War in Heaven, by Charles Williams

Chapter Seventeen

The Marriage of the Living and the Dead

While Inspector Colquhoun had been discussing the Pattison murder with his chief that morning, the Archdeacon of Castra Parvulorum had been working at parish business in his study. He hoped, though he did not much expect, that Mornington would call on him in the course of the day, and he certainly proposed to himself to walk over to the Rackstraws’ cottage and hear how the patient was progressing. The suspicions which Mornington and the Duke had felt on the previous day had not occurred to him, partly because he had accepted the episode as finished for him until some new demand should bring him again into action, but more still because he had been prevented by the Duke’s collision with him from seeing what had happened. He supposed that the new doctor had been able to soothe Barbara either by will-power or drugs, and, though the doctor’s mania for possession of the Graal appeared to him as bad-mannered as Gregory’s, that was not, after all, his affair. The conversation of the previous night he kept and pondered in his heart, but here, again, it was not his business to display activity, but to wait on the Mover of all things. He went on making notes about the Sunday school register; the Sunday school was a burden to him, but the mothers of the village expected it, and the Archdeacon felt bound to supply the need. He occasionally quoted to himself “Feed my lambs,” but a profound doubt of the proper application of the text haunted him; and he was far from certain that the food which was supplied to them even in the Sunday school at Fardles was that which Christ had intended. However, this also, he thought to himself, the Divine Redeemer would purify and make good.

Mrs. Lucksparrow appeared at the door. “Mr. Persimmons has called, sir,” she said, “and would like to see you for a few minutes, if you can spare the time. About the Harvest Festival, I think it is,” she added in a lower tone.

“Really?” the Archdeacon asked in surprise, and then again, in a slightly different voice, “Really!” Mr. Persimmons’s manners, he thought, were becoming almost intolerable. He got up and went to interview his visitor in the hall.

“So sorry to trouble you, Mr. Archdeacon,” Gregory said, smiling, “but I was asked to deliver this note to you personally. To make sure you got it and to see if there is any answer.”

The Archdeacon, glinting rather like a small, frosty pool, took it and opened it. He read it once; he read it twice; he looked up to find Gregory staring out through the front door. He looked down, read it a third time, and stood pondering.

“‘Sihon, King of the Amorites,’” he hummed abstractedly, “‘and Og, the King of Basan: for His mercy endureth for ever.’ You know what is in this note, Mr. Persimmons?”

“I’m afraid I do,” Gregory answered charmingly. “The circumstances . . . ”

“Yes,” the Archdeacon said meditatively, “yes. Naturally.”

“Naturally?” Gregory asked, rather as if making conversation.

“Well, I don’t mean to be rude,” the Archdeacon said, “but, in the first place, if it’s true, you would probably know; in the second, you probably wrote it; and, in the third, you probably and naturally would read other people’s letters anyhow. Yes, well, thank you so much.”

“You don’t want to put any questions?” Gregory asked.

“No.” the Archdeacon answered, “I don’t think so. I’ve no means of checking you, have I? And I should never dream of relying on people who made a practice of defying God? in any real sense. They’d be almost bound to lose all sense of proportion.”

“Well,” Gregory said, “you must do as you will. But I can tell you that what is written there is true. We have them in our power and we can slay them in a moment.”

“That will save them a good deal of trouble, won’t it?” the Archdeacon said. “Are you sure they want me to interfere? ‘To die now. ’Twere now to be most happy.’”

“Ah, you talk,” Gregory said, unreasonably enraged. “But do you think either of those young men wants to die? Or to see the vessel for which they die made into an instrument of power and destruction?”

“I would tell you what I am going to do if I knew,” the Archdeacon answered, “but I do not know. You are forgetting, however, to tell me where I shall come if I come.”

Gregory recovered himself, gave the address, reached the door, remarked on the beauty of the garden, and disappeared. The Archdeacon went back to his study, shut the door, and gave himself up to interior silence and direction.

Gregory went on to Cully. The slight passage at arms with the priest had given him real delight, but as he walked he was conscious of renewed alarms stirring in his being: alarms not so much of fear as of doubt. He found that by chance he was now in touch with two or three persons who found no satisfaction in desire and possession and power. No power of destruction seemed to satisfy Manasseh’s hunger; no richness of treasure to arouse the Archdeacon’s. And as he moved in these unaccustomed regions he felt that what was lacking was delight. It had delighted him in the past to overbear and torment; but Manasseh’s greed had never found content. And delight was far too small a word for the peace in which the Archdeacon moved; a sky of serenity overarched Gregory when he thought of the priest against which his own arrows were shot in vain. He saw it running from the east to the west; he saw below it, in the midst of a flat circle of emptiness, the face of the Greek spewing out venom. Absurdly enough, he felt himself angered by the mere uselessness of this; it was something of the same irritation which he had expressed to his son on the proportion of capital expended on the worst kind of popular novel. Enjoyment was all very well, but enjoyment oughtn’t to be merely wasteful. It annoyed him as his father had annoyed him by wasting emotions and strength in mere stupid, senile worry. Adrian must be taught the uselessness of that — power was the purpose of spiritual things, and Satan the lord of power. He turned in at the gates of Cully, and saw before him the window where he had talked with Adrian’s father. “A clerk in a brothel,” he thought suddenly; but even the clerk desired power. And then, in a sudden desperation, he saw that unchanging serenity of sky, and even the flames of the Sabbath leapt uselessly miles below it. Here he had met the young stranger: “only slaves can trespass, and they only among shadows.” But he was not a slave — that sky mocked him as the boast swelled. Slaves, slaves, it sounded, and his foot in the hall echoed the word again in his ear.

He inquired for Jessie and the boy; they were in the grounds, and he went out to find them, looking also for Lionel and Barbara. But these he did not meet, although he eventually discovered the others. Adrian, apparently resting, was telling himself a complicated and interminable story; Jessie was looking into a small stream and pondering her own thoughts — Gregory smiled to think what they probably were. He very nearly addressed her as “Mrs. Persimmons,” remembering that she probably knew nothing of his wife in the asylum, but refrained.

Barbara, it seemed, was as well as ever; she had spent an hour with Adrian before Mr. Rackstraw had made her go away. Then they — Jessie and Adrian — had come out into the grounds, and there had met a strange gentleman who had talked and played with Adrian for a little while. Gregory raised his eyebrows at this, and Jessie explained that she had not approved, but had not been able to prevent it, especially since Adrian had welcomed him so warmly that she had supposed them to be old friends.

“But what was he doing in the grounds?” Gregory asked.

“I don’t know, sir,” Jessie answered; “he seemed to know them, and he told me he knew you.”

Gregory suspected that this was the only cause of her frankness, but it was hardly worth troubling to rebuke her. Within a week Jessie might find herself only too anxious to make friends with strangers in Vienna or Adrianople, or somewhere farther east.

“What was he like?” he said.

“Oh, quite young, sir, and rather foreign-looking, and dressed all in grey. He and the boy seemed to be talking a foreign language half the time.”

Gregory stood still abruptly, and then began to walk on again. What had Sir Giles said about this stranger? And who was it the stranger reminded him of? The Archdeacon, of course; they both had something of that same remote serenity, that provoking, overruling detachment. In the rush of the previous day’s excitement he had forgotten to consult Manasseh; that would be remedied before night. But the talk of a foreign language disturbed him a little, lest Adrian should have a closer and more intimate friend than himself or than he had known. If there were anything in Sir Giles’s babblings . . . He gathered himself together and turned sharply to Jessie.

“We shall go to London,” he said, “I and Adrian and you to look after Adrian, directly after lunch. To-morrow we may go abroad for a little. It’s sudden, but it can’t be helped. And it’s not to be chattered about. See to it.”

It chanced therefore that, by the time Inspector Colquhoun had finished making inquiries of Mrs. Lucksparrow at the Rectory, Gregory, with Adrian and Jessie, had reached Lord Mayor’s Street. The shop was closed, but Manasseh admitted them, and Jessie was shown, first the kitchen and afterwards the small upstairs room where she and Adrian were to sleep.

She was not shown the cellar, where the Duke of the North Ridings lay bound, and she and Adrian were rushed swiftly through the back room, where the Archdeacon was looking pensively out of the window. He glanced at them as they went through, but neither face conveyed anything to his mind. Gregory had provided Adrian with two or three new toys, but it was intimated to Jessie that the sooner he was put to bed the better, and that she had better stay with him, as it was a strange room, lest he woke and was afraid.

The captives thus disposed of, Gregory went back to his friends, who were in the shop. The Archdeacon had left off looking out of the window and was reading the Revelations of Lady Julian close by it.

“He has come, then,” Gregory said.

“He has come,” Manasseh answered; “didn’t you expect him?”

“I didn’t know,” Gregory said. “He didn’t seem at all sure this morning. And I don’t know why he has come.”

“He has come,” the Greek said, “for the same reason that we are here — because in the whole world of Being everything makes haste to its doom. Are you determined and prepared for what you will do?”

Gregory looked back through the half-open door. “I have considered it for many hours,” he said. “I am determined and prepared.”

“Why, then, should we delay?” the Greek said. “I have hidden this house in a cloud and drawn it in to our hearts so that it shall not be entered from without till the work is done.”

Gregory involuntarily looked towards the window, and saw a thick darkness rising above it, a darkness not merely foglike, as it seemed to those without, but shot with all kinds of colour and movement as if some living nature were throbbing about them. The Greek turned and went into the inner room, and the other followed him. There the darkness was already gathering, so that the Archdeacon had ceased to read and was waiting for whatever was to follow. All that day, since he had talked with Gregory in the morning, he had been conscious that the power to which he had slowly taught himself to live in obedience was gradually withdrawing and abandoning him. Steadily and continuously that process went on, till now, as he faced his enemies, he felt the interior loss which had attacked him at other stages of his pilgrimage grow into a final overwhelming desolation. He said to himself again, as he so often said, “This also is Thou,” for desolation as well as abundance was but a means of knowing That which was All. But he felt extraordinarily lonely in the darkness of the small room, with Persimmons and Manasseh and the unknown third gazing at him from the door.

The Greek moved slowly forward, considered for a moment, and then said: “Do you know why you have come here?”

“I have come because God willed it,” the Archdeacon said. “Why did you send for me?”

“For a thing that is to be done,” the Greek said, “and you shall help in the doing.” As he spoke, Manasseh caught the priest’s arm with a little crow of greedy satisfaction, and Gregory laid hold of his other shoulder:

“You shall help in the doing of it,” the Greek said, smiling for the first time since Gregory had known him, with a sudden and swift convulsion. “Take him and bind him and lay him down.”

It was quickly done; the Archdeacon was unable to resist, not so much because of the greater strength of his opponents as because that interior withdrawal of energy had now touched his body and he was weakening every moment. He was stretched on the ground, and Manasseh tore at his clothes till his breast was bare. Then the Greek lifted the Graal from the table by the window and set it on the priest, and still the darkness increased and moved and swirled around them. The Archdeacon heard voices above him, heard Gregory say: “Are there no markings and ceremonies?” and the Greek answer: “We are retired beyond such things; there is only one instrument, and that is the blood with which I have filled the cup; there is only one safeguard, in the purpose of our wills. For your part, remember the man you slew; keep his image in your mind and let it be imposed on this man’s being. For through this Manasseh and I will work.”

The darkness closed entirely over, and as the Archdeacon lay he knew for a while nothing but the waste of an obscure night. Then there became known to him within it three separate points of existence and energy about him, from each of which issued a shaft of directed power. He was aware that these shafts were not yet aimed directly at him; he was aware also of a difference in their nature. For that which was nearest him was also the least certain; it shook and faltered; it was more like anger as he had known it among men, red and variable and mortal. This anger was the effluence of a similar centre, a centre which was known on that earth they had left as Gregory Persimmons, and trembled still with desires natural to man. So far as in him lay, the Archdeacon presented himself to that spirit and profession as a means whereby the satisfaction of all desire might meet it; not by such passions was hell finally peopled and the last rejection found.

But this procession was not alone; it was controlled and directed by mightier powers. From another centre there issued a different force, and this, the victim realized, it would need all his present strength to meet. There impinged upon him the knowledge of all hateful and separating and deathly things: madness and tormenting disease and the vengeance of gods. This was the hunger with which creation preys upon itself, a supernatural famine that has no relish except for the poisons that waste it. This was the second death that cannot die, and it ran actively through that world of immortalities on a hungry mission of death. What that mission was he did not yet know; the beam played somewhere above him and disappeared where a central darkness hid the Graal. But he knew that the mission would be presently revealed, and he asserted by a spiritual act the perfection of all manner of birth.

Even as he did so the act itself quivered and almost died. For the third stream of energy passed over him, and its very passage shook the centre of his being from its roots. This was no longer mission or desire, search or propaganda or hunger; this was rejection absolute. No mortal mind could conceive a desire which was not based on a natural and right desire; even the hunger for death was but a perversion of the death which precedes all holy birth. But of every conceivable and inconceivable desire this was the negation. This was desire itself sick, but not unto death; rejection which tore all things asunder and swept them with it in its fall through the abyss. He felt himself sinking even in the indirect rush of its passage; here, if anywhere, the foundation of the universe must hold them firm, for otherwise he and the universe were ruining together for ever. But that foundation, if it existed, had separated itself from him; he cried desperately to God and God did not hear him. The three intermingling currents passed on their way, and, fainting and helpless, he awaited the further end.

There came for a little a relief. He was dimly aware again for some moments of external things — a breath above him, the slight feeling of the Cup upon his breast, the pressure of the cords that held his arms to his sides. Then slowly and very gently these departed again and he felt himself being directed towards — he did not know what. But he was, as it were, moving. He was passing to a preordained tryst; he was meeting something, and he grew dreadfully afraid. Marriage awaited him, and the darkness above him took shape and he knew that another existence was present, an existence that hated and strove against this tryst as much as he hated and strove against it, but which was driven as he was remorselessly driven. Nearer and nearer, through ages of time, they were brought; desire and death and utter rejection gathered their victims from the various worlds and drew them into union. His body became aware again of the Graal, and from the Graal itself the visitation came. He felt that no longer the Graal but a human being was there; he saw a weak, anxious, and harassed face look on him despairingly. He saw it float about him, and his very consciousness, which had taken in all these things up to then, began to feel them differently. Some entry was being forced into that which was he; in that Vessel which had held the Blood which is the potentiality of all he and this other were to be wrecked in each other for ever. Then this knowledge itself was withdrawn and no function of his being recorded any more.

It was at this moment, when he had been driven beyond consciousness, that the masters of the work above him concentrated their utmost resources for the purpose they had in hand. The Graal vibrated before them in the intensity of their power.

In obedience to the Greek’s direction, Gregory had concentrated his consciousness upon that being whom he had, not so very long ago, slain; partly for safety, partly for mere amusement, partly as an offering to his god. He set before himself the thought of the wretched man’s whole life, from the moment when the discovery of small thefts had put him in his power, through his years of service and torment, through the last effort towards freedom, through the last deliberate return. Pattison had returned to his death and had died, obeying minutely all the orders that had been given him; clean and unmarked linen, no papers, his few belongings left in a bag at some Tube station, and the ticket destroyed — he had seen that all was done under the fascination of his master’s law. And now that law was to do something more with him; it searched for him in the place of shadows where his uncertain spirit wandered; it explored the night beyond death to recover him thence. Gregory held the knowledge of the man’s soul fast in his mind, and from his own solitary wanderings in the abyss that soul began to return to its lord. Upward now, his image began to rise, as some few days since the wraith of the child Adrian had floated, but even more swiftly by virtue of the triple call. A fantastic bubble of tinged cloud seemed to appear, moving upward from the Graal, and the bubble thickened and became mist and shaped itself into a form and face. The Graal was dimly visible in a faint green light, through which and over which the recalled spirit took on a mortal covering. Gregory involuntarily smiled at the appeal on the face that was momentarily visible, and renewed his effort to offer up both the captives in sacrifice to the tremendous power he adored. Slowly the strength of the three prevailed. Little by little that shadow sank and spread itself over the motionless form on the floor, little by little it flowed round it and into it. Gregory, almost exhausted with the effort, would have ceased, contented, as the last faint coils of mist faded from the light that shone, like a light of decay, from the Graal. But the knowledge and energy of his companions insisted, in the continuous force they expended, that nothing but a mental haunting, a perpetual obsession, had yet been achieved. Something further yet was needed for the final and perfect marriage of these two victims; and in an instant something further came.

The faint glow round the Vessel faded and vanished; and all the moving darkness of the room seemed to direct itself towards and to emerge from that thickest core of night which beat in the Cup, as if its very heart were beating there. One moment only they heard and felt that throbbing heart, and then suddenly from it there broke a terrific and golden light; blast upon blast of trumpets shook the air; the Graal blazed with fiery tumult before them; and its essence, as at last that essence was touched, awoke in its own triumphant and blinding power. None could tell whether light and trumpets were indeed there; but something was there? something which, as it caught and returned upon them the energies they had put forth, seemed also to bestride the prostrate figure on the floor. The Graal was lifted or was itself no more — they could not tell; they were flung back before this lifting and visible form. He over whom it stood returned also from the depths; he looked up and saw it flaming through the scattering night, and heard a litany which changed as it smote his ears from the chant of an unknown tongue into the familiar and cherished maxims of his natural mind.

“Let them give thanks whom the Lord hath redeemed,” a great voice sang, and from all about it, striking into light and sound at once, the answer came: “for His mercy endureth for ever.”

“And delivered out of the snare of the enemy,” it sang again; and again an infinite chorus crashed: “for His mercy endureth for ever.”

He moved his arms and the cords that held them snapped; he half arose as the Graal, or he that was the Graal, moved forward and upward. All sense of the horrible intrusion into his nature and essence had gone. He saw somewhere for a moment near him the face he had seemed to see before, but it was free and happy and adoring; he saw Kenneth somewhere and lost him again, and again all round him the litany wheeled like fire:

“He hath destroyed great nations: for His mercy endureth for ever:

“And overthrown mighty kings: for His mercy endureth for ever.”

He was on his feet, and before him the room, cleared of light and darkness, showed its usual bare dirtiness. In front of him was the figure of the priest-king, the Graal lifted in his hands. Beyond lay the others — Gregory prostrate on his face, Manasseh shaking and writhing on his back, the Greek crouched half back on his heels.

“I am John,” a voice sounded, “and I am the prophecy of the things that are to be and are. You who have sought the centre of the Graal, behold through me that which you seek, receive from me that which you are. He that is righteous, let him be righteous still; he that is filthy, let him be filthy still. I am rejection to him that hath sought rejection; I am destruction to him that hath wrought destruction; I am sacrifice to him that hath offered sacrifice. Friend to my friends and lover to my lovers, I will quit all things, for I am myself and I am He that sent me. This war is ended and another follows quickly. Do that which you must while the time is with you.”

The Archdeacon saw Gregory drag himself slowly to his feet; Manasseh was lying still; the Greek crouched lower still on the floor.

“Gregory Persimmons,” the voice went on, “they wait for you close at hand. Can a man sacrifice his brother or make agreement with any god for him? Die, then, as this other has died, and there shall be agreement with you also in the end, for you have sought me and no other.”

Gregory turned dully to the door and moved towards it. The priest-king turned to the Archdeacon and held the Graal out to him. “Brother and friend,” he said, “the rest is in your charge. One of your friends is below, the other is with me. Take your friend and this Cup and return, and I will come to you tomorrow.”

The Archdeacon took the Graal with his usual sedateness. It was as tarnished as it had been when he last saw it. He glanced at the figures on the floor; he looked again at the high face of the priest-king, glimmering in the natural dusk; then, gravely and a little daintily, he went out towards the cellars.

In the room above, the maid Jessie was awakened by what seemed the light of a shaded lamp. She saw the stranger with whom Adrian had played that morning standing by her. “Come,” he said, “your master is in the hands of the police, and we return to Fardles to-night. Do not disturb yourself about the child; he will not wake.” He gathered the sleeping Adrian in his arms, wrapped some dark covering round him, added: “Come; I shall wait for you at the doors,” and left the room.

How Jessie got back to Cully she was never very clear. She had a vague impression of moving through country lanes, and supposed it must have been in a motor, though, as she afterwards said, to her most intimate friend. “I was so sleepy it might have been an angel, for all I knew. And a mercy the police got Mr. Persimmons in time, for I don’t know that I’d have said ‘No’ if he’d asked me.”

“You’d have had the house and a good bit of money, even so,” her friend elliptically said.

“What, and be the wife of a man that’s been hung?” Jessie said indignantly, “to say nothing of his being a murderer. Thank you for nothing, Lizzie; that’s not the kind of girl I am. Why, it’d be no better than selling yourself for money.”

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