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Title: The Novel of the White Powder
Author: Arthur Machen
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Language:  English
Date first posted: September 2006
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Title: The Novel of the White Powder
Author: Arthur Machen




My name is Leicester; my father, Major-General Wyn Leicester, a
distinguished officer of artillery, succumbed five years ago to a
complicated liver complaint acquired in the deadly climate of India. A
year later my only brother, Francis, came home after an exceptionally
brilliant career at the University, and settled down with the resolution
of a hermit to master what has been well called the great legend of the
law. He was a man who seemed to live in utter indifference to everything
that is called pleasure; and though he was handsomer than most men, and
could talk as merrily and wittily as if he were a mere vagabond, he
avoided society, and shut himself up in a large room at the top of the
house to make himself a lawyer. Ten hours a day of hard reading was at
first his allotted portion; from the first light in the east to the late
afternoon he remained shut up with his books, taking a hasty half-hour's
lunch with me as if he grudged the wasting of the moments, and going out
for a short walk when it began to grow dusk. I thought that such
relentless application must be injurious, and tried to cajole him from
the crabbed textbooks, but his ardour seemed to grow rather than
diminish, and his daily tale of hours increased. I spoke to him
seriously, suggesting some occasional relaxation, if it were but an idle
afternoon with a harmless novel; but he laughed, and said that he read
about feudal tenures when he felt in need of amusement, and scoffed at
the notions of theatres, or a month's fresh air. I confessed that he
looked well, and seemed not to suffer from his labours, but I knew that
such unnatural toil would take revenge at last, and I was not mistaken.
A look of anxiety began to lurk about his eyes, and he seemed languid,
and at last he avowed that he was no longer in perfect health; he was
troubled, he said, with a sensation of dizziness, and awoke now and then
of nights from fearful dreams, terrified and cold with icy sweats. "I am
taking care of myself," he said, "so you must not trouble; I passed the
whole of yesterday afternoon in idleness, leaning back in that
comfortable chair you gave me, and scribbling nonsense on a sheet of
paper. No, no; I will not overdo my work; I shall be well enough in a
week or two, depend upon it."

Yet in spite of his assurances I could see that he grew no better, but
rather worse; he would enter the drawing-room with a face all miserably
wrinkled and despondent, and endeavour to look gaily when my eyes fell
on him, and I thought such symptoms of evil omen, and was frightened
sometimes at the nervous irritation of his movements, and at glances
which I could not decipher. Much against his will, I prevailed on him to
have medical advice, and with an ill grace he called in our old doctor.

Dr. Haberden cheered me after examination of his patient.

"There is nothing really much amiss," he said to me. "No doubt he reads
too hard and eats hastily, and then goes back again to his books in too
great a hurry, and the natural sequence is some digestive trouble and a
little mischief in the nervous system. But I think--I do indeed,
Miss Leicester--that we shall be able to set this all right. I have
written him a prescription which ought to do great things. So you have
no cause for anxiety."

My brother insisted on having the prescription made up by a chemist in
the neighbourhood. It was an odd, oldfashioned shop, devoid of the
studied coquetry and calculated glitter that make so gay a show on the
counters and shelves of the modern apothecary; but Francis liked the old
chemist, and believed in the scrupulous purity of his drugs. The
medicine was sent in due course, and I saw that my brother took it
regularly after lunch and dinner. It was an innocent-looking white
powder, of which a little was dissolved in a glass of cold water; I
stirred it in, and it seemed to disappear, leaving the water clear and
colorless. At first Francis seemed to benefit greatly; the weariness
vanished from his face, and he became more cheerful than he had ever
been since the time when he left school; he talked gaily of reforming
himself, and avowed to me that he had wasted his time.

"I have given too many hours to law," he said, laughing; "I think you
have saved me in the nick of time. Come, I shall be Lord Chancellor yet,
but I must not forget life. You and I will have a holiday together
before long; we will go to Paris and enjoy ourselves, and keep away from
the Bibliothèque Nationale."

I confessed myself delighted with the prospect.

"When shall we go?" I said. "I can start the day after to-morrow if you
like."

"Ah! that is perhaps a little too soon; after all, I do not know London
yet, and I suppose a man ought to give the pleasures of his own country
the first choice. But we will go off together in a week or two, so try
and furbish up your French. I only know law French myself, and I am
afraid that wouldn't do."

We were just finishing dinner, and he quaffed off his medicine with a
parade of carousal as if it had been wine from some choicest bin.

"Has it any particular taste?" I said.

"No; I should not know I was not drinking water," and he got up from his
chair and began to pace up and down the room as if he were undecided as
to what he should do next.

"Shall we have coffee in the drawing-room?" I said; "or would you like
to smoke?"

"No, I think I will take a turn; it seems a pleasant evening. Look at
the afterglow; why, it is as if a great city were burning in flames, and
down there between the dark houses it is raining blood fast. Yes, I will
go out; I may be in soon, but I shall take my key; so good-night, dear,
if I don't see you again."

The door slammed behind him, and I saw him walk lightly down the street,
swinging his malacca cane, and I felt grateful to Dr. Haberden for such
an improvement.

I believe my brother came home very late that night, but he was in a
merry mood the next morning.

"I walked on without thinking where I was going," he said, "enjoying the
freshness of the air, and livened by the crowds as I reached more
frequented quarters. And then I met an old college friend, Orford, in
the press of the pavement, and then--well, we enjoyed ourselves, I
have felt what it is to be young and a man; I find I have blood in my
veins, as other men have. I made an appointment with Orford for
to-night; there will be a little party of us at the restaurant. Yes; I
shall enjoy myself for a week or two, and hear the chimes at midnight,
and then we will go for our little trip together."

Such was the transmutation of my brother's character that in a few days
he became a lover of pleasure, a careless and merry idler of western
pavements, a hunter out of snug restaurants, and a fine critic of
fantastic dancing; he grew fat before my eyes, and said no more of
Paris, for he had clearly found his paradise in London. I rejoiced, and
yet wondered a little; for there was, I thought, something in his gaiety
that indefinitely displeased me, though I could not have defined my
feeling. But by degrees there came a change; he returned still in the
cold hours of the morning, but I heard no more about his pleasures, and
one morning as we sat at breakfast together I looked suddenly into his
eyes and saw a stranger before me.

"Oh, Francis!" I cried. "Oh, Francis, Francis, what have you done?" and
rending sobs cut the words short. I went weeping out of the room; for
though I knew nothing, yet I knew all, and by some odd play of thought I
remembered the evening when he first went abroad, and the picture of the
sunset sky glowed before me; the clouds like a city in burning flames,
and the rain of blood. Yet I did battle with such thoughts, resolving
that perhaps, after all, no great harm had been done, and in the evening
at dinner I resolved to press him to fix a day for our holiday in Paris.
We had talked easily enough, and my brother had just taken his medicine,
which he continued all the while. I was about to begin my topic when the
words forming in my mind vanished, and I wondered for a second what icy
and intolerable weight oppressed my heart and suffocated me as with the
unutterable horror of the coffin-lid nailed down on the living.

We had dined without candles; the room had slowly grown from twilight to
gloom, and the walls and corners were indistinct in the shadow. But from
where I sat I looked out into the street; and as I thought of what I
would say to Francis, the sky began to flush and shine, as it had done
on a well-remembered evening, and in the gap between two dark masses
that were houses an awful pageantry of flame appeared--lurid whorls
of writhed cloud, and utter depths burning, grey masses like the fume
blown from a smoking city, and an evil glory blazing far above shot with
tongues of more ardent fire, and below as if there were a deep pool of
blood. I looked down to where my brother sat facing me, and the words
were shaped on my lips, when I saw his hand resting on the table.
Between the thumb and forefinger of the closed hand there was a mark, a
small patch about the size of a sixpence, and somewhat of the colour of
a bad bruise. Yet, by some sense I cannot define, I knew that what I saw
was no bruise at all; oh! if human flesh could burn with flame, and if
flame could be black as pitch, such was that before me. Without thought
or fashioning of words grey horror shaped within me at the sight, and in
an inner cell it was known to be a brand. For the moment the stained sky
became dark as midnight, and when the light returned to me I was alone
in the silent room, and soon after I heard my brother go out.

Late as it was, I put on my hat and went to Dr. Haberden, and in his
great consulting room, ill lighted by a candle which the doctor brought
in with him, with stammering lips, and a voice that would break in spite
of my resolve, I told him all, from the day on which my brother began to
take the medicine down to the dreadful thing I had seen scarcely half an
hour before.

When I had done, the doctor looked at me for a minute with an expression
of great pity on his face.

"My dear Miss Leicester," he said, "you have evidently been anxious
about your brother; you have been worrying over him, I am sure. Come,
now, is it not so?"

"I have certainly been anxious," I said. "For the last week or two I
have not felt at ease."

"Quite so; you know, of course, what a queer thing the brain is?"

"I understand what you mean; but I was not deceived. I saw what I have
told you with my own eyes."

"Yes, yes of course. But your eyes had been staring at that very curious
sunset we had tonight. That is the only explanation. You will see it in
the proper light to-morrow, I am sure. But, remember, I am always ready
to give any help that is in my power; do not scruple to come to me, or
to send for me if you are in any distress."

I went away but little comforted, all confusion and terror and sorrow,
not knowing where to turn. When my brother and I met the next day, I
looked quickly at him, and noticed, with a sickening at heart, that the
right hand, the hand on which I had clearly seen the patch as of a black
fire, was wrapped up with a handkerchief.

"What is the matter with your hand, Francis?" I said in a steady voice.

"Nothing of consequence. I cut a finger last night, and it bled rather
awkwardly. So I did it up roughly to the best of my ability."

"I will do it neatly for you, if you like."

"No, thank you, dear; this will answer very well. Suppose we have
breakfast; I am quite hungry."

We sat down and I watched him. He scarcely ate or drank at all, but
tossed his meat to the dog when he thought my eyes were turned away;
there was a look in his eyes that I had never yet seen, and the thought
flashed across my mind that it was a look that was scarcely human. I was
firmly convinced that awful and incredible as was the thing I had seen
the night before, yet it was no illusion, no glamour of bewildered
sense, and in the course of the evening I went again to the doctor's
house.

He shook his head with an air puzzled and incredulous, and seemed to
reflect for a few minutes.

"And you say he still keeps up the medicine? But why? As I understand,
all the symptoms he complained of have disappeared long ago; why should
he go on taking the stuff when he is quite well? And by the by, where
did he get it made up? At Sayce's? I never send any one there; the old
man is getting careless. Suppose you come with me to the chemist's; I
should like to have some talk with him."

We walked together to the shop; old Sayce knew Dr. Haberden, and was
quite ready to give any information.

"You have been sending that in to Mr. Leicester for some weeks, I think,
on my prescription," said the doctor, giving the old man a pencilled
scrap of paper.

The chemist put on his great spectacles with trembling uncertainty, and
held up the paper with a shaking hand "Oh, yes," he said, "I have very
little of it left; it is rather an uncommon drug, and I have had it in
stock some time. I must get in some more, if Mr. Leicester goes on with
it."

"Kindly let me have a look at the stuff," said Haberden, and the chemist
gave him a glass bottle. He took out the stopper and smelt the contents,
and looked strangely at the old man.

"Where did you get this?" he said, "and what is it? For one thing, Mr.
Sayce, it is not what I prescribed. Yes, yes, I see the label is right
enough, but I tell you this is not the drug."

"I have had it a long time," said the old man in feeble terror; "I got
it from Burbage's in the usual way. It is not prescribed often, and I
have had it on the shelf for some years. You see there is very little
left."

"You had better give it to me," said Haberden. "I am afraid something
wrong has happened."

We went out of the shop in silence, the doctor carrying the bottle
neatly wrapped in paper under his arm.

"Dr. Haberden," I said, when we had walked a little way--"Dr.
Haberden."

"Yes," he said, looking at me gloomily enough.

"I should like you to tell me what my brother has been taking twice a
day for the last month or so."

"Frankly, Miss Leicester, I don't know. We will speak of this when we
get to my house."

We walked on quickly without another word till we reached Dr.
Haberden's. He asked me to sit down, and began pacing up and down the
room, his face clouded over, as I could see, with no common fears.

"Well," he said at length, "this is all very strange; it is only natural
that you should feel alarmed, and I must confess that my mind is far
from easy. We will put aside, if you please, what you told me last night
and this morning, but the fact remains that for the last few weeks Mr.
Leicester has been impregnating his system with a drug which is
completely unknown to me. I tell you, it is not what I ordered; and what
the stuff in the bottle really is remains to be seen."

He undid the wrapper, and cautiously tilted a few grains of the white
powder on to a piece of paper, and peered curiously at it.

"Yes," he said, "it is like the sulphate of quinine, as you say; it is
flaky. But smell it."

He held the bottle to me, and I bent over it. It was a strange, sickly
smell, vaporous and overpowering, like some strong anaesthetic.

"I shall have it analysed," said Haberden; "I have a friend who has
devoted his whole life to chemistry as a science. Then we shall have
something to go upon. No, no; say no more about that other matter; I
cannot listen to that; and take my advice and think no more about it
yourself."

That evening my brother did not go out as usual after dinner.

"I have had my fling," he said with a queer laugh, "and I must go back
to my old ways. A little law will be quite a relaxation after so sharp a
dose of pleasure," and he grinned to himself, and soon after went up to
his room. His hand was still all bandaged.

Dr. Haberden called a few days later.

"I have no special news to give you," he said. "Chambers is out of town,
so I know no more about that stuff than you do. But I should like to see
Mr. Leicester, if he is in."

"He is in his room," I said; "I will tell him you are here."

"No, no, I will go up to him; we will have a little quiet talk together.
I dare say that we have made a good deal of fuss about a very little;
for, after all, whatever the powder may be, it seems to have done him
good."

The doctor went upstairs, and standing in the hall I heard his knock,
and the opening and shutting of the door; and then I waited in the
silent house for an hour, and the stillness grew more and more intense
as the hands of the clock crept round. Then there sounded from above the
noise of a door shut sharply, and the doctor was coming down the stairs.
His footsteps crossed the hall, and there was a pause at the door; I
drew a long, sick breath with difficulty, and saw my face white in a
little mirror, and he came in and stood at the door. There was an
unutterable horror shining in his eyes; he steadied himself by holding
the back of a chair with one hand, his lower lip trembled like a
horse's, and he gulped and stammered unintelligible sounds before he
spoke.

"I have seen that man," he began in a dry whisper. "I have been sitting
in his presence for the last hour. My God! And I am alive and in my
senses! I, who have dealt with death all my life, and have dabbled with
the melting ruins of the earthly tabernacle. But not this, oh! not
this," and he covered his face with his hands as if to shut out the
sight of something before him.

"Do not send for me again, Miss Leicester," he said with more composure.
"I can do nothing in this house. Good-bye."

As I watched him totter down the steps; and along the pavement towards
his house, it seemed to me that he had aged by ten years since the
morning.

My brother remained in his room. He called out to me in a voice I hardly
recognized that he was very busy, and would like his meals brought to
his door and left there, and I gave the order to the servants. From that
day it seemed as if the arbitrary conception we call time had been
annihilated for me; I lived in an ever-present sense of horror, going
through the routine of the house mechanically, and only speaking a few
necessary words to the servants. Now and then I went out and paced the
streets for an hour or two and came home again; but whether I were
without or within, my spirit delayed before the closed door of the upper
room, and, shuddering, waited for it to open. I have said that I
scarcely reckoned time; but I suppose it must have been a fortnight
after Dr. Haberden's visit that I came home from my stroll a little
refreshed and lightened. The air was sweet and pleasant, and the hazy
form of green leaves, floating cloud-like in the square, and the smell
of blossoms, had charmed my senses, and I felt happier and walked more
briskly. As I delayed a moment at the verge of the pavement, waiting for
a van to pass by before crossing over to the house, I happened to look
up at the windows, and instantly there was the rush and swirl of deep
cold waters in my ears, my heart leapt up and fell down, down as into a
deep hollow, and I was amazed with a dread and terror without form or
shape. I streched out a hand blindly through the folds of thick
darkness, from the black and shadowy valley, and held myself from
falling, while the stones beneath my feet rocked and swayed and tilted,
and the sense of solid things seemed to sink away from under me. I had
glanced up at the window of my brother's study, and at that moment the
blind was drawn aside, and something that had life stared out into the
world. Nay, I cannot say I saw a face or any human likeness; a living
thing, two eyes of burning flame glared at me, and they were in the
midst of something as formless as my fear, the symbol and presence of
all evil and all hideous corruption. I stood shuddering and quaking as
with the grip of ague, sick with unspeakable agonies of fear and
loathing, and for five minutes I could not summon force or motion to my
limbs. When I was within the door, I ran up the stairs to my brother's
room and knocked.

"Francis, Francis," I cried, "for Heaven's sake, answer me. What is the
horrible thing in your room? Cast it out, Francis; cast it from you."

I heard a noise as of feet shuffling slowly and awkwardly, and a
choking, gurgling sound, as if some one was struggling to find
utterance, and then the noise of a voice, broken and stifled, and words
that I could scarcely understand.

"There is nothing here," the voice said. "Pray do not disturb me. I am
not very well to-day."

I turned away, horrified, and yet helpless. I could do nothing, and I
wondered why Francis had lied to me, for I had seen the appearance
beyond the glass too plainly to be deceived, though it was but the sight
of a moment. And I sat still, conscious that there had been something
else, something I had seen in the first flash of terror, before those
burning eyes had looked at me.

Suddenly I remembered; as I lifted my face the blind was being drawn
back, and I had had an instant's glance of the thing that was moving it,
and in my recollection I knew that a hideous image was engraved forever
on my brain. It was not a hand; there were no fingers that held the
blind, but a black stump pushed it aside, the mouldering outline and the
clumsy movement as of a beast's paw had glowed into my senses before the
darkling waves of terror had overwhelmed me as I went down quick into
the pit. My mind was aghast at the thought of this, and of the awful
presence that dwelt with my brother in his room; I went to his door and
cried to him again, but no answer came. That night one of the servants
came up to me and told me in a whisper that for three days food had been
regularly placed at the door and left untouched; the maid had knocked
but had received no answer; she had heard the noise of shuffling feet
that I had noticed. Day after day went by, and still my brother's meals
were brought to his door and left untouched; and though I knocked and
called again and again, I could get no answer. The servants began to
talk to me; it appeared they were as alarmed as I; the cook said that
when my brother first shut himself up in his room she used to hear him
come out at night and go about the house; and once, she said, the hall
door had opened and closed again, but for several nights she had heard
no sound.

The climax came at last; it was in the dusk of the evening, and I was
sitting in the darkening dreary room when a terrible shriek jarred and
rang harshly out of the silence, and I heard a frightened scurry of feet
dashing down the stairs. I waited, and the servant-maid staggered into
the room and faced me, white and trembling.

"Oh, Miss Helen!" she whispered; "oh! for the Lord's sake, Miss Helen,
what has happened? Look at my hand, miss; look at that hand!" I drew her
to the window, and saw there was a black wet stain upon her hand.

"I do not understand you," I said. "Will you explain to me?"

"I was doing your room just now," she began. "I was turning down the
bed-clothes, and all of a sudden there was something fell upon my hand,
wet, and I looked up, and the ceiling was black and dripping on me."


I looked hard at her and bit my lip.

"Come with me," I said. "Bring your candle with you."

The room I slept in was beneath my brother's, and as I went in I felt I
was trembling. I looked up at the ceiling, and saw a patch, all black
and wet, and a dew of black drops upon it, and a pool of horrible liquor
soaking into the white bed-clothes.

I ran upstairs and knocked loudly.

"Oh, Francis, Francis, my dear brother," I cried, "what has happened to
you?"

And I listened. There was a sound of choking, and a noise like water
bubbling and regurgitating, but nothing else, and I called louder, but
no answer came.

In spite of what Dr. Haberden had said, I went to him; with tears
streaming down my cheeks I told him all that had happened, and he
listened to me with a face set hard and grim.

"For your father's sake," he said at last, "I will go with you, though I
can do nothing."

We went out together; the streets were dark and silent, and heavy with
heat and a drought of many weeks. I saw the doctor's face white under
the gas-lamps, and when we reached the house his hand was shaking.

We did not hesitate, but went upstairs directly. I held the lamp, and he
called out in a loud, determined voice--"Mr. Leicester, do you
hear me? I insist on seeing you. Answer me at once."

There was no answer, but we both heard that choking noise I have
mentioned.

"Mr. Leicester, I am waiting for you. Open the door this instant, or I
shall break it down." And he called a third time in a voice that rang
and echoed from the walls--"Mr. Leicester! For the last time I order you
to open the door."

"Ah!" he said, after a pause of heavy silence, "we are wasting time
here. Will you be so kind as to get me a poker, or something of the
kind?"

I ran into a little room at the back where odd articles were kept, and
found a heavy adze-like tool that I thought might serve the doctor's
purpose.

"Very good," he said, "that will do, I dare say. I give you notice, Mr.
Leicester," he cried loudly at the keyhole, "that I am now about to
break into your room."

Then I heard the wrench of the adze, and the woodwork split and cracked
under it; with a loud crash the door suddenly burst open, and for a
moment we started back aghast at a fearful screaming cry, no human
voice, but as the roar of a monster, that burst forth inarticulate and
struck at us out of the darkness.

"Hold the lamp," said the doctor, and we went in and glanced quickly
round the room.

"There it is," said Dr. Haberden, drawing a quick breath; "look, in that
corner."

I looked, and a pang of horror seized my heart as with a white-hot iron.
There upon the floor was a dark and putrid mass, seething with
corruption and hideous rottenness, neither liquid nor solid, but melting
and changing before our eyes, and bubbling with unctuous oily bubbles
like boiling pitch. And out of the midst of it shone two burning points
like eyes, and I saw a writhing and stirring as of limbs, and something
moved and lifted up what might have been an arm. The doctor took a step
forward, raised the iron bar and struck at the burning points; he drove
in the weapon, and struck again and again in the fury of loathing.

A week or two later, when I had recovered to some extent from the
terrible shock, Dr. Haberden came to see me.

"I have sold my practice," he began, "and tomorrow I am sailing on a
long voyage. I do not know whether I shall ever return to England; in
all probability I shall buy a little land in California, and settle
there for the remainder of my life. I have brought you this packet,
which you may open and read when you feel able to do so. It contains the
report of Dr. Chambers on what I submitted to him. Good-bye, Miss
Leicester, good-bye."

When he was gone I opened the envelope; I could not wait, and proceeded
to read the papers within. Here is the manuscript, and if you will allow
me, I will read you the astounding story it contains.

"My dear Haberden," the letter began, "I have delayed inexcusably in
answering your questions as to the white substance you sent me. To tell
you the truth, I have hesitated for some time as to what course I should
adopt, for there is a bigotry and orthodox standard in physical science
as in theology, and I knew that if I told you the truth I should offend
rooted prejudices which I once held dear myself. However, I have
determined to be plain with you, and first I must enter into a short
personal explanation.

"You have known me, Haberden, for many years as a scientific man; you
and I have often talked of our profession together, and discussed the
hopeless gulf that opens before the feet of those who think to attain to
truth by any means whatsoever except the beaten way of experiment and
observation in the sphere of material things. I remember the scorn with
which you have spoken to me of men of science who have dabbled a little
in the unseen, and have timidly hinted that perhaps the senses are not,
after all, the eternal, impenetrable bounds of all knowledge, the
everlasting walls beyond which no human being has ever passed. We have
laughed together heartily, and I think justly, at the 'occult' follies
of the day, disguised under various names--the mesmerisms,
spiritualisms, materializations, theosophies, all the rabble rout of
imposture, with their machinery of poor tricks and feeble conjuring, the
true back-parlour of shabby London streets. Yet, in spite of what I have
said, I must confess to you that I am no materialist, taking the word of
course in its usual signification. It is now many years since I have
convinced myself--convinced myself, a sceptic, remember--that
the old ironbound theory is utterly and entirely false. Perhaps this
confession will not wound you so sharply as it would have done twenty
years ago; for I think you cannot have failed to notice that for some
time hypotheses have been advanced by men of pure science which are
nothing less than transcendental, and I suspect that most modern
chemists and biologists of repute would not hesitate to subscribe the
dictum of the old Schoolman, Omnia exeunt in mysterium, which means, I
take it, that every branch of human knowledge if traced up to its source
and final principles vanishes into mystery. I need not trouble you now
with a detailed account of the painful steps which led me to my
conclusions; a few simple experiments suggested a doubt as to my then
standpoint, and a train of thought that rose from circumstances
comparatively trifling brought me far; my old conception of the universe
has been swept away, and I stand in a world that seems as strange and
awful to me as the endless waves of the ocean seen for the first time,
shining, from a peak in Darien. Now I know that the walls of sense that
seemed so impenetrable, that seemed to loom up above the heavens and to
be founded below the depths, and to shut us in for evermore, are no such
everlasting impassable barriers as we fancied, but thinnest and most
airy veils that melt away before the seeker, and dissolve as the early
mist of the morning about the brooks. I know that you never adopted the
extreme materialistic position; you did not go about trying to prove a
universal negative, for your logical sense withheld you from that
crowning absurdity; but I am sure that you will find all that I am
saying strange and repellent to your habits of thought. Yet, Haberden,
what I tell you is the truth, nay, to adopt our common language, the
sole and scientific truth, verified by experience; and the universe is
verily more splendid and more awful than we used to dream. The whole
universe, my friend, is a tremendous sacrament; a mystic, ineffable
force and energy, veiled by an outward form of matter; and man, and the
sun and the other stars, and the flower of the grass, and the crystal in
the test-tube, are each and every one as spiritual, as material, and
subject to an inner working.

"You will perhaps wonder, Haberden, whence all this tends; but I think a
little thought will make it clear. You will understand that from such a
standpoint the whole view of things is changed, and what we thought
incredible and absurd may be possible enough. In short, we must look at
legend and belief with other eyes, and be prepared to accept tales that
had become mere fables. Indeed this is no such great demand. After all,
modern science will concede as much, in a hypocritical manner; you must
not, it is true, believe in witchcraft, but you may credit hypnotism;
ghosts are out of date, but there is a good deal to be said for the
theory of telepathy. Give superstition a Greek name, and believe in it,
should almost be a proverb.

"So much for my personal explanation. You sent me, Haberden, a phial,
stoppered and sealed, containing a small quantity of flaky white powder,
obtained from a chemist who has been dispensing it to one of your
patients. I am not surprised to hear that this powder refused to yield
any results to your analysis. It is a substance which was known to a few
many hundred years ago, but which I never expected to have submitted to
me from the shop of a modern apothecary.

There seems no reason to doubt the truth of the man's tale; he no doubt
got, as he says, the rather uncommon salt you prescribed from the
wholesale chemist's, and it has probably remained on his shelf for
twenty years, or perhaps longer. Here what we call chance and
coincidence begin to work; during all these years the salt in the bottle
was exposed to certain recurring variations of temperature, variations
probably ranging from 40° to 80°. And, as it happens, such changes,
recurring year after year at irregular intervals, and with varying
degrees of intensity and duration, have constituted a process, and a
process so complicated and so delicate, that I question whether modern
scientific apparatus directed with the utmost precision could produce
the same result.

The white powder you sent me is something very different from the drug
you prescribed; it is the powder from which the wine of the Sabbath, the
Vinum Sabbati, was prepared. No doubt you have read of the Witches'
Sabbath, and have laughed at the tales which terrified our ancestors;
the black cats, and the broomsticks, and dooms pronounced against some
old woman's cow.

Since I have known the truth I have often reflected that it is on the
whole a happy thing that such burlesque as this is believed, for it
serves to conceal much that it is better should not be known generally.
However, if you care to read the appendix to Payne Knight's monograph,
you will find that the true Sabbath was something very different, though
the writer has very nicely refrained from printing all he knew. The
secrets of the true Sabbath were the secrets of remote times surviving
into the Middle Ages, secrets of an evil science which existed long
before Aryan man entered Europe. Men and women, seduced from their homes
on specious pretences, were met by beings well qualified to assume, as
they did assume, the part of devils, and taken by their guides to some
desolate and lonely place, known to the initiate by long tradition, and
unknown to all else. Perhaps it was a cave in some bare and windswept
hill, perhaps some inmost recess of a great forest, and there the
Sabbath was held. There, in the blackest hour of night, the Vinum
Sabbati was prepared, and this evil gruel was poured forth and offered
to the neophytes, and they partook of an infernal sacrament; sumentes
calicem principis inferorum, as an old author well expresses it. And
suddenly, each one that had drunk found himself attended by a companion,
a share of glamour and unearthly allurement, beckoning him apart, to
share in joys more exquisite, more piercing than the thrill of any
dream, to the consummation of the marriage of the Sabbath.

It is hard to write of such things as these, and chiefly because that
shape that allured with loveliness was no hallucination, but, awful as
it is to express, the man himself. By the power of that Sabbath wine, a
few grains of white powder thrown into a glass of water, the house of
life was riven asunder and the human trinity dissolved, and the worm
which never dies, that which lies sleeping within us all, was made
tangible and an external thing, and clothed with a garment of flesh. And
then, in the hour of midnight, the primal fall was repeated and
re-presented, and the awful thing veiled in the mythos of the Tree in
the Garden was done anew. Such was the nuptiæ Sabbati.

"I prefer to say no more; you, Haberden, know as well as I do that the
most trivial laws of life are not to be broken with impunity; and for so
terrible an act as this, in which the very inmost place of the temple
was broken open and defiled, a terrible vengeance followed. What began
with corruption ended also with corruption."

Underneath is the following in Dr. Haberden's writing:--"The whole
of the above is unfortunately strictly and entirely true. Your brother
confessed all to me on that morning when I saw him in his room. My
attention was first attracted to the bandaged hand, and I forced him to
show it to me. What I saw made me, a medical man of many years'
standing, grow sick with loathing, and the story I was forced to listen
to was infinitely more frightful than I could have believed possible. It
has tempted me to doubt the Eternal Goodness which can permit nature to
offer such hideous possibilities; and if you had not with your own eyes
seen the end, I should have said to you--disbelieve it all. I have
not, I think, many more weeks to live, but you are young, and may forget
all this.

JOSEPH HABERDEN, M.D.

In the course of two or three months I heard that Dr. Haberden had died
at sea shortly after the ship left England.


THE END




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