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Authors: Robert A. Wilson

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“Pursued,” Einstein inquired softly, “by the same demon that now pursues you?” With one probing finger he chucked the Devil Mask under the chin, sharkishly playful. “A masquerade with nothing behind the masks?”

“A devil’s masquerade,” Babcock bitterly replied.

This somewhat staggered Joyce, who recalled again the poem he had recollected on Bahnhofstrasse, although he still could not remember the author’s name if it were not his favorite ancient bard, Anon of Ibid. Another stanza drifted unbidden up to the surface of his mind:

Demons drink from human skulls
And souls are up for trade
Take wine and drugs and join us in
The Devil’s Masquerade

That kind of damned peculiar coincidence was multiplying rapidly tonight, Joyce realized (and wondered if Dr. Carl Jung ought to be here to take notes). Reflecting thus in silence for a few minutes, the Irish freethinker steeped the coffee and began to absently roll a cigarette, glancing thoughtfully at the English mystic. “Saint Thomas tells us,” Joyce said soberly, “that the Devil has no power to do real injury to those who trust in the Lord, although he may admittedly frighten or discomfit them, to test their faith. In fact, sir, it is rank heresy to claim real harm can occur in such cases, since that implies lack of faith in God’s goodness. Ah,” he interrupted himself, “I see you are astonished that I can speak that language. Well, sir, if I were to believe in any mysticism, it would be that of Thomas, who is logical, coherent and full of cold common sense, and not that of your modern occultists, who are illogical, absurd and full of hot air. But let that pass for the moment.” He lit his cigarette and pointed at the mask. “What sort of second-rate, bargain-basement devil is it that needs theatrical props to do his dirty business?”

Babcock, who had been growing steadier by the minute, smiled wryly at this sharply pointed sally. “You misconstrue me,” he said. “I am well aware that there are human beings involved in this terrible affair, but they have powers not ordinarily vouchsafed to mere men, because they serve a being who is not human. You think, evidently, that I am the sort who can be frightened by a mere theatrical prop, as you call it, but I have already faced terrors that you can scarcely conceive. For instance, I would not be frightened merely to see what I saw tonight—a figure with that Satanic face coming at me suddenly out of
the dark. What was truly diabolical was that
they
found me here when I have taken elaborate precautions to cover my tracks and elude them.”

Joyce poured coffee silently, the red-tipped cigarette not looked at in his left hand not feeling it. From Loch Ness to Zürich: to me. The terrors I knew as a child: howls of the damned, pitchforked, baboon-faced demons, flame-garbed figures screaming. Many a civic monster. Ancient Zoroastrian nightmare from which the West is struggling to awaken.

“And how,” Joyce asked, “did these three persons come to die? Their throats torn by the talons of some terrible beast in the Gothic thriller style of Walpole?”

Sir John, actuated by motives of inherent delicacy, inasmuch as he always believed in agreeing with one’s host for courtesy’s sake, however irascible said host might be, restrained several sharp answers that almost leaped to his lips, and said merely, “They were all driven to suicide.”

“By masks and mummery,” Joyce exclaimed, not bothering to conceal his irony. Seizing the mask, he held it before his own flushed face and leaned menacingly across the table. “By theatrical props like this?” his voice asked from behind the mask in sardonic Dublin brogue.

“They were driven to suicide by a book,” said Sir John, “a book so vile that it should not exist. Just by looking into this foul piece of literature, all three victims were driven mad by horror and destroyed themselves. It was as if they had learned something that made life on this planet so unspeakably awful to them that they could not bear another instant of consciousness.”

Einstein stared at the young Englishman with something akin to the well-known wild surmise on the emblematic peak in Darien. “This is something you have really been involved in?” he asked quietly. “Not just something you’ve heard about, a rumor or a yarn?”

“It’s as real as this coffee, this saucer, this table,” Babcock
said flatly, indicating all three objects with emphatic gestures while his haunted eyes mutely recalled some dreadful history of Godless and unspeakable monkey business that might stab anyone in the back at any moment, anytime, anywhere, like the proverbial snake in the grass, if it were not judiciously nipped in the bud by brave and farseeing men taking prompt and prudent corrective action at the psychological moment and striking when the iron is hot.

Joyce and Einstein exchanged mute meaningful glances.

“Let me show you what I’ve been involved in,” Babcock said, reaching into his straw traveling case. “This is from the Inverness
Express-Journal,”
he said, passing over a clipping. Joyce and Einstein read it together.

THE CASE OF THE CONSTANT SUICIDES
Terror Stalks Loch Ness; Police Baffled

Q: What paragraph caused the most puzzlement to Professor Einstein?

A: “Other residents regard the inspector’s skepticism with the strict rule of no wife, no horse, no mustache, always anger and derision.”

Q: Did Einstein refer to this particular befuddlement?

A: With embarrassment, with awkwardness, with a suspicion that the problem might be caused by his own deficient knowledge of English, diffidently, he did.

Q: Was that matter, at least, clarified at once?

A: It was, by Mr. Joyce’s terse explanation: “That’s what’s called bitched type. Part of a line that got in from another column.”

    Einstein looked at Sir John with renewed interest. “Let me hear your whole story,” he said, beginning to fill a pipe.

Joyce nodded, slouching in his chair like a boneless man. The
Föhn
wind shook the window behind him like a goblin seeking entrance.

ACTION
SOUND
EXTERIOR. BABCOCK MANOR. LONG SHOT.
The penny-farthing bicycle standing in a path near the house.
Babcock’s voice:
“… promise to always hele, never reveal, any art or arts, part or parts …”
The bicycle falls over. There is no wind or other evident cause; it simply falls.
The
Merry Widow Waltz
rises to drown out Babcock’s words
.

Q: With what species of animal and plant life was Babcock Manor most plentifully supplied?

A: A murder of crows, an exaltation of larks, a clowder of cats, a muster of peacocks, a skulk of foxes, a watch of nightingales, a labor of moles, a gaggle of geese, a peep of chickens, a parliament of owls, a paddling of ducks, a knot of toads, a siege of herons, a trip of goats, a drift of hogs, a charm of finches, a murmuration of starlings, a pitying of turtledoves, a dawn of roses, a hover of trout, a tiding of magpies, a glory of violets, a zonker of hedges, a kindle of kittens, a hallucination of morning glories, a sunset of fuchsia, a stateliness of oaks, a midnight of ravens, a noon of fern, a cover of coots, a weeping of willows, a laughter of cosmos, a hilarity of gardenias, a sauna of beeches, a blather of crickets and a millennium of moss.

Q: With what books was the library of Babcock Manor stocked by Sir John?

A: A prevarication of politics, a chronology of history, a gnome of mythology, a schiz of theology [including a
serenity of Buddhists, a cosmology of Hindus, an inscrutability of Taoists and a war of Christians], an eldritch of Alhazreds, a fume of alchemists, a tree of Cabalists, a heresiarch of Brunos, a lot of Lulls, an ova of Bacons, a mystification of Rosycrosses, a silence of Sufis, an enoch of Dees, a wisdom of Gnostics and a small snivel of romances.

    The night after meeting George Cecil Jones, Sir John dreamed again of Chapel Perilous, which was now a heavily armed, scarlet-walled castle owned by a man-eating ogre named Sir Talis. “You must enter without being sown,” said Judge Everyman, “for bleating runes are red.”

King Edward III, wearing the conventional business suit of George Cecil Jones, wandered in numinous room incandescent muttering something about the impotence of being honest.

“The moover hoovered,” He He Commons added helpfully. “The door opens to the wastebule, past eggnaughts to oldfresser Poop in the Watercan.”

“The unheatable and the unsbrickable,” shrieked a giant owl.

“Sol is buried inside,” muttered Uncle Bentley. “Talk id and hoot!”

Sir John realized he was in the Temple of Solomon the King as described in Freemasonic literature.

“Wee-knee got Thor, Sir Talis war bore,” roared a Lion.

“Passing as some dew-mist too dense upon the air,” whizzed an Eagle.

“Bloog ardor!” howled Sir Knott the Almighty. “Take heed and hate!” Sir John, a solo man under sectualism, stumbled into the owld cavern of skeletons, a tripentoctocon where the morn’s dozen sheens. A sign said:

DO NOT MEDDLE IN THE AFFAIRS OF WIZARDS: IT MAKES THEM SOGGY AND HARD TO LIGHT

“Said, the old servant of Envy,” the Angel was lecturing, “tore him to shredded wheat and planeted him where the somn dozing snore, but he gnaw not weth the dew. For they whisked in a flicker, Jenny Peg and Brother Rot and Hamster, prinzipdungmark, and, slack it, a mouse with seven gerbils.”

“These,” Jones said with a gesture at the bones, “are those who came on this path without the Pentacle of Valor. What do you drink, Sir Joan: Shall damn bones leave?”

But before Sir Joan could decide on the literalness of the question, they were in the dark back shelves of the Tyrone side wing of the Brutus Museum in the gaseous shade of the tree Swifty ate, the tree ovus gaggin scissors, and Karl Marx was reading aloud from what appeared to be the secret history of Freemasonry: “And Solomon was a motley kink, and he shut in his cuntinghorse on the tail of his broken spine just accounting for his honey; and the LORD spook into him and said: Solomon, git. And Silvamoon gat; and in the foulness of tomb Solomon gart bark and begat. And Sol O’Morn begat Nightrex and Nighttricks begat Mars Harem and Moose Hiram began Finnegan and Faunycohen begot Heroman and Hairy Moon bigot Sir Talis and Surd Alice begott begad Roy O’Range Yellagroin and Roy O’Range Yallagroin begat the little Blowindianviolated Engine That Could.” He lapsed into nearly Russian idioms.

“Is that not a rather large thing to expect us to begin upon?” Sir John asked, hearing himself talking, waking to the morning sun.

Sitting up, he found he was still half-dreaming or talking to himself internally. “We are such stuff as dreams are made of,” his or somebody’s voice was saying. Shakespeare, of course:
The Tempest
. A great line, often quoted, but what did it mean when you stopped to think about it? What did
The Tempest
mean, for that matter? If Prospero
is Shakespeare himself, as all the scholars claim, why is Prospero a magician rather than a poet? Why does he associate with faeries, elves, the monster Caliban and all the assembly of the occult?

And “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.” What is that line doing in
Lear
, where it has nothing to do with the plot at all? Was Shakespeare part of the Invisible College?

Sir John ate a larger breakfast than usual and took a long walk afterward, reaffirming the solidity of matter and the reality of earth, sky and trees. He did not dread being known as a Romantic, but he had no intent of becoming a damned fool.

When he returned home and sat down to read the London
Times
, he found that Stolypin, the Russian premier, had been murdered, the latest in the brutal assassinations that had made the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth seem a prelude to rising worldwide anarchy. He tried to remember his parents and his own feelings at the time of their deaths and found only a dull pain in the place where memory should be. If there was such a thing as higher wisdom or higher knowledge, Sir John felt that the human race very badly needed it. Life, to ordinary wisdom and ordinary knowledge, appeared no more than a singularly pointless and brutal jest. “Off with their heads! Off with their heads!” God seemed to be gibbering most of the time, like the Red Queen in
Alice
. Does He really kill us for His sport?

Sir John spent the next two weeks re-reading and meditating on the classic Rosicrucian pamphlets of the seventeenth century. Everything Jones had so prosaically illustrated was there: the Brother of the Invisible College of the Rosy Cross will “dress in the garb” of the country where he resides and “adapt all its customs”; although forever pledged to the Invisible College, he will manifest
no overt sign to the world, except that he might heal the sick, taking no money for that service.

At the exact termination of the fortnight, Sir John received a small package in the mail from P. O. Box 718, Main Post Office, London. Inside was a small pamphlet entitled “History Lection.” Authorship was given as:

Hermetic Order of the G∴D∴

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