Many Dimensions, by Charles Williams

Chapter Seventeen

The Judgement of Lord Arglay

Twenty-four hours after his theft, Frank Lindsay had begun to realize that the emotions which accompany possession are sometimes as hard to deal with as the difficulties which precede possession. Before he had had the Stone in his pocket he had seen quite clearly what he would do; he would divide it, keep one part, and pass the other on to Mr. Merridew in return for a fee. That two identical Stones would result from the division he had not understood, only that each part of a divided Stone possessed the virtues of the whole. But he found that such a proceeding was by no means easy. His irritation with Chloe had prepared the way for his desire of success in his examination, winged by the promised fee, to pass into action; but when action was for the moment over, he found the second step more difficult than the first. He had been squeezed by circumstances and a narrow chance into the first act, but time opened before him for the second, and he could not move. He continually found himself staring at the Stone; he continually fingered his pocket-knife, and even took it out and opened it. But he could not put the edge to its work.

For one thing the Stone itself surprised him. He had not understood from Chloe — and for a good reason, since at that time she had not made herself a path for the Will of the Stone, and the Light within it had not expanded in proportion — that it was so strange, so active, and even so terrible an object. He was — he had to admit — frightened of touching it; he felt as if it would bleed at a cut and pour out its life before him. He hesitated even to touch it; it looked sometimes as if it would burn him if he lifted it. On the other hand, he could not bring himself to part entirely in his mind from Chloe by passing it on to Mr. Merridew in its completeness. He thought of ringing Carnegie up and refrained; vaguely it seemed to him that Chloe might, she might, be willing to lend him one of them if he didn’t. After all, she might take another view of his needs even now, even if she found out; but he realized that if she found out that it had passed to Merridew, his own days would be short in her land. And at that he began to realize that he was very near finding Chloe indispensable to him, or (as he called it) loving her. He didn’t want her to leave him, and while he had the Stone (he thought hopefully, in the manner of lovers of the sort) he could bribe, or lure, or bully her into nearness. The idea had occurred to him in the night, and he took it with him to the offices where he worked, and his own small room.

The only difficulty in the way of reestablishing relations with Chloe while retaining the Stone was the explanation of how he had got it. He hardly saw himself saying to her, “I have stolen this from you, and I want to use it. But if you are very nice to me I will not give it to anyone else, though i might make a hundred or two by doing so. I will, that is, buy you with a hundred pounds and the preservation in my own hands of your property.” The nearest he got to saying that even to himself was to recollect that she had occasionally, in times of financial stress, jested, half-mockingly, half-grimly, on the amount for which she would sell herself. But he realized that anyone who offered five pounds, or indeed five pence, would stand a better chance than he himself coming with such a bargain. Besides, of course, he didn’t want her to sell herself, he wanted her to love him — in exchange for his loss of a hundred pounds and his promise only to use the Stone for his own purposes.

It was at that moment she arrived, following up an office boy, who just had time to say, “Miss Burnett to see you,” before he was dazzled out of the way by her smile as she passed.

The smile vanished as she shut the door behind her; she turned on the wretched, goggling, and gasping Frank a face which he had never seen before. Chloe laughing, Chloe irritable, Chloe impatient, Chloe affectionate, Chloe attentive, Chloe provocative, these and many another he had known — but this, this was hardly Chloe. It was not that she looked angry or harsh; there was rather in her face a largeness of comprehension, a softness of generosity and lovely haste to meet any approach, which bewildered him.

“Dear Frank,” she said, tenderly, “how silly of you!” Frank went on goggling. She added simply, “I couldn’t come yesterday because Lord Arglay was a:way till very late, and I didn’t like to leave it while he had told me to stop. Not that it mattered. So I had to come here.” She smiled at him. “Darling,” she added, “you were rather rash, weren’t you? and a little rude?”

Frank’s mind tried vainly to understand. He was being accused — it must in the circumstances surely be an accusation? what could she do except ask, or appeal, or accuse? Only this didn’t sound like any of the three; it was more like sympathy. But if he were being accused, it was of a breach of manners and not of morals, which put him at a disadvantage, since the second can be defended on the grounds of some better, or at least different, morality, but the first is a matter of taste and defence is only communicable by emotion. Of her emotions at the moment he was altogether ignorant.

“Rude?” he said, “rude? What do you mean — rude?”

“Well . . . ” Chloe sketched a gesture. “You might have asked me again first if you needed it so much.”

Whether this subtlety was from the Stone or from her own feminine mind was hidden at the place where the Stone and her mind were finding their union. The only answer of which Frank was capable was criticism in turn.

“I did ask you,” he said, “and you wouldn’t But anyhow, I don’t know —”

He could not finish. Her swift and luminous eyes prevented him, passing in front of him with what shone in them, as they turned his excuses and denials aside, like a new and overwhelming mastery and knowledge. She came lightly to him and paused.

“Will you give it back to me?” she said simply and stretched out her hand.

In the stress of the moment he almost did. They had, they had been friends, great friends. They had had good times together; she had mocked and teased and helped and liked him; their hands and their mouths, their voices and their glances, were familiar. All but the sovereign union had been theirs, and if, for Chloe, that sovereign union had by now been made with other worlds, and if its image and instrument in this world lay between her and her other friend and master, yet of these things Frank was ignorant. And since assuredly that full and sovereign union permits no exclusion of any beauty, since the august virtue of its nature is to receive into itself all which partakes of its own divine benignity, since there — and there alone — is neither one nor many, neither lesser nor greater, but all is perfect and free, since even in its reflections upon earth the marvellous liberty of the children of God is to be experienced by all who devoutly and passionately desire, then even at that single moment Frank Lindsay might have entered into its sweetness and strength could he have met her as she came, and answered her in such a voice as that in which she asked. But such a voice can carry no selfish complaint, no wrangling excuse; it is a sound which, native to heaven, can on earth be vocal and audible only between spirits already disposed to heaven. So disposed, for all of clumsiness or roughness or anger or haste or folly that needed still to be cleared and enlightened, she stood and faced him. So indisposed, for all of industry and care and thought and study, he stood and looked away.

“Give what back?” he mumbled.

She sighed a little, and a faint shadow came upon her. She dropped her hand and said gravely, “Will you give me back the Stone that you have taken?”

Between denial and excuse he hesitated; then, abandoning both, he began, “Chloe, I don’t think you quite understand —”

“Need I understand more?” she asked.

“It’s like this —” he began again, and again she checked him . . .

“There is no need,” she said, and then more swiftly, “Frank, dear Frank, will you do this?”

He made another effort, letting go the pretence of ignorance. “Are you asking me to?” he said. “I mean, do you want it?”

“No,” she said, and ceased.

“But if you don’t want it, then why . . . I mean, mightn’t it as well be here — or even —” He was a little disappointed by her negative, and yet uncertain of the wisdom of introducing Merridew.

“It does not matter much where it is, I think,” she said, and again affection broke into her voice as she said, “I’m not asking for it. I’m asking you.”

“You’re asking me for it,” he said intelligently.

“No,” she answered again. “I am asking you to restore it, if you will, before —”

“Before?” he asked, really startled. Surely Arglay, surely she, couldn’t be thinking of the police! Curiously enough, he had never thought of the police until now. But she wouldn’t, she couldn’t, not with him! And Arglay couldn’t be such a cad.

“Before”— for the first time she faltered —“I don’t know; perhaps before it is restored. But that doesn’t matter; only I can’t wait. Lord Arglay is expecting me; he let me come because he knew I wanted to, but I can’t wait. Frank, if you have liked what we have had, you and I, will you give me back the Stone?”

“It isn’t that I wouldn’t — soon,” Frank answered.

“Will you now?” she asked.

“I think we ought to talk it over a little,” he said defensively. “I think you ought to try and get my point of view. I think —”

She moved away and walked, a little sadly, to the door.

There she paused and looked back. “Thank you for everything you have done for me,” she said. “They were good times. Good-bye, darling.”

He began to stammer some further explanation, but she was gone, and he stood alone with an emptiness and an uncertain fear invading his heart. In his haste, when she had entered, he had flung his morning paper over the Stone, which had been lying on the table, and now he moved that away, and again looked at the thing which he had denied her. He thought uncertainly of the examination, and unpleasantly of Mr. Merridew; of course, if she really wanted — It was a long while before, still disturbed, but still following the way he had begun to tread, he rang up Carnegie at the Union offices. Nor even then had he ventured to divide the Stone; he would talk to them first.

Carnegie, a cheque in his pocket, and the General Secretary’s urgent instructions in his mind, arrived as quickly as possible, and as quickly as possible cut short Frank’s talk, and procured the exhibition of the Stone. He agreed to every condition Frank made about having it returned — or a part of it-for the examination, passed over the cheque, picked up a spare envelope, slipped the Stone into it, put it down for a moment on the table again, and slapped Frank on the shoulder.

“Good man!” he said. “Merridew will be frightfully bucked, and you may find he can be useful to you yet. He will if he can after this. Well, I must get back at once. On the twenty-third you want it then?”

He grinned cheerfully at Frank, moved to pick up the packet, and looked vaguely at the table. “Where —” he began, picked up an empty envelope, the only one in sight, and said with some sharpness, “Where the devil is it?”

They both looked, they separated and sorted papers, they searched table and floor, they looked inside the envelope a dozen times, and still the Stone was undiscoverable.

“What’s the idea?” Carnegie asked. “Is this a joke?”

“Don’t talk rubbish,” Frank answered sharply. “Did you put it in your pocket?”

It seemed not, though the cheque had remained in Frank’s. Carnegie searched, threatened, expostulated; Frank, maddened by an implied accusation of a theft of money, snapped, and later raged. They searched and quarrelled; they hunted and denounced. And for all their effort and anger and perplexity, the Stone of the King was not to be found.

But while Frank had, after her departure, still been standing, dimly puzzled and unhappy, Chloe had been on her way back to Lancaster Gate, back to the Hajji and Lord Arglay and the Unity in the Stone. All the previous afternoon she had watched it, or — to, the best of her power — prayed, or meditated, or talked or listened to that foreign doctor of the mysteries. The realization of the theft of her Type had caused that which remained to seem very precious to her; the thought of the attempt in her room and of the death of Reginald Montague had brought the sense of necessary action very close, but she did not yet see what that action was to be. The Hajji had talked as if but one stage had been reached; she had made an opportunity, he implied, for the Stone, and the Indwelling of the Stone, to operate in the external world, but there it could at best only heal and destroy and its place was not there. He would not formulate for her what more remained, and she reposed now on the hope, the more than hope, that Lord Arglay and the Stone would direct her. Her unhappiness about Frank lay rather round than in her; she saw it as a sadness rather than felt it as a sorrow, for within she was withdrawn to an intention of obedience and a purpose not yet unveiled.

She got out at the Tube station, smiled at the newspaper man, picked up an agitated old lady’s umbrella, threw a glance over the Park and came after a short walk to the house. When she opened the study door she was at first unobserved, for Lord Arglay was standing with his back to the door listening to the Mayor of Rich. At least, she supposed it must be the Mayor from what he was saying, and from Oliver Doncaster’s presence a few paces distant. The Hajji was sitting close by. The Stone infinitely precious, glowed upon the table. On another side table were her typewriter, her notebooks, one pile of ordered manuscript which was the first few chapters of Organic Law, and another pile of papers which were the notes and schemes and drafts and quotations and references for the remainder. She closed the door softly behind her and for a minute or so stood and gazed.

Her gaze took in, it seemed, the symbols and instruments of her life, but they were real things and she felt with increasing happiness that what was there had, however hidden, run through her life. The muddled, distressed, amusing thing that her life had been resolved itself into four things in that room-the manuscript, and Oliver Doncaster, and Lord Arglay, and the Stone. Whatever was coming, it was good, and she was fortunate that her work had entered into the Chief Justice’s attempt to formulate once more by the intellect the actions of men; she was fortunate to have had even so small a part in the august labour. Whatever was coming, it was good that all her transitory loves should touch with so pleasant a glance as Oliver Doncaster’s her renewed entrance. She remembered how she had thought of his hair, and with a secret smile she assented — not in desire but in a happy amusement. “The dear!” she thought, caught his eyes, saw the admiration in them, preened herself on it for a moment’s joy, and looked on. Of the Hajji and the Mayor she felt little; they knew and did things, but they answered to no need or capacity within her except as teachers or clients. And of Lord Arglay and of the Stone she could not think, only she hoped that, whatever happened, neither of them would be lost to her for ever.

He paused, but Chloe only waited for him to proceed as (he thought) she had so often done while he dictated the sentences of Organic Law. He went on.

“And here therefore we are,” he said, “wondering what path to follow. For the Mayor and the Hajji disagree, and Mr. Doncaster and I have no clear idea, and though doubtless the Stone knows very well it does not give us much help. What do you think?”

She shook her head, and as she did so the Mayor broke once more into his plea for those whom he sought to serve. But after a while he stopped.

Lord Arglay said, “All this is true and dreadful enough. But even yet I am not clear what should be done.”

“If you are afraid to act —” the Mayor cried out. “No,” Lord Arglay said, “I do not think I am afraid.” “Then divide the Stone,” the Mayor exclaimed, “and let me have a part, and do what you will with the other.”

The Hajji made a movement, but Lord Arglay checked him with a hand, and said, “No, that I will not do; for I am still the Chief Justice — though I cannot think I shall be so for very long — and it is not in my judgement to commit any violence upon the Stone.”

“Then for God’s sake say what you will do,” the Mayor cried out in pain, “and put an end to it all.”

Lord Arglay stood for a minute in silence, then he began to speak, slowly and as if he gave judgement from his seat in the Court.

“I think there are few among my predecessors,” he said, “who have had such a matter to decide, and that not by the laws of England or Persia or any mortal code. But God forbid that when even such a matter is set before us we should not speak what we may. For if this is a matter of claimants then even those very terrible opposites shall abide the judgement of the Court to which chance, or it may be something more than chance, has brought them, as it was said in one of the myths of our race that a god was content to submit to the word of the Roman law. But it is not in our habit to wash our hands of these things, whatever god or people come before us. Also this is a question, it seems, between God and the people. It is a very dreadful thing to refuse health to, the sick — but it is more tragic still to loose upon earth that which does not belong to the earth, or if it does only upon its own conditions and after its own mode. Therefore I would not compel the Stone to act or ask any grace from it that it did not naturally give. And it is clear to us at least since last night that this thing belongs only to itself So that — I say that it is necessary first that it may be offered again to itself, but whether or how that may be done I do not yet know. For of all of us here one has sworn an oath and will keep it, and one claims the Stone for his purposes, and two are unlearned in its way. And therefore there is but one Path for the Stone, and since she has made herself that we will determine the matter so.”

He looked at Chloe, and his voice changed. “Are you to be the Path for the Stone?” he said.

“That is as you will have me,” Chloe answered.

“Are you to be?” he asked, with a tender irony. “Will you sit on the throne of Suleiman, and of all those who have possessed the Stone, kings and law-givers, Nimrod and Augustus and Muhammed and Charlemagne, will you only restore it to its place?”

Chloe flushed, and looked at him in distress. “Am I being silly?” she asked. “I do not compare, I was only asking what you wanted me to do.”

“Be at peace,” he answered, “for no man, has yet measured his own work, and it may be you shall do more than all these. They laboured in their office, and you shall work in yours. But why will you have me tell you what to do?”

“Because you said that the Stone was between us,” she answered, “and if that is so how otherwise can I move in the Stone?”

“And if I tell you to do it?” he asked.

“Then I will do what I may,” Chloe said.

“And if I tell you not to do it?” he asked again.

“Then I will wait till you will have it done,” she said, “for without you I cannot go even by myself.”

He looked at her in silence for a while, and as they stood there came through the open window the shouting of the newspaper boys. “More Rioting at Rich,” they called, “Official Statement.” “The Stone a Hoax.” “Rumours of War in the East.” “Rumours of War . . . rumours of war.”

Lord Arglay listened and looked. Then, “Well,” he said, “whether I believe I do not know and what I believe I most certainly do not know. But it is either that or this. And since this is in your mind I also will be with your mind and I will take upon me what you desire. So, if there is indeed a path for the Stone, in the name of God let us offer it that path, and let whatever Will moves justly in these things fulfil itself through us if that is its desire.” He lifted up the Stone, kept it for a moment raised upon his hand in the full view of all of them, and held it a little out towards Chloe. “Go on, child,” he said.

With the words there came to her the memory of her other experience in that room, when in dream or vision she had heard some such voice command her and struggled desperately to obey. There was no struggle or desperation in her movement or consciousness now as, so summoned, she went forward and paused in front of him, holding out her joined hands below his. He lowered his own gently till it lay in the cup of hers, and said in a voice shaken beyond his wont, “Do you know what you must do?”

She looked at him with a docile content. “I have nothing at all to do,” she said, and the Hajji cried suddenly aloud, “Blessed for ever be the Resignation of the elect.”

“Under the Protection,” Lord Arglay said, with the smile he had for her, and, as she answered, in a voice that only he could hear, “Under the Protection,” he leaned his hand very gently — so that, as if almost of its own motion, the Stone rolled over into hers. She received it, moving a step or two backward till she stood a little apart from them. The Hajji broke into the Protestation of the Unity“There is no God but God and Muhammed is the Prophet of God.”

The Mayor had turned half aside and had sat down, but he looked back now at the figures before him. Oliver Doncaster gazed with the ardent worship of young love at Chloe, but he also was in the rear. Upright, attentive, providential, Lord Arglay maintained his place, and stood nearest to her of all who watched.

She turned her eyes from his at last, downwards upon the Stone. It lay there, growing every moment more dark and more bright within itself; it seemed larger than it had been, but they could not properly judge because of the movement within it. Chloe looked at it, and suddenly there came into her mind the memory of Frank Lindsay. “Poor darling,” she felt with a renewed rush of pity and affection, “he didn’t, he couldn’t, understand.” In her own understanding she offered his failure and his mischief to That which she held, and with him also (moved by a large impulse which she endured without initiating, but with which she gladly united herself) all those who for any purpose of good or evil had laid their hands or fixed their desires upon the Stone. Vague in image, but intense in appeal, her heart gathered all — from herself to Giles Tumulty — in a sudden presentation of them to the Mystery with which they had trafficked.

Opposite her the eyes of Christopher Arglay had been watching it also. But as, in the passion of her intercession, she raised her hands and bent her head as if to carry the Stone into her breast and brood above it there, his gaze slid along those arms to her form, and took in not only that but the open window and the sky beyond.

He looked out, and in the sky itself there was a change. There was movement between him and the heavens; the chimneys and clouds and sky took on the appearance of the Stone. He was looking into it, and the world was there, continents and cities, seas and their ships. The Stone was not these, yet these were the Stone — only there was movement within and beyond them, and from a point infinitely far a continual vibration mingled itself with the myriad actions of men. And then, in the foreground of that vastidity, he saw rising the Types of the Stone, here and again there appearing and through all those mingled colours rushing swiftly together. Loosed from their cells and solitudes upon earth, living suddenly in conjoining motion, closing within themselves the separation which men had worked on them, those images grew into each other and were again made one. For a moment he saw the Unity of the Stone at a great distance within the Stone which was the world, and then the farther Mystery was lost in the nearer. Colour and darkness were a great background for her where she stood; they concentrated themselves upon her; through her they poured into the Stone upon her hands, and behind her again appeared but the sky and the houses of a London street.

The Hajji’s voice called: “Blessed be the Merciful, the Compassionate! blessed!” and he got to his knees, immediately afterwards prostrating himself towards the window, the East, and Mecca. Moved by the action and by some memory of churches and childhood, Oliver also knelt down; so that of all those in the room only the figure of Lord Arglay remained still upright and vigilant before her as the great change went on.

The strength of the appeal within her faded; it had achieved itself and she was hastened to what remained in her will. She became conscious of the movement of her hands and her head, and stayed them, for they seemed to suggest, however slightly, a removal and possession of the Stone. Her hands went a little from her, the Stone exposed upon them; they lifted a little also, and her head was raised and thrown back. But still her eyes were upon it, and her will abolished itself before its own. Where before she had prayed “Do or do not,” now she did not even pray. Her thought and her feeling passed out of her knowledge; she was the Path and there was process within her, and that was enough.

It was not given to her — or to most of the others — to see the operation by which that Mystery returned to its place. For the Hajji’s eyes were hidden, and the Mayor still brooded over the needs of men and was but half-attentive, and Oliver Doncaster’s look was for Chloe rather than the Stone. Only the justice of Lord Arglay, in the justice of the Stone which lay between himself and the woman he watched, beheld the manifestation of that exalted Return. He had seen the Types come together and pass through her form, colouring but never confusing it, till they had entered entirely into the Type upon her hands. But scarcely had the last vestige of entwined light and dark grown into the One which remained, scarcely had he seen her in herself standing again obedient and passive, than he saw suddenly that the great process was reversing itself. As all had flowed in, so now all began to flow out, out from the Stone, out into the hands that held it, out along the arms and into the body and shape of which they were part. Through the clothes that veiled it he saw that body receiving the likeness of the Stone. Translucency entered it, and through and in the limbs the darkness which was the Tetragrammaton moved and hid and revealed. He saw the Mystery upon her hands melting into them; it was flowing away, gently but very surely; it lessened in size and intensity as he watched. And as there it grew less, so more and more exquisitely and finally it took its place Within her — what the Stone had been she now was. Along that path, offered it by one soul alone, it passed on its predestined way — one single soul and yet one not solitary. For even as she was changed into its nature her eyes shone on her mortal master with an unchanged love and in the Glory that revealed itself there was nothing alien to their habitual and reciprocal joy. The Stone that had been before them was one with the Stone in which they had been; from either side its virtue proclaimed itself in her. At last the awful change was done. She stood before him; her hands, still out-stretched, were empty, but within her and about her light as of a lovely and clearer day grew and expanded. No violent outbreak or dazzling splendour was there; a perfection of existence flowed from her and passed outward so that he seemed both to stand in it and to look on it with his natural eyes. With such eyes he saw also, black upon her forehead, as if the night corresponding to that new day dwelled there for a while apart, the letters of the Tetragrammaton. She stood, so withdrawn, as the Stone sank slowly through her whole presented nature to its place in the order of the universe, and that mysterious visibility of the First Matter of creation returned to the invisibility from which it had been summoned to dwell in the crown of Suleiman the King. As in the height of his glory the Viceregent of the Merciful One had sat, terrific and compulsive over spirits and men, and the Stone had manifested above him, so now from the hands stretched to grasp it and the minds plotting to use it, from enemies and conspiracies, greed and rapine, it withdrew through a secluded heart. She stood, and the light faded and the darkness vanished; she stood, one moment clothed in the beauty of the End of Desire, and then swiftly abandoned. She was before him, the hands stretched not to hold but to clasp, the eyes wide with an infinite departure; she exclaimed and swayed where she stood, and Lord Arglay, leaping to her as she fell, caught a senseless body in his arms.

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