The Hashish Man
I was at a dinner in London the other day. The ladies hadgone upstairs, and no one sat on my right; on my left therewas a man I did not know, but he knew my name somehowapparently, for he turned to me after a while, and said, "Iread a story of yours about Bethmoora in a review."
Of course I remembered the tale. It was about abeautiful Oriental city that was suddenly deserted in a day-- nobody quite knew why. I said, "Oh, yes," and slowlysearched in my mind for some more fitting acknowledgment ofthe compliment that his memory had paid me.
I was greatly astonished when he said, "You were wrongabout the gnousar sickness; it was not that at all."
I said, "Why! Have you been there?"
And he said, "Yes; I do it with hashish. I knowBethmoora well." And he took out of his pocket a small boxfull of some black stuff that looked like tar, but had astranger smell. He warned me not to touch it with myfinger, as the stain remained for days. "I got it from agipsy," he said. "He had a lot of it, as it had killed hisfather." But I interrupted him, for I wanted to know forcertain what it was that had made desolate that beautifulcity, Bethmoora, and why they fled from it swiftly in aday. "Was it because of the Desert's curse?" I asked. Andhe said, "Partly it was the fury of the Desert and partlythe advice of the Emperor Thuba Mleen, for that fearfulbeast is in some way connected with the Desert on hismother's side." And he told me this strange story: "Youremember the sailor with the black scar, who was there onthe day that you described when the messengers came on mulesto the gate of Bethmoora, and all the people fled. I metthis man in a tavern, drinking rum, and he told me all aboutthe flight from Bethmoora, but knew no more than you didwhat the message was, or who had sent it. However, he saidhe would see Bethmoora once more whenever he touched againat an eastern port, even if he had to face the Devil. Heoften said that he would face the Devil to find out themystery of that message that emptied Bethmoora in a day. And in the end he had to face Thuba Mleen, whose weakferocity he had not imagined. For one day the sailor toldme he had found a ship, and I met him no more after that inthe tavern drinking rum. It was about that time that I gotthe hashish from the gipsy, who had a quantity that he didnot want. It takes one literally out of oneself. It islike wings. You swoop over distant countries and into otherworlds. Once I found out the secret of the universe. Ihave forgotten what it was, but I know that the Creator doesnot take Creation seriously, for I remember that He sat inSpace with all His work in front of Him and laughed. I haveseen incredible things in fearful worlds. As it is yourimagination that takes you there, so it is only by yourimagination that you can get back. Once out in aether I meta battered, prowling spirit, that had belonged to a man whomdrugs had killed a hundred years ago; and he led me toregions that I had never imagined; and we parted in angerbeyond the Pleiades, and I could not imagine my way back. And I met a huge grey shape that was the Spirit of somegreat people, perhaps of a whole star, and I besought It toshow me my way home, and It halted beside me like a suddenwind and pointed, and, speaking quite softly, asked me if Idiscerned a certain tiny light, and I saw a far starfaintly, and then It said to me, `That is the Solar System,'and strode tremendously on. And somehow I imagined my wayback, and only just in time, for my body was alreadystiffening in a chair in my room; and the fire had gone outand everything was cold, and I had to move each finger oneby one, and there were pins and needles in them, anddreadful pains in the nails, which began to thaw; and atlast I could move one arm, and reached a bell, and for along time no one came, because every one was in bed. But atlast a man appeared, and they got a doctor; and HE said thatit was hashish poisoning, but it would have been all rightif I hadn't met that battered, prowling spirit.
"I could tell you astounding things that I have seen, butyou want to know who sent that message to Bethmoora. Well,it was Thuba Mleen. And this is how I know. I often wentto the city after that day you wrote of (I used to takehashish of an evening in my flat), and I always found ituninhabited. Sand had poured into it from the desert, andthe streets were yellow and smooth, and through open,swinging doors the sand had drifted.
"One evening I had put the guard in front of the fire,and settled into a chair and eaten my hashish, and the firstthing that I saw when I came to Bethmoora was the sailorwith the black scar, strolling down the street, and makingfootprints in the yellow sand. And now I knew that I shouldsee what secret power it was that kept Bethmoorauninhabited.
"I saw that there was anger in the Desert, for there werestorm clouds heaving along the skyline, and I heard amuttering amongst the sand.
"The sailor strolled on down the street, looking into theempty houses as he went; sometimes he shouted and sometimeshe sang, and sometimes he wrote his name on a marble wall. Then he sat down on a step and ate his dinner. After awhile he grew tired of the city, and came back up thestreet. As he reached the gate of green copper three men oncamels appeared.
"I could do nothing. I was only a consciousness,invisible, wandering: my body was in Europe. The sailorfought well with his fists, but he was over-powered andbound with ropes, and led away through the Desert.
"I followed for as long as I could stay, and found thatthey were going by the way of the Desert round the Hills ofHap towards Utnar Vehi, and then I knew that the camel menbelonged to Thuba Mleen.
"I work in an insurance office all day, and I hope youwon't forget me if ever you want to insure -- life, fire, ormotor -- but that's no part of my story. I was desperatelyanxious to get back to my flat, though it is not good totake hashish two days running; but I wanted to see what theywould do to the poor fellow, for I had heard bad rumoursabout Thuba Mleen. When at last I got away I had a letterto write; then I rang for my servant, and told him that Imust not be disturbed, though I left my door unlocked incase of accidents. After that I made up a good fire, andsat down and partook of the pot of dreams. I was going tothe palace of Thuba Mleen.
"I was kept back longer than usual by noises in thestreet, but suddenly I was up above the town; the Europeancountries rushed by beneath me, and there appeared the thinwhite palace spires of horrible Thuba Mleen. I found himpresently at the end of a little narrow room. A curtain ofred leather hung behind him, on which all the names of God,written in Yannish, were worked with a golden thread. Threewindows were small and high. The Emperor seemed no morethan about twenty, and looked small and weak. No smilescame on his nasty yellow face, though he titteredcontinually. As I looked from his low forehead to hisquivering under lip, I became aware that there was somehorror about him, though I was not able to perceive what itwas. And then I saw it -- the man never blinked; and thoughlater on I watched those eyes for a blink, it never happenedonce.
"And then I followed the Emperor's rapt glance, and I sawthe sailor lying on the floor, alive but hideously rent, andthe royal torturers were at work all round him. They hadtorn long strips from him, but had not detached them, andthey were torturing the ends of them far away from thesailor." The man that I met at dinner told me many thingswhich I must omit. "The sailor was groaning softly, andevery time he groaned Thuba Mleen tittered. I had no senseof smell, but I could hear and see, and I do not know whichwas the most revolting -- the terrible condition of thesailor or the happy unblinking face of horrible Thuba Mleen.
"I wanted to go away, but the time was not yet come, andI had to stay where I was.
"Suddenly the Emperor's face began to twitch violentlyand his under lip quivered faster, and he whimpered withanger, and cried with a shrill voice, in Yannish, to thecaptain of his torturers that there was a spirit in theroom. I feared not, for living men cannot lay hands on aspirit, but all the torturers were appalled at his anger,and stopped their work, for their hands trembled in fear. Then two men of the spear-guard slipped from the room, andeach of them brought back presently a golden bowl, withknobs on it, full of hashish; and the bowls were largeenough for heads to have floated in had they been filledwith blood. And the two men fell to rapidly, each eatingwith two great spoons -- there was enough in each spoonfulto have given dreams to a hundred men. And there came uponthem soon the hashish state, and their spirits hovered,preparing to go free, while I feared horribly, but ever andanon they fell back again to their bodies, recalled by somenoise in the room. Still the men ate, but lazily now, andwithout ferocity. At last the great spoons dropped out oftheir hands, and their spirits rose and left them. I couldnot flee. And the spirits were more horrible than the men,because they were young men, and not yet wholly moulded tofit their fearful souls. Still the sailor groaned softly,evoking little titters from the Emperor Thuba Mleen. Thenthe two spirits rushed at me, and swept me thence as gustsof wind sweep butterflies, and away we went from that small,pale, heinous man. There was no escaping from thesespirits' fierce insistence. The energy in my minute lump ofthe drug was overwhelmed by the huge spoonsful that thesemen had eaten with both hands. I was whirled over ArvleWoondery, and brought to the lands of Snith, and swept onstill until I came to Kragua, and beyond this to those bleaklands that are nearly unknown to fancy. And we came at lastto those ivory hills that are named the Mountains ofMadness, and I tried to struggle against the spirits of thatfrightful Emperor's men, for I heard on the other side ofthe ivory hills the pittering of those beasts that prey onthe mad, as they prowled up and down. It was no fault ofmine that my little lump of hashish could not fight withtheir horrible spoonsful..."
Some one was tugging at the hall-door bell. Presently aservant came and told our host that a policeman in the hallwished to speak to him at once. He apologised to us, andwent outside, and we heard a man in heavy boots, who spokein a low voice to him. My friend got up and walked over tothe window, and opened it, and looked outside. "I shouldthink it will be a fine night," he said. Then he jumpedout. When we put our astonished heads out of the window tolook for him, he was already out of sight.