Shadows of Ecstasy, by Charles Williams

Chapter Thirteen

The Meeting of the Adepts

It was already dark. The sea was lost, and the drive in front of the house. Roger was alone, for Caithness had not returned from the king, and Rosenberg, though it was but late afternoon, had with a few muttered words gone back to his own room. No-one of the others had come in. Roger had read a little in one or other of the books scattered about-they were mostly what are called the “classics” of various times and languages. They were all in “privately printed” editions, exquisitely done with types he did not recognize and bindings whose colours were strange and beautiful combinations. There was one volume of the fragments of Sappho, another of the Song of Solomon, an AEschylus, a Gallic War, a Macbeth; there were one or two Chinese texts, and one or two which Roger supposed must be African — at least, the characters were altogether strange to him. There was a manuscript book, half filled with delicate mysterious writing, also in strange characters. He had read in some and looked at others; he had tried to search in them for the power which reposed there, and of which those Greek or English or unknown characters were sacramental symbols. And when he ceased and for a while half abandoned the search he was aware that he did not abandon it, as so often before, to return to an outer world of things different from the secret paths he had been following. Sometimes when he had been reading at home he had looked up to feel the rooms, the furniture — tolerable and even pleasant as it all was — in some sense alien to the sacred syllables. His own writing-table, comfortable and useful, blinked rather awkwardly at him when he returned from the visit of Satan to Eden or the nightingale in the embalmed darkness. But here there was no such difficulty or distinction; all was natural. As a result of that most fortunate combination of mental and visible or audible things, the tiredness which often seized him in those moments was absent. For it was never great things in their own medium which wearied him; they — he had always known and now more than ever knew — were strength and refreshment; it was the change from one medium to another, the passing from their clear darkness to the fog of daily experience. But here there was no need to return; all was one.

He walked to the window, and looked out. But he could see nothing except the lights of a car standing in front of the door; he turned back into the room, and after hesitating for a minute or two went across it and out into the hall. There he saw a group of men, gathered round Considine. They were breaking up even while he glanced; each of them went off as on separate business. Considine stood alone. He stretched himself easily, smiled at Roger, and walked towards him.

“All’s done,” he said. “They’ve communicated from Africa. Your people are in touch with mine. I knew they would begin soon.”

Roger, still struggling with a scepticism in political things which he had abandoned in spiritual, said: “It can’t be possible that . . . ”

“It’s certain,” Considine answered. “Suydler — what can Suydler do against us? He won’t trust himself to flog the English on, nor to cheat the Powers that will want to cheat him. South Africa I will leave for fifty years or so; at the end of that time they’ll be begging to come in. Let’s go outside, shall we?”

They went out on to the verandah, and, as the coldness of the evening took them, veils seemed to fall away from Considine. Roger felt himself in the presence of maturity and power beyond his thought, perhaps something of that power into which he had been experimentally searching. The man by his side threw off the habitual disguise of years and behaviour which he wore; he moved like a “giant form,” and though his eyes, when they rested on Roger, were friendly, their friendliness was tremendous and wise and, as it might have been, archangelic. He walked lightly, pacing the verandah, and seemed not to depend on the floor to support him; Roger felt clumsy and awkward beside him, earth and a child of earth beside earth purified, infused and transmuted.

Considine said: “We shall go to-night. I’ve got one more thing to do here, and there’s time enough for that.”

“You always seem to have time to spare,” Roger answered.

“Why not?” the other asked. “Every second is an infinity, once you can enter it. But man’s mind sits outside its doors moaning, and leaves his activity to run about the world in a fever of excitement. You will leave that presently.”

“How did you set out on this?” Roger asked diffidently. The impetuous angry Roger of London had disappeared; he walked as a child and as a child referred to his adults.

In the darkness Considine smiled. “This morning,” he said, “a girl jilted a boy, and the boy said, ‘Why do I suffer helplessly? This also is I— all this unutterable pain is I, and I grow everywhere through it into myself.’ I could show you the street where it happened — they haven’t yet pulled it down — where the boy said, ‘If this pain were itself power . . . ” So he imagined it as himself and himself as it, and because it was greater than himself he knew that he also was greater than himself, and as old and as strong as he chose. The girl’s dead long ago; she was a pretty baby.”

“But then?” Roger asked.

“Then — a little later-before noon,” the voice answered, “the boy found another girl and loved her. But as that love spread through him he remembered the vastness of his pain and what had seemed to him possible because of it, and he asked himself whether love were not meant for something more than wantonness and child-bearing and the future that closes in death. He taught himself how this also was to charge his knowledge of what man could be, and he poured physical desire and mental passion into his determination of life. Then he was free.”

Roger said: “But why Africa?”

“My father was a surgeon,” the other answered, “though not a poor man, and he went on a ship, taking me with him. The ship was wrecked — it wasn’t unusual then — but he and I were saved, and came to shore. I’ve told you that my father knew something of the old magical traditions — things I haven’t much concerned myself with; such as are of value are natural properties of the developing and unstunted nature of man, and the rest are of no value — but by such tricks he made himself feared by the sorcerers. We went far into the inland before he died, and there I found that things which I’d discovered with pain were taught to the priestly initiates. But they held them secret and were afraid of them, and I knew they were for the world when the time should come. And now it has come.”

“And the end,” Roger cried out in a sudden access of desperation and hope, “what is the end?”

The other turned to confront him, but in the darkness Roger, full of cloudy memories and fiery prophecies, was uncertain what he faced. There had been in the movement something of Isabel, but it was not Isabel; he wondered whether it were not rather the lofty head of Milton, doctrinal yet mysterious, at which he was looking, but the eyes were not Milton’s, for Milton was blind, and these eyes were shining at him in the night. It was rather — this figure — something that had to do with the sea the sound of which came to him still, the sea that had come up from its borders and been talking with him though he had not known it for what it was. So it was not eyes, it was light under the sea which he saw, and he was being swept away from human beings into the ocean gulfs and currents. He struck out as if he were swimming, but that did not ease the choking in his throat and nostrils nor the clamour in his ears. With all his power he drove upwards, and it seemed that his head broke out from the waves and beheld not very far off a shore on which his friends walked. He saw Sir Bernard looking ironically out over the waters in which he struggled, looking ironically at him, as if with a smile to see how the rash fool who has sailed on such a voyage now agonized for one plank to cling to. He saw Rosamond, her arm in Philip’s, bending him away from the foam, and drawing him safely towards the highroads beyond. He saw Isabel, and her dress was drenched with spray, her dress and her hair, and she had stretched one firm arm towards the sea, and stood on the extreme edge of the land; but her eyes did not see him, and he could not tread water — he was whirled down again as if into the noise of a roaring dance, and again he choked and agonized and sprang upward through a thousand fathoms of water and emerged to see them again, but small, very small. As he gazed a tiny distant bell rang in his ears and called him — a bell far, far below: “ding dong bell, ding dong bell.” Hark! now he heard it. It was not now those on the shore who neglected him; it was he who had to leave them on their shore. “Ding dong bell”; they were ringing for him, a knell and a summons at once. Because there was no other hope, he obeyed; he forced himself to cease from struggling, and from feet to lifted hands one direct line he shot downwards, down, down, to where the dead men lay. The noise in his ears might have been the shouting of many voices, crowds and armies, about their lord, or it might have been the sea uttering itself, its voice heard not in its own words but in a tremendous echo, sovereign for those who heard it, shaped into words: “Thus the Filial Godhead answering spake.” The thunder of the speech crashed through him as he, assenting to it and to the sea which spoke it, dropped down through the speed of the depth. It was agony to let himself sink so, to release all that he loved, to fall through this alien element by which they walked; it was pain, indescribable . . . indescribable . . . what? — not pain but something else, an exquisiteness of pain which was, now he realized it, not pain at all but delight. How many there were, far away on that shore beyond him, who fancied themselves in pain, and, could they know it, carried all delight in their hearts! Man, through most of his poor ignorant years, did not truly know what he felt; he was so habituated to the past that he sighed when he should have laughed and laughed when he should have sighed. The great passions swept through him unrecognized till far off he saw the glory of their departure, and cried out, “That was!” But in rare moments he knew, and then what power was his! And, could a man’s body be always impregnated with this salt, as his own was now, and infiltrated with this sea, he might always know! His experience would always be new, for newness was the quality of this everlasting and universal life. He knew delight and named it; unafraid, he summoned it, and it came. He rejoiced in an ecstasy that controlled itself in great tidal breaths. He was no longer sinking but walking on the sand at the great sea’s bottom, only the sea was no longer there; he was himself the sea and he walked in the sun over the yellow sands. “Come unto these yellow sands.” He himself — ocean calling to ocean; to other seas that danced in a flooding splendour. Ecstasy was no more a bewilderment; only those who had not known it were afraid of it, for it was man’s natural life. In the stormy waters of the surface there was danger and death, but, for those who would not fly from the depths and the distances, those very depths and distances were found to be part of their nature. Every step that he took was delight; he sent out the cry of the released spirit: “Merrily, merrily shall I live now.”

Something lay on his forehead, obstructing him, as if it were a hand; he laboured under it. It pressed on him, or he against it, as if alien limitation controlled him; he stumbled in his walk because it lay over his eyes and blinded him. A great fear of blindness, of losing this most happy life, filled him. He threw up his hands to tear the obstruction away, and they too were caught and prisoned. He tore them loose; he flung back his head; he was convulsed with a spasm of agony, and he was standing in the darkness of a cold night under a wooden roof, and opposite him was the tall watchful figure of Nigel Considine.

There was a long silence; then Considine said, “It may be known and believed, it can’t be lived thus. But it can be found and lived. Let us go in.”

In the hall there were a group of some half-dozen; away from them, standing together, were Caithness and Rosenberg. Mottreux was moving about from one place to another. Roger joined his friends. Considine stood still and gathered their eyes and thoughts to himself; when that concentration was sufficient he spoke.

“All’s ready,” he said, “and you know your offices. All of us, except Mottreux, leave to-night. He remains here. But there are two things yet to be done. Mr. Rosenberg, I present to you the jewels which your cousin left to you.” Mottreux came forward slowly and gave him the case, which he offered to the Jew who took it silently. Mottreux fell back a pace or two so that he stood behind his master. His face was livid, and he rubbed one hand backward and forward over his forehead. But he stood, horribly eyeing the Jew, while Considine went on: “I invite you to come with me if you choose, and I will see that you reach Jerusalem. There you may wait in peace the coming of your Messias. If you choose to stay here, you shall be taken to London to-night or tomorrow to any place that you name.”

“I will do as you have said,” Rosenberg answered. “The Lord shall reward you, and I will rest in Jerusalem.”

“But for us, lords and princes, my companions,” Considine said, and his tone sank from conversational ease to direction and control, “before we take up again the work that is before us, there remains one ceremony to fulfil. Initiates of love and death, I invite you to a sacrifice of death, by virtue of that hope and determination which shall make you masters of death as you are in your degree masters of love. There is in this house another guest, a child of royalty and an inheritor of one of the great and passionate imaginations of mankind, Inkamasi the Zulu. He is not with us, but we are with him. Shadow though it be of the true ecstasy and fiery life into which we shall enter, it is yet an heritage worthy of honour. To us has been committed the care of these vast and antique dreams; it is ours to see, so far as in us lies, that those who are possessed by them are entertained mightily and dismissed royally. Love and poetry and royalty are adored as the channels whereby the passion and imagination of man’s heart become revealed to him, and knowing his own greatness he moves to the final accomplishment, the ending in his own person of all the accidents of place and time. This man is not with us, but in an hour when, superseded in Africa and undesired in Europe, he looks for a throne on which to perish, it must be we who offer him that throne. By no compulsion and no persuasion the King Inkamasi turns to the throne we offer and awaits immolation there. He is driven by the might of his own royalty which demands of him no lesser conclusion; he is received by us as, beyond his purpose, a meet and acceptable sacrifice. Put away from you the desires of your hearts, save the one last desire. I exhort you to come with hands of devotion and a single heart; who knows but this very night the work may be accomplished and there may descend upon one of us that ecstasy which shall drive him into death and in death to resurrection?”

Roger heard and realized what was conveyed by phrase and accent. Appalled by the understanding he took a half-step forward, but Caithness was before him. With a supernatural insolence as high as Considine’s own, the priest cried out and confronted his enemy. “You dare not touch him,” he said. “This man is in your care, and his blood is on your head if you hurt him. God shall require it of you; I charge you to let him go-”

Considine had paused to let him speak, but now with a gesture he stopped him, and as the priest panted for words the other’s voice set him aside.

“If that time which you and he accept and serve were at your disposal,” he said, “I would not prevent your seeking to turn him from his assent. But it cannot be now. You will not encourage him to seek victory in death; and the king cannot fail from his royalty. What we do we do quickly. It is permitted, if you choose, that you shall be with him at his end; console, direct him as you will. But see that you do not interfere now with his and our choice, or you shall be taken from him. The offering which he makes and which we, with vaster purposes, accept is beyond the humble vision of your creed. He dies for the sake of his kingship; we experience his death for the sake of making it a part of our imaginations. Man shall conquer death, not by submitting to it as you teach, and not by avoiding it in a mere prolongation of life, as certain wise yet erring masters have taught, though this may be a necessary step towards conquest, but by entering into and annulling it.”

“Antichrist,” the priest exclaimed, “is the day of your dominion here?”

“Neither Christ nor Antichrist,” the voice of the other answered him, “but I bring a gospel of redemption, and the ends of the world hear it: whom do men say that I, a son of man, am?”

He flung out a hand towards the group of his servants and disciples; he turned his eyes upon them and they answered, Arab and Egyptian, negro and white: “The end of mirage, the palm in the desert,” “The last of the Imams, the Shadow of Allah,” “The lord of sorcerers and kings,” “The bearer of keys, the interpreter of tongues,” and, as the mingled voices ceased, Considine’s own answered them: “I am all these and yet I am no more than any of you, for all of you shall be as I. That which I have known I have not known of myself. I am the child of the initiates; their servant and the servant of the mighty imagination which is in man. Any of you shall conclude his kingdom before me; purify yourselves, know, exult, and live. I call to you again, lords of the spirit, postulants of infinity, put away all desire but to be fulfilled in yourselves. The sacrifice of kingship is for the single of heart.”

He swept his arms upward and inward in one compelling gesture. “Come, see the death of a man. Come you too,” he added to his guests, “if you so will. But if not, then remain here until we come for you again, to accompany the body of the King Inkamasi to the sepulchre in the ocean which awaits him.”

He went forward and his servants after him. Vereker signed to Caithness to precede him, and Roger accompanied the priest. Mottreux looked after them; then he went swiftly to Rosenberg and laid his hand on the casket.

“Do you really mean to go with these to Jerusalem?” he said.

“I am determined,” the old man answered. “I will make haste to the city of our God.”

Mottreux turned sharply away; he went after the others.

They were going to the room where that morning Roger had seen the attempt at revivification, but the last of the disciples did not quite catch them up. Very softly he went after them; when Vereker had entered the room he paused by the door, and as softly moved a key from within to without. Then he pulled the door nearly but not quite shut after him and waited.

The body of Nielsen had been removed; on the low couch, supported by cushions, the Zulu lay. Considine genuflected as he entered, and moving to one side made a sign to Caithness. The priest ran forward, threw something round his neck, and drew a crucifix from near his heart. He kneeled by the couch; Inkamasi leaned his head towards him and they murmured between themselves. Considine, waiting, looked round, and made a sign to Roger to come to his side. He slipped his arm into the young man’s and said: “This is a gift of the universe to you; deal wisely with it. Be strong, exult, and live.”

The two of them were together, a little distance from the head of the couch; opposite them, at a greater distance from the foot, four others had gathered. Mottreux was by the door with a clear space between him and the Zulu. So set, they waited till the speech between the priest and the king died; while the two yet remained in close and silent prayer Considine said in a low voice to the others: “Enlarge in you the imagination by which man lives; this is perhaps the moment of fulfilment. The work shall be accomplished to-night without ritual or ceremony such as we are used to, in your contemplation alone.” He took a step towards Caithness and touched him on the shoulder, saying: “Have you spoken with the king?”

“You’re committing wickedness,” the priest exclaimed and ceased, broken either by his own passion or by the concentration of the other’s power.

“Back, then,” Considine gently said, and when Caithness had risen and moved a step or two away, he in turn knelt by the couch.

“Majesty,” he said, “are you willing to restore your kingship through us to that of which it is a shadow?”

“Yes,” Inkamasi said, “for though I hold you for my own enemies and for misguided men I think you are the only servants of the kingship that is more than the king.”

“Majesty,” Considine said again, “we are the king’s servants and his greatest friends. Farewell.” He touched Inkamasi’s hand with his lips and rising signed to Roger to follow him. The young man went forward, knelt, and said, “I’m sorry if this happened through me.”

“Don’t be,” Inkamasi said; “it’s better to die here than under the feet of a London crowd — if there’s any difference. Thank you, and good-bye.”

Roger touched his hand with his lips and went back. The rest, one by one, followed him, ending with Mottreux and Vereker. As Mottreux in turn moved back towards the door Caithness felt a hand press his arm and heard a soft whisper, “Come back and wait by me.” The order reached him in his anguish; with a hope that even now something might interpose, he obeyed and slowly withdrew till he also stood by the door.

Meanwhile, his obeisance done, Vereker had brought to Considine a chalice that had been standing, filled with wine, on a carved table at the side of the room. His master poured into it the contents of a small phial; then he took the chalice in his hands, and turned towards the couch. The silence in the room grew so deep, the absorbed attention of the watchers so intense, that Roger felt as if the terrific moment must break in some new astonishing revelation. Regret and sorrow, bewilderment and antagonism, which had mingled in his heart, were swept away; an awful harmony began to exist. So, in other far-off lives, lesser or greater he could not tell, he had waited for Isabel when they were young and happy, and indeed he had chosen necessity; so he had submitted his obedience to the authority of Milton or Wordsworth, waiting for the august plenitude of their poetry to be manifested within him. Till now he had believed that sense of harmony to be all they — Isabel or Paradise Lost — had to offer, but he had begun to learn that to pause there was to be too easily content. The harmony itself was but a prelude to some enrichment of his whole being, which in its turn must be experienced in every detail — made familiar that new powers might arise. He gave himself, freely and wholly, to the moment; he was to live the more completely through the king’s death. It was no good being distressed or ashamed; his business was to live by it, as if necessary it would be the business of others to live by his death. He gave himself to the moment, and in the moment to the whole charged imagination of man. It was no lie; the mind of man — not his mind or Inkamasi’s but man’s — was exalted above all the power of things, “of quality and fabric more divine,” and yet his own was never nearer or more useful to man’s than when he was most intensely aware of all things in himself. He gave himself to the moment.

“Drink, Majesty,” Considine said, and gave the chalice into Inkamasi’s hands. The king took it, raised it to his lips, and drank. Even as it left his lips, his grip relaxed, his face changed, he sank heavily on to the cushions behind him.

But before the dropped chalice reached the floor, before the sound of its fall could strike their ears, a violent explosion shattered them. Roger, fixed in his surrender, saw Considine jerk his arms up and fall crashing across the litter. Almost before the king’s body had sunk lifeless his destroyer lay slain over him. For they saw, as soon as their startled senses acted, that two lives, not one, had been taken. The violence against which Considine had never pretended to be secure, but which had avoided him so long, had struck him at last. The bullet had pierced his skull; the blood streamed over the dead Zulu. And Mottreux dragged Caithness from the room, and shut and locked the door. He held the priest’s arm; he rushed him through the house, making for the hall. Caithness ran, and listened to hasty orders: “Go straight to the car in front of the door . . . get in . . . I’ll come. Can you drive?”

“Yes,” he gasped.

“Get in the driver’s seat.” They reached the hall; Mottreux looking frantically round rushed him to the front door, paused less than a second to see that the priest was actually scrambling into the car, pushed the door almost shut, lest by chance the other should see him, and sent another mad glance around the hall.

By so small a chance he was defeated. The old Jew, when he was left alone with the casket, had, by some trick of the mind, gone back to the room where he and his companions had spent most of the day. He was sitting there, lost in his meditations, when Mottreux broke in on him, and in one wild dash caught the case in one hand. But Rosenberg held to the trust which the God of his fathers had imposed on him. He was dragged violently from his chair, but he clung to the sacred treasure; he heard a voice yelling oaths, but though he was shaken to and fro he said nothing. His face, as he lifted it, was full of a scorn deeper than time, the scorn of his God for the spoilers of the holy places. He saw the distorted face of a greedy Gentile above him, and before the bullet searched his brain he spat at it once.

But by now the revolvers of the other servants of the Deathless One had blown the lock of their prison from the door, and the momentary prisoners had already nearly reached the hall. In a wild confusion and anger they came; Mottreux heard them, and ran to the glass doors on to the drive. These were fastened, and he was again delayed. By the time he had got them open and was outside, Vereker and the Egyptian were out by the car. He was seen; he fired once and ran along the wall of the house. The shot probably saved Caithness’s life, for none of the pursuers were in a state to distinguish between the responsibility of the fugitives for the crime. But Vereker was unarmed, and the Egyptian was distracted by Mottreux’s appearance. He left the priest to his companion, and ran after Mottreux, circling widely out so as to command the corner as he approached it. In the darkness it could only dimly be seen.

Voices were calling from doors and windows. There were men in the room where the dead Jew lay. Roger, borne along in the general rush, was there also. He wondered afterwards why no-one had shot him down out of hand, and attributed his salvation to the fact that Considine had treated him familiarly. He tried to order his thoughts, but they only repeated themselves: “Considine is dead; is he dead?” Was he dead? or would he, first again in the great experiment, achieve the work he had desired? The question beat at his brain as he ran. He saw the body of the Jew as he came into the room, and paused by it. Without, from the darkness, there came more shots. Roger pulled himself together; he’d better look for Caithness. If Considine were dead, the two of them would be in a very dubious position; he went as far as the glass doors. There he listened; presently, away round the side of the house, he heard another shot. He slipped out and along to the car, whose lights shone steadily as they had done when last he looked at it before he had walked in the verandah and talked. This was the kind of thing that remained; the imagination of man was blown out in a moment but the light of his mechanical invention remained. He cursed deeply, and saw Caithness, who in a restless uncertainty had got out of the car. Roger walked up to him, but for a few seconds neither of them spoke.

At last Caithness said: “What had we better do?”

Roger answered: “I should think you’d better get away. Inkamasi’s dead, so I don’t see much point in your staying.” Caithness looked round, and tried to see something in the darkness. He failed, and presently asked, “What’s happened to Mottreux?”

“How the hell do I know?” Roger asked. “Why did you bolt with him?” A sudden thought struck him, and he added: “Did you — by God, did you arrange for him to shoot?”

“No,” the priest answered, “but I promised to do what I could for him if . . . if he needed it.”

“I see,” Roger said, and walked a few steps away. He couldn’t trust himself to speak. That this dreamer, this master of vision should have been destroyed by — by a traitor and a clergyman. He walked back abruptly and said: “I hope you paid him better than Caiaphas did? Even at half-crowns it would only come to three pounds fifteen.”

Caithness began quietly, “Don’t be unfair, Ingram-” but Roger pursued his own thoughts. “And did you promise him as much for Rosenberg?”

“Rosenberg!” Caithness cried out, startled. “He can’t have killed Rosenberg?”

“Can’t he?” Roger said. “What do you think he wanted? Go and look; Rosenberg’s dead and the jewels are gone.”

The priest stared at him in something like horror. He had believed Mottreux to be sincere, and yet now — words overheard between the traitor and Rosenberg rushed back, the likelihood that so great a personal desire rather than a conversion of thought should have alienated him, his turning away at the last moment, the shot heard in the room close at hand, the old man slain (for he believed Roger at once), the seizure of the jewels by a covetous hand. Roger saw him flinch and said, with a touch of pity out of his own distress, “You didn’t know?”

“God help me!” Caithness said. “I didn’t know.” He hadn’t known; he hadn’t, if it were blameworthy, been to blame; if he were partly responsible for Considine’s death, it was a noble responsibility, and he would bear it. Out of evil, God brought forth good. He added, “Then there’s the less reason to say.”

Yet they did not move. Behind the house, between it and the sea, in the darkness, armed men sought one another in hate and fear, abandoning themselves to a passion which their master would have bidden them use for the sole purpose of interior enlargement and further victory. Their strength was turned to greed of treasure or greed of vengeance; the accident which had struck Considine down had released their too little mastered frenzies. The two strangers delayed, reluctant alike to go or stay in the stillness. And, while they delayed, the stillness burst into tumult. There were shots and voices calling, Mottreux’s voice challenging, a chaos of sound, and breaking out of it and over it a high terrific shriek.

The shriek terrified them as they stood there; it was a deathcall. It scattered their disputes and their dogmas, for, whether he who uttered it was slaying or being slain, it was the cry of an intenser death than that of an ordinary man. One of those experimenting spirits had broken into that cry; it swept out to them from the passion of a nature beyond theirs, and its sound pierced them with fear of death, of that greater life, and of the greater death in that life. The lord of the adepts was dead, and enmity was abroad among them as the dead Zulu had prophesied days before. The cry came to Roger as a blast that drove him away. Nigel Considine was dead; the treachery he had despised had taken him; the final dereliction had swallowed him. If he returned — but Roger fled from that return. His nerve broke; he shrank back against the car, and said to Caithness, “Let’s go; let’s go.”

The priest himself, trembling, turned. “Shall we-” he began, laying his hand on the car.

“No, for God’s sake,” Roger exclaimed. “Let’s leave it all, if we’re leaving it. If it isn’t for us, let’s get away from it. Come; we’ll get somewhere.”

Caithness silently assented. “But let’s get our coats at least!” he said. “They’ll be just in there.”

“I’m not going in there again,” Roger said, “unless Considine himself calls me.”

“Then I will,” Caithness said. He sprang back into the hall, and in a couple of minutes returned. “We shall want them if we’re walking all night,” he said, and so, in a mingling of terror and despair, and hope and the commonplace, they went down to the gates and out into the darkness beyond. Once the priest said, “Mrs. Ingram’ll be glad to see you back.”

“Yes,” Roger answered. “Isabel . . . ” and said no more.

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