The Greater Trumps, by Charles Williams

Chapter Six

The Knowledge of the Fool

It was some time later, their visitors having all retired, after more or less affectionate partings, that Henry came to his grandfather in the outer room. The old man was waiting eagerly; as the door shut behind his grandson he broke out, “Did you hear? Did she mean it?”

Henry came across and sat down. “She must have meant it,” he said; “there’s no conceivable way by which she could have known what we need. Besides, unless she was playing with us — but she wouldn’t, she’s not that kind. So if she saw —”. He got up again and walked in extreme excitement about the room. “It can’t be-but why not? If we’ve found the last secret of the images! If time’s at last brought sight along with the cards!”

Aaron put his hand to his heart. “But why should she be able to see? Here have all our families studied this for centuries, and none of them — and not you nor I— has ever seen the Fool move. There’s only a tale to tell us that it does move. Why should this woman be able to see it?”

“Why should she pretend if she doesn’t?” Henry retorted. “Besides, I tell you she’s a woman of great power. She possesses herself entirely; I’ve never seen anything dismay or distract her. She’s like the Woman on the cards, but she doesn’t know it — hierophantic, maid and matron at once.”

“But what do you mean?” Aaron urged. “She knew nothing of the cards or the images. She didn’t know why they danced or how. She’s merely commonplace — a fool, and the sister of a fool.”

“None of us has ever known what the Fool of the Tarots is,” the other said. “You say yourself that no one has ever seen it move. But this woman couldn’t see it in the place where we all look for it. She saw it completing the measures, fulfilling the dance.”

“She doesn’t know the dance,” Aaron said.

“She doesn’t know what she does or doesn’t know,” Henry answered. “Either she was lying, I tell you, or by some impossible chance she can see what we can’t see: and if she can, then the most ancient tale of the whole human race is true, and the Fool does move.”

“But then she’ll know the thing that’s always been missing,” Aaron almost sobbed. “And she’s going away next week!”

“It’s why she could manage Joanna as she did,” Henry went on unheeding. “She’s got some sort of a calm, some equanimity in her heart. She — the only eyes that can read the future exactly, and she doesn’t want to know the future. Everything’s complete for her in the moment. It’s beautiful, it’s terrific — and what do we do about it?” He stopped dead in his walk and stared at Aaron.

“She’s going away next week,” the old man repeated.

Henry flung himself back into a chair. “Let us see,” he said. “The Tarots are brought back to the images; there is a woman who can read the movements rightly; and let us add one more thing, for what it’s worth — that I and Nancy are at the beginning of great experiments. On the other hand, the Tarots may be snatched from us by the idiot who pretends to own them; and the woman may leave us and go God knows where; and Nancy may fail. But, fail or not, that’s a separate thing, and my own business. The other is a general concern, and yours. When the Tarots have been brought back to the dancers, and we can read the meaning of the dance, are you willing to let them go?”

“But let us see then,” Aaron said, “what we can do to keep them.”

Henry looked over at him and brooded. “If we once let them out of this house we may not see them again — they will be hidden in the Museum while we and our children die and rot: locked in a glass case, with a ticket under them, for hogs’ faces of ignorance to stare at or namby-pamby professors to preach about.” He leapt to his feet. “When I think of it,” he said, “I grow as mad as Joanna, with her wails about a dismembered god. Shall we let the paintings and the images be torn apart once more?”

Aaron, crouching over the table, looked up sneeringly. “Go and pray to Horus, as Joanna does,” he said, “or run about the fields and think yourself Isis the Divine Mother. Bah! why do you jump and tramp? I’m an old man now, desire is going out of me, but if I’d your heat I’d do more with it than waste it cursing and shouting. Sit down; let us talk. There are four days before they go.”

Henry stamped. “You can’t be sure of four hours,” he said. “Any moment that fool may take offence and be off. Get over tomorrow safely, and he can’t go on Christmas Day, but after that how can we keep him against his will?”

“By leaving him to use his will,” Aaron said.

Henry came slowly back to the table. “What do you mean?” he asked. “You won’t run the risk of violence, will you? How can we? We don’t know what the result on the Tarots may be; there are warnings against it. Besides — it would be hard to see how to do it without — O no, it’s impossible.”

Aaron said, “He has the Tarots — can’t he be given to the Tarots? Is wind nothing? Is water nothing? Let us give him wind and water, and let us see if the obstinacy that can keep the cards will bring him safely through the elements of the cards. Don’t shed blood, don’t be violent; let’s loose the Tarots upon him.”

Henry leaned forward and looked at the ground for a long time. “I’ve thought of something of the sort,” he said at last. “But there’s Nancy.”

Aaron sneered again. “Spare the father for the child’s sake, hey?” he said. “You fool, what other way is there? If you steal the cards from him, if you could, can you show them to her or use them with her? D’you think she won’t be bothered and troubled, and will that be good for your experiment? She’ll always be worried over her honesty.”

“I might show her that our use and knowledge is a high matter,” Henry said uncertainly, “and teach her . . . ”

“All in time, all in time,” the old man exclaimed, “and any day he may give the Tarots to the Museum. Besides, there’s the woman.”

“The woman!” Henry said, “That’s as great a difficulty. Can you persuade her to come and live with you and be the hierophant of the images of the cabalistic dance?”

“If,” said Aaron slowly, stretching out a hand and laying it on the young man’s arm, “if her brother was — gone, and if her niece was married to you, would it be so unlikely that she should live with her niece? If her niece studied the images, and loved to talk of them, and asked this woman for help, would it be so unlikely that she would say what she can see?” He ceased, and there was a pause.

At last “I know,” Henry said. “I saw it — vaguely — even to-night I saw it. But it may be dangerous.”

“Death is one of the Greater Trumps,” Aaron said. “If I had the strength, I would do it alone; as it is, I can’t. I haven’t the energy or will to control the cards. I can only study and read them. You must do the working, and however I can help you I will.”

“The Greater Trumps —” Henry said doubtfully. “I can’t yet use — that’s the point with Nancy — I want to see whether she and I can live — and she mustn’t know —”

“There are wind and water, as I told you before,” the old man answered. “I don’t think your Mr. Coningsby will manage to save himself even from the twos and threes and fours of the sceptres and cups. He has no will. I am more afraid of Joanna.”

“Joanna!” Henry said. “I never heard that she saw the movement of the Fool.”

Aaron shrugged. “She looked to find that out when she had succeeded in carrying out her desire,” he said.

“She was right,” Henry said.

“And has Sybil Coningsby carried out her desire?” Aaron asked. “What was it, then?”

“I can’t tell you,” Henry said, “but she found it and she stands within it, possessing it perfectly. Only she doesn’t know what she’s done. But she doesn’t matter at the moment, nor Joanna. Only Nancy and . . . and that man.”

“Shall there then be only Nancy?” Aaron asked softly.

Henry looked back at him steadily. “Yes,” he answered, “unless he can overcome the beating of the cards.”

“Be clear upon one thing,” Aaron said. “I will have no part in this which you are wanting to achieve with them. I do not want even to know it. If all things go well, it will be enough for me to have restored the knowledge of the dance, and perhaps to have traced something of the law of its movement. But supposing Nancy — later — discovers somehow, in the growth of her wisdom, what you’ve done? Have you considered that?”

“I will believe,” Henry said, “that if indeed it’s the growth of her wisdom that discovers it, her wisdom will justify me. She’ll know that one man must not keep in being the division of unity; she’ll acknowledge that his spirit denied something greater than itself and perished inevitably. His spirit? His mere habitual peevish greed.”

“You will take that risk?” Aaron said.

“It is no risk,” Henry answered; “if it were, then the whole intention is already doomed.”

Aaron nodded, and got to his feet. “Yet ten minutes ago you weren’t so certain,” he said.

“I hadn’t then determined,” Henry answered. “It’s only when one has quite determined that one understands.”

“When will you do it?” Aaron asked. “Do you want me to help you? You should consider that if what you do succeeds, then the girl may be too distressed to go your way for a while.”

“If it may be,” Henry said slowly, “I will wait over tomorrow, for tomorrow I mean to show her the fortunes of nations. But we must not wait too long — and you’re right in what you say: she will need time, so that I won’t try to carry her with me till later. And if after Christmas her father should determine to go . . . it would be done more conveniently here. Let’s see how things fall out, but if possible let it be done on Christmas Day. He always walks in the afternoon — he told me weeks ago that he hasn’t missed a sharp walk on Christmas afternoon for thirty-four years.”

“Let it be so, then,” his grandfather answered. “I will talk to the women, and do you rouse the winds. If by any chance it fails, it can be tried again. At a pinch you could do it with the fire in the car when you return.”

Henry made a face. “And what about Nancy and her aunt?” he asked.

Aaron nodded. “I forgot,” he said. “Well, there will be always means.”

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