The German, and indeed most of the Western, intelligentsia were incredulous when Hitler set out to prove that Wall Street and the communists, all run by Jews, were in essence the same people pursuing identical objectives. For a dangerously long time the intelligentsia simply refused to believe that so preposterous a notion could deceive anyone but the infantile or the senile. Much too late, this same intelligentsia were forced to realize that millions of people could be brought to believe not only that, but also to believe, as the Nazi Press told them to during the Second World War, that President Roosevelt was a Jew whose real name was Rosenfeld, and was acting in collaboration with communists (whose leader’s first name was Joseph) to bring about the destruction of Western society.
With this fairly recent phenomenon in mind, we can better understand the credibility of Constantine Schuabe, and the impact of When It Was Dark. Enter (in London) villain Number Two, or the Second Murderer. This is Robert Llwellyn, internationally famous savant in charge of the Palestinian section of the British Museum. He is described as being ‘that almost inhuman phenomenon, a sensualist with a soul’. In his room at the Museum he has just received the news that he is about to be knighted for services rendered to science, archaeology, scriptural knowledge and so on. But he too has troubles of a kind with which it might be difficult for, say, an Oxford don of the 1970s to identify. He is leading a double life.
“The lofty scientific world of which he was an ornament, had no points of contact with that other and unspeakable half life. Rumours had been bruited, things said in secret by envious and less distinguished men, but they had never harmed him … What did it matter if smaller people with forked tongues hissed horrors of his private life? The other circles – the lost slaves of pleasure – knew him well and were content.”
What then were the horrors so hissed? They consisted in the fact that, although a married man, he kept a mistress. And this mistress was a music-hall actress so well known that her picture appeared on cigarette cards. He kept her in Bloomsbury Court Mansions. One does not today associate Bloomsbury with luxurious vice, but that, in 1903, was what it meant. The room of
“one of London’s popular favourites, Miss Gertrude Hunt, reeked with a well-known perfume, an evil, sickly smell of ripe lilies and the acrid smoke of Egyptian tobacco … The room would have struck an ordinary visitor with a sense of nausea almost like a physical blow. There was something sordidly shameless about it. The vulgarest and
most material of Circes held sway among all this gaudy and lavish disorder. The most sober-minded and innocent-minded man, brought suddenly into such a place, would have known it instantly for what it was and turned to fly as from a pestilence.”
It should be said here that despite a Jewish look, a vulgarly cockney accent (in which she sings with enormous success a song called The Coon of Coons’) and her sexual immorality, she turns up trumps in the end, pushed along by Basil Gortre and the knowledge that she is soon going to die of an incurable ‘internal disease’.
Just before venturing into this den in Bloomsbury, we are offered a vignette of Prof. Llwellyn’s home life. Here again, the point is that Guy Thorne’s public of 1903 obviously found the picture quite credible. So much so, in fact, that the author does not find it necessary to suggest that there was anything more than a little unusual about it. In the 1970S the thing would take a good deal of explaining, and the characters concerned would have to be represented as fugitives from a sanatorium. How otherwise account for the fact that Mrs Llwellyn does not divorce the Professor?
“They had been married for fifteen years. For fourteen of them he had hardly ever spoken to her except in anger at some household accident. On her own private income of six hundred a year she had to do what she could to keep the house going. Llwellyn never gave her anything of the thousand a year which was his salary at the Museum, and the greater sums he earned by his salary outside it. She knew no one. The Professor went into none but official society, and indeed but few of his colleagues knew that he was a married man. He treated the house as an hotel, sleeping there occasionally, breakfasting and dressing. His private rooms were the only habitable part of the house. All the rest was old, faded and without comfort. Mrs Llwellyn spent most of her life with the two servants in the kitchen. She always swept and tidied her husband’s rooms herself. That after-noon she had built and coaxed the fire with her own hands. She slept in a small room at the top of the house, next to the maids, for company. This was her life.”
Our sensualist with a soul, on arrival at Bloomsbury Court
Mansions, is so troubled that, despite having eaten nothing but a snack of soup, fish and cheese, he is unable to eat the supper prepared for him by the vulgar and material Circe. The reason for this trouble is that he is being sexually blackmailed by Miss Hunt and financially blackmailed by the man Schuabe, now resident at the Hotel Cecil, next door to the Savoy, overlooking the Thames, and arranging for getting rid of Christianity and all that that implies.
Schuabe has written to the Professor demanding that he pay back loans from Schuabe of which ‘the principal and interest now total the sum of fourteen thousand pounds’.
The man Schuabe writes:
“It would be superfluous to point out to you what bankruptcy would mean to you in your position. Ruin would be the only word. And it would be no ordinary bankruptcy. I have by no means an uncertain idea where these large sums have gone, and my knowledge can hardly fail to be shared by others in London Society. [I.e. He will tell London Society about Gertrude Hunt.]
“I have still a chance to offer you, however, and perhaps you will find me by no means the tyrant you think. There are certain services which you can do me, and which, if you fall in with my views, will not only wipe off the few thousands of your indebtedness, but will provide you with a capital sum which will place you above the necessity for any such financial manoeuvres in the future as your -shall I say infatuation – has led you to resort to in the past. If you care to lunch with me in my rooms at the Hotel Cecil at two o’clock the day after tomorrow – Friday-we may discuss your affairs quietly. If not then I must refer you to my solicitors entirely. Yours sincerely, Constantine Schuabe.
So what is our man Schuabe going to get for his many thousand pieces of gold ? Simply this: on grounds of alleged ill-health the Professor is to get one year’s leave of absence from the British Museum.
He will proceed to Jerusalem.
With his unparalleled skill and the help of an enormous bribe from Schuabe to a corruptible Greek called lonides, a man much esteemed by the Palestine Exploration Society, he will then forge, in a tomb just outside Jerusalem, a certain inscription.
The nature of this inscription? It is nothing less than a message from Joseph of Arimathea, admitting that he, Joseph, stole the body of Christ and hid it in this same tomb. So that when the disciples thought that Christ had risen from the dead, they were victims of a well-meant deception by Joseph of Arimathea. There had been no Resurrection. The body had merely been secretly transferred from one tomb to another. The entire Christian world had been the victim of this hoax.
They did not have radium tests in those days, capable of deciphering the antiquity or otherwise of such an inscription or of ‘the slight mould on the stone slab which may or may not be’ (as the Daily Wire was to announce later) ‘that of a decomposed body’. All the same, it certainly took fifty thousand pounds’ worth of the Professor’s skill to fake the thing so that it was going, a bit later, to fool all the greatest Palestinian experts in the world, including archaeologist Hands.
For, obviously enough, it was not going to be Llwellyn who would make the historic discovery. The thing that was going to change the history of the world would come to light as a result of the honest exploratory labours of honest men like Hands.
And so, in the fullness of time and exactly in accordance with the malign calculation of Devil-man Schuabe, it came to pass. It is naturally difficult in a summary to do any kind of justice to Guy Thorne’s capacity for the creation of suspense. To convey it one must quote at some length the chapter in which the news of the supposed discovery in Jerusalem reaches London. Harold Spence, you will remember, is a leader-writer for the Daily Wire. One of his room-mates, Cyril Hands, is agent of the Palestine Exploration Society. Hands has recently left for Palestine on the business of the Society. The reader is of course already aware of the nature and the successful carrying out of the tremendous plot concocted by Schuabe and Sir Robert Llwellyn, but nobody else in the civilized world is aware of the fearful time-bomb ticking away beneath them. With admirable skill Thorne delays the final revelation with what might otherwise be a pedestrian account of a day in the life of Harold Spence.
“One Wednesday – he remembered the day afterwards – Spence woke about midday. He had been late at the office the night before and afterwards had gone to a club, not going to bed till after four, He heard the ‘laundress’ [charwoman] moving about the chambers preparing his breakfast. He shouted to her and in a minute or two she came in with his letters and a cup of tea. She went to the window and pulled up the blind, letting a dreary grey-yellow December light into the room .’Nasty day, Mrs Buscall?’ he said, sipping his tea. ‘It is so, sir,’ the woman said, a lean kindly-faced London drudge, caught in Drury Lane. ‘Gives me a frog in my throat all the time, this fog does … letter from Mr Cyril, I see, sir,’ she remarked. Mrs Buscall loved the archaeologist with more strenuousness than her other two charges: the unusual and mysterious has a real fascination for a certain type of uneducated Cockney brain. Hands’s rare sojourns at the chambers, the Eastern dresses and pictures in his room, his strange and perilous life, as she considered it, in the veritable Bible land where Satan actually roamed the desert in the form of a lion seeking whom he might devour, all these stimulated her crude imagination and brought colour into the dreary purlieus of Drury Lane. Most of the women around Mrs Buscall drank gin. The doings of Cyril Hands were sufficient tonic for her.
“Spence glanced at the bulky package with the Turkish stamps and peculiar aroma, which the London fog had not yet killed, of ships and alien sounds. Hands was a good correspondent. Sometimes he sent general articles on the work he was doing, not too technical, and Ommaney, the editor of Spence’s paper, used and paid well for them.
“But on this morning Spence did not feel inclined to open the packet. It could wait. He was not in the humour for it now. It would be too tantalizing to read of those deep skies like a hard hollow turquoise, of the flaming white sun, the white mosque and minarets throwing purple shadows round the cypresses and olives After breakfast, the lunchtime of most of the world, he found it impossible to settle down to anything. He was not due at the office that night and the long hours without the excitement of his work stretched rather hopelessly before him. He thought of paying calls in the various parts of the West End where he had friends whom he had rather neglected of late. But he dismissed that idea
when it came, for he did not feel as if he could make himself very agreeable to anyone. He half thought of running down to Brighton, fighting the cold bracing sea winds on the lawns at Hove and returning the next day. He was certainly out of sorts – liverish, no doubt – and the solution to his difficulties presented itself to him in the project of a Turkish bath. He put his correspondence into the pocket of his overcoat to be read at leisure and drove to a Ham-mam in Jermyn Street. The physical warmth, the silence, the dim lights and oriental decorations induced a supreme sense of comfort and bien etre. It brought Constantinople back to him in vague reverie.
“Perhaps, he thought, the Turkish bath in London is the only easy way to obtain a sudden and absolute change of environment. Nothing else brings detachment so readily, so instinct with change and the unusual. In the delightful languor he passed from one dim chamber to another, lying prone in the great heat which surrounded him like a cloak. Then the vigorous kneading and massage, the gradual toning and renovating of each joint and muscle till he stood drenched in aromatic foam, a new fresh physical personality … at four a slippered attendant brought him a sole and a bottle of yellow wine and after the light meal he fell once more into a placid restorative sleep.
“And all the while the letter from Jerusalem was in his overcoat pocket, forgotten, hung in the entrance hall. The thing which was to alter the lives of thousands and tens of thousands, that was to bring a cloud over England more dark and menacing than it had ever known, lay there with its stupendous message, its relentless influence, while outside the church bells all over London were tolling for Evensong. At length, as night was falling, Spence went out into the lighted streets with their sudden roar of welcome. He was immensely refreshed, his thoughts moved quickly and well, depression had left him and the activity of his brain was unceasing. He turned into St James’s Street where his club was, intending to find somebody who would come to a music-hall with him. There was no one he knew intimately in the smoking room but soon after he arrived Lambert, one of the deputy curators from the British Museum, came in. Spence and Lambert had been at Marlborough together, Spence asked Lambert, who was in evening dress, to be his companion. ‘Sorry, I can’t, old man,’ he answered, ‘I’ve got to dine with my uncle. Sir Michael. It’s a bore of course but it’s policy. The place will be full of High Church bishops and minor Cabinet ministers and people of that sort. I only hope old Ripon will be there, he’s my uncle’s tame vicar you know, uncle runs an expensive church like some men run a theatre, for he’s always bright and amusing … sorry I can’t come, awful bore. I’ve had a tiring day too and a ballet would be refreshing. The governor’s been in a state of filthy irritation and nerves for the last fortnight.’
” ‘Sir Robert Llwellyn, isn’t it?’
“‘Yes, he’s my chief and a very good fellow too as a rule. He went away for several months, you know, travelled abroad for his health. [The reader of course is aware of the real purpose of Sir Robert’s excursion.] When he first came back three months ago he looked as fit as a fiddle and seemed awfully pleased with himself all round. But lately he’s been decidedly off colour. He seems worried about something, does hardly any work and he always seems waiting and looking out for a coming event. He bothers me out of my life, always coming into my room and talking about nothing, or speculating upon the possibility of all sorts of new discoveries which will upset everyone’s theories.’
“‘I met him in Dieppe in the Spring. He seemed all right then, just at the beginning of his leave.’
“‘Well, he’s certainly not that now, worse luck, and confound him. He interferes with my work no end.’
“It was after seven o’clock. Spence wasn’t hungry yet, the light meal in the Hammam had satisfied him. He resolved to go to the Empire alone, not because the idea of going seemed very attractive but because he had planned it and could substitute no other way of spending the evening for the first determination. So about nine o’clock he strolled into the huge garish music hall. He went into the Empire and already his contentment was beginning to die away again. The day seemed a day of trivialities, a sordid uneventful day of London gloom which he had vainly tried to disperse with little futile rockets of amusement. He sat down in a stall and watched a clever juggler doing wonderful things with billiard balls. After the juggler a coarsely handsome Spanish girl came upon the stage – he remembered her at La Scala in Paris. She was said to be one of the beauties of Europe and a King’s favourite.
“After the Spanish woman there were two men, ‘Brothers’ someone. One was disguised as a donkey, the other as a tramp and together they did laughable things.
“With a sigh he went upstairs and moved slowly through the thronged promenade. The hard faces of the men and women repelled him. One elderly Jewish-looking person reminded him of a great grey slug. He turned into the American Bar at one extremity of the horseshoe. It was early yet and the big room pleasantly cool was quite empty. A man brought him a long particoloured drink. He felt the pressure of the packet in his pocket. It was Cyril Hands’s letter he found as he took it out. He thought of young Lambert at the club, a friend of Hands and fellow worker in the same field, and languidly opened the letter.
“Two women came in and sat at a table not far from him as he began to read. He was the only man in the place and they regarded him with a tense conscious interest. They saw him open a bulky envelope with a careless manner. He would look up soon, they expected.
“But as they watched they saw a sudden swift contraction of the brows, a momentous convulsion of every feature. His head bent lower towards the manuscript. They saw that he became very pale.
“In a minute or two what had at first seemed a singular paleness became a frightful ashen colour. That Johnny’s going to be ill,’ one of the women said to another. As she spoke they saw the face change. A lurid excitement burst out upon it like a flame. The eyes glowed, the mouth settled into swift purpose.
“Spence took up his hat and left the room with quick decided steps. He threaded his way through the crowd round the circle, like a bed of orchids surrounded by heavy poisonous scents, and almost ran into the street. A cab was waiting. He got into it and inspired by his words and appearance the man drove furiously down dark Garrick Street and the blazing Strand towards the offices of the Daily Wire. The great building of dressed stone which stood in the middle of Fleet Street was dark. The advertisement hall and business offices were closed. The journalist turned down a long corridor with doors on either side … at the extreme end he opened a door and passing round a red baize screen flung himself in on Ommaney’s room, the centre of the great web of brains and machinery which daily gave the Wire to the world. Ommaney’s room was very large, warm and bright – it was also extremely tidy. The writing table had little on it save the great blotting pad and an inkstand, the books on chairs and shelves were neatly arranged … Ommaney was slim and pale, carefully dressed and of medium height. He did not look very old. His moustache was golden and carefully tended, his pale honey-coloured hair waved over a high white forehead.
“‘I shall want an hour,’ Spenre said. ‘I’ve just got what may be the most stupendous news any newspaper has ever published.’
“The editor looked up quickly. A flash of interest passed over his pale immobile face and was gone. He knew that if Spence spoke like this the occasion was momentous. He looked at his watch. ‘Is it news for tonight’s paper?’ he said. ‘No,’ answered Spence, ‘I’m the only man in England I think who has it yet. We shall gain nothing by printing tonight but we must settle our course of action at once. That won’t wait. You’ll understand when I explain …’ Spence took a chair opposite. He seemed dazed. He was trembling with excitement. His face was pale with it, yet above and beyond this agitation there was almost fear in his eyes.
“‘It’s a discovery in Palestine – at Jerusalem,’ he said in a low vibrating voice, spreading out the thin crackling sheets of foreign notepaper on his knee and arranging them in order. ‘You know Cyril Hands, the agent of the Palestine Exploring Fund?’ ‘Yes, quite well by reputation,’ said Ommaney, ‘and I’ve met him once or twice. Very sound man.’ ‘These papers are from him. They seem to be of tremendous importance, of a significance that I can hardly grasp yet.’ ‘What is the nature of them?’ asked the editor, rising from his chair, powerfully affected in his turn by Spence’s manner. Harold put his hand up to his throat, pulling at his collar, the apple moved up and down convulsively.
“‘The tomb!’ Spence gasped. ‘The Holy Tomb!’
“‘What do you mean?’ asked Ommaney. ‘Another supposed burial place of Christ – like The Times business when they found the Gordon tomb, and Canon MacColl wrote such a lot?’
“His face fell a little. This, though interesting enough and fine news copy, was less than he hoped.
“‘No, no,’ cried Spence, getting his voice back at last and speaking like a man in acute physical pain, “A new tomb has been found, there is an inscription in Greek, written by Joseph of Arimathea, and there are other traces.’
“His voice failed him. ‘Go on, man, go on,’ said the editor.
“‘The inscription – tells that – Joseph took the body of Jesus -from his own garden tomb – he hid it in this place – the disciples never knew – it is a confession.’
“Ommaney was as white as Spence now. ‘There are other contributory proofs; Spence continued. Hands says that it is certain. All the details are here, read -‘
“Ommaney stared fixedly at his lieutenant.
“‘Then if this is true; he whispered, ‘it means?’
“‘THAT CHRIST NEVER ROSE FROM THE DEAD. THAT CHRISTIANITY IS ALL A LIE.’
“Spence slipped back in his chair a little and fainted.”
After Spence has been partially revived with brandy the editor soliloquizes aloud on the situation.
“‘Of course I and you are hardly competent to judge of the value of this communication. To me, speaking as a layman, it seems extremely clear. But we must of course see a specialist before publishing anything. If this news is true, and I will give all I am worth if it were not, though I am no Christian, of course you realize that the future history of the world is changed. I hold in my hand something that will come to millions and millions of people as an utter extinction of hope and light. It’s impossible to say what will happen. Moral law will be abrogated for a time. The whole fabric of society will fall into ruin at once until it can adjust itself to the new state of things There will be war all over the world; crime will cover England like a cloud …’ His voice faltered as the terrible picture grew in his brain. Both of them felt that mere words were utterly unable to express the horrors which they saw dawning.”