Episode 14 - THIEVES' CANDLES!


          Early the following evening, I entered the Cheyne Walk flat of Abraham "Bram" Stoker, manager of the Lyceum Theatre and of its luminaries Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. A short, dark haired woman whom I recognized from Salisbury Plain took my coat and introduced herself as Pamela Smith... "but you may call me Pixie." In the sitting room were Stoker... whom I had also observed at Stonehenge... and Florence Farr; Yeats was not present that evening, nor was Maud Gonne, but I recognized the commercial occultist, Waite, and an unmistakable gentleman with white hair and moustaches.

          "Mr. Cameron... Mr. Twain," Florence introduced.

          "Bram told me he'd met a fellow American during his little revels; since I've been abroad... not wholly innocent... what news have you of the old land? What did you do before shipping off..."

          "Nothing... not much, sir..." I'm afraid my tongue grew rather tangled in the presence of the renowned author. "That is, I was a student... my father is in the business of funding electrical enterprises..."

          "Why of course I know of Richard Cameron. Tell me... do you think that the doctrines of Edison or Vartanian will prevail?"

          "That shall probably be decided by Mr. Morgan and those of his circle..." I allowed.

          "Mr. Twain knows Morgan," Pixie Smith volunteered, "through, through... who is that art dealer?"

          "Fry! Wants to buy my manuscripts," Twain grimaced, "since I'd prefer to hold on to them I've had to go on these damned tours. Perhaps Bram and I should have consulted your father and avoided bankruptcy."

          "Clemens and I invested in this typesetting company which lost out rather badly to the Mergenthalers," explained the stout, black-bearded Stoker. "So all our revenues, both from Dracula and Huck Finn, have quite evaporated."

          "Like vampires in the mist... eh Cameron! But this electrical matter," Twain continued, "I know Edison, he roped me into recording a few stories on that phonograph of his... I met Vartanian briefly five years ago but have heard, since, that he has managed to explode the state of Colorado..."

          I had heard rumors also, but discounted them. "Probably an exaggeration," I replied.

          "Well before that he did blow up Connecticut, but only the southern part, leaving Hartford secure. He does like to blow things up... which, I suppose, has to be expected of an electric engineer. Still, I wish there were a less violent means of settling the controversy."

          "Perhaps as they did in Arthurian days," remarked Waite, "through Margaritomancy, which is divination by pearls. When set on fire and covered with glass pearls will jump at the name of a thief..."

          "I'm afraid most American businessmen would set your pearls to dancing an Italian tarantella," replied Mark Twain.

          "What about the Tarot?" I suggested.

          Waite, in the pedantic manner Crowley had ridiculed on the Salisbury Plain, answered: "That is difficult to cast when the subject is absent... unless consent be given from the astral sphere. Although I understand both engineers to be illumined..."

          "Vartanian's certainly a queer fellow, isn't he?" Twain asked.

          "He is!" I answered.

          "As for Edison, I once tried to interest him in Christian Science but the man implies much, reveals little. They are all vampires of a sort, these scientists..."

          "And," Stoker said, "like scientists, there is supposed to have been an academy for vampires, the Scholomance... allegedly founded by Solomon himself. It lies on the shores of a certain Lake Harmanstadt high in the mountains. My historical Dracula, Prince Vlad of Vallachia, was among their graduates."

          "I thought he was a madman..." I objected, and Stoker then made a remark that should have recalled to me Crowley's Arthurian observance of the previous night.

          "One's madman is sometimes another's patriot. My advisor in Budapest claimed Vlad was initiated by the Holy Roman Emperor himself... to defend German interests against the Turks. I even was supplied the date his initiation... 1431, at the fortress of Nuremberg... this branch adopted the Dragon and even wore green dragon cloaks and medallions inscribed Justus et Pius!, just and faithful. A Dracul was a term for one of their Adepts... thus, Dracula!"

          I nodded towards the author, but my thoughts returned to she whom my landlord had warned me against... the mistress of Green Dragons...

          "You see, Cameron," Twain remarked, "we who scribble for our living are all thieves of history, more or less..."

          "And none more a plagiarist than your acquaintance Crowley," Waite suggested. "Everything of that man has been borrowed out of Gargantua; his tales, his mottoes... he even plans to set up some sort of monastery down in Italy, for which he has robbed Rabelais of his Abbey of Thelema on the Loire... or, I hear, does he plan escaping his creditors from Scotland now?"

          No wonder Crowley disliked this fellow! I made some remark to the effect that my landlord had not shared any such plans, and inquired, of Stoker, what progress his employers were making. "Shall Mr. Irving and Ellen Terry, be in New York for long as..."

          "Robespierre?" Stoker answered. "Until the pockets of your countrymen are quite drained..."

          "Americans shall always pay to see a tragedy which ends in some King's head falling off," suggested Mark Twain "I suppose our adventure in Cuba had its merits, but I do hope we don't succumb to the temptations of empire. Britain, by the way, would never have amounted to much without its Scots and Irish conscripts..." he added, a statement of no great risk in the quarters of the Dubliner Stoker, as well as among his entourage of freethinkers.

          "Which reminds me of the Irish christening, Clemens," our host said, "where the priest remarked that the infant in question was certainly destined for greatness, like Alexander or Napoleon, or perhaps genius on the order of a Shakespeare or Homer, Edison or... very well!... Vartanian. And what will his name be... asked the man of God, and the father replied... Mary-Anne."

          At this Pamela Smith took my arm. "Wouldn't you like to see my original sketches for Sir Henry as Robespierre... the costumes were sewn in New York, but on my design." A sour expression crossed the face of Arthur Waite as the door closed behind us but he made no physical move to intervene... I had a premonition that Pixie was inviting me to another of those episodes of intrigue that had dogged me since I'd lain hands on the Wampanoags' skull.

          And I was right... but her intent was not romantic, rather towards drawing me into a conspiracy nested in another. "Here is a letter from a friend who desires that you not reveal its contents to Mr. Crowley," Pixie said. "Read it in a safe place and then destroy it - the Devil and his works are hereabouts, and take unexpected forms. Here are the sketches, commit them to memory, Frater Altius, for Waite, at least, will certainly draw you out so as to nurture, or quell, his suspicions."

          This happened exactly as Pamela foresaw but, having the capacity to reply to Waite without giving offense, we conversed mainly upon the origins of Solomon; his influence upon Hermetic Greeks to the west as opposed to mystery cults east of Babel... the hour becoming quite late by the time of my return to Chancery Lane. Crowley was still up... quite drunk and in a pugnacious mood... the gas lamps low, fire out, room illuminated by ghastly candles...

          "Well, my young Altius! Had your fill of vampirism?" Frater Perdurabo asked, "I say - if you would know about Draculae... why vampire yourself! It's easy, Paris is full of them this time of year, they consider blood the delicacy... as I do..."

          And he raised his glass, smirking...

          "That is claret, isn't it?" I tried to smile back.

          "Yours to ponder, mine to savor. Actually Twain and Stoker aren't so bad, mediocrities but infinitely more talented than that pompous, reeking Waite. I'd even rather kill an hour with Willie Yeats than that corrupt old fool... did the topic of that Tarot he is forcing his poor girl to draw come up?"

          "No," I replied, and truthfully.

          "Well he is moving round arcana to make it a so-called Luciferan rather than Satanic deck... more acceptable to priests, he thinks, but Rome shall not have him no matter how he may cringe at its boots. He has deleted the names of the Lovers, Vice and Virtue, from what he holds his Rectified Tarot. It is insipid... fit only for children, if them!"

          "He does seem rather formal..." I suggested.

          "Formal!" The force of Crowley's laughter blew the claret, if it was that, back through his nose in a fine spray of droplets over the carpet. "Did Stoker tell you that one about Parisian women? No... of course he didn't... Waite would have stopped him."

          "Was he the source for your anecdote about rats?" I asked, thinking of Waite's charges of plaigerism.

          "No... this is more a modern phenomenon. A certain class of Frenchwoman is so given to swooning and anaemic fits that bulls' blood has been recommended as a tonic. So, Stoker told me, you will find the finest ladies up at the peep o'dawn and fighting over the freshest blood... flocking to Parisian slaughterhouses like Roman Legionnaires to Taurobolia; the wealthiest carrying it back in buckets for their baths. Yes, Stoker's alright... it's a shame he's handcuffed to that broken-down old drunk."

          "Henry Irving is still regarded as the finest actor in the world," I said, feeling obliged to defend his reputation.

          "In America. Everything that is used-up here gets sent over the sea to you colonials who are grateful for the opportunity to be cheated... well, you did miss the policemen stopping by..."

          "About Stonehenge? Have they solved the murder of that poor electrician?" I responded.

          "Of course not! Useless creatures..." my landlord coughed, drinking again to clear his throat and palate, "they haven't a clue and know it, so they want to bring back Jack the Ripper. Years ago I advised them to investigate that crowd round Besant and Bernard Shaw... a dipsomaniacal astrologist being alleged to have done the deed, or Roslyn Stephenson and Mabel Collins, this rogue Theosophist pair... but Stephenson was protected by Lytton's heirs and by the Crown. I was, of course, the very soul who enlightened Lord Lytton on the potentialities of astral energy while incarnated as Eliphas Levi but, having been treated so rudely by ignorant authorities, I have quite given up on the profession of detection, unlike that certain Mr. Lee, who set his mind to track Jack down by psychic means a decade back."

          "Unsuccessfully it seems..." I felt compelled to suggest.

          "Oh he made psychic contact, did Mr. Lee, but the personal magnetism of the killer so overwhelmed his nerves it rendered him an imbecile like Ruskin, that architect beloved by Shaw and the rest of the dregs of British Rosicrucianry. There was a similar thing that happened, also, to Gebelin, a tutor to Encausse of the Parisian temple, but details escape me. So Jack must also be, or have been, one of the High Adepts, a veritable Baphomet of crime..."

          "That's too bad..." I answered. With Crowley, of course, bad sometimes really meant good, very good... then again, at other times, it merely represented what it seemed.

          "And that military officer from the recital came back," my landlord added, brightening considerably at the detection of a spirit possibly kindred, "Captain Fuller is refreshingly forward in his thinking. We have mutual acquaintances in Germany and so could not help discussing Clausewitz... he has a novel strategy involving prosecution of a sudden, total war... a thunderbolt the Captain calls it, but our Generals are as unkind to him as Scotland Yard was to me. So I told him take his ideas to the Kaiser and we shall see what comes of that! But you... did you learn anything out of the ordinary?"

          "I am afraid not," I replied, hoping my nerves would not betray the confidences pressed into my hand by Pixie Smith.

          "Really?" Crowley lifted a brow. "I suppose old Waite did bore everyone with his insipid Rectified Tarot..."

          "There wasn't much of that," I replied, making my face into a mask of relief.

          "Westcott probably forged at least part of that manuscript," my landlord began to ramble, "or had somebody doing it for him. I mention Shaw because I suspect a secret temple of Fabians at work with he and his harem, that fellow who wrote... what's its name... The Time Machine? yes and, until she passed, Mrs. Wilde. Did you know Stoker's wife was once engaged to Oscar? Clockworks of coincidence! And now she is an invalid, as is the wife of poor Twain. Yet you say you've learned little of vampirism..."

          "Really sir," I replied, perhaps unkindly, "I have heard much of this before and I'm rather tired, I'm going to bed."

          "As you will... oh, I hope you did notice these candles? In Vienna, the fat from executed criminals is particularly prized; they are called Diebstichter, thieves' candles..."

          The implications so disturbed me that I undoubtedly showed my repugnance as I lingered by the door.

          "Oh these are not them... Diebstichter are most expensive, used only in rituals of greatest difficulty. There is another family draped about Shaw... the Haldanes, I think, or Huxleys, more or less the same... vile people!... but one of them said something useful, that it is a shame the brain is hemmed in by the skull, else it could evolve into infinity."

          "Now..." I relied wearily, "may I go to bed?

          "Do as thou wilt, Ruby Arse..." my landlord smirked... "and pleasant dreams!"

          The suggestion, of course, was intended to produce quite the contrary to what Crowley said, although not what he meant. Incidentally, the magickian never concluded his playing of the detective's role, even up to and through the war he kept our government and his own, not to mention the Axis, wholly bewildered as to his political sympathies. Crowley subsequently declared himself for monarchies, also proclaimed himself a Feudalist, not an anarchist, in his Book of Lies. So as a liar is he also of radical tendencies? Or a secret sympathizer with Saladin, whose Prophet eschews the grape and grain my landlord so prized?

          It may, perhaps, be of interest that Coroner Westcott, in collaboration with certain persons of high authority... including a Royal or two... proclaimed Masefield a victim of an apopleptic accident, and such was included in the Royal Engineer's rectified obituary. Salisbury Plain was closed for three days, during which teams of workmen, horses and steam engines labored and eventually succeeded in restoring the murder stone, "that Britain's enemies might not take confidence from an occasion not of God, but of human infamy," said Nevil Maskelyne on the night of the premiere of "The Coming Race". He also told me the old German for stone and rope... "ein strick, ein stein"... just as he had predicted, at Egyptian Hall, "Give a lie twenty four hours' head start, and the truth shall not catch up to it."


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