Fane of the Orchid Cult
Letter from Endicott
Dear Sir Anthony,
My colleagues in the Ghost Society speak to your esteemed reputation as an investigator of practices of diabolical magick. I need to engage your services immediately in the investigation of a horrifying murder that has riven the upper echelons of the Ghost Society and cast suspicion upon myself and the esteemed Mr. William Butler Yeats. He and I are the targets of malicious magick and are being framed as murderers in a case that defies rational explanation. I hope that I can trust you to take these matters into your utmost confidence whether or not you agree to work the case. Unfortunately there is little time for a protracted negotiation; the urgency of this crisis leaves me with no choice but to risk here disclosing details of a case that could stand to utterly ruin me if made public.
The case revolves around John Dodgson, presumed dead, whose distinctively tattooed forearms were found severed and strung up upon a great Stone Cross at St Teath near my home. Mr Dodgson had been a guest in the derelict ruin of Thoor Ballylee, the former home of Mr Yeats and his family in Ireland. That is where Mr Dodgson was last seen, and where a copious pool of blood was found, along with a note reading “To my friends, my work is done, why wait?” The rest of his body is missing, along with all of his personal effects. He was last seen alive at Thoor Ballylee, County Galway, Ireland in the afternoon of the 19th of January. The murder scene was discovered very early the next morning, amazingly AFTER the hands were already hung on the cross in Cornwall. The murderer clearly made great haste to reach Cornwall after killing Mr Dodgson in Ireland.
Before his residence at Ballylee, Dodgson was lodging in Tintagel at the Cornishman Inn. He was an inquisitive and clever chap, a quick learner whose self-assured bearing could eclipse the rough dialect of his low birth. Among women and men of significant means his manners were typically top form, although the crudeness of his circle of henchmen revealed his criminality. Among those curs, his knickname was “Dodgy.” He and his gang of burglars and strikebreaking thugs had their start in the gutters of the northern mining towns around Newcastle Upon Tyne. Having outstayed their welcome even among the anti-Unionists of the north country, these petty criminals had recently begun plying their dirty trade in Cornwall, picking like buzzards at the skeletons of mining communities. Their violence is well-feared among organized workers of the west country, and the law around here has turned a blind eye to their shakedowns and leg-breaking.
Dodgson’s vices were obsession, impatience, and spite. His penchant for false pretenses could win a brief admittance into high society, but his bitterness and ferocity would invariably spoil his standing. When Dodgson first landed in Cornwall a few years ago, he distinguished himself as a gifted amateur photographer. He was enrolled in photography courses offered at the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society in Falmouth, but was expelled for nearly strangling his instructor. He managed thereafter to find work as a portrait photographer and film projectionist, and he traveled extensively between the villages of Cornwall, always dragging photographic contraptions along.
I first met Mr Dodgson in 1931 when he was screening the Howard Hughes film Hell’s Angels at the Druid’s Hall in Redruth. My first impression of him was that of a charismatic cinéaste who was overly eager to make the acquaintance of my lodge brothers. Masonic lodges all-too-frequently attract pseudo-literate dilettantes whose Occultist fixations lead them to expect to be initiated into Theosophical mysteries. A waste of the fraternity’s time, in my opinion. I was correct in my estimation that Mr Dodgson was that sort of seeker who was not at all interested in the higher callings of service, but I was mistaken in my judgement that he was ultimately harmless. Of course, at that time I had yet to learn the full extent of his obsessions and criminality. I also had no idea he had already been writing letters to Mr Yeats filled with effusive praise and cryptic explications of verse from 1928’s The Tower, and that the tone of these letters were becoming increasingly hostile and incoherent, with elaborate apocalyptic visions involving spiritual warfare through cinema, practitioners of west country witchcraft, x-ray weapons, horrors from the bowels of the earth, the Cult of Brother XII, and thievery of the names of God.
Over the next year, as John’s grip on reality loosened, I became annoyed by his unrelenting efforts to pry occult secrets from me. I regret having toyed with the man, giving in to a cruel impulse to distract the fool with nonsense. I made the mistake of feeding his arch-paranoia regarding powerful occult secrets hidden in public view. I wanted to be rid of him and to waste his time for having wasted mine, so I traded a false secret in exchange for being left alone. In that exchange under the cross at St Teath, I handed him an issue of Der Orchideengarten, a German magazine of degenerate art and childishly morbid fantasy. The writing is scarcely higher brow than a penny dreadful and reflects the sort of petty superstition that flows from the pseudo-intellectuals of the Weimar republic. I told him that he should look no further than the Orchid Cult, whose temple is the birthplace of the Antichrist. I am ashamed to have so given in to my base instinct for ridicule. I hoped it would send him questing across the channel where he would become a pest to nihilist artists and their perverse patrons. I can hardly believe how malignant the outcome of my impishness would become. I was playing with fire. Dodgson became obsessed with tracking down the Fane of the Orchid Cult, as his rambling letters to William confirm. And somehow, an illustration from those pages, that of a pair of severed hands strung up on a treble clef, had become the template for the bloody blasphemy at St Teath.
A few months before Mr Dodgson met his grisly end, he made a most spectacular departure from Cornwall. On Saturday, November 19th my lodge brothers in Redruth were hosting visitors from London, prominent members of London’s Ghost Society included. A screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s film Vampyr, (Der Traum des Allan Grey) was to be viewed at Druid’s Hall. Mr Dodgson seemed especially irritable that evening and I did my best to avoid him altogether. After the fourth reel, the film took a very graphic turn. The fifth reel had been replaced with a disturbing scene that was evidently shot at the recognizable Crick Stone near Madron. Five hooded figures wielding flint knives and torches paced menacingly around a masked naked woman who tied herself to the ancient stone as a willing sacrifice. I wasn’t about to let Dodgson’s deranged play conclude itself in front of our esteemed guests. I called for Dodgson to stop the projector, but he had already made his stealthy retreat. So that’s when I leaped up to stop the reel myself and badly burned my hands in the flames that soon consumed the nitrate. Dangerous stuff that, film! That was the last sighting of Dodgson in Cornwall. We had no idea where he vanished to.
Little did we know that through his harassment campaign against Mr Yeats, John’s persistence had already won another Pyrrhic victory, extorting a brief residence at Thoor Ballylee in exchange for promising to leave Yeats and his family alone forever. Yeats was expecting Dodgson to move into the derelict tower sometime last October and to vacate the premises by this March. Yeats’ trusted neighbour first noted Dodgson’s arrival on the 21st of November. John kept to himself and only left the tower on Thursdays for groceries and visits to the post office. On the morning of January 20th, the neighbour saw the suspicious “suicide” note nailed to the front door of Thoor Ballylee. Concerned, he discovered the tower emptied of everything other than the pool of blood. By that time, Dodgson’s hands in Cornwall were already cut down from the cross and preserved in formaldehyde, where they await your scrutiny.
Just as deeply as I regret having filled Dodgson’s feeble mind with Der Orchideengarten, Mr Yeats regrets having burned the letters that inflicted Dodgson’s mania upon his household. And most of all he regrets ever taking enough pity on his moon-touched admirer to grant him shelter in the empty tower. William had returned to Ireland from a reading tour in America the week prior to the murder. He wishes he could trust local police to handle the case fairly, but Yeats’ practical cynicism has been forged by decades of bitter realities. What little trust he and I can afford to invest is placed solely in you. Yeats has made many enemies on both sides of the conflict in Ireland. There are hardline Irish Republicans and Orangemen who want to see him brought low. He fears that his telephone line might be compromised. He is eager to meet with you in Dublin as soon as we conclude our fact-finding in Cornwall. Please sign the necessary paperwork and take the soonest train to Bodmin Parkway where my valet is already waiting to drive you to my estate.
We hope that your investigation will contribute to mending not only our reputations within the organization, but also the integrity of the Ghost Society as a whole. Every favour Mr Yeats and I could muster from our secret society brothers has already been marshaled to keep the case out of the hands of corrupt minor officials in England and Ireland that might use it to destroy us and/or the Ghost Societies. We are mortified to be hiding thus behind this illegal conspiracy of silence, and seek to find the truth as soon as possible to clear our names and defend ourselves if this nightmare ever spills over into public view. The Ghost Club of London and the Ghost Club of Dublin have already launched their own investigations, but Yeats and I worry that our best interests might not be served by teams that treat us as suspects. I should discourage you from consulting with the Ghost Society investigators, because tipping our hand as having commissioned a third investigation would likely escalate the suspicion of our peers. We have heard that the Irish team is looking across the Atlantic to Canada. Our leverage with the London investigators has won us copies of the police photos of Dodgy’s Blackleg Gang, attached.
Mr Yeats and I await your assistance in uncovering the truth. Whether this entire affair is merely a gruesome threat from underworld cretins or a hideous work of black ritual magick is what we need you to uncover. What hidden evils lay obscured by this conflation of madness and black magick? We humbly ask for your merciful discretion should the terms of your employment here be unacceptable, as we are already beset by so many whispered cruelties. We seek the truth. I am prepared to cover extraordinary expenses in this investigation and you will see that my budget for your fee is beyond robust.
I have seen to the incorporation of a limited liability company whose sole function is to retain elaborate insurance policies with Lloyds of London to guarantee – in the event of legal catastrophe – perpetual income to your team’s families and to establish a near inexhaustible fund for any potential legal expenses. The policies are arranged in a web of nested contingencies that my lawyers at Clyde & Co. will gladly explain by telephone. I hope you appreciate that the byzantine complexity of these policies serves to insulate you and maximize our coverage. These extraordinary policies were drafted out of respect for the grave legal and personal risks I am asking your team to incur. It is our hope that these policies will not be required, and that your fact-finding will result in a complete case file – including this correspondence – that can be discreetly presented to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, such that the Right Honourable Gordon Hewart will be convinced of the wisdom of quietly closing this case out of respect for the damage that could be done to the Peerage of the realm of King George. Long live the King.
Exhausted and mortified,
Lynwood Endicott, esq.,
Jan 24, 1933