The Great Beast
Paris, 24th March 1903
A great, simple, lion-hearted man with the spirit of a child, thought the Beast as he caught sight of Hector Macdonald taking lunch alone in the dining room of the Hotel Regina. The General sat to attention, ramrod-straight, at first glance looking strong and resolute. Only one of his hands betrayed him. It clawed at the white linen tablecloth, as if grasping at a ledge. Holding on with an alert posture, desperate and forlorn, vigilant of some awful decline.
The Beast sniffed instinctively. He could usually pick up the scent of something awful. He quickly detected what it was. Scandal, yes, that was it, he thought with relish. Wasn’t everyone talking about this? The rumours of a General’s return to London from Ceylon in disgrace. Wild gossip of some terrible sin yet to be made public. That’s what must have brought him here. To Paris. Like so many others like him.
There was something so pitiful in the General’s clumsy attempt at travelling incognito. The funereal dark suit he wore, as if in mourning. It did not seem so well cut either, but perhaps it was the man that did not fit the clothes. Here was the type of soldier that should never be out of uniform. So good on parade, so awkward in mufti. One so lacking the subtle distinction necessary for a civilian gentleman. He had risen up through the ranks, that was his story. Here he looked so cruelly like a Tommy in his Sunday best. Yet, despite the drab flannel, he was unmistakable. The great Empire hero. Major-General Sir Hector Archibald Macdonald. ‘Fighting Mac’ it was, or rather, the hollow image of him. The same stern jaw, steel-grey hair and moustache, the beetle-brows that furrowed deep-set brown eyes. Those features reproduced countless times in magazines, newspaper supplements, on cigarette cards and biscuit tins framed by the scarlet tunic and a dazzling phalanx of medals. He had even seemed to be the model for the dour Highlander on the label of Camp Coffee, a bottle of which the Beast himself had taken on his expedition to K2 in the Hindu Kush. Aye, Ready, Aye, read the motto on it, endorsing itself with the warrior’s reputation of gaelic preparedness. Now he looked simply to be waiting. Waiting for a fate that he could not quite bear. A brittle shell about to fall from within.
What a sad sight was this, the Beast thought for a moment. Such a poignant tableau. Then he allowed himself the full pleasure of it. What monstrous fun, he considered. To be witness to such dishonour and degradation. What luck to have spotted him, (though he was already accounting this opportunity to his own cleverness). God, this would make quite a story at Le Chat Blanc. A marvellously wicked anecdote, maybe something more. How it would enhance his reputation for flamboyant outrageousness. Now, if he could somehow convince the hapless General to dine with him there tonight.
There were, however, other matters for him to attend to. He had only come into the Regina by chance after all, a quick drink before a saunter through the Tuileries. The Beast must, after all, get on with his designated purpose. To continue the Great Work, that’s what he was in Paris for. To finally wrest control of the Second Order of the Golden Dawn from Samuel Liddell ‘Macgregor’ Mathers. The old fool had forfeited his position as leader and now the Beast would supersede him as the One appointed by the Secret Chiefs. He had declared war on his former master and must now engage in a supernatural battle. There was also that matter of the stolen luggage.