He was laughing, chin up, and shaking his head. God the Father was exploding in his face with a glory of sunlight through painted glass, a glory that moved with his movements to consume and exalt Abraham and Isaac and then God again. The tears of laughter in his eyes made additional spokes and wheels and rainbows.
Chin up, hands holding the model spire before him, eyes half closed; joy
"I've waited half my life for this day!"
Opposite him, the other side of the model of the cathedral on its trestle table stood the chancellor, his face dark with shadow, over ancient pallor.
"I don't know, my Lord Dean. I don't know."
He peered across at the model of the spire, where Jocelin held it so firmly in both hands. His voice was bat-thin, and wandered vaguely into the large, high air of the chapter house.
"But if you consider that this small piece of wood how long is it?"
"Eighteen inches, my Lord Chancellor."
"Eighteen inches. Yes. Well. It represents, does it not, a construction of wood and stone and metal "
"Four hundred feet high."
The chancellor moved out into sunlight, hands up to his chest, and peered round him. He looked up at the roof. Jocelin looked sideways at him, loving him.
"The foundations. I know. But God will provide."
The chancellor had found what he was looking for, a memory.
Then, in ancient busyness, he crept away over the pavement to the door and through it. He left a message, in the air behind him.
"Mattins. Of course."
Jocelin stood still, and shot an arrow of love after him. My place, my house, my people. He will come out of the vestry at the tail of the procession and turn left as he has always done; then he will remember and turn right to the Lady Chapel! So Jocelin laughed again, chin lifted, in holy mirth. I know them all, know what they are doing and will do, know what they have done. All these years I have gone on, put the place on me like a coat.
He stopped laughing and wiped his eyes. He took the white spire and jammed it firmly in the square hole cut in the old model of the cathedral.
The model was like a man lying on his back. The nave was his legs placed together, the transepts on either side were his arms outspread. The choir was his body; and the Lady Chapel where now the services would be held, was his head. And now also, springing, projecting, bursting, erupting from the heart of the building, there was its crown and majesty, the new spire. They don't know, he thought, they can't know until I tell them of my vision! And laughing again for joy, he went out of the chapter house to where the sun piled into the open square of the cloisters. And I must remember that the spire isn't everything! I must do, as far as possible, exactly what I have always done.
So he went round the cloisters, lifting curtain after curtain, until he came to the side door into the West End of the cathedral. He lifted the latch carefully so as not to make a noise. He bowed his head as he passed through, and said as he always did interiorly, "Lift up your heads, o ye Gates!" But even as he stepped inside, he knew that his caution was unnecessary, since there was a whole confusion of noise in the cathedral already. Mattins, diminished, its sounds so small they might be held in one hand, was nonetheless audible from the Lady Chapel at the other end of the cathedral, beyond the wood and canvas screen. There was a nearer sound that told though the components were so mixed by echo as to be part of each other that men were digging in earth and stone. They were talking, ordering, shouting sometimes, dragging wood across pavement, wheeling and dropping loads, then throwing them roughly into place, so that the total noise would have been formless as the noises of the market place, had not the echoing spaces made it chase round and round so that it caught up with itself and the shrill choir, and sang endlessly on one note. The noises were so new, that he hurried to the center line of the cathedral in the shadow of the great west door, genuflected to the hidden High Altar; and then stood, looking.
He blinked for a moment. There had been sun before, but not like this. The most seeming solid thing in the nave, was not the barricade of wood and canvas that cut the cathedral in two, at the choir steps, was not the two arcades of the nave, nor the chantries and painted tomb slabs between them. The most solid thing was the light. It smashed through the rows of windows in the south aisle, so that they exploded with color, it slanted before him from right to left in an exact formation, to hit the bottom yard of the pillars on the north side of the nave. Everywhere, fine dust gave these rods and trunks of light the importance of a dimension. He blinked at them again, seeing, near at hand, how the individual grains of dust turned over each other, or bounced all together, like mayfly in a breath of wind. He saw how further away they drifted cloudily, coiled, or hung in a moment of pause, becoming, in the most distant rods and trunks, nothing but color, honey-color slashed across the body of the cathedral. Where the south transept lighted the crossways from a hundred and fifty foot of grisaille, the honey thickened in a pillar that lifted straight as Abel's from the men working with crows at the pavement.
He shook his head in rueful wonder at the solid sunlight. If it were not for that Abel's pillar, he thought, I would take the important level of light to be a true dimension, and so believe that my stone ship lay aground on her side; and he smiled a little, to think how the mind touches all things with law, yet deceives itself as easily as a child. Facing that barricade of wood and canvas at the other end of the nave, now that the candles have gone from the side altars, I could think this was some sort of pagan temple; and those two men posed so centrally in the sundust with their crows (and what a quarry noise and echo as they lever up the slab and let it fall back) the priests of some outlandish rite Forgive me.
In this house for a hundred and fifty years, we have woven a rich fabric of constant praise. Things shall be as they were; only better, richer, the pattern of worship complete at last. I must go to pray.
And then he was aware that lie would not go to pray yet, even on this great day of joy. And he laughed aloud for pure joy, knowing why he would not go, knowing as of old, the daily pattern; knowing who was hunting, who preaching, who deputizing for whom, knowing the security of the stone ship, the security other crew.
As if the knowing was cue for entry in an interlude he heard a latch lift in the north-west comer and a door creak open. I shall see, as I see daily, my daughter in God.
Sure enough, as if his memory other had called her in, she came quickly through the door, so that he stood, waiting with his blessing tor her as always. But Pangall's wife turned to her left, lifted a hand against the dust. He had only time to glimpse the long, sweet face, before she had gone up the north aisle instead of coming straight across; so that he had to think his blessing after her. He watched her with love and a little disappointment as she passed the unlighted altars of the north aisle, saw her pull back her hood so that the white wimple showed, got a glimpse of green dress as the grey cloak swung back. She is entirely woman, he thought, loving her; and this foolish, this childish curiosity shows it. But that is a matter for Pangall or Father Anselm. And as if she recognized her own folly he saw how she circled the pit quickly, one hand up against the dust, crossed the nave and clashed the door of the Kingdom behind her. He nodded soberly.
"I suppose, after all, it must make some difference to us."
After the clash of the door there was near-silence;
then in the silence, a new little noise, tap, tap, tap. He turned to his left, and there the dumb man sat on the plinth of the north arcade in his leather apron, the lump of stone between his knees.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
"I think he made you choose me, Gilbert, because I stand still so much!"
The dumb man got quickly to his feet. Jocelin smiled at him.
"Of all die people connected with this thing, I must seem to do least, don't you think?"
The dumb man smiled doglike, and hummed with his empty mouth. Jocelin laughed back, delightedly, and nodded as if they shared a secret.
"Ask those four pillars at the crossways if they do nothing!"
The dumb man laughed and nodded back.
"Soon I shall go to pray. You may follow me there, sit quietly, and work. Bring a cloth with you for the chips and dust, or Pangall will sweep you out of the Lady Chapel like a leaf. We mustn't fret Pangall."
Then there was another new noise. He forgot the dumb man and listened, with his head turned to one side. No, he said to himself, they can't have done it yet; it can't be true! So he hurried away into the south aisle where he could peer slantwise across the cathedral into the north transept. He stood by the comer of the Peverel chantry. He whispered with joy too deep for the open air.
"It's true. After all these years of work and striving. Glory be."
For they were doing the unthinkable. I have walked by there for years, he thought. There was outside and inside, as clearly divided, as eternally and inevitably divided as yesterday and today. The smooth stone of the Inside, patterned and traced with paint, the rough and lichened stuff of the outside; yesterday, or a Hail Mary ago, they were a quarter of a mile apart. Yet now the air blows through them. They touch, those separated sides. I can see, as through a spyhole, right across the close to the comer of the chancellor's house, where perhaps Ivo is.
Courage. Glory be. It is a final beginning. It was one thing to let him dig a pit there at the crossways like a grave for some notable. This is different. Now I lay a hand on the very body of my church. Like a surgeon, I take my knife to the stomach drugged with poppy.
. . . . .
He had a tariff of knees. He knew how they should be after this length of kneeling or that. Now, when they had passed through a dull ache, to nothing, he knew that more than an hour had passed. He was in himself again; and as the slow lights swam before his closed eyes lie felt the pain surge back in his shins and knees and thighs. My prayer was never so simple; that's why it took so long.
And then, quite suddenly, he knew he was not alone. It was not that he saw, or heard a presence. He felt it, like the warmth of a fire at his back, powerful and gentle at the same time; and so immediate was the pressure of that personality, it might have been in his very spine.
He bent his head in terror, hardly breathing. He allowed the presence to do what it would. I am here, the presence seemed to say, do nothing, we are here, and all work together for good.
Then he dared to think again, in the warmth at his back.
It is my guardian angel.
I do Thy work; and Thou hast sent Thy messenger to comfort me. As it was of old, in the desert.
With twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
Joy, fire, joy.
Lord; I thank Thee that Thou hast kept me humble!
Once more, the windows were coming together. The saint's life still burned in them with blue and red and green; but the spark and shatter of the sun had shifted. He was back, looking at the familiar window over clasped hands; and the angel had left him.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Thou dost glorify the lives of Thy chosen ones, like the sun in a window.
He bore down on the desk and managed to break up the rigor of his knees. He tottered a step or two before he could stand and walk erect. He smoothed out his cassock with his right hand, and while he was doing this, he remembered the tap and scrape and looked towards the north wall, where the dumb man sat, his mouth hanging open. There was a cloth on the pavement at his feet, and he scraped carefully at the lump of stone. He stood up quickly when Jocelin's shadow fell on him. He was a hefty young man and he held the carving easily in both hands by his stomach. The joy and comfort and peace of the angel laid a favor on the young man's face as on all the world; so Jocelin felt a smile bend the seams of his own face as he looked round his nose at him. He was a big young man too; could look at the dean on a level, eye to eye. Jocelin looked him over, in the joy of the angel, still smiling, loving him, the brown face and neck, the chest where the laced leather parted to show a covert of black hair, the curly head, the black eyes under their black eyebrows, the brown arms sweated at the armpits through the jerkin, the legs crossbound, rough shoes white with dust.
"I was still enough for you today, I think!"
The young man nodded eagerly again and again, and made a humming noise in his throat. Jocelin went on smiling into the eager, doglike eyes. Where I led he would follow. If only he were the master builder! Perhaps one day
"Show me, my son."
The young man shifted a hand under the stone and held it in profile by his chest. Jocelin lifted his head and laughed down at it.
"Oh no, no no! I'm not as beaky as that! Not half as beaky!"
Then the profile caught his attention again and he fell silent. Nose, like an eagle's beak. Mouth open wide, lined cheeks, hollow deep under the cheekbone, eyes deep in their hollows; lie put up a hand to the comer of his mouth and pulled at the parallel ridges of flesh and skin. He opened his mouth to feel how that action stretched them, striking his teeth together three times as he did so.
"And no, my son. I haven't as much hair as that either!"
The young man shot out his free arm sideways, brought it in again, and made the palm sweep through the air in a swallow flight.
"A bird? What bird? An eagle, perhaps? You are thinking of the Holy Spirit?"
Arm out again, sweeping.
"Oh I see! You want to get an impression of speed!"
Young man laughing all over his face, nearly dropping the stone but catching it again, communion over the stone as with an angel, joy
Then silence, both looking at the stone.
Rushing on with the angels, the infinite speed that is stillness, hair blown, torn back, straightened with the wind of the spirit, mouth open, not for uttering rainwater, but hosannas and hallelujahs.
Presently Jocelin lifted his head, and smiled ruefully.
"Don't you think you might strain my humility, by making an angel of me?"
Humming in the throat, headshake, doglike, eager eyes.
"So this is how I shall be built in, two hundred feet up, on every side of the tower, mouth open, proclaiming day and night till doomsday? Let me see the face."
The young man stood obediently, with the full face turned towards him. For a long time then, they were both still and silent, while Jocelin looked at the gaunt, lifted cheekbones, the open mouth, the nostrils strained wide as if they were giving lift to the beak, like a pair of wings, the wide, blind eyes.
It is true. At the moment of vision, the eyes see nothing.
"How do you know so much?"
But the young man looked back blank as the stone. Jocelin laughed a little again and patted the brown cheek then tweaked it.
"Your hands know, perhaps, my son. There's a kind of wisdom in them. That was why the Almighty tied your tongue."
Humming in the throat.
"Go now. You can work at me again tomorrow."
Jocelin turned away and stopped suddenly.
He hurried across the Lady Chapel to where Adam Chaplain stood in the shadows under the south windows.
"Have you waited all this time?*
The little man stood patiently, the letter held in his hands like a tray. His colorless voice scratched itself into the air.
"I am under obedience, my Lord."
"I am to blame, Father."
But even as he said it, other things pushed the contrition out of his head. He turned and walked away towards the north ambulatory, hearing the click of nailed sandals behind him.
"Father Adam. Did you see see anything behind me there, as I knelt?"
Creak of a mouse voice.
"No, my Lord,"
"If you had, of course, I should have commanded your silence."
He stopped in the ambulatory. There were shafts and trunks of sunlight overhead; but the wall between the choir and the wide passage round it, kept the pavement where they stood, in shadow. He heard the noises of breaking stone from the crossways, and watched the dust that danced even here beyond the wooden screen, if more slowly. This drew his eyes upward, to the high vaulting, and he stepped back to see it more clearly. He felt soft toes under his shod heel.
But the little man said nothing, did nothing. He stood, still holding the letter, and there was not even a change of expression in his face; and this might be, thought Jocelin, because he has no face at all. He is the same all round like the top of a clothespeg. He spoke, laughing down at the baldness with its fringe of nondescript hair.
"I ask your pardon. Father Adam. One forgets you are there so easily!" And then, laughing aloud in joy and love "I shall call you Father Anonymous!"
The chaplain still said nothing.
"And now. About this foolish letter."
On the other side of the church, the choir had gathered for the next service. He heard them begin the processional chant. They were moving; you could hear the children's voices first most clearly; then these faded, to be replaced by the low voices of the Vicars Choral. Presently these faded too, and from the Lady Chapel, a single voice sang, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah; and chased itself in echoes round the acreage of the vault.
"Tell me Father. Everyone knows, that as the world has these things, she is my aunt?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"One must be charitable, as always even to such as she is; or has been."
Still silence. With twain he covered Ins feet. Thy angel is my security. I can bear anything now.
"What do they say?"
"It is tavern talk, my Lord."
"Tell me, then."
"They say that if it had not been for her wealth, you would never build the spire."
"That's true. What else?"
"They say that even if your sins are as scarlet, money can buy you a grave next to the High Altar."
"Do they so?"
The letter was still there, like a white tray. A faint perfume still clung round it and pushed out at the nostrils, so that the ambulatory, dark beneath its north windows, seemed invaded by a breath of artificial spring. For all the new beginning and the angel, his irritation came back.
The wah-wah-wah from the Lady Chapel died away.
"Read it out!"
"'To my nephew and '"
(And from the Lady Chapel, a single voice, slow, defeating the echo. I believe in one God.)
"' father in God Jocelin, Dean of the cathedral church of the Virgin Mary.'"
(And from the Lady Chapel, voices young and old chanting together. Of all things visible and invisible.)
"'This letter is written for me by Master Godfrey, since I suppose among your church business and building matters you neglected the ones he has written for me during these last three years. Well, dear nephew, here I am again, bringing up the old question. Can you not spare a word for me? It was a different and a much quicker answer you gave when the question was one of money. Let us be frank. I know and the world knows and you know, what my life has been. But all that ended with his death murder, martyrdom, I should say. The rest is penance before my Maker, who I hope will vouchsafe his unworthy handmaid many more years of living death to repent in.'"
(Suffered under Pontius Pilate.)
"'I know you are silent because you condemn my traffic with an earthly king. But is it not said render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's? I have done that at least, to the best of my power. I was to lie in Winchester, among the kings, I had his word for it, but they have turned me away, though the time will soon come when dead kings are all I am fit to lie among.'"
(To judge the quick and the dead.)
"'Master Godfrey wishes to strike out that last sentence, but I say he must leave it in. Are all the bones in your church so sanctified? You may say I have small prospect of heaven, but my hope is better. There is a place, or there was before your day, on the south side of the choir, where the sun comes in, between some old bishop and the Provost Chantry. I think the High Altar could see me there and perhaps be more absent-minded than you about those faults I still find it so difficult entirely to repent of.'"
(The forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting.)
"'What is it? More money? Do you want two spires rather than one? Well, you may as well know that I intend to divide my fortune, he was generous in that as in all else, between you and the poor, setting aside sufficient for my tomb, a mass priest, a gift for the cathedral in your dear mother's name, once we were very close '"
He reached out and folded the letter together in the chaplain's hands.
"We could do well enough without women, Father Anonymous. What do you think?"
"They have been called dangerous and incomprehensible, my Lord."
"And the answer, my Lord?"
But Jocelin was remembering the new beginning, remembering the angel, and the invisible lines of the spire that even now for those who knew, Had sketched themselves in the sunny sky over the crossways.
"Answer?" he said, laughing. "What need is there to change a decision? We shall make no answer."
He came out of the ambulatory through the temporary wooden door and stood blinking for a moment in the sudden light of the crossways. The gap in the wall of the north transept was big enough for a wagon; and some of the master builder's army were busy tidying the edges. The dust was thicker than ever, like yellow smoke, so that he coughed, and his eyes ran. The two men breaking up the pavement were working out of sight to their thighs, and the dust was so thick in that part of the air, he thought their faces were monstrously deformed, until he saw that they had drawn cloths over their mouths; and these cloths were caked with dust and sweat. A hodman stood waiting by the pit, and when he had a hodful he walked away through the north transept and another took his place. As the hodman came from more dust to less, with the hod over his shoulder, he began a labored singing. Jocelin understood these words, and after the first few, he clapped his hands over his ears and opened his mouth in the dust to rebuke the singer, who paid no attention, but marched singing through the gap in the wall. Jocelin hurried into the nave and peered round him. He went poking and peering round pillars but found no one. He went purposefully through the south transept; he clashed the great cloister door, he wrenched back the curtain. But there was no Principal Person in the scriptorium; only a deacon who compared two manuscripts, his nose three inches from the page.
"Where is the Sacrist?"
The young man leapt to his feet, saving a book as he did so.
"My Lord, he came through "
Jocelin snatched the next curtain aside; but there was no one in the school room either. The benches were in disorder, one lying on its side. He went to the arcade of the cloister, leaned with both hands on the sill among the bone counters and game board scratched in the stone and stuck his head through. The Sacrist was sitting on a bench taken from the school room. He sat in the sun, his back against a pillar of the arcade, hands folded in his lap.
An early fly struck Father Anselm on the nose and bounced away. He opened his eyes without focusing, then he shut them again.
"My Lord Sacrist!"
Jocelin hurried through the next curtain, entered the central square, stood by Father Anselm, put by his irritation, and spoke in a normal, conversational voice.
"The nave is empty. No one is standing guard."
Though he seemed asleep, Father Anselm was trembling very slightly. He opened his eyes but looked away.
"The dust, my lord. You know how it is with this poor chest of mine."
"There was no need for you to sit there. You have authority!"
Anselm coughed delicately, tuh, tuh, tuh.
"How can I ask others to do what I can't do myself?
And after a day or two there will be less dust. The master builder told me so."
"So meanwhile they can sing any filthy song they like?"
Despite his care, his determination, Jocelin's voice rose, and his right fist clenched. Deliberately he unclenched it, then flexed the fingers as if the gesture had meant nothing. But the Sacrist had seen, even though he now looked at the great cedar. He was still shaking, but his voice was calm.
"When you consider, my Lord Dean, to what a degree we must accept a disruption of our normal life, a song forgive me however worldly, seems an offence venial enough. After all, we have twelve altars in the side aisles of the nave. Because of this, this new building of ours, no candles burn there. And forgive me again but since these men, these strange creatures from every end of the world, seem willing to resort to violence at the slightest provocation, it might be wiser to let them sing."
Jocelin opened his mouth and shut it silently. A picture of the grave deliberations in Chapter, flashed through his mind; but the Sacrist had turned from the cedar, and was looking straight at him, head on one side.
"Yes indeed, my lord Dean. Let them sing for a day or two, at least until the dust settles."
Jocelin got his breath back.
"But we decided in Chapter!"
"I was given a certain latitude."
"They defile the church."
The Sacrist became motionless as the stones behind him. He no longer shook.
"At least they don't destroy it."
Jocelin cried out.
"What d'you mean?"
The Sacrist's hands were still, as though he had forgotten how lie had spread them.
"I, My Lord? Only what I said."
Very carefully, the Sacrist brought in his hands and clasped them in his lap.
"You mustn't misunderstand me. It's conceivable that these ignorant men dirty the air with their words, just as they fill it with dust and stink. But they don't destroy the air. They don't destroy the building round it."
"And I do!"
But the Sacrist was on guard.
"Who was talking about you, my Lord?"
"Ever since you voted against the spire in Chapter "
The irritation in his throat stopped him. Anselm smiled slightly.
"A lamentable lack of faith, my Lord. I was overruled, and agree now, that we must all put our shoulders to the wheel."
There was a hint of quotation round the wheel and the shoulder, so that the irritation in Jocelin's throat became anger.
"A lamentable lack of faith indeed!"
The Sacrist's smile was not only secure, but kind.
"We don't all feel ourselves so uniquely chosen, my Lord."
"Do you think I don't see an accusation; however cautiously you phrase it?"
"I have said what I have said."
Some odd combination of causes was bringing Jocelin's blood to a rage. When he spoke again, there was a quick vibration in his voice.
"I believe our founder's statute is still valid."
Now the Sacrist was very still. His delicate face was perhaps a shade pinker. He put his feet back under him, and stood up slowly.
"The crossways still lack an overseer."
The Sacrist said nothing. He clasped his hands, gave the merest inclination of his head, and turned to walk towards the cloister door. Suddenly Jocelin put out his hand.
The Sacrist stopped, turned, waited.
"Anselm, I didn't mean You are the one friend I have left from the old days. Where have we come to?"
"And you know I didn't mean you to leave like this. Forgive me."
No smile under the eyes in the pink face.
"There are a dozen people you could appoint. That boy in there, in the scriptorium. Surely Chrysostom can wait? Think how long he's been waiting!"
But the Sacrist was secure again, and shaking his head.
"I wouldn't ask anyone else to do it today. The dust, you know."
Then they were both silent.
What am I to do? It is a small vexation and it will pass. But I am learning.
"Your command still stands, my Lord?"
Jocelin turned on his heel and looked up. He saw the arcade of the cloister and its battlements, inspected above them the buttresses and high windows of the south wall; followed up the angle between the wall and the transept to where the crossways were roofed briefly and squarely. The sunlight soaked the stone without warming it; and above the cliffs of stone, the sky was rinsed clear by a rainy night. It held no clouds, but a promise of wind. He let his eye rest on the invisible geometric lines that sketched themselves automatically above the battlements of the crossways, up there, where a bird wheeled, and drew to a point, four hundred feet up in the sky.
Let it be so. Cost what you like.
He looked back at the Sacrist, and surprised on his face an ambiguity of kindness and amused malice. I am your friend, said the smile, your confessor and your friend in particular. It said also, and in no way that could be answered; the invisible thing up there is Jocelin's Folly, which will fall, and in its fall, bury and destroy the church.
"Well, my Lord ?"
Jocelin kept his voice low.
"Yes. Go, go."
So the Sacrist clasped his hands and inclined his head. It was the perfect act of obedience; and it was more, because of the frayed thread that bound them. He paused at the door into the south transept; and Jocelin heard even in the delicate lifting of the latch and the careful pressure that grated back the door, an indefinable rebuke that was a sort of insolence, so that the thread snapped. Well, he thought, it is the end. Then he remembered how thick and long the thread had been, a rope binding them heart to heart, and his own was sore at the thought of it. And he knew that when he recovered from his irritation, he would grieve, remembering the cloister by the sea, the flashing water, the sun and sand.
"It's been coming for a long time."
I didn't know how much you would cost up there, the four hundred feet of you. I thought you would cost no more than money. But still, cost what you like.
. . . . .
Then Rachel had broken away from the rest and was hurrying across the pavement to them, talking and gesticulating before she was properly within reach "Didn't expect their foundations to be dug up before Doomsday and why not, after all they must have been under contract like my man here " talking and nodding, body shaken with vehemence, skirt not held up but clutched up until one saw too much of a clumsy ankle and foot "Birchwood under the rubble was what you expected, wasn't it Roger? He always knows, my Lord" My Lord as if she were not a woman but a canon with a valid vote in chapter! Her whole body a part of speech, black eyes popping, not like a decent, reticent English-woman (not like silent Goody Pangall, my dear daughter-in-God) but even pretending to knowledge, building knowledge, even contradicting a man! Rachel, dark haired, dark eyed and energetic, with her constant flow, she, earth's most powerful argument for celibacy if one was wanted "Forgive me my Lord but I must say it, I know a little about these things; I remember what Roger's old master said. "Child " he called me child, you see because Roger was his assistant then "Child, a spire goes down as far as it goes up " or was it "Up as far as it goes down?" But what he meant you see was " and then she leaned her head on one side, smiling mysteriously, one finger sticking in Jocelin's face " was that there has to be as much weight under a building as there is over it. So if you are going up four hundred feet you will have to go down four hundred feet. Isn't that so Roger? Roger?" On and on she went, released from the necessary, the penitential silence of the service, her body and her dark face shaken by the words as a pipe is shaken by the water that jets out of it. Yet there was a curious thing about Roger and Rachel Mason. Not only were they inseparable, but alike in appearance; more like brother and sister than man and wife, dark, sturdy, redlipped. They were islanded, and their life was a pattern of its own. Roger never struck her, and their frequent quarrels were like flares, blown out presently by some wind, to leave the scene just as it had been before. They revolved round each other in a way which people found incomprehensible. It was impossible to understand how they put up with each other; though certain techniques of living could be observed in them. For example, Roger Mason had evolved a method of dealing with Rachel which often made farce of a situation, as it did now. He ignored her, merely raising his voice, so that he could be heard and understood. This never seemed to irritate him; but it was certain to irritate the third in the party, especially when the third was a high dignitary of the church.
" a much more complicated problem than you think."
And Rachel, face shaken now, so the master builder's words were obscured again. Jocelin raised his own voice, consenting to the farce, and angered by it.
"We were talking of Pangall!"
"Such a sweet thing, and such a pity she has no children but then neither have I, my Lord, we must bear this cross!"
" will build as high as I can "
" as high as you dare "
Suddenly Jocelin heard his voice in clear, with nothing to fight against. Rachel had turned away. Her torrent was falling into the pit which swallowed it.
"And what is the good of a small dare, Roger? My dares are big ones!"
"Four hundred feet of dare!"
"I haven't convinced you then."
Jocelin smiled at him, but nodded meaningly.
"Start to build. That's all I ask."
They looked at each other, each determined, neither saying more, but aware that nothing had been settled, and this was only a truce. I will urge him up stone by stone, if I have to, thought Jocelin. He has no vision. He is blind. Let him think he can cut off a tower where he likes but then Rachel turned back from the pit and they heard how little light there was in it now and how tired the men were, you can drive a willing horse just so far, they ought to knock off. So Jocelin turned away, furious with himself, and with the foolish woman, and with the man who was more easily able to ignore her than control her. He saw, with surprise, how the sun now came through the west windows; and with the sight he felt a pang of hunger. This made him angry too; and he was only slightly soothed to hear behind him the master builder bawl at Rachel.
"How can you be so stupid?"
Yet he knew that the roar was nothing, not even a rebuke, but perhaps something to keep off the bad luck, and that another five minutes would find them revolving round each other, laughing, or walking scandalously arm-in-arm; or muttering in some secret conversation that was no one else's business. And she was a good woman, as these things go; in all the rumored and outrageous combinations of the sexes that were said to take place in New Street where the builders had set up camp, there was no scandal that touched either Rachel or the master builder. He looked down the nave into the sunlight, and found himself irritated again. the day began in joy, he thought; and great things have happened; there is a beginning, and there is my angel; and at the same time there is a diminution of joy, as if my angel were sent not only to strengthen and console me, but also as a warning. He saw father Anselm far off, sitting nobly by the west door, and the stillness of the old man under his crown of silver hair touched him with sorrow as well as irritation. He lifted his chin, and spoke to the preaching patriarchs in the clerestory.
"Let him sulk, if he wants to."
Behind him, he heard laughter going out of the north transept through the new gap in the wall. Rachel was gone then; and he turned back for a moment to watch the master builder talking to the men by the pit. He wondered for a moment whether he should return and apply more pressure. I should not have gone to see him, he thought. I should have called him before me and rebuked him for the fight at the gate. What if the mayor demands a court? I didn't say the half of what I meant to say. It's that woman with her torrent, and her bold, shaken face. There are some women who are stronger than gates and bars by their very ignorance. I should rebuke her too for her presumption, teach her to know her place. Next time I see her without him, I will speak to her gently, and explain what she should be.
"Lord, what instruments we have to use!"
He heard the clicking of nailed sandals in the nave and knew it was the clothespeg man. He turned to watch. Father Adam was walking at his usual pace, neither slow nor fast, but as though he never did any thing else, only went like this from one day to the next, delivering, taking away, waiting for instructions, impersonal, without animation or complaint. Now he stood before his master, hands together, a doll a child might cut, the face too complex for an attempt, the arms, the hair painted on. He stood between Jocelin and the long-delayed meal with more business in his hands.
"Couldn't you wait. Father Adam?"
Father Anonymous scratched an answer into the air with his useful voice.
"I thought you would wish to read it at once, my Lord."
Jocelin sighed, and answered him, tired, irritable, and strangely sapped of joy.
"Let me see it, then."
He turned to the east, held up the letter so that the sunlight fell on it. As he read, his face cleared, went from irritation, to satisfaction; then to delight.
"You did well to show it to me!"
He fell down on his knees, crossed himself and gave thanks. But the tide of joy was back, stood him on his feet, hurried him to where the master builder was talking to Jehan, his assistant, by the pit. As he came near, the master builder looked away from Jehan and spoke to him.
"They've found no gravel yet. And if the floods still rise we may have to wait for weeks before we can dig any deeper. Perhaps for months."
Jocelin tapped the letter.
"Here's your answer, my son."
"My Lord Bishop has remembered us. Even though he kneels before the Holy Father at Rome, he remembers his distant sheep."
The master builder answered impatiently.
"You never understand what I say, do you? I tell you, money can't build your spire for you. Build it of gold and it would simply sink deeper."
Jocelin shook his head, laughing.
"Now I shall tell you, and then you can sleep easy. He sent no money. For what is money after all? But far, far, oh infinitely more valuable " a tide of emotion swept Jocelin up so that his voice rose with it. He laid an arm across the master builder's shoulders and hugged him. "We shall put this in the very topmost stone of the spire, and it will stand till the last day. My Lord Bishop is sending us a Holy Nail."
He took his arm from the inscrutable master builder and looked down the nave into the sun. He saw the white head of Father Anselm and knew at once that life was unendurable without the oil of healing. He went, almost at a run, down the nave towards the old man, and he waved the letter in his hand.
This time, father Anselm got up and stood. He did it slowly, bearing his martyrdom; and as if to complete the brave picture, he swallowed his three coughs so that they were only just audible. His face was cold and blank.
"Father Anselm. Friendship is a precious thing."
Still blank. Buoyed up by his joy, Jocelin tried again.
"What have we done to it?"
"Is that a real question, my Lord, or a rhetorical one?"
Jocelin surrounded him with love.
"Would you like to read this letter?"
"Do you command me, my Lord?"
Jocelin laughed aloud.
"Anselm I Anselm!"
Stubbornly, the old man resisted his love, looked away towards the wood and canvas screen; coughed quietly but audibly, tuh, tuh, tuh.
"If it concerns the Chapter, my Lord, no doubt we shall all get to hear it in time."
"Anselm. Here is a gift from me to you. I release you from this duty. I ought to have understood, that with all the opposition, and your health There is no one, after all, engaged as I am to this business. I shall take it into my hands. You know that, and you know why, you of all people, my confessor, manager of my soul."
"Let me see this clearly, my Lord. I am neither to be overseer, nor organize the overseers?"
"That's what I said."
Anselm never altered his face. He kept his noble profile looking to the east, under the crown of white hair. He stood, senatorial, august and secure. The words fell.
They fell. They were not jewels or pearls, as befitted the saintly face. They were pebbles. There was no insult, nothing to grasp; for if the words had insolence in them, they were nevertheless correct and according to the statute. When it is ordained that a matter shall be so decided between two of the four Principal Persons, let it be written As if the statute hung there legibly in the air between them, Anselm clinched the matter by quoting from it.
"What has been written, if there is a change, let that also be written; and let the small bone seal be affixed in the presence of two Persons."
Anselm spoke again, calmly and coldly. His cough had gone.
"Is that all, my Lord?"
He heard the sacrist's steps going away up the nave, and he stood so, looking back over his left shoulder. I must erase him, he thought. I was deceived. He drops nothing but pebbles out of that noble head of his.
He looked down at the bishop's letter. It's like a pair of scales in the market, he thought. Joy carries me up in one pan, and Anselm sinks in the other. There is the Nail and my angel. There is the chancellor and the master builder and his wife.
Suddenly he understood how the wings of his joy were clipped close, and anger heated him again. Let them fall and vanish, so the work goes on! And as he passed under the west window, the letter clutched in one hand to his chest, he was muttering fiercely over his lifted chin.
"Now I must change my confessor!"
That night, when he knelt by his bed to pray before sleeping, his angel returned and stood at Ins back in a cloud of warmth, to comfort him a little.
. . . . .
That way, Christmas passed. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad before the face of the Lord; because he cometh.
And it was supposed that he came; but the clouds still hung over the battlement; and if the drizzle ceased for a time, men looked up, feeling their cheek, and thinking that something was wrong. Once, when the rain had stopped, but the cavern of the nave was particularly noisome, Jocelin stopped by the model, to encourage himself. He detached the spire with difficulty, because the wood was swollen, and held the thing devoutly, like a relic. He caressed it gently, cradling it in his arms, and looking at it all over, as a mother might examine her baby. It was eighteen inches long, squared for half its length and with tall windows, then bursting into a grove of delicate pinnacles, from among which the great spire rose, undecorated and slender with a tiny cross at the top. The cross was smaller than the one he wore hanging from his neck. He stood by the north west pillar, still cradling the spire, and telling himself that surely by now the floods must begin to sink. For there had been no rain for a week, though March was proving not windy, but dull. Even so, it was possible to believe that somewhere a soaked sun was struggling to reach the pocked mud of the fields. He stroked the spire, and heard Jehan talking himself out of the gap in the north transept. He shut his eyes, and thought to himself; we have endured! Let this be the turn of things! And it seemed to him behind his shut eyes as if he might feel the dry days gathering momentum, moving towards the light. He heard the maul sounds from the roof, and all at once he was excited by the thing in his arms; and the remembered lines drawing together in the air over the cathedral caught him with excitement by the throat. He felt life. He lifted his chin, opened his eyes and his mouth and was about to give thanks.
Then he stood still, saying nothing.
Goody Pangall had come out of Pangall's kingdom. She had come briskly for three steps. She stopped, and went back a step. She came forward more slowly towards the crossways but she was not looking at it. She was looking sideways. One hand gripped the cloak by her throat, and the other rose, bringing the basket with it. She was looking sideways as if she were sidling past a bull or a stallion. Her feet took her outside the scope of the tether, shoulder almost scraping the wall; only they were feet without much will to go forward. Her eyes were two black patches in her winter pallor, her lower lip had dropped open, and she would have looked foolish if anything so sweet could ever look foolish, and if it had not been for the open terror in her face. Drawn by the terror, Jocelin looked where she was looking; and now time moved in jerks, or was no time at all. Therefore it was not surprising that he found himself knowing what she was looking at, even before he saw the master builder.
Roger Mason had one foot on the bottom rung of the bottom ladder of the scaffolding round the south east pillar. He had come down from it, looking at Goody. He was turning. He was walking across the pavement, and she was creeping more and more slowly by the wall. She was shrinking too, shrinking and looking up sideways. He had her pinned there, he was looking down and talking earnestly, and she was still staring, her mouth open, and shaking her head.
A strange certainty fell on Jocelin. He knew things, he saw things. He saw this was one encounter of many. He saw pain and sorrow. He saw and it was in some mode like that of prayer that he saw it how the air round them was different. He saw they were in some sort of tent that shut them off from all other people, and he saw how they feared the tent both of them, but were helpless. Now they were talking earnestly and quietly; and though Goody shook her head again and again, yet she did not go, could not go, it seemed, since the invisible tent was shut round them. She held the basket in her hands, she was dressed for a visit to the market, she had no business to be talking to any man, let alone the master builder; she need do no more than shake her head, if that; she could easily ignore the man sturdy in his leather hose, brown tunic and blue hood, no there was no need even to pause; only need to pass by with head averted, for his hand was not on her. But she stood looking up at him sideways while her black, unblinking eyes and her lips, said no. Then suddenly she did indeed break away as if she would break physically something in the air: but uselessly for the invisible tent that made a pair of them expanded and kept ahead other. She was still inside, would always be inside, even as she was inside now, hurrying away down the south aisle, her cheek no longer white, but red. Roger Mason stood looking after her down the south aisle as though nothing and no one in the whole world mattered, as though he could not help her mattering and was tormented by her mattering. He turned away, his back to Jocelin, as the north west door clashed behind Goody, he went to the ladder like a man sleepwalking.
Then an anger rose out of some pit inside Jocelin. He had glimpses in his head of a face that drooped daily for his blessing, heard the secure sound other singing in Pangall's Kingdom. He lifted his chin, and the word burst out over it from an obscure place of indignation and hurt.
All at once it seemed to him that the renewing life of the world was a filthy thing, a rising tide of muck so that he gasped for air, saw the gap in the north transept and hurried through it into what daylight there was. Immediately he heard the distant jeering of men, workmen; and at that temperature of feeling, understood what an alehouse joke it must seem to see the dean himself come hurrying out of a hole with his folly held in both hands. He turned again and rushed back into the crossways. But a little procession was coming up the north aisle; and there was Rachel Mason among them, carrying a dear bundle; so he spoke, giving her mechanically a congratulation and a blessing until the constable's lady snatched the baby away and swelled on towards the lady chapel and the christening. This left him with Rachel who was somehow compelled to stay behind; and though his eyes were blinded by the vision of Roger and Goody Pangall, he began to hear why. Nor could he believe how any woman, even an outraged one (her eyes bulging, tresses of black hair escaped across her cheek) would ever talk so. What paralyzed him was not her spate, but the matter of it. Rachel, face shaken like a windowpane in a gale, was explaining to him why she had no child though she had prayed for one. When she and Roger went together, at the most inappropriate moment she began to laugh had to laugh it wasn't that she was barren as some people might think and indeed had said, my Lord, no indeed! But she had to laugh and then he had to laugh
He stood in sheer disbelief and confusion, until she took herself away into the north ambulatory to catch up with the christening. He stood at the foot of the scaffolding, and part of the nature of woman burned into him; how they would speak delicately, if too much, nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine times; but on the ten thousandth they would come out with a fact of such gross impropriety, such violated privacy, it was as if the furious womb had acquired a tongue. And of all women in the world, only she, impossible, unbelievable, but existent Rachel would do it no, he forced to do it by some urgency of her spatelike nature, to the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. She stripped the business of living down to where horror and farce took over; particolored Zany in red and yellow, striking out in the torture chamber with his pig's bladder on a stick.
He spoke viciously to the model in his hands.
"The impervious insolence of the woman!"
Then Zany struck him in the groin with the pig's bladder so that he jerked out a laugh that ended in a shudder.
He cried out loud.
. . . . .
Then the thought leapt into his mind like a live thing. It was put there, as surely as the thrust of a spear. One moment his eyes were shut, his heart melted and adrift with sorrow. The next, and his mind was empty of all feeling, empty of everything but the thought which existed now as if it had been there since the creation. There was no feeling in his mind, nothing but the thought, and so the pressures of the body were once more notable. There was a weight on his chest over the heart, pains in his two arms, and a pain in his right cheek. He opened his eyes, and found that he had the spire gripped to him, and his right cheek was ground against a sharp edge near the point. The tiles of the floor were before him once more, each with two heraldic beasts, their clawed feet raised to strike, their snakey necks entwined. Somewhere, either over these tiles, or perhaps where the angel had been, or in the infinite dimensions of his head, there was a scene like a painting. It was Roger Mason, half-turned from the ladder, drawn by invisible ropes towards the woman crouched by the wall. It was Goody, half-turned, unblinking; feeling the ropes pull, shaking her head, Goody terrified and athirst. Goody and Roger, both in the tent that would expand with them wherever they might go. And so distinct that it might have been written across the painting, there was the thought. It was so terrible that it went beyond feeling, and left him inspecting it with a kind of stark detachment, while the edge of the spire burned into his cheek. It was so terrible, and so allaying to all other feeling, that he had to give it words as his eyes examined the linked creatures on the floor before him.
"She will keep him here."
Then he got to his feet without looking at the light, and went slowly towards the crossways through a kind of crashing silence. He came to the trestle, where the model lay on its back, and jammed the spire into the square hole. He went away down the nave, and across to the deanery, his own place. Sometimes he examined his hands curiously, and nodded gravely. It was not till late that night that any feeling came back; and when it did, he flung himself on Ills knees again, and water ran out of his eyes. Then at last his angel came and warmed him so that he was somewhat comforted and the picture and the thought endurable. The angel stayed with him and lie said before he fell asleep; I need you! Before today I didn't really know why. Forgive me!
And the angel warmed him.
But as if to keep him humble, Satan was permitted to torment him during the night by a meaningless and hopeless dream. It seemed to Jocelin that he lay on his back in his bed; and then he was lying on his back in the marshes, crucified, and his arms were the transepts with Pangall's kingdom nestled by his left side. People came to jeer and torment him, there was Rachel, there was Roger, there was Pangall, and they knew the church had no spire nor could have any. Only Satan himself, rising out of the west, clad in nothing but blazing hair stood over his nave and worked at the building, tormenting him so that he writhed on the marsh in the warm water, and cried out aloud. He woke in the darkness, full of loathing. So he took a discipline and lashed himself hard, seven times, hard across the back in his pride of the angel, one time for each devil. After that, he slept a dreamless sleep.
. . . . .
Then it was June, and Jocelin came into the church with an aching head. The night before, contact with his angel had been particularly long and rewarding, and he thought at first timidly, then proudly, then timidly again in an infinite regression that exhausted his wits, that this might be because he had done well in forcing the tower up against all opposition, to the height of one window. Afterwards he realized that the angel had come to warn him; for the devil was allowed to assail him in a particularly loathsome way, so that to his waking mind in the morning, the last hour of sleep was vile with tempestuous visions. He came early as he could, to pray. It was daylight, so that he expected to find the army working. Yet the dusty barn was silent and deserted. When he got to the dry hole at the crossways and squinted up with a flash of fire through his head and an extra ache, he saw that all nests were bare of birds in the chimney, ropes swinging slowly in some draught, nothing else moving but a pink cloud which inched across the opening at the top till it closed the square with a glowing cover. He brought his eyes back down, and some wordless anxiety sent him hurrying to Pangall's Kingdom; but the cottage was silent, and the glasscutter's bench deserted. He came back to the church, hurried across the echoing crossways into the north transept, so that he could peer through the gap in the wall, to see if there were workmen about in the Close; and then he saw where the army was. They filled the shed where the beams had lain seasoning all winter. At the entrance were the women, silent and still. Further in, were men who stood on the beams that had not yet been shifted. Farthest in of all, was Roger Mason, his head and shoulders dark against the opened end of the shed. He was speaking, but not loudly enough to reach Jocelin; and besides, there was noise, and movement from the whole crowd of men.
As he peered round the rough edge of the hole in the wall, Jocelin nodded wisely and ruefully to himself, through the flashes of pain in his head.
"They want another penny a day."
So he went away into the Lady Chapel, where the east windows were coming to life, and he prayed for the army. As if his prayer had called them, he heard them, even before he was properly centered down, coming into the crossways with their noise and work. He turned to the business of the devil, with a twitch of disgust, and mourned the unruly member. But the noises from the crossways, and his own memories, were a hard tiling to put aside. He found himself instead, kneeling, his chin on his wrist, looking at nothing, and thinking about things instead of praying about them. There's a crisis, he thought, and I must be strong for it.
Then he was jerked up out of himself. The dumb man stood by him, with no leather apron and no shaped stone in his hands, but humming with his empty mouth. He even laid a hand on Jocelin to pull him; and ran away again, into a commotion at the crossways.
I must go to them, thought Jocelin, as he watched the dumb man vanish through the flashes in his head.
He spoke aloud.
"I eat too little, and the Lenten Fasts exhausted me. Who am I that I should dare to mortify flesh necessary to the work?"
He heard shouting from the crossways, and the urgency of it got him on his feet. He hurried down the ambulatory and stood, blinking in the light of the crossways. The sunlight made haloes where his eyes looked out of his aching head, but he frowned at them with a fierce effort of will and they subsided. He could not tell at first what the trouble was, because Rachel came circling and babbling and it cost him some more will to shut her out. All the men of the army were in the crossways, the whole crowd of them. The women, except Rachel, were grouped in the north transept. Yet in the first few seconds of his entry he saw how more people joined those already there, whispered a little, then were still and tense as the others. It was as if all the players were present at an interlude, standing still, and waiting for the drum to sound. There was Goody Pangall, Pangall with his broom, Jehan, the dumb man, Roger Mason; it was as if they were clockfigures, frozen in attitudes of mechanical activity and waiting for the hour to strike. They were an irregular circle, and the center of this circle was the open pit. On tills side and sick and fretful as Jocelin was, he recognized the cleverness of it a sheet of metal had been set up on a trestle so that the sun was trapped and hurled straight down the pit. Jehan and the master builder crouched on the other side, looking down.
Jocelin went quickly to the pit, with Rachel clacking by him; but as he readied it, the master builder lifted his head.
"Everybody get further off go on! Right into the transepts!"
Jocelin opened his mouth to speak; but Roger whispered fiercely at Rachel.
"You get out of the light! Right out of the church!"
Rachel went. Roger Mason put his head to the edge of the hole again. Jocelin knelt by him.
"What is it, my son? Tell me!"
Roger Mason went on staring down the hole.
"Look at the bottom. Keep still, and watch."
Jocelin leaned forward on his hands, and a weight of hot water seemed to run from his neck into the back of his head, so that he had trouble in not crying out. He shut his eyes tightly and waited for the flashes of sickness and pain to go out of them. By him, he heard Roger whisper.
"Look right at the bottom."
He opened his eyes again, and the reflected sunlight in the pit was easy to them. It was peaceful, secluded. He could see the different kinds of soil all the way down. First there was stone, six inches of it, the slabs on which they knelt; then, as it were hanging from this lip, the sides became fragmented stone held together with accretions of lime. Beneath that again was a foot or two of furry things that might be the crushed and frayed ends of brushwood. Beneath that was dark earth, stuck everywhere with pebbles; and the bottom was a darker patch, with more pebbles. There seemed little enough to look at, but the quiet light from the metal sheet was restful; and no one made any noise.
Then, as Jocelin looked, he saw a pebble drop with two clods of earth; and immediately a patch perhaps a yard square fell out of the side below him and struck the bottom with a soft thud. The pebbles that fell with it lay shining dully in the reflected light, and settled themselves in their new bed. But as he watched them and waited for them to settle, the hair rose on the nape of Ins neck; for they never settled completely. He saw one stir, as with a sudden restlessness; and then he saw that they were all moving more or less, with a slow stirring, like the stirring of grubs. the earth was moving under the grubs, urging them this way and that, like porridge coming to the boil in a pot; and the grubs were made to crawl by it, as dust will crawl on the head of a tapped drum.
Jocelin jerked out his hand and made a defensive sign at the bottom of the pit. He glanced at Roger Mason, who was staring at the grubs, lips tight round his teeth, a yellow pallor shining through his skin which was not all reflection.
"What is it, Roger? What is it?"
Some form of life; that which ought not to be seen or touched, the darkness under the earth, turning, seething, coming to the boil.
"What is it? Tell me!"
But the master builder still strained down, eyes wide open.
Doomsday coming up; or the roof of hell down there. Perhaps the damned stirring, or the noseless men turning over and thrusting up; or the living, pagan earth, unbound at last and waking, Dia Mater. Jocelin found one hand coming up to his mouth; and all at once he was racked with spasms, and making the same sign over and over again.
There came a sharp scream from by the south west pillar. Goody Pangall stood there, her basket still rolling at her feet. From below the steps that led up to the wooden screen cutting on" the choir, there came an imperious smack; and flicking or flinching that way, Jocelin saw bits of stone skittering out like pieces of smashed ice on the ice of a pond. One triangular piece the size of his palm slid to the edge of the pit and dropped in. And with the piece of stone, came something else; the high ringing of unbearable, unbelievable tension. It came from nowhere in particular, could not be placed, but sounded equally at the center of things and at the periphery; it was needles in either ear. Another stone smacked down so that a leaping fragment clanged on the metal sheet.
All at once there was a tumult of human noises, shouts and curses and screams. There was movement too, which as it began, became at once violent and uncontrolled. There were many ways out of the crossways and no two people seemed to have the same idea about how to go. As he got to his feet and backed hastily away from the pit, Jocelin saw hands and faces, feet, hair, cloth and leather saw them momentarily without taking them in. The metal screen went down with a crash. He was jerked against a pillar and a mouth but whose mouth? screamed near him.
"The earth's creeping!"
He put his hands to fend off and somewhere the master builder was shouting.
And marvelously all the noise died away so there was nothing left but the high, mad ringing of tension. As it died, the master builder shouted again.
"Still! "Still!" I said! Get stone, any stone fill the pit!"
Then the noises broke out once more, but this time in a kind of chant.
"Fill the pit! Fill the pit! Fill the pit!"
Jocelin crouched against the pillar as the crowd swirled and shredded away. Now I know what I must do, he thought, this is what I am for. So as the edge of the crowd came back two hands bore a head of Dean Jocelin and hurled it into the pit he crept past the pillar and into the ambulatory. He went, not into the Lady Chapel, but into the choir, and knelt in a stall as nearly under the key of the arch as he could get. The singing of the stones pierced him, and he fought it with jaws and fists clenched. His will began to burn fiercely and he thrust it into the four pillars, tamped it in with the pain of his neck and his head and his back, welcomed in some obscurity of feeling the wheels and flashes of light, and let them hurt his open eyes as much as they would. His fists were before him on the stall but he never noticed them. He felt confusedly and mutinously; It is a kind of prayer! So he knelt, stiff, painful and enduring; and all the time, the singing of the stones operated on the inside of his head. At last, when he understood nothing else at all, he knew that the whole weight of the building was resting on his back. He passed, in this frozen attitude, through a point of no time and no sight. It was only when he was puzzled by the two shapes in front of him, that he realized he had come back from somewhere; and looking round the flashes of light but now they were glossier and swam rather than jerked he saw the shapes were his two fists, still ground into the wood where he had put them. Then he knew something was missing, and his mouth strained open in sudden fright, till he realized that the stones were no longer singing; and this was perhaps because they had done whatever work it was they had come to do in his head. So he looked past his fists; and there was Roger Mason, standing, smiling a little, and waiting.
Suddenly Jocelin was back in the world; but not entirely. Too much had altered, too much been rearranged. He moistened his lips, allowed his fists to unclench; yet there was that within him which he could not unclench.
"Well, Roger, my son?"
Roger Mason smiled even more broadly.
"I've been watching you, and waiting."
(And can you see how my will burns, Bullet Head? I fought him, and he didn't win.)
"I'm always here for you when you need me."
The master builder put his hands to the back of his head and moved it sideways as if he were freeing it from something. That's what it is, thought Jocelin. It's freed him. He thinks it's freed him. He can't see. He doesn't know. For the moment there's a kind of ease in him.
The master builder let his hands down and nodded thoughtfully, as if he conceded a point.
"Right, Father. I've never denied your interest even your enthusiasm. You couldn't know of course. But things have settled themselves, haven't they? And I'm glad, in a way. No. Not in a way; in every way. Things have come to a point."
Roger Mason laughed easily, in the dim choir, like a man at peace.
"It stands to reason. Now we must stop building."
Jocelin smiled with his lips. He saw Roger from a long way off, and small. Now, he thought. We shall see.
"Explain yourself then."
The master builder examined the palms of his hands, knocked dust off them.
"You know as well as I do, Reverend Father. We've gone as high as we can."
He grinned at Jocelin.
"After all, you have one light completed, one window. You can have a pinnacle at each corner, and four heads of Dean Jocelin we shall have to cut them again, by the way one above each window. We'll lead in a roof and you can put a weathercock in the middle. Do more; and the earth'll creep again. You were right, you see. It's incredible even for that generation; but there aren't any foundations. None at all worth having. Just mud."
Careful of the weight on his back and the suggestion of his angel's return, Jocelin sat upright in his stall and folded his hands in Ills lap
"What would satisfy you, Roger? I mean, by the rules of your art, how could you make the spire safe?"
"I couldn't. Or put it this way, there's nothing I can do. If you had all the time and money in the world, let alone the art and skill well then; we could take down the cathedral stone by stone. We could dig a pit a hundred yards each way, and say, forty feet deep. Then we could fill it with rubble. But the water would get there first of course. How many men with how many buckets? And imagine the nave, standing all that time on the lip of a cliff of mud! You see, Father?"
Jocelin looked away for a moment at the altar through the fire of his head. This is what it is, he thought, this is what it is to offer oneself and have the offer accepted.
"You're a man for a very little dare."
"I dare as much as most."
"That's still very little. Where's your faith?"
"Faith or no faith, Father, we've come to the end. That's all there is to it."
And this is how a will feels when it is linked to a Will without limit or end.
"There's building work to be had at last, Roger. Malmesbury, isn't it?"
The master builder looked at him expressionlessly.
"If you say so."
"I know so and so do you. You'd find safe wintering there, and work for your army, you think."
"Men must live."
There was a sudden burst of noise from the crossways that fanned some feeling into irritation. Jocelin shut his eyes against it and spoke angrily.
"What was that?"
"It's my men. They're waiting."
"For our decision."
"The earth made it for us!"
The master builder's deep breathing came close to the shut eyes.
"Finish now, Father, while there's still time."
"While there's other work for the army."
Now the master builder's voice was angry too.
"All right then. Have it your own way if you like!"
He felt the breathing go away, and put out his hand quickly.
"Wait a moment. Wait!"
He put his clasped hands on the desk and bowed his forehead gently on them. He thought to himself; presently my whole body will be on fire, my pulse a blinding one. But this is what I am for.
"Roger? Are you there?"
"I'll tell you a thing. What's closer than brother and brother, mother and child? What's closer than hand and mouth, closer than the thought to the mind? It's vision, Roger. I don't expect you to understand that "
"But of course I understand!"
Jocelin lifted his face and smiled suddenly.
"You do, do you?"
"But there comes a point when vision's no more than a child's playing let's pretend."
He shook his head, slowly and carefully; and the lights swam.
"Then you don't understand at all. Not at all."
Roger Mason moved over the smooth tiles and stood looking down.
"Reverend Father. I admire you. But the solid earth argues against us."
"Closer than the solid earth to the foot."
Roger put a hand on either hip, as if he had made up his mind. His voice was louder.
"Listen. You can say what you like. I've made the decision for us."
"You're breaking it to me, then."
"I understand in a way what it means to you. That's why I'm prepared to explain. There are other things, you see. They trapped me."
"I might have been caught but now the building's impossible, I can go away, go right away, forget, however much it costs me."
"Break the web."
"It's only gossamer, after all. Who ever would have thought it!"
Carefully, his eye on the open trap, Jocelin nodded at the animal.
"And there's another thing. What's his priesthood to a priest? There's a thing you have a right to know about, Father. You could call it Builder's Honor."
"With more work for the army at Malmesbury."
"I'm trying to tell you!"
"So you can keep this honor and the army too. Things aren't as easy as that. They cost more than that, Roger."
"Well then. Forgive me."
Goody Pangall and Rachel began to circle through the fire in his head. All the faces of the Chapter I had a vision. I would protect her if I could protect all of them. But we are each responsible for our own salvation.
"There's no one but you who can build it. That's what they said. Notable Roger Mason."
"There's no one at all."
And from the crossways; a shout of anger, then laughter.
"Who knows, Roger? Perhaps a braver man "
"You're asking me to release you from a sealed contract. I can't do it."
Roger's words were a mumble.
"All right then. Whatever happens, I've decided."
Escape from the web, from cowardice and little dares.
"Take time, my son."
He heard more shouting from the crossways, and the master builder's feet begin to move away over the tiles. Once more he held out his hand.
He heard the man stop and turn. Where have I come to, he thought dizzily. What am I about to do? But what else can I do?
Jocelin answered him fretfully, hands over his eyes.
"Wait a moment. Wait!"
It was not that he needed time; for the decision had made itself. He felt behind his eyes a kind of sick apprehension, not because the spire was in danger; but because the spire was not in danger never more strongly ordained and planted, more inevitably to be built. And therefore he knew what he must do.
He began to tremble from head to foot, as the stones must have trembled when they began to sing. Then, like the singing, the trembling passed away, left him still and cold.
"I wrote to Malmesbury, Roger. To the abbot. I knew what was in his mind. I let it be known how long we shall need you here. He will look elsewhere."
He heard quick steps towards him in the choir.
He lifted his head and opened his eyes carefully. There was not much light left in the choir, and now, what there was, seemed all run into dazzles and haloes that lay round every object. They lay round the master builder, who clutched with both hands the edge of the desk. His hands had clamped on it and moved as if they would twist it apart. Jocelin blinked at the haloes and spoke quietly, because he did not like the echo of the words in his head.
"My son. When such a work is ordained, it is put into the mind of a, of a man. That's a terrible thing. I'm only learning now, how terrible it is. It's a refiner's fire. The man knows a little perhaps of the purpose, but nothing of the cost why can't they keep quiet out there? Why don't they stand quietly and wait? No. You and I were chosen to do this thing together. It's a great glory. I see now it'll destroy us of course. What are we, after all? Only I tell you this, Roger, with the whole strength of my soul. The thing can be built and will be built, in the very teeth of Satan. You'll build it because nobody else can. They laugh at me, I think; and they'll probably laugh at you. Let them laugh. It's for them, and their children. But only you and I, my son, my friend, when we've done tormenting ourselves and each other, will know what stones and beams and lead and mortar went into it. Do you understand?"
The master builder was staring down at him. He no longer wrestled with the wood but held on as if it were a plank in a whirling sea.
"Father, Father for the love of God, let me go!"
I do what I must do. He will never be the same again, not with me. He will never be the same man again. I've won, he's mine, my prisoner for this duty. At any moment now the lock will shut on him.
"Make me go!"
Silence, long silence.
The master builder let go of the wood, backed slowly away through the haloes and the turbulent noises beyond the screen. His voice was hoarse.
"You just don't know what'll come out of our going on!"
Backing away, eyes wide; pause in the door of the choir.
"You just don't know!"
Silence from the crossways. He thought to himself: it's not the stones singing. It's inside my head. But then the silence was slashed by a fierce yell, and he heard Roger Mason shouting. I must go, he thought, I must go, but not to him. I must go to my bed. If I can get there.
He laid hold of the stall and pulled himself upright. He thought; it's his business not mine. Let him settle it, my slave for the work. Carefully he went across the choir and into the ambulatory. At the steps he paused and lay back against stone, his head back, eves shut, trying to gather strength. I must pass among them, lie thought, for all their shouting; and he tottered down the steps.
He was struck by a gust of laughter; but not for him. The noises were as confused as the lights that swirled in his head. The place was a mass of brown tunics, leather jerkins, blue tunics, clothbound legs, wallets of leather, beards and teeth. The mass moved am! swirled and its noise denied the holy air. He glimpsed the hole that still gaped in the pavement; and saw between the legs that it was not entirely plugged yet. He knew this was some nightmare; since things happened and stuck in the eye as if seen by flashes of lightening. He saw men who tormented Pangall, having him at the broom's end. In an apocalyptic glimpse of seeing, he caught how a man danced forward to Pangall, the model of the spire projecting obscenely from between his legs then the swirl and the noise and the animal bodies hurled Jocelin against stone, so that he could not see, but only heard how Pangall broke He heard the long wolfhowl of the man's flight down the south aisle, heard the rising, the hunting noise of the pack that raced after him. He understood, the breath almost out of his body, how the dumb man knelt over him, with a weight of brown bodies falling, turning, pressing down on his back. And as he lay, waiting for the shuddering arms to spring apart and the weight to crush them both, he knew that something else he had seen was printed on his eye for ever. Whenever there should be darkness and no thought, the picture would come back. It had been it was it would always be Goody Pangall on the surround of the south west pillar where the tide of the army had washed her. Her hair had come out into the light. It hung down; on this side splayed over her breast in a tattered cloud of red; on that, in a tangled plait which doubled on itself, and draggled with green ribbon half-undone. Her hands clutched the pillar behind her, hiphigh, and her belly shone about the slit of navel through the handtorn gap in her dress. Her head was turned this way, and always, till the end of time, he would know what she was looking at. From the moment of the tent there could be nothing else for her to look at nowhere else she could turn that white, contracted mouth, but towards Roger on this side of the pit, his arms spread from his side in anguish and appeal, in acknowledgement of consent and defeat.
Then the dumb man's arms leapt apart.
. . . . .
Day by day getting a little strength, he watched the summer prolong itself as if in recompense for the storms and floods of spring. The leaves turned at last, and lay tinder dry. The coarse grass round the cathedral broke under his feet; was brown and brittle as the leaves left in a besom; and now the gargoyles, taking part in some infinite complexity of punishment, gaped as though they sought water in the dry air. There was no point of rest for them. They were in hell, could expect no less, that was all there was to it. In this dry air, his will, his blazing will, was shut down to a steady glow, that illuminated and supported the new building and nothing else. So the young man chipped and the builders climbed, Rachel circled round Roger; and Goody Pangall was to be glimpsed far off at the end of an aisle, wimpled head down, a woman about her work, the red hair hidden. If she seemed about to come near, she circled him quickly, looking away and hurrying on, head down as if he were an unlucky comer, or a ghost, or the grave of a suicide. But he knew that she was only ashamed with the shame of a deserted woman; and her shame squeezed his heart. But my will has other business than to help, he thought. I have so much will, it puts all other business by. I am like a flower that is bearing fruit. There is a preoccupation about the flower as the fruit swells and the petals wither; a preoccupation about the whole plant, leaves dropping, everything dying but the swelling fruit. That's how it must be. My will is in the pillars and the high wall. I offered myself; and I am learning.
Sometimes he would find Rachel circling in the crossways, talking to anyone who passed, then pausing to peer up at her bear climbing in the tower; voluble Rachel who would abandon everything else at sight of the Dean, to come to him. Then one day he found her easy to deal with. He ignored her completely, detaching himself from the sound of her at his elbow. When she circled to get in front of him and question him, he did not hear her question but only felt it as an interrogation mark left in the air. He stood there, looking down at her. He noticed that she seemed older, and strained, but the change did not interest him much. Even when he saw how she had taken to painting her face, he felt nothing but a distaste that emerged as a twitch of his body, concealing the high giggle. After that, he decided he was bored with looking at her, and he looked through her instead without saying anything, so he never saw the astonishment under the red paint.
As the days passed he found this indifference very useful. It enabled him to treat the chancellor with courtesy when he came to the deanery, without allowing himself to notice what he came for. In some cases the precentor was one this useful technique led to a look which he decided afterwards was downright consternation. Then in the foggy days of Autumn, when a vast tarpaulin shut out the sky at the growing point of the tower, he discovered he could always stop these people at any moment he wanted to. He would merely say and this was after Father Anonymous pointed out that he never read any correspondence unless it was connected with the spire would say: "I must get back to the building."
Despite the tarpaulin, the fog got into the church; but still it could not interfere with his will. Nor did it interfere with the young man who still chiseled and scraped. Surely, thought Jocelin, as he examined the second of the four heads that had filled the pit, surely they are leaner than they should be? And isn't the mouth too wide open? Can eyes ever be as wide as that? But he said nothing of all this; for he loved his son in God as he loved his daughter in God; and the young man had not only preserved his life, and therefore the will that held up the pillars, but looked at him frankly, like a good dog, which Goody, if she was caught near enough, never did.
So she irked him, and her red hair irked him, and he felt nothing about her but compassion for her shame, and a strange disquiet. By the beginning of December the four heads were finished and vanished up the chimney with the young man, to where the four upper lights were waiting for them. On the morning when he watched them go up, Rachel was circling again, chattering. Since he was free for the time being of the young man, the thought of Goody came on him with full force, in Pangall's desertion. Why have I neglected her? She needs me! And as if the thought other had created her for him, there she was, hurrying up the north aisle, looking up and now swerving aside, going on past the crossways into the ambulatory, faster, faster.
"My child "
He thought; I must do it for her sake, though it interrupts my concentration. And he went quickly to the south exit of the ambulatory; and there she came, hurrying again, and now ducking aside.
Laughing but half vexed, he moved across, arms spread, so that she could not pass. She stood under the wall, sideways and shrinking. Her hair was decently hidden, her face turned away so that he could see little but the long hollow of one cheek.
"My child, I have been meaning "
Meaning what? What have I to tell her? What am I to ask her?
But she was speaking up to him, pleading.
"Let me go, Father. Please let me go!"
"He'll come back."
"And meanwhile all these years My child, you are very dear to me."
With a sudden shock, he saw how white her lips were, white and drawn in against her teeth. He could see too, how wide and staring, wide, dark eyes could be, as if the eyelids had been drawn back, like the lips. The basket jerked up against her breast, and he could only just hear what she whispered.
"Not you too!"
Then she was gone, gasping and sobbing, and slipping past him, to race down the dark ambulatory, so that her heavy cloak flapped in the air, and beneath her skirt he glimpsed her ankles and feet.
He put his hands on either side of his head and spoke angrily out of the depths of his confusion and incomprehension.
"What's all this?"
Then he shook himself, for he felt her cling, and this was bad for the work. I must put aside all small things, he thought. If they are part of the cost, why so be it. And if I cannot help, what is the point of all this brooding? I have too great a work on hand. Work! Work!
He had a thought so brilliant he knew it had been put into his mind. It was an illumination. I must climb away from all this confusion t And with the thought came the high, fretful laugh again. I shall take this burning will of mine up the tower. He looked down at his gown and saw that it was not designed for climbing; but he bent and pulled the back hem through his legs and twisted it up into his girdle. A workman coming down, stood aside on the first staging and knuckled his forehead. Suddenly everything was easier in Jocelin's head. There was sunlight at last, flashing round him. He climbed again and again; came to the dark and unwalled platform of the triforium and ducked into a stairway lighted by nothing but arrow slits, as though the building might have to be defended by archers. He came out of the stair and the new beams above the vaulting lay before him. He climbed again, up wide ladders by the flash and glitter of the lower tower windows.
"Of course," he cried, "Of course!"
He felt his heart hitting his ribs and he rested a while to slow it and get his breath. He perched on the edge of a staging like a raven on the edge of a cliff. The men climbing up and down, looked at him curiously but said nothing. He hutched to the very edge and let his legs hang over. He clutched an upright with both hands, leaned round it and looked down.
The shafts, wall and windows of the tower drew together below him, and seemed everywhere only just thick enough to bear their own weight. Everything was clean and new. The eighty foot lights of the windows, two in each of the four sides, the platforms and uprights, the ladders and newly adzed beams, were clear with present light. He felt the same appalled delight as a small boy feels when first he climbs too high in a forbidden tree. He felt his head swim, and encouraged his own dizziness and caught breath by squinting straight down down, down, hole after hole depth after depth to the distant world of the crossways. The pavement was as dim as the bottom of the pit had been, discolored by depth and the dullness of ground level. Then the dizziness passed to leave thought and delight behind it.
. . . . .
It was at this time that Jocelin discovered something else about the master builder. He had watched him anxiously, assessing him as a tool for building, had counted his steps on the ladders, had waited for the moment when he would need to be resharpened or have the wedge driven more firmly into his haft; but he had come out of all that examination with no more than a knowledge of how Roger Mason looked, and moved. Then one day, looking down at the hole over the pavement, he watched him coming up the tower; and understood to his astonishment that the master builder feared heights as much as Rachel did. He feared them but he endured them. He lived with them, they were part of his craft; but he never enjoyed them as Jocelin did, never seemed to know the breathcatching exultation of a quivering plank up here, where you could no longer hear the stones singing, a quivering, bouncing plank over a sheer drop. So in his new knowledge, Jocelin watched him compassionately as he came up; saw him climb methodically, slowly, never casual as some of the workmen were, saw him looking always at the nearest thing to hand; saw the shaft to the dim pavement beyond the hole, understood why he trod for preference an inch or two nearer the wall than the center of the ladder. There was a little rain blowing, which clung to Jocelin's hair, but he stood freely at the top in the push of the wind and waited for Roger who was reduced to head and shoulders with the net visibly round him.
"Why are you afraid, my son?"
The master builder stood before him, breathing deeply. He grasped the parapet with an arm.
"They're singing again."
"What of it? They've sung and stopped before."
He looked up into the thin rain.
"Do you know, Roger, I've been thinking. That cross up there the cross that will be up there."
"I know it."
"Won't it be taller than a man? Yet on the model it's the sort of trinket a child might wear round his neck."
The master builder shut his eyes and gritted his teeth. He groaned.
"What is it, Roger? What do you want to tell me?"
The master builder looked at him against the sky and spoke huskily.
"Reverend Father "
"This is enough."
Jocelin continued to smile; but his smile stiffened. The master builder flung out his free hand.
"They are overcome by the splendor of what we of what you "
He turned away, leaned both elbows on the parapet, put his face between his hands so that his voice was muffled.
"I said, have mercy."
"There's no one but you."
Then the master builder was silent for a while, face in hands. He spoke at last without lifting it.
"I'll try to tell you about my mystery. The stones are singing. I don't know why, but I can guess. That's the trouble, you see. I always guess. When you come down to it, I know nothing. Or not as you "
He looked up sideways at Jocelin.
"Or not as you know when you speak to a congregation. You see?"
"I see well enough."
"I tell you, we guess. We judge that this or that is strong enough; but we can never tell until the full strain comes on it whether we were right or wrong. And then the wind, this wind that does nothing but stir the hair round your head "
He stared angrily at Jocelin.
"Have you a machine to measure the weight of the wind. Father? Give me that, and I'll tell you what will stand and what won't."
"But still the pillars aren't sinking. I told you."
"They've begun to sing."
"Have you never known a building sing before?"
"Never. We're surrounded by new things. We guess; and go on building."
He bent back his thick neck and stared into the sky.
"And now the spire; another hundred and fifty feet of it. Father this is enough!"
The will spoke calmly out of Jocelin's head. He heard it.
"I understand you, my son. It's the little dare all over again. Shall I tell you where we've come? Think of the mayfly that lives for no more than one day. That raven over there may have some knowledge of yesterday and the day before. The raven knows what the sunrise is like. Perhaps he knows there'll be another one. But the mayfly doesn't. There's never a mayfly who knows what it's like to be one! And that's where we've come! Oh no, Roger, I'm not going to preach you a sermon on the dreadful brevity of this life. You know, as well as I do, that it's an unendurable length, that none the less must be endured. But we've come to something different, because we were chosen, both of us. We're mayfly. We can't tell what it'll be like up there from foot to foot; but we must live from the morning to the evening every minute with a new thing."
Roger was watching him closely, tongue licking at his lips.
"No. I don't know what you mean. But I know how much the spire will weigh, and I don't know how strong it'll be. Look down. Father right over the parapet, all the way down, past the lights, the buttresses, all the way down to the cedar top in the cloister."
"I see it."
"Let your eye crawl down like an insect, foot by foot. You think these walls are strong because they're stone; but I know better. We've nothing but a skin of glass and stone stretched between four stone rods, one at each corner. D'you understand that? The stone is no stronger than the glass between the verticals because every inch of the way I have to save weight, bartering strength for weight or weight for strength, guessing how much, how far, how little, how near, until my very heart stops when I think of it. Look down, Father. Don't look at me look down! See how the columns at each comer are tacked together. I've clamped the stones together but still I can't make them stronger than stone. Stone snaps, crumbles, tears. Yet even now, when the pillars sing, perhaps this much may stand. I can give you a roof over it, and perhaps a weather vane that men will see for miles."
Jocelin was suddenly very still, very wary.
"Go on, my son."
"The sheer impossibility of the spire! You need to be thrust this high Father, to understand it, don't you see? It'll be a stone skin with stone members. Inside there'll be a series of those octagons, each a little smaller than the one below it. But the wind, Father! I should have to pin those octagons together, and hang them from the capstone so that they hold the skin down by their weight. Weight, weight, weight, weight! All added to this; all boring down on the columns, on the skin of the wall, down on the singing pillars "
Now his hand was on Jocelin's sleeve.
"And even that isn't the end of it. However I contrive, the spire won't thrust perpendicularly. It'll thrust at the tops of these four columns and it'll thrust out i I could put pinnacles on each to bear down should have to but there'd be a limit to the height I could make them, because of the weight. At what point should I have to give up the one for the other? Oh yes; we could put in the first octagon and the second and perhaps the third " his hand clenched on Jocelin's arm' but sooner or later there'd be a new noise in the building. Look down again, Father. Sooner or later there'd be a bang, a shudder, a roar. Those four columns would open apart like a flower, and everything else up here, stone, wood, iron, glass, men, would slide down into the church like the fall of a mountain."
He was silent again for a moment. Then his voice came, no more than a whisper.
"I tell you whatever else is uncertain in my mystery this is certain. I know. I've seen a building fall."
Jocelin's eyes were shut. Inside his head, a series of octagons, each made of oak beams a foot thick, had built themselves up and up. For a moment, as he stood with gritted teeth, he felt the solid stone under him move swinging sideways and out. The dunce's cap a hundred and fifty feet tall began to rip down and tear and burst, sliding with dust and smoke and thunder, faster and faster, breaking and sheering with spark and flame and explosion, crashing down to strike the nave so that the paving stones danced like wood chips till the ruin buried them. So clear was this that he fell with the south west column that swung out over the cloister bent in the middle like a leg and destroyed the library like the blow of a flail. He opened his eyes, sick with falling through the air. He was clutching the parapet and the cloisters were moving below him.
"What must we do?"
The answer came pat; and even before his sickness had sunk away and the cloisters steadied, some deep center of awareness understood how the master builder had led up to this answer.
"No, no, no, no."
He was muttering and understanding and shaking his head. He understood the plea refused, the final resource, building talk, a mystery not displayed down there on the solid earth, but pondered on, brought up the tower in privacy, used at last like a lever on a fulcrum of vertigo; all so contrived as to bring the will within a single moment of defeat.
At last the reply was assured. It was the reply of one blade to another, clash, slither, clash.
"Roger, I tell you the thing can be done."
The master builder flung away furiously, stood in the south west coner with his back to Jocelin. He faced the rain and looked at nothing.
What can I tell him? I talked about mayfly but ten minutes later and I can't remember what. Let the will talk to him.
"You tried to frighten me as you might frighten a child with a ghost story. You thought it out carefully, didn't you? And yet you know you can't go. Can't go. Can't get away. And all that time, your curious, valuable mind was finding a way round the impossible. You found it too, because that's what you're for. You don't know if it's the right answer but it's the best one you've got. But you're frightened. The best part of you would like to try, but the rest snivels and whimpers."
He stood next to the broad back and spoke into the rain and the nothingness.
"Now I'll tell you what no one else knows. They think I'm mad perhaps; but what does that matter? They'll know about it one day when I but you shall hear it now, as man to man, on this very stump of a tower, up here with no one else to listen. My son. The building is a diagram of prayer; and our spire will be a diagram of the highest prayer of all. God revealed it to me in a vision, his unprofitable servant. He chose me. He chooses you, to fill the diagram with glass and iron and stone, since the children of men require a thing to look at. D'you think you can escape? You're not in my net oh yes, Roger, I understand a number of things, how you are drawn, and twisted, and tormented but it isn't my net. It's His. We can neither of us avoid this work. And there's another thing. I've begun to see how we can't understand it either, since each new foot reveals a new effect, a new purpose. It's senseless, you think. It frightens us, and it's unreasonable. But then since when did God ask the chosen ones to be reasonable? They call this Jocelin's Folly, don't they?
"I've heard it called so."
"The net isn't mine, Roger, and the folly isn't mine. It's God's Folly. Even in the old days he never asked men to do what was reasonable. Men can do that for themselves. They can buy and sell, heal and govern. But then out of some deep place comes the command to do what makes no sense at all to build a ship on dry land; to sit among the dunghills; to marry a whore; to set their son on the altar of sacrifice. Then, if men have faith, a new thing comes."
He was silent for a while, in the prickling rain, looking at Roger Mason's back. It was my voice that spoke the words, he thought. No. Not my voice. Voice of the devouring Will, my master.
"You'll build it to the top. You think those are your own hands, but they aren't. You think it's your own mind that's been working, nagging at the problem, and now sits in secret pride of having solved it. But it isn't. Anymore than my mind speaks the words that are using my voice."
Then they were silent again; and he was aware of the third with them, the angel that stood in the cold and rain, warming him at his back.
At last the master builder spoke, toneless and resigned.
"Steel. Or perhaps steel. I can't tell. We can pass a great band of it round the whole tower up here and bind the stones together. I don't know. No one has ever used as much steel as that before. I still don't know. And it'll cost more money, much more."
"I'll find it."
He reached out, timidly almost, and touched the master builder's shoulder.
"Roger He isn't needlessly cruel, you know. Why, to those who need it because they're weak, perhaps, he even sends a comforter to stand at their back! He warms them in the rain and the wind. And you're necessary. Think how the chisel must feel, ground, forced against the hard wood, hour after hour! But then it's oiled and wrapped in rag and put away. A good workman never uses a tool for something it can't do; never ignores it; takes care of it."
He paused, thinking. I speak of myself, perhaps, as much as of him. It was joy once; but strangely, no longer joy. Only a longing for peace.
"And Roger when you have done and it stands here for all to see the net may break."
The master builder muttered.
"I don't know what you mean."
"But build quickly quickly! Before you consent to the major evil and the net never break "
The master builder swung round, head down and lowering.
"Keep your sermons to yourself!"
" because you have all become precious to me you and all the rest and I begin to live by you."
"What d'you mean?"
What did I mean, he thought. I meant something about Goody and Rachel I must speak to her as I spoke to him, or as the Will spoke to him.
He nodded seriously at the master builder.
"I must go down now, Roger. There's something I have to do."
So he began to climb down the ladders with his angel; and before he was out of sight, he heard Roger Mason speaking softly.
"I believe you're the devil. The devil himself."
But he dropped below the voice and the pillars were singing again; and by the time he reached the pavement of the crossways, their singing had put his purpose out of his head.
Then the tower stopped growing for nearly a month, but broke instead into a grove of pinnacles, twelve of them, three at each comer, with a master pinnacle at the center of each group. Roger Mason spent less time up there, leaving the workmen to Jehan, who used them cheerfully, and got a joke out of every stone. So Jocelin was forced to go about his proper business and try to catch up with it, though it still lay a long way ahead of him. But the master builder lived for the most part at ground level, talking with iron workers; and Rachel talked with him. They got away from Jocelin by this means; and since the top of the tower was so crowded, he only saw the work in craning glimpses. He watched, while two hundred and fifty feet up in the air, a soundless Jehan jollied the stonecutters into making slots in every projection so that a steel ribbon could run right round, and fit tidily against the stone. On the few occasions when he stood among the forest of pinnacles at the tower top, Jocelin saw how the long shed by the river was coming to life. It smoked. All day and half the night, the hammers rang there like a peal of untuned bells; and when darkness came, he could see the reflection of the fires in the river. Inside the shaft of the tower, two floors closed off all but the central well. As the pinnacles rose, workmen took away unnecessary scaffolding by the ton. They lugged the members from the walls and filled most of the holes with stone. What holes were left, the ravens and pigeons investigated with speculative interest. Soon there was little left but the ropes that hung down the central well, and one steep, wooden stair that zigzagged up round the wall. The only temporary structure left in the tower was the swallow's nest where the workmen kept their tools and the master builder his instruments; and since there would soon be ample room at the base of the spire itself, even the swallow's nest was under orders to go. What scaffolding remained was now grouped round the tower top like a head of unruly hair; or like a stork's nest above the fantasticated, eighty foot fall of the lights.
Then, one day, Jocelin came from a rowdy meeting in Chapter where the news of the extra expense had been received with an incredulity which changed to indignation. In the end, with a flash of seeing, he understood that he would have to affix his own private seal to these documents, which he did in the deanery without more discussion. But the strain of chapter brought back his high laugh; and his angel was at once a blessing and a great wearisomeness to him; and because his own will slackened he could not control the thoughts and images that floated through his mind, images of the spire, of red hair, of a wolf-howl, till he longed for the strange peace of the tower. He went out into the close and heard suddenly how there was no noise at all and the world held its breath, for the shed was silent. He went into the nave, and found a little noise there between the services because the great pillars sang eeeeeeeeeeeee as if the strain had become intolerable. He went slowly and quietly up the corkscrew stair towards the peace and happiness where the pinnacles had grouped themselves. He went silently as a ghost; and that was why half-way up the wooden stairs of the tower, he heard the moan. It stopped him on the stair, back bent under the angel, each foot on a different rung, and hands gripping. It was the moan of some trapped animal, a roedeer, perhaps, past the time of kicking in the snare and now become nothing but helpless misery. He glanced sideways towards the swallow's nest. There was a gap at the top for light; and the gap was interrupted by an upright with the bark still on it. There was something else besides bark. A hand was gripping the upright; and Jocelin who had seen that hand many times touching stone or wood, leveling an instrument, clenched in anger, or lifted in despair knew the red and brown of it as well as he knew the paleness of his own. But the very moment he saw it, and recognized the touches of dirty white at the knuckles, and before he had time to think whom it implied, so passionately gripping wood, another hand, smaller, whiter, softer slid over it and held it tight.
Open-mouthed, motionless, unblinking, he stayed there on the stair; and heard her voice, voice of the moan, pleading, ingenuous and sweet.
"But I didn't laugh did I?"
The tough fingers leapt from the upright, the two hands wrung into each, vanished; and then the more familiar voice labored up as if from the very pit bottom in the grey pavement
He backed swiftly away down the ladder, mouth still open. He stood on the beams over the vaulting, bent his head and clapped his hands over his ears. He swayed from side to side, and stared round him through the stone walls. He felt his way to the corkscrew stair and went stumbling down it; and there in the darkness before his unblinking eyes the memories came storming in a green girl running in the close and slowing decorously for my Lord the Dean, my reverend father, the shy smile and the singing of the child's game, noticed, approved, and at last looked for, yes looked for, expected, cherished, a warmth round the heart, an unworldly delight, the arranged marriage with the lame man, the wimpled hair, the tent
"Oh no, dear God no!"
The cost of building material.
. . . . .
. . . . .
But the day had not done with him.
When he reached the deanery there was a man on horseback with a letter. The man had ridden the five miles back from Stilbury; and when Jocelin saw how quickly a letter could go and come, the first thought he had was that Stilbury was too near. The second thought was a more confused one of how Stilbury was quite far enough. But he took the letter and broke the seal and read. Yes, Stilbury would accept the wretched woman but on terms other than his, terms which amounted to a good sized dowry. He went to his coffer and took out money. I know what they will say, he thought. First Jocelin's Folly; and now Jocelin's whore. But I don't mind what they say. I've lived with derision so long I no longer notice it. This also.
He crossed the close again and went up the nave under the singing stones, then across the south transept towards Pangall's kingdom. He stood in the doorway, looking at the slumped cottage, and it squeezed his heart small. So he stood there feeling the tide of misery rise. He thought to himself. This is the worst! Do this and I shall have peace. It must be done, for my sake and his sake and for the sake of my poor daughter.
So he braced himself to go to the cottage; but before he could take a step, he was jerked and staggered. There was a scarlet flash by his right eye and Rachel Mason rushed down the yard to the cottage, flung the door open and darted inside. At once, there was a crash from the cottage, screaming and shouting, Rachel shouting words that blistered. The door bounced open and the master builder stumbled out, his hands to the blood of his head. An instant later Rachel came out behind him. She screamed her hoarse imprecations at him, she struck him about the head and shoulders with a broom and there was a whisp of red hair caught in her fingers that flipped and flinked as she swung the broom handle; and all the time she screamed and shouted and foamed and looked at nothing but her target with her bolting eyes. The two of them stumbled past Jocelin without paying any attention to him; and he heard how the noise of justice multiplied in the cathedral and he heard that there were workmen about now, for they were laughing. He stood, looking this way and that for a moment. Then he hastened down the yard and stood, holding money, in the open door.
Goody Pangall was half kneeling before the dull fire, where the black pot still swung slowly in little circles on its chain. Her weight was on her right hip and hands, and her legs were bent up beneath her. The light through the door gleamed from her naked shoulders, and her head was dropped, in a cascade of red, torn hair. She was gasping and sobbing and there was a kind of surging in her whole body. His long shadow fell across her. She looked, saw, and screamed. He put out a hand to stop her, but suddenly she stopped herself, seemed to gather herself, squatting round on her hams, and looking inward. She jerked up her legs, jerked them up under her skirt. She grabbed her belly with both hands and screamed again; but this scream was not like the first. It was short and sharp, like the cruel blade of a knife. And then she screamed just so, again and again.
The money fell from his hands. He turned and ran shouting up the yard into the south transept.
"Get the women here quickly! For the love of God! Oh my dear soul! A midwife!"
The workmen at the crossways started to run round and argue and shout. Jocelin ran back into the yard where the knife was still stabbing. He fell on his knees, praying incoherently have mercy, have mercy, I didn't know it was to be this, not this oh anything only stop the stabbing, the unendurable but feet were passing him, there were shoutings and more argument. He got up and ran to the door of the cottage, to help, to do something, anything, have mercy. The workmen were holding up white, thin legs in the air, there was a white belly jerking and screaming under them, and there was blood over the money on the floor so that the world spun. When he came to himself he had to take part in a hideous ceremony of baptism; and then the women came, and father Anselm with oil and the Host which he thrust into the white, collapsed face. So Jocelin went away along the yard from buttress to buttress, leaning and clinging to the stone, a reed shaken in the wind. He found his way to the choir and knelt to pray for her, but the hair and the blood blinded the eyes of his mind. It was when she saw me, he thought. I was the church in her mind, I was the accuser and she fled from me. Oh Lord preserve her and I'll give what you leave me of my life to bring her peace only stop the noise and the blood, and the stones singing in my head. It was more than a year ago I saw them and the tent was round them and the tent expanded wherever they went, and I consented under your eye. More than a year ago I
He knelt there, seeing nothing but the woman in her storm. Now and then he shook himself and groaned. Now and then he spoke words.
"I was a protected man. I never came up against beldame."
Then he forgot his knees, his hunger, forgot everything in a tumult of glimpses that presented themselves to him as if they were connected, though they had neither order nor logic. There was the arranged marriage and the swallow's nest. There was hair and blood, and a lame man with a broom limping through the crossways. He made no sense of these things, but endured them with meanings and shudderings. Yet like a birth itself, words came, that seemed to fit the totality of his life, his sins, and his forced cruelty, and above all the dreadful glow of his dedicated will. They were words that the choir boys sang sometimes at Easter, quaint words; but now the only words that meant anything.
This have I done for my true love.
Late that evening, while he still crouched and shuddered, father Adam felt his way along the darkening stalls, and told him that Goody Pangall was dead.
So they put her body away in the raw earth and he wandered without seeing much. He wandered without saying much to anyone but himself, or at least to some nameless and invisible attendant. He would find himself walking down the south aisle one fist clenched by his chest; and then he would remember that he had been saying something, over and over again. Even when he could remember as he sometimes did or even when he heard himself in the middle of a word it would be a word that made no sense. He would stand, looking round his nose, head up, fists clenched. He would make positive efforts to control himself and find out what was the matter with him. Then he would be aware of a feeling rising in him, coming up towards the chest like a level of dark water. Often, his angel stood at his back; and this exhausted him, for the angel was a great weight of glory to bear, and bent his spine. Moreover, after a visit by the angel as if to keep him in his humility Satan was given leave to torment him, seizing him by the loins, so that it became indeed an unruly member.
Then again, he would find himself repeating one word endlessly, no, no, no, no, no, perhaps, or well, well, well, well; and at each word he would be tapping gently on the prieudieu with the flat of his hand. This was always when the dark waters in his belly and now invading, tightening his chest had risen a little. He would stand, facing the wall, laying his hand flat on it, numberless times, and find he had been saying nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. The spire was there too, sketched in his head with simple geometric lines, but mixed with other things. Sometimes he would turn his inward eye on the spire; and that would set him hurrying to the crossways, to watch and encourage, however feverishly.
As far as some people were concerned, his eye had acquired a new facility. (Pain did it, pain did it, pain did it.) He saw with dreadful clarity of vision how the master builder had gone back to Rachel; or more correctly, was now seen by everybody to be her property again. (She is a good woman. She is a good woman. She is a good woman. Tap, tap, tap.) The two of them no longer flashed a quarrel at each other. They kept together, but they no longer revolved round each other. Roger Mason would stand watching his work, shoulders slightly bent, concentrating on whatever was to hand, and sullen. She would stand behind him and slightly to one side, not watching the work, but him. And watching them both with his new eyes, he saw the iron collar round Roger Mason's neck, and could follow the slack chain back from it to her right hand. If Roger climbed, she would stand there below, the chain in her hand, waiting to lock it on again.
Then he would have a feverish thought.
"Now, if I told him to build a thousand feet high, he would do it. I've got what I wanted."
(No, no, no, no, no, no, hand pressing and relaxing, pressing and relaxing on the edge of a tomb.)
Once, his feet took him without his volition into Pangall's kingdom, where the door of her slumped cottage stood ajar. (God, God, God, pulling and twisting and tearing at the high stalks of weed.) So he hurried hit feet back into the church, and went widdershins to the Lady Chapel. His mouth said the accustomed words but he saw, no, no, no, no, no, the white body and irretrievable blood. Then he thought of Anselm, but knew he could not explain these things profitably to that noble, empty head. (I must change my confessor, I must change my confessor, I must change my confessor.) But before he had done thinking that, he had forgotten what he said, because she was back again, with her tormented body and the terrible christening.
Then he let out his breath, looked closely at the grain of the wood before him, and spoke aloud, but humbly.
"I'm not very intelligent."
As if his angel had whispered to him, there was help at hand.
"Think of her as she was before!"
And immediately he thought gladly of the girl coming from market with her basket and clumsy gentleness; and this stood him up and hurried him away laughing, so that he almost missed the chancellor. So he had to stand, nodding and smiling while the man talked. But his mind had gone back five happy years to the arranged marriage and while he was remembering it the chancellor disappeared. (Such a suitable, such an inevitable marriage, both fathers faithful servants of the church with their hands in their proper station.)
But I didn't laugh did I?
(No, no, no, no, no, no, no, hand pressing and pressing and pressing )
Hurry into the crossways for the major work, the essential complex, the reason, the burden laid; and Rachel, older, not so voluble, looking him in the eye, daring him to think ill of her but who could fin the guild of married women she is a heroine, yes indeed, I must believe it, since she labored and got back her man. But the pillars were singing again, and he forgot her as he listened, understanding how the fear had come with the singing, and driven the diminished congregations from the Lady Chapel.
(They are the little ones, the little ones, little ones )
So he spoke aloud again.
"There are the great ones; the builders!"
As if in answer to him, a man came swinging down from the work. He carried his tools in a bag, and he was pulling his blue hood over his head. He passed Jocelin without a sign and hurried into the north transept.
The old wound in the north transept had become a door, and it slammed shut. Who came back was the precentor, claiming a moment of conversation with such deadly calm it was clear he was furiously angry. But what with the dead woman, the present impossibility of prayer, and the defection of a workman, Jocelin could only put his hands to his ears and rock himself.
"It's necessary. It's an overriding necessity that I should abandon everything else to stay with these men. They have no faith and they need me. Divide responsibility for all else among you. I shall be here, every moment, in the new building."
He peered up to where the tower started and never noticed when the precentor went away. He hurried to the master builder's side.
"Now you shall have me always with you."
Roger Mason looked at him over the iron collar out of dull eyes.
"Good, My Lord Dean. Oh very good."
Jocelin remembered the precentor and cried after him.
"You heard that, my Lord?"
And the pillars continued to sing. He girded himself and climbed up and up into the tower. Where he found men, he spoke to them cheerfully and laughed, so that they laughed back, somewhat uncertainly. They spoke to him of the long rope and how it was haunted, so that in the end, he examined it himself. It was haunted indeed. It fell down through the tower, through the wide louvre left above the crossways, and the end lay on the pavement like a dead snake. He watched the timbers of the octagons go up by this rope for reassembly. He heard the men at ground level faintly answering the halloos from above, and then the load slid up the air with not another word said. At some point in the ascent, no matter how carefully the men hauled, the rope would start to circle and snake, rubbing the sides of the louvre, so that to haul the burden through was a matter of exact judgment, lest it should strike and smash stone.
He saw Roger Mason come climbing up to the base of the tower; heard Rachel below him shouting instructions from her maximum height. This made him remember the swallow's nest so that he climbed breathlessly above where it had been. He spoke aloud to his angel.
"She never came this high."
But the workmen heard, misunderstood him and laughed.
"No. This high, he's free other."
Then Jehan looked down at the climbing master builder and made the workmen snigger like the boys of the songschool.
"One day, she'll go with him even into the privy."
That was the day that Jocelin made another discovery; Roger Mason had taken to drink. After that he watched him closely and found he was not so much in drink as soaked with it. His breath was visible, almost. He nipped here and there on the way up, or standing on a ladder, or squatting in the lee of the rising cone that was the skin of the spire. When he understood this, Jocelin had a moment of panic, like a passenger in a ship with a drunken master, but it passed. From that moment he took no account of anyone who habitually worked and lived at ground level.
The pillars continued to sing; and the news filtered through to Jocelin at this time that they were the only things that sang in the whole building. The services had moved out and were held indignantly in the bishop's palace. Sometimes, when he hurried from his house to the building he would cross the path of a Person; but he never had any trouble. The Person would do nothing but watch him stonily out of sight. Even when Father Adam told him that the Nail and the Visitor was coming he only said, vaguely "Visitor?" and climbed out of sight.
His presence in the tower did the master builder no good. There was a steady inevitability about his drinking now, that was like a process in nature. Sometimes s he would be sullen, cursing filthily to get a job done. When Jocelin was near, he would blaspheme in such terms as drove the white body out of Jocelin's head. Then he would go and sit in a comer with his hands over his ears to shut out the cursing, and the girl would come back, or he would remember how her feet had made a golden maze in the close and the church and the market; and he would moan behind his hands.
"She's dead. Dead!"
Sometimes by contrast, Roger would be falsely and sillily jovial, and try to force drink on anyone near. But most of the time he was just painful and slow, going heavily on the ladders; and when work was finished for the day he would lower himself to where Rachel locked his collar on and led him away. Then Jocelin would nod to himself, and say wisely:
"He doesn't care if he lives or dies."
All the same, when she haunted him next day and he bound himself to Roger to be rid of her, he found he had misjudged him. Roger must care whether he lived or died otherwise the fear would not have laid so obvious a hand on him. There was no clear way of explaining why the fear was so obvious in the master builder. Jocelin saw it in the same way as he had seen the tent and the chain; and he saw that the fear was not a rational one, like the fear of a healthy animal. It was a poisoned fear like Roger's old fear of heights. Now it set him gripping and looking close, and enduring the heights because he had to. He doesn't mind if he dies, thought Jocelin, indeed, he would like to die; but yet he fears to fall. He would welcome a long sleep; but not at the price of falling to it. That's another reason why he goes nip-nipping from one level to another, a nip here, a nip there, with hot, stinking breath.
Thus there were a few men working at the base of the spire, one, a drunk; one, keeping his eyes averted from ground level where the golden maze of her feet was spread below him; the others, sane, more or less. There was also a mad, wooden floor at the top of the tower; and because this was a madness which might be understood, it drew Jocelin, who had seen none like it in the shed by the north transept. It was something to attend to, drawing out the mind. The octagon that lay on the floor was interrupted by grooves at even spaces, and each groove had a wedge in it. The men had assembled a second octagon above it, which rested on the wedges; and there was a cable strong enough to hold a ship, which went right round the lower octagon and bound the wedges in. When he asked Roger what this was for, he got nothing but a mouthful of curses, so he went back to a corner and brooded on his own affairs. Then one evening when Roger had gone grumbling down the ladders, Jocelin drew Jehan aside and pointed to the wedges.
"Explain this work to me."
But Jehan laughed in his face.
Jocelin shook him by the shoulders as in the old days.
"I must know. It's my work too."
Then Jehan shrugged under his hands so that he took them away.
"The whole thing rests on wedges. He'll pin the woodwork into the capstone. If a storm blows up before that topple, bang, smash! If not, he'll slacken the cable little by little and let the octagons, or the members between them, stretch down. The whole thing'll hang, and hold the spire against the wind. So."
He kicked one of the wedges.
"He thinks the whole thing will stretch that much. Who knows? He may be right."
"Have you seen it done before?"
"Has anyone built this high before?"
Jocelin looked at the stone skin round them.
"Perhaps in foreign countries. They tell stories."
"If the skin doesn't crumble, or the capstone split; if the wood stretches enough and if the pillars stand it "
He kicked a wedge again, shook his head, and whistled ruefully.
"No one but he could have an idea like that."
"He's drunk and he's crazy. But then, you have to be crazy to build as high as this."
He turned and began to clamber down through the trap. After a second or two, his parting words came back up the ladder.
"Up here, we're all crazy."
Then Jocelin had some insight into the master builder. I must give him what strength I have, he thought. So the next morning he kept close to Roger and questioned him.
"What's this thing called, my son? And this?"
But Roger Mason would have none of him. In the end he shouted back.
"What's what? There aren't any names for bits of stone and wood. That thing fits on that thing, which'll fit on that thing perhaps. Leave me alone!"
So he climbed heavily away like a bear, and stopped halfway up the ladder for a nip. But Jocelin went after him, not to be with the master builder, but to squat among the workmen at the top where he knew he was welcome. At first he could not understand why he was welcome, but at last he found that he was a specific against fear; and this he was able to understand fully since his angel was now in daily and nightly attendance and performed the same office for him, which was good, though it bent his back a little. .Nowadays he would come back into the church at dawn, and stand, as it were, in the middle of his adult life. If the work had not yet begun, and if he could avoid the golden maze, he would stand and try to examine the extraordinary tides of feeling that were swallowing him up.
What's this called? And this?
Sometimes, standing in the dim church, he would put propositions to himself, though the spire in his head prevented him from coming to a conclusion.
"When it's finished I shall be free."
Or: "It's part of the cost, you see."
Or: "I know Anselm as a person; and him; and him. But I never knew her. It would be so precious to me if "
What's this called? And this?
Once, in the grey light, when he felt calm for a whole hour, he had a thought which seemed like a blank wall; and then significant as a birthday to a child. He was looking towards the wooden screen between him and the Lady Chapel. He was remembering certain things that had happened to him and they seemed to have happened in another life.
There was God!
So he stood there, looking at the grey pillars and the grey light through the preaching patriarchs in the clerestory. Then he spoke to the wooden screen.
"Is that included?"
But there was no answer; so he hurried forward to the ladders, got there at the same time as the workmen, and gave them his blessing. And then the spire put the thoughts out of his head.
But to work now in the narrowing spire, was to be lifted a further stage from the earth. It was a beginning, not an end. The lines of the tower drew together downwards now, so that the whole thing was not massively based, but an arrow shot into the earth, with up here, an ungainly butt. The perceptible swaying was no longer soulclutching as it had been, to the men who lived in the air; but there was in the rhythmic heaviness and lightness a kind of drain, not so much on the muscles as on the spirit. Jocelin learnt how the strain built up, so that after a time you would find you had held your breath, and clutched at something with frozen violence. Then you would let this breath out in a gasp, and be easy for a while, until the strain built itself up once more. But there was an advantage in working so high, three hundred feet up. When the wind blew, you could not hear the pillars singing, though you could think of them down there; four needles stuck in the earth, holding up this world of wood and stone.
The remedy for this was work which needed extreme concentration. The skin of the cone had to be built with the utmost accuracy, since only then would it achieve its full strength. Yet except on a windless day, a level placed on the flooring at the top of the tower would exhibit a kind of slow insanity, drifting about like a soul in limbo. After that, the master builder would speak to no one, but brood; and sometimes fly out at a workman.
Then another thing happened to which no one could put a name. It happened slowly like a drop in the temperature of the air. This was, perhaps, the consciousness that now they were where no men had ever been before. No one could positively detect a new law, a new menace; yet some new apprehension lay clammily on the skin. There was seldom measured speech in the cone now; silence, or muttered argument, or sudden spats of temper. Sometimes there were gusts of laughter. Now and then, there were tears
There were also defections. Ranulf was one of these. He was small, and dry and wrinkled. He was one of the silent ones, perhaps because his English was so uncouth no one could understand more than a quarter of it. He worked with snail slowness, but he never stopped. Nor did the bursts of hysterical laughter or anger include him. He was often forgotten; but when you looked that way again, you saw that another stone was in position with his mark on it. But one afternoon in July, when the spire was moving again, he backed away from the skin and began to put his tools in his bag. No one said anything; but one by one the others stopped too, until they were all watching him. This made no difference at all to Ranulf, who did exactly as he had done any number of times before. He arranged his tools methodically, cleaning them, and binding them with rag. He checked over his food bag, and dusted his hands. Then he took both bags and moved slowly down the cone out of sight. The others watched his head disappear, then one by one, returned to their work; but there was a cold comment in this methodical withdrawal by such a man that set limbs quivering.
There was a more terrifying defection still.
The model of the spire had been finished with a button in which the toy cross was fixed. When Jocelin first saw this button outside the north transept in its wooden cradle, he went through incredulity to a flash of terror. The button was bigger than a millstone, must weigh more than a horse and cart; yet it had to be hauled, foot by foot, to the top. He watched how they moved the stone to the crossways, then in a curtain of ropes up through the vaulting, up, stage by stage. At each stop, there was much maneuvering with wedges and crows to the exact point for a new journey; until the capstone lay brutally dominating the center of the first octagon. Nor was this all; for as the stone rose, there came the point where the next octagon would be too small for the stone to go through it. So three hundred and fifty feet up, they shifted the stone outside the cone on to scaffolding specially built for it. After that, the next course of the cone took the scaffolding and the stone up with them. Then the scaffolding would be removed from below, to be used again higher up, the way children play the hand game.
Jocelin found the capstone ungood to look at. As it lay, chocked and wedged and bound on the scaffolding, it hid a whole parish of the city. Moreover it hung, impossibly as Mahomet's tomb, off center. When the swaying began in the warm, summer wind, though the soul had faith, the body became a thing of contracted muscles, quivering nerves, that believed the thing would snap those four needles down there like alder sticks. Then the only thing to do was to avert the mind and concentrate attention on the cone that rose towards the point up there, fifty feet higher; until the mind tired, and looking again, the eyes saw how a whole parish was hidden. Nor was there now the same frightened pleasure in looking down, for the inside of the cone was darkening as the skin drew together. And if the eye was indeed drawn down outside the skin to the pinnacles that reached up and out from the birdhaunted tower top, it risked lining up some stone with a point on the blue cup of earth and detecting a movement, or inventing one. Nor could his hands work. He could only crouch, clinging to his will, or whatever will it was and try to hold up the spire and the men with it, in the new, clammy place.
Perhaps this was why he found climbing so difficult. The ladders made him breathless, so that often he would arrive, to lie gasping on the planks until his heart was steady, or as steady as it normally was. The climb with hands and feet, and the comfort of the angel, was bending his back. He kept out of the way as much as possible, but this was not easy now the cone was drawing together. Yet no one at the top ever tried to drive him off, and he could not think why this was, until one day he asked Jehan who answered him simply.
"You bring us luck."
It was Jehan who fathered the next crisis and the next defection. He came up one day, with a set, unlaughing face, borrowed the master builder's plumb and line. Then while the others snatched their midday meal in the lee of the skin, while the master builder nip-nipped and said nothing, Jehan went back quickly down the spire.
After that, the meal was very silent.
Presently Jehan came up again, handed the plumb and coil of line to the master builder, then looked at Jocelin. There was that in his face which had to be met and known. Jocelin heard his voice crack in the high giggle as he used it.
"Well? Are they sinking?"
Heavy, pause, light, pause.
Jehan licked his lips. There was a dirty green tinge round them. His voice when it came, was a croak.
Then there was silence, except for the susurration of the wind over the raw edge of the cone.
The next sound was so strange, it seemed there was a new person, or a new creature in the cone. It was a mooing; and it came from Roger Mason. He was crouched in the lee of the skin, and he was looking straight through the other side.
The master builder scrambled sideways over the boards like a crab and fumbled his way out of sight. They heard him going down, ladder after ladder; and as he sank away from them, only the moo-ing went higher, until it was a screaming and a singing, like the singing of the stones. After that, there was silence again.
Then suddenly they were all laughing, shrieking, howling, thumping stone or wood with fists that bled; and there was a great fire of love that flamed from the one to the other in the darkening cone. The will itself opened Jocelin's lips and promised them more money among the flames of love; and they hugged the lean body that was the vessel of the will.
After that he found it even easier to ignore groundlevel; and this was necessary because with the bending of the pillars, people at groundlevel tended to interrupt him, and all he could do was to look through them at the spire and wait till they went away. In this trance of will, he heard how the city people cursed him for ending the services in the cathedral. Even the godless cursed him. They would stand at the west door, peer the length of the nave at the pillars. When he came through from a struggle between his angel and his devil, if they were there, they would not dare to curse him openly, but they muttered at his back. He knew what they said because he could detect the bending of the pillars himself. There was no doubt that Jehan had been right. Solid stone could not do this; but solid stone was doing it. If you looked through the nave at the east windows you could see the two nearer pillars at the crossways perceptibly bent in towards each other, though your eye had to look long and carefully. There was only one good thing to this bending. The more the pillars bent the less they sang. By midsummer, they seemed to have stopped bending and singing altogether; but Jehan said they were waiting for the gales of autumn, when he personally would take care to be somewhere else. This care was taken already by everyone but the builders and the man who brought them luck.
At the top, the work speeded up, as if each man felt the gales of autumn already promised on his cheek. Jocelin knew these men better than he had ever known anybody in his life, from the dumb man, to Jehan. He was part of the crew. Clinging, crouching in the lee of the skin, his angel always at his back, he began to handle wood and stone, to lay his hand to a rope, or his weight to the end of a crow. As for the men, they called him "Father" but they treated him jocularly, like a child. As the skin came further in, and there was laughter and fierceness in the tent-like space, they let him take charge of the metal sheet that threw reflected light into the interior. He was very proud of this, even to tears, though he could not tell why. He would squat there holding the sheet, and the master carpenter would be lying on his back and hammering up into a comer.
"Left a bit, Father!"
"Like that, my son?"
"More. More. Steady!"
So he would squat there, devotedly directing the light. They are all good men, he thought. They blaspheme and curse and work with their hands, but they are good men. I taste their goodness here in the sunlight nearly four hundred feet above the pavement. Perhaps it's because they were chosen just as I was chosen.
. . . . .
After that he no longer laughed with the men but he exhorted them. He found that though they could neither feel nor see his angel they drew some comfort from it; and that way, August came in and went out, and the spire drew towards its end. They needed the comfort of his angel, in those days, since the wind began to blow. There was one August gale from the south west that set the spire swaying like a mast; but though the pillars were bent, they did not break. It was during that gale that Father Adam told him the Lady Alison would write no more; but was coming to see him.
The gale never went away completely. It left rough weather, rain first, then a clear day, then rain again; and just when September might have brought a week's fine weather to finish the work in, it produced a sky of great height as though it were about to reveal the dimensions of the storm that was to follow. So all that time the men wrestled and swore at the capstone and the wind plucked at them; and Jocelin searched the dull reaches of the river towards the sea for a glimpse of the Holy Nail; and in his mind it came shining and powerful out of the glow of Rome where the bishop still was. He thought that perhaps the weather knew something of all this and was making haste, for it began to squeeze bursts of rain out of the air like slingshot, so that although the men were wet, they were warm with the stinging. That was how they set the capstone in place with the wind turning their tunics over their heads. For two days, with the spire vibrating, they dismantled scaHolding, left nothing but the few members for the final placing of the cross with the Nail in a box at its base. On the first of those days, Jocelin saw the Nail fifteen miles away a long, straggling procession from village to village. But before the day was out, clouds were moving below them so he could no longer see the procession and the Visitor. All the time he exhorted the men, with rain running down his naked legs, and the wind pushing. When all was done, they dropped down into the warmth of the inside, down the shuddering ladders to the enclosed floor at the top of the tower. Jehan pushed them into place, and gave each man a maul. Then there was a long pause, the men with their mauls by the wedges, and Jehan eyeing the whole mechanism.
He turned to Jocelin at last.
"We should have more men."
"Get them then."
Then there was a pause. The dumb man hummed gently from his empty mouth. Jehan looked at the windlass.
"If we don't do it now, it'll be too late."
He went to the windlass, unbent the fastenings, gave the bar a half turn and stopped, cocking his ear at the wooden dunce's cap in the spire above them, the whole hundred and fifty feet of it. The cable still ran ironfast round the octagon, binding the wedges against all the weight of wood.
"Tap the wedges. Gently!"
There was no new noise except the tapping. He gave the bar another half turn.
"Tap them again."
He walked round, beating his hands together.
"I just don't know. I don't know. He ought to be here, the fat bastard!"
The bar hummed and the cable leapt. The cone of wood gave a splintering grind that turned to a shriek; then the octagon came down and the wedges shot sideways like plum stones from between thumb and finger. The crash when the octagon hit the bed went beyond thunder, was physical in the ear; and the tower bounced under foot. Jocelin fell on his knees, and among all the noises of rearrangement he heard the howling descent where the others were fighting their way down the ladders. The cone racked, splinters and dust and stone chips danced over the boards. Above his head the cone warped agonizingly and tore and split. He knelt there, hugging himself while the cone subsided to a groaning and occasional shriek of wood. Then the sound of the wind took over; but now it had other instruments to play on and experimented with them. Each movement of the spire sounded them and they were not in concert.
At last he knelt upright. Only a little while now, he thought, and I shall have peace. I must get the Nail.
Then he went to the ladder and clambered down it.
But there was no peace, even at the bottom of the corkscrew stair. It was as if the slackening of the cable had been accompanied by the tightening of another. This one was round his chest. He thought: I know what it is. It's become a race between me and the Devil. We're going faster, both of us, racing for the line. But I shall win.
He stood on the pavement of the crossways. He listened for a while and the cable tightened as he heard the beast pawing at the windows of the clerestory, trying to get in. But now there was more than one. They were legion. They were everywhere outside, they tried the doors and windows, as if mustering and planning the final assault. So he knew the need for haste and he hurried away into the cloisters. But the Chapter met him there, disorganized, clamoring and crowded.
"Where is It?"
But instead of giving it to him, they pressed round him, and laid hands on him, speaking and even shouting, incomprehensibly. Someone pulled the skirt of his gown back and down so that it hung as in the old days. He felt hands that smoothed his hair and he understood what they wanted. So he shouted back at them.
"I shall say nothing more until you give It to me."
Then there was comparative quiet, except for the noise of the choir boys from the other side of the cloisters, so that he had time to look the Persons over, and the Vicars Choral, and the Deputies. They are as bad as the army, he thought; only there aren't any men among them with the same courage.
The devils whispered in the high branches of the cedar.
Then Father Anonymous gave It to him in a silver box, and he received It kneeling on his knees so that some of the others knelt too. But he pressed It against the cable that lay round his chest, hurried into the choir and laid It on the High Altar, where It burned brightly in the box and there was a song round It; only he could not hear the words. He said to the Nail "Oh be quick!," for he knew that when It was driven he would have peace. So he went back to where they were waiting for him. He looked them over from inside the cable and he saw that there were many new faces; or rather that they were the old faces, now seen in a new light. They had been busy during the last year at groundlevel. They went in new pairs and trios. They had not as he had (and the devils whimpered) complications in their heads, but many small things which was why life was easy for them. Moreover they were small themselves, and growing smaller as he watched them.
He heard Anselm speak softly.
"Why shouldn't he see him as he is?"
After that, there was a pause, while the crowd of them became smaller than the smallest children of the choir. Then these children began to rearrange themselves. They took little shuffling steps to one side or the other, but always their faces watched him as though they would like to see inside his head. They formed themselves into two ranks leading away from him so that they left a path; and the great doors of the chapter house were at the other end of it. He looked at the doors. He thought to himself; The Visitor will understand that I have become a workman, a stone mason, a carpenter, because it was necessary.
They opened one leaf of the door for him and he went through. He stood inside, and looked up at the windows where the devils were pawing. But he knew it was unimportant if they should make an entry here. So he was free to look down again; and there was the commission, ranged behind a long table covered with documents; seven men of full stature. So he went forward and knelt beside the chair set for witnesses and gave his name.
"Jocelin. Dean of the Cathedral Church of Our Lady."
All seven men were watching him. The two secretaries had looked up from writing, the feathers lying back from their hands. The Visitor himself had half-risen from his chair, and was leaning forward, his hands on the table. He was a darkfaced man, deeply lined, shaggy about the eyebrows, his eyes set far back in his head. His robes of black and white fell round him amply. He examined Jocelin for a while, then courteously indicated the chair. Jocelin stood up and bowed; and the commission stood up and bowed like the crest of a wave. He sat in the chair as they sank again; and he said nothing, but watched their heads nodding and muttering together.
At last the Visitor turned back to him.
"It's not the proper procedure, My Lord. But perhaps "
"Ask what you like, and I shall answer."
The Visitor smiled suddenly. He understands, thought Jocelin inside the cable. He is on my side, and he is full size.
But the Visitor was speaking again.
"Perhaps, as a preliminary, it would simplify things."
Simplify things, thought Jocelin. If that's what he wants, I can help him.
"They think I'm mad."
Then there was silence again, while he inspected his mind, and gave up. He nodded solemnly at the Visitor.
"Perhaps I am."
Their heads went together again. After all, he thought, I haven't simplified things, I've complicated them. He groaned and put up a hand to his head and felt something in his hair. He pulled out a curled shaving, bent it over his fingers, stretched it till it snapped, then threw the pieces away. One of the secretaries, nodding, got up out of the mutter, bowed quickly and hurried away.
The Visitor spoke again, gently.
"We had drawn up a list of questions, taken from the representations and depositions."
"But surely you knew? Some of them are dated from as much as two years ago!"
He examined the two years.
"I've been preoccupied."
The Visitor was smiling openly now.
"Some of the questions are irrelevant in the circumstances, I think. For example, the matter of the candles."
The Visitor was examining a document that had been passed to him. There was a curious note in his voice.
"This Person appears to believe that Holy Church has suffered a mortal blow because for two years the faithful haven't been burning candles in the nave of the Cathedral."
"He's your Sacrist, isn't he? He appears to derive a significant proportion of his income from the sale of candles; though of course his prime objection is on a much loftier and spiritual plane. Yes. Father Anselm, a Principal Person, and Lord Sacrist of the Cathedral Church of Our Lady. He has a personal seal."
(Going away, diminishing, vanishing backwards down a long tunnel )
"My Lord Dean. Perhaps we should see our way more clearly if you would assent to or dissent from certain general accusations."
"I said ask what you like."
"Indeed I shall, My Lord."
The Visitor shuffled documents. Jocelin waited, hands clasped before his chest, as he inspected the row of sandals under the table. Presently the Visitor looked up.
"Would you agree that the, what is referred to here as 'The Rich Fabric of Constant Praise,' has been unnecessarily interrupted?"
Jocelin nodded emphatically.
"It's true. How true it is! So true!"
"Before we began to build, we sealed off the east end as best we could, and held the services in the Lady Chapel."
"It's the common practice."
"So at that time the services continued. But later, you see, men felt there was some danger. When the pillars began to sing, and then bend, there was none of the chapter, none of the laity, no one who dared to worship there."
"In fact, the services of the church came to an end?"
Jocelin looked up quickly and spread his hands.
"No. Not if you can see all the complications. I was there, all the time. It was a kind of service. I was there, and they were there, adding glory to the house."
"The workmen. There were fewer and fewer of them of course; but some stayed right to the end."
The Visitor said nothing; but he felt himself understood, and hurried on.
"I don't know what names and seals except one are affixed to those documents you have there, nor what the complaints are, except in general terms. All I know is, I looked for men of faith to be with me; and there was none."
He saw the Visitor found it a good and unexpected answer. All at once, before the friendly face, he was overcome with a passion to explain everything.
"You see, there were three sorts of people. Those who ran, those who stayed, and those who were built in. Pangall "
"Ah yes. Pangall."
"She's woven into it everywhere. She died and then she came alive in my mind. She's there now. She haunts me. She wasn't alive before, not in that way. And I must have known about him before, you see, down in the vaults, the cellarage of my mind. But it was all necessary, of course. Like the money."
"We must examine the question of money for a moment. Is this your seal? And this?"
"I suppose so. Yes."
"Are you wealthy?"
"How are these to be paid then?"
"As He supported the pillars and provided the Nail,"
There it came again, the notsong, the absence of remembering, the overriding thing He saw without interest, the secretary steal back to his place, and saw that Father Anonymous was standing behind and a little to one side of the chair set for witnesses. He heard the devils paw and rattle at the windows. He ran in his mind to get to the spire before them.
"My Lord, while we talk here, it may fall. Let me take It now, and drive It in!"
The Visitor was looking at him intently, under his thick eyebrows.
"You believe that the spire, for want of a nail "
Jocelin held up his hand quickly, to stop the Visitor. Frowning, he strove to catch the song, so nearly teetering on the edge of memory; but it faded away, as Anselm had faded. He looked up, to see the Visitor leaning back, and smiling strangely.
"My Lord Dean, I have nothing but respectful admiration for your faith."
"You spoke of a woman. Who is she? Our Lady?"
"Oh no! Indeed no! Nothing like that. She was his wife, Pangall's. After I found the mistletoe berry you see "
"When was this?"
The question was hard and sharp as the edge of stone. He saw that the seven men had stopped every movement, and were looking at him intently, soberly, as if he were on trial.
That's it, he thought. Why didn't I think of it before? I'm on trial.
"I don't know. I can't remember. A long time ago."
"What did you mean about people being 'built in'?"
He held his head in his hands, shut his eyes and swayed from side to side.
"I don't know. There aren't enough words. The complications "
Then there was a long silence. At last he opened his eyes, and saw that the Visitor had relaxed again, and was smiling kindly like a friend.
"We must get on. My Lord Dean, I believe. These workmen who stayed with you to the end. Were they good men?"
"Very good, very good indeed!"
But papers were being shuffled on the long table. The Visitor took one and began to read from it, in an unemotional voice.
"'Murderers, cutthroats, rowdies, brawlers, rapers, notorious fornicators, sodomites, atheists, or worse.'"
The Visitor was looking at him over the paper.
Jocelin struck his right fist into the palm of the other.
"They were bold men!"
The Visitor let out his breath in sudden exasperation. He threw the paper on to a pile.
"My Lord. What's at the bottom of all this?"
Jocelin embraced the plain question thankfully.
"It was so simple at first. On the purely human level of course, it's a story of shame and folly Jocelin's Folly, they call it, I had a vision you see, a clear and explicit vision. It was so simple! It was to be my work. I was chosen for it. But then the complications began. A single green shoot at first, then clinging tendrils, then branches, then at last a riotous confusion I didn't know what would be required of me, even when I offered myself. Then later, he and she "
"I have it written down in a notebook in the bottom left hand corner of my chest. You can read it if that would help. Soon I shall preach a sermon we shall have a new pulpit built at the crossways; and then everyone "
"You are trying to say that the vision made your building of the spire an overriding necessity?"
"And that from this vision, or revelation which would you call it?"
"I'm not a learned man. Forgive me."
"From this vision, everything else followed?"
"Just so, just so."
"To whom did you confide it?"
"To my confessor, of course."
Outside the windows, the devils were only just invisible. He looked impatiently at the Visitor.
"My Lord. While we sit here "
But the Visitor held up his hand. The secretary was speaking from the left end of the table.
"Anselm, My Lord. The Sacrist."
"The man who is so concerned about his candles? He is your confessor?"
"He was, My Lord. And hers. If only you knew the pain of knowing and not knowing!"
"Then you've changed your confessor? How long since?"
"I No, My Lord."
"Then he's your confessor still, if you have one."
"I suppose so. Yes."
"My Lord Dean. When did you last go to confession?"
"I can't remember."
"A month? A year? Two years?"
"I can't remember, I tell you!"
The questions drove him back in his chair, they pressed in, were unfair and unanswerable.
"And all this time, you have been withdrawn from your spiritual peers, keeping company with men, who if our information is correct, are more than merely wicked?"
The question loomed over him, expanded, became a mountain. He saw to what a height a mind must climb, ladder after ladder, if it were to answer, so he prepared once more to climb. He stood up, reached down his right hand, drew the hem of his gown through between his knees, twisted it, and tucked it up through his girdle.
The seven men were standing too. They were stiller than the saints that jumped and rattled in the windows.
The Visitor sank back slowly into his chair. His smile was very amiable again.
"You are exhausted by your labors, My Lord. Let us continue this discussion tomorrow."
"But while we waste time here, they are there, outside the windows "
"By the authority of this seal, I command you to return to your own house."
It was gently, kindly spoken; but when he had inspected the seal, he knew that at last he had no answer. He turned to go, and the seven men bowed; but he said to himself, We have got beyond the bowing stage! He walked away over the patterned, clicking pavement, and Father Anonymous hung at his shoulder. The door shut behind him; and there were his spiritual peers ranged in the cloisters. They were a little larger now, but not much. So he walked between the rows of eyes, and he dismissed them from his mind.
By the west door, he cocked an ear and an eye to see what the devils were doing to the weather. They were free, or in the process of becoming free; and already they were doing more than enough. The storm had swung from the south east to the east, so there was a lee at the west end of the cathedral. Since the water was unblown here, it cascaded down the front from a dozen gullies, spouted from stone mouths, and washed in a constant sheet over the gravel before the steps. Yet with all that water about, the sky was high and light, and there were streaky clouds that seemed to weave over each other. The rain was not falling from any visible cloud. It came as if born from the very air as if the air were a sponge, spurting here and there with drops i that fell oddly.
But Father Anonymous was at his side.
"Come, My Lord."
A cloak fell round Jocelin's shoulders.
"The hood. My Lord. So."
Gently, calmly, pressure on the elbow.
"This way, My Lord, across here. Now."
As they came out of the lee, the wind hit them, and hurried them towards the deanery. When they had reached the upper room where his bed was, he dropped the cloak from his shoulders into the chaplain's hands, and stood, looking down at the floor. The cable still bound his chest.
"I shan't sleep till it's finished."
He turned to the window, and watched, as a bucketful of water dashed over it. He felt his angel and his devil at war behind his back.
"Go to them now, go back to them. Tell them we must drive the Nail now, before it's too late. It's a race."
He shut his eyes, and recognized instantly the impossibility of prayer. So he opened them again, and saw Father Anonymous hesitating there.
He ordered him away irritably.
"You are still under obedience. Be gone!"
When next he looked, the little man had disappeared. He began to pace up and down. When it is driven, he thought, then the spire and my witch will cease to haunt me. Perhaps one day I shall know how wicked she was exactly how wicked she was; but now the spire is the thing; and the Nail.
After a while he went and stood close to the window; but he could see nothing clearly because of the drops that hung shuddering, wandered aimlessly, or disappeared as if they had been snatched. He waited for a message but none came. I said I was a fool, he thought; and it is truer than I meant. I should have gone myself what am I doing here? But he went on standing, hands clasped, lips pursing and unpursing, while the light faded in the window and the wind boomed on. When the window was no more than a dull rectangle, he found how tired he was of standing; so he went to his bed and lay on it fully dressed and waiting. Once he heard a crash and clatter from somewhere among the roofs of the deanery and started up. After that, he lay flat no longer, but listened, propped on one elbow in the thick darkness. He saw the spire fall a hundred times heard it fall a hundred times until the gale beat in his very head. He tried to doze but could not tell which was sleeping and which waking since both were the same nightmare. He tried to think of other things, only to find that the spire was so firmly based in his head there was nothing else to think of. Sometimes the wind would drop for a moment and his heart would bound; but always the wind would return with a lashing of shot on the window, and at last it roared without ceasing.
So he lay and dozed or waked. At some point in the night the window leaped into bright light so that his body contracted on the bed, but the noise of thunder never penetrated the wind. After that there were more crashes among the roofing, and the skitter of tiles. Then it occurred to him that if he watched at the window he might see how the building did, by the lightning flash when it came, so he crawled off his bed and stood waiting. The next flash showed him nothing but that the window was in the wrong place; so he turned a little and finally made out the dim square. He went close, put his face by it, listening to the slung water and then the next flash came. It was not even the split of a glimpse. It was a pain in the eyes, with light turning green even after he had got his hands in front of them. He knew that the bulk in the middle of the light was the tower but could not tell exactly how it was shaped, or whether it leaned, or whether it had a spire on. He fumbled back to his bed and lay on it. He lay on his face, trying, of all things, to think of old times that had been happy; times with Father Anselm, master of the novices or novice rather, in the sunlit place by the sea; and then again, he got up and .stood by the window. But the next flash was far away beyond the cathedral so that he seemed to see its black bulk hurtling shapelessly at him. Then he lay down again and did not know whether he fell into a doze or whether he fainted clean away.
He came up out of a deep well. There was a flat noise at the top like a cover; but this was not what drew him up. There were other noises, thin screams, bird noises, almost. Suddenly he was wide awake, knowing where he was, in the dimmest of grey lights. He could hear their clamor on the stairs.
He rolled off the bed and went quickly to the door.
"I'm here. You must be brave, my children!"
But the voices shrieked and sobbed.
" now and in the hour of "
He shouted down the stairs.
"No harm is coming to you!"
There were hands at his feet, and pulling at his gown.
"The city's being destroyed!"
" the whole thatch of a house lying in the graveyard and beating to pieces "
He shouted down at them.
"What's happened to the spire?"
Hands crawled up his body, and a beard thrust into his face.
"It's falling, Reverend Father. There were stones falling from the parapet even before dark "
He pulled himself away and went to the window and rubbed at the dullness with foolish fingers as though he could smear it away like paint. He hurried back to the stairs.
"Satan is loose. But no harm shall come to you. I swear it."
"Help us, Reverend Father! Pray for us!"
Then, in the faint light, among the hands and the booming of the wind, he saw what he had to do. He pressed forward among them, pushing them aside, pulled his skirt away, shook a hand from his elbow. Then he was clear, with a stone step coming to each foot. He found the great hall and the door with its latch. He fumbled the latch up, and the door slammed open, throwing him back across the hall. He crept round the wind and bored into it through the doorway. Again it threw him back against the wall so that he hung there, panting. Then the wind let him go from its mouth so that he dropped on gravel. He scrambled forward and the wind picked him up again, then let him fall on all fours; and already he was soaked as though he had fallen in the river. He had a confused thought that now he worked with his body as others did, and he burrowed forward across the lane to the graveyard. A handful of something struck his face and left a stinging behind as if it had been nettles. He fell in the lee of a hummock with a wooden cross on it and the skirt of his gown flogged him, so he pulled it up through his belt. A lath came from somewhere and raised a cruel welt on his thigh.
He lifted his head a little and squinted into the grey light, across the useful grave; and at that moment, Satan in the likeness of a cosmic wildcat leapt off all four feet on the north east horizon and came screaming down at Jocelin and his folly. The cloak burst at his throat and went napping away somewhere like a black crow, but his hands held to the wooden cross. He lay there cunningly, until the wildcat had tired a little. After that he went from grave to grave, grabbing a cross and a lee, until he came to the biggest lee of all by the west door, and through the door, leaning his back against it and gasping for breath. Yet for a moment as he leaned there he thought the cathedral had a full congregation. But then he realized that the lights were swimming inside his eyes, and the singing was the noise of all the devils out of hell. They swarmed through the dim heights, they banged and rattled and smashed at the windows in an extravagance of fury, they made the great window at the west end boom like a sail. But he minded them no more than birds as they swooped at him, for he was outside himself, awake and asleep at the same time, a man led. Wah! Wah! they howled, and Yah! Yah! they howled, beating at him with scaly wings then going off to batter at the singing pillars and the windows and the vaulting that shuddered over; and he heard someone, himself perhaps, imitating their cries as his body ran crouching up the nave through the semi-darkness. He could hear the groans of the arcades as they stiffened their stone shoulders. When he saw the deserted altar before him the devils raged as they leapt and swung from the main arch. He fumbled at the altar, then snatched the silver box as if it contained nothing but an ordinary nail. There came a smash from the south transept, the crash and shatter of stone; from the north transept a boom and the icy skitter of glass. The devils fought with him at the entry to the corkscrew stairs but he beat them off with the Nail. Then as he made his way up his heart began to hit him at the base of the throat, and when he reached the lower chamber he could hardly see it for the glossy lights that danced round him. Nor could his ears accept the noise any more; for what had once been the whispered expostulations of the spire was now a shouting and screaming with the roar of released Satan as a sort of universal black background. Wood and stone no longer swayed subtly. They lurched so that he was flung sideways, or clung to the ladders like a man climbing a mast at sea. On one side out in the roar, there was a continual break and fall. In the tent of wood at the top of the tower, the floor was deep in broken stone and splinters, in which he scrabbled for the foot of the first of the spire ladders. There was a devil at his left who opened and shut a mouth of grey daylight slowly, as he looked. Then there were the ladders over ladder, zigzag into darkness one ladder newly freed at the bottom, another bowed and humming as if it had been strung. The darkness was full of splinters that scratched and stabbed as he scrambled up, his angel burning and thrusting, the box twisted into the lap of his skirt up, up, to where there was so little space the skin enclosed him like a chimney and he could feel the difference in the movement of wood and stone skin, and then, huddled in the last space of all, fumbling open the box, dropping the linen, holding the Nail workmanlike, his weight gripped by leg and elbow, banging away with the soft silver box, beating the Nail into wood, fumbling, feeling, banging
The noises of the spire and the spire itself, moved out of his head. He let the box fall and could not hear the erratic sounds of its descent. He began to let himself down, rung by rung. He felt the hand by which he held on begin to tremble uncontrollably, so he clung with his body. By the time he had reached the corkscrew stair he was crawling.
The devils still had possession of the nave though the spire was safe from them. But he was not safe from them himself. His angel left him, and the sweetness of his devil was laid on him like a hot hand. He felt the waters of sleep rising and was powerless to prevent them. He crawled out of the stair into the grey ambulatory and lay on his face among smashed stone, and it was as if all substance was flowering softly. The devils no longer screamed, but sang. They sang softly and remorselessly. They disguised themselves and appeared in his head as people.
He spoke to the smashed stone.
"I drove the Nail. You might have fallen for want of It!"
But the devils bound him softly and they showed him a vision that drew near. All at once he was looking right across the close in sunlight to where the elms made a shade over a swarm of daisies. The devils were dancing there, three of them, sweet and small. He drew near, down a long line of shadow. They were dancing and clapping their hands and singing.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For want of a horse the rider was lost,
For want of a rider the kingdom was lost
He heard himself, younger and laughing, finish the song for them
"And all for the want of a horseshoe nail! Come here, child."
Then the devil drew near over the grass, while the others went away and he stood looking down and loving her innocence and beauty. He heard his kind questions probing, saw her restless, hands behind her back, red hair straggled this way and that, one thin foot rubbing over the other; heard her make an answer out of her complete incomprehension |
"But it's just a game we're playing, Father!"
In this uncountry there was blue sky and light, consent and no sin. She came towards him naked in her red hair. She was smiling and humming from an empty mouth. He knew the sound explained everything, removed all hurt and all concealment, for this was the nature of the uncountry. He could not see the devil's face for this was the nature of the uncountry too; but he knew she was there, and moving towards him totally as he was moving towards her. Then there was a wave of ineffable good sweetness, wave after wave, and an atonement.
And then there was nothing.
He came to himself very slowly. His cheek was on broken stone, and the daylight was inescapably present. For a long time, even after his eyes were open they were the only part of him that he moved. He sent his sight down the long corridor and saw a familiar monument. He attached himself to this, examining it inch by inch, as if this were a way of filling time, lest something worse should come to fill it. But the monument gave no help, nor did anything else. At last he was left, helplessly in the grip of the new knowledge.
That was when he spoke first.
"Of course. I should have known. I should have understood."
There were noises in the church, the distant clash of a door, voices. He got up and limped slowly toward the crossways. When he stepped out into it, there were shouts. Two men servants came running and father Adam was behind them. He waited for the chaplain, head and hands hanging.
"What must I do?"
"Go with me. The woman is waiting."
But even as he said this, he remembered she was dead; and that this woman was Alison in search of a comfortable grave.
"I'll see her. She may know something. It was her whole life, after all."
So they went together down the nave, the two men behind them. There was a figure in her comer, and his heart moved; but it was the dumb man, not even humming. He knew how the shame included the dumb young man, and he looked away, to the door through which they led him.
He stopped in the forecourt of the deanery.
"May I still go in?"
"It was decided so. For the time being."
He nodded, and went in over the familiar stones. But the great hall had changed like so many other things. There was a fire of logs, there were wax candles everywhere, lighted as for an altar, there was a carpet before the fire and two chairs. The chairs were hardly visible because of the brightness of the candles, and he thought how like the candles were to the glossy patches that sometimes swam before his eyes. Even so, he had not time to inspect the changers thoroughly, for the woman was sitting in the chair on the other side of the fire, with women at her back. She rose, as he came to the edge of the carpet, sank to her knees, took his hand and kissed it, murmuring.
"Reverend Father. Jocelin!"
But then without any change she got to her feet, and spoke, half-turned to the others.
"There should be hot water, towels, a comb "
He stopped her with his hand lifted.
"It doesn't matter."
After the silence and pause, he looked at the other women.
"Let them leave us together."
The shadows of women withdrew; and when they had gone she took his hand in hers, pressed gently on it, sat him down in the chair; and on his left side he felt the soft warmth of the fire. He saw how tiny she was, not much larger than a child, for her face was still little above the level of his eyes. She looked past his shoulder.
"Will you send your chaplain away too, nephew?"
"He stays. I'm in his care. And even if it weren't so, I ought not to be alone with you."
At that she laughed outright.
"Thank you for the compliment."
But he could not understand her and did not bother to try. She nodded seriously as if she understood this.
"I forgot how provincial you'd be."
Provincial. Of a province, away from the center of things, limited in vision and scope.
"It may be so."
But there was her face a yard away, to be examined, the blandness only less white and smooth than the pearls that edged her black coif. Her hair would be black beneath it or had been black. He examined the arched, thin eyebrows, looked into the black balls of her eyes. She began to laugh, but he cut her short querulously.
"Be still, woman!"
So she stood, smiling and obedient.
Black dress, full. Pearls also at the throat. Hand and as if she understood what he wished, she raised it to him plump and white. Behind the hand, her face and again, as if she understood what he wished, she put the hand out of sight face smiling, plump as the hand, only a little this side of fatness. A tiny mouth, nose arched. Eyelids, dark and glistening, painted perhaps, eyelashes long and thick; water now caught among the lower ones.
"My mother's sister."
The smile became a grimace, and the water fell. Nevertheless, her voice sounded light and amused.
"The naughty one."
All at once she was moving quickly, and there was a scrap of white stuff in her hand.
"This at least."
She leant forward so that he caught a sudden breath of spring and shut his eyes for faintness at it. Through the thronging memories he felt the white stuff touch and smear on his cheeks, felt a hand at his hair. He heard her murmuring again.
"After all, even the "
He opened his eyes in the perfume while she was still busy about him. He examined her face from only a few inches away; and now he saw how carefully preserved and tended it was. The smooth skin was netted down by lines too fine to be seen from further off. It was a compromise between too much fat and too little, as could be seen by the deeper lines defended from becoming wrinkles at the comer of each eye and in the bland forehead. It was a face that must defend itself by dancing from expression to expression, lest it should be still, and sag. Only the eyes, the little mouth, the nose, held out bastions so strong they need not be defended. He felt a remote kind of pity for the face and did not know how to express it, so he muttered instead.
"Thank you, thank you."
She let his face alone at last, took the spring away with her across the carpet, turned and sat down facing him.
Then he remembered that she had not come to answer a question, but to get something from him. He rubbed the side of his head.
"As for those letters you sent me, and the business of your tomb "
She had her hands up and cried out.
"No indeed! Don't think of them!"
But he was busy again.
"The decision mayn't be mine now, though I'm not sure. Father Adam "
He raised his voice.
"Reverend Father? I can't hear you. Must I come closer?"
What was I going to ask him? Her?
The fire was leaping in his eyes.
"Oh no, Jocelin! I came because of you because of how you are. You must believe it!"
"You worried about me? I, the provincial?"
"Your story's known in the country. In the world, I might say."
"There's a sense in which your body would forgive me defile it."
Then he heard how quick her temper could be.
"You haven't defiled it yourself? Those men? The church empty? That stone hammer hanging up there and waiting to strike?"
He looked into the fire and answered her patiently.
"It's a hard thing for a woman to understand. I was chosen, you see. After that, I spent my life finding out what the work would be and then doing it. I offered myself. One should be much, much more careful."
"They'll let you build a tomb there, I've no doubt. But whether I would or not I wonder."
"By God. He does, after all. Then I chose Roger Mason. There was no one else to do it who could do it. Then all the rest followed."
He looked up, startled by her laughter.
"Listen nephew, I chose you. No. Listen, and I'll tell you something. It wasn't at Windsor but at a hunting lodge. We were lying on the day bed together "
"What's this to do with me?"
"I'd pleased him and he wanted to give me a present, though I had everything in the world I wanted for myself"
"I won't hear you."
"But then I had a thought, for I was happy and therefore generous; and so I answered; "I have a sister and she has a son.'"
She was smiling again, but ruefully.
"Mind, I'll admit it wasn't just generosity. She was so, so pious, so dreary, and she'd always Well, it was half-generosity, call it that. Because she was like you, in a way, stubborn, insulting "
"Woman what did he say?"
"Oh sit down again, Jocelin! You make me nervous, standing there like a great bird hunched in the rain. I wonder if I was triumphing a little?"
"What did he say?"
"He said: 'We shall drop a plum in his mouth.' Just like that. Casually. And then I said, 'He's a novice, I believe, in some monastery or other.' I started to giggle, and he started to roar with laughter and then we were hugging each other and rolling over and over because you must admit, it was not without its funny side. We were both young, after all. It appealed to us. Jocelin ?"
He found she was kneeling close to him.
"Jocelin? What does it matter? It's die quality of living."
He answered her hoarsely.
"The things I've done."
After a while he went on.
"I always reckoned to sacrifice my life to the work; and perhaps this is the unspeakable way of doing it. And after all, there's the Nail "
"What nail, nephew? You're so confused!"
"Our bishop Walter in Rome "
"I know Rome. And I know bishop Walter."
"Well there, you see. What do I matter? Only the thing matters because, because "
"There's a level you can't understand. He nailed it to the sky. I asked him for money, blind fool that I was. He did better."
There, he thought. It's finished. But it was not, for he heard her speak again, in a breathless voice.
"You asked him for money and he sent you a nail!"
"I said so."
She began to laugh, round after round of laughter that built up high, until it took away her breath, and in the silence he heard the singing of pillars in his ears. It was not that he understood anything or worked out anything by logical steps in his head; but that there was a sickness driving in and a shuddering of the body to his very fingertips. Then the sickness drowned him.
But he felt her tugging at his hands.
"Jocelin! Jocelin! Nothing matters as much as that!"
He opened his eyes.
"You must believe, Jocelin!"
"Oh yes, yes. Believe in your vocation and in the nail "
She had him by the shoulders and was shaking him.
"Listen to me. Listen I said! I wouldn't have told you if "
"It doesn't matter."
"You had a question for me. Think of that, concentrate on that. What was it?"
He looked into her eyes and saw how frightened she was.
"What is it that "
But this was so like a children's guessing game that he had to finish on a high laugh.
"I remember now. What is it when one's mind turns to one thing only, and that not the lawful, the ordained thing; but to the unlawful. To brood, and remember half in pleasure, half in a kind of subtle torment "
"And when they die; for they die, they die; to recreate scenes that never happened to her "
"To see her in every detail outlined against the air of the uncountry indeed, to be able to see nothing else to know that this is a logical part of all that went before "
She was whispering, very near him.
"This happened to you?"
"It's a kind of haunting. All part of the rest."
He looked at her earnestly, speaking right into her eyes.
"You'd know of course. Only tell me. That's all I want. It's witchcraft isn't it? It must be witchcraft!"
But she was withdrawing from him, leaning back, getting up, retreating across the carpet. She left the terrible whisper behind her.
"Yes. Witchcraft. Witchcraft."
Then she had gone somewhere and he was left, nodding solemnly to the fire.
"There's a pattern in it. There's more to be destroyed. There must be more."
He thought of Father Adam in the shadows.
"What do you think ?"
"Her feet go down to hell."
He put her away from his mind, and she vanished out of his life like a raindrop in a river.
After a while. Father Adam spoke again.
"You must sleep."
"I shall never sleep again."
"I shall sit here and wait. There's a pattern, and it's not complete."
So he sat, watching the armies of sparks that wandered through the fire. He spoke sometimes, but not to Father Adam.
"Yet it still stands."
Then he moaned and rocked himself. Once, much later, he started up and cried out
Hours later, when the fire was nothing but embers, he spoke again.
"There's a kinship among men who have sat by a dying fire and measured the worth of their life by it."
Daylight crept through the windows and waned where the candles had guttered out. The last spark of the fire disappeared in the great hall, and the messenger came. It was the man of faith, humming and pointing. Jocelin rose carefully from his chair.
"Have I your permission to go with him. Father?"
The keeper made a little gesture of disclaim.
"We will go together."
So Jocelin bowed his head and kept it bowed, and they went to the west door in the last flutters of disturbed air. There seemed nothing new in the nave, so Jocelin spoke sideways to the dumb man, not wishing to look him in the face.
"Show us, my son."
Then the dumb man led them on tiptoe to the south east pillar and showed them where he had chiseled a little hole in the stone, then went away again on tiptoe. Jocelin understood what he had to do. He took the chisel with its burred-over head out of the hole, lifted up an iron probe and thrust it in. It sank in, in, through the stone skin, grated and pierced in among the rubble with which the giants who had been on the earth in those days had filled the heart of the pillar.
Then all things came together. His spirit threw itself down an interior gulf, down, throw away, offer, destroy utterly, build me in with the rest of them; and as he did this he threw his physical body down too, knees, face, chest, smashing on the stone.
Then his angel put away the two wings from the cloven hoof and struck him from arse to the head with a whitehot flail. It filled his spine with sick fire and he shrieked because he could not bear it yet knew he would have to. At some point there were clumsy hands that tried to pick him up; but he could not tell them of the flail because of the way his body threw itself round the crossways like a broken snake. So the body shrieked and the hands fought with him and under the heap was Jocelin who knew that at last one good prayer had been answered.
. . . . .
The pain left him sometimes so that he could think. Always his first words were a question to Father Adam.
"Has it fallen yet?"
And the answer was always the same.
"Not yet, my son."
He was building in his head, examining what foundations should be laid before he could know what he wanted.
"I shall never know the truth until they take the cathedral apart stone by stone like a puzzle."
But Father Adam must have thought he wandered, for he said nothing. So Jocelin, going his own interior road, came to a second thought.
"And not even then."
One day he sent for Anselm and waited endlessly under the shadowy vaulting, until he remembered what his new rank was. So he sent again, begging Anselm in charity. So Anselm came stiffly. It was afternoon, and the place already in deep shadow because it faced the east and the cathedral through one window. He heard Father Adam going away down the stairs to leave them together, heard the chair creak as Anselm sank in it. Then he looked towards him, and examined the noble head with its silver fringe of hair above the empty forehead. But Anselm would not look back. He watched the window steadfastly and said nothing.
"Anselm. I've come to a desolate place at last."
Anselm glanced sideways quickly, then withdrew his eyes as if the sight were improper. His words were what might be expected; but they were dry, stiff as his posture.
"All men at some time or other "
No, thought Jocelin. That's not how we speak to real men. He doesn't see me. I'm not real; but I'm learning.
"I've been back, so painfully, right back to those days by the sea when you had charge of me."
Anselm looked his way. There was a kind of stony embarrassment about him; and the words went with them.
"In the midst of life "
He shut his eyes and thought about it,
"I know of course. My life has been nothing like I thought. But I did walk on the headland once; and I came to you, master of the novices, because I thought the Holy Spirit had chosen us."
He looked up at the vaulting again. There were stretches of sand and a blinding sea beyond it.
"I ran to you."
Anselm stirred. There was a slight smile on his face;
but it was not a smile of humor.
"You were all over my knees like a dog."
"What can you see, then, Anselm?"
Anselm was looking out of the window again. There was color on his cheeks. His voice was stifled.
"Why must you always have a very best friend, like an ignorant girl?"
"Why was I the object of this adolescent regard?"
There was a confusion in Jocelin's head.
"I? Like that?"
Anselm's voice was very low, very bitter.
"You don't know. You've never known how impossible you are. Impossible."
Jocelin licked his dry lips.
"I am I was a man of strong affections. Clumsy."
He waited for the grief of this to subside a little, then spoke to the vaulting.
"You Anselm. On your side."
Anselm stood up and began to pace round the room. At last he stopped, between Jocelin's face and the vaulting. He turned his stiff neck, looked Jocelin in the eye, then flinched away again.
"It's so long ago. Perhaps it never meant much and then, all the things that came after! No. I can't say more. Amused and touched. And irritated. You were so keen."
"Keen. Just keen. Nothing more. You saw nothing, you understood nothing."
Anselm cried out.
"And can't you understand? You sat on our necks, on my neck, for a generation!"
"There was our work to be done. I thought so and now I don't know what I think "
"That place was well enough for me; though perhaps not precisely what the founder intended. Then you had to come, flying like a great bird "
" to the master of the novices."
"I am what I am. But to see you skipping up through purely nominal steps, acolyte, deacon, priest; to see you dean of this church when you could hardly read Our Father; and to be tempted, yes tempted for where the horse goes, the wagon must follow and one must admit that the great world is necessary since we're none of us saints tempted towards a sort of ruin. I admit it freely. I might have remained where I was and done some good. You tempted me and I did eat."
"Then? Why you know the rest. The old king died; and you rose no further."
"And after that, to have to hear your confessions, your partial, self-congratulatory confessions "
Even in his weakness a vast astonishment fell on Jocelin.
"What kind of a priest are you?"
"You should know. The same sort as you, if you like. Minimal. I know it. What about Ivo, Jocelin? A boy canon. Just because his father gave timber for the building. You see? He's got as much right in the church as you had. Or I have. Only he'll do less harm. He spends his time hunting. You've lain on us like a blight. There have been times when the sight of you in your authority has squeezed this heart of mine small and made my breath come short. I'll tell you another thing. For all that stone contraption which hangs out there over our deliberations, there's a peace and amity in Chapter because you're not there, as if balm had been spilt."
"Do you remember what you said in Chapter when I spoke against the spire? Because I do. I shall never forget. There, before all of them. 'Sit down, Anselm!' Do you remember that? 'Sit down, Anselm ' "
"Let's leave it at that. There's nothing to be said or done."
"And there's the matter of the candles."
"And finally, Jocelin, if you want every matter out in the open, there's the business of the building."
"Can't you go?"
"You must admit it capped everything, to try and make a man of my years and standing into a builder's mate."
"Well. Forgive me, then."
"Naturally I forgive you. I forgive you."
"I beg you. No forgiveness for this or that, for this candle or that insult. Forgive me for being what I am."
"I said so."
"Do you feel it Anselm? Tell me you feel it!"
There were steps going down the stair; and after that, a long silence.
. . . . .
So he labored up by the wall; and immediately he remembered that Roger Mason would be in Letoyle. He crept along, his stick out to the left and a hand out to the wall on the right; and at last he saw the inn with the painted star on the sign and a mounting block outside. He sat breathlessly on the stone, saying to himself; It is just as well since I can go no further.
Feet went away and returned with more feet and he spoke to them, as before.
"Roger Mason. Roger Mason."
At last there were woman's feet among the rest, and the hem of a red dress. The woman cried out and talked busily; but her words were easy to ignore as always. I am sorry for her, he thought, but not much just a little sorry. It is my deficiency that she has no part in my grief.
Hands took him under the armpits and lifted him away from the block with his feet and his stick dragging. He saw a door approach, and stairs on which his feet touched one by one, while his stick went tap, bounce, tap. Then there was another door in comparative darkness, which swung open. Hands lowered him in a cloud of faintness to a settle, then went away and shut the door. He waited with his eyes shut for things to come back to him.
The first thing that came back was a noise. It was a scraping, a tussing, a thing of breath and phlegm, and rhythmical. It opened his eyes for him; and there, on one side of the small fire, opposite to the window, was a great bed of crumpled linen with a bolster. Roger Mason lay in it on one elbow, fully dressed except for his boots. He was laughing endlessly out of his swollen face; and then his mouth was wider open, the laugh more like a shout, and he fell back, prone. Jocelin watched his chest moving up and down.
Roger Mason rolled over, turning the bedclothes with him. He got heavily on one elbow again and grinned at Jocelin like a dog. There was sweat on his face. As Jocelin looked into the redrimmed eyes, he saw the face twist. Roger Mason turned his head sideways and spat inaccurately at the fire.
"You stink like a corpse."
Jocelin examined the words and then a memory of the faces over his bed. It may be so, he thought, yes indeed, it may be so. He heard his voice echo the words in a foolish, old man's voice.
"It may be so Roger, it may be so. Yes indeed, it may be so."
Roger Mason leaned forward over his elbow. He sounded deeply satisfied.
"They got you too."
He belched, and a red liquid ran down his chin.
"It hasn't fallen yet Roger. Father Adam told me so. He said it would fall some day even if we'd built it of adamant and anchored it to the roots of the earth."
The master builder began to heave on the bed. He wrenched his feet away from the clothes and staggered across the room. Jocelin heard him cursing and banging at the window. There came a crash, then the tinkle of glass. The master builder mouthed at the unechoing air.
"Fall when you like, me old cock!"
"There's very little wind today, Roger. Enough to make the apple blossom dance."
The master builder came lurching back. He fell heavily on his knees by the bed, and pawed at it. He gave up, slumped sideways, and laughed again.
"I like your stink, Jocelin. It does me good. I didn't think there was much could do me good."
But Jocelin was away in some dream, out of which he answered absently.
"I saw a kingfisher."
Then there were more feet, a red dress, talk, talk, talk. Roger Mason was being helped on to the bed again. The voice came and talked at Jocelin, left him and went back to the bed.
"Don't you understand, you great fool? They know he's here!"
Then the dress and the voice went away through the door. He looked across at the bed but could see little but a chest that went up and down, could hear nothing but gasp, pause, gasp.
"Roger? Roger? Can you hear me?"
Nothing but gasp.
"Imagine it. I thought I was doing a great work; and all I was doing was bringing ruin and breeding hate. Roger?"
He watched closely, but the only movement he could see other than the up and down of the chest was a slight quivering of one hand at each gasp. He turned his eyes away and watched the embers of the fire instead. They seemed brighter now, because shadows were creeping into every corner.
"To love all men with a holy love. And then Roger, can you hear me?"
But Roger never stirred. Jocelin gave up the attempt and waited, while the hand lay among the gasps, the fire brightened among shadows, and he examined the formless and inexpressible mass that lay in his mind.
At last the figure on the bed stirred. Roger Mason lay slack, his head on the bolster, his face looking at Jocelin expressionlessly.
"Well. Here we are, the two of us."
"It's not true the old don't suffer. They suffer as much as the young and they've less capacity to deal with it."
"And then, after all the bogus sanctity, to be bewitched by a dead woman."
"You're mad. I always said so."
"Perhaps. All the time I was busy with that colossal spike Yet I knew nothing of her. Is that what she meant, in my, my dream, speaking to me, or rather not speaking, but humming at me from her empty mouth? And yet you see, I'm not sure of that even. Alison said she bewitched me. That's what it was, wasn't it, Roger? What else could it be? And yet you see it may be a true Nail after all. There's just no way of knowing."
The master builder shouted.
"God damn you Jocelin! It'll fall, and I'll have to wait for it! You took my craft, you took my army, you took everything. May you be cursed right through hell!"
He gave a hiccuping sob.
"You and your net. You drove me too high."
"I was driven too. I was in some net or other."
He heard Roger sniffing into the bolster.
"Too high. Too high."
All at once there was a clearness in Jocelin's head. He saw exactly what could be done with one bulk of the formless, the incommunicable.
"Look. This is one thing I came to do."
He picked at the morse until his cloak fell from him, pushed off his skullcap, and laid the cross from his chest on the settle.
"I'm sorry about the tonsure. Clean water through the mouth of a dead dog. No, indeed. Heresies? I'm a compendium."
He got up and shuffled across the room. He knelt, but there was not enough strength in his back to sustain his weight so he fell on his hands. Well, he thought, this will have to do.
"Once you said I was the devil himself. It isn't true. I'm a fool. Also I think I'm a building with a vast cellarage where the rats live; and there's some kind of blight on my hands. I injure everyone I touch, particularly those I love. Now I've come in pain and shame, to ask you to forgive me."
There was a long silence. The fire clicked, the window creaked on its hinges, and the leaves stirred outside. He examined the floorboards between his hands. I'm here, he thought. I can do no more.
There was a thump from the floor as a knee hit it by his right hand. His shoulders were seized and he was hauled up straight. Roger's arms were round him, in the flames of his back. He felt his body and head shaken as the master builder cursed and sobbed. He did not sob well, so that each sob was a convulsion that shook them both; and then words came tumbling out between the sobs so that Jocelin found he was clinging too, with a drowning clutch. Roger's head was ground into his shoulder and he found himself babbling foolish things about an appletree, saying foolish, nursery things and patting a broad, shaking back. He is such a good man, he thought, so good whatever that is! Something is being born here under the painted, swinging sign.
Presently Roger heaved himself back. He kept one hand on Jocelin's shoulder, but smeared the other over his own face.
"Blubbering like a baby. It's the drink. I cry easily when I'm drunk."
Jocelin found himself swaying under the heavy hand.
"D'you think you could help me up, Roger?"
The master builder gave a great shout of laughter. He half-carried Jocelin back to the settle, then went and slumped on the edge of the bed. All the time, Jocelin explained.
"There isn't much to my back nowadays. You could snap me. Sometimes I think it's the weight of the stone hammer; but there it is."
"There it is. Sticking up. Drink."
"Not for me. No thank you."
A stray end of a faggot caught and burned with a yellow flame. It filled the room with leaping shadows. The master builder reached for the jug and took a swig at it.
"We did what we could."
"Things were terrible right at the top. Insane."
"Don't talk about it."
"Heavy; pause. Light; pause."
The master builder shouted.
"All right! All right!"
Jocelin inspected the formless thing in his head again.
"There's more of course. It'll fall one day; but for all the bending pillars, the slanting spire, the rubble I don't know. I've still a residue of, what shall I call it, disbelief perhaps? You see it may be what we were meant to do, the two of us. He said I'm like a girl, I always have to have a best friend; but there's nothing wrong in that, is there? So I gave it my body. What holds it up, Roger? I? The nail? Does she, or do you? Or is it poor Pangall, crouched beneath the crossways, with a sliver of mistletoe between his ribs?"
Roger Mason went very still, so still the flames made him shake as if he were part of the wall. But there were other things moving in the room, Jocelin felt them beating about him with black wings. His voice spoke out of a storm and he hardly knew he was using it.
"So there's still something you can do, Roger my son. Still something."
Roger Mason's face was dark again with blood, and his voice hoarse.
"That was what you came for, wasn't it, Jocelin? An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. If I don't you'll tell."
"No! No! I never meant "
"I understand you, Father. I've felt it catching up."
Now, among the black wings, terror fell on Jocelin.
"I didn't mean "
"I said I understand you."
"Something made me say it something out of my control!"
Roger Mason had slumped on the bed.
"When the next gale begins, I shall remember. An eye for an eye."
"You could go away. You're still young."
"Who'd employ me? Who'd work with me? You want everything, don't you, Father?"
"God is all about us. That I knew But I know these other things as well. Which is to say, I know nothing. What's a man's mind Roger? Is it the whole building, cellarage and all?"
Then the woman was in the room, darkeyed and speaking windily. When she had gone he heard other voices and laughter.
"What's that outside?"
"You see if she knew anything about it; what can I say? The trouble is, Roger, that the cellarage knew about him knew he was impotent I mean and arranged the marriage. It was her hair, I think. I used to see it, blowing red about a thin, pale face. After that, of course not. But later when she stood by the pillar looking across at you, it seared into my eye. Then she bewitched me. She must have done, mustn't she? That's why I must know what kind of creature she was; because if she knew, knew what happened to her husband, even consented to it perhaps there would be no horror as deep And of course a creature like that would haunt me!"
"What are you talking about?"
"About her, of course. I got to look for her. She'd come running and then stand. I bound up her cut knee with a piece torn from my own Well, what of it? Later, when I knew how deeply she was in my net, I tried to see her, tried to explain "
"Did she ever speak of me? Well never mind. I sacrificed her too. Deliberately. You know Roger, prayers are answered. That's horrible. So after she died, she haunted me, she bewitched me. To have prayer blinded by hair. A dead woman. That's a good joke, isn't it?"
"There ought to be some mode of life where all love is good, where one love can't compete with another but adds to it. What kind of a thing is a man's mind, Roger?"
"You got what you came for. Go, now."
"Only I must know "
"What does it matter to us now?"
"There's so much confusion in my mind. I loved her, you see, before she bewitched me, like a daughter. You see, that time she died "
"Let it be. Go."
"I need three tongues to say three things at once. I was there. You remember? I only wanted to help. Perhaps I understood some things, even then. She was on the floor. When she looked up, she saw me in the doorway, all dressed up, dean, priest, the accuser. I only wanted to help, but it killed her. I killed her as surely as if I'd cut her throat."
He heard the master builder's feet by his own. He felt a hot and winy breath by his face.
"Can't you see? It's why I must know these things I killed her!"
Suddenly the master builder was shouting.
"Get out! Get out!"
His hands hurled Jocelin sideways. The door slammed open and the same hands thrust him away. He saw stairs coming at him far too fast; then he was clinging to a rail, and his knees were on the stairs.
"You stinking corpse!"
The jug flew past his head and shattered on the wall. His feet and hands took him down to greasy cobbles and he heard the master builder shouting behind him.
"I hope they flay you!"
But that noise was consumed in a storm of voices, all shouting and laughing and making hound noises. He got up by the wall, but the noises swirling round him, brought hands and feet and dim faces at his own. He glimpsed a dark alley and pushed himself at it while the clothing tore on his back. He heard his gown rip; he could not lie down for hands held him up. The noises began to bray and yelp. They created their own mouths, tanged and slavering. He cried out.
"My children! My children!"
The yelling and bundling went on, a sea of imprecation and hate. The hands became fists and feet. High over everything he thought he heard Ivo and his friends urging on the hounds.
"Loo! Loo! Loo!"
He was flat on his face, he was looking at legs and the light from a doorway on the filth of the gutter.
Then there was a spreading silence. The legs moved away from him, little by little. He heard a voice in the silence, a woman's voice.
"Holy Mother of God. Look at his back!"
The feet moved more quickly. They went out of his eyes, and he heard them going, running, rushing, stumbling over the cobbles. The lighted door slammed shut.
He lay there for a while, shivering. At last he began to move, crawling towards the wall. I am naked, he thought, that was to be expected. He pulled himself up and began to edge towards the faint lights from the cressets in the High Street. At times he fell away from the wall, staggered into the gutter and out again; though once he fell in it. Here I show what I am, he thought, and climbed out again. At the place where the alley met the High Street, he fell and did not move. He was hardly conscious of the cloth placed over his back, and of the hem of Rachel's skirt and the sandalled feet of Father Adam. Hands began to care for him gently. A voice began to babble like the gutter in winter. Then he was swamped by clouds of darkness.
He was facing the stone rib of the vaulting again. It had changed in no way but he himself had entered some new kind of life. Tills was a sense of suspension above the body, which every now and then would be engulfed by an irresistible wave of faintness which brought a mindless fear with it. After the faintness, there would be a gap. Then he would find himself suspended in consciousness again, and wondering vaguely what had happened. He would speak wordlessly to himself above the body.
Where was I then?
And always, the answer would come, wordlessly.
There was a bitter stuff to drink, poppy perhaps, which he thought sometimes, was what allowed him to drift and swim so above the prone body. There were faces that interposed themselves too, one which gave him the drink, and another. Father Adam, now fully in focus. He could not tell how wide the gaps were, nor how long the periods of suspension and drifting. Only he would note, without surprise between one glance and the next, how the sunlight or shadow had measured off hours on the ribs of the vaulting. Sometimes he would be more immediately aware of the thing, the mechanism that lay beneath him. It was concerned above all with the business of stretching and collapsing the ribs, a task which it did ceaselessly but feebly and the heart at the center fluttered like a bird caught in a window. But he was fetched down into his body only when the ministers laid hands on him for some necessary office. Once he heard a conversation clearly and understood only the last few words.
"It is a wasting, a consumption of the back and spine "
Then after a pause: "No. None whatever. His heart, you see."
But most of the curious, fluctuating time, he was suspended above his body or in the gap. He had thoughts that lasted a century or a second. He saw images to which now he was wholly indifferent. He said almost nothing, because speech was so complex, even when you only had access to one mouth. His access was limited by a desire to avoid the trap of the body down there limited also by the gap that so often ambushed him. Nevertheless, every few centuries among the mists and the matter-of-fact examinations of the vaulting, he would make the long effort. He would pull himself down into the stone mouth, would break up the stone, and eject a puff of shaped air.
The focused face of Father Adam would come close, leaning down, smiling.
He would examine the blue eyes, the mouth stretched ever so slightly by the smile into the pucker of the cheeks. Then when the face had slid sideways out of sight, he would find himself examining whatever had come to take its place a stone rib, with perhaps a fly landing upside down and occupying itself with some small business.
At one point he began to think about his tomb and managed to send for the dumb man. Through an interminable succession of time and gap he got him to understand what was wanted; himself without ornament, lying stripped in death of clothing and flesh, a prone skeleton lapped in skin, head fallen back, mouth open. He plucked at the bedclothes, and at last hands understood. They stripped him for the young man, who drew with a face of fascinated disgust while Jocelin drifted away again. After a century or two the young man had gone, and a fly cleaned its legs on the vaulting.
Once there were candles, voices murmuring, and the touch of oil. He floated above the unction which had relevance to nothing but the leaden body; and a gap came. But when he woke and floated again there was a new thing. He could hear wind and rain, and the window drumming. Then he remembered the cellarage and the rats in it and the panic of that flung him right back into the gasping body.
"Mason. Roger Mason."
Faces came close to his, enquiring with raised eyebrows, and speaking long, incomprehensible sentences.
All at once the gasping caught up with the words and the thoughts in his head. His chest declined its work so that he drove it in fear. He felt hands lift him up so that he was sitting.
Then he was lying on his back again, looking up at a stone rib where the glossy sunlight was shifting line by line.
Where was I then?
But a face came between him and the sunlight, leaning down, shaken, redrimmed as to the eyes, the black hair fallen in snakes that brushed over him, the mouth flashing open and shut. There was a wildness about her attack that made him indifferent to it, since he could not follow it successively.
"In the outhouse between the onions and a sack of wheat "
How will she ever be rid of so much life? She is a devouring mouth, a good woman.
" on his hands and knees. The rope was still round his neck and a broken rafter on the other end of it. He always said the most difficult thing in his business was to estimate a breaking strain, though God knows "
God, thought Jocelin, as his mind saw things small, God? If I could go back, I would take God as lying between people and to be found there. But now witchcraft hides Him.
"Sits by the fire, his head on one side, blind and dumb I have to do everything for him, everything! Do you understand? Like a baby!"
He noted without interest how the hands of Father Adam pulled her sideways from him, heard her high sobbing in the room, then diminishing down the stairs. He saw in some mode, the face of Roger Mason beyond communication, the children on the grass, the body of Pangall crouched in its vigil. He saw the clumsy platforms of the tower, the ungainly and splintered octagons. He felt the weight.
No more, he thought, no more. I can't even feel for them. Or for myself.
Someone was muttering in the room and there was the clink of metal. The face of Father Adam came close again. He watched the lips and they let out a sound, but he was too weary to pay attention to it.
The blue eyes blinked once. Wrinkles appeared in the skin outside them. The lips opened and shut again. This time his poppied ears caught the word before it vanished into the vaulting.
Then he knew that the great revolution of his clock was accomplished; and dying seemed easy as eating or drinking or easing, one thing to be taken after another.
Only the present knowledge was a kind of freedom so that his thoughts went trotting away like a horse unharnessed from the cart. He looked up experimentally to see if at this late hour the witchcraft had left him; and there was a tangle of hair, blazing among the stars; and the great club of his spire lifted towards it. That's all, he thought, that's the explanation if I had time: and he made a word for Father Adam.
The smile became puzzled and anxious. Then it cleared.
Out of all the complex of weaknesses and defenses, the laboring body contracted the chest, trying to laugh; And he stilled it in sudden fear, balancing himself in life like a juggler; and he had a sudden liking for Father Adam and desired to give him something; so when he was properly balanced, he made another word for him.
And dying is more natural than living, because what could be more unnatural than that panicstricken thing leaping and falling like a last flame beneath the ribs?
That is my name, he thought, and he looked at Father Adam with mild interest; since Father Adam was dying too; and tomorrow or some such time a voice would say "Adam" in the same tone as to a child. No matter how high he rises, robe after robe, tomorrow or the day after they will tap three times on the smooth parchment of that forehead with the silver hammer. Then his mind trotted away again and he saw what an extraordinary creature Father Adam was, covered in parchment from head to foot, parchment stretched or tucked in, with curious hairs on top and a mad structure of bones to keep it apart. Immediately, as in a dream that came between him and the face, he saw all people naked, creatures of light brown parchment, which bound in their pipes or struts. He saw them pace or prance in sheets of woven stuff, with the skins of dead animals under their feet and he began to struggle and gasp to leave this vision behind him in words that never reached the air.
How proud their hope of hell is. There is no innocent work. God knows where God may be.
Arms wrestled him down, and there was a gap. But he came back in a panic, to see it through.
"Now Jocelin, we are going to help you into heaven."
Heaven, thought Jocelin busily in the panic, you who bind me, you who won't die until tomorrow, what do you know about heaven? Heaven and hell and purgatory are small and bright as a jewel in someone's pocket only to be taken out and worn on feast days. This is a grey, successive day for dying on. And what is heaven to me unless I go in holding him by one hand and her by the other?
I traded a stone hammer for four people.
Suddenly he found he had to bite the air, bite and hold on. Hands were heaving him upright so that his chest got air for a moment without his trying. The panic went out of his chest but beat about him.
There were two eyes looking at him through the panic. They were the only steady things, and before them, he was like a building about to fall. They looked in, an eye for an eye, one eye for each eye. He bit more air and clung to the eyes with his own as the only steady things in living.
The two eyes slid together.
It was the window, bright and open. Something divided it. Round the division was the blue of the sky. The division was still and silent, but rushing upward to some point at the sky's end, and with a silent cry. It was slim as a girl, translucent. It had grown from some seed of rosecolored substance that glittered like a waterfall, an upward waterfall. The substance was one thing, that broke all the way to infinity in cascades of exultation that nothing could trammel.
The panic beat and swept in, struck the window into patches that danced before either eye; but not the panic nor the blindness could diminish the terror of it and the astonishment.
"Now I know nothing at all."
But arms were laying down a whirl of terror and astonishment, down, down. Wild flashes of thought split the darkness. Our very stones cry out.
"I believe, Jocelin, I believe!"
What is terror and joy, how should they be mixed, why are they the same, the flashing, the flying through the panicshot darkness like a bluebird over water?
"A gesture of assent "
In the tide, flying like a bluebird, struggling, shouting, screaming to leave behind the words of magic and incomprehension
It's like the appletree!
Father Adam, leaning down, could hear nothing. But he saw a tremor of the lips that might be interpreted as a cry of: God! God! God! So of the charity to which he had access, he laid the Host on the dead man's tongue.