The House of the Vampire
By George Sylvester Viereck
SILENTLY the two men faced each other. Then Ernest hissed:
Reginald shrugged his shoulders.
"So Ethel has infected you with her absurd fancies! Poor boy! I am afraid. . . . I have been wanting to tell you for some time. . . . But I think . . . We have reached the parting of our road!"
"And that you dare to tell me!"
The more he raged, the calmer Reginald seemed to become.
"Really," he said, "I fail to understand. . . . I must ask you to leave my room!"
"You fail to understand? You cad!" Ernest cried. He stepped to the writing-table and opened the secret drawer with a blow. A bundle of manuscripts fell on the floor with a strange rustling noise. Then, seizing his own story, he hurled it upon the table. And behold--the last pages bore corrections in ink that could have been made only a few minutes ago!
Reginald smiled. "Have you come to play havoc with my manuscripts?" he remarked.
"Your manuscripts? Reginald Clarke, you are an impudent impostor! You have written no word that is your own. You are an embezzler of the mind, strutting through life in borrowed and stolen plumes!"
And at once the mask fell from Reginald's face.
"Why stolen?" he coolly said, with a slight touch of irritation. "I absorb. I appropriate. That is the most any artist can say for himself. God creates; man moulds. He gives us the colours; we mix them."
"That is not the question. I charge you with having wilfully and criminally interfered in my life; I charge you with having robbed me of what was mine; I charge you with being utterly vile and rapacious, a hypocrite and a parasite!"
"Foolish boy," Reginald rejoined austerely. "It is through me that the best in you shall survive, even as the obscure Elizabethans live in him of Avon. Shakespeare absorbed what was great in little men--a greatness that otherwise would have perished--and gave it a setting, a life."
"A thief may plead the same. I understand you better. It is your inordinate vanity that prompts you to abuse your monstrous power."
"You err. Self-love has never entered into my actions. I am careless of personal fame. Look at me, boy! As I stand before you I am Homer, I am Shakespeare. . . I am every cosmic manifestation in art. Men have doubted in each incarnation my individual existence. Historians have more to tell of the meanest Athenian scribbler or Elizabethan poetaster than of me. The radiance of my work obscured my very self. I care not. I have a mission. I am a servant of the Lord. I am the vessel that bears the Host!"
He stood up at full length, the personification of grandeur and power. A tremendous force trembled in his very finger tips. He was like a gigantic dynamo, charged with the might of ten thousand magnetic storms that shake the earth in its orbit and lash myriads of planets through infinities of space. . . .
Under ordinary circumstances Ernest or any other man would have quailed before him. But the boy in that epic moment had grown out of his stature. He felt the sword of vengeance in his hands; to him was intrusted the cause of Abel and of Walkham, of Ethel and of Jack. His was the struggle of the individual soul against the same blind and cruel fate that in the past had fashioned the ichthyosaurus and the mastodon.
"By what right," he cried, "do you assume that you are the literary Messiah? Who appointed you? What divine power has made you the steward of my mite and of theirs whom you have robbed?"
"I am a light-bearer. I tread the high hills of mankind. . . I point the way to the future. I light up the abysses of the past. Were not my stature gigantic, how could I hold the torch in all men's sight? The very souls that I tread underfoot realise, as their dying gaze follows me, the possibilities with which the future is big. . . . Eternally secure, I carry the essence of what is cosmic . . . of what is divine. . . . I am Homer . . . Goethe . . . Shakespeare. . . . I am an embodiment of the same force of which Alexander, Cærsar, Confucius and the Christos were also embodiments. . . . None so strong as to resist me."
A sudden madness overcame Ernest at this boast. He must strike now or never. He must rid humanity of this dangerous maniac--this demon of strength. With a power ten times intensified, he raised a heavy chair so as to hurl it at Reginald's head and crush it.
Reginald stood there calmly, a smile upon his lips. . . . Primal cruelties rose from the depth of his nature. . . . Still he smiled, turning his luminous gaze upon the boy . . . and, behold . . . Ernest's hand began to shake . . . the chair fell from his grasp. . . He tried to call for help, but no sound issued from his lips. . . . Utterly paralysed he confronted . . . the Force. . . .
And still those eyes were fixed upon him.
But this was no longer Reginald!
It was all brain . . . only brain . . . a tremendous brain-machine . . . infinitely complex . . . infinitely strong. Not more than a mile away Ethel endeavoured to call to him through the night. The telephone rang, once, twice, thrice, insistingly. But Ernest heard it not. Something dragged him . . . dragged the nerves from his body . . . dragged, dragged, dragged. . . . It was an irresistible suction . . . pitiless . . . passionless . . . immense.
Sparks, blue, crimson and violet, seemed to play around the living battery. It reached the finest fibres of his mind. . . . Slowly . . . every trace of mentality disappeared . . . First the will . . . then feeling . . . judgment . . . memory . . . fear even. . . . All that was stored in his brain-cells came forth to be absorbed by that mighty engine. .
The Princess With the Yellow Veil appeared . . . flitted across the room and melted away. She was followed by childhood memories . . . girls' heads, boys' faces . . . He saw his dead mother waving her arms to him. . . . An expression of death-agony distorted the placid features . . . Then, throwing a kiss to him, she, too, disappeared. Picture on picture followed . . . Words of love that he had spoken . . . sins, virtues, magnanimities, meannesses, terrors . . . mathematical formulas even, and snatches of songs. Leontina came and was swallowed up. . . . No, it was Ethel who was trying to speak to him . . . trying to warn. . . . She waved her hands in frantic despair. . . . She was gone. . . . A pale face . . . dark, dishevelled hair . . . Jack. . . . How he had changed! He was in the circle of the vampire's transforming might. "Jack," he cried. Surely Jack had something to explain . . . something to tell him . . . some word that if spoken would bring rest to his soul. He saw the words rise to the boy's lips, but before he had time to utter them his image also had van- ished. And Reginald . . . Reginald, too, was gone. . . There was only the mighty brain . . . panting . . . whirling . . . Then there was nothing . . . The annihilation of Ernest Fielding was complete.
Vacantly he stared at the walls, at the room and at his master. The latter was wiping the sweat from his forehead. He breathed deeply . . . The flush of youth spread over his features. . . . His eyes sparkled with a new and dangerous brilliancy. . . . He took the thing that had once been Ernest Fielding by the hand and led it to its room.