At some point well into my lifetime, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books were re-numbered into a sort of faux-story-chonology order. My own 1987 Scholastic trade box set numbers them correctly–in the order they were written–but modern editions (including my Gyldendal library-bound Danish editions) adopt the new order.
As we learned with the Star Wars movies, there’s no such thing as a “prequel” to an already released story. There can be sequels that take place earlier, but the structure of reveal, suspense and surprise–that is, storytelling–can’t be reorganized once it’s fixed. Watch the long, suspenseful introduction of Darth Vader at the beginning of Star Wars [*sigh* Episode IV: A New Hope] again. Silence. Sudden violence. Billowing smoke. Then the music… It’s a masterclass in villain reveals. Can one really believe that explaining and humanizing this character beforehand would enhance the scene? I feel bad for any kid who watches the Star Wars movies for the first time in “episode” order.
With the Narnia books there’s something more insidious: The implication that children can’t understand a flashback. Yes, as both explain quite clearly, The Horse and His Boy and The Magician’s Nephew take place before the events of The Silver Chair. Lewis himself took a bright view of children’s comprehension abilities. He was writing for 9-11 year olds, but even much younger children get “because this happened earlier.” They understand out of order storytelling, because that’s how humans communicate. All stories are flashbacks. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the moment of sublime wonder created by the lit lamppost in the snowy forest is in no way enhanced by knowing that, in the Creation era of this world, a villain briefly made it into our world, caused some trouble, tore off a piece of lamppost, lost it in Archean!Narnia, and because the Narnia Inflationary Field was still in play, it grew into a sort of natural lamppost tree thing. It’s a fun moment, when it comes, but that’s because we get to go back into our memory and connect something in an unexpected and fun way, not because we were confused and frustrated by it.
The modern Narnia book order is a mess, but there are alternatives. Below, I’ve attempted to compile is the most definitive list to date of Narnia series orderings.
By Order of Current Publication (Faux-Chronological Order)
1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy
4. Prince Caspian
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle
By Actual Story Order
1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
~ 2.5. The Horse and His Boy (The Horse and His Boy takes place during The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
3. Prince Caspian
4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
5. The Silver Chair
6. The Last Battle
1. The Silver Chair
2. The Horse and His Boy
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
4. Prince Caspian
5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
6. The Last Battle
7. The Magician’s Nephew
By How Long They Feel
1. The Last Battle (God what a slog…)
2. The Silver Chair (Only kind of a slog)
3. The Magician’s Nephew (Plenty of cool stuff for your time, at least)
2. The Horse and His Boy (Moves right along, but mostly you’re still fagged out from The Silver Chair)
4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Moar!)
4. Prince Caspian
5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (That was it?)
By Obviously Out of Place Christian Symbolism
1. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (WTF’s up with the lamb?)
2. The Last Battle (Wait, desert demon Tash of the
MusselCalormen is real?)
3. Prince Caspian (“You must learn to know me by another name-” “Baphomet?” “No you stupid prig.”)
4. The Magician’s Nephew (Yeah yeah, wizards are all horrible…)
5. The Silver Chair (Stung by a serpent, blah blah…)
6. The Horse and His Boy (Same as the lashes of your servant, that’s fine.)
7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
By Order I Read Them In
1. Prince Caspian
2. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
3. The Silver Chair
4. The Horse and His Boy
5. The Magician’s Nephew
6. The Last Battle
7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (My mom found the missing book from my box set at a library book sale when I was in college!)
By Current Danish Publisher’s Order
1. Troldmandens Nevø (Yes, the Danish word for magician is “troll man.”)
2. Løven, Heksen og Garderodeskabet (The definite article is usually a suffix in Danish.)
3. Hesten og Drengen (Shouldn’t it be Hesten og hans Dreng?)
4. Prins Caspian (Free square!)
5. Morgenvandrerens Rejse (Now that is an impressive Germanic compound.)
6. Sølvstolen (Sounds a bit like a French person saving “seulv-.”)
7. Det Sidste Slag (At least the Danes admit it’s a slag.)
By Order I Bought Them in Danish
1. Løven, Heksen og Garderodeskabet (Saxo.com)
1. Prins Caspian (Saxo.com)
1. Morgenvandrerens Rejse (Saxo. The bank’s computer froze my credit card.)
2. Sølvstolen (Copenhagen bookshop)
2. Hesten og Drengen (The same Copenhagen bookshop)
3. Det Sidste Slag (I looked all over the damn city for this one.)
4. Troldmandens Nevø (Didn’t find it until I was studying in Ringkøbing this year.)
1. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (What adventure!)
2. Prince Caspian (What mystery!)
3. The Magician’s Nephew (What magic!)
4. The Horse and His Boy (What a yarn!)
5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (What a children’s book!)
6. The Silver Chair (What… grayness)
7. The Last Battle (What a slog)
By Order of Writing
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2. Prince Caspian
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
4. The Silver Chair
5. The Horse and His Boy
6. The Magician’s Nephew
7. The Last Battle
By Correct Order
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2. Prince Caspian
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
4. The Silver Chair
5. The Horse and His Boy
6. The Magician’s Nephew
7. The Last Battle
New York Review Books has announced Compulsory Games, a new collection of Robert Aickman stories scheduled for May 8, 2018. The publisher has separately leaked its table of contents, and its a revelation of hard to obtain material. I’ve updated my table of Aickman’s published works to include Compulsory Games (as well as a very limited 2015 Tartarus anthology).
Robert Aickman (1914-1981) was the most significant horror writer since H. P. Lovecraft. I can say that with certainty. As an epithet, he was the Last Symbolist (though Fritz Leiber’s “Weatherman of the Subconscious” is also fitting). Beyond that, I can’t tell you much, despite having spent the last two years reading and rereading as much of his work as practical. Leiber admired him, but didn’t understand him. Peter Straub admires him, but doesn’t understand him. Neil Gaiman admires him, but doesn’t understand him. This is not criticism, but praise. Perhaps a ghost is that which you can’t understand.Tags: horror, robert aickman, sfw
CASE OF THE VEIL OF ISIS
I have made no attempt, in these chronicles, to arrange the cases of my remarkable friend, Moris Klaw, in sections. Yet, as has recently been pointed out to me, they seem naturally to fall into two orders. There were those in which he appeared in the role of criminal investigator, and in which he was usually associated with Inspector Grimsby. There was another class of inquiry in which the criminal element was lacking; mysteries which never came under the notice of New Scotland Yard.
Since Moris Klaw’s methods were, if not supernatural, at any rate supernormal, I have been asked if he ever, to my knowledge, inquired into a case which proved insusceptible of a natural explanation—which fell strictly within the province of the occult.
To that I answer that I am aware of several; but I have refrained from including them because readers of these papers would be unlikely to appreciate the nature of Klaw’s investigations outside the sphere of ordinary natural laws. Those who are curious upon the point cannot do better than consult the remarkable work by Moris Klaw entitled Psychic Angles.
But there was one case with which I found myself concerned that I am disposed to include, for it fell between the provinces of the natural and supernatural in such a way that it might, with equal legitimacy, be included under either head. On the whole, I am disposed to bracket it with the case of the headless mummies.
I will take leave to introduce you, then, to the company which met at Otter Brearley’s house one night in August.
“This is most truly amazing,” Moris Klaw was saying; “and I am indebted to my good friend Searles”—he inclined his sparsely covered head in my direction—“for the opportunity to be one of you. It is a séance? Yes and no. But there is a mummy in it—and those mummies are so instructive!”
He extracted the scent-spray from his pocket and refreshed his yellow brow with verbena.
“How to be regretted that my daughter is in Paris,” he continued, his rumbling voice echoing queerly about the room. “She loves them like a mother—those mummies! Ah, Mr. Brearley, this will cement your great reputation!”
Otter Brearley shook his head.
“I am not yet prepared to make it public property,” he declared, slowly. “No one, outside the present circle, knows of my discovery. I do not wish it to go further—at present.”
He glanced around the table, his prominent blue eyes passing from myself to Moris Klaw and from Klaw to the clean-cut, dark face of Dr. Fairbank. The latter, scarce heeding his host’s last words, sat watching how the shaded light played, tenderly, amid the soft billows of Ailsa Brearley’s wonderful hair.
“Shall you make it the subject of a paper?” he asked suddenly.
“My dear Dr. Fairbank!” rumbled Moris Klaw, solemnly, “if you had been paying attention to our good friend you would have heard him say that he was not prepared, at present, to make public his wonderful discovery.”
“Sorry!” said Fairbank, turning to Brearley. “But if it is not to be made public I don’t altogether follow the idea. What do you intend, Brearley?”
“In what way?” I asked.
“In every way possible!”
Dr. Fairbank sat back in his chair and looked thoughtful.
“Rather a comprehensive scheme?”
Brearley toyed with the bundle of notes under his hand.
“I have already,” he said, “exhaustively examined seven of the possibilities; the eighth, and—I believe, the last—remains to be considered.”
“Listen now to me, Mr. Brearley,” said Moris Klaw, wagging a long finger. “I am here, the old curious, and find myself in delightful company. But until this evening I know nothing of your work except that I have read all your books. For me you will be so good as to outline all the points—yes?”
Otter Brearley mutely sought permission of the company, and turned the leaves of his manuscript. All men have an innate love of “talking shop,” but few can make such talk of general interest. Brearley was an exception in this respect. He loved to talk of Egypt, of the Pharaohs, of the temples, of the priesthood and its mysteries; but others loved to hear him. That made all the difference.
“The discovery,” he now began, “upon which I have blundered—for pure accident, alone, led me to it—assumes its great importance by reason of the absolute mystery surrounding certain phases of Egyptian worship. In the old days, Fairbank, you will recall that it was my supreme ambition to learn the secrets of Isis-worship as practised in early Egyptian times. Save for impostors, and legitimate imaginative writers, no one has yet lifted the veil of Isis. That mystical ceremony by which a priest was consecrated to the goddess, or made an arch adept, was thought to be hopelessly lost, or by others, to be a myth devised by the priesthood to awe the ignorant masses. In fact, we know little of the entire religion but its outward form. Of that occult lore so widely attributed to its votaries we know nothing—absolutely nothing! By we, I mean students in general. I, individually, have made a step, if not a stride, into that holy of holies!”
“Mind you don’t lose yourself!” said Fairbank, lightly.
But, professionally, he was displeased with Brearley’s drawn face and with the feverish brightness of his eyes. So much was plain for all to see. In the eyes of Ailsa Brearley, so like, yet so unlike, her brother’s, he read understanding of his displeasure, I think, together with a pathetic appeal.
Brearley waved his long, white hand carelessly.
“Rest assured of that, doctor!” he replied. “The labyrinth in which I find myself is intricate, I readily admit; but all my steps have been well considered. To return, Mr. Klaw”—addressing the latter—“I have secured the mummy of one of those arch adepts! That he was one is proved by the papyrus, presumably in his own writing, which lay upon his breast! I unwrapped the mummy in Egypt, where it now reposes; but the writing I brought back with me, and have recently deciphered. A glance had showed me that it was not the usual excerpts from the Book of the Dead. Six months’ labour has proved it to be a detailed account of his initiation into the inner mysteries!”
“Is such a papyrus unique?” I asked.
“Unique!” cried Moris Klaw. “Name of a little blue man! It is priceless!”
“But why,” I pursued, “should this priest, alone amongst the many who must have been so initiated, have left an account of the ceremony?”
“It was forbidden to divulge any part, any word, of it, Searles!” said Brearley. “Departure from this law was visited with fearful punishments in this world and dire penalties in the next. Khamus, for so this priest was named, well knew this. But some reason which, I fear, can never be known, prompted him to write the papyrus. It is probable, if not certain, that no eye but his, and mine, has read what is written there.”
A silence of a few seconds followed his words.
“Yes,” rumbled Klaw presently; “it is undoubtedly a discovery of extraordinary importance, this. You agree, my friend?”
“That’s evident,” I replied. “But I cannot altogether get the hang of the ceremony itself, Brearley. That is the point upon which I am particularly hazy.”
“To read you the entire account in detail,” Brearley resumed, “would occupy too long, and would almost certainly confuse you. But the singular thing is this: Khamus distinctly asserts that the goddess appeared to him. His writing is eminently sane and reserved, and his account of the ceremony, up to that point, highly interesting. Now, I have tested the papyrus itself—though no possibility of fraud is really admissible, and I have been able to confirm many of the statements made therein. There is only one point, it seems to me, remaining to be settled.”
“What is that?” I asked.
“Whether, as a result of the ceremony described, Khamus did see Isis, or whether he merely imagined he did!”Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw
CASE OF THE HAUNTING OF GRANGE
A large lamp burned in the centre of the table; a red-shaded candle stood close by each diner; and the soft light made a brave enough show upon the snowy napery and spotless silver, but dispersed nothing of the gloom about us. The table was a lighted oasis in the desert of the huge apartment. One could barely pick out the suits of armour and trophies which hung from distant panelled walls, and I started repeatedly when the butler appeared, silent, at my elbow.
Of the party of five, four were men—three of them (for I venture to include myself) neatly groomed and dressed with care in conventional dinner fashion. The fourth was a heavy figure in a dress-coat with broad satin lapels such as I have seen, I think, in pictures of Victorian celebrities. I have no doubt, judging from its shiny appearance, that it was the workmanship of a Victorian tailor. The vest was cut high and also boasted lapels; the trousers, though at present they were concealed beneath the table, belonged to a different suit, possibly a mourning suit, and to a different sartorial epoch.
The woman, young, dark and exceedingly pretty, wore a gown of shimmering amber, cut with Parisian daring. Her beautiful eyes were more often lowered than raised, for Sir James Leyland, our host, was unable to conceal his admiration; his face, tanned by his life in the Bush, was often turned to her. Clement Leyland, the baronet’s cousin, bore a striking resemblance to Sir James, but entirely lacked the latter’s breezy manner. I set him down for a man who thought much and said little.
However, conversation could not well flag at a board boasting the presence of such a genial colonial as Sir James, and such a storehouse of anecdotal oddities as Moris Klaw. Mr. Leyland and myself, then, for the most part practised the difficult art of listening; for Isis Klaw, I learned, could talk almost as entertainingly as her father.
“I am so glad,” said Moris Klaw, and his voice rumbled thunderously about the room, “that I have this opportunity to visit Grange.”
“It certainly has great historic interest,” agreed Sir James. “I had never anticipated inheriting the grand old place, much less the title. My uncle’s early death, unmarried, very considerably altered my prospects; I became a landed proprietor who might otherwise have become a ‘Murrumbidgee whaler!’ ”
He laughed, light-heartedly, glancing at Isis Klaw, and from her to his cousin.
“Clem had everything in apple-pie order for me,” he added, “including the family goblin!”
“Ah! that family goblin!” rumbled Moris Klaw. “It is him I am after, that goblin!”
The history of Grange, in fact, was directly responsible for Moris Klaw’s presence that night. An odd little book, Psychic Angles, had recently attracted considerable attention amongst students of the occult, and had proved equally interesting to the general public. It dealt with the subject of ghosts from quite a new standpoint, and incidentally revealed its anonymous author as one conversant apparently with the history of every haunted house in Europe. Few knew that the curio-dealer of Wapping was the author, but as Grange was dealt with in Psychic Angles, amongst a number of other haunted homes of England, a letter from Sir James Leyland, forwarded by the publisher, had invited the author to investigate the latest developments of the Leyland family ghost.
I had had the privilege to be associated with Moris Klaw, in another case of apparent haunting—that which I have dealt with in an earlier paper; the haunting of The Grove. He had courteously invited me, then, to assist him (his own expression) in the inquiry at Grange. I welcomed the opportunity; for I was anxious to include in my annals at least one other case of the apparent occult.
“We shall without delay,” continued the eccentric investigator, “endeavour to meet him face to face—this disturber of the peace. Sir James, it is with the phenomena you call ghosts the same as with valuable relics, with jewels, with mummies—ah, those mummies!—with beautiful women!”
“To liken a beautiful woman to a relic,” said Sir James, “would be—well——” he glanced at Isis, “hardly complimentary!”
“It would be true!” Moris Klaw assured him impressively. “Nature, that mystic process of reproduction, wastes not its models. Sir James, all beauty is duplicated. Look at my daughter Isis.” (Sir James readily obeyed.) “You see her, yes? And what do you see?”
Isis lowered her eyes, but, frankly, I was unable to perceive an evidence of embarrassment in this singularly self-possessed girl.
“Perhaps,” resumed her father, “I could tell you what you see; but I will only tell you what it is you may see. You may see a beauty of your Regency or a favourite of your Charles; the daughter of a Viking, an ancient British princess; the slave of a Caesar, the dancer of a Pharaoh!”
“You believe in reincarnation?” suggested Clement Leyland, quietly.
“Yes, certainly, why not, of course!” rumbled Moris Klaw. “But I do not speak of it now, not I; I speak of Nature’s reproduction; I tell you how Nature wastes nothing which is beautiful. What has the soul to do with the body? I tell you how the reproduction goes on and on until the mould, the plate, the die, has perished! So is it with ghosts. You write me that your goblin has learned some new tricks. I answer, your goblin can never learn new tricks; I answer this is not he, it is another goblin! Nature is conservative with her goblins as with her beautiful women; she does not disfigure the old model with alterations. What! Chop them about! Never! she makes new ones.”
Clement Leyland smiled discreetly, but Sir James was evidently interested.
“Of course I’ve read Psychic Angles, Mr. Klaw,” he said, “consequently your novel theories do not altogether surprise me. I gather your meaning to be this: a haunted house is haunted in exactly the same way generation after generation? Any new development points to the presence of a new force or intelligence?”
“It is exactly quite so,” Moris Klaw nodded sympathetically. “You have the receptive mind, Sir James; you should take up ghosts; they would like you. There is a scientific future for the sympathetic ghost-hunter—for I will whisper it—these poor ghosts are sometimes so glad to be hunted! It is a lonely life, that of a ghost!”
“The Grange ghost,” Sir James assured him, “is a most gregarious animal. He doesn’t go in for lonely groanings in the chapel or anything of that kind; he drops into the billiard-room frequently, he’s often to be met with right here in the dining-room, and of late he’s been sleeping with me regularly!”
“So I hear,” rumbled Moris Klaw; “so I hear. It is quaint, yes, proceed, my friend.”
Isis Klaw sat with her big eyes fixed upon Sir James as he continued:
“The traditional ghost of Grange was a grey monk who on certain nights—I forget the exact dates—came out from the chapel beyond the orchard carrying a long staff, walked up to a buttress of the west wall and disappeared at the point where formerly there was a private entrance. In fact there used to be a secret stair opening at that point and communicating with a room built by a remote Leyland of the eighth Henry’s time—a notorious roué. The last Leyland to use the room was Sir Francis, an intimate of Charles II. The next heir had the wing rebuilt, and the ancient door walled up.”
“Yes, yes,” said Moris Klaw. “I know it all, but you tell it well. This is a most interesting house, this Grange. I have recorded him, the grey monk, and I learn with surprise how another spook comes poaching on his preserves! Tell us now of these new developments, Sir James.”
Sir James cleared his throat and glanced about the table. “Please smoke,” said Isis; “because I should like to smoke, too!”
“Yes, yes!” agreed Moris Klaw. “Remain, my child, we will all remain; do not let us move an inch. This banqueting-hall is loaded with psychic impressions. Let us smoke and concentrate our minds upon the problem.”
Coffee and liqueurs were placed upon the table and cigarettes lighted. In deference to the presence of Isis, I suppose, no cigars were smoked; but the girl lighted an Egyptian cigarette proffered by Sir James with the insouciance of an old devotee of my Lady Nicotine. The butler having made his final departure, we were left—a lonely company in our lighted oasis—amid the shadow desert of that huge and ghostly apartment.
“All sorts of singular things have happened,” began Sir James, “since my return from Australia. Of course I cannot say if these are recent developments, because my uncle, for seven or eight years before his death, resided entirely in London, and Grange was in charge of the housekeeper. It is notorious, is it not, that housekeepers and such worthy ladies never by any chance detect anything unseemly in family establishments with which they are associated? Anyway, when I was dug up out of the Bush, and all the formalities were through, good old Clement here set about putting things to rights for me and I arrived to find Grange a perfect picture from floor to roof. New servants engaged, too, though the housekeeper and the butler, who have been in the family for years, remained, of course, with some other old servants. As I have said, everything was in apple-pie order.”
“Including the ghost!” interpolated his cousin, laughing.
“That’s the trouble,” said Sir James, banging his fist upon the table; “the very first night I dined in this room there was a most uncanny manifestation. Clement and I were sitting here at this very table; we had dined—not unwisely, don’t think that—and were just smoking and chatting, when——”
He ceased abruptly; in fact the effect was similar to that which would have resulted had a solid door suddenly been closed upon the speaker. But the stark silence which ensued was instantly interrupted. My blood seemed to freeze in my veins; a horrid, supernatural dread held me fast in my chair.
For, echoing hollowly around and about the huge, ancient apartment, rolled, booming, a peal of demoniacal laughter! From whence it proceeded I was wholly unable to imagine. It seemed to be all about, above us, and beneath us. It was mad, devilish, a hell-sound impossible to describe. It rose, it fell, it rose again—and ceased abruptly.Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw
CASE OF THE HEADLESS MUMMIES
The mysteries which my eccentric friend, Moris Klaw, was most successful in handling undoubtedly were those which had their origin in kinks of the human brain or in the mysterious history of some relic of ancient times.
I have seen his theory of the Cycle of Crime proven triumphantly time and time again; I have known him successfully to demonstrate how the history of a valuable gem or curio automatically repeats itself, subject, it would seem, to that obscure law of chance into which he had made particular inquiry. Then his peculiar power—assiduously cultivated by a course of obscure study—of recovering from the atmosphere, the ether, call it what you will, the thought-forms—the ideas thrown out by the scheming mind of the criminal he sought for—enabled him to succeed where any ordinary investigator must inevitably have failed.
“They destroy,” he would say in his odd, rumbling voice, “the clumsy tools of their crime; they hide away the knife, the bludgeon; they sop up the blood, they throw it, the jemmy, the dead man, the suffocated poor infant, into the ditch, the pool—and they leave intact the odic negative, the photograph of their sin, the thought-thing in the air!” He would tap his high yellow brow significantly. “Here upon this sensitive plate I reproduce it, the hanging evidence! The headless child is buried in the garden, but the thought of the beheader is left to lie about. I pick it up. Poof! he swings—that child-slayer! I triumph. He is a dead man. What an art is the art of the odic photograph.”
But I propose to relate here an instance of Moris Klaw’s amazing knowledge in matters of archaeology—of the history of relics. In his singular emporium at Wapping, where dwelt the white rats, the singing canary, the cursing parrot, and the other stock-in-trade of this supposed dealer in oddities, was furthermore a library probably unique. It contained obscure works on criminology; it contained catalogues of every relic known to European collectors with elaborate histories of the same. What else it contained I am unable to say, for the dazzling Isis Klaw was a jealous librarian.
You who have followed these records will have made the acquaintance of Coram, the curator of the Menzies Museum; and it was through Coram that I first came to hear of the inexplicable beheading of mummies, which, commencing with that of Mr. Pettigrew’s valuable mummy of the priestess Hor-ankhu, developed into a perfect epidemic. No more useless outrage could well be imagined than the decapitation of an ancient Egyptian corpse; and if I was surprised when I heard of the first case, my surprise became stark amazement when yet other mummies began mysteriously to lose their heads. But I deal with the first instance, now, as it was brought under my notice by Coram.
He rang me up early one morning.
“I say, Searles,” he said; “a very odd thing has happened. You’ve heard me speak of Pettigrew the collector; he lives out Wandsworth way; he’s one of our trustees. Well, some demented burglar broke into his house last night, took nothing, but cut off the head of a valuable mummy!”
“Good Heavens!” I cried. “What an original idea!”
“Highly so,” agreed Coram. “The police are hopelessly mystified, and as I know you are keen on this class of copy I thought you might like to run down and have a chat with Pettigrew. Shall I tell him you are coming?”
“By all means,” I said, and made an arrangement forthwith.
Accordingly, about eleven o’clock I presented myself at a gloomy Georgian house standing well back from the high road, and screened by an unkempt shrubbery. Mr. Mark Pettigrew, a familiar figure at Sotheby auctions, was a little shrivelled man, clean shaven and with the complexion of a dried apricot. His big spectacles seemed to occupy a great proportion of his face, but his eyes twinkled merrily and his humour was as dry as his appearance.
“Glad to see you, Mr. Searles,” he said. “You’ve had some experience of the outré, I believe, and where two constables, an imposing inspector, and a plain-clothes gentleman who looked like a horse, have merely upset my domestic arrangements, you may be able to make some intelligent suggestion.”
He conducted me to a large gloomy room in which relics, principally Egyptian, were arranged and ticketed with museum-like precision. Before a wooden sarcophagus containing the swathed figure of a mummy he stopped, pointing. He looked as though he had come out of a sarcophagus himself.
“Hor-ankhu,” he said, “a priestess of Sekhet; a very fine specimen, Mr. Searles. I was present when it was found. See—here is her head!”Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw
CASE OF THE WHISPERING POPLARS
One afternoon Moris Klaw walked into my office and announced that “owing to alterations” he had temporarily suspended business at the Wapping emporium, and thus had found time to give me a call. I always welcomed a chat with that extraordinary man, and although I could conceive of no really useful “alteration” to his unsavoury establishment other than that of setting fire to it, I made no inquiries, but placed an easy chair for him and offered a cigar.
Moris Klaw removed his caped overcoat and dropped it upon the floor. Upon this sartorial wreckage he disposed his flat-topped brown bowler, and from it extracted the inevitable scent-spray. He sprayed his dome-like brow and bedewed his toneless beard with verbena.
“So refreshing,” he explained, “a custom of the Romans, Mr. Searles. It is a very warm day.”
I admitted that this was so.
“My daughter Isis,” continued Klaw, “has taken advantage of the alterations and decorations to run over so far as Paris.”
I made some commonplace remark, and we drifted into a conversation upon a daring robbery which at that time was flooding the press with copy. We were so engaged when, to my great surprise (for I had thought him at least a thousand miles away), Shan Haufmann was announced. As my old American friend entered, Moris Klaw modestly arose to depart. But I detained him and made the two acquainted.
Haufmann hailed Klaw cordially, exhibiting none of the illbred surprise which so often greeted my eccentric acquaintance of singular aspect. Haufmann had all that bonhomie which overlooks the clothes and welcomes the man. He glanced apologetically at his right hand which hung in a sling.
“Can’t shake, Mr. Klaw,” said the big American, a goodhumoured smile on his tanned, clean-shaven face. “I stopped some lead awhile back and my right is still off duty.”
Naturally I was anxious at once to know how he had come by the hurt; and he briefly explained that in the discharge of certain official duties he had run foul of a bad gang, two of whom he had been instrumental in convicting of murder, whilst the third had shot him in the arm and escaped.
“Three dagoes,” he explained in his crisply picturesque fashion, “been wanted for years. Helped themselves to a bunch of my colts this Fall; killed one of the boys and left another for dead. So I went after them hot and strong. We rounded them up on the Mexican border, and got two, Schwart Sam and one of the Costas; but the younger Costa—we call him Corpus Chris—broke away and found me in the elbow with a lump of lead!”
“So you’ve come for a holiday?”
“Mostly,” replied Haufmann. “Greta hustled me here. She got real ill when I said I wouldn’t come. So we came! I’m centring in London for six months. Brought the girls over for a look round. I’m not stopping at a hotel. We’ve rented a house a bit outside; it’s Lal’s idea. Settled yesterday. All fixed. Expect you to dinner to-night! You, too, Mr. Klaw! Is it a bet?”
Moris Klaw was commencing some sort of a reply, but what it was never transpired, for Haufmann, waving his sound hand cheerily, quitted the office as rapidly as he had entered, calling back:
“Dine seven-thirty. Girls expecting you!”
That was his way; but so infectious was his real geniality that few could fail to respond to it.
“He is a good fellow, that Mr. Haufmann,” rumbled Moris Klaw. “Yes, I love such natures. But he has forgotten to tell us where he lives!”
It was so! Haufmann, in his hurry and impetuosity, had overlooked that important matter; but I thought it probable that he would recall the oversight and communicate, so prevailed upon Klaw to remain. At last, however, I glanced at my watch, and found it to be nearly six o’clock, whereupon I looked blankly at Moris Klaw. That eccentric shrugged his shoulders and took up the caped coat. Then the ’phone-bell rang. It was Haufmann.
I was glad to hear his familiar accent as he laughingly apologised for his oversight. Rapidly he acquainted me with the whereabouts of The Grove—for so the house was called.
“Come now,” he said. “Don’t stop to dress; you’ve only just got time,” and rang off.
I thought Moris Klaw stared oddly through his pince-nez when I told him the address, but concluded, as he made no comment, that I had been mistaken. There was just time to catch our train, and from the station where we alighted it was only a short drive to the house. Haufmann’s car was waiting for us, and in less than three-quarters of an hour from our quitting the Strand, we were driving up to The Grove, through the most magnificent avenue of poplar I had ever seen.
“By Jove!” I cried, “what fine trees!”Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw
CASE OF THE BLUE RAJAH
Inspector Grimsby called upon me one evening, wearing a great glumness of countenance.
“Look here,” said he, “I’m in a bit of a corner. You’ll have heard that a committee of commercial magnates has been formed to buy, and on behalf of the City of London to present to the Crown, the big Indian diamond?”
I nodded and pushed the box of cigarettes towards him.
“Well,” he continued, thoughtfully selecting one, “they are meeting in Moorgate Street to-morrow morning to complete the deal and formally take over the stone. Sir Michael Cayley, the Lord Mayor, will be present, and he’s received a letter, which has been passed on to me.”
He fumbled for his pocket-case. Grimsby is a man who will go far. He is the youngest detective-inspector in the service, and he has that priceless gift—the art of using other people for the furtherance of his own ends. I do not intend this criticism unkindly. Grimsby does nothing dishonourable and seeks to rob no man of the credit that may be due. There is nothing underhand about Grimsby, but he is exceedingly diplomatic. He imparts official secrets to me with an ingenuousness entirely disarming—but always for reasons of his own.
“Here you are,” he said, and passed a letter to me. It read as follows—
“To the Right Hon. the Lord Mayor of London.
“Beware that the Blue Rajah is not stolen on Wednesday the 13th inst. Do not lose sight of it for one moment.
“Your Lordship’s obedient servant,
“You see,” continued Grimsby, “Wednesday the thirteenth is to-morrow, when the thing is being brought to Moorgate Street. Naturally, Sir Michael communicated with the Yard, and as I’m in the know about Moris Klaw, I got the job of looking into the matter. I was at the Mansion House this morning.”
“I suppose Sir Michael regards this note with suspicion?”
“Well, he’s not silly enough to suppose that anybody who thought of stealing the diamond would drop him a line advising him of the matter! But he’d never heard of Moris Klaw until I explained about him. When I told him that Klaw had a theory about the Cycle of Crime, and his letter probably meant that, according to said theory, on Wednesday the thirteenth the Blue Rajah was due to be lifted, so to speak, he laughed. You’ll have noticed that people mostly laugh at first about Moris Klaw?”
“Certainly. You did, yourself!”
“I know it—and I’m suffering for it! Klaw won’t lift his little finger when I ask him; and as for his daughter, she giggles as though she was looking at a comedian when she looks at me! She thinks I’m properly funny!”
“You’ve been to Wapping, then?”
“Yes, this afternoon. The Lord Mayor wanted a lot of convincing that Moris Klaw was on the straight after I’d told him that the old gentleman was a dealer in curios in the East End. Finally, he suggested that I should find out what the warning meant exactly. But I couldn’t get to see Klaw; his daughter said he was out.”
“I suppose every precaution will be taken?”
“To-morrow morning we have arranged that I and two other C.I.D. men are to accompany the party to the Safe Deposit vaults to fetch the diamond and we shall guard it on the way back afterwards.”
“Who’s going to fetch it?”
“Sir John Carron, representing the India Office, Mr. Mark Anderson—the expert—representing the City, and Mr. Gautami Chinje, representing the Gaekwar of Nizam. I was wondering”— he surveyed the burning end of his cigarette—“if you had time to run down to Wapping yourself, and find out from what direction we ought to look for trouble?”
“Sorry, Grimsby,” I replied; “I would do it with pleasure, but my evening is fully taken up. Personally, it appears to me that Moris Klaw’s warning was a timely one. You seem to be watching the stone pretty closely.”
“Like a cat watches a mouse!” he rapped. “If any one steals the Blue Rajah to-morrow, he’ll be a clever fellow.”Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw
CASE OF THE IVORY STATUE
Where a case did not touch his peculiar interest, appeals to Moris Klaw fell upon deaf ears. However dastardly a crime, if its details were of the sordid sort, he shrank within his Wapping curio-shop as closely as any tortoise within its shell.
“Of what use,” he said to me on one occasion, “are my acute psychic sensibilities to detect who it is with a chopper that has brained some unhappy washerwoman? Shall I bring to bear those delicate perceptions which it has taken me so many years to acquire in order that some ugly old fool shall learn what has become of his pretty young wife? I think not—no!”
Sometimes, however, when Inspector Grimsby of Scotland Yard was at a loss, he would induce me to intercede with the eccentric old dealer, and sometimes Moris Klaw would throw out a hint.
Beyond doubt the cases that really interested him were those that afforded scope for the exploiting of his pet theories; the Cycle of Crime, the criminal history of all valuable relics, the indestructibility of thought. Such a case came under my personal notice on one occasion, and my friend Coram was instrumental in enlisting the services of Moris Klaw. It was, I think, one of the most mysterious affairs with which I ever came in contact, and the better to understand it you must permit me to explain how Roger Paxton, the sculptor, came to have such a valuable thing in his studio as that which we all assumed had inspired the strange business.
It was Sir Melville Fennel, then, who commissioned Paxton to execute a chryselephantine statue. Sir Melville’s museum of works of art, ancient and modern, is admittedly the second finest private collection of the kind in the world. The late Mr. Pierpont Morgan’s alone took precedence.
The commission came as something of a surprise. The art of chryselephantine sculpture, save for one attempt at revival, in Belgium, has been dead for untold generations. By many modern critics, indeed, it is condemned, as being not art but a parody of art.
Given carte-blanche in the matter of cost, Paxton produced a piece of work which induced the critics to talk about a modern Phidias. Based upon designs furnished by the eccentric but wealthy baronet, the statue represented a slim and graceful girl reclining as in exhaustion upon an ebony throne. The ivory face, with its wearily closed eyes, was a veritable triumph, and was surmounted by a head-dress of gold intertwined among a mass of dishevelled hair. One ivory arm hung down so that the fingers almost touched the pedestal; the left hand was pressed to the breast as though against a throbbing heart. Gold bracelets and anklets, furnished by Sir Melville, were introduced into the composition; and, despite the artist’s protest, a heavy girdle, encrusted with gems and found in the tomb of some favourite of a long-dead Pharaoh, encircled the waist. When complete, the thing was, from a merely intrinsic point of view, worth several thousand pounds.
As the baronet had agreed to the exhibition of the statue prior to its removal to Fennel Hall, Paxton’s star was seemingly in the ascendant, when the singular event occurred that threatened to bring about his ruin.
The sculptor gave one of the pleasant little dinners for which he had gained a reputation. His task was practically completed, and his friends had all been enjoined to come early, so that the statue could be viewed before the light failed. We were quite a bachelor party, and I shall always remember the circle of admiring faces surrounding the figure of the reclining dancer—warmed in the soft light to an almost uncanny semblance of fair flesh and blood.
“You see,” explained Paxton, “this composite work although it has latterly fallen into disrepute, affords magnificent scope for decorative purposes; such a richness of colour can be obtained. The ornaments are genuine antiques and of great value—a fad of my patron’s.”
For some minutes we stood silently admiring the beautiful workmanship; then Harman inquired: “Of what is the hair composed?”
Paxton Smiled. “A little secret I borrowed from the Greeks!” he replied, with condonable vanity. “Polyclitus and his contemporaries excelled at the work.”
“That jewelled girdle looks detachable,” I said.
“It is firmly fastened to the waist of the figure,” answered the sculptor. “I defy any one to detach it inside an hour.”
“From a modern point of view the thing is an innovation,” remarked one of the others, thoughtfully.
Coram, curator of the Menzies Museum, who up to the present had stood in silent contemplation of the figure, now spoke for the first time. “The cost of materials is too great for this style of work ever to become popular,” he averred. “That girdle, by the way, represents a small fortune, and together with the anklets, armlets and head-dress, might well tempt any burglar. What precautions do you take, Paxton?”
“Sleep out here every night,” was the reply; “and there is always some one here in the daytime. Incidentally, a curious thing occurred last week. I had just fixed the girdle, which, I may explain, was once the property of Nicris, a favourite of Ramses III., and my model was alone here for a few minutes. As I was returning from the house I heard her cry out, and when I came to look for her she was crouching in a corner trembling. What do you suppose had frightened her?”
“Give it up,” said Harman.
“She swore that Nicris—for the statue is supposed to represent her—had moved!”
“Imagination,” replied Coram; “but easily to be understood. I could believe it, myself, if I were here alone long enough.”
“I fancy,” continued Paxton, “that she must have heard some of the tales that have been circulated concerning the girdle. The thing has a rather peculiar history. It was discovered in the tomb of the dancer by whom it had once been worn; and it is said that an inscription was unearthed at the same time containing an account of Nicris’s death under particularly horrible circumstances. Seton—you fellows know Seton—who was present at the opening of the sarcophagus, tells me that the Arabs, on catching sight of the girdle, all prostrated themselves and then took to their heels. Sir Melville Fennel’s agent sent it on to England, however, and Sir Melville conceived the idea of this statue.”
“Luckily for you,” added Coram.
“Quite so,” laughed the sculptor; and, carefully locking the studio door, he led the way up the short path to the house.
We were a very merry party, and the night was far advanced ere the gathering broke up. Coram and I were the last to depart; and having listened to the voices of Harman and the others dying away as they neared the end of the street, we also prepared to take our leave.
“Just come with me as far as the studio,” said Paxton, “and having seen that all’s well I’ll let you out by the garden door.”
Accordingly, we donned our coats and hats, and followed our host to the end of the garden, where his studio was situated. The door unlocked, we all three stepped inside the place and gazed upon the figure of Nicris—the pallid face and arms seeming almost unearthly in the cold moonlight, wherein each jewel of the girdle and head-dress glittered strangely.
“Of course,” muttered Coram, “the thing’s altogether irregular—a fact which the critics will not fail to impress upon you; but it is unquestionably very fine, Paxton. How uncannily human it is! I don’t entirely envy you your bedchamber, old man!”
“Oh, I sleep well enough,” laughed Paxton. “No luxury, though; just this corner curtained off and a camp bedstead.”
“A truly Spartan couch!” I said. “Well, goodnight, Paxton. We shall probably see you to-morrow—I mean later to-day!”
With that we parted, leaving the sculptor to his lonely vigil at the shrine of Nicris, and as my rooms were no great distance away, some half-hour later I was in bed and asleep.
I little suspected that I had actually witnessed the commencement of one of the most amazing mysteries which ever cried out for the presence of Moris Klaw.Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw
CASE OF THE CRUSADER’S AXE
I have heard people speak of Moris Klaw’s failures. So far as my information bears me, he never experienced any. “What,” I have been asked, “of the Cresping murder case? He certainly failed there.”
Respecting this question of his failure or success in the sensational case which first acquainted the entire country with the existence of Crespie Hall, and that brought the old world village of Cresping into such unwonted prominence, I shall now invite your opinion.
The investigation—the crime having baffled the local men—ultimately was placed in the hands of Detective-Inspector Grimsby; and through Grimsby I was brought into close touch with the matter. I had met Grimsby during the course of the mysterious happenings at the Menzies Museum, and at that time I also had made the acquaintance of Moris Klaw.
Thus, as I sat over my breakfast one morning reading an account of the Cresping murder case, I was no more than moderately surprised to see Inspector Grimsby walk into my rooms.
He declined my offer of a really good Egyptian cigarette. “Thanks all the same,” he said; “but there’s only one smoke I can think on.”
With that he lighted one of the cheroots of which he smoked an incredible quantity, and got up from his chair, restlessly.
“I’ve just run up from Cresping by the early train,” he began abruptly. “You’ve heard all about the murder, of course?”
I pointed to my newspaper, conspicuous upon the front page of which was—
THE MURDER AT CRESPIE HALL
“Ah, yes,” he said, absently. “Well, I’ve been sent down, and to tell you the white and unsullied truth I’m in a knot!”
I passed him a cup of coffee.
“What are the difficulties?” I asked.
“There’s only one,” he rapped back: “who did it!”
“It looks to me a very clear case against Ryder, the ex-butler.”
“So it did to me,” he agreed—“until I got down there! I’d got a warrant in my pocket all ready. Then I began to have doubts!”
“What do you propose to do?”
“Well,” he replied, “it wouldn’t do any good to make a mistake in a murder case; so what I should like to do would be to get another opinion—not official, of course!”
I glanced across at him.
“Mr. Moris Klaw?”
“You’ve changed your opinion respecting him?”
“Mr. Searles, his investigation of the Menzies Museum outrages completely stood me on my head! I’m not joking. I’d always thought him a crank, and in some ways I think so still; but at seeing through a brick wall I’d put all I’ve got on Moris Klaw any day!”
“But surely you are wasting time by coming to me?”
“No, I’m not,” said Grimsby, confidently. “Moris Klaw, for all his retiring habits, is not a man that wants his light hidden under a bushel! He knows that you are collecting material about his methods, and he’s more likely to move for you than for me.”
I saw through Grimsby’s plan. He wanted me to invite Moris Klaw to look into the Crespie murder case, in order that he (Grimsby) might reap any official benefit accruing without loss of self-esteem! I laughed.
“All right, Grimsby!” I said. “Since he has made no move, voluntarily, it may be that the case does not interest him; but we can try.”
Accordingly, having consulted an A.B.C. we presently entrained for Wapping, and as a laggard sun began to show up the dinginess and the dirtiness of that locality, sought out a certain shop, whose locale I shall no more closely describe than in saying that it is close to Wapping Old Stairs.
One turns down a narrow court, with a blank wall on the right and a nailed-up doorway and boarded-up window on the left. Through the cracks of the latter boarding, the inquiring visitor may catch a glimpse, beyond a cavernous place which once was some kind of warehouse, of Old Thames tiding muddily.
The court is a cul de sac. The shop of Moris Klaw occupies the blind end. Some broken marble pedestals stand upon the footway, among seatless chairs, dilapidated chests and a litter of books, stuffed birds, cameos, ink-stands, swords, lamps, and other unclassifiable rubbish. A black doorway yawns amid the litter.
Imagine Inspector Grimsby and I as entering into this singular Cumean cave.
Our eyes, at first, failed to penetrate the gloom. All about moved rustling suggestions of animal activity. The indescribable odour of old furniture assailed our nostrils together with an equally indescribable smell of avian, reptilian, and rodent life.
“Moris Klaw! Moris Klaw! the devil’s come for you!”Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw
CASE OF THE POTSHERD OF ANUBIS
In examining the mass of material which I have collated respecting Moris Klaw, several outstanding facts strike me, as being worthy of some special notice.
For instance, an unusual number of the cases in which he was concerned centred about curios and relics of various kinds. His personal tastes (he was, I think, primarily, an antiquarian) may have led him to examine such cases in preference to others. Then again, no two of his acquaintances agree upon the point of Moris Klaw’s actual identity and personality. He was a master of disguise; and the grand secret of his life was one which he jealously guarded from all.
But was the Moris Klaw who kept the curio-shop in Wapping the real Moris Klaw? And to what extent did he believe in those psychical phenomena upon which professedly his methods were based? As particularly bearing upon this phase of the matter, I have selected, for narration here, the story of the potsherd.
Since the Boswell, in records of this kind, has often appeared, to my mind, to overshadow the Johnson, I have decided to present this episode in the words of Mr. J.E. Wilson Clifford, electrical engineer, of Copthall House, Copthall Avenue, E.C., to whom I am indebted for a full and careful account. I do not think I could improve upon his paper, and my own views might unduly intrude upon the story; therefore, with your permission, I will vacate the rostrum in favour of Mr. Clifford, for whom I solicit your attention.
MR. CLIFFORD’S STORY OF THE EGYPTIAN POTSHERD
During the autumn of 19__, I was sharing a pleasant set of rooms with Mark Lesty, who was shortly taking up an appointment at a London hospital, and it was, I think, about the middle of that month, that the extraordinary affair of Halesowen and his Egyptian potsherd came under our notice.
Our rooms (they were in a south-west suburb) overlooked a fine expanse of Common. Halesowen rented a flat commanding a similar prospect; and, at the time of which I write, he had but recently returned from a protracted visit to Egypt.
Halesowen was a tall, fair man, clean-shaven, very fresh coloured and wearing his hair cropped close to his head. He was well travelled, and no mean antiquary. He lived entirely by himself; and Lesty and I frequently spent the evening at his place, which was a veritable museum of curiosities. I distinctly recall the first time that he showed us his latest acquisitions.
Both the windows were wide open and the awning fluttered in the slight breeze. Dusk was just descending, and we sat looking out over the Common and puffing silently at our briars. We had been examining the relics that Halesowen had brought back from the land of the Pharaohs, the one, I remember, which had most impressed me, tyro that I was, being the mummy of a sacred cat from Bubastis.
“It wouldn’t have been worth bringing back only for the wrapping,” Halesowen assured me. “This, now, is really unique.”
The object referred to was a broken pot or vase, upon which he pointed out a number of hieroglyphics and a figure with the head of a jackal. “A potsherd inscribed with the figure of Anubis,” he explained. “Very valuable.”
“Why?” Lesty inquired, in his lazy way.
“Well,” Halesowen replied, “the characters of the inscription are of a kind entirely unfamiliar to me. I believe them to be a sort of secret writing, possibly peculiar to some brotherhood. I am risking expert opinion, although in every sense, I stole the thing!”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“Well, Professor Sheraton—you’ll see his name on a row of cases in the B.M.—excavated it. But it’s a moral certainty he didn’t intend to advise the authorities of his find. He was going to smuggle it out of Egypt into his private collection. I had marked the spot where he found it for inquiries of my own. This dishonest old fossil—”
“Oh! my own motives weren’t above suspicion! But any way the Professor anticipated me. Accordingly, I employed one Ali, a distinguished member of a family of thieves, to visit the learned gentleman’s tent! Cutting the story—there’s the pot!”
“Here! I say!” drawled Lesty. “You’ll come to a bad end, young fellow!”
“The position is a peculiar one,” replied Halesowen, smiling. “Neither of us had any legal claim to the sherd—whilst we were upon Egyptian territory. Therefore, even if the Professor learnt that I had the thing—and he may suspect—he couldn’t prosecute me!”
“Devilish high-handed!” commented Lesty.
“Yes. But remember we were well off the map—miles away from Cook’s route. The possession of this potsherd ought to make a man’s reputation—any man who knows a bit about the subject. Curiously enough, a third party had had his eye upon the place where this much-sought sherd was found. And in some mysterious fashion he tumbled to the fact that it had fallen into my hands. He made a sort of veiled offer of a hundred pounds for it. I refused, but ran across him again, a week or so later, in Cairo, and he raised his price to two hundred.”
“That’s strange,” I said. “Who was he?”
“Called himself Zeda—Dr. Louis Zeda. He quite lost his temper when I declined to sell, and I’ve not set eyes on him since.”
He relocked the fragment in his cabinet, and we lapsed into silence, to sit gazing meditatively across the Common, picturesque in the dim autumn twilight.
“By the way, Halesowen,” I said, “I see that the flat next door, same floor as this, is to let.”
“That’s so,” he replied. “Why don’t you men take it?”
“We’ll think about it,” yawned Lesty, stretching his long limbs. “Might look over it in the morning.”
The following day we viewed the vacant flat, but found, upon inquiry of the agent, that it had already been let. However, as our own rooms suited us very well, we were not greatly concerned. Just as we finished dinner the same evening, Halesowen came in, and, without preamble, plunged into a surprising tale of uncanny happenings at his place.
“Take it slow,” said Lesty. “You say it was after we came away?”
“About an hour after,” replied Halesowen. “I had brought out the potsherd, and had it in the wooden stand on the table before me. I was copying the hieroglyphics, which are unusual, and had my reading-lamp burning only, the rest of the room being consequently in shadow. I was sitting with my back to the windows, facing the door, so no one could possibly have entered the room unseen by me. It was as I bent down to scrutinise a badly defaced character that I felt a queer sensation stealing over me, as though some one were standing close behind my chair, watching me!”
“Very common,” explained Lesty; “merely nerves.”
“Yes, I know; but not what followed. The sensation became so pronounced, that I stood up. No one was in the room. I determined to take a stroll, concluding that the fresh air would clear these uncanny cobwebs out of my brain. Accordingly, I extinguished the lamp and went out. I was just putting my cap on, when something prompted me to return and lock up the potsherd.”
He fixed his eyes upon us with an expression of doubt.
“There was some one, or something, in the room!”Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw
CASE OF THE TRAGEDIES IN THE GREEK ROOM
When did Moris Klaw first appear in London? It is a question which I am asked sometimes and to which I reply: To the best of my knowledge, shortly before the commencement of the strange happenings at the Menzies Museum.
What I know of him I have gathered from various sources; and in these papers, which represent an attempt to justify the methods of one frequently accused of being an insane theorist, I propose to recount all the facts which have come to my knowledge. In some few of the cases I was personally though slightly concerned; but regard me merely as the historian and on no account as the principal or even minor character in the story. My friendship with Martin Coram led, then, to my first meeting with Moris Klaw—a meeting which resulted in my becoming his biographer, inadequate though my information unfortunately remains.
It was some three months after the appointment of Coram to the curatorship of the Menzies Museum that the first of a series of singular occurrences took place there.
This occurrence befell one night in August, and the matter was brought to my ears by Coram himself on the following morning. I had, in fact, just taken my seat at the breakfast table, when he walked in unexpectedly and sank into an armchair. His dark, cleanshaven face looked more gaunt than usual and I saw, as he lighted the cigarette which I proffered, that his hand shook nervously.
“There’s trouble at the Museum!” he said abruptly. “I want you to run around.”
I looked at him for a moment without replying, and, knowing the responsibility of his position, feared that he referred to a theft from the collection.
“Something gone?” I asked.
“No; worse!” was his reply.
“What do you mean, Coram?”
He threw the cigarette, unsmoked, into the hearth. “You know Conway?” he said; “Conway, the night attendant. Well—he’s dead!”
I stood up from the table, my breakfast forgotten, and stared incredulously. “Do you mean that he died in the night?” I inquired.
“Yes. Done for, poor devil!”
“Without a doubt, Searles! He’s had his neck broken!”
I waited for no further explanations, but, hastily dressing, accompanied Coram to the Museum. It consists, I should mention, of four long, rectangular rooms, the windows of two overlooking South Grafton Square, those of the third giving upon the court that leads to the curator’s private entrance, and the fourth adjoining an enclosed garden attached to the building. This fourth room is on the ground floor and is entered through the hall from the Square, the other three, containing the principal and more valuable exhibits, are upon the first floor and are reached by a flight of stairs from the hall. The remainder of the building is occupied by an office and the curator’s private apartments, and is completely shut off from that portion open to the public, the only communicating door—an iron one—being kept locked.
The room described in the catalogue as the “Greek Room” proved to be the scene of the tragedy. This room is one of the two overlooking the Square and contains some of the finest items of the collection. The Museum is not open to the public until ten o’clock, and I found, upon arriving there, that the only occupants of the Greek Room were the commissionaire on duty, two constables, a plain-clothes officer and an inspector—that is, if I except the body of poor Conway.
He had not been touched, but lay as he was found by Beale, the commissionaire who took charge of the upper rooms during the day, and, indeed, it was patent that he was beyond medical aid. In fact, the position of his body was so extraordinary as almost to defy description.
There are three windows in the Greek Room, with wall-cases between, and, in the gap corresponding to the east window and just by the door opening into the next room, is a chair for the attendant. Conway lay downward on the polished floor with his limbs partly under this chair and his clenched fists thrust straight out before him. His head, turned partially to one side, was doubled underneath his breast in a most dreadful manner, indisputably pointing to a broken neck, and his commissionaire’s cap lay some distance away, under a table supporting a heavy case of vases.
So much was revealed at a glance, and I immediately turned blankly to Coram.
“What do you make of it?” he said.
I shook my head in silence. I could scarce grasp the reality of the thing; indeed, I was still staring at the huddled figure when the doctor arrived. At his request we laid the dead man flat upon the floor, to facilitate an examination, and we then saw that he was greatly cut and bruised about the head and face, and that his features were distorted in a most extraordinary manner, almost as though he had been suffocated.Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw
The Dream-Detective by Sax Rohmer
Published by Jerrods, London 1920
1. THE TRAGEDIES IN THE GREEK ROOM
2. THE POTSHERD OF ANUBIS
3. THE CRUSADER’S AXE
4. THE IVORY STATUE
5. THE BLUE RAJAH
6. THE WHISPERING POPLARS
7. THE HEADLESS MUMMIES
8. THE HAUNTING OF GRANGE
9. THE VEIL OF ISIS
Beginning tonight, and for the following nine weeks, Sax Rohmer’s The Dream-Detective will be republished here. To my knowledge, this is the first time these out of copyright stories have been made available on the internet. Written between 1913-1914, revised and collected in book form in 1920, these stories follow the exploits of Moris Klaw, antiquarian and occult detective, as well as his accomplished daughter Isis, and their various hangers-on and haliographers.
Briefly, my own involvement begins in the attic of my “Aunt Ginny’s” house. (Virginia McElwee, then gold cane holder for oldest resident of Union, ME, passed in 1999. The house is now occupied by my cousin, but for some reason houses in small towns are known by the name of their former occupant.) I recovered the volume herein from a box of badly water-damaged books destined for the library book sale–or, more likely, the dump. It’s in (most of) two pieces, in terrible shape. Unable to lay them flat on a scanner, a year or so ago while researching a short film, I undertook the process of photographing the pages with my phone, feeding the photos into Google Docs for OCR, and reassembling the text. A first editing pass with extensive retyping took a few months, on-and-off. For the next several weeks, watch this space as I complete a more detailed edit, story by story. Once the volume is complete, a printable PDF will also be released.Tags: Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw
I’ve compiled a grid of all of Robert Aickman’s works, published both living and posthumously, and in which volumes they may be found.
Rapidly falling out of memory, Robert Aickman (1914-1981) was a World Fantasy Award-winning writer representing a distinct third branch of horror–neither the Poe-descended grotesque nor Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, but a more psychological, inward version of the weird. Peter Straub wrote: “From the first I understood that he was a deeply original artist. This in no way implies that I understood Aickman immediately, because I didn’t. Sometimes I would look up at the end of a story, feeling that the whole thing had just twisted itself inside out and turned into smoke–I had blinked, and missed it all.”
Based on the above survey, I’ve ordered for myself good-condition used copies of The Unsettled Dust, Cold Hand in Mine and The Wine Dark Sea for about $50 total. These seem to represent a strong sampling of his work, with little overlap, and their print runs are recent enough to be available. Most of Aickman’s older collections have long since fallen out of print, and been culled from libraries. The Boston Public Library’s Copley Square branch offers only a single copy of Night Voices for circulation, available at the delivery desk. His stories have been anthologized in numerous collections, mostly out of print. CBC radio did a respectable half-hour dramatisation of “Ringing the Changes,” which is available on YouTube. Ideal would of course be to obtain the two volume Collected Strange Stories, but with only a 500-copy limited run in 1999, one would need to be somewhat more obsessive and far wealthier than me–to the tune of $500 plus–to secure one.Tags: robert aickman, sfw, tabulation
Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel’s Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling suffers from an excess of exegesis. Half again as many primary documents could have been included in the same number of pages if not for the long, often redundant introductory remarks to each entry. It is, never the less, a fascinating snapshot of an era fast dropping out of living (or accurate) memory. Did you know that more Republicans supported abortion decriminalization than Democrats in the late ’60s? More Catholics than Protestants? That there were clergy organizations dedicated to helping women to obtain safe clinical abortions?
This was an era when “the pill” was new and relatively dangerous. When it wasn’t known that 60-80% of fertilized eggs are rejected by the human body. When a woman would be required by her university to withdraw if she became pregnant, and a woman had no recourse to being fired over a pregnancy. When rape of a woman by her spouse did not exist as a legal concept. It was an era when the social status of an unmarried pregnant woman was vastly lower than it is even today.
A variety of voices and arguments came forth, and I’ve included a number of passages that struck me below. What I didn’t find in Before Roe were a variety of arguments from the opposition to decriminalization. Whether this is a result of the editors’ decisions, or an accurate reflection of the intellectual climate I can’t say. All counterarguments presented seemed to rest on one unstated major assumption: That at the moment of fusion the egg and sperm cell become the moral equivalent of an adult human being. Here is the most succinct attempt to argue the assertion I could find in the text:
“….NRLC sees no point in belaboring the scientifically obvious. Life begins at conception and for practical medical purposes can be scientifically verified within 14 days. Within three weeks, at a point much before the ‘quickening’ can be felt by the mother, the fetus manifests a working heart, a nerve system, and a brain different from and independent of the mother in whose womb he resides; the unborn fetus is now a living human being. It is universally agreed that life has begun by the time the mother realizes she is pregnant and asks her doctor to perform an abortion.”
On closer reading, the National Right to Life Committee here gives only a definition. But just as the watchful parent deprives the child of less and less of her liberty as she develops, the transition from cell to human being would seem logically to be a gradient, absent some metaphysical concept of Creation. (Logically to me at least, but it is my web page. And I really am trying to understand.)
The passages follow.
“We continue to believe that birth control should not be based upon a lottery system; i.e. if your means of control breaks down you lose, and gain a child. After all, if a couple does not desire a child, that should be that. It is not a game. Children are not meant to be a punishment…”
“…Women are the passive objects that somehow must be regulated–thalidomide, rape, incest, what have you, you know. What right have they to say? What right has any man to say to any woman: you must bear this child?”
“Seventh, the law violates the First Amendment prohibition against laws establishing a religion. This argument refers partly to the role of the Catholic Church in opposing abortion reform, and partly to the broader issue of imposing by law upon a woman a belief about the nature of life that is not necessarily her own. In his senior paper at N.Y.U. Lucas had written: ‘If a woman believes that life began in the “prehistoric slime” and is not created but only passed along by conception and that a fetus in early development need not be accorded a right to continue growing within her body, she is nonetheless prohibited from acting freely on that belief.'”
“In the 1820s, New York’s lawmakers decided to gather the diverse common law provisions into a modern, unified code of law. The commissioners appointed to this task changed the common law regarding abortion, and made abortion before quickening a misdemeanor and abortion [after] quickening a felony, except when necessary to preserve the life of the mother. Means tried to discover why the revisers had changed the common law, and he thinks he has found the reason in a section of the proposed revisions that the Legislature did not adopt: a prohibition against all surgery, unless necessary to save the patient’s life.
Based on New York hospital records of those day, before the era of antiseptic surgery, about 30 percent of all serious operations, including abortion, resulted in death. During the same period, the death rate from childbirth was about 2 percent.
…In the United States, the maternal mortality rate, excluding deaths from abortion, is about 23 per 100,000, making abortion statistically almost 8 times safer than a term pregnancy instead of 15 times more dangerous.”
“Illegal abortions are the single largest cause of maternal death in the United States. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that virtually no deaths result when an abortion is conducted in accordance with proper medical procedures. Tietze and Lewit, in the January 1969 Scientific American state that hundreds of thousands of illegal abortions are done each year. Many authorities believe, however, that the figure should be a million to a million-and-a-half.
Most abortions are done on unwed girls or women who are married and who already have at least one child. It is generally believed that one out of every five pregnancies ends in abortion; that one out of every five women will have an abortion by the time she is 45. Most of the forty-one women who died in New York City as a result of illegal abortions during the last two years were married and left children behind….”
“Under the distinguished leadership of retired Court of Appeals Judge Charles W. Froessel, the select committee found that the then existing, 19th-century, near-total prohibition against abortion was fostering hundreds of thousands of illegal and dangerous abortions. It was discriminating against women of modest means who could not afford an abortion haven and the often frightened, unwed, confused young women. It was promoting hypocrisy and, ultimately, human tragedy.
I supported the majority recommendations of the Froessel committee throughout the public debate of this issue extending over three years, until the Legislature acted to reform the state’s archaic abortion law. I can see no justification now for repealing this reform and thus condemning hundreds of thousands of women to the dark age once again.”
“I am Francis Harwood, Assistant Professor of Anthropology. I live in Middletown, Connecticut. I would like to say that a number of speakers today have stressed the control by women over their own bodies. I would be for this entirely. However, it is often out of our hands. I was assaulted and raped six years ago. I was impregnated at that time. I then had to make a decision. I did not want the child. I did not think I could care for it and so I went and obtained an abortion. I had five hundred dollars in my savings, luckily. For those who don’t, things can get and be much worse. You go, you put the cash on the barrelhead and it is then done, often without any anesthesia. In my case, the abortionist insisted on further intercourse. This is not something a woman should be subjected to….”
“The existence of a woman’s constitutional right to such privacy has been set forth by the Supreme Court. Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972); Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). Indeed, Baird may have anticipated the outcome of cases such as this when the Court observed:
‘If the right to privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.'”
“If the fetus survives the period of gestation, it will be born and then become a person entitled to the legal protections of the Constitution. But its capacity to become such a person does not mean that during gestation it is such a person. The unfertilized ovum also has the capacity to become a living human being, but the Constitution does not endow it with rights which the state may protect by interfering with the individual’s choice of whether the ovum will be fertilized. Griswold.
“It is obvious that the legislative decision forbidding abortions also destroys potential life–that of the pregnant woman–just as a legislative decision to permit abortions destroys potential life. The question then becomes not one of destroying or preserving potential, but one of who shall make the decision. Obviously some decisions are best left to a representative process since individual decisions on medical facilities, wars, or the release of a convict would tend toward the chaotic. It is our contention that the decision on abortion is exactly the opposite. A representative or majority decision making process has led to chaos. Indeed, in the face of two difficult, unresolvable choices–to destroy life potential in either a fetus or its host–the choice can only be left to one of the entities whose potential is threatened.
The above argument is perhaps only another way of stating that when fundamental rights are infringed upon, the State bears the burden of demonstrating a compelling interest for doing so. The question of the life of the fetus versus the woman’s right to choose whether she will be the host for that life is incapable of answer through the legislative fact-finding process. Whether one considers the fetus a human being is a problem of definition rather than fact. Given a decision which cannot be reached on the basis of fact, the State must give way to the individual for it can never bear its burden of demonstrating that facts exist which set up a compelling state interest for denying individual rights.”
“A doctor has a direct, personal, substantial interest for his decision may send him to jail. Not only does the State prevent the physician from making an impartial decision about terminating his patient’s pregnancy, it unfairly influences this decision in a shocking way. The State says that only if the physician wrongly decides that the operation is needed to preserve her life is he criminally liable. If he wrongly decided the operation is not needed to preserve her life, he is subject to no criminal penalties. The State of Texas thus requires that all errors in a doctor’s evaluation of his patient’s need for termination of pregnancy be on the side of her death…”
“Certain assumptions must be made and constitutionally accepted to find that there is a basis of rationality to the exclusion of the above-mentioned classes of women from the statute’s protection. One is that human-life begins with fertilization of egg by sperm. Another is that this ‘life’ is equivalent to the life of the woman, and the life-saving exception to the abortion law is a rational balancing of interests by the state, analogous to the laws of self-defense.
It is remarkable that the existence of a one-day-old fetus is to be equaled with the life of a grown woman. The woman is–beyond doubt–a human being, one upon whom other human beings (husbands, children, etc.) depend in a variety of ways essential to the sanctity of the family, and whose impaired health may be critically disruptive to that family; or one who may not have consented to sexual intercourse made felonious by the state, yet who is forced to bear the consequences of that same felonious act. This equivalency of interest between a microscopic embryo and the woman who bears it must be assumed in the Texas law, however, since that statute draws no line, such as viability, as the time to invoke the state’s protection.”
“The religious view that the product of every conception is sacred may not validly be urged by the States as a justification for limiting the exercise of constitutional liberties of all persons to conduct their private lives without unwarranted governmental interference.”
“Let us assume, for the time being, that the pregnant woman and the fetus she carried within her body have come before the law as equal ‘persons.’ …[T]he laws prohibiting and regulating abortion, unlike all other laws in respect of persons, compel this pregnant woman to breathe, process food, and donate blood for the sustenance of another human entity, either fully or partially developed. In no other instance does the law give another human–even a fully developed human–a right to life beyond that which the person himself can sustain.”
Words by Will Self. Illustrations by Ralph Steadman.
The sequel to Psychogeography. Another long essay (this time on Dubai) followed by collected columns on the theme of “psychogeography” — the intersection of psychology and location. Rereading the first volume, it’s not my imagination that the essays are less focused in Too, but it’s an intriguing read. Steadman is best known as Hunter Thompson’s illustrator, but this book again confirms that while Thompson may have begun to decline by the late ’70s, Steadman never even slowed down.
A few snippets:
You will die in a hotel room — I will die in a hotel room; we will all die in a hotel room, because at the moment of death — with Larry King on CNN, looking like Kermit the Frog, and with angels playing the worst muzak ever — you, me — we — will all realize that our accommodation has always been temporary. I showered in the desalinated Arabian Sea, turned off the air conditioning and swooned in the homogeneity. Dawn swam down on me through dynasties of dreams — couplings of eunuchs and multiple wives, real-estate agents hard-selling me office space in the seraglio — I went to the window and looked out across the residential suburb of Al Sufouh, to where on the horizon sunlight gilded the Burj Al Arab, and for a moment you could almost believe it was a minaret and this was a populous city with a human scale. (p. 43-44)
The hermit who most influenced my own life was called Peter Buxton. He lived in a curious hut which adjoined the even more curious cottage of an old friend of my father’s in a Suffolk seaside village. Creek Cottage was a series of ramshackle wooden extensions bolted on to an inner sanctum of ordinary brickwork. In the extensions bunk beds were fabricated at odd angles and inappropriate heights, many of them furnished with their own bookshelves and plant boxes. You could lie all day under an exploding eiderdown, reading Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography and listening to the creak of weatherboarding, while the tendrils of a spider plant tickled your nose. Or else venture outside into a soused world of salt-water creeks, reed beds and sand dunes, with a derelict windmill in the mid-distance signalling the victory of the elements. (p. 83, 85)
Ah! Dancing — it’s wasted on the young. When you’re a young man, in the full blush of burgeoning sexuality, dancing can be a bit of a torment. As I bopped to ‘Killer Queen’ in my asinine, bell-bottomed trousers, I could never quite rid myself of the suspicion that my every spasm and contortion was being filmed by secret cameras, and that soon this footage would be screened in the local Odeon, so that all my so-called friends could come along to laugh and point.
True, young women seem to dance quite happily together, but I don’t believe them to be where they physically are when they do it. Rather, they are transported into a parallel bower, and here they frolic, like stateless naiads. The male dancer is an agonized demonstration of putative prowess, a mapping out of desire: ‘Come to my place,’ the he-bee buzzes, ‘I’ve got lots of alcoholic honey.’ By contrast, the dancing queens are so many pretty blooms all in a row. The more they move, the more they remain static, luring us insects into their flytraps. (p. 135)
When night falls, we leap into our Chrysler MPVs and race in convoy through the faux-adobe towns and parched hillocks of the hinterland, to where temporary car park attendants wave torches, assigning Porsches and Ferraris to the dusty ditch. We debouch, and follow soused starlets, tottering like newborn foals on high-hoofs, into parties organized for friendless internet billionaires by unpopular retail millionaires. Barmen mix mojitos with all the time in the world, while you wait in a queue of hair care product tycoons and Russian wives-by-the-hour. A man taps you on the shoulder: he once sold you a shirt, in Soho, in the last millennium. (p. 79, 82)