We speak of these things only to smile at them; far be it from us to insult the reader’s understanding by asking him to regard them seriously. But story-tellers labor under one disadvantage which is peculiar to their profession,—the necessity of omniscience. This tends to make them top arbitrary, leads them to disregard the modesty of nature and the harmonies of reason in their methods. They will pretend to know things which they never could have seen or heard of, and for the truth of which they bring forward no evidence; thus forcing the reader to reject, as lacking proper confirmation, what he would else, from its inherent grace or sprightliness, be happy to accept.
That we shall be free from this reproach is rather our good fortune than our merit. It is by favor of our stars, not by virtue of our own, that we turn not aside from the plain path of truth to the by-ways of supernaturalism and improbability. Yet we refrain with difficulty from a breath of self-praise; there is a proud and solid satisfaction in holding an unassailable position could we but catch the world’s eye, we would meet it calmly!
Let us hasten to introduce our talisman. You may see it at this very moment, encircling the third finger of Doctor Glyphic’s left hand; in fact, it is neither more nor less than a quaint diamond ring. The stone, though not surprisingly large, is surpassingly pure and brilliant; as its keen, delicate ray sparkles on the eye, one marvels whence, in the dead of night, it got together so much celestial fire. Observe the setting; the design is unique. Two fairy serpents—one golden, the other fashioned from black meteoric iron—are intertwined along their entire length, forming the hoop of the ring. Their heads approach the diamond from opposite sides, and each makes a mighty bite at it with his tiny jaws, studded with sharp little teeth. Thus their contest holds the stone firmly in place. The whole forms a pretty symbol of the human soul, battled for by the good and the evil principles. But the diamond seems, in its entirety, to be an awkward mouthful for either. The snakes are wrought with marvellous dexterity and finish; each separate scale is distinguishable upon their glistening bodies, the wrinkling of the skin in the coils, the sparkling points of eyes, and the minute nostrils. Such works of art are not made nowadays; the ring is an antique,—a relic of an age when skill was out of all proportion to liberty,—a very distant time indeed. To deserve such a setting, the stone must have exceptional qualities. Let us take a closer look at it.