said: “I wanted to ask about Father Simon’s work. Does he — ”

The short man, sitting quite still, began to speak. He said: “yes, sir, a tumour. He put his blessed hands on my head, and cured it. There isn’t a man or woman in this house that he hasn’t cured. I’ve never had a pain since, not of any kind. Nor they neither. We all carry his mark in our bodies, sir, and we’re proud of it.”

“Really?” said Richard; “yes; you must be. Does he run some kind of clinic, then?”

“Oh no, sir,” Plankin said. “He puts everything right straight away. He took the paralysis away from Elsie Bookin who does the typing, and old Mrs. Morris who’s the head cook — he cured her cancer. He does it all. I keep an album here, sir, and I stick in it everything the papers say about him. But it’s not like knowing him, as we do.”

“No,” said Richard, “I suppose not. Do you have many inquirers?”

“Not so very many, for the Father wants to be quiet here,” said — Plankin. “He sends most of them away after he’s seen them, to wait. But they come; oh yes, they come. And some go away and some even come to the Relaxations.”

“The Relaxations?” Richard asked.

“Oh well, sir,” said Plankin, “you’ll hear about them, if you stay. The Father gives us peace. He’ll tell you about it.” He nodded his head, swaymg a little, and saying, “Peace, peace”.

“Can I see the Father then?” said Richard. Inside the room the warm air seemed again to be full of that attractive smell. He might have been in the very middle of the Berkshire wood, again, without Lester, but with an agreeable memory of Lester. The green distemper on the walls of the room was gently moving as if the walls were walls of leaves, and glints of sunlight among them; and the short man opposite him no more than a tree — stump. He could be content to sit here in the wood, where the dead did not matter and never returned — no more than if they had not been known, except for this extra exquisiteness of a happy dream. But presently some sort of surge went through the wood, and the tree — stump stood up and said: “Ah now that’ll be one of the ladies. She’ll tell you better than I can.” Richard came to himself and heard a step in the hall. He rose to his feet, and as he did so Lady Wallingford appeared in the doorway.

She did not, when she saw him, seem pleased. She stood still and surveyed him. Except for the moment or two of introduction, he had not on the previous afternoon been face to face with her, and now he was struck by the force of her face. She looked at him, and she said coldly: “What do you want here?”

The challenge completely restored Richard. He said: “Good morning, Lady Wallingford. I came to ask a few questions about Father Simon. After yesterday, I was naturally interested.”

Lady Wallingford said: “Are you sure this is a place for you?”

“Well,” Richard answered, “I hope I’m not pig-headed, and I can quite believe that Jonathan may have been wrong.” He remembered that morning’s telephone conversation and added: “If his painting was what you thought it. I was wondering if I could meet — I don’t want to intrude — meet Father Simon. He must be a very remarkable man. And if he had any public meetings — Knowledge is always useful.”

“You run a certain risk,” Lady Wallingford said. “But I’ve changed my mind a little about your friend’s painting. Of course, there can be no nonsense about an engagement, I have quite other views for her. But if you really wish to learn — ”

“Why not?” said Richard. “As for the engagement — that perhaps is hardly my business. I am only thinking of my own instruction.” He began to feel that he was making progress. Jonathan was always apt to rush things. He took a step forward and went on engagingly: “I assure you — ” He stopped, Another figure had appeared behind Lady Wallingford. She seemed to know it was there, for without looking round she moved out of the doorway, so as to leave room for it to enter. Richard knew at once who it was. He recognized the shape of the face from Jonathan’s painting, yet his first thought was that, in this case, Jonathan’s painting was quite ridiculously wrong. There was no bewilderment or imbecility about the face that looked at him; rather there was a highness, almost an arrogance, in it which abashed him. He knew that on his right Plankin had dropped on his knees; he had seen Lady Wallingford move. That the movements did not surprise him was the measure of his sense of sovereignty. He resisted an impulse to retreat; he himself became bewildered; he felt with a shock that Simon was between him and the door. He knew the door was there, but he could not focus it properly. The door was not behind Simon; it was Simon: all the ways from this room and in this wood went through Simon. Lady Wallingford was only a stupid old witch in a wood, but this was the god in the wood. Between the tree — stump and the watching witch, he stood alone in the Berkshire wood; and Lester had gone away into the nearest town. He had not gone with her — because he had not gone with her. He had gone to please her, to consider her, which was not at all the same thing. So she had gone alone, and he was alone with the god in the wood, and the witch, and the tree — stump. The god was the witch’s husband and father, his father, everyone’s father; he loomed in front of him and over him. Yet he was also a way of escape from the wood and from himself. The high emaciated face was at once a wall and a gate in the wall, but the gate was a very old gate, and no one had gone through it, except perhaps the witch, for many years

Plankin stood up. Richard’s head jerked. Simon was speaking. He said: “Mr. Furnival?” Richard answered: “Father Simon? How do you do?”

The Clerk came a pace into the room. He was wearing a black cassock, caught round the waist by a heavy gold chain. He did not offer his hand, but he said in a pleasant enough voice: “You’ve come to see us? That is kind.” The faint huskiness of the voice reminded Richard of Lester’s, which, clear enough at hand, always sounded slightly husky on the telephone. It had been, to him, one of her most agreeable characteristics. He had sometimes rung it up in order to hear that huskiness, carefully explaining the eroticism to himself, but undoubtedly enjoying it almost as happily as if he had not known it was eroticism. It had been in that voice that she had uttered the last thing he had ever heard her say — on the telephone, that too — fatal afternoon: “See you presently, darling.” It leapt in his mind. He said: “Yes. Jonathan Drayton’s painting made me interested. I hope it’s permitted to call like this?”

A constriction passed across the Clerk’s face. He answered: “It’s free to everyone who cares. And any friend of Mr. Drayton’s is especially welcome. He is a great man — only he must not paint foolish pictures of the City. London light is nothing like that. You must tell him so. What can we show you? We’ve no buildings, no relics, no curios. Only ourselves.” He came farther into the room, and Richard saw that there were others behind him. There was a man who looked like a lorry driver, another like a clerk, another who might have been just down from the University. With them there were several women whom he did not immediately take in. These perhaps were those Whom Simon had helped. Their eyes were all on the Clerk; no wonder, and again no wonder. Here, in this warm place, there was no illness, no pain, no distress. Simon would have seen to that. Perhaps no death, no ruined body, no horrible memory to mingle with amusing memories.

Simon said again: “Ourselves”, and Richard, almost as if he pushed open the gate of the god, said suddenly: “I wish you’d known my wife,” and the god answered in that husky voice, as if it came from deeper in the wood: “Is she dead?”

The harsh word did not break the calm. Richard said: “Yes.” The god’s voice continued: “Well, we shall see. Most things are possible. If I send for her, she may come.” He lifted a hand. “Come, all of you,” he said. “Come into the Relaxation. Come, Mr. Furnival.” As he used the commonplace phrase, he became again Simon the Clerk, a man to whom Richard was talking. He turned, and everyone turned with him and made way for him. He went into the hall, and in the general movement Richard found himself surrounded and carried along in the small crush. He went necessarily but also voluntarily. Simon’s words rang in his ears: “May come . . . may come. . . . If I send for her, she may come.” Dead? may come? what was this hint of threat or promise? dead, and return? But she had come; he had seen her; not far from here he had seen her. The sudden recollection shocked him almost to a pause. Something touched his shoulder, lightly; fingers or antennae. He stepped forward again. They were going down the hall and turning into a narrow corridor, as if into a crack in the wall, insects passing into a crack; they were all passing through. They had come to another door, narrower than the passage, and here they went through one at a time, and the witchwoman who had been walking beside him stepped aside for him to pass through. It was Lady Wallingford, and she smiled — friendlily at him, and now he smiled back and went on. Something just brushed his cheek as he did so; a cobweb in the wood or something else. He came into a clearing, an old wooden building, a hole; he did not precisely know which it was, but there were chairs in it, so it must be a room of some kind — rather like an old round church, but not a church. There was one tall armed chair. Simon was going across to it. Opposite to it was the only window the room possessed — a low round window, that seemed to be set in a very deep wall indeed, and yet it could not be, for he could see through it now, and into nothing but a kind of ‘empty yard. He hesitated; he did not quite know where to go,. but a light small hand, as if it were the carved hand he had seen on the doorpost of that house, crept into his arm, and guided him to a chair at one end of a rough half-circle, so that he could see at once the Clerk in his chair, and the tunnel-like window opposite. He sat down. It was Lady Wallingford who had led him. She withdrew her hand, and he almost thought that as she did so her fingers softly touched his cheek, light as cobweb or antennae. But she had gone right away now, to the other end of that half-moon of chairs, and was sitting down opposite him. Simon, he, Lady Wallingford, the windowfour points in a circle; a circle — return and return; may come and may come. They were all sitting now, and Simon began to speak.

Richard looked at him. He knew the derivation of the word “Clerk”, and that the original Greek meant “inheritance”. The clerks were the inheritors; that was the old wise meaning — men who gathered their inheritance, as now, in that strange husky voice of his, the being on the throned seat was gathering his own. He was pronouncing great words in a foreign tongue; he seemed to exhort and explain, but then also he seemed to collect and receive. Was it a foreign tongue? it was almost English, but not quite English, and sometimes not at all English. Richard was rather good at languages, but this evaded him. It did not seem to evade the others; they were all sitting, listening and gazing. The voice itself indeed sounded more like a chorus of two or three than a single voice. They all died for a moment on a single English word; the word was Love.

The Clerk sat and spoke. His hands rested on the arms of his chair; his body was quite still; except that his head turned slightly as he surveyed the half-moon of his audience. The Jewish traits in his face were more marked. The language in which he spoke was ancient Hebrew, but he was pronouncing it in a way not common among men. He paused now and then to translate into English — or so it seemed, though only he knew if it was indeed so, and the English itself was strange and dull. A curious flatness was in his voice. He was practising and increasing this, denying accents and stresses to his speech. Wise readers of verse do their best to submit their voices to the verse, letting the words have their own proper value, and endeavour to leave them to their precise proportion and rhythm. The Clerk was going farther yet. He was removing meaning itself from the words. They fought against him; man’s vocabulary fought against him. Man’s art is perhaps worth little in the end, but it is at least worth its own present communication. All the poems and paintings may, like faith and hope, at last dissolve; but while faith and hope — and desperation — live, they live; while human communication remains, they remain. It was this that the Clerk was removing; he turned, or sought to turn, words into mere vibrations. The secret school in which he had grown up had studied to extend their power over vocal sounds beyond the normal capacities of man. Generations had put themselves to the work. The healing arts done in that house had depended on this power; the healer had by sympathy of sound breathed restoring relationship into the sub-rational components of flesh.

But there were sounds that had a much greater spell, sounds that could control not only the living but the dead — say, those other living who in another world still retained a kinship and in some sense an identity with this. Great pronouncements had established creation in its order; the reversal of those pronouncements could reverse the order. The Jew sat in his chair and spoke. Through the lesser spells, those that held the spirits of those that already carried his pronunciation in their bodies, that held them fascinated and adoring, he was drawing to the greater. He would come presently to the greatest — to the reversal of the final Jewish word of power, to the reversed Tetragrammaton itself. The energy of that most secret house of God, according to the degree in which it was spoken, meant an all but absolute control; he thought, an absolute. He did not mean it for the creatures before him. To loose it on them would be to destroy them at once; he must precipitate it beyond. The time was very near, if his studies were true, at which a certain great exchange should be achieved. He would draw one from that world, but there must be no impropriety of numbers, either there or here; he would send one to that world. He would have thus a double magical link with infinity. He would begin to be worshipped there. That was why he had brought Richard in. Unknowingly, Richard’s mind might hold precisely that still vital junction and communion with the dead which might offer a mode of passage. The Clerk did not doubt his own capacity, sooner or later, to do all by himself, but he would not neglect any convenience. He stirred, by interspersed murmurs, Richard’s slumbering mind to a recollection of sensuous love, love which had known that extra physical union, that extra intention of marriage, which is still called marriage.

His eyes ceased to wander and remained fixed on the round window opposite. It looked on a yard, but it looked also on that yard in its infinite relations. There the entry of spirit might be. He drew nearer to the pronunciation; and that strange double echo in his voice, of which Richard had been partly aware, now ceased, and his voice was single. He knew very well that, at that moment, those other appearances of himself in Russia and China had fallen into trance. The deathly formula could only be pronounced by the actual human voice of the single being. There was in that round building one other who knew something of this most secret thing; she sat there, away on his right, and (with all her will) believed. She too knew that the moment was near, and that she too was engaged to it. But also she knew that her usefulness to him, save as one of these indistinguishable creatures who were his living spiritual food, was past.

In the early days of her knowledge of him, Sara Wallingford knew he had found her useful. It was different now. He did not need her, except for convenience of guarding their daughter; when he sent their daughter fully away, she would bewhat would she be? A desertion greater than most human desertions would fall on her. The time was near. He had told her of it long since; she could not complain. The time was very near. When it came, and his triplicity was ended, she would bewhat that painting had revealed; one of those adoring imbecilities. He had not troubled to deny it.

She remembered the awful beginning of the triplicity. It had been in that house in the North, and he, had come to her, as he sometimes did, along garden ways at night. It had been the night after the conception of Betty, and she had known already that she had carried his child. It had not been she who desired it, nor (physically) he. But the child was to be to him an instrument she could not be. She hated it, before its conception, for that; and when she felt within her all the next day the first point of cold which grew and enlarged till after Betty’s birth — “as cold as spring — water”— she hated it the more. And her hate did not grow less for what had happened on that second night.

She had known, as soon as she saw him that he was bent on a magical operation. He did not now need, for the greater of his works, any of the lesser instruments — the wand, the sword, the lamps, the herbs, the robe. She had been in bed when he came. She was twenty-nine then, and she had known him for eight years. He did not need now to tell her to believe in him or to help him; she had been committed to that all those eight years. But in some sense the night of the conception had brought a change. Ever since then, though her subordination. to him had grown, his need of her had grown less. On that night, however she had not yet understood. She lay in her bed and watched him. He drew the curtains and put out the light. There Were candles on the dressing-table, and her dressing-gown, with matches in its pocket, lay on a chair by the bed. She put out a hand to see that it was convenient. He was standing between her bed and the great mirror.

They had had that mirror put there for exactly such operations, and however dark the room there always seemed to be a faint grey light within the mirror, so that when she saw him in it, it was as if he himself and no mere image lived and moved there. He had put off his clothes, and he stood looking into the mirror, and suddenly the light in it disappeared, and she could see nothing. But she could hear a heavy breathing, almost a panting, and almost animal, had it not been so measured and at times changed in measure. It grew and deepened, and presently it became so low a moan that the sweat broke out on her forehead, and she bit her hand as she lay. But even that moan was not so much of pain as of compulsion. The temperature of the room grew hotter; a uterine warmth oppressed her. She sighed and threw the blankets back. And she prayed — to God? not to God; to him? certainly to him. She had given herself to his will to be the mother of the instrument of his dominion; she prayed to him now to be successful in this other act.

In the mirror a shape of grey light grew slowly visible; it was he, but it was he dimmed, There seemed to be two images of him in one, and they slid into and out of each other, so that she could not be certain which she saw. Both were faint, and there were no boundaries; the greyness itself faded into the darkness. The moaning had ceased; the room was full of a great tension; the heat grew; she lay sweating and willing what he willed. The light in the mirror went out. His voice cried aloud: “The candles!” She sprang from her bed and caught at her dressing-gown. She had it on in a moment and had hold of the matches; then she went very quickly, even in the dark, to the dressing-table, and was immediately striking a match and setting it to the candles. She did not quite take in, as she moved her hand from one to the other what she saw in the oval glass between, and as they caught she blew out the match and whirled swiftly round. She almost fell at what she saw. Between her and the mirror, and all reflected in the mirror, were three men. One was nearer her; the other two, one on each side of him, were closer to the mirror. From the mirror three identical faces looked out, staring. She felt madly that that nearest form was he, her master, whose child she bore; but then the otherthings? men? lovers? The sexpuple horror, back and front, stood absolutely still. These others were no shadows or ghostly emanations; they had solidity and shape. She stared; her hand clutched at the table; she swayed, crumpled, and fell.

When she came to herself again he and she were alone. He had said a sentence, or two to reassure her. It was (he said) indeed he who remained; the others were images and actual copies of him, magically multiplied, flesh out of flesh, and sent upon his business. The curtains were pulled back; the world was grey with dawn; and as she looked out over the moors she knew that somewhere there, through that dawn, those other beings went. The world was ready for them and they went to the world. He had left her then; and since that night there had been no physical intercourse between them. She — even she — could not have endured it. She believed that the he she knew was he, yet sometimes she wondered. At moments, during the next one — and-twenty years, while she worked for him and did his will, she wondered if it was the original whom she obeyed, or only one of those shapes sustained at a distance by the real man. She put the thought away. She read sometimes during those years of the appearance of a great religious philosopher in China, a great patriot preacher in Russia, and she guessed — not who; there was in them no who; but what they were. The war had for a while hidden them, but now that the war was over they had reappeared, proclaiming everywhere peace and love, and the enthusiasm for them broke all bounds, and became national and more than national; so that the whole world seemed to be at the disposal of that triplicity. A triple energy of clamour and adoration answered it. There were demands that these three teachers should meet, should draft a gospel and a policy, should fully rule the worship they provoked. It had been so with him in America, and would have been in England, had he not deliberately remained in seclusion. And she knew that in all the world only she, besides the Clerk who now sat before her in the throned seat, knew that these others were not true men at all, but derivations and automata, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, but without will and without soul.

She knew why he had kept himself in seclusion. He knew that, when he chose, that world was his for the taking. Rhetoric and hypnotic spells and healing powers would loose idolatry, but beyond all these was the secret and crafty appeal to every individual who came to him separately — the whisper, one way or another: “You are different; you are not under the law; you are particular.” He played on both nerves; he moved crowds, but also he moved souls. The susurration of those whispers moved even many who would not otherwise easily have adored. She knew it bitterly, for it was so that she herself had been caught; and indeed she had been fortunate, for she had been useful, and she was the mother of his child. Would that ease abandonment? She knew it would not. Even when the deed was done for which Betty had been brought into the world, and their daughter dismissed into the spiritual places, she herself would be no nearer him. He was already almost spirit, except that he was not spirit. But soon he would have spirits for companions, and — But before then, though he delayed his full public manifestation till that other work was done, it would have happened. When the communion with that other world was, through Betty, established, he would go (she thought) into middle Europe, or perhaps farther — to Persia or India; and there those other shapes would come, each known to adoring multitudes, and there would be in secret a mystery of reunion, and then all would be in his hand.

She turned her eyes from him, she alone conscious of herself and him in all that group, and saw the rest losing their knowledge before him. They were beginning to sway gently to and fro; their faces were losing meaning; their arms and hands were rising slowly towards him. They were much like the insects in that painting, but their faces were more like his own; she knew when she looked at the painting that Jonathan had given him the face she had so often seen in this house, the blank helpless imbecile gaze. It was why she had been so angry. But he had not seen it. She looked at Richard, Jonathan’s friend, and wondered if he too were beginning to sway and change.

In fact, if he were not, he was at least already in some danger of it. He had been thinking of love, and what love would mean if he had known someone who would love him perfectly. Lester was not always completely understanding. Something rhythmical in her did not always entirely correspond to him. He moved a little, — as if expressing his own rhythm, forward — backward, backward-forward. His eyes opened a little wider, and as he did so they fell on the woman who sat opposite him. He saw her as he had seen her the previous afternoon, and suddenly he recollected Jonathan’s paintings. He saw the insects, and he saw them here. Ile knew he was being caught in something; he made an effort to sit back, to sit still, to recover. The edge of things was before him; he thrust back. He thought of Lester, but not of her glory or her passion, he thought of her in a moment of irritation. He heard, in those precincts of infinity, the voice he had heard in other precincts, on Westminster Bridge. Vivid in his ears, she exclaimed to him: “Why have you kept me waiting?” His mind sprang alert; if she were waiting, what was he doing here?

He was again himself — “a poor thing but his own”, or at least not in the sway of the creature on the throne. His native intelligence returned. He looked round; his eyes fell on the window. He heard the Clerk’s voice, which was still speaking but now with such a small strange sound that Richard hardly knew it to be a voice at all. It was more like the echo of a voice thrown down a corridor, but not magnified, only diminished, as if it were passing out through the deep round window in the thick wall. But it was not so deep after all, though it was round; it was a window on a yard; an empty yard? no; for someone was in it, someone was looking in. A woman, but not Lester. He was profoundly relieved to find it was not Lester, yet he felt she was connected with Lester. She was coming in; she was coming through the wall. She was smiling, and as he saw the smile he recognized her. It was his wife’s friend Evelyn, who had died with her. She was smiling at the Clerk, and as he looked back at the man on the throne he saw that constriction which was the Clerk’s smile pass across his face. He heard, mingling with that echo of a human voice, another sound — a high piping sound, coming over distances, or falling as a bird’s call from the sky, but this was no bird’s call. Richard shut his eyes; still, through those shut eyes, he seemed to see the two smiling at each other. The exchanged smile, the mingled sound, was an outrage. He felt himself to be a witness of an unearthly meeting, of which the seeming friendliness was the most appalling thing. If he had known the word except as an oath, he would have felt that this was damnation. Yet there was only a smile — no pain, no outcry, no obscenity, except that something truly obscene was there. He saw, visibly before him, the breach of spiritual law. He saw a man sitting still and a woman standing just within the wall, a slight thing, and so full of vileness that he almost fainted.

He did not know how long it lasted; for presently they were all on their feet, and he too was able to stand up and then they were all going away.

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