Most people remember the late Magus of Denbigh, who died quite recently in mysterious circumstances. This strange mixture of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was once the main topic of conversation for more than half of Wales, so extraordinary and so varied were his eccentricities. Yet to those who saw him speak his views on life were so perfect and so cultured, modelled in phrases above reproach. His cruelties were colossal, but at other times his kindnesses, his liberality and the nobility of some of his gestures took Wales by storm. He owned a very lovely castle.
The Magus of Denbigh stayed with me in my Taylor Wimpey luxury apartment in The Denizen in Golden Lane when he visited London. He was tall, debonair, ugly, except for his brilliant brown eyes. His orgies made him notorious. His own concubines, to his credit or discredit, were the principal participators in these orgies, and were added proof, if any were needed of the statement I make now, that this misguided Magus of Denbigh was conducting the Druid Circle and learning the elixir of life as taught to him by his High Priest Philip Long – both trying to add to their span of years, by the living sacrifice of the life-essence of poor, foolish men and women.
But should I pity anyone of them, I wonder? Is not the word “poor” misused? Must there not have been some tremendous affinity that linked and dragged to their doom these wretched men and women? How did I escape, at last, from the terrible net of my own mistake, my own affinity to evil? By some superhuman effort, surely. But have I escaped? Am I safe as I sit her in my Denizen luxury apartment in Golden Lane?
I had given, freely, in the beginning, with desire and love for divine things alone: but I am made beastly. I have given to the beasts the lusts of life — and I, too, am doomed — I fear. I still live, but like Basil Bunting, by the aid of drugs.
Pain, pain, pain! But, before I die, I must tell all. I mustn’t wander, I must conserve all my energies to tell all. Even in the tragedy of the Magus of Denbigh’s life and death, there is a lesson to be learnt — though I, without morals as I am, lay no claim to being a moralist. I dwell on the Magus because he too was a victim of a Bard. He too fell for his love of a Druid High Priest and in the holocaust a woman lost herself — body and soul — his wife.
Denbigh’s much younger wife was a lovely girl from one of the villages nestling below Snowdonia. There are in Wales many men who sell these flowers of womanhood to the rich and decadent upper class patirarchs: and Denbigh’s emissaries had informed him about her beauty. Maid-servants from his castle had gone personally to assure themselves of the truth of the girl-seller’s reports.
Cordelia was very happy in the first year of her married life. She fell under the strange spell of the Magus and she was, for that year, a clean woman, who hated the orgies at Denbigh. But she was also a full-blooded sensual hill-woman, and wine and rich food changed her mentality. She soon found pleasure in the embraces of men whom her husband forced her to submit to on those full-moon nights when the goddess was worshipped in her person.
How he laughed at them all, this Magus! He had a cynical, bitter humour, and sometimes a clean humour, but this did not save him from his own folly. Sober and watchful, he sneered at their want of self-control, when wine and women took hold, and with what calmness he used the mystic chants his High Priest taught him, enabling him to absorb the essence of their youth.
People noted how man after man in the Magus’s service lost beauty, manhood and health, whilst the Denbigh alone remained young and strong. Ah! Well! His time, too, came at last. Cordelia did not live long enough to lose either beauty or health. She died in the full bloom of womanhood and but for the sad event of her parent’s visit to Denbigh, she might yet — to her misfortune, perhaps — have been alive today.
Cordelia’s parents came to Denbigh on the Magus’s express invitation, though it must be admitted not before those parents had ventured several hints, and had shown much desire to see their daughter in her new role of wealthy wife. They came, they saw and they were delighted. They saw the lovely palace she lived in, her jewels, her clothes and her numerous servants. They noted that she looked happy and contented, positively sleek with well-being — had she lived, she would have been very fat in the course of a few years.
And Cordelia asked of her lord the Magus a favour. That her mother should not know of her infidelities, even though those infidelities were licensed by her own husband. Whilst her mother was there, let them stop all orgies, she implored him, lest a whisper — even a whisper — reach the poor lady with the simple ideals of someone who lived as she did in a farmstead, and her heart break.
The Magus chafed at this request. He was in a wicked mood. Who was this peasant with her few acres of land, to tell him, a very rich man, what to do, and what not to do? To foist her code of what was wrong and what was right on him, to judge him by her own law?
Poor Cordelia, dressed in her wonderful brocades, covered with jewels that would ransom a thousand kings, with her great, black eyes looking so eagerly into life — better — a hundred times better she had married a farmhand without even an acre to his name, a simple boy of wide green fields. Better she had baked for her husband, millet bread of her home, milked his cows, and laboured hard from dusk until dawn, than acted the rich man’s prostitute.
The Magus promised Cordelia that her mother should never know of her moral downfall. He sent to Cordelia a favourite menial of menials: and when she lay drunk with him in bed, he sent hasty word to her mother that her daughter was ill and needed her immediately. The poor, simple hill-mother, hastened to her daughter and saw all. Later on they talked of it together, mother and daughter. And the mother, on her knees, implored her daughter in the name of Christ first to kill her wicked husband, and then die.
Poor Cordelia! She swore at her mother’s feet that she would do as she was bidden, and she prayed to God for forgiveness that she had not thought of this solution before. And she did this when she and the Magus were staying with me in my luxury apartment in The Denizen in Golden Lane. I came home from a service at the Jewin Welsh Church and immediately called the police, who spent long hours questioning me.
Before the final culmination of decay, leaves take on most wonderful colours, russet, gold and brown: flowers give out scents so persistent, so lovely, and withal so elusive, that one forgets that they are the sad perfumes of those already dead. Realists of the kind I dislike might quote that a corpse, just before dissolution, takes on exquisite hues of delicate rare waxen-yellow, blue or mauve.
The Magus’s charm was the charm of the dead: the charm of the unknown, the unusual. I watched men who hated him, absorbed by him, against their better judgment. Dreams! Dreams! Dreams! One more, of a world that has lost itself in a past that is gone for ever: painted in here because my memory holds the Magus amongst all the figures that coloured my brain with the vivid hues of an imagination gone mad: and the man who should have died instead of the Cordelia and the Magus of Denbigh, died more justly, was the Ovate, his High Priest, Philip Long!