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CHAPTER SEVEN

THE PENDRAGON

BEFORE she reached the Manor Jane met Mr. Denniston and told him her story as they walked. As they entered the house they met Mrs. Maggs.

"What? Mrs. Studdock! Fancy!" said Mrs. Maggs.

"Yes, Ivy," said Denniston, "and bringing great news. We must see Grace at once."

A few minutes later Jane found herself once more in Grace Ironwood's room. Miss Ironwood and the Dennistons sat facing her, and when Ivy Maggs brought in some tea she did not go away again, but sat down too.

"You need not mind Ivy, young lady," said Miss Ironwood. "She is one of our company."

There was a pause.

"We have your letter of the 10th," continued Miss Ironwood, " describing your dream of the man with the pointed beard sitting making notes in your bedroom. Perhaps I ought to tell you that he wasn't really there: at least, the Director does not think it possible. But he was really studying you. He was getting information about you from some other source which, unfortunately, was not visible to you in the dream."

"Will you tell us, if you don't mind," said Mr. Denniston, " what you were telling me as we came along?"

Jane told them about the dream of the corpse (if it was a corpse) in the dark place and how she had met the bearded man that morning in Market Street: and at once she was aware of having created intense interest.

Miss Ironwood opened a drawer and handed a photograph across to Jane and asked, "Do you recognise that?"

"Yes," said Jane in a low voice; " that is the man I dreamed of and the man I saw this morning in Edgestow."

It was a good photograph, and beneath it was the name Augustus Frost.

"In the second place," continued Miss Ironwood, "are you prepared to see the Director . . . now?"

"Well-yes, if you like."

"In that case, Camilla," said Miss Ironwood to Mrs. Denniston, "you had better go and tell him what we have just heard and find out if he is well enough to meet Mrs. Studdock."

The others rose and left the room.

"I have very little doubt," said Miss Ironwood, " that the Director will see you."

Jane said nothing.

"And at that interview," continued the other, " you will, I presume, be called upon to make a final decision."

Jane gave a little cough which had no other purpose than to dispel a certain air of unwelcome solemnity.

"And secondly," said Miss Ironwood, "I must ask you to remember that he is often in great pain."

"If Mr. Fisher-King is not well enough to see visitors ...," said Jane vaguely.

"You must excuse me," said Miss Ironwood, "for impressing these points upon you. I am the only doctor in our company, and am responsible -for protecting him as far as I can. If you will now come with me I will show you to the Blue Room."

She rose and held the door open for Jane. They passed out into the plain, narrow passage and thence up shallow steps into a large entrance hall whence a fine Georgian staircase led to the upper floors. On the first floor they found a little square place with white pillars where Camilla sat waiting for them. There was a door behind her.

"He will see her," she said to Miss Ironwood, getting up.

As Miss Ironwood raised her hand to knock on the door, Jane thought to herself, "Be careful. Don't get let in for anything. All these long passages and low voices will make a fool of you if you don't look out." Next moment she found herself going in. It was light-it seemed all windows. And it was warm-a fire blazed on the hearth. And blue was the prevailing colour. She was annoyed, and in a way ashamed, to see that Miss Ironwood was curtseying. "I won't," contended in Jane's mind with "I can't " : for she couldn't.

"This is the young lady, sir," said Miss Ironwood. Jane looked; and instantly her world was unmade. On a sofa before her, with one foot bandaged as if he had a wound, lay what appeared to be a boy, twenty years old.

On one of the long window-sills a tame jackdaw was walking up and down. Winter sunlight poured through the glass; apparently one was above the fog here. All the light in the room seemed to run towards the gold hair and the gold beard of the wounded man.

Of course he was not a boy-how could she have thought so? The fresh skin on his cheeks and hands had suggested the idea. But no boy could have so full a beard. And no boy could be so strong. It was manifest that the grip of those hands would be inescapable, and imagination suggested that those arms and shoulders could support the whole house. Miss Ironwood at her side struck her as a little old woman, shrivelled and pale-a thing you could have blown away.

Pain came and went in his face: sudden jabs of sickening pain. But as lightning goes through the darkness and the darkness closes up again and shows no trace, so the tranquillity of his countenance swallowed up each shock of torture. How could she have thought him young? Or old either ? It came over her that this face was of no age at all. She had, or so she had believed, disliked bearded faces except for old men. But that was because she had long since forgotten the imagined Arthur of her childhood -and the imagined Solomon too. Solomon . . . for the first time in many years the bright solar blend of king and lover and magician which hangs about that name stole back upon her mind. For the first time in all those years she tasted the word King itself with all its linked associations of battle, marriage, priesthood, mercy, and power. Next moment she was once more the ordinary social Jane, flushed and confused to find that she had been staring rudely (at least she hoped that rudeness would be the main impression) at a total stranger. But her world was unmade. Anything might happen now.

"Thank you, Grace," the man was saying. And the voice also seemed to be like sunlight and gold. "You must forgive me for not getting up, Mrs. Studdock," it said. "My foot is hurt."

And Jane heard her own voice saying, "Yes, sir," soft and chastened like Miss Ironwood's. She had meant to say, "Good morning, Mr. Fisher-King," in an easy tone. But her world was unmade: anything might happen now.

"Do you wish me to remain, sir?" said Miss Ironwood.

"No, Grace," said the Director, "I don't think you need stay. Thank you."

For a few minutes after Grace Ironwood had left them, Jane hardly took in what the Director was saying. It was not that her attention wandered: on the contrary, her attention was so fixed on him that it defeated itself.

"I-I beg your pardon," she said, wishing that she did not keep on turning red like a schoolgirl.

"I was saying," he answered, " that you have already done us the greatest service. We knew that one of the most dangerous attacks ever made upon the human race was coming very soon and in this island. We had an idea that Belbury might be connected with it. But we were not certain. That is why your information is so valuable. But in another way, it presents us with a difficulty. We had hoped you would be able to join us."

"Can I not, sir?" said Jane.

"It is difficult," said the Director, " you see, your husband is in Belbury."

Jane glanced up. It had been on the tip of her tongue to say "Do you mean that Mark is in any danger?"But she had realised that anxiety about Mark did not, in fact, make any part of the emotions she was feeling, and that to reply thus would be hypocrisy. It was a sort of scruple she had not often felt. "What do you mean?" she said.

"Why," said the Director, " it would be hard for the same person to be the wife of an official in the N.I.C.E. and also a member of my company."

"You mean you couldn't trust me?"

"I mean that, in the circumstances, you and I and your husband could not all be trusting one another."

Jane bit her lip in anger. Why should Mark and his affairs intrude themselves at such a moment ?

"I must do what I think right, mustn't I?" she said softly. "I mean-if Mark-if my husband-is on the wrong side, I can't let that make any difference to what I do. 'Can I?"

"You are thinking about what is right?" said the Director. Jane started, and flushed. She had not been thinking about that.

"Of course," said the Director, " things might come to such a point that you would be justified in coming here, even against his will, even secretly. It depends on how close the danger is-to us all, and to you personally."

"I thought the danger was right on top of us now . . ."

"That is the question," said the Director, with a smile. "I am not allowed to be too prudent. I am not allowed to use desperate remedies until desperate diseases are really apparent. It looks as if you will have to go back. You will, no doubt, be seeing your husband again fairly soon. I think you must make at least one effort to detach him from the N.I.C.E."

"But how can I, sir?" said Jane. "What have I to say to him. He'd think it all nonsense." As she said it she wondered, "Did that sound cunning?" then, "Was it cunning?"

"No," said the Director. "And you must not mention me nor the company at all. We have put our lives in your hands. You must simply ask him to leave Belbury. You must put it on your own wishes."

"Mark never takes any notice of what I say," answered Jane.

"Perhaps," said the Director, " you have never asked anything as you will be able to ask this. Do you not want to save him as well as yourself?"

Jane ignored this question. She began speaking rapidly. "Don't send me back," she said. "I am all alone at home, with terrible dreams. It isn't as if Mark and I saw much of one another at the best of times. I am so unhappy. He won't care whether I come here or not."

"Are you unhappy now?" said the Director.

Suddenly she ceased at last to think how her words might make him think of her, and answered, "No. But," she added after a short pause, " it will be worse now, if I go back."

"Will it?-"

"But is it really necessary?" she began. "I don't think I look on marriage quite as you do---"

"Child," said the Director, " it is not a question of how you or I look on marriage but how my Masters look on it."

"They would never think of finding out first whether Mark and I believed in their ideas of marriage?"

"Well-no," said the Director with a curious smile. "They wouldn't think of doing that."

"And would it make no difference to them what a marriage was actually like . . . whether it was a success ? Whether the woman loved her husband?" Jane had not intended to say this. "But I suppose you will say I oughtn't to have told you that," she added.

"My dear child," said the Director, " you have been telling me that ever since your husband was mentioned."

"Does it make no difference?"

"I suppose," said the Director, " it would depend on how he lost your love."

Jane was silent.

"I don't know," she said at last. "I suppose our marriage was just a mistake."

The Director said nothing.

"What would you-what would the people you are talking of say about a case like that?"

"I will tell you if you really want to know," said the Director.

"Please," said Jane reluctantly.

"They would say," he answered, " that you do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because you never attempted obedience."

Something in Jane that would normally have reacted to such a remark with anger was banished by the fact that the word obedience-but certainly not obedience to Mark- came over her, in that room, like a strange oriental perfume, perilous, seductive. . . .

"Stop it!" said the Director sharply. Jane stared at him, open-mouthed: the exotic fragrance faded away.

"You were saying, my dear?" resumed the Director. "I thought love meant equality," she said. "Ah, equality!" said the Director. "Yes; we must all be guarded by equal rights from one another's greed, because we are fallen. Just as we wear clothes for the same reason. But the naked body should be there underneath the clothes. Equality is not the deepest thing, you know."

"I always thought that was just what it was. I thought it was in their souls that people were equal."

"You were mistaken; that is the last place where they are equal. Equality before the law, equality of incomes- that is very well. Equality guards life; it doesn't make it. It is medicine, not food."

"But surely in marriage . . .?"

"Worse and worse," said the Director. "Courtship knows nothing of it; nor does fruition. They never warned you. No one has ever told you that obedience- humility-is an erotic necessity. You are putting equality just where it ought not to be. As to your coming here, that may admit of some doubt. For the present, I must -send you back. You can come out and see us. In the meantime, talk to your husband and I will talk to my authorities."

"When will you be seeing them?"

"They come to me when they please. But we've been talking too solemnly about obedience all this time. I'd like to show you some of its drolleries. You are not---"

He broke off sharply and a new look came into his eyes. At the same moment a new thought came into Jane's mind; an odd one. She was thinking of hugeness. Or rather, she was not thinking of it. She was, in some strange fashion, experiencing it. Something intolerably big, something from Brobdingnag, was pressing on her, was approaching, was almost in the room. She felt herself shrinking, suffocated, emptied of all power and virtue. She darted a glance at the Director which was really a cry for help, and that glance, in some inexplicable way, revealed him as being, like herself, a very small object. The whole room was a tiny place, a mouse's hole, and it seemed to her to be tilted aslant-as though the insupportable mass and splendour of this formless hugeness, in approaching, had knocked it askew. She heard the Director's voice.

"Quick," he said gently, " these are my Masters. You must leave me now. This is no place for us small ones, but I am inured. Go!"

During her homeward journey Jane was so divided that one might say there were three, if not four, Janes in the compartment. The first was a Jane simply receptive of the Director, recalling every word and every look, and delighting in them-a Jane taken utterly off her guard and swept away on the flood-tide of an experience which she could not control. For she was trying to control it; that was the function of the second Jane. This second Jane regarded the first with disgust, as the kind of woman whom she had always particularly despised. To have surrendered without terms at the mere voice and look of this stranger, to have abandoned that prim little grasp on her own destiny, that perpetual reservation . . . the thing was degrading, uncivilised.

The third Jane was a new and unexpected visitant. Risen from some unknown region of grace or heredity, it uttered things which Jane had often heard before but which had never seemed to be connected with real life. If it had told her that her feelings about the Director were wrong, she would not have been very surprised. But it did not. It blamed her for not having similar feelings about Mark. It was Mark who had made the fatal mistake; she must be " nice " to Mark. The Director insisted on it. At the moment when her mind was most filled with another man there arose a resolution to give Mark much more than she had ever given him before, and a feeling that in so doing she would be really giving it to the Director. And this produced such a confusion of sensations that the whole inner debate became indistinct and flowed over into the larger experience of the fourth Jane, who was Jane herself.

This fourth and supreme Jane was simply in the state of joy. The other three had no power upon her, for she was in the sphere of Jove, amid light and music and festal pomp, brimmed with life and radiant in health, jocund and clothed in shining garments. She reflected with surprise how long it was since music had played any part in her life, and resolved to listen to many chorales by Bach on the gramophone that evening. She rejoiced also in her hunger and thirst and decided that she would make herself buttered toast for tea-a great deal of buttered toast. And she rejoiced also in the consciousness of her own beauty; for she had the sensation-it may have been false in fact, but it had nothing to do with vanity-that it was growing and expanding like a magic flower with every minute that passed. Her beauty belonged to the Director. It belonged to him so completely that he could order it to be given to another.

As the train came into Edgestow Station Jane was just deciding that she would not try to get a bus. She would enjoy the walk. And then-what on earth was all this? The platform, usually almost deserted at this hour, was like a London platform on a bank holiday. "Here you are, mate!" cried a voice as she opened the door, and half a dozen men crowded into her carriage so roughly that for a moment she could not get out. She found difficulty in crossing the platform. People seemed to be going in all directions at once-angry, rough, and excited people. "Get back into the train, quick!" shouted someone. "Get out of the station, if you're not travelling," bawled another voice. And from outside, beyond the station, came a great roaring noise like the noise of a football crowd.

Hours later, bruised, frightened, and tired, Jane found herself in a street she did not even know, surrounded by N.I.C.E. policemen and a few of their females, the Waips. A couple of the men-one seemed to meet them everywhere except where the rioting was most violent-had shouted out, "You can't go down there, miss."But as they then turned their backs, Jane had made a bolt for it. They caught her. And that was how she found herself being taken into a lighted room and questioned by a uniformed woman with short grey hair, a square face, and an unlighted cheroot. The woman with the cheroot took no particular interest until Jane had given her name. Then Miss Hardcastle looked her in the face for the first time, and Jane felt quite a new sensation. She was already tired and frightened, but this was different. The face of the other woman affected her as the face of some men-fat men with small, greedy eyes and strange, disquieting smiles-had affected her when she was in her 'teens.

"Jane Studdock," said the Fairy. "You'll be the wife of my friend Mark." While, she spoke she was writing something on a green form. "That's all right. Now, just one question, dear. What were you doing down here at this time of night?"

"I had just come off a train."

"And where had you been, honey?" Jane said nothing.

"You hadn't been getting up to mischief while Hubby was away, had you?"

"Will you please let me go?" said Jane. "I want to get home. I am very tired and it's very late."

"But you're not going home," said Miss Hardcastle. "You're coming out to Belbury."

"My husband has said nothing about my joining him there."

Miss Hardcastle nodded. "That was One of his mistakes. But you're coming with us."

"What do you mean?"

"It's an arrest, honey," said Miss Hardcastle, holding out the piece of green paper on which she had been writing.

"O-oh!" screamed Jane suddenly, overcome with a sensation of nightmare, and made a dash for the door. A moment later she came to her senses and found herself held by the two policewomen.

"What a naughty temper!" said Miss Hardcastle playfully. "But we'll put the nasty men outside, shall we?" She said something and the policemen removed themselves.

Jane felt that a protection had been withdrawn from her. "Well," said Miss Hardcastle, addressing the two uniformed girls. "Let's see. Quarter to one . . . and all going nicely. I think, Daisy, we can afford a little stand-easy. Be careful, Kitty, make your grip under her shoulder a little tighter." While she was speaking Miss Hardcastle was undoing her belt. She removed the cheroot from her mouth, lit it, blew a cloud of smoke in Jane's direction, and addressed her. "Where had you been by that train?" she said.

And Jane said nothing; partly because she could not speak, and partly because she now knew beyond all doubt that these were the enemies whom the Director was fighting against, and one must tell them nothing. She heard Miss Hardcastle say, "I think, Kitty dear, you and Daisy had better bring her round here." The two women forced her round to the other side of the table, and she saw Miss Hardcastle sitting with her legs wide apart; long leather-clad legs projecting from beneath her short skirt. The women forced her on, with a skilled, quiet increase of pressure, until she stood between Miss Hardcastle's feet: whereupon Miss Hardcastle brought her feet together so that she had Jane's ankles pinioned between her own. And Miss Hardcastle stared at her, smiling and blowing smoke in her face.

"Do you know," said Miss Hardcastle at last, "you're rather a pretty little thing in your way." There was another silence.

"Where had you been by that train?" said Miss Hardcastle.

Suddenly she leant forward and, after-very carefully turning down the edge of Jane's dress, thrust the lighted end of the cheroot against her shoulder. After that there was another pause and another silence.

"Where had you been by that train?" said Miss Hardcastle.

How many times this happened Jane could never remember. But there came a time when Miss Hardcastle was talking not to her but to one of the women.

"What are you fussing about, Daisy?" she was saying. "I was only saying, ma'am, it was five past one."

"How time flies, doesn't it. Daisy? Aren't you comfortable, Daisy? You're not getting tired, holding a little bit of a thing like her?"

"No, ma'am, thank you. But you did say, ma'am, you'd meet Captain O'Hara at one sharp."

"Captain O'Hara?" said Miss Hardcastle dreamily at first, and then louder, like one waking from a dream. Next moment she had jumped up and was putting on her belt. "Bless the girl!" she said. "Why didn't you remind me before?"

"You don't like us to interrupt, ma'am, sometimes, when you're examining," said the girl sulkily.

"Don't argue!" shouted Miss Hardcastle, wheeling round and hitting her cheek a resounding blow with the palm other hand. "Get the prisoner into the car."

A few seconds later (there seemed to be room for five in the car) Jane found herself gliding through the darkness. "Better go through the town as little as possible, Joe," said Miss Hardcastle's voice. "It'll be pretty lively by now." There seemed to be all sorts of strange noises and lights about. At places, too, there seemed to be a great many people. Then there came a moment when Jane found that the car had drawn up. "What the hell are you stopping for?" said Miss Hardcastle. For a second or two there was no answer from the driver except grunts and the noise of unsuccessful attempts to start up the engine. The street was empty but, to judge by the noise, it was near some other street which was very full and very angry. The man got out, swearing under his breath, and opened the bonnet of the car. Miss Hardcastle continued pouring abuse on him. The noise grew louder. Suddenly the driver straightened himself and turned his face towards Miss Hardcastle.

"Look here, miss," he said, " that's about enough, see?"

"Don't you try taking that line with me, Joe," said Miss Hardcastle, "or you'll find me saying a little word about you to the ordinary police."

"For the lord's sake speak to him nicely, ma'am," wailed Kitty. "They're coming. We'll catch it proper." And in fact men running, by twos and threes, had begun to trickle into the street.

"Foot it, girls," said Miss Hardcastle. "Sharp's the word. This way."

Jane found herself hustled out of the car and hurried along between Daisy and Kitty. Miss Hardcastle walked in front. The party darted across the street and up an alley on the far side.

The alley turned out to be a dead end. Miss Hardcastle stood still for a moment. Unlike her subordinates, she did not seem to be frightened, but only pleasantly excited.

The shouting in the street they had left had grown louder. Suddenly it became much louder still and angrier.

"They've caught Joe," said Miss Hardcastle. "If he can make himself heard he'll send them up here. Blast! This means losing the prisoner. Quick. We must go down into the crowd separately. Keep your heads. Try to get to Billingham at the cross-roads. Ta-ta, Babs! The quieter you keep, the less likely we are to meet again."

Miss Hardcastle set off at once. Jane saw her stand for a few seconds on the fringes of the crowd and then disappear into it. The two girls hesitated and then followed. Jane sat down on a doorstep. She was deadly cold and a little sick. But, above all, tired; so tired she could drop asleep almost. . . .

She shook herself. There was complete silence all about her: she was colder than she had ever been before, and her limbs ached. "I believe I have been asleep," she thought. She put her hand in the pocket of the coat which Daisy and Kitty had flung round her and found a slab of chocolate. She was ravenous and began munching. Just as she finished a car drew up.

"Are you all right?" said a man, poking his head out. "Were you hurt in the riot?" said a woman's voice from within.

The man stared at her and then got out. "I say," he said, " you don't look too good." Then he turned and spoke to the woman inside. The unknown couple made her sit in the car and gave her brandy. Where was her home?

And Jane, somewhat to her surprise, heard her own voice very sleepily answering, "The Manor, at St. Anne's."

"That's fine," said the man. "We have to pass it." Then Jane fell asleep at once again, and awoke only to find herself entering a lighted doorway and being received by a woman in pyjamas and an overcoat who turned out to be Mrs. Maggs. But she was too tired to remember how she got to bed.
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