Chapter 48


Life in the jungle has many incidents of a more frequent and less amusing type. One night, also in a baghla, I got up to get Rose her medicine. I had left the candle on the table some distance from the beds, which was foolish. On lighting it, I discovered without enthusiasm that between me and the bed was a krait some eighteen inches long — and I had walked barefoot over him! A krait can kill you in a very few minutes, though not without producing symptoms of the utmost interest to any serious student of nature. I was entirely helpless; I was reduced to the ingnominous expedient of getting on the table and calling to the servants outside to bring a lamp, precaution and force majeure.

Animals are not the only danger of this district. There are many dangerous diseases, especially tetanus. While I was in Calcutta, an acquaintance of mine, walking home from the theatre, slipped and saved himself by putting his hands to the ground. He scratched himself slightly and died within three days.

There are also terrible thorns. My head tracker came to me one day with one in his foot. The end was protruding and I imagined that I should have no difficulty in pulling it out with forceps. But the thorn was soft as pith. I had to cut open the man's sole along the whole length of the thorn, seven and three quarter inches. His skin was a tough as rawhide, the epidermis a quarter of an inch thick. The thorn had not reached the dermis. It seemed miraculous that it should have penetrated a hide that came near to turn the edge of my surgical knife.

The heaviest weapon and the truest eye and hand may sometimes fail to account for the smallest of God's creatures. I could not understand why my 10-bore Paradox seemed so ineffective against small birds. One day I came across a rat-snake, nineteen feet long, and said, “This time I will bruise your head and I bet you don't bruise my heel.” I was within a few yards of him and fired several times. He moved off with leisurely disgust; he could not imagine what my game could be. Why had I disturbed his sleep? I followed, protesting with further drum fire. He moved lazily beyond the barrage. I am a patient man; but the conduct of this snake insulted and humiliated me. One of the me, his sensitive oriental spirit doubtless observing my distress, went forward and knocked him on the head with a stick. Theoretically, he should have been as full of holes as a lace fichu; but there wasn't a mark on him. It dawned slowly upon my mind that there must be something {382} wrong with my cartridges. When we got to camp, I put up the lid of an old box and fired at it from ten yards, in order to test the penetration of the shot. The pellets did not mark the board; they bounced back and hit me in the face. I reserved my remarks from my return to Colombo.

This event took place on the sixteenth of January. My headman had swindled me outrageously; but there was no remedy. There is no remedy for anything in Ceylon. The whole island is an infamy. It is impossible to get twelve Singalese to agree on any subject whatever, so a majority decision determines the verdict of a jury of seven! Justice is usually done, because it really is the case that the man with the more money is less often wrong than his opponent.

A very curious episode sticks in my memory. General Sit Hector MacDonald was born in a croft on the hillside facing Boleskine across Loch Ness. I consequently took, unasked, an almost paternal interest in his career.

I dropped into the Hotel Regina in Paris one day to lunch. At the next table, also alone, was Sir Hector MacDonald. He recognized me and invited me to join him. He seemed unnaturally relieved; but his conversation showed that he was suffering acute mental distress. He told me that he was on his way to the East. Of course I avoided admitting that I knew his object, which was to defend himself against charges of sexual irregularity brought against him in Ceylon.

The next morning I was amazed to read, in the New York Herald, an outrageously outspoken account of the affair1). On the heels of this came the news that MacDonald had shot himself in the Regina. He was a great simple lion-hearted man with the spirit of a child; with all his experience in the Army, he still took the word honour seriously, and the open scandal of the accusation had struck down his standard.

One incredible detail must be told. The hotel communicated at once with the British Embassy, and the attaché‚ who went down to see the body told Gerald Kelly that MacDonald's pockets were stuffed with obscene photographs! Inquiry showed that he had gone out and bought them that very morning, apparently with no other purpose. The psychology is appallingly obscure. Was his motive to convey some subtly offensive insult to the puritans whose prurience had destroyed him?

So much is in part hearsay and conjecture. What follows is wholly fact. I was sitting at lunch in the Grand Oriental Hotel at Colombo when a procession filled into the room. I have never seen anything quite like it. It was utterly out of the picture. It was composed of genuine antiques with shaking heads, stooping shoulders, slobbering jaws from which hung long {383} white goatish beards, and bleared red eyes that blinked even in the twilight of the luncheon as if the very idea of sunlight was an infernal terror.

I called on the khansamah to tell me if I was suffering from delirium tremens. He told me no; what I saw was really there, and it was some kind of committee from Scotland, and that was all he knew. After lunch I discovered that the Great Heart of Scotland refused to admit that any member of the Kirk could have acquiesced in the amenities of the Anglican clergy. The elders had therefore sent out a committee to vindicate the innocence of MacDonald. I could no less in courtesy than make them feel more at home in Ceylon by revealing myself as an Inverness laird. They opened their hearts to me; they were already discouraged. They told me that the prosecution had the affidavits of no less than seventy-seven native witnesses. “Ah well,” I said. “You don't know much of Ceylon. If there were seven times seventy-seven, I wouldn't swing a cat on their dying oaths. The more unanimous they are, the more it is certain that they have been bribed to lie.” I am really glad to think I cheered to old boys up; and I hope that the succeeded in fixing their hero with a halo, though I never heard what happened.

I always hated Colombo. My diary reads “Weariness. Dentist.” “More weariness and more dentist.” “Throat XOP.” “Doctor.” “Oh sabbé‚ pi dukkham.” “Colombo more and more loathsome. Went up to Kandy.”

Kandy cured my symptoms instantly. The most dreadful thing about Colombo was that two English ladies had descended upon the Galle Face Hotel. They would have seemed extravagant at Monte Carlo; in Ceylon the heavily painted faces, the over-tended dyed false hair, the garish flashy dresses, the loud harsh foolish gabble, the insolent ogling were an outrage. The daughter wore a brooch of what may have been diamonds. It was about five inches across, and the design was a coronet and the name Mabel. I have never seen anything in such abominable taste, and anyhow I wouldn't call a trained flea Mabel, if I respected it.

The intensity of my repulsion makes me suspect that I wanted to make love to her and was annoyed that I was already in love. The gospels do not tell us whether the man who possessed the pearl of great price ever had moments of regret at having given up imitation jewellery. One always subconsciously connects notoriously vile women who flaunt their heartless and sexless seduction with the possibility of some supremely perverse pleasure in nastiness. However, my surface reaction was to shake the dust of Colombo from my feet and to spend my two days in Kandy in writing Why Jesus Wept.

The title is a direct allusion to the ladies in question. I prefaced the play with five dedications to (1) Christ, (2) Lady Scott, (3) my friends (Jinawaravasa, whom I had met once more in Galle, and myself), (4) my unborn child, and (5) Mr. G. K. Chesterton. (He had written a long congratulatory {384} criticism of my The Soul of Osiris.) The idea of the play is to show a romantic boy and girl ambushed and ruined by male and female vampires. It is an allegory of the corrupting influence of society, and the moral is given in the final passage:

I much prefer — that is, mere I —
Solitude to society.
And that is why I sit and spoil
So much clean paper with such toil
By Kandy Lake in far Ceylon.
I have my old pyjamas on:
I shake my soles from Britain's dust;
I shall not go there till I must;
And when I must! — I hold my nose.
Farewell, you filthy-minded people!
I know a stable from a steeple.
Farewell, my decent-minded friends!
I know arc lights from candle-ends.
Farewell-a poet begs your alms,
Will walk awhile among the palms,
An honest love, a loyal kiss,
Can show him better worlds than this;
Nor will he come again to yours
While he knows champak-stars from sewers.

(This play has been analysed in such detail by Captain J. F. C. Fuller in The Star in the West that it would be impertinent of me to discuss it further.)

Rose now felt fairly certain that she was pregnant. But it was not this alone that decided us to turn our faces to the West. We still intended to go to Rangoon and apparently there was absolutely nothing to stop us. But we couldn't go, any more than if it had been the moon. Throughout my life I have repeatedly found that destiny is an absolutely definite and inexorable ruler. Physical ability and moral determination count for nothing. It is impossible to perform the simplest act when the gods say “No”. I have no idea how they bring pressure to bear on such occasions; I only know that it is irresistible. One may be wholeheartedly eager to do something which is as easy as falling off a log; and yet it is impossible.

We left Colombo for Aden, Suez and Port Said on January 28th, intending to see a little of the season in Cairo, of which we had the most delightful memories, and then to sail for England, home and beauty. I had not the slightest idea that I was on the brink of the only event of my life which has made it worth living.

The voyage was as uneventful as most similar voyages are. The one {385} item of interest is that one of our fellow passengers was Dr. Henry Maudsley. This man, besides being one of the three greatest alienists in England, was a profound philosopher of the school which went rather further than Spencer in the direction of mechanical automatism. He fitted in exactly. He was the very man I wanted. We talked about Dhyana. I was quite sure that the attainment of this state, and a fortiori of Samadhi, meant that they remove the inhibitions which repress the manifestations of genius, or (practically the same thing in other words) enable one to tap the energy of the universe.

Now, Samadhi, whatever it is, is at least a state of mind exactly as are deep through, anger, sleep, intoxication and melancholia. Very good. Any state of mind is accompanied by corresponding states of the body. Lesions of the substance of the brain, disturbances of the blood supply, and so on, are observed in apparently necessary relation to these spiritual states. Furthermore, we already know that certain spiritual or mental conditions may be induced by acting on physico- and chemico-physiological conditions. For instance, we can make a man hilarious, angry or what no by giving him whisky. We can induce sleep by administering such drugs as veronal. We can even give him the courage of anaesthesia (if we want him to go over the top) by means of either, cocaine and so on. We can produce fantastic dreams by hashish, hallucinations of colour by anhalonium Lewinii; we can even make him “see stars” by the use of a sandbag. Why then should we not be able to devise some pharmaceutical, electrical or surgical method of inducing Samadhi; create genius as imply as we do other kinds of specific excitement? Morphine makes men holy and happy in a negative way; why should there not be some drug which will produce the positive equivalent?

The mystic gasps with horror, but we really can't worry about him. It is he that is blaspheming nature by postulating discontinuity in her processes. Admit that Samadhi is sui generis and back come the whole discarded humbug of the supernatural. I was back at the old bench exploring the pharmacopoeia for the means of grace, as I had done with Allan long ago; but I had come back to the problem armed in the panopy of the positive natural philosophy of modern science. Huxley had vindicated the alchemists. There was nothing impossible or immoral about the Stone of the Wise and the Elixir of Life. Maudsley — rather to my surprise — agreed with all these propositions, but could not suggest any plausible line of research.

I have made rather a point of mentioning these conversations, because they show that in February 1904, I was an absolutely sceptical rationalistic thinker. The point is that the events of March and April were not in the normal course of the life of a consistent mystic and magician. There was no tendency on my part to accept “divine” interference in my affairs. There was, on the contrary, the bitterest opposition from me. I even went so far as to make unintelligible and false additions to my diary, with the deliberate {386} intention of confusing the record, and perhaps even of making people think me untrustworthy in this stupendous circumstance.

But the gods beat me all round. They took care that the event should not depend on my goodwill; should be beyond the power of my ill-will to thwart. More yet; they have made it evident that they purposely smashed my career as mystic and Magician in the very hour of my success, when the world was at my feet, in order that they might the more utterly demonstrate their power to use me for their own purposes.

We landed at Port Said on Monday, February the eighth, and went to Cairo on the following day. It was part of the plan of the gods that my romantic passion and pride, the intoxicated infatuation of my hymeneal happiness, should have induced me to play a puerile part on the world's stage. I had called myself Count Svareff and Aleister MacGregor fro quite definite and legitimate reasons; but I had never made a deliberate fool of myself by assuming an absurd alias. I was not for a moment deceived by my own pretext that I wanted to study Mohammedism, and in particular the mysticism of the fakir, the Darwesh and the Sufi, from within, when I proposed to pass myself off in Egypt for a Persian prince with a beautiful English wife. I wanted to swagger about in a turban with a diamond aigrette and sweeping silken robes or a coat of cloth of gold, with a jewelled talwar by my side ant two gorgeous runners to clear the way for my carriage through the streets of Cairo.

There was no doubt a certain brooding of the Holy Spirit of Magick upon the still waters of my soul; but there is little evidence of its operation. I have never lost sight of the fact that I was in some sense or other The Beast 666. There is a mocking reference to it in “Ascension Day”, lines 98 to 111. The Sword of Song bears the sub-title “called by Christians the Book of the Beast”. The wrapper of the original edition has on the front a square of nine sixes and the back another square of sixteen Hebrew letters, being a (very clumsy) transliteration of my name so that its numerical value should be 666. When I went to Russia to learn the language for the Diplomatic Service, my mother half believed that I had “gone to see God and Magog” (who were supposed to be Russian giants) in order to arrange the date of the Battle of Armageddon.

In a way, my mother was insane, in the sense that all people are who have watertight compartments to the brain, and hold with equal passion incompatible ideas, and hold them apart lest their meeting should destroy both. One might say that we are all insane in this sense; for, ultimately, any tow ideas are incompatible. Nay, more, any one idea is incompatible with itself, for it contains in itself its own contradiction. (The proof of this thesis will be given in the proper place.)

But my mother believed that I was actually Anti-christ of the Apocalypse {387} and also her poor lost erring son who might yet repent and be redeemed by the Precious Blood.

I conclude my allusion to 66:

Ho! I adopt the number. Look
At the quaint wrapper of this book!
I will deserve it if I can:
It is the number of a Man.

I had thus dismissed my mystical fancies about the number; I accepted it for purely moral reasons and on purely rationalistic grounds. I wanted to be a man in the sense in which the word is used by Swinburne in his Hymn of Man.

Having to choose a Persian name, I made it Chioa Khan (pronounced Hiwa Khan) being the Hebrew for The Beast. (Khan is one of the numerous honorifics common in Asia.) I had no conscious magical intention in doing so. (Let me here mention that I usually called my wife Ouarda, one of the many Arabic words from Rose.)

As to my study of Islam, I got a sheikh to teach me Arabic and the practices of ablution, prayer and so on, so that at some future time I might pass for a Moslem among themselves. I had it in my mind to repeat Burton's journey to Mecca sooner or later. I learnt a number of chapters of the Koran by heart. I never went to Mecca, it seemed rather vieux jeu, but my ability to fraternize fully with Mohammedans has proved of infinite use in many ways.

My sheikh was profoundly versed in the mysticism and magic of Islam, and discovering that I was an initiate, had no hesitation in providing me with books and manuscripts on the Arabic Cabbala. These formed the basis of my comparative studies. I was able to fit them in with similar doctrines and other religions; the correlation is given in my 777.

From this man I learnt also many of the secrets of the Sidi Aissawa; how to run a stiletto through one's cheek without drawing blood, lick redhot swords, eat live scorpions, etc. (Some of these feats are common conjurers' tricks, some depend on scientific curiosities, but some are genuine Magick; that is, the scientific explanation is not generally known. More of this later.)

I was quite fixed in scepticism, as I have always been, but also in so-called rationalism, and I prosecuted these studies in a strictly scholarly spirit. I worked very hard at them and made great progress accordingly; but my true life was still the honeymoon, slightly diluted by the ordinary pleasures of sport and society. I relapsed into golf after some fourteen years' total abstinence; took a few lessons from the pro at the Turf Club, and found that my St. Andrews swing and the canniness inculcated by Andrew Kirkaldy {388} made a fine basis for playing a fairly decent game. We went to Helwan on February 19th; and I played nearly every day, filled with a passionate ambition to become amateur champion. I had picked up my old form so rapidly that I imagined myself a heaven-born golfer. But the game haled its own. I never even got to scratch.

I did a certain amount of pigeon shooting at odd times. I had practised a good deal with clay pigeons at Boleskine and become a really first-class shot. I was also quite good at wild pigeons; but for some reason, trapped pigeons were quite beyond me. I dare not boast that I am even second rate.

One day I joined a party of three to shoot quail, which I recall on account of a singular accident. I was in the middle of the line. A bird got up and flew between me and the man on my right; but I withheld my fire for hear of hitting him. We swung round again; another bird came in the same direction and suddenly dodged and passed on the right. The end man fired. There was a howl. I, having turned to watch the bird, saw the accident clearly. A native had risen from the ground at the moment of the shot. My friend swore that he had not seen him, and I had not seen him myself until I heard him. There was no cover. It seems incredible that my friend at least should not have seen him, for he must have only just missed walking over him, the man being slightly behind our line when the shot was fired. And he was so close to the gun that the shot had not begun to scatter when it stuck him. It had cut a clean narrow groove in the man's shaved scalp, not even laying bare the bone.

I mention this incident, not only on account of its extraordinary features, but to compare it with the “horrors of Denshawai”. The spirit of the natives was entirely friendly. Our administration of Egypt was characterized by paternal firmness; everyone was in the right, everyone respected himself and others; no one complained. Yet, within three years, our prestige had been completely destroyed by the intelligentsia of England — everyone was in the wrong, no one respected himself or anyone else, and every one complained.

I have dwelt on the character of my life at this time in order to emphasize that the event to be recorded in the next section was an absolute bolt from the blue. {389}

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People said: the revenge of a Ceylon Big Bug, whom MacDonald had ordered off the field at some jamboree when he had turned up in mufti.


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