The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams

Chapter Sixteen

The Naming Of The Beasts

The railway station at Smetham lay some half-mile out of the actual town, though it was connected by a row of houses and shops. The staff, therefore, though they soon heard whispers of strange things in the town, were still at work when Anthony, late in the evening, returned. He had spent the afternoon at his rooms in solitude and meditation and had then, rather to his own surprise, determined suddenly to go and have a good dinner. After this he had made his way to King’s Cross, and got out of the train at Smetham about half-past nine. His room at the hotel was still kept for him, but he wanted first of all to see Damaris. From the station, however, he telephoned to the hotel to know if there were any messages. He was told that a gentleman was at that very moment waiting for him.

“Ask the gentleman to speak,” Anthony said, and in a minute heard Richardson’s voice.

“Hallo,” it said. “That you, Durrant?”

“Rather,” Anthony answered. “How are things with you?”

“I don’t know that they are,” the voice said. “Things, I mean. There seem a good many fewer, and anyhow I want to push one of them off on to you.”

“Sweet of you,” said Anthony cheerfully. “What particular?”

“I don’t quite know,” Richardson said, “what may happen, though I know what, by God’s extreme mercy, I hope. But there’s this book of Berringer’s — you know, Marcellus noster— it seems the kind of thing that might be more useful to you than to me, if anyone comes at all . . . ”

“O we’re all coming through,” Anthony interrupted. “Business as usual. Premises will be reopened tomorrow with improvements of all kinds. But not, I fear, under entirely new management. The old isn’t better, but it can’t be shifted yet.”

“Can’t it?” the other voice said, grimly. “Well, never mind. You think things will be restored, do you?”

“The way of the world,” Anthony said. “We shall jolly well have to go on making the best of both. ‘Vague half-believers’— not but what Arnold himself was a bit vague.”

“O stop this cultural chat,” Richardson broke in, but not ill-naturedly. “I want to give you this book.”

“But why?” Anthony asked. “Wasn’t it you it was lent to?”

“It was,” Richardson said, “but I have to be about my Father’s business, and it’s the only thing I’ve got that I ought to do anything with. Where are you? And what are you doing?”

“I’m at the station,” Anthony told him, “and I’m going straight to Miss Tighe. You might come and meet me, if you’ve time. Where is the necessity taking you?”

There was a brief silence as if Richardson was considering; then he said, “Very well, I will. Don’t walk too quickly. I’m in rather a hurry and I don’t want to miss you.”

“Right,” said Anthony. “I’ll walk like a — like the opposite of the Divine Horse till I see you. Unless the necessity drives me.” And he hung up.

That strange impulse however, to which in the serious and gay humour that possessed him he had given the name of the necessity, allowed him to wander slowly down the station road, till he saw Richardson walking swiftly along to meet him; then he quickened his own steps. They looked at each other curiously.

“And so,” Richardson said at last, “you think that the common things will return?”

“I’m quite certain of it,” Anthony said. “Won’t He have mercy on all that He’s made?”

The other shook his head, and then suddenly smiled. “Well, if you and they like it that way, there’s no more to be said,” he answered. “Myself, I think you’re only wasting time on the images.”

“Well, who made the images?” Anthony asked. “You sound like a medieval monk commenting on marriage. Don’t be so stuck-up over your old way, whatever it is. What actually is it?”

Richardson pointed to the sky. “Do you see the light of that fire?” he asked. “Yes, there. Berringer’s house has been burning all day.”

“I know, I saw it.”

“I’m going out there,” Richardson said and stopped.

“But — I’m not saying you’re wrong — but why?” Anthony asked: “Isn’t fire an image too?”

“That perhaps,” the other answered. “But all this —” he touched his clothes and himself, and his eyes grew dark with a sudden passion of desire —“has to go somehow; and if the fire that will destroy the world is here already, it isn’t I that will keep from it.”

Anthony looked at him a little ruefully. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’d hoped we might have talked more. And — you know best — but you’re quite sure you’re right? I can’t see but what the images have their place. Ex umbris perhaps, but the noon has to drive the shadows away naturally, hasn’t it?”

The other shrugged. “O I know,” he said. “It’s all been argued a hundred times, Jensenist and Jesuit, the monk and the married man, mystic and sacramentalist. But all I know is that I must make for the End when and as soon as I see it. Perhaps that’s why I am alone. But since that’s so — I’d like you, if you will, and if restoration comes, to give this book back to Berringer if he’s alive, and to keep it if he isn’t. What,” he added, “what you call alive.”

Anthony took the little parcel. “I will do it,” he said. “But I only call it alive because the images must communicate, and communication is such a jolly thing. However, I’m keeping you and I mustn’t do that . . . as we sacramentalists say.”

They shook hands. Then Anthony broke out again. “I do wish you weren’t — No; no, I don’t. Go with God.”

“Go with God,” the other’s more sombre voice answered. They stood for a moment, then they stepped apart, their hands went up in mutual courteous farewell, and they went their separate ways.

No-one saw the young bookseller’s assistant again; no-one thought of him, except his employer and his landlady, and each of them, grumbling first, afterwards filled his place and forgot him. Alone and unnoticed he went along the country road to his secret end. Only Anthony, as he went swiftly to Damaris, commended the other’s soul to the Maker and Destroyer of images.

Damaris herself opened the door to him when he came. She was about to speak when he prevented her by saying happily: “So you found him?” “He’s asleep upstairs now,” she answered. “And you?” He pulled her closer to him. “Why, that I’ll tell you presently,” he said. “Tell me first. How beautifully you seem to do your job!”

“The doctor’s here,” she said. “I managed to get him round earlier in the day, and he said he’d come again before night. Come and see him.”

“Is it Rockbotham?” Anthony asked, moving with her up the stairs. “He’s a good creature.”

“I used to think he was rather a dull sort of fool,” Damaris said. “But today he was quite strong and wise. O Anthony”— she checked at the door of the bedroom —“don’t hate me, will you?”

“When I hate you,” he answered, “the place of the angels will be desolate and our necessity will forget itself.”

“What is our necessity?” she asked, looking up at him as they passed.

“It’s just to be, I suppose,” Anthony answered slowly. “I mean, the simpler one is the nearer one is to loving. If the pattern’s arranged in me, what can I do but let myself be the pattern? I can see to it that I don’t hate, but after that Love must do his own business. But let’s go on now, may we? And talk of this another day.”

“Tell me just one thing first,” Damaris said. “Do you think — I’ve been wondering this afternoon — do you think it’s wrong of me to work at Abelard?”

“Darling, how can intelligence be wrong?” he answered. “I should think you knew more about him than anyone else in the world, and it’s a perfectly sound idea to make a beautiful thing of what you know. So long as you don’t neglect me in order to do it.”

“And is that being impersonal?” she mocked him.

“Why, yes,” he said, “for that’s your job too. And all your job is impersonal and one. Or personal and one — it doesn’t matter which you say. They’re only debating words really. Come on, let’s go in.”

As Anthony looked at Dr. Rockbotham he felt that Damaris was right. The first glance had been for his friend, but Quentin seemed to be sleeping quietly, and the doctor was on the point of coming towards the door. He had never been a particularly notable figure until now, but now indeed, in the hackneyed but convincing phrase, Anthony saw him for the first time. The lines of his face were unaltered, but it was moulded in a great strength and confidence; the eyes were deep and wise; the mouth closed firmly as if on the oath of Hippocrates — the seal of silence and the knowledge of discretion. “Aesculapius,” Anthony thought to himself, and remembered the snake that was the symbol of Aesculapius. “We sneer at medicine,” he thought, “but after all we do know more — not much, but a little. We sneer at progress, but we do, in a way, progress; the gods haven’t abandoned man.” For a moment he dreamed of a white-robed bearded figure, with a great serpent coiled by him, where in some remote temple of Epidaurus or Pergamus the child of Phoebus Apollo laboured to heal men by the art that he had learned from the two-formed Cheiron, the master of herbs. Zeus had destroyed him by lightning at last, since by his wisdom the dead were recalled to life, and the sacred order of the world was in danger of being broken. But the serpent-wreathed rod was still outstretched and still the servants of the art were sent out by their father on missions of health. He shook hands gravely, as if in ritual.

“I think he’ll do very well,” the doctor was saying, and the vowels of the simple words came to Anthony’s ears heavy with the harmonies of Greek. “Exhaustion — absolute exhaustion: he must have been struck by a kind of panic. But sleep, and quiet, and food, will put him right. The proper kind of food.”

“Ah that!” Anthony exclaimed.

“But whether you can manage him here for a day or two,” the doctor went on to Damaris, “in the circumstances. He could of course be moved —”

“I don’t think there’s any need,” she answered, and then in answer to Anthony’s eyebrows, “My father died this afternoon.”

Anthony nodded; it was no more than he had expected.

“There isn’t any need to sit up with him,” the doctor went on, “and twenty-four hours’ entire rest would make a great difference. Still, it’s perhaps rather hard on you, Miss Tighe —”

Damaris put out her hand. “Ah, no!” she said. “Certainly he must be here. He is Anthony’s friend and mine. I am very, very glad he is here,” and her other hand caught Anthony’s and with an intense pressure told him all that that sentence meant of restoration and joy. After a little more conversation the doctor went, and Damaris and Anthony looked at each other in the hall.

“I won’t say I’m sorry about your father,” he said. “I think he had ended his business,” and as she smiled in a profound assent, he went on, “and now I must get on with mine.”

She looked at him anxiously, but said nothing for a minute, while he waited: then she asked, “You will let me come — wherever it is?”

“Come,” he said, and held out his hand, and so without any delay they went out of the front door and along the street together. The town was caught in the terror; the street lay empty before them. A profound stillness was all round them, except that in some house near at hand a baby was wailing. The sound was the only audible sign of humanity; it was humanity. All man’s courage and knowledge came to this in the end — Damaris, listening, remembered having read somewhere that the god who had given his name to the building which was the home of the greatest bishop in the world, the centre of the Roman Church, the shrine (it was said) of infallible authority, was Vaticanus, and the office of Vaticanus was to preside over the new-born child’s first cry. That was all; that was all that the Vatican itself could do, and all that the Vatican held. Here the spirit of man could but reach that far — and as she pondered it, the thunder crashed out again. What she had called thunder, but it was clearer now; it was the roar of a living creature. She heard it, and heard it answered. At her side Anthony had paused, thrown up his head, and sent out another cry upon the night. It was an incomprehensible call, and it broke out right in the midst of that other reverberating roar and checked and silenced it. It was a sound as of a single word, but not English, nor Latin, nor Greek. Hebrew it might have been or something older than Hebrew, some incantation whereby the prediluvian magicians had controlled contentions among spirits or the language in which our father Adam named the beasts of the garden. The roar ceased on the moment, and then as at Anthony’s movement they began again to walk on, there rose about them a little breeze. It was very light, hardly more than a ruffling of the air, but it stirred her hair, and breathed on her face, and even gently shook the light silk sleeves of her frock. She stole a glance at Anthony, and met his eyes. He was smiling and she broke into an answering smile. But it was not until they had gone some way farther that she spoke.

“Where are we going?” she said.

“I think we are going to the field where you found Quentin,” he answered. “Do you remember what you saw there?”

She nodded. “And —?” she said, waiting for him to go on. But he did not, only after some minutes he said softly, “It was good of you to look for Quentin.”

“Good!” she exclaimed. “Good! O Anthony!”

“Well, so it was,” he answered. “Or good in you. How accurate one has to be with one’s prepositions! Perhaps it was a preposition wrong that set the whole world awry.”

“It was,” she said, “a preposition that helped to divide the Church.”

“Sweetest of theologians,” he answered, “I will make it my chief business always to be accurate in my prepositions about you. It shall be good in you always, and good of you never.”

“Not even for a treat?” she asked.

“O for a treat,” he answered, “you shall be the good in itself, the rose-garden of the saints. Will you meet me there tomorrow evening?”

“So soon?” she said. “Will the saints expect me?”

“Image of sanctity,” he answered, “they will look in you as a mirror to see the glory of God that is about them, by so much will your soul be clearer than theirs.”

“I suppose that’s what you mean by a treat,” she said. “It sounds to me like several at once.”

“But for a treat to me you must believe it,” he said, “for as long as it takes your finger to mark the line of life on your hand.”

“Supposing I believed it too long?” she said, half-seriously.

“Why, for fear of that,” he answered, “you will remember that what is seen in you is present in all, and that the beauty of every other living creature is as bright as yours.”

“And that,” she said, “sounds like the morning after the party.”

“It is the present given at the party,” he said, “and perhaps what the party itself was for.”

They were out of the town, and coming to the stile where Damaris had been twice with Quentin. The time had seemed very quick, but the happiness that beat in her breast had shortened it, she supposed, or else the wind that, stronger now, seemed to carry them along. By the stile they paused and looked over and down the sloping fields beyond; and Damaris suddenly saw and recollected the great glow in the sky, and away below them the tree of fire that burned in the place of the house. She had entirely forgotten it as she came along the road with Anthony, and now she realized that it was beneath the reflection of that terrible thing that their interchange of laughing truths had gone on. So joyous they had been; so awful were the dangers that surrounded them. Her breath came quicker; she looked at Anthony, and saw his face had changed from tenderness to high authority. He dropped her hand and turned to the stile. For a moment she flinched.

“Ah, must you go?” she cried. She knew somehow that she would not; she must stay there. Less practised than he, immature in doctrine and deed, she has her place on the hither side of the work. He did not seem to hear her; lightly he laid his hand on the stile and vaulted over, and as her eyes followed him she exclaimed again at what she saw. It was almost dark, and the shadows were confusing, for the fire below did not seem to cast a light on the land, but it seemed to her that the land was changed. It fell away very steeply beneath her, in an open glade, round which on either side trees grew; not the trees of English hedges, but mightier and taller growths. She saw palms waving, and other immense things shaken by the strength of the swiftly rising wind. Huge and shining leaves were tossed in the air; the high grass of the dark glade itself was swept this way and that by the same energy. The glade ran right down to the bottom of the steep descent, and there in its centre was the fire that surged in the shape of a tree — no, it was a tree, one of two that grew there, side by side, and otherwise alone. The one at which she had been gazing was still vivid with fiery colour; by it grew a dark mass in which no tone or hint of colour showed. Far above the ground the boughs and foliage interlaced, golden light and heavy blackness were intermingled. But while she looked, the figure of Anthony came between her and the trees, if indeed it were still Anthony, and yet she knew it was. But he was different; he seemed gigantic in the uncertain light, and he was passing with huge strides down the glade. As he moved it seemed to her that he was wearing not clothes but skins, as in some old picture Adam might have fared forth from Paradise. He went on till he was about half-way down the glade, and then he stood still. About him the wind had become a terrific storm; it soared and rushed through the great trees on either hand, yet over it she heard his voice crying. He had stood still, and turned a little, and upon one mighty shoulder there perched a huge bird — at least, it seemed like a bird and, as he called it spread its wings and again closed them. She dimly remembered some other similar motion, and suddenly recaptured it — so the loathsome thing of her own experience had perched outside the windows of her mind, so it had threatened and almost beaten down her life. From such a bestial knowledge she had been barely saved; with a full pulse of gratitude she offered herself, in her own small place, to divine Wisdom.

Anthony? Adam — whatever giant stood before her between the trees of an aboriginal forest — was calling as he had called in the streets of the town. But now he uttered not one word but many, pausing between each, and again giving to each the same strong summons. He called and he commanded; nature lay expectant about him. She was aware then that the forest all round was in movement; living creatures showed themselves on its edge, or hurried through the grass. At each word that he cried, new life gathered, and still the litany of invocation and command went on. By the names that were the Ideas he called them, and the Ideas who are the Principles of everlasting creation heard him, the Principles of everlasting creation who are the Cherubim and Seraphim of the Eternal. In their animal manifestations, duly obedient to the single animal who was lord of the animals, they came. She saw the horse pushing its head over his shoulder; she saw the serpent rearing itself and lightly coiling round his body. Only, but now motionless, the eagle sat on his shoulder, observant of all things, as philosophical knowledge studies the natures and activities of men.

They were returning, summoned by the authority of man from their incursion into the world of man. She thought of the town behind her from which the terror was now withdrawing; she thought of the world which had not known what was approaching and now might sleep on in peace. She thought of Quentin and of her father, the one rescued from his fear, the other absorbed by his content. And as she thought, crouched by the stile that seemed as if it were the way into the Garden, only unguarded for this single night by the fire which was its central heart — as she crouched and thought, she wondered with a sharp pain if he who had gone from her was ever to return. Was she to lose that others might gain? Was she to be deprived of her lover that Quentin Sabot might be saved from madness? Where anyhow was Anthony? What was this nightmare in which she was held? Out of a sepulchre of death the old Damaris rushed up into the new; anger began to swell within her. Either this was all a horrid dream or else Anthony had lured her into some insane midnight expedition. It was always the same — no-one ever considered her; no-one thought about her. Her father had died at a most inconvenient moment; there would be all the business of what small capital he had. No-one, no-one, ever considered her, and the work she was trying unselfishly to do as a contribution to the history of philosophical thought.

Something, however, still held. As, in the renewed and full pseudo-realization of what she was and what she was doing by her work — hers, hers, the darling hers! — she moved to rise (even in a nightmare she needn’t crouch), something for one second held her down. It held her — that slender ligature of unrealized devotion — for the second that the old hateful thing took to flood her and a little to recede. The years of selfish toil had had at any rate this good — they had been years of toil; she had not easily abandoned any search because of difficulty, and that habit of intention, by its own power of good, offered her salvation then. The full flood receded; she remembered herself, and her young soul struggled to reach the bright shore beyond the gloomy waters that tossed it. The thing that was the opposite of the pterodactyl, the thing that had been the purpose of the search of Abelard, the thing that was Anthony and yet wasn’t Anthony — that. She knew it; as she did so she felt her own name called, and cried out in agony “Yes, yes.” If Anthony must go, then he must go. He? it — knew; she didn’t. Her limbs were released; she sprang up, the older energies renewed almost to fierceness in her determination to discover that other thing. She would be savage with herself, royal in daring, a lioness in hunger and in the hunt. Of that thing itself, she knew little but that it was blessed, innocent and joyous; it was a marvel of white knowledge, as much of earth as any tender creature of the fields, yet bound to its heavenly origin by hypostatic union of experience. A fierce conquest, an innocent obedience — these were to be her signs.

The sound of her name still echoed through her spirit when, recovered from her inner struggle, she looked again upon the glade of the garden where the image of Adam named the beasts, and naming ruled them. But now he was farther from her, nearer to those twin mysterious trees in the centre. Among the shapes that pressed about him she could not at first well discern one from another, but as she leaned and strained to see she beheld them gathering into two companies. There fell over the whole scene a strange and lovely clearness, shed from the wings of a soaring wonder that left the shoulder where it had reposed and flew, scattering light. The intermingled foliage of the trees of knowledge and of life — if indeed they were separate — received it; amid those branches the eagle which was the living act of science sank and rested. But far below the human figure stood and on either side of it were the shapes of the lion and the lamb. His hand rested on the head of the one; the other paused by him. In and for that exalted moment all acts of peace that then had being through the world were deepened and knew their own nature more clearly; away in villages and towns such spirits as the country doctor in Smetham received a measure of content in their work. Friendships grew closer; intentions of love possessed their right fulfilment. Terrors of malice and envy and jealousy faded; disordered beauty everywhere recognized again the sacred laws that governed it. Man dreamed of himself in the place of his creation.

The vision passed from them, and from the woman who watched as Eve might have watched the movements of her companion. He looked on the beasts and seemed to speak to them, and slowly they withdrew. Slowly, each after its own habit, they moved along the glade, and suddenly the lamb was lost to her sight under the massed heaviness of those trees from which they had come. On the very edge of the mystery the lion looked back, half turned towards the way it had gone. Its eyes met those of the man who faced it, but he came no farther. His just concern was still with the world of men and women, and with his gaze he bade the angelical pass back and close the breach. It broke into one final roar — the woman heard and trembled, and heard the roar cease as the Adam answered and quelled it with the sound of its own name. She saw it turn again and move away, and on the very instant the human figure itself turned and at full speed ran towards her. The earth shook under her; from the place of the trees there broke again the pillar of flame, as if between the sky and earth a fiery sword were shaken, itself “with dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms.” The guard that protected earth was set again; the interposition of the Mercy veiled the destroying energies from the weakness of men.

One of the firemen who, late at night, and ignorant of the aspect under which Damaris from the ridge beheld that supernaturally deepened valley, still attempted to subdue the fire which raged in the house, said afterwards, when his wife spoke to him of the wild rumours that had till midnight possessed the town, that he also had thought that he saw, as he faced the ridge, a great shape of a lion leap from the field straight into the flames. It was directly afterwards that their prolonged efforts were unexpectedly successful; the fire dwindled, sank, and in a short time expired. It was the same man who had thought that, earlier in the evening, he had seen a young man slip past his comrades towards the pyre, but since he had seen no more of him he concluded it could not have been so. The house itself, and the bodies of the owner and the housekeeper, had been reduced to the finest ash; there was, when the fire died out, nothing but a layer of ash spread over the earth. It was, in short, one of the worst fires he had ever known, and the heat and blaze had at moments evidently dazed him.

But Damaris, when from the glade that behind him became once more nothing but the English fields she received the flying figure of Anthony, did not think she had been dazed. He leapt the stile, stretching out his hand to her as she came, and she caught it, and was swung across the road before he could stop himself. Panting from his rush he smiled at her; panting from her intense vigil she breathed all herself back. Then their hands fell apart, and after a little they began to walk slowly on.

In a minute he looked at her. “I say, you’re not cold, are you?” he asked. “I wish you’d got a coat or something.”

“It’s not very far,” she answered. “No, I’m not cold.”

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/williams/charles/place-of-the-lion/chapter16.html

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