Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Visit to the Astrologer
By John Henry Shorthouse (1834–1903)
From ‘John Inglesant’

AFTER two or three days, Eustace [Inglesant] told his brother one morning that he was ready to go into the West; but before starting, he said he wished Johnny to accompany him to a famous astrologer in Lambeth Marsh, to whom already he had shown the horoscope, and who had appointed a meeting that night to give his answer, and who had also promised to consult a crystal as an additional means of obtaining information of the future.  1
  Accordingly, late in the afternoon, they took a wherry at the Temple Stairs, and were ferried over to Lambeth Marsh, a wide extent of level ground between Southwark and the Bishop’s Palace, on which only a few straggling houses had been built. The evening was dark and foggy, and a cold wind swept across the marsh, making them wrap their short cloaks closely about them. It was almost impossible to see more than a yard or two before them; and they would probably have found great difficulty in finding the wizard’s house, had not a boy with a lantern met them a few paces from the river, who inquired if they were seeking the astrologer. This was the wizard’s own boy, whom, with considerable worldly prudence at any rate, he had dispatched to find his clients and bring them to the house. The boy brought them into a long low room, with very little furniture in it, a small table at the upper end, with a large chair behind it, and three or four high-backed chairs placed along the wall. On the floor, in the middle of the room, was a large double circle; but there were no figures or signs of any kind about it. On the table was a long thin rod. A lamp which hung from the roof over the table cast a faint light about the room, and a brazier of lighted coals stood in the chimney.  2
  The astrologer soon entered the room, with the horoscope Eustace had left with him in his hand. He was a fine-looking man, with a serious and lofty expression of face, dressed in a black gown, with the square cap of a divine, and a fur hood or tippet. He bowed courteously to the gentlemen, who saluted him with great respect. His manner was coldest to John Inglesant, whom he probably regarded with suspicion as an amateur. He however acknowledged that Inglesant’s criticisms on the horoscope were correct; but pointed out to him that in his own reading of it many of the aspects were very adverse. John Inglesant knew this, though he had chosen to conceal it from his brother. The astrologer then informed them that he had drawn out a scheme of the heavens himself at the moment when first consulted by Eustace; and that, in quite different ways and by very different aspects, much the same result had been arrived at. “As, however,” he went on to say, “the whole question is to some extent vitiated by the suspicion of foul play, and it will be impossible for any of us to free our minds entirely from these suspicions, I do not advise any farther inquiry; but I propose that you should consult a consecrated beryl or crystal, a mode of inquiry far more high and certain than astrology,—so much so, indeed, that I will seriously confess to you that I use the latter but as the countenance and blind; but this search in the crystal is by the help of the blessed spirits, and is open only to the pure from sin, and to men of piety, humility, and charity.”  3
  As he said these words, he produced from the folds of his gown a large crystal or polished stone, set in a circle of gold, supported by a silver stand. Round the circle were engraved the names of angels. He placed this upon the table, and continued:—  4
  “We must pray to God that he will vouchsafe us some insight into this precious stone: for it is a solemn and serious matter upon which we are, second only to that of communication with the angelical creatures themselves; which indeed is vouchsafed to some, but only to those of the greatest piety, to which we may not aspire. Therefore let us kneel down and humbly pray to God.”  5
  They all knelt; and the adept, commencing with the Prayer Book collect for the festival of St. Michael, recited several other prayers, all for extreme and spotless purity of life.  6
  He then rose, the two others continuing on their knees, and struck a small bell, upon which the boy whom they had before seen entered the room by a concealed door in the wainscot. He was a pretty boy, with a fair and clean skin, and was dressed in a surplice similar to those worn by choristers. He took up a position by the crystal, and waited his master’s orders.  7
  “I have said,” continued the adept, “that these visions can be seen only by the pure, and by those who, by long and intense looking into the spiritual world, have at last penetrated somewhat into its gloom. I have found these mostly to be plain and simple people, of an earnest faith,—country people, grave-diggers, and those employed to shroud the dead, and who are accustomed to think much upon objects connected with death. This boy is the child of the sexton of Lambeth Church, who is himself a godly man. Let us pray to God.”  8
  Upon this he knelt down again and remained for some time engaged in silent prayer. He then rose and directed the boy to look into the crystal, saying, “One of these gentlemen desires news of his wife.”  9
  The boy looked intently into the crystal for some moments, and then said, speaking in a measured and low voice:—  10
  “I see a great room, in which there is a bed with rich hangings; pendent from the ceiling is a silver lamp. A tall dark man, with long hair, and a dagger in his belt, is bending over the bed with a cup in his hand.”  11
  “It is my wife’s room,” said Eustace in a whisper, “and it is no doubt the Italian: he is tall and dark.”  12
  The boy continued to look for some time into the crystal, but said nothing; then he turned to his master and said, “I can see nothing; some one more near to this gentleman must look; this other gentleman,” he said suddenly, and turning to John Inglesant, “if he looks, will be able to see.”  13
  The astrologer started. “Ah!” he said, “why do you say that, boy?”  14
  “I can tell who will see aught in the crystal, and who will not,” replied the boy: “this gentleman will see.”  15
  The astrologer seemed surprised and skeptical, but he made a sign to Inglesant to rise from his knees, and to take his place by the crystal.  16
  He did so, and looked steadily into it for some seconds; then he shook his head.  17
  “I can see nothing,” he said.  18
  “Nothing!” said the boy: “can you see nothing?”  19
  “No. I see clouds and mist.”  20
  “You have been engaged,” said the boy, “in something that was not good—something that was not true; and it has dimmed the crystal sight. Look steadily, and if it is as I think, that your motive was not false, you will see more.”  21
  Inglesant looked again; and in a moment or two gave a start, saying,—“The mist is breaking! I see;—I see a large room, with a chimney of carved stone, and a high window at the end; in the window and on the carved stone is the same coat many times repeated,—three running greyhounds proper, on a field vert.”  22
  “I know the room,” said Eustace: “it is the inn parlor at Mintern, not six miles from Oulton. It was the manor of the Vinings before the wars, but is now an inn; that was their coat.”  23
  “Do you see aught else?” said the adept.  24
  Inglesant gave a long look; then he stepped back, and gazed at the astrologer, and from him to his brother, with a faltering and ashy look.  25
  “I see a man’s figure lie before the hearth, and the hearthstone is stained, as if with blood. Eustace, it is either you or I!”  26
  “Look again,” said the adept eagerly, “look again!”  27
  “I will look no more!” said Inglesant fiercely; “this is the work of a fiend, to lure men to madness or despair!”  28
  As he spoke, a blast of wind—sudden and strong—swept through the room; the lamp burned dim; and the fire in the brazier went out. A deathly coldness filled the apartment, and the floor and the walls seemed to heave and shake. A loud whisper, or muffled cry, seemed to fill the air; and a terrible awe struck at the hearts of the young men. Seizing the rod from the table, the adept assumed a commanding attitude, and waved it to and fro in the air; gradually the wind ceased, the dread coldness abated, and the fire burned again of its own accord. The adept gazed at Inglesant with a stern and set look.  29
  “You are of a strange spirit, young sir,” he said: “pure in heart enough to see things which many holy men have desired in vain to see; and yet so wild and rebellious as to anger the blessed spirits with your self-will and perverse thoughts. You will suffer fatal loss, both here and hereafter, if you learn not to give up your own will, and your own fancies, before the heavenly will and call.”  30
  Inglesant stared at the man in silence. His words seemed to him to mean far more than perhaps he himself knew. They seemed to come into his mind, softened with anxiety for his brother, and shaken by these terrible events, with the light of a revelation. Surely this was the true secret of his wasted life, however strange might be the place and action which revealed it to him. Whatever he might think afterwards of this night, it might easily stand to him as an allegory of his own spirit, set down before him in a figure. Doubtless he was perverse and headstrong under the pressure of the Divine Hand; doubtless he had followed his own notions rather than the voice of the inward monitor he professed to hear; henceforth, surely, he would give himself up more entirely to the heavenly voice.  31
  Eustace appeared to have seen enough of the future, and to be anxious to go. He left a purse of gold upon the wizard’s table; and hurried his brother to take his leave.  32
  Outside, the air was perfectly still; a thick motionless fog hung over the marsh and the river; not a breath of wind stirred.  33
  “That was a strange wind that swept by as you refused to look,” said Eustace to his brother: “do you really think the spirits were near, and were incensed?”  34
  Inglesant did not reply: he was thinking of another spirit than that the wizard had evoked.  35
  They made their way through the fog to Lambeth, and took boat again to the Temple Stairs.  36

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