Many Dimensions, by Charles Williams

Chapter Six

The Problem of Time

Sir Giles lay back in a chair and grinned at Professor Palliser. “Well,” he said, “we’ve spent twenty-four hours on it and here’s the result.” He read from a paper.

  1. “It is of no known substance.
  2. It answers to no reagents.
  3. It can be multiplied by division without diminution of the original.
  4. It can move and cause movement from point to point, without leaving any consciousness of passage through intervening space.
  5. It can cause disappearance — possibly in time.”

“Certainly in time,” Palliser said, but Sir Giles shook his head.

“Only possibly,” he answered, “we don’t know that your bright young pathological specimen has gone back in time; we only know he isn’t here and the Stone is. I thought you told a very good story this morning to that mother of his.”

“I don’t like it,” Palliser answered seriously. “It’s all very disturbing. I suppose the police will be coming here soon.”

“I should think certainly,” Sir Giles agreed. “But I heard him say good night. And there’s no reason why you should murder him — I suppose there isn’t? — and no way for you to do it. So I can’t see that you’re likely to be troubled seriously. And anyhow they haven’t got a body nor any trace of one. Let’s get on with the inquiry.”

“I expect you’re right,” the Professor said. “What do you think we ought to do next?”

Sir Giles leaned forward. “If this assistant of yours has moved in time,” he said, “if he has gone back, wherever he’s gone to, I suppose he might have gone forward instead?”

“I suppose so,” Palliser assented slowly.

“Then that seems to be the next thing,” Sir Giles said. “But that I think we shall have to do ourselves. We can’t run any risk of giving too much away. And, I don’t see any chance of being permanently lost there because the future must be the present some time.”

“All the same, I shouldn’t go too far at first,” Palliser suggested. “A quarter of an hour, say.”

Sir Giles took a Stone from the table, and was about to speak when Palliser suddenly went on. “Look here, Tumulty, if it worked that way, it wouldn’t be a certainty, would it? Supposing I project myself an hour forward and find I’m sitting in this room — and then suppose I return to the present and go to my bedroom and have myself locked in for two hours, say, how can I be doing what I saw myself doing? And the shorter the time the more chance of proving it wrong. In six days anything might happen, but in six minutes . . .

Sir Giles brooded. “You probably wouldn’t remember,” he pointed out. “But I like the idea of your defying the future, Palliser. Try it and see.”

Palliser’s tall lean form quivered with excitement. “It would snap the chain,” he said. “We should know we weren’t the mere mechanisms of Fate. We should be free.”

“I sometimes think,” Sir Giles answered reflectively, “that I’m the only real scientist in this whole crawling hotbed of vermin called England. There isn’t one of all of you that doesn’t cuddle some fantastic desire in his heart, and snivel over every chance of letting it out for an hour’s toddle. Do be intelligent, Palliser. How can any damned happening break the chain of happenings? Why do you want to be free;’ What good could you do if you were free?”

“If a man can defeat the result of all the past,” the Professor said, “if he can know what is to be and cause that it shall not be —”

“O you’re drunk,” said Sir Giles frankly. “You’re drunk with your own romantic gin-and-bitters. If you’re going to be sitting here in an hour’s time you’re going to be, even if this bit of prehistoric slime has to bump you on your crazy noddle and shove you into a chair all on its own. But try it, try it and see.

“Well, you try it too,” Palliser said sullenly. “I’m going to keep you under my eye, Tumulty. None of your kidnapping games for me.”.

“You romantics are always so suspicious,” Sir Giles said. “But for once I don’t mind. Let’s try it together. Where’s the Crown?”

Palliser took it out of the old safe in which it had rested all night, and sat down beside Tumulty. “‘How long do we make it?” he asked. “Half an hour?”

“Good enough,” Sir Giles answered.“You locked the door? Right. Now — where’s the clock? Half-past eleven. Wait. Let me write it on a bit of paper — so, and put that on the table. What’s the formula?”

“To be as we shall be at twelve o’clock, I suppose,” Palliser said, and the two — Palliser wearing the Crown, Sir Giles clutching the Stone — framed the wish in their minds.


“ . . . though I don’t suppose I can tell you anything new,” Palliser ended, looking at the police inspector.

Sir Giles looked round over his shoulder — he was standing by the window — but he was only half-attending. Had or had not the experiment succeeded? He couldn’t remember a thing out of the ordinary. He had sat with Palliser for what seemed a long time — but which the clock had shown to be only ten minutes, and had been vaguely conscious of a rather sick feeling somewhere. And then they had looked at one another and Palliser had abruptly said, “Well?” He had stirred and stood up, looked at the slip of paper with “11:30” written on it, looked at the clock which marked twenty to twelve, looked back at Palliser, and said with some irritation, “God blast the whole damned thing to hell, I don’t know.”

“What do you mean?” or something like it, Palliser had asked. The picture was becoming fainter, but roughly he could still fill it in. Every minute made all that had happened in that half hour more of a memory; but had it happened at all or was it memory to begin with? and was what was happening now actually happening or was it merely foresight?

Sir Giles in a burst of anger and something remarkably like alarm, realized that he didn’t know.

He remembered the knocking, the caretaker, the entrance of the inspector to whom Palliser was talking — very well the Professor was doing, Sir Giles thought, only he probably hadn’t realized the difficulty; he wouldn’t, not with that kind of cancer-eaten sponge he called an intellect. “But I remember,” Tumulty thought impatiently. “How the hell could I remember if it hadn’t happened? There’d be nothing to remember.” He plunged deeper. “But at twelve I should remember. Then if it’s come off — I remember what hasn’t happened. I’m am in a delusion. I’m’m mad. Nonsense. I’m in the twelve state of consciousness. But the twelve state couldn’t be unless the eleven to twelve state had been. Am I here or am I sitting in that blasted chair of Palliser’s knowing it from outside time?”

He had a feeling that there was another corollary just round the corner of his mind and strained to find it. But it avoided him for the moment. He looked over his shoulder to find that the inspector was going, and as soon as the departure was achieved rushed across the room to Palliser. “Now,” he said, “what has happened? O never mind about your fly-blown policeman. What has happened?”

“Nothing has happened,” Palliser said staring. “It evidently doesn’t work in the future.”

“You seem jolly sure about it,” Sir Giles said. “How do you know? You wanted to be as you would be at twelve, didn’t you? Well, how do you know you’re not? You seem to remember, I know; so do I.”

“Well then,” Palliser argued — “Yes, I see what you mean. This is merely knowledge — premature knowledge? Umph. Well, let’s return to eleven-thirty.” He took a step towards the safe, but Sir Giles caught him by the wrist. “Don’t do that, you fool,” he said. “Why the hell didn’t I see it before? If you once go back, you’ll bind yourself to go on doing the same thing — you must.”

Palliser sat down abruptly and the two looked at each other. “But you said the present would be bound to become the future,” he objected.

“I know I did,” Sir Giles almost howled at him. “But don’t you see, you fool, that the action of return must be made at the starting-point? That’s why your oyster-stomached helot vanished; that’s the trick that’s caught you now. I won’t be caught; there must be a way out and I’ll find it.”

“Look here, Tumulty,” Palliser said ‘ “let’s keep calm and think it out. What do you mean by the action of return being made at the starting-point?”

“O God,” Sir Giles moaned, “to be fastened to a man who doesn’t know how to ask his mother for milk! I mean that you must condition your experiment from without and not from within; you must define your movement before you make it or your definition will be controlled by it. You can say I will go and return in such and such a manner, but if you only say I will go your return is ruled by sequence. Can’t you think, Palliser?”

“Then we are in the future?” Palliser said, “and we can’t go back to live that half-hour? Well, does it very much matter?” “If we are,” Sir Giles said, “we — O it’s no good trying to explain to you.” He began to walk about and then went back to the chair in which he had been sitting originally and stared at it. “Now am I there?” he asked grimly, “or am I here?”

There was a silence of some minutes. Then Palliser said again, “I still can’t see why you’re so excited. That half-hour wasn’t of any importance, surely?”

Sir Giles, having reached his limit of exasperation, became unexpectedly gentle. He went back to Palliser and said almost sweetly, “Well, don’t worry over it, don’t hurt your brain, but just try and follow. If this is a forecast in consciousness, that consciousness is, so to speak, housed somewhere. And it’s housed in your body. And where’s your body? And how do you get your mind-time and your body-time to agree?”

“My body is here,” Palliser said, patting it.

“O no,” Sir Giles said, still sweetly. “At least perhaps it is and perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps all this is occupying a millionth part of a second and we’re still sitting there.”

“But Pondon disappeared?” Palliser objected, “into his past, I suppose? Mayn’t we have disappeared into our future?”

“I hope we have,” Sir Giles assented. “But we seem to remember — or to know — what happened, don’t we? We seem to know that we talked and the police came and so on? Did it happen or has it got to happen or hasn’t it happened and will it never happen? If we will to return we seem to me — but of course I’m a little child crooning on your knee — to be in a constant succession of the same period. And if we don’t?”

“Well, we go on,” the Professor said.

“Till we become conscious of death?” Sir Giles asked. “And then what happens? Till these apparent bodies die and corrupt and our minds return to our real bodies and live it again — is that the truth? Years and years and years and all in less than a second and all to be repeated — do you like it, Palliser?”

“But Pondon disappeared,” the Professor said again.

“You keep on repeating that,” Sir Giles told him. “Don’t you see, you cow, that the conditions may be different? Whatever the past is, it has been in everyone’s knowledge; whatever the future is it hasn’t.”

“What do you propose to do about it, anyhow?” the Professor asked.

Sir Giles considered. “I propose to think over it for a few days,” he said, “and see if I can think of any formula to find out, first where that assistant of yours is and secondly where we are. Also to see if Whitehall is doing anything, because I’m not going to be taken by surprise by them, not under present conditions. So I shall go back to London this afternoon.”

All the way to Euston — he didn’t want to use the Stone again at the moment — Tumulty brooded over the problem that confronted him. He devised several formulae for getting into touch with the unfortunate Mr. Pondon; the most obvious experiment — that of willing him back — had been tried by himself and the Professor on the previous evening without success. It seemed that the Stone could not be used to control others; its action was effective only over the action of whoever held it. Sir Giles regretted this rather keenly; the possibility of disarranging other people’s lives had appeared to him a desirable means of experiment, since he was on the whole reluctant to conduct experiments on himself. That state of being which lies between mysticism, madness, and romanticism, had always been his chosen field, but it was a field in which few suitable subjects grew. He found it impossible not to desire to be able to dispose of objectionable people by removing them to some past state of being, and he almost sent a telegram to Palliser urging him to acquaint Mrs. Pondon and the police with the facts of the case and to inquire whether the police “in the execution of their duty,” would be bound to follow the vanished assistant to the day before yesterday. Pondon had certainly gone of his own free will, even if his superior had refrained from explaining the possibilities clearly enough. However, Pondon could wait a few days. That morning, Sir Giles had noticed in their short interview, he had cut himself while shaving; it afforded Tumulty a certain pleasure to think of that small cut being repeated again and again until he himself had time, inclination, and knowledge to interfere. But the other problem worried him more considerably. That missing half hour haunted him; had he lived through it or had he not, and if he had not could even the Stone release him from the necessity of doing so?

He began to wonder if the Stone could help him, but he didn’t see how, unless it could present thoughts to his mind or to other people’s. If there was someone he could trust to tell him what could be learnt from such a trial of the Stone? He thought of Lord Arglay, a trained and detached, and not unsympathetic, mind. Palliser was no good because Palliser was mixed up with it. And you couldn’t go to everyone asking them to help you look for half an hour you had mislaid. Also Arglay would know if Whitehall were moving — not that he minded very much if it were.

At Euston he took a taxi (to the Chief Justice’s.


Lord Arglay’s Saturday afternoon therefore broke suddenly into activity. Some time after tea, while he was playing with the idea of bringing Organic Law into the Stone’s sphere of activity, though he felt certain the Hajji would disapprove of any such use, he was startled by the announcement that Mrs. Sheldrake had called. “Miss Burnett is with her, sir,” the maid added.

“Now what on earth,” Lord Arglay said as he went to the drawing-room, “is Chloe doing with Mrs. Sheldrake? How did she get hold of her, I wonder? and has she brought her here to be instructed or to be frighten&”

It soon appeared however that if anyone were frightened it was Chloe herself. Mrs. Sheldrake took the conversation into her own hands, with a brief explanation of her connection with the Stone, and a light reference to the fact that it had been, for the moment, mislaid. She wanted to know, since Miss Burnett had mentioned Lord Arglay several times, whether he claimed any rights in the Stone.

“Not in that particular Type,” Lord Arglay said.

“Type, Lord Arglay?” Cecilia asked. “How do you mean — Type?”

“The position is a little obscure,” the Chief Justice said, considering rapidly Mrs. Sheldrake’s appearance and manner, Mr. Sheldrake’s riches and position (which he had looked up), and the desirability of subduing them both without antagonism. “I say Type because the Stones which exist — and there are several — are apparently derivations from one Original, though (and perhaps therefore) possessed of the same powers. But how far they are to be regarded as being identical with it, for proprietary reasons, I cannot at the moment say. Nor in whom the title to the property inheres. I may add that certain foreign representatives are deeply interested, and the Government is observing matters. I think that in the present situation your husband should preserve the utmost secrecy and caution. His title appears to me uncertain, both so far as the acquisition of his Type is concerned and in the relation of that Type to the Original.”

He delivered this with occasional pauses for meditation and with a slight pomposity which he put on at necessary moments. Mrs. Sheldrake, a little impressed, nevertheless appeared to receive it with frigidity.

“But, Lord Arglay,” she said, “we can’t be expected to sit quiet while other people use our property in order to ruin our companies. I am thinking of the effect it may have on Atlantic Airways. What is this original you are talking about?”

“It is the centre of the derivations,” Lord Arglay said at random, but ridiculously enough the phrase in Chloe’s mind suddenly connected itself with “the End of Desire.” The chance and romantic words came to her like a gospel, none the less emotionally powerful that at the moment she didn’t understand it. What were the derivations? She had a vague feeling that the sentence suggested Lord Arglay himself as the centre though she knew he would have been the first to mock at the ascription. But there was certainly something in them that referred if not to him, then to something connected with him. He was walking on some firm pavement, where she wanted to be walking too.

She came back to hear Mrs. Sheldrake end a sentence — “opinion on it.”

“Madam,” Lord Arglay said, “it must be clear to you that I can give no opinion until a case is before the Court. I am not a solicitor or a barrister. I am the Chief Justice.”

“But we must know what to do,” Mrs. Sheldrake said. “Don’t you even know where the original, whatever it is, came from?”

Lord Arglay suppressed a desire to offer her a précis of the Hajji’s history of the Stone of Suleiman, and leaned forward. “Mrs. Sheldrake,” he said, “by the folly of my nephew you have come into actual — if not legal — possession of a Type of Stone which is said to be regarded by millions as a very holy relic, and the ownership of which may have the most important repercussions. I beg you to act with great care. I venture to suggest that you should at least consider the propriety of giving it into my care until more is known and decided. It is, I know, an audacious proposal, but the seeming audacity is due to the anxiety with which I regard the situation. I am not speaking casually. I do not think it likely, but in certain remote yet not impossible circumstances I can believe that even your life and your husband’s might be in danger. Consult with him and believe me that this warning is meant very, very seriously.”

“That,” he thought, “ought to worry her.” She was staring at the ground now, and he threw a side glance at Chloe, whose face reinforced his words.

Cecilia felt baffled. She saw nothing to do at the moment but to talk to Angus and take other ways of finding out the mystery. As she began to shape a phrase of dubious farewell the door was thrown open and Sir Giles Tumulty came in. He nodded to Arglay and stared at the visitors.

“Busy, Arglay?” he asked. “I want to talk to you.”

“I want to talk to you,” the Chief Justice said, with something in his voice that made Chloe look up suddenly and even distracted Cecilia, to whom he turned. “I can do no more for you now, Mrs. Sheldrake,” he ended.

“It’s very unsatisfactory,” she complained. “I almost think I had better go to the Ambassador. You see, we don’t come under your jurisdiction, if that’s what you call it. We belong to the States.”

“Quite,” Lord Arglay said, waiting for her to go.

“After all, someone must know to whom the Stone belongs, and who can or can’t sell it,” Cecilia went on.

“Hallo,” Sir Giles said, “have you got one too? Is this yours, Arglay, or is it Reginald’s? I hope you didn’t overcharge for it.”

Cecilia almost leaped at him. “O,” she said, “I’m afraid I don’t know your name but can you tell me anything about this Stone? It’s all so very mysterious. We — my husband and I— bought it from a Mr. Montague, and now we are told it’s very doubtful whether he had the right to sell it.”

“Of course he had the right,” Sir Giles said. “I gave him one yesterday morning.”

“Was it yours then to begin with?” Cecilia asked.

“Certainly,” Sir Giles said.

“Does anyone deny it?”

“Yes,” Lord Arglay said, “and you know they do.”

“O a set of religious maniacs,” Sir Giles tossed them aside. “Do you, Arglay?”

The Chief Justice paused for a half second, then his training won.

“No,” he said, “I don’t deny it for I don’t know. But I want to talk to you about it, Tumulty, after this lady has gone.” He felt it was rude but he couldn’t help it. A more urgent matter than Mrs. Sheldrake’s trouble was obsessing him. That she had actually lost the Stone he had not understood; her references to that part of the adventure had been so general as to leave the impression that her husband was finding it just as she set off with Chloe.

Now she retaliated by turning her back full on him and saying to Tumulty: “I should like to talk with you, Sir Giles. Could you spare me half an hour at Grosvenor Square?”

Sir Giles’s first impulse was to tell her to go to hell. But he felt that Lord Arglay had changed in something; his previous good temper had gone. Tumulty had been through too many dangerous experiences in remote parts of the world not to recognize hostility when he met it, and he knew that Arglay was hostile now. Why he couldn’t imagine but that was the fact. If Arglay was going to turn nasty it might be as well to be in with this woman, whoever she was. If she had bought the Stone there must be money and therefore power and probably position, and perhaps a counterweight to the Chief Justice’s enmity. Not that it mattered very much; he wasn’t going to spend any time shooting at Arglay with any possible kind of inconvenient elephant rifle. But obviously these two weren’t on the best of terms, and Sir Giles’s generally diffused contempt suddenly crystallized in a definite hatred of this large man looming in front of him. He accepted a card, refused to make a definite promise; he wasn’t going to be rung up as if he were her chauffeur — but said something about ringing up, and with a malicious benevolence got rid of her. She departed, her mind stabilized by his brusque assurance that she had an entire right to her Stone. Chloe half rose; Lord Arglay waved her back. Sir Giles flung himself into a chair.

“Now,” he said, “what’s your trouble, Arglay — that is, if it’s fit for your . . . secretary . . . to hear.” It was the minutest pause before “secretary”; both his hearers remarked it, and neither of them took any notice of it.

“I want to know,” Arglay said, “what you’ve been doing at Birmingham.”

Genuinely surprised, Sir Giles stared at him. “But that’s exactly what I want to tell you,” he said. “I want you to find out, one way or another, what has happened.”

“I promise you I will do that,” Arglay answered. “But you shall tell me first what you have done.”

“Don’t talk to me like that,” Sir Giles snapped back. “You’re not in your bestial Law Courts now. Palliser and I made an experiment this morning, and I’m not at all clear —”

“I want to know” Arglay interrupted “about your experiment last night.”

More and more astonished, Sir Giles sat up. “Last night?” he said, “what do you know about last night? Not that there’s anything particular to know. You’re not interested in Palliser’s kindergarten school, are you?”

“Who was the man you gave the Stone to?” the Chief Justice insisted, “and what happened to him?”

“Now how do you know all that?” Sir Giles said meditatively. “God strike you dead, Arglay, have you been spying on me with that blasted bit of dried dung? You have, haven’t you? So it does do something with knowledge. Good, that’s what I wanted to know. Now listen. This morning Palliser and I—”

“What happened to the man last night?” Lord Arglay said again.

“O how the hell do I know?” Sir Giles said fretfully. “That’s part of the whole thing. You can have him — I don’t want him. He’s probably messing round last week — no, we said twelve hours so he won’t be. As a matter of fact I thought he might come back in another twelve but we were there — at least, Palliser was — by nine this morning and he hadn’t. But you can go and look for him. Only I want you to tell me first whether I’m here or not.” He succeeded in outlining, his problem.

In spite of himself Lord Arglay was held by it.

“But so far as I’m concerned, it’s certainly you — the normal corporeal sequential you I’m talking to,” he said. “I’ve not missed half an hour.”

“I know that,” Sir Giles moaned. “I know that what’s happening now is happening to you. But I don’t know whether I’m knowing it all first of all. It’s this damned silly business of only actually experiencing the smallest minimum of time and all the rest being memory that does me in. I know it was memory at twelve o’clock but if I’d lived through it all it would still be memory. O for God’s sake, Arglay, don’t be as big a fool as Palliser. I suppose you’ve got some brains; after all they made you Chief Justice. And if you can see what happened in Birmingham last night you can see what happened there this morning. You needn’t be afraid; we can define the whole thing first of all, so you’re bound to come back all right.”

“I will do nothing at all,” Lord Arglay said, “until I have done what I can for your —” he paused on the word “victim” which sounded theatrical. “And even then,” he said, slurring it, “I do not know what I can do, for I do not think this Stone was meant to be used to save such men as you from the consequences of their actions.”

“What do you think it was meant for?” Sir Giles said. “And not so much of this infant school Scripture lesson. I’d see your inside torn out, Arglay, before I asked you to save me. I want to know what does happen and if you won’t tell me the nearest warder in the Zoological Gardens will do as well.”

“Then you can go and ask him,” Lord Arglay said, recovering something of his good temper, partly because he began to discern that, somehow or other, the unfortunate assistant might be given a chance of return, and partly because he did not dislike seeing Sir Giles really thwarted. “I’m not going to do a thing without very great care. And you’d better take care what you do because, if you’re right, you’ll have to do it all again.”

“O my lord God Almighty,” Sir Giles said, “can’t you see that, if I’m right, I can’t choose till next time? You are a louse-brained catalept, Arglay.” His interest in pure thought vanished and his personal concern returned. “So you’re not going to do anything, aren’t you?” he said.

“Not for a day or two,” Lord Arglay said. “It’ll do you all the good in the world, Giles, to be a little uncertain of yourself. Well, you can’t object to that way of putting it, surely; you are exactly a little uncertain of yourself, aren’t you?”

Sir Giles said nothing. He sat for a minute or two gazing at the Chief Justice, then he got up, and with a conversational, “Well, well, well,” walked straight out of the room. Lord Arglay looked at Chloe.

“I refrain from saying ‘Curiouser and curiouser,’” he said, “but I can’t think of anything else to say. The efficient Giles has been caught. How just a compensation! The Stone is a very marvellous thing.” His voice, even on the words, changed into gravity. “And now,” he went on, “suppose you tell me what did happen this afternoon.”

When she had done so —“Then for all we know one of them is lying about the English countryside?” the Chief Justice said. “Pleasant hearing for our friend the Hajji. And now for my experiments.” He went over his experiences of the previous evening.

“So,” he ended, “we know it moves in time and space and thought. And in what else?”

“But what else is there?” Chloe said.

“The Hajji talked of the Transcendence,” Lord Arglay answered. “But who knows what he meant or if what he meant is so?”

Chloe said, almost with pain, “But what do you think he meant?”

“Child,”’ Lord Arglay said, “I am an old man and I have known nothing all my life farther or greater than the work I have taken to do. I have never seen a base for any temple nor found an excuse to believe in the myths that are told there. I will not say believe or do not believe. But there is one thing only at which I have wondered at times, and yet it seemed foolish to think of it. It will happen sometimes when one has worked hard and done all that one can for the purpose before one — it has happened then that I have stood up and been content with the world of things and with what has been done there through me. And this may be pride, or it may be the full stress of the whole being and delight in labour — there are a hundred explanations. But I have wondered whether that profound repose was not communicated from some far source and whether the life that is in it was altogether governed by time. And I am sure that state never comes while I am concerned with myself, and I have thought today that in some strange way that state was itself the Stone. But if so then assuredly none of these men shall find its secret.”

“Is that the end of desire?” Chloe said.

“I have no desire left at all,” Lord Arglay said, “but I think that other is the better ending of desire. And though I cannot tell how you should seek for it, I think it waits for everyone who will have it. Also I think that perhaps the Stone chooses more than we know; and yet that is a fantasy, is it not?”

“Was there a stone in the Crown of Suleiman?” she said, “and was Suleiman the wisest of men?”

“So they say,” Lord Arglay answered. “And will you seek for wisdom in the Stone?”

“What is wisdom?” Chloe said.

“And that, child,” Lord Arglay answered again, “though I am an interpreter of all the laws of England, I do not know.”

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