Descent into Hell, by Charles Williams

Chapter Eleven

The Opening of Graves

Whatever mystery had, to Pauline’s exalted senses, taken its place in the world on that afternoon, it seemed to make no difference to the world. Things proceeded. Her uncle had arrived from London during the performance, and had had to have his niece’s absence explained to him, first by the maid and later by the niece. After the explanation Pauline remembered without surprise in her shame that she used to dislike her uncle.

Margaret Anstruther was buried on the next day but one, to the sound of that apostolic trumpet which calls on all its hearers to rise from the dead, and proclaims the creation on earth of celestial bodies, “sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; sown in dishonour, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power”. “Be steadfast, unmovable . . . your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” Pauline heard with a new attention; these were no longer promises, but facts. She dared not use the awful phrases for herself; only, shyly, she hoped that perhaps, used by some other heavenly knowledge, they might not be altogether inapplicable to herself. The epigram of experience which is in all dogma hinted itself within her. But more than these passages another stranger imagination struck her heart: “Why are they then baptized for the dead?” There, rooted in the heart of the Church at its freshest, was the same strong thrust of interchange. Bear for others; be baptized for others; and, rising as her new vision of the world had done once and again, an even more fiery mystery of exchange rolled through her horizons, turning and glancing on her like the eyed and winged wheels of the prophet. The central mystery of Christendom, the terrible fundamental substitution on which so much learning had been spent and about which so much blood had been shed, showed not as a miraculous exception, but as the root of a universal rule . . . “behold, I shew you a mystery”, as supernatural as that Sacrifice, as natural as carrying a bag. She flexed her fingers by her side as if she thought of picking one up.

The funeral over, her uncle hastened action. The moment for which they had all been waiting had arrived; his mother was dead. So now they could clear things up. The house could be sold, and most of the furniture. Pauline could have a room in a London hostel, which he would find her, and a job in a London office, which he had already found her. They discussed her capacities; he hinted that it was a pity she hadn’t made more of the last few years. She might have learned German while sitting with Margaret, and Spanish instead of taking part in plays. She would have to be brisker and livelier. Pauline, suppressing a tendency to point out that for years he had wished her to be not brisk or lively, but obedient and loving, said she would remember. She added that she would have a little money, enough to buy her bread. Her uncle said that a woman couldn’t live on bread, and anyhow a job was a good thing; he didn’t wish his niece to waste her time and energy. Pauline, thinking that Stanhope had said the same thing differently, agreed. Her uncle, having put everything he could into somebody’s hands, left her to live for a few days in the house with the maid, and rushed back to London with his wife, whose conversation had been confined to assuring Pauline that she would get over it presently.

Pauline might have believed this if she had been clear what it was that she was expected to get over. Of one thing it was true; she no longer expected to see the haunting figure of’ her childhood’s acquaintance and youthful fear. She remembered it now as one remembers a dream, a vivid dream of separation and search. She had been, it seemed, looking for a long while for someone, or perhaps some place, that was necessary to her. She had been looking for someone who was astray, and at the same time she had been sought. In the dream she had played hide-and-seek with herself in a maze made up of the roads of Battle Hill, and the roads were filled with many figures who hated — neither her nor any other definite person, but hated. They could not find anything they could spend their hate on, for they slipped and slithered and slid from and through each other, since it was their hate which separated them. It was no halfself-mocking hate, nor even an immoral but half-justified hate, certainly not the terrible, enjoyable, and angry hate of ordinary men and women. It was the hate of those men and women who had lost humanity in their extreme love of themselves amongst humanity. They had been found in their streets by the icy air of those mountain peaks of which she had once heard her grandmother speak, and their spirits had frozen in them. Among them she also had gone about, and the only thing that had distinguished her from them was her fear lest they should notice her. And while she hurried she had changed, in her bygone dream, and she was searching for some poor shadow of herself that fled into the houses to escape her. The dream had been long, for the houses had opened up, as that shadow entered, into long corridors and high empty rooms, and there was one dreadful room which was all mirrors, or what was worse than mirrors, for the reflections in those mirrors were living, though they hid for a while and had no being till the shadow at last came speeding into the room, but then they were seen, and came floating out of their flickering cells, and danced the shadow into some unintelligible dissolution among them. it was from that end that she sought to save the miserable fugitive-. When in her memory she reached that point, when the shadow was fleeing deeper into Gomorrah, and she fled after it on feet that were so much swifter than its own and yet in those infinite halls and corridors could never overtake it while it fled-when the moment of approach down the last long corridor to the last utter manifestation of allusion drew near, she heard far off a trumpet, and she could remember nothing more but that she woke. She remembered that she woke swiftly, as if a voice called her, but however hard she tried she could not well recollect whose voice it was; perhaps that also was part of the dream, or perhaps it was the nurse’s voice that had called her on the morning her grandmother had died. Perhaps; perhaps not. Under all the ceremonies of the days, under the companionship of her people, under her solitude, under her gradual preparations for departure and her practice of studies which were to make her more efficient in whatever job her uncle and the operation of the Immortals should find her, under sun and moon alike, she waited. She waited, and remembered only as a dream the division between herself and the glorious image by which the other was to be utterly ensouled.

It was observable, however, on the Hill, how many of the inhabitants were unwell. Mrs. Sammile had fainted, and had not been seen about since. Someone had offered to take her home in a car, but she had declined, declaring that she was all right, and had disappeared. Myrtle Fox, though she had got through the performance, had gone home crying, and had been in bed ever since. She could not sleep; a doctor had been called in, but he did not help her. She took this and that, and nothing did good. She would doze a little, and wake crying and sobbing. “It’s all this excitement,” her mother said severely, and opinion began to blame the play for Myrtle’s illness. Lawrence Wentworth remained shut in his house; even his servants hardly saw him, and the curtains of his study were generally drawn. “It isn’t human,” his parlour-maid said to next door’s parlour-maid. Some of the actors and some of the audience were also affected by what was generally called the local influenza epidemic. The excitement of the play or the brightness of the summer or the cold winds that even under such a sun swept the Hill, or some infection more subtle than these, struck the inhabitants down.

Neither Adela nor Hugh were among them. Hugh, like Mrs. Parry, went on efficiently dealing with the moment. Adela suffered, from the heat, from the thunder, from suppressed anxiety, but she did not go to bed. Pauline, even had she been free from her family, could not have carried out her promise, for immediately after the performance Stanhope disappeared for a few days; it was understood he had gone away for a change. Pauline could do no more than assure Adela that, as soon as he returned, she would look for an opportunity. “But I can’t,” she said, “do more than that. I can’t butt in on him with a club, Adela. If it’s for all of us, why not do it yourself? If it was for you personally, of course you might feel awkward, but as it isn’t. . . . ” Adela said it certainly wasn’t, and went off peevishly.

As a result the management of Hugh had to be postponed. He had not, in fact, made that formal proposal which was necessary if Adela was to feel, as she wished, that she had a right and a duty to manage him, In order not to thwart him, Adela controlled herself more than was her habit when they were together. Obedience and revolt being both out of the question, she compromised temporarily that she might manage permanently. It was in such a compromise that they had been walking one evening on the Hill two or three days after Margaret Anstruther’s burial. By accident, on their return, they took a road which led past the gates of the cemetery, and as they came by Hugh said idly: “I suppose Pauline’ll be going now her grandmother’s dead.”

Adela had not thought of this. She said immediately: “O, I shouldn’t wonder if she stopped — moved to a smaller house or something. She can’t go yet.”

Hugh said: “You didn’t go to the funeral, darling?”

“Of course not,” Adela answered. “I hate being morbid.” As if to prove it she lingered to look through the gates. “There are so many of them,” she added.

“Yes,” Hugh said, with what faintly struck Adela as unnecessary obtuseness, “you can’t get round death with any kind of adjective, can you?”

“I don’t want to get round anything with adjectives,” Adela almost snarled. “Thank God we’ve got away from any pretence. It’s so unimportant when one doesn’t pretend. When one’s dead, one’s dead, and that’s all there is to it.”

Hugh said, “Yes, but what’s all there is to it? I’m that old-fashioned thing, an agnostic; I don’t know. I like to be clear on what I know and what I don’t know, and I don’t like day-dreams, either nice or nasty, or neither.”

“O, nor do I,” said Adela. “But you must sometimes think how nice it would be if something particular happened. I call that common sense.”

“Within limits,” Hugh said, putting his arm over her shoulders. “I sometimes let myself think, for a certain time, or a definite distance-say, from here to your house-how pleasant something would behaving fifty thousand pounds a year, say. But when I come to your house, or wherever it is, I stop.”

“Do you?” said Adela, more impressed than she admitted to herself.

“Always,” said Hugh. “And then — O, concentrate on making another fifty. Day-dreaming without limits is silly.”

Adela shook her head. “I suppose I imagine rather intensely,” she said. “I seem to see things obliquely, if you know what I mean. They’re alongside the actual thing, a sort of tangent. I think really that’s what all art is-tangential.” The word had hardly left her lips when a voice, tangential to her ear, said: “Do let me persuade you, Miss Hunt.”

Adela, with a jump, looked round, and saw Lily Sammile. There was, at that part of the cemetery wall, a lean-to erection of boards, a kind of narrow shelter, almost a man’s height, and having a rough swinging door at the nearer end. It had been there before anyone could remember, and it stayed there because no one could remember to have it taken away. It was very old and very weather-stained. It was almost a toolshed, but then the necessary tools were, more conveniently, kept elsewhere. Everyone supposed that someone else used it. At the door of this shed, close to the cemetery railing, stood the woman who had spoken. She was leaning forward, towards Adela, and holding on to a bar of the gate. Now she put a hand on Adela’s bare arm. It was gritty to the skin, which felt as if a handful of rough dust was pressed down, and pricked and rubbed it. The voice was rough too; it mumbled through a mouthful of dust. Adela pulled her arm away; she could not answer; she thrust closer to Hugh.

The woman said, after a pause during which they stared at her, and saw her dishevelled, hatless, hair of grey ashes, and cheeks almost as grey —“Come and get away. Dust — that’s what you want; dust.”

Hugh said easily: “Not a bit, Mrs. Sammile. We both want a great deal more.”

The woman answered: “You may, but she doesn’t. She’s a —”

They could not catch the word, her voice so muffled it. Adela took two steps back, and said in a little squeak: “Hugh!”

Hugh slipped his arm round her. He said firmly, though less easily than before: “Well, we must be getting on. Come along, darling.”

Lily Sammile began to cry. The tears ran down her face and left streaks in the greyness, as if they crept through and over grime. She said miserably: “You’ll wish you had; O, you’ll wish you had.” She was standing with her back to the gate, leaning against it, and as she ceased to speak she became rigid suddenly, as if she listened. Her eyes widened; her nose came out over an indrawn lip; her cheeks hollowed in her effort. There was no need for the effort. They could hear the sound that held her; a faint rustle, a dry patter. It came from beyond her, and she twisted her head round-only her head and looked. So, distracted by the movement, did the other two. They saw movement in the graves.

Most were quiet enough; their inhabitants had passed beyond any recall or return, and what influence they had on the Hill was by infection rather than by motion. But the estate was still new, and the neat ranks of sepulchres did not reach far into the enclosure. They lay along the middle path mostly; the farthest away was the mound that covered Margaret Anstruther. That too was quiet: its spirit could not conceive return. It was between the earlier graves and hers that the disclosure began, as if the enclosed space was turning itself over. The earth heaved; they felt, where they stood, no quiver. It was local, but they saw-there, and again there the mounds swell and sway and fall in a cascade of mould, flung over the green grass. Three or four in all, dark slits in the ground, and beyond each a wide layer of dust. It did not stop there. The earth was heaving out of the dark openings; it came in bursts and rushes-in a spasmodic momentum, soon exhausted, always renewed. It hung sometimes in the air, little clouds that threatened to fall back, and never did, for they drifted slowly to one side, and sank again on what had earlier dropped. Gravitation was reversed; the slowness and uncertainty of the movement exposed the earth’s own initiation of it. The law of material things turned; somewhere in that walled receptacle of the dead activity was twisted upon itself. The backward movement of things capable of backward movement had begun. The earth continued to rise in fountains, flung up from below; and always at their height, their little height above the ground, the tops of those fountains swayed, and hurled themselves sideways, and dropped, and the rest fell back into the hidden depth of the openings, until it flung itself up once more. The gentle low patter of rough earth on gravel paths floated over the gates to the ears of the three who were still standing there.

There was a more deathly silence without the gates than within. The old woman, with twisted head, her body almost a pattern of faintly covered bones against the iron bars, was rigid; so were Adela and Hugh. They stood staring; incredulous, they gazed at the exhibited fact. So incredible was it that they did not think of the dead; ghosts and resurrections would have been easier to their minds, if more horrible, than this obvious insanity, insanity obvious in its definite existence. They were held; then, to instinctive terror, the frantic cause presented itself. Adela screamed, and as the dead man’s moan had been answered in the mountain her scream was caught and prolonged in the other woman’s wailing shriek. The shriek was not human; it was the wind rushing up a great hollow funnel in a mountain, and issuing in a wild shrill yell. It tore itself out of the muffled mouth, and swept over the Hill, a rising portent of coming storm. Myrtle Fox heard it in her long night of wakefulness, and her body sickened. Pauline heard it, and felt more intensely the peace that held her. Stanhope heard it, and prayed. Before the sound had died, Lily Sammile had jerked from the gate, and thrown herself at the dark shed, and disappeared within, and the swinging door fell to behind her.

As she sprang, Adela sprang also. She screamed again and ran. She ran wildly up the road, so fast that Hugh, who followed, was outdistanced. He called after her. He shouted: “Adela, it’s nothing. The earth was loose and the wind was blowing. Stop.” She did not stop. He kept up the pursuit down a street or two, but his own action offended him. Much though the vision had for the moment affected him, he was, as soon as he began to move, more immediately affected and angered by his situation. There might be explanations enough of what he thought he had seen-he spared a curse for Lily Sammile-but more certain than what he thought he had seen was what he knew Adela was doing. She was, faster than he, running and screaming over Battle Hill. He was angry; suppose someone met her! He raised in his own mind no reasonable pretext for abandoning her, nor did he disguise his intention from himself, but after a corner or two he simply stopped running. “Perfectly ridiculous!” he said angrily. “The earth was loose, and the wind was blowing.” He was free as Pauline herself from Lilith, but without joy. There was, between the group to which his soul belonged and hers, no difference, except only that of love and joy, things which now were never to be separated in her any more.

Adela ran. She had soon no breath for screaming. She ran. She did not know where she was going. She ran. She heard a voice calling behind her: “The earth’s loose and the wind’s blowing”, and she ran more wildly. Her flesh felt the touch of a gritty hand; a voice kept calling after her and round her: “The earth’s loose; the wind’s blowing.” She ran wildly and absurdly, her full mouth open, her plump arms spasmodically working, tears of terror in her eyes. She desired above all things immediate safety-in some place and with someone she knew. Hugh had disappeared. She ran over the Hill, and through a twisted blur of tears and fear recognized by a mere instinct Lawrence Wentworth’s house. She rushed through the gate; here lived someone who could restore her. to her own valuation of herself. Hugh’s shouted orders had been based on no assent of hers to authority; however much she had played at sensual and sentimental imitations of obedience, she hated the thing itself in any and every mode. She wanted something to condone and console her fear. There was a light in the study; she made for it; reached the window, and hammered on the glass, hammered again and again, till Wentworth at last heard and reluctantly drew himself from the stupor of his preoccupation, came slowly across the room and drew back the curtain.

They confronted each other through the glass. Wentworth took a minute or two to recognize whose was the working and mottled face that confronted him, and when he recognized it, he made a motion to pull the curtain again and to go away. But as she saw the movement she struck so violently at the glass that even in his obsession he was terrified of others hearing, and slowly and almost painfully he pushed the window up and stood staring at her. She put her hands on the sill and leant inwards. She said — “Lawrence, Lawrence, something’s about!”

He still stood there, looking at her now with a heavy distaste, but he said nothing, and when she tried to catch his hand he moved it away. She looked up at him, and a deeper fear struck at her-that here was no refuge for her. Gomorrah closed itself against her; she stood in the outer wind of the plain. It was cold and frightful; she beat, literally, on the wall. She sobbed; “Lawrence, help me.”

He said: “I don’t know you,” and she fell back, astounded. She cried out: “Lawrence, it’s me, it’s me, Adela. You know me; of course you do. Here I amI’ve come to you. There’s something dreadful happening and I’ve come to you.”

He said dully: “I don’t want to know you. Go away; you’re disturbing me.” And he moved to shut the window down.

At this she leant right forward and stared up at his eyes, for her fear desired very strongly to find that he was only defending himself against her. But his eyes did not change; they gazed dully back, so dully and so long that she was driven to turn her own away. And as she did so, sending a wild glance around the room, so urgently had she sought to find out his real desire and so strong was, his rejection of her, and so fast were all things drawing to their end, that she saw, away beyond the light of the reading-lamp, a vague figure. It was in the shadows, but, as if to meet her, it thrust its head forward, and so again fulfilled its master’s wish. For to Adela there appeared, stretched forward in the light, her own face, infinitely perfected in sensual grace and infinitely emptied of all meaning, even of evil meaning. Blank and dead in a spiritual death it stared vacantly at her, but undoubtedly it was she. She stood, staring back, sick and giddy at the horror, and she heard Wentworth say: “Go away; I don’t want to help you; I don’t know you. Go away.”

He closed the window; he began to draw the curtains; the creature disappeared from her sight. And by the wall of Gomorrah she fainted and fell.

He saw her fall, and in his bemused mind he felt her as a danger to his peace. He stood looking down at her, until, slowly turning a stiff head, he saw the reflection of his doubt in the eyes of his mistress, the gleam of anxiety which reflected his own because it was concerned with himself. Reluctantly therefore he went out and half-lifted, half-dragged the girl to the gate, and got her through it, and then got her a little way down the road, and so left her lying. He mistily wondered, with a flat realism, if she would awake while he laboured, but the stupor of her horror was too deep. She lay there prone and still, and he returned.

But, as if in that effort he had slid farther down the rope of his dream, when he returned he was changed. He sat down and his creature crept up to him and took and nuzzled his hand. As she did so he became aware for the first time that he did not altogether want her. She was not less preferable than she had been for long to the real Adela, but she was less preferable now than his unimaged dream. He wanted to want her; he did not want her to go; but he could not-not as he had done. Even she was a betrayal, she was a thing outside. It was very good, as it always was, observant of his slightest wish. It sat by him, blinking at the fire. This year, in his room curtained from the sun, it was cold; he had had a fire kept up for the last few days, in spite of his servants’ astonishment. He could not, as he sat, think what he wanted, unless indeed to want her, for he feared somehow to let her go: when he did he would be at the bottom of his rope. He had been given rope enough, but there was a bottom, and a dark hole, and him in the hole. He saw this dimly and was unwilling to slide lower, yet not to slide was to stop out where other things and other images were, and he was unwilling to be there also. He looked round several times, thinking that he would see something else. He thought of a girl’s body lying in the road, but he could not get off his rope for that, not even if he wished, and most certainly he did not wish. Something else: something connected with his work, with the Grand Duke’s Guard. What Grand Duke? The unbegotten Adela by his side said, in a low voice which stammered now as it had not before, as if it were as much losing control as was his own mind: “W-what Grand D-Duke, darling? w-what w-work?” The Grand Duke’s Guard — a white square — a printed card — yes, a notice: a meaning and a message, a meeting. He remembered now. It was the annual dinner of a small historical society to which he and a few others belonged. He remembered that he had been looking forward to it; he remembered that he would enjoy going, though he could not remember for a few minutes who else came to it. He did not trouble to say anything, however; he was too tired-some drag, some pulling and thrusting had exhausted him more than he knew; he had to roll a body in the uniform of the Grand Duke’s Guard, or to protect himself from hitting against its dark mass as he swung on his rope; but that was over now, and he could forget, and presently the two of them stirred and went — mumblingly and habitually-to bed.

It could not be supposed, when Adela was found soon after by a young constable on his beat, that Mr. Wentworth had had anything to do with her. The constable found her name from letters in her handbag, and presently he and others roused her people and she was got to her own temporary place, her own room. She remained unconscious till the morning; then she woke. Her temperature and her pulse were at first normal, and at first she could not recall the night. But presently it returned to her. She felt herself running again from the opening graves to the sight of the meaningless face; Hugh was running after her. Hugh was running out of the graves and driving her on to meet the face. She too, like Myrtle Fox, screamed and vomited.

Her mother rang up Hugh. There was an acrimonious conversation. Mrs. Hunt said that she had trusted Adela to Hugh’s care. Hugh said that Adela had insisted on being alone, which, considering the rate at which she had run away, he felt was approximately true. Mrs. Hunt said that Adela was actually at death’s door. Hugh said she would probably be wise enough not to ring the bell. Mrs. Hunt said that she herself insisted on seeing him; Adela was in no state to see anybody. Hugh said he would give himself the pleasure of leaving some flowers sometime. He knew he was behaving brutally, and that he was in fact more angry and less detached than he made his voice sound. He had left her to run, but had presently gone round and had at last reached her home in time to observe the confusion that attended her being brought home. He would have spoken, but he hated Mrs. Hunt, and he hated scenes, especially scenes at two in the morning, when his always equable passion for Adela was at ebb. So he had gone home, and indulged irritation. Nevertheless he intended to be efficient to the situation; the flowers should be taken and Adela seen that evening. He had no intention of leaving any duty unfulfilled-any duty of exterior act. He did not quite admit that there was any other kind, except in so far as outer efficiency dictated the interior.

Pursued by Hugh in her nightmares, Adela had no sense of ease or peace in his image. She ran in that recurrent flight from him through an arch that was Wentworth towards the waiting face, and as she was carried towards it, it vanished, and she was beginning again. As she ran she repeated lines and bits of lines of her part in the play; the part she was continually trying and continually failing to learn, the part that repeated to her a muddle of words about perception and love which she could never get in the right order. Sometimes Mrs. Parry was running beside her and sometimes Mrs. Sammile; at least, it had Mrs. Sammile’s head though the body was Peter Stanhope’s, and it said as it ran: What you want is perception in a flash of love; what you love is a flash in a want of perception; what you flash is the want in a love of perception; what you want is what you want . . . ” and so always. Others of her acquaintance were sometimes about her in the dream of chaos which had but one element of identity, and that was the race she ran and the conditions of the race. She came again under the arch that was Wentworth, and this time there was a change, for she found Pauline running beside her. Pauline’s hand was in hers; she clutched it, and the speed of her running dwindled, as if a steadiness entered it. She said in a squeak: “Pauline!”

Pauline, leaning over the bed, and feeling her hand so fiercely held — she had called as soon as she heard Adela was ill — said: “Yes, my dear?”

Her voice gave its full value to the last word: it rang in the air of the dream, a billow of comprehensible sound.

Adela stopped running. She said: “Will you help me?” “Of course,” Pauline said, thinking rather ruefully of asking Stanhope. “What do you want me to do?”

Adela said breathlessly: “I want to stop. I want to know my part.”

“But you did know your part,” Pauline answered. “You knew it beautifully, and you did it beau . . . you did it.”

Adela said: “No, no; I’ve got to find it, and she can give it to me.”

“She?” Pauline asked.

“Lily, she . . . Sammile, whatever she’s called,” Adela cried. “In the shed by the cemetery.”

Pauline frowned. She remembered Lily Sammile very well. She remembered her as something more than an old woman by a gate, or if, then a very old woman indeed by a very great gate, where many go in who choose themselves, the gate of Gomorrah in the Plain, illusion and the end of illusion; the opposite of holy fact, and the contradiction of sacred love. She said, very quickly: “Let me run for you, Adela; you can keep quiet. I can run faster than you,” she added truthfully. “I’ve got longer legs. Let me run instead of you. Don’t worry about Mrs. —” she could not say the name; no name was enough for the spirit that lay in Gomorrah, in the shed by the cemetery, till the graves were opened — above or below, but opened.

Adela said: “No, no; no one can do anything. She can make my head better. She can give me something. You can’t do anything; you didn’t see it in the house.”

Pauline said: “But let’s try at least. Look, let me go and learn your part.” She was not quite sure, as she said it, whether this came under the head of permissible interchanges. She had meant it but for the part in the play, but this new fashion of identities was too strong for her; the words were a definition of a substitution beyond her. Adela’s past, Adela’s identity, was Adela’s own. A god rather than she, unless she were inhabited by a god, must carry Adela herself; the god to whom baptism for the dead was made, the lord of substitution, the origin and centre of substitution, and in the sides of the mountain of the power of substitution the hermitages of happy souls restored out of substitution. A fanfare of recovered identities surrounded her; the single trumpet shrilled into diversities of music.

Adela said: “In the shed by the cemetery. I shall know my part there. Go and ask her.”

Her hand shook Pauline’s in her agitation, and the movement was a repulsion. Pauline, flung off upon her errand, was by the same energy repelled from her errand. Her own body shook; she was tossed away from the grand gate of Gomorrah where aged Lilith incunabulates souls. She sprang up, driven by necessity, and Adela, opening her eyes which all this while had been shut, met hers. They gazed for a moment, and then Adela screamed. “Go away,” she cried; “you won’t, and if you do it’ll be worse. You’re a devil; you want me not to know. Go away; go away.”

“Adela, darling,” Pauline said, oblivious of repulsion in a distressed tenderness, “it’s Pauline. Don’t be unhappy; I’ll do all I can.”

“You won’t, you won’t,” Adela screamed. “You’ll spoil everything. You’re torturing me; you’re tearing my bones out of me; you’re scraping my bones. I hate you, I hate you; go away.”

Pauline heard Mrs. Hunt running up the stairs, drawn by that shriek of denial. She exclaimed, torn herself by so much pain: “I’ll go, I promise. If you want-”

“No,” Adela screamed, throwing her arm over her eyes, “you’ll hurt us all. You don’t care about us; you don’t love any of us. You’ll help Hugh to shut me up in the graves with it; he’s got something in his room . . . it isn’t me . . . it isn’t . . . ”

Her mother was by her, murmuring and soothing; her single look told Pauline to go, and she went. She let herself out of the house, and walked up the street, trying to settle her mind. It ought to be possible to determine what to do. Was it good for Adela, but who was to decide what was good for Adela? She-or Adela? Or someone else? Peter? but she wouldn’t ask Peter, only what would he say if she did? “The Omnipotence”? Coming on the word, she considered it, and it worked upward to her freeing. She would do what Adela wanted, for it was Adela’s need, and she had no reason against; she would do it in the Omnipotence, in the wood where leaves sang. Whoever was found there was subject to it, to the law of exchanged good. The Hill rose before her in the sunshine, and on its farther side the place from which her twin, now deeply one with her, had come. The mountains of impersonality have yet their hidden sides, and she was climbing towards them, in the point which was one with the universe. She knew herself going towards a thing that must be done. The growth of earth into heaven and heaven into earth approached in time a point it had already occupied in space. She could see no one else in the streets; she went lonely, and repeated to herself as she went those lines in Which Peter’s style individualized felicity. Up, and still up . . . where the brigands hid in a shelter and cave of the wood, and shared but did not exchange. Oh, happy and happy to have attributions of property for convenience of grace; thrice-happy that convenience of grace could dispose of property: tam antiqua, tam nova, vita nova, nova creatura, a new creature, no more in any sense but new, not opposed to the old, but in union with the old; new without any trick of undermeaning, new always, and now new. Up, and up, and presently down again a little; she was looking out towards the City where she was to be. She saw, away over open ground, the smoke of a train, it was carrying to the City some of those who lived or had lived upon the Hill and were leaving it or flying from it. Was the rest of the world shaken with entranced joy? Perhaps that was not discoverable, for speech of such things came only when it was permitted, and to one the world was new and to one not, to one redeemed and to one not. Yet beyond such differences there lay some act, and this was so whether or not, known or not. Perhaps to Peter tomorrow — no, tonight, for she herself must leave the Hill tomorrow, and never before had parting held such joy. Parting was a fact; all facts are joyous; therefore parting was joyous. With that unnecessary syllogism delicately exhibiting itself as a knowledge of truth, she found herself at the shed by the hill.

There it was. She had seen it a hundred times. The rough door as usual was swung to. She looked at it. This then was where Lily Sammile lived? “I could live in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Was the counting of oneself king of space when one lived in a nutshell one of the bad dreams? Unheard melodies — the rigid figures on the Grecian vase? To enjoy nutshell as nutshell, vase as vase! She rapped at the door; there came no other sound. She rapped again; as if the wood thinned before her, she heard a quick breathing from within. She did not knock again; she laid a hand on the door and gently pressed.

It swung. She peered in. It was dark inside and very long and narrow and deep. Its floor slid away, hundreds of yards downward. There was no end to that floor. A little distance within the shed the woman was sitting on the earth, where the floor began to slope. She was not alone; the occupiers of the broken — up graves were with her. They were massed, mostly, about the doorway; in the narrow space there was room for infinities. They were standing there, looking at their nurse, and they were hungry. The faces — those that were still faces — were bleak with a dreadful starvation. The hunger of years was in them, and also a bewildered surprise, as if they had not known they were starved till now. The nourishment of the food of all their lives had disappeared at once, and a great void was in their minds and a great sickness. They knew the void and the sickness. The nourishment drawn from full lives had carried Margaret Anstruther and her peers over the bare mountain, and they had passed, but when the sun of the mountain struck on the people of infinite illusion it struck on all their past lives and they lived at last in the starvation they had sought. Religion or art, civic sense or sensual desire, or whatever had drugged the spirit with its own deceit, had been drawn from them; they stared famished at the dry breasts of the ancient witch. They had been freed from the grave, and had come, in their own faint presences, back to the Hill they knew, but they could not come farther on to the Hill, in the final summer of mortality, than to this mere outbuilding. Their enchantress sat there, the last illusion still with her, the illusion of love itself, she could not believe her breasts were dry. She desired infinitely to seem to give suck; she would be kind and good, she who did not depend, on whom others had depended. They stood there, but she would not see them; she who was the wife of Adam before Eve, and for salvation from whom Eve was devised after the mist had covered the land of Eden. She would not see, and she would not go to the door because of that unacknowledged crowd, but she sat there, cut off from the earth she had in her genius so long universally inhabited, gazing, waiting, longing for some of the living to enter, to ask her for oblivion and the shapes with which she enchanted oblivion. No one came; oblivion had failed. Her dead had returned to her; her living were left without her. The door swung.

Pauline saw her sitting, an old woman crouched on the ground. As the girl gazed the old woman stirred and tried to speak; there issued from her lips a meaningless gabble, such gabble as Dante, inspired, attributes to the guardian of all the circles of hell. The angelic energy which had been united with Pauline’s mortality radiated from her; nature, and more than nature, abhors a vacuum. Her mind and senses could not yet receive comprehensibly the motions of the spirit, but that adoring centre dominated her, and flashes of its great capacity passed through her, revealing, if but in flashes, the single world of existence. Otherwise, the senses of her redeemed body were hardly capable yet of fruition; they had to grow and strengthen till, in their perfection, they should give to her and the universe added delight. They now failed from their beatitude, and lived neither with intuitive angelic knowledge nor immediate angelic passage, but with the slower movement of the ancient, and now dissolving, earth.

Lilith, checked in her monotonous gabble by the radiant vision who let in the sun’s new light, stared at it with old and blinking eyes. She saw the shape of the woman; and did not know beatitude, however young. She supposed this also to be in need of something other than the Omnipotence. She said, separating with difficulty words hardly distinguishable from gabble: “I can help you.”

“That’s kind of you,” Pauline answered, “but I haven’t come to you for myself.”

“I can help anyone,” the old woman said, carefully enunciating the lie.

Pauline answered again: “Adela Hunt wants you.” She could and would say no more and no less. She recommended the words to the Omnipotence (which, she thought, it was quite certain that Adela Hunt did want, in one or both senses of the word).

The other said, in a little shriek of alarm, such as an old woman pretending youth might have used for girlish fun, “I won’t go out, you know. She must come here.”

“She can’t do that,” Pauline said, “because she’s ill.”

“I can cure everyone,” the other answered, “anyone and everyone. You.”

“Thank you very much, but I don’t want anything,” Pauline said.

The figure on the earth said: “You must. Everyone wants something. Tell me what you want.”

Pauline answered: “But I don’t. You can’t think how I don’t. How could I want anything but what is?”

The other made in the gloom a motion as if to crawl forward. Illusion, more lasting than in any of her victims, was in her. At the moment of destruction she still pressed nostrums upon the angelic visitor who confronted her. She broke again into gabble, in which Pauline could dimly make out promises, of health, of money, of life, or their appearances, of good looks and good luck, or a belief in them, of peace and content, or a substitute for them. She could almost have desired to find it in her to pretend to be in need, to take pity, and herself to help the thing that offered help, to indulge by her own goodwill the spiritual necromancy of Gomorrah. It was not possible. The absolute and entire sufficiency of existence rose in her. She could no more herself deny than herself abandon it. She could ask for nothing but what was-life in the instant mode of living. She said: “O don’t, don’t.”

The woman seemed to have drawn nearer, through that wriggling upon the ground; an arm poked out, and a hand clutched, too far off to catch. A voice rose: “Anything, everything; everything, anything; anything, everything; every —”

“But I don’t want anything,” Pauline cried out; and as she heard her own vain emphasis, added with a little despairing laugh: “How can I tell you? I only want everything to be as it is-for myself, I mean.”

“Change,” said the shape. “I don’t change.”

Pauline cried out: “And if it changes, it shall change as it must, and I shall want it as it is then.” She laughed again at the useless attempt to explain.

At the sound of that laugh Lilith stopped, in movement and speech, and all the creatures that stood within vision turned their heads. The sterile silence of the hidden cave exposed itself, and the single laughter of the girl ran over it, and after the laughter the silence itself awoke. As if the very air emanated power, the stillness became warm; a haze of infinite specks of gold filled the darkness, as if the laughter had for a moment made its joy, and more than its joy, visible. The sombre air of the chill city of the plain was pierced by the joy of the sons of God which exists even there. Lilith shrieked and flung up her arms; and a sudden thin wail followed the shriek, the wail of all those dead who cannot endure joy. The advent of that pure content struck at the foundations of the Hill and the wail went up from all the mortal who writhed in sickness and all the immortal who are sick for ever.

There was a noise of cracking and breaking wood. A cloud of dust rose. Pauline threw her head back, involuntarily shutting her eyes. The dust was in her nostrils, she sneezed. As she recovered and opened her eyes, she saw that the old shed had collapsed before her. It lay, a mass of broken and discoloured wood, upon the ground. The thrust she had given to the door had been too much for it, and it had fallen.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/williams/charles/descent-into-hell/chapter11.html

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