On the vigil of the hallows, it was gloomily and steadily raining. Few people were out in the streets of London and the curtains at most windows were again drawn together. Even delight in the peace could hardly find satisfaction in keeping them wide on such a night. Unpropitiously, the feast approached.
The Clerk was sitting in his hall. He had remained secluded there since he had dismissed the false woman into the outer world, and with that (as he believed) the spirit that had interrupted his work. He was a little more troubled than he wished to admit to himself, and that for two reasons. He had been more pricked than he had allowed by Betty’s silence about him when she repeated to him the tumultuous records of the world’s future. There was, to his mind, but one explanation — that some new weakness had taken her, and when he had been defeated in his operation he had even been able to use that as an explanation. This other being — now imprisoned and banished from him — had affected her and silenced her. The future was not therefore as she had said. The alternative possibility — that the future was as she had said, and that he would so soon have utterly vanished from the world — was too dreadful for him. He encouraged his mind into illusion. Illusion, to the magician as to the saint, is a great danger. But the master in Goetia has always at the centre of his heart a single tiny everlasting illusion; it may be long before that point infects him wholly, but sooner or later it is bound to do so. It was infecting Simon now. It was hurrying him.
He was reluctant to do what he was being driven, by that scurry in his mind, to intend. He knew well that for the greater initiate to fall back on the methods of the lesser initiate was unwise. In sorcery as in sanctity there is no return. The master in any art who abandons the methods of his mastery and falls back on prentice habits runs a fearful risk. No lover, of any kind, not even the lover of himself, can safely turn from maturity to adolescence. His adolescence is in his maturity. The past may be recalled and redeemed in the present, but the present cannot be forsaken for the past. Lester was exposed to the true method; Evelyn was seeking the false. But the magician runs a greater risk even than Evelyn’s, for if he begins to return, his works begin to return to him. All this Simon had learned many years before, but till now it had never been a temptation to him; now it was. He had begun to fall back on crude early methods of magic. He had already conceded to his need the making of the false body; now he was about to concede more. To recover Betty by spiritual means would mean much careful planning and working. He sat with his eyes fixed on that window through which he desired to see her spirit come, and he knew he must first suspend and separate her physical life, Her body, especially with this new knowledge, this love-relation to another, was her safeguard. He must at once, by easy and quick methods, over-throw her body.The great face that gazed towards the window was more like the face of Jonathan’s painting than anyone, evenjonathan, had ever seen it before.
He turned his mind to his paramour. She was then sitting at her solitary dinner, in her house at Highgate, and presently she felt herself beginning to breathe heavily, and her left hand began to shake. She knew the signs, and she set herself to making her mind empty. Such communications demand a technique not dissimilar to that of prayer. First she thought of nothing but him; when she had nothing but his image in her mind, she set herself to exclude that too. Her coffee was before her; no one would come till she rang. She sat — that woman only just past fifty, though since that very morning she had aged and looked full ten years older — gazing out over the coffee, a statue of quiet meditation; and the image of him faded from her mind, and she sank into an inner stillness. it was in that stillness, the stillness of the threshold of a ghostly temple, that she heard her own voice saying aloud: “Hair. Bring me her hair.” She heard it clearly the first time she said it, but she heard herself repeat it several times before she acted; where once she would have moved at once. But she was stiff tonight and tired, and in great wanhope, and it was only slowly that at last she raised herself, pressing on the arms of her chair, and went clumsily upstairs to Betty’s room. There, peering among the bristles of the brushes, she found two or three short golden hairs. She picked them carefully out, put them in an envelope, and going downstairs got out her car and drove down to Holborn. It was an hour afterwards that the maid found that, for the first time in her experience, her mistress had left the dining-room without ringing.
When she reached the house she found Plankin just about to lock the door. As she reached it, and he waited for her, she almost thought that the small carved hand showed through the darkness palely lit and in motion, waving her to go on. Plankin said: “Good evening, my lady. It’s a nasty night.” She nodded to him and he nodded back. He said: “It’s good to belong to the Father and to be inside. We’ll be in our beds soon, most of us. The Father’s got good beds for those he takes care of,” and as she went down the hall she heard him behind her still saying: “Good beds; good beds.”
Round the corner, through the small door. The hall was dark. She switched on one light — the single light that was just over the door. It did not penetrate far — just enough to let her dimly see the Clerk sitting in the throned chair and something shining upon his knees. He was waiting for her. She went straight across to him, took the hairs out of the envelope, and gave them to him. He was sitting quite still and holding on his knees a little lump of what seemed paste. It was that which shone. He took the hairs from her and laid them on the paste; then he began to mould it. It was very small, not more than two inches long, and as he pressed and moulded it he made it less; presently it was not much more than an inch. Then, as if he needed more, he put his hand inside his cassock and took it out again full of all kind of soft amorphous stuff, also shining. He added that to what he already held and worked at it. There — was in the hall now only the light over the door and the phosphorescent glow of the image.
When it was finished, it was a rough shape of a woman, nothing like so finished as that other larger shape he had made that morning. He stood up and put it on the seat of his chair. He said to the woman by him: “I will make the enclosure now. You shall hold it when we are ready,” and she nodded. He took three paces to the front of the throne, and bending his great height he began to walk backward round it in a circle, drawing after him the point of his left thumb upon the floor. It left behind it a softly shining trail as if it were the streak of a snail’s path. When he had finished the circle, he took a pace nearer the chair, and began another circle, and when that in turn was finished, he went in turn to the four points of the compass and joined the two circles by four straight lines. As he did so the air:within the circles grew heavy and stifling, as if they formed a kind of round thick wall which shut out health and easy breath. He stood up and paused for a few moments as if to recover, then he lifted the fixed endoplasmic shape in his hands, and took his seat again upon the now secluded throne. He nodded heavily at the woman, and she came and knelt in front of him with her face towards him, She seemed much older now than she had been when she entered the hall; it was the fallen face of a woman of ninety that stared at him, and was still ageing, and the hands she put out were older too, thin and faintly tremulous. He gave the image, built round those golden hairs into them, and she held it at about the height of her shoulders, a little above his knees. The only sound now was that of the rain upon the roof.
The Clerk said: “Call her; call her often!” She obediently began; she could not make her voice anything but flat and lifeless, but she began automatically: “Betty! . . . Betty! . . . Betty!” and presently the repetition seemed to strengthen her. While she called, the Clerk put his hand again inside his cassock, but this time near his breast, and drew out what seemed a long needle. It too was bright, but with the brightness of actual steel; it was not like the doll, and it glinted in the efflorescence of the doll. There was about it almost a natural beauty, but the presence of that slip of loveliness accentuated the strange horror of the rest. The Clerk took it in his left hand. It had at its head a tiny gold knob, and on this he settled his forefinger, holding it about half-way down, between his thumb and his second and third fingers; the fourth came round to the ball of his thumb. He said: “Louder!” In that oppressive air, Sara Wallingford could not easily obey, but she made an effort and her body unexpectedly responded. Her voice came out with a summons that was like a thin shriek: “Betty! . . . Betty! “ And all the time she held up the doll to her master. The Clerk leant forward and raised the needle.
For almost a minute her voice shrieked alone, and then it was no longer alone. Other shrieks from the house beyond answered it and joined with it. The sudden multiplication of sound sang in her ears; she jerked and almost dropped the endoplasmic doll. She recovered herself immediately, but in that half-second’s loss of control the Clerk had stabbed at the doll. The needle struck the tip of her middle right-hand finger, and as he pulled back his weapon a drop of blood stood out and oozed on to the fixed jelly, The Clerk looked at her; his eyes drew her yet more upright on her knees. Her finger continued to bleed; the shoulder of the doll showed crimson from the drops.
She went very white, and had stopped her high old woman’s scream. It was he and not the secrets for which she had cared, and she did not know much of them, but something she could not help knowing, and what she knew made her afraid. His great face loomed over her and would not let her go. The face was the face of the Exile of Israel, of the old Israel and the new, and all Israel else was free to the Return. She saw, unknowing, as she looked up, the face of all exile, the face of the refusal of the Return, and it seemed to her as imbecile as it had been in the painting, though now indeed she had forgotten the painting. She tried to let go the doll, and failed. Her left hand could loosen it, but it remained fixed to her right, sealed to it by the blood. She held it in her left, and tried to pull her right free, but she could not. She felt indeed all the pain of the rending flesh, but the flesh was not rent. As her blood ran into the doll, so her heart’s indifference passed into her flesh; her brain knew what ought to be, but her body refused her brain. The organic nature of her blood made her one with the doll, and more intimately much than the golden hairs could unite Betty to it. She realized the substitution that was taking place; she was likely to die in Betty’s stead.
She knew she was about to die. She knew that the Clerk would not spare her and that even the thought of sparing would not occur to him. She had hated all things for his sake, and so did he, but now his hate was against her too. But she was allowed justice; she was allowed to hate even herself for his sake. After that instinctive effort to escape, she accepted that; she even gloried in it. Her heart flung itself up into that great alien sky of his face, and was absorbed in it. She had but one thing to ask, and that unvocally; that he should strike to kill before the doll had become even more she than Betty. She had a vague and terrible fear that the substitution might be so complete that Betty would not die. Let him stab before that happened! let him strike both of them into whatever waited! let her have but the chance to meet her daughter there, and see which of them could rule!
She was conscious of one other thing, though she did not properly know what it was. There passed through the face above her a series of vibrations, waves passing down it from forehead to chin. They reverberated in her as a kind of perpetual drumming, increasing as the face changed sea — like down from brow to point, and dying as the pause came, and again beginning as from beneath the hair the wave issued and swelled and sank and swelled, change after change of heavy cloud in that now to her almost shapeless sky. These waves, could she have realized it, came from the drumming rain — heavy, rapid, continuous; October closing in a deluge. The vigil of the saints was innumerably active in the City, and all London lay awake under it.
As if her prayer had moved the opaque cloud to yield to it, the slender steel flashed and struck again. She saw it; and, whether through his error or her shrinking, she felt the sudden sting in her forefinger — as if she were to be united to the image, member by member, blow by blow. But, for all the sudden pain and fear, it was not her mouth from which even now those screams were issuing; she after her first wound had become dumb. They came from two sources. The first was within the double barrier; it was held between her hands. In the head of the rough endoplasmic shape a hole opened, and out of the hole came screams much like her own had been. It was the most startling and the most dangerous. It had been the first sound of this which caused her to quiver and deflected Simon’s aim, for it meant that a weakness and a peril were already within the circle. The wall had not yet been broken by any pressure from without — as the operation in Betty’s bedroom had been. The magic here was mechanically shrilling under some turn within it; it was beginning to twist upon itself. The thing done was in active and antagonistic return.
But the noise was multiple; that scream was not solitary. Rising through the drumming of the rain — of which all this time the Clerk had never been entirely unaware, as it is said that those in deep prayer can hear and even consider sounds without distraction — came the screams from beyond the threshold, but now from only just beyond. Those who screamed were already at the door. The house had thrown them from its upper rooms, or rather that which had entered the house. All in the bedrooms and in the offices and the rest had been locked and silent and asleep when through the night and the rain that single taxi had rolled to the outer door. It stopped; the driver leaned back, put out his hand, and threw it open. Richard had been the first to descend; then Jonathan and Betty; lastly, the reluctant thing that had first got in. Jonathan gave some silver to the driver, and the vehicle disappeared into the darkness. They turned to the house; the carved hand glowed; and then, as they passed it, Betty put out a hand with a movement as if she brushed a twig away, and the thing went out suddenly. The dwarf, driven first of all the company, flinched as if it had itself been struck. It reached the door, and was halted, for though alone of all in London, it might of its nature have passed through that door yet the high and now dominating spirit who controlled it knew that neither her husband nor her friend’s lover could. Jonathan began to use the knocker. Richard looked for a bell and could find none, until a thought struck him, and taking a step or two back he peered by the light of a sheltered match at the centre of the carved hand. He saw there a discoloured spot in the palm, something which might have been a bell, the nerve of the physical machinery of that house, whose brain (now secluding itself into imbecility) lay in the round hall within. They could not hear the sound of the bell, nor was Jonathan’s hammering and occasional kicking at the door much more than a relief to his own feelings. The noise seemed deadened and only an echo of itself. Presently however a window went up above them, and a Voice which Richard recognized as, the doorkeeper’s said: “‘What’s all this? You can’t see the Father now. It’s too late.”
“We’ve something for him,” Jonathan called; “something of his own.”
“You can’t do anything for him, and you can’t give him anything,” the voice of Plankin said. “It’s late; it’s to late.”
Another voice interrupted him. It came from the dwarf, but they knew it for Evelyn’s and as it sounded the dwarf in a paroxysm of strength beat on the door with its hands. It cried: “Let me in! Let me in!”
Plankin, unseen above them, said: “I don’t know, I’m sure. It isn’t right to open the door after dark. The Father doesn’t wish it. There’s things in the dark that might frighten us.”
Evelyn screamed: “Let me in! It’s raining; you can’t leave me in the rain.” She added, more quietly and snivelling: “I shall catch a dreadful cold.” The dwarf struck again at the door, and this time there broke out under the false hands a deep booming sound, as if the previous faint echo had now passed into a cavern of great depth. Jonathan had ceased to knock and Richard took his hand from the discoloured palm. This, at last, was the proper summons to that gatehouse; that which they had brought must itself demand entrance. At its call — dead woman and inorganic shape — the gatekeeper, if at all, would come down and open. They could not now hear Plankin for the noise, any more than they could see him for the night. They waited.
The door began to open — less than a crack; they could hardly have known it had not the dwarf, tearing and scrabbling, flung itself at the crack. Both its possessing spirits urged it there; there, with a yelp of delight, it pressed. The threshold shook; Betty and her friends felt it move, and the door, as if of its own accord, swung more widely back, revealing Plankin half-dressed, and carrying him with it. He stared at the intruder, as he staggered back. The dwarf sprang jerkily into the lit hall. Betty and the others followed, and as they did so the eyes of the gatekeeper changed. Dismay came into them; he gasped; he threw his hands to his head; he cried: “Oh! Oh!” Richard, as he saw and heard, remembered a phrase from their interview of that morning — “a tumour in the head”. As he recollected it, and saw the dreadful consciousness of returning pain, he heard a clamour break out on the floor above. The dwarf had thrust past Plankin, and was scuttling away down the hall. As it pierced into the house the clamour grew — a hubbub of cries and thuds and shouts and hurrying feet and crashing doors. This was the Return, and this the operation of inflexible law.
They appeared; they came, stumbling and roaring, down the stairs — all those who carried the Clerk’s mark in their bodies. First, an old woman, in a nightgown, eyes running tears and hand clutching her side where the cancer had begun again to gnaw, and she had been waked by it, with only one thought, and that all confused — to be healed, to get to her Comforter. A few steps behind came a young man partly dressed, coughing and spitting blood on to the stairs, and feeling vainly for the handkerchief he had in his first waking spasm forgotten. And after him a still younger man, who as he came was being twisted slowly back into deformity, his leg withering and drawing up, so that he was presently clinging to the banisters and hopping down sideways. Others followed, some with unseen ailments and some with — open wounds, but all hurrying with one instinctive desire — to get to Simon, to find their Father, to be healed and at rest. Only one of all that:household was not there — one, the paralytic, who had waked to find her flesh turning again a prison, she already half-immobile, and was now lying part in and part out of bed anguished and alone in her room. The rest were down the stairs and in the hall and hurrying as best they could round the corner into that corridor in the wall to the hole that gave on the centre of all. In front of them, and quicker than any, went the dwarf, and as if in a miserable retinue they followed, Plankin the first. The hunt for the miracle-monger was up; they rushed to be again sealed his own, but there was something dangerous in the way they went.
Betty had paused in the open door till the scurry had gone by. Her hand was in Jonathan’s, who still carried the canvas of the painting under his other arm. Richard was on Betty’s other side. At last, she too began to move; she went quietly, and her face was very serious and calm. As they went down the hall, they saw that the walls there, and still more those of the narrow corridor when they entered it were running with drops and thin streams of water. Richard looked up. He saw that, here and there, the rain was beginning to come through the roof; he felt a few drops on his head, on his face, on his eyelids. But for the most part the rain was not yet upon the walls; it was the condensation of something in the air, some freshness of water that lay on them, but left the air dry and sterile for want of it. The walls absorbed it; under it they changed to a kind of slime.
When they came to the hall it was not so. There the roof was still sound, and the walls, as far as they could see, still dry. Before them the diseased throng were hurrying across the floor, and the three friends could not clearly see the dwarf beyond them or the two encircled figures beyond it. The woman, as all this crowd burst in, did not move but the Clerk turned his eyes. Plankin was coming so fast that he outwent even the dwarf, who indeed seemed to pause and totter as it took there the first step, so that the others all broke out around it, and came first to the invisible barrier. That perhaps would not have held against any indifferent human being; it was not primarily meant for such protection — much less against divine scepticism or heavenly joy. Brutality might have trampled it, scattered about the outer circle, tottering and crawling round it, surrounding it, beating with their hands on an invisible wall, wailing and moaning, and one howling dog-like. The Clerk took no slightest notice; he was looking, and his eyes were very wary, at the other thing that now began to advance.
it walked more steadily now, as if it had found some centre determination in itself. When Lester’s influence had been in it, there had been in its movements an irrepressible jerkiness. But now that jerkiness had passed; it moved inflexibly, as if it neither could nor wished to stop. When it had almost reached the barrier, Betty pulled her hand from Jonathan’s and ran after it. She caught up with it; in a swift and strong notion she caught its hand; she exclaimed: “Evelyn, do stop!”
The Clerk had been watching it come. Now he stood up. As he did so, he released from the intensity of his concentration the endoplasmic image in the hands of his paramour; it fell; and she, unable to let it go, fell forward also at that sudden unbalancing release. The Clerk had, at the same time, taken a step towards the barrier, so that she fell against the chair, and the doll, to which her hands were still fastened by her own blood, lay on the seat. She lay propped there, and she turned her head, so that she saw, at a little distance, not only the dwarf, of which she knew nothing, but handlinked with it her daughter, her rival and enemy. That Betty was wholly free from her. She saw her almost as Jonathan saw her, beautiful and good, very much Betty. That Betty was quite unlike the doll she helplessly held. The doll was all she had of Betty, and even the doll was becoming, as her blood soaked into it, less and less like Betty and more and more like herself She was being, by an operation which her own will had in the beginning encouraged, slowly substituted for Betty. She lay, rigid and fixed, propped by the edge of the chair, and into the insatiable image through those two small pricks her blood continued to drain.
The Clerk made a quick savage motion, and the clamour of the diseased creatures ceased. He looked round the circle, collecting their pitiable eyes; then he raised his hand, pointing it at the dwarf, and he said: “Drag it away!”
Most of them ignored him. A few, of those least diseased, did look round at the dwarf, but they looked back at once. It was not disobedience but impotence that held them there. Someone — it was difficult to know who, in that throng — said feebly: “Make us well, Father!” The dwarf, dragging at Betty’s hand, and pulling her after it, advanced another few steps. Now it was right up against the barrier, and had, with a definite and powerful thrust, got one foot just over the circle by some half an inch. There it seemed to halt, as if it could press no farther. Betty still clung to its hand; it was all she could do. She called out: “Lester, do help me! I can’t hold her.”
Indeed nothing — neither the Clerk’s frown nor Betty’s clasp — could now affect the mad determination of the lost spirit. Evelyn was over-ridden by the fear that even this refuge in which she somehow was might be snatched from her. She saw the barrier almost as a material wall; if she could get this body within it, she would be safe, or as safe as she could be. The attraction which that point exercised on the mere material image was strengthened by her own will; a false union held her and it. Since the house had been entered, there had been no need for Lester to drive the shape; it had been only too urgent to hurry on. Only Betty still clung to it. She flung out her other hand behind her, as if to Jonathan; and Jonathan sprang forward and caught it. As if aware of them for the first time, the Clerk lifted his eyes and saw the three friends.
Jonathan and Betty were too occupied to meet his eyes, but Richard did. And as he did, the sudden recollection of what this man had offered him rose bitterly in his heart. This fellow had offered to rule Lester for him, to give him back his wife or not as he might choose — he! He had been still lingering by the door, but now suddenly he too moved. If Lester was to go from him, she should go with all honours. He walked forward to join the others, and when he had reached them he took the canvas from under Jonathan’s arm. He said: “Father Simon, my wife wishes us to return your property. Take it.”
He lightly tossed the canvas towards the Clerk; it flew over the circles and struck Simon on the shoulder. The Clerk gave a sudden squeal. Richard went on, holding himself very upright and imperious: “If I had not been a fool in the past, you would not have been able to — ”
“Darling, must you be quite so savage?” Lester’s voice halflaughing interrupted. “Tell him what you ought to tell him — that will be enough.”
Richard had forgotten his commission. Now he remembered. He said: “Yes . . . well . . . but I think it’s too late. Lester is free of you, and Betty is free, and the world will soon be free. But just before it is — I was sent to offer you everything — all the kingdoms in it and their glory. You were to be asked to meet those others who are like you; you were, all three of you, to be . . . how do I know what? masters, for all I do know. But I think we’ve come in time. Let’s see if your friends will.”
A sudden silence fell. Richard listened — all of them, even the Clerk, all except Evelyn, listened — for that other voice. It did not then come. Lester was still clearly aware of what was happening. But she was also aware of a certain difference in her surroundings. She had seemed to enter the house with the others, even to come as far as the hall, but when the others had gone right in, when Richard had gone and had begun to speak, when she had broken in on him with that gay but serious protest, she had become aware that she was no longer related to that deformed image. It had itself released her, merely by entering the hall. For as it did so, and she for the first second with it, she had found herself once more in the rain. It was driving down over and past her on to — the Thames? some wide river, flowing, flowing on beneath her; and the pale ghastly light in the hall had changed. Within the rain a fresher light was opening. It shone on the rain and on the river; and the room with its companies was still there, but it stood on the river, which flowed through it, and in the rain, which fell through it. The light was like dawn, except that it had in it a tinge redder than dawn, and the same tinge was in the river and the rain, exquisite and blood-roseal, delicate and enriching. Only she felt again the awful sense of separation. It was like a sharp pain in a great joy. She gave herself to it; she could no other; she had consented long before — when she married Richard perhaps — or was consenting now — when she was leaving him. Her heart sank; without him, what was immortality or glory worth? and yet only without him could she even be that which she now was. All, all was ending; this, after so many preludes, was certainly death. This was the most exquisite and pure joy of death, in a bearing of bitterness too great to be borne. Above her the sky every moment grew more high and empty; the rain fell from a source far beyond all clouds. Below her the myriad drops, falling in slanting lines, struck the great river in innumerable little explosions, covering the whole surface. She saw each of them with an admirable exactitude — each at the same time as she saw all, and the flowing river and the empty sky, and herself no longer bodily understood, but a point, a point reflected from many drops and pierced by many drops, a spark of the light floating in the air. But she was not very conscious of herself as herself; she no longer thought of herself as bearing or enjoying; the bitterness, the joy and the inscape of those great waters were all she knew, and among them the round hall, with those mortal figures within it, and its window open, as she now saw it, on the waters. Even Richard’s figure there had lost its immediate urgency; something once necessary and still infinitely precious, which had belonged to it, now lay deep, beyond all fathoming deep, in the current below, and could be found again only within the current or within the flashing rain. Of any future union, if any were to be, she could not begin even to think; had she, the sense of separation would have been incomplete, and the deadly keenness of the rain unenjoyed.
The rain did not seem to her to be driving into the round hall; if it did, it was there invisible to her. The window was open, and she became aware that towards the window, from a great distance, two forms were moving. They came walking upon the waters, great-headed, great-cloaked forms, forms like Simon, two Simons far beyond the hall, coming towards the hall and Simon. She thought at first there were more — a whole procession of Simons, but it was not so; there were but the two. They were going directly towards the window, one behind the other, and as she saw them she had a sudden sense that never, never, would she have asked either of them to bring her a drink of water in the night. She would have been terrified of what they brought; there would have been something in the glass — as if the Richard of past days had put secret poison in the drink; and much worse than that, for human malice was but human malice, and comprehensible and pardonable enough to any human; but this would have been a cool and immaterial — and the worse for being immaterial — antipathy to — to? to all, a drink the taste of which would have been a separation without joy. They came on, as it were below her — not that she had at all a place to see them from — and as they passed or seemed to pass, she had a moment’s terror that it was not they but she. The great-headed, great-cloaked, steadily walking forms were wholly unlike her, but yet they were she — double, immense, concealed, walking through the unfelt rain on the unyielding water, antipathetic, relegated to antipathy; as if in the shadowy City of her early death she had gone another way, and through the deep tunnels and tribes had come out on this water, and (grown in them to this size and covered in them with this wrapping to hide herself) were walking on to some quiet and awful consummation. This had been the other way, the way she had just not gone. Behind them, as they went, the faint roseal glow in the waters and the rain gathered thicker and followed, and deepened as it followed. The colour of it — rose or blood or fire-struck up the descending lines of rain and was lost somewhere in that empty upper sky above her; but below it was by now almost a wall which moved after those forms; and absorbed and changed the antipathy they diffused; and all behind them the freshness of the waters and the light was free and lovely.
On earth — that is, among those earthly — the turn of the night had come. The morning of the feast imperceptibly began, though none of them knew it — none? the Clerk knew. As a man feels the peculiar chill that comes, especially in early spring or late autumn, with the rising sun, so he, long before any sun had risen, felt a new coldness in the hall. The air within the charmed circle was heavy, but as the Acts of the City took charge and the nearness of all the hallows grew everywhere within the outer air, it became dank and even more oppressive with a graveyard chill. More than humanity was holy and more than humanity was strange. The round hall itselfi and its spare furnishings, and the air in it were of earth, and nothing could alter that nature. The blessedness of earth was in them and now began to spread out of them. There too were the hallows, and their life began to awake, though the City itself seemed not yet awake. Invisible motions stirred, and crept or stepped or flew, as if a whole creation existed there unseen. The Acts of the City were at hand. Simon’s eyes were still on the dwarf, which by now had pressed still farther into the barrier, as if it was working its way through some thick moulded — stuff which could not quite halt it. It was delayed also by its paw, being still caught in Betty’s; for all its spasmodic tugging it could not quite free itself from that young passionate clasp. But it had dragged Betty herself very near the barrier. Her other hand was in Jonathan’s, and his arm was round her. As her foot touched the outer circle, she looked round at him and said: “Don’t hold me now, Jon. I must go with her.”
Jonathan said: “You’ll do nothing of the sort. What’s the good? Let her go where she wants. It’s I who need you, more than ever she can.”
Betty answered breathlessly: “No, really, Jon. I must go; after all, we did know each other. And you’re different; you can manage. Besides, I shouldn’t be the least good to you, if —. Let me go, darling. I was glad she was dead the first time, I can’t leave her to die again. so I must be with her now.”
Jonathan tried to resist, but all his energy, and all the energy of his art, was in vain. He set his feet; they slipped. He dragged at Betty’s slim form; it advanced. He said: “Don’t; it’s hell. What shall I do?”
Betty, faintly, panted: “Hell? it won’t hurt me; of course it won’t. I must go; darling, let me.”
Their voices, quiet enough, were dreadfully loud in the hall where there was no other sound, except always of the rain. Jonathan called: “Richard) come and help me!”
Richard said — and if there was an impurity in his answer, it was hardly avoidable; a deadly touch was in his heart and more than Jonathan he knew that certain departures must be; if he spoke with the least possible impatience, it was but mortal — Richard said: “I shouldn’t worry. You won’t have her if you keep her; when she wants to go she ought to go.”
His eyes were still on the Clerk, and the Clerk’s on Betty. At this moment, suppose as he might that he still had his whole ancient purpose in mind, it was a dream and an illusion. The sightof his daughter and slave, whole, well, and free, distracted him. He forgot the theory of magic, the principle of the physical and spiritual categories of identity, the philosophy and metaphysic of Goetia. Spells had failed and images had failed. He was more a common man than ever before, and he forgot all but the immediate act. That remained: killing remained. He saw the body of Betty, and the hand that held the needle crept slowly up his side. Inch by inch she drew nearer; inch by inch he raised the weapon. He fixed his eyes on her throat.
They were all now in a world of simple act. The time for thought, dispute, preparation was done. They were in the City. They were potent to act or impotent to act, but that was the only difference between any of them. The eyes of the woman who lay, incapable of act, against the abandoned chair, were also on Betty and greedy with the same murderous desire. The diseased creatures, also incapable, who lay around the circle, trembled and moaned a little with their helpless longing for the act of healing. She and they alike yearned towards act, and could not reach it. The dwarf — form was still in motion, and its motions as it forced its way on were both its own and Evelyn’s — it magically drawn to its origin, she spiritually driving to her refuge. Betty felt that invisible soft mass press against her everywhere — against head and breasts, hands and thighs and legs. She gasped out to Jonathan: “Let go — you must. I may; not you. Only one of us, and I knew her.” She wrenched her own hand free from his and struck it backward against him, as Lester had struck at Richard, one gesture whether accurst or blest. In the fierceness of her knowledgeable love, she struck so hard — all heaven in the blow — that he loosed his arm from her and fell back a pace. Richard caught and steadied him. At that moment, as Betty entered the circle, the rain broke in.
It came with a furious rush, as if it had beaten the roof down under it. But in fact the roof had not fallen. The rain drove through it, and down over all of them, torrential, but torrential most over the centre of the circle as if the centre of a storm was settled there. Under the deluge the doll on the chair at once melted; it ran over the woman’s hand and wholly disappeared, except for a thin film of liquid putrescence which covered them, pullulating as if with unspermed life. She saw it, and under it her hands still bloody; she shook them wildly and tried to tear at them, but the thin pulsing jelly was everywhere over them, and her fingers could not get through it. For the first time in her life she began to sob, with a hideous harsh sound; and as her obstinacy melted like the doll under the rain she scrambled to her feet and made for Simon, the tears on her aged cheeks, clutching at him, with those useless and helpless hands. He did not notice her; it was his misfortune.
As if the barrier itself had also disappeared under the rain, the dwarf — figure began suddenly to move loosely. It slipped and almost fell over; then it righted itself and tottered on. But at the same time it began to lose even the rough shape it had. The rain poured down on it; its head ran thickly into its shoulders; then it had no head nor shoulders, but still it staggered forward. The paw that Betty held became damp mud in her grasp and oozed through her fingers; its legs, such as they were, bent and came together, and then it had no legs, and was only a lump which was madly bumping on, and then at the edge of the second circle it lost power altogether and toppled down, dropping just within that circle, and falling in great splashes of mud over Simon’s feet. He had, so far, the adoration he desired.
Betty had stood still where she had lost hold. Simon looked once at the splashes; then, as quick as the holy rain itself, he flung himself forward and struck with his steel at his daughter’s throat. The weapon touched her, swerved, scratched, and was gone. The two young men had moved, but something had been before them. The bloody and filthy hands of the old woman, blind with her tears, had caught Simon’s upper arm as he launched himself, and the thrust was deflected. The hand that held the steel was pulled away, and, opening as it fell, dropped the weapon. Betty put out her hand and lightly caught it. She glanced at it curiously, and as she stepped back to Jonathan gave it to him with a smile. The Clerk furiously and with a strange cry flung himself round after his mistress, and as they swung in a clutching frenzy and she falling backward before him, he saw across and beyond her the window of the hall, and there he saw and knew his end.
There stood in the window two shapes which he at once recognized. They were exactly alike; their huge all-but-skeleton heads were thrust a little forward; their cloaks of darkness were wrapped round them; their blank eyes were turned to him. They had, in the beginning, been exactly like him, but his human flesh, even his, carried a little the sense of its own experiences, and theirs only indirectly and at one remove. They had therefore the effect now of slightly sinister caricatures of him — as the doll, though more horribly, of Betty and the dwarf of any woman. It was the nature of that world to produce not so much evil art as bad art, and evenjonathan’s painting was more truthful to its reality than any reproduction of its own. But each reproduction had its own proper quality. The heavenly rain drove on these shapes without visible effect; they were, however perversely, of human flesh, and indeed, in so far as they were anything, were Simon himself. The grace drove against them from behind, as if it were driving them back to him; or perhaps it had been their coming which stirred and shook the unseen clouds, and left a void the living waters rushed in to fill. The roseal glow behind them in the waters was now very deep and filled the window with what was becoming not so much a glow as a fume of colour. An opaque cloud gathered. It had been so when that other Jew ascended; such a cloud had risen from the opening of the new dimensions into which he physically passed, and the eyes of the disciples had not pierced it. But that Jew had gone up into the law and according to the law. Now the law was filling the breach in the law. The blood of all victims and the fire of all avengers was in it — from Abel to those of London and Berlin — yet it was merely itself. It was an act, and as an act it followed, of its own volition, wave-like, high-arching. The shapes began to advance, and it also. The Clerk stood rigid, at his feet the body of his mistress; across the floor those other Clerks came on.
He made, within himself, one last effort. But these were too much he; all the years, in the most secret corner of his heart, he had sustained them so. His thoughts had shaped their brains, his words their voices. He had spoken in himself and in them. What he now said to them, he must say to himself He began to bid them stop, but as he did so he found himself stiffen into an even more fixed rigidity. He tried to look them down, but he could no more catch any meaning in their eyes than he could see his own. He moved his hand to trace against them in the air a significant and compelling figure of magic, and he felt the earth shake under him and the burden of the air weigh on him to crush him as he did so. To unmake them he must unmake himself. There was only one other possibility; he might attempt, here, with no preparation, to unite them again with himself, and make them again he. He must act, and the act might be successful. He consented.
He crossed the barrier; he went forward. They too, each head slightly turning towards him, continued to advance, in the steady measure of his own steps as his of theirs. He began to murmur spells, of which the beating rhythm mingles with those which sustain flesh but he felt again a creeping in his own flesh, and desisted. In the seclusion of the circles, protected by them, he might have found and practised a distinction. Here, in the confusion of the rain, he could not. It beat on him, and he could not think; it drove against him, and he could not see. He went on against it, but the growing roseal light confused him still more. It bewildered him, and he lost sight of the shapes until suddenly they loomed out of it very close to him. He unexpectedly thought “This is death”, and knew himself weaken at the thought.
He managed to pronounce a word of command., They stopped, but then also he too stopped. He obeyed himself. He knew he needed time — time and shelter from the rain and the rose-light, and the rose-smell; which was not only a rose-smell but a smell of blood and of burning, of all those great crimson things. He smelt crimson between him and them, and saw it too, for that rich colour had ceased to over-arch them, and was sweeping down and round them, gathering and thickening, as if from light it were becoming liquidity, and yet he could not feel it. It grew and shut them in, all three, two not able to speak, and one not daring to speak. Only through it there went out from all three a blast of antipathy. He hated them, and since they held his hate they hated him. The hate seemed to swell in a nightmare bubble within the rose which was forming round them, cloud in cloud, overlying like petals. Simon made a quick half-spring as if to overleap it, and so did they; but he failed and fell back, and so did they. The smell of the rose was changing to the smell of his last act, to the smell of blood. He looked down; he saw below him the depth of the rose. A sudden fresh blast of rain fell on him and drove him deeper, and so those others. It flashed past him in an infinity of drops, as of points falling — at first crystal, then of all colours, from those almost too dark to be seen through to those almost too bright to be seen. They fell continuously between him and those other faces, in which he could now see those waves passing which his devotee had seen in his own face. The bright showers of the hallows flashed, and beyond him he could see only his multiplied self; and all he could do against them was only done to himself.
The rose began to withdraw. He felt himself carried with it, and slipping more deeply into it. The smell of blood was in his nostrils; the touch of burning on his flesh; this was what the crimson must be to him. He stared, as he sank and as that in which he was held moved in its own fashion, at the rain of swift-darting points between him and himself. The City, so, was visible to him. “If I go down into hell, thou art there”; but if I go down into thee —? If even yet he could attend to those points, he would escape hell; he would never have been in hell. If he could not, he had his changing and unchanging faces to study. He stared at them, imbecile; imbecile, they stared back — farther and farther, deeper and deeper, through the rose and the burning and the blood.
At the moment when the Clerk met the other Clerks, when the rose-light began to thicken and swim and gather round them, the three friends also felt that final blast of rain, falling on and even through them. Jonathan and Richard shrank under it, as under a burst of ordinary rain. Betty, still fresh from the lake of power, the wise waters of creation, lifted her face to it and felt it nourishing her. It was she who saw, as the driving torrent dwindled and passed, a fume of crimson rising, as if the rain had so fallen on the shaping rose that it sent up a cloud as of the smell of rose-gardens after rain. The smell lingered, but the cloud sank, As if she looked down a great distance she saw a small pool crimson in the light, and that too vanishing, till it was no more than the level of dark wine in a wine cup, and within it, before it vanished, she saw the whole City through which she had so often passed, vivid and real in that glowing richness. But she lost that sight as she realized that the City opened all ways about her and the hall in which she stood, in which also the daylight now visibly expanded. She heard the early noises of London outside the hall. She sighed with delight, and turned to the morning joy; smiling, she turned to her lover. He looked back at her, he still young and already a master in a certain knowledge of that City. Yet it was not he — it was Richard over whom the Acts of the City more closely hovered, and he whose face, like Lester’s once in Betty’s own room, was touched with the sombre majesty of penitence and grief and a young death.
But there were others in the hall. The diseased, except for an occasional sob, were silent now, the clear light showing them more pitiable. The body of Sara Wallingford lay where she had fallen; she had not moved. It was neither she nor the sick whom Betty and her friends first saw. Before them, in what had once been the circle, were the two dead and living girls. They seemed to be in their earthly shapes, their earthly clothes. Betty took a Step or two towards them, and there, in an overpowering ordinariness, they stood, as any three young women might, deciding occupation, exchanging chat. It was Evelyn who spoke. Her eyes darting from Betty to Lester and back, she said: “Don’t you interfere with me. I won’t let you. I won’t. Dont try.”
Lester said: “Look, Evelyn, we’ve often gone out together; let’s do it again. Come with me today and we’ll think what there is to do.”
Betty made a motion to speak, but Lester smiled at her and she ceased. The voices and the words might have been of any moment in the past. Lester went on: “Come, you might as well. I’m sorry if I’ve been . . . stupid. It was wrong. If I ever made use of you, come and make use of me. I only want you to. I do. I do. Let’s go and see what we can find!”
Evelyn said: “I suppose you think that’s kind. You think it’s clever to be kind, don’t you? I always hated being with you, and I daresay sooner or later I can find someone else there, thank you.”
“Yes,” said Lester, “I’m afraid you may.”
The words, to all but Evelyn, brought a sinister thought of that other strange world. But Evelyn was past noting even that. When her shelters had melted round her, she had not known in her despair what she would do; and now she only knew that she would not let herself be caught. Lester and Betty were trying to catch her, to keep her, to pain her; they had always hated her. But she would beat them. She made a rush; she ran between them; she dodged the hands that were not flung out; she cried: “Let me go” to those who had not held her. She ran to the window; the yard outside was very lonely and spectral. She almost hesitated. But she looked back over her shoulder and saw Lester move. She cried out: “You thought you’d got me, didn’t you?” They saw the immortal fixity of her constricted face, gleeful in her supposed triumph, lunatic in her escape, as it had had once a subdued lunatic glee in its cruel indulgences; and then she broke through the window again and was gone into that other City, there to wait and wander and mutter till she found what companions she could.
Betty looked at Lester, and they were silent. Then Lester said: “We might have found the waters together, she and I. Well, I must go. Goodbye, my dear. Thank you for being sweet. ”
Betty exclaimed: “But what about — ” Out of sheer courtesy to those who might hear her, she checked herself, but her eyes were on the unhappy throng, and she made a small gesture with her hand. She did not know who they were nor how they came to be in that house, but she saw what they were suffering. Lester shook her head. She said: “They are for you, my dear. You can do it; you’ve done harder things. It’ll take something out of you, of course, but you can. Goodbye.” She looked across at Richard. She said: “Dearest, I did love you. Forgive me. And thank you — Oh Richard, thankyou! Goodbye, my blessing!” She stood, quiet and very real, before them; almost she shone on them; then the brightness quivered in the air, a gleam of brighter light than day, and in a flash traversed all the hall; the approach of all the hallows possessed her, and she too, into the separations and unions which are indeed its approach, and into the end to which it is itself an approach, was wholly gone. The tremor of brightness received her.
Betty was the first to move. She looked at those who remained in the hall, besides her own friends. She was, since Lester had spoken, clear what was to be done. But she felt a little as she had done on Highgate Hill, though now even more at peace. A troublesomeness was approaching, the result of the act to which she was, by her friend’s word, committed. The act was to be hardly hers, yet without her it could not be. But now that other companion for whom on the hill she had sighed and called was with her; the extra grace involved an extra labour; without the labour, of what value the grace? She said impulsively: ‘Jon, I will try not to be tiresome.”
He did not answer directly, but he put his arm about her shoulders, and said: “What about your mother?”
They went to her. They knelt and looked and touched and spoke. She showed no sign, lying there living but inert. It would be long before she came to herself, and then she would not come to herself. When presently she woke and tried to move, she would wake without knowledge, without memory, lost to all capacity and to all care. She would not know who she was or where she was or who those were that were about her or what they did — not even what they did for her, for the thing, that were done — the dressing, the feeding, the taking into the air — would be things to which she could attach no words. She had given herself away, and her self would be no longer there, or rather (as if it were a new-born child) would have to be cared for and trained afresh. But since in that gift she had desired the good of another and not her own, since she had indeed willed to give her self, the City secluded her passion, and took her gift to its own divine self. She had, almost in a literal physical sense, to be born again; at least she had to grow again, and over the growth her daughter was to preside. That tenderness was to meet her needs, and (if she could ever speak) to answer her stumbling words. She was now almost in that state to which her master had willed to reduce their child; the substitution was one of the Acts of the City. Her spiritual knowledge lay unconscious, as it were in the depth of the separating and uniting waters; her body under the common sun. Resurrection must be from the very beginning, and meanwhile Betty was to do for her mother, while she lived, all that love could do.
But it would be certainly, for a long while, a thinner and warmer Betty who would do so. For now, when it was clear that she could do nothing there for her mother, she and Jon then rose from their knees. She said: “Well . . . “ and she kissed him. Then she saw Richard. They looked at each other; she smiled and put out her hand, and he came slowly across. She went to meet him, and gave him also her mild lips. He said: “Thank you for the picture.” She pressed his hand and then she had turned again and gone across to the nearest of those sick and sorry creatures who were lying or crouching there. Her immortality was strong in her as she came to him; it happened to be Plankin. She took his hands in hers; the joy of the City in her, she kissed him on the mouth; she looked into his eye. She said, after a minute: “You’ll be well.” He looked, at first, bewildered; then, slowly, relieved; then, suddenly, joyous. He half-scrambled to his feet from where, his head on his knees, he had been sitting, and uttered some sort of incoherent cry. Betty said clearly: “That’ll be all right,” released herself, and went on. She passed, so, round the whole circle, holding, touching, healing — simply and naturally, and with all the gaiety that she could. But though her voice did not falter nor her hands lose their strength, yet as she went on she herself changed. She grew paler; she had to pause to recover as time after time she rose and left renewed wholeness behind. Jonathan had followed her all the while, and presently, as she came near the end, she was leaning on his arm for the necessary step or two between one and another. As the high heavenly power in her was poured into those tormented beings, so the power, and still more quickly the joy of the power, passed from her. She who had risen from the waters was still that she, and could not be lost unless she betrayed herself, but these energies were for a purpose, and were to be spent on that purpose. Have and not — have; not — have and have — sometimes on the first and sometimes the other; but by both she and Lester and all came to the City, though the union of both and the life of the union, the life of that final terrible and triumphant Have! was yet far beyond them, and even to envisage it would be to refuse the way to it. Her miraculous life passed into those others, and she herself, without any apparent gain to herself from her voice and smile and gesture and free love, was left wholly to her old. At the end she wavered and nearly fell. Jonathan held her, and they turned and came, but she hardly, back towards Richard, who took her other arm, and so she paused, white and worn, supported by her lover and her friend. She murmured, with a last flashing smile: “That’s done! ”
All those whom she had healed were on their feet — moving, chattering, tidying themselves. They did not seem to know what exactly had happened; at least they showed no awareness of Betty and did not even look at her. Someone said: “I knew the Father would help us,” and someone else: “It might have been a dream,” and someone else: “Goodness! what a fright!” And then a whole noise of voices broke out and a little laughter, and Betty looked pleadingly at Jonathan, and the three began to move slowly towards the door. The morning of the feast was bright in the hall. As they came near the door and Betty’s white frailty was only just holding up and holding level, Plankin suddenly ran up to them. He said: “Excuse me miss and gentlemen, but there’s one more upstairs — Elsi Bookin who does the typing. She used to have the paralysis and if she thinks she’s got it again I daresay she couldn’t get down with the rest of us. But she may feel bad, and if so be as you were going upstairs, I’m sure she’d be thankful.”
Jonathan began to say something. Betty pressed his arm. She looked at Plankin, and the faintest of wry smiles turned her lips. With a final effort she pulled herself up. She said: “Oh well. . . . Yes. Jon, do you mind . . . ”
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Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:56