All this while, Evelyn Mercer sat on the doorstep. It would once have seemed strange to her to think of herself sitting and hugging herself, as any old beggarwoman might, and she not old, though too much a beggar. She was acutely conscious of her beggary, ever since she had seen the man sitting in the chair. He had smiled and nodded at her, and she had expected and hoped he would speak. If he had only asked her a question, she could have told him everything — about her tiresome mother, and silly Betty, and cruel Lester. She did not expect him to talk, and all she wanted was for him to listen to her. She did not ask anything more; she was not the kind of girl that would. Lester was more like that, and even Betty.
In looking at him, she had become aware of her pain, which she had not been till then. It was not much more than a discomfort, a sense of pressure on her lungs. If she could talk, she would be able to appease it. He had sat nodding at her, as if he were telling her how right she was to come, and then he had stood up, and his nod as he did so had suddenly seemed to change. Instead of being a nod of welcome, it was now a nod of dismissal. She was to go; as she realized it, she yelped. She had not been able to help it. She had yelped rather like a lost cat, for she was frightened of being sent away, and the discomfort in her lungs had become immediately worse. But his head had still nodded dismissal. He was still smiling, and the smile had a kind of promise. Her own smile, which was the smile with which she had run after Betty, had become oddly fixed; she felt her face harden. As, still looking over his shoulder, in that mingling of promise and dismissal, he began to move away towards the door of the hall, she found that she herself was no longer in the hall but in the yard without. She had receded as he receded. She was up against the window, staring through it, but outside it, and sniffing at something in the air. It vaguely reminded her of fish, but it was not fish. She remained sniffing for some time, hoping that the man would come back, The smell had something to do with him, and he with the pain in her lungs. Presently she slipped away from the window-sill which she had been clutching; for the smell caused her to follow it. It was the kind of smell Betty had when Betty had to listen to her, though she had never understood that before. She began to run, out of the yard and along the street. Her head was stretched out; her eyes were bright, though they saw nothing except the pavement before them. She ran a long while, or not so long. When at last she stopped, it was outside a door — the door of the house from which she had hurried. Now she had hurried back.
As the semi-bestiality of her movement ceased, her muddled and obsessed brain managed to point that out to her. It even managed to suggest that to run for ever between those two points would be unsatisfactory. She had now made almost the same passage three times; and perhaps while she was in the streets that was all she could do. But how could she get out of the streets? She was not let go in there, and she did not dare go in here. She went right up to the door — the smell was strongest there; it was fish, surely — and stood by it listening. Betty was inside; for all she knew, he also might be inside. She even put her hand on the door. It sank through; she began to pull it back and found it caught as if in a tangle of thorn. She felt a long sharp scratch before she got it loose. Tears came into her eyes. She was lonely and hurt. She looked at her hand through her tears, but it was a long time before she could see the scratch, almost as if neither scratch nor hand was there until she had found them. The hand itself was dim, because she had been crying; and dirty, because she had been leaning against the sill; and bleeding — at least, if she looked long enough it was bleeding. If the door was such a tangle of thorns, it was no use trying to go in. She went out of the porch and down the few steps. Her lungs were hurting her. She said aloud: “It isn’t fair.”
Lester had said the same thing, but as a rational judgement. This was not so much a rational judgement as a squeal. The squeal eased her lungs, and as she recognized this, she spoke again, saying: “Why won’t anyone help me?” and found that her ease increased. She added: “I do think they might,” and then the pain was no more than a slight discomfort. It seemed to her that the London air never had suited her, but she had never been able to agree with her mother where else they should live, so that somehow or other, because her mother had been inconsiderate, they had had to go on living in London. She was, at bottom, a little afraid that her mother too was in that dark house. Her mother didn’t like fish; not that what she was waiting for was fish. It was the tall man who nodded his head.
She sat down on the bottom step, sideways, with her eyes on the door and her legs drawn up. She forgot about the scratch, except occasionally and resentfully because the door was a tangle of thorns. Whenever her lungs began to hurt her, she talked to herself aloud. Soon, though she did not realize it, she was keeping up a small continuous monologue. She did not talk of herself, but of others. The monologue was not (primarily) self-centred but mean. Men and women — all whom she had known — dwindled in it as she chattered. No one was courteous; no one was chaste; no one was tender. The morning — for it was morning with her too — grew darker and the street more sordid as she went on.
In the middle of some sentence of attribution of foulness she stopped abruptly. The door had opened; there he was. He looked at her and she scrambled to her feet. He had come away from the conflict within the house, for purposes of his own. He had said to Lady Wallingford: “Keep her here.” But he would not wait, for he knew that he had now a spy in the spiritual places, who could, when he could talk to her, tell him of Betty and what had interfered with the great operation. He had left her where she was, holding her by that sympathy between them, by her instinctive obedience to the reversed Name, which had made itself known to her in the curious smell. She had lingered in it, as he knew she would. Now, as she rose, he lifted a finger. He was still in his own world, and she in hers, but they were already visible to each other. He went so quickly ithat men did not see him, but behind him she was more truly invisible, as the actual streets of London were to her.
He came to the house behind Holborn, and he passed down the corridor into the secret hall. He went to his chair and sat down. Evelyn did not quite like to follow him there; she waited just inside the door. Her lungs were beginning to hurt her again, but she did not dare to speak without his permission. But she hoped he would soon be kind and not as cruel as Lester. The fish-smell was strong, and the hall dim. It might have been in the depth of waters; waters of which the pressure lay on her lungs, and the distance was dark around her. As she stood there, she felt both light and lightheaded, except for that increased pressure. She was floating there, and beyond her he sat like the master of all water-monsters, gazing away through the waters, and she must float and wait.
At the moment when the pain, was becoming really troublesome, he turned his head. His eyes drew her; she ran forward and when she came to his seat, she sank on its steps as on the steps of the house. She had either to float or crouch; she could not easily stand. This did not astoniih her; once she had been able to do something which now she could not do. The Clerk let her sit there; his eyes reverted to the distance. He said: “What do you know of that house?”
She began at once to chatter. After two sentences she found herself opening and shutting her mouth, but her voice had ceased. The pain was now really bad. She must speak, but she could only tell him what he wished to know. The tears again came into her eyes and ran down her face. That did not help. She choked and said — and immediately felt relief — “Betty was there, and Lester had gone to her.”
The name of the obstacle, of that first interference, of the other girl on the bed, was Lester. The Clerk frowned; he had thought Betty was, through all the worlds, secluded from any companionship. He knew that there must always be some chance that a strange life, in those depths, should loom up, but he had supposed he had certainly cut his daughter off from any human friendship, and this sounded human. He had now to deal with it. He said: “Who is — Lester?”
Evelyn answered: “She was at school with Betty and me, and whatever she pretends now she didn’t have any use for Betty then. She never liked her. She was killed — when I was.” The last three words had to be spoken, but she shook all over as she spoke. When the Clerk said: “Was she a friend of yours?” she answered: “Yes, she was, though she was always hateful and superior. We used to go about together. She ought to be with me now.”
The Clerk considered. He knew of the fierce hunger for flesh, for their physical habitations, which sometimes assails the newly dead, even the greatest. He knew how that other sorcerer of his race, the son of Joseph, had by sheer power once for awhile reanimated his body and held it again for some forty days, until at last on a mountainside it had dissolved into a bright cloud. What Jesus Bar–Joseph had not been able to resist, what he himself (if and when it was necessary) was prepared to do, he did not think it likely that this other creature, this Lester, would be able to resist. Especially if this other woman by him, her friend, drew her. He stretched out his hand over Evelyn’s head, and she felt its weight where she crouched, though it was above her and did not touch her. He said: “What do you most want now?”
Evelyn answered: “To get back — or else to have someone to talk to. No one will listen to me.”
The constriction which was his smile showed on the Clerk’s face, in sudden contempt for this wretched being, and for all those like her — how many millions!-who were willing to waste their powers so: talk of friends, talk of art, talk of religion, talk of love; all formulae and all facts dissolved in talk. No wonder they were hypnotically swayed by his deliberate talk. They swam and floated in vain talk, or sometimes they crouched in cruel talk. They fled and escaped from actuality. Unknowing, they spoke as he did, knowing; therefore they were his servants — until they dissolved and were lost. That might happen to this one. Let it, but before then perhaps she could be his auxiliary and draw that other shape from his daughter’s bed.
It did not occur to him that he too was moving in the same direction. Sara Wallingford, Betty, Evelyn. Evelyn was a feebler instrument than Betty; even had there been no translucent Betty — and indeed for him there was none. But the helpless obedience of Betty was more exactly directed, more even of an accurate machine than this phantom in the worlds. There was indeed, even for her, a chance, could she have taken it, It lay precisely in her consenting not to talk, whether she succeeded or no. The time might be coming when she would have thrown that chance away, but for now she had it. She was looking up stealthily under his hand, that lay over her like a shadow on water; he was still gazing right away. But he said: “That might be done. I could give you a body — and as for talking, who would you most like to talk to?”
She knew that at once. In a voice stronger than she had hitherto been able to use in that world, she exclaimed: “Betty!” He understood that. It seemed to him a poor and feeble wish, to be content to possess one other soul — to him who thought that numbers made a difference and even that quantity altered the very quality of an act, but he understood it. “The last infirmity of noble mind” can in fact make the mind so infirm that it becomes ignoble, as the divine Milton very well knew, or he would not have called it infirmity, nor caused Messias to reject it with such a high air; for paradise is regained not only by the refusal of sin but by the healing of infirmity. He looked down on her; she was touching her lips with her tongue. He said: “I could give you Betty.”
She only looked up. He went on: “But first you must find her and this Lester. Then I will give her to you.”
She said: “Always? Can I have her always?”
“Always,” he said. As he spoke a hint of what he said was visible to them, a momentary sense of the infinite he named. The hall for each of them changed. It opened out for him; it closed in for her. He saw opening beyond it the leagues of the temporal world; he saw one of his Types exhorting crowds in a city of the Urals and another sitting in a chamber of Pekin and softly murmuring spells to learned men of China, and beyond them vague adoring shadows, the skies coalescing into shapes, and bowing themselves towards him. But for her the hall became a quite small room, which still seemed to grow smaller, where she and Betty sat, she talking and Betty trembling. Infinity of far and near lived together, for he had uttered one of the names of the City, and at once (in the way they wished) the City was there.
He dropped his hand nearer, and with a mortal it would have touched, but an infinity of division was between them (as between Betty and Lester), and it did not touch. He said: “You must get Lester away from her and bring her here. Then you shall have Betty. Go and look for them; look for them and tell me. Look and tell me; then you shall talk to Betty. Look and tell me. Go and find her; look and tell me. . . . ”
She was willing to yield to his command; she did yield. But she had not yet been dead long enough to know and use the capacities of spirit; she could not instantaneously pass through space, or be here and there at once. But that was what he wished, and his power was on her. She was to be at once with Betty and with him, to see and to speak. She was still aware of herself as having the semblance of a body, though it was dimmer now, and she still, as with the pain in her lungs or the words she heard or uttered, understood her spiritual knowledge in the sensations of the body. She was compelled now to understand, in that method, the coincidence of two places. She felt, by intolerable compulsion, her body and her head slowly twisted round. She opened her mouth to scream and a wind rushed into it and choked her. The pain in her lungs was terrible. In her agony she floated right up from the place where she sat; still sitting, she rose in the air. This — apparent floating was the nearest she could get to the immaterial existence of spirit. She thought she heard herself scream, and yet she knew she did not; her torment was not to be so relieved. Presently she sank slowly down again on the steps of the pseudo-throne, but now rigid — contorted, and sealed in her contortion, staring The Clerk had again lifted his eyes from her; inattentive to her pain, he waited only for tidings of that obstacle on whose removal he was set.
It was at this moment that Lester saw her. She had known that she had been withdrawn from Richard. The moment that had been given them was at once longer and more intense than the previous moments had been, and she was more content to let it go. Dimly there moved in her, since her reconciliation with Betty, a sense that love was a union of having and nothaving, or else something different and beyond both. It was a kind of way of knowledge, and that knowledge perfect in its satisfaction. She was beginning to live differently. She saw Richard look where she had been, and saw him also content. The men went out of the room with Lady Wallingford. The room, but for the dead girl and the living girl, was empty. They spoke to each other freely now across the division. Betty said: “Darling, what happened?”
“Nothing,” Lester answered. “At least, very little. I think he tried to push you somewhere, and then . . . well, then he tried to push me.”
“You’re not hurt?” Betty asked, and Lester, with a rush of laughter, answered only: “Here?”
Betty did no more than smile; her gratitude possessed her. She stood and looked at her friend, and the charity between them doubled and redoubled, so that they became almost unbearable to each other, so shy and humble was each and each so mighty and glorious. Betty said: “I wouldn’t have lost a moment, not a moment, of all that horrid time if it meant this.”
Lester shook her head. She said, almost sadly: “But mightn’t you have had this without the other? I wish you’d been happy then.” She added: “I don’t see why you couldn’t have been. Need I have been so stupid? I don’t mean only with you.”
Betty said: “Perhaps we could go there some time and see.” But Lester was not immediately listening; she was labouring With the unaccustomed difficulties of thought, especially of this kind of thought. Her face was youthfully sombre, so that it seemed to put on a kind of early majesty, as she went on: “Must we always wait centuries, and always know we waited, and needn’t have waited, and that it all took so long and was so dreadful? ”
Betty said: “I don’t think I mind. I don’t think, you know, we really did have to wait — in a way this was there all the time. I feel as if we might understand it was really all quite happy — if we lived it again.”
Lester said, all but disdainfully: “Oh if we lived it again — ” Betty smiled. She said: “Lester, you look just like you used to sometimes”-and as Lester coloured a little and smiled back, she went on quickly: “There, that’s what I mean. If we were living the other times now — like this — Oh I don’t know. I’m not clever at this sort of thing. But the lake or whatever it was — and then Jonathan — and now you. . . . I feel as if all of you. had been there even when you weren’t, and now perhaps we might find out how you were even when you weren’t. Oh well,” she added, with a sudden shake of her fair head that seemed to loose sparkles of gold about all the room. “it doesn’t much matter. But I’d like to see my nurse again. I wonder if I could.”
“I should think,” said Lester, “you could almost do anything you wanted.” She thought, as she spoke, of the City through which she had come. Were the other houses in it — the houses that had seemed to her so empty then — as full of joy as this? but then perhaps also of the danger of that other death? if now she returned to them, would she see them so? if she went out of this house and — She broke in on Betty who had now begun to dress with an exclamation: “Betty, I’d forgotten Evelyn.
Betty paused and blinked. She said, with a faint touch of reserve in her voice: “Oh Evelyn!”
Lester smiled again. “Yes,” she said, “that may be all very well for you, my dear, and I shouldn’t wonder if it was, but it’s not at all the same thing for me. I made use of Evelyn.”
Betty made a small face at herself and Lester in the mirror of her dressing-table. She said: “Think of the use she was trying to make of me!” and looked with a kind of celestial mischief over her shoulder at her friend.
“So I do,” said Lester, “but it isn’t the same thing at all, you must see. Betty, you do see! You’re just being provoking.”
“It’s nice to provoke you a little,” Betty murmured. “You’re so much more everything than me that you oughtn’t to mind. I might tempt you a little, on and off.” Neither of them took the word seriously enough, nor needed to, to feel that this was what all temptations were — matter for dancing mockery and high exchange of laughter, things so impossible that they could be enjoyed as an added delight of love. But Betty swung round and went on seriously. “We had forgotten Evelyn. What shall we do?”
“I suppose I could go and look for her,” Lester answered. “If she’s still in those streets she’ll be frightfully miserable . . . She will be frightfully miserable. I must go.” There rose in her the vague idea of giving Evelyn a drink, a cup of tea or a sherry or a glass of water — something of that material and liquid joy. And perhaps she ought to let Evelyn talk a little, and perhaps she herself ought to pay more serious attention to Evelyn’s talk. Talk would not have checked the death — light, but if she could be a kind of frame for Evelyn, like the frame to which she had held or by which she had been held — perhaps Evelyn could rest there a little. Or perhaps — but Evelyn had first to be found. The finding of Betty had been like nothing she could ever have dreamed; might not the finding of Evelyn be too? There was a word, if she could only remember it for what she wanted — what she was thinking — now. Richard would know; she would ask Richard — after the million years. Compensation? no; recovery? no; salvation — something of all that sort of thing, for her and Betty and Evelyn, and all. She had better get on with it first and think about it afterwards.
They were silent — so to call it — while Betty finished dressing. Then Betty said: “Well now, shall I come with you?”
“Certainly not,” said Lester. “You go down to your Jonathan. And if, by any chance, you should see Richard, give him my love.” The commonplace phrase was weighted with meaning as it left her lips; in that air, it signified no mere message but an actual deed — a rich gift of another’s love to another, a third party transaction in which all parties were blessed even now in the foretaste.
Betty said: “I wish you could come. Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to? I shouldn’t mind Evelyn a bit now, if she wanted to talk to me.”
“No,” said Lester, “I don’t suppose you would. But I don’t think it would be a terrifically good idea for Evelyn — yet, anyhow. No; you go on. And don’t forget me, if you can help it.”
Betty opened her eyes. She said, as Lester had said earlier, the sweet reminders interchanging joy: “Here?”
“No,” Lester said. “I know, but it’s all a little new still. And . . . Oh!”
The cry was startled out of her. Before Betty had begun dressing, she had pulled the curtains and put out the light. Lester had so turned that she was now facing the window, and there, within or without, looking at her, was Evelyn — an Evelyn whom Lester hardly recognized. She knew rather than saw that it was the girl she had once called her friend. The staring eyes that met hers communicated that, but in those eyes was the same death — light that had crept about her own feet. It was indeed so; the torment of twisted space was but the sign and result of a soul that was driven to obey because it had no energy within itself, nor any choice of obedience. Lester was by her at once; the speed of her movement depended now chiefly on her will. She disappeared in that second from Betty’s sight. She threw out her hands and caught Evelyn’s arms; the dead and living could not’touch, but the dead could still seem to touch the dead. She cried out: “Oh Evelyn, my dear! ”
Evelyn was mouthing something, but Lester could not hear what she was saying. That however was because Evelyn was not talking to her at all, but to the Clerk. She was saying: “I can see Lester; she’s got hold of me. I can’t see Betty.”
The Clerk said: “Speak to her. Ask her what she’s doing. Ask her to come away with you.”
“Evelyn!” Lester exclaimed. “Evelyn! What’s happening? Come with me.” She spoke without any clear intention; she had no idea what she could do, but the sense of belonging to some great whole was upon her, and she trusted to its direction. It could save this tortured form as it had saved her.
Evelyn answered, as she had been told: “Lester, what have you been doing?” But these words, instead of gaining significance, had lost it; they emerged almost imbecilely.
“I,” said Lester, astonished. “I’ve been — ” She stopped. She could not possibly explain, if indeed she knew., She went on “-putting things straight with Betty. But I was coming to you, indeed I was. Come and speak to Betty.” She was aware. by her sharpened sight, that Betty was no longer in the room, and added: “She’ll be back soon.”
Evelyn, her eyes wandering round the room, said gasping: “I don’t want to stop. Come with me.”
Lester hesitated. She was willing to do anything she could, but she never had trusted Evelyn’s judgement on earth, and she did not feel any more inclined to trust it now. Nor, especially since she had seen Evelyn’s face turned on her at the bottom of the hill, and heard Evelyn’s voice outside the house, did she altogether care to think into what holes and corners of the City Evelyn’s taste might lead them. There was, she knew, in those streets someone who looked like a god and yet had loosed that death — light which had crept round her feet and now shone in Evelyn’s eyes. She was not afraid, but she did not wish, unless she must, to be mixed up with obscenity. Her natural pride had lost itself, but a certain heavenly fastidiousness still characterized her. Even in paradise she preserved one note of goodness rather than another. Yet when she looked at that distressed face, her fastidiousness vanished. If she could be to Evelyn something of what Betty had been to her —? She said: “Do you want me?”
“Oh yes, yes!” the gasping voice said. “Only you. Do come.”
Lester released her hold, but as she did so, two grasping hands went up and fastened on hers. They gave a feeble jerk, which Lester easily resisted, or indeed hardly had to resist. She had once disliked coming into this house; now, at the moment of new choice, she disliked leaving it. Her only friend in the new life was in it. But she could not refuse the courtesies of this London to her acquaintance in an earlier London. She gave a small sigh and relaxed her will. She moved.
Her relaxed will took her where Evelyn would, but at her own speed and in her own manner. She was aware of the space she covered but not of the time, for she took no more time than Evelyn did to turn herself back on the steps of the Clerk’s chair. Not only space but time spread out around her as she went, She saw a glowing and glimmering City, of which the life was visible as a roseal wonder within. The streets of it were first the streets of today, full of the business of todayshops, transport, men and women, for she was now confirmed that not alone in the house she had left did that rich human life go on, It was truly there, even if (except through that house) she had no present concern with it. The dreadful silence she had known after death was no longer there; the faint sound of traffic, so common but oh so uncommon, came to her. It was London known again and anew. Then, gently opening, she saw among those streets other streets.. She had seen them in pictures, but now she did not think of pictures, for these were certainly the streets themselves — another London, say — other Londons, into which her own London opened or with which it was intermingled. No thought of confusion crossed her mind; it was all very greatly ordered, and when down a’ long street she saw, beyond the affairs of today, the movement of sedan chairs and ancient dresses, and beyond them again, right in the distance and yet very close to her, the sun shining on armour, and sometimes a high battlemented gate, it was no phantasmagoria of a dream but precise actuality. She was (though she did not find the phrase) looking along time. Once or twice she thought she saw other streets, unrecognizable, with odd buildings and men and women in strange clothes. But these were rare glimpses and less clear, as if the future of that City only occasionally showed. Beyond all these streets, or sometimes for a moment seen in their midst, was forest and the gleam of marshland, and here and there a river, and once across one such river a rude bridge, and once again a village of huts and men in skins. As she came down towards what was to her day the centre of the City, there was indeed a moment when all houses and streets vanished and the forests rose all round her, and she was going down a rough causeway among the trees, for this was the place of London before London had begun to be, or perhaps after its long and noble history had ceased to be, and the trees grew over it, and a few late tribes still trod what remained of the old roads. That great town in this spiritual exposition of its glory, did not omit any circumstances of its building in time and space — not even the very site upon which its blessed tale was sufficiently reared.
It was not for her yet to know the greater mystery. That waited her growth in grace, and the enlargement of her proper faculties in due time. Yet all she saw, and did not quite wonder at seeing, was but a small part of the whole. There around her lay not only London, but all cities — coincident yet each distinct; or else, in another mode, lying by each other as the districts of one city lie. She could, had the time and her occasions permitted, have gone to any she chose — any time and place that men had occupied or would occupy. There was no huge metropolis in which she would have been lost, and no single village which would itself have been lost in all that contemporaneous mass. In this City lay all — London and New York, Athens and Chicago, Paris and Rome and Jerusalem; it was that to which they led in the lives of their citizens. When her time came, she would know what lay behind the high empty faqades of her early experience of death; it was necessary that she should first have been compelled to linger among those faqades, for till she had waited there and till she had known the first grace of a past redeemed into love, she could not bear even a passing glimpse of that civil vitality. For here citizenship meant relationship and knew it; its citizens lived new acts or lived the old at will. What on earth is only in the happiest moments of friendship or love was now normal. Lester’s new friendship with Betty was but the merest flicker, but it was that flicker which now carried her soul.
The passage ended. Lester, exhilarated by the swiftness and the spectacle of the journey, stood in the yard, outside the hall.
And Evelyn, on the steps of the chair, had been able to turn and felt the agonized rigour relax. The cramps of her spirit were eased. She stood up; she ran very fast, under the eyes of her master and under the shadow of his lifted hand, and came to Lester who, coming by an easier and longer way, became again aware of her, as she had not been on the way. Evelyn’s face was still a little set, but the hard glaring misery was gone. Evelyn smiled at her; at least her face jerked; she, like the other inhabitants of that house, bore Simon’s mark in her body. Lester looked away; it seemed to her more courteous not to meet what she privately regarded as an unspeakable grimace. But then Lester’s standard for smiles had been, that day, considerably raised.
She said, looking round her at the yard and then through the window, and speaking more pleasantly than ever in this world she had spoken to Evelyn, but firmly: “What do you want me to do here? If”, she added, still pleasantly, “you do want me to do anything.”
Evelyn said: “He does. Come in. “ Her voice was stronger and more urgent; she tried again to pull Lester on. She had no power on the other; her pull was no more than a poor indication of what she wanted. Lester, having come so far, consented. She moved forward with Evelyn through the wall. She saw Simon and recognized him at once. He was no more a portent to her; the falling away of the death — light had taken from him something of his apparent majesty, and a kind of need and even peevishness showed in his face. He himself did not see her now — not even her eyes as he had done in the hall of the house. But Evelyn’s manner told him that she was there. The link between them was Evelyn; on her depended the abolition of that obstacle.
But there was only one way of action. Had the Clerk himself been able to enter that other world of pattern and equipoise, of swift principles as of tender means, he might conceivably have been able to use better means. But he never had done, and there remained now the necessity of setting up a permanent earthly and magical link which he could control. He supposed, since he thought in those terms, that the coming of this Lester with Evelyn meant that Evelyn had some sort of hold on Lester, and not at all that Lester had merely come. He who babbled of love knew nothing of love. It was why he had never known anything of the Betty who had sprung from the lake, if lake it was, that lay in the midst of that great City, as if in the picture which Jonathan had painted the shadow of the cathedral had looked rather like water than mass, and yet (as always) light rather than water. It lay there, mysterious and hidden; only, as if from sources in that world as in this, the Thames and all rivers rose and flowed and fell to the sea, and the sea itself spread and on it vessels passed, and the traffic of continents carried news of mightier hidden continents; no ship laden in foreign ports or carrying merchandise to foreign ports but exhibited passage and the principle of passage, since passage was first decreed to the creation. Simon to turn that passage back upon itself? to turn back speech which was another form of that passage? let him first master the words of three girls, and drive them as he would.
He heard Evelyn say, as she came into the hall: “Here she is.” He knew what had to be done and set himself to do it — to erect the material trap and magical link between himself and one dead girl that she might drag the other in. Let both be caught! The destroying anti-Tetragrammaton was not to be used for that, but there were lesser spells which deflected primeval currents. He stood upright; he set his deep fierce eyes on Evelyn; he began almost inaudibly to hum. The unseen motes in the air — and lesser points of matter than they — responded. After he had hummed awhile, he ceased and spat. The spittle lay on the floor at Evelyn’s apparent feet, and was immediately covered by a film of almost invisible dust. The motes were drawn to it. Faint but real, a small cloud gathered against the floor.
He sighed. He drew in air, and bending towards the cloud which now stood up like a tiny pyramid he exhaled the air towards it. He reached his hands down towards the dust, and in the midst of his sighs he spat again. As his spittle fell on the dust, the pyramid thickened and became more solid. With a curious small whistling sound, as of air rushing through a narrow channel, the heap of dust enlarged and grew. There hung above it in that hall another sound as small as the whistling — the echo of a longing voice. It said: “Oh! Oh! a place for me?” and the Clerk’s voice — was it a voice? to Lester, as now she heard the faint exchange it seemed no more than a nere lifting wave of the moon when the thinnest cloud obscures and reveals it — answered: “For you; for you.” She herself was not permitted, or did not desire, then to speak; she was troubled faintly in her heart as that lifting wave came to her. Her own sins had not been of that kind; disordered in love, she had still always known that love was only love. She did not understand what was going on; only there was something disagreeable in that sign and countersign of agreement — “For me?” “For you.” The Clerk stretched down his hands again, but now as if he sheltered the early flicker of a fire, and immediately the fire was there.
It came from his palms. It was not fire but an imitation of fire. The palms themselves gave no sign of it, and even through the seeming flames showed no reddening from the heat. The fire itself was pallid; it had no strength, but the flames darted down and hovered round the dust. They ran over it and clung to it, and as he encouraged them with mimetic movements of his hands, they sank deeper and were absorbed. As if their movement was communicated, the dust itself rose in sudden gushes and fell again, but each time the heap was larger than before. It was now about six inches high, and had grown more like a column than a pyramid. It was waving to and fro, as a single unbranched plant might, and the whistling came from it, as if a dying man were trying to breathe. The whistling was thin, but so was the plant, if it were a plant, which it was not, for it was still dust, even if organic dust. It was vaguely swaying and waving itself about, as if in search of something it had no means of finding, and the pallid fire played about it as it sought. Simon’s heavy sighs exhaled above it and his hands shielded it, though (to Lester’s apprehension) there was a great, almost an infinite, distance between those palms and it, as if she saw something of a different kind that was without relation to the place in which it stood. Suddenly for the third time the Clerk spat on it and this time it grew at once higher by almost another six inches, and its movement became more defined though no more successful. It was now certainly feeling out with its summit — with what would have been its head, but it had no head. The fire was absorbed into it, and disappeared; and as it did so the whole small column from being dust became a kind of sponge — like substance, an underwater growth. It began to try and keep a difficult balance, for it seemed to be slipping and sliding on the floor and by throwing itself one way and another just not falling. The thin whistling grew spasmodic, as if it had got some of its channels free, and was only here and there obstructed; and as the whistling ceased, so did the heavy breathing of the Clerk. He began to rise slowly from the position in which, like a witch-doctor, he had been half-crouching; but he did so in sudden jerks, and as he did so the spongy growth in sudden jerks followed him and grew.
With its first jerk there came another change. For the jerk was not only an upward movement, adding perhaps another three inches to its height, but also interior, as if the sponge shook itself and settled. It now stood more firmly, and with the next one or two similar movements it took on the appearance of a rudimentary human body. It was developing from its centre, for its feet and head were not visible, but only a something against its sides that might have been arms, and a division that might have been between its upper legs, and two faint swellings that might have been breasts. Soon, however, the arms did move outward, though they immediately fell, and below the centre the thing split into two stumps, on which, each in turn, it soundlessly stamped. It was now throwing its upper end violently about, as if to free itself from its own heaviness) but it failed and subsided into a continual tremor. With this tremor, its sponginess began in patches to disappear, and give place to some sort of smooth pale-yellowish substance, which presently had spread so far that it was the sponginess which grew on it in patches. Thus there stood now on the floor the rough form of a woman, a little under two feet high, and with the head gradually forming. The face, as far as it emerged, had no character; the whole thing was more like a living india-rubber doll than anything else, but then it did live. It was breathing and moving, and it had hair of a sort, though at present (as with such a doll) rather part of the formation of its head. It lifted its hands, as if to look at them, but its eyes were not yet formed, and it dropped them again; and then it seemed to listen, but though its ears were almost there, it could not hear — and indeed the only sound it could have heard was Simon’s breathing, and that would only just have been audible even to a human ear.
Lester, as she watched, was a little surprised to find that the living doll was not more disgusting to her. It was faintly repellent, as an actual doll might be if it were peculiarly deformed or ugly. She disliked the spongy patches and the deadness of the apparent skin, but she could not feel strongly about it; not so strongly as Jonathan would have felt about a bad painting. She had a mild impulse to pick it up and put it right-pull and pat and order it, but she did not wish to touch it; and anyhow she did not know why it was there, nor why beside her she was aware that Evelyn was looking at it with such intensity, and even giving what seemed little squeals of pleasure as it grew. Indeed, Evelyn presently gave a quick forward movement, as if she were about to rush to the doll. She was checked by the Clerk’s voice.
He said: “Wait. It’s too cold.” The fire was still pallid in the interior of his hands, and now he breathed on them as if to blow it into life, and it grew round each hand as if he had put on gloves of pale light, a light more like that of the false Tetragrammaton but not so deathly. With his hands thus encased, he took up the manikin between them and handled and dandled and warmed and seemed to encourage it, whispering to it, and once or twice holding it up above his head, as a father might his child, and as it turned its head, now grown, and looked over its shoulder, the girls saw that its eyes were open and bright, though meaningless. They saw also that it was longer and now nearly three feet in height, but it seemed to have no more weight, for still he cherished and caressed it, and held it out standing on one hand, as if it were no more than a shell. But that ended his play with it. He set it again on the floor, struck his hands together — as if to break the fire from them, and indeed the pale fire flew in sparks around him and about the hall, and his hands were clear of it. He looked at Evelyn, and said: “That is for you and your friend.”
Evelyn’s answer was heard both by him and Lester. She said: “Both of us?”
Simon answered: “You’ll find the sharing of it better than most things. It’s something for you to get into. It’ll grow when you do, and you can go about in it. It will shelter you, and you will find presently you’ll be able to talk to it, and it will understand better than anyone else, and answer you as you want. It won’t need food or drink or sleep unless you choose. If I call you out of it sometimes, I’ll always send you back, and if I call you it will be to get the woman you want,”
Evelyn said: “Can’t I have it for myself?” The Clerk slowly shook his head. He looked sideways at the motionless Lester. In what now seemed a dim air, Lester was not easily seen; unless the truth was that, even then, even in her attention, she was already farther away. Emboldened by that remoteness, Evelyn said, in what was meant to be a whisper and came out as a croak, almost as if the dwarf — woman (could she yet speak) might have spoken, in a sub-human voice: “ Must she come?” The Clerk said: “If you are to go, she must.” But the hall grew colder as he spoke, so that Evelyn felt it and shivered, and turned to Lester with a desperate and yet feeble ferocity. The dwarf — woman seemed to her now her only hope, a refuge from the emptiness and the threats, a shelter from enmity and cold, and if presently she could get Betty into it to be victimized, she would be, she thought, content. So she tried to catch at Lester’s hand and succeeded, for Lester left it to her. She had, half-unconsciously, withdrawn herself from that short dialogue with a pure and grave disdain; whatever these others were talking of she refused to overhear. Had the hand that now clutched at her held any friendship or love, she would have felt it in her spirit and responded, or to any need. But this was rather greed than need, and yet its touch was now not even inconvenient to her. The beginnings of heaven are not so troubled. Only with the touch, she knew at once what Evelyn wanted, and she said gently: “I wouldn’t go, Evelyn.”
Evelyn said: “Oh I must. Do come, Lester. It can’t hurt you.” Lester unexpectedly laughed. It was years since anyone had laughed in that hall, and now the sound, though low, was so rich and free, it so ran and filled the hall, that Evelyn gave a small scream, and the Clerk turned his head sharply this way and that, and even the dwarf — woman seemed to gaze more intently before her, with unseeing eyes. “No,” Lester said, “I don’t think it can. But it mayn’t be too good for you.”
Evelyn answered peevishly: “I wish you wouldn’t laugh like that! And I want it. Do come. I’ve done enough things because you wanted them; you might just do this. Lester, please! I— won’t ask you for anything else. I swear I won’t.”
The echo of the laughter, which still seemed to sound, was cut off suddenly, as if in a sudden silence all there and all beyond heard her oath. The Clerk’s constriction showed in his face, and Lester, though she did not altogether realize that the silly human phrase was now taken at its precise meaning, shuddered. If it had been but silliness, it might not have passed beyond the visionary facades of the City, but it was not. It was greed and clamorous demand, and it swept into the City’s courts and high places and was sealed with its own desire. Lester said, almost as if, unknowing, she tried to forestall that sealing: ‘Come back with me. Come to Betty or your mother. Let’s —” She saw the fixed immortality in Evelyn’s eyes and ceased. Evelyn pulled at her, and looked back at Simon, as if she were asking him to help. He did what he could. He knew he had no direct power on this alien spiritual thing until he could get into contact with it; and that, since he had been checked in the previous clash, he could only do now by a plausibility. He said, as if uttering some maxim of great wisdom: “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Lester heard him. At that moment, doubtful of her duty, the maxim was greater than the speaker. She was not particularly aware of loving Evelyn, but she acknowledged her duty. The inconvenience of plunging with Evelyn wherever Evelyn wished to plunge was a little tiresome — no more. She felt as Betty had done when Lester insisted on recalling the past — that it was a pity to waste so much time. The lifting lightness of her new life looked ruefully at the magical shape of the dwarf — woman; her fledgeling energy desired a freer scope. But there seemed to be no other way. She thought of Richard; she thought of Betty; she sighed — a small sigh, but a sigh. She thought of Evelyn’s tormented face, and the sigh ceased. She said suddenly, with one of those bursts of inspiration which are apt to possess noble and passionate hearts: “You’d be wiser to say that the fulfilling of the law is love.” She had spoken, as it were, inta the void, but then she went on to Evelyn: “Very well, if you want me to. But you’d be wiser — I’m sure you’d be wiser — to come away.”
Evelyn did not answer. There was a pause of suspension in the whole hall. Then the dwarf — woman took a step forward. Under the Clerk’s eyes, she began again to grow. She shook herself into shape as she did so, putting up her hands and settling her neck and head. There grew out of her smooth dead skin, into which the sponginess had now been wholly absorbed, fresh streaks and patches, ash-coloured, which spread and came together, and presently covered her, and grew loose, and wrapped itself round her like a dull dress. The dwarf pulled it into shape. There stood facing the Clerk, a short rather heavy-looking middle-aged woman, slightly deformed, with one shoulder a little higher than the other and one foot dragging a little, but undoubtedly, to all human eyes, a woman. Her eyes were brighter now, and she seemed both to see and hear.
The Clerk lifted a finger and she stood still. He bent his knee slowly, lowering himself till his face was on a level with hers. He was muttering something as he did so. He put his hands on her thighs, and from her thighs he passed them all over her. When he had finished, he leaned forward and very deliberately kissed her on the mouth. He sealed, so far as he could, a prison for those spirits, who had entered it by their own choice; and he judged he could do it well, for he knew the power that flesh — even impure and magical flesh — has on human souls, especially while they are still unused to that great schism in identity which is death. At first strangers in that other world, they may forget their bodies, but their bodies are their past and part of them and will not be forgotten. So that, sooner or later, these spiritual beings again strongly desire to be healed of their loss and whole. But this they cannot be until the whole of time is known to be redeemed, and when the hunger comes on them the blessed ones endure it smiling and easily, having such good manners that the time is no more to them than an unexpected delay before dinner at a friend’s house.
He believed therefore that as, by proper magical means, a soul could within certain limits of time, be recalled to its body, so this false body might for a time ensnare and hold that other soul which was his enemy. He would have much preferred to operate necromantically on Lester’s own proper body, and if Richard had remained under his influence he would have obtained through him some possession of hers which would have served for the first faint magical link with that body, and so set up a relation between them which might have brought her now corrupting flesh — or perhaps the scattered ashes of her cremated body — into this very hall. But Richard had failed him, and he had no time to take more subtle ways; the danger to his domination of Betty now arising from Jonathan and from Lester was too great. He knew that the government of this world would be driven by popular pressure to make some approach to him, and that in no very long period the fatal meeting with his Types would be forced on him — fatal because though at a distance they might be energized and driven by his will, yet when the three met they must dwindle and fade beside him. And first he must have sent his daughter into the spiritual world. He must be for ever before he could be now. So that altogether time was against him; the first condition of the universe was against him. He was hurried; he had to make haste. Therefore the magical trap; therefore its tossing, as he now proposed, into the ordinariness of earth.
He whispered into the ear of the dwarf — woman, still pressing his hands on it. He and it were now alone in the hall. It could not be said to hear him, but it received his breath. He was now separated from those two other children of earth, and they from him, unless he deliberately called them. He knew that their awareness must be now of and through the body they in some sense inhabited; not that they lived in it as in a place, but that they only knew through it. There was no limit to the number of spiritual beings who could know in that way through one body, for there was not between any of them and it any organic relation. The singleness of true incarnation must always be a mystery to the masters of magic; of that it may be said that the more advanced the magic, the deeper the mystery, for the very nature of magic is opposed to it. Powerful as the lie may be, it is still a lie. Birth and death are alike unknown to it; there is only conjunction and division. But the lie has its own laws. Once even Lester had assented to that manner of knowledge, she must enter the City so. It remained to discover what she could do there.
In the front office of the house, the caretaker Plankin was standing by the door. He saw coming along from the sidepassage a middle-aged woman. She was short and slightly deformed. Her eyes were fixed in front of her, and in spite of a dragging foot she was walking at a fair speed. She went by Plankin without noticing him and on into the street. He though as he watched her: “Ah, the Father hasn’t healed her yet. But he will; he will. He’ll put his mark in her body.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02