Shadows of Ecstasy, by Charles Williams

Chapter Nine

The Riot and the Raid

Philip jumped on to a bus — any bus — the first he saw. He had been walking for ever so long, and he must sit down. But also he must be moving; he couldn’t be shut in. Things were worse than he had ever imagined they could be; indeed he couldn’t quite imagine what exactly they now were. The Hampstead flat was in a state of acute distress and turmoil; he had arrived that evening innocently enough, to find half a dozen policemen all arguing with Roger, who was glowering at Rosamond, who was crying hysterically in Isabel’s arms, who was keeping, not without difficulty, a grave sympathy with all of them. He had naturally hurried to Rosamond, but not with the best effects; the sight of him had seemed to distract her more than ever. Out of the arguments and exclamations he had at last gathered — and more clearly after the police had at last grimly withdrawn — that Considine had been there, and that Rosamond, after she had realized who it really was, had gone through a short period of conflict with herself on the right thing to do. She said it had been conflict, and that only her duty . . . whereas Roger, in a few words, implied that she had been delighted at the chance, and that duty — except to herself — was a thing of which she was entirely unconscious and incapable. Anyhow, after a very short period she had rung up the police-station and explained to the authorities there what was happening. Why the police hadn’t arrested Considine Philip couldn’t understand. Isabel was concerned with her sister, and Roger wasn’t very clear in his account. Somebody had gone through the midst of somebody else; somebody had been like Pythian Apollo. But he couldn’t bother about all that; he was too anxious about Rosamond. Had he been challenged, he would have had to admit that for a guest to try and have another visitor arrested in the host’s drawing-room was not perhaps . . . though for Roger to call it treachery was absurd. If anything, it was public spirit. He knew nothing — Rosamond had seen to that — of such an orgy as the episode of the chocolates which Isabel so clearly and reluctantly remembered; he knew nothing of a greedy gobbling child, breaking suddenly away from its ordinary snobbish pretences, giving way to the thrust of its secret longings and vainly trying to conceal from others’ eyes the force of its desires. She had cheated herself so long, consciously in childhood, with that strange combination of perfect innocence and deliberate sin which makes childhood so blameless and so guilty at one and the same moment; less consciously in youth, as innocence faded and the necessity of imposing some kind of image of herself on the world grew stronger, till now in her first womanhood she had forgotten the cheat, until her outraged flesh rebelled and clamoured from starvation for food. And even now she would not admit it; she would neither fight it nor flee from it nor yield to it nor compromise with it. She could hardly even deny that it was there, for there was no place for it in her mind. She, she of all people, could never be capable of abominably longing to be near the dark prince of Africa; she couldn’t thrill to the trumpets of conversion nor glow to the fires of ecstasy. Nor could she hate herself for refusing them. But she could and inevitably did hate the things that resembled them — Considine’s person and Roger’s verse and Philip, all of Philip, for Philip to her agonized sense was at once a detestable parody of what she wanted and a present reminder of what she longed to forget. And now, like all men and all women who are not masters of life, she swayed to and fro in her intention and even in her desire. At Kensington she had shrunk away from Inkamasi and fled from him; at Hampstead she thought of him and secretly longed for him. Power was in her and she was terrified of it. She had been self-possessed, but all herself was in the possessing and nothing in the possessed; self-controlled, but she had: had only a void to control. And now that nothing and that void were moved with fire and darkness; the shadow of ecstasy lay over her life, and denying the possibility of ecstasy she fled through its shadow as far as its edge, and halted irresolute, and was drawn back by a fascination she loved and hated. She was alive and she hated life; not with a free feeling of judgement but with servile fear. She hated life, and therefore she would hide in Hampstead; she lived, and therefore she would return to Kensington. But neither in Hampstead nor Kensington, in Europe nor Africa, in her vision of her unsubservient self, nor of her monstrous master, was there any place for Philip, much less a Philip aware of the exaltation of love.

But it was not till after, shocked and bewildered by the venom she had flung at him in that dreadful scene, he had at last gone that she began to fear that her relations with Kensington might have been severed. And, not being there, she was determined to get back there. She would run there and then run away, till the strait jacket of time and place imprisoned her as it imprisons in the end all who suffer from a like madness. It is perhaps why the asylum of material creation was created, and we sit in our separate cells, strapped and comparatively harmless, merely foaming a little and twitching our fingers, while the steps and voices of unknown warders come to us from the infinite corridors. But Rosamond was only beginning to hurl herself against the walls of her cell, and the invisible warders had not yet had occasion to take much notice of her. The jacket waited her; when the paroxysm was done she would no doubt come to regard it as becoming wear and in the latest fashion. Whether such a belief is desirable is a question men have not yet been able to decide.

Since Roger was so cruel to her, so detestably unfair, she would go to Sir Bernard; there was no other friend in London on whom she could descend without notice. Sir Bernard would understand her motives; he’d tried to get that hateful man arrested. Isabel tried her best to prevent her, saying even that Roger might be going away. But this didn’t seem to placate Rosamond, and at last Isabel said no more. Roger said nothing at all until Rosamond had left them “to put some of her things together.” Isabel said: “I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing: Sir Bernard may be able to do something. What she needs is a sleeping-draught.”

“What she needs”, Roger said, “is prussic acid.”

Meanwhile Philip had walked, walked millions of miles, it seemed, till at a sudden last weariness struck him and he got on a bus. The heavens beyond that firmamental arm had been pouring anger and distraction and hatred down on him, and he didn’t understand it at all. He had been trying to please Rosamond — which, unlike most people who use similar phrases, he actually had. He sat on the bus and thought so for a long time, until he became aware that someone was speaking to him.

The conductor had come up and was standing by him, peering out through the front of the bus, and saying something. Philip roused himself to attention, and heard him say: “There’s something up; can’t you hear it, sir?”

Philip listened and looked round. The night was clear and he recognized in a mass that lay on his left Liverpool Street Station. The bus was going slowly, for it was interrupted and hampered by a number of people running down the road in the same direction. There was a sound in the distance which resolved itself, as he listened, into the noise of shouting.

“What the devil is up?” he said.

The conductor — a short rather gloomy fellow — gave a sinister smile. “I shouldn’t wonder but what I could guess,” he said. “I thought it’d happen sooner or later. I said it was a silly business, letting it be known all over the place that they’d millions and millions worth of jewels in the house. ‘Jewels to the Jews,’ I called it, when it got about. Everything gets about. And if it wasn’t jewels — and some say it wasn’t — it was money. Hark at that!”

Another shout, nearer now as the bus moved on, brought Philip to his feet. “Is it the Rosenbergs?” he said. “But they can’t have got them here.”

The bus, as he spoke, turned into Bishopsgate and was brought almost to a stop by an accumulating crowd. Philip jumped off and allowed himself to be carried in the steady stream that set towards one of the side turnings. He caught fragments of talk: “Say they’re going to bribe the negroes”; “know all about those bloody niggers”; “great jewels like turnips, been buying them for months”; “lowsy old Jews”; “Christ Almighty”; “bloody Jews.” But what had roused the crowd he wasn’t yet at all clear. His coat buttoned, and his collar turned up, his stick firmly grasped, he was carried round one corner after another. In the darkness he was aware of continually changing neighbours, among whom were certainly some of his own class and standing. He saw a brown lean face which he thought he recognized; a large fat face with an open mouth from which issued stridently a continual and monotonous cry of “Dirty Jews!”; a happy excited face — two or three of them all in a knot together. He was thrust backwards, sideways; the crowd lurched diversely and pinned him against some railings. A few feet ahead, it seemed to him, so far as he could judge in the darkness, that the crowd centred before a particular gate and house. There the shouting rose loudest, and sticks were rattled on the railings. He saw the helmets of two policemen within the gate and before the front door. Another call went up: “Come out, you bloody Jews!” “Come out and bring us the jewels!” “Come out and we’ll show you what we’ll do to the niggers!” He caught fresh fragments of the talk round him. A woman of sixty near by said with a sensuous shudder to her neighbour: “They do say that Jews eat babies,” “Ah,” said the neighbour, “foreigners’ll do anything,” and in a minute or two passed the information on in turn. Soon after, someone in front of the house shouted: “When did you eat the last baby?” and though a roar of laughter answered it, it was laughter with a hint of madness. Philip managed to edge a little farther towards the house, in the garden of which he now saw two or three hats and caps as well as the helmets. The police, however, at this made a sudden move, one man was flung sideways into the next narrow garden where he fell with a crash, another scrambled hastily the other way, and a third dropped flat on the ground. In the recoil that followed, Philip achieved the front of the house. “All right,” he said hurriedly to the police. “I’m with you. Let me in.” They took one comprehensive look at him, decided on the risk, and as the crowd swayed back he slipped through and turned to face it.

“Who the hell are you?” half a dozen asked him. “Another baby-eater?”

“Come to get the jewels,” another voice answered. “Come on, there’s only three of them.” Nevertheless Philip’s stick and the truncheons of the police held the front rank yet a little doubtful.

In the pause a window opened over their heads and a voice said: “Why are you here?” A roar of laughter and abuse followed. “Hand out the jewels! Come out and meet us! Who’s afraid of the niggers? Who’s doing a bunk? Jew! Jew! Jew!”

The voice said coldly: “Sons of abomination, what have we to do with you? Defilers of yourselves, who are you to come against the Holy One of Israel?”

The laughter and abuse grew more violent. “‘Ark at him,” said a thin hungry-looking man near Philip. “O my Gawd; the ‘Oly one of Hisrael!”

“You may destroy the house and all that is within it,” Rosenberg said, “and you shall be smitten with fire and pestilence and all the plagues of Egypt. But the jewels, even if they were here, you should not touch or see, for they are holy to the Lord. They are for the Temple of Zion and for Messias that shall be revealed.”

“‘Im and ‘is Messias,” said a stout woman. “I ‘opes Messias isn’t in a ‘urry for them jewels!”

A stone flew through the air, and at the same time a huge fellow pushed to the gate, where he looked up and spoke: “Look ’ere,” he said, “are you Rosenberg?”

“I am Nehemiah Rosenberg,” the voice said.

“Then you look ’ere. We ‘appen to know that you’ve been in with the Government and the capitalists to get all this money out of the working classes and get away with it to the niggers as like as not. And we don’t ‘old with it. Now we don’t want to ‘urt you but we don’t let a lot of bloody Sheenies get away with our money to those blasted niggers, not much we don’t. Give us them jewels and I’ll see they’re put in safe keeping: I swear I will. And if you don’t I’ll damn well put a light to the house myself.”

A roar of applause answered him, though the stout woman, who appeared to Philip to preserve an attitude of detachment worthy of Sir Bernard, said generally: “Ah, I don’t ‘old with Socialism,” and one of the policemen added agreeably: “You keep your mouth shut, Mike Cummings.”

“Thank Gawd,” Mr. Cummings said, “I never could keep my mouth shut while honest men are being put on.”

Rosenberg leaned out of the window. “I tell you,” he said, “the Lord shall avenge Himself upon His enemies. In the morning you shall say, ‘Would God it were night,’ and in the evening you shall say, ‘Would God it were day’; and His anger shall be with you in your secret chamber . . . ”

Something flew through the air, struck the wall, and dropped at Philip’s feet; something smashed the glass of the window above him. He clutched at his stick, and at the same time saw one of the policemen dragged sideways and clubs and belts appearing around him. He was back against the front door, and heard it creaking as the rush of the crowd in a storm of shrieks, curses, and yells came against him. Something hit his shoulder, a large dirty chin came close to his eyes, and an elbow or a stick drove into his side. At the same moment the door gave and they all crashed into the narrow passage together. The first in were past him and up the stairs; the next few in their haste ignored him; and then it was all darkness and pandemonium. He heard a loud voice upstairs, overwhelmed by the louder tumult of the crowd, a sudden silence above, noticeable in a momentary cessation of the uproar without, and then a cry: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Chaos beyond anything he had known earlier in the riot broke out again, chaos of voices, but also now chaos of movement — part of the crowd in the house trying to get out, part trying to get upstairs, part uncertain and confused. Shouts of “the police” were heard from the street, the pressure round Philip lightened, and he found one of his former allies next to him again, trying to force a way upstairs. Exclamations of terror broke out, the crowd thinned, and when at last they entered the upper room, they were only in time to prevent the demonstrative Mr. Cummings from slipping away. Him the constable seized, while Philip, taking in the appearance of the room, with a taut rope stretched across it and out of the window, ran across to join Ezekiel who, torn and bleeding, was leaning out of it. He knew before he looked out what he would find, nor was it till he had helped to pull up the hanging body of Nehemiah that he found time to wonder why the crowd had so swiftly destroyed their prey. But as Ezekiel and he undid the cord, and laid and arranged the body on the table he gathered from Cummings’ persistent babble that nothing of the sort had been intended. The Jews were to be frightened into betraying the hiding-place of the money or the jewels, and the rope — meant for one of the packed boxes of luggage that stood by the wall — had been adjusted with that idea. And then Nehemiah had struggled, and the rope had slipped, and so “help me God” no-one was more surprised than he to hear that the Jew was dead.

“Is it likely I’d mean to kill him? Me that’s never hurt a canary! It’s all a mistake . . . ”

“The Lord gave,” Ezekiel said, standing up and looking at the body, “and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

By this time more police were in the room, some of them with prisoners. Philip explained his presence to the officer in charge, and when this was confirmed by the two original constables and he had given his address it was suggested that he might prefer to make his way home.

But he hesitated as he looked at Ezekiel. “What about Mr. Rosenberg? Hadn’t he better come with me? I’m sure my father would be glad,” he said, and was permitted to propose it.

Ezekiel nodded gravely. “A burden is laid upon me,” he said. “I shall go alone to the land of my fathers.”

“If you’ve got any money or jewels here, Mr. Rosenberg,” the Inspector said, “you’d better let us take charge of them.”

“We never had any,” Ezekiel answered; “they are in safe keeping.” He turned again to the body, intoned over it a Hebrew prayer, and, while the last great syllables echoed from the ceiling and walls, indicated to Philip that he was ready. Two constables were to come with them till they had found a taxi; the four went silently downstairs, and, as they came out into the street, heard, remote but unmistakable, the sound of the guns.

In Kensington Sir Bernard and three of his guests were playing bridge — Caithness, Isabel and Roger. The king, as usual, was shut in his room. Rosamond was where Isabel had hardly dared to hope Sir Bernard would succeed in getting her — in bed and asleep. It was a Tuesday evening, and very often on Tuesday evenings, because Roger was generally free then, the Ingrams did visit their friend. Sometimes they played — if Philip or Rosamond or some other visitor would join them; sometimes they talked; sometimes they went to the theatre. Sometimes they even stopped the night; Sir Bernard was very fond of them, and between him and them existed that happy state by which fathers and children who are no relations may enjoy relationship rarely achieved by fathers and children who are. Sir Bernard all but understood Roger; Roger all but envied Sir Bernard. And what they did not understand and envy salted their talk with agreeable mystery. The evening therefore bore a bearable similarity to the past. The tact which Sir Bernard and Isabel possessed in common soothed over the fact of Rosamond’s hysteria, and in effect combined in finding her a bed and putting her there. Once in the house indeed, from exhaustion or cunning or content or fear, she grew docile, and was content to be managed. Sir Bernard’s forty years of practice had made him an adept at managing people. Roger had begun, from a sense of decency, to try to explain why they were there, or why he was there. But Sir Bernard refused to hear.

“I’m quite sure you don’t want to tell me,” he said, “and being told things — there’s nothing I like better, but a sense of duty destroys the satisfaction. Like the people who refuse to be loved by a sense of duty. At my age one’s only too grateful to be loved — loved, mark you — at all. Let’s pretend nothing ever happened.”

Hampered in this by the fact that the guns began almost immediately, they nevertheless did make the evening rather like one of their old enjoyments. It had been announced by Authority, after the last raid, that, in the event of another, official bulletins of the progress of the raid would be delivered to the wireless at regular intervals and announced by that means to the public. Arranged entertainments would, so far as possible, proceed as usual; and it was hoped that all listeners-in would follow their ordinary custom, and lessen the chance of panic, at creating which (as had been discovered in the Great War) all air-raids over such places as London were directed. If the experiment were found unsuccessful it would be discontinued after the trial.

“We shan’t want the entertainment,” Sir Bernard said, “but we may as well know what’s happening, so far as the Government will tell us.”

“I’m not sure of that,” Isabel said. “Suppose the thing says, ‘Great aeroplane dropping fiery bombs directly over Colindale Square’.”

“It won’t,” Caithness said. “I’ll bet you a dozen pairs of gloves, Isabel, that if we’re all blown to heaven the last thing we hear is: ‘No aeroplane has yet reached London; the raid is being effectively repulsed.’”

“Done,” said Isabel.

“An anthropomorphic heaven,” Sir Bernard said, and picked up the cards.

For some time the game and the entertainment proceeded. Then the first announcement was heard.

“The first Government communique has just been received,” the loud speaker announced. “‘Raiders have attempted to approach London from all sides, but have entirely failed. Four enemy planes have already been brought down. A number of bombs have been dropped, but all in uninhabited districts. The O.C. London Air Defence announces that no losses have been sustained by our forces’.”

“I hope they’ll use imagination,” Sir Bernard said. “One or two planes destroyed on our side would make the bulletins credible.”

“I do wish you wouldn’t say ‘imagination’,” Roger complained. “It isn’t, you know; only the lowest kind of cunning fancy.”

“I’ve never been clear that Coleridge was right there,” Caithness said meditatively. “Surely it’s the same faculty — the adaptation of the world to an idea of the world.”

“Well, if the O.C. London Air Defence has an idea of the world,” Roger said, “you may be right. But is an idea a pattern?”

“O surely!” Caithness interrupted. “If an idea isn’t a pattern what good is it?”

“If we’re playing bridge,” Isabel said forbearingly, “could you manage to forget your ideas for a moment? Thank you so much.”

A new voice, after a quarter of an hour, took up the tale. “Latest communiqué,” the loud speaker reported. “‘Enemy planes continue to be sighted. It is supposed that in all some eight hundred are engaged in the raid. None have appeared over London. Five villages have been destroyed. African troops have been landed from giant airships, and have occupied the ridge of Hampstead and Richmond Park. Other airships have appeared on the western side. Posts of Government troops have been overwhelmed in the north and south’.”

“The devil they have!” Roger exclaimed.

There was a short pause, then the loud speaker continued, with another variation of tone: “‘In the name of the things that have been and are to be, willed and fated, in the name of the gods many and one —”

Isabel laid down her cards, Caithness jumped to his feet; Roger sat upright in his chair. Sir Bernard, leaning back in his own, said in a voice of considerable interest, “Mr. Considine, I believe.”

“ . . . the High Executive of the African Sovereigns warns the English of the folly of defiance. It is reluctant to make a difference in belief a reason for the destruction of London, and it does not propose, even under the provocations of the Government, to endanger the city to-night. But it is compelled to display the ardent and unconquerable forces at its disposal, and from the centre of the white race it seriously warns them that the forces now in action shall be multiplied a thousand times to effect the ends upon which it is determined — the freedom of the black peoples and the restoration of Africa. It exhibits something of the strength of its armies and the devotion of its martyrs, and it asserts firmly that, if a third raid upon London becomes necessary, then London shall be destroyed. It urges the English to consider carefully what they are fighting, and if any among them believe that in love and art and death rather than in logic and science the kingdom of man lies, it entreats them, not to any transfer of allegiance, for it recognizes in the folly of patriotism a means of obedience to the same passionate imagination, but to a demonstration on behalf of peace. In the name of their own loyalties it appeals to the children of passion and imagination; in the name of a vaster strength than their own it threatens the children of pedantry and reason — in this first proclamation made at London in the first year of the Second Evolution of Man’.”

“Then,” Sir Bernard said, “with more adequate assurance than Drake had, we can go on with the game.”

But Roger and Caithness were both on their feet. Caithness said, “I wouldn’t trust him too far.”

Isabel, still looking at her cards, murmured, “I don’t think you need worry, Mr. Caithness. He told us the same thing this afternoon.”

“You’ve seen him?” Caithness incredulously exclaimed. “Yes,” Isabel said. “In fact, we made a kind of appointment with him.”

“You did?” Caithness said, still more astonished.

“Well — I did for Roger,” Isabel said, and lifted her eyes. “He’d never have done it himself. I hope you didn’t mind, Sir Bernard?”

“Almost thou persuadest me to be a monogamist,” Sir Bernard said, but there was unusual tenderness in his voice. “Here, do you mean? Because, if so, perhaps that’s him.”

It was not; it was Philip and the Jew. They came into the room accompanied by Inkamasi who had descended from his to discover the progress of the raid. Philip introduced Ezekiel to Sir Bernard and in a low voice gave him the brief tale of the evening.

“I’m very glad you’re here, Mr. Rosenberg,” Sir Bernard said, in quite a different tone from his usual placidity. “I’m your servant in everything. You’ll use us as you will. Ring, Philip.”

But even as Philip’s finger touched the bell there was a louder ring in the hall. Sir Bernard paused and glanced swiftly at Isabel, who sat down by the card-table. In the minute that it took the feet of the maid to go to the front door she looked up at Roger and said: “Be good to me, my darling, and find out everything you can.” Roger, more shaken than she, did not answer except by his gaze. There were voices and footsteps; then the door was thrown wide open and Considine stood in the entrance of the room. Behind him was Mottreux, and behind him again two or three others — in whose faces, so far as he could see them, Sir Bernard thought he recognized the gentlemen who had waited on them during the dinner at Hampstead. But he had no time to consider; he looked back, where everyone else was looking, at the High Executive who stood in the entrance.

“A good meeting,” Considine said, “but I mustn’t wait. Who will come with me?”

In the immediate silence Roger heard himself say, “I.”

“The king also,” Considine said.

“Fool,” the Zulu cried. “You’ve come to me now, and do you think you’ll get away? You’re mine, you’re mine.”

He was standing almost on the other side of the room, nine or ten feet away. But as he ended, he crouched low, and in one terrific movement leapt — right across the intervening space, sending himself forward and upward, so that he crashed down on Considine as a thunderbolt might strike from the sky. His hands were at the other’s throat, and before that descent of angry vengeance even Considine for a moment staggered and seemed likely to fall. But before he could either fall or recover, in the second after the onslaught fell, Mottreux sprang forward. The others saw the revolver in his hand and cried out; their voices were overwhelmed by the shot. Inkamasi reeled and crashed, his hand to his thigh where the blood showed. Considine recovered himself and glanced at his friend.

“Mottreux, Mottreux, is it necessary?” he murmured. “Am I afraid of his hands? Well, it’s done; let Vereker see to him. It’s only a flesh wound.”

He moved a step aside, so that another of his companions could come forward and do what he could with Isabel’s help and with improvised bandages for the wounded man. After a few minutes Considine went on: “Mr. Ingram and the king; Mr. Rosenberg, I have your cousin’s jewels, and others I have bought for you. Come with me; there’s no place for you here.” He cast a glance around. “Is there any of you beside for whom that’s true?”

“If you take the king you shall take me,” Caithness cried out. “I demand that you-”

“Why demand?” Considine’s laugh answered him. “I invite you, I entreat you, to come. Sir Bernard?”

“No,” Sir Bernard said. “We’ve come out of the jungle and I for one am not going back.”

“The king, Mr. Caithness, Mr. Rosenberg, Mr. Ingram,” Considine said. “Very well. Mrs. Ingram?”

“No,” Isabel said. “Africa’s near enough here.”

“You are perhaps a wise woman,” Considine said, “but if you are you shall be a centre of our wisdom in London, and all the women of England shall learn from you what it is they do. Your husband shall come back to you with victory. Good-night then. Good-night, Sir Bernard; I leave you to the sauces that you prefer to food. Come, my friends; come, my enemies. Mottreux, you and Vereker shall make the king as comfortable as you can in the first car. The others will come with me in the second.”

He swept them with him out to the door, to the large cars that waited for them. Roger, obeying a gesture, got in and sat down with his back to the engine; Caithness sat by him.

Opposite the priest was the Jew. Considine occupied the other seat. Figures moved about the other car; from the doorway Isabel and Sir Bernard silently watched. Considine raised a hand to them, and as the car slid away he said to Roger, “There is defeat defeated. But you may be at ease; there is again to-night no danger to them from my people. And tomorrow, or if not tomorrow then the day after, the Government will ask for peace.”

“Surely they won’t dare,” Roger said. “And if you’re not hurting London, what are you doing?”

“I’m teaching London to feel,” Considine said, “to feel terribly. It will know panic to-night such as it has never known. It will know the depths which it has never dared to find. Blame its sterile hopelessness for its suffering.”

“Is that why you bring the African armies here?” Caithness asked.

“Armies?” Considine laughed. “O I know I caused that tale to be spread. But those of my people who are here are entering into their greatest moment, and I give them the sacrifice they desire. Wait; you shall see them.” He picked up the speaking-tube and said something to the driver. The car ran swiftly northward, went round by Regent’s Park, into St. John’s Wood, and came out at last round Primrose Hill on to Haverstock Hill somewhere below Belsize Park Station. But a few minutes showed that this way was impossible. The road was full of people pressing downward, less thick below the station because of the mob that surged round the entrance, which no vehicle could get through. Beyond and above it the Hill was a noisy tumult of refugees, and beyond in the midnight sky was a red glare, above which again the useless searchlights crossed and wavered. Hysterical shrieks, curses, the noise of many separate scuffles came to them. Near them two wheelbarrows laden with bundles had come into collision, and the owners were fighting wildly in the midst of their scattered goods. Here and there a woman lay in a dead faint; in places the white robes and black cloaks of the Dominicans of the Priory showed as they laboured to create some sort of order. (“No doubt”, Considine murmured to Caithness, “the Anglican clergy are somewhere about too. But of course they haven’t the same advantage in dress.”) More and more fugitives were hurrying from the side turnings. Even as the car slowed down, to turn down one of these and escape, two young men scrambled on to the driver’s seat. “This car is going to take us,” one said drunkenly; the other hung on to the wheel. Roger glanced at Considine, who, observant but motionless, was lying back in his corner. The driver abandoned the wheel, and with what seemed but a light blow knocked one sprawling into the road; the other let go the wheel to protect himself, was dexterously flung overboard also, and the car backed a little way down the Hill. Considine took up the tube again. “Go round as far as is necessary,” he said. “I must come to the top.”

Eventually, after many pauses and very long detours, the thing was done. They came back from the north on to the Hampstead ridge, and heard beyond them a noise quite different to anything that had passed before. “I will have the car opened,” Considine said to the driver. “Go slowly till you come near Highgate and then bend away to the stopping-place.”

The glare by now had become much stronger, and Roger saw Considine suddenly stand up. Almost at the same moment a great cry in a strange tongue roared out beyond them. A black soldier appeared running and shouting beside the car, and another, and then, rushing towards them, a whole group. He heard the steady beating of drums, and a cry resolving itself into English: “Deathless! Deathless! Glory to the Deathless One!” Considine, raising his right hand, made with it, high in the air, a sudden gesture; the cry beat all round them and ceased and broke out yet more wildly: “Glory to the Master of Love! Glory to the Deathless One!” Negroes ran by the car, rushing up to it, to touch it and fall back exhausted; they leapt and twisted at it.

He felt a sudden lurch and guessed insanely what the obstacle was they had passed over. The cries, now in African, now in English, made an arch of sound: “Death for the Deathless One!” he heard. “Glory to the Lord of Death!” They were passing now between blazing fires each with its own dance of whirling figures, which broke and hurled themselves at the car, or flung themselves prostrate in adoration as it rolled by. Opposite him the figure of Considine seemed to dilate in the red glare; again and again he made the high mysterious gesture with his right hand; every now and then he cried out in a great voice and a strange tongue. Roger tore his eyes away and looked out over the Heath, but beyond the light of the watch-fires it lay in darkness, a darkness which seemed to him to be continually resolving itself into these leaping, shrieking figures. Caithness was leaning back in his corner, his eyes shut, his lips moving in swift murmured prayer.

Roger looked back as the car suddenly stopped and Considine, signing for silence, began to speak. What he said Roger could not tell, but as he ended and the car moved on again, a shout greater than any before went up. He knew instinctively the meaning — it was that whereof the rhythm leapt into the former English: “Death for the Deathless.”

But whatever the cries, Death itself began to accompany them on their passage, for there was heard suddenly a revolver shot, and then another, and as Roger, supposing for a moment that the English had begun an attack, looked round him, he saw one of the running foaming figures by the car stabbing at himself with a bayonet, and saw the madness spreading to others, saw the steel glinting and crimson-streaked faces in the light of the fires. Many of the negroes had torn off their tunics, and some were already naked from head to foot; among whom appeared here and there a yet wilder form in skins of various kinds and high plumes of feathers, leading some eddy of the general dance. Close by him two great negroes caught and held and stabbed at each other with broad knives and more shots sounded around them. Again and again he felt a horrid jerk and lurch of the car, and still through it all Considine stood upright opposite him, and with an exalted but unmoved face considered the revelry he had bidden to be.

At last this journey along a ridge of blazing watch-fires between two seas of darkness came to an end. The crowds of negroes began to thin. Considine threw up both hands, made a downward and outward gesture, cried out once more, and sat down. The last negro halted, flung himself on the earth, the car gathered strength, swept on, and after a while issued at last into the darkness and silence of the open country.

Caithness spoke bitterly, “Are you letting that horde of negroes loose on London?” he asked.

“You heard me,” Considine answered. “You heard me an hour ago. I have let the English feel panic, panic such as they have not felt since the Vikings raided their coasts and burned their towns a thousand years ago. They have been afraid of their feelings, of ecstasy and riot and savage glee; they have frozen love and hated death. And I have shown them these things wild and possibly triumphant; and what fear of a thousand armies will not do, fear of their own passions will. They will ask for peace. As for my Africans, they ask for death and they shall have death. Most of them will kill themselves or one another to-night; those who survive till tomorrow will die before your soldiers. I do not pity them; they are not the adepts; all that they are capable of I have given them. They die for the Undying. How many martyrs would the Churches offer me of such a strain?”

“They die for your schemes,” Caithness said.

“They die for the Master of Death,” Considine answered, “either for me or for another. If I do not achieve, another will. Do you think it is an idle brag to call this year the First of the Second Evolution? It is a truth the story of your Christ darkly foreshadowed. Him that you ignorantly worship declare I unto you. Your martyrs in the past have died, many of them, in such an agony of supreme rapture, and those of many another faith. But I bring you achievement, I bring you the fulfilment of desires, the lordship of love and death.”

There was a little silence; then he went on, slowly and almost to himself: “It is a long work, and many have waited for it. My father longed for it and did not see it, though he knew the beginning and taught it to me. This was the beginning of sex when far away in the ages the world divided itself in its primal dark instinct to destroy death which seemed its doom. And when man came he desired immortality, and deceived himself with begetting children and with religion and with art. All these are not ecstasy, but the shadow of ecstasy. Kingship and dynasties he created and cities and monuments and science, and nothing satisfied that hungry desire. And then he created love, and knew that that which existed between a man and a woman was mysterious and powerful, but what to do with it he has not known. Only a few have known, Caesar and a few others, and they have been struck down. I think perhaps Chaka knew, for he was of the initiates. I taught him what to do and how to govern his energies. But he had an irresistible hunger for cruelty and destruction, and when the time came he was destroyed. For the true adepts care for nothing but to discover the secrets, and to enter into communion with ecstasy; and if they shall govern the world, as they shall, they will do it to make known to all men the things they themselves know. Fast and vigil they keep for this, as my father taught me when r was a boy two centuries ago. In trance and in waking they keep the end before them. I beheld in a trance the making of sex, I went down to where in history and in the individual being — which are one, as all the mystics know: inward or backward, it is the same way — to where those high laboratories lie. And there, in trance or in waking I do not know, I myself carried out the great experiment, and I laid my imagination upon all the powers and influences of sex and love and desire. In the adolescence of my life I did this, and I have thriven upon that strength ever since. For first I bent it to my own life. I set before myself three hundred years from that night, and not two hundred have since gone by. I have gathered from many women all that imagination desired, and I have changed it to strength and cunning and length of days. I have never kissed a woman; all that have lived with me have had what lovers they desired. For a kiss also is but the shadow of ecstasy. Then they taught me in the lodge of the initiated how, though death might be far, yet it was certain, and that at death the ghost of man wanders stripped of all powers that it has gained in a place of shadows, and that there remained yet to be found the secret of how man could go into that place armed with passion and high delight and return to this world when and as he would. He that has mastered love has mastered the world, and he that masters death is lord of that other. Also as the delights of mere bodily love are but shadows beside the rich joys of the transforming imagination, so this itself is nothing compared to the revivifying intoxication of the passage from life to death and from death to life. And I set my purpose on this and laboured to achieve it. But, while I brooded, the feet of Europe came nearer, and the blind intelligence of Europe looked into the clear light of the lodges and said: ‘It is dark, it is dark,’ and smelt wickedness. And the religion of Europe came, and the learning of Europe. Then we the adepts knew that, unless we made Africa free, in a little while Europe would trample over us and we should be gone; and we resolved that Europe must be stayed.”

He paused and looked out over the fields and hedges between which they were passing. Then he went on more sharply and swiftly:

“Not that all the Europeans who came to Africa then had closed themselves to wisdom. Some of the white officers sat in our lodges and were initiated and entered into trance, and made themselves strong men; there have always been some who would do this — Mottreux was one; I met him in Uganda, and there was a French General in Morocco, and in the south Simon Rosenberg’s great uncle. And there were others. All of us set to work to unite Africa. We knew the lodges already in various parts of the land, and we drew all these into one. And we spoke with the chiefs and kings; little by little we brought them into our purpose. The witch-doctors and sorcerers were ours already, though they were in the outer circle. They gave us a means of ruling the tribes, and little by little through many years we proposed to ourselves to show the people of Africa the doctrines of freedom and sacrifice and ecstasy, and I determined to strike at Europe by panic and strength.”

Roger said abruptly, “Yet you seemed to wish that Mottreux hadn’t fired.”

“Why, for myself,” Considine said, “if men without weapons come against me I’ll meet them without weapons, heart to heart and strength to strength. But shall I waste years imposing my will on the Governments of Europe — and spend my energies so? It shall be a shorter business. They proclaim guns and they shall have guns. But for the adepts — If I wish Mottreux had not fired it was for his sake, not mine.”

“Your friends may fire at you one day,” the intolerant voice of the priest broke in, “when they want something you can’t give them.”

“Pieces of silver, for example,” Considine said, not turning his head.

The night lay about them; they swept on through it. Roger looked out on the unseen countryside, and remembered the words that had brought about his own meeting with the conquistador who sat opposite him. “I will encounter darkness as a bride”— he was rushing towards that darkness now. The dark closed them in, but they were speeding towards the core of the darkness; the words themselves were swallowing them up. All the miracles of the poets had rent and illumined and charged that night, but the mingling light and dark which was in all easily accepted verse lay far behind them now where the wild rapture of the Africans surged above London. It was as if he had passed from them from something which was himself, to something which was even more himself. His very physical body was being carried in towards the energy which created art. Art . . . the ancient word so often defiled and made stupid stood for a greatness only partially explored. His body felt the energy opposite him — an energy self-restrained, self shaped. “And hug it in mine arms-” but if the arms could not bear it, if the awful blasting power of that darkness should destroy him as the glory of Zeus destroyed Semele? It was too late now for choice; he was lost and saved at once. Onward and onward, away from the ironic contemplations of the children of the wise world and from the shrieking self-immolating abandonments of the more ignorant sons of rapture; away from young perplexity and young greed; away from Isabel. High-set, as the moon now rising, he saw her, knowing in her daily experiences, her generous heart and her profound womanhood, all that he must compass sea and land to find. This was the separation that had been between man and woman from the beginning; this was fated, and this must be willed. It was the everlasting reconciliation of the everlasting contradiction-to will what was fated, to choose necessity. Perfect for one moment in his heart, he knew the choice taken. He willed necessity. All the poets had done this in their own degree — the very making of their verse was this, their patience and their labour, their silence till the utterance they so long desired rose into being within them. This was the secret of royalty — the solemn anointed figure of government to whom necessary obedience was willed, and so through all orders of hierarchical life, secular or religious, vocational in every kind, trade or profession, ceremonial or actual. Love too was its image, but love and not the beloved was the necessity; to love, and only to the beloved as the sacred means, the honourable toil was given.

Something different was in the air; his nostrils felt, far off, the smell of the sea.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/williams/charles/shadows-of-ecstasy/chapter9.html

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