Inspector Colquhoun, summing up the situation of the Persimmons investigations, found himself inclining towards three trails, though he was conscious of only one, and that the remnants of the Wesleyan mission bill. The prospects of this fragment producing anything were of the slightest, but he would have done what could be done sooner had he not been engaged in checking and investigating the movements of the staff of Persimmons. His particular attention was by now unconsciously fixed on two subjects — Lionel Rackstraw and Stephen Persimmons. For the first Sir Giles was responsible; for the second, absurdly enough, the adequacy of the alibi. Where few had anything like a sufficient testimony to their occupation during the whole of one particular hour, it was inevitable that the inspector should regard, first with satisfaction but later almost with hostility, the one man whose time was sufficiently vouched for by almost an excess of evidence. His training forbade this lurking hostility to enter his active mind; consciously he ruled out Stephen, unconsciously he lay in ambushed expectation. The alibi, in spite of’ himself, annoyed him by its perfection, and clamoured, as a mere work of art, to be demolished. He regarded Stephen as the notorious Athenian di Aristides.
Unconscious, however, of this impassioned frenzy, the inspector spent an hour or more going through the files of the Methodist Recorder and investigating the archives of the Methodist Bookroom. He found that during the few weeks preceding the murder three missions had been held in London at Wesleyan churches — at Ealing, at East Ham, and near Victoria. He achieved also a list of some seven churches in the country which fitted his demands — ranging from Manchester to Canterbury. He expected no result from this investigation, which, indeed, he undertook merely to satisfy a restless conscience; it might be worth while asking the various ministers whether they had heard of any unexpected disappearance in their districts, but the chance was small. The inspector thought it more than likely that the disappearance had been explained and arranged for, and his mind returned slowly to a sullen hatred of Sir Giles and a sullen satisfaction with Stephen Persimmons as he rode back on a bus to his home.
The two emotions working with him led, however, to an unexpected if apparently unprofitable piece of news. For they drove him to a third interview with Stephen, ostensibly to collect a few more details about the staff and the premises, actually to mortify his heart again by the sight of the one man who could not have committed the murder. The conversation turned at last on Sir Giles, and Stephen happened to say, while explaining which of his books the firm had published and why, “But of course he knows my father better than me. Indeed, he’s staying with him now.”
At the moment the inspector thought nothing of this; but that night, as he lay half asleep and half awake, the two names which had haunted him arose like a double star in his sky. He felt them like a taunt; he bore them like a martyrdom; he considered them like a defiance. A remote thought, as from the departed day of common sense, insisted still: “Fool, it’s his father, his father, his father.” A nearer fantasy of dream answered: “He and his father — the name’s the same. Substitution? disguise — family life? vendettas? vengeance — ventriloquism . . . ” It lost itself in sleep.
The next evening he spent in writing a report on the case, and part of the afternoon in being examined upon it by an Assistant Commissioner, who appeared to be a little irritated by the hopelessness of the investigation up to that date.
“You haven’t any ideas about it, inspector?” he asked.
“Very few, sir,” the inspector answered. “There must obviously be a personal motive; and I think it must have been premeditated by someone who knew this Rackstraw wasn’t going to be there at the time. But till I know who or what the man was, I can’t get my hands on the murderer. I’m having inquiries made in the Wesleyan districts — one of them’s near where I live, out by Victoria, and I’ve told my wife to keep her ears open. She goes to church. But the man’s just as likely as not to have been a stranger to the district, just passing or lodging there for a week or so.”
The Assistant Commissioner grunted. “Well,” he said, “let me know what happens. It’s a bad thing, these undiscovered murders. Yes, I know, but they oughtn’t to happen. All right.”
The inspector saluted and went out, passing on his way Colonel Conyers, who, having been landed in London, was making use of the afternoon to dispose of certain official business. Having settled this, he lingered to ask whether the Duke of the North Ridings was known to Scotland Yard, but discovered that, with the exception of one summons for having ridden a bicycle without a light and one for assault on Boat Race Night, nothing evil was to be discovered. Nor of the Archdeacon of Fardles. Nor of Mr. Gregory Persimmons. Nor of Dimitri Lavrodopoulos, chemist.
“This is all very curious, Colonel,” the Assistant Commissioner said. “What’s the idea?”
“Nothing official,” Conyers answered. “I won’t go into it all now. But if ever you hear anything about any of those names, you might let me know. Good-bye.”
“Stop a moment, Colonel,” said the other. “I think I ought to know why you want to know about this Gregory Persimmons. Nothing against him, but we’ve come across his name in another connection.”
“Well . . . ” the Colonel hesitated. He had included Gregory’s name in his inquiries from habit and nothing else; if you were investigating, even in the most casual way, you included everybody and everything in your investigations; and if a case had arisen in which his own wife had played some unimportant part, the Colonel would have been capable of putting her name down on the list for inquiries to be made regarding her life and circumstances. He had paid a visit with Gregory to the shop in Lord Mayor Street, where the Greek, as weary and motionless as ever, had confirmed Persimmons’s statement. Yes, he had sold the chalice; he had had it from another Greek, a friend of his who was now living in Athens but had visited London two or three months before; yes, he had a receipt for the money he had himself paid; yes, he had given Mr. Persimmons a receipt; the chalice had come from near Ephesus, and had been brought to Smyrna in the flight before the Turkish advance.
It all seemed quite right. The Colonel felt that Mr. Persimmons was being very harshly dealt with, and he looked now at the Assistant Commissioner with a slight indignation.
“A very nice fellow,” he said. “I don’t want to go into the story, because at present we want it kept quiet. I think the Archdeacon has gone mad, and if the Duke hadn’t behaved in the most unjustifiable manner the whole thing would have been settled by now.”
“It all sounds very thrilling,” the Assistant Commissioner said. “Do tell me. We don’t usually get cases with Dukes and Archdeacons in. The Dukes are usually in the divorce court and the Archdeacons in the ecclesiastical.”
He was nevertheless slightly disappointed with the story. There seemed to be no remotest connection between the loss of the chalice and the murder in the publishing office except the name of Persimmons. Still, he wondered what Persimmons had been doing while the murder was going on. But that was a month or more ago; it would be very difficult to find out. The Assistant Commissioner had never ceased to wonder at the way in which many people always seemed to be quite certain what they were doing at four in the afternoon of the ninth of December when they were being examined at half-past eleven on the morning of the twenty-fifth of January. He turned the page of the reports in the file before him.
“You didn’t meet Sir Giles Tumulty by any chance?” he asked. “Or Mr. Lionel Rackstraw?”
“I did not,” the Colonel said.
“Or Mr. Kenneth Mornington?”
“There was a Mr. Mornington — or some name like it — with the Archdeacon,” the Chief Constable said. “But I didn’t really catch his name when he was introduced, so I didn’t mention it. It may have been Mornington. He ran away with the Duke.”
“Very funny,” the other murmured. “A chalice, too — such a funny thing to run away with. Ephesus, you say? I wonder if any particular chalice came from Ephesus.” He made a note. “All right, Colonel; we’ll remember the names.”
About the same time the allies in Grosvenor Square separated. There had been some discussion after lunch what the next move should be. The Duke inclined to ask Sir Giles definitely whether he identified this chalice with the Graal. But he had not met the antiquarian, and neither the Archdeacon nor Mornington thought it likely that Sir Giles would do more than cause them as much embarrassment as possible. The Archdeacon was inclined to put the Graal in safe keeping in the bank; the Duke, half convinced of its authenticity, felt that this would be improper. He, like Kenneth, attached a good deal more importance than the Archdeacon to the actual vessel. “It will be quite safe here,” he said; “I’ll put it in a private safe upstairs and get Thwaites to keep an eye on it. And you’d better stop here too for the present.” This, however, the Archdeacon was reluctant to do; his place, he felt, was in his parish, which Mr. Batesby would soon be compelled to leave for his own. He consented, however, to stop for a couple of nights, in case any further move should be made by their opponents.
Kenneth’s plan for that afternoon was definite. He intended to go down to the publishing offices on two errands; first, to forestall Gregory Persimmons if that power behind the throne should attempt to influence the throne in the matter of the proofs; and secondly, to obtain a set of the uncorrected proofs containing the paragraph that had caused the trouble, and, if possible, Sir Giles’s postcard. He felt that it might be useful in the future to have both these in his possession. For Kenneth, not being more or less above the law like the Duke, or outside it like the Archdeacon, had a distinct feeling that, though it might be good fun to steal your own property under the nose of the police, the police were still likely to maintain an interest in it. Besides, he had never read the paragraph itself, and he very much wanted to.
On arrival at the offices, therefore, he slipped in by the side entrance, reached Lionel’s office without passing anyone of sufficient eminence to inquire what had caused this visit, and searched for and found the proofs he desired. Then, going on to his own room, he rang up the, central filing office. “I want,” he said, “the file of Tumulty’s Sacred Vessels at once. Will you send it down?” In a few minutes it arrived; he stopped the boy who brought it. “Is Mr. Persimmons in?” he asked. “Find out, will you?”
While the boy was gone on this errand, Kenneth looked through the correspondence. But it consisted wholly of business-like letters, a little violent on Sir Giles’s part, a little stiff on Lionel’s. There was no special reference to the article on the Graal as far as he could see, beyond the question of illustrations; certainly no reference to black magic. He abstracted the last postcard, took a copy of the book itself from his shelves, and by the time the boy had returned was ready for Stephen.
Mr. Persimmons was in. Mornington went along the corridor, tapped, and entered. Stephen looked up in surprise. “What brings you here?” he asked. “I thought you’d be away till tomorrow week.”
“So I am, sir,” Mornington said. “But I wanted to see you rather particularly. I called on Mr. Gregory Persimmons yesterday, and I’m not altogether easy about our interview.”
Stephen stood up hurriedly and came nearer. “What happened?” he said anxiously. “What’s the trouble?”
Kenneth explained, with a certain tact. He didn’t blame Gregory at all, but he made it clear that Sir Giles and Gregory between them wanted blood, and that after the morning’s chase Gregory was likely to want it more than ever; and he hinted as well as he could that he expected Stephen to stand up for the staff. Unfortunately, the prospect seemed to cause Stephen a good deal of uneasiness. With a directness unusual in him he pressed the central question.
“Do you mean,” he said, “that my father will want me to get rid of you?”
“I think it is possible,” Kenneth answered. “If ever a man wanted the tongue of his dog to be red with my blood it was Giles Tumulty. That’s the kind of fellow he is.”
“Oh, Giles Tumulty!” Stephen said. “I don’t dismiss my people to please Giles Tumulty.”
“He’s a source of revenue,” Kenneth pointed out. “And Mr. Gregory Persimmons will probably be rather annoyed himself.”
“My dear Mornington,” Stephen said, looking at the papers on his table, “my father wouldn’t dream of interfering . . . either with me or with the staff — especially any of his old staff.” He heard his own voice so unconvincingly that he walked over to the window and looked out. He felt his possession — his business and occupation and security — beginning to quiver around him as he considered the foreboded threat. He knew that he was incapable of standing up against his father’s determination, but he knew also that the determination would not have to be called into play; the easier method of threatening his financial stability would be used. His father, Stephen had long felt, never put forward more power than was sufficient to achieve his object; it was the vaster force in reserve which helped to create that sense of laziness emanating from the elder Persimmons, as a man who pushes a book across with a finger seems more indolent than one who picks it up and lays it down in a new place. But an attack on Mornington roused alarm in Stephen on every side. His subordinate was as far indispensable to the business as anyone ever is; he was personally sympathetic, and Stephen was very unwilling to undergo the contempt which he felt the other would show for him if he yielded. Of the more obvious disadvantages of dismissal to Kenneth, Stephen in this bird’s-eye view of the situation took little heed; “I can always get him another job,” he thought, and returned to his own troubles.
Kenneth in these few minutes’ silence realized that he would have to fight for his own hand, with the Graal (figuratively) in it.
“Well,” he said, “I’ve told you about it, sir, so that if anything is said you may know our point of view.”
“Our,” said Gregory’s voice behind him, “meaning the Archdeacon and your other friend, I suppose?”
Stephen jumped round. Kenneth looked over his shoulder. “Hallo,” the publisher said, “I . . . I didn’t expect you.”
Gregory looked disappointed. “Tut, tut!” he said. “Now I hoped you always did. I hoped you were always listening for my step. And I think you are. I think you expect me every moment of the day. A pleasant thought, that. However, I only came down now to put a private telephone call through.” He laid his hat and gloves on the table. Kenneth was unable to resist the impulse.
“A new hat, I’m afraid, Mr. Persimmons,” he said. “And new gloves. The Chief Constable, of course, had them.” Gregory, sitting down, looked sideways at him. “Yes,” he said, “we shall have to economize somehow. Expenses are dreadfully heavy. I want to go through the salary list with you in a few minutes, Stephen.”
“I’ll send for it,” Stephen said, with a nervous smile.
“Oh, I don’t think you need,” Gregory answered. “Only a few items; perhaps only one today. In fact, we could settle it now — I mean Mr. Kenneth Mornington’s item. Don’t you thing we pay him too much?”
“Ha, ha!” Stephen said, with a twisted grin. “What do you say, Mornington?”
Kenneth said nothing, and Gregory in a moment or two went on, “That is immaterial; in fact, the salary itself is immaterial. He is to be dismissed as a dishonest employee.”
“Really —” Stephen said. “Father, you can’t talk like that, especially when he’s here.”
“On the contrary,” Kenneth said, “he can quite easily talk like that. It’s a little like Sir Giles certainly, but your father, if I may say so, sir, never had much originality. Charming, no doubt, as a man, but as a publisher — third rate. And as for dishonesty . . . ”
Gregory allowed himself to smile. “That,” he said, “is vulgar abuse. Stephen, pay him if you’d rather and get rid of him.”
“There is such a thing as wrongful dismissal,” Kenneth remarked.
“My dear fellow,” Gregory said, “we’re reducing our staff in consequence of my returning to an active business life . . . did you speak, Stephen? . . . and you suffer. And your present employer and I between us can make it precious difficult for you to get another job. However, you can always sponge on the Duke or your clerical friend. Stephen . . . ”
“I won’t,” Stephen said; “the thing’s ridiculous. Just because you two have quarrelled . . . ”
“Mr. Stephen Persimmons featuring the bluff employer,” his father murmured. He got up, went over to the publisher, and began whispering in his ear, following him as he took a few steps and halted again. Kenneth had an impulse to say that he resigned, and another to knock Gregory down and trample on him. He stared at him, and felt a new anger rising above the personal indignation he had felt before. He wanted to smash; he wanted to strangle Gregory and push him also underneath Lionel’s desk; for the sake of destroying he desired to destroy. The contempt he had always felt leapt fierce and raging in him; till now it had always dwelt in a secret house of his own; if anything, calming his momentary irritations. But now it and anger were one. He took a blind step forward, heard Stephen exclaim, and Gregory loose a high cackle of delight. “God, he likes it!” he thought to himself, and pulled madly at his emotions. “Sweet Jesus,” he began, and found that he was speaking aloud.
Gregory was in front of him. “Sweet Jesus,” his voice said jeeringly. “Sweet filth, sweet nothing!” Kenneth struck out, missed, felt himself struck in turn, heard a high voice laughing at him, was caught and freed himself, then was caught by half a dozen hands, and recovered at last to find himself held by two or three clerks, Stephen shuddering against the wall, and Gregory opposite him, sitting in his son’s chair.
“Take him away and throw him down the steps,” Gregory said; and, though it was not done literally, it was effectively. Still clutching the proofs of Sacred Vessels, Kenneth came dazedly into the street and walked slowly back to Grosvenor Square.
When he reached it, he found the Duke and the Archdeacon were both out, and Thwaites on guard in the Duke’s private room. The Duke returned to dinner, at which he found Kenneth a poor companion. The Archdeacon returned considerably later, having been detained on ecclesiastical business first (“I had to come up anyhow,” he explained, “this afternoon, so Mr. Persimmons didn’t really disarrange me”), and secondly by a vain search for the Bishop.
The three went to the Duke’s room for coffee, which however, was neglected while Kenneth repeated the incidents of the afternoon. The removal of the proofs, which was a mild satisfaction, led to the employment question, on which both his hearers, more moved, began to babble of secretaries, and from that to an account of the riot. When Kenneth came to repeat, apologetically, Gregory’s cries, the Duke was startled into a horrified disgust; the Archdeacon smiled a little.
“I’m sorry you let yourself go so,” he said. “We must be careful not to get like him.”
“Sorry?” the Duke cried. “After that vile blasphemy? I wish I could have got near enough to have torn his throat out.
“Oh, really, really,” the Archdeacon protested. “Let us leave that kind of thing to Mr. Persimmons.”
“To insult God —” the Duke began.
“How can you insult God?” the Archdeacon asked. “About as much as you can pull His nose. For Kenneth to have knocked Mr. Persimmons down for calling him dishonest would have been natural — a venial sin, at most; for him to have done it in order to avenge God would have been silly; but for him to have got into a blurred state of furious madness is a great deal too like Mr. Persimmons’s passions to please me. And I am not at all clear that Mr. Persimmons doesn’t know it. We must keep calm. His mind’s calm enough.”
“At least,” Mornington said, “we’re pretty certain now.” And with the word they all turned and looked at the Graal which the Duke, when they entered, had withdrawn from the safe. In a minute the Duke, crossing himself, knelt down before it. Kenneth followed his example. The Archdeacon stood up.
Under the concentrated attention the vessel itself seemed to shine and expand. In each of them differently the spirit was moved and exalted — most perhaps in the Duke. He was aware of a sense of the adoration of kings — the great tradition of his house stirred within him. The memories of proscribed and martyred priests awoke; masses said swiftly and in the midst of the fearful breathing of a small group of the faithful; the ninth Duke who had served the Roman Pontiff at his private mass; the Roman Order he himself wore; the fidelity of his family to the Faith under the anger of Henry and the cold suspicion of Elizabeth; the duels fought in Richmond Park by the thirteenth Duke in defence of the honour of our Lady, when he met and killed three antagonists consecutively — all these things, not so formulated but certainly there, drew his mind into a vivid consciousness of all the royal and sacerdotal figures of the world adoring before this consecrated shrine. “Jhesu, Rex et Sacerdos,” he prayed . . .
Kenneth trembled in a more fantastic vision. This, then, was the thing from which the awful romances sprang, and the symbolism of a thousand tales. He saw the chivalry of England riding on its quest — but not a historical chivalry; and, though it was this they sought, it was some less material vision that they found. But this had rested in dreadful and holy hands; the Prince Immanuel had so held it, and the Apostolic chivalry had banded themselves about him. Half in dream, half in vision, he saw a grave young God communicating to a rapt companionship the mysterious symbol of unity. They took oaths beyond human consciousness; they accepted vows plighted for them at the beginning of time. Liturgical and romantic names melted into one cycle — Lancelot, Peter, Joseph, Percivale, Judas, Mordred, Arthur, John Bar–Zebedee, Galahad — and into these were caught up the names of their makers — Hawker and Tennyson, John, Malory and the medievals. They rose, they gleamed and flamed about the Divine hero, and their readers too-he also, least of all these. He was caught in the dream of Tennyson; together they rose on the throbbing verse.
And down the long beam stole the Holy Graal,
Rose-red with beatings in it.
He heard Malory’s words-“the history of the Sangreal, the whiche is a story cronycled for one of the truest and the holyest that is in thys world”-“the deadly flesh began to behold the spiritual things”-“fair lord, commend me to Sir Lancelot my father.” The single tidings came to him across romantic hills; he answered with the devotion of a romantic and abandoned heart.
The Archdeacon found no such help in the remembrances of kings or poets. He looked at the rapt faces of the young men; he looked at the vessel before him. “Neither is this Thou,” he breathed; and answered, “Yet this also is Thou.” He considered, in this, the chalice offered at every altar, and was aware again of a general movement of all things towards a narrow channel. Of all material things still discoverable in the world the Graal had been nearest to the Divine and Universal Heart. Sky and sea and land were moving, “not towards that vessel, but towards all it symbolized and had held.” The consecration at the Mysteries was for him no miraculous change; he had never dreamed of the heavenly courts attending Christ upon the altar. But in accord with the desire of the Church expressed in the ritual of the Church the Sacred Elements seemed to him to open upon the Divine Nature, upon Bethlehem and Calvary and Olivet, as that itself opened upon the Centre of all. And through that gate, upon those tides of retirement, creation moved. Never so clearly as now had he felt that movement proceeding, but his mind nevertheless knew no other vision than that of a thousand dutifully celebrated Mysteries in his priestly life; so and not otherwise all things return to God.
When their separate devotions ceased, they looked at one another gravely. “There’s one thing,” the Duke said. “It must never be left unwatched. We must have an arranged order — people whom we can trust.”
“Intelligent people whom we can trust,” the Archdeacon said.
“In fact, an Order,” Kenneth murmured. “A new Table.”
“A new Table!” the Duke cried. “And a Mass every morning.” He stopped short and looked at the Archdeacon.
“Quite so,” the priest said, not in answer to the remark.
The Duke hesitated a moment, then he said politely, “I don’t want to seem rude, sir, but you see that since, quite by chance, it has come into my charge, I must preserve it for . . . for . . . ”
“But, Ridings,” Kenneth said in a slightly alert voice, “it isn’t in your charge. It belongs to the Archdeacon.”
“My dear fellow,” the Duke impatiently answered, “the sacred and glorious Graal can’t belong. And obviously it is in my charge. I don’t want to press my rights and those of my Church, but equally I don’t want them abused or overlooked.”
“Rights?” Kenneth asked. “It is in the hands of a priest.”
“That,” the Duke answered, “is for the Holy See to say. As it has done.”
The two young men looked at one another hostilely. The Archdeacon broke in.
“Oh, children, children,” he said. “Did either of you ever hear of Cully or Mr. Gregory Persimmons? It being (legally, my dear Duke) my property, I should like Mr. Persimmons not to get hold of it until I know a little more about him. But, on the other hand, I will promise not to hurt anyone’s feeling by using it prematurely for schismatic Mysteries. A liqueur glass would do as well.” Kenneth grinned; the Duke acknowledged the promise with a bow, and rather obviously ignored the last remark.
It was already very late; midnight had been passed by almost an hour. The Archdeacon looked at his watch and at his host. But the Duke had returned to his earlier idea.
“If we three can share the watch till morning,” he said, “I will bring Thwaites in; he is one of our people. And there are certain others. It is one o’clock now — say, one to seven; six hours. Archdeacon, which watch will you take?”
The Archdeacon felt that a passion for relics had its inconveniences, but he hadn’t the heart to check its ardour. “I will take the middle, if you like,” he said, normally accepting the least pleasant; “that will be three to five.”
“Whichever you like,” Kenneth answered. “The morning?”
“Very well,” the Duke said. “Then I will watch now.”
They were at the door of the room, and, as they exchanged temporary good nights, the Archdeacon glanced back at the sacred vessel. He seemed to blink at it for a moment, then he took a step or two back into the room, and gazed at it attentively. The two young men looked at him, at it, at each other. Suddenly the priest made a sudden run across the room and took the Graal up in his hands.
It seemed to move in them like something alive. He felt as if a continuous slight shifting of all the particles that composed it were proceeding, and that blurring of its edges which had first caught his eyes was now even more marked. Close as he held it, he felt strangely uncertain exactly where the edge was, exactly how deep the cup was, how long the stem. He touched the edge, and it seemed to have a curious softness, to give under his finger. The shape did not yield to his grasp, but it suggested that it was about to do so. It quivered, it trembled; now here, now there, its thickness accumulated or faded; now it seemed to take the shape of his fingers, now to harden and resist them. The Archdeacon gripped it more firmly, and, keeping his eyes on it, turned to face the others.
“Something is going on,” he said, almost harshly. “I do not know what. It may be that God is dissolving it — but I think there is devilry. Make yourselves paths for the Will of God.”
“But what is it?” the Duke said amazedly. “What harm can come to it here? What can they do to its hurt?”
“Pray,” the Archdeacon cried out, “pray, in the name of God. They are praying against Him to-night.”
It crossed Kenneth’s mind, as he sank to his knees, that if God could not be insulted, neither could He be defied, nor in that case the procession and retrogression of the universe disturbed by the subject motion of its atoms. But he saw, running out like avenues, a thousand metaphysical questions, and they disappeared in the excitement of his spirit.
“Against what shall we pray?” the Duke cried.
“Against nothing,” the Archdeacon said. “Pray that He who made the universe may sustain the universe, that in all things there may be delight in the justice of His will.”
A profound silence followed, out of the heart of which there arose presently a common consciousness of effort. The interior energy of the priest laid hold on the less trained powers of his companions and directed them to its own intense concentration. Fumbling in the dark for something to oppose, they were, each in secrecy, subdued from that realm of opposition and translated to a place where their business was only to repose. They existed knit together, as it were, in a living tower built up round the sacred vessel, and through all the stones of that tower its common life flowed. Yet to all their apprehensions, and especially to the priest’s, which was the most vivid and least distracted, this life received and resisted an impact from without. The tower was indeed a tower of defence, though it offered no aggression, and resisted whatever there was to be resisted merely by its own immovable calm. Once or twice it seemed to the Duke as if he heard a soft footprint behind him just within the room, but he was held too firmly still even to turn his head. Once or twice on Kenneth there intruded a sudden vision of something other than this passivity; a taunt, unspoken but mocking, moved just beyond his consciousness, a taunt which was not his, but arose somehow out of him. Sudden phrases he had used in the past attacked him —“the world can’t judge”; “man chooses between mania and folly”; “what a fool Stephen is.” In the midst of these the memory of the saying about every idle word obtruded itself; he began to justify them to himself, and to argue in his own mind. Little by little he became more and more conscious of his past casual contempt, and more disposed to direct a certain regretful attention to it. The priest felt the defence weaken; he did not know the cause, but the result was there; the Graal shook in his hands. He plunged deeper into the abysmal darkness of divinity, and as he did so heard, far above, his own voice crying “Pray!” Kenneth heard, and knew his weakness; he abolished his memories, and, so far as was possible, surrendered himself to be only what he was meant to be. Yet the attack went on: to one a footstep, a whisper, a slight faint touch; to another a gentle laugh, a mockery, a reminder; to the third a spiritual pressure which not he but that which was he resisted. The Graal vibrated still to that pressure, more strongly when it was accentuated, less and less as the stillness within and amidst the three was perfected. Dimly he knew at what end the attack aimed; some disintegrating force was being loosed at the vessel — not conquest, but destruction, was the purpose, and chaos the eventual hope. Dimly he saw that, though the spirit of Gregory formed the apex of that attack, the attack itself came from regions behind Gregory. He saw, uncertainly but sufficiently defined, the radiations that encompassed the Graal and the fine arrows of energy that were expended against it. Unimportant as the vessel in itself might be, it was yet an accidental storehouse of power that could be used, and to dissipate this material centre was the purpose of the war. But through the three concentrated souls flowed reserves of the power which the vessel itself retained; and gradually to the priest it seemed, as in so many celebrations, as if the Graal itself was the centre — yet no longer the Graal, but a greater than the Graal. Silence and knowledge were communicated to him as if from an invisible celebrant; he held the Cup no longer as a priest, but as if he set his hands on that which was itself at once the Mystery and the Master of the Mystery. But this consciousness faded almost before it was realized; his supernatural mind returned into his natural, leaving only the certainty that for the time at least the attack was ended. Rigid and hard in his hands, the Graal reflected only the lights of the Duke’s study; he sighed and relaxed his hold, glancing at his two companions. The Duke stood up suddenly and glanced round him. Kenneth rose more slowly, his face covered with a certain brooding melancholy. The Archdeacon set the Graal down on the table.
“It is done,” he said. “Whatever it was has exhausted itself for the time. Let us go and rest.”
“I thought I heard someone here,” the Duke said, still looking round him. “Is it safe to leave it?”
“I think it is quite safe,” the Archdeacon said. “But what has happened?” the Duke asked again.
“Let us talk tomorrow,” the priest said very wearily. “The Graal will guard itself to-night.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:56