The Last Miracle - M.P. Shiel - ebook

The Last Miracle ebook

M. P. Shiel

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This volume contains Matthew Phipps Shiel’s 1906 novel, „The Last Miracle”. It is original, nicely written, and with good character studies that is recommended for fans of supernatural and science fiction, and is a must-have for collectors of Shiel’s work. The Last Miracle (1906) – very loose thematic sequence of apocalyptic tales concerns a plot to discredit Christianity with fake miraculous visions created by gigantic hologram-like devices and the terrible crucifixions which are part of that plot. Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865 – 1947) – also known as M. P. Shiel – was a seminal British writer best remembered for his supernatural and scientific romances.

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Liczba stron: 388

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Contents

FOREWORD

I. MY VISIT TO SWANDALE

II. THE WREN

III. THE STYRIAN

IV. THE RITUAL, THE STREET CORNER, THE DEATH-BED, AND THE BELLS

V. THE TRAIL

VI. THE MEETING

VII. THE COMPACT

VIII. THE FACE OF ROBINSON

IX. "CRUCIFY TO YOURSELVES AFRESH THE SON OF MAN..."

X. OF HALLAM CASTLE

XI. BARON KOLAR ON THE MIRACLE

XII. THE QUESTION OF STYRIA

XIII. MISS LANGLER OUTRAGED

XIV. CANTERBURY

XV. OUR START

XVI. "DISEASED PERSONS"

XVII. THE MOUNTAINS

XVIII. AT THE SCHLOSS

XIX. THE FACE OF DEES

XX. THE UPSHOT

XXI. AT GRATZ

XXII. END OF DEES

XXIII. STORY OF DEES

XXIV. OUR FLIGHT

XXV. END OF LANGLER

XXVI. END OF LANGLER—continued

XXVII. END OF LANGLER—continued

XXVIII. END OF MISS LANGLER

APPENDIX

FOREWORD

TOWARDS the end of May 1900 the writer received as noteworthy a letter and packet of papers as it has been his lot to examine. They came from a good friend of mine, a Dr A. Lister Browne, M.A. Oxon., F.R.C.P., whom, as it happened that for some years I had been living mostly in France, and Browne being in Norfolk, I had not seen during my visits to London. Moreover, as we were both bad correspondents, only three notes had passed between us in the course of those years.

But in the May of 1900 there reached me the letter–and the packet–to which I refer, the packet consisting of four note-books full of shorthand, the letter also pencilled in shorthand, and this letter, together with the note-book marked “I.,” I now publish.

[The note-book marked “II.” has already appeared under the title of “The Lord of the Sea,” and that marked “III.” under the title of “The Purple Cloud,” each in three languages; while that marked “IV.” has been judged unsuitable to publication.]

The following is Browne’s letter:–

“Dear Old Man,–I have been thinking of you, wishing that you were here to give me a last squeeze of the hand before I–go. Four days ago I felt a soreness in the throat, so in passing by old Johnson’s surgery at Selbridge, I asked him to have a look at me. He muttered something about membranous laryngitis which made me smile; but by the time I reached home I was hoarse, and not smiling: before night I had stridor. I at once telegraphed to London for Horsford, and he and Johnson have been opening my inside and burning it with the cautery, so I am breathing easier now, and it is wonderful how little I suffer; but I am too old a hand not to know what’s what: the bronchi are involved–too far, and, as a matter of fact, there isn’t any hope. Horsford is still fondly hoping to add me to his successful-tracheotomy statistics; but I have bet him not, and the consolation of my death will be the beating of a specialist in his own line.

“I have been arranging some of my affairs, and remembered these note-books which I intended letting you have long ago; but you know my habit of putting things off, and, moreover, the lady was alive from whose mouth I took down the words. She is now dead, and, as a man of books, you should be interested, if you can manage to read them.

“I am under a little morphia at present, propped up in a nice little state of languor, so I will give you in the old Pitman’s something about her. Her name was Miss Mary Wilson; she was about thirty when I met her, forty-five when she died, and I knew her all those fifteen years. Do you know anything of the philosophy of the hypnotic trance? That was the relation between us–hypnotist and subject. She suffered from tic of the fifth nerve, had had all her teeth drawn before I knew her, and an attempt had been made to wrench out the nerve by the external scission. But it made no difference: all the clocks in purgatory tick-tacked in that poor woman’s jaw, and it was a mercy of Providence that ever she came across me.

“Well, you never knew anyone so weird in appearance as my friend, Miss Wilson. Medicineman as I am, I could never see her without a shock, she so suggested what we call ‘the other world.’ Her brow was lofty, her lips thin, her complexion ashen, and she was execrably emaciated; her eyes were of the hue of mist; at forty her wisp of hair was withered to white.

“She lived almost alone in old Marsham manor-house, five miles from Ash Thomas, and I, just beginning in these parts at the time, soon took up my residence at the manor, she insisting that I should give up myself to her.

“Well, I quickly found that in the state of trance Miss Wilson possessed very queer powers–queer, I mean, not because peculiar to herself in kind, but because so far-reaching in degree. Most people are now talking with an air of discovery about the reporting powers of the mind in its trance state, as though the fact had not been fully known to every old crone since the Middle Ages; but the certainty that someone in a trance in Manchester may tell what is going on in Glasgow was not, of course, left to the discovery of an office in Fleet Street, and the psychical people in establishing the fact for the public have not gone one step towards explaining it.

“But, speaking of poor Miss Wilson, I say that her powers were queer because so special in quantity. I believe it to be a fact that, in general, the powers of trance manifest themselves with respect to space, as distinct from time: the spirit roams in the present, travels over a plain, doesn’t usually astonish one by huge ascents or descents. I fancy that this is so. But Miss Wilson’s gift was queer to this degree, that she travelled in every direction, and easily in all but one, north and south, up and down, in the past, the present, and the future.

“This much I soon got to find out. She would give out a stream of sounds in the trance state–I can hardly call it speech, so murmurous, yet guttural, was the utterance, mixed with puffy breath-sounds at the lips, this state being accompanied by contraction of the pupils, failure of the knee-jerk, rigour, and a rapt expression, so I got into the habit of tarrying for hours by her bedside, fascinated by her, trying to catch the news of those musings which came mounting from her mouth; and in the course of months my ear learned to make out the words: ‘the veil was rent’ for me also, and I was able to follow somewhat the trips of her straying spirit.

“At the end of six months I heard her one day repeat some words which were familiar to me. They were these: ‘Such were the arts by which the Romans extended their conquests, and attained the palm of victory; and the concurring testimony of different authors enables us to describe them with precision...’ I was startled: they are part of Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall,’ which I readily guessed that she had never read.

“I said in a stern voice: ‘Where are you?’

“She replied: ‘Us are in a room, eight hundred miles above. A man is writing. Us are reading.’

“I may tell you two things: first, that in trance she never spoke of herself as ‘I‘ but, for some reason, as ‘us‘: ‘us are,’ she would say, ‘us will’; secondly, that when wandering in the past she represented herself as being above (the earth?), and higher the farther back she went; in describing present events she appears to have felt herself on (the earth); while, as to the future, she always declared that ‘us‘ were so many miles ‘within‘ (the earth).

“To her excursions in this last direction, however, there seemed to exist certain limits: I say seemed, for I can’t be sure, and only mean that she never, in fact, went far in this direction. Three, four thousand ‘miles’ were common figures in her mouth in describing her distance ‘above’; but her distance ‘within’ never got beyond sixty-three. She appeared, in relation to the future, to be like a diver in the sea who, the deeper he dives, finds a more resistant pressure, till at no great depth resistance grows to prohibition, and he can no further dive.

“I am afraid I can’t go on, though I had a good deal to tell you about this lady. During fifteen years, off and on, I sat listening by her couch to her murmurs. At last my ear could catch the meaning of her briefest breath. I heard the ‘Decline and Fall’ almost from beginning to end. Some of her reports were the merest twaddle; over others I have hung in a sweat of interest. About the fifth year it struck me that I might just as well jot down some of her mouthings, and the note-book marked ‘I.’ belongs to the seventh year. Its history is this: I heard her one afternoon murmuring in the tone which she used when reading, asked her where she was, and she replied: ‘Us are forty-five miles within: us read, and another writes’; from which I concluded that she was some forty to sixty years in the future. I believe you may find it curious, if you are able to read my notes.

“But no more of Mary Wilson now, and a little of A. L. Browne, F.R.C.P.!–with a breathing-tube in his trachea, and Eternity under his bed now. Isn’t that a curious beast, my dear boy, the thing you call a ‘modern man’? Is he not? Here am I writing to you about Miss Mary Wilson and her freights of froth, and all the time I know what this frame of mine will be to-morrow night; I know and am not afraid. Am I a saint, then? At least a hero? No, I am a modern man, a know-nothing. The Lord have mercy upon my never-dying soul! if my soul is never-dying, and if ... rather a mess.

“Well, no more now. I know you will think of me sometimes. You will have to, by the way, because I am making you one of my executors. ‘A long farewell!’ ...”

Here begins the Note-book marked I.”

I. MY VISIT TO SWANDALE

I have been asked by the publishers who bring out this book to add yet a mite to the mass of writing which has appeared in regard to the late events, for how are the mighty fallen! and, as when an oak announces its downfall through the forest, so here it was only natural that the little fowl should fly and flap, with outcries (sometimes) of sharp shrillness! Much, then, has been written and said; and if I now place my small word with the books already sprung out of what we call “The Revival” and, rather blatantly, the “Abolition of Christianity,” my excuse lies in the circumstance that during those storms I was much with Aubrey Langler, and that, long before those events, I was probably his closest friend.

I can, therefore, give details as to that gracious life and the strifes in which he had a hand not very possible to another writer.

It was my way to stay with Langler at least thrice a year. My crowded town-life was a rude enough contrast with his eremite mood, so I rarely failed to avail myself of his invitations. Of these he gave me one in the August of the year of the Pope’s visit, and shortly afterwards I started for Alresford (Swandale lies five miles north-west of Alresford by carriage-road).

There happened to travel in the rail-train with me a remarkable man: certainly, I think that I never beheld a larger human being, except in an exhibition. We were alone in my carriage, and I was able to take note of him. His vast jacket was of satin, and from every button ran two cords of silk, ending in a barrel-shaped ornament of silk, such as used, I believe, to be called “frogs”; his shirt was frilled and limp; and he wore four or five rings. This was enough to prove him a foreigner, though otherwise his dress was ordinary. He sat with his fat legs wide apart, smiling at the world in the most good-humoured, yet sneering way, showing some very long top teeth.

All the time his hand travelled to and fro, fro and to, in a rub along the tightly-clad length of his thigh.

The man seemed most happy. From the manner in which his eyes, half hid by their sleepy lids, hovered anon upon me, I could see that he was longing to speak out some of his self-satisfaction; and after some short time he did indeed speak, saying with a drowsy drawl through his nostrils, exhibiting the sneer of his teeth, and speaking English without a hint of foreignness:

“The landscape is not displeasing to me. Oh no; it is not so bad. There now, you see, that little farm: it is not so bad. But it is not romantic–not plantureux. It would be strange to me if the English were other than they are. The English are an exact expression of England–their character, constitution, Church, everything. The cliffs of Dover, now. Cæsar might have foretold their future from their mere appearance as he approached them; a traveller might just look at them from his ship, and go back home saying: ‘I know the English’–if he be a man of force and grasp and insight. Oh no; that is a little hyperbole perhaps–my little tendency to hyperbole. But, I assure you, the landscape does not displease me...”

In this way he went on purring; did not stop; would not permit me to say anything. His utterance was lazy, nasal; and ever and anon he pipped from his lips, as he droned and rubbed his thigh, a dry pin-point of nothing: this, one could see, was a habit of his being. I cannot now recall a thousandth part of his talk, but I do recall that, as he droned on and on from topic to topic, this thought roved through my brain: “But what a head! what a fount of ideas!”

The man made upon me an impression of great grossness, perhaps from his big bulk, or his manner of ironing his thigh, or his ejection of nothings, or that wallowing in his own self-satisfaction. Round his chin and cheeks ran a bandage of iron-grey beard; his hair was scanty, and bald at the temples, where his forehead ran up into two gulfs of bare skin, so that the skimpy region of hair on his great head resembled a jacket much too small for the person who wears it.

A few minutes before our arrival at Alresford something led him to tell me that he was about to join the house-party of the Prime Minister at Goodford. His servants, I soon saw, were in the carriage next to ours, for as the train drew up a valet ran out to help his master to alight, but his master coolly made use of my shoulder to help himself out as he limped heavily to the platform, and did it with such an air of patronage and old friendship, that, for the life of me, I couldn’t help feeling flattered.

I suppose that to be caressed by a force is always pleasant–the purring of a petted cat!–and I understood that the Baron Gregor Kolár was a force.

For now I knew his already well-known name, inasmuch as, after turning away from me on the platform, he turned again, fumbled fretfully for his card, and gave it me. I gave him mine. Then, with a bow-legged rolling of gait which bowled his head aside at each stride, he strolled to the brougham awaiting him.

His brougham and mine ran along the same road for some distance–Goodford, his bourne, being only five miles from Swandale–till we parted at a meeting of roads, and he passed from my mind for a season.

II. THE WREN

As I went on towards Swandale the thought suddenly struck me that my driver’s back was strange to me. I bent forward, and asked him what, then, had become of Robinson.

“I wish I could tell you, sir,” was his answer, “but seemingly that’s just what nobody knows.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Robinson has been missing for three days, sir,” he said–“since Thursday noon, high or low, no one can find him: and cut up is what Mr and Miss Langler are about it.”

This Robinson, a very handsome man, well under forty years, was a part of Swandale, and long known to me; but now the carriage rolled over broken stones, and I asked no more. Soon thereafter we passed into the gorge which runs into Swandale.

The fame of this vale is at present pretty far-spread, yet of the “pen-pictures” which have appeared of it I know of none which portrays half its witchery. The piling up of details is, in fact, fruitless, for not the pen, but the brush, is fashioned to paint. I may repeat, however, that the vale is an oval, the gorge being at the south-east, in which already the ear is caught by that sound of waters whose chant pervades the vale (the whole is not more than twelve hundred yards long and eight hundred wide), and one goes on through an air of perfumes to a giant portal, till, in contrast with the wildness of the approach, Swandale itself dawns upon the eye in all its rusticity–a rusticity attained by the touchiest art, for I think that throughout the dale there was not at that time a coo or a drain not due to the care of its designer. Langler had, in fact, given many years and the mass of his fortune to the making of this garden.

The house is not precisely in the centre of the oval, but towards the north-west, on an islet in the lake, the lake itself being an oval, and it is strange that waters so shaken can show so staringly every pebble and grayling in their deeps: shaken, for the ground north of the house mounts in terrace on terrace to the hills, and down these, all rowdy with laughter, darts a rout of waters which wash into the lake. On the wooden bridge looking east over the lake Langler and his sister stood awaiting me.

Langler was now a man of forty, with some silver in his hair, and Miss Emily at this time twenty-seven.

They formed something of a contrast, she was so much darker than he, for Langler had light, wavy hair, parted in the middle over the broadest brow, a brow parcelled up into lax fields by the furrows of “much learning.” He wore no hair on the face, save side-whiskers down the longish hollow of his cheeks, cheeks which looked no wider than the breadth of his broad chin: a massive countryman’s-face, yet with something wistful and ill-fated about the eyes and the thick lips, which ever bore a sad smile. His “bone-in-the-throat” drew the eye by its prominence! He always impressed one as being better groomed than other men, I never could tell why, since he was ever quite plainly dressed, but in the very pink of correctness somehow.

However, in a certain–shall I say cynicalness?–of look there was resemblance between the two–or, say, criticalness, scepticism: both had a trick of screwing up at the cheek-bones a little and piercing into anything new or curious that was in question.

It is commonly known now that both were beings of uncommon endowment, and so kin and kind were they, that they appeared to live, as it were, a twin life.

When we went into the cottage I found waiting to welcome me several men and women servants–a small crowd of much more than ordinary comeliness. Langler said then to me: “have you heard about my poor friend?”

It was nothing new for him to speak so of his servant, so I knew that he referred to Robinson, and replied: “I have heard something. Can’t you form any idea what has become of him?”

“No idea so far,” he answered; “I am giving my mind to it.”

“He should be found, then,” I said; at which Langler smiled.

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