Episode 13 - MASKELYNE!


          Upon the remnant of that awful night I choose not to dwell; the circumstances perhaps even more perilous and more unpleasant than those of but a few weeks ago for my unfamiliarity with English law and its suspicion of the lot of us, and the distance of family as well. Someone was finally dispatched to Deptford to retrieve the police, in the interval was a great tumult of shrieking and bustling... black robes thrown off and collected in heaps, faces wiped, stomachs purged... that the occasion might seem weird only conventionally, the truth not so beyond belief as it appeared. We were detained in Salisbury for the night, released individually throughout the following afternoon. Today, with such improvements in trans-Atlantic communication as both Vartanian and his rival, Edison, may take credit for, my prior detention would have surely been detected, with the probable consequence of trouble so deep not even all of Father's money would have sufficed to dig me out.

          Needless to say, I made no remark upon the bounding skull, nor the strange dagger left at the scene, save to point it out to the police with a trembling, ignorant finger, leaving them to make sense of its presence - if they could.

          But owing to the infamy of circumstances... and the unexpected prominence of the victim, justice would not easily be finished with we of the Golden Dawn. Two days after, summoned to Scotland Yard and there again subjected to the most humiliating interrogations, Crowley, Bennett and I departed in a state of unusual sobriety.

          "I have been seen far too much of the police and courts of late," my landlord complained. "Were I a more superstitious man instead of a scientific sorcerer, I would draw some occult connection from your presence, Arse."

          "That's absurd! You all but shanghaied me to Blythe Road and, as for that falling rock, I'm as blameless as are you!"

          "Still," Crowley allowed, "you have an uncanny aptitude for drawing death nearer rather than further. Notice how cabdrivers suddenly appear to be avoiding this place... is this also another component of your glamour, Altius?"

          By this time I was quite distraught. "I've told the both of you, I've nothing to do with this..."

          "In Ceylon," Bennett suggested, "those to whom bad things happen are as suspect as those who cause them. A higher agency seems to have chosen you as its spoon to stir things round..."

          "Well Cameron, let it never be said that I abandoned a Frater in his need, even one who chooses to name himself after a French arse." And Crowley threw his formidable arm over my shoulder, a gesture of possession I found even more discomfiting that the questions of the police. "It will cost me in repute, but I shall get to the base of this matter where Scotland Yard cannot... though I am forced to solicit help from an enemy."

          "An enemy?" I exclaimed. "Is it Yeats... or the Coroner?"

          "Worse!" Crowley answered with a grimace. "It is a common magician, a vaudevillian... but also a servant of hostile intelligences and authority on Salisbury Plain. I speak of Maskeleyne!"

          That family, as my landlord explained on the short ride to infamous Egyptian Hall, had a long and... to Crowley... sinister history as agents of espionage for the royal family. "Since the sinking of the Spanish Armada," he fumed, "...since the Highland Clearings, even, the Crown has been abetted by Maskeleyne spies. This Nevil's thrown in with Wells, Bernard Shaw... that lot... all of them circling round that dying madman, Ruskin, like gnats orbiting a rotten peach! We enter at our own risk!"

          Under the banner proclaiming Egyptian Hall to be England's House of Mystery, a strange American vision awaited, yet another trio of cockney minstrels in blackface cavorting with banjo, squeezebox and flute, singing...


"Wheel about and turn about; And do just so!


Ebry time I wheel about; I jump Jim Crow!

I dropped a shilling in their hat, more as a talisman against such evils Crowley had forewarned me against than for the worth of such entertainment, and we three entered to be greeted by a carnival dwarf, who ushered us into an office of magical (as opposed to magickal) curiosities. Here Nevil Maskelyne himself reclined, feet up on a divan, savouring the entreaties of his foeman, Crowley, brought literally hat in hand to the door of despair. Magician and magickian glowered at each other for the moment, then the former slapped his thigh with a rolled up newspaper. Four inches of text had been devoted to the crime... we witnesses had all been named... but the identity of the victim still remained held back by the Salisbury police as had the means of death, although such had already began to circulate among those with both the means and cause to know.

          "One of the sarsens... on the outer ring," Maskeleyne sighed. "It's been twenty two years since I published my last paper on Stonehenge and you, if I recollect, are one of those fantastics who hold those stones, smaller than the trilithons but still twenty long tons, if an ounce, to have derived from Arabia... was it? Crowley... or perhaps, this time, Atlantis?"

          "Why I hold nothing of the sort!" Crowley declared. "Any imbecile who has read his Revelations know Stonehenge to be a creature of the Tuatha de Danaan... the tribe of Dan who migrated to Ireland in their speckled ships. That is why King James so adamantly identified the Dawn's Men with his Beast, it's all political, you see?"

          "Well Ireland's nearer the truth than Atlantis, and while I have also read the Bible... thank you... I made stern geological inspections and conclude that these stones were definitely brought down from the highlands."

          "I've bought property there myself," Crowley ventured, "on the lake, a wee bit south of the town of Inverness."

          "Really? Well if it's solitude you desire, as you might for... well, at any rate, the stones! They speak a language without ambiguity, if we but knew how to interpret it. And now another has fallen! At the risk of unkindness, this fall seems more a tragedy than the death of... who was the gentleman?"

          "Masefield, of the Academy," I told him.

          "Masefield? The Royal Electrician? I stand corrected..." the magician said, "the loss of such man is incalculable; a blow to England... nay, to the advancement of the world itself!... in ways that you cannot even begin to comprehend! Whatever stands between us Aleister, let us forget... if only for the present. How may I help you?"

          "Well!" Crowley began, "according to young Cameron here, the thing just fell over plop!... on top of him. I'm no petrologist but it seems odd..."

          "Odd? It's not without precedent but... the last such incident fell on the third of January, 1797 when an entire trilithon collapsed... those are the two bigger rocks with a third rock on top. Mister Blake, as you know, used a trilithon as model in his etchings from Jerusalem, about the time that you Americans cut loose. Now another... and as we are troubled in Africa and India... even Ireland..."

          And, incredibly, Crowley and the commercial magician drew closer, almost seeming to sniff at one another like a pair of mastiffs matched in the prize pit before the former suggested... "So! the toppling of one of Stonehenge's sarsens may, in some way, presage the falling out of yet another rotted molar of Empire?"

          "This," Maskelyne declared, in my direction, "is one reason why we have not been on the best of terms... one of the lesser, really. Have you read the Times? An American rightly calls South Africa the Texas of the Antipodes, whose fate hangs in balance since those French soldiers were cut up in Senegal... most Irish support us save in the Nationalist papers but where is the voice of that silent majority? I am a partisan, yes, and proud of it - a patriot, whereas Crowley is... well, what he is! Nonetheless I beg to disappoint you in that the 1797 collapse was not occult, there had been a great storm, then a thaw which undermined the foundation.

          "But could not this Saracen stone..." I appealed.

          "Sarsen... yes?"

          "...somehow have been felled by a human hand?"

          "Such would be an infamous act," the magician declared, "but not wholly impossible. One has only to dig deep enough on one side, devise a means by which the victim is enticed into his place... then, at the proper instance, the sarsen could be pushed over with a thumb or, more probably, prevented from so falling by a counterweight - a pebble in the fulcrum perhaps no larger than a man's fist.

          "Or skull?" I suggested.

          "If you will," said Maskelyne, with a curious frown. "Such could be pulled away from great distance with a rope, causing the sarsen's fall and," Maskelyne added, slapping his palm against his desk, "the end of Masefield. Of course this requires a vast, well-funded conspiracy, but such exist... don't they Svareff, or have you returned to calling yourself Prince Chia of Persia now? Yes, young fellow," and the impresario nodded my way, "Aleister is a conspiracy of the many embedded in the flesh of one. But who else are we thinking of, gentlemen... the Crown? Jesuits?"

          "I believe Jesus himself who told John that there were many rooms in his hotel. Or, perhaps, Mister Cook..."

          "Such wit!" Maskelyne sighed. "If he hadn't such mystic pretensions, Crowley could become the playwright Mr. Yeats only desires to be. And you!" he pointed towards Bennett, "would fare much then better were you to learn to stand on your own, as real men ought, divesting your soul of parasitic influences. In any instance, the three of you might care to know... just to show that I am not entirely a Philistine... that I intend to stage Lord Lytton's masterpiece over the Christmas holidays."

          "You intent to enact Pompeii?" Bennett queried. "Having to represent such vulcanology shall be an expensive sort of spectacle.

          "It would," Maskelyne allowed, "but I am speaking of 'The Coming Race'. It is, after all, what the Germans call zeitgeist, the spook of ages, isn't it? Lytton's portraiture of feral childhood is wholly ahead of its time... but time always catches up to the worst of predictions, have you noticed? Yes, I am preparing illusions for the perfect ennui of the Vril-ya and the explosive return of the Nameless One to the upper world... even cinematic effects prepared by a former employee who has returned to Paris to take over the Theatre Houdin... may I interest you in subscriptions?"

          "Absolutely!" my landlord declared. Draw up tickets for six... no, twelve!... and Bennett will come round to pay you Tuesday.

          The magician and magickian embraced as brothers rather than the mortal enemies they seemed... but at the flat on Chancery Lane, with cognac served and a fire blazing, I was given to understand how Crowley's opinion stood unchanged.

          "Maskelyne! Queen's spy... from a long, long line of spies. Do you know the real story behind Stonehenge?"

          "No," I replied, "but I suspect you do..."

          "You humor me," Crowley grunted. "Well, in Arthurian times there occurred a battle between Britons and the invading Saxons wherein the latter prevailed by intervention of Gaelic and Pictish tribes... that is Germany, Ireland and Scotland combining to slaughter the lion..."

          "How tragic!" I began, as there came an intemperate chiming from the doorbell.

          "Bennett! To some..." the magickian continued, "tragedy for the one is heroism to the other. Well a corruption of the line set in, as always happens; empires rise, fall and rise again but the blood remains eternal. Maskeleyne may depict the vril-ya but without the nuclear compassion that binds a society together he shall only echo the paradox of Lytton's darker sentiments as in Kenelm Chillingly. Oh that is ripe... especially wherein the young lord toasts his tenants, '...when I drink to your good healths, you must feel that, in reality, I wish you an early deliverance from the ills to which flesh is exposed.' Maskelyne stands ignorant of great geopolitical eruptions beyond the scope of even Professor Haushofer..."

          Bennett returned bearing an invitation placard; he passed Crowley to present it to me and Frater Perdurabo took immediate offense.

          "I have a premonition... young Jewely Arse is again to be poked by the insufferable Willie Yeats..."

          "Close enough," Bennett informed. The message is from Miss Farr."

          "Congratulations, Arthur," my landlord declared. "Mr. Cameron has been invited to join a Society... not an occult one, nor exclusive - by any means! - but at least some predecessors are notorious. Did you know Florence has an imaginary friend to whom she speaks now and again - no white rabbit nor fairy, but a great green dragon with teeth like rapiers. Sometimes I think she means to summon it against we poor males who hold the higher degrees for ourselves. Mount her and I'll give you a shilling. For Maud Gonne, however, fifty guineas..."

          "You do not object to my going? It's not to Bedford Park but to the flat of a Mr. Stoker."

          "That's Henry Irving's man..." Bennett reminded Crowley.

          "And I really do resent your making such puns about my Hermetic name," I added. "Isn't that supposed to be a sacred thing?"

          "Sacred... and precise," replied Frater Perdurabo sternly. "Magic entertains the mob but magick is not for dilettantes... you should have anticipated that your mystic initials would spell out a rump. I shall make any pun I wish... and you will be reminded that every act has its consequences. As for the Isis Uranians... do as thou wilt... must the world grow weary of my repeating this?"


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