Easily distracted

Easily distracted
Marianne von Werefkin (Russian / Swiss, 1860-1938), Mondnacht [Moonlit Night], 1909-10. Tempera and mixed media on paper laid on board.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Doctor Kakophilos and Mister Crowley: Out of Depth by Evelyn Waugh

Strange the fiction corners where we run into echoes of that arch-charlatan and unscrupulous social parasite Aleister Crowley. Oliver Haddo and Mocata immediately spring to mind.

To their number, we can add Dr. Kakophilos, from Evelyn Waugh's speculative time travel story "Out of Depth" (1932). The name Kakophilos doesn't leave much to the imagination, and Waugh's description of the man is Crowley to a fare-thee-well.

....as [Rip] entered the drawing room, before he had greeted his hostess or nodded to Alastair Trumptington, he was aware of something foreign and disturbing. A glance round the assembled party confirmed his alarm. All the men were standing save one; these were mostly old friends interspersed with a handful of new, gawky, wholly inconsiderable young men, but the seated figure instantly arrested his attention and froze his bland smile. This was an elderly, large man, quite bald, with a vast white face that spread down and out far beyond the normal limits. It was like Mother Hippo in Tiger Tim; it was like an evening shirt-front in a du Maurier drawing; down in the depths of the face was a little crimson smirking mouth; and, above it, eyes that had a shifty, deprecating look, like those of a temporary butler caught out stealing shirts.

Lady Metroland seldom affronted her guests’ reticence by introducing them.

“Dear Rip,” she said, “it’s lovely to see you again. I’ve got all the gang together for you, you see,” and then noticing that his eyes were fixed upon the stranger, added, “Doctor Kakophilos, this is Mr. Van Winkle. Doctor Kakophilos,” she added, “is a great magician. Norah brought him, I can’t think why.”

“Musician?”

“Magician. Norah says there’s nothing he can’t do.”

“How do you do?” said Rip.

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,” said Dr. Kakophilos, in a thin Cockney voice.

“Eh?”

“There is no need to reply. If you wish to, it is correct to say ‘Love is the law, Love under will.’ ”

“I see.”

“You are unusually blessed. Most men are blind.”

“I tell you what,” said Lady Metroland. “Let’s all have some dinner.”

Rip and Alistair reluctantly give Dr. Kakophilos a ride home after the party.

....They were on the steps when a cold Cockney voice broke in on their friendly discussion.

“Will you please drop me?” A horrible figure in a black cloak had popped out on them.

“Where do you want to go?” asked Alastair in some distaste.

Dr. Kakophilos gave an obscure address in Bloomsbury.

“Sorry, old boy, bang out of my way.”

“And mine.”

“But you said you liked driving at night.”

“Oh God! All right, jump in.”

And the three went off together.

Rip never quite knew how it came about that he and Alastair went up to Dr. Kakophilos’s sitting room. It was certainly not for a drink, because there was none there; nor did he know how it was that Dr. Kakophilos came to be wearing a crimson robe embroidered with gold symbols and a conical crimson hat. It only came to him quite suddenly that Dr. Kakophilos was wearing these clothes; and when it came it set him giggling, so uncontrollably that he had to sit on the bed. And Alastair began to laugh too, and they both sat on the bed for a long time laughing.

But quite suddenly Rip found that they had stopped laughing and that Dr. Kakophilos, still looking supremely ridiculous in his sacerdotal regalia, was talking to them ponderously about time and matter and spirit and a number of things which Rip had got through forty-three eventful years without considering.

“And so,” Dr. Kakophilos was saying, “you must breathe the fire and call upon Omraz the spirit of release and journey back through the centuries and recover the garnered wisdom which the ages of reason have wasted. I chose you because you are the two most ignorant men I ever met. I have too much knowledge to risk my safety. If you never come back nothing will be lost.”

“Oh, I say,” said Alastair.

“And what’s more, you’re tipsy,” said Dr. Kakophilos relapsing suddenly into everyday speech. Then he became poetic again and Rip yawned and Alastair yawned.

At last Rip said: “Jolly decent of you to tell us all this, old boy; I’ll come in another time to hear the rest. Must be going now, you know.”

“Yes,” said Alastair. “A most interesting evening.”

Dr. Kakophilos removed his crimson hat and mopped his moist, hairless head. He surveyed his parting guests with undisguised disdain.

“Sots,” he said. “You are partakers in a mystery beyond your comprehension. In a few minutes your drunken steps will have straddled the centuries. Tell me, Sir Alastair,” he asked, his face alight with ghastly, facetious courtesy, “have you any preference with regard to your translation? You may choose any age you like.”

“Oh, I say, jolly decent of you . . . Never was much of a dab at History you know.”

“Say.”

“Well, any time really. How about Ethelred the Unready?—always had a soft spot for him.”

“And you, Mr. Van Winkle?”

“Well, if I’ve got to be moved about, being an American, I’d sooner go forwards—say five hundred years.”

Dr. Kakophilos drew himself up. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

“I can answer that one. ‘Love is the law, Love under will.’ ”

“God, we’ve been a long time in that house,” said Alastair as at length they regained the Bentley. “Awful old humbug. Comes of getting tight.”

“Hell, I could do with another,” said Rip. “Know anywhere?”

“I do,” said Alastair and, turning a corner sharply, ran, broadside on, into a mail van that was thundering down Shaftesbury Avenue at forty-five miles an hour....

The full story can be read here.

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