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Authors: Charles Williams

Shadows of Ecstasy

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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF CHARLES WILLIAMS

“One of the most gifted and influential Christian writers England has produced this century.” —
Time

“[Williams has a] profound insight into Good and Evil, into the heights of Heaven and the depths of Hell, which provides both the immediate thrill, and the permanent message of his novels.” —T. S. Eliot

“Reading Charles Williams is an unforgettable experience. It proves that one can write about the weird and fantastic in such a compelling manner as to appeal to any reader of modern novels.” —
The Saturday Review of Literature

“Charles Williams took the form of the thriller and used it to create an extraordinary genre that has sometimes been called ‘spiritual shockers.' His books are immensely worth reading, even if you consider yourself unspiritual and immune to shock.” —Humphrey Carpenter, author of
The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends

“With a powerful imagination fed by trinitarian and incarnational faith, Charles Williams used fiction to explore how people react when the supernatural enters their lives, and how then to find the path of peace. The fantasy novels that result make a riveting read.” —J. I. Packer, theologian and author of
Knowing God

All Hallows' Eve

“The work of a gifted man and obviously the expression of devoutly held convictions … No stranger novel has crossed my path in years.” —
The New York Times

“A story that makes a real word of supernatural … A tale of horror surpassing even the works of the recognized masters.” —
Chicago Sunday Tribune

“A strange story … poignant beauty such as prose fiction rarely achieves. The final impression is more as if the three books of the
Divine Comedy
had been compressed into one novel.” —
The New York Times Book Review

Many Dimensions

“A great English believer unites the seen with the unseen in a glory and a terror that are unforgettable.” —
New York Herald Tribune

“It is satire, romance, thriller, morality and glimpses of eternity all rolled into one.” —
The New York Times

Shadows of Ecstasy

A Novel

Charles Williams

CONTENTS

I. ENCOUNTERING DARKNESS

II. SUICIDE WHILE OF UNSOUND MIND

III. THE PROCLAMATION OF THE HIGH EXECUTIVE

IV. THE MAJESTY OF THE KING

V. THE NEOPHYTE OF DEATH

VI. THE MASS AT LAMBETH

VII. THE OPENING OF SCHISM

VIII. PASSING THROUGH THE MIDST OF THEM

IX. THE RIOT AND THE RAID

X. LONDON AFTER THE RAID

XI. THE HOUSE BY THE SEA

XII. THE JEWELS OF MESSIAS

XIII. THE MEETING OF THE ADEPTS

XIV. SEA-CHANGE

About the Author

Chapter One

ENCOUNTERING DARKNESS

Roger Ingram's peroration broke over the silent dining hall: “He and such as he are one with the great conquerors, the great scientists, the great poets; they have all of them cried of the unknown:

I will encounter darkness as a bride

And hug it in mine arms
.”

He sat down amid applause, directed not to him but to the subject of his speech. It was at a dinner given by the Geographical Faculty of the University of London to a distinguished explorer just back from South America. The explorer's health had been proposed by the Dean of the Faculty, and the Professor of Tropical Geography had been intended to second it. Unfortunately the Professor had gone down with influenza that very day, and Roger had been hastily made to take his place. The other geographical professors, though vocationally more suitable, were both learned and low-voiced, as also were their public addresses. The Dean had refused to subject his distinguished guests, including the explorer, to their instructive whispers. Roger might not be a geographer, but he could make a better speech, and he belonged to the University if to a different faculty, being Professor of Applied Literature. This was a new Chair, endowed beneficently by a rich Canadian who desired at once to benefit the Mother Country and to recall her from the by-ways of pure art to the highroad of art as related to action. Roger had been invited from a post in a Northern University to fill the Chair, largely on the strength of his last book, which was called
Persuasive Serpents: studies in English Criticism
, and had been read with admiration by twenty-seven persons and with complete misunderstanding by four hundred and eighty-two. Its theme, briefly, was that most English critics had at all times been wholly and entirely wrong in their methods and aims, and that criticism was an almost undiscovered art, being a final austere harmony produced by the purification of literature from everything alien, which must still exist in the subjects of most prose and poetry. However, the salary of the Chair of Applied Literature had decided him to give an example of it in his own person, and he had accepted.

He lent an ear, when the toast had been drunk, to his wife's “Beautiful, Roger: he loved it,” and to Sir Bernard Travers' murmured “
Hug
?”

“I know,” he said; “you wouldn't hug it. You'd ask it to a light but good dinner and send it away all pale and comfortable. I was good, wasn't I, Isabel? A little purple, but pleasing purple. Pleasing purple for pleased people—that's me after dinner.” He composed himself to listen.

The explorer, returning thanks, was not indisposed to accept literally the compliments which had been offered him. He touched on ordinary lives, on the conditions of ordinary lives, on the ordinary office clerk, and on the difference between such a man and himself. He painted a picture of South America in black and scarlet; Roger remarked to his wife in a whisper that crude scarlet was the worst colour to put beside rich purple. He enlarged on the heroism of his companions with an under-lying suggestion that it was largely maintained by his own. He made a joke at the expense of Roger's quotation, saying that he would never apply “for a divorce or even a judicial separation from the bride Mr. Ingram has found me.” Roger gnashed his teeth and smiled back politely, muttering “He isn't worth Macaulay and I gave him Shakespeare.” He would, in short, have been a bore, had he not been himself.

At last he sat down. Sir Bernard, politely applauding, said: “Roger, why are the English no good at oratory?”

“Because—to do the fool justice—they prefer to explore,” Roger said. “You can't be a poet and an orator too: it needs a different kind of consciousness.”

Sir Bernard left off applauding; he said: “Roger why are the English so good at oratory?”

“No,” Roger said, “anything in reason, but not that. They aren't, you know.”

“Need that prevent you finding a reason why they are?” Sir Bernard asked.

“Certainly not,” Roger answered, “but it'd prevent you believing it. I wish I were making all the speeches to-night; I'm going to be bored. Isabel, shall we go?”

“Rather not,” Isabel said. “They're going to propose the health of the guests. I'm a guest. Mr. Nigel Considine will reply. Who's Mr. Nigel Considine?”

“A rich man, that's all I know,” said her husband. “He gave a collection of African images to the anthropological school, and endowed a lectureship on—what was it?—on
Ritual Transmutations of Energy
. As a matter of fact, I fancy there was some trouble about it, because he wanted one man in it and the University wanted another. They didn't know anything about his man.”

“And what did they know of their own?” Sir Bernard put in.

“They knew he'd been at Birmingham or Leeds or somewhere—all quite proper,” Roger answered, “and had written a book on the marriage rites of the indigenous Caribs or some such people. He wasn't married himself, and he'd never been a Carib—at least not so far as was known. Considine's man was a native of Africa, so the Dean was afraid he might start ritually transmuting energy in the lecture-room.”

“Was Mr. Considine annoyed?” Isabel asked.

“Apparently not, as he's here to-night,” Roger answered. “Unless he's going to get his own back now. But I never met him, and never got nearer to him than his collection of images.” His voice became more serious, “They were frightfully impressive.”

“The adjective being emphatic or colloquial?” Sir Bernard asked, and was interrupted by the health of the guests. He was a little startled to find that he himself was still considered important enough to be mentioned by name in the speech that proposed it. He had, in fact, been a distinguished figure in the medical world of his day: he had written a book on the digestive organs which had become a classic, in spite of the ironic humour with which he always spoke of it. He had attended the stomachs of High Personages, and had retired from active life only the year before, after accepting a knighthood with an equally serious irony.

Mr. Nigel Considine, on behalf of the guests, thanked their hosts. The chief of those guests, the guest of honour, of honour in actual truth, had already spoken. The intellectual value of the journey which they had celebrated was certainly very high, and very valuable to the scientific knowledge of the world which was so rapidly growing. “Yet,” the full voice went on, “yet, if I hesitated at all at the view which the most prominent guest to-night took of his own fine achievement”—Roger's eyes flashed up and down again—“it would have been over one implication which he seemed to make. He set before us the wonder and terror of those remote parts of the world which he has been instrumental in helping to map out. Birds and beasts, trees and flowers, all kinds of non-human life, he admirably described. But the human life he appeared to regard as negligible. There is, it seems, nothing for us of Europe to learn from them, except perhaps how to starve on a few roots or to weave boughs into a shelter. It may be so. But I think we should not be too certain of it. He spoke of some of these peoples as being like children; he will pardon me if I dreamed of an old man wandering among children. For the children are growing, and the old man is dying. We who are here to-night are here as the servants and the guests of a great University, a University of knowledge, scholarship, and intellect. You do well to be proud of it. But I have wondered whether there may not be colleges and faculties of other experiences than yours, and whether even now in the far corners of other continents powers not yours are being brought to fruition. I have myself been something of a traveller, and every time I return to England I wonder whether the games of those children do not hold a more intense life than the talk of your learned men—a more intense passion for discovery, a greater power of exploration, new raptures, unknown paths of glorious knowledge; whether you may not yet sit at the feet of the natives of the Amazon or the Zambesi: whether the fakirs, the herdsmen, the witch-doctors may not enter the kingdom of man before you. But, however this may be, it is not——” He turned gracefully to renewed thanks and compliments, and sat down.

BOOK: Shadows of Ecstasy
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