Descent into Hell, by Charles Williams

Chapter Three

Quest of Hell

It was in the house of the suicide that Lawrence Wentworth now sat. The dead man’s corpse, discovered hanging in the morning, had been hugger-mugger interred, the body that then existed being then buried. With such bodies of past time the estate had no concern except to be silent about them, which it very successfully was. Wentworth, when he took the house, heard nothing of the most unfortunate incident, nor had any idea of what had happened in the space which now, properly closed and ceilinged, he had taken for his bedroom, any more than he saw through the window of his study the dead man occasionally. return to the foot of the ladder which, in his world, still reached from earth to scaffolding. Neither of them was aware of the other.

Wentworth had at least one advantage over many other military historians; he had known war. He had served with some distinction, partly from luck, and partly from his brain which organized well. He had held a minor position on an army staff, and he had been alert at moving masses of men about and fitting them in, and removing them again. He could not win battles, but he could devise occupation for armies. He could always, when necessary, find somewhere for them to go and something for them to do, and he could deal with any objections to their going or doing that were raised. His mind reduced the world to diagrams, and he saw to it that the diagrams fitted. And as some such capacity is half of all ordinary leadership in war, he really had an insight into the technical side of the great military campaigns of the past. He could see what Caesar or Napoleon had done, and why, and how; it was not to be expected that he could have seen it, as they did, before it happened. He had never had a friend or a lover; he had never, in any possible sense of the word, been “in love”.

Yet, or perhaps therefore, his life had been pleasant to him, partly by the Fortune which confirms or ruins the care of generals, partly through his own instinctive tactical care. Only of late, especially since he had come to the Hill, the pleasantness had seemed to waver. He was not much over fifty, but his body was beginning to feel that its future was shortening, and that it had perhaps been too cautious in the past. His large opaque eyes, set widely in a squarish face, were acquiring a new restlessness. Also he had begun to dream. Something moved more sharply in his sleep, as the apparition of Pauline’s terror moved more surely in the streets; the invisible life of the Hill quickening its pressure upon mental awareness.

It was a little dream, of no significance, as Mrs. Parry would have said; it was only a particular development of a common dream-thing, the state of something going on. He had no reason for disliking it except that it recurred. It was not complex; it was remarkably simple-simple and remarkable. He was climbing down a rope; he did nothing but climb down a rope. It was a white rope, so white that it shone of its own clarity in the pitch-black darkness where it and he existed, and it stretched up high above him, infinitely high, so that as he looked he could not see where or to what it was fastened. But that it was fastened both above and below was clear, for it was taut in his hands and between his legs, twisted expertly round it. He was not sliding down it; he was descending by the aid of knots which, though he could feel them against his hands and legs, he could never actually see in the rope as it emerged from his hands past his eyes. The descent was perplexing, for he never felt himself move and yet he knew he was continually farther down, down towards the bottom of the rope, the point and the place where it was secured beneath him. Once or twice he looked down and saw only the twined white strands stretching away in the black abyss. He felt no fear; he climbed, if he climbed, securely, and all the infinite black void did not terrify him; he would not fall. Nor did he fear the end — not fear; no monstrosity awaited him. On the other hand, he did, waking, remember to have felt the very slightest distaste, as if for a dentist. He remembered that he wanted to remain on the rope, but though he saw neither top nor bottom he was sure, in the dream, that that was impossible. A million yards or years of rope stretched above him; there might be a million years or yards below him. Or a hundred, or a score, or indeed but two or three. He climbed down, or else the rope climbed up, and about them was everlasting silence and the black night in which he and the rope only were visible, and only visible to himself.

It was mildly disagreeable; the more, and perhaps, if he had thought about it, only, because dreams, though negligible on waking, are so entirely ineluctable in sleep. Sleep had, all his life, been a pleasant thing to Wentworth; he had made of it an art. He had used himself to a composure that had readily accommodated itself to him. He made it a rule to think of pleasant things as he stretched himself in bed: his acquaintances sometimes, or the reviews — most of the reviews of his last book, or his financial security, or his intentions about his immediate future work, or the permanent alterations he hoped he had caused in universal thought concerning Caesar’s employment of Balearic slingers during the campaigns in Gaul. Also, deliciously, his fancies would widen and change, and Caesar would be drawing out cheques to pay his London Library subscriptions, or the Balearic slingers would be listening to him as he told them how they used to use their slings, and the next thing he would know would be either his housekeeper tapping at the door, or the light of morning, or, sometimes, the dream.

For this assault in sleep there were at least two reasons in his waking life, besides the nature of the haunter of his house; one of them very much in front of his mind, the other secret and not much admitted. The first was Aston Moffatt; the second was Adela Hunt. Aston Moffatt was another military historian, perhaps the only other worth mentioning, and Wentworth and he were engaged in a long and complicated controversy on the problem of the least of those skirmishes of the Roses which had been fought upon the Hill. The question itself was unimportant; it would never seriously matter to anyone but the controversialists whether Edward Plantagenet’s cavalry had come across the river with the dawn or over the meadows by the church at about noon. But a phrase, a doubt, a contradiction, had involved the two in argument. Aston Moffatt, who was by now almost seventy, derived a great deal of intellectual joy from expounding his point of view. He was a pure scholar, a holy and beautiful soul who would have sacrificed reputation, income, and life, if necessary, for the discovery of one fact about the horse-boys of Edward Plantagenet. He had determined his nature. Wentworth was younger and at a more critical point, at that moment when a man’s real concern begins to separate itself from his pretended, and almost to become independent of himself. He raged secretly as he wrote his letters and drew up his evidence; he identified scholarship with himself, and asserted himself under the disguise of a defence of scholarship. He refused to admit that the exact detail of Edward’s march was not, in fact, worth to him the cost of a single cigar.

As for Adela, he was very well aware of Adela, as he was aware of cigars, but he did not yet know what he would give up for her, or rather for the manner of life which included her. As Aston Moffatt was bound either to lessen or heighten Wentworth’s awareness of his own reputation, so Adela was bound either to increase or abolish his awareness of his age. He knew time was beginning to hurry; he could at moments almost hear it scamper. He did not very well know what he wanted to do about it.

He was sitting now in his study, his large body leaning forward over the table, and his hands had paused in measuring the plan that lay in front of him. He was finding the answer to Aston Moffatt’s last published letter difficult, yet he was determined that Moffatt could not be right. He was beginning to twist the intention of the sentences in his authorities, preferring strange meanings and awkward constructions, adjusting evidence, manipulating words. In defence of his conclusion he was willing to cheat in the evidence — a habit more usual to religious writers than to historical. But he was still innocent enough to be irritated; he felt, as it were, a roughness in the rope of his dream, and he was intensely awake to any other slights from any quarter. He looked sharply to see if there were more Moffatts in the world. At that inconvenient moment on that evening Adela arrived with Hugh. It was long since he had seen her in the company of one young man: alone, or with one woman, or with several young men and women, but not, as it happened, so. He stood up when they were announced, and as they came in, Adela’s short red-and-cream thickness overshadowed by Hugh’s rather flagrant masculinity, he felt something jerk in him, as if a knot had been first tied and then suddenly pulled loose. He had written but that morning in an article on the return of Edward IV, “the treachery of the Earl destroyed the balance”. Remote, five hundred years away, he felt it in the room; a destruction of balance. Then they were sitting down and Adela was talking.

She explained, prettily, why they had come. Hugh, watching, decided that she must not behave quite so prettily. Hugh had no jerks or quavers. He had decided some time since that Adela should marry him when he was ready, and was giving himself the pleasurable trouble of making this clear to her. There was a touch too much gusto in her manner towards Wentworth. She had been, as he had, and some others of the young, in the habit of spending an evening, once a fortnight or so, at Wentworth’s house, talking about military history and the principles of art and the nature of the gods. During the summer these informal gatherings were less frequent, because of tennis and motor-rides and the nature of men and women. Hugh meant that for Adela they should stop altogether. He observed an intimacy; he chose that it should not continue, partly because he wished Adela to belong to him and partly because the mere action of breaking it would show how far Adela was prepared to go with him. His mind made arrangements.

Adela explained. Wentworth said: “Very well, I’ll do anything I can. What is it you want?” He felt ungracious; he blamed Aston Moffatt.

“O, the costumes,” Adela answered. “The Guard especially. The Grand Duke has a guard, you see, though there didn’t seem to be much point in it. But it has a fight with the robbers, and if you’d see that it fought reasonably well.”

She did not trouble to enlarge on her own view that the fight ought to be quite unrealistic; she knew that Mr. Wentworth did not much care for non-realistic art, and till recently she had preferred her mild satisfaction with her invasion of Wentworth’s consciousness to any bigotry of artistic interpretation.

Hugh said: “It’d be frightfully good of you to give me a hand with my Guard, Mr. Wentworth.” He infused the “Mister” with an air of courteous deference to age, and as he ended the sentence he stretched and bent an arm in the lazy good humour of youth. Neither of the others analysed stress and motion, yet their blood was stirred, Adela faintly flushing with a new gratification, Wentworth faintly flushing with a new anger. He said, “Are you to be the Grand Duke then, Prescott?”

“So Mrs. Parry seems to suggest,” Hugh answered, and added, as if a thought had struck him, “unless — Adela, d’you think Mr. Wentworth would take the part himself? Isn’t that an idea?”

Before Adela could answer Wentworth said: “Nonsense; I’ve never acted in my life.”

“I’m quite sure,” Hugh said, leaning comfortably forward with his elbows on his knees and his strong hands interlocked, “that you’d be a better father for the princess than I should. I think there’s no doubt Adela’ll have to be the princess.”

“O, I don’t see that,” said Adela, “though it’s true Mrs. Parry . . . but there are lots of others. But, Mr. Wentworth, would you? You’d give it a kind of . . . ” she thought of “age” and substituted “force”. “I was saying to Hugh as we came along that all it needs is force.”

“I certainly wouldn’t take it away from Prescott,” Wentworth said. “He’s much better at these games than I could be.” He had tried to give to the words a genial and mature tolerance, but he heard them as merely hostile; so did the others.

“Ah, but then,” Hugh answered, “you know such a lot about battles and history-battles long ago. You’d certainly be more suitable for Adela’s father-sir.”

Wentworth said: “I’ll keep myself for the Guard. What period did you say?”

“They seem to think 1700,” Adela said. “I know Mrs. Parry said something about eighteenth-century uniforms. She’s going to write to you.”

Hugh stood up. “So we oughtn’t to keep you,” he added. “Adela and I are going back to talk to her now. Come on, duchess-or whatever it is they call you.”

Adela obeyed. Wentworth noted, with an interior irritation, that she really did. She moved to rise with something more than consent. It was what he had never had — consent, yes, but not this obedience. Hugh had given her his hand to pull her up, and in that strained air the movement was a proclamation. He added, as she stood by his side: “Do change your mind, sir, and show us all how to be a Grand Siécle father. I’ll ask Mrs. Parry to put it to you.”

“You certainly won’t,” Wentworth said. “I’ve no time to be a father.”

“Odd way of putting it,” Hugh said when they were outside. “I don’t know why your Mr. Wentworth should be so peeved at the idea. Personally, I rather like it.”

Adela was silent. She was well aware of the defiance — not even a defiance, the rumour of a struggle long ago — that Hugh had brought into the conversation. Wentworth had been relegated, for those few sentences, to his place in the shadowy past of Battle Hill. The notice he had taken of her had been a dim flattery; now it was more dim and less flattering. She had been increasingly aware, since she had met Hugh, of her militant blood; of contemporary raid and real contest, as of some battle “where they charge on heaps the enemy flying”. But she did not quite wish to lose Lawrence Wentworth; he had given her books, he had friends in London, he could perhaps be useful. She desired a career. She could be sensationally deferential on Thursday, if, as she expected, she went to him on Thursday. There had been, at the last gathering, ten days before, an agreement on next Thursday. She had just accomplished this decision when Hugh said: “By the way, I wanted to ask you something. What about next Thursday?”

“Next Thursday?” she said, startled.

“Couldn’t you come out somewhere in the evening?”

“But . . . ” Adela paused, and Hugh went on: “I thought we might have dinner in town, and go to a show if you liked.”

“I’d love it,” Adela said. “But it needn’t be Thursday?”

“I’m afraid it must,” Hugh answered. “There’s tennis at the Foxes’ on Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday I shall be late at work, and Friday we’re to read the play, and the Parry’s almost certain to want us on the Saturday too.”

Adela said again: “I’d love it, but I was going to Mr. Wentworth’s on Thursday. I mean, we’ve been going rather steadily, and last time I practically promised.”

“I know you did,” said Hugh. “So did I, but we can’t help it.

“Couldn’t we go another week?” Adela asked.

“With this play about?” Hugh said sardonically. “My dear, we’re going to be clutched by rehearsals every evening. Of course, we can leave it if you’d rather, but you said you’d like to see that thing The Second Pylon-it’s your style-and as it’s only on till Saturday . . . well, as a matter of fact, I got a couple of tickets for Thursday on the chance. I knew it’d be our only night.”

“Hugh!” Adela exclaimed. “But I want frightfully to see it; they say it’s got the most marvellous example of this Surrealist plastic cohesion. O, Hugh, how splendid of you! The only thing is. . . . ”

“Pauline’ll be going to Wentworth’s, won’t she?” Hugh said. “And probably others. He can talk to them.”

They were both aware that this would be by no means the same thing. They were equally both aware that it was what was about to happen; and that by Thursday evening it would have happened. Adela found that her hesitation about the future had already become a regret for the past: the thing had been done. A willing Calvinist, she said: “I hope he won’t think it rude. He’s been very nice.”

“Naturally,” Hugh answered. “But now it’s up to you to be nice. Grand Dukes ought to be gratified, oughtn’t they?”

“You asked him to be the Grand Duke,” Adela pointed out.

“I asked him to be your father,” Hugh said. “I don’t think I had any notion of his being a Grand Duke.”

He looked at her, laughing. “Write him a note on Wednesday,” he said, “and I’ll ring him up on Thursday evening from, London, and ask him to make my excuses to you and Pauline and the rest.”

“Hugh!” Adela exclaimed, “You couldn’t!” Then, dimpling and gurgling, she added: “He’s been very kind to me. I should hate him to feel hurt.”

“So should I,” Hugh said gravely. “Very well; that’s settled.”

Unfortunately for this delicate workmanship, the two or three other young creatures who had shared, with Adela, Hugh, and Pauline, the coffee and culture of Wentworth’s house, were also deflected from it on that Thursday by tennis or the play; unfortunately, because the incidents of the Saturday had left him more acutely conscious at once of his need for Adela and of his need for flattery. He did not fully admit either; he rather defended himself mentally against Hugh’s offensiveness that surrendered to his knowledge of his desire. Even so he refused to admit that he was engaged in a battle. He demanded at once security and victory, a habit not common to those great masters whose campaigns he studied. He remembered the past-the few intimate talks with Adela, the lingering hands, the exchanged eyes. Rather like Pompey, he refused to take measures against the threat on the other side the Rubicon; he faintly admitted that there was a Rubicon, but certainly not that there might be a Caesar. He assumed that the Rome which had, he thought, admired him so much and so long, was still his, and he desired it to make his ownership clear. He was prepared to overlook that Saturday as not being Adela’s fault as soon as the Thursday should bring him Adela’s accustomed propinquity; perhaps, for compensation’s sake and for promise of a veiled conclusion, a little more than propinquity. It was the more shattering for him that her note only reached him by the late post an hour or so before his guests usually arrived.

She had had, she said, to go to town that day to see about the stuff for her costume; things would be rushed, and she hadn’t liked to make difficulties. She was dreadfully distressed; she might well be, he thought, with a greater flush of anger than he knew. He glanced at another note of excuse almost with indifference. But he was still ruffled when Pauline arrived, and it was with a certain abruptness that he told her he expected no one else but Prescott.

When, ten minutes later, the telephone bell rang, and he heard Prescott’s voice offering his own regrets and explaining that absolutely unavoidable work kept him at the office: would Mr. Wentworth be so good as to apologize to Adela? — he was not sure if he were glad or sorry. It saved him from Prescott, but it left him tiresomely alone with Pauline. Pauline had a recurrent tendency to lose the finer point of military strategy in. an unnecessary discussion of the sufferings of the rank and file; neither of them knew that it was the comfort of his house and his chairs — not to reckon her companionship with men in grief — which incited her. He did not think he wanted to have to talk to Pauline, but he was pleased to think he need not carry Hugh’s message to Adela. He could not, of course, know that Adela was then squeezed into the same telephone box as Hugh. She had objected at first, but Hugh had pleasantly overpersuaded her, and it was true she did want to know exactly what he said-so as to know. And it was attractive to hear him telephone apologies to her when she was close at his side, to listen to the cool formality with which he dispatched ambassadorial messages to phantom ears, so that her actual ears received the chill while her actual eyes sparkled and kindled at his as he stood with the receiver at his ear. He said-as Wentworth only realized when he had put down his own receiver-“and would you be kind enough to make my apologies to Adela?” She mouthed “and the others” at him, but he shook his head ever so little, and when, as he put back the receiver, she said, “But you ought to have sent your message to Pauline at least,” he answered, “Wentworth’Il see to that; I wasn’t going to mix you up.” She said, “But supposing he doesn’t, it’ll look so rude,” expecting him to answer that he didn’t care. Instead of which, as they emerged from the call-box, he said, “Wentworth’ll see to it; he won’t like not to.” She sat down to dinner infinitely more his accomplice than she had been when she had met him first that evening.

In effect he was right. Wentworth had received a slight shock when the single name reached his ears, but it was only on his way back to the study that he realized that he was being invited to assist Prescott’s approach towards Adela. He must, of course, enlarge the apology, especially since Adela anyhow wasn’t there, as he hadn’t troubled to explain. Prescott could find that out for himself. Since he didn’t know — a throb of new suspicion held him rigid outside his study door. It was incredible, because Prescott wouldn’t have sent the message, or any message, if he and Adela had been together. But they were both away, and that (his startled nerves reported to his brain) meant that they were together. His brain properly reminded him that it meant nothing of the sort. But of that saving intelligence his now vibrating nervous system took no notice whatever. It had never had a chance to disseminate anarchy before, and now it took its chance. Fifty years of security dissolved before one minute of invasion; Caesar was over the Rubicon and Pompey was flying from Rome. Wentworth strode back into the study and looked at Pauline much as Pompey might have looked at a peculiarly unattractive senator.

He said: “Prescott can’t come either. He sends you his apologies,” and with an extreme impatience waited to hear whether she had any comment to make upon this, which might show what and how much, if anything, she knew. She only said, “I’m sorry. Is he working late?”

It was exactly what Wentworth wanted to know. He went back to his usual seat at the corner of his large table, and put down his cigar. He said, “So he says. It’s unfortunate, isn’t it, just the evening Adela couldn’t come?” He then found himself pausing, and added, “But we can go on talking, can’t we? Though I’m afraid it will be duller for you.”

He hoped she would deny this at once; on the other hand he didn’t want her to stop. He wanted her to want to stop, but to be compelled to go by some necessary event; so that her longing and disappointment could partly compensate him for Adela’s apparently volitional absence, but without forcing him to talk. He wished her grandmother could be taken worse suddenly. But she made no sign of going, nor did she offer him any vivid tribute. She sat for a minute with her eyes on the floor, then she looked at him and said:

“There was something I thought of asking you.”

“Yes?” Wentworth said. After all, Prescott probably was at his office, and Adela probably-wherever she had to be.

Pauline had not formally intended to speak. But Lawrence Wentworth was the only person she knew who might be aware of . . . what these things were and what they demanded. And since they were thus left together, she consented to come so far as to ask. She disdained herself a little, but she went on, her disdain almost audible in her voice: “Did you ever come across”— she found she had to pause to draw equable breath; it was difficult even to hint —“did you ever read of any tale of people meeting themselves?”

Momentarily distracted, Wentworth said: “Meeting themselves? What, in dreams?”

“Not dreams,” Pauline said, “meeting themselves . . . in the street . . . or anywhere.” She wished now she hadn’t begun, for to speak seemed to invite its presence, as if it were likely to hover outside, if not inside the house; and she would have to go home by herself to-night the whole way. . . . Or, since she had betrayed its privacy, supposing it followed up her betrayal and came now. . . .

“There’s a picture of Rossetti’s,” Wentworth said; “were you thinking of that?”

“Not a picture,” Pauline said; “I mean, have you ever read of its happening? Shelley says it happened to Zoroaster.”

“Indeed,” Wentworth said. “I don’t remember that. Of course I’ve heard of it as a superstition. Where have you come across it? Has anyone you know been seeing themselves?”

His mind was drifting back to Adela; the question rang hard. Pauline felt the obstruction and stayed. She said, “I knew a girl who thought she did. But don’t let me bother you.”

“You aren’t bothering me,” Wentworth said by force of habit. “On the contrary. I never remember to have come across anything of the sort, though I’ve a notion it was supposed to foretell death. But then almost any unusual incident is supposed to foretell death by the savage-or let’s say the uncivilized-mind. Death, you see, is inevitably the most unusual incident, and so — by correspondence — the lesser is related to the greater. Anthropology is very instructive in that way. The uneducated mind is generally known by its haste to see likeness where no likeness exists. It evaluates its emotions in terms of fortuitous circumstance. It objectifies its concerns through its imagination. Probably your friend was a very self-centred. individual.”

Pauline said coldly, “I don’t know that she was,” while Wentworth wondered if Adela and Prescott had finished the supper they were not, of course, having together. Their absence was a fortuitous circumstance. He evaluated his emotions in its terms, and (like any barbarian chief) objectified his concerns by his imagination. She could find out the difference between Prescott and himself. But he didn’t mind; he didn’t mind. He curvetted on that particular horse for a while, and while curvetting he took no notice of Pauline’s remark until the silence startled his steed into nearly throwing him. Still just remaining seated, he said, “O, she isn’t, isn’t she?” and thought how lank, compared to Adela, Pauline was-lank and blank. She had no capacity. Exactly what capacity she lacked he did not carefully consider, assuming it to be intellectual: the look, not the eyes; the gesture, not the hand. It was Adela’s mental alertness which he knew he would have grudged Prescott, if he could grudge anybody anything. This conversation about people seeing themselves was the dullest he had ever known; he looked covertly at the clock on the mantelpiece; at the same moment Pauline, also covertly, looked at her wrist-watch. She had been a fool to say anything; the only result was to expose her more consciously to that other approach. She had better get home, somehow, before she did anything sillier. She said, “Thank you”, and couldn’t think of anything else. $he got up therefore, and said the only thing left.

“My grandmother’s not been so well today. Would you forgive me if I deserted you too? We’re treating you shockingly, aren’t we?”

Wentworth got up alertly. “Not a bit,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry you feel you ought to go.” It occurred to him that, later on, he might walk down toward the station. If he met them together, he would at least be justified. They might have met at Marylebone, of course, even if he did meet them; and if he didn’t, they might be coming by a later train. He might wait for the next. Perhaps it would be wiser not to go; he couldn’t, in his position, hang about for ever and ever. People chattered. But he would decide about that when this superfluous being had been dismissed. He went with her to the door, was genial and bright, said good night, snarled at the time she took getting to the gate, and at last was free to make up his mind.

He could not do it. He was driven by his hunger as the dead man who had come to that unbuilt house had been driven by his, and for some time he wandered about his rooms as that other shape had gone through the streets, seeking peace and finding none. At last he found himself in his bedroom, looking out of the window, as the dead man had stood there looking over the ruins of history, from the place of his skull. Wentworth stood there now for some seconds, exercising a no more conscious but a still more deliberate choice. He also yielded — to the chaos within rather than the chaos without. The dead man had had reason to suppose that to throw himself down would mean freedom from tyranny, but Wentworth was not so much of a fool as to think that to thrust himself into the way of possible discovery would mean any such freedom. A remnant of intelligence cried to him that this was the road of mania, and self-indulgence leading to mania. Self-preservation itself urged him to remain; lucidity urged him, if not love. He stood and looked and listened, as the dead man had looked and listened. He heard faint hurrying footsteps somewhere on the Hill; the moon was covered by a cloud. The shadow provoked him; in it they might be, now, passing the end of his road. He must act before it was too late. He would not go to spy; he would go for a walk. He went out of the room, down the soft swift stairs of his mind, into the streets of his mind, to find the phantoms of his mind. He desired hell.

He strode out on his evening walk. He walked down the length of his road; if that led towards the station it could not be helped, nor if at a point it joined the road which Adela would take from the station. He was a man, and he had a right to his walk. He was not a child, neither the child that had lost its toy and cried for it, nor the child that had lost its toy and would not let itself care, nor the child that had lost its toy and tried to recover it by pretending it never did care. It may be a movement towards becoming like little children to admit that we are generally nothing else. But he was; he was a man, he was going for his walk.

At the junction of roads, as at a junction of his mind, he stopped and waited-to enjoy the night air. His enjoyment strained intently and viciously to hear the sounds of the night, or such as were not of too remote and piercing a quality to reach him. The wind among the hills was fresh. He heard at a distance a train come in, and the whistle of its departure. One or two travellers went by; one, a woman, hurrying, said something to him as she passed — good night or good morning; it sounded, in his strained joy, like both. He became aware that he was visible in the moon; he moved back into shadow. If he saw them coming he could walk away or walk on without seeming to be in ambush. He was not in ambush; he was out for a walk.

An hour and more went by. He walked back, and returned. His physical nature, which sometimes by its mere exhaustion postpones our more complete damnation, did not save him. He was not overtired by his vigil, nor in that extreme weariness was the vision of a hopeless honour renewed. He paced and repaced, cannibal of his heart. Midnight passed; the great tower clock struck one. He heard the last train come in. A little up the road, concealed in the shadow, he waited. He heard the light patter of quick feet; he saw, again, a woman go hurrying by. He thought for a moment she was Adela, and then knew she was not. Other feet came, slower and double. The moon was bright; he stood at the edge of his own skull’s platform; desire to hate and desire not to hate struggled in him. In the moonlight, visible, audible, arm in arm, talking and laughing, they came. He saw them pass; his eyes grew blind. Presently he turned and went home. That night when at last he slept he dreamed, more clearly than ever before, of his steady descent of the moon-bright rope.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/williams/charles/descent-into-hell/chapter3.html

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