The Vampyre

Free The Vampyre by Tom Holland

Book: The Vampyre by Tom Holland Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tom Holland
lunatic, flesh and eyes dead, mouth open wide. I took a step back, then heard Hobhouse thumping his way outside, and so I turned and hurried up the road towards the house. The sun’s last rays were disappearing behind the courtyard roof. I paused and glanced over my shoulder, to watch the lake, and then, at the very moment when the reds on the water shimmered and died, I saw someone else.’
    Lord Byron paused. He was gripping the sides of his chair, Rebecca saw. He had closed his eyes.
    There was a long silence. ‘Who was it?’ Rebecca asked.
    Lord Byron shook his head. ‘I didn’t recognise him. He was standing where I had been just a minute previously, a tall man, head shaved in the Turkish style, but with a curling white moustache and neatly trimmed beard, such as an Arab might have worn. His face was thin and unnaturally pale, yet even obscured by the darkness, he excited in me an admixture of revulsion and respect that I found hard to explain, so powerfully and immediately it affected me. His nose was hooked; his lips tight; his expression mocking and predatory - yet there were suggestions as well of great wisdom and suffering in his face, not constant, but passing like the shadows of clouds across a field. His eyes, which had glittered at first like those of a snake, appeared suddenly deep and incandescent with thought; staring into them, I felt certain that this was a man of a kind I had never seen before, a compound, unbalanced, of spirit and clay. I bowed to him; the figure smiled, his lips curling sensuously to reveal his gleaming white teeth; then he answered my bow. He swept back his cloak, which had hung around him like desert robes, and walked past me towards the Tartar guards. They saluted him respectfully; he made no response. I watched him as he entered the house and disappeared.
    â€˜At the same time, we heard men’s voices from the road, and saw a deputation approaching us. It was from the Vizier, come to greet us and bring us the flattering news that although Ali was not in residence in Yanina, we were invited to join him in Tapaleen, the town of his birth, some fifty miles further along the road. We bowed, and expressed our profoundest thanks; we swapped courtesies; we praised the beauties of Yanina. Then, having exhausted our stock of pleasantries, I asked about the man who was sharing the courtyard with us, explaining that I would like to pay him my respects. There was a sudden silence; the members of the delegation all glanced at each other, and the leader looked embarrassed. The man I had seen, he muttered, was a pasha from the southern mountains; the leader paused, and then added with sudden insistence, as though the idea had just come to him, that since the Pasha was only staying for the one night, it might perhaps be best to leave him undisturbed. Everyone else nodded and agreed, and then a sudden flood of pleasantries rolled out over us. “Near as damn drowned me,” as Hobhouse put it later. “Almost as though they’d had something to hide.”
    â€˜Well, Hobby always had a genius for sniffing out the obvious. The next day we rode out to view the countryside, and I asked our guide, a soft, fat Greek named Athanasius, a scholar assigned to us by the Vizier, what our hosts might possibly have wanted to conceal. Athanasius had flushed slightly at the mention of the Pasha, but then he composed himself and shrugged.
    â€˜â€œIt is Vakhel Pasha who is staying opposite you,” he explained. “I imagine the Vizier’s servants were frightened of his reputation. They did not want any unpleasantness. If you were to make complaints against them to Ali Pasha, then, well, of course - it would be bad for them.”
    â€˜â€œWhy, what unpleasantness are you talking about? What is Vakhel Pasha’s reputation?”
    â€˜â€œHe is said to be a magician. He is said by the Turks to have sold his soul to Eblis, the Prince of

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