Many Dimensions, by Charles Williams

Chapter Two

The Pupil of Organic Law

“You ought to know by now,” Lord Arglay said into the telephone, “that I can’t possibly put any money into your companies . . . Caesar’s wife . . . No, I am . . . O never mind . . . Yes . . . Certainly . . . As much as you like . . . Lunch then.” He put the receiver back. “It’s an extraordinary thing,” he went on to Chloe Burnett, as she lifted her hands again to the typewriter, “that Reginald won’t realize how careful I have to be of what my money is in. It’s a wonder I have any private income at all. As it is, whenever I give a decision in a financial case I expect to be left comparatively penniless in a month or two.”

“Does Mr. Montague want you to invest?” Miss Burnett asked.

“He wants me to give him five hundred, so far as I can understand,” Lord Arglay said, “to put in the best thing that ever was. What is the best thing that ever was?”

Miss Burnett looked at her typewriter and offered no opinion.

“I suppose that I ought to think the Twelve Tables were,” the Chief Justice went on, “officially — or the Code Napoléon — but they’re rather specialist. And anyhow when you say ‘that ever was,’ do you mean that it’s stopped being? Or can it still be? . . . Miss Burnett,” he added after a pause, “I was asking you a question.”

“I don’t know, Lord Arglay,” Chloe said patiently. “I never can answer that sort of question. I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘was.’ But oughtn’t we to get on with the rest of the chapter before lunch?”

Lord Arglay sighed and looked at his notes. “I suppose so, but I’d much rather talk. Was there ever a best thing that ever was? Never mind; you’re right as usual. Where were we? The judgement of Lord Mansfield —” He began dictating.

There was, in fact, time for an hour’s work before Mr. Montague arrived for lunch. Chloe Burnett had been engaged six months before by Lord Arglay as general intellectual factotum when he had determined to begin work on his Survey of Organic Law. When the Chief Justice was at the Courts she spent her time reducing to typed order whatever material Lord Arglay left ready for her the night before. But during the vacation, since he had remained in town, it had become a habit for them to lunch together, and neither Chloe’s intention of withdrawing or Mr. Montague’s obvious uneasiness caused Lord Arglay to break it.

“Of course you’ll lunch here,” he said to Chloe, and to Mr. Montague’s private explanations that the matter in hand was very secret, “That’s all right; two can spoil a secret but three make a conspiracy, which is much safer.”

“And now,” he said to his nephew after they were settled, “what is it? What do you want me to put my money in this time? I shan’t, of course, but what’s it all about?”

“Well, it’s a kind of transport,” Reginald said. “It came to me through Uncle Giles, who wanted me to help him in an experiment.”

“Was it a dangerous experiment?” Lord Arglay asked.

“No I don’t think dangerous,” Montague answered. “Unusual perhaps, but not dangerous. When he came back from Baghdad this time he brought with him a funny kind of a thing, something . . . well, something like a crown and something . . . something . . . ”

“Something not,” said Lord Arglay. “Quite. Well?”

“Made of gold,” Reginald went on, “with a stone — that size . . . in the middle. Well, so he asked me over to help him experiment, and there was a man from the Persian Embassy there too, who said it was what Sir Giles thought it was — at least, he’d bought it as being — but that doesn’t matter. Well now, this thing — I know you won’t believe it — it sounds so silly; only you know I did it. Not Sir Giles — he said he wanted to observe, but I did. The Persian fellow was rather upset about it, at least not upset, but a bit high in the air, you know. Rather frosty. But I’m bound to say he met us quite fairly, said he was perfectly willing to admit that we had it, and to make it clear to us what it was; only he must have it back. But that would have been too silly.”

As Mr. Montague paused for a moment Lord Arglay looked at Chloe. “It’s a fact I’ve continually observed in the witness box,” he said abstractedly, “that nine people out of ten, off their own subject, are incapable of lucidity, whereas on their own subject they can be as direct as a straight line before Einstein. I had a fellow once who couldn’t put three words together sanely; we were all hopeless, till counsel got him on his own business — which happened to be statistics of the development of industry in the Central American Republics; and then for about five minutes I understood exactly what had been happening there for the last seventy years. Curious. You and I are either silent or lucid. Yes, Reginald’ Never mind me, I’ve often been meaning to tell Miss Burnett that, and it just came into my mind. Yes?”

“O he was lucid enough,” Reginald said. “Well it seems this thing was supposed to be the crown of King Suleiman, but of course as to that I can’t say. But I can tell you this.” He pointed a fork at the Chief Justice. “I put that thing on my head —” Chloe gave a small gasp “— and I willed myself to be back in my rooms in Rowland Street, and there I was.” He stopped.

Lord Arglay and Chloe were both staring at him. “There!” he repeated. “And then I willed myself back at Ealing, and there I was.”

Chloe went on staring. Lord Arglay frowned a little. “What do you mean?” he said, with a sound of the Chief Justice in his voice.

“I mean that I just was,” Reginald said victoriously. “I don’t know how I got there. I felt a little dizzy at the time, and I had a headache of sorts afterwards. But without any kind of doubt I was one minute in Ealing and the next in Rowland Street, one minute in Rowland Street and the next in Ealing.”

The two listeners looked at each other, and were silent for two or three minutes. Reginald leaned back and waited for more.

Lord Arglay said at last, “I won’t ask you if you were drunk, Reginald, because I don’t think you’d tell me this extraordinary story if you were drunk then unless you were drunk now, which you seem not to be. I wonder what exactly it was that Giles did. Sir Giles Tumulty, Miss Burnett, is one of the most cantankerously crooked birds I have ever known. He is, unfortunately, my remote brother-in-law; his brother was Reginald’s mother’s second husband — you know the kind of riddle-me-ree relationship. He’s obscurely connected with diabolism in two continents; he has written a classic work on the ritual of Priapus; he is the first authority in the world on certain subjects, and the first authority in hell on one or two more. Yet he never seems to do anything himself, he’s always in the background as an interested observer. I wonder what exactly it was that he did and still more I wonder why he did it.”

“But he didn’t do anything,” Reginald said indignantly. “He just sat and watched.”

“Of two explanations,” Lord Arglay said, “other things being equal, one should prefer that most consonant with normal human experience. That Giles should play some sort of trick on you is consonant with human experience; that you should fly through the air in ten minutes is not — at least it doesn’t seem so to me. What do you think, Miss Burnett?”

“I don’t seem to believe it somehow,” Chloe said. “Did you say it was the Crown of Suleiman, Mr. Montague? I thought he went on a carpet.”

Lord Arglay stopped a cigarette half way to his lips. “Eh” he said. “What a treasure you are as a secretary, Miss Burnett! So he did, I seem to remember. You’re sure it wasn’t a carpet, Reginald?”

“Of course I’m sure,” Reginald said irritably. “Should I mistake a carpet for a crown? And I never knew that Suleiman had either particularly.”

Lord Arglay, pursuing his own thoughts, shook his head. “It would be like Giles to have the details right, you know,” he said. “If there was a king who travelled so, that would be the king Giles would bring out for whatever his wishes might be. Look here, Reginald, what did he want you to do?”

“Nothing,” Reginald answered. “But the point is this.” Confirming the Chief Justice’s previous dictum he became suddenly lucid. “The Persian man told us that small fractions taken from the Stone — it’s the Stone in the Crown that does it — have the same power. Now, if that’s so, we can have circlets made — with a chip in each, and just think what any man with money would give to have a thing like that. Think of a fellow in Throgmorton Street being able to be in Wall Street in two seconds! Think of Foreign Secretaries! Think of the Secret Service! Think of war! Every Government will need them. And we have the monopoly. It means a colossal fortune — colossal. O uncle, you must come in. I want a thousand: I can get six hundred or so quietly — not a word must leak out or I could do more, of course. Give me five hundred and I’ll get you fifty thousand times five hundred back.”

Lord Arglay disregarded this appeal. “Did you say the other man belonged to the Persian Embassy?” he asked. “What did he want anyway?”

“He wanted it back,” Reginald said. “Some sort of religious idea, I fancy. But really Sir Giles only needed him in order to make sure it was authentic.”

“If Giles thought it was authentic,” Lord Arglay said, “I’d bet any money he wanted to tantalize him with it. If there was an it, which of course I don’t believe.”

“But I saw it, I touched it, I used it,” Reginald cried out lyrically. “I tell you, I did it.”

“I know you do,” the Chief Justice answered, “And though I shan’t give you the money I’m bound to say I feel extremely curious.” He got up slowly. “I think,” he said, “the telephone. Excuse me a few minutes. I want to try and catch Giles if he’s in.”

When he had gone out of the room a sudden consciousness of their respective positions fell on the other two. Reginald Montague became acutely aware that he had been revealing an immense and incredible secret to a girl in his uncle’s employment. Chloe became angrily conscious that she could not interrogate this young man as she would have done her own friends. This annoyed her the more because, compared with Lord Arglay’s learning and amused observation, she knew him to be trivial and greedy. But she, though certain of greater affection for the Chief Justice than he had, was a servant and he a relation. She thought of the phrase again —“the Crown of Suleiman.” The crown of Suleiman and Reginald Montague!

“Sounds awfully funny, doesn’t it, Miss Burnett?” Mr. Montague asked, coming carefully down to her level.

“Lord Arglay seemed to think Sir Giles was having a joke with you,” she answered coldly. “A kind of mesmerism, perhaps.”

“O that’s just my uncle’s way,” Reginald said sharply. “He likes to pull my leg a bit.”

“So Lord Arglay seemed to think,” Chloe said.

“No, I mean Lord Arglay,” Reginald said more irritably than before.

“You mean Lord Arglay really believes it all?” Chloe said, surprised. “O do you think so, Mr. Montague?”

“Lord Arglay and I understand one another,” Reginald threw over carelessly.

“One another?” Chloe said. “Both of you? But how splendid! He’s such an able man, isn’t he? It must be wonderful to understand him so well.” She frowned thoughtfully. “Of course I don’t know what to think.”

“Ah, well, that doesn’t so much matter, does it? I mean —” He hesitated.

“O I know it isn’t my money that comes in,” Chloe hastened to say. “I do realize that, Mr. Montague.”

“It isn’t a question of money — not first of all,” Reginald protested. “It’s a matter of general interest.”

Chloe said nothing, chiefly because she was a little ashamed of herself, but the result was almost worse than if she had made another effort. The commenting silence extended itself for some minutes and was broken at last by Lord Arglay’s return.

“Well,” he said, “I’ve been talking to Giles. I’m bound to say he swears it’s quite right, and sticks to you in every particular, Reginald. However, he’s asked us to go over to-night and see. Miss Burnett, can you come?”

“O but, Lord Arglay, ought I to . . . ” Chloe said doubtfully; and “I don’t suppose Miss Burnett would find it very interesting,” Reginald hastily threw in.

“Civilized man,” Lord Arglay said, “is known by the capacity of his intellect to produce convincing reasons for his emotions. Convincing, Reginald. Say anything you like, except to suggest that anyone wouldn’t be interested in this new interstellar traffic of yours. Besides, I need my secretary. I shall be out this afternoon and I officially request her to spend her time looking up all the references to Suleiman the son of David that she can find. We will all dine here at seven and then go to Ealing. That suit you, Miss Burnett? You, Reginald? Right.”

Reginald got up to go. “Well, you won’t finally decide against coming in until to-night, will you, uncle?” he said. “Good-bye, Miss Burnett. Don’t let my uncle persuade you to come if you don’t want to.”

“I won’t,” Chloe said politely, “as I shan’t be able to have a financial interest. Good-bye, Mr. Montague.”

When Reginald had gone —“And why the scratch, Miss Burnett?” Lord Arglay asked. “Quite right, of course, but why today especially? Generally you just let Reginald fleet by. Why this unwonted sharpness?”

“I beg your pardon,” Chloe said. “I don’t quite know. It was impertinent of me. I didn’t mean to be rude to you.”

“Not in the least impertinent,” the Chief Justice answered. “Quite remarkably relevant. But why today?”

“I think it was his talk of the Crown of Suleiman,” Chloe said reluctantly. “Somehow . . . ”

Arglay shook his head. “I wouldn’t pin much to that. My belief is still that Giles has been hocussing that young man. But I’m curious to know why; and anyhow it wouldn’t do me any harm to know as much as you about the son of David. I can’t think of another fact about him at present. So you dig out what you can and then clear off and be back by seven.”

“Are you going out, Lord Arglay?” Chloe asked.

“Certainly not,” the Chief Justice said. “I am going to lie in my deepest armchair and read When Anarchy came to an n, which has an encouraging picture of the Law Courts being burnt on the cover. Till seven, then.”

The dinner was largely occupied, much to Reginald’s boredom, by Chloe’s account of what she had discovered about King Suleiman and Lord Arglay’s comments on it. It seemed she had been right in her remembrance that the Majesty of the King made its journeys accompanied by the Djinn, the doctors of the law, and the viziers, upon a carpet which accommodated its size to the King’s needs. But there were also tales of the Crown and the Stone in the Crown, and (more general) of the Ring by virtue of which the King understood all languages of men and beasts and Djinn and governed all created things’ save only the great Archangels themselves who exist in immediate cognition of the Holy One. “For,” said Chloe thrilling, “he was one of the four mighty ones — who were Nimrod and Sheddad the Son of Ad, and Suleiman and Alexander; the first two being infidels and the Second two True Believers.”

“Alexander?” Arglay said in surprise. “How jolly! Perhaps Giles will produce the helmet of the divine Alexander too. We shall have a regular archaeological evening, I expect. Well, come along, Malbrouck s’en va t’en guerre . . . He carried them off to the car.

Sir Giles received the party with an almost Christlike, “What went ye out for to see?” air, but he made no demur about producing the Crown for their examination. The Chief Justice, after examining it, showed it to Chloe.

“And the markings?” he asked her.

Chloe said nervously, “O you know them, Lord Arglay.”

“I know they are Hebrew,” the Chief Justice said, “and I know that Sir Giles is sneering at me in his heart. But I haven’t an idea what they are.”

“I suppose you’ve never had a Hebrew Rabbi before you?” Sir Giles said. “That’s how you judges become educated men, isn’t it? The letters —”

“I asked Miss Burnett, Giles,” Lord Arglay interrupted, and Sir Giles with a shrug waited.

“They are the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, the Divine Name,” Chloe said still more nervously. “Yod, He, Vau, He. I found it out this afternoon,” she said suddenly to Sir Giles, “in an encyclopedia.”

“Some of us write encyclopedias,” Arglay said, “— that’s you, Giles; some of us read them — that’s you, Miss Burnett; some of us own them — that’s me; and some of us despise them — that’s you, Reginald.”

“Encyclopedias are like slums,” Giles said, “the rotten homes of diseased minds. But even Hoxton has to pretend to live, it thinks, and of course it doesn’t know it stinks.”

Arglay was looking at the letters. “The Divine Name,” he said musingly. “Yod, He, Vau, He. Umph. Well . . . We were going to experiment, weren’t we?” he added, almost as if recovering himself. “Who begins? Reginald, suppose you show us.”

“Certainly,” Montague said. “Now look here, uncle, let’s really show you. Tell me something I can bring you from your study.”

“Bring me the pages of manuscript on the small table by the window,” Arglay answered at once. “The top one is marked Chapter IV.”

Montague nodded and taking the Crown put it on his head; he settled it comfortably, then taking a step or two backwards sat down in the nearest convenient chair. Lord Arglay watched him attentively, occasionally darting his eyes sideways towards Sir Giles, who — as if bored with the repetition of a concluded experiment — had turned to the papers on which he had previously been working. Chloe suddenly caught Arglay’s arm; he put up his other hand and pressed hers. At once they found themselves looking at an empty chair. Chloe cried out; Arglay took a step towards the chair. Sir Giles, looking round, said casually; “I shouldn’t get in the way; he may be back at any moment, and you might get a nasty knock.”

“Well, I’m damned,” Lord Arglay said. “It’s all —” he began, looking at Chloe, but, impressed by the vivid excitement that possessed her, ceased in the middle of the reassuring phrase he had begun. They waited in silence.

It was only about two or three minutes before, suddenly, they saw Reginald Montague again in front of them. He sat still for another minute or two, then he stepped forward and gave the Chief Justice several pages of manuscript. “Well, uncle?” he asked triumphantly.

Arglay took the papers and looked at them. They were those on which he had been making notes that afternoon, and he had, he knew, left them on his table. He turned them over in silence. Chloe released his arm suddenly and sat down. Sir Giles strolled back to them. “Interesting exhibit, what?” he said.

The Chief Justice’s mind admitted the apparent fact. It was impossible, but it had happened. In less than five minutes these papers had been brought from Lancaster Gate to Ealing. He loosed the little sigh which always preceded his giving judgement and nodded. “I don’t know whether it’s the Crown of Suleiman, Giles,” he said, “or some fantasia of our own. But it certainly seems to work.”

“What about trying it, uncle?” Reginald said invitingly, removing the gold circlet from his head and holding it out. “It’s quite simple. You just put it on and wish firmly to go wherever you choose.”

“Wishing firmly is a very difficult thing,” Lord Arglay said. “But if you can I suppose I can.” He took the Crown and looked at Chloe. “Where shall I go, Miss Burnett?” he asked.

“Somewhere quiet,” Sir Giles interjected. “If you choose the House of Commons or London Bridge or anything like that you’ll cause a sensation. Try your —” he paused a moment, “dining-room,” he added.

“I’d rather go somewhere I didn’t know,” Arglay said.

“Go to my sitting-room, Lord Arglay,” Chloe put in swiftly. “I don’t suppose you even remember what the address is. Oh — let me think — on the table is last week’s New Statesman.”

“There isn’t likely to be any other fellow there?” Sir Giles asked. “No? All right, Arglay. Better sit down; it’s apt to jar you, they say. Now — will yourself there.”

Lord Arglay took the Crown in both hands and set it on his head. Chloe involuntarily compared the motion with Montague’s. Reginald had put it on with one hand as if he were settling a cap; against his thin form the Chief Justice’s assured maturity stood like a dark magnificence. He set on the Crown as if he were accepting a challenge, and sat down as if the Chief Justice of England were coming to some high trial, either of another or of himself. Chloe, used to seeing and hearing him when his mind played easily with his surroundings, used to the light courtesy with which he had always treated her, had rarely seen in him that rich plenitude of power which seemed to make his office right and natural to him. Once or twice, when, in dictating his book, he had framed slowly some difficult and significant paragraph, she had caught a hint of it, but her attention then had been on her work and his words rather than his person. She held her breath as she looked, and her eyes met his. They were fixed on her with a kind of abstract intimacy; she felt at once more individual to him than ever before and yet as if the individuality which he discerned was something of which she herself was not yet conscious. And while she looked back into them, thrilling to that remote concentration, she found she was looking only at the chair, and was brought back at once from that separate interaction to the remembrance of their business. She started with the shock, and both the men in the room looked at her.

“Don’t be frightened,” Sir Giles said, with an effort controlling his phrases, and “It’s all right, you know,” Montague added coldly.

“I’m not frightened, thank you,” Chloe said, hating them both with a sudden intensity, but she knew she lied. She was frightened; she was frightened of them. The Crown of Suleiman, the strange happenings, Lord Arglay’s movements — these were what had stirred her emotions and shaken her, and those shaken emotions were loosed within her in a sudden horror, yet of what she did not know. It seemed as if there were two combinations; one had vanished, and the other she loathed, but to that she was suddenly abandoned. It was ridiculous, it was insane. “What on earth are you afraid of?” she asked herself, “do you think either of them is going to assault you?” And beyond and despite herself, and as if thinking of some assault she could not visualize or imagine she answered, “Yes, I do.”

Lord Arglay, as he sat down wearing the Crown, had directed his eyes and mind towards Chloe. For the first few moments half a score of ordinary irrelevant thoughts leapt in his mind. She was efficient, she was rather good-looking, she was, under the detached patience with which she took his dictation, avid of ideas and facts, she was desirous — but of what Lord Arglay doubted if she knew and was quite certain he did not. He put the irrelevancies aside, by mere habitual practice, held his mind empty and prepared, as if to receive some important answer which could then be directed to its proper place in the particular order to which it belonged, allowed the image of Chloe Burnett and the thought of her home to enter, and shut his mind down on them. The Crown pressed on his forehead; he involuntarily united the physical consciousness and the mental; either received the other. His interior purpose suddenly lost hold; a dizziness caught him, through which he was aware only of a dominating attraction — his being yearned, to some power above, around, within him. The dizziness increased and then was gone; his head ached; the Stone pressed heavily on it, then more lightly. He found himself opening his eyes.

He opened them on a strange room, and realized that he was standing by the door. It was a not too well furnished room — not, obviously, his own kind. There were two comfortable armchairs; there was a bookcase; a table; another chair; pictures; a little reproduction of the Victory of Samothrace, a poor Buddha, a vase or two. On the table a box of cigarettes and a matchbox; some sort of needlework; a book; the New Statesman. Lord Arglay drew a deep breath. So it worked. He walked to the table, then he went over to the window and looked out. It was the ordinary suburban street, a few ordinary people — three men, a woman, four children. He felt the curtains — they seemed actual. He felt himself with the same result. He went back to the table and picked up the New Statesman, then he sat down in one of the comfortable chairs as if to consider. But as he leant back against the cushions he remembered that the experiment was only half done; he could consider afterwards. The immediate thing was to return with the paper; if that were done, all was done that could be at the moment. “I wish there were someone here to speak to,” he thought. “I wonder — I suppose they would see me.” He thought of going down into the street and asking his way to some imaginary road, but the difficulty in passing anyone outside Chloe Burnett’s room occurred to him and he desisted. Return, then. He gripped the New Statesman tightly, and began to think of Sir Giles at Ealing. But the notion of introducing Sir Giles offended him; so, almost as much, did the thought of Reginald Montague, and he was content at last to make an image, as near as possible, of the room from which he had come, with the thought of his secretary attached to it. “My dear child,” Lord Arglay said unconsciously, and shut his eyes.

When, after a similar play of feeling to that which he had experienced before, he opened them to see Reginald Montague in front of him there flashed across his mind the idea that the Crown had somehow muddled things. But it was gone as he came to himself and recognized that he had indeed returned. He looked at his watch; the whole episode had taken exactly five minutes. He sat for a minute, then he got up, walked across to Chloe and gave her the paper. “Yours, I think, Miss Burnett? I’m sorry to give you the trouble of carrying it back,” he said, and wondered whether he had only imagined the look of relief in her eyes. “Well,” he went on to the other two, “it seems you’re quite right. I don’t know what happens or how, but if this sort of thing can go on indefinitely, space doesn’t exist — for purposes of travel.”

“You see it?” Reginald cried out.

“Certainly I see it,” Lord Arglay answered. “It’s a little startling at first and I want to know several more things, but they can wait. At the moment I have enough to brood on. But We’re forgetting our duty. Miss Burnett, wouldn’t you like to try the . . . to put on the Crown of Suleiman?”

“No,” said Chloe. “No, thank you, Lord Arglay. Thank you all very much, but I think I had better go.”

“Go — at once?” Arglay asked, “But give me a few more minutes and we’ll all go back together.”

“I shouldn’t press Miss Burnett to stop if she wants to go,” Sir Giles said. “The station is about the fourth turning on the right.”

“Thank you, Sir Giles,” Chloe answered him. “Thank you for showing me the — the Crown. Good night, Mr. Montague. Good night, Lord Arglay.”

“All right, Giles,” Arglay stopped a movement Tumulty had not made. “I’ll see Miss Burnett out.” As the room door closed behind them he took her arm. “Why the rush?” he asked gently.

“I don’t . . . I don’t really know,” Chloe said. “I’m being rather silly but I felt I couldn’t stop there just now. It is rather upsetting, isn’t it? And . . . O I don’t know. I’m sorry to seem a fool.”

“You are not in the least like a fool,” the Chief Justice said equably. “And you will tell me tomorrow what the matter is. Are you sure you are all right now?”

“Quite all right,” Chloe said as he opened the door for her “Yes, really, Lord Arglay.” She added with a sudden rush of temper, “I don’t like Sir Giles.”

“I couldn’t,” Arglay smiled at her, “have much use for a secretary who did like Sir Giles. Or Reginald either, for that matter. A vulture and a crow — but that’s between ourselves, Well, if you will go, good night.”

“Good night,” Chloe said, took a step forward, and looked back suddenly. “You aren’t going to try it again yourself.?”

“Not I,” Lord Arglay said. “I’m going to talk to them a little and then go. No more aerial flights today. Till tomorrow then.” He watched her out of the gate and well along the street before he returned to the others.

He discovered then that Reginald had not been wasting his time. Anxious to lay hands as soon as possible on some of the colossal fortune that seemed to be waiting, the young man had extracted permission from Sir Giles to make an effort to remove a small chip from the Stone, and had been away to bring a chisel and hammer from the tool-box. Arglay looked at Tumulty.

“You’re sure it won’t damage it?” he asked.

“They all say it won’t,” Sir Giles answered. “The fellow I had it from and Ali Khan who was here the other night and the manuscripts and all. The manuscripts are rather hush-hush about it — all damnably veiled and hinting. ‘The division is accomplished yet the Stone is unchanged, and the virtues are neither here nor there but allwhere’ — that kind of thing. They rather suggest that people who get the bits had better look out, but that’s Reginald’s business — and his covey of company-promoters. He’d better have a clause in the agreement about not being responsible for any damage to life or limb, but it’s not my affair. I don’t care what happens to them.”

“Who is this Ali Khan?” Arglay asked, watching Reginald arrange the Stone conveniently.

“A fellow from the Persian Embassy,” Sir Giles told him. “He was on to me almost as soon as I reached England, wanting to buy it back. So I had him out here to talk to him about it, but he couldn’t tell me anything I didn’t know or guess already.”

Reginald struck the chisel with the hammer, and almost fell forward on to the table. For, unexpectedly, since the Stone had been hard enough to the touch, it yielded instantaneously to the blow, and, as Reginald straightened himself with an oath, they saw, lying on the table by the side of the Crown, a second Stone apparently the same in all respects as the first.

“Good God!” Lord Arglay exclaimed, while Reginald gazed open-mouthed at the result of his work, and Sir Giles broke into a cackle of high laughter. But they all gathered round the table to stare.

Except that one Stone was in the Crown and the other not they could not find any difference. There was the same milky colour, flaked here and there with gold, the same jet-black markings which might be letters and might be only accidental colouring, the same size, the same apparent hardness.

“‘The division is accomplished yet the Stone is unchanged’”, Lord Arglay quoted at last, looking at his brother-in-law. “It is, too. This is all very curious.”

Tumulty had thrust Reginald aside and was peering at the two Stones. After a minute, “Try it again, Reginald,” he said —“the new one, not the old. Come round here, Arglay.” He caught the Chief Justice by the arm and brought him round the table. “There,” he said, “now watch.” He himself, while Lord Arglay leant forward over the table, moved a step or two off and squatted down on his heels, so that his eyes were on a level with the Stone. “Now slowly, Reginald, slowly.” Montague adjusted it, set the chisel on it, raised the hammer, and struck, but this time with less force. The watchers saw the chisel move down through the Stone which seemed to divide easily before it and fall asunder on both sides. Sir Giles scrambled to his feet and he and Lord Arglay leaned breathlessly forward. There on the table, exactly alike, lay two Stones, each a faithful replica of its original in the Crown.

Montague put the chisel and hammer down and stepped back. “I say,” he said,.“I don’t like this. Stones don’t grow out of one another in this way. It’s . . . it’s uncanny.”

“Stones don’t carry you five miles through the air, usually,” Arglay said drily. “I think you’re straining at a gnat.” Still, the perfect ease with which the Stone had recreated itself, a ghastly feeling of its capacity to go on producing copies of itself to infinity, the insane simplicity, the grotesque finality, of the result, weighed on his mind, and he fell silent.

Sir Giles, alert and eager, picked them up. “Just a moment,” he said, “let me weigh them.”

He went to a corner of the room where a small balance stood in a glass case, and put one of the Stones on the scales. For a minute he stared at it, then he looked over his shoulder at the Chief Justice.

“I say, Arglay,” he cried, “it doesn’t weigh anything.”

“Doesn’t weigh —” Lord Arglay went across to him. The Stone lay in the middle of the scale, which remained perfectly poised, balanced against its fellow, apparently unweighted by what it bore.

“But —” Arglay said, “but — But it does weigh . . . I mean I can feel its pressure if I hold it. Very light, but definite.”

“Well, there you are,” Giles said. “Look at it.” With the tweezers he picked up a gramme weight and dropped it on the other scale, which immediately sank gently under it.

“There,” he said, “the balances are all right. It just doesn’t weigh.” He took up the Stone and they returned to the table, where all three stood staring at the marvel, until Sir Giles grew impatient.

“We look like Hottentots staring at an aeroplane,” he said. “Reginald, you baboon-headed cockatoo, show a little gratitude. Here instead of a mere chip you can give every one of your degenerate Jew millionaires a stone as big as the first one, and you stand gaping like a cow with the foot-and-mouth disease.”

Reginald made an effort at recovery. “Yes,” he answered rather quaveringly, “yes, of course I see that. It made me feel funny somehow. But — yes, of course. It’ll save any difficulty about chipping the original, and they’ll look much better — much. Can I leave them here to-night?”

“Why, you’re scared out of what wits you’ve got,” Sir Giles said. “What about you, Arglay? Will you have one?”

“No,” Lord Arglay said soberly. “I think not; not to-night. I feel rather as if I’d been scared out of what wits I’d got, and was just getting over it. If I were you, Reginald, I should think a great many times before I started that transport scheme of yours.”

“Eh?” said Reginald. “But surely Sir Giles is right? This’ll make it even easier.”

“Just as you like,” Lord Arglay said. “I think I will go now, Tumulty. I should like to come and see it again soon, if I may.” Sir Giles nodded casually, and as casually bade his visitors good-night.

On the way back to town Lord Arglay said very little, and ignored Reginald’s occasional outbreaks of mingled hope and nervousness. He found himself wishing Chloe Burnett had not gone; he would have liked to have his own silence buttressed by another instead of harassed by a futile and spasmodic volubility. His mind gazed blankly at the riddle of the three Stones in an awe which he usually kept for Organic Law. There must be some conclusion, he felt, but he couldn’t think — not yet. “— pay even more,” he heard at his side and drove faster. “Is there no intelligent creature about?” he thought. “I wish that girl hadn’t — no, perhaps it’s as well. Damn it, I’m muddled.”

He reached his house almost at the same time that Chloe by a slower and longer method came to her own, full of similar half-conscious anxieties and alarms. She found, opened, and read a couple of letters that awaited her, and realized when she had finished that she knew nothing of their contents, and did not particularly want to know. She put down the New Statesman in its place on the table, took off her things, and looked vaguely round the room. It was here then that Lord Arglay had been during that unbelievable and terrifying disappearance; to this the Crown of Suleiman had transported him. The Crown of Suleiman . . . the Lord Chief Justice. Chloe Burnett. It might have happened but she didn’t believe it; at least, except that she couldn’t disbelieve in that sharp spasm of fear. She moved towards a chair and noticed, with a slight annoyance, that she had forgotten to shake the cushions up when she left the house that evening. Or had another visitor —? Chloe dropped into the chair where Lord Arglay had sat and burst into tears.

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