Text by Arthur Machen
Remixed by Bobby Derie
"Yes, the knife is necessary; but think what that knife will effect."
"Certainly. And what about the book?"
"I was forgetting," he said, "that I too have something to tell."
"Well, would you mind confiding to me the circumstances that gave rise to the reflection?"
I broke the seals with a choking at my heart, and found an envelope inside, addressed also, but open, and I took the letter out. It was a piece of common dirty paper, to all appearance torn out of a cheap exercise-book, and in the middle were a few lines written in a queer cramped hand. Night after night he had labored on, persevering in his effort, even through the cold sickness of despair, when every line was doomed as it was made.
"But, you know, I was the real lunatic. Think of it, and you will see that from the literary standpoint, Catholic dogma is merely the witness, under a special symbolism, of the enduring facts of human nature and the universe; it is merely the voice which tells us distinctly that man is not the creature of the drawing-room and the Stock Exchange, but a lonely awful soul confronted by the Source of all Souls, and you will realise that to make literature it is necessary to be, at all events, subconsciously Catholic. I will not be too dogmatic."
Against one wall stood a heavy bookcase, with glass doors, solid and of dark mahogany, but made in the intermediate period that came between Chippendale and the modern school of machine-turned rubbish.
"Of course fine literature must have its gross and carnal body, we must know 'who's who,' for I don't think an old-fashioned receipt that I remember was ever very successful."
He touched the manuscript on the desk, and the feeling of the pages seemed to restore all the papers that had been torn so long ago.
"Well, the solution of the difficulty seems to me to be sought for in the remarks I was making just now about 'facts' in art. Remember; we have settled that literature is the expression of the 'standing out,' of the withdrawal of the soul, it is the endeavour of every age to return to the first age, to an age, if you like, of savages, when a man crept away to the rocks or to the forests that he might utter, all alone, the secrets of his own soul. Just as our remote ancestors called the dreaded beings 'fair' and 'good' precisely because they dreaded them, so they had dressed them up in charming forms, knowing the truth to be the very reverse. It is a wonderful resolve, an infinite career."
He touched the manuscript; whatever it was, it was the result of painful labor and disappointment, not of the old flush of hope, but it came of weary days, of correction and re-correction.
"Suppose that a few yards from this room—in the next house, in the next street—a woman is waiting for the return of her husband and son. He was rather an evil-looking old nobleman, but the clergy and gentry, their wives and sons and daughters welcomed him with great and unctuous joy. In that you have the contrast of social ranks: the 'two' are the Lady of the Manor and an educated peasant, but how utterly all thought of 'society' (in any sense of the word) disappears from those wonderful pages, as you advance and find that the theme is really Love. Indeed, on some homeopathic principle, he for some time attended the seances of distinguished mediums, hoping that the clumsy tricks of these gentlemen would make him altogether disgusted with mysticism of every kind, but the remedy, though caustic, was not efficacious."
"You have met Mrs. Beaumont?"
He gave me a black look and made as if he would go in, but he changed his mind, and faced me.
"Yes, and it's very possible that the woman may have more than one name. I, who have dealt with death all my life, and have dabbled with the melting ruins of the earthly tabernacle. Look how your hand shakes. You know it's not my fault; I have asked you to try Dr. Jelly's Cooling Powders again and again."
"Who is this woman?" he said at last. His voice was dry and hoarse.
The two men sat silent for some time, each weaving his own fancies of the story; but lust of the marvellous was slowly overpowering Dyson's more sober thoughts. He had gone free one bleak morning in February, and after those dreary terrible weeks the desk and the heap and litter of papers had once more engulfed and absorbed him.
"What is the 'Œdipus' but an appeal to the emotions? Lucian's father was late at the station, and consequently Lucian bought the Confessions of an English Opium Eater which he saw on the bookstall. A slight sickness, my heart beating rather more rapidly than usual, a choking in the throat, and a difficulty of utterance; such were my sensations as I walked to the Cosmopole. I was then privileged or accursed, I dare not say which, to see that which was on the bed, lying there black like ink, transformed before my eyes. The man was dead, but the smoke of his torment mounted still, a black vapor. It was a strange sickly smell, vaporous and overpowering, like some strong anæsthetic. I recollect your telling me at the time, sharply enough, and rightly too, in one sense, that I had ruined the reason of a human being by a foolish experiment, based on an absurd theory. He had not been able to give any information as to the present condition of Edgar Allan Poe's old school."
There was dead silence in the room for five minutes or more; the two men sat so still that they could hear the ticking of the tall old-fashioned clock that stood outside in the hall, and in the mind of one of them the slow monotony of sound woke up a far, far memory.
"It is certainly an extraordinary letter," he said. "Magic is justified of her children."