Between two flames the man stood, overlooking the crowd. A soft breeze, playing about the torches, sent shadows billowing across the massed folk on the ground. Shrewdly set with an eye to theatrical effect, these phares of a night threw out from the darkness the square bulk of the man’s figure, and, reflecting garishly upward from the naked hemlock of the platform, accentuated, as in bronze, the bosses of the face, and gleamed deeply in the dark, bold eyes. Half of Marysville buzzed and chattered in the park-space below, together with many representatives of the farming country near by, for the event had been advertised with skilled appeal: cf. the “Canoga County Palladium,” April 15, 1897, page 4.
The occupant of the platform, having paused, after a self-introductory trumpeting of professional claims, was slowly and with an eye to oratorical effect moistening lips and throat from a goblet at his elbow. Now, ready to resume, he raised a slow hand in an indescribable gesture of mingled command and benevolence. The clamor subsided to a murmur, over which his voice flowed and spread like oil subduing vexed waters.
“Pain. Pain. Pain. The primal curse, the dominant tragedy of life. Who among you, dear friends, but has felt it? You men, slowly torn upon the rack of rheumatism; you women, with the hidden agony gnawing at your breast” (his roving regard was swift, like a hawk, to mark down the sudden, involuntary quiver of a faded slattern under one of the torches); “all you who have known burning nights and pallid mornings, I offer you r-r-r-release!”
On the final word his face lighted up as from an inner fire of inspiration, and he flung his arms wide in an embracing benediction. The crowd, heavy-eyed, sodden, wondering, bent to him as the torch-fires bent to the breath of summer. With the subtle sense of the man who wrings his livelihood from human emotions, he felt the moment of his mastery approaching. Was it fully come yet? Were his fish securely in the net? Betwixt hovering hands he studied his audience.
His eyes stopped with a sense of being checked by the steady regard of one who stood directly in front of him only a few feet away; a solid-built, crisply outlined man of forty, carrying himself with a practical erectness, upon whose face there was a rather disturbing half-smile. The stranger’s hand was clasped in that of a little girl, wide-eyed, elfin, and lovely.
“Release,” repeated the man of the torches. “Blessed release from your torments. Peace out of pain.”
The voice was of wonderful quality, rich and unctuous, the labials dropping, honeyed, from the lips. It wooed the crowd, lured it, enmeshed it. But the magician had, a little, lost confidence in the power of his spell. His mind dwelt uneasily upon his well-garbed auditor. What was he doing there, with his keen face and worldly, confident carriage, amidst those clodhoppers? Was there peril in his presence? Your predatory creature hunts ever with fear in his heart.