The English party with Dr Porho?t, mildly ironic, had scarcely entered before they were joined by Oliver Haddo. He was indifferent to the plain fact that they did not want his company. He attracted attention, for his appearance and his manner were remarkable, and Susie noticed that he was pleased to see people point him out to one another. He wore a Spanish cloak, the _capa_, and he flung the red and green velvet of its lining gaudily over his shoulder. He had a large soft hat. His height was great, though less noticeable on account of his obesity, and he towered over the puny multitude.
They looked idly at the various shows, resisting the melodramas, the circuses, the exhibitions of eccentricity, which loudly clamoured for their custom. Presently they came to a man who was cutting silhouettes in black paper, and Haddo insisted on posing for him. A little crowd collected and did not spare their jokes at his singular appearance. He threw himself into his favourite attitude of proud command. Margaret wished to take the opportunity of leaving him, but Miss Boyd insisted on staying.
'He's the most ridiculous creature I've ever seen in my life,' she whispered. 'I wouldn't let him out of my sight for worlds.'
When the silhouette was done, he presented it with a low bow to Margaret.
'I implore your acceptance of the only portrait now in existence of Oliver Haddo,' he said.
'Thank you,' she answered frigidly.
She was unwilling to take it, but had not the presence of mind to put him off by a jest, and would not be frankly rude. As though certain she set much store on it, he placed it carefully in an envelope. They walked on and suddenly came to a canvas booth on which was an Eastern name. Roughly painted on sail-cloth was a picture of an Arab charming snakes, and above were certain words in Arabic. At the entrance, a native sat cross-legged, listlessly beating a drum. When he saw them stop, he addressed them in bad French.
'Does not this remind you of the turbid Nile, Dr Porho?t?' said Haddo. 'Let us go in and see what the fellow has to show.'
Dr Porho?t stepped forward and addressed the charmer, who brightened on hearing the language of his own country.
'He is an Egyptian from Assiut,' said the doctor.
'I will buy tickets for you all,' said Haddo.
He held up the flap that gave access to the booth, and Susie went in. Margaret and Arthur Burdon, somewhat against their will, were obliged to follow. The native closed the opening behind them. They found themselves in a dirty little tent, ill-lit by two smoking lamps; a dozen stools were placed in a circle on the bare ground. In one corner sat a fellah woman, motionless, in ample robes of dingy black. Her face was hidden by a long veil, which was held in place by a queer ornament of brass in the middle of the forehead, between the eyes. These alone were visible, large and sombre, and the lashes were darkened with kohl: her fingers were brightly stained with henna. She moved slightly as the visitors entered, and the man gave her his drum. She began to rub it with her hands, curiously, and made a droning sound, which was odd and mysterious. There was a peculiar odour in the place, so that Dr Porho?t was for a moment transported to the evil-smelling streets of Cairo. It was an acrid mixture of incense, of attar of roses, with every imaginable putrescence. It choked the two women, and Susie asked for a cigarette. The native grinned when he heard the English tongue. He showed a row of sparkling and beautiful teeth.
'My name Mohammed,' he said. 'Me show serpents to Sirdar Lord Kitchener. Wait and see. Serpents very poisonous.'
He was dressed in a long blue gabardine, more suited to the sunny banks of the Nile than to a fair in Paris, and its colour could hardly be seen for dirt. On his head was the national tarboosh.
A rug lay at one side of the tent, and from under it he took a goatskin sack. He placed it on the ground in the middle of the circle formed by the seats and crouched down on his haunches. Margaret shuddered, for the uneven surface of the sack moved strangely. He opened the mouth of it. The woman in the corner listlessly droned away on the drum, and occasionally uttered a barbaric cry. With a leer and a flash of his bright teeth, the Arab thrust his hand into the sack and rummaged as a man would rummage in a sack of corn. He drew out a long, writhing snake. He placed it on the ground and for a moment waited, then he passed his hand over it: it became immediately as rigid as a bar of iron. Except that the eyes, the cruel eyes, were open still, there might have been no life in it.
'Look,' said Haddo. 'That is the miracle which Moses did before Pharaoh.'
Then the Arab took a reed instrument, not unlike the pipe which Pan in the hills of Greece played to the dryads, and he piped a weird, monotonous tune. The stiffness broke away from the snake suddenly, and it lifted its head and raised its long body till it stood almost on the tip of its tail, and it swayed slowly to and fro.
Oliver Haddo seemed extraordinarily fascinated. He leaned forward with eager face, and his unnatural eyes were fixed on the charmer with an indescribable expression. Margaret drew back in terror.
'You need not be frightened,' said Arthur. 'These people only work with animals whose fangs have been extracted.'
Oliver Haddo looked at him before answering. He seemed to consider each time what sort of man this was to whom he spoke.
'A man is only a snake-charmer because, without recourse to medicine, he is proof against the fangs of the most venomous serpents.'
'Do you think so?' said Arthur.
'I saw the most noted charmer of Madras die two hours after he had been bitten by a cobra,' said Haddo. I had heard many tales of his prowess, and one evening asked a friend to take me to him. He was out when we arrived, but we waited, and presently, accompanied by some friends, he came. We told him what we wanted. He had been at a marriage-feast and was drunk. But he sent for his snakes, and forthwith showed us marvels which this man has never heard of. At last he took a great cobra from his sack and began to handle it. Suddenly it darted at his chin and bit him. It made two marks like pin-points. The juggler started back.
'"I am a dead man," he said.
'Those about him would have killed the cobra, but he prevented them.
'"Let the creature live," he said. "It may be of service to others of my trade. To me it can be of no other use. Nothing can save me."
'His friends and the jugglers, his fellows, gathered round him and placed him in a chair. In two hours he was dead. In his drunkenness he had forgotten a portion of the spell which protected him, and so he died.'
'You have a marvellous collection of tall stories,' said Arthur. 'I'm afraid I should want better proof that these particular snakes are poisonous.'
Oliver turned to the charmer and spoke to him in Arabic. Then he answered Arthur.
'The man has a horned viper, _cerastes_ is the name under which you gentlemen of science know it, and it is the most deadly of all Egyptian snakes. It is commonly known as Cleopatra's Asp, for that is the serpent which was brought in a basket of figs to the paramour of Caesar in order that she might not endure the triumph of Augustus.'
'What are you going to do?' asked Susie.
He smiled but did not answer. He stepped forward to the centre of the tent and fell on his knees. He uttered Arabic words, which Dr. Porho?t translated to the others.
'O viper, I adjure you, by the great God who is all-powerful, to come forth. You are but a snake, and God is greater than all snakes. Obey my call and come.'
A tremor went through the goatskin bag, and in a moment a head was protruded. A lithe body wriggled out. It was a snake of light grey colour, and over each eye was a horn. It lay slightly curled.
'Do you recognize it?' said Oliver in a low voice to the doctor.
The charmer sat motionless, and the woman in the dim background ceased her weird rubbing of the drum. Haddo seized the snake and opened its mouth. Immediately it fastened on his hand, and the reptile teeth went deep into his flesh. Arthur watched him for signs of pain, but he did not wince. The writhing snake dangled from his hand. He repeated a sentence in Arabic, and, with the peculiar suddenness of a drop of water falling from a roof, the snake fell to the ground. The blood flowed freely. Haddo spat upon the bleeding place three times, muttering words they could not hear, and three times he rubbed the wound with his fingers. The bleeding stopped. He stretched out his hand for Arthur to look at.
'That surely is what a surgeon would call healing by first intention,' he said.
Burdon was astonished, but he was irritated, too, and would not allow that there was anything strange in the cessation of the flowing blood.
'You haven't yet shown that the snake was poisonous.'
'I have not finished yet,' smiled Haddo.
He spoke again to the Egyptian, who gave an order to his wife. Without a word she rose to her feet and from a box took a white rabbit. She lifted it up by the ears, and it struggled with its four quaint legs. Haddo put it in front of the horned viper. Before anyone could have moved, the snake darted forward, and like a flash of lightning struck the rabbit. The wretched little beast gave a slight scream, a shudder went through it, and it fell dead.
Margaret sprang up with a cry.
'Oh, how cruel! How hatefully cruel!'
'Are you convinced now?' asked Haddo coolly.
The two women hurried to the doorway. They were frightened and disgusted. Oliver Haddo was left alone with the snake-charmer.
Dr Porho?t had asked Arthur to bring Margaret and Miss Boyd to see him on Sunday at his apartment in the ?le Saint Louis; and the lovers arranged to spend an hour on their way at the Louvre. Susie, invited to accompany them, preferred independence and her own reflections.
To avoid the crowd which throngs the picture galleries on holidays, they went to that part of the museum where ancient sculpture is kept. It was comparatively empty, and the long halls had the singular restfulness of places where works of art are gathered together. Margaret was filled with a genuine emotion; and though she could not analyse it, as Susie, who loved to dissect her state of mind, would have done, it strangely exhilarated her. Her heart was uplifted from the sordidness of earth, and she had a sensation of freedom which was as delightful as it was indescribable. Arthur had never troubled himself with art till Margaret's enthusiasm taught him that there was a side of life he did not realize. Though beauty meant little to his practical nature, he sought, in his great love for Margaret, to appreciate the works which excited her to such charming ecstasy. He walked by her side with docility and listened, not without deference, to her outbursts. He admired the correctness of Greek anatomy, and there was one statue of an athlete which attracted his prolonged attention, because the muscles were indicated with the precision of a plate in a surgical textbook. When Margaret talked of the Greeks' divine repose and of their blitheness, he thought it very clever because she said it; but in a man it would have aroused his impatience.
Yet there was one piece, the charming statue known as _La Diane de Gabies_, which moved him differently, and to this presently he insisted on going. With a laugh Margaret remonstrated, but secretly she was not displeased. She was aware that his passion for this figure was due, not to its intrinsic beauty, but to a likeness he had discovered in it to herself.
It stood in that fair wide gallery where is the mocking faun, with his inhuman savour of fellowship with the earth which is divine, and the sightless Homer. The goddess had not the arrogance of the huntress who loved Endymion, nor the majesty of the cold mistress of the skies. She was in the likeness of a young girl, and with collected gesture fastened her cloak. There was nothing divine in her save a sweet strange spirit of virginity. A lover in ancient Greece, who offered sacrifice before this fair image, might forget easily that it was a goddess to whom he knelt, and see only an earthly maid fresh with youth and chastity and loveliness. In Arthur's eyes Margaret had all the exquisite grace of the statue, and the same unconscious composure; and in her also breathed the spring odours of ineffable purity. Her features were chiselled with the clear and divine perfection of this Greek girl's; her ears were as delicate and as finely wrought. The colour of her skin was so tender that it reminded you vaguely of all beautiful soft things, the radiance of sunset and the darkness of the night, the heart of roses and the depth of running water. The goddess's hand was raised to her right shoulder, and Margaret's hand was as small, as dainty, and as white.
'Don't be so foolish,' said she, as Arthur looked silently at the statue.
He turned his eyes slowly, and they rested upon her. She saw that they were veiled with tears.
'What on earth's the matter?'
'I wish you weren't so beautiful,' he answered, awkwardly, as though he could scarcely bring himself to say such foolish things. 'I'm so afraid that something will happen to prevent us from being happy. It seems too much to expect that I should enjoy such extraordinarily good luck.'
She had the imagination to see that it meant much for the practical man so to express himself. Love of her drew him out of his character, and, though he could not resist, he resented the effect it had on him. She found nothing to reply, but she took his hand.
'Everything has gone pretty well with me so far,' he said, speaking almost to himself. 'Whenever I've really wanted anything, I've managed to get it. I don't see why things should go against me now.'
He was trying to reassure himself against an instinctive suspicion of the malice of circumstances. But he shook himself and straightened his back.
'It's stupid to be so morbid as that,' he muttered.
Margaret laughed. They walked out of the gallery and turned to the quay. By crossing the bridge and following the river, they must come eventually to Dr. Porho?t's house.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Susie wandered down the Boulevard Saint Michel, alert with the Sunday crowd, to that part of Paris which was dearest to her heart. L'?le Saint Louis to her mind offered a synthesis of the French spirit, and it pleased her far more than the garish boulevards in which the English as a rule seek for the country's fascination. Its position on an island in the Seine gave it a compact charm. The narrow streets, with their array of dainty comestibles, had the look of streets in a provincial town. They had a quaintness which appealed to the fancy, and they were very restful. The names of the streets recalled the monarchy that passed away in bloodshed, and in _poudre de riz_. The very plane trees had a greater sobriety than elsewhere, as though conscious they stood in a Paris where progress was not. In front was the turbid Seine, and below, the twin towers of Notre Dame. Susie could have kissed the hard paving stones of the quay. Her good-natured, plain face lit up as she realized the delight of the scene upon which her eyes rested; and it was with a little pang, her mind aglow with characters and events from history and from fiction, that she turned away to enter Dr Porho?t's house.
She was pleased that the approach did not clash with her fantasies. She mounted a broad staircase, dark but roomy, and, at the command of the _concierge_, rang a tinkling bell at one of the doorways that faced her. Dr Porho?t opened in person..
'Arthur and Mademoiselle are already here,' he said, as he led her in.
They went through a prim French dining-room, with much woodwork and heavy scarlet hangings, to the library. This was a large room, but the bookcases that lined the walls, and a large writing-table heaped up with books, much diminished its size. There were books everywhere. They were stacked on the floor and piled on every chair. There was hardly space to move. Susie gave a cry of delight.
'Now you mustn't talk to me. I want to look at all your books.'
'You could not please me more,' said Dr Porho?t, 'but I am afraid they will disappoint you. They are of many sorts, but I fear there are few that will interest an English young lady.'
He looked about his writing-table till he found a packet of cigarettes. He gravely offered one to each of his guests. Susie was enchanted with the strange musty smell of the old books, and she took a first glance at them in general. For the most part they were in paper bindings, some of them neat enough, but more with broken backs and dingy edges; they were set along the shelves in serried rows, untidily, without method or plan. There were many older ones also in bindings of calf and pigskin, treasure from half the bookshops in Europe; and there were huge folios like Prussian grenadiers; and tiny Elzevirs, which had been read by patrician ladies in Venice. Just as Arthur was a different man in the operating theatre, Dr Porho?t was changed among his books. Though he preserved the amiable serenity which made him always so attractive, he had there a diverting brusqueness of demeanour which contrasted quaintly with his usual calm.
'I was telling these young people, when you came in, of an ancient Koran which I was given in Alexandria by a learned man whom I operated upon for cataract.' He showed her a beautifully-written Arabic work, with wonderful capitals and headlines in gold. 'You know that it is almost impossible for an infidel to acquire the holy book, and this is a particularly rare copy, for it was written by Ka?t Bey, the greatest of the Mameluke Sultans.'
He handled the delicate pages as a lover of flowers would handle rose-leaves.
'And have you much literature on the occult sciences?' asked Susie.
Dr Porho?t smiled.
'I venture to think that no private library contains so complete a collection, but I dare not show it to you in the presence of our friend Arthur. He is too polite to accuse me of foolishness, but his sarcastic smile would betray him.'
Susie went to the shelves to which he vaguely waved, and looked with a peculiar excitement at the mysterious array. She ran her eyes along the names. It seemed to her that she was entering upon an unknown region of romance. She felt like an adventurous princess who rode on her palfrey into a forest of great bare trees and mystic silences, where wan, unearthly shapes pressed upon her way.
'I thought once of writing a life of that fantastic and grandiloquent creature, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Paracelsus Bombast von Hohenheim,' said Dr Porho?t, 'and I have collected many of his books.'
He took down a slim volume in duodecimo, printed in the seventeenth century, with queer plates, on which were all manner of cabbalistic signs. The pages had a peculiar, musty odour. They were stained with iron-mould.
'Here is one of the most interesting works concerning the black art. It is the _Grimoire of Honorius_, and is the principal text-book of all those who deal in the darkest ways of the science.'
Then he pointed out the _Hexameron_ of Torquemada and the _Tableau de l'Inconstance des D閙ons_, by Delancre; he drew his finger down the leather back of Delrio's _Disquisitiones Magicae_ and set upright the _Pseudomonarchia Daemonorum_ of Wierus; his eyes rested for an instant on Hauber's _Acta et Scripta Magica_, and he blew the dust carefully off the most famous, the most infamous, of them all, Sprenger's _Malleus Malefikorum_.
'Here is one of my greatest treasures. It is the _Clavicula Salomonis_; and I have much reason to believe that it is the identical copy which belonged to the greatest adventurer of the eighteenth century, Jacques Casanova. You will see that the owner's name had been cut out, but enough remains to indicate the bottom of the letters; and these correspond exactly with the signature of Casanova which I have found at the Biblioth閝ue Nationale. He relates in his memoirs that a copy of this book was seized among his effects when he was arrested in Venice for traffic in the black arts; and it was there, on one of my journeys from Alexandria, that I picked it up.'
He replaced the precious work, and his eye fell on a stout volume bound in vellum.
'I had almost forgotten the most wonderful, the most mysterious, of all the books that treat of occult science. You have heard of the Kabbalah, but I doubt if it is more than a name to you.'
'I know nothing about it at all,' laughed Susie, 'except that it's all very romantic and extraordinary and ridiculous.'
'This, then, is its history. Moses, who was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, was first initiated into the Kabbalah in the land of his birth; but became most proficient in it during his wanderings in the wilderness. Here he not only devoted the leisure hours of forty years to this mysterious science, but received lessons in it from an obliging angel. By aid of it he was able to solve the difficulties which arose during his management of the Israelites, notwithstanding the pilgrimages, wars, and miseries of that most unruly nation. He covertly laid down the principles of the doctrine in the first four books of the Pentateuch, but withheld them from Deuteronomy. Moses also initiated the Seventy Elders into these secrets, and they in turn transmitted them from hand to hand. Of all who formed the unbroken line of tradition, David and Solomon were the most deeply learned in the Kabbalah. No one, however, dared to write it down till Schimeon ben Jochai, who lived in the time of the destruction of Jerusalem; and after his death the Rabbi Eleazar, his son, and the Rabbi Abba, his secretary, collected his manuscripts and from them composed the celebrated treatise called _Zohar_.'
'And how much do you believe of this marvellous story?' asked Arthur Burdon.
'Not a word,' answered Dr Porho?t, with a smile. 'Criticism has shown that _Zohar_ is of modern origin. With singular effrontery, it cites an author who is known to have lived during the eleventh century, mentions the Crusades, and records events which occurred in the year of Our Lord 1264. It was some time before 1291 that copies of _Zohar_ began to be circulated by a Spanish Jew named Moses de Leon, who claimed to possess an autograph manuscript by the reputed author Schimeon ben Jochai. But when Moses de Leon was gathered to the bosom of his father Abraham, a wealthy Hebrew, Joseph de Avila, promised the scribe's widow, who had been left destitute, that his son should marry her daughter, to whom he would pay a handsome dowry, if she would give him the original manuscript from which these copies were made. But the widow (one can imagine with what gnashing of teeth) was obliged to confess that she had no such manuscript, for Moses de Leon had composed _Zohar_ out of his own head, and written it with his own right hand.'
Arthur got up to stretch his legs. He gave a laugh.
'I never know how much you really believe of all these things you tell us. You speak with such gravity that we are all taken in, and then it turns out that you've been laughing at us.'
'My dear friend, I never know myself how much I believe,' returned Dr Porho?t.
'I wonder if it is for the same reason that Mr Haddo puzzles us so much,' said Susie.
'Ah, there you have a case that is really interesting,' replied the doctor. 'I assure you that, though I know him fairly intimately, I have never been able to make up my mind whether he is an elaborate practical joker, or whether he is really convinced he has the wonderful powers to which he lays claim.'
'We certainly saw things last night that were not quite normal,' said Susie. 'Why had that serpent no effect on him though it was able to kill the rabbit instantaneously? And how are you going to explain the violent trembling of that horse, Mr. Burdon?'
'I can't explain it,' answered Arthur, irritably, 'but I'm not inclined to attribute to the supernatural everything that I can't immediately understand.'
'I don't know what there is about him that excites in me a sort of horror,' said Margaret. 'I've never taken such a sudden dislike to anyone.'
She was too reticent to say all she felt, but she had been strangely affected last night by the recollection of Haddo's words and of his acts. She had awakened more than once from a nightmare in which he assumed fantastic and ghastly shapes. His mocking voice rang in her ears, and she seemed still to see that vast bulk and the savage, sensual face. It was like a spirit of evil in her path, and she was curiously alarmed. Only her reliance on Arthur's common sense prevented her from giving way to ridiculous terrors.
'I've written to Frank Hurrell and asked him to tell me all he knows about him,' said Arthur. 'I should get an answer very soon.'
'I wish we'd never come across him,' cried Margaret vehemently. 'I feel that he will bring us misfortune.'
'You're all of you absurdly prejudiced,' answered Susie gaily. 'He interests me enormously, and I mean to ask him to tea at the studio.'
'I'm sure I shall be delighted to come.'
Margaret cried out, for she recognized Oliver Haddo's deep bantering tones; and she turned round quickly. They were all so taken aback that for a moment no one spoke. They were gathered round the window and had not heard him come in. They wondered guiltily how long he had been there and how much he had heard.
'How on earth did you get here?' cried Susie lightly, recovering herself first.
'No well-bred sorcerer is so dead to the finer feelings as to enter a room by the door,' he answered, with his puzzling smile. 'You were standing round the window, and I thought it would startle you if I chose that mode of ingress, so I descended with incredible skill down the chimney.'
'I see a little soot on your left elbow,' returned Susie. 'I hope you weren't at all burned.'
'Not at all, thanks,' he answered, gravely brushing his coat.
'In whatever way you came, you are very welcome,' said Dr Porho?t, genially holding out his hand.
But Arthur impatiently turned to his host.
'I wish I knew what made you engage upon these studies,' he said. 'I should have thought your medical profession protected you from any tenderness towards superstition.'
Dr Porho?t shrugged his shoulders.
'I have always been interested in the oddities of mankind. At one time I read a good deal of philosophy and a good deal of science, and I learned in that way that nothing was certain. Some people, by the pursuit of science, are impressed with the dignity of man, but I was only made conscious of his insignificance. The greatest questions of all have been threshed out since he acquired the beginnings of civilization and he is as far from a solution as ever. Man can know nothing, for his senses are his only means of knowledge, and they can give no certainty. There is only one subject upon which the individual can speak with authority, and that is his own mind, but even here he is surrounded with darkness. I believe that we shall always be ignorant of the matters which it most behoves us to know, and therefore I cannot occupy myself with them. I prefer to set them all aside, and, since knowledge is unattainable, to occupy myself only with folly.'
'It is a point of view I do not sympathize with,' said Arthur.
'Yet I cannot be sure that it is all folly,' pursued the Frenchman reflectively. He looked at Arthur with a certain ironic gravity. 'Do you believe that I should lie to you when I promised to speak the truth?'
'I should like to tell you of an experience that I once had in Alexandria. So far as I can see, it can be explained by none of the principles known to science. I ask you only to believe that I am not consciously deceiving you.'
He spoke with a seriousness which gave authority to his words. It was plain, even to Arthur, that he narrated the event exactly as it occurred.
'I had heard frequently of a certain shiekh who was able by means of a magic mirror to show the inquirer persons who were absent or dead, and a native friend of mine had often begged me to see him. I had never thought it worth while, but at last a time came when I was greatly troubled in my mind. My poor mother was an old woman, a widow, and I had received no news of her for many weeks. Though I wrote repeatedly, no answer reached me. I was very anxious and very unhappy. I thought no harm could come if I sent for the sorcerer, and perhaps after all he had the power which was attributed to him. My friend, who was interpreter to the French Consulate, brought him to me one evening. He was a fine man, tall and stout, of a fair complexion, but with a dark brown beard. He was shabbily dressed, and, being a descendant of the Prophet, wore a green turban. In his conversation he was affable and unaffected. I asked him what persons could see in the magic mirror, and he said they were a boy not arrived at puberty, a virgin, a black female slave, and a pregnant woman. In order to make sure that there was no collusion, I despatched my servant to an intimate friend and asked him to send me his son. While we waited, I prepared by the magician's direction frankincense and coriander-seed, and a chafing-dish with live charcoal. Meanwhile, he wrote forms of invocation on six strips of paper. When the boy arrived, the sorcerer threw incense and one of the paper strips into the chafing-dish, then took the boy's right hand and drew a square and certain mystical marks on the palm. In the centre of the square he poured a little ink. This formed the magic mirror. He desired the boy to look steadily into it without raising his head. The fumes of the incense filled the room with smoke. The sorcerer muttered Arabic words, indistinctly, and this he continued to do all the time except when he asked the boy a question.
'"Do you see anything in the ink?" he said.
'"No," the boy answered.
'But a minute later, he began to tremble and seemed very much frightened.
'"I see a man sweeping the ground," he said.
'"When he has done sweeping, tell me," said the sheikh.
'"He has done," said the boy.
'The sorcerer turned to me and asked who it was that I wished the boy should see.
'"I desire to see the widow Jeanne-Marie Porho?t."
'The magician put the second and third of the small strips of paper into the chafing-dish, and fresh frankincense was added. The fumes were painful to my eyes. The boy began to speak.
'"I see an old woman lying on a bed. She has a black dress, and on her head is a little white cap. She has a wrinkled face and her eyes are closed. There is a band tied round her chin. The bed is in a sort of hole, in the wall, and there are shutters to it."
The boy was describing a Breton bed, and the white cap was the _coiffe_ that my mother wore. And if she lay there in her black dress, with a band about her chin, I knew that it could mean but one thing.
'"What else does he see?" I asked the sorcerer.
'He repeated my question, and presently the boy spoke again.
'"I see four men come in with a long box. And there are women crying. They all wear little white caps and black dresses. And I see a man in a white surplice, with a large cross in his hands, and a little boy in a long red gown. And the men take off their hats. And now everyone is kneeling down."
'"I will hear no more," I said. "It is enough."
'I knew that my mother was dead.
'In a little while, I received a letter from the priest of the village in which she lived. They had buried her on the very day upon which the boy had seen this sight in the mirror of ink.'
Dr Porho?t passed his hand across his eyes, and for a little while there was silence.
'What have you to say to that?' asked Oliver Haddo, at last.
'Nothing,' answered Arthur.
Haddo looked at him for a minute with those queer eyes of his which seemed to stare at the wall behind.
'Have you ever heard of Eliphas Levi?' he inquired. 'He is the most celebrated occultist of recent years. He is thought to have known more of the mysteries than any adept since the divine Paracelsus.'
'I met him once,' interrupted Dr Porho?t. 'You never saw a man who looked less like a magician. His face beamed with good-nature, and he wore a long grey beard, which covered nearly the whole of his breast. He was of a short and very corpulent figure.'
'The practice of black arts evidently disposes to obesity,' said Arthur, icily.
Susie noticed that this time Oliver Haddo made no sign that the taunt moved him. His unwinking, straight eyes remained upon Arthur without expression.
'Levi's real name was Alphonse-Louis Constant, but he adopted that under which he is generally known for reasons that are plain to the romantic mind. His father was a bootmaker. He was destined for the priesthood, but fell in love with a damsel fair and married her. The union was unhappy. A fate befell him which has been the lot of greater men than he, and his wife presently abandoned the marital roof with her lover. To console himself he began to make serious researches in the occult, and in due course published a vast number of mystical works dealing with magic in all its branches.'
'I'm sure Mr Haddo was going to tell us something very interesting about him,' said Susie.
'I wished merely to give you his account of how he raised the spirit of Apollonius of Tyana in London.'
Susie settled herself more comfortably in her chair and lit a cigarette.
'He went there in the spring of 1856 to escape from internal disquietude and to devote himself without distraction to his studies. He had letters of introduction to various persons of distinction who concerned themselves with the supernatural, but, finding them trivial and indifferent, he immersed himself in the study of the supreme Kabbalah. One day, on returning to his hotel, he found a note in his room. It contained half a card, transversely divided, on which he at once recognized the character of Solomon's Seal, and a tiny slip of paper on which was written in pencil: _The other half of this card will be given you at three o'clock tomorrow in front of Westminster Abbey_. Next day, going to the appointed spot, with his portion of the card in his hand, he found a baronial equipage waiting for him. A footman approached, and, making a sign to him, opened the carriage door. Within was a lady in black satin, whose face was concealed by a thick veil. She motioned him to a seat beside her, and at the same time displayed the other part of the card he had received. The door was shut, and the carriage rolled away. When the lady raised her veil, Eliphas Levi saw that she was of mature age; and beneath her grey eyebrows were bright black eyes of preternatural fixity.'
Susie Boyd clapped her hands with delight.
'I think it's delicious, and I'm sure every word of it is true,' she cried. 'I'm enchanted with the mysterious meeting at Westminster Abbey in the Mid-Victorian era. Can't you see the elderly lady in a huge crinoline and a black poke bonnet, and the wizard in a ridiculous hat, a bottle-green frock-coat, and a flowing tie of black silk?'
'Eliphas remarks that the lady spoke French with a marked English accent,' pursued Haddo imperturbably. 'She addressed him as follows: "Sir, I am aware that the law of secrecy is rigorous among adepts; and I know that you have been asked for phenomena, but have declined to gratify a frivolous curiosity. It is possible that you do not possess the necessary materials. I can show you a complete magical cabinet, but I must require of you first the most inviolable silence. If you do not guarantee this on your honour, I will give the order for you to be driven home."'