Many Dimensions, by Charles Williams

Chapter Four

Vision in the Stone

Lord Arglay spent some part of the same evening in trying to define the process of his thought on organic law and a still larger part in contemplation of the Stone in his possession. The phrase that had most struck him in Chloe’s account of her conversation with Hajji Ibrahim was not, as with her, “the Way to the Stone which is in the Stone,” but the more definite “movement in time and place and thought.” The same question that had struck Sir Giles inevitably occurred to him; if in place, then why not in time? He wondered whether Sir Giles and Palliser, whoever Palliser might be, were making experiments with it that very evening at Birmingham. The difficulty, he thought, was absurdly simple, and consisted merely in the fact of the Stone itself. Supposing you willed to return a year, and to be again in those exact conditions, interior and exterior, in which you had been a year ago — why then, either you would have the Stone with you or you would not. If you had, you were not the same: if you had not, then how did you return, short of living through the intervening period all over again? Lord Arglay shuddered at the possibility. It would be delightful, he thought, to know again the thrill which had gone through him when he had heard of his appointment to the office he held. But to have to go again through all those years of painful appeals, difficult judgements, distressing decisions, which so often meant unhappiness to the innocent — no. Besides — supposing you did. When you reached again this moment you would again return by virtue of the Stone — and so for ever. An infinite series of repetitions of those same few years, a being compelled to grow no older, a consciousness forbidden to expand or to die. So far as Lord Arglay could see five minutes’ return would be fatal; if, now, he willed himself back at the beginning of his meditations necessity would keep him thinking precisely those thoughts through an everlasting sequence. For if you willed yourself back you willed yourself precisely to be without the Stone; otherwise you were not back in the past as the past had truly been. And Lord Arglay had a suspicion that the Stone would be purely logical.

Yes, he thought, but what, in that sense, were the rules of its pure logic? How could you exist in that past again except by virtue of the Stone? if that were not there you yourself could not be there. The thing was a contradiction in terms; you could not be in the past without the Stone yet with the Stone you could not be in the past. Then the Stone could not act in time. But Chloe’s visitor had said it could. And a Stone that could create itself out of itself and could deal as it had dealt with space ought to be able to deal in some way or other with time. For time was the same thing as space, or rather duration was a method of extension — that was elementary. “Extension,” he thought, “I extend myself into — into what? Nothingness; the past is not; it doesn’t exist.” He shook his head; so simple a solution had never appealed to him. Every infinitesimal fraction of a second the whole universe peeled off, so to speak, and passed out of consciousness, except for the extremely blurred pictures of memory, whatever memory might be. Out of existence? that was his difficulty; was it out of existence? He remembered having read somewhere once a fantastic theory that whenever a man made a choice, a real choice — whenever he definitely did one of two things he also did at the same moment the other and brought an entire new universe into being that he might do so. For otherwise an infinite number of potentialities would exist for ever unfulfilled — which, the writer had said, though Lord Arglay had forgotten his reasons, was absurd. It had occasionally consoled him, or at least had appeared to him as a not disagreeable hope, when the Court had rejected an appeal from a sentence of death, to think that at the same time, in a new universe parting from this one as the Stone before him had parted from its original, they had allowed it. In which case a number of Christopher Arglays must exist; the thought almost reduced him to idiocy. But in the same way the past might, even materially, exist; only man was not aware of it, time being, whatever else it was, a necessity of his consciousness. “But because I can only be sequentially conscious,” he argued, “must I hold that what is not communicated to consciousness does not exist? I think in a line — but there is the potentiality of the plane.” This perhaps was what great art was — a momentary apprehension of the plane at a point in the line. The Demeter of Cnidos, the Praying Hands of Dürer, the Ode to a Nightingale, the Ninth Symphony — the sense of vastness in those small things was the vastness of all that had been felt in the present. Would one dare wish to be the Demeter? to be — what? Stone? yes, presumably stone. But stone of an intense significance — to others; but to itself? Agnosticism checked him; no one knew. No one knew whether the Demeter had consciousness, or if so of what kind. Lord Arglay abandoned art and returned to the question of time.

Frankly he was not going to risk perpetual recurrence. He had no intention — his mind chilled suddenly within him as he thought of Giles Tumulty. Would that insane scientist mind risking recurrence — for someone else? If he could find someone who didn’t see the catch, he would risk it quite happily, the Chief Justice thought, and stood up in agitation. Some wretched laboratory assistant, some curator, some charwoman even, anyone who would put that bit of gold on their heads and try to will themselves back ten minutes. If his own thought was right . . . Giles would watch the fellow thinking, doing, being, the same thing for ever. But no — that would involve Sir Giles being there to give him, whoever it might be, the Stone. Only a past Giles though, not the present. The Giles whom the victim knew — there needn’t be a real Giles at all. But then the victim would just disappear — he wouldn’t be there at all. Well, Giles, he knew, would sacrifice anyone in creation just to prove that. And would look, with a grin of pleasure, at the placards announcing a sensational disappearance. In the horror of approaching a conception of real hell Lord Arglay for the first time since his childhood found himself almost believing in God from sheer fright.

He walked about the room. He had meant to try and think out the future but this agony was too much for him. Who was the Palliser Giles was working with? He flung himself at such works of reference as he possessed — a Whitaker, a Who’s Who — and found him. Abel Timothy Palliser, Professor of Relative Psychology at the University of Birmingham, born 1872, educated — and so on, unmarried. Career — and so on. Author of Studies in Hypnotic Consciousness; The Mind as a Function of Approach; the Discontinuous Integer. The titles, in his present state, seemed to Lord Arglay merely sinister. He had a moment’s vision of two men playing with victim after victim. Well, they wouldn’t succeed with him — they didn’t know of Sheldrake — they might trick Reginald, and though Reginald was a besotted idiot, still even Reginald —“Ass,” Lord Arglay said, “they’re in Birmingham,” and immediately went on, “How do I know they’re in Birmingham? They may have taken a late train — but they needn’t take a train! Fool that I am, this thrice infernal Stone will do it for them! O damn the day when that accursed Giles —”

In the middle of the imprecation he stopped and made himself sit down. A small voice within him said “Something must be done about this.” After all, he might be wrong; the Stone might act in time in ways he could not foresee. Or Chloe might have got Hajji Ibrahim’s words wrong. His first impulse was to go to Sir Giles and stop whatever devilry might be taking place. But, short of violence, it would be difficult to stop Tumulty doing whatever he wanted. An alternative was to find out, if he could, exactly what the powers of the Stone were, and the only person who could tell him, so far as he could see, was Hajji Ibrahim. At the moment, Lord Arglay realized, he himself was the passive centre of the whole affair; the Government, the Embassy, Sir Giles, Reginald, all their activities were communicated to him. It might be possible to lay Sir Giles out; on the other hand, Giles was an awkward enemy and might lay him out, and then the confusion would, he thought more or less impartially, be worse. It looked like the Embassy first, and in something under five minutes he was speaking to Hajji Ibrahim on the telephone.

“I am Lord Arglay,” he said. “I wonder, Hajji, if you could spare me ten minutes.”

“I will come at once,” the answer reached him. “You are willing to help us, yes?”

“I am willing to talk to you,” the Chief Justice answered. “You will be round here immediately? Good.”

It took him, however, when the Hajji arrived, more than ten minutes to reach tactfully the two questions he was anxious to have answered. What was the Stone? and what could it do?

“What is it in itself, I mean?” he urged. “Yes, Miss Burnett told me its history — but what is it? Is it a new element?”

“I think it is the First Matter,” the Hajji told him, “from which all things are made — spirits and material things.”

“Spirits?” Arglay said. “But this is matter”; he pressed a finger on the Stone.

“Matter to matter,” Ibrahim answered, “but perhaps mind to mind, and soul to soul. That is why it will do anything you ask it — with all your heart. But you must will truly and sincerely.”

“In the matter of time,” Arglay, after a moment’s meditation, went on, “can it transfer a man from one point to another?”

“Assuredly,” the Hajji said. “But you must remember that the Keepers of the Stone have not for centuries of generations laid hands on it, far less used it for such things. It has been kept in profound seclusion, and now that it is loose I fear greatly for the world. I think this Giles Tumulty has little reverence and few scruples.”

“So do I,” Lord Arglay said grimly. “He has told you that he will multiply it?”

“He has threatened us with the most awful and obscene sacrilege,” the Hajji answered, trying to keep his voice calm. “He has sworn that he will divide the Indivisible for his own ends.”

“But time —” Arglay, returning to his point, laid the problem before the Persian but he got no satisfaction.

“I tell you since the Shah Ismail laid hands on it five hundred years ago no one has desecrated it so,” Ibrahim insisted. “For he perished miserably with all his house. How should I know in what manner the Holy Thing permits itself to be used? Give me the Stone which you have and let us seek the other.”

“Others,” Lord Arglay said. “The affair’s gone farther than you think, Hajji. And it won’t be an easy thing to get it back from Giles without worse trouble.”

“Cannot your Government seize it?” the other asked, but Arglay shook his head.

“To be perfectly frank,” he answered, “I doubt if the Government would go to extremes unless they realized something of its value. And then — I hope for the best — but it’s no use blinking the possibility — then, if they knew its value, they mightn’t very much want to give it back.”

“Ali Khan will raise all the deserts and bazaars against them,” Ibrahim said —“Egypt and Arabia, Africa and Syria and Iraq and Iran and India and beyond.”

“I dare say,” Arglay answered gloomily. “But Ali Khan won’t have the Stone. And if it comes to raising the Government can do a little. Besides, what do you suppose the other Powers would be doing — if the whole of Islam was at war? No, Hajji, I wouldn’t trust the Government so far as to tell them what it can do.”

“I know,” the Hajji answered. “I did but seek for your thought. I have told Ali Khan we shall never recover it by war.”

“What is worrying me,” the Chief Justice went on, “is what devil’s tricks Giles may be playing all this while and what I ought to be doing to stop them.”

“Ask it if you will,” Ibrahim said.

“Eh?” Lord Arglay stared.

“Ask it to illuminate your mind and show you what your brother is doing at this moment. The manuscripts tell us that it moves in the world of thought as in the world of action. Only take care that you are not snared in his thought so that your mind cannot return to itself.”

“If it can do all this,” Arglay said, “cannot it reunite itself and return of its own virtue, if you will it so?”

“No,” the Hajji answered, “for it will do nothing for itself of itself, neither divide nor reunite. One Stone has no power upon its Type unless they are under the will of a single mind. Unless indeed —” He paused.

“Unless —?” Lord Arglay asked.

“Unless anyone should will that it and he should be with the Transcendence,” Ibrahim said in a very low voice. “But I do not know who would dare that; and if he presumed and failed he would be destroyed and the Stone he held would be left in the world where he failed. For the Stone is he, and will go where he goes and no farther. But if he came to the End . . . I do not know; these are very terrible things.”

“And can none of the house of the Keepers,” the Chief Justice asked, “dare to will this thing to save the Stone from its enemies?”

“I have asked that,” Ibrahim answered, “but we know too little and too much. We know we are not worthy, and we do not know what is its will. Ali Khan desires to redeem the Stone for the sake of his Faith and I for the honour of my house, and my brothers in Persia for their glory or their peace, but we dare not bring these things into the Transcendence.”

Lord Arglay was silent again. His mind told him the Persians meaning but his being did not respond to it. Long since he had left these questions aside, unless — as in rare moments he sometimes fantastically hoped — the nature of law was also the nature of God. But if so it was not in the Transcendence but in the order of created things. In a minute or two he brought the talk back to the immediate necessities.

“Do you tell me,” he said, “that I can know what Giles is doing or purposing?”

“The Traditions say so,” Ibrahim answered. “But it is a perilous thing to undertake; for you must sink into the life of thought and you may not easily return.”

“I am a worm and no man,” Lord Arglay said, “but if Giles can catch me in his mental perversities —”

“Take care,” the Hajji interrupted him. “I think it is not your strength that shall save you.”

The Chief Justice suppressed his words but he was conscious that a very strong sense of pride was on tip-toe within him, anxious to defy Giles and all his works. He waited till it had sunk down a little, and said: “What shall I do then? For if any wretched charwoman is being trapped to-night . . . ” It was ridiculous, he thought at the same moment, how his mind kept running on charwomen. Bat he had a vision of some thin, rather harassed, grey-haired female being persuaded to take the Stone and being caught in an everlasting cleaning of some stone corridor. All wrong metaphysically, no doubt, he protested — but possible — no, not possible: no more than sudden passage from place to place or a Stone that divided itself and was yet unchanged.

Ibrahim answered, “You need but take it into your hand and will.”

“And you?” Arglay said. “Will you do it with me?”

The Hajji hesitated. “It is almost sacrilege,” he murmured, “yet it is with a right desire. I dare not use my will, but I may sit by you while you use your own. So much is perhaps not against my oath . . . Under the Protection.” He stretched out his hand. “Take the Stone and let it lay in your palm, and I will put my hand over it, and set your desire to know what Giles Tumulty does and purposes.”

“And for the return?” Arglay asked.

“That is with Allah,” Ibrahim said. “Will you dare it now?”

For all answer the Chief Justice pulled an armchair near and parallel to his visitor’s; then he sat down in it and laid his arm on the arm of the chair. On his palm the Stone rested. Ibrahim laid his own hand lightly over it and so they remained,

Arglay, as he leaned back, formed in his mind, out of the impulse of distaste which grew in it, the image of Giles Tumulty. He suppressed, as quickly as he could, the criticisms of his brother-in-law which he was tempted to make to himself, he compelled them to define the central idea more exactly. Then he released upon that image the anxiety which had possessed him; he made a demand of it and sent it out to compel an answer. The antipathy he always felt grew stronger but it was controlled and directed by his intention; Giles’s mind should lie open to his, he was determined. He felt, but without attending to it, Ibrahim’s hand quiver upon his, as he was still vaguely aware of the chair on which he was sitting. Slowly those details of sensation vanished, and instead he became aware that he was holding, or seemed to be holding, a living thing, a moving, pulsating something which he hated. It was approaching him; he drove his detestation forward to meet it. The sensation of enclosing it in his hand disappeared; physical connection ceased, and he seemed to know as a mental experience alone. Only that experience now existed; he was repelled, yet since nothing but repulsion was to be felt it was that which passionately concerned his whole being. He allowed that repulsion to enter him, but as his spirit seemed to retire before it, so at the same time it overcame and dominated it. There ensued a moment’s balance between those contending forces; they swung equal and then the effort ceased. His mind was aware of an ordered arrangement, as if in the outer world it had been considering the plan of a great city; he concentrated his attention even more strongly, and found himself conscious of an overpowering desire.

But it was a consciousness purely intellectual; the normal confusion of the mind by the emotions was absent. He was not concerned to excuse, justify, or condemn the desire he felt existing; rather he observed it merely. Nor indeed was he at first clear what he was considering, until there shaped itself against the darkness a face, a large, youthful, eager face which was gazing at him with a docile attention. It had red hair, a rather squab nose, a high colour, a weak mouth slightly open, brown and expectant eyes. His mind remarked that it was a face hitherto unseen; it reported at the same time a hatred of the face, combined with a desire to see it hurt and damaged — yet not in mere uselessness but in the process of extracting some personal profit out of its existence and its pain. The face removed itself to a little distance and developed into the whole figure of a young man, a lower middle-class young man, who was speaking. A small, very distant voice floated into his mind. “Yes,” it was saying, “yes, sir; and then?” He heard another strange voice — an older, sharper voice — say, “That’s the whole thing; you understand?” and the rest of his being underwent a sudden spasm of delight.

“Christ Almighty,” Lord Arglay thought suddenly, “this is happening,” and with the momentary distraction the form flickered and seemed to fade. But he made a desperate effort to hold it, and at once a strength flowed out from him. The young man’s figure no longer appeared alone; it was in a room, a long room, with windows, instruments, books, and there was another figure by it. A tall, lean, oldish man, with a sharp anxious face, was standing there, playing with something in his hand. It was one of the Stones — no, it was the Crown itself, and with the sight his mind realized what and where it was. It was looking out, his mind, through Giles Tumulty’s eyes; it was Giles Tumulty’s desire that it knew; it was Giles Tumulty’s experiment that was beginning — and Christopher Arglay’s mind that watched it.

But that mind was so detached that it seemed incapable of staying or hastening the intention that flowed around it; as often as it turned inwards to realize its own separate existence the appearances which it beheld mingled and faded. It was suspended and observant.

Yet, as if on the outskirts of its own nature, it presently found itself observing other thoughts. Much the same argument that Arglay had already gone over flashed through it; scattered phrases —“if he just disappears”—” time and place” —“I wonder what Arglay would say to this”— struck it and passed. The figure of the young man put out its hand and received something from the tall man. Lord Arglay’s mind made an effort forward. “Stop, you fool,” it knew itself thinking, and heard Giles’s voice say, close and loud, “Calm now, quite calm, just make as near an image of what you were doing as you can.”

The alien mind that received those words shuddered with the horror. But the mental habits of so many years befriended it then; it realized, as it felt the pang, that it could do nothing then and there. It must act in its own medium; on the crowd of diabolic curiosities that surged around it, it could produce no effect. “I am here,” Lord Arglay’s mind said to itself, “by my will and the virtue of the Stone. I can do nothing here — nothing. I must return by virtue of the Stone.” It sought to shut out the vision in front of it; it sought to concentrate on itself and to will to know again the vehicle that was natural to it. And even as it did so Lord Arglay heard a voice saying to him: “Have you seen? have you seen?”

He was lying back in his own chair. Beside him Hajji Ibrahim was looking anxiously at him. The Stone? yes, the Stone still lay quietly enough on his palm. Lord Arglay stared at it as if his eyes would never shift. Then very slowly he got to his feet and laid it carefully on the table. As he did so Ibrahim repeated: “Have you seen?”

“Yes,” Lord Arglay said, again slowly. “Yes, I have seen. And if what I have seen is true, and if it is as I fear it may be, I will choke Giles Tumulty’s life out of him myself. Have you seen?”

“I think I slept and dreamed. And in my dream —” the Hajji said, and described the room and the two forms. But he went on —“Also I saw a little brownish man standing by a table, and his eyes were all alight with curiosity and desire. Also I saw,” and he began to tremble, “that they had again divided the Stone; for they did not give the Crown to the youth, but only a Stone. I think they are very evil men.”

“I believe you care more about the division of the Stone than about the harm they may do with it,” Arglay dispassionately said.

“Certainly I do,” the Hajji answered, “for the one is an offence against the Holy One, but the other only against man. He who divides the Unity is a greater sinner than he who makes a mock of his brother.”

“You may be right,” Lord Arglay said, “but of the Unity I know nothing, and of man I know something.” He stamped suddenly with sheer rage. “Why did I return?” he cried out.

“You did wisely,” the Hajji said, “for you had not gone to fight his will but to observe it. You will not find it easy, I know now, to break Giles Tumulty’s will, and you could not have done it in that way. Consider that, if what you fear has happened, this young man’s mind will not perhaps suffer so much, for in the very nature of things he will not know that he is living but that one period of past time over and over again, until the day when the End of Desire shall come indeed; nay, for all we know, he may be saved from many evils so.”

“He may be saved from what you will,” Lord Arglay said, and his face set as he spoke, “but no human being shall be turned into an automaton at the will of Giles Tumulty while I am living and sane.”

There was a short silence, then Arglay went on. “But you are so far right that we do not know what arrangements Giles has made, nor what the end of this experiment of his may be. And till we know where the Types of the Stone all are — if that is what you call them — we must move slowly. To-morrow I will go to the Foreign Office again, and after that we will talk with one another further.”

The Hajji stood up. “The Peace be upon you,” he said.

“It will be a peace that passeth all understanding then,” the Chief Justice answered, and took him to the door.

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