GENERISIS presents THE GOLDEN DAWN
Episode 4 - "THE BEAST!"
We celebrants of Pluto gathered in the ship's bar, then, as noisy and as jolly a pentagon as might be expected under such queer circumstances.
"Mr. Crowley," Melisande observed as all found seats, "you claim to be a wicked man but all you have shown to us is kindness and understanding. I think yours is a good soul..."
"Now you have insulted me!" He winked towards me, as if all was a joke, but I think that the remark had offended him... by touching him in a place he was loathe to show. "There's a German about," he continued with devilish cheer, "a very wise and dangerous fellow who is, for that reason, untranslated and little known outside of his country. Dangerous because, like Blake, he understands how evil may often serve as portal to the good. Dear dreamers! Consider the poets, how they bring phantoms, vampires into the world; and these children of nightmare shall not be nourished save by the poets' blood. And their hunger is never sated!"
"Were I worthy of the homage," Axel remarked, "I would wish a famous poet to compose my funeral ode as... as Mallarme did for Gautier and Poe, a final curse flung in the face of all who deride genius and its sacramental teeth in life..."
"Our parents!" Melisande grimaced, and attempted to drain her flute of the champagne Crowley had ordered and Axel paid for in the wild manner of Parisian cafes that she had probably never visited. She could not finish, of course, ending up coughing and wiping her chin with the ship's napkin. Axel coughed also, perhaps for sympathy's sake, sighed and withdrew a silver box of cigarettes.
I felt duty's tug and turned towards Henry, who was staring into his cognac as if it were a Chinese mirror in which elemental spirits dwelt, who now and then consented to raise cryptic bon mots in long-forgotten alphabets. "Those two I understand... almost..." I qualified, "but what about you, Henry? These have each other and eternity... but you?"
"Faith and devotion cannot help but be cruel. I think of another Villiers' tale of the husband who surprised his wife and her lover... who gave the man a mortal wound and then to further torment them both held her feet and tickled them until she could not help but laugh into her dying lover's face. I, I would be... that feather."
"So we pass our last night on Earth telling French tales, do we?" Crowley interposed, glancing at pale, wild Melisande with an interest that seemed to lie far from the benevolence with which she interpreted his approaches. "Very well, should it surprise anyone that... in the interests of ridding myself of a very Presbyterian upbringing... I frequented several unique brothels in Berlin and Paris and in San Francisco a decade ago, when I was a young fellow as the three of you?"
I rather resented this being lumped in with these Dreamers, but did not protest as Henry looked up from his drink with animation. "Not at all! Is it not that the road to excess leads through palaces of wisdom?"
"Something like that," Crowley allowed. "One feeds the dragon or it feeds upon you until even too much never suffices. There are prostitutes who take dogs as lovers, especially those greyhounds... a particular fetish of some wealthy Italians. On the other hand, my housekeeper is a trainer of serpents; these can be instructed to perform amazing feats with their slender tongues..."
"Oh to see that I would..." Henry began, then caught Axel glaring at him as Pharaohs must have regarded retainers who expressed a disinclination to be walled up in the Pyramid to serve in the hereafter... "no, that didn't come out right, forgive me..."
"Even the most respectable ladies of the middle classes," Crowley pondered, "have you ever seen them Sundays at the zoological gardens, watching monkeys? Always the monkeys!"
"I've had dreams of an anthropoid lover," Melisande confessed. "Not that I would ever be unfaithful with another man..." Yet Axel's scowl deepened even further.
"But the most famously repulsive of all," Crowley stated, taking a swallow of brandy and a draught of tobacco as if preparing for the siege of '70, "was that great whore of Paris seventy years past who, in her spring, knew Benjamin Franklin intimately, also most of the great rascals of the Hellfire Club in London besides both royals and the revolutionists of her own city... except for Robespierre, a very clean, hence unpleasant chap. But do you know what came for her?"
"A disease!" I exclaimed, for I was a moralist then, as most young men ever are if you shall scratch their surface...
"That cruelest of all ailments... time! But even as her beauty faded the perversity of her nature grew unrestrained by leaps and bounds until... in the twenties this would have been, the late twenties... she founded a theatre most unusual where the finest gentlemen Empire and their escorts lay down many francs to enter - so many of them one could barely see through a forest of tall hats. There was the usual amalgam of supporting acts... some songs and dancers, women with donkeys, Africans, probably even a comedian between the spicy offerings as you find in a London vaudeville hall, but then, Mathilde ah..."
"Go on!" Henry urged.
Axel had treated the relation with a series of yawns, almost like hiccups in farcical succession. "Since you must," he simpered, "or will, rather, since it is the rule of the law..."
"Quite." I suppose another might have been unsettled; I certainly would have been offended and probably broken off the story. Aleister Crowley was what theatre people call a trouper... I was to meet many such in London and Paris, even in Germany and Austria... had he cared to, Crowley could have topped them all, becoming a rival worthy of Gillette or of Henry Irving in his day. But the world was his theatre, capable an actor as he was Frater Perdurabo... one of his occult aliases, even the Aleister was counterfeit... insisted on playing all roles, directing the action, even manipulating the lighting and scenery with the inevitable result that high drama was brought down to the basest comedy.
"Logically the search for extreme distance in the exotic or ruined worlds leads to the absolute," Monsieur Jarry was to reply to Sarah Bernhardt several weeks later... but I shall not overtake myself. So, thus the Guignol, as Crowley related it...
"Mathilde threw off her clothes and began smearing paste upon her limbs and still-ample breasts, a slurry of soft cheese and other clinging substances; honey, perhaps, or molasses. Workmen carried wooden crates into the pit and an orchestra played merry tunes... this was just slightly before Berlioz so there would have been no tragic hintings. Then the slats were broken with hammers. And behind those slats... rats! perhaps half a hundred of them... rats who had been confined without nourishment for weeks!
"Madame was soon as cloaked in vermin as Marie Antoinette in ermines - but if one should overreach, presuming to sink its teeth into her flesh, Mathilde deftly picked it up the miscreant and snapped its spine, throwing the prize up to the gallery. The gallants could not restrain themselves, they leaped from the balcony to fight one another and the rats for a taste of ripened cheese. I've heard that a few even broke a knee or ankle like your unfortunate Mr. Booth thirty some years later, Cameron. But when their women followed the Surete restrained them, and do you know what they said?"
Axel's eyes had grown hollow; Henry and Melisande now covering their mouths with ship's linen. "No," I granted the declaimer his cue, "but surely you shall tell us...
"They heaved those good wives and mistresses back to their seats, declaring most solemnly that Madame...
"Madame... yes?" Henry prompted, at which Crowley pretended irritation before opened his palms as releasing doves...
"Madame... est normale."
"Normal!" I felt compelled to answer. "Of course, the word is quite the same both in English and French I understand!"
"Droll, isn't it?" was Axel's supercilious reply... no matter how he had been hanging upon Crowley's words just as the rest of us had, moments earlier. "This is the world we leave to... dare I say, to our betters? Mel, Henry, wipe your faces. Think of the Azur which awaits us... respect it! And now, Mr. Crowley, you have promised something to effect our transport. May I count upon you to fulfill your oath."
"With pleasure!" said the evildoer, and there was relish in his answer that, I fear, wholly escaped the attention of the tall young Dreamer. Crowley removed a small vial from his waistcoat, one of a sort easily obtained from any chemist in London or in New York, for that matter... waving it before the Dreamers as if to taunt them, then passing it under my nose. The stuff smelled pleasant enough... but I know now death takes many forms, some of them very attractive. The young dancer in Mathers' temple who was... but that must wait also!
Some Orientals... also a few medicine men of the Red Indians and their cousins in Mexico and lands to the south... disbelieve in coincidence. Death is fair, He introduces himself and extends His invitation to be accepted or declined. Certainly some of the war dead would contest this principle, though it could also be argued that... in choosing to follow little Winnetou down his path of madness, or even in standing up in opposition to him... all these chose freely under their will. This may be a matter for those who wish to dispute... but Crowley's offer on that night nearer forty six years ago now than forty five... it was unequivocal.
The magician waved his little vial again before my eyes, like candy before an infant.
"Don't you really wish a go at it, Cameron? I know what this century shall bring... more wars, degradation... everything rotten about the last with more... the triumph of mechanism over spirit. One chooses well by escaping its talons!"
Perhaps if I had drunk a little more... or lacked the memory of that midnight wrestling with a murderer outside the Ossuary walls (not to mention the anxious days awaiting determination by the man from Albany that I was innocent)... the thought now seems inconceivable but, as I recall, rather than choose life directly I explicitly turned the matter back upon my Inquisitor.
"But why, then, do you not also join the dance of death?" I said to Crowley... who replied without sentiment, and with a crushing absence of romance that, I thought, should have dissuaded at least Henry from his lethal invitation.
"The coming of war or the age of machinery holds no horror for me, only promise. I am more than a match for any monstrosity that Edison may prepare!"
"Can we get on with this?" Axel broke in and so Symbolism's allure was shattered like a glass ornament at Christmastide. Recognizing the implications in his sharp enthusiasm, the Dreamer took up the hand of his bejeweled one, the better to soothe Melisande... to guide her down the path to Hades.
"Of course!" Crowley replied, with certain resentment, I think, at the mercenary nature of the transaction. He broke the seal and could not help make a magician's pass... waving the vial before the hungry eyes of the Dreamers of Decadence.
"A drop to still the nerves, another to bring sleep, the third and the last blazes forth... Arthur and I shall help you to your berths and tomorrow, I promise, you fortunate ones shall awake among the Azur."
"I shall go first," Axel announced peremptorily.
Crowley pondered this then, with a shrug and an occult gesture I did not fathom, neither then nor now... perhaps an invocation of the Secret Chiefs... poured out a spoonful of the deadly liquid, raising it to Axel's lips...
The Dreamer's eyelids fluttered, closed... his hands clenching as if in silent prayer to silent Watchers as his lips sipped poison from the spoon as hummingbirds suck nectar...
"Num-a-num-a-num..." remarked Aleister Crowley.
He repeated the ritual with Melisande, offering her a smaller dose and explaining this in light of Axel's sterner occult constitution... which flattery brought a silly smile to that worthy's face (or perhaps the sleeping potion already was taking effect!). Lastly Henry, who closed his eyes as he swallowed... lunging at the spoon like a trout at a fly for fear of being found fearful... I think it was Roosevelt, so recently gone to his own reward, who said all there is to be said upon that subject. Or might it have been Churchill? Such are the tricks an old man's memory plays... recent pronouncements and effects are blurred, faces and voices mixed, but those out of the distant past remembered perfectly... as the disgust with which I recall Crowley looking at the empty spoon on which a film of black bubbles had risen.
"Silver!" he winced. "Damn... well it can't go any worse for you than it is... you'll soon be in a place where the ship's policemen can't haul you up for vandalism..."
"I feel... transformed... already!" Axel sighed.
"That is the muscle relaxant taking effect," Crowley told them all. He snuffed out his cigar on a plate, finished his cognac and, hooking a finger into the last bottle of champagne (still two thirds full), took Axel under one arm, Melisande the other and nodded at me to take charge of Henry, whom I guided through the corridors of the ocean liner.
Each of the dreamers had a first class cabin; those of Axel and Melisande adjoined one another, Henry's lay opposite. I eased the fellow onto his bunk; Henry drew up his hands in a posture of deathly repose...
"There is something... missing... one such as I should... lilies or irises... my memento mori..."
From the way his hands closed and opened emptily, I understood what he meant but, in glancing around the cabin, saw nothing poetic nor Symbolic save possibly the free basket of tropical fruits, still untouched, whose most visible feature was a whole Hawaii pineapple. So it was this I placed between Henry's hands in the place of a sceptre or rose; the young man's eyes fluttered, closed, a thin trail of drool trickled down his chin.
Hearing no footsteps I departed, thinking again what effect the encounter at the University had had on my character... first I had tried to prevent but witnessed one death, now I was abetting a second... soon I should become as lethal yet dignified a murderer as Crowley, who had hinted at all manner of dirty but necessary bloodlettings in his mountains and his jungles.
My partner in crime, having first guided Axel to rest and shut the door behind, stood in the hallway contemplating the sighing Melisande; a drooping petal who summarily fell back upon her pillows with a shudder in a tangle of bracelets and teeth and hair.
"Shouldn't we be away?" I asked, although the truth was that I rather preferred to linger. "I mean... this has implications of a criminal act; I've hard experience at that, mind you..."
"Go to your cabin then, unless you mean to join me," Crowley whispered. He caressed Melisande's thigh, drawing up her black weeds.
"You know, of course, those two undoubtedly never have been intimate and probably never would have been." His hand slid across Melisande under the silk like a mole beneath a suburban garden. "Right... vagina intacta! Such waste!" He sighed, a dejected faun. "Well I shall ease the transition between the doors of life and death, if nothing else..."
Remember, we were living before the first of the century's wars, let alone the second. My horror must have been palpable... "Surely," I exclaimed, "you do not..."
"I do not... what? Haven't I explained to you, warned you even, that I am a bad man - a thoroughly bad man? My mother christened me Beast, so I do as I will... I extend to you my invitation to participate but, since you refuse, I must order you back to your cabin." Such a coldness of will had come across the man, I swear, that even Melisande, floating from life to death, groaned at his touch... perhaps thinking it Charon's toll, for she had passed without an obolus.
"I am the Mithra for a new age. As Alexander, I whored and spilled blood over my vestments, giving them to my stable boy to nominate him Cardinal! As Levi I took the celibate's vow, then had two daughters by my sixteen year old mistress. This creature between life and death - she interests me! I offer her to you... if you remain under the spell of Choronzon, that Old Man of negation, of Korans, Bibles and disinfectant... then go. Go! I raise my left hand, this is its night and I bear its sign... here!
I expected him to rend Melisande's bodice but instead Crowley ripped his own shirt open and I beheld his mark; a hairy wart, a black and tangled pattern shaped like a hooked Red Indian cross over his heart. Crowley took my hand and pressed it to this marvel, seizing my neck he forced me against the wall of the corridor and then... not caring who might pass or give alarm... pressed his lips to my own and bit both tongue and lip so that blood welled, I felt him suck at it... drinking... my hand still against his breast where the skin of deformation felt rather like a reptile's scales.
I think I would have fallen, but for his weight...
Crowley slapped me sportingly on the left cheek, then the right as he released me, pushed me towards the bunk and raised the hem of Melisande's black gown to my face.
"Wipe yourself." I could not... so he did it for me, then pushed me out of the cabin, smiled, closed the door behind him and I heard the lock clicking. Also voices approaching round a corner... Henry's door was shut, as Axel's. I tucked my shirt into my pants, licked the last of the blood from my lips with one swipe, rather as a cat lapping milk, and proceeded forward, nodding sternly at a couple who seemed to be from one of the German or Austrian states... quite intoxicated and preoccupied with one another.
I slept poorly and dreamed worse... a jumble of human forms wrestling cloddishly on a beach. Men and women, even automatons like poor Coppelia... they tore each others' limbs off and shook crustaceans from their hair. (I did not tell that dream to Freud but did remark both to Melies and Willie Yeats... only the former seemed to pay much interest.)
At the break of dawn as the steamship approached the port of Liverpool - I paced the deck, pacing... staring at greasy waves. An hour passed, the other passengers emerged from cabins or the dining room as the sun rose, but it was not until almost nine that I saw Crowley waddle in my direction, working a toothpick around the remains of what obviously had been an excellent breakfast, beaming... well pleased with his conquest! He waved towards me, I turned my back to watch the dockhands... little forms only the size of ants, at first, then grasshoppers.
It was only because I had left my carryall in the berth that I turned back, but when I did, I saw that the dreamers had appeared... and alive!... if barely so, their faces even whiter than white itself. Henry seemed the most resolute; Melisande cast a despairing glance at Crowley... Axel staggered, then retreated below deck, trying not to run... walking as a queer sort of crab might. The magician guffawed.
"What did you..." I began.
"It is an interesting story, but rather long. Let it unfold on the train to London... you don't intend to remain in this place, do you?"
"Heaven forbid!" I have never overcome my revulsion at the name of the place - though it is pronounced quite differently, an English governess Father hired many years early used to threaten me with visions of the place and its neighbor, Blackpool... great soggy puddles bobbing with grimy gobbets of half-cooked entrails into which boys who would not learn their lessons would be cast.
"Nothing save a few ships have ever come from this place," Crowley agreed, "and nothing of merit ever will."
Soon, to my great relief, we were on our way to the city of royals and poets, that in which every American must feel awe and unease, even in the shabby state which six years of war and all Winnetou's rockets have reduced it to.
"Calomel, in its purest state, is a formidable laxative," Crowley said as the grim vista of northwest suburbs gradually gave way to rolling fields and cottages I had always associated with Wordsworth and Shakespeare and Tennyson. "The concentration that I used was rather strong and I suppose I did overfortify Master Axel's dose. Nonetheless extreme measures often must be taken to shock an novice out of its ordinary..."
"Ordinary what?" I demanded to know.
"Nothing... only that which is eventual. In the case of those three... Paris and bad verse, consumptive wasting, drink or drugs if they're lucky, death eventually. They will probably die anyway, but I at least have shown them an alternative. What happens after is their destiny."
"But... but in that event what if your liberties have caused the young lady to..."
"Then hers shall seem an immaculate conception! I shall demand a shrine in Wimbledon, since one look at young Axel and you garner the hopelessness of it all. Didn't you rather think it would end up the other way..."
"What are you speaking of?" I asked.
"Axel and Henry, young man. One adores the other who pretends not to... but nature, or unnature as a clergyman would think, shall find its fulfillment. I certainly found Axel's arse rather well proportioned..."
"You did not take that boy as you did his sweetheart?" Crowley merely grinned. "I do not approve of what they did to Oscar Wilde but..."
"But what? Love is the law my young friend... though a certain Blake-besotted bookworm of our Order nonetheless denies the ubiquity of lovers as they shrink from its opposite and ally, evil. God has need of you, Arthur, and Satan his desires also. And you... what the deuce are you doing here anyway?"
"Well it is too late to pick up the fall term so I'll simply have to find a comfortable hotel, look around London some and perhaps make a foray into France and Germany, then when January arrives it shall be time to buckle down."
"In a comfortable hotel? Comfort is for the middle aged, those who already are dead in spirit, awaiting death in body too. I've space at my temple; I am acknowledged a chef of three stars' capacity and Bennett can serve three as well as two. You shall board with me," he said in a voice of finality... unfortunately my objection, hastily considered, was perhaps the worst I could conceive.
"I am not a pauper, you know," I recall having replied, "...one of those starving students in need of your charity."
"Then you can pay me... whatever you will. We are close, Arthur Cameron - can't you feel this?" He grasped my shoulder but did not this time press his lips to mine, nor his teeth... thankfully... flecked as they were with eggs Benedict, bread and kippers. "Time hastens us towards Mystery; great forces composing themselves into forms beyond the pale... all that is not tied down rising and converging... why even the Deadly Sins prove virtuous - save greed, when blinding the higher vision; anger, except when righteous and sloth... always! Pride in its most Satanic aspect is man's greatest instinct. A world is here to conquer, a temple to be rebuilt. Will you join us?"
"I... I don't quite know what to say..."
"Then only breathe and say yes! Yes is that opposite of nullity... it is the principle of action priests detest; those Judges, Popes in poisoned robes who serve Choronzon... who is neither hot or cold, nor lukewarm even, but of the unpleasant coolness of early graves. Stand against the random, Arthur! Say yes to life, yes to love..."
"As thou wilt..." and I recall having phrased this reply not as a question, but with the emphasis upon "thou"...
"Exactly!" the Beast exulted, and then, as if recognizing some criticism implicit, further said, "...or rather as you will..."
I recall responding flippantly... "Against my better instinct, I am inclined to accept your offer."
"Good fellow! We'll make a man... why, we shall make of you..."
And here I began to feel the awakening of having committed a mistake monstrous in scope - though I was already being carried away as if a twig upon a stream...
Crowley pronounced the word relishing the roll of syllables upon his tongue!
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