There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Monday, December 31, 2018

A Helen Vaughan precursor in Conan Doyle?



…. "Well, you know, this was her second engagement," said young Brodie, who had a marvellous knack of knowing everything about everybody. "She was engaged to Prescott—William Prescott, who died. That was a very sad affair. The wedding day was fixed, and the whole thing looked as straight as a die when the smash came."

"What smash?" I asked, with some dim recollection of the circumstances.

"Why, Prescott's death. He came to Abercrombie Place one night, and stayed very late. No one knows exactly when he left, but about one in the morning a fellow who knew him met him walking rapidly in the direction of the Queen's Park. He bade him good night, but Prescott hurried on without heeding him, and that was the last time he was ever seen alive. Three days afterwards his body was found floating in St. Margaret's Loch, under St. Anthony's Chapel. No one could ever understand it, but of course the verdict brought it in as temporary insanity."

"It was very strange," I remarked.

"Yes, and deucedly rough on the poor girl," said Brodie. "Now that this other blow has come it will quite crush her. So gentle and ladylike she is too!"

"You know her personally, then?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, I know her. I have met her several times. I could easily manage that you should be introduced to her."

"Well," I answered, "it's not so much for my own sake as for a friend of mine. However, I don't suppose she will go out much for some little time after this. When she does I will take advantage of your offer."

We shook hands on this, and I thought no more of the matter for some time.

The next incident which I have to relate as bearing at all upon the question of Miss Northcott is an unpleasant one. Yet I must detail it as accurately as possible, since it may throw some light upon the sequel. One cold night, several months after the conversation with my second cousin which I have quoted above, I was walking down one of the lowest streets in the city on my way back from a case which I had been attending. It was very late, and I was picking my way among the dirty loungers who were clustering round the doors of a great gin-palace, when a man staggered out from among them, and held out his hand to me with a drunken leer. The gaslight fell full upon his face, and, to my intense astonishment, I recognised in the degraded creature before me my former acquaintance, young Archibald Reeves, who had once been famous as one of the most dressy and particular men in the whole college. I was so utterly surprised that for a moment I almost doubted the evidence of my own senses; but there was no mistaking those features, which, though bloated with drink, still retained something of their former comeliness. I was determined to rescue him, for one night at least, from the company into which he had fallen.

"Holloa, Reeves!" I said. "Come along with me. I'm going in your direction."

He muttered some incoherent apology for his condition, and took my arm. As I supported him towards his lodgings I could see that he was not only suffering from the effects of a recent debauch, but that a long course of intemperance had affected his nerves and his brain. His hand when I touched it was dry and feverish, and he started from every shadow which fell upon the pavement. He rambled in his speech, too, in a manner which suggested the delirium of disease rather than the talk of a drunkard.

When I got him to his lodgings I partially undressed him and laid him upon his bed. His pulse at this time was very high, and he was evidently extremely feverish. He seemed to have sunk into a doze; and I was about to steal out of the room to warn his landlady of his condition, when he started up and caught me by the sleeve of my coat.

"Don't go!" he cried. "I feel better when you are here. I am safe from her then."


"From her!" I said. "From whom?"


"Her! Her!" he answered peevishly. "Ah! You don't know her. She is the devil! Beautiful—beautiful; but the devil!"

"You are feverish and excited," I said. "Try to get a little sleep. You will wake better."

"Sleep!" he groaned. "How am I to sleep when I see her sitting down yonder at the foot of the bed with her great eyes watching and watching hour after hour? I tell you it saps all the strength and manhood out of me. That's what makes me drink. God help me—I'm half drunk now!"

"You are very ill," I said, putting some vinegar to his temples; "and you are delirious. You don't know what you say."

"Yes, I do," he interrupted sharply, looking up at me. "I know very well what I say. I brought it upon myself. It is my own choice. But I couldn't—no, by heaven, I couldn't—accept the alternative. I couldn't keep my faith to her. It was more than man could do."

I sat by the side of the bed, holding one of his burning hands in mine, and wondering over his strange words. He lay still for some time, and then, raising his eyes to me, said in a most plaintive voice—

"Why did she not give me warning sooner? Why did she wait until I had learned to love her so?"

He repeated this question several times, rolling his feverish head from side to side, and then he dropped into a troubled sleep. I crept out of the room, and, having seen that he would be properly cared for, left the house. His words, however, rang in my ears for days afterwards, and assumed a deeper significance when taken with what was to come.

My friend, Barrington Cowles, had been away for his summer holidays, and I had heard nothing of him for several months. When the winter session came on, however, I received a telegram from him, asking me to secure the old rooms in Northumberland Street for him, and telling me the train by which he would arrive. I went down to meet him, and was delighted to find him looking wonderfully hearty and well.

"By the way," he said suddenly, that night, as we sat in our chairs by the fire, talking over the events of the holidays, "you have never congratulated me yet!"

"On what, my boy?" I asked.

"What! Do you mean to say you have not heard of my engagement?"

"Engagement! No!" I answered. "However, I am delighted to hear it, and congratulate you with all my heart."

"I wonder it didn't come to your ears," he said. "It was the queerest thing. You remember that girl whom we both admired so much at the Academy?"

"What!" I cried, with a vague feeling of apprehension at my heart. "You don't mean to say that you are engaged to her?"

"I thought you would be surprised," he answered. "When I was staying with an old aunt of mine in Peterhead, in Aberdeenshire, the Northcotts happened to come there on a visit, and as we had mutual friends we soon met. I found out that it was a false alarm about her being engaged, and then—well, you know what it is when you are thrown into the society of such a girl in a place like Peterhead. Not, mind you," he added, "that I consider I did a foolish or hasty thing. I have never regretted it for a moment. The more I know Kate the more I admire her and love her. However, you must be introduced to her, and then you will form your own opinion."

I expressed my pleasure at the prospect, and endeavoured to speak as lightly as I could to Cowles upon the subject, but I felt depressed and anxious at heart. The words of Reeves and the unhappy fate of young Prescott recurred to my recollection, and though I could assign no tangible reason for it, a vague, dim fear and distrust of the woman took possession of me. It may be that this was foolish prejudice and superstition upon my part, and that I involuntarily contorted her future doings and sayings to fit into some half-formed wild theory of my own. This has been suggested to me by others as an explanation of my narrative. They are welcome to their opinion if they can reconcile it with the facts which I have to tell.

I went round with my friend a few days afterwards to call upon Miss Northcott. I remember that, as we went down Abercrombie Place, our attention was attracted by the shrill yelping of a dog—which noise proved eventually to come from the house to which we were bound. We were shown upstairs, where I was introduced to old Mrs Merton, Miss Northcott's aunt, and to the young lady herself. She looked as beautiful as ever, and I could not wonder at my friend's infatuation. Her face was a little more flushed than usual, and she held in her hand a heavy dog-whip, with which she had been chastising a small Scotch terrier, whose cries we had heard in the street. The poor brute was cringing up against the wall, whining piteously and evidently completely cowed.

"So, Kate," said my friend, after we had taken our seats, "you have been falling out with Carlo again."

"Only a very little quarrel this time," she said, smiling charmingly. "He is a dear, good old fellow, but he needs correction now and then." Then, turning to me, "We all do that, Mr Armitage, don't we? What a capital thing if, instead of receiving a collective punishment at the end of our lives, we were to have one at once, as the dogs do, when we did anything wicked. It would make us more careful, wouldn't it?"


"John Barrington Cowles" by Arthur Conan Doyle
Cassell's Saturday Journal, April 12, 1884




Friday, December 21, 2018

James Bond's Christmas Eve

On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Ian Fleming (1963).


Fleming always knew, with the unerring economical sense of a journalist, when to stop.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a heartbreaking example of this skill. At the penultimate chapter, Blofeld has escaped and Bond weds Tracy. She will do as much good for him as he did for her: Bond is the kind of professional bachelor who happily surrenders to what used to be called petticoat dictatorship.

Then Fleming proceeds to tear the reader apart:

....Tracy said, 'There's a red car coming up fast behind. Do you want me to lose him?'


'No,' said Bond. 'Let him go. We've got all the time in the world.'


Now he could hear the rasping whine of the eight cylinders. He leaned over to the left and jerked a laconic thumb forwards, waving the Maserati past.


The whine changed to a shattering roar. The wind-screen of the Lancia disappeared as if hit by a monster fist. Bond caught a glimpse of a taut, snarling mouth under a syphilitic nose, the flash-eliminator of some automatic gun being withdrawn, and then the red car was past and the Lancia was going like hell off the verge across a stretch of snow and smashing a path through a young copse. Then Bond's head crashed into the wind-screen frame and he was out.


When he came to, a man in the khaki uniform of the Autobahn Patrol was shaking him. The young face was stark with horror. 'Was ist denn geschehen? Was ist denn geschehen?'


Bond turned towards Tracy. She was lying forward with her face buried in the ruins of the steering-wheel. Her pink handkerchief had come off and the bell of golden hair hung down and hid her face. Bond put his arm round her shoulders, across which the dark patches had begun to flower.


He pressed her against him. He looked up at the young man and smiled his reassurance.


'It's all right,' he said in a clear voice as if explaining something to a child. 'It's quite all right. She's having a rest. We'll be going on soon. There's no hurry. You see—' Bond's head sank down against hers and he whispered into her hair—'you see, we've got all the time in the world.



*   * *

Is On Her Majesty's Secret Service my favorite Bond novel? It is aesthetically perfect. Casino Royale was, too, but the lovingly described testicular torture scene, and the end of Vesper Lynd, are Freudian blocks for a reader with feet of clay like myself.

Moonraker (1955) is incontestably a personal favorite. By 1987 I had watched every Bond film repeatedly, and went to the theater to see Moonraker in 1979. But by the late 80s it would have required a crotch-seeking laser to surmount my snobbery against the books. Until I read 99 Novels by Burgess, where he praised Moonraker. I read it, and it was a modest and perfect gem. The car chase from London to the south coast was the high point. In 2014 I read it again, and fell in love with the sublime peroration that ends the book:

….The traffic murmured sleepily in the distance.


How nearly it had come, thought Bond, to being stilled. How nearly there might be nothing now but the distant clang of the ambulance bells beneath a lurid black and orange sky, the stench of burning, the screams of people still trapped in the buildings. The softly beating heart of London silenced for a generation. And a whole generation of her people dead in the streets amongst the ruins of a civilization that might not rise again for centuries.


All that would have come about but for a man who scornfully cheated at cards to feed the fires of his maniac ego; but for the stuffy chairman of Blades who detected him; but for M. who agreed to help an old friend; but for Bond's half-remembered lessons from a card-sharper; but for Vallance's precautions; but for Gala's head for figures; but for a whole pattern of tiny circumstances, a whole pattern of chance.


*   * *


In this festive season, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is bittersweet, Fleming's best novel.

And it is a Christmas novel, though Fleming gives his hero one hell of a Christmas Eve, trying to escape the Piz Gloria at night:

....He regularized his breathing and, in ten minutes, began to snore softly. He gave it another ten, then slid out of bed and, with infinite precaution, dressed himself in his ski clothes. He softly retrieved his gloves from the bathroom, put on the goggles so that they rested in his hair above the forehead, tied the dark-red handkerchief tightly across his nose, schnapps into pocket, passport into hip-pocket and, finally, Gillette through the fingers of the left hand and the Rolex transferred to his right, the bracelet clasped in the palm of his hand and round the fingers so that the face of the watch lay across his middle knuckles.


James Bond paused and ran over his equipment. The ski-gloves, their cord drawn through his sweater and down the sleeves, hung from his wrists. They would be a hindrance until he was outside. Nothing to be done about that. The rest was all right. He was set! He bent to the door, manipulated the lock with the plastic and, praying that the television eye had been closed down and would not see the light shining in from the passage, listened briefly and slipped out.


There was, as usual, light from the reception room to his left. Bond crept along, inched round the door jamb. Yes! The guard was there, bent over something that looked like a time sheet. The neck was offered. Bond dropped the Gillette in his pocket and stiffened the fingers of his left hand into the old Commando cutting edge. He took the two steps into the room and crashed the hand down on the back of the offered neck. The man's face hit the table top with a thud, bounced up, and half turned towards Bond. Bond's right flashed out and the face of the Rolex disintegrated against the man's jaw. The body slid sluggishly off its chair on to the carpet and lay still, its legs untidy as if in sleep. The eyes fluttered and stared, unseeing, upwards. Bond went round the desk and bent down. There was no heartbeat. Bond straightened himself. It was the man he had seen coming back alone from the bob-run on his first morning, when Bertil had met with his accident. So! Rough justice!


The telephone on the desk buzzed like a trapped wasp. Bond looked at it. He picked up the receiver and spoke through the handkerchief across his mouth. 'Ja?'


'Alles in Ordnung?'


'Ja.'


'Also hör zu! Wir kommen für den Engländer in zehn Minuten. Verstanden?'


'Is' recht.'


'Also, aufpassen. Ja?'


'Zu Befehl!'


At the other end the receiver went down. The sweat was beading on Bond's face. Thank God he had answered! So they were coming for him in ten minutes! There was a bunch of keys on the desk. Bond snatched them up and ran to the front door. After three misfits, he had the right one. He tried the door. It was now only held by its air-pressure device. Bond leaped for the ski-room. Unlocked! He went in and, by the light from the reception room, found his skis. There were sticks beside them. Carefully he lifted everything out of its wooden slot and strode to the main door and opened it. He laid the skis and sticks softly down in the snow, turned back to the door, locked it from the outside, and threw the keys far away into the snow.


The three-quarter moon burned down with an almost dazzling fire and the snow crystals scintillated back at it like a carpet of diamond dust. Now minutes would have to be wasted getting the bindings absolutely right. James Bond kicked one boot into the groove of the Marker toe-hold and knelt down, feeling for the steel cable that went behind his heel. It was too short. Coolly, unhurriedly, he adjusted the regulating screw on the forward latch and tried again. This time it was all right. He pressed down on the safety latch and felt it lock his boot into the toe-hold. Next, the safety thong round the top of his boot that would keep the ski prisoner if the latch sprung, which it would do with a fall. His fingers were beginning to freeze. The tip of the thong refused to find its buckle! A full minute wasted! Got it! And now the same job on the other ski. At last Bond stood up, slipped the gloves over his aching fingers, picked up the lance-like sticks, and pushed himself off along the faint ridge that showed the outlines of yesterday's well trodden path. It felt all right! He pulled the goggles down over his eyes and now the vast snowscape was a silvery green as if he was swimming under sunny water. The skis hissed smoothly through the powder snow. Bond tried to get up more speed down the gentle slope by langlaufing, the sliding, forward stride of the first Norwegian skiers. But it didn't work. The heels of his boots felt nailed to the skis. He punted himself forward as fast as he could with his sticks. God, what a trail he must be leaving—like a tram-line! As soon as they got the front door open, they would be after him. Their fastest guide would certainly catch him easily unless he got a good start! Every minute, every second was a bonus. He passed between the black outlines of the cable head and the Berghaus. There was the starting point of the Gloria Run, the metal notices beside it hatted with snow! Bond didn't pause. He went straight for it and over the edge.


The first vertical drop had a spine-chilling bliss to it. Bond got down into his old Arlberg crouch, his hands forward of his boots, and just let himself go. His skis were an ugly six inches apart. The Kannonen he had watched had gone down with their boots locked together, as if on a single ski. But this was no time for style, even if he had been capable of it! Above all he must stay upright!


Bond's speed was now frightening. But the deep cushion of cold, light powder snow gave him the confidence to try a parallel swing. Minimum of shoulder turn needed at this speed—weight on to the left ski—and he came round and held it as the right-hand edges of his skis bit against the slope, throwing up a shower of moonlit snow crystals. Danger was momentarily forgotten in the joy of speed, technique, and mastery of the snow. Bond straightened up and almost dived into his next turn, this time to the left, leaving a broad S on the virgin mountain behind him. Now he could afford to schuss the rest down to the hard left-hand turn round the shoulder. He pointed his skis down and felt real rapture as, like a black bullet on the giant slope, he zoomed down the 45-degree drop. Now for the left-hand corner. There was the group of three flags, black, red, and yellow, hanging limply, their colours confused by the moonlight! He would have to stop there and take a recce over the next lap. There was a slight upward slope short of the big turn. Bond took it at speed, felt his skis leave the ground at the crest of it, jabbed into the snow with his left stick as an extra lever and threw his skis and his right shoulder and hips round to the left. He landed in a spray of snow, at a dead halt. He was delighted with himself! A Sprung-Christiana is a showy and not an easy turn at speed. He wished his old teacher, Fuchs, had been there to see that one!


He was now on the shoulder of the mountain. High overhead the silver strands of the cable railway plunged downwards in one great swoop towards the distant black line of the trees, where the moonlight glinted on a spidery pylon. Bond remembered that there now followed a series of great zigs and zags more or less beneath the cables. With the piste unobscured, it would have been easy, but the new snow made every descent look desirable. Bond jerked up his goggles to see if he could spot a flag. Yes, there was one away down to the left. He would do some S turns down the next slope and then make for it.


As he pulled down his goggles and gripped his sticks, two things happened. First there came a deep boom from high up the mountain, and a speck of flame, that wobbled in its flight, soared into the sky above him. There was a pause at the top of its parabola, a sharp crack, and a blazing magnesium flare on a parachute began its wandering descent, wiping out the black shadows in the hollows, turning everything into a hideous daylight. Another and another sprayed out across the sky, lighting every cranny over the mountain side.


And, at the same time, the cables high above Bond's head began to sing! They were sending the cable car down after him!


Bond cursed into the sodden folds of his silk handkerchief and got going. The next thing would be a man after him—probably a man with a gun!


He took the second lap more carefully than the first, got across to the second flag, turned at it and made back across the plunging slope for the series of linked S's under the cables. How fast did these bloody gondolas go? Ten, fifteen, twenty miles an hour? This was the latest type. It would be the fastest. Hadn't he read somewhere that the one between Arosa and the Weisshorn did 25? Even as he got into his first S, the tune of the singing cable above him momentarily changed and then went back to its usual whine. That was the gondola passing the first pylon! Bond's knees, the Achilles heel of all skiers, were beginning to ache. He cut his S's narrower, snaking down faster, but now feeling the rutted tracks of the piste under his skis at every turn. Was that a flag away over to the left? The magnesium flares were swaying lower, almost directly over him. Yes. It looked all right. Two more S turns and he would do a traverse schuss to it!


Something landed with a tremendous crack amidst a fountain of snow to his right! Another to his left! They had a grenade-thrower up front in the cable car! A bracket! Would the next one be dead on? Almost before the thought flashed through his mind, there came a tremendous explosion just ahead of him and he was hurled forward and sideways in a catherine wheel of sticks and skis.


Bond got gingerly to his feet, gasping and spitting snow. One of his bindings had opened. His trembling fingers found the forward latch and banged it tight again. Another sharp crack, but wide by twenty yards. He must get away from the line of fire from the blasted railway! Feverishly he thought, the left-hand flag! I must do the traverse now. He took a vague bearing across the precipitous slope and flung himself down it….



Jay

21 December 2018






Sitting pretty


Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Prisoner in the Mask by Dennis Wheatley (1957)

The Prisoner in the Mask by Dennis Wheatley (1957)

Only Wheatley had the authorial confidence (or arrogance) to end a novel with the lines "....After a decent interval we can be married with wedding bells and live happily ever after.'"

No one in a Wheatley novel lives happily ever after. The most they can hope for are pleasurable interludes before the next pendulum swing of Fortune again lao8nds them in the soup.

The Prisoner in the Mask is delightfully high class. The hero is Armand, Count de Quesnoy. (He will later inherit the title Duke de Richleau.) His friends are from the same titled social layer.

Some characters and themes more fully explored in later novels about the Duke are hinted at in The Prisoner in the Mask. His mastery of occult forces and "white" magic is foreshadowed in his experiences as a soldier in Madagascar, where he developes his skills in hypnotism and mind-over-matter meditation.

He meets the father of future comrade Rex Van Ryn, a wealthy banker from the U.S. who serves the same purpose as
Blenkiron in Buchan's Leithen novels: a repository of ready cash and unconditional friendship.

The novel begins at the start of the 20th century and quickly transports the Count De Quesnoy from life as a privileged teen in Tsarist Russia to the French military school St. Cyr. His is also in romantic pursuit of Angela Syveton, wife of a powerful Royalist deputy. Wheatley spends most of the novel figuring out ways to keep the Count and Angela thwarted and apart. He does a masterful job.

This is, however, a historical thriller, not a bodice-ripper. Armand is witness to the frame-up, persecution, prosecution, and imprisonment of Dreyfus, and becomes involved in conspiracy as mentor to the young François de Vendôme, whom Royalists hope to make constitutional monarch of France. The Royalists are emboldened by the sorry spectacle of the Third Republic: internally rotting from the scourges of republicanism, atheism, and a politically organized working class movement.

(Solid Marxist analysis of French politics here).

Wheatley made no secret of his conservatism and his worship of Winston Churchill. Like his author, Armand is a staunch rightist, appalled that leaders of the French Army put their reputations ahead of justice for Dreyfus and the honor of their class.

Wheatley is a master of plot vicissitudes. One damned thing after another fouls-up Armand's hopes for his country and his desire for Angela Syveton. Patriotism and eros, however, are inexhaustible engines driving forward this classic of escapism.

And who is the prisoner in the mask? That would be telling...


Jay
25 November 2018









Saturday, November 24, 2018

Sallust 8, Germany 0








They Used Dark Forces [1964] is the eighth adventure of freelance spy Gregory Sallust. (Eighth in the internal chronology of the series, not in order of publication.)  I have read all eight in the last two years and found this pop roman-fleuve richly rewarding.

Yes, Wheatley does love employing the long arm of coincidence. Yes, he overuses the word “had” when revisions to his sentence structure would have made for sharper constructions.

But these are quibbles. The joy of these novels is their depiction of the good life.


Five hours after Gregory landed in England he was sitting in the lofty book-lined room that had been the scene of the beginnings and ends of all his secret missions. It looked out from the back of Carlton House Terrace to the Admiralty, the Foreign Office and the other massive buildings in which throbbed the heart of Britain’s war machine. The fact that it was raining did not depress him in the least.

Beside him on a small table were the remains of a pile of foie gras sandwiches off which he had been making a second breakfast, and nearby stood an ice-bucket in which reposed a magnum of his favourite Louis Roederer 1928. From it his silver tankard was being filled for the second time by his old friend and patron, Sir Pellinore Gwaine-Cust.



The major complaint about the Sallust novels is their unabashed admiration for European fascism.  Like John Buchan, Wheatley in his fiction has his hero fiercely extol the virtues of this anti-labor militia movement.

Here is Sallust discussing politics with his lover Sabine:



Smiling, she returned his kiss then sighed and said, ‘Oh God, how I hate this war. Just to think what a bomb has done to you and robbed us of. And the even worse things that have happened to such thousands of other people. May that filthy little Austrian that brought it on us rot in hell for all eternity.’

‘You seem to have changed your views quite a lot since last we met,’ Gregory grinned. ‘Two summers ago when we talked of these things in Budapest you were a hundred per cent pro-Nazi.’

‘Yes,’ she admitted. ‘But look what the Communists did to Hungary after the First World War. Those gutter-bred swine robbed families like mine of everything we had, and did their utmost to degrade everyone to their own filthy level. You British, with your stupid, pale-pink Liberalism, made no effort to stop them. Neither did the French. The only people who had the guts to stand up to them were the Italians and the Germans. Naturally, as German influence was so strong in Hungary I became a Nazi. What sensible person wouldn’t have? But I’m not a Nazi now. They’ve made themselves untouchables. Say that I’m a Fascist, if you like. But I’m not a Nazi.’

Gregory nodded. ‘There’s a lot to be said for the Fascists. Old Mussolini did a great job in cleaning up Italy. If only he’d stayed neutral he’d be on the top of the world today and Italy positively bulging with money made out of both sides during the war. That he got folie de grandeur and thought that with Hitler’s help he could become a modern Roman Emperor, ruling the whole Mediterranean, was one of the greatest tragedies of our time. Little Franco, too, has done a great job of work in Spain. What is more he has had the sense to keep his country out of the war, so given it a real chance to recover. Why people should cavil at him for having put the Moscow-inspired agitators and saboteurs behind bars I could never see. If he’d run his country on the lines the idiot British and French intellectuals and those crazy Americans would have liked to see, by this time Spain would have had a Communist Government. Quite a useful card for the war against Hitler. But what about afterwards, with Russian bombers based there only two hours’ flight from London and Paris? Some people simply can’t be dissuaded from trying to cut off their noses to spite their faces. But all this is beside the point. You say you’re no longer a Nazi; but you’re still working for them.’

‘Up to a point,’ she agreed thoughtfully. ‘I’d still turn in these dirty little Marxists who’d like to see Germany a Soviet Republic, whenever I could get the goods on them. But I’ve never yet given information about those of our own kind who would like to see Hitler as an ugly corpse.’




They Used Dark Forces is a strange title for the novel, as it suggests Berlin is employing dark forces to win their war.  But the they is Sallust himself, and a man named Malacou, with whom he has a telepathic bond.  The bond is developed when Malacou hides Sallust for several months as a leg injury heals.

They Used Dark Forces is more James Bond than Duke De Richleau. The telepathy allows Wheatley to unpack some contradictions, and it forms a line on which he can hang the last half of the novel.

One scene in particular contains a solid piece of uncanny business.  Sallust and Malacou, in Berlin and pretending to be occult mind-readers, are taken by their jailer to a March 1945 banquet at the home of Herman Goering.  There their performance certainly raises gooseflesh, since the dinner guests are dancing on the edge of a volcano.




Soon after ten Kaindl came for them. They accompanied him down to the ground floor and into a spacious dining room. It was so large that a horseshoe table occupied less than half of it, and Gregory saw that Goering’s idea of a small dinner party consisted of at least twenty people. Most of the men were in uniforms bedecked with Knight Stars, Iron Crosses and other decorations, but three of them were in dinner jackets and the women were all in décolleté evening dresses.

The Reichsmarschall sat enthroned at the outer centre of the horseshoe. As Gregory had thought might prove the case, he was clad in a white and gold toga and had a laurel wreath on his head. He had become enormously fat, his eyes were pouched, his cheeks loose and puffy and on his sausage-like fingers there gleamed rings worth several thousand pounds. No actor in a play would have given a better representation of one of the most dissolute Roman Emperors.

Kaindl led his two charges into the centre of the horseshoe and presented them as Herr Protze and Herr Malacou. Goering ran his eyes over them and spoke:

‘Colonel Kaindl tells me that you predicted our victory in the Ardennes and other matters correctly. Let us hear now what else you can tell us of the course the war will take.’

Gregory drew a deep breath. He was standing within ten feet of Goering and had escaped immediate recognition, but at any moment some expression on his features or in his voice might give him away. With a bow, he replied:

‘Excellency, it is necessary that my colleague be seated. He will then fall into a trance and I shall interpret the communications that he receives from the entities of the outer sphere.’

A chair was brought, Malacou sat down, closed his eyes and, after taking several long breaths, began to mutter. As Gregory felt sure that everyone there must realise that Germany could not now possibly win the war, and that if he held out false hopes no-one would believe him, he said:

‘Alas, through my colleague, the entities speak of no further German victories; but the soldiers of our great Führer will fight desperately in defence of the Reich. May will be the month of decision. Overtures for peace will be made. At that time there will be dissension in the Partei. Many prominent members of it will then die, but Your Excellency will not be among them. By March the Anglo-American armies will be across the Rhine and the Russians across the Oder. In May Berlin will become a doomed city; but it seems that resistance will continue in the south with the object of obtaining better terms from the Allies than they will be willing to give in May.’

Goering shrugged his massive shoulders. ‘You tell us little that from the way things are going we might not guess for ourselves.’

Now that Gregory was, as it were, right up in the firing line, he had got back his nerve and was on the top of his form. With a smile, he replied, ‘That the views of the Herr Reichsmarschall should coincide with fore-knowledge obtained from beyond confirms the soundness of his judgement. But to obtain more than an outline of general events is not possible. I can only add that war will continue to inflict the world at least until next August, and that in that month a disaster will occur in Japan that will affect the whole world.’

‘What kind of disaster?’

‘It will be in the nature of an earthquake or a violent eruption, but there are indications that it will be brought about by man.’

Suddenly Goering’s eyes lit up. ‘Lieber Gott! Could it be that the Allies are really so far advanced in developing an atom bomb?’

Gregory shrugged. ‘That is more than I can say; but many thousands of Japanese will die in the disaster. And now, if it please Your Excellency, my colleague can be the vehicle for much more precise predictions about individuals than about generalities. Would you like to be the first to have your future told?’

Goering shook his head. ‘No. I am content to wait and see what fate sends me.’ Then he gestured to a woman on his right and added, ‘Make a start with this lady here.’ Turning to the woman, Gregory bowed and asked her for the loan of something she always carried. She gave him her gold cigarette case and he handed it to Malacou. He then fetched a chair, sat down opposite the woman and asked her to lay her hands on the table, palms up. Smilingly she did so. For a few moments he studied her hands in silence, meanwhile he conveyed to Malacou what he read in them. Malacou, who was seated behind him, was at the same time psychometrising the cigarette case and communicating his thoughts. By working simultaneously on the same subject in this way they checked their findings, and when Malacou began to mutter Gregory pretended to interpret.

He told the woman that as a child she had had a serious accident that had affected her spine, that she had married twice and that her present husband was an airman, that she had two children, a boy and a girl, both of whom had been sent out of Germany, he thought to Sweden. Then he predicted that she would survive the war, have two more children and go to live in some southern country, he thought Spain.

With astonishment, she declared him to be perfectly right about her past and Goering clapped his mighty beringed hands.

The second subject was a younger woman. Having told her accurately about her past, Gregory said, ‘You, too, will survive the war, gnädige Frau. But not without injury. I regret to say that in an air-raid you will lose your right arm. You will also become a widow, but you will marry again, an elderly man who will provide you with every comfort.’

The third was a good-looking but rather sullen-faced woman. About her, spontaneously, Malacou sent Gregory a thought. As all that mattered was to impress Goering he decided to use it. When he had told her past, he said, ‘Within six months you will become the mistress of a Russian officer.’

Her eyes blazing with anger the woman sprang to her feet and slapped his face. But Goering roared with laughter and the rest of the guests followed his lead.

When the clamour had subsided Gregory started on his next subject. She was what the French term a ‘belle laide’. Her hair was a true gold and Gregory thought that he had rarely looked into a pair of more magnificent eyes; but her mouth was a thick gash across her face, and enormous. As he looked at her he suddenly wondered if she could be Sabine’s friend, Paula von Proffin of the letter-box mouth. When his reading of her hand and the thoughts Malacou sent him tallied with what Sabine had told him of Paula he felt certain of it. Malacou also conveyed to him that she would be raped to death by Russian soldiers. Looking at her with pity he decided to give her no idea of that. Instead, after telling her that she had had a hard early life as a model, then married a banker who had left her penniless, he added, ‘Your life will not be a long one, so make the most of it. At all events you are now married to an immensely rich man who can afford to indulge you in every luxury.’

Again Goering roared with laughter. Then, leaning forward towards a middle-aged man in a dinner jacket who was seated near him, he bellowed, ‘Listen to that, Hans. And you pleading poverty before dinner. You’ll not be able to deny little Paula anything after this.’

From that Gregory surmised that her new husband must be one of the chiefs of the Hermann Goering Werk, and that was why they were among Goering’s guests.

Paula gave Gregory a ravishing smile and he turned to the next woman along the table. Among other thoughts, Malacou informed him that she had a venereal disease. So in her case he ended by saying, ‘For the present I would advise you to lead the life of a nun; otherwise you will give anyone you go to bed with a present that he will not thank you for.’

She, too, jumped up in a fury, but Gregory sprang back in time to evade the slap she aimed at him. Again the cruel laughter rang out and, bursting into tears, the woman ran from the room.

‘Well done,’ wheezed Goering. ‘Well done. I shall find you invaluable.’

So it went on through the women, then the men took their turn. Most of them were to survive, but three were to die, and Gregory told them frankly that they would give their lives for the Führer; but he refused to give them particulars or dates. One among them was a Naval Captain and Malacou told Gregory, both by telepathy and by confirming it in the muttered Turkish that at times he used to ensure that Gregory got his thoughts exactly, that the Captain was a traitor in the camp and using his position to spy on Goering.

Gregory made no mention of that, but when he had told all their fortunes he addressed the Reichsmarschall. ‘Excellency, these psychic investigations into your guests have revealed one piece of information that I have not disclosed. It is for your ear alone and important to your safety. If you would give me a few minutes in private …’

Goering’s eyes held his for a moment, then the elephantine Chief of the Luftwaffe nodded, heaved himself up from his great ivory and gold throne and said, ‘Come with me.’

Picking up the skirts of his toga, he led the way out to an ante-room. On the walls there was a fabulous collection of paintings by the Dutch Masters. A great curved table desk occupied the centre of the room. With a grunt Goering lowered himself into a chair behind it, signed to Gregory to take another, and said:

‘Well, go ahead.’

‘That Naval Captain,’ Gregory replied. ‘I don’t know his name. But my colleague is certain that he has been planted here to spy on you.’

A broad grin spread over the Reichsmarschall’s fat face. ‘I know it. He is my Naval Attaché, but in the pay of Himmler. I keep him on a string. Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t. As long as he is here Himmler won’t send anyone else to spy on me. I feed him with what I want that crazy fool to know.’

Gregory smiled. ‘Then my warning is redundant, Herr Reichsmarschall. But Herr Malacou and I are deeply grateful for the way in which you have rescued us from prison and are anxious to be of service to you in any way we can.’

For a moment Goering studied Gregory’s face intently, then he said, ‘Tell me, Herr Protze, how much of this clever act of yours is trickery? There are no means by which your predictions about the future can be checked, but all my guests are well-known people; so you and this Oriental fellow for whom you appear to act as manager might have obtained particulars about their pasts from ordinary sources.’

‘No,’ Gregory replied firmly. ‘I assure Your Excellency that Herr Malacou is a genuine

mystic. After all, both of us have been confined at Sachsenhausen for the past four months; so what possible opportunity could we have had to ferret out facts about the lives of your guests?’

Goering nodded. ‘Yes. You certainly seem to have a point there. The Führer and Himmler swear by this sort of thing; but I never have. I’m still convinced that the occult has nothing to do with it. My belief is that you have only the ability to read people’s thoughts about themselves, and make up the rest. Still, that’s neither here nor there. The two of you provided us with an excellent entertainment, and in these days we haven’t much to laugh about. You may go now. Tell Colonel Kaindl to give you a glass of wine and to protect you from those angry women, and that I’ll rejoin my guests presently. I’ve a few notes I wish to make.’



Wheatley’s friendly portrait of Goering, like his favorable opinion of Churchill in the Sallust novels, is a perfect example of authorial bad taste. But once we accept the use of historical figures in popular fiction, I suppose portraying them all as slavering one-dimensional monsters would be a greater abuse of reality. Perhaps.



Jay
24 November 2018





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