Episode 8 - IN the DOCK!


          Hearing of Crowley's intent to pursue the debacle of Isis-Urania through English courts, I grew disheartened, then indifferent. Compelled as a boy to read plenty of Dickens, anticipating the Gradgrindery of British justice as inevitability I reckoned that, by such time as my landlord's case came for hearing I should be well away to University or even back across the Atlantic. What matter of witchery was, therefore, performed upon the courts I remain in ignorance of, as from its quarter... however accomplished, it was within the week that we received our summons to the Royal Courts, from which edifice Crowley's flat could be seen on those mornings not so typically foggy. As a matter of fact, justice was so prompt that the effects of the rout on my landlord and I remained visible, if subdued; purple and crimson decorations from bobby's cudgel and witches' nail having given way only to subdued tones of mustard and jagged lines of scab.

          Bennett, the worst afflicted, made a vain stab at keeping appearances up by donning a high collar of the sort associated with the Georgian dandies - this concealed some welts of the most notable lividity. Crowley, however, made no attempt to hide his bruises... remarking alternately that they must intimidate the magistrate or else arouse his sympathies. The expression of the bewigged and bepowdered High Magistrate, however, vacillated between contempt and boredom; I again whispered as to the prudence of obtaining legal assistance, even at this late hour, to which the Beast replied that he would see the inside of Reading Gaol before being driven, by barristers, to Carey Street. "Where the Bankruptcy Courts of London are to be found," Crowley spat, "and their number is Seventy and Four." Before I could ask whether this was an address or the population of such infernal engines, the Magistrate called to his Bailiff for the Assizes.

          "In the matter of Crowley et. al. versus Isis-Urania Temple, Farr versus Crowley and sundry cross-complaints," the Bailiff pronounced, "is counsel for the Farr party present?"

          A slender, rather dapper man in an expensive suit arose. "Sir, I am Edward Fitch, Barrister, of the firm of Canker, Bancroft, Belisle and Casement for the... for these good women here..."

          "And for one not very reputable Irishman," Crowley declared aloud, drawing not only the attention of the court, but of Yeats himself whose expression was such, as my landlord surmised, as that arising only after a breakfast upon Sodom Apples.

          "Mister Crowley," the Magistrate intoned, "is it your intent to proceed as your own counsel?"

          Crowley rose stiffly. "It is!"

          "Then, Counselor Fitch as attorney for the plaintiff of first cause," declared the Magistrate, "you may call your first witness. You needn't remain standing, sir," he added, inclining his chalky nose towards Crowley, "unless you have an objection to the barrister's question."

          "My objection is, is..." but with a sort of sigh, Crowley slunk back towards his seat, waving his hand as if to move along the proceedings.

          "I call Arthur Machen to take the stand," declared Fitch.

          The man who'd fled Isis-Urania upon appearance of our brigade approached the bench with his hat held over his genital organs, as if to repulse a psychic attack. As he laid his hand on the Bible, Crowley leaped up.

          "Sirrah, I must object, and most strenuously. This is a most notorious devil's-advocate, author of The Great God Pan and other monstrous fictions; his oath before God makes mockery of English justice."

          "Mr. Crowley, be seated! Whether or not the witness is capable in the eyes of God is relevant only to God unless... for example... have you witnessed him in the act of making devotions to Satan?"

          "Well of course I have!" Crowley thundered, although from his seat. "I've invoked many demons in Machen's company... Beelzebub and the common host, Hittite nymphs and those of Jebusites, as well as Chinese spirits and those of the African Obeah. I'm as proud to have done so as Machen is not... he is, Sirrah, a player of all hands so the issue is not faith but integrity..."

          For the first time I saw the agent of justice hesitate; the Magistrate even unfolded his handkerchief, thinking to wipe his brow, then thinking the better of it.

          "That is an issue to be raised upon cruci... on cross examination," he corrected himself. "Counselor... proceed."

          "Pedophile!" Crowley hissed - whether to the Magistrate or opposing barrister is one of those matters upon which my memory fails.

          "Mr. Machen," Fitch continued, "it was you who gave notice of an occurrence in extremis to the Kensington authorities?"

          Machen's reply was that this was so and the substance of his subsequent testimony was limited to recitation of the taking of the Temple and its putative defense before the witness abjectly fled the premises. Machen swore he had seen only three men in black hoods; he knew Crowley by his voice and Bennett through the Rod of Correction waved before him; had it been my inclination I, perhaps, might have disassociated myself from the repulsed invasion for not only Machen but all of the plaintiffs save Yeats had not seen my face. But, with Crowley representing us as injured parties to whom... on countersuit... satisfaction must be due, I realized that such plea must be accepted as admission of the greater guilt and so, with Bennett, I consigned my fate to Crowley's capabilities.

          His cross-examination of the witness was, however, predicated less upon events at Isis-Urania than Machen's own escapades as a rather low-ranking Golden Dawn initiate; as if the witness was impaneled not before a court of common law but, in fact, before one of those occult tribunals which, at the time, I believed consigned to the province of romantic history.

          Somewhat to my astonishment, Aleister Crowley proved halfway competent as a barrister in a rough, bludgeoning sort of way. His rudimentary grasp of protocol was bulwarked with self-control that must have exacted a considerable psychic toll. Fitch objected infrequently and, being overruled more often than not as my landlord skillfully wove episodes of Machen's life into those of his fictions, seemed almost to withdraw into the old grain of his bench, leaving his witness subject towards implication that the truth was no more than another character to be manipulated.

          "So, Mr. Machen... you derive your income from tales of the strange and supernatural but account some spiritual practices... let us say Theosophy, for one example... to be fraudulent."

          No, not exactly a fraud," Machen rallied, "... I admit the possibility of the supernatural, especially as literary conceit, but do reckon how rappers and wielders of trumpets may enter queer... and probably undesirable psychic haunts."

          "You have... in the service of literature, let us allow... participated in seances as well as other rituals, thus exposing yourself to these nebulous forces of which we speak?"

          "I... you know we have, Crowley, at Chancery Lane we... well yes, isn't it... yes?... the admittal you seek?" retreated the hapless author.

          "For which reason you have resorted to mental doctors?" Crowley persisted.

          Now Edward Fitch objected, but was sharply overruled by the Magistrate who directed Machen to continue.

          "Well in my circumstances I... I appeal to your Honor's sensibilities," the witness babbled, "I have only recently lost my wife, we were very close... It is... I... every reality hides another, an existence we mortals cannot comprehend, let alone experience... so in a sense there is nothing real, neither you nor I nor this court..."

          Crowley listened with apparent patience, arms folded across his chest as if waiting out some unpleasant duty to its end, glancing, occasionally, to the Magistrate to imply his compassion for the poor lunatic. "I have no further questions of this witness," he said when Machen's apologies finally trailed off and Fitch, quite behind in his case after this first inning, grimly summoned the holder of the lease on the Isis-Urania flat, Dr. Westcott's surrogate, Florence Farr.

          I confess to having had scant opportunity to assess the persons of Isis-Urania in that short instance before one of Coroner Westcott's weird sisters availed herself of the opportunity to blind me. Aleister Crowley had briefed me that Farr was not long over an infamous affair with Bernard Shaw, a playwright of somewhat more substantial repute than the jealous Yeats... also an atheist of scientific bert whose catholicity of skepticism had not prevented him from carrying out an affair of the flesh with Annie Besant, Blavatsky's successor, contiguous to his episodes with Farr.

          The barrister Edward Fitch was, it seemed, fairly smitten with his principle client; this could not escape Crowley's attention. "See what I'll do for her," he promised, the prospect leaving me rather more discouraged than gratified.

          Later, Crowley denied he ever desired giving me any nudge in Farr's direction. The last time that I encountered him, in the company of Commander Fleming two years back... no, could it have been three?... he'd insisted that it was Florance who'd pursued him for the child he could give her. "Some are born to genius, some to parenthood," the magickian said, by then having evolved quite into the dirigible himself, "and then, dear boy, there are those who fall through the cracks between, and so are suitable to neither."

          The Commander, by the way, seemed embarrassed for his charge but, as they were engaged upon that confidential mission involving Hess, Fleming dared not antagonize the Beast. Instead, he'd waited until Crowley had passed out of earshot, then confided "...some day, after this is done (by which he meant the war), I'll write a book myself, old chap... and, as the first requirement is that one must have a doughty villain, I think that I have my beginning... no?" I may have mentioned that opus of Mr. Maugham, now out-of-print... that is only one example of what my doctor calls impertinence of memory among the aging. The most recent impulses are lost while the more distant are quite preserved, though more often wrongly than one cares to admit.

          So again... as I recollect... Fitch next asked of Florence Farr: "Madam, upon the evening in question what exactly did transpire? Simply the facts," he'd added, evidence that Charles Russell had briefed him on this witness' proclivities, "we need not repeat background material. These three gentlemen arrived at your abode, masked... wielding swords for the intent of mayhem and robbery?"

          "Objection!" Aleister Crowley rose, making a sweeping gesture towards the evidence laid out upon a table. "You have seen the exhibits in question, they are Highland ceremonial artifacts, used for ritual purposes only... you couldn't kill a chicken with one. I've tried..." he winked, placing his both thumbs under the crimson suspenders he'd chosen, a mannerism that perversely recalled Senator Bryan to me.

          "Crowley!" the Magistrate warned, "I see these devices as plainly as you and shall my make determination therefrom. Counselor... proceed!"

          "That, in fact, the objective of these children of night was the seizure, by violence, of confidential documents that were your sole property," Fitch concluded with the sort of smirk endemic to the graduates of certain private academies on either shore of the Atlantic.

          "In that Dr. Westcott entrusted them to me, yes."

          "She is an actress, Cameron," my landlord whispered, "should the role dictate Miss Farr shall raise her chin so as to give His Lordship an inclination of her bosom, or drop a tear... or scratch your eye out. But this time," he winked, "I shall be the stage manager holding her cues.

          "I have no further questions," Fitch admitted and the Magistrate cast a wary eye at counsel for Defendants.

          "Mr. Crowley..."

          The magickian arose, pacing the length of the floor, lingering before the table of evidence, affording the Magistrate opportunity to daub his forehead with his handkerchief despite the fact that his powder was beginning to smear.

          "Miss Farr," Crowley began, "is it not so that you are really Mrs. Edward Emery, wife of an American actor?

          "Must I answer?" Farr turned towards the Magistrate with so plaintive an expression that he seemed to forget the law for just a moment, then gave a regretful nod. "Very well! We married on the last day of eighty four but separated eleven years ago.

          "So at the age of... Forty?" Crowley estimated. "Without a husband, unsatisfied... such unfortunates are often visited by hysteria and cruel delusions, are they not?"

          "Mr. Crowley, I may not have a husband but..."

          "But what?"

          Sensing my landlord's snare, Farr looked down, gathering her thoughts and making a face to project sentiments nobler in the estimation of the court.

          "But I... I am an artist!"

          "Quite!" Crowley replied. If he was disappointed that Florence had not confessed to an affair... with Shaw, with Yeats or any other... he, too, was capable of maintaining a courtly mask. "A professional actress... a player of the harp and parts, and a writer of fiction too. I quite admired your 'Dancing Faun', it exhibits a strong, powerful imagination."

          "Why thank you!" the actress replied.

          "Imagination that must, like a fine horse, be taken out and exercised frequently lest it decline. Imagination... wielded from the stage, upon the printed page... or in the dock. I have nothing more to ask from this witness."

          Florence Farr departed with a proud face, yet the nagging suspicion of having been bested flickered about her eyes and lips. "Flattery is the catnip with which the common kittens of limelight are trapped," Crowley allowed. "This next, however, is a panther that shall require a stronger hand, or foot... were we in a better place," he added as Maud Gonne swore her oath before God and the English Crown, "I'd likely hurl a shoe at that one."

          Fitch's questioning of Maud Gonne was almost identical to that of Farr; a peaceful evening in Kensington discussing spiritual matters interrupted violently by masked maniacs. "Not a word of the Society," Crowley whispered, "nor the Executive Difficulty, nor the Coroner."

          "She's quite formidable, for a lady," I allowed, "do you also intend to conquer this one through flattery."

          "Hardly," my landlord replied, and with such vehemence that the Magistrate felt obliged to gavel our party into silence. "Such Irishwomen understand only the shillelagh. Watch!"

          Fitch, having elicited from Maud Gonne the same conjecture that ours had been an episode of mindless barbarism, Crowley began his cross-examination.

          "Madam... let us commence on the issue of character, for if the character of accusers is compromisable, must it not also follow that details have been withheld from their testimony? Is it not so, then, that your own purity has been repeatedly, basely compromised by... that man!"

          And the magickian pointed to a seething Yeats, "who is..."

          "He is my spiritual husband," replied Maud Gonne. "I have an aversion to profane love."

          Crowley turned towards the Magistrate; I could not see but sensed he was rolling his eyes or making some grimace of dignity afflicted to underscore this ridiculous conceit. "Then, since you whelped one bastard in '91 and another four years later, are we to assume a miraculous conception?"

          Being another stage professional, Maud Gonne betrayed no trauma save for a slight downturning of her lips and one hand that fluffed through her hair... as if seeking a hatpin, I recall fearing at that time. Not so her swain, who popped from his seat like a jack o'pulpit to exclaim: "I object!"

          Edward Fitch also rose, belatedly, "I ah... also object..."

          The Magistrate folded his hands. "Mr. Yeats... I presume... you have no standing to object and if another such incident arises I shall have the Bailiff remove you from these premises. The objection of Counsel, however, I choose to sustain. Mr. Crowley, kindly pursue another more relevant line of inquiry or dismiss this witness."

          "As you will." The magickian assumed a thoughtful pose. "Miss Gonne is it not true you support both rebel Irish and the Boers? That, eight years ago, you were kicked out of Russia with Princess Radziwill, mistress of Cecil Rhodes, for conspiring with the French against Czar Nicholas? That on the night in question you and Willie Yeats, if not exactly intimate, had shared a few draughts of opium?"

          "It was Moroccan hemp. Gonne protested, glaring first towards Crowley, then the Magistrate. "And it was exquisite..."

          Crowley lifted his eye, but could extract no pertinent, damaging testimony from Gonne whom he swiftly dismissed with a supercilious wave. Next in the dock was the muscular stranger, whose name was revealed to be Hunter, and whose brief testimony so replicated that of the women that Crowley declined to cross examine with a supercilious wave... preferring to save his ammunition for the next witness, the despicable Yeats himself.

          From the questioning of Edward Fitch, one may have well assumed Yeats a banker or petty official. The gathering at Blythe Road was an innocent congregation of seekers, the invasion occasioned by a madman's whim. And then Crowley was permitted his innings.

          "Let us, for the moment, consider the rose," Crowley commenced as the Magistrate, seeming to choose Fitch culpable, favored the barrister with an ugly scowl. "In your Alchemical tales you describe a certain sleeper, Robartes, consumed by his spirit and mask... is it not correct to describe this work as an act of malice directed against the Scots gentleman MacGregor Mathers... "a lifeless mask with dim eyes" I believe you put it..."

          "I know Mathers, as you do, and he is no Highlander at all, only English as yourself. I merely chose to exercise poetic license..."

          "As in the Secret Rose where a gleeman... that would be the Tarot Fool for the edification of this Court... is forcibly baptized then crucified, wolves nibbling his feet and birds pecking out his eyes?"

          "A mystical society is not intended to be a reformatory," Yeats protested. "Is it your point that I utilize symbol and allegory with a skill you can only envy? If so, I plead guilty..."

          "As guilty as you stand also," pressed the magickian, "of executing this slander as an act of revenge for Mathers having justifiably dismissed your crude interpretation of the esteemed Englishman and poet William Blake by confining his contraries in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell with your gyres, your wheel of barbed wire as used in the American West... finally compressing the whole of genius into an eggshell whereas Mathers foresaw an explosion?"

          "The Prae..." Willie himself exploded but... suddenly fathoming Crowley's intent... checked his tongue which fairly fluttered in its throat, spewing forth a goulash of stuttering syllables. "Pre... a Pretender! he is, Mathers! No Scotsman, why he's blind on the subject of Blake as... as..."

          "As you are physically blind without these," Crowley smirked as he passed the dock, removing Willie's pince nez. "Is it not also true that, on the night in question, your glasses were knocked quite off of your nose. Isn't it also true that, without your spectacles, you're blind as a bat? How many fingers?" my landlord taunted, waving the index and middle fingers of his right fist before the poet's spinning eyes.

          Yeats, glaring at his interrogator with rage undisguised by his failure of vision, brushed the inquiry off with a wave, affording Crowley the opportunity to conclude cross-examination by returning to the witness his spectacles with a theatrical flourish. Fitch, with evident relief, proclaimed to the court that... with the inexplicable absence of Kensington police... he would not be calling any further witnesses and the Magistrate ordered an hour's recess.

          "I've a further surprise for Mr. Yeats," Crowley declared over his chops at the establishment to which we'd retired for lunch. "Not to worry young man," and he'd gripped my shoulder firmly, and rather greasily, "yours shall still be testimony of gravitation, quite... but I have found a creature in the enemy's own camp, one of your sort... an American but not so afflicted with the bathetic love of democratic principles. I took the opportunity to converse with the fellow, he's as against the rabblement and for kings as I."

          "An American? Has he been to Chancery Lane?" I asked, thinking instinctively of my enemy, Viereck.

          "Well, I did gather the young fellow also has a bias against the supernatural. It sets him against Willie so I merely omitted a few details regarding our society." And then my landlord sighed... quite out of character, for he had set a cunning trap for Yeats who, by identification of Mathers as Praemonstrator of the Golden Dawn, would have exposed himself to charges of betraying his Hermetic oath that even Coroner Westcott could not have protected him from.


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