An hour or so later Jonathan opened his door to Richard. He said: “I say, what’s been happening? You look ghastly. Sit down; have a drink.”
Richard was very white and unsteady. He dropped into a chair. Even the warm studio and Jonathan could not overcome the sense of that other thing which, ever since he had left the house in Holborn, had run cold in his blood. As Jonathan brought him the drink, he shuddered and looked rather wildly round. Jonathan said anxiously: “Here, drink this. Are you all right?”
Richard drank and sat for a little silent. Then he said: “I’d better tell you. Either I’m mad — or. . . . But I’m not just wrong. I’m either right or I’m mad. It’s no good telling me I was taken in by seeing a barmaid in a yard — ”
“No; all right,” said Jonathan. “I won’t. I shouldn’t be very likely to anyhow. Tell me what you like and I’ll believe it. Why not?”
Richard began. He spoke slowly. He took care to be exact. He modified his description of his own sensations and emotions; he was as impartial as he could be. Once or twice he made an effort to be defensively witty; it was unsuccessful and he dropped it. As he came to the end, he grew even more careful. Jonathan sat on his table and watched him.
“I saw her come in. They looked towards each other and they smiled. And all I can tell you is that I know now what blasphemy is. It’s not attractive and it isn’t thrilling. It’s just bloodcurdling — literally. It’s something peculiarly different, and it’s something which happens. It isn’t talk; it happens. My eyes began to go dark with it, because I simply couldn’t bear it. And then, before I went quite under, we were all standing up and going out — down that corridor. I don’t know what would have happened if one of them had touched me then. We got into the hall, and there was a lot of shuffling and whispering, and then an ordinary voice or two, and then everyone had disappeared except the caretaker. I saw the front door and I went straight to it. I wasjust at it when he called me. I couldn’t go back or turn round. I stood still — I don’t know why; I suppose I was still in a nightmare. And outside I saw that filthy little hand pointing in behind me. He spoke over my shoulder in that damn husky voice of his, and he said — ”
“Yes; all right,” said Jonathan as Richard’s voice went up a note or two. “Steady.”
“Sorry!” said Richard, recovering. “He said: ‘I won’t keep you, Mr. Furnival. Come back presently. When you want me, I shall be ready. If you want your wife, I can bring her to you; if you don’t want her, I can keep her away from you. Tell your friend I shall send for him soon. Goodbye.’ So then I walked out.”
He lifted his eyes and looked at Jonathan, who couldn’t think of anything to say. Presently Richard went on, still more quietly: “And suppose he can?”
“Can what?” asked Jonathan gloomily.
“Can,” said Richard carefully and explicitly, “do something to Lester. Leave off thinking of Betty for a moment; Betty’s alive. Lester’s dead, and suppose this man can do something to dead people? Don’t forget I’ve seen one. I’ve seen that woman Mercer walk straight into his hall. I know she’s dead; she looked dead. That’s how I knew I saw her. No; not like a corpse. She was — fixed; as solid as you or me, but a deal more herself than either of us. If he made her come, can he make Lester come? If be can, I shall kill him.”
Jonathan said, staring at the floor: “No, I wouldn’t do that. if . . . if he can do anything of that kind, don’t you see it mightn’t make much difference if he were dead? I wouldn’t kill him.”
Richard got up. He said: “I see. No.” He began to wander about the room. Presently he said: “I won’t have him touch Lester.” He added: “If I were to kill myself?”
Jonathan shook his head. “We don’t know anything about it,” he said. “You couldn’t be sure of being with her. And anyhow it’s a sin.”
“Oh a sin!” said Richard peevishly, and was silent. His friend was on the point of saying: “Well, if souls exist, sins may,” but he thought it would be tiresome, and desisted. Presently his eyes fell on the painting of those sub-human souls, and after staring at it he said abruptly: “Richard, I don’t believe it. He may be able to hypnotize these creatures, but Lester wasn’t much like them, was she? I don’t believe he could control her unless she let him, and I shouldn’t think she was much likely to let him. She wasn’t, as I remember her, the kind of woman who likes being controlled, was she?”
Richard stopped. The faintest of smiles came to his lips. He said: “No. God help Father Simon if he tries to control Lester. Still”-and his face darkened again — “the plane was too much for her, and he might be.”
They stood side by side and looked at the cloud of rising backs. Evelyn Mercer was one of them; would Lester be? was Betty meant to be? Their ladies called to them from separate prisons, demanding help and salvation. The corridor of iron rock opened — surely not for those sacred heads? surely those royal backs could never incline below the imbecile face. But what to do? Richard’s habitual agnosticism had so entirely disappeared with the first sight of Evelyn that he had already forgotten it. Jonathan was beginning to think of seeking out a priest. But their tale was a wild thing, and he did not know what a priest could do. No priest could command Simon; nor exorcise Lester; nor enliven Betty. No; it was left to them.
He said: “Well, damn it, this isn’t the only painting I’ve done. Let’s look at the one Simon didn’t like.”
“I don’t see what good that’ll do,” Richard said miserably, but he went round with his friend. He seemed to himself within himself to be standing alone among the insects, and he could not avoid the thought that perhaps now, somewhere, somehow, Lester was one of the insects — an irrational scuttling insect that would keep closer to him than any of the others would. That, if she were so, might still be left of their love, and that would be all. Their past would end in this, and this for ever. Only he knew she would not — unless ‘Simon had utterly and wholly changed her very nature. She would, insect or woman or some dreadful insect-woman, keep away from him; and as he knew it, he knew he did not want her to. If she were that, he wanted her — in spite of the horror; if he could bear the horror!-to be by him still. Or perhaps he might come to some agreement with Father Simon — perhaps he instead of her — she would be very angry indeed if he did; he knew very well it would be a contest between them, if such a chance could be; pride clashing with pride, but also love with love. It would be unfair to do it without her knowledge, yet with her knowledge it could never be done. The thought flickered through his mind before he realized of what he was really thinking. When he did, he could hardly think of it; the terrible metapsychosis gnawed at him and would not be seen. He stared in front of him, and realized slowly that he was looking deeply into the light.
The massive radiance of that other painting flowed out towards him from the canvas; it had not surely, when he had seen it before, been as weighty as this? it had not so projected energy? He forgot Simon and the cluster of spiritual vermin; he forgot Lester, except that some changing detail of her hovered still in his mind — her hand, her forehead, her mouth, her eyes. The inscape of the painting became central. There, in the middle of this room, lay the City, ruined and renewed, submerged and gloriously reemerging. It was not the sense of beauty but the sense of exploration that was greatest in him. He had but to take one step to be walking in that open space, with houses and streets around him. The very rubble in the foreground was organic and rising; not rising as the beetles were to some exterior compulsion but in proportion and to an interior plan. The whole subject — that is, the whole unity; shape and hue; rubble, houses, cathedral, sky, and hidden sun, all and the light that was all and held all — advanced on him. It moved forward as that other painting retired. The imbecile master and his companions were being swallowed up in distance, but this was swallowing up distance. There was distance in it, and yet it was all one. As a painting is.
He drew a deep breath. As he did so, a phrase from the previous day came back to him. He turned on Jonathan; he said, but his eyes were still on the canvas: “With plain observation and common understanding?”
“Yes,” said Jonathan. “I’ll swear it was. I don’t wonder Simon didn’t like it.”
Richard could not bear the glow. It bore in upon him even more than it did on Jonathan — partly because it was not his painting, partly because he was already, despite himself, by his sight of Lester, some way initiated into that spiritual world. He walked to the window and stood looking out. The grey October weather held nothing of the painting’s glory, yet his eyes were so bedazzled with the glory that for a moment, however unillumined the houses were, their very mass was a kind of illumination. They were illustrious with being. The sun in the painting had not risen, but it had been on the point of rising, and the expectation that unrisen sun had aroused in him was so great that the actual sun, or some other and greater sun, seemed to be about to burst through the cloud that filled the natural sky. The world he could see from the window gaily mocked him with a promise of being an image of the painting, or of being the original of which the painting was but a painting.
As he looked, he heard in the silence behind him a small tinkle. Something had fallen. Before his brain had properly registered the sound, he felt the floor beneath him quiver, and the tinkle was followed by a faint echo in different parts of the room. Things shook and touched and settled. The earth had felt the slightest tremor, and all its inhabitants felt it. It was for less than a moment, as if an infinitesimal alteration had taken place. Richard saw in the sky upon which his eyes were fixed a kind of eyelid-lifting, an opening and shutting of cloud. He caught no direct light, but the roofs and chimneys of the houses gleamed, whether from above or in themselves he could not tell. It passed and his heart lifted. He was suddenly certain of Lester — not for himself, but in herself; she lived newly in the light. She lived — that was all; and so, by God’s mercy, he.
He thought the phrase, and though it was strange to him it was very familiar. But he did not, in that second, feel he had abandoned his agnosticism for what he knew to be Jonathan’s belief. Rather his very agnosticism rose more sharply and healthily within him; he swung to a dance, and he actually did swing round, so that he saw Jonathan planted before his canvas and frowning at it, and on the floor a silver pencil which had rolled from the table. He walked across and picked it up, playing lightly with it, and as he began to speak Jonathan forestalled him. He said: “Richard, it is different.”
“Different?” Asked Richard. “How different?”
“I’m very good,” Jonathan went on, but so simply that there was no egotism in the remark, “but I’m nothing like as good as this. I simply am not. I could never, never paint this.”
Richard looked at the painting. But his amateur’s eye could not observe with certainty the difference of which Jonathan seemed to be speaking. He thought he could have been easily persuaded that the shapes were more definite, that the mass of colour which had overwhelmed him before now organized itself more exactly, that the single unity was now also a multitudinous union — but he would not by himself have been certain. He said: “You’re the master. How?”
Jonathan did not answer the question directly. He said, in a lower voice, almost as if he were shy of something in his own work: “I suppose, if things — if everything is like that, I suppose colours and paints might be. They must be what everything is, because everything is. Mightn’t they become more themselves? mightn’t they? It was what I wanted to do, because it was like that. And if the world is like that, then a painting of the world must be. But if it is . . . . ..
Richard went across to him. “If it is,” he said, “we weren’t done and can’t be done. If it is, we aren’t beetles and can’t be beetles, however they grin at each other in their holes. By all possible plain observation and common understanding, we aren’t. And as my own common understanding has told me on a number of occasions that Lester doesn’t like being kept waiting, I’d better try not to keep her waiting.”
“Is she waiting?” said Jonathan with a slow answering smile.
“I can’t possibly tell you yet,” said Richard. “But I shall try somehow to find out. Let’s do something. Let’s plainly observe. Let’s go to Highgate and observe Betty. Let’s persecute Lady Wallingford. Let’s love Simon; he likes love. Come on, man.” He stepped back and waved his hand towards Highgate. “Ecrasez l’infame. Give them the point, gentlemen. And no heeltaps. Come. Have you ever seen Lester in a rage? ‘Oh what a deal of scorn looks beautiful . . . ’ but I don’t want it to get too beautiful.”
He caught up his hat. Jonathan said: “I feel like a bit of my own painting. All right; come on. Let’s get a taxi and go to Highgate and tell them where they stop. I don’t quite know how.”
“No,” said Richard, “but the sky will or the earth or something. Simon control Lester? Simon couldn’t control a real beetle. Nor could I, if it comes to that, but I don’t pretend to. Come.”
When they ran together out of the house, it was already something more than an hour since the Clerk had reentered Betty’s room. He knew that the crisis was on him; he had come to direct it. Up to now he had been content to send his daughter on her ghostly journeys as his messenger and in some sense his substitute. He had begotten her for this and for more than this; since she had grown out of early childhood he had trained her in this. Now the time of more had come, and the mystical rain which had defeated her should mock him no longer. The tale of the enchanters held a few masters — not many — who had done this. One of the earlier, another Simon, called the Magus, had slain a boy by magic and sent his soul into the spiritual places, there to be his servant. This Simon would make a stronger link, for he would send his child. But to establish that link properly, the physical body must be retained in its own proper shape, that in future all commands might be sent through it to its twin in the other air. The earlier Simon had kept the body of the boy in a casing of gold in his bedchamber, and (as it was said) angels and other powers of that air had visibly adored it, at the will of the magician laid upon them through the single living soul, and exposed all the future without the slow tricks that had otherwise to be used, and shown treasures and secrets of the past, until their lord became a pillar of the universe and about him the planetary heavens revolved. But in those days magicians had public honour; now for a little while a secret way was better. It was to be today no bloody sacrifice; only a compulsory dissolution of bonds between soul and body — a making for ever all but two of what must be at bottom for ever one; the last fact of known identity alone remaining. When the uncorrupting death was achieved, the body should be coffined for burial. After the burial it would be no less than natural that the distressed mother should go to her own house in the North to be quiet and recover; and no less than likely that she might take with her a not too great case — Betty was not large — of private effects. She could go, nowadays, by car. It would be easy, on the night before the funeral, to make from dust and air and impure water and a little pale fire a shape to be substituted for the true body. That should lay itself down in the coffin, clasping a corded brick or two to give it weight, for though magic could increase or decrease the weight of what already had weight, yet these magical bodies always lacked the mysterious burden of actual flesh. But it would serve for the short necessary time, and afterwards let earth go indeed to earth and dust to dust. The substitution made, and the true body laid in the chest, it could be conveyed away. It should lie in the lumber-room of the Northern cottage, and there serve him when he wished, until when he and his Types were united, and the world under him made one, he could house it becomingly to himself in his proper home.
The time had come. He could utterly pronounce the reversed Name — not that it was to him a Name, for his whole.effort had been to deprive it of any real meaning, and he had necessarily succeeded in this for himself, so that it was to him no Name but vibrations only, which, directed as he chose, should fulfil what he chose. He had quite forgotten the original blasphemy of the reversal; the sin was lost, like so many common sins of common men, somewhere in his past. He did not now even think of there being any fact to which the Name was correspondent. He had, that very morning, aimed the vibrating and recessional power on the latest and the nearest of the dead — the wife of the man who had come foolishly inquiring. And though she had not come, yet her companion in death had come — one who was, it must have chanced, more responsive than she. He had his own intentions for her. But first a balance must be preserved; where one was drawn in one must go out. He had drawn back the other woman’s soul to wait now outside the house; there she crouched till the act was finished. So prepared, he came into his daughter’s room.
His mistress entered With him. In the eyes of the servants he was a foreign consulting doctor who had sometimes done Miss Betty good, and was a friend of the family. For the law, there was an ordinary practitioner who was well acquainted with her sad case and could do all that was necessary. Both of them would find now that for Betty they could do nothing. The pretence was to last just this hour; therefore his mistress came. Yet bringing the living woman it was unfortunate for him that he had not brought in with him the dead woman also whom he had left to her own ghostly place. So wise and mighty as he was, his wisdom had failed there. Had he done so, that poor subservient soul might have conveyed to him some hint of what else was in that room. He could see those he called; not, those he did not. He did not see the form that waited by the bed; he did not see Lester. He knew, of course, nothing of the exchange of redeeming love that had taken place between those two — no more than of that gallant Betty who had risen once from the lake of wise water. And if he had known anything, of what conceivable importance could the memories of two schoolgirls be to him? even though the memories of those girls should be the acts of souls? Because it would have been, and was, so unimportant, he did not see in the pale and exhausted girl in the bed any of the sudden runnels of roseal light which Lester now saw, as if the blood itself were changed and richly glowing through the weary flesh. Lester saw them — the blood hiding something within itself, which yet it did not quite succeed in hiding from any who, in whatever shy efforts of new life, had sought and been granted love. Lester might not have believed it, but then she did not have to try. She looked and saw; in that state what was, was certain. There was no need for belief.
The Clerk and she were very close. Lester did not recognize the identity of the shape she had seen on the stairs, and otherwise she did not know him. But as his great form came slowly into the room, she felt him to be of the same nature as that other shape. He now, and that he on the stairs, were inhabitants of this world in which she was. Their appearance, first in night and then in day, was overwhelming to her. The great cloak was a wrapping up of power in itself; the ascetic face a declaration of power. Those appearances, and that of the laughing Betty, belonged to the same world, but these were its guardians and masters. Lester felt unusually shy and awkward as she stood there; had he commanded then, she would have obeyed. She knew that she went unseen by men and women, but as his eyes passed over her she felt rather that she had been seen and neglected than that she had not been seen.
The giant, for so he seemed to her to be, paused by the bed Lester waited on his will. So, behind him, did Lady Wallingford. Betty switched a little, shifted restlessly, and finally turned on her back, so that she lay facing the gaze of her master and father. He said to her mother: “Lock the door.” Lady Wallingford went back to the door, locked it, turned, and stood with her hand on the handle. The Clerk said to her again: “Draw the curtains.” She obeyed; she returned. The room lay in comparative darkness, shut off and shut in. The Clerk said, in a gentle voice, almost as if he were waking a child: “Betty, Betty, it’s time to go.” But he was not trying to wake her.
Lester listened with attention. She believed that the giant was laying some proper duty on Betty, some business which she did not understand, but the inflexibility of the voice troubled her. The friendship which had sprung in the time of their talk made her wish to spare the present Betty this austere task. Besides she herself wished, as soon as was possible, to have a place in this world, to be directed, to have something to do. She made — she so rash, so real, so unseen — a sudden movement. She began: “Let me — ” and stopped, for Betty’s eyes had opened and in fear and distress were looking up at the Clerk, and her fingers were picking at the bedclothes, as the fingers of the dying do. Lester years before had seen her father die; she knew the sign. Betty said, in a voice only just heard through the immense stillness of the room: “No; no.”
The Clerk thrust his head forward and downward. Its leanness, and the cloak round him, turned him for Lester to some great bird of the eagle kind, hovering, waiting, about to thrust. He said: “To go,” and the words sprang from him as if a beak had stabbed, and the body of Betty seemed to yield under the blow. Only the fact that no blood gushed between her breasts convinced Lester that it was not so. But again and once again, as if the wounding beak drove home, the Clerk said: “To go . . . to go.” A faint sound came from the door; Lady Wallingford had drawn a sharp breath. Her eyes were bright; her hands were clenched; she was drawn upright as if she were treading something down; she said — the light word hung in the room like an echo: “Go.” S
Lester saw, though she was not directly looking. Her manner of awareness was altering. Touch was forbidden her; hers and Betty’s hands had never met. Taste and smell she had no opportunity to exercise. But sight and hearing were enlarged. She could somehow see at once all that she had formerly been able to see only by turning her head; she could distinctly hear at once all sorts of sounds of which formerly one would deaden another. She was hardly aware of the change; it was so natural. She was less aware of herself except as a part of the world, and more aware of her friend. There was as yet no distrust of the grand shape opposite her, but the tiny vibrations of that single syllable span within her. She saw Betty receding and she saw Betty struggling. She spoke with passion; and her voice, inaudible to those others, in the room, was audible enough to any of the myriad freemen of the City, to the alien but allied powers of heaven which traverse the City, to the past, present, and future of the City, to its eternity, and to That which everywhere holds and transfixes its eternity; audible to all these, clear among the innumerable mightier sounds of the creation, she exclaimed: “Betty!”
Her friend’s eyes turned to her. They entreated silently, as years before they had entreated; they were dimming, but what consciousness they had still looked out — a girl’s longing, a child’s call, a baby’s cry. A voice lower than Lady Wallingford’s, so low that even the Clerk could not hear it, though he knew she had spoken, but perfectly audible to Lester and to any of that other company whose business it might be to hear, said: “Lester!” It was the same timid proffer of and appeal to friendship which Lester had once ignored. She answered at once: “All right, my dear. I’m here.”
Betty’s head lay towards her, The Clerk put out his hand to turn it again, so that his eyes might look into his daughter’s eyes. Before it could touch her, the spiritual colloquy had gone on. Betty said: “I don’t at all mind going, but I don’t want him to send me.” The voice was ever so slightly stronger; it had even a ripple of laughter in it, as if it were a little absurd to be so particular about a mere means. Lester said: “No, darling: why should he? Stay with me a little longer.” Betty answered: “May I? Dear Lester!” and shut her eyes. The Clerk turned her head.
Lester had spoken on her spirit’s instincts. But she did not at all know what she ought to do. She realized more than ever that she was parted from living men and women by a difference of existence, and realizing it she knew that the grand figure by the bed was not of her world but of that, and being of that, and being so feared, might be hostile, and might even be evil. She did not any longer squander power by trying to speak to him. She was not exactly content to wait, but she knew she must wait. She became conscious all at once of the delight of waiting — of the wide streets of London in which one could wait, of Westminster Bridge, of herself waiting for Richard on Westminster Bridge, as she had done — when? The day she was killed; the day before she was killed. Yes; on that previous day they had agreed to meet there, and he had been late, and she had been impatient; no wonder that, after death, she had been caught again to the scene of her impatience and played out again the sorry drama. Oh now she would wait, and he would come. She seemed, bodiless though in truth she was and knew it more and more, to feel her body tingling with expectation of him, with expected delight. She had once walked (he would have told her) in a kind of militant glory; she stood so now, unknowing. Her militancy was not now to be wasted on absurdities; as indeed it never need have been; there had been enough in herself to use it on. Her eyes, or what were once her eyes, were brighter than Lady Wallingford’s; her head was up; her strong and flexible hands moved at her sides, her foot tapped once and ceased. The seeming body which the energy of her spirit flung out in that air was more royal and real than the entire body of Lady Wallingford. She gave her attention to the Clerk.
He was speaking slowly, in a language she did not understand, and sternly, almost as if he were giving final instructions to a careless or lazy servant. He had laid his left hand on Betty’s forehead, and Lester saw a kind of small pale light ooze out everywhere between his hand and Betty and flow over the forehead. Betty’s eyes were open again, and they looked up, but now without sight, for Lester’s own quickened sight saw that a film had been drawn over them. Betty was again receding. Lester said: “Betty, if you want me I’m here,” and meant it with all her heart. The Clerk ceased to give instructions, paused, drew himself, and began to intone.
All three women heard him, yet there was not a sound in the room. His lips moved, but they did not make the sound. The intonation was within him, and the intonation moved his lips; his mouth obeyed the formula. Presently, however, something syllabic did emerge. Lady Wallingford abruptly turned her back and leant her forehead against the door. The light on Betty’s forehead expanded upward; in the dimness of the room it rose like a small pillar. Lester saw it. She was now incapable of any action except an unformulated putting of herself at Betty’s disposal; she existed in that single act. It was then she became aware that the Clerk was speaking to her.
He did not think so. His intention and utterance were still limited to the woman on the bed. He was looking there and speaking there. He saw the almost dead face and the filmed eyes. But Lester saw a change. The eyes closed; the face relaxed. Betty slept, and slept almost happily. Lester felt the strange intoning call not to Betty but to her; it was she that Was meant. just as she realized it, she lost it. Her heart was so suddenly and violently racked that she thought she cried out. The intensity of the pain passed, but she was almost in a swoon from it, and all the sense of her physical body was in that swoon restored to her. She was not yet capable of the complex states of pain or delight which belong to the unbodied state, and indeed (though she must pass through those others) yet the final state was more like this world’s in the renewal of the full identity of body and soul. She was unconscious for that time of the Clerk, of Betty, of the room, but she heard dimly sounds gathering at her feet; the intoning rose up her from below and touched her breasts and fell away. As she recovered, she looked down. She saw the bluish-green tinge of the deathlight crawling round her ankles. She knew at once that that was what it was. She had not at all died till now; not when she tried to answer the voice from the hill and failed. Even that was but a preliminary to death, but this was dissolution. Better the vague unliving City than this, but she had come out of that City and this was what lay outside; this lapping pool which, as it rose into her, mingled itself with her, so that she saw her limbs changing with it. She thought, in a paroxysm of longing, of the empty streets, and she made an effort to keep that longing present to her. She fought against dissolution.
But the backward-intoned Tetragrammaton continued to rise. It flowed up not equally, but in waves or sudden tongues. It reached up to her knees. The appearance of her clothes which had so long accompanied her had disappeared; looking down, she saw in that swimming bluish-green nothing but herself. She could see nothing but that, and she heard on all sides the intoning flow in on her.
Of one other thing she was conscious. She had been standing, and now she was no longer standing. She was leaning back on something, some frame which from her buttocks to her head supported her; indeed she could have believed, but she was not sure, that her arms, flung out on each side held on to a part of the frame, as along a beam of wood. In herfighting and sinking consciousness, she seemed to be almost lying along it, as she might be on a bed, only it was slanting. Between standing and lying, she held and was held. If it gave, as at any moment it might give, she would fall into the small steady chant which, heard in her ears and seen along her thighs, was undoing her. Then she would be undone. She pressed herself against that sole support. So those greater than she had come — saints, martyrs, confessors — but they joyously, knowing that this was the first movement of their reedification in the City, and that thus in that earliest world fashioned of their earthly fantasies began the raising of the true houses and streets. Neither her mind nor her morals had prepared her for this discovery, nor did she in the least guess what was happening. But what of integrity she possessed clung to that other integrity; her back pressed to it. It sustained her. The pale dissolving nothingness was moving more slowly, but it was still moving. It had not quite reached her thighs. Below them she felt nothing; above she rested on that invisible frame. She could not guess whether that frame could resist the nothingness, or whether she on it. If it did not, she would be absorbed, living, into all that was not. She shut her eyes; say rather, she ceased to see.
At the moment when the anti-Tetragrammaton was approaching that in her which her fastidious pride had kept secluded from all but Richard, Betty suddenly turned on her bed. She did so with a quick heaving movement, and she spoke in her sleep. The Clerk had sunk on one knee, to bring his face and slow-moving lips nearer to hers. She had seemed to him already yielding to the spell, and at the unexpected energy of her turning, he started and threw back his head. He had been prepared, he thought, for any alteration in Betty, though he expected one particular alteration, but he was quite unprepared for this ordinary human outbreak of life. He threw back his head, as any close watcher might. But then, in his own mind, he was not supposed to be simply anyone. He missed, in the suddenness, the word which broke from the sleeping girl, as anyone might. But then he was certainly not simply anyone. The intoned vibrations, for less than a second, faltered; for a flicker of time the eyes of the master of magic were confused. He recovered at once, in poise and in speech and in sight. But what he saw there almost startled him again.
His books and divinations had told him, and the lesser necromantic spells he had before now practised on the dead had half-shown him, what he might expect to see. As he approached after the graded repetitions, the greatest and most effective repetition — and the very centre of that complex single sound — he expected, visibly before him, the double shape; the all but dead body, the all but free soul. They would be lying in the same space, yet clearly distinct, and with the final repetitions of the reversed Name they would become still more distinct, but both at his disposal and subject to his will. He would divide without disuniting, one to go and one to stay, the spiritual link between them only just not broken, but therefore permanent. In his other necromancies on dead bodies he could only do it spasmodically, and only on those lately dead, and only for a little. But this was to be different. He had expected a double vision, and he had a double vision. He saw two shapes, Betty and another. But he had never seen the other before.
Had it been one of those odd creatures, such as that which he had almost seen in the hall, he would not have been taken by surprise, nor had it been any stranger inhabitant of the bodiless world. He knew that surprise does not become the magician, and is indeed apt to be fatal, for in that momentary loss of guard any attack upon the adept may succeed. His courage was very high; he would not have been startled at any tracery of low or high, at cherub or cacodemon. Or so he believed, and probably with truth. But he did not see cherub or cacodemon. He saw two sleeping girls — now one, and now the other, and each glancing through the other; and they were totally unlike. Not only so, but as he sought to distinguish them, to hold that bewildering conjunction steady to the analysis and disposal of his will, he saw also that it was the strange sleeper who lay wanly still with closed eyes, and Betty who slept more healthily than ever he had seen her sleep-fresh, peaceful, almost smiling. She had spoken, but he had not heard what she said. Only now, as he renewed, with all his will, the pronunciation of the reversed Name, he heard, in the very centre of the syllables, another single note.
Betty had indeed spoken a word, as a sleeper does, murmuring it. She had said, in a sleepy repetition of her last waking and loving thought: “Lester!” As the word left her lips, it was changed. It became — hardly the Name, but at least a tender mortal approximation to the Name. And when it had left her lips, it hung in the air, singing itself, prolonging and repeating itself. It was no louder than Betty’s voice, and it had still some likeness to hers, as if it did not wish to lose too quickly the sense of the mortal voice by which it had come, and it retained still within it some likeness to the word “Lester!”, as if it would not too quickly abandon the mortal meaning by which it had come. But presently it let both likenesses pass, and became itself only, and at that rather a single note than sequent syllables, which joyously struck itself out again and again, precisely in the exact middle of every magical repetition, perfect and full and soft and. low, as if (almost provocatively) it held just an equal balance, and made that exact balance a spectacular delight for any whose celestial concerns permitted them to behold the easy dancing grapple. The air around it quivered, and the room and all within it were lightly shaken; and beyond the room and the house, in all directions, through all the world, the light vibration passed. It touched, at a distance, London itself, and in Jonathan’s flat Richard saw the eye-flicker of light in the roofs and heard the tinkle of his friend’s pencil as it fell.
Lester, lying with closed eyes, felt the change. She felt herself resting more quietly and more securely on her support; it might be said she trusted it more. Close beside her, she heard a quiet breathing, as if on some other bed near at hand a companion gently slumbered, friendly even in sleep. She did not see the tongue-thrusting Death lie still, or even here and there recoil, but she stretched out her legs, and felt them also to be resting on some support, and yawned as if she had just got into bed. She thought, in a drowsy happiness: “Well, that’s saved her getting up,” but she remembered no action of her own, only how once or twice, when she had been thirsty in the night, Richard had brought her a glass of water and saved her getting up; and in her drowsiness a kind of vista of innumerable someones doing such things for innumerable someones stretched before her, but it was not as if they were being kind, for it was not water that they were bringing but their own joy, or perhaps it was water and joy at once; and everything was altered, for no one had to be unselfish any more, so free they all were now from the receding death — light of earth. She thought, all the same, “Darling, darling Richard! “-because the fact that he was bringing her his own joy to drink before she sank again to the sleep that was her present joy (but then waking had been that too) was a deed of such excelling merit on his part that all the choirs of heaven and birds of earth could never properly sing its praise; though there was a word in her mind which would do it rightly, could her sleepiness remember it — a not very long word, and very easy to say if someone would only tell her how. It was rather like a glass of water itself, for when all was said she did in her heart prefer water to wine, though it was blessed sometimes to drink wine with Richard especially one kind of wine whose name she could never remember, but Richard could, Richard knew everything better than she, except the things about which he knew nothing at all, for the word which was both water and wine — and yet not in the least mixed — had cleared her mind, and she could be gay with Richard now among all those things that either knew and the other not; and both of them could drink that word in a great peace. Now she came to think of it, the word was like a name, and the name was something like Richard, and something like Betty and even not unlike her own, though that was certainly very astonishing, and she knew she did not deserve it; still there it was — and anyhow it was not in the least like any of them, though it had in it also the name of the child Richard and she would one day have for they never meant to wait too long, and it would be born in a bed like this, on which she could now from head to foot luxuriously stretch herself; nor could she think why she had once supposed it to be hard and like wood, for it was marvellously spring-livened; spring of the world, spring of the heart; joy of spring — water, joy.
Oblivion took her. The task was done, and repose is in the rhythm of that world, and some kind of knowledge of sleep, since as a baby the Divine Hero closed his astonishing eyes, and his mother by him, and the princely Joseph, their young protector. Lester had taken the shock of the curse — no less willingly or truly that she had not known what she was doing. She had suffered instead of Betty, as Betty had once suffered through her; but the endurance had been short and the restoration soon, so quickly had the Name which is the City sprung to the rescue of its own. When recollection came to her again, she was standing by the side of the bed, but all the pale light had faded, and on the bed Betty lay asleep, flushed with her proper beauty and breathing in her proper content.
On the other side the Clerk still knelt. As soon as he heard that interrupting note, he had put out still more energy; he thought he had used it already, but for him there was always more, until his end should come indeed. He managed to complete the repetition into which the note broke, but the effort was very great. The sweat was on his forehead as he continued with the spell. He could just utter his own word as he willed, but he could not banish from it the other song. He put out his hand towards his mistress and beckoned, that she might lay her will with his. It was his folly. There is no rule more wise in magic than that which bids the adept, if the operation go awry) break it off at once. In the circles of hell there is no room for any error; the only maxim is to break off and begin again. When the Clerk saw before him the two shapes, he should have made an end. There had been an intrusion of an alien kind. He would not; say rather, he could not; he could not consent to leave it undominated. He was compelled therefore to summon his minion. The false slippery descent was opening, the descent so many of his sort have followed, according to which the lordly enchanters drop to lesser and lesser helps — from themselves to their disciples, to servants, to hired help, to potions and knives, to wax images and muttered murderous spells. Simon was not yet there, but he was going, and quickly.
Sara Wallingford was still leaning with her forehead against the door, and pressing, it more closely. She knew, as far as she could, what the operation meant. But as the intoning had proceeded, her merely mortal hate got the better of her knowledge; she murmured: “Kill! kill!” She did not care what became of Betty, so long as Betty was dead. When, dimly, she heard the ringing opposition of the Name, she felt only a fear that Betty might live. And while with all her force she rejected that fear lest it should weaken the effort, she felt her master beckon. If indeed they had been, with whatever subordination, allies, there would have been between them an image of a truth, however debased, which might have helped. There was not. They had never exchanged that joyous smile of equality which marks all happy human or celestial government, the lack of which had frightened Richard in Simon’s own smile; that which has existed because first the Omnipotence withdrew its omnipotence, and decreed that submission should be by living will, or perhaps because in the Omnipotence itself there is an equality which subordinates itself. The hierarchy of the abyss does not know anything of equality, nor of any lovely balance within itself, nor (if he indeed be) does the lord of that hierarchy ever look up, subordinate to his subordinates, and see above him and transcending him the glory of his household. So that never in all the myths of Satan or Samael or Iblis or Ahriman, has there been any serious tale of that lord becoming flesh by human derivation; how could he be so supposed to submit, in bed or cradle? Simon himself, in the mystery of generation, had reserved something; he, like all his fellows, intended to dominate what he begot; therefore he and they always denied their purposes at the moment of achievement. “How shall Satan’s kingdom stand, if it be divided against itself?” Messias asked, and the gloomy pedants to whom he spoke could not give the answer his shining eyes awaited: “Sir, it does not.”
The man beckoned; the woman stood upright. She had no choice; she was his instrument only; she must go and be used. But (more than she guessed) she was also the instrument of her own past. As she took a step away, there came a tap on the door. It was very gentle, but to those two it was shattering in the silence — a blasting summons from the ordinary world. All three of them heard it. Lester heard it; to her it sounded precisely what it was, clear and distinct. To say she might have been alive again is too little; it was more happily itself, more sweetly promising, than if she had been alive. It was a pure and perfect enjoyment. She knew she could, if she chose, exert herself now to see who waited on the other side of the door, but she did not choose. It was not worth while; let the exquisite disclosure come in its own way. The Clerk’s face convulsed; he made a gesture of prohibition. He was too late. Lady Wallingford’s past was in her and ruled her; all the times when she had thought about the servants now compelled her. She was the servant of her servants. The glorious maxim (sealed for ever in the title of the Roman pontiff-servus servorum Dei) ruled her ingloriously. She was, for that second, oblivious of the Clerk. She put out her hand and switched on the light — there was no time to draw back the curtains; she unlocked and opened the door. She faced the parlour-maid.
The maid said: “If you please, my lady, there are two gentlemen downstairs who say they must see you. The gentleman who spoke said he didn’t think you’d know his name but the other is Mr. Drayton. They say it’s very urgent and to do with Miss Betty.” She was young, pleasant, and inexperienced; her mildly surprised eyes surveyed the room, and rested on Betty. She broke out: “Oh she is looking better, isn’t she, my lady?”
The news ofJonathan’s arrival might, in her state of passion, have enraged Lady Wallingford; the impertinence of a servant outraged her past. It pulled her past and her together; unfortunately it pulled her together in the opposite direction from what was then going on. All the rebukes she had ever delivered rose in her; she did not see them, as Lester had seen her own actions, but her voice shook with them. She said: “You forget yourself, Nina.” She went on: “Tell Mr. Drayton’s friend I can’t see them. Send them away and see I’m not interrupted again.”
The maid shrank. Lady Wallingford stared angrily at her. As she did so, a curious sensation passed through her. She felt rooted and all but fixed, clamped in some invisible machine. A board was pressed against her spine; wooden arms shut down on her arms; her feet were iron-fixed. She could do nothing but stare. She heard her last dictatorial word: “see I’m not interrupted again”. Was she not to be? The maid took a step back, saying hastily: “Yes, my lady.” Lady Wallingford, immovable to herself, stared after her. She could not pursue.
She was not, however, then left to that doom. As the maid turned, she exclaimed: “Oh! “ and stepped back, almost into her mistress. There was a sudden swiftness of feet; two forms loomed in the corridor. The maid slipped to the other side of the doorway and as Lady Wallingford broke — or was allowed to break from the wooden beams which had appeared to close on her, Richard andjonathan had passed her and come into the room.
Richard was speaking as he came. He said: “You must forgive this intrusion, Lady Wallingford. We know — Jonathan and I— that we’re behaving very badly. But it’s absolutely — I do mean absolutely — necessary for us to see Betty. If you believe in the Absolute. So we had to come.” He added, across the room to Lester, without surprise, but with a rush of apology, and only he knew to whom he spoke: “Darling, have I kept you waiting? I’m so sorry.”
Lester saw him. She felt, as he came, all her old self lifting in her; bodiless, she seemed to recall her body in the joy they exchanged. He saw her smile, and in the smile heaven was frank and she was shy. She said — and he only heard, and he rather knew than heard, but some sound of speech rang in the room, and the Clerk, now on his feet, looked round and up, wildly, as if to catch sight of the sound: she said: “I’ll wait for you a million years.” She felt a stir within her, as if life quickened; and she remembered with new joy that the deathly tide had never reached, even in appearance, to the physical house of life. If Richard or she went now, itwould not much matter; their fulfilment was irrevocably promised them, in what manner so — ever they knew or were to know it.
Betty opened her eyes. She too saw Lester. She said: “Lester, you did stop! How sweet of you!” She looked round the room. Her eyes widened a little as she saw Richard; they passed unconcernedly over the Clerk and Lady Wallingford; they saw Jonathan. She cried out and sat up; she threw out her hands. He came to her and took them. He said, controlling the words: “You’re looking better.” He could not say more. Betty did not speak; she blushed a little and clung.
The Clerk looked down on her. The operation had failed: he did not doubt that he would yet succeed, but he must begin again. He did not permit himself any emotion towards whatever had interfered. It would waste his energy. These men were nothing. It had been in the other world that frustration had lain, and it should be seen to. Composing heart and features, he turned his head slowly towards Lady Wallingford. She took his will, and obeyed. She said: “We had better go downstairs. You can see, Mr. Drayton, that Betty is better: aren’t you, Betty?”
“Much better,” said Betty gaily. ‘Jonathan dear she paused; she went on: “I’ll get up and dress. Go away for a few minutes, and I’ll be down.”
Jonathan said: “I’d much rather not leave you.”
“Nonsense,” said Betty. “I’m completely all right. Look, I’ll be very quick. Mother, do you mind?”
It was the one thing that Lady Wallingford now minded more than anything else. But even hell cannot prevent that law of the loss of the one thing. She was full of rage — much of her own; something of the Clerk’s which he had dismissed for her to bear. She was the vessel of such human passion as remained to him. She said: “If you will come down —?” The Clerk made a gesture with his hand as if to direct the two young men to pass in front of him, and his sudden constriction passed across his face. He looked particularly at Richard. But Richard was no longer the Richard of the house behind Holborn. He had tasted the new life in Jonathan’s flat; he had drunk of it in his wife’s eyes. As, while Jonathan spoke to Betty, he gazed at her, she began to withdraw, or rather it was not so much that she withdrew as that something — perhaps only the air of earth — came between them. But in that second of her immortal greeting, her passion and her promise, he had been freed from any merely accidental domination by the Clerk. She vanished; and, still at ease, he turned to meet Simon’s look, and grinned back at him. He said: “You see, my dear Father, we had to make our own arrangements. But it was very kind of you to offer. No, no; after you. Lady Wallingford’s waiting.”
The unfortunate young maid had not known whether to go or stay. She had thought that Lady Wallingford might want the gentlemen shown out. She gathered, from the look Lady Wallingford gave her as she came through the door, that she had been wrong. The strange doctor followed; after him the two other visitors. Mr. Drayton paused to look back at Miss Betty; then he softly closed the door. The maid, even in her gloom, remembered that she had always said there was something between him and Miss Betty.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02