Many Dimensions, by Charles Williams

Chapter Fourteen

The Second Refusal of Chloe Burnett

Lord Arglay asserted later that whenever Chloe declared that she would be quite safe something perilous was certain to be approaching,. But since he knew that she was in possession of one of the Types and therefore had at her disposal a means of escape from any crisis and a place of refuge in his own house it did not seem to him that she was likely to be in any unavoidable danger. For alternatively if any one of those who were bound to regard them as enemies should seize on the Type she had, then his object would be achieved. The Stone possessed, there would be no point in harming Chloe; it would indeed be a stupid and risky thing to do, arousing that very attention which it was important to avoid. It appeared therefore to the Chief Justice that though she might be inconvenienced she could not be seriously endangered.

This argument, though sound within its limits, suffered from the same trouble that invalidates all human argument and makes all human conclusion erroneous, namely, that no reasoning can ever start from the possession of all the facts. The two facts which Lord Arglay’s reasoning left out of account were, first, the inclusion of the Prince Ali among the pursuers of the Stone, and second Chloe’s increasing determination not to use her Type for her own safety. It was this omission which proved his conclusion wrong and did actually put her in peril.

For whatever the Persian Ambassador might diplomatically desire, and whatever the Hajji Ibrahim might religiously assert, Ali had no intention at all of relinquishing his efforts — to recover all the Types if possible, and if not at least one; by the possession of which he hoped to procure the rest. His first objective had been Sir Giles. But Sir Giles had made it clear that any attempt to recover the Type in his possession would mean a multiplication of Stones which from Ali’s point of view would be not only sacrilegious but extremely troublesome. He had not for some days been at all clear where the rest of the Types were. Reginald Montague had apparently had one, but then — he gathered from the papers — so had Sheldrake; were they one or two? Ali could not, in his position, afford to make a number of violent and unsuccessful efforts to recover it or them; the Ambassador’s modernity and the Hajji’s piety might agree in removing him to Moscow or having him recalled to Tehran before he achieved what he wanted, should either of them suspect what was happening. He had not dared so far to make any effort to excite the temper of the East. But he had, with the greatest caution, sounded the mind of one of his friends in the Embassy; he intended to gather about himself a small group of similar spirits in order that when a convenient time came he might, if necessary, strike in several directions at once.

Nothing however was further from his mind than that he should be rung up by Sir Giles Tumulty. It was not the first telephonic conversation which had proceeded between the Embassy and the English that morning; the Hajji and Lord Arglay had been talking earlier. The Chief Justice had briefly explained that all was well with Miss Burnett, and had added that he was still in two minds about going off to Ealing and quite simply killing Sir Giles.

“What good do you think that would be . . . in the End?” the Hajji said.

“I haven’t an idea what good it would be in the End,” Lord Arglay assured him, “but it seems as if it might be a considerable good here and now. After all, we can’t be expected to put everything off because of the End or we should just be putting off the End itself At least it seems so to me, but I’m no metaphysician.”

“What would Miss Burnett desire?” the Hajji asked.

“That’s my only difficulty,” Lord Arglay explained. “I don’t think she’d like it — and yet I don’t know. Everybody else would be pleased. I might be hanged but I should be almost certain to have a memorial statue somewhere, probably by Epstein. I like Epstein too. Well, I suppose I shan’t.”

He might however have been almost inclined to turn the only half-fantastic idea into an act if he had overheard Sir Giles a quarter of an hour later. The whole history of Tumulty’s dealings with the Stone had roused in him a state of increasing irritation with Lord Arglay and his secretary. There had been the spying on him, as he chose to call it, at Birmingham; Arglay’s refusal to investigate the half-hour’s break; the affray at the Conference; his own impotence to understand Arglay’s mind; the rescue of Pondon. And now He was not very clear what had interfered with his domination of Chloe. He had, after the usual preliminary attention and concentration, become aware of looking through Chloe’s eyes much as Arglay had looked through his own. He had been aware of a feeling for the Chief Justice which, since it certainly wasn’t his own, must be Chloe’s. He had attempted to turn that emotion into his own desire to use Arglay and then throw him aside. But he had not reached to the extremer places of Chloe’s own manner of experience; it had been but her conscious thought that he could dominate, working inwards from without. He had so far conquered that his intention had imposed itself on her as her own, although with the changed appearance which, in their turn, her physical and mental desires had wrought in it. But at the time when Lord Arglay had called upon his friend with the authority to which she was accustomed and Which she loved, Giles’s will had been swept aside. A darkness fell upon him; he became aware of the Stone in his hands, it seemed to move in them and itself to thrust him back. He dropped it suddenly as if just in time to avoid its growth against him, and took, as he became again conscious of his outer Surroundings, a few angry steps about the room. “I don’t know if this is a damned nightmare,” he grunted, “but it felt as if I was going to be swallowed by the bloody thing. I wonder if I’m letting the idea of getting back at Arglay and his whore run away with me. One does, sometimes; and that’s just death to observation. I wish there was someone else who could tackle, them. And by God,” he exclaimed, “there is. I suggested it to Birlesmere myself — there’s the Persian.”

As he thought about it he decided that this, in default of a better, was the momentary solution. The Prince Ali was probably still anxious to recover the Stone, and if he happened to kill Chloe or Arglay in the process so much the better. Anyhow even to lose their Types would certainly annoy them, and if at the worst Ali or his friends failed or suffered there was no particular harm done to Sir Giles himself. “Ali and this screaming peahen can fight it out together,” he said, and looked up the number of the Persian Embassy.

The Prince was considerably surprised when he was first told that Sir Giles Tumulty wanted to speak to him, but he condescended to answer.

Sir Giles was obscenely abrupt. On condition that he was left alone he would give the Persian a chance of recovering something, if All thought it worth while. Was he to be left alone? The Prince, as abruptly, agreed. Then at Lancaster Gate and wherever the secretary hibernated, were Types of the Stone, if they were wanted.

“But why,” the Prince said curiously, “do you tell me this?”

“What in hell’s name does that matter to you?” Sir Giles asked. “I gave him one when I thought you were after me, just to make you and your company of date-eaters think a bit. But he annoys me, and I’d rather you had it.”

The Prince thought, but did not say, that the Foreign Office would hardly have agreed. Sir Giles had thought of it but he was far too angry with his brother-in-law to care about all the Foreign Offices in Europe.

“Well, there you are,” he said. “I suppose you can hire somebody to do the job.”

“That I will see to,” the Prince said. “If this is true I cannot thank you, but I will at least ignore you.”

“You’ll do what?” Sir Giles almost yelled, but recovered himself and slammed down the receiver. “And I hope they assault the girl and assassinate Arglay,” he thought to himself as he prepared to go out again to Wandsworth.

The exact measures which the Prince took were, not unnaturally, never explained. But by the time that Chloe, after an uneventful day, returned home, they had been carried out. His friend had left London for Brighton and Reginald Montague. He himself was waiting for night.

Chloe and the Chief Justice had — quite seriously — discussed the possibility of attempting to recover all the Types and of escaping with them from England. But neither of them, especially as they grew less and less inclined to use it — or, as Chloe had said — to dictate to it, had been quite prepared to take such extreme measures. Lord Arglay viewed with a certain hesitation the annexation of Sheldrake’s Type, for which after all he had paid and from which he was presumably entitled to get such satisfaction as he legally could. The Mayor of Rich had called to ask the Chief Justice to draw up a public statement and petition on behalf of all the sick, and on the first draft of this Lord Arglay, with a wry smile, had spent some time. Rich, he gathered from the papers, was still in a state of simmering discontent. Oliver Doncaster had called, very uncertain of his behaviour in Chloe’s company, and rather defeated at finding that everything seemed normal. No one alluded to her remark of the previous night, and the Chief Justice being in the room all the time there was no opportunity for him to make the running on the strength of her own behaviour. As, rather gloomily, he departed, Lord Arglay looked at Chloe. “Of course he doesn’t appreciate Giles,” he said.

“But what must he think of me?” Chloe asked despairingly.

“I can’t begin to imagine,” Lord Arglay said. “Nor as a matter of fact can he. You can, but you needn’t at the moment. For I am utterly convinced that Austin — Austin! — never said ‘Attribuat igitur rex legi, quod lex attribuit ei, videlicet dominationern et Potestatem. Non est enim rex ubi dominatur voluntas et non lex.’ Don’t you know the sound of Bracton’s voice, when you hear it? ‘Therefore let the king attribute to the law that which the law attributes to him, namely, domination and power. For where the will rules and not the law is no king.’ You haven’t checked your references, child, and, as a result, you’ve got this whole page of quotations wrong.”

Chloe bit her lips, crossed out the attribution, and plunged back into legal histories.

This unfortunate lapse, the more maddening that it had been a page she had written out some weeks earlier, and before the Stone had preoccupied her mind, was annoying her when she returned that night. For she had rather prided herself on her secretarial efficiency, and Lord Arglay’s quite pleasant, but quite firm, criticism of it distressed almost as much as it pleased her. Almost, because she thought as she took off her hat how much worse it would have been if he had pretended that, because of their friendship, it didn’t matter. “It was,” he had said, “no doubt the prophetic soul of your wide world dreaming on things to come. But don’t let it be dreaming too much about the law-makers who are gone, will you? Or let us be quite clear when it is.” Chloe kicked herself again and made some coffee.

The incident however sent her to bed even more certain of the edge of incapacity and void upon which she dwelt than she normally was. What with Frank Lindsay being angry with her for one thing (and even now she wasn’t clear that she had been right), and Lord Arglay being critical of her for another (and she was quite clear that she had been hopelessly careless), she seemed to herself a sufficiently ineffectual creature. It was true she couldn’t much care whether Frank was angry or not, and didn’t in a sense mind whether Lord Arglay was displeased or not; if the one didn’t understand, well, she couldn’t help it, and of the other she would always be secure no matter how unhappy he might, very properly and rightly, make her. Still, if this was the result of her emotional and intellectual life — merely to annoy everybody! She looked at herself in the glass and wondered as on several other occasions in the last few days what the Hajji had meant by saying ‘that the Name was upon her forehead. The Name of the God in which she and Lord Arglay had decided to believe? What did you do if you had decided to believe in God? So far as her early training served her, she thought you gave up your will to His. Non est enim rex ubi dominatur voluntas — for where the will rules there is no king. But Bracton — damn her stupidity! — had been talking of feudal law, and yet . . . She wandered slowly back and lifted from her handbag the Type of the Stone that she carried, to lay it under her pillow for the night. “The End of Desire . . . the Stone which is between you and me.” You gave up your will, did you? Your will by itself produced pretty poor results, it seemed. Attribuat igitur — let the king attribute to the law . . . But how to find the law? “The Way to the “Stone which is in the Stone.” The Stone, Lord Arglay, God, the End of Desire. Was this then what her absurd childish prayers meant? “Our Father which art in heaven,” she thought, “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”— and what did that mean?

Of course if it all did mean something it was quite easy to believe she hadn’t yet understood, but in that case she wanted, wanted very much, to understand; and very much indeed, with her body and mind and everything else, she desired the End of Desire. Still thinking about it, still trying over to herself the first few phrases of that august ritual of intercession she got into bed, laid the Type of the Stone under her pillow, settled herself to sleep.

Or to think. But bed, as Chloe had on other occasions discovered, is not really a good place in which to try and do both, even sequentially. When she decided that she had thought enough and ought to go to sleep, for fear the next day should find her making a muddle of more quotations, she found it was too late. Bits of her previous thoughts half imaged themselves to her, and disappeared before she could do more than recognize them. She thought of getting up and reading, but she couldn’t think of any book in her rooms which she wanted to read — not even Mr. Ford Madox Ford’s novels or the life of Sir Edward Marshall–Hall (which, a fortnight before, had seemed to her to unite law and interest — Chloe had never quite freed herself from the idea that she ought to read in her leisure something that had a bearing on her work). And now —

She lay very still suddenly. Something, surely something had sounded. Only the door-handle. But it had, ever so faintly clicked. Doors did make noises in the night — but door-handles? She felt hastily round to see if she could remember a door handle clicking. Was there somebody — had somebody come for the Stone? She thrust both hands under her pillow in a panic, and her fingers closed about it. The moonlight came half across the room, alongside her bed; surely no one at least could reach its — and her — head, and the Stone, unseen. She began to strain her eyes towards the foot; then she shut them, in case there was anyone, and that she might be thought asleep; then she partly opened them that she might see what was happening. There was a faint movement somewhere, as if of a breath being loosed, then another silence. Chloe’s right hand grasped the Stone; her left held the bed-clothes tightly.

What, what, if there was anyone there, was she to do? O for Lord Arglay now!

She remembered suddenly, still desperately watching, what he had said, “Come to me”— yes, but how was she to come? O why wouldn’t he come to her? “Come to me.” But how — but of course the Stone. She only had to make use of the Stone and all would be safe. In the thrill of assured safety she all but made a face at the unknown, if there were an unknown. And there was; for one second on the edge of the dark an edge of a finger showed. Something was moving towards her in the night. Well, that was all right; they could go on moving. She had only to will and — She had only to will . . . to use the Stone. In a horror of anguish she understood the choice that was presented to her.

Her thoughts went through her head like Niagara. Lord Arglay had told her but even Lord Arglay didn’t feel like that about the Stone and she had said to Frank she wouldn’t use it if she were starving and what was the man doing and what would he do if she screamed and even if she did perhaps Mrs. Webb wouldn’t come down this time and what could she do if she did? O it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair! How could she use the Stone? yet how could she bear not to if whoever it was came nearer? He was probably trying to see if her hands were empty; well, they weren’t. He won’t know if I’ve got it in my hand or not, she thought. Could she sit up, switch on the light, and with the Stone in her hand dare him to move? No — it was too risky; he’d think of something she wasn’t prepared for and perhaps snatch it from her. Then she would use it; after all she was using it to save it. She was doing for it what it could not do for itself. She was protecting it. Not being a reader of religious history Chloe was ignorant what things have been done in the strength of that plea, or with what passionate anxiety men have struggled to protect the subordination of Omnipotence. But in her despair she rejected what churches and kings and prelates have not rejected; she refused to be deceived, she refused to attempt to be helpful to the God, and being in an agony she prayed more earnestly. The God purged her as she writhed; lucidity entered into her; she turned upon her face, and with both hands beneath her pillow holding the Stone, she lay still, saying only silently in her panting breath: “Thy will, . . . do . . . do if Thou wilt; or”— she imagined the touch of the marauder on the calf of her leg and quivering in every nerve added —“or . . . not.”

In the darkness the Prince Ali almost made a movement of delight. He had got into the house, by the aid of certain hangers-on of the hangers-on of the Embassy; secret service, from which even a minor Embassy is not entirely exempt, sets up connexions which are useful at times, and judicious inquiries that afternoon by a gentleman in search of lodgings had let him know which Chloe’s room was. The actual seizure of the Stone he had not dared to entrust to anyone else, but he had been disturbed to find Chloe still awake. He had reckoned on sleep, darkness, and chloroform, but he had not dared cross the moonlight while she lay awake, for he had some idea of how swiftly the Stone would work and he had no wish to be confronted with an empty bed. Now that she had turned on to her face, however, his opportunity was at hand. He felt very carefully for the chloroformed pad, and at that moment a cloud began gradually to obscure the moonlight. The Prince hesitated and determined to wait for that fuller darkness; while he waited he took out his electric torch with his left hand, and rehearsed his movements. A few quiet steps to the top of the bed, the torchlight on her head, the pad over her mouth. He was practically certain that the Stone would be under her pillow — or perhaps in a bag round her neck; at any rate once she was unconscious he would be able to search at leisure, with the room light on. It would, he felt, have been more satisfactory to his outraged creed to destroy the woman who had done dishonour to the sacred thing even by possessing it, and to avenge upon her the insult offered to his God. But this relief he could hardly allow himself; Allah himself must punish. The moonlight had disappeared; the room lay in darkness, he stepped forward, his finger on the switch of the torch.

When Chloe had heaved herself round with that last movement her heart had been beating wildly, and her breath coming in quick pants. Now as she lay she felt both of them beginning to move more quietly and more largely; she drew long and deep breaths and her heart composed itself to a corresponding rhythm. She still saw before her mental vision the edge of a finger against a darkness, or rather not now the edge but the finger itself, and at its back an indeterminate shape as if it were thrust a little forward from the whole hand; and she realized that it was not the same finger which she had seen a few moments earlier. Between these two palenesses therefore she lay, the one remembered, the other beheld, yet both present, and, almost as if in the uncertainty before sleep, she was vaguely conscious that the two came together and formed one stream of pale but increasing light. From somewhere beyond her, where her hands clasped the Stone, that narrow line of light emerged; she lay within it and it passed through and about, her without hindrance. The more clear it grew to her knowledge, the more clearly within she enunciated the formula she had shaped with such pain and at last unconsciously abandoned the formula itself for the meaning that lay within it.

“Do, or do not,” she silently uttered, and fell even mentally into stillness in order that unhindered that action might or might not take place. The light grew suddenly around her; some encumbrance for a moment touched her mouth and would have interrupted her appeal, had it been vocal; a vibration went through her, as if a note of music had been struck along her whole frame, and far off she heard as it were a single trumpet at the gate of the house of Suleiman with a Prolonged blast saluting the dawn.

The police-constable on his beat outside had come slowly down the road, and from a few yards off saw a dark heap at the door of Mrs. Webb’s house. He broke into a run, bent over it for a minute, then straightened himself, and blew his whistle. It was the body of a man that lay there; they found afterwards that it was burnt as if by lightning and broken as if cast from an immense distance. The constable’s whistle sounded again as if with a prolonged blast saluting the dawn.

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