Many Dimensions, by Charles Williams

Chapter Eighteen

The Process of Organic Law

Cecilia Sheldrake was always, everybody said, extraordinarily kind to her husband, which may have been why he committed suicide some ten years after the vanishing of the Stone. No one quite believed, and very few people understood, what her hints to her intimate, and indeed her less intimate, friends exactly meant; that she and he had possessed some marvellous thing by which anyone could go anywhere, and that, having nearly lost it once in a motor-car, he had shortly afterwards entirely lost it in her drawing-room. She never reproached him, or not after the first year or two, and even then never with the virulence of the first week. They had, people gathered, been looking together at whatever it was — nobody remembered and nobody cared to remember, and then he had mislaid it. At least, for the first year or two he had mislaid it, and after then nobody ever understood quite what he had done with it — sat on it or swallowed it or sold or secreted it, according as it seemed to the hearer most like an egg, a bon-bon, a curiosity, or a jewel. But somehow he had got rid of it, and Cecilia’s life was ruined. As, very justly, it actually was — first, by the discontent which she perpetually nursed, and secondly, by the drastic financial rearrangements which followed on her husband’s suicide.

Mr. Garterr Browne, being unmarried, and having definitely himself preserved the Type which he had had, found himself in the difficult position of having nobody but himself to blame His position therefore was so far worse than Mr. Sheldrake’s and it was for a few months made worse still by his having at odd times to deal with the doctors and scientists whom he had summoned to report on his own substitute for the Stone. Fresh reports kept arriving for quite a long time from scientific men of whom he had never heard, but who (with an indecently unselfish ardour) kept on taking an interest in the remarkable cures at Rich and their relation to the wretched fragment which Mr. Garterr Browne had handed on to his earlier advisers and they had passed to their friends who were interested. Exactly how it was that he and Lord Birlesmere could never afterwards be persuaded to take the same view on any question, not even the Prime Minister, whose Government was twice wrecked, ever properly understood.

Between those two politicians, between Sheldrake and his wife, between Carnegie and Frank Lindsay, there lay continually suspicion, anger, and hatred. Negligent of them and their desires, the Mystery had left them to their desires, and with those companions they lived. For it was not in the nature of the Stone to be forgotten, and even in her village Mrs. Ferguson entertained her friends with the tale of her recovery rather from an unappreciated love of it than because she was as talkative as she seemed.

The Persian Embassy fell silent; Professor Palliser fell silent. Only one event caused a common flicker of satisfaction to rise in the hearts of the professor, the millionaire, the thwarted General Secretary (who never understood what the trouble had been about), and the politicians. That event was the sudden resignation of his office by Lord Arglay.

For in the house at Lancaster Gate Chloe Burnett lay, uncomprehending and semi-paralysed, for a long nine months of silence. On the same day when at Wandsworth the unhappy wreckage of a man passed into death, and his bed lay empty, the wreckage of his saviour was carried to a bed in the Chief Justice’s house. Her mouth was silent, her eyes were blank, and that whole side of her which was not for ever still shook every now and then with uncontrollable tremors. The doctors stated that it was a seizure, a verdict on which only once did Lord Arglay permit himself to say that, whatever it was, it was precisely not that. All the rest of the time he maintained a silence — his secretary had been taken ill while at work, and since apparently she had no relations and no friends with a better claim, and since he felt that it was probably his fault for overworking her, and since the house was large, it was better that she should remain. This was the general interpretation which Lord Arglay allowed to arise. “For if,” he said to the Hajji before the latter returned to Persia, “if we profess that this is the End of Desire, fewer people than ever will want to experience it.”

“Her spirit is in the Resignation,” the Hajji said.

“Quite,” Lord Arglay answered. “So, you may have seen by this morning’s paper, is mine. As entirely, but in another sphere.”

“Did you not hold,” the Hajji asked, “that your office was also of the Stone?”

“I have believed it,” Lord Arglay answered, “but for one thing I will not now make that office a personal quarrel between these men and myself, though I think that otherwise even the Government would find it difficult to turn me out. But the Law is greater than the servants of the Law, and shall I make the Law a privy garden for my own pride? Also since this child has come to such an end I will have none but myself, so far as is possible, be her servant for the rest of her time.”

“I do not understand your mind,” Ibrahim said. “Have you known and seen these things and yet you do not believe in the Stone?”

“Who said I did not believe?” Lord Arglay asked. “I believe that certain things have emerged from illusion, and one of them I have resigned for its sake and the other I will watch for hers.”

“You are a strange man,” the Hajji said. “Farewell then, for I suppose you will never be in Persia.”

“Do not despise us too much,” Lord Arglay said. “It is our habit here to mock at what we love and contemn what we desire, and that habit has given us poets and lawgivers and saints. Good-bye, Hajji.”

“The Mercy of the Compassionate be with you,” the Hajji said.

“And even in that, for a reason, I will believe,” Lord Arglay answered, and so they parted.

To Frank Lindsay Arglay sent a short note, saying nothing of the Stone but only that Miss Burnett had suffered from — he paused and with a wry smile wrote — a seizure, that she remained at Lancaster Gate, and that he would at all times be very happy to see Mr. Lindsay there. Frank however did not come. For a number of days he intended to answer the note, but he could think of nothing to say that seemed adequate. If Chloe wanted to see him, he argued, she would send a special message; it was not his business to intrude. So safeguarding himself from that intrusion he safeguarded himself also from any, and all that he might have known of the conclusion of the Mystery was hidden from him. He passed however a not unsuccessful life in his profession, and the only intruder he found himself unable to cope with was death.

But every few days through months Oliver Doncaster called and saw Chloe and talked a little with Lord Arglay, and it was to him only that Arglay on a certain day sent a note which read:

“MY DEAR DONCASTER,

“Chloe died yesterday evening. The cremation will be on Thursday. If you could call here about eleven we might go together.

“Yours, C. ARGLAY.”

There had been no change and no warning of that conclusion. Whatever process had been working in her body, since the day when her inner being had been caught with the Stone into the Unity, closed quietly and suddenly. The purgation of her flesh accomplished itself, and it was by apparent chance that Arglay was with her when it ceased. He had paused by the bedside before going to his own room next to hers for the night. As he looked he saw one of those recurrent tremors shake her, but this time it was not confined to one side but swept over the whole body. From head to foot a vibration passed through her; she sighed deeply, and murmured something indistinguishable. So, on the moment, she died.

Arglay saw it and knew it for the end. He made no immediate move until he touched with his fingers the place where the epiphany of the Tetragrammaton had appeared. “Earth to earth,” he said, “but perhaps also justice to justice and the Stone to the Stone.” His hand covered her forehead. “Under the Protection,” he murmured. “Good-bye, child,” and so, his work at an end, left her.

In the car, as they returned from the crematorium, Oliver Doncaster said to him, almost bitterly, “Was it a wise thing to tell her to do it?”

“Why, who can tell?” Lord Arglay answered. “But she sought for wisdom, and what otherwise should such spirits as hers do upon earth?”

“She might have had love and happiness,” the young man said, “and others too. There was always a light about her.”

“Why, so it seemed,” Lord Arglay said, and after a moment’s pause, looking out of the window of the car, he went on. “But who can tell how that light came to be? It is but a few weeks since I gave sentence upon a man before me who had murdered through some sudden jealousy the girl he was to marry. And when, as is the ritual, I asked him if he had anything to say, he cried out that though I might hang him justly, for he confessed his crime, yet that there was a justice against which he had sinned which was greater than I and had already purged him. And though I have never made it my habit to do as some of my brethren do, offering their own moral opinions and the ethical and social rules of their own world, and condemning the guilty by such verbiage as well as by the law, I answered him that this also might be possible and that such a justice might already be fulfilled in him. But if indeed there be any such sovereign justice, may not this child have found a greater thing than either you or I could give her? Could she do more, while she was upon the stepping stones, than smile at the water that ran by her?”

“Must the water always run by?” Oliver said.

“It is its nature, as it was hers to pass over it,” Lord Arglay answered. “And it may be that she has come into the light that was about her and the God in whom we determined to believe.”

At Lancaster Gate he bade Doncaster farewell, came again into his study, and stood still to look round it. His charge was at an end, and for all he could tell there were still before him years of life. Something must be done, and instinctively he looked at the MS. of the Survey of Organic Law which had laid so long neglected, then he walked over and picked it up. The type-written sheets bore in places his own alterations and in places hers. There were sheets of annotations she had typed and sheets of references in her writing. Lord Arglay looked at them, and for a moment it seemed to him an offensive thing that another handwriting should be mixed with theirs. Yet after a moment he smiled: to accept such a ruling would indeed be to go against the whole nature of the Stone and the work they had done together. For here was this lesser work, and if it were worth doing — as it might be — and if without someone to supply necessary detail it would probably not be done — was not this also as much in the nature of organic law as the operation of the Stone? . . .

“Besides,” Lord Arglay said aloud, “in a year’s time, child, I should be finding an excuse. I think I will not find an excuse. The way to the Stone is in the Stone, and I will choose to do this thing rather than to leave it undone or to be driven back to it by the weariness of time.”

He walked across to the telephone, looked at it distastefully, and turned the pages of the directory.

With his hand on the receiver, “Also,” he said, “though the King wrote Ecclesiastes, yet the Courts gave judgement in Jerusalem. This, I suppose, is Ecclesiastes . . . Paddington 84 . . . Is that the Lancaster Typewriting Agency?”

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