Chapter 94

In the following month, Betty arranged two lectures on the Law of Thelema in her house and brought a number of friends to seek my assistance.

One such introduction proved pregnant with fate. A brilliant boy, just down from Oxford, where he had distinguished himself by his attainments in history, had long wished to meet me. For over two years, he had studied my magical writings with the utmost enthusiasm and intelligence. His character was extraordinary. He possessed every qualification for becoming a Magician of the first rank. I designed him from the first interview to be my magical heir. He possessed, of course, the defects of these qualities.

His daring had made him reckless, and his insight contemptuous of phenomena. He had thus been notorious at Oxford as the leader of madcap escapades, in one of which, escaping from the proctors, he had taken a leap in the dark and landed on a spike which transfixed his thigh. He lay between life and death for some months and was still weak from the effects of the loss of blood. Even worse, perceiving the splendour of his soul, he refused to be daunted by its sheath, which led him to commit the fatal folly of marrying a girl whom he had met in a sordid and filthy drinking den in Soho, called the Harlequin, which was frequented by self-styled artists and their female parasites. One of these went by the name of Betty May. Born in a slum in the East End, she had become an artist's model of the most vicious kind. She had been married and divorced, remarried and widowed by the war. In her childhood an accident had damaged her brain permanently so that its functions were discontinuous, and she had not mended matters by taking to cocaine at the age of about twenty. After some years of addiction, she found herself using a quarter of an ounce or more daily. She suddenly took fright and cured herself by switching over, first to injections of morphia, and then to plain alcohol. She made no secret of this, and I admired her immensely for her frankness about it and her superb courage in curing herself. She was a charming child, tender and simple of soul.

Yet with all that, Raoul should not have married her. It meant the sterilization of the genius of success in life. Already the evil effects were manifest. His university career was closed. The friends who might have helped him refused to succour a man who had deliberately cut himself off from decency. The mere fact of marriage, had his wife been a duke's daughter, disqualified him for most of the positions which otherwise might have been open. His parents were poor, self-made and at that only on the fringe of the middle {904} classes. They could not help out. He had struggled along by getting odd articles into various papers. He and Betty lived in one filthy room in Fitzroy Street, a foul, frowsty, verminous den, stinking of the miasma of that great class who scrape through the years by dint of furtive cunning in dubious avocations. They were living from hand to mouth, with disaster eternally looming ahead, and the whisper of hope more faint and feeble as each effort ended in failure.

Again, I thought I saw the design of the gods. This was the man I had needed for the last ten years, a man with every gift that a Magus might need, and already prepared for initiation by practically complete knowledge, not only of the elements but of the essence of Magick.

I wasted no time. I urged him to join me and work with me until his initiation was complete. My proposal not only fulfilled the holiest hope of his soul, but solved his material problem. In the abbey he would be able to make himself a career as a writer as he could not hope to do in the loathsome surroundings of slum life in London. His health, too, demanded urgently a complete change. He had already been ill at frequent intervals. During October the foulness of Fitzroy Street fastened its foetid fangs on his throat. Both he and Betty escaped death by a hairbreadth. It decided him to accept my offer which I had renewed in a long letter written from Rome. I was equally anxious to rescue him for the verminous vagabonds, squalid and obscene, who constituted the court of Queen Betty. He had taken me to the Harlequin one night. In a corner was his wife, three parts drunk, on the knees of a dirty-faced loafer, pawed by a swarm of lewd hogs, breathless with lust. She gave herself greedily to their gross and bestial fingerings and was singing in an exquisite voice, which might have put her among brinces, an interminable smutty song, with a ribald chorus in which they all joined, hoarse and harsh from drink and disease. The beauty and charm of the girl, the pure music of her notes, emphasized the contrast with the incarnated filth that swarmed over her. I expected an explosion. In Raoul's place, I should have fallen like a thunderbolt on the swine and driven them into the street, taken my wife straight home, washed her and thrashed her, and told her that if it happened again I was through. But he, poor innocent lad, took it all as a matter of course.

I am not a prude, as I hope this book may prove. But passion is one thing and dirt another. In my letter from Rome, I wrote the naked truth — that an Oxford man should look after his wife and that if he mixed with such creatures infection was inevitable. I think my straight speaking opened his eyes. He collected the necessary cash and came to the abbey. Betty had done her best to hold him in London. Her only idea of life was this wallowing in the hog trough nuzzled by the snouts of the swine of Soho.

The success of Betty Dartnell in her spiritual work increased her enthusiasm {905} at first, and I was still so young in experience that it surprised me one day, when she came into my room full of rubbishy rigmarole purporting to come from some angel. “Have you learnt nothing in all this time?” said I. It was all no good. The verbose pomposity and extravagant promises of the false meant more to her than the calm wisdom of the true. Having fallen on one plane the others were sympathetically affected. Next day she was hopelessly drunk, broke her evening appointment to work with me and went to the Harlequin. She brought home half a dozen drunken wastrels and their female friends with a supply of whisky. They drank themselves into a stupor and slept all over the house like so many swine. The debauch produced the usual reaction. Betty Dartnell repented and promised never to do it again. But she would not do the one thing that would have saved her, cut that crowd once and for all. She found excuses for them. She persuaded herself that it was her duty to rescue them, which, of course, only meant that subconsciously she craved the oblivion of the mire.

Needless to say, I did not repeat the warning. I concentrated on my work, ready to welcome her back to comradeship whenever she chose. But she began to see me as a skeleton at the banquet. I was an avatar of her conscience. She accordingly did what people who are determined to follow the primrose path always do with conscience. She avoided me when she could and insulted me when she couldn't, with the ultimate aim of eliminating me entirely. In this, of course, Sheila abetted her eagerly.

It had been understood that Betty Dartnell was to come with me to Cefalu as soon as the necessary arrangements could be made. The proposal was advantageous to her in every way. Spiritual progress, moral reconstruction, physical welfare and economic freedom. She was to come provisionally for three months and then consider further plans. In these circumstances, I felt free to borrow twenty pounds from her. For this I gave her my note due at the end of October on the understanding that, should I be unable through any misfortune to repay her, it should be regarded as an advance on her dues to the abbey. Only a few days later came her relapse and from that time she did all in her power to prevent my bringing off any of my business deals. It was, therefore, entirely her own fault that I could not meet the note on the date it fell due. I explained the position and she had a generous movement of real regret that her moral collapse had injured me as well as herself. She promised amendment and said that she would come to Cefalu as soon as possible, the twenty pounds being put to her credit. Yet the next day she was again attacked by hysteria. Sheila took advantage of her half-crazed condition to get her to spend the entire weekend with some friends in the country while she got rid of me.

I had observed this unhappy child with great care, in the hope of finding some remedy for her paranoia. I felt little hope. The mischief was rooted {906} in her essence. She stole right and left both from me and others in the house. It was never possible to prove guilt. The evidence amounted merely to this: that she was known to be a thief and only she had the opportunity in most of the cases. The insane element was manifest; she stole for stealing's sake. She stole things that she could not have sold for sixpence. I suspect that part of her complex was that she enjoyed the annoyance caused by the theft.

Betty once out of the way, Sheila told me a string of the most stupid lies I ever heard, each absurd and incompatible with known facts in itself, and in contradiction with the rest of her remarks. She then proceeded to lock up all the rooms and hide all the keys on ridiculous pretexts so that I could not get at various articles to pack them. I decided, of course, to go elsewhere at the earliest opportunity, and had only stayed at first to satisfy myself that I had done all I possibly could to save Betty from the frightful abyss for which she was heading, and after she had gone, in order to study the psychology of poor Sheila. I saw Betty twice more before leaving London. She had begun to realize what a fool she had been and promised on her honour to join us a month later. We parted in perfect amity but my influence being removed Sheila's plans for destroying her stepmother, body and soul, proceeded gaily. She made her drunk and got in a man from one of the Sunday papers for an interview. Betty was worked up to indignation against me. She twisted all my sayings and doings into evil, and those which involved her co-operation were garbled. Most of her statements were barefaced falsehoods and the rest falsifications of fact. When this filth was published she saw for a moment how vilely she had been induced to act, and wrote to me expressing the bitterest remorse; but at the same time pleading that they had reported her falsely. I begged her to make amends in the only possible way; by coming forward publicly and testifying under oath to the falsehood of the allegations. Alas, poor Betty! It has been the curse of her life that she cannot act decisively.

Sheila had still one more chance to steal from me and she took it. She knew where I had sent my property to be warehoused, and guessing that I had left in London such things as were useless in Sicily, rang up the warehouseman, announced herself as Mrs Crowley, and told them to send to her the goods they where holding to my order.

It does not say much for the regulations of the firm that this transparent trick succeeded. They had strict instructions to hold the goods to my order or Hammond's, and it was certainly a shock to find that they would part with property entrusted to their safekeeping on the unsupported statement of an unknown person that she was my wife.

I must now retrace my steps to the summer. Austin Harrison has a house in Seaford where he lives with his wife, a charming lady whom he had {907} successfully removed from the protection of her previous husband. He worked the scheme with extraordinary ability. A man of his prominence in London might expect the fullest details in every newspaper of a divorce case in which he was co-respondent. But he managed the matter so craftily that only a few of his intimate friends even got wind of the game.

When in London, he had his rooms in the house of a man named Robinson Smith, a retired concert agent with a wife apparently selected in order to prevent him imagining that life is nothing but music. I met him at Seaford one day after playing golf with Harrison. Nothing much transpired but later in London, he suddenly appeared in the character of a brother adept. His attainments were considerable, though his knowledge was unsystematic and his judgment correspondingly unbalanced. But his genius and his enthusiasm warmed the cockles of my heart. His idea of helping humanity was through social simplification and economic readjustment, with corresponding rectifications in other directions. He allowed his inspiration too much liberty. It being late in life when he devoted himself exclusively to the Great Work, he had not learned that Pegasus should be ridden on the curb when riding out with friends who bestrode spavined hacks. Harrison constantly hinted he was insane. This he was not. But I thought that his friend and his wife were conspiring to put him into an asylum; in fact I was definitely warned by the Secret Chiefs of his danger, and wrote in veiled language, in view of his mail being tampered with, to put him on his guard.

To his kindness I owed it that I was able to leave London at all. He paid me a month in advance for his proposed visit to Cefalu at Christmas.

At his house in Gordon Square occurred a most amusing incident, the climax of a whole series. It started thus. H. L. Mencken had written me to expect his visit on a certain date. We had corresponded a good deal while I was in America. But he lived in Baltimore and I managed to miss meeting him. On the day expected I saw in a paper a notice that he had arrived, and went at once to the office of the English Review expecting him to call. No word had arrived so we thought we would hunt him up, and assuming he would be staying at the Savoy, telephoned. “Mr Mencken is at lunch. Please hold on!” Presently he came to the 'phone.

I welcomed him warmly after telling him who I was and made the usual kind inquiries. Yes, he had had a pleasant voyage. Thank you, his health was excellent. Well, of course he was very busy. He couldn't possibly dine that night, but wouldn't we call at the hotel about it? We would and we did. He would be disengaged in five minutes. Would we please wait?

It was the day of Northcliffe's funeral and Harrison got into communication with some friend who had been among the mourners. While thus engaged, Mencken appeared. I greeted him with enthusiasm though not {908} a little surprised at his appearance. I did not expect to see such a giant, so robust and hearty, so rubicund. It was not my idea at all of what the keenest critic in the United States should look like. However, we strolled off to the smoking-room. Harrison would join us in a few minutes. The conversation became fluent and friendly. He ordered the best brandy and the biggest cigars. But, somehow I could not help feeling that his reaction to my remarks was peculiar. Could I possibly have offended him somehow? Impossible; he was friendliness itself! Then why did he fail to catch fire at my suggestions, or even appreciate the cordial compliments with which I interspersed my remarks.

He, on his side, seemed embarrassed. But we had talked quite ten minutes before he said, “You will excuse me, I'm sure; but I don't understand what you mean by that last observation.” This was absurd. It was some perfectly simple straightforward comment on his last book. I began to suspect him of pulling my leg in some supersubtle system invented since my return to Europe. “Are you sure?” he said … and then stopped. “I am not sure of anything,” I retorted, “that's just where a critic of your ability comes in to guide our wanderings.” He apologetically answered that nothing was further from his mind than to criticize anything I said. He agreed entirely; but what he wanted to know was – well, to put it plainly, who I was, and why I had asked to see him? “But you're Mencken!” I gasped. “I certainly am,” he admitted. “Well,” said I, “I'm Aleister Crowley.” He bowed deeply. “I don't doubt it for a second, but as I have not had the pleasure of hearing your name till now — “I saw a great light. “Heaven help me for a fool,” I cried. “You can't be my Mencken at all!” Explanations took place. He was a business man from South Africa. At this moment Harrison strolled up and we all enjoyed the joke over more brandy and still bigger cigars.

When the real Mencken turned up, the tale of the conversation wagged out the message — Jane Burr. This lady had recently arrived in London and created a silly-season scandal by walking about in knickerbockers. On this frail foundation, she had erected a superstructure of sexual ethics which bored the educated, excited the suppressed, and scandalized the orthodox. That night she was to be the lioness at a reception at Robinson Smith's. I said, “What rot this sensation stunt business is. I'll bring a girl who wears knickerbockers for their convenience in playing Thelema and climbing rocks in Sicily. This Miss Burr will look like a model of Madame Tussaud's beside the original.”

I did not know that Jane Burr was to be escorted by Mencken himself, and he told her what I had said. The Ape in her flowered black suit and stockings, wearing the silver and scarlet Star of the Temple, arrived with me and Harrison. Some took her to be Jane Burr, but all were spontaneous in admiration. Her success was due to her having the secret of wearing clothes, {909} oblivious of their existence. She had been acclaimed the Queen of the Evening when Jane Burr arrived. She had realized that she stood no chance against the real thing, put her principles in cold storage and donned her best evening dress. She did her best to oust her rival, but the failure was grotesque. And the worst of the whole thing was that the affair got into the papers. Her recantation had ruined her chance of being taken seriously.

The incidents of my London campaign have constrained me to a somewhat zigzag course. But I think this completes the account. I need add only a brief epitome of my successes.

Besides The Diary of a Drug Fiend and my autohagiography I had contracted with Collins for the publication of Simon Iff. By this they pledged themselves to pay me an advance equivalent to the subscription sales of The Drug Fiend. They promised to let me have this before November 9th. I had also sold to Ralph Shirley the rights of my translation of Eliphas Lévi's La Clef des Grands Mystères in volume form, and he had paid me the advance due. The position was that on leaving London I had about twenty pounds on hand after paying my fare and allowing for bare subsistence on the pledged word of Collins, Hammond and Austin Harrison.

All three failed me! If I have survived, it is that the gods have some further use for me. My own efforts break down every time, and that in circumstances such that the improbability of their doing so is enormous. The one miracle matches the other. If I were even tempted to doubt that my career is planned in every detail by my spiritual superiors with the precision of a chess player whose pieces are powerless to move except at his command, incidents of this surprising kind would bring me back with a jerk to a sense of reality.


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