The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams

Chapter Nine

The Fugitive

Damaris had gone out for a walk, not that she wanted to, but because, as she had rather definitely told her father, it seemed the only way of getting a little peace. In general Damaris associated peace with her study, her books, and her manuscripts rather than with the sky, the hills, and the country roads; and not unjustly, since only a few devout followers of Wordsworth can in fact find more than mere quiet in the country. The absence of noise is not in all cases the same thing as the presence of peace. Wordsworth also found morality there, and no-one is ever likely to find peace without morality of one sort or another. But Damaris had never yet received any kind of impulse from either vernal or autumnal woods to teach her more of moral evil and of good than all her sages. Certainly she had found no particular impulse that way in her sages either, but that was because she was rapidly becoming incapable of recognizing a moral impulse when she saw it, the sages from Pythagoras onwards meaning something quite different from her collocation. Peace to her was not a state to be achieved but a supposed necessary condition of her daily work, and peace therefore, as often happens, evaded her continually. She ingeminated Peace so often and so loudly that she inevitably frightened it still farther away, peace itself being (so far as has yet been found) a loveliness only invocable by a kind of sympathetic magic and auto-hypnotism which it never occurred to her to exercise. In a convulsive patience therefore she walked firmly out of the town, and up the rising ground that lay about it.

For the last day or two the centre of gravity of her world seemed slightly to have shifted. This had begun when she had found the attention of her audience diverted on the Wednesday evening, but it had become more marked with Mr. Foster’s call on Thursday, and had really shocked her with Anthony’s that Saturday morning. Except that it was silly, she would almost have supposed that those two gentlemen had found her father’s odd antics more important than her own conversation. They seemed to be looking past her, at some other fact on their horizon; they were preoccupied, they diffused neglect. Her father too — he had been almost patronizing once or twice, infinitely and unconsciously superior. She was liable to find him anywhere about the house or garden — doing nothing, saying nothing, looking nothing; if she spoke to him, which she often did out of mere irritable good nature, he took a moment to collect himself before he replied. She would have been prepared to make allowances for this if he had been engaged upon his butterflies — having at least an understanding of how hobbies affected people, though this particular hobby seemed to her more silly than many. But he wasn’t; he just sat or stood about. It was all very well for Mr. Foster to be so profoundly interested — Mr. Foster didn’t have to live with him. As for Anthony —

She walked a little faster. Anthony’s call had been at a stupid time to begin with, but its purpose — which really did seem to have been to see her father — made it wholly stupid in itself. What could Anthony at half-past eleven on Saturday morning want with her father? It annoyed her that she had to take a little care in dealing with Anthony — he was so persistently attached and yet at the same time apt to become troublesomely detached. She disliked the slight feeling of anxiety she had about him — of late she found herself occasionally wondering after each visit whether, when he had gone, he had gone for good. And there was at present simply no other convenient way of getting some of her articles into print. They were good articles of their kind — she and Anthony both knew that? only there weren’t very many papers that would care for them. And it did — she half angrily admitted — it did help her, please, encourage, whatever the right word was, to see her name printed at the top of a column. It was a mark and reward of work done and a promise of work and reward to be. It was, in short, an objectivization of Miss Tighe to a point elsewhere at present unobtainable. Probably, though she did not think of this, Abelard, mutatis mutandis, felt a similar satisfaction at his lectures, with perhaps less danger owing to the watch that his confessor would have expected Abelard to keep over his conscience.

However, here she was away from them, and a good thing too. For this business of the relation of the Divine Perfection with creation was giving her, as it had given the schoolmen, a little trouble. Plato’s Absolute Beauty, she quite saw, was all right because that was not necessarily conscious of the world; but the God of Abelard was conscious of the world, and yet that consciousness must not be necessary to Him, for nothing but Himself could be necessary to Him. St. Thomas — only he was later; she didn’t want to bring him in, still a short appendix perhaps, bringing the history of the idea up to St. Thomas . . . just to show that she had read well beyond her subject. . . . St. Thomas would be a good stopping-place, and she might reasonably not pursue it further. Perhaps the whole thing had better be in an appendix —On the Knowledge of the World . . . no, on God’s Idea of the World from Plato to Aquinas. Something was wrong with that title, she thought vaguely, but she could alter it presently. The main thing at the moment was to get clear in her mind the various methods by which God was said to know the world. Joyn the Scot had taught that the account of the Creation in Genesis —“let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind”— referred, not to the making of the earthly animals, but to the formation of the kinds and orders in the Divine Mind before they took on visible and material shapes. Well, now . . .

She saw on her left a stile, mounted it, sat down, took out her notes on the problem, and set to work on them. Half an hour went by quite pleasantly. At the end of that time she was suddenly startled by hearing a low voice behind her say, “You oughtn’t to be sitting there.”

She twisted round and looked down. From the overgrowth which hid the ditch by the side of the road a head was half-pushed out; two anxious eyes gazed at her. She looked back in mere amazement; the face was that of a young man of her own class; it grew familiar as she stared, and in a minute or two she recognized it. It was a friend of Anthony’s who had once or twice been at her house along with her cousin — a Mr. . . . a Mr. Sabot, of course. But even Damaris’s capacity was shocked into helplessness by seeing Mr. Sabot apparently crawling in a rather deep ditch. She sat with her mouth slightly open, her head twisted over her shoulder, still staring.

“I say you oughtn’t to be there,” Sabot said more urgently. “Why don’t you hide?”

“Hide?” Damaris repeated.

“It hasn’t been here yet,” he whispered loudly. “Get down before it comes. The only thing is to keep out of sight.”

Damaris got down from the stile, and a final exasperation shook her. She took a step nearer and said sharply: “What are you doing, Mr. Sabot?”

He thrust himself a little higher and stared carefully all round; then he answered, still in a loud whisper, “Keeping out of its way.”

“Out of what’s way?” Damaris asked irritably. “Can’t you get up and talk sensibly? Come, Mr. Sabot, tell me what you mean at once.”

But with a quick viciousness he snarled at her. “Don’t be such a bloody fool. Get in somewhere. Not here; there’s not room for two. Run up the road a bit and make yourself a hole.”

Damaris gaped. This last exclamation of unreason overcame her. It seemed that Mr. Sabot must be completely mad; in which case it was extremely unfair of Anthony not to have told her. Why wasn’t Anthony with him? Imagine her being subjected to this sort of thing! She thought of various things to say to Anthony, but they were no good at the moment. He raised himself yet a little higher and caught hold of her skirt.

“I’m trying to help you,” he went on whispering. “Aren’t you Anthony’s girl?”

“Certainly not,” Damaris said. “Let me go, Mr. Sabot. O this is too much!”

“I knew you when you sat down, but I had to look to see if it was coming. It’s been after me, only I dodged it over there and got away. Or perhaps it hasn’t come as far, but it will. It’ll hunt you too. Not Anthony; Anthony’s going to fight it, but you and I can’t do that, we’re not brave enough. I shouldn’t have let you see me, only you’re Anthony’s girl. Don’t stand so high; crouch down a bit.”

“I am not Anthony’s girl, and I won’t crouch down,” Damaris, now utterly furious, cried out. Her stick was out of her reach; she moved one foot back. “If you don’t let me go I’ll kick your face. I mean it.”

“No, no,” the other said, “listen — I tell you you’re not safe. It’s sure to be along here, but if you crawl along the ditch you may get out of its reach somewhere first. It’s too big to get into the ditch. If only it doesn’t tread on us!” He began to shake all over with an increasing fear.

“I’m going to kick you,” Damaris cried, paused a moment, jerking her skirt in an effort to free it, and then, failing, kicked. But it was so small a kick, since she was anxious not to lose her balance, that it came considerably short of the white face in the bracken. The hand that held her pulled violently sideways; she staggered, was jerked again, toppled, and came heavily down on her side, lying half in and half out of the ditch against the bank. She was so bruised and shaken that she couldn’t, for all her rage, immediately get her breath, and as she lay, the mouth of the hidden man, now not far from her own, went on mouthing its disgusting whispers.

“That’s better,” it said, “a little lower, and you’ll be safer still. You ought to be farther away; I wouldn’t have you with me if you weren’t Anthony’s girl. But now you are here get right down and we’ll pull the bracken over. Have you heard it yet? They say it was roaring at first, but it’s been quite quiet today. It goes round in a circle, you know; at least part of it does — the other part’s looking for me. Only I got out of the circle. We must try and keep out; we’re pretty safe then. Have you felt the earth shake? I’m rather afraid in case that heaves us right up under its paws. Come in, can’t you? I swear I’ll leave you to it if you don’t — only Anthony said he’d promised to help you get your degree and I should like to please Anthony. Come in, blast you! I’m not going to be hunted for you.”

What nightmare this could be Damaris didn’t know. She was struggling and wrestling with the horrible creature, who was grabbing and pulling her farther down into the ditch. As she fought with him she screamed for help. At the sound he stopped pulling at her, and, still holding tight, listened. For a minute there was no sound, then as if in answer there came to them the noise of that remote thunder. At this Quentin, giving gasps of terror, let her go, even tried to push her away, then desisted and himself burrowed still deeper —“I knew it, I knew it,” he babbled softly. “O God! O God! Get away, you bitch! O you’ve told it.” He had almost disappeared and she heard the soft frenzied mutterings coming up to her for a moment before they died away, as the shaking fronds showed where below them he was trying to wriggle and push himself along the ditch. Damaris, with an almost equal violence of movement, scrambled out of it, and up again to her stile, where, stick in hand, she turned.

But there was no sign of his following her, and round the bend of the hedge she could not see him or his trail. Panting and horrified she leant against the stile. All her earlier irritations were swallowed up in her furious anger; she wanted to kill. All the indifferences, the negligences, the inattentions, that she had felt as insults ached almost physically in her. Her acquaintances, her father, Anthony — O to tear, to trample them. O this world of imbeciles! Her eyes caught the papers of her notes which had fallen from her hands and she bent, watchfully, to pick them up, then she went back to the stile and glanced across it. As she did so, she felt her footing uncertain; the earth seemed to rock and subside and rise under her. Could she be going to faint? Shutting her eyes she sat down on the step of the stile, and even that seemed to be swaying gently. For some few moments, the apparent movement went through her, then it gently ceased. Slowly she opened her eyes, slowly stood up, and leaned against the top bar to recover herself fully. Far off in the sky she saw a winged shape, a bird of sorts — very large it must be, she thought indolently, to be visible, so high as it seemed, and seemed huge even to her. But it flew off or she lost sight of it, and, with a deep breath or two, she pulled and settled her clothing into order, and, crossing the road, took another footpath back to the town, where for the rest of the day she concentrated, even more fiercely than usual, on her work.

Yet her night was disturbed: not merely by the less frequent but still recurring thunder, but by a trouble within. The seclusion in which, more or less successfully, she attempted to live, was so arranged that she was normally ignorant of its conditions. The habitual disposition towards unrighteousness which it involved was at best defended, at worst unnoticed. It was very rarely that her omissions were crystallized in a commission which by that very rarity became noticeable, and as she turned and shifted, and dozed and woke she found herself accused wherever her thoughts fled by the distracted face in the bracken. It looked towards her, and from the mouth she heard the phrases with which she was acquainted: the long wrangles of the early scholastics about universals, a sentence or two from Augustine, a statement from Porphyry . . . it was Quentin Sabot who uttered them. A couple of lines from one of Abelard’s own hymns especially rang in her ears as such things will.

Est in re veritas Jam non in schemate; until her maddened mind produced (incorrectly) as a translation:

Truth is always in the thing; never in the reasoning.

Quentin’s face went on looking at her and repeating this couplet until she could have cried with weariness and misery.

For she was miserable; also she was afraid. She wasn’t — no, she certainly wasn’t Anthony’s girl, but he was Anthony’s friend. And if her relations with Anthony had any truth at all, then she was committed to at least such an amount of care for Anthony’s wishes as he would have given to hers. For any mightier gift, for any understanding of that state in which she might profoundly and nobly love merely because opportunity for love was offered, she was not asked. She had taken — she knew she had taken — and she had, even by that measure, failed. She produced excuses, reasons, apologies even, and then as she argued there was that distracted face again, and from the distracted mouth came the singing doggerel:

Truth is always in the thing; never in the . . .

Est in re veritas— but that was all about religion and metaphysics; it was from a hymn for Lauds on Sunday. What had it to do with Quentin Sabot in a ditch? Anthony would be angry with her? Anthony had no right . . . Anthony couldn’t expect . . . Anthony oughtn’t to demand. . . . All that was very well, but she realized that it hadn’t much to do with Anthony. He might not demand or expect or claim, but he would undoubtedly be. Est in re veritas— O damn, damn!

She ought to be superior to all that. What was the phrase in the Phaedrus? —“the soul of the philosopher alone has wings.” She ought to be rising above . . . above helping anyone in a ditch, above speaking in goodwill to the friend of her friend, above trying to bring peace to the face that now pursued her. No, she ought, in fairness to Anthony, to have done something. “I was wrong,” she said, almost irritably, and with a fierce determination not to admit it to Anthony.

She met him therefore when the next morning — Sunday morning of all times — he appeared again, with a destructive fire. As he had been preparing every kind of flag of truce as he came along, under cover of which his diplomacy was to attempt her removal to London, this at first threw him into complete disorder, more especially as he could not for the moment understand what had provoked this fresh battle. She was asking, he at last made out, why he didn’t look after his friend better, and at that he broke through her talk.

“Have you seen him then?” he asked sharply. “Where? When? No, don’t chatter; tell me.”

Damaris told him — in general terms. “It was an extraordinarily unpleasant time,” she said. “I do think, Anthony, you oughtn’t to have let him go off by himself, if that’s the state he’s in.”

Anthony looked at her, and then took a turn through the room. Before his eyes, as he looked, she had seemed to change; the thought of Quentin, cast off, kicked at by her outraged anger, hurt him profoundly, and the sombre eyes with which he surveyed her saw a different and nastier Damaris. Yet he had known it all along — only that she should treat him as she did was part of the joke of things; that she should treat Quentin so seemed somehow so much worse. But of course it wasn’t worse, it was the same Damaris. Those whom he loved were at war. But Love itself wasn’t and couldn’t be at war. He loved her, and she had persecuted his friend. But he loved them both, and therefore there was no taking of sides. Love itself never could take sides. His heart ached in him, but as he came back to her his eyes were smiling, even though his face had been struck by pain.

O quanta qualia,” he murmured, pausing near her. “Those something sabbaths the blessed ones see. Dearest, you’ll be like the fellow in the New Testament; you’ll meet Abelard one day and he’ll stare at you and say he never knew you. I suppose you know you’ve been a pig.”

“Don’t talk to me like that,” Damaris said, and in the contention of emotions within her added absurdly, “It was a great shock to me.”

“You’ve got a worse shock than that coming to you,” he answered.

“Why do you always talk as if I didn’t know anything?” she asked, opening another attack on more favourable ground; and added, to distract him still further, “And then you expect me to marry you.”

“I don’t expect anything at all,” he said, “not from anybody. Least of all from you. If you were going to marry me, if you weren’t shut up, I should have knocked your damn silly head off your shoulders. But as it is — no. Only the sooner you leave off expecting the better you’re likely to be. Will you come to London?”

Damaris almost gaped, the question was so sudden, “Will I— will I what?” she exclaimed. “Why on earth should I go to London?”

“Quentin — God’s mercy save him now! — offered you a hole in a ditch . . . I offer you London,” Anthony said. “The reason is that the princes of heaven are in the world and you’re not used to them. No, stop a minute, and let me tell you. In your own language, you owe me that.”

He paused to choose his words. “Something has driven Quentin into panic and hiding; something has turned your father away from his hobby to inaction and contemplation; something frightened you all at Berringer’s house the other night; something has obsessed Foster and your friend Miss Wilmot till they attacked me yesterday evening; yes, they did — I am not mad, most noble Festa; something is sounding in the world like thunder —”

“Attacked you! What nonsense!” Damaris cried.

“— and you can stop and meet it if you choose. Or you can come to London for a few days’ grace at least.”

“If this is a joke —” she began.

“If it is,” he answered, “all your philosophers and schoolmen were mad together. And your life’s work is no more than the comparison of different scribblings in the cells of a lunatic asylum.”

She stood up, staring at him. “If this is your way of getting back on me,” she said, “because I didn’t do what you think I ought to for your insane friend —”

“What I think is of no matter,” he answered. “Have I pretended it was? It’s the thing that matters: the truth is in the thing. Heart’s dearest, listen — the things you study are true, and the philosophers you read knew it. The universals are abroad in the world, and what are you going to do about it? Besides write about them.”

“Do you seriously mean to tell me,” she said, “that Power is walking about on the earth? Just Power?”

“Yes,” he answered, and though she added before she could stop herself, “Don’t you even know what a philosophic universal is?” he said no more. For his energy sank within, carrying her, presenting, agonizing for her, holding the Divine Eagle by the wings that its perfect balance might redeem them, holding both her and Quentin and his own thought that they all might live together in the strong and lovely knowledge which was philosophy. So that he did not notice at first that she was saying coldly, “Perhaps you’d better go now.”

When this penetrated his mind, he made a last effort. “But the things I just spoke of — at least they’re true,” he said. “Your father has given up butterflies; you were startled; Quentin has been driven almost mad. What do you suppose did it? Come away for a day or two just till we can find out. Ah do! If —” he hesitated —“if you”— he compelled himself to go on —“if you owe me anything, do this to please me.”

Damaris paused. She did not know that one of the crises of her life had arrived, nor did she recognize in its full deceptiveness the temptation that rose in her. But she paused uncertain whether to pretend that in effect she did not owe him anything, or to admit that she did. On the very point of taking hypocritical refuge she paused, and merely answered instead: “I don’t see any reason to go to London, thank you.” She was to see that cold angry phrase as the beginning of her salvation.

He shrugged and was silent. He couldn’t go on appealing; he could not yet compel. He couldn’t think of anything more to do or say, yet he hated to leave her. He wondered what Marcellus Victorinus would have done in this quandary. Rockbotham would be expecting him soon. . . .

Well, that way was the only one that lay open; he would take that way. He couldn’t quite see what was to be gained by looking at the adept, but that possibility — and no other — had been presented to him. He would go. He gave his hand to Damaris.

“Goodbye, then,” he said. “Don’t be too angry with me — not for a week, anyhow. After that. . . . ”

“I don’t understand you a bit,” she said, and then made a handsome concession — after all, she did owe him something, and he was upset over Quentin —“but I think you’re trying to be kind. . . . I’m sorry about your friend — perhaps if it hadn’t been so sudden. . . . You see, I was preoccupied with that bothering business of the Divine Perfection. . . . Anthony, you’re hurting my hand!”

“I understand that it can be a trouble,” he said. “O Almighty Christ! Goodbye. We may meet at Philippi yet.” And then he went.

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