Shadows of Ecstasy, by Charles Williams

Chapter Eleven

The House by the Sea

It was indeed by the sea that the house stood at which the car eventually arrived. Through the wide porch in front of which it stopped the light shone from the open door; a light in which expectant figures moved and waited. Roger got out, stiff and weary, and as he stretched himself wondered afresh at that strange company of travellers. His fellows seemed less weary than he; the old Jew’s movements were slow but not difficult, and Caithness, once out, glanced swiftly round him as if to discover any sign of the king. Oppression lay, Roger thought, on him alone, perhaps because he alone was yet unused to a deliberate cohabitation with belief. The past popularity, the long tradition of religion supported its diverse champions against a present neglect. But art had never been popular, and its lovers in all ages were few and solitary. His own belief was as passionate as that of the Jew or the Christian, but it was more often thwarted and more greatly troubled.

They gathered in a group, waiting for that fourth of their company in whose train they had been brought there, the incarnate epiphany of immortal conquest. He delayed to speak to the driver, and as the others stood they savoured more fully the presence of the ocean. They could hear the faint sound of it in the darkness; they could smell and feel it in the air, as if the secret medium of all their journeys sensibly expressed itself to them. Fresh and everlasting, alien yet alluring, distant and deep yet delicate and close, it drew them together and unified them by its subtle existence. Caithness said unnecessarily: “We must be close to the shore; that’s the waves we hear.” Neither of the others answered him, and before the words had well died away Considine came up to them. He invited them with a gesture and they followed. In the porch Mottreux met them. He saluted his master and said: “All’s well: we’ve put the king in his room. He’s in a slight fever but otherwise he’s all right.”

Considine nodded. “The captain’s not here yet?” he asked. “No; I hardly expected him. To-morrow. My friends will be tired; show them their rooms.”

“I should like to see the king,” Caithness said, with a sound of challenge.

Roger saw Considine’s smile leap out. “Take Mr. Caithness to him then,” he said to Mottreux, and then to the priest: “But do remember, Mr. Caithness, that the king, being a Christian, is not yet able to be negligent of material hurt. You and Sir Bernard insisted on his being liable to pain; you’ll no doubt teach him to endure pain.” He turned to the others. “Good-night, Mr. Rosenberg,” he said, “tomorrow we’ll talk of your journey. Good-night, Ingram; sleep.” His eyes looked into Roger’s and sent through him a doctrine of obedience. He and the ocean swept the young man up and away into themselves; Roger saluted and followed the gentleman who waited for him.

They came into a hall which opened round them as if into distances. The walls were hung or covered with some kind of deep grey from which light shone, almost as over a landscape. Its furniture was not merely furniture but natural to it; a chest showed like an antique boulder on a hillside; a table was a table certainly, but it had grown in its place, and had not been set there, a chair or two glowed darkly as if shrubs of glistening leaves reflected the sun. Roger walked after his guide with a sense of perfect proportion such as no room he had ever entered, however admirably decorated, had given him; the best had been but arranged art, pleasant to his judgement, while this was an art which answered his human nature and contented his blood. It communicated peace. He followed up a staircase, down a corridor, and was shown into a perfectly ordinary guest-room, where all necessities awaited him. His companion uttered a few courteous sentences, smiled, bowed, and left him. Roger went across to the window, but he could not see outside; the darkness was too deep. He thought of going back and switching off the light, took a step that way, and felt all through his body Considine’s voice saying: “Sleep.” To oppose that government was too much for him; he turned to the dressing-table.

As he made ready for sleep he thought once more of Isabel. The knowledge of her moved him, yet differently. He had been apt to wonder what he could do for her; now indeed he wondered what he could do. There was all his knowledge, all his concern, but it opened up like a mountain lake from which as yet no irrigating streams ran to the plains below. The weight and darkness of this power pressed on him; he himself was the bank which closed those waters in, yet far away he was also the plain which needed those waters. They lay silent; they held such mysteries as verse held, and sometimes the surface of them was troubled by a wind which rippled it into words. “The passion and the life whose fountains are within . . . ” “felt in the blood and felt along the heart . . . ” (what passion along what blood?), “in embalmed darkness guess each sweet” (what hint of what discovery?), “Where the great vision of the guarded Mount . . . (“the guarded Mount” . . . what vision?), “fear no more the heat . . . fear no more . . . ”(did that song come from within the vision of the guarded Mount wherein also the passion and the fountains of life lay?), “fear no more . . . merrily, merrily, shall I live now.” They did not answer each other; they flowed towards each other and intermingled, and dissolved each into others, meaning in sound, sound in meaning, and always fresh ripples rose and ran on that dark surface, away towards the bounded infinity, and in and between them all was the vast power of which they were but gleaming movement momently seen. Between them, as into that vast, received and to be strengthened, he sank to sleep. In the last second of mingling knowledge and dream he had a vision of a wide desolate plain, across which, coming swiftly towards him, ran a tall, young, uncouth, and violent figure, holding in a hand stretched high above his head what, even at that distance which was yet no distance, was known for a curiously tinted and involuted shell. It was running at great speed, and crying out as it came, crying in a great voice, “A god, yea, many gods,” and the dreamer suddenly recognized that runner and knew it for the passionate youth of Wordsworth, coming in his own dream of saving poetry from a world’s destruction, and crying out in his own divine voice across lands and waters how the shell was poetry and uttered voices, “voices more than all the winds, with power”; and the winds awoke in all the quarters of the vast heavens under which the intense young visionary ran, and roared down towards him and into the shell he was stretching out towards Roger, and they reverberated “power, power,” and the shell sang “power,” and the visitant with longer and wilder steps was leaping forward, and then darkness swept over all, and the vision lost itself in sleep.

He woke the next morning, and lay for some moments wondering whether Muriel would be bringing the tea in soon, whether perhaps if he opened his eyes he would find that she had already brought it, and even that Isabel had already poured it out. As no-one said anything however, he opened his eyes, and almost immediately realized that his chance of tea was very small. At least, he rather doubted whether Considine’s household provided early cups of tea, and the doubt was justified. None appeared. Roger, telling himself that he didn’t mind, wondered for a second whether cups of tea at reasonable times weren’t actually more important than lines of poetry, or at least whether the two were entirely incompatible. Nobody objected to wine, and if he had to choose for the rest of his life between wine and tea he had no kind of doubt where the choice would rest. Poetry and such things could give him all the wine he wanted, whereas tea was unique, “a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.” “That’s right, misquote,” he said to himself crossly, and repeated the line correctly —“a thing of beauty is a joy for ever.” Under the sudden spell the immediate urgency of tea faded. It was silly to want tea so much when he had that power attending him. He said it again, slowly, and, much consoled, got up.

Baths apparently Considine provided; he dressed and, hoping he was doing the right thing — it was close on nine — went downstairs. In the hall he found Mottreux, Caithness, and two or three more of Considine’s friends, the young Vereker among them. The hall struck him as being very cold, perhaps because the front door was wide open, and a rather helpless November sun was doing the best it could with a morning mist that lay about the house. He said almost as much to Vereker — Mottreux and Caithness were conducting a stilted conversation upon, so far as he could hear, their various visits to America — and Vereker answered that the door should be shut if he liked. “We don’t notice the cold,” he said.

“Don’t you, indeed?” Roger said, feeling that it was like Vereker’s cheek. He was a younger man — he was apparently a younger man. Looks were nothing to go by; Considine himself was enough to go by, and at that his momentary irritation passed and he said sincerely: “Don’t you?”

“The body, after all, ought to be able to manage that,” Vereker said, “to adjust itself, I mean, to whatever temperature it’s in and enjoy it; that’s why it’s the delicate thing it is.”

Roger said: “And if you shut the door and turned on a furnace suddenly — then?”

“Yes, then,” Vereker said laughing. “All this wrapping up and unwrapping — it’s so unnecessary. To do without food, that does take longer. But it’s the same principle. Here’s Nigel.”

It was by the single Christian name (or the name which he had recovered from the misguided habits of the Christian church), Roger found, that his followers generally referred to him, partly in love, partly in submission, partly in mere recognition of his own unique quality, though they carried themselves to him with all the behaviour of respect possible.

He came in now from the drive with a general word of greeting for his own people, and particular salutations for Roger and Caithness, to the former already intimate, to the latter courteous but distant, as if to some hostile ambassador. After the greetings he said generally: “We shall have news today. I’ve felt it already.”

“A premonition?” Caithness asked politely.

“Why do you despise premonitions?” Considine answered. “Let’s go to breakfast, shall we? Of course,” he went on, as they sat down, “if you mean the stupid blur of untrained sensation, that is, as it sounds, negligible. But if you can feel a country in its air can’t you feel its people too? All last night I heard and felt them, the voices of the great towns and the small villages, the talk and the doubt and the terror. Early this morning I felt it all gathering into one, the solitary thoughts of the peasants and the determination of the financiers; it swayed one way and another as it came to me, it veered and shifted as winds do, but it blew against my spirit at last as the wind on my face, and I smelt the news that went on it. Suydler will give way.”

“Can you feel a whole nation?” Roger cried.

“Why not?” Considine asked, almost gaily. “Didn’t you feel the crowd round your gate when you saved the king? can’t you, even in darkness, feel the passion of a crowd? And do you think it isn’t possible for me to feel the purpose of a wider, less certain crowd? I can feel England as you can feel English verse. And they’ll yield; they’ll talk of peace.”

“It’s less possible than for you to hear them,” the priest said. “They won’t yield so easily.” Roger heard the hostility of his voice, and remembered that to Caithness much more than to him, the figure which sat at the head of the table, breaking a thin piece of toast, was indeed the High Executive of Africa, by whose will the Christian missions had been massacred — priests and converts alike, going down before the rifles of their enemies. The thought shook him; lost in his own concern with what Sir Bernard mocked and he adored as the exalted imagination, he had forgotten of what the executive imagination was capable. It was not only debonair but ruthless. It had spared London, but rather from convenience and scorn, from the grace of its superior power, than from any more tender sentiment. He remembered, without any immediate connexion, that it was Wordsworth — the Wordsworth of his dream — who had exulted over the defeat of the English armies — certainly he had called it a truth most painful to record, but Roger, looking at Considine, excused Wordsworth. It was, certainly it was, a painful truth, but undeniably a truth, if any of the whole mad dream were true, that this was no matter of chat and comfort but of anguish and ecstasy. The quiet house had lulled him, as the sound of the sea in which men are at that moment drowning, and drowned men are furnishing food for shellfish, lulls the sleepy holiday-maker after food. Some other cold than November’s touched Roger; he tried to think, and Wordsworth ran through him again, crying “Yea, Carnage is Thy daughter.” Carnage . . . carnage . . . the High Executive was presiding over a changing world, and he who was following that summons was accepting the blood shed for that change. He was accepting blood, as all men do by living. But he knew it. He leaned back from the half-eaten breakfast. Considine was speaking.

“I don’t say the English are frightened,” he said, “they desire what they think rightness for Africa; also they do not willingly oppose ideas; also they — or some of them — desire wealth. They are divided, and Suydler will play for the rich. I can satisfy even the rich; I can buy them out. The Church fortunately has refused the secular arm.”

“Do you mock at it then?” Caithness demanded, he also having ceased to eat.

“It’s more purely Christian than ever before,” the other answered; “its nature is in complete defeat; there and there only it thrives. Your wife was right, Ingram; that’s the choice between defeat and victory. But I’ve chosen victory and I have it. Will you eat no more? Then,” he stood up, “you shall come with me, Ingram; for I’ve a visit to make. Mr. Caithness may go to his penitent if he chooses, or make his meditations anywhere about the house or the grounds. Presently I’ll come to the king. Vereker, do you relieve the wireless man. Mottreux, will you be about in case the captain comes?”

They saluted and rose to their feet, as, taking Roger by the arm, he left the room. They went by corridors and stairs to the left wing of the house stretched backwards towards the sea, corresponding to another wing on the right. Between the two ran a verandah, a wide lawn, and a terrace, from which steps led down to a lower terrace, and so on to the edge of the cliffs. And as they went the young man felt everywhere something of that sense of distance which he had experienced in the hall on the previous night — a distance in which all near things existed in a peculiar natural order. The house might have been one of those mythical buildings which in various legends have been lifted from the earth by music, as Troy rose to Apollo’s harping or Pandemonium like an exhalation with the sound of dulcet symphonies.

There were no pictures, so far as he could see; instead, the walls were covered with soft hangings, of different colours, but each colour richer than ever he had seen it before. Here and there these deep tapestries were worked with shapes, mostly, so far as he could discern, symmetrical designs, though occasionally a human or non-human figure showed — a man or a winged monster or even a small complex city thick with houses and crowds. But Roger could not see them very well and he was not allowed to pause to examine them. Considine walked on, humming to himself, and again Roger recollected with a curious shock that this mature easy form, moving so lightly and gaily beside him, was the High Executive of African ecstasies. Suddenly he recognized the words into which Considine had changed his humming and exclaimed, almost stopping —“But that’s Shakespeare!”

“— shall I live now Under the blossom that hangs on the bough,

“Yes,” Considine answered. “D’you think Shakespeare didn’t know something of it? Yet you must have lectured on the Tempest.”

“If you mean that Shakespeare believed in the Second Evolution of Man-” Roger rather desperately began.

“He imagined its nature,” Considine answered. “Think of it — and read Ariel’s songs. Not that you’ll understand them yet. Nor do I. Perhaps no-one will — properly — until after the conquest of death. He is your greatest poet because none but he has so greatly lived and died and lived in his verse. ‘On the bat’s back’— that’s the purity of being. He imagined it. But here”— he paused at the door of a room, and his voice became graver —“is the physical experiment.”

He opened it and they went in. It was a large high room, and there moved in it continually a little tender breeze, as of spring, though there were no windows, or, if there were, they were hidden behind the pale yellow hangings which here also hid the walls. They shook, ever so faintly, in the movement of the air, and it seemed to Roger for a few moments as if everywhere great fields of daffodils trembled in that gentle wind. The vague suggestion passed, and left in its stead a thought of a universal sun shedding a golden presence through clear air, and then that again vanished, and he knew they were only wonderfully wrought hangings, and some beautiful light diffused itself over them. In the middle of the room there was a low divan, on which lay a motionless figure. In one corner was a chair on which a man sat, who, as they paused in the entrance, rose and came over to them. Otherwise the room was bare.

Roger looked again at the motionless figure on the divan, gazing at it in a sudden recollection. He knew the face, he had seen it rapt into an ardent intention, offering itself to death and to the High Executive of death. He turned sharply to Considine. “But it’s Nielsen,” he said.

Considine nodded, and said to the watcher of the dead, “There’s no news?”

“None, sir,” the man said. “He hasn’t stirred or breathed.”

“It’s seven days,” Considine said absently, and walked across the room to the couch where the dead man lay. Roger followed him, his heart beating more quickly than usual. What — what was expected, here and now?

Considine seemed to feel the unspoken question. He said, still looking at Nielsen: “We’re waiting for the result.”

Roger said: “You’re waiting for him to live?”

“If it may be,” Considine answered. “He was a strong spirit.” He knelt down by the couch and looked intently into the dead man’s eyes. Roger waited, growing more troubled every moment with terrible expectation. This man had intended passionately to succeed in his unpreluded task; he had meant to live. Could so high and strong a purpose break laws which only gods and sons of gods had suspended in the past? Lazarus, the tale ran, had been drawn back from death by supernatural grace, but was it also — was it only — in the power of natural man by natural laws to conquer death? Was the old symbolism of the mysteries true in its reversal? was the supernatural itself but a visionary exhalation of the natural, and could it hold nothing but what the natural held? As he stood gazing a shock went through him, for it seemed to him that a quiver passed over the dead man’s face. Considine stiffened where he knelt, and threw out a hand to beckon the third watcher who ran quietly and silently to the other side of the couch. He also knelt, and together the two concentrated themselves on the again unchanging figure. It was motionless in the self-closed stillness of the dead; pallor had touched it, and yet a pallor which — and again the smallest quiver seemed to pass through the dead face. Roger thought to himself, “It’s a trance, it’s epilepsy, it’s-” But Considine was there, and he did not believe — even in that wild rational effort to explain away a thing which hadn’t happened and wouldn’t and couldn’t happen he did not believe — that Considine made mistakes of this kind. The man had meant to die; undoubtedly on that evening in Hampstead he had meant to die. This was no booby show, no conjurer’s trick; it was man at the extreme point of his powers sending all those powers to the enlargement of his dominion. The master of the adepts kneeled there, seeking to aid the initiate through the experiment which he himself, called to a different duty, had not yet dared, as the Pope aided St. Francis on a more glorious business than his own. Roger steadied himself; if man could attempt this man could watch the attempt. This was his first test and he would not fail. He would open himself to the knowledge, to the experience of the sight, he would fill himself with it; who could tell but one day he, he himself, might lie on such a couch to await and compel such a . . . resurrection?

It was — it was happening. The eyelids flickered. Considine’s gaze was fixed on them; he was leaning forward as if to catch the first glimpse of the returning consciousness, to meet and hold it lest it should fail. A ripple of darkness or light seemed to pass down the body; in the infinitesimal vibration of all its hues none could tell whether it were darkness or light that shook it. The eyelids flickered again; Roger caught himself in the midst of a passionate wish that they should open; they might hold madness or horror; they might strike him and blast him with their power or splendour or ungodly terror. Or they might be gay — gay beyond all dreaming: “merrily, merrily shall I live . . . ” No; he couldn’t bear such piercing glee-“on a bat’s back”-death the bat ridden and flown by a laughing joy. He couldn’t bear it; he looked at Considine, and for a brief fraction of a second Considine’s eyes flashed at him and away, but in that swift meeting Roger felt command and nourishment and burning expectation, and in its power he set himself again to await revelation.

But for awhile it seemed as if all was done. The body was again rigid and there lay before the straining eyes only the awful barricade of death. Roger thought suddenly how absurd it was — all this abstraction and personification; there was no such thing as death, there were only dead men and dead things. Men tried to make dead men bearable, comprehensible, friendly, by giving to them a general name. Death as an imagined person might be terrifying, but he was, so imagined, human. But Death was nothing of the sort; Death was neither Azrael nor any other immortal shadowy being — it was only dead men and dead things. “Insubstantial Death is amorous”— even the poets pretend; no, not always —“O but to die and go we know not where . . . ” and to come back.

It moved. The hand extended along the couch moved, simultaneously with what seemed a breath. Roger strangled a cry. The hand jerked again, so tiny a jerk that only its force made it perceptible. Something was trying to move that rigid organism, and not quite succeeding. But the signs of its presence spasmodically showed. The nostrils quivered slightly; the lips just parted. The fingers twitched.

Considine said: “Help him then,” and at once the third man leapt into activity, and others who had silently entered the room behind Roger, unnoticed by his fascinated attention, ran softly up. He thought afterwards that some bell must have been rung by the other watcher when first the body had stirred, and that these had gathered in readiness. They were about the dead man; they concerned themselves busily with it; they did this and the other, Roger didn’t very well know what, for he was trying not to hope they would be unsuccessful. All the time Considine hardly moved, save to put himself in a more convenient position for the workers; all the time his eyes remained fixed on those closed eyes, and his will waited for the moment when it could unite itself with the restored will of the dead.

After so much toil and vigil they failed. What time was spent there Roger hardly knew. But suddenly he knew a difference in the body about which they stood or moved. It changed to a more dreadful pallor; a greyness crept over it. Beyond the knowledge even of the adept it endured withdrawal; the kingdom so nearly grasped fell away. The neophyte of death was swallowed up in death; beyond all earlier semblance, and before their eyes, he died indeed. Considine signed to the workers to cease; he said to them: “Look,” and they obeyed. He said again: “Look, look as masters. Don’t lose a moment; change this into victory within you. Death here shall be life in you; feel it, imagine it, draw it into yourselves; as with all experience, so with this. Live by it; feed on it and live.”

But he himself rose to his feet, and with a sign to Roger to accompany him went out of the room. In silence they went back to the hall, then Considine spoke. “Now you shall rest,” he said. “It’s failed this time, but we shall succeed yet, and you’ll see it or hear of it. Meanwhile, do what you can to make this sight part of you and make it part of your will to immortality and victory. If you want food it’s here. Presently I’ll come to you again; we’re hardly likely to move today. But now I must go to the king.”

He nodded and moved off, and presently Caithness, sitting in talk by the king’s bed in an upper room, heard the door open, and looking round saw him in the entrance. The priest stood up abruptly and Inkamasi stirred.

“How is our guest?” Considine asked. “Have you convinced him how wasteful vengeance is, Mr. Caithness? and therefore what folly?”

Caithness said, with almost a sneer, “It’s fitting for you to talk of folly and waste — you who spend the blood of the martyrs for your own foolishness. Why have you come here?”

“For a better reason than you came to Hampstead not so long ago,” Considine answered. “It wasn’t a wise night, that, for because of that the king must choose his future today. You should have kept to your pupils, Mr. Caithness, to the morals you understand and the dogmas that you don’t. But you must leave us now for I must talk to the king.”

Caithness looked at Inkamasi. “If you want me to stay,” he began but the other shook his head. “Go, if you will,” he said; “it’s best that he and I should understand each other. I’ll remember better this time.”

Considine held the door for the priest, closed it, and came to the chair by the bed. He paused there and smiled down at Inkamasi. “Have I your permission to sit down, sir?” he asked, and his voice was moved with strength such as the king never remembered in all their strange intercourse.

“Is this another insult?” he asked, restraining anger.

“It isn’t anything of an insult,” Considine said, “and you should know it. Haven’t I made you what you are, and could I insult the thing I’ve restored? Therefore I will have an answer — have I your permission to sit?”

The king made a movement with his hand. “I think you’ve only fooled me,” he answered bitterly, “but you can play with me as you choose — only I know it now. Sit or stand, do what you will, I can only watch you and at bottom defy you.”

“I will not seek it,” the other replied. “It has been opened once and it is enough. And you — are you sure that man can conquer till he has been wholly defeated? are you sure that he can find plenitude till he has known utter despair? You will not let him despair of himself, but it may be that only in such a complete despair he finds that which cannot despair and is something other than man.”

“There are many reasons for avoiding the work, and all religions have excused man,” the other’s voice said. “Despair if you will, and hope that despair may save you. Entreat the gods; I do not refuse you your prayer.”

“There’s a submission we’re slow to understand,” Inkamasi cried out, “a place where divinity triumphed — I believe in that.”

“Be it so,” the answer came; “but tell me then what you will do.”

There was a long pause before the king said: “I know there is no place for me upon earth.”

“There is place and enough for Inkamasi,” Considine answered. “There is no place in Africa for Inkamasi the king. You best know whether there is a place in Europe. You know whether your friends downstairs and in London receive that royalty as I receive it.”

“They have all courtesy and good will, but they have forgotten the Crown,” Inkamasi said. “They do not mock me but they do not believe.”

“They are sons without a mother,” Considine went on, “for they know neither the Crown nor the Republic. Royalty is a shade and Equality not yet born. What is the difference between these traditions to me so long as either is held and is a passion? But most men are empty of both. And if I must choose I will choose the king and not the State, for the king is flesh and blood and yet undying, and is a symbol of that we seek.”

“Am I left,” Inkamasi asked, “to find my only servants in my enemies?”

“It seems,” Considine answered, “even so, that I and I only am the friend of the king.”

“And what will the king’s friend offer the king in his superfluousness?” Inkamasi asked again.

“I have only two things to give,” Considine said; “let the royalty of the king choose which he will take from a believe in him. I will offer a house and servants and money, all that he needs, and he may live contented with his knowledge of his own inheritance. Or I will give the king a royal death.”

“There will be none to hamper you then,” Inkamasi said with a sudden smile.

“There is none to hamper me now,” Considine answered gravely. “For the majesty of the king is in my care and on my side, and if the king choose to live without his majesty, though the choice is his own, he will choose to live in a dream. I am the keeper of the strength of royalty; what is outside me is Europe, and that the king knows.”

“Yet I thought Europe would aid me to aid my people,” Inkamasi meditated aloud —“law and medicine and science.”

“They are good in their place, but the question is whether these things can take the place of greater,” Considine answered. “But the choice is for the king. Only it must be today. Tomorrow the submarine returns to Africa, and there are three ways in which the king may go in her. I will have him taken to his people and set among them, that he may try the fates between himself and the man who now rules them, and who inherits royalty if Inkamasi dies. Or I will send him as my friend till peace is signed and he may live a private man wherever he chooses on the face of the earth.”

“And the third way?” Inkamasi asked.

“He shall go clothed with royalty and death,” Considine said. “I will come when night falls to know the king’s mind.”

He stood up and went down on one knee, and then moved backwards to the door. There in silence he waited a moment, opened it, and went out.

Inkamasi lay through the afternoon considering all that had been said. The suggestion which had been made to him not only received additional force from the fact that it had been presented as one among several possibilities, but drew its chief strength from the tendencies of his own mind. He knew very well that, of all those by whom he was, or was likely to be surrounded, Considine alone had such intense appreciation of royalty as he himself had. Nor did his own bitter dislike blind him to the fact that his first attempt upon the other had failed, and that to concentrate the rest of his life upon remedying that failure would be not only undignified but treasonable. The king might hate, but his duty was to his own kingship first and always. How to save and serve that must be the first thing in his mind. But for this a life in England among his new circle of friends seemed useless enough. He had a sudden vision of himself growing old, harping upon the tradition which was his, regarded at best as a feeble sentimental survival, at worst as a mere bore. All his profound romanticism rejected the prospect. But to live as Considine proposed would be little better. He would be pitied by himself instead of by others; he would dig his own pit of sentimentality instead of having it dug for him, but the pit would be as deep and fatal.

There was a course Considine had not named, to try and forget that he was the king, to settle down to ordinary work, here or abroad, and submit himself to the idea of the Government, whatever it might be, under which he might find himself: accepting his dispossession simply and sincerely. And this, had there been no alternative, he might have done. But once that alternative had been suggested the colour of the thought of it tinged all his attempts to choose. For though the man Inkamasi might not kill himself — so his creed taught — yet the king had a duty to his kingship. So far as might be, it must never be surrendered; and here was a way by which it might be surrendered in a beauty and greatness equal to its own. Examining himself for the last time, Inkamasi knew that in turning to Europe he had desired Europe for the sake of Africa; that he had studied logic and medicine and law for the sake of the king and his people, and that the king might the better benefit and govern and be one with his people. He did not care for the high abstractions of thought; when he talked of them it was when he took his ease in his private circle and amused himself as other kings had amused themselves with jest or hunt or song. And now, the child of unknown things, he set his face to go up to Jerusalem, that the king’s crown might be properly received by the unvestmenting hands of Death. Peace entered in on him and he lay looking out of the window, watching the November twilight gather, and uniting within himself, not in such a twilight but in a more wonderful union of opposites, the day of his own individual being and the mysterious night of his holy and awful office.

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