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Title: Xelucha
Author: M. P. Shiel
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0602851.txt
Edition: 1
Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2007

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Xélucha
M. P. Shiel


He goeth after her...and knoweth not..."
(From a diary)


Three days ago! by heaven, it seems an age. But I am shaken--my reason
is debauched. A while since, I fell into a momentary coma precisely
resembling an attack of petit mal. "Tombs, and worms, and epitaphs"--
that is my dream. At my age, with my physique, to walk staggery, like
a man stricken! But all that will pass: I must collect myself--my
reason is debauched. Three days ago! it seems an age! I sat on the
floor before an old cista full of letters. I lighted upon a packet of
Cosmo's. Why, I had forgotten them! they are turning sere! Truly, I
can no more call myself a young man. I sat reading, listlessly, rapt
back by memory. To muse is to be lost! of that evil habit I must wring
the neck, or look to perish. Once more I threaded the mazy sphere-
harmony of the minuet, reeled in the waltz, long pomps of candelabra,
the noonday of the bacchanal, about me.

Cosmo was the very tsar and maharajah of the Sybarites! the Priap of
the détraqués! In every unexpected alcove of the Roman Villa was a
couch, raised high, with necessary foot-stool, flanked and canopied
with mirrors of clarified gold. Consumption fastened upon him;
reclining at last at table, he could, till warmed, scarce lift the
wine! his eyes were like two fat glow-worms, coiled together! they
seemed haloed with vaporous emanations of phosphorus! Desperate, one
could see, was the secret struggle with the Devourer. But to the end
the princely smile persisted calm; to the end--to the last day--he
continued among that comic crew unchallenged choragus of all the
rites, I will not say of Paphos, but of Chemos! and Baal-Peor! Warmed,
he did not refuse the revel, the dance, the darkened chamber. It was
utterly black, rayless; approached by a secret passage; in shape
circular; the air hot, haunted always by odours of balms, bdellium,
hints of dulcimer and flute; and radiated round with a hundred thick-
strewn ottomans of Morocco.

Here Lucy Hill stabbed to the heart Caccofogo, mistaking the scar of
his back for the scar of Soriac. In a bath of malachite the Princess
Egla, waking late one morning, found Cosmo lying stiffly dead, the
water covering him wholly.

"But in God's name, Mérimée!" (so he wrote), "to think of Xélucha
dead! Xélucha! Can a moon-beam, then, perish of suppurations? Can the
rainbow be eaten by worms? Ha! ha! ha! laugh with me, my friend: 'elle
dérangera l'Enfer'! She will introduce the pas de tarantule into
Tophet! Xélucha, the feminine Xélucha recalling the splendid harlots
of history! Weep with me--manat rara meas lacrima per genas! expert as
Thargelia; cultured as Aspatia; purple as Semiramis. She comprehended
the human tabernacle, my friend, its secret springs and tempers, more
intimately than any savant of Salamanca who breathes. Tarare--but
Xélucha is not dead!

Vitality is not mortal; you cannot wrap flame in a shroud. Xélucha!
where then is she? Translated, perhaps--rapt to a constellation like
the daughter of Leda. She journeyed to Hindostan, accompanied by the
train and appurtenance of a Begum, threatening descent upon the
Emperor of Tartary. I spoke of the desolation of the West; she kissed
me, and promised return.

Mentioned you, too, Mérimée--'her Conqueror'--'Mérimée, Destroyer of
Woman.' A breath from the conservatory rioted among the ambery whiffs
of her forelocks, sending it singly a-wave over that thulite tint you
know. Costumed cap-à-pie, she had, my friend, the dainty little
completeness of a daisy mirrored bright in the eye of the browsing ox.
A simile of Milton had for years, she said, inflamed the lust of her
Eye: 'The barren plains of Sericana, where Chineses drive with sails
and wind their cany wagons light.' I, and the Sabæans, she assured me,
wrongly considered Flame the whole of being; the other half of things
being Aristotle's quintessential light. In the Ourania Hierarchia and
the Faust-book you meet a completeness: burning Seraph, Cherûb full of
eyes. Xélucha combined them. She would reconquer the Orient for
Dionysius, and return. I heard of her blazing at Delhi; drawn in a
chariot by lions. Then this rumour--probably false. Indeed, it comes
from a source somewhat turgid. Like Odin, Arthur, and the rest,
Xélucha--will reappear.

Soon subsequently, Cosmo lay down in his balneum of malachite, and
slept, having drawn over him the water as a coverlet. I, in England,
heard little of Xélucha: first that she was alive, then dead, then
alighted at old Tadmor in the Wilderness, Palmyra now. Nor did I
greatly care, Xélucha having long since turned to apples of Sodom in
my mouth. Till I sat by the cista of letters and re-read Cosmo, she
had for some years passed from my active memories.

The habit is now confirmed in me of spending the greater part of the
day in sleep, while by night I wander far and wide through the city
under the sedative influence of a tincture which has become necessary
to my life. Such an existence of shadow is not without charm; nor, I
think, could many minds be steadily subjected to its conditions
without elevation, deepened awe. To travel alone with the Primordial
cannot but be solemn. The moon is of the hue of the glow-worm; and
Night of the sepulchre. Nux bore not less Thanatos than Hupuos, and
the bitter tears of Isis redundulate to a flood. At three, if a cab
rolls by, the sound has the augustness of thunder. Once, at two, near
a corner, I came upon a priest, seated, dead, leering, his legs bent.
One arm, supported on a knee, pointed with rigid accusing forefinger
obliquely upward. By exact observation, I found that he indicated
Betelgeux, the star "a" which shoulders the wet sword of Orion. He was
hideously swollen, having perished of dropsy. Thus in all Supremes is
a grotesquerie; and one of the sons of Night is--Buffo.

In a London square deserted, I should imagine, even in the day, I was
aware of the metallic, silvery-clinking approach of little shoes. It
was three in a heavy morning of winter, a day after my rediscovery of
Cosmo. I had stood by the railing, regarding the clouds sail as under
the sea-legged pilotage of a moon wrapped in cloaks of inclemency.
Turning, I saw a little lady, very gloriously dressed. She had walked
straight to me. Her head was bare, and crisped with the amber stream
which rolled lax to a globe, kneaded thick with jewels, at her nape.
In the redundance of her décolleté development, she resembled Parvati,
mound-hipped love-goddess of the luscious fancy of the Brahmin.

She addressed to me the question:

"What are you doing there, darling?"

Her loveliness stirred me, and Night is bon camarade. I replied:

"Sunning myself by means of the moon."

"All that is borrowed lustre," she returned, "you have got it from old
Drummond's Flowers of Sion."

Looking back, I cannot remember that this reply astonished me, though
it should--of course---have done so. I said:

"On my soul, no; but you?"

"You might guess whence I come!"

"You are dazzling. You come from Paz."

"Oh, farther than that, my son! Say a subscription ball in Soho."

"Yes? ...and alone? in the cold? on foot...?"

"Why, I am old, and a philosopher. I can pick you out riding Andromeda
yonder from the ridden Ram. They are in error, M'sieur, who suppose an
atmosphere on the broad side of the moon. I have reason to believe
that on Mars dwells a race whose lids are transparent like glass; so
that the eyes are visible during sleep; and every varying dream moves
imaged forth to the beholder in tiny panorama on the limpid iris. You
cannot imagine me a mere fille! To be escorted is to admit yourself a
woman, and that is improper in Nowhere. Young Eos drives an équipage à
quatre, but Artemis 'walks' alone. Get out of my borrowed light in the
name of Diogenes! I am going home."

"Near Piccadilly."

"But a cab?"

"No cabs for me, thank you. The distance is a mere nothing. Come."

We walked forward. My companion at once put an interval between us,
quoting from the Spanish Curate that the open is an enemy to love. The
Talmudists, she twice insisted, rightly held the hand the sacredest
part of the person, and at that point also contact was for the moment
interdict. Her walk was extremely rapid. I followed. Not a cat was
anywhere visible. We reached at length the door of a mansion in St.
James's. There was no light. It seemed tenantless, the windows all
uncurtained, pasted across, some of them, with the words, To Let. My
companion, however, flitted up the steps, and, beckoning, passed
inward. I, following, slammed the door, and was in darkness. I heard
her ascend, and presently a region of glimmer above revealed a
stairway of marble, curving broadly up. On the floor where I stood was
no carpet, nor furniture: the dust was very thick. I had begun to
mount when, to my surprise, she stood by my side, returned; and
whispered:

"To the very top, darling."

She soared nimbly up, anticipating me. Higher, I could no longer doubt
that the house was empty but for us. All was a vacuum full of dust and
echoes. But at the top, light streamed from a door, and I entered a
good-sized oval saloon, at about the centre of the house. I was
completely dazzled by the sudden resplendence of the apartment. In the
midst was a spread table, square, opulent with gold plate, fruit
dishes; three ponderous chandeliers of electric light above; and I
noticed also (what was very bizarre) one little candlestick of common
tin containing an old soiled curve of tallow, on the table. The
impression of the whole chamber was one of gorgeousness not less than
Assyrian. An ivory couch at the far end was made sun-like by a head-piece
of chalcedony forming a sea for the sport of emerald
ichthyotauri. Copper hangings, panelled with mirrors in iasperated
crystal, corresponded with a dome of flame and copper; yet this
latter, I now remember, produced upon my glance an impression of
actual grime. My companion reclined on a small Sigma couch, raised
high to the table-level in the Semitic manner, visible to her saffron
slippers of satin. She pointed me a seat opposite. The incongruity of
its presence in the middle of this arrogance of pomp so tickled me,
that no power could have kept me from a smile: it was a grimy chair,
mean, all wood, nor was I long in discovering one leg somewhat shorter
than its fellows.

She indicated wine in a black glass bottle, and a tumbler, but herself
made no pretence of drinking or eating. She lay on hip and elbow,
petite, resplendent, and looked gravely upward. I, however, drank.

"You are tired," I said, "one sees that."

"It is precious little than you see!" she returned, dreamy, hardly
glancing.

"How! your mood is changed, then? You are morose."

"You never, I think, saw a Norse passage-grave?"

"And abrupt."

"Never?"

"A passage-grave? No."

"It is worth a journey! They are circular or oblong chambers of stone,
covered by great earthmounds, with a 'passage' of slabs connecting
them with the outer air. All round the chamber the dead sit with head
resting upon the bent knees, and consult together in silence."

"Drink wine with me, and be less Tartarean."

"You certainly seem to be a fool," she replied with perfect sardonic
iciness. "Is it not, then, highly romantic? They belong, you know, to
the Neolithic age. As the teeth fall, one by one, from the lipless
mouths--they are caught by the lap. When the lap thins--they roll to
the floor of stone. Thereafter, every tooth that drops all round the
chamber sharply breaks the silence."

"Ha! ha! ha!"

"Yes. It is like a century-slow, circularly-successive dripping of
slime in some cavern of the far subterrene."

"Ha! ha! This wine seems heady! They express themselves in a dialect
largely dental."

"The Ape, on the other hand, in a language wholly guttural."

A town-clock tolled four. Our talk was holed with silences, and heavy-
paced. The wine's yeasty exhalation reached my brain. I saw her
through mist, dilating large, uncertain, shrinking again to dainty
compactness. But amorousness had died within me.

"Do you know," she asked, "what has been discovered in one of the
Danish Kjökkenmöddings by a little boy? It was ghastly. The skeleton
of a huge fish with human--"

"You are most unhappy."

"Be silent."

"You are full of care."

"I think you a great fool."

"You are racked with misery."

"You are a child. You have not even an instinct of the meaning of the
word."

"How! Am I not a man? I, too, miserable, careful?"

"You are not, really, anything--until you can create."

"Create what?"

"Matter."

"That is foppish. Matter cannot he created, nor destroyed."

"Truly, then, you must be a creature of unusually weak intellect. I
see that now. Matter does not exist, then, there is no such thing,
really--it is an appearance, a spectrum--every writer not imbecile
from Plato to Fichte has, voluntary or involuntary, proved that for
good. To create it is to produce an impression of its reality upon the
senses of others; to destroy it is to wipe a wet rag across a
scribbled slate."

"Perhaps. I do not care. Since no one can do it."

"No one? You are mere embryo--"

"Who then?"

"Anyone, whose power of Will is equivalent to the gravitating force of
a star of the First Magnitude."

"Ha! ha! ha! By heaven, you choose to be facetious. Are there then
wills of such equivalence?"

"There have been three, the founders of religions. There was a fourth:
a cobbler of Herculaneum, whose mere volition induced the cataclysm of
Vesuvius in '79 in direct opposition to the gravity of Sirius. There
are more fames than you have ever sung, you know."

The greater number of disembodied spirits, too, I feel certain--

"By heaven, I cannot but think you full of sorrow! Poor wight! come,
drink with me. The wine is thick and boon. Is it not Setian? It makes
you sway and swell before me, I swear, like a purple cloud of
evening--"

"But you are mere clayey ponderance!--I did not know that!--you are no
companion! your little interest revolves round the lowest centres."

"Come--forget your agonies--"

"What, think you, is the portion of the buried body first sought by
the worm?"

"The eyes! the eyes!"

"You are hideously wrong--you are so utterly at sea--"

"My God!"

She had bent forward with such rage of contradiction as to approach me
closely. A loose gown of amber silk, wide-sleeved, had replaced her
ball attire, though at what opportunity I could not guess; wondering,
I noticed it as she now placed her palms far forth upon the table. A
sudden wafture as of spice and orange-flowers, mingled with the
abhorrent faint odour of mortality over-ready for the tomb, greeted my
sense. A chill crept upon my flesh.

"You are so hopelessly at fault--"

"For God's sake--"

"You are so miserably deluded! Not the eyes at all!"

"Then, in heaven's name, what?"

Five tolled from a clock.

"The Uvula! the soft drop of mucous flesh, you know, suspended from
the palate above the glottis. They eat through the face-cloth and
cheek, or crawl by the lips through a broken tooth, filling the mouth.
They make straight for it. It is the deliciæ of the vault."

At her horror of interest I grew sick, at her odour, and her words.
Some unspeakable sense of insignificance, of debility, held me dumb.

"You say I am full of sorrows. You say I am racked with woe; that I
gnash with anguish. Well, you are a mere child in intellect. You use
words without realization of meaning like those minds in what Leibnitz
calls 'symbolical consciousness.' But suppose it were so--"

"It is so."

"You know nothing."

"I see you twist and grind. Your eyes are very pale. I thought they
were hazel. They are of the faint bluishness of phosphorus shimmerings
seen in darkness."

"That proves nothing."

"But the 'white' of the sclerotic is dyed to yellow. And you look
inward. Why do you look so palely inward, so woe-worn, upon your soul?
Why can you speak of nothing but the sepulchre, and its rottenness?
Your eyes seem to me wan with centuries of vigil, with mysteries and
millenniums of pain."

"Pain! but you know so little of it! you are wind and words! of its
philosophy and rationale nothing!"

"Who knows?"

"I will give you a hint. It is the sub-consciousness in conscious
creatures of Eternity, and of eternal loss. The least prick of a pin
not Pæan and Æsculapius and the powers of heaven and hell can utterly
heal. Of an everlasting loss of pristine wholeness the conscious body
is sub-conscious, and 'pain' is its sigh at the tragedy. So with all
pain--greater, the greater the loss. The hugest of losses is, of
course, the loss of Time. If you lose that, any of it, you plunge at
once into the transcendentalisms, the infinitudes, of Loss; if you
lose all of it--"

"But you so wildly exaggerate! Ha! ha! You rant, I tell you, of
commonplaces with the woe--"

"Hell is where a clear, untrammelled Spirit is sub-conscious of lost
Time; where it boils and writhes with envy of the living world; hating
it for ever, and all the sons of Life!"

"But curb yourself! Drink--I implore--I implore--for God's sake--but
once--"

"To hasten to the snare--that is woe! to drive your ship upon the
lighthouse rock--that is Marah! To wake, and feel it irrevocably true
that you went after her--and the dead were there---and her guests were
in the depths of hell--and you did not know it!---though you might
have.

Look out upon the houses of the city this dawning day: not one, I tell
you, but in it haunts some soul---walking up and down the old theatre
of its little Day--goading imagination by a thousand childish tricks,
vraisemblances---elaborately duping itself into the momentary fantasy
that it still lives, that the chance of life is not for ever and for
ever lost--yet riving all the time with under-memories of the wasted
Summer, the lapsed brief light between the two eternal glooms--riving
I say and shriek to you!---riving, Mérimée, you destroying fiend--She
had sprung--tall now, she seemed to me--between couch and table.

"Mérimée!" I screamed, "--my name, harlot, in your maniac mouth! By
God, woman, you terrify me to death!"

I too sprang, the hairs of my head catching stiff horror from my
fancies.

"Your name? Can you imagine me ignorant of your name, or anything
concerning you? Mérimée! Why, did you not sit yesterday and read of me
in a letter of Cosmo's?"

"Ah-h ...," hysteria bursting high in sob and laughter from my arid
lips--"Ah! ha! ha!"

"Xélucha! My memory grows palsied and grey, Xélucha! pity me--my walk
is in the very valley of shadow!---senile and sere!--observe my hair,
Xélucha, its grizzled growth--trepidant, Xélucha, clouded--I am not
the man you knew, Xélucha, in the palaces--of Cosmo! You are Xélucha!"

"You rave, poor worm!" she cried, her face contorted by a species of
malicious contempt.

"Xélucha died of cholera ten years ago at Antioch. I wiped the froth
from her lips. Her nose underwent a green decay before burial. So far
sunken into the brain was the left eye--"

"You are--you are Xélucha!" I shrieked; "voices now of thunder howl it
within my consciousness--and by the holy God, Xélucha, though you
blight me with the breath of the hell you are, I shall clasp you,
living or damned--"

I rushed toward her. The word "Madman!" hissed as by the tongues of
ten thousand serpents through the chamber, I heard; a belch of
pestilent corruption puffed poisonous upon the putrid air; for a
moment to my wildered eyes there seemed to rear itself, swelling high
to the roof, a formless tower of ragged cloud, and before my projected
arms had closed upon the very emptiness of insanity, I was tossed by
the operation of some Behemoth potency far-circling backward to the
utmost circumference of the oval, where, my head colliding, I fell,
shocked, into insensibility.

When the sun was low toward night, I lay awake, and listlessly
observed the grimy roof, and the sordid chair, and the candlestick of
tin, and the bottle of which I had drunk. The table was small, filthy,
of common deal, uncovered. All bore the appearance of having stood
there for years. But for them, the room was void, the vision of luxury
thinned to air. Sudden memory flashed upon me. I scrambled to my feet,
and plunged and tottered, bawling, through the twilight into the
street.



THE END



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