THIS CONVERSATION also we overheard.
"That is quite, quite out of the question," said a female Ghost to one of the bright Women, "I should not dream of staying if I'm expected to meet Robert. I am ready to forgive him, of course. But anything more is quite impossible. How he comes to be here . . . but that is your affair."
"But if you have forgiven him," said the other, "surely-----."
"I forgive him as a Christian," said the Ghost. "But there are some things one can never forget."
"But I don't understand ..." began the She-Spirit.
"Exactly," said the Ghost with a little laugh. "You never did. You always thought Robert could do no wrong. I know. Please don't interrupt for one moment. You haven't the faintest conception of what I went through with your dear Robert. The ingratitude! It was I who made a man of him! Sacrificed my whole life to him! And what was my reward? Absolute, utter selfishness. No, but listen. He was pottering along on about six hundred a year when I married him. And mark my words, Hilda, he'd have been in that position to the day of his death if it hadn't been for me. It was I who had to drive him every step of the way. He hadn't a spark of ambition. It was like trying to lift a sack of coal. I had to positively nag him to take on that extra work in the other department, though it was really the beginning of everything for him. The laziness of men! He said, if you please, he couldn't work more than thirteen hours a day! As if I weren't working far longer. For my day's work wasn't over when his was. I had to keep him going all evening, if you understand what I mean. If he'd had his way he'd have just sat in an armchair and sulked when dinner was over. It was I who had to draw him out of himself and brighten him up and make conversation. With no help from him, of course. Sometimes he didn't even listen. As I said to him, I should have thought good manners, if nothing else ... he seemed to have forgotten that I was a lady even if I had married him, and all the time I was working my fingers to the bone for him: and without the slightest appreciation. I used to spend simply hours arranging flowers to make that poky little house nice, and instead of thanking me, what do you think he said? Said he wished
I wouldn't fill up the writing desk with them when he wanted to use it: and there was a perfectly frightful fuss one evening because I'd spilled one of the vases over some papers of his. It was all nonsense really, because they weren't anything to do with his work. He had some silly idea of writing a book in those days ... as if he could. I cured him of that in the end.
"No, Hilda, you must listen to me. The trouble I went to, entertaining! Robert's idea was that he'd just slink off by himself every now and then to see what he called his old friends . . . and leave me to amuse myself! But I knew from the first that those friends were doing him no good. 'No, Robert,' said I, 'your friends are now mine. It is my duty to have them here, however tired I am and however little we can afford it.' You'd have thought that would have been enough. But they did come for a bit. That is where I had to use a certain amount of tact. A woman who has her wits about her can always drop in a word here and there. I wanted Robert to see them against a different background. They weren't quite at their ease, somehow, in my drawing-room: nor at their best. I couldn't help laughing sometimes. Of course Robert was uncomfortable while the treatment was going on, but it was all for his own good in the end. None of that set were friends of his any longer by the end of the first year.
"And then, he got the new job. A great step up. But what do you think? Instead of realising that we now had a chance to spread out a bit, all he said was 'Well now, for God's sake let's have some peace.' That nearly finished me. I nearly gave him up altogether: but I knew my duty. I have always done my duty. You can't believe the work I had getting him to agree to a bigger house, and then finding a house. I wouldn't have grudged it one scrap if only he'd taken it in the right spirit-if only he'd seen the fun of it all. If he'd been a different sort of man it would have been fun meeting him on the doorstep as he came back from the office and saying, 'Come along, Bobs, no time for dinner to-night. I've just heard of a house out near Watford and I've got the keys and we can get there and back by one o'clock.' But with him! It was perfect misery, Hilda. For by this time your wonderful Robert was turning into the sort of man who cares about nothing but food.
"Well, I got him into the new house at last. Yes, I know. It was a little more than we could really afford at the moment, but all sorts of things were opening out before him. And, of course, I began to entertain properly. No more of his sort of friends, thank you. I was doing it all for his sake. Every useful friend he ever made was due to me. Naturally, I had to dress well. They ought to have been the happiest years of both our lives. If they weren't, he had no one but himself to thank. Oh, he was a maddening man, simply maddening! He just set himself to get old and silent and grumpy. Just sank into himself. He could have looked years younger if he'd taken the trouble. He needn't have walked with a stoop-I'm sure I warned him about that often enough. He was the most miserable host. Whenever we gave a party everything rested on my shoulders: Robert was simply a wet blanket. As I said to him (and if I said it once, I said it a hundred times) he hadn't always been like that. There had been a time when he took an interest in all sorts of things and had been quite ready to make friends. 'What on earth is coming over you?' I used to say. But now he just didn't answer at all. He would sit staring at me with his great big eyes. (I came to hate a man with dark eyes) and-I know it now-just hating me. That was my reward. After all I'd done. Sheer wicked, senseless hatred: at the very moment when he was a richer man than he'd ever dreamed of being! As I used to say to him, 'Robert, you're simply letting yourself go to seed.' The younger men who came to the house-it wasn't my fault if they liked me better than rny old bear of a husband-used to laugh at him.
"I did my duty to the very end. I forced him to take exercise-that was really my chief reason for keeping a great Dane. I kept on giving parties. I took him for the most wonderful holidays. I saw that he didn't drink too much. Even, when things became desperate, I encouraged him to take up his writing again. It couldn't do any harm by then. How could I help it if he did have a nervous breakdown in the end? My conscience is clear. I've done my duty by him, if ever a woman has. So you see why it would be impossible to ...
"And yet ... I don't know. I believe I have changed my mind. I'll make them a fair offer, Hilda. I will not meet him, if it means just meeting him and no more. But if I'm given a free hand I'll take charge of him again. I will take up my burden once more. But I must have a free hand. With all the time one would have here, I believe I could make something of him. Somewhere quite to ourselves. Wouldn't that be a good plan? He's not fit to be on his own. Put me in charge of him. He wants firm handling. I know him better than you do. What's that? No, give him to me, do you hear? Don't consult him: just give him to me. I'm his wife, aren't I? I was only beginning. There's lots, lots, lots of things I still want to do with him. No, listen, Hilda. Please, please! I'm so miserable. I must have someone to-to do things to. It's simply frightful down there. No one minds about me at all. I can't alter them. It's dreadful to see them all sitting about and not be able to do anything with them. Give him back to me. Why should he have everything his own way? It's no good for him. It isn't right, it's not fair. I want Robert. What right have you to keep him from me? I hate you. How can I pay him out if you won't let me have him?"
The Ghost which had towered up like a dying candleflame snapped suddenly. A sour, dry smell lingered in the air for a moment and then there was no Ghost to be seen.
ONE OF the most painful meetings we witnessed was between a woman's Ghost and a Bright Spirit who had apparently been her brother. They must have met only a moment before we ran across them, for the Ghost was just saying in a tone of unconcealed disappointment, "Oh ... Reginald! It's you, is it?"
"Yes, dear," said the Spirit. "I know you expected someone else. Can you ... I hope you can be a little glad to see even me; for the present."
"I did think Michael would have come," said the Ghost; and then, almost fiercely, "He is here, of course?" "He's there-far up in the mountains."
"Why hasn't he come to meet me? Didn't he know?"
"My dear (don't worry, it will all come right presently) it wouldn't have done. Not yet. He wouldn't be able to see or hear you as you are at present. You'd be totally invisible to Michael. But we'll soon build you up."
"I should have thought if you can see me, my own son could!"
"It doesn't always happen like that. You see, I have specialised in this sort of work."
"Oh, it's work, is it?" snapped the Ghost. Then, after a pause, "Well. When am I going to be allowed to see him?"
"There's no question of being allowed, Pam. As soon as it's possible for him to see you, of course he will. You need to be thickened up a bit."
"How?" said the Ghost. The monosyllable was hard and a little threatening.
"I'm afraid the first step is a hard one," said the Spirit. "But after that you'll go on like a house on fire. You will become solid enough for Michael to perceive you when you learn to want someone else besides Michael. I don't say 'more than Michael,' not as a beginning. That will come later. It's only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process."
"Oh, you mean religion and all that sort of thing? This is hardly the moment... and from you, of all people. Well, never mind. I'll do whatever's necessary. What do you want me to do? Come on. The sooner I begin it, the sooner they'll let me see my boy. I'm quite ready."
"But, Pam, do think! Don't you see you are not beginning at all as long as you are in that state of mind? You're treating God only as a means to Michael. But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake."
"You wouldn't talk like that if you were a Mother."
"You mean, if I were only a mother. But there is no such thing as being only a mother. You exist as Michael's mother only because you first exist as God's creature. That relation is older and closer. No, listen, Pam! He also loves. He also has suffered. He also has waited a long time."
"If He loved me He'd let me see my boy. If He loved me why did He take away Michael from me? I wasn't going to say anything about that. But it's pretty hard to forgive, you know."
"But He had to take Michael away. Partly for Michael's sake. . . ."
"I'm sure I did my best to make Michael happy. I gave up my whole life...."
"Human beings can't make one another really happy for long. And secondly, for your sake. He wanted your merely instinctive love for your child (tigresses share that, you know!) to turn into something better. He wanted you to love Michael as He understands love. You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God. Sometimes this conversion can be done while the instinctive love is still gratified. But there was, it seems, no chance of that in your case. The instinct was uncontrolled and fierce and monomaniac. (Ask your daughter, or your husband. Ask your own mother. You haven't once thought of her.) The only remedy was to take away its object. It was a case for surgery.
When that first kind of love was thwarted, then there was just a chance that in the loneliness, in the silence, something else might begin to grow."
"This is all nonsense-cruel and wicked nonsense. What right have you to say things like that about Mother-love? It is the highest and holiest feeling in human nature."
"Pam, Pam-no natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God's hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods."
"My love for Michael would never have gone bad. Not if we'd lived together for millions of years."
"You are mistaken. And you must know. Haven't you met-down there-mothers who have their sons with them, in Hell? Does their love make them happy?"
"If you mean people like the Guthrie woman and her dreadful Bobby, of course not. I hope you're not suggesting. ... If I had Michael I'd be perfectly happy, even in that town. I wouldn't be always talking about him till everyone hated the sound of his name, which is what Winifred Guthrie does about her brat. I wouldn't quarrel with people for not taking enough notice of him and then be furiously jealous if they did. I wouldn't go about whining and complaining that he wasn't nice to me. Because, of course, he would be nice. Don't you dare to suggest that Michael could ever become like the Guthrie boy. There are some things I won't stand."
"What you have seen in the Guthries is what natural affection turns to in the end if it will not be converted."
"It's a lie. A wicked, cruel lie. How could anyone love their son more than I did? Haven't I lived only for his memory all these years?"
"That was rather a mistake, Pam. In your heart of hearts you know it was."
"What was a mistake?"
"All that ten years' ritual of grief. Keeping his room exactly as he'd left it: keeping anniversaries: refusing to leave that house though Dick and Muriel were both wretched there."
"Of course they didn't care. I know that. I soon learned to expect no real sympathy from them."
"You're wrong. No man ever felt his son's death more than Dick. Not many girls loved their brothers better than Muriel. It wasn't against Michael they revolted: it was against you-against having their whole life dominated by the tyranny of the past: and not really even Michael's past, but your past."
"You are heartless. Everyone is heartless. The past was all I had."
"It was all you chose to have. It was the wrong way to deal with a sorrow. It was Egyptian-like embalming a dead body."
"Oh, of course. I'm wrong. Everything I say or do is wrong, according to you."
"But of course!" said the Spirit, shining with love and mirth so that my eyes were dazzled.
"That's what we all find when we reach this country. We've all been wrong! That's the great joke. There's no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living."
"How dare you laugh about it? Give me my boy. Do you hear? I don't care about all your rules and regulations. I don't believe in a God who keeps mother and son apart. I believe in a God of Love. No one has a right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell Him that to His face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine, for ever and ever."
"He will be, Pam. Everything will be yours. God himself will be yours. But not that way. Nothing can be yours by nature."
"What? Not my own son, born out of my own body?"
"And where is your own body now? Didn't you know that Nature draws to an end? Look! The sun is coming, over the mountains there: it will be up any moment now."
"Michael is mine."
"How yours? You didn't make him. Nature made him to grow in your body without your will. Even against your will . . . you sometimes forget that you didn't intend to have a baby then at all. Michael was originally an Accident."
"Who told you that?" said the Ghost: and then, recovering itself, "It's a lie. It's not true. And it's no business of yours. I hate your religion and I hate and despise your God. I believe in a God of Love."
"And yet, Pam, you have no love at this moment for your own mother or for me."
"Oh, I see! That's the trouble, is it? Really, Reginald! The idea of your being hurt because . . ."
"Lord love you!" said the Spirit with a great laugh. "You needn't bother about that! Don't you know that you can't hurt anyone in this country?"
The Ghost was silent and open-mouthed for a moment; more wilted, I thought, by this reassurance than by anything else that had been said.
"Come. We will go a bit further," said my Teacher, laying his hand on my arm.
"Why did you bring me away, Sir?" said I when we had passed out of earshot of this unhappy Ghost.
"It might take a long while, that conversation," said my Teacher. "And ye have heard enough to see what the choice is." "Is there any hope for her, Sir?" "Aye, there's some. What she calls her love for her son has turned into a poor, prickly, astringent sort of thing. But there's still a wee spark of something that's not just her self in it. That might be blown into a flame."
"Then some natural feelings are really better than others-I mean, are a better starting-point for the real thing?"
"Better and worse. There's something in natural affection which will lead it on to eternal love more easily than natural appetite could be led on. But there's also something in it which makes it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse than the corruption of what ye call the lower passions. It is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil."
"I don't know that I dare repeat this on Earth, Sir," said I. "They'd say I was inhuman: they'd say I believed in total depravity: they'd say I was attacking the best and the holiest things. Thev'd call me . . ."
"It might do you no harm if they did," said he with (I reallv thought) a twinkle in his eye.
"But could one dare-could one have the face-to go to a bereaved mother, in her misery -when one's not bereaved oneself? . . ."
"No, no. Son, that's no office of yours. You're not a good enough man for that. When your own heart's been broken it will be time for you to think of talking. But someone must say in general what's been unsaid among you this many a vear : that love, as mortals understand the word, isn't enough. Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried."
"The saying is almost too hard for us."
"Ah, but it's cruel not to say it. They that know have grown afraid to speak. That is why sorrows that used to purify now only fester."
"Keats was wrong, then, when he said he was certain of the holiness of the heart's affections."
"I dovibt if he knew clearly what he meant. But you and I must be clear. There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. It's not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels. The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion. But look!"
I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. "Shut up, I tell you!" he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.
"Off so soon?" said a voice.
The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.
"Yes. I'm off," said the Ghost. "Thanks for all your hospitality. But it's no good, you see.
I told this little chap," (here he indicated the lizard), "that he'd have to be quiet if he came -which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won't do here: I realise that. But he won't stop. I shall just have to go home."
"Would you like me to make him quiet?" said the flaming Spirit-an angel, as I now understood.
"Of course I would," said the Ghost.
"Then I will kill him," said the Angel, taking a step forward.
"Oh-ah-look out! You're burning me. Keep away," said the Ghost, retreating.
"Don't you want him killed?"
"You didn't say anything about killing him at first. I hardlv meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that."
"It's the onlv way," said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. "Shall I kill it?"
"Well, that's a further question. I'm quite open to consider it, but it's a new point, isn't it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here-well, it's so damned embarrassing."
"May I kill it?"
"Well, there's time to discuss that later."
"There is no time. May I kill it?"
"Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please-really-don't bother. Look! It's gone to sleep of its own accord. I'm sure it'll be all right now. Thanks ever so much."
"May I kill it?"
"Honestly, I don't think there's the slightest necessity for that. I'm sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it."
"The gradual process is of no use at all."
"Don't you think so? Well, I'll think over what you've said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I'd let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I'm not feeling frightfully well to-day. It would be silly to do it now. I'd need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps."
"There is no other day. All days are present now."
"Get back! You're burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You'd kill me if you did."
"It is not so."
"Why, you're hurting me now."
"I never said it wouldn't hurt you. I said it wouldn't kill you."
"Oh, I know. You think I'm a coward. But it isn't that. Really it isn't. I say! Let me run back by tonight's bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I'll come again the first moment I can."
"This moment contains all moments."
"Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me to pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn't you kill the damned thing without asking me-before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had."
"I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?"
The Angel's hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.
"Be careful," it said. "He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you'll be without me for ever and ever. It's not natural. How could you live? You'd be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn't understand. He's only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn't for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren't they better than nothing? And I'll be so good. I admit I've sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won't do it again. I'll give you nothing but really nice dreams-all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent____"
"Have I your permission?" said the Angel to the Ghost.
"I know it will kill me."
"It won't. But supposing it did?"
"You're right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature."
"Then I may?"
"Damn and blast you! Go on can't you? Get it over. Do what you like," bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, "God help me. God help me."
Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.
" Ow! That's done for me," gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.
For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialised while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man-an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinneying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled .
The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse's neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other's nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse's back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.
While I still watched, I noticed that the whole plain and forest were shaking with a sound which in our world would be too large to hear, but there I could take it with joy. I knew it was not the Solid People who were singing. It was the voice of that earth, those woods and those waters. A strange archaic, inorganic noise, that came from all directions at once. The Nature or Arch-nature of that land rejoiced to have been once more ridden, and therefore consummated, in the person of the horse. It sang,
"The Master says to our master, Come up. Share my rest and splendour till all natures that were your enemies become slaves to dance before you and backs for you to ride, and firmness for your feet to rest on.
"From beyond all place and time, out of the very Place, authority will be given you: the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice.
"Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light.
"Master, your Master has appointed you for ever: to be our King of Justice and our high Priest."
"Do ye understand all this, my Son?" said the Teacher.
"I don't know about all, Sir," said I. "Am I right in thinking the Lizard really turned into the Horse?"
"Aye. But it was killed first. Ye'll not forget that part of the story?"
"I'll try not to, Sir. But does it mean that everything-everything-that is in us can go on to the Mountains?"
"Nothing, not even the best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. Flesh and blood cannot come to the Mountains. Not because they are too rank, but because they are too weak. What is a Lizard compared with a stallion? Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed."
"But am I to tell them at home that this man's sensuality proved less of an obstacle than that poor woman's love for her son? For that was, at any rate, an excess of love."
" Ye'lltell them no such thing," he replied sternly. "Excess of love, did ye say? There was no excess, there was defect. She loved her son too little, not too much. If she had loved him more there'd be no difficulty. I do not know how her affair will end. But it may well be that at this moment she's demanding to have him down with her in Hell. That kind is sometimes perfectly ready to plunge the soul they say they love in endless misery if only they can still in some fashion possess it. No, no. Ye must draw another lesson. Ye must ask, if the risen body even of appetite is as grand a horse as ye saw, what would the risen body of maternal love or friendship be?"
But once more my attention was diverted. "Is there another river, Sir?" I asked.
THE REASON why I asked if there were another river was this. All down one long aisle of the forest the under-sides of the leafy branches had begun to tremble with dancing light; and on earth I knew nothing so likely to produce this appearance as the reflected lights cast upward by moving water. A few moments later I realised my mistake. Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.
First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers-soundlessly falling, lightly drifting flowers, though by the standards of the ghost-world each petal would have weighed a hundred-weight and their fall would have been like the crashing of boulders. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.
I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer's features as a lip or an eye.
But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.
"Is it? ... is it?" I whispered to my guide.
"Not at all," said he. "It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green."
"She seems to be ... well, a person of particular importance?"
"Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things."
"And who are these gigantic people . . . look! They're like emeralds . . . who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?"
"Haven't ye read your Milton? A thousand livened angels lackey her,"
"And who are all these young men and women on each side?"
"They are her sons and daughters." "She must have had a very large family, Sir." "Every young man or boy that met her became her son-even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter."
"Isn't that a bit hard on their own parents?" "No. There are those that steal other people's children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives."
"And how ... but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat-two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs . . . why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses." "They are her beasts." "Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much."
"Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them." I looked at my Teacher in amazement. "Yes," he said. "It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength.
But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life."
While we spoke the Lady was steadily advancing towards us, but it was not at us she looked. Following the direction of her eyes, I turned and saw an oddly-shaped phantom approaching. Or rather two phantoms: a great tall Ghost, horribly thin and shaky, who seemed to be leading on a chain another Ghost no bigger than an organ-grinder's monkey. The taller Ghost wore a soft black hat, and he reminded me of something that my memory could not quite recover. Then, when he had come within a few feet of the Lady he spread out his lean, shaky hand flat on his chest with the fingers wide apart, and exclaimed in a hollow voice, "At last!" All at once I realised what it was that he had put me in mind of. He was like a seedy actor of the old school.
"Darling! At last!" said the Lady. "Good
Heavens!" thought I. "Surely she can't-----,"
and then I noticed two things. In the first place, I noticed that the little Ghost was not being led by the big one. It was the dwarfish figure that held the chain in its hand and the theatrical figure that wore the collar round its neck. In the second place, I noticed that the Lady was looking solely at the dwarf Ghost. She seemed to think it was the Dwarf who had addressed her, or else she was deliberately ignoring the other. On the poor dwarf she turned her eyes. Love shone not from her face only, but from all her limbs, as if it were some liquid in which she had just been bathing. Then, to my dismay she came nearer. She stooped down and kissed the Dwarf. It made one shudder to see her in such close contact with that cold, damp, shrunken thing. But she did not shudder.
"Frank," she said, "before anything else, forgive me. For all I ever did wrong and for all I did not do right since the first day we met, I ask your pardon."
I looked properly at the Dwarf for the first time now: or perhaps, when he received her kiss he became a little more visible. One could just make out the sort of face he must have had when he was a man: a little, oval, freckled face with a weak chin and a tiny wisp of unsuccessful moustache. He gave her a glance, not a full look. He was watching the Tragedian out of the corner of his eyes. Then he gave a jerk to the chain: and it was the Tragedian, not he, who answered the Lady.
"There, there," said the Tragedian. "We'll say no more about it. We all make mistakes." With the words there came over his features a ghastly contortion which, I think, was meant for an indulgentlv plavful smile. "We'll say no more," he continued. "It's not myself I'm thinking about. It is you. That is what has been continually on my mind-all these vears . The thought of you-you here alone, breaking your heart about me."
"But now," said the Lady to the Dwarf, "you can set all that aside. Never think like that again. It is all over."
Her beauty brightened so that I could hardly see anything else, and under that sweet compulsion the Dwarf really looked at her for the first time. For a second I thought he was growing more like a man. He opened his mouth. He himself was going to speak this time. But oh, the disappointment when the words came!
"You missed me?" he croaked in a small, bleating voice.
Yet even then she was not taken aback. Still the love and courtesy flowed from her.
"Dear, you will understand about that very soon," she said. "But to-day-----."
What happened next gave me a shock. The Dwarf and the Tragedian spoke in unison, not to her but to one another. "You'll notice," they warned one another, "she hasn't answered our question." I realised then that they were one person, or rather that both were the remains of what had once been a person. The Dwarf again rattled the chain.
"You missed me?" said the Tragedian to the Lady, throwing a dreadful theatrical tremor into his voice.
"Dear friend," said the Lady, still attending exclusively to the Dwarf, "you may be happy about that and about everything else. Forget all about it for ever."
And really, for a moment, I thought the Dwarf was going to obey: partly because the outlines of his face became a little clearer, and partly because the invitation to all joy, singing out of her whole being like a bird's song on an April evening, seemed to me such that no creature could resist it. Then he hesitated. And then-once more he and his accomplice spoke in unison.
"Of course it would be rather fine and magnanimous not to press the point," they said to one another. "But can we be sure she'd notice? We've done these sort of things before. There was the time we let her have the last stamp in the house to write to her mother and said nothing although she had known we wanted to write a letter ourself . We'd thought she'd remember and see how unselfish we'd been. But she never did. And there was the time . . . oh, lots and lots of times!" So the Dwarf gave a shake to the chain and-----.
"I can't forget it," cried the Tragedian. "And I won't forget it, either. I could forgive them all they've done to me. But for your miseries-----."
"Oh, don't you understand?" said the Lady. "There are no miseries here."
"Do you mean to say," answered the Dwarf, as if this new idea had made him quite forget the Tragedian for a moment, "do you mean to say you've been happy?"
"Didn't you want me to be? But no matter. Want it now. Or don't think about it at all."
The Dwarf blinked at her. One could see an unheard-of idea trying to enter his little mind: one could see even that there was for him some sweetness in it. For a second he had almost let the chain go: then, as if it were his life-line, he clutched it once more.
"Look here," said the Tragedian. "We've got to face this." He was using his "manly" bullying tone this time: the one for bringing women to their senses.
"Darling," said the Lady to the Dwarf, "there's nothing to face. You don't want me to have been miserable for misery's sake. You only think I must have been if I loved you. But if you'll only wait you'll see that isn't so."
"Love!" said the Tragedian striking his forehead with his hand: then, a few notes deeper, "Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?"
"How should I not?" said the Lady. "I am in love. In love, do you understand? Yes, now I love truly."
"You mean," said the Tragedian, "you mean -you did not love me truly in the old days?"
"Only in a poor sort of way," she answered. "I have asked you to forgive me. There was a little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you."
"And now!" said the Tragedian with a hackneyed gesture of despair. "Now, you need me no more?"
"But of course not!" said the Lady; and her smile made me wonder how both the phantoms could refrain from crying out with joy.
"What needs could I have," she said, "now that I have all? I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly."
But the Tragedian was still striking attitudes.
"She needs me no more-no more. No more/' he said in a choking voice to no one in particular. "Would to God," he continued, but he was now pronouncing it Gud -"Would to God I had seen her lying dead at my feet before I heard those words. Lying dead at my feet. Lying dead at my feet."
I do not know how long the creature intended to go on repeating the phrase, for the Lady put an end to that. "Frank! Frank!" she cried in a voice that made the whole wood ring. "Look at me. Look at me. What are you doing with that great, ugly doll? Let go of the chain. Send it away. It is you I want. Don't you see what nonsense it's talking?" Merriment danced in her eyes. She was sharing a joke with the Dwarf, right over the head of the Tragedian. Something not at all unlike a smile struggled to appear on the Dwarf's face. For he was looking at her now. Her laughter was past his first defences . He was struggling hard to keep it out, but already with imperfect success. Against his will, he was even growing a little bigger. "Oh, you great goose," said she. "What is the good of talking like that here? You know as well as I do that you did see me lying dead years and years ago. Not 'at your feet,' of course, but on a bed in a nursing home. A very good nursing home it was too. Matron would never have dreamed of leaving bodies lying about the floor! It's ridiculous for that doll to try to be impressive about death here. It just won't work."
I DO not know that I ever saw anything more terrible than the struggle of that Dwarf Ghost against joy. For he had almost been overcome. Somewhere, incalculable ages ago, there must have been gleams of humour and reason in him. For one moment, while she looked at him in her love and mirth, he saw the absurdity of the Tragedian. For one moment he did not at all misunderstand her laughter: he too must once have known that no people find each other more absurd than lovers. But the light that reached him, reached him against his will. This was not the meeting he had pictured; he would not accept it. Once more he clutched at his death-line, and at once the Tragedian spoke.
"You dare to laugh at it!" it stormed. "To my face? And this is my reward. Very well. It is fortunate that you give yourself no concern about my fate. Otherwise you might be sorry afterwards to think that you had driven me back to Hell. What? Do you think I'd stay now? Thank you. I believe I'm fairly quick at recognising where I'm not wanted. 'Not needed' was the exact expression, if I remember rightly."
From this time on the Dwarf never spoke again: but still the Lady addressed it.
"Dear, no one sends you back. Here is all joy. Everything bids you stay." But the Dwarf was growing smaller even while she spoke.
"Yes," said the Tragedian. "On terms you might offer to a dog. I happen to have some self-respect left, and I see that my going will make no difference to you. It is nothing to you that I go back to the cold and the gloom, the lonely, lonely streets-----."
"Don't, don't Frank," said the Lady. "Don't let it talk like that." But the Dwarf was now so small that she had dropped on her knees to speak to it. The Tragedian caught her words greedily as a dog catches a bone.
"Ah, you can't bear to hear it!" he shouted with miserable triumph. "That was always the way. You must be sheltered. Grim realities must be kept out of your sight. You who can be happy without me, forgetting me! You don't want even to hear of my sufferings. You say, don't. Don't tell you. Don't make you unhappy. Don't break in on your sheltered, self- centredlittle heaven. And this is the reward-----."
She stooped still lower to speak to the Dwarf which was now a figure no bigger than a kitten, hanging on to the end of the chain with his feet off the ground.
"That wasn't why I said, Don't," she answered. "I meant, stop acting. It's no good. He is killing you. Let go of that chain. Even now."
"Acting," screamed the Tragedian. "What do you mean?"
The Dwarf was now so small that I could not distinguish him from the chain to which he was clinging. And now for the first time I could not be certain whether the Lady was addressing him or the Tragedian.
"Quick," she said. "There is still time. Stop it. Stop it at once."
"Using pity, other people's pity, in the wrong way. We have all done it a bit on earth, you know. Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see, I know now. Even as a child you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic . . . because vou knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, 'I can't bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.' You used your pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end. And afterwards, when we were married . . . oh, it doesn't matter, if only you will stop it."
"And that," said the Tragedian, "that is all you have understood of me, after all these years." I don't know what had become of the Dwarf Ghost by now. Perhaps it was climbing up the chain like an insect: perhaps it was somehow absorbed into the chain.
"No, Frank, not here," said the Lady. "Listen to reason. Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenceless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed? For it was real misery. I know that now. You made yourself really wretched. That you can still do. But you can no longer communicate your wretchedness. Everything becomes more and more itself. Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light. No, no, no. Come to us. We will not go to you. Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs? Did you not know they were stronger than their opposites?"
"Love? How dare you use that sacred word?" said the Tragedian. At the same moment he gathered up the chain which had now for some time been swinging uselessly at his side, and somehow disposed of it. I am not quite sure, but I think he swallowed it. Then for the first time it became clear that the Lady saw and addressed him only.
"Where is Frank?" she said. "And who are you, Sir? I never knew you. Perhaps you had better leave me. Or stay, if you prefer. If it would help you and if it were possible I would go down with you into Hell: but you cannot bring Hell into me."
"You do not love me," said the Tragedian in a thin bat-like voice: and he was now very difficult to see.
"I cannot love a lie," said the Lady. "I cannot love the thing which is not. I am in Love, and out of it I will not go."
There was no answer. The Tragedian had vanished. The Lady was alone in that woodland place, and a brown bird went hopping past her, bending with its light feet the grasses I could not bend.
Presently the Lady got up and began to walk away. The other Bright Spirits came forward to receive her, singing as they came: "The Happy Trinity is her home: nothing can trouble her joy.
She is the bird that evades every net: the wild deer that leaps every pitfall.
Like the mother bird to its chickens or a shield to the arm'd knight: so is the Lord to her mind, in His unchanging lucidity.
Bogies will not scare her in the dark: bullets will not frighten her in the day.
Falsehoods tricked out as truths assail her in vain: she sees through the lie as if it were glass.
The invisible germ will not harm her: nor yet the glittering sun-stroke.
A thousand fail to solve the problem, ten thousand choose the wrong turning: but she passes safely through.
He details immortal gods to attend her: upon every road where she must travel.
They take her hand at hard places: she will not stub her toes in the dark.
She may walk among Lions and rattlesnakes: among dinosaurs and nurseries of lionets.
He fills her brim full with immensity of life: he leads her to see the world's desire."
"And yet . . . and yet ... ," said I to my Teacher, when all the shapes and the singing had passed some distance away into the forest, "even now I am not quite sure. Is it really tolerable that she should be untouched by his misery, even his self-made misery?"
"Would ye rather he still had the power of tormenting her? He did it many a day and many a year in their earthly life."
"Well, no. I suppose I don't want that."
"I hardly know, Sir. What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved."
"Ye see it does not."
"I feel in a way that it ought to."
"That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it."
"The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven."
"I don't know what I want, Sir."
"Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye'll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye'll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe."
"But dare one say-it is horrible to say-that Pity must ever die?"
"Ye must distinguish. The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty-that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken."
"And what is the other kind-the action?"
"It's a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world's garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses."
"You say it will go down to the lowest, Sir. But she didn't go down with him to Hell. She didn't even see him off by the bus."
"Where would ye have had her go?"
"Why, where we all came from by that bus. The big gulf, beyond the edge of the cliff. Over there. You can't see it from here, but you must know the place I mean."
My Teacher gave a curious smile. "Look," he said, and with the word he went down on his hands and knees. I did the same (how it hurt my knees!) and presently saw that he had plucked a blade of grass. Using its thin end as a pointer, he made me see, after I had looked very closely, a crack in the soil so small that I could not have identified it without this aid.
"I cannot be certain," he said, "that this is the crack ye came up through. But through a crack no bigger than that ye certainly came."
"But-but," I gasped with a feeling of bewilderment not unlike terror. "I saw an infinite abyss. And cliffs towering up and up. And then this country on top of the cliffs."
"Aye. But the voyage was not mere locomotion. That bus, and all you inside it, were increasing in size."
"Do you mean then that Hell-all that infinite empty town-is down in some little crack like this?"
"Yes. All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste."
"It seems big enough when you're in it, Sir."
"And yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good. If all Hell's miseries together entered the consciousness of yon wee yellow bird on the bough there, they would be swallowed up without trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into that Great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific itself is only a molecule."
"I see," said I at last. "She couldn't fit into Hell."
He nodded. "There's not room for her," he said. "Hell could not open its mouth wide enough."
"And she couldn't make herself smaller?- like Alice, you know."
"Nothing like small enough. For a damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouths for food, or their eyes to see."
"Then no one can ever reach them?"
"Only the Greatest of all can make Himself small enough to enter Hell. For the higher a thing is, the lower it can descend-a man can sympathise with a horse but a horse cannot sympathise with a rat. Only One has descended into Hell."
"And will He ever do so again?"
"It was not once long ago that He did it. Time does not work that way when once ye have left the Earth. All moments that have been or shall be were, or are, present in the moment of His descending. There is no spirit in prison to Whom He did not preach."
"And some hear him?"
"In your own books, Sir," said I, "you were a Universalist . You talked as if all men would be saved. And St. Paul too."
"Ye can know nothing of the end of all things, or nothing expressible in those terms. It may be, as the Lord said to the Lady Julian, that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. But it's ill talking of such questions."
"Because they are too terrible, Sir?"
"No. Because all answers deceive. If ye put the question from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain. The choice of ways is before you. Neither is closed. Any man may choose eternal death. Those who choose it will have it. But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things as it will be (for so ye must speak) when there are no more possibilities left but only the Real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears. Time is the very lens through which ye see-small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope-something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope. It is a picture of moments following one another and yourself in each moment making some choice that might have been otherwise. Neither the temporal succession nor the phantom of what ye might have chosen and didn't is itself Freedom. They are a lens. The picture is a symbol: but it's truer than any philosophical theorem (or, perhaps, than any mystic's vision) that claims to go behind it. For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two. And wouldn't Universalism do the same? Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition. Time itself, and all acts and events that fill Time, are the definition, and it must be lived. The Lord said we were gods. How long could ye bear to look (without Time's lens) on the greatness of your own soul and the eternal reality of her choice?" .
AND SUDDENLY all was changed. I saw a great assembly of gigantic forms all motionless, all in deepest silence, standing forever about a little silver table and looking upon it. And on the table there were little figures like chessmen who went to and fro doing this and that. And I knew that each chessman was the idolum or puppet representative of some one of the great presences that stood by. And the acts and motions of each chessman were a moving portrait, a mimicry or pantomime, which delineated the inmost nature of his giant master. And these chessmen are men and women as they appear to themselves and to one another in this world. And the silver table is Time. And those who stand and watch are the immortal souls of those same men and women. Then vertigo and terror seized me and, clutching at my Teacher, I said, "Is that the truth? Then is all that I have been seeing in this country false? These conversations between the Spirits and the Ghosts-were they only the mimicry of choices that had really been made long ago?"
"Or might ye not as well say, anticipations of a choice to be made at the end of all things? But ye'd do better to say neither. Ye saw the choices a bit more clearly than ye could see them on earth: the lens was clearer. But it was still seen through the lens. Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give."
"A dream? Then-then-am I not really here, Sir?"
"No, Son," said he kindly, taking my hand in his. "It is not so good as that. The bitter drink of death is still before you. Ye are only dreaming. And if ye come to tell of what ye have seen, make it plain that it was but a dream. See ye make it very plain. Give no poor fool the pretext to think ye are claiming knowledge of what no mortal knows. I'll have no Sweden- borgsand no Vale Owens among my children."
"God forbid, Sir," said I, trying to look very wise.
"He has forbidden it. That's what I'm telling ye." As he said this he looked more Scotch than ever. I was gazing steadfastly on his face. The vision of the chessmen had faded, and once more the quiet woods in the cool light before sunrise were about us. Then, still looking at his face, I saw there something that sent a quiver through my whole body. I stood at that moment with my back to the East and the mountains, and he, facing me, looked towards them. His face flushed with a new light. A fern, thirty yards behind him, turned golden. The eastern side of every tree-trunk grew bright. Shadows deepened. All the time there had been bird noises, trillings , chatterings , and the like; but now suddenly the full chorus was poured from every branch; cocks were crowing, there was music of hounds, and horns; above all this ten thousand tongues of men and woodland angels and the wood itself sang. "It comes! It comes!" they sang. "Sleepers awake! It comes, it comes, it comes."
One dreadful glance over my shoulder I essayed-not long enough to see (or did I see?) the rim of the sunrise that shoots Time dead with golden arrows and puts to flight all phantasmal shapes. Screaming, I buried my face in the folds of my Teacher's robe. "The morning! The morning!" I cried, "I am caught by the morning and I am a ghost." But it was too late. The light, like solid blocks, intolerable of edge and weight, came thundering upon my head. Next moment the folds of my Teacher's garment were only the folds of the old ink-stained cloth on my study table which I had pulled down with me as I fell from my chair. The blocks of light were only the books which I had pulled off with it, falling about my head. I awoke in a cold room, hunched on the floor beside a black and empty grate, the clock striking three, and the siren howling overhead.