The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams

Chapter Four

The Two Camps

But that evening Anthony, lying in a large chair, contemplated Quentin with almost equal bewilderment.

For he had never known his friend so disturbed, so almost hysterical with — but what it was with Anthony could not understand. The window of their common sitting-room looked out westward over the houses of Shepherd’s Bush, and every now and then Quentin would look at it, with such anxiety and distress that Anthony found himself expecting he knew not what to enter — a butterfly or a lion perhaps, he thought absurdly. A winged lion? Venice — Saint Mark. Perhaps Saint Mark was riding about over London on a winged lion, though why Quentin should be so worried about Saint Mark he couldn’t think. The lion they had seen (if they had) wasn’t winged, or hadn’t seemed to be. Somewhere Anthony vaguely remembered to have seen a picture of people riding on winged lions — some Bible illustration, he thought, Daniel or the Apocalypse. He had forgotten what they were doing, but he had a general vague memory of swords and terrible faces, and a general vague idea that it all had something to do with wasting the earth.

Quentin went back to the window, and, standing by one corner, looked out. Anthony picked up a box of matches, and, opening it by accident upside down, dropped a number on the floor. Quentin leapt round.

“What was that?” he asked sharply.

“Me,” said Anthony. “Sorry; it was pure lazy stupidity.”

“Sorry,” said Quentin in turn. “I seem all on edge tonight.”

“I thought you weren’t very happy,” Anthony said affectionately. “What’s . . . if there’s anything, I mean, that I can do . . . ”

Quentin came back and dropped into a chair. “I don’t know what’s got me,” he said. “It all began with that lioness. Silly of me to feel it like that. But a lioness is a bit unusual. It was a lioness, wasn’t it?” he asked anxiously.

They had been over this before. And again Anthony, with the best will in the world to say the right thing, found himself hampered by an austere intellectual sincerity. It probably had been, it must have been, a lioness. But it was not the lioness that he had chiefly seen, nor was it a lioness which he had, on the night before, dreamed he had seen stalking over hills and hills and hills, covering continents of unending mountains and great oceans between them, with a stealthy yet dominating stride. In that dream the sky had fallen away before the lion’s thrusting shoulders, the sky that somehow changed into the lion, and yet formed a background to its movement: and the sun had sometimes been rolling round and round it, as if it were a yellow ball, and sometimes had been fixed millions of miles away, but fixed as if it had been left like a lump of meat for the great beast; and Anthony had felt an anxious intense desire to run a few millions of miles in order to pull it down and save it from those jaws. Only however fast he ran he couldn’t catch up with the lion’s much slower movement. He ran much faster than the lion, but he couldn’t get wherever it was so quickly, although of course the lion was farther away. But the farther away it was the bigger it was, according to the new rules of perspective, Anthony remembered himself seriously thinking. It had seemed extremely important to know the rules in that very muddled dream.

It had certainly been a lion — in the dream and in the garden. And he could not pretend — not even for Quentin — that the lioness had mattered nearly so much. So he said, “It was certainly a lioness in the road.”

“And in the garden,” Quentin exclaimed. “Why, surely yesterday morning you agreed it must have been a lioness in the garden.”

“As a great and wise publisher whom I used to know once said,” Anthony remarked, “‘I will believe anything of my past opinions.’ But honestly — in the garden? I don’t suppose it matters one way or the other, and very likely you’re right.”

“But what do you think? Don’t you think it was a lioness?” Quentin cried. And “No,” Anthony said obstinately, “I think it was a lion. I also think,” he added with some haste, “I must have been wrong, because it couldn’t have been. So there we are.”

Quentin shrank back in his chair and Anthony cursed himself for being such a pig-headed precisian. But still, was it any conceivable good pretending — if the intellect had any authority at all? if there were any place for accuracy? In personal relationships it might, for dear love’s sake, sometimes be necessary to lie, so complicated as they often were. But this, so far as Anthony could see, was a mere matter of a line to left or to right upon the wall, and his whole mind revolted at falsehood upon abstract things. It was like an insult to a geometrical pattern. Also he felt that it was up to Quentin — up to him just a little — to deal with this thing. If only he himself knew what his friend feared!

Quentin unintentionally answered his thought. “I’ve always been afraid,” he said bitterly, “at school and at the office and everywhere. And I suppose this damned thing has got me in the same way somehow.”

“The lion?” Anthony asked. Certainly it was a curious world.

“It isn’t — it isn’t just a lion,” Quentin said. “Whoever saw a lion come from nowhere? But we did; I know we did, and you said so. It’s something else — I don’t know what”— he sprang again to his feet —“but it’s something else. And it’s after me.”

“Look here, old thing,” Anthony said, “let’s talk it out. Good God, shall there be anything known to you or me that we can’t talk into comprehension between us? Have a cigarette, and let’s be comfortable. It’s only nine.”

Quentin smiled rather wanly. “O let’s try,” he said. “Can you talk Damaris into comprehension?”

The remark was more direct than either of the two usually allowed himself, without an implicit invitation, but Anthony accepted it. “You’ve often talked me into a better comprehension of Damaris,” he said.

“Theoretically,” Quentin sneered at himself.

“Well, you can hardly tell that, can you?” Anthony argued. “If your intellect elucidated Damaris — O damn!”

The bell of the front door had suddenly sounded and Quentin shied violently, dropping his cigarette. “God curse it,” he cried out.

“All right,” Anthony said, “I’ll go. If it’s anyone we know I won’t let him in, and if it’s anyone we don’t know I’ll keep him out. There! Look after that cigarette!” He disappeared from the room, and it was some time before he returned.

When he did so he was, in spite of his promise, accompanied. A rather short, thickset man, with a firm face and large eyes, was with him.

“I changed my mind, after all,” Anthony said. “Quentin, this is Mr. Foster of Smetham, and he’s come to talk about the lion too. So he was good enough to come up.”

Quentin’s habitual politeness, returning from wherever it hid during his intimacy with his friend, controlled him and said and did the usual things. When they were all sitting down, “And now let’s have it,” Anthony said. “Will you tell Mr. Sabot here what you have told me?”

“I was talking to Miss Tighe this afternoon,” Mr. Foster said; he had a rough deep voice, Quentin thought, “and she told me that you gentlemen had been there two days ago — at Mr. Berringer’s house, I mean — when all this began. So in view of what’s happened since, I thought it would do no harm if we compared notes.”

“When you say what’s happened since,” Anthony asked, “you mean the business at the meeting last night? I understood from Miss Tighe that one of the ladies there thought she saw a snake.”

“I think — and she thinks — she did see a snake,” Mr. Foster answered. “As much as Mr. Tighe saw the butterflies this afternoon. You won’t deny them?”

“Butterflies?” Quentin asked, as Anthony shook his head, and then, with a light movement of it, invited Mr. Foster to explain.

“Mr. Tighe came in while I was at his house this afternoon,” the visitor said, “in a very remarkable state of exaltation. He told us — Miss Tighe and myself — that he had been shown that butterflies were really true. Miss Tighe was inclined to be a little impatient, but I prevailed on her to let him tell us — or rather he insisted on telling us — what he had seen. As far as I could follow, there had been one great butterfly into which the lesser ones had passed. But Mr. Tighe took this to be a justification of his belief in them. He was very highly moved, he quite put us on one side, which is (if I may say so) unusual in so quiet a man as he, and he would do nothing but go to his cabinets and look at the collection of his butterflies. I left him,” Mr. Foster ended abruptly, “on his knees, apparently praying to them.”

Quentin had been entirely distracted by this tale from his own preoccupation. “Praying!” he exclaimed. “But I don’t . . . Weren’t you with him, Anthony?”

“I was up to a point,” Anthony said. “I was going to tell you later on, whenever it seemed convenient. Mr. Foster is quite right. It can’t possibly have been so, but we saw thousands and thousands of them all flying to one huge fellow in the middle, and then — well, then they weren’t there.”

“So Tighe said,” Mr. Foster remarked. “But why can’t it possibly have happened?”

“Because — because it can’t,” Anthony said. “Thousands of butterflies swallowed up in one, indeed!”

“There was Aaron’s rod,” Mr Foster put in, and for a moment perplexed both his hearers. Anthony, recovering first, said: “What, the one that was turned into a snake and swallowed the other snakes?”

“Exactly,” Mr. Foster answered. “A snake.”

“But you don’t mean that this woman — what was her name? — that this Miss Wilmot saw Aaron’s rod or snake, or what not, do you?” Anthony asked. And yet, Quentin thought, not with such amused scorn as might have been expected; it sounded more like the precise question which the words made it: “do you mean this?”

“I think the magicians of Pharaoh may have seen Miss Wilmot’s snake,” Mr. Foster said, “and all their shapely wisdom have been swallowed by it, as the butterflies of the fields were taken into that butterfly this afternoon.”

“And to what was Mr. Tighe praying then?” Anthony said, his eyes intently fixed on the other.

“To the gods that he knew,” Mr. Foster said, “or to such images of them as he had collected to give himself joy.”

“The gods?” Anthony asked.

“That is why I have come here,” Mr. Foster answered, “to find out what you know of them.”

“Aren’t we,” Quentin put in, his voice sounding unnatural to him as he spoke, “aren’t we making a rather absurd fuss over a mistake? We,” his gesture included his friend, “were rather tired. And it was dark. Or almost dark. And we were — we were not frightened; I am not frightened; but we were startled. And the old man fell. And we did not see clearly.” The sentences came out in continuous barks.

Mr. Foster turned so suddenly in his chair that Anthony jumped. “And will you see clearly?” he demanded, thrusting his body and head forward towards Quentin. “Will you?”

“No,” Quentin cried back at him. “I will not. I will see nothing of it, if I can help it. I won’t, I tell you! And you can’t make me. The lion himself can’t make me.”

“The lion!” Mr. Foster said. “Young man, do you really think to escape, if it is on your track?”

“It isn’t on my track, I tell you,” Quentin howled, jumping up. “How can it be? There isn’t any — there never was any. I don’t believe in these things. There’s London and us and the things we know.”

Anthony interfered. “That at least is true,” he said. “There is London and us and what we know. But it can’t hurt to find out exactly what we know, can it? I mean, we have always rather agreed about that, haven’t we? Look here, Quentin, sit down and let me tell Mr. Foster what we thought — at the time — and for the time — that we saw. And you put me right if I go wrong.”

“Carry on.” Quentin, trembling all over, forced himself to say, turning as he did so to make a pretence of rearranging his chair. Anthony therefore recounted the story of the Tuesday evening and of how on the lawn of that house they had seen, as it seemed, the gigantic form of the lion. He did it as lightly as possible, but at best, in the excited atmosphere of the room, the tale took on the sound of some dark myth made visible to mortal and contemporary eyes. He himself, before he had finished, found himself in the midst of speaking eyeing with mingled alarm, fascination, and hope, the room before him, almost as if at any minute the presence should be manifested there.

“And after that,” Mr. Foster said, “did you not hear the thunder?”

“Why, yes,” the young men said together.

Mr. Foster made a contemptuous motion with his hand.

“Thunder,” he uttered scornfully. “That was no thunder; that was the roaring of the lion.”

Quentin seemed to be sitting still by a tremendous effort. Anthony eyed his visitor steadily.

“Tell us what you mean,” he said.

Mr. Foster sat forward. “You have heard of the owner of the house?” he said. “Well, Berringer is a very wise man — you must not judge him by all that group who get about him — and he has made it his business to try and see the world of principles from which this world comes. He —”

Anthony’s raised hand stopped him. “The world of principles?”

“He believes — and I believe it too,” Mr. Foster said, “that this world is created, and all men and women are created, by the entrance of certain great principles into aboriginal matter. We call them by cold names; wisdom and courage and beauty and strength and so on, but actually they are very great and mighty Powers. It may be they are the angels and archangels of which the Christian Church talks — and Miss Damaris Tighe — I do not know. And when That which is behind them intends to put a new soul into matter it disposes them as it will, and by a peculiar mingling of them a child is born; and this is their concern with us, but what is their concern and business among themselves we cannot know. And by this gentle introduction of them, every time in a new and just proportion, mankind is maintained. In the animals they are less mingled, for there each is shown to us in his own becoming shape; those Powers are the archetypes of the beasts, and very much more, but we need not talk of that. Now this world in which they exist is truly a real world, and to see it is a very difficult and dangerous thing, but our master held that it could be done, and that the man was very wise who would consecrate himself to this end as part — and the chief part — of his duty on earth. He did this, and I, as much as I can, have done it.”

“But I haven’t done it,” Anthony said. “And therefore how can that world — if there is one — be seen by me and people like me?”

“As for that,” the other answered, “there are many people who have disciplined and trained themselves more than they know, but that is not the point now. I know that this man was able sometimes to see into that world, and contemplate the awful and terrible things within it, feeding his soul on such visions; and he could even help others towards seeing it, as he has done me on occasions. But as I told you just now, since these powers exhibit their nature much more singly in the beasts, so there is a peculiar sympathy between the beasts and them. Generally, matter is the separation between all these animals which we know and the powers beyond. But if one of those animals should be brought within the terrific influence of one particular idea — to call it that — very specially felt through a man’s intense concentration on it —”

He paused, and Anthony said: “What then?”

“Why then,” the other said, “the matter of the beast might be changed into the image of the idea, and this world, following that one, might all be drawn into that other world. I think this is happening.”

“O!” said Anthony, and sat down. Quentin was crouched deeply in his chair, his limbs drawn in, his face hidden in his arms, resting on the arm of the chair. A minute or two went by; then Anthony said:

“It’s quite insane, of course; but, if it were true, why a lioness into a lion?”

“Because the temporal and spatial thing may be masculine or feminine, but the immortal being must in itself appear as masculine to us, if masculinity is consonant with its nature,” Mr. Foster answered. “As, of course, supposing that we could call the lion strength or authority or something like that, it would be. But it is absurd to use such words about these forces, at all.”

“It would be something,” Anthony couldn’t help saying, “to know the pet name of any force one happened to meet.” But he spoke almost as if to prick on his incredulity, and neither he nor the others smiled. A much longer time passed now before anyone spoke: then Anthony asked another question.

“And what about Mr. Berringer himself?”

“We can’t yet tell,” Foster said, “what has happened to him. Myself, for what it’s worth, I think he’s the focus of the movement; in some way we don’t understand. It’s through him that this world is passing into that. He and his house are the centre.”

“Is that why everything happens in his garden?” Anthony asked.

“It is why everything begins to happen in his garden,” Foster answered. “But it won’t stop there. If I’m right, if all this world is passing into that, then the effects will be seen farther and farther away. Our knowledge will more and more be a knowledge of that and not of this — more and more everything will be received into its original; animals, vegetables, all the world but those individual results of interior Powers which are men.”

Anthony missed part of this. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “If you’re at all right, it would mean destruction. But you can’t, you can’t be.”

“What did you see in the garden?” Foster demanded. “You know whether you believe in the shape that was there.”

Quentin looked up and spoke harshly. “And what of men?” he asked.

“Some men will welcome it,” Foster said. “As Mr. Tighe has done — as I shall do. And they will be joined to that Power which each of them best serves. Some will disbelieve in it — as I think Damaris Tighe does; but they will find then what they do believe. Some will hate it, and run from it — as you do. I cannot guess what will happen to them, except that they will be hunted. For nothing will escape.”

“Cannot the breach be closed?” Anthony asked.

Mr. Foster laughed a little. “Are we to govern the principles of creation?” he retorted.

Anthony looked at him thoughtfully, and then said still quietly, “Well, we don’t know till we try, do we?”

Quentin looked anxiously at him. “Do you think there’s a chance?” he exclaimed.

Anthony said slowly, “You know, Quentin, I’m almost certain that Damaris will dislike it very much indeed. It will interfere with Abelard dreadfully. And of course you may remember that I promised to do everything I could to help her get her degree.”

“Even,” Mr. Foster asked sarcastically, “to ruling the various worlds of creation?”

“Everything,” Anthony answered. “I don’t know why this Mr. Berringer — no, but perhaps it wasn’t his fault, which makes it worse — I don’t know why this lioness should come upsetting us. You don’t care for the notion yourself, Quentin, do you?”

“I hate — I hate it,” Quentin said, controlling himself not unsuccessfully. Anthony looked back at Mr. Foster. “You get the idea?” he asked.

Their visitor again laughed a little. “You might as well try and stop daffodils growing,” he said. “It’s the law.”

“If it is,” Anthony agreed, “that settles it. But, my dear Mr. Foster, I must insist on being allowed to find out. Actually, of course, I feel that all this thesis of yours is, if you’ll excuse me, pure bunk. But I’ve watched some curious things happen, and now you tell me of others. I should hate anything to worry Miss Tighe — seriously; a little worry might be a perfectly good thing for her. And Mr. Sabot doesn’t want the lion, and Mr. Sabot and I have done our best for years to assist one another against undue interference.”

“Interference!” Foster said, with another laugh.

“Well, you can hardly call it less, can you?” Anthony asked. “I gather you’re on the side of the lion?”

“I am on the side of the things I have wanted to see,” the other answered, “and if these Powers destroy the world, I am willing to be destroyed. I have given myself to them.”

“Well, I haven’t,” Anthony said, getting up. “Not yet, anyhow. And Mr. Sabot hasn’t, nor Miss Tighe.”

“You fool,” Foster said, “can you stand against them?”

“If they are part of me, as you tell me, perhaps I might; I don’t know,” Anthony answered. “But if they are, then perhaps the authority which is in me over me shall be in me over them. I’m repeating myself, I beg your pardon.”

Mr. Foster got up, with a not quite good-humoured smile. “You’re like most of the world,” he said, “you don’t know necessity when you see it. Well, I’d better go now. Goodnight, and thank you.” He looked at Quentin and offered him no word.

“Necessity, as no doubt Abelard said,” Anthony remarked, “is the mother of invention —invenio, you know. The question is what shall I venio in. We’re none of us clear about that, I think.”

He drifted with their visitor to the hall, and returned to find Quentin again restlessly roaming about the room. “Look here,” he said, “you go to bed, old thing.”

“But what are you going to do?” Quentin asked wretchedly.

“O Lord,” said Anthony, “how do I know? I’m going to sit and meditate. No, I don’t want to talk any more and it’s no use going to Smetham till I’ve got my ideas clearer. Damaris can fend for herself to-night; at the rate things are going there doesn’t seem to be any immediate danger. O Lord, what danger can there be? Do go away, and let me think or I shall be no good to anyone. Was ever such a lion-hunt? Goodnight, and God bless you. If you’re waking in the morning, I shall probably have gone first, so don’t bother about calling me. Goodnight, my dear, don’t worry — the young lion and the dragon will we tread underfoot.”

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