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Title: The Chaldean Magician - An Adventure in Rome in the Reign of the Emperor Diocletian
Author: Eckstein, Ernst
Language: English
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       *       *       *       *       *



THE CHALDEAN MAGICIAN


  _AN ADVENTURE IN ROME_
  IN THE REIGN OF THE EMPEROR DIOCLETIAN

  BY
  ERNST ECKSTEIN
  Author of “Quintus Claudius,” etc.

  FROM THE GERMAN BY MARY J. SAFFORD

  NEW YORK
  WILLIAM S. GOTTSBERGER, PUBLISHER
  11 MURRAY STREET
  1886

       *       *       *       *       *

  Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1886
  BY WILLIAM S. GOTTSBERGER
  in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington

  _Press of
  William S. Gottsberger
  New York_

       *       *       *       *       *

THE CHALDEAN MAGICIAN.



CHAPTER I.


A cloudless October day, A. D. 299, was drawing to a close; the western
sky behind the crest of Mt. Janiculum still glowed with crimson light,
but the population in the streets and squares of the world’s capital
were already moving in a bluish twilight and yellow-red lamps shone,
veiled by smoke, from the taverns of the many-gabled Subura.

A youth with a white toga thrown over his shoulders, coming from the
Querquetulanian Gate, turned into the Cyprian Way. His manner of
walking was somewhat peculiar. Sometimes he rushed hastily forward,
like a man impatiently striving to reach his destination; at others
he glanced hesitatingly around or stopped a few seconds as though
repenting his design. Passing the Baths of Titus he perceived, only a
few yards distant, another youth who had entered the Cyprian Way from
a side street on the left and with bowed head was pursuing the same
direction over the lava stones of the pavement. Looking more closely,
he recognized a friend’s countenance in the new-comer’s pallid features.

It was nearly six weeks since he had seen pleasant Lucius Rutilius;
for the two young men’s paths in life were entirely different. While
Rutilius, the son of a wealthy senator, was fond of moving in the
most select circles of the capital, visiting the theatres, the races
and combats in the arena, and during the summer spending his time
alternately at his country estate in Etruria, the waterfalls of Tibur,
the shore of the gulf of Baiae, or the strand of Antium, Caius
Bononius, the son of a knight, led a somewhat secluded existence in
the solitude of his study, allowing himself at the utmost a short
trip during the hottest months to the world-renowned Diana’s Mirror,
the lovely secluded lake in the neighboring Alban Hills, where he
owned a modest little garden. Spite of this diversity in external
circumstances, the two young men cherished a deeply-rooted friendship
for each other. Lucius Rutilius valued the comprehensive knowledge,
insatiable thirst for information, and proud independence possessed by
Caius Bononius; while the latter knew that Rutilius beheld the splendor
of life in the great capital, not with the eyes of the coarse man of
pleasure, but with those of the poet; that he revelled in the pomp of
color, the luxury of eternal Rome, as the creative artist rejoiced in
the effects of light and shade in a landscape; that amid this seething
whirlpool he had preserved a warm heart, a noble unselfishness of
nature.

At Caius’ call Lucius Rutilius raised his head, covered with black,
curling locks, as though startled from a deep reverie. A crimson flush,
visible even in the gathering twilight, mounted to his brow, as if the
other had caught him in forbidden paths.

“Is it you, Bononius?” he stammered. “Are you, too, to be met in the
crowd of pedestrians? True, it’s lonely enough here in the aristocratic
Cyprian Way to allow you to indulge your taste for seclusion even while
walking.”

“I have really avoided all society during the last few weeks,” replied
Caius Bononius, “strange problems have engrossed my attention. But
you--what brings you, without any companion, to this quarter of silence
at this hour of the day? You used at this time to be reclining at
table--with roses from Paestum in your hair and your glowing lips
pressed to an exquisitely-polished murrhine cup, if not on the neck of
some radiant young beauty.”

Lucius blushed again.

“Things are different now,” he replied with his eyes bent on the ground.

“How?” asked Caius Bononius in surprise. “Has my Lucius renounced the
delights of the revel and the lustre of flower-wreathed triclinia?”

“Not entirely--but your remark about a young beauty--you needn’t smile,
Caius! In perfect truth: during the last month a change has taken place
in this respect, which--how am I to say...?”

“How are you to speak? As you think! The confusion in your words
distinctly shows how hard you are trying to conceal rather than
disclose your thoughts. Come, Lucius! Have you so completely forgotten
that we did not vow faith and friendship to each other only over the
golden Falernian, that our relations have a deeper root? If things have
occurred that influence your character, your views of the world, let me
know what has affected you; for as a sincere, though half-superfluous
friend, I have a right to your implicit confidence. As I live, you give
me the impression that some important matter is in question. Speak, my
Lucius! Have you, in contradiction to your whole past, thrown yourself
into the study of philosophy? Have you come in contact with some
saint of the sect of the Nazarenes and thus acquired a taste for the
beautiful legends of the East?”

“Nothing of the sort,” sighed Lucius, taking his friend by the arm and
drawing him slowly along with him in the direction of the Subura. “You
will laugh at me when you learn how your invincible Epicurean has fared
at last.... Yes, you are right, Caius; it would be foolish if I wished
to conceal from you, my faithful friend, what your penetration would
nevertheless discover.... So know--but don’t accuse me of weakness--I
am desperately in love, not only with my eyes, as before, but body and
soul, a second Troilus, a Leander who would breast the surges of every
sea to at last clasp his Hero in his arms.”

“You have often talked so,” said Caius smiling.

“Talked, but never felt. The best proof of the genuineness of my
emotions--to myself--is the ardor with which I long to lead the beloved
maiden across my threshold as my wife. You know ‘marriage’ used to be
a terrible word to me, Caius: now, since I have seen Hero--her name is
really Hero, and she is the daughter of an aristocratic Sicilian--since
that time I have known nothing sweeter than Hymen’s torch, and
longingly await the moment which, spite of all difficulties and
disasters, must at last unite us.”

“Difficulties?” repeated Bononius, pausing. “Does Hero deny her Leander
the ardently-desired love? Has the handsome Rutilius for the first time
wooed in vain?”

Lucius Rutilius gazed at the western sky as if he were examining the
position of the stars.

“There is still time,” he murmured, then turning to Bononius, added:

“Wooed in vain? No--yet it is almost the same thing. Does this
contradiction seem to you an enigma? If you wish, you shall learn
all--only not here, where the passers-by are growing more numerous and
a listener might misuse my words. I have business on the northern slope
of the Quirinal in about an hour--until then let us stay in my uncle
Publius Calpurnius’ house, here on the right of the Patrician Way. He
is Caius Decius’ guest to-day: we can walk up and down the portico
undisturbed--and to be frank, I long to pour out my heart to you,
receive your counsel.”

Bononius hesitated. He seemed to be secretly making a hasty calculation.

“Well,” he said at last, “if it won’t occupy too much time....
You won’t take it amiss, if I tell you that I, too, in an hour at
latest....”

“Oh--I can explain everything in ten minutes.”

Turning to the right, he drew his friend along with him, and a short
time after they knocked at the door of a spacious mansion. The porter
drew back the bolt, bowed, and ushered the two youths through the
passage into the atrium.

The residence of Publius Calpurnius was one of the huge, luxurious
edifices, which seemed to vie in extent with the immense palaces
erected by the emperor Diocletian in Salona and Nicomedia. Of no
unusual external magnificence and with a moderate façade, it developed
directly behind the atrium the most surprising size, stretching on the
right and left over the ground naturally belonging to the neighboring
houses and spreading towards the slope of the hill. Caius Bononius,
who almost intentionally avoided the homes of Roman grandees, often as
Lucius--at least in former days--had endeavored to draw his friend into
the life and bustle of the capital, scanned with surprise and curiosity
the magnificently-decorated structure, the halls of the two court-yards
where a dozen gaily-clad slaves were just lighting the candelabra, the
brilliant-hued paintings on the walls, the portrait-statues--men in
somewhat un-Roman sleeved garments, and women with extremely realistic
styles of hair-dressing which looked as if the latest coiffure of a
fashionable visitor to the circus had served the sculptor for a model.

In fact, Lucius asserted that these styles of arranging the hair were
removable, and could be taken from the statues’ heads and exchanged for
modern ones as fashion required--a triumph of the plastic art, as he
ironically added.

So they walked through the second pillared court-yard to the garden.
The dusky avenues of trees, whose spreading boughs still permitted
enough of the fading daylight to enter to reveal the box-bordered
gravelled paths, invited thoughtful, pleasant strolls, and the watchman
at the back of the house afforded a sufficient guarantee that no
intruder would steal after the youths.



CHAPTER II.


“At the end of last month,” Lucius Rutilius began, “Hero had firmly
resolved to unite her life with mine. I made her acquaintance at Tibur,
where her father had purchased Junius’ Gellius’ villa--it adjoins my
own, you know--after the death of its first owner. Wandering through
the park, I saw the bewitching girlish figure on the opposite side of
the wall that divides Gellius’ grounds from mine. Hero was standing in
the shade of a laurel-bush, her fair hair adorned simply with a rose,
scattering with her dainty little hands crumbs or corn, which she held
gathered in her robe, to a fluttering cloud of sparrows. Concealed
behind the pedestal of a goddess of autumn, I could watch her quietly
without having my presence suspected.

“Ah, my dear Caius, I should vainly try to describe the subtle charm,
childlike innocence, and enchanting grace revealed to me in that
quarter of an hour! How she chatted with her protégés, repelled the
bold and encouraged the timid ones, how she jested and laughed, how
her loose tunic slipped from her snowy shoulder--it was bewitching! In
short, those fifteen minutes decided my fate. For the first time during
a life of twenty-six years I experienced at the sight of a girl who
charmed me a feeling of sacred reserve, a sort of reverence that made
any wanton thought seem a crime. In my ardent dreams, which instantly
twined with eager longing around this lovely apparition, I saw her only
as the presiding mistress of my house, the ruler of my life....”

“It really appears to be a serious matter,” murmured Caius Bononius.
“Does the night-breeze rustling through the boughs deceive me, or what
is it that makes your voice tremble so?”

“Do not doubt!” replied Rutilius. “What I feel for Hero is sacred
enough to fill my heart with the emotions that seize devout worshippers
at the presence of the goddess. Now hear the rest. Wholly absorbed by
one thought, I returned to the house and pondered in solitude over the
problem how I might succeed in reaching the desired goal. Usually--as
you know--I was not embarrassed when in the society of beautiful girls
and women; but here the often-tested art of crafty plans seemed to
leave me in the lurch. After twenty absurdly tasteless ideas I resolved
to ask Agathon--who also lived at Tibur--to take me with him as an
uninvited guest to the next banquet given by her father, Heliodorus.
A pretended desire to talk with him about the sale of a small grove
would serve for an excuse. Agathon cast a strange glance at me when I
informed him of my wish. Perhaps this sort of introduction was not the
best, though I thought it so; for you, too, will some day learn, spite
of all the wisdom that now fills your soul, that love makes even the
most experienced people unskilful.”

“On the contrary,” replied Bononius, “I believe great passions render
us inventive.”

“We won’t argue the point. Inventive perhaps in what is decisive, but
foolish in every other respect.--Agathon consented, and on the third
day the opportunity offered. Heliodorus received me with the manners
of a polished man of the world, greeting me as a neighbor whose
acquaintance he had long desired to make. As to the grove, about which
I incoherently stammered a few words, he would consider the matter, and
if he could really oblige me, would willingly make a sacrifice.

“The banquet passed without my even obtaining a glimpse of the object
of my ardent longing; yet I might well be satisfied. From this hour the
wall between our two estates was as it were demolished; an intercourse
began, which after a short time developed into friendly relations, and
now of course Hero, who had retired from the sight of the guests at the
noisy drinking-bout, was visible at any hour of the day to the neighbor
who came as it were clad in a tunic,[1] to see her father.

“Let me say nothing about how it all happened. A hundred details
gradually wove the certainty that the worthy Sicilian’s daughter
favored me, and one evening in the park, on the very spot under the
laurel-bush where I had first beheld her, I kissed the words of consent
from her quivering lips.

“Those were happy days, Bononius! We still kept our love concealed;
not that we had reason to doubt her father’s consent, but there was an
indescribable charm in this mystery; I might say: we feared to profane
our happiness, if we should draw aside the veil too soon. True, our
relations did not wholly escape the excellent Heliodorus’ notice. More
than once, while wandering by Hero’s side through the colonnades of the
peristyle, I met his sympathizing smile, which seemed to say: ‘Friend,
I see through you, but am not angered by your secret suit.’

“Then one evening--we had formed the resolution the day before to
appear on the following Friday, October 1st, Heliodorus’ birthday,
hand in hand before him and reveal everything--Hero received me with
an agitated expression that greatly alarmed me. Her father had gone
to Rome on business and was not expected to return till late. Hero
had been alone all day with Lydia, a young relative with whom she
was educated, had refused old Septimia, her grey-haired confidante,
admission to her apartments, neglected to eat, and did not dress until
the hour I usually came, when she waited for me on the stone bench
under the colonnade of the peristyle. Lydia--a charming creature, by
the way, only she reminds one a little too much of our highly-painted
fashionable ladies to compare with Hero’s divine simplicity--was
sitting beside her when I entered. My sweet, sorrowful love was holding
a triangular paper in her hand; Lydia, frowning, clenched in her dainty
fist a parchment covered with red letters. After long questioning I
learned the following details.

“The two girls were walking in the grounds just after sunrise, as
they usually did in the morning. Suddenly a hideously-ugly old woman,
dressed in rags, stood before the unsuspecting maidens, called three
times in a shrill voice, with the expression of a Gorgon, a prophetic
‘woe!’, threw a roll at my trembling Hero’s feet, and hastily vanished.

“The girls, as if spellbound by this mysterious apparition, took the
roll from the ground and untied its fastenings. The contents consisted
of a written parchment and a triangular piece of blank paper. The
purport of the parchment was as follows:

“‘Olbasanus the Chaldean, the investigator of the future and warner of
blinded humanity, writes this to Hero, the daughter of Heliodorus. The
gods have announced to us that, inflamed with love for Lucius Rutilius,
you cherish the design of accepting him for a husband. Olbasanus warns
you against this intention, for his eye has read in the stars what
horrible misfortunes threaten you and yours, especially Lucius Rutilius
himself, if you carry out your resolve. As you might not believe my
warning, I send you with this letter a sacred leaf from the book of the
god Amun. Carry the page to the hearth, lay it on the stone flags, but
so that the flames cannot reach it; bow thrice with clasped hands and
await the divine revelation. Amun himself, with invisible finger, will
write upon this page from his book and announce what is impending if
you despise his sacred will.’

“This was the purport of the parchment Lydia convulsively clenched in
her fingers.”

During the last few moments Caius Bononius had pressed his friend’s arm
more closely and showed other tokens of increasing interest.

“Olbasanus?” he now asked, as Lucius Rutilius paused a moment to take
breath. “The Chaldean on the Quirinal?”

“The same. His name had already reached my ears, but I now learned for
the first time his ghost-like influence and his power.”

“Go on! go on!” urged Bononius.

“Well,” continued the other, “this paper had been enough to throw
the two girls into the utmost excitement. Lydia--an exception to her
sex--had hitherto made no attempt to pry into her friend’s secret,
although she, too, had long since perceived our relations. Now, when
the affair was so suddenly and unexpectedly revealed, she forgot the
usual questions, amazement, congratulations. In her heartfelt anxiety
she pressed into the rooms occupied by the head cook, impetuously sent
away all the slaves, and told her friend to do what Olbasanus had
directed. Hero, almost bereft of her senses, bowed thrice over the
mysterious page and, after a few seconds, perceived with mysterious
horror the black characters that were to announce what barred her
happiness. She read: ‘To the father, madness, to the daughter,
blindness, to Lucius Rutilius, death.’”

“Unprecedented!” cried Caius Bononius. “And a strange coincidence!”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Rutilius.

“Afterwards, my dear fellow! Let me first hear the end of your
adventure! True, I scarcely need an explanation of the result of the
affair. What reply did you make when the young girls had shown you the
page from the book of Amun?”

“I tried to doubt--but the spectral letters and my sorrowful Hero’s
troubled eyes spoke only too distinctly. The fact that this was some
strange marvel, an inexplicable miracle, apparently sent by the gods
themselves--never wavered. At first I was painfully moved, but in the
course of our conversation, as Hero seemed to grow calmer, I regained
a certain degree of confidence, and when in the middle of the first
vigil[2] I entered my house, was disposed, spite of the still unsolved
enigma, to regard the whole matter rather as a strange adventure than a
misfortune.

“The next day was to undeceive me bitterly. Going into the street at
the time of the second breakfast, I saw two large travelling-carriages
before the door of the next house. As I was about to ask one of the
slaves who held the horses the object of these preparations, Heliodorus
and the two young girls crossed the threshold. The Sicilian greeted
me and said that he was on his way, with Hero and Lydia, to bid me
farewell. Hero, who, as I knew, was a little tyrant, had suddenly
declared that she detested Tibur from the very bottom of her soul and
longed to go back to Rome, so as it was now so late in the season that
he, Heliodorus, had no real reason for opposing this wish, he had
decided with his usual promptness.

“Of course I knew that Hero’s suddenly awakened longing was connected
with Olbasanus. She wanted to seek him, learn farther particulars about
the strange prophecy, and if possible appease by prayers and sacrifices
the hostile powers that opposed our happiness.

“Ere fifteen minutes had passed the whole party, including old Septimia
and some of the household slaves, were seated among the cushions, and
preceded by three horsemen, rolling along the road to Rome.

“You will not be surprised, dear Bononius, when I tell you that I, too,
left Tibur that very day and returned to the seven-hilled city. With a
heavy heart I approached the next morning the superb Hellenic dwelling
on the northern side of the Caelian Hill, occupied by Heliodorus. The
Sicilian received me cordially and kindly, though with a somewhat
anxious air. Seating myself by his side, I learned that Hero seemed
to be ill. Shortly after her arrival she had entered her litter,
accompanied by Lydia, returning at a late hour with every sign of
agitation. Since then she had lain dejectedly on her couch, scarcely
answering a question, but gazing fixedly, with a pallid face, into
vacancy. Once she had burst into violent sobs, her whole frame shaken
by emotion; then increased depression and exhaustion followed until at
last, long after midnight, she fell asleep.

“Of course I guessed what had happened. Hero had been to Olbasanus and
had heard from the soothsayer’s lips the same thing the inscription had
predicted. Nay, it seemed as if the manner of this confirmation had
been far more terrible and demoniac than the first warning by the page
from the book of the god Amun. I was utterly at a loss and, stammering
my regret in incoherent words, left the house, begging the Sicilian to
inform me when his daughter’s health was so far restored that I might
repeat my visit without being intrusive.

“On the next evening,” continued Rutilius,--“it was the very Friday we
had chosen for the disclosure of our secret, but in my excitement I had
entirely forgotten Heliodorus’ birthday--I received a few lines from
Hero that almost drove me to despair.

“‘We must part,’ she wrote, ‘part forever. I had hoped the cruel
warning that terrified me at Tibur was only the expression of some
hidden resentment which might be appeased. But now I know that the
gods themselves bar our way with their destroying curse. I have
visited Olbasanus twice: day before yesterday at the dinner hour and
yesterday at the commencement of the first vigil. This man--do not
doubt it--holds intercourse with the gods, demons, and the dead; he
has been given power over all the realms of spirits! I have heard it
with these ears, seen it with these eyes! When, after manifold proofs
of his omnipotence, I still doubted--alas, only because I shrank from
despair--at a sign from the terrible man the goddess of death, Hecate
herself, appeared to me in the clouds of the night heavens, and in a
voice like the roaring of the storm, repeated the awful words I had
read on the page of Amun. We must part, Lucius, not for my sake--oh!
how gladly would I bear the curse of blindness, if I might win in you
a higher, purer light--but for yours, to whom cruel Hecate predicts
death, and for love of my dear father, whose mind is threatened with
darkness. Farewell, dear Lucius! May you learn to forget more easily
than I!’

“These were the words engraved upon my heart in indelible, torturing
characters, as if written by a red-hot stylus. I now learned from
my slave Gaipor, that Olbasanus was really considered by thousands
of people the most powerful conjurer among all the Chaldeans of the
seven-hilled city. Gaipor himself, before I bought him, had been sent
to the magician by his mistress, a lady from Neapolis, to enquire
about the future, and had beheld with his own eyes, like Hero, the
terrible apparition of Hecate, who, surrounded by flames, soared across
the starry sky. You know, Caius, I am not very credulous. I’ve often
laughed at our augurs[3] and soothsayers, and paid the homage of my
sincere respect to that general in the time of the Republic, who when
the sacred chickens would not eat, flung them into the sea. But here
conviction pressed upon me with such power that I succumbed to its
force....”

“Hecate!” murmured Caius Bononius. “This marvel was attested to me
also, not by one or two persons who had beheld it, but by twenty. Know,
Rutilius, that for months I have been reckoning what this Olbasanus
accomplishes by means of his league with gods and demons.... But you
had not finished your story. Go on, Lucius; but make haste!”

“I have finished,” replied the youth. “There’s only one thing more to
add. Amid the dull, heart-corroding grief that mastered me, the desire
to visit in the hall of his incantations, the man who had destroyed my
future--though with kind intentions--daily became more uncontrollable.
I, too, wished to ask the terrible queen of the underworld a question.
Every effort to see my beloved Hero again was unavailing. Heliodorus,
too, seemed completely transformed--his frank bearing had become so
timid and constrained. The impossibility of speaking to Hero, or even
Lydia, drove me to carry my desire into execution. Nay, I conquered my
repugnance to any contact with the supernatural--and now, oh! Caius,
you behold me on my way to Olbasanus, firmly resolved to see with my
own eyes what the gods have allotted and at least to bear away the
one consolation that lies in the consciousness of immutability and
eternally predestined fate.”

“On your way to Olbasanus!” cried Caius Bononius passionately. “Well,
then, let us not delay! I, too, am about to seek him. I sent my Glabrio
yesterday, and Olbasanus appointed the second hour after sunset....”

“You, too?” asked Lucius in surprise.

“Yes, I, too--though from different motives, my dear Rutilius. I am a
philosopher, you know. For years I have searched and investigated; I
am acquainted with the manifold appearances of animate and inanimate
nature; I don’t believe in this conjuror’s wonderful phantasmagoria.
No matter, the testimony of many truthful men lies before us, I cannot
doubt that they have faithfully and honestly related what they heard
and saw. So a torturing contradiction results. Either I am mistaken in
denying, with Pliny and Lucretius, the interference of demons in the
affairs of men, or all these truthful people deceive themselves and are
the victims of base, unprincipled fraud. Impelled by my curiosity, I
am determined, so far as possible, to decide this question one way or
another. So come, that I may not miss the hour Olbasanus has appointed.”

Lucius Rutilius felt a thrill of joyful fear. A gleam of hope flashed
through his soul, for his friend’s words, spite of their measured
reserve, expressed strong confidence.

“Let us hurry!” he said, trembling with impatience.

So the two friends went back into the house, and passing around the
Viminal Hill by the side of the Tullian wall, turned towards Olbasanus’
dwelling.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The Romans wore the toga on occasions of ceremony.

[2] The Romans divided the time from sunset to sunrise into four
night-watches (_vigiliae_).

[3] Priests paid by the government, who predicted future events.



CHAPTER III.


Not far from the enormous Baths which the Emperor Diocletian,--as if
to atone for preferring to reside in Nicomedia or Salona rather than
in Rome,--had had built on the northeastern slope of the Viminal as
far as the spot where the height merges into the Quirinal, there stood
near the Collina Gate a singular structure, almost recalling in the
ponderous splendor of its brilliantly-painted façade the royal palaces
of Assyria and Persia, yet as fresh and new as if it had just emerged
from the hands of architect and workmen, an architectural embodiment
of the taste of an age which had a fancy for cleverly imitating the
style of by-gone times, not only in the weak creations of a degenerate
literature, but in other departments of human activity.

True, in this instance it had not been the architect’s whim or his
employer’s taste, but a definite, practical purpose that had replaced
the simple façade of the Roman dwelling by this fantastic luxury of
the East. Behind the ponderous pillars adorned with heads of animals,
Olbasanus, the Chaldean enchanter and conjuror of evil spirits, the
declared favorite of the Roman ladies, practised his mysterious
arts,--and thus the exterior of the spacious structure harmonized
with the strange events that occurred within. The foreign aspect of
the front might be regarded as a preparation for the chosen ones whom
Olbasanus permitted to cross the threshold of his secret sanctuary.

Lucius Rutilius and Caius Bononius reached the door at the very moment
it was opened from within, allowing a tall, thin figure, wrapped in a
thick paenula, to pass into the street. Spite of the mild weather, the
stranger had drawn over his head the hood worn as a protection from the
rain.

Stepping a little aside, the two youths made room for the disguised
figure.

“I ought to know that gait and bearing,” said Lucius Rutilius, looking
after the hurrying form; but he vainly strove to recollect. Meantime
the porter had not closed the door, but holding a lantern of chased
silver with panes of oiled papyrus, admitted the two visitors.

Caius Bononius gave him a silver coin and asked if the Chaldean could
be seen, according to his appointment.

The porter beckoned to one of the seven bearded Ethiopians who, clad
in long robes confined around the hips by wide girdles inscribed with
strange characters, stood waiting at the entrance of the corridor,
and the man thus summoned silently led the new arrivals through the
wainscoted ante-room. As he moved forward almost without a sound, the
train of his cowl-like robe rustling softly over the floor, holding
in his right hand a torch that cast spectral shadows on the countless
joints and projections of the masonry, he himself seemed a supernatural
being, well calculated to make a mysterious, agitating impression
upon sensitive souls. The way led through a double row of short,
heavy columns to a staircase whose basalt steps extended downward
to a subterranean passage, just high enough to permit a tall man to
walk upright under the ragged arch cut in the forms of stalactites.
The smoke from the torch floated in horrible shapes along the roof. A
heavy, oppressive atmosphere prevailed. On the right and left, in black
cavities, lay an endless number of skulls. After a time the corridor
turned; a second gallery opened, from which branched a third and
fourth. At last the young men lost all idea of the direction in which
they were going. Lucius Rutilius thought they must have long since
reached the other side of the hill; Caius Bononius, on the contrary,
was disposed to believe that the staircase which now led them into a
spacious, dimly-lighted room, was not very far from the entrance flight
at the end of the pillared corridor.

The apartment they entered was a masterpiece in the effective use of
architectural, plastic, and decorative ornament. When the Ethiopian had
retired with his blazing torch and let down the iron trap-door at the
top of the stairs, the two youths at first supposed themselves to be in
total darkness. True, a tiny pale-blue flame was burning at the back of
the room in a candelabrum about the height of a man; but the rays it
shed through the vast chamber were not sufficient to show eyes dazzled
by the torch-glare anything more than the glimmering outlines of huge,
ponderous masses. By degrees, however, their vision became accustomed
to this feeble light, and Caius and Lucius discovered the elliptical
arrangements of huge pillars, behind which ran a deep corridor that
looked almost black. Only a pallid glimmer between the shadows of the
columns showed that on the other side of this corridor extended a wall,
following the line of the room within. Twelve of the pillars--that
is, one-third of the whole number--which were directly opposite to
the entrance, were artistically draped with countless floating black
hangings, between which hung all kinds of chains, cords for suspending
lamps, and other accessories, carefully arranged in such a manner as
not to weaken the impression of height and space.

The ceiling of the room was slightly arched, but its construction,
owing to the extreme height, could not be distinguished. At the end of
the apartment, in front of the candelabrum, was a large square altar,
also hung with dark cloth. Tripods, brazen monopodia[4] covered with
all kinds of strange utensils, low stools, and various unrecognizable
articles were arranged in symmetrical order on both sides. In the
centre of the floor lay a rug about thirty feet square, painted or
interwoven with mysterious figures; on each corner stood a candlestick
even taller than the candelabrum at the end.

The young men had about five minutes’ time in which to examine their
surroundings by the dim light of the livid flame, then there was a
sound like the distant notes of an Aeolian harp and, without their
knowing how and whence he came, Olbasanus stood behind the cloth-draped
altar.

“You do not come alone, Caius Bononius!” he said, in a musical voice.
“No matter--I know. Most mortals cherish scruples about approaching,
relying solely on their own strength, the rooms where the gods are to
reveal themselves directly and indirectly. Let your companion, whoever
he may be, also draw near; his quiet, devout presence will not disturb
the Chaldean’s work.”

“You are mistaken, Olbasanus,” replied Caius Bononius, “the person
accompanying me is the one who longs to address a question to the
goddess. I, Caius Bononius, only sent my messenger to you in behalf of
this youth; for, I confess, I never felt a desire to lift the veil from
the future.”

“I am mistaken,” replied Olbasanus. “That is the lot of all human
beings, and mine also, so long as I speak to you only as a feeble and
perishable man. The favor of the gods, when I appeal to them, first
casts into my soul the light that renders any error impossible. Well!
Olbasanus is disposed to grant your wish, though as a man he cannot
understand what could induce you to use this evasion.”

“The reasons are of small importance,” replied Bononius.

“Then you probably desire to have your companion’s name remain
concealed from the prophet?”

Caius Bononius exchanged a hasty glance with his friend, then turning
to Olbasanus, replied:

“If it is agreeable to you, yes!”

The Chaldean seemed to hesitate a few seconds.

“Greater power is required of the magician’s art when the questioner
conceals his name,” he said slowly; “but since you earnestly desire....”

“We beseech it!” replied Bononius.

The Chaldean now came with measured pace from behind the altar.

“Granted!” he said solemnly.

Then he stretched out his hand, in which gleamed a small ivory wand.
Instantly the spacious room glowed with a light as bright as that of
day. Lamps not only burned in all the candelabra--but even between
the pillars flames seemed to spring from the ground; shallow vessels
appeared in which jets of light blazed steadily.

The two youths were almost blinded by the spectacle of this
transformation. Lucius pressed his hand to his brow as if bewildered;
Caius stood motionless, apparently scrutinizing, considering,
examining. At last a smile of satisfaction flitted over his face. He
seemed to have found the solution of this enigma, while Rutilius was
still enthralled by the impression the miracle produced.

“Approach,” said the Chaldean in sonorous tones. “Stranger, what do you
desire to know?”

Again the youths exchanged a glance; then Rutilius said:

“I would fain learn what the gods have allotted to me, in case I fulfil
the most momentous and important design of my life.”

Olbasanus delayed his answer as before. At last he replied:

“I fear that is more vague than the gods permit. Can you not put your
question more clearly; mention, without reserve, the design of which
you speak?”

Rutilius felt Bononius secretly touch his arm.

“No,” he said quietly. “I beg you to try whether an answer cannot be
obtained, even without a more exact definition.”

Olbasanus looked upward. A ray like a flash of lightning darted down.

“Granted,” he said, turning to Rutilius. “By all the terrors of the
nether world, you are a favorite of the gods; they bestow such marked
kindness only on the chosen ones whom they wish to bless. They usually
punish distrust of their interpreter by perpetual silence.”

The two youths were growing more excited every instant; Lucius, because
the Chaldean’s grave, dignified manner seemed a warrant for the
earnestness and truth of what he was about to announce; Caius Bononius,
because he was greatly disappointed,--he had been perfectly sure the
magician would say that Lucius’ wish was not allowable.

Olbasanus now touched the altar with his wand. A clear note, like that
produced by striking metal, echoed through the room, and a boy clad in
white entered through the curtains at the right. He carried a brazier
filled with red-hot coals, which he placed on one of the brass stools
beside Olbasanus.

“Bring in the victim,” said the Chaldean.

The lad withdrew. Olbasanus seized a shovel, filled it with burning
coals and carried it to one of the tripods, on which he carefully
spread them, then returning to the altar raised his hands.

“Hecate!” he said in a hollow tone, “Mistress of the Nether World,
Princess of Darkness and Shadows, Ruler of Demons and Departed Spirits,
omnipotent, awful goddess! Neither primeval fate, nor any of the higher
gods opposes what we design. So I implore thee to graciously grant what
Olbasanus timidly whispers. Disclose the future to this youth, quench
his thirst for the unfathomable, fill his eyes with clear vision, and
teach him what ghosts and demons from east to west impart to thee.
If thou art disposed to favor him who, like so many hundred others,
appeals to thee, stir thy sacred element; let thy spirit fan the fiery
flame and animate it with thy immortal breath!”

After these words he advanced a few steps to the tripod and gazed
intently at the glowing coals. Lucius and Caius had also approached.
Suddenly the bits of coal began to move slowly. There was a surging and
seething, as if the force of some unknown vitality pervaded the blazing
brands, until at last the movements grew weaker and finally ceased.

The Chaldean stepped back, folded his arms, and bowed.

The white-robed boy now appeared, leading a black lamb by a rope that
glistened like silver. Binding the animal firmly to the altar, he
approached the two youths and offered them an onyx dish. His attitude
was unmistakable. Lucius took some gold coins from the purse hanging at
his belt and placed them in the vessel. The boy thanked him and again
retired behind the curtain.

Olbasanus, holding his magic wand in his right hand and pressing the
left on his heart, lowered his eyes, saying to Lucius Rutilius:

“Kneel, my son. According to ancient custom we will slaughter a black
animal to the goddess of the Under World. Pray that the holy rite may
succeed! The entrails of the beast, inspired by Hecate’s divine breath,
will announce to us what we are striving to know--not in mysterious
symbols, which require interpretation, but in plain characters that are
familiar to human eyes. Victim of Hecate, die!”

He raised the wand over his head. The black lamb fell as if struck by
lightning. Directly after, two attendants on the sacrificial rites
appeared--pallid youths clad in Greek chitons and Persian trousers,
with gay kerchiefs bound about their heads.

“Stranger,”--Olbasanus turned to Lucius,--“approach and touch the
animal which has succumbed to the attack of my helpful demons.”

Lucius Rutilius, who was growing more timid and faint-hearted every
moment, advanced. The animal’s limbs were already stiff. As the youth
grasped the woolly fleece, the lamb’s head fell back, showing the
glazed eyes.

The attendants removed the rug from the altar-slab and laid the victim
on it; while Lucius Rutilius held the beast’s forefoot clasped in his
left hand, one of the youths gave the Chaldean the knife. The lamb was
opened and Olbasanus, muttering all sorts of magic formulas, removed
the heart and the liver. The next moment the animal was taken away and
the altar cleansed from the blood by large linen cloths dyed black.

Olbasanus held the heart and liver in his outstretched left hand
until the slaves had put a brazen plate on the altar, then laying the
entrails on the metal, he waved his wand and said to Lucius:

“Approach and read!”

At these words a sound like the roll of thunder echoed through the
room. Lucius Rutilius, with a throbbing heart, bent over the plate.
There, in the centre of the still-smoking liver, appeared in distinct
Greek letters:

  ΘΑΝΑΤΟΣ--Death.

The young patrician staggered back.

“Death!” he murmured, as if benumbed.

Caius Bononius had also advanced to read the large, somewhat irregular
characters of the prophecy. Panting for breath, he gnawed his lips,
frowned, and clenched his fist, as if he needed some physical means to
help him resist the impression of this incomprehensible miracle. He
acknowledged to himself that he lacked any explanation for it; yet his
clear, unprejudiced reason rebelled against what his eyes could not
deny. He touched the writing with his finger--it did not wipe off. That
Olbasanus had not written it himself, either before or while he placed
the liver on the metal plate, Caius Bononius could swear by all the
gods. Already a troubled “If it should be true?” was darting through
his mind, when glancing aside he detected the almost imperceptible
smile with which the magician was watching the sceptical examination of
the inscription. To the young man’s penetration this smile contained
a singular meaning. It was not the lofty expression of pity and
divinely-bestowed power, which in the full possession of its sacred
might looks condescendingly down upon the bewildered doubter; but the
crafty smile of the Greek who has succeeded in defrauding his foe of
a piece in the game of draughts, or the daring adventurer who has
accomplished a bold deed and successfully effaced every trace of his
action. Thus, in this strange fashion, the philosopher, where logic
left him in the lurch, drew fresh power of resistance from the domain
of feeling; the instinct that led him to consider the affair trivial
because the person was suspicious.

“Do you still doubt, Caius?” whispered Lucius with quivering lips.
“Come; I know enough now. How I shall bear it remains in the hands of
the gods.”

“I doubt more than ever,” replied Bononius. “The day will come when
I shall unravel this mystery. Now, I beseech you, don’t desert me
and above all yourself and your hopes so unceremoniously. Put more
questions to him, ask for other signs! They say he makes the goddess’s
voice speak from a skull; and Heliodorus’ daughter herself wrote to you
that the magician brought Hecate’s flaming form from the night-heavens.
Outweigh his marvels with gold, but let him do what he can, for the
sake of truth and the prosperity of your happy future. I now long more
than ever to behold--and be able to despise--all his arts.”

“You are blaspheming, Caius!” said the startled Lucius. “Suppose the
terrible goddess, the destroyer of my life, should punish you!”

“Punish me? For what? If it _is_ she, she ought to be grateful to me
for revealing the abuse of her name; but it is not, otherwise she would
have dragged yonder fellow into the eternal gulf long ago.”

A pause ensued. Olbasanus seemed to be secretly gloating over the
impression his prophecy had produced on the two young men, for he
imagined that Caius Bononius’s whispered words were the expression of
wondering anxiety.

“The Mistress of Night has prophesied death to me,” Rutilius at last
began. “But one thing still weighs on my mind. May I be permitted to
question farther?”

“Question,” replied Olbasanus.

“Then I would fain know whether this destiny can be averted by no
sacrifice, no deed of expiation. If it is in your power, let me learn
this. Implore the goddess to pronounce the oracle to the questioner in
her own terrible voice.”

As before the Chaldean looked upward; as before lightning flashed; and
raising his wand he exclaimed:

“Granted!”

Again he drew from the altar the mysterious metallic sound that
summoned the white-robed boy. At an unintelligible order from the
Chaldean, the lad went to a monopodium that stood near and took from
it a little casket set with gems, which he placed beside the magician.
Then the onyx vessel again appeared, and Lucius Rutilius’s gold coins
fell rattling within. Directly after the dark curtain between the two
pillars behind the altar was drawn aside, revealing a semicircular
niche lighted by a bluish lamp. The wizard took from the casket a
small vessel, whose contents he burned on the brazier of coals. A
fragrant smoke rose to the ceiling, and at the same moment all the
lights went out except the bluish lamp, whose glimmering rays showed a
grinning skull on the floor of the niche.

Olbasanus beckoned to the questioner. Resting both hands on the altar,
Lucius Rutilius was to gaze into the ghostly niche and hear the decree
of the terrible goddess. As Caius Bononius also wished to see and hear,
he, too, was obliged to grasp the edge of the altar with his right hand.

“Be silent and vanish, ye spirits and demons,” the Chaldean now
began in a mysterious tone. “Be silent and vanish, for Hecate, the
Inscrutable, will herself speak to this creature of the dust through
the symbol of her omnipotence, the skull on the floor of her sanctuary.
The fleshless, brainless skeleton, once the seat of thought, the
extinct lamp of a long-forgotten human life, will serve the Invisible
One for an abode when she rises from the depths of the nether-world.
Announce to me, Omnipotent One, has the breath of thy divine life
entered this mouldering shell?”

A hollow, horrible: “Thou sayest it,” echoed from the lofty forehead of
the skull.

Lucius Rutilius started violently. Caius Bononius thought himself
deceived in the direction from which the voice came, and leaning
forward listened breathlessly.

Olbasanus had bowed his face upon the altar, as if the presence of the
immortal goddess bent his head in timid reverence. Now he slowly rose.

“Be merciful unto us, Thou Mistress of all!” he said, extending his
hands towards the niche as if imploring protection. “This youth desires
to know whether the destiny thy sternness predicts is as inevitable as
a decree of fate, and if not--what he must do to avert the terrible
doom.”

After a pause the voice again echoed from the skull: “His fate is
inevitable if he executes what he has planned,” came from the horrible
cavity in a whisper so distinct that even Bononius could no longer
doubt. “In resignation lies the sole salvation of his life. This,
Hecate, who removes all that her breath has touched, announces to him.”

With these words a terrible peal of thunder resounded through the hall.
The skull in the niche began to stir, and--incredible marvel--grow
smaller, like a cloud in the evening sky which gradually melts into
nothing. The two young men gazed fixedly at the mysterious phenomenon.
Two minutes more, and the skull had entirely vanished from the shining
floor--it had not sunk into the earth, but, as it were, fallen to
pieces, blown away, dissolved in smoke like a phantom.

When Caius Bononius looked up, he saw his friend lying apparently
lifeless on the altar steps.

“It is all over,” he murmured, pale with horror, as Bononius touched
him on the shoulder.

For a time Caius left the sorrowing youth to his despair. Olbasanus,
who was probably accustomed to such scenes, waited silently a few steps
off.

“Lucius,” the young sage began after a little hesitation, “consider
only one thing! The gods, if they exist, must be regarded as the
incarnation of everything that is sublime. But the nobler, purer,
and therefore more akin to the gods a man’s nature is, the more
decidedly he is repelled by the horrible and ghostly. The very idea of
divinities, even of a deity ruling the realm of death, forbids us to
believe incidents such as we have just witnessed to be the expression
of their will. I, too, cannot guess this Chaldean’s enigmas; but I
doubt with all the power of my mind that they are what he declares them
to be. Do you also doubt, Lucius! Own to him that you do; don’t spare
your money, and ask fresh testimony. Your Hero, you said, _saw_ the
goddess of death; do you, too, request a sight of her, in order either
to believe implicitly or find the lever by which you can overthrow all
these incomprehensible things.”

This time there was some delay before Lucius Rutilius could be
persuaded. But at last, becoming more and more influenced by his
friend’s calmness, he yielded and made the request Bononius directed.

Olbasanus’s penetration had long since anticipated this turn of
affairs. He silently led the two youths through half-a-dozen paths
running in different directions across the dark park. Situated on a
gently-rising hill, the magician’s garden covered a square of several
hundred feet, which was enclosed like a sanctuary by walls almost
as high as a house, and overgrown with ivy and other climbing vines.
Here and there fountains played in alabaster basins; strange statues,
looking like pallid shades in the starlight of the moonless night,
stood like spectral guards amid the shrubbery. Ancient evergreen-oaks
and plane-trees spread their many-branching crowns.

In the centre of the grounds was a circle about sixty yards in
diameter. Here the magician paused with his companions.

“Your wish is a presumptuous one!” he said to Lucius Rutilius.
“Only in rare cases does the goddess grant so insolent a desire.
But you, I repeat, seem to be chosen as an object of her special
favor. Hecate”--he folded his arms across his breast--“wills it, and
will appear to you. Nay, she will even tolerate the presence of him
who stands as a sympathizing friend by your side. But--I warn you!
Remember Semele, who wished to behold Zeus in all his Olympian majesty
and was consumed in anguish in his arms. True, death and destruction
will not come to you from the sight of the Inscrutable One, for she
appears of her own free will, not constrained by any oath binding upon
the gods. But even thus the vision will confuse your mind and senses,
stir your heart with dread and horror. Surrounded by scorching flames
she will cross the starry sky, visible only to your eyes and mine,
and overwhelming awe will stream from her shoulders like rain from a
thunder-cloud. Never will you be able to efface this terrible spectacle
from your memory. Therefore, do not brave the crushing vision too long!
As soon as you have once beheld it, bow your head in reverence and hide
your face with your trembling hands. No question to the Immortal One
is needed. Her voice has already announced that your destiny is fixed;
therefore she will come from the left, from the regions of the west;
and flame across to the east. If her own favor and mercy could avert
this fate--and she alone in rare cases can loose bonds the fettered
one himself could rend by no sacrifice, no atonement--she would rise
from the right like the sun and vanish towards the left. Now,--are you
prepared?”

“We are,” replied Rutilius.

Olbasanus threw himself on the ground. Gently striking his forehead
thrice against the hard trodden earth, he cried in a tone of despairing
fervor:

“Hecate, Princess of the Nether World, Mistress of all that has breath,
show thyself to the eyes of this chosen youth, and, if it is possible
for thee, rise from the regions of the east.”

Suddenly a strange, ghostly rustling echoed on the air, a whirring like
the distant sound of mighty wings. A blazing fiery glare flamed in the
sky--but from the west. The apparition crossed the heavens with furious
speed,--half concealed by the boughs of a row of lofty elms.

“Hide your faces, unhappy men!” the Chaldean had shouted at the first
ray of light, and in tones so sharp, so full of real terror, that
Lucius Rutilius involuntarily obeyed.

Even Caius Bononius had shrunk back and did not look up fairly and
steadily until the fiery vision had already sunk far in the east behind
the dark horizon.

Lucius Rutilius, half fainting with excitement, was led away by
Olbasanus and Caius Bononius. The Chaldean interrupted a question from
the latter by the quiet remark:

“The time Olbasanus placed at your disposal has long since elapsed.
Other grief-laden mortals are already impatiently awaiting his aid.”

At the end of five minutes Lucius Rutilius had recovered sufficiently
to set out on his way home with the young philosopher. When Caius
Bononius, on reaching his friend’s house, held out his hand,
whispering: “Calm yourself, Lucius,” he received no reply. Staggering
like a drunken man Lucius hurried through the passage leading from the
door to the atrium, and sought his couch, to lie awake all night.

Caius Bononius also found himself indescribably agitated. The gulf
between what he had witnessed and what his reason and judgment had long
since decided concerning the nature of things and the meaning of the
world was too irreconcilable, not to lead the mind of one so eager in
the pursuit of knowledge to try to restore in some way the interrupted
harmony. Until early dawn he paced by lamplight up and down his study
or the peristyle, searching, weighing, and rejecting, till at last,
almost tired to death, he flung himself, still in his toga and tunic,
upon his couch and fell asleep.

FOOTNOTE:

[4] Citron-wood tables, with an ivory foot.



CHAPTER IV.


From the time of his visit to Olbasanus Lucius Rutilius, who had
previously constantly endeavored to obtain a meeting with his beloved
Hero to cheer the sorrowing girl and induce her to change her desperate
resolve, was completely transformed.

Gifted with a larger share of imagination than of calm, unprejudiced
investigation; endowed with genuine poetic receptivity for all external
impressions, he doubted neither the honesty of the mysterious Chaldean,
nor the truth of what he had heard and seen.

As Caius Bononius was unable to give any natural explanation of the
marvels they had witnessed, his efforts, when he visited his friend the
next day and earnestly endeavored to weaken, as far as possible, the
impressions of the preceding evening, remained unavailing.

Since Rutilius was now convinced that the ardently-desired union with
his beloved Hero would inevitably bring destruction, not only to
himself but to her and her dear father, duty and honor seemed to him
to command that he should not render the unavoidable separation more
difficult by delay and hesitation, but accomplish it at once through
a heroic resolve. Even one more interview--a last farewell must be
avoided--on this point he now agreed with the woman he loved. The
arrows that had pierced so deeply into their yearning hearts must be
torn out by force; only thus, under the merciful protection of the
gods, deliverance might yet be possible; if not for him--for he felt
that without Hero life, even amid all the splendors of the world, would
lack light, and color--perhaps for her, who could forget, who ought and
must forget, though the very thought made the youth tremble.

He therefore wrote to Hero briefly, that he, too, had heard the decree
of the goddess of death and was convinced that the inexorable will of
Fate stood between them--so he would resign her. With what feelings he
did so, he need not explain. As he wished her to regain her peace of
mind, he informed her that he could not remain longer in Rome, where
he should run the risk of meeting her and thus being reminded afresh
of the happiness he had forever lost. He would leave the Capital the
following day, without naming the goal of his journey, that not even
her thoughts should follow him.

Lucius carried out this resolution with the haste of a man who hopes
to fly from himself.

Accompanied only by a single slave, he rode at dawn northward across
the Milvian Bridge--towards Etruria, to pass by Pisae, renowned of old,
to Gaul. He had visited none of his numerous friends before leaving
except Caius Bononius, to whom he named Massilia[5] as the place where
he intended to remain for a few months. He had in that city, in the
person of an Arpinatian knight, a host who would receive him with open
arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meantime Caius Bononius was haunted night and day by the feverish
desire to see clearly into the tangled web of the events he had
experienced.

If the marvellous incidents at the Chaldean enchanter’s house had
been less numerous; if--with all their apparent reality--they had not
borne a certain theatrical impress, Bononius would have been disposed
to enter more seriously than ever into the question: Is there really a
higher spiritual power that rules the souls of the departed, and are
there men who, in consequence of the peculiar nature of their mental
faculties, are capable of entering into mutual relations with this
higher power?

The studies in which Bononius had been engaged contradicted the truth
of such a hypothesis; they did not yield the smallest fact that could
be construed in favor of it. Yet,--it is the brain most free from
prejudice, the brain that has learned how often the impossible proves
true, which is therefore the first to be ready to examine impartially
what is strange and contradictory instead of unceremoniously refusing
it authority with the cheap cleverness of average minds. The true
thinker does not reject what lies beyond the pale of experience, but
simply what is logically inconceivable.

Thus Olbasanus would have obtained undisputed success with Caius
Bononius if instead of _three_ amazing miracles he had displayed only
one. But the instinct that was instantly aroused when Bononius detected
the magician’s triumphant smile gave him no rest; with the zeal of the
investigator who hopes to make a discovery that will move the world,
the young philosopher strove to find the most natural and simple
explanation possible for the bewildering phenomena.... A hundred times
he fancied he had grasped the truth by the wing, but it constantly
escaped him, and the joyous gleam of hope proved illusive.

There were two circumstances that gave him food for reflection.

In the first place, even with the most comprehensive knowledge of all
the powers of nature, it was not to be explained how the answer to
Lucius Rutilius’s question, which Olbasanus did not know, agreed so
exactly with the reply to Hero’s. The second circumstance appeared no
less perplexing. If this Olbasanus was really a juggler, who deceived
his victims for his own selfish designs, what could have been more
opportune than a final compliance with Lucius Rutilius’s wishes? The
Chaldean might have imposed any penance on the sorrowing youth, and
if he had only wanted money, named a very considerable sum by whose
payment to the goddess’s representative the pretended fate could
be averted. But there was nothing of the sort. Olbasanus’s goddess
persisted, with the inexorable severity of Fate, in the prophecy
already made by the writing on the entrails of the victim. This fact
told very decidedly in the sorcerer’s favor. What interest could the
man be pursuing when, against his better judgment, he destroyed a
lover’s hopes, since their restoration undoubtedly promised to be far
more profitable to the soothsayer.

The youth could find no explanation for these things.

One day--about a week after Lucius Rutilius’s departure--he was
walking through the avenues of the Campus Martius. Caius had long
neglected this afternoon exercise of several hours before dinner;
now, when his head was burning from the constant restlessness of his
excited thoughts, he had resumed the old custom, and to-day, for the
fourth time, set out on his usual walk to the so-called Septae, the
place where the ancient assemblies of the people were held, past the
spreading boughs of the double row of maples, whose rustling foliage
already began to assume the brilliant hues of autumn.

Spite of the lateness of the season the air was as soft and mild
as that of spring. A brilliant throng filled the carriage-roads
and bridle-paths. Aristocratic dames were borne in magnificent
litters through the laurel and myrtle groves, followed by a train of
gaily-attired cavaliers--for the white toga of ancient Rome had long
since ceased to be the exclusive costume of these fashionable gallants.
Rich manufacturers from Alexandria rolled in the two-wheeled cisium,
preceded by woolly-haired runners in bright red garments, side by side
with the magnificent carriage of the senator who prided himself on his
noble blood and the glittering pony chaise of the woman of the demi
monde with her towering coiffure--the “Libertina,” of whom Ovid has
sung. Wrestling and throwing the discus were practised on the stretches
of turf; but the combatants merely played clever tricks on each
other--compared with the fierce athletes who had steeled their muscles
here under Tiberius and Caligula--and the discus had grown smaller,
as if intended for boys, a symbol of the increasing degeneracy which
was finally to succumb to the mighty assault of the victorious German
tribes.

Caius Bononius walked through this splendid labyrinth like a
somnambulist. Even here, amid the merry, frivolous population of the
world’s capital, he could not shake off the burden weighing upon his
heart and brain. On the evening he met Rutilius he had been on his way
to detect the vanity of Olbasanus’ arts--and the consequence was that
he found himself more than ever ensnared in the net of uncertainty.
There was a touch of the tragi comical in this condition of affairs.
Bononius, as he paced to and fro, had the vague feeling that he was
playing a somewhat pitiful part before himself and the aristocratic
company assembled under the maples....

Suddenly some one called him by name.

He turned.

“Is it you, Philippus?” he exclaimed, as a stately man about thirty-six
years old approached him from a side-path. The new-comer wore the
military dress of a centurion (captain) of the city prefect; his
features expressed resolute will, combined with unmistakable kindness
of heart and frankness.

“How are you, Bononius?” asked the soldier, offering the young
philosopher his hand. “Are you still alive, or is it only your shade
wandering here? By Hercules! it’s at least three months since I last
had the pleasure of shaking hands with you. What are you doing, you
incomprehensible hermit? Still melting metals on the tripod, or again
busied with Heraclitus’ horrible writings? It must be something
terrible that estranges you so entirely from your best friends.”

“You are right,” said Bononius. “I have been unusually busy during the
last few months. But you see I’m improving.”

They walked on for some distance side by side. The young man liked
to listen to the fresh, kindly talk of the sturdy centurion, who
now criticised a horse, now spoke of the last races and the newest
pantomime, or with blunt originality expressed his admiration of one
of the celebrated beauties who passed reclining among the cushions of
their litters or calashes.

“Look there!” he said suddenly, checking the torrent of his eloquence.
“No, can it be possible? How pale she looks!... Don’t you know
her--Hero, Heliodorus’ daughter?”

Caius Bononius started violently. He had never seen the object of
Lucius Rutilius’ love, much as his thoughts had been occupied with
her during the last week. There was no apparent reason for seeking
her; nay, by going to the Sicilian’s house he would have frustrated
his self-sacrificing friend’s expressed wish. But now, since chance
had caused this meeting, the young man felt as if he had only needed
a glimpse of Hero to obtain a clear insight into all the enigmas that
tortured him. He almost devoured with his eyes the lovely girlish
figure which, wrapped in the folds of a dazzlingly white palla, was
just turning into the elm avenue by the side of a thin young man.

Pretty Hero was indeed pale; pale and sad, despite the faint smile
of courtesy that hovered around the small, pouting mouth, and the
impression was increased by her thick, light-brown hair, which in a
simple, waving line framed the symmetrical brow. She gazed without
interest at the motley throng, listened unsympathizingly to the eager
words of her excited companion. Behind her, by the side of a fresh,
blooming girl of fifteen, whom Caius Bononius supposed to be the Lydia
so often mentioned by Rutilius, walked Heliodorus, the father of the
pallid Hero, evidently in an angry mood, for his brows were contracted,
his lips tightly compressed. He seemed to be absorbed in an earnest
conversation with Lydia.

“Is that Hero?” asked Bononius. “And who is the unattractive fellow
talking to her so eagerly?”

“Agathon, a countryman of Heliodorus. I’ve often met him at the city
prefect’s.”

Bononius and Philippus now passed the group. Philippus bowed. Bononius
gazed fixedly now at Hero, now at her companion, Agathon. There was
something in this man’s appearance which seemed familiar, though he
thought he most distinctly remembered that he had never met him before
in his life. So he forgot all regard for courtesy, and when Heliodorus
had also passed with Lydia, Caius Bononius, spite of the city custom
which forbade such things, could not refrain from gazing after their
retreating figures.

When he thus caught a back view of Agathon’s form a recollection
like a revelation suddenly darted through his brain. That was the
same thin figure which, on the evening he was standing with Lucius
Rutilius at Olbasanus’ door, came out of the ostium[6] and walked away.
The bearing, the peculiar movement of the right shoulder, the whole
appearance,--all was unmistakable.

The young man now clearly perceived what had hitherto
been as incomprehensible to him as the wondrous nocturnal
apparitions--Olbasanus’ motives. Everything Olbasanus had predicted to
the unhappy Rutilius and sorrowing Hero was by Agathon’s direction. The
motive that influenced the latter required no explanation. Hero was
young, beautiful, rich,--and Agathon was a suitor for her favor. Caius
Bononius especially emphasized the wealth--it already filled him with
satisfaction to be able to despise the aforesaid. Agathon more heartily
than would have been allowable if his intrigue had been caused solely
by a mad passion for the charming young girl.

True, this discovery did not make the incomprehensible things Rutilius
and Bononius had witnessed in the Chaldean’s house one hair’s breadth
more intelligible; but Bononius had gained fresh courage and energy to
advance, by the employment of every possible means, towards the goal
on which, freed from the last remnants of metaphysical doubts, he now
boldly fixed his gaze. He was now aware that Olbasanus was no fanatic,
no enthusiast who at least partially deceived himself, but a juggler,
who served as the tool of the base selfishness of a malicious sneak.
This juggler must be unmasked--the youth’s determination to do this was
as firm as the devotee’s faith in the mercy of deity.

The centurion had noticed his companion’s agitation and, with his
natural frankness and absence of reserve, asked what there was in the
Sicilian’s appearance to cause so much surprise--had Caius Bononius
discovered in Hero some neighbor at the circus, for whom he had long
sought in vain, or recognized in Agathon a troublesome rival? The
youth was in a mood that renders the heart communicative and desirous
of seeking counsel from others; he had long prized the centurion as
a reliable and discreet man; besides, he thought he perceived that
Philippus also cherished no special regard for Agathon.

One word led to another.

Strolling a little apart from the throng, Bononius at first gave the
centurion some hints and then, after Philippus had sworn by all the
gods to maintain the most inviolable secrecy, told him the adventure at
Olbasanus’s.

The worthy centurion was frantic with indignation. He had never
believed in the conjuror’s fool-tricks; but here the whole thing was
as clear as day: Agathon, the base sharper, had bought Olbasanus!
He, Philippus, knew that Agathon’s money matters were very much
involved. Of course, the extravagant roué thought he could find no
better investment for the few hundred sesterces remaining out of many
millions than to use them in obtaining the immense heritage Hero, as
her mother’s only child, would bring as a marriage dowry. The matter
was as clear as sunlight. But the insolent cheat had not reaped his
harvest yet--and, judging by the expression on Hero’s pretty face,
Philippus considered it doubtful whether he ever would win what he
wished to sneak into so craftily. No matter: Agathon’s probable failure
did not make amends for the harm the abominable conjuror had done poor
Rutilius. He, Philippus, would do everything in his power, in company
with Caius Bononius, to set the affair to rights.

“Come and breakfast with me to-morrow!” he said at last, after
mentioning all these points with excited volubility. “We’ll sketch
the plan of a campaign that will not only restore our worthy Lucius
Rutilius to happiness, but satisfy your ardent curiosity about the
secret powers with which Olbasanus works.”

“Very well,” replied Bononius. “I’ll be there.”

So they parted.

FOOTNOTES:

[5] Marseilles.

[6] Passage leading from the door to the atrium.



CHAPTER V.


Three days after the interview between Caius and the centurion the
Chaldean sorcerer received a note, trebly sealed, containing the
following lines:

“Lydia to the glorious Olbasanus, the confidant of the gods.

“I do not know whether you will still remember me. I crossed your
threshold with the fair-haired girl from Syracuse, whom your divine
prophecy saved from the most terrible misfortune. Her name is Hero, and
she is a daughter of the estimable Heliodorus, who came last year to
the strand of Tiber. Filled with admiration for your incomprehensible
art, Lydia begs the counsel of the omniscient enchanter in an important
and troublesome matter, whose details I cannot confide to you in this
letter. But a fever which, though not dangerous, confines me to my bed
prevents my seeking you at your own house. So, worthy Olbasanus, accept
in return for your trouble the three hundred denarii the boy will give
you with these lines, and come as soon as your leisure will permit to
the dwelling of her who seeks knowledge. You know the mansion with the
Corinthian _porticus_ on the northern slope of the Caelian hill. Tell
me, by the slave, whether and when my impatient heart may expect you.”

Olbasanus took the gold and wrote three words on one of the numerous
strips of parchment which, daintily cut and piled one above another,
were lying in a niche in the wall of his room. It was still
early--scarcely an hour after sunrise; the conjuror’s labors, as a
rule, did not begin until after the so-called _prandium_, or second
breakfast, and were most numerous during the evening hours. So he
could reply “Will come immediately!”--“for,” he added with courteous
phraseology, “Olbasanus knows that he who gives quickly, gives doubly.”

Twenty minutes after Olbasanus’s litter, radiant with gold and
purple, borne by four coal-black Nubian slaves, stopped in front of
Heliodorus’s vestibule. Such visits from the soothsayer and magician to
aristocratic Roman ladies were neither unusual nor remarkable, though
Olbasanus was somewhat chary of granting the favor.

The Chaldean was respectfully received at the door by the chief slave
of the atrium, who begged him to excuse the absence of the members of
his master’s family; Heliodorus had been detained in Antium for several
days by important business, and Hero, his daughter, had gone to rest at
a late hour and was still asleep.

Olbasanus nodded with the quiet formality of a man accustomed to such
phrases, and allowed himself to be conducted to the large sitting-room
under the columns of the peristyle, where Lydia, reclining on a brass
lounge, awaited him.

As he crossed the threshold the young Sicilian rose, greeted him with
great embarrassment, and requested him to follow her.

Behind the sitting-room was a windowless, oval _exedra_[7] lighted from
above--the apartment specially designed for the social chat so greatly
prized and enjoyed by the Romans even in later times.

Into this cosy private room Lydia conducted the smiling Oriental, who
read in her timid confusion assurance of victory won and fresh triumphs
for the future.

But scarcely had the folding doors closed behind Olbasanus, when from
the opposite ones three strong Germans rushed in and seized him as a
pack of hounds fall upon a wolf. Spite of his desperate resistance, he
was bound; a gag, thrust by the flaxen-haired Frieselanders between his
jaws, barely allowed him to breathe.

At the same time Caius Bononius and the centurion Philippus entered the
_exedra_ by a side door.

“Why do you roll your eyes so, conjuror of Hecate?” said Bononius.
“It will be an easy matter for the confidant of all the spirits of
the Upper and Lower World to burst these bonds asunder and hurl the
criminals who have assailed him lifeless on the floor.”

Spite of the defiant scorn these words were intended to express, the
young man’s voice had trembled. The glances that flashed from under the
Oriental’s lashes were so fierce and diabolical, and the memory of the
events in the enchanter’s house on the Quirinal so fresh, that Bononius
could not without emotion see the conquered man at his feet,--for in
the struggle with the slaves Olbasanus had sunk upon his knees.

At a sign from the centurion Philippus, the flaxen-haired Frieselanders
now retired through the same door by which they had entered. He himself
approached the fettered captive, drew his sword from its sheath, and
said in curt, resolute tones:

“You have been guilty of an execrable crime. Recognize in me a
commander of the armed body appointed to guard the welfare of the
citizens. I could arrest you now without ceremony. Your fate would
be undoubted; since, apart from your offence against Lucius Rutilius
and Heliodorus’s daughter, the edicts of former emperors, prohibiting
Chaldeans and mathematicians a residence in the seven-hilled city on
pain of death, are still in force. That the authorities have been
negligent in executing these edicts; that an indulgence has prevailed
of whose injurious results you are the best proof, has little to do
with the matter. Yet,--spite of your criminality, I will exercise
mercy, if you will punctiliously fulfil two conditions that I shall
impose. If you wish to hear them, give me some sign!”

Olbasanus, who at Caius Bononius’s words had perceived that his rôle in
Rome was played out, after a slight delay bowed his head like a man who
submits to the inevitable. The soldier’s quiet, resolute manner did not
permit him to doubt that Philippus would execute his threat.

Lydia, who had hitherto remained aloof, now advanced a few steps and
gazed with timid curiosity at the magician whom, notwithstanding Caius
Bononius’s repeated admonitions, she still regarded as a sort of
supernatural being.

True--the pitiable abjectness which now took the place of his former
rage was well calculated to shake this superstitious dread.

“Very well,” said Philippus to Olbasanus, “I’ll release you from the
gag, that you may speak. But if you should cry out or attempt to
frighten this young girl by magic formulas or any folly of that sort,
my blade shall duly repay you for it.”

With these words he removed the gag from the enchanter’s mouth.

“My conditions,” he continued, “are simple enough. You perceive,
Olbasanus, that we have discovered the true character of your
incredible frauds, but we still lack the key to some of your criminal
arts. This youth, who crossed your threshold for the sole purpose of
seeing behind the curtain of the nonsensical conjurations with which
you deluded people, requires a complete and truthful explanation of
everything you did to deceive Hero and Rutilius. If you refuse or lie,
our Germans shall drag you to prison this very day. You will also
mention the person to whom you sold yourself for such reprehensible
jugglery. The making of these confessions is my first condition.
The second is--that you leave Rome before the end of the year. Go
to Nicomedia or Alexandria, for aught I care; if these cities will
tolerate your presence--and a man of your appearance doesn’t pass
unobserved--that’s your affair. But here in Rome, where you have not
only deluded a populace entrusted as it were to my charge, but my best
friends, here I oppose to you my threatening sword--woe betide you, if
you despise the menace! If you fulfil the task I impose, you shall be
dismissed unharmed. Consider quickly and answer without circumlocution.”

Olbasanus, with the keen penetration of the Oriental, had instantly
perceived the whole situation. He felt that it was not hatred and
revenge that roused these men against him, but on the part of one
friendship for the basely deceived Lucius Rutilius, on that of the
other feverish curiosity to learn the causes of the mysterious effects,
which--he himself did not know how or in what way--had suddenly lost
their supernatural character to Caius Bononius. So he thought that by
the exercise of a little theatrical talent he could turn the conditions
imposed to his own advantage. To leave the seven-hilled city did not
seem too painful a sacrifice, for he had long been considering whether
it might not be time to collect his riches and, by retiring to the
seclusion of private life, escape the danger constantly threatening him
from the ancient imperial edicts. Only he needed to remain unmolested
until he could accomplish at his leisure this gathering of his means,
especially the conversion into money of his considerable landed
property, his estates and country houses. So he did not reflect long.

“I’ll confess everything,” he said with a half sarcastic smile, “if
you’ll all swear to keep my acknowledgment secret for six months. You
may disclose it only to Lucius Rutilius and Heliodorus’s daughter, on
condition that they, too, will promise to maintain silence. I will quit
the seven-hilled city, too, as the centurion commands; but I beg as a
favor an additional delay of a few months. If you refuse”--here his
voice suddenly grew grave and threatening, like the roll of distant
thunder,--“by all the horrors of death--I would rather give my neck to
the lictor’s axe.”

“Grant it to him!” said Bononius, who was burning with impatience.

Philippus consented and, with the young sage and Lydia, took a solemn
oath. Then Bononius told the Chaldean, who could only move with
difficulty, to sit down on a cushioned couch and answer his questioner
with strict conformity to the truth. He himself stood with folded arms
directly in front of the couch. Philippus, sword in hand, stationed
himself by the magician’s side, while Lydia leaned in breathless
expectation over the back of a bronze arm-chair.

“First of all,” Caius Bononius began, “tell us one thing: do you
believe in the existence of a power in the Nether World, a creature
which has some traits akin to the terrible being in whom people
believe under the name of Hecate? An answer to this question seems to
me valuable, because I should like to know whether you have dared to
offend, by the deception of your juggling arts, a divinity in whose
power you trusted.”

Olbasanus smiled. Now that he had once yielded, he seemed to take
the whole matter very quietly and after the fashion of a man of the
world, like the Epicurean, who, reclining on the dining-couch in the
brilliantly-lighted triclinium, chats about death.

“Sir,” he said with aristocratic calmness, “I believe, if not in
Hecate, in the existence of the mighty void she fills. I, who know
mankind as a gardener does flowers, assure you: certain things must
be systematically devised by us more talented men, if the imagination
of the people is not to exhaust itself. Meantime, you might have
the kindness to loose my bonds. Our sworn agreement, your superior
numbers, and this centurion’s sword make the favor appear trivial, and
it is more agreeable to philosophize if one is not enduring physical
discomfort.”

Caius Bononius made no delay in granting this request.

“Very well,” he began again when he had freed the magician from his
ropes, “so you entirely deny the existence of supernatural beings?”

“I deny nothing--assert nothing. This world is so mysterious, the
nature of things is so unfathomable to our intellectual powers, that it
would be madness to form a positive opinion about the possibility or
impossibility of a thing which does not come directly within our own
experience.”

“I won’t dispute that. Now for details!”

“You need only question.”

“What induced you to send that first message to Heliodorus’ daughter?
Who bought you?”

“Bought?” repeated the Oriental. “That sounds so unpleasant, Caius
Bononius. Prophesying was my ordinary business. Like every one else who
practises a profession, I was at the disposal of any one who paid for
my art.”

“Then, who paid you?”

“Agathon, Philemon’s son.”

“But you have no scruples about ruthlessly destroying the happiness of
two human beings for glittering gold?”

Olbasanus shrugged his shoulders.

“If Hero believed it was thus appointed by fate, the fact was a potent
consolation for all the grief of renunciation. Besides--do you know
whether this union _was_ for their happiness? My oracle interposed,
separated two persons who wished to be united: well, this was really
the will of fate; for everything that happens is absolutely necessary,
and events are strung on the infrangible threads of chance. If you
tell me that my prophecy would have destroyed their happiness, I shall
answer with equal confidence: it would have saved them from misery.”

“Admirable logic, by Hercules!” replied Bononius. “But we won’t argue
about the matter! So Agathon bought--or paid you. Did he tell you his
reasons?”

“I did not ask him; but as I knew the man, I guessed them. I knew that
Agathon had been on the verge of ruin for several months, and having
learned that Hero is one of the richest heiresses in the seven-hilled
city....”

“How did you learn that?”

“Was I to remain ignorant of what hundreds know? I don’t keep paid
informers in all the fourteen districts for nothing....”

“Very well. So you complied with his request, wrote to Hero, and sent
her the mysterious page, which so strangely covered itself with black
writing. How is this explained?”

“The mysterious writing can be explained simply enough,” replied
Olbasanus. “I prepare from milk, salt water, and a third ingredient,
whose combination I invented with great difficulty, a colorless ink
which turns black as soon as it is warmed. The page from the book of
the god Amun was of course previously written; the heat of the fire
produced the miracle that drove the poor, foolish girl to despair.”

“Confoundedly simple, to be sure!” said the mortified Bononius. “Name
the third ingredient.”

“How can I designate a nameless thing? It is known only to me; but to
explain its preparation....”

“You are right. There are more important things in store for us. First:
how could you know that the youth who accompanied me, and whom I only
encountered by accident, was Lucius Rutilius? He assures me that he
never met you. Did you recognize him?”

“No. But I was daily expecting a visit from him. Besides, Agathon knew
him, and Agathon met you as he left my door. While my servant was
leading you by a roundabout way to the hall of conjuration, Agathon
hurriedly returned and informed me of Rutilius’s immediate arrival.”

“Yet the servant could not possibly foresee that it would be for your
interest to delay our arrival. So why did he choose that way?”

“It is the rule. All strangers pass through those corridors; only those
who come on errands, like Agathon, are conducted directly to my rooms.”

“I understand,” said Bononius. “But suppose--we had _not_ met Agathon?”

“Then it would undoubtedly have cost me more trouble to ascertain
the personality of your companion--and I should have performed other
miracles.”

“How did it happen that the candelabra around were lighted when you
raised your wand?”

“Their stands are hollow. The lamps are already burning very low within
the columns. A thick wire screen shuts off the reflection they would
otherwise cast on the ceiling. When I raise the wand, my assistant
behind the curtains turns an iron wheel which moves machinery that
pushes the lamps up from the floor, opens the screens, and turns up
the wicks.”

“Go on!” said Bononius. “The metallic sound your wand drew from the
altar...?”

“Was produced by a copper basin concealed inside. A boy sits in front
of it with an iron rod.”

“I supposed it was something of the kind. But now: the sudden fall of
the victim! Does the hidden boy have a hand in the game here, too?”

“Here, too!” replied the magician. “In the side of the altar is a small
movable plate, which is covered with a thin layer of common salt. As
soon as the animal finds its head near this plate, it begins, according
to natural instinct, to lick it. When I give the sign, the boy, with a
sudden push, drives the plate into an opening of the same size made in
the marble, the space it formerly occupied being filled with a second
plate, also covered with salt, which, however, is mixed with a poison
whose action is instantaneous. The results you have seen.”

“But suppose the lamb doesn’t accommodate you?” said the centurion.
“Suppose it should be tired, or satiated, or obstinate?”

“That is provided for. The animal is deprived a long time of its
favorite dainty. At the worst I incurred no risk. If the trick failed,
it remained a secret; the animal could then be killed as every priest
slays his victim.”

“You took out the heart and liver,” Bononius continued, “I watched you
with the utmost care. You held the wand in your right hand all the time
that the entrails were in your left; so the writing that so completely
robbed Rutilius of his self-command could not have come from the staff.
Far less could the animal have had a liver ready inscribed in its body.
How did this incredible thing occur?”

“It was not done with the right hand which carried the wand,” replied
Olbasanus smiling, “but with the left, in which I held the liver.”

“Impossible!”

“Understand me correctly. Before you entered the hall the word ΘΑΝΑΤΟΣ
was written in inverted characters on the palm of my left hand with a
black fluid specially prepared for the purpose. The moist liver eagerly
absorbed this fluid and when I laid it on the plate, the miracle was
accomplished.”

A long pause ensued. The ridiculous simplicity of this apparently
incomprehensible marvel, and the bold assurance displayed by the
Chaldean produced a startling effect. Even Lydia now felt ashamed of
having so long shared poor Hero’s terror and of only having given her
consent after much fear and hesitation to the plan which was to unmask
the magician.

“A masterpiece certainly!” said Bononius almost furiously. “It ought
not to surprise me now if I should learn that your talking skull was
a vision of mist or smoke! To be sure, things are not simple until
they are understood. But we’ll keep to the regular order of events! I
don’t ask about the peals of thunder and flashes of lightning; such
things may be heard and seen, though far more imperfectly, even at
the performances of foolish pantomimes. But how do you explain the
ghostly motion that arose in the brazier of coals? It was an amazing
phenomenon.”

“In the bottom of the brazier was a sheet of alum, which, melting and
bubbling from the heat, imparted its own movements to the coals.”

“Now for the skull. Its speech was deceptive--as distinct as your own
voice is now.”

“It was the voice of an assistant. A tube led from the floor into
the skull. The assistant spoke into it below, so the words seemed to
proceed directly from the skull.”

“And its disappearance?”

“Was caused by melting. The skull was modelled of wax and the plates of
the niche were heated from below.”

“But it was not seen....”

“You saw nothing distinctly,” interrupted Olbasanus. “Unperceived by
you, a curtain of thin Coan gauze shut off the niche, thus rendering
the illusion less difficult. A similar effect was afterwards produced
outside in the grounds by the interlaced network of the branches behind
which the fire-showering Hecate passed across the sky.”

“Explain this flaming Hecate!”

The Chaldean laughed heartily, then said in a tone of strange sarcasm:

“Pardon me; but it is a singular fatality that my most effective
masterpiece always arouses my laughter. I have seen hundreds of
credulous folk prostrate themselves on the circle of turf in my
grounds and, covering their faces, moan and groan aloud as the
horrible phenomenon rose in the dark sky. And yet--or perhaps it is
for that very reason--the contrast is too sharp. This Hecate, who
apparently passes with frantic haste across the firmament, is nothing
but a poor kite wrapped in blazing tow. One of my assistants looses
the unfortunate creature,--which is prevented from screaming by a
tightly-drawn leather strap,--through a huge pipe, twenty ells long.
The tortured bird thus keeps the direction it has taken. Before the tow
goes out, the kite has reached the place where it ceases to be visible.
Deceived by the branches of the numerous trees, the awed beholders
imagine the fiery image is far away in the realms of air and attribute
to it gigantic size and supernatural speed--just as the eye, when
gazing into vacancy, mistakes a fly buzzing close by for the dimly-seen
shadow of a huge bird. This, oh! Bononius, is Hecate, the Ruler of us
all, the Princess of Darkness, the horrible tyrant of the Nether World.”

“Enough,” said Caius Bononius. “I now see that we all have some trace
of the mighty demon that is your most powerful ally--the fiend called
superstition and human folly. I, too, confess myself guilty, under the
impressions you conjured up before us, of having been led astray from
the convictions obtained by long years of arduous labor. I am a human
being and may say with the poet; I consider nothing strange that is
human, not even mortal weaknesses and errors. But you, Olbasanus, ought
to fear the awakening tortures of your conscience! Summoned by virtue
of your unmistakable penetration to be a guide to erring humanity, to
lighten the darkness of its errors, and bring it to the truth, you do
not disdain to profit by its weaknesses, like the miserable robber who
plunders a sick and defenceless man. Leave us--or I shall be seized
with loathing and forget my promise. Other feelings ought to rule my
soul now--above all, joy at the happy turn in the fate of your deceived
victims.”

“I will go,” replied Olbasanus. “It is cheap and convenient to accuse
me of crime. But I ask one question, Caius Bononius: how many of the
countless throng that follow me along the road of error would be my
companions, if I attempted to lead them with earnestness and zeal into
the domain of truth? One in a thousand! Delusion is brilliant and
magnificent; its sultry breezes intoxicate; the air on the heights of
truth blows keen and cold, and humanity is a poor, freezing beggar.”

Caius Bononius unceremoniously turned his back upon the speaker, and
Olbasanus, holding his head proudly erect, left the _exedra_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Six weeks later, early in the month of December, Heliodorus’ house
glittered in the splendor of festal array. Garlands of leaves and
flowers twined around the Corinthian pillars; countless lamps adorned
the wide halls of the atrium and peristyle. A select company attired in
fashionable costume, ladies in gaily-flowered pallas, with glittering
diadems and gold pins among their curls, senators in purple-bordered
holiday robes, rich merchants in Tyrian syntheses, and laurel-crowned
poets, thronged the gleaming colonnades. Heliodorus was celebrating
the marriage of his daughter Hero to Lucius Rutilius. The worthy
Bononius, who had not shrunk from taking the long journey to distant
Massilia to bring his friend back to the scene of his newly-restored
happiness, was treated by the bride with almost greater attention than
she bestowed upon the bridegroom--an incomprehensible enigma--and
Lucius Rutilius, far from being seized with jealousy at this apparent
neglect, also strove to show the young philosopher every token of the
most cordial affection. Caius Bononius was evidently absent-minded.
His heart had for some time been divided between satisfaction at the
successful breaking of the spell which had weighed upon Hero and
Rutilius, and another feeling that had ripened during the few days of
his intercourse with Lydia. How it happened was doubtless known to
Eros, the sole enchanter in whose omnipotence the sceptical Bononius
found himself henceforth compelled to believe. In short, the young
man desired nothing better than to gaze into Lydia’s deep, dark eyes,
listen to her voice, or brush against her flowing stola while walking
through the colonnades of the peristyle. Considering his past, it was
extremely unphilosophical--but the fact could not be denied.

Rutilius’ wedding afforded him ample opportunity to satisfy his longing
in this respect. Lydia, too, who had at first been merely an admirer
of his faithful friendship and untiring energy, gradually passed into
another mood. After Hero’s departure from her father’s house the young
girl felt strangely lonesome.... When she fancied that it would be very
delightful if she, too, like Heliodorus’ daughter, could have a home of
her own where she might rule as the wife of a handsome, wise, talented
man, this imaginary husband unconsciously assumed the features of Caius
Bononius.... So it was not one of the greatest marvels that Eros ever
accomplished when, the following April, Bononius and Lydia were married.

Previous to this event, however, the aristocrats of the seven-hilled
city were startled by two pieces of news which for a long time formed
the topic of daily conversation. One was the sudden disappearance of
the Chaldean magician, who had sold all his estates, as well as the
palace furnished with Oriental splendor on the Quirinal, and left Rome
without bidding any one farewell; the other was the suicide of Agathon,
who had opened his veins in the warm bath of his own house, which had
been mortgaged far beyond its value.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTE:

[7] Drawing-room.

       *       *       *       *       *

ADVERTISEMENTS

  =THE WILL.=--A NOVEL, by =Ernst Eckstein=, from the German by Clara
  Bell, in two vols. Paper, $1.00 Cloth, $1.75 per set.

“Since the appearance of ‘Debit and Credit’ we have not seen a German
novel that can rank, in the line struck out by that famous work, with
‘The Will,’ by Ernst Eckstein. It is a vivid picture of German city
life, and the characters, whether quaint, commonplace, tragical, or a
mixture of all three, are admirably drawn. All the German carefulness
is in Eckstein’s work, but there is besides a sparkle and _verve_
entirely French--and French of the best kind.”--_Catholic Mirror,
Baltimore._

“The chief value of the book is in its well-drawn and strong pictures
of life in both German cities and villages, and Clara Bell, has, as
usual, proved herself a mistress of the German Tongue.”--_Sunday Star,
Providence._

“Ernst Eckstein, hitherto known as a writer of classical romance, now
tries his hand upon a _genre_ story of German life. To our mind, it is
his most successful work.”--_Bulletin, San Francisco, Cal._

“The present work is entitled ‘The Will,’ and is written by Ernst
Eckstein, the author of the striking historical novel, Quintus
Claudius. The name of Clara Bell as the translator from the German is
assurance enough of the excellence of its rendering into English. The
plot of the story is not a novel one, but it is skillfully executed,
and the whole tale is developed with much dramatic power.”--_Boston
Zion’s Herald._

“‘The Will,’ by Eckstein, is the latest and best work of its author.
The scene, the people, the events of the story are new, the plot is
ingenious, and the action rapid and exciting enough to please the most
jaded novel reader. The character of schoolmaster Heinzius would alone
make the reputation of a new writer, and there are other sketches from
life none the less masterly. Ernst Eckstein excels in heroines, of whom
there are several in the book--all clearly defined--contending for the
sympathy of the reader.”--_The Journal of Commerce, New York._

       *       *       *       *       *

  =PRUSIAS.=--A Romance of Ancient Rome under the Republic, by =Ernst
  Eckstein=, from the German by Clara Bell. Authorized edition. In two
  vols. Paper, $1.00. Cloth, $1.75.

“The date of ‘Prusias’ is the latter half of the first century B.
C. Rome is waging her tedious war with Mithridates. There are also
risings in Spain, and the home army is badly depleted. Prusias comes
to Capua as a learned Armenian, the tutor of a noble pupil in one of
the aristocratic households. Each member of this circle is distinct.
Some of the most splendid traits of human nature develop among these
grand statesmen and their dignified wives, mothers, and daughters. The
ideal Roman maiden is Psyche; but she has a trace of Greek blood and
of the native gentleness. Of a more interesting type is Fannia, who
might, minus her slaves and stola, pass for a modern and saucy New
York beauty. Her wit, spirit, selfishness, and impulsive magnanimity
might easily have been a nineteenth-century evolution. In the family
to which Prusias comes are two sons, one of military leanings, the
other a student. Into the ear of the latter Prusias whispers the
real purpose of his coming to Italy. He is an Armenian and in league
with Mithridates for the reduction of Roman rule. The unity which
the Senate has tried to extend to the freshly-conquered provinces of
Italy is a thing of slow growth. Prusias by his strategy and helped
by Mithridates’s gold, hopes to organize slaves and disaffected
provincials into a force which will oblige weakened Rome to make terms,
one of which shall be complete emancipation and equality of every man
before the law. His harangues are in lofty strain, and, save that he
never takes the coarse, belligerent tone of our contemporaries, these
speeches might have been made by one of our own Abolitionists. The
one point that Prusias never forgets is personal dignity and a regal
consideration for his friends. But after all, this son of the gods
is befooled by a woman, a sinuous and transcendently ambitious Roman
belle, the second wife of the dull and trustful prefect of Capua; for
this tiny woman had all men in her net whom she found it useful to have
there.

“The daughter of the prefect--hard, homely-featured, and hating the
supple stepmother with an unspeakable hate, tearing her beauty at last
like a tigress and so causing her death--is a repulsive but very strong
figure. The two brothers who range themselves on opposite sides in
the servile war make another unforgettable picture; and the beautiful
slave Brenna, who follows her noble lover into camp, is a spark of
light against the lurid background. The servile movement is combined
with the bold plans of the Thracian Spartacus. He is a good figure and
perpetually surprises us with his keen foresight and disciplinary power.

“The book is stirring, realistic in the even German way, and full of
the fibre and breath of its century.”--_Boston Ev’g Transcript._

       *       *       *       *       *

  =QUINTUS CLAUDIUS.=--A Romance of Imperial Rome, by =Ernst Eckstein=,
  from the German by Clara Bell, in two vols. Paper, $1.00. Cloth, $1.
  75.

“We owe to Eckstein the brilliant romance of ‘Quintus Claudius,’ which
Clara Bell has done well to translate for us, for it is worthy of place
beside the Emperor of Ebers and the Aspasia of Hamerling. It is a
story of Rome in the reign of Domitian, and the most noted characters
of the time figure in its pages, which are a series of picturesque
descriptions of Roman life and manners in the imperial city, and in
those luxurious retreats at Baiae and elsewhere to which the wealthy
Romans used to retreat from the heats of summer. It is full of stirring
scenes in the streets, in the palaces, in the temples, and in the
amphitheatre, and the actors therein represent every phase of Roman
character, from the treacherous and cowardly Domitian and the vile
Domitia down to the secret gatherings of the new sect and their exit
from life in the blood-soaked sands of the arena, where they were torn
in pieces by the beasts of the desert. The life and the manners of all
classes at this period were never painted with a bolder pencil than by
Eckstein in this masterly romance, which displays as much scholarship
as invention.”--_Mail and Express, N. Y._

“These neat volumes contain a story first published in German. It is
written in that style which Ebers has cultivated so successfully. The
place is Rome; the time, that of Domitian at the end of the first
century. The very careful study of historical data, is evident from
the notes at the foot of nearly every page. The author attempted the
difficult task of presenting in a single story the whole life of Rome,
the intrigues of that day which compassed the overthrow of Domitian,
and the deep fervor and terrible trials of the Christians in the last
of the general persecutions. The court, the army, the amphitheatre, the
catacombs, the evil and the good of Roman manhood and womanhood--all
are here. And the work is done with power and success. It is a book
for every Christian and for every student, a book of lasting value,
bringing more than one nation under obligation to its author.”--_New
Jerusalem Magazine, Boston, Mass._

“_A new Romance of Ancient Times!_ The success of Ernst Eckstein’s
new novel, ‘Quintus Claudius,’ which recently appeared in Vienna, may
fairly be called phenomenal, critics and the public unite in praising
the work.”--_Grazer Morgenpost._

“‘Quintus Claudius’ is a finished work of art, capable of bearing any
analysis, a literary production teeming with instruction and interest,
full of plastic forms, and rich in the most dramatic changes of
mood.”--_Pester Lloyd._

       *       *       *       *       *

  =SERAPIS.= A Romance by =Georg Ebers=, from the German by Clara Bell.
  _Authorized Edition._ In one vol. Paper cover, 50 cts. Cloth binding,
  90 cts.

“A new novel by Ebers is always a pleasure; and ‘Serapis’ has all
the qualities conspicuous in the Egyptian novels that preceded it,
with an intensified dramatic and descriptive power that tempts one
to pronounce it one of the very best of the series. Nothing is lost
from that perfectly preserved atmosphere of something foreign to our
own experience in time and place, which one felt instinctively to be
foreign whether or not one were Egyptologist enough to recognize it as
perfect; while at the same time the interest is kept up by a stress
of human feeling which makes the thrilling events chronicled hold
one as if they happened before one’s eyes. The early Christians are
represented, not as martyrs and haloed heroes, but as human beings
with a great deal of human nature in them; the touch of the Christian
Bishop quite indifferent to the conversion and the fate of a young
Christian maiden as soon as he learned that she preferred to be an
Aryan Christian, being especially--shall we say natural, or artistic?
The heroine is not a young girl ardent in the Christian faith, as is
customary in similar historical stories, but one clinging fiercely to
the old faiths; the description of the torture to her soul, even after
she began to turn to the light, in the sacrilegious destruction of the
old gods and temples, being given with wonderful vividness. The mere
outward descriptions are singularly effective; whether of a young girl
resting in a garden on soft cushions under the gilt-coffered ceiling of
the arcade, peeling a luscious peach as she listens to the plash of the
fountains and watches the buds swelling on the tall trees, while among
the smooth, shining leaves of the orange and lemon trees gleamed the
swelling fruit,--or of a maiden devoted to the worship of Isis waiting
for her Christian lover,--or finally of the magnificent Serapeum, never
more glorious than when the Christians had resolved on its destruction
and the cunning priests, with the aid of mirrors, caused a ray of the
setting sun--a shaft of intense brightness--to fall on the lips of
the statue of the god as if in derision of his enemies. Of dramatic
effects there are many intensely dramatic; more especially the scene
where Constantine mounts the ladder with his axe to overthrow the god,
almost as sensitive himself to his own daring as the young agonized
girl, watching him as if the first blow he should deal to the beautiful
and unique work of art might wreck her love for him, as his axe would
wreck the ivory. Even more powerful than this, perhaps, is the scene
where Theophilus, struggling in vain to persuade even his own followers
to the destruction of the great image, seizes the crucifix of his own
Lord, and trembling almost at his own audacity, dashes it to the ground
in fragments, to show that even the symbol of his own religion is as
nothing compared with the spirit; falling then upon his knees in an
ecstasy of remorseful prayer, and gathering up the bits of broken ivory
to kiss them devoutly. The book is so full of scenes and effects like
this, that while quite as instructive in its way as the other Egyptian
novels, it is more strikingly interesting as a story.”--_The Critic, N.
Y._

       *       *       *       *       *

  =ASPASIA.=--A Romance, by =Robert Hamerling=, from the German by Mary
  J. Safford, in two vols. Paper, $1.00. Cloth, $1.75.

“We have read his work conscientiously, and, we confess, with profit.
Never have we had so clear an insight into the manners, thoughts, and
feelings of the ancient Greeks. No study has made us so familiar with
the age of Pericles. We recognize throughout that the author is master
of the period of which he treats. Moreover, looking back upon the work
from the end to the beginning, we clearly perceive in it a complete
unity of purpose not at all evident during the reading.

“Hamerling’s Aspasia, herself the most beautiful woman in all Hellas,
is the apostle of beauty and of joyousness, the implacable enemy of
all that is stern and harsh in life. Unfortunately, morality is stern,
and had no place among Aspasia’s doctrines. This ugly fact, Landor has
thrust as far into the background as possible. Hamerling obtrudes it.
He does not moralize, he neither condemns nor praises; but like fate,
silent, passionless, and resistless, he carries the story along, allows
the sunshine for a time to silver the turbid stream, the butterflies
and gnats to flutter above it in rainbow tints, and then remorselessly
draws over the landscape gray twilight. He but follows the course of
history; yet the absolute pitilessness with which he does it is almost
terrible.”--_Extracts from Review in Yale Literary Magazine._

“No more beautiful chapter can be found in any book of this age than
that in which Pericles and Aspasia are described as visiting the poet
Sophocles in the garden on the bank of the Cephissus.”--_Utica Morning
Herald._

“It is one of the great excellencies of this romance, this lofty song
of the genius of the Greeks, that it is composed with perfect artistic
symmetry in the treatment of the different parts, and from the first
word to the last is thoroughly harmonious in tone and coloring.
Therefore, in ‘Aspasia,’ we are given a book, which could only proceed
from the union of an artistic nature and a thoughtful mind--a book
that does not depict fiery passions in dramatic conflict, but with
dignified composure, leads the conflict therein described to the final
catastrophe.”--_Allgemeine Zeitung._ (Augsburg).

_William S. Gottsberger’s Publications._

       *       *       *       *       *

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       *       *       *       *       *

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       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Footnotes have been moved to the end of each chapter and relabeled
consecutively through the document.

Punctuation has been made consistent.

Variations in spelling and hyphenation were retained as they appear in
the original publication, except that obvious typographical errors have
been corrected.





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