War in Heaven, by Charles Williams

Chapter Fifteen

‘To-Night Thou Shalt Be with Me in Paradise’

Lord Mayor’s Street in the evening seemed always, if by any chance it could, to attract and contain such mist as might be about. A faint vapour made the air dim, especially round the three shops, and caused passers-by to remark regularly either that the evening was a bit misty or that the evenings were drawing in or that there might be something of a fog by the morning. But for Gregory Persimmons, as he came swiftly into it about nine o’clock on the same day, the chemist’s shop rode London like a howdah on the back of an elephant, the symbol and shelter of the prince that ruled the armies of the air. He reached the door, which was still ajar, pushed it open, entered, and closed it after him.

The shop was dark, after the street light a few paces away outside, but the gleam of a light came from the inner room. For the first time since Gregory had known it the Greek was not there, but as he hesitated a voice sounded from within.

“Is that you, Gregory?” Manasseh called.

“It is I,” Gregory answered, crossed the shop, and went in.

The room was bare and dirty. On a table under the window and exactly opposite the door in to the shop, the Graal stood exposed, under the light of a single electric bulb which hung without a shade from the middle of the ceiling. There were no pictures and no books; a few chairs stood about, and in one corner was a high closed cabinet. A dilapidated carpet covered the floor.

The Greek was sitting in a chair on the left of the Graal. Manasseh had apparently been walking up and down, but he stood still as Gregory came in, and looked at him anxiously. “Well,” he said, “have you brought the child?”

“Not to-night,” Persimmons said. “I thought it better not. You or someone else, Manasseh, have worked wonders. She’s almost well again, and wanted to see him. So I promised she should tomorrow, and he’s coming to London with me tomorrow afternoon to go to — I forget where he is to go to. It doesn’t matter. When do we leave England?”

“The day after,” Manasseh said. “I’m supposed to go down and see the woman again that morning. But as things are I don’t know . . . ”

“Send them a wire in the morning,” Gregory suggested. “‘Detained till this afternoon.’ We shall be at Harwich by then.”

“I don’t know why you’re so keen on the child,” Manasseh said morosely. “You won’t have him — interfered with at all, even to make the journey easier?”

“The journey will be all right,” Gregory said. “Jessie’s coming too. Jessie is the girl who looks after him. It’s quite safe — she doesn’t know exactly, but she will come. She’s got no relations near at hand; she’s a sensuous little bitch, and she has her wanton eyes on Mr. Persimmons of Cully. She’ll hope to be compromised; I know her. And she knows she may have to go on a journey, but not where or why.”

Manasseh nodded. “But why take him?” he insisted.

“Because I owe him for a debt to the Sabbath,” Gregory answered. “Because we haven’t often the chance of such a pure and entire oblation. It’s wonderful the way he’s taken to me, and I think we shall make him a lord of power before we have done. Isn’t that worth more than sending him silly? And Jessie can be dropped anywhere if she’s inconvenient.” He walked across, to the table. “And what about you?” he asked. “Do we take this with us, or do you still want to destroy it now?”

“No,” Manasseh said. “I have thought of it, and we will take it. There may be something in what you said.”

“What I said?” Gregory asked, whistling softly as he surveyed the Cup.

“We may be able to use it for destruction — to destroy through it,” Manasseh said. “I have dreamt that we might learn to destroy earth and heaven through it, or at least all intelligible experience of them among men. It is death as well as life, and who knows how far death may go? They talk of their Masses, you talk of your Black Mass, but there may be such a Mass of Death said with this as shall blast the world for ever. But you and I are not great enough for that.”

Gregory answered softly, “I think you may be right, Manasseh. Bear with me, for I am young in these things. I know the current of desire in which all things move, and I have guided it a little as I will. But I see there are deeper things below.” He looked at the Greek. “And what do you say,” he asked, “who are older than we?”

The Greek answered, his eyes fixed on the Graal: “All things are indivisible and one. You cannot wholly destroy and you cannot wholly live, but you can change mightily and for ever as any of our reckoning goes. Even I cannot see down infinity. Make it agreeable to your lusts while the power is yours, for there are secret ways down which it may pass even now and you shall not hold it.”

Gregory smiled, and filliped the Graal with a finger. “Do you know,” he said, “I should like to annoy the Archdeacon a little.” He stood still suddenly and cried out: “And there is a way by which it may be done. I have tried it, and I know. This is the circle of all souls, and I will gather them and marry them as I please. I will bring them from this world and from another and I will bind the lost with the living till the living itself be lost.”

Manasseh moved nearer to him. “Tell me,” he said; “you have a great thought.”

“I have a thought that is pleasant to my mind,” Gregory said, “and this is what we will do. There went out from among us lately by my act a weak, wretched, unhappy soul that sought to find its god and in its last days returned to me and was utterly mine. It was willing to die when I slew it, and in the shadows it waits still upon my command. We will draw this back, and we will marry it to this priest, body and soul, so that he shall live with it by day and by night, and come indeed in the end to know not which is he. And let us see then if he will war against us for the Graal.”

“This you can do if you will,” Manasseh said, “for I have seen spirits recalled, though not by means of the Graal. But can you bind it so closely to the priest?”

“Assuredly you can,” the Greek said, “if you have the conditions. But they are exact. You must have that body here into which you will bring that soul in contact — I do not know if it could be done at a distance, but I do not think it has been done, and I am sure you have no time to try. And you must have that soul at your command, and I think you have. And you must have a means of passage, and you have it in this Cup. And you must have a very strong desire, and this you have, both of you, for this is at once possession and destruction. And you are the better for knowing the worst, and this I do, and I will set my power with yours if you choose.”

“We must have the body here,” Gregory said. “But — will he come?”

“I do not see why he should not come if he is asked,” the Greek said. “Cannot Manasseh bring him with some tale of the woman?”

“To-morrow night is the last night we can be sure of having in England,” Manasseh answered, “if we wish to escape with both the Graal and the child. But he might come for that.”

They were silent, standing or sitting around the Cup, where it seemed to await their decision in a helpless bondage. They were still silent some minutes later when a sudden knock sounded on the door of the shop. Gregory started, and both he and Manasseh glanced inquiringly at the Greek, who said casually: “It may be someone for medicine or it may be they have followed Gregory. Go you, Manasseh. If they ask for me, tell them I am away from home to-night; and if for Gregory, tell them he is not here.”

Manasseh obeyed, pulling the door to behind him. Gregory smiled at the Greek. “Do you really give them medicine?” he asked.

The Greek shrugged his shoulders. “Why not?” he said. “I don’t poison ants; they may as well live as die. But there are not many who will come.”

They heard Manasseh cross the shop and open the door, then several exclamations at once in different voices. Then a gay voice, at the sound of which Gregory started and looked round, said: “Why, if it isn’t the doctor himself! Now this is fortunate. My dear doctor, we’ve been talking about you all day. Let’s see, were you properly introduced to the Duke? No, oh, no, don’t shut the door. No, I beg you. We’ve come all the way from Fardles — Castra Parvulorum, you know; the camp of the children — to ask you a question — two questions. Is Gregory here by any chance? That’s not one of them. No, really — sorry to push, but . . . Thank you ever so much; you can shut it now.”

Under this rush of talk had sounded Manasseh’s exclamatory protests and the scuffle of feet. Gregory put out a hand to the Graal, but the Greek made a motion with his hand and checked him. “How many are there?” he asked softly. Gregory tiptoed to the narrow opening and peeped through. “Two, I think,” he whispered, returning. “Mornington and the Duke. I can’t see or hear anyone else. Hadn’t we better move that?”

The Greek turned a face of sudden malignity on him. “Fool,” he said, “will you always run from your enemies?” He stood up as he spoke and began to move the few chairs noiselessly back against the wall.

In the shop, Mornington was plying Manasseh with conversation. “We felt so curious about the Graal,” he said, “and, to tell you the truth, so curious about what you’d done to Barbara Rackstraw, that we simply had to come and ask you about it. The Duke’s done nothing but rave about it ever since. Unrecognized genius, you know — Mrs. Eddy, Sir Herbert Barker. You took the Graal, so you must have done something. Manasseh is an honourable man.” He stopped suddenly and sniffed. “I’m sure you’ve got Gregory here,” he said. “It smells like a dung-heap. You don’t mind me going in?”

Manasseh apparently had jumped in his way. There was a slight scuffle, then Kenneth said pleasantly: “Hold him, Ridings. Bring him along too and let’s look round.”

The Greek stooped down, took hold of the carpet, wrenched it from the occasional nail that held it down, and flung it to one side of the room. The floor beneath was marked with what looked like chalk in two broad parallel lines running from about two-thirds of the depth of the room to the two posts of the communicating door. At the end of the room these two lines were joined by a complicated diagram, which Gregory seemed to recognize, for he caught his breath and said: “Will it hold him?”

The Greek threw a cushion on the floor between the diagram and the table on which the Graal stood, and sank down on it. “This is our protection,” he said. “Call to Manasseh that he does not enter, for this is the way of death. I have charged these barriers with power, and they shall wither whoever comes between them. Open the door, stand aside, and be still.”

Gregory went to the door and drew it open by reaching to the top till the handle came within reach; he seized it and pulled it back till the whole entrance lay open between the equal lines. The Greek peered forward into the little dark shop, and saw dimly Kenneth’s figure opposite him at the same time that Kenneth saw the Graal.

“My dear Ridings, he’s been admiring it,” Mornington said. “The workmanship, probably. It was Ephesus, I fancy, that the dear delightful Gregory told us it came from. There’s a gentleman here sitting on the floor who may be the carrier. Hobson, you know, and John what-you-may-call-him in that very disastrous Christmas thing of Dickens’s. Or perhaps they’ve been having their favourite food. The Graal, I remember, in a charming way always provided you with that. What is yours, doctor? Something Eastern, no doubt. Rice? What a horrible thing to waste the Graal on!”

He had come to the doorway as he spoke, and drew a revolver from his pocket. “The Duke’s really,” he went on. “One of those little domestic utensils you can pick up for almost nothing at a sale. Have you got him, Ridings? There seems to be a pavement — artist somewhere in this establishment; the most original little sketches adorn the floor.”

“Take care,” the Duke’s voice cried. “There is hell near us now.”

“I think it very likely,” Kenneth said, “but you can’t expect me to think much of hell if Gregory is one of its kings.” He took two or three swift steps into the room, flung a quick glance behind him lest he should be attacked from the wall he passed, and, even as he did so, staggered and put his hand to his heart. The Duke heard him gasp, and, still clutching Manasseh, pushed forward, to see what was happening. Kenneth had reeled to one of the white lines and was stumbling blindly, now forward, now backward, drawing deep choking breaths. The Greek had thrust his face out, and as the Duke saw it in the full light he gave a little gasp of dismay. For the face that he saw looked at him from a great distance and yet was itself that distance. It was white and staring and sick with a horrible sickness; he shut his eyes before this evil. All the gorgeous colours and pomps of sin of which he had been so often warned had disappeared; the war between good and evil existed no longer, for the thing beneath the Graal was not fighting but vomiting. Once he realized that his eyes were closed he forced himself to open them, saw Kenneth almost fall across the space between the lines, and called to him. Then he flung Manasseh from him to the floor, cried out on God and the Mother of God, and sprang forward; but as he reached the doorway he felt his strength oozing from him. Hollows opened within him; he clutched at the doorpost, and, as he touched it, seemed to feel this also drag him sideways and downward. He crashed to the floor while Kenneth, gathering all his life’s energy together, forced himself two steps nearer his aim, moaned as even that energy failed, dropped to his knees, and at last, choking and twisting, fell dead on the diagram before the Greek.

Manasseh had got to his feet, but he remained leaning against the door of the shop as Gregory against the wall of the inner room. The Duke, unable to move, lay prostrate across the threshold. So, as they watched, they saw the body of the dead man shiver and lift itself a little, as if moved by a strong wind. Gradually there appeared, rising from it, a kind of dark cloud, which floated upwards and outwards on all sides, and was at last so thick that the form itself could no longer be discerned. Manasseh watched with eyes of triumph. But Gregory was curiously shaken, for he, less instructed in the high ways of magic, recoiled, not from the destruction of his enemy, but from the elements which accompanied it. He shrank from the face of the sorcerer; like the Duke, he found himself in a state for which he had not been prepared and at which he trembled in horror. A sickness crept within him; was this the end of victory and lordship and the Sabbath, and this the consummation of the promises and of desire? The sudden action had precipitated him down a thousand spirals of the slow descent, and he hung above the everlasting void. He sought to keep his eyes fixed on the symbol of triumph, the dark cloud that streamed upward from floor to ceiling in front of him, but they were drawn back still to the face which dominated it and him.

Slowly, as they watched, the pillar of cloud began to sink, withdrawing into itself. The colour of it seemed to change also, from a dense black to a smoky and then to an ordinary grey. Quicker and quicker it fell, hovered for a few minutes, and at last collapsed entirely. There remained, in the place where the body had been, nothing but a spreading heap of dust.

The Duke, defeated in mind and body, and with too young a soul to dare the tempest, made yet some effort to assert the cause in which he believed. He raised himself on one hand as he lay and cried out in the great Latin he loved — loved rather perhaps as literature than as religion, but still as a strength more ancient and more enduring than himself. “Profiscere, anima Christiana,” he stammered, “de hoc mundo, in nomine Patris . . . ”

“Be silent, you!” Manasseh snarled, and, with one of those grotesque movements which attend on all crises, took from the counter a small bottle as the nearest missile and flung it. It smashed on the floor, and the Greek’s eyes moved toward it and came to rest on the Duke. He stood up with an effort, and motioned to Gregory to draw the carpet again over the magnetized passage of death. When this was done, the three gathered round the Duke, who half rose to his feet and was overthrown again by the touch of the Greek’s hand.

“Will you not destroy him also?” Manasseh asked, half greedily, half timidly.

The Greek slowly shook his head. “I am very weary,” he said, “and the strength is gone from the figure. If that other had not despised us, I do not know whether I should have won. And, since he is here, unless you will kill him yourself, you should use him for what you desire to do.”

“How can we use him?” Gregory asked, meditatively prodding the Duke with his foot, his momentary fear gone.

“Let him write and tell this priest whom you hate that he and the Graal are here — and that which was the other — and that he must come quickly to free them.”

“But will he write?” Gregory asked.

“Certainly he will write,” the Greek said, “or one of us will write with his hand.”

“Do you write then,” Manasseh said, “for you are the greatest among us.”

“I will do it if you wish,” the Greek said. “Lift him partly up, and give me pencil and paper.”

As Gregory tore a page from his pocket-book, Manasseh dragged and pushed at the Duke till he sat at last leaning against the door. The Greek knelt down beside him, put one arm round his shoulders, and laid the right hand over his. To the Duke it seemed as if an enormous cloud of darkness had descended upon him, in the midst of which some unknown strength moved him at its will. In the conflict of his inner being with this tyranny the control of his body was lost; the battle was not in that outer region, but in a more central place. Ignorant and helpless, his hand wrote as the Greek’s controlling mind bade, though the handwriting was his own.

“Come, if you can by any means,” the letter ran, “for That and we are here. The bearer of this will tell you as much as he will, but believe him if he says that without you there is an end to all. — Ridings.”

The Greek released the Duke and rose. Gregory took the note, read it, and shook his head. “I do not think he will be deceived,” he said doubtfully.

“But what can he —” Manasseh began, but the Greek silenced him with a gesture and said, “He will do what he must do. There is more than we and he which moves about us now. I think he will come, for I think that the battle is joined, and till that which is with us or that which is with them is loosened it cannot end. Take care of your ways tomorrow.”

“And who is to be the bearer?” Gregory asked.

“That you shall be,” the Greek said.

“But how much shall I tell him?” Gregory asked again uncertainly.

The Greek turned upon him. “Fool,” he said, “I tell you — you cannot choose. You will do and say what is meant for you, and so will he. And tomorrow there shall be an end.”

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