VENUS AT ST.- ANNE'S
DAYLIGHT came with no visible sunrise as Mark was climbing to the highest ground in his journey. The snow-shower was just then coming to its end in a flurry of larger and slower flakes. A big lorry, looking black and warm in that landscape, overtook him. The man put out his head. "Going Birmingham way, mate?" he asked.
"Roughly," said Mark. "At least I'm going to St. Anne's."
"Where's that, then?" said the driver.
"Up on the hill behind Pennington," said Mark.
"Ah," said the man, "I could take you to the corner. Save you a bit." Mark got in beside him.
It was mid-morning when the man dropped him at a corner beside a little country hotel. The snow had all lain, and there was more in the sky, and the day was extremely silent. Mark went into the little hotel and found a kind elderly landlady. He had a hot bath and a capital breakfast, and then went to sleep in a chair before a roaring fire. He did not wake till about four. "I suppose I must get on soon," he said to himself.
His slight reluctance to do so did not proceed from weariness-he felt, indeed, perfectly rested and better than he had felt for several weeks-but from a sort of shyness. He was going to see Jane: and Denniston: and (probably) the Dimbles as well. In fact, he was going to see Jane in what he now felt to be her proper world. But not his. Everything about them was different. They could not even fling themselves into chairs without suggesting by the very posture of their limbs a certain lordliness, a leonine indolence. There was elbow-room in their lives, as there had never been in his. They were Hearts: he was only a Spade. Still, he must be getting on. ... Of course, Jane was a Heart. He must give her her freedom. It would be quite unjust to think that his love for her had been basely sensual. Love, Plato says, is the son of Want. Mark's body knew better than his mind had known till recently, and even his sensual desires were the true index of something which he lacked and Jane had to give. When she had first crossed the dry and dusty world which his mind inhabited she had been like a spring shower; in opening himself to it he had not been mistaken. He had gone wrong only in assuming that marriage, by itself, gave him either power or title to appropriate that freshness. As he now saw, one might as well have thought one could buy a sunset by buying the field from which one had seen it. He rang the bell and asked for his bill.
That same afternoon Mother Dimble and the three girls were upstairs in the big room which occupied nearly the whole top floor of one wing at the Manor, and which the Director called the Wardrobe. If you had glanced in you would have thought for one moment that they were not in a room at all but in some kind of forest-a tropical forest glowing with bright colours. In fact, they were standing amidst a collection of robes of state-dozens of robes which hung, each separate, from its little pillar of wood.
"That would do beautifully for you, Ivy," said Mother Dimble, lifting with one hand the folds of a vividly green mantle over which thin twists and spirals of gold played in a festive pattern. "Come, Ivy," she continued, " don't you like it? You're not still fretting about Tom, are you? Hasn't the Director told you he'll be here to-night or tomorrow midday at the latest?"
Ivy looked at her with troubled eyes. "Tisn't that," she said. "Where'll the Director himself be?"
"But you can't want him to stay, Ivy," said Camilla, " not in continual pain. And his work will be done - if all goes well at Edgestow."
"He has longed to go back to Perelandra," said Mother Dimble. "He's-sort of home-sick. Always, always . . . I could see it in his eyes."
"Will that Merlin man come back here?" asked Ivy. "I don't think so," said Jane. "I don't think either he or the Director expected him to. And then my dream last night. It looked as if he was on fire ... I don't mean burning, you know, but light-all sorts of lights in the most curious colours shooting out of him and running up and down him. That was the last thing I saw: Merlin standing there like a kind of pillar and all those dreadful things happening all round him. And you could see in his face that he was a man used up to the last drop-that he'd fall to pieces the moment the powers let him go."
"We're not getting on with choosing our dresses for to-night."
"What is it made of?" said Camilla, fingering and then smelling the green mantle. It was a question worth asking. It was not in the least transparent, yet all sorts of lights and shades dwelled in its rippling folds, and it flowed through Camilla's hands like a waterfall. Ivy became interested.
"Gor!" she said, "however much a yard would it be?"
"There," said Mother Dimble as she draped it skilfully round Ivy. Then she said, "Oh!" in genuine amazement. All three stood back from Ivy, staring at her with delight. The commonplace had not exactly gone from her form and face: the robes had taken it up, as a great composer takes up a folk-tune and tosses it like a ball through his symphony and makes of it a marvel, yet leaves it still itself. A "pert fairy" or "dapper elf", a small though perfect sprightliness, stood before them: but still recognisably Ivy Maggs.
"Isn't that like a man!" exclaimed Mrs. Dimble. "There's not a mirror in the room."
"I don't believe we were meant to see ourselves," said Jane. "He said something about being mirrors enough to one another."
"I would just like to see what I'm like at the back," said Ivy.
"Now, Camilla," said Mother Dimble, " there's no puzzle about you. This is obviously your one."
"Oh, do you think that one?" said Camilla.
"Yes, of course," said Jane.
"You'll look ever so nice in that," said Ivy.
It was a long slender thing which looked like steel in colour, though it was soft as foam to the touch. It wrapped itself close about her loins and flowed out in a glancing train at her heels. "Like a mermaid," thought Jane: and then "Like a Valkyrie."
"I'm afraid," said Mother Dimble, " you must wear a coronet with that one."
"Wouldn't that be rather . . .?"
But Mother Dimble was already setting it on her head. That reverence (it need have nothing to do with money value) which nearly all women feel for jewellery hushed three of them for a moment. There were, perhaps, no such diamonds in England. The splendour was fabulous, preposterous.
"What are you all staring at?" asked Camilla, who had seen but one flash as the crown was raised in Mrs. Dimble's hands and did not know that she stood " like starlight, in the spoils of provinces ".
"Treasure of Logres, dears, treasure of Logres," said Mrs. Dimble. "Perhaps from beyond the Moon or before the flood. Now, Jane."
Jane could see nothing specially appropriate in the robe which the others agreed in putting on her. But when she saw the others all clap their hands, she submitted. Indeed, it did not now occur to her to do otherwise, and the whole matter was forgotten a moment later in the excitement of choosing a robe for Mother Dimble.
"Something quiet," she said. "I'm an old woman, and I don't want to be ridiculous."
"This wouldn't do at all," said Camilla, walking down the long row of hanging splendours, herself like a meteor as she passed. "That's lovely," she said, "but not for you. And oh!-look at that."
"Here! Oh, do come and look! Come here," cried Ivy.
"Oh! Yes, yes, indeed," said Jane.
"Certainly," said Camilla. "Put it on. Mother Dimble," said Ivy. "You know you got to."It was of that almost tyrannous flame colour which Jane had seen in her vision down in the lodge, but differently cut, with fur about the great copper brooch that clasped the throat, with long sleeves and hangings from them. And there went with it a many-cornered cap. And they had no sooner clasped the robe than all were astonished. For now this provincial wife, this respectable and barren woman with grey hair and double chin, stood before them, not to be mistaken, as a kind of priestess or sybil, the servant of some prehistoric goddess of fertility- an old tribal matriarch, mother of mothers, grave, formidable, and august. A long staff, curiously carved as if a snake twined up it, was apparently part of the costume: they put it in her hand.
"Am I awful?" said Mother Dimble, looking in turn at the three silent faces.
Jane took up the old lady's hand and kissed it. "Darling," she said, "aweful, in the old sense, is just what you do look."
"What are the men going to wear?" asked Camilla suddenly.
"They can't very well go in fancy dress, can they?" said Ivy. "Not if they're cooking and bringing things in and out all the time. And I must say if this is to be the last night and all I do think we ought to have done the dinner, anyway. Let them do as they like about the wine. And I don't believe Mr. MacPhee ever roasted a bird in his life, whatever he says."
"You needn't be in the least worried about the dinner, girls," said Mother Dimble. "He will do it very well. Let's go and enjoy ourselves. How very warm it is in here."
" 's lovely," said Ivy.
At that moment the whole room shook from end to end.
"What on earth's that?" said Jane.
"If the war was still on I'd have said it was a bomb," said Ivy.
"Come and look," said Camilla, who had regained her composure sooner than any of the others and was now at the window which looked west towards the valley of the Wynd. "Oh, look!" she said again. "No. It's not fire. And it's not searchlights. And it's not forked lightning. Ugh! . . . there's another shock. And there . . . Look at that. It's as bright as day there beyond the church. What am I talking about, it's only three o'clock. It's brighter than day. And the heat!"
"It has begun," said Mother Dimble.
At about the same time that morning when Mark had climbed into the lorry, Feverstone, not much hurt but a good deal shaken, climbed out of the stolen car. That car had ended its course upside down in a deep ditch, and Feverstone reflected that things might have been worse- it might have been his own car. The snow was deep in the ditch, and he was very wet. As he stood up and looked about him he saw that he was not alone. A tall and massive figure in a black cassock was before him, about five yards distant. Its back was towards him, and it was already walking steadily away. "Hi!" shouted Feverstone. The other turned and looked at him in silence for a second or two; then it resumed its walk. Feverstone felt he had never liked the look of anyone less. Nor could he, in his broken and soaking pumps, follow the four-mile-an-hour stride of those booted feet. The black figure came to a gate, there stopped and made a whinnying noise. He was apparently talking to a horse across the gate. Next moment (Feverstone did not quite see how it happened) the man was over the gate and on the horse's back and off at a canter across a wide field that rose milk-white to the skyline.
Feverstone had no idea where he was, but clearly the first thing to do was to reach a road. It took him much longer than he expected. It was not freezing now, and deep puddles lay hidden beneath the snow in many places. At the bottom of the first hill he came to such a morass that he was driven to abandon the track and try striking across the fields. The decision was fatal. It kept him for two hours looking for gaps in hedges and trying to reach things that looked like roads from a distance but turned out to be nothing of the sort. He had always hated the country and always hated weather, and he was not at any time fond of walking.
Near twelve o'clock he found a road. Here, thank heavens, there was a fair amount of traffic, both cars and pedestrians, all going one way. The first three cars took no notice of his signals. The fourth stopped. "Quick, in you get," said the driver.
"Going to Edgestow?" asked Feverstone, his hand on the door.
"Good Lord, no!" said the other. "There's Edgestow!" -and he pointed behind him-"if you want to go there." The man seemed surprised and excited.
There was nothing for it but walking. Every vehicle was going away from Edgestow, none going towards it. We have, naturally, hardly any first-hand evidence for what happened in Edgestow that afternoon and evening. But we have plenty of stories as to how so many people came to leave it at the last moment. Behind all the exaggerations there remains the undoubted truth that a quite astonishing number of citizens did. One had had a message from a dying father; another had decided quite suddenly, and he couldn't just say why, to go and take a little holiday; another went because the pipes in his house had been burst by the frost and he thought he might as well go away till they were put right. Not a few had gone because of some trivial event which seemed to them an omen-a dream, a broken looking-glass, tea-leaves in a cup. Omens of a more ancient kind had also revived during this crisis. One had heard his donkey, another her cat, say "as clear as clear ", "Go away." And hundreds were still leaving for the old reason-because their houses had been taken from them, their livelihood destroyed, and their liberties threatened by the Institutional Police.
It was at about four o'clock that Feverstone found himself flung on his face. That was the first shock. They continued, increasing in frequency, during the hours that followed-horrible shudderings, and soon heavings, of the earth, and a growing murmur of widespread subterranean noise. The temperature began to rise. Snow was disappearing in every direction, and at times he was knee-deep in water. Haze from the melting snow filled the air. When he reached the brow of the last steep descent into Edgestow he could see nothing of the city: only fog through which extraordinary coruscations of light came up to him. Another shock sent him sprawling. He now decided not to go down: he would turn and follow the traffic.. work over to the railway line and try to get to London.
He was already a few paces down the hill when he made this decision, and he turned at once. But instead of going up he found he was still descending. As if he were in shale on a mountain slope, the ground slipped away backwards where he trod on it. When he arrested his descent he was thirty yards lower. He began again. This time he was flung off his feet, rolled head over heels, stones, earth, grass, and water pouring over him and round him in riotous confusion. It was as when a great wave overtakes you while you are bathing, but this time it was an earth wave. He got to his feet once again; set his face to the hill. Behind him the valley seemed to have turned into Hell. The pit of fog had been ignited and burned with blinding violet flame, water was roaring somewhere, buildings crashing, mobs shouting. The hill in front of him was in ruins- no trace of road, hedge, or field, only a cataract of loose raw earth. It was also far steeper than it had been. His mouth and hair and nostrils were full of earth. The slope was growing steeper as he looked at it. The ridge heaved up and up. Then the whole wave of earth rose, arched, trembled, and with all its weight and noise poured down on him.
"Why Logres, sir?" said Camilla.
Dinner was over at St. Anne's and they sat at their wine in a circle about the dining room fire, all diversely splendid: Ransom crowned, at the right of the hearth, Grace Ironwood in black and silver opposite him. It was so warm that they had let the fire burn low, and in the candlelight the court dresses seemed to glow of themselves.
"Tell them, Dimble," said Ransom. "I will not talk much from now on."
"Are you tired, sir?" said Grace. "Is the pain bad?"
"No, Grace," he replied, " it isn't that. But now that it's so very nearly time for me to go, all this begins to feel like a dream. A happy dream, you understand: all of it, even the pain. I want to taste every drop. I feel as though it would be dissolved if I talked much."
"I suppose you got to go, sir?" said Ivy.
"My dear," said he, " what else is there to do? I have not grown a day or an hour older since I came back from Perelandra. There is no natural death to look forward to. The wound will only be healed in the world where it was got."
"All this has the. disadvantage of being clean contrary to the observed laws of Nature," observed MacPhee.
"It is not contrary to the laws of Nature," said Grace Ironwood. "The laws of the universe are never broken. Your mistake is to think that the little regularities we have observed on one planet for a few hundred years are the real unbreakable laws; whereas they are only the remote results which the true laws bring about more often than not."
"And that," said Denniston, " is why nothing in Nature is quite regular. There are always exceptions."
"Not many exceptions to the law of death have come my way," observed MacPhee.
"And how," said Grace with much emphasis, " how should you expect to be there on more than one such occasion ? Were you a friend of Arthur's or Barbarossa's ? Did you know Enoch or Elijah?"
"Do you mean," said Jane, " that the Director . . . the Pendragon ... is going where they went?"
"He will be with Arthur, certainly," said Dimble. "I can't answer for the rest. There are people who have never died. We do not yet know why. We know a little more than we did about the How. There are many places in the universe where an organism can last practically for ever. Where Arthur is, we know."
"In the Third Heaven, in Perelandra. In Aphallin, the distant island. Perhaps alone . . .?" He hesitated and looked at Ransom, who shook his head.
"And that is where Logres comes in, is it?" said Camilla. "Because he will be with Arthur?"
"It all began," said Dimble, " when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the sixth century when something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it-it will do as well as another. And then . . . gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting."
"What haunting?" asked Camilla.
"How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven't you noticed that we are two countries ? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers; the home of Sidney-and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain."
He paused and took a sip of wine before proceeding. "It was long afterwards," he said, "after the Director had returned from the Third Heaven, that we were told a little more.. Ransom was summoned to the bedside of an old man then dying in Cumberland. His name would mean nothing to you if I told it. That man was the Pendragon, the successor of Arthur and Uther and Cassibelaun. Then we learned the truth. There has been a secret Logres in the very heart of Britain all these years; an unbroken succession of Pendragons. That old man was the seventy-eighth from Arthur: our Director received from him the office and the blessing; to-morrow we shall know, or to-night, who is to be the eightieth. Some of the Pen-dragons are well known to history, though not under that name. Others you have never heard of. But in every age they and the little Logres which gathered round them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull, to prod England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her."
"This new history of yours," said MacPhee, bit lacking in documents."
"It has plenty," said Dimble with a smile. But you do not know the language they're written in. When the history of these last few months comes to be written in your language, and printed, and taught in schools, there will be no mention in it of you and me, nor of Merlin and the Pendragon and the Planets. And yet in these months Britain rebelled most dangerously against Logres and was defeated only just in time."
"Aye," said MacPhee, "and it could be right good history without mentioning you and me or most of those present. I'd be greatly obliged if anyone would tell me what we have done-always apart from feeding the pigs and raising some very decent vegetables."
"You have done what was required of you," said the Director. "You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that. But don't jump to conclusions. You may have plenty of work to do before a month is passed. Britain has lost a battle, but she will rise again."
"So that, meanwhile, is England," said Mother Dimble. "Just this swaying to and fro between Logres and Britain?"
"Yes," said her husband. "Don't you feel it? The very quality of England. If we've got an ass's head it is by walking in a fairy wood. We've heard something better than we can do, but can't quite forget it ... can't you see it in everything English-a kind of awkward grace, a humble, humorous incompleteness? How right Sam Weller was when he called Mr. Pickwick an angel in gaiters ! Everything here is either better or worse than---"
"Dimble!" said Ransom. Dimble, whose tone had become a little impassioned, stopped and looked towards him. He hesitated and (as Jane thought) almost blushed before he began again.
"You're right, sir," he said with a smile. "I was forgetting what you have warned me always to remember. This haunting is no peculiarity of ours. Every people has its own haunter. There's no nonsense about a chosen nation. We speak about Logres because it is our haunting, the one we know about."
"All this," said MacPhee " seems a very roundabout way of saying that there's good and bad men everywhere."
"It's not a way of saying that at all," answered Dimble. "You see, MacPhee, if one is thinking simply of goodness in the abstract, one soon reaches the fatal idea of something standardised-some common kind of life to which all nations ought to progress. Of course there are universal rules to which all goodness must conform. But that's only the grammar of virtue. It's not there that the sap is. He doesn't make two blades of grass the same: how much less two saints, two nations, two angels. The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every real people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China-why, then it will be spring. But meantime, our concern is with Logres. We've got Britain down, but who knows how long we can hold her down? Edgestow will not recover from what is happening to her to-night. But there will be other Edgestows."
"I wanted to ask about Edgestow," said Mother Dimble. "Aren't Merlin and the eldils a trifle . . . well, wholesale. Did all Edgestow deserve to be wiped out?"
"Who are you lamenting?' said MacPhee. "The jobbing town council that'd have sold their own wives and daughters to bring the N.I.C.E. to Edgestow?"
"Well, I don't know much about them," said she. "But in the university. Even Bracton itself. We all knew it was a horrible College, of course. But did they really mean any great harm with all their fussy little intrigues? Wasn't it more silly than anything else?"
"Och aye," said MacPhee. "They were only playing themselves. Kittens letting on to be tigers. But there was a real tiger about, and their play ended by letting her in. It'll learn them not to keep bad company."
"Well, then, the fellows of other colleges. What about Northumberland and Duke's?"
"I know," said Denniston. "One's sorry for a man like Churchwood. I knew him well; he was an old dear. All his lectures were devoted to proving the impossibility of ethics, though in private life he'd have walked ten miles rather than leave a penny debt unpaid. But all the same . . . was there a single doctrine practised at Belbury which hadn't been preached by some lecturer at Edgestow? Oh, of course, they never thought anyone would act on their theories! But it was their own child coming back to them: grown up and unrecognisable, but their own."
"I'm afraid it's all true, my dear," said Dimble. "Trahison des clercs. None of us are quite innocent."
"You are all forgetting," said Grace, " that nearly everyone, except the very good (who were ripe for fair dismissal) and the very bad, had already left Edgestow. But I agree with Arthur. Those who have forgotten Logres sink into Britain. Those who call for Nonsense will find that it comes."
At that moment she was interrupted. A clawing and whining noise at the door had become audible.
"Open the door, Arthur," said Ransom. A moment later the whole party rose to its feet with cries of welcome, for the new arrival was Mr. Bultitude.
"Oh, I never did" said Ivy. "The pore thing! I'll just take him down to the kitchen and get him something to eat. Wherever have you been, you bad thing? Eh? Just look at the state you're in."
For the third time in ten minutes the train gave a violent lurch and came to a standstill. This time the shock put all the lights out.
"This is really getting a bit too bad," said a voice in the darkness. The four other passengers in the compartment recognised it as belonging to the well-informed man who had told everyone where they ought to change and why one now reached Sterk without going through Stratford.
Still the train did not move. The noise of two men quarrelling in a neighbouring compartment became audible.
Suddenly a shock flung them all together in the darkness. It was as if the train, going at full speed, had been unskillfully pulled up.
"It's all right," said the well-informed man in a loud, calm voice. "Putting on another engine."
"Hullo!" said someone. "We're moving." Slow and grunting, the train began to go. Once more a violent shock hit them. It was worse than the last one. For nearly a minute everything seemed to be rocking and rattling.
"This is outrageous!" exclaimed the well-informed man, opening the window. "There's some sort of light ahead," said he.
"Signal against us?" asked another. "No. Not a bit like that. The whole sky's lit up. Like a fire, or like searchlights."
Another shock. And then, far away in the darkness, vague disastrous noise. The train began to move again, still slowly, as if it were groping its way.
About half an hour later the lighted platform of Sterk slowly loomed alongside.
"Station Announcer calling," said a voice. "Please keep your seats for an important announcement. Slight earthquake shock and floods have rendered the line to Edgestow impassable. No details available. Passengers for Edgestow are advised...
The well-informed man, who was Curry, got out. Such a man always knows all officials, and in a few minutes he was standing by the fire in the ticket collector's office.
"Well, we don't exactly know yet, Mr. Curry," said the man. "There's been nothing coming through for about an hour. It's very bad, you know. They're putting the best face on it they can. There's never been an earthquake like it in England from what I can hear. And there's the floods, too. No, sir, I'm afraid you'll find nothing of Bracton College. All that part of the town went almost at once. I don't know what the casualties'll be. I'm glad I got my old Dad out last week."
Curry always in later years regarded this as one of the turning-points of his life. He had not up till then been a religious man. But the word that now instantly came into his mind was "Providential ". He'd been within an ace of taking the earlier train : and if he had . . . The whole College wiped out! It would have to be rebuilt. There'd be a complete new set of Fellows, a new Warden. It was Providential again that some responsible person should have been spared. The more he thought of it, the more fully Curry realised that the whole shaping of the future college rested with the sole survivor. It was almost like being a second founder. Providential-providential.
Ivy Maggs, it will be remembered, had left the dining-room for the purpose of attending to Mr. Bultitude's comfort. It therefore surprised everyone when she returned in less than a minute with a wild expression on her face.
"Oh, come quick, someone. Come quick!" she gasped. "There's a bear in the kitchen."
"A bear, Ivy?" said the Director. "But of course--"
"Oh, I don't mean Mr. Bultitude, sir. There's a strange bear; another one."
"And it's eaten up all what was left of the goose, and now it's lying along the table eating everything as it goes along and wriggling from one dish to another and a-breaking all the crockery. Oh, do come quick!"
"And what is Mr. Bultitude doing?"
"Well, that's what I want someone to come and see. He's carrying on something dreadful sir. I never see anything like it. First of all he stood lifting up his legs in a funny way as if he thought he could dance. But now he's got up on the dresser on his hind legs making the most awful noise-squeaking like-and he's put one foot into the plum pudding and he's got his head mixed up in the string of onions, and I can't do nothing with him, really I can't."
"This is very odd of Mr. Bultitude. You don't think, my dear, that the stranger might be a she bear?"
"Oh, don't say that, sir!" exclaimed Ivy with extreme dismay.
"I think that's the truth. Ivy. I strongly suspect that this is the future Mrs. Bultitude. "Oh dear, what shall we do?" said Ivy. "I am sure Mr. Bultitude is quite equal to the situation," replied the Director.
"No doubt, no doubt," said MacPhee. "But not in our kitchen."
"Ivy, my dear," said Ransom, " you must be firm. Go into the kitchen and tell the strange bear I want to see her. You wouldn't be afraid, would you?"
"Afraid? I'll show her who's the Director here."
"What's the matter with that jackdaw?" said Dr. Dimble. The bird had hitherto been asleep on Ransom's shoulder.
"I think it's trying to get out," said Denniston. "Shall I open the window?"
"It's warm enough, anyway," said the Director. And as the window was opened the daw hopped out and there was a scuffle and a chattering just outside.
"Another love affair," said Mrs. Dimble. "It sounds as if Jack had found a Jill. . . . What a delicious night!" she added. For as the curtain swelled and lifted over the open window, all the freshness of a midsummer night seemed to be blowing into the room. At that moment, a little farther off, came a sound of whinnying.
"Hullo!" said Denniston, " the old mare is excited, too."
"That's a different horse," said Denniston.
"It's a stallion," said Camilla.
"This," said MacPhee with great emphasis," is becoming indecent!"
"On the contrary," said Ransom, " decent, in the old sense, decent, fitting, is just what she is. Venus herself is over St. Anne's."
"She comes more near the Earth than she was wont," quoted Dimble, " to make men mad."
"She is nearer than any astronomer knows," said Ransom. "The work is done, the other gods have withdrawn. She waits, and when she returns to her sphere I will ride with her."
Suddenly in the semi-darkness Mrs. Dimble's voice cried sharply, "Look out! Look out! Cecil! I'm sorry. I can't stand bats." Cheep cheep went the voices of the two bats as they flickered to and fro above the candles.
"You'd better go, Margaret," said the Director. "You and Cecil had better both go. I shall be gone very soon now. There is no need of long good-byes."
"I really think I must go," said Mother Dimble. "I can't stand bats."
"Comfort Margaret, Cecil," said Ransom. "No. Do not stay. Seeing people off is always folly."
"You mean us to go, sir?" said Dimble.
"Go, my dear friends. Urendi Maleldil."
He laid his hands on their heads: Cecil gave his arm to his wife and they went.
"Here she is, sir," said Ivy Maggs, re-entering the room a moment later, flushed and radiant. A bear waddled at her side, its cheeks sticky with gooseberry jam. "And- oh, sir?" she added.
"What is it. Ivy?" said the Director.
"Please, sir, it's poor Tom. It's my husband. And if you don't mind---"
"You've given him something to eat and drink, I hope?"
"Well, yes, I have. I give him the cold pie and the pickles (he always was a great one for pickles) and the cheese and a bottle of stout, and I've put the kettle on so as we can make ourselves-so as he can make himself a nice cup of tea. And he's enjoying it ever so, sir, and he said would you mind him not coming up to say how d'you do because he never was much of a one for company if you take my meaning."
The strange bear had been standing with its eyes fixed on the Director. He laid his hand on its flat head. "Urendi Maleldil," he said. "You are a good bear. Go to your mate-but here he is," for at that moment the door, which was already ajar, was pushed farther open to admit the face of Mr. Bultitude. "Take her, Bultitude. But not in the house. Jane, open the other window, the French window. It is like a night in July." The window swung open and the two bears went out into the warmth and the wetness. Everyone noticed how light it had become.
"Are those birds all daft that they're singing at quarter to twelve?" asked MacPhee.
"No," said Ransom. "They are sane. Now, Ivy, you want to go and talk to Tom. Mother Dimble has put you both in the little room halfway up the stairs, not in the lodge after all."
"Oh, sir," said Ivy, and stopped.
"Of course you want to go," he said. "Why, he's hardly had time to see you in your new dress yet. Don't cry. Go and heal this man. Urendi Maleldil-we shall meet again."
"What's all yon squealing?" said MacPhee. "I hope it's not the pigs. There's already as much carrying on about this house and garden as I can stand."
"I think it's hedgehogs," said Grace Ironwood. "That last sound was somewhere in the house," said Jane.
"Listen!" said the Director, and for a short time all were still. Then his face relaxed into a smile. "It's the mice behind the wainscot," he said. "There are revels there, too."
"I suppose," said MacPhee dryly, "I suppose we may think ourselves lucky that no giraffes, hippopotami, elephants, or the like have seen fit to-God almighty, what's that?" For as he spoke, a long grey flexible tube came in between the swaying curtains and helped itself to a bunch of bananas.
"In the name of Hell, where's all them beasts coming from?" he said.
"They are the liberated prisoners from Belbury," said the Director. "Perelandra is all about us, and Man is no longer isolated. We are now as we ought to be- between the angels who are our elder brothers and the beasts who are our jesters, servants, and playfellows."
Whatever MacPhee was attempting to say in reply was drowned by an ear-splitting noise from beyond the window.
"Elephants! Two of them," said Jane weakly. "Oh, the celery! And the rose beds!"
"By your leave, Mr. Director," said MacPhee sternly, "I'll just draw these curtains. You seem to forget there are ladies present."
"No," said Grace Ironwood in a voice as strong as his, " there will be nothing unfit for anyone to see. Draw them wider. How light it is! Brighter than moonlight: almost brighter than day. A great dome of light stands over the whole garden. Look! The elephants are dancing. How high they lift their feet. And they go round and round. How ceremonial they are! It is like a minuet of giants."
"They are moving away," said Camilla.
"They will be as private as human lovers," said the Director. "They are not common beasts."
"I think," said MacPhee, "I'll away down to my office and cast some accounts. There'd better be one man about the place keep his head. Good night, ladies."
"Good-bye, MacPhee," said Ransom.
"No, no," said MacPhee, standing well back but extending his hand. "You'll speak none of your blessings over me. If ever I take to religion, it won't be your kind. My uncle was Moderator of the General Assembly. . But there's my hand. What you and I have seen together . . . but no matter for that. You . . . you and I ... but there are the ladies crying. I'm away this minute. Why would a man want to lengthen it? God bless you. Dr. Ransom. Ladies, I'll wish you a good night."
"Open all the windows," said Ransom. "The vessel in which I must ride is now almost within the air of this World."
"It is growing brighter every minute," said Denniston.
"Can we be with you to the very end?" said Jane.
"Child," said the Director, " you should not stay till then."
"You are waited for."
"Yes. Your husband is waiting for you in the lodge. It was your own marriage chamber that you prepared. Should you not go to him?"
"Must I go now?"
"If you leave the decision with me, it is now that I would send you."
"Then I will go, sir. But-but--am I a bear or a hedgehog?"
"More. But not less. Go in obedience and you will find love. You will have no more dreams. Have children instead. Urendi Maleldil."
Long before he reached St. Anne's, Mark had realised that either he himself or else the world about him was in a strange condition. The journey took longer than he expected, but that was perhaps accounted for by one or two mistakes that he made. Much harder to explain was the horror of light to the west, over Edgestow, and the throbbings and bouncings of the earth. Then came sudden warmth and torrents of melted snow. Everything became a mist: and then, as the lights in the west vanished, this mist grew softly luminous in a different place-above him, as though the light rested on St. Anne's. He had the curious impression that things of very diverse shapes and sizes were slipping past him in the haze-animals, he thought. But in spite of all perplexities, he was conscious of extreme well-being. His mind was ill at ease, but as for his body-health and youth and pleasure seemed to be blowing towards him from the cloudy light upon the hill.
His mind was not at ease. He knew that he was going to meet Jane, and something was beginning to happen to him which ought to have happened to him far earlier. That same laboratory outlook upon love which had forestalled in Jane the humility of a wife, had forestalled in him, during what passed for courtship, the humility of a lover. Or if there had ever arisen in him at some wiser moment the sense of"Beauty too rich for us, for earth too dear," he had put it away from him. Now, belated, after all favours had been conceded, the unexpected misgiving was coming over him. He tried to shake it off. They were married, weren't they? And they were sensible, modern people? What could be more natural, more ordinary?
But then certain moments of unforgettable failure in their short married life rose in his imagination. He had thought often enough of what he called Jane's " moods ".
This time at last he thought of his own clumsy importunity. Inch by inch all the lout and clod-hopper in him was revealed to his own reluctant inspection; the coarse male boor blundering in where great lovers, knights, and poets would have feared to tread. How had he dared? Her driven snow, her sacrosanctity, the very style of all her movements . . . how had he dared? The very thoughts that crossed her face from moment to moment, all of them beyond his reach, made (had he but had the wit to see it) a hedge about her which such as he should never have had the temerity to pass.
All this, which should have been uneasy joy, was torment to him, for it came too late. He was discovering the hedge after he had plucked the rose. How had he dared? And who that understood could forgive him? He knew now what he must look like in the eyes of her friends and equals. Seeing that picture, he grew hot to the forehead.
Well, he would release her. She would be glad to be rid of him. It would now almost have shocked him to believe otherwise. Ladies in some noble and spacious room, discoursing in cool ladyhood together, with exquisite gravity or silver laughter-how should they not be glad when the intruder had gone?-the loud-voiced or tongue-tied creature, all boots and hands, whose true place was in the stable. What he had called her coldness seemed now to be her patience. Whereof the memory scalded.
Suddenly the diffused light brightened and flushed. He looked up and perceived a great lady standing by a doorway in a wall. It was not Jane, not like Jane. It was larger, almost gigantic. It was not human, though it was like a woman divinely tall, part naked, part wrapped in a flame-coloured robe. Light came from it. It was opening the door for him. He did not dare disobey. ("Surely," he thought, "I must have died ") and he went in: found himself in some place of sweet smells and bright fires, with food and wine and a rich bed.
And Jane went out of the big house with the Director's kiss upon her lips and his words in her ears, across the wet lawn (birds were everywhere) and down all the time, down to the lodge, descending the ladder of humility. First she thought of the Director, then she thought of Maleldil. And she thought of children, and of pain and death. And she thought of Mark and of all his sufferings. She came to the lodge and was surprised to see it dark and the door shut. As she stood with one hand on the latch, a thought came to her. How if Mark did not want her-not to-night, nor in that way, nor any time, nor in any way? How if Mark were not there, after all ? Then she noticed that the window was open. Clothes were piled on a chair inside the room so carelessly that they lay over the sill; the sleeve of a shirt-Mark's shirt-even hung over down the outside wall. And in all this damp, too. How like Mark! Obviously it was time she went in.
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