Friday, June 23, 2017

A sublime sickness: Doctors Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven

Doctors Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven
1960: Anthony Blond Publishing



***

Doctors Wear Scarlet is the last horror novel I will need to read. The last novel of any kind I will need to read, if truth be told.

Of course, I will reread some old favorites. But as far as novel-length fiction goes, no new (to me) titles need apply. 

For a long time now I thought I missed a fine chance to quit in the summer of 2008, when I called off work for a week to consume The Count of Monte Cristo. But I kept telling myself there was another great novel-reading experience out there, and I just needed to keep going.

For the horror fiction reader, novels are mostly disappointments. The kind of characters and stories needed in order to find a publisher militate against the genre's strengths: the uncanny, the strange wrapped within the familiar, the sharp shock, and economies of means and ends.

Today many horror novels are of limited run from small houses. Horror speciality publishers seem to be in business to generate scarce collectors’ items that can be resold for a mint. Include me out on that, too.

Doctors Wear Scarlet is available inexpensively as an eBook, so it surprises me how little mention it gets among contemporary horror readers. The novel was originally published in 1960, well before the horror boom years, so I assume it was lost to notice under that avalanche. The only reason I ever heard of it was because I read Twilight Zone Magazine in the early 1980s. In one issue Karl Edward Wagner put it on a ten-best list.

Set in 1957, the novel takes place soon after UK imperialism suffered an international defeat in the Suez war. This event, and the historic decline of the old British Empire that it codified, goes unmentioned by author Simon Raven. But within the novel's sun-bleached uncanny atmosphere, there is a marked air of defeat, missed chances, thwarted ambitions, and stunted hopes among all the characters.

The tension of these contradictions is played-out in novel's plot. Richard Fountain, an able and studious student at public school and Cambridge, refers to himself as an impotent virgin. He is at the start of a career in classical archaeology. But Fountain is also passively waiting, looking for a power that will break down his cell of thwarted urges. He resents both the academic career and mate his elders are planning for him, and is ready for another source of authority to impose control.

He finds this other authority while on a year-long expedition to Greece. It will not spoil the novel's plot if I reveal that this authority is the ancient taint of vampirism. At first Fountain loves and abets the vampire. Later, when the two are on the run from police through the Greek islands, Fountain will become its only source of sustenance.

The forgoing has already taken place when the novel begins. In Part One of the novel, Fountain's friend Anthony Seymour pieces this story together. A Metropolitan Police detective and several university acquaintances flesh it out for him. In Part Two, Seymour and two mutual friends travel to Greece. Their plan is to find Richard Fountain and bring him home. Part Three reveals what happens when they succeed.

The brilliance of Raven's novel is not the story per se. The brilliance lies in the telling. A few excerpts below will show the reader much more effectively than any more statements from me.

Jay
23 June 2017





Excerpts from Doctor Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven.

___


....“I’m sorry, Mr Seymour,” he said. Then he produced an identity card which said he was Inspector John Tyrrel of the Metropolitan Police.

“How did you get in?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” he said again. “The caretaker… I showed him my card.”

“My telephone number’s in the book,” I said. “As far as I’m concerned the police can ring up for appointments just like anybody else.”

“I’m sorry,” he said; “but you see this isn’t really an official visit. I’ve just come–”

“If this isn’t an official visit,” I said, “then so much the more could it have waited until some reasonable and pre-arranged hour of the day.”


***


....there was in our House at this time a loutish and pustular boy called Westerby. Opinionated but near-cretinous, loud-mouthed and pea-brained, overgrown, over-bearing and over-sexed, Westerby was now starting his fourth year at the school. Still in some remote and unbelievably inferior form, he was the soundest candidate for superannuation that ever I heard of. But this, you must remember, was during the war; and the war-time policy, discreetly urged on Head Masters by the Heads of Services, was that boys, however stupid, who were “potential officer material” should by hook or by crook be kept at school till the age of seventeen and a half, in the hope that they might learn something and because, if they were superannuated at an earlier stage, there were technical difficulties in getting them commissioned with all the speed thought necessary.


***

....“So of course you know Dickie Fountain,” he said. “Now that one, my dear, has really caught our Walter’s eye. You should have heard Walter when Dickie came up to take his scholarship exam. ‘A real winner,’ Walter said, as though poor Dickie were in for the Stewards’ Cup. ‘Will go a long way,’ Walter boomed. But of course we should have elected him anyway, if only because he wrote such a charming essay. Do you know what he wrote about?”

“No.”

“‘The Dying Gods’, my dear. Not original, you think? Ah. But you see, it wasn’t one of those dreamy, melancholy little pieces, pretending to think Pan is still alive but only just, you know the kind of thing, and sometimes to be seen crying in the woods if you look very carefully. It was a great big angry essay, saying that the Gods were dying indeed but not fast enough, that they were still a menace and ought to have been done with long since. He got very cross about it and seemed really to believe what he was saying.”


***


....struck by a sudden idea, I said aloud, “How does this wish of yours to express pagan wildness square with that essay you wrote in your scholarship exam?”

“Essay?”

“‘The Dying Gods.’ I’m told you condemned pagan survivals.”

“In a way I do. We’ve all got lives to live and careers to make. We’ve all got to marry sometime, settle down. And this seemed to me a point of view which might do one good in an exam of this kind.”

“Really, Richard. You calculating–”

“Please, Anthony. I wanted that scholarship: I needed it. I’m not rich, you know. And in any case, I believed what I wrote about pagan survivals…being in some way a threat. But then again, sometimes I think that the very things which are most threatening about them are the most deserving of…of respect. The idea of wine or sex being in some way divine, because they lead beyond mere pleasure to ecstasy and so to release. So that revels or routs are not just obscene – they represent the desire to escape oneself and – become part of…the god. This was the kind of thing I was trying to express in some of my poems and what I thought would make Walter angry… But somehow it didn’t.”


***

....“I can tell you one thing,” Tyrrel said grimly. “Mr Fountain will be back this September and even a good while sooner.”

“Ah,” I said, “I hoped you’d volunteer something sooner or later. It’s very much your turn. How do you come to be so certain, Inspector Tyrrel? Expand.”

“Because the Greek authorities, sir, will not allow him to stay.”

Not for the first time that evening, he wandered over to my bookcase and looked carefully along the shelves.

“Go on, man.”

“One of the pleasing things about this case,” mused Tyrrel, disregarding my remark, “is that it has so many…intellectual implications.”

He took from the shelves a book by Carl Kerényi called The Gods of the Greeks.

“When did you last read this, sir?”

“As an undergraduate. Before one of my exams.”

“Read it again, Mr Seymour. Particularly the early chapters. Or perhaps you remember them?”

“Not in any detail,” I said.

“Very well… Now, let me remind you of one or two things that have emerged very clearly from our discussion. One: Mr Fountain wrote an essay as a boy of eighteen – an essay which created some impression – called ‘The Dying Gods’; and in it he complained that the old gods were not dying fast enough and constituted a menace to society. Correct?”

“Yes,” I said, “but–”

“–Two,” said Tyrrel firmly: “his fellowship thesis was concerned with the survival of Minoan rites into classical times.”

“Granted.”

“And three: after he came back from the Army Dr Goodrich put him on to another line of research; but before leaving for Greece, Mr Fountain insisted on changing back to his Minoan interests. And what do you conclude from all this, Mr Seymour?”

“That he is interested in ancient religions, particularly the earlier varieties.”

“Good enough. And necessarily of course he would have to know, not only about Minoan or Cretan carryings-on, but also about the early imported Northern practices, which were brought down into Greece from Central Europe or Asia or wherever?”

“Presumably.”

“So. Now, Mr Seymour,” said Tyrrel, as if he had occupied a lecturer’s dais all his life, “if you will be so good as to reread Mr Kerényi – or any other of the great number of books on this subject – you will not be slow to recollect that the ideas and rituals associated with Minoan religion were a trifle unsavoury. Mind you, the Cretans were an attractive people, and there is no doubt that their whole conception was being gradually softened, that a strongly pleasurable element was creeping into their observances. Still, even the Cretans are not exactly a model guide for contemporary procedure. Agreed?”

“Most heartily.”

“And if this can be said of the Cretans, what are we to think of the primitive Northern and Asiatic deities, who also occupied an important place in the original Greek theogony? They were not at all pleasant, Mr Seymour. There are little tales of rapes, castrations, wholesale devourings of offspring: their qualities, as befitted the harsh and uncharitable regions whence they came, were in every way destructive, vengeance primed and lustful. There is no need to go into detail. You take my point?”

“Very clearly,” I said with some admiration.

“Well, sir. Some say that the Female Principle – Mother Earth or the Mother Goddess – is on the whole a Cretan or Southern speciality; and that the Male Principle – Uranus the fertilising sky-god, perhaps – came from the North. What concerns us here is that both principles were celebrated, in early times, with sacrifice, violence and assorted indelicacy. And that is all I am going to say about that.”

He tossed Kerényi on to the table in front of me.

“Well?” I said.

“I do not permit myself, sir, to make connections without strong factual evidence. But you may care to bear in mind what I have just been saying; and then to hear, in return for the facts you have told me, the very limited set of facts which I can tell you.

“My facts are just these. Firstly, the Greek authorities are concerned because there have lately been two or three very nasty discoveries – discoveries associated with the unexpected disappearance of certain people and which suggest peculiar, not to say abnormal, conduct on the part of some other – unknown – people. Secondly, the Greek authorities have made it plain that Mr Fountain must be out of the country at the end of one year’s residence – which is to say by this September. Thirdly, they have given him no reason for this. Fourthly, they have informed Scotland Yard both that they are requiring Mr Fountain to leave, and also of their concern about…the incidents I have just mentioned. And those are all my facts.”

“I can see no connection anywhere,” I said petulantly.

“Of course,” said Tyrrel, “the Greeks know nothing of what you have been telling me. But with regard to what they do know, they did just hint that considerations of time and place were…indicative. There is a link or two, though admittedly no chain.”

“For Christ’s sake be more precise.”

“And the Greeks did observe that some of Mr Fountain’s scholarly investigations, on sites and in libraries, had been of a curious nature.”

“Of course they had,” I nearly shouted at him: “his subject is of a curious nature. Tell me what you mean, man. What anybody means.”

“I’m afraid we must leave it at that,” said Tyrrel abruptly. “You’ve been most helpful, sir. And believe me, I’ve told you all I can.”

He walked smartly towards my bookcase, carrying the Cavafis he had been reading when I first found him. Then he hesitated and turned round.

“Might I borrow this?” he said.

“If you wish,” I said, with as much annoyance as I could get into my voice. “Only remember to send it back – at some reasonable hour of the day. It is a rare book.”

“That,” said Tyrrel, “is why I asked to borrow it. And don’t worry about its being returned. You will be seeing something of me.”

***

....“There is…something,” Milton said. “It’s an odd story and worth hearing in any case. It may fit in with what you’re after.” His can was restored to him by the enchanting Ganymede, who tickled his neck before leaving the table. “Insolent brat,” said Milton in a friendly parody of English tones: “he’ll charge a drachma extra on the can for that.” Then he settled himself forward on his elbows.

“It’s a little tricky this,” he began, “especially as it may concern a friend of yours. Still, you asked for it. The first thing to know is that some three miles up the coast to the North there’s a fine natural harbour, ’most as good as the one here, which the natives use as a kind of crude ship-building yard. There’s boat houses and a row of stone buildings, but mostly no one sleeps there. They just work there by day, tearing up the old craft that are sent to be junked there and using the sound timbers to patch the newer boats. Then in the evening they row back here. But sometimes, in the springtime, in the summer, some of the boys take food and stay up there the night as a kind of adventure, I reckon, or to get quit of their scolding old mothers for a while. So one day this June young Michaeli, who’s the son of the shipwright Thalassides, took his friend Nico and three bottles of wine and two lobsters, and off they went telling everyone they were going to camp out the night at Thyrias – which is what they call this shipyard.”

He took a long draught of wine.

“So no one thought anything of this – until the boys got back the next day and told everyone what they thought they saw. And it was a night, I may tell you gentlemen, with a beautiful round moon, so there’s reason enough to suppose they saw it. And what they told everyone was this. They were sitting drinking outside a hut up on the far end of the quay they have there, and because of the moon being so bright they weren’t bothered with a lamp, so probably no one would have noticed them. And as they sat there a small sailing boat came round the Northern point of the harbour. Well, at first they thought nothing of this, because it might have been some fisherman who had gone out for a night’s fishing, or it might have been some tourist who’d taken a fancy to the moonlight and hired the boat to take him around in it. Anyway, they just watched it without bothering much – until they saw it was putting in towards the quay. So then they got all anxious to see who might be coming to spoil their privacy, and they walked along a strip of beach which lies under the quay for a way; but they kept themselves hidden behind the hulks and all that were lying about, because whoever was coming they weren’t keen to be involved with them.

“The next thing that happened was that this sailing boat nosed up on to the strip of beach about twenty yards from where they were hiding behind a rowing boat. Out gets some ragged character whom they don’t recognize and ties up the boat to one of the old cannons, which are stuck muzzle down into the sand to act as bollards. Then he looks around him and apparently finds everything in order, so he calls back to the boat. And then… Well, I reckon this is the difficult bit, so I’ll try and get it right and you gentlemen must hear me out in peace, so’s I don’t lose it.”

He drank again, a magnificent swig straight from the can that would not have disgraced Jack Falstaff.

“What happened, so Michaeli and Nico said, was this. A tall young woman stepped off the boat, dressed in a sweater and pants, and with a kind of cloak hanging from her shoulders. She too looked around, and apparently she was happy about the beach and all, because she then spoke, very tight and cold, only they couldn’t hear the words, back in the direction of the boat. Then there was a deal of fumbling about in the bottom of the boat, and after a bit three other men come up with a kind of stretcher, which they ease forward over the bow, till the tall woman and the man who got out first are able to help them, and they get this stretcher thing lying on the beach. Then the woman kneels down by the stretcher and starts making soft sort of crooning noises, and the boys get to busting themselves to see what’s on it, and what they think they see is this.

“They reckon it’s a man on the stretcher, wrapped in blankets right up to his chin, and with a face which is bold and proud but…but sort of dead-looking. That is, it’s so white, in the moonlight, that it looks like the face of a figure on a tomb – you know the sort of thing, alabaster face looking straight up at the sky, eyes closed, immobile… And they reckon the hair is dark, but it’s not a Greek face; while Nico, who’s been to Athens once or twice, said it was rather like a picture he saw there of your Lord Byron. Handsome, and proud like I said. But all the time looking so dead. White, they said, with the hair falling over the forehead, and these blankets, held by straps, wrapped tight and coming right up to the chin, so that the body – the man – is rather like some kind of mummy.

“Well, they don’t find this any too nice to look at, but they can’t move, what with this woman and four men and all, so they just sit tight. Meantime the woman goes on crooning and sort of caresses this figure on the stretcher, strokes him all over, only of course she’s only stroking the blankets. She starts at the feet and works up along the body. When she comes to the face, she touches it with the ends of her fingers and tidies the hair back from the forehead for a bit; till suddenly she bends over to kiss the face – or it looks as if she’s going to kiss the face, but just as her lips get down there her whole head sort of slips aside and her mouth seems to nuzzle in under the ear, as though she’s got some secret to whisper first… But just then one of the men comes up and tugs her to her feet, and starts talking, fiercely but very low, so that once again the boys don’t get what’s being said.

“Then all the other men come and join in, and they still talk very low, but they seem to be angry over something; until after a time the woman makes a wave of her hand and then seems to be giving them money, and whatever it is it shuts them up for sure. Last of all, two of the men get back into the boat, while the other two pick up the stretcher and start away from the harbour towards the track that leads up into the hills. The woman follows them, with a good strong step and her cloak swinging as she goes, and the whole party vanishes round the shoulder of a hill. Meantime, the two men in the sailing boat untie her and take off out of the harbour, turning back up North when they get to the harbour mouth. As for the boys, they’re only a couple of kids, and they just go back to their hut, take a big swig of wine each, and pull their blankets up over their heads. And that’s it, gentlemen. That’s the story that Michaeli and Nico had to tell when they got back from their all night picnic the next morning.”

“They never thought of following…the stretcher?” I asked.

“They thought of it all right. But neither of them would have done it for ten thousand drachmas. They didn’t like the woman, see, and they didn’t like what they saw on the stretcher.”


***


....“There is…something,” Milton said. “It’s an odd story and worth hearing in any case. It may fit in with what you’re after.” His can was restored to him by the enchanting Ganymede, who tickled his neck before leaving the table. “Insolent brat,” said Milton in a friendly parody of English tones: “he’ll charge a drachma extra on the can for that.” Then he settled himself forward on his elbows.

“It’s a little tricky this,” he began, “especially as it may concern a friend of yours. Still, you asked for it. The first thing to know is that some three miles up the coast to the North there’s a fine natural harbour, ’most as good as the one here, which the natives use as a kind of crude ship-building yard. There’s boat houses and a row of stone buildings, but mostly no one sleeps there. They just work there by day, tearing up the old craft that are sent to be junked there and using the sound timbers to patch the newer boats. Then in the evening they row back here. But sometimes, in the springtime, in the summer, some of the boys take food and stay up there the night as a kind of adventure, I reckon, or to get quit of their scolding old mothers for a while. So one day this June young Michaeli, who’s the son of the shipwright Thalassides, took his friend Nico and three bottles of wine and two lobsters, and off they went telling everyone they were going to camp out the night at Thyrias – which is what they call this shipyard.”

He took a long draught of wine.

“So no one thought anything of this – until the boys got back the next day and told everyone what they thought they saw. And it was a night, I may tell you gentlemen, with a beautiful round moon, so there’s reason enough to suppose they saw it. And what they told everyone was this. They were sitting drinking outside a hut up on the far end of the quay they have there, and because of the moon being so bright they weren’t bothered with a lamp, so probably no one would have noticed them. And as they sat there a small sailing boat came round the Northern point of the harbour. Well, at first they thought nothing of this, because it might have been some fisherman who had gone out for a night’s fishing, or it might have been some tourist who’d taken a fancy to the moonlight and hired the boat to take him around in it. Anyway, they just watched it without bothering much – until they saw it was putting in towards the quay. So then they got all anxious to see who might be coming to spoil their privacy, and they walked along a strip of beach which lies under the quay for a way; but they kept themselves hidden behind the hulks and all that were lying about, because whoever was coming they weren’t keen to be involved with them.

“The next thing that happened was that this sailing boat nosed up on to the strip of beach about twenty yards from where they were hiding behind a rowing boat. Out gets some ragged character whom they don’t recognize and ties up the boat to one of the old cannons, which are stuck muzzle down into the sand to act as bollards. Then he looks around him and apparently finds everything in order, so he calls back to the boat. And then… Well, I reckon this is the difficult bit, so I’ll try and get it right and you gentlemen must hear me out in peace, so’s I don’t lose it.”

He drank again, a magnificent swig straight from the can that would not have disgraced Jack Falstaff.

“What happened, so Michaeli and Nico said, was this. A tall young woman stepped off the boat, dressed in a sweater and pants, and with a kind of cloak hanging from her shoulders. She too looked around, and apparently she was happy about the beach and all, because she then spoke, very tight and cold, only they couldn’t hear the words, back in the direction of the boat. Then there was a deal of fumbling about in the bottom of the boat, and after a bit three other men come up with a kind of stretcher, which they ease forward over the bow, till the tall woman and the man who got out first are able to help them, and they get this stretcher thing lying on the beach. Then the woman kneels down by the stretcher and starts making soft sort of crooning noises, and the boys get to busting themselves to see what’s on it, and what they think they see is this.

“They reckon it’s a man on the stretcher, wrapped in blankets right up to his chin, and with a face which is bold and proud but…but sort of dead-looking. That is, it’s so white, in the moonlight, that it looks like the face of a figure on a tomb – you know the sort of thing, alabaster face looking straight up at the sky, eyes closed, immobile… And they reckon the hair is dark, but it’s not a Greek face; while Nico, who’s been to Athens once or twice, said it was rather like a picture he saw there of your Lord Byron. Handsome, and proud like I said. But all the time looking so dead. White, they said, with the hair falling over the forehead, and these blankets, held by straps, wrapped tight and coming right up to the chin, so that the body – the man – is rather like some kind of mummy.

“Well, they don’t find this any too nice to look at, but they can’t move, what with this woman and four men and all, so they just sit tight. Meantime the woman goes on crooning and sort of caresses this figure on the stretcher, strokes him all over, only of course she’s only stroking the blankets. She starts at the feet and works up along the body. When she comes to the face, she touches it with the ends of her fingers and tidies the hair back from the forehead for a bit; till suddenly she bends over to kiss the face – or it looks as if she’s going to kiss the face, but just as her lips get down there her whole head sort of slips aside and her mouth seems to nuzzle in under the ear, as though she’s got some secret to whisper first… But just then one of the men comes up and tugs her to her feet, and starts talking, fiercely but very low, so that once again the boys don’t get what’s being said.

“Then all the other men come and join in, and they still talk very low, but they seem to be angry over something; until after a time the woman makes a wave of her hand and then seems to be giving them money, and whatever it is it shuts them up for sure. Last of all, two of the men get back into the boat, while the other two pick up the stretcher and start away from the harbour towards the track that leads up into the hills. The woman follows them, with a good strong step and her cloak swinging as she goes, and the whole party vanishes round the shoulder of a hill. Meantime, the two men in the sailing boat untie her and take off out of the harbour, turning back up North when they get to the harbour mouth. As for the boys, they’re only a couple of kids, and they just go back to their hut, take a big swig of wine each, and pull their blankets up over their heads. And that’s it, gentlemen. That’s the story that Michaeli and Nico had to tell when they got back from their all night picnic the next morning.”

“They never thought of following…the stretcher?” I asked.

“They thought of it all right. But neither of them would have done it for ten thousand drachmas. They didn’t like the woman, see, and they didn’t like what they saw on the stretcher.”

***

"....Once there probably was a time when Richard himself was the danger. You remember what I told you in Cambridge, Anthony? About Richard looking for release, and how this search could quite as easily be for something to hate as for something to love? Well, I stick by that even now. But at some stage the situation has been twisted round. It’s Richard that’s being hunted now, Richard who’s in danger…

“Richard being hunted. Not only by the police, but by the very powers he went out to discover. He thought that Greece would give him freedom and manhood – release from Walter and all the things that had been stifling him for so long. All this might have been achieved through love or through hate, but the important thing is he expected to find certain…certain forces…which would propel him onward to release. I don’t suppose he knew whether these would operate through love or through hate. Perhaps he didn’t care. Perhaps he assumed that they must be benevolent – or deceived himself into assuming that. In any case he came here and he found the power he was looking for, and in some way it was working through this woman. He thought he could harness it – harness it to draw his chariot to freedom. But he’d forgotten something very important about himself.”

Some stars showed through a gap in the cloud that was drifting across the sky, but the road seemed darker than ever. There was a wind rising and the sea stirred uneasily in its wary rest.

“He’d forgotten something that was embedded in his nature. It is Richard’s nature to command but it is also Richard’s nature to obey. For years he’s been obeying – obeying the school rules, obeying Roddy, obeying Walter. He has commanded, yes – but always under higher authority. Sometimes he has seemed temporarily independent of that authority; sometimes he has rebelled against it – snubbed Walter, insulted Penelope: but he’s always come back before long. Always knuckled under. So that in the end, when he found the power that was to release him from obedience, he also found that he must still have something to obey. Walter was too far away – the book of rules was back in England, back in the housemaster’s study, and there was no help from any of these. Deprived of the familiar, he turned for help wherever he might find it; and so, instead of controlling the power that was going to release him, he has begged for it to control him, he has chosen, not to use it, but to grovel under it. And since this power has come in the form of a woman…

“What form did he think it would come in? Did he think strength would flow up through his feet out of the soil of Greece? Or that the old gods, the gods of warriors and lovers, of drinkers and travellers, would come down from Olympus to his aid? Or perhaps he longed for even older gods, the gods of Crete, or those that were here before Olympus ever rose from Earth the Mother – herself the most ancient of them all, except the Void. But wherever he thought this power would come from, from Aphrodite or the Earth or the Sky, from the holy soil of Hellas or from the winds of freedom which fly singing off its mountains, he thought it would come in a known guise – known, at any rate, to him, because he knew about the gods, and about Greece which is the giver of life.

“So when he found this woman, he must have thought that here, in human form, was Aphrodite or Demeter, or some power of which he knew and which would bring him where he wished to be – forever out of Walter’s clutches. God knows what happened for a time. Those hints of Tyrrel’s… But then he started wanting to obey once more, and here was the twist, because having no Walter to obey he now obeyed the woman. Tired of revolt, he turned in obedience to the power through which he had revolted – but thinking all the time that it was a power benevolent towards him, or at least one which he knew of or had read of, a goddess or a guardian or a nymph.

“But it wasn’t any of these. This woman was quite different. She wasn’t a goddess or a nymph. She wasn’t love and she wasn’t hate. She was from the ancient world all right, but she was from a part of it he didn’t know about. Something he had overlooked in his investigations. Something which has persisted through the ages, firstly in Greece, where it had its birth and where it is still strongest, but later in all of Europe. She was the votary of a cult very different from those, whether good or evil, with which Richard Fountain had concerned himself. She was… She was…”

“Are you trying to say,” said Roddy gently, “that she is in some way supernatural?”

“No,” said Piers, and now his tone lost its slightly unreal quality and became crisp and sharp again. “No,” he said; “she’s a woman all right, and she’s a mortal woman. But she is the inheritress, if I am not mistaken, of an old and particularly obscene tradition. I’ve spoken of this before. Do you still not know what I mean?”

“No,” said Roddy firmly.


***

....He turned and spoke to the Superior.

“‘Your friend,’” translated Piers, who had evidently established Richard’s identity beyond doubt, “‘your friend was suffering from…’” – here Piers paused and glanced almost furtively at us – “‘…from an ancient sickness. The woman brought him to be cured. Not because she loves us, but because she knew that we could cure him better and more swiftly than anyone else. Nor does she desire that he should be…properly …finally cured’ – cured in the spirit, he seems to mean – ‘but she wishes, because after her own way she loves him, that for the time being he should remain alive. When he came here he was sick nearly to death; and we cured him, because we, in the Monastery of the Blood of Christ, have this secret, and because it was our duty, in all charity, to do so. But the cure will not be for long: with the woman he will become sick once more, and sooner or later her love will tire, and when that happens she will not bring him back to us for healing, but will cast him off and let him die. The woman is accursed…’”

The Superior talked gravely on, but Piers, whose expression had slowly become more drawn and despairing, ceased to translate. For two or three minutes we listened to the meaningless voice, then Roddy spoke up sharply – “What does he say, boy? For God’s sake tell us.”

Piers looked at us, again rather furtively.

“It’s all much the same,” he said. “The woman is evil, she brought Richard here to be cured, but as long as he is with her he cannot really be well. She only wished him cured so that she might begin to make him sick again. The only real cure is to take him from this woman, and even then…”

The Superior touched Piers’ arm and pointed at Roddy and myself with a look of interrogation. Piers seemed to brush off the old man’s questions, but he persisted, until Piers shrugged and spoke a few rather halting words.

“What does he want to know?” asked Roddy.

“Whether you have understood what has been said.”

“Well I don’t,” said Roddy flatly. “There are a lot of things I don’t understand, and among them what this ‘ancient’ disease is, which the monks in this monastery can cure but which will apparently recur. I should be obliged, for a start, if you would enlighten me as to that.”

“I tried to tell you. The other day and on the road,” said Piers, almost in tears. “I tried very hard. Do you remember what I said? That Richard’s…trouble…might be connected with the practices of the ancient city of Hydra. That King Heracles destroyed the city, but meanwhile the practices might have come over with colonists to this island.”

***

....“Tell us what you know,” said Tyrrel abruptly. “Tell us what the superstitious say, and then what the instructed say. We must have something to go on, Erik. Do your best – and then leave the responsibility squarely with us.”

“I had no intention of leaving it anywhere else,” said Doctor Holmstrom. He tilted his chair back and sent a stream of smoke towards the ceiling. Then he sat forward again, put his chin in his left hand, and began, slowly and with great care, to tell us what he knew.

“Vampirism,” he said, “is a phenomenon popularly associated with Central and Eastern Europe. In fact, of course, it is universal – and extremely rare. The reason why we connect it so readily with the Balkan states is that it was in this part of the world that the most substantial and entertaining corpus of legend was first established. Most simple people are good at producing grim superstitions; but the Slav and Magyar inhabitants of Eastern Europe share with certain Scandinavians a genius for spicing their tales with a kind of succinct and plausible nastiness that one seldom finds elsewhere. The vampire myth was just the sort of material they needed. Hence their particular insistence on it, and hence the popular idea that vampires exist only between the Carpathian mountains and the Northern shores of the Eastern Mediterranean. In fact you will find as many, or as few, in Boston as in Budapest. But because of their skilful use of the legend, the East Europeans have a corner in vampirism; and this, roughly, is what their superstition maintains.

“It postulates a taste in a living human being for sucking the blood of other human beings. How, in the first instance such a taste should arise is uncertain; but clearly, from a purely superstitious point of view, there is a connection with the magical notion that by possessing yourself of any living part of another person or animal you increase your own power both over the creature concerned and in nature generally. Nail-parings, hair, testicles…but what could be more significant, what could possibly increase your power so much, as actually drinking human blood? In any case, there it is: a living person has this taste, and he indulges it at the expense of his fellow men. But now we come to one of the most terrifying and also most misleading aspects of the whole affair: for according to the superstition, anybody who is used by a vampire becomes infected with the taste himself. And even worse. He may die from loss of blood, he may, for whatever reason, survive; but in either case he himself has now become a vampire and as such will continue to roam the earth in search of human prey even after he has died his human death and regardless of how soon or late this may occur.

“Now, as to the exact powers enjoyed by a vampire after death, opinion differs a good deal from region to region. At one end of the scale, the vampire is credited only with the freedom to wander from his grave between sunset and sunrise. At the other extreme, he is supposed to be able to survive in all respects as a normal human being, save that he will always avoid the light of the sun as far as possible and will tend to be languid during the day time. Then there are several ancillary powers, variously affirmed and denied. Most forms of the legend maintain that vampires can induce hypnosis in their intended victims. Some versions say that after dark – whether or not he must spend the day in the tomb – the vampire can transform himself into a bat or a wolf at will – or can even change himself into a kind of thin mist, thus facilitating entrance into places where he is, for excellent reasons, unwelcome. One may remark, incidentally, that some talent of this nature is presupposed by the very condition of his existence, or how would a vampire escape from his tomb in the first place? But it is idle to insist on logic when dealing with matters of this kind. What it boils down to is that any man who has given blood to a vampire, whether to a living vampire or a ‘dead’ one, becomes a vampire in his turn and is endowed, when he dies, with some form of bodily immortality. Such a creature is nourished by human blood – though he continues to exist when deprived of it–: he dislikes sunlight, garlic, onions, salt water, and the form of the so called holy cross: he may or may not have supernatural powers other than that of surviving death: and he may or may not be able to exist unsuspected with and among other men.

“Finally, the matter of destroying such creatures. There is only one way of doing this. You must discover the vampire when he is inert and powerless, which, according to some, would be between sunrise and sunset, or according to others only when a crucifix is held straight in front of his eyes. You must then take a sharpened stake and drive it through his heart. Once this is done, the creature is finally and properly dead; and all his victims, whether ‘dead’ or still living, are now released from the spell.

“So much for the superstition. Have you any questions you would like to ask?”

“Yes,” said Tyrrel: “I once heard that vampires are able to inspire affection and even sexual passion in their victims. What would you say to this?”

“That it is true,” said Holmstrom: “literally and scientifically true. I shall come on to that in a moment.”

There was sun outside, the kind sun of mid-September; but no sun came into Holmstrom’s basement office, which might almost have been a tomb itself, so damp it was and dreary. Listening to Holmstrom’s smooth, deep voice, I had almost begun to wonder if he were not himself akin to the vampires he described so carefully – lurking down in the dark by day, emerging at night, with his bright eyes and soothing voice, to seek his victims along the dull streets of Bloomsbury. But now he rose from his chair and waddled to the door; opening it slightly, he peered out and boomed down the corridor – “Coffee for three, girl” – an earthy statement which I found somewhat reassuring.

He returned to his chair and lit a fresh cheroot.

“So much,” he said, “for the superstition. Now for what we may euphemistically call the truth.”

He chuckled obscenely – a high-pitched chuckle, in odd contrast to his mellow voice – and spat with care and accuracy into the waste-paper basket at his side.

“Yes,” he said, his face twitching with amusement, “the truth… As we understand the matter – and you must realise that only very occasional examples come to our notice – the vampire is in fact a living human being with a peculiar type of sado-sexual perversion. The sexual element is quite obvious; you might consider, in this context, such relatively normal practices as fellatio or cunnilinctus. Nor is it difficult to see that vampiric intercourse, in a quiet way, has a deeply sadistic tinge to it. It follows, of course, that the victims of vampires tend to be of a masochistic type – and like most masochists, capable of assuming a sadistic role in their turn. You should also be reminded that sadistic practices – and among them this one – are liable to have a strong appeal for impotent males or frigid females.

“But if these are the bare psychological bones, so to say, it still does not do to dismiss out of hand the corpus of superstition. Legends cast in superstitious terms have a way of reflecting scientific reality, and so it is here. Allegations of immortality can be dismissed outright: they are merely the product of the Slav imagination which, confronted with something beastly, delights to make it positively fiendish. Again, tales of transformation into, say, the shape of a bat, clearly originate from the fact that creatures called vampire bats – who amply earn their title – are well known to exist in several parts of the world. But in other ways the superstition is nearer the mark. Take this business of hypnotic powers: it is not true that an initiation into vampiric practices confers these powers; but it is true that someone who wants to indulge such abnormal and dangerous tastes must possess a very strong and alluring personality to win over his victim in the first place. Thus it is clear that something at any rate comparable to an hypnotic talent is a precondition of ever becoming a vampire. This connects very closely with what John was asking about just now – the rumoured skill of the vampire in inducing strong affections and sexual passions. Vampires as such are not endowed with this ability; but plainly it may be necessary to inspire very considerable emotions of an amorous or sexual kind before a victim can be brought to assent to the vampire’s proposition. One sums up the matter by saying that sexual magnetism, being one element in the so called hypnotic personality, is a pre-requisite of vampiric practice.

“And then we come to this business of ‘infection’ or the transmission of taste. Now, quite plainly this taint cannot be passed on in some unspecified magical fashion; and equally plainly it cannot be physically transmitted, like influenza or syphilis, by means of a germ or virus. What there can be, however, is a form of contagion which is partly moral and partly psychological. Look at it this way. We have seen that a victim is likely to have the masochistic tendencies which his passive role requires of him; and we have remarked, as a matter of medical commonplace, that masochists are often apt to reverse the coin, as it were, and wield the whip themselves. Now, suppose you had someone who had been used by a vampire and subsequently felt the need to express himself sadistically. The chances that his sadism will take a vampiric form are clearly increased a thousandfold by the mere fact that he now knows about vampiric methods. This is a very simple proposition, and applies, mutatis mutandis, to the most elementary forms of sexual behaviour. A small boy at school, for example, feeling without real comprehension the need for sexual relief, will at first resort to some form of masturbation which he has discovered for himself. But once let him be initiated, by a school friend or a girl cousin, into some more elaborate amusement, and henceforth he will scorn self-abuse and seek for a partner with whom to play the new games he has learnt. At first it is a matter of novelty; later it is one of habitual preference and even imperious necessity. It is not so much that a taste has been transmitted as that a technique has been taught ....

***

....“Tell us what you know,” said Tyrrel abruptly. “Tell us what the superstitious say, and then what the instructed say. We must have something to go on, Erik. Do your best – and then leave the responsibility squarely with us.”

“I had no intention of leaving it anywhere else,” said Doctor Holmstrom. He tilted his chair back and sent a stream of smoke towards the ceiling. Then he sat forward again, put his chin in his left hand, and began, slowly and with great care, to tell us what he knew.

“Vampirism,” he said, “is a phenomenon popularly associated with Central and Eastern Europe. In fact, of course, it is universal – and extremely rare. The reason why we connect it so readily with the Balkan states is that it was in this part of the world that the most substantial and entertaining corpus of legend was first established. Most simple people are good at producing grim superstitions; but the Slav and Magyar inhabitants of Eastern Europe share with certain Scandinavians a genius for spicing their tales with a kind of succinct and plausible nastiness that one seldom finds elsewhere. The vampire myth was just the sort of material they needed. Hence their particular insistence on it, and hence the popular idea that vampires exist only between the Carpathian mountains and the Northern shores of the Eastern Mediterranean. In fact you will find as many, or as few, in Boston as in Budapest. But because of their skilful use of the legend, the East Europeans have a corner in vampirism; and this, roughly, is what their superstition maintains.

“It postulates a taste in a living human being for sucking the blood of other human beings. How, in the first instance such a taste should arise is uncertain; but clearly, from a purely superstitious point of view, there is a connection with the magical notion that by possessing yourself of any living part of another person or animal you increase your own power both over the creature concerned and in nature generally. Nail-parings, hair, testicles…but what could be more significant, what could possibly increase your power so much, as actually drinking human blood? In any case, there it is: a living person has this taste, and he indulges it at the expense of his fellow men. But now we come to one of the most terrifying and also most misleading aspects of the whole affair: for according to the superstition, anybody who is used by a vampire becomes infected with the taste himself. And even worse. He may die from loss of blood, he may, for whatever reason, survive; but in either case he himself has now become a vampire and as such will continue to roam the earth in search of human prey even after he has died his human death and regardless of how soon or late this may occur.

“Now, as to the exact powers enjoyed by a vampire after death, opinion differs a good deal from region to region. At one end of the scale, the vampire is credited only with the freedom to wander from his grave between sunset and sunrise. At the other extreme, he is supposed to be able to survive in all respects as a normal human being, save that he will always avoid the light of the sun as far as possible and will tend to be languid during the day time. Then there are several ancillary powers, variously affirmed and denied. Most forms of the legend maintain that vampires can induce hypnosis in their intended victims. Some versions say that after dark – whether or not he must spend the day in the tomb – the vampire can transform himself into a bat or a wolf at will – or can even change himself into a kind of thin mist, thus facilitating entrance into places where he is, for excellent reasons, unwelcome. One may remark, incidentally, that some talent of this nature is presupposed by the very condition of his existence, or how would a vampire escape from his tomb in the first place? But it is idle to insist on logic when dealing with matters of this kind. What it boils down to is that any man who has given blood to a vampire, whether to a living vampire or a ‘dead’ one, becomes a vampire in his turn and is endowed, when he dies, with some form of bodily immortality. Such a creature is nourished by human blood – though he continues to exist when deprived of it–: he dislikes sunlight, garlic, onions, salt water, and the form of the so called holy cross: he may or may not have supernatural powers other than that of surviving death: and he may or may not be able to exist unsuspected with and among other men.

“Finally, the matter of destroying such creatures. There is only one way of doing this. You must discover the vampire when he is inert and powerless, which, according to some, would be between sunrise and sunset, or according to others only when a crucifix is held straight in front of his eyes. You must then take a sharpened stake and drive it through his heart. Once this is done, the creature is finally and properly dead; and all his victims, whether ‘dead’ or still living, are now released from the spell.

“So much for the superstition. Have you any questions you would like to ask?”

“Yes,” said Tyrrel: “I once heard that vampires are able to inspire affection and even sexual passion in their victims. What would you say to this?”

“That it is true,” said Holmstrom: “literally and scientifically true. I shall come on to that in a moment.”

There was sun outside, the kind sun of mid-September; but no sun came into Holmstrom’s basement office, which might almost have been a tomb itself, so damp it was and dreary. Listening to Holmstrom’s smooth, deep voice, I had almost begun to wonder if he were not himself akin to the vampires he described so carefully – lurking down in the dark by day, emerging at night, with his bright eyes and soothing voice, to seek his victims along the dull streets of Bloomsbury. But now he rose from his chair and waddled to the door; opening it slightly, he peered out and boomed down the corridor – “Coffee for three, girl” – an earthy statement which I found somewhat reassuring.

He returned to his chair and lit a fresh cheroot.

“So much,” he said, “for the superstition. Now for what we may euphemistically call the truth.”

He chuckled obscenely – a high-pitched chuckle, in odd contrast to his mellow voice – and spat with care and accuracy into the waste-paper basket at his side.

“Yes,” he said, his face twitching with amusement, “the truth… As we understand the matter – and you must realise that only very occasional examples come to our notice – the vampire is in fact a living human being with a peculiar type of sado-sexual perversion. The sexual element is quite obvious; you might consider, in this context, such relatively normal practices as fellatio or cunnilinctus. Nor is it difficult to see that vampiric intercourse, in a quiet way, has a deeply sadistic tinge to it. It follows, of course, that the victims of vampires tend to be of a masochistic type – and like most masochists, capable of assuming a sadistic role in their turn. You should also be reminded that sadistic practices – and among them this one – are liable to have a strong appeal for impotent males or frigid females.

“But if these are the bare psychological bones, so to say, it still does not do to dismiss out of hand the corpus of superstition. Legends cast in superstitious terms have a way of reflecting scientific reality, and so it is here. Allegations of immortality can be dismissed outright: they are merely the product of the Slav imagination which, confronted with something beastly, delights to make it positively fiendish. Again, tales of transformation into, say, the shape of a bat, clearly originate from the fact that creatures called vampire bats – who amply earn their title – are well known to exist in several parts of the world. But in other ways the superstition is nearer the mark. Take this business of hypnotic powers: it is not true that an initiation into vampiric practices confers these powers; but it is true that someone who wants to indulge such abnormal and dangerous tastes must possess a very strong and alluring personality to win over his victim in the first place. Thus it is clear that something at any rate comparable to an hypnotic talent is a precondition of ever becoming a vampire. This connects very closely with what John was asking about just now – the rumoured skill of the vampire in inducing strong affections and sexual passions. Vampires as such are not endowed with this ability; but plainly it may be necessary to inspire very considerable emotions of an amorous or sexual kind before a victim can be brought to assent to the vampire’s proposition. One sums up the matter by saying that sexual magnetism, being one element in the so called hypnotic personality, is a pre-requisite of vampiric practice.

“And then we come to this business of ‘infection’ or the transmission of taste. Now, quite plainly this taint cannot be passed on in some unspecified magical fashion; and equally plainly it cannot be physically transmitted, like influenza or syphilis, by means of a germ or virus. What there can be, however, is a form of contagion which is partly moral and partly psychological. Look at it this way. We have seen that a victim is likely to have the masochistic tendencies which his passive role requires of him; and we have remarked, as a matter of medical commonplace, that masochists are often apt to reverse the coin, as it were, and wield the whip themselves. Now, suppose you had someone who had been used by a vampire and subsequently felt the need to express himself sadistically. The chances that his sadism will take a vampiric form are clearly increased a thousandfold by the mere fact that he now knows about vampiric methods. This is a very simple proposition, and applies, mutatis mutandis, to the most elementary forms of sexual behaviour. A small boy at school, for example, feeling without real comprehension the need for sexual relief, will at first resort to some form of masturbation which he has discovered for himself. But once let him be initiated, by a school friend or a girl cousin, into some more elaborate amusement, and henceforth he will scorn self-abuse and seek for a partner with whom to play the new games he has learnt. At first it is a matter of novelty; later it is one of habitual preference and even imperious necessity. It is not so much that a taste has been transmitted as that a technique has been taught ....

***


....John Tyrrel and I, equipped with tails and miniature decorations, would leave next morning to attend the Michaelmas Feast – and were bound, if we could, to keep Richard Fountain away from it. That evening I gave John his invitation, which had reached my flat by special delivery. He looked at it with interest and a kind of rueful pride.

“What is this expression?” he asked at length. “Down at the bottom…‘Doctors Wear Scarlet’?…”

“It means that all those with Doctors’ degrees will attend in their scarlet gowns.”

“A command or a generalisation?”

“A command, I suppose…”

“And Walter Goodrich will wear scarlet?”

“Most certainly. With dignity and enjoyment.”

“I see,” said Tyrrel. “‘Doctors Wear Scarlet’… What a very appropriate phrase.”


***

"....Do you see the enormous man with the totally bald head? The one with the rather pretty Order round his neck?”

“Yes,” said John Tyrrel, looking at Marc as a child might look at an adult who was taking him to the pantomime, “yes, I see him. What about him?”

“Well he, my dear, is a sociologist. That Order was given him by the King of Denmark for conducting an enquiry into the drinking habits of the lower class in Copenhagen. Now why do you think he went bald?”

“I’ve no idea.”

“Because one morning, after a night of enquiring into Copenhagen’s drinking habits, he woke up in a lavatory of his hotel with the attendant standing over him and asking what he’d like for his breakfast. He was so shaken by the man’s sang froid that all his hair fell out there and then on to the floor and they had to spend the best part of the morning clearing it up….."


***

....“And what is all this?” said a bewildered but still fruity voice.

Walter loomed in the doorway behind us.

“This is your son,” said Richard, “who has been embracing your daughter Chriseis… Your daughter Penelope… It is all one. Ravishing her, you might say, before she could ravish him.”

Walter made a loose and hopeless gesture.

“I don’t understand you,” he said.

“It’s very simple. You want to steal my life, and you will use your daughter to help you. But I have moved first. By…embracing Penelope, I have established my power over her. I tried to tell you all tonight, but I couldn’t finish. The free man, Walter, must take the souls of his enemies.”

“What can you mean? Penelope loves you. She will give you her life, her soul. There is no need to take.”

“He has already done so,” said Piers standing upright. “Penelope is dead.”

“Dead?” whispered Richard fiercely. “How could she be? This is the first–”

“–She’s dead, Richard. You had best come to your daughter, Doctor Goodrich.”

“Chriseis…dead…” Richard mumbled to himself…“ Penelope… Chriseis…dead.”

Walter lurched forward and bent down over Penelope. He ripped away her dress and felt for her heart. He seized her wrist and sought for a pulse. He gave a great moan of despair and swung round on Richard.

“For the love of God,” he cried, “what have you done? Raped her? Beaten her? Speak up, boy. What have you done to my Penelope?”

“He has drunk her blood,” said Piers, and went into the outer room.

For the first time Walter seemed to begin to understand. He looked at Richard’s blood-smeared mouth and he looked back at the ugly gash on Penelope’s throat. Then understanding gave place to renewed bewilderment. Walter’s eyes stared away into space and his voice became a croak.

“You… My Richard.… You did that?”

“Chriseis,” muttered Richard, “Chriseis.”

Walter seemed to sink towards the floor. Tyrrel caught hold of him and sat him in a chair. Then his head lolled forward, and huge, glistening tears poured over his cheeks and dripped on to his knees.

“Richard… Penelope… My children.”

Richard was standing, silent and sullen, in a corner of the room. Piers, returning from the outer room, went up to him with a full tumbler.

“Drink this, Richard,” he said; “whatever is to happen, you must sleep now.”

Richard seemed not to hear him, but he took the glass and put it to his lips.

“Drink it all, Richard,” said Piers softly.

“What–?” I began.

Tyrrel seized my arm and shook his head.

“All of it, Richard,” said Piers: “then you will sleep.” Once again Tyrrel took hold of my arm, indicating, with a jerk of his head, that I should go into the other room. As I went Marc followed me; a few moments later Tyrrel also came, supporting Walter, and helped the old man on to the sofa. Then he went back, closed the bedroom door, and sat down next to Walter on the sofa.

For ten minutes we waited, hearing nothing and saying nothing. Then Piers came slowly out of the bedroom and halted in front of Tyrrel.

“He is asleep now,” Piers said, “and the taint sleeps with him.”





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