Shadows of Ecstasy, by Charles Williams

Chapter Four

The Majesty of the King

In the Tube Philip read the proclamation of the High Executive over again, and, to the best of his ability, considered it. He was uneasily conscious that Rosamond would have disapproved of this, and he couldn’t help feeling that it was only by an oversight that she hadn’t asked him to please her by leaving it alone. However, she hadn’t, so he was morally free. There stirred vaguely in his mind the subtler question of whether he were free by a strict or by an easy interpretation of morals: did exact justice, did a proper honour, demand that he should follow her choice or insist on his own? But the question never got as far as definition; he was aware of a difficulty turning over in its sleep — slouching towards Bethlehem but not reaching it — and almost deliberately refrained from realizing it. Because he did want to know, more accurately, what this alleged declaration had said about love. Unlike Roger and, fortunately for him, like Rosamond, he had no particular use for the masters of verse. He was therefore ignorant of the cloud of testimony that had been borne to the importance and significance of the passion that was growing in him. He had certainly heard of Dante and Beatrice, of Tristram and Iseult, of Lancelot and Guinevere, but there he stopped. He had hardly heard, he had certainly never brooded over, that strange identification of Beatrice with Theology and of Theology with Beatrice by which one great poet has justified centuries of else doubtful minds. But by that secular dispensation of mercy which has moved in the blood of myriads of lovers, he had felt what he did not know and experienced what he could not formularize. And the words which he now read did not so much startle his innocent devotion by their eccentricity as dimly disturb him with a sense of their justice. He had had no use at all for the African peoples except in so far as they gave him an opportunity to follow his European habits in providing Rosamond with a home and a car and anything else she wanted. The prospect of the great age of intellect being done, also left him unmoved; he hadn’t realized that any special great age of intellect had existed — except for a vague idea that a period of past history known as the Middle Ages was considerably less intelligent than the present, and that there had been a brief time when Athens, and a rather longer time when Rome, was very intellectual. But when all that seemed to him meaningless had been removed, there still remained the fact that never before, never anywhere, had any words, printed or spoken, come nearer to telling him what he really felt about Rosamond than this paragraph which purported to come from the centre of Africa, and from dark-skinned chiefs pouring up against the guns and rifles of England. He knew it was silly, but he knew it said “adoration,” “vision,” “apprehension of victory,” “conquest of death.” He knew it was silly, but he knew also that he had felt through Rosamond, brief and little understood, something which was indeed apprehension of victory and conquest of death.

When he got home he found his godfather alone, and, rather against his own intention, found himself approaching the subject. Caithness had seen the proclamation and was inclined to be a little scornful of it: which may partly have been due to the unrecognized fact that, while Roger and Philip had both found their interior passions divined and applauded, Caithness had had his referred to merely as “a misguided principle.” He doubted the authenticity, and went on to add: “Rather bombastic, don’t you think? I don’t pretend to know what it means.”

Philip said, “Roger seemed quite impressed by it.”

“O Roger!” the priest said good-humouredly. “I called it bombast but I expect he’d call it poetry. I don’t mean that it hasn’t a kind of thrill in it, but thrills aren’t the only thing — certainly they’re not safe things to live by.”

Philip thought this over, and decided that he agreed with it. Only his sensations about Rosamond were not — no, they were not thrills: and he wasn’t at all clear that they weren’t things to live by. He said, shamelessly involving Roger: “He made fun of me about it — he seemed to think that part of it was meant for me. The paragraph about — O well, some paragraph or other.”

Caithness looked down at the paper. “This about the exaltation of love, I expect,” he said, with a rather charming smile. “Roger would be all in favour of that; the poets are. But perhaps they’re more used to living on the hilltops than the rest of us.”

“You don’t think it’s true then?” Philip asked, with a slight and irrational feeling of disappointment. Irrational, because he hadn’t actually expected Caithness to agree with a gospel, if it was a gospel, out of Africa. Sir Bernard had once remarked that Caithness limited himself to the Near East in the matter of gospels, “the near East modified by the much nearer West.”

But over the direct question Caithness hesitated. “I wouldn’t care to say it wasn’t true,” he said, “but all truth is not expedient. It’s no use making people expect too much.”

“No,” Philip said, “I suppose it isn’t.” Was he expecting too much? was he, in fact, expecting anything at all? Or could whatever he expected or whatever happened alter the terribly important fact of the shape of Rosamond’s ear? He also looked again at the paper, and words leapt to his eyes. “Believe, imagine, live. Know exaltation and feed on it-”

“You don’t then,” he said, unwontedly stirred, “really think one ought to believe in it too much?”

“Why yes, my dear boy,” the priest answered. “Only these things are so often deceptive; they change or they become familiar. One can’t trust one’s own vision too far; that’s where religion comes in.”

Sir Bernard would no doubt have pointed out, what did not occur to either of the others, that this merely meant that Caithness was substituting his own hobby for Philip’s. But he wasn’t there, and so, vaguely depressed, especially as he couldn’t feel that Rosamond’s ear would ever change, the young man turned the conversation, and shut away the appeal of the High Executive for the time being in whatever corresponded in his mind to Roger Ingram’s bookshelves.

The African trouble, however, displayed, during the next few days, no possibility of being shut away. The steps which the Powers, on the unanimous testimony of their spokesmen, were harmoniously taking produced no effect against the rebels (as the enemy was habitually called). It became clear that the “hordes” consisted, in fact, of highly disciplined and well-supplied armies. In the north of Africa the territory held by the European forces grew daily smaller; all Egypt, except Cairo, was lost; the French were pressed back to the coast of Tangier; the Spaniards were hustled out of Morocco. The Dominion of South Africa was sending out expeditions, of which no news returned — certainly there had not been much time, but there was no news at all, or none that was published. In England an official censorship was attempted, but failed owing to the speedy growth of a party which demanded “Africa for the Africans.” Normally the massacre of the Christian missionaries would have been fatal to such a demand, but the recalcitrant attitude of the Archbishop hampered the more violent patriots. Rumours got about of the appearance of hostile aeroplanes over the Mediterranean and the coastline of Southern Europe. Negroes in London and other large towns were mobbed in the streets. Roger reported to Isabel that not only negroes but comparatively harmless Indians had disappeared from his classes. It was evident that the Government would be driven to some measure of internment.

It was so driven, more quickly than had been expected, when the news came of the sinking of a transport crowded with Indian troops which were being rushed to South Africa. That the African armies should be able to operate destructively by sea as well as by land was a shock even to instructed opinion, and, among the uninstructed, crowds began to parade the streets, booing and cheering and chasing any dark-skinned stranger who showed himself. Even one or two Southern Italians had, for a few minutes, an uneasy time. The crowds were of course dissolved by the police, but they came together again like drops of water till the evening’s amusement was done and they reluctantly went home.

The reaction of all these events on the money market was considerable, and it was not eased by the uncertainty which still existed on the situation of the late Mr. Rosenberg’s affairs. Nothing definite was known, since the Chief Rabbi and Mr. Considine persisted in their silence, as did the two legatees. But an uneasy feeling manifested itself, both in the streets around the brothers’ house and in the wider circles of finance. It could not be said that anything unusual was going on, for nothing at all seemed to be going on. But the stillness was alarming. No-one could believe that the two aged and devoted students of Kabbalistic doctrine were fit persons to control the vast interests of the Rosenberg estate. But no-one could prevent their doing whatever they liked with it. Nehemiah and Ezekiel came out to the synagogue and went home again, and went nowhere else, though well-dressed strangers in cars descended on Houndsditch, and were engaged with them over long periods. In Houndsditch itself strange tales of the jewels began to spread, following vivid accounts of them in the papers. The thrill of the jewels and the thrill of the Africans contended; hungry eyes followed the Jews as hostile eyes followed such rare negroes as could still be seen in the East End. A sullen excitement began to work around them, a breathless and vulgar imitation of the exalted imagination which the High Executive had declared to be the true path to desirable knowledge.

A more natural excitement, though perhaps equally crude from the point of view of the High Executive and that other High Executive represented among others by the Archbishops, affected innumerable suburban homes when the selling began. Gradually but steadily the prices of shares in the Rosenberg concerns began to fall. It was said that someone knew something and was standing from under. A shiver of panic touched finance, allied to that other panic which had already touched the extreme villages of Southern Europe. Nervous voices made inquiries over telephones in England as nervous eyes watched aeroplanes over the Mediterranean. From each background of silence a thin mist of fear crept out and was blown over many minds. Something shook civilization, as it had been shaken a hundred times before, but that something loomed now in half-fancied forms of alien powers, of negroes flying through the air and Jews withdrawing their gold. Day by day the tremors quickened. Neglected expositors of the Apocalypse in Tonbridge or Cheltenham, old ladies, retired military men, and an eccentric clergyman or two, began to say boldly that it was the end of the world. At Birmingham a man ran naked through the streets crying that he saw fire from heaven, and leaping on to the railway lines was killed by an express train before the police could catch him. “Second Adventist goes mad at Birmingham,” said the evening papers. The Churches found that growing crowds attended them. The Government unofficially suggested to the Archbishops that they should discourage people coming to church. The Archbishops issued a Pastoral Letter from which they naturally could not exclude some of their irritation with the Government; and of which therefore the first part, which was addressed to the new converts, tended towards a scornful and minatory tone. This, if anything, made matters worse, the converts naturally arguing that if the Church could afford to use that voice the Church must feel itself very safe indeed; and this feeling was strengthened by the second part which was addressed to the faithful in language that in normal times would have been ordinary enough. “And you, little children, love one another,” it began and continued on the same theme, ending with another quotation, “My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you.” The idea that these incantations contained a magical safety found more and more believers; and Sir Bernard congratulated Caithness on a greater spread of the Faith in ten days than in ten years previously. On a world already thus agitated fell the second communication of the High Executive. This, after the earlier formal invocation of “things willed and fated,” “gods many and one,” went on in something of a high style of distress to lament that the Powers of Europe had not thought well even to answer the earlier message, much less apparently to prepare themselves for any negotiations. They had instead, by all means at their command, increased their armies and strengthened the war. “Some check”, the message went on, “the African armies have administered to this gathering defiance, but the High Executive has felt compelled to advise its august Sovereigns that mere measures of defence will no longer be sufficient. If the Powers of Europe are determined to force war upon Africa, then Africa will be compelled to open war upon Europe. The gospel which is the birthright of the African peoples and which they offer as a message of hope even to the degraded and outworn nations of the white race carries no maxim which they are unwilling to practise. With a profound but unrecognised truth the Christians of Europe have declared that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. This maxim Africa knows, understands, obeys. In the high mysteries of birth and death, not only physical generation or physical destruction, but those spiritual experiences of which these are but types, Africa has learnt the secret duties of man. Her peoples offer themselves in exaltation to the bed of death as to the bed of love. With an ecstasy born of their ecstasy, with a communication to its children of that which they first communicated to it, the High Executive summons them to what is at present the final devotion of conscious being. They and it are alike indifferent to the result, if the armies of Europe destroy them they will but find in death a greater thing than their conquerors know. But the armies of Europe will not destroy them, for the Second Evolution of man has begun. Their leaders and prophets, and the High Executive which is their voice and act, address themselves no longer to the children of intellect and science and learning. They turn to their own peoples. Daughters and Sons of Africa, you are called to the everlasting sacrifice. Victim or priest at that altar, it matters not whether you inflict or endure the pang. Come, for the cycles are accomplished and the knowledge that was of old returns. Come, for this is the hour of death that alternates for ever with the hour of love. Come, for without the knowledge of both the knowledge of one shall fail. Come, ye blessed, inherit the things laid up for you from the foundations of the world.”

On the evening of the day when this invocation appeared, the crowds in the streets were thicker than ever. The first death was reported in a special edition of the papers; a negro had been literally hunted over Hampstead Heath and afterwards (not quite intentionally, it was thought), killed. Sir Bernard rang up Isabel.

“Nothing,” he said, when she answered, “except that you once said that Hampstead was the negro quarter of London, and I thought I’d like to know whether there was any trouble up there.”

“Not to say trouble,” Isabel said. “There was a little friction at the gate, and we’ve got a coloured gentleman in the house at present.”

“Have you indeed?” Sir Bernard exclaimed. “Was it you or Roger who brought him in?”

“Both of us,” Isabel explained. “We heard a noise in the street and we looked out, and there was a negro — at least, he was a black man; a negro’s something technical, isn’t it? — against our gate, and the most unpleasant lot of whites you ever saw all round him, cursing. Roger went out and talked to them, but that was no good. He said something about behaving like Englishmen, and I suppose they did; at least they began to throw stones and hit out with their sticks. So Roger got him through the gate, and I got them through the front door, and here he is.”

“You’re not hurt, Isabel?” Sir Bernard said sharply. “What about the crowd?”

“O they threw things at the house and smashed a window, and presently the police came and they went away,” Isabel answered. “No, thank you, I’m perfectly all right. I’m just going to make coffee. Come and have some.”

“Where’s your visitor?” Sir Bernard asked.

“Talking African love songs and tribal poetry with Roger in his room,” Isabel said. “They agree wonderfully on everything but the effect of the adverb. Roger’s evolving a theory that adverbs have no place in great poetry — I don’t understand why.”

“I should like to hear him,” Sir Bernard said. “Thanks, Isabel; I’ll come up if I may.”

“Do,” said Isabel, “and I’ll postpone the coffee for half-an-hour. Till then.”

For once Sir Bernard took a taxi; as a general rule he avoided them, preferring the more actively contemplative life of buses and tubes, and preferring also never to be in anything like a hurry. When he arrived he found Philip and Rosamond, who had been dining out, sitting side by side on the kitchen table, watching Isabel make the coffee.

“Come in here, Sir Bernard, won’t you?” she said when she had let him in, “and you shall see the refugee soon. He’s in the only room with a fire, and as Rosamond is terrified to death of him we have to linger in the kitchen to keep comfortably warm. ‘October nights are chill,’ as someone said. No, don’t tell me.”

“Isabel,” her sister protested, “I’m not terrified of him, but I don’t think it’s quite nice of him to stop here. Why doesn’t he go home?”

“With mobs prowling round the garden gate?” Isabel asked. “And Roger still making noises to show the union of accent and quantity? My dear Rosamond, when you’re married you won’t want Philip’s friends to go home until he’s thoroughly tired out. Otherwise he’ll barge into your room at midnight and go on with the conversation with you. And as you’re asleep to begin with, and as you don’t know what the conversation was about, and as you don’t know whether he wants you to agree or disagree though you’d do either for peace, you’ll find it very difficult to be nice to him. I have never”, Isabel went on, pouring milk into a saucepan, “really quarrelled with Roger . . . ”

“Isabel!” Sir Bernard murmured.

“Not really,” Isabel persisted, “except once, and that was when he woke me up by calling out to me very late one night, ‘Isabel, what is there in verse which is the equivalent of the principle of the arch?’ I really was angry then, but he only kept murmuring lines of poetry and trying to see if they were like an arch. All that because a friend of his who had been to dinner had gone away at half-past eleven instead of half-past one. Always remember, Rosamond my child, that a man needs you to get away from.”

“You mean needs to get away from me, don’t you?” Rosamond asked, looking possessively at Philip.

“No,” Isabel said, “Sir Bernard, the milk’s boiling . . . thank you so much. No, Rosamond, I don’t. I mean exactly what I said. A man must have you-”

“I wish you wouldn’t keep saying ‘a man,’ Isabel,” Philip remonstrated.

“Very well — give me a spoon, Philip — Philip then must have you there in order to be able to get away. If you weren’t there he wouldn’t be able to get away.”

Rosamond looked uninterested. Philip reflected what a curious thing it was that so many people he knew should want to chatter like this. His father did it, Ingram did it, Isabel did it. Sometimes he understood it, sometimes he didn’t. But he never understood it as now, suddenly, he understood Rosamond’s arm when she leant forward to pass a plate to her sister; somehow that arm always made him think of the Downs against the sky. There was a line, a curved beauty, a thing that spoke to both mind and heart; a thing that was there for ever. And Rosamond? Rosamond was like them, she was there for ever. It occurred to him that, if she was, then her occasional slowness when he was trying to explain something was there for ever. Well, after all, Rosamond was only human; she couldn’t be absolutely perfect. And then as she stretched out her arm again he cried out that she was perfect, she was more than perfect; the movement of her arm was something frightfully important, and now it was gone. He had seen the verge of a great conclusion of mortal things and then it had vanished. Over that white curve he had looked into incredible space; abysses of intelligence lay beyond it. And in a moment all that lay beyond it was the bright kitchen, and Sir Bernard standing up to go into the other room. He jumped to his feet and with a movement almost of terror took the loaded coffee tray from Isabel.

“Quietly,” Isabel said as they came to the door of the nondescript room where the Ingrams habitually, alone or with their intimates, passed their time. “Quietly; let’s hear what the rescued captive and his saviour are talking about.”

She opened the door gently, and Ingram’s voice came out to them. “O rhythm!” he was saying, “rhythm is the cheap pseudo-metaphysical slang of our day. At least it was; it’s dying now. Everyone explained everything by talking about rhythm. It’s a curious thing that people who will sneer at a man for doing nothing all his life but making words sound lovely and full of meaning will be quite happy over life so long as they can explain it in words that are almost meaningless. I sometimes think the nearest we can get to meaning is to feel as if there was meaning.”

“Yet at least rhythm’s distinctly felt,” said another voice, a rich strange voice; “so far they attempt to discover a knowledge of the whole.”

“O so far!” Ingram said, and jumped off the table on which he was sitting as Isabel pushed the door right open and came into the room. After a table had been found for the tray, introductions took place; at least Ingram began to say, “O Rosamond”— he stopped suddenly; “By God,” he said, “I don’t know your name.”

The stranger, a tall magnificent young creature, darkly bronze, bowed to Rosamond: “My name is Inkamasi,” he said. “At least,” he added, a trifle scornfully, Sir Bernard thought, “that is the simplest form of it.”

“Quite,” Roger said brightly. “Miss Murchison, Mr. Travers — hallo, Sir Bernard, I didn’t know you were here — Sir Bernard Travers, the Belly–King.”

It was a name with which his intimates had teased Sir Bernard in the days of his practice. Philip frowned, forgetting that though the black — if you could strictly call him black — was to him an entirely new and not very desirable acquaintance, the occurrences of the last two hours had put him on terms of intimacy with the Ingrams. Rosamond, rather nervously, kept close to his side. Roger sat down again on top of his large knee-hole writing-table, and took the coffee Philip handed him.

“We were talking —” he began.

“Yes, darling, we heard you,” Isabel said. “Don’t trouble to repeat it just at once. And I hope that doesn’t sound too rude,” she added to the stranger, “only when Roger’s got more than two people to listen to him he always begins to lecture.”

“I ought to have gone long ago,” the other said. “But your husband kept me, talking of poetry and song and the principles of being.”

“But”, Isabel said, “must you go yet? I mean, will it be wise?” She looked at Roger.

“O quite,” the African said. “The police will have cleared the streets, and I don’t live far away.”

Roger looked at the clock. “Twenty to ten,” he said, “better wait a little. I didn’t quite get the hang of what you were saying about Homer. I’ll walk round with you presently. Sir Bernard’ll be interested in Homer; he had a line from him on the title-page of his book, opposite the peculiarly loathsome diagram that formed the frontispiece.”

“I didn’t even know you’d looked so far into it,” Sir Bernard said.

“I generally give the title-page a fair chance,” Roger said. “One can’t always judge books merely by the cover. It’s a book on the stomach,” he explained to Inkamasi, “with nine full-page photographs and about fifty more illustrations, each more abominable than the others. When it was published Sir Bernard gave copies to all his friends, because he knew they wouldn’t read it and wanted to hear them explaining why. Brave men cut him afterwards.”

“I should like to see it,” the African voice said. “I did a little medical work before I took up law.”

“Well, it’s buried under Rabelais, Swift, and Ulysses at the moment,” Ingram grinned at Sir Bernard,“but I’ll get it out for you before you come again. ‘Lend it you I will for half a hundred years.’ But not give it. I retain it to keep me humble.”

“I think I’ll go now,” Inkamasi said, putting down his cup. “Thank you, Mrs. Ingram, for being so kind.”

“O well, if you will,” said Roger. “Coming, Philip?”

“Yes, rather,” Philip answered, with a momentary private hope that he wouldn’t have to help defend this black man against even an unpleasant white.

“Philip,” Rosamond whispered to him, with a soft pounce, “don’t go. I don’t like him.”

“Must,” he whispered back. “Shan’t be long, dearest.”

“We’ll all go,” Sir Bernard said. “The streets aren’t too quiet. I’m not at all sure, Mr. Inkamasi, that you wouldn’t be wise to take advantage of the Government’s offer to remove friendly aliens. If you’re living alone-”

The African dilated where he stood. “I will go alone,” he said. “They will not attack me twice.”

“No, of course not,” Roger said. “Never attack the same man twice is a well-known rule of mobs. Nonsense, man, no one knows who’s about. I think you ought to stop here; you can, you know. We told you that before.”

“Do,” Isabel put in.

Inkamasi seemed to hesitate, then he said rather vaguely, “No, I’m sorry, I must go. There are reasons . . . ”

“Are they really vicious, Roger?” Sir Bernard asked.

“Nasty little things,” Roger answered. “The usual kind. I believe they’d have bolted before if Inkamasi and I had rushed them. He nearly scattered them by himself but there were just enough to feel safe.”

“I know them,” the African said disdainfully. “There are others like them in my country — they would run from a lion.”

“As bad as that, are they?” Roger asked gravely. “Good heavens, many’s the time I’ve chased a lion or two down Haverstock Hill by just shouting at them. Like you were doing when we came out. By the way, what were you shouting?”

The African drew himself up and his magnificent form seemed to expand before the young man’s eyes. He cried out: “They asked me my name and I told them. I am Inkamasi of the Zulus, I am the chief of the sons of Chaka, I am the master of the impis, I am Inkamasi the chieftain and the king.”

There was a dead silence; and then suddenly Roger, almost as if some challenge in the other’s voice had stirred him to motion and speech, answered in the voice he had for verse. He threw up his right arm; he cried out, “Bayate!”; he held the Zulu rigid by the unexpected salute. And then someone else moved, and Roger dropped his arm and grinned and said: “Rider Haggard. But it’s true, isn’t it?”

“It is true,” the king said. “It is the royal salute that you give, though I’ve only heard it once or twice in my life before. But I thought in England you’d forgotten royalty.”

“Well, in a kind of way we have,” Roger said. “And then again in a kind of way we haven’t. And anyhow I didn’t know you really kept it in Africa.”

“There are those among you who would like us to forget,” the Zulu answered. “But it isn’t easy to forget Chaka. Have you forgotten Caesar?”

He seemed to expect no answer; he turned again to Isabel, but this time with a greater air. “Good-night, Mrs. Ingram,” he said. “Your husband will be back soon. They shan’t come far. Good-night, Miss Murchison. Sir Bernard, will you tell me one thing I have always meant to look up about the stomach?”

Isabel came back from the front door to Rosamond with a bewildered air. “Tell me,” she said, “are those three taking care of him or is he taking care of them?”

“I think it’s perfectly horrible,” Rosamond said. “How could you let him come into the house, Isabel? — everything smells of him. The king, indeed! It’s almost profane.”

Isabel raised her eyebrows. “What, calling himself a king?” she asked.

“It was the way he talked, looking like a god,” Rosamond said, almost hysterically. “I hate him to look like that.”

Isabel looked at the coffee cups. “Shall I clear them away?” she said, “or shall I leave them for Muriel? Roger won’t call her Muriel, he says it makes him feel unclean. So awkward, because he always has to go and find her if he happens to want anything. He can’t just call out ‘Hi!’ Don’t worry, Rosamond, I don’t suppose you’ll see him again.”

“I hate him,” Rosamond repeated. “Why didn’t he stop in Africa?” She walked to the window. “Isabel, they won’t come here, will they?”

Isabel looked at the fire, herself a little shaken. In spite of her mockery of her sister she knew quite well what Rosamond had meant by calling Inkamasi “profane.” It was a wild protest against the sudden intrusion of a new energy, the making violently real of a thing that had become less than a word. For a few moments royalty — a dark alien royalty — had appeared in the room, imposed upon all of them by the mere intensity of the Zulu chieftain’s own strength and conviction. By virtue of that wide reading which both she and her husband loved, she had felt a shadow of it at times; in the superb lines of Marlowe or Shakespeare, in the rolling titles heard on ceremonial occasions at Church or in local celebrations: “The King’s Most Excellent Majesty,” “His Majesty the King–Emperor,” “The Government of His Britannic Majesty.” But on Rosamond unprepared by such imaginative experience the sudden consciousness of this energy and richness — believing so greatly in itself and operating so near her — had come with a shock of dismay. Besides, when all had been said, they were all on edge with the African news, and to have an African in your own rooms overwhelming you with himself — No, she didn’t like it, Rosamond was right.

The single bliss and sole felicity, The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

The divine lines came riding back into her memory. “It isn’t”, Roger had said once at one of his “popular” lectures, “what poetry says, it is what poetry is.” These lines described kingship, but that wasn’t their strength. They invoked kingship, they grew by their very sound into something of the same enormous royalty which the Zulu had for a moment worn; they were the safe possession in themselves of that sense of single bliss and sole felicity which they affected to describe. In them it was apart from her, to be enjoyed and endured only as she chose, it was hers. But if it went abroad, moving in the world not at her decision or the decision of those like her, but in its own right and power, the energy which was royalty and poetry dominating and using her by means of hands and voices and eyes . . .

Rosamond came back from the window to the fire, and Isabel remembered that she hadn’t replied to her sister’s question. She said: “No, they won’t come here.”

Rosamond answered: “You won’t see him again?”

“Who — the king?” Isabel asked. “I don’t suppose so.”

“I don’t think you ought to,” Rosamond said. “It’s not very patriotic, is it? Why ever did you let Roger bring him in?”

Isabel stiffened a little. “My dear little girl,” she answered, “I don’t ‘let’ Roger. If there’s any letting done,” she went on, relaxing, “he does it. But I don’t think he quite knows it.”

Rosamond’s face suggested that Philip would be “let” or not, fairly often. Isabel added: “Would you rather we’d ‘let’ the crowd get at him?”

“Yes,” her sister answered. “You don’t know how I hate him. He’s . . . abominable.”

“Don’t be silly, Rosamond,” Isabel said. “You let things upset you so, though you do seem such a sedate little creature. I don’t suppose you’ll see him again, and if you do what difference does it make?”

Rosamond moved uneasily. “Why isn’t Philip stronger?” she said. “He needn’t have gone tonight.”

Isabel broke into a laugh. “You want Philip to be the world’s strong man led by a woman’s hair,” she said. “You can’t have it, darling. Philip’s no caveman.”

“I don’t want a caveman,” Rosamond cried out. “I hate him anyhow. He looks like Roger does when he quotes that beastly poetry. It isn’t decent. It’s like those horrible people on the Heath.”

“What on earth do you mean? What horrible people?” Isabel asked, really bewildered.

“Disgusting beasts,” Rosamond went on. “You know what I mean — all those brutes lying about at night. They make everything so . . . so loathsome. Why can’t people be nice and behave properly?”

“And not quote poetry or be kings of the Zulus,” Isabel murmured. “You do hate a good many things, don’t you? You’re not going to marry Philip, I hope, because you hate him rather less than the other young men you know? I don’t think he’d be entirely satisfied with that.”

“Philip!” Rosamond uttered, in a tone so unlike her usual deceitfully soft voice that Isabel looked at her in alarm. There had been in that one word scorn and hate and fear, almost as if Philip rather than the Zulu stood for everything that Rosamond most detested, as if she were aware now for the first time that the world was not simply Rosamond Murchison’s oyster, that indeed it was a great deal more like an octopus, the tentacles of which she had seen waving at a distance in the night. The king — Philip — poetry — people on the Heath — African proclamations — certainly there was a huge something whose form lay hidden in the darkness and the distance without; something Rosamond had always avoided, unless occasionally . . . Isabel remembered how her small sister, who had always carried herself as if she pretended to disdain chocolates, had once secretly and greedily devoured a whole boxful. It had been an unpleasant episode, made worse by an ignored but definite attempt on Rosamond’s part to make Isabel herself the culprit; only appalling physical results had made innocence certain. Rosamond perhaps hated an octopus that lay not merely without. Isabel, bending her brows at the fire, and trying to be lucid and loving at once, was not altogether sorry when Rosamond said suddenly: “I’m tired: I’m going to bed. Say good-night to Philip for me,” and vanished.

Roger, meanwhile, was walking with the others towards the house where Inkamasi lived, at one end of the line of four, with Philip at the other, and Sir Bernard and the Zulu discussing stomachs in between. It occurred to Ingram with a slight feeling of shame, as he heard the older man explaining and assenting, that although in the past Sir Bernard had always been able and willing to discuss literature, he himself had never been either able or willing to discuss stomachs. He had liked and admired the specialist, but he had assumed as a matter of course that his own specialization was a more public, even a more important, thing. To justify himself he allowed the suggestion to arise that Sir Bernard had been perhaps a little too easy-going, too disinclined to press his own interests. After all, it was in a different way a note of his son’s character also. Philip was a nice creature, but he never imposed himself; he was graver and more solemn than his father but equally swept on the current of conversation. That Sir Bernard had now for many years been able unnoticed to direct any conversation to any end he wished, but that all ends seemed to him equally interesting, naturally did not occur to the younger specialist. Ingram was himself so devoted to his own subject and neglectful of others that he inevitably assumed a similar devotion and neglect in his friends, and explained their behaviour on this hypothesis. As he glanced sidelong at the disputants therefore he saw in Sir Bernard an example of a man a little ill-treated by society, and made up his mind to read the famous book at the first opportunity. Nor could he refrain, as his eye caught the Zulu’s face in the light of a lamp, from reflecting upon how differently this stranger had dominated their emotions. The sudden crisis had tricked him into what was almost an absurdity. But in fact, he reflected, the sudden crisis was not separate from Inkamasi; it was Inkamasi. It was a human force that had overthrown him. His emotions, caught unguarded by his self-attentive mind, had moved him, and his emotions themselves had been moved by a stronger emotion issuing from the stranger. Rhythm had followed rhythm. “God damn and blast rhythm!” he thought angrily, “I will not use their malodorous slang.” But the word had started his associations; half a dozen lines leapt into his mind flushed with war and royalty, from “My nightingale, We have beat them to their beds,” down to “stunned of heaven or stricken pale Before the face of the King.” Perhaps there was something in rhythm after all; perhaps Milton meant something profounder than was usually thought by saying that the great poet should himself be a poem; perhaps —

“Don’t you think so, Roger?” Sir Bernard asked.

Ingram came back with a shock. “I beg your pardon,” he said, “I wasn’t listening. Don’t I think what?”

“Don’t you think that the king had better not go on living alone?”

“Are you alone in the house?” Ingram asked the Zulu.

“I am the only sub-tenant,” Inkamasi said gravely. “There is a landlady.”

“Then of course you mustn’t,” Ingram said. “Is this it?” They had stopped outside a house in one of the smaller apartment-letting roads bordering the Heath. “You could be attacked and done in here quite nicely — from back and front. You’d better come and stop with us as I told you.”

Inkamasi shook his head. “That is very kind of you, Mr. Ingram,” he answered, “but I couldn’t expose Mrs. Ingram to any unpleasantness.”

“Nonsense,” said Roger. “She won’t-”

Sir Bernard laid a hand on his arm. “A moment, Roger,” he said. “I speak as a snob, but so did Saint Paul on occasion, I seem to remember, and I also am an Apostle. Or at least I know the Home Secretary. Now in two or three days the Government will be driven to arrest and intern all the Africans in London. No, of course, it won’t want to, but it won’t be able to let them be done to death one by one. I suggest it will be much more to the point if the king is staying with me, because my word will probably be taken for him. And he can walk in the garden and study digestion theoretically and practically.”

“You mean they’ll let him alone there?” Roger said. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. Well, we’d better look for a taxi then.”

“Stop a minute, Mr. Ingram,” the Zulu said. “Sir Bernard, this is extraordinarily kind of you. But it would make it a little difficult for me perhaps, if I may say so. If I came to stay with you, I should be committed to neutrality, if not to friendship. And supposing I wanted to help my people?”

A car came softly along the street towards them. Sir Bernard said dubiously, “It would necessitate, I suppose, an implied parole. But would you be worse off? You can’t do much for them now; and if you’re attacked and killed-”

He paused; behind them the car also stopped. Roger, glancing over his shoulder as he heard the king say, “I mustn’t pledge myself; I mustn’t be bound,” saw Nigel Considine spring out. He gave a quick exclamation and his companions also looked round.

“Why, Mr. Ingram,” Considine said, and saluted Sir Bernard and Philip, “this is a happy meeting. I didn’t know you were friends of my friend.”

“Through the introduction of a London crowd,” Roger answered. “So we just strolled home with him.”

“I was afraid of that,” Considine answered, “so I’ve come to carry him off.” He smiled at Inkamasi, and Philip wondered why he and his father and Roger should suddenly seem so small standing around those two other figures. Sir Bernard said, “I was just suggesting that the king should stay with me.” But the African and Considine were gazing at each other, and neither of them answered.

“I must be free,” Inkamasi said suddenly. “I must do what I choose.”

“You shall be free; you shall do what you choose,” the other answered. “But you will come with me now, and presently I will set you free.” He broke suddenly into a stream of unrecognizable syllables which the others supposed were Zulu, and still he held Inkamasi’s eyes with his own, and the African stammered and began to speak and ceased, and the urgent commanding voice flowed on. Inkamasi put out his hand suddenly towards Sir Bernard, who was next him, and took his arm. He cried out suddenly in English, “But I do not wish — I do not choose-” then his whole figure sagged and his hand drew itself away. Considine said something to him even more sharply; he moved forward, and slowly, almost as if moving in his sleep, got into the car. Considine, following him, paused by the door and turned.

“Sir Bernard,” he said, “in a very few days I shall be leaving England. But I’ve written to you today to ask if you will dine with me tomorrow. I apologize for the short notice. If you would — and perhaps these gentlemen too? Let’s discuss verse once more, Mr. Ingram, before I go.”

“Must you go?” Roger, to his surprise, heard himself saying.

“All that’s mine remains,” Considine said, “even if embalmed or diluted —” he smiled, and there was victory in his face. He looked back at Sir Bernard, who said only, “Thank you very much!”

“At eight tomorrow then,” Considine said. “Good-night.” He leapt into the car and at once it slid away. The three stood staring after it. At last —

“Well,” Sir Bernard said, “I do want to ask him about the photograph. And lots of people talk rather big. But if Mr. Considine can bully a Zulu prince who could bully us . . . ”

“I don’t see anything in him particularly,” Philip said. “But I was surprised the king let himself be persuaded.”

Sir Bernard began to walk away. “‘Persuaded,’ Philip? Do you think ‘persuaded’ was the word?” he said.

“I don’t think the king wanted to go,” Philip said. “But of course I don’t know what Considine said in Zulu, if it was Zulu.”

“Nor do I,” said Sir Bernard. “But I know what I should say in that tone. I should say, ‘Come on, you fool! It’s me telling you.’ When I was in practice I kept that voice for telling American millionaires to eat less. There are moments when I wonder whether I really like Mr. Considine.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/williams/charles/shadows-of-ecstasy/chapter4.html

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