Episode 15 - IN the MUSEUM of TEA!


          Dark shapes with bobbing, boxlike heads crowded my dreams - a winged thing plunging into my pillow as I woke, shuddering. It was a morning of British calamity - defeats at Mafeking and Ladysmith... Crowley, over breakfast, relishing the discomfiture of the Crown almost as gleefully as he relished my own ill sentiments...

          "Bad evening, dear boy?"

          "Dreams..." I replied.

          "By Lucifer man!... you did sup with those vampires, and in Bedford Park no less! Were I to love death more than I do, I should bring Florence Farr into this household as my cook, then I should dream as Coleridge, if only for a short span!"

          "It was a social obligation. And a useful name arose - do you know an art dealer named Fry?"

          "From Dorking? Purveyor to Americans and Fabians... that one tried to involve me in a complicated scheme to sell some caricatures by this Frenchman, Jarry, to Bernard Shaw as bait to obtain cheap Cezannes from Parisians. I've no influence with Shaw... less than none and told him quite so... can't see what you'd want with the fellow but," Crowley relented, "he hangs round the offices of the Pilot."

          I wiped my lips of the remains of my landlord's savory omelette and excused myself. "All the same, I think I'll pay Mr. Fry a call. Superb fare, Crowley, Allen... if you ever desire to come to New York, I'm certain I could raise funding to open a restaurant.

          I believe Crowley to have been momentarily embarrassed by the praise. "Hear that Bennett? Young Cameron would set us up in trade... I to provide the victuals and you the seasoning...

          "I should like that..." Bennett said, with the abstracted tone which implied an early rise to sample the wares of Baker and Jones, chemists.

          "And some strange spices indeed might be shaken from Frater Iehi Aour's rack. If you do find Fry, ask if he has news from his American client Mr. Elihu Root, and also if he's heard further from that certain depressing Scandinavian we discussed, the one whose name calls to mind mastication... Herr Gnaw or Herr Gnash? Something like that!" And Crowley returned to his plate, which I interpreted as dismissal.

          It was not to the gallery, however, nor to the Pilot which I repaired after rereading the Uranian letter, but the morgue. Looking both ways as I arrived... for Crowley's habit of turning up in unexpected places as well as for any carelessness on the part of horsecar drivers... I gathered my resolve and finally entered. Westcott, to my relief, admitted me into his private office instantly, sparing me the companionship of his charges... a relief soon overtaken by reality.

          "Sir, I have received this card directing me to you with the addendum 28-6-19," I said, placing the card on Westcott's desk.

          "That is a designation for certain crypts we maintain," allowed the Coroner, "...and is the number which belongs to our unfortunate Royal Engineer. I think someone means you to visit the body. Come!"

          Westcott threw on his coat of medals and ribbons - no less splendid than Josephan robes - and I was escorted past a multitude of dead bodies and their keepers... pausing at a wall of numbered crypts.

          "Twenty seven, twenty eight... five, six!" pronounced the Cancellarius. "Here we are!"

          He pulled open a numbered drawer; what lay within was nearer steak tartare than humankind. I could not help but avert my gaze... but Westcott quickly observed something laying within the shredded flesh.

          "Another card!"

          "Could you retrieve it for me?" I begged.

          "It is meant for yourself only, by the inscription, so I'll stand aside... come, dig your fingers about. Buck up! young man, overcoming one's fear of the dead's a primary qualification of Zelatorship..."

          Of course had Westcott not actually written the message himself, he had either placed it upon Engineer Masefield's remains or allowed one of his confederates to do so as a means of humiliating me further. I winced but reached into the carrion, drawing out the card.

          "It is an address... Steat House! and a time... noon today!"

          "Then you had best be on your way," Westcott observed. "I believe there is a horsecar, presently unoccupied, round the east end of the block. Now that wasn't so difficult, was it Altius?"

          I thanked my hermetical pater and, finding that the horsecar not only existed, but knew the way to Steat House, was deposited at my destination a full seven minutes before noon. The address in question was a fine old suburban estate with a wall and outbuildings; a uniformed attendant waited at the gate as if I were expected all along.

          "Madame is in the Tea Museum," I was told and followed the direction of his finger down a path, through a November garden of dying and decomposing flora towards the structure named - an octagon of dark, fragrant old wood whose door lounged open; from within a woman's voice bade me enter.

          "Who's there?" I challenged and the owner of the garden, museum and, in fact, the whole estate came forward... the most wealthy but reticent Miss Annie Horniman, under her purple shawl.

          "Frater Altius... how good of you to come, and how fortunate. You may have heard that I am referred to as the Purple Adept but be familiar... call me Annie. Now, let us get down to particulars..."

          The museum of tea was furnished with a table and stout oak chairs of some antiquity; Miss Horniman directed that I seat myself to hear her out.

          "Yeats said you were well off but I had no idea..."

          "Yes, well... Father made his fortune in tea and established this museum. Mathers, the Praemonstrator was, as usual, in need of funds even a decade ago and, as his wife Moira and her brother, Bergson, the philosopher, are dear friends, I hired the man to keep this place up and maintained him until Father could no longer abide his character..."

          "I've heard this and that about Mathers..."

          "He's a common drunkard and, when sober, can be a most uncommon fiend. Vestigia... Moira that is... told me how, as a boy, he performed the most horrid surgeries upon helpless animals. He has grown older, young man, but not wiser nor kinder, fit... as Mr. Wilde remarked of a failed librettist... not for better but, rather, for other things. And he has caused this crisis, complicated by Dr. Westcott's intention... a good man is Cancellarius, but gullible..."

          "Well frankly, what do you expect me to do?"

          "Crowley trusts you," said Annie Horniman, "and Mathers trusts Crowley... if such creature can be capable of any of the nobler sentiments." She did not specify whether it was to the Praemonstrator or my landlord that she was speaking of and I gathered there probably wasn't much to separate them in her esteem. "Now, Willie acknowledges you to be an honest man... is that so?"

          "Well I think... under most circumstances..."

          "I do not altogether trust Florence Farr..." opined the Purple Adept, "...her character is disorderly and, if left alone, I have no doubt she would have turned over our papers to Crowley. Laxity of morals invites demonic occupation... Maud Gonne will not allow her into our theatre rehearsals, she unnerves Willie's actors by crawling the boards, calling out to spirits of departed thespians that have fallen between the cracks. She was also close to Mathers... once... before he fled to Paris he attempted to use her against Dr. Westcott... though of course this came to nothing." And the Purple Adept shook her hat and stomped a tiny boot upon the floorboards; though the tea had long departed with its besotted caretaker I smelt the ghost of a Pekoe or chinaberry in the rafters.

          "Well this is history, gossip even, no concern of yours... what matters is that you are the only party whose judgment is trusted by all parties involved. It is Miss Farr's plan that you travel incognito to Stuttgart to determine the identity and intent of Fraulein Sprengel, or of her successors if she has indeed answered the summons of that call-boy of the stars. A subscription has been raised for your expenses."

          "I do not lack funds, so that is not at issue," I replied with perhaps a certain offense intended, "...but what of that couple in Paris?"

          "The Horos duo? Obviously frauds... any other than Mathers would have disposed of them at once. Their only value has been to bring this issue to a head... it has festered for years, awaiting a clear young mind to see through the veil."

          "But I am no detective..."

          "You are objective and determined," Annie Horniman retorted, "...and that is sufficient. We of the Isis Urania Temple shall assist you as we can, as Crowley and Mathers shall also, for reasons of their own."

          "I see." And to be sure, having pondered the question of both claimants, I inquired, "what is truly known of Fraulein Sprengel?"

          "Her adept name is Sapiens Dominabitor Astris, thus Soror SDA. Westcott never met her, nor did Woodman, but that ascended soul did know one Wentworth Little who died over twenty years ago and knew the German Templars. They admitted that Soror SDA was considered a sort of a problem as England is rather more tolerant of Hermeticism than Germany. Little claimed to have known her in Nurnberg, but Woodford used to call her the old lady of Ulm. Her last known address was care of one Herr Enger at the Hotel Marquardt in Stuttgart, but a detective whom we hired found no Enger nor Sprengel in the police register of that city, so we need what do you Americans call it... the clean up man?"

          "Yes," I said. "Well if... and I emphasize... if... I'd prefer to clear the matter with both Crowley and our poet with the bad eyes, worse handwriting and rotten teeth... if I did undertake your mission, where would you suggest I go?"

          "First to Stuttgart, obviously, then Nurnberg, perhaps, and after... who knows where the trail may lead? You shall have enemies," the Purple Adept warned, "but also powerful friends... some open, others who must work in your interest from the shadows."

          "Well it certainly sounds like I'd be setting myself up for a scrape! Not that I'd mind..."

          "There is worse, young man... when the door to the house of life is thrown open there may enter that for which we have no name. Then," Annie Horniman admonished, "even the flesh itself becomes the veil of horrors one dares not express..."

          "That is poetry," I replied. "Are you a poetess as well as a heiress?"

          "No, but the man who shall escort you back to Chancery Lane is... he is the author of those words! Arthur... come!"

          And from shadows redolent of the smell of old tea, Arthur Machen appeared, bowing obsequiously as any old retainer in a royal court of the previous century. This man I now recognized as he who'd fled the Blythe Street temple, as he justified himself, to give notice to the Kensington police. But I held my tongue and extended a hand... Machen's flesh was cool to the touch and tentative, as if it were only a membrane stretched over a roiling, maggoty door to the Otherworld.

          "Mr. Machen has suffered the recent loss of his wife, but he is a faithful fellow," counseled the Purple Adept.

          "Then I shall welcome his company for the trip back to London."

          "There may be some immediate unpleasantness," Horniman continued, "but the architecture of the stars has been engaged... I think you shall find even Mr. Crowley sympathetic."

          "So what happens next?" I asked.

          "Florence Farr shall contact you directly. Others... some known to you, some not... shall manifest to provide the guidance you shall need."

          I presented my hand to the tea heiress. "Then until I see you again. It's a pity things didn't work out between your father and Mathers."

          "I still hold great fondness for Moira. She is precious to me... keep that in mind whilst you plot your course of action, Altius..."

          And Annie Horniman closed the door to the Tea Museum behind us, leaving Cameron and Machen to walk back to the gate and waiting carriage.

          "So, another writer!" I tried to make conversation. "London is certainly full of you fellows... in America we have Twain and the popular press and that's that."

          "Oh young man, do not underestimate your heritage. There are the Transcendentals, Melville and above all Poe."

          "That one who wrote detective tales or poems for children, the sort that aren't quite right... if you know what I mean... didn't he come to a rather sordid end?" I asked.

          "He was a genius like Villiers... and also died obscure and in the contempt of inferiors. He lived as others dream and, since the doctors have pronounced me mad over the passing of Amelia three months ago, I shall dream also. Coachman away! to the black swamp and cave..."

          "To the City!" I whispered to the driver. "You shall leave me by the offices of the Pilot, then you may take this gentleman to that place he desires, if it is on any known map."

          "As the gentleman wishes," the coachman declared.

          An hour later, as we neared our destination, the desperate Machen was still talking... recalling tales to be published, on a latter day, others forever lost. Since then his reputation's made something of a recovery - mostly upon the strength of his reportage of the Great War which we all thought to be that to end all wars. It's too bad we haven't his like to recall the horror of the present to future generations.

          "Two weeks ago," Machen said as we passed through Chelsea, "I found myself walking on air, in a mist of erotic recollections more vivid than any I've ever experienced under anhelonium or laudanum. I began considering the world and its follies... its Koom-Posh!... presented to me at new angles. Are we in the vicinity of Gray's Inn... I must proceed to the Verulam Buildings to walk Jug, my bulldog. He becomes unsettled when routine is disrupted... but a summons from the Purple Adept cannot be ignored.

          "She is well-regarded by many of the Order."

          "She's a Messalina..." Machen groaned, "but rich and that those who exist at her sufferance may continue, whether Mathers or Gonne, she is humoured and flattered. I make no assumption of superiority; when one precariously keeps body and soul together editing occult catalogs and haunting second-hand booksellers for advertising, the occasional kindness of the gentry can be a godsend but... did you feel that?"

          "What?" I answered.

          "A spirit, or so I thought... I am prone to feel them here and there when I am without my Juggernaut, who is splendidly sane..."

          I informed the driver that I would depart with Mr. Machen and find the offices of the Pilot on my own. As our fares had been paid by the Purple Adept we departed; no sooner did our feet touch the street then there came a terrible clashing of metal followed by ghastly howls.

          "Cats!" Machen shuddered. "Juggernaut usually sets them to rout," the author remarked, leaving me only one more mystery of London. "I feel quite naked without him but, to recover my courage, I'm taking to the stage..."

          "As an actor?"

          "Why not? Maskelyne has promised a small part for me as one of the elder Aph-Lin... a rather comic role, but I've quite passed the vanity of youth whose fading has been known to drive more than one despairing trouper to crime, even to suicide. If a Polonius waits in my future, let it be so! I've picked up a bit of their argot... that sort of barbarous Italian, but... look at that bounder there, and that other..."

          In fact a number of large cats had come slinking round, felines of dull gray or black so as to be hardly distinguishable from shadows, save for their eyes or the pink of their palates as they yawned insolently, licked themselves idly upon stoops or followed with loping gates, sometimes showing bared teeth and raised fur.

          "There must be a dozen, no, a score," I corrected, "...look, sir, did you spill gravy on your cuffs?"

          "No... they are His doing," Machen replied. "Let us speak no more of... well, rather let us not speak again. I am only a block from my flat."

          So we proceed rather hastily, turning a corner as I whistled a few uneasy bars of James Fawn's "Ask A P'liceman", perhaps in the hope that the melody might provoke one of those to appear. Or, at least, an officer of Animal Control. But no bobbies answered my summons and, in the middle of the block, Machen quite lost his reason, breaking and running with a comical gait, losing his hat. When the writer flung open a door a dun colored bulldog rocketed out into the street, scattering black cats like so many dust devils with his growls and snarls. As it seemed, a few of the beasts at the periphery of my vision seemed almost to... evaporate!.. as opposed to simply fleeing, but that may have been a trick of my tiring eyes. At any rate, the mystery of the Juggernaut stood solved.

          "I'd invite you in for a drink but you'd better make your way back to Chancery Lane; I would also seriously consider taking different lodgings..." Machen advised.

          I said that I might just do that, the author recalled his Juggernaut and, after handing Machen back his hat, I proceeded forthwith to Chancery Lane, giving a glance behind now and again. Crowley was waiting up as I recall Father doing when I'd escorted this or that young lady to the theatre or a ball during vacations, greeting me in his dressing gown, drink in hand...

          "Busy day?" the magickian asked.

          "Intolerably!" was my world-weary response. "Fry's close-mouthed... and his prices impossibly high!"

          "If one desires something valuable badly enough, one must possess it by any means. But you... are we ready to begin your instruction in Zelatorship? Now that you are a Neophyte Adept, certain things I have kept from you can be told..."

          "Actually," I interrupted, "I was thinking of a jaunt round the Continent before the worst of winter."

          "Leaving so soon? Well," Crowley allowed, "when I was your age, all I thought of was to tramp around Alpine nooks and Austral corners, testing myself against the elements and those whom I encountered. How are you with languages?"

          Bennett had brought flask, siphon and glasses bidding me to make myself comfortable before an unusually virile fire.

          "I have some French and German," I replied, "less Italian... much of the German is related to engineering."

          "Well that is the language of the sciences," allowed my landlord, "as French is for art and diplomacy or the Italian for seducers."

          "And English?"

          Crowley grew thoughtful. "It is the tongue of betrayers as Latin was once - flattery, with a knife up the sleeve. Look at what England has done in the Orient, eh Bennett?"

          "Quite true, they keep their colonies in bondage by dividing their indigenous tribes."

          "And worse is what they do to their poor relations... to Scotland, Ireland, even their own fraternals. Your General Washington, Jefferson, Franklin... only links in a long chain of conspirators against Choronzon. Even I... I am constantly thrown over by those who violate confidence, ridicule my books..."

          "Poetry is a thankless occupation," I replied, having no other answer to the man's seemingly boundless ego. Washington, Jefferson, Crowley... the mind fairly rebels!

          "It destroys the generous soul and drives the bitter one underground like a gnome," my landlord wept, tears of self-pity trickling down his cheek... from the potency of his cognac I feared Crowley might veer too close to the fire and so cause a tragedy remarkable even in a city for many noble conflagrations. "Worst of all are parents, especially my own mother! Do you know she was the first to call me Beast? I was hounded all over Leamington, Warwickshire..."

          "I thought you were Scottish!" I remarked.

          "In spirit," Crowley recovered, "yes... but I had also my forebears Levi, Alexander and Cagliostro against the taunts and blows of boorish boys and condemnation of their parents. All I have ever wished for is to love... and to be loved... to seek the truth in whatever odd corner it might lift its head. I've killed cats!... yes, but only to verify or disprove the myth of whether they have nine lives. That's not quite true... it's that a cat belongs to a collective spirit, rather like the bees or a flock of wild ducks... what one knows, all the others do too. Since those days," my landlord glowered, "cats show me their proper homage... they serve as my eyes and my ears..."

          The doorbell relieved me of any obligation to reply. It was Bennett, bearing another letter.

          "Another summons for Mr. Cameron."

          But he handed the card to Crowley who read the text with a smirk before passing it over.

          "So Pilate summons her Judas or... by the scent and the handwriting, not quite so disordered as Willie's but scattered nonetheless... it is an aging Salome, reprieved and resigned to the lot of aging actresses who must sell shoelaces and flowers round the back door..."

          Crowley always did have the knack of making one feel ill at ease. "Well I have been asked to look into that old German lady, dead or alive..." I declared, yet with a sense of making confession, "...Dr. Westcott implied your consent..."

          "Westcott! Such a...kind!.. old man with his corpses and decorations. Such a humanitarian, dear boy! Bright eyes, bushy whiskers like a Hyde Park squirrel, and soft words to mask the soul of a crank and forger..." Crowley sighed, "...and withal he is the most decent of them!"

          "Sir... I was under the impression that this course might be best for all..."

          "So Altius christens his occult endeavors, not with a bottle of Tattingers, but with a lie."

          I replied that I did not mean to offend, knowing however that I had. In Chancery Lane, where East lay West, up lay down and mirrors of dark and light stood back to back, Crowley showed his affection by insult... the use of my proper Hermetical name a sign of his displeasure.

          "Persecutors rarely admit that they do so to gratify their Daimon; it is only for the benefit of the poor bugger on their rack or wench on her pyre, so they say." Gathering up his pipe and bottle, my landlord stepped towards his suite. "I feel the presence of rather more demons about tonight than is usual," said Crowley as he turned, "celebrating their success in recruitment. Bennett... be sure all the doors and windows are securely locked. I shall be relieved when we are safe in Scotland, away from this pale ghetto of cardboard and shabby conjurings. The meanness of London - naked as a November's oak - I leave to tourists; I hear Choronzon blowing his bassoon to summon the congress of mediocre Elementals. Take care of yourself, Cameron, among the weird sisters of Bedford Park..."


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