The Greater Trumps, by Charles Williams

Chapter Five

The Image that Did Not Move

Much to her own surprise when she found it out in the morning, Nancy slept extremely well: rather to his own disgust, so did her father. No one ever thought of asking Sybil — or, at least, no one ever listened to the answer; it was one of the things which wasn’t related to her. She never said anything about it, nor, as a consequence, did anybody else; it being a certain rule in this world that what is not made of vivid personal importance will cease to be of social interest. The shoemaker’s conversation therefore rightly returns to leather. Nancy woke and stretched, and, as her sense returned, considered healthily, voluptuously, and beautifully the immediate prospect of a week of Henry, interspersed with as much of other people as would make him more rare if not more precious. It occurred to her suddenly that he might already be downstairs, and that she might as well in that case be downstairs herself. But as she jumped out of bed — with the swinging movement — she swung into a sudden change of consciousness. Here they were — at his grandfather’s, and here then all his obscure hints and promises were to be explained. He wanted something; he wanted something of her, and she was not at all clear that she wasn’t rather frightened, or anyhow a little nervous, when she tried to think of it. She took a deep breath. Henry had something to show her, and the earth had grown in her hands; however often she washed them she never quite seemed to get away from the feel of it. Being a semi-educated and semi-cultured girl, she dutifully thought of Macbeth —“the perfumes of Arabia”, “this little hand”. For the first time in her life, however, she now felt as if Shakespeare had been talking about something more real than she had supposed; as if the words echoed out of her own deep being, and again echoed back into it “cannot cleanse this little hand”. She rubbed her hands together half-unconsciously, and then more consciously, until suddenly the remembrance of Lady Macbeth as she had once seen her on the stage came to her, and she hurriedly desisted. Lady Macbeth had turned — a tall, ghostly figure caught in a lonely perdition — at the bottom corner of the stage, where the Witches . . . what was it they had sung?

The weird sisters, hand in hand, Posters of the sea and land.

“Posters of the sea and land”— was that what she had been yesterday in the car — in her sleep, in her dreams? Or that mad old woman? The weird sisters — the old woman and Aunt Sybil — hand in hand, posters of the sea and land? Posters — going about the world — from point to point in a supernatural speed? Another line leapt at her —“Peace! the charm’s wound up.” Wound up — ready for the unwinding; and Henry ready too. Her expectation terrified her: this day which was coming but not yet quite come was infinite with portents. Her heart filled and laboured with its love; she pressed a hand against it to ease the bursting pain. “O Henry,” she murmured aloud, “Henry!” What did one do about it? What was the making of earth beside this? This, whatever it was — this joy, this agony — was not out of key with her dreams, with the weird women; it too posted by the sea and land; the universe fell away below the glory of its passion.

She rose, unable any longer to sit still, drawing deep breaths of love, and walked to the window. The morning as it grew was clear and cold; unseen, miles away, lay the sea. Along the sea-shore, between earth and water, was the woman of the roads now hobbling? Or were the royal shapes of the Emperor and the Empress riding out in the dark heavens above the ocean? Her heart laboured with power still, and as that power flooded her she felt the hands that rested on the window-frame receive it; she leaned her head on the window and seemed to expect mysteries. This was the greatest mystery; this was the sea and land about which she herself was now a fortunate and happy poster.

It was too early; Henry wouldn’t be about yet. But she couldn’t go back to bed; love and morning and profound intention called to her. Her aunt was in the next room; she decided to go there, and went.

Her aunt, providentially, was awake, contemplating nothing with a remote accuracy. Nancy looked at her.

“I suppose you do sleep?” she said. “Do you know, I’ve never found you asleep?”

“How fortunate!” Sybil said. “For after all I suppose you’ve generally wanted something — if only conversation?”

Nancy, wrapping herself in her aunt’s dressing-gown as well as her own, sat down, and looked again, this time more attentively.

“Aunt Sybil,” she said, “are you by any chance being offensive?”

“Could I and would I?” Sybil asked.

“Your eyes are perpetually dancing,” Nancy said. “But is it true — do I only come to you when I want something?”

“Why,” said Sybil, “if you’re asking seriously, my dear, then by and large the answer is yes.” She was about to add that she herself was quite content, but she saw something brooding in Nancy’s face, and ceased.

“I don’t mean to be a pig,” Nancy said. Sybil accepted that as a soliloquy and said nothing. Nancy added, “I’m not all that selfish, am I?”

“I don’t think you’re particularly selfish,” her aunt said, “only you don’t love anyone.”

Nancy looked up, more bewildered than angry. “Don’t love?” she said. “I love you and father and Ralph very much indeed.”

“And Henry?” Sybil asked.

“Well — Henry,” Nancy said, blushing a little, “is different.”

“Alas!” Sybil murmured, but the lament was touched with laughter.

“What do you mean —‘alas’?” Nancy asked. “Aunt Sybil, do you want me to feel about everybody as I do about Henry?”

“A little adjustment here and there,” Sybil said, “a retinting perhaps, but otherwise — why, yes! Don’t you think so?”

“Even, I suppose,” Nancy said, “to Henry’s great-aunt or whatever she was?” But the words died from a soft sarcasm to a softer doubt: the very framing of the question, as so often happens, was itself an answer. “Her body thought”; interrogation purged emotion, and the purified emotion replied to the interrogation. To love . . .

“But I can’t,” she exclaimed, “turn all this”— she laid her hand on her heart “towards everybody. It can’t be done; it only lives for — him.”

“Nor even that,” Sybil said. “It lives for and in itself. You can only give it back to itself.”

Nancy brooded. After a while, “I still don’t see how I can love Joanna with it,” she said.

“If you give it back to itself,” Sybil said, “wholly and utterly, it will do all that for you. You’ve no idea what a lot it can do. I think you might find it worth trying.”

“Do you?” Nancy said soberly; then she sighed, and said with a change of tone, “Of course I simply adore this kind of talk before breakfast. You ought to have been a missionary, Aunt Sybil, and held early services for cannibals on a South Sea island.”

“The breakfast,” Sybil said gravely, “would have a jolly time listening to the bell before the service — if I had a bell.”

“O, you’d have a bell,” Nancy said, “and a collection of cowrie-shells or bananas, and open-air services on the beach in the evening. And Henry and I would lean over the side of our honeymoon liner and hear your voice coming to us over the sea in the evening, and have — what is it they have at those times? — Heimweh, and be all googly. And father would say, ‘Really, Sybil!’ without being googly. Well, thank you for your kind interest in a Daughter of the Poor.” She kissed her aunt. “I do, you know,” she said, and was gone.

The day passed till dinner without anything particularly striking having taken place. They looked over the house; they lunched; they walked. The Times arrived, sent up from the village, about midday, and Mr. Coningsby settled down to it. Henry and Nancy appeared and disappeared; Sybil walked and rested and talked and didn’t talk, and contemplated the universe in a serene delight. But after dinner and coffee there came a pause in the conversation, and Aaron Lee spoke.

“My grandson thinks,” he said to his visitors, “that you’d be interested to see a curiosity which we have here.”

“I’m sure anything —” answered Mr. Coningsby, who was feeling rather inclined to be agreeable.

Nancy said to Henry in a low voice, “Is it whatever you meant?” and he nodded.

The old man rose. “If I may trouble you, then, to come with me,” he said, leading the way from the room, and Mr. Coningsby sauntered after his sister without the smallest idea that the attack on his possession of the Tarot cards was about to begin. They came into Aaron’s room; they crossed it and stood about the inner locked door. Aaron inserted the key; then, before turning it, he looked round and said, “Henry thinks that your ownership of a particular pack of our gipsy cards may make you peculiarly interested in . . . in what you’ll see. The pack’s rather rare, I believe, and this”— he unlocked the door —“is, I may say, very much rarer.”

Henry, from the back, watched him a little anxiously. Aaron had not been at all eager to disclose the secret dancing images to these strangers; it was only the absolute necessity of showing Mr. Coningsby an overpoweringly good reason for giving away the cards that had at last convinced him. A day’s actual acquaintance with Mr. Coningsby had done more towards conviction than all Henry’s arguments — that, and the knowledge that the Tarot cards were at last in the house, so close to the images to which, for mortal minds, they were the necessary key. Yet, under the surface of a polite and cultured host which he had presented, there stirred a longing and a hostility; he hated this means, yet it was the only means to what he desired. In the conflict his hand trembled and fumbled with the door-handle, and Henry in his own agitation loosed Nancy’s arm. She felt his trouble and misunderstood it. “Darling,” she murmured, “you don’t mind us seeing, do you? If you do, let’s go away.”

“You must see,” he answered, low and rapidly, “you especially. And the others too — it’s why they’re here.”

She took his “here” to mean at that door, and his agitation to be the promise of the mystery he had spoken of, and delighted to share it with him. “You’ll tell me everything,” she whispered. “I’ll do whatever you want.” Her eyes glowed at him as he looked at her. He met them, but his preoccupation was heavy upon him. “Your father,” he whispered back, “get your father to give me the cards.”

The door was open. Aaron said, “You’ll excuse me if I go first; there’s a curtain.” He stepped forward, passed between the hangings, stepped aside, and raised them, so that, one by one, the others also came into the light of the inner chamber — Mr. Coningsby first, then Sybil, then the two young ones. Aaron let the curtain fall, and joined them where they stood, he and Henry closing them in on either side.

The light had been tinged with red when they entered; but it changed, so swiftly that only Aaron noticed it, to a lovely green, and then — more slowly — to an exquisite golden beauty. Aaron’s eyes went to Henry’s, but the young man was looking at the moving images; then they passed to the visitors — to Nancy, who also was raptly gazing at the spectacle; to Mr. Coningsby, who was surveying it with a benevolent generosity, as if he might have shown his host something similar in his own house, but hadn’t thought it worth while; to Sybil, who was half-smiling in pure pleasure at the sight.

“These,” Aaron said, “are a very ancient secret among the folk from whom Henry and I come, and they have never been shown to anyone outside our own people till now. But since we are to be so closely joined”— he smiled paternally at Nancy —“the reason against revealing them hardly exists.”

He had to pause for a moment, either because of his inner excitement or because (as, for a moment, he half-suspected) some sense stronger than usual of the unresting marvel before them attacked him and almost beat him down. He mastered himself, but his age dragged at him, and his voice trembled as he went carefully on, limiting himself to what Henry and he had agreed should be said.

“You see those little figures? By some trick of the making they seem to hold — what we call — the secret of perpetual motion. You see, how they are dancing — they do it continually. They are — we believe — in some way magnetized — by the movements of the earth — and they — they vibrate to it.”

He could say no more. He signed to Henry to go on, but Mr. Coningsby unintentionally interrupted.

“Very curious,” he said, “very interesting indeed.” He looked all round the room. “I suppose the light comes from behind the curtains somehow?”

“The light comes from the figures,” Henry said.

“Does it indeed?” Mr. Coningsby said, as if he was perfectly ready to believe anything reasonable, and even to refrain from blaming his host for offering him something perfectly unreasonable. “From the figures? Well, well.” He settled his eyeglasses and leaned forward. “Are they moving in any order?” he asked, “or do they just”— he waggled his hand “jump?”

“They certainly move in order,” Henry answered, “all but one: the one in the centre. You may recognize them; the figures are those which are painted on the Tarot cards you showed us.”

“O, really?” Mr. Coningsby said, a small suspicion rising in him. “Just the same kind, are they? Well, well. But the cards aren’t moving the whole time. At least,” he added, half in real amusement, half in superior sarcasm, “I hadn’t noticed it.”

“No,” Henry agreed. “But, if you’ll excuse me, sir, the point is rather that the cards explain — or anyhow may be supposed to explain — the movements of these figures. We think probably that that’s what all fortune-telling by cards comes from, but the origin’s been forgotten, which is why it’s the decadent and futile thing it is.”

Nothing occurred to Mr. Coningsby in answer to this; he didn’t understand it but he didn’t want to be bothered with an explanation. He strolled forward till he stood by the table. “May one pick them up?” he asked. “It’s difficult to examine the workmanship properly while they’re all bustling round.”

“I don’t think I should touch them, sir,” Henry said, checking his grandfather’s movement with a fierce glance. “The balance that keeps them dancing must be very delicate.”

“O, just as you like,” Mr. Coningsby said. “Why doesn’t the one in the middle dance?”

“We imagine that its weight and position must make it a kind of counterpoise,” Henry answered. “Just as the card of the Fool — which you’ll see is the same figure — is numbered nought.”

“Has he a tiger by him for any particular reason?” Mr. Coningsby inquired. “Fools and tigers seem a funny conjunction.”

“Nobody knows about the Fool,” Aaron burst in. “Unless the cards explain it.”

Mr. Coningsby was about to speak again when Sybil forestalled him.

“I can’t see this central figure,” she said. “Where is it exactly, Mr. Lee?”

Aaron, Henry, and her brother all pointed to it, and all with very different accents said, “There”. Sybil stepped slightly forward, then to one side; she moved her head to different angles, and then said apologetically, “You’ll all think me frightfully silly, but I can’t see any figure in the middle.”

“Really, Sybil!” her brother said. “There!”

“But, my dear, it isn’t there,” she said. “At least, so far as I can possibly see. I’m sorry to be so stupid, Mr. Lee, because it’s all quite the loveliest thing I ever saw in the whole of my life. It’s perfectly wonderful and beautiful. And I just want, if I can, to see where you say this particular figure is.”

Henry leant forward suddenly. Nancy put her left hand up to where his lay on her shoulder. “Darling,” she said, “please! You’re hurting me.” He took no notice; he did not apparently hear her. He was looking with intense eagerness from Sybil to the golden images and back. “Miss Coningsby,” he said, reverting unconsciously to his earlier habit of address, “can you see the Fool and his tiger at all?”

She surveyed the table carefully. “Yes,” she said at last, “there — no, there — no — it’s moving so quickly I can hardly see it — there — ah, it’s gone again. Surely that’s it, dancing with the rest; it seems as if it were always arranging itself in some place which was empty for it.”

Nancy took hold of Henry’s wrist and pulled it; tears of pain were in her eyes, but she smiled at him. “Darling, must you squeeze my shoulder quite so hard?” she said.

Blankly he looked at her; automatically he let go, and though in a moment she put her own hand into the crook of his arm he did not seem to notice it. His whole attention was given to Sybil. “You can see it moving?” he uttered.

On the other side, Aaron was trembling, and putting his fingers to his mouth as if to control it and them. Sybil, gazing at the table, did not see him. “But it seems so,” she said. “Or am I just distracted?”

Henry made a great effort. He turned to Nancy. “Can you see it?” he asked.

“It looks to me to be in the centre,” she said, “and it doesn’t seem to be moving — not exactly moving.”

“What do you mean — not exactly moving?” Henry asked, almost harshly.

“It isn’t moving at all,” said Mr. Coningsby. “It’s capitally made, though; the tiger’s quite lifelike. So’s the Fool,” he added handsomely.

“I suppose I meant not moving,” Nancy said. “In a way I feel as if I expected it to. But it isn’t.”

“Why should you expect it to?” Henry asked.

“I can’t think,” Nancy admitted. “Perhaps it was Aunt Sybil saying it was that made me think it ought to be.”

“Well,” Sybil said, “there we are! If you all agree that it’s not moving, I expect it isn’t. Perhaps my eyes have got St. Vitus’s dance or something. But it certainly seems to me to be dancing everywhere.”

There was a short and profound silence, broken at last by Nancy. “What did you mean about fortune-telling?” she said, addressing ostensibly Mr. Lee, but in fact Henry.

Both of them came jerkily back to consciousness of her. But the old man was past speech; he could only look at his grandson. For a moment Henry didn’t seem to know what to say. But Nancy’s eager and devoted eyes were full on him, and something natural in him responded. “Why, yes,” he said, “it’s here that fortunes can be told. If your father will let us use his pack of cards?” He looked inquiringly across.

Mr. Coningsby’s earlier suspicion poked up again, but he hesitated to refuse. “O, if you choose,” he said. “I’m afraid you’ll find nothing in it, but do as you like. Get them, Nancy; they’re in my bag.”

“Right,” said Nancy. “No, darling,” as Henry made a movement to accompany her. “I won’t be a minute: you stay here.” There had been a slight effect of separation between them, and she was innocently anxious to let so brief a physical separation abolish the mental; he, reluctant to leave Aaron to deal with Mr. Coningsby’s conversation, assented.

“Don’t be long,” he said, and she, under her breath, “Could I?” and was gone. As she ran she puzzled a little over her aunt’s difficulty in seeing the motionless image, and over the curious vibration that it seemed to her to possess. So these were what Henry had meant; he would tell her more about them presently, perhaps, because he certainly hadn’t yet told her all he meant to. But what part then in the mystery did the central figure play, and why was its mobility or immobility of such concern to him? Though — of course it wasn’t usual for four people to see a thing quite still while another saw it dancing. Supposing anyone saw her now, could they think of her as quite still, running at this speed? Sometimes one had funny feelings about stillness and motion — there had been her own sensation in the car yesterday, but that had only been a feeling, not a looking, so to speak. No one ever saw a motionless car tearing along the roads.

She found the Tarot pack and ran back again, thinking this time how agreeable it was to run and do things for Henry. She wished she found it equally agreeable to run for her father. But then her father — it was her father’s fault, wasn’t it? Was it? Wasn’t it? If she could feel as happy — if she could feel. Could she? Could she, not only do, but feel happy to do?

Couldn’t she? Could she? More breathless within than without, she came again to the room of the golden dance.

She was aware, as through the dark screen of the curtain she entered the soft spheral light and heard, as they had all heard, that faint sound of music, of something changed in three of those who waited for her. Henry and her father were standing near each other, as if they had been talking. But also they were facing each other, and it was not a friendly opposition. Mr. Coningsby was frowning, and Henry was looking at him with a dominating hostility. She guessed immediately what had been happening — Henry had himself raised the possibility of his buying or being given or otherwise procuring the cards. And her father, with that persistent obstinacy which made even his reasonable decisions unreasonable, had refused. He was so often in a right which his immediate personal grievance turned into a wrong; his manners changed what was not even an injury into something worse than an insult. To be so conscious of himself was — Nancy felt though she did not define it — an insult to everyone else; he tried to defy the human race with a plaintive antagonism — even the elder sons of the younger sons of peers might (he seemed to suggest) outrage his decencies by treading too closely on his heels. So offended, so outraged, he glanced at Henry now.

She came to them before either had time to speak. Aaron Lee and Sybil had been listening to the finished colloquy, and both of them willingly accepted her coming.

“Here we are,” she said. “Henry, how frightfully exciting!” It wasn’t, she thought at the same moment, not in the least. Not exciting; that was wholly the wrong word for this rounded chamber, and the moving figures, and the strange pack in her hand by which the wonder of earth had happened, and the two opposed faces, and Aaron Lee’s anxious eyes, and the immortal tenderness of Sybil’s. No — not exciting, but it would serve. It would ease the moment. “Who’ll try first?” she went on, holding out the Tarots. “Father? Aunt? Or will you, Mr. Lee?”

Aaron waved them on. “No, no,” he said hurriedly. “Pray one of you — they’re yours. Do try — one of you.”

“Not for me, thank you. I’ve no wish to be amused so —” Her father hesitated for an adverb, and Sybil also with a gesture put them by.

“O, aunt, do!” Nancy said, feeling that if her aunt was in it things would be safer.

“Really, Nancy. I’d rather not — if you don’t mind,” Sybil said, apologetic, but determined. “It’s — it’s so much like making someone tell you a secret.”

“What someone?” Henry said, anger still in his voice.

“I don’t mean someone exactly,” Sybil said, “but things . . . the universe, so to speak. If it’s gone to all this trouble to keep the next minute quiet, it seems rude to force its confidence. Do forgive me.” She did not, Nancy noticed, add, as she sometimes did, that it was probably silly of her.

Nancy frowned at the cards. “Don’t you think we ought to?” she asked.

“Of course, if you can,” Sybil answered. “It’s just — do excuse me — that I can’t.”

“You sound,” Henry said, recovering a more normal voice, “on remarkably intimate terms with the universe. Mayn’t it cheat you? Supposing it had something unpleasant waiting for you?”

“But,” said Sybil, “as somebody says in Dickens, ‘It hasn’t, you know, so we won’t suppose it.’ Traddles, of course. I’m forgetting Dickens; I must read him again. Well, Nancy, it’s between you and Henry.”

Nancy looked at her lover. He smiled at her at first with that slight preoccupation behind his eyes which always seemed to be there, she thought a little ruefully, since the coming of the Tarots. But in a moment this passed, and they changed, though whether she or that other thing were now the cause of their full, deep concentration, she could not tell. He laid his hand on hers that held the Tarots.

“And what does it matter which?” he said. “But I’d rather we tried yours, if you don’t mind.”

“Can’t we try them together?” she asked, “and say good night to separation?”

“Let’s believe we’ve said it,” he answered, “but you shall try them for us both and let me read the fates. Do you believe that it’s true?”

“Is it true?” she asked.

“As the earth in your hands,” he answered, and Mr. Coningsby’s hostility only just conquered his curiosity, so as to prevent him asking what on earth Henry meant. “It’s between those”— he pointed to the ever-moving images —“and your hands that the power flows, and on the power the cards move. See.”

He turned her, and Aaron Lee, who stood between her and the table, moved hastily back. Then, taking the cards from their case, he made her hold them in her hands, as she had held the suit of deniers on that other evening, and the memory of it came back on her with sudden force. But this time, having settled her hands, he did not enclose them in his own; instead, he stepped away from her and waved away Sybil also, who was close on her left side, so that she stood alone, facing the golden table, her hands extended towards it, holding within them the whole pack of cards, opened a little fanwise so that from left to right the edges made a steeply sloping ascent.

“Move forward, slowly,” he said, “till I tell you to stop. Go on.”

The earth that had lain in her hands . . . and now she was to go forward a step, or stop. It was not beyond her power to withdraw; she might pause and laugh and apologize to them all — and to Henry privately and beyond all — and lay aside the things she held. It was not beyond her power to refuse to enter the light that seemed now to grow to a golden sheen, a veil and mist of gold between her and the table; she could step back, she could refuse to advance, to know, to be. In the large content of the love that filled her she had no strong desire to find her future — if the cards indeed could tell her of it — though she could not feel, as Sybil did, that the universe itself was love. But, pausing on the verge of the future, she could find no reason noble enough for retreat — retreat would be cowardice or — no, nothing but cowardice. She was Henry’s will; she was her own will to accomplish that will; having no moral command against her, she must needs go on.

She took a step forward, and her heart beat fast and high as she seemed to move into the clouded golden mist that received her, and fantastically enlarged and changed the appearance of her hands and the cards within them. She took another step, and the Tarots quivered in her hold, and through the mist she saw but dimly the stately movement of the everlasting measure trodden out before her, but the images were themselves enlarged and heightened, and she was not very sure of what nature they were. But nothing could daunt the daring in which she went; she took a third step, and Henry’s voice cried to her suddenly, “Stop there and wait for the cards.”

She half-turned her head towards him at the words, but he was too far behind for her to see him. Only, still looking through that floating and distorting veil of light, she did see a figure, and knew it for Aaron’s: yet it was more like one of the Tarots — it was the Knight of Sceptres. The old man’s walking-stick was the raised sceptre; the old face was young again, and yet the same. The skull-cap was a heavy medieval head-dress — but as the figure loomed it moved also, and the mist swirled and hid it. The cards shook in her hands; she looked back at them, and suddenly one of them floated right out into the air and slowly sank towards the floor; another issued, and then another, and so they followed in a gentle persistent rain. She did not try to retain them; could she have tried she knew she could not succeed. The figures before her appeared and disappeared, and as each one showed, so in spiral convolution some card of those she still held slipped out and wheeled round and round and fell from her sight into the ever-swirling mist.

They were huge things now, as if the great leaves of some aboriginal tree, the sacred bodhi-tree under which our Lord Gautama achieved Nirvana or that Northern dream of Igdrasil or the olives of Gethsemane, were drifting downward from the cluster round which her hands were clasped. The likenesses were not in her mind, but the sense of destiny was, and the vision of leaves falling slowly, slowly, carried gently upon a circling wind that touched her also in its passage, and blew the golden cloud before it. She grew faint in gazing; the grotesque hands that stretched out were surely not those of Nancy Coningsby, but of a giant form she did not know. With an effort she wrested her eyes from the sight, and looked before her, only more certainly to see the dancers. And these now were magnified to twenty times their first height; they were manikins, dwarfs, grotesques, yet living. More definitely visible than any before, a sudden mingled group grew out of the mist before her. Three forms were there — with their left arms high arched, and finger-tips touching, wheeling round a common centre; she knew them as she gazed — the Queen of Chalices, holding her cup against her heart; and the naked figure of the peasant Death, his sickle in his right hand; and a more ominous form still, Set of the Egyptians, with the donkey head, and the captives chained to him, the power of infinite malice. Round and round, ever more swiftly, they whirled, and each as it passed seemed to stretch out towards her the symbol of itself that it carried; and the music that had been all this while in her ears rose to the shrieking of a great wind, and the wind about her grew strong and cold. Higher still went the shrieking; more bitterly against her the fierce wind beat. The cold struck and nipped her; she was alone and her hands were empty, and the bleak wind died; only she saw the last fragments of the golden mist blown and driven upon it. But as it passed, and as she graspingly realized that her lover and friends were near her, she seemed yet for a moment to be the centre of that last measure: the three dancers whirled round her, their left hands touching over her head, separating and enclosing her. Some knowledge struck to her heart; and her heart ached in answer, a dull pain unlike her glorious agony when it almost broke with the burden of love. It existed and it ceased.

Henry’s voice said from behind her: “Happy fortune, darling. Let’s look at the cards.”

She felt for the moment that she would rather he looked at her. There she was, feeling rather pitiable, and there were all the cards lying at her feet in a long twining line, and there was her father looking a trifle annoyed, and there was Henry kneeling by the cards, and there was Aaron Lee bending over him, and then between her and the table at which she didn’t want to look came the form of her aunt. So she looked at her instead, which seemed much more satisfactory, and went so far as to slip an arm into Sybil’s, though she said nothing. They both waited for Henry, and both with a certain lack of immediate interest. But this Henry, immersed in the cards, did not notice.

“You’re likely to travel a long distance,” he said, “apparently in the near future, and you’ll come under a great influence of control, and you’ll find your worst enemy in your own heart. You may run serious risks of illness or accident, but it looks as if you might be successful in whatever you undertake. And a man shall owe you everything, and a woman shall govern you, and you shall die very rich.”

“I’m so glad,” Nancy said in a small voice. She was feeling very tired, but she felt she ought to show a little interest.

“Henry,” she went on, “why is the card marked nought lying right away from the others?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I told you that no one can reckon the Fool. Unless you can?” he added quickly, to Sybil.

“No,” said Sybil. “I can see it right away from the others too.” She waited a minute, but, as Henry showed no signs of moving, she added in a deliberately amiable voice: “Aren’t you rather tired, Nancy? Henry dear, it’s been the most thrilling evening, and the way you read fortunes is superb. I’m so glad Nancy’s to be successful. But would you think it very rude if she and I went to bed now? I know it’s early, but the air of your Downs . . . ”

“I beg your pardon?” Henry said. “I’m afraid I wasn’t listening.”

Sybil, even more politely, said it all again. Henry sprang to his feet and came over to them. “My darling, how careless of me,” he said to Nancy, while his eyes searched and sought in hers, “of course you must be fagged out. We’ll all go back now — unless,” he added politely to Mr. Coningsby, “you’d like to try anything further with”— there was the slightest pause —“your cards.”

“No, thank you,” Mr. Coningsby said frigidly. “I may as well take them down myself”; and he looked at them where they lay on the floor.

“I’ll come back and collect them as soon as I’ve seen Nancy along,” Henry answered. “They’ll be safe enough till then.”

“I think I would as soon take them now,” Mr. Coningsby said. “Things have a way of getting mislaid sometimes.”

“Nothing was ever mislaid in this room,” Henry answered scornfully.

“But the passages and other rooms might be less fortunate,” Mr. Coningsby sneered. “Nancy can wait a minute, I’m sure.”

“Nancy,” he said, “will pick them up while you’re talking about it,” and moved to do it. But Henry forestalled him, though his dark skin flushed slightly, as he rose with the pack, restored it to its case, and ostentatiously presented it to Mr. Coningsby, who clasped it firmly, threw a negligent look at the dancing figures, and walked to the opening in the curtains. Henry drew Nancy from her aunt into his own care, and followed him; as they passed through she said idly: “Why do you have curtains?”

He leaned to her ear. “I will show you now, if you like,” he said; “the sooner the better. Are you really too tired? or will you see what larger futures the cards show us?”

She looked back at the room. “Darling, will tomorrow do?” she said. “I do feel rather done.”

“Rest, then,” he answered; “there’s always sound sleep in this house. To-morrow, I’ll show you something else — if,” he added, speaking still more softly, “if you can borrow the cards. Nancy, what good can they possibly be to your father?”

She smiled faintly. “Did you quarrel with him about them?” she said, but as she saw him frown added swiftly, “None.”

“Yet he will hold on to them,” Henry said. “Don’t you think they belong to — those behind us?”

“I suppose so,” Nancy said uncertainly. “I feel as if we all belonged to them, whatever they are. Your golden images have got into my bones, darling, and my heart’s dancing to them instead of to you. Aren’t you sorry?”

“We’ll dance to them together,” he said. “The images and the cards, and the hands and the feet — we’ll bring them all together yet.”

“That’s what your aunt said,” she answered, “something coming together. What did she mean by Horus?”

“My aunt’s as mad as your father,” he answered, “and Horus has been a dream for more than two thousand years.”

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