THE PALE HORSE
Foreword by Mark Easterbrook
There are two methods, it seems to me, of approaching this strange business of the Pale Horse. In spite of the dictum of the White King, it is difficult to achieve simplicity. One cannot, that is to say, “Begin at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop.” For where is the beginning?
To a historian, that always is the difficulty. At what point in history does one particular portion of history begin?
In this case, you can begin at the moment when Father Gorman set forth from his presbytery to visit a dying woman. Or you can start before that, on a certain evening in Chelsea.
Perhaps, since I am writing the greater part of this narrative myself, it is there that I should begin.
The Espresso machine behind my shoulder hissed like an angry snake. The noise it made had a sinister, not to say devilish,
Suggestion about it. Perhaps, I reflected,
most of our contemporary noises carry that implication. The intimidating angry scream of jet planes as they flash across the sky, the slow menacing rumble of a tube train approaching through its tunnel; the heavy road transport that shakes the very foundations of your house… even the minor domestic noises of today, beneficial in action though they may be, yet carry a kind of alert. The dishwashers, the refrigerators, the pressure cookers, the whining vacuum cleaners. “Be careful,” they all seem to say. “I am a genie harnessed to your service, but if your control of me fails…”
A dangerous world – that was it, a dangerous world.
I stirred the foaming cup placed in front of me. It smelled pleasant. “What else will you have? Nice banana and bacon sandwich?”
It seemed an odd juxtaposition to me. Bananas I connected with my childhood – or occasionally flambé with sugar and rum. Bacon, in my mind, was firmly associated with eggs. However, when in Chelsea, eat as Chelsea does. I agreed to a nice banana and bacon sandwich.
Although I lived in Chelsea – that is to say, I had had a furnished flat there for the last three months – I was in every other way a stranger in these parts. I was writing a book on certain aspects of Mogul architecture, but for that purpose I could have lived in Hampstead or Bloomsbury or Streatham or Chelsea and it would have been all the same to me. I was oblivious of my surroundings except for the
Tools of my trade, and the neighbourhood in which I lived was completely indifferent to me; I existed in a world of my own.
On this particular evening, however, I had suffered from one of those sudden revulsions that all writers know.
Mogul architecture, Mogul emperors, the Mogul way of life – and all the fascinating problems it raised, became suddenly as dust and ashes. What did they matter? Why did I want to write about them?
I flicked back various pages, rereading what I had written. It all seemed to me uniformly bad – poorly written and singularly devoid of interest. Whoever had said “History is bunk” (Henry Ford?) had been absolutely right.
I pushed back my manuscript with loathing, got up and looked at my watch. The time was close on eleven p. m. I tried to remember if I had had dinner. From my inner sensations I thought not. Lunch, yes, at the Athenaeum. That was a long time ago.
I went and looked into the refrigerator. There was a small remnant of desiccated tongue. I looked at it without favor.