Had I been Prestcott, I might have concluded from this encounter that Sarah was evil and possessed; certainly there was something powerful and terrifying in her gesture, and in the flame of her eyes at that moment. This is something I will dwell on properly at the right moment; for now, however, I must say merely that not only did such a thought never occur to me, I can refute absolutely Prestcott’s assertions.
It requires no great learning or knowledge to do so; even by his own account, Prestcott’s conclusions were wrong and he was let down by his own ignorance and derangement. For example, he says that demons took over the body of Sir William Compton and changed its shape, but this is plainly contradicted by all authority, for the Malleus Maleficarum says plain it is not possible; Aristotle says this can be caused only by natural causes, particularly the stars, yet Dionysius says the devil cannot change the stars—God will not allow it. Prest-cott never found any evidence of Sarah having cast an enchantment over his hair and blood, and the visions he suffered were due more, I think, to the devils he had himself summoned into his mind than any sent there by others.
Nor did he read those signs aright which he had himself summoned, for in the bowl of water shown him by Anne Blundy, he sought the author of his misfortunes, and she showed him truly—he saw, quite plainly, his own father and a young man—that man, I believe, was none other than himself. These two people brought all the troubles on their own heads through their violence and their disloyalty. Greatorex repeated the warning and again he ignored it. Jack Prestcott had the answer in his hand, Wallis says so plainly and I know it to be true, and yet in his madness he blamed others, and helped destroy Sarah, and put all hope forever out of his reach.
He very nearly put it out of mine as well. I scarcely saw Sarah at all for the next few months, as I took myself back to my manuscripts and my notebooks. When not working, though, my mind incessantly and disobediently returned to her, and my distress grew into resentment, and then into the most bitter hatred. I rejoiced when I heard that Dr. Grove had dismissed her, and that she was without work of any sort; I took satisfaction in the fact that no one else would employ her for fear of comment; and once I saw her in the street red in face with anger and humiliation, subjected to the lewd remarks of students who had also heard the stories. This time I did not intervene as I had once before, but turned away after I was certain she had seen me, so that she would know my contempt continued unabated. Quos laeserunt et oderunt, as Seneca has it, those you have injured you also hate, and I believe I felt already that I had been less than just, but did not know how to reverse my harshness.
Shortly after this business, when my spirits were still low and my habits continued unsociable—for I knew my humor did not appeal, and so avoided the company of my fellow men lest they demand to know what ailed me—I was summoned to Dr. Wallis. This was a rare occurrence, for although I was earning him his salary as keeper of the archives, he did not honor me frequently with such attention; any business between us was habitually conducted at chance meetings, in the street or in the library. As everyone who knows Wallis will realize, the summons alarmed me, for his coldness was truly terrifying. This is one of the rare matters on which Prestcott and Cola agree—both found his presence disturbing. It was, I think, the blankness of his countenance which gave such alarm, for it is hard to know a man when the visible indicators of character have been so rigorously suppressed. Wallis never smiled, never frowned, never showed either pleasure or displeasure. There was only his voice—soft, menacing and permanently laced with scarce-hidden nuances of contempt beneath a courtesy which could evaporate as swiftly as a summer dew.
It was at this meeting that Wallis asked me to discover for him the edition of Livy he sought. I will not recount the conversation as it actually took place; stripped of his sneering remarks about my character, the essence of his version is accurate enough. I promised to do my best and did so, leaving no library unexamined and no bookseller unbothered by my enquiries. But he did not tell me why he wanted it—I still knew nothing of Marco da Cola, who arrived several weeks afterward.