The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams

Chapter Fourteen

The Hunting Of Quentin

Damaris, on that Monday morning, was conscious as she ate her breakfast of one surprising truth. She had, as a matter of fact, almost finished before the consciousness of it came upon her, though the fact itself had been with her since she woke. She sat staring at the last bit of toast on her plate, as she realized that, very surprisingly, she wasn’t worrying. Until that moment it had never seemed to her that she did worry very much; other things worried her, but that was different. It was not she who fretted; it was she who was fretted. It occurred to her suddenly that of all the follies of which she had been guilty, and they seemed to have been many and stupendous, none had ever been greater than that. She had always regarded herself as an unchangeable fact, attacked and besieged by a troublesome world. But she could as easily be, indeed at the moment she was, a changeable fact, beautifully concerned with a troubled world. She had been worrying all her life about herself, and now she wasn’t worrying any more. It was not perhaps possible for her then to realize that this was because she herself didn’t — for the moment — exist for herself. There being for Damaris — in that moment — no Damaris, there was no Damaris for Damaris to worry about. However soon that lucid integrity might become clouded and that renewed innocence inevitably stained, it did then exist. All this she did not perhaps realize, but she did definitely feel the marvellous release. She still wanted to get on with her work — if she could, if she could approach it with this new sense that her subjects were less important than her subjects’ subject, that her arrangements were very tentative presentations of the experiences of great minds and souls. But work was less important than her immediate task. She ate the toast and stood up pensively. Here she was, abandoning Abelard — Abelard . . . the word had a new sound. She saw the brilliant young tonsured clerk, the crowds in the growing University, the developing intellect and culture; she felt the rush and tumult — almost physically she felt it — of the students pouring to hear him, because they were burning to listen, to learn, to . . . to learn. Damaris twiddled a fork on the table, and felt herself blushing. “The credulous piety . . . ” She bit her lip. No, Abelard, St. Bernard, St. Thomas — no, they were not merely the highest form in a school of which she was the district inspector. No, intellect might make patterns, but itself it was a burning passion, a passion stronger even than that other love of Peter Abelard for Heloise, the Canon’s niece, which had always seemed to her a pity — a pity not merely for Abelard himself but in general. To learn. Well, she wasn’t past learning, thank God. If it had all got to be redone, it should be redone. Anything should be done that fitted in with Anthony and the sunlight and freedom from worry and that stranger thing which she dimly realized had been the central desire of centuries of labour. But tomorrow. To-day there was Quentin.

She went into the kitchen and made herself some sandwiches, considerably to the maid’s astonishment. She even attempted a little conversation, but she was feeling so shy that it was not altogether a success. The maid, she realized, was very much on her guard. That was the kind of world that Damaris Tighe had hitherto insisted on making all round her, a world where people were watchful and hostile. She looked at it humbly while she finished the sandwiches; then she went upstairs to her father.

He hadn’t come down to breakfast for the last two days, and the tray that had been taken up to him stood on a table by the bed. But it was with a shock that she realized that he had not even undressed. He had laid down the night before, and though she called out good night to him she had not gone in. For here again was the opposition she had created, and she felt shy and distressed about it. But not worried — not nearly as worried over this far more serious thing as she had been so lately about his apparent disturbance of her work. Or what she chose to think a disturbance. No, not worried. If this also had to be done again, well, it had to be done, that was all. There seemed to be quite a lot that looked like having to be done over again. Everything perhaps except — she realized it as she crossed the room — except Anthony. But she had treated Anthony as she had these others. Well, it was a pity, but something was present there which touched even that iniquity with laughter and holy delight and sweet irony, so that — if Anthony would — they might smile at it together. In a delicate gratitude she came to her father.

He was lying with his eyes shut, motionless. The breakfast tray was untouched. She leaned over him, touched him, spoke to him, and very slowly he opened his eyes, but they did not seem to see her. They did not seem to see anything; their vision was awfully withdrawn. Damaris sank down by the bed, looking at him in fear, but it was with nothing of the same fear as she had experienced on the previous night. She was in the presence of some process which she did not understand, and of which she stood in awe, but she was not merely afraid of it. “Father,” she said softly, and a flicker of recognition came into his eyes. He moved his lips; she leant nearer. “Glory,” he said, “glory,” and ceased. “Can I do anything?” she asked still softly, and added with a rush of willingness to serve, “anything at all?” He moved his hand a little and she took it in her own; after a little he said, and she only just caught the words: “You weren’t hurt?”

“Not much,” she answered. “You and Anthony helped me.” There was another long pause, then he uttered —“Not me; Anthony knows. — I saw he knew — when he came. — I don’t know — much. Only — this. You’ll go — your way.”

“I shall go,” she said, and as she spoke she saw him for what seemed the first time. The absurd little man, of whom she had been ashamed, with whom she had been so irritated, on whom she had so often loosed her disguised contempt, was transfigured. He became beautiful before her; he lay there, in all his ridiculous modern clothes, and neither he nor they were at all ridiculous. The colours and tints harmonized perfectly; the slight movements he made were exquisitely proportioned and gracious; the worship that glowed full in his eyes lifted him into the company of the gods he seemed to see. Beauty adored beauty; and lay absorbed in its contemplation. Tears came into her eyes as, from a great distance, she looked at that transfiguration. He was upon his way, and she must follow hers. She felt the call within her; if she could not serve him then she must do what she could do. There was another in greater need, and salvation must be communicated or it would be lost. She might, the day before, have left him as she was about to leave him now, but then it would have been in order, grudging him even those few minutes of attention, to dash back to herself. She thought of it and was ashamed; very faintly there came to her upon the air the slightest memory of the odour of corruption. She kissed him and stood up. He smiled a little, and murmured: “Don’t — get hurt — good-bye.” She kissed him again, pressed his hand, saw his eyes again close, and went.

It occurred to her, as she changed her shoes, that the maid would think she certainly ought to stop at home. Damaris shook her head helplessly: that, she supposed, was the maid’s business. She could hardly expect to have the most favourable construction put on her own words and actions, but what had got to be done had got to be. Anyhow, in this case the maid was wrong. Standing up, Damaris realized that interpretations nearly always are wrong; interpretations in the nature of things being peculiarly personal and limited. The act was personal but infinite, the reasoned meaning was personal and finite. Interpretation of infinity by the finite was pretty certain to be wrong. The thought threw a light on her occupation with philosophies. Philosophy to Plato, to Abelard, to St. Thomas, was an act — the love of wisdom; to her —

But all that was to come. Love or wisdom, her act awaited her. She ran lightly down the stairs.

Neither love nor wisdom had suggested either to her or to Anthony when they had been talking whereabouts in the neighbourhood Quentin was likely to be found. Both of them indeed realized that he might not be in the neighbourhood at all. Only then, if his brain were still functioning he would probably make for the rooms in London; and if not, if fright had possessed him entirely, well, then, he might be anywhere. He might, of course, be dead, overwhelmed by the strength of the Lion, or driven by his fear to destruction. But this Anthony had doubted, on what seemed to Damaris the perfectly satisfactory grounds that, if Quentin were dead, he himself would not still feel the necessity of finding him. “It’s more important even than he is,” Anthony had said, frowning, “or let’s say as important. There are two things muddled up — Quentin’s one, and I’m not clear what the other is. But we shall be.”

“We?” she asked.

“We,” he answered. “Darling, that’s why — that’s partly why — I think you’re right to go.”

On the whole, then, Damaris saw no better idea than to go out to where she had had her first encounter with the young man, and then — then go whichever way suggested itself. She swung along, keeping a sharp look-out as she went; but within her her soul kept another watch, and her eyes, as they searched the hedges, were prepared both for Quentin and for some other sight. She could not tell whether the incredible visions that had manifested would show themselves to her; she did not desire but neither would she avoid them. She permitted herself to savour, to enjoy, the sensation of trust and dependence, and was astonished to find how comforting it was. It was quite impossible for her to balance and equate great Ideas, but if there were among them one whose nature was precisely that balance and therefore the freedom of assured movement, then she would give herself to it, whether in looking up references about Pythagoras or looking out for Quentin along country roads. The one thing she had no longer to do was to look after herself. There was something that knew — that was philosophy. Philosophy, then, she mused as she went along, was not so much an act as a being, and it was upon those eagle wings that all her masters had travelled. And Sophia itself — Holy Wisdom — but she was content not to inquire more; she would find that out when she had practised loving it a little longer. She had wasted a lot of time, she thought, and found herself whistling softly as her mind recalled the headings of her papers —The Eidola and the Angeli, Platonic Tradition at the Court of Charlemagne—“Damaristic tradition at the Court of Damaris”— she laughed out. How right Anthony had been!

She had come to Saturday’s meeting-place. There was the stile; there was the ditch; there she had gone sprawling. In a sudden appreciation she went round to the exact spot where Quentin had pulled her down, and stepping into the ditch sat down where she had fallen. Quentin in his wildness had yet kept some thought for others; he had wished to help her because she was his friend’s friend — because she was Anthony’s girl. Well, if Anthony’s girl could now be any use to him, who in his madness had been greater than she in her sanity, here she was! She sat for a moment attentive, then she sprang to her feet. Far and fast there came to her the sound of something galloping. That sound had echoed through her last night when Anthony came to her, and now she heard it again. She ran up to the stile, looked all round, saw nothing, and jumped up the step to see better. At a good distance away, down the steep slope beneath her, she saw The Joinings. Her eyes dwelled on it thoughtfully, and then very high in the air above it she saw again such a shape as had sat on Anthony’s shoulder when he came to her, exalted in the secure knowledge of its nature over the offices of its peers — the idea of wisdom, the image of philosophy, the temporal extension of divine science. She stood gazing, and forgetful of her immediate business; and she was taught her duty on the instant. In the old unhappy days she had been left to herself — loving herself she was abandoned to herself. But in loving others, or seeking to love others, the great Angelicals took her in their charge. The noise of hooves rang on the road behind her; a terrible blow, as she turned, caught her shoulder and sent her flying into the hedge, and as she fell she saw a form which seemed like a silver horse, but of whose nature Richardson could have told her truer things, go galloping across the field. “Idiot!” she exclaimed cheerfully to herself, then, bruised, scratched, and aching, scrambled up, back to the stile and over it. She would follow as far as she could; perhaps this was a guide, and if not, then as well this way as any other. But how stupid of her, she thought as she tried to run, to be caught gaping like that when she had a job to do. They were a little severe, these new masters of hers. Anthony had told her of the sudden stab in his side that had warned him to be silent, and she supposed the bruise on her shoulder was to teach her to be alert. No doubt she needed it. Certainly there had been an invasion of the court of Damaris, and it was no easy conqueror that sat upon her relinquished throne.

She jumped over another stile, came into a wide meadow, and paused. The galloping form had vanished. And now what? The question was answered almost before she had framed it. There were running along the farther edge of the meadow, two figures — the first certainly a man; the second — the second a man too, she supposed, only she couldn’t make out whether it were going on two feet or four; sometimes one and sometimes the other, it seemed. But that didn’t matter; it was the first figure to which she looked, for she knew within her that it was Quentin.

She began to run towards them across the meadow, forgetting her shoulder. It was an empty meadow, at least almost empty: there was a single white splodge, a sheep or a lamb or something in the middle, moving gently about. But the two figures were running much quicker than she could; she paused, anxiously waiting to see which way they would go. If there were a gate at the bottom. . . . But apparently there was not; for Quentin turned at the corner and came driving up the side. There was, she could see, no way out from that point till he reached the stile by which she had entered; she went back to it, and waited. They were going terribly fast, both of them, and as they drew nearer she stared at them in horror and pity, though not — no, never again — in fear. For Quentin, though he was running, had already passed, it seemed to her, any state in which a man could be, and live. He was almost naked, he was torn and bleeding all over, especially his feet, which appeared to her no longer feet but broken and shapeless masses of bloody flesh. His arms were tossing frenziedly, his hands dangling from them as they were flung about; his face was inhuman with terror and anguish. The dreadful noise that came to her as he drew near was his breath wrenched from the very extreme of existence; his eyes were sightless, and one cheek was horribly bitten and gnawed. She ran out to meet him, tears on her face for very distress of love, and held out her hands, and called him by both his names: “Quentin! Quentin! Mr. Sabot! Quentin!” He did not hear or see her; he rushed on, past her, past the stile, round the meadow; and while she cried to him the second form was near her. It too was going swiftly; but it still seemed to be rather leaping than running. Its clothing also was part gone and part disordered; but its boots were on its feet, and its arms not tossing but held close to it, with crooked fingers. The face was as inhuman as that other, but while that was man blasted this was man brutalized.

It was a snarling animal, and it was snuffling and snorting with open mouth. Yet she had a dreadful feeling of recognition; she could find no name for it, but somewhere it had had a name, somewhere in her own past it also had had a past, and that past was appallingly kindred to the horror she had seen on the evening before. All this she took in as it came up to her, and sprang forward, greatly adventuring, to check or distract or fight it. Vainly; as she moved a wind poured from its passage and flung her backward till she reeled against the stile. There was strength in and about the man, if it were a man, that drove her from him; or the beast, if it were a beast, for as again she went forward and looked after him, he had lost his upright position, and was leaping clumsily forward, if not actually on all fours, yet so bent and thrust forward that he seemed altogether more animal than human. She ran out into the meadow, and paused; the chase was now going down the fourth side. Since she could not prevent the pursuit she might perhaps aid the pursued. But how? how?

Willing to do all but uncertain what to do, she watched, and then became aware of some other thing in her line of vision. It was the solitary lamb that was gently moving towards her, gently and slowly. She looked at it, and across the meadow there passed suddenly the shadow of the flying eagle, cast over her and proceeding from her towards the lamb. Moved by a quick hope she followed it; the beast, more slowly, advanced to meet her. They came together, and the innocence that sprang in her knew a greater innocence and harmlessness in it; she dropped to her knees, and put a hand on its back. So kneeling, she looked again at that terrible hunt, which, though she did not then know it, had already been going on for several hours. It had been close after midnight when, wandering out of the town upon his greedy pursuit of prey, the creature that had been Foster had startled Quentin from uneasy sleep in the bracken, had scented and trailed him, and once, when Quentin had stumbled and fallen, had come up with and worried him. But the extreme madness of fear had given Quentin strength enough to make one wild struggle, and he had escaped. After that, through the night and the dawn and the early morning, the hunt had gone on, through lanes and woods and fields, now swiftly, now slowly. Sometimes after crossing a small river or among thick trees the driven wretch had had a few minutes respite, but always sooner or later the inevitable snuffling and trampling had drawn near, and again the flight had begun. Quentin now was beginning to run merely round and round; only as he fled along the meadow side once more, something came crying to what function of his brain was left. Damaris, kneeling by the lamb, went on calling — calling one name alone, steadily, clearly, entreatingly —“Quentin! Quentin! Quentin!” She saw his head turn a little, and renewed her effort. He wavered; the creature behind was almost on him. He broke inward across the meadow, and still the voice of Damaris sounded to guide him, though what she was to do when he came she did not know. He came; he was with them; right before her he flung his arms wide once more and fell, and she threw herself forward over his body to protect and guard it with her own. At the feet of the lamb they lay, and the pursuing creature gave vent to something that was both laugh and snarl, and paused, and very softly began to creep round them before he sprang. Damaris thought of several things at once — Anthony and the Eagle and her father, but all of them vanished in the flood of simplicity that suddenly took her. For some reason she knew assuredly that the thing would not hurt her; its hate and its power divided and passed round her. She leaned over Quentin, looking into his sightless eyes, searching him with no purpose but to find what secret of life still throve in him and, for what she could, to nourish it. And by them both, frisking in the sunlight, the lamb jumped and ran and rested and gave itself up to joy.

The other creature continued its uneasy perambulation. As it went circling round them it uttered little noises of effort and pain. Sometimes it made a sudden abrupt rush inward, but every rush was diverted from its intended prey; it was, against its will, drawn aside, and thrust back into its own path. The lamb took no notice of it whatever; Damaris glanced up at it occasionally, but with a serene absent-mindedness; Quentin lay still, his hand in the woman’s, while with her other she tried, with her handkerchief and a fragment torn from her dress, to wipe away the drying blood from his face. But suddenly there pierced through this passion of goodwill a long and dreadful howl. She looked up. The thing that had pursued them was farther away, and was, apparently by some interior power, being drawn still farther. It was retreating, slowly and grotesquely, and she saw as she looked that under it the grass was all leaning one way as if blown by a wind. With that wind the creature was struggling; it was lifted a little, and hung absurdly in the air, an inch or two off the ground, then it fell and sprawled full length and twisted and howled. She looked over her shoulder; the lamb was cropping the grass. She looked at Quentin; repose was coming back into his face, and with it that beauty of innocence which is seen in unhappy mankind only in sleep and death and love and transmuting sanctity — the place of the lamb in the place of the lion.

Within that farther place Damaris rested. But without, that which had once been the intelligent and respected Mr. Foster struggled to control the strength which he could no longer control. For a few days he had, even with the Idea, exercised some kind of domination upon the Idea, but as the earth, and he with it, slipped more deeply into that other state of being, his poor personal desire could no longer govern or separate. That which was in him rushed to mingle with that which was without. The power of the Lion came upon him in a great wind, and the breath of his spirit fled to meet it. Strangled and twisted, he was lifted and carried on the wind; he was flung into the air and carelessly dropped back on to the earth. As he fell for that last time he saw the Lion upon him. The giant head loomed over him; the great paw struck his chest and thrust him down. Immense pressure enclosed and crushed him; in a dreadful pain he ceased to be.

Damaris, glancing up with a start of recollection from the Lamb and Quentin, looked round for their enemy. It was not for some minutes that she saw, away in the meadow, crushed and trodden flat, and driven by that treading right into the earth, the body of a man.

Even then it was to her no more than fact. She stood up and looked again to be certain, then she turned her perplexed attention to Quentin. It was by no means clear to her that if she left him he would not go rushing off again, yet she could not get him to the town without help. She paused uncertainly; then she decided at least to try. She bent down and slipped her arm under his shoulders; with something of an effort she half raised him.

He seemed to be vaguely conscious; murmuring encouragement she got him to his feet, and, moving very slowly, managed to make him take an uncertain step forward. It pierced her heart to persist in his using those terrible bleeding feet; she had drawn one arm over her shoulders, and as much as possible relieved them of his weight. Even so the pain troubled his wandering mind, and his body moaned under its suffering. But this she had to ignore. Very, very slowly, they crossed the meadow and reached the stile, and as they did so he came to himself enough to understand something of what was happening. So concentrated was she on this concern that she did not notice the blaze that broke out from the house in the distance below; she had to get him over the stile.

It was by then midday. She would have left him then, had she dared and could she, to find some car, but he would not let her go. Her efforts at explanation he understood but rejected; she was to keep with him, he made clear, and he would do his best to get along. So, all through that long hot afternoon, both the man and the woman retraced their steps along the hard country road — Quentin from his flight, Damaris from her seclusion — and came at last to the house where, as twilight began to fall, her father drew his last breath in final surrender to the beauty that had possessed him.

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