Damaris Tighe had had a bad night. The thunder had kept her awake, and she particularly needed sleep just now, in order to be quite fresh every day to cope with her thesis about Pythagorean Influences on Abelard. There were moments when she almost wished she had not picked anyone quite so remote as Abelard; only all the later schoolmen had been done to death by other writers, whereas Abelard seemed — so far as theses on Pythagorean Influences went — to have been left to her to do to death. But this tracing of thought between the two humanistic thinkers was a business for which she needed a particularly clear head. She had so far a list of eighteen close identifications, twenty-three cases of probable traditional views, and eighty-five less distinct relationships. And then there had been that letter to the Journal of Classical Studies challenging a word in a new translation of Aristotle. She had been a little nervous about sending it. After all, she was more concerned about her doctorate of philosophy, for which the thesis was meant, than for the accuracy of the translation of Aristotle, and it would be very annoying if she made enemies — not, of course, the translator — but . . . well, anyone. And on top of all that had come that crash of thunder, every now and then echoing all through the black sky. No lightning, no rain, only — at long intervals, just whenever she was going off to sleep at last — thunder, and again thunder. She had been unable to work all the morning. It looked, now, as if her afternoon would be equally wasted.
“We hear,” Mrs. Rockbotham said, “that he’s quite comatose.”
“Dear me,” Damaris said coldly. “More tea?”
“Thank you, thank you, dear,” Miss Wilmot breathed. “Of course you didn’t really know him well, did you?”
“I hardly know him at all,” Damaris answered.
“Such a wonderful man,” Miss Wilmot went on. “I’ve told you, haven’t I, how — well, it was really Elise who brought me into touch — but there, the instrument doesn’t matter — I mean,” she added, looking hastily over at Mrs. Rockbotham, “not in a human sense. Or really not in a heavenly. All service ranks the same with God.”
“The question is,” Mrs. Rockbotham said severely, “what is to be done to-night?”
“To-night?” Damaris asked.
“To-night is our monthly group,” Mrs. Rockbotham explained. “Mr. Berringer generally gives us an address of instruction. And with him like this —”
“It doesn’t look as if he would, does it?” Damaris said, moving the sugar-tongs irritably.
“No,” Miss Wilmot moaned, “no . . . no. But we can’t just let it drop, it’d be too weak. I see that — Elise was telling me. Elise is so good at telling me. So if you would —”
“If I would what?” Damaris exclaimed, startled and surprised. What, what could she possibly have to do with these absurd creatures and their fantastic religion? She knew, from the vague gossip of the town, from which she was not altogether detached, that Mr. Berringer, who lived in that solitary house on the London Road, and took no more part in the town’s activities than she did herself, was the leader of a sort of study circle or something of that kind; indeed, she remembered now that these same two ladies who had broken in on her quiet afternoon with Abelard had told her of it. But she never attended to their chatter with more than a twentieth of her mind, no more than she gave to her father’s wearisome accounts of his entomological rambles. Religions and butterflies were necessary hobbies, no doubt, for some people who knew nothing about scholarship, but they would not be of the smallest use to Damaris Tighe, and therefore, as far as possible, Damaris Tighe very naturally left them out of her life. Occasionally her father’s enthusiasm broke through her defences and compelled attention; it always seemed extraordinary to Damaris that he could not in her politeness realise her boredom. And now . . .
Mrs. Rockbotham interrupted Miss Wilmot’s lengthier explanation. “You see,” she said, “we meet once a month at Mr. Berringer’s, and he gives us an Instruction — very instructive it always is — about thought-forms or something similar. But I suppose he won’t be able to this time, and none of us would like — I mean, it might seem pushing for any of us to take his place. But you, as an outsider. . . . And your studies are more or less about methods of thought, I understand?”
She paused, and Damaris supposed they were.
“I thought, if you would read us something, just to keep us in touch with — well, the history of it, at least, if nothing else,” Mrs. Rockbotham ambiguously concluded, “we should all be greatly obliged.”
“But,” Damaris said, “if Mr. Berringer is . . . incapacitated, why not suspend the meeting?”
“No, I don’t want to do that,” Mrs. Rockbotham answered. “It would be very awkward, anyhow, to let everybody know before nine to-night — some of them live miles out —”
“You could telegraph,” Damaris put in.
“And in the second place,” Mrs. Rockbotham went on steadily, “I don’t think Mr. Berringer would like us to treat it as if it all depended on him. He always insists that it’s an individual effort. So we must, in the circumstances, get someone else.”
“But where will you hold the meeting?” Damaris asked. She didn’t want to offend Mrs. Rockbotham who, though only a doctor’s wife, had influential relations, among whom was the owner of that literary weekly of which her cousin Anthony Durrant was a sub-editor or something of the sort. Damaris had had an occasional article, done for the public of course, printed there already, and she was anxious to keep the gate open. Indeed it occurred to her at once that if she could only find among her various MSS. a suitable paper, she might use it both for that evening and for The Two Camps, which was the name of the weekly. It had originally been meant to be symbolical of the paper’s effort to maintain tradition in art, politics and philosophy while allowing the expression of revolt; though Anthony insisted that it signified the division in the contributors between those who liked it living and intelligent and those who preferred it dying and scholarly, represented by himself and Damaris. He had told her that in a moment’s exasperation, because she had insisted on talking of the paper instead of themselves. Anthony was always wanting to talk of themselves, which meant whether she loved him, and in what way, and how much, whereas Damaris, who disliked discussing other people’s personal affairs, preferred to talk of scholarship or abstract principles such as whether and how soon The Two Camps would publish her essay on Platonic Tradition at the Court of Charlemagne. Anthony had gone off in rather a bad temper finally, saying that she had no more notion of Plato than of Charlemagne, and that her real subject was Damaristic Tradition at the Court of Damaris; upon which he swore he would write a long highbrow article and publish it — Damaris being, for that purpose, a forgotten queen of Trebizond overthrown by the Saracen invasion.
“Nobody’ll know any better,” he had said, “and what you need very badly indeed is a thoroughly good Saracen invasion within the next fortnight.”
Mrs. Rockbotham was explaining that she had been talking to Mr. Berringer’s housekeeper on the telephone. The usual small arrangements had, of course, been made for the meeting, and the housekeeper, though a little reluctant, was under pressure compliant. Mr. Berringer was still lying quite quiet — unconscious, Dr. Rockbotham had said. Mrs. Rockbotham and Miss Wilmot however both thought it more likely that the unconsciousness was of the nature of trance, Mr. Berringer’s soul or something having gone off into the spiritual world or somewhere, probably where time didn’t exist, and not realizing the inconvenient length of the period that was elapsing before its return.
“And suppose,” the over-suppressed Miss Wilmot broke out, “suppose he came back while we were there! What he might tell us! He’d even be able to tell you something, Elise, wouldn’t he?”
The whole thing sounded extremely disagreeable to Damaris. The more she thought about it, the sillier it looked. But was it worth while, if Mrs. Rockbotham chose to be silly, refusing her request, and running the risk of a hostile word dropped in that influential relative’s ear?
“But what sort of thing do you want?” she asked slowly.
Mrs. Rockbotham considered. “If you could tell us something about thought-forms, now,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to shape — I can’t go into it all — but perhaps a few remarks about . . . well, now, Plato? Mr. Berringer told us that Plato wrote a good deal about ideas, and didn’t you tell me you had several studies in Plato almost done?”
Damaris thought of the Charlemagne paper, but rejected it as being too historical for this purpose. She thought of a few other titles, and suddenly —
“If it would be any good to you,” she said, “I have some notes on the relation of Platonic and medieval thought — a little specialist, I’m afraid, but it would be the best I could do. If it’s really any use —”
Mrs. Rockbotham sat up with a delighted smile. “How good of you, Miss Tighe,” she exclaimed. “I knew you’d help us! It will be exactly right, I’m sure. I’ll call for you in the car at half-past eight. And thank you so much.”
She stood up and paused. “By the way,” she asked, “what’s your paper called?”
“The Eidola and the Angeli,” Damaris answered. “It’s just a comparison, you know; largely between the sub-Platonic philosophers on the one side and the commentators on Dionysius the Areopagite on the other, suggesting that they have a common pattern in mind. But some of the quotations are rather quaint and might attract your friends.”
“I’m perfectly certain it will be delightful,” Mrs. Rockbotham assured her. “The — the Eidola. What were they? But you’ll tell us that, won’t you? It’s really too kind of you, Miss Tighe, and I only hope one day I shall be able to do something to show my appreciation. Good-bye till half-past eight.”
Damaris, with the firm intention that Mrs. Rockbotham should have her hope fulfilled by assisting, if necessary, to print the paper in question, said good-bye, and herself took her visitors to the car. Then she went back to her study and set to work to find the lecture. When she did, it appeared even more technical than she had supposed. The main thesis of a correspondence between the development of the formative Ideas of Hellenic philosophy and the hierarchic angelicals of Christian mythology was clearly stated. But most of the quotations were in their original Greek or Latin, and Damaris was compelled to sit down and translate them at once, for fear of later hesitation about an adequate word, into bearable English. She took the opportunity to modify it here and there in case she hurt Mrs. Rockbotham’s feelings, changing for example “superstitious slavery” into “credulous piety” and “emotional opportunism” into “fervent zeal.” Not that Mrs. Rockbotham was likely to be worried by any insult to the schoolmen or Dionysius the Areopagite — she added a couple of sentences explaining “Areopagite”— but Damaris had only the remotest notion what these ladies supposed themselves to be doing, and even in pure scholarship it was never worth while taking risks unless you were pretty sure. The highly intellectualized readers of The Two Camps were almost certain to be free from any prejudice in favour of either the eidola or the angeli, but with Mr. Berringer’s disciples one couldn’t tell. She altered “priestly oppression” into “official influence” almost automatically, however, recalling that Anthony had told her that a certain number of clergymen took in the periodical, and after a couple of hours’ work felt fairly ready. It would, at worst, give her a chance of reading her paper, which she liked doing; things sounded different when they were read aloud. At best — well, at best, one never knew; someone useful might be there. Damaris put the MS. ready and went down to dinner.
At dinner her father began talking. They sat opposite each other in the small dining-room into which two bookcases holding works on Proclus, Iamblichus, St. Anselm, and the Moorish culture in Spain had lately crept. The maid supplied them with food, and Damaris — to a less nourishing effect, but with a similar efficiency — supplied her father with conversation. He was more than usually thrilled today; never had he seen so many butterflies, and yet they had all escaped him.
“There was a great one on the oak at the top of the hill,” he said, “and it vanished — really vanished just as I moved. I can’t think what sort it was — I couldn’t recognize it; brown and gold it seemed. A lovely, lovely thing!”
He sighed and went on eating. Damaris frowned.
“Really, father,” she said, “if it was as beautiful as all that I don’t see how you can bear to go on eating mutton and potatoes so ordinarily.”
Her father opened his eyes at her. “But what else can I do?” he said. “It was a lovely thing; it was glinting and glowing there. This is very good mutton,” he added placidly. “I’m glad I didn’t miss this too — not without catching the other.”
Damaris looked at him. He was short and rather plump, and he was enjoying the mutton. Beauty! She didn’t know that she hated him, and certainly she didn’t know that she only hated him because he was her father. Nor did she realize that it was only when she was talking to him that the divine Plato’s remarks on beauty were used by her as if they meant anything more than entries in a card-index. She had of course heard of “defence mechanisms”, but not as if they were anything she could have or need or use. Nor had love and Heloise ever appeared to her as more than a side-incident of Abelard’s real career. In which her judgment may have been perfectly right, but her sensations were wildly and entirely wrong.
“Plato says —” she began.
“O Plato!” answered Mr. Tighe, taking, as if rhythmically, more vegetables.
“— that,” Damaris went on, ignoring the answer, “one should rise from the phenomenal to the abstract beauty, and thence to the absolute.”
Mr. Tighe said he had no doubt that Plato was a very great man and could do it. “But personally,” he added, “I find that mutton helps butterflies and butterflies mutton. That’s why I like lunching out in the open. It was a marvel, that one on the oak. I don’t see what it can have been. Brown and gold,” he added thoughtfully. “It’s very curious. I’ve looked up all my books, and I can’t find anything like it. It’s a pity,” he added irrelevantly, “that you don’t like butterflies.”
Meaning to be patient, Damaris said, “But, you know, I can’t take up everything.”
“I thought that was what you just said Plato told you to do,” her father answered. “Isn’t the Absolute something like everything?”
Damaris ignored this; her father on Plato was too silly. People needed a long intellectual training to understand Plato and the Good. He would probably think that the Good was the same thing as God — like a less educated monk of the Dark Ages. Personification (which was one of her side subjects) was a snare to the unadept mind. In a rare mood of benignity, due to her hopes for her paper, she began to talk about the improvement in the maid’s cooking. If time had to be wasted, it had better be wasted on neutral instead of irritating subjects, and she competently wasted it until it was time to get ready for the meeting.
As she stepped into Mrs. Rockbotham’s car, she heard the thunder again — far away. She made conversation out of it.
“There’s the thunder,” she said. “Did it keep you awake last night?”
“It did rather,” Mrs. Rockbotham said, pressing the self-starter. “I kept on expecting to see the lightning, but there wasn’t a single flash.”
“And not a drop of rain,” Damaris agreed. “Curious. It must be summer thunder, if there is such a thing! But I do hate lying awake at night.”
“Naturally — with all your brain-work,” the other said. “Don’t you find it very tiring?”
“O well, of course it gets rather tedious sometimes,” Damaris agreed. “But it’s interesting too — comparing different ways of saying things and noting the resemblances.”
“Like Shakespeare, I suppose?” Mrs. Rockbotham asked, and for a moment took Damaris by surprise.
“Haven’t they found out where he got all his lines from?” her friend said. “I remember reading an article in Two Camps a few weeks ago which showed that when he wrote, ‘Egypt, you are dying,’ he was borrowing from somebody else who said, ‘England is dying, because sheep are eating men.’ Marlowe or Sir Thomas More.”
“Really?” Damaris asked, with a light laugh. “Of course, Shakespeare’s not my subject. But what did he mean by sheep eating men?”
“It was something to do with agriculture,” Mrs. Rockbotham answered. “He didn’t mean it literally.”
“O of course not,” Damaris agreed. “But the lamb’s become so symbolical, hasn’t it?”
“Hasn’t it?” Mrs. Rockbotham assented, and with such prolonged intellectual conversation they reached The Joinings, as Mr. Berringer’s house was called, with some vague and forgotten reference to the cross-roads near by. The thunder crashed again, as they got out, much nearer this time, and the two ladies hurried into the house.
While Mrs. Rockbotham talked to the uncertain and uneasy housekeeper, Damaris looked at the assembled group. There were not very many members, and she did not much care for the look of any of them. Miss Wilmot was there, of course; most of the rest were different improvisations either upon her rather agitated futility or Mrs. Rockbotham’s masterful efficiency. Among the sixteen or seventeen women were four men — three of whom Damaris recognized, one as a Town Councillor and director of some engineering works, one as the assistant in the central bookshop of the town, the third as the nephew of one of the managing ladies, a Mrs. Jacquelin. Mrs. Jacquelin was almost county, the sister of a local Vicar lately dead; she called herself Mrs. Roche Jacquelin on the strength of a vague connexion with the Vendean family.
“However does this Mr. Berringer interest them all at once?” Damaris thought. “What a curious collection! And I don’t suppose they any of them know anything.” A warm consciousness of her own acquaintance with Abelard and Pythagoras stirred in her mind, as she smiled at the Town Councillor and sat down. He came over to her.
“Well, Miss Tighe,” he said briskly, “so I hear you are to be good enough to talk to us to-night. Very unfortunate, this collapse of Mr. Berringer’s, isn’t it?”
“Very indeed,” Damaris answered. “But I’m afraid I shan’t be very interesting, Mr. Foster. You see I know so little of what Mr. Berringer and you are doing.”
He looked at her a little sharply. “Probably you’re not very interested,” he said. “But we don’t really do anything, except listen. Mr. Berringer is a very remarkable man, and he generally gives us a short address on the world of principles, as one might call it.”
“Principles?” Damaris asked.
“Ideas, energies, realities, whatever you like to call them,” Mr. Foster answered. “The underlying things.”
“Of course,” Damaris said, “I know the Platonic Ideas well enough, but do you mean Mr. Berringer explains Plato?”
“Not so much Plato —” but there Mr. Foster was interrupted by Mrs. Rockbotham, who came up to Damaris.
“Are you ready, Miss Tighe?” she asked. “Yes? Then I will say something first, just to have things in order, and then I will ask you to speak. After that there may be a few questions, or a little discussion, or what not, and then we shall break up. Will you sit here? I think we may as well begin.” She tapped on the table before her, and as the room grew silent proceeded to address it.
“Friends,” she began, “you have all heard that our leader, Mr. Berringer — may I not say our teacher? — has passed into a state of unconsciousness. My husband, who is attending him, tells me that he is inclined to diagnose some sort of brain trouble. But perhaps we, who have profited by our teacher’s lessons, may think that he is engaged upon some experiment in connexion with some of his work. We all remember how often in this very room he has urged us to work and meditate until we became accustomed to what he called ideas, the thought-forms which are moulded by us, although of course they exist in a world of (as he has so often told us) their own. Many of us can no longer walk in the simple paths of childhood’s faith — perhaps I should say alas! But we have found in this new doctrine a great suggestiveness, and each in our own way have done our best to carry it out. It seemed therefore a pity to omit our monthly meeting merely because our leader is in-shall I say? — another state. We can always learn, and therefore I have asked Miss Damaris Tighe, who besides being a dear friend of mine and also known to some of you, is a deep student of philosophy, to speak to us tonight on a subject of mutual interest. Miss Tighe’s subject is —” She looked at Damaris, who murmured “The Eidola and the Angeli”—“the idler and the angels — We shall all listen to her with great interest.”
Damaris stood up. Her attention for the moment was centred on the fact that she was Mrs. Rockbotham’s dear friend. She felt that this was a promising situation, even if it involved her wasting an evening among people who would certainly never know an eidolon if they met it. She moved to the table, laid down her handbag, and unfolded her manuscript. As she did so she sniffed slightly; there had seemed to come from somewhere — just for the moment — an extremely unpleasant smell.
She sniffed again; no, it was gone. Far away the thunder was still sounding. Mrs. Rockbotham had composed herself to listen; the remainder of the members desisted from their gentle and polite applause.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Damaris began, “as I have already said to Mrs. Rockbotham and to Mr. Foster, I fear I have only a very inadequate substitute to-night for — for what you are used to. But the cobbler, we know”— she was reading now from her manuscript —“must stick to his last, and since you have done me the honour to ask me to address you it may not be without interest for me to offer you a few remarks on a piece of research I have recently been attempting to carry out. Mr. Foster”— she looked up —“in the course of a very interesting conversation which I had with him just now”— she bowed to Mr. Foster, who bowed back —“alluded to your study of a world of principles. Now of course that has always been a very favourite subject of human study — philosophical study, if I may call it that — although no doubt some ages have been more sympathetic to it than others. Ages noted for freedom of thought, such as Athens, have been better equipped for it than less-educated times such as the early medieval. We perhaps in our age, with our increased certainty and science and learning, can appreciate all these views with sympathy if not with agreement. I, for instance”— she smiled brightly at her audience —“no longer say ‘Four angels round my bed’, nor am I prepared to call Plato der grosse Pfaffe, the great priest, as was once done.”
She sniffed again; the smell had certainly recurred. In a corner Miss Wilmot moved restlessly, and then sat still. Everything was very quiet; the smell slowly faded. Damaris resumed.
“But it was that phrase which suggested to me the research with which my paper deals. You will all know that in the Middle Ages there were supposed to be various classes of angels, who were given different names — to be exact” (“and what is research if it is not exact?” she asked Mrs. Rockbotham, who nodded), “in descending order, seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations, virtues, princes, powers, archangels, angels. Now these hierarchized celsitudes are but the last traces in a less philosophical age of the ideas which Plato taught his disciples existed in the spiritual world. We may not believe in them as actually existent — either ideas or angels — but here we have what I may call two selected patterns of thought. Let us examine the likenesses between them; though first I should like to say a word on what the path was by which imaginations of the Greek seer became the white-robed beings invoked by the credulous piety of Christian Europe, and familiar to us in many paintings.
As if the word had touched her poignantly Miss Wilmot shrieked and sprang to her feet. “Look, look,” she screamed. “On the floor!”
Damaris stared at the floor, and saw nothing unusual. But she had no long time to look. Miss Wilmot was crouching back in her corner, still shrieking. All the room was in disorder. Mrs. Rockbotham was on her feet and alternately saying fiercely —“Miss Wilmot! Dora! be quiet!” and asking generally “Will someone take her out?”
“The snake!” Dora Wilmot shrieked. “The crowned snake!”
So highly convinced and convincing did the words sound that there was a general stir of something remarkably like terror. Damaris herself was startled. Mr. Foster was standing close to her, and she saw him look searchingly round the room, as she had felt herself doing. Their eyes met, and she said smiling, “Do you see anything like a crowned snake, Mr. Foster?”
“No, Miss Tighe,” Mr. Foster said. “But I can’t perhaps see what she sees. Dora Wilmot may be a fool, but she’s a sincere fool.”
“Can’t you get her away, Mr. Foster?” Mrs. Rockbotham asked. “Perhaps you and I together — shall we try?”
“By all means,” Mr. Foster answered. “By all means let us try.”
The two of them crossed to the corner where Miss Wilmot, now risen from crouching and standing upright and flat against the wall, had with that change of position left off screaming and was now gently moaning. Her eyes were looking past Damaris to where at that end of the room there was an empty space before the French windows.
Mrs. Rockbotham took her friend’s arm. “Dora, what do you mean by it?” she said firmly. “You’d better go home.”
“O Elise,” Dora Wilmot said, without moving her eyes, “can’t you see? look, look, there it goes!” Her voice dropped to a whisper, and again she uttered in a tone of terror and awe: “the snake! the crowned snake!”
Mr. Foster took her other hand. “What is it doing?” he asked in a low voice. “We can’t all see clearly. Tell me, quietly, what is it doing?”
“It is gliding about, slowly,” Miss Wilmot said. “It’s looking round. Look, how it’s moving its head! It’s so huge!”
In the silence that had fallen on the room Damaris heard the colloquy. She was very angry. If these hysterical nincompoops were to be allowed to interrupt her careful analysis of Platonic and medieval learning, she wished she had never taken all that trouble about her paper. “Crowned snake indeed,” she thought. “The shrieking imbecile! Are they never going to get her away?”
“Yes, O yes!” Miss Wilmot moaned. “I daren’t stop. I— no, no, I daren’t stop!”
“Come then,” Mr. Foster said. “This way; the door’s just here by you. But you’re not afraid of it, are you?”
“Yes . . . no . . . yes, I am, I am,” Dora moaned again. “It’s too — O let’s get away.”
Mrs. Rockbotham released the arm she held. Mr. Foster, one hand still holding Miss Wilmot’s, felt with his other for the door-handle. Damaris was watching them, as were all the rest — without her indignation — when suddenly everyone sprang into movement. There was a rush for the door; screams, not Miss Wilmot’s, sounded. Damaris herself, startled and galvanized, moved hastily forward, colliding with a heavy mass in flight which turned out to be Mrs. Roche Jacquelin. For from behind her, away towards those open windows, soft but distinct, there had come, or seemed to come, the sound of a gentle and prolonged hiss. Terror caught them all; following Mr. Foster and his charge, they squeezed and thrust themselves through the door. Only Damaris, after that first instinctive movement, restrained herself; only Mrs. Rockbotham, a little conscious of dignity still, allowed herself to be last. After the panic those two went, drawn by it but resisting its infection. The room lay empty and still in the electric light, unless indeed there passed across it then a dim form, which, heavy, long, and coiling, issued slowly through the open window into a silent world where for that moment nothing but the remote thunder was heard.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02