All Hallows' Eve, by Charles Williams

Chapter Six

The Wise Water

It had been, earthly, about five that morning when Lester entered the house at Highgate. It had seemed only evening in the City she had left, for that other City was not bound either to correspondence or to sequence. Its inhabitants were where it chose they should be, as it engaged in its work of accommodating them to itself. They could not yet, or only occasionally, know contemporaneously. Lester still, in general, knew only one thing at a time, and knew them in a temporal order. There was indeed, nearer the centre of its life, another way of knowing, open to its full freemen and officers, but it was beyond these souls, and human language could not express what only sovereign and redeemed human nature could bear. Lester was finding out but slowly the capacities of her present existence, and even those she understood after her old manner. She was young in death, and the earth and its habits were, for this brief time, even more precious to her than they had been.

She paused, or so it seemed to her, inside the hall. It shook her with a new astonishment, and yet indeed it was but ordinary, to think that, so to enter, she had simply passed through the door. It was behind her, and she had not opened it. She had not the kind of mind that easily considered the nature of her own appearance to herself; on earth she had not, nor did she now. The sense of her passage encouraged her. She had no very clear idea that anyone would want to prevent her getting to Betty, but if she could go where she would she was strengthened in her purpose. She could, now, hear no sobs, though they were fresh in her ears. She saw the hall was dark, with a natural healthy darkness in which at first she felt some pleasure. She was free from the pale illumination of the dead. But presently it became clear to her that, dark though it might be, she could see in the dark. The whole hall, with its furniture, became distinct; shapes, though not colours, were visible to her. She felt again a sharp pang of longing for her own familiar things; it was indeed that pang that taught her that she could see, as a waking man finds himself in a strange room and knows by his immediate longing how strange it is. She did not wish to look at Lady Wallingford’s properties. But she could not help it. She was there; it was dark; she could see in the dark. She stood and listened and heard no sound.

In fact, above her, Betty was not then crying. Her directors had left her, and she was lying exhausted — perhaps unconscious. Her mother had gone to her own room; there to copy out her notes of Betty’s automatic speech. She had begun to do it years before, when the Clerk and she had begun their combined work, and now she could not bear to cease. She knew it was superfluous; he could keep the whole in his mind. At first he had sometimes forgotten a detail, but now never. He never even wished to read what she did; except as a kind of menial, he never used her. But she continued to work.

The Clerk had left Betty’s room. He walked slowly to the head of the stairs. He was, for him, a little perplexed in his mind. For the first time now through several years, she had not, in her repetition of the world’s rumours, mentioned his name. It was strange. It might be that some odd chance had kept him from the shouting columns of the daily records. It might be that she was growing too weak to report all. It might be that he himself — but that he could not visualize even to himself. Only he felt that the time for his precursor to be dispatched into the other world was very near. There she could see more clearly and universally; she could speak from her own knowledge and not from borrowed information and that information so limited. He had never been able yet to force her through more than a certain period — a few weeks only; if he attempted more she could only when she returned, moan “The rain! The rain!” Floods of water fell on her, it seemed, as if time itself changed to rain and drowned everything, or even swept everything away. When she was habituated to that world, it would be different. Then she would have no consciousness of return; then she could, slowly, grow into and through this rain, and learn what it hid. At present it seemed to threaten that in her which was still necessary to him. His face — cleared; he came to the stairs and began to descend. The moon through the windows gave him light, though the hall was dark below. Half-way down he suddenly stopped. There was some living being below him.

He could not see in the dark as Lester could. No magic could give to him in himself the characteristics of the dead. Nothing but a direct shock of destruction, so sudden and immediate that even he could have no time to check it, could kill him, and he did not believe that that was at all possible. He had practised very steadily the restoration of himself against the quickest harm; his servants had, at his will, attempted his death and he had foiled them. But so doing, he had refused all possibilities in death. He would not go to it, as that other child of a Jewish girl had done. That other had refused safeguard and miracle; he had refused the achievement of security. He had gone into death — and the Clerk supposed it his failure — as the rest of mankind go — ignorant and in pain. The Clerk had set himself to decline pain and ignorance. So that now he had not any capacities but those he could himself gain.

He saw two eyes shining. He should have known what it was; he did not. He could not even see that it was a woman, or the ghost of a woman. He had not called it, and he did not expect it. But he did think that it was one of the lesser creatures of that other world. He had seen them sometimes in earlier rites, and once or twice something had followed Betty in, without her knowledge, as if drawn after her, and had lingered for a while in the hall. Such things had not come in human form, and he did not now expect human form. They came usually in the shapes of small monstrosities — things like rats or rabbits or monkeys or snakes, or even dwarfed vultures or large spiders and beetles. They were indeed none of these; they did not belong to animal nature. Had animal nature been capable of enduring the magical link, he would have used it for his purpose, but it was not. Once, long ago, he had tried it with a monkey, but the link had died with its own death; it had no rational soul, and if (after death) it lived at all, it was only its own happy past that lived; it could not grow into other communion. He supposed this to be a dim monstrosity of that ghostly kind. It awaited his will. It was useless to ask its name or kind; such beings were only confused and troubled by such questions and could not answer. They did not know what they were; they did sometimes — not always — know what they were about. He stood high above it, looking scornfully down, and he said: “Why are you here?”

Lester had seen him as he began to descend the stair. She had no idea who he was. Her first thought, as she looked up at that great cloaked figure, was that here at last was one of the native inhabitants of the new City; and that she had perhaps been encouraged into this house to meet him. Her second was that this was someone for whom she had been waiting. A childish memory of a picture or a tale of angels mingled with something later — an adolescent dream of a man of power, a genius, a conqueror, a master. Lester, like certain other women of high vitality and discontented heart, had occasionally felt that what she really needed was someone great enough to govern her — but to do that, she innocently felt, he (or she — there was no sex differentiation) would have to be very great. The vague dream had disappeared when she had fallen in love. Obedience to a fabulous ruler of shadows was one thing; obedience to Richard was quite another. He certainly rarely seemed to suggest it; when he did, she was rarely in agreement with him. Suddenly now the old adolescent dream recurred. She looked up at the high emaciated face, gazing down, and felt as if it were more than that of a man.

When however he spoke, she hardly heard the question. The voice which was husky to Jonathan was thick to her. She was not surprised; so perhaps these godlike beings spoke; or so perhaps she, uneducated in this sound, heard them. But she did just catch the words, and she answered, as meekly as she had ever thought she would: “I’m Lester. I’ve come to see Betty.”

The Clerk heard below him what sounded like the single word “Betty”. He did not hear more. He came down a step or two, peering. There was, he thought, a certain thickening of the darkness, a kind of moulded shape. He was sure now that something had followed Betty, but he was a little perplexed that it should — unless indeed it was something useless to him, being hungry and spiritually carnivorous. It was not in the shape of rat or monkey; it was roughly human, like a low tree rudely cut into human form. He lifted his hand and made over it a twisted magical sign, meant to reduce the intruder to the will that was expressed in it. He said: “Why?”

The sign, so loaded, was not without its effect, but its effect was consistent with Lester’s nature and her present intention. It would have dissolved or subdued such momentary vitalities as, for instance, had sprung from her oath outside the house, but what had brought her into the house was a true purpose of goodwill; of help? she might have put it so: indeed she now began to answer so. She said: “To help — ” and stopped. The word sounded pompous, not only before this god, but even to describe her intention. She almost felt herself blushing, as she thought of Betty and the times when she had not helped Betty. It was upon those vague and unexplored memories that the magical sign had power. The hall became to her suddenly full of shadows. Betty was on all sides of her, and so was she. She had no idea she had even seen Betty as many times as now she saw herself abandoning Betty. There were a mass of forms, moving, interpenetrating, and wherever her eyes saw a particular one it seemed to detach itself and harden and become actual. She saw herself ignoring Betty, snubbing Betty, despising Betty — in the gardens, in the dormitory, in the street, even in this hall. They were so vivid to her that she forgot the god on the stair; she was secluded from him in all this ghostly vehemence of her past, and the ghostliness of any apt to be truly more than ghost. She lost the images of herself; she saw only images of Betty — beginning to speak, putting out a timid hand, or only looking at her. She threw up her hand, in her old gesture, to keep them off. Her head span; she seemed swirled among them on a kind of infernal merry-go-round. If only any of them were the real Betty, the present Betty, the Betty she was coming to, the Betty she — fool!-had been coming to help. Where she had once refused to help, she was now left to need help. But that refusal had been laziness and indifference rather than deliberate malice — original rather than actual sin. It was permitted to her to recognize it with tears. The spiritual ecstasy ravaged her, she thought no more of help either given or taken; she was only in great need of it. She threw out her hand, in an effort to grasp, here or there, Betty’s half-outstretched hand, but (actual as the figure seemed) hers never reached it; as the fingers almost touched, hers found emptiness, and there was Betty running away from her, down a garden-path, down a street, down the hall, infinitely down the hall. But the vague and impractical yet real sympathy she had once felt for Betty, the occasional interference she had bestowed, allowed her now a word of appeal, She cried out, pleading as she had never supposed she could or would plead: “Betty! please! Betty! ”

As she spoke, she found herself alone. But she knew exactly where Betty was, and she knew she had no hope but there. Her dreams of a god had vanished among those too certain visions of a girl; she wholly forgot the appearance on the stairs in her desperate sense of Betty. She moved up the stairs, towards the help she needed, and in her movement she disappeared from the Clerk’s own gaze. He was not aware that she passed him; to him it seemed that the roughly-moulded human form had dwindled and quivered and vanished, and the eyes had faded. It could not, he thought, this poor vagrant from the other world, this less than human or angelic monstrosity, bear the question which he had put to it, and it had fallen into nothingness below him. He was right enough in what, after his own manner, he had seen — the supernatural shaking of Lester’s centre; but the processes of redemption were hidden from him. At the moment when she drew nearer to the true life of that City, he thought her to be dissolved. He went on calmly down the stairs, and opening the door passed into the earthly night.

But Lester, mounting, came to Betty’s room, and opening no door passed on into it. This time indeed she knew she went through the door, but then the door, when she came to it was no longer a serious barrier. It was still a door; it did not become thin or shadowy. But being’a door, it was also in itself her quickest way. To open it would have been to go round by a longer path. She was growing capable of the movement proper to her state. She could not so have passed through the empty rooms or dim facades of her earlier experience; those shadowy images retained for her the properties of the world they imaged. But in this real world she could act according to her own reality. She went through the door. There, before her, stretched motionless in her bed, was Betty. Lester saw her clearly in the dark. She went on till she came to the foot of the bed; then she stood still.

She had never seen anyone look so exhausted and wan. The living girl’s eyes were shut; she hardly drew breath; she too might have been dead, except that now and then she was shaken by a sudden convulsion. The dead Lester gazed at the seemingly dead Betty. Her heart sank; what help for her was here? what power in that shaken corpse to hold its own images at bay? If it were a corpse, then she and Betty were parted perhaps for ever. She might have left this reconciliation also too late, as she had left Richard. She had pushed Richard away; she had not gathered Betty in. She was to be left with her choice. She thought: “It isn’t fair. I didn’t know”, and immediately regretted it. She had known — not perhaps clearly about Richard, for those unions and conflicts were of a particular kind, and the justice which must solve them was more intimate than she could yet understand, but she had clearly known about Betty. She had been very young then. But her refusal had been as definite and cold as the body at which she looked was definite and cold. Death for death, death to death, death in death.

The curtains at the windows were drawn back. The sun was rising; the room grew slowly bright with day. Lester stood there because she had nothing else to do. No impulse was upon her and no wish. She had nowhere to go. Evelyn was not in her mind. She knew she could do nothing unless she had help, and her only help lay useless before her. Presently she was aware of a step outside the room. There was a tap on the door; another. The door was gently opened, and a maid came in and paused. She looked at Betty; she looked round the room; she looked at Lester without seeing her. Lester looked back at her without interest; she was remote and irrelevant. It was not odd to be unseen; that, of course. Only Betty mattered, and Betty lay without sign. The maid went away. The morning light increased.

Suddenly Betty’s eyes had opened. They were looking at Lester. A small voice, hardly audible even to Lester, inaudible to mortal ears, said: “Lester!” Lester said: “Yes,” and saw that the other had not heard. The eyes widened; the voice said: “Lester! . . . but you’re dead. Evelyn and you are dead.” it added, dying on the sentence: “I’m so glad Evelyn’s dead.” The eyes closed. Exhaustion swallowed her.

Lester heard the relief in the dying words. She had forgotten Evelyn, but, fresh from that ghostly world where Evelyn and she had wandered, she retained some sense of companionship, and the relief — which was hostility-filled her with fear. She felt — though indirectly — the terror and the despair of those of the dead who, passing from this world, leave only that just relief behind. That which should go with them — the goodwill of those they have known — does not. There are those who have been unjustly persecuted or slain; perhaps a greater joy waits them. But for the ordinary man or woman to go with no viaticum but this relief is a very terrible thing. Almost, for a moment, Lester felt the whole City — ghostly or earthly or both in its proper unity — draw that gentle sigh. Disburdened, it rejoiced: at Evelyn’s death? at hers? Was this to be all Betty and earth could give? a sigh of joy that she was gone? The form on the bed held all the keys. If she could speak so of one, that other waiting spirit felt no surety that she too might not be excluded, by failing voice and closing eyes, from the consciousness on which so much depended It was awful to think how much did depend — how much power for everlasting decision lay there. Verdict, judgement, execution of judgement, hid behind those closed eyelids. Lester’s impetuosity swelled in her. She wished to wake Betty, to bully her, to compel her to speak, to force help out of her. But she knew all such impetuosity was vain; and however, in her past, she had wrangled in private with Richard — and that was different; yes, it was different, for it was within the nearest image to love that she had known; it might be better or worse, but it was different; it was less permissible and more excusable — however that might be, she did not brawl in public. And she was in public now, in the full publicity of the spiritual City, though no inhabitants of the City except Betty were there. She had waited; she must wait. It was pain and grief to her sudden rage. She waited. The house, earthly, warm, lightened by the great luminary planet, was still to her a part of the City while Betty was there. Everything depended on Betty, and Betty on — on nothing that Lester yet knew.

The door of the room again opened. Lady Wallingford came in. She went to the bed and bent over Betty. She peered into her eyes, felt temples and wrists, and rearranged the bedclothes. Then she crossed to the window and drew one of the curtains a little, so that the sunlight no longer fell on her daughter’s face. In so moving, she had passed round the foot of the bed. Lester began to step back; then she checked herself. She knew it did not matter; she was becoming different — how or why she did not know; but coincidence no longer meant contact. She had a faint sense, as she had done when she passed through the door, of something brushing against her. Her eyes blinked and were clear. Lady Wallingford went through the space which Lester seemed to herself to occupy, and so returned; it was all that could be said. The same space was diversely occupied, but the two presences were separate still. Lady Wallingford, exactly like a competent nurse, looked round the room and went out. Body and visionary body were again alone together. Outside the house a car was heard to start up and move off. Lady Wallingford was on her way to Holborn. Thither Richard was now walking along Millbank, while Jonathan in his room waited, with a fantastic but failing hope, for some word of Betty. And beyond them all, three continents murmured of their ‘great leaders, and the two vegetable images of the Clerk swayed by his single will such crowds as he could sway, and he himself prepared for the operation which is called “the sending out”, its other name being murder.

As the car’s sound died away, Betty sat up. Bright in the shadow her eyes opened on Lester, tender and full of laughter. She pushed the bedclothes back, swung out her legs, and sat on the side of the bed. She said: “Hallo, Lester! What are you doing here?” The voice was full of a warm welcome; Lester heard it incredulously. Betty went on: “It’s nice to see you anyway. How are you?”

Lester had waited for something, but hardly for this. She had not begun to expect it. But then she had never seen, face to face, the other Betty who had gone almost dancing through the City, nor guessed the pure freshness of joy natural to that place. She had heard only the high hill — call, and now (subdued as it might be to gay and friendly talk) she recognized the voice. She knew at once that a greater than she was here; it was no wonder she had been sent here for help. She looked at the girl sitting on the bed, whose voice was the only sound but Evelyn’s that had pierced her nothing since she died, and she said, hoping that the other might also perhaps hear: “Not too frightfully well.”

Betty had risen to her feet as Lester spoke. She showed signs of going across to the window, but on the other’s words she paused. She said: “What’s the matter? Can I do anything?”

Lester looked at her. There was no doubt that this was Betty–Betty gay, Betty joyous, Betty revitalized, but still Betty. This was no sorrowing impotence of misery, but an ardour of willingness. to help. Yet to ask for help was not easy. The sense of fatal judgement was still present; the change in Betty had not altered that, and her glowing shape was vivid with it. The slightest movement of that hand, the slightest aversion of those eyes, would be still like any similar movement of those dead hands or that white face would have been, frightful with finality. To ask that this should be set aside, even to plead, was not natural to Lester. But her need was too great for her to delay. She said at once: “Yes you can.”

Betty smiled brilliantly at her. She answered: “Well, that’s all right. Tell me about it.”

Lester said, rather helplessly: “It’s all those times . . . those times at school, and afterwards. I can’t manage them without YOU.”

Betty wrinkled her forehead. She said in some surprise: “Those times at school? But, Lester, I always liked you at school.”

“Perhaps you did,” said Lester. “But you may remember that I didn’t behave as if I particularly liked you.”

“Oh didn’t you?” Betty answered. “I know you didn’t particularly want me, but why should you? I was so much younger than you, and I expect I was something of a nuisance. As far as I can remember, you put up with me nobly. But I don’t remember much about it. Need we? It’s so lovely of you to come and see me now.”

Lester realized that this was going to be worse than she had supposed. She had prepared herself to ask for forgiveness, but that, it seemed, was not enough. She must herself bring the truth to Betty’s reluctant mind; nothing else than the truth would be any good. She would not be able entirely to escape from those swirling images of the past, if they were indeed images, and not the very past itself, by any other means than by Betty’s dismissal of them. They were not here, in this room, but they were there, outside the door, and if she left the room she would be caught again among them. She did not understand how this different Betty had come to be, but the City in which she moved did not allow her to waste time in common earthly bewilderment. The voice was the voice she had wanted to imitate, the voice of the hill in the City. If the Betty of that moment and of this moment were the same, then perhaps Betty would understand, though there was in fact nothing to understand except her own perverse indolence. She said it was the most bitter thing she had ever done; she seemed to taste on her tongue the hard and bitter substance of that moment; she said: “Try and remember.”

Betty’s eyes had been again wandering towards the sunlight at the window. She brought them back to look attentively at Lester, and she said quickly and affectionately: “Lester, you’ve been crying!”

Lester answered, in a voice from which, for all her growing vision and springing charity, she could not keep a rigidity of exasperation: “I know I’ve been crying. I— ”

Betty interrupted: “But of course I’ll remember,” she said.,,It was only that I didn’t understand. What is it exactly you want me to remember?” She smiled as she spoke, and all the tenderness her mortal life had desired and lacked was visible in her. Lester felt an impulse to run away, to hide, even at least to shut her eyes. She held herself still; it had to be done. She said: “You might remember how I did behave to you, at school. And afterwards.”

There was a long silence, and in it Lester’s new life felt the first dim beginnings of exalted peace. She was not less troubled nor less in fear of what might come. She was, and must be now, the victim of her victim. But also she was now, in that world, with someone she knew, with someone friendly and royally disposed to good, with someone native to her and to that world, easy and happy: The air she breathed was fresh with joy; the room was loaded with it. She knew it as a sick woman knows the summer. She herself was not yet happy, but this kind of happiness was new to her; only, even while she waited, she recollected that once or twice she had known something like it with Richard — one night when they had parted under a street-lamp, one day when they had met at Waterloo. They belonged here, those times; yet those times were as true as those other sinful times that danced without. Her heart was tranquil. If she must go, she must go; perhaps this hovering flicker of known joy might be permitted to go with her. All that was noble in her lifted itself in that moment. The small young figure before her was her judge; but it was too the centre and source of the peace. She exclaimed, as if for Betty to know all was necessary to the fullness of the moment and to her own joy: “Oh remember! do remember!”

Betty stood attentive. The times of her happiness had been hitherto on the whole unclouded by her mortal life, except as she might sometimes vaguely remember an unpleasant dream, She set herself now to remember, since that, it seemed, was what was wanted, something she could lately have been contented to leave forgotten. It seemed to her also something of a waste on this glorious morning, with time happily before them, to spend it — however, she knew she wanted to remember. As soon as she knew that Lester wanted it, she too wanted it; so simple is love-in-paradise. She stood and thought, She was still smiling, and she continued to smile, though presently her smile became a little grave. She said — “Oh well, how could you know?”

Lester said: “I knew quite enough.”

Betty went on smiling, but presently the smile vanished. She said, more seriously: “I do think Evelyn was rather unkind. But I suppose if she liked that sort of thing — anyhow we’re not thinking of her. Well, now, that’s done.”

Lester’exclaimed: “You’ve remembered?” and Betty, now actually breaking into a gay laugh, answered: “Darling, how serious you are! Yes, I’ve remembered.”

“Everything?” Lester persisted; and Betty, looking her full in the eyes, so that suddenly Lester dropped her own, answered: “Everything.” She added: “It was lovely of you to ask me. I think perhaps I never quite wanted to rememberOh all sorts of things, until you asked me, and then I just did, and now I shan’t mind whatever else there is. Oh Lester, how good you are to me!”

The tears came into Lester’s eyes, but this time they did not fall. Betty’s figure swam indistinctly before her, and then she blinked the tears away. They looked at each other, and Betty laughed, and Lester found herself beginning to laugh, but as she did so she exclaimed: “All the same —!” Betty put out her hand towards the other’s lips, as if to hush her, but it did not reach them. Clear though they saw and heard each other, intimate as their hearts had become, and freely though they shared in that opening City a common good, still its proper definitions lay between them. The one was dead; the other not. The Noli-me — tangere of the City’s own Lord Mayor was, in their small degree, imposed on them. Betty’s hand dropped gently to her side. They half recognized the law and courteously yielded to it. Betty thought: “Of course, Lester was killed.” She also thought, and she said aloud: “Oh but I was glad Evelyn was killed.” Her voice was shocked; stricken, she looked at the other. She said: “How could I be?”

Lester had again forgotten Evelyn. She remembered. She became aware of Evelyn running, not now from her but towards her, towards them both. She herself now was at the other end of Evelyn’s infinite haste; she shared with Betty the nature of the goal, and she felt at a distance Evelyn hurrying and almost there. She threw up her head, as she had thrown it up at the first call from the hill. She said — and now nothing deadened her speech; she said — in the voice that was to Richard her loveliest and lordliest: “I’ll deal with Evelyn.”

Betty answered, half-laughing and half-embarrassed: “I can’t think why she scares me a little still. But I didn’t mean to want her to be dead. Only she’s all mixed up with there. I usen’t to think of that much when I was here.” There was no need to explain what she meant by “there” and “here”. Their hearts, now in union, knew. “But lately I seem to have to sometimes. Now you’ve made me remember, I don’t so much mind. Stay with me a little while, if you can; will you, Lester? I know you can’t settle that; things happen. But while you can . . . I’ve a feeling that I’ve got to get through something disagreeable, and I don’t want to make a fuss again.”

“Of course I’ll stay — if I may,” said Lester. “But make a fuss — you!”

Betty sat down on the bed. She smiled again at Lester; then she began to talk, almost as if to herself, or as if she were telling a child a story to soothe it to sleep. She said: “I know I needn’t — when I think of the lake; at least, I suppose it was a lake. If it was a river, it was very broad. I must have been very small indeed, because, you know, it always seems as if I’d only just floated up through the lake, which is nonsense. But sometimes I almost think I did, because deep down I can remember the fishes, though not so as to describe them, and none of them took any notice of me, except one with a kind of great horned head which was swimming round me and diving under me. It was quite clear there under the water, and I didn’t even know I was there. I mean I wasn’t thinking of myself. And then presently the fish dived again and went below me, and I felt him lifting me up with his back, and then the water plunged under me and lifted me, and I came out on the surface. And there I lay; it was sunny and bright, and I drifted in the sun — it was almost as if I was lying on the sunlight itself — and presently I saw the shore — a few steps in a low cliff, and a woman standing there. I didn’t know who she was, but I know now, since you made me remember — Lester, I do owe you such a lot — it was a nurse I once had, but not for very long. She bent down and lifted me out of the water. I didn’t want to leave it. But I liked her; it was almost as if she was my real mother, and she said: ‘There, dearie, no one can undo that; bless God for it.’ And then I went to sleep, and that’s the earliest thing I can remember, and after that only some things that belonged to it: some of the times I’ve been through London, and the Thames, and the white gulls. They were all in that part and in the other part too, the part I’m only just beginning to remember. And so were you, Lester, a little.”

“I!” said Lester bitterly. It did not seem to her likely that she could have belonged to that world of light and beauty. Yet even as she spoke she irrelevantly thought of Richard’s eyes at the corner in Holborn and before that — before that,yes — before she was dead; and she remembered how Richard had come to meet her once and again, and how her heart had swelled for the glory and vigour of his coming. But Betty was speaking again.

“I see now that you were, and now it seems all right. That was why I ran after you — Ob how tiresome I must have been! but it doesn’t matter. I’m afraid I did make a fuss; I know I did over the headaches — there were some places where I knew I was going to have headaches — and over Evelyn. It really was rather silly of Evelyn. And then there was this house — ”

She stopped and yawned. She threw herself back on the pillow and swung up her legs. She went on: “But I’m too sleepy now to remember all that I ought to about this house. . . . And then there was Jonathan. Do you know Jonathan? he was very good to me. We might go and look at the Thames some time, you and I and Jonathan. Her eyes closed; her hands felt vaguely about the bed. She said, in tones Lester — COuld only just hear: “I’m so sorry. I just can’t keep awake. Don’t go. Jonathan will be coming. . . . Don’t go unless you must. It’s lovely having you here. . . . It was sweet of you to come . . . Jonathan will . . . dear Lester. . . . ” She made an uncertain movement to pull the bedclothes up over her; before the movement ended she was asleep.

Lester did not understand what she had been saying. In what strange way she had been known to Betty, more happily than ever she herself could have supposed, she did not know. Betty had been talking almost as if there had been two lives, each a kind of dream to the other. It would once have been easy to call the one life a fantasy, easy if this new, gay, and vivid Betty had not precisely belonged to the fantasy. She felt both lives within her too sharply now to call either so. There had been something like two lives in her own single life,-the gracious passionate life of beauty and delight, and the hard angry life of bitterness and hate. It was the recollection of that cold folly which perhaps now made Betty seem to her — no; it was not. Betty was changing; she was dying back; she was becoming what she had been. Colour passed from her cheeks; the sweet innocence of sleep faded, and the pallor of exhaustion and the worn semblance of victimization spread. The hands twitched. She looked already, as men say, “near dead”. Lester exclaimed: “Betty!” It had no effect. The change affected the room itself; the sunlight weakened; power everywhere departed. The girl who lay before Lester was the girl she had turned away from. The hands and head could no longer threaten judgement; they were too helpless. Yes, but also they had Judged. What had been, in that other state, decided, remained fixed; once known, always known. She knew quite clearly that Betty had — forgiven her. The smile, the warmth, the loveliness, were forgiveness. It was strange not to mind, but she did not mind. If she did not mind Betty, perhaps she would not mind Richard. She smiled. Mind Richard? mind being forgiven — forgiven so — by that difficult obnoxious adorable creature? Let him come to her in turn and she would show him what forgiveness was. Till now she had not really understood it; occasionally in the past each of them had “forgiven” the other, but the victim had not much liked it. But now — by high permission, yes. And if Richard and Betty, then others; if this permission which now directed her life allowed, others. “Thus”- how did it go?-“through all eternity I forgive you, you forgive me.” Wine and bread, the poem had called it; wine and bread let it be. Meanwhile there was nothing to do but to wait till that happened which must happen. In some way she had now been left in charge of Betty. She must keep her charge. She must wait.

All this time, since first Lester had entered the house, the unhappy soul of Evelyn had also waited. At first it had almost followed Lester in, but it did not dare. Frightful as the empty appearance of the City was to it, to be enclosed in the house would be worse. She would be afraid of being shut up with Lester and Betty, certainly with Lester, almost with Betty. She hated the victim of her torment, but to be alone with her in that dark solid house — the thought ought to have been agreeable, but it was not at all agreeable. As for Lester, she hated Lester too. Lester had patronized her, but then Lester could. She had the power to be like that, and she was. She hated being alone in this place with Lester, though since she had run after Betty, even though she had missed her, she felt better. The street down which she had run after she had turned off from the hill, this street in which she now stood, had seemed more close, more helpful. The air held some sense of gain. This was more like the London she had known. The house should have been the climax; could she go in, she thought, it would be. Only she dared not go in. Lester was not to be trusted; Lester and Betty might be plotting.

After all, she was rather glad she had not caught up with Betty. Lester might have come up behind her, and then the two of them might have done things to her. Or they might have thought she would have run into the house, but she had not; she had been too clever for that — and for them. She walked a few steps away. It was no good standing too near; they would not come out — no, but if they should. . . . She could almost see them talking in the house, smiling at each other. She walked a little farther away, and turned her head over her shoulder as she went. On her face was the look which had shocked Lester when she had earlier seen that turned head. It was hate relieved from mortality, malice incapable of death. Within the house, Lester’s own face had taken on a similar change; some element of alteration had disappeared. She herself did not, of course, know it; her attention had been taken up by the growing glory that was Betty. But even Betty’s face had not that other lucidity. What had looked at Lester from Evelyn’s eyes, what now showed in her own, was pure immortality. This was the seal of the City, its first gift to the dead who entered it. They had what they were, and they had it (as it seemed) for ever. With that in her eyes, Evelyn turned her head again and wandered slowly on.

She came on to the hill, and drifted down it, for having no choice of ways, and yet being oddly compelled to go on — if not into the house, then away from the house — she only retraced her steps, slowly going back, slowly going down. She was about a third of the way down when from far off the sound of the Name caught her. She could hardly there be said to have heard it; it was not so much a name or even a sound as an impulse. It had gone, that indrawing cry, where only it could go, for the eternal City into which it was inevitably loosed absorbed it into its proper place. It could not affect the solid houses of earth nor the millions of men and women toilfully attempting goodness; nor could it reach the paradisal places and their inhabitants. It sounded only through the void streets, the apparent facades, the shadowy rooms of the world of the newly dead. There it found its way. Other wanderers as invisible to Evelyn as she to them, but of her kind, felt it — old men seeking lechery, young men seeking drunkenness, women making and believing malice, all harbourers in a lie. The debased Tetragrammaton drew them with its spiritual suction; the syllables passed out, and swirled, and drawing their captives returned to their speaker. Some went a little way and fell; some farther, and failed; of them all only she, at once the latest, the weakest, the nearest, the worst, was wholly caught. She did not recognize captivity; she thought herself free. She began to walk more quickly, to run, to run fast. As she ran, she began to hear the sound. It was not friendly; it was not likeable; but it was allied. She felt towards it as Lester had felt towards the cry on the hill. The souls in that place know their own proper sounds and hurry to them.

Something perhaps of fear entered her, to find herself running so fast. It was a steep road, and it seemed much longer than when she had run up it of her own volition. She ran, and she ran. She was running almost along the very cry itself, not touching the apparent pavement; it wailed louder below her. Her immortality was in her face; her spirituality in her feet; she was lifted and she ran.

She did not recognize the streets; she came at last round by King’s Cross, on into the congeries of streets on the other side of the Euston Road, on towards Holborn. The cry grew quieter as she neared its source. What had been a wail in the more distant streets was a voice in the nearer. She still ran along it. At last, so running, she came through a small gate into a yard, and across it to a small low window. There she stopped and looked in. She saw a kind of hall, with people sitting on chairs, and away at the other end in a high chair, a man who was looking back at her. Or perhaps he was not actually looking back at her, but she knew he saw her. A dizziness of relief took her; here at last was someone else. She was so aware of him, and of his sidelong knowledge of her, that she hardly noticed she was moving forward and through the wall. A film of spiders’ webs brushed against her; she broke through it. She had come back; at the very sight of him she had been able to return into the world of men. She had escaped from the horrible vague City, and here was he to welcome her.

He was smiling. She thought — as neither Jonathan nor Richard had done, that it was properly a smile, though again the smile was sidelong. He had reason, for when he saw her he knew that at last his writ ran in the spiritual City. He had known that it must be so, he being what he was. But that silence of Betty’s about his future had almost troubled him. A deathly silence had seemed to hover round him, as if he had made an error in magic and could not recover himself. It was certainly time he sent out his messenger before him. But he knew now it was no error, for the silence had spoken. This was its first word — solitary, soon to be companioned. He would ride there presently upon their cries. He was overComing that world.

The exchange of smiles — if that which had no thought of fair courtesy could be called exchange; at least some imitation of smiles — passed between them. Separately, each of them declined the nature of the City; which nevertheless held them. Each desired to breach the City; and either breach opened — directly and only — upon the other. Love to love, death to death, breach to breach; that was the ordering of the City, and its nature. It throve between Lester and Betty, between Richard and Jonathan, between Simon and Evelyn; that was its choice. How it throve was theirs. The noise of London, which was a part of it, rose at a distance outside the house — all its talk and traffic and turmoil. In the quiet of the hall the man said to the woman: “I shall want you soon.” She said: “Take me out of it.” And he: “Soon.” He stood up; that was when Richard found himself going out of the hall.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02