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The Magician It might have been a picture by some master of genre. It seemed hardly by chance that the colours arranged themselves in such agreeable tones, or that the lines of the wall and the seated persons achieved such a graceful decoration. The atmosphere was extraordinarily peaceful. There was a knock at the door, and Arthur got up to open. The terrier followed at his heels. Oliver Haddo entered. Susie watched to see what the dog would do and was by this time not surprised to see a change come over it. With its tail between its legs, the friendly little beast slunk along the wall to the furthermost corner. It turned a suspicious, frightened eye upon Haddo and then hid its head. The visitor, intent upon his greetings, had not noticed even that there was an animal in the room. He accepted with a simple courtesy they hardly expected from him the young woman's thanks for his flowers. His behaviour surprised them. He put aside his poses. He seemed genuinely to admire the cosy little studio. He asked Margaret to show him her sketches and looked at them with unassumed interest. His observations were pointed and showed a certain knowledge of what he spoke about. He described himself as an amateur, that object of a painter's derision: the man 'who knows what he likes'; but his criticism, though generous, showed that he was no fool. The two women were impressed. Putting the sketches aside, he began to talk, of the many places he had seen. It was evident that he sought to please. Susie began to understand how it was that, notwithstanding his affectations, he had acquired so great an influence over the undergraduates of Oxford. There was romance and laughter in his conversation; and though, as Frank Hurrell had said, lacking in wit, he made up for it with a diverting pleasantry that might very well have passed for humour. But Susie, though amused, felt that this was not the purpose for which she had asked him to come. Dr Porhoet had lent her his entertaining work on the old alchemists, and this gave her a chance to bring their conversation to matters on which Haddo was expert. She had read the book with delight and, her mind all aflame with those strange histories wherein fact and fancy were so wonderfully mingled, she was eager to know more. The long toil in which so many had engaged, always to lose their fortunes, often to suffer persecution and torture, interested her no less than the accounts, almost authenticated, of those who had succeeded in their extraordinary quest. She turned to Dr Porhoet. 'You are a bold man to assert that now and then the old alchemists actually did make gold,' she said. 'I have not gone quite so far as that,' he smiled. 'I assert merely that, if evidence as conclusive were offered of any other historical event, it would be credited beyond doubt. We can disbelieve these circumstantial details only by coming to the conclusion beforehand that it is impossible they should be true.' 'I wish you would write that life of Paracelsus which you suggest in your preface.' Dr Porhoet, smiling shook his head. 'I don't think I shall ever do that now,' he said. 'Yet he is the most interesting of all the alchemists, for he offers the fascinating problem of an immensely complex character. It is impossible to know to what extent he was a charlatan and to what a man of serious science.' Susie glanced at Oliver Haddo, who sat in silence, his heavy face in shadow, his eyes fixed steadily on the speaker. The immobility of that vast bulk was peculiar. 'His name is not so ridiculous as later associations have made it seem,' proceeded the doctor, 'for he belonged to the celebrated family of Bombast, and they were called Hohenheim after their ancient residence, which was a castle near Stuttgart in Wuertemberg. The most interesting part of his life is that which the absence of documents makes it impossible accurately to describe. He travelled in Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, in Denmark, Sweden, and Russia. He went even to India. He was taken prisoner by the Tartars, and brought to the Great Khan, whose son he afterwards accompanied to Constantinople. The mind must be 7


The Magician  
The Magician  

W. Somerset Maugham