The Greater Trumps, by Charles Williams

Chapter Eight

Christmas Day in the Country

It had been settled at dinner on Christmas Eve that the three Coningsbys would go to the village church on Christmas Day. Mr. Coningsby theoretically went to church every Sunday, which was why he always filled up census forms with the statement “Church of England”. Of the particular religious idea which the Church of England maintains he had never made any special investigation, but he had retained the double habit of going to church on Christmas morning and for a walk on Christmas afternoon. In his present state of irritation with the Lees he would rather have walked to church than not have gone, especially as Aaron pleaded his age and Henry professional papers as reasons for not going. But Aaron had put the car and chauffeur at his disposal for the purpose, so that he was not reduced to any such unseemly effort. Mr. Coningsby held strongly that going to church, if and when he did go, ought to be as much a part of normal life as possible, and ought not to demand any peculiar demonstration of energy on the part of the church-goer.

Sybil, he understood, had the same view; she agreed that religion and love should be a part of normal life. With a woman’s natural exaggeration, she had once said that they were normal life, that they were indeed life. He wasn’t very clear whether she usually went to church or not; if she did, she said nothing much about it, and was always back in time for meals. He put her down as “Church of England” too; she never raised any objection. Nancy went under the same heading, though she certainly didn’t go to church. But her father felt that she would when she got older; or that, anyhow, if she didn’t she would feel it was right to do so. Circumstances very often prevented one doing what one wished: if one was tired or bothered, it was no good going to church in an improper state of mind.

Nancy’s actual state of mind on the Christmas morning was too confused for her to know much about it. She was going with her father partly because she always had done, but even more because she badly needed a short refuge of time and place from these shattering new experiences. She felt that an hour or so somewhere where just for once even Henry couldn’t get at her was a highly desirable thing. Her mind hadn’t functioned very clearly during the rest of the time they had spent in the inner room; or else her memory of it wasn’t functioning clearly now. Henry had explained something about the possibility of reading the fortunes of the world in the same manner as those of individuals could be read, but she had been incapable of listening; indeed, she had beaten a rather scandalous retreat, and (for all his earlier promises of sound sleep) had lain awake for a long time, seeing only that last wild rush together of the Fool and the juggler, that falling torrent of balls breaking into a curtain of golden spray, which thickened into cloud before her. One last glance at the table had shown her upon it the figure of the Fool still poised motionless, so she hadn’t seen what Aunt Sybil had seen. But she had seen the Fool move in that other vision. She wanted to talk to her aunt about it, but her morning sleep had only just brought her down for breakfast, and there had been no opportunity afterwards before church. She managed to keep Sybil between herself and her father as they filed into a pew, and sat down between her and a pillar with a sense of protection. Nothing unusual was likely to happen for the next hour or two, unless it was the vicar’s new setting of the Athanasian Creed. Aaron Lee had remarked that the man was a musical enthusiast, doing the best he could with the voices at his disposal, assisted by a few friends whom he had down at Christmas. This Christmas, it seemed, he was attempting a little music which he himself had composed. Nancy was quite willing that he should — nothing seemed more remote from excitement or mystery than the chant of the Athanasian Creed. During the drive down her father had commented disapprovingly on the Church’s use of that creed. Sybil had asked why he disliked it. Mr. Coningsby had asked if she thought it Christian; and Sybil said she didn’t see anything very unChristian about it — not if you remembered the hypothesis of Christianity.

“And what,” Mr. Coningsby said, as if this riddle were entirely unanswerable, “what do you call the hypothesis of Christianity?”

“The Deity of Love and the Incarnation of Love?” Sybil suggested, adding, “Of course, whether you agree with it is another thing.”

“Certainly I agree with Christianity,” Mr. Coningsby said. “Perhaps I shouldn’t put it quite like that. It’s a difficult thing to define. But I don’t see how the damnatory clauses —”

However, there they reached the church. Nancy thought, as she looked at the old small stone building, that if Henry was right about the dance, then this member of it must be sitting out some part of the time on some starry stair. Nothing less mobile had ever been imagined. But her intelligence reminded her, even as she entered, that the apparent quiescence, the solidity, the attributed peace of the arched doorway was one aspect of what, in another aspect, was a violent and riotous conflict of . . . whatever the latest scientific word was. Strain and stress were everywhere; the very arch held itself together by extreme force; the latest name for matter was Force, wasn’t it? Electrical nuclei or something of that sort. If this antique beauty was all made of electrical nuclei, there might be-there must be-a dance going on somewhere in which even that running figure with the balls flying over it in curves would be outpaced. She herself outpaced Sybil by a step and entered the pew first.

And she then, as she knelt decorously down, was part of the dance; she was the flying feet passing and repassing; she was the conjunction of the images whose movement the cards symbolized and from which they formed the prophecy of her future. “A man shall owe you everything”— everything? Did she really want Henry to owe her everything, or did she — against her own quick personal desire — desire rather that there should be something in him to which she owed everything? “And a woman shall govern you”— that was the most distasteful of all; she had no use at all for women governing her; anyhow, she would like to see the woman who would do it. “And you shall die very rich”— by this time she had got up from her knees, and had sat down again — well, that was very fortunate. If it meant what it said —“You shall die very rich”— but the forms of Death and the Devil and the Queen of Chalices had danced round her, and the words shook with threat, with promise, with obscure terror. But what could even that do to harm her while Henry and she together dared it? While that went on, it was true in its highest and most perfect meaning; if that went on, she would die very rich.

A door opened; the congregation stirred; a voice from the vestry said: “Hymn 61. ‘Christians, awake,’ Hymn 61.” Everyone awoke, found the place, and stood up. The choir started at once on the hymn and the procession. Nancy docilely sent her voice along with them.

Christians, awake, salute the happy morn, Whereon the Saviour of the world was born: Rise to a —

Her voice ceased; the words stared up at her. The choir and the congregation finished the line:

adore the mystery of love.

“The mystery of love.” But what else was in her heart? The Christmas associations of the verse had fallen away; there was the direct detached cry, bidding her do precisely and only what she was burning to do. “Rise to adore the mystery of love.” What on earth were they doing, singing about the mystery of love in church? They couldn’t possibly be meaning it. Or were they meaning it and had she misunderstood the whole thing?

The church was no longer a defence; it was itself an attack. From another side the waves of some impetuous and greater life swept in upon her. She turned her head abruptly towards Sybil, who felt the movement and looked back, her own voice pausing on “the praises of redeeming love”. Nancy, her finger pointing to the first of those great verses, whispered a question, “Is it true?” Sybil looked at the line, looked back at Nancy, and answered in a voice both aspirant and triumphant, “Try it, darling.” The tall figure, the wise mature face, the dark ineffable eyes, challenged, exhorted, and encouraged. Nancy throbbed to the voice that broke into the next couplet —“God’s highest glory was their anthem still.”

She looked back at the hymn and hastily read it — it was really a very commonplace hymn, a very poor copy of verses. Only that one commanding rhythm still surged through her surrendered soul —“Rise to adore the mystery of love.” But now everyone else was shutting up hymn-books and turning to prayer-books; she took one more glance at the words, and did the same.

The two lovers had run straight on — not straight on; they had been divided. Separately they had run up the second part of the way, separately each had danced with the skeleton. She could see them now, but more clearly even than them she remembered the juggler —“neither God nor not-God,” Henry had said — running to meet the unknown Fool. “Amen,” they were singing all round her; this wasn’t getting very far from the dance. It hadn’t occurred to her that there was so much singing, so much exchanging of voices, so much summoning and crying out in an ordinary church service. Sybil’s voice rose again —“As it was in the beginning, is now —” What was in the beginning and was now? Glory, glory.

Nancy sat down for the Proper Psalms, though she was aware her father had looked at her disapprovingly behind Sybil’s back. It couldn’t be helped; her legs wouldn’t hold her up in the midst of these dim floods of power and adoration that answered so greatly to the power and adoration which abode in her heart, among these songs and flights of dancing words which wheeled in her mind and seemed themselves to become part of the light of the glorious originals of the Tarots.

She was still rather overwhelmed when they came to the Athanasian Creed, and it may have been because of her own general chaos that even that despised formulary took part in the general break-up which seemed to be proceeding within her. All the first part went on in its usual way; she knew nothing about musical setting of creeds, so she couldn’t tell what to think of this one. The men and the boys of the choir exchanged metaphysical confidences; they dared each other, in a kind of rapture — which, she supposed, was the setting — to deny the Trinity or the Unity; they pointed out, almost mischievously, that though they were compelled to say one thing, yet they were forbidden to say something else exactly like it; they went into particulars about an entirely impossible relationship, and concluded with an explanation that something wasn’t true which the wildest dream of any man but the compiler of the creed could hardly have begun to imagine. All this Nancy half-ignored.

But the second part — and it was of course the setting — for one verse held her. It was of course the setting, the chance that sent one boy’s voice sounding exquisitely through the church. But the words which conveyed that beauty sounded to her full of sudden significance. The mingled voices of men and boys were proclaiming the nature of Christ —“God and man is one in Christ”; then the boys fell silent, and the men went on, “One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God”. On the assertion they ceased, and the boys rushed joyously in, “One altogether, not”— they looked at the idea and tossed it airily away —“not by confusion of substance, but by unity”— they rose, they danced, they triumphed —“by unity, by unity”— they were silent, all but one, and that one fresh perfection proclaimed the full consummation, each syllable rounded, prolonged, exact, “by unity of person”.

It caught the young listening creature; the enigmatic phrase quivered with beautiful significance. Sybil at her side somehow answered to it; she herself perhaps — she herself in love. Something beyond understanding but not beyond achievement showed itself, and then the choir were plunging through the swift record of the Christhood on earth, and once more the attribution of eternal glory rose and fell —“is now,” “is now and ever shall be”. Then they were all kneeling down and the vicar was praying in ritual utterance of imperial titles for “our sovereign lord King George”.

For the rest of the service Nancy moved and rose and sat and knelt according to the ritual, without being very conscious of what was going on. She felt two modes of being alternating within her — now the swift rush of her journey in the car, of her own passion, of the images seen in the night, of the voices roaring upward in the ceremonies of Christmas; now again the pause, the silence and full restraint of the Emperor, of Sybil, of her own expectation, of that single voice declaring unity, of the Fool amid the dance of the night. She flew with the one; she was suspended with the other; and, with downcast eyes and parted lips, she sought to control her youth till one should disappear or till both should come together. Everything was different from what it had so lately seemed; even the two who sat beside her. Her respect for her aunt had become something much more like awe; “Try it, darling,” was a summons to her from one who was a sibyl indeed. Her father was different too. He seemed no more the absurd, slightly despicable, affected and pompous and irritating elderly man whom she had known; all that was unimportant. He walked alone, a genie from some other world, demanding of her something which she had not troubled to give. If she would not find out what that was, it was no good blaming him for the failure of their proper relation. She, she only, was to blame; the sin lay in her heart whenever that heart set itself against any other. He might be funny sometimes, but she herself was very funny sometimes. Aunt Sybil had told her she didn’t love anyone; and she had been slightly shocked at the suggestion. The colour swept into her cheeks as she thought of it, sitting still during the sermon. But everything would be different now. She would purify herself before she dared offer herself to Henry for the great work he contemplated.

At lunch it appeared that his ordinary work, however, was going to occupy him for the afternoon as well as the morning. He apologized to her for this in a rather troubled way, and she mocked him gently.

“Father’s going,” she said, “and you’ll be shut up. It’ll be perfect heaven to look at the furniture or read a murder story — only your grandfather doesn’t seem to have many murder stories, does he, darling? All his literature seems so very serious, and quite a lot of it’s in foreign languages. But there’s yesterday’s paper, if I’m driven to it.”

“I must do it,” Henry said, rather incoherently. “There’s no other way.”

“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” she said. “You haven’t got the will, Henry. You don’t think the world’s well lost for me.”

“I’ve a will for what’s useful,” he said, so seriously that she was startled.

“I know you have, dearest,” she said. “I’m not annoying you, am I? You sounded as if you were going to do something frightfully important, that I hadn’t a notion of.”

He found no answer to that, but wandered off and stood looking out of the window into the frosty clearness of the day. He dared not embrace her lest she should feel his heart beating more intensely than ever it had beaten for his love; nor speak lest his voice should alarm her sensitive attention to wonder what he purposed. It was one thing to see what had to be done, and if it had not been for Nancy he could have done it easily enough, he thought. But to sit at lunch with her and “the murdered man”. If she ever knew, would she understand? She must, she must! If she didn’t, then he had told his grandfather rightly that all his intention was already doomed. But if she did, if she could see clearly that her father’s life was little compared to the restoration of the Tarots, so that in future there might be a way into the mystical dance, and from within their eyes might see it, from within they — more successful than Joanna — might govern the lesser elements, and perhaps send an heir to all their knowledge out into the world. If they perished, they perished in an immense effort, and no lesser creature, though it were Nancy’s father or his own — though it were Nancy herself, should she shrink — must be allowed to stand in the way. She would understand when she knew; but till she had learned more he dared not tell her. It would be, he told himself, cruel to her; the decision for both of them must be his.

The sombre determination brooded over the meal. As if a grey cloud had overcast the day and the room, those sitting at the table were dimmed and oppressed by the purpose which two of them cherished. Aaron’s eyes fixed themselves, spasmodically and anxiously, on the women whom his business was to amuse; Henry once or twice, in a sudden sharp decision, looked up at Mr. Coningsby, who went on conversing about Christmas lunches he had known, about lunches in general, the ideal lunch, the discovery of cooking, fire, gas-fires, air, space, modern science, science in the Press, the present state of newspapers, and other things. Sybil assisted him, more talkative than usual, because the other three were more silent. Nancy felt unexpectedly tired and chilly, though the room was warm enough. A natural reaction of discouragement took her, a natural — yet to her unnatural — disappointment with Henry. Her eyes went to him at intervals, ready to be placated and delighted, but no answering eyes met hers. She saw him, once, staring at his own hands, and she looked at them too, without joy, as if they were two strange instruments working at a little-understood experiment. The dark skin, the long fingers, the narrow wrists — the hands that had struck and caressed hers, to which she had given her free kisses, which she had pressed and stroked and teased — they were so strange that they made her union with them strange; they were inhuman, and their inhumanity crept deeper into the chill of her being. Her glance swept the table; five pairs of hands were moving there, all alien and incomprehensible. Prehensile . . . monkeys swaying in the trees: not monkeys . . . something more than monkeys. She felt Sybil looking at her, and refused to look back. Her father’s voice maddened her; he was still talking — stupid, insane talk. He a Warden in Lunacy! He was a lunatic himself, the worse for being uncertifiable. O, why didn’t he die?

A fork and spoon tinkled. Mr. Coningsby was saying that forks came in with Queen Elizabeth. She said, quite unexpectedly, “In Swift’s time people used to say ‘Queen Elizabeth’s dead’ instead of ‘Queen Anne’s dead’.”

Henry’s hand jerked on the cloth, like some reptile just crawled up from below the table. She went on perversely, “Did you know that, Henry?”

He answered abruptly, “No,” and so sharp was the syllable that it left all five of them in silence, a silence in which either Elizabeth or Anne might have passed from a world she knew to a world she could not imagine. Sybil broke it by saying, “It was the change of dynasty that made their ends so important, I suppose? No one ever said ‘George II is dead’, did they?”

“Aren’t we being rather morbid?” Aaron asked, in a kind of high croak, almost as if the reptile Nancy had imagined had begun to speak. Cold . . . cold . . . and cold things making discordant noises. O, this wouldn’t do: she was being silly. She made an effort and reminded herself that this was Mr. Lee speaking — and it was a gloomy conversation: not so much gloomy as horrid. Everyone was unnatural — at least, Henry was unnatural, and her father was overwhelmingly natural, and Mr. Lee . . . He was saying something else. She bent her attention to it.

“There are some manuscripts,” he was saying, “you might like to look at this afternoon. Some poems, part of a diary, a few letters.”

“I should like to very much,” Sybil said. “What sort of a man does he seem to have been?”

“I’m afraid I’ve not read them carefully enough to know,” Aaron replied. “He was, of course, disappointed; the cause had been ruined, and his career with it.”

Sybil smiled. “He believed that?” she asked. “But how foolish of him!”

Henry said, “Is it foolish to give oneself to a purpose and die if it perishes?”

“Disproportioned, don’t you think?” Sybil suggested. “One might die rather than forsake a cause, but if the cause forsakes you? They’re pathetic creatures, your lonely romantics. They can’t bear to be mistaken.”

Nancy shivered again. Even Sybil’s lovely voice couldn’t help giving the word “mistaken” rather a heavy and fatal sound. “Mistaken”— utterly mistaken. To mistake everything life had concentrated in, to be wrong, just wrong . . . O, at last the meal was ending. She got up and followed her aunt and Aaron to the drawing-room, loathing herself and everybody else, and especially the manuscript relics of the unfortunate peer.

Henry saw Mr. Coningsby off. “Which way shall you go?” he asked.

“I shall walk as far as the village and back,” his guest said. “If I see the vicar I shall congratulate him on the service this morning — bright, short, and appropriate. A very neat little sermon too. Quiet and convincing.”

“What was it about?” Henry said, against his will trying to delay the other. He looked at him curiously: “bright, short, and appropriate” were hardly the words for the thing that was gathering round him who had spoken. The reared tower of his life was already shaking; and it was Henry whose hand pushed it.

“O, behaving kindly — and justly,” Mr. Coningsby said. “Very suitable to the villagers who go. Well, I mustn’t delay. I’ll be off.”

“Take care you take the left path at the division as you come back,” Henry said.

“Quite, quite; the left,” Mr. Coningsby said, and disappeared. Henry went his own way — not to the drawing-room, where Nancy, with all her heart but much against her temper, expected him to look in for a few minutes. He didn’t. She cursed herself, and went on staring at the peer’s extremely eighteenth-century diary, taking no part in the chat of the other two. Sybil began reading a poem aloud.


Ah, cruel Clarinda, must this Paper show All of thy Fortune that I now may know? Though still the Town retain thee, perjured Maid, May not some Thought of me the Town invade? Was I forgotten when I did depart, And thou oblivious of a Faithful Heart? Despair to thee is but a grateful Pain, Coolly pretended by the Amorous Swain; But O, in me Despair is all my Sense As hateful as impoverished Joy’s Pretence —

“Impoverished joy’s pretence”— Nancy knew that was what she was feeling, and knew how hateful it was. At the same time she realized that she was feeling tired — O, so absolutely tired. She must get away and lie down and rest: she’d be better then by tea-time. And perhaps Henry would be free, and impoverished joy need no longer pretend. When the poem was finished, she said, rather ungrateful to the wretched peer, “He wasn’t a very good poet, was he? I suppose Clarinda had thrown him over. Mr. Lee, would you think me a perfect pig if I went and lay down and went to sleep? I’m only just keeping my eyes a little way open.”

“My dear girl, of course,” Aaron said. “Anything you like. I’m so sorry. You’re not overtired, are you?”

“No, O no,” Nancy protested. “It’s just . . . it’s just . . . that I’m unutterably sleepy. I can’t think what’s come over me.”

As he went to open the door, she smiled at her aunt. Sybil said in a low voice, “Being in love is a tiring business — I mean getting into love. Sleep well, darling.”

She slept at least without dreams, unless that sudden vision of her father falling from a high precipice from which she woke and sprang up was a dream. It was his scream that had wakened her; was it — or was it that howling wind? There was something driving against the windows; for a moment she thought it was a great white face staring in, then she knew it for snow-heavy, terrific snow. Bewildered, she blinked at it. The day had changed completely: it was dark, and yet, from the unlit room, white with snow. The wind or the scream sounded again, as, still half-asleep, she clung to the bed and gazed. Her father — he must be in by now. It was close on five. Her father — faces looking for him — her father crying out. She ran uncertainly to the door, and, driven by an unknown fear, went hurrying to the hall. There was Sybil and Aaron — Sybil with her coat on, Aaron protesting, offering . . . Nancy came up to them.

“Hallo,” she said. “I say, aunt, you’re not going out, are you?”

Sybil said something that was lost in the noise of the blizzard; Nancy looked round. “Where’s father?” she asked.

“Out,” Sybil said. “I was just going to meet him.”

“Hasn’t he come back?” Nancy said. “But, I say, he’ll never find his way . . . ” If only she hadn’t dreamed of his being thrown over a precipice. There was no precipice here. But he’d screamed.

“But it’s absurd,” Aaron said. “Henry’ll go. I’ll call him. I’ve let the chauffeur go home. But Henry’ll go.”

Sleep was leaving Nancy, but dream and fear and cold took her. Her father ought to have been back long ago — and where was Henry? He couldn’t be working all this time, in this tumult. He and her father were missing — and her aunt was going out — and she?

“I’ll go,” she said. “You can’t go, aunt. I’ll go.”

“You,” Sybil said, “can go and look for Henry. We can’t leave Mr. Lee to do everything. I’ve no doubt your father’s all right, but he may be glad of an arm. Even mine. Help Mr. Lee to shut the door.”

If her father had taken the wrong road — if hands were guiding him the wrong way — if he were being thrust —

Sybil opened the door: the wind struck at their throats and half-stifled them; the snow drove at their faces. Over her shoulder Sybil said, “It is rather thick.”

“O, don’t go,” Nancy said. “You’ll be flung over the edge too. I’ll go — I hated him — I’ll go. What can you do?”

“You go and find Henry,” Sybil said, leaning forward against the wind. “I can adore the mystery of love.” The tall figure was poised for a moment against the raging turmoil beyond and around, then it took a couple of steps forward and was lost to sight. Aaron struggled to close the door, desperately alarmed; it had been no part of his intention that Sybil also should be exposed to the powers that were abroad. But he hadn’t been able to stop her. Nancy, in a torment of anger at herself, flung forward to help him; that done, she turned and fled to find Henry. Where was Henry? Some terror beat in her: Henry and her father — a scream in the storm. She ran into Henry’s room; he wasn’t there. She rushed out again — to other rooms; she raced through the house, and couldn’t find him. Was he in the room of the images? If so, the old man must open it for her. But Aaron had vanished too, and the wind was howling even louder round the house. She burst in on the maids in the kitchen thrilling at the storm —“Mr. Lee; where’s Mr. Lee?” Before they could answer with more than the beginning of stammered ignorance she was off again. Well, if he wasn’t here she would go without him. She must go. She rushed into her own room, and as she pulled on her coat she gazed out of the window on the wild chance of seeing her father’s returning figure, though (could she have thought) she would have remembered that her room looked out over the terrace at the side of the house. But it was then that she saw Henry.

He was standing at one end of the terrace facing slantingly out so as to command from a distance the road that led to the village, and to be himself unseen except from one or two higher windows. He was standing there; she could only just see his figure through the dark snow-swept day, but it was he — certainly it was he. What he was doing there she couldn’t think; he couldn’t be watching for her father — that would be silly. He must have a reason, but, whatever the reason, it must wait; his business now was to come with her. She flew out of the room, downstairs, along a corridor that led to a small door giving on to the other end of the terrace, just beside the drawing-room which occupied the bottom corner of the house; not more than thirty yards from Henry she’d be then. She opened it and desperately fought her way out.

The next thing she knew was that the wind had flung her back against the wall of the house and was holding and stifling her there. Bludgeons of it struck her; snow and wind together choked her. She turned her head to face the wall, drew a sobbing breath or two, and cried out “Henry” once. Once, for she could hardly hear herself, and with her remaining intelligence she kept her breath for other things. Surely Henry couldn’t be out in this; the wind beat and bruised her again, thrusting her against the wall. For a moment she forgot everything, and reached out to find the doorway and drag herself into shelter, but even as her hand touched the edge she tore it away. No, Henry wasn’t indoors and he was out here; and her business was to get to him. She began to edge along the wall. He had been standing at the extreme end of the terrace; so if she worked along the wall, and then (if necessary) crawled out on her hands and knees, she ought to find him. Unless he had gone . . .

She ventured to look over her shoulder. The wind, even in its violence, was rhythmical; it rose to its screaming height and ceased a little, and then began to rise again. In a pause she looked and could see only the falling snow. She looked back just in time to avoid a blast that seemed almost to smash at her as if it were a great club, and went on struggling along the wall. Aunt Sybil was out in this, and her father, and Henry. In God’s name, why Henry? Her father by accident, and Sybil by — by love. Love — O, to get away from this, and anyone who liked could have love! “No, no,” she gasped. “No, darling; I’m sorry.” She looked round once more and saw — not Henry, but another shape. In the snow, leaping through the air, preluding the new blast of wind that blinded and strangled her, there swept a wild figure waving in each hand a staff of some kind, and another like it followed. She saw the swinging clubs, she heard shrieking — the wind shrieking — and almost lost her footing as the renewed strength of it came against her. For some minutes she clung to the wall; mad memories that the crisis of the last half-hour had driven from her mind returned. Death with the sickle — earth from the deniers — the gipsy who drove the Armada — and the powers of the wind screamed again as if once more they saw the dismasted and broken ships swept before them through the raging seas. Henry — where was Henry? What was Henry doing out at the end of the terrace? Before the thought had formed in her mind she herself screamed — one protesting shriek: “Henry, my darling, don’t, don’t!” And as she did so she began to struggle on again towards an end which she did not dare imagine. Whatever it was, she must be there; Sybil had told her to find Henry — but Sybil must be dead by now; nothing could live in this storm, any more than the Spanish vessels flung on the Scottish rocks. Sybil must be dead — well, then, it all lay on her; she was left to do the bidding of a greater than herself. And if Sybil wasn’t dead — Sybil who had seen the Fool moving, who had said “Try it, darling.” “Try it”— and she was crawling along the house-wall! Though Death ran at her, though the Hanged Man faced her, though the Tower fell upon her, though a skeleton rose in her path —“Rise to adore the mystery of love.” She pulled herself upright and passionately flung round to face the wind and snow.

Something, away, among them was moving: something was sweeping up and down. She forced herself a step out from the wall: there was the end, there was where Love meant her to be, there then was where she was except for the slight inconvenience of getting there. Another step; another — she was, by the mere overwhelming force of the storm, driven down, she stumbled and fell on to one knee; there she looked up to those moving shapes and knew them for hands. Regularly, monotonously, they swept down and out, holding something; they were huge, gigantic — as her own had seemed in the golden mist. As her own in the golden mist, so these in the white surges of the snow, and the snow swept out from them. On one knee she fought to get nearer — to face another terror, she dimly felt, but of a different kind. This, if that other were true, this could be stopped. The great hands swept down again, and colossal snowflakes drove towards her on a renewed blast that drove her down literally to hands and knees. But she crawled and dragged herself on; she was almost there; she was under them — those awful moving origins of storm. She kneeled upright, she struck up at them and missed, they had swept right outward and as they more lightly turned she flung at them with her own hands outstretched. She caught and held them, but as they struggled with hers in that first surprise, and dragged themselves away and up, bringing her to her feet with them, something that they held slipped and was gone. She clutched and clung to them, holding them in, pressing them back, and as she did so and was drawn inward with them she fell forward and knew suddenly that she lay on Henry’s breast.

Lost in the concentration and movement of the spell, he did not know she was near him till his hands were seized and, pulling them frantically away, he dragged her grey-coated form up with them out of the storm. It was against his heart before he knew it; he had one spasm of terror lest something unknown had turned on him, lest an elemental being, a bearer of staffs, had crept near to embrace its master. He cried out, then, recovering, checked, and then again broke into a shout of rage. “You fool,” he cried, “you fool! You’ve knocked the cards away!” In his hand he held but a few; peering at them in the dusk, he discerned but the four princely chiefs; the rest, as she clutched them, had slipped or blown off, and were now tossing in the wind which rose from them, seething with power, vagabond and uncontrolled. Even with her weight against him he took a step or two forward, but her arms clung round his shoulders and he could not shake himself free. The catastrophe — the double catastrophe, for the magical instruments were lost, and the wild whirlwind was free — struck at his heart; he stood still, stricken. She half-raised her head. “Henry, please don’t,” she murmured.

“You’ve stopped it,” he said. There could be no secrets now; by another way than either had intended they had been brought into knowledge of each other, and might speak clearly. “Stop it now,” she urged. “Darling, don’t do it. Not this way.”

“I can’t stop it,” he said. “I haven’t got them. You’ve — Get in, get in; we mustn’t be here. Anything may happen.”

In that great ending of both their spirits they could not clamour. The Tower that each had raised — the Babel of their desired heavens — had fallen in the tumult of their conflicting wills and languages, and a terrible quiet was within their hearts. They were joined in an unformulated union of despair. He accepted the arm about his shoulder; he put his own arm round her. “Back,” he said, “to the wall; to the door. Come.”

The storm was still soaring upward and outward from around them, so that their way was at first easier. But before they reached their refuge it had spread more wildly; battle raged in the air, and the heavens, once disturbed only at a distance where the invoked disturbance struck them, were now themselves in full action. Natural and supernatural riot ruled everywhere. Once Nancy was torn from him, and only as if by chance their clutching hands regripped, frenzied with the single desire and power of preservation. Twice they were beaten down amid the already heaping snow, and had to drag themselves along till an accidental and local lull in their enemy let them scramble to their feet. They were dashed against the wall; they were held motionless by the madness of the elements. At last they came, almost broken, to the harbour of the open doorway. They stumbled through the drift that was forming in it, and the need for new labour presented itself. But other human aid was near. Henry, half-blind, staggered towards the kitchen, called the maids, and ordered one of them to help him to clear the doorway and fasten the door, while the other took charge of Nancy. With his last effort he saw the lock turned, the bolt driven home; then he dropped to the floor of the passage, unconscious at once of his purpose, his thwarting, and his accomplishment.

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