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The Database of Ornament

Little by little the air grew thick
and oily; the sky, colour of oil,
was strangely streaked with slowly
lengthening shafts of smoke, rising
from the whitish houses. The
window panes, instead of being cool
and soothing, gave a harsh shock,
almost painful, suggesting a shudder.
The traffic on the stony road passed
with a sound distinct without blare,
almost veiled. The morning was un-
pleasant, and a sudden forked flash
was not altogether unexpected. Seen
clearly, it seemed to descend slowly
as if selecting a comfortable pinnacle
on which to alight.—I must close the
window.—The rictus of the thunder was decidedly nasty;
the shudder suggested itself again, and the window was

The room danced. Each repetition of vivid light gave
almost the impression of a blow; the eye, puzzled, seemed
to see from the back of the head—flash! flash!—blue,
lilac, rose—flash! flash! Then other sensations rushed
upon me, the consciousness of an awful tearing,
crackling, and rolling round; something rolling wantonly
in the glory of its strength, falling in key like a
phrase of Bach; and still that awful sensation of dancing
light—flash! flash! destroying all sense of touch, of space;
all, save that of hearing, concentrated into one awful sense
of sight. A friend in the room, naturally red-faced and
florid, looked a pale grey almost like cigar ashes, while blue,
rose, danced about the room, seemingly for minutes. While
still realising my bodily presence, I felt myself rooted to the
floor, my lips cold; my brain, flashing like the lightning,
was becoming frenzied with the idea that my friend was as
frightened as myself. I felt enraged, but powerless. I was

Thank goodness it was over; what had happened?

A second endless flash lit up the room as I closed my


eyes, conscious of each throb repeated at the back of my skull with the
distinctness of a telegraph machine under nimble fingers. Then the roar
of the thunder simultaneously, less awful, happily, than the dancing

The rain at last fallen, suddenly poured down the sloping street. I
talked rapidly, my thoughts were galloping indiscriminately in the future
and the past. The lightning was in the room. Or cramped in the
corner of a railway carriage, the train was bearing me, three years ago,
through the black night, to the certain deathbed of a friend (if it were
not already too late), while the night was made awful by a thunderstorm
that swept across England. My thoughts still rushed wildly; dreading
the next flash, I chattered on in an altered voice. A few doors in the
house slammed, feet ran up and down. The lightning flashed again as
I closed my eyes. Somebody knocked at the door—Monsieur, vous
est-t-il arrivé quelque chose? la maison a été frappée.

                        ET CUM SPIRITU TUO.

I enter the church for Solemn High Mass. I know I am
pacing like a priest in procession and feel an irresistible desire to-‘
place my finger-tips together. An old Irishman, late of the Horse
Artillery, takes the red tickets, shows us to places, performs a slovenly
genuflexion and returns to his station midway in the nave. I am
trying to place my hat where I shall not compel some one else, or be
myself obliged, to kneel upon it; for the church will be full, Father
Somebody O.J. is going to preach. The air is oppressive from the earlier
celebrations; the chattering girls and craped old women dotted with
tottering octogenarians who have to bend both knees if at all, smell of
vile soap and hidden dirt. The devout child at my side is ruminating
Latin sentences which she approximates to the sound of English words.
Two overfed young Englishwomen, vilely dressed, are planted just in
front; one wears crimson plush, the other has constantly clipped the
straggling hairs upon the nuque till now she has a festoon of bristles
from ear to ear. The screen of light woodwork is overtrailed with ivy,
and fairy lamps hang in each arcade. The weeping of the fiddles, the
moans of the organ, warm the church. Without warning there is a loud
Oh! oh! oh! …. on my right. I turn suddenly; the sight transfixes
me; it is a Saint Jerome drawn all of wriggles, stretching his hands
towards the altar, with his plaintive cries, as the procession enters the
church; his body is gradually collapsing under the progress of a paralytic
fit. We rise and the priests begin to murmur while a small crowd
around the inert sufferer under the cramped seats are baring his chest
and slapping the palms of his hands. He is carried away, one man at
his knees, two at his shoulders; his arms are lifeless, his beard trails
upon his chest where the shirt has been rudely torn open; only his eyes
are full of strength, starting as though he had been strangled, wondering
if it is purgatory or hell. Sally smiles, to show me she is not frightened.


Breakfast delayed has unstrung my nerves; the drowsy smell of spiced
cigarettes; it all passes like a dream where white and green and gold
things dance a religious redowa before a flower-decked altar. The
devout child tips out the contents of a purse made of a shell with a
clatter. We pace, pace, pace; we worship the Saviour, the life-giving
cross; we press unworthy lips to the feet bleeding scarlet, not less
blessed that they are preposterously out of drawing and skewered with
a gold nail.


MLA citation:

[Ricketts, Charles]. Sensations. The Dial, vol. 1, 1889, pp. 34-36. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.