“Yes, that’s another matter. One has a choice of two methods to reach the enemy one is aiming at. The first and least used is this: the magician employs a voyant, a woman who is known in that world as ’a flying spirit’; she is a somnambulist, who, put into a hypnotic state, can betake herself, in spirit, wherever one wishes her to go. It is then possible to have her transmit the magic poisons to a person whom one designates, hundreds of leagues away. Those who are stricken in this manner have seen no one, and they go mad or die without suspecting the venefice. But these voyants are not only rare, they are also unreliable, because other persons can likewise fix them in a cataleptic state and extract confessions from them. So you see why persons like Docre have recourse to the second method, which is surer. It consists in evoking, just as in Spiritism, the soul of a dead person and sending it to strike the victim with the prepared spell. The result is the same but the vehicle is different. There,” concluded Des Hermies, “reported with painstaking exactness, are the confidences which our friend Gevingey made me this morning.”
“And Dr. Johannes cures people poisoned in this manner?” asked Carhaix.
“Yes, Dr. Johannes—to my knowledge—has made inexplicable cures.”
“But with what?”
“Gevingey tells me, in this connection, that the doctor celebrates a sacrifice to the glory of Melchisedek. I haven’t the faintest idea what this sacrifice is, but Gevingey will perhaps enlighten us if he returns cured.”
“In spite of all, I should not be displeased, once in my life to get a good look at Canon Docre,” said Durtal.
“Not I! He is the incarnation of the Accursed on earth!” cried Carhaix, assisting his friends to put on their overcoats.
He lighted his lantern, and while they were descending the stair, as Durtal complained of the cold, Des Hermies burst into a laugh.
“If your family had known the magical secrets of the plants, you would not shiver this way,” he said. “It was learned in the sixteenth century that a child might be immune to heat or cold all his life if his hands were rubbed with juice of absinth before the twelfth month of his life had passed. That, you see, is a tempting prescription, less dangerous than those which Canon Docre abuses.”
Once below, after Carhaix had closed the door of his tower, they hastened their steps, for the north wind swept the square.
“After all,” said Des Hermies, “Satanism aside—and yet Satanism also is a phase of religion—admit that, for two miscreants of our sort, we hold singularly pious conversations. I hope they will be counted in our favour up above.”
“No merit on our part,” replied Durtal, “for what else is there to talk about? Conversations which do not treat of religion or art are so base and vain.”