Many Dimensions, by Charles Williams

Chapter Eleven

The First Refusal of Chloe Burnett

Chloe’s chief regret, when she and Frank got out of her bus at Highgate, was that there was a quarter of an hour’s walk before them. She made a half-hearted effort — half-hearted on his account as much as hers — to persuade him to return at once, but when this failed she resigned herself to his inevitable desire to discuss the whole matter. Saturday afternoon’s experience, the Sunday papers, things said that evening, had made it impossible to keep from him the secret of the Stone. But, accustomed to him as she was, she seemed to hear in his voice a hint of anxiety which at first she attributed to his concern for her.

“It shows you things in your mind?” he said as they turned a corner.

“Apparently,” Chloe assented. “At least, it showed Lord Arglay Sir Giles’s mind.”

He was silent for a minute or two. Then: “Tells you things?” he went on, following his own thoughts.

Chloe considered. “Tells you?” she asked at last.

“Things you mightn’t know — or might have forgotten,” he answered. “It would make things clear to you, wouldn’t it? If it shows you thoughts.”

“I Suppose it might,” Chloe said, rather vague about what he meant and a little irritated at her vagueness. There was another short silence.

“And it can be separated?” Frank said.

“No,” said Chloe firmly, “it can’t. Or only by people like Sir Giles.”

The pause after this began to annoy her; the conversation was going in spasms like hiccups. “Let’s talk of something else,” she said. “It’s only a month to the exam., isn’t it? I do hope you’ll get through.”

“I suppose,” he answered lightly, “you wouldn’t like to lend me the Stone?”

“To —” Chloe stared. “The Stone? Whatever for?”

“Well,” said Frank, “if it shows you things — I mean, if it helps the mind, the memory or whatever . . . well, don’t you see — if one could remember at the right time —” He made a second’s pause and went on “That’s where an examination’s so unfair; one can’t remember everything just at the minute and just forgetting one single fact or formula that one knows perfectly well throws the whole thing out. It isn’t even a case of wanting to be sure one would remember!because one would remember if one didn’t forget — I mean, if one wasn’t afraid of forgetting. It isn’t, in that way, as if there was any unfairness. I wouldn’t dream of taking an unfair advantage; it wouldn’t really be doing more than taking an aspirin if one had a headache on the day. Lots of the fellows have mnemonics — it’d only be feeling that one had a pretty good system. It isn’t as if —”

“Frank, do stop,” Chloe said. “What is it you want?”

“I’ve just told you,” Frank said. “Would you lend me the Stone just till after my exam.?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” Chloe answered. “I’m sorry, Frank, but I really can’t.”

“Well — if you don’t want to part with yours — I quite understand — would you . . . make one for me?” Frank asked. “You know how important it is for me to get through, darling. I don’t know what’ll happen if I muff it.”

“I suppose you’ll go in again,” Chloe said, anger growing within her. It was only, she warned herself, that Frank didn’t — and, not knowing all about it, couldn’t — understand. But nobody — nobody — did understand, she least of all.

“Well — perhaps,” said Frank, defeated by this realism. “But it’d be much more convenient to get through at once. It might mean a great deal more than a year later on — it gives one a better chance.”

Chloe made a small effort. “Dear Frank,” she said, “I hate to seem a pig, but I couldn’t . . . I couldn’t do that — not with the Stone.”

“But it wouldn’t be unfair,” Frank urged. “Anyone who can manage any way of remembering things does — short of writing them down. It’s only just to safeguard the mind against a sort of stage-fright; just a sort of . . . of . . . cooling-mixture.”

“O God,” Chloe said suddenly, “is there no end?”

Frank looked at her in a hurt surprise. “I shouldn’t think I was asking very much,” he said, “not if you really want me to pass. You might know that I wouldn’t ask you to do anything unfair. It doesn’t put me in a better position; it only prevents me being in a worse. They’d all do as much if they could.”

“I don’t care if they would or not. I don’t care whether it’s right or fair or whatever you call it or not,” Chloe answered. “Frank, do try and see it. It’s just that we can’t use the Stone like that.”

“But why not?” Frank asked in mere bewilderment. “If it can do all those things? Your Lord Arglay’s been using it, hasn’t he?”

“Not for himself,” Chloe answered.

“But I’m not asking you to use it for yourself. It’s really an unselfish thing you’d be doing in lending it to me, or giving me one,” Frank urged. “I did think you’d like me to pass-but I suppose you don’t care about that either.”

“Don’t be beastly, Frank,” Chloe said.

“It doesn’t look much like it, anyhow,” the misguided Frank went on. “You don’t seem to mind other people being helped — and I don’t understand why you won’t. You’ve always been out to make the best of your chances, and you won’t do the same for me. You’d use it quick enough to save yourself being sacked, I expect.”

“I wouldn’t,” Chloe said sharply. “I wouldn’t use it to buy myself food if I was starving.”

“O don’t talk rubbish,” Frank said and fell into sullenness. They walked on silently. He had dropped her arm or she had dropped his; anyhow, they were disjoined. Her hands were empty but for the handbag, and in that ridiculous bag the absurd Cause. It seemed from its seclusion to taunt her. “Throw me away,” it seemed to be saying, “throw me into the gutter. Am I worth all this trouble?” It wouldn’t, she thought, with a touch of sanity, please Frank any better if she did — not Frank. He wouldn’t appreciate the gesture. Besides, it wasn’t her business to throw it away. “I am yours,” the Stone gibed at her, “your own — throw me away. You’re in danger of throwing him away.” From somewhere her memory brought up a text —“My lovers and friends hast thou set afar from me; and hid my acquaintance out of my sight.” She didn’t want him to go like this.

“Darling,” she breathed tentatively, “don’t be cross. I’d do anything I could.”

“That,” said Frank coldly, “isn’t true, Chloe. It’s a quite simple thing and you won’t do it. Very well; it’s your Stone. But it’s no good saying you’d do it if you could. You can and you won’t.”

“Do it,” something said to her, “do it. Why ever not? Are you setting up to know what’s right? Do it, and be a real friend to him.” Friendship — after all, ought she to do for her friend what she wouldn’t do for herself? Ought she to break her heart and do it? Was it only her own wish she was safeguarding?

From her own point of view it was by the mercy of the Stone that Frank said again at this moment, with a touch of superior and angry rationalism —“Yes, you can and you won’t.”

“Very well then,” Chloe said, stopping dead. “I can and I won’t. And now go away. Go away or I shall hate you. Go.”

“I prefer to see you right home,” Frank said formally.

“I don’t want you to,” Chloe said. “I can’t bear it. O Frank do go —”

“I don’t want to be nasty,” he said irresolutely, “but I can’t see why you won’t. I’ve explained to you that it wouldn’t be unfair.”

“I know, I know,” Chloe said. “Good-night. I’ll write tomorrow.”

“O well, good-night,” Frank answered, and found himself looking after her in a temper of which he had never imagined she could be the cause. “So ridiculous,” he thought; “women never can reason clearly, but I did think she was more intelligent. It isn’t very much to ask her to do for anyone she professes to like. But it’s always the same; everybody wants to have their own way.”

Still meditating on the insufficiency of human virtue he turned back towards the terminus at the bottom of Highgate Hill. Anxious, however, as he might be, to see Chloe’s point of view, it eluded him with persistent ingenuity. As a friend, as something — well, different from a friend — she ought to have wanted to help him. Not that he found it easy to accept the Stone, but his incredulity was a good deal intimidated by the sudden arrival of Mrs. Sheldrake on the Saturday, the columns of the Sunday papers, the rather mysterious position of Lord Arglay, and Chloe’s own great concern with it. He thought rather vaguely of radium, vita-glass, magnetism, and psychoanalysis, the possibility of some quickening power exercised on the brain, or some revitalization of the nervous functions. The last phrase appeared plausible enough to cover all instances of recovery to health and what — so far as he could see — was a sort of mind-reading. As for movement in space — perhaps it was hardly so satisfactory there. Nervous functions would have to be thoroughly vitalized in order . . .

A fresh voice interrupted him. He looked up to see another friend — but this time a young man.

“Hullo, Carnegie,” he said gloomily.

Albert Carnegie looked at him with an irritating cheerfulness.

“What’s the gloom about?” he asked. “Why the misery?”

“I’m not miserable,” Lindsay said perversely. “Why should I be miserable?”

“Sorry,” Carnegie answered. “I thought you were looking a bit under the weather.”

“It’s this damned examination, I expect,” Lindsay said. “I’ve been sticking to it close enough, these last days.”

Carnegie turned. “I’ll walk back with you,” he said. “How’s Miss Burnett?”

“Well enough, I suppose,” Miss Burnett’s friend answered. “But she’s got mixed up with all the business about this Stone in the papers, and she’s a bit on edge about it.”

“What, the Stone that makes people well?” Carnegie asked.

“Makes anyone do anything,” Lindsay told him, “so far as I can understand. Makes people fly or jump or see into each other’s minds, so they say.”

“Fly!” the other exclaimed.

“Well, if you don’t call getting from one place to another in practically no time flying, I don’t know what you do call it,” Lindsay said. “And I saw something like it happen myself, so I can’t say it’s all tripe.”

“Do you mean you saw someone move through the air by using this Stone?” Carnegie asked.

“I saw a woman suddenly appear where she hadn’t been-and Chloe says she’s seen it done, seen Lord Arglay disappear and reappear and have been somewhere in between. It all sounds nonsensical enough, but what with what I saw and Chloe and the papers together I don’t know what to think.”

Carnegie walked on for some distance in silence, his mind occupied with a side of the question which had so far only occurred to Mr. Sheldrake and Reginald Montague and to them in a limited sense. But Carnegie’s occupation happened to be in the headquarters of the National Transport Union, and while Lindsay was talking there came to him the idea that if — only if, because of course there couldn’t — but if there were anything to it, then it was the sort of it that the General Secretary of the Union would think was most distinctly his own business. Any violent disturbance of transport would be, and this would be a very violent disturbance. At least if there were more than one, or perhaps a few Stones. It was against nature that there should be more.

“I suppose there are only one or two Stones in existence, so far as we know?” he said in a few minutes, as casually as possible.

“It doesn’t seem to matter,” Lindsay answered, still brooding over his grievance. He broke into a short explanation of his desires and was gratified by the concentration with which Carnegie listened. “So that,” he ended, “I really don’t think it’s too much to suggest. It gives her no trouble and no one could call it unfair.”

“And every single one of these things has the same power?” Carnegie asked.

“I know it’s all ridiculous, but that’s their story,” Lindsay agreed. “So one would think that Chloe . . . ”

“And who have got them now?” Carnegie interrupted.

“Well, Chloe has, and this Sheldrake man, and Arglay I suppose . . . I wish Chloe wasn’t with Arglay; I think he’s none too good an influence. These lawyers are such hidebound pedants very often, and Chloe’s rather open to suggestion. I don’t mean that she’s weak exactly, but she’s rather overanxious to please, and doesn’t take her own line sometimes as strongly as she ought to. Now she might have seen that in a thing like this she ought to exercise her own judgement and not be dominated by legal forms.”

. “Yes,” said Carnegie, whom Chloe only interested at the moment as one of the holders of the Stone. “Anyhow there must be a good few knocking about at the present moment, and more to be made at any time?”

They had come out into the main road opposite a large Evening News placard which announced “Interview with Mrs. Ferguson.” Another close by stated “Where the Stone came from,” and a star placard “The Stone — Government Action. Official.” The Evening Standard’s “The Situation at Rich” was comparatively out of date. Carnegie looked at them. It might be, it certainly was, a hoax somehow or other, but even as a hoax he thought the General Secretary would like to know. The only question was — now or in the morning? At the Tube entrance he left Lindsay who went on his way meditating over Chloe’s perversity.

If he had been able to press his request again at that moment he might have gained it. For Chloe was lying in bed, miserable enough, and, with her habitual disposition (as Mr. Lindsay had very nearly understood) to wonder if she had behaved unkindly to others, was almost regretting her firmness. It seemed now so small a thing that Frank had wanted, and she might have been merely selfishly one-ideaed — and her own ideaed in refusing him. After all, Lord Arglay had made use of the Stone. Yes, but that had been for someone else’s good. And had not she been asked only to help another’s good? It wasn’t her examination. And would not Lord Arglay have had her use it for her own good? had not he bidden her use it, if need were, if there were danger? Yes, danger, but Frank’s desire to pass an examination could hardly be called danger. (Besides even in danger — could she?) She couldn’t see Lord Arglay using it to make himself Chief Justice, though he might to ensure a right judgement and proper sentence. But had she any right to inflict on Frank her own interpretation of what the Chief Justice’s will might be? Frank had no particular use for the Chief Justice. It would be, she thought, convenient if they could ask of Suleiman ben Daood himself what the proper use of the Stone was, though even Suleiman, as far as she remembered the legends she had studied a few days before, had fallen sometimes from wisdom. Asmodeus had sat on his throne, and pharaoh’s daughter had deceived him, and he had built altars to strange gods. She remembered Lord Arglay’s bargain of that evening; was she really supposed to be believing in God? And if so, who? or what? Suleiman’s? Presumably. Or Octavius Caesar’s or Charlemagne’s or Haroun-alRaschid’s — supposing they all had one? Or the Stone’s own God?

Half-unconsciously her hand felt for it where it lay under her pillow in its silken veil, and as she touched it sleep or some other healing power flowed through her. Asleep or awake, at once or after a long time — it seemed both in the dream that possessed her — she seemed to see before her a great depth of space that changed itself while she looked into it and became a hall with carved pillars and a vast crowd surging through it. Far off she heard a roaring that grew louder and by its own noise divided and ordered the crowd so that the many small scurrying figures were heaped in masses on either side. She felt herself somewhere among them, but not in any one place; she was carried through them, seeing all round her brown faces and long dark beards and bright turbans and cloaks, the roaring still in her ears. And then the crowd opened before her and she saw suddenly the great centre of the whole, but first in masses and only afterwards its own central height. For to right and left as she gazed there expanded huge gatherings of seated men: on the one side men in the same cloaks and head-dresses she had already seen, with little rolls or boxes fastened to their foreheads and wrists, and some of them held antique parchment in their hands. Their faces were Jewish, and mostly very old and lined with much thought, only here and there she saw one and another young and ardent and again one and another still older than most but astonishingly full and clear and happy. Over against them, but with a broad aisle between them were another company, in many different garbs and all unknown to her; or almost all, for among the turbans and helmets and diadems she saw suddenly a Chinese mandarin sitting gravely watchful, and another whose bearded face came to her as if she had looked on it in a gallery of high statuary among divine heads of Aphrodite and Apollo, of Theseus and Heracles and Aesclepius. But most of the rest were strange and terrible, only not so terrible as those on whom her eyes next rested. For beyond these, and again in two opposing companies, she saw figures that seemed larger or lesser than mortal man, and other figures who were of other natures and kept in them only a faint image of humanity. There a seeming fountain twisted its ascending and descending waters into such a simulacrum, and there again was one having many heads, and one again whose writhing arms encircled him round and round and sometimes leapt forth and were again retrieved till it seemed as if the ancient Kraken itself had become human. Over and among them flew many birds and by their flights her glance was drawn upward till she saw that the whole roof of that place was formed of birds, vibrating and rising and falling with persistent but unequal motion, with colours gleaming and iridescent or dull and heavy. In front there hung immovable one huge monster of a bird like the father and lord of all that are of the eagle and vulture tribe, with his eyes filmed and his head and dreadful beak a little on one side as though he listened to all he could not see. And as she shuddered and looked down she saw below him a number of huge lions’ heads, and the red jaws opened in a terrific roar as the beasts seemed, some to crouch before the spring, some to be high-ramping in a wild fury. In this last astonishment all former wonder was swallowed up — and that she felt surprise and awe she knew even then, and knew also that she did not truly dream, but even while the beasts raged and roared there passed between them a note of music and a voice sang “Praise to the Eternal One; glory and honour and adoration be to the Lord God of Israel; blessed be He!” and immediately the noise of the beasts sounded in one answering roar and was still, and they also. Then Chloe saw them stand fixed, on the steps of a throne, six on the one side, six on the other; and the throne itself was above and behind them, carved as it were out of sapphire, very deep and clear; and on the throne a king sat, with a crown on his head. In the crown was the Stone, and it shone with a soft whiteness, and in it, amid the gold, in a deep blackness the letters of the Name were moving and glowing. Below the throne Chloe saw the companies assembled, the companies of the doctors of the Law and of the ambassadors from many lands, and the awful Djinn and Angels, diabolic or divine, who waited on the word of Suleiman ben Daood, king in Jerusalem. Then she looked again at the king, and saw that his right hand lay closed upon his vestmented knees, but while she looked he lifted it slowly up, the whole assemblage bowing themselves to the ground, and opened it. But what was in or on it Chloe did not see, for there leapt upon her from it a blinding light, and at once her whole being felt a sudden devastating pain and then a sense of satisfaction entire and exquisite, as if desires beyond her knowledge had been evoked and contented at once, a perfect apprehension, a longing and a fulfilment. So intense was the stress that she shrieked aloud; immediately it was gone, and she found herself standing upright by the side of the bed, trembling, open-mouthed, holding agonizedly to its framework.

She sank onto it and remained exhausted. Only it seemed in a little that the noise of the lions was still in her ears and a voice with it. Gradually she found the voice was saying: “Miss Burnett! Miss Burnett! Are you all right, Miss Burnett?” and knew it for the landlady’s.

“Yes, Mrs. Webb, yes, all right, thank you,” Chloe stammered. “It was just — it was — it was something in my sleep. I’m so sor — I mean, I was — please, it’s quite, quite all right.”

“Are you sure?” Mrs. Webb said, still doubtfully. “I thought You were being killed.”

“Thank you so very much,” Chloe said again, and then in a sudden rush of heroic virtue got to her feet, struggled across the room, unlocked the door, and spoke comfortingly to the anxious Mrs. Webb till the old lady at last went away. Chloe shut the door, with a desolating sense that she had forgotten everything, went back to bed, and as she stretched herself down into it went off immediately into a profound sleep.

So profound and effective was it that she was rather more than half an hour late the next morning in arriving at Lancaster Gate, where she found Lord Arglay in a high state of excitement. “Don’t apologize,” he said, “but I thought you were never coming. Nothing wrong? No, all right, that’s merely my rubbing it in. Look at this and all will be forgiven.” He held out to her the morning paper, directing her eyes to a remote paragraph. “Strange Incident at Birmingham,” she read. “Missing Man Burgles Laboratory.”

“The laboratory assistant Elijah Pondon who was supposed to have lost his memory at Birmingham was discovered this morning in curious circumstances. When the senior demonstrator visited the laboratory late last night during Professor Palliser’s absence in London, whose assistant the missing man was, he found Pondon already there. His entrance is at present inexplicable as he had no key, and the laboratory had not been in use during yesterday. Efforts to obtain a statement have not so far succeeded, as he appears to be in a dazed condition. It is supposed he must have some means of entry known only to himself.”

“‘Means of entry known only to himself,’” Lord Arglay said. “‘Dazed condition’! I should think he probably was in dazed condition. But we’ve done it, child. We’ve given him means of entry known . . . and so forth.”

“We?” Chloe said.

“We,” Lord Arglay said firmly. “By virtue of the Stone, if you like, but after all it was we who determined and tried — determined, dared, and done. Heavens, how pleased I am!” His mood changed and he began to walk up and down the room. “I wonder what Pondon makes of it,” he said. “Does he know anything? does he guess anything? What did he see, feel, or do? or didn’t he do, feel, or see anything? Has he just linked up with Friday night? or does his memory . . . . . . His voice died as he meditated.

Chloe fingered the paper. “Do you think we ought to know?” she asked.

“I don’t know about ‘ought,’” Lord Arglay answered, “but I should very much like to know, Why?”

“I was wondering,” Chloe said. “I could go to Birmingham if you liked and talk to him a little.”

“Things are getting so frightfully complicated,” the Chief Justice sighed. “There’s the Government and Sheldrake and Giles and the Persians and the Mayor — all busy about it.”

Chloe mentally added Frank Lindsay to the list, and might (had she known in what confidences Mr. Lindsay’s irritation had resulted) have added also the Secretary of the National Transport Union. But she said nothing.

“I don’t really like letting you out of my sight,” Arglay went on. “Yet it might be useful to know what this Pondon knows — if anything,” he added dubiously. “Is there anyone who could go with you? What about your friend Mr. Lindsay?”

“No, O no,” Chloe said, stopped, and went on. “But what do you think could possibly happen, Lord Arglay? They haven’t any reason to do anything to me.”

“I told you last night,” the Chief Justice answered, “that they’re bound to want to get all the Types into their possession — Sheldrake and the Government anyhow, and I suppose the Persians, only they don’t stand a chance. And now there’ll be the Mayor too; I don’t believe he realizes yet that I have one.”

“You didn’t tell him?” Chloe asked.

“No,” Arglay answered. “I’m becoming very shy of telling anyone anything about the Stone. But he’s bound to hear, and then he’ll be at me to go down to Rich on a mission of healing. Well, I won’t.”

This possibility was a new idea to Chloe and for a few moments she gazed at Lord Arglay in silence.

“You won’t?” she asked at last, consideringly.

“I withdraw ‘won’t,’” he answered, “because I don’t really know from moment to moment what I shall be doing. I may. I may find myself sitting in the market place or the Old Moot Hall or whatever they have there, handing the Stone to one after another, and watching the sick take up their beds and walk. Or at least get off them. O don’t, don’t let’s go into that now. Would you like to go to Birmingham?”

“I think I should rather,” Chloe said. “I should like to see the man you saved. And whether he feels anything about it.” Lord Arglay went to the telephone. With his hand on the receiver he paused. “Do you remember Mr. Doncaster?” he asked.

“Yes, of course,” Chloe said. “Why?”

“Did you like Mr. Doncaster?” Lord Arglay went on.

“He seemed quite nice and intelligent, I thought,” Chloe answered. “I didn’t trouble about him much.”

“Would you mind him coming to Birmingham with you?” Arglay said.

“It seems quite unnecessary,” Chloe objected. “But no — not if you would like him to. It’s nice of you to worry —” she added suddenly.

The Chief Justice, engaged in ringing up the hotel where the Mayor and Oliver had found a night’s shelter, waved a hand, and then, while waiting for Oliver to be found, said: “After all, when this is over — I suppose it will be, some time — there is Organic Law. If you like. Not that you really care for Organic Law, do you, child?”

She answered his smile with another, flushing a little, then she said: “I do see something of it, I think. But it seems so far away from . . . ”

“People,” Lord Arglay said. “And yet so is the Stone. Or it looks like it. On our last night’s hypothesis — Is that Mr. Doncaster? This is Lord Arglay. Mr. Doncaster, are you doing anything urgent today, either for yourself or for Don Quixote? I was wondering whether you could and would take Miss Burnett to Birmingham . . . O the same story . . . Yes, she’ll tell you all about it in the train . . . Do. Good-bye. — So that’s settled.”

“I don’t know what use he’s going to be,” Chloe said.

“O— lunch,” said Lord Arglay, “and tickets . . . have you any money, by the way? I’ll get you some . . . and to keep an eye on your back in case a Persian attacks you with a yataghan or what not.”

“And what use am I going to be?” Chloe asked.

“You will be of one chief use,” Arglay answered. “You will discover all that is possible of the nature of the Stone.” He put his arm over her shoulders and she reached up her hand and took his. “It may be,” he went on, “that before these things’ are ended we shall have great need of knowing . . . and perhaps of trusting . . . the Stone.”

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