Chapter I. The Den of the Modern Wizard.

PROFESSOR MORTIKALI sat in his inner sanctum waiting for customers.

It was a hot day, during the early portion of the month of March, 1896, and although the Professor had all his blinds drawn down, and occupied the coolest corner of the Arcade, still he could not shut out those intense waves of Sydney heat that swept in, between the crevices of the doors and windows, although he managed to shut out a good deal of the intense light.

Never had such a hot season been in the memory of the oldest colonist as this heat wave of 1896. From January 1st to the 24th it had ranged from 112 degrees to 129 degrees in the shade in New South Wales, and people had dropped dead wholesale throughout the colony. In many of the inland townships the people had been panic-stricken, and fish were killed in the creeks and lakes by tons upon tons. It had cooled

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off a little by March, yet there were days, and this was one of them, when the heat fury of January seemed to repeat itself.

The Professor liked shadow, for he was a modern wizard and his business did not require much light; indeed the less light that was thrown upon it, the better it was conducted; therefore, it was not often that the green venetian blinds were drawn up.

The Professor was at present resting on his oars, for it was the slack hour of the day, the hour when no one, unless absolutely forced to come out, would care to face the terrific sun-glare of mid-day.

The Professor was of that peculiar craft which flourished so much during the earlier centuries, and has more or less flourished ever since under various disguises. He belonged to the tribe of the witch of Endor, that profession of seers and fore-tellers whom King Saul tried to put down in his vigorous and virtuous years, and afterwards weakly consulted in his decline; the same craft which that modern Solomon, King James I. of England, so rigorously hunted to death, and which might have died naturally only for the efforts of the Pschychological Society, and that able editor of Border-land, the discoverer of the fourth dimension.

It is not a profitable profession in merry old England, where the police imitate the tactics of Kings Saul and James, and take as much delight in making raids, as lively terriers do in hunting out rabbits. But in progressive New South Wales, where convict laws still hold sway, and men are

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hanged for attempted murder, while judges dictate to jurymen, as the celebrated Jeffreys used to do, where even the judges themselves consult the witches; fortune-telling and witchcraft thrive wonderfully, even in the midst of the universal depression which of late has fallen upon the. colonies.

In the Sydney of to-day you may see, amongst other closed places of business, the shutters up of many public houses and bars; the reason of this is that they have been raided by the police, because the proprietors have been selling poison undiluted to their customers, and although the colonised stomach can stand a good deal in the way of vitriol, and blue-stone, yet when the landlord omits to give his customers even the flavour of brandy, rum or whisky, then his fate as a landlord is decided.

They are a proud and conservative race, the New South Welshmen; they cannot stand the slightest approach to a joke about their country. You may abuse England or London as much as you are disposed to an Englishman, and he will only laugh unctuously, but you must not take the same liberty with a New South Welshman. His harbour is the most beautiful harbour in the world. If you admit this, yet suggest that the buildings might be just a little more classic, he will grow pale with passion and cut you dead. If you venture to hint that morality in its æsthetic quality is not so strictly observed amongst the politicians and tradesmen as it might be, he will consider it time to regard you as a dangerous person and a

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fit subject for the martial law that hangs first and tries afterwards, and is still in such active force in that sun-laved colony.

They aim to be very high-toned in Sydney, and imitate as nearly as they can the manners of fashionable London; therefore if an accomplished swindler or thief comes amongst them and knows his business thoroughly, he is nearly sure to be successful, for the veneer being all that they aspire to themselves, so are they satisfied with it in their visitors. In Victoria and Queensland the inhabitants are less conservative and much more level-headed.

Professor Mortikali was a wonderful man in his way, and pursued various branches as a livelihood. On his brass plate was written: “Professor Mortikali, Psychometrist, Pneumatologist, Futurist and Magneto-Electric Healer.” He called his establishment the Egyptian-Mystic Hall and Health Sanatorium, and had on his bills a wide range of subjects, from character delineating by Phrenology and Physiognomy, Fortune-telling by Cards, Palmistry or Astrology, with the art of healing all diseases by Hypnotic treatment.

There are hundreds in the same line of business throughout Sydney, and all apparently flourishing more or less, despite the dull times. In the Arcade were three rivals, while along the principal streets every fifth or sixth shop bears the sign of a Futurist, or an Astrologer, with all the paraphernalia exhibited in the windows which one expects to witness in the windows of a wizard.

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In the newspapers also of this enlightened and conservative country, along with singular gems of poetry, in the form of memoriam verses, you may read every day, advertisements like the following: “Wanted, a loving, clairvoyant, test-lady, with means preferred, as life partner, by Magnetic Healer, etc.,” and yet no one laughs either at the verses or the advertisements, they have become so accustomed to both. But they get terribly vicious if any stranger attempts to criticise their politicians, or their professionals.

Professor Mortikali had his front window artfully set out, a plaster cast of the hand of Deeming the murderer, with casts and photographs of actors, clergymen, and other distinct types were displayed. A phrenological head stood on a stucco pillar, and the complete skeleton of a baby dangled inside a glass case, specimens of snakes and tape worms were coiled in bottles, or dried and stuffed, and grouped about, while the invariable alligator, which Hogarth has accustomed us to in his pictures of the Quack, was likewise displayed.

A curtain, half-drawn back from the doorway, revealed the image of a gipsy holding out her hand to be crossed with silver, while at a little counter sat an attractive-looking girl, costumed in black velvet, scarlet facings, and glittering metallic discs, such as we were used to gaze on at “fairs” in our youthful days. There was no attempt at advancement, or dressing up to date in this establishment. The old-fashioned arrangements appeared to answer the purpose perfectly, the same amount of

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rouge and powder on the face of this attractive handmaid to the wizard, the generous display of snowy neck, and the usual surroundings of curtains, herbs and stuffed monstrosities, they were all there, while inside waited the Futurist and Faith-Healer.

At this precise hour of mid-day the Professor and his handmaid were both similarly occupied in discussing their lunch. Hers was a slight refection, as befitted a Sydney nymph of her light and powdery nature. A couple of tarts, and an ice-cream, which she had procured at the next door. The ice she had finished first, before it became quite liquid, and now she was leisurely discussing the fruit and pastry.

Inside the sanctum the Professor was having a heavier meal, as befitted the nerve wear and tear of his occupation; an underdone beef-steak with a chunk of bread and a tankard of colonial beer, vulgarly called “swanky.”

The Professor was a man well advanced in years, of an ordinary height and inclined to run to stoutness. He wore his iron-grey tresses long, so that they fell over his back in a lank and straggly fashion, his beard and moustache also were grey and mangy, while his rubicund complexion, commonplace features, and very small eyes, reminded one somehow of a mendicant friar of the Middle Ages.

His small eyes were crow-like and rather vacant in their expression, and what linen he displayed was of the dirtiest and most rumpled description. His garments also, although at one date black,

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had evidently been purchased at a second-hand establishment, and were both frayed and rusty as well as badly fitting, and being originally of the dress-suit order, gave him the appearance of a broken-down waiter at a poor restaurant.

He was not a wholesome-looking object, while he wolfed his steak as a dog might devour its meal; the steak was badly cut and indifferently cooked, the intense heat of the atmosphere, the perspiration running from the Professor's forehead and cheeks in dirty rivulets, and his dirty hands helping the fork. Ignorant, low-bred, square-pointed fingers, unclipped nails in deepest mourning, and, added to this, that vacuous mouth, with the slobbering lips taking in the steak with such evident unction, and the solitary unwashed tooth emphasizing that moist unction, rendered this hypnotic disciple of “Border-land” rather gruesome than pleasant.

As he sat, he scratched his head sometimes with his dirty nails, sometimes with his greasy fork; he also fumbled suggestively about his half-opened waistcoat as one is used to see tramps do when they fancy themselves unobserved; altogether, this Sydney interpreter of “Border-land” lore gave one the decided impression of that drawing in Punch, by Harry Furness, of the man who wrote about Pears' Soap. “Two years ago I used your soap, since when I have used no other.” Harry Furness's model was attentuated and unkempt, but fancy a professor of mystic lore, in a badly-fitting waiter's dress-suit; the knees baggy, and the vest over

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tight. The angry buttons threatening to sever. Burly as a friar of old and soft as a retired bantam boxer, with a vacuous countenance, and crow-like eyes, always on the goggle, and you have the Professor, or ancient wizard up to date.

Supplement this with the awful heat of a Sydney mid-summer day, an underdone steak cut in colonial fashion, and cooked ditto; the natural perspiration and fumes of an unwashable tramp, decked up in an old dress suit, and you may realise the picture of this High Priest of the temple of mystery without further description.

He had just finished his gorge and imbibed his last drop of colonial “swanky,” when the hand-maid popped in her head, and shedding a tiny stream of pearl powder, which after all sweetened the apartment a little, announced in brassy tones:

“Are ye done, Perfessor, for there's a laydy a-waiting ter consult yer?”

The Professor bundled his plates and beer-mug to a side table, where he covered them with an old newspaper, then dusting the crumbs aside with his hand, and wiping his hands again on the tails of his coat he produced a greasy pack of cards, and said with calm dignity:

“Yes, Matilder, show the party in.”

The party entered, a young woman of about twenty-five, fashionably dressed and according to the season, in virgin white, with a Donna-like bunch of snowy ostrich feathers in her hat, and a cloud or dust-veil about her face; she was slim-built and graceful in figure, and the Professor, who

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loved the fair sex, took notice that she had a wealth of golden-brown hair under the drooping feathers.

“Sit down, my dear,” he said with a smirk on his sweaty and greasy red face, and the party sat and silently looked at him through her cloud. “Is it your fortune ye want to know? By the cards or by the hand?—or are you in any other trouble that a man of my experience can help you? Girls will be girls, you know, my dear, therefore you may safely give me your confidence, for it won't be abused.”

He bared his lonely tooth and regarded her with a senile smile, while his crow-like, vacant gaze tried to get behind the cloud.

The visitor laughed softly yet enjoyably, then after a pause she replied, removing her white gloves at the same time:

“No, old man, I don't want any confidence business. I only want you to tell my fortune by my hands and by the cards.”

“It's unlucky, they say, to do both at one sitting, yet, if you turn round and go to the door and cross back again, that will break the charm. Which will you have first?”

“My hand, Professor; tell me what I've done and what I'm going to do, and then I can ask you other questions when we come to the cards.”

She held out her hands, palms upward, to him, while he took a magnifying glass, and after giving himself a preliminary hitch and scratch, he stooped over them to examine.

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Shapely hands they were, with tapering long fingers and fleshy palms, which had hard and well-defined lines running across them.

“You are married,” the Professor said after a pause.

“Well, what of that?”

“No more than you think of it yourself, my dear. You have had some troubles in the past, and have had some adventures; but your marriage has not been a happy one, there are no children, and you'd like to be free of your bond.”

“Yes, and shall I?”

“I see a death here, and a little trouble, but your line of life is clear.”

“Shall I be married again?”

“Yes, and have much prosperity in the future.”

“That'll do, when will it come off?”

“How old are you?”


“You'll be married again before you are twenty-eight.”

Budgerrie for you, old man; now let's try the cards.”

She rose abruptly and went to the door, returning in a moment, while the Professor arranged his cards.

“There's an old fellow waiting for his fortune, at the door, Professor. Will you take him or me first?” she asked as she returned.

“Ladies first, of course,” answered the Professor gallantly, again baring his solitary tooth.

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“Drive ahead then, for I am in a hurry,” said the young woman curtly.

“Shuffle and cut.”

After she had done so, he began to read:

“There is a dark man here close beside you, your husband, I should say, but you turn your back on him—you take hearts, do you not?”

“Yes,” replied the young woman.

“There's a diamond man facing you, that is the one you fancy.”

“Go on.”

“You'll get that diamond man, but the club man will cause you some trouble; there's a death here——”

“To the club man?” eagerly.

“I don't know yet. Shuffle again and I'll tell you.”

Thrice did the cloud-veiled woman, with the strong white hands, shuffle the cards, and then he answered her curiosity and desires.

“Yes, the club man will pass from your path, and the diamond man is the winner.”

“Thank Heaven for that!” as she paid him his fee and went forth, brushing by the white-haired customer who was waiting his turn.

She did not look at the white-haired customer, and she was too closely veiled for any one to see her features, yet he glanced after her through his blue glasses in a curious way as she went out of the doorway, then he sought the Professor.

A tall and singularly powerful-looking man he was, this second visitor, dressed in thin grey serge,

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smooth faced, and with a shock of white hair that fell about his shoulders after the style of the ex-Premier of New South Wales—that leonine and doggerel verse writer, Sir Henry Parkes. Indeed for a moment the Professor thought that this much-married politician must have shaved, and mounted blue glasses as a sort of disguise, but he soon recovered himself, with the assurance gained from knowledge that this eminent man would never sink his personality, no matter what position he chose to take up, therefore he became composed and ready for his visitor.

“I want my future read,” said the stranger.

“By the palm, or by the cards?”

“The hand will do.”

He stretched a sinewy hand out to the Professor's magnifying glass.

“You've experienced troubles in the past.”


“But you have a singularly open and confiding as well as a generous nature. I may say that you are a man who has been imposed upon by false friends, and may be again if you are not particularly careful. You——”

“What a confounded old fraud you are to be sure, Jeremiah Judge.”

The stranger, as he uttered these words, his left hand still lying under the Professor's magnifying glass, removed with his right hand the blue spectacles and snowy wig, and revealed a hard-faced but handsome young man, with short cropped black hair, and glittering black eyes.

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“Fancy me being sucked in by anyone!”

The Professor fell back on his chair, confounded, his crow-blue eyes almost starting out of his head as he uttered the feeble cry:

“Jack Milton, by George!”