There arose, as from a great ossified sponge, the comic-opera, Florence-Nightingale light-house, with junks beneath it clicking in vesperal meretricious monotony; behind them the great cliff obtruded solitary into the oily, poluphloisbious ocean, lifting its confection of pylons; the poplar rows, sunk yards, Luna Parks, etc., of the Tetrarchal Palace polished jasper and basalt, funereal undertakerial, lugubrious, blistering in the highlights under a pale esoteric sun-beat; encrusted, bespattered and damascened with cynocephali, sphinxes, winged bulls, bulbuls, and other sculptural by-laws. The screech-owls from the jungle could only look out upon the shadowed parts of the sea, which they did without optic inconvenience, so deep was the obscured contagion of their afforested blackness.
The two extraneous princes went up toward the stable-yard, gaped at the effulgence of peacocks, glared at the derisive gestures of the horse-cleaners, adumbrated insults, sought vainly for a footman or any one to take up their cards.
The tetrarch appeared on a terrace, removing his ceremonial gloves.
The water, sprinkled in the streets in anticipation of the day's parade, dried in little circles of dust. The tetrarch puffed at his hookah with an exaggeration of dignity; he was disturbed at the presence of princes, he was disturbed by the presence of Jao; he desired to observe his own ruin, the slow deliquescence of his position, with a fitting detachment and lassitude. Jao had distributed pamphlets, the language was incomprehensible; Jao had been stored in the cellarage, his following distributed pamphlets.
In the twentieth century of his era the house of Emeraud Archytypas was about to have its prize bit of fireworks: a war with the other world ... after so many ages of purely esoteric culture!
Jao had declined both the poisoned coffee and the sacred sword of the Samurai, courtesies offered, in this case, to an incomprehensible foreigner. Even now, with a superlation of form, the sacred kriss had been sent to the court executioner, it was no mere every-day implement. The princes arrived at this juncture. There sounded from the back alleys the preparatory chirping of choral societies, and the wailing of pink-lemonade sellers. To-morrow the galley would be gone.
Leaning over the syrupy clematis, Emeraud crumbled brioches for the fishes, reminding himself that he had not yet collected the remains of his wits. There was no galvanization known to art, science, industry or the ministrations of sister-souls that would rouse his long since respectable carcass.
Yet at his birth a great tempest had burst above the dynastic manor; credible persons had noticed the lightnings scrolling Alpha and Omega above it; and nothing had happened. He had given up flagellation. He walked daily to the family necropolis: a cool place in the summer. He summoned the Arranger of Inanities.
Strapped, pomaded, gloved, laced; with patulous beards, with their hair parted at the backs of their heads; with their cork-screw curls pulled back from their foreheads to give themselves tone on their medallions; with helmets against one hip; twirling the musk-balls of their sabres with their disengaged restless fingers, the hyperborean royalties were admitted. And the great people received them, in due order: chief mandarins in clump, the librarian of the palace (Conde de las Navas), the Arbiter Elegantium, the Curator major of Symbols, the Examiner of the High Schools, the Supernumerary priest of the Snow Cult, the Administrator of Death, and the Chief Attendant Collector of Death-duties.
Their Highnesses bowed and addressed the Tetrarch: "... felicitous wind ... day so excessively glorious ... wafted ... these isles ... notwithstanding not also whereof ... basilica far exceeding ... Ind, Ormus ... Miltonesco ... etc. ... to say nothing of the seven-stopped barbary organ and the Tedium laudamus ... etc. ..."
(Lunch was brought in.)
Kallipagous artichokes, a light collation of tunny-fish, asparagus served on pink reeds, eels pearl-gray and dove-gray, gamut and series of compôtes and various wines (without alcohol).
Under impulsion of the Arranger of Inanities the pomaded princes next began their inspection of the buildings. A pneumatic lift hove them upward to the outer rooms of Salome's suite. The lift door clicked on its gilt-brass double expansion-clamps; the procession advanced between rows of wall-facing negresses whose naked shoulder-blades shone like a bronze of oily opacity. They entered the hall of majolica, very yellow with thick blue incrustations, glazed images, with flushed and protuberant faces; in the third atrium they came upon a basin of joined ivory, a white bath-sponge, rather large, a pair of very pink slippers. The next room was littered with books bound in white vellum and pink satin; the next with mathematical instruments, hydrostats, sextants, astrolabial discs, the model of a gasolene motor, a nickel-plated donkey engine.... They proceeded up metal stairs to the balcony, from which a rustling and swaying and melodiously enmousselined figure, jonquil-colored and delicate, preceded or rather predescended them by dumb-waiter, a route which they were not ready to follow. The machine worked for five floors: usage private and not ceremonial.
The pomaded princes stood to attention, bowed with deference and with gallantry. The Arranger ignored the whole incident, ascended the next flight of stairs and began on the telescope:
"Grand equatorial, 22 yards inner tube length, revocable cupola (frescoes in water-tight paint) weight 200,089 kilos, circulating on fourteen steel castors in a groove of chloride of magnesium, 2 minutes for complete revolution. The princess can turn it herself."
The princes allowed their attention to wander, they noted their ship beneath in the harbor, and calculated the drop, they then compared themselves with the brocaded and depilated denizens of the escort, after which they felt safer. They were led passively into the Small Hall of Perfumes, presented with protochlorine of mercury, bismuth regenerators, cantharides, lustral waters guaranteed free from hydrated lead. Were conducted thence to the hanging garden, where the form hermetically enmousselined, the jonquil-colored gauze with the pea-sized dark spots on it, disappeared from the opposite slope. Molossian hounds yapping and romping about her.
The trees lifted their skinned-salmon trunks, the heavy blackness was broken with a steely, metallic sunshine. A sea wind purred through the elongated forest like an express-train in a tunnel. Polychrome statues obtruded themselves from odd corners. An elephant swayed absentmindedly, the zoo was loose all over the place. The keeper of the aquarium moralized for an hour upon the calm life of his fishes. From beneath the dark tanks the hareem sent up a decomposed odor, and a melancholy slave chantey saturated the corridors, a low droning osmosis. They advanced to the cemetery, wanting all the time to see Jao.
This exhibit came at last in its turn. They were let down in a sling-rope through a musty nitrated grill, observing in this descent the ill-starred European in his bath-robe, his nose in a great fatras of papers over-scrawled with illegible pot-hooks.
He rose at their hefty salutation; readjusted his spectacles, blinked; and then it came over him: These damn pustulent princes! Here! and at last! Memory overwhelmed him. How many, on how many rotten December and November evenings had he stopped, had he not stopped in the drizzle, in the front line of workmen, his nose crushed against a policeman, and craning his scraggy neck to see them getting out of their state barouche, going up the interminable front stairway to the big-windowed rococo palace; he muttering that the "Times" were at hand.
And now the revolution was accomplished. The proletariat had deputed them. They were here to howk him out of quod; a magnificent action, a grace of royal humility, performed at the will of the people, the new era had come into being. He saluted them automatically, searching for some phrase European, historic, fraternal, of course, but still noble.
The Royal Nephew, an oldish military man with a bald-spot, ubiquitarian humorist, joking with every one in season and out (like Napoleon), hating all doctrinaires (like Napoleon), was however the first to break silence: "Huk, heh, old sour bean, bastard of Jean Jacques Rousseau, is this where you've come to be hanged? Eh? l'm damned if it ain't a good thing."
The unfortunate publicist stiffened.
"Idealogue!" said the Nephew.
The general strike had been unsuccessful. Jao bent with emotion. Tears showed in his watery eyes, slid down his worn cheek, trickled into his scraggy beard. There was then a sudden change in his attitude. He began to murmur caresses in the gentlest of European diminutives.
They started. There was a tinkle of keys, and through a small opposite doorway they discerned the last flash of the mousseline, the pale, jonquil-colored, blackspotted.
The Nephew readjusted his collar. A subdued cortège reascended.
The ivory orchestra lost itself in gay fatalistic improvisation; the opulence of two hundred over-fed tetrarchal Dining-Companions swished in the Evening salon, and overflowed coruscated couches. They slithered through their genuflections to the throne. The princes puffed out their elbows, simultaneously attempting to disentangle their Collars-of-the-Fleece in the idea that these would be a suitable present for their entertainer. Neither succeeded; suddenly in the midst of the so elaborate setting they perceived the æsthetic nullity of the ornament, its connotations were too complex to go into.
The tetrarchal children (superb productions, in the strictly esoteric sense) were led in over the jonquil-colored reed-matting. A water-jet shot up from the centre of the great table, and fell plashing above on the red and white rubber awning. A worn entertainment beset the diminutive music-hall stage: acrobats, flower-dancers, contortionists, comic wrestlers, to save the guests conversation. A trick skater was brought in on real ice, did the split, engraved a gothic cathedral. The Virgin Serpent as she was called, entered singing "Biblis, Biblis"; she was followed by a symbolic Mask of the Graces; which gave place to trapeze virtuosi.
An horizontal geyser of petals was shot over the auditorium. The hookahs were brought in. Jao presumably heard all this over his head. The diners' talk became general, the princes supporting the army, authority, religion a bulwark of the state, international arbitration, the perfectibility of the race; the mandarins of the palace held for the neutralization of contacts, initiated cénacles, frugality and segregation.
The music alone carried on the esoteric undertone, silence spread with great feathers, poised hawk-wise. Salome appeared on the high landing, descended the twisted stair, still stiff in her sheath of mousseline; a small ebony lyre dangled by a gilt cord from her wrist; she nodded to her parent; paused before the Alcazar curtain, balancing, swaying on her anæmic pigeon-toed little feet—until every one had had a good look at her. She looked at no one in particular; her hair dusty with exiguous pollens curled down over her narrow shoulders, ruffled over her forehead, with stems of yellow flowers twisted into it. From the dorsal joist of her bodice, from a sort of pearl matrix socket there rose a peacock tail, moire, azure, glittering with shot emerald: an halo for her marble-white face.
Superior, graciously careless, conscious of her uniqueness, of her autochthonous entity, her head cocked to the left, her eyes fermented with the interplay of contradictory expiations, her lips a pale circonflex, her teeth with still paler gums showing their super-crucified half-smile. An exquisite recluse, formed in the island æsthetic, there alone comprehended. Hermetically enmousselined, the black spots in the fabric appeared so many punctures in the soft brightness of her sheath. Her arms of angelic nudity, the two breasts like two minute almonds, the scarf twined just above the adorable umbilical groove (nature desires that nude woman should be adorned with a girdle) composed in a cup-shaped embrace of the hips. Behind her the peacock halo, her pale pigeon-toed feet covered only by the watered-yellow fringe and by the bright-yellow anklet. She balanced, a little budding messiah; her head over-weighted; not knowing what to do with her hands; her petticoat so simple, art long, very long, and life so very inextensive; so obviously ready for the cosy-corner, for little talks in conservatories....
And she was going to speak....
The Tetrarch bulged in his cushions, as if she had already said something. His attention compelled that of the princes; he brushed aside the purveyor of pine-apples.
She cleared her throat, laughing, as if not to be taken too seriously; the sexless, timbreless voicelet, like that of a sick child asking for medicine, began to the lyre accompaniment:
"Canaan, excellent nothingness; nothingness-latent, circumambient, about to be the day after to-morrow, incipient, estimable, absolving, coexistent...."
The princes were puzzled. "Concessions by the five senses to an all-inscribing affective insanity; latitudes, altitudes, nebulæ, Medusæ of gentle water, affinities of the ineradicable, passages over earth so eminently identical with incalculably numerous duplicates, alone in indefinite infinite. Do you take me? I mean that the pragmatic essence attracted self-ward dynamically but more or less in its own volition, whistling in the bag-pipes of the soul without termination.—But to be natural passives, to enter into the cosmos of harmonics.—Hydrocephalic theosophies, act it, aromas of populace, phenomena without stable order, contaminated with prudence.—Fatal Jordans, abysmal Ganges—to an end with 'em—insubmersible sidereal currents—nurse-maid cosmogonies."
She pushed back her hair dusty with pollens, the soft handclapping began; her eyelids drooped slightly, her faintly-suggested breasts lifted slightly, showed more rosy through the almond-shaped eyelets of her corsage. She was still fingering the ebony lyre.
"Bis, bis, brava!" cried her audience.
Still she waited.
"Go on! You shall have whatever you like. Go on, my dear," said the Tetrarch; "we are all so damned bored. Go on, Salome, you shall have any blamed thing you like: the Great-Seal, the priesthood of the Snow Cult, a job in the University, even to half of my oil stock. But inoculate us with ... eh ... with the gracious salve of this cosmoconception, with this parthenospotlessness."
The company in his wake exhaled an inedited boredom. They were all afraid of each other. Tiaras nodded, but no one confessed to any difficulty in following the thread of her argument. They were, racially, so very correct.
Salome wound on in summary rejection of theogonies, theodicies, comparative wisdoms of nations (short shift, tone of recitative). Nothing for nothing, perhaps one measure of nothing. She continued her mystic loquacity: "O tides, lunar oboes, avenues, lawns of twilight, winds losing caste in November, haymakings, vocations manquées, expressions of animals, chances."
Jonquil colored mousselines with black spots, eyes fermented, smiles crucified, adorable umbilici, peacock aureoles, fallen carnations, inconsequent fugues. One felt reborn, reinitiate and rejuvenate, the soul expiring systematically in spirals across indubitable definitive showers, for the good of earth, understood everywhere, palp of Varuna, air omniversal, assured if one were but ready.
Salome continued insistently: "The pure state, I tell you, sectaries of the consciousness, why this convention of separations, individuals by mere etiquette, indivisible? Breathe upon the thistle-down of these sciences, as you call them, in the orient of my pole-star. Is it life to persist in putting oneself au courant with oneself, constantly to inspect oneself, and then query at each step: am I wrong? Species! Categories! and kingdoms, bah!! Nothing is lost, nothing added, it is all reclaimed in advance. There is no ticket to the confessional for the heir of the prodigies. Not expedients and expiations, but vintages of the infinite, not experimental but in fatality."
The little yellow vocalist with the black funereal spots broke the lyre over her knee, and regained her dignity. The intoxicated crowd mopped their foreheads. An embarassing silence. The hyperboreans looked at each other: "What time will they put her to bed?" But neither ventured articulation; they did not even inspect their watches. It couldn't have been later than six. The slender voice once more aroused them:
"And now, father, I wish you to send me the head of Jao Kanan, on any saucer you like. I am going upstairs. I expect it."
"But ... but ... my dear ... this ... this...." However—the hall was vigorously of the opinion that the Tiara should accomplish the will of Salome.
Emeraud glanced at the princes, who gave sign neither of approbation nor of disapprobation. The cage-birds again began shrieking. The matter was none of their business.
The Tetrarch threw his seal to the Administrator of Death. The guests were already up, changing the conversation on their way to the evening tepidarium.
With her elbows on the observatory railing, Salome, disliking popular fêtes, listened to her familiar poluphloisbious ocean. Calm evening.
Stars out in full company, eternities of zeniths of embers. Why go into exile?
Salome, milk-sister to the Via Lactea, seldom lost herself in constellations. Thanks to photo-spectrum analysis the stars could be classified as to color and magnitudes; she had commanded a set of diamonds in the proportionate sizes to adorn nocturnally her hair and her person, over mousseline of deep mourning-violet with gold dots in the surface. Stars below the sixteenth magnitude were not, were not in her world, she envisaged her twenty-four millions of subjects.
Isolated nebulous matrices, not the formed nebulæ, were her passion; she ruled out planetiform discs and sought but the unformed, perforated, tentacular. Orion's gaseous fog was the Brother Benjamin of her galaxy. But she was no more the "little" Salome, this night brought a change of relations, exorcised from her virginity of tissue she felt peer to these matrices, fecund as they in gyratory evolutions. Yet this fatal sacrifice to the cult (still happy in getting out of so discreetly) had obliged her in order to get rid of her initiator, to undertake a step (grave perhaps), perhaps homicide;—finally to assure silence, cool water to contingent people,—elixir of an hundred nights' distillation. It must serve.
Ah, well, such was her life. She was a specialty, a minute specialité.
There on a cushion among the débris of her black ebony lyre, lay Jao's head, like Orpheus' head in the old days, gleaming, encrusted with phosphorus, washed, anointed, barbered, grinning at the 24 million stars.
As soon as she had got it, Salome, inspired by the true spirit of research, had commenced the renowned experiments after decollation; of which we have heard so much. She awaited. The electric passes of her hypnotic manual brought from it nothing but inconsequential grimaces.
She had an idea, however.
She perhaps lowered her eyes, out of respect to Orion, stiffening herself to gaze upon the nebulæ of her puberties ... for ten minutes. What nights, what nights in the future! Who will have the last word about it? Choral societies, fire-crackers down there in the city.
Finally Salome shook herself, like a sensible person, reset, readjusted her fichu, took off the gray gold-spotted symbol-jewel of Orion, placed it between Jao's lips as an host, kissed the lips pityingly and hermetically, sealed them with corrosive wax (a very speedy procedure).
Then with a "Bah!" mutinous, disappointed, she seized the genial boko of the late Jao Kanan, in delicate feminine hands.
As she wished the head to land plumb in the sea without bounding upon the cliffs, she gave a good swing in turning. The fragment described a sufficient and phosphorescent parabola, a noble parabola. But unfortunately the little astronomer had terribly miscalculated her impetus, and tripping over the parapet with a cry finally human she hurtled from crag to crag, to fall, shattered, into the picturesque anfractuosities of the breakers, far from the noise of the national festival, lacerated and naked, her skull shivered, paralyzed with a vertigo, in short, gone to the bad, to suffer for nearly an hour.
She had not even the viaticum of seeing the phosphorescent star, the floating head of Jao on the water. And the heights of heaven were distant.
Thus died Salome of the Isles (of the White Esoteric Isles, in especial) less from uncultured misventure than from trying to fabricate some distinction between herself and every one else; like the rest of us.