Lady Wallingford sat in her drawing-room. Jonathan and Richard were with her, but she did not ask them to sit down,
Jonathan leant on the back of a chair, watching the door. Richard paced up and down. Had Jonathan painted the scene, he might have shown a wilderness, with a small lump of that iron-grey rock in the centre, and near it a couched lion and a pacing leopard. It would have been a vision of principles, and so (even then) Jonathan, at least as the others appeared, took it in. He wondered, as he looked at Lady Wallingford, if she would ever move again; he wondered with what expectation Richard stepped and turned.
Yet it was the memory of something hardly more than an accident which chiefly held the woman rock — rigid in her chair. She knew what Simon proposed, though she did not know how he meant to fulfil his purpose. He had in mind a simpler and cruder thing than any magical dissolution. That had failed; there remained simple murder. She knew that that was what the night was to bring. But she was now only remotely aware of it, for though she no longer felt her body clamped in that frame which had shut on her in the bedroom, yet her anger was almost equally strong and imprisoned her from within. The maid’s words: “Oh she is looking better, isn’t she, my lady?” held her. She was furious that Betty should look better; she was almost more furious that the maid, even deferentially, should comment on it. The obnoxious fact was emphasized in the most obnoxious manner. It is the nature of things intensely felt as obnoxious so to emphasize themselves. She sat raging — immobile in her wilderness.
The maid herself was hovering in the hall. She did not like to stay, in case Lady Wallingford came out and saw her, or to go — in case Lady Wallingford rang for her, in which case the sooner she was there the better for her. She drifted uneasily about the foot of the stairs. Presently she heard above her a door shut. She looked up, Miss Betty was coming down the stairs.
Miss Betty was looking very much better. The maid lingered in admiration. Betty smiled gaily down at her, and the girl smiled shyly back. She ventured to say, with a sense of obscure justification: “You are better, aren’t you, Miss Betty?”
“Much, thank you,” said Betty, and added remorsefully: “I expect I’ve given you a lot of extra work, Nina.”
“Oh no, Miss Betty,” Nina said. “Besides, I’d have liked it. My grandmother used to be with Sir Bartholomew’s mother, so in a way we’re in the family. She was your nurse, Miss Betty.”
Betty stopped on the third stair; then in a leap she was down them, and had caught hold of the girl’s arm. Her face was alight; she exclaimed: “Your grandmother my nurse! Is she alive? where’s she living? Do tell me, Nina.”
Nina, surprised but pleased by this interest, said: “Why, she’s living in London, over in Tooting. I go and see her most weeks.”
Betty drew a deep breath. She said: “Isn’t that marvellous? I want to see her. Can I? can I now?”
“She’d be very pleased if you did, Miss Betty,” Nina said. “Only”, she added more doubtfully, “I don’t know if my lady would like it. I think there was some trouble between grandmother and my lady. She was sent away, I know, but Sir Bartholomew helped her. It’s all a long time ago.”
“Yes,” said Betty — “when I was born and before you were. That’ll be all right. Tell me the address; I’ll explain to my mother. ”
“It’s 59 Upper Clapham Lane,” Nina answered. “It was once her own boarding-house, and then my brother and his wife took it over, only he’s in Austria now. But my grandmother still lives there.”
Betty said: “I shall go today. Thank you, Nina. I’ll see you when I come back.” She released the girl and went on into the drawing-room. She entered it, Jonathan thought, like water with the sun on it; the desert blossomed with the rose. The wild beasts in it were no less dangerous, but she was among them in the friendship and joy of a child. She slipped her hand in Jonathan’s arm, and she said, smiling at them all: “Mother, I’ve just found out where my old nurse lives, and I’m going to see her. Isn’t it marvellous? I’ve so often wanted to.”
“You had better”, said Lady Wallingfbrd’s dead voice, “have lunch here first.”
“Oh need we?” Betty said. “Jonathan, won’t you take me to lunch somewhere, and we could go on?”
“You were going to lunch with me anyhow,” Jonathan said. “We can go anywhere you like afterwards.”
“Do you mind, Mother?” Betty asked. “You see I really am absolutely all right.”
As if the rock itself shifted, Lady Wallingford got to her feet, She would, under her paramour’s instruction and for his sake, have put friendliness into her voice, had it been possible. It was not. She could neither command nor beguile. She said: “When will you be back?”
“Oh to dinner,” said Betty. “May I bring Jonathan back?” “No, thank you very much,” Jonathan said hastily. “I couldn’t to — night. Besides, you’re dining with me, and after that we’ll see. Let’s go.”
“All right,” said Betty. “I’ll ring you up, Mother, and tell you what we decide.”
Jonathan looked at Richard. “What are you doing?” he asked.
Richard came lightly forward. He said to Lady Wallingford: “I’ve intruded quite long enough. It’s been quite unforgivable, and I don’t suppose you mean to forgive me, which would save us both trouble. Goodbye, and thank you so much. I’m glad that Betty is better, and that Sir Bartholomew will soon be back.”
Betty exclaimed, and Lady Wallingford, still in that dead voice, said: “How do you know?”
“Oh the Foreign Office!” Richard said vaguely. “One can pick things up. Goodbye, Lady Wallingford, and thank you again. Come, children, or we shall get no lunch.”
But once outside the house, he disengaged himself He sent off the two lovers and himself went on his way to his own flat. They, after the parting, went to lunch and the exchange of histories. Time was before them, and they had no need to hurry their understanding. After lunch they set out on their way to discover 59 Upper Clapham Lane. It was a largish respectable house, in reasonably good condition. Jonathan, as they looked at it, said: “Is everything brighter? or is it only being with you that makes me think so?-even than it was this morning?”
Betty pressed his arm. She said: “Everything’s always as bright as it can be, and yet everything’s getting brighter. Unless, of course, it’s dark.”
Jonathan shook his head. “Why,” he said, “you should be able to see better than I— why you should have more plain observation and common understanding than I— well, never mind! Let’s ring.”
Presently they found themselves in Mrs. Plumstead’s suite; she made it seem that by the way she welcomed them. She was a charming old lady, who was extremely touched and pleased by the unexpected appearance of Betty. She managed to treat it as at once an honour conferred and a matter of course, and made no allusion to the long separation. She did however with an awful aloofness once or twice allude to the parting between herself and Lady Wallingford, saying with an iciness equal to Lady Wallingford’s: “I didn’t suit my lady.” Jonathan said, in answer: “You seem to have suited Betty very well, Mrs. Plumstead,” and added ambiguously: “Without you she couldn’t have been what she is.”
Mrs. Plumstead, sitting upright, said: “No,; my lady and me — we did not suit. But there’s a thing that’s been on my mind, my dear, all these years, and I think I ought to tell you. I’m free to say that I was younger then and apt to take things on myself, which I wouldn’t do now, for I don’t think it was quite proper. Her ladyship and I did not see eye to eye, but after all she was your mother, my dear, and no doubt meant you well. And if it was to be done again, perhaps I would not do it.”
Jonathan thought that Mrs. Plumstead at that moment might have passed for Queen Elizabeth pronouncing upon the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. And then he forgot such literary fancies in the recollection of Betty’s other life, and of the lake of which at lunch she had told him, and the high sky and the wise water and all the lordly dream, if it were a dream. Betty was leaning forward now, and gazing intently at the old lady. She said: “Yes, nurse?”
“Well, my dear,” the old nurse went on, and ever so faintly blushed, “as I say, I was younger then, and in a way I was in charge of you, and I was a little too fond of my own way, and very obstinate in some things. And now I do not think it right. But you were such a dear little thing, and I did once mention it to my lady, but she was very putting-off, and only said: ‘Pray, nurse, do not interfere’-her ladyship and I never suited — and I ought to have left it at that, I do think now, but I was obstinate, and then you were such a dear little thing, and it did seem such a shame, and so — ” the old nurse said, unaware of the intensity of the silence in the room — “well, I christened you myself.”
Betty’s voice, like the rush of some waterfall in a river, answered: “It was sweet of you, nurse.”
“No; it wasn’t right,” Mrs. Plumstead said. “But there it is. For I thought then that harm it couldn’t do you, and good it might — besides getting back on her ladyship: Oh I was a wicked woman — and one afternoon in the nursery I got the water and I prayed God to bless it, though I don’t know now how I dared, and I marked you with it, and said the Holy Name, and I thought: ‘Well, I can’t get the poor dear godfathers and godmothers, but the Holy Ghost’ll be her godfather and I’ll do what I can.’ And so I would have done, only soon after her ladyship and I didn’t suit. But that’s what happened, and you ought to know now you’re a grown woman and likely to be married and have babies of your own.”
Betty said: “So it was you who lifted me out of the lake!” Jonathan thought that Lady Wallingford’s behaviour to her servants had been, on the whole, unfortunate. She had never credited the nurse she employed with such piety, decision, and courage (or obstinacy, if you preferred the word). And now as in some tales Merlin had by the same Rite issued from the womb in which he hadbeen mysteriously conceived, so this child of magic had been after birth saved from magic by a mystery beyond magic. The natural affection of this woman and her grand — daughter had in fact dispelled the shadows of giant schemes. And this then was what that strange Rite called baptism was — a state of being of which water was the material identity, a life rippling and translucent with joy.
Betty had stood up, and was kissing her nurse. She said: “Goodbye, nurse. We’ll come again soon, Jon and I. And never be sorry; some day I’ll tell you how fortunate it was.” She added, quite naturally: “Bless me, now.”
“God bless you, my dear,” the old woman said. “And Mr. Drayton too, if I may take the liberty. And make you both very happy. And thank you for saying it was all right.”
When they were outside the house, Betty said: “So that’s how it was! But . . . Jon, you must tell me about it — what it’s supposed to be.”
Jonathan said grimly: “I don’t know that you’ll be much better off for my explaining. After all, it’s you that are happening. I’m not sure that I’m not a little scared of you, darling.”
“I’m not sure that I’m not a little scared myself,” said Betty seriously. “Not badly, but a little. It’s mixed up with discovering that you’re really you — wonderful, darling, but rather terrifying. Let’s go and look at your pictures, shall we? I’ve never yet looked at any of them properly, and yesterday I was shaking with fear of my mother. I don’t mind her now at all.”
“Anything,” said Jonathan, “that pleases you pleases me. And God send that that shall be true until we die — and perhaps he will. Let’s take a taxi. That’s one great advantage of being engaged — one always has a perfectly good reason for taking taxis. All these things are added to one.”
They spent some time in his room looking at various paintings, before Betty allowed herself to look at those two which still stood on their respective easels. She lingered for a long time before that of the City-in-light, and Jonathan saw her eyes fill with tears. He caught her hand and kissed it. She went close to him. She said: “I am a little scared, dearest. I’m not ready for it yet.”
Jonathan said, holding her: “You’re ready for much more than a painting . . . even if the colours have really become colours.”
“It’s terribly like a fact,” Betty said. “I love it. I love you. But I’m not very intelligent, and I’ve got a lot to learn. Jon, you must help me.”
Jonathan said only: “I’ll paint you next. By the lake. Or no — I’ll paint you, and all the lake living in you. It shall be quite fathomless, and these”-he kissed her hands again — “are its shores. Everything I’ve done is only prentice work — even these things. I don’t much want to keep them any more.”
“I’d just as soon you didn’t keep the other one,” Betty said. “Could you bear not to? I don’t really mind, but it’s rather horrid to have about — now.”
“I could quite easily bear to get rid of it,” Jonathan answered. “What shall we do with it? Give it to the nation? as from Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Drayton on their wedding. publicity, and all that.”
“Ye-es,” said Betty doubtfully. “I don’t think I want the nation to have it. It seems rather rude to give the nation what we don’t want.”
“What you don’t want,” Jonathan corrected. “Myself, I think it’s one of the better examples of my Early Middle Period. You must learn to think in terms of your husband’s biography, darling. But if we’re not to keep it and not to give it to the nation, what shall we do with it? Give it to Simon?”
Betty looked at him, a little startled: then, as they gazed, they each began to smile, and Jonathan went on: “Well, why not? He’s the only one who’s really liked it. Your mother certainly doesn’t, and you don’t, and I don’t, and Richard doesn’t. That’s what we’ll do. We’ll take it down to Holborn and leave it for him. Betty, you won’t go back to Highgate to — night?”
“Not if you don’t want me to,” said Betty. “Only I’ve got nothing with me, so I don’t see how I can go to a hotel, even if we could find a room. And I don’t at all mind going back.”
“No, but I mind,” Jonathan said, seriously. “To be honest, I don’t think Simon’s going to leave it at this. I’m not particularly bothered at the moment, because after what’s happened I don’t believe he’s a chance. I think Almighty God has him in hand. But I’d like, as a personal concession, to have you under my eye. There’s my aunt at Godalming. Or there’s here. Or, of course, there’s Richard’s place. That’s an idea, if he didn’t mind; it’s more fitted out for a woman.”
Betty said: “It would be very nice of Lester.” She did not know what Lester was now doing, but in that young and heavenly hero — worship which in heaven is always prejustified by fact and is one mode of the communion of saints, she was convinced that Lester was engaged on some great and good work. She was even willing in a modest candour to presume on Lester’s goodwill. But instinctively she put forward her own. She said: “And anyhow, Jon, I was going to ask if we mightn’t get Richard to come with us to dinner somewhere.”
“I’d thought of that myself,” said Jonathan. “We might; we most certainly might. I’d hardly met his wife, but she seemed a good sort — even before all that you told me.”
“Oh she’s a marvel,” Betty exclaimed. “She’s . . . she’s like the light in that picture — and very nearly like you.” Jonathan looked at the City on the canvas. He said: “If I’m going to start serious work, and if we’re giving Simon his picture, and if you feel like that about her — and if Richard would care for it, do you think we might offer him this? Unless you’d prefer to keep it?-as, of course, I should.”
Betty opened her eyes. She said: “I think it’s a marvellous idea. Jon, would you? I’d always wanted to give Lester something, but I never could, and if you’d give them this, it’d be perfect. If they’d take it.”
“If they —!” said Jonathan. “My girl, do you happen to realize that this is, to date, my best work? Are you suggesting that any decent celestialness wouldn’t be respectful?”
Betty, and all the air about her, laughed. She said demurely: “She mightn’t know much about paintings, and she mightn’t think them important — even yours.”
“I’m not so sure that you do yourself,” Jonathan said. But his lady protested anxiously: “Oh I do, Jon: well, in a way I do. Of course, I shall understand better presently.”
Jonathan abruptly interrupted. “You’re entirely right,” he said. “But as and while I’m here, it’s my job. We will ask Richard if he’d like it, and we’ll ask him to dinner so as to ask him, and then we’ll ask him if we can all sleep at his place — and on the way there we’ll drop the other thing in on Simon. Come and help me telephone.”
When he left the others Richard had returned to his flat. There he just managed to get to bed before he went to sleep. It was well into the afternoon before he woke, and woke more refreshed and serene than, as he lay there pleasantly aware of it, he could ever remember having felt in his life before, or at least not since he had been a very small child. This freshness and energy reminded him of that. He had no sense of nostalgia; he did not in the least wish to be small again and a child, but he could almost have believed he was now as happy as he remembered he had sometimes been then. An arch of happiness joined the then and the now, an arch he ought to have known all the time, under which or even in which he ought to have lived. It was somehow his fault that he had not, and yet it had never been there or but rarely. If this was life, he had somehow missed life, in spite of the fact that he had on the whole had a very pleasant and agreeable life. There was a great difference between what he had known and what he ought to have known. And yet he did not see how he could have known it.
When he got up, he found himself amused and touched by his own physical resilience. As he moved about the room, he misquoted to himself. “And I might almost say my body thought”; and then his mind turned to that other body which had meant so much to him, and he drifted aloud into other lines:
Whose speech Truth knows not from her thought Nor Love her body from her soul.
He had never before so clearly understood that sense of Lester as now when that second line must be rationally untrue. But his sleep had restored to him something he had once had and had lost — something deeper even than Lester, something that lay at the root of all magic, that the body was itself integral to spirit. He had in his time talked a good deal about anthropomorphism, and now he realized that anthropomorphism was but one dialect of divine truth. The high thing which was now in his mind, the body that had walked and lain by his, was itself celestial and divine. Body? it was no more merely body than soul was merely soul; it was only visible Lester.
His mind turned again to that house by Holborn. He thought of it, after his sleep, as a nightmare to which he need not return unless, for any reason, he chose. In the sleep from which he had come there could be no nightmares. They were possible only to his waking life, and sometimes from that cast back into the joy of sleep. He drew a deep breath. Simon was only an accident of a life that had not learned to live under that arch of happiness. It was astonishing how, this way, Simon dwindled. That last moment when something disagreeable had floated in at the window of the hall, some remote frigid exchange between imbeciles, was still repugnant to him. But now it was at a distance; it did not even distress him. What did distress him, as it crept back into his mind, was a memory of himself in the street outside the house, of his indulgent self. This unfortunately was no nightmare. He had, in that distant Berkshire wood, been just so; he had been kind to his wife. She (whatever her faults) had never been like that to him; she had never been dispassionately considerate. But he — he undoubtedly had. His new serenity all but vanished, and he all but threw his hairbrush at his face in the mirror, as he thought of it. But his new energy compelled him to refrain and to confront the face, which, as he looked at it, seemed to bear the impress of love behaving itself very unseemly. Her love had never borne that mark. Rash, violent, angry, as she might have been, egotistic in her nature as he, yet her love had been sealed always to another and not to herself. She was never the slave of the false luxuria. When she had served him — how often! — she had not done it from kindness or unselfishness; it had been because she wished what he wished and was his servant to what he desired. Kindness, patience, forbearance, were not enough; he had had them, but she had had love. He must find what she had — another kind of life. All these years, since he had been that eager child, he had grown the wrong way, in the wrong kind of life. Yet how to have done other? how to have learnt, as she had learnt the language without which he could not, except for a conceded moment, speak to the imperial otherness of her glory? He must, it seemed, be born all over again.
A vague impression that he had heard some such phrase somewhere before passed through him. But it was lost, for as he dwelled on the strange notion of this necessary fact, it was swamped by the recollection of Simon. Not that he was now afraid of Simon’s having any power over Lester. But if there was that newly visioned life, there was also — he had seen it — a creeping death that was abroad in the world. There was something that was not Lester, nor at all like her, issuing from that hideous little hall. Those who lay in that house, once sick, had been healed. Had they? He did not like to think of that healing. He would almost rather have remained unhealed; yes, but then he did not need healing. He thought uneasily of those who, themselves reasonably secure, urge the poor to prefer freedom rather than security. How could he have done it himself — have lived in pain? have perished miserably? Yet the cost of avoiding that was to be lost in the hypnotic mystery of the creeping death: an intolerable, an unforgivable choice! And perhaps, unless someone interfered, Simon would spread his miasma over the world: the nations swaying as he had seen men swaying. If even now — The telephone interrupted him. Answering, he found at the other end a colleague of his at the Foreign Office, who began by asking whether Richard were (as he had said) coming back the next day. Richard said that he was. His colleague intimated that there was a particular reason, and (pressed to say more) asked whether Richard were not acquainted with the activities of a certain Simon the Clerk. Richard began to take an interest.
“Well — no and yes,” he said. “I knew of him, and as it happens since this morning I may be said to know him. Why?”
“Since you’ve been away,” his friend said, “it’s become rather urgent to get into touch with him — unofficially, of course. It’s more and more felt here that if the allied discussions could — could infiltrate through him and the other Popular leaders there might be a better chance of . . . of — ”
“Of peace,” said Richard.
“Well, yes,” his colleague agreed. “They must, all three of them, be remarkable men to have such followings, and there don’t seem, where they go, to be any minorities. . . . What did you say?”
“Nothing, nothing,” said Richard. “No minorities?”
“No — or practically none. And it’ll be in the best interests of the new World Plan that there should be no minorities. So that it’s been hinted that if a kind of — well, not a conference exactly but a sort of meeting could be adumbrated. Someone here thought you knew Simon.”
“I do,” said Richard. “And you want me to — ”
“Well, since you know him,” his colleague answered, “it’d be easy for you to ask him indefinitely, as it were. Could you manage it, d’you think? You can see the kind of thing we want. The fact is that there’s a sort of pressure. Even the Russians are feeling it — and we hear a couple of Chinese armies have gone over complete to their own prophet. So the Government thinks it would rather deal with the three of them together than separately. If we could sound them — ”
Richard was silent. This language was one he very well knew, but now it had a deeper sound than his colleague’s voice could give it. The Foreign Office did not mean badly; it was no more full of “darkness and cruel habitations” than the rest of the world; and when Oxenstierna had complained of the little wisdom with which the world was governed, he had not clearly suggested how anyone was to get more. But if the official governments were beginning to yield to pressure, to take unofficial notice of these world leaders, then those healed bodies behind Holborn must be only a few of a very great number, and those swaying shoulders the heralds of great multitudes of devotion: devotion to what? to the man who had smiled at the dead woman, and claimed to hold Lester at disposal, and knelt in some obscure effort by Betty’s bed, the man to whom the wicked little carved hand pointed. He himself might have been among the worshippers; he owed his salvation to his wife, for it was precisely the irreconcilability of his wife with Simon which had preserved him — and he most unworthy, given up to the social virtues, needing rebirth.
He did not know how great the multitudes were who followed those unreal Two; nor how unreal the Two were. He knew only the reports in the papers, and Simon. He seemed to feel again the light antennae-like touch on his cheek: he saw again the strange painting of the prophet preaching to insects: what insects? His colleague’s voice went on: “Furnival, are you still there? You’d better know that Bodge”-Bodge was the Foreign Secretary — “is giving it his personal attention. He isn’t here today, but he will be tomorrow. Couldn’t you just sound this Father Simon by then?”
Bodge — the Cabinet room — the swaying shoulders and the lifted faces, the backs of the English ministers rising in the air, the corridor down which the nations could go, the window through which the dead had come. He said abruptly: “I don’t know; I can’t say. I’ll be in tomorrow to report. . . . Yes; all right, I’ll see. . . . Oh yes, I understand how urgent it is. . . . No; I don’t promise anything. I’ll come tomorrow. Unless,” he added with a sudden absurd lightening of heart, “unless my wife interferes.”
The magical shape walked slowly along the Embankment. Hours had passed since it had emerged from the hidden place of its making into the streets of London; it had come out not by its own wish, for it could have no wish of its own, but under the compulsion of its lord in his last word, merely going, and anywhere. A poorly dressed, somewhat deformed woman went along the pavement. At first, following its Maker’s preoccupation, it had gone northward, towards the Highgate house. But as that preoccupation grew distant and was slowly lost, since he gave it no further guidance, it presently faltered and stood still, and then began to turn westward. It could not return, for that would be to disobey him; it could not go directly on, for that would be to stress his influence too far. It swung therefore in a wide arc, going always against the sun, and passing so down street after street and alley after alley. Sometimes, but not often, it faulted by taking a blind turning, and had to retrace its steps, but in general, as if it sniffed its way through the lower air, it was wonderfully accurate. But when, in its southward course, it came to the river, it hesitated and did not cross and abruptly turned off towards the east along its own side, and so on, until somewhere by Blackftiars it could see (could it indeed have seen anything at all) the still-lifted cross of St. Paul’s. And there, a little way along Victoria Street, it ceased again and stood still.
It could not, for it was sensitive enough to some things, easily enter within the weight of those charged precincts. It avoided them precisely at the point where, had it been living woman, it might by sight or any other sense, have become conscious of them. So also those departed spirits who were now sealed to it were aware of its surroundings through what would have been its or their senses, had it or they lived. One of them had settled almost happily, to such an existence. Evelyn (to give that spirit still the old name) was content merely to be again generally aware of earth; she did not care about the details. She was listening for its voice, even though at first that voice could only echo her own inaudible soliloquy. Perhaps afterwards it might even answer, and she and it would become an everlasting colloquy, but at the moment it did not. Those who passed it heard a kind of low croak coming from it, but not what it said. What it croaked to itself was a mass of comments and complaints: “But you would think, wouldn’t you?” or “It’s not as if I were asking much” or “I did think you’d understand” or “After all, fair is fair” or “She might” or “He needn’t” or “They could at least” —.. and so on and on through all the sinful and silly imbecilities by which the miserable soul protects itself against fact. If this was Evelyn’s pleasure, this was the pleasure she could have.
But Lester also, for the first time since her death, was aware of what we call the normal world. At first she was conscious of this body as a man is of his own; it was not hers, but it was in that way she knew the dragging foot, the dank palms, the purblind eyes. She knew the spasmodic croakings, as a man may hear his own exclamations. She disliked its neighbourhood, but there was no help for that, and by it alone she was aware of the material universe. So understood, that universe was agreeable to her. She knew and liked the feel of the pavement under the feet; she enjoyed through dim eyes the dull October day, and the heavy sky, and the people, and all the traffic. She seemed to be almost living again, for a little, and by no insistence of her own, in the world she had left.
At first she had not seemed, and had hardly desired, to control this body as it went on its way. She was passive to its haste. But as that haste dwindled, and as it began to circle round its centre, she felt a sense of power. She saw still, as from above, the false body swinging round, and it seemed improper that she herself should be so swung. The full sense of this came to her at almost the moment when that body hesitated by the river under the golden cross of the cathedral. As if from the height of the cross, Lester saw its circling path. There seemed — she almost thought it in human words — no sense in circling round and round Simon; he was no such attractive centre. Indeed, from the height at which she looked down he was no centre at all, except indeed that here and there in the streets she discerned a few forms engaged on precisely that wheeling worship. She knew them by their odd likeness to large beetles walking on their back legs. By an almost unconscious decision she checked the dwarf — woman just as it was about to ‘Move forward again. She said — and she just had to say, or at least to think: “No, no; the other way!” The shape tottered, twisted, and was reluctantly forced round. It began, jerkingly and slowly, but certainly, to retrace its steps along the Embankment. It went as if against a high wind, for it was going with the sun and against all the customs of Goetia. Had it been a living witch of that low kind, it would have resisted more strongly; being what it was, it did but find difficulty in going. But it went on, plodding, croaking, jerking, back towards Westminster.
Of Evelyn, Lester was no longer immediately conscious. The magical form which united them also separated; through it they cohered to each other but could not coinhere. Lester had joined herself to this form for the sake of Evelyn, and Evelyn (so far as she could know) had been promptly removed. In fact, Evelyn no longer wanted her, for Evelyn was concerned only with her own refuge in this false shape, and with her own comfort in it. She did not much care whether it stayed or went, or how or where it went; she cared only that there should be, somewhere in the universe, a voice which, at first repeating, might presently come to respond to, her own. Lester was not unaware of the croaking voice, and justly attributed it to Evelyn, but she saw no reason to stop it. Sounds now came to her through a new kind of silence, a sweet stillness which they did not seem to break; of all the London noises none came so near to breaking it as that croak, but the silence, or perhaps she herself, withdrew a little, and the noise went about below it, as the dwarf — woman plodded below the clouds.
The clouds indeed were heavy in the sky. The river ran equally heavily with the weight of its mirk. A few boats rode on it; the Thames traffic, at this height of its course, had not renewed itself. Lester’s attention turned to it, and the dwarf, folding her arms, paused conformably and leaned on the parapet. The Thames was dirty and messy. Twigs, bits of paper and wood, cords, old boxes drifted on it. Yet to the new-eyed Lester it was not a depressing sight. The dirtiness of the water was, at that particular point, what it should be, and therefore,pleasant enough. The evacuations of the City had their place in the City; how else could the City be the City? Corruption (so to call it) was tolerable, even adequate and proper, even glorious. These things also were facts. They could not be forgotten or lost in fantasy; all that had been, was; all that was, was. A sodden mass of cardboard and paper drifted by, but the soddenness was itself a joy, for this was what happened, and all that happened, in this great material world, was good. The very heaviness of the heavy sky was a wonder, and the unutilitarian expectation of rain a delight.
The river flowed steadily on. Lester saw it, as if through the dwarf’s eyes, and rejoiced. But she was aware that she was at the same time seeing some other movement, within or below it. She was looking down at it also. A single gull, flying wildly up beyond Blackfriars, swooped, wheeled, rose, and was off again down stream. London was great, but that gull’s flight meant the sea. The sea was something other than London or than the Thames. Under the rush of the bird’s flight — seen as once by another river other watchers had seen a dove’s motion skirr and vanish — Lester, looking down, saw in the river the sub-surface currents and streams. Below the exquisitely coloured and moving and busy surface, the river by infinitesimal variations became lucid. On earth men see through lucidity to density, but to her it was as easy to see through density to lucidity. To her now all states of being were beginning to be of their own proper kind, each in itself and in its relationships, and not hampering the vision of others. So the Thames was still the Thames, but within it the infinite gradations of clarity deepened to something else. That other flow sustained and carried the layers of water above it; and as Lester saw it she felt a great desire to discover its source, and even that was mingled with the sudden human recollection that she and Richard had intended one day to set out to find for themselves the first springs of the Thames. So that even here she felt a high, new, strange, and almost bitter longing mingle still with the definite purposes of her past.
She looked — but now no longer from a height above the seagull, but only from her instrument’s eyes on the Embankment — she looked up the river. But now she could not see past the great buildings of the Houses and the Abbey; and even those instituted masses seemed to her to float on that current of liquid beauty. As she looked at them the premonition of a pang took her; a sense of division, as if it was at that point that the lucid river flowed into the earthly river, so that beyond that point the way divided, and the source of the — Thames was one thing and the springs of the sustaining tributary another. At that point or indeed at any; but always the same division at each. She was suddenly afraid. The strong current below the surface scared her. It flowed from under the bridge, cold and frightening, worse than death. The bridge above it where she and Richard had met this time and that was so frail. They had met above the surface Thames, but they had not guessed what truly flowed below — this which was different from and refused all earthly meetings, and all meetings coloured or overlooked by earth. Oh vain, all the meetings vain! “A million years?” not one moment; it had been the cry of a child. Her spiritual consciousness knew and shuddered. She could never exclaim so again; however long she waited, she only waited to be separated, to lose, in the end. The under — river sang as it flowed; all the streets of London were full of that sweet inflexible note — the single note she had heard in Betty’s room, the bed on which she had safely lain. This was it — bed and note and river, the small cold piercing pain of immortal separation.
It passed. The time was not yet, though it was quite certain. The cruel clarity flowed by. She was left with a sense that she had better make the most of the present moment. She had thought she might be of use to Evelyn, but clearly she was not being; all she knew of Evelyn were these spasmodic croaks. What then? something she must do. Betty? Richard? Richard — with this body? She made herself aware of it. It would be revolting to him; it was almost revolting to her, even now, to think of going to her lover in this disguise. Yet if she could —? if they could speak? The shape was not so revolting, for what was it, after all? nothing. Before that great separation came, to take and give pardon and courage . . . if . . .
She was not clear how far she was responsible for what followed. Certainly she acted, but there was a pure precision about the process which surprised and delighted her, so that, had Betty or Richard been there, she could have laughed. She turned in herself again to the contemporary City, and the dwarf — woman, starting up, began again to walk. It came presently opposite Charing Cross Tube Station. There it stopped and turned and looked. Lester knew herself anxious to forewarn, to prepare, her husband; and she thought, not unnaturally, of the telephone, Matter to matter; might not this earthly shape use the things of earth? She did not dichotomize; mechanics were not separate from spirit, nor invention from imagination, nor that from passion. Only not even passion of spirit could create the necessary two pennies. She might be (she thought in a flash) immortally on her way to glory, but she had not got two pennies. She recollected the Good Samaritan who had, and with laughter in her heart she tossed a hand ‘towards that sudden vivid image. She was not like Simon; she could not make two pennies. If she were to have them, someone would have to give them to her. She remembered, but not as a claim, that she too had given pennies in her time.
The dwarf in that pause had leaned again against the parapet. The ordinary traffic of London was going on, but as if Lester’s pause had affected it, there came at the moment a lull and a silence. Through it there toddled slowly along an elderly gentleman, peering through his glasses at an evening paper. Lester, shyly and daringly, moved towards him. She meant to Say: “I beg your pardon, but could you possibly spare me two pennies for the telephone?” But she had not yet control of that false voice, and the croak in which she spoke sounded more like “twopence as a loan”. The elderly gentleman looked up, saw a poor shabby deformed creature staring glassily at him, heard the mumble, and hastily felt in his pocket. He said — and it was mercifully permitted him by the Omnipotence to be on this occasion entirely truthful: “It’s all the change I’ve got. — He raised his hat, in some faint tradition of “brave and ancient things”, and toddled on. The magical body stood holding the pennies in its pseudo-hand, and Lester felt in her that something of a stir in glory which she had felt in seeing Richard’s movements or Betty’s smile. She was made free of adoration.
The dwarf, under her impulse, crossed the road and went into a telephone box. She put the two pennies in the slot and dialled a number. Lester was aware that there was no reply; Richard apparently was not at home. She felt a small pang at the thought of their empty flat; the desolation seemed to be approaching. It was most likely that he was at Jonathan’s. She compelled her instrument to try again. A voice said: ‘Jonathan Drayton speaking.” She caused her instrument to press the button. She said — and now her power was moving so easily in these conditions that something of her own voice dominated the croaking spasms and rang down the telephone: “Mr. Drayton, is Richard there?”
“Hold on,” said Jonathan. “Richard!” For soon after Richard’s conversation with the Foreign Office he had been rung up by Jonathan, and so warmly invited by both the lovers to join them that he had yielded and gone. Presently they were all to go and dine, but until then they had sat together talking and gradually, as far as possible, making clear to each other the mystery in which they moved. Betty showed an ever-quickened desire to get rid of the painting of the Clerk and his congregation; and both she and Jonathan had so pressed the other canvas on Richard that at last he had accepted it. He did so gratefully, for now, after all that he had seen, he found himself even more moved by it, so that at any moment he half-expected to find that he had missed the figure of Lester walking in the midst of it — if that swift and planetary carriage of hers could be called a walk — and even that he himself might find himself not without but within it and meeting her there. And the three of them in the room had begun, uncertainly and with difficulty — even Betty — to speak of the true nature of the streets there represented, when the telephone had rung.
At Jonathan’s call Richard went across and took the receiver. He said: “Richard Furnival”, and then, to his amazement, but not much to his amazement, he heard Lester’s voice. It was interrupted by some kind of croak which he took to be a fault in the instrument, but he heard it say: “Richard!” and at the noble fascination of that familiar sound he answered, not as unsteadily as he feared: “Is it you, darling?” At the other end the dwarf leaned against the side of the box; nothing at either end, to any who saw, seemed in the least unusual. Along the wires the unearthly and earthly voice continued: “Listen, dearest. Presently someone is coming to see you; it’s a short and rather unpleasant woman — at least, that’s what it looks like. But I shall be with her, I hope — I do so hope. Will you be as sweet to me as you can, even if you don’t like it?”
Richard said: “I’ve been all kinds of a fool, I know. But I’ll do anything with you, if I possibly can. Jonathan and Betty are here.”
“That’s all right,” the voice said. It added: “Once more. Before I go, before I give you up. Oh my sweet!”
The voice was so full of serene grief that Richard went cold. He said: “Nothing shall make me give you up. I’ve only just begun to find you.”
“But you will, even if nothing makes you,” the voice said. “It’ll have to be like that. But I’ll come first. Don’t be too distressed about anything. And ask Jonathan to let me in: I’ll speak to you inside. Goodbye. I do love you, Richard.”
A kind of hubbub broke out on the telephone — another voice and the mechanic croaking — and then Lester’s voice, dominating all: “Wait for us. Goodbye,” and he heard the click of the receiver. He held his own a full minute before he slowly put it down. His two friends watched him coming back to them across the room. He said: “Something is coming here -a kind of woman. And Lester. I don’t know anything more. She says she’ll be with it.”
“But–Lester . . . ” Jonathan began.
“If that wasn’t Lester,” Richard said, “you’re not looking at Betty now.”
They both looked at her. She was standing by the window, and beyond her the October darkness was closing in. She said seriously: “Did she sound — disturbed?”
“Not about that,” said Richard. He was silent; then he broke out: “Why isn’t one taught how to be loved? Why isn’t one taught anything?”
Betty said: “Don’t worry, Richard; we can’t be taught till we can learn. I wish Jonathan was going to get as good a wife as yours is. She wasn’t like us; she hardly had to find out how to learn. Jon, take that thing off the easel, won’t you? We’ll get rid of it to — night. Tonight.”
She sounded almost impatient, but only because they had not already acted and the preaching horror was still in the room where they were and Lester was to come. Jonathan went and lifted the canvas. As he laid it face downwards on the table, he said: “Do you know what to — night is? All Hallows’ Eve.”
“A good night”, said Richard, “for anything that has to be done.”
“And a good night”, Betty added, “for Lester to come to us here.”
They fell into silence, and for the time that followed they remained mostly silent. Once Jonathan, muttering something about food, moved, and he and Betty spread a rough meal of bread and cheese and cold scraps and wine. There was not much, but there was enough, and they ate and drank standing, as Israel did while the angels of the Omnipotence were at their work in Egypt. The night was heavy without and the sound of rain. The sense of the crisis was sharp in them, and the expectation of that which came.
Presently the bell rang. They looked at each other. Richard said: “You go, Jonathan; she asked you to.” Jonathan went to the street door and opened it. He saw in the night a short pale-faced woman and stood aside for her to come in. As it did Sol he saw how blank its eyes were, how dead-dull its flesh. Yet he could have believed that, like a paralytic, it tried to recognize him and almost to smile. Neither of them spoke; it knew its way and went before him into the room where the others were.
They watched it come right in; they hardly watched but they heard Jonathan close the room — door. Then Betty said, in a low voice of welcome: “Lester!” She saw, as the others did not, the form of her friend beside this other thing; and yet what she saw, she saw less clearly than before. They were growing away from each other. Lester was bound to pass more wholly into that other world which cannot catch its true and perfect union with this until the resurrection of all the past; the occasional resurrection which then obtained for her was rather purgatorial than paradisal, though sometimes the two were simply one. But Betty also was changing. That free, and (as it were) immaculate, self which had been by high disposition granted her was bound now to take on the conditions of its earthly place and natural heredity. The miracle that had preserved her was over, and she too must be subjected to the tribulations and temptations of common life. As she so drew apart her Vision faded. One evening yet remained, and even now the 1-other form and face were full of cloud.
But she saw her. Richard and Jonathan did not. They looked at that uncouth visitor, its blank struggling gaze, its lank hair, its dropped shoulder, its heavy hanging hands, its dragging foot, its dead flesh, its flopping dress, and could not speak. What had this to do with Lester? Lester herself, could she have felt regret, would in that moment have regretted that she had come. She did not. The Acts that were about to take place saw to that. They would, when the time came, see that she spoke what she had to speak, for she was already assenting to their will. It was why they had, since she had driven her present vehicle away from Charing Cross on the long walk to Jonathan’s flat, quickened their purging. Up Villiers Street, along the Strand and Fleet Street, up Ludgate Hill, along the Old Bailey, they had worked on her. As the magical shape plodded on, its steps growing slower and heavier, through the rain and the dark, they troubled her with a sense of the physical body she had left. At first indeed, as the walk began, she had endured only a great wish that she had again the body as well as the soul of Lester, the body that Richard had loved and for which she had herself felt a small admiration. She wished, if she were to be thus materially before her husband, to give again the hand she had given, to speak to him with the mouth he had kissed. She had no physical desires except to be in his eyes her own physical self. But as she thought of it, she grew disturbed. Her faults, on the whole, had not been physical. Her body had carried no past of fornication or adultery, nor had she therefore mystically to free it from those avenging unions. She had not to disengage her flesh from those other bodies, or to reengage her flesh so that its unions should be redeemed, approved, and holy. Nor had she been given to the other luxurious commitments of the flesh. She had not been particularly lazy or greedy; as bodies go, hers was reasonably pure. As bodies go — but even then? More and more disliking this body to which she was transitorily bound, she more and more came to consider her dealings with her own. All through that long walk, she relived them, and always she ended with this other false disrelish. She again and again began by being conscious of her looks, her energy, her swiftness; again and again she would (except for mere fastidiousness, which was of no account) have tempted others with it, though. not to commit herself; again and again she melted to delicate pleasures and grew dependent on them, and as she did so, she woke to find herself in the end one with this other. It was this false deformed death of which she was proud, with which she tempted, in which she took her delight. Hers was this, or at least no more than this; unless, for again and again in the end the sudden impulse sprang — unless she could still let it be what it had been ordained to be, worthy in its whole physical glory of Betty, of Richard, of the City she felt about her, of all that was unfamiliar to her in the name of God. Her past went with her all that walk; and by the end of the walk her past had taught her this.
Yet, having so thought of herself in humility and serious repentance all the way, it was, when at last she came into Jonathan’s room, of Richard that she thought. She was agonized for what she felt must be his horror if, seeming to be in this shape, she spoke. Betty’s cry of welcome went unnoticed; she was here to speak, and now how could she — how could she — speak? He was staring at — her? no; but at this; and he was her husband; how could she treat her husband so? All the coldnesses and all the angers were but delirium and bitterness of love; she could have helped them perhaps, but now this she could not help, and this was worst of all. She had for a moment a terrible fear that this was they; even that this was she, and that he — Oh he by whom alone in that world she lived — would know that this was she. The silence became a fearful burden to them all. It was Betty who saved them. She broke into action she dashed across the room; she caught Jonathan’s and Richard’s hands. She cried out: “Come over here!”
The relief of her action released them; uncertainly, they obeyed. She pulled them across to the window; she said: “Turn round, both of you; look out there.” She nodded her golden head at the darkness, and to Jonathan it seemed as if a rain of gold drove through the night and vanished. They obeyed her still; one hand on the nearer shoulder of each she held them there. She turned her head over her shoulder; she exclaimed: “Lester, say something to us.” Lester, in a rush of gratitude, did so. She said, it is true, no more than “Hullo!,, but the voice was undoubtedly her voice, and (though no louder than on earth) it filled the room. Jonathan, hearing it, jumped a little. Richard did not; there was, in all the universe, no place in which that voice was not recognizable and good. He answered, with the immediate instinct of something that might yet be love: “Hullo, darling!”
Lester, dallying with peace and half-forgetful of the others, said: “Have I been very long? I’m so sorry.” “Sorry” is a word that means many things; there is in general a friendliness about it, and now it meant all friendliness. “We took such a time.” Her laugh sounded in their ears. “Have you been waiting?”
Betty took her hand off Richard’s shoulder. In the intimacy of those two, her hand was a solecism. Lester’s voice went on: “But I’ve been tiresome so often, darling. I’ve been beastly to you. I— ”
He said: “You’ve never been tiresome,” and she: “No; speak true now, my own. I— ”
He said: “Very well; you have. And what in all the heavens and hells, and here too, does it matter? Do we keep accounts about each other? If it’s the last word I speak I shall still say you were too good for me.”
“And —?” she said, and her laughter was more than laughter; it was the speech of pure joy. “Go on, blessing — if it’s our last word.”
“And I’m too good for you,” Richard said. “Let me turn round now. It’s all right; I promise you it’s all right.”
“Do, darling,” she said.
He turned, and the others with him. They saw the long room, and at the other end the painting of the City that dominated the room as if it and not the wall behind it were the true end of the room, as if the room precisely opened there on that space and those streets; and as if some unseen nature present there united both room and painting, the light in it was within the room also and vibrated there. The table with the remnants of the meal, the wine still in the glasses, the back of the other canvas lying on the table — all these were massive with the light. Between them and the table stood the dwarf — woman, but somehow it did not matter to any of them. The full and lovely voice said, almost as if a rich darkness spoke within the light: “It’s nice to see you all again.”
Betty said: “It’s blessed to see you. But what is this, my dear?” She nodded at the dwarf
Lester said: “It was made by — I don’t even know who he is, but by the man in your room.”
Richard said: “He’s called Simon, and sometimes the Clerk, and he thinks himself no end of a fellow. Has he hurt you?”
“Not a bit,” said Lester. “I’ve been with it of my own choice. But now I’ve seen you, I know what to do — before I go away. It must be taken back to him.”
So much was suddenly clear to her. She was here — and Richard and Betty, and Jonathan too, were here for this purpose. It was time the magical dwarf was driven back to Simon. It had come from him; it must go to him. The Acts of the City were in operation; she felt their direction. She only could compel this movement; she only return to the false maker the thing he had falsely made. It was full time.
Betty said: “We were going to take him that other thing — the painting Jon did of him. You haven’t seen it; but that doesn’t matter. It’s very good, but it’d be much better if he had it altogether. So Jon’s being a saint and giving it to him. Lester, there’s someone else with you!”
It was fortunate that the Acts of the City had allowed the three those minutes to become accustomed to the voice and to the shape. For now the shape took a quick step forward, and there broke from it a sudden confused noise. Neither Richard nor Jonathan at all recognized the human voice that was mixed with that croaking and cackling, but Betty recognized it. She had feared it too much and too often not to know. She did not step backwards, but she flinched, as if the noise had struck her. She exclaimed: “Evelyn!”
The noise ceased abruptly. Jonathan took a step forward, but Betty caught his arm. She said: “No, really, Jon; it’s too silly. I’m not afraid; I know perfectly well I’m not afraid. I was only surprised. Lester, you needn’t stop her. Were you talking to me, Evelyn?”
“No one,” said the dwarf with a slow effort and in a harsh imitation of Evelyn’s voice, “cares about me. I don’t expect much. I don’t ask for much. I only want you, Betty. Lester’s so cruel to me. She won’t cry. I only want to see you cry.” It tried to lift its hands, but they only waggled. The body drooped, and the head fell on one side. So askew, it continued to emit sounds mostly indistinguishable. Now and then a sentence stood out. It said at last, clearly and with a slight giggle: “Betty looked so funny when she cried. I want to see Betty cry.”
Jonathan said under his breath: “God be merciful to us all!” Betty said: “Evelyn, if you want to talk, come and talk. I can’t promise to cry, but I’ll listen.” Richard said: “Must we waste time? ”
The dwarf’s head jerked, and turned as far as it could from one to the other. It gave back a little. Before those three, as if the consciousness of their eyes oppressed it, it fell together a little more. It said, with a final great effort: “You hurt me when you look at me. I don’t want you to look at me. I want to look at you. Betty, you used to be frightened of me. I want you to be frightened of me.”
Jonathan said with a sudden decision. “We can’t do anything. Let’s do what we can do. If we’re to do it, let’s go now — ” He went to the table and took up the canvas.
Betty said: “Shall we, Lester?” and the other voice, again filling the room, answered: “We’d better. Evelyn can’t manage this, and I’ve only one thing to do with it — to take it back. Let Is go.”
Richard went quickly past Jonathan to the table. He picked up his glass; he waved to the others and they came to him. He tried to speak and could not. But Betty did. She too took her glass; she held it up; she said: “Good luck, Lester!” and they all drank. Richard flung his glass to the floor. As it smashed, the dwarf with a little squeal turned round and began stumbling towards the door. The three friends went after it.
It was very late when they came into the street, but in the light of a near standard they saw a single taxi moving slowly.along. The driver was a big man; he saw Jonathan’s lifted hand, slowed, and leaning back opened the door. They stood round the dwarf while, slowly and in utter silence, it scrambled clumsily in. Before either of the young men could speak, Betty had followed it and sat down by it. They sat opposite. Jonathan could not quite remember giving the address, but he supposed he must have done, for the door was closed on them and the carriage moved off in the night. In spite of Betty’s face opposite him a macabre horror fell on Jonathan; all he had ever read, in fiction or history, of fatal midnight drives recurred to him: discrowned kings fleeing, madmen carried off to Bedlam, or perhaps sane men by careful plottings certified as mad, gagged men borne to private assassinations,,gangsters taken for rides by gangsters, and through all a ghastly element of another kind — arrest of heretics, seizure of martyrs, witches clutched or witches clutching — in all the cities of all the world midnight and dark coaches rolling and — things unnameable for good or evil about to be done. Something still deeper — there and then, or had been, one plain Simple act which could only be done in such a night. Unless this night were now about to give place to a more frightening day — a dawn on some town where such creatures lived as this opposite him or his own imagined insects. and had their own occupation, grisly, unseen in this sun, but visible to sickness in another light so much like this but not this.
Beside him Richard leaned back free from such distress, for he had already known that distress. He had been used to think that nothing could shock him; he had been wrong. The universe is always capable of a worse trick than we suppose, but at least when we have known it we are no longer surprised by anything less. Jonathan’s horrid nightmares, oppressive as they were to him, were less distressing than the pain of a mother listening to her child choking with bronchitis in the night. Richard’s endurance now, like hers, was of present and direct facts. He had seen something which, in the full sense of the words, ought not to be, and never before had he felt the full sense of the words. This was what everything that ought not to be was — this quiet agreement that it should be. It was a breach in nature, and therefore in his own nature. His own self-indulgence was of this kind; his dispassionate consideration might be and might not — that depended on him. And now in this happier world he had thought to enter, a thing as extreme struck him. He could not disbelieve Lester when she spoke of going; he could not even doubt that it ought to be. But except for that “ought to be” the coldness in his heart was indistinguishable from the earlier chill. The new birth refused him. He was as yet ignorant of the fact that this was one method of its becoming actual. He despaired.
But Lester, when she had walked in the dead City, piercingly aware of her own rejection, had known that despair, and its inflexibility had entered her and grown in her. She no longer drove her one — time friend with her old impatience; her strength was now the other side of her willingness to wait “a million years” or to know she was not even to be allowed that. In their swift passage to the dark coach she had felt the rain on the false flesh; she had felt it as the premonition of that lucid flowing water of separation. A double charge was laid on her, to expel this thing from the streets of London, and then herself to go — The falsity must go to its place of origin to be destroyed; to go, so literally, dust to dust. The City must have what belonged to it in the mode in which it belonged. She thought no more of tubes and tunnels filled with horrors. Watter was purified and earth was free, or to become so. But instead of the tunnels flowed the inexorable river. She too must go.
She saw the taxi roll through the streets; she saw the four sitting in it. She knew that, if her new sight strengthened, she would see even more clearly the whole construction, not only of the vehicle, but of false mortality and true mortality. She almost did see Richard so, in his whole miraculous pattern, all the particles of him, of the strange creature who was in every particle both flesh and spirit, was something that was both, was (the only word that meant the thing he was) a man. She loved him the more passionately for the seeing. And then she saw Betty move. She saw her turn to that contorted thing in the corner which, under those vivid and suffering intelligences, was now beginning to lose even the semblance of a woman, and she saw her put her living hand on its dead paw. She heard Betty say: “Evelyn!” and then again: “Evelyn, let’s talk!” and through a dim mumble she heard Evelyn say:,“I don’t want you now.” She saw — and could not see farther — a fixed pallid mask of a face moulded in and looking out of the false flesh with a scared malice, and she too cried out: “Evelyn, don’t leave us!” She even made an effort to dominate it, but that failed at once; the false flesh she could command not now the thing within the flesh. Evelyn said: “I hate you.” The dead paw — now hardly five-fingered-made an effort to shake off Betty’s hand, and when that tightened on it, jerked and pulled in order to get away. As it succeeded, the taxi came to a stop.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15