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THE DEMON LOVER
By DION FORTUNE
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2010 Diana Paxson
All rights reserved.
At the back of one of the massive, old-fashioned houses in a Bloomsbury Square was a single-storied structure originally intended by the architect for a billiard room. It was connected with the main building by a short passage, and its windowless walls supported a domed roof of glass. The present users of the room, however, were apparently engaged in some matter which did not require a good top light, for a ceiling had been built across the span of the dome, and save for the steady purring of an electric fan behind the louvre boards of the lantern, no sign of life was apparent from the outside, the windowless walls and double roofing rendering the building light and sound-proof. This suited admirably the purposes of its present users, whose work required absolute immunity from any sudden sound or change of light, and who had no wish to draw the attention of the neighbours to their proceedings.
Although the night was a sultry one, the group of men seated round the table seemed to suffer no inconvenience. The faces varied greatly in type; the chairman of the meeting had the air of a prosperous business man; on his right was an unmistakable lawyer; on his left, a benign old gentleman with a long white beard; next to him, a mechanic of the better class; opposite was a journalist. At the foot of the table, however, there sat a man who could not so readily be assigned to a place; he might have been a diplomat, he might have been a detective, or he might have been one of those pseudo-aristocratic adventurers who hang upon the fringe of smart society. With the exception of the mechanic he was the youngest man present, and the minute book in front of him marked him as the secretary of the meeting.
Though the members were of such divergent types, they had certain characteristics which marked them as men whom some common discipline had welded together. Each possessed the power of sitting absolutely motionless unless he had occasion to move, a far from common accomplishment; each radiated a peculiar sense of poise and power; and each, with the exception of the secretary, had a pair of absolutely expressionless eyes; and even his did not respond to emotion as eyes generally do, by alteration of the muscles round the sockets, but marked his feelings by an expansion and contraction of the pupil itself, which produced an extraordinary effect upon the observer. The eyes, of a very dark hazel with greenish lights in them, together with the sallowness of the skin, gave an unpleasing impression which, in some way, the perfect regularity of the features intensified. It was the face of a man who might be exceedingly interesting, exceedingly charming, and exceedingly unscrupulous.
The meeting, proceeding quietly with the transaction of business, was redeemed from ordinariness by the fact that the seventh member lay asleep on a couch, no one taking the slightest notice of him except the secretary, who cast quick, sidelong glances in his direction in the intervals of note-taking, and seemed prepared to spring up and catch him should he show any signs of rolling on to the floor.
The discussion of business was carried on quietly, almost in undertones; accounts for large sums of money being brought forward and passed without comment, when a peculiar sound broke the stillness of the room; from the figure on the couch came a long-drawn-out sibilant hiss. No notice of this strange manifestation was taken by any person present except the secretary, who put a cross on the top of the pad on which he was taking notes. A short while passed, during which the committee still worked in hushed voices, and then a second prolonged hiss came from the sleeper, and the secretary made a second cross on his writing pad. A third and fourth hiss followed in quick succession, and successive crosses were added to the row at the top of the secretary's tablet. On the completion of the fourth he looked up as if anticipating a command. For the first time the other members of the committee glanced at the sleeping figure.
"If he is sufficiently deep in trance," said the chairman, "we will put aside the accounts and proceed with the Housmann problem."
"He is on the fourth hypnoidal level," said the secretary.
"That will do," was the answer, and with cautious movements the committee disposed itself so that the hitherto ignored seventh member became the focus of attention.
The secretary stretched out a thin brown hand and tilted the shade of the lamp so that the sleeper's face was thrown into still deeper shadow, then he left his chair and went and sat on the couch beside the recumbent man, who never stirred; leaning forward, he tapped a certain spot on the unconscious head with a peculiar rhythm. Immediately, without stirring a muscle of his face, the sleeper emitted the most extraordinary sound that ever issued from a human throat—it could only be compared to the weird noises that arise from a faulty gramophone—and then the secretary proceeded in as calm and matter of fact manner as if he were using an ordinary telephone, to ask for a number, using the unconscious man as a means of communication.
"Fifty North, fourteen East," he repeated several times, as if seeking to call up some invisible exchange. After a few repetitions the sleeping man replied in the German language, asking his interrogator who was calling.
"Thirty, nought," replied the secretary. "Is that the Prague Lodge?"
"It is," replied the sleeper, speaking in English, with a slight foreign accent.
"We want particulars of Brother Hermann Housmann, a German American, last heard of at Prague, who is suspected of attempting to negotiate with the Vatican for the sale of information concerning the Brotherhood's policy in regard to the French loan."
"He left here early in May for Switzerland. Try the Geneva Lodge," replied the sleeper.
Again the secretary repeated his tapping, and again the peculiar note, half-way between the hoot of an owl and a telephone bell, was heard.
"Forty-six North, six East," said the secretary, and the sleeping man replied in French this time, asking again who called.
"Thirty, nought," replied the secretary again, and again enquired of the sleeper for news of Hermann Housmann, and was informed that he had left Geneva at the end of May and proceeded to Naples and thence to New York.
Yet once more the secretary repeated his tapping, and elicited the same peculiar sound from the sleeper.
"Forty, North, seventy-four West," he repeated several times, and finally a voice with a strong American accent replied. News of Hermann Housmann was again demanded, and this time obtained.
"He came here early in June by the White Star liner Cedric, and got in touch with the Tammany bosses. We sent him a summons to attend Lodge, and he got in a panic and started West. Then it was decided to send him an order of execution by means of the Dark Ray of Destruction."
The men round the table stirred uneasily and looked at one another.
"With what results?" asked the interrogator.
"He stopped off at Buffalo, took the cars to Niagara, and went over the suspension bridge."
"Over into Canada?"
"No, over into the river," replied the sleeper, his expressionless countenance strangely contradicted by the challenging note in his voice.
The men in the dimly-lit room looked at each other. The mechanic covered his mouth with his hand to hide a nervous smile; the journalist shrugged his shoulders; the lawyer fidgeted with pens and paper, and the pupils of the secretary's eyes opened and shut like those of a cat. It was the patriarch on the chairman's left who broke the silence.
"I don't like it," he said. "I don't like it at all. I cannot approve of these methods. For God's sake let us leave the issue to higher intelligences then ours, and not take the law into our own hands."
"There is a spirit growing up in the Fraternity," said the chairman, in a deep, booming voice, "which can lead to nothing but disaster," and he glared at the secretary as if he were responsible for the American's death. The pupils of the secretary's peculiar eyes completely disappeared, and the irises filled with green gleams like the fire in a black opal, but it was the journalist who took up the defence.
"This is no time for half measures," he said "Be sure your policy is right, and then go ahead and make a clean job of it. Look at the difference in our position since the new spirit came into the Fraternity, from being a group of antiquarians, we have become a factor to be reckoned with in international politics."
One after another they spoke with considerable feeling, but the secretary kept silence; he, although he was never directly addressed, seemed to be regarded by the others as responsible for the new spirit. Finally, each having said his say, silence fell upon the men round the table. The secretary raised his peculiar eyes to the chairman.
"Shall I bring him round?" he enquired.
The chairman nodded glumly. The brown hand of the secretary passed swiftly across the face of the sleeper with a peculiar snatching movement several times repeated, who thereupon stirred slightly and snuggled down into the cushions. It was apparent, however, that the death-like passivity had given place to natural sleep. In a minute or two he stirred again, roused, sat up, and blinked dazedly at the lamp. The secretary poured a cup of steaming coffee from a vacuum flask and handed it to him, for close though the night was, the man was shivering with cold. The hot drink speedily restored him to his normal consciousness, and he enquired whether any news had been obtained of Hermann Housmann, and the words that had issued from his lips were repeated to him. At the news of the suicide he gave a long whistle and stared hard at the secretary.
Presently the meeting broke up, the members departing in twos and threes; at the door each of these sober-minded men of the world did a peculiar thing, they turned and genuflected as if leaving a church, for in the shadows in the far end of the room the dim outline of an altar could be discerned on which a red light was burning.
Among the last to leave was the old man with the long white beard. Pausing before the secretary, he held out his corded old hand. After an almost imperceptible hesitation, the thin brown fingers were placed in it.
"Lucas," said the old man, "no one appreciates more than I do what your work has meant to the Fraternity, but I hope to God you will never want anything you ought not to have."
Left alone, the secretary switched off the electric fan and silence shut down upon the room like a thing palpable. He paused for a moment with his hand on the switch, as if uncertain what to do next, then he crossed over to the table and stood looking down at the scattered papers, but made no movement to gather them up; he was evidently deep in thought, going over in his mind the events of the evening and trying to interpret their significance. It had been quite evident that he was not in good odour; even his supporters had been apologists and his opponents had been among the weightiest members of the Fraternity, and the evening's proceedings had served to bring to the surface a dissatisfaction that had been smouldering for some time. Lucas's doings were not liked, so much had been made quite clear to him; and if his doings were not liked, then he must be prepared to mend his ways or there would be serious trouble, for, as most people are aware, it is one thing to get into an occult fraternity, but quite another to get out of it.
He knew his chiefs, men of the highest ideals, but also of the sternest justice, and he knew that rebellion need expect no mercy. First would come an order to attend Lodge and offer an explanation; should that prove unsatisfactory, he would be commanded to return to the archives all insignia, symbols and manuscripts, and he would be solemnly warned, in a formula thousands of years old, that for the future he would exercise occult powers at his peril; and then he would be bidden to go forth and associate no more with his brethren.
Should he, however, persist in his evil ways, should he, especially, pervert to his own ends the powers he had acquired, then something that was not of this plane of existence dealt with him. No man raised a finger against him, the law was not invoked, his name was not mentioned for evil, but, all the same, something happened to him, and after that which was to fall had fallen, he was incapable of either good or evil for the short span of existence which usually remained to him.
Lucas knew all this quite well, and, hands deep in trouser pockets, he slowly paced the room, calculating his chances of escape should he decide on the course of defiance.
Six years ago, with a promising journalistic career before him, he had suddenly abandoned Fleet Street, and to the surprise and disgust of his colleagues, become secretary to a society for the study of comparative folk-lore. Why he did it, they could not make out, and Lucas did not enlighten them; but, if the truth were known, he was controlling the mundane pied-à-terre that even the most esoteric of occult fraternities must have, and to this fraternity he dedicated his existence. As had been truly said that evening, he had raised the Fraternity to a very different position to that which it had occupied when first he took its affairs in hand. He had found it engaged in study for study's sake, and he had shown it the practical application of its knowledge. Hitherto it had contented itself in dealing with the individual, his development or regeneration. Lucas showed it that its methods were equally applicable to international affairs, and he had interfered with such notable success in certain coups d'état that the great majority of his Fraternity looked upon him as the coming leader. It was only a minority that viewed his doings askance, but, as he had seen that evening, the seniors of the Fraternity were in that minority to a man, and it was they alone who could bind or loose. It was useless to have the support of numbers if those who held the keys of power closed the door upon him, and it had been borne in upon Lucas recently that these doors were closed, had, in fact, been closed for some time. He had realized that no amount of hard work, no amount of devotion, would take a man up the Fraternity if that man's heart were not right. Lip service would not avail, either; the trained clairvoyants who had charge of these matters judged a man neither by what he said nor what he did, but by the colours of his aura, and that tell-tale emanation revealed the truth. No amount of ostentatious church-going on Sundays and wearing of crosses on watch-chains could conceal the dull red glow that Saturday night's diversions left behind, or counterfeit the bright clear electric blue that had to show before a man was judged fit for the higher degrees.
Lucas knew that although his aura showed the occult green, that green was not right, and he could not get it right except by changing his whole nature, by casting out the inordinate ambition and love of power that consumed him and bringing in compassion for his fellow men, and neither of these things could Lucas see his way to achieve; he despised his fellow man too much to feel anything beyond a contemptuous pity for him; and as for foregoing the fruits of power, what else was there to live and strive for? He was quite willing to show kindness to all and sundry, or any other manifestation in fact that might be demanded of him as a qualification, but laboriously to acquire power and then to refrain from using it for one's own benefit even when driven into a corner, this was beyond his comprehension. He was prepared to pay any price required for his apprenticeship, he had worked as Jacob worked for Rachel, but for two years his progress had been held up, and men with half his capacities had preceded him into the higher degrees. His theoretical studies completed, he realized that the chiefs had no intention of entrusting him with the practical applications thereof. The secret science of the hidden forces of man and nature he knew, but not the Names of Power by which these forces were controlled, and without them all his studies were useless—he had the lock, but not the key.
And so he paced up and down, pondering his problem. The chiefs had openly declared their dissatisfaction; a complete revision of the Fraternity's policy might follow, and with it a drastic clipping of his own wings; he might even be removed from the post of secretary. For this contingency he had endeavoured to provide. Next door lived an aged general, gasping his life out in repeated attacks of bronchitis, any one of which might prove fatal; Lucas had judiciously cultivated his acquaintance, and the first use he had made of his Delta Degree initiation was to use the powers it conferred to cause the old man to make a will in his favour, so Lucas hoped before long to find himself among the landed gentry and the possessor of private means, in which situation he thought it might be easier for him to come up to the moral standard of the Fraternity and obtain the coveted higher degrees. His only danger was that the will might be contested and the transaction thus brought to the ears of his chiefs, and what they would have to say on the subject would not be pleasant hearing, for he knew full well the white occultist's horror of black magic, and his drastic methods of dealing with it, and he supposed they would consider his transactions very black indeed, though he had no intention whatever of doing harm with the money, which would, he thought, be used to much better advantage if it were in his hands than distributed among the general's nephews and nieces of the third and fourth generation.
Excerpted from THE DEMON LOVER by DION FORTUNE. Copyright © 2010 Diana Paxson. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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