HotFreeBooks.com
The Sorcery Club
by Elliott O'Donnell
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE SORCERY CLUB

by

ELLIOTT O'DONNELL

Author of Byways of Ghostland, Werwolves, Dreams and Their Meanings, Some Haunted Houses of England and Wales, Scottish Ghost Tales, Haunted Houses of London, etc., etc.

London William Rider & Son, Limited 8 Paternoster Row, E.C.

1912



CONTENTS

I HOW THEY FIRST HEARD OF ATLANTIS

II THE BLACK ART OF ATLANTIS

III LEARNING TO SIN

IV THE TESTS

V THE INITIATION

VI THE FIRST POWER

VII SAN FRANCISCO LADIES AND DIVINATION

VIII TWO DREAMS

IX LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

X HOW THE DREAMS WERE INTERPRETED

XI LEON HAMAR CALLS ON THE MARTINS

XII THE GREAT CHALLENGE

XIII THE MODERN SORCERY CO. LTD. GIVE A GRATIS PERFORMANCE

XIV SHIEL TO THE RESCUE

XV HOW HAMAR, CURTIS AND KELSON ENTERED THE ASTRAL PLANE

XVI HAMAR MAKES ADVANCES

XVII THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE

XVIII STAGE THREE

XIX A SERIES OF MISADVENTURES

XX THE STAGE OF HAUNTINGS

XXI THE SELLING OF SPELLS

XXII THE PERSECUTION OF THE MARTINS

XXIII LOVE

XXIV THE SUBPOENA

XXV CURTIS IN A NEW ROLE

XXVI IN HYDE PARK AT NIGHT

XXVII THE RIGHT GIRL TO MARRY

XXVIII WHOM WILL HE MARRY?

XXIX THE END AND 'THE BEYOND'



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

"FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE KEEP OFF," KELSON SHRIEKED (frontispiece)

THE INITIATION

THEY GAZED FASCINATED

THE ROOM FILLED WITH LUMINOUS, STRIPED FIGURES



CHAPTER I

HOW THEY FIRST HEARD OF ATLANTIS

Rain is responsible for a great deal more than the mere growth of vegetables—it is a controller, if a somewhat capricious controller, of man's destiny. It was mainly, if not entirely, owing to rain that the French lost the Battle of Agincourt; whilst, if I mistake not, Confucius alone knows how many victories have been snatched from the Chinese by the same factor.

It was most certainly rain that drove Leon Hamar to take refuge in a second-hand bookshop; for so deep-rooted was his aversion to any literature saving a financial gazette or the stock and shares column of a daily, that nothing would have induced him to get within touching distance of a book save the risk of a severe wetting. Now, to his unutterable disgust, he found himself surrounded by the things he loathed. Books ancient—very ancient, judging by their bindings—and modern—histories, biographies, novels and magazines—anything from ten dollars to five cents, and all arrayed with most laudable tact according to their bulk and condition. But Hamar was neither to be tempted nor mollified. He frowned at one and all alike, and the colossal edition of Miss Somebody or Other's poems—that by reason of its magnificent cover of crimson and gold occupied a most prominent position—met with the same vindictive reception as the tattered and torn volumes of Whittier stowed away in an obscure corner.

Backing still further into the entrance of the store for a better protection from the rain, which, now falling heavier and heavier, was blown in by the wind, Hamar collided with a stand of books, with the result that one of them fell with a loud bang on the pavement.

A man, evidently the owner of the store, and unmistakably a Jew, instantly appeared. Picking up the book, and wiping it with a dirty handkerchief, he thrust it at Hamar.

"See!" he said, "you have damaged this property of mine. You must either buy it or give me adequate compensation."

"What!" Hamar cried, "compensation for such rubbish as that? Why all your books together are not worth five dollars. Indeed I've seen twice as many sold at a sale for half that amount. You can't Jew me!"

The two men eyed each other quizzically.

"Perhaps," the owner of the store observed slowly, "perhaps some of your ancestors were once Yiddish. In which case there ought to be a bond of sympathy between us. You may have that book for a nickel. What, no! Your cheeks are hollow, your fingers thin. A nickel is too much for you. I will take your chain in exchange."

"And leave me the watch!" Hamar retorted, with a grim smile. "You are a philanthropist—not a storekeeper."

"I should leave you nothing!" the Jew laughed.

"There's no watch there! See!" and he pointed to the concave surface of the watch-pocket. "I noticed its absence at once. It's been keeping you alive for some days past. I'll give you four dollars on the chain—and you may have the book!"

"The book's no good to me!" Hamar grunted. "The money is. Here! hand me over the four dollars and you can have the chain. It's eighteen carat gold and worth at least ten dollars."

"Then why not take it to some one who will give you ten dollars!" sneered the Jew. "Because you know better. You're no greenhorn. That chain is fifteen carat at the most, and there's not a man in this city who would give you more than four dollars for it."

"Very well, then!" Hamar said sulkily. "I agree. No! the money first."

The Jew dived deep down into his trouser pocket, and, after foraging about for some seconds, produced a handful of greasy coins, out of which he carefully selected the sum named.

Hamar, who had been watching him greedily, grabbed the coins, bit them with his teeth, and rang them on the counter. With an air of relief he then slipped his watch-chain into the outstretched palm before him, remarked upon the fact that the rain had suddenly ceased, and prepared to take his departure.

"Here's the book!" the Jew ejaculated, whilst his face became suffused with a smirk. "Don't go without it. Now! there's no knowing but what we may not have further dealings with one another. I'm a money-lender—I've a place down-stairs—I take all sorts of things—all sorts of things. On the strict Q.T. mind. Sabez!"

In another moment Hamar found himself standing on the wet pavement, nursing the four dollars in his waistcoat pocket with one hand, and mechanically clutching the despised volume with the other. Had he ever acted upon impulse, he would most certainly have hurled the book into the gutter; but on second thoughts he came to the conclusion that it would be better to dispose of it less obstrusively.

It was now evening, and having tasted nothing since mid-day, he realized, for at least the hundredth time that week, that he was hungry. The touch of the dollars, however, only made him smile. He could eat his full for twenty-five cents and yet live well for another four days. And, besides, he still had a tie-pin and a fur coat. He might get a dollar on the one and two, if not two and a half, on the other; which would carry him through till the end of the week when something else might turn up—something which would not involve too hard work and would just keep him clear of jail. He turned sharply down Montgomery Street, crossed Kearney Street, and slipped noiselessly through the side doorway of a restaurant, in a suspicious-looking alley, not a hundred yards distant from the gorgeously illuminated Palace Hotel. Here, within five minutes, he was served with as good a meal as one could get in San Francisco for the money—and if the table linen was not as clean as it might have been, the food was not a whit the less excellent for that. At least so Hamar thought; and it was not until there was nothing left to eat that he left off eating. When he thought no one was looking in his direction, he popped the despised book under his chair and rose to go. Before he had gone ten yards, however, one of the waiters came running after him.

"Hi, sir, stop, sir!" the fellow cried. "You've left something behind!" And in spite of Hamar's denials the officious menial persisted the book was his. In the end Hamar was obliged to submit. He took the book, and rewarded the waiter with curses.

Hamar next tried to dispose of it down the area of a Chinese laundry; but a policeman saw him, and he only escaped being taken up on suspicion, by parting with a dollar. This was the climax. He did not dare make any further attempt to dispose of the book, but, with bitter hatred in his heart, tucked it savagely under his arm, and made direct for his room in 115th Street.

To his annoyance—for under the circumstances he preferred to be alone—he found two men sitting in front of his empty hearth. They were Matt Kelson and Ed Curtis; both of whom had been his colleagues at Meidler, Meidler & Co., in Sacramento Street, and like himself had been thrown out of work when the firm had "smashed." Since that affair Hamar had studiously avoided them. It was true he had once been as friendly with them as he deemed it politic to be friendly with any one; but now—they were out of employment, and in danger of starvation. That made all the difference. He did not believe in poverty encouraging poverty, any more than he believed in charity among beggars. He had nothing to share with them, not even a thought; and resolving to get rid of his quondam friends as soon as possible, he confined his welcome to a frown.

"Hulloa! what's the matter?" Kelson exclaimed. "When a man frowns like that, it usually means he is crossed in love."

"Or has an empty stomach, which amounts to the same thing," Curtis interposed. "Come—let the sun loose, Leon! We've good news for you!—haven't we, Matt?"

Kelson nodded.

"What is it, then?" Hamar grunted. "Have you both got cancer?"

"No! We've come to borrow from you!"

"Then you've come to the wrong shop! I'm about done, and unless something turns up mighty quick I shall clear out."

"For good?"

"I don't count on being a ghost nor yet an angel," Hamar said; "when we've done here, I reckon we've done altogether!"

"I shouldn't have thought suicide was in your line," Curtis remarked. "More Matt's. I should have credited you with something more original."

"Original!" Hamar snarled. "I defy any man to be original when he hasn't a cent, and his stomach contains nothing but air. Give me money, give me food—then, perhaps, I'll be original."

"You don't mean to say you're cleared out of grub!" Kelson and Curtis cried in chorus. "We've come to you as our last hope. We've neither of us tasted anything since yesterday."

"Then you'll taste nothing again to-day—at least as far as I'm concerned," Hamar jeered. "I tell you I'm broke—haven't as much as a crumb in the room; and I've pawned everything, save the clothes you see me in!"

"And yet you can buy books—unless—unless you stole it!" Curtis said, eyeing with suspicion the volume Hamar had thrown on the table.

"Buy it! Not much!" Hamar cried quickly. "It's one I've had all my life. Belonged to my grandfather. I took it with me to-night to see what I could raise on it."

"And no one would have it? I should guess not," Kelson said, drawing it towards him. "Why it's got a new label inside—S. Leipman! I know him. He's slick even for a Jew. This looks as if it belonged to your grandfather, Leon. If I'm not real mistaken you bought the book to-night. There's something in it you thought you could make capital of. Trust you for that. Now I wonder what it was!"

"You're welcome to see!" Hamar sneered. "Perhaps you'd like some water!"

"Water! Why water?"

"Well, instead of tea or whisky to help digest the book. Besides, it's the only thing I have to offer you."

"Look here, Leon," Curtis interrupted; "what's the good of behaving like this? We are all in the same boat—starving—desperate. So let us lay our heads together and see if we can't think of something—some way out of it."

"A Burglary Company Limited, for instance!" Hamar sneered. "No! I'm not having any. I've neither tools nor experience. The San Francisco police handle one roughly, so I'm told, and hard labour isn't to my liking."

"There are other things besides burglary!" Curtis said in tones of annoyance. "We might work a fake."

"If I work anything of that sort," Hamar said hastily, "I work alone. Think of something else."

"I tell you Matt and I are pretty well desperate," Curtis cried, "and if we don't think of something soon, we shan't be able to think at all. We've tried our level best to get work—we've answered every likely and unlikely advertisement in the papers—and all to no purpose. So if Providence won't help us we must help ourselves. Robbery, burglary, fakes, anything short of murder—it's all the same to us now—we're tired of starving—dead sick of it. We would do anything, sell our very souls for a meal. My God! I never imagined how terrible it is to feel so hungry. You appear to be interested, Matt. What is it?"

"Why, look here, you fellows!" Kelson said slowly. "This book is all about a place called Atlantis that is said to have existed in the Atlantic Ocean between America and Ireland, and to have been deluged by an earthquake owing to the wickedness of its inhabitants. They practised sorcery."

"Practised foolery," Hamar said. "It's tosh—all tosh! Wickedness is only a matter of climate—and there's no such thing as sorcery."

"So I thought," Kelson replied; "but I'm not so sure now. The author of this book writes darned sensibly, and is apparently at no loss for corroborative testimony. He was a professor too. See! Thomas Henry Maitland, at one time Professor of English at the University of Basle in Switzerland. There's an asterisk against his name and a footnote in very old-fashioned handwriting—the 's's' are all 'f's,' and half the letters capitals. Listen—

"'Thomas Maitland, despite the remonstrances of his friends, visited Spain. By order of the Holy Inquisition he was arrested, May 5, 1693, on a charge of practising sorcery, and burned alive at the Auto da Fe, in the Grand Market Square, Madrid; having in the interim been subjected to such tortures as only the subtle brains of the hellish inquisitors could devise. On receipt of a message from him, delivered in his supernatural body, we attended his execution, and can readily testify that he suffered no pain, although the torments endured by those around him were pitiable to behold.

"(Signed) GEORGE RICHARD POOL, Physician; and ROBERT JAMES FOX, Merchant.

"Citizens of Boston, Massachusetts; August 1, 1693.'"

"Rot!" Hamar said savagely; "don't waste time reading such bunkum."

"It may be bunkum, but if it takes away his mind from his stomach let him go on," Curtis interposed. "It's very obvious you haven't arrived at our pitch of starvation yet, Leon, or you would welcome anything that would make you forget it even for a moment. Let's hear some more, Matt! Go on, tell us something. How to make coyottes out of paraffin paint, or convert a Sunday pair of pants into a glistening harem skirt! Anything that won't remind us of food."

Thus encouraged Kelson slowly turned over the pages of the book. "I see it was printed and published for—I presume that means by—A. Bettesworth and J. Batley in Pater-noster-Row, London, England, in 1690. Basle, London, Boston, Madrid! The author seems to have had wandering on the brain. By the bye, Leon, with your features you could easily work off a fake as 'the Wandering Jew.' There's money in it—people will swallow anything in that line now."

"I don't see how it would profit you anyhow," Hamar snarled. "Leave my features alone and go on with your reading."

Kelson chuckled—here was one way at least in which he could occasionally get even with Hamar. Hamar's features were Yiddish, and the Yids were none too popular in California.

"Oh, all right!" he said; "if the subject is so painful I'll try and avoid it in future; but it's odd how some things—for instance, murder and noses—will out. Let me see, what have we here? 'Discovery of ancient books, manuscripts, etc., relating to Atlantis.' Apparently, Thomas Maitland, when shipwrecked on an island, called Inisturk, off Mayo, in Ireland, found a wooden chest of rare workmanship—he had seen, he says, similar ones in Egypt and Yucatan—containing some very ancient books—curiously bound, and some vellum manuscripts, which, after an infinite amount of labour, he managed to translate. The books, he says, were standard histories, biographies, and scientific works on occultism—all published in Banchicheisi, the capital of Atlantis—and the manuscripts, he affirms, had been transcribed by one Coulmenes, who believed himself to be the only survivor of a tremendous submarine earthquake that had destroyed the whole of Atlantis. The manuscripts included a diary of the events leading up to the catastrophe—even to the meals! How about this?—'Sunrise on the day of Thottirnanoge in the month of Finn-ra. Breakfasted on cornsop, fish (Semona, corresponding to salmon), fruit, and much sweet milk.'"

"For God's sake, don't!" Curtis groaned. "Skip over that part. The very mention of grub makes the gnawing pain in my stomach ten times worse."

"You're different to me then!" Hamar grinned; "I love to think of it. My word, what wouldn't I give to be in Sadler's now. Roast beef—done to a turn, eh! As only Sadler knows how! Potatoes nice and brown and crisp! Horseradish! Greens! Boiled celery! Pudding under the meat! Beer!—What, going?"

Curtis had risen from the table with his fingers crammed in his ears. "There's a fat splice of the devil in you to-night, Leon!" he panted. "I've had enough of it. I'm off. Come on, Matt. If you want us, you know where to find us—only if we don't get something to eat soon—you'll find us dead."



CHAPTER II

THE BLACK ART OF ATLANTIS

For some time after Kelson and Curtis had left him, Hamar lolled back in his seat, lost in thought. Thought, as he told himself repeatedly, should be the poor man's chief recreation—it costs nothing: and if one wants a little variety, and the walls of one's rooms are tolerably thick, one can think aloud. Hamar often did, and derived much enjoyment from it.

"I'm convinced of one thing," he suddenly broke out; "I'd rather be hungry than cold. One can, in a measure, cheat one's stomach by chewing leather or sucking pebbles, but I'll be hanged if one can kid one's liver. It's cold that does me! A touch of cold on the liver! I could jog along comfortably on few dollars for food—but it's a fire, a fire I want! The temperature of this room is infernally low after sunset: and half a dozen coats and three pairs of pants don't make up for half a grateful of fuel. Hunger only makes me think of suicide—but cold—cold and a chilled liver—makes me think of crime. Yes, it's cold! Cold that would make me a criminal. I would steal—burgle—housebreak—cut the sweetest lady's throat in Christendom—for a fire!

"There! that little outbreak has relieved me. Now let me have a look at the book."

He dragged the volume towards him, and despite the feeling of antagonism with which it had inspired him, and despite the cynical attitude he had, up to the present, adopted towards the supernatural, he speedily became engrossed. On a few leaves, somewhat clumsily inserted between the cover and first page of the book, Hamar read an account, presumably in the author's own penmanship, of how he, Thomas Maitland, after being shipwrecked, had remained on Inisturk Island for a fortnight before being rescued, and had spent the greater portion of that time in examining the books, etc., in the chest he had found—his only food—shell-fish and a keg of mildewy ship's biscuits.

He was taken, so the account ran, by his rescuers, on the barque Hannah, to London, where he lived for five years. His lodgings were in Cheapside, and it was there that he compiled his work on Atlantis, having obtained his subject matter from the Atlantean books he had managed to bring with him, and which, after an enormous amount of perseverance and labour, he had translated into English. Though these books were subsequently destroyed in a big fire that demolished the entire street, luckily for him, he had sent his MS. to the publishers, Messrs. Bettesworth and Batley, a week or so before the conflagration broke out; so that he was, at any rate, spared the loss of his own arduous and invaluable work.

The publishers did not accept the MS. at once. At that time there were very severe laws in operation against anything savouring of witchcraft and magic, and as the manuscript dealt at length with these subjects, and in a manner that left no doubt whatever that he, Thomas Maitland, had practised sorcery extensively, Messrs. Bettesworth and Batley were forced to consider whether it would be injurious to them to publish it. Mrs. Bettesworth was eventually consulted—as indeed she always was, on extraordinary occasions—and her interest in the MS. being roused, she decided in its favour. Within a week of its publication, however, it was suppressed by law; all the copies saving three presentation ones to the author, which he successfully concealed, were destroyed; Messrs. Bettesworth and Batley were put in the stocks on Ludgate Hill and fined heavily, and he, Thomas Maitland, was ordered to be arrested, flogged and imprisoned.

"But," wrote Maitland, "I was not to be caught napping. My previous adventures and hairbreadth escapes had rendered me unusually wary, and perceiving a number of people, among whom were two or three sheriff's officers, approaching my house, I at once interpreted their mission, and climbing through a trap-door leading on to the roof of the building, nimbly made my way to the end of the row, and slipping down a waterpipe easily eluded my enemies. London, however, being now too hot to hold me, I booked passage on board the Peterkin, a Thames trading vessel of some eighty tons, and sailed for Boston. My flight had been so hasty that I brought very little with me—nothing in fact except the clothes I stood in—a stout winter suit of home-spun brown cloth, a cloak, and a pair of good, strong leather leggings—a purse of fifty sovereigns (all I had), a knife, pistol and two copies of my precious book, the third copy, alas! I had left behind in my hurry."

After giving a few unimportant details as to his life on board ship, Maitland went on to say:—

"Owing to a succession of storms the Peterkin was driven out of her course, and after narrowly escaping being dashed to pieces on the Florida reefs, Lat. 24-1/2 deg. N., Long. 82 deg. W., we ran ashore with the loss of only two lives—the second mate and cabin boy—on the Isthmus of Yucatan, close to the estuary of a river.[1] Here we were forced to spend nearly a year, during which time I made several journeys of exploration into the interior of the continent. In the course of one of my rambles amid a dense mass of tropical foliage, I suddenly found myself face to face with a gigantic stone Sphinx, which I at once recognized and identified. It was Tat-Nuada, an Atlantean deity, elaborately described in one of the burned books. Much excited, I set to work, and, after clearing the base of the idol of fungi and other vegetable growth adhering to it, discovered a superscription in Atlantean dialect to the effect that the image had been set up there by one Hullir—to commemorate the destruction of Atlantis, of which catastrophe Hullir believed himself and his family, i.e. his wife Ozilmeave and daughters, Taramoo and Niketoth, and the crew of his yacht, the Chaac-molre (ten in number), the sole survivors.

"Here, then, to my unutterable joy, was strong corroborative evidence of the great disaster narrated in detail in the manuscripts I had found in Inisturk Island. The existence of Atlantis was now thoroughly substantiated. On all sides of me I stumbled across further evidences of these early settlers. Here, standing in bold outline on a slight eminence, was a stone edifice adorned with symbolical carvings of eggs, harps, mastodons, triangles, and numerous other objects, all of which were capable of interpretation, and indicated that the building was a temple to some god.

"I was much struck by the extraordinary similarity in many of the things I saw—notably in the sphinx, idols and symbols—to many I had seen in Egypt, and to some extent in Ireland, and I at once set to work to draw up a careful analogy between the languages of those countries.

"The word Banchicheisi[2] I found to contain the Celtic ban, a barrow; and Coptic isi, plenty; whilst I recognized in the words Coulmenes,[3] the Celtic Coul, a man's name, i.e. Finn, son of Coul; in Thottirnanoge, the Coptic Thoth, i.e. name of ancient Egyptian deity, and Erse Tirnanoge, the name of the wife of Oisin, the last of the Feni; in Chaac-molree[4] the Coptic deity, re; in Ozilmeave,[5] the Celtic Meave, a girl's name; in Taramoo,[6] the Celtic Tara, a girl's name; and in Niketoth,[7] toth, the Erse technical form of feminine gender; and comparing the alphabets I traced a very striking likeness between the Atlantean—

"[Atlantean: a] (a) and the Gaelic or Erse [Erse: A] [Atlantean: B] (B) and the Coptic [Coptic: B] [Atlantean: d] (d) and Erse [Erse: D] [Atlantean: g] (g) and Erse [Erse: g] [Atlantean: T] (T) and Coptic [Coptic: T]

"and many of the other letters. To the Atlantean

"[Atlantean: C, O, E, Z][8]

"I could, however, find no likeness.

"From all these similarities, i.e. in architecture, symbols, letters, and words, I could come to no other conclusion than that there was some strong connecting link between Atlantis and ancient Ireland and Egypt.

"Assuredly this great link could not have been merely due to stray survivors of the great catastrophe! Was it not much more probable that the earliest inhabitants of Ireland and Egypt had originally migrated from Atlantis, carrying its language, and ways and customs with them? Moreover, since the Atlanteans were so deeply versed in magic and everything appertaining to the occult, this migration would account for the mysticism that has always been so closely associated with Egypt and Ireland, and for the psychic faculty so strongly observable in the inhabitants of these two countries.

"I was highly satisfied—I had proved much and my discoveries had upset many of the theories advanced by the modern sages. I could now positively assert that the wisdom of the world came not from the East but from the West. It was to the golden West—to Banchicheisi, capital of Atlantis, that humanity owed its knowledge of the sciences and arts, and of all things good and evil. Eden, if Eden existed at all, was not in Asia, it was in Atlantis; and the Deluge, that is recorded in the Hebrew Bible, and is traditional in the histories of nearly every tribe and nation, was none other than the mighty inrush of the ocean over Atlantis, due to some abnormal submarine earthquake.

"Of what eventually became of the Atlanteans whose relics I had so opportunely alighted upon, I could only surmise.

"The last record I found was on a tablet set up by Niketoth. On this she spoke of the death of Hullir and Ozilmeave, of the inter-marriage of the crew of the Chaac-molre with native women; of the consequent growth of the colony; and of her determination to leave it, and, accompanied by a chosen few, to push her way further inland.[9]

"The anxiety of my comrades to leave the continent, perforce put an end to my explorations, and in the beginning of the year 1692—exactly ten months after our landing—the Peterkin was refloated.

"This time nothing happened to impede our progress, and in April of the same year, we sighted Boston. Here I remained for some months, making many new friends, and studying magic and sorcery. But the love of travel had laid so strong a hold on me that I again took to a roving life. I set sail for Spain in November 1692; landed at Corunna, and made my way to Madrid, where I arrived on January 1, 1693."

For the rest, Hamar had to turn to Messrs. Fox and Pool's addendum, i.e. the footnote that Matt Kelson had read aloud.

Hamar was now inclined to regard the book in a very different light. What he had read seemed to him to be set down in too simple, straightforward, and, at the same time, detailed a manner to be other than true. Up to the present he had not believed in ghosts and witches, for the very simple reason that—like all sceptics—he had never inquired into the testimony respecting them. He had pooh-poohed the subject, because every one he knew pooh-poohed it, and also because it had never seemed worth his while to do otherwise. But provided he thought it would pay him, he was ready to believe in anything—in Christianity, Mahommedanism, Buddhism, Theosophy, or any other creed; and granted the book he had in his hands was really written by Maitland, and Maitland was bona fide (which Hamar saw no reason to doubt), and granted, also, that Maitland was sane and logical—which from his writing he certainly appeared to be—then there was a certain amount in the volume that in Hamar's opinion was "a find." Needless to say, he referred to the magic of the Atlanteans—the art through the practice of which they had got in touch with the Powers that could endow them with riches. The actual history of Atlantis—once he was satisfied there had been such a place—did not interest him. He skimmed through it quickly, and I append a brief summary, only, for the benefit of more intelligent and disinterested readers.

The Atlanteans were the oldest intelligent race in the world—they existed contemporaneously with Paleolithic man, with whom their mariners and explorers frequently came in contact, and about whom their novelists wrote the most delightful stories, just as Fenimore Cooper and Mayne Reid, in these days, have written the most delightful stories about the Red Indians. In religion they were polytheists; they believed that, in the work of Creation, many Powers participated; that some of these Powers were benevolent, some malevolent, whilst others—neither benevolent nor malevolent—were merely neutral. To the benevolent creative Powers they attributed all that is beautiful in the world (i.e. certain of the trees, plants, flowers, animals, insects, and pleasing colours and scents); all that is fair and agreeable in the human being, such as affection, love, kindness, the arts and sciences—in a word all that in any degree affected the welfare of mankind; and to the malevolent creative Powers they attributed all that was noxious in creation; all that was harmful to man, and detrimental to his moral and physical progress (i.e. diseases, and all savage and filthy passions); all races of low intelligence, viz. Paleolithic and Neolithic man—and all those born with black or red skins (those colours being particularly significant of the malignant Occult Elements); all destructive animals; (i.e. reptiles such as the teleosaurus, steneosaurus, etc.; birds, such as the ptereodactyl, vulture, eagle, etc.; mammals, such as the cave lion, cave tiger, etc.; fish, such as the shark, octopus, etc.); and all ugly and venomous insects.

These earliest records show that at one time the physical and superphysical world were in close touch; all kinds of spirits—trolls, pixies, nymphs, satyrs, imps, Vagrarians, Barrowvians, etc.—mixing freely with living human beings; but that as the population increased and civilization evolved, superphysical manifestations became more and more rare, until finally they became restricted to certain conditions dependent on time and locality.[10]

Up to this period there had been no state religion—no temples in Atlantis. If any one wished for a particular favour from the Occult Powers—for example, from the Rabses, the Occult Powers of music; the Brakvos, the Occult Powers of medicine; or the Derinas, the Occult Powers of love, they retired to some secluded spot and held direct intercourse with these Powers. The idea of praying to an invisible being—who might or might not hear them—never entered their minds; they were far too matter of fact for that—and it was not until superphysical manifestations had become confined to a very select few, that the plan of erecting public buildings in spots frequented by the spirits, so that all who wished could assemble there and communicate with them, was proposed and put into operation. In these buildings, however, the spirits did not choose always, to appear to order—sometimes they quitted the spot where the edifice had been erected; sometimes they would only appear there periodically; and sometimes, out of perversity, they would appear when least expected. But whether occult manifestations really took place in these buildings or not, those assembled to see them were persuaded by those in charge of the building, who saw thereby an opportunity of making money, that the spirits were actually there; and in due time these buildings became known as temples, and their showmen as priests. Every temple was dedicated to an individual spirit—one to the Spirit Bara-boo; another to the Spirit Karaboro, and so on; whilst in the absence of genuine spirit manifestations, prayers, incantations and rituals, invented by the priests, always attracted a large concourse of people to these temples, and finally proved a greater source of attraction than the spirits themselves.

It was to gain favours from the Occult Powers that donations from the public were at first invited, then demanded; and the priests in this manner accumulated vast fortunes. Later on, too, there sprang up, in connection with these temples, colleges for the training of young men—invariably selected from the wealthy classes—to the priesthood; and from the parents of these youthful aspirants large fees, which in course of time became exorbitant, were extracted, thereby furnishing another source of revenue to the priests. The most famous colleges for the training of priests in Atlantis were those of Bara-boo-rek[11] at Keisionwo, Karaboro-rek at Diniangek, and Ballygarap-rek at Tijimin.

It was in the reign of Barrahneil,[12] fifty-first sovereign of the Dynasty of Shaotak, that the evocation of spirits (from which modern spiritualism takes its origin) commenced. Barrahneil was most eager to see a superphysical manifestation. Being of a somewhat poetical turn of mind he was particularly enamoured of fairies, and in the hope of seeing one, constantly frequented their favourite haunts, i.e. woods, caves, and lonely isolated habitations. But all to no purpose—they never would manifest themselves to him. At last, he lost patience. Against the advice of his oldest and most trusty counsellors, and accompanied by one or two of his favourite courtiers, he went to an excessively lonely spot in the heart of a desert, and besought spirits—spirits of any sort—he did not care what—to manifest themselves. To his surprise—for he had grown extremely sceptical—an Occult form, half man and half beast,[13] materialized. It informed them that it was Daramara, i.e. in Atlantis, the Unknown—that it had no beginning and no end, and that it would remain an impenetrable mystery to them during their existence in the physical sphere, but would be fully revealed to them when they passed over into Malanok—one of the superphysical planes. On this, and on several subsequent occasions, when it manifested itself to them, it gave them instructions with regard to evocation, and described to them the tests they must undergo before they could acquire the great powers the Unknown was able to bestow on them, namely, (1) second sight; (2) divining other people's thoughts and detecting the presence of waters and metals; (3) thought transference, i.e. being able to transmit messages, irrespective of distance, from one brain to another without any physical medium; (4) hypnotism; (5) the power to hold converse with animals; (6) invisibility, i.e. dematerializing at will; (7) walking on, and breathing under, water; (8) inflicting all manner of diseases and torments; (9) curing all kinds of diseases; (10) converting people into beasts and minerals; (11) foretelling the future by palmistry, pyromancy, hydromancy, astrology, etc.; (12) conjuring up all manner of spirits antagonistic to men's moral progress, i.e. Vice Elementals—Vagrarians, Barrowvians, etc.

Taking every care to observe the greatest secrecy, Barrahneil caused a full account of these interviews with Daramara, together with all the instructions the latter had given him, to be transcribed in a book, which he called Brahnapotek[14]—or the Book of Mysteries; and which he kept sealed and guarded in a room in his palace.

During his lifetime no one held communication with Daramara saving himself and his friends, but after his death the secret of black magic leaked out; countless people sought to acquire it, and ultimately the practice of it became universal. But the Atlanteans little knew the danger they were incurring. The spirits they conjured up—though at first subservient, that is to say, mere instruments—at length obtained complete dominion over them—the whole race became steeped in crime and vice of every kind—and so horrible were the enormities perpetrated that, fearful lest Man should be entirely obliterated the benevolent Occult Powers, after a desperate struggle with the malevolent Occult Powers, succeeded, by means of a vast earthquake, in submerging the Continent and hurling it to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, where, what remains of it, now lies. This catastrophe took place in the reign of Aboonirin, twentieth sovereign of the Dynasty of Molonekin—three thousand years after the reign of Barrahneil.

So ran the history of Atlantis, or at least all of it that need be quoted for the elucidation of this story. That Black Magic—the Black Art of the Atlanteans was by no means dead—Hamar felt convinced, and if Maitland could resuscitate it—why could not he? At any rate he might try. He could lose nothing by giving it a trial—at least nothing to speak of—the outlay on chemicals would be a mere song—whereas, on the other hand, what might he not gain! He eagerly perused the tests—the test he must impose upon himself before he could get in touch with the Unknown, and acquire the magic powers—which, according to Thomas Maitland, were copied from the original Brahnapotek, and including a preface, ran as follows: (Preface) "It is essential that the person desirous of being initiated into the Black Art—the Art of communicating with the Unknown (Daramara) in order to acquire certain great powers, should dismiss from his mind all ideas of moral progress, and wholly concentrate on the bettering of his material self—on acquiring riches and fame in the physical sphere. His aspirations must be entirely earthly, and all his affections subordinate to his main desire for wealth and carnal pleasures. Having acquired this preliminary psychological stage, for one clear week he must give himself up entirely to the breaking of all the conventionalities of morality with which society is hedged in. He must practice every kind of deception—lie, cheat and steal, and go out of his way to seek an opportunity to avenge any personal injury; and if his mind is earnestly and wholly concentrated on acquiring knowledge of the Black Art no bodily mishap will befall him. During this time of probation he must will himself to dream, at night, of all the deeds he had it in his mind to do, during the day; when he will know, by his visions, to what extent he is progressing. At the end of the week he must apply the tests to see if he is in a ripe state to proceed.

"The tests—

"No. 1. At midnight, when the moon is full, place a mirror, set in a wooden frame, in a tub of water, so that it will float on the surface with its face uppermost. Put in the water fifteen grains of bicarbonate of potash, and sprinkle it with three drops of blood, not necessarily human If the reflection of the moon in the mirror then appear crimson, the test is satisfactorily accomplished.

"No. 2. At midnight, when the moon is full, take a black cat, place it where the moonbeams are thickest, sprinkle it with three drops of blood, not necessarily human, and rub its coat with the palm of the hand. Sparks will then be given out, and if those sparks appear crimson the test is satisfactorily done.

"No. 3. Take a human skull—preferably that of some person who has met with an unnatural end, pour on it a single drop of fresh, human blood—place it on a couch, and go to sleep with the back part of the head resting on it. If you are awakened, at the second hour after midnight, by hearing a great commotion close at hand, and the room is then discovered to be full of crimson light, the test is satisfactorily fulfilled.

"No. 4. Take half a score of the berries of enchanter's nightshade,[15] two ounces of hemlock leaves in powder, and one ounce of red sorrel leaves. Heat them in an oven for two hours, pound them together, in a mortar, and at midnight boil them in water. As soon as the contents begin to bubble, remove them from the fire and stand them in a dark place; and if the experiment is to prove satisfactory, three bubbles of luminous green light will rise simultaneously from the water and burst.

"No. 5. In the above preparation after the test described, soak a hazel twig, fashioned in the shape of a fork. On meeting a child hold the fork with the V downwards in front of its face, and if the child exhibits violence and signs of terror, and falls down, the experiment is successful.

"No. 6. Take a couple of handfuls of fine soil from over the spot where some four-footed animal has recently been buried. Put it in a tin vessel, mix with it three ounces of assafoetida and one drachm of quassia chips, to which add a death's-head moth (Acherontia atropos). Heat the vessel over a wood fire for three hours. Then remove it and place it on the hearth, rake out the fire and make the room absolutely dark. Keep watch beside the vessel, and if, at the second hour after midnight, any strange phenomena occur, the test will be known to have been satisfactorily executed.

"(Addendum) If any of these tests fail the candidate must wait for six months before giving them a further trial, and he must occupy the interim by training his thoughts in the manner already prescribed. But if, on the other hand, the tests have been successfully performed, he can proceed with the rites appertaining to the Black Art."

Hamar had read so far when, with a gesture of impatience, he closed the book. "What a fool I am!" he exclaimed, "to waste my time with such stuff!... But Maitland writes in such a devilish convincing way! Jerusalem! Any straw is good enough for the drowning man, and if witchcraft and sorcery with motors dashing by every second and the whole air alive with wireless and telephones, is a bit beyond my comprehension, what then? All I care about is money—and I'll leave no stone unturned to get it. If it were possible for man to get in touch with Daramara—the Unknown—Devil, or whatever else it chooses to call itself—I'll call it an angel if it only gives me money—twenty thousand years ago—why shouldn't it be possible to get in touch with it now? Anyhow as I said before, I'll have a try. As far as the preliminary stage is concerned, I fancy I'm pretty well fixed. My mind is occupied right enough with things of this world—I don't give a cent for anything belonging to another—and if only I had half a dozen souls, I'd sell them right away now, for less than twenty thousand dollars—a damned sight less. As for these tests—foolish isn't the word for them—but it won't cost much just to try them.... Now, according to Thomas Maitland, the ceremony of calling up the Unknown stands a far greater chance of success if there are three human beings present ... but, of course, if there is any truth in this business, I'd rather keep the secret of it to myself. However, if I try alone, the Unknown may not come to me, and then I shall have had all the trouble of going through the tests for nothing!... Ah! now I see! If the other two get more of the profits than I think necessary—I can make use of my newly acquired Occult Power to—to dissolve partnership! Ha! ha! I could—I could trick the Unknown if it comes to that. Trust a Jew to outwit the Devil! I'll just look up Kelson and—Curtis."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: The river referred to by Maitland is the river Lagartos, which was then (1691) unnamed.]

[Footnote 2: For chiche compare the ancient Maya or Yucatan word Chicken-Itza (i.e. name of town in Yucatan where excavations are now taking place—1912).]

[Footnote 3: For Menes compare Mayan Menes, wise men.]

[Footnote 4: Compare Mayan Chaac-mol, a leopard.]

[Footnote 5: Compare Ozil, Mayan for well-beloved.]

[Footnote 6: Moo, Mayan for Macaw.]

[Footnote 7: Nike, woman's name in Mayan.]

[Footnote 8: Recent (1912) discoveries of statues in Easter Island still further corroborate the sinking of Atlantis.

The Atlantean character [C] resembles the Easter Island [C] (C) " " [O] " " " [O] (O) " " [E] " " " [E] (E) " " [Z] " " " [Z] (Z)

It will be noticed that all the Atlantean characters are distinguished by additional curling strokes.]

[Footnote 9: In all probability she was the founder of Chicken-Itza, the capital of Yucatan.]

[Footnote 10: Types of Elementals still to be met with in certain localities (vide Byeways of Ghostland, published by Rider & Son).]

[Footnote 11: Compare Egyptian re.]

[Footnote 12: Maitland raises the question as to whether Barrahneil was the ancestor of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Of this there is every possibility, since many Atlanteans undoubtedly escaped to Ireland, carrying with them the knowledge of Black Magic—to which might be traced the Banshee and other family ghosts.]

[Footnote 13: Probably a Vice Elemental.]

[Footnote 14: All subsequent works dealing with Black Magic were founded on it.]

[Footnote 15: Closely allied to deadly nightshade, and known in botany as Circaea. It is found in damp, shady places and was used to a very large extent in mediaeval sorcery.]



CHAPTER III

LEARNING TO SIN

Messrs. Kelson and Curtis did not live in Pacific Avenue where the Popes hold sway, nor yet in California Street where the Crockers are wont to entertain their millionaire friends. Where they lived, there were no massive granite steps flanked with equally massive pillars—such as herald the approach to the Nob Hill palaces; no rare glass bow-windows looking out on to flower bedecked lawns; no vast betiled hall, with rotundas in the centre; no highly polished oak staircases; no frescoed ceilings; no tufted, cerulean blue silk draperies; and no sweet perfumery—only the smell, if one may so suddenly sink to a third-class expression—only the smell of rank tobacco and equally rank lager beer. No, Messrs. Kelson and Curtis resided within a stone's throw of the five cent baths in Rutter Street—and that was the nearest they ever got to bathing. Their suite of apartments consisted of one room, about ten by eight feet, which served as a dining-room, drawing-room, study, boudoir, kitchen, bedroom, and—from sheer force of habit, I was about to add bathroom; but as I have already hinted cold water on half-empty stomachs and chilly livers is uninviting; besides, soap costs something. Their furniture was antique but not massive; nor could any of it be fairly reckoned superfluous. All told, it consisted of a bedstead (three six-foot planks on four sugar cubes; the bedclothes—a pair of discarded overalls, a torn and much emaciated blanket, a woolly neck wrap, a yellow vest, and the garments they stood in); a small round and rather rickety deal table; and one chair. Of the very limited number of culinary utensils, the frying-pan was by far the most important. Its handle served as a poker, and its pan, as well as for frying, roasting and boiling, did duty for a teapot and a slop-basin. They had no crockery. They had only one thing in abundance—namely, air; for the lower frame of the window having long lacked glass in it, a couple of pages of the Examiner, fixed in it, flapped dismally every time the wind came blowing down 216th Street.

They had not lived there always. In the palmy days of work, before the firm smashed, they had aspired to what might properly be called diggings; and, moreover, had "digged" in respectable surroundings. It was the usual thing—the thing that is happening always, every hour of the day, in all the great cities of the world—starvation, through lack of employment. Civilization still shuts its eyes to everyday poverty. Who knows? Who cares? Who is responsible? No one. Is there a remedy? Ah! that is a question that requires time. Time—always time! Time for the politician, and time for the starving ones! Half the world thinks, whilst half the world dies; and the cause of it all is time—too much, a damned sight too much—time!

But Kelson and Curtis could not grumble. They had their room—bare, dirty and well-ventilated—for next to nothing. Fifty cents a week! And they could furnish it as they pleased. Fancy that! What a privilege! They were glad of it all the same—glad of it in preference to the streets; and probably, when asleep, they thought of it as home. But on leaving Hamar's, that evening, they had fully resolved to convert their little room into a cemetery. What else could they do? What can any one do who has no money and no prospect of getting any, and who has reached the pitch of acute hunger? He has passed the stage of wanting work, because, if work were offered to him, he would not be in a fit state to do it—he would be too weak. Too weak to work! What a phenomenon! Yes—to all those who have never missed a day's meals. To others—no! They can understand—and understand only too well—the really poor who have long ceased to eat, cannot work—they are beyond it.

When Curtis and Kelson staggered down the stairs of the house where Hamar lodged, they realized that unless something turned up pretty soon, it would be too late—they would be past the stage of caring for anything—too feeble to do anything but lie on the ground and pray that death would come quickly.

"Home?" Kelson inquired, as they emerged on to the pavement.

"Hell!" Curtis answered, and Kelson, taking it for granted that the terms were synonymous, at once headed for their garret.

"Don't walk so confoundedly fast," Curtis gasped; "this pain in my side is like a hundred stitches rolled in one. It fairly doubles me up. Ease down a bit, for heaven's sake!"

Kelson obeyed, and presently came to a dead halt before a dingy-looking restaurant. Both men leaned against the window and gazed wolfishly at the food. A warm, foetid rush of air from under the grating at their feet tickled their nostrils and mocked their hunger with a mockery past endurance. Arranged on the window-sill was a miscellaneous collection of very smeary plates and dishes, containing an even more miscellaneous collection of food. A half-consumed ham, with more than a mere suspicion of dirt on its yellowish-white fat; some concoction in a bowl that might have been brawn made from some peculiarly liverish pig, or—from one of the many homeless mongrels that roam the streets at night; a pile of noxious-looking mussels, side by side with a glistening mass of particularly yellow whelks; a round of what purported to be beef—very fat and very underdone; some black shiny sausages, and a score or so of luridly red polonies. A similar assortment was to be seen on the counter behind which lolled an anaemic girl, in a dirty cotton blouse, and a much soiled sky-blue skirt.

A month ago such an exhibition would have been an offence in the fastidious eyes of Messrs. Kelson and Curtis; but now it was otherwise. Their stomachs would have refused nothing short of garbage.

"Matt!" Curtis's hands had left off clutching at his belt and were now hanging by his side; the fingers twitching to and fro in a manner that fascinated Kelson. "Matt! Is there any logic in our starving?"

"None, excepting that we haven't a cent between us!" Kelson rejoined.

"I know that," Curtis went on slowly, "but—I mean—why should we starve when all this grub is within two inches of us! It's unreasonable—it's intolerable."

"Doesn't the smell of it satisfy you?" Kelson replied, attempting to force a smile, and failing dismally.

"D—n the smell!" Curtis cried. "It's the ham I want. I'd give my soul for a good munch at it. And just look at that tea, too! Don't you see it steaming over there? What wouldn't I give for just one cup! Ten minutes more and it may be too late. The pain will come on again—and it will be very doubtful if I shall ever get home. I'm close on the stage when one begins to digest one's own stomach. Curse it! I won't starve any longer! Matt! she's in there all by herself!"

"So I've been thinking," Kelson murmured, glancing uneasily up and down the street. "Still she's a girl, Ed!"

"That's just it!" Curtis whispered; "it is because she is a girl. If she were a man, in our present condition we shouldn't stand a chance. Come! It's this or dying in the gutters. It's our one and only chance. Let's go in—have a feed—take what we can and make a bolt for it. If she tries to stop us we can settle her right enough."

"Without being too rough! There's no need to be too rough with her, Ed."

"I shouldn't stick at much!" Curtis answered. "Occasions like these don't admit of chivalry. Come along! It's the ham I'm after."

Curtis shuffled forward as he spoke, and the next moment Kelson and he were standing in front of the counter.

The girl eyed Curtis very dubiously and it is more than likely would have refused to serve him had he been alone. But her expression changed on looking at Kelson. Kelson was one of those individuals who seldom fail to meet with the approval of women—there was a something in him they liked. Probably neither he nor they could have defined that something; but there it was, and it came in extremely handy now.

"What do you want?" she inquired shortly.

"Ham! Give me some of that ham over there, miss, and a cup of tea! Bread too!" Curtis cried eagerly. "Do you know what it is to have a twist on, miss? I have one on now—so please give us a full twenty-five cents' worth."

Kelson said nothing, but his eyes glistened, and the girl wondered as she passed him the polonies.

Both men ate as they had never eaten before, and as they would not have eaten now had they paid any attention to the advice of hunger experts. However, they survived, and when they could eat no more they leaned back in their chairs to enjoy the sensation of returning—albeit, slowly returning—strength.

Curtis was the first to make a move. "Matt," he murmured, "we've about sat our sit. We'd better be off. You go and say a few nice words to the girl and make pretence of paying. I'll secure the ham—there's still a good bit left—and anything else I can grab. The moment I do this, throw these chairs on the ground so that the girl will fall over them when she makes a dash for me, which she is certain to do. We will then head straight away for 216th Street. Don't look so scared or she will think there is something up. She has never taken her eyes off you since we sat down!"

"She's rather a nice girl!" Kelson said. "I wish I didn't look quite such a blackguard—and—I wish I hadn't to be quite such a blackguard. Who'll pay for all this? Will she?"

"We shan't, anyway," Curtis sneered. "Come, this is no time to be sentimental. It was a question of life and death with us, and we've only done what any one else would do in our circumstances. The girl won't lose much! Are you ready?"

Curtis rose, and Kelson, who was accustomed to obey him, reluctantly followed suit. A look almost suggestive of fear came into the girl's eyes as they encountered those of Curtis, and she shot a swift glance at an inner door. Then Kelson spoke, and as she turned her head towards him, her lips parted in a sort of smile.

"Nice night, miss, isn't it?" Kelson said, halting half-way between the counter and the chairs. "Aren't you a bit lonely here all by yourself?"

"Sometimes," the girl laughed. "But my mother's in the room there," and she nodded in the direction of the closed door. "And one can't be dull when she's about. She's that there active as a rule, there's no keeping her quiet—only just at present"—here she glanced apprehensively at Curtis—"she's recovering from ague. Gets it every year about this time. Your friend seems to have kind of taken a fancy to our ham!"

Kelson looked at Curtis and his heart thumped. Curtis's right hand was getting ready to spring at the ham, whilst his left was creeping stealthily along the counter in the direction of a loaf of bread. Kelson slowly realized that an acute crisis in both their lives was at hand, and that it depended on him how it would end. He had never thought it possible to feel as mean as he felt now. Besides, his natural sympathy with women tempted him to stand by the girl and prevent Curtis from robbing her. He was still deliberating, when he saw two long dark objects, with lightning rapidity, swoop down on the plates and dishes. There was a loud clatter, and the next moment the whole place seemed alive with movement.

A voice which in his confusion he did not recognize at once shouted—and seemingly from far away—"Quick, you fool, quick! Fling down the chairs and grab those sausages!" Whilst from close beside him—almost, he fancied, in his ears—came a wild shriek of "Mother! Mother! We are being robbed!"

Had the girl appealed to him to help her it is more than likely that Kelson, who was even yet undecided what course to adopt, would have offered her his aid; but the instant she acted on the defensive his mind was made up; a mad spirit of self-preservation swept over him—and dashing the chairs on the ground at her feet, he seized the sausages, and flew after Curtis.

Ten minutes later, Curtis and Kelson, their arms full of spoil, clambered up the staircase of their lodgings, and reeled into their room.

"Look!" Curtis gasped, sinking into the chair. "Look and see if we are followed!"

"There's no one about!" Kelson whispered, peering cautiously out of the window. "Not a soul! I don't believe after that first rush across Rutter Street, any one noticed us. To leave off running was far the best thing to do. You are a perfect genius, Ed. I wonder if this sort of thing—er—thieving—is dormant in most of us? I say, old fellow, I wish I hadn't looked at that book of Hamar's. Do you know, directly I took it up, an extraordinary sensation of cunning came over me; and I declare, when I put it down, I felt it would take very little to make me a criminal!"

"We're both criminals now—in the eyes of the law—anyway!" Curtis said. "And now we've got so far there's no alternative but to go on! It's easier for a hundred camels to pass through the eye of a needle than for a clerk to get work, that's a fact. The markets are hopelessly overstocked—no one wants us! No one helps us! No one even thinks about us. The labouring man gets pity and cents galore—we get nothing!—nothing but rotten pay whilst we work, and when we're out of work, dosshouses or kerbstones. D—n clerks, I say. D—n everything! There's no justice in creation—there's no justice in anything—and the only people who prate of it are those who have never known what it is to want. Say, when shall we take the next lot?"

"When we're obliged, not before!" Kelson said. "Or rather, you do as you like—and I'll do the same."

"Well, I'm not going to commit suicide anyhow," Curtis sneered. "We haven't the money to buy poison—and I've no mind to drown myself or cut my throat—they're too painful! If we don't go on doing what we've done to-night, what are we going to do?"

"Trust to luck," Kelson sighed.

"All right—you trust to luck—but I won't trust any more in Providence, and that's a fact," Curtis retorted. "We've been done enough. Now I'm for doing other people. Good-night."

He tumbled into the makeshift bed as he spoke; and in a few minutes, worn out after the unwonted exertions of the evening, both men were fast asleep.

They were at breakfast next morning—real dejeuner a la carte—sausages, bread, water—and they were doing ample justice to it, when some one rapped at the door. For a few seconds there was silence. Their hearts stood still. Had they been followed, after all? Was it the police? Some one spoke—and they breathed again. It was Hamar.

"This looks like starving, I must say!" Hamar exclaimed, as he sniffed his way into the room and sat on the bed. "Why, from what you fellows told me last night I thought you were cleared out. And here you are, stuffing like roosters! You look a bit surprised to see me, but you'll look more surprised, I reckon, when I tell you what brings me here. You remember that book?"

Kelson and Curtis nodded.

"Well," Hamar went on. "I read it after you left last night, and I've come to the conclusion that there's something in it that may be of use to us."

"Us!" Curtis ejaculated.

"Yes! Us!" Hamar mimicked. "It contains full particulars of how we can get in touch with certain Occult Powers—that can give us money or anything else we want!"

"Rot, of course!" Curtis said.

"You say that now. But, listen to me," Hamar replied. "Since I've read that book, I believe there's a lot more in Occultism than people imagine. You may recollect the name of the author of the book—Thomas Maitland? Well! to begin with, he impresses me as being truthful; and he not only believed in Magic but he practised it. If he hadn't gone into details I shouldn't think anything of it, but he's so darned thorough, and tells you exactly what you've got to do to get in touch with the Occult Powers and to practise sorcery. He learned it all from that old MS. he found, written by an Atlantean; and the Atlanteans, he says, were adepts in every form of Occultism. I tell you, this chap himself scoffed at it at first; and it was more out of curiosity, he says, than because he was convinced, that he began to experiment. He afterwards came to the conclusion that the Atlanteans were no fools. What they had written about the Occult was absolutely correct—there was another world, and it was possible to get in touch with it. Now, if Thomas Maitland was able to practise sorcery, why can't we? There was a gap of close on twenty thousand years between his time and that of Atlantis, and there's not much more than two hundred years between his day and ours. But, of course, if you're going to pooh-pooh the whole thing I won't trouble to tell you any more!"

"Well, Leon," Kelson ejaculated, "magic and sorcery do seem a trifle out of date, don't they? Could any one look out of the window at what is going on in the streets below, and at the same time believe in fairies and hobgoblins? Still the book made a bit of an impression on me, so that I'm inclined to agree with you. Anyway, go ahead! Ed is agreeable, aren't you, Ed?"

Curtis gave a sulky nod. "I'm not averse to anything that may put us in the way of a livelihood," he said.

Hamar, somewhat appeased, briefly informed them of the tests and other preliminaries necessary for the acquirement of the Black Art, and without more ado proposed that they—the three of them—should form a Syndicate and call it the Sorcery Company Limited. "To begin with," he said, "we might sell tricks and spells, and later on tackle something more subtle. Why, we could soon knock all the jugglers and doctors on the head—and make a huge fortune."

"That is to say if it isn't all humbug!" Curtis observed.

"Well—do you or don't you think it worth trying?" Hamar cut in. "You call me a Jew—but Jews, you know, have a tolerably cool head, and a keen faculty for business. They don't touch anything unless it is pretty certain to bring them in money. Will you try?"

"Y-e-s!" Curtis said slowly; "I'll try."

"And you, Matt?" Hamar queried. "We must have three."

"I don't mind trying," Kelson replied. "I expect it will be only a try."

"That settles it, then!" Hamar cried. "Now, we'll get to business. To begin with we're all wholly occupied with things of this world—money chiefly!"

"Sometimes music!" Curtis said sententiously.

"And sometimes girls," Kelson joined in. "Music's a pose on Ed's part. I don't believe he really cares a bit for it. He's far too material."

"Just what I want him to be!" Hamar laughed. "Girls are material enough too—especially when you take them out to supper. Anyhow, money is our first consideration, isn't it?"

To this there was general assent.

"The preliminary requirement is fixed then," Hamar said. "Now for the week of wild oats! Lying, stealing, cheating—anything to counteract the code of Moses! Let's take them in turn. Lying won't trouble us much. Every one lies. Lying is the stock-in-trade of doctors, lawyers, sky pilots, storekeepers—"

"And dentists!" Curtis chimed in.

"And shop girls!" Kelson added.

"All women—rich as well as poor!" Hamar went on. "Lying is woman's birthright. She lies about her age, her looks, her clothes—everything. With a lie she sends callers away, and when she is in the mood, entertains them with lies. Women are born liars, but they are not the only liars. In these days of keen competition every one lies—every editor, publisher, undertaker, piano-tuner, dustman—they couldn't live if they didn't. Moreover lying is natural to us all. Every child lies as soon as it can speak; and education merely teaches him to lie the more effectually. Lying comes just as natural as sweating—"

"Or kissing," Kelson interrupted.

"Or any of the other so-called vices," Hamar continued. "So we can manage that all right. As to cheating—having nothing to cheat with—according to instructions we've got to keep in with each other, so present company is excepted—we must pass over that. Now—how about thieving!"

"Never done any yet, so can't say," Curtis exclaimed.

"Nor I either," Kelson put in rather hurriedly.

"Well, I didn't suppose you had!" Hamar laughed; "though, after all, more than half the world does thieve—all employers steal labour from their employes, all tradesmen steal a profit—the wholesale man from the middleman—the middleman from the retailer. Every Government thieves. Look at England—righteous England! At one time or another she has stolen land in every part of the world. But theft is an ugly word. When statesmen steal it's called diplomacy, when the rich steal it's called kleptomania or business, and it's only when the poor steal that stealing is termed theft. We who have every excuse—we who are starving—will be content with—that is to say—we will only take—just enough to keep us alive—a few lumps of sugar, a handful of raisins, or a loaf of bread. How about that?"

"I might manage that," Curtis said. "I might—but I don't want to get caught."

"And you, Matt?"

"I don't mind stealing food so much," Kelson said. "In the face of so much wealth—and waste too—it seems a bigger sin to starve than to steal a loaf of bread."

"The lying and stealing are fixed then," Hamar laughed. "What you have to do, too, is to make the most of every opportunity you can find of doing people—present company excepted—bad turns."

"I don't see how—in our present condition—we can do any one much harm," Curtis remarked. "We haven't even the means to buy a tin sword, let alone a bomb or pistol. If we wish them ill, perhaps, that will do instead."

"Possibly—but don't be such an ass as to wish any one any good!" Hamar said. "Do your best to carry out the injunctions I have given you, and we will meet here, this day week, to discuss the tests."



CHAPTER IV

THE TESTS

Seven days later, Hamar again knocked at Curtis's and Kelson's door and walked in. A faint sigh of relief escaped him.

"I see we are all right so far," he said. "I wondered whether I should find you both flown, or lying stretched in the icy hands of death. Have you experimented?"

"We have," Curtis said. "We've done our best. In what way, we prefer not to say."

"Perhaps there is no need," Hamar replied, eyeing the mantelshelf which bore ample testimony to a full larder, and glancing at Curtis's feet which were encased in a pair of new and very shiny boots. (A handsome overcoat that was hanging on the door also attracted his attention; but that he had seen before, and concluded that it had been there on the occasion of his last visit.) "But you had better dry up now, Ed," he continued somewhat caustically, "or there'll be no chance of forming the Sorcery Society; it will be dissolved before it's started. There's no need to ask if you've tried to carry out instructions as to thoughts, I see it—in your faces. I could never have believed one experimental week in badness would have made such a difference to your looks."

"You told us to try hard!" Kelson murmured, "and naturally we did. I reckon you've done the same by your expression. I should hardly have known you."

"It shows pretty clearly," Curtis said, "what a lot of bad is latent in most people; and that the right circumstances only are needed to bring it out. Starvation, for instance, is calculated to bring out the evil in any one—no matter whom. But what puzzles me, is how we have escaped being caught!"

"That's a good sign," Hamar said. "It bears out what is written in the book. If you give your whole mind to doing wrong during this trial week you'll meet with no mishap. But you must be heart and soul in it. Hunger made us—hunger has been our friend."

"What do you mean?" Curtis said.

"Why," Hamar replied, "if we hadn't been well-nigh starving we shouldn't have been able to carry out the instructions quite so thoroughly."

"Have you, too, stolen?" Curtis queried.

"I have certainly appropriated a few necessaries," Hamar said shortly, "but I mean to stop now. We have higher game to fly at. Now, with regard to the tests. I have not been idle I can assure you. I have secured all the requisites. The mirror and black cat I—well, er—to use a conventionalism that comes in rather handy—the mirror and cat—I picked up. The skull I borrowed from a medical I know—the moth—er—from some one's private collection—and the elderberries, hemlock and chemicals I obtained from a drug store man in Battery Street with whom I used to deal. The moon will be full to-night so that we may as well begin. Will you come round to my room at eleven-thirty?"

They promised; and Hamar, as he took his departure, again glanced at the handsome fur coat hanging on the door.

He was hardly out of hearing when Curtis looked across at Kelson. "Do you think he recognised it!" he whispered. "You may bet he did, and he had only just stolen it himself! However, it's his own fault. He told us to lie and steal, and we've done his bidding."

"We have indeed!" Kelson sighed; "at least you have. For my part I'd rather be content with food!"

"Well, I needed clothes just as much as food!" Curtis snarled. "If I went about naked I should only be sent to prison—that's the law. It punishes you for taking clothes, and it punishes you for going without them. There's logic for you!"

Curtis and Kelson spent the rest of the day indoors; and at night sallied forth to Hamar's.

The solitary attic—if one could thus designate a space of about three square feet—which comprised Hamar's lodging—had the advantage of being situated in the top storey of a skyscraper—at least a skyscraper for that part of the city. From its window could be seen, high above the serried ranks of chimney-pots on the opposite side of the street, those two newly erected buildings: William Carman's chewing gum factory in Hearnes Street, and Mark Goddard's eight-storied private residence in Van Ness Avenue; and, as if this were not enough architectural grace for the eye to dwell on, glimmering away to the right was the needle-like spire of Moss Bates's devil-dodging establishment in Branman Street; whilst, just behind it, in saucy mocking impudence, peeped out the gilded roof of the Knee Brothers' recently erected Cinematograph Palace.

All this and more—much more—was to be seen from Hamar's outlook, and all for the sum of one dollar and a half per week. When Curtis and Kelson entered, the room was aglow with moonlight, and Hamar and the black cat were stealthily regarding one another from opposite corners of the room. From far away—from somewhere in the very base of the building, came the dull echo of a shout, succeeded by the violent slamming of a door; whilst from outside, from one of the many deserted thoroughfares below, rose the frightened cry of a fugitive woman. Otherwise all was comparatively still.

"You're a bit early!" was Hamar's greeting, "but better that than late. Everything is ready, and all we've got to do is to wait till twelve. Sit down."

They did as they were bid. Presently the cat, forsaking its sanctuary, and ignoring Curtis's solicitations, glided across the floor, and climbing on to Kelson's knee, refused to budge. The trio sat in silence till a few minutes before midnight, when Hamar rose, and, selecting a spot where the moonbeams lay thickest, placed thereon the tub of water, in which—with its face uppermost—he proceeded to float a small mirror, set in a cheap wooden frame. He then calmly produced a pocket knife.

"What's that for?" Kelson inquired nervously.

"Blood!" Hamar responded. "One of us must spare three drops. The conditions demand it—and after all the ham and sausages you two have eaten I think one of you can spare it best. Which of you shall it be? Come, there's no time to lose!"

"Matt has more blood than I have!" Curtis growled; "but why not the cat?"

"It would spoil our chances with it for the other experiment," Hamar said. "It's a sulky, cross-grained brute, and would give us no end of trouble. Besides it can bite. Look here, let's draw lots!"

Curtis and Kelson were inclined to demur; but the proposed method was so in accordance with custom that there really did not seem any feasible objection to raise to it. Accordingly lots were drawn—and Hamar himself was the victim. Curtis laughed coarsely, and Kelson hid his smiles in the cat's coat. A neighbouring clock now began to strike twelve.

"Look alive, Leon!" Curtis cried, nudging Kelson's elbow. "Look alive or it will be too late. The Unknown is mighty particular to a few seconds. Let me operate on you. I've always fancied I was born to use the knife—that I've really missed my vocation. You needn't be afraid—there's no artery in the palm of your hand—you won't bleed to death."

Thus goaded, Hamar pricked away nervously at his hand, and, after sundry efforts, at last succeeded in drawing blood; three drops of which he very carefully let fall in the tub.

"I wish it was light so that we could see it," Curtis whispered in Kelson's ear. "I believe Jews have different coloured blood to other people."

Though Kelson was apprehensive, Hamar did not appear to have heard; his whole attention was riveted on the mirror, on the face of which was a reflection of the moon.

"I knew nothing would happen," Curtis cried, "you had better wipe your knife or you'll be arrested for severing some one's jugular. Hulloa! what's up with the cat?"

Hamar was about to tell him to be quiet when Kelson caught his arm. "Look, Leon! Look! What's the brute doing? Is it mad?" Kelson gasped.

Hamar turned his head—and there crouching on the floor, in the moonlight, was the cat, its hair bristling on end and its green eyes ablaze with an expression which held all three men speechless. When they were at last able to avert their eyes a fresh surprise awaited them; the reflection of the moon in the mirror was red—not an ordinary red—not merely a colour—but red with a lurid luminosity that vibrated with life—with a life that all three men at once recognized as emanating from nothing physical—from nothing good.

It vanished suddenly, quite as suddenly as it had come; and the reflection of the moon was once again only a reflection—a white, placid sphere.

For some seconds no one spoke. Hamar was the first to break the silence. "Well!" he exclaimed, drawing a long breath; "what do you think of that!"

"Are you sure you weren't faking?" Curtis said.

"I swear I wasn't," Hamar replied; "besides could any one produce a thing like THAT? The cat didn't think it was a fake—it knew what it was right enough. Besides, why are your teeth chattering?"

"Why are yours?" Curtis retorted; "why are Matt's?"

"Shall we try the second?" Hamar asked.

"No!" Kelson and Curtis said in chorus. "No! We've had enough for one night. We'll be off!"

"I think I'll come with you," Hamar said, "after what has happened I don't quite relish sleeping here alone—or rather with that cat. Hi—Satan, where are you?"

Satan was not visible. It had probably hidden under the bed, but as no one cared to look, its whereabouts remained undiscovered.

With the coming of the sun, the terrors of the night wore off, and the trio separated. Hamar would on no account accept his friends' invitation to breakfast on the sausages and ham they had run such risks in procuring; he made hasty tracks for a snug restaurant in Bolter's Street, where he had a sumptuous repast for a dollar; and then slunk home.

Shortly before midnight all three met again, and at once commenced preparations for the second test. The question arose as to who should hold Satan. They all had vivid recollections of the cat's behaviour the previous night; consequently no one was anxious to officiate. Finally they drew lots, and fate settled on Curtis. An exciting chase now began. Satan, demonstrating his resentment of their treatment of him, at every turn, knocked over a water bottle, ripped the skin of Kelson's knuckles, and made his teeth meet in the fleshy part of Curtis's thumb.

"Hulloa! what are you up to?" Curtis savagely demanded, as Hamar thrust a cup at him.

"Hold your hand over it!" Hamar said sharply. "Don't suck it! We want blood for this test and for the next."

"I wish the brute had bitten you!" Curtis snarled; "then, perhaps, you wouldn't be so precious keen on economics. You did right to name it Satan! and if it doesn't attract devils nothing will. I'm not going to touch it again. See if you can hold the beast by yourself, Matt! It seems to be less afraid of you than of either of us."

Kelson called out: "Puss!", and the cat at once came to him.

As it was now striking twelve, Hamar carefully shook three drops of Curtis's blood from the cup on to Satan's back, while he instructed Kelson to rub the animal's coat with the palm of the hand. Kelson cautiously obeyed. There was a loud crackling and a shower of sparks, of the same lurid red colour as the reflection in the mirror on the previous night, flew out into the enveloping darkness.

"That will do!" Hamar observed quietly. "Test two is satisfactorily accomplished. We must be riper for Hell than we imagined. There is no need for you fellows to stay any longer. I can manage the third test alone."

As soon as his colleagues had gone and he felt assured they were no longer within hearing, Hamar took a saucer from the mantelshelf, filled it half full of milk, and poured into it some colourless liquid out of a tiny phial labelled poison.

"Here pussy," he called out, softly. "Pretty pussy, come and have your supper! Pussy!"

And Satan, unable to resist the tempting sight of the milk, crept out of his hiding-place and quite unsuspiciously dipped his tongue into the saucer and lapped. Hamar, in the meanwhile went to a box at the foot of the bed and produced a sack. Then he slipped on his boots and coat, and opening the door of a cupboard near the head of the bed fetched out a small spade.

He was now ready; and—so was pussy.

"That paves the way for test six," Hamar observed; "no one can say I am a waster—I make use of everything—and every one;" and so saying he tumbled the cat into the sack and hurried out.

Some half-hour later he had returned to his room, and was busily engaged making preparations for test three. Letting a drop of Curtis's blood fall on the skull, he put the latter under his pillow, and retired to rest. He had slept for little over an hour, when he awoke with a start. The muffled sound of hammering—as of nails in a coffin—was going on all around him, and occasionally it seemed to him that something big and heavy stalked across the floor; but in spite of the fact that the room was illuminated with a red glow—the same lurid red as had appeared in tests one and two—nothing was to be seen. The phenomena lasted five or six minutes and then everything was again normal. Hamar was so terrified that he lay with his head under the bedclothes till morning, and vowed nothing on earth would persuade him to sleep in that room again. But sunlight soon restored his courage, and by the evening he was quite eager to go on with the next test. He had some difficulty in persuading any one to allow him the use of an oven for so pernicious a mixture as nightshade and hemlock; but at last he over-ruled the objections of some good-natured woman—the mother of one of the office boys at his former employer's—and test four proved as successful as the previous three. The preliminary part of test five was also successfully accomplished; but in carrying out the second part of it, Hamar all but met with disaster. He was walking along Kearney Street with the specially prepared hazel twig carefully concealed beneath his coat, when just opposite Saddler's jewelry store, he came across a child standing by itself. The nearest person being some fifty yards away, and no policeman within sight, Hamar concluded this was too good an opportunity to be lost. He whipped out the twig, and held it, in the manner prescribed, in front of the child. The effect was instantaneous. The child turned white as death, its eyes bulged with terror, and opening its mouth to its full extent it commenced to shriek and yell. Then it fell on the pavement; and clutching and clawing the air, and foaming at the mouth rolled over and over. People from every quarter flocked to the spot, and judging Hamar, from his proximity to the child, to be responsible for its condition, shouted for the police. The latter, however, arrived too late. Hamar, whose presence of mind had only left him for the moment seeing a bicycle leaning against a store door, jumped on it and soon put a respectable distance between himself and the crowd.

That night the trio met once more in Hamar's room for test six. There was a wood fire in the grate, and on it a tin vessel containing the prescribed ingredients. Somewhat unpleasantly conspicuous amongst these ingredients were the death's-head moth, and the soil from Satan's grave. As soon as the mixture had been heated three hours, the vessel was removed, the fire extinguished, and the room made absolutely dark. Then the three sat close together and waited.

On the stroke of two every article in the room began to rattle, whilst out of the tin vessel flew a blood red moth. After circling three times round each of the sitter's heads, the moth flew back again into the vessel, and the silence that ensued was followed by a soft tapping at the window, and the appearance of something, that resembled a big tube filled with a thick, pale blue fluid, made up of a mass of distinct veins. This tube floated into the room, and passing close to the three sitters, who involuntarily shrank away from it, disappeared in the wall, behind them. A loud crack as if the branch of a tree had broken, terminated the phenomena—the room again becoming pitch dark. But the three sitters, although they knew there would be no further manifestation that night, were too terrified to move. They remained huddled together in the same spot till the morning was well advanced.

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse