San Francisco possesses one great advantage—you can easily get out of it. Leaving the pan-handle of the Park behind one, and following the turn of the cars, one passes through a pretty valley, green and fair as any garden, and dotted with small houses. An old cemetery lies to one side of it; where unconventional inscriptions and queer epitaphs can be traced on the half-buried stones, covered with a tangle of vines and weeds. Still moving forward one reaches Olympus, and climbing to its heights, one sees away below, in the far distance, the Coast Range—like a rampart of strength; the blue waters of the bay, sparkling and dancing in the sunlight—steamers flashing their path on its bosom; and tiny white specks scudding in the breeze. Below is the city, its houses, small, and closed in, like toy villages in Christmas boxes; whilst the slopes around are green with fresh grass; and here and there are thick clusters of eucalyptus and pines. The ocean is partly hidden from view by a peak, which rises directly to the west, and is separated from that on which one is standing by a deep and thickly wooded valley. Descending, by means of a narrow winding path, one passes through dense clumps of hickory, chestnut, mountain ash, and walnut trees, whose strong lateral branches afford ample protection from the sun, and at the same time furnish playgrounds to innumerable bright-eyed squirrels. Further down one comes upon gentle elms, succeeded by sassafras and locust—these, in their turn, succeeded by the softer linden, red bud, catalpa, and maple; and at the foot of the declivity, and in the bottom of the valley, wild shrubbery, interspersed with silver willows, and white poplars. Still following the path down the vale, in a southerly direction, one, at length, finds oneself in an amphitheatre, shut in on all sides by trees and bushes of a still greater variety; here and there, a gigantic and much begnarled oak; here, a triple-stemmed tulip tree of some eighty feet in height, its glossy, vivid green leaves and profuse blossoms presenting a picture of unsurpassed beauty and splendour; there, equally beautiful, though in marked contrast, a tall and slender silver birch. The floor of the amphitheatre is, for the most part, grass—soft, thick, velvety and miraculously green. The silence is such as makes it wholly inconceivable, that so vast a city as San Francisco can be little over six miles distant. Though one may strain one's ears to the utmost, nothing is to be heard but the occasional tinkling of a cow-bell, the lowing of cattle and the desultory note of birds. It is the perfect quiet which Nature alone can give; and it so impressed Hamar that he at once decided that this was the very spot essential for the ceremony of initiation into the Black Art.
The locality selected, the night had next to be chosen—and the conditions demanding that on the night of the initiation there must be a new moon, cusp of seventh house, and conjoined with Saturn, in opposition to Jupiter, Hamar and his confederates had to wait exactly three weeks, from the date of the conclusion of the tests, before they could proceed.
Shortly before midnight, on the spot already described, Hamar, Curtis and Kelson met; and, after searching thoroughly amongst the trees and bushes in the vicinity of the amphitheatre to make sure no one was in hiding, they commenced operations.
On a perfectly level piece of ground a circle of seven feet radius was clearly defined. This circle was cut into seven sectors; and an inner circle from the same centre and with a radius of six feet was next drawn. In each part of the sectors, between the circumferences of the first and second circle, were inscribed, in chalk, the names of the seven principal vices (according to Atlantean ideas), and the seven most malignant diseases. Within the second circle, and using the same centre, was drawn a third circle, of five feet in radius, and in each part of the sectors, between the circumferences of the second and third circles, were written the names of the seven types of spirits most antagonistic to man's moral progress.
Hamar had brought with him a sack—the same he had used to transport Satan's corpse—and from out of it he produced a half-starved tabby, that obviously could harm no one, owing to the fact that its head was tied up in a muslin bag and its four legs strapped together.
"It's a good thing there is no member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals anywhere near," Kelson exclaimed, eyeing Hamar resentfully. "Wouldn't a mouse or a rat have done as well?"
"No!" Hamar ejaculated, depositing the brute with a plump on the ground; "the conditions are that the animal sacrificed must be a cat. I got the poorest specimen I could find, for I dislike butchering just as much as you do."
"How are you going to do it?" Kelson asked.
Hamar pointed to a chopper. "The conditions say with steel," he said; "only with steel, and I should bungle with a knife. You must look the other way. Now help me with the fire."
Besides the cat, the sack contained a dozen or so bundles of faggots, well steeped in paraffin, several blocks of wood, a tripod, and a big tin saucepan.
With the wood, a fire was soon kindled in the centre of the circle; and the tripod placed over it. Two pints of spring water were then poured into the saucepan, and to this were added 1 ounce of oxalic acid, 1 ounce of verdigris, 1½ ounces of hemlock leaves, ½ ounce of henbane, ¾ ounce of saffron, 2 ounces of aloes, 3 drachms of opium, 1 ounce of mandrake-root, 5 drachms of salanum, 7 drachms of poppy-seed, ½ ounce of assafœtida, and ½ ounce of parsley. As soon as the saucepan containing these ingredients began to boil Hamar threw into it two adders' heads, three toads and a centipede.
"Where on earth did you get all those horrors?" Curtis asked, shrinking away from the bag which had held them.
"Here," Hamar said laconically. "It's extraordinary what a lot of nasty things there are amid so much apparent beauty. I say apparent, because Nature is a champion faker. You have only to rake about in these bushes and you'll find snakes galore, whilst under pretty nearly every stone are centipedes. Like both of you, who never by any chance poke your noses outside the city, I fancied snakes and centipedes were confined to the prairies. But I know better now. Besides, where do you think I found the toads? Why, in the cellars under Meidlers'!"
"What, our late governor's?" Kelson cried.
Hamar nodded. "Yes!" he said; "under the very spot where we used to sit. The water's a foot deep in that cellar, and if there are as many toads in the cellars of the other houses in the block, then Sacramento Street has a corner in them. I'm going to be executioner now, so look the other way, Matt!"
Kelson needed no second bidding; and sticking his fingers in his ears, walked to some little distance. When Hamar called him back, the deed was accomplished—the conditions prescribed in the rites had been observed—the tabby was in the saucepan on the fire, and its blood had been besprinkled on each of the seven sectors of the circle.
"We must now take our seats on the ground," Hamar said; "I'd better be in the centre—you, Matt, on the right, and you, Ed, on the left—allowing three clear feet between us."
Hamar showed them how to sit—with legs crossed and arms folded.
For some minutes no one spoke. The wind rustled through the bushes and an owl hooted. Kelson, feeling the night air cold, drew his overcoat tightly around and the others followed suit. Then Curtis said—
"Do you really think there's anything in it, Leon? Aren't we fools to go on wasting our time like this?"
To which Hamar replied: "Shut up! You were frightened enough doing the tests!"
From afar off, away on the shimmering bosom of the bay came the faint hooting of a steamer.
"That's the Oleander!" Kelson murmured.
"Rot!" Curtis snapped. "How do you know? You can't tell from this distance. It might be the Daisy, or the San Marie, or any other ship."
Kelson made no reply; Hamar blew his nose, and once again there was silence.
The effect of the moonlight had now become weird. From the trees and bushes crept legions of tall, gaunt shadows, and whilst some of these were explicable, there were others that certainly had no apparent counterparts in any of the natural objects around them. Even Curtis, in spite of his scoffing, showed no inclination to examine them too closely; but kept his face resolutely turned to the more cheery light of the fire. The soft, cool, sweet-scented air gradually acted as an anæsthetic, and Kelson and Curtis were almost asleep, when Hamar's voice recalled them sharply to themselves.
"It's just two!" he said. "Sit tight and listen while I repeat the incantation, and for goodness' sake keep cool if anything happens. Remember we are here with an object—namely—to get everything we can out of the Other World."
"Trust you for that!" Curtis sneered; "but all the same nothing's going to happen."
"I am not sure of that," Hamar said, and after a brief pause began to repeat these words—
"Morbas from the mountains,
Where flow malignant fountains.
We are ready for you—Come!
Vampires from the passes,
Where grow blood-sucking grasses,
We are ready for you—Come!
Vice Elementals pretty
Give ear unto our ditty
We are ready for you—Come!
Planetians, forms so fearful,
We inform you, eager, tearful,
We are ready for you—Come!
Clanogrians, things of sorrow.
Postpone not till to-morrow,
We are ready for you—Come!
Barrowvians, shades seclusive,
Be not to us exclusive,
We are ready for you—Come!
Earthbound spirits of the Dead
Approach with grim and noiseless tread—
We are ready for you—Come!"
He then got up and, going to the fire, sprinkled over the flames six drachms of belladonna, three drachms of drosera and one ounce of nux vomica; using in each case his left hand. Returning to his former position he drew with the forefinger of his left hand, on the ground, the outline of a club-foot; a hand with the fingers clenched and a long pointed thumb standing upright; and a bat. At his request Kelson and Curtis carefully imitated the devices, each in the space allotted to him.
Hamar then cried: "Creastie havoonen balababoo!"; which Hamar explained was Atlantean for "devil of the damned appear!"
"He won't!" Curtis muttered, "because he doesn't exist. There are devils—Meidler Brothers were devils—but there is no one devil! It's all——" He suddenly stopped and an intense hush fell upon them all.
A cloud obscured the moon, the fire burned dim, and the gloom of the amphitheatre thickened till the men lost sight of each other. A cold air then rose from the ground and fanned their nostrils. Something flew past their heads with an ominous wail; whilst from the direction of the fire came a hollow groan.
"The advent of the Unknown," Hamar murmured, "shall be heralded in by the shrieking of an owl, the groaning of the mandrake—there is mandrake in the saucepan—the croaking of a toad—we haven't had that yet!"
"Yes, there it is!" Kelson whispered—and whilst he was speaking there came a dismal croak, croak, and the swaying and crying of an ash—"Hush!"
They listened—and all three distinctly heard the swishing of a slender tree trunk as it hissed backwards and forwards. Then, a cry so horrid, harsh and piercing that even the sceptical, sneering Curtis gave vent to an expression of fear. Again a hush, and increasing darkness and cold. Kelson called out—
"Don't do that, Leon."
"I'm not doing anything," Hamar said testily. "Pull yourself together." A moment later he said to Curtis, "It's you, Curtis. Shut up. This is no time for monkeying."
"You are both either mad or dreaming," Curtis replied. "I haven't stirred from my seat. Hulloa! What's that? What's that, Leon? There—over there! Look!"
As Curtis spoke they all three became conscious of living things around them—things that moved about, silently and surreptitiously and conveyed the impression of mockery. The hills, the valley, the trees were full of it—the whole place teemed with it—teemed with silent, subtle, stealthy mockery. The senses of the three men were now keenly alive, but a dead weight hung upon their limbs and rendered them useless. And as they stared into the gloom, in sickly fear, the firelight flickered and they saw shadows, such as the moon, when low in the heaven, might fashion from the figure of a man; but yet they were shadows neither of man, nor God, nor of any familiar thing. They were dark, vague, formless and indefinite, and they quivered—quivered with a quivering that suggested mockery.
Suddenly the shadows disappeared; the flickering of the flames ceased; and in the place of the fire appeared a seething, writhing mass of what looked like white luminous snakes. And in the midst of this mass sprang up a cylindrical form, which grew and grew until it attained a height of ten or twelve feet, when it remained stationary and threw out branches. And the three men now saw it was a tree—a tree with a sleek, pulpy, semi-transparent, perspiring trunk full of a thick, white, vibrating, luminous fluid; and that it was laden with a fruit, in shape resembling an apple, but of the same hue and material as the trunk. Spread out on the ground around it, were its roots, twitching and palpitating with repulsive life, and bare with a bareness that shocked the senses. It was so utterly and inconceivably unlike what Hamar, Curtis and Kelson had imagined the Unknown—and yet, withal, so monstrous (not merely in its shape but in its suggestions), and so vividly real and livid, that they were not merely terrified—they were stricken with a terror that rendered them dumb and helpless. And as they looked at it, from out the trunk, shot an enormous thing—white and glistening, and fashioned like a human tongue. And after pointing derisively at them, it withdrew; whereupon all the fruit shook, as if convulsed with unseemly laughter. They then saw between the foremost branches of the tree a big eye. The white of it was thick and pasty, the iris spongy in texture, and the pupil bulging with a lurid light. It stared at them with a steady stare—insolent and quizzical. Hamar and his friends stared back at it in fascinated horror, and would have continued staring at it indefinitely, had not Hamar's mercenary instincts come to their rescue. He recollected that time was pressing, and that unless he got into communication with the strange thing at once, according to the book, it would vanish—and he might never be able to get in touch with it again. Thus egged on, he made a great effort to regain his courage, and at length succeeded in forcing himself to speak. Though his voice was weak and shaking he managed to pronounce the prescribed mode of address, viz.:—"Bara phonen etek mo," which being interpreted is, "Spirit from the Unknown, give ear to me." He then explained their earnest desire to pay homage to the Supernatural, and to be initiated into the mysteries of the Black Art. When Hamar had concluded his address, the anticipations of the three as to how it would be answered, or whether it would be answered at all—were such that they were forced to hold their breath almost to the point of suffocation. If the Thing could speak what would its voice be like? The seconds passed, and they were beginning to prepare themselves for disappointment, when suddenly across the intervening space separating them from the Unknown, the reply came—came in soft, silky, lisping tones—human and yet not human, novel and yet in some way—a way that defied analysis—familiar. Strange to say, they all three felt that this familiarity belonged to a far back period of their existence, no less than to a more modern one—to a period, in fact, to which they could affix no date. And, although a perfect unity of expression suggested that the utterance of the Thing was the utterance of one being only, a certain variation in its tones, a rising and falling from syllable to syllable, led them to infer that the voice was not the voice of one but of many.
"You are anxious to acquire knowledge of the Secrets associated with the Great Atlantean Magic?" the voice lisped.
"We are!" Hamar stammered, "and we are willing to give our souls in exchange for them."
"Souls!" the voice lisped, whilst trunk and branches swayed lightly, and the air was full of silent merriment. "Souls! you speak in terms you do not understand. To acquire the secrets of Black Magic, all you have to do is to agree that during a brief period—a period of a few months, you will live together in harmony; that you will make use of the powers you acquire to the detriment of all save yourselves; that you will never allow your minds to revert to anything spiritual; and—that you will abstain from—marrying."
"And if we succeed in carrying out the conditions?" Hamar asked.
"Then," the voice replied, "you will retain free, untrammelled possession of your knowledge."
"For how long?" Curtis queried.
"For the natural term of your lives—that is to say, for as long as you would have lived had you never been initiated into the secrets of magic."
"And if we fail?"
"You will pass into the permanent possession of the Unknown."
"Does that mean we shall die the moment we fail?" Kelson inquired timidly.
"Die!" the voice lisped. "Again you speak in terms you do not understand. You may be sent for."
"You say—in perfect harmony." Hamar put in. "Does that mean without a quarrel, however slight?"
"It means without a quarrel that would lead to separation. The moment you disunite the compact is broken."
"What advantages will the secrets bring us?" Hamar inquired. "Can we gain unlimited wealth?"
"Yes!" the voice replied. "Unlimited wealth and influence."
"So long as you fulfil the conditions of the compact you will enjoy perfect health. Will you, or will you not, pledge yourselves?"
"I am ready if you fellows are," Hamar whispered.
"I am!" Curtis cried. "Anything is better than the life we are living at present."
"And I, too," Kelson said. "I agree with Ed."
"Very well then," the voice once more lisped. "Each of you take a fruit and eat it, and the compact is irrevocably struck. You cannot back out of it without incurring the consequences already named. Don't be afraid, step up here and help yourselves—one apiece—mind, no more." And again it seemed to Hamar, Curtis and Kelson as if the tree and everything around it was convulsed with silent laughter.
"Come on!" Hamar cried, somewhat imperatively. "Don't waste time. You've decided, and besides, remember this affair may turn out trumps. I'll go first," and walking up to the tree he plucked a fruit and began to eat it. Curtis and Kelson slowly followed suit.
"I believe I'm eating a live slug, or a toad," Curtis muttered, with a retch.
"And I, too," Kelson whispered. "It's filthy. I shall be sick. If I am, will it make any difference to the compact, I wonder?"
What the fruit really tasted like they could never decide. It reminded them of many things and of nothing. It was sweet yet bitter; it repelled but at the same time pleased them; it was as perplexing as the voice—as enigmatical. When they had eaten it they resumed their former positions on the ground, and the voice once again addressed them.
"The fruit you have consumed has created in you a fitness to make use of the powers about to be conferred. You have acquired the faculty of sorcery—you will be initiated by stages, into the knowledge and practice of it. These stages, seven in number, will cover the period of your compact, i. e. twenty-one months, and at the end of every three months—when a fresh stage is reached—you will receive fresh powers.
"In the first stage, the stage you are now entering upon, you will receive the power of divination. You will be told how to detect the presence of water and all kinds of metals, and how to read people's thoughts.
"In the second stage—exactly three months from to-day—you will receive the gift of second-sight; the power of separating your immaterial from your material body and projecting it, anywhere you will, on the physical plane; and, to a large extent, you will be enabled to circumvent gravity. Thus you will be able to perform all manner of jugglery tricks—tricks that will set the whole world gaping. Profit by them.
"In the third stage you will possess the secrets of invisibility; of walking on the water; of breathing under the water; of taming wild beasts; and of understanding their language.
"In the fourth stage you will understand how to inflict all manner of diseases, and work all sorts of spells; such, for instance, as bewitching milk, causing people to have fits, bad dreams, etc. You will also know how to create plagues—plagues of insects, or of any other noxious thing.
"In the fifth stage you will possess absolute knowledge of the art of medicine and be able to cure every ailment.
"In the sixth stage you will acquire the power of producing vampires and werwolves from the human being, and of transforming people from the human to any animal guise.
"In the seventh and final stage you will be given the complete mastery of every art and science—including astrology, astronomy, necromancy, etc.; and for this stage is reserved the greatest power of all—namely, the complete dominion over woman's will and affections. The powers of creating life, and of extending life beyond the now natural limit, and of avoiding accidents, will never be conferred on you. Neither shall you learn, not at least during your physical existence—who or what we are, or the secrets of creation.
"Each successive stage will cancel the preceding one—that is to say, the powers you have acquired in the first stage will be annulled on your arriving at the second stage, and so on. But if you carry out your compact faithfully—that is to say, if at the end of the twenty-one months you are still united—all the powers you have held hitherto, in the different stages, temporarily, will return to you and remain in your possession permanently. Have you anything to say?"
"Yes!" Hamar answered; "I fully understand all you have explained to us and I like the idea of it immensely. The fear of our coming to any serious loggerheads and of dissolving partnership doesn't worry me much—but I must say, it seems very remote—the prospect of gaining such tremendous powers—powers that will give us practically everything we want—save youth—"
"Youth you will never regain," lisped the voice. "And elixirs of life, surely you must know, are no longer sought after, by beings of the planet Earth. They are quite out of date. You will, of course, learn the most efficacious means of making yourselves and other people youthful in appearance."
"Yes, but how shall we learn these secrets?" Kelson nerved himself to ask.
"They will be revealed to you in various ways—sometimes when asleep. You will receive preliminary instructions as to divination before this time to-morrow."
"And meanwhile, we shall be in want of money," Curtis remarked.
"No!" the voice replied, "you will not be in want of money. Have you anything more to ask?"
No one spoke, and the silence that followed was interrupted by a loud rustling of the wind. The darkness then lifted; but nothing was to be seen—nothing save the trees and bushes, moon and stars.
 This is a very sinister sign in astrology, denoting the presence of evil influences of all kinds.—(Author's note.)
 According to Atlantean ideas these spirits were:—Vice Elementals; Morbas (or Disease Elementals); Clanogrians (or malicious family ghosts, such as Banshees, etc.); Vampires; Barrowvians, i. e. a grotesque kind of phantasm that frequents places where prehistoric man or beast has been interred; Planetians, i. e. spirits inimical to dwellers on this earth that inhabit various of the other planets; and earthbound spirits of such dead human beings as were mad, imbecile, cruel and vicious, together with the phantasms of vicious and mad beasts, and beasts of prey.—(Author's note.)
 They are a literal translation of the Atlantean by Thos. Maitland, and are very nearly identified with forms of spirit invocation used in Egypt, India, Persia, Arabia, and among the Red Indians of North and South America.—(Author's note.)