The Purple Cloud Part 13

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In going away from that place, walking northward, I came upon a lonely house by the sea, a very beautiful house, made, it was clear, by an artist, of the bungalow type, with an exquisitely sea-side expression. I went to it, and found its special feature a s.p.a.cious loggia or verandah, sheltered by the overhanging upper story. Up to the first floor, the exterior is of stone in rough-hewn blocks with a distinct batter, while extra protection from weather is afforded by green slating above. The roofs, of low pitch, are also covered with green slates, and a feeling of strength and repose is heightened by the very long horizontal lines.

At one end of the loggia is a hexagonal turret, opening upon the loggia, containing a study or nook. In front, the garden slopes down to the sea, surrounded by an architectural sea-wall; and in this place I lived three weeks. It was the house of the poet Machen, whose name, when I saw it, I remembered very well, and he had married a very beautiful young girl of eighteen, obviously Spanish, who lay on the bed in the large bright bedroom to the right of the loggia, on her left exposed breast being a baby with an india-rubber comforter in its mouth, both mother and child wonderfully preserved, she still quite lovely, white brow under low curves of black hair. The poet, strange to say, had not died with them, but sat in the sitting-room behind the bedroom in a long loose silky-grey jacket, at his desk--actually writing a poem! writing, I could see, furiously fast, the place all littered with the written leaves--at three o'clock in the morning, when, as I knew, the cloud overtook this end of Cornwall, and stopped him, and put his head to rest on the desk; and the poor little wife must have got sleepy, waiting for it to come, perhaps sleepless for many long nights before, and gone to bed, he perhaps promising to follow in a minute to die with her, but bent upon finis.h.i.+ng that poem, and writing feverishly on, running a race with the cloud, thinking, no doubt, 'just two couplets more,' till the thing came, and put his head to rest on the desk, poor carle: and I do not know that I ever encountered aught so complimentary to my race as this dead poet Machen, and his race with the cloud: for it is clear now that the better kind of those poet men did not write to please the vague inferior tribes who might read them, but to deliver themselves of the divine warmth that thronged in their bosom; and if all the readers were dead, still they would have written; and for G.o.d to read they wrote. At any rate, I was so pleased with these poor people, that I stayed with them three weeks, sleeping under blankets on a couch in the drawing-room, a place full of lovely pictures and faded flowers, like all the house: for I would not touch the young mother to remove her. And finding on Machen's desk a big note-book with soft covers, dappled red and yellow, not yet written in, I took it, and a pencil, and in the little turret-nook wrote day after day for hours this account of what has happened, nearly as far as it has now gone. And I think that I may continue to write it, for I find in it a strange consolation, and companions.h.i.+p.

In the Severn Valley, somewhere in the plain between Gloucester and Cheltenham, in a rather lonely spot, I at that time travelling on a tricycle-motor, I spied a curious erection, and went to it. I found it of considerable size, perhaps fifty feet square, and thirty high, made of pressed bricks, the perfectly flat roof, too, of brick, and not one window, and only one door: this door, which I found open, was rimmed all round its slanting rims with india-rubber, and when closed must have been perfectly air-tight. Just inside I came upon fifteen English people of the dressed cla.s.s, except two, who were evidently bricklayers: six ladies, and nine men: and at the further end, two more, men, who had their throats cut; along one wall, from end to end were provisions; and I saw a chest full of mixed pota.s.sic chlorate and black oxide of manganese, with an apparatus for heating it, and producing oxygen--a foolish thing, for additional oxygen could not alter the quant.i.ty of breathed carbonic anhydride, which is a direct narcotic poison. Whether the two with cut throats had sacrificed themselves for the others when breathing difficulties commenced, or been killed by the others, was not clear. When they could bear it no longer, they must have finally opened the door, hoping that by then, after the pa.s.sage of many days perhaps, the outer air would be harmless, and so met their death. I believe that this erection must have been run up by their own hands under the direction of the two bricklayers, for they could not, I suppose, have got workmen, except on the condition of the workmen's admission: on which condition they would naturally employ as few as possible.

In general, I remarked that the rich must have been more urgent and earnest in seeking escape than the others: for the poor realised only the near and visible, lived in to-day, and cherished the always-false notion that to-morrow would be just like to-day. In an out-patients'

waiting-room, for instance, in the Gloucester infirmary, I chanced to see an astonis.h.i.+ng thing: five bodies of poor old women in shawls, come to have their ailments seen-to on the day of doom; and these, I concluded, had been unable to realise that anything would really happen to the daily old earth which they knew, and had walked with a.s.surance on: for if everybody was to die, they must have thought, who would preach in the Cathedral on Sunday evenings?--so they could not have believed. In an adjoining room sat an old doctor at a table, the stethoscope-tips still clinging in his ears: a woman with bared chest before him; and I thought to myself: 'Well, this old man, too, died doing his work....'

In this same infirmary there was one surgical ward--for in a listless mood I went over it--where the patients had died, not of the poison, nor of suffocation, but of hunger: for the doctors, or someone, had made the long room air-tight, double-boarding the windows, felting the doors, and then locking them outside; they themselves may have perished before their precautions for the imprisoned patients were complete: for I found a heap of maimed shapes, mere skeletons, crowded round the door within.

I knew very well that they had not died of the cloud-poison, for the pestilence of the ward was unmixed with that odour of peach which did not fail to have more or less embalming effects upon the bodies which it saturated. I rushed stifling from that place; and thinking it a pity, and a danger, that such a horror should be, I at once set to work to gather combustibles to burn the building to the ground.

It was while I sat in an arm-chair in the street the next afternoon, smoking, and watching the flames of this structure, that something was suddenly born in me, something from the lowest h.e.l.l: and I smiled a smile that never yet man smiled. And I said: 'I will burn, I will burn: I will return to London....'

While I was on this Eastward journey, stopping for the night at the town of Swindon, I had a dream: for I dreamed that a little brown bald old man, with a bent back, whose beard ran in one thin streamlet of silver from his chin to trail along the ground, said to me: 'You think that you are alone on the earth, its sole Despot: well, have your fling: but as sure as G.o.d lives, as G.o.d lives, as G.o.d lives'--he repeated it six times--'sooner or later, later or sooner, you will meet another....'

And I started from that frightful sleep with the brow of a corpse, wet with sweat....

I returned to London on the 29th of March, arriving within a hundred yards of the Northern Station one windy dark evening about eight, where I alighted, and walked to Euston Road, then eastward along it, till I came to a shop which I knew to be a jeweller's, though it was too dark to see any painted words. The door, to my annoyance, was locked, like nearly all the shop-doors in London: I therefore went looking near the ground, and into a cart, for something heavy, very soon saw a labourer's ponderous boots, cut one from the shrivelled foot, and set to beat at the gla.s.s till it came raining; then knocked away the bottom splinters, and entered.

No horrors now at that clatter of broken gla.s.s; no sick qualms; my pulse steady; my head high; my step royal; my eye cold and calm.

Eight months previously, I had left London a poor burdened, cowering wight. I could scream with laughter now at that folly! But it did not last long. I returned to it--the Sultan.

No private palace being near, I was going to that great hotel in Bloomsbury: but though I knew that numbers of candle-sticks would be there, I was not sure that I should find sufficient: for I had acquired the habit within the past few months of sleeping with at least sixty lighted about me, and their form, pattern, style, age, and material was of no small importance I selected ten from the broken shop, eight gold and silver, and two of old ecclesiastical bra.s.s, and having made a bundle, went out, found a bicycle at the Metropolitan Station, pumped it, tied my bundle to the handle-bar, and set off riding. But since I was too lazy to walk, I should certainly have procured some other means of travelling, for I had not gone ten jolted and creaking yards, when something went snap--it was a front fork--and I found myself half on the ground, and half across the bare knees of a Highland soldier. I flew with a shower of kicks upon the foolish thing: but that booted nothing; and this was my last attempt in that way in London, the streets being in an unsuitable condition.

All that dismal night it blew great guns: and during nearly three weeks, till London was no more, there was a storm, with hardly a lull, that seemed to behowl her destruction.

I slept in a room on the second-floor of a Bloomsbury hotel that night; and waking the next day at ten, ate with accursed s.h.i.+verings in the cold banqueting-room; went out then, and under drear low skies walked a long way to the West district, accompanied all the time by a sound of flapping flags--fluttering robes and rags--and grotesquely grim glimpses of decay. It was pretty cold, and though I was warmly clad, the base _bizarrerie_ of the European clothes which I wore had become a perpetual offence and mockery in my eyes: at the first moment, therefore, I set out whither I knew that I should find such clothes as a man might wear: to the Turkish Emba.s.sy in Bryanston Square.

I found it open, and all the house, like most other houses, almost carpeted with dead forms. I had been acquainted with Redouza Pasha, and cast an eye about for him amid that invasion of veiled hanums, fierce-looking Caucasians in skins of beasts, a Sheik-ul-Islam in green cloak, a khalifa, three emirs in cashmere turbans, two tziganes, their gaudy brown mortality more glaringly abominable than even the Western's.

I could recognise no Redouza here: but the stair was fairly clear, and I soon came to one of those boudoirs which sweetly recall the deep-buried inner seclusion and dim sanct.i.ty of the Eastern home: a door encrusted with mother-of-pearl, sculptured ceiling, candles cl.u.s.tered in tulips and roses of opal, a brazen brasero, and, all in disarray, the silken chemise, the long winter-cafetan doubled with furs, costly cabinets, sachets of aromas, babooshes, stuffs of silk. When, after two hours, I went from the house, I was bathed, anointed, combed, scented, and robed.

I have said to myself: 'I will ravage and riot in my Kingdoms. I will rage like the Caesars, and be a withering blight where I pa.s.s like Sennacherib, and wallow in soft delights like Sardanapalus. I will build me a palace, vast as a city, in which to strut and parade my Monarchy before the Heavens, with stones of pure molten gold, and rough frontispiece of diamond, and cupola of amethyst, and pillars of pearl.

For there were many men to the eye: but there was One only, really: and I was he. And always I knew it:--some faintest secret whisper which whispered me: "_You_ are the Arch-one, the _motif_ of the world, Adam, and the rest of men not much." And they are gone--all! all!--as no doubt they deserved: and I, as was meet, remain. And there are wines, and opiums, and haschish; and there are oils, and spices, fruits and bivalves, and soft-breathing Cyclades, and scarlet luxurious Orients. I will be restless and turbulent in my territories: and again, I will be languis.h.i.+ng and fond. I will say to my soul: "Be Full."'

I watch my mind, as in the old days I would watch a new precipitate in a test-tube, to see into what sediment it would settle.

I am very averse to trouble of any sort, so that the necessity for the simplest manual operations will rouse me to indignation: but if a thing will contribute largely to my ever-growing voluptuousness, I will undergo a considerable amount of labour to accomplish it, though without steady effort, being liable to side-winds and whims, and purposeless relaxations.

In the country I became very irritable at the need which confronted me of occasionally cooking some green vegetable--the only item of food which it was necessary to take some trouble over: for all meats, and many fish, some quite delicious, I find already prepared in forms which will remain good probably a century after my death, should I ever die.

In Gloucester, however, I found peas, asparagus, olives, and other greens, already prepared to be eaten without base cares: and these, I now see, exist everywhere in stores so vast comparatively to the needs of a single man, that they may be called infinite. Everything, in fact, is infinite compared with my needs. I take my meals, therefore, without more trouble than a man who had to carve his joint, or chicken: though even that little I sometimes find most irksome. There remains the detestable degradation of lighting fires for warmth, which I have occasionally to do: for the fire at the hotel invariably goes out while I sleep. But that is an inconvenience of this vile northern island only, to which I shall soon bid eternal glad farewells.

During the afternoon of my second day in London, I sought out a strong petrol motor in Holborn, overhauled and oiled it a little, and set off over Blackfriars Bridge, making for Woolwich through that other more putrid London on the south river-side. One after the other, I connected, as I came upon them, two drays, a cab, and a private carriage, to my motor in line behind, having cut away the withered horses, and using the reins, chain-harness, &c., as impromptu couplings. And with this novel train, I rumbled eastward.

Half-way I happened to look at my old silver chronometer of _Boreal_-days, which I have kept carefully wound--and how I can be still thrown into these sudden frantic agitations by a nothing, a nothing, my good G.o.d! I do not know. This time it was only the simple fact that the hands chanced to point to 3.10 P.M., the precise moment at which all the clocks of London had stopped--for each town has its thousand weird fore-fingers, pointing, pointing still, to the moment of doom. In London it was 3.10 on a Sunday afternoon. I first noticed it going up the river on the face of the 'Big Ben' of the Parliament-house, and I now find that they all, all, have this 3.10 mania, time-keepers still, but keepers of the end of Time, fixedly noting for ever and ever that one moment. The cloud-ma.s.s of fine penetrating _scoriae_ must have instantly stopped their works, and they had fallen silent with man. But in their insistence upon this particular minute I had found something so hideously solemn, yet mock-solemn, personal, and as it were addressed to _me_, that when my own watch dared to point to the same moment, I was thrown into one of those sudden, paroxysmal, panting turmoils of mind, half rage, half horror, which have hardly once visited me since I left the _Boreal_. On the morrow, alas, another awaited me; and again on the second morrow after.

My train was execrably slow, and not until after five did I arrive at the entrance-gates of the Woolwich Royal a.r.s.enal; and seeing that it was too late to work, I uncoupled the motor, and leaving the others there, turned back; but overtaken by la.s.situde, I procured candles, stopped at the Greenwich Observatory, and in that old dark pile, remained for the night, listening to a furious storm. But, a-stir by eight the next morning, I got back by ten to the a.r.s.enal, and proceeded to a.n.a.lyse that vast and multiple ent.i.ty. Many parts of it seemed to have been abandoned in undisciplined haste, and in the Cap Factory, which I first entered, I found tools by which to effect entry into any desired part. My first search was for time-fuses of good type, of which I needed two or three thousand, and after a wearily long time found a great number symmetrically arranged in rows in a range of buildings called the Ordnance Store Department. I then descended, walked back to the wharf, brought up my train, and began to lower the fuses in bag-fulls by ropes through a shoot, letting go each rope as the fuses reached the cart.

However, on winding one fuse, I found that the mechanism would not go, choked with scoriae; and I had to resign myself to the task of opening and dusting every one: a wretched labour in which I spent that day, like a workman. But about four I threw them to the devil, having done two hundred odd, and then hummed back in the motor to London.

That same evening at six I paid, for the first time, a visit to my old self in Harley Street. It was getting dark, and a bleak storm that hooted like whooping-cough swept the world. At once I saw that even _I_ had been invaded: for my door swung open, banging, a lowered catch preventing it from slamming; in the pa.s.sage the car-lamp shewed me a young man who seemed a Jew, sitting as if in sleep with dropped head, a back-tilted silk-hat pressed down upon his head to the ears; and lying on face, or back, or side, six more, one a girl with Arlesienne head-dress, one a negress, one a Deal lifeboat's-man, and three of uncertain race; the first room--the waiting-room--is much more numerously occupied, though there still, on the table, lies the volume of _Punch_, the _Gentlewoman_, and the book of London views in heliograph. Behind this, descending two steps, is the study and consulting-room, and there, as ever, the revolving-cover oak writing-desk: but on my little shabby-red sofa, a large lady much too big for it, in s.h.i.+mmering brown silk, round her left wrist a _trousseau_ of ma.s.sive gold trinkets, her head dropped right back, almost severed by an infernal gash from the throat. Here were two old silver candle-sticks, which I lit, and went upstairs: in the drawing-room sat my old house-keeper, placidly dead in a rocking-chair, her left hand pressing down a batch of the open piano-keys, among many strangers. But she was very good: she had locked my bedroom against intrusion; and as the door stands across a corner behind a green-baize curtain, it had not been seen, or, at least, not forced. I did not know where the key might be, but a few thumps with my back drove it open: and there lay my bed intact, and everything tidy. This was a strange coming-back to it, Adam.

But what intensely interested me in that room was a big thing standing at the maroon-and-gold wall between wardrobe and dressing-table--that gilt frame--and that man painted within it there. It was myself in oils, done by--I forget his name now: a towering celebrity he was, and rather a close friend of mine at one time. In a studio in St. John's Wood, I remember, he did it; and many people said that it was quite a great work of art. I suppose I was standing before it quite thirty minutes that night, holding up the bits of candle, lost in wonder, in amused contempt at that thing there. It is I, certainly: that I must admit. There is the high-curving brow--really a King's brow, after all, it strikes me now--and that vacillating look about the eyes and mouth which used to make my sister Ada say: 'Adam is weak and luxurious.' Yes, that is wonderfully done, the eyes, that dear, vacillating look of mine; for although it is rather a staring look, yet one can almost see the dark pupils stir from side to side: very well done. And there is the longish face; and the rather thin, stuck-out moustache, shewing both lips which pout a bit; and there is the nearly black hair; and there is the rather visible paunch; and there is, oh good Heaven, the neat pink cravat--ah, it must have been _that--the cravat_--that made me burst out into laughter so loud, mocking, and uncontrollable the moment my eye rested there! 'Adam Jeffson,' I muttered reproachfully when it was over, 'could that poor thing in the frame have been you?'

I cannot quite state why the tendency toward Orientalism--Oriental dress--all the manner of an Oriental monarch--has taken full possession of me: but so it is: for surely I am hardly any longer a Western, 'modern' mind, but a primitive and Eastern one. Certainly, that cravat in the frame has receded a million, million leagues, ten thousand forgotten aeons, from me! Whether this is a result due to my own personality, of old acquainted with Eastern notions, or whether, perhaps, it is the natural accident to any mind wholly freed from trammels, I do not know. But I seem to have gone right back to the very beginnings, and resemblance with man in his first, simple, gaudy conditions. My hair, as I sit here writing, already hangs a black, oiled string down my back; my scented beard sweeps in two opening whisks to my ribs; I have on the _izar_, a pair of drawers of yomani cloth like cotton, but with yellow stripes; over this a soft s.h.i.+rt, or quamis, of white silk, reaching to my calves; over this a short vest of gold-embroidered crimson, the _sudeyree_; over this a khaftan of green-striped silk, reaching to the ankles, with wide, long sleeves divided at the wrist, and bound at the waist with a voluminous gaudy shawl of Cashmere for girdle; over this a warm wide-flowing torrent of white drapery, lined with ermine. On my head is the skull-cap, covered by a high crimson cap with deep-blue ta.s.sel; and on my feet is a pair of thin yellow-morocco shoes, covered over with thick red-morocco babooshes. My ankles--my ten fingers--my wrists--are heavy with gold and silver ornaments; and in my ears, which, with considerable pain, I bored three days since, are two needle-splinters, to prepare the holes for rings.

O Liberty! I am free....

While I was going to visit my old home in Harley Street that night, at the very moment when I turned from Oxford Street into Cavendish Square, this thought, fiercely hissed into my ears, was all of a sudden seething in me: 'If now I should lift my eyes, and see a man walking yonder--just yonder--_at the corner there_--turning from Harewood Place into Oxford Street--what, my good G.o.d, should I do?--I without even a knife to run and plunge into his heart?'

And I turned my eyes--ogling, suspicious eyes of furtive horror--reluctantly, lingeringly turned--and I peered deeply with lowered brows across the murky winds at that same spot: but no man was there.

Hideously frequent is this nonsense now become with me--in streets of towns--in deep nooks of the country: the invincible a.s.surance that, if I but turn the head, and glance _there_--at a certain fixed spot--I shall surely see--I _must_ see--a man. And glance I must, glance I must, though I perish: and when I glance, though my hairs creep and stiffen like stirring amobse, yet in my eyes, I know, is monarch indignation against the intruder, and my neck stands stiff as sovereignty itself, and on my brow sits more than all the lords.h.i.+p of Persepolis and Iraz.

To what point of wantonness this arrogance of royalty may lead me, I do not know: I will watch, and see. It is written: 'It is not good for man to be alone!' But good or no, the arrangement of One planet, One inhabitant, already seems to me, not merely a natural and proper, but the _only_ natural and proper, condition; so much so, that any other arrangement has now, to my mind, a certain improbable, wild, and far-fetched unreality, like the Utopian schemes of dreamers and faddists. That the whole world should have been made for _me_ alone--that London should have been built only in order that _I_ might enjoy the vast heroic spectacle of its burning--that all history, and all civilisation should have existed only in order to acc.u.mulate for _my_ pleasures its inventions and facilities, its stores of purple and wine, of spices and gold--no more extraordinary does it all seem to me than to some little unreflecting Duke of my former days seemed the possessing of lands which his remote forefathers seized, and slew the occupiers: nor, in reality, is it even so extraordinary, I being alone.

But what sometimes strikes me with some surprise is, not that the present condition of the world, with one sole master, should seem the common-place and natural condition, but that it should have come to seem _so_ common-place and natural--in nine months. The mind of Adam Jeffson is adaptable.

I sat a long time thinking such things by my bed that night, till finally I was disposed to sleep there. But I had no considerable number of candle-sticks, nor was even sure of candles. I remembered, however, that Peter Peters, three doors away on the other side of the street, had had four handsome silver candelabra in his drawing-room, each containing six stems; and I said to myself: 'I will search for candles in the kitchen, and if I find any, I will go and get Peter Peters'

candelabra, and sleep here.'

I took then the two lights which I had, my good G.o.d; went down to the pa.s.sage; then down to the bas.e.m.e.nt; and there had no difficulty in finding three packets of large candles, the fact being, I suppose, that the cessation of gas-lighting had compelled everyone to provide themselves in this way, for there were a great many wherever I looked.

With these I re-ascended, went into a little alcove on the second-floor where I had kept some drugs, got a bottle of carbolic oil, and for ten minutes went das.h.i.+ng all the corpses in the house. I then left the two lighted bits of candle on the waiting-room table, and, with the car-lamp, pa.s.sed along the pa.s.sage to the front-door, which was very violently banging. I stepped out to find that the storm had increased to a mighty turbulence (though it was dry), which at once caught my clothes, and whirled them into a flapping cloud about and above me; also, I had not crossed the street when my lamp was out. I persisted, however, half blinded, to Peters door. It was locked: but immediately near the pavement was a window, the lower sash up, into which, with little trouble, I lifted myself and pa.s.sed. My foot, as I lowered it, stood on a body: and this made me angry and restless. I hissed a curse, and pa.s.sed on, sc.r.a.ping the carpet with my soles, that I might hurt no one: for I did not wish to hurt any one. Even in the almost darkness of the room I recognised Peters' furniture, as I expected: for the house was his on a long lease, and I knew that his mother had had the intention to occupy it after his death. But as I pa.s.sed into the pa.s.sage, all was mere blank darkness, and I, depending upon the lamp, had left the matches in the other house. I groped my way to the stairs, and had my foot on the first step, when I was stopped by a vicious shaking of the front-door, which someone seemed to be at with hustlings and the most urgent poundings: I stood with peering stern brows two or three minutes, for I knew that if I once yielded to the flinching at my heart, no mercy would be shown me in this house of tragedy, and thrilling shrieks would of themselves arise and ring through its haunted chambers. The rattling continued an inordinate time, and so instant and imperative, that it seemed as if it could not fail to force the door.

But, though horrified, I whispered to my heart that it could only be the storm which was struggling at it like the grasp of a man, and after a time went on, feeling my way by the broad rail, in my brain somehow the thought of a dream which I had had in the _Boreal_ of the woman Clodagh, how she let drop a fluid like pomegranate-seeds into water, and tendered it to Peter Peters: and it was a mortal purging draught; but I would not stop, but step by step went up, though I suffered very much, my brows peering at the utter darkness, and my heart shocked at its own rashness.

I got to the first landing, and as I turned to ascend the second part of the stair, my left hand touched something icily cold: I made some quick instinctive movement of terror, and, doing so, my foot struck against something, and I stumbled, half falling over what seemed a small table there. Immediately a horrible row followed, for something fell to the ground: and at that instant, ah, I heard something--a voice--a human voice, which uttered words close to my ear--the voice of Clodagh, for I knew it: yet not the voice of Clodagh in the flesh, but her voice clogged with clay and worms, and full of effort, and thick-tongued: and in that ghastly speech of the grave I distinctly heard the words:

The Purple Cloud Part 13

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The Purple Cloud Part 13 summary

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