A voyage to arcturus, p.1
A Voyage to Arcturus, p.1David Lindsay
Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer, and David Widger
A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS.
By David Lindsay
Chapter 1. THE SÉANCE
Chapter 2. IN THE STREET
Chapter 3. STARKNESS
Chapter 4. THE VOICE
Chapter 5. THE NIGHT OF DEPARTURE
Chapter 6. JOIWIND
Chapter 7. PANAWE
Chapter 8. THE LUSION PLAIN
Chapter 9. OCEAXE
Chapter 10. TYDOMIN
Chapter 11. ON DISSCOURN
Chapter 12. SPADEVIL
Chapter 13. THE WOMBFLASH FOREST
Chapter 14. POLECRAB
Chapter 15. SWAYLONE’S ISLAND
Chapter 16. LEEHALLFAE
Chapter 17. CORPANG
Chapter 18. HAUNTE
Chapter 19. SULLENBODE
Chapter 20. BAREY
Chapter 21. MUSPEL
Chapter 1. THE SÉANCE
On a March evening, at eight o’clock, Backhouse, the medium—a fast-rising star in the psychic world—was ushered into the study at Prolands,the Hampstead residence of Montague Faull. The room was illuminated onlyby the light of a blazing fire. The host, eying him with indolentcuriosity, got up, and the usual conventional greetings were exchanged.Having indicated an easy chair before the fire to his guest, the SouthAmerican merchant sank back again into his own. The electric light wasswitched on. Faull’s prominent, clear-cut features, metallic-lookingskin, and general air of bored impassiveness, did not seem greatly toimpress the medium, who was accustomed to regard men from a specialangle. Backhouse, on the contrary, was a novelty to the merchant. As hetranquilly studied him through half closed lids and the smoke of acigar, he wondered how this little, thickset person with the pointedbeard contrived to remain so fresh and sane in appearance, in view ofthe morbid nature of his occupation.
“Do you smoke?” drawled Faull, by way of starting the conversation. “No?Then will you take a drink?”
“Not at present, I thank you.”
“Everything is satisfactory? The materialisation will take place?”
“I see no reason to doubt it.”
“That’s good, for I would not like my guests to be disappointed. I haveyour check written out in my pocket.”
“Afterward will do quite well.”
“Nine o’clock was the time specified, I believe?”
“I fancy so.”
The conversation continued to flag. Faull sprawled in his chair, andremained apathetic.
“Would you care to hear what arrangements I have made?”
“I am unaware that any are necessary, beyond chairs for your guests.”
“I mean the decoration of the siance room, the music, and so forth.”
Backhouse stared at his host. “But this is not a theatricalperformance.”
“That’s correct. Perhaps I ought to explain.... There will be ladiespresent, and ladies, you know, are aesthetically inclined.”
“In that case I have no objection. I only hope they will enjoy theperformance to the end.”
He spoke rather dryly.
“Well, that’s all right, then,” said Faull. Flicking his cigar into thefire, he got up and helped himself to whisky.
“Will you come and see the room?”
“Thank you, no. I prefer to have nothing to do with it till the timearrives.”
“Then let’s go to see my sister, Mrs. Jameson, who is in the drawingroom. She sometimes does me the kindness to act as my hostess, as I amunmarried.”
“I will be delighted,” said Backhouse coldly.
They found the lady alone, sitting by the open pianoforte in a pensiveattitude. She had been playing Scriabin and was overcome. The mediumtook in her small, tight, patrician features and porcelain-like hands,and wondered how Faull came by such a sister. She received him bravely,with just a shade of quiet emotion. He was used to such receptions atthe hands of the sex, and knew well how to respond to them.
“What amazes me,” she half whispered, after ten minutes of graceful,hollow conversation, “is, if you must know it, not so much themanifestation itself—though that will surely be wonderful—as yourassurance that it will take place. Tell me the grounds of yourconfidence.”
“I dream with open eyes,” he answered, looking around at the door, “andothers see my dreams. That is all.”
“But that’s beautiful,” responded Mrs. Jameson. She smiled ratherabsently, for the first guest had just entered.
It was Kent-Smith, the ex-magistrate, celebrated for his shrewd judicialhumour, which, however, he had the good sense not to attempt to carryinto private life. Although well on the wrong side of seventy, his eyeswere still disconcertingly bright. With the selective skill of an oldman, he immediately settled himself in the most comfortable of manycomfortable chairs.
“So we are to see wonders tonight?”
“Fresh material for your autobiography,” remarked Faull.
“Ah, you should not have mentioned my unfortunate book. An old publicservant is merely amusing himself in his retirement, Mr. Backhouse. Youhave no cause for alarm—I have studied in the school of discretion.”
“I am not alarmed. There can be no possible objection to your publishingwhatever you please.”
“You are most kind,” said the old man, with a cunning smile.
“Trent is not coming tonight,” remarked Mrs. Jameson, throwing a curiouslittle glance at her brother.
“I never thought he would. It’s not in his line.”
“Mrs. Trent, you must understand,” she went on, addressing the ex-magistrate, “has placed us all under a debt of gratitude. She hasdecorated the old lounge hall upstairs most beautifully, and has securedthe services of the sweetest little orchestra.”
“But this is Roman magnificence.”
“Backhouse thinks the spirits should be treated with more deference,”laughed Faull.
“Surely, Mr. Backhouse—a poetic environment...”
“Pardon me. I am a simple man, and always prefer to reduce things toelemental simplicity. I raise no opposition, but I express my opinion.Nature is one thing, and art is another.”
“And I am not sure that I don’t agree with you,” said the ex-magistrate.“An occasion like this ought to be simple, to guard against thepossibility of deception—if you will forgive my bluntness, Mr.Backhouse.”
“We shall sit in full light,” replied Backhouse, “and every opportunitywill be given to all to inspect the room. I shall also ask you to submitme to a personal examination.”
A rather embarrassed silence followed. It was broken by the arrival oftwo more guests, who entered together. These were Prior, the prosperousCity coffee importer, and Lang, the stockjobber, well known in his owncircle as an amateur prestidigitator. Backhouse was slightly acquaintedwith the latter. Prior, perfuming the room with the faint odour of wineand tobacco smoke, tried to introduce an atmosphere of joviality intothe proceedings. Finding that no one seconded his efforts, however, heshortly subsided and fell to examining the water colours on the walls.Lang, tall, thin, and growing bald, said little, but stared at Backhousea good deal.
Coffee, liqueurs, and cigarettes were now brought in. Everyone partook,except Lang and the medium. At the same moment, Professor Halbart wasannounced. He was the eminent psychologist, the author and lecturer oncrime, insanity, genius, and so forth, considered in their mentalaspects. His presence at such a gathering somewhat mystified the otherguests, but all felt as if the object of their meeting had immediatelyacquired additional solemnity. He was small, meagre-looking, and mild inmanner, but was probably the most stubborn-brained of all that mixedcompany. Completely ignoring the medium, he at once sat do
At a few minutes past the appointed hour Mrs. Trent entered,unannounced. She was a woman of about twenty-eight. She had a white,demure, saintlike face, smooth black hair, and lips so crimson and fullthat they seemed to be bursting with blood. Her tall, graceful body wasmost expensively attired. Kisses were exchanged between her and Mrs.Jameson. She bowed to the rest of the assembly, and stole a half glanceand a smile at Faull. The latter gave her a queer look, and Backhouse,who lost nothing, saw the concealed barbarian in the complacent gleam ofhis eye. She refused the refreshment that was offered her, and Faullproposed that, as everyone had now arrived, they should adjourn to thelounge hall.
Mrs. Trent held up a slender palm. “Did you, or did you not, give mecarte blanche, Montague?”
“Of course I did,” said Faull, laughing. “But what’s the matter?”
“Perhaps I have been rather presumptuous. I don’t know. I have invited acouple of friends to join us. No, no one knows them.... The two mostextraordinary individuals you ever saw. And mediums, I am sure.”
“It sounds very mysterious. Who are these conspirators?”
“At least tell us their names, you provoking girl,” put in Mrs. Jameson.
“One rejoices in the name of Maskull, and the other in that ofNightspore. That’s nearly all that I know about them, so don’t overwhelmme with any more questions.”
“But where did you pick them up? You must have picked them upsomewhere.”
“But this is a cross-examination. Have I sinned against convention? Iswear I will tell you not another word about them. They will be heredirectly, and then I will deliver them to your tender mercy.”
“I don’t know them,” said Faull, “and nobody else seems to, but, ofcourse, we will all be very pleased to have them.... Shall we wait, orwhat?”
“I said nine, and it’s past that now. It’s quite possible they may notturn up after all.... Anyway, don’t wait.”
“I would prefer to start at once,” said Backhouse.
The lounge, a lofty room, forty feet long by twenty wide, had beendivided for the occasion into two equal parts by a heavy brocade curtaindrawn across the middle. The far end was thus concealed. The nearer halfhad been converted into an auditorium by a crescent of armchairs. Therewas no other furniture. A large fire was burning halfway along the wall,between the chairbacks and the door. The room was brilliantly lighted byelectric bracket lamps. A sumptuous carpet covered the floor.
Having settled his guests in their seats, Faull stepped up to thecurtain and flung it aside. A replica, or nearly so, of the Drury Lanepresentation of the temple scene in The Magic Flute was then exposed toview: the gloomy, massive architecture of the interior, the glowing skyabove it in the background, and, silhouetted against the latter, thegigantic seated statue of the Pharaoh. A fantastically carved woodencouch lay before the pedestal of the statue. Near the curtain, obliquelyplaced to the auditorium, was a plain oak armchair, for the use of themedium.
Many of those present felt privately that the setting was quiteinappropriate to the occasion and savoured rather unpleasantly ofostentation. Backhouse in particular seemed put out. The usualcompliments, however, were showered on Mrs. Trent as the deviser of soremarkable a theatre. Faull invited his friends to step forward andexamine the apartment as minutely as they might desire. Prior and Langwere the only ones to accept. The former wandered about among thepasteboard scenery, whistling to himself and occasionally tapping a partof it with his knuckles. Lang, who was in his element, ignored the restof his party and commenced a patient, systematic search, on his ownaccount, for secret apparatus. Faull and Mrs. Trent stood in a corner ofthe temple, talking together in low tones; while Mrs. Jameson,pretending to hold Backhouse in conversation, watched them as only adeeply interested woman knows how to watch.
Lang, to his own disgust, having failed to find anything of a suspiciousnature, the medium now requested that his own clothing should besearched.
“All these precautions are quite needless and beside the matter in hand,as you will immediately see for yourselves. My reputation demands,however, that other people who are not present would not be able to sayafterward that trickery has been resorted to.”
To Lang again fell the ungrateful task of investigating pockets andsleeves. Within a few minutes he expressed himself satisfied thatnothing mechanical was in Backhouse’s possession. The guests reseatedthemselves. Faull ordered two more chairs to be brought for Mrs. Trent’sfriends, who, however, had not yet arrived. He then pressed an electricbell, and took his own seat.
The signal was for the hidden orchestra to begin playing. A murmur ofsurprise passed through the audience as, without previous warning, thebeautiful and solemn strains of Mozart’s “temple” music pulsated throughthe air. The expectation of everyone was raised, while, beneath herpallor and composure, it could be seen that Mrs. Trent was deeply moved.It was evident that aesthetically she was by far the most importantperson present. Faull watched her, with his face sunk on his chest,sprawling as usual.
Backhouse stood up, with one hand on the back of his chair, and beganspeaking. The music instantly sank to pianissimo, and remained so for aslong as he was on his legs.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness a materialisation. Thatmeans you will see something appear in space that was not previouslythere. At first it will appear as a vaporous form, but finally it willbe a solid body, which anyone present may feel and handle—and, forexample, shake hands with. For this body will be in the human shape. Itwill be a real man or woman—which, I can’t say—but a man or womanwithout known antecedents. If, however, you demand from me anexplanation of the origin of this materialised form—where it comes from,whence the atoms and molecules composing its tissues are derived—I amunable to satisfy you. I am about to produce the phenomenon; if anyonecan explain it to me afterward, I shall be very grateful.... That is allI have to say.”
He resumed his seat, half turning his back on the assembly, and pausedfor a moment before beginning his task.
It was precisely at this minute that the manservant opened the door andannounced in a subdued but distinct voice: “Mr. Maskull, Mr.Nightspore.”
Everyone turned round. Faull rose to welcome the late arrivals.Backhouse also stood up, and stared hard at them.
The two strangers remained standing by the door, which was closedquietly behind them. They seemed to be waiting for the mild sensationcaused by their appearance to subside before advancing into the room.Maskull was a kind of giant, but of broader and more robust physiquethan most giants. He wore a full beard. His features were thick andheavy, coarsely modelled, like those of a wooden carving; but his eyes,small and black, sparkled with the fires of intelligence and audacity.His hair was short, black, and bristling. Nightspore was of middleheight, but so tough-looking that he appeared to be trained out of allhuman frailties and susceptibilities. His hairless face seemed consumedby an intense spiritual hunger, and his eyes were wild and distant. Bothmen were dressed in tweeds.
Before any words were spoken, a loud and terrible crash of fallingmasonry caused the assembled party to start up from their chairs inconsternation. It sounded as if the entire upper part of the buildinghad collapsed. Faull sprang to the door, and called to the servant tosay what was happening. The man had to be questioned twice before hegathered what was required of him. He said he had heard nothing. Inobedience to his master’s order, he went upstairs. Nothing, however, wasamiss there, neither had the maids heard anything.
In the meantime Backhouse, who almost alone of those assembled hadpreserved his sangfroid, went straight up to Nightspore, who stoodgnawing his nails.
“Perhaps you can explain it, sir?”
“It was supernatural,” said Nightspore, in a harsh, muffled voice,turning away from his questioner.
“I guessed so. It is a familiar phenomenon, but I have never heard it soloud.”
He then went among the guests, reassuring them. By degrees t
Backhouse now entered on his task. It was one that began to be familiarto him, and he had no anxiety about the result. It was not possible toeffect the materialisation by mere concentration of will, or theexercise of any faculty; otherwise many people could have done what hehad engaged himself to do. His nature was phenomenal—the dividing wallbetween himself and the spiritual world was broken in many places.Through the gaps in his mind the inhabitants of the invisible, when hesummoned them, passed for a moment timidly and awfully into the solid,coloured universe.... He could not say how it was brought about.... Theexperience was a rough one for the body, and many such struggles wouldlead to insanity and early death. That is why Backhouse was stern andabrupt in his manner. The coarse, clumsy suspicion of some of thewitnesses, the frivolous aestheticism of others, were equally obnoxiousto his grim, bursting heart; but he was obliged to live, and, to pay hisway, must put up with these impertinences.
He sat down facing the wooden couch. His eyes remained open but seemedto look inward. His cheeks paled, and he became noticeably thinner. Thespectators almost forgot to breathe. The more sensitive among them beganto feel, or imagine, strange presences all around them. Maskull’s eyesglittered with anticipation, and his brows went up and down, butNightspore appeared bored.
After a long ten minutes the pedestal of the statue was seen to becomeslightly blurred, as though an intervening mist were rising from theground. This slowly developed into a visible cloud, coiling hither andthither, and constantly changing shape. The professor half rose, andheld his glasses with one hand further forward on the bridge of hisnose.
By slow stages the cloud acquired the dimensions and approximate outlineof an adult human body, although all was still vague and blurred. Ithovered lightly in the air, a foot or so above the couch. Backhouselooked haggard and ghastly. Mrs. Jameson quietly fainted in her chair,but she was unnoticed, and presently revived. The apparition now settleddown upon the couch, and at the moment of doing so seemed suddenly togrow dark, solid, and manlike. Many of the guests were as pale as themedium himself, but Faull preserved his stoical apathy, and glanced onceor twice at Mrs. Trent. She was staring straight at the couch, and wastwisting a little lace handkerchief through the different fingers of herhand. The music went on playing.
The figure was by this time unmistakably that of a man lying down. Theface focused itself into distinctness. The body was draped in a sort ofshroud, but the features were those of a young man. One smooth hand fellover, nearly touching the floor, white and motionless. The weakerspirits of the company stared at the vision in sick horror; the restwere grave and perplexed. The seeming man was dead, but somehow it didnot appear like a death succeeding life, but like a death preliminary tolife. All felt that he might sit up at any minute.
“Stop that music!” muttered Backhouse, tottering from his chair andfacing the party. Faull touched the bell. A few more bars sounded, andthen total silence ensued.
“Anyone who wants to may approach the couch,” said Backhouse withdifficulty.
Lang at once advanced, and stared awestruck at the supernatural youth.
“You are at liberty to touch,” said the medium.
But Lang did not venture to, nor did any of the others, who one by onestole up to the couch—until it came to Faull’s turn. He looked straightat Mrs. Trent, who seemed frightened and disgusted at the spectaclebefore her, and then not only touched the apparition but suddenlygrasped the drooping hand in his own and gave it a powerful squeeze.Mrs. Trent gave a low scream. The ghostly visitor opened his eyes,looked at Faull strangely, and sat up on the couch. A cryptic smilestarted playing over his mouth. Faull looked at his hand; a feeling ofintense pleasure passed through his body.
Maskull caught Mrs. Jameson in his arms; she was attacked by anotherspell of faintness. Mrs. Trent ran forward, and led her out of the room.Neither of them returned.
The phantom body now stood upright, looking about him, still with hispeculiar smile. Prior suddenly felt sick, and went out. The other menmore or less hung together, for the sake of human society, butNightspore paced up and down, like a man weary and impatient, whileMaskull attempted to interrogate the youth. The apparition watched himwith a baffling expression, but did not answer. Backhouse was sittingapart, his face buried in his hands.
It was at this moment that the door was burst open violently, and astranger, unannounced, half leaped, half strode a few yards into theroom, and then stopped. None of Faull’s friends had ever seen himbefore. He was a thick, shortish man, with surprising musculardevelopment and a head far too large in proportion to his body. Hisbeardless yellow face indicated, as a first impression, a mixture ofsagacity, brutality, and humour.
“Aha-i, gentlemen!” he called out loudly. His voice was piercing, andoddly disagreeable to the ear. “So we have a little visitor here.”
Nightspore turned his back, but everyone else stared at the intruder inastonishment. He took another few steps forward, which brought him tothe edge of the theatre.
“May I ask, sir, how I come to have the honour of being your host?”asked Faull sullenly. He thought that the evening was not proceeding assmoothly as he had anticipated.
The newcomer looked at him for a second, and then broke into a great,roaring guffaw. He thumped Faull on the back playfully—but the play wasrather rough, for the victim was sent staggering against the wall beforehe could recover his balance.
“Good evening, my host!”
“And good evening to you too, my lad!” he went on, addressing thesupernatural youth, who was now beginning to wander about the room, inapparent unconsciousness of his surroundings. “I have seen someone verylike you before, I think.”
There was no response.
The intruder thrust his head almost up to the phantom’s face. “You haveno right here, as you know.”
The shape looked back at him with a smile full of significance, which,however, no one could understand.
“Be careful what you are doing,” said Backhouse quickly.
“What’s the matter, spirit usher?”
“I don’t know who you are, but if you use physical violence toward that,as you seem inclined to do, the consequences may prove very unpleasant.”
“And without pleasure our evening would be spoiled, wouldn’t it, mylittle mercenary friend?”
Humour vanished from his face, like sunlight from a landscape, leavingit hard and rocky. Before anyone realised what he was doing, heencircled the soft, white neck of the materialised shape with his hairyhands and, with a double turn, twisted it completely round. A faint,unearthly shriek sounded, and the body fell in a heap to the floor. Itsface was uppermost. The guests were unutterably shocked to observe thatits expression had changed from the mysterious but fascinating smile toa vulgar, sordid, bestial grin, which cast a cold shadow of moralnastiness into every heart. The transformation was accompanied by asickening stench of the graveyard.
The features faded rapidly away, the body lost its consistence, passingfrom the solid to the shadowy condition, and, before two minutes hadelapsed, the spirit-form had entirely disappeared.
The short stranger turned and confronted the party, with a long, loudlaugh, like nothing in nature.
The professor talked excitedly to Kent-Smith in low tones. Faullbeckoned Backhouse behind a wing of scenery, and handed him his checkwithout a word. The medium put it in his pocket, buttoned his coat, andwalked out of the room. Lang followed him, in order to get a drink.
The stranger poked his face up into Maskull’s.
“Well, giant, what do you think of it all? Wouldn’t you like to see theland where this sort of fruit grows wild?”
“What sort of fruit?”
Maskull waved him away with his huge hand. “Who are you, and how did youcome here?”
“Call up your friend. Perhaps he may recognise me.” Nightspore had moveda chair to the fire, and was watching the embers with a set, fanaticalexpression.
“Let Krag come to me, if he wants me,” he said, in his strange voice.
“You see, he does know me,” uttered Krag, with a humorous look. Walkingover to Nightspore, he put a hand on the back of his chair.
“Still the same old gnawing hunger?”
“What is doing these days?” demanded Nightspore disdainfully, withoutaltering his attitude.
“Surtur has gone, and we are to follow him.”
“How do you two come to know each other, and of whom are you speaking?”asked Maskull, looking from one to the other in perplexity.
“Krag has something for us. Let us go outside,” replied Nightspore. Hegot up, and glanced over his shoulder. Maskull, following the directionof his eye, observed that the few remaining men were watching theirlittle group attentively.
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