The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams

Chapter Six

Meditation of Mr. Anthony Durrant

When at last, by another road, Anthony returned to Smetham he was very tired. It was not the extra length of the journey that had tired him — he had not at that moment been able to bring himself to go back by Berringer’s home — but a shock of wrestling with a great strength. He had taken long to recover his usual equilibrium, and he had been worried over Quentin. But no gazing from the top of the ridge had revealed his friend to him, and there was no sign to show in which direction the fugitive had gone. It was a small comfort to Anthony to remember that he had actually heard the flying feet, for the horrible possibility haunted him that Quentin might . . . might have been destroyed — shattered or annihilated by the powers which, it seemed, were finding place in the world, or perhaps it would be truer to say (if Foster had been right) into whose dominion the outer world was passing. But the thought of Foster reminded him of another phrase; the man had said something about those who hated and feared it being hunted. Was it possible that such a chase was even now proceeding? that over those sedate hills, and among those quiet cornfields and meadows, a golden majesty was with inexorable speed pursuing Quentin’s fearful and lunatic haste? a haste which could find no shelter, nor set any barrier between itself and its fate? The distress of such a thought swelled in Anthony’s heart, as, heavily and slowly, he came back to the town. For he, it was evident, could at that time do nothing; he was far too exhausted, and he needed to be alone in order to realize what had happened, and what his next action should be. Besides, always and everywhere, thrusting between even Quentin’s need and any possibility of succour, there was Damaris.

He bathed and rested, and ate and drank, and then feeling better went out to smoke and think in the grounds of the hotel.

It was still early evening; tennis was going on not far off, but presently everyone would be going in to dinner. Anthony found a deck chair in a remote corner, sat down, lit a cigarette, and began to meditate. He arranged his questions in his mind — six of them:

1. Had it happened? 2. Why had it happened? 3. What was likely to happen now? 4. How was it likely to affect Damaris? 5. What was happening to Quentin? 6. What did he himself propose to do about it all?

Over the first question he spent no time. The things that he had seen had been as real to him as anything that he had ever seen. Besides, Tighe had given up collecting butterflies, and Foster had come and talked with him, and Quentin had run away — all because of various aspects of “it.” If “it” hadn’t happened, then Quentin had been right and they were all going mad together. The fact that most of Smetham knew nothing about it and wouldn’t have believed it was irrelevant. He could act only upon his own experience, and his actions should be, as far as possible, consistent with that experience. “It” then had happened. But why? or, to put it another way, what was happening? Here he had no hypothesis of his own, and only one of anyone else’s — Foster’s: that between a world of living principles, existing in its own state of being, and this present world, a breach had been made. The lioness from without, the lion from — within? say within, it meant as much as any other mode of description — had approached each other through the channel of a man’s consciousness, and had come together by the natural kinship between the material image and the immaterial idea. And after that first impact others had followed; other principles had found their symbols and possessed them, drawing back into themselves as many of those particular symbols as came immediately within the zone influenced. How far those presences could be seen by men he could not guess; he and Quentin had seen the lion, he and Tighe the butterfly. But Foster had told him how one woman, and only one, had cried out that she had seen a snake, which Foster himself had not seen. What then was the distinction? Pondering over this, it occurred to him suddenly that snakes were not as common as butterflies in England, and that only a most unusual chance had loosed a lioness on that country road. Might it not be then that these powers were not visible till they had found their images? not visible at least to ordinary eyes? Why that woman had seen one he did not profess to explain. Nor why, lioness and butterflies being gone, the many sheep he had seen still remained quietly feeding near the house of exodus. He remembered with a shock the strange quiver that had passed across the road that afternoon; was it so certain that he had not seen some movement of the snake? If the long undulating body had passed through the earth — if the earth, so to speak, had been charged with that serpentine influence? . . . All this was beyond him; he could not tell. But, right or wrong, there seemed to him at present no other hypothesis than that of powers loosed into the world; without finally believing it, he accepted it until he should discover more.

And what was likely to happen now? Anthony threw away the end of his cigarette, and sighed. Why did he always ask himself these silly questions? Always intellectualizing, he thought, always trying to find a pattern. Well, and why not? If Foster was right, every man — he himself — was precisely a pattern of these powers. But it wasn’t at the moment his own, it was the general pattern he was concerned with. The word supplied a possible answer — the present general pattern of the world was being violently changed into another pattern, perhaps a better one, perhaps not, but anyhow another. And the present pattern looked like being utterly and entirely destroyed, if the world went on passing into that other state. Something had saved him that afternoon, but as he recalled his breathless struggle with overwhelming energy he realized part of the danger that was drawing near. The beauty of butterflies was one thing, but what if these principles drew to their separate selves the elements of which each man was made? Man, it seemed to Anthony, looked like having a thin time. If the animals were swallowed up as Aaron’s snake swallowed the snakes of the magicians? Were the other plagues, he wondered, but the permitted domination of some element by its own or another principle? Was that principle — whatever it might be-that knew itself in the frog loosed once in all the palaces of Egypt and did the life which is in blood enter into and control the waters of the Nile? As perhaps on a later day at Cana ecstasy which is wine entered into lucidity which is water and possessed it? “Damn!” said Anthony, “I’m romancing, and anyhow it doesn’t matter; it’s got nothing to do with what is happening now. It was the lion that began it here and (if they’re right) the snake. Is the lion still beginning it?”

He sat up in some excitement. They had seemed to see the shape of the lion moving slowly — and the queer wave in the road had passed almost in the same path but in the opposite direction. Was this the place of entrance? — were those two the guards of the other world, the dwellers on that supernatural threshold, pacing round in widening circles, until slowly the whole world was encompassed? And, in that case, how long before their circle included Smetham — and Damaris?

He was up against his fourth question, and he made himself lean back to look at it quietly. But his heart was beating quickly, and his hands moved restlessly about his chair. How would it affect Damaris? He tried to see her again as she was in her own nature — he tried to think to which of these august powers she was kin; but he could do not it. “O Damaris darling!” he exclaimed, and felt himself in all a terrible fear for her. If that childish ignorance and concern and childish arrogance and selfishness met these dangers — O then what shelter, what safety, would there be? He wanted to help her, he wanted to stay this new movement till she had understood, and turned to meet it; and if his mind clamoured again with a desire that they should do this together, and together find the right way into or out of this other world — if so far his own self thrust into his otherwise selfless anxiety, it was a momentary accompaniment. But she wouldn’t, she would go on thoughtfully playing with the dead pictures of ideas, with names and philosophies, Plato and Pythagoras and Anselm and Abelard, Athens and Alexandria and Paris, not knowing that the living existences to which seers and saints had looked were already in movement to avenge themselves on her. “O you sweet blasphemer!” Anthony moaned, “can’t you wake?” Gnostic traditions, medieval rituals, Aeons and Archangels — they were cards she was playing in her own game. But she didn’t know, she didn’t understand. It wasn’t her fault; it was the fault of her time, her culture, her education — the pseudo-knowledge that affected all the learned, the pseudo-scepticism that infected all the unlearned, in an age of pretence, and she was only pretending as everybody else did in this lost and imbecile century. Well, it was up to him to do something.

But what? He could, he would, go and see her. But what could he do to ensure her safety? Could he get her to London? It would be difficult to persuade her, and if he put it to the touch by attempting to compel her and failed — that would be worse than all. Damaris was still keeping herself at a distance; her feeling for him was stilled and directed by her feeling for herself. He had the irresistible force all right, but honesty compelled him to admit that she, as an immovable object, was out of its direct line. Besides — London? If this kind of thing was going on, supposing (just for one split second) that Foster’s fantastic hypothesis was right, what would be the good of London? Sooner or later London too would slip in and be subject to great animals — the fierceness of the wolf would threaten it from Hampstead, the patience of the tortoise would wait beyond Streatham and Richmond; and between them the elk and the bear would stalk and lumber, drawing the qualities out of mankind, terrifying, hunting down, destroying. He did not know how swiftly the process of absorption was going on — a week might see that golden mane shaken over London from Kensal Rise. London was no good, his thought raced on, no, nor any other place then; no seas or mountains could avail. Still, if he could persuade her to move for a few days — that would give him time to do something. And at that he came up against the renewed memory of Foster’s scornful question. Was he really proposing to govern the principles of creation? to attempt to turn back, for the sake of one half-educated woman’s personal safety, the movement of the vast originals of all life? How was he, he thought despairingly, to close the breach, he who had that very afternoon been swept almost into death by the effluence from but one visioned greatness? It was hopeless, it was insane, and yet the attempt had to be made.

Besides, there was Quentin. He had small expectation of being of any use to Quentin, but somewhere in this neighbourhood his unhappy friend — if he lived yet — was wandering, and Anthony disliked going off himself while the other’s doom remained unknown. And there might be some way — this Berringer now; perhaps something more could be found out about him. If he had opened, might he not close? Or his friends — this infernal group? Some of them might help: they couldn’t all want Archetypes coming down on them, not if they were like most of the religious people he had met. They also probably liked their religion taken mild — a pious hope, a devout ejaculation, a general sympathetic sense of a kindly universe — but nothing upsetting or bewildering, no agony, no darkness, no uncreated light. Perhaps he had better go and see some of them — Foster again, or even this Miss Wilmot, or the doctor who was attending Berringer, and whose wife had got Damaris (so she had told him) into this infernal mess. Yes, and then to persuade Damaris to go to London; and to look for Quentin . . .

And all the while to be quiet and steady, to remember that man was meant to control, to be lord of his own nature, to accept the authority that had been given to Adam over all manner of beasts, as the antique fables reported, and to exercise that authority over the giants and gods which were threatening the world.

Anthony sighed a little and stood up. “Adam,” he said, “Adam. Well, I am as much a child of Adam as any. The Red Earth is a little pale perhaps. Let’s go and walk in the garden among the beasts of the field which the Lord God hath made. I feel a trifle microcosmic, but if the proportion is in me let these others know it. Let me take the dominion over them — I wish I had any prospect of exercising dominion over Damaris.”

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