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The Purple Cloud by M.P. Shiel

Part 6 out of 6

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* * * * *

So it is finished, my good God.

On the early morning of the next day, the 9th, I having come back to
Portsmouth about eleven the previous night, when I bid her 'Good
morning' through the telephone, she said 'Good morning,' and not another
word. I said:

'I got my hookah-bowl broken last night, and shall be trying to mend it

No answer.

'Are you there?' said I.

'Yes,' says she.

'Then why don't you answer?' said I.

'Where were you all yesterday?' says she.

'I went for a little cruise in the basin,' said I.

Silence for three minutes: then she says:

'What is the matter?'

'Matter?' said I, 'nothing!'

'_Tell me!_' she says--with such an intensity and rage, as to make me

'There is nothing to tell, Leda!'

'Oh, but how can you be so _cluel_ to me?' she cries, and ah, there was
anguish in that voice! 'There is something to tell--there _is!_ Don't I
know it vely well by your voice?'

Ah, the thought took me then, how, on the morrow, she would ring, and
have no answer; and she would ring again, and have no answer; and she
would ring all day, and ring, and ring; and for ever she would ring,
with white-flowing hair and the staring eye-balls of frenzy, battering
reproaches at the doors of God, and the Universe would cry back to her
howls and ravings only one eternal answer of Silence, of Silence. And as
I thought of that--for very pity, for very pity, my God--I could not
help sobbing aloud:

'May God pity you, woman!'

I do not know if she heard it: she _must_, I think, have heard: but no
reply came; and there I, shivering like the sheeted dead, stood waiting
for her next word, waiting long, dreading, hoping for, her voice,
thinking that if she spoke and sobbed but once, I should drop dead,
dead, where I stood, or bite my tongue through, or shriek the high laugh
of distraction. But when at last, after quite thirty or forty minutes
she spoke, her voice was perfectly firm and calm. She said:

'Are you there?'

'Yes,' said I, 'yes, Leda.'

'What was the color,' says she, 'of the poison-cloud which destroyed the

'Purple, Leda,' said I.

'And it had a smell like almonds or peach blossoms, did it not?' says

'Yes,' said I, 'yes.'

'Then,' says she, 'there is _another_ eruption. Every now and again I
seem to scent strange whiffs like that ... and there is a purple vapour
in the East which glows and glows ... just see if you can see it....'

I flew across the room to an east window, threw up the grimy sash, and
looked. But the view was barred by the plain brick back of a tall
warehouse. I rushed back, gasped to her to wait, rushed down the two
stairs, and out upon the Hard. For a minute I ran dodging wildly about,
seeking a purview to the East, and finally ran up the dockyard, behind
the storehouses to the Semaphore, and reached the top, panting for life.
I looked abroad. The morning sky, but for a bank of cloud to the
north-west, was cloudless, the sun blazing in a region of clear azure
pallor. And back again I flew.

'I cannot see it...!' I cried.

'Then it has not tlavelled far enough to the north-west yet,' she said
with decision.

'My wife!' I cried: 'you are my wife now!'

'Am I?' says she: 'at last? Are you glad?... But shall I not soon die?'

'No! You can escape! My home! My heart! If only for an hour or two, then
death--just think, together--on the same couch, for ever, heart to
heart--how sweet!'

'Yes! how sweet! But how escape?'

'It travelled slowly before. Get quick--will you?--into one of the
smaller boats by the quay--there is one just under the crane that is an
air-boat--you have seen me turn on the air, haven't you?--that handle on
the right as you descend the steps under the dial-thing--get first a
bucket of oil from the shop next to the clock-tower in the quay-street,
and throw it over everything that you see rusted. Only, spend no
time--for me, my heaven! You can steer by the tiller and compass: well,
the wheel is quite the same, only just the opposite. First unmoor, then
to the handle, then to the wheel. The course is directly North-East by
North. I will meet you on the sea--go now--'

I was wild with bliss. I thought that I should take her between my arms,
and have the little freckles against my face, and taste her short
firm-fleshed upper-lip, and moan upon her, and whimper upon her, and
mutter upon her, and say 'My wife.' And even when I knew that she was
gone from the telephone, I still stood there, hoarsely calling after
her: 'My wife! My wife!'

* * * * *

I flew down to where the steamer lay moored that had borne me the
previous day. Her joint speed with the speed of Leda's boat would be
forty knots: in three hours we must meet. I had not the least fear of
her dying before I saw her: for, apart from the deliberate movement of
the vapour that first time, I fore-tasted and trusted my love, that she
would surely come, and not fail: as dying saints fore-tasted and trusted
Eternal Life.

I was no sooner on board the _Stettin_ than her engines were straining
under what was equivalent to forced draught. On the previous day it
would have little surprised me at any moment, while I drove her, to be
carried to the clouds in an explosion from her deep-rusted steel tanks:
but this day such a fear never crossed my mind: for I knew very well
that I was immortal till I saw her.

The sea was not only perfectly smooth, but placid, as on the previous
day: only it seemed far placider, and the sun brighter, and there was a
levity in the breezes that frilled the sea in fugitive dark patches,
like _frissons_ of tickling; and I thought that the morning was a true
marriage-morning, and remembered that it was a Sabbath; and sweet odours
our wedding would not lack of peach and almond, though, looking
eastward, I could see no faintest sign of any purple cloud, but only
rags of chiffon under the sun; and it would be an eternal wedding, for
one day in our sight would be as a thousand years, and our thousand
years of bliss would be but one day, and in the evening of all that
eternity death would come and sweetly lay its finger upon our languid
lids, and we should die of weary bliss; and all manner of dancings and
singings--fandango and light galliard, corantoes and the solemn
gavotte--were a-tune in my heart that happy day; and running by the
chart-house to the wheel, I saw under the table a great roll of old
flags, and presently they were flying in a long curve of gala from the
main; and the sea rumpled in a long tract of tumbling milk behind me;
and I hasted homeward, to meet my heart.

* * * * *

No purple cloud could I see as, on and on, for two hours, I tore
southward: but at hot noon, on the weather beam I spied through the
glass across the water something else which moved, and it was you who
came to me, Oh Leda, my spirit's breath!

I bore down upon her, waving: and soon I saw her stand like an ancient
mariner, but in white muslins that fluttered, at her wheel on the
bridge--it was one of those little old Havre-Antwerp craft very high in
the bows--and she waved a little white thing. And we came nearer, till I
could spy her face, her smile, and I shouted her to stop, and in a
minute stopped myself, and by happy steering came with slowing headway
to a slight crash by her side, and ran down the trellised steps to her,
and led her up; and on the deck, without saying a word, I fell to my
knees before her, and I bowed my brow to the floor, with obeisance, and
I worshipped her there as Heaven.

And we were wedded: for she, too, bowed the knee with me under the
jovial blue sky; and under her eyes were the little moist semicircles of
dreamy pensive fatigue, so dear and wifish: and God was there, and saw
her kneel: for He loves the girl.

And I got the two ships apart, and they rested there some yards divided
all the day, and we were in the main-deck cabin, where I had locked a
door, so that no one might come in to be with my love and me.

* * * * *

I said to her:

'We will fly west to one of the Somersetshire coal-mines, or to one of
the Cornwall tin-mines, and we will barricade ourselves against the
cloud, and provision ourselves for six months--for it is perfectly
feasible, and we have plenty of time, and no crowds to break down our
barricades--and there in the deep earth we will live sweetly together,
till the danger is overpast.'

And she smiled, and drew her hand across my face, and said:

'No, no: don't you tlust in my God? do you think He would leally let me

For she has appropriated the Almighty God to herself, naming Him '_my_
God'--the impudence: though she generally knows what she is saying, too.
And she would not fly the cloud.

And I am now writing three weeks later at a little place called
Chateau-les-Roses, and no poison-cloud, and no sign of any poison-cloud,
has come. And this I do not understand.

It may be that she divined that I was about to destroy myself ... she
may be quite capable.... But no, I do not understand, and shall never
ask her.

But _this_ I understand: that it is _the White_ who is Master here: that
though he wins but by a hair, yet he wins, he wins: and since he wins,
dance, dance, my heart.

I look for a race that shall resemble its Mother: nimble-witted,
light-minded, pious--like her; all-human, ambidextrous, ambicephalous,
two-eyed--like her; and if, like her, they talk the English language
with all the r's turned into l's, I shall not care.

They will be vegetable-eaters, I suppose, when all the meat now extant
is eaten up: but it is not certain that meat is good for men: and if it
is really good, then they will _invent_ a meat: for they will be _her_
sons, and she, to the furthest cycle in which the female human mind is
permitted to orbit, is, I swear, all-wise.

There was a preaching man--a Scotchman he was, named Macintosh, or
something like that--who said that the last end of Man shall be well,
and very well: and she says the same: and the agreement of these two
makes a Truth. And to that I now say: Amen, Amen.

For I, Adam Jeffson, second Parent of the world, hereby lay down,
ordain, and decree for all time, clearly perceiving it now: That the one
Motto and Watch-word essentially proper to each human individual, and to
the whole Race of Man, as distinct from other races in heaven or in
earth, was always, and remains, even this: 'Though He slay me, yet will
I trust in Him.'


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