The wealthy amateur Grent Wayl invited me to his New York house for an evening’s diversion. Welcoming me, he said: The check of our Bea! pointing to his niece, Miss Beatrice Fod, who, accompanied on the harmonium by her brother Isidore, sang to assembled guests.
At night when you’re asleep
Without no pants on
Into your tent I’ll creep
Without no pants on
Such nervous speech! Why should he mind, since the song delighted the company? Mr Wayl was aging, aging; but no-one would take his words lightly.
He led me upstairs to sec one of his new acquisitions. In the library Mr Wayl laid an oblong case of green leather on a white table. Having turned on a ceiling spotlight to illuminate the case, he opened it. A weapon rested on the brilliant red lining, its smooth handle of ash, its billshaped flat blade of gold.
According to Mr Wayl, the instrument was a ritual adze. The side of the bill we had first beheld was plain, but its reverse was chased with wiry engravings, depicting seven scenes. Six had in common the figure of a longhaired woman with full breasts and a face crosshatched for swarthiness. Mr Wayl suggested that the woman was some heroine or saint, and that the engravings told her life. He looked at me curiously while he said this.
Mr Wayl asked me to interpret the series of engravings.
I began with the leftmost scene, in the point of the blade, where the woman stood naked at the mouth of a stream, with a pile of cowrie shells at her feet. The subject hardly suited the life of a saint, but I took it to be a decorative conceit—a quaint medieval mixture of pagan and Christian themes.
To the right of this, the woman stood upon clouds, above a throng of striped men bearing staves shaped like inverted L’s. Below the clouds a disc emanated crooked spikes, while lower still people on the earth raised their hands. This clearly seemed to be the saint’s manifestation, a descent from heaven. The stavebearing figures were angels with pennons, the spiked disc the rejoicing sun.
In the next engraving the woman held one side of a small wreath; a man in simple vestments held the opposite side. I thought this man must be Christ presenting the saint with a crown of holiness.
The fourth scene showed the woman among battling knights, who were drawn gruesome and pathetic. The saint was surely putting an end to some battle, if not to war itself.
Next, the woman appeared outside a burning grove. Within it there were many tormented figures. She lifted her arms in supplication, as would befit one pleading for the damned.
In the sixth scene the woman knelt in front of a mitred priest who stretched his left hand over her. A fire, which I interpreted as a symbol of divine love, burned in the background. I had no doubt the scene showed the saint blessed by some pope.
The woman did not figure in the last engraving, which was decorative, I supposed, like the first one. In it four arrows, radii of one small arc, pointed to symbols representing the quarters of the moon. A bag of fish—possibly a Christian reference—hung below.
Mr Wayl had grown impatient during my remarks. He now exclaimed: You’re as dumb as is!
Excuse me, sir, I said, if your pleasure was marred.
He was suddenly friendly: No one with purple eyes is stupid.
But do you have perfect pitch?
I answered that I had. Leaving the library, he took the adze with him.