The same afternoon while Lord Arglay was hearing at Brighton of the extraordinary events (so the manager called them) of the previous night — how someone, so far untraced, must have got into Mr. Montague’s room, and how Mr. Montague’s mutilated body had been discovered there in the morning; while he himself was finding that there was no trace of any Type of the Stone among Reginald’s belongings; while this separation of a single Type from the rest was proceeding, Lord Birlesmere and Mr. Garterr Browne sat in a room at the Home Office and talked. Lord Birlesmere was agitated; Mr. Garterr Browne was calm and bright.
“Tumulty tells me nothing,” the Foreign Secretary was saying. “I tried to get hold of him yesterday, but I couldn’t. That fellow Palliser who was with him would only say that he hoped in time to find some way of control.”
“It might be awfully useful if he did,” Mr. Garterr Browne said, “I see that. But it’s going to take time, and I don’t think at present either of us can afford the time.”
“That’s quite true. I don’t know what’s happened,” Birlesmere answered, “but there was an unpleasant note in the Persian man’s voice. I’ve just seen him, and they’re more sure of themselves. He even began to hint at Geneva and perhaps something more.”
“Well,” Mr. Garterr Browne went on, “I think I may say that, as soon as I heard of it, I saw what would have to be done. One thing, anyhow, I don’t know about Persia, but I think it’ll quiet things here.”
“And what’s that?” Birlesmere asked.
Mr. Garterr Browne smiled slyly. “Ask yourself,” he said, “why people — this Mayor, for instance — are making such a fuss about the Stone. Why, because they think it does things.”
“So it does,” Lord Birlesmere said.
“Never mind whether it does or not,” Garterr Browne said sharply. “The point is that they believe it does. Very well. What do we want to do then? Stop them believing it. How do we do that? Tell them, and show them, that it doesn’t.”
“But it does,” Lord Birlesmere said again.
“The first thing I said to myself,” Mr. Garterr Browne went on, “when I realized it, was — people must simply not be allowed to believe in it. The second thing was — thank God it’s stone.”
Lord Birlesmere sat and stared. Mr. Garterr Browne sat and smiled, then he resumed.
“How can one stop them believing in it? As I’ve just said-tell them it doesn’t work; show them it doesn’t work. And if it does, show them something that doesn’t.”
“Good God!” Lord Birlesmere exclaimed.
“Stone,” the other said, still smiling, “isn’t rare. Marked stone isn’t rare. Of course, to a shade the markings . . . I don’t say that the tints are exactly . . . But near enough. I got hold of a man, and I went over his place, and I found bits. I’ve known him rather well for years — he was a contractor for the new Government buildings — and I found a bit of what I wanted.”
He pulled out a drawer and extracted something from it which he threw across to Lord Birlesmere. It was a fragment of square stone, having a black streak or two in it. But it was a poor imitation of the Stone of Suleiman, and so Lord Birlesmere, having considered it, felt compelled to say.
“No one would take it for the same thing,” he said.
“No one who hasn’t got the original is likely to be able to compare,” Garterr Browne said. “And who’s got it? Sheldrake — well, he must keep his for the present; the Persians — well, if they know we’ll keep it quiet they won’t want to make a fuss; Tumulty and Palliser — well, they must be careful in their experiments, but they’re not likely to act in public; you — that’s all right; Arglay — that is a little awkward, but he’s a sensible fellow and we’ll talk to him. I fancy Merridew’s trying to get a bit but I don’t think he has yet — and anyhow he’ll want it kept quiet; he was here saying so.”
“But, good God,” Lord Birlesmere said, “people won’t believe that these cures and so on didn’t happen.”
“We shan’t ask them to,” Garterr Browne explained. “They may have happened; they don’t happen now. Something has changed — the Stone has been exposed to the air or something. Rays . . . rays might have been exhausted. Tumulty and and I’ll manage a convincing statement, just keep it firmly in your mind that people must not be allowed to believe in it.”
“But then why worry about having this thing?” Birlesmere asked. “You can tell them all that anyhow.”
Mr. Garterr Browne almost winked. “You wait,” he said. “That Mayor’s coming round here again, and it’ll sound more convincing if I produce this. Besides — I’m not certain, but I may decide to get a few scientific opinions on the virtue and age of the thing, a few doctors or something.”
“They certainly won’t believe that that did anything,” Lord Birlesmere said.
“Nor very likely did the other,” Garterr Browne answered. “Think of the number of people who don’t believe in it now, and those who don’t want to. All we need for public opinion is a focus.” He got up in great glee and pointed to the bit of stone. “This is the focus.” He made gestures with both hands.
“We concentrate,” he said, “by a semi-official statement. Now how many people, in face of that, and their neighbours, are going on believing in an obviously absurd Stone? Ask yourself, Birlesmere, would you?”
“If, I’d seen it . . . ” Lord Birlesmere began.
“Pooh! coincidence,” said the other. “Pure coincidence.”
“And suppose one of the original Stones gets about somehow?” Birlesmere asked. “How will the Government look then? It’s a damned risky business, Browne, and I don’t half like it.”
“Nor you mayn’t,” Mr. Garterr Browne, a little huffed, answered. “But you don’t like simplicity. Look here — this is the Stone, don’t you see? It is; just is. And it doesn’t do anything at all. Of course, we shall try and get hold of all the others. Tumulty ought to do that.”
“Tumulty won’t do anything but what he wants.” Birlesmere said. “And I don’t like the way the Persians are talking. Suppose it does come up at Geneva?”
“Well, give them this,” the Home Secretary suggested. “Who’s to know? They only want it for a temple or something, I suppose, so this would be just as good. It isn’t as if it was a matter of practical importance. And would even they know the difference? Why, I can hardly believe there is any.”
“O I think there is,” Birlesmere protested. “The marking looks different.”
“O the marking, the marking,” said Mr. Garterr Browne impatiently. “God’s truth, man, what does the marking matter? Here am I faced with a riot or a strike and you with a war, and there you sit bleating about the marking. If you get to rock-bottom, if you come down to actual facts, it is that or this. Which will you have?”
“O this of course,” Lord Birlesmere said.
“Do you agree to my telling this Mayor, when he comes in a few minutes, that this is it?” the other pressed again.
“Yes, O yes,” Birlesmere assented. “Only you must back me up too with the Persian.”
“United we stand, divided we fall,” Mr. Garterr Browne almost sang. “It’s quite simple, Birlesmere, so long as you keep firmly in mind that people must not be allowed to believe in it; in fact, of course, they don’t believe in it; nobody could. So we’re only making their real minds clear to them.”
“But —” the Foreign Secretary began.
“I know, I know,” the other interrupted. “You used it, didn’t you? You and Tumulty. Yes, but, my dear fellow, are you sure you did? Looking back now, are you sure it wasn’t a kind of illusion? You may know it wasn’t because you have the Stone, but will those who haven’t it know?”
The telephone rang and he bent to it. “O bring him in,” he said. “Now here is the Mayor; now you see.”
The Mayor came in heavily. His meeting with Merridew had shaken his determination far more than he had known at the time, for since then he had become gradually aware of how strong, within his public feeling and his desire for the good of the common folk, had been the hope to save that son who lay cancer-stricken at home, and also of what a strong case Merridew might present for the suppression of the Stone. He had supposed good to be single, and it was divided; to be clear, and it was very clouded; to be inevitable, and it was remotely receding. With dull eyes, and a heart almost broken by public and private pain, he faced the Home Secretary.
“I have come to know if you have any news for me,” he said.
Mr. Garterr Browne shook a sympathetic head. “I am afraid,” he said, “that What I have is, in a sense, worse even than you might fear. In fact, we have discovered that the matter has settled itself.” He paused and the Mayor stared at him; then he resumed. “Yes, settled itself You see,” he picked up the stone that lay on the table, “you see apparently this thing changes; at least, I mean a change comes in it. It doesn’t retain its powers. Lord Birlesmere here will bear me out that we have been very much startled and shocked to find that after a while the qualities of the Stone, the special qualities both of transport and medicine, disappear. It becomes apparently just an ordinary piece of . . . mineral. We are, as I told you, having it investigated, but our advisers report to the worst effect, and I am bound to say that what Lord Birlesmere and I myself have been able to see has confirmed us in accepting that report. It may be that the air has a . . . a modifying effect or that some inherent virtue becomes exhausted-like radium, I mean like radium doesn’t if you follow me. It may be that some central ray-diffusing nucleus disperses itself gradually. I couldn’t say. But as a result — well, there we are. Nothing happens. I chanced,” Mr. Garterr Browne went on suddenly, apparently resolving to do the whole business well, while he was about it —“I happened to have neuralgia early this morning rather badly, and so of course I thought . . . But there it is, my neuralgia didn’t stop. I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, for I know what you must be feeling, what indeed I’m feeling myself. But there it is. Truth will out.”
With this sudden peroration Mr. Garterr Browne put the stone back on his table and looked at the Mayor. The Mayor, without invitation, sat down suddenly. He stared at the stone which, up to now, he had not seen.
“This is it?” he asked.
“This is it,” Mr. Garterr Browne said regretfully, while Lord Birlesmere inhaled audibly and thought of that earlier moment when Lord Arglay’s secretary had made a scene in a Government office on behalf of the Stone of Suleiman. How much quieter things were, he considered, round Browne’s stone! If only it could be kept up, and after all there was no reason why it shouldn’t be. No one could tell, except by the general growth of peace and quiet, which stone had really better exist. Strong measures perhaps, but difficult times required strong measures.
The Mayor said slowly: “Do your scientific men, your doctors, assure you that this is quite useless?”
“Alas, yes,” Mr. Garterr Browne said reluctantly.
“And what of the other Stones?” the Mayor asked. “Have they also become useless?”
“Well, so far as we can test them,” the Home Secretary answered, with an air of complete frankness. “There are one or two we haven’t got, of course. There’s Sir Giles Tumulty’s; he’s working on it, so no doubt we shall hear.”
There was a short silence. Then the Mayor said, “It is certain that this Stone can do nothing?”
“It is perfectly certain,” Mr. Garterr Browne answered, tasting the words as if he were enjoying the savour of the truth that they contained, “that this stone can do nothing.”
The Mayor stretched out his hand, picked up the stone, looked at it, turned it over in his hand, and then sat for a moment holding it. At this last moment of his hopes, when he realized that, in consequence of this new discovery of the mysterious nature of the stone, he was about to return to Rich disappointed and crushed and compelled to crush and disappoint — at this moment it was impossible for him not to make one last personal effort. It was useless, of course, but if any virtue remained, if, defeated in the State, he could still succeed in the household by some last lingering potency, if he could help his son. He shaped the wish to himself and put all his agony and desire into it, clutching tightly the useless bit of matter meanwhile,. and the two Ministers watched him with rather obvious patience. At last he stirred, put it down, and stood up.
“It seems I can do no more,” he said. “I will go back to Rich and tell them that there is no hope.”
“A great pity,” Lord Birlesmere said, speaking for the first time; and “A very great pity,” said Mr. Garterr Browne, adding, both to create a good impression and with an eye to any extremely improbable future eventualities, “Of course, if any fresh change should occur, if (for example) it should be in any way cyclic, I pledge you my word to let you know. But I haven’t much hope. A most remarkable phenomenon — that it should have reasonably aroused such hope.”
“A very common phenomenon — that the dying should hope for life,” said the Mayor, and with one abrupt farewell went out.
“And now,” Garterr Browne said, leaning across his table towards Birlesmere, “now for Tumulty.”
The Foreign Secretary in turn leant a little forward, so that to observant eyes, perhaps to Lord Arglay’s, the two might have seemed as they bowed towards each other across the office table and the mock stone, like two figures of cherubim bowing over another Ark than that which was in the Temple of Suleiman, and over the false treasures of an illusory world. The light of the Shekinah was hidden, but there was something of a light in Mr. Garterr Browne’s eyes as he said, “Birlesmere, now we’ve got rid of him, now he’s been worked, is there any reason why we shouldn’t have it”— he dropped his voice a little —“and stick to it? You and I and Sheldrake if we must, and Tumulty to experiment? It may be able to do very great things. Life — for all we know; and gold — for all we know; and control.”
Lord Birlesmere paled a little, but he also had felt during the last few days a small and strange desire moving in his heart, and he did not dispute with his colleague. He only said, “Can it be done?”
“Let us talk to Tumulty,” Mr. Garterr Browne answered and took up the telephone.
It was, however, much later in the evening before Sir Giles could be got hold of. He had that day been again to Wandsworth considering the detestable bed where the living and broken victim of his experiment lay, sustained against all likelihood in a dreadful mortality by the rigorous operation of the Stone. He had then proceeded to a hospital where he proposed to institute a series of experiments to see how far health could be restored or abolished, and to note the effect of the Stone upon the bodies in a state of disease, and he had made arrangements to visit a madhouse on the next day, where among the merely imbecile he hoped to be able to measure the degree of personal will necessary for any working. He was consequently both tired and snappy when the Home Secretary began talking, and shut down on the conversation in a few minutes.
“It’s always the same damnable chit-chat,” he muttered as he went up to his bedroom and flung his Type on a table by the bed. “Always this infernal control. I’d control them fast enough if I could. If I could get past whatever sailor’s knot the thing tied itself into the other day when I wanted to try it on that bitch of Arglay’s. Can’t that hog-headed paroquet of a Secretary have Arglay and her jailed for something or other? I can’t get rid of a notion that she’s peering over the blasted thing at me. Am I losing my nerve and beginning to see things?” He had sat down, half-undressed, on the side of the bed, and in a sudden outbreak of rage he picked up the Stone again. “Damn you,” it was Chloe whom he half-unconsciously apostrophized, “are you tucked away in it as if it was Arglay’s bed? I only wish I could get at you.”
As he spoke the Stone seemed to open in his hand. He found himself looking into it, down coils of moving and alternated splendour and darkness. Startled, he dropped it on the table, or would have done, — but that, as he loosed it, instead of falling, it hung in the air, dilating and deepening. It was no more a mere Stone, it moved before him as a living thing, riven in all its parts by a subdued but increasing light. He sprang up and took a step or two away, nor did it pursue, but he somehow found himself no farther off. He backed, cursing, to the extreme other side of the room, but there once more he found himself close to what had by now become a nucleus of movement which passed outward from it into the very walls and furniture. They, so far as the mind which was now striving to steady itself, could discern, were themselves shifting and Curving. He put out his hand to the bed and found himself holding the cord of one of the pictures; he stepped aside, and one foot was on the pillows of the bed and one crashing through the glass of the wardrobe. “The damn thing’11 get me down if I’m not careful,” he thought, and made a great effort to hold himself firm, and see in its natural shape the room he knew so well. But whether within or without, the awful change went on; it was as if the room itself, and he with it, were being sucked into the convolutions of the Stone. Its darkness and its light were no more merely before him but expanding upwards and downwards till they rose to his head and descended to his feet; he felt himself drawn against all his efforts into some unnaturally curved posture — he knew of pain somewhere but could not keep his mind on it. For before him in arch after arch, as if veil after veil were torn swiftly aside, that which was the Stone was opening its heart to him. His eyes could not properly see, nor his brain understand, what those swift revelations held; he thought once or twice he saw himself, he was sure he caught sight of Lord Arglay moving in some abstracted meditation upon some serious concern. And then suddenly he saw her; he saw her lying in bed asleep, far off but very clear, and felt himself beginning to be entirely drawn down the long spiral passages through which he gazed. He set, in one last gigantic effort, his whole will against this movement and for a moment seemed to stay it. So clear was the vision that he saw Chloe stir and turn a little in her sleep. In a suddenly renewed rage he felt himself cry out at her, “O go to hell,” and as the words, from within or without, reached his mind, Chloe stirred again and woke. He saw her wake; his eyes met hers; he saw them but saw in them no recognition — not of horror or anger or fear; nor indeed of pity or mercy or distress. She looked at him through the distances, and as if unconsciously put a hand beneath her pillow. And as she did so the vision passed and he saw her no more.
For now, and now that sense of pain in his limbs grew stronger, he saw That which had lain beneath her pillow; within the Stone he saw the Stone. Not in the sense of which the Hajji had spoken or Lord Arglay had talked to Chloe, but for him more agonizingly the way to the Stone lay indeed within the Stone. Its greatness was all about him, yet its smallness lay, glowing gold, at the remote centre. There was something or someone behind and partly above it, and below in a fiery circle of guardianship he saw figures that seemed each to wear it in ring or crown, in sword-hilt or sceptre, and then the Stone in the centre changed and was the Stone no more.
For whatever brooded over it had moved, and at the movement the light leaped out at him, and suddenly Giles Tumulty began to scream. For at once the light and with it the pain passed through him, dividing nerve from nerve, sinew from sinew, bone from bone. Everywhere the sharp torment caught him, and still, struggling and twisting, he was dragged down the curving spirals nearer to the illumination into which he was already plunged. And he remembered — now suddenly he remembered how he had seen in a vision what was to be. He had willed to be in the future, and since that could not be, for the future as yet had lain only in the Mind to which it equally with the past was present, the Stone had revealed the future to him. He remembered; he knew what was to happen, for the merciful oblivion was withdrawn; he saw himself gathered, a living soul, into the centre of the Stone. That which he had been to men, that by which he had chosen to deal with others, by that he was to be dealt with in his turn. The wheeling and looming forms of giant powers amid whom he was drawn turned on him their terrible and curious eyes; under the gaze of everlasting dominations he was exposed in a final and utter helplessness. He was conscious also of a myriad other Giles Tumultys, of childhood and boyhood and youth and age, all that he had ever been, and all of them were screaming as that relentless and dividing light plunged into them and held them.
He was doing, it seemed, innumerable things at once, all the things that he had ever done, and yet the whole time he was not doing, he was slipping, slipping down, and under and over him the Glory shone, and sometimes it withdrew a little and then pierced him again with new agony. And now he was whirling round and round, having no hold above or footing below, but being lost in an infinite depth. Above him the light was full of eyes, curious and pitiless, watching him as he had often watched others, and a subtle murmur, as of some distant words of comment or of subdued laughter came to him. From the spirals of time and place he felt himself falling, and still he fell and fell.
When they found him, but a few moments after that raucous scream had terrified the household, he was lying on the floor amid the shattered furniture twisted in every limb, and pierced and burnt all over as if by innumerable needle-points of fire.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15