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Authors: Robert A. Wilson

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BOOK: Masks of the Illuminati
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Sir John found himself half-believing that he was dining with a member of the same Invisible College that published the first Rosicrucian pamphlets of 1619 and 1623. He proceeded with great delicacy.

“In your letter,” he said, “you spoke of this group very carefully in the past tense. I believe your exact words were, ‘There has even been a lodge of true adepts continuing the hidden heritage right here in London, in this decade.’ How many years, exactly, has it been since the lodge existed?”

“It broke apart exactly ten years ago, in 1900.”

“And what was it called?”

“The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.”

Sir John exhaled deeply and took another sip of wine. “You are becoming less indirect in your answers,” he said happily. “I take that as a good sign. Let me advance to the main point in one step, then. Is it possible that the Order did not
entirely
break apart a decade ago?”

“Many things are possible,” Jones said, lighting a cigar and signaling for more wine. “Before we go any further, let me show you a simple document which every member of this Order must sign, and swear to, with the most horrible Oaths. Just glance it over for a minute, Sir John.” And he passed from his inner pocket a simple sheet of ordinary letterpaper, typed with a most usual office typewriter.

Sir John looked at this strange document with some care.

I
[
fill in name
]
do solemnly invoke He Whom the Winds Fear, the Supreme Lord of the Universe, by the Mason word
[
given to candidate before ritual
]
and swear that I, as a member of the Body of Christ, from this day forward will seek the Knowledge and Conversation of Mine Holy Guardian Angel, whereby I may acquire the Secret Knowledge to transcend mere humanity and be one with the Highest Intelligence; and if I ever use this Sacred Knowledge for monetary gain in any manner, or to do harm to any human being, may I be accursed and damned; may
my throat be cut, my eyes be burned out and my corpse thrown into the sea; may I be hated and despised by all intellectual beings, both men and angels, throughout all eternity. I swear. I swear. I swear
.

“Rather strangely worded,” Sir John commented uneasily.
Wee sleekit cowrin timorous beastie … always fetful

“That’s the First-Degree Oath, for admission as a student,” Jones said. “The higher Oaths are much stronger stuff, I had better warn you.”

Sir John decided to put fear behind him.

“I would sign such an Oath with fervent assent,” he said boldly, surrendering his spiritual virginity long before he would have the courage to surrender the virginity of his body.

“That is most interesting,” Jones said affably, retrieving the paper and folding it back into his pocket. “I will speak to certain people. You may hear from us in a fortnight or so.”

And the rest of the evening, which was brief, Jones spoke only of his beloved children and his equally beloved occupation of industrial chemistry. There was nothing in the slightest occult or extraordinary about him at all. To some extent, he was even dull; and yet Sir John left him feeling vaguely as if he had been talking to one of H. G. Wells’ moon-men carefully disguised as a human being, which was nonsense, of course. But what was there about Jones that left that kind of after-impression?

On the train home, by the most implausible of coincidences—he wasn’t even sure he was in the same compartment—he again found an American newspaper and, stranger still, there was that sadistic mouse and the masochistic cat again: “Li’l dollink, always fetful.”

After four years of training in the Golden Dawn, Sir
John felt exactly like that bizarre cat, and when Joyce and Einstein offered to help him on Bahnhofstrasse, he giggled inanely and said, “Li’l dollink, always fetful.”

    Preparatory to anything else, Einstein brushed the bulk of the dank barfloor sawdust off Sir John’s expensive but now untidy suit and handed him his Bond Street hat and bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion, which he very badly needed. Sir John was not exactly wandering mentally (aside from inscrutable remarks in New York Yiddish) but more than a little unsteady physically and upon his expressed desire for coffee or some brainstem stimulant less mind-fogging than whiskey Joyce suggested right off the bat that he, Babcock, accompany him, Joyce, to his (Joyce’s) lodgings, just a stone’s-throw away from the very spot where they presently stood (or occasionally staggered) on Bahnhofstrasse. This proposal being accepted with alacrity and with much verbose gratitude, the three set off on foot in the hot windswept night since it was considered an improbability verging on the tales of the Brothers Grimm to hope to encounter a carriage for hire at that hour,
à propos
of which Joyce remarked significantly, “We have heard the chimes at midnight.”

And Babcock, not wishing to appear illiterate responded, “Falstaff, is it not?”

“Yes,” Joyce said.
“Henry IV, Part One.”
And they both looked at each other anew, finding some mysterious or at least emotionally gratifying bond in a shared acquaintance with the immortal Bard, although only Joyce reflected further that midnight was very much later to Falstaff in his sunrise-sundown agricultural economy than to himself and Babcock in this industrial age—Babcock being occupied with the more prosaic question of just how late it really was, and if they had actually heard the chimes at midnight, how long ago would that have been?
—but neither topic was verbalized aloud at that point, all three men proceeding in silence for a while as they were none of them at exactly what you would call their sparkling best or in their keenest wits, Einstein being uncertain about chimes at midnight and little dollinks, Joyce being fogged over by enough beer to float the local navy if the overly tidy Swiss had a hypothetical navy, and Babcock being half-frightened out of his skin, but they did eventually attempt to converse in amiable or at least civil fashion, not at first very successfully inasmuch as both Joyce and Babcock were as nervous as a pair of strange sharks being quite aware on each side of the historical and temperamental abyss between the Anglo-Saxon and Hibernian mentalities. It was therefore doubly unfortunate that Babcock’s first attempt to open the door between their worlds was of an almost baboonlike clumsiness.

“As an Irishman, you are of course a mystic,” Babcock pronounced, thereby putting his foot into his mouth while, as it were, simultaneously stepping for the second time on Joyce’s most sensitive corn. “You know that there are vast invisible forces and intelligences behind the charade of material reality. Do you perhaps know of Yeats?”

“Yes,” Joyce said evasively, maneuvering them both to miss a pile of dog shit, which he would most certainly include if he were ever to write this scene, and which Yeats would most certainly exclude. “Is he not the fellow who is so terrified that the future might be different from the past?”

“I would not state the case that way,” Babcock said with a disapproving frown at the flippant and belittling witticism. “Mr. Yeats is a man who fears that the future will be cold, scientific, materialistic, without the romance and mystery of the past.”

Einstein said nothing. They were now abreast of the FIAT “automobile,” and Joyce looked at it and at every part of it with a meticulous curiosity that seemed almost
obsessive to Babcock. “You see more of these every year,” Joyce said. “And I read recently that a man in America named Olds is turning them out, and selling them to customers, at the rate of six thousand and more
per annum
. How the hell they run is as much a romance and a mystery to me as anything in that fabulous past Mr. Yeats’ autobiographical hero wishes so fervently to clutch to his bosom. There’s a magick Wand inside, called the clutch, that propels this mystic chariot to velocities up to forty kilometers an hour. I wish I knew more about mechanical physics.”

“It’s a simple natural phenomenon,” Einstein said helpfully. “But I’m sure you don’t want a lecture on internal combustion at this hour.” Actually, he was more interested in observing his two odd companions, hoping that further clues might clarify why Devil Masks were so terrifying to Babcock and what little dollink had heard the chimes at midnight. “It runs on controlled explosions,” he added, hoping that would satisfy them.

“Um, yes, certainly,” Babcock said uncertainly. “I wouldn’t drive one for a million pounds. You hear the most gruesome stories about accidents. Surely God gave us the horse so we wouldn’t have to invent such dangerous contraptions. I shudder to think what the world will be like in ten years when the streets are full of them.”

“Of course,” Joyce said, although the logical progression here was totally inscrutable to Babcock, “if we, like Mr. Yeats, want a really deep, endless, bottomless and topless mystery, we can always try to understand our wives. Or the man next to us on the street,
n’est ce pas?”

Babcock meditated on that cynical-sounding notion for a few moments and then became aware that another man was in fact approaching them on the street, a most singular person with a high-domed Shakespearean forehead, ibis eyes of monkey like Mongolian cruelty and a spadelike black beard. So striking was this figure that, somewhat
influenced by Joyce’s last remark, Babcock peered after the Slavic stranger as he turned down toward the Limmat River area and then commented aloud, “I shared a compartment with him on the train. One might indeed find deep mysteries in an individual of that sort.”

“He seems to have very important business,” Einstein ventured.

“Damn this wind,” Joyce said, jabbing the air with his walkingstick as a caduceus. “The natives call it the witch-wind. Whenever it blows, half of Zürich goes mad. We Northerners feel it more, since we expect a wind to be cold and biting. A hot wind that suffocates you slowly is like an unwanted, unlovely and unbathed paramour in your bed.”

A dog howled suddenly in the distance with an eerie rising cadence like a wolf or coyote. “You see?” Joyce said. “Even the animals go barmy when the
Föhn
blows.”

“It is like incense of white sandal,” Einstein agreed. “Too thick and heavy to be pleasant.”

“The local police have records,” Joyce said in an opalhush tone, mystically, “showing that the murder rate always rises when the
Föhn
blows, and the local alienists say that the number of nervous breakdowns definitely increases. Most sinister and eerie, is it not? Mr. Yeats would say that the undines and water-spirits are attempting to overcome the air-elementals on the astral plane, which makes the material plane so mucking filthy to walk in.” Like Thoth, he shifted again, adding cynically, “But it is only a change in the ionization of the air and can be measured with those heathen scientific instruments Mr. Yeats so dreads.”

But this led them into a full-scale imbroglio which lasted in fact all the way to Joyce’s hotel, and in the course of it Joyce learned that Babcock was an ardent admirer not only of the puerile (if elegant) poetry of Mr. William Butler Yeats, but of the detestable (if kindly) Mr. Yeats
himself, and was even a member (with Yeats) of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a group of London occultists of which Joyce had long ago formed a decidedly unfavorable opinion, regarding them in cold fact as being a bit funny in all their heads. Babcock in turn gathered from various sardonic and downright unkind remarks dropped
en passant
by Joyce that he, Joyce, regarded Yeats (along with the Golden Dawn, Blavatsky and the whole of modern mysticism) with a disdain that seemed, to him, Babcock, to be unwarrantedly venomous. Things began to clear up after a bit, at least in Babcock’s muddled mind, when it gradually emerged that Mr. Joyce was also a writer, considerably less successful than Yeats, if not virtually unknown, and suspicions concerning the emblematic Sour Grapes and the well-known Green-eyed Monster were almost, but not quite, articulated at this point by Babcock, because only the madman is absolutely sure.

“I take it,” Babcock said when they were finally arrived at Gasthaus Doeblin, “that you are a socialist, or an anarchist, if not both.”

“You behold in me a dreadful example of unbridled anarchistic individualism,” Joyce replied suavely. “I loathe all nations equally. The State is concentric, but the individual is eccentric. Welcome to the ghastliest house this side of Dublin,” he added, indicating the sign: GASTHAUS DOEBLIN (and perversely mistranslating it according to his own dubious whimsy).

“Thank God were out of that foul wind,” Einstein said fervently as they crossed a yellow-carpeted lobby bedecked with wallpaper showing palm trees and grinning monkeys. (“Mine innkeeper hath strange notions of decor,” Joyce commented
sotto voce.)
The building seemed to be an octagon, and Joyce led Babcock and Einstein around seven sides of it before arriving at Room 23, which was, he announced, “complete with breakfast alcove, where I have some of the best Italian espresso coffee this side of Trieste, because I brought it from Trieste.”

They were tiptoeing now, Babcock and Einstein imitating Joyce in this, and stopped, once, as Joyce opened slowly and quietly a door to peer briefly into an untidy bedroom where a stoutish, pretty-faced woman was sleeping amid crumpled blankets.

“That would be Mrs. Joyce,” said Babcock.

“Undoubtedly,” Joyce retorted, “but it is Miss Barnacle.”

More than a little taken aback by this frank avowal of barbaric contempt for civilized morals and the canons of elementary decency, Babcock had to remind himself that the arrogant Irishman was, after all, his host and had already exhibited somewhat more than the customary degree of charity to him, a perfect stranger in the first place and one who might sound a bit mad in the second place and beyond that a member of the conquering and therefore probably loathed English race in the third place. But by now they were in the kitchenette alcove and Joyce was making coffee, after setting the Devil Mask at a dapper angle above the cuckoo clock.

“So,” Joyce said, “this goat-faced fellow has pursued you all the way from Loch Ness, you say.”

“With your opinions,” Babcock replied, “you must regard all this as fantasy and I daresay you fancy yourself as humoring a lunatic. I remind you, sir, that three people have already died horrible deaths in this accursed affair.”

BOOK: Masks of the Illuminati
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