Episode 33 -



          The tubocurarine and its antidotes, the toadskin and the bean of Africa proved debilitating... my three hosts conveyed me to Inverness, then south, where I was offered a room in a great house which they swore me not to reveal, so I shall not. By Christmas Eve, I felt secure in leaving my bed to attend a small gathering at Stoker's flat... Twain and John Butler Yeats were present, also Waite and Pamela (or Pixie) Smith, Arthur Machen and even Sarsfeld-Ward. All had brought tiny gifts, Pixie hung hers upon the tree and two glass ornaments in soft collision made a quiet tinkling sound.

          "When my boys were small," the elder Yeats remembered, "we used to dedicate each gift in the name of a poor, dead child... whose thanksgivings redounded in tinklings quite so as they absorbed the essence of charity, and so were drawn further from Limbo and nearer Heaven."

          "Then what happens to the gifts themselves," I thought to ask, "tomorrow morning?"

          "We'll take them over to the Children's Hospital, won't we Bram... if you promise not to frighten the wee ones with any of your vampire stories..."

          "You have my oath!" swore Stoker.

          "It's too bad that you, Arthur, must leave… and almost at the crack of dawn."

          "Thank you," I said, and perhaps for the thousandth time in three days, "but it is imperative I return to New York as quickly as is possible. A terrible misadventure of science must be rectified and... as the Kiel holds the record for the speed of its Atlantic crossing... I should reach my father's office within five days."

          "Ringing in the New Year with cups of cheer, a roaring fire as this and family... well that is what the holidays were meant for. Susan's brother John Pollexfen will be on leave within a month and we'll reunite in Liverpool. A beastly enterprise this Boer affair is, a blackguard's war, and prosecuted by blackguard ministers. I half agree with Willie, even those rogues Crowley and Mathers... but only half, there are things a man must still not do, even to save his nation. Ireland shall inevitably be free, Scotland also... but without the intercession of heroic politics or strong enchanters."

          "And your son..." I felt compelled to ask.

          Yeats coughed. "We had a sort of settling of accounts last night, enjoying the hospitality of Mr. George Moore at which time Willie decided he ought go tramping about in the west, in Mr. Machen's country, I believe, looking for himself. Maud Gonne's off with her beau and I understand Florence is serious about running East to Ceylon. I think Chesterton's crushed, he had a soft spot for her no matter what he might say..."

          "And Crowley?" Waite butted in where I feared even mention.

          "Off to climb some damned mountain or another. Let's drink to the prospect of a tumble," said John Yeats, raising his glass. "All those others surfaced on the Continent so it must have been one of those poor Scotsmen whom the monster snacked upon... of course there hasn't been a word in the German or Hapsburg papers on their great philosopher who, I gather, shall be reported to have passed within a few weeks or months by that vile sister of his. Private burial and a closed, empty coffin... oh, sorry Cameron! Is it true, Waite, that you plan to dedicate a Tarot deck to this sordid affair?"

          "I shall compose its theme," Waite replied pompously, "Pixie shall execute its details upon my instructions... I rather fancy Crowley as its Devil. But Cameron... I'm stumped, young fellow, do you see yourself more as the Hanged Man or Fool?

          "He's not a fool!" Pixie defended me, "...if anyone should be that, it's Willie..."

          "Well he and Maud would have made a terrible domestic pair," John Yeats allowed, "but... on their own, and with all erotic distractions aside... each working in their own way might improve our poor Irish theater. Perhaps even make of it a rival to the Garrick, eh Bram?"

          "Or a superior," Stoker sighed, " last cable from Henry was disturbing; he and Ellen haven't drawn the audiences they're used to..."

          "But his tour can't have gone as badly as poor Maskelyne's 'Coming Race' did," Machen allowed, "could it have?"

          "No..." Stoker acknowledged, "it's not quite been a disaster of that magnitude. I am sorry for you, Machen, but one who takes to the stage has to accept the chance of occasional failure."

          "Oh I am not discouraged, in fact I'm rather ecstatic... my phantoms of despair are banished, exorcised in the blinding light of true, total catastrophe! What was it you said that strange Italian told you, Cameron... the sheer pleasure of being booed? Why this whole monstrosity has even inspired me to resume writing... I think a sort of Arab entertainment, nothing like the dragon you plan, Stoker..."

          "A worm, Machen... my new masterpiece will have no dragon of the sort Saint George knew, but evil in clammy flesh... a crawling, vile worm beside which even Dracula should pale in terror..."

          "Well I plan a go at literature myself," chimed in Sarsfeld-Ward who, upon my return, swore that he henceforth wished to be known by a nom de plume of his own devising, based on what little I could relay of Guido von List, with his runes and his roaming, tragic Saxons. "After what I have seen in Limehouse..."

          "Yes..." Pixie brightened, "Ward here... forgive me, I meant Sax... saw the most appalling fellow on the docks. He thinks the fellow directed those Germans bringing that philosopher's body over, a Chinese..."

          "Actually I think he looked more a Russian, though from one of the wild outposts of that empire... penetrating green eyes and a voice to chill your blood. I'm certain it was he... they all were bustling about that coffin, but he was the one giving orders, just flicking a fingernail six inches long this way or that...

          "Father Tarnhari..." I suggested.

          "Beg pardon?"

          "Nothing, Rohmer... if you wish to put this fellow into literature, though, I would keep him Chinese. It will confuse persons who traffic in strange delicacies and not offend powerful and violent elements who may not react well to direct exposure."

          "Do you think that they would..." and the yellow journalist took to gnawing his fingertips at the prospect of being subject to the vengeance of the "Mr. King" as his informants in the Hip Sing Tong described this man of mystery. "Then Oriental he shall stay... one of those Boxers or a Manchu prince with mongooses... mongeese?... and from the sad episode of Theo and Madame Horos he would maintain a harem of child brides..."

          "You are hallucinating young man!" warned Mark Twain, " sane body would sit still to read such rubbish!"

          "But they will!" insisted Rohmer... who was right... if the tastes of my grandsons are admitted into evidence, the world is a less innocent place today then in those days when evil felt obliged to venture forth masked... or hooded!

          "Well we have all been through an epoch of fantastic confusion," Machen allowed, "but in the end the one I feel most sorry about, though, is Neville... he has absorbed staggering losses that might even require the closing of Egyptian Hall. Did he hand over that package from Paris he was holding for you?"

          "He did, and so has my gratitude," I explained, and nothing more. "Oh... it has begun to snow!"

          "Too bad, I thought the afternoon rather mild," Stoker replied, "...I suppose it will all have melted by noon..."

          "But while it lasts we shall enjoy it!" said John Yeats, "...knowing that, as day brings round night, so, by dawn, snow, as worldly glory and all monuments must fall."

          "Mister Machen... or shall I say Plinge," Twain smiled, "I am not overly fond of Lytton, but found your narration of the conclusion of the Coming Race quite refreshing. Before midnight sneaks round and decent people are off to bed... or in Cameron's case, to the docks with their trunks and, I hope, memories more pleasant than otherwise... could you favor us one last time?"

          "Certainly!" Machen said, rising to the occasion, placing one hand formally across his breast... "Only... the more I think of a people calmly developing... in regions excluded from our sight and deemed uninhabitable by our sages... powers surpassing our most disciplined modes of force and virtues to which our life... social and political... becomes antagonistic in proportion as our civilization advances - the more devoutly I pray that ages may yet elapse before there emerge into sunlight our inevitable destroyers."

          Unmotivated, unimpelled by act of any in the sitting room, there came a shaking of the tree, a chorus of tinklings... which John Yeats followed with his own prayer.

          "So perhaps another wee, poor soul may find Heaven's rope, lowered to lift them up out of their gloom..."


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